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.


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.


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!


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?


Chivalry, Responsibility, Will and Character

I first read this when I was 15, and while a lot of my beliefs and practices and even self-image have changed since then, it is still one of the central ideas upon which I base my life:

The practice of magic also demands the development of what is called the magical will. Will is very much akin to what Victorian schoolmasters called "character": honesty, self-discipline, commitment, and conviction. Those who would practice magic must be scrupulously honest in their personal lives. In one sense, magic works on the principle that "it is so because I say it is so." A bag of herbs acquires the power to heal because I say it does. For my word to take on such force, I must be deeply and completely convinced that it is identified with truth as I know it. If I habitually lie to my lovers, steal from my boss, pilfer from supermarkets, or simply renege on my promises, I cannot have that conviction. Unless I have enough personal power to keep commitments in my daily life, I will be unable to wield magical power.

To work magic, I need a basic belief in my ability to do things and cause things to happen. That belief is generated and sustained by my daily actions. If I say I will finish a report by Thursday and I do so, I have strengthened my knowledge that I am a person who can do what I say I will do. If I let the report go until a week from next Monday, I have undermined that belief. Of course, life is full of mistakes and ,miscalculations. But to a person who practices honesty and keeps commitments, "As I will, so mote it be" is not just a pretty phrase; it is a statement of fact.

I've heard the saying elsewhere as "the will of a Witch should be as cast iron" - I thought it was in Starhawk, but maybe I got it from Terry Pratchett, lol. Anyway, the parallels are extremely striking between this incredibly clear statement of Wiccan belief, showing obvious lines of descent from Crowley, and Hazrat-e-pir Dr Javad Nurbakhsh's description of what is called in various languages futuwwa, javanmardi and chivalry as a fundamental aspect of the Sufi traditions of Iran and Central Asia. None of these translations of the concept seem entirely appropriate for my liking: the first two literally mean "young-manliness", and the last can mean anything from feudal knights in horseback to condescending sexism. So maybe we should just call it The Magical Will, or Revolutionary Character.

One of the central tenets of Chaos Marxism is still that Crowley's definition of magic as "the art of causing change in conformity with will" is applicable to revolutionary struggle, although of course then you have an "aggregation problem" of how to convert an individual magical will into the collective magical will of the proletariat becoming the subject-object of history, but that's a topic for another time lol.

Anyway: my opinion is in the actually existing circles of people who want to change the world, at least online, there's far too much irresponsibility. What I mean by this is: acting as though what we did didn't matter, and therefore, we could do whatever we want. You get huge pushback when you object to people shitting in the meme pool, "jokingly" hoping for the triumph of Trump or fascism because it would "own the libs" or whatever, because "shyeah right, as if my shitposting or my demand to not vote for Biden on the principle that it makes me feel icky was going to hand the world over to fascism, lol". But: what if it did?

I've stated before that there is a kind of social contract in all forms of authoritarianism, from the abusive relationship through cults to totalitarianism: give me your loyalty, and you can do whatever you want, as Zapp Brannigan famously put it. And that leads to the young boys going off with the hobos to Pleasure Island, and becoming sex slaves, regular slaves, donkeys (clearly a metaphor for both of the above) or being sent on suicide missions. Responsibility is the price of freedom. It is also the basis for building the Revolutionary Character and the Magical Will.


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.



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.