16 May 2009

Oldthinkers unbellyfeel Ingsoc

Just had another little epiphany about Nineteen Eighty-Four. You know, what they do to Winston in the Ministry of Love doesn't make him love Big Brother. It just smashes all his self-esteem and any previous sentiments and attachments he might have had. In the last chapter, he's sitting there in the Chestnut Tree Café, completely empty. What changes everything is the triumphant news over the telescreen of a (presumably fictitious) massive Oceanian military victory in Africa. It's then that he loves Big Brother.

You see, I think at that point Winston sees the point of what he's been doing with his life. The continuous falsification of history and reality itself, torture and oppression, etc - they are all worthwhile in that they actually make people happy. He who really believes in Ingsoc and loves Big Brother will never be unhappy again because there's an entire mechanism set up whereby the good guys always win - no matter what objective reality might be saying. The Ministry of Truth creates a world where Oceania is always winning (but never wins) the War, the chocolate ration is always going up (from 30 to 25 to 20 grammes, etc), where traitors are always ferretted out and nothing ever goes wrong, where increasing psychological joys are produced for continually minimising real costs.

The big difference with what we have now is that of course there's no ideological or economic competition in Oceania. In the world-as-is, on the other hand, the individual campaigns and firms want us to continually be unhappy, to make us keep consuming the right products (or voting for the right candidates) rather than the competition. You will see that, when people are actually stirred to mass political action in the real world, this continuous low-level hum of anger and dissatisfaction rises to the surface.

But on the other hand, this continual pressing on the nerve of dissatisfaction requires a compensating need to be told that Everything Is Really Just Fine. Which is where the other side of propaganda - propaganda on behalf of the whole system, of "free markets", "democracy", "the consumer is king" - comes in (and of course the various religious cults). And this is why masses of journalists had no interest in exposing the lies of the rush to war in Iraq in 2002-3. They wanted to believe because a war would make them feel better about themselves. They wanted certainty amidst chaos. They wanted to create a Big Brother they could love. (ETA: This side of the memetic complex, much like Ingsoc, is essentially solipsistic. It only exists if you believe in it, perception is reality, if people suffer it's through lack of faith and belief, etc.)

One reason why capitalism is unstable is precisely because the ideological-media apparatus wants to make us unhappy so we'll purchase and consume, but also happy so we won't rebel and will go to work on time. This is the area in which we've got to work. One big problem with Marxist attitudes to mental health is the idea that anything that actually makes you happy (eg. psychotherapy, religion, your own private lifestyle or leisure pursuits) is bad because it distracts you from the need to overthrow the cause of all unhappiness, capitalism. And then they wonder why the only people they can recruit to their groups are the severely psychically disturbed who can't be happy whatever they do.

The approach that "no-one can be happy until we overthrow capitalism" just means that the freaks and weirdos who would be taking drugs or joining religious cults end up standing on street corners selling papers. Which is good for the survival of sects, but not for the project of transforming humanity. Chaos Marxism's approach - as we've said before - is that political activism motivated by the need to feed or bolster the ego is doomed to failure, in that the ego is itself formed by the needs of hierarchical capitalist society. True happiness - as well as effective political action - lies in the submission of the ego to the deeper Self (which the religiously inclined might see as God-however-definied) which is, in its very nature, part of a broader network of humanity rather than an isolated, monadic entity.

If you find Big Brother within yourself, in other words, you will be free from anyone else's mythology, and free to truly be of help to something apart from your own self-image. Not submission to the Party or some abstract concept, not submission to the lies and myths that your culture tells itself to stop from falling to bits, not submission to the lies that if you consume enough of the right sort of goods - or hang around with the Cool People - it will fill the yawning gap that you feel all the time. The Christians are probably right that there's a God-shaped hole in everyone. But fill your own hole in the way that it needs to be filled (oo-er, sounds a bit rude), and then you will see where you actually fit into the symphony of human existence.

13 May 2009

The One Key and Nine Commitments of Chaos Marxism (amended draft)

We can sum up in one word the core of the Chaos Marxist approach. Mindfulness. Or, if you prefer, consciousness, or even Gramsci's good sense. Or Gurdjieff's "Remember yourself". The Sufi tradition, Buddhism and modern cognitive-behavioural therapy agree - being able to step back from compulsive thoughts and the compulsive feelings they evoke, to recognize them as not real, is the essence of psychic health and enlightenment. And Marxist theories of ideology insist that the way our rulers impose their control over us is by reification - mistaking illusion for reality, social relations for concrete things, narratives or memes for actual laws of existence. You can't live without an ego any more than you can live without money, but you must remember that it's not real, it's a convention, it only exists if you and others believe in it, and that it's a great servant but a hideous master.

On the micro-level, Chaos Marxism stands for the ruthless "obedience training" of the ego. Imagine that your ego is a badly trained dog - it barks when not necessary, it requires far more attention than it really needs, it humps your leg or otherwise annoys you when you're trying to do something. But you don't need to take it out and shoot it, you just need to teach it that its perceptions are not reality and it should submit to rationality and discipline. You'll all be happier that way. Indeed, your ego is the way it is because it evolved to help you survive in capitalism as it is; and one of the main ways that capitalism makes money in this day and age (and fosters obedience) is by selling pre-fab ego-identities to people. The ego cannot change "what is" because it has adapted to work with "what is". The "Greater Work" of Chaos Marxism, therefore, consists of the following commitments:

  1. to learn how your ego works, and how it fits in with the broader culture, the media-industrial complex, the "identity industry" and mechanisms of social control;

  2. to discover what your own physical, mental and spiritual needs and joys are, independent of the ego's needs, and to learn to provide for those needs;

  3. to commit yourself to the service of Something Greater than your ego - humanity, the biosphere, God however defined, etc.

  4. to bring the ego to the service of this Something Greater by discipline and rationality, rejecting all irrational beliefs, compulsions and pre-packaged identities as a snare and a delusion for the ego;

  5. to "tune up" the ego so that the needs of Something Greater and your own personal needs can both be served. (If they appear to conflict, then you have misconceived one or both of them.)

On the macro-level, Chaos Marxism acknowledges that capitalism pollutes the cultural/information space, and therefore the psyche of all those subject to it, just as badly as it poisons the ecosphere and thus our physical health. Therefore, we encourage any and all social or political activity which increases consciousness of objective reality and dispels illusions. We suggest that would-be social activists combine their activism with the work of disciplining their own ego. Only that way can you get actual real objective knowledge of the World-As-Is, and what needs to be done, rather than prejudices reflected back off the inside of your skull. And also, only that way can you teach people by example that their own egos are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. This "Lesser Work" consists of a commitment to:

  1. serving the Something Greater, as above, by concrete action for a better world where it will be easier for everyone to live free of illusion and slavery, physical, mental and spiritual;

  2. practicing compassion for all living things, including yourself, by helping whoever wants to be helped in whatever way you can;

  3. putting the lessons learned in the Greater Work into practice, by creating propaganda, art, and magick however defined that calls to awaken the "good sense" of the broad mass of people over the top of the "common sense" of ego and the cultural-ideological apparatus of oppression;

  4. keeping the ego out of this Lesser Work by refusing the role of "guru", "leader", or in any other way trying to submit other wills to your own rather than liberate them on their own path to Something Greater.

I'm no guru or shaikh. I can't claim to be doing any of the above with anything other than fitful success. This is a path that I hope might be useful as a framework to others, but it's something I'm struggling with myself. For example, I will know that I have humbled my own ego when I feel free to use my real name on this blog, i.e. when I am no longer afraid of ridicule or abuse. So please, your comments and criticisms, please. This only becomes real when it's real for someone else but me.

08 May 2009

Fripp says and I agree...

Discipline is never an end in itself, only a means to an end. Discipline always has an aim. In that way, a discipline is different from a lifestyle.

Many so-called disciplines are in fact lifestyles, in that the "aim" is vague, nonsensical, impossible, or pointless. The accepted wisdom in small Marxist groups, for example, is to "build a routine to cohere the cadre" - in other words, get new members used to doing a particular ritual by rote, to build their allegiance to the group. But that means the purpose of the ritual "political activity" (selling the paper, branch discussions etc) is not actually real politics, in the sense of spreading liberatory memes and getting involved in struggle, it's the continued survival of the group. One can justify selling the paper on the grounds that it gets you used to talking politics with real people, but the problem comes when sales figures become the goal, rather than the conversations.

Look, I'm working with the Sufi tradition at the moment, which includes salaat. That's specifically meant as a habit-breaker and a way to bring you into a regular relationship with God. But this is a mystical, spiritual tradition we're talking about, in which inculcating beliefs and weakening the ego is the purpose of the process. That's not the purpose of politics. And I say here and now, Marxism is fine politics but it's absolute shit as a lifestyle or a religion. The vast majority of "Leninist" groups around today exist as sects based on religious-style practice rather than serious political players. Stay away from any "political" groups that in fact act as religions - or vice versa.

05 May 2009

Sectarianism: stone it to death

Those individuals who adopt fill in the blank because they need an identity will be condemned to wander the sectarian and factional hall of mirrors, constantly looking for the perfect group that will give them their desperately needed sense of specialness and superiority. ... People with confused identities are attracted to totalitarian solutions.

The original article filled the blank with "Islam", but as you can see if you throw "Marxism" in there it works just as well.

(Yes, there's been a lot of Islamic talk around here recently. My current personal work has reached the point where I feel the need for a religion again, and being bored with neo-paganism I'm exploring the Sufi tradition.)

01 May 2009

If you've enjoyed this diatribe...

For those interested in what Chaos Marxism might look like if I were talking to Muslims rather than Marxists and modern magickians, watch Kabir Helminski do his thing, and marvel at the similarities even in words ("Islam is not an identity, Islam is not a fanclub!"). I am increasingly happy that I am part of a real Current - "one Faith, many Belief-Systems".

May Day

Chaos Marxism stands for separation of church and state; and of the personal and the political. Not in the sense that they have nothing to do with one another - on the contrary, there's a strong dialectical interrelationship between the social microcosm and the social macrocosm, because that's what we're talking about on this blog. But don't confuse the levels.

Frank Zappa said "You can't run a country by a book of religion". Well, it might be objected that the early Islamic ummah did reasonably well for a few centuries, but that wasn't being run entirely on the basis of the Noble Qu'ran, but on the personal authority and example of the Prophet, peace be upon him and all that. That gave the system an essential flexibility and humanity that is lacking from all dogmatic structures - and from arbitrary personality cults, at the other extreme. There are good forms of religious-inspired political activism which realise this, and bad forms that just want to show a particular legalistic interpretation of the Bible or the Qu'ran or the Collected Works of V. I. Lenin or Quotations from Chairman Mao down your throat. That crap will last a few decades and collapse, at best. (Unless, sadly, it's sitting on a buttload of natural resources. We need to understand exactly what the House of Saud have been up to for the last few decades - simultaneously schmoozing with the worst scumbags among Western capitalists, and spreading an interpretation of Islam which is pretty much all sword and no heart on a global scale.)

At the other end of the scale of trying to use your personal religious beliefs or identity as a means for social organisation or activism, of course, lies the trap of using your political activism as a substitute religion or identity. This is of course what we've been cursing out on this blog for ages - the essential solipsism of sitting at home polishing your soul while the world falls down outside, while engaging in "play-politics" to make yourself feel better. One way lies heartlessness - the other, uselessness. Marx and Lenin never gave any indications for how you should live your life, nor should they have. Find one that works for you and is consistent with the principles of the new world they wanted to build.

The poet Rumi said: "Faith is one whereever you go, but beliefs are many", or words to that effect. So, a social movement which might have a chance of actually building a new world has to be completely firm on certain basic principles of action/communal effort, but completely tolerant on exactly how those principles might be expressed. The middle road - the best combination of the rational and irrational, personal mildness and firm principle, ends and means - is what any healthy and progressive social system needs. If you ask me, modern capitalism has gone all the damn way towards the irrational, which is why it breeds dogmatic cults such as fundamentalist Islam and Christianity as a counterbalance.

This is the principle of the united front applied to macrocosmic social organisation as well as to how we get on with our neighbours and friends. In Islamic terms, it is the fusion of the "greater jihad" of personal ethics and the "lesser jihad" of striving for social justice. From the Thelemic standpoint, we might distinguish the "lesser magick" of fighting back against the memetic bombardment of the current industrial deathculture and creating symbols and egregores that will serve us, and the "greater magick" of becoming the kind of people who will be fit of living in a new and better Aeon. The Prophet Muhammad and V. I. Lenin both got the job done because they knew how to make this combination, which is why they changed the world, each in their own way.