23 June 2013

Neoliberalism as magick



 “Government of the self ” becomes the taproot of all social order, even though the identity of the self evanesces under the pressure of continual prosthetic tinkering; this is one possible way to understand the concept of “biopower.” Under this regime, the individual displays no necessary continuity from one “decision” to the next. The manager of You becomes the new ghost in the machine.

Thank you, Philip Mirowski. Classical liberalism - or we might way paleoliberalism - was all about the freedom of the (monadic) individual, continuing the Western tradition of believing in a unique "soul" or core to the human personality. However, classic liberalism also understood the labour theory of value, labour being defined as socially useful activity under the guidance of the monadic intellect.

Neoliberalism is what happened when post-war capitalism took Freud seriously, and understood his insight that the "individual" is pretty much a pattern of habits and behaviours adopted so one particular human-shaped body can fit into its society, layered over a bubbling cauldron of half-formed dreams, nightmares, drives, repressions etc.

Neoliberalism blew apart the whole rationale for traditional class society by making it clear that potentially everyone could be a self-actualising Superhuman. But the flipside of that is that classical liberalism at least felt sorry for the poor and had an idea of charity - "there but for the grace of God, or upbringing, go I". But under neoliberalism, everyone is responsible for their own self-fashioning, so no-one ends up in a gutter without - at some point - making some choice to become a "waste of social space." Kein Mitgleid für den Mehrheit, indeed. There is no charity or pity under neoliberalism.

Is it any wonder that "magick" in the Aleister Crowley sense became big among the petty-bourgeois radical underground at the same time that psychology became an industrial science? Radical libertarianism - anarcho-cap or anarcho-commie flavours - hooked onto Crowley's insights (or the bastardised versions served up by Gerald Gardner, R. A. Wilson, Werner Erhardt or, God help us all, Foul Ole Ron) to beat the ruling class at their own "self-fashioning game". They called it self-liberation, but in fact it turned into neo-liberal self-fashioning, because the goal was to create for the (generally white male) individual the most comfortable life possible. Success meant being a celebrity, selling books, having a fan club, and otherwise score big in the market economy which of course the Big Names were too cool to really care about.

More than one scary mind-control cult claiming to be socialist - Fred Newman's International Workers' Party, or the LaRouche mob - attempted to do this on a collective basis. The Newmanites called it "breaking down the bourgeois ego to create a proletarian ego". What nonsense. We don't need a proletarian ego for the same reason that Trotsky argued in 1923 that we don't need a "proletarian culture". What this process meant was really to brainwash followers into being extensions of the Great Leader's Ego. R. A. Wilson pointed out, for example, the technology by which the SLA did this to Patty Hearst.

Meanwhile the revolutionary groups got left behind because the tradition of revolutionary psychology had petered out after Voloshinov disappeared in the gulags and Reich fled to the US and went a bit nutso. So back in the 1970s - and still today to a lesser degree - Marxists have been stuck with a theory of the individual which is just like that of an Adam Smith classical liberal - "the individual" as a monadic whole as opposed to "the collective" or the community. A dialectic between the two in the more sophisticated groups, but no overcoming of the contradiction at a higher level.

So what Chaos Marxism suggests is that we need to leapfrog the neoliberal enemy, which has destroyed the idea of the classical "individual subject" in the name of some kind of "individualism". The ideal neoliberal subject is nothing but a tool allowing capitalism to reproduce itself more effectively, continually refining itself as "human capital" to make more profit to its exploiters. To this extent, the next step for revolutionaries must be an ethic of community which transcends the individual/collective duality altogether. A community which offers a respite from the neoliberal urge to continually "consume more" and to "improve oneself".

What I am suggesting is that we need a revolutionary party whose cadre are appreciated as they are and as they feel comfortable being. If "the Party" wants us to become someone or something else to accomplish its own needs, exactly where lies its superiority to the corporation which brainwashes us with positive thinking and company loyalty? We await the day that the working class transforms itself into a class-for-itself; expecting to do that with socialists who have transformed themselves into activists-for-the-Great-Leader, fighting workers who have transformed themselves into good-corporate-drones, is really expecting the new era to come out of Bad Versus Worse.

Hope that makes sense. What I'm getting at is that the classical-liberal individual is indeed an illusion - we can all transform ourselves - but neoliberalism wants us to transform ourselves into its own tools - whereas we need to transform ourselves into the tools of the Future - and we can only do that in mutually respectful community and in revolutionary praxis.