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Meditations On Moloch

Not exactly a news article, so I'm posting over here instead. I found this blog post very interesting to think about.

 

tl;dr - The opening poem "Moloch" talks about the ills of civilization as though a demon were causing them, showing the absurdity of thinking a single agent is responsible for all those problems. The rest of the post covers systems, and how the architecture of some systems leads to bad side effects.

 

I recommend giving it a read if you find the tl;dr interesting. The blog post is pretty in-depth and covers topics from Cthulhu to artificial intelligence.

 

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[Content note: Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions!]

I.
Scattered examples of my reading material for this month: Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom; Moloch by Allan Ginsberg, On Gnon by Nick Land.

 

Chronology is a harsh master. You read three totally unrelated things at the same time and they start seeming like obviously connected blind-man-and-elephant style groping at different aspects of the same fiendishly-hard-to-express point.

 
This post is me trying to throw the elephant right at you at ninety miles an hour, except I digress into poetry and mysticism and it ends up being a confusing symbolically-laden elephant full of weird literary criticism and fringe futurology. If you want something sober, go read the one about SSRIs again.

 
A second, more relevant warning: this is really long.

II.
Still here? Let’s start with Ginsberg:
 

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?

Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!

Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!

Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!

Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!

Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smoke-stacks and antennae crown the cities!

Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!

Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch!

Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a consciousness without a body! Moloch who frightened me out of my natural ecstasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch! Light streaming out of the sky!

Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations! invincible madhouses! granite cocks! monstrous bombs!

They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements, trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists and is everywhere about us!

Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the American river!

Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit!

Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years’ animal screams and suicides! Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on the rocks of Time!

Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roof! to solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the street!

 

What has always impressed me about this poem is its conception of civilization as an individual entity. You can almost see him, with his fingers of armies and his skyscraper-window eyes…

 

A lot of the commentators say Moloch represents capitalism. This is definitely a piece of it, definitely even a big piece. But it doesn’t exactly fit. Capitalism, whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen? Capitalism in whom I am a consciousness without a body? Capitalism, therefore granite cocks?

 
Moloch is introduced as the answer to a question – C. S. Lewis’ question in Hierarchy Of Philosopherswhat does it? Earth could be fair, and all men glad and wise. Instead we have prisons, smokestacks, asylums. What sphinx of cement and aluminum breaks open their skulls and eats up their imagination?

 
And Ginsberg answers: Moloch does it.

 
There’s a passage in the Principia Discordia where Malaclypse complains to the Goddess about the evils of human society. “Everyone is hurting each other, the planet is rampant with injustices, whole societies plunder groups of their own people, mothers imprison sons, children perish while brothers war.”

 
The Goddess answers: “What is the matter with that, if it’s what you want to do?”

 
Malaclypse: “But nobody wants it! Everybody hates it!”

 
Goddess: “Oh. Well, then stop.”

 
The implicit question is – if everyone hates the current system, who perpetuates it? And Ginsberg answers: “Moloch”. It’s powerful not because it’s correct – nobody literally thinks an ancient Carthaginian demon causes everything – but because thinking of the system as an agent throws into relief the degree to which the system isn’t an agent.

 

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