28 February 2008

An aphorism on cults

Cult methods of organisation are nothing more than boiled-down and spiced-up versions of accepted behaviour-control and thought-reform methods used commonly against children and "deviants" in late capitalist society. Nothing that Scientology or the Moonies or the Sparts do is really dissimilar in kind from what ordinary mums and dads, schoolteachers, psychiatric nurses and prison guards are encouraged to do every day - only in degree, and in target.


Discuss.

20 February 2008

100th post special!: A unified theory of cults

Scientology, Objectivism, most varieties of "orthodox Trotskyism" (more here) or Maoism... all the same sociological features. A Marxist analysis would locate the foundation of all these political cults (and similar religious organizations) in a social base almost restricted to the middle-class intelligensia, who, in modern capitalism, are the layer devoted to ideological production on which the system depends. The essential principle of a cult is an unchallengable ideology and an unchallengable leadership who "bear" or "preserve" the ideology. So the features of all such cults are:

1) Idealism - the belief that physical reality is "less real" than the words of ideas. Note that the pretend-Marxist cults, although holding to materialism as a dogma, by that very act betray Marxism - any dogmas, any ideas which are untouchable and unamendable, and the associated belief that those who hold the "correct" ideas are the elite, are against anything that Marx or indeed Lenin would have recognized. The belief that the test of practice is not the deciding question is the only thing that means that a single set of ideas can be set up as untouchable.

2) Elitism - as above. Also - those who produce the correct ideas are not only elite but godlike. Some flavours of Objectivist even claim that only Ayn Rand herself is a valid source for Objectivism (exactly the same opinion that the Scienos have about their dead conman guru). Note that in some cases the mythical godfigure was dead before the cult showed up - all the better, because then s/he's not around to contradict them. Stalinism got going by turning Lenin into an idol before they dared put Stalin in his place.

3) Thought reform. Since ideas are what's important, and the idea-bearers are the elite, they must continually purge their ranks of thought-criminals or those who just aren't up to snuff ideologically (or just different). Sadly, you can see this starting in the Fourth International during Trotsky's time - despite his many achievements and genius insights, Uncle Leon was a middle-class intellectual building a "party" out of middle-class intellectuals. Of course it was going to go wrong.

A combination of all three of the above expresses themselves in moralism - since ideas are not determined in practice but are in themselves good or bad things, the logical outcome is to seek the origin of the "wrong" ideas in "wrong" personalities. Cults believe in the idea of "evil" - that ideas can be wrong in themselves - and generally lump oppositionists in that bracket. A defining feature of every cult is personal attacks against adversaries and internal critics(as opposed to, say, reasonably pointing out that it was funny for Ayn Rand to talk about the wonders of rationality when she was off her face on speed all the time). If you are wrong and you won't be convinced, the only solution is that you are bad and you should feel bad.

(It's tempting to locate the social origin of cults in clever kids with a middle-class education who dream of their internal world of ideas being, not only accepted, but dominating others in the way that they feel that the existing ideas dominate them. Which would explain why I've always dreamed of having my own cult. Never mind.)

Before the snobs at Infoshop start crowing, let me note that you don't need a formal leader to be a cult. All you need is sufficient peer pressure to "maintain the consensus". Many modern anarchist "communities" fail on the tests of ideology/dogma, elitism and anathematization of contrary opinions - just look at the "uniforms" they wear (patches, t-shirts for "correct bands", body hair on women, etc), the pressure to eat the right (vegan) food and listen to the right music, etc. Also note the pressure on newbies to start anathematising the hated Leninists - identified as "the enemy within". And of course the pseudo-Leninist cults fight straight back. You can be a leaderless cult, no problem.

In passing, I want to blow away the mystical belief that "the consensus process" is always and everywhere the correct way for a group to make decisions, which in itself is an idealist and therefore potentially cultist idea. A consensus process can be a means by which a "secret" leadership group simply enforces its dominance as nastily as the most Stalinist Central Committee - and with the same level of self-serving hypocrisy. In contrast, a majority-democracy group which fully tolerates dissent in thought and word while requiring unity in action may grow a "group mind" which is always a little unsure of itself and self-reforming, which has to be a good thing. The process of decision-making is less vital than ensuring the total freedom of each individual consciousness to have opinions different from the group ideas, and to have real opportunities to change the group's ideas.

Here's a classic description of how cults operate, as opposed to their basic premises as explained above. I was thinking of making "Humour is the one thing cults can't stand" a CM aphorism. However, that's not precisely true - all cults have endless jokes about outsiders. Just not about the leadership or the sacred ideas, at least not in public.

Just in passing - "cult" is not an absolute term. But the more a group is idealist, elitist and obsessed with purifying its own dogma, the more "cultish" it is. On the contrary, a real political party - or any social or cultural change organisation - values the test of practice - what people actually do - above all else. Requiring unity in action is not cultish - requiring unity in thought is.

A true collective consciousness (aka "culture") can only arise where every member of the culture gets to transmit as well as receive. A cult is closed - a culture is open. A cult is simply the prejudices and personality problems of a leadership group written large - a culture might be less of a "strike force", but it will be more flexible, more healthy, and more likely to perpetuate itself.

15 February 2008

Their magick and ours, part the umpteenth

Even when we sleep, the web of nervous plexuses emanating from that ancient region of the lower brain remains awake, haunting our bodies with a mysterious presence. Perhaps, long before the day the central nervous system convinced us it was in charge, our way of understanding the world had been purely involuntary and autonomic, fluctuating without subtlety between poles of stimulus and response, contraction and relaxation, excitement and satisfaction. Perhaps the enteric brain remains our last link to the time before we ate the apple of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the time before we knew death. The primeval brain of the involuntary, the abdominal brain, the brain that controls sympathy and revulsion but not ratiocination, that is the brain of the wow.

When it comes to television, the theory becomes practice: Whether on the Hot Network, E! Entertainment Television, or CBS, the splanchnic response, not the lucubrations of the intellect but the primal gut reaction – that’s what hauls in the ratings. When the new president of CNN/US, Jonathan Klein, took over last November, he introduced himself to the troops with what has become the perennial “it’s about the storytelling” speech. As Van Gordon Sauter preached in the 1980’s, news needs the emo, and executives now understand that the emo comes from the gut, the gut makes the wow, and the wow makes the money. It’s not the content that matters – food, sex, or news – so much as the autonomic form.


Read the whole thing. The tl;dr version of it: the media priesthood have perfected memetics to the point where they can actually bypass the rational brain altogether and provoke, literally and directly, "gut reactions" (or groin reactions, for that matter). HOLY SHIT if we do not learn to do this ourselves and socialise the means of production and distribution of media signals (exchange will not mean anything in a post-itellectual property era), they may well perfect the means to control us with pleasure rather than pain and the species will be doomed. On the other hand, it may well be that, like any media technology, our ability to resist it if necessary will be able to more-or-less keep pace with its advance, but I'm not sure I want to take that risk.

Note that Chaos Marxism is not "luddite" in the pejorative sense, or indeed puritan. We don't oppose the technology of provoking pleasure or pain via media, in fact, we think it's pretty damn neat, but only when under the control of mass, grassroots democracy - like governmental power itself. I don't trust anyone else with the ability to bypass my thinking, conscious brain without explicit permission.

13 February 2008

Lesson #4 from Chanology

The relationship between the old-school anti-Scientology battlers and the massed ranks of anonymous shows us precisely what the relationship between a vanguard party and the revolutionary masses should be.

Yes, I know, it doesn't look much like the model we're always being fed by the Leninist sects. Which is of course a problem with those sects and their warped parroting of phrases from Lenin and/or Trotsky that they don't actually understand. Let's examine the model closer:

A long-term, close knit group of activists grow up around a common struggle. They built a tight network, supporting one another, swapping information and intelligence, but lack of mresources and mmanpower prevent them from making any breakthroughs. Suddenly, a "spontaneous" movement from the classes - actually stemming in origin from the vanguard group's propaganda over the years - breaks out. What do the vanguard do?

Some write off the new masses, declare that they're "just kids" or "lumpen elements" or "internet nerds", critique their methods in a negative rather than a comradely way. Some insist on their own right to lead the movement, or point to reasons why it's not the right sort of movement, that some of the memes it regulates by are wrong or even offensive, and how it will have to change before they'll be involved. Some even fret that the new movement is some kind of diabolical enemy plot, or a potentially reactionary force, and find in those a reason to stay away from or even condemn the movement. These people have proved themselves worse than useless.

However, others engage with the new mass forces properly. They give constructive, comradely criticism, giving helpful and practical suggestions, based on long experience rather than book-leraning, how their struggle can be more successful. They seek to give helpful advice to the leadership of the new mass forces, rather than insist on becoming the leadership of the new mass forces.

Why, then, do the mass forces listen to these vanguard activists? Because their advice now makes sense in the context of their own experience in the struggle. Because they don't insist that they have the right to lead just because they've been doing it longer. Because they know things about the enemy that the newly mobilised forces don't know. Certainly not because "we are in the possession of the one true theory and we are going to fight tooth and nail to make sure that we and our comrades are in control of this". That would of course kill any movement stone dead.

All you commies, anarchos, radicals and trots out there, learn from Mark Bunker and Tory Christman how to show actual leadership in a mass struggle. They wouldn't thank me for saying so, but they're acting in the best traditions of people like Lenin or Che Guevara or Malcolm X. Make yourself relevant. Don't lecture, but learn as well as teach. You are only worth anything in your self-proclaimed leadership if you can actually win the trust and confidence of the masses - you don't earn it by being "orthodox", by spouting the right memes. Memes are in fact irrelevant except insofar as they directly influence action.

12 February 2008

Their magick, and ours

For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it.

The sheer ease with which this machinery has been able to do its work reflects a creeping structural weakness which now afflicts the production of our news.


This extract from a new book on how the spooks took over the news explains in great detail about how al-Zarqawi had nothing to do with al-Qaeda... until the meme-machines of the Western media made him that way. (Hey, it's a good metaphor to think of a newswire service or a website as a prayer wheel of the modern era.)

And this is exactly why we need Chaos Marxism - or something like it. I think we have an aphorism which points out that the reason why there is a "concerted strategy" of brainwashing and black memetics right now for the first time in history is because the traditional forms of manufacturing consent, brute force and bribery, don't work in an advanced industrial democracy. Constant competition for the advertising dollar has had the same effect as constant competittion for market scare - the means of production of memes are becoming ever more efficient, and yet their equivalent of the "rate of profit" (the rate of effectiveness?)tends to ever diminish. And much like we need to learn from the industrial workers how best to make the revolution in the factories, we need to learn from the cyberworkers and the internet nerds how to build the revolution in the mediasphere.

==

ON that subject, for those following Project Chanology at home: February 10 rocked, London and elsewhere. What has the "traditional protest movement" learned from this phenomenon?

1) Just because people follow some weird and offensive memes doesn't mean they're not potent allies.
2) A protest movement is NOT a community - when it becomes a "community", with its own "permanent" power structures and ethos, you're in the realms of small-group psychosis and you by Goddess should be looking to bust out.
3) We haven't yet begun to plumb the depths of what the self-organisation of internet nerds is capable of. There must be cross-fertilisation with the "Traditional" workers' movement, expecially for those of us seeking to organise the cybertariat of the 21st century.

06 February 2008

Your reviews are appreciated

A friendly fellow recommends us as

a blog that my friend found very useful in terms of how he thought about the world. It's someone who started out as a Discordian and then became a hardline Trotskyite. As I was telling someone over AIM earlier, it's two components that, individually, are profoundly stupid, but combined at least have some internal consistency and interesting ideas.


Thanks for the pimpage. However, I should make clear that I was never a Discordian, I was a SubGenius, which is many leagues stupider than Discordianism, and proud of it. Also, while I admire and appreciate a lot of Trotsky's work, I'm beginning to think that it's no coincidence that so many of the groups who take his name in vain are scary mind-control cults - Scientology with the Labour/Black Struggle instead of body thetans.

While we're on the subject of cults (subliminal message), The LJ post linked to above also says some things about the Illuminatus! trilogy which are perceptive. I would add, though, that while I loved this book to death when I was 17 (and , indeed, credit it partially for the person I am today), there are more things wrong with it than the sexism. The book itself shows one of what I think was the most disturbing things to come out of the 1960's radical California subculture - the rise of the "self-improvement cult". The plot of the book is that an ascended master with mystic powers (in a yellow submarine) not only converts a disparate bunch of radicals to his own oddball mysticism, but to his anarcho-capitalist political beliefs.

This, I feel, plugs into something which I think was fundamentally wrong with the whole middle-class radical 60's thing. Because it was middle class, and therefore individualist, it's no surprise that it ended up focusing on "personal enlightenment" rather than political change - although the circle kind of closed in the 1980s with the foundation of the Green parties. The middle-class radical mind can't conceive of a mass collective consciousness as anything other than threatening brain death. They say idiotic things like "without private property there is no private life" and never stop to realise that this ais a simple tautology, while paradoxically at the same time start rambling on about the wonders of ego loss!

The middle-class radical can't conceive of a real collective, so their models of organisation are the "affinity group", the commune, the monastery... and, yes, eventually, the cult. If you accept that personal change is far more important than political change, and also accept that some people have achieved Superhumanity in their own life time, then surely your rule from that point onwards it to shut up and listen. And donate. And sell the paper. And if they don't end up in cults, they end up as small capitalists - because that's truly what they believe freedom looks like. It's funny that the middle-class radical's utopia is generally anarcho-capitalism, because that's possibly the only political system which is in itself an oxymoron.

Material and social reality determines consciousness. The only real way to improve one's psychic health is to clean out the psychic toxic waste dump which passes for the mass media nd and popular culture under capitalism.