Thunder rolls across central London like a pyroclastic flow, sending everyone scurrying from the sudden dark and even more sudden wet.
We take shelter in an old gin palace in Theatreland.
Electrical storms are one of the things I miss most about Australia. Living on the east coast between the baking hinterlands and the Pacific means you regularly get some doozys.
Standing under the awning with our drinks, I smell the air. Smells like change.
Thunder. A temperature inversion.
The great clap of thunder we have just heard has accompanied a lightning bolt that struck
Barad-Dur The Shard, Europe's tallest building.
There is an old Onion article from their book, Our Dumb Century, about the Titanic. The headline reads World's Largest Metaphor Hits Iceberg. From the article:
MESSAGE FROM CARPATHIA
At 4:23 a.m. Greenwich Standard Time, the following message was received from the rescue ship Carpathia:
TITANIC STRUCK BY ICY REPRESENTATION OF NATURE'S SUPREMACY STOP INSUFFICIENT LIFEBOATS DUE TO POMPOUS CERTAINTY IN MAN'S INFALLIBILITY STOP MICROCOSM OF LARGER SOCIETY STOP
As far as metaphors for today's Europe go, The Shard -even in its very name- is difficult to beat. It is a vastly expensive playground for a global elite who temporarily wash into London and peer down on us peons from their lofty heights, safe behind space-age security and safer behind entry fees that are steeper than its sides. Victoria, the grandmother of empires, would have hated it. Her favourite prime minister owned the land the pub I am sheltering in stands upon. (It was named for one of his descendants.)
Lightning struck this symbol of today's billionaire technocracy while it seems the entire country was out voting for UKIP. The rise of Monty Python's euroskeptic party has been widely interpreted as a vote of extreme dissatisfaction with the prevailing political regime rather than a wholesale endorsement of what few policies the party has managed to cobble together. To some extent this is true but it is also very dangerous because it is, in a very literal sense, how you end up with a Nazi party. And this is not the year to go summoning ghosts who are showing up anyway.
The western esoteric tradition has inherited a number of culture-specific frameworks for mapping synchronicity. Kabbalah being one of them, and the Neoplatonic planetary astrology we have failed to de-couple from its pre-existing god names being another. In either case, something is gained and something is lost, because neither offer a map of sufficient detail for our post apocalypse.
A case can be made instead for a simplified/complexified version of the original shamanic system of spirit signs, omens and portents that birthed them both in the first place. In the correct hands, synchronicitous analysis is the haruspicy of space shamanism.
Because something is clearly going on. I thought the omen associated with this week's election would be the invasion of Regent's Canal by foreign snakes.
A band of exotic snakes that has set up home on the banks of a canal in north London is facing calls to be culled.
Over the last few weeks, 30 Aesculapian snakes, which can grow up to two metres in length, have been spotted up trees, rooftops and climbing the drains of houses around the Regent’s Canal area.
Thought to originate from Yugoslavia, the snakes have been known to eat large rats and birds – and their numbers now seem to be growing in the capital.
Where to begin? Well, there is the obvious snake symbolism, sitting coiled at the base of the spine of the Mystery Tradition, psychopomp and initiator into psychedelic realms. Then there is the observation that they are foreign... an invasive species from the Continent (from Yugoslavia no less).
How about their name? Aesculapian. Named for the Classical god of healing in whose temples they were encouraged to inhabit. The snakes on Hermes's caduceus are aesculapian. They are minions of the Trickster/Messenger himself.
You also have the name of their adopted home/temple. Regent's Canal. Named for another invasive species from the Continent, except this one features on our currency.
Finally, their adopted home is functionally synchronicitous. It is a symbol of the previous wealth and industry that poured into London from the regions before being exported to the rest of the empire. Now it is a fetid storage site for old shopping trolleys and hipsters.
The whole things works together as a pleasing omen because it covers off the visceral fear we associate with reptiles and foreigners as well as the beneficial impact they bring whilst simultaneously influencing how a culture sees itself. Also they have a tendency to show up as heralds of change, doubly so as these are the snakes of Hermes.
I see this as a message from Olympus to change quick, change big and eat the rats.
Like trumps in a Tarot of London, these two symbols whorl around in my head as I wander through Soho last night to catch up with an old friend. The two need to be seen in conjunction. Are there microcosmic, rat-eating strategies we should adopt rather than protest voting for Nazis? What levers are left to pull to express outrage and trigger change in a Europe that is getting increasingly less democratic. Which it is. From the London Review of Books:
Europe is ill. How seriously, and why, are matters not always easy to judge. But among the symptoms three are conspicuous, and inter-related. The first, and most familiar, is the degenerative drift of democracy across the continent, of which the structure of the EU is at once cause and consequence. The oligarchic cast of its constitutional arrangements, once conceived as provisional scaffolding for a popular sovereignty of supranational scale to come, has over time steadily hardened. Referendums are regularly overturned, if they cross the will of rulers. Voters whose views are scorned by elites shun the assembly that nominally represents them, turnout falling with each successive election. Bureaucrats who have never been elected police the budgets of national parliaments dispossessed even of spending powers.
But the Union is not an excrescence on member states that might otherwise be healthy enough. It reflects, as much as it deepens, long-term trends within them. At national level, virtually everywhere, executives domesticate or manipulate legislatures with greater ease; parties lose members; voters lose belief that they count, as political choices narrow and promises of difference on the hustings dwindle or vanish in office.
My friend is going through a bit of an 'unlucky in love' phase so I decide to fortify her with a couple of glasses of cava from one of Soho's better tapas places in advance of a first date she is taking herself off to later in the evening.
Sitting outside and watching the Bank Holiday revellers go past, obviously the discussion turns immediately to the recent election results.
What I find so frustrating is how we have collectively polarised the discussion into talking about comparatively pointless wedge issues like racism while an unelected technocracy systematically removes the barriers between us and full corporate control. Consider this:
On the continent pre-existing authoritarian tendencies enjoyed a quantum leap under the EU-wide neoliberal austerity regime fostered by the German government under the cover of the European Commission. The unelected governments in Greece (2011-2012) and Italy (2011-2013) represent the most obvious and shocking examples of the authoritarian trend. Much more serious in the long term is the EU fiscal compact (officially named the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union).
This treaty, which came into effect at the beginning of 2013, severely limits the authority of national parliaments to set fiscal policy. The treaty and additional measures demanded by the German government remove fiscal policy from public control, with monetary policy already in the hands of the European Central Bank and beyond national accountability. This process in which major decisions are taken away from the electorate fundamentally undermines public faith in the democratic process. The rise of neo-fascist groups with an extra-parliamentary agenda such as the New Dawn in Greece should come as no surprise.
And rise they have.
In Europe, proto-fascist parties that are anti-immigrant, anti-Islam, anti-Semitic and anti-European Union are now the second or third largest parties in a belt of formerly liberal societies that runs from Norway and Finland to the Netherlands and France. In Hungary, where the nationalist Fidesz Party already governs, the more extremist Jobbik Party is making even bigger gains.
We have been here before. European fascism was nourished in a climate of high unemployment and economic orthodoxy. After World War I, the elites of that era were more concerned with propping up currency values and collecting war debts than with the real condition of the economy.
Democracies lost legitimacy with their people. When the stagnation of the 1920s worsened into the deep depression of the 1930s, people gave up on democracy.
Big banks and corporations, in places like Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, liked the collapse of democracy just fine. Classic fascism was an alliance of an autocratic state, financial elites, and fearful ordinary people who traded ultra-nationalism for the vagaries of democracy that wasn't delivering for them.
If this sounds familiar, it is being repeated today. The European Central Bank and Europe's political leadership, under German Chancellor Angela Merkel, put the needs of the banks first and the people last. We don't have full-blown fascism yet, but we have the preconditions.
All of this is going on while we are wringing our hands and worrying about how racist we have become. But just stop and think about the fact that it was a Right Wing™ party that legalised gay marriage in this country and will possibly stand on a platform of marijuana legalisation in the next election. And it was a Left Wing™ party that was so keen on having us join the euro and embark on various oil wars.
It is essential that we learn to unpick the propaganda before looking for signs and portents. I express all these thoughts while sipping on my obscene, bubbly hypocrisy. And it's delicious. I'm not usually one for cava but I pushed the boat out a bit and ordered some nice stuff to give my friend a bit of Dutch courage before her date.
Here is the story that is making waves in my business sector at the moment. The New York Times took money from a 'controversial non-profit' for an islamophobic ad campaign.
NON FUCKING PROFIT?! Go and spend less than twenty seconds googling the IPT. I'll wait. It's a fricking intelligence front! This guy has had acknowledged ties to Mossad and the CIA for decades. Do you have any idea how expensive 'investigative journalism' is? If only all other non-profits were run so successfully. And yet he keeps popping up and being described as an 'expert' for no reason whenever the great 'they' need to dial up the fear.
Just read the world's creepiest testimonials from his own website:
"Steven Emerson is no doubt the world's greatest expert on radical Islamic terror networks. He's the 'go-to' guy for the government and the media."
Bill O'Reilly, The O'Reilly Factor
"Researcher Steven Emerson digs deeper into the threat of Islamic terrorism than most journalists who cover the topic. That might be one reason why many journalists rely on his information for their own reporting. Using a staff of Arabic translators, the Freedom of Information Act, and his contacts at the FBI, Emerson generates the best information available on radical Islam and is increasingly consulted by Congress and other governmental bodies."
Eli Lake, The New York Sun
So while we are all worrying about whether the Grey Lady is 'encouraging islamophobia', no one seems to want to talk about the fact that the so-called 'newspaper of record' is running propaganda for an intelligence front, in this case for that extremely dangerous subsection, the Bush/Saud/Likud viper pit that is the neocon/oil industry's private army.
This is the person whom Pamela Paul, editor of The New York Times Book Review, chose to review my book, No Place to Hide, about the NSA reporting we’ve done and the leaks of Edward Snowden: someone who has expressly suggested that journalists should be treated as criminals for publishing information the government does not want published. And, in a totally unpredictable development, Kinsley then used the opportunity to announce his contempt for me, for the NSA reporting I’ve done, and, in passing, for the book he was ostensibly reviewing.
Kinsley has actually done the book a great favor by providing a vivid example of so many of its central claims. For instance, I describe in the book the process whereby the government and its media defenders reflexively demonize the personality of anyone who brings unwanted disclosure so as to distract from and discredit the substance revelations; Kinsley dutifully tells Times readers that I “come across as so unpleasant” and that I’m a “self-righteous sourpuss” (yes, he actually wrote that). I also describe in the book how jingoistic media courtiers attack anyone who voices any fundamental critiques of American political culture; Kinsley spends much of his review deriding the notion that there could possibly be anything anti-democratic or oppressive about the United States of America.
But by far the most remarkable part of the review is that Kinsley–in the very newspaper that published Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers and then fought to the Supreme Court for the right to do so (and, though the review doesn’t mention it, also published some Snowden documents)–expressly argues that journalists should only publish that which the government permits them to, and that failure to obey these instructions should be a crime (emphasis mine):
The question is who decides. It seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences. In a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government. No doubt the government will usually be overprotective of its secrets, and so the process of decision-making — whatever it turns out to be — should openly tilt in favor of publication with minimal delay. But ultimately you can’t square this circle. Someone gets to decide, and that someone cannot be Glenn Greenwald.
Greenwald’s notion of what constitutes suppression of dissent by the established media is an invitation to appear on “Meet the Press.” On the show, he is shocked to be asked by the host David Gregory, “To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden…why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?” Greenwald was so stunned that “it took a minute to process that he had actually asked” such a patently outrageous question.
And what was so outrageous? . . . As the news media struggles to expose government secrets and the government struggles to keep them secret, there is no invisible hand to assure that the right balance is struck. So what do we do about leaks of government information? Lock up the perpetrators or give them the Pulitzer Prize? (The Pulitzer people chose the second option.) This is not a straightforward or easy question. But I can’t see how we can have a policy that authorizes newspapers and reporters to chase down and publish any national security leaks they can find. This isn’t Easter and these are not eggs.
Let’s repeat that. The New York Times just published a review of No Place to Hide that expressly argues on the question of what should and should not get reported: “that decision must ultimately be made by the government.” Moreover, those who do that reporting against the government’s wishes are not journalists but “perpetrators,” and whether they should be imprisoned “is not a straightforward or easy question.”
Having intelligence fronts advertising 9/11 in the New York Times should probably be a cause for mild alarm, given the west has probably lost Ukraine and now needs to double-down further along Russia's Asian border to disrupt the hugely significant Sino-Russian détente. Which is probably why NATO has spent so much time and money creating and training a real life HYDRA (snake sync) in the form of ISIS.. A snake sync so blasphemous it must surely backfire. (And let us not forget that the world is still short a passenger jet which the former prime minister of Malaysia thinks is part of the CIA's Pacific pivot. What nationality were the majority of those deeply unfortunate passengers again?)
As we approach our first Snowdenversary; as Hermes's snakes appear in London to eat its rats; as Thor decides to vote UKIP; as the Cold War moves into space; as major anniversaries of world wars, Magna Carta and Bannockburn come around; it is becoming clearer and clearer that we all need to take a few night classes in twilight language. We need to move from conversational to fluent. Either the universe expresses itself in the movements and conditions of our reality or it does not.
My friend leaves for her date and I go inside to pay. The waiter compliments me on my choice of cava. He says it is his favourite and that this particular estate has been supplying the White House for 13 years.
But of course. Bush, Obama and I just shared a drink. It's like the setup for a joke.
No doubt the punchline will be interesting.