Empire Of Panic And Ephemera: Applying Rigorous Imagination
To America's Paranoid Style
By Phil Rockstroh
"Handsomely equipped to fail, I went out into the
― John Fowles, from The Magus
February 09, 2013 "Information
- In the consumer paradigm, one is induced to exist by
Eric Hoffer's dictum: "You can never get enough of what you
really don't need." Wherein: The individual exists in a
state of perpetual adolescence, emotionally oscillating
between life lived as a bliss ninny and evincing chronic
Ever shifting, inchoate compulsions and endless distractions
define the days of the denizens of the consumer state. Text
messages and tweets gibber like souls stranded in a limbo
realm between the worlds of the living and the damned.
Craving and angst are interwoven. Held by the dazzle of
light playing over the surface of a deep abyss, the consumer
floats along on waxen wings of debt. The landscape does not
Constant craving and callous disregard ascend to the throne
room of consciousness in this empire of ephemera. The
passions of the heart are circumvented by chronic
discontent. In this manic mythos of the eternal moment,
consumer items are collected, clutched, and discarded, like
the idols and talismans of a dying cult. But there is
neither the time nor inclination to erect statues to these
gods of the limbic system; the gods exist as
ever-reconfiguring constellations of pixels…As noxious as
nixies, they hold the senses enthralled as the global,
capitalist paradigm sinks beneath a drowning tide of
Beneath the endless obligation of debt servitude and the
manic distractions of the consumer state, an amorphous dread
gathers. Shunted aside, it is experienced as free floating,
low grade paranoia.
As I place these words to pixel, members of the U.S military
sit hunched before computer screens, enacting slaughter by
means of predator drone strike. These cubicle-bound soldiers
of the consumer state (who have spent their lifetimes within
the mass media hologram of late capitalism) regard
delivering death from across vast distances as a type of
instant, consumerist gratification.
But their actions do not instill a sense of safety within
the homeland. Incrementally, it increases the gathering
dread; thus, this war-by-remote-control is
self-perpetuating: warfare experienced as consumer craving,
the mode of mind of a shopping addict, but instead of
possessing closets bloated with unneeded consumer items, the
empire collects corpses.
Izzy Stone famously averred, "Governments lie."
It is a given, government and corporate insiders scheme and
plot. In the days before they had to create the illusion
that government officials were responsive to the dictates of
the electorate, rulers, their advisors and counselors
created deceptive strategies in pursuit of holding and
acquiring greater power, in secret, behind closed doors.
Withal, their plots were not termed conspiracies; their
machinations and attendant acts were called…a day at work.
“Panic is the sudden realization that everything around you
is alive.” -- William S. Burroughs, from Ghost of Chance
The U.S. possesses a cheap seats view of reality but skybox
A conspiracy-apprehending mode of mind attempts to find
connections and detect affinities. In this respect, it is
similar to a poetic sense of awareness. Although, this
distinction is imperative: a habitually paranoiac
perspective must have a tendency toward introspective
self-awareness i.e., an ego-leavening element, or it tends
to become pathologically self-centered. Thus: An inner
conspiracy is locked into place, confining the psyche of the
sufferer in a mental realm of self reference – whereby life
itself, in its unknowable vastness, threatens to penetrate,
causing the fragile ego-construct of the paranoia prone to
erect even greater barriers of insularity, thus creating the
effect of a psychical room of infinity mirrors.
The U.S. is a paranoid culture. The nation has no foreign
enemies posing an existential threat, yet it swoons in
collective fear and bristles with the apparatus of the
national security state.
corporate/militarist government of the U.S. is paranoid by
nature; therefore, the populace has good reason to be
It is not a lack of conviction that brings so much suffering
to humanity; it is a lack of rigorous imagination.
Rigorous imagination is not the same thing as a desperate
need for belief or a tendency to become convinced of the
reality of any notion that arrives in your head.
Rigorous imagination allows you to engage in democratic
discourse with the disparate beings inhabiting the polis of
your psyche, but not be swept away by mob rule or entranced
by charismatic, neurotic, or paranoiac characters within you
who have a monomaniacal agenda.
These inner characters, gods, animals, and monsters can be
helpful to you; it is futile to attempt to repress them. But
you must have a grip on them -- or they will have a grip on
Ergo, this is the difference between clinging to narrow
convictions and a heart-opening, senses-awakening,
mind-vivifying embrace of rigorous imagination.
Our convictions, beliefs, and motives have been formed from
a mixture of apprehensions (sprung from seeds of bias) and
misapprehensions (that contain a tiny measure of truth).
Generally, what we term thinking and knowing is, more often
than not, an autonomous process -- an unconscious seeking of
affinities -- a mating dance of known quantities and
recognizable possibilities allowing one to view the world as
the unfolding of the plausible -- a trek across
recognizable, navigable terrain -- and not a bewildering bog
of proliferating novelty, lacking both familiar landmark and
the lexicon of a known tongue.
As a people, what is our legacy to future generations?
Depressing, isn't it? Ecocide. Debt slavery. War without
end. A social milieu in which privileged psychopaths not
only thrive but decide the fate of the multitudes.
Let's take a digressive scan of the known landscape of the
late capitalist era where there exists a desperate campaign
by the economic elite to have the floundering system be
accepted as not only viable -- but the only rational option
available to all concerned. Yet a predominance of evidence
stands to the contrary. Withal, the present economic system
can only maintain the illusion of viability -- growing ever
tenuous by the hour -- by lurching from market bubble to
market bubble, in combination with governmental infusions of
trillions upon trillions of dollars, as well as the
complicity of the corporate media and government officialdom
in the swindle (swindles past and ongoing) by abandoning
their roles as advocates for the many and assuming the
position of operatives of a moneyed elite.
Whistleblowers, dissidents -- all of those who harbor a
proclivity to apprehend the true nature of the circumstances
that the forces of self-serving power have wrought and
ruthlessly strive to maintain -- innately carry within and
speak a language that is both alien and threatening to the
Opening oneself to
one's condition, even when the criteria is depressing,
allows one to open a window to the verities of the heart and
gaze upon a kind of beauty that is both awful and awe
inspiring. Thus: One is called upon, regardless of the
degree of success or the extent of failure, to attempt to
align these visions as a corrective to culture.
Circumstances do not change unless perceptions change.
Accordingly, the big lie promulgated by the elite of our
corrupt era is...there is something wrong with an individual
who will not or cannot accept their version of events.
On a personal basis, I am deficient in those qualities that
would allow me to adapt to the conventions of our age.
Yet, through it all, a mutant seed, nourished by the
composting convictions of our culture, dreams within my
soul, that contains a blueprint that will allow me to live
my way into the unknowable future.
In the final years and the concomitant, violent death throes
of the corporate/consumer paradigm, the compulsive pursuit
of happiness brings the opposite effect: insatiable craving,
chronic dissatisfaction, panic, paranoia, nettling
resentment, burnout, and disillusionment. Instead, try this:
embrace the inherent sorrow that comes at the end of things:
The blank countenance of an indifferent winter sky; the
spiraling dance of the ashes of prior convictions in a
clashing cross breeze; the manner that trees, buildings,
birds rise from the earth like musical notes.
You can attempt to check-out i.e., approach life, as people
in the U.S. do, as virtuosos of reality avoidance -- but
reality knows your home address: the human psyche. Your
psyche is with you for life. You cannot drop off your psyche
at an Interstate rest stop, and drive away. Glance in the
rear view mirror and it will be lounging in the backseat of
your vehicle tapping its foot to the music swelling from the
You can no more discard the psyche than rid yourself of its
organ of expression -- the human heart -- by storing it in a
deep freeze. The images of the psyche pulse through your
Neglect of the psyche causes it to become a thief in the
night that, by stealth, steals back into consciousness, and
is misapprehended as a home invasion…of which, a private
arsenal, no matter its degree of firepower, would prove of
zero use in warding off.
It is anathema to
the human heart for one to imagine oneself as being
primarily an economic animal whose fate is yolked to the
crackpot pragmatist's bottom line-fetishizing mindset of
late capitalist feudalism.
In contrast, by living among…by conversing, collaborating,
grappling…being moved, mortified, and transfigured by the
images dwelling in the polis and the ecosystem of my heart
(also known as the imagination) -- I become myself, by
losing myself. The shackles of the first person singular
have been lightened, allowing me to wend in the direction of
By means of rigorous imagination, one must seek
collaboration with the figures populating the landscape of
the psyche. Because: how is it possible to navigate the
bewildering terrain of one's fate alone?
Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard
living in New York City. He may be contacted at:
firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit Phil's
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