Thursday, 23 July 2020

The Empire Never Ended and the Black Iron Prison

The Empire Never Ended is a maxim used often by Philip K Dick, especially in his novel Valis (1978), but also throughout the philosophical journal the Exegesis (2011).

The Black Iron Prison (BIP) was PKD's term for the manipulative, modern, totalitarian System based on bureaucracy and propaganda.


What I personally derive from this is that The Roman Empire was an institutional structure, a System, that has continued to this day. But, while continuous in The West; The Empire has changed considerably - especially in response to the breaking-in of Christianity; which was profoundly at odds with The Empire.

My summary understanding of what happened (not that of PKD) is as follows: Jesus Christ and his posthumous followers were a transformative force acting upon The Empire. Initially there was no 'church' but Jesus's followers worked like a family, based on loving personal relationships and without any abstract institutional structure.

The first stage in assimilating Christianity was to create an institutional church which could take its place among the other institutions of The Empire (the Emperor and his bureaucracy, the Military, the state religion etc). But such was the spiritual power of Christianity, that its church rapidly grew to take-over the Empire as its primary system.

Over the centuries, however, The Empire first assimilated then dominated Christianity - in multiple ways; until from the 19th century The Empire began to eliminate Christianty from the public realm altogether - first with the Communist and Socialist totalitarian Systems, then with the whole of the  world.

At this point - where Christianity became almost-wholly corrupt, of fully assimilated at the institutional level - The Empire became The Black Iron Prison - an atheist totalitarian and global bureaucracy.

Just this year of 2020; the process came to near completion, with Christian churches closed and suspending core activities across the whole world.

The Black Iron Prison has won.


Edited from Exegesis 19:34-5:

The BIP is a vast complex life form which protects itself by inducing a negative hallucination of it: muddled thinking, loss of faculties and perception (as a protective mechanism).  It has come here and because of its defensive devices we are not aware of it.

This BIP a sinister life form indeed... 

1. First it takes power over us, reducing us to slaves.
2. Then it causes us to forget our former state
3 And to be unable to see or think straight so that the BIP becomes invisible to us, by reason of what it has done to us.
4. But we don't even know that we cannot think straight. 
5. We cannot even monitor our own deformity, our own impairment. 

Even the edifice of the church has been subverted by the BIP and made into an instrument of its occlusion of us. Ii is interesting how effectively the impairment works. If you derange the brain in precise ways, not only will it be damaged, but it will be unaware that it is impaired and will not seek to rectify the damage. 


My note: At this point the BIP has become a single, global, exclusive and self-perpetuating system - based on the positive feedback of mutual reinforcement.

There is a primary concealment of the BIP controllers by using human puppets; true motives are hidden by a labile-rotating and incoherent pseudo-morality (e.g. healthism, environmentalism, antiracism, sexual revolution etc...) to mask the true selfish and exploitative nature of The System.

All autonomous institutions or groups are destroyed or assimilated - including the primary, natural and spontaneous human groupings of marriage and family, neighbourhood and nation.  

The defences of the system are manyfold and are underpinned by a false metaphysical monopoly; such that all 'evidence' (itself heavily controlled, and overwhelming in volume) is seen to conform to the rigid cultural assumption that excludes God/ Spirit/ Objective values; and the whole BIP functions on the exclusive assumption that this is a materialistic, positivistic, meaningless and purposeless world - in which autonomous life and consciousness are essentially epiphenomenal illusions.

Further interventions (justified by the metaphysics and pseudo-morality) themselves also impair thinking and suppress motivation. The BIP deploys addiction, and dependence (on distraction; stimulation, sedation, hallucination) from mass media, entertainments and actual drugs.

As a relief, and to rationalise suppression, the BIP adds intoxication (pharmacological and social - eg riots).

Most recently, there is the general strategy of imposed social isolation such that individuals are single units within the official System; by means of 'untouchable'-style social-distancing, prison-style lock-down, face-concealment, driving all of 'life' into the remote, demotivating abstractions of online communications and interaction. 

8 comments:

Gary said...

This is all true, as far as it goes (whether it's precisely true or complete is irrelevant to our accepting the premises pragmatically).
The question which jumped out at me, is how does the system manage to make us forget the spirit? How could the Spirit forget itself?
I suspect the answer will reveal something important about the nature of the Spirit. I suspect that the Spirit needs to remember itself by means of mirroring... By seeing recognizable shards or pieces of itself in the outside world, it goes into "anamnesis". So the system deliberately tries to occlude all which would remind the Spirit of its origins. Church, nature, other men and their faces (the importance of seeing a face is clearly laid out in Holy scriptures), beautiful art, communion, etc. And these are papered over with manmade (demonically motivated) stuff or just deleted.
So the Spirit seeks, and finds nothing out there, and falls into torpor. It thus relinquishes its authority to the mind, body and soul, which are all "of this world" and thus manipulable and unfree... Subject to ironclad cause and effect which can be brought about by another Spirit (usually malevolent).
Some spirits are more resistant than others... Perhaps are more acute and can Awaken with a very small stimulus. Others may receive a visit from the Lord himself and explain it away as a hallucination.
But the importance of keeping the reminders alive is fundamental, for many spirits are "in the middle" and need quite a bit of stimulation to awaken, but at some point come about
It is these , the majority of mankind, whom the devil is fighting over now.
We, are not that interesting to the devil, because he knows he cannot really have us. However he might try and get to us mainly in order to serve as an example for the others who are still "unknowns".

Bruce Charlton said...

@Gary - Well, no blog post is complete! and it would be necessary to look elsewhere for my 'take' on how we forget spirit. In essence I see it as a part of the development of our consciousness in modern times and conditions.

Just as children are spontaneously and unconsciously orientated towards the family, then as adolescents spontaneously detach psychologically from the family, and then ideally make a conscious choice to rejoin the family as adults -- this is what are moderns are supposed to do in relation to the spirit.

We are spontaneously spiritual beings as young children, and at some point spontaneously find that we *can* deny the spirit; and to return we must consciously choose again to acknowledge the reality of spirit.

Francis Berger said...

Excellent post. Very thought-provoking. I really must start reading more PKD.

I have often considered the return of the Empire and the gradual elimination of Christianity from the public sphere starting sometime two or three centuries ago as a negative but ultimately necessary step in the evolution of Christianity and human consciousness.

I am speculating here, but it seems to me Black Iron Prison should have existed only as a blip - that human consciousness should have been repulsed by BIP, and that through this negative reaction, Christianity should have experienced some sort of revival at the collective level. But human consciousness, at the collective level at least, has utterly failed to do so. Though I don't subscribe to the notion myself, I sometimes wonder if perhaps the revival is still ahead of us.

I have often attempted to put my finger on what, exactly, caused the failure of Christianity revival in the past. This post provides some real food for thought in that regard.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - My feeling is that when the Empire became the BIP, maybe 1917 USSR... well, this should not have happened. I think the ideal time for the blip was about 100 years before 1917 in Britain and Germany and at various later times in the rest of the West. The 20th century was already too late. Things would thenceforth be very difficult. By going so far down the path of sinful rejection, the BIP was made possible, its tendency towards self perpetuation is only possible when many people are far down the path, habitually and ideologically turned away from God, regarding the world as dead...

Tom Hart said...

I was just reading VALIS, it seems that PKD thought that the BIP was rolling back. He regarded his 1974 visions, including seeing Ancient Rome imposed over modern California, as being a crack in the empire—the first crack in hundreds of years. He could see Rome in modern day California because Rome was always there; we are all living in about 70 AD, but the BIP hides this from us. From a Christian perspective, this solves the problem of why Christ did not return in the lifetime of those he met. He didn’t come back because of the BIP illusion, so there’s still time for him to come back—no theological hand-waving required.

PKD saw the uncovering of the Nag Hammadi texts in the mid-20th century as being key to the revelation of the BIP because St Thomas, before dying, encoded his spirit—through a Gnostic ceremony—into those texts. His spirit, once released, glommed onto PKD during his mystical experience, transmitting via a Christian fish sign on the necklace of a girl delivering him painkillers. Once this spirit had migrated into his body, PKD found he could speak Latin and Ancient Greek—and see through the BIP, see Ancient Rome in 1970s California.

Although it’s tempting for right-wingers to see the BIP as synonymous with leftist ideology and political correctness, PKD identifies it with Nixonian politics, authoritarianism, and quasi-fascism. Dick was sympathetic to the communists in his youth; he was once visited by the FBI regarding this, and fear of anti-communist government agencies was part of his paranoia. The BIP is, if anything, right wing—according to Dick, anyway.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Tom - I agree, PKD probably thought as you summarise - at least for *most* of the time! Which is why I emphasised the above as what I *personally* got from his ideas.

Plus, the idea of 'right wingers' like Nixon, I regard as a manipulation of the powers of evil - since Nixon was just a different type of Leftist, who implemented *many* Leftist policies (as have been all the Republican presidents for many decades, with no exceptions).

All mainstream politics (for a long time, probably a couple of centuries at least, in England - probably more than three hundred) is Leftist - a Leftist Punch and Judy show with the puppets being mounted on the two hands of a single motivating (evil) intelligence.

Because the only non-Leftism is to put religion first and to organise society around religion. For me, that means Christianity (but not the Christian churches). And of course that isn't going to happen - so Christians are now compelled to live in awareness that Jesus and his promise gifts (which are as available and easy as ever to claim) was Not Of This World.

Tom Hart said...

“Plus, the idea of 'right wingers' like Nixon, I regard as a manipulation of the powers of evil - since Nixon was just a different type of Leftist, who implemented *many* Leftist policies (as have been all the Republican presidents for many decades, with no exceptions).

All mainstream politics (for a long time, probably a couple of centuries at least, in England - probably more than three hundred) is Leftist - a Leftist Punch and Judy show with the puppets being mounted on the two hands of a single motivating (evil) intelligence.”

We more or less think the same. I think left and right are situational and relational terms. Nixon was to the right of LBJ and the Democrats, and he was certainly to the right of the New Left and the Marxist-Leninists; but he was well to the left of, say, Eisenhower—let alone Theodore Roosevelt, or any of the Founding Fathers. The entire 1776 project was, of course, also of the left at that time; America has been unspooling further and further left until today, we are living under the extension of the principles of 1776 taken to the limits.

“Because the only non-Leftism is to put religion first and to organise society around religion. For me, that means Christianity (but not the Christian churches). And of course that isn't going to happen - so Christians are now compelled to live in awareness that Jesus and his promise gifts (which are as available and easy as ever to claim) was Not Of This World.”

I don’t quite agree, since Christianity fell to the left; if it fell to the left, having preceded the left, it cannot, logically, resist the left. Contemporary leftism is based on Christianity, stripped of its metaphysical aspect—Nietzsche was half right about this. Paganism isn’t any better though; in the end, the left is based on lies, rhetoric, and sophism—the latter being whole classes of lies. I haven’t thought about it, but some religions might be more vulnerable to these exploits than others—Christianity couldn’t resist them.

The reason I bring up PKD’s leftist interpretation of the BIP is that I’m interested in Gnosticism. I think it’s related to the more primordial forms of religion: the idea of a God of Being, a God of non-being, and then, above them, a kind of Unnamed Beyond or Atman—per Buddhism and Hinduism. I agree that, given current conditions, people seeking a religious path might have to act alone or in small groups without institutional support; although, I would add, I’m not a Christian myself—though not hostile to Christians.

Anyway, this links up to politics because Gnosticism has been identified—wrongly in my view—by Voegelin as being at the root of Communism, Nazism, and, in extensions of his ideas, the West’s progressivism. This idea has become somewhat of a meme among mainstream conservatives. PKD’s Gnosticism, mixed with leftism, would fit in with Voegelin‘s categorisation of Gnosticism as a kind of leftist, antinomian error that leads to poor political choices—basically a pact with the devil for knowledge. Yet I do think that there is a link to primordial forms of religion and Gnosticism: PKD might have had a half-revelation, or discovered a somewhat distorted Gnosticism—hence his perception that the BIP is of the right, accepting that as a relative term.

Anonymous said...

Very tangentially, because I have not read any PKD yet in my tortoise-like catching up with 20th-c. science fiction - but I have just caught up with John Wyndham's The Kraken Awakes (1953), and find it a very striking time to have caught up with it, with its investigative broadcast journalist narrator (in consultation with his ditto wife) and his depiction of government and journalistic activity (to refrain from possible spoilers by saying too much).

David Llewellyn Dodds