17 June 2008

Idealism = elitism = just another treehouse club

ETA: The post below is currently being subjected to sharp but generally friendly criticism at the PD.com forums. Readers of this blog who have no idea what Discordianism is are encouraged to join in so that we may all enlighten each other. See you there.

The people at PrincipiaDiscordia.com (and if you haven't read the Principia yet, you are made of lose and fail) have an interesting new manifesto called Black Iron Prison (taking a phrase from P. K. Dick, to describe the chains of ideology, pretence identities and bad habits which prop up existing exploitative power strucutres.). It's a fun read, but annoyingly it has pretty much the same failing as virtually any "radical cultural product" in this day and age - it is generally spot on about the problem, but falls down on the solutions. While it makes a clarion call for people to throw out their useless and self-limiting identities, it never challenges its own presuppositions - idealism coupled with elitism, the self-justifying ideology (what a Scientologist would call a "service facsimile") of the modern "cultural technician" classes. I quote:

What you have to remember is that if the grazing sheep can see you then so can the bad guys. If you've found a loophole then you've shown them it and you can bet your sorry ass that they'll be busy sealing it up just as you're busy decomposing in an unmarked grave, all the while fertilising the grass that the sheep are fed.

The more obvious you become the more attention you will draw so burn the Che Guevara teeshirt and buy something with Hugo Boss written on it. Tear down the burning buddhist posters and get rid of the CND bumper stickers. Keep your books under the bed. If you really want to accomplish something then your best bet is to work undercover. Jumping on a soapbox and spreading the gospel is not how you get the message across, it's how you end up in jail. Do not subscribe to subversive magazines. Do not turn up at demos and rallys, all their operatives mugshots are on federal databases an, even worse, they achieve approximately nothing. Make no mistake, now that you've slipped your chain they're looking for you. Don't make it easy for them.

So the revolutionaries of the new era will concentrate on keeping their heads down? Interestingly from a manifesto which approvingly discussed shucking off pretence identities a few pages earlier, the personal safety and integrity of the Newly Enlightened Discordian seems to be the main priority here, rather than an attempt to use this enlightenment to affect the material world. "Yes, YOU are now the Newly Enlightened and are much better than pathetic mewling sheep! So for Eris's sake don't actually do anything except find a new peer group to swap recipes!!!"

In fact, the use of the word "sheep" shows a contempt for the huge majority of people in the material world - that is, directly the opposite of Orwell's and Chaos Marxism's dictum that "if there is hope, it lies in the proles". Note the historically inaccurate assertion (repeated by the corporate media so often that it's become common sense) that "demos never changed anything". The fact is that the mass demonstration is the only actual real political/memetic activism that your average working stiff has any chance to get involved with. It's not as useful as the mass strike, but it's something rather than nothing. Letting the ideal be the enemy of the possible is a sure road to impotence - and as for the attitude that anything that ordinary people can do is ipso facto a useless waste of time, well, I don't think I need to even comment further.

And is martyrdom all bad, anyway? Jesus was nailed up, yes, Ché was pumped full of bullets and displayed, but they are now bad-ass memes of various levels of immortality, and you won't be if you stay in hiding. What do you want - to change material reality or just give yourself a new identity, a new lifestyle, a new religion which says it's not a religion?

But of course the writer of these words specifically says that doing mass work is a waste of time:

You CAN NOT bring the MACHINE™ down. You can't even slow it down. What you can do is very slowly and unobtrusively begin to rearrange the basic components. We will refer to these as "widgets" and "sprockets". If widget A and sprocket B combine to exert societal influence C on the stinking morass known collectively as "humanity", then it stands to reason that the MACHINE™ can be reprogrammed at a very basic level and in very small increments. You waste your time dreaming of how to effect such a change on a global, national, or regional scale (the impossibility of which, I might add, keeps you in your perpetual state of blissful apathy), dreaming of assembling a group of like-minded fellows who will march with you to the very gates of the ivory tower whereupon those who have misled and exploited you will be cast down upon the parapets.

This is a counsel of despair, impotence, and magical thinking (directly the opposite of MAGICKAL thinking). To defeat the Black Iron Prison, then, the important thing is to hide, form a secret, quasi-conspiratorial network of people who think like you... and do your cultural activism / memetics / magic so that the big guns of Corporate Brainwashing will slowly but surely start to put out the message you like. Or, in summary: we are the tiny enlightened elite who are going to save the world, by hiding and doing our superhero stuff behind the scenes, by manipulating the structures of oppression rather than trying to throw them down. What, really, is the difference between this and getting a job in academia, advertising or the entertainment multinationals - i.e giving up altogether?

I get angry at so-called "Marxists" who act like that, and I'm not going to take it from Discordians either. It's also the same nonsense that that guy who reckons he's Neo from the Matrix peddles - don't destroy the Matrix, but make it kindlier for the pathetic sheep who will never be real individuals, like us. It's a counsel of despair, of making the best of things for yourself, of believing that you are better and deserve better than people who haven't had the same experiences you have. It's not an antidote to apathy, it's a set of ideas which will make you feel justified in smug apathy, in working the system for whatever material privileges you can get, and then getting together with your cool buddies on evenings and weekends to be cowboys, anarchists, Zen archers, whatever.

A basic axiom of Marxism (which should go in the CM aphorisms) is that only the conscious mass action of the huge worldwide majority will change anything. Not a secret elite of memetic superheroes. We can't make that happen by hiding and manipulating. Nor can we do that by clowning and phrasemongering, by going on demos just for the sake of going on demos - that's just another fake identity, and the BIP writers are right to point that out. (My criticism of most Marxist and anarchist sects is that they act according to the same principles for which I criticse the BIP writers - they use ritualised and useless forms of "political activism" as attempts to shore up their self-image and give them acceptable social and leisure opportunities, rather than actually trying to change the world, i.e. change mass consciousness.)

Ben Watson says, and CM agrees, that a revolution will mean the people who don't have to lie to make their living taking over. The cultural technician class (99% of the people you'll see writing blogs or websites, in other words) overwhelmingly make their living by using memetic tools to spread someone else's toxic ideology. It's precisely because of that that your bus driver is far, FAR more likely to make an effective revolutionary memetician and political activist than the cool guy you met on the internet who reads all the same cool books as you do.

One final point: the MACHINE™ (I may have to start using this shorthand) has only existed for about 100 years now, only in the time of universal suffrage and a mass consumer economy. Before then, there was no point in controlling working people's minds because no-one cared what they thought, just whether they worked. What's more, the MACHINE™ only exists because people go to work every day and make it work. To an enquiring mind, this should point out that the MACHINE™ is not the omnipresent mechanism of control that the BIP writers make it out to be - sadly, that's exactly the "common sense" that thirty years of the postmodernism academy has imposed on virtually the entire culturally-trained class. If you're going to challenge all the mind-forg'd manacles, how about starting with the assumption that capitalist structures of domination and oppression which have existed in their modern form for only 150 maximum are somehow eternal and essential features of human nature? The main proof that the future can be different is that the past was different. Of course individuals can't change it. So you'd better either think of some way of getting past your monadic, bourgeois, individualist identity - or just give up and find a good drug/religion/sports team to follow.

NOTE: The last time I wrote something like this I got hate-mail. I often sound more harsh and nasty than I mean to, so any Discordians reading this, please be assured that this is supposed to be friendly criticism and the opening of a dialogue.


  1. discussion going on at:


  2. Hello ! I just wanted to let you know that your work (specifically this posting) has inspired me to write the following:

    "Beyond disaster capitalism into chaos marxism"


    I have posted a link to your blog in the forum i co-moderate on yahoo.


    I define Chaos Marxism as "accept chaos and deploy anti-capitalism".

    Are you aware that in East Germany during the 1980's - in context of the ddr foreing ministry geo-political / geo-conomic analysis desk- there was an attempt to synthetise principles of chaos mathematics with "objective progress" (i.e. the purported desired outcome of the applied brezhnev doctine that guided eastern bloc foreign policy analysis between 1967 and 1983) ?

    i also keep a blog on blogspot:


    - neosyndic/autogenes

  3. Thank you for your kind feedback. Got any references to the Honecker regime's attempt to use chaos maths? That doesn't sound very "socialist-realist" to me, but I suppose a regime in crisis will try anything.