And Our Star Is Wormwood.

If there is in fact, a heaven and a hell, all we know for sure is that hell will be a viciously overcrowded version of Phoenix — a clean well lighted place full of sunshine and bromides and fast cars where almost everybody seems vaguely happy, except those who know in their hearts what is missing… And being driven slowly and quietly into the kind of terminal craziness that comes with finally understanding that the one thing you want is not there. (Hunter S. Thompson).

We all have that piece of emptiness inside us, a Dark Age graveyard where the ghost of the ‘red haired girl (copyright Schulz) hangs about mocking our current (if we have one) love and life. Normally it’s just somewhere we visit just before sleep or on long bus journeys that somehow always lead us to our outposts of our past. Some of us use it for inspiration – Schulz’s red headed girl was Donna Mae Wold who turned down his marriage proposal and he used this as the inspiration of Charlie Brown’s unrequited love interest – and others (and the plural is significant) use it as an anger battery.

Everything has its time and maybe our current way of thinking is coming to an end. The only problem with such an end of days theory seems to be what do you replace our current system with. The answer seems to look back to the usual panaceas of apparent Golden Ages when everyone was the same colour and knew their place or to a time when everyone was in fear of God, or probably more accurately everyone feared a book. And you fought people that believed different stories. People just love a good clash of civilisations. War has never been so much fun (copyright Cannon Fodder for the Amiga 1200).

We used to have bar room generals who at least would stop when the pubs shut or at least only torture their unfortunate families and the letters page of their local newspaper. But this is the age of ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’. Anger and the need to share a personal hell is now viral. And the name of his star is Wormwood. Bile of course has always been bought up wholesale. And written down. What we have now (and this is my favourite line of Thompson if he didn’t steal it and even then if he did) is a time of where the main ethic is one of ‘total retaliation’. Post something even vaguely contentious on Twitter and you’ll see the extreme prejudice that is meted out. Everything is very Old Testament. Except the internet avenging angels can’t flood the world or murder a million first born but they would if they could – and it looks like they’re getting closer.

Thompson saw the appeal of that retaliatory ethic. He claimed that a small part of every human being longs to burn it all down, especially when faced with great and impersonal powers that seem hostile to your very existence. In the United States, a place of ever greater and more impersonal powers, the ethic of total retaliation was likely to catch on. (Susan McWilliams )

Sounds quite Abridged. Thompson was always an influence on us. The Hell’s Angels were always assumed to be part of the same counter-culture that contained the flower children and the hippies but Thompson saw (as weirdly (or maybe not) Putin sees these days) that in fact they were the van-guard of darker times. I’ve always thought that their assault on the Altamont audience ended the Sixties dream. It is one of the stranger things that the dispossessed of a nation, whether 60s bikers (or their 2017 Russian counterparts) and Brexiteer or Trump elements are often the most nationalistic when you think that they theoretically shouldn’t give a damn about a country that continually pisses on them.

For his part, Thompson thought that what might prove most dangerous about the ethic of total retaliation was the way it encouraged the distrust of all authority—except for the authority of brute force. The president-elect’s enthusiasm for waterboarding and other forms of torture, his hawkish cabinet choices, and his overtures to strongmen like Vladimir Putin are grave omens. We could end up back where Thompson left off at the end of his book: the Angels, marching with the John Birch Society, on behalf of the Vietnam War. (Ibid)

Anyway the ethic of retaliation is perfect for an internet age – explosive and immediate. Trump’s use of Twitter it has to be (reluctantly) admitted is glorious in its stupidity. No iconic (translated as lengthy) speeches (that never sounding like actually talking to anyone apart from to the Ages) are needed just a short sharp punch to the guts of China or Meryl Streep. The internet is a new ‘talkie’; it chats, it gossips, it is usually angry – what did we expect? It pretends to be one of us. Perfect for Trump and his ilk who rage against the elite. We don’t expect rationality of the internet so we are only clinging on to maybe some outmoded sense of decency when we think that there are any Rubicons left to cross. It used to be thought that the it was difficult to convey emotion in the internet. It isn’t now. There’s a classic article (from if I recall The Washington Post) from the very early days of the internet that figures people would be basically too nice to use it for anything dodgy. It was kind of sweet.

So the next Abridged is entitled Babel…equally it could be called Judgement (maybe for a future issue) but I hope it will be infected with the spirit of Thompson…and probably will taste like Wormwood.