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Lost on the Fearless Plain

Big Brother’s got that ju-ju, Gaia’s got the blues — hologram, carry me home

By Joe Bageant
Ajijic, Mexico

I’ve spent most of this week watching American television and movies. I leave the TV on all night long. I toss and turn with my bad back, and bad lungs, catch a rerun episode of Two and a Half Men, or CSI, and conk out again. Then I awaken to the U.S. morning talk shows. It’s a grueling regimen, only for the strong. Or the lonely. For periodic relief, I switch to Mexican television (be patient, I really am going somewhere with this). Mexican TV is not one iota better than US television, but is veeerrry heavy on the booty. More than heavy. Astronomical. Think all-but-bare tits and ass close-ups every fifteen seconds, straight through commercials, dramas, comedy shows, history shows, and even the news where possible. Every show but the bullfights and that old nun who comes on at ten PM, who invariably drives me back to the U.S. channels.

Ahhhh … Safely in the American national illusion, where all the world’s a shopping expedition. Or a terrorist threat. No matter, as long as it is colorful and wiggles on the theater state’s 400 million screens. Plug in and be lit up by the American Hologram.

This great loom of media images, and images of images, is so many layers deep that it has replaced reality. No one can remember the original imprint. If there was one. The hologram is a hermetic snow globe, a self-referential circuitry of images, and a Möbius loop from which there is no logical escape. Logic has zilch to do with what is going on. The smallest part holographically recapitulates the whole, and vice versa. No thinking required, we just cycle and recycle through an aural dimension. Not all that bad, I guess, if it were not generated by forces out to fuck every last pair of eyeballs and mind plugged into it.

The investing class has put thousands of billions into movies, TV and other media to keep the hologram lit up over the past six decades. Which is to say, keep the public in an entertained stupor, awed, mislead, and most importantly, distracted. But the payoff probably runs in the trillions.

For the clear-eyed citizen, there is a growing inner horror and despair in all this, with nowhere to turn but the Internet. The Net is a cyber reality, no more real than the hologram, and indeed a part of the hologram, though not quite yet absorbed and co-opted by capitalism. We take what relief we can find.

However, for the unquestioning rest, the hologram, taken in its entirety, constitutes the American collective consciousness. Awareness. It enshrouds every citizen, defining through its permeation the daily world in which we all operate. Whether we love or hate it, there is no escape. Go live in a shack in the woods. Call that escape. But everything in the outside world continues to run in accordance with the humming energy of the hologram. There is no cutting our umbilical link to the womb of this illusion, this mass hallucination. There is only getting a longer umbilical cord, closing your eyes, and pretending that what the rest of the nation does has no effect on you. We were all born and raised in that womb. We can no more divorce the neurochemistry and consciousness it shaped in us, than we can deny that we had an earthly mother and are of her tissue. Our consciousness is born of the hologram’s connective neural and electrical tissue.

That common womb of American consciousness is dying. Slowly or rapidly, depending on how you assess the global ecocide and peak everything, it is dying. There will be resuscitations along the way, more massive infusions of money, fear and the rawest sort of fantasy fed to a mood and commodity drugged public. Still, its condition is terminal, because the hyperdrive consumer culture it was built to sustain, is itself unsustainable. Its appetite ate the world. In fact, so voracious is its appetite that even if our “consumer economy,” (legalized feudal theft) sees a recovery, and resumes the level of growth required just to keep capitalism alive, it will die just that much faster. It is not in capitalism’s DNA to care about the death of the earth. Nor is it in the brain chemistry of an American satiated on prime beef and sailing across the landscape at 70 miles per hour in a $40,000, steel exoskeleton from General Motors, to care. Hominid gratification is what it is — hard wired — and there is no circumventing it.

The system has just begun its crash, and already we are seeing an armed infantilized nation wail, hurl blame and do horrific things, the worst of which we do to one another (excluding sending predator drones after Middle Eastern school kids). Surveillance, witch hunts, destruction of civil liberties, and the government inching toward star chamber trials for those who do not display correct traits. Citizens embracing totalitarianism as stability in the face of the ultimate instability — the death of the planet.

The political regime or philosophy does not exist which can turn this scenario around. Slow it down, maybe, but put things in reverse, nope. Not when six billion mouths are munching at one end of the last noodle, and at the other end a fraction of a billion well armed technological people want the entire noodle. Not when life is already so damned cheap you can buy a girl slave in Haiti for twelve bucks, or 50 child slaves for your Asian sweatshop for less than the cost of a new car. Or an American working man for half of what it takes to support a family, then throw his ass over the company fence when he’s no longer needed. Or bury him in mines as he cries out in Jesus’ name, blow him up in Iraq, and Stelazine his kids minds and souls under the hot lights of the hologram, readying them for “the labor market.” Schenectady or Soweto, life is dirt-cheap and getting cheaper everywhere on the planet.

Meanwhile, gangster capitalism needs that hologram to maintain the illusion that life is not cheap, and that Jennifer Anniston’s ass can be yours in mind and dream (Personally, I’m a Julianna Margulies fan — The Good Wife”). And most of all, “The Gram” is required to keep its captives deluded and sated enough to remain productive and consuming — not to mention hating the right people — right up to the last moment before total collapse, and they are no longer needed. The higher owning/investing class is safe, no matter what happens. Oh sure, as Edward Bellamy wrote, a few of them topple from their high perch on humanity’s coach during the hell bent journey, but their class remains.

What happens to the rest of us in that great, sweating, moaning throng who have drawn the coach these centuries? What will remain for us on ruined plains of collapse?

Here is what I believe will remain. Reality and the truth, and the opportunity for spiritual evolution, which, in the end, I think will include most people. And much suffering. The reality of the world has always involved suffering. Despite the ballyhoo of modern science and technology, just as much suffering remains, more actually, given our increased numbers on the planet. Suffering happens to individual human beings and there are far more of those now. Of course, fat cat NGOs and governments deal in percentages and rates, so they will not have to account for the increased millions of miserable beings. We have more humans suffering — and not just from poverty either, think of depleted uranium, toxic waste, sweatshop slavery — than we had humans on earth a couple hundred years ago.

The hologram has, and still does, prevent Americans from grasping any of this. Instead, the hologram allows us to believe that life can exist without suffering. We actually achieved that state for a while, too, by forcing the suffering on unseen people elsewhere. We accepted the hologram’s one voice to the many as truth (not that we had much choice, The ‘Gram was all we knew), then let our souls and national character necrotize in the warm bath of self-gratification and statist hubris.

Nasty picture ain’t it? One surely painted by a bitter, sick old man who hates America. Years ago, my fellow countrymen used to ask if I hated America. They finally quit asking me when I started answering, “Hell fucking yes!” But I don’t hate Americans. In fact, while I do not believe in “hope” — that superstitious, childish wishing upon a star — I do believe America is once again, for all the wrong reasons, the last best hope of the world. If we do not succeed in destroying it first.

Clearly, we have taken an unimaginably disastrous course, and intend to take everyone else out with us. Yet we have only done what most of the world’s nations would have done, given such brute power and wealth for such a time. Perhaps more accurately, done what most of the world’s governments and leadership would have. So long as nations have hierarchical leadership, they will have escalating hierarchical greed, power hunger and destructive folly — and therefore, eventually approach hierarchical evil at some point. It may be an old saw, but power does corrupt.

Study us. See how an essentially good people (although the Native Americans would never agree) went wrong. After all, we were born the same unblemished child as everywhere else on the planet. And even now, given what has happened, one cannot fully indict all the “little people,” past or present. My granddad was a decent guy until the day he died. So were my dad and mom. And I try to be. But all of us can be rendered blind by faceless machines not entirely of our own creation, and then made submissive beasts to the coarsest among us. Ask any German. Or Hutu. We can be manipulated to believe that the rules do not apply to us, as in the cult of American exceptionalism. Arrogance is experiential and environmental in cause. I’ve been there and back several times in my life, and I am sure of that. Human experience can make and unmake arrogance. Ours is about to get unmade.

Inside most Americans is a globally brattish child. Thanks to our endowed natural resources (since squandered) and to armed national theft abroad, the American has not suffered enough to become a responsible adult on the planet. I suggest that others learn from our example and do differently while they still have the chance. Take heart that they may yet live in a country where capitalism’s nihilistic dynamo has not built up such a head of steam. There are still some left, but as near as I can tell — and mind you, I don’t know shit — their leadership is caught up in the same elite games and traps. National leadership is its own moral and spiritual trap.

Who am I to give advice? Nobody. But this is the Internet, and any dick brain with a keyboard may do so.

My advice is to resist pride in anything said to be national, whether it be prosperity, healthcare, culture, competence, social cohesion and identity, or whatever. Pride and courage do not live in the same house. Courage, which has little to do with blood and guts, but everything to do with sacrifice, chooses to dwell alongside humility.

Again, what will be left after the big collapse? Perhaps after a period of terror, violence and chaos, when the undeniable on-the-ground truth becomes apparent, through ecological disaster, war and other events, a more positive national cathexis will occur. If it does, it probably will not resemble anything we can conceive of in these times. If we can get past the terror involved from our present apprehensive vantage point, it is easy to see why positive national, even global cathexis may be unavoidable.

Cause for well-reasoned optimism exists. Its way the fuck out there, but it’s there. Not that it is something to cling to, or even pursue. Clinging and desire are the cause of all suffering in the first place. Doing so only prolongs suffering, personal, national or planetary. The Buddhists are right about that one. So are the Baptists when they say “The world gets right when the people get right.”

The big problem at the moment though, for us as sentient beings, is:

What to do when I get out of bed each day? Give money to the Democrats? Move out of the country? Stay and fight the bastards?

Throwing money at frauds and fools doesn’t work. Moving to Mexico or Canada takes money in a time when money and jobs are scarce everywhere. As for staying and fighting, really fighting, there is not one person reading this who is going to go strangle the sleazy fucks having martinis on Wall Street with their pet Senator. Nobody reading this is going to instill genuine physical fear, which is the only thing such lizards might respond to. We are left to work within the system, as per the hologram’s directive. Their system. Ha!

The answer, to me at least, is to do the most obvious thing first. And I do mean obvious in the most mundane sense. Like fixing breakfast with all the contemplative awareness possible. Seriously. The tiniest right action, the action in complete unself-conscious natural awareness, connects to all the rightness in the universe. And the universe is always right. Because it owns all of our asses, plus black holes, and those teensy pinholes in time that physicist say make you an immediate neighbor of Shakespeare and mastodons — only you don’t know it. It owns the molecules of the ages. Everything.

This proposition is unappealing to Americans and just about everyone else in the western world. To be perfectly honest, a big screen TV, the Internet, and tickets to a Rams game are more accessible and immediately gratifying. Right action in the moment does not light up your neural pleasure centers like cheap sex or jalapeno Doritos. However, I am trying to do it anyway, at least until the opportunity for cheap sex presents itself. When it does, it will most likely be the right action for that moment. Funny how things work.

In any case, by the mundane right action of breakfast, I mean fixing breakfast to locate one’s heart in that particular day. Then proceeding toward the least harm one can discern to do, with full knowledge that we always do harm, whether we intend to or not (the world is full of subtle unintended violence). Eliminate whatever suffering in sentient beings one encounters, whether it be in bums, dogs, kids, plants, or the rich fucker next door moaning over his enormous tax bill. To him that is suffering. There’s no sliding scale about this shit. I once worked for a guy who bawled when some kid keyed his Porsche. Misery is relative. Compassion is sublime.
Besides, this is what the heart is designed for — to serve as a compass for the spirit, regardless of how one defines spirit or denies its existence. What the hell, we gotta call the best in ourselves and in our species something, so we can connect with it. The mind has some terrible limitations in doing that sort of thing. As in, it cannot. Necessary as rationalization is for survival, reason ain’t everything. In the big picture, it is a small ingredient. Merely an asset, a monkey tool.

Even thinking seems ultimately to lead to the value of non-thinking, which is to say, pure human existence and consciousness. Pure unadulterated duration. This is the most fearless plain, the one on which all things are manifest as they really are, in their purest form, before social and personal hallucinations settle over them like a shroud.

In such times as these, that hard bright plain is bitch to find, much less travel. For sure it starts with the moment called now.

And right now, good god, it’s two AM! Time for the nightly Law and Order rerun on Mexican TV.
Hologram take me home.


  1. Daniel Mirante says

    Brilliant essay, Joe.

    “Like fixing breakfast with all the contemplative awareness possible. Seriously. The tiniest right action”

    I get this. I believe in using our small circle of influence in the best way possible, because that small circle is in fact the macrocosm.

    But there’s more that we can do than this. It depends upon being organized With small groups of individuals, power is exponential. What is impossible for the individual is easily possible for ten or twenty people. Let alone one hundred people.

    Haven’t got a pot to piss in, let alone money for land? Well, it becomes much more possible, much more feasible when you team with friends. That few grand each goes a lot further when organized cooperatively. But how do we gather in circles, how do we learn to share again?

    The system wants us individualized atomized divided and conquered hooked up to dependencies for our ego and desires. Each person in their own little box, suspicious of their neighbor

    What is required is to deepen our dreams and visions and find affinities between us that transcend our individualistic agendas.

    It is easy as we get older that the reality of the streets makes our dreams, once so clear and tangible, turn to shadows. But we need to put effort in finding, developing, evolving a vision, a true Ideal. And weaving a vision with others. When we do this, we can achieve a lot. Artistic expression ? Permaculture community ? It is all possible – together.

  2. Lawrence H. Robertson says

    To All: my own field of endeavor has been to understand the why’s of it all. Why we act, react and interact in the ways that we do as humans. Conclusions reached after 50 plus years of observation, study, trial and error, have been the importance of the basic component of humanity, the individual. Yes it would be great to be able to network and equitably share that which we all for now have access to. But the reality is, for now we can not do this without much inner work within each individual, the ultimate microcosm of humanity. Until we each take on our own personal/universal responsibility to negate any negative impact upon that which we interact with, including self, nothing is able to change. This along with each individual taking full personal responsibility for one’s own actions and the realization that we are each responsible for any negative manifestation that we with our actions, time, energy and resources, manifest upon this level of existence and continue to support within our own life. We each are the ones that create and continue to manifest our part which does not work within the whole of existence, because it does not work within the microcosm of the individual. If one truly wants to help to evolve and change that which doesn’t work within humanity, then one must process through all that conditioning that does not work for self, first. Then from that point, go on into time as a good example of being, for those that we interact with and affect along our way. Continuing to refine, improve, mature and develop as an individual, along with helping by our right example, encouraging and expecting all those around to do the same, makes for a healthy, fully functioning, whole humanity within the whole of existence . For it is only with right example and peer pressure that it is able to change and correctly evolve. Even if it starts out with all of the good intentions in the world it is not sustainable and only because of the inconsistent conditioning of each individual and our part in it all. That conditioning which confuses our sense of self, our distorted self image which creates low self esteem, causing us to act out that which doesn’t work for our self or those that we affect with our actions. I have seen networks come together for a lifetime, with all good and honorable intentions, only to fall apart do to the damaged self image of the individuals within the group. That which causes us to sabotage our self and that which we are a part of because of what we feel that we deserve or don’t deserve and what we will allow for our self and others, because of it. If one truly wants to have the most positive impact upon existence, then it is within the now time frame of reality that this can take place. But it must be outside of the denial of reality that each clings to for their own protection from the truth about self and our own part within the whole of existence, that does not work. Our own and others importance in the manifestation of the whole of existence, is the lost truth about self. Our universal responsibility to the whole of existence is to know thy self, which is our responsibility, to the best of our ability, to know, improve and express, throughout our time upon this level. Only if we each can realize the importance of each correctly manifest individual within life and the important and needed contribution of each individual, can we as a collective humanity move on toward a equitable collective future. No ecology can ever be healthy without maximum variety and this includes humanity. Right, workable, true and authentic manifestation within existence are the lessons that the plants, animals, minerals and all else within the universe have been setting for us since the beginning of time and we are just now beginning to hurt enough that we are looking for alternatives. What each does with our own manifestation is entirely up to self, free choice. If you need help with developing the true and authentic manifestation of self, please consult the one and only authority on each and every one of us, the one that looks back at us from the mirror. Only by being brutally honest with this authority on our life, if with no one else, is it possible to change anything for the better within self and then the whole of which we are a part. We are all in this together and it doesn’t have to be as it is, it can be better. But we are the only one, with our individual actions first and then our collective actions, who can make it so. Perceive, Fully Understand, Manifest!

  3. Hi Joe,

    What I most enjoyed about your essay was how you addressed the collective consciousness that is now divorced from nature, the hologram as you call it. While it potentially hurts your thesis, I think it’s worth bringing up that Niels Bohr’s holographic theory recognized all reality as holographic – not simply the artificial hologram of the modern technological landscape of television, radio, film and internet through which we vicariously live. The problem, then, becomes not the hologram but our failure to recognize the holographic nature of reality – to mistake reality for the hologram and vice versa (which it ultimately is), but to recognize it as an absolute reality as opposed to an equal (and equally arbitrary) vantage point. This is akin to looking through a window and failing to see the frame. I have taken on a personal crusade of promoting the awareness of the frame.

    Regarding the “what to do” question, whether to leave, stay and do nothing, or stay and fight, I take a Confucian approach. In the analects, Confucius stresses that we can really only affect our own actions. While we can sway others, be benevolent leaders and seek to fix the ills of the world, we can only really fix ourselves. Inwardly is where our ideals must be directed. Ideals directed externally are met always with disappointment. This is because the “material” of concepts and the material of the physical world, as Plato says, are separate. The notion that the concept and the material, the “sign and the signified,” the description and the described are somehow one and the same is the greatest misconception plaguing humanity and epitomizes your hologram problem. But again, I think it owes less to technology and more to a fundamental philosophical problem.

    This will surely sound elitist: most people are incapable of this level of abstract thought (and perhaps this is a good thing). In other words, I have come to believe that many are incapable of recognizing the frame around their window…without the assistance of psychedelics, that is.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment that modern day American culture subsists on the denial of suffering and unseen exploitation. Yet, I resist your logic that things are worse than they were. Call me nihilistic, but things are and have always been fundamentally the same. Suffering exists, has existed, is gauged and experienced differently by different individuals. The sun will burn out eventually, if an asteroid, pole shift, or nuclear war doesn’t destroy civilization first, and humanity’s woes will be what they are in the absence of humanity – meaningless. Continue to despise the hypocrisy, the ignorance, the abuse of power – but discourage not. In the words of Ghandi, “be the change you seek.”

    Warm regards,
    Brett Greene

  4. Thomas Roy says

    Hi Joe, well said. I too am wandering through this “Matrix” if you will. That term has a more 3-d feel to me. Same shit though. Wandering and wondering. Wondering how to fill each day with something I can fool myself into believing is meaningful. Total collapse of this Matrix is inevitable before all of the after effects and then rebuilding and evolving of the species. It’s hard to fill the days with something meaningful while carrying the thought of the inevitable collapse looming in your mind day after day, night after night.
    Maybe I’ll see something, hear something or learn something on my first up-coming Ayahuasca travels?
    I guess in the meantime I should get off my ass and help someone else have a better day than they otherwise would have.
    Enjoy those re-runs, I too “escape” back into the matrix with the aid of our comatose night time TV…

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