The Burning Blade

Fireaxe Newsletter - edition 14.3

June 5, 2011

"Imagine what would have happened if the Obama administration had
been running things immediately following 9/11. After their 'arrest,'
we would have read [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] and [Abu Faraj al-Libi]
their Miranda rights, provided them legal counsel, sent them to the U.S.
for detention, and granted them all the rights provided a U.S. citizen
in criminal proceedings."

"If this had happened, the CIA could not have built the intelligence
mosaic that pinpointed bin Ladenís location. Without the intelligence
produced by Bush policies, the SEAL helicopters would be idling their
engines at their Afghanistan base even now. In the war on terror, it is
easy to pull the trigger ó it is hard to figure out where to aim."

- Professor John Yoo, attorney advisor to George
W. Bush who is known as the author of memos
effectively legalizing torture in the United States

"[Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh
interrogation techniques that included waterboarding" and "loosed a
torrent of information ó including eventually the nickname of a
trusted courier of bin Laden."

- Michael Mukasey, Attorney General
under George W. Bush

"I have sought further information from the staff of the Senate
Intelligence Committee, and they confirm for me that, in fact, the
best intelligence gained from a CIA detainee ó information describing
Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaitiís real role in Al-Qaeda and his true relationship
to Osama bin Laden ó was obtained through standard, non-coercive means,
not through any Ďenhanced interrogation technique.í"

"In short, it was not torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading
treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately
enabled our intelligence community to find Osama bin Laden. I hope
former Attorney General Mukasey will correct his misstatement.
Itís important that he do so because we are again engaged in this
important debate, with much at stake for Americaís security
and reputation. Each side should make its own case, but do so
without making up its own facts."

- Senator John McCain, former victim of torture

"I think that anyone who suggests that enhanced techniques
ó letís be blunt, waterboarding ó did not produce an enormous
amount of valuable intelligence, just isnít facing the truth,"

- Donald Rumsfeld, Defense Secretary under
George W. Bush

"[Harsh interrogation] didnít provide useful, meaningful, trustworthy
informationÖ. [E]veryone was deeply concerned and most felt it was
un-American and did not work."

- Glenn L. Carle, a retired CIA agent who
oversaw the interrogation of a high-level detainee

Osama bin Laden is dead. That much I am willing to believe despite the fact that President Obama has seemingly done everything that he can to launch a thousand conspiracy theories about whether or not my nation finally managed to track down and kill the most wanted man in the world. No pictures of Osamaís shattered head were publicly released, his body was buried at sea on short notice with little fanfare, and the details of the raid which have slowly been coming out are contradictory or confusing at best. Itís enough to make anyone think that weíre being fed a load of crap by an administration desperate to shore up sagging popularity ratings. I, however, am not among them.

Perhaps the simplest reason for believing that Osama is truly dead is that it would be an incredibly stupid thing to fake. All that Osama would have to do is make a video where he talks about how rumors of his slaying are greatly exaggerated and he ends up making the Obama administration look like a pack of utter fools. Impeachment would surely follow, unless the other party was also in on the conspiracy too of course, in which case they would both end up looking equally ludicrous. And since the Taliban has essentially admitted that Osama is no more, itís a safe bet that at least that much is on the level. As to how the mission actually played out, weíll probably never know the full and accurate story.

The element of the operation that I am most concerned with is the fact that Osama bin Laden was not captured alive and brought to trial, thus tainting the presidentís claim that "justice was done." The media is now awash with police state apologists adamantly refuting the claim that this was an "extrajudicial execution," that somehow the laws of war apply to the pursuit of Al Qaeda and that the entire world is essentially a battlefield. The notion is absurd. Terrorists are criminals, not soldiers, and should be treated as such. And even if they are to be considered soldiers, would not the Geneva conventions apply? In response to these points the apologists conjure up a piece of legal fiction in dubbing terrorists "enemy combatants", and claiming that their true status lies in a gray area, which more resembles a legal black hole, between criminals and soldiers. Their reasoning goes something like this: at first they call the battle against terrorism a war, justifying the notion that the full force of the military can be thrown against a terrorist group and waving off any notions of due process and Miranda rights, and then they claim that since our enemies arenít wearing uniforms that they are not entitled to any of the protections which soldiers normally receive. In other words, we can do whatever we want to them regardless of what the law actually says, which is something which makes us appear to be every bit the ignoble hypocrites that our enemies claim that we are. In essence we are claiming the right to be judge, jury, and executioner over anyone on the planet regardless of who they are, what they did, or where they live. As long as we believe that they are a terrorist, that makes it okay; and there is no recourse or accountability at all for those who were wronged or their next of kin. No one should ever be allowed to wield that kind of power.

It is here where police state apologists reassure us of their noble motives and ask us to trust them, just as all dictators and totalitarian regimes have done throughout history and will continue to do so, and say that they will only use such powers against those who are utterly guilty and who cannot be brought to justice by any other means. This is truly disgusting. If we had any decency at all weíd be ashamed of such juvenile rationalizations and banish those who make them to the self-righteous hell that is the blogosphere, but no, somehow the infection has spread to the highest levels of power, and the voices that speak out to defend our high ideals are vociferously shouted down. This is not a good sign.

It can be done differently. In my wildest dreams, and of course I donít pretend that such dreams would ever come true, we would have captured Osama bin Laden alive and brought him to the U.S. to stand trial. He would have been entitled to a lawyer and a jury and the proceedings would have been televised internationally to ensure that justice truly would have been served. But this would not have been a show trial, this would have instead been a demonstration that when my country is faced with a matter of monumental importance that it stands tall and makes a bold statement to the world: that it is one-hundred percent behind the rule of law. Thus, all the evidence, and only that which was obtained legally, would have been brought out and revealed before the eyes of the world. This has been long overdue in any case. The evidence indicting bin Laden has been kept from us for nearly ten years, only shown to a select few, and used to justify a military invasion and counterinsurgency that has claimed the lives of thousands of innocents and made a mockery of the rule of law. Shouldnít We The People at least be allowed to see why these things are being done on our names? After all, thereís good reason not to trust the government at their word, especially considering the Gulf of Tonkin debacle decades ago and the whole W.M.D. fiasco in Iraq. And if revealing sensitive information costs us a few well kept secrets and forces us to repatriate a few intelligence assets then that is that price that we must pay for being a nation that believes in freedom. If we can survive the State Department cable leaks then we can surely survive revealing a few selected confidential documents, especially when the reputation of our great nation is on the line. Instead we have a dead terrorist leader, an incensed Pakistan, and a whole trove of secrets, which may or may not prove the administrationís case, buried away, perhaps for all time.

How far away from our ideals we have fallen.

And it didnít take long for the nationís least morally responsible citizens to start claiming that torture, often referred to as "enhanced interrogation" due to notions of political correctness gone horribly wrong, played a key role in uncovering the trail that led to bin Laden. As summarized in the quotes above, the case for torture in this instance is far from airtight, and the more level-headed analysts are concluding that torture not only did not produce actionable intelligence in this matter but in fact was counter-productive. The key witness seems to have surrendered his knowledge voluntarily while the victims of torture gave up little to nothing. This fact would underscore what many nationsí judicial systems have discovered over the centuries, that while you may get a few useful nuggets of good information, along with plenty of bad, by torturing people, you can get a whole lot more actionable intelligence by simply talking to them and treating them well, something that my nation demonstrated to great effect during the second world war. The reasons why this technique works are very clear. First of all, the prisoner sees that his interrogators arenít the evil people that their leaders or imams have told them they are; second, being treated well makes the prisoner feel obligated to give something back to his captors in return; and third, psychological pressure is far more effective against someone if they respect the one applying it. What would you tell someone who was torturing you; someone whoíd tortured and killed your allies, friends, and loved ones and then lied about it? Youíd probably feed the scumbag every lie you could.

The case against torture is very strong regardless of Hollywood-ized notions of "ticking time bomb" scenarios and weak-willed villains cracking under the pressure. In the real world, tortured people will usually say anything to make the torture stop, which can result in plenty of false information, made up information, or exactly the information that the interrogator wants to hear regardless of whether or not it is true. And because torture can generate so many false leads, as well as persuade interrogators that their worst fears are true when theyíre not, it is of little value. Far better it is to maintain oneís integrity and honor and find the ones who are willing to give up all that they know. This isnít some idealistic nonsense; this has been proven to work, and the best interrogators in the world will tell you exactly that. Think about it. If some higher-up in a terrorist organization comes to believe that his leaders are all bloodthirsty fanatics, heís going to be a lot less prone to confess to an enemy whoís done their share of lying, torture, and murdering of innocents. Owning the moral high ground is critical in ideological warfare.

Itís clichť but true that the battle is fought over hearts and minds. I have read many quotes from people involved in interrogations who say that the reason many terrorists and resistance fighters picked up arms in the first place is because the United States has succumbed to the most abhorrent of practices it once vilified others for using. Not that our enemies are more moral than we are by any stretch, but the point is quite clear: the more immoral and hypocritical we become, the more people will oppose us, and some of them will use force to do so. The embrace of torture and use of extra-judicial executions has been a horrible mistake for my nation. They are ineffective, immoral, and counter-productive.

Yet the idea that they are somehow a necessary evil persists, probably due to scores of "Dirty Harry" style movies and television shows like "24" where going outside of the law is the only way to get the bad guy and to do justice. It makes for great drama, but if real life police officers, or perhaps foreign agents answerable to no one, were to inflict justice in a similar manner in your neighborhood you might change your mind as to the desirability of such practices. Yes, itís all well and good when itís happening to someone else, and we can all pretend to believe that those people in other countries are at least in some way deserving of their fates when we administer "justice" abroad and accidentally kill a few innocent bystanders, but the truth is that our notions of justice canít stop at our borders lest we invite the same upon ourselves. The law isnít there to protect terrorists, itís there to protect all of us, and those who seek to undermine and corrupt it either donít understand the nature of our legal system or want to drag us back into the dark ages.

There also exists the notion that refraining from torture is somehow weak, and that having the guts to do it is somehow strong. This is probably the most desperate, pathetic, and cowardly justification of them all. The moral cowards who use this line of reasoning might portray undertaking such measures as a tough choice that is somehow noble, that they are making some sort of great sacrifice to defend the common good, although exactly what that sacrifice is has yet to be explained. All that seems to be sacrificed in resorting to torture and extrajudicial executions is oneís better judgment, although oneís victims and numerous innocents certainly sacrifice much. No, resorting to these measures makes one weak, not strong, for true strength lies in restraint. True strength lies in following oneís moral code even when it is under attack, for that is the most important, and difficult, time to adhere to its wisdom. And true strength lies in asserting the intellectual pursuit of efficacy over the emotional desire for revenge at all costs. There is simply no debate here. What is morally right and what it most effective are one and the same. By working on "the dark side," as Dick Cheney once spoke with a sickening smirk on his face, all that we have accomplished is reduced the amount of actionable intelligence we gleaned from captives and increased the amount of opposition to our cause. Torture, and extrajudicial executions, makes us weak.

Furthermore, Iíve heard fools say that the U.S. Constitution is not a suicide pact, as if our country is truly in mortal danger due to the machinations of a handful of fanatical Muslims. This is such cowardice. To them I say that if I and a few fellow Americans die because we held fast to our ideals then at least we died free. Instead the cowards and apologists among us have empowered and surrendered to the Police State and stupidly pretend that it will always fight on our side. Worse still, those cowards and apologists dare to call the rest of us unpatriotic for not bending over to the will of an all powerful state. Truly, this sort of patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.

Now is the perfect time to wash our hands of this temporary bout of cowardice, selfishness, and insanity. Our "V-AQ day" has finally come. Our troops have been shot up, blown up, over-extended, mentally damaged, and pushed to breaking, but still they have done an exemplary job of serving their nations. Itís time to bring them all home and give them a victory celebration. Theyíve truly earned it. Our allies are equally tired, or annoyed, or angry, or on the verge of open defiance at our continued obsession with killing terrorists. Weíve long since worn out our welcome abroad. Itís time to come home and mend broken fences. Our nations are broke and steeped in unpayable debts yet we squander billions abroad accomplishing little to nothing. Itís time to take off our ideological blinders and cut costs everywhere including our bloated national defense budget. Our nations are gradually becoming police states as ordinary citizens one by one sympathize more with our enemies than their adopted homes and attack their friends and neighbors. Itís time to show them the true face of our nations and live up to our ideals. Paranoia has become the "new normal" and the government is sinking its nose deep into everyoneís business, violating our privacy utterly, and in secret. Itís time to cast off these excessive measures while still being rational about security. Itís time to tell Big Brother to go home. Heís no longer needed.

But no, there are those talking heads again, saying that we canít let up now, that there are still terrorists out there who wish to do us harm. Certainly there are, but using our military against them is like using a sledge hammer to kill a fly. Weíve finally hit the target but weíve smashed down the house in the process. We should still combat terrorists, but with proven, and more effective, tools. We should use good, solid police work, assisted by our vast intelligence services, and with the cooperation of foreign countries, which will be more willing to help if we set modest goals for ourselves and slaughter fewer of their citizens in the process of meeting them. Again, thatís my dream for my nation, and Iím under no illusion that it will come true. More likely we will see the status quo continued ad nauseum. Our soldiers, our rights, and our tax dollars are all Food for the Gods.

Speaking of ad nauseum, I may have descended into another setback in my ongoing battle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. These happen depressingly often, and seem like they have undone all of the progress that Iíve made over the previous few months or longer. Itís hard battling something that no one completely understands and for which few have any solid treatment options. Much of the time I am simply guessing whatís going on inside of me, making judgments without extensive data, and trying to figure out what works and what doesnít. As it is, three more months of my life have mostly drained away; much of it spent saving my energy for the things in life that I have to do to stay afloat. I can no longer spend hours on hobbies and other personal pleasures, nor truly put the energy into them that I used to when I can find the time. Thatís what the sickness does to your life, makes it a shadow of what it once was. But as long as I am alive I will fight. As always, the battle continues.

A big ĎHelloí to anyone receiving the Burning Blade for the first time. This is the Fireaxe newsletter.

A Matrix of Matrices

The movie "The Matrix" was highly influential, especially among a number of modern era philosophers who were quick to take the central concept of the story, that the reality which the protagonist thought that he knew was actually an elaborate virtual construction designed to enslave him, and compare it to our reality, implying that our understanding of the world is based upon Orwellian propaganda spread by the state. And not long after the movieís release, the defining moment of the story: when the protagonist makes his choice between the red pill and the blue pill Ė a symbolic gesture in which he accepts either a comforting lie or a harsh truth; became a clichť for truth tellers and conspiracy theorists everywhere who used the analogy to portray their theories as "the truth that THEY donít want you to know." Peddlers of all kinds of bizarre theories have used this analogy to essentially ask their readers a loaded question, "Do you want to be a courageous warrior for truth and accept my theory, or be a cowardly sheep and go along with the mindless crowd?" The implication is that by accepting a mainstream view of events one is choosing to become a brainwashed dupe, embracing machinelike conformity in the hopes of winning points from onesí ideological overlords.

In the movie, the protagonist discovers not only the awful truth about the world, that it is a living nightmare where computers use humans as batteries to power their mechanized metropolis, but that he has powers beyond that of which he has ever dreamed, eventually destroying the matrix and becoming the savior of all humankind. Thus the truth, while awful, gives the protagonist something wonderful in return: a cause that turns his dreary existence into a glorious fight for freedom against a merciless robotic enemy. This is the notion into which philosophical references to the red pill/blue pill analogy try to tap, the idea that while the truth makes the world seem to be a frightening and draconian place, that the cause of revealing the truth will take on noble characteristics and transform the reader into a persecuted hero. Iíve referred to this idea as a "persecution paradigm" and went into describing it at length in The Burning Blade 13.5. The basic idea expressed there is that these persecution paradigms play to feelings of alienation and exclusion in the potential convert, making them believe that their suffering has a mysterious and nefarious external cause, and that by defeating those responsible that all can be made well again. The paradigms give the downtrodden convert a sense of purpose, transforming their suffering and other negative feelings into hope and positive feelings. Furthermore, the paradigms make belief systems self reinforcing by bringing the believer into conflict with the world, encouraging them to fight with righteous anger, and confirming their belief that the world is aligned against them when they encounter resistance. Such persecution paradigms have been wildly successful on the internet in convincing people of all sorts of conspiracy theories and other wild ideas. People seem to love a good secret and long to share it with others, oftentimes arguing vehemently in support of those ideas in chat rooms, forums, and anywhere else they can.

I would like to compare this aspect of the movie "The Matrix" with another movie about a protagonist who is also being crushed by the machinery of an uncaring world: "Brazil," which I highly recommend. In "Brazil", the hapless protagonist daydreams that he is a valiant warrior: complete with wings and a sword and shining armor; and in those dreams he fights numerous villains in his quest to rescue his angelic dream girl, who, by contrast in real life, is a lowly and somewhat butch delivery woman. His daydreams make his life more interesting and serve as an escape from his difficult and mind-numbing job, but the protagonist isnít content to merely just dream about such things, and he tries to make his dreams come true, chasing after his reluctant dream girl and battling real life "villains" in the process. I wonít spoil the ending, but the contrast between the two movies is quite stark. In "The Matrix", reality is the dream and the dream is reality and the protagonist is able to escape the bonds of what he thought was real to become something much more than what he was. In "Brazil" the dream is just a dream which the protagonist tries so very hard to make real so that he can escape from the drudgery of his existence, which seems to me to be a more apt analogy for what "Matrix" style allegories and ideologies in general do for people. The way I see it, "The Matrix" is entertainment in the form of a persecution paradigm while "Brazil" is social commentary on what effects such paradigms can have on people.

As Iíve described in several recent issues of this newsletter, I feel that the modern trend in ideologies has been towards extreme individualism, so much so that narcissism and conflict due to clashing ideals have become depressingly commonplace. Politically, both liberals and conservatives have embraced an individualistic view of the world with liberals championing the diversity and personal choice aspects of individualism and conservatives championing the economic determinism and freedom from government aspects. Oddly enough both sides are able to portray the other in the role of "Big Brother" so that they can claim the individualistís version of the moral high ground and portray themselves as heroes battling for personal freedom against an authoritarian conformist monolith. Liberals see conservativesí support of corporations and the wealthy, their willingness to enforce notions of religious morality, and their zealous support of war and tougher law enforcement as evidence that they want to create a fascist, theocratic, police state where corporations make the laws. Conservatives see liberalsí support of heavy taxation, financial and environmental regulation, political correctness taken to extremes, and insistence upon creating more and more entitlement programs as evidence that they want to create a socialist, anti-religious police state where the most productive citizens work mostly for the benefit of the least productive. Thus, both political perspectives can portray themselves as Neo fighting the good fight against an oppressive matrix.

The same thing is happening in the religious realm. Jews, Muslims, Secularists, Atheists, and others have always been able to portray themselves as persecuted minorities, mainly because in the west most members of these groups have indeed had to battle prejudice and discrimination during their lifetimes. A poll conducted in the U.S. in 2007 showed that a surprising 53% of Americans wouldnít vote for an atheist candidate for president, compared to just 4% who wouldnít vote for a Catholic candidate, 7% who wouldnít vote for a Jewish candidate, and 24% who wouldnít vote for a Mormon candidate. Additionally the poll showed that only 5% of Americans wouldnít vote for a black candidate, 11% wouldnít vote for a female candidate, and 43% wouldnít vote for a homosexual candidate. Despite Barack Obamaís election, prejudice still runs deep. Atheists tend to hold this poll up as proof that they are still viewed with suspicion by the general public as do a number of other minority groups. However, Christians in America have begun portraying themselves as a persecuted minority as well. They decry court decisions banning prayer in schools, the removal of religious icons on state owned property, and the acceptance of gay marriage in some areas as being part of a secularist agenda that is trying to outlaw their faith. They donít want the state telling them that they cannot express their religious beliefs in any way that they choose, especially while they hold public office, and see that as an infringement upon their first amendment rights. And when they see the way that social morality has changed over the decades, with sexuality flaunted so overtly, especially in the media, with drug and alcohol use so prevalent, and with scandals of every stripe erupting in the halls of power so often, it isnít difficult to feel that the entire country is going to hell in a hand basket. A Christian could easily feel like a lone holdout against a world that is enthralled by the devilís temptations. And this, of course, plays into one of the oldest and most popular persecution paradigms: the Christian myth of Jesus dying at the cruel hands of those who mocked and doubted him, which forms the basis of their faith.

But feelings of persecution arenít restricted to oneís ideological affiliation, and the fact that persecution paradigms can have a powerful influence on the mind does not mean that the world is not becoming a more draconian place. To the contrary, the fact that people are more willing to embrace persecution paradigms is evidence that alienation and exclusion are becoming more common in our society, and I see this as happening because the nature of our social fabric is changing. Inherent in individualism is the tendency, sometimes quite strong, to downplay the significance of others and become insensitive to their plights. As a nation of individuals we like to believe that we succeed and fail on our own, seeing the economy, as well as the social order, as a meritocracy where the strong and hard working thrive and the weak and lazy do not. As a result we work mostly to build ourselves up, refusing all assistance and expecting others to build themselves up without our help. Of course, weíre not beyond lending a helping hand now and then, but we shun dependency and throttle our desires to nurture the weak. The message to those who struggle is clear: suck it up and get back to work. And if one fails it is assumed that their failure is somehow their fault.

This creates a climate of alienation and exclusion similar to that found in societies which demand conformity and shun those who are different, except that in individualist societies almost everyone can feel excluded since there really is no inner circle or "in" group. When cliques form, these small groups of like-minded individuals can make anyone on the outside feel like they are being excluded from something better than what they have. And since groups of individualists tend to be loosely connected, itís not hard for members of those groups to imagine that some other group of people is having a better time than they are regardless of their station in life. This is the driving force behind the phenomenon of "Facebook depression", which reflects how easily people can feel left out when they see other people showing off all the cool things that are happening in their lives. Sufferers see the pictures and read the comments on others pages and feel that their own peak moments simply donít measure up. Instead of being happy for their friends and family they end up feeling sad for themselves. This is a pitfall of individualism, which can turn all of life into a competitive event where falling behind oneís standard of achievement, and many of us set our goals quite high, can make one feel like a lonely failure. Furthermore, since persecution paradigms tend to make people see the world in terms of "us versus them", combativeness, vindictiveness, and the desire to exclude those who are different can exacerbate these feelings in others when people who feel lonely or wronged lash out at each other and make others feel as bad as they do.

In a global economy, and especially in a recessionary environment, this individualism-stoked competitiveness extends into the workplace, creating an "eat or be eaten" environment which compels us to put ourselves before others. Greed is the carrot and unemployment is the stick and those two forces combined with inflation, equity loss, uncertain retirement, and spotty medical coverage seem to have everyone putting most or all of their effort into making sure that they get what they need first. Generosity has become a luxury that we simply cannot afford anymore. The system itself seems to persecute everyone involved, trying to squeeze every last ounce out of us and demanding more even if it gets it. And sometimes itís not the system, but an actual person turning the screws on us, giving rise to strong feelings of persecution. Big government certainly adds to these feelings with high taxes, spiraling deficits, endless red tape, and the steady proliferation of the surveillance state. And it doesnít help that when the party of downsizing government gets into power that the first things they target are the programs that assist the ones who are most in need. Of course, government is not the only intrusive force in our lives, and while it doesnít get much attention these days the demands of corporations on their employees have steadily grown more invasive. Modern terms of employment often include mandatory drug testing, the signing away of oneís intellectual property rights, non-competition clauses which prevent employees from joining rival companies or starting their own businesses, and insidious "binding arbitration" clauses that force employees to go before private "judges" instead of public ones when they have a dispute with their employer. These hearings are settled without the disturbing potential that the little guy might win big. Itís a scam. Persecution is all around is no matter who we are, and it is very real.

Thus it is no surprise that ideologies and conspiracy theories which feature persecution paradigms have spread like wildfire through our culture. We are already very accustomed to the notion that the powers that be are more concerned with preventing us from causing them trouble than they are concerned with helping us become better and more productive people. That is no conspiracy. We see examples of it every day, for instance, when the G-20 meeting comes to town and the police state cracks down long before anything happens. So when the right persecution paradigm comes along, one that caters well to our particular personal knowledge and vulnerabilities, it clicks inside our minds and makes us say, "Aha! That explains everything." Now, these paradigms donít necessarily make us feel better when we learn about something terrible, for instance, that all the gold in Fort Knox has been sold off to pay our nationís debts and that our countryís mineral rights and national parks are next. But it does give us a dream; it gives us the belief that we can save our country if we can put a stop to the evil forces which are conspiring to destroy it. That can give our lives a sense of purpose.

Fiction can tap into these same feelings, winning our hearts by crafting a clever storyline where the protagonist battles people and institutions that resemble the ones which are making our lives a living hell. We sympathize with the hero and wish that we could be like that, our feelings in turn making us vulnerable to any ideological message that the author wishes to convey. Fiction makes ideology an easy sell because the author controls the entire world inside the book, movie, or game, and can make sure that the righteous people either succeed or are at least seen as sympathetic while the ignoble people fail or appear cruel, deluded, and evil. Ayn Randís "Atlas Shrugged" certainly fits this category as does George Orwellís "Animal Farm" and Alduous Huxleyís "Brave New World". As ideological arguments go these books are little more than one long straw man fallacy, the author creating an extreme example of a society gone dreadfully wrong in order to claim that its ideals are false and thus that doing the opposite is correct, but when they are told in compelling ways with fascinating characters and intellectually stimulating discourse the message can sink in quite deeply regardless of the absurd premise.

Considering that the course of society is moving toward more isolated forms of individualism and that persecution paradigms play so well to people ground down by oppressive forces all around them it seems that the future will find us all caught up in a "Matrix of Matrices", that is, each of us building our own fanciful vision of the world which caters to our particular tastes. Rather than succumb to a mass delusion, like a common view of religion or a political ideology, we are more comfortable seeking out our own personal delusions, crafting a matrix that explains the unexplainable in a unique way which we donít need to compromise with anyone elseís views. While this has brought us freedom of thought and expression it has come at the expense of social cohesion and the ability to come together for a common cause. In the matrix of matrices there are no common causes, no unifying rallying cries, and no opportunities for someone to give our shared beliefs a voice and lead us to a brighter future for we have no shared beliefs. Instead we are all individuals with our own ideas of what is right, what is wrong, and what must be fought for. So we can unite under a banner of vague words like "Hope" and "Change" with few mentions of specifics only to discover later that our internal disunity has strangled our democracy and that there is not much change and very little hope. We can also rise up as a tea party and invoke our countryís courageous founders as examples to follow, only to discover that our movement has limited power to get things changed and is being hijacked by powerful special interests. The political gridlock is crushing and even in a crisis we fail to move forward with workable solutions. In other arenas, a lack of cohesion makes us susceptible to divide and conquer tactics practiced by the powers that be. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer despite the fact that the latter far outnumber the former. How can this be so in a democracy?

Until recently it looked as if the only solution to achieve unity again was for a drawn out, global recession to purge the individualist spirit out of the majority and force us to embrace common view of the world in order to regain our strength. We wonít let go of our personal freedoms easily though, and it will take years of failure as individuals to get us to surrender them, but in time we will likely see that there are benefits in at least some amount of sacrifice and conformity to the whole. But an interesting alternative seems to be beckoning from an ancient land. The Egyptian people were able to unite and overthrow a seemingly invincible dictator and yet retain their identities as a diverse and unstructured resistance. Of course, the jury is still out as to whether what they have accomplished constitutes a revolution or not as the military leadership has been very slow to relinquish power, but if they one day succeed they could unleash an entirely new order, or rather a new disorder, upon the world.

Itís possible that we do not need to go back to the conformism of the past in order to effect profound and lasting change in our world. The matrix of matrices, while lacking uniformity and coherence, could somehow find a way to unite us, and even do so in a way that exceeds the strength gained through conformity and obedience to a single ideology. It could simply be a matter of each of us being willing to bring one small part of our diverse matrices into alignment with othersí matrices. Such partial uniformity could give us tremendous but limited strength to accomplish what we need to do while still preserving our individuality. In Egypt this was accomplished when everyone united against Mubarak. No matter what anyone in the country believed or what their problems were, the dictator could always be seen as the root cause of those problems in some way, allowing their diverse matrices to align in that one small area. Of course, forging a new government would likely require something much more complicated to unfold in side the matrix of matrices, something possibly arbitrary in its construction and more difficult to understand than anyone can imagine, but that doesnít mean that it canít happen. And if it should somehow arise this could be a very exciting and tumultuous era to live through: witnessing, and being a part of, the birth of a new ideology.

The Fireaxe theory - Outline

I. Basics - well established theories

  • 1. Emergent systems - that complex systems can arise from the interactions of simple things
  • 2. Natural selection - that organisms mutate, proliferate, and compete, with the "losers" becoming extinct
  • 3. Behavioral science - that neurological systems, at their core, function according to the rules of conditioning
  • 4. Entropy - that within a closed system, entropy always increases, which limits the amount of transformation that can occur

II. Extensions

  • 1. That consciousness is an emergent system: a complex system arising in the human mind from the interaction of simple neurons.
  • 2. That civilizations are emergent systems arising from the physical interactions of humans whether conscious or not.
  • 3. That ideologies are emergent systems arising from the psychological interactions of conscious humans
  • 4. That emergent systems follow the laws of natural selection in much the same way that organisms do
  • 5. That the universe is, by definition, a closed system

III. Contentions regarding consciousness

  • 1. That consciousness is a survival advantage
  • 2. That being a member of an ideology is a survival advantage
  • 3. That making its members conscious is a necessary part of an ideology's survival
  • 4. That consciousness is created by instilling within a person a permanent sense of inadequacy - in essence a state of constant fear
  • 5. That the deeper the sense of inadequacy, the stronger the person is motivated - generally to serve their ideology

IV. Contentions regarding ideological struggle

  • 1. That ideologies fight for survival using many methods including, but not limited to, war and enslavement
  • 2. That aggression is a survival advantage
  • 3. That survival in the short term outweighs survival in the long term prompting ideologies to pursue shortsighted and sometimes suicidal strategies
  • 4. That aggressive ideologies make members of rival ideologies feel afraid and inadequate which in response become more aggressive, thus creating a vicious circle
  • 5. That aggressive ideologies must continue to grow or face internal strife as their aggressive members will feed on each other to satisfy their needs
  • 6. That internal struggle results in ideological mutation

V. Contentions regarding the future

  • 1. That internal strife is inevitable since the laws of entropy imply that continuous growth is not sustainable
  • 2. That the abstract bases for ideologies transcend mortality and thus suicidal aggression is not restrained by fear of death
  • 3. That technological progress has made the destruction of the world through ideological warfare possible and will continue to make it easier to effect
  • 4. That ideological mutation will eventually result in the creation of a suicidal ideology which will destroy the human race in the attempt to save it

How to order Fireaxe CDs

Ordering Fireaxe CD's is an informal process as I am selling them personally out of my apartment. Simply mail me a letter which contains the following:

  • 1. The names of the CDs that you want to buy.
  • 2. The address where you want the CDs sent.
  • 3. Cash, a check, or a money order for the total cost.

Or if you want to do PayPal, just send me the answers to 1 and 2 above in an e-mail and I'll tell you where to send the money.

Here is a price list. The first number is the cost for U.S. based customers, the second is for outside the U.S. The prices include shipping and handling.

Eternal Devotion to the Dark Goddess: $6 / $9
Food for the Gods: $12 / $15 (SOLD OUT)
Victory or Death: $5 / $8 (free with any purchase)
Lovecraftian Nightmares: $5 / $8 (SOLD OUT)
A Dream of Death: $3 / $6 (SOLD OUT)

Send everything to:

Brian Voth
1301 Medical Center Dr. #415
Chula Vista, CA, 91911 USA

If you review CDs on a website or in a magazine, any one of the single CDs (Not "Food for the Gods") is free of charge in exchange for the review. In this case all I need is a request by e-mail. Please send me the URL of your review site or copy of your magazine with the review in it when it is done. If you want to exchange CDs, tapes, or stuff of equivalent value, make these requests via e-mail and we'll arrange a trade.

The CDs come with a booklet filled with awesome art, a letter about the project, and some information about the CD which can also be found on the Fireaxe site.

Lastly, if you want to print and distribute Fireaxe CDs I can send you an additional CD which contains tiff files for all the booklets, tray cards, and labels for each project. The tiff disk is free so just say the word.

The Future

Unfortunately 2010 was another total bust for Fireaxe as far as recording is concerned. Health issues sidelined projects scheduled for completion during the year and other than the guitarist taking the opportunity to get a whole lot better with his axe, nothing was accomplished. With any luck these wasted years will end up in the past and no more will be added to the pile.

Considering that I may not be able to put as much time and effort into recording in the future, Iím strongly considering setting the "Food for the Gods" remake aside indefinitely. The same might go for the overhaul of "A Dream of Death", something that I still really want to do one day, but I have to face the reality that I may never be able to get healthy enough to complete the task. If the reality is that I can only make one or two more CDs in my career I feel that they should be new ones, with music and expression that capture where I have been and what I have been through during this ordeal, rather than rehashing old tracks. Iíd love to have the time and energy to reproduce all Fireaxe music, making it all as rich sounding, well executed, and emotionally moving as I originally envisioned it, and it makes me sad that I may never reach that goal or even come close, but the fact that my music is out there, that it sounds as good as it does, and that it still manages to reach and inspire people, humbles me and makes me feel as if it my efforts did not for naught. We can all imagine what could have been, but letís not lose sight of what is. Fireaxe has made some damn good music, flaws and all, and if I am unable to make any more I hope that you have enjoyed hearing it as much as I have enjoyed making it.

My goal is to deliver music to whoever wants to hear it in whatever way is necessary. Whatever the market demands, I will supply, but I do want to avoid the mass marketing channel. Exposure is fine, but in the modern business, the substance of the music must be altered to match the demands of the marketplace. This would totally defeat the purpose of why I write music in the first place. I write music because it is a way to express my emotions. What I both think and feel goes into the songs. That is the power, Fireaxe is the channel, and any diversion diminishes the emotive effect. Thus I try to avoid such diversions. That is how art should be.

Rights to duplicate Fireaxe materials

Currently Fireaxe is not for profit. I sell the single CDs for $5 or $6, $12 for "Food for the Gods" since it is three CDs, which covers the production and mailing costs. For CDs sent out of the country, I'll have to charge an extra $2 per disk to cover the additional mailing cost. If you write reviews or put samples on your website I'll give you a CD for free. Since I am not making any money with the current recordings, you are free to make duplicates of them to distribute as long as you obey the following guidelines:

  • 1. You can only sell the duplications for the price of the medium or less, plus any delivery cost. You are not allowed to make any profit with the music.
  • 2. You should tell me how many copies you gave out and who got them so I can keep track. Also, if they have an e-mail address I'd like that as well so I can add them to the mailing list.
  • 3. You are likewise free to adorn any webpages or duplications with the gifs and jpgs on my website as long as you include an obvious link back to my website. This includes putting Fireaxe song samples on your site as well.
  • 4. You are free to play any Fireaxe songs (in unaltered form) provided you are an unsigned band without a marketting tie-in. You are not allowed to record those songs onto anything that you will sell.
  • 5. Do not fall in love with the Dark Goddess. I mean, seriously. She's the goddess of death after all. It's not a good idea. Furthermore, do not have sexual fantasies involving the Dark Goddess. She does not have a womb and thus lacks the entrance to that particular organ. Also, attempting to use other entrances will likely result in castration. Again, it's not a good idea.
  • 6. You are vehemently discouraged from doing anything depicted in the CD "Eternal Devotion to the Dark Goddess" such as: torturing someone, lying for corporate profit, rationalizing greed, beating, raping, and murdering your girlfriend, destroying the lives of those who've wronged you and their families, corrupting the government, trying to kill yourself with pleasure, kidnapping and ransoming people, committing atrocities, cutting someone's face to pieces, destroying half the world as revenge, and especially stating that any of these things are okay because "God is on your side." Please, think before you act.
  • 7. You are food for the gods.
  • 8. You are required to crank the song "Hounds of Tindalos" as loud as you can as often as you can. It's your only defense against THEM. Be warned, they come through angles. Note that the CD is round. Are your speaker cabinets square?
  • 9. Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, Hastur the Unspeakable, and all other mythos creatures are purely the inventions of Lovecraft and other fiction authors. None of it is real, at least that's what I'm going to say in court if you try to sue me for destruction of your property, house, city, or soul as a result of listening to the "Lovecraftian Nightmares" CD too much.
  • 10. You are free to play "The Rack" in school or church or any other institution bent on crushing your will and turning you into a mindless zombie slave of the corporate dominated world. Try not to develop a bad attitude about it.
  • 11. You are not free to commit suicide while listening to any Fireaxe song. I'm sorry, I'll have to prosecute. On a serious note, if you are thinking about doing it, please e-mail or call me if you have no one else to talk to. When I was in my teens the album "The Wall" by Pink Floyd used to really get to me. Just hearing songs like "Comfortably Numb", and "Hey You" would get me pretty depressed and mildly suicidal. I'm just trying to say that I've been there. If my music is having that effect on you, please get in touch. You aren't alone.

The gist of it is that you can do just about anything with the music as long as you don't profit from it and that I get some sort of credit for having written it. I'm open to any methods of distributing my music, such as compilation tapes or CDs, radio play, or recording label distribution. However, you will need my direct permission to do so or some kind of legal agreement.
Brian Voth - Creator of Fireaxe

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