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Pattern Recognition and the Beautiful Pain of Disillusionment

As a writer, especially one who tries to explore the interplay between culture, sociology, history, ecology, economics and politics, it can be difficult to focus in on common themes and common threads. In the age of the mobile Internet, where there is so much information to absorb and assimilate, so many more voices than before, I find this to be a genuine challenge.

I was experiencing some of this over-stimulated confusion a few days ago when the Twitterverse threw me a reminding narrative lifeline from the amazing assassination researcher, author and screenwriter Lisa Pease (If you haven’t read her new book about the RFK assassination ‘A Lie Too Big to Fail’, I highly recommend it).

She said:

This was a reminder for me because fiction has been one of the ways in which I make connections between the various insane strands of events and states of being that I study to do this amalgam of journalism and essayism I purport to do.

Lisa’s highlighting of fiction as a potential positive mode of influence brought to mind a quote from the prescient author William Gibson from one of his uncannily prescient novels about corporate espionage in our digital dystopia, Pattern Recognition:

“We have no future because our present is too volatile. … We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment’s scenarios. Pattern recognition.”

Indeed, our present is so volatile right now in the United States and the world because something is in the process of ending and, in large part, that something is the United States cohesion as a culture and its dominance over world affairs as a political entity.

And it’s those writers who are good at recognizing patterns that see it with the most acuity. To add to that, it’s also the writers who use humor, storytelling and a natural irreverence that seem to be able to put together those patterns in a way that makes you truly feel what they reveal (as opposed to just dispassionately think about what they reveal).

All these thoughts of pattern recognition led me to connect two writers I hadn’t really put together before. One is the veritable count of collapse, engineer, author and blogger Dmitri Orlov. With him, it hardly gets more sardonic and fatalistic. The other is the ever clear-eyed, imaginative hippie-realist essayist and poet, Caitlin Johnstone.

Each of them wrote a piece in the past few weeks and, to me, they fit like puzzle pieces. Orlov wrote You Are Being Trolled about the global theater that masks the United State’s growing inability to dictate world events. Caitlin (I find it hard not to use her first name because I think of her as a friend, even though I’ve never met her) wrote Jingoistic Fetishization is As American as Bald Eagle McNuggets (snicker!) about the theater Democratic Party politicians engage in at home as they object to Trump’s 4th of July military parade—with full knowledge that we’ve been proudly hypnotized by our own perceived military might and national mythology for decades (if not a century), regardless of party affiliation.

It made sense to me to make the link between these two writers by reading their pieces back to back. It’s an interesting exercise, and a lot of fun to boot. See below.

One of the things that connects these two works is that each writer recognizes patterns of behavior and perception on the part of the American public and its political class that make it difficult for us to understand and look squarely at who we’ve become as a culture and—in that willful inability—how hard it is to see that the mythology that means so much (too much) to so many of us will not provide protection from the disintegration that’s objectively occurring right before our eyes.

Indeed, letting go of our triumphalist mythology is a way to open up our ability to see the larger reality and begin dealing with it, so that we might actually do something with the new reality that emerges from the other side of what’s now dissolving. There are, after all, new forms to be found amidst entropy. But we can only find those forms together and we can only find them at all if we abandon an exceptionalism that has truly become a destructive and blinding fiction.

All of which brings us right back to Lisa Pease, who, in her tweet, asks us to more honestly fictionalize the reality that lies before us, so that we gain the power to imagine our way to somewhere new. In this age of climate breakdown, isn’t it strange and paradoxical that our survival may depend not just on facing hard truths about where we’re at, but also on our ability to build new and more durable fictions to nourish us through the deprivations to come?

Something to ponder, no?

As always, thanks for reading…and listening.

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Stephen Boni
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Stephen Boni

Stephen Boni is both Ghion Journal's current editor and a contributing writer. His main interest is in analyzing the workings of empire and exploring ways to dismantle and replace systems of oppression. A conflicted New Englander with an affinity for people, music and avoiding isms, he lives in Oakland, California with his wife and young daughter.
Stephen Boni
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