There is one thing that almost all of us share in common, that is, we are often our own worst enemies. We become swept up in the force of ourselves so much that we often forget to be the kind of people that we are each trying to be. We sabotage our own happiness in moments of petty frustration, discomfort and/or irritability. This is part of the burden of being human. But just because it is natural doesn’t mean we should give in to it or give up on ourselves. Free will awaits all those who wish to face their weaknesses and address them.
Since most of our outbursts are products of internal thoughts or processes, our inner dialogue makes the best cut-off point for inappropriate behaviors and reactions. When we observe our inner selves experiencing signs of tension, we can then ask ourselves what struck us the wrong way and why. And for every answer we receive from ourselves, we can then ask a further question. If you follow this process you will almost inevitably find that what is bothering you is not the thing you are reacting to, but something about yourself you cannot reconcile. And even when the disturbance can be pinpointed externally, we can still question the nature of our own volatile reactions or responses.
For example, the other day while I was working the cash register at the book store, I was becoming increasingly nervous to the point of overwhelming anxiety. At some point I recognized that it was because the doorway that was located near me was very busy. The open/close/open/close/open/close was irritating for reasons that didn’t make any sense to me. So I explored my inner thoughts and investigated. I finally asked a helpful question, “What does a door symbolize?” After mulling about a bit around my mental playground I came to the conclusion that doors represent our fears, desires and frailties. A door keeps bad things out, protects the good things inside and provides access to objects of desire. From there I concluded that I had issues with my own unfulfilled desires and the door represented other peoples fulfillment. My anxiety was borne of petty jealousy. And once I realized that, the heavy door traffic stopped bothering me altogether almost instantly.
At the same time, I was exposed to an area of my own psychology that needed tending to, my frustration with my inability to fulfill my own desires to travel and write instead of live in one place and work a regular job. That is not an easy obstacle to overcome, but if I remember that it is an internal trigger, I can prevent myself from creating new obstacles out of the unrecognized frustration. Recognizing the connective patterns of our own inner workings does not necessarily solve all of our problems, but it does give us tools to deal with them in more healthy and productive ways.
There is one internal dialogue which I use regularly to great effect. I call it the ‘STFU Joshua’ voice. The first step to curbing outbursts and negative reactions is to cut ourselves off so that we have time to seek reason and calm through introspection. So as often as I possibly can, whenever I feel myself about to become unnecessarily confrontational or react in ways that will provide lingering consequences or hard feelings in myself and others, I use my inner voice to tell myself to shut the fuck up. I literally speak those words aloud in my own head. I have never disobeyed that order. The trick lies in learning when to give it.
The ultimate goal is to be able to give it whenever negativity will cost more than it can benefit. I am not for compulsive positivity, and I think a human who reduced themselves to that would be a boring, stagnant being. Great things are born of passion, and passion bears the fruit of struggle and confrontation in its growth. Yet an excess of negativity becomes a burden and consumes its bearer from within. If your own passions do not result in productive ends or fulfillment, it is time to question it and address them. This is something each of us must discover for ourselves.
I have always lived by the advice I give others, ‘QUESTION EVERYTHING!’ There is no better or effective place to apply that axiom than to your own self. Only through self reflection and introspection can we root out the flaws we are able to address and push ourselves along the path of our own evolution. The key to knowing anything at all reliably begins with self-awareness and knowing your own self.
Earlier this week it was rumored that the social media giant, Facebook, will be changing its policy concerning bans for violating community standards.
In the past users who were reported and found guilty of violating the content-sharing policies were subject to bans of various lengths, depending on the offense and history of the offender. They typically ran a day, a few days, a week or a whole month for the most blatant violations by repeat offenders. A banned user is able to sign into Facebook, view content and use the instant messenger; while they are unable to post or interact (like, react or comment) on feeds, timelines, pages and groups. The sentences lasted the ascribed calendar period regardless of whether you continued to use Facebook or not. But that might be about to change.
The rumors indicate that the new ban policy will require offenders to serve their sentences in actual site time. This means that if you were to be banned for twenty four hours, you would actually have to be on Facebook for twenty four hours before the ban is lifted. And faking it will not be an option, as new retinal scanning and facial recognition software will track your viewing to make sure that you are actually using Facebook for the entire time spent fulfilling your obligations. That new software, purportedly, will ask your permission to remain active during the ban, but will grant the option of shutting it off after your time has been served. It is also expected that ban duration will shorten from hours to days.
There will however be one exception to your ability to interact on Facebook during your period of punishment. The leaked information suggests that you will still be able to like, comment on and share advertisements and sponsored posts. This is good news for content contributors who pay to get their posts seen. Even more speculation hints that this will allow Facebook to get more data on the emotional states of its users in response to specific content and situations, especially if it is being analyzed by the retinal and facial software. That means more effective marketing, more ad sales and more profits for Facebook. At the same time, critics worry that it is yet another move nudging of the social media juggernaut into the realms of Orwellian surveillance, social conditioning and control.
Reduced time for ‘good behavior’ is also mentioned in the allegations, although what constitutes that behavior has not been specifically stated. It could mean reporting other users, meeting a quotient for interacting with paid content, or just meeting your banned viewing requirements in a timely manner. Or anything else.
No official statements have yet been made verifying these rumors, so for now, they are only that. But given the history and nature of Facebook, it is not unlikely that the social media kingpin will use the combination of its power and peoples dependency to apply increasingly Draconian measures in the future. And there can be little doubt that the actual motivation is not upholding its non-democratic community standards, but of increasing its bottom line at the further expense of its users/content providers.
The goal of this article is to introduce the idea that memes are to genes what consciousness is to the brain. The premises I use to get there fly in the face of mainstream knowledge, but my conclusions lead to practical advice for taking control of the destinies of the individual and humanity at large.
The materialist/physicalist model of the mind states that consciousness is just a pragmatic byproduct of the complexity of our brains; that it is an illusion used to facilitate the evolutionary fitness of individuals and species, which are themselves just inconsequential vessels for the survival of genes. Not only do I find these models of consciousness and evolution to be irrational, I find them to be cynical, defeatist and self-loathing. And they are also becoming obsolete as innovative new models challenge their ideological supremacy.
Independent philosopher (my favorite kind) Bernardo Kastrup has been working within the non-dualist paradigm to illustrate a new model of the brain and consciousness that does not stumble on materialist metaphysical dogmas. His general premise is that the substance of reality is primarily consciousness and that matter is a narrative device to give form to thoughts. Where mainstream science sees the brain as an engine driving our minds and bodies, Bernardo sees it more as a speedometer. The brain, in his parlance, is the second person perspective of consciousness, a phenomena which can only really be experienced internally by the individual. Therefore when neurologists see the brain reacting to external stimuli, they are viewing conscious processes from an outsider perspective in the limited context of their own beliefs about brains/minds. Here is a short excerpt explaining this in his own words:
The elegance of this view is that it dispenses entirely with the need to postulate anything other than the obvious: consciousness itself. We do not need to postulate a whole material universe outside consciousness anymore. Empirical reality is merely the outside image – the external aspect – of the mental activity of a cosmic consciousness, while body-brains are merely the outside image of dissociated segments of this cosmic consciousness. And what is a body-brain but something we can see, touch, measure; something with the qualities of experience? Indeed, the empirical world is the experience, by an alter, of the rest of the stream of consciousness outside the alter. It is dissociation that creates the duality between internal and external aspects. But this duality does not imply or require anything outside experience: the external aspects are themselves experiences; experiences of alters. As explained in Chapter 9 of Brief Peeks Beyond, ‘everything that currently motivates us to believe in a world outside consciousness can and will be understood as the effects of mental processes outside our particular alter, which we witness from a second-person perspective.’
Now hold on to that thought.
In his book Virus of the Mind, Richard Brodie takes a philosophical look at the science of memetics. That discipline is primarily concerned with understand the phenomena of memes, which Brodie describes as:
A meme is a unit of information in a mind whose existence influences events such that more copies of itself get created in other minds.
A meme, then, is a genetic unit of an mental entity that reproduces using the evolutionary strategies of viruses. The book and its ideas are brilliant, which is why it became such a critical and commercial success. I found the book enlightening throughout, with the exception of his insistence in the natural selection model of evolution. I think that my intelligent selection model actually works much better to pull the front and back ends of his book together, since what he is essentially proposing is that our observable reality is a construct of the symbols and archetypes we use to filter reality via our individual consciousness. A process which essentially creates our personal subjective realities and contributes to the illusion of an objective consensus reality where they overlap.
Essentially, he proposes that memes are the genes of consciousness, and that memetic therapy can be used to cure any malware of the mind caused by malignant, self-replicating memes that threaten the fitness of individuals and species.
When we think of genes, we think of tiny little instruction manuals that tell organisms how to form and behave. This is the materialist/physicalist model. Genes give rise to individual organisms and species in the same way that brains supposedly generate our minds. But how should we approach genes in a non-dualist model of consciousness and reality?
Earlier we explored the idea that brains were just second person perceptions of the first person experience of consciousness. Rather than the engine, the brain was an instrument panel showing the activities of an individuals consciousness. What then if we were to similarly view genes as the second person perspective of the first person experience of memes?
In this model, instead of saying that a gene caused you to have green eyes and red hair, those traits are a part of your memetic structure. A person’s genes are just physical manifestations of the memetic components of that individuals consciousness. In other words, a gene is a thumbnail image of the symbols and archetypes that you are made of. Your physical self is the image that those thumbnails represent, yet you are not the image of you. You are the thinking, feeling and creative being who can only be experienced by other thinking, feeling and creative beings in the form of the image constructed of ideas about you. Those ideas are memes.
If a meme acts like a virus, then it has two possible outcomes. It replicates itself as wholly as possible in as many hosts as possible -or- it makes innovative copies of itself that sometimes improve the fitness of itself and its host, and sometimes make it non-viable. Learning to recognize what a memes most likely outcome is, we can make conscious efforts to resist the kinds of viable memes that have no innovative qualities, and thus no benefit to their host. If we look at evolution as the march of memes through time, and we are able filter out malignant memes and accept, share and create useful ones, then we have the capability of shaping the evolution of ourselves, our species and our reality.
At the same time, memes also present an existential risk. Toxic memes can create a viral epidemic that harms our species and environment. Our culture has adopted memes that take the form of macro images and macro slogans. These meta-memes make us susceptible to absorbing and spreading memetic information compulsively without examining its properties and consequences. What we generally call a ‘meme‘ on the internet is sort of a virus that makes us consume and spread memes voraciously without any awareness. It invites the sort of apathy that turns memes from a useful tool for willfully evolving, into viruses with no other goal than to make their hosts just as blissfully ignorant of their own existence as they are.
Memes can either infect us with intellectual zombi-ism or pave a path to the stairway to heaven. The distinction will be a result of our ability to recognize them and utilize them consciously. Our pattern for validating and reinforcing the compulsive uses of memes and meta-memes is a frightening harbinger. Yet the power of memes means that beneficial memes like this article and its concepts are able to stem that tide and put us in the cockpit of our own evolutionary destiny.
I am not a scientist. This article is not an attempt to create a scientific hypothesis. I am a shaman, and the following ideas are a philosophical exploration combining the paradigms of evolution and non-duality.
Evolution is change over time.
Non-dualism is the idea that mind and body are one substance.
Materialism, the current metaphysical model under which most mainstream science, philosophy and psychology rely on as the underlying premise of their hypotheses, tells us that our mind (consciousness) is little more than a complex illusion arising haphazardly out of the complexity of matter. It dogmatically insist that everything you think and feel is just some side effect of having a brain, which itself seeks only to trick us into taking care of our bodies. In evolutionary terms this care is referred to as ‘fitness’, and materialists insist that the ‘illusion of mind’ produced by the brain has no purpose but to seek fitness. Our joys and pains, our ecstasy and despair, all of these are just meaningless phenomena whose purpose is solely to survive and reproduce. You are not important. You are just a link in a causal chain that has no purpose or destination. Everything is an accident and your existence means absolutely nothing.
As you can imagine, die-hard materialists are a lot of fun to talk to at parties.
The materialist model of evolution, known as natural selection, similarly insists that evolution occurs only to increase the fitness of a species. It has no value to individuals, but is just a way of nature seeking further complexity by favoring the survival of mutations that increase fitness. Once again, materialists want us to believe that evolutionary adaptations are just random events, meaningless and irrelevant to individuals, serving only to increase the complexity of almighty nature.
The Judeo-Christian model of evolution is called intelligent design, and its proponents claim that evolution is the gentle push of an all-powerful, human-like deity perfecting its creation over time.
In both cases, evolution is something happening to individuals and species by an external force, for the purpose of fulfilling its own momentum and desires. Natural selection and intelligent design both presuppose the same idea, that is, that change over time is imposed by something outside of the things which experience and manifest that change.
What I propose instead, is that the things experiencing and manifesting evolution are at least partially responsible for the changes/mutations affecting them.
When I write fiction I generally start from a basic idea. A scenario and a few characters prime my creative pump and as I begin writing, the narrative seems to unfold before me as I hustle to keep up with a story that is marching along from the momentum of a single push I made. The same happens when I write music or make visual art. The process of creation is often like pushing a boulder down a mountain. Once you unlodge the rock from its resting spot and get it going a bit, the rest of the journey mostly takes care of itself. Yet this does not mean you will be able to control the path, velocity or final resting place of the boulder.
Non-dualism states that consciousness is the fundamental source of reality, not matter. This is not reverse materialism, as matter is not considered an emergent property of consciousness, it is simply the language which expresses the symbols and archetypes of consciousness. As these symbols and archetypes become more numerous and complex, so does the language which expresses them.
This is what I mean by Intelligent Selection. It is the idea that as the individual and collective symbols and archetypes increase in complexity, the narrative itself evolves towards complexity. And this change is manifested in reality (nature) slowly over time. Evolution.
Unlike the evolutionary paradigms that require something external to that which is evolving, Intelligent Selection supposes that how we live, think and feel creates a momentum which selects traits for the fitness of individual experiences over time. In this model we are no longer floating in a sea of meaningless accidents with no purpose. Our reality and our selves are very real. Our experience is not just some illusion, but a quest to see harmony and pleasure, and to create more of it over time for ourselves and those who follow in our footsteps.
Intelligent Selection eschews the inherent nihilism of natural selection and the predeterminism of intelligent design. It puts our experience and will at the forefront of our existence, rather than relegating it to subservience to the experience and will of an external agency. We are not accidents. We are the story of eternity unfolding itself through our individual experiences and interactions. The universe is a stage in which we write our own parts, expanding on the narratives of those that came before us, while setting the stage for those who will come after.
Only intelligent selection is able to accommodate the narratives of the objective and subjective. It is inclusive of science and spirituality. It does not compete in a brutal environment for dominance. It just takes the best parts of all that we know and combines them in a way that contributes to, rather than detracts, from those narratives.
Understanding the ways in which our symbolic and archetypal narratives create the reality we experience is a way of taking a more conscious approach to guiding our own evolution. Unlimited vistas of experience await us, and we are lucky to be participants in their creation. Evolution is not something happening to us; it is a tool for us to get something happening.
Please submit your appreciation and/or criticisms in interpretive dances, paintings and poetry.
I spend quite a bit of time writing about the problems of philosophical materialism, that is, the idea that the universe is essentially nothing but matter from which consciousness just emerged out of dumb luck. While some people dismiss these concerns, not because they support philosophical materialism but because they think it is a non-issue, ideologies tend to bleed into cultural landscapes in ways that create issues we can all understand to some degree. The idea that existence is nothing more than a collection of interacting objects, a swirling cosmic mass of thing debris, empowers an ideology that only material goods can make our lives meaningful. This cultural obsession of mindless mass consumption is itself often called materialism, and it is a threat to human values and environment alike.
This kind of materialism has littered our psychic lexicon with status symbols, unhealthy attachments to objects and greed. It reduces day to day living into a maze of desperate economic activity. It enslaves us to a lifetime of meaningless employment we then justify by a misplaced pride in the size of our cage and how much booty we have dragged back to it. It has led to an economy of planned obsolescence and symbol over substance, while it instigates the vestigial evolutionary instinct that MORE IS BETTER!
One of the ways that ‘more is better’ plays out is not even in the actual consumer goods we purchase, but in the needlessly bold packaging of them that we justify with misguided notions of quality, safety and convenience. Manufacturers use excessive packaging for many reasons. They use them to protect their goods from the environment and as a simple precaution against damage during transport. Yet even these reasons cannot explain the hyperbole with which we package our goods, and the bigger culprit here is marketing. Consumer goods marketers look at flashy packaging as adding appeal and value to their products. A gaudy toy with no real play value can be wrapped in a plastic shell that gives it the appearance of being the most fun thing a child will ever own. After all, it must be great, or why would they put so much effort into packaging it?
Although safety and product protection are legitimate concerns, the ways in which they are addressed is often predicated on faulty thinking. Where hard plastic shells are made to protect goods from shipping turbulence and deter theft, the same things can be accomplished with reusable packaging supplies and clever retail displays. Safety is generally the reasoning given for the excessive packaging of food items. But locally sourced foods and careful storage and handling can do more for safety than any amount of packaging can, the number of regulations requiring certain types and amounts of packaging leads to mountains of unnecessary waste. And industrial farming practices mean our foods must travel long distances over long amounts of time. The amount of packaging in a fast food meal, from farm to table, far exceeds the mass of the meal itself.
And yet it is not just regulatory systems and industry that is to blame. The consumer, for their part, continues the legacy of waste in their own insistence that everything is packaged for their maximum convenience.
If you have ever worked in retail you know exactly what I am talking about. In my own retail experience I have seen people justify their own mindless excess on countless occasions. I have sold items the size of a cigarette box that the customer insisted they needed the large plastic bag with handles on it because that would make it easier to carry. How hard was it to carry without that? Is this a real concern that justifies another link in a chain of endless waste? I have heard customers explain that they needed a bag for a single durable item for the most mindless and bizarre reasons imaginable. I have sold people backpacks or other bags that they then wanted me to put inside of another disposable bag. I have received requests for point of sale packaging from folks who were buying a small item with the word ‘pocket’ right in its name. There is no end to the frivolous justifications for waste I have encountered in my lengthy retail experience.
Yet there is one packaging request I find more aggravating than all of the rest, and that is gift wrapping. It is not even that gift wrapping creates large amounts of waste relative to other over-packaging concerns, but more that it bespeaks the compulsive mindless culture of excess in all of its most ignorant and unexamined ways. From what I can tell there are two reasons to have a gift wrapped that make even an inkling of sense, and they are:
To store a gift in plain sight over an extended period of time, like a present that sits under the Christmas tree tantalizingly for weeks before it can be opened, adding value to the gift via an element of restrained curiosity fulfillment.
For the person giving the gift to say to the person receiving it, “Hey, I spent a long time choosing just the right gift for you, and then more time meticulously wrapping it and decorating it to show you how much you mean to me.”
When you rush into a store and buy a gift at the last minute and then make the sucker behind the counter spend excess time on your purchase by wrapping it for you, what that gift now says is, “Here, I fulfilled the symbolic gestures I am culturally bound to abide, now can I be done here?” That kind of compulsive consumerist gifting is less a way of honoring people than it is crossing them off your list so you can get back to consuming for yourself. It is lazy, thoughtless and carries a hint of insult and mockery with it.
I am not sure if the climate has been altered by human activities or not. While I suspect that it is possible, I also know that environmental alarmism has been used as a tool by the most environment-damaging industrialists as a way of selling legislative gambits that actually benefit the worst exploiters of our planet without causing any meaningful paradigm shift that realistically addresses the potential issues. What I do know for certain is that you don’t shit where you eat. There is an entire continent of human-created waste afloat in the Pacific ocean. The entire face of the planet is covered in the debris-wake of human consumerism. Even the most remote areas of the world contain evidence of humanities excessive consumption cycles. And at the same time, we have tore up the face of the planet to gather the resources lying beneath in ways that are both unsustainable and potentially disastrous at this rate. This old world may be pretty tough, but it may not be tough enough to weather our arrogant abuse of it indefinitely. Everything has its limits.
Packaging reduction alone will not save us from the potential consequences of reckless unexamined materialism, but it is a good place to start. It represents some of the most mindless and excessive exploitation of earths resources, and an awareness of the issues and concerns involved of that could beneficially bleed into our materialism problem in general. And while I also believe that post-scarcity technologies could free us from this destructive path, and that our world is more than just an object and could potentially be restored through humanities conscious willpower, we are not there yet. To get to our next stage of evolution we might have to recognize and correct our current follies. Being mindful of the bigger picture and how everything in the world is connected to everything else in some complex way is definitely part of that evolutionary process. A great place to begin changing our perspective and habits could be as simple as considering the folly of mindless consumerism at the most basic level by unpacking our pointless predilection for excessive packaging.
In 1995 one of my best friends asked me to drive him to the airport. Since he had a nicer car and the airport was out of town, I drove him in that. Another mutual friend joined. His trip was an extended stay in South America where he had chased his college freshman sweetheart, so he was not planning to be back for a long time, and as such bequeathed us the remainder of his weed stash. After dropping him off we decided to take the long way home, twisting our way through Des Moines and its outlying areas. We were young, free and high as fuck. Somewhere in our journeys through human cemeteries, industrial graveyards and parks and lakes we started going through the cassettes in the car. One was labeled Beastie Boys/John Frusciante, and although we had never heard of the latter, the Beastie Boys was a definite go. Then at some point the tape flipped and so baffled and entranced were we, that it was several songs before we were even able to share our amazement and befuddlement at what was happening to our ears and minds.
For the next few years I worshiped that album. It was so profoundly brilliant and different, while also technically simple, that I never tired of it, even after listening to it repeatedly. I would borrow my friends four track cassette recorders and attempt to replicate that sound and that feeling, and attempt which never bore success. Yet it was where I cut my teeth in the recording and writing process and its inspiration as a piece of audio art was massive in my own musical formation.
In March 1994, when the album came out on Rick Rubin’s Def Jam Records, Frusciante had terminated his role in the Red Hot Chili Peppers and was living in severe disorder with a profound heroin habit. However he maintains that the album, despite its baffling surrealism, was made before his addiction took over his life. With the exception of Running Away Into You, the album was recorded during 1991-92 on the Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic tour.
“I wrote [the record] because I was in a really big place in my head—it was a huge, spiritual place telling me what to do. As long as I’m obeying those forces, it’s always going to be meaningful. I could be playing guitar and I could say ‘Play something that sucks,’ and if I’m in that place, it’s gonna be great. And it has nothing to do with me, except in ways that can’t be understood.”
in 1997, two years after I first heard John’s first solo album, I found out that he was going to be playing in a place an hour away from where I lived. I did not own a car and the weather was pretty nasty, so hitchhiking was not an option, so I eventually talked my mom into taking me to a college town bar to see a junkie play strange songs. And as it turned out, we both had a great time. John was just recovering from his addiction and he stood on the stage like he was there to haunt it. He seemed too far gone and broken to have even made it up there, but when his brilliant guitar playing began, followed by the existential caterwauling of his emotionally overloaded vocals, he came right to life. I cannot recall all of the details of that night. I remember ‘Your Smile Is A Rifle’ and Nirvana’s ‘Moist Vagina’ from the setlist. It was part of some touring funk thing called NutFest. Yet although I cannot remember the details, I can remember the feeling vividly. I can remember tears of what I think were joy. When I recall that night to memory I am not flooded with scenes and sounds and facts, but with a more pure sense of abandonment, bliss and longing.
Frusciante released a second album, Smile From the Streets You Hold, earlier that same year, reportedly for drug money. While the album does not have the purity and innocence of Niandra, it does still carry a sense of internal crisis, desperation and self-abandonment that could be felt in the first album. It is not even close to its predecessor, yet it is still a much better album than what RHCP or most mainstream rock in general were doing at the time, by light years. It is harsh and incomplete, but it is also honest and apologetic in a tragically authentic way.
After this Frusciante sobered up and continued recording solo albums, and while they are definitely interesting albums, none of them have the emotional/spiritual force of the first few. They are tame by the standards of Niandra and Smile, and do not carry the same sense of bizarre, tragic immediacy.
I continued enjoying Niandra and giving his new albums a chance. During my years in retail I found that most people could not tolerate the vocals for long, so if I had some browsers straggling too casually for too long, I would throw the album on to quicken their purchase or departure so I could sneak down to the basement and sneak a toke. Before long he rejoined RHCP and I was initially impressed. Yet after a few more albums that received heavy rotation everywhere all of the time managed to suck all of the life out of that bands music for me. And even though none of his more recent works has ever touched me the way his early stuff did, I still cherish all of that great music from his early period both solo and with RHCP, and am glad he finally got out of the latter (hopefully) for good.
“I’m forever near a stereo saying, ‘What the fuck is this garbage?’ And the answer is always the Red Hot Chili Peppers.” -Nick Cave
Before I get into why the album is still brilliant, let me comment briefly on some specific songs.
As Can Be – The opening track begins with a frenzied string blitzkrieg, a loose weave of crisis melodies, and then sort of settles into a vulgar love song once the lyrics kick in, with lead guitars winding throughout like frantic bumble bees carrying streamers.
My Smile Is A Rifle – What begins as an experiment in melancholy quickly evolves into an even deeper musical misanthropy, like a lost coffin rocking in the waves of an alien ocean. The opening lyrics, in contrast is a message of strange silver linings. The vocals descend into utter madness and one cannot be sure if he is being playful of making a cry for help. The pitch shifting, screeching and squealing is the vocal opposite of American Idol, removing all flash and skill and replacing it with pure emotional dadaism.
Head (Beach Arab) – Combining harp-like melodies below frantically picked notes soaring over brilliantly sophmoric solos, the song blazes a path through you before you can figure out what it has evoked in you.
Big Takeover – This Ren Faire rendition of the Bad Brains classic manages to use frenzied layers to make up for the lack of pace of the original, and in doing so becomes its own song, just as powerful as the original.
Curtains – The image of curtains suggested in the title befits the surrealist drama of this simple piano/vocal ballad. Its absurdist lyrics make sense on a level that cannot be comprehended outside of the context of the music and album as a whole. Building throughout, the song almost becomes a standard Daniel Johnston rocker, before twinkling out in a sprinkle of high piano notes.
Running Away Into You – This is one of the most brilliant pieces of music ever committed to recording. A tale of lust and love and longing and everything in between, it uses reverse tracks, loops, speed and pitch shifts and a bunch of other audio novelties to paint a portrait of desire through a chaotic kaleidoscope of symbolic sounds for the emotional highs and lows of romance.
Mascara – Essentially a standard acoustic rocker from the onset, the song later takes on a far stranger shape of a circus sideshow, and continues to twist back and forth between the two feelings that leaves you a bit discombobulated like riding the aural Tea Cups at a musical amusement park. Eventually ending with a lyric about underwear full of blood and a pretty guitar outro.
Been Insane – This song is kind of a baseline for the entire Niandra LaDes half of the album. A multi-layer acoustic rocker with elements of both standard rock alternating against Syd Barrett surreality.
Skin Blues – An instrumental showcase of soaring stringed sonics. The closest my own experiments ever came to Frusciante level are a really cheap version of this.
Your Pussy’s Glued To A Building On Fire – The most inappropriate lullabye ever written, or the most colorful love song ever penned? Both. And more. Highly suggestive gives way to the overall contextual frameworks and becomes highly evocative of a range of emotional and spiritual longings instead. So good, it actually is repeated in a different but similar version right after the first concludes. “YOU LITTLE DUCK HOUSE!!!!”
Blood On My Neck From Success – This is the song Kurt Cobain would likely wished he had wrote himself. The confession of a musician coming to terms with the ugliness and hypocrisy of creative fame, it is all threadbare and barely manages to hold itself together, which is exactly how John was feeling at the time. Yet no amount of saying that in straightforward terms could ever explain it like this song.
Ten to Butter Blood Voodoo – The final song from the first half of the Niandra LaDes portion feels lost and far away. It is like the Flaming Lips, if Wayne Coyne became a manic depressive guitar god who ditched the rest of his band and decided to write a song that said ‘fuck you’ to his whole life.
The tracks from here on belong to the second part of the album, Usually Nothing But A T-Shirt. The songs themselves vary in length, complexity or any other binding codes. They are listed only by their track numbers, and where vocals are employed, it is rarely with any credence to the traditions of singing. Where there are discernible lyrics, they bend and break into fragile poems never meant to be read by anyone else. These are snapshots of the unanswered questions inside the mind of a young artist and shaman. They are delicate, beautiful and at times eerily creepy. These songs blend together to form a sort of meditation on the elasticity of human emotions, or as a spiritual seance to call up the inner truths we are most afraid of. I will not go into a track-by-track analysis because they are not meant to be taken that way, and there is more to be said of them as a whole than as individual pieces. Which is how Frusciante intended the whole album.
So then why is this album just as poignant today as when it was first conceived, and maybe even more so? As I have explained in the past, we are a society living only on the surface of our own reality, rapidly consuming explicit messages while denying the underlying implicit information that underlies them. Niandra LaDes and Usually Nothing But A T-Shirt is a refutation of this shallow view of reality. It eschews literal interpretation. Its explicit presentation is meaningless collection of low quality noise. An attempt to understand the work on any kind of empirical basis would only render it more confusing and meaningless. It defies the literalism of our scientistically materialist culture.
Today’s popular music is all show and no substance, comparatively. Any attempts to day to be so wrecklessly experimental would be done in the sterile setting of academic aesthetics, based on preconceived forms and pieced together with the precision of mathematical axioms. No artist would dare be brave enough, even in the case that they were inclined, to make such a messy piece of art. It’s beauty is not just in it’s imperfection, but in its seeming ignorance that attempting to make a perfect piece of art is something that should be taken seriously by the artist.
Our culture is steeped in a dogma of technical precision and direct messages. Niandra LaDes and Usually Just A T-Shirt is the opposite of the values underlying our society. It caters to nothing, begs nobody’s approval and only says anything to those willing to work out the interpretations for themselves. While our society on the surface spoon feeds us bite sized truths, this album makes you wiggle out every little illumination on your own, but never promises to reveal any final answers about itself. It is not what it is. It is the unique experience of everyone who listens to it. It is tarot deck of audio archetypes for the emotional and spiritual truths that give us each our own meaning and purpose in life. It is musical shamanism lovingly and painstakingly delivered from the depths of one mans psyche. It is monumental work of art and a forgiving and fragile childhood-like heresy of the unexamined dogmas we hold dear.
As the upcoming elections have ramped up the hyperbole of our cultural dialogues, hate seems to be flying in all directions. Donald Trump, who is likely just using hate speech to get elected, has nonetheless created a situation through his troublesome rhetoric. His spoken racism, nationalism and xenophobia have stirred the pot of human emotions into a frenzy. Where the hateful sediment had been sinking to the bottom of our society for quite some time, it has been freshly stirred up and is making its rounds through the entire social strata again.
It would be tiresome to explain here why these hateful ideologies are wrong. Even bigots know at some level that their hatred is wrong, both intellectually and emotionally. This is why they usually hide it. What worries me is not the traditional small-minded prejudice of rural simpletons or organized hate groups. They are a known commodity that have mostly been tamed through disenfranchisement. What bothers me is the growing amounts of hate directed at these people by socially liberal people who consider their own hatred superior and justified.
A rabid and militant anti-hate movement is spreading across the country. Its flames are fanned by unrecognized irony and unexamined hypocrisies. It is itself a hate group, wearing a halo, while using the same notions of purity espoused by every hate group before it. It is comprised of people who consider themselves to be compassionate, understanding and accepting of others, yet who make threats of violence against their ideological opponents. Fighting hate with hate is not just unreasonable, it is creating a vicious cycle.
Most peoples latent racism is only dangerous in the sense that it breeds apathy for social issues. It mostly lies dormant where it can do no real harm. But when the rhetoric on race reaches the level of public screaming match, these folks often feel forced to pick a side. And unfortunately, this often leads them into a genuine deliberate racism they were not capable of before. Racism had become mostly taboo. Its death was predicated on the fact that even where it existed, it feared show its face. But when hates collide, and genuine racists come out of the woodwork, folks feel more emboldened to act on their own latent tendencies. The ironic hatred against bigots has given them a greater voice, and helps them to unite. Hate on hate breeds more hate.
To be clear, most of this hate of hate is happening to those who identify with liberal politics. These are the champions of equality. Yet in the last several years we have seen their camp ridden with a powerful prejudice in the form of Islamophobia. The talking heads of mainstream liberal politics like Bill Maher have gone out of their way to stir up hatred and xenophobia against Islam. And while this was all mostly tolerated by liberals, even if begrudgingly, the same folks are now coming out of their silent corners to attack the same hatred and xenophobia in their political opponents. And so we can see that the Us-vs-Them seems to have more bearing on this effect than does genuine concern about hatred. Yet that sort of thinking is precisely what every form of bigotry ever has been predicated upon. You cannot reserve your intolerance for hatred until the other team has the ball, and still be taken seriously as an advocate for tolerance.
Tolerance is a key concept. It is where the haters of haters have failed and fallen victim to the same instinctual urges of all bigots. The inability to tolerate bigots and to try to understand them has led to this. Yet that is precisely what we need. Hating the hateful just reinforces their hate, while validating and justifying hatred itself as an acceptable reaction to other kinds of people. Nobody became a racist, xenophobic nationalist in a vacuum. Nobody was born that way. That hatred has a genesis, and by looking for it we might be able to root it out in the individuals harboring it. First you must be compassionate enough to realize that hate is a painful burden to carry, and seek not to fight it, but to heal it.
Some people learned hate from their families. Some picked it up through negative experiences. Others have absorbed it through cultural dialogues. When we refuse or fail to understand a persons hatred, we are powerless to help them rid themselves of it, and understanding is not possible without some amount of acceptance. We must accept that the path to hatred was a meaningful experience to the individual. That is where we begin to tackle intolerance and wipe out hate. Dislodging hate will not happen through battles, but through therapeutic means. So if you really want to end hatred, do not adopt its techniques. Find someone who is full of hate. Listen to them. Accept them and try to understand them. And when doing so has earned you their trust and respect, take the opportunity to guide them using reason and compassion away from their own toxic hatreds.
This is how we conquer hatred, not with a bang, but with friendly conversations. It will not be a quick or easy process. Nothing worthwhile ever is. But it will be worthwhile. Let us expel hatred from the pool of humanity gently, without stirring the remaining parts back up in the process. Hate against hate is not just self-righteous hypocrisy, it is a producer of newer and ever-growing amounts of hatred. To stop the vicious cycle we must tame our response to hate and not be led by the same emotional/reactionary momentum that hate itself is predicated upon. Hate cannot destroy hate, only peaceful resolution through acceptance, tolerance, understanding and therapeutic removal can ever lead our species into harmony.