31 October 2011

Chaos Marxism is monist

As previously explored, as a young radical/misfit I was massively drawn to neo-paganism, particularly to the anarcho-socialistic / "California head-shrinking" variety of the same described by Starhawk. I swallowed whole the line that "monotheism is imperialism in religion", and was attracted to the utopia she offered in her novel The Fifth Sacred Thing of a patchwork "confederacy of tribes" model of a post-capitalist future.

(ETA: Great Goddess on an electric motorbike, they're making a movie of it!)

But over the last few years I have rejected most of that as an essentially idealist, dare we say even "petty-bourgeois" vision of the future. Let's put it this way - Starhawk argues that "if we see the ocean as the womb of the Goddess Mother, we are less likely to fill Her with poisons". But symbolism and reality are distinct in all but the most childish of minds. The Prophet Muhammad put it on the line to the pagan Arabs, who worshipped Goddesses and yet buried the girl babies alive. The Olympian cults of Greece and Rome were hardly those of "respect for the feminine", no matter what Robert Graves might argue - the Athenian attitude to woman was not dissimilar to that of present-day Saudi Arabia. The Catholic faith, that branch of Christianity which happens to have more female objects of veneration, also has what might be considered a quite barbaric doctrine when it comes to fertility and the control thereof.

Polytheism is the theology of tribalism, and even worse, it is the theology of Empire. To understand this we have to understand that an empire is dissimilar to a nation state. The Roman Empire when it was healthy was not an autocratic monolithic state, but a sprawling multinational mess only united by a devotion to the Pax Romana personified in the Imperial cult. Apart from that, all the various ethnicities were allowed whatever insane tribal religions they wanted, as long as human sacrifice or actual rebellion weren't involved, and some of them even got popular in the metropolis. Pretty much the same went for the Holy Roman Empire of the Middle Ages, and the Ottoman Empire in its pomp. And that is precisely the logic of late, "post-modernism / consumerist" capitalism under the Pax Americana. Every minority group has its own "middle class", its own idols and languages respected. Potentially revolutionary groups are co-opted by giving them a piece of the pie, or in other words, employment for a middle class (gay bar owners, people who translate government diktats into indigenous languages, etc).

On the contrary, UNITY is a sweet and beautiful world in both the revolutionary socialist tradition and the mystical traditions of Islam and Buddhism. And Chaos Marxism is all about that. "Unify the forces". "We are the 99%". There is no room for "their truth" and ours to co-exist, because harsh reality in the form of the interlinked crises of accumulated capital / ecological degradation / mass alienation and anger intervenes. The goal is to overthrow the repressive tolerance of Empire into a new unifying way of seeing the world (although not a monolithic one). All great Reforms of history have had that same kind of paradoxical "intolerance".


  1. "But symbolism and reality are distinct in all but the most childish of minds.."

    Perhaps this is just my inner positivist coming out, but I can't help but point out the example of Native Ameriican societies and other indigenous groups - when they talk about listening to their land they are not being "symbolic", they are talking about a fundamentally different way of perceiving, being and relating to the world. They really are, in a very real sense, engaging with the divine when they engage with the world. The ocean doesn't merely 'symbolize' the Womb of the Goddess (or vice versa); this is at the level of perception. Is that "childish"? I don't know, but I do know that many indigenous peoples have been able to live in harmony with their land for tens of thousands of years without despoiling or denuding it, and that has to be a form of maturity.

    Secondly, polytheism is hardly the only "theology of Empire" - I think the the various Christian and Islamic Empires prove that the polytheistic Romans hardly had a monopoly on imperialism and brutality. The parallels you've drawn between postmodern capitalist society and Roman society are fascinating and worth exploring, but in the end I think you are getting dangerously general and possibly alienating neopagan or animist or indigenous allies who may have wholly different spiritual experiences but are equally committed to overthrowing the technopathocracy of capital.

    And as interesting as your Roman analogy is, one can easily turn it on its head and argue that despite its lip service to 'diversity', the actual effects of capitalism are to reduce complexity and diversity to simplicity and monotony. This is apparent everywhere you look -whether we're talking about bulldozing a lush rain-forest ecosystem to make way for endless fields of genetically modified monocrops; the molding of identical thought patterns and intellectual acceptance of the status quo (remember Thatcher's mantra of TINA, or the Fukuyama consensus about "history"); etc. The capitalist vision has always been "One God, One Truth, One Market, One Consumer"; capitalism is the Monism of the Market, where everything is reduced to a dollar amount. We can accept anything so long as it's got a price tag attached to it, directly or indirectly. What parades itself as 'diversity' is actually the crudest form of monotony.

    My point here is not to say you're simply wrong, but to point out there are multiple ways of conceptualizing this system of oppression. At the end of the day I think any spiritual tradition can be construed in a reactionary fashion, just as it can be construed in a revolutionary fashion. Our point should not be to label whole swathes of religious experience as "petite bourgeois" (whether we are labeling monotheism, polytheism, animism, etc), but rather to encourage and ally with revolutionary strains in any and all traditions. We should certainly be wary of drifting toward a 'tolerant', middle class lifestylism, but at the same time we must absolutely reject an elitist exclusivity, particularly in terms of spirituality.

    At my local occupy event I saw Indigenous shamans, Buddhist monks of several different sects, Roman Catholic Priests, Islamists waving the green shahada flag, Unitarians, and militant atheists, all marching together in solidarity. To my mind, that is precisely what we need to be encouraging. We should under no circumstances separate ourselves from potential allies for pseudo-ideological reasons, and I think this is what much of this post amounts to.

  2. Crap, that should say "inner primitivist", not "inner positivist". I don't believe I have an inner positivist.

  3. If anything I've said in the post has suggested a hostility to other spiritual traditions, I blushingly withdraw and apologise it. Of course I wouldn't put myself in the position for one minute of pretending I know thing one about indigenous spiritual traditions.

    I speak from an ethnicity whose spiritual traditions were subsumed in Christianity a millennium ago, who know no other Weltanschauung than that of capitalist empire, and for whom the only escape from the Monism of the Market (and its dirty secret, the Polytheism of the Consumer) is through it to a place where "one" and "many" are no longer a contradiction.

    But I will argue that the attempt to "reclaim Western neo-paganism" is kind of disrespectful to actual traditions that have been handed on in an unbroken line all through the ravages of empire. I always fear that looking back to try to reconstruct a Romantic-tinged pre-industrial past is uncongenial with trying to create a liberated future within the capitalist World-As-Is. We already HAVE "urban tribalism", and it's utterly compatible with consumer capitalism. (But of course the jihadist strains of monism are as well.)

    Bottom line is that Chaos Marxism is attempting to think through what kind of epistemology is necessary for liberation movements of the deracinated post-ethnic masses of the late-imperialist metropolist. I only speak for myself, and all allies are welcome.

  4. Pantheism?

    The flowers were delicious.

  5. Yes, as Robert Fripp says "at some level we are all one person". The watchword of "UNITY" is important for not only all socialists but all mystics.