2020-06-06

If Only It Were Easy




God, the Hill, the Boulder and You — LifeVesting

Doloras is trying to update this blog - removing rusty scrap, replacing it with more functional parts based on new insights, applying a new paint job - and I thought I'd just try to lend a helping hand. The Old Chaos Marxism had passed its 'best before' date in the face of simultaneous far-right success and far-left failure in the Realm of Hungry Memes, so it was indeed time for a revision. 'Examine everything,' they say, 'and preserve the good.'

Now in this light, I have some doubts about the New Chaos Marxism. I wonder if it's such a good idea to try and integrate a spiritual and political path in one organization. This is what I understand to be the goal of the 'praxis groups' outlined in 'Theses on the New Chaos Marxism.' Certainly, both personal, spiritual enlightenment and collective, political revolution may be said to require 'creating change in objective reality in conformity with intention.' In this sense, they are similar projects. But the contradictions between real-existing radical-left politics and the various forms of spirituality on offer seem to me to be far too big to integrate these projects in one and the same organization:

  • Whereas radical-left politics typically looks for the causes of one’s problems in social structures outside oneself, spirituality looks for these causes in psychological patterns inside the individual
  • Leftists seek psychological safety for themselves, a place where one belongs and everyone is accepted; followers of the spiritual path seek danger to their ego, threats to their identity and lousy rationalizations, a place where they detach from idols of personal identity and are (psychologically) dissolved in a larger Being
  • The radical-left model of group decision-making is based on direct democracy or consensus, building 'affinity groups,’ whereas spirituality preaches a relationship to a spiritual teacher that is based on obedience and is intentionally hierarchical, though spiritual groups will typically cast this hierarchy as a gift of love and service on the part of the teacher
  • Leftists encourage openness with regards to one's emotions, building collective anger and manifesting passionate negativity against a common enemy, whereas spiritual travelers tend to emphasize equanimity, politeness, and an interpersonal ethics based on consideration of the Other - all Others, including political enemies - before oneself.


Where I live, many a radical-left organization surely has much to gain by cultivating virtues of reflexivity - and probably it's the same where you live. Training group members in reasonable intellectual discussion, 'self-care' or even good manners are all commendable undertakings. But a commitment to practices of good intellectual debate, warm and kind interpersonal relationships, and individual psychological well-being does NOT IN ANY WAY preclude group members or even the group as a whole from acting horribly. 

Liu Shaoqi stressed the need forcommunists to practice self-cultivation, urging his aspiring comrades to discover their ''wrong ideas, habits and prejudices and correct them,'' -- all in the service, we should add, of a party that was at that point a Stalinist repression machine. Medieval European knights were at the same time mystics travelling the Path of Love AND ruthless warriors wrecking the lives of ordinary people. Fuck - even ISIS has its spiritual commitments, and I'm not talking about the Egyptian goddess here.

To put it less dramatically, a group that aims to change the consciousness of its members for the better, while at the same time holding on to worldly goals (political or otherwise) risks merely reprogramming its members to subordinate themselves to The Cause. And note these Causes may very well contradict social or political progress. There's a reason spiritual organizations on the saner end of the spectrum usually refuse to appoint a representative to take the Seat of God on this planet, making do with a strategy of 'tuning into God's Spirit,' or something similar. (And a similar case could be made for consciously anti-authoritarian political groups.)

The old Chaos Marxist principle ‘‘don’t confuse the levels’’ still rings true. In the end, you can't get there yourself, which means you can't get there with a collection of selves-who-haven't-been-there, either.

2020-05-29

Archontism


Amazon.com: X FILES "I Want to Believe" Mulders Office Tv Show ...


The classy word in the title is coined by one Tommy P. Cowan in an article on the works of famous Scientologist, junkie and wife-killer William S. Burroughs, and he defines it thus:
Archontism is a current of thought grounded in a sort of “negative epistemology” that sees human existence as controlled by ‘archons,’ or agentified barriers built into the natural world in order to block the paths to psychic transcendence.
This is a step up above normal "conspiracy theory" - that your life is fucked up by a hidden cabal of bad guys - in that the archons are, in the glorious phrasing of the Church of the SubGenius, "not even human [but] shambling, unbelievable, unmentionable, unthinkable THINGS". In the Western tradition, this is most commonly associated with Gnosticism, and certainly that's the main vibe which comes out of all those great "modern gnostic" artworks that came out of the late 90s: Dark City, The Matrix, The Invisibles.

An earlier example of this kind of fiction is The Mind Parasites by Colin 
Wilson. Much like many of the works of one of Wilson's sources, Mr Racist Recluse of Providence, Mind Parasites is not well written, far from it, but interesting and fun because of the ideas it includes. Brief plot: a scientist discovers that some immaterial alien beasties are holding humanity's psychic evolution back and causing mass suicides. He defeats the beasties using only Husserl's phenomenology (!!!) which gives him spooky superpowers - telepathy, telekenesis and all-round super-geniusdom, which he can then teach to others.

It is not a coincidence that this book came out in 1967 at about the time the hippies started getting into Scientology, and those are about the kind of powers that LRH promised his fan club. Scientology is not strictly "archontic", because (to very briefly summarise) in their mythology, we weren't fucked up by monsters, we fucked ourselves up. But it appealed to people who read stories like The Mind Parasites and wanted to believe that kind of thing could actually happen.

This reminds me very strongly that JRR Tolkien converted CS Lewis back to Christianity (which he had rejected in reaction to his tight-ass Ulster Protestant upbringing) by telling him that the life of Jesus Christ was just like all those stories of sacrifice and redemption that he loved in mythology and legendry, only it really happened. The point of the story is that people will believe anything, and just because we want to believe doesn't make it true. That way lies a huge waste of time or becoming someone's puppet or slave. "We preferred to live in Ron's fantasy than boring reality" - some Sea Org veteran

As it happens, my working reality-tunnel is that the superstructure of the capitalist mode of production (or, indeed, all class societies) is the closest thing you can get to an actual "archontic system". I suppose it's fine to believe that all those stories are just metaphors for what you really believe in, like CS Lewis would argue that those dying-and-rising-god stories were planted by YHWH to get people ready for Jesus. So maybe all those people who think Marxism is Gnosticism with the serial numbers filed off were right. Only in practice can it be worked out which is the map, and which is the territory, because the people who confuse the two will probably end up believing something really stupid, like a shitposter on 8chan is a timetraveller.

2020-05-22

Trump with Hubbard: neoliberalism, fascism and narcissism

Image

We have our differences quite often with Philadelphia antifascist Gwen Snyder, but we were absolutely struck by the insight of this twitter thread from her.

 Allow us to produce edited highlights:
I've been wondering how long it would take for the media to make a link between Trump's literal belief in the magic of positive thinking and his insistence that COVID-19 would just cure itself and disappear.
This is a nuance I think *a lot* of even Trump's most severe critics miss when they're like "oh he's just a liar and trying to distort reality." Like, I really think he literally does operate under the belief that speaking a positive truth with certainty manifests it in reality.


It's not that it makes him not a liar so much as it makes him the most dangerous kind of liar there is: one who doesn't meaningfully distinguish between truth and lies in his own head.
People call Trump a con man sometimes, but it's not really a good characterization. Has he engaged in illegal grift and attempted cons? Sure. But con men-- skilled con artists-- don't fall for their own cons.


We tend to underestimate how much of our "reality" is socially constructed, how much of the world around us was brought into a very specific way of being through our social frameworks and beliefs, & also how much of our understanding of that world is structured by those beliefs.

Narcissists and magical positive thinkers are probably actually better at understanding the degree to which our reality is socially constructed than most people.


Their fundamental mistake is thinking *they personally* are the ones responsible for socially constructing it.

These narcissists and magical positive thinkers (who overlap, a lot, for good reason) operate with the belief they can basically shape existence through their words. To them, their lies aren't lies-- they're words that they believe speak reality into being.
A good con-man-- a good liar-- will be Method enough to get himself to mostly believe the lie as he says it. He'll also, however, be compartmentalized enough to 1) plan to make the lie LOOK real, 2) know on some level it's untrue, & 3) aim for plausible deniability just in case. 
With Trump, there's no compartment of his brain he's set aside to remain clear-eyed about the world around him. There is almost certainly no distinction in his mind between Trump, The Act and Trump, the man.

Trump isn't a clueless liar, and he also isn't some genius manipulator of media. He's a man who honestly believes that if he says something often enough and with enough conviction, it will end up becoming the truth.

Trump thinks he speaks truth into being. And he's in a constant feedback loop with television shows like Fox & Friends that find ways to take what he says and selectively present or invent wholesale facts that make what he says appear to be the truth.


There's a reason that ignorant narcissists tend to make very effective fascists. They are uninterested understanding reality. To them, reality is at most an inconvenient obstruction on the path to unifying the words they've spoken with the world as it is seen by the rest of us.
 
Fascist ideology is very much like the making of The Apprentice. It's a sewing-together of bits of culture & history into a retroactive narrative of wisdom and greatness. Incurious narcissists are its ideal promoters, because to them "truth" is just what they speak into being.

Ultimately, that's what fascism about. It's about building a country around a myth of the limitless power of the individual will of one person, a myth supplemented with fictional stories patched together selectively and piecemeal from culture and history.

That individual person-- the fascist leader-- believes the truth of the myth, even if reality suggests its falsehood, because they can't afford not to. To disbelieve would be to accept their humanity and mortality, a fate a narcissist would never voluntarily face.
 Wow. Where even to start with this massive insight which fills in the gaps in a lot of things that Chaos Marxism has been talking about for more than a decade? Let's start with:
  • Gwen is 100% right that fascism is based on magical thinking; and we've said for ages that so is neoliberalism, in its cult of individual transcendence and "manifestation" and "if bad things happen, you made them happen to yourself". Many atheists are disgusted by the message of consistent monotheism that God will do terrible things to you for no good reason (cf. Job), but that's actually more compassionate than believing that you do them to yourself.
  • We wrote in a long article elsewhere about how fascist movements and cults (the two are not totally indistinct) "require as a catalyst a leader who narcissistically abuses their followers, and provides his/her own identity as a “superhuman” as a substitute for what they’ve lost, and a justification for them to act out their own abusive fantasies.
  • All the things Gwen mentions above as characteristics of Trump are also easily recognizable in the life story of L. Ron Hubbard. Many have argued as to whether Ron actually believed Scientology or whether it was all a con, the question which Gwen raises re: Trump above. We would agree with American Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon when he said: "a cult leader has to be a cultist himself. He has to be a megalomaniac who gets revelations outside the realm of reality.”
  • All this raises the question of how much this is Aleister Crowley's fault. Fans (and enemies) of "the Great Beast 666" love to say that he predicted the massive shift to individualist consciousness of the 1960s (appearing on the covers of a Beatles album, even), even that he made it happen with his spooky magick. But Uncle Al was no vulgar individualist, and emphasised the goal of subsuming the individual ego altogether. He would have had no truck with the idea that sufficiently powerful narcissistic thinking could get you (the ego) everything you wanted, the rest of the universe be damned - he characterised that as the thinking of a "Black Brother". But that is the easiest misinterpretation of Crowley. That is where you get Scientology; and it's where you get neoliberalism; and, Gwen has persuaded us, that's where you get Trump. (Note what Gwen says about how Trump was enabled by the producers of The Apprentice in his solipsistic delusions - and now FOX News and OAN continue the job.)
Trump is a symptom of neoliberalism choking on its own waste products, as fascism is of capitalism.

2020-04-06

A Heart-Breaking Divide

Increasingly, I find myself divided, pulled apart by opposing forces.

On the one hand, I am called to surrender my beliefs, my selfish and childish clinging to my own rightness in both political and personal affairs. It is the tragedy of ego-based interaction and socialization that leads me to seek salvation in the higher realms of religion and spirituality. Many a spiritual path beckons, asking me to trade conventional socialization and petty concerns for a loving attitude of selfless service. This path of self-annihilation finds its highest expression in charity, an unconditional giving of what I naively held to be 'mine' in the financial, psychological and spiritual realms. To be attached to a particular agenda other than one of indiscriminate love is anathema to this path.

On the other hand, I am called to serve humanity by joining the fight for a better world, to build up power from below and exert it to change society for the better. Perceiving the living Hell that is 21st century capitalism ever more clearly, I am compelled to take contrarian and rebellious action. Ultimately, what the political activities of the radical Left boils down to is the formation and harnessing of collective identities. It cannot be otherwise, nor should it, for to change the world requires a reshuffling of power, which in turn requires struggle. And in order to participate meaningfully in struggle, the very first thing I need to reject is my faux sense of neutrality; to live a political life is to be committed, ''a priori,'' to a camp, a side, a position. It is to say ''OK, boomer,'' and to shout ''no justice, no peace, f*ck the police!''

Thoroughly (but not desperately) bothered by this conundrum, I seek solutions to this dilemma. I find, though, that neither of these forces is soluble in the other. To believe that a better world is the result merely of improved individual behaviour is to abolish politics, to calm one's mind in an unacceptable cover-up of existing hierarchies. Whereas the suspension of all personal work till ''after the revolution'' is, similarly, to miss the point and shift responsibility.

But I know (or, rather, I think that I know) that to do nothing is the worst choice, trading uncertain gains for certain delusion and uselessness. I thus find myself moving, grasping in the dark, not knowing for certain where I go. I try to walk firmly, at a steady pace. Although I have never stumbled and fallen, I am naturally afraid of the road ahead, hesitant to trust in what lies before me. It is in this way, then, that I move - not necessarily forward, or in any particular direction at all.

2020-03-15

Marblecake



Another retraction and apology for one of the big manifesto pieces of "old Chaos Marxism". Six years ago or so I wrote:

The Conspiracy (to use SubGenius lingo) needs you to be you. It needs you to have a forename, a hindname, and an address - an individuality - by which it "interpellates" you into the system... It needs you to be predictable. It needs you to have a place within the system.

... and therefore "Anonymous", not having an identity, was supposed to be liberation from late capitalist "interpellation".

But even at the time I should have realised that this wasn't true, because the problem with Anonymous was that anonymity went with lack of transparency. They weren't like Lawrence Miles' "Remote", autonomous signals-driven nihilist terrorists. There was far too often - maybe always - a man behind the curtain directing the mob.

We used to call it "marblecaking" - /marblecake/ was an IRC channel in which a kind of "invisible Central Committee" made plans for Operation Chanology. As far as I can remember, these were benevolent and sensible plans. But the whole idea that this hidden committee existed - and that many Anons were repulsed when they found out about its existence - should have revealed (to those who weren't too invested in the myth) that an Anon mob is far too easily manipulated by "social engineers".

Someone said once that they suspected that Chanology was in itself a "psyop" - like "someone was testing something", i.e. that it was all "marblecaked" from the beginning, by... who? State spooks? Corporate spooks? I am skeptical about that. But the last 10 years have shown how state and corporate spooks have gotten so good at marblecaking any movement of "meme politics" (as opposed to things which happen in the real world, like #BlackLivesMatter or #MeToo), and how this blog was full of shit at one point.

2020-02-29

Are we having fun yet?



Capitalism promotes personal and social ... well, I don't want to sound like a fascist or a red-brown by saying "degeneracy", so I'd better say degradation. In the sense that William S. Burroughs meant:

“The junk merchant doesn't sell his product to the consumer, he sells the consumer to his product. He does not improve and simplify his merchandise. He degrades and simplifies the client.”
As we never get tired and repeating, Marx and Engels were no workerists, no Red-Browns who actually thought the alienation, aggression, anger and gullibility of the actually existing working class were good things. No, the Marxist proletariat becomes fit to be the ruling class through the revolutionary struggle - or to put it another way, the Revolution can only triumph (in the full sense of the term, the social revolution, the transformation of everyday life, not just changing the political/economic system) is if we all "become better people". In this particular context, that means learning solidarity, inner discipline, rationality, being able to "fight with a loving heart".

Capitalism doesn't want us to become better people. It wants us to simultaneously become harder, more devoted, more flexible workers; and more amoral, manipulable consumers. This has been true ever since the late 19th century, where the workers' movement forced universal suffrage on the ruling class at the same time industrial capitalism evolved into consumer capitalism, and actually controlling the opinion of the masses became the vital technology in maintaining bourgeois hegemony.

I don't think it's true that fascism is just capitalism with the masks taken off - fascism is a political pathology which takes hold among the downwardly mobile middle classes, and the bourgeoisie won't let those thugs and clowns into the country club unless they really have to. But consumer capitalism, in continuously degrading mass consciousness - continually encouraging more selfish individualism, more amoral thrill-seeking and low-grade sociopathy, less rational thought and more jumping at whichever exciting meme comes down the pipeline - continually creates a constituency for fascism.

Fascism is fun, in the same way that conspiracy theory is fun, the narratives spread by FOX News, RT and the tabloid press are fun and the nastier forms of internet trolling or fandom are fun. They are socially sanctioned outlets for antisocial behaviour. I believe it was Walter Benjamin who described fascism as all the forms of an revolutionary uprising, but the content of who's in power and who's in control not only stay the same, but become embedded. In that sense, fascism is carnivalesque. It's a reaction to "normal times capitalism" where the masses are totally apathetic and quiescent - but the pendulum swings back, after untold destruction.

On the other hand, democracy (and workers' democracy, even more so) means hard work, going to meetings, and being responsible. Most people - as the world is today - would prefer a "bread and circuses" life under an entertaining dictator. This is why the legacy of "hippie revolutionaries" who promoted hedonism as a reaction to boring, rational, bureaucratized post-war Keynesian capitalism, always had a backdoor where fascism gets in.

Honestly, I think some of the Left like having Trump in power just so they can get off on hating him. Living under an emergency/apocalyptic situation is a lot of excitement and fun. Until it starts having actual impact on your daily life, of course. But Left-wing politics as a lifestyle choice - rather than as a discipline of learning to wield collective working power - is fundamentally irresponsible and conservative. The real Revolution is joy and freedom - but it's not fun.

2020-01-21

A Chaos Marxist New Year's Resolution


I take immeasurable pleasure in welcoming Subtle Singer to the Chaos Marxism team. I've been doing this on my own for too long. Enjoy. - DlaP

In the Islamic tradition, one is required to host guests for three days, hospitality that is provided beyond that period being regarded as Sadaqah (voluntary charity).

Interpreting this matter-of-fact prescription as a spiritual imperative, we are called on to inquire into the nature of our own psychological hospitality;

  1. Are you welcoming enough for guests? The coming of which particular guests would you like to be prepared for? 
  2. What guests are currently staying in your house? How are you treating them?
  3. What guests have overstayed their period, and should lovingly be shown the door? How will you put to use the gifts they have left behind?

In this New Year, regularly take the time to ask yourself these questions. God willing, you will have the courage to face these questions honestly, and adjust your door policy as necessary.