26 December 2006

She is a new fascination, the cold face of love

"Now, what I've yet to puzzle out, myself, is if there is any connection at all between ethics and reality...” - Agent 139. Trotsky had an answer to that one, guys.

Yes, I got Join my cult! for Christmas. I believe that this book is after me. The number of synchronicities in the first five chapters alone just about blew my brains out (after the reference to ELP I was looking over my shoulder wondering whether someone had "customised" my copy). It certainly solidified a lot of the ideas that I've been having previously, but have been too busy writing-for-publication to put in this blog.

I sometimes feel, however, like Robert Putney Drake in Illuminatus! - wondering when the All-Seeing Eye will look in my direction. Maybe I have to lob a grenade into a fast-food outlet or something. (Note to the secret services: no, I have no actual intention of doing this.)

In any case, a little teaser for you: where I'm coming from, magic has to be concrete to work. Truth is always concrete. Ideas and memes are only useful at all when they lead to action which changes the concrete. Gematria doesn't work for me, since letters are not concrete. Sound is concrete. As I am a musician, this is very convenient. As mentioned below, I'm trying to rewrite Crowley's Augeoides ritual accordingly.

10 December 2006

The mental health industry: a Marxist critique

I know that this is generally more my co-blogger's speed, but this article takes a good, critical Marxist look at Cognitive Behaviour Therapy - a practice which I consider just another kind of "corporate magic", a metaprogramming technique designed by our masters which makes us functional but doesn't make us well.

07 December 2006

A teaser

What I really want to do is create a network of cultural activists. Not cultural analysts, but people who apply theory to practice and make things happen in the memetic sphere. This would have websites, publications, and structures for debate and co-ordinating action.

The Situationist International with better politics and less expulsion-happy, perhaps.

I will write much more on this when I get back from this conference.

27 November 2006

just popping in

Something that my coblogger talkingabouttrees (almost wrote "talking to trees" there - no, I am not working with Charles Windsor) might find interesting - the Church of the SubGenius describes the "differently saned" in ways which replicate marxist insights about how ideology is all-persuasive but nigh-invisible in this culture.

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Posting delayed for a while - I have an academic paper to write from scratch in eight days. Current research centres around Crowley's Liber Samekh and whether it can be boiled down for reliable use by people who don't have an emotional attachment to the pseudo-Egyptian stuff.

22 November 2006

The mashup and the filk

As materialist cultural analysts and activists, we start from the following principles:

- culture and ideas are real physical things. They can influence the physical world in the sense that they provoke certain kinds of behaviour.
- influential cultural artefacts, ideas, memes, etc. will often start with something familiar to the audience, but offer a "new twist" on it.

I suggest that the mashup (two or more recorded pieces of music mixed together to form a new variation), and the filk (new words of humorous commentary set to a popular tune) are quintessential memetic devices in this regard. The filk is probably as old as song itself, and simply involves "piggybacking" original content onto an existing widely-spread meme. The mashup, on the other hand, is a specifically modern form - layering two widely-spread memes on top of one another, revealing something brand new. The classical composer Charles Ives was doing this in the 1930s, before recording technology had evolved to the point where such things can be done effortlessly, and digitally.

The vital point about about filks and mashups: they're both illegal, and therefore free. Here's the paradox: in modern information technology, production and distribution is totally free. The only reason why all music, computer programmes, stories and other information goods aren't free in our modern age is that copyright law "encloses" them so that they remain profitable for the corporates. The mashup laughs in the face of copyright law - therefore, there is no problem with finding as many of them as you like online, free of charge. (I can particularly recommend two really badass ones: Enya's "Orinoco Flow" vs. Prodigy's "Smack my Bitch Up", and Van Halen's "Jump" vs. The Supreme's "Stop in The Name Of Love".) The filk is a greyer area, legally - probably more analogous to fan-fiction. It's not illegal, but you can't profit from it. Therefore there are no artificial barriers to its expansion.

I wonder how many powerful memetic technologies can be described metaphorically as "mashups" or "filks". I also note that, if you really want to use these forms, you have to give up pretensions to "original creativity" - a concept which actually only evolved at the same time as "intellectual property rights" and for the same, outmoded reason (private profit).

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In other news: another nail in the coffin of techno-utopianism. Holy shit we need a revolution to stop these pieces of crap enclosing any commons that we carve out, on any plane of reality whatsoever. New inventions will not do the job for us. And no, staying home and beating off over scribbles does not count as a revolution (although it can certainly be part of a complete breakfast, as the saying goes).

17 November 2006

Spoiling the surprise

Hyperstition: a fiction that makes itself real. Example: H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos - after the ideas had been popularised in fiction, people decided to bring the Necronomicon (crappy Mysticism 101 versions of it, anyway) into existence and start worshipping the slimy, tentacular Elder Gods, for what reason I'm sure I'll never understand. Another example: Karl Marx's proletariat as a class-for-itself - the idea that industrial workers were capable of actually taking over the world - came into glorious life for just a few years in Russia. (Born 1917, certainly dead by 1928.)

I think it's one of the errors of vulgar magicians to just believe you can pick a meme, any meme, at random and use psyche-fixing technology to just bring it into existence. Doesn't work like that. It has to have resonance in the actually existing real world, physical and political. (To use an IT metaphor: you can screw around with the software all the time but it won't change the hardware - although it can put it to different uses.) People started worshipping Cthulhu et al - as far as I can tell - who would have been Satanists before Satan stopped being scary and devolved to a mere symbol of having a good time all of the time. The content of the Cthulhu meme is pure alien terror - and when it gets worn out through overuse, something worse will come along. (I sometimes wonder when nerds will legitimately start summoning Sadako from Ringu. That would be at least funny.)

A successful memetic operation will work backwards in time - in other words, pick a possible future, and attempt to make it a real present. Dialectical materialism is the process of seeing which futures are possible, based on the contradictions of the present, and what kind of pressure on what kind of points right now will bring about which future. Believing that there is change, that the future will be more than the present with faster cars and smellier air, is in fact a revolutionary act in itself.

Engels said that the struggle had to be carried on on three levels at once: industrial, political and ideological. This seems intriguingly similar to - although predating! - Freud's schema of id, ego and super-ego; or perhaps even Lacan's three "registers", the Real, the Imaginary and the Symbolic. In modern capitalism, industry (not just metalbashing, but mass-production on the basis of wage labour in all its forms) is a dirty, grotty, disavowed area which we are encouraged not to think about at all, but nonetheless is what keeps the whole system physically running. Like the id or the Real. The ideological level is the level of the abstract, of concepts, of memes; the political level is where reality and will interface. Since the industrial in the last instance determines everything, any real fundamental change must lead to real fundamental change in that very area which society - and pretty much every schema of magic I know of - doesn't want you to look at.

For we Chaos Marxists, we are carrying on a kind of "alchemy" on the ideological plane. But to be powerful and real, the thought-forms and concepts we are playing with must original on one of the "lower levels", and return to it. The most powerful magic of all is what causes change on the level of the subconscious mind; on the level of Industry; on the level of the reality which doesn't go away when we stop believing in it.

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Speaking of Ringu - I think that mythos is so powerful because it is based on what would happen if the first rule of our culture's control techniques - that perception = reality - were actually true. I watched the American version (The Ring) first, and for me the first legitimately terrifying thing in that movie - prefiguring the grand finale - was when Naomi Watts plucks a fly off the TV screen and thus smashes the division between image and reality.

We are reassured from our childhood that image is *not* reality - "it's just a story, it's not real", etc. But then the ideology which rules modern capitalism is precisely that perception is the same thing as reality. So much of the ideological effect on this culture relies on what Slavoj Zizek calls that "...and yet..." effect. I know on an intellectual level that X is bullshit, but I act like it's real and therefore it becomes real for me at least. The control techniques of modern capitalism are based on making people react to what they "see" in the media as if it were real. Watch Ringu and realise what it would mean if that were actually true.

Conversely - this formula is behind what Antonio Gramsci said about "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will". I know that it's very unlikely that we will smash the capitalist order in my lifetime, but if I damn well act like it is going to happen, then I could make it happen.

If I can't jump and dance to loud music, it's not my revolution

From a memetic point of view, extremely interesting that the images in the media coverage of the uprising/riots in Tonga focus on the property damage - and give coded hints that the rioters are OMG racists - but we don't see these people "jumping and dancing to loud music". Probably because the latter is what these people are really scared of.

The mass media like us to think that a "revolution" is when a bunch of intellectuals get a big budget from the CIA to hire Black Memetic Engineers (aka a PR firm) to summon the masses into huge, orderly and docile mass rallies, until a government which the USA doesn't like quits and goes into exile. You can tell these "astroturf revolutions" by the way that they are memetically branded with a cute, non-threatening aromatic-plant coded name (Orange, Cedar, Rose, Tulip etc). The last thing that they want is an actual godsdammed Festival of the Oppressed. People don't wear nice colour coded symbols in a real revolution. They get drunk and smash shit up and in all other ways go over the top. A real uprising-that-might-turn-into-a-revolution is nasty, messy and immensely liberating - a Mass of Chaos on a truly mass scale.

The energy has been released - now is it going to be a firework or a laser beam? Only the people on the ground in Tonga can tell, and so far we're only hearing all the voices yelling "SIT BACK DOWN AND SHUT THE HELL UP".

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In other news, for those who don't know, the comics writer Grant Morrison is something of a guru for the pop-occultist crowd, and he definitely has some challenging ideas (google "hyperstition" and see what happens). But I'm afraid that for someone who talks about changing the world, this is a pretty shitting thing to say:

Asked about the current state of the world, particularly the war in Iraq, Mr. Morrison offered, “perhaps it’s just an essential part of the system, as horrible as that may seem.” He wasn’t particularly interested in being part of any active anti-war movement, and noted that in his previous experience, a number of those people only seemed to be “interested in meeting up with the police.”


Well, of course it's an essential part of the system, dingbat. That's why I'm in the business of changing the system - and I thought you were too. Or does the idea of changing the world seem less important when you're earning big money? The Occultism of Small Businessmen raises its head again - fifth-dimensional aliens, yes, threatening my stock option? Well that's just going a little too far. I wonder whether he's changed his mind in the last few years since the anti-war movement became "safe" for the establishment.

16 November 2006

Can psychiatric drugs be good?

For many who identify with the anti-psychiatry movement or view, opposition to psychiatric drugs is frequently a key belief. Though I identify with this myself to a degree, I also feel drugs themselves are not the problem.

To illustrate this, some instances from my personal experience. I feel the need to obtain a degree of anonymity, and for that reason I'm not going into too many details.

I can point to two specific instances where I suffered from being given psychiatric medicine. Whilst medicine of any description is not an exact science, and things do not always work out the way predicted, these had clear causes. One was the result of insufficient record keeping, monitoring and lack of continuity of "care", the other from a coverup on the part of drugs companies regarding the side effects of their products. Both caused significant physical and psychological symptoms which I'm still not entirely free of.

Did this make me anti-medication? Yes and no. I think psychiatric medicine is over used, I would never use it again and I maintain that, particularly given the fact that my problems were largely the result of trauma, it should not have been used as the first attempt at treating me. I also, of course, believe that producing/designing drugs for profit is hugely dangerous, and it goes without saying that they should only be used with the consent of the person taking them. However, I do have another experience that makes my view not-so-black-and-white.

As a result of such incidents, I began to learn about the drugs. I went beyond the patient information and devoured whole websites of medical jargon. Sometimes it took me hours, having to look up virtually every word. I also read people's personal experiences, looking for patterns.

I finally got a stable psychiatrist and a combination of drugs that seemed to help. I think also the fact that my external situation was improving helped dramatically. However, there were still side effects from the mood stabiliser I was on. I was exhausted most of the time, and had problems functioning after a full day's work. In addition there was the weight gain and very high risk of diabetes – and given my family history I didn't want to increase the chances. Then there was the sheer inconvenience and expense, particularly the fact that it left me tied to medical professionals and institutions of some description and I felt that even the best of these would deprive me of the self sufficiency I craved.

So I went back to my research. I worked out how the combination of different medications and to monitor my own symptoms and the patterns they occured in (which isn't nearly as simple as it sounds). I began to get an idea of what other factors infulenced my mood and how they did that (diet, sunlight, exercise).

The first thing I did was begin to adjust my medication. I read an article which suggested that my medication could be taken at specific points in the mood cycle (which worked out at about once a fortnight) rather than twice daily, and found other people who had successfully been doing this. At this point I was away from family and doctors (I somehow managed to persuade my GP to give me a years supply of drugs, god only knows how that happened), so I decided to try this. It took me a while to get right, but it worked fantastically, and kept me going up to a point, around three years ago, where I was ready and able to wean myself off them completely.

I don't think the positive effects were just limited to the fact that I had the type and dosage of medicine right, however. I believe I gained substantially from the control I had over it, the fact that I was using it with my moods rather than just a blanket coverage, and that I chose how, when and what I took. But the system we have at the moment promotes the opposite. At worst it involves force and violence, in my case it was threats and emotional bullying, but even in the better cases it involves paternalism, a clear divide between patient and doctor, one who knows and one who doesn't.

Now, I'm not suggesting everyone could do what I did. I was in a pretty unique position in terms of my medication. I had the access to information and the ability to interpret it, a lot of people for various reasons do not. But it is possible to gain advice without relinquishing control, to implement a social solution not a heirarchical one, and that may involve the use of medication.

Belief follows practice

See, I remember Discordianism, so I predict that the ultimate irony is going to be in 15 years when, given the resilience of the religious impluse in the human mind, many of the people who use the Flying Spaghetti Monster as purely a giddy way of scoffing at traditional religionists will find, to their surprise, that they have become *sincere* Pastafarians.

- isntitironic@journalfen.net

The above comment encapsulates the central secret of all politics, magic, psychology, mass-marketing, etc. I am reminded in this context of the history of my personal favourite mindcontrol cult. SubGenius started as a mockery of batshit religion, in particular fundamentalist Christianity and Scientology. It took self-evidently ridiculous dogma and proceeded to sell it successfully (to a niche market) using exactly the same "sales techniques" (i.e. applied metapsychology / magic) as the aforementioned cults - preaching as performance art, "artwork" which reused and "subverted" powerful commercial memes, etc. Remember that "Bob" was originally clipart from that most powerful of commercial grimoires, the Liber Paginarum Fulvarum.

The niche market, as Ivan Stang said himself was the kind of person who "catches themselves starting to fall for smooth-sounding lies all the time" - i.e. exactly the kind of open-minded and unconventional person who would have joined a cult if their native intelligence didn't get in the way. Now, twenty-six years later, the founders of SubGenius are disturbed that they were too successful and people ended up believing the "self-evident garbage" - to the point where people were actually upset when the Saucers of the Sex Goddesses didn't put an end to the world on 5 July 1998.

This just goes to show that you can't wake people up with the technology used to put people to sleep. The technology does not short-circuit itself just because what it's conveying has nothing to do with reality. Some fundamentalist Christians in the US, for example, seem to believe that Hezbollah now has Saddam's WMD - even long after their masters had given up on trying to push the lie that the WMD ever existed. To use Situationist jargon, d├ętournement which remains on the symbolic can always be recuperated. The only thing which really can dissolve all magic spells whatsoever is the self-activity of the masses.

(Another secret is: the main indication that the future will be different from the present is that the present is different from the past. Be extremely suspicious of anyone who uses the word "always" or "naturally" in this context.)

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A question. Have these guys ever heard of this?? Or vice-versa?

The occultism of small businessmen

A kindly contributor known as "thistle" has made an extremely intelligent comment to Liber MCMXVII, that you really should all check out. I want to deal with one point s/he made here so that it doesn't get missed. Among other things, s/he states:

There is nothing in the libertarian philosophy which inherently guards against the fascist impulse except for wishful thinking.

There is a very fucked-up place where anarchism, libertarianism and fascism combine. That sounds weird to someone who doesn't understand what Marxism means by "petty-bourgeois ideology" - or, to put it another way, the reality-tunnel of the small businessman (and I use the masculine form advisedly). This is the idealisation of the status of the self-employed craftsman or producer, making a modest profit, answering to no master, hating the evil corporates who wish to enslave him as much as he hates the majority of people for being part of that very corporate collective.

Some of these bold memetic warriors and whatnot out there talk a good game about having lost their ego or destabilised their own reality tunnel or whatever, but that very basic view of the world - that the life of the small independent artisan or trader is the ideal - is never challenged. This would probably be due to the fact that most of them are artists, writers or other kinds of creative types, and the only model provided for success in this culture is the small business model. It is a regrettable species of blindness that so many of these people don't see that this is part of the problem. For a start, it writes off as "part of the problem" the vast majority of the population of the western world who are wage-slaves to these corporates.

The problem is that the utopia desired by these people - a world of tiny independent petty capitalists trading with each other on terms of equality - is about as possible as unscrambling an egg is possible. That phase of history has already gone. The corporates ate it. You can't play the film of history backwards. How are you going to break up Microsoft, Exxon, the IMF etc. to fit your mutualist fantasies? Our modern technological/industrial culture only works on the basis of worldwide co-operation and division of labour. I don't share the nostalgia for the early 19th century - what our friend "thistle" calls "romantic occultism" - that so many of these people seem to have. I want to jump-cut direct to the nasty, fun-loving remote future.

There is no future for small, independent capitalism. The only way to defeat the corporates is to go through them. A self-conscious worldwide working class could use the structures of co-operation built by globalised capitalism for good, rather than evil. But that means giving up on methodological individualism. It means accepting that the path to greater human power and liberation lies in co-operation and building community, not in an autistic retreat to an ego-ideal that has been out of date since at least 1848.

As much as I love Robert Anton Wilson as an iconoclast and a good bloke, his politics as contained in his late 70's early 80's books show a disturbing love for the same kind of "third way", petty-bourgeois, Social-Credit-meets-techno-utopian politics which have been adopted these days by "soft fascists" like Troy Southgate (do a websearch on "rosenoire"). Mutualism, distributism, "guild socialism"... all these ideas based on tiny affinity groups negotiating with each other from a difference would require giving up on the world-wide networking and potential co-operation which is the main redeeming feature of modern capitalism. And it all stems from the fact that the people in this culture who are capable of thinking outside the square have been "recuperated" by not even questioning, for a moment, that the capitalist epoch's idea of "individuality" is real.

The future lies in collectives and co-operation, not in "free trade". The only question now is - will the corporations collectivise humanity? Or will humanity collectivise the corporates?

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As to Situationism: my comrade Ben Watson has some pretty good things to say.

14 November 2006

An Introduction

Introducing myself as your friendly (unless provoked) guest blogger. My username is taken from a poem ('To Posterity') by Brecht:
Ah, what an age it is
When to talk about trees is almost a crime
For it is a kind of silence about injustice!
So to me, to be able to talk about trees (or movies, or art, or whatever) is to display a sense of optimism, to recognise that whilst the times we live in, though not Nazi Germany, are pretty foul, they are also ones in which "man can help his fellow man" and injustice is met with resistance. It also implies that to me being a socialist involves appreciation of the emotional, environmental and artistic (in a broad sense) aspects of life, roses as well as bread, as the saying goes.

As to the substance, Doloras asked me to blog here after reading some rather disconnected ideas I had written on psychology and the mental health system under capitalism. There is no shortage of those who oppose psychiatry, or at least psychiatry in its present form, but too often it is opposed without analysis, without any sense of connection to the world, something that is bad either because it just is or because of the inherently evil actions of those involved in it.

It is not enough, then, to simply point out what is wrong with the mental health system. I want to explore what purpose it serves under capitalism, how its techniques fit into other areas such as, for example, advertising or classification of recreational drugs. And most importantly, what the alternatives are.

Down the rabbit hole

The problem with this project is that one becomes almost too successful at finding the people who're working in similar areas. A Wikipedia article on Situationalism leads to these guys. Who lead somewhere I heard about on Lenin's Tomb. (Also courtesy of Lenin's Tomb: this.) Which in turn turns up this.

So much information, and yet not much closer to deciding on a programme of action.

I ATEN'T DEAD

My enthusiasm for working things out in public on this blog seems to go through phases. So if you don't see any update for weeks, don't fret that the process has ended - it's generally that I'm carrying it out somewhere else. Demonstrations, picket lines, writing polemic articles, composing songs, getting healthy exercise and voraciously reading are all part of the process.

Next project: a hard look at the Situationists. I would also like to call upon any of our readers who think they understand Deleuze/Guittari, and can explain it in terms a factory worker would not only understand but would be interested in, to write an article. I must confess that even their Wikipedia entry did my head in a bit. We also hope to have something on a chaosmarxist approach to the institutions of "mental health" under capitalistm sometime soon.

03 November 2006

Glossary

A Kindly Contributor to our comments boxes thinks a continually updated glossary of jargon or technical terms would be a good idea for this blog. I agree. Anyone interested in having any term that I or commentors have used in this blog, please tell me via the comments box. I will give my best to give my own definition, which can of course be contested.

In the immortal words of Chairman Miaow: Burn down the edifices of capitalism then have a long nap in a warm spot.

02 November 2006

New friends

The signal has been run up and the connections are being made in the infosphere. I would like to introduce you all to razorsmile, "a chaotic journey of majik, philosophy, politics and lives". I am currently deeply absorbing their response to Liber MCMXVII, and wondering whether their name might have anything to do with a viciously political early Sisters of Mercy song. Perhaps one day I will write an article here on the relation between the compression and overlaying of concepts inherent in poetry and other wordcraft, and the similar process which appears in creating a magical symbol.

Also: the Icarus Project, an attempt to create a bottom-up community network of mental health. Some have commented on the similarity of the magical worldview to some species of what witchdoctors call "mental illness". Perhaps we are only trying to get to a place where some people live all the time - and, of course, get out again in one piece. I am reminded of the story of James Joyce, who went and saw Carl Jung for help with his daughter's schizophrenia. Joyce said something like "she speaks pretty weird, but then, I write pretty weird". Jung replied "You are diving; she is sinking".

Magic in general - and Chaos Marxism in particular - is all about being able to dive, swim, and get back on dry land safely. Eventually, I think we should be able to become psychic and cultural surf-lifesavers.

01 November 2006

Second practical idea

One comment I've heard occasionally is that socialism needs to be "rebranded", to purge the taint of the syphilitic parody that was Stalinism. While I think the word itself is still servicable, the truth is that Marxists do need to remember that the map is not the territory - that symbols are only useful in so far as they serve the actual purpose on the ground. For example: the Russian revolutionaries called their ideas "social democracy" until that term became tainted with the Western social-democrat parties' signing up to World War I - they then took on the name of "communist". In my country, we ditched that term after 1991 in an effort to exorcise the ghost of Stalin and his imitators. The name is only important in that it conveys an idea of liberating action, not one of bureaucratic paralysis and oppression.

It is totally up in the air whether the phrase "working class" or the red flag can still be used, or whether new memes will have to replace them. I mentioned "tribe of the workers" before - don't know whether that will have general effectiveness yet.

The Marxist method runs concrete->abstract->concrete; actions produce ideas and ideas can provoke further action. To put it in magical jargon, we start with the memes and thoughtforms which arise spontaneously from anti-corporate activity, transmute them magically to give them the best chance of survival and replication, and then release them back into the infosphere of the activity where they were born. To put it in a hopefully jargon-free way: we must start with the ideas and symbols that arise spontaneously from the actively existing struggle, work on them to "sharpen them up" for maximum effectiveness and general application, and then use them to inspire further struggle.

To give an example: the Marxist idea of a workers' council as the structure of a post-capitalist state wasn't made up by Marx or Lenin sitting in a library. One spontaneously appeared in the Paris Commune of 1871, and Marx recognized it as the seed of a new state. The next time they appeared - in the Russian Revolution - Marx's heirs recognized what they were and did their best to encourage the new meme to grow and spread. Eventually - all too briefly - they did succeed in smashing the old reality.

It is in this light that my comments about the Unborn Goddess should be taken. Any memes cooked up by a single ideological worker / artist / mage hunched over a computer, an altar or a drawing board will be of limited usefulness at best because they don't arise from the group consciousness of the actually existing struggle. The best you can do with that is tinker with your own psyche (which of course has its place, but is not at the forefront of the Great Work). We are not initiators of the New Culture - we can only hope to be its midwives.

Magic 101 for Marxists

Okay. I think in the last two posts I gave a comprehensible account of how Marxists see the interaction between the "infosphere", people's ideas, and the physical world. Now I'm going to have a go at it from the point of view of occultists, magic(k)ians, "metaprogrammers", or whatever else they might call themselves. I do note for the benefit of all my occultist readers that I am simplifying and generalising to an incredible degree for those who are utter n00bs to the subject - your corrections and additions are welcomed.

Perhaps the central tenet of the magical worldview is the Hermetic formula - as above, so below. To put it another way, the microcosm is the same as the macrocosm; to put it a third way, symbolic changes can cause physical changes, if the symbol is "powerful" enough; or a fourth way, that perception is to a large degree reality. (This last might be recognized as also the central tenet of modern public relations and politics.)

Traditional magic worked with the symbols of the various discarnate entities of the various religions - gods, demons, angels, what-have-you. With the breakdown of the traditional societies in the age of capitalism, the modern occultists such as the Order of the Golden Dawn and the Theosophical Society began piecing together new symbolic systems, usually out of remnants of the old. The infamous Aleister Crowley is perhaps most famous by attempting to apply the methodology of science to the material of magic, creating a new system that would correlate and include all traditional systems of "magick". (The k was added by Crowley himself, to distinguish what he was doing from card tricks, pulling rabbits out of hats etc.)

Since Crowley we have had what you might call post-modern magic. This follows Crowley in attempting to reconcile cutting-edge science and the traditional Hermetic formula. It is also distinguished by an insistence that what is important in an act of magic is reprogramming the psyche - i.e., changing the consciousness of the magician. The "acid missionaries" of the 1960s, who systematically attempted to explore altered states of consciousness via what Frank Zappa called "trendy chemical amusement" are a huge influence. Many occultists also work from modern ideas such as quantum uncertainty, Carl Jung's theory of synchronicity (i.e. when random events are connected by their significance to the observer), and chaos theory - hence "chaos magic".

The neo-pagan witch Starhawk defined magic as "an symbolic act done in an altered state of consciousness to produce a desired effect". Another way of putting this might be "introducing information in a matter which evades the filters erected by the subject's rational mind". For the occultist of today, magic can be boiled down to the following:

- inducing an altered state of consciousness (by mediation, breath control, drugs, a catchy tune in the background, sex, the suspension of disbelief required to enjoy fiction etc) in which the subconscious mind becomes more susceptible
- imagining the desired goal in symbolic form
- investing the symbol with energy; or, to put it another way, fixing the symbol in the subconscious via repetition or association with some kind of intense experience
- "banishing" (dispelling from consciousness) all counteracting symbols.

By this process, the subconscious mind is reprogrammed; and, since "above is below" (perception is reality) so will reality be transformed for the practitioner in accordance with will. Alternatively, some kind of psychic energy will be sent out that will actually rewrite the material world according to desire. Sometimes, both explanations are used. (You could also sum up these steps in the words of the old jingle - "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, don't mess with Mr Inbetween".)

In these traditions, the gods and demons of earlier belief are often reinterpreted as manifestations of the individual or collective psyche, Jungian archetypes, discarnate beings alien to this planet or even this plane, or even consciously-constructed figments of the magician's imagination. Often it will be claimed that these distinctions are not important - what is important is how the practitioner behaves in regards to what she perceives in the altered state of consciousness, and what is accordingly imprinted on the subconscious.

Increasingly, complicated traditional tables of magical symbols such as Crowley used are being supplemented or even replaced by images from modern mass media and popular culture, or even ones which the practitioner makes up herself. In the chaos tradition, serious belief itself is seen as counterproductive. The practitioner is encouraged to discover the symbols and the belief systems which are most effective to change her consciousness in the required way, and then "invest them with personal energy". Sexuality is perhaps the most vital source of this energy - deliberate violations of personal taboos are also seen as a "path to power". This is in essence exactly the same process as advertising, psychiatry, brainwashing, rhetoric, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and what those criminals in the "Church" of $cientology do. (L. Ron Hubbard stole most of his good ideas from Crowley.)

The place where this kind of magic comes into contact with Marxist ideas of ideology is the increasing acceptance that corporate capitalism and imperialism are not only destroying the physical world but playing merry havoc with the symbolic realms, with their advertising, propaganda and other mind-control techniques. Also, occult theory follows the insight of Marxism that activity determines consciousness, not whatever the conscious mind happens to believe. A Marxist might call a picket line or a militant demonstration "an altered state of consciousness", since it takes place in an area not acknowledged to exist by the dominant paradigm of reality - an effective political or advertising slogan has all the same characteristics of a meditative mantra.

In general, modern occultists still have faith in the possibility of individual action against this tyranny, as opposed to the Marxist insistence that only collective mass action will be effective. In addition, the Hermetic formula is in itself a profoundly idealist idea, based on a vision of ideas directly determining physical reality (as opposed to Marxist insistence on physical action as the nexus between idea and reality). Chaos magic is often called "materialist" by other occultists. This seems a bit strange, since the famous chaos author Peter Carroll has written a lot specifically attacking the materialist worldview! On the other hand, this tradition's explicit rejection of any permanent or fixed beliefs no doubt seems screwy to more traditional, quasi-religious occultists.

Therefore, the politics of the anti-capitalist occultist current are to a large degree anarchist, liberal or libertarian - precisely the politics of the social group (information professionals) from which they come, as a Marxist analysis would predict. But modern occultists and Marxist revolutionaries share an interest in challenging the thought-forms of modern corporate culture, and combatting them with "memes" and ideas that can lead to real human consciousness and empowerment. It is the purpose of this blog to facilitate discussion and common action between both camps.

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*gasps with exhaustion* Questions? Comments?

ETA: Just one more thought: the "other side"'s PR/magic works on a "brute force" principle - repetition, repetition, repetition, funded by massive capital expenditure - as well as the principle of mimicking as closely as possible what's already in people's heads. We don't have the budget to replicate this from our side. So whatever memetic action (cultural work, agitprop or magic) we do, it has to beat them for being clever, for being passionate, for speaking to those people who have a vision of a better world and just need a bit of encouragement to start fighting for it.

Marxism 101 for Occultists, part 2

To recap and expand upon the previous post on the basis of "dialectical materialism":

The material world and everything in it is in a conscious state of flux and change, because of its own internal contradictions. The birth of human consciousness offers the possibility of this "dialectical" process being directed by will.

However, the division of human society into rulers and ruled, the partly-conscious and the forcibly-unconscious, hampers and frustrates this possibility. In the capitalist era, it has allowed humanity to call up vast, potentially world-changing powers, but to not have any control over them.

This contradiction can only be solved by those who actually, physically, create and change the world in the modern era - those who work with muscle or brain - becoming conscious and taking control over human society.

Because the world socio-economy is now so vast and complicated, this can only be done on a collective basis from the ground up, with interdependent individuals acting democratically to direct the productive tools at the disposal of the human species. It will also require the forcible removal from power of the capitalist class and the state apparatuses they have set up to protect their privileges.

Now read on...

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Why hasn't this happened yet? As we said before, because the other side has all the nuclear bombs and prisons and most of the guns. But that's only part of the question. Most people in a modern capitalist society don't need an armed guard standing over them to keep them in line - they allow themselves to be exploited and obey the irrational laws because they accept that this is the right way to behave. (As an aside, this is the real reason that slavery was abolished - the wage-labour system is a much more effective form of social control, because the man with the gun is usually invisible.)

One of Marx's most vital comments is that the ideology of the ruling class is the ideology of society. Let's use a metaphor of a society having an "infosphere", like a planet has an atmosphere. Every member of a society is constantly and invisibly surrounded by the ideas evolved by that society's rulers to make their own continued rule look not only justified, but the only possible option. Partly this is accomplished deliberately through ideological institutions. In previous eras this was done by churches or other mass organisations - nowadays in advanced capitalist countries, it is done more and more via the mass media.

But it's also because the way the world works makes the lies seem like truth. Because virtually everyone works for some boss in return for wages or salary, it makes sense that that is the natural way to earn a living. Because the system is based on competition and competitive accumulation of wealth, it makes sense that people should have to struggle against each other to survive. Because most people don't have a guy with a gun standing over them to obey the law and behave like good employees, it makes sense that people are doing so out of their own freely arrived at decisions.

When that anonymous Bush Administration staffer made that snide comment about "the reality-based community", this is what he meant. Because ideas come from experience as well as from the TV or from the preacher, whatever they succeed in imposing on us will look not only rational, but natural. People will end up justifying it to themselves just because no credible alternative is presented. In this case, existing reality shapes ideas - but, since in the modern era so much is potentially under human control - the ideas in people's heads determine how much existing reality can be changed.

The Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci spent 15 years in Mussolini's jails. At this time, he made the most intelligent comments so far in the Marxist tradition as to how to fight the war for human liberation on the domain of ideology.

Gramsci suggested that everyone's consciousness contains two contradictory elements. Firstly, "common sense" - the ideas they pick up from the "infosphere" of the society around them. Secondly, "good sense" - the ideas that they come to for themselves from their own personal experience. The experience of workers in struggle - that the wagelabour relation is exploitative, that only collective action with other workers can improve their own situation, that - is more sharply counterposed to the "official infosphere" than anyone else's.

Lenin, summing up the insights of dialectical materialism, said "ideas become real forces when they seize the masses". But Gramsci made it clear that the official ideas are "short-circuited" most effectively when proved wrong in practice - that is, in struggle against the ruling power. There's an old joke that embodies this insight: "a radical is a liberal who's been beaten up by a cop".

The problem is that the official structures which systematically pollute the infosphere are getting stronger as more people's experience brings them into conflict with the lies. Our rulers won't use bribery, they prefer not to use force, so lies upon lies are becoming their central weapon. Their technology in this area is approaching a high degree of perfection - anyone who watches Fox News or has read something on "neurolinguistic programming" (aka corporate magic) will understand this. So the central question for Marxists and other world-changing radicals is how to tip the balance between "common sense" and "good sense" in favour of the latter in the minds of the majority - the workers who are in a position to reorient the entire creaking superstructure of human society, if they want to. It's at this point that the concerns of Marxists and of the new generation of occultists - in particular, those embodied in the fledgling Ultraculture movement - coincide. But that's a topic for another post.

Marxism 101 for Occultists, part 1

At the request of a Marxist reader who wants "the basic concepts of magic" explained ... well, I started writing something along these lines. But then I got distracted and ended up explaining the basic concepts of Marxism for occultists - it seemed that I had to do it this way first. So, apologies - "Magic 101 for Marxists" will be coming. But first...

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Marxism is a materialist philosophy - the starting and ending point of our ideas is the actual, physical, real, dirty world. We use this world in contradistinction to "idealism" - the concept that ideas are the fundamental building blocks of reality. But the essence of Marxist materialism is that the real world and the "sphere of ideas" are intimately connected. "Vulgar materialism" - that is, the hard-core sceptic view of reality - carries on Descartes' hard-and-fast dividing line between physical reality and ideas. This concept that ideas are totally independent of reality is in fact another, stupider, kind of idealism, in which ideas just kind of float around in a disembodied state and operate by their own laws.

As Lenin said, "intelligent idealism" - accepting that ideas shape reality - is closer to Marxism than the "vulgar materialism" which, as we've shown above, is actually a vulgar kind of idealism under an assumed name. Marxists accept that material reality shapes the ideas in people's heads. But that when people act according to different ideas, then they can change material reality. The connection between matter and ideas is action.

Marxists are dialectical materialists. The "dialectic" can be summed up in a single idea: that everything is in a continual process of flux and change, that everything contains within it the seeds of its own destruction and evolution into something different. Opposed to the vulgar materialist worldview in which the world contains a number of fixed, isolated objects, for the Marxist the world is made up of processes whereby things evolve over time and relations between things. A Marxist is more interested in the direction in which something is going than where it is at any given moment - Trotsky noted that in this, dialectical logic is different from formal logic in the same way that calculus is different from arithmetic. Marx got this idea from the German idealist philosopher Hegel, who seems to have picked it up from the Greek Heraclitus - it's a surprisingly common idea in even Western philosophy, let alone the rest of the world. See for example the extract from Crowley's translation of the Tao Te Ching, a few posts down from here.

The basis of Marxist philosophy can be summed up thus: the whole world and everything in that world is in a continuous process of change and flux. But human consciousness was born in the struggle to change the world according to our will. Marx, writing at the time when industrial capitalism was booming all over the world, saw this as the first time when a truly global human civilisation, which could not only gain control over the physical world but over its own evolution, was possible. But he also saw that capitalism - while smashing the old, static feudal and traditional civilisations - was a "Sorceror's Apprentice" that couldn't control the powers that it had summoned up.

Marx saw that the division between mind and matter in the philosophy of the rulers of his era was echoed in the division between the capitalist class - who directed production for their own private benefit - and the working class, who actually carried production out. Consciousness belonged to one group of society - the power to actually do things to a completely different group. Thus, the very basis of capitalist society at the same time summoned up great powers and made it impossible for humanity or even individual humans to have any control over these powers.

Only when the industrial working class - who actually with their physical labour changed the world on a daily basis - became fully conscious of what they were doing, and took over control of the way in which they created the wealth of the world, could this contradiction be solved. The ascension of the working class to the leadership of society would be at the same time the solution of the split between theory and practice, mind and matter, consciousness and physical reality. It was necessary for the real history of humanity to begin - a history when a self-conscious species would take over responsibility for its own future and the future of the planet and perhaps the universe. The sole important amendment that modern Marxists would make to this is to make it clear that low-paid white-collar workers - who shift information rather than steel for a living - are also going to have to be part of this process.

In summary, then: Marxism is the philosophy and science of the human race coming to full self-consciousness and responsibility. Against us stands the self-interest of the ruling classes of the world, who have massive power over other humans but no real power over the world they live in. These people, for example, couldn't solve global warming if they wanted to, because the measures they'd be forced to take would destroy their own self-identity as rulers of the world. Marx didn't forsee the possibility of ecological collapse, but he certainly had in mind "civilisational collapse" of the kind that happened to ancient Rome. Only a self-conscious world working class could save humanity from such a fate - precisely because, as he famously said, it had "nothing to lose but its chains".

So what stops the workers of the world from achieving this? On one hand, the rulers are not ashamed to torture, destroy, kill, imprison and use any and all kinds of violence to protect their power. But in the advanced Western countries right now, the control of the rulers of the world is imposed by ideology. And this is where Marxism and occultism really begin to share a frame of reference.

(tbc)

31 October 2006

The thoughtform

(bloody hell, I'm in logorrhea mode today, aren't I?)

Anyway, a thoughtform that could encapsulate the culturesphere of the revolutionary and post-revolutionary era is The Unborn Goddess. Unborn because we only have the vaguest idea what she will look like yet. The Revolution will be her labour pains, the world's second workers' state her birth.

We'd better start evoking her quick. The other side are lifting their game.

You're looking at one, mate

A character like Parsons could hardly avoid the FBI. From the early 1940s he was watched because of suspected communist affiliations, though we are left to speculate on what a communist occultist would sound like.

- from an article on the man who took Ron Hubbard's ass to the carwash.

First practical ideas

It is common belief that corporations function like the magical concept of an egregore - which is, I believe, a being created by magic with a will of its own. If you choose to take that literally, or just think of it as a good metaphor for the unstoppable logic of capitalist accumulation, it doesn't matter. (The metaphorical use goes all the way back to the Communist Manifesto itself, where Uncles Karl and Fred compare the modern capitalist to the Sorceror's Apprentice, who made Magical Mistake #1 - summoning what you can't banish.)

If we start from this point of view, and we accept what Tony Cliff said that to defeat an enemy you must become symmetrical to it - then we need some kind of "egregore" (or cultural metaphor for struggle) equally strong on our side. One problem is that the traditional collective nouns used by revolutionaries for the new being that will overthrow the old order - "the working class" or "the proletariat" - have had most of their power sucked out of them by seventy years of misuse by Stalinist filth. These will have to be replaced. (For those who don't come from my political tradition: Stalinism bears the same relation to legitimate revolutionary socialism that $cientology does to magic.)

Some of our comrades have already begun saying "the tribe of the workers" - mainly because that resonates the most strongly with the actual consciousness of the actual workers right now. This brings up one of our major obstacles. This new "thoughtform" - the new "culture of resistance" - is impossible to simply extrapolate from anything current. But we do know that its seeds lie - somewhere - in the cultures of resistance currently sprouting everywhere around the world. These seeds are the birth of consciousness. Anywhere where a worker or an oppressed person starts thinking and acting for themselves, in social solidarity, there lies one of these "seeds". And the more these ideas catch on among their peers - to put it another way, the more potent the spontaneously arising memes - the more likely that they will be vitally important for the future.

It is fundamental to the idea of magic that it works backwards as well as forward in time (a shoutout to the Paradox cultists out there). So, any magic which aims to manifest this thoughtform will have to work forward in time from actually existing struggles, trying to connect them with a process going backwards in time from when the New Culture already exists. It is one of our articles of faith that the seeds of the New Culture will come only out of active, collective struggle on both physical and conceptual levels against the Corporates and their thoughtforms.

Project 1 of the Chaos Marxism current is, therefore, expressed in political jargon: to envision and help build a new oppositional culture of workers' resistance. In magical jargon: to invoke and materialise an entity with the power to neutralise the corporate egregores. The first practical steps will must be involved in the actually existing struggles of the moment, seeking always to identify the "seeds of the New Culture" and to encourage them to flower. At the same time, magical work to reach into the future, and attempt to manifest the fully-evolved form of the New Culture - the form that will neutralise and supplant the corporate thoughtforms - right here, right now, in our memespace and our physical reality.

ETA: I forsee this as having two communications. Firstly, evoking the New Culture "backwards in time" through artwork and agitprop. Secondly, to invoke the personality of... the person who can "channel" the thoughtform into the present day, and make it manifest by connecting it with physical reality. Marxists say "Bolshevik cadre" - occultists say "adept" or "priest". As my mentor put it when I complained to him about my shyness - "I'm a hermit by nature myself. But I do the social thing because it's necessary for the work."

Feedback for the win!

One of our devoted readers complains that a lot of the writing here is "full of incomprehensible jargon". Sadly, this is a real problem. Made even more problematic by the fact that I'm trying to use two (traditionally) mutually contradictory forms of jargon at the same time. Some in the audience will know what "Gramscian hegemony" or "the negation of the negation" mean. Others will know what an "egregore", a "banishment" or "metaprogramming" are. Virtually no-one seems to know both sets at the same time. Which is why, on this blog, I am trying to evolve a new language. Not a new jargon - because the whole point of what I am doing is that it must be accessible to people without a university education or, indeed, the time to read books on a regular basis. This may be a path strewn with up to three miles of broken glass.

Another reader (damn, forgot I was screening comments - you'll be able to see it later) said something like it was "nice to see magi actually doing something". Well, that's the whole point, isn't it? Now that we have the basic ground rules of the project sorted out, the question is how to form a link between the theory and the practice. Any vague ideas that I have will be posted here.

Just an idea to leave you with. Magicians know full well that under the surface of ordinary every day reality lies a seething mass of the inexplicable and the ineffable. And yet, they seem to turn up their noses at looking closely at where the majority of this world's population spend most of their waking hours - working some horrible day job. Perhaps practical magic crossed with union organisation could possibly be Project 1.

30 October 2006

Manifesto v. 0.9 vel Liber MCMXVII

(edited 2010/04/09)

Chaos Marxism is an anticapitalist memetic-combat current.

We see dialectical materialism (and its physical manifestation, revolutionary socialism / classical Marxism) as close akin to other projects and techniques of consciousness change such as public relations, psychology, and "magic(k)(!)" or however it's being spelled this week.

Global corporate rule is a reality on the material and on all ideological planes. You can only defeat an enemy by becoming symmetrical-but-opposite to it. The symmetrical opponent to global corporates will be a global organisation of the industrial and service-industry workers, whose psychic energy and surplus value is the nourishment of the corporate entities which determine our current consensus reality.

Capitalism is a vampire and we are the Slayers. We seek the coming to full consciousness of the majority of the world's population. This will take the form of the transformation of the worldwide proletariat into a "class for itself" - or to put it another way, the manifestation of a collective world thoughtform which can kick the corporate egregore where it really hurts. This might well happen by organising a collective of what Paul Slazinger calls Mind Opening Specialists. A cadre party of the Leninist type, properly understood, is a magical order. We must remember Lenin's magical motto - "patiently explain".

We are the bastard children of Aleister Crowley and Rosa Luxemburg. Trotsky built our hotrod and Robert Anton Wilson souped it up. We declare eternal war on all cliques and shibboleths. We are prepared to chase this thing through all the words in the world. What we do is the only important thing.

Magick is serious business. Therefore, we are prohibited from ever taking ourselves too seriously. We are not interested in wasting time explaining to vulgar materialists why magic is neither a fraud nor useless, any more than we are interested in explaining to mealy-mouthed liberals why dialectical materialism is not responsible for the horrors and crimes of Stalin, Pol Pot etc. We see no reason why fascist filth should enjoy such apparent street-cred among metaprogrammers, when the project of October 1917 had the potential to be fundamentally world-changing than anything that the goosestepping jackasses of the 1930's could have imagined.

Anyone who endorses these ideas and is actually prepared to do something about them is one of us and is invited to become one of the writers of this blog. This manifesto is subject to radical change without notice.

A quiz for our readers:

Quote 1:

The human species, the coagulated Homo sapiens, will once more enter into a state of radical transformation, and, in his own hands, will become an object of the most complicated methods of artificial selection and psycho-physical training. This is entirely in accord with evolution... Man will make it his purpose to master his own feelings, to raise his instincts to the heights of consciousness, to make them transparent, to extend the wires of his will into hidden recesses, and thereby to raise himself to a new plane, to create a higher social biologic type, or, if you please, a superman.


Quote 2:

Nothing exists except as a relation with other similarly postulated ideas. Nothing can be known in itself, but only as one of the participants in a series of events. Reality is therefore in the motion, not in the things moved. We cannot apprehend anything except as one postulated element of an observed impression of change. We may express this in other terms as follows. Our knowledge of anything is in reality the sum of our observations of its successive movements, that is to say, of its path from event to event.


Can you tell which of the above was written by a magician and which one by a Marxist revolutionary? (Before examining the links and without using Google, you cheating sons of suitcases.) It's worth noting that they were written in the same year. More proof that we're going the same place by different roads.

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I am considering writing some kind of "Chaos Marxist Manifesto" - a very basic list of starting points around which I could begin to start attracting an actual intellectual/practical current. Thoughts?

27 October 2006

The different between art and propaganda....

...is the difference between a sigil and a manifesto. In other words: the artwork has had just enough of its own construction obscured to become (as TS Eliot put it) universal, an aesthetic object; but still embodies the original intent.

Propaganda and agitation are transitory, art is eternal - its effect is therefore more diffuse but potentially far deepr. Andrew Eldritch's "Vision Thing" was about Bush41, but it works equally well as an indictment of Bush43 - if you know how to look at it. Both are necessary in our struggle for change.

I think I'm reproducing insights from Trotsky's Literature and Revolution in a new form. Whatever, the question is to what use this insight can be put.

25 October 2006

Taking CM public

I think I have gotten to the point with these ramblings that they would benefit from being exposed to public ridicule. But the question is (as with so much of what I can do) where is the audience that would at least hear me out before throwing me out?

The socialist blogosphere is full of vulgar-materialist philistines and wannabe academics who sneer condescendingly if you start talking in metaphorical language and think their clique politics is somehow important. The magickal blogosphere, on the other hand, is full of pampered lumpen-intelligensia who, on one hand, talk about changing the world and then discuss their badass ritual for getting John Kerry elected and why using the term "Zionist" is antisemitic I shit you not. Both sides have their clique dogma going on - the best I can say is that the socialists make me want to *headdesk* slightly less. There is of course a third option - academia - if I decided I never wanted to actually do anything again. On the other hand, it's the best-paid option.

As it stands, I think there are about three people in the world who really get what I'm trying to do with this. Perhaps they have ideas on how I could begin getting intelligent feedback. As it stands, I might have to bite down hard on my impatience, and actually start creating facts on the ground, as my mentor - a veteran socialist and instinctive magician - puts it. When this stuff is working then it will be impossible to ignore.

24 October 2006

This is why we need Chaos Marxism.

A contributor to Generation Hex (see sidebar) gives us his thought on how to fight corporations on the astral plane. Interesting as far as it goes - that advertising is in fact a form of magic (to put it another way, mass psychology) is a vitally important insight, and the ideas he puts forward of how to conduct "magickal attacks against the corporate egregore" (i.e. damage the brand) are good ones, if somewhat stating-the-obvious for seasoned anticapitalists.

But sadly at the end it collapses into bog-standard liberal politics:


The best magick is practice. Your money is your voice. Try not to buy corporate products. Buy local and independent. If you're buying designer clothes, don't wear labels. Cut them off or blot them out. There's no way to stop supporting corporations completely. the luxury of the first-world is supported by the cheap labor of the third. But support good businesses, and don't give your money to the bad ones. Educate people about the worst corporations, and strike the egregores in their inevitable moments of weakness.


Not one word in this article about the fact that the "egregore" feeds on profit, and that profit is produced by its employees. In fact, not one word about the employees of the corporation at all - the people who do the real things that are "the thoughtforms channels onto the physical plane", to use the jargon. These people talk about smashing imperialism and capitalism, but are still under the brainwashing control of the entities they want to fight, in that they still systematically ignore the entity's weak point - the point where it feeds, the very interface between logosphere and meatspace. The point of production.

If this article even suggested that trying to raise consciousness among the employees of the corporations was even a possibility for action, then I would be delirious with glee. Also, the bullshit idea that small businesses are somehow not bloodthirsty psychic vampire entities shows where these people are coming from - i.e. wannabe small businesspeople themselves. It's just a systematic blindspot to the ways in which the thoughtforms that they fight actually derive their sustenance from the physical world.

04 October 2006

How the materialist method of cultural analysis works

Black Sabbath were a band made up of working-class kids from Birmingham. Their guitarist lost the tips of two fingers while working in a sheet metal factory. After that, he tuned his guitar down three semitones to make it easier to play. This led to the Sab's trademark deep, dark, nasty sound, which became the basis for a million impersonators and emulators (and also to Ozzy's awful reality show, but never mind that).

You can't understand metal unless you realise that it came from white working-class kids in England who worked in factories and wrote songs with titles like "Paranoid" even though they didn't actually know what the word meant. Similarly, you can't understand reggae unless you know what Jamaica was like in the 1970's and why. But that's another story which I'm not qualified to tell.

Sadly, you also have to understand how the record business works to understand why the longer a band goes, the more it is led to compromise what made it great in the first place in the service of producing saleable product. Black Sabbath are sadly neither the worst nor the best of bands in this regard - one of these days I will post about Yes, one of my favourite bands for a long time, and show how their addiction to record company largesse led them into all sorts of unpleasantness.

03 October 2006

The big secret

One of the best supported findings of social psychology is that if people can be induced by rewards, threats or a sense of obligation to act contrary to their beliefs, it is the beliefs that are more likely to shift in the direction of the behavior, rather than the other way around.

I took this from an article on a therapy cult. But the way cults operate is just a boiled down and spcied-up version of the way in which all authoritarian society operates. (Indeed, cults work very similarly to jails or concentration camps, except that people are kept in by moral pressure instead of guns).

Conversely, the idea that beliefs follow social action is a profoundly materialist insight. If people can be led into betraying everything dear to them if you take them along it a little at a time (viz. Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four), then conversely someone's world can become vaster and more full of possibilities if they just get a few positive reinforcements for taking action in their own interests. Success breeds daring and failure breeds passivity.

The final link between social psychology and Leninist political practice must be that to really change the world, and the self, all this has to happen on a democratic-collectivist basis. On your own, you can only figure out how to fit into the world better, not wield any power over it. Conversely, an authoritarian-collective can only act like a jail.

Metaphors bite

If there needs to be some kind of sober, feet-on-the-ground, I'm-a-simple-railway-worker-mate-I-don't-understand-this-cultural-studies-crap excuse for this blog, let's put it like this: metaphorical, narrative language can help people understand real although intangible forces better than intellectual jargon.

Case in point: the horror novel Wetbones by John Shirley (original screenwriter for The Crow and follower of "Bob"), 1993. The article by the author linked to above explains one of the major themes of the book - it explains addiction and the personality damage caused by addiction in terms of invisible monsters which feed on pain and degradation - and in terms of people who serve these invisible monsters. Interestingly enough, we're not only talking about chemical addiction here - we're talking about emotional dependance and abusive relationships, on the personal and on the personality-cult level.

(As an aside, the infallible litmus test of whether an organisation is a cult or just a bunch of idiots is whether initative is accepted and praised, or whether intellectual and/or emotional dependence in a leader or a leadership clique is encouraged. In other words, the difference between proletarian-activist and pettybourgeois-moralist-religious consciousness is totally independent of whatever the actual dogma of the group might be.)

Anyway! I feel that the book loses some of its cool near the end. The author in the essay linked above says something like he was avoiding people accusing him of preachiness, and decided to ramp up the horror-story aspects of the book rather than to carry on with the socio-economic commentary. A huge pity - because the guy comes very, very close in the novel to actually making his story of invisible psychic worms a discussion of alienation under capitalism.

Case in point: Tom Prentice, the title character discussed in the author's essay. A struggling author who is offered the big break of his life (plus the opportunity to have lots of dirty sex with a hot girl) in return for distracting his mate from investigating the aforesaid invisible-worm-worshipping cult. Later, feeling remorse, he says something like "they've turned me into my worst nightmare". Something which has undoubtedly been said by every working writer in Los Angeles at some stage - including John Shirley. (I am reminded of that guy who wrote Alf, who was making $5,000 a week and spending $6,000 on heroin. Also of the short story A Working Religion by Larry Sulkis, also a SubGenius.)

Here, the invisible worms are almost redundant. It's the mere fact of compulsion under capitalism which leads Prentice to sell out his friend. If he wants to write, he has to sell his writing. Which means his work, what is most important to him, is no longer his own. (Sex with a hot woman is of course also just another "fringe benefit" of having a prominent place in a corporate institution.) Marx's concept of alienation - where our work, what makes us actually human, is turned against it by the necessity of participating in a cash economy - is demonstrated in all its horror here. Marx himself described capitalism as a vampire - I suppose an invisible worm is an updating of that, for an age where everyone and their sister things vampires are k00l. Like any other addiction, commodity fetishism first creates the desire, then continually not-quite satisfies it.

Another case in point: another main character, believing his daughter to have been murdered, relapses into crack addiction. We follow him into the nastiest ghettos in Los Angeles, seeing close up exactly what grinding poverty and addiction have done to those most vulnerable. It's not clear whether Shirley is suggesting that drug addiction is responsible for all the horror he sees, or whether it is an understandable response to being the throw-away remnants of society, the "dark depths" of a city which is supposed to be "shallow". (Well, everything looks one-dimensional if you only look at the surface.) But it's obvious that addiction and oppression go together. Crack is the modern-day opium of the masses.

I thought the book would have been more powerful if they hadn't made the invisible worms parasites on all forms of addiction. That ideology suggests that if humanity could just make itself somehow psychically immune, we could all be making our own decisions and surely everything would be better. That avoids the dark reality that perhaps reality is like it is because that's how people want it. Or more precisely - that addictions, whether to chemicals or to abusive personal relationships or whatever - are a natural reaction to the world the way it is. Unlike in the novel, no-one is forcing anyone into drug-heaven or mind-control relationships. Those are simply lifestyle options which seem rational responses to the world-as-it-is. We work jobs which force us to switch off our individual personalities to the extent necessary to do something worthless to us but profit-making to a boss. We come home and all the entertainment options available also want us to "go to sleep", to not be aware, to forget. Heroin and charismatic religion are only more concentrated forms of the basic logic of how our whole culture works.

The point I wanted to make was that these cultural metaphors sometimes make the reality of how the cultural superstructure of how capitalism work far more understandable to ordinary people than jargon-words like "alienation" or "false consciousness". If people were to act as if there were invisible worms which wanted us to fall asleep, to not be aware, to waste our energy doing things that were useless to us, to be fixated on consumption rather than activity for its own fault, they might be able to combat the real forms of ideology more effectively. As long as we all remember that these are metaphors, of course. We don't want to make the mistake of the British weird-fiction author Lawrence Miles, who expressed a metaphorical view of the world to his psychiatrist without making it clear that it was a metaphor and came near to being put on antipsychotic medication for his trouble.

So perhaps if this blog and my whole intellectual project have a theme, they are to translate the categories of Marxist analysis, via the narrative images of modern media-culture, into forms which everyone would be able to understand and use, for purposes of psychic self-defence. If there's any problem with John Shirley's vision, it's that he doesn't make the step past individual to collective solutions. Like any good petty-bourgeois (or SubGenius, for that matter), Prentice's happy ending is to sell a movie script while living as a hermit in a caravan in the desert. If we all did that, of course, who'd deliver the groceries or build our computers?

01 October 2006

Out of my book

(Random jottings made on the subjects which form the theme of this journal over the last year and a half.)


The place to build cadre is in the class struggle. Cadre must be "go-betweens" between spontaneous working-class self-activity and Marxist theory - they must be able to both apply theory to give leadership to the struggle, and learn from the struggle to develop the theory.

We are all psychologically damaged by being brought up in class society. But as social beings, we can never be fully healthy while we live in that fundamentally unhealthy society.

As Marxists, we don't want to run off and create a "perfect utopia" in which to be fully human. We want to mobilise the vast mass of humanity to change humanity right now.

Our job is to become conscious ourselves and to lead the class in becoming conscious. This means that Marxism is a form of magick as defined by Crowley - "the art of changing consciousness at will".

Our effectiveness as cadre is limited by the mental blocks placed in us by family, school and society to make us good slaves (or, if we come from a ruling-class background, good slavedrivers). But we won't relieve these blocks by sitting around playing with mental symbols and images. All we'll do is reproduce class society with the categories changed. We'll start thinking of ourselves as "the enlightened" compared to mindless sheep, or if we're really screwed up, the mud races.

As Lukacs said, the soviet is the end of alienation. The proletariat becomes the subject as well as the object of history.

Lame wannabe occult-fascists are all so impressed by Hitler and his mates changing the world 1933-45. What's wrong with the way Lenin and his mates changed the world 1917-1924? Because we are influenced by ruling-class elitist notions, a political movement which brought the masses to power doesn't seem to "count".

Yes, what I'm talking about could be called "occult Marxism". Or better yet, "cultural and psychological Marxism". Engels proposed that the class struggle had to be fought on the political, industrial and ideological levels. I propose to add the cultural and psychological levels (or at least point out that they're vital subsections of the ideological).

We already strive to create an International Working-Class Opposition to capitalist society in political, industrial and ideological struggles. We have to create a cultural and psychological opposition as well.

Current "Marxist cultural theory" is not actually Marxist at all. It uses Marxist categories and insights to analyse culture, but that's not Marxism. Marxism is a guide to action above all else. If it doesn't give direction for how a Leninist party should operate on the cultural sphere, then it's not Marxism.

The contradiction of capitalism is that music-as-self-expression is powerless because it becomes a cultural commodity. But music-as-commodity, in itself, has the double-edged nature of all commodity production – it can give rise to a cultural proletariat, the gravediggers of the system. Then again, music-as-expression-of-social-reality… that

Similarly, the psychological mission of a Leninist party must be to deal with any personal issues that might be holding cadre back from either working efficiently as a communist, or unhappiness in their extra-party life. (Yes, there has to be one. We must keep this distinction clear, or we'll run into the trap of becoming a Fred Newman-style mind-control cult.) The mission of psychs and counsellors in capitalist society is not to make you happy and healthy, it's to make you docile and conformist.

A society split on class lines leads to a human psyche split on class lines. The "thinking self" regards the subconscious as an unruly beast that has to be whipped into line, while the subconscious tries sabotage the thinking self whenever it turns its back. Sounds familiar?

THEREFORE:
- the Leninist party has to build on Lukacs' insights to organise counter-hegemonic cultural movements. The SWP(B) did this well with Rock against Racism - but I don't think it was theorised anywhere. When the current leadership talk about Respect building socially and culturally in the immigrant communities in Britain as well as politically, I think it's where they're getting. The anarchists and rad-libs do something similar with "culture jamming".

- the Leninist party has to train its cadres to function well as psychic units; to be able to cope not only with the political work of a cadre as outlined above, but to handle the balance between this and leading a "real life" in the nasty class society we live in. Vital parts of this will have to be identifying and dealing with personality damage which hampers one's abilities, to build towards creating an "undivided personality", in which binaries within the psyche are neither compartmentalised, nor subordinated one to the other; party work and "real life", conscious and subconscious, past and present, etc.

The definition of "personality damage" is anything which creates contradictions in the psyche. Of course we'll never really fix this before socialism. We don't aim to create a perfect, whole human being (which can't happen outside a perfect whole human society); but we want the individual party worker to become AWARE of the contradictions and to not see them as natural and inevitable.

The Universal Consciousness Process as developed by Martin Cornelius seems to work well as a quick and nasty method of integrating sections of the psyche. However, we need to figure out some method of tracking progress which doesn't rely on the bullshit Scientology "scales of consciousness".

Our mission is to RE-INTEGRATE human culture by resolving its contradictions: between bourgeois and prole, public and private morality, humanity and nature, "workers and science" (as Rosa Luxemburg put it), mind and body. First the vanguard party becomes conscious and aware of this. Then we aim to build this consciousness in the whole class. Actual work in the working class is the FIRST DUTY of the party, because it is the first step to integrate "workers and science" in the macrocosm, and thinking and feeling self in the microcosm.

We work for integration of humanity on all levels and in all spheres. We work on the cultural and psychological levels from a strictly materialist framework. The psyche stems from its real material experiences and perceptions, not the other way around. BUT we have to continue the struggle on all levels. We work for a "scientific esoteric Marxism" - materialist and scientific but based on transformation of culture and psyche along with the rest of human reality.

Because the material takes precedence, we must change the real world before we become fully human. But we change the real world in the process of becoming fully human. There must be a vanguard which leads, but we can't change the world until the vast majority are on the right track, since ONLY the vast majority can change the real world. Elites and minorities can only reinforce and perpetuate the division of humanity into classes and therefore the division in the psyche.

Therefore, no-one can be really sane until everyone's really sane. Everyone who's serious about building a sane world has to unite the only force which can do that - the working class.

===

Watson suggests that we look at culture from the producer’s viewpoint. Fair enough. In the realm of material production, Marxists want the collective organisation of the proletariat to expropriate the bourgeoisie. The interesting thing about the mass-market music industry is that composers and performers are in a different class situation (as opposed to the pre-Bach times, when they were the same people).

Performers are “skilled tradesmen” whereas composers are “new middle-class”, like writers or computer programmers. The difference between music and writing is the necessity for the performer as an intermediary (where the composer is not her own performer). Both of these become proletarianised the second they sign a major-label record deal – a “slavery and theft” contract as Robert Fripp would put it.

The less successful professional musician/writer sells her product as a pure commodity (advertising copy, tech writing, jingles, Muzak, etc) as something to directly contribute to commodity production or distribution – thus, this kind of music is a means of production in itself.
The more successful professional musician/writer sells her product as art – a final commodity
The “star” sells her product as above – and also is required to commodify her personality as part of the art-commodity, the Benjaminian “aura”.

The cultural commodity has a dual nature: as a commodity and as a means of communication – a bearer of meaning (symbolic or imaginary).

Socialists sell their newspapers on the streets, for which anarchist fucktards mock them. But they do that because that way the working-class fund the distribution of the ideas contained in that print commodity, which are supposed to lead to the destruction of commodity culture altogether. The socialist newspaper is thus ideally a kind of virus in the system, but sustained on the same logic as the system itself – the ideas contradict the commodity format. Ideally this should be possible for the anti-ideological artwork as well.

An idea can be distributed formally (as a cultural commodity) or informally (as gossip, rumour, a joke, an urban legend, a computer virus, “samizdat”, or like Samara’s video in The Ring).

The worst thing in the world is someone who treats an anti-commodity as if it were a cultural commodity (which confers a symbolic status on the purchaser).

Fripp says: “Mass culture lies to us for money; popular culture tells us the truth”. To put this in a Marxist frame, this is the difference between a pure cultural commodity and an anti-ideological cultural commodity. It’s a pity that Fripp is backed all the way into his petty-bourgeois view of the world (where everything would be all right with the market economy if only those capitalists would act like nice people rather than vampires!)

What I really want is some way to unify revolutionary socialist political activity, analysis of “arty fringe of mass culture” music and narrative, and my own output of music. I had to choose one to make my living from – I made a judgement call that I was most likely to strike a balance between money and time for my own priorities.. This was a judgement that the subject position of an academic (cultural new middle class) is more appropriate for political action than that of a self-employed professional musician (cultural petty-bourgeoisie). As it stands I work as an unskilled librarian (cultural proletarian).

The seductive thing about the professional musician’s life is the opportunity for “star status” – for commodification of the personality. This is of course a reaction formation for the personality damage I suffered in my childhood – I want my personality validated by the adoring gaze of the Other.

I have to write for “my people” because no-one cares if I write for myself. “My people” are obviously radicalised young-to-middle-aged overeducated white women. So be it.

Cultural analysis boils down to “how it works” – discussion of what meanings the cultural artifact embodies, and how it puts them forward. Marxist analysis goes past this to connect this to the circumstances of production of the artifact. But Marxist practice would have to subsist in reverse-engineering – that is, usuing our knowledge of how cultural artifacts work to produce anti-commodities of the type mentioned above. (If we say that that’s not possible, that you can only produce anti-commodities “by accident”, that’s a “surplus value” formation in the cultural sphere of the type that Zizek talks about – a hangover from the idea of artwork as commodity.)

Ben Watson says that Frank Zappa’s albums work as anti-commodities – your mileage may vary.

===

WHAT WOULD A REVOLUTIONARY CULTURAL MOVEMENT LOOK LIKE?

- It would produce theory as well as practice; criticism as well as original work.
- It would struggle to organise the cultural workers.
- It would "speak the truth" of the struggle of the working class, conceived in its broadest outlines.
- It would turn "listeners into musicians, readers into writers".

WHAT WOULD REVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOANALYSIS LOOK LIKE?

- Its theory would develop hand-in-hand with cultural theory as above.
- It would aim to help the working class "speak the truth" to themselves.
- It would turn analysands into analysts; just like the Lacanian tradition.

28 September 2006

We name the guilty parties

This man is to be blamed for a lot:



His name is Ben Watson. In 2002 I read his huge book on Frank Zappa, The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play. It is an insane work, almost as full of arrant bullshit as searing insight. Unlike almost all other works of music criticism I ever read, the guy obviously has a warped sense of humour - you'd think that would be necessary for anyone who wanted to talk about Zappa, but apparently not.

The important point here is that Watson's book was the first time I had ever seen Marxism used for any purposes other than abstract, quasi-theological debate between annoying grouplets who acted like the worst kind of mind-control cults. Reading it at a critical turning point in writing my doctoral thesis, it looked like suddenly an insurmountable obstacle had vanished and an inviting path had appeared. The funny thing is, reading back on my pre-Marxist drafts (which were based on a rather anodyne liberal-feminist post-modernism), they didn't need much editing to make them compatible with later theoretical insights. Which reassures me that I had found a theory which fit the facts, rather than the other way around. (My doctoral examiners seem to have agreed.)

Before this turning point, I was an anti-capitalist of an anarcho-liberal variety, but I accepted without question the estimation of Marxism which is common sense on the liberal left - that an authoritarian, anti-human doctrine which when put into practice destroys individuality. But Watson is a member of the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, an organisation distinguished from most of the Left for always having rejected the regimes of the Soviet Union, Red China, North Korea, Cuba etc. They believe that the Russian Revolution of October 1917 was a huge triumph for human freedom and development, but that by 1928 all its positive achievements had been strangled by Stalin and his cronies who destroyed working-class democracy and made the Soviet Union indistinguishable from a huge and highly inefficient capitalist corporation. All the "communist" countries set up later were carbon copies of this sick parody of socialism and not to be supported. So they believe we need another 1917 on a worldwide basis - and let's hope we can do it right this time.

One major revelation was that you could support revolution without having to support monolithic states run by a smug, self-satisfied bureaucracy. But more important was that Marxism is not just an ideology which you can do intellectual gymnastics with, but a guide to action. I should note at this point that as well as being an anarcho-liberal I was also a serious practicing Wiccan. I remember being highly frustrated that my attempts to change reality by mental exercises didn't work. But the alternative seemed to be simply accepting the horror that was the human society I was busily committing suicide around me.

Marxism is an ideology of dialectical materialism - a philosophy which takes the real, physical world as its basis and starting point, but accepts that - as Tori Amos said - "there is the change in the 'what is', once you accept the 'what is'". Human consciousness is based on the base facts of material existence and no higher spiritual principle. But if that consciousness gets to grips with the world as it really is, it can change reality. I saw this as almost the definition of magick that people like Crowley and Uncle Bob Wilson had been batting around for ages. In Marxism as well, we got the idea of a "veil of illusion" that makes the world look different than it really is for most people - Marxists call this "bourgeois ideology".

But whereas all the mystics I'd read were interested in how a person could escape this web of lies and build their own reality more to their tastes, Marxism offered a path to which we could smash the whole thing altogether - for everyone, not just an enlightened elite. This was a way in which I could reconcile my interest in changing consciousness with my anti-elitist instincts. And the more I looked at the mystics and the psychonauts, the more I realised that for them "Question everything" (did you know that that was Karl Marx's motto?) meant "Question everything except the idea that individual consciousness is a thing unto itself which can be worked on in isolation". Because if you start saying that people are not individuals - that they are created by their upbringing and the role they play in real, nasty, going-to-work-in-traffic society - then you open the door to the idea that only a social revolution can actually solve the real problems with humanity. At that point you end up in Guantanamo, or perhaps just on the dole. If you're really unlucky you end up in academia. The quote from Fight Club that "You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake!" is actually a revolutionary statement.

So, anyway, I would recommend Watson's Zappa book. He takes a rigorously materialist attitude to Zappa's music - not just interpreting the albums as if they arrived mysteriously from a planet beyond Yuggoth, but talking about how they actually got there - the actual means by which Frank found time to sit down and write this music, how he got people together to play it, how he got some record company to release it. The central idea of Marxist cultural criticism is that art is based on the gross, nasty facts of commercial and psycho-sexual reality rather than some kind of transcendent spark of consciousness. That consciousness is determined by an individual's place in the actual, real situation of human society (psychosexual, social and productive/economic relationships), rather than floating around disembodied. And that the power of lies and ideology does not come from magick Illuminati spells, but from the fact that it is actually more useful to adopt a completely false and disempowering view of reality to live in human society as it is right now. Realising what's really going on is liable to severely and negatively influence your marketability and networking skills in the labour market.

I had come across a set of ideas which actually connected consciousness to the real world in a way that not only made sense, which not only offered an organising principle for my doctoral studies, but actually suggested ways that one - as part of a revolutionary party leading a revolutionary class, in constant battle against the lies which look like reality. For everyone, not just a smug minority of self-declared Illuminati. Anarcho-liberalism, postmodernism and mysticism share this in common - they make you feel much better about yourself. By insisting that ideas and consciousness come first and "create" the world, they allow you a way out from actually doing anything. You can stay in your ivory tower and change your own reality infinitely. Until, of course, you need to go to work or deal with anyone but your immediate friends. That's the point where nasty reality cuts in. And nasty reality cuts in more and more the less money and internet access you have.

I'm not writing off mysticism altogether - hence this blog. I think it's possible that the kind of individual consciousness-change that those people talk about might be able to change just enough "inside the head" to make on able to truly "question everything". But magick alone seems to create smug petty-bourgeois pricks who just think they're cool, rather than bad-ass consciousness warriors who actually do things in the real world which effect people who don't sit around on teh intarwebz all day long. For the world to be safe and sane for anyone it must be safe and sane for everyone. I reject elitism and solipsism. I want to commit acts of magick on a worldwide basis, which involve everyone. And the thing which can change consciousness more than anything else is worldwide workers' revolution.

And that's why I was late for church, Father.