Jungle Jitters by J. Manfred Weichsel [Amazon link] is one of the most horrifying pieces of social commentary I have ever read. Weichsel pulls no punches whatsoever in this cautionary tale of the power of social media.
The pseudonymous Emperor Norton recently blogged a three part series on how hobbies are distorted by the fame based social dynamics of social media. The things that get you influence and followers are not necessarily the things that are the best for the hobby considered in itself, an echo of what Alasdair MacIntyre called a “practice”:
By a practice I am going to mean any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended. –After Virtue [Amazon link]
Jungle Jitters is about how those social media dynamics can drive behavior that is insane and self-destructive, yet somehow so compelling that we cannot stop ourselves from participating in it. There is significant overlap in what Weichsel is discussing with millenarian cults and how they grow.
What is a millenarian movement? Basically, it is a group that believes that the world, or an age of the world, is about to end. The end they conceive need not be catastrophic, but it often is. The group is usually concerned with surviving the transition, or preparing to escape the catastrophe, or quite often with engineering the catastrophe themselves. Millenarianism is not an attribute only of cults or small sects. Whole societies can become millenarian for decades at a time. – John J. Reilly “The Apocalypse Kit”
Of course, this is all done in Weichsel’s signature Rabelaisian style, exaggerated, grotesque, and hilarious. Take the lurid cover art of the book for example. Many books have covers that are evocative of the contents, but in this case the cover is simply an illustration of a scene within the book. What you see is exactly what you get. And you are going to get far worse than this.
As disturbing as the behavior of the Earth Sky cult in the book is, perhaps the most disturbing part of all is that the scientists in the book, Serge Voronoff and Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov, were real men who did exactly what is described in the book. History is far more bizarre than anything an author could invent.
In history, the mad quest of Ivanov to create a human-chimpanzee hybrid was ended when Ivanov fell afoul of one of Stalin’s purges, proof perhaps that God can use even very wicked men for his purposes. Serge Voronoff’s star shone brightly for many years, and he died an old and wealthy man. The interwar Paris that celebrated Voronoff and made him rich and famous was decadent and wicked, but it lacked the ready mechanism of Internet fame that now sits primed and ready to amplify millenarian impulses across the world. In Jungle Jitters, the world was not so fortunate.
Or perhaps, our time is yet to come.
I received a free copy from the author.
Other books by J. Manfred Weichsel
Tales to Make You Vomit