Fighting Ghosts

Fighting Ghosts
By P. Orin Zack

‘By reading this sentence, you agree to the ideas set forth in this essay.’

Potentially hazardous End User License Agreement, isn’t it? After all, I could take this essay almost anywhere. You could very well have just agreed to think or do something illegal. But it’s exactly what you do any time you start experiencing someone’s creation.

The moment you read the first word of a story, the moment the stage lights come up, the moment a movie or video begins, you agree to be bound by the rules of the writer’s created reality. You do this even before you know what that reality will be about. Of course, you can also stop reading at any time, just as you can walk out of the theater or turn off the video.

And that’s the essential tension behind all of these things. The magician who contrived the reality you just entered is intent on keeping your butt in the seat. But that will only happen if you agree to stay there. So he, or she, has to keep it interesting.

Which is why I have to say something right now to keep you reading. It’s this: there’s a show going on right now that you didn’t agree to attend. There wasn’t any first word or first act to hang that agreement on, because it was built around you when you weren’t looking.

Now that I have your interest for a moment, we can put some context behind this thing.

Once upon a time, when the world was real, people flocked to magicians for the thrill of having their senses fooled. Come on inside. Sit. Watch, and be amazed. It’s safe here in the audience, because the impossible is all played out on stage, behind the proscenium, in a special place. Once upon a time.

Stagecraft carried on like that for centuries. Comedy or tragedy, music or mayhem. You were safe as long as that invisible line protected you from what you had come to see. Then that tension reared its head again. Butts were heading for the door. Something new was needed, and as usual, someone had already been experimenting with it.

Playwrights started breaking the proscenium pretty early on. Characters spoke directly to the audience. Plays were staged in the round. But all that simply made the invisible line more pliable. It still separated audience from action, even when that action interpenetrated the audience. What was needed was a way to do away with it entirely.

At this point, I need to either put up or shut up. I’ve spent the time I bought earlier, and fingers everywhere are poised to move on to something else. The solution? Shakespeare said it first: ‘All the world’s a stage.’ Involve the audience.

Magicians, of course, had been doing it for some time, in a fashion. They’d ask a member of the audience to participate in the trick, or borrow a watch or handkerchief to use in the illusion. The idea was to enhance the audience’s emotional investment in the action.

You walked in thinking you would be an anonymous observer, just another face in the crowd. But now you’ve been singled out, asked to mount the stage. No pressure. Just a spotlight, and everyone egging you on. The thing is, the moment you rise, you change everything, because you have become a proxy, a stand-in for every other person in the hall. And that enables them to share your excitement, because they can imagine themselves in your shoes, only without the risk of actually sweating in them. So it’s not just you that raps on the stage coffin and runs a finger along that sword, it’s everyone. Just like Bastian Balthazar Bux did when he read about Atreyu’s plight in ‘The Neverending Story’, they have experienced your emotional reaction to being in the center of it all. By inviting you into the world beyond the proscenium, the magician wrapped it around every person in the room.

You have to be wary of magician’s tricks. Sometimes, people’s lives are at stake.

One of the best tricks is misdirection. We applaud when we’ve been duped by misdirection on stage, but it’s not the only place we’re exposed to it. Another trick is presenting false choices. Once you’ve bought into the magician’s view of the situation, he controls what you think. Is the walnut in his left hand or his right? Oh, did you forget he had a pocket? The problem is that it’s not just magicians who are using these tricks any more. And those who do are not concerned about putting on a good show. They’re more interested in what’s in your pocket, or what’s in your mind.

So look around. How much of what you know, how much of what you do is the result of misdirection, false choices and sleight of hand or mind?

Take me, for example. The story I learned in school about US history was a scrubbed and sanitized version intended to instill the patriotic fervor then fueling the polarization of that era’s Cold War. This was a nation that could do no wrong, a nation that had never harmed its own citizens and never could. The most important people to know about were the heads of state, not the leaders of the civil movements which changed things for the folks in the trenches of life. Sure, we learned about the steel and railroad magnates, about Samuel Gompers and the rise of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), but we didn’t learn about how the ‘Wobblies’ of the International Workers of the World (IWW) conducted mass actions, or how Gompers’ one big union made it possible for the government to squash the Wobblies. It was a quilt stitched together from bits and pieces that made the story they wanted us to learn. It was also full of holes and outright lies.

That was the world I thought I had inherited, the one I wanted to reclaim from the people who seemed to want to run it into the ground.

Something was amiss, but I didn’t yet know what it was.

There were clues, of course. A big one came during my time at a technical college in Florida, from a history teacher on a mission. He wanted us to be able to see events from more than one perspective, and sometimes ran scams on us to drive it home. The turning point, for me, happened soon after the movie, ‘Little Big Man’ came out. A group of us had gone to see it over the weekend, and we noticed out teacher entering the theater for the showing after ours. Had we not seen him, we might not have noticed that his next lecture suddenly segued from the American History laid out in our textbook into events from the film. The rest of the class kept taking notes, unaware that they had been had. He fessed up later, of course, but watching a person in authority pull a fast one like that was a powerful inoculation against blindly accepting the word of our elected or appointed leaders.

What can I say? It was 1971, and Richard Nixon was in the White House.

Walking into his class that day was like joining the magician’s audience, or reading this essay’s license agreement. We all went in with certain expectations, one of which was that we would be learning truth. And we did, just not the truth we had expected to learn.

Here’s one that you might not have been expecting: the folks who brought you the so-called ‘War on Terror’ needed to create the illusion of an organized enemy because governments can only deal with other governments.

It’s a pattern that plays out on many levels, and it’s based on the idea that communication is only possible between equals. Same thing with threats. It’s why small animals puff themselves up in order to confront a larger adversary, why it’s best to hire a lawyer when faced with one, and why companies negotiate with other companies, rather than with governments. All of these may share the same piece of ground, but each one will ignore anything that is not in the same rank. The rest might as well be invisible.

The implications of this insight tossed a lot of what I thought I knew into the grinder. North America was colonized, not by England, but by corporations. It wasn’t national expansion, but economic imperialism that caused the deaths of so many Native Americans at the hands and dirty linen of the invaders. The colonists revolted against the economic control of the overseas business interests when their own welfare was demonstrated to be unimportant to the corporations. But because they believed the power that was being exercised over them rested with the English government, that was the target of their revolt. The manufacturing and trading companies let them fight, and started laying plans for the future.

And today, while the people of the world are focused on the doings of their respective national governments and the organizations which unite or divide them, the real power to control the world lies in the hands of a small number of powerful companies whose doings are relegated to the business section of the news. Paddy Chayefsky had it right on the money in ‘Network’: there are no national governments, only corporations. That’s where the real power lies. Influence peddling in Congress isn’t an aberration of the system, it is the system.

All of which brings me to the show that was built around us, the one without a license agreement. The opening strains — percussion, as I recall — were played out over the streets of lower Manhattan in September 2001, but the planning must have started long before that. What we have to decide is who put this show on, why, and what we can do about it.

So, if you’ll excuse me for a moment, I’m going to sneak on stage and take a closer look at the illusion. Keep alert, though. I doubt the perpetrators want anyone looking behind their curtain. They’ve already laid the groundwork for the next act, and wouldn’t want the theater burned down around their ears by irate ticketholders.

From where I stand, it looks like the whole sequence of events has been carefully stage-managed from the beginning. Come back here and look at everything that the US government has done as a result, and how it was accomplished. The setup is astounding. Just as with any good illusion, a great deal had to be prepared prior to the opening curtain in order for at all to come together as it did.

Just start with the misdirection in the wider world. They couldn’t afford to let the actual military get in their way, so they staged a three-ring war game to keep everyone busy. That also let them mess with the air traffic control system. How much do those games cost anyway? And how much do the defense contractors make on them?

But the real misdirection happened right there at the main event. I mean, who would believe that a few aircraft hits could turn a pair of 110 story steel buildings to dust, even if there had really been aircraft to hit them? The explosions were dramatic, of course, but when the illusion began, you could still see the belt-and-suspenders touch of laying in cutting charges to be certain nothing went horribly wrong with the weapons test they were conducting. They layered on so many false leads, it’s amazing that anyone finally caught on to what really happened that day.

What bothered me most was how they cheapened the show by trying to profit from it. Destroying high-ticket investigations by pulling WTC 7 was one thing, but placing bets on the outcome with short stock sales on the airlines used in the cover story? At least whoever did it had the decency not to collect on it.

See for yourself. The evidence is everywhere, if you know what you’re looking for. There’s the original news reports of what happened to the World Trade Center and how they were released. The various explanations offered for how the impossible magic trick of destroying the twin towers from the top down at free-fall speed without leaving a pile of rubble was carried out. And don’t forget to look at the people in key positions, both before and afterwards.

We were had. The question is, by whom? It’s pretty clear to me that national governments are no more in charge now than they were a few hundred years ago. Haranguing your elected representatives is fine, but we should really be confronting the powers controlling what they do. Unfortunately, we aren’t in their league, conversationally speaking.

I once had two kittens. They were fascinated by the model train I was controlling. Then something strange happened. As one, they suddenly switched their attention from the train going around the tracks to me at the controls. It was unnerving.

Copyright 2007 P. Orin Zack


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