Narrowing the Sinister
The aim of ‘Narrowing the Sinister’ is to narrow the origin of the Sinister. I will attempt to do this by treating the Sinister as a given but offer up alternative sources of Sinister energy that exist within the Physis of forms besides those that are usually related to the Sinister within moral terms as the practice of evil, destruction or wickedness to illustrate its extensive diversity.
Following a selection of examples of sinister energies of a prolonged but subtle nature that affect humanity – and then a smaller scale catalogue of more immediate examples of sinister energy – I will then seek to isolate the Sinister’s source in abstraction not morality, and further reduce ‘concept’ itself to a mere derivation of a much more powerful process.
I will focus on giving evidence for the existence of a collective storage of pain that has been accumulated and passed on through time via genetic and memetic inheritance by relating some of the sinister energies that this process has produced and the causal forms and patterns that have emerged because of it.
After demonstrating the diversity of sinister energy, I will then re-unify all the examples given and explain how they all result from a process of our origin from which I believe humanity has derived its unique habit of being human.
I will conclude part one with a brief analysis of the theoretical transition from our non-being to Being bestowing an experience of absolute terror and summarize how the nature of this transition into existence has characterized the behaviour of the collective human race.
Universal Psychic Trauma and the Genesis of Fear.
Within the Physis of forms, the Sinister is to be found in many places – not merely the arenas of evil, immorality, and wickedness. One of these places is in the collective human psyche and identity.
During the 20th Century, many devastating events took place and many atrocities were committed in the name of governments, countries, and causes that humanity was powerless to prevent.
Humanity prides itself on its optimism – and time and again promises itself great things. Humanity looks forward to these great things taking place and places great faith in the future. But there were events in the 20th Century that presented enormous setbacks and crippled our faith when they unfolded: time and again numbing and scarring the collective human psyche and its ability to believe in great things or itself. These events occurred despite our best efforts, despite any promises, and outside of our power to control them.
Some of these events included: the sinking of the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic, The Great Depression, the Stock Market Crash, the Spanish Flu, the Chernobyl Disaster, the Challenger Shuttle Disaster, the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King, Apartheid and the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall. In addition to this there were hundreds of destructive natural disasters including volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis, floods, landslides and fires that decimated cities and infrastructure killing hundreds of thousands of people.
The 20th Century saw marked economic divide in the contrast of wealth between developed countries and the so-called third world nations stricken with poverty, famine, disease and any number of environmental issues, political issues, religious issues with far-reaching ramifications – all of which left deep psychic scars.
It also saw dozens of wars in which millions of families were torn apart with countless fathers, mothers, sons and daughters separated from their loved ones and sent to war the world over without any satisfactory explanation as to why and next to no recompense for the sacrifice they made to fight a war they barely understood. It has been estimated we lost the best half of humanity’s remaining gene-pool stock in World War Two alone.
World War two in particular left a great hole in the human heart and the devastation was not confined to the soldiers or heroes and villains preserved in historical footage but decimated extensive portions of civilians too. Huge numbers of people suffering shell-shock and war-based trauma were turned over to mental asylums and forgotten – where many became subject to experimental surgical procedures such as lobotomy and electrical shock therapies. These types of experimentation were not confined to a ‘war-crazed’ Nazi Germany – they were (and are still) conducted in Allied countries too. The effect of war on civilians shattered hundreds of thousands of families and communities.
Vietnam, greater scale exterminations in Cambodia by Pol Pot, Communist China, Tibet, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia, Darfur, Ethiopia, the Balkans, the holocaust in Germany by Nazi Occupation, in Russia by Stalin, in Italy by Mussolini, the madness of Saddam Hussein, the tyrannies of Mao Tsung, the Gulf Wars and Cold War, and thousands of other bloody conflicts, bombings and massacres each left in their wake shattered trusts and a void into which questions were flung never to be answered and those responsible for creating them never to be held accountable.
While the majority of these events were localized geographically, I believe two events of the 20th Century in particular left extremely deep and unhealed psychic wounds on humanity’s collective identity. The first event being Hitler taking his own life before he could be captured and leaving the reasons and motivation for the Centuries most important war, the answers to so many people’s needless suffering and anguish, forever in question – and the second event being that of America dropping Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
There was much that happened in the last one hundred years that tore and scarred humanity’s collective and individual identities as a whole and much that it has never had the chance or means to properly grieve over or come to terms with; horrors and sadness that have catapulted us into the 21st Century with a legacy of endless untold stories of pain and suffering.
Yet, the extent of these issues only forms a hundred years of accumulated collective pain; for as we transmit our century’s pain onto others, we carry the pain of the centuries that came before us too.
On top of all of these events, humanity’s suffering is not isolated to the large scale events history has remembered, pain is an epidemic experienced by every individual on the planet at some time or another as well as by the collective. Our suffering is not only sourced in memorable or large events but also in the injustices, pain and suffering that goes unheard in all of Earth’s peoples from the busiest city to the most remote tundra.
Some of our pain and suffering can be eased, absorbed or dealt with; but I believe there are events of such a shocking nature and stress to the human mind and identity where the pain does not go away but affects the psyches of millions and becomes a wordless legacy passed from generation to generation culturally and also, I believe, genetically.
There are thousands of prevailing blood feuds that exist between countries or rival factions and tribes. Many of these conflicts are decades old and have become legacies that continue long after the originally involved parties are dead. Often no-one really knows how the conflict started or remembers clearly who did what to whom. Many people are simply born into these conflicts and destined to retaliate – spending their lives trying to get vengeance for ghosts, or struggle and fight just to stay alive – killing and hurting to get even for past transgressions – serving only to perpetuate the cycle for the next generation.
Lives lived like this only amass more pain as time goes by and the effect on us of all this pain, terror, shock, grief and suffering is of a magnitude we can hardly ever hope to fathom – yet I believe we still carry it inside us as an unconscious uncomprehended confusion.
While it is difficult to say for sure, and to what extent, separate human beings share some kind of linked psychic connection – I believe there is significant evidence available that trauma becomes ingrained as a part of our memory, memory a part of our DNA, and that trauma is passed on by genetic and memetic transmission.
I also believe that beyond physiological mediums such as DNA and the body, we pool our psychic refuse collectively into what Jung referred to as the collective unconsciousness – and which psychic refuse interrelates with humans without any restriction of time, seeping out of us as expressions of collective unconscious experience and memories.
These collective unconscious experiences and memories, especially great traumas, remain unconscious to us, but filter through our collective conscious experiences and memories expressing signs and patterns over long periods of time as indications of buried trauma.
How this energy is stored and transmitted is speculative at best, although there are some compelling suggestions.
There is a well-established science of muscle memory that specializes in training muscles to ‘remember’ how they worked by stimulating previous capacities of those muscles to make them remember how they worked, i.e. by rotating a limp arm to ‘remind’ the arm of its ability to fully rotate. Repetition of motion also forms the foundation of the martial arts, sports, gymnastics and other forms of physical application where muscles are trained to remember sequences of motion to the point where those motions become automatic. This same science appreciates that tissues can suffer from muscle memory trauma by storing a ‘memory’ of sorts of the damage and trauma to the muscle in question. In this regard, scars from such trauma are significant as touching them often provokes an uncomfortable feeling and a desire to stop touching them due to the sensitivity of muscle memory and a desire for the body to protect that area from further trauma. In some sense, scars mark parts of our body that live in fear and that we take care not to disturb too much.
Behaviourally – we have a great deal of empirical evidence that humans repeat habits with their genesis as far back as tens of thousands or even millions of years old, such as yawning or smiling, without being consciously aware of doing them or knowing where these unconscious tendencies originate.
A similar smaller-scale pattern is found in the transmission of myth or even nursery rhymes: Ring-around-a-rosy, a schoolyard favourite among children traces it origin back to London and the great Black Plague of the 1600’s where ‘a pocket full of posies’ referred to a small herbal bouquet one carried that was believed to conquer the ‘scent’ of the killer plague. This nursery rhyme is still sung today, emerging from the mouths of children some of whom have never had physical access to it as if it were a genetic remembrance: – though the gruesome meaning is almost certainly lost to the children singing it.
Genetic and memetic inheritance is a speculative theory that allows personal and collective experience – including psychic traumas and accumulated unconscious pain within the collective psyche – to pass from one generation to the next. It is a theory that opens up the possibility traumatic issues that defined the 20th Century have become ingrained as traumas in our genetic code.
Whether humanity does in fact store collective energy, memory or anything for that matter, is again speculative, as is the means by which such a function might do it -but taking this theory in hand – I believe the side-effects certain issues have had on humanity have been reflected in the curious way we have chosen to express ourselves during this past century.
I see patterns in the way we have expressed ourselves through media for example that reveal an unconscious collective thread of pain and fear: two raw universal states of being that I believe hint at the true origin of concepts such as the Sinister.
I aim to show that these patterns have been characterized by an unconscious collective struggle to give voice to events that were too overwhelming to fully process, that numbed us with terror, and whose repression has motivated us to subconsciously find ways to convey humanity’s collective silent screams from these events on behalf of the fallen and forgotten through means of inheritance of their trauma.
I will illustrate some examples of these patterns, show continuity between the examples given, relate that continuity to the Sinister and then proceed to extract what lies beneath these patterns by illustrating how I believe concepts like the Sinister are related.
Before I proceed, I should add that my evidence is Western in content and made available from developed countries that recorded their national media and thus form a natural bias as a focus of interest. Where I later talk about time period’s of the 60’s, through to the 80’s, my summaries are characterized by European, American, Australian and New Zealand footage and records of popular culture and events of those times – whereas for many other countries these time periods were no doubt culturally markedly different. When I speak of events affecting us, I do not necessarily mean the entire human race, but the large populaces of these developed regions. There is not enough evidence available to conclude if events that traumatized us, also traumatized, or were even noticed, by countries outside of our general region and sphere of influence.
MAN VS. MACHINE
The first example I wish to relate as an aspect inimical to the concept of the Sinister deals with patterns of form that have emerged from humanity’s response to the juggernaut of the Industrial and Technological Age.
These patterns were especially discernible in the media of science-fiction (for the futurist prophecies it contains) and expressed a complex relationship between man and machine throughout the 20th Century. I believe this nervous relationship has always existed between man and technology, was a relationship inherited from previous centuries and has now been carried through into the 21st.
In the same way that Art is said to contain developmental formulas with each style of an artist evolving a separate expansion of psychic growth, creativity and perception – it is evident to me that humanity has struggled to come to grips with technology for as long as it has devised tools, and perhaps even since the dawn of time.
Sometimes drawing it close, at other times pushing it away; humanity clearly still feels that a sinister element exists in our relationship with technology. This sinister element is particularly acute in an era of machines, robots, and computers.
I believe I have identified a continuity regarding nervousness of machines that has been elicited by our consciousness in many ways within our expressive mediums, (i.e. literature, art) and I should like to draw attention to the media of movies in which this nervousness is heightened and appears to have been voiced over a long period of time in sets of sub-genres of science-fiction portraying our fear in varying nervous degrees.
The phenomenon of Science Fiction in the 20th Century composed a symphony of uncertain love-hate affairs with the idea of dominance by machines over humans.
Sci-fi has followed (and in many cases influenced and predicted) the changes made externally to machines by recording the way we viewed them at various times throughout the century, as well as capturing snap-shots of the various leaps and bounds of technological progress as we made them. It mapped an evolution of machines that soon became less white goods and toasters than robots and computers, as machines took on more sophisticated human characteristics and tasks.
Sci-fi has often been said to be a medium of expression that can foretell the future – but I believe it also reflects the past and that the reflections it gives have undertones of a particular collective trauma.
In 1927 the silent film ‘Metropolis’ expressed something of the fear felt by the widening divide between capitalists and workers. It illustrated the acute sensitivity and fear people felt at the prospect of the monstrous appetites of the looming industrial age with an ominous portent of the M-Machine, seen by the protagonist as the demon Moloch, who would consume the world and all its people in the maw of the faceless, merciless efficiency of the machine.
Whether it meant to be or not – the notions voiced in Metropolis about a fear of capitalist industrial revolution treating humans as expendable resources and mere fuel has been prophetic – and even as automation has made some aspects of modern life easier; our fear of machines has changed little even with all the technological advancements we have made and the saturation of machines (particularly computers) we have somewhat accepted, as part of our lives.
The origin of Industrial Age fear is a complex topic – a topic I will attempt to address later on, not historically but psycho-physically, as I believe all cultural movements, by whatever name and for whatever cause, are reducible to a universal origin.
Our fear of machines and our relationship with that fear is just as complex a topic however. Humans are naturally suspicious of anything new, and the evolution of ingenious devices used in torture, war and everyday life has always been slow due to such, often well-founded, suspicion.
When humanity created technology that enabled the shift from an agrarian lifestyle to one of amassing goods – some embraced the machine, and others despised it.
People like Henry Ford believed that machines could make our lives easier, (Although credited with launching the first salvo in the industrial revolution with his invention of the assembly line – Ford in fact strove to produce goods at a low cost but pay high wages to his employees. Time has since turned that arrangement on its head.) And in many ways they have.
Naturally, as creatures slow to adapt collectively to change, for decades we had to be sold on the idea of bringing washing machines, radios, toasters, kettles and microwaves respectively into our home; for there was something very suspicious about a device that could do our work for us in half the time and better than we ever could. In fact, threatening is more apt a description.
Mostly, these new white goods/appliances were aimed at appealing to women, with the expectation that they could perform their perfunctory chores more quickly and efficiently (and women did have to work extraordinarily hard prior to such conveniences by comparison to today’s standards) and so have more time to devote to their husband, and, so she was led to believe, herself.
The prospect of machines that could do women’s work for them threatened to make women even more expendable than they already were. Since women largely relied (and still rely) on being a good house-maker for their subsistence given the little respect society accorded them, it took a lot of convincing to reach a critical mass that would embrace machines in the home. As an aside, around the time machines created more time for women by making their chores somewhat easier – a strong push to reclaim back the freedom women had gained from them led to the institution of the beauty myth to re-imprison women once more. Not only did a woman have to do all the housework – she also had to look good doing it too.
The reluctance to accept machines into the home because they would undermine women’s power (such as it was) was only one of many factors in relation to a distrust of machines. Another was the understandable threat of automation to jobs (which is still a threat) that had put many workers on the street as machines took their livelihoods from them. It also took concerted national effort to convince men to accept these ‘new-fangled’ inventions into their lives and homes. This effort was eventually made much easier – with the arrival of new machines to tell us about other machines – the radio, and then the hallowed television.
By the 1940’s machines had become pervasive in the lives of many people, particularly for their role in the war effort. As their number increased, so did their complexity.
Japan, world leaders in technological advancement, revolutionized the assembly line with powerful automated robots that could perform manual labour in a tenth of the time it took a human and with far greater accuracy.
A greater reliance on machines world-wide including tanks, planes, ships, submarines, and satellites brought the frequency of their failure to perform correctly to the fore. Searching for solutions to these problems would lead a global charge to develop innovative technologies so machines could even fix themselves – but more often than not it was human failure and a misunderstanding of the machine in question that led to malfunction. Thus, even as machines were designed with greater sophistication and became increasingly more complex so as to deal more efficiently with the demands of human tasks, there emerged a simultaneous push to provide simpler interfaces so that the machines could be more ‘user-friendly’.
It is interesting that humans felt a need to ‘personalize’ machines in an effort to make them more friendly by giving pet names to huge tanks, submarines, liners and even guns and missiles.
After the devastation of the Second World War had subsided a little, tensions between the USSR and USA escalated as each fought for the scraps of the Nazi War Machine and the Cold War began. A renewed emphasis on technology took hold militarily – in an effort to prevent another scenario of that type occurring ever again – to streamline battles and fight at a greater distance after the experience of horrific trench warfare was sought to be avoided – and a reduction in the huge numbers of casualties of future conflicts, imperative.
Fear and a need for self-sufficiency motivated many countries to begin looking for resources which had all but been exhausted during the war effort that could sustain them indefinitely in the event of another. But mistrust between nations became a race to develop such resources first, and hostility between the USSR and USA led to the nuclear arms race – and the dream of perpetual nuclear fission.
Oppenheimer and top world scientists who had also been working toward a nuclear weapon prior to their defeat were snapped up by both powers in a desperate attempt to develop a super-weapon first. Although the USSR, China, Korea, Iraq and other nations managed to develop nuclear capabilities, only the American’s would go down in history for the infamy of using them to stop the Japanese in their tracks after the incident of Pearl Harbour.
The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the Second World War with unanimous disbelief and shock that humans could wreak such devastation upon one another. The atomic bomb was of a scale far beyond the waves of bombs dropped on cities by both Axis and Allied forces, beyond even the enormous Paris Gun which dropped shells on Paris from thirty miles away, the mustard and nerve gases, or even the insidious VX Rockets developed by the Nazis for biological warfare.
No-one was prepared for the enormous power of destruction these weapons represented and it numbed the world to see them in action. I fully believe that this one action was of such magnitude physically and psychically, the response given so gravely disproportionate, that it is still having an impact on the collective human race.
The Atomic Bomb was a machine, dropped by another machine the Enola Gay B-52 Bomber, dropped by men. That men could do this to one another is still something humanity has yet to properly grieve over. All the nasties of World War 2 paled in comparison to the scale of devastation one atomic bomb could have and made us all back off from our enthusiastic dream of nuclear power.
But what was more chilling to us was that this act was performed by men who made a choice to accept the mission, get into the plane, fly the plane to their destination and release the greatest weapon mankind had ever seen, not on the Japanese army, but on hundreds of thousands of civilians. What chilled us was the detachment humanity showed to itself that allowed this to happen and the realization that Soldiers and Pilots can be trained to be as obedient and unflinching in performing a task as machines. We saw on a large-scale, that we had become – like them.
For a long-time a popular concept floated about was the idea of ‘pushing a red button’ to end it all. Rumours of special rooms in secret bases in the USSR and USA that contained a simple switch that could be flicked to launch thousands of nuclear warheads and annihilate the enemy – though having seen the destruction of the atomic bomb we knew that all political rhetoric aside, such an action actually meant the annihilation of the planet.
It was precisely this harboured fear, still highly prevalent, that allowed the Bush Administration to persuade national support with fake propaganda for the invasion of Iraq over accusations of WMD’s (Weapons of Mass Destruction); which is just one of many pieces of evidence that point to a deeply ingrained trauma still carried in the human race regarding the power of the Atomic Bomb. I will return to the evolution of the machine to elaborate further evidence that this only played on a pronounced fear we have carried with us for a long time.
After a critical mass was reached and we had allowed machines into the home, indeed prided ourselves on having as many as possible – it naturally became clearer why we had been so reluctant in the first place and should have perhaps listened to our intuition. It was one thing for us to have control over lifeless machines and refrigerate our food – but quite another when those machines were beginning to be taught how to be just like us – and another problem altogether when they were being made to be better than us. The devastation of World War II was still fresh in our minds and the idea of smart machines was understandably disconcerting – on the other hand, we were looking to the future and ready to embrace a brave new world.
Our anxiety was not so much with the presence of machines; we embraced cars, were excited about jet planes and Boeings being able to fly us across the globe in a few hours rather than the three weeks by ship leading to increase in recreational possibilities and mailing time; enthused about movie theatres, stereos, better transport and food storage; and were thankful for machines that could do dangerous jobs, repetitive jobs, decrease military casualties (supposedly), or perform other amazing functions.
When we realized that we humans would still be needed to perform jobs because machines could only do so much, we cut machines some slack. We were definitely excited about the prospect of using them to get to the moon in 1969 (hoax or not), to other planets and in using them to explore the mysteries of outer space and our ‘final’ frontiers and our national propaganda reflected and encouraged us in this hope.
Prophetic visions of the future dating from the late 19th Century and early 20th Century often show cities that resemble something from the Jetsons or Futurama – with a tide of rockets, airships, personal helicopters, hover-cars and sky-trains filling the skies or flying effortlessly to and from the moon. One of these early scenes depicts (naively we can with authority now say) an elevator to take passengers from Earth to the naturally built up metropolis on the moon itself.
Obviously those hopeful visions have not fulfilled themselves as fully as predicted – and even now that we have attained the capability to land on the moon, launch satellites, and explore outer space with the NASA program – people show little to no collective interest in an exploration which once captivated the world. The majority of the world’s funds are spent on military budgets and NASA has struggled for continued funding.
These hopeful vistas of the future sketched by optimistic dreamers were once confined to comics, writers and artists. Science fiction enjoyed a loyal following but it did not really take off until the radio brought it en masse into homes with early space-based shows like H.G. Wells ‘War of the Worlds’ stories. When Well’s radio descriptions of an alien invasion aired it was believed to be a genuine broadcast by thousands of Europeans. Many people fled their homes or sheltered in them, deathly afraid. It was a remarkable and infamous faux pas instigated by fear and ignorance, yet it would have the effect of intoxicating a decent chunk of Britain’s population with ufo and alien hysteria by introducing science-fiction to a national audience.
As science-fiction became more widespread and accepted into popular culture, a host of writers such as Asimov, Clarke, and others emerged from the New York scene to present diverse and fantastic depictions of the contents of our outer reaches causing the interest in comic and pulp-fiction books to thrive.
The national fever of the Cold War which raced the USA against the USSR to get a man on the moon also galvanized a massive interest in space which helped gather support and funding that culminated in the Moon Landing of 1969.
Television had accepted science-fiction with aplomb and the medium was further developed by television shows such as ‘Buck Rogers and the 21st Century’, ‘Star Trek’, ‘Dr Who’, ‘Battle Star Galactica’ and ‘Lost in Space’.
Through these artificial vistas of the future we explored the far reaches of space encountering all manner of distant threats and wonders from this or that dimension – distant, because for us then, the possibility of robots, computers, and machines ruling the world was slowly encroaching but still far from a practicable concept.
Yet, while we joined in the imagined toying about on spaceships with unlimited jet propulsion that could be driven through space at the touch of a few buttons – for a long time in real life we had nothing even close to the complexity of machines, robots and technology long dreamed up so casually in science-fiction.
For many this discrepancy was driven home in 1986 by the tragedy of the Challenger Shuttle disaster that claimed seven lives and tore naïve human hopes and dreams of outer space exploration to real pieces.
Hundreds of concepts of underground shuttles, glass tubes, underground transport hubs, super-trains, and even transportation machines filled the pages of designers eager to capture the future in the mid 20th Century. The majority of these proved impossible to implement for one reason or another and with the Challenger, just how hard it would be to get a smooth convoy of traffic to the moon even after the brightest minds had put in so much effort, sank in and the free-dream was shattered. The easy fair-weather attitude of space travel could previously stand unchallenged because no-one had achieved the impossible yet or died trying. We were shell-shocked by national televising of the death of seven astronauts, heroes at the time, who were incinerated live in front of millions of viewers in a fiery explosion.
Although this disaster dampened our ambition we did not give up and continued trying to get to the moon and beyond – but the NASA space shuttle program lost a lot of its impetus and has dwindled to a fraction of its former glory in the present day 2010.
NASA still trains and uses astronauts, but mainly launches unmanned satellites. Although we dreamed large at the turn of the century, for this century, we are still not even close to having any sort of hover-car system or regular traffic to the moon and there is a general disinterest in such programs.
Even so, or perhaps because it was less taxing, we continued to devote considerable time and funding to the development of the microchip and the personal computer
In the early 20th Century the pre-concept of Artificial Intelligence was treated as a given, as something that we could almost certainly attain with the greatest of ease in the near future.
Robots were typically depicted as being just like us; they were able to think, to perform autonomously, they possessed distinct personalities, they could make choices, often had a moral code, and re-programming them appeared to be as simple as spending a few minutes or seconds tinkering with undefined or obscure panels, switches or wires.
In later TV shows and movies, robots fluctuated back and forth in complexity, reflecting the considerable challenges and problems real life programmers and designers were experiencing in making these visions happen, whilst showcasing the latest advances in robotics as they came about and it is my personal nostalgic interest in observing the technology used in movies from different time periods just to remind myself how far we have come in such a short amount of time with computers, robotics and machinery that has helped me discern the fear we have shown of technology.
It is interesting to see how one particular grail of computer and robotics programmers called Artificial Intelligence (AI) has developed and was viewed over the course of the later few decades of the 20th century, but especially in movies.
At the turn of the Century, and as machines were only just coming into the foreground, all manner of fantastic predictions were being made about where the new technologies being developed would lead. No-one realized just how long it would take to get even a rudimentary level of computer up and running that didn’t fill several warehouses and require changing thousands of clunky valves that burned out periodically. Meanwhile many ideas were simply not possible until very late in the century and only then after considerable expense, experiment and exploration; but some ideas had to be abandoned altogether.
A great many vistas of the future from the past contain efficient hover-cars – one for everyone it seems – but such visions have turned out to be optimistic guesses that were unable to foresee concrete considerations of the late 20th Century that make hover-cars in any form, difficult if not impossible to practically implement
Although dozens of vehicles have been built to hover-car specification as future vehicles, the cost of each is too prohibitive to be adopted in any wide-spread utopia. Fringe technology is usually funded by military research and is only released much later to filter down into general civilian use – a prime example being the development of the Intranet by DARPA, a self-contained communications system that later became the world-wide Internet. Consider also that Sony’s ‘playstation 1’ which today sells for a paltry $10 with games and a controller was once $1400 brand new upon its release – a system that would go on to revolutionize the entertainment industry. The cost of fringe technologies is prohibitively expensive and requires special funding; but to implement such expensive technology on any large scale proves very difficult. Only decades after the microchip had been at the centre of military programs was it released into the public arena where eventually it became so common that it became cheap – allowing them to be installed world-wide in personal computers and other portable technologies such as the mobile phone. Prior to this stage, men killed each other to obtain one.
Petro-chemical companies that control the supply and demand of oil stand to lose their fortunes if a free-energy type car is developed and have stood, and still stand, in the way of such research for decades, going as far as to destroy inventions, discredit inventors, or use hired muscle to intimidate prospective threats to their monopoly. Although there have been a myriad of alternative fuels and batteries invented and suggested – those who stand to lose from the development of such things have traditionally inhibited their growth.
The population of Earth is now much higher than it used to be, it was somewhere around the million mark in 1900, and is now somewhere around 6.6 billion – and to equip each person with such a vehicle to suit early utopian vistas of the future would prove even more prohibitive than at the turn of the century when the population was excessively low by today’s comparison.
World Resources are now much more heavily strained since the turn of the Century when these ideas were being explored and to equip everyone with anything is no longer possible for such expensive technologies.
The Technology required to achieve more than a semblance of many of the concepts in such vistas has not been developed or has proved impossible to develop or harness – such as perpetual motion or free-energy.
Restrictions on airspace and intensified security considerations complicate ‘free’ travel.
Thus, instead of our collective spirit being concentrated on personal rocket-ships to take us to other planets (which we now realize much to our annoyance aren’t inhabitable) we transport ourselves in large groups with clunky planes that often drop out of the sky. It’s a poor consolation prize, but just one of many disappointments to our human spirit and identity.
Though there remain cashed up billionaires and humanitarians ready to fund fringe projects and technologies – as well as black funds, arms dealers, and militaries – collectively, we have largely given up on such ambitious projects and are now focused on extending our much more manageable ego with superficial attachments by using portable or body-worn technologies – hence this generation is often called generation ‘me’.
In dreaming so vividly we have been sorely disillusioned time and time again by the harsh demands of reality and are repeatedly demoralized by the time it takes to get even close to our fantasies. Often we have to change them completely as was the case with our fabled Space Station that boasted it would support thousands of people who would live on the station for months at a time in a galactic paradise until they were exchanged for new thousands by regular shuttle shifts.
The idea of Space Stations has been fraught with difficulties and those that do exist are maintained by a dedicated team of about thirty people who spend months at a time fixing and regulating the thousands of problems that they incur.
Our reach has fallen short many crucial times as a human race, and suffered great traumas to our collective identity (especially as regards detonation of the Atomic Bomb) and now it seems we seek to heal ourselves by making ourselves feel better by reaching for individual pursuits much closer to home, and nothing as a collective. So while we have lost most of the conscious connections to these traumas as time has gone by, we still hurt from the unconscious pain without knowing why.
Perhaps this is why a strong and destructive nihilistic streak has been carried forward into the 21st Century. Our ambition, and the subsequent crushing of it, has been a key element in a great many movies that contain unconscious symbolism of great traumas.
In the 1980’s during the height of the Cold War, I watched movies such as ‘War Games’, ‘Tron’ and ‘Robocop’.
In ‘War games’, a young ‘whiz-kid’ hacker (Matthew Broderick) accidentally finds his way into the Pentagon’s military database and makes contact with an ‘advanced’ military computer that he befriends. He plays several games against it marvelling at its skill, until it suddenly challenges him to a game of war. Believing the game to be nothing more than a simulator, he accepts, only to find out later that the game is being treated as real by the computer and his strategic maneuvers have set the United States on Defcon 1 under the threat of nuclear war. Eventually the Pentagon tracks him down and gets him to persuade the computer not to start WWIII.
The movie raised the problem of teaching the subtlety of concepts to computers. Fear that a super-computer put in charge of military strategy and operations could potentially fail to discern reality from fantasy or blindly follow its programmed protocols without taking moment by moment changes into consideration and end up launching nuclear missiles and ICBM’s at America’s enemies, (or America) thus starting another world war by accident, is a theme that has surfaced in many technology-based movies.
A similar struggle and fear of man vs. machine was illustrated beautifully in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Space Odyssey 2001’ when Hal, the onboard computer follows its programmed protocol to the letter despite the human occupants being able to see an unorthodox but probable solution to a problem and condemns the human passengers to death.
A less extreme replication of this battle was recently given in Pixar’s ‘Wall-E’ but even here the love/hate relationship with robots and crazed computers filters through with healthy doses of mistrust. Even Buzz Light-year, a semi-robotic character is portrayed as prone to going mad in Toy Story 3 – which at the time of writing is an unreleased movie.
However, the role of man vs. machine was sometimes reversed too, with men acting like machines and/or using machines to cause great devastation.
In the ‘Hunt for Red October’ a stalwart Russian admiral drives fear into America when his attempt to defect with a nuclear submarine is taken as the intention to launch ICBM’s at the USA.
In ‘Flight of the Black Angel’ a vengeful but exemplary pilot steals a state-of-the-art military jet armed with a nuclear warhead and threatens to detonate it in his hometown.
James Bond and a plethora of Superheroes dealt with madman after madman that had stolen or developed some technology or another to take over or destroy the world.
The threat of nuclear war was a prevalent threat from the 50’s through to the 80’s. The Russians, Koreans, Americans, Israelis, Iraqis, Cubans, Libyans, to name just a few had (and still have) stockpiles of thousands of devastating nuclear warheads, Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles, Rockets filled with VX gas, biological toxins and other nasties. A major part of the last half of the 20th Century involved a parlay between countries to stop adding to these stockpiles and dismantle existing weapons.
During the first gulf war I recall seeing a televised countdown where a zero hour was given for Saddam Hussein’s demands to be met by the Allies or he would launch a nuclear warhead. Perhaps this was allied propaganda but I remember the fatalistic effect it had on me in believing that the world could end in a matter of hours – it was a feeling of terror. And I acted accordingly, and fatalistically, getting into a huge fight with my family and refusing to apologize claiming that we’d all be dead in a few hours so ‘who fucking cares anyway!’
This same numbing terror was felt by millions of people in the aftermath of the Atomic Bomb – where there is evidence for this in a great many movies that appeared during the following decades that were clearly influenced by the pervasive threat of the Cold War the Atomic Bomb had set in motion.
It is perhaps worth noting that one of the most iconic images of the 20th Century was a lone man standing in front of a tank with his shopping under one arm holding his hand up to stop it in Tiananmen Square, China. It was an act that expressed something profound about our ethos.
‘War Games’ was made in an era where home computers (PC’s) were near to being realized but were still large blocky cumbersome units with black screens, 64 or 128kb of RAM, used ASCII coding and had just one font of neon green text. It had taken decades longer than anyone expected to get even this far and since the journey there had been far different and more difficult than previously envisioned – no-one really knew what the next step would bring. A lot of speculative movies began to surface that mapped or hypothesized about the capabilities of future computing.
In Disney’s 1982 ‘Tron’ we were taken into the computer itself to explore a world of microchips and electronic databases where losing at a game meant causal death.
Though still very basic, Tron depicted the concept of Cartesian grids built of electronic signals (though not the first to do this) and vast areas that stretched to infinity inside the small monitor. In effect – it presented a hypothetical construct of pre-cyberspace.
In the futuristic 1982 ‘Blade-Runner’, humanoid-robots (then oft referred to as cyborgs) have reached such a high level of sophistication that they are called ‘replicants’.
‘Replicants’ possess superior strength and mental ability and a few of them use their advantage for illegal activities. After several significant problems caused by rebel replicants, they are outlawed on earth and subsequently tracked down by special agents who attempt to identify them from humans using psychological questionnaires designed to test emotional response which the Replicants have not fully developed knowledge of the subtleties of.
Various human characteristics began to surface in our presentation of robots that dealt comprehensively with various problems we encountered, moral, social, military, and technical – but one of the grails of science and technology was to make machines that were just like us. This was further classified as meaning able to ‘think’ and ‘learn’ like us. Our personalization’s of computers and technology has led to some strange neologisms. For quite some time, the term ‘mainframe’ became common-place and synonymous with the ‘heart’ of a computer that had gone ‘berserk’ and needed to be shut down.
The development of the microchip processor enabled technology to leap forward at an unprecedented rate ushering man and machines into the Information Age together with computers beginning to rival man by speaking their own language. However, while computers have their own language, or ‘code’ – they still require manual human maintenance and interaction to build them, fix them, and teach them. The development of two-way conversation will prove crucial to perfect if computers are to ever be self-sufficient and recent development of quantum computers that can learn, or human identical robots programmed to learn is as frightening as it is fascinating.
Chess computers were available from the 1970’s onwards for public purchase but despite their sophistication they ran on a rudimentary program that could only output what was input even if input consisted of hundreds of thousands of possible moves.
One of the harder aspects of AI is giving computers a code of ethics. We have tried for a long time to do this, probably because robots were large, cold and frightening and bore no resemblance to us, and we feared them. To accept them, we would need them to look less threatening, and more human. We would also need them to act more like us.
Although we are blessed with arguably the most powerful inbuilt computer on Earth, the Brain, the replication of this enigmatic engine has proved extremely difficult and progress in this area is very slow. AI was and still proves to be the toughest nut to crack.
Isaac Asimov was among the first to suggest a code of robot morality, whereupon he devised three laws that went on to strongly influence robotics. These three laws are:
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
The fear that without these ethics, robots would not be able to discern an enemy from a friend or tell right from wrong and their confusion would lead them to spiral out of control with dangerous results remains a keynote in many media dealing with robotics.
It is likely that the phenomenal success and saturation of Star Wars and its treatment of the human-like 3CPO and the notably robotic-looking R2D2, where androids played diverse but integral human-like roles in a futuristic society, marked a stage of brief trust where collective humanity seemed to finally accept that robots could be possible companions for the future.
In ‘Robocop’, the concept of cybernetics and cyborgs was explored with the idea that robots could be our friends and even our protectors if AI could be sufficiently developed to instill an airtight moral code.
After suffering an accident at the hands of a corrupt cop who also murders his family, Officer Alex Murphy is subjected to a life-saving but highly experimental procedure that turns him into a cyborg and the first ‘Robo-cop’. He is programmed with a simplified version of these three laws and after several successful demonstrations of his abilities is hailed as the prototype for future law enforcement in Detroit where crime is out of control.
The struggle for Robocop to perform his civil duties and code becomes difficult however when his computer programming is corrupted by memory flashes of his former life and the murder of his loved ones. Murphy ‘learns’ that a highly honoured cop who is also one of his programmers is behind his family’s murder. He is subsequently torn between following his directive that tells him he must not kill another human being, and his human emotions of anger, grief, and vengeance. His struggle is compounded, and contrasted by an evil counterpart that ‘Robo-cops’ are supposed to replace; the ED209, an ‘older’ bipod model of robot that takes laws and protocol all too seriously and follows a simpler program to such a degree that it gattle-guns a man to death during a demonstration requiring ‘compliance’ – even after the man complies.
Robocop was a huge success at the movies and was joined by more playful optimistic movies such as ‘Short-Circuit’ where A.I. is given to ‘No.5’ after a lightning strike hits one of a series of five experimental lethal cybernetic weapons.
‘No.5’ becomes sentient and makes his way through the world learning about it. He befriends Stephanie, a civilian that tutors him on various concepts with increasing subtlety. When ‘No.5’ tries to imitate the jumping of a cricket and accidentally squashes it, he implores Stephanie to re-assemble the cricket, only to learn that the cricket is ‘dead’ and cannot be re-assembled. When ‘No.5’ determines his own state to be ‘alive’ he goes to great lengths to avoid being recaptured by the military and ‘dis-assembled’ which he associates with ‘death’. ‘No.5’ from ‘Short-Circuit’ was almost certainly behind the inspiration for ‘Wall-E’, a more recent robotic character who possesses the same playful innocence and the same tank-like tracks and head goggles.
The theme that life occurs or A.I. can occur with a freak lightning strike is not new. Man spent the last half of the 19th century sending shocks through human cadavers to bring them back to life and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was given life in exactly the same way.
We find that even today explanations for how robots ‘life’ is brought into being is still a matter of creative invention not scientific knowledge – and even today after decades of trying, people are still trying to ignite this mysterious spark of life using electricity and computers.
However the truce with robots never lasts. And despite our optimism our cynicism returned.
Compare this optimism a few years later with the 1991 ‘Terminator’ movie which included significant breakthroughs in computer generated effects. In Terminator I an advanced robot (with metal exo-skeleton) from the future is sent to kill John Connor, future leader of the human resistance and our one true hope of escaping an eventual global takeover by a supercomputer called Cyberdyne that is destined to declare war on the human race.
In the Terminator, a soldier from the future is sent back to protect John from a hostile machine. The machine is relentless but eventually destroyed by human wile.
In Terminator II, the original terminator is sent back to protect John – while an even more hostile liquid metal ‘mimetic poly-alloy’ T1000 model Terminator is sent by Cyberdyne to finish what the original Terminator failed to do. The T1000 proves extremely tenacious but again, eventually succumbs to human wile and is destroyed by being melted in a forge.
In the third installment however, John Connor’s role changes from forestalling the detonation of a nuclear holocaust by shutting down or preventing Cyberdyne from going postal, to accepting that he cannot change the nuclear holocaust and must ready himself to lead a resistance of friendly humans and re-programmed (read ‘neutral’) robots in an all out war against hostile robots.
It would appear that we finally succumbed to the fact that machines were not going away anytime soon, or for that matter, at all – and that we had to learn to adapt and live with them as best we could.
This did nothing to allay our fears of machines however – in Gattica (1997), an Orwellian-style movie; the world is run using machines and computers of terrifying efficiency. The protagonist is cursed with imperfect DNA, a crime in a world where everything is perfect. He manages to deceive the machines that require his DNA to be tested regularly, that he too is perfect using the DNA of a perfect individual who is not known to the system. This works fine until there is the disruption of a murder; an event that is thought to have been eradicated. DNA recovered from the scene turns out to be imperfect, leaving him in a quandary whether to confess the murder at the risk of exposing himself, whilst the machines set about conducting an extensive analysis of everyone’s DNA to determine the killer. His only crime is being born with ‘imperfect’ DNA.
Throughout sci-fi the concept of ‘networking’ emerged in many variations, and could be seen in such creatures as Star Trek’s Borg – a colony-type species of cyborg that were interconnected as one unified mass run by the equivalent of a supercomputer or paranoia-type movies where surveillance by machines had escalated out of control under the watchful eye of a malevolent ‘Big Brother’ i.e. 1984, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, Demolition Man, Cube, Total Recall, The Matrix.
The precision of robots being unable to make room for the variables that characterize human judgments occurs in ‘Minority Report’, ‘I, Robot’, and dozens of other sci-fi movies. In all of these movies – there existed a moral element, a question mark over total reliance on robots to do the right thing, and a pervading sense of malevolence, distrust, and the sinister if they did not. We also parodied and explored the result of acting like machines ourselves. It seems that for a long time yet, our uneasy relationship with creating our potential replacements will bring unease and a sense of the Sinister to all humanity.
But perhaps because this unconscious fear has been so deeply ingrained this archetypal battle underlay’s more than just movies about robots. And here again surfaces the theme of the Atomic Bomb. I believe that we have twisted robots and machines into other shapes, including semblances of ourselves (mindless implacable flesh-eating zombies that are relentless for example) that represent the same psychic cry for help – much the same way that dreams change their symbolism until a core message is finally understood.
TV Series such as ‘V’, ‘Mission Impossible’, and ‘the X-Files’ were part of a continuous thread that highlighted and replicated our innate fear of creating something that could destroy us. Aliens, Robots, Zombies, UFO’s, and Government Conspiracies have many things in common, but I believe they all share another common resonance: Voiceless awe of the power of the Atomic Bomb. I shall explain.
The Atomic Bomb stunned the world in 1945 – and numbed us; and although the world has become decidedly cynical, I have no doubt whatsoever that the detonation of another would stun it again.
The insane power of the Atomic Bomb was ill-treated by the Americans at the time of its hey-day – in fact their attitude was positively cavalier. They stood their soldiers only hundreds of feet away from test detonations wearing sunglasses and assured them there was no danger of radiation. The terrific shockwave and devastation that could level cities flat and the permanent damage to the environment and lasting effects from fallout were downplayed and dismissed in America’s eagerness to use one. To garner support from their populace a deliberate deception about nuclear safety was promulgated in the infamously stupid ‘duck and cover’ precaution programs that instilled people to practice foolhardy precautions such as getting under a table, covering their head, or building a ‘bomb’ shelter.
Without anyone the wiser, the dangerous powers of nuclear weapons and their effect on their targets were downplayed and propagandized.
When Japan joined the Second World War and bombed Pearl Harbour, America’s armed forces were too strained to spread them further into the Orient. America proclaimed an attack on Japan the only course of action left and the decision was made to drop Atomic Bombs from the B-52 Enola Gay onto the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The unparalleled devastation it created: the radiation and fires, the black ash that rained from the sky, the yellow uranium puddles that caused horrific burns and melted flesh, the shockwave that smashed through concrete buildings like it was paper, the radiation blisters and sickness, the very burning of people’s shadows into the ground, and the ongoing genetic defects from contaminated soil, water and air that continue to this day were unique atrocities in humanities known history.
The explosion was of such magnitude it was heard hundreds of miles away and the mushroom cloud column could be seen from a hundred miles away spiralling into the atmosphere. Here I believe the realization that humans could commit this kind of absolute devastation on each other tore the collective psyche and left us numbed – unable to accept or deal with what had just happened.
The willingness to resort to such unrivalled destruction is unique to the United States (which is partly why I have no qualms believing 911 was a US led conspiracy) and was to elevate them to the status of a superpower on the back of a wave of incommunicable disbelief and fear.
What is interesting is that historically, a great emphasis is placed on Hitler, his crimes and the holocaust. This issue, driven by Allied media, has always superseded any American atonement for the dropping of the most devastating weapon then devised. In fact, dropping the atomic bomb even seems to have been attributed as being necessary because of Hitler. Or perhaps this hatred of Hitler is driven by the projected guilt and shock of America at its own committing of unthinkable crimes.
Although there was an even larger explosion at the turn of the century in Tunguska – by albeit mysterious means – it did not affect us as much as Hiroshima because Tunguska’s explosion was in a remote area, but more importantly was not tied up with our collective identity.
The Atomic Bomb was a spearhead driven by human ingenuity, it was imbedded in the consciousness, and the world was deeply invested in the events and outcome of the world war, excited about the dawn of the atomic age and nuclear power. The A-bomb signalled a new age of atomic power and change, and we were excited about this potential right up until we saw what atomic power could do.
The Chernobyl Reactor Meltdown in 1986 only heightened already existing fears of nuclear power and, like exploration of space, pushed nuclear reactors into the background to hum quietly and unobtrusively in remote locations – hardly the vision of nuclear excellence we anticipated.
The movies are filled with allegories of super beings coming to earth to use super-weapons advanced well beyond our means against us.
What was Godzilla, an unstoppable alien lizard-like force that levelled everything in its wake – if not an expression of this deep nuclear psychic scar? Or ‘Independence Day’? 2012?
A raft of UFO themes where deadly machines are used by deadly beings showed up for decades on television, and still they show up – with aliens fluctuating between being more like us, with emotions, behaviour and ethics that rival and sometimes supersede our own or as grotesquely twisted and savage extra-terrestrials.
What typically triumphs in the end over these forces is always our collective humanity – (and thanks to propaganda often that troubled soul who has to make hard world-changing decisions for all of us – the American President) – and our morality, or at least the myth of it. Yet, in thousands of our movies, it is as though we are continually attempting to recreate a certain archetypal scene.
In the horror movie the ‘Blob’ (1958), a gelatinous mass takes over a town, rolling down streets and oozing onto people to dissolve them whole. For quite a while a pervasive theme in cinema existed where something would be adversely affected by lightning, a toxic or nuclear incident, or even a meteor crashing to earth causing some species or another to go crazy or evil and take over some town.
From Spiders, Ants, Giant Rabbits, Bats, Birds, Bees, Worms, Sharks, and Piranhas, to a 50-Foot Woman, Cars and Killer Tomatoes – we toyed with the fantasy of being over-whelmed and explored our tentative relationship with nature and the animals. A mass of normally sedate creatures was given supernatural or heightened aggression and organized into impossible numbers in a bid to wipe us out.
I believe, in a sense, that we enjoyed the idea of being stripped of control, of being powerless and consumed by our own arrogance – perhaps a symptom of our guilt complex expressing itself at the horrors of Hiroshima/Nagasaki, Vietnam, and World War II – and that we created artificial coping mechanisms, a replication of the process of controlled vulnerability to other more dominant forces around us.
This process enabled us to re-enact something of the powerlessness we felt at over-whelming world events. But because our reasons for creating them remained unconscious – the core that bound all these movies and expressions together remained and remains subliminal. We never reached a clear concise conscious understanding of the grief and horror we felt from the atomic bomb; the event was simply too damaging to be dealt with openly. Instead, it has filtered out in a variety of connected themes in all kinds of symbolism than hinted at the heart of our pain but never revealed it.
Such re-enactments allowed us to re-live the event but with control, and explore a fantasy where we could evoke power over events where previously we had none. The power of the trauma of the event is correspondingly mirrored in the power it has had over humanity. The possibility that our collective expressions over the course of the last hundred years contain secret screams of massive trauma has an undeniably sinister undertone; and it is our very denial that makes it so.
I do not define the ‘Sinister’ as an evil energy – though it can be expressed through such energies on some level – there is more to this energy than an oversimplification that constrains it in moral terms.
Moral terms are unfortunately the status quo of reference for humanity – the legacy of the ancient dragon of religion and all too often they act as a thick paste slapped onto the surface of abstractions to make even the most delicate tangents of energy that contain esoteric hints into our deeper human processes at work, into a fat block of mediocrity that is easier to grasp and pretend to understand.
To treat the ‘Sinister’, or even the concepts of ‘Good’, ‘Purity’ or ‘Evil’ as they were designed to be treated, as words for objective things in themselves is natural – but because we treat them this way – accepting them as the base from which we proceed – any independent heuristic phenomenological study of these things seldom goes any further than the jurisdiction of morality, and because of our conditioned laziness, we lose a great deal of the information they contain.
Morality is a combination of convenience and ignorance whose function is to deliberately obscure a finesse of extreme subtlety. Through the invention and installation of morality the tension of opposites and the power between them, the real power of magic, sorcery, life, has become an artificial scale of opposing values, morally and then linguistically simplified and solidified into Good and Evil. This chunky filter is liberally applied to interpret all energies, overt or extremely subtle – thus muddying the sublime with a profane lense that seeks the least exertion of energy.
The ego will hate to hear this; it detests being told off, but more than that it detests exerting more energy than the minimum and too, anyone that requires it to change its perspective and prevent it from using its all-time favourite filter.
But the ‘Sinister’ is not just an energy of evil or destruction and to view it as such is to bury its incredible subtlety, which although difficult to extract, is worth the painstaking excavation.
To bind it in moral terms causes this energy be stripped of much of its inherent information –forcing it to behave as an inert abstraction in the service of an artificial egocentric yolk. Treated differently, it reveals a much more intricate web of complexity at work.
Firstly, in terms of energy, the Sinister is beyond morality – it is not evil, though it can by all means be interpreted as evil; but it is far more complex an emanation and symptom than the Christian’s wet-dream. It is a creeping ‘other-than’ – because if it were in any way a moral absolute, then we would simply use the word evil – but it is suggestive of something in potential.
It can be felt in many places, over our lifetime or in an instant, defying the strictures of opposites. However, ‘Sinister’ energy is an abstraction itself – a means by which we can wrap our head around the maddening dynamic of the esoteric workings of the mind by having something ‘concrete’ to work with; a supposition that gives rise to others that exerts abstract tension.
Energy is also an abstraction – yet another one we tend not to look at too closely but instead quickly layer with attachments, associations, and forms; this is the secret of will. But if we do try to look at it with any determined scrutiny we quickly encounter frustrating problems.
I.e. Picture clearly what this energy is. Now strip it of its name, remove the word energy, remove the word Sinister – remove morality – and all the other abstractions we layer onto this invisible ball we believe we perceive – and what is left?
Can you still hold it without naming it, without describing it? Can you pass it to someone without telling them what it is, without using the convenient strictures of morality that makes people nod their head and show a clumsy recognition for the hand-holds by which these energies are most usually known and handled? ‘Oh, yes, I’ve heard of the Sinister Path, I’m a Right-Hand Pather myself… I don’t dabble in black magic.’ Can you pass the Sinister to someone without telling them what it is? Try.
To constrain energy, we have to call it energy, since for us to use it, make it serviceable, it has to be called something. Otherwise, we cannot work with it, shift it, add to it, explain it, compare it, validate it or otherwise use it, because without words to carry them and morality to simplify and translate the subtle into the simple – the abstractions we use have no weight. Their solidity completely relies on being morally validated. *(See Appendix.)
Morality is a very poor filter for phenomenology though – and to Know thyself, to know what the Sinister denotes, hints at, and to get to where these and all our other abstracts originate from, before they Become and before we lose ourselves in their Becoming; morality has to be abandoned and treated as a coarse tension unsuitable for refined heuristics
Here now, is a second example of a non-moral sinister current – an ‘other-than’ prevalent in the uncontrolled acceleration of artificial time.
The events of the 20th Century re-shaped many things: they re-shaped the way wars were fought: the way economies, technology, science, and power developed regionally around the world: re-shaped the limits of mankind and the follies of mankind…
But I believe they also contained a point where humanity began to accelerate through changes faster than we could keep up with them. One could argue that much has been lost and trampled in the stampede of ‘progress’. Time, once held sacred as the journey of the sun across the sky, has been eroded by the dominance of economics and the tyranny of the machines.
The day used to be sacredly observed in blocks that meant something; 5 o’clock used to mean a definite end to the working day, now it is a mere blip in the mundane day that might or might not live up to its promise of home time pending the needs of the machine. Overtime has all but disintegrated the sun’s jurisdiction to meet economic demands. The day no longer ends when we come home – it drags out indefinitely to please the machines on the phone, computer, or laptop.
Though I do not appreciate the Christian celebration of December 25th or the horrible commerciality that coca-cola set in motion when it bought Santa Claus and made him a red and white materialist; I did appreciate the sacred observance of holidays and traditions having a causal start and causal end – a defined time required to tolerate them.
Over the years however, Christmas has been broken free of its restraints by corporate provocateurs and now gets going four even five months before December, and ends sometime in March – kept alive either side of the year by pre-Christmas and after Christmas sales.
Christmas has long been a corporate institution – and long been stripped of its sacred elements; but does it mean anything to anyone when it is prostituted for nine months?
Easter, used to be celebrated on a couple of days in April, and admittedly Easter eggs would be in the shops a month or two before this to capitalize on the rush. But this year, Easter eggs and buns were in the shops by Boxing Day, just two days after Xmas. Sacred observance of even the most basic traditions, such as Time, has been eroded, corporately lengthened, for the worship of money.
Time is measured by change – change by the revolution of evolution. ‘Progress’ has become our new clock – and new technology the hands that turn it. As a result, Time – has sped up drastically.
Technology is moving at such a rapid rate that new models become obsolete in years, months or even weeks – yet machines are still speeding up and because of that, so must we. But we are still, as we have always been, in many ways inferior to machines and the economy. We can never match their speed or efficiency, even as we are being forced to try – more often than not we simply match their cold inability to empathize.
This acceleration has continued exponentially throughout the decades of the 20th century but it has had unforeseen effects and the people of 2010+ are all but spiralling out of control.
We have collectively, not just individually, begun to emulate machines, becoming cold and unfeeling, acting rapidly and pragmatically like them, and losing a sacred connection of collective human empathy along the way. We try to assume the good points of machines, of our masters, for ourselves – efficiency, rapidity, reliability – but somehow mangle the translation.
We try to copy computers by processing huge amounts of information in seconds. We surf the net and read exhaustive tracts of texts but can only pick out the most glaring points – we can scan dozens of pages of text but only retain about 1%. Unlike machines, we have to trim information, simplify it into its most basic blocks and understand only the bare minimum of the available media whilst the machines retain it all – miss nothing – and malevolently highlight the fact that we can never compete.
In the name of survival – which we have entrusted to machines – we wake up to a machine, make our food in a machine, shave our face with a machine, light our cigarette with a machine, pack our pockets with machines, clog the roads in machines, take our driving cues from machines, carefully watching the time on a machine, to get to work on time before a machine docks us, to work with machines or make machines and ultimately to work for the Machine. We also tend more often to become enraged if any of these processes get interrupted. How did this happen?
In the 1950’s we tried to convince ourselves that we could attain Eden. We pretended we knew exactly how everything should proceed in neat instructions that left no room for error. We strove for perfection and to attain the nuclear family. Movies created around this time were possessed of great romanticism and there was little room for horror in the sense of any unsettling intrigue– everyone was proper and looking to the future.
There was however a sense in the air that this rigid state of Victorianism was being undermined by those who would become the children of the 60’s, just as there has been an unsettling sense that comes with all ages and generations of the unstoppable force of entropy and change and the sense that sinister elements would undermine the plans of the present day.
Sex, Drugs, Vietnam, Freedom, Peace, and a Re-discovery of the Body: all of these issues would rear their head in a generation that began asking questions, flouting laws and social mores, inventing their own vernacular and their own counter-culture. Flower Power had arrived and with it came rebellion against the Establishment.
The 60’s made its mark and then the 70’s rolled around and everything changed again. The madness of the 70’s died down and the 80’s came about. Drugs were restricted, Sex was made into a commodity to be bought and sold, a re-focus on science and technology re-emerged, interest in space craft and computers was re-instated and a sense prevailed that those of the 80’s were more grown-up, knew better and were more worldly, reigned.
In all of these transitions – none of them clearly marked in duration despite the ten year blocks that try to limit and constrain them – the world changed rapidly, embracing or rejecting various themes and social issues as time and culture fluctuated.
With each wave came an excitement that we were moving forward, throwing down old ways and getting to know who we were as individuals and Music, Fashion, Technology, Literature, Organizations, Issues all changed rapidly from one year to the next.
But all these changes wrought terrific strain as we moved through them – hardly having time to get to grips with one thing before the next thing happened along… much was lost, and many things, previously held in vogue for a century or more were eroded: values, respect, authority, all suffered until there was a slowly dawning appreciation that life, was suddenly moving uncomfortably fast and things were being said and done that would forever make it impossible to go back.
In all of this we felt fear and trepidation as monumental things unfolded, both good and bad – that gave us much unease – voiced a collective cry to slow down. But things slowed in the 80’s only for a moment before the rise of the Internet enabled society to rocket out of control.
Collectively swept along in these decades we were forced to change our cultural understanding and iconography again and again to fit each fad and trend – these rapid changes have left little time for any significant collective grieving of events. The Vietnam War was brought to a standstill by a united populace and a collective outrage expressed in the streets, in protests, sit-in’s and demonstrations of the people.
This intensity of collective community spirit once shown by people has long been silenced by a shattered collective identity – unions have been disbanded, protests outlawed, any sort of violence is met with extreme force or imprisonment by enforcers of the law even if the government are in the wrong.
Our collective hope for the future has since been splintered. Where things had previously been kept sacred with careful rites of passage observed to mark important stages of life as it unfolded in age – information dealt out as each afforded it – this maturity has been eroded. We gave over this office to external authorities and departments, who gave it to machines.
We have since arrived at a state of cynical anarchic rebellion against all values; a culture of psychopathic alpha-cynics that corporate negligence has encouraged to spawn.
We lost our collective hope and developed a jaded acceptance that some things will never change – and with that acceptance we lost control of our society to the point that it began to control us.
We were right to fear the irresponsibility of machines should they fail to grasp human ethics; because we had to know a future with machines would lead us to do what we naturally do and become what we hate.
In some unconscious warning spark, even at the turn of the century, we knew humanity has always foreseen itself in and been jealous of the things it hated.
The speed and unpredictability of change tragically reminds us that it is beyond our control – that like Oppenheimer and his Atomic Bomb, we cannot predict how our inventions will be used or how they will alter the world. Ultimately we have no choice but to embrace each wave and remain forcibly optimistic that it will all work out for the best or convince ourselves that if we can just hold on things will get better.
A sense of self-deception is necessary to console us that there is order to be found even in the greatest chaos. And as a defense we throw ourselves into the self-importance of our lives and its tasks. Yet, in those rare times when we are alone with our thoughts we sometimes sense our careful lie, catch the edge of it in our throat as we live out our lives – and it disturbs us. There is a sense of the Sinister in these losses and of the inevitable effects of an acceleration of time where there is increasingly less to anchor people to the past: perhaps to the point where someone takes it into their head to detonate another Atomic Bomb. For he who forgets the past is destined to repeat it.
THE MULTIFACETS OF MORBIDITY
Whilst a sense of the Sinister is often recognized by its presence in scenes of gore, murder, or extreme sadness or tragedy – it is also found in the suspense leading up to and/or away from such events – also in conspiracy, intrigue, deception, betrayal, irony or the macabre. But it is even more Omni-present than that. It is inimical to subtle tangents of ‘other-than’ – unpredictable and unique cracks that surface in form beyond typical moral simplifications. The following represents a diverse range of energies subtle and overt that equate to the Sinister and loosen the energy it seeks to explain from its moral strictures. The reader may even feel it edge in where I do not, for the Sinister is subjective.
In London, 1888, Jack the Ripper’s crimes were horrific and branded monstrous, inhuman even – but what made them Sinister and set them apart from other crimes of this nature was the mystery regarding his motive and identity. More than a hundred years on, a fabled mythos built around Jack still lends a sinister ethos to the events of one of the most infamous killers of all time.
Yet there is still a nagging sense when facts about the killings are presented to us that Jack’s identity was known at the time but kept secret by a clandestine conspiracy – and that the surfacing of then readily apparent indicators, if handled more carefully, could have prevented chilling consequences.
But we are in the position to know that key clues and evidence were ignored; a chalk message of the Ripper ‘The Juwes are not the ones who will be blamed’ was scrubbed clean by the chief of police before the hand-writing could be analyzed; blood was cleaned away or bodies were moved so as to contaminate the facts of the crime scene.
It is not merely the brutality of the Ripper that makes this series of killings chilling – or memorable – but also the possibility that Jack was never caught, and possibly enabled by an Establishment we believed was sworn to protect society – an establishment that itself lead the hunt to catch him or not catch him as the case may be.
That we now know more fully the facts of those fateful days when the Ripper stalked the streets of London than any of the characters present who belonged to that time – that we are able to see connections that they could not – is a sinister irony – for we can do nothing to help those people make those connections or aid the victims of the Ripper despite knowing what is going to happen.
While those characters are long dead, their energies and mythos still lives on, allowing us to place ourselves in a world long gone and walk amongst them as ghosts that can do nothing even as we know everything. There is a powerlessness in this – a perceptive glimpse at our own fated demise someday being haunted by ghosts who can do nothing and yet know everything.
The Sinister thrives in the subtle currents that undercut a fascination with the evil, the wicked or the violent; not just the acts themselves but in the continuous tragedy of posterity which learns and knows the past but can do nothing to change it. It reminds us of our own unchangeable entropy and the looming tragedy of our own inevitable mortality and that every moment that unfolds is a tragicomedy possessed of time-space frozen eternally, yet hurried on relentlessly.
In the serial-killer based movie ‘Manhunter’ (1986), a shy but monstrous killer called the Red Dragon befriends a blind woman solely because she cannot see his face. We the audience know the truth of his hideous crimes, we can see the totality of events, we know he is a killer, and that she doesn’t. He is for the entire world to her a normal, even charming man – a situation that is true to life with many accounts of family members proving shocked to discover they have been living with a killer or police often interviewing but letting go a killer, having no idea they have just interviewed the right suspect.
What makes this scene sinister is not the presence of evil – but the irony created between the characters and the viewer. Likewise it is not the isolated instance of a carving knife, Norman Bates, or Janet Lee having a shower that gives rise to an emanation of the sinister in Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ – the blood draining into the sink and the actual hand stabbing downward remind us of our own vulnerability and looming death, but it is the irony created by our participation that puts all these things into a sinister frame.
We are aware of Norman’s condition and propensity for violence but Janet Lee is not. We are aware of Janet Lee’s vulnerability but she is not.
Because what we are being affected by is more than watching someone (with pre-knowledge she is an actress) being stabbed to death – it is a deeply rooted archetypal psychodrama we play out again and again to get as close to death as possible without actually joining it.
I suspect our flirtation with Death acts a tension to understand life – and vice-versa. Slipping into the psychodrama of serial killers fascinates us. Perhaps this is because we tend to find it hard to believe that monsters could walk unseen among us as our fathers, mothers, grandparents, sons, babysitters or family friends – perhaps because acceptance of such a notion threatens our social stability and erodes those anchors we are traditionally taught to trust – or perhaps it is because we secretly want them to go where we cannot on our behalf so that we can explore death by proxy. Why else would we glorify something so unashamedly that supposedly shocks us?
In early cinema we were fed a stereotypical image of the serial killer who was grotesquely marked, abnormal; a visible monster in all respects. I believe this indicated the extent of unconsciousness that veiled our association of such horror emanating from ourselves. The warp in perception we had to make to identify such people with ourselves gave rise to twisted crazed beasts and psychopaths – which were heavily restrained by morality.
To some extent we have learned to accept that there are no monsters only humans, i.e. in 2010 we are largely aware of the folly of trusting these warped depictions of danger as openly cloaked in convenient monster-isms when even seemingly innocent children commit brutal murders but even as we know this, we still run to morality to explain their deeds and disassociate ourselves from them by warping them into monsters, hideous inhuman demons and beasts showing that we fear and refuse to accept our own nature.
The profile for almost all serial killers today is white male, 25-35 years old, good looking, above average intelligence and a family man: a near perfect chameleon that is generally only caught by slipping up or by escalating beyond control to the point where killing, not preservation, becomes paramount. We say things like ‘they are just like us’ – to disassociate from our own collective humanity – as if they were some ‘other’.
Ted Bundy abducted, tortured, raped, and killed at least seventy young women by wearing a plaster cast on his arm to feign injury and asking girls for help at the back of his van in quiet campus car parks. Police are still unsure as to how many victims Bundy claimed or even what he did with them as many bodies have never been found and Bundy never admitted his guilt, shared this information or showed an iota of remorse.
By all accounts Bundy was a ‘ladies man’ charismatic and charming and even joked with police, his jailers, whilst awaiting his trials. Yet there was the other side to Bundy – he escaped four times whilst in prison or from police custody and continued to kill again each time until he was caught. In one instance where he escaped from a courthouse through a window – it took police years to recapture him. Bundy was a ‘different’ person when he wasn’t called upon to fit in, entertain, or play up to the contractual obligations of society – but when he did, you couldn’t tell him apart from anyone else – and in almost all cases, assumed him to be better than the average man as a man.
Richard Ramirez, aka the Nightstalker broke into the homes of old ladies and raped them, cut them, bit them, and killed them by beating their skulls in with a crowbar. As he escalated, he strangled them with pantyhose and inserted broom handles and other objects into them. His last words before being executed were allegedly ‘See you in Disneyland.’
The sense that Richards crimes were so atrocious, so off the known scale, with no discernible motive except that he wanted to commit them, has been cited as ‘chilling’ ‘cold’ and with other metaphors to do with an absence of warmth, of heart, of humanity.
But what we say and do always has a shadow – an unconscious ‘other-than’ that says more than we are aware of about our processes.
Do we find them so fascinating because it shows us what we could be capable of if only we would let go the Beast we hold very tightly in rein? Knowing that this or that person has taken what they wanted without remorse but simply because they wanted something thrills us as much as it chills us.
We cannot deny that amongst the revulsion, fascination, disbelief and anger of such crimes – there is a hidden sense of jealousy that motivates our outrage – jealousy that this person has dared to do what we would never do out of our fear of social punishment and reprisal.
This unsettling moral ambivalence that we try hard to disguise with indignation and outrage is mixed in with the unsettling idea that we resent to some extent living our own lives in restraint – in not doing what we want when we want, unlike these killers, who we proclaim out loud in unison to be so atrocious.
Yet, perhaps we fear them and hate them because they represent our shadow side and we envy them for their freedom, for their lack of remorse and guilt at taking what they want. They become in a sense anti-heroes. We wish we could be as free but we cannot; we fear the consequences of doing so, bind ourselves with morality, and do the only thing we can allow ourselves to do – scream bloody murder and call for their head.
The secret conflict of morality is an ongoing struggle in all of us. A classic example of morally condemning something whilst openly embracing it is to be found in Australia’s unashamed glorification of the criminal elements of its history and society.
Society is based on an unwritten social contract to get along, not hurt each other, and live in peace – but our control over ourselves seems limited and sometimes we are not capable of staying social and lose what little we have of control completely – succumbing to obsession, vice or emotion. Our moral character is always in question, from ourselves, from others and from various forms that demand we shape ourselves accordingly.
Our motivation to endure the rigours of self-control is borne of the abyss. We each stand on the brink of a precipice staring down into the depths of human depravity and thoughts of what we could sink to if we all let go. We possess an ingrained understanding of just how torturous and fearful living in a world where everyone did as they pleased would be. If self-preservation were paramount to all people – our race would not have been able to forge societies or get anything done. If Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest were applied we would quickly destroy ourselves.
Whilst people outnumber their enforcers by hundreds of thousands to one most of us obey the social contract because we know what humans can and have done to one another when we do not try and how destructive we intrinsically are. We are possessed of a heart of darkness that we struggle to keep from beating too loudly around those who would hear it and this restraint is what keeps society and a relatively stable order amongst our species. We also know we are all too ready to sacrifice enormous numbers of human lives in the name of some abstract ideal or another.
Themes or actions of Death, Sex, Violence, Torture, Hate, Crime and others – some of these abstracts have been used to denote the nature of the Sinister, as if the Sinister were contained within morality, that construct of tensioned opposites through which we find meaning by setting forms against one another.
But the ‘Sinister’ is also merely an abstract – it surfaces in morbidity through the unique constraints of morality that filter it into a scale of moral value, and in turn arises through morality because that is our common language. But even so, the Sinister is not constrained nor defined by morbidity or morality and it can be felt present as easily in forms as it can in a vacuum.
Even the sweetest most family-orientated movies cannot escape the contrast they create: and if in those moments we are watching such a film and our mind wanders to darker thoughts, we may question the appropriateness or relevance of such films in relation to our existence. We may become sharply aware that what we are watching is in fact a painted dream, a deliberately created escape like so many of our pastimes from the horrors of the real world.
THE TRAGEDY OF INDEPENDENT CAUSAL LIFELINES OF FREED PERSPECTIVE
The Sinister is morally indiscriminate. Remorselessness is not the only place to find it – for it is to be found in remorse as well. For many years as a young man I have played an instrumental role in helping to build something under the impression that I was doing the right thing, and the only thing that could be done to change the world and save it. Even when I did not believe the propaganda put forth from those I allied myself with, I went along with the charade anyway, making myself useful to madmen.
Now that I am older, raising children, connected to family, have a deeper sense of my responsibilities and my connection to the world, and the effect a person can have on it, I am sloughing off old skins and forms. But I see too late the folly of building war machines, in subjugating my intelligence to aid the causes of others, and in playing my role of justifying people to do evil things by talking them out of taking responsibility for those things and attributing their actions toward the cause of war with the magic of my manuscripts. These are things I cannot change, things I have helped set in motion that now have their own unseen course – things I can only hope to atone for.
Under the banners of “ISS”, “Sinisterion”, or “THEM” people do things and act using the forms I have created – but while many refuse to accept responsibility for what they do, for what they create, I cannot.
Like Frankenstein turns on his creator, I have given birth to monsters that are now out of my hands and out of my control and which I must now destroy or try to create new forms to provide a balance. The sense that what I intended has been distorted is foreboding – an ugly echo of the potential for all forms to be used by whoever, whenever and for whatever purpose and often purposes the creator never intended.
I understand why but struggle against the reality that what we say and mean is never really clear to others. There is too much variability that is open to translation, too many angles to be correctly/identically interpreted through others rose-tinted filters, inevitable discrepancy where there is different focus on some aspects, a muting and mutation of others. People translate what we say into their own words, in their own way, and in their own image. This is why propaganda must be of the lowest order and appeal to the lowest common denominator – and why intelligentsia is always the first to go in revolutions.
Once ideas have left the womb, once they have been written down or given life, it has been said, they no longer belong to the creator/the writer and go on to live and spawn in their own way. In this sense we can never control how others will see us, ensure that others understand us, stop them from adding something we did not intend, or twisting our shapes in their hands to make a mockery of our original intent. Especially if our causal creations outlive us and we cease to be around to defend, explain or correct them.
All that we say and do is never really understood in its intricacy, never the same for others as it is for us. We are in life alone, and yet we pretend to the contrary and base our entire lives upon a pretend unification that can never exist. We kill and hurt each other century after century because of this pretense. In this there is a sense of tragic loss and waste, collective human self-deception and the Sinister.
The above are just a few examples of the diversity of the Sinister to manifest outside of typical moral values such as ‘evil’, ‘demonic’, or ‘satanic’. You may observe for yourself that it is not bound to only emerge from forms – it is an ominousity that creeps beyond forms in unexpected and often unnamed ways.
EDGES OF THE SINISTER
I will end this part of the essay by relating a few of the other ways in which the Sinister manifests itself and edges into being in all manner of human devices simply because it is inextricably woven into being, not merely evil,– and then summarize why.
In the horror ‘schlocker’ series ‘Friday the 13th’ (1980+), ‘Halloween’ (1978) and ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ (1984) the mass murderers Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and Freddy Krueger are sinister not only for their appearance but because of an interconnection of elements.
For example, they each defy known physics – they bend time and space to their will. Victim’s attempts to run away are futile. As the audience we count on it, and there is a certain thrill of glee and danger in knowing the victims are doomed from the beginning no matter what they do. Here again we mete out Irony. We know they will die (they don’t) we just don’t know how (the killer does). In watching them we play a part in injecting these movies with as much of the sinister and suspense as the director and his devices; the director supplies the story, the gore, the chase, the hero, the villain, and the viewers total vantage point; and in exchange we willingly and temporarily suspend belief to give the victims the opportunity to run away. We endow them with a sporting chance to survive the onslaught, which creates tension that makes the killers invincibility all the more dangerous and exciting. The victims run away in a linear direction away from danger to safety, (a tactic which would ordinarily hold water), only to find their killers have already arrived ahead of time to an impossibly portentous spot to slaughter them. This bi-location of time has been and remains a constant feature in films.
One can usually predict when the director will attempt to make the audience jump in fright because the music falls silent and the camera either moves in close to the character to frame shoulders and face, or in close but with enough room to the side or over the shoulder for something to enter. This is a tried and tested method, and although there are some variants on the theme, it remains a constant application.
If Jason Voorhees were real, chances are that quite a lot of his would-be victims – mostly fit and athletic – would out-run him, get to safety, call the police, and he would be hunted down, arrested, or shot silly. It wouldn’t be much of a movie. But tangling him in time, giving him supernatural strength, unrelenting momentum, and frightening brutality serve to turn him into a monster where the chess-board (movie area) is limited in space, and the protagonist unlimited in time; these twists help create a sinister character.
This condition of inevitability is also utilized by Krueger only in a different way, where it is inevitable that his victims will succumb to sleep, thus it’s only a matter of time before they meet him; and when they do, anything previously impossible in waking reality is now possible through nightmares. Krueger’s bi-location is not so indifferent to the relentlessness of Voorhees, or Leatherface, the T3000 in Terminator IV, or Batman. But alone it does not make him sinister.
No single attribute makes or can make him sinister – it is webs of them, a geometry of forms, that lend him that aura – elements that feed one another, tension one another, explain one another, compliment or contrast one another. Without knowing who they are and the function they perform the ‘killers’ are far less threatening and even obscure. Jason’s mask has entered popular culture as an icon – but wearing a mask is not automatically a sinister element –if you didn’t associate the rest of Jason’s mythos to it, it could just as easily pass for any other hockey mask, and if Friday the 13th hadn’t made it an icon – it would still be just a neutral sport implement. His torn overalls, mutilated face, knife, height, relentlessness, watching from the bushes, etc mean nothing in themselves. Each item, presented on its own lacks ability to interconnect with the other elements to generate the Sinister. Only once we have that interconnection however, adding the device of the tortured backgrounds of each killer – we personally lend mythos and even pathos (feeling empathy or sympathy for the protagonist) imbuing the collective with the Sinister, allowing us to cheer both for the victims and the killer.
Many films, schlockers included, would be nothing without the accompaniment or underscoring of well-placed music – an often undetected but ever present score that guides us in interpreting the events on screen whether we like it or not.
Half the time we do not even notice music in the background, letting it filter in liminally until we suddenly catch the edge of it and realize it has been playing all along.
A good example for this is found in sex. Sex often mutes any music playing in the background as attention is completely diverted to more immediate matters.
Music, creeps into our unconscious – it emphasizes emotions, drama, suspense, excitement, heightens or relaxes our various senses, tells us what the character is feeling, and controls us on another realm – an unconscious realm where we can scarcely control the contents that enter while we have our conscious guard down.
That we can be infiltrated so subtly opens up the tremendous power of frequency, notes, and pitch to affect us without our knowledge – to abuse – and the ramifications of this are sinister. If we are trying to concentrate on a task, and a song we hate is playing, we are less likely to perform well than if a song we like is playing. Some kinds of music have the power to enrage us or calm us. This is a fact treated seriously by those who develop sonic weaponry that can disable or supposedly kill a person or group of people using high concentrations of certain frequency alone. At around 400 decibels, the eardrums burst causing death or extreme or permanent disorientation due to loss of balance. It would not be so difficult to re-create such a blast to use in short bursts on people.
Muzak is played in shopping centres to calm people while subliminal messages filtered through it are bought by shopkeepers the world over wishing to subdue shoplifting impulses or secretly encourage our behaviour. Advertising, product placement, refurbishing, etc all have huge industries devoted to tricking the shit out of people – some of which I’ve worked in. Only extreme naivety or optimistic ignorance would not suspect chains and businesses of not doing everything they can to make a profit – including employing fringe technologies and strategies that affect humans psychologically and unconsciously.
I am increasingly convinced that frequency plays a hugely but undervalued part in our lives – that there is an entire dimension of which many people are only liminally aware, that they barely consciously process, but the knowledge of which is quite often deliberately used against us to affect us and our emotions without our consent.
ONA plainchants that focus on hitting certain notes or combinations of them to affect someone ‘magically’ require the perfect vibration of certain pitches accompanied by other pitches. Hearing these sounds has occasionally sent shivers up my spine or sharply affected my mood – particularly Agios O Aosoth sung in organum. As a result of consciously realizing that certain notes can have an effect on me when held, I am slowly developing a fascination I wish to explore more deeply for the power of sound and music.
I have great awe for the human voice; though I dislike the Christian messages in choral-type music I particularly enjoy the harmonics of choirs. The Gregorian (plain) chanting of various orders of monks, Russian orchestras, and Estonian composer Arvo Part, Tibetan, and Native American chant and song and many other albums of the human voice are all able to invoke something unsettling.
I would not like to over-exaggerate a recent phenomenon – but the voice of the now famous Susan Boyle, so perfect and so clear, especially the way she holds/hits notes in pitch, is the only human voice I have ever heard whose voice literally sends deep chills through my body and plunges me into emotion. It is lucky that nature imprints a counter-balance to all such frightening talents i.e. that she is steadfast about only singing songs that mean something to her and that her appearance prevents/limits her from being appreciated/exploited in an industry that merits superficiality. Were she to fit the image currently enforced as beautiful – we’d all be in deep shit – because that kind of beauty is easily controlled. We are lucky that she is a humble woman too, because a voice like that, that literally moves people, vibrates through them with pure resonance alone, could easily become a weapon. There is something disturbingly sinister in a display of the human voice being able to do such things to us against our will. Perhaps it is because she does it against our will that there is so much resistance to accept her talent as extraordinary and even unique.
It has been said that the Sinister can be beautiful – but what is beautiful and sinister is not beautiful for long. What is sinister is possessed of a particular presence; an unsettling sense that something is ‘other than’ and warns us of some danger, some ‘other than’ which lies beneath supposed Eden. Beauty in the sinister is not beautiful for its own sake because it is beautiful, but possesses an extra dimension, an additional something more – it is not being but becoming – beauty being only a primary stage of the sinister.
There is something sinister in a walk through an eerie forest at night, or in standing at the grave of a loved one knowing that some day we will join them. Something unsettling about strange places filled with strange people. The sinister can edge in from seemingly innocent comments, in glances, or from whispers, from voices crystal clear or muffled – there is something sinister about doors, in their function to divide and conceal, keeping secrets and segregating truth. Something sinister in sex, in violence, in love, in time, in dance, indeed I struggle to think of a place where the Sinister cannot be found if one seeks to find it – or even if one does not.
The beautiful lullaby of paradise that fills our hearts and senses with peace and blissful ignorance can always be shattered: our window of God can be caused to tremble and strain from the slightest deviation in Eden when the sinister comes calling.
Something can edge in anywhere in any human endeavour that doesn’t quite fit and that tells us to be afraid, wary, on guard, suspicious, or sad. But why? Do all these examples have something in common? Do all forms and all abstracts have something in common?
I believe they do.
The Sinister is related to fear. We are intimate acquaintances with fear. It has had many names and we continue to give it many more. We give it names to give it form –and more often than not we do so because we want others to be afraid with us, for us, or of us. The simple reason the Sinister can be found everywhere, is because I project it everywhere – the Sinister is a name employed by the 23 current. I seek to find it and so I find it. I push it upon events that could just as easily be interpreted with other abstracts. I use its name to explain events and actions, to cohere and edify them, and rely on the “Sinister” to serve as a convenient contrast that paints the world with dark colours to highlight what it does not. ; And if not the Sinister, then certainly something else.
Yet the Sinister is not an illusion – any illusion comes from my interpretation and the name(s) I give it – because something is there, something ‘other than’ in us or that comes from us or from without us, or maybe all and more, that expresses what words like ‘Sinister’ / ‘Demonic’/ or ‘Satanic’ try to capture.
The Sinister is an abstract that stems from fear. The Sinister cannot be felt but as a by-product of original fear. One might venture that this is why Sath from the Temple of THEM insists that one must be relaxed in order to overcome the Sinister – to overcome Fear itself.
What exists however, reducible beyond any of the abstract names and voices we form to explain what we feel, is always and only innate primal fear; a biological inevitability that occurs as a result of being.
End – Part I
In Part 2:
I contend that our natural state is one of fear. We are born into the world facing nature at her most primal rawness – from nothingness we are brought into being. We are met with things we have no name for, no language to control or explain them, no rationality – nothing to comfort us in our entrance into the world – we are born into the world and afraid of nature’s majesty – we feel Fear first, everything else second. We then spend our lives learning to conquer fear or it conquers us. Fear is our very impetus for life – we struggle to know so that we are not afraid – we do our best to keep it at arm’s length, by naming, by casting things in form, and by learning how to use our natural fear in our favour. The moment we feel something other than fear, we struggle to maintain that peace – it countermands our fear, and we come to know it as Love. What do we fear? We fear ourselves, we fear others, we fear everything and so we name it, label it, package it, define it, refine it, but especially try to condense it, to keep fear away and to keep ourselves or others from facing fear.