2021-08-02

Remain in Hell without despair

 On the Word to St. Silouan, “Keep Thy Mind in Hell and Despair Not” /  OrthoChristian.Com

"Society is doomed for one very simple reason: it takes dozens of men working months with millions of dollars in materials to build a building, but only one dumb-ass with a bomb to bring it down." - Jason Pargin writing as David Wong, John Dies At The End

What the unreliable narrative voice of this excellent horror-comedy novel has discovered here and is presenting as a realisation of the awful truth is simply the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or entropy. It is the nature of this universe that things are much easier to destroy than to build, that anything worthwhile decomposes into dust, atoms and kipple as soon as you stop paying attention to it. "Gresham's Law of Memes", as promulgated by this blog, recognises the same thing - "bad memes drive out good", destructive, nihilist appeals to the worst parts of our nature are much easier.

Somewhere in his 20+ years of blogging, Robert Fripp once quoted a Guitar Craft person who, while doing the huddle before a performance, felt the overwhelming urge to do something to spoil the mood/wreck the performance. In Fripp's parlance, that's the Great Deceiver talking (aka The Prince of This World, The Father of Lies and the Uncle of All Tricks). Eric Tamm's unauthorised Fripp biography quotes that Penfold-looking mofo as saying "Temptation is a reward... The Devil cannot make use of people who are drowsy... Until now, you were just a turkey." I think this is the same thing that Pargin is referring to, in the same book, by: 

when you read the Bible, the Devil looks back at you through the pages... even reading about the Devil tips him off, he knows... you're somebody he may have to deal with.

"Performance is inherently unlikely," goes a Guitar Craft aphorism (which Fripp has said were written not by him, but by the "personal voice" which speaks through him on very good days. I have my own version of that voice which wrote everything good on this blog). Trying to do anything worthwhile and good in a universe based on entropy is unlikely. The very existence of life in such a universe is unlikely (which is why religious brain-death merchants love to use entropy to deny the science of evolution). And the existence of intelligent life, even more so. And the existence of intelligent life which has built a complex technological society about to make breakthroughs into space travel and artificial intelligence, even more so. 

The anthropic principle states that all this incredible unlikeliness must have happened for us to be here, able to grasp how unlikely it is, and make little-read blog posts about it. I wonder whether Gurdjieff talking about awakening to the true horror of the situation meant the same thing as St Silouan when he heard Jesus telling him personally to "keep thy mind in hell and despair not".

In strange and uncertain times, such as we are living through, on occasion a reasonable person might despair.
But Hope is unreasonable.
And Love is greater even than this.

2021-04-18

Check out this smooth Prince of the Orient

Idries Shah on Attention – Lorne Mitchell's Thursday Thoughts

Been reading a lot of Idries Shah lately. He was clearly a truly enlightened being and a con-man, and it's pretty clear from his works that he justifies the role of the Teacher as being to tell whatever lies are necessary to get the broad masses to accept the important stuff. You could call him the Lenin of Sufism, like Lacan is called the Lenin of Freudianism, with all the good and bad that entails. 

 Anyway, all his stuff is free to read online; I'd suggest you start with The Sufis, which is an interesting combination of "a good introduction to the literature" with "hilarious Robert Graves-style shaggy dog stories about how the entire Western Esoteric tradition is actually ripped off from Sufism, up to and including Gardnerian Wicca". (To someone who knows about this stuff, it comes off like that dude from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Or virtually any Iranian person you speak to.) And of course Robert Graves, alongside J. G. Bennett the teacher of Robert Fripp, were just two of the i-want-to-believe Westerners who paid Idries Shah to know what they really thought.

Anyway, what I wanted to say is that Idries Shah seems to have had the same project with Western esotericists that Chaos Marxism has had with small Western communist groups. The purpose being to yell: wake up, bozos. You're not doing any good, you're just being a fanclub and jerking each other off, if not actively abusing each other. We've all got to learn how to learn.

2021-03-16

Mere Orthodoxy

 

C.S. Lewis: Surprised by Chesterton
 
I think I'm a Communist for the same reason that G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis were orthodox Christians* - an irrational blinding love for what this world could become, and an intense seething hatred of what is ruining it. Not for nothing is "Tikkun Olam" a slogan of the Abrahamic religions and the insurrectionist movement.

Where those worthy gentlemen saw a personal transcendent God, however, I see the possibilities (even as far as going to the stars) of the consciousness of humanity as a species, with a duty of care towards the rest of Earth's biosphere; and where they saw the Devil, I see the intense selfishness of material privilege which will destroy consciousness - and Earth's biosphere - in order to preserve itself. The rigid theists don't have any place in their mythology for empathy and altruism among animals, for example. And Jack Lewis doesn't seem to have any better argument against Islam, for example, than Brett Kavanagh's "I LIKE BEER".**

Still, it's amusing to see how Chesterton in particular combined orthodox Christianity with a passion for democracy and social justice which tipped into sympathy for anarchism, and this bit is particularly funny:
 
The guillotine has many sins, but to do it justice there is nothing evolutionary about it. The favourite evolutionary argument finds its best answer in the axe. The Evolutionist says, "Where do you draw the line?" the Revolutionist answers, "I draw it HERE: exactly between your head and body."

Lewis liked that revolutionary imagery as well:

This universe is at war. It is a civil war, a rebellion, and … we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel. Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going.

The shitty thing is that this is precisely what the Bad Guys - the fascistic culture warriors who really want to go to war for Mr Potato Head's gender - believe, as well. So you get modern "tankies" who learn that freedom is slavery, solidarity is imperialism, exploitation is anti-colonialism, and still get to play-act the good guys. All you need, as Orwell knew, is to worship the Powers that Be, The Prince of This World, because they're "obviously going to win" so they might as well be God. And you also get Philip K Dick's gnosticism. The revolutionary/resistance aesthetic is not necessarily progressive, is my point.

* And why Rudyard Kipling believed in the British Empire and the White Man's Burden, I suppose.

** Chesterton is awful on Islam. He firstly defends Trinitarianism by conjuring up a racist fantasy of consistent monotheism leading to bloodthirsty Muslamic hordes, coincidentally implicating the other consistent monotheists from that part of the world. And then he brags about how Christian civilisation is great because when Rome fell the Church preserved civilisation. Yeah, right, the freakin' Islamic world preserved Greco-Roman learning while the Franks were all chopping one another's heads off in bogs, and only after a few centuries of rank barbarism did they come to steal all that civilised stuff back at swordpoint from not only the Muslims but their Eastern "Christian brothers".

2021-01-12

Losing my religion

Losing My Religion












The Leninist parties of old asked unquestioning obedience from their followers, forcing their members and, after gaining power, their subjects, to conform to their every twist and turn in order to attain their political goals. Just read The Little Red Book for an illustration of this.

When the prospect for world revolution faded, these goals were watered down to the military goal of defeating the enemy. When the Cold War ended, the enemy had to be defeated not by military, but by economic means. Which really meant shaking the hand of the devil - capitalism - in a relentless commitment to rise to the top of this wicked system.

The attempt to organize a successful drive to social change instead turned into a quasi-religious worship of power qua power. This drive persisted and now rules in the form of a constellation of supremely evil and ruthless authoritarian parties oppressing over a billion people in China alone.

This heart is increasingly sceptical of the possiblity of a politics that is both revolutionary and democratic, both radical and liberal. Once the need for a radical, thoroughgoing transformation of society has been established, its fire cannot be kept out of "undesired" areas. This is why revolutions spring out of control and are said to eat their children. (Slightly-related hot take: this is what the generation of "Social Justice Warriors" now coming of age in the United States will find out some time over the next decade.)

It is exactly the same principle that makes spiritual paths so all-encompassing, bringing everything in the practitioner's psyche to light, causing turmoil that requires careful and skillful guidance in order NOT to bring about the demise of the practitioner. Perhaps the Trotskyists, then, have got it right, after all, that the crisis of the Russian revolutionary process was really one of leadership.

The project of Chaos Marxism has not been able to offer anything substantial in the way of a resolution of this dilemma, the choice between a radical reconstruction of the World-As-Is while retaining respect for what might be called everyday human needs and basic human decency. Since our inception, we have only been able to appeal to caution in the face of radical Radicalism (if you know what I mean), deferring the nasty work to spiritual and religious traditions. Note that this counts as a valuable achievement in its own right.

Of course, people have been telling me of this impossibility ever since I got involved in politics, but I can say with equal parts honesty and shame that I have never realized the true meaning of this. "Maybe" this radical politics, then, was just an ego project, an intellectualization of a personal and social maladaptibility. Maybe the Christian do-gooders are right after all, and power in all its forms is wicked, which means this world is wicked, which means it must be rejected or at the very least thoroughly left alone.

I struggle with the idea of accepting what seems to be a fundamentally conservative insight - that only God (i.e., an unfathomable instance that really controls everything behind the scenes, and which is neither human nor a human creation) controls the to and fro of worldly affairs. And that a radical politics amounts to idolatry (i.e., the most radical departure possible from the turn to God, and therefore to be completely and absolutely rejected).

But as a lapsed teenage convert to radical-leftism, my only slightly less immature 20-something-year-old self sees few other options.

2020-11-09

In defence of normies

 

A quite significant stage in my "growing up" occurred when one of my personal heroes - a revolutionary writer on music who single-handedly persuaded me that Marxism was useful - sneered at me as a "victim of the culture industry" because I liked Pink Floyd. Well, he may be pleased to know that I can't enjoy Pink Floyd any more since Roger Waters became a tool of evil. But that sheer nastiness about someone else's joy is pretty symptomatic.

I'm seeing it in a lot of online circles today, curmudgeons mocking the (largely Black) urban masses of the United States actively dancing in the streets that their wannabe tyrant lost the election. Of course his replacement is a dull, grey machine politician who not only won't, but can't do anything to fix the real problems of that country. (Only the people themselves can do that.) But fuckin' imagine sneering at the masses dancing in the streets of Berlin thirty-one years ago, even though capitalism certainly wasn't all it was cracked up to be. OH WAIT a lot of the Left did that too, because "nooooo muh deformed workers' state, enjoy your Fourth Reich".

To deturn a radical trans rights phrase of the 90s - normie lives under capitalism are lived, and therefore liveable. Cringe stuff like Christmas carols, or Garfield cartoons and cuddly toys brightening up a cubicle, are necessary to be alive under capitalism. Some people are under the impression that the people won't "grow up", won't take on their historic responsibility of seizing their own destiny, unless we "break all their toys". That's how you create abused, frightened children, not responsible adults.

2020-09-15

Science, like nature, must also be tamed with a view towards its preservation

 
 
No coarser insult, no baser aspersion, can be thrown against the workers than the remarks: “Theoretic controversies are only for academicians.” Some time ago Lassalle said: “Only when science and the workers, these opposite poles of society, become one, will they crush in their arms of steel all obstacles to culture.” The entire strength of the modern labour movement rests on theoretic knowledge. - Rosa Luxemburg

There are two ideological oppositions to this Luxembourgeois project of bringing science and workers together:

  1. the elitist or technocratic argument that workers can't possibly grasp and use science because their little brains can't handle it;
  2. the populist or obscurantist argument that science is bullshit anyway and mythology, "common sense", an "alternative narrative" or (God help us) "the correct politics" is all the working class need.

Science - by which I mean, the idealised scientific method, rather than the imperfect implementations of it we have under capitalism - is the best tool for understanding the material universe. Of course the lifeworlds of indigenous people have built up stable civilisations which lasted dozens of millennia, and a future post-capitalist society will have to humble itself to learn from them re: sustainability. Science is more ambitious, though. Science has enabled technology which has enabled a massive increase in the human population and the cultural riches it has created. If you don't think that's a good thing, then I'll thank you to stop reading this blog right now. There's no way back to pre-industrial or pre-agricultural society, anyway. Capitalism has fucked the whole planet up, there is no "outside" to it, and the mess created by technology in the service of profit has to be fixed by science and technology in the service of sustainable human civilisation and flourishing.

Only a rising class has any true interest in science, in the sense of finding out how the world really works, in order to liberate itself. In contrast, every ruling class, in every era, is only interested in that ideology which enables them to keep that position. The bourgeoisie promoted science in their struggle to become the ruling class over the feudalists and the slave-owners. But, since they firmly established themselves as the ruling class,  they have no further need for science. They're all in favour of technology, insofar as it increases their profit and their class dominance over the rest of us. But they are much more interested in pseudoscience, or "woo", which justifies their right to rule over and exploit all of us (and the living planet) forever, and in communicating those ideas to the working masses to keep them quiet. (There is one exception: the bourgeoisie are very, very interested in the science of mass psychology, to keep us docile and under control, working hard and consuming when they prod one of our psychic hot buttons.)

Hypocrisy is of course the homage that vice pays to virtue, and pseudoscience is so popular because because we've been trained in bourgeois civilisation that "science is good and must be obeyed", but then being given garbage arguments from authority and just-so stories from white men in even whiter coats and being told that that's "SCIENCE". Anti-Darwinian "creationism", climate change denial, "evolutionary psychology" which claims that patriarchy, racism and class society are the natural order, all kinds of "alternative facts" about COVID-19 and 5G wireless transmission... these all pose as being "anti-system", but instead reject the only tool which could actually enable the oppressed peoples of the world to seize power of their own destiny and that of the living planet..

Walter Benjamin pointed out that fascism takes on the appearance of revolution to make sure that no revolution actually happens - the ruling class remain the ruling class but with a "fresh aesthetic". Anti-rational beliefs spontaneously appear among the masses when "SCIENCE" has been used as a club to keep them down for 100 years. The ruling class cynically encourage them to circulate because they keep the masses either content with their place in life, or channel their anger into self-destruction or into fascist-style movements which pose no real threat to class society. You heard me right: pseudoscience is an essential part of fascism.

As I think Jason Colavito would agree, the issue is not religion or beliefs in the supernatural, but those things dressed up in the garb of science to make them effective brain-bludgeons. (Chaos Marxism is neither for nor against religion, which can support reactionary or revolutionary politics or abstention from politics altogether.) I suppose any old "alternative narrative" can make "the people rise up". But it depends on what you want. Do you want a new civilisation based on universal liberation, quality of life, ecological sustainability and the fulfilment of human potential? Or do you want fascism, Stalinism, or the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom?

For education within the movements in the scientific method and critical thinking!
For the scientific method and evidence-based policy as central features of a programme for a post-capitalist society!
Science does not contradict indigenous lifeworlds, but complements them! For their combination to create a new global sustainable civilisation of human flourishing!
Bring Workers And Science Together!

2020-09-06

FOURTEEN YEARS OF CHAOS MARXISM: a personal resumé and manifesto


So who am I, and why have I spent 14 years on-and-off on this poorly read blog? The first thing to assure you is: I write pseudonymously (though pretty transparently) because these are very provisional ideas which are considered "oddball at best" in polite society. You can find out my "street name" with some basic internet detective skills, and if you're not a dick I'll say hi to you.

I am a materialist and a Marxist. I do not believe in the supernatural at this point in my life, but I have no reason to argue with the beliefs of those who do as long as they do not stray into science-denial. I heartily endorse Stephen Jay Gould's concept of "non-overlapping magisteria" in that regard. I believe that the "superstructure" of human culture - culture, psychology and even religion - is based upon material reality and the physical and social processes through which humans survive and reproduce, and how this shapes their relation to each other and their environment. (By "materialist" I of course mean "ecological" - humanity as an animal amongst other animals living on Planet Earth is the necessary starting point.)


At the same time I am a mystic. It is clear from my own experience and my studies that the Numinous or the Absolute - that which cannot be explained in language and which does not appear to obey the laws of material reality - is a deeply important (subjective) reality in human culture, psychology and religion. I think it most likely that this numinous experience has a material basis, but that - until science has advanced further in understanding it - the tools given to us by human culture for understanding and appreciating this are found in various traditions and languages of religion, magic, poetry and art, and in modern materialist psychology to some degree.

I have spent my life trying to integrate these two equally real and true aspects of my life experience, in order to try to "find a way out of the trap" in which class society and in particular capitalism has trapped the world. The materialist and mystical paths are both true, complementary, but non-overlapping for me. A "vulgar materialist" form of Marxism can simply not engage humanity at the very real and important level of spirituality/meaning-making, as is necessary to form a collective subject for social action - except by transforming itself into a religious substitute and therefore denuding itself of the possibility of changing reality (as in Stalinist personality cults). Conversely, religion and magic are not necessarily liberatory - both can lead to reactionary as well as revolutionary conclusions. The belief system which inspired Malcolm X also inspired the Ayatollah Khomenei.

The basic principles of my praxis are as follows:

  1. Capitalism can only be overthrown by organised action of the working classes and oppressed peoples of the world, acting in solidarity and mutual aid. The working class can and will become the ruling class only when it becomes fully unified, which means perfecting solidarity, mutual aid, and unity-within-diversity within itself.
  2. Capitalism (like all class society) fulfils human needs for spirituality, art, and meaning (as well as more biological needs) in ways which enforce its own hierarchies and promote acquiescence to them. A (materialist) study of psychology, culture, religion and art is necessary to understand the very human need for spirituality, art, and other encounters with the Numinous, and to find ways in which people can encounter these aspects of life in a way that promotes solidarity and mutual aid.
  3. This also applies to psychology. Capitalism elevates the individual ego, its avoidance of pain and drive towards pleasure, as the basis of participation in society; thus, it actively undermines social solidarity, the only social force which can replace it. These latter arise not from intellectual assent to the propositions of socialism, but of (cultural and economic) practices of ethical behaviour and mutual aid within communities.
  4. The ego must be transcended or no social solidarity of the strength which can overthrow capitalism can be achieved; we probably won't even get far as creating a non-toxic socialist "scene". Various cultural traditions have been passed down to us which offer technologies for superseding the ego, which include:
    1. committing to a code of humane ethics, including the ability to self-sacrifice in the cause of solidarity;
    2. opening consciousness to "inspiration from outside", but at the same time strengthening the personality so that such "outside experiences" can be experienced safely, without damaging the psyche or its ability to function in the real world;
    3. integrating such experiences positively into art, intellectual endeavour, or relationships with other living beings.
    The goal is to make all these compatible with not only basic humane ethics, but the ethics of building a revolutionary movement of solidarity; which means also disentangling them from the necessity of ascribing a supernatural aspect to them.

The goal of Chaos Marxism, therefore, is reiterated as: a commitment to "complete the personality" through the taming of the individual ego, with the aid of not only humanistic psychology but of techniques which allow "magickal/mystical" experience to be experienced safely, and for its insights to be "brought back" to enrich the "real world" and the movement to change it.

Ancient traditions such as shamanism, Taoism, Buddhism, Sufism and Jewish and Christian mysticism, as well as more modern traditions such as Crowley's "magick" or Gurdjieff's "Work": all these aim to "complete" the human being, or at least make it something more than the accidents of heredity and environment have programmed it for. An encounter with "the other world" means enabling the introduction of novelty, or a random factor, which would have been unavailable to the workaday ego. (It is said that the best proof that Crowley's Liber AL really was channelled from outside his own ego is that, unlike everything else he wrote, it's not disfigured with misogyny.) Conversely, we find it very interesting to analyse the history of the Marxist and/or Leninist movements in the same terms as religious movements such as Islam; we do not believe Marxism should be a religion, or a substitute for it, but it is crucial for us to understand how it has been experienced so, so we don't fall into the same trap.

I have studied various forms of religion, magic and mysticism in my life. 10 years ago I was initiated as a dervish of the Ni'matullahi Sufi Order as my own commitment to try to get over my own ego, to practice the ethics worthy of someone who wants to live in a socialist future, and to strengthen my own personality, Will and ability to make commitments at the same time as opening oneself up to the "outside".

A few thinkers whom I have based these writings on, in vague chronological order: Starhawk; Robert Anton Wilson; Robert Fripp (from J. G. Bennett and G. I. Gurdjieff); exponents of anti-Stalinist Marxism such as L. Trotsky and T. Cliff; Sufi masters such as Dr Javad Nurbakhsh and Kabir Helminski; and most recently Michael Muhammad Knight, who has linked Islam with questions of racial/gender justice and magic/"altered states" like no-one else I know of. I have also gotten immeasurable benefit from the teachings of the Church of the SubGenius, a satirical project which skillfully incorporates all the most dangerous aspects of mind-control cultism and fundamentalist religion, thus (hopefully) inoculating its practitioners from falling for such things in real life. Every time some petty cult leader had me half-convinced of something ridiculous which required me to smash my brain flat, I realised "... that sounds like something 'Bob' would say!" and the feeling dissolved. J. R. "Bob" Dobbs is thus still one of my household gods, as it were. I'm clearly not a good Muslim on any level, but I don't have to be.

Questions? Comments?