IAN’S NOTE: This talk represents my own personal synthesis from artists, activists, Occupiers, rabble rousers, revolutionaries and evolutionaries that I’ve had the privilege to meet during my short time on this planet. A sincere bow as well to my friends, supporters, and teachers – which I am forever indebted.
I had a lot of fun with this talk. Thanks to the TedX organizers and volunteers, fellow speakers, and all the lovely people of Victoria who made this an amazing event. Please SHARE this video if you’re inspired.
An ardent filmmaker and media activist, Ian MacKenzie is dedicated to capturing and sharing glimpses of emerging human paradigms. MacKenzie’s most recent film, Occupy Love, explores the growing realization that the dominant systems of power are failing to provide us with health, happiness, or meaning. Ian feels the resulting crisis from the 2008 stock market crash has become a catalyst for a profound awakening.
The first time I saw this mask was in the 2006 film “V for Vendetta.” The film starred Natalie Portman with a shaved head and Hugo Weaving who played a masked vigilante in dystopian London set in the year 2020.
The character wore this mask to hide his identity, as he sought to attempt a repeat of the Gunpowder plot of 1605, when Guy Fawkes, along with fellow conspirators, attempted to blow up the London parliament buildings. The plot failed when an anonymous letter was sent to the authorities, warning them of the attack.
When they searched the catacombs of parliament, they found Guy Fawkes guarding 36 barrels of explosives. He was promptly questioned, tortured, and sentenced to death.
On the day of his execution, as he walked the steps to the gallows, Guy threw himself from the staircase, breaking his neck. Nevertheless, his lifeless body was drawn and quartered – and for hundreds of years, the English would mock his failure, wearing his face every 5th of November.
In 2008, two years after V for Vendetta’s release, the Guy Fawkes mask was adopted by the hacker group Anonymous, as they carried out cyber attacks on corrupt governments and corporations.
In 2011, when the Occupy movement erupted onto the streets of New York, Guy Fawkes was everywhere, appearing in places like Egypt, London, Brazil,and Turkey.
My grandmother calls these masks “kind of creepy.” And it’s true, they hide a sense of chaos, refusing to submit to the acceptable order of the modern world. But for others, the mask represents an icon of popular rebellion, solidarity with peoples’ movements around the world, and a willingness to stand up against injustice.
I wondered: How does the face of a 17th century revolutionary end up as the most recognizable symbol of protest in the 21st?
Kalle Lasn is the founder of Adbusters magazine. Last year, I found myself in his office, speaking about the Occupy movement. Inspired by the occupation of Tahrir Square in Egypt, his team came up with the hashtag #occupywallst and the iconic poster with the ballerina perched atop the bull.
The familiar words emblazoned above “what is our one demand?” and below “Sept 17. Bring Tent.”
Hundreds heeded the call. And proceeded to… you know, OCCUPY.
The gathering dominated the airwaves, an epic drama filled with powerful images and emerging heroes. Everyone had an opinion, yet no one seemed to know: “what do they actually want?”
On Oct 15, the Occupy movement spread, with almost 150 encampments sprouting up around the world, including right here in Victoria.
One month later, at dawn on Nov 15, New York police forcibly evicted the Wall St encampment. A coordinated crackdown followed soon after in cities across North America.
Back at Adbusters with Kalle Lasn, I asked him where the movement should go next.
“It’s a mindbomb,” he told me. “Not a traditional movement.”
A mindbomb is a powerful idea that catches fire and spreads from person to person, culture to culture. He confessed the Occupy movement was a wild idea among many. This one just happened to work, taking him by surprise more than anyone.
You may be familiar with another word to describe a viral idea: the word is “meme.”
Coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in the 1970’s, the term refers to “a unit of cultural transmission” …. that requires the use of replicators to survive and evolve. Memes propagate by spreading through us – from one host to another, each time adapted, modified, and remixed.
According to Kalle Lasn, there’s an invisible war going on and it’s being fought with memes. The battlefield is the noosphere.
In 1911, the Ukrainian scientist Vladimir Vernadsky coined the term “noosphere” to describe the third stage of evolutionary development on the planet.
First there was the geosphere, the layer of minerals around the globe. Then the biosphere, the layer of organic life. And now the “noosphere” – the sphere of human thought that shapes our world.
This is a neurological map of the human brain.
This is a map of the internet.
Both structures are remarkably similar – the first depicting a single human consciousness, the other is our global consciousness.
This is the rapper Psy creator of the smash hit “Gagnam Style.” On Dec 21, 2012, which some considered to be the day of the Apocalypse, or the Rapture, the video for Gagnam Style crossed 1 billion views, making it the most popular Youtube video ever.
Millions of people around the world mimicked the dance. And no, I’m not going to do it here. But I ask you to consider: Gagnam Style is a powerful meme.
#Occupy Wall St is a meme – but a certain type of meme: a mindbomb.
It was a moment sparked by the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Spain, but remixed into something different. This was difficult for many reporters to understand. In fact, it took the Rolling Stone 40 days into the occupation before they finally got it. The reporter wrote “If there is such a thing as going on strike from one’s own culture, this is it.”
I visited Wall St in October 2011 and what I found surprised me. I saw a thriving human space, filled with music and dialogue, meditation, food and art, sparkle fingers, and beauty in all its forms. I saw a willingness for people to sit down and look each other … face to face.
Here’s one of my favourite signs: “I love humanity, let’s figure this shit out together!”
Yes, I also saw shadow, and unresolved pain and wounding. I saw general assemblies derailed, sadness, and I saw anger.
Through it all – I recognized the mindbomb: The problems facing our world are vast and complex – from climate change, to economic instability, to environmental collapse. No one knows how to fix things, not our politicians, our scientists or our business elites. The dominant culture has no landing gear.
The mainstream view of human nature says that you are an independent being in an indifferent universe, driven to maximize your own self-interest, and ultimately, you’re out for yourself. It’s no wonder most people feel paralyzed, overwhelmed, or indifferent. After all, if the problem lies at the very core of our DNA, that humans are flawed, then what is the point of trying to save us?
Occupy Wall St told a different story. Let me say clearly:
There is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with humans.
On the contrary, Occupy Wall St’s message is that our challenges are cultural.
We are the 99% and we can choose to create a world that works for the 100%.
This is love. It is not a feeling. Love is an action.
Love is what I saw in Occupy Wall St and in the movements that have emerged since. From the Maple Spring, to Idle No More, to Occupy Gezi and beyond. We are prototyping a new collective organism that wants to be born.
But we’re not there yet.
Now, let us try an experiment.
If we had one shot, what is the ultimate mindbomb we could craft and release into the noosphere?
You lovely people sitting here in the audience…I thank you for your attention. But we both know the real potential for this talk is after it’s posted online. Therefore, I am speaking to you – yes, you watching this on your computer, tablet, or phone.
The most powerful way to transmit memes is through story. So let me tell you a story.
Billions of years ago there is only darkness. Then, in a single moment, the entire universe explodes into light. Stars, planets, galaxies. And after an incredibly long time… sentient life emerges.
Bacteria. Troglodytes. Dinosaurs. Mammals. Me & You.
Over thousands of years we build our societies, we weave our cultures, we tell our stories. There are peoples who keep within the bounds of life…and peoples who push beyond them.
Fire. Swords. Ploughs. Steam engines. Airplanes. Computers. The Internet.
And finally today. Climate change is happening. The sixth great extinction is underway. All of Life hangs in the balance.
If I can offer a single mindbomb synthesized from the front lines of the emerging paradigm, it would be this:
This was not a mistake. Life wanted humans in the world. But while this moment was inevitable, our survival is not.
You are here for a reason. The very fact of your existence is proof enough. You have a necessary and important gift to offer the world.
Now is the time to be courageous. Now is the time to offer your gifts in service.
If you don’t know what your gifts are, keep exploring.
Follow your bliss. Follow your fear, your uncertainty, and even, follow your heartbreak.
From the new paradigm, recognize that we are all interdependent. Every one of us reflects the fractal nature of the whole. You do not have to “save the world” alone.
Treat every action as significant and tap into the acausal process of change. This is the realm of synchronicity, where the events of your life will align according to a mysterious intelligence.
This is the emergence. Love is the mindbomb.
Now… let’s occupy the noosphere together.