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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

It's time to see the Fnords

Forgive me if you've seen this before... It just seems so appropriate to the moment. From the classic early '70's farce, The Illuminati Trilogy (or more specifically: From _The_Golden_Apple_ by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson)
[as extracted from pp.438f of _The_Illuminatus!_Trilogy_ compilation]

``Very nice,'' I said. ``But why did you bring me up here?''

``It's time for you to see the fnords,'' he replied. Then I woke up in bed
and it was the next morning. I made breakfast in a pretty nasty mood, wondering
if I'd seen the fnords, whatever the fell they were, in the hours he had
blacked out, or if I would see them as soon as I went out into the street. I
has some pretty gruesome ideas about them, I must admit. Creatures with three
eyes and tentacles, survivors from Atlantis, who walked among us, invisible due
to some form of mind shield, and did hideous work for the Illuminati. It was
unnerving to contemplate, and I finally gave in to my fears and peeked out the
window, thinking it might be better to see them from a distance first.
Nothing. Just ordinary sleepy people, heading for their busses and subways.
That calmed me a little, so I set out the toast and coffee and fetched the
_New_York_Times_ from the hallway. I turned the radio to WBAI and caught some
good Vivaldi, sat down, grabbed a piece of toast and started skimming the first

Then I saw the fnords.

The feature story involved another of the endless squabbles between Russia ad
the U.S. in the UN General Assembly, and after each direct quote from the
Russian delegate I read a quite distinct ``Fnord!'' The second lead was about a
debate in congress on getting the troops out of costa Rica; every argument
presented by Senator Bacon was followed by another ``Fnord!'' At the bottom of
the page was a _Times_ depth-type study of the growing pollution problem and
the increasing use of gas masks among New Yorkers; the most distressing
chemical facts were interpolated with more ``Fnords.''

Suddenly I saw Hagbard's eyes burning into me and heard his voice: ``Your
heart will remain calm. Your adrenalin gland will remain calm. Calm, all-over
calm. You will not panic. you will look at the fnord and see the it. You will
not evade it or black it out. you will stay calm and face it.'' And further
back, way back: my first-grade teacher writing FNORD on the blackboard, while
wheel with a spiral design turned and turned on his desk, turned and turned,
and his voice droned on, IF YOU DON'T SEE THE FNORD IT CAN'T EAT YOU,

I looked back at the paper and still saw the fnords.

This was one step beyond Pavlov, I realized. The first conditioned reflex
was to experience the panic reaction (the activation syndrome, it's technically
called) whenever encountering the word ``fnord.'' The second conditioned reflex
was to black out what happened, including the word itself, and just to feel a
general low-grade emergency without knowing why. And the third step, of course,
was to attribute this anxiety to the news stories, which were bad enough in
themselves anyway.

Of course, the essence of control is fear. The fnords produced a whole
population walking around in chronic low-grade emergency, tormented by ulcers,
dizzy spells, nightmares, heart palpitations and all the other symptoms of too
much adrenalin. All my left-wing arrogance and contempt for my countrymen
melted, and I felt a genuine pity. No wonder the poor bastards believe anything
they're told, walk through pollution and overcrowding without complaining,
watch their son hauled off to endless wars and butchered, never protest, never
fight back, never show much happiness or eroticism or curiosity or normal human
emotion, live with perpetual tunnel vision, walk past a slum without seeing
either the human misery it contains or the potential threat it poses to their
security . . . Then I got a hunch, and turned quickly to the advertisements. it
was as I expected: no fnords. That was part of the gimmick, too: only in
consumption, endless consumption, could they escape the amorphous threat of the
invisible fnords.

I kept thinking about it on my way to the office. If I pointed out a fnord to
somebody who hadn't been deconditioned, as Hagbard deconditioned me, what
he or she say? They'd probably read the word before or after it. ``No _this_
word,'' I'd say. And they would again read an adjacent word. But would their
panic level rise as the threat came closer to consciousness? I preferred not to
try the experiment; it might have ended with a psychotic fugue in the subject.
The conditioning, after all, went back to grade school. No wonder we all hate
those teachers so much: we have a dim, masked memory of what they've done to
in converting us into good and faithful servants for the Illuminati.