31 March 2011

KING FELIX was here.

"So you can encounter God while you're alive," he said.

"Under exceptional circumstances. Originally God and Moses talked together as a man talks with his friend."

"What went wrong?"

"Wrong in what way?"

"Nobody hears God's voice anymore."

Rybys said, "You do."

"My audio and video systems do."

"That's better than nothing." She eyed him, "You don't seem to enjoy it."

"It's interfering with my life."

She said, "So am I."

To that he could think of no response; it was true.

I think PKD was totally onto something when he had his dystopia in The Divine Invasion ruled by a fusion between the Stalinists and the Catholic Church. Mechanical materialism has always depended on brain-dead idealism as its flipside and counterpart, like two drunks propping each other up. The equivalent in the World-As-Is is free-market consumerism's alliance with the most backwards-assed superstition.

23 March 2011

No-one likes me, and I do care.

A while back, a kindly contributor to our comments blog - Noisysphinx, I believe it was - suggested that instead of writing mopey articles on here, why I didn't just go out and spraypaint some slogans on some walls with some friends. I was too ashamed, at the time, to respond "Because I don't have any friends".

I was reminded of this by this article on a friendly allied blog, which led to me giving a flick through of the first volume of The Invisibles. I was of course struck by the great similarities of the general conceit of the work - and of course to a whole series of literature running from Illuminatus! to Join My Cult and beyond - to my own recurring fantasy...

I have a recurring dream where I have finally been accepted into the S00per-Sekrit Society of Cool People Who Are The Only Hope For The World. Their headquarters is up a set of clammy and portentous stone steps, and they have the damndest best parties up there. Everyone is extremely pretty and wants to have sex with me once we get back from our vital, world-changing missions.

Yeah, the issue there is that there are plenty of people who at least act like they're The Invisibles, or Hagbard Celine's crew, or the living continuity of the OTO or the Fourth International or whoever. And they would never have anything to do with me because I'm not socially skilled.

I am serious. You've seen Futurama, right? I have always been slightly more popular than Dr Zoidberg. Slightly. I had literally no friends in high school. Even the weird kids avoided or bullied me. The kid with Asperger's Syndrome looked down on me, for heaven's sake. At university I made a few "friends", by which I meant people who liked to have me around as the butt of their jokes. The kind of people who read The Invisibles back in the 1990s, to be dreadfully precise, would have never wanted anything to do with me because I was the kind of person people emigrated to avoid.

To some degree I also get that feeling reading principiadiscordia.net. That I can't actually take part in changing the world because I wouldn't be welcome at the parties of those other people who would have that agenda. All these articles about "affinity groups" etc. assume a basic level of "being able to fit in" which some of us just don't have.

Just as liberation theology tried to bring to Catholic Christianity "an option for the poor", I suppose Chaos Marxism wants to bring to revolutionary cultural politics "an option for the uncool".

21 March 2011

Commodification ain't all bad

There's one good thing about, as Uncle Charlie said, money under capitalism making everything equal to everything else; and, as Walter Benjamin put it, mass reproduction removing the "aura" from previously meaningful individual objects, like works of art. Mass production means that nothing gets lost forever. Everything can be replaced - and, in the era of the Internet, if it can be digitised, these days nothing need be lost at all.

That's a good thing, in some ways. I'm a music nerd, myself, and I remember 15 years ago having to desperately hunt through the used bins of record stores, trying to fine rare and beautiful music from past decades which hadn't made it to CD yet, and hoping the vinyl wouldn't be too scratched up. Sometimes I'd hunt years for a particular album. Now, I can generally find anything I want with a thirty-second Google; and, perversely, the greater the rarity and obscurity of something, the more likely that someone will have slapped it up on some dodgy blog somewhere. (Less obscure stuff will have been commercially re-released and I'll have to pay for it.)

But it's a bad thing in that, as Walter B. put it, it has put an end to the category of the sacred. The individual as created by late capitalist society no longer has a "homeland", in the way we would have understood it when your average human never ventured more than thirty miles from their place of birth. They no longer have sacred traditions handed down from generation to generation - they have professional gurus who earn an honest capitalist living from their work, who will teach you any practice from any culture you can name, and a few they made up on the spot. And they certainly no longer have sacred objects.

Even thirty years ago, in my childhood, even mass consumer objects were sacred, because mass consumption hadn't gotten to the point where everything was replaceable, or at least, easily replaceable. People would still take their toasters to be fixed or sew buttons on their jeans, when these days it's much more convenient and easy to buy new ones. In a previous era, before deliberate obsolescence, even consumer items could have some whiff of "the sacred", if they were looked after and cared for and had the precious labour of their owners poured into them. A basic principle of Chaos Marxism might be expressed: labour is not only the source of value, it is the source of meaning. If I rip a $50 jacket I got at K Mart, no biggie, any $50 bill will get me one that's identical. If I rip a really cool jacket I got for 10 euros at a second-hand store in some obscure country, I might never be able to replace it. If something bad happens to my computer system with all my finely coded information on it, that's a disaster coupled with a nightmare.

So that's what's behind "vintage culture", steampunk, Goth, SCA, whatever - the attempt to create a culture of objects which are totally individual and therefore meaningful, even sacred. To some extent, my musical project - which is dependent on low-budget equipment linked together in idiosyncratic, customised ways - epitomises this connection. What is commodified or "weightless" can never be lost (as long as the means of information reproduction are intact - someone's brain, a piece of paper, a computer, whatever). But physical things which are individually customised and individualised cannot be gotten off a shelf for mere money. It may be lost forever, and is therefore precious, even sacred. So is my music essentially reactionary, attempting to return to an era of "artisanship" rather than glorifying in what is truly weightless, truly disposable? Or is it just an attempt to turn the essence of "me" into something that can't be imitated, that isn't a commodity?

In the current era, nothing is permanent except information artefacts and the Culture. In some weird way, the current era (of relative abundance of mass-produced STUFF) is less materialistic than it ever has been. As communists have said for hundreds of year, morality will come naturally to human beings when the struggle to accumulate "stuff" comes to its end. Of course, this current "false liberation" (for the well-off in "the West", including places like Bangalore and the Green Zone in Baghdad) will all come crashing to a halt when the current economic system reaches its end point, 20-40 years from now. (The information artefacts are only permanent as long as there are freely available storage devices on which they can be copied, and power to run those storage devices on.)

So, we'll have to find a way to make abundance not only generalised, but long-term sustainable. The answer will surely have something to do with "expanding the public" - i.e. minimising how much "stuff" any human needs to own to be a fully participating member of the Culture. Other socialists have pointed out that community daycare and socialised housework would lead to the liberation of women - surely, for example, high-quality public transport and free car share on demand would liberate us from the twin demons of Oil and Suburbia.

But it might explain the big boom in "magick" of the late 90's and why that seems to have petered out now. "Magick" is to the current era of hacktivism, culture-from-below, the Pirate Bay, Anonymous etc. what alchemy is to chemistry - the former being people who know in theory something should be possible (which the rise of mass media and the dawn of infotech made obvious from the late 60's onwards), but going at it with ridiculous "cargo-cult" style tools that don't work. Now, we have something that works.

18 March 2011

What others say

Herewith an interesting thread on the project to make a compendium of CM postings. The posters here have several comments and criticisms to give on CM. I was advised not to jump into the debate (advice that I ignored, but only the once), but if you want some arguments about whether what we're doing here is of any value, of varying quality, there's the place to get them.

This blog has been quiet lately because I've been (a) gearing up for a political writing project; (b) cleaning my room. There's a hell of a lot of penguins in there, for some reason.

ETA: These are also great. Thanks, Cram, I've put one of them next to my computer terminal at work. See if you can guess which one.