On not knowing what the hell is going on

On the 4th April a gas attack took place at Khan Sheikhoun in the Idlib province of Syria. Almost immediately news feeds started filling up with more images of dead kids kindly shared by those demanding, without specifics, that something be done. Again. About something that, at that point, no-one knew anything about aside from the images of horror. Attached to those images was the ‘information’ that Assad had done it. Again. And something about the Russians. Again. And think of the children. Again and again and again.

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Here are some things the mainstream media and the news feeds don’t tend to say much.

  • Doing this totally undermined Assad’s position. He was winning conventionally and was about to take part in a ‘sit down’ about the war. Dropping poison on kids would tend to pointlessly undermine your position in those circumstances.
  • The last time poison was used the evidence suggests it was the opposition that did it.
  • That opposition is not one homogeneous group but a tapestry of different groups with different agendas and goals. Isis emerged from it and, though there are socialist leaning freedom fighting groups there are also Al Qaida affiliates that, for example, run the area that the attack took place in.
  • Assad destroyed his chemical weapons. Sure, he could have hidden some, but the ‘opposition’ certainly weren’t held to the same UN brokered destruction of any chemical arsenals they might have.

US intelligence apparently saw the planes on radars doing the bad bombings. I’d admit that the US intelligence saying something would be pretty damning evidence. I’d admit that if I’d forgotten the last 80 years of American history.

All this stacks up to this being far more likely to be a false flag attack with the goal of producing some outcome that I’m not going to even attempt to fathom right now. Aside from the outcome that’s already occurred. You know, Trump being moved by the deaths of the little ones and bombing Syria despite everything he’d said before and some liberals getting in a cognitively dissonant twist over him being the one to, eventually, finally ‘do something’. Apparently with the same level of ignorance as their own.

A false flag attack is a usually violent event perpetrated (or allowed to happen) by a government against its own people, which is then blamed on an appropriate enemy so that it can be used as a pretext for a war or for a government to enact draconian and invasive new laws. Anyone who thinks that sounds like it’s a staple component of the dreaded ‘conspiracy theory’ would be correct.  But it’s worth noting that there are dozens of false flag attacks that have been officially admitted to or have strong supporting evidence. The Nazis and World War 2 were full of them. The Reichstag Fire enabled the Nazis to clamp down on Communists and a false flag attack gave the excuse for the Nazis to attack Poland. The Gulf of Tonkin incident that led America into a deepened commitment in the Vietnam War was a lie. Israel are dab hands at it. And these aren’t just things that happen in war time. The Anthrax attacks, shortly after 9/11 (remember them?) came from American laboratories

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Manufactured in American laboratories

and if you want to keep yourself up at night start digging into Italy’s Strategy of Tension and Propoganda Due, it’s so murky you can’t see the bottom. But it’s not just a paranoid delusional conspiracy, it’s an actual, ‘lusional one. There are plenty of cases around recent boiling pots in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Chechnya, Turkey and on and on. These things happen all the time. Seymour Hersh reported from intelligence sources that the previous large chemical attack in Syria, which very nearly led to Obama bombing the country, was in fact a false flag attack staged by Turkey.

Really this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Deception has been a critical tool in politics and war since at least the Trojan Horse so it forever amazes me how often otherwise sensible people take the incidents presented to them at face value. Perhaps for fear of being accused of being ‘conspiracy theorists’. Perhaps because the horror of the images switches off their critical faculties. Perhaps because of the intellectual fear of where such suspicion leads. Which is, essentially, into a vortex of not knowing what the hell is going on.

Identifying something as being, or likely to be, a false flag attack is not the same as identifying who flew it but it’s certainly not going to be any organisation that’s out in the open. Secret intelligence services have existed since modern states have. Aside from foreign concerns a government can’t trust all of its own people so it establishes a secret police or intelligence service to do its secret policing both at home and abroad. These organisations have two main functions – to collect as much information on ‘the enemy’ as possible and to spread disinformation. That is, creating fake information for ‘the enemy’ to mistake as real information. False flag attacks, the extreme, violent end of disinformation techniques, have to be conducted through these agencies. The official military could never be seen to be involved in them for obvious reasons.

This all gives the secret police enormous power. They can use secret information for blackmail and intimidation (which is why Hoover had a ‘file on everybody’) and it also makes them a prime target of both internal subversives and external intelligence agents. Infiltration will be a goal of both.

It makes sense then for someone to keep an eye on the secret police, to identify infiltrators and know what they know, so a second tier of secret police needs to be established to monitor the secret police. Robert Anton Wilson called this Celine’s First Law.

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The second tier of secret police would also need monitoring for the same reasons and this leads to an infinite regress.

Once a government has n orders of secret police spying on each other, all are potentially suspect, and to be safe, a secret police of order n plus 1 must be created. And so on forever.”

Of course this regress can’t go on forever can it? There’s only so much money and so many police. The ideal endgame of such an intelligence state would be one where everyone was spying on everyone else via some sort of digital media platform billions of people used for communicating.

Let’s imagine such a thing exists. People using such a self monitoring public spying interface would be doing one of a number of things. They’d be either willingly revealing personal information about themselves, relinquishing their own right to privacy and/or internalising the effect of being constantly on show and modifying their own behaviour to conform to what they might expect their social groups to find acceptable. Whether consciously or not they would be deceiving. With false brags, you might say. All of this would minimise the potential for the alternative, the truly subversive or original and it could send you into a vortex of not actually knowing what the hell is going on.

As above, so below.

You can see in these circumstances that it’s quite feasible for one tier of a nation’s intelligence apparatus to not know what another tier is up to. So, alongside you and I not really knowing what the hell is going on (with them and with each other), the secret agencies themselves are also unlikely to really know what is going on too. It is no wonder conspiracy theories sprout out of all this. And, like the events themselves, those agencies that might be involved in them probably don’t know which might be real and which might be disinformation produced by some other agency. In other words, those whose entire purpose is to know what’s going on don’t know what’s going on either.

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Lacan can can

According to practically impenetrable psychologist Jacques Lacan we are, in our early development, embedded into a symbolic order – a language and culture – which in turn structures our consciousness. Culture has always been a construction – a necessary fiction – Levi Strauss said something similar, but it’s important for us to, in some sense, believe in the solidity of it – the truth of it. What does it mean when the culture we’re embedded into is no longer believable? When you can question the reality of virtually everything from our news and politics to what the people we think we know are telling us about themselves? We have nothing solid to hold onto anymore. What does that do to us psychologically?

Anton Wilson called the state of uncertainty regarding everything Chapel Perilous. When he entered it (after a boat load of acid) he came to believe he and others were in contact with an intelligence from a planet in the Syrius star system. The writer John Higgs has pointed out that our whole culture has now entered Chapel Perilous and now you, me and others have come to believe that bankrupt, reality TV star, Donald Trump, is the most powerful man in the world. It’s no wonder the mental illness statistics are so high.

Marx identified capitalism as being the most radical and revolutionary system in human history, able to mutate and adapt to survive. When he said ‘all that is solid melts into air‘ he was referring to the assumed realities that people had previously subscribed to and how capitalism radically vaporises those realities for its own sake. That we have now reached a point where all of our fixed points are becoming untethered is ideal for capitalism. If nothing is fixed then it can be perpetually adapted and if even our identities aren’t fixed then we can be filled by whatever desire or want the corporation chooses for us to have. But, perhaps also, in this fluid, fake world is the possibility of proving Marx correct again in his claim that capitalism carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction. For, if the corporation or the malign politician can create a ‘reality’ or perpetuate a myth for us to believe in, it’s just as true that we could create our own.  

Adam Curtis in a recent article has pointed out that what is needed in a world like this is a new mythology. A new enchantment that can energise and re-inspire people. On exiting Chapel Perilous Wilson believed you came out either paranoid or agnostic – about everything. There isn’t any other option. Curtis suggests conspiracy theorists, certainly at the paranoid end of that scale, create a new mythology for themselves now. They are trying to make a sense of the world with an alternative myth, if through a glass darkly. What we need instead is a new vision. A new lie, but one of our own making and a hopeful, rather than hopeless one.  If we embrace the possibility that any future we want is as feasible as any other then this could be liberating. Such a thing would require an act of creative vision free from cynicism and here, again, the responsibility for creating this vision or, at least, effectively projecting it into the world, would seem to lie with those who should embrace fiction and enchantment – the artists.

Artists have always been involved in the world of propaganda and political deception. Curtis identified Vladislav Surkov, one of Vladimir Putin’s chief advisers using skills he acquired through theatre and from what he learned as part of Moscow’s bohemian contemporary arts scene to maintain Putin’s grip on power.

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Moscow’s bohemian contemporary arts scene


During WW2 the allies had an entire regiment, the 603rd Camouflage Engineers or Ghost Army, that recruited from art schools and whose purpose was to trick the Axis forces. They once persuaded the Nazis that a force of 30,000 had crossed the Rhine using 1000 men and a bunch of inflatable tanks. Several notable artists emerged from the regiment after the war.

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Yellow/White by Ellsworth Kelly – a veteran of the Ghost Army

And what was the Trojan Horse if not a sculpture as a gift?

If there’s an ethical problem with creating a further fiction to counter the ones that already dominate our lives you can console yourself with the paradox that a fiction is not necessarily untrue. Picasso once said ‘art is a lie that tells the truth’ and if we’re constructed by the duplicity of others around us anyway what does it really matter? It’s unavoidable. If everything is potentially a lie then tell a better one. The belief in it could at the very least make life more bearable. ‘We have art in order not to die from the truth’ said Nietzche and, perhaps, we also have it in order not to die from spending all our time, in a world like this, wondering what the holy fuck is going on. It seems Marx was right that in this system all that is solid melts into air, but we still have to breathe. And you can’t spend all your time just breathing in. So breathe out.

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Saint Bob