Okay, so the NSA is watching you read this right now. Let's try to forget that for a moment and go back to a simpler time, a time that the summer of 2013 is trying to rival but just can't. Not yet, at least. The summer of 1975? Let's go back there. I was too young to "get it" but years later I derived numerous garish intellectual paranoia-amphetamine-like thrills from reading about the almost daily national dispatches of what were then new(!) discoveries by the Church Committee (Sen. Frank Church of Idaho), about the history of the CIA, FBI, NSA, etc. Try to imagine a time when we thought the CIA only gathered "intelligence" and no one knew what "covert operations" were, and the long-hairs who had been telling us and writing about the CIA overthrowing democratically elected leaders and installing fascist dictators friendly to Yale Men and Wall Street were "fringe" or "lunatics." It all seems so quaint now, but remember: we're in the Summer of '75.
Revelations about Hoover and the FBI's antidemocratic maneuvers appeared almost daily in things called "newspapers," which were actually made of paper, and people actually read them. Research tells us that it was quite common to have the "news" delivered via car, truck, or bicycling youngster, to one's own driveway, or even doorstep. Think of it like this: newspapers were like Internet, only you got ink stains on your fingers, and the national security apparatus only noted that you subscribed.
Nixon's resignation and Ford's pardon of Nixon were fresh in Unistatian minds. So was Vietnam, just ending. So were the SLA, the Weather Underground, a new consciousness about oil-rich Sheiks, and...
Everything was topsy-turvy and not like the America you were taught about in your compulsory schooling, and if you were somewhat educated and had a sense of justice, you realized the cops were on the side of The Man, and even if you were a cop (Serpico) or a CIA analyst (Three Days of the Condor), there were murderous, corrupt, unsavory characters you worked side-by-side with.
The Illuminatus! appeared and spread among the underground cognoscenti. It was the perfect thing to chase Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow with; it had more laffs.
The world was rapidly being taken over by the Military-Industrial-Entertainment-Banking-Organized Crime-Complex, and only intrepid seekers/reporters/wizened citizens could do anything about it. How to regain your wits in the face of it all - the news and the films - in 1975? How to retain some semblance of sanity?
Richard Hofstadter, a brilliant academic, had written the seminal rationalist's text on "the paranoid style" in Unistatian history. But the news seemed to be overtaking his thesis. Or maybe it was the drugs. Or maybe the news, the drugs, the films, the novels, and talking to your friends about all those things.
professor of political science at MIT and
Dartmouth. A writer/musician/academic.
His book The Yankee and Cowboy War
is one of the great works in what Peter
Dale Scott calls "deep politics"
Then one of SDS's braintrustees, Carl Oglesby wrote an article for Ramparts in 1974, after Nixon resigned. Titled "In Defense of Paranoia," Oglesby argued, as Francis Wheen wrote in his difficult-to-set-down history of this period, Strange Days Indeed: The 1970s: The Golden Age of Paranoia:
"Instead of leading to political madness, the paranoid style might be the necessary prerequisite for retaining one's political sanity - an echo of the 'anti-psychiatry' popularised at the time by R.D. Laing, who held that schizophrenics and paranoids were the only people sane enough to see that the world is deranged. The Hofstadter paradigm was shattered, and has been irreparable ever since. 'Since the assassination of John F. Kennedy,' Norman Mailer wrote in 1992, 'we have been marooned in one of two equally intolerable spiritual states, apathy or paranoia.' The Illuminatus! Trilogy, that key to all mythologies of the early Seventies, features an anarchist sect called the Crazies whose political position is deliberately unintelligible but seems to encompass the worship of Bugs Bunny and study of the Tarot as well as 'mass orgies of pot smoking and fucking on every street corner.' One of the Crazies explains: 'What the world calls sanity has led us to the present planetary crisis and insanity is the only viable alternative.'" (pp.16-17)
Violent Death of a Great Journalist
Which brings me to the death of Michael Hastings, a couple of days ago. Local Los Angeles TV news's coverage is HERE. David Sirota's obit at Salon. David Weigel, on Hastings, at Slate. Rachel Maddow, from her MSNBC show, HERE. 7 1/2 minutes from the Current TV show The Young Turks, where I felt like I got to "know" Hastings, HERE. Rolling Stone's obit, HERE.
Reading about his death jolted me back into the idiosyncrasies of watching something like Parallax View yet again, late at night, all's quiet, everyone asleep but me, looking for a paranoid fix. Warren Beatty is a radical reporter who only cares about getting to the truth. It's Clinton or Bush43 or Obama in the White House, but I'm suddenly in the weltanschauung of artistic paranoid intellectuals circa late 1974. Why? Imprinting?
And then back again to my imagination of the crazy summer of 1975 (when, in truth, I was almost totally oblivious of all this ideation, being far too young to yet be warped by all this).
Hastings seemed to have been working on raising awareness of what he saw as the violation of free speech and persecution of another Enemy of the State, Barrett Brown, who was/is a spokesman for the Hacktivist group Anonymous. Here's Glenn Greenwald on the Brown situation. Here's a "Free Barrett Brown" site that includes Michael Hastings as a supporter.
Goddamn. This is all so...garish. To my nervous system...I don't like living in a dystopian science fiction novel. Nor do I enjoy living in a Watergate-era paranoid thriller-world. Or if I have to live in one of those, it feels like it's only fair for me to be able to shelve the book or stop the DVD, go outside and get some fresh air and sunshine, water the plants and exchange jokes with my neighbor, and I dunno...skip along whistling "Beth You Is My Woman Now"...?
I'm not saying rogue LAPD or some of Stanley McChrystal's men or some brutish operatives from the Republicans or Democrats (Hastings, being a rare True Journalist, had enemies in both parties) conspired to kill Hastings. His body was burned beyond recognition. Who knows what happened? Alcohol? Sleep-deprivation? It's probably Just One Of Those Things. (Yea...)
What I will admit is that I'm one of those who has meditated and analyzed and cogitated and fed my poetic faculty such a gawdawful amount of suspicion and paranoia about "official" stories, that it's only natural for me to suspect that just maybe...
And any of you who've been through a similar upbringing, are of a similar caste of mind, and possibly, of a similar mental age...will know exactly what I mean here. I will not spell it out. Just watch Parallax View after immersing yourself in "the news" for three hours a day for a week, reading Robert Anton Wilson in your "spare" time.
With Hastings's death, I experienced a "flashback" to a time I didn't experience when it occurred. It's my "historical imagination." I force-fed myself this stuff at a later date - of my own volition, I remind myself - when I had become "of age." By "stuff" I mean: probably the historical truth that most Unistatians can't face up to, or refuse to acknowledge. And, concomitant to all of this is the present-day world backdrop of confirmation of all the worst things we could have imagined from our own State, with its historically unprecedented technical apparatus to...well, know that you're reading this right where you are sitting now. And maybe you feel, lately, that you live in a particularly byzantine spy novel, given the knowledge. Or a Watergate-era Hollywood thriller. Or maybe you've read this far and you think this OG person is a loon and if so, bless you, blissful person...
I really don't mean to be glib or flippant about Hastings's death; I admired the guy. It's a huge loss for what I call the "truth."
But maybe I'm so...damaged (?) that I noticed, in the hour or so after I began reading of his 4AM crash near Highland and Melrose...that somehow 1970s-era Robert Redford or Al Pacino or Warren Beatty might have known who was behind it. There are circuits in the brain that, if not paid attention to, can not distinguish between "reality" and "fiction." Or collective hallucination...Do I need to get back into therapy?
Will the Summer of 2013 keep its momentum going and give the Summer of 1975 a run for its money? Stay tuned. (There is no one with even half the guts of Frank Church in congress today, except maybe...Ron Wyden?)
A friend asked me the other day, re: the NSA/Snowden fallout:
-Are you keeping up?
-(Me): Yea, but I'm not sure how much more I can hack for now; I'm reaching critical mass. Maybe I'm gettin' old, man. I need a break. Let's hike the redwoods all day, STAT!
The key, as I see it, is to find a ground between Mailer's apathy and paranoia, to be creative, have a good time, get high, do good for someone else, get paid, and get home in time for dinner.
Trailer for 1974's Parallax View: