24 August 2009

Art and politics

True art, said Gramsci, is about depicting life as it is now - whereas politics is always about some great future that is going to be. For that reason, he explained, the politician would always be at loggerheads with the artist.



Thinking some more about the basic division in radical gnosis, which can be summed up in the question: "Destroy the Matrix, or take control of it?" Overwhelmingly, the consensus among the bad-ass consciousness warriors out there is the latter. This is backed up with a mix of postmodernist ideas (any radical change is totalitarianism, only gradual spontaneous change is compatible with human freedom) and elitist ones (the vast majority of people couldn't handle reality and true agency if you gave it to them). Which is not surprising, given the middle-class basis of the currently existing psychonaut movement - as Orwell would put it, these are members of the Middle who hate the High because they're not doing it right, and fear and despise the Low who don't really count as human beings, and yearn for the day when they can either (a) take control of the system, for the Greater Good; (b) opt out of the system altogether to avoid both the idiocy of the Archons and the stench of the unwashed plebs.

To argue against this - as Chaos Marxism does - means relying on what you might call ontological arguments - the argument that there is a real, fundamental, physical (or even metaphysical) human nature which is warped, crushed, twisted and mutated by the overlay of consumer-capitalist-statist-individualist culture. The obvious refutation to this is: "All we can ever know about anything is the Matrix - we all live in a dream world which we can never wake up from, so best to make the most of it while we can. Whoever dies with the most toys - or the most cultists - wins." And that's great, for those of us who have learned the social and cultural skills which they can leverage into a position of class privilege as a "creative" in the global capitalist economy. Good for them. Until the damn thing collapses.

Chaos Marxism presupposes faith in humanity, and skepticism towards humans. It presupposes that the true nature of humanity is a collective identity, slowly groping towards self-fulfilment in some kind of Omega Point / God / N'Aton of perfect reconciliation between the individual and the collective. But it also presupposes that virtually no-one today acts like a real human being - their identity is interpellated from the necessity of having to survive in class society. Sufism speaks of the conflict between the divine nature and the nafs, the fallen ego - Gramsci spoke of the clash between "common sense" (based on ideology and culture) and "good sense" (based on actual interaction with ontological reality) in similar terms.

Marx and Engels' attitude to class society is very similar to that of many Christian and Islamic thinkers regarding the Garden of Eden narrative - a felix culpa, a fortunate fall, in that if we had never departed from divine grace / classless society, we would never have been able to grow and develop enough to return with the wisdom we need to truly fulfil our nature. Similarly, Chaos Marxism suggests that our destiny as a species is to form a collective consciousness which is no longer in conflict with the physical universe around us, and thus has power-with that universe (to use Starhawk's distinction from "power-over"). I'm sure you can have a great time in your dreamworld. But absolutely nothing counts for everything until you WAKE UP. And when you've woken up, you can't hope to stay awake unless you wake other people up, and then you can collectively decide how to stay awake so you can wake EVERYONE up.

18 August 2009

An excellent aphorism

Despair is a black leather jacket that everyone looks good in. Hope is a frilly pink dress that exposes your knees.

- Rebecca Solnit. As all Catholics know, despair is a mortal sin, and as all vegans know, so are leather jackets. Don't read the rest of the article, though, it's too depressing.

13 August 2009

12 August 2009

Links in the tradition

[I]n the early fourth century, the christian Church began to change the way it did business. More and more, the encounter with Jesus came not through that deep, timeless opening of the heart but mediated by what might be called "doctrinal mantras" - saying the right things and knowing the right things about Jesus. The fourth century became the era of the great creeds (and the great credal controversies), as Christians attempted to hammer out and precisely nail down (pun intended? -DlaP) their understanding of the Jesus event... Underlying [the Nicene Creed] is [a] troubling message that the correct way to relate to Jesus is to believe and know the right things about him. But this is not how relating to Jesus was done in those earliest days, nor is it ever how it is done when a person actually comes face to face with Wisdom.

Cynthia Bourgeault lays it on the line. Shift "the early fourth century" to "the 1930s", "the Christian Church" to "the Marxist movement", and "Jesus" to "the Russian Revolution", and the story becomes familiar. Practice gives way to theory which gives way to scholasticism which gives way to rank superstition and the sectarian and downright meanness that goes along with it. This is how any tradition with real life and "juice" in it turns into a shambling, withered zombie.

Rev. Cynthia goes on to suggest that Muhammad (peace be upon him) was tapped on the shoulder by Universe Central at the point where mainstream Christianity had definitively turned a corner (marked St Augustine) where it could no longer carry the "juice". Is it too crazy to suggest that Karl Marx was tapped on the shoulder when religion in its totality, as it was known in the 19th century, had reached the same impasse? Is it too crazy to suggest that, in revolutionary situations around the world, real ones where ordinary people break free of the Matrix and begin to reshape their own world, we are seeing the same kind of phenomenon as we did in Galilee under Pontius Pilate, or Arabia in the early seventh century of the common era - the "underground stream" surfacing?

Wisdom is liberation is power for the people and music for the masses. It is the goal of Chaos Marxists to discipline ourselves to the point where we might be fit to be tapped on the shoulder ourselves - and, in the meantime, to at least learn to act as if we actually did hear the Voice of God or the Call of History. But if Marxism means anything at all, it means that the new era is virtually nothing like the old era, and old forms will not suffice.

05 August 2009

We get criticism

Thanks to Episkopos Cain for spreading the good word on the Principia Discordia forums. Here is a friendly fellow suggesting why he doesn't think CM is a goer.

Brief reactions:

1) Yes, of course the very title "Chaos Marxism" confuses, discombobulates, and puts off people who have prejudices about both those concepts. As Cain rightly points out, the poster goes to great lengths to critique Marxism in general rather than anything we discuss here. Good! That's what we need at this stage - a kind of "filter" to make sure we don't get popular for the wrong reasons. Perhaps if I hadn't used the word "Marxism" in the title, we'd be as popular as Tim Boucher by now, but the last thing we want is to become a fan club. As our new colleague Komakino rightly says, though, actual public outreach to the masses will probably have to use different words for mass traction.

2) The poster is a huge fan of intellectual property. CM suggests that, while of course artists and memetic engineers have a right to earn a crust by any means necessary, intellectual property is an outmoded relic of a 17th century concept of "authorship" which has virtually no meaning in the modern era, and worse, encourages the sins of egotism and commodity fetishism. If you have intellectual property, as with any other kind of capital, you suddenly have something to lose apart from your chains, which ties you to THE MACHINE and if you're not careful puts you on the wrong side of the barricades. This is why monks take a vow of poverty. What is worse, digital technology has already smashed huge holes in IP's actual practical feasibility, so it's going the way of the Zeppelin and gas streetlighting already. I'm deserting that particular sinking ship as soon as we can find a new sustainable social model to replace it.

3) The poster says:

I see an objective reality where a huge amount of illusion is both necessary and sufficient to get earth to a place where everyone is fed watered high on good drugs and content. I see the goal as a matter of tweaking the illusions so they produce more happiness and less misery, rather than to dispel illusions.

Oh dear. This guy sounds a lot like Neo.

People working to 'dispel illusions' are fighting for a world where everyone is clinically depressed.

Funny, this is probably the first time in my life I haven't been depressed.

It really makes me nervous when people who don't get this last point play with advanced concepts in transpersonal psychology, particularly with other people's psychology.

My ego is flattered by the idea that CM is not useless (as almost all other critics suggest) but dangerous. I fully encourage anyone who thinks this poster makes a good point to stick around to watch what happens when we all go nuts.


"It is impossible to achieve the aim without suffering" is pretty much the same statement as "all history is the history of class struggle". Simply put - the clash of opposites creates energy for transformation, as I'm pretty sure William Blake says somewhere. In the Lesser Jihad (political and social action), this is the struggle of the exploiters against the exploited; in the Greater Jihad (psychological transformation), this is the struggle of the animal/automatic/ego self against spiritual consciousness, of common sense against good sense. The ego is, then, like bodily fat - a source of energy for action. But it must be burned to be useful, like any fuel.

In other words, spiritual exercise (and political action) works on the same principle as physical exercise. No pain, no gain - although not all pain is gain. We must distinguish between "false suffering", where the ego turns on itself and attempts to bite itself to death, producing no useful energy (otherwise known as neurosis), and "real suffering", where the ego is transformed, softened, melted by a source of energy from somewhere outside itself, and consumes itself in a controlled chain reaction, producing useful energy. (Call the exterior source the submerged 9/10 of the brain, or God-However-Defined, or your Holy Guardian Angel, or the 12 Step Higher Power, whichever works for you.) The ego can not only be burned for energy, but it is softened, becomes malleable, in the process. Jill Bolte Taylor talked about how her experience of pure right-brain consciousness meant she saw herself as "a liquid, rather than a solid" - so perhaps the personality can even melt altogether. (Or perhaps vaporize, under exceptional temperature and pressure?)

And I just realised that the creation of Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen - the light is taking me to pieces - is, in fact, a depiction of a hyper-accelerated version of this process. (Yeah, big surprise considering the author.) The Thelemites call the final melting or vaporisation of the personality "the crossing of the abyss" - Sufis call it "dying before you die". But then you put yourself back together again on the other side, after your encounter with spiritual death and The Absolute. Will you have kick-ass superpowers at that stage? I honestly can't say. Probably the tradition of alchemy is talking about this, but those who know those texts better than I do can comment further.

A final word for warning, though - the process of "melting the ego through suffering" produces energy, but the energy can of course be used for good and evil. Anyone who went through an old-fashioned Catholic education can probably testify that living an ascetic life of devotion and prayer doesn't necessarily make you a channel for good into the world. Which is why the intellect must rigorously examine the source and outcome of the "spiritual energy" involved in this process. And that applies to political action, too. "Social revolution" = "crossing the abyss", but what awaits you on the other side? Not something necessarily better, if the process is aborted, or the consciousness leading the process is too attached to its own existence and privileges. Which is why the Greater and Lesser Jihads must MUST MUST go together, and a revolutionary party should probably disband itself in the process of the revolution.

(Is the revolutionary party or magickal order then the "ego" or "store of memetic fuel" of a social revolution, which must burn itself to be useful? That puts into perspective recent debates among Marxists about whether it's best to stay in small groups and "keep one's powder dry", or to gamble the future of your group on the chance of spreading revolutionary memes in a broader pool. I suppose the essential point is that if your ideas aren't "starting a prairie fire", then ditch them and get some new ones which work.)