A couple of weeks ago, for reasons I can’t entirely remember, I started reading a book by David McGowan (who was a major figure in the 9/11 Truth movement) called “Weird Scenes from the Canyon.”
Weird Scenes from the Canyon is not about 9/11. It’s about popular culture. McGowan, who died back in 2015, argues that the hippie culture of the 1960s, which many people from “my generation” (Generation X to be specific) resent having missed, was not about peace, love and idealism. Rather, the iconic counterculture of the 1960s was actually a psyop by the CIA and Army Intelligence to misdirect the anti-war movement into world of hedonism and selfish individualism. But it gets even better. The counterculture of the 1960s was more than just a dirty trick to make anti-war protesters tune in, turn on, and drop out (of the anti-war movement) is was a sinister world of death, drugs, and pedophilia. I was shocked, for example, to learn that Neil Young (whom I’ve worshipped for years) was good friends with Charles Manson.
Weird Scenes from the Canyon is not a well-argued or well-written book. McGowan doesn’t even come close to proving his case. Just about the only thing he succeeds in doing is compiling a list of just how many iconic rock musicians had some connection to the military industrial complex. Jim Morrison’s father, for example, was the high ranking naval officer who planned the Gulf of Tonkin hoax. Frank Zappa’s family was involved in making chemical weapons. David Crosby is from a ruling class family closely connected with New York Van Cortlandts. Even working class Chicago Polish kid Ray Manzarek attempted to enlist in the Army Intelligence Corps, and, while he proved a bit too flaky to last, was allowed to sell drugs before he was discharged. The drug deals funded his graduate school at UCLA, where he met Jim Morrison. It’s all fascinating trivia but in the end, it’s only trivia. World War II meant an almost universal military mobilization. If every early Boomer with relatives who worked for the Military Industrial Complex had been part of some sinister conspiracy there wouldn’t have been many people outside of it. What’s more, McGowan goes on long tangents about unrelated issues, jumps around in time, and never quite gets to making his case. It’s a tedious read that makes you feel stupid after you’ve put it down, intellectual junk food.
I’m an educated man. I have a degree in English from a fairly reputable university and I’m working on a second degree in computer science and applied mathematics from another fairly reputable university. My family, for all its problems, was secular and liberal. I’ve studied history. It’s almost impossible to fool me with a fake Lincoln or Jefferson quote because I’m a pretty good judge of what language people used in the 18th and 19th Centuries, and how different it is from our own. I’ve read Marx and Adam Smith. I’ve studied economics. I know that there’s no grand, unifying, sinister conspiracy controlling history. And yet, I find grand, unifying conspiracy theories endlessly fascinating, almost necessary for my sanity. Last week, for example, when they finally arrested Jeffrey Epstein, my first impulse was to log onto the Internet and try to find some semi-coherent conspiracy explaining why they finally arrested him after all these years when almost everybody not in a coma for the past decade has long since realized he was a pedophile and a sex trafficker for the elite. Yes, I realize that every once in awhile the American ruling class will thrown some particularly egregious one of their own (Bernie Madoff, Martin Shkreli, and now Epstein) to the wolves, if only to prove that the system “works,” that “we’re a nation of laws.” But I couldn’t help but wonder. “Why now?”
In an excellent article in an online magazine called The Cut, Lisa Miller gives a rational explanation for both my fascination with Weird Scenes from the Canyon and my befuddlement over why the establishment finally decided to put Jeffrey Epstein in jail. Miller is a few years older than I am, part of what I like to call the “Boomer X Generation,” people born from 1960 to 1968, too young for the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s but too old to be part of Generation X proper. Jeffrey Epstein, she argues, dredging up bad memories from my childhood about the cynicism and vulgarity of the late 1970s and early 1980s that had replaced the idealism of the 1960s, is what happens when the “sexual revolution” turns rancid, when it stops being about imagining a better world and starts being about an excuse for the rich and privileged to exploit the poor and vulnerable.
“The sexual revolution,” writes Maurice Isserman in America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, “was an insurgency rooted in the conviction that the erotic should be celebrated as an utterly normal part of life.” This conviction, though admirable in concept, has mostly failed in practice. A generation of entrepreneurial and “brilliant” men took the job of defining the “erotic” for everyone else, without consulting or including the intepretations of women, and then purveyed to the masses an eros that degraded women and girls while pitching it as “healthy.” And then a generation of high-minded consumers accepted that definition — together with their belief in their natural right to be titillated — without making any meaningful distinctions between preferences and kinks and crimes.
While there was no grand, unifying conspiracy organized by Army Intelligence and the CIA, the counterculture of the 1960s had been a scam. We had all been duped, not only those early Boomers who thought that smoking pot and fucking could replace doing the hard work of ending the war and racism, but us Generation Xers who longed for a time when popular mass culture was “good,” when Grace Slick and Marty Balin were writing Somebody to Love and not We Built this City. The rich and powerful had gotten even more rich and powerful. The working class got nothing a long cultural hangover and meaningless nostalgia.
Shortly after Watergate Stevie Wonder wrote one of the greatest protest songs in American history.
While You Haven’t Done Nothin’ was written as an attack on Richard Nixon, it seems more suited to the current day Democrats, to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. The Republicans under Trump aren’t even pretending that they’re going to “change right from wrong.” All they offer is nihilism and racism, the idea that the world is a shitty place and that the strong (rightfully) eat the weak. They are what they are. Cunts. The Democrats, on the other hand, pretend to be something different, enlightened liberals who, if only we give them another chance, will make the world a better place this time, honest. After Barack Obama won in 2008 on the ideas of “hope and change” and then proceeded to give us 8 more years of George W. Bush, of war and elite privilege, repression and hypocrisy, nobody believes them. Or should I say no working class person believes them. The upper-middle-class, the lawyers, doctors, university professors and professional journalists, the “professional managerial class” still seem to buy into the idea that the Democrats are playing some kind of “12-Dimensional Chess,” that if only we keep voting for them they’re going to “change right from wrong.” Is it “bad faith?”? No. it’s worst. Upper middle-class Americans have convinced themselves that bad faith isn’t bad faith at all but intelligence and sophistication, the ability to see “nuance.” Sure Obama let the criminal bankers who crashed the economy in 2008 off the hook scot free but if only us peasants understood the law, we’d understand that he had to.
In her article in Politico, a write named Holly Otterbein points out that the class differences between Democrats who support Elizabeth Warren and Democrats who support Bernie Sanders has more to do with class than ideology or race. The professional managerial class supports Warren. The working class supports Sanders.
It’s not hard to see why. Sanders did attend the University of Chicago, an elite institution by any definition, but unlike most politicians he did not go onto law school. Instead he moved to Vermont and struggled for years before he finally emerged as the Mayor of Burlington and then a US Senator. Unlike Warren and Harris, both lawyers, Bernie Sanders doesn’t seem to be temperamentally capable of mistaking bad faith for intelligence. Everybody knows that Warren and Harris will eventually back off of their promises to support Medicare for All. The working class knows it. The professional managerial class knows it. But unlike the Professional Managerial Class the working class won’t confuse bullshit for intelligence. They seem confident that while Sanders may fail to enact Medicare for All that at least he’ll probably try. Warren and Harris on the other hand will argue that their watered down, fake version of Medicare for All (which will undoubtedly have the blessings of the big insurance companies) is what we needed all along, if only all of us ignorant proles could understand the reasons.
That in the end brings me back to conspiracy theories. Why are they so popular? They assume “bad faith” on the part of the corporate media and mainstream politicians, and they never try to bullshit us into thinking that this bad faith is actually intelligence, sophistication and nuance. At this point, with a gutted, underfunded media, captured regulatory agencies, and lying bought out main stream politicians it’s probably the most rational way to look at the world. As ridiculous as many conspiracy theories are, when somebody is pissing on your head, none of them try to convince you that it’s raining. Just the opposite. That pigeon who shit on my head last week? He meant it.