Thermidor

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Cube & The Price Of Conspiracy

I don't often use movies as a point of reference for a broader point. For one, I lost interest in cinema several years ago, and in addition I generally find that very few movies, especially in the contemporary era, make salient points about anything, even while there certainly are unintended cases of a movie raising interesting questions (for those doubting this, I highly recommend P.T. Carlo's The Desperate Ideology of Zootopia.) Surrealist films often do a better job of conveying a sincere message, but all too often it gets lost in pretentious artiness.

One exception to the rule is one of my favorite films, Cube, directed by Vincenzo Natali and released in 1997. It's something of a cult classic, praised often for its rather ingenious and money-saving concept of using only one set. The premise of the film for those who have never seen it is that seven strangers wake up in a huge maze of cube-shaped rooms connected by doors, with no memory of how they got there. With no food or water, they have a limited amount of time to navigate a way out of the intricate prison using complex mathematics, while avoiding rooms that conceal hidden death traps. As you might expect, the movie's focus is on the character interactions in this life-threatening situation, and though this is somewhat hampered by the acting which only just surpasses student-tier at times, this is its most intriguing aspect. I warn you at this juncture there will be spoilers ahead, as is always the case with such things.

I'm going to excerpt a small section of the movie's script below, but to help give some context, three characters interact in the scene. There are other characters, but they don't involve themselves in this exchange. Holloway is a female doctor, a conspiracy theorist who doesn't trust anything, and has a penchant for being dismissive, paranoid, and prone to mocking others as gullible. Worth is a moody male architect who is the least willing to involve himself with the group, brooding with pessimism and often a nihilistic attitude towards escape. Quentin meanwhile is a hyper-masculine cop, showing all the tell-tale signs of aggression, sexual dominance, and the need to be in control. The scene in question appears after it is revealed that Worth is found to have helped in the design of the hellish maze, though he claims to have had no knowledge of his role in a larger malevolent scheme. You can watch it here if you'd like since this clip contains the relevant exchange.


Holloway: It's all the same machine, right? The Pentagon, multinational corporations, the police. If you do one little job, you build a widget in Saskatoon, and the next thing you know, it's two miles under the desert, the essential component of a death machine. I was right! All along, my whole life, I knew it! I told you, Quentin. Nobody's ever going to call me paranoid again! We've gotta get out of here and blow the lid off this thing!

Worth: Holloway, you don't get it.

Holloway: Then help me, please. I need to know.

Worth: This may be hard for you to understand, but there is no conspiracy. Nobody is in charge. It's a headless blunder operating under the illusion of a master plan. Can you grasp that? Big Brother is not watching you.

Quentin: What kind of fucking explanation is that?

Worth: It’s the best you're gonna get. I looked and the only conclusion I can come to is that there is nobody up there.

Quentin: Somebody had to say yes to this thing.

Worth: What thing? Only we know what it is.

Quentin: We have no idea what it is.

Worth: We know more than anybody else. I mean, somebody might have known sometime, before they got fired or voted out or sold it. But if this place ever had a purpose, then it got miscommunicated or lost in the shuffle. I mean, this is an accident, a forgotten perpetual, public works project. Do you think anybody wants to ask questions? All they want is a clear conscience and a fat paycheck. I mean, I leaned on my shovel for months on this one, this was a great job!

Quentin: Why put people in it?

Worth: Because it’s here. You have to use it, or you admit it’s pointless.

Quentin: But it... it is pointless!

Worth: Quentin, that’s my point.


What is shown here is the essential conflict surrounding existentialism, and the emphasis put upon people's agency and free will in determining the appearance of certain scenarios. Holloway and Quentin want something quantifiable and reasonable, the former for confirmation of her own perceptions of the world, and the latter for a tangible enemy to confront and destroy. What they have in common is that they both pine for an explanation of their confinement that is A) concrete rather than abstract, and B) distinct from themselves. Worth robs them of this notion when he describes the cube as a construction without purpose, a scheme in which no Dr. Claw sits stroking a white cat and enjoying their plight from behind a monitor. Some might of course extrapolate from this a nihilistic vision of the universe itself, that in some way the cube is representative of humanity in the aggregate, a maze without end, constantly shifting, with deadly traps waiting to ensnare those unable to intellectually discern danger from safety, a system in which ultimately they serve no purpose. However, the movie's end seems to negate this interpretation, as they do eventually find the exit, and while unfortunate events leave all but one of the strangers dead, the remaining survivor walks out and disappears into a blinding white light. While this is never explained, it's very easy to interpret it as an allegory for salvation, as the lone survivor is an autistic savant, too innocent and child-like to fall prey to the all-too-human failings that doom each other inmate in quick succession.

So if salvation exists and is possible, what is the relevance of Worth's interpretation of the cube? Does it have anything to teach us today? I've addressed on a couple of occasions that conspiracies are generated by all actors on the political spectrum. The radical left invents them just as much as the radical right does. It's not a political phenomenon, but a human one. We, like Holloway and Quentin, wish to have our enemies be both concrete and distinct from ourselves. This feeds into two separate impulses. The first is that if the enemy is some unseen foe with all the cards, then I am hopeless and powerless to do anything about it except grumble. The second is that if the enemy is in fact seen, I can endeavor to destroy him and believe that if I do so, my problems will be solved. The only thing which decides which attitude predominates depends on the personality type. If you are a weak person, you want to justify your weakness by positing a puppet-master. If you are a strong person, you want to be able to use that strength to break your puppet strings.

On the right, conspiracies arise surrounding all manner of things, from Alex Jones-tier yammering about the trilateral commission to entire conferences centered around the global Zionist conspiracy. What makes these conspiracies so appealing is that they have an element of truth to them. Conspiracies are real, which is why we have laws against things like conspiracy to commit murder. We know that government forces and corporations have been involved in conspiracies and that false-flag attacks have been used to justify wars in the past, but in all cases these are localized criminal acts, seated in one rather inconsequential agency or board room or back alley from which they originate. When they grow too broad, the cover gets blown, and this is why when the conspiracy theory rises to the level of a meta-conspiracy, that is, an all-encompassing web of collaborating agents seeking to do you harm for devilish ends, then there has occurred an existential offloading. All downfalls are now attributable to the cabal of the grand meta-conspiracy.

Regardless of what you think about the name, 'the Cathedral' is a useful concept in that it ducks the meta-conspiracy narrative, by essentially putting forward Worth's proposal to the group. There is nobody in charge, no guiding hand of the mastermind. What we're dealing with is a system which is simply perpetuating itself. Liberal institutions produce liberal minds who fund and defend the liberal institutions which continue to produce liberal minds in order to continue their funding and defense. Why does this need to be a conspiracy? It's not. It's an occult motivator, a black box technology which doesn't need to have rhyme or reason. You could posit a satanic force behind it, but this is in the practical sense equivalent to randomness since it is just as out of reach. The evil in question is perpetuated simply because it is here, and nobody will confront it because doing so would undermine the very foundations of their world. It's not that nobody can confront order, as would be the case in the Reactionary society, but that nobody can confront chaos. Our individual existence today rests upon a churning sea of bullshit, little of which has any coherence even to itself. Our money, our ethics, our politics, our media, and on and on. It's constantly evolving because it is supposedly rational, and here nothing is being said to contradict the premise that liberalism has opened up a pandora's box of properly basic beliefs which can now all be questioned. Instead what is being said is that we are moral cowards when it comes to reflecting upon the disorder which we ourselves perpetuate. We are all part of this "forgotten perpetual public works project" that's slowly killing us. Question the meta-conspiracy by all means! That's harmless. You're not offending anyone because the suit is empty. Who was Quentin going to bust? Who was Holloway going to expose? Nobody.

The late Jonathan Bowden got it exactly right in his book, Heat, where he made the following point about conspiracy theories on the right:

"It is not for noting that many centrists or liberal people, people who allegedly have a 'normal' attitude towards reality, believe that extreme Left and Right harbour religious opinions/delusions, in that the conspiratorial notions of 'Jew' and 'bourgeois' - often the interchangeability of the two - can be seen as the desire to have a clear-cut enemy, when both of these ideas are forms of delusion if not illusion. They are a type of theophanic matter or transliterated essence."

As such, these macro-conspiratorial notions allow us to lazily cluster several objects of anxiety under a convenient umbrella, particularly those that exist within us become entirely externalized. We can actually see this profound inability to reflect on oneself manifest itself in the figure of Quentin, and even the supposedly clear-eyed Worth by the end of the movie. When Quentin is questioned about his failed marriage (it is suggested he abused his wife) and his sexual attraction to young girls, he begins to lose his mind and lashes out with homicidal violence, directed with particular venom towards Worth, whom he thinks is a 'spy'. And Worth himself, when confronted by escape and the path to salvation, chooses to see nothing in the light but a return to the world he left behind, a world of "boundless human stupidity". He cannot overcome his own nihilism, even after conquering the maze itself. It's highly symbolic that in the end, Worth is the greatest barrier to his own escape.

In his book, The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn laments the tragedy of the conspiracy in the following paragraph:

"If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

Was Solzhenitsyn blind about the role that Jewish communists played in the destruction of his beloved country? Not in the least, for he made very obvious reference to them when he spoke of the leading Bolsheviks who were "not Russians", but who "hated Russians", and who had influence over the "global media" to cover up their crimes. No, he knew the role played by the foreigner, but much like Corneliu Zelea Codreanu after he left the League of Christian National Defence to form his own group, he acknowledged that in our wildest conspiracy tales we seek to run from our complicity in our own debasement and destruction.

I cannot say that I was always aware of this, certainly not when I began writing in this sphere in 2014. It has only become apparent to me as I have grown in my thought and observed the 'community' or 'movement' or whatever you want to call it. To this day, I'd say the majority of my problems with the so-called 'AltRight' movement return to the issue of self-reflection and the inability to seriously consider the spiritual crisis that we find ourselves in, which is a direct result of existential offloading. The problem isn't here, it's over there. We're so wonderful we could make any system work if we were left alone by everyone else. There's a kind of arrogance, pride, deluded self-image, perpetuated ironically by some of the most profoundly unremarkable people around. And yet, while we point to the alien actor's involvement, we facilitate their work which they then gleefully carry out. Sure, we can complain about it, but every single one of us needs to seriously think about how in the end, this chaos and dissolution requires our complicity, which we willingly give in our own lives along with everyone else.

I'll end this with a quote from Worth to Quentin:

"We're both part of the system. I drew a box, you walk a beat. It's like you said, Quentin, just keep your head down, keep it simple, just look at what's in front of you. I mean, nobody wants to see the big picture. Life's too complicated. I mean, let's face it, the reason we're here is that it's out of control."