“We have to stop consuming our culture. We have to create culture. Don’t watch TV. Don’t read magazines. Don’t even listen to NPR. Create your own roadshow. The nexus of space and time where you are now is the most immediate sector of your universe, and if you’re worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, you are disempowered. You are giving it all away to icons, icons which are maintained by an electronic media, so that you want to dress like X, or have lips like Y. This is shit-brained, this kind of thinking. See, that is all cultural diversion. What is real is you and your friends, your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans and your fears, and we are told no. We’re unimportant. We’re peripheral. Get a degree. Get a job. Get a this. Get a that. Then you’re a player. You don’t even want to play that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that’s being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world. Where is that at?” – excerpt of Terrence McKenna speech. Taken from ‘Singularity’ by Northlane.
Djent is pretty much the only interesting thing happening in metal today. Tesseract, for example, don’t just write music. They showcase their ability to play their instrument of choice as naturally as they breathe. The scope of their music is enormous, and so it’s perhaps unsurprising that a large quantity of the lyrical content for similar artists explores enormous concepts like the human consciousness, the origins of life, transcendence, the singularity or interstellar travel.
Bozo the Wonder Nerd, meanwhile, doesn’t even know what century it is.
This, however, is becoming an annoyance to people like me who love nothing more than to find fault in the arguments of others. I’m going to focus on Northlane in particular (I’ve spent far too much time espousing their virtues on this site, so they’re well overdue for a nitpicking) but this issue spans all genres. Northlane’s Singularity album has a track with a Terrence McKenna quote sampled over the top. The full transcript is at the top of this article, and while I can see the appeal of that idea, I also recognise that it’s a wildly oversimplified ideal indicative of a drug addicted pseudo-philosopher who’s completely lost touch with reality.
The problems with that excerpt are numerous, although not immediately apparent. McKenna’s words are hilarious over-simplifications of massive aspects of society, but he speaks so compellingly that it’s hard to argue. It’s like John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. It’s definitely easy to imagine a world in harmony if you try. You know what else is easy to imagine? A bright blue elephant singing a duet with Dame Edna Everage on a tightrope above a smouldering pile of Flynn Riders.
There’s no way you can break this smoulder.
Let’s start at the beginning (there’s a point to this, I promise). First, McKenna was absolutely off his face on hallucinogens for most of his life. Like, beyond high. Past Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas high. We’re talking William Todd high, but we’ll cover that closer to the end. Second, he calls the natural progression of education, employment and acquisition of possessions as a game that “you don’t even want to play”. ‘Cultural engineers’ are the enemy of free thought in this world of his, where everyone is a mindless drone controlled by pop culture. Y’know, where the general population is blindly obedient to random, vague suggestions made by anonymous…oh. Anyone else seeing the problem here?
He’s propagating the very “shit-brained” way of thinking he’s supposedly against. “Don’t listen to the anonymous mass media trying to get you to buy into a cultural identity. Listen to me, an anonymous pseudo-academic with more drugs than the 1994 Olympic Chinese swimming team coursing through my veins.” That’s not independent, critical thinking. That’s just swapping one cultural diversion for another. A cultural diversion, I might add, where things like ‘job’ and ‘degree’ are apparently dirty words.
Seems a bit rich coming from a man with degrees in ecology and resource conservation.
This comes back to my initial point about musicians acting like enlightened demi-gods when they’re actually just like every other idiot who ever drew breath, except they can play a guitar in a slightly more popular way. It’s not a new issue, either. I feel I may be about to commit musical sacrilege, but let’s go back to ‘Imagine’ for a moment. As far as I’m concerned, that song is comprised entirely of the mindless ramblings of a wife-beating narcissist. The line that gets my blood boiling the most is ‘Imagine no possessions/I wonder if you can’. You wonder if I can? All right, Mr. Lennon, let’s assume you aren’t dead for a second and try something. If you’re so up for everyone sharing everything, then I guess I can just take that massive mansion of yours and have a party with everyone I meet on the street. Wait, you’re getting snarky, are you? But I thought you liked the idea of no possessions.
“I unequivocally support socialist reform, provided my person wealth is not affected.” – John Lennon, probably.
That right there is the problem: when lyrics become something more, and people act on them. Look at what happened when a total nutbag heard ‘Helter Skelter’, and that song has nothing to do with murder. Imagine what might happen when bands throw out idealistic, socialist notions like so much rice at a wedding? This stuff is beyond most academics, let alone the average listener. I don’t pretend for a moment to be an expert on socialism, but I’ve read Animal Farm and I believe that the inherent nature of humanity means that the smallest bit of power will always be exploited.
It’s a bone-chilling examination of the human condition and the inherent flaws of communism, once you get past the adorable notion of pigs running a community farm.
Lyrical concepts are all well and good, but what happens when they become more than just words on a page? What happens when some brilliant but gullible kid who has the potential to become an amazing neurosurgeon and literally save lives hears McKenna’s verbalised ass gravy and decides that university isn’t for her? The idea of degrees being part of some cultural diversion game designed to keep you oppressed may be true in a financial sense, but it’s a very dangerous notion to put into the head of someone with the kind of potential that only tertiary education can nurture. What happens if some kid decides that he doesn’t want to get a job as a fire fighter because “that bearded dude said that employment is all part of an elaborate post-modern conspiracy, man. Whatever, dad. You’re totally bogus and lame, anyway.”?
That example occurred in the mid-90s, apparently.
What I’m trying to say here is check your sources. Don’t swallow everything you read or hear. Not even this. I implore you, check what I’ve written here. Compare it, contrast it, analyse it, criticise it. That’s why I’ve linked every bit of evidence I used. Terrence McKenna may sound like one of the greatest thinkers of all time, but dig a little into his work and you discover that he was so stoned while he wrote this crap that the dudes in Mastodon would be compelled to stage an intervention. He was a huge proponent of utilising natural hallucinogens to explore altered states of existence. He didn’t consider these experiences hallucinations. He genuinely believed that he was accessing higher planes of existence and alternate dimensions through his drug use, and theorised that human evolution may have been sparked by monkeys experimenting on drugs (that may or may not have come from outer space). My favourite story is the one where he met what he called ‘self-transforming machine elves’, which he described as ‘jewelled basketballs dribbling their way toward me…they assured me the loved me and they told me not to be amazed; not to give way to astonishment.’
This should be your expression right now.
What matters is this: when you read lyrics about transcending dimensions or socialism or ‘cultural engineers’, consider these two things. First, what would you do if someone came into your house and started taking shit off the walls for the Common Good? Second, picture self-transforming machine elves shaped like jewelled basketballs dribbling towards you, assuring you of their undying love and telling you not to be afraid.
I rest my case.