JACK TRUE ON ULTIMATES
STEVE JOBS AND THE TECHNOLOGY FETISH
OCTOBER 29, 2011. Here is another interview with my late friend and colleague, Jack True, innovative hypnotherapist and philosopher.
Twenty-three years after the conversation, I’ve written an introduction to it:
STEVE JOBS AND THE TECHNOLOGY FETISH
Over years and decades, I’ve watched religions and quasi-religions spring up and flourish and disappear. I’ve watched some of them become hard and nasty. Little dictatorships. I’ve watched people, overnight, drop into fundamentalism. The clothes, the hair, the slogans. I’ve watched spiritual movements soften and spread out into the culture like attenuated marshmallow, hypnotizing their followers into believing in imminent apocalypse. The “good kind.” Space aliens. The Force. Gaia. The Universe.
“And a Prophet will arise among you.”
The eulogies for Steve Jobs testify to the love of his products. I’m trying to figure out what the weeping was all about. The inconsolable weeping.
So let me speak as a representative of the Stone Age.
I don’t own a cell phone or a laptop. I work at a sturdy three-piece block that sits on my desk and doesn’t go anywhere. I don’t know who manufactured it and I don’t care. I wrote my first book, AIDS INC. — Scandal of the Century, on a portable typewriter in 1987. The manuscript, chapter by chapter, was retyped by my publisher on what he called a word processor. I wrote The Secret Behind Secret Societies on an ancient computer. The screen was black and the letters were orange. The floppy disks were converted to little hard discs by Dave.
But when I was 22, in 1960, something new hit the scene. Audio cassettes and cassette recorders. Until then, it was all reel to reel. The shift to cassettes was rather astonishing, because you could carry around a little machine and record people. You could interview them. You could tape (badly) their music. (Much later, when I did hours and hours of lectures for my San Diego publisher, I would sit at my desk at home with a cassette fieldpack and a mike and talk.)
No one at the time (1960) went RELIGIOUS over audio cassettes. There were no armies of geeks who publicly celebrated the change and made Prophecies about the Dawn of a New Future.
The first time I had an inkling that people were taken with the technology itself was 1977, when a friend told me jazz musician Joe Zawinul had a little inexpensive tape set-up he used to record himself playing piano at home, and the sound quality was professional.
I asked my friend if he’d heard any of these home recordings. Was it good music? He scratched his head. Of course he hadn’t heard them. But that wasn’t the point, he said. The point was you could establish a home studio for very little money. I persisted in thinking the music was what was important. That’s my fetish.
I had reacted to stereo the same way, when it first came in. The idea that the sounds of different instruments were channeled into separate speakers seemed like a bad idea. In clubs, I had never heard music that way. Rather, it came at me like a wall of sound. That’s what I was used to. And surround-sound was particularly absurd, because who cared about hearing music moving in from behind? Ditto for headphones. I didn’t like them. They produced sound in a space I didn’t care about. For me, the music (live) was always coming from a bandstand and traveling to me on a line. Even if that was actually an illusion, given the placement of speakers in the club, it was the way I conceived it.
Messianic prophets, of course, have been touting Digital as the awakening of mass salvation. The machines and the programming are what counts.
And this machine worship is somehow tied in with the popularity of the equipment, as if we have proof, by the degree of consumer demand, that we’re indeed entering into a new age.
A movie called The Social Network arrives on the scene. It’s hailed as a masterpiece, a “reflection of the enormous changes the culture is experiencing.” Changes in what direction? Is the fact that a billion people can announce their existence to “friends” achieving some sort of instant magic? Are we supposed to celebrate the arrival of a boy billionaire? Is the praise for Mark Zuckerberg’s work any different from the kind of admiration ladled on the earlier breakthrough in creating the Barbie Doll series?
Does consumer demand automatically make a product vital and wonderful and even spiritual?
Think about how this demand (audience response) operates in the area of politics/media–
“Well, Joe, I think he handled the press conference well. He said all the right things. He didn’t make it appear he was reading from a script. The Independent voters out there are going to like this.”
In other words, it doesn’t really matter what the pol actually stands for. It only matters that the broad audience will like how he said what he said.
And so a product like Facebook is judged solely in terms of how consumers react to it. If they love it, it’s an innovation. It’s satisfied a hunger. It must be brilliant. More than that, it must be heraldic. It must be a step forward in the evolution of the species. It might even be from God.
“Zuckerberg knew what the public wanted before the public knew. That was his genius.”
As if, what else could genius be about? You see a hole in the market, you develop a product, you sell it into that hole. “Well, that’s all IQ has ever been. Even a guy like Einstein—he knew the world was ready for some kind of relativity, so he put together a theory and sold it.”
And the iPad. It’s wonderful because people want what it allows them to do? Before it appeared, people didn’t realize how much they’d love it? But then, there it was, and it struck a universal chord? And therefore, it’s automatically AMAZING?
So if the Roman Church has a billion members, that means the Pope is a tremendous person? The Pilgrimage to Mecca is good because millions and millions of people make it?
“No, no, no! You don’t get it! All these devices give us multiple options for instant global communication. We can reach out anywhere in milliseconds!”
Yes, I agree. It’s good. But that does mean people should actually weep when Steve Jobs dies?
Should we place flowers on the grave of the inventor of the Walkman?
I’m just pointing out that times have changed. Larger numbers of people have developed a deep cosmic love for machines. (Star Wars, 1977, sparked a profound passion for two of them.)
When walking talking robots come along and serve your needs in the home and at work, address you by name, anticipate what you’ll want in the next five minutes, you’ll cry when they’re superseded by the newer model. You’ll bury them in the backyard next to the dog. You’ll hang their photos above the mantle. You’ll see a shrink to work out the issue of their passing.
Some of you.
And when the man or woman who invented that robot dies, you’ll stand outside their building and light candles. You’ll agitate for a national holiday. You’ll watch the funeral on whatever television looks like then. You’ll store holograms of this inventor next to your bed, and you’ll activate them on occasion before going to sleep.
And people will say, “That saint knew what we wanted before we did. That’s what made him so great. That’s real greatness.”
Churches will spring up.
“The very meaning of what a thing is, is measured solely by how many people want it.”
And as usual, the actual art involved in inventing those robots will be overlooked. Because people will say such talent remains a mystery locked in the genes of a very few. They will say the rest of us are merely ordinary folk who have no imagination at all.
But not to worry. We can put our picture up on a page and list our interests and recount our activities of the day and share them with other people who have the same interests. This is our miracle. This is our reward and our basic hunger, and we can feed it.
Look no further!
Thousands, millions of little boys and girls will grow up who spend their every waking hour calculating the sizes of audiences. This many people attended that historic concert or that Super Bowl or that post-election speech or the launch of that product or that religious convocation or that parade. To them, the events themselves will mean absolutely nothing. And when these little boys and girls grow up, they’ll find a career which allows them to do marketing. Marketing will be metaphysics. It will describe and explain the universe as well as it can be explained.
And many robots will serve them. The marketers will be the most important people in the world. The search for meaning will have reached an apotheosis.
“If X is a person, place, thing, or event, what IS it? Its existence is identical with however many people express praise for it. It is nothing else, and it never was. All prior formulations were in error. Persons, places, things, and events are not composed of anything. They don’t exist at all, except insofar as other people like them, love them, want them.”
From which two corollaries flow:
It doesn’t matter why people want an X or to what use they put it.
And that X which is most wanted is automatically the most important thing in the world.
Doll, fertilizer, dog, applesauce, cigarette, Facebook, nail polish, the Bible, burger, slavery, iPad, Moses, brain implant, ice, microwave, heroin, ice cream—whatever emerges from the pack with the largest audience is THE FINAL AND PROFOUND MEANING OF VALUE.
In this formulation, people don’t really have anything in their souls except what they want to own. And the main item they pass back and forth to one another is that preference. A few billion people pass, back and forth: I LIKE THIS, I DON’T LIKE THAT. And what most people like, whatever that is, must have been invented by a transcendent genius.
Facebook and iPad. Their inventors have to be Prophets, right? Not just smart, not just clever.
I don’t know. If I have to pick a messiah out of the marketplace, I’m going with the guy who invented the belt for pants. Or the shoe. Or the garage. Maybe the shovel.
I’m weeping for the passing of the guy who came up with the concept of haircuts. That’s my church. Why not?
Maybe it’s too many people who took too many drugs. I don’t know. But I look at an iPad and I remain unmoved. Yes, I know it’s smart. Very smart, okay? It can play music but it doesn’t invent music, right?
By the way, if you think the revolution in Egypt was started by a hundred “student intellectuals” in Cairo cafes working Facebook, you need more drugs. Or fewer drugs.
So that’s my shot from The Stone Age.
And yes, I know I’m typing this on a computer, and I can post it in seconds, and it can travel around the world in a few minutes, and that’s pretty terrific. I know that. But I’m not thinking “revelation” or “iPhone in the heavens” or “the new Jerusalem.”
I’m not sitting on the floor of my living room building a hill out of dirt and debris, mimicking the place where the Mothership will land and make Contact.
Okay. That’s the introduction—here’s the interview with Jack True.
Q (Jon): People seem to be taken with discovering ultimates. I mean, they want to–
A (Jack): They want to escape from themselves and meet up with the Cosmic Radio Station.
Q: The what?
A: You know. It broadcasts information and wisdom at the same time. And the wisdom has this fantastic quality to enter into the brain and mind and transform them.
Q: Like a drug.
A: Well, yes.
Q: So this is what people are looking for.
A: All the time. They’re putting out SOS signals and waiting for a response from the aether.
Q: It’s like the wrap-up of a story.
A: Exactly. They’re looking for the end of the story. It’s just like television. Suppose, all of a sudden, all the dramas on TV were shown—for, say, a month—with all the endings chopped out. People would riot in the streets. They’d attack the White House. They’d burn down cities.
Q: Got to have the end.
A: Absolutely. Write a story without an ending and people will say you’re subversive. It must be scheme to take over the world.
Q: You see this in your patients?
A: Sure. They think, at first, that I’m the end of their story. I’m the one who will write the conclusion. In the old days, when I was doing standard hypnosis, I had a patient who was all screwed up because he had a story wedged into his subconscious about a war. I won’t go into all the detail, but I used to find plot lines floating around in people’s skulls. These stories came out under hypnosis. They didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the patients’ lives. They were just there. And this one was about a weird war. And it had no ending. The patient didn’t know which side won. (laughs)
A: Very. But I was used to that kind of thing. So I had the guy make up a dozen or so endings to the war. Just cook them up. And the story drifted away and didn’t mean anything anymore. But I use that illustration to show you how important endings can be to people. Ending equals Ultimate. They’re essentially the same thing. “How does it end? I have to know.”
Q: With an Ultimate, the person has to know and he has to possess it himself. He has to be there and live it.
A: And of course, that ending has to vector in from Somewhere Else. You see? That’s what magic is to most people. It’s the ending that floats in from the aether. The final illumination and enlightenment. The funny thing is, people will grab on to almost anything. The culture gives it to them. The culture could give them cookies and milk and they’d take it, as long as enough people accepted cookies and milk as an Ultimate. That’s all it takes. Other people accepting it. Cookies and milk. A king with divine right. A new car. A trip to Italy. A climb up a mountain where a lost city once existed. Doesn’t matter.
Q: People are very keen on “the latest trends,” when it comes to Ultimates.
A: Yeah, that’s what I mean. The legitimacy of the Ultimate derives from the fact that other people, lots of other people buy it. A guy writes an article about a shaman in the jungles of South America who says the Rain is coming. And this Rain will be the last thing that happens—and after that, we’ll all experience The Great Change and that will be the ending. See? And that article gets repeated over and over, until it becomes a Prophecy. And lots of people are talking about it. Attributing special symbolic importance to it. And then some person in Atlanta hears about the Rain from twelve of his friends, and he says, “This is what I’ve been looking for. The Rain. This is the ending I’ve been seeking.” He’s got to have an ending. So he grabs this one.
Q: Because, if he didn’t have an ending?
A: He would be on his own. He doesn’t like that. He doesn’t have the wherewithal to figure out what to do then. He doesn’t see himself as a person with extraordinary resources, so he doesn’t know where to start, where to dig in.
Q: So that’s where the Big Audience is.
A: Hell yes. If you want to build a big audience, give them endings. Narrow it down to One. The Ending. Teach it, preach it. The enslavement of the whole world. Even that could be an ending. It sounds awful, but at least it’s an Ultimate. See? People will grab that. I’m not talking about whether such an enslavement is actually going to happen. Doesn’t matter. Sell it anyway. You’ll have an audience. Anything that smells like an ending—they’ll grab it. Their psychology demands it. Their conditioning demands it. They’ve got to have an ending.
Q: What about The New Future?
A: Yes, that works. On one level, it sounds like a non-ending, but to the mind it tends to register like an ending. To a lot of minds. Because The Future comes across like a fait accompli. “From that moment on, when the future arrives, everything will be different. We’ll all be in a different space. We’ll know what we need to know.” Even freedom can work that way, if it’s twisted in the right way. People will think of freedom as an ending because they don’t think about action. They think about possession, as in owning something. “I own freedom.” Therefore, everything is okay. They have that abstract idea called freedom—it’s given to them on a silver platter, and then that’s the ending. A complete delusion.
Q: I suppose security and protection can work that way, too.
A: Sure. More endings. “When the State has all the means necessary to protect me, I’ll be in a safe cocoon, and then I’ll be fine. I’ll be an Ultimate.” It’s very, very, very shortsighted, of course, but a mind can buy that. BECAUSE THE MIND IS LOOKING FOR AN ENDING. A REVELATION OF SOME KIND THAT PROMISES A VAGUE PERFECTION. Here’s another one. “Technology will save us.” What the hell does that mean? How in the world is technology, all on its own, going to save anybody?
Q: It’s a totem
A: It’s transplanting a very old idea on to a new thing. The technology is new, and the idea of Pagan Illumination or Tribal Apotheosis or whatever you want to call it is grafted on to that. The technology buffs see themselves as a kind of special tribe—mostly, I think, because they want to believe they have a “primitive kind of strength.” It’s just like kids who buy caps with the logo of their favorite sports team on it. But in this case, the technology crowd –a lot of them—come from a cerebral background. They didn’t play sports. They want to seem rough and tough in some way, so they love this idea that they’re in a tribe, a clan, with special powers. It is like rubbing a totem or an amulet. And they build this up in their minds, and then they think it’s their Ultimate—they’re members of the Tribe who will take the rest of us into the Promised Land. They’re the muscle-minded leaders. They’re really the ones who’ll take us into Outer Space.
Q: The technology tribe.
A: I had a patient who was trying to bring me into one of his groups of friends. See, I would be the “mind specialist.” I would be the guy who had all sorts of wise things to say about the power of the mind. I opted out, of course. I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. Besides, this guy had a boatload of problems with his wife. He needed some serious help. He had gone into marriage thinking it was the Ultimate that would end all his problems. And he found out he couldn’t talk to his wife at all. He was tongue-tied. When he came to me, he thought I would put him in a trance and make some suggestions to him, and then he’d wake up and all his problems would be solved. It took me a few months just to convince him that wouldn’t work.
Q: Why wouldn’t it work?
A: Because a person isn’t a machine. Despite all evidence to the contrary (laughs), a human being is alive. These technology people have all sorts of naïve ideas.
Q: So what did you do with him?
A: I put him in a very light trance, and I had him invent lots of dreams about his wife. Situations that would never occur in ordinary life. He came up with space voyages and trips into underground cities and so on. I mean, LOTS of dreams. This went on for many sessions. And then something happened to him. He began to see he could talk to his wife—about what was most important to him. He was in love with the idea of going out into space. So began to talk to her about that. She was very relieved that he talking at all. She listened. And then, gradually, she opened up to him. And it went from there. He was staggered to discover that they could talk about things.
Q: Did you know it would turn out that way?
A: I had a hunch and I followed it. A lot of people are afraid of what happens on a day to day basis.
Q: What do you mean?
A: They think if they just give in to living every day, something bad will happen. So they look for an Ultimate. But the Ultimate can be injected into the every-day reality and transmute it. Completely transform it. And when that happens, the Ultimate turns into something else. Not just a Final Principle, but a path into action. That’s the test.
Q: What’s the test?
A: Take the most profound thing you think, and inject it into your life. See what happens to it then. Maybe it collapses and falls apart. Maybe it can’t stand up to the every-day. But maybe you find what you’re looking for. You get a platform for real exploration. Let me give you a negative example. You’ve got all these military and intelligence people playing around with computers. After a while, because computers process information, these people think they’ve got their hands on something mystical. Pieces of information, run through machines—they see that as mystical. Because they’re buffered off from life. They live in compounds. They get weird. They play their games and they think they’re approaching some sort of religious revelation that will give them the power to control everything with information and the machines that process information. They think that “everything is information.” See, that’s an Ultimate. But these people, as I say, are living an artificial existence. They never really get to test that theory in real life. They have no real life they can just walk into. Everything for them is military. They think that there is a sum total of pieces of information, and if they can build big enough computers, they can run the sum total and something like “God” will come out the other end and they’ll have it. But information is just information. It isn’t naturally imbued with power or life or the kind of subjective slant that can give a person leverage for his future. And neither will the sum of information. No matter how big the sum is.
Q: The same thing is true about technology in general.
A: Yes. I mean, you can become much more facile when you have better technology. But we’ve all known facile people. What do they get in the end? Nothing. You need more than facility.
Q: So what are we supposed to do? Strip away technology and strip away all that facility from people?
A: Can’t do that. Doing all this work with patients, I’ve learned you can’t do “surgery.” You can’t remove the things that are bothering people. You certainly can’t remove things people think they must have. You can’t take that away. Even if you could, it wouldn’t do any good. You have to establish a setting in which they discover, for themselves, other options, other ways of living and being. When I have people, for example, in a light trance and I have them invent many dreams, all sorts of dreams, that’s what’s happening. The accretion of other possibilities. It bleeds into their consciousness. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. You take a horse who’s spent many years dragging a carriage around, with a bit and harness, and you put him out into a field, he’ll slowly realize he has space. And one day, he’ll trot, and then he’ll run. He’ll start running. He’ll get to that. Well, with a human being, there isn’t just one thing he’ll do. He’s not just destined to realize one thing he was built for. A human has all sorts of choices. But he’ll come to them, and he’ll make a choice, given enough time and enough space.
Q: And enough invention.
A: Yeah. When I have a person inventing dreams, that’s the elixir. That’s the thing that opens up the spaces. Many spaces. That’s what pulls the trigger on transformation. In the absence of invention, people will reach for some sort of unmoving Ultimate, because that’s all they can see.
Q: But you’re not against technology.
A: Of course not. You think I want to live without a light bulb or a refrigerator? I like technology. I want to see the human race get out into space in a big way. But if the love of technology becomes an Ultimate, I think we’ll lose the necessary will. We’ll mess around with lesser technical things. We won’t see the need and the adventure on the big stage. We’ll bog down. Going into deep space is about us, not the machines. It’s destiny for us, not the machines. If you asked people whether they’d rather have a little device they could put on the roof of their car that would move around and wash and wax the car and crawl under the hood on its own and check the oil—or a real rocket ship that would take ten people to the middle of the galaxy, I don’t know…I think a majority of people would rather have the little thing for the car. And if ten companies made those little machines for the car, and if people talked to each other about the relative benefits of the little machines—you see how we can get caught up in technology as the main subject, when it’s just an adjective hanging from us and OUR future.
Q: The Church of the Robot.
A: Yeah, that’s coming, too. “I named my robot Lulu. What’s your robot’s name?” “Mike. Can Lulu make dinner in less than ten minutes from scratch?”