26 January 2010

Quick thoughts before my brain melts

The "noosphere" (sphere of consciousness and culture) was conceived by Teilhard de Chardin as being the third layer of Earth, on top of the biosphere and the geosphere (living things and rocks, basically). But any good Marxist can tell that there's something missing there - the ergosphere, defined as the interaction of consciousness with living matter and rocks, without which the noosphere can't exist. ("Ergo" being Greek for "work" - you could also call it the "econosphere", but that's prone to get confusing.) To put it another way - what you do is who you are, or, your self-concept (or the collective self-concept we call "culture") is based on your interactions with real things including other people, not disembodied and floating in the air.

Humanity's evolution from the apes was fundamentally the result of the creation of the ergosphere - the invention of "work", as defined as "turning an idea in your brain into something existing in the real world". As Marx and Engels noted, this is what makes a crudely hand-chipped stone knife so much more different and interesting than a spider's web or a honeycomb, both of which are far more complex and beautiful. And that's how humans became the dominant species of the planet.

The central fact of capitalist life is alienation, being defined as the separation between your work and your life. Instead of using your brain to change the world, you spend most of your waking hours using your brain and muscles to create commodities (mass-produced interchangable things which can be sold in a market), for which someone else gives you $$$ which you can use to exchange for other commodities. Commodities fill the gap left by the lack of real human interaction - you watch TV or play computer games rather than going out and meeting people, and if you do that, odds on you have to pay for the privilege. But it's much worse now than in Marx's time, because not only material wealth has been commodified, but immaterial wealth, aka culture. Commodities have replaced actual life experience, what makes us human. I hear that in New York you can pay to go to a "cuddle party" these days.

There are nasty, gloating articles by marketing gurus which suggest that capitalism is all-powerful and eternal because it can now commodify any rebellion and make a profit from it, so it is now impossible to go outside the system. But there is one and only one way to go outside the system - workers' self-management, the end of alienation, a return to the primitive joy of the cavedweller chipping his mammoth-hunting spear, only in a collective with shiny modern technology. In other words - not by buying things, but by doing things for their use-value rather than exchange value.

Capitalism can tolerate any amount of propaganda, scatology, pornography, or memetic subversion as long as it's commodified, as long as someone's making money off it (see meditations on Avatar in the previous post). What it can't tolerate is threats to private property, the wage-labour system, and commodity production itself, put into action rather than just talked about. The hidden message of capitalist democracy is "say what you like as long as you do what you're told".

But the big problem is here - how can we survive when the enemy holds the means of production? How can you fight an enemy on whom you rely for your supplies? A new culture can only come about through a new socio-economy, which has to grow within the skin of the old, which is desperately hostile to it. But to do this, we have to live our truth - actually put into practice these ideas as much as possible in the Real World of Horrible Jobs. Being a good and docile worker, and then in your time off being a rabble-rouser and an anarchist, is a fun lifestyle but is not politics or magick.

Modern Western protest politics is built on precisely this kind of work/play opposition - it's far more fun and easy (even tolerated) to march for Palestine or Iraq or the polar bears on the weekend before clocking in at 8:30 on Monday at your widget-shifting job at Amalgamated Bastards. One example of transforming your everyday working life will do more to transform you and the world than all the marches, demos, teach-ins, punk gigs or radical film screenings in the world, because it will be real and not virtual. Similarly, hiving off and starting a commune or a "Transition Town" or similar is avoiding the question of what to do about the Corporate Megabeast, not finding a solution. Robert Fripp suggests that change in the Real World can only come as a result of working within the market without adopting the values of the marketplace. You can argue whether Fripp's got it right or not, but the slogan is a good one.

False choices: (a) do your job and be a rebel in your own time; (b) avoid the struggle by decamping to a safe space that only exists as long as you are no threat. The correct choice: (c) deconstruct capitalism by turning its own rules against it. Perhaps getting them to pay you to make propaganda against them - like Michael Moore or the first person to make a Che Guevara T-shirt - is a good start. Certainly it's doing something, however tiny, on a planetary level, rather than nothing, and one of the sure signs of narcissistic politics is believing that tiny incremental changes in the noosphere are of no importance and if we can't have RRREVOLUTION we won't bother.

One face says terrorise, the other benevolise

The Murdoch media empire, despite the usual right-wing bias of its news outlets, has not leant the use of its powerful ideological cannons to the anti-Avatar campaign for a very sound commercial reason. 20th Century Fox, which is part of the Murdoch mega-corporation News Corp, is raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from the film, and envisages that it will derive hundreds of millions more from the inevitable sequel. Further, the astounding success of Avatar is a commercial vindication of the advances in technology which were gained by means of the many millions of dollars invested in its production, opening up the prospect of a revival in the profits of the US-dominated global entertainment industry.

(source)

The corporate egregore is capable of saying contradictory things at the same time. It can do this because its constituent parts are independent from, even hermetically sealed from, one another. Thus it can maximise profit, by marketing two opposite "flavours" of ideology at the same time, at the long-term expense of exacerbating the contradictions in its own noosphere. As Michael Moore says, the capitalist will sell you the rope to hang him with. The main difference is of course people are encouraged to act on the memes of terror, fear and hatred (in voting and protesting), and to channel the anti-imperialist, liberatory memes into buying consumer goods, going to see movies, and in extreme cases, new lifestyles/religions. (WARNING: link contains massive stupidity and point-missing.) So if you're sold the rope, you won't think of actually using it - probably you'll just take it home, stroke it and imagine using it.

Some leftists have suggested leafleting screenings of Avatar along the lines of "This movie is REAL! Except that the Na'vi are really called "Iraqis" and they're sitting on oil, not Unobtanium!" I'm really not sure this will work, mainly because the Na'vi belief system is fluffy, friendly neo-paganism, exactly the opposite from the Western media image of Islam. But it really won't work because the mass media consciousness doesn't really work with analogy - it can accept things literally, or not at all. Rendering people incapable of understanding analogies was one of the principles of Newspeak, remember.

21 January 2010

Even anarchists know about the serious business

Often, our concept of what is revolutionary is not really a mature concept of true revolution. If you've ever thrown a rock through a window, you know what I'm talking about. It feels good, but ultimately, someone just comes and fixes that window. It would be nice to really dismantle something, or really create something lasting. We need comprehensive solutions-based thinking, because these are some big-ass problems we're dealing with, and when the going gets tough, daddy is not going to drive up in his SUV and solve them by throwing some money around.

(source)

15 January 2010

Sectarianism = political narcissism?

Narcissism is a defense mechanism related to the splitting defense mechanism. The Narcissist fails to regard other people, situations, or entities (political parties, countries, races, his workplace) as a compound of good and bad elements. He either idealises his object - or devalues it. The object is either all good or all bad. The bad attributes are always projected, displaced, or otherwise externalised. The good ones are internalised in order to support the inflated (grandiose) self-concepts of the narcissist and his grandiose fantasies - and to avoid the pain of deflation and disillusionment.

The narcissist pursues narcissistic supply (attention, both positive and negative) and uses it to regulate his fragile and fluctuating sense of self-worth.
(source)

Compare this to the toytown-Leninist attitudes of "won't get out of bed for anything less than pure proletarian revolution / we are uniquely gifted with the correct insights"; or ways in which, say, the GOOD regime (eg Lenin's Russia) gets a free pass for things that the INFERIOR AND THEREFORE WORTHLESS regime (eg. Chávez's Venezuela) is roundly criticised for. In fact, in general, the attitude from any shade of opinion that "it's okay if we do it / pure-evil-on-a-stick if those guys over there do it" is pure grade-A narcissism. (Or its variant, "they did it first so we get a free pass to do it".)

Narcisstic politics are one way for narcissistic personalities to recruit the unwary around into propping up their pretend selves. But be warned that you can only make this judgement call on the basis of practice, rather than speech. Plenty of sect-warriors will happily admit "in abstract" that their organisation has faults and flaws - but if in practice they act like only they are allowed to say that, and if an outsider says that they must be motivated by sordid personal failings, that's also grade-A political narcissism.

13 January 2010

Short shameful confession

I used to think that I had spoiled my destiny - that I had made such bad life choices that I'd ruined the purpose of my existence and thus had no real reason to live except that suicide would make it worse. To put it in religious terms, I had disappointed God to the point that She had turned Her back on me. It looks so incredibly stupid when you write it down.

ETA: ... and, of course, in retrospect "God" actually meant "my parents".

11 January 2010

Cult leaders and cult followers

We have previously discussed cults spiritual, therapeutic and political, and identified a common thread in that their leaders are without exception people on a "no-ego ego trip" - i.e. identifying their own ego with objective reality. But I don't think we've mentioned before that the kind of people who join a cult - and stick with it - tend to be those people who aspire to that very status, of getting an ego trip by pretending not to have an ego. Which is how cults reproduce - if it was simply a vampiric, exploitative relationship there would be no benefit to sticking with a cult. But even being the hatchet man for a cult leader, or even a lowly but valued foot-soldier, is an acceptable Identity/Ego/nafs if you don't have anything better to do with your life. "Each heavenly body gotta have its moons", as Peter Hammill put it.

But what are we to make of the "epigone" phenomenon - where the main followers of a great teacher or Master end up running her teachings into the ground in service of their own ego? It happened to the prophets Jesus and Mohammed, to Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, and ugly rumour has it it's happening to Robert Fripp. Perhaps we can argue that in the Real World of Horrible Jobs, "enlightenment", or whatever you call it when a window in your head opens and you hear the angels blowing their trumpets through it, is not transmittable. If someone doesn't get there for themselves, then no matter how accurately a Master of whatever path explains it, they will inevitably fuck it up. You can't get there unless you get there for yourself. For spiritual teachers, you have to try to emulate how they got there, not just their teachings; for the masters of craft or political theory, you have to use their methodology, not only their conclusions. Gnosis - direct experience - is the only thing that actually works. Sucking the finger won't help, you have to go where it points yourself.

08 January 2010

A couple of thoughts...

One by Llewellen Vaughan Lee:

What the wayfarer does not initially understand is that the real work on the path is not to have access to spiritual or mystical experiences: these are given through grace. The work is to create a container for them, so they can be alive in our daily life. Part of this container is to discriminate between a real inner experience and a spiritual illusion created by the ego. Without a container or discrimination the wayfarer easily becomes lost and wastes the energy and potential of her awakening.

To put it another way - the goal is not to get metaphysically high. That's far too easy. Certainly you can eat a few mushrooms, chant and breathe in unnatural ways or even hit your head against the wall and you'll see God, or something that is trying to look like God at least. The goal is to bring something useful back from that Other World into the Real World of Horrible Jobs. As Robert Fripp puts it, you can take the elevator up to the penthouse on special occasions, but you cannot afford to pay the rent to actually live there - except if you've been saving up for a long, long time.

Another important point from above is that you don't call the Spirits. The spirits call you. The best you can do is prepare yourself so you're at least at home and awake when the Ulterior World comes knocking. All the truly great spiritual masters have a truly astounding level of humility - coupled with a wicked sense of humour.

And an original thought: the rebirth of the polytheistic nature religions in the mid-to-late capitalist era has, I feel, far less to do with a reassertion of collective unconscious or the awakening of the Goddess, than the cultural fragmentation brought on by the consumer era. Monotheistic religion suggests a tightly organised Creation supervised by an ineffable but essentially benevolent God. Polytheistic religion suggests a confusing jumble of spiritual powers, spirits, loa etc. all feuding with one another - to tap into the world of Lawrence Miles for a moment, there's a War in Heaven and humans are going to get caught in the crossfire if they don't make powerful friends among the various Godfathers. Welcome to life in the era of mass media saturation.

But Marxism agrees with the mystical monotheisms in that it's all a unity behind the scenes. The various Brands which stalk our cultural landscape like alien gods are not real - when the Muslims say that shirk is the gravest sin, what they mean is by bowing down and giving your soul-energy to a cultural phantasm. Of course, you can create your own Brand, your own cult, your own small god, carve out a little niche in the World-As-Is where you can enjoy the illusion of your separate existence and your Special Snowflake status. But all power ultimately rests in the willingness or otherwise of the working class to allow their labour to be exploited. All those phantoms will disappear when we as a class discover the magic word. It's our destiny as a species.

ETA: speaking of Fripp, here's a good article.

06 January 2010

The enemy is protest politics

I don't care whether, on paper, you're a rabid Trot or an unreformed Stalinist or Fidel Castro's best buddy or any kind of variation on the above. The method of small-group Marxism (aka "toy-town Leninism") is identical:

1) Protest politics: get involved in every campaign you possibly can against something - against climate change, against whichever imperialist war is on at the moment, against one or other evil boss exploiting a certain group of workers. Throw all your efforts into building the movements against a particular injustice of late capitalism, or in an inchoate way against "capitalism" or "the corporates".
2) Abstract propaganda: publish a newspaper or journal and conduct meetings, conferences and seminars explaining your particular "brand" of Marxist-Leninist theory as you understand it.
3) What passes for praxis: Use your popularity and contacts built up doing 1) to get an audience for 2). Recruit to your organisation.
4) An "upsurge in class struggle" will happen, one day.
5) ???
6) RRRRREVOLUTION!

Newsflash, comrades: although your intentions are sincere and noble, the above will not work and indeed has never worked. Here's why:

a) Since Marxism is the unity of theory and practice, and in the above schema the "theory" is not the distillation of the experience of practice, but of a set of pre-set attitudes and dogmas, the above is not Marxism - or, at least, it's not actually "scientific Marxism", but absolutely identical to the way in which any religious organisation attempts to gain converts by doing Good Works. Justified by a narrative that "we are in a downturn, so we can't do revolutionary politics, which only make sense in a massive upsurge", the above schema is nothing but left-wing reformist political practice sellotaped to abstract distillations of the revolutionary theory of previous eras. In this way, the theory is actually cordoned off from the practice, and ceases to be living.
b) A sect, no matter how large, has never developed into a mass party. Not never. The Bolsheviks were a mass party founded by a sect in an unprecedented revolutionary period - not exactly the same thing. Let's put it this way - readers of this blog, imagine the biggest and most successful Marxist mega-sect in your country. Then, imagine a 1917-style total breakdown of your country's social order. Can you imagine the mega-sect becoming the leadership of a mass movement for a new order? I am willing to predict that the prospect either makes you nauseous with horror or with uncontrollable laughter.

Of course, the schema above is perfectly good if your actual goal is to build a sect, because you like being in/leading a small religious group of people who share your version of The Truth. It's a good lifestyle, insofar as lifestyles go, and people in sects do plenty of good work. But their sect will not ever, ever, become the organic leadership of a mass movement that they dream of. At best, they will end up jumping on the mass movement once it's already gotten going and may play a decent role, but we are more ambitious than that.

Of course you can't play revolutionary politics in a non-revolutionary era. But you can engage in transitional politics wherever and whenever you are. Revolutionary theory is only useful in the everyday in the sense that it offers a road to transitional theory united intimately with transitional practice.