19 January 2015

Fantasies of omnipotence: neoliberalism as a cult

The real reason the radical Left has to learn to understand the technologies of ecstacy, metaprogramming and their relationship to ideology is that our neoliberal enemies have got there way, way before us, and they have been using this stuff since at least 1975, the last time people in the "orthodox" Communist, Trotskyist or Maoist traditions had an original thought. (Sorry.) Chomsky was absolutely right to point out that "propaganda is to liberal democracy what secret police and torture are to authoritarianism", although of course by propaganda we have to include not only news/current affairs, but all the "common sense" ideologies reproduced through media narratives and cultural memes of all kinds; and crucially, through the economic struggle at the point of production, ie. getting jobs and keeping them, or otherwise surviving in the market economy.

What is actually useful in Scientology is not original, and what is original in Scientology is total crap. But sometimes L. Ron Hubbard had a way with words, and his famous dictum The only way to control people is to lie to people is not only a classic example of Freudian projection, ascribing your own faults to another (something else Scientologists are taught as if Elron discovered it!), but actually true. To put it in terms of ideological theory, we could say: the only way to get people to act against their own interests is to give them a wrong idea of what those interests are.

Neoliberals aren't dumb. They sincerely want to increase labour productivity, the source of all profit. Fundamentally, from a Marxist point of view, all capitalist (or top-down, state-capitalist/bureaucratic) efforts at improving productivity are behaviour control over workers, and therefore must be understood psychologically. Neoliberalism is cognitive-behaviourism on a mass scale, and the whole globalised capitalist economy is its Skinner box. Backwards-looking Leftists scoff at the idea that "neoliberalism has seeped into the workers' souls", but that betrays an essentialist, monadic, Enlightenment idea of what soul or consciousness is, which has nothing to do with Marxism, a dialectic mode of thought which recognizes the origins of consciousness in practice, rather than inherent proclivities or rogue memes. Althusser knew: you pretend to pray every day, eventually you'll believe in God.

Chaos Marxism suggests that Behaviour Control can be seen on a continuum along which you can find the following points, in rough order: 1) lying; 2) bullying; 3) abusive intimate or economic relationships; 4) totalistic cults; 5) totalitarian state regimes. Neoliberalism doesn't like the high ends of that scale solely because slave labour is not economically efficient in high-tech societies (which is why North Korea and Scientology are in poor shape right now). But behaviour control of all types can be seen as following Robert Lifton's Eight Criteria of Thought Reform. (Note: a Marxist/Gramscian/Althusserian viewpoint takes thought reform and behaviour control as precisely the same thing.) Here's the CM attempt to apply them to the whole goddamn world we live in.
  1. Milieu (Environmental) Control - Control over the members' flow of information and social interaction.
    Technically speaking, this is no longer possible in the Internet era. But even though the cost of production and distribution of information is now virtually zero, attention is still a scarce resource. The capitalist media works with an ever-improving technology, spurred on by inter-capitalist and inter-state competition, of grabbing and corralling attention, and reproducing the approved narratives. Reality TV shows you how easily spontaneous, unscripted events can be hammered post-facto into a narrative. But the flipside is that they've created their own gravediggers, making the technology so easy their enemies can do it on a tiny budget. Like in Animal Farm: Snowball taught the sheep to recite Animalist slogans, but they could then be taught to recite precisely the opposite. Similarly, the Da`esh scumbags (religious fascists) have learned out to make their own memes with advanced capitalist technology (high quality videos, etc) which make a hell of a lot of sense to, say, poor Arab kids living in the Paris suburbs, with disastrous results.
  2. Mystical Manipulation - The group attributes supernatural influences where none are present--attributing an accident to a member that left to be "God's punishment"--or manipulates situations so they appear spontaneous--members believing that their new feelings and behavior has arisen spontaneously because of joining their new group.This is Gramscian ideology - "common sense" of capitalism persists because your everyday experience of working and consuming makes it look like that's how the universe works. The discourse of "market meritocracy" - the rich are simply better people than those on welfare - takes us into the next issue...

  3. Demand for Purity - Unreasonable rules and unreachable standards are imposed upon the members. The critical, shaming essence of the cult environment is gradually internalized by the members, which builds lots of guilt and shame, further magnifying their dependence on the group. Scientology, specifically, gives followers the goal of becoming OT (Operating Thetans). This, they are told, is their "native state" - they are deep down all-powerful immortal spirits, who have sadly suppressed their own power and even the memory of it over the last few quadrillion years because of their own crimes and mistakes and wishing to avoid making the same mistakes. In real world terms, what that means is: a mistake is a crime. If something bad happens to you, deep down you wanted it to happen.
    This is the extreme version of what behavioural psychologists call "internal locus of control". In less extreme versions, it's much preferred in the capitalist workplace than "external locus of control" (I have no control, things just happen to me, I am a leaf on the wind) - how can we exploit your labour if you don't believe you have any labour power? Or if you refuse to believe that the world is fair?
    This basic idea is also a best seller in the capitalist marketplace under the name The Secret/The Law Of Attraction. It's also a best-seller among "savvy" modern political scientists, known as "perception is reality" or - in Karl Rove's higher-level version - "the Empire creates its own reality". There is simply no meme more capable of making someone a slave than to impose an excessively internal locus of control: the fantasy of omnipotence will cripple someone with guilt, yet - unlike the totally external locus of control - you can still get them to work hard.

  4. Confession - Past and present behavior, undesirable feelings are to be confessed.
    Don't we just love "true confessions" in the Facebook/Instagram era? You're not nobody unless you live your life on camera where you can be scrutinized and judged. If Orwell's IngSoc Party seized power today, people would be queuing up to have telescreens installed.
  5. Sacred Science - The teachings of the group are viewed as the ultimate, unquestionable truth. The leader of the group is likewise above criticism as the spokesperson for God on earth, whose Truth should be applied to all humankind and anyone who disagrees or has alternative ideas is not only irreverent, but also unscientific.
    There is no individual "leader" in neoliberal globalization - no human one, anyway. The MARKET is the One God and billionaires and mainstream economists are His Prophets. Any talk outside the bounds of this orthodoxy is just incomprehensible and thrown into baskets like "socialist", "primitive", "hardline" - just as damning in their ways as classic Newspeak terms like crimethink or entheta.

  6.  Loading the Language - The group's language serves the purpose of constructing their thinking and shutting down critical thinking abilities. "Groupspeak" forces members to censor, edit and slow down spontaneous bursts of criticism or opposite ideas. See #5 above. Note how mainstream political parties and media outlets use shaming, exclusion and continuing rhetorical battering to make their own ideology not only seem right, but to make any alternative seem like an unfathomable nightmare, run by communism, shari`a law, the Illuminati, the Jews, or any combination of the above. If - for example - it is impossible to be against "liberal democracy", meaningful politics become impossible.
  7. Doctrine Over Person - As members rewrite their own personal history or ignore it, they are simultaneously taught to interpret reality through the group concepts and ignore their own experiences and feelings as they occur.
    People need a language to interpret their own experience. If they can find a narrative which gives their lives meaning and makes sense given their experience, they'll grab it, no matter how inherently bogus or individually poisonous. The mass media market will provide you with any kind of narrative you can think of, giving you media and products to consume which will confirm you in any identity ("narrative of the self") which you've chosen. Even within that - if you've decided you're a gay man, for example, you can be a twink, a bear, an otter, a Leatherman, a Gay Christian, a Gay Muslim, whatever. There are branded products for you to buy, and websites (used to be magazines...) to read. Alongside this, for those who are really alienated, old-school cults will give you a totalising narrative, albeit not as shiny and satisfying as the new mass-market narratives: Scientology or other religious cults, lifestyle anarchism, sect-Leninism and other political cults, and of course, Salafism/Wahhabism or Iran-style Shi`a fundamentalism, which offer the best of both worlds.

  8. Dispensing of Existence - The group's totalistic environment emphasizes that the members are part of an elite or special group. Outsiders are considered unworthy or unenlightened.
    Just look at how the media want to you think about nations which are to a lesser (Russia, Venezuela, Afghanistan) or greater (Cuba, North Korea) outside the neoliberal globalist economy. True, 3 out of the 5 countries mentioned are pretty crappy. But the given solution is to send in Ideal Orgs to Clear the populace and bring them LRH tech increase the penetration of consumer cultural goods and bring the masses the glories of neoliberal productivism. The flipside of this is what Scientologists think about wogs, Al Qaeda thinks about kuffâr, anarchists think about Leninists or sect-Leninists think about anyone else. It's no coincidence that the Spartacist League used to refer to ex-members as "opting for a biological existence"; i.e. giving up on being one of the Chosen.
 So the summary that a revolutionary group which takes shortcuts like (a) adopting a totalist-lite narrative, a Chosen One fantasy, to hold the group together; or (b) attempts to use capitalist-style memetics (what Scientologists call "black Dianetics" - pushing people's buttons to control them, even if it's control them "in a revolutionary cause") is part of the solution rather than the problem. The solution lies in:
  •  a radical pedagogy of equality, where the self-radicalised learn from the actually existing mass grassroots movements AND vice-versa;
  • a rejection of all identity politics (by which we don't mean organising on the basis of race, gender, religion etc, which will always happen and probably should, but the politics of "we are better, we deserve rights over these Degraded Beings), and its flipside, conspiracy theory (reverse identity politics);
  • open-source use of techniques of cognitive-behavioural theory, narrative therapy, ritual and meta-programming/"magick", which when taught can give ordinary people free of charge, with no intermediary, the psychic benefits given from capitalist consumption or cultism. (Many radicals criticise CBT, but I think their criticisms apply to CBT used as a tool to make you into a better neoliberal slave. What else can it be used for? The techniques are basically the same as Crowley's magick, and even lower-level [Grades 0-4] Scientology...)
  • build organisations as safe from official oppression, informal bullying and inwards-focussed status-mongering as we can.