Illuminatus! Remixed

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originally written January 4-16, 2004

The events described in the Illuminatus! trilogy did indeed prevent the Immanetization of the Eschaton at Ingolstadt. The Discordians (and their allies the ELF, LDD, and Howard) had dealt a major blow to the Bavarian Illuminati, but – since this has been going on since the days of Atlantis – this obviously wasn't the end of the story. Skirmishes continued as both sides regrouped and learned from the experiences. By the early 21st century, in a very different context, the next climax was on its way ... but the world was so much more complex that the law of unintended consequences had kicked in with a vengeance.

In the acrimonious, back-biting aftermath of Ingolstadt, the Illuminati had split into multiple factions, all pursuing essentially the same goals of power, wealth, and control. The multiple factions (and the constantly-changing alliances of convenience between them) lead to the multi-polar 21st century world, in contrast to the largely bi-polar worldview of the 50s and 60s (communism vs. capitalism, good vs. evil, governments vs. criminals, liberals vs. conservatives, etc.). Factions infiltrate and attempt to co-opt other factions; it is not always clear who is illuminated and who is a pawn. and the "Thatcher/Reagan revolution" of the 1980s essentially resulted in corporations, fundamentalist Christianity, and crime becoming major players; these groups' interests often aligned, since they all tended to favor strong centralized control. [Governments also favor centralized control, but since they were in general taken over by one or more of these factions, that was kind of irrelevant.]

Three key societal trends provide the context: the rapid advancement of technology; the ease of global travel; and the increasing appeal of fundamentalist or non-rational religious movements. These trends may originally been engineered by the Illuminati or Discordians, but they took on a momentum of their own as various factions sought to influence or profit from them. Technology, for example, led to a new class of rich computer geeks who often identified as libertarian, with something of an anarchic twist due to the delight in games and pranks; these seemed like natural allies for the Discordians, at least until the "dot-com" boom converted the bulk of this group to comsumerism, thus making most of them (with the exception of "fringe elements" like the cypherpunks) unwitting pawns of other factions. By the early 21st century, all of these had accelerated to the point where they completely suffused everyday life; it's impossible to understand the world without taking into account religious movements such as radical Islam (the Taliban, Iran, Hezbollah, Wahabiism, Hamas), the Christian Coalition, orthodox Judiasm, the Lord's Army, Aum Shyrinko, neo-conservatives, extropians, etc.

Events were also shaped by reactions to the attempted immanetization. The most important immediate lesson was that the combination of drugs, technology, sexuality and/or mysticism can unleash an amazing amount of power. To cut down the chances of the Discordians succeeding with this approach again, the Illuminati introduced the "war on (some) drugs" and restrictions on key technologies (crypto, anti-circumvention, pharmaceuticals). The Illuminati also attempted to leverage this insight for their own purposes, for example by introducing Prozac (taking advantage of the semi-religious authority of psychiatrists). On the other hand, the net (Usenet and BBSs, and online chat rooms) brought the sexual underground up closer to mainstream: "alternative" culture was legitimized, and ordinary people saw online personals and Friendster as perfectly acceptable.

Although it took several decades for the lesson to fully sink in – long enough that the Discordians were able to get away with creating the Internet and Web – Ingolstadt and its aftermath finally lead to the Illuminati understanding Hagbard's point that communication issues do indeed become a fundamental problem in any hierarchical system. The reaction to Napster and other P2P networks clearly showed that the Illuminati realized the threat here: this dynamic appears to fundamentally favor Discordia. Since people are at the basis of the problem, removing people from the information flow might provide a solution; mandated and automated information gathering techniques (sensors/SCADA, financial transactions) and data mining were primarily developed in response to this. In addition, management consultants have tried fo find techniques for getting around this via new organizational styles ("quality circles", empowerment, etc.), but without a lot of success.

A good example of how these factors play out relates to the media. The corporate capitalist faction of the Illuminati made substantial progress in "public relations" (aka brainwashing) techniques, engineering the rise of think tanks and talk radio, music videos, and reality tv. On the other hand, the Discordians moved forward as well; most importantly, ACT UP/Queer Nation, the Zapatistas, and anti-globalization protestors learned from post-modernist and deconstructionist theory – Eris, meet Foucault and Derrida. The Illuminati consolidated their control of traditional media, but Discordia as well as the Illuminati could make use of new technology to get around this – from faxes in Beijing in the late 80s through text messaging in Manila in 2002. The Web had the potential to make everybody a publisher; could laws and new technologies such as a Digital Imprimatur defeat this?

As of early 2004, then, the major players involved include

  • "corporate capitalists", who in the "Thatcher/Reagan revolution" of the 1980s made their control over major governments more explicit
  • fundamentalist Christianity, which in the U.S. allied with the Republican wing corporate capitalists
  • a loose-knit grouping collectively referred to as "organized crime", which profited greatly from a marriage of convenience with the other groups that prevented legalization of drugs
  • radical Islam
  • and of course the Discordians

In many ways, all of the non-Discordian factions were far more powerful than the Illuminati had ever been in the past (at least since Atlantis). Furthermore, they had learned from the Discordians, and so had some idea of their weaknesses and the Discordians preferred strategy. Balanced against that, though, was the additional complexity of the world: it was increasingly difficult to predict the long-term effects of actions. Discordians like this of course, but if your goal is to have control and power, it can be a real nuisance.

An obvious example of the "law of unintended consequences" is the rise of the radical Islam faction of the Illuminati. In the 1970's, the corporate capitalist faction inadvertently started this new faction by supporting the Shah of Iran's repressive society; when Islam was the only form of resistance to a repressive ruler, it became attractive. Then as part of the "final battle" between the corporate capitalist and authoritarian communist factions, the U.S. intentionally supported radical Islam in general (and many of the later founders of al Qaeda in particular) to oppose the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. In the short term, this strategy was successful; however, 9/11 made it fairly clear that the long-term costs were far greater than had been imagined. [In "response" to this threat, the corporate capitalist/fundamentalist Christian factions allied to topple a secular dictator in Iraq, supposedly in order to install "democracy" in a country with a majority Islamic population; it seems likely that more unintended consequences will occur here.]

Ecstasy is another example. Ecstasy seems like a perfect complement to Prozac: it's Huxley's soma, and so a perfect drug for keeping the masses happy and apathetic. As a result, while technically illegal, ecstasy soon reached levels of adoption close to alcohol and pot. However, the Illuminati hadn't expected the interaction between electronic music and the group-empathy features of ecstasy. The ease of travel throughout the world meant that it was easy to link together a few "hot spots", situations where a new tech-savvy generation growing up with ecstasy created the perfect conditions for Discordians to tap into what the Illuminati feared most: a combination of drugs, technology, sexuality, and mysticism.

And so here we are.