27 November 2006

just popping in

Something that my coblogger talkingabouttrees (almost wrote "talking to trees" there - no, I am not working with Charles Windsor) might find interesting - the Church of the SubGenius describes the "differently saned" in ways which replicate marxist insights about how ideology is all-persuasive but nigh-invisible in this culture.

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Posting delayed for a while - I have an academic paper to write from scratch in eight days. Current research centres around Crowley's Liber Samekh and whether it can be boiled down for reliable use by people who don't have an emotional attachment to the pseudo-Egyptian stuff.

22 November 2006

The mashup and the filk

As materialist cultural analysts and activists, we start from the following principles:

- culture and ideas are real physical things. They can influence the physical world in the sense that they provoke certain kinds of behaviour.
- influential cultural artefacts, ideas, memes, etc. will often start with something familiar to the audience, but offer a "new twist" on it.

I suggest that the mashup (two or more recorded pieces of music mixed together to form a new variation), and the filk (new words of humorous commentary set to a popular tune) are quintessential memetic devices in this regard. The filk is probably as old as song itself, and simply involves "piggybacking" original content onto an existing widely-spread meme. The mashup, on the other hand, is a specifically modern form - layering two widely-spread memes on top of one another, revealing something brand new. The classical composer Charles Ives was doing this in the 1930s, before recording technology had evolved to the point where such things can be done effortlessly, and digitally.

The vital point about about filks and mashups: they're both illegal, and therefore free. Here's the paradox: in modern information technology, production and distribution is totally free. The only reason why all music, computer programmes, stories and other information goods aren't free in our modern age is that copyright law "encloses" them so that they remain profitable for the corporates. The mashup laughs in the face of copyright law - therefore, there is no problem with finding as many of them as you like online, free of charge. (I can particularly recommend two really badass ones: Enya's "Orinoco Flow" vs. Prodigy's "Smack my Bitch Up", and Van Halen's "Jump" vs. The Supreme's "Stop in The Name Of Love".) The filk is a greyer area, legally - probably more analogous to fan-fiction. It's not illegal, but you can't profit from it. Therefore there are no artificial barriers to its expansion.

I wonder how many powerful memetic technologies can be described metaphorically as "mashups" or "filks". I also note that, if you really want to use these forms, you have to give up pretensions to "original creativity" - a concept which actually only evolved at the same time as "intellectual property rights" and for the same, outmoded reason (private profit).

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In other news: another nail in the coffin of techno-utopianism. Holy shit we need a revolution to stop these pieces of crap enclosing any commons that we carve out, on any plane of reality whatsoever. New inventions will not do the job for us. And no, staying home and beating off over scribbles does not count as a revolution (although it can certainly be part of a complete breakfast, as the saying goes).

17 November 2006

Spoiling the surprise

Hyperstition: a fiction that makes itself real. Example: H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos - after the ideas had been popularised in fiction, people decided to bring the Necronomicon (crappy Mysticism 101 versions of it, anyway) into existence and start worshipping the slimy, tentacular Elder Gods, for what reason I'm sure I'll never understand. Another example: Karl Marx's proletariat as a class-for-itself - the idea that industrial workers were capable of actually taking over the world - came into glorious life for just a few years in Russia. (Born 1917, certainly dead by 1928.)

I think it's one of the errors of vulgar magicians to just believe you can pick a meme, any meme, at random and use psyche-fixing technology to just bring it into existence. Doesn't work like that. It has to have resonance in the actually existing real world, physical and political. (To use an IT metaphor: you can screw around with the software all the time but it won't change the hardware - although it can put it to different uses.) People started worshipping Cthulhu et al - as far as I can tell - who would have been Satanists before Satan stopped being scary and devolved to a mere symbol of having a good time all of the time. The content of the Cthulhu meme is pure alien terror - and when it gets worn out through overuse, something worse will come along. (I sometimes wonder when nerds will legitimately start summoning Sadako from Ringu. That would be at least funny.)

A successful memetic operation will work backwards in time - in other words, pick a possible future, and attempt to make it a real present. Dialectical materialism is the process of seeing which futures are possible, based on the contradictions of the present, and what kind of pressure on what kind of points right now will bring about which future. Believing that there is change, that the future will be more than the present with faster cars and smellier air, is in fact a revolutionary act in itself.

Engels said that the struggle had to be carried on on three levels at once: industrial, political and ideological. This seems intriguingly similar to - although predating! - Freud's schema of id, ego and super-ego; or perhaps even Lacan's three "registers", the Real, the Imaginary and the Symbolic. In modern capitalism, industry (not just metalbashing, but mass-production on the basis of wage labour in all its forms) is a dirty, grotty, disavowed area which we are encouraged not to think about at all, but nonetheless is what keeps the whole system physically running. Like the id or the Real. The ideological level is the level of the abstract, of concepts, of memes; the political level is where reality and will interface. Since the industrial in the last instance determines everything, any real fundamental change must lead to real fundamental change in that very area which society - and pretty much every schema of magic I know of - doesn't want you to look at.

For we Chaos Marxists, we are carrying on a kind of "alchemy" on the ideological plane. But to be powerful and real, the thought-forms and concepts we are playing with must original on one of the "lower levels", and return to it. The most powerful magic of all is what causes change on the level of the subconscious mind; on the level of Industry; on the level of the reality which doesn't go away when we stop believing in it.

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Speaking of Ringu - I think that mythos is so powerful because it is based on what would happen if the first rule of our culture's control techniques - that perception = reality - were actually true. I watched the American version (The Ring) first, and for me the first legitimately terrifying thing in that movie - prefiguring the grand finale - was when Naomi Watts plucks a fly off the TV screen and thus smashes the division between image and reality.

We are reassured from our childhood that image is *not* reality - "it's just a story, it's not real", etc. But then the ideology which rules modern capitalism is precisely that perception is the same thing as reality. So much of the ideological effect on this culture relies on what Slavoj Zizek calls that "...and yet..." effect. I know on an intellectual level that X is bullshit, but I act like it's real and therefore it becomes real for me at least. The control techniques of modern capitalism are based on making people react to what they "see" in the media as if it were real. Watch Ringu and realise what it would mean if that were actually true.

Conversely - this formula is behind what Antonio Gramsci said about "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will". I know that it's very unlikely that we will smash the capitalist order in my lifetime, but if I damn well act like it is going to happen, then I could make it happen.

If I can't jump and dance to loud music, it's not my revolution

From a memetic point of view, extremely interesting that the images in the media coverage of the uprising/riots in Tonga focus on the property damage - and give coded hints that the rioters are OMG racists - but we don't see these people "jumping and dancing to loud music". Probably because the latter is what these people are really scared of.

The mass media like us to think that a "revolution" is when a bunch of intellectuals get a big budget from the CIA to hire Black Memetic Engineers (aka a PR firm) to summon the masses into huge, orderly and docile mass rallies, until a government which the USA doesn't like quits and goes into exile. You can tell these "astroturf revolutions" by the way that they are memetically branded with a cute, non-threatening aromatic-plant coded name (Orange, Cedar, Rose, Tulip etc). The last thing that they want is an actual godsdammed Festival of the Oppressed. People don't wear nice colour coded symbols in a real revolution. They get drunk and smash shit up and in all other ways go over the top. A real uprising-that-might-turn-into-a-revolution is nasty, messy and immensely liberating - a Mass of Chaos on a truly mass scale.

The energy has been released - now is it going to be a firework or a laser beam? Only the people on the ground in Tonga can tell, and so far we're only hearing all the voices yelling "SIT BACK DOWN AND SHUT THE HELL UP".

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In other news, for those who don't know, the comics writer Grant Morrison is something of a guru for the pop-occultist crowd, and he definitely has some challenging ideas (google "hyperstition" and see what happens). But I'm afraid that for someone who talks about changing the world, this is a pretty shitting thing to say:

Asked about the current state of the world, particularly the war in Iraq, Mr. Morrison offered, “perhaps it’s just an essential part of the system, as horrible as that may seem.” He wasn’t particularly interested in being part of any active anti-war movement, and noted that in his previous experience, a number of those people only seemed to be “interested in meeting up with the police.”


Well, of course it's an essential part of the system, dingbat. That's why I'm in the business of changing the system - and I thought you were too. Or does the idea of changing the world seem less important when you're earning big money? The Occultism of Small Businessmen raises its head again - fifth-dimensional aliens, yes, threatening my stock option? Well that's just going a little too far. I wonder whether he's changed his mind in the last few years since the anti-war movement became "safe" for the establishment.

16 November 2006

Can psychiatric drugs be good?

For many who identify with the anti-psychiatry movement or view, opposition to psychiatric drugs is frequently a key belief. Though I identify with this myself to a degree, I also feel drugs themselves are not the problem.

To illustrate this, some instances from my personal experience. I feel the need to obtain a degree of anonymity, and for that reason I'm not going into too many details.

I can point to two specific instances where I suffered from being given psychiatric medicine. Whilst medicine of any description is not an exact science, and things do not always work out the way predicted, these had clear causes. One was the result of insufficient record keeping, monitoring and lack of continuity of "care", the other from a coverup on the part of drugs companies regarding the side effects of their products. Both caused significant physical and psychological symptoms which I'm still not entirely free of.

Did this make me anti-medication? Yes and no. I think psychiatric medicine is over used, I would never use it again and I maintain that, particularly given the fact that my problems were largely the result of trauma, it should not have been used as the first attempt at treating me. I also, of course, believe that producing/designing drugs for profit is hugely dangerous, and it goes without saying that they should only be used with the consent of the person taking them. However, I do have another experience that makes my view not-so-black-and-white.

As a result of such incidents, I began to learn about the drugs. I went beyond the patient information and devoured whole websites of medical jargon. Sometimes it took me hours, having to look up virtually every word. I also read people's personal experiences, looking for patterns.

I finally got a stable psychiatrist and a combination of drugs that seemed to help. I think also the fact that my external situation was improving helped dramatically. However, there were still side effects from the mood stabiliser I was on. I was exhausted most of the time, and had problems functioning after a full day's work. In addition there was the weight gain and very high risk of diabetes – and given my family history I didn't want to increase the chances. Then there was the sheer inconvenience and expense, particularly the fact that it left me tied to medical professionals and institutions of some description and I felt that even the best of these would deprive me of the self sufficiency I craved.

So I went back to my research. I worked out how the combination of different medications and to monitor my own symptoms and the patterns they occured in (which isn't nearly as simple as it sounds). I began to get an idea of what other factors infulenced my mood and how they did that (diet, sunlight, exercise).

The first thing I did was begin to adjust my medication. I read an article which suggested that my medication could be taken at specific points in the mood cycle (which worked out at about once a fortnight) rather than twice daily, and found other people who had successfully been doing this. At this point I was away from family and doctors (I somehow managed to persuade my GP to give me a years supply of drugs, god only knows how that happened), so I decided to try this. It took me a while to get right, but it worked fantastically, and kept me going up to a point, around three years ago, where I was ready and able to wean myself off them completely.

I don't think the positive effects were just limited to the fact that I had the type and dosage of medicine right, however. I believe I gained substantially from the control I had over it, the fact that I was using it with my moods rather than just a blanket coverage, and that I chose how, when and what I took. But the system we have at the moment promotes the opposite. At worst it involves force and violence, in my case it was threats and emotional bullying, but even in the better cases it involves paternalism, a clear divide between patient and doctor, one who knows and one who doesn't.

Now, I'm not suggesting everyone could do what I did. I was in a pretty unique position in terms of my medication. I had the access to information and the ability to interpret it, a lot of people for various reasons do not. But it is possible to gain advice without relinquishing control, to implement a social solution not a heirarchical one, and that may involve the use of medication.

Belief follows practice

See, I remember Discordianism, so I predict that the ultimate irony is going to be in 15 years when, given the resilience of the religious impluse in the human mind, many of the people who use the Flying Spaghetti Monster as purely a giddy way of scoffing at traditional religionists will find, to their surprise, that they have become *sincere* Pastafarians.

- isntitironic@journalfen.net

The above comment encapsulates the central secret of all politics, magic, psychology, mass-marketing, etc. I am reminded in this context of the history of my personal favourite mindcontrol cult. SubGenius started as a mockery of batshit religion, in particular fundamentalist Christianity and Scientology. It took self-evidently ridiculous dogma and proceeded to sell it successfully (to a niche market) using exactly the same "sales techniques" (i.e. applied metapsychology / magic) as the aforementioned cults - preaching as performance art, "artwork" which reused and "subverted" powerful commercial memes, etc. Remember that "Bob" was originally clipart from that most powerful of commercial grimoires, the Liber Paginarum Fulvarum.

The niche market, as Ivan Stang said himself was the kind of person who "catches themselves starting to fall for smooth-sounding lies all the time" - i.e. exactly the kind of open-minded and unconventional person who would have joined a cult if their native intelligence didn't get in the way. Now, twenty-six years later, the founders of SubGenius are disturbed that they were too successful and people ended up believing the "self-evident garbage" - to the point where people were actually upset when the Saucers of the Sex Goddesses didn't put an end to the world on 5 July 1998.

This just goes to show that you can't wake people up with the technology used to put people to sleep. The technology does not short-circuit itself just because what it's conveying has nothing to do with reality. Some fundamentalist Christians in the US, for example, seem to believe that Hezbollah now has Saddam's WMD - even long after their masters had given up on trying to push the lie that the WMD ever existed. To use Situationist jargon, détournement which remains on the symbolic can always be recuperated. The only thing which really can dissolve all magic spells whatsoever is the self-activity of the masses.

(Another secret is: the main indication that the future will be different from the present is that the present is different from the past. Be extremely suspicious of anyone who uses the word "always" or "naturally" in this context.)

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A question. Have these guys ever heard of this?? Or vice-versa?

The occultism of small businessmen

A kindly contributor known as "thistle" has made an extremely intelligent comment to Liber MCMXVII, that you really should all check out. I want to deal with one point s/he made here so that it doesn't get missed. Among other things, s/he states:

There is nothing in the libertarian philosophy which inherently guards against the fascist impulse except for wishful thinking.

There is a very fucked-up place where anarchism, libertarianism and fascism combine. That sounds weird to someone who doesn't understand what Marxism means by "petty-bourgeois ideology" - or, to put it another way, the reality-tunnel of the small businessman (and I use the masculine form advisedly). This is the idealisation of the status of the self-employed craftsman or producer, making a modest profit, answering to no master, hating the evil corporates who wish to enslave him as much as he hates the majority of people for being part of that very corporate collective.

Some of these bold memetic warriors and whatnot out there talk a good game about having lost their ego or destabilised their own reality tunnel or whatever, but that very basic view of the world - that the life of the small independent artisan or trader is the ideal - is never challenged. This would probably be due to the fact that most of them are artists, writers or other kinds of creative types, and the only model provided for success in this culture is the small business model. It is a regrettable species of blindness that so many of these people don't see that this is part of the problem. For a start, it writes off as "part of the problem" the vast majority of the population of the western world who are wage-slaves to these corporates.

The problem is that the utopia desired by these people - a world of tiny independent petty capitalists trading with each other on terms of equality - is about as possible as unscrambling an egg is possible. That phase of history has already gone. The corporates ate it. You can't play the film of history backwards. How are you going to break up Microsoft, Exxon, the IMF etc. to fit your mutualist fantasies? Our modern technological/industrial culture only works on the basis of worldwide co-operation and division of labour. I don't share the nostalgia for the early 19th century - what our friend "thistle" calls "romantic occultism" - that so many of these people seem to have. I want to jump-cut direct to the nasty, fun-loving remote future.

There is no future for small, independent capitalism. The only way to defeat the corporates is to go through them. A self-conscious worldwide working class could use the structures of co-operation built by globalised capitalism for good, rather than evil. But that means giving up on methodological individualism. It means accepting that the path to greater human power and liberation lies in co-operation and building community, not in an autistic retreat to an ego-ideal that has been out of date since at least 1848.

As much as I love Robert Anton Wilson as an iconoclast and a good bloke, his politics as contained in his late 70's early 80's books show a disturbing love for the same kind of "third way", petty-bourgeois, Social-Credit-meets-techno-utopian politics which have been adopted these days by "soft fascists" like Troy Southgate (do a websearch on "rosenoire"). Mutualism, distributism, "guild socialism"... all these ideas based on tiny affinity groups negotiating with each other from a difference would require giving up on the world-wide networking and potential co-operation which is the main redeeming feature of modern capitalism. And it all stems from the fact that the people in this culture who are capable of thinking outside the square have been "recuperated" by not even questioning, for a moment, that the capitalist epoch's idea of "individuality" is real.

The future lies in collectives and co-operation, not in "free trade". The only question now is - will the corporations collectivise humanity? Or will humanity collectivise the corporates?

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As to Situationism: my comrade Ben Watson has some pretty good things to say.

14 November 2006

An Introduction

Introducing myself as your friendly (unless provoked) guest blogger. My username is taken from a poem ('To Posterity') by Brecht:
Ah, what an age it is
When to talk about trees is almost a crime
For it is a kind of silence about injustice!
So to me, to be able to talk about trees (or movies, or art, or whatever) is to display a sense of optimism, to recognise that whilst the times we live in, though not Nazi Germany, are pretty foul, they are also ones in which "man can help his fellow man" and injustice is met with resistance. It also implies that to me being a socialist involves appreciation of the emotional, environmental and artistic (in a broad sense) aspects of life, roses as well as bread, as the saying goes.

As to the substance, Doloras asked me to blog here after reading some rather disconnected ideas I had written on psychology and the mental health system under capitalism. There is no shortage of those who oppose psychiatry, or at least psychiatry in its present form, but too often it is opposed without analysis, without any sense of connection to the world, something that is bad either because it just is or because of the inherently evil actions of those involved in it.

It is not enough, then, to simply point out what is wrong with the mental health system. I want to explore what purpose it serves under capitalism, how its techniques fit into other areas such as, for example, advertising or classification of recreational drugs. And most importantly, what the alternatives are.

Down the rabbit hole

The problem with this project is that one becomes almost too successful at finding the people who're working in similar areas. A Wikipedia article on Situationalism leads to these guys. Who lead somewhere I heard about on Lenin's Tomb. (Also courtesy of Lenin's Tomb: this.) Which in turn turns up this.

So much information, and yet not much closer to deciding on a programme of action.

I ATEN'T DEAD

My enthusiasm for working things out in public on this blog seems to go through phases. So if you don't see any update for weeks, don't fret that the process has ended - it's generally that I'm carrying it out somewhere else. Demonstrations, picket lines, writing polemic articles, composing songs, getting healthy exercise and voraciously reading are all part of the process.

Next project: a hard look at the Situationists. I would also like to call upon any of our readers who think they understand Deleuze/Guittari, and can explain it in terms a factory worker would not only understand but would be interested in, to write an article. I must confess that even their Wikipedia entry did my head in a bit. We also hope to have something on a chaosmarxist approach to the institutions of "mental health" under capitalistm sometime soon.

03 November 2006

Glossary

A Kindly Contributor to our comments boxes thinks a continually updated glossary of jargon or technical terms would be a good idea for this blog. I agree. Anyone interested in having any term that I or commentors have used in this blog, please tell me via the comments box. I will give my best to give my own definition, which can of course be contested.

In the immortal words of Chairman Miaow: Burn down the edifices of capitalism then have a long nap in a warm spot.

02 November 2006

New friends

The signal has been run up and the connections are being made in the infosphere. I would like to introduce you all to razorsmile, "a chaotic journey of majik, philosophy, politics and lives". I am currently deeply absorbing their response to Liber MCMXVII, and wondering whether their name might have anything to do with a viciously political early Sisters of Mercy song. Perhaps one day I will write an article here on the relation between the compression and overlaying of concepts inherent in poetry and other wordcraft, and the similar process which appears in creating a magical symbol.

Also: the Icarus Project, an attempt to create a bottom-up community network of mental health. Some have commented on the similarity of the magical worldview to some species of what witchdoctors call "mental illness". Perhaps we are only trying to get to a place where some people live all the time - and, of course, get out again in one piece. I am reminded of the story of James Joyce, who went and saw Carl Jung for help with his daughter's schizophrenia. Joyce said something like "she speaks pretty weird, but then, I write pretty weird". Jung replied "You are diving; she is sinking".

Magic in general - and Chaos Marxism in particular - is all about being able to dive, swim, and get back on dry land safely. Eventually, I think we should be able to become psychic and cultural surf-lifesavers.

01 November 2006

Second practical idea

One comment I've heard occasionally is that socialism needs to be "rebranded", to purge the taint of the syphilitic parody that was Stalinism. While I think the word itself is still servicable, the truth is that Marxists do need to remember that the map is not the territory - that symbols are only useful in so far as they serve the actual purpose on the ground. For example: the Russian revolutionaries called their ideas "social democracy" until that term became tainted with the Western social-democrat parties' signing up to World War I - they then took on the name of "communist". In my country, we ditched that term after 1991 in an effort to exorcise the ghost of Stalin and his imitators. The name is only important in that it conveys an idea of liberating action, not one of bureaucratic paralysis and oppression.

It is totally up in the air whether the phrase "working class" or the red flag can still be used, or whether new memes will have to replace them. I mentioned "tribe of the workers" before - don't know whether that will have general effectiveness yet.

The Marxist method runs concrete->abstract->concrete; actions produce ideas and ideas can provoke further action. To put it in magical jargon, we start with the memes and thoughtforms which arise spontaneously from anti-corporate activity, transmute them magically to give them the best chance of survival and replication, and then release them back into the infosphere of the activity where they were born. To put it in a hopefully jargon-free way: we must start with the ideas and symbols that arise spontaneously from the actively existing struggle, work on them to "sharpen them up" for maximum effectiveness and general application, and then use them to inspire further struggle.

To give an example: the Marxist idea of a workers' council as the structure of a post-capitalist state wasn't made up by Marx or Lenin sitting in a library. One spontaneously appeared in the Paris Commune of 1871, and Marx recognized it as the seed of a new state. The next time they appeared - in the Russian Revolution - Marx's heirs recognized what they were and did their best to encourage the new meme to grow and spread. Eventually - all too briefly - they did succeed in smashing the old reality.

It is in this light that my comments about the Unborn Goddess should be taken. Any memes cooked up by a single ideological worker / artist / mage hunched over a computer, an altar or a drawing board will be of limited usefulness at best because they don't arise from the group consciousness of the actually existing struggle. The best you can do with that is tinker with your own psyche (which of course has its place, but is not at the forefront of the Great Work). We are not initiators of the New Culture - we can only hope to be its midwives.

Magic 101 for Marxists

Okay. I think in the last two posts I gave a comprehensible account of how Marxists see the interaction between the "infosphere", people's ideas, and the physical world. Now I'm going to have a go at it from the point of view of occultists, magic(k)ians, "metaprogrammers", or whatever else they might call themselves. I do note for the benefit of all my occultist readers that I am simplifying and generalising to an incredible degree for those who are utter n00bs to the subject - your corrections and additions are welcomed.

Perhaps the central tenet of the magical worldview is the Hermetic formula - as above, so below. To put it another way, the microcosm is the same as the macrocosm; to put it a third way, symbolic changes can cause physical changes, if the symbol is "powerful" enough; or a fourth way, that perception is to a large degree reality. (This last might be recognized as also the central tenet of modern public relations and politics.)

Traditional magic worked with the symbols of the various discarnate entities of the various religions - gods, demons, angels, what-have-you. With the breakdown of the traditional societies in the age of capitalism, the modern occultists such as the Order of the Golden Dawn and the Theosophical Society began piecing together new symbolic systems, usually out of remnants of the old. The infamous Aleister Crowley is perhaps most famous by attempting to apply the methodology of science to the material of magic, creating a new system that would correlate and include all traditional systems of "magick". (The k was added by Crowley himself, to distinguish what he was doing from card tricks, pulling rabbits out of hats etc.)

Since Crowley we have had what you might call post-modern magic. This follows Crowley in attempting to reconcile cutting-edge science and the traditional Hermetic formula. It is also distinguished by an insistence that what is important in an act of magic is reprogramming the psyche - i.e., changing the consciousness of the magician. The "acid missionaries" of the 1960s, who systematically attempted to explore altered states of consciousness via what Frank Zappa called "trendy chemical amusement" are a huge influence. Many occultists also work from modern ideas such as quantum uncertainty, Carl Jung's theory of synchronicity (i.e. when random events are connected by their significance to the observer), and chaos theory - hence "chaos magic".

The neo-pagan witch Starhawk defined magic as "an symbolic act done in an altered state of consciousness to produce a desired effect". Another way of putting this might be "introducing information in a matter which evades the filters erected by the subject's rational mind". For the occultist of today, magic can be boiled down to the following:

- inducing an altered state of consciousness (by mediation, breath control, drugs, a catchy tune in the background, sex, the suspension of disbelief required to enjoy fiction etc) in which the subconscious mind becomes more susceptible
- imagining the desired goal in symbolic form
- investing the symbol with energy; or, to put it another way, fixing the symbol in the subconscious via repetition or association with some kind of intense experience
- "banishing" (dispelling from consciousness) all counteracting symbols.

By this process, the subconscious mind is reprogrammed; and, since "above is below" (perception is reality) so will reality be transformed for the practitioner in accordance with will. Alternatively, some kind of psychic energy will be sent out that will actually rewrite the material world according to desire. Sometimes, both explanations are used. (You could also sum up these steps in the words of the old jingle - "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, don't mess with Mr Inbetween".)

In these traditions, the gods and demons of earlier belief are often reinterpreted as manifestations of the individual or collective psyche, Jungian archetypes, discarnate beings alien to this planet or even this plane, or even consciously-constructed figments of the magician's imagination. Often it will be claimed that these distinctions are not important - what is important is how the practitioner behaves in regards to what she perceives in the altered state of consciousness, and what is accordingly imprinted on the subconscious.

Increasingly, complicated traditional tables of magical symbols such as Crowley used are being supplemented or even replaced by images from modern mass media and popular culture, or even ones which the practitioner makes up herself. In the chaos tradition, serious belief itself is seen as counterproductive. The practitioner is encouraged to discover the symbols and the belief systems which are most effective to change her consciousness in the required way, and then "invest them with personal energy". Sexuality is perhaps the most vital source of this energy - deliberate violations of personal taboos are also seen as a "path to power". This is in essence exactly the same process as advertising, psychiatry, brainwashing, rhetoric, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and what those criminals in the "Church" of $cientology do. (L. Ron Hubbard stole most of his good ideas from Crowley.)

The place where this kind of magic comes into contact with Marxist ideas of ideology is the increasing acceptance that corporate capitalism and imperialism are not only destroying the physical world but playing merry havoc with the symbolic realms, with their advertising, propaganda and other mind-control techniques. Also, occult theory follows the insight of Marxism that activity determines consciousness, not whatever the conscious mind happens to believe. A Marxist might call a picket line or a militant demonstration "an altered state of consciousness", since it takes place in an area not acknowledged to exist by the dominant paradigm of reality - an effective political or advertising slogan has all the same characteristics of a meditative mantra.

In general, modern occultists still have faith in the possibility of individual action against this tyranny, as opposed to the Marxist insistence that only collective mass action will be effective. In addition, the Hermetic formula is in itself a profoundly idealist idea, based on a vision of ideas directly determining physical reality (as opposed to Marxist insistence on physical action as the nexus between idea and reality). Chaos magic is often called "materialist" by other occultists. This seems a bit strange, since the famous chaos author Peter Carroll has written a lot specifically attacking the materialist worldview! On the other hand, this tradition's explicit rejection of any permanent or fixed beliefs no doubt seems screwy to more traditional, quasi-religious occultists.

Therefore, the politics of the anti-capitalist occultist current are to a large degree anarchist, liberal or libertarian - precisely the politics of the social group (information professionals) from which they come, as a Marxist analysis would predict. But modern occultists and Marxist revolutionaries share an interest in challenging the thought-forms of modern corporate culture, and combatting them with "memes" and ideas that can lead to real human consciousness and empowerment. It is the purpose of this blog to facilitate discussion and common action between both camps.

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*gasps with exhaustion* Questions? Comments?

ETA: Just one more thought: the "other side"'s PR/magic works on a "brute force" principle - repetition, repetition, repetition, funded by massive capital expenditure - as well as the principle of mimicking as closely as possible what's already in people's heads. We don't have the budget to replicate this from our side. So whatever memetic action (cultural work, agitprop or magic) we do, it has to beat them for being clever, for being passionate, for speaking to those people who have a vision of a better world and just need a bit of encouragement to start fighting for it.

Marxism 101 for Occultists, part 2

To recap and expand upon the previous post on the basis of "dialectical materialism":

The material world and everything in it is in a conscious state of flux and change, because of its own internal contradictions. The birth of human consciousness offers the possibility of this "dialectical" process being directed by will.

However, the division of human society into rulers and ruled, the partly-conscious and the forcibly-unconscious, hampers and frustrates this possibility. In the capitalist era, it has allowed humanity to call up vast, potentially world-changing powers, but to not have any control over them.

This contradiction can only be solved by those who actually, physically, create and change the world in the modern era - those who work with muscle or brain - becoming conscious and taking control over human society.

Because the world socio-economy is now so vast and complicated, this can only be done on a collective basis from the ground up, with interdependent individuals acting democratically to direct the productive tools at the disposal of the human species. It will also require the forcible removal from power of the capitalist class and the state apparatuses they have set up to protect their privileges.

Now read on...

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Why hasn't this happened yet? As we said before, because the other side has all the nuclear bombs and prisons and most of the guns. But that's only part of the question. Most people in a modern capitalist society don't need an armed guard standing over them to keep them in line - they allow themselves to be exploited and obey the irrational laws because they accept that this is the right way to behave. (As an aside, this is the real reason that slavery was abolished - the wage-labour system is a much more effective form of social control, because the man with the gun is usually invisible.)

One of Marx's most vital comments is that the ideology of the ruling class is the ideology of society. Let's use a metaphor of a society having an "infosphere", like a planet has an atmosphere. Every member of a society is constantly and invisibly surrounded by the ideas evolved by that society's rulers to make their own continued rule look not only justified, but the only possible option. Partly this is accomplished deliberately through ideological institutions. In previous eras this was done by churches or other mass organisations - nowadays in advanced capitalist countries, it is done more and more via the mass media.

But it's also because the way the world works makes the lies seem like truth. Because virtually everyone works for some boss in return for wages or salary, it makes sense that that is the natural way to earn a living. Because the system is based on competition and competitive accumulation of wealth, it makes sense that people should have to struggle against each other to survive. Because most people don't have a guy with a gun standing over them to obey the law and behave like good employees, it makes sense that people are doing so out of their own freely arrived at decisions.

When that anonymous Bush Administration staffer made that snide comment about "the reality-based community", this is what he meant. Because ideas come from experience as well as from the TV or from the preacher, whatever they succeed in imposing on us will look not only rational, but natural. People will end up justifying it to themselves just because no credible alternative is presented. In this case, existing reality shapes ideas - but, since in the modern era so much is potentially under human control - the ideas in people's heads determine how much existing reality can be changed.

The Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci spent 15 years in Mussolini's jails. At this time, he made the most intelligent comments so far in the Marxist tradition as to how to fight the war for human liberation on the domain of ideology.

Gramsci suggested that everyone's consciousness contains two contradictory elements. Firstly, "common sense" - the ideas they pick up from the "infosphere" of the society around them. Secondly, "good sense" - the ideas that they come to for themselves from their own personal experience. The experience of workers in struggle - that the wagelabour relation is exploitative, that only collective action with other workers can improve their own situation, that - is more sharply counterposed to the "official infosphere" than anyone else's.

Lenin, summing up the insights of dialectical materialism, said "ideas become real forces when they seize the masses". But Gramsci made it clear that the official ideas are "short-circuited" most effectively when proved wrong in practice - that is, in struggle against the ruling power. There's an old joke that embodies this insight: "a radical is a liberal who's been beaten up by a cop".

The problem is that the official structures which systematically pollute the infosphere are getting stronger as more people's experience brings them into conflict with the lies. Our rulers won't use bribery, they prefer not to use force, so lies upon lies are becoming their central weapon. Their technology in this area is approaching a high degree of perfection - anyone who watches Fox News or has read something on "neurolinguistic programming" (aka corporate magic) will understand this. So the central question for Marxists and other world-changing radicals is how to tip the balance between "common sense" and "good sense" in favour of the latter in the minds of the majority - the workers who are in a position to reorient the entire creaking superstructure of human society, if they want to. It's at this point that the concerns of Marxists and of the new generation of occultists - in particular, those embodied in the fledgling Ultraculture movement - coincide. But that's a topic for another post.

Marxism 101 for Occultists, part 1

At the request of a Marxist reader who wants "the basic concepts of magic" explained ... well, I started writing something along these lines. But then I got distracted and ended up explaining the basic concepts of Marxism for occultists - it seemed that I had to do it this way first. So, apologies - "Magic 101 for Marxists" will be coming. But first...

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Marxism is a materialist philosophy - the starting and ending point of our ideas is the actual, physical, real, dirty world. We use this world in contradistinction to "idealism" - the concept that ideas are the fundamental building blocks of reality. But the essence of Marxist materialism is that the real world and the "sphere of ideas" are intimately connected. "Vulgar materialism" - that is, the hard-core sceptic view of reality - carries on Descartes' hard-and-fast dividing line between physical reality and ideas. This concept that ideas are totally independent of reality is in fact another, stupider, kind of idealism, in which ideas just kind of float around in a disembodied state and operate by their own laws.

As Lenin said, "intelligent idealism" - accepting that ideas shape reality - is closer to Marxism than the "vulgar materialism" which, as we've shown above, is actually a vulgar kind of idealism under an assumed name. Marxists accept that material reality shapes the ideas in people's heads. But that when people act according to different ideas, then they can change material reality. The connection between matter and ideas is action.

Marxists are dialectical materialists. The "dialectic" can be summed up in a single idea: that everything is in a continual process of flux and change, that everything contains within it the seeds of its own destruction and evolution into something different. Opposed to the vulgar materialist worldview in which the world contains a number of fixed, isolated objects, for the Marxist the world is made up of processes whereby things evolve over time and relations between things. A Marxist is more interested in the direction in which something is going than where it is at any given moment - Trotsky noted that in this, dialectical logic is different from formal logic in the same way that calculus is different from arithmetic. Marx got this idea from the German idealist philosopher Hegel, who seems to have picked it up from the Greek Heraclitus - it's a surprisingly common idea in even Western philosophy, let alone the rest of the world. See for example the extract from Crowley's translation of the Tao Te Ching, a few posts down from here.

The basis of Marxist philosophy can be summed up thus: the whole world and everything in that world is in a continuous process of change and flux. But human consciousness was born in the struggle to change the world according to our will. Marx, writing at the time when industrial capitalism was booming all over the world, saw this as the first time when a truly global human civilisation, which could not only gain control over the physical world but over its own evolution, was possible. But he also saw that capitalism - while smashing the old, static feudal and traditional civilisations - was a "Sorceror's Apprentice" that couldn't control the powers that it had summoned up.

Marx saw that the division between mind and matter in the philosophy of the rulers of his era was echoed in the division between the capitalist class - who directed production for their own private benefit - and the working class, who actually carried production out. Consciousness belonged to one group of society - the power to actually do things to a completely different group. Thus, the very basis of capitalist society at the same time summoned up great powers and made it impossible for humanity or even individual humans to have any control over these powers.

Only when the industrial working class - who actually with their physical labour changed the world on a daily basis - became fully conscious of what they were doing, and took over control of the way in which they created the wealth of the world, could this contradiction be solved. The ascension of the working class to the leadership of society would be at the same time the solution of the split between theory and practice, mind and matter, consciousness and physical reality. It was necessary for the real history of humanity to begin - a history when a self-conscious species would take over responsibility for its own future and the future of the planet and perhaps the universe. The sole important amendment that modern Marxists would make to this is to make it clear that low-paid white-collar workers - who shift information rather than steel for a living - are also going to have to be part of this process.

In summary, then: Marxism is the philosophy and science of the human race coming to full self-consciousness and responsibility. Against us stands the self-interest of the ruling classes of the world, who have massive power over other humans but no real power over the world they live in. These people, for example, couldn't solve global warming if they wanted to, because the measures they'd be forced to take would destroy their own self-identity as rulers of the world. Marx didn't forsee the possibility of ecological collapse, but he certainly had in mind "civilisational collapse" of the kind that happened to ancient Rome. Only a self-conscious world working class could save humanity from such a fate - precisely because, as he famously said, it had "nothing to lose but its chains".

So what stops the workers of the world from achieving this? On one hand, the rulers are not ashamed to torture, destroy, kill, imprison and use any and all kinds of violence to protect their power. But in the advanced Western countries right now, the control of the rulers of the world is imposed by ideology. And this is where Marxism and occultism really begin to share a frame of reference.

(tbc)