Category - Feature Articles

Silicon Valley’s technolibertarian dream was invented by Timothy Leary

By 1980, Leary had become a counterculture icon, an international fugitive, a lodger in some of California’s finest penitentiaries, and eventually a resident of Beverly Hills. He had come far from his time as a young cadet at West Point and his subsequent career at Harvard researching psychedelic drugs. It was in this latter period that Leary’s theories emerged as a precursor to the weird transhumanist vision of Silicon Valley. In the 1960s, Leary’s pro-LSD jingle was “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out.” In the 1980s, his vision could be summed up in one word: SMI2LE.

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Paranoid delusions in the police state

According to Brian, the American security apparatus is more vast, more out-of-control than even Julian Assange would suspect. The result of having so many people running around with surveillance tools and law enforcement connections is that America is a de facto surveillance state, where we’re all victims of decentralized, lone wolf Stasi. Most of us just haven’t realized it yet.

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How one man turned conspiracy theories and impending doom into a YouTube empire

Davidson is probably the last person you’d suspect would become a conspiracy entrepreneur. Hailing from a well-to-do suburb outside Pittsburgh, he studied meteorology in college before receiving a B.A. in economics and then a law degree in 2011. It was around then when the tsunami and subsequent disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant introduced him to a world of scientific inquiry at odds with the mainstream. “I became really interested in the Japan earthquake,” he tells me, “just because I wanted to understand the raw power of what was going on.” This was at a time when pop culture was freaking out over an impending doomsday scheduled for Dec. 21, 2012.

Four years later, he’s not only making a living—he’s established a haven for hundreds of thousands of people whose outré beliefs make them feel marginalized. In short, he’s created a community of believers.

Continue reading on The Kernel

The Earth is flat and ‘they’ don’t want you to know

In the year 1543, the Pope teamed up with Copernicus, the Church of England, and possibly Aristotle (who, inconveniently, had died in 322 B.C.) to convince unsuspecting Europeans that, despite the Earth’s obvious flatness, it’s actually a sphere, and that the sun is the center of the universe. In the years since, the usual bad guys—Catholics, Jews, and bankers—have jealously guarded the secret of the flat Earth. And with the birth of the space age, NASA (basically a joint project between the Freemasons and the Nazis) got involved. That, at least, is the story according to the Flat Earth Truthers, a small but vocal group who believe that the world is flat, and that this knowledge is the key to understanding who really runs the world.

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James Tracy and the Boston Marathon bombing deniers

On April 8, Dzhokar Tsarnaev was found guilty of the bombing that killed three people and injured 264 others. His life now hangs in the balance, as jurors decide whether he should face the death penalty or life in prison. To jurors, Dzhokar’s guilt was a foregone conclusion. But for a small crowd of conspiracy theorists, the defense team’s admission of guilt was just the latest in a series of lies told to the public in service of a larger, false narrative.

There’s no modern conspiracy theory that’s more counterintuitive or flat-out mean than the belief that the victims of the Tsarnaev brothers (roughly 260 injured and three killed) were merely actors. According to this theory, the dead and wounded are the real criminals, working in league with a secret government to hoodwink the American people.

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In the basement with transhumanism’s DIY cyberpunks

When he isn’t working at a parking lot in Uptown, Kukulski publishes books under the Six Gallery imprint. A local institution, the press publishes everything from experimental fiction and poetry to essays and memoirs. (And yes, I’ve worked on a couple projects for the press in the past.) It also published its fair share of speculative fiction and science fiction, literary genres that hold a special place in Kukulski’s heart.

Tonight we’re talking transhumanism, the nebulous belief, prevalent among Silicon Valley’s monied elite, DIY body hackers, and some very well-trod zones of Reddit, that with advancing technology, humanity is inevitably going to take the reins of our own evolution and become something post-human. (Or multiple kinds of post-human.) Strains of it appear in everything from William Gibson’s early cyberpunk work to the video game Deus Ex to David Cronenberg’s adaptation of The Fly. As a method of extrapolating the present into any number of potential futures, it appeals to a particular breed of cerebral sci-fi fan.

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Alex Jones, the death of Bill Cooper and the rise of the Conspiracy Creeps

For many years I sincerely believed that an extraterrestrial threat existed and that it was the most important driving force behind world events. I was wrong and for that I most deeply and humbly apologize.

— Bill Cooper

The conspiracist M. William Cooper (but you can call him Bill) was born in 1943. According to his bio, he was a Vietnam-era veteran of both the Navy and the Air Force, and later some sort of photographer, before making a name for himself in the “UFOlogist” counterculture of the 1980s with extraordinary tales of extraterrestrial races, secret human populations on the moon, and his predilection for championing known hoaxes (such as the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion) as documentary evidence of a worldwide global conspiracy of the rich and powerful intent on enslaving every last one of us. Cooper even had a term for you and I, the everyday schlubs who refuse to see the truth in his message and join him on his crusade. We were mere “sheeple,” he’d say — a portmanteau of ‘sheep’ and ‘people’ — “cattle by choice and by consent.”

“I read while in Naval Intelligence,” he claimed, “that at least once a year, maybe more, two nuclear submarines meet beneath the polar icecap and mate together at an airlock. Representatives of the Soviet Union meet with the Policy Committee of the Bilderberg Group. The Russians are given the script for their next performance. Items on the agenda include the combined efforts in the secret space program.” (The secret space program, of course, being that which has established a military presence on the moon and Mars.)

Cooper continues: “I now have in my possession official NASA photographs of a moonbase in the crater Copernicus.”

Continue reading on The Conspiracy Review

Wikileaks meets Surveillance Valley: An interview with Julian Assange

“The problem,” says Julian Assange, is that “a lot of groups that would normally criticize Google, the nonprofits that are involved in the tech sector are funded directly or indirectly by Google. Or by USAID. Or by Freedom House. Google and its extended network have significant patronage in the very groups that would normally be criticizing it.”

Assange is speaking over the telephone from his exile in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. I’m 3,700 miles away in the eastern United States. The connection is awful, which makes the conversation stilted and weird. It also lends the whole affair a certain degree of intrigue. It feels like the secret police could bust in and confiscate our shortwave radios at any minute.

“For example,” he continues, “the EFF is a great group, and they’ve done good things for us, but nonetheless it is significantly funded by Google, or people who work at Google.”

I wanted to make sure I heard him right: “Are you saying that if it didn’t have those ties, that the EFF would be more outspoken against Google?”

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Kicking A Man While He’s Down: Richard Mellon Scaife (1932-2014)

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Here in Pittsburgh, one can almost be perversely proud that a man who leached so much poison into the earth owed his fortune and prominence to the city we call home. Richard Mellon Scaife, the billionaire philanthropist whose fortune was almost entirely misapplied, died 82 years too late on Independence Day, July 4, 2014.

Richard Mellon Scaife’s sins were many — at least the public ones, while his private life was a mess. But his lasting legacy will not boil down to any one action, whether it be bankrolling the “conservative intellectual infrastructure” behind the victories of Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, and the rise of the neocons (according to The Washington Post) or trying his damnedest to unseat a democratically elected President of the United States. In the end, Scaife will be remembered as one of the key figures in the re-imagining of American Politics as a zero-sum battle between ideologies.

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The cult of Cthulhu: The strange story behind the real-life followers of H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon

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Forty-one years ago in New York City, a man known only as Simon walks into a witchcraft supply shop with a cardboard manuscript box, the kind of thing you see in library rare book departments. He estimates that the work in his possession is six or seven hundred years old.

Simon is a Slavonic Orthodox priest, a student of the occult, but until he walked into that shop he didn’t know anything about H.P. Lovecraft, a writer of “weird fiction” (the literary forefather of both science fiction and horror). Neither had he heard of the Necronomicon, a book that the author had invented for his stories. It’s supposed to be an incredibly powerful grimoire, or collection of spells and incantations, and as Lovecraft was in the habit of blending reality and fantasy in his books — even going so far as enlisting other “weird” writers to expand on his characters and locations in their own stories — more credulous readers came to believe that the Necronomicon was real. It was as if Luke Skywalker was real, or the flying skateboards from Back To The Future were real.

Continue reading at The Verge