FORWARD BASE B

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Attack on Titan and Modernity

I watched the first two seasons of the anime, Attack on Titan and was quite impressed. It was the darkest and creepiest concept I’d seen since Berserk. The Japanese have an amazing eye for visual details in the natural world I never tire of whether it’s falling rain or cherry blossoms. That comes across strongly here too conveying visually both the sweetness and impermanence of our brief lives.

The basic premise is a great walled medieval city has been under siege by shambling giants for hundreds of years, as long as even ancestral legends can remember. Life has gone on normally inside the walls while only a handful of scouts have to deal with the harshness of the outside world. Then one day, a giant even taller than the walls peeks over at the terrified people below and everything goes to hell from there, complete with a breach in the wall.

We soon see these giants attacking the city itself, forcing the locals to retreat behind one inner wall after another as they are forced back.
The titans themselves are the most unsettling creatures I’ve seen since the titular Aliens with their chestburster larvae.
The Alien Xenomorphs are designed to appear as foreign as possible. The titans are possibly even more terrifying because of their familiarity. They look like very large, naked people at first but something is missing. They have vacuous facial expressions and their eyes are totally innocent like those of a baby. Even as they approach with mouths eagerly open and hands outstretched their pupils are dilated as though they may be friendly.

The human foolish enough to fall for this ploy is scooped up with a firm hand and promptly chopped in two by a great set of teeth, the hulking beast oblivious to their desperate pleading as they go in. If their whole body somehow goes down the Titan’s gullet without immediately debilitating blood loss, they get to perish in the steaming heat of the Titan’s stomach amidst a clutter of twisted corpses they are soon to join.
What’s more horrifying still is for all the titans’ hunger for humankind they don’t need the nourishment and periodically cough up “hairballs” of undigested human body parts. To add insult to injury the butchery to which they are single-mindedly devoted serves no apparent natural purpose.

I see this new Japanese Titan myth as a natural descendant of the African zombi myth that later became popular in the West.
Zombis were originally an allegory among African peoples for humans torn away from all family and identity by the slave trade, the living dead. In the modern West, zombies live on as atomized individuals in a post-Western atomized society where nobody cares about anyone else because all others are just adversarial competitors in the market economy whose main contribution to one another is to drive down each others’ wages.

The Japanese have one of the last, best societies on earth that is high trust and homogenous with low crime and world class health care and education. They have refused to have third world immigration on anywhere near the scale of other modernized societies preserving their ethnic domain and culture. The fertility rate is among the lowest in the world with a large and dysfunctional culture of incel outcast males but the Japanese have weathered population contractions before when hitting the very limited natural carrying capacity of their mostly mountainous, resource-poor island chain.

The variables that are different this time are those introduced by the modern neo-liberal capitalist economic system that pits all humans against one another in a fight to the death in a single grand arena.

The adversarial nature of man vs. man is the very core thesis of Attack on Titan. The overt adversaries resemble humans, but like zombies lack empathy or any trace of human spirit. Man vs. man is a strong direct theme in the series. As the humans are forced back by the Titans, there is less food and resources to go around, meaning much of the population becomes unsupportable surplus. At one point, the unimportant, the useless, and the old pretty much draw straws to go on a mass suicide offensive against the Titans so the rest don’t starve.
Furthermore, it is strongly hinted throughout that the central government of the great city is highly corrupt. To everyone’s astonishment, the most promising Titan fighters from boot camp are funneled away from the front lines to the government enforcers and secret police instead. Amidst an existential crisis of the entire species, scheming politicians are still up to no good. As if that were not enough, a religion of evangelical fanatics also vies for power and influence in the dying embers of the human world.

Even in the most dire circumstances, humans still engage in relentless zero sum games against a heavy backdrop of nihilism.
What is most shocking is this narrative comes from one of the best-off societies on the planet. Yet they too are consumed by the malaise and despair and decline that besets everywhere else.

History tells us there are sweeping trends that affect everywhere. A Japanese mercantile elite overthrew landed warrior aristocrats just like in the West when exposed to the same technology and pressures. They pursued a flavor of nationalism very similar to that in Europe and America at the time. The outcome was inevitable and so it is now.

Even if all the foreigners were instantly expelled from the United States, the intractable questions remain as we can see from the example of Japan. If these questions were answered, foreigners would be little threat and kept as powerless guest workers or expelled at will rather than function as a civilization-destroying political wedge.

Japan shows us that modernity poses a spiritual and cultural challenge that every 1st world country must deal with as roughly the same historical forces are in play from one end of the globe to another as it has been before.
Caught in a vice between attacking swarms of Titans and the backstabbing tendencies of our own treacherous kind, we seek a way towards a worthwhile future where people can cooperate again against common threats.

The society that figures it out first seizes the unclaimed prize. Or perhaps we all sink back into a great Dark Age.

Toward A Post-Western Aesthetic

At heart, the problem with Western Civilization is that it falls into the trap of the peacock’s tail striving for constant growth with flashy results but little thought of basic utility, sustainability, or resilience in the face of sudden shocks.

So great is the focus on competing for dominance now that no one has the time to think centuries ahead.

The truth is Western civilization and its philosophy was utterly discredited by the 20th century with its World Wars, Communist mega-states that killed off tens of millions, disasters like the Great Depression and Spanish Flu that the destruction and despair made possible.

Let’s face it, no one really believes in their hearts anymore that the future is good or meaningful and there’s no going back to the way it was.  The mood of the collective subconscious has been pre-apocalyptic since around the year 2000 and now among the most dominant symbols in the modern imagination are zombies that represent social alienation and atomization and evil clowns that represent mass sociopathy and chaos.

Symbol of a society where no one knows their neighbor and has to compete against everyone in a dehumanized rat race. Zombies originally a metaphor among Africans for how slavery took away one’s previous identity.

Symbol of a society where you have to adopt dark triad traits to survive. And our secret dissatisfaction with such a social order. Secretly many of us would just like to watch it all burn but can’t admit it even to ourselves.

The evolution of the West has produced impressive deer antlers but has created a society that is top-heavy and fragile.
The cost spiral started to get out of control with the rise of professional armies and the end of the feudal system until now it costs a trillion dollars to design a new weapon system, let alone manufacture, maintain, or deploy it and nearly a trillion every year to pay for old people and their medical care.  Soon, even all the wealth in the world can’t pay the basic bills and eventually even ever-growing loans can’t fill all the gaps.

Western civilization, with its stock markets, its winner-take-all economic systems and social status markets worships the growth pattern of short-lived weeds that choke the ground in a hurry before winter wipes them all away.  

I would rather worship the growth pattern of lichens that creep slowly, meticulously reinforcing each new growth area against hardship.
I would envision an ideal future civilization as being minimalistic, practical, and durable in its applications of technologies.
 
Extreme disparity in cost is why a single division worth of guerillas can challenge all the world’s great powers in the Middle East, why a guy with an ak-47 riding on a donkey beats a cruise missile or a drone, why a handful of men with boxcutters can shift the course of a nuclear superpower for decades, why an illegal immigrant Mexican roofer can have 3 kids while a salary striver that makes 70k a year can’t even afford 1 kid.
In future warfare, high technology will be limited to targets of appropriate value and low value forces will try to exert stategic pressure that forces cost-inefficient responses.

Much of the vanity of West is its stubborn insistence dating back to Christianity and reinforced by the Enlightenment that man inhabits a different universe than the rest of nature.  In truth the same laws that govern planets, rocks, animals, and bacteria bind humans just the same.

To set the tone for a society that works with the nature of the universe rather than try to defy it, we must begin to imagine what a Post-Western society might look and feel like.
In my next post I will begin to explore a possible aesthetic for such an order, according to my own sensibilities.  

My aesthetic will be austere, minimal, defensive, yet embrace a sort of stark beauty in contrast to a modern civilization of neon-bright advertisements that overload the eyes as high fructose corn syrup overwhelms the palate.

But it also won’t echo the old West cathedrals and row-houses with their straight lines and rigid rectangles, however pretty or pleasing they may be.
My aesthetic will try to appear more fluid, representing a lack of boundaries between man and nature, between intellect and the flesh.  For it’s precisely such dichotomies that gave rise to the West’s most debilitating neuroses.

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