1/50 - The Invisible Generation


In many ways, Burroughs' signature writing style is its own worst enemy. His most insightful pieces never reach most ears because they're buried within dozens of pages of free-associative gibberish written under the influence of one or more drugs. Today I'd like to share one such piece, The Invisible Generation, originally written in "the 70's" according to a few random internet sites (who are probably all referencing each other and nobody actually knows).

Here are sources if you'd like to read the original article beforehand, which I recommend:

The Invisible Generation

Scan of original article Retrieved from Washington University Digital Gateway. Note that this is the original article, but it was much improved in an updated reprint, available here at this blogpost

I recognize that the lack of punctuation makes this difficult reading, so in my quotes I have added some structural elements (periods, emdashes, a semicolon) when the lack thereof makes it difficult to parse the intended meaning. I recommend at least attempting to read the original article in full to get a better appreciation of the material. Even if I made no alterations at all, highlighting some quotes and not others is a creative act, one that reframes the narrative window in a way likely not intended by the original author. Keep this in mind when reading critical reviews of any text you have not read before.

The article begins with theory:

what we see is determined to a large extent by what we hear
controlling the sound track can influence and create events
[when you record an event you attended, and later play it back] you will begin to see sharp and clear there was a grey veil between you and what you saw [--] or more often did not see[.] that grey veil was the prerecorded words of a control machine[.] once that veil is removed you will see clearer and sharper than those who are behind the veil[;] whatever you do you will do it better than those behind the veil[.] this is the invisible generation
And quickly delves into practical application:
now consider the harm that can be done and has been done when recording and playback is expertly carried out in such a way that the people effected do not know what is happening[.] thought feeling and apparent sensory impressions can be precisely manipulated and controlled
An explanation of what Media (capital M) does and how. To rephrase it less elegantly and in more words, Media is a machine by which memetic ideas are intentionally created and propogated to control the mental framework of its consumers. Also, by virtue of the viral properties of thought patterns, the thoughts of everyone in contact with those users, as well as those in contact with those in contact, ad infinitum, are modified until the entire world's thought processes are controlled.

Even if you don't watch NPR's news coverage, if you have a conversation with someone who does, they will unconsciously frame the conversation you have in terms and with limits derived from their source. When the source is more extreme, these limits become more obvious and obnoxious, but they are *always* there, regardless of source.

However, modern times prove that this is not the machinations of a master overseer. Much like evolution, the end result seems by design when you do not understand how it was achieved. I'll elaborate further later.

suppose you want to bring down the area[.] go in and record all the ugliest stupidest dialogue the most discordant sound track you can find and keep playing it back which will occasion more ugly stupid dialogue recorded and played back on and on always selecting the ugliest material[.] possibilities are unlimited
Anyone can see Burroughs' precognitive powers at work here. While this is an apt description of traditional media in the 70's, it's even more fitting for the modern world of social media fake news reblogs.
obviously it is not only way to break the inexorable down spiral of ugly uglier ugliest recording and playback is with counterrecording and playback the first step is to isolate and cut association lines of the control machine carry a tape recorder with you and record all the ugliest stupidest things cut your ugly tapes in together speed up slow down play backwards inch the tape you will hear one ugly voice and see one ugly spirit is made of ugly old prerecordings the more you run the tapes through and cut them up the less power they will have cut the prerecordings into air into thin air
While Burroughs was right on target earlier, time has proven him wrong here. We The People gained control of the media, but you won't find an insightful article or an avant-garde art project on the frontpage of reddit, as a hashtag on twitter, or trending on youtube. You will find exactly the same blend of vitriol and vapidity that was the mainstream media mainstay in the 90's, the 80's, and so on back to not long after the invention of the printing press.

Some may argue that this does not prove a lack of manipulation by a small number of powerful entities: the shadowy elites that frequent the minds of many outspoken internet users. I ask for more proof that they can. Obviously, wealthy people will protect their interests in the means available to them, but that may not be possible to do on this scale and never be caught. It's one thing to tell the editor of your newspaper that his articles about your favorite candidate should be positive; it's quite another to control every aspect -- physical, digital, architectural, personal, et. al -- of a social network.

In this case, I follow occam's razor, and conclude that large numbers of people tend towards the three S's: simple, sensational, and shitty. Humanity wants it, and so, humanity creates it. There is no cigar-puffing businessman holding us down. We refuse to get up. We have tools of power and scale that Burroughs never would have imagined. The tape recorder never became the instrument of revolution he predicted, and while almost all of us have a smart phone, the prospects of it being more than a time killer and solver of practical problems are dim. The technology is there, but creating art and revolution is not what people want to do.

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