Fifteen years in the future an innocent American Muslim is forcibly arrested, his daughter beaten to death - the news reports the break-up of a major terrorist cell. Iran is now Post-Iran, its Southern provinces nuked to oblivion. The War on Terror still rages and the United States is run by a cadre of fanatic evangelicals. Bioterrorism has left Detroit and New Orleans uninhabitable. The American population is implanted with surveillance microchips and Great Britain is following suit. Staged bioterrorism attacks garner support for a major pharmaceutical company to introduce a mind-numbing, conscience-killing drug into the water supply - in the guise of an immune system booster.
There are reports of something called "The Presence", which are denied by officials. The internet monitored, dissenters resort to the use of quantum encryption technology to send a batch of information - websites, banned books, top secret files, music - into the past, in hopes to change the future. Power and greed have run their course and the world is on the verge of utter destruction. It is Year Zero.
This is the premise to Nine Inch Nails' (i.e., Trent Reznor's) latest studio album, Year Zero, released on April 17. Written and produced while on tour for his previous album, With Teeth, Reznor's latest effort is a departure from previous work. In an interview with Rolling Stone's Brian Hiatt (March 22, 2007) Reznor says, "I went into it with a sense of not giving a fuck. Not worried about singles, radio play, melody, 'correct' song structure, record labels, marketability, critics, kissing ass, my own fans' expectations, chart positions, being fashionable... I really just let my subconscious take over and steer the ship."
But Year Zero is more than just an album. It encompasses an entire online universe of websites created by Reznor, Rob Sheridan, and 42 Entertainment. It is music from the future, a warning of things to come, and ostensibly, an impetus for the creation of a resistance now which already exists in the future. Clues and puzzles are literally scattered across the globe: USB drives placed in bathrooms at NIN concerts contain sound clips, highlighted letters on t-shirts spell out web addresses, phone numbers reach pre-recorded "wire-taps" or song previews, codes are hidden in liner notes and distorted track noise. Year Zero covers all the bases.
Most intriguing about the concept, however, is its insidious "Trojan Horse" nature. In 2006, NIN were slated to perform their single "The Hand That Feeds" at the MTV movie awards. They planned on performing the song with an image of George W. Bush displayed behind the band. The event organizers, however, felt "uncomfortable" about this overtly "political" display. Refusing to play under such conditions, Reznor responded sardonically on his website: "Apparently, the image of our president is as offensive to MTV as it is to me."
In an era when so-called "political statements" are not only few and far between, but overtly censored by a long-since emasculated mainstream media, Year Zero is art at its best: as a subversive warning; a mirror to the terror of the world; a form of resistance in and of itself. "Art is resistance."
The Terror of the Situation
One of the Year Zero websites, the home of "Cedocore", the pharmaceutical company responsible for the above-mentioned drug, Parepin - as well as "Opal", the government-sponsored crack-cocaine of the future - has an online quiz. My diagnosis? "Under the circumstances, it would be best to call or email the authorities and then sedate yourself until they arrive. Be careful, but be thorough. Lives are at stake. Remember, there is an IV drip with Prozira waiting for you at the hospital. You will learn to live and love and laugh again!" No doubt!
Try it yourself. If you are disgusted with the destruction of Iraq, the rape of Africa, the slow genocide of Palestinine, or any other form of such inhumanity, you may need medication! It may be humorous to read the Orwellian diagnoses provided on the "Cedocore" website, but they are a window into an unsettling truth: It is not an easy time to be a person of conscience. We live in a world ruled by those least capable to rule. Like a blind man leading those who can see through a dangerous terrain, the men and women who rule our world lack that quality essential for decision-making which will affect the lives of billions: conscience.
To those without conscience, our lives have meaning only insofar as we can serve as pawns in the fulfillment of their goals. The last hundred years have seen instance after instance of such mass hysteria and subsequent psychopathic rule. We have seen their fruits: an indomitable and unquenchable lust for more power, a narcissistic drive to force others to obey one's will, all leading to the inevitable mass genocide that characterizes such regimes. When those without conscience come to rule, it is a crime to have a conscience.
In Trent Reznor's Year Zero, as in any pathocratic (i.e. ruled by psychopaths) regime, books are banned: Twain, Whitman, Salinger, Joyce, Zinn, Orwell, Vonnegut, Milgram... Curiously, the last three in this list, Orwell, Vonnegut and Milgram, all provide essential pieces to this specter we have known variously as Bolshevism, Nazism, Stalinism, Zionism, and currently, Neoconservatism.
Orwell accurately described a pathocratic regime and its characteristic doublethink. Doublethink is defined as "the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. ... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them." This is an apt description of what has become known as the Bush Doctrine: War for the sake of peace. That is, "War is bad. But war is good." Two contradictory beliefs, yet both are accepted, all contradictory evidence is repressed. It is also called conversive thinking, and it is epidemic in our myopic and psychologically illiterate culture.
While Orwell described the symptoms, Vonnegut nailed their cause, in an excerpt from his memoirs published by the Guardian:
George W Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka Christians, and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or PPs, the medical term for smart, personable people who have no consciences.
To say somebody is a PP is to make a perfectly respectable diagnosis, like saying he or she has appendicitis or athlete's foot. The classic medical text on PPs is The Mask of Sanity by Dr Hervey Cleckley, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Medical College of Georgia, published in 1941. Read it!
Some people are born deaf, some are born blind or whatever, and this book is about congenitally defective human beings of a sort that is making this whole country and many other parts of the planet go completely haywire nowadays. These were people born without consciences, and suddenly they are taking charge of everything.
PPs are presentable, they know full well the suffering their actions may cause others, but they do not care. They cannot care because they are nuts. They have a screw loose!
And what syndrome better describes so many executives at Enron and WorldCom and on and on, who have enriched themselves while ruining their employees and investors and country and who still feel as pure as the driven snow, no matter what anybody may say to or about them? And they are waging a war that is making billionaires out of millionaires, and trillionaires out of billionaires, and they own television, and they bankroll George Bush, and not because he's against gay marriage.
So many of these heartless PPs now hold big jobs in our federal government, as though they were leaders instead of sick. They have taken charge. They have taken charge of communications and the schools, so we might as well be Poland under occupation.
They might have felt that taking our country into an endless war was simply something decisive to do. What has allowed so many PPs to rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that they are so decisive. They are going to do something every fuckin' day and they are not afraid. Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they don't give a fuck what happens next. Simply can't. Do this! Do that! Mobilise the reserves! Privatise the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap everybody's telephone! Cut taxes on the rich! Build a trillion-dollar missile shield! Fuck habeas corpus and the Sierra Club and In These Times, and kiss my ass!
Vonnegut has also provided a framework from which to understand the Milgram experiment. For those unfamiliar with Milgram's work, here's a short summary: "The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' [participants'] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' [participants'] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation."
In short, the vast majority of humans will do whatever they are told to, if the person telling them to do it is "authoritative". Of course, most people are unaware of this fact of human psychology, and would not conceive of strategically manipulating others by taking advantage of it. We tend to assume everyone is like we are. "Well, I would never tell someone to give a lethal shock to someone for no reason, so this doctor must be telling me to do it for a very good one!" We have trouble saying no to such a request! However, there is a certain small percentage of the human population for whom this is not only advantageous; it is their only way of being. These are the same individuals identified by Vonnegut: psychopaths.
"Psychopaths are social predators who charm, manipulate, and ruthlessly plow their way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations, and empty wallets. Completely lacking in conscience and in feelings for others, they selfishly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret. Their bewildered victims desperately ask, 'Who are these people?' 'What makes them they way they are?' 'How can we protect ourselves?'"
So writes Robert Hare, one of the worlds leading authorities on psychopathy, in his book Without Conscience. To a psychopath, the world of normal people strikes him as odd and naïve. Ted Bundy, the infamous psychopathic killer, said there were two types of people: Gods (i.e. psychopaths) and Beasts (i.e. normal people). Psychopaths have nothing but contempt for the incomprehensible rules of society and the people who follow them. And they will actively use any means at their disposal (including their knowledge of normal human weaknesses, like that shown in the Milgram study) to achieve a position from which they are able to create a system more amenable to their deviant world view. Witness the inhuman totalitarian regimes of the past century, in particular. They truly, in their own minds, are waging a "War Against Terror" for the purposes of "freedom". That freedom, however, is freedom from the "terror" of living among such emotional and naive machines, i.e. us.
There is one banned book that is understandably absent from the list of books in the Year Zero universe. It is called Political Ponerology: A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes by Andrew Lobaczewski. The story of its publication is as dramatic (or morseo) as Reznor's vision. A small group of Polish scientists, living under the conditions portrayed so well in Year Zero, works in secret to understand the sickness which has taken over their nation. They are tortured, their work is repeatedly destroyed and suppressed, and they suffer unimaginable terror at the hands of a psychopathic regime. The work's author, Andrew Lobaczewski, is the last surviving member of this group, and his work is our only source of a science that describes everything that is wrong with life on this planet.
While many, like the authors of those works banned by the pathocratic Year Zero regime, can see the symptoms of such a societal disease for what they truly are, often described in haunting yet beautiful prose, they have all lacked the scientific language with which to truly understand the nature of evil, and thus prevent it. A disease cannot be cured simply by a description of its symptoms, no matter how precise.
This science, ponerology (i.e. the study of evil), describes where we are and where we will be if we continue on our present course. And without the insights which this group suffered so much to understand and pass on to us, it is a course that those in power are investing billions of dollars in bringing to its final conclusion.
Let us look where they have taken us in the last 7 years: a conscienceless, C-student President, 'winner' of two stolen elections, whose strings are expertly pulled by a group of power-lusting, clownish Neoconservative psychopaths; a false-flag operation that puts the Reichstag fire to shame and has served as justification for two (soon to be three) immoral invasions and occupations of sovereign nations; a 'two-party' system where Democrats and Republicans argue not about whether or not to go to war, but when and how to go to war; the resulting slaughter of more than 700,000 Iraqi civilians in the name of "freedom and democracy"; the raping and pillaging of Palestine by a Zionist regime of schizoid interlopers; a veritable Big Brother state in Great Britain; the list could go on for pages. Just take a browse through the archives at Signs of the Times for a look at the last few years in the making of our very own Year Zero. As Trent Reznor has said in a recent interview, "There are no concepts in the story that aren't rooted in things that already are happening".
The increasingly brazen and coarse nature of the Neoconserative imperium has given rise to several forms of resistance. Despised the world over, Bush is widely seen as the megalomaniac that he truly is. The United States has seen the creation of large, albeit marginalized, anti-war and 9/11 truth movements. But these movements are doomed to fail without knowledge of psychopathy.
If Ponerology teaches us one thing it is that psychopaths are pervasive and chameleon-like in nature. They are not easily identifiable. As such, it is a given that any group unaware of their existence and their modus operandi are subject to ponerization. Any group.
Ideologies by themselves do not need psychopaths. Normal people are often at their root. However, psychopathic spellbinders need ideologies, and they don't care which one, either! They can with equal ease attach themselves to Communism or Capitalism. Even the so-called resistance. Watch as the ideology of the 9/11 and anti-war movements slowly becomes a justification for bloody revolution and murder. "Truth at any cost! Let the criminals hang!" The twist will be so subtle that most will not see it. Many will get caught up in the bloodlust, convinced that their motives are pure.
And that is the recurring problem that must be identified and watched for. The defeat of any psychopathic regime is merely killing one head of the hydra. The seeds of destruction are already evenly distributed throughout the population. Psychopaths will continue to rise through the ranks, donning their incredibly deceptive masks of sanity, and achieving positions of power over the rest of us. And we will not see it until it is too late. We never do.
The resistance is already infected. It was infected the moment it was started. And if we do not overcome our own self-importance and arrogance to see this simple fact, we are doomed. Take it to the bank. Neoconservatives are not the problem; Christian fundamentalists are not the problem; Jewish extremists are not the problem. Psychopaths are the problem.
The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout
Without Conscience by Robert Hare
Snakes in Suits by Robert Hare and Paul Babiak
Political Ponerology by Andrew Lobaczewski