“The disclosure has begun of what was hidden from the first creation of the world. ” wrote Peter Martyr when Columbus got back – the creation of the modern world that is, the “civilized” world that would become his Renaissance Europe. There would indeed be disclosure, but there would also be obfuscation and concealment, a whole new order of hidden.
Once upon a time we all slept in the same bed together, saw each other naked, knew each other’s intimate thoughts and feelings. We had to in those days; it was in our interest and the interest of everyone around us that nothing be hidden. There could be no secrets, no private agendas, the survival of the tribe depended on it. But then the tribe got too big, the bed too small and strangers appeared. We went our separate, private, secretive ways – and the lying kicked in.
It’s taken thousands of years, but now the Internet is finally bringing us all back together again and we are becoming naked once more. We are beginning to remember what we all look like, think like, care about, yearn for, lust after, hate. Our intimate feelings are once again available for all to see. This time around though – the lying is in bed with us.
The Internet is a voyage into ourselves: the seemingly limitless expanse of human possibility within us, comparable to that presented by the oceans without us six hundred years ago. As it was with the early explorers in their fragile wooden ships, navigating this uncharted territory is a dangerous unpredictable endeavor that has only just begun. Like them, our sense of objective is also unclear, the maps woefully incomplete. But this vast inner ocean presents one salient feature with which they did not have to contend, one that fundamentally undermines our purpose:
A lot of it isn’t there.
Untruth is now as much a contributor to our reality as truth. We have become, by nature, deceitful in the interests of survival; our ability to misrepresent circumstances to others as a means for promoting our own wellbeing is a fundamental part of our repertoire. It is a characteristic that expresses itself perfectly through language and the communication of information – and the Internet is the embodiment of information. It is the seemingly limitless repository of theory, conjecture, opinion, and contention, and the extent of our untrusting, untrustworthy natures is starkly apparent. There is as a result, no reliable sense of direction, no unequivocal data from which to take our bearings.
There are no fixed stars to guide us.
“Everything from the North pole to the South pole can be faked” an International Counterfeit Investigator remarked: counterfeit people flood a counterfeit world with counterfeit images, counterfeit ideas, counterfeit goods, counterfeit medicines and counterfeit news. We are struggling to find passage through an ocean of deceits. Every assertion is simultaneously confirmed, refuted, condemned and praised. An army of skeptics, arbiters, and adjudicators scramble up and down the ‘rigging’ on our behalf, sniffing out red herrings, ferretting out hoaxes, castigating social, political and scientific hooey left and right. “There’s a sucker born every minute” said P.T. Barnum, the finest hoaxer of them all – but didn’t. He stole it from someone else – then added, “I’ve never lied once”
“A lie will travel half way around the world before truth can get its boots on.” is a quote ascribed to just about everyone from Jonathan Swift to Mark Twain, but in an infinite universe where lie follows lie, there is nothing substantial on which truth can gain traction. The world of the mind is not round, it is not even solid. Truth and lies cascade into an infinite abyss like lemmings – lemmings that never cascaded anywhere – until Walt Disney set off firecrackers behind them.
We used to trust in photographs, once they embodied the fundamental, incontrovertible integrity of truth. “ A photograph does not lie.” we were told, but in a reality where every thing is for sale, they too are now “shopped” – Photo-shopped to promote commodity and agenda. Photographs of our actual universe are embellished, photographs of nature improved upon; people that are there, weren’t there, things that aren’t there, were there. Unbelievable men and women populate utterly believable worlds that are impossible to verify.
The underlying premise of movies is falsehood, an idea that can now be extended ad infinitum. Actors and actresses pretend to be people they are not, doing things they could not, in worlds that do not exist. Then they are inserted into worlds that do exist, where the distinction between real and imaginary is less obviously blurred. News footage and documentaries are also embellished; fact and fiction, friend and faux intertwining like snakes. As Sir David Attenborough – the bastion of scientific integrity tells us – snakes are only one of nature’s wonders that can be falsified for effect.
We are adrift on an ocean seemingly without rudder or direction. There is no land, no solid ground on which to embark, only unpredictable, contradictory expanse. This is the nakedness we now have to contend with: there are no maps, no indication of outcome or whether or not there even is one. Our innate curiosity has lured us into this world and there is no turning back. In that, there will be tragedy and suffering as there has always been and its ubiquity and relentlessness is becoming more and more apparent the further we go. For the first time we are all coming to know that.
But with every voyage there is return and despite the anxieties involved in the going, the coming back poses greater concerns. Columbus had discovered a New World, but for that the Old World would pay an inestimable price. Vested interests, systems of order and control were suddenly thrown into upheaval by an onslaught of change. Peter Martyr’s “…disclosure of what was hidden” unleashed ideas that would fundamentally undermine the perception of his own time and lead precisely to our current dilemma. The conviction – and comfort – of Truth were suddenly in crisis, representing opportunity for some but acute danger for others. Not everyone was happy with the idea of a New World.
The original wooden ships had set out armed with conviction – it had been imparted to them by God Himself, conveyed directly by His representative on Earth – the Pope. The Pope was Truth. But the new discoveries had radically redefined the Earth, exposing realities that shook conviction and threw the received worldview into chaos. The Pope had known nothing of this New World or of its inhabitants who conversely knew nothing of him. Everything now became subject to reevaluation – including the manner in which Truth was revealed. It would only be a matter of time before its nature and interpretation would be formally contested, and a mere twenty-five years after Columbus returned, Martin Luther – precisely in the interest “…of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it” – opened the can of Worms. The Pope was mortal insisted Luther, reliant on the same precarious senses of comprehension as all mortals. He was fallible, and therefore his sense of Truth was also potentially fallible. Truth is self-evident, he said, it can speak for itself; it needs no interpreter.
Such questioning of Truth was prompted not only by the reevaluation of physical space, but that of time as well. Luther was in the van of the Renaissance – the re-discovery of the Old World. In the long abandoned ruins of antiquity lay the philosophical considerations of the Greeks in their own search for truth, in particular those of the Skeptics.
The Academic Skeptics had concluded that ‘All we know is that we don’t know,’ but the newly uncovered texts of the Pyrrhonian Skeptics had taken the idea one step further: ‘All we know is that we don’t know,’ they agreed, ‘ but we don’t really know that either.’ It was a position of ultimate doubt, an intellectual, spiritual checkmate in which the question itself was in question. It was pointless to agonize over Truth – it simply could not be known; there was no Criterion, no unequivocal standard for determining it. The Pyrrhonian Crisis, and the lack of a Criterion for Truth became the great dilemma of the Renaissance. Without Truth there could be no conviction, no basis for meaning and purpose and without that – no discernible sense of direction.
In those days Truth was broadcast from the pulpit, the population controlled by a consistency of rhetoric against which they had little recourse. To even question such authority was to risk heterodoxy and the punishments for that were severe. Now suddenly there were conflicting pulpits, conflicting versions of Truth. The status quo reacted with a terrifying vengeance and within five years of Luther’s apostasy the Wars of Religion began: more than a hundred years of carnage and misery would follow leaving millions of mutilated, murdered men women and children in its wake; a relentless onslaught of brutality over control of the dissemination of Truth; over control of information.
Over control of the Narrative.
The Internet is the embodiment of information; it represents the biggest revelation of alternative “Truths” since Columbus returned. It is another Renaissance, another disclosing of “what has been hidden”. Every human being now has access to information as they have never done before, and as it was in the time of Columbus, vested interest and systems of power and constraint respond with a vengeance. As it was then, their reaction to heterodoxy is aggressive and uncompromising and it cannot retreat. The modern pulpits of mass media that promote the controlling agendas of the status quo must control the Narrative.
The Internet is an ideological battleground, a desperate war between those who would allow truth to speak for itself and those would have it speak only in their interests. A war between those who insist information must be interpreted and those who would interpret it themselves. It took a mere twenty-five years for words to escalate into force after Columbus’s voyage; it is approximately that long since the first voyages into the Internet began.
Columbus had contracted something from the New World that he could not possibly have imagined, something far more virulent than the physical afflictions he supposedly, inadvertently took with him. He could not have foreseen its exact implications, but as a man who envisioned future possibility, we can only wonder if he acknowledged the contagion of doubt his voyage had unleashed? We cannot but ask ourselves, what of Columbus himself was kept hidden?
Peter Martyr was an Italian historian and contemporary expert on the explorations of the New World – the Indies that is (that weren’t), and the first to introduce Europe to India Rubber (which wasn’t). He would certainly have known the details of that unprecedented voyage into the unknown. At one point in his career he was Chaplain to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, the very Isabella who had been seduced by Columbus’s impassioned convictions and agreed to fund him with her jewelry; a romantic queen, who made it possible for a humble Italian visionary to sail off into the void and change the world: Dove of Christ, Columba christofer, buoyed by faith across an ocean of uncertainty, in a trinity of frail resolute craft.
This is the Columbus who endures, the official narrative promoted from grade school to college and in all forms of entertainment: the Columbus to whom monuments are erected impressing the story in stone. But is this the Columbus Columbus knew of himself?
Cecil Roth was a Jewish historian of the twentieth century and also an expert on the explorations of the New World. As an Oxford University reader of Judaism, editor of the Jewish Encyclopedia and author of countless books on Jewish history, his credentials seem beyond reproach.
“That epoch-making expedition of 1492,” says Roth, “was as a matter of fact, very largely a Jewish, or rather a Marrano, enterprise…” (Marranos being Jews who converted to Christianity in order not to be deported from Spain, Christian that is “in name only” as Roth points out)“…There are grounds for believing that Columbus was himself a member of a New Christian family.” he continues, and then proceeds to list Jewish financiers, mapmakers and patrons, the expedition superintendent, ship’s surgeon, interpreter and crew members. It was a “business enterprise” says Roth.
But that was a long time ago. Cecil Roth’s A History of The Marranos was published by the Jewish Publication Society of America in 1932, and then in 1959.
Some truths are fashionable: they come and go.
Then there are those that never come at all – for most of us that is: ideas that contribute to the whole picture, that are appropriated by the powers-that-be, to remain undisclosed and hidden indefinitely: manuscripts, books, plans, diagrams, inventions, artifacts, buried in vaults and chests and private collections never to see the light of day. And then there are those that have simply been lost or destroyed; without them how can a consensus of truth ever be arrived at? Conversely there are those in the future yet to be found. How many unborn new Darwins, Newtons and Einsteins are waiting within it to overturn the truths that preceded them?
Truth like science is expedient, contingent on the technology and political dictates of its time. A hundred years after the various Columbuses had returned, the invention of telescopes vastly enlarged the idea of truth, proving the Earth was indeed round and that it rotated around the sun. But “The world does not always need to know the truth” the Inquisition informed signor Galileo, as they heated the pliers, so his facts sat dormant for many more years to come.
The present is a continuation of that process, full of numberless truths that the world does not need to know. No amount of telescopes can reveal them. The powers-that-be continue to lure the fearful into their “channels” of deceit, into their “main stream” of falsehoods. Their “anchors” do not hold down truth, neither do they care for it. They care only for power: power to assuage their own insecurity.
Information is power, given or withheld: the maintaining of force, in – formation.
We are led to believe we are embarked upon a mutually beneficial enterprise, aboard a vast vessel on which we all strive toward a common truth; the idea that vigilance and constant debate will result in a common landfall of fact. Our ship is crewed by like-minded individuals we are told, reasonable minds, in sync with a similar objective. But we are each captains of our own ship, entirely responsible for its upkeep and our own wellbeing, assisted by a crew that is entirely imagined. Each of us is very much alone in this endeavor, each with our own individual manifest.
We ingest information as continuously as air; it is essential to our survival. The assimilation of information determines our well being no less than breathing. But the manner of that assimilation and its accumulated inventory is unique to each of us, further diminishing the possibility of consensus.
A computer barcode identifies an artifact in time and space, its name, purpose, and time of issue all embedded in a unique configuration of bars. A human being also embodies such a code, a ribbon of data stretching back to its moment of origin. Each bar represents a split second of perception unique to that individual, a record of the information presented in every ‘new’ moment, defined with respect to the record of all past ‘new’ moments – that are simultaneously, instantaneously adjusted to reflect it. The human barcode is incomprehensibly complex and absolutely unique to each individual. No two are the same. Our individual dreams, fantasies, anxieties and physical pains also contribute to this constantly updating definition of self – personal pain, above all, being the surest indication of our ultimate state of aloneness.
Certain truths are unequivocal: when a rock is thrown in the air, it falls back to earth; if you’re hit with a rock it will “hurt”; if you’re buried under a pile of rocks, you will probably die. This is knowledge, the actual experience of information. Information in of itself is conjecture, theory and opinion, we accept or reject it according to our own unique experience of past.
Every new breath of data separates us that much more from everyone else. A real life event, a book, a film, an Internet post, is incorporated into our individual record of self, adding to our own inventory and distinguishing it more and more from every other. Given the serendipitous unfolding of circumstance, it amounts to a fractalizing process of increasing divergence. Like stars in an ever-expanding universe, we are continually moving away from one another and from that position of intractable isolation, each of us struggles to avoid discomfort or disaster; struggles to shore themself against the onslaughts of fundamental unknowing.
The voyage into truth is a trick, an illusion; like an Escheresque staircase, up and down, forward and back go nowhere. It is an expression of the far larger endeavor for which no charts, no manual, no directions have ever been given, for which no guide to truth exists at all. It is an insidious trick because we are nevertheless compelled to look for it even at the expense of one another. If such a thing were to be found, it would still be insidious; it would do nothing to compensate the suffering of millions upon millions throughout history who had strived to make its discovery possible, yet received none of its benefit. No matter what its effect, the end does not justify the meanness.
Our coming and going is an infinitesimally small event, a brief parenthetical moment of being in an ocean too vast to envision. The brackets of that parenthesis form the hull of our unique individual selves, the demarcations of birth and death that separate us from the infinity of non-being that surrounds us. Vessel and being are one and the same; it is no more possible to fall overboard than for the vessel to fall on top of us. Another trick. And the hull is porous, every one of us born into a leaking ship.
But the ship sails on.
As we lie back in the “bunk”
Searching for a way to smile as we sink.
Malcolm Mc Neill
MALCOLM MC NEILL’s essays, published in INTERNATIONAL TIMES in the U.K. and PARAPHILIA MAGAZINE in the U.S. between 2014 and 2018, are available in book form as REFLUX+ on Amazon.