Propaganda used to mean getting people to believe stuff. Now it means getting them to question what they believe or whether there’s any truth at all. However disorienting this is, it may not be all bad.
The term “propaganda” originally referred to a 17th-century committee of Roman Catholic cardinals that sought to propagate the religion through foreign missions — the marginally and only temporarily benevolent face of European colonialism. In modern times, public relations guru Ed Bernays revived the term to describe the way Woodrow Wilson’s administration convinced Americans to support U.S. involvement in World War I. Propaganda was about telling the same story through so many media channels at once that there appeared to be only one story.
Today, however, the primary goal of government propaganda is to undermine our faith in everything. Not just our belief in particular stories in the news, but our trust in the people who are telling the stories, the platforms, and fact-based reality itself. Facts are, after all, the enemy of beliefs.
What many of us forget is that this new style of influence through disorientation is really an appropriation of the counterculture’s techniques. This is what the Situationists were doing. So were the hippies and “heads” of the 1960s.
Before Watergate anyway, it felt as if the press and the government were on the same side, telling the same story to us all. There was no way for the underfunded counterculture to compete with mainstream reality programming—except by undermining its premises. The flower children couldn’t overwhelm Richard Nixon’s National Guard troops, but they could put daisies in the barrels of their rifles.
Taken to the extreme, this sort of activist satire became Operation Mindfuck, first announced in 1968 by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea in their Illuminatus Trilogy. The idea was to undermine people’s faith in government, authority, and the sanctity of consensus reality itself by pranking everything, all the time.
The idea of Operation Mindfuck was to break the trance that kept America at war, blindly consuming, and oblivious to its impact on the rest of the world. Destabilize the dominant cultural narrative through pranks and confusion. Say things that may or may not be true — but probably not. But maybe. Levitate the Pentagon as an act of protest. Publish conspiracy stories about Jackie Kennedy walking in on Lyndon Johnson sexually abusing the exit wound in JFK’s head when his body was being transported back to Washington, DC.
Operation Mindfuck sought to suggest that anything anyone in the counterculture was doing at any time might just be part of an elaborate prank. This put outsiders in a difficult position: The only safe assumption was that anything a hippie was doing was part of Operation Mindfuck — some sort of trick or game. But because this could only lead to paranoia, one had to assume that whatever they were doing was probably harmless. They were, after all, just pranks. For their part, the counterculture agitators hoped the assumption that they were just jesters would keep them safe from any real persecution.
But over the ensuing decades, it was the progressive left whose ideas ended up becoming mainstreamed. Really, from All in the Family onward, it was progressive values in fictional TV — Maude to M*A*S*H, Murphy Brown to The West Wing.
And as that became the dominant cultural narrative, Operation Mindfuck
became the tool of the alt-right. Is the Cult of Kek — that Egyptian
frog cartoon — real? Can they cast spells on social media that change
the way people think and vote?
Or consider the president himself, releasing more decoys per minute than an Apache helicopter and forcing Americans to, at the very least, entertain the notion that the entire media is run by the deep state. Anything is possible, right? Climate change is a hoax. The earth may be flat, as an increasingly vocal minority are arguing. Easily misinterpreted videos on Twitter force everyone to stop and think twice before deciding they know what it is they’re really looking at.
But the value of Operation Mindfuck isn’t just the opportunity to exchange one delusion for another. It’s not about replacing the fantasy of a borderless world with that of a walled nation-state or that of a free-market jungle with communism, but seeing all of them as extreme, ideological endpoints. These are reality tunnels — perceptual limitations and conceptual frameworks, shaped by our experiences and prejudices. None of them can be understood as absolute. But at the same time, we have to remember that some of these tunnels are a whole lot closer to reality than others. It’s up to us to choose the most constructive and compassionate ones to inhabit.
“I would only believe in a god who could dance.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
Religion. One word which encompasses a galactically colorfulrange of ideas and meanings. The quintessentially human phenomenon has been around forever, and virtually everyone has an opinion about it.
I’m not here to put religion on blast or to belittle anyone’s views. You have a right to believe whatever you like, and frankly, I just don’t care that much. Well, most of the time. The point at which I start caring what other people choose to believe about religion is the point at which religion becomes a reason to commit atrocities or deprive people of basic rights.
Sadly, it has been that, like millions of times. More than 1,000 x 10,000 people died in religious wars in the last millennium. In 2012, there were 1,340 religious hate crimes in the United States. Numerous other statistics and examples could be cited. The point is: like most allegiances humans use to mold their sense of identity, religion can easily become a source of animosity directed toward those whose identities are grounded elsewhere.
To guard against this, maybe we ought to think critically about our religious views (and all our other unquestioned assumptions) from time to time, to examine them and to see if they’ve caused us to harbor unnecessary hostility. We might even want to examine them for other reasons, too—like, I don’t know, maybe some of the rules are actually oppressing or repressing or depressing us, or making us fear existence. Who knows.
7 Parodic, Unusual, & Farcical Religions
So, yes, let’s scrutinize our religious views, and while we’re at it, let’s maybe just try to calm down about the whole thing. If someone’s belief (or lack thereof) in something isn’t harming anyone, who really gives a shit?
One fine method for merrily contemplating religion is to explore the world of fringe religious positions. People have concocted all manner of religious viewpoints, and some of them are downright gorgeous, ponder-worthy, and chuckle-inducing. Look:
Dudeism is a philosophy and lifestyle based on the character Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski in the movie The Big Lebowski. The organization’s official name is The Church of the Latter-Day Dude, and as of August 2012, over 160,000 “Dudeist Priests” had been ordained. Though sometimes regarded as a parody religion, its founder and many of its adherents regard it seriously.
Dudeism’s stated primary aim is to promote a modern form of Chinese Taoism blended with concepts by the ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus and presented in a style reminiscent of The Dude. From Wikipedia:
“The Dudeist belief system is essentially a modernized form of Taoism purged of all of its metaphysical and medical doctrines. Dudeism advocates and encourages the practice of “going with the flow”, “being cool headed”, and “taking it easy” in the face of life’s difficulties, believing that this is the only way to live in harmony with our inner nature and the challenges of interacting with other people.”
Dudeism claims Kurt Vonnegut, Lao Tzu, and Walt Whitman as prophets, among others, and its primary symbol, pictured above, is a cross between the Yin and Yang symbol and a bowling ball.
Speaking of Vonnegut: if you’re a fan, you might already know about Bokononism, the fictitious religion Kurt invented in his extraordinarily mind-bending novel, Cat’s Cradle. Here’s another Quickipedia:
“Bokononism is based on the concept of foma, which are defined as harmless untruths. A foundation of Bokononism is that the religion, including its texts, is formed entirely of lies; however, one who believes and adheres to these lies will have peace of mind, and perhaps live a good life. The primary tenet of Bokononism is to “Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.”
Vonnegut cooked up a whole lot of really spectacular terms and ideas around Bokononism. A “karass”, for example, is “a group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial links are not evident.” When a Bokononist is about to commit suicide, he says, “Now I will destroy the whole world.” And a Bokononist whispers “Busy, busy, busy” whenever he thinks about how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.
Discordianism is a religion and philosophy that venerates or worships Eris (or Discordia), the Greco-Roman goddess of chaos, or the ideals or archetypes associated with her. Its ideas have been likened to certain absurdist schools of Zen and Taoism. Again, from the bountiful bosom of Wikipedia:
“Discordianism is centered on the idea that both order and disorder are illusions imposed on the universe by the human nervous system, and that neither of these illusions of apparent order and disorder is any more accurate or objectively true than the other. […] Discordians use subversive humor to spread their philosophy and to prevent their beliefs from becoming dogmatic. It is difficult to estimate the number of Discordians because they are not required to hold Discordianism as their only belief system.”
Eris, Greco-Roman goddess of chaos. Worshipped by Discordians. Photo Credit: Public Domain
In Discordianism, every member is considered a Pope, and anyone can ordain anyone else a Saint. Robert Anton Wilson is among the most well-known Discordians. Principia Discordia, the original holy book of Discordianism, abounds with cheeky verses that give a sense of the spirit of the religion. For example:
“If you want in on the Discordian Society then declare yourself what you wish do what you like and tell us about it or if you prefer don’t. There are no rules anywhere. The Goddess Prevails.”
Possibilianism is a philosophical position which rejects theism as well as atheism and distinguishes itself from passive or resigned forms of agnosticism. Possibilianism aims to define a position of active exploration and was first defined by neuroscientist David Eagleman. Eagleman later elaborated on the idea in an interview with the New York Times:
“Our ignorance of the cosmos is too vast to commit to atheism, and yet we know too much to commit to a particular religion. A third position, agnosticism, is often an uninteresting stance in which a person simply questions whether his traditional religious story (say, a man with a beard on a cloud) is true or not true. But with Possibilianism I’m hoping to define a new position — one that emphasizes the exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities. Possibilianism is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind; it is not interested in committing to any particular story.”
“All Hail Nicolas Cage!” is the rallying cry of this religion and subreddit (/r/onetruegod, over 70,000 strong). Cagenism appears to have originated on Reddit about two years ago, and its supporters are certainly religious in their constant outpouring of .GIFS, memes, artwork, and photos of The Most High, Nicolas Cage. The devotees even have their own creation stories, which contain hilarious excerpts like this one:
“And so His mighty mind devised a Sacred Erection, and it was the very first of Things. He declared it good. Its quantum flesh was mighty and true, but it stood alone. The Cage performed a Divine Pelvic Thrust, and the universe was created at great speed, expanding. Its contents were of heated radiation, unshaped stardust flying at immense velocity.
Nicolas Cage blinked, and eons passed. The Holy Stardust collected through His gravitational will, forming great space seas of dust and light. He breathed, and Galactic Oceans condensed, forming a multitude of suns and stones. And with one stroke of His Mighty Boner, the Universe slowed down and cooled.”
Jediism is a recent religious movement based on the philosophical and spiritual ideas of the Jedi from Star Wars. Yep, it’s a real thing. Believers follow a “Jedi code” of 21 maxims as well as “The 16 Teachings of the Jedi” and insist that their path is different from that of the fictional characters. Several peculiar and sort of hilarious accounts of this religion exist on the ‘pedia, one of which follows:
“Jediism received press coverage following a worldwide email campaign in 2001 urging people to write “Jedi” as their answer to the religion classification question in their country’s census. The majority of such respondents are assumed to have claimed the faith as a joke. In the 2001 England and Wales census, 390,127 respondents indicated Jediism as their faith. 2012 census figures had dropped to 176,632, although this was still more common than some other “alternative” faiths, and was the seventh most common response overall.”
7. Church of the SubGenius
The Church of the SubGenius is a bona fide parody religion that originated in the US in the 70s. Its teachings are complex and focus on J.R. “Bob” Dobbs, the religion’s prophet who was purportedly a drilling equipment salesman in the 1950s. “Bob’s” name is always spelled with the quotation marks, according to the Church. From the caverns of Wikipedia:
“Ivan Stang, who co-founded the Church of the SubGenius in the 1970s, serves as its high profile leader and publicist. He has imitated actions of other religious leaders, using the tactic of culture jamming in an attempt to undermine better known faiths. Church leaders instruct their followers to avoid mainstream commercialism and the belief in absolute truths. The group holds that the quality of “Slack” is of utmost importance—it is never clearly defined, but attaining it involves the avoidance of hard work and the embrace of leisure.”
“Bob” Dobbs, Prophet of the Church of the SubGenius. Photo Credit: Cassia Beck
Ideally this was a pleasant exercise in open-mindedness that has left you feeling fuzzy, bemused, and more tolerant than ever of humanity’s limitless capacity for meaning-making. There’s just so darn much out there. Busy, busy, busy.
Best to go with the flow, I’d wager. May the Force be with you.
The Metagame: Creative Discord: The Word Game is an invitation to engage in the ancient human art of free rambling a.k.a. “theoryposting” with the goal of not being “correct” (and thus not being afraid of being wrong) but to partake in an imaginative adventure of speculation and reflection both as an individual practice and interpersonally as a collaborative ramble with the mutual goal of facilitating the rambling and appreciating it for itself as a creative art and not for the production of some “product.” You aren’t trying to do anything except ramble as the ramble goes, as there is no goal other than the flow, so there is no competition. Absolutely nothing is at risk, so there is no need for any sort of hostility. In addition for rambling for its own sake, the larger “goal” is to encourage this rambling and its lack of rules except to play in a general sense, in the hope that it may help people to explore ideas freely and passionately. Perhaps we can even get somewhere extraordinary with this free rambling.
These videos were created over a period of 4 years via an improvisational memetic engineering process. This process involved sometimes hundreds of ours of free rambles on the internet in various places, contextualizing and re-contextualizing video references until a video felt “right” and essentially made itself, self-organizing out of the discourse. They are a personal reflection of my journey through postmodern hell and out of it to the pancreativist horizon. Id’ consider them every bit as important as this document because they are a narrative expression of the same thing, comprised of segments of narratives stitched together to create memetic chimera.