Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Richard Neville, Apocalypse Now, weak signals, pornography without sex and a wild amount of blather

(Above: beware the seven headed dragon at the end of time, as shown by Albrecht Durer).

Time being short, we rarely spend much time off in the magazine world, and even more rarely do we glance at the kind of feral loon most at home in Nimbin.

But every so often comes a treat that just demands attention, and so it is with Richard Neville's Apocalypse Porn, which we first read in hard copy, but which The Diplomat has kindly made available for the world to read.

Neville, a curious hippie sort of chap, is a mess of contradictions, neatly set out in his opening para:

When I checked in at Sydney Airport for a flight to Perth, the Qantas operative greeted me with ‘bad news’. Due to a technical hitch, there was – gasp – ‘no audio-visual’. I couldn’t have been happier. Forty winks was in my grasp. ‘Such a long flight,’ she lamented. Passengers were provided with a $30 voucher to buy books.

This might seem a trivial incident, but in futures-speak, it is possibly a ‘weak signal’, an infinitesimal clue of things to come. (Erratic tech, entertainment addiction, the vitality of print…) Such clues are rarely noticed, except in retrospect. The world’s first hand-held, chip-driven calculators flew out the doors in 1970, presaging the future of portability. Yet IBM spent another 10 years flogging its mainframes.

The collapse of Enron produced a feast of portents. Executive hubris, ethical terror, the plunder of staff entitlements… Chairman Ken Lay was a buddy of President George W Bush, pouring $1 million into his campaign coffers and lending him a Lear Jet. The energy giant lavished gold on its top brass – Lay’s 1999 bonus exceeded $42 million. Its deals were dodgy and it was adored by financial journalists.

In short, this was rogue capitalism in full flight that was treated as an aberration rather than a sign of systemic avarice and deception. If the signals had been heeded, Wall Street’s financial malfeasance could have been corrected sooner, without spiralling into the bloodbath of today.

Where to start with this set of 'weak signals'?

Could it have been that Qantas system was simply on the blink, a common enough occurrence as they struggle with their new generation onboard soft and hardware? I mean, it's hardly the same as an Airbus A-330 plunging into the Atlantic, is it? If you're looking for Nostradamus-like signs and portents of a failing present, and an apocalyptic future, that is.

And watching a movie in-flight heralds an entertainment addiction? As opposed to the trivial pursuit of reading fiction about fictional worlds? Which isn't entertainment but somehow noble and worthy? Well it turns out that Neville is himself an entertainment addict:

On the emission-exuding Qantas return flight from Perth to Sydney, the audio-visual was in full swing. The movie was a remake of a ’50s classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still. It got lousy reviews, but after a second Bloody Mary, I was on the edge of my seat and our planet was on the edge of extinction. It was gripping. I felt aroused and helpless at the same time, a defining quality of apocalypse porn. No sex, plenty of death and a wild-ride future.

Ain't it great to be one of the lemmings cheerfully catching an emission-exuding flight, thereby bringing us and the world closer to extinction. 

But what about the world heeding the 'weak signals' from Enron, and thereby finding a quick way to fix rogue capitalism? Not really, because capitalism is doomed, and with it presumably quick junkets to Perth as a way of inspiring chats about futurism.

As we embark on the inescapable transition to sustainability, it is expected that GDP and the money supply will decrease while NGOs will multiply and the pursuit of innovation accelerates. This mind shift will be hotly contested, especially by a traumatised corporate media clinging to the growth/spend/Lear Jet paradigm and playing dirty. Expect incessant calls for war. Expect reports on future wars to be sanitised even more so than today.

And there are many other signs and portents. As you'd expect from our nostrum-peddling Nostradamus, he can intuit them in the wind. Even the humble vegie garden is a sign, which might herald the dawning of group hugs and the age of Aquarius:

In the 21st century, weak signals seem to be intensifying. Michelle Obama has suddenly projected the guerrilla gardening movement into the heart of public awareness by turning the first organic sod in the White House’s vegetable garden. Let a thousand zucchinis bloom – and they will. When Michelle plonked herself on the street with a bunch of raggedy London schoolkids during the recent G20 summit, hugging them, inspiring them, she may have signalled the end of the frigid and forced classroom photo-ops beloved by Australia’s politicians. Mrs Obama’s elevation of the backyard vegie patch is a coded warning of hard times ahead and a call for self-sufficiency.

Well that should reassure anyone in an apartment. Make sure you get plenty of pots for your balcony. Self-sufficiency by creating a thousand zucchinis is the only way to stay safe.

But enough of gardening. It lacks a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to apocalyptic porn. Let's get back into the day after tomorrow:

In the think tanks, on the blogs, on YouTube and at middle-class dinner parties, the chatter is apocalyptic. Store weapons, horde gold, buy candles. Prepare for peak oil, peak water, peak fish, peak topsoil, peak debt, peak everything. It’s the end of suburbia, the rise of anarchy, the arrival of pre-emptive law enforcement (British cops have ‘identified’ 200 schoolchildren, some as young as 13, as potential terrorists).

Getting depressed yet? No, you shouldn't. Apocalyptic porn is sexually exciting. It's fun, and to be frank an excellent way to get your rocks off:

Today it is the doomsayers who dominate, and to be frank, there is something exciting about listening to the promulgations of catastrophe. A former writer for Rolling Stone, Jim Kunstler, has long depicted a future scenario of The Long Emergency.

Kunstler regards the creation of suburbia as the ‘greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world’, and foretells its tragic destiny: ‘The psychology of previous investment suggests that we will defend our drive-in utopia long after it has become a terrible liability.’ He, like other soothsayers, sees our lives as becoming ‘profoundly and intensely local’, and he believes the future will be far less about mobility and much more about staying where you are. An ‘enormous problem’ will be the production of food.

Wow, no wonder Neville is peddling the wonders of survival sites, and the 3 day responder pack which offers one adult three days of food for a couple of bucks a meal, trumped by the Patriot Pack, which offers a two months emergency supply.

But why not jump beyond this kind of chit chat to that master of the apocalypse, Russian born Dmitry Orlov?

Orlov believes the ‘game will soon be over’, and that economists haven’t a clue what to do next. He says people should ‘forget growth, forget jobs, forget financial stability’ and concentrate on ‘realistic’ new objectives: food, shelter, transportation and security. The immediate task of government is to deliver necessities on an emergency basis, in the absence of a functioning economy, with commerce at a standstill, with little or no access to imports, and to provide for a population that will be largely penniless.

Orlov is hopeful that society could remain intact and will be able to resume a ‘slow and painful process of cultural transition, and eventually develop a new economy, a gradually de-industrialising economy, at a much lower level of resource expenditure, characterised by quite a lot of austerity, but in conditions that are safe, decent, and dignified’. Still, it might be wise to stock up on Patriot Packs.

Dearie me, so what's the solution, apart from the packs and a year's supply of rice, and knocking down the wooden fence to boil the water for the rice? Or power up with the floor boards? 

Well we all have to head back home to Nimbin, on bicycles mind you:

Herman Daly and other eco-economists have long stressed the urgency of leapfrogging ‘beyond growth’, evoking a carbon-neutral lifestyle that nourishes self-reliance, human rights and all the bright ideas that keep civilisation rolling along. What other choice do we have? Humanity’s consumption already exceeds the capacity of Earth to regenerate its resources by 30 per cent.

Well it surely must lead to wars? Between starvation and killing our neighbours for a bite to eat, there's a lot to be said for killing your neighbours. Oh that's right, Neville ruled out the incessant calls for war, and the sanitizing of wars. So how do we get to a sane society, given that we're all competitive self-interested individuals all trying to get as rich as possible? 

I'm afraid the answer's simple. Three or four billion y'all are going to have to die. Likely it'll be messy and unpleasant, and personally y'all might take it hard. Unless of course you're willing to go out into the fields and grow your own food and participate in Richard Neville's very own version of Pol Pot's Cambodian re-education camps. And then paradise will be yours:

Although ‘being green’ has gone mainstream, the environment continues to decline, largely because of economic activity. This decline is linked with the wealth gap and a scarcity of resources. The stately shift to post-growth economics will not be end of the world – it will be the re-birth of the world.

Stately shift to a post-growth world? After all the blather about food packs and starting vegie gardens and joining survivalist clubs and expecting the end of capitalism and incessant calls for war and experts calling for emergency government for a largely penniless population?

Stately as in slow, dignified, deliberate, imposing and majestic?

A man so out of control in his language shouldn't be allowed to write, but I do thank The Diplomat for giving me an insight into a world view that sets the right wing commentariat's teeth on edge - for its lack of understanding, for its blithe disregard for the generality of people, and for a parade of witnesses that show all around us there are loons, but few with any sensible solutions, proposals or ways forward. Beyond chooks and vegie gardens. 

Unless of course you like looking forward to a world where there's plenty of death. Slobber at the mouth at the prospect. Flick spittle at your enemies as you contemplate their righteous death and salutary punishment.

Why am I reminded of apocalyptic fundamentalist Christians when reading Neville? It's just a secular re-branding of Noah's Flood, Armageddon, the rapture, and the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.

By the way, speaking of weak signals, are you aware that Microsoft is the real harbinger of doom?

Warning! Bill Gates (president of Microsoft) may be the next Antichrist. Revelation 13:18 says, "Let anyone who has intelligence work out the number of the beast, for the number represents a man's name, and the numerical value of its letters is six hundred and sixty-six. Bill Gates' full name is William Henry Gates III. Nowadays he is known as Bill Gates (III). By converting the letters of his current name to their ASCII values, you get the following:


66+73+76+76+71+65 +84+69+83+3=666

Daniel 7:23 says, The explanation he gave was this: 'The fourth beast signifies a fourth kingdom which will appear on earth. It will differ from the other kingdoms; it will devour the whole earth, treading it down and crushing it.' Current history knows three Antichrists: Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and the Pope. Is the fourth beast the Microsoft Corporation, which represents the power of money?

ASCII values! Yep, it was going around the intertubes way back in 1995. And still as rational an explanation as anything Neville has to offer ...

(Below: Richard Neville, long before he started picking up weak signals as a futurist).

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