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Can You See the Fnords?

A fnord is disinformation or irrelevant information intending to misdirect, with the implication of a conspiracy.

The word originated in the obscure Principia Discordia, by Kerry Thornley and and Greg Hill, but it was popularized by the Illuminatus! trilogy (1975) by Robert Joseph Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. This series is a science fiction-influenced drug- and sex-laden trek through a number of conspiracy theories, both historical and imaginary, which hinge around the authors' version of the clandestine Illuminati Society. The three books that comprise the trilogy are The Eye in the Pyramid, The Golden Apple and Leviathan.

I will not try to describe here the tremendous impact this trilogy had on me as a young man.

In these novels, it is claimed that the interjection "fnord" possesses hypnotic power. A conspiracy of the world's controlling powers conditions everyone from a young age to be unable to consciously see the word "fnord"; instead, every appearance of the word will unconsciously generate a general feeling of uneasiness and confusion. Fnords are scattered liberally in the text of newspapers and magazines, causing fear and anxiety in those following current events. (However, there are no fnords in the advertisements, encouraging a Consumerist society leading to more power for the controlling forces!) It is implied in the books that fnord is not the actual word used for this task; it is a substitute, since use of the actual word itself would not be able to be detected by most readers.

To "see the fnords" means to be unaffected by the supposed hypnotic power of the word or, more loosely, of other "fighting words" or terms of disparagement such as yid, kike, nigger, whore, slut, fag, queer or towel-head whose use usually arouses painful feelings in the target, members of the targeted group or sympathizers. They may also signify derision for people of specific geographic areas, such as Mick, Kraut and Jaffa.

I believe one modern coinage that comes close to describing spoken fnords is "codespeak". A codespeak word sounds innocent enough, but it is laden with psychological and emotional meanings of quite a different, more sinister nature. (Think: The Final Solution, Welfare Reform, The Patriot Act, Trickle-Down Economics, Pacification Campaign, etc.)

Have you seen or heard any fnords lately? There are plenty of them out there.

Postscript: Use of the word "fnord" is a popular catch phrase with followers of Discordianism. The Discordian religion has been described as both an elaborate joke disguised as a religion, and a religion disguised as an elaborate joke. It has also been described as a religion disguised as a joke disguised as a religion. Others view it as a simple rejection of reductionism and dualism, even falsifiability not in concept different from postmodernism or certain trends in the philosophy of mathematics. It has also been described as "Zen for roundeyes", and converges with some of the more absurdist interpretations of the Rinzai tradition.

The Principia Discordia is the primary sacred scripture of the Discordian religion. The full title of the fourth and most popular edition is PRINCIPIA DISCORDIA, or How I Found Goddess And What I Did To Her When I Found Her: The Magnum Opiate Of Malaclypse The Younger, Wherein is Explained Absolutely Everything Worth Knowing About Absolutely Anything. The work describes the Discordian Society and its Goddess Eris, as well as the basics of Discordianism. It features typewritten and handwritten text intermixed with clipart, stamps, and seals taken (possibly illegally) from other sources. The work is characterized by nonsense and numerous non sequiturs.

The Principia Discordia contains the Law of Eristic Escalation. This law states that Imposition of Order = Escalation of Chaos. This can be read as an argument against "zero tolerance" and hard security, or just a statement about the world.

The Pentabarf (given on page 00004 of the Principia) is the set of 5 holy laws of Discordianism. It is as follows:

  • There is no Goddess but Goddess and She is Your Goddess. There is no Erisian Movement but The Erisian Movement and it is The Erisian Movement. And every Golden Apple Corps is the beloved home of a Golden Worm.

  • A Discordian Shall Always use the Official Discordian Document Numbering System.

  • A Discordian is Required during his early Illumination to Go Off Alone & Partake Joyously of a Hot Dog on a Friday; this Devotive Ceremony to Remonstrate against the popular Paganisms of the Day: of Catholic Christendom (no meat on Friday), of Judaism (no meat of Pork), of Hindic Peoples (no meat of Beef), of Buddhists (no meat of animal), and of Discordians (no Hot Dog Buns).

  •  A Discordian shall Partake of No Hot Dog Buns, for Such was the Solace of Our Goddess when She was Confronted with The Original Snub.

  •  A Discordian is Prohibited from Believing What he reads.

The Pentabarf is the most fundamental of all Discordian catma (which is what Discordians have instead of "dogma"). As the third commandment demands a violation of the fourth commandment, and the fifth commandment seems to subvert the concept of written law, it is not clear whether the Pentabarf is considered binding. Furthermore, the "Official Discordian Document Numbering System" from the second holy law is not mentioned anywhere else in the Principia.

Reading the Pentabarf in reverse order may help to better link its concepts together. The prohibition of belief in readings is a stern warning that beliefs should be inspired, not dictated; that one shouldn't adhere to dogma. The fourth creates dogma, and is it reminded in the third that dogma should be rejected. The second orders the following of what would be dogma if it existed at all. It reinforces the futility of following dogma by showing that words cannot set an official belief system to be shared by all; each will interpret differently, in accordance to the principles of chaos. As for the first, a circular definition, it warns of the dangers of such definitions, nearly universal in belief systems. Thinking about the first reveals the futility of circular definitions.

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