Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pluto's Republic

Last week’s Archdruid Report post ended with what might, without too much exaggeration, be called a cliffhanger. Talk about magic, as we’ve been doing for the last few weeks, and point out that using magic to help people think more clearly has to be done one at a time with the active cooperation of the person in question, and it’s a sabfe bet that very quickly someone’s going to ask, if people en masse can’t be made to understand, might it be possible at least to make them behave?

That’s the question I posed last week. It’s a common notion, and unlike most common notions about magic these days, it has some relation to the actual possibilities of magic. To answer the question, though, it’s going to be necessary to start with a corpse in a bathroom.

The bathroom in question was on the University of Chicago campus, on an otherwise pleasant spring day in 1991. The corpse belonged to Ioan Culianu, a Romanian emigré who had a stellar reputation in academic circles as a brilliant historian of religions, and a quieter but no less impressive reputation in certain other circles as a modern practitioner of Renaissance magic. Culianu had been shot once in the back of the head by an unknown assailant. It’s been suggested that his murder had a good deal to do with his involvement in Romanian politics, as one of the most vocal opponents of the regime that succeeded the Communists in that country, but the case remains unsolved to this day.

Back in 1984, Culianu defined himself as one of the rising stars of the academic firmament with a book titled Eros and Magic in the Renaissance. The academic study of Renaissance magic had been a hot field since the Sixties, when Frances Yates finally blew the lid off a generations-old habit of scholarly disdain for occultism, but even by the standards of the Eighties Culianu’s book was startling. It took magic seriously as a system of psychological manipulation that used the cravings and desires of its target—the “eros” of the title—to shape human behavior. It suggested on that basis that modern advertising, which does exactly this, is simply the current form of magic, and that contemporary Western nations are “magician states” governed by the magical manipulation of public consensus.

None of these ideas were new. Culianu got most of them from the same place he got much of his magical training, the writings of the renegade Dominican sorcerer Giordano Bruno, who ended a colorful career by being burnt at the stake for heresy in 1600. Bruno’s writings on magic describe magic in much the same way Culianu did, as a system of manipulation that casts out lures for nonrational desires. It’s a common way of thinking about magic, the kind of magic I’ve labeled thaumaturgy in earlier posts. The interesting thing here is that Culianu also discussed the very different figure of Marsilio Ficino, who was an even more important figure in the history of magic than Bruno, but who practiced the other kind of magic, the kind I’ve called theurgy.

Ficino was a Neoplatonist theurgist of the kind I’ve described earlier, practicing magic as a preparation for philosophy. He was also a physician, and much of his magic focused on what he called melancholy and we call clinical depression, the occupational disease of Renaissance intellectuals. Instead of manipulating other people by means of nonrational lures, he taught students to direct the nonrational aspects of their own minds, so that they could think more clearly and avoid the distortions of thought and feeling that clinical depression brings with it. While Ficino has a place in Culianu’s book, though, the theurgic dimension of his work gets very little exposure there.

The fault line between these approaches runs straight back to the origins of Western occult philosophy, and we need to follow it to make sense of the whole pattern. For all practical purposes, we can start with an ancient Greek thinker named Aristocles, whose very broad shoulders got him the nickname Plato. One of the most influential minds in human history—Alfred North Whitehead, himself no intellectual slouch, characterized all of Western philosophy as “a series of footnotes to Plato”—he played a central role in redirecting philosophy away from arbitrary speculations about the nature of existence, and toward close attention to how human beings know what exists and what doesn’t. Even if you’ve never read a word Plato wrote, you use concepts he invented practically every time you think.

Still, it’s not exactly rare for those who define the cutting edge to make a fair number of mistakes along with their insights, and then leave the resulting mess for later generations to work out. Plato did that, in spades. Much of the history of classical philosophy consists of attempts by later thinkers to sort through his legacy, build on his achievements, and quietly chuck his less useful notions into the trash. In the process, they had to deal with his political opinions. So does everyone who confronts Plato; they remain a live issue right up to this day.

Plato was born into a wealthy and politically well-connected family, and grew up in an Athens that was torn by decades of savage political struggles following its catastrophic defeat in the Peloponnesian War. There were two parties—this may sound familiar—one of which was dominated by the rich, while the other was nominally democratic but mostly just consisted of everyone on the outs with the other party. Plato had family connections to what we might as well call the Republican party, but distanced himself from it because its rule over Athens was blatantly corrupt and unjust. When the Democrats staged a coup, though, things didn’t get noticeably better, and Plato’s teacher Socrates was executed on trumped-up charges in the reaction that followed.

Plato responded to all this the way quite a few people are responding to the failures of political systems today, by trying to imagine a system that would somehow evade the pervasive human habit of making really bad political decisions. None of his attempts worked, and it’s important to understand why they didn’t work, because the same flaws pervade today’s notions about getting people to do the right thing when they pretty clearly don’t want to do so.

The most famous of all Plato’s dialogues, The Republic, focuses on this issue, and takes the form of an inquiry into justice. It covers an extraordinary landscape of ideas, and raises points that are well worth study today, but at its core is the imaginary construction of the world’s first utopia—yes, that’s one of the concepts that Plato invented. His utopia, like most of the ones invented since then, is ruled by the minority of the population who have the brains and the education to do the job right. They’re supported by a larger minority of the population that’s motivated by concepts of honor and social expectations, who provide the muscle for war and crowd control; and these two classes rule the rest of the population, who are motivated by their appetites.

Underneath this, as my regular readers will have guessed already, is the same way of thinking about the individual that gave rise to Plato’s chariot metaphor: the differentiation of the whole self into reasoning, social, and biological parts. Each caste fills one of the three roles—the leaders are the reasoners, the guardians are social, and the workers are biological—so that the Republic becomes an exact analogue of the individual. Plato, being Plato, works the metaphor in all sorts of directions, and later generations of Platonists took those and ran with them in quite a few useful ways, but there’s a little problem with the Republic: Plato’s conclusions clash disastrously with core insights of the rest of his work.

In the dialogue Meno, to note only one example, Plato has Socrates demonstrate a point about the deep structure of the human mind by walking an illiterate servant boy through a geometrical proof. The boy doesn’t know a thing about geometry, but he is able to follow Socrates’ logic, and by the end of the process has understood what at that time was cutting-edge mathematics. Socrates’ point is that anyone, anywhere, could be taught the same thing—and that’s a point for which Plato’s Republic has no room at all. In the Republic, reason is for the few; honor and social commitments are for another minority, separate from the first; the majority has nothing but appetite. It’s therefore fair to say that in the Republic, nobody is allowed to be more than one-third of a complete human being.

That’s always the problem with utopian schemes; the inhabitants are never allowed to be fully human, though the restrictions are rarely handled with the geometric precision Plato displayed. When a utopian scheme is put into practice, in turn, what inevitably happens is that whatever dimension of the human is supposedly abolished happens anyway, and defines the fault line along which the scheme breaks down. Marxism is a great example; in theory, people in Marxist societies are motivated solely by noble ideals; in practice, getting people to go through the motions of being motivated solely by noble ideals required an ever-expanding system of apparatchiks, secret police and prison camps, and even that ultimately failed to do the job. One way or another, trying to create heaven on earth reliably yields the opposite; whatever resembles Plato’s Republic on paper turns into Pluto’s Republic in practice.

The would-be political thaumaturge, the person who wants to use magical manipulation to make people do what he thinks is the right thing, is subject to the same rule. He’s trying to do the same thing Plato wanted to do in his imaginary Republic by different means. As thaumaturgy is subtler than jackboots, the political thaumaturge gets his disastrous results in a subtler way.

When you’re practicing thaumaturgy for yourself or another person who wants to work with you, it’s possible to aim symbolic and ritual stimuli very carefully at specific details of the nonrational mind, and the effects are observed and managed by the rational mind; this sort of thaumaturgy very often spills over into theurgy if the person receiving the work is open to that. When a client comes to a practitioner of old-fashioned Southern conjure magic, for example, most of what happens on the first visit is meant to give the root doctor a clear idea of exactly what the client’s real issues are. Many practitioners have a canned divination rap—the term for this in the trade is “cold reading”—that covers all the usual bases; it sounds very impressive, which is good for building the client’s confidence, but the skilled root doctor watches the client carefully while giving the cold reading, looking for the signs that show what’s really going on, so the magic can be aimed precisely where it’s needed.

You can’t do that with political thaumaturgy. If you want to influence the thinking of a nation, or even a community, you have to paint with a very broad brush. That means, first, you have to aim at one of a few powerful nonrational drives that affect most people in much the same way; second, you have to pile as much pressure as possible onto whatever drive you have in mind, so that you can overwhelm whatever the psyche of the individual might throw at you; and third, you have to weaken the reasoning mind, because that’s the part of the self that most often trips up efforts to work magic off basic drives, especially when those efforts aim at goals that most of the targets think are against their best interests.

Two awkward consequences follow from these considerations. The first is that there are things that political thaumaturgy can’t do at all, because they contradict the requirements of the method. Getting people to think clearly by encouraging them not to think clearly is not a promising strategy, and it’s not much better to try to use basic drives to convince people not to give in to their basic drives. The old delusion that techniques are value-free is as misleading here as elsewhere; any technique is better for some ends than others, and thus privileges the values that favor those ends above others. (It’s probably worth pointing out that a sane response to peak oil, which requires clear reasoning and the ability to look beyond those basic biological drives, is among the things political thaumaturgy is almost uniquely unsuited to accomplish.)

The second awkward consequence is that the political thaumaturge is always affected by his or her own magic. The old-fashioned Southern root doctor just mentioned is in no danger of being caught in the work he does for his client; he aims his magic at the client’s psychological buttons rather than his own, and the root doctor isn’t even present for most of the work—the cleansing baths that remove unwanted emotional states, the daily rite of putting a drop of Van Van oil on a mojo bag that directs consciousness toward certain things and away from others, and a good deal more, are done by the client in private. Political thaumaturgy can’t be precisely aimed, though, and can’t usually rely on talking people into practicing complex rituals in their spare time; instead, it relies on mass media, and relies on repetition and compelling verbal or visual patterns that sidestep the critical faculties of the reasoning mind.

Just as you can’t spread raspberry jam on toast without getting it on your fingers, though, you can’t spend your time creating words and images that appeal to the nonrational mind without your own nonrational mind being influenced by them, and the more compelling your thaumaturgy is, the more surely you will be caught by your own spell. Since political thaumaturgy requires you to weaken the reasoning mind and overwhelm the defenses of the self by pounding on simple, powerful nonrational drives, the impact of this work on the mind of the political thaumaturge is far from helpful, and it helps explain why practitioners of political thaumaturgy so often end up messily dead.

Whether or not this is what happened to Culianu is still an open question; his biographer Ted Anton notes that a good part of Culianu’s last months went into writing blistering propaganda pieces assailing the Romanian government, a process that might best be compared to poking a grizzly bear with a stick, but speculation about the role this played in his murder remains exactly that. Still, it’s par for the course for political thaumaturges to end up as true believers in their own propaganda, and in the hardball politics of post-Communist eastern Europe, this could well have been a fatal mistake.

It’s a common enough mistake, too. In a post last year, I discussed Adolf Hitler, whose career is among the best documented examples both of the power and of the pitfalls of political thaumaturgy. Hitler’s meteoric rise to power and the extraordinary control he achieved over the imagination of the German people are a remarkable example of thaumaturgy at work, and readers interested in figuring out how political thaumaturgy functions could do worse than study the Nazi regime’s systematic transformation of an entire nation into ritual theater hammering on a handful of primal biological drives. The result of that effort is just as telling; the process of convincing Germany that he was invincible convinced Hitler of the same thing, and he proceeded to destroy himself and his regime in a crescendo of blunders that all followed from his inability to imagine that he could be mistaken.

For an example much closer to home, consider the way that the privileged classes in contemporary America by and large support policies that, in exchange for absurdly huge short term gains, are sawing away at the basis of their wealth and privilege, and may ultimately leave many members of those classes dangling from lampposts. Awarding multibillion-dollar bonuses to bank executives when their banks are losing money and most Americans are going broke is, shall we say, not a strategy with a long shelf life. It may be possible for a while to insist that all that money is going to trickle down and create jobs, but when the jobs don’t appear—and they won’t, because diverting money from the productive economy of nonfiscal goods and services to the unproductive economy of high finance is an effective way to cause jobs to be lost rather than gained—that claim isn’t going to hold up well.

John Kenneth Galbraith’s comparison of the American political class to the French aristocracy on the eve of the Revolution thus may yet turn out to be even more prescient than Galbraith thought. That America’s privileged classes don’t see this coming is another example of the way thaumaturgy recoils on its practitioners: decades of public relations meant to justify the parasitic habits of the finance sector have produced generations of financiers who believe implicitly in their own propaganda. Thus they’ve been repeatedly blindsided by the failure of the economy to conform to their beliefs, and it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll do any better when the stakes in the game change from money to blood.

In any other context, to be sure, comparing Ioan Culianu to the faceless apparatchiks who run Goldman Sachs and its equivalents, to say nothing of Adolf Hitler, would merely insult the memory of a brilliant scholar. The sole thing these disparate figures have in common is their use of political thaumaturgy. This in itself makes the point that, to my mind, most needs making here, which is that it doesn’t matter why you attempt political thaumaturgy. You can try to use it to overthrow a repressive government, to line your pockets with unearned wealth, to impose a murderously twisted ideology on a vulnerable nation—it really doesn’t matter; it’s not going to get you the results you want.

What might produce the results that are wanted, and needed, as the industrial world begins to skid down the far side of Hubbert’s peak is another matter, and one that I’ll begin to trace out next week.


oji said...

Are we not talking about propaganda, basically?

bryant said...

Amongst the many great essays you have written, this one stands out. Excellent work.

John Michael Greer said...

Oji, in the same sense that Romeo and Juliet is a story of puppy love gone wrong, yes. Propaganda is a weak and simplistic form of mass thaumaturgy.

Bryant, thank you!

madtom said...

Unfortunately, frenzied scrambling for short-term gain is precisely what evolution has selected for, ever since our ancestors were single cells.

No matter that many individuals will lose by this strategy when it stops working, nobody knows when that will be. The only sure bet is that you lose by refraining from maximizing your resources at the maximum possible rate. A few lamppost-danglers notwithstanding, the survivors who scrambled most successfully will out-reproduce those who practiced moderation.

The unsustainable looting that has characterized America's behavior (as subgroups and as a nation) has already gone on for long enough to allow multiple generations to thrive. That game looks to be over, but . . .

Given a chance to climb on a soon-to-crash gravy train, and the hope of escaping the train wreck with some extra resources to help survive the coming disaster, the sensible choice is not as obvious as it may look. And even if it were, how many people routinely rationalize making a poor-but-attractive choice?

With this as my current worldview, I am quite looking forward to constructive suggestions beyond "flee obvious disaster areas and form a good and self-sufficient social network", which I have already done for my family as far as I am able.

madtom said...

Sorry, - as I meant to conclude - Haven't you just shown that mass thaumaturgy will most effectively serve base ends?

Matt said...

Wow. Thanks John. So well put together!

John Michael Greer said...

Tom, that sort of evolutionary argument is very popular, but it's also wildly inaccurate. Some living things focus on short-term gain, others don't, and human beings in a good many societies have shown a pervasive habit of relating their lives and choices to the long term -- for heaven's sake, even in America, people save money for retirement and buy cemetery plots.

You might want to read up a bit on evolutionary ecology before insisting that maximizing resources at the maximum rate is by definition the only winning strategy; that's far from true. For that matter, in past declines of civilizstions, it hasn't generally been a matter of a few lamppost danglers -- it's been entire elites, pretty much en masse, as they were the ones who had the resources most conveniently concentrated for others, better prepared for the decline, to take.

I've spent the last year and a half talking about constructive suggestions; if you haven't heard them, I'm not sure what else I can do. As for mass thaumaturgy, yes, it serves base ends, but it does so in a self-destructive manner. There are other, more successful options.

Robo said...

Miracle workers. One has only to watch a Presidential primary debate to witness the degree to which magic controls our society. As Michelle Bachmann was quick to point out, Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax proposal is really 6-6-6 turned upside down.

Pluto's Republican legions worship their god of wealth in a particularly dark and inverted underworld.

Tony said...

That's another book plopped somewhere onto the reading list. Oy, between this blog, its comments, and the used bookstore I'm accumulating a pile faster than I can read them. I'm still only halfway through The Glass Bead Game!

Definitely one of your great posts, going up there in the bookmarks with 'hallucinated wealth'. Found myself particularly interested in the idea of thaumaturgists (?) getting pulled into their own systems of thought they create... would you say that this is related to the more general phenomenon of rationalization, by which people make excuses for themselves or their actions and eventually believe them, or is it distinct?

katsmama said...

ARRRGH!!! another cliffhanger!!!! Brilliant- I always learn something here.

John Wheeler said...

Thank you so very much for this post. This is certainly the most important thing I've read this year and perhaps this decade.

I have known for a long time that political thaumaturgy was dangerous (though I didn't know it by that name). Given the urgency of peak oil, though, I was starting to wonder if I should start using those methods, in an "ends-justifies-the-means" way. That one sentence, "Getting people to think clearly by encouraging them not to think clearly is not a promising strategy, and it’s not much better to try to use basic drives to convince people not to give in to their basic drives," so marvelously refutes that temptation.

Thank you again.

frijolitofarmer said...

I'm excited to see you take the blog in this direction--putting the Archdruid in The Archdruid Report, if you will. I've enjoyed your posts for years, usually because they seem like a reiteration of my own opinions, and it's nice to hear a respected person affirm your point of view, especially when it deviates so much from the mainstream.

These past few posts, though, where you've delved into magic and Western philosophy, are the first where I've felt completely in "student" mode. There is no preaching to the choir in these for me. It's all new and fascinating and I'm absorbing it eagerly. Thank you.

William Hunter Duncan said...

Question is, will they help ignite a civil war in the effort to insulate their privilege, and can we prevent ourselves from feeding on the bait and destroying whatever Other?

I hope you will expand on becoming fully human. The theurgic process you speak of, I think of as a kind of alchemy; politically speaking, anarchism; and otherwise a love for the Earth and universal processes. Thanks again for the magic of your writing.


Joel said...

It sounds as though you aren't counting community organizing as part of the political sphere. Or does the line of reasoning that you have laid out for mass communication somehow also hold within Saul Alinsky's framework for one-to-one interactions?

ChemEng said...

Mr. Greer:

A month ago you published an essay entitled "The Glass Bead Game" based on a book of the same name. I had not heard of the book, nor of its author, Herman Hesse. However I downloaded a copy; I was impressed and decided to purchase a printed copy of the book (along with one of yours, of course).

You comment in this week's essay that, "It’s therefore fair to say that in the Republic, nobody is allowed to be more than one-third of a complete human being." On the same lines, Knecht, the principal character in The Glass Bead Game, states, "I am not inclined to urge Plato's thesis that the scholar, or rather the sage, ought to rule the state". And also, "The Castalian, therefore, should not become a politician." Knecht understands that the rational mind is not sufficient to control the complete non-Castalian world.

Which therefore begs the question, who is to rule the state? This question was probably best answered by Churchill, "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

Regarding Peak Oil and other systemic issues that we face, I found the sentence "Probably we who are Magisters today will be able to complete our terms of office in peace and lie down to die in peace before the danger comes so close that it is visible to all" spoke to my condition. I am in my mid-60s, and I suspect that my generation will be able to ride out many of the upcoming changes. But, and there's always a "but", we have children and grandchildren. We must plan for them as best we can. And Joseph Knecht went further, he accepted responsibility for society as a whole, particularly the education of young people.

In Chapter Twelve, Hesse starts a poem with "In all beginnings dwells a magic force". I would be curious as to your interpretation of this poem. And do you think that our society will create a Castalian Province say a hundred years from now?

Thank you for introducing your readership to this subtle and thought-provoking book.

One final question: what is the distinction that you are making between Plato and Pluto, a god of the underworld?

Tiago said...

Probably your best

Thijs Goverde said...

Aaaand: another short story for the collection.

Think like a Tinkerer

English is not my first language so I will be grateful if anyone can point out where I've made any mistakes in grammar, synatx or (most importanty) idiom.


Cherokee Organics said...


I rate this as your best essay (that I have read) to date. Top work. Breathtaking.

It's all there for those who can read. The practitioners, the spell, the consequences and a possible set of future outcomes - none of which are good. I concur with your opinion. The truth is a difficult topic. In my line of work, I have to deliver the truth and no one likes you for it.

Still, the ones that should be reading this blog aren't the ones that are reading it! They would dismiss it out of hand.

Thank you.


Cherokee Organics said...

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Kieran O'Neill said...

An excellent post, thank-you.

Some years ago it occurred to me to wonder what forms of magic national governments might be using for their own ends. I think this begins to answer that.

And perhaps madtom's comment is illustrative - I have noticed that, particularly from the US, the assumption that the "natural" state of things is humans or other creatures acting only in their immediate self-interest has permeated discourse. And from that social Darwinism has been making a comeback. Perhaps an unintended backlash of political thaumaturgy?

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi madtom,

I think you use your evolutionary example as an excuse.

In nature, few organisms try to maximise their resources because it inevitably kills off the host.

Most organisms tend to adapt to their environment. This is a much more successful survival strategy. If you look at a patch of forest, that patch holds only as many species as it can support and no more - everything is in balance. Nature is the arbiter.

For an example closer to home. I have wallabies, wombats and kangaroos grazing the herbage in my orchard for the majority of the night. They convert the herbage into fertiliser. I'm mostly vegetarian, but if I chose so I could eat them and wallaby and kangaroo are quite good meat - yummy! But their services outweigh the one off benefit of eating them. So I have made the choice not to eat them, but to share the products of the orchard.

Your belief is only possible because of your current access to fossil fuels. If you admitted that you and your family are part of nature and had to exist on the minimal energy available in the environment around you, you would sing a different tune for sure!

I'm happy to debate this issue with you because it is important. Our ancestors understood these concerns intuitively, that's why 90% of the population had to be involved in agriculture. It's hard and involves more than just getting away to a place where it is not just an "obvious disaster area". That strategy is not a guarantee of survival for your genes, it buys time and that is all.



Karim said...

Greetings all!

The last few posts have been brilliant and very exciting, with much food for thought. However, certain aspects have left me a bit off balance and confused.

For instance, from what I gather, it seems that magic is mostly applied psychology to oneself or to willing or unwilling subjects at a personal level or at a societal level.

So my first question is: are there certain things a magician can do or know of that a clever psychologist cannot do or know of?

Secondly, magical literature also speaks of magical beings that belong to some non physical universe, like deamons, monsters and the sort. Is that delusional thinking on part of authors or is the existence of such beings part of the belief systems of magicians who then are trained in the arts of manipulation of such entities?

Thanking you in advance for your responses!

phil harris said...

For some reason I think of the old joke about jokes - the old ones got repeated so often that they got numbers. Then you only had to say '101' and everybody fell about? But you still had to be careful how you told the joke. Jokes, memes, these float by and usually we forget what they were in the first place, but still react. Sometimes though something goes 'ping' right across the nation. A kind of seizure - you can feel it: I remember post-imperial Britain when the Falklands got 'occupied' (big word lurking) by the Argentines, and a failing British kind-of-early-neo-con was on her way to stardom. There have been others here - perhaps the death of Diana, and I don't know where that lurks, to reappear when people take sides? And I guess that intentional provocation 9/11 is worth a mention. (These were sons of Saudi oilmen were they not?) Now what will be the long term results of that hit on American self-consciousness?
I can think of history as attempts at self-fulfilling prophecy, or mostly unintended consequences? Perhaps we can keep writing notes to ourselves to stand back and despite the pain to react more like sensible Norwegians and take care of the living?

russell1200 said...

Very interesting post.

Last week I did say I was going to go through my old Gnosis to look for a more specific definition of magic. Sigh. I forgot that birthday weekend was coming. A lot of magical happenings, but not time for as search. Highly ironically the gift list included a number of Harry Potter Lego sets.

I was curious about the murder of Ioan Culianu so I looked it up. When I saw it involved a . 25 caliber round alarm bells went off. .25 is the smallest center fire round available. It fires a round similar to our .22LR rimfire, but the .25 center fire is more reliable. I have a .22LR automatic, and it is not at all uncommon for a round to misfire. It has been (as near as I can tell) popular with European hit men for years. They use it much like the firearm version of an ice pick.

In looking around I did see this very interesting quote from a Washington Post article by John Crowley (of “Little Big”).

Start of Quote: In "Eros and Magic" Culianu studies a little-known work by Bruno in which Bruno shows that the bonds of desire, in the broadest sense, can be manipulated by the worker who understands how to project images that can compel the hearts of all men. Culianu saw in Bruno's prescriptions a more sophisticated Machiavellianism, not using the brute tools of force and fraud but foreshadowing the whole panoply of propaganda, public relations and mass media that all modern states would be based on.

Anton [author of the Culiano biography (that you noted) being reviewed] errs in supposing that Culianu saw in the lies and manipulations of the Communist regime an expression of the bonds Bruno described. Culianu distinguishes between two types of polity: the magician state -- such as the United States or Italy, where he lived when he came to the West -- and the police state. The police state becomes a jailer state, "changing itself into a prison where all hope is lost," repressing both liberty and the illusion of liberty in order to defend an out-of-date culture in which no one believes. It is bound to perish. The magician state, on the other hand, can degenerate into a sorcerer state, providing only the illusion of satisfaction, keeping the controls hidden; its faults are too much subtlety and too much flexibility. "Yet the future belongs to it anyway," Culianu says. "Coercion and the use of force will have to yield to the subtle processes of magic, science of the past, of the present, and of the future." : End of Quote.

Robert Magill said...

There is an interesting take on the life and grizzly death of Giordano Bruno in 'The Swerve' by Stephen Greenblatt which, of course, connects him to Lucretius and thence, Epicureanism.
I'm a tad concerned since I encouraged my grandson, just twenty, to consider writing a piece to enter in "Stories About the Future." .
I hope I have not built him up for a disappointment as the website seems neglected.
Is interest waning or can we expect a resurgence of your attention soon?

Yupped said...

Excellent, can't wait for next week.

When I moved here from the UK about 20 years ago, I never quite managed to "get" the way that politics is presented here. It always rang false, with all that emotionally-charged presentation of "values" issues that seemed peripheral at best. You can see better from a distance how it was aiming to manipulate. And now looking back on politics in the UK in the 1980's, I can see the same thing in some ways too (socialism vs the market). So each time we have an election cycle here, and you see the old themes getting cranked up (watch out, the gays are marrying, shock-horror!) I try to tune out.

As you say, the manipulators (politicians, corporate leaders, evangelists for whatever) probably buy a pretty good amount of their own message. I'm still naive enough to believe that most start out with a genuine belief that their ideas are right, rather than an ice-cold interest in social control and self-advancement. But somewhere along the way leaders stop being able to change their minds as the evidence piles up that their ideas are not working. Is that because they have thaumaturged themselves, or is it their salary now depends on believing what they have been saying, or can they just not admit a mistake? Such a complicated tangle. Whatever it is, it's a good argument for term-limits for all leaders everywhere.

Edward said...

I might need to go back and re-read the last year and a half of material from a different perspective. It seemed that the emphasis had been on changing ourselves in preparation for what is inevitable. In this post, the question becomes whether people in mass can't be made to understand or behave, with the answer being that attempts to influence the masses, even in the right direction, tend to have unintended consequences. So if indeed we are intending to effect a larger change, it must it be done in another manner.

In order to reconcile all this, I'm coming up with the conclusion that the magic we wish to perform must begin with ourselves.

But as they say, half of the fun is in getting there, so I apologize if I seem impatient.

Greg Reynolds @ Riverbend said...

I can't wait to see where this is going.


hadashi said...

Another cliff-hanger, JMG! (You weren't a fan of weekly series such as Flash Gordon by any chance?) Many thanks yet again for continuing to expand my education. Riveting reading as always.

Siani said...

*applauds* Outstanding. I enjoyed this post immensely.


Global Nomad said...

Would you equate thaumaturgy to the creation of exoteric myths?

SquarePeg said...

I cannot wait for next week's post. Thank you, John.

The concepts you discuss are all novel to me. What you said about magical treatment of depression/melancholy is especially interesting. Could you recommend any reading on this please?

Ventriloquist said...

human beings in a good many societies have shown a pervasive habit of relating their lives and choices to the long term

An interesting arguement could be made for how these societies can be differentiated. My conclusion is that size matters.

Once could posit that societies can function to the benefit of the most, if not the all, only up to a certain population number. I'll leave it to the forensic anthropologists to weigh in on that research.

Suffice it to say that it's highly likely that when a society attempts to expand its power and influence beyond a relatively limited local geographic area, that is where trouble begins to arise. Once you have conquered and absorbed the tribe next door, the one on the other side appears that much more easily devoured. And so on, and so on.

Of course, expansionism brings with it all the usual dynamics of hierarchies and elitism, cultural fragmentation, standing armies, rapacious resource use, and the whole host of accompanying counterproductive developments.

If it's true that any society that grows beyond a certain size eventually collapses under its own weight, that this may be nature's organic method of population control.

If that's the case, then this planet's massive population runup of the past 150 years or so is staring into the abyss of a majorly significant drawdown.


Chris Balow said...


I'm wondering something similar to the point William Howard Duncan raised. It would seem, from the recent OWS protests, that our elites may not be far from sharing the fate of their equivalents in the old French monarchy. However, like with the Tea Party protests, the political establishment appears to have successfully transformed the discontent into the familiar language of partisan politics.

The Tea Partiers rabble-rouse about Big Government, the OWSers rabble-rouse about Big Corporations, and all the while each side spits vitriol at the other without realizing that Big Government and Big Corporations are working hand-in-hand to screw everyone.

Given that we are now well along the undulating petroleum plateau and poised for decline, it seems as if things can only metastasize from here on out. I wonder though, if the elites can successfully avoid the flak by using their control over mass media to get the two sides to fight each other.

Twilight said...

I enjoy my Thursday morning ritual quite a bit - through the clarity of your writings you are a fine example of the value of theurgy. While it is nice to have a new (for me) word to apply to the concepts, along with Plato's chariot analogy, these ideas form a common thread that I've run into repeatedly. After the initial phases of coming to grips with peak oil and the more obvious implications, and searching for ideas of what might constitute a useful response, it was almost inevitable to look back in time for analogies in how others dealt with crisis in their times. And I find that the answers are not so much without, but within, and that this is a conclusion that a lot of people throughout history have also come to.

Maybe the biggest hurdle our society faces is that fossil fuel's “energy slaves” have tricked people into believing that rest, passivity, leisure, retirement are normal, to believe in permanence and all the hubris of modern mythology. The idea that one can be “done”, can stop learning and growing and striving seems acceptable.

Edde said...

Good morning John Michael,

Hope you enjoyed the Full Hunter Moon and are basking in its glorious light!

I seldom creep into the realm of deep intellectual thought - I'm a logistics and implementer type. However this post touches directly on a struggle in my little "intentional" community and couldn't be timelier.

The situation is too convoluted to describe here. However you so completely describe both the shortcomings of my tactics and a way out.



Best regards,

John Michael Greer said...

Matt, thank you.

Robo, it's all Harry Potter magic, too -- that is to say, people waving their hands and babbling nonsense syllables, under the illusion that this will make something happen.

Tony, good. Rationalization is part of it, but a much larger part is the fact that thaumaturgy works with the nonrational mind using emotionally charged symbols and the like, and so sidesteps the filters of reason in the thaumaturge just as much as in his targets.

Katsmama, I do my best. ;-)

John, excellent! The end never justifies the means, because the means inevitably reshape the end in their own image.

Farmer, glad to hear it.

William, if they or anyone else sets off civil war, they and the systems that undergird their power and influence will be among its first victims. The irony is that they may be the last to realize this.

Joel, I think you've misunderstood me. The political sphere is by no means limited to mass thaumaturgy; that's simply one tempting but self-defeating tool of politics. There are plenty of other ways of doing politics that have nothing to do with the thaumturge's art.

ChemEng, if I've gotten an engineer reading and thinking about Hesse, I've done very well indeed. I know it's unfashionable these days, but I agree with Churchill; despite its many flaws, constitutional democracy is still the least bad way to run a state. As for Plato and Pluto, it's a pun -- the reference is to the passage just beforehand, about attempts to build heaven on earth that reliably produce the opposite.

Tiago, thank you.

Thijs, got it! You're in the contest.

Cherokee, I know. In and out of power, on the right, the middle, the left, and the fringes, there are always people who are convinced that the end justifies the means and that they can work mass thaumaturgy without being swallowed up in it. They're always wrong, but that doesn't keep them from falling into the trap.

Kieran, bingo. Repeat a slogan such as "Just Do It" at people often enough, and they'll come to see "just doing it" as natural.

Karim, those are good questions. In theory, a clever psychologist could do anything a mage can; in practice, the mage has the advantage of a couple of thousand years of accumulated tricks that the psychologist doesn't know about, and so the mage's results tend to be very difficult for the psychologist to match.

Second, one of the things that happens when you start dealing intensively with what we might as well call mental experiences, is that some things you encounter in, or with, or through your mind act like separate persons. What are they in reality? That's a very hard question to answer. Jung, who called them archetypes, thought that they were basic patterns hardwired into the psyche; other people have other interpretations, including the one you've mentioned -- that they are actual beings living in a world of their own. Some systems of magic do a lot with them, other systems don't, and whether or not they have an objective reality has surprisingly little to do with the possibilities of magic in either case.

James said...

The master key to satisfaction of our desires is possessed by corporate marketing firms. Our satiation is awaiting their product. Facebook fills the need for intimacy and connection while eliminating both at the same time. Cigarettes don't need a reason, they just feel good.

The Romans could romp in the groves of Simila or feed a few Christians to the lions to satisfy their prurient desires. Today we can consume packaged violence with corporate logos, internet porn and competition at our Circus Maximus where the grog flows freely and kill, kill, kill can be screamed at the opposition.

Rationally, I do not believe in magic, but nevertheless participate in it every day, because a part of my brain that responds to that influence is still hardwired and has not, and may never be eliminated by evolution. Part of the problem, or perhaps it is beneficial, is that even though our minds are composed of energy and matter, they can never be truly “real”, especially when “real” interferes with deep-seated and highly retained appetites that have served in preserving our bodies over the ages.

Underneath the evolved umbrella of morality and cooperation we lie, cheat and steal to gain personal advantage but become moral and manipulable heros when threatened by external forces. We have chosen an enemy, Al-Queda and now Haqqani, whose dispersement in oil rich regions serves as justification for satisfying our energy appetites.

Justin said...

Unfortunately, frenzied scrambling for short-term gain is precisely what evolution has selected for, ever since our ancestors were single cells.

JMG already dealt with this, but to continue what he said; consider that consuming ones resources at a faster rate than can be replenished is an evolutionary loser. Any organism that did this eventually goes extinct. The evolutionary equilibrium brings short term and long term considerations into sync.

To the post, yeah, I think I got where you were going with all of this awhile back and I'll enjoy your educated ride as opposed to my intuited understanding. To relate science to what you said about Plato, I think one could say that science has been a very useful detection tool for determining what parts of our reality physically exist and what parts do not. Science can only detect, measure and study what exists. But that does not mean that was does not exist is not real. In fact, almost all of our reality is made up of the non-existent (and the link is my understanding of and thanks for what you are saying). Unfortunately, we have mistaken this tool of science and what it can do for us. This is evident in how we have attempted to apply it to the non-existent parts of our reality in disciplines that are superficially built upon reality but actually rest on social constructs, like economics.

Looking forward to the next.

sekenre said...


Very impressed with how you resolved the cliffhanger of your last post.

You had me worried that you would be advocating some mass thaumaturgy to change everyone's mind at once, and that yours would work because of X, Y, and Z.

Way to lead me down the wrong path and then yank me back to reality.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Good morning--

Quick comments (my new job is getting busier).

Excellent reading. Your comments about utopias remind me of why I've often had problems with made-up worlds and social systems in science fiction and fantasy--maybe not supposed to be utopias, but too schematic and too pat (even simplistic?). Not that Plato is simplistic. ;)

And his politics--sheesh! Still, one could draw parallels between the organization of his republic and our own, starting with the ivy league-educated ruling classes, continuing to our huge military and police forces, and on to the grouping of children to be reared in creches so that all adults would be free to serve the state, or in our case, the corporations. (Daycare centers anyone?) And for the masses? Repetitive, soul-sucking jobs (when available), sports, "reality tv," shopping, and so on.

This is not an endorsement! Definitely not utopian.

Yeah, and I agree with you, ChemEng and Churchill about democracy

Re thaumaturgy: What about the corporate/government entwining (sort of like false buckwheat mixed with bindweed that chokes the raspberries) and the thaumaturgy of advertising, whether it's corporate-funded attack ads or corporate-funded marketing?

Our old TV (which I don't watch) broke recently and I'm trying to persuade my DH to not buy a new one. He hasn't yet.

I'm slowly working my way through the Druidry Handbook: so according to your definitions, Druidry is both a religion and a system for practicing theurgy?

Jason said...

Somehow I actually thought you were going to recommend thaumaturgy. I think you faked me out there. Bravo. Excellent distillation of why you can’t manipulate people to be free and a key post for understanding the JMG slant. What are the romantic mindset, wishful thinking, incantation and revitalization but the dangers of buying a manipulative spell with one’s whole heart?

The all-powerful progress myth is regularly reinforced by thaumaturgy with thought-police backup. ‘Economics’ requires it. Those recent UK riots showed how deep commercial conditioning has reached, people threw off their chains to embrace… their chains. (Or purse-seine.) Probably many will mention Adam Curtis’ Century of the Self in the comments this week (the full four hours here), a TV series about “how those in power have used Freud's theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy”, intelligent stuff.

JMG: When you’re practicing thaumaturgy for yourself or another person who wants to work with you, it […] very often spills over into theurgy if the person receiving the work is open to that.

That legitimate use of ‘thaumaturgy’ is what hypnotherapists do -- within the purview of science, just. I use this to undo the sickness caused by the current societal programming. I’ve seen major nervous breakdowns caused by trying to live the promises of The Secret. The individual is always stronger in the end, with patience and the right method, once they have become ‘sick of sickness’ as Lao-tzu says.

Not that it can replace a commitment to deeper individuation and activating the best stuff within. My first teacher was a psychologist/mage which shows it can be done. For me the boogies do have objective existence.

John Michael Greer said...

Phil, some thaumaturges put a lot of effort into trying to create the sort of seizure you've described. One of the basic strategies of defense against mass thaumaturgy is to distance yourself from manipulations of that sort. Yes, we'll be getting into "Defense Against the Dark Arts" class presently.

Russell, good. John Crowley is, as usual, very well informed about these things. I wasn't familiar with the details about the bullet, but it makes perfect sense.

Robert, have him get the story in by the end of this month if possible. My interest is by no means waning; I've simply been waiting for people to get their stories in, so I can start picking the best for the anthology.

Yupped, I think it's all of the above -- and remember that all these folks grow up imbibing the same thaumaturgy as the rest of us, and have the same distorted patterns of thinking in the deep levels of their mind.

Edward, excellent! You get today's gold star. Stay tuned...

Greg, I'll be interested to see what you think of it when we get there.

Hadashi, why, yes. Commando Cody was a particular favorite, though of course I only got to see them as reruns.

Siani, glad to hear it.

Nomad, no, that's only one part of mass thaumaturgy, though it can be an important one.

SquarePeg, Ficino's book on the subject is available in English translation as Three Books on Life, though it's a little difficult to understand without some background. this essay might be a good place to start, and Frances Yates' Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition has a good section on Ficino.

Ventriloquist, you're certainly right about the approaching drawdown, but size isn't a good predictor of a society's attitudes toward time, deferred gratification, etc. Traditional China was at once a very large society and one with a clear sense of long timescales -- one that repeatedly kept it from pursuing imperial overstretch, for example. The sources of attitudes of the sort we're discussing are complex, and don't take well to deterministic analyses.

Chris, it's quite probable that the next round of politics will see OWS and the Tea Party at each other's throats, when they'd be considerably smarter to make common cause. Still, each movement is changing the political and economic debate in this country; the OWS movement, for example, is doing an excellent job of spreading the 99%-1% meme, and as that flows into existing lines of fracture, it could very easily spark further explosions. As usual, the various squabbling elites will manage to keep a lid on things...until they don't, and then very suddenly it'll be lamppost time.

Twilight, excellent! Yes, we've gotten very lazy, though the habit of giving up learning and personal growth around the age of 25 or 30 goes back a long ways; it's simply been easier to get away with in recent years.

Will said...


brilliant essay.
i just wish you wouldn't call these practices versions of "magic.' find another term, at least for some audiences.
i tried to show some ofyour arguments to a friend, a Ph.D from Oxford, fluent in Greek and Latin a true scholar of ancient and early medieval times. He reacted so negatively to your alter ego of Archdruid, that it was a lost cause from the beginning. bill

John Michael Greer said...

Edde, glad to be of help. Yes, the moon's been glorious to watch.

James, no, the master key is your own capacity to become conscious of the workings of your own mind. The thaumaturges of the advertising industry are fumbling around with crowbars and other blunt instruments. All that hardwired stuff can work for you, rather than against you, if you learn how to use it deliberately yourself, rather than letting others use it -- and you.

Justin, you're using the term "nonexistent" in your post in a way that seems very strange to me, but if it works for you, good. The basic recognition that there are things that can be changed by changing consciousness, and other things that can only be changed by moving matter and energy around, is a useful one.

Sekenre, I was hoping that some of my readers would fall for that!

Adrian, yes, a good deal of that is thaumaturgy of one kind or another; what differentiates thaumaturgy from other ways of manipulating people is that thaumaturgy relies on pushing nonrational buttons. As for Druidry, every religion -- without exception -- is the basis for a system of theurgy, and most religions have developed at least some basic methods along those lines. Since Druidry borrowed a lot from Neoplatonism and the Hermetic tradition over the last three centuries or so, it's got quite a bit of theurgic material, but it's far from unique in that.

John Michael Greer said...

Jason, good! Yes, hypnotherapy -- to the extent that I understand it, and I don't claim to be anything like knowledgeable about it -- does seem to be one modern school of thaumaturgy, though it lacks some of the colorful elements of the older schools. As for the objective existence of "boogies," the concept of objective existence is sufficiently complex on a philosophical level that I'm not at all sure I want to tangle with it; what matters to me is that certain things have certain predictable effects on the universe of our experience.

Will, rephrasing what I'm talking about in terms that are inoffensive to the intellectual status quo is somebody else's job. Like Popeye, I yam what I yam, and that happens to be an archdruid and operative mage who's spent most of his life in the study and practice of old-fashioned occultism. That inevitably means that some people are going to reject me and everything I say out of hand, but that can't be helped; I'd lose them anyway the moment they looked up the books I've written, for example. I find it much more useful to speak in the language of the traditions I've inherited, knowing that this will allow me to communicate with maximum clarity, even though some people won't be able to listen.

Joel said...

>I think you've misunderstood me.

Maybe. I didn't mean to suggest that you ever said the political sphere was limited to mass thaumaturgy.

You gave an example of a relatively ethical use of thaumaturgy (Hoodoo), but built a case that the, for want of a better term, hygiene measures necessary for an ethical practice cannot be maintained while scaling up to the use of mass media. You then seemed to assert that it follows that thaumaturgy cannot ethically be used in politics, but that seems to beg the question of whether politics is limited to mass communication.

My question, framed a little to confrontationally, was this: Might there be an ethical way to use thaumaturgy in politics, by avoiding the politics of mass communication and focusing on more personal sorts of political activity?

hapibeli said...

Hi JMG. Here's one for you off topic and off post, but apropo to all you discuss. "Empires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations". Powerful, well written, and fun.

SLClaire said...

Back when I was in the corporate world, I noticed that something we could call corporate thaumaturgy produced similar results in corporations to what you are describing in the political sphere. Although pretty low in the corporate food chain myself as a research scientist, I was at one point working on a project that was a particular favorite of the CEO. As a result, I met all of the people up the line from me, including the CEO, at least once. I was also friends with several of the technicians who formed the bottom of my food chain, and I was active in the local professional organization and thus worked with a range of people from the corporation I worked for and other area corporations.

I observed that similarly to a biological food chain, the lower orders were both more numerous and more diverse, and numbers and diversity decreased as rank in the chain increased. The interesting thing, what I think is evidence of corporate thaumaturgy, is that the decrease in diversity was less steady than the decrease in number. That is, even at my level, people were pretty diverse. First-rank management above me still showed some diversity, although already much less, especially in acceptance of the basic corporate directive that profit is the only thing that matters. At the director level, acceptance of the basic corporate directive was complete; diversity became very low, and what little there was became even lower in the remaining three levels including CEO. It seemed pretty obvious to me that it could be no other way; one couldn’t rise to director level or higher without having adjusted one’s basic personality and values to match the corporate value set. Without doing that, it wouldn’t have been possible to perform and keep one’s job. The ways that corporations try to manage the more unruly elements of the lower end of the food chain amount to thaumaturgy; those who rose in the corporate world swallowed the bait so completely, changed so much, that they had no trouble, at least not outwardly, in putting out the bait for others once they got into mid-level management. The prevalence of heart attacks among management ranks suggests that deep down they knew something was wrong with the program, but they no longer could acknowledge it publicly or privately. The few who did have an attack of conscience left the corporate world. I left it while I was still low enough to avoid being caught in the thaumaturgy.

You did seem to leave us a way to practice thaumaturgy ethically, in the case of the root doctor. Since political diversity is lowest at the lowest levels, perhaps each of us could act something like the root doctor toward the first link in the political chain above us, so that change happens from the bottom up. Do I catch your meaning correctly?

Ramaraj said...

I think there is a third option, hidden in plain sight. I don't know what to call it, but many of us would have experienced it.

When I came face to face with peak oil, resource depletion and economic collapse, I went through the same stages of denial, anger, grief, frustration, etc.

Fortunately, there were two things that helped me back to my senses; first, I understood from a deep reading of history that collapse or decline is not unique to our times, and that there are ways of dealing with it. Second, I had my roots in a culture that was different from the contemporary culture, and was much more sustainable. So, I knew that if I was willing to give up my expectations, I had an alternate way of living, which was proven to work over a long period of time.

I went through a long period of mental tug-of-war between my rational self and my socially-conditioned nonrational self. I would say that the second fact I mentioned above played a major role in tipping the scales in this contest.

In the mainstream culture in current times, both an understanding of history and an appreciation of alternative cultures and lifestyles are missing. In fact, both of these have been set apart for tha academic realm.
Most people have trouble formulating a workable response to the troubles they face because they don't know of any choices other than what the mainstream culture offers.

The strategy would be to show people, both in word and in deed, that alternatives to current lifestyles exist, and that they are plausible. The current state of world affairs is such that many are ready to accept anything that will work, only they don't know. This is similar to magic, but people first accept the situation out of practical necessity, then their rational mind convinces them why it is the right thing to do.

People like us would need to show the others that such alternatives do exist. I think this will be effective if we work from the bottom up, rather than go the mass media way. (Which I think is an underlying theme of this blog.)

I tried this successfully on my family, but each of them took their own time to understand. And it requires a lot of patience, and it's totally unglamorous. Probably why few are considering it.

Justin said...

I admit my vocabulary failed me in making that distinction.

Examples of non-existent reality.

Take race. Try telling a racist that their beliefs about race are based on social construct, that there is no basis in reality for the meaning they impart on skin color or phenotype. These constructs change, sometimes rapidly. A century ago, Italians and Irish were races in the United States. Now they are caucasian.

Or relationships. A relationship has no observable physical property, it is an agreed upon meaning between individuals of how they relate to one another.

Or take something bounded in an individual like free will, or creativity. Try arguing over the existence of those kinds of things with a deterministic, scientific person and you can see what I mean. How do you detect the physical presence of free will in a human being, for instance? Or for that matter a memory, belief, commitment, faith, and so on. Those are non-existent parts of our reality.

Or nationality, and so on.

On the other hand, things do exist, and those are the things science can detect directly.

Justin said...

On the flip side, try arguing with the religious faithful about the existence of God. Religious folk have spent much time and effort trying to prove that God exists in a physical sense.

Hypnos said...

Impressive read, as usual. Some commenters are pointing out the difficulty of getting uber-rationalists to engage critically with ideas coming from a Druid; as a rationalist myself, I find that level of close-mindedness saddening. All that matters is whether an argument is coherent, clearly explained and transparent. The source and the labels are most often a distraction.

As a second point, I take issue with the equating of the Tea Party and OWS as two sides of the same coin. The Tea Party is the embodiment of blind belief in the myth of progress and absolute denial of resource limits. Tea Partiers tend to be older, members of the generation that took that famous vacation from reality 30 years ago, when it was in its prime.

I am sure on the other hand that many within OWS have already more or less accepted that "there is no bright future ahead". What they are fighting for is not an unattainable middle class lifestyle sustained by cheap energy, but rather the mere means of survival: to be freed from crushing debts, and be given a job to put food on the table. Bread and land, in other words. The classic demand of all peasants revolt, and a telling sign of the approaching scarcity society.

So if I am allowed to take the historical metaphor further: I see OWS as peasants; and the Tea Partiers as landsknechte.

And while I can't say I'm hoping for the Bastille - I can never cheer for bloodshed - I'm nonetheless terrified that what we will get is Frankenhausen.

Joel said...


I've recently encountered the work of Giorgio Agamben. He frames the subject differently, but talks about a framework for state power that borrows from jailer states and from sorcerer states. Titles like "Homo Sacer" and "State of Exception" might be read as outlining the mechanics of a necromancer state, wherein power is maintained by making examples of a few people, by reducing them to "bare life" in a way calculated to demonstrate the state's power to remove much of a person's humanity while preserving their physical life.

@JMG: "whether or not they have an objective reality has surprisingly little to do with the possibilities of magic in either case."

This reminds me of nothing so much as the five varieties of metaphysics that are consistent with quantum mechanics. Some physicists use a framework of alternate universes, others a framework of pilot waves, and most seem to be deliberately agnostic. The math works out the same, regardless, so they all can work together even if they never agree on what, exactly, they're working on.

"I find it much more useful to speak in the language of the traditions I've inherited..."

Well put! I've struggled to say something similar when asked why I identify as Christian despite being almost directly opposed to the sorts of Christianity portrayed on TV.

It's interesting to me that Christianity acknowledges "powers"/"heavenly beings" and encourages people variously to avoid or confront them, without any consistent message as to whether they fall into modern categories of "real" or "imaginary." I wonder if it would be an unforgivable misuse of a mathematical term to call such things "complex."

Brother Kornhoer said...


You've gotten more than one engineer interested in this subject. Like Sekenre, I was a bit afraid that you were going to advocate mass thaumaturgy for a "good" cause - glad to see that you're not. Come to think of it, it seems to me that the neoconservatives were guilty of thaumaturgy to an extent - using "noble lies" and seizing advantage of horrific, emotionally charged events to push for the invasion of the Middle East. Unlike other war critics the left, though, I don't think they did this because they're particularly monsterous - rather, while they tell one noble lie to others, they tell another to themselves, and they've convinced themselves that they act out of deep patriotism - that someone must make these tough decisions to preserve the country, and fortunately, they have the toughness to do so.

Lance Michael Foster said...

JMG, does this thread connect in any way with getting more folks to engage in the Great Work? (I've watched some of your comments on the DVD)

Your statement on the problem of trying to get people more clearly by using techniques that cloud their thinking. That one really struck home.

We definitely need more traveling philosopher-sages engaging in Socratic dialogue to help students develop critical thinking, logic, etc. in an engaging way. Socrates seems to have been most popular with the young of his time. Add some stories from American folklore, Grimm, Aesop, and Andersen to the repertoire and there is a career for the decline!

Oddly enough my major book purchase earlier this year was a hardcover edition of "Plato: Complete Works", John Cooper, ed. which was the best selection I could find that was hardcover, had the complete works, and in an edition that I could afford. It's right next to Tyson's edition of Agrippa's "Three Books of Occult Philosophy." First two books to rescue in case of flood or fire, and ones I hope to pass on to following generations in my family.

For those interested in medieval education, I picked up two accessible books that introduce the basics:
-"The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric" by Sister Miriam Joseph and Marguerite McGlinn. Substantive and useful for homeschooling.
-"Quadrivium: The Four Classical Liberal Arts of Number, Geometry, Music, & Cosmology" (Wooden Books) by Miranda Lundy, Anthony Ashton, Dr. Jason Martineau and Daud Sutton. More eye candy than actual pedagogy, but a fascinating introduction to build on.

SquarePeg said...

John, thank you for taking the time to read comments and an even bigger thanks for responding. What a journey, what a guide!

Will said...

john: fair enough. but I find your books especially The Long Emergency, completely sensible and fact-based, without reference to any form of magic, and it's a shame that so many will turn away because of the other side of your message. as you say, you are what you are. thanks

bill said...

John, thank you for your writings. I've been following The Archdruid Report for awhile now and it has become my favorite blog--peak oil or otherwise. I find your writing consistently clear, your reasoning easy to follow, and your conclusions typically novel and illuminating. You eschew the too-easy grand solutions sometimes advocated by other peak oil writers while also avoiding the too often overbearing and meanspirited negativity of people like Kunstler (whose blog, however, I also am an avid reader of--despite its propensity to piss me off.)

I just picked up The Wealth of Nature at Powells a few days ago and devoured it. Your ability to break down our complex economic system and present it in a very easy-to-understand (and -abhor) way, as well as cogently explain our current recessionary realities in the context of both corrupt political and economic institutions and resource depletion proved exhilarating. I'll be both lending this book out to others and perhaps donating a copy to my local OWS protest library.

As a 31-year-old apprentice farmer, I have spent the last few years of my life trying to understand the full implications of peak oil, resource depletion, overpopulation, environmental devastation, a corrupted financial and political system, and massive social injustice. Your writings have proved some of the most insightful into these realities and are serving as quite the guideposts for me as I try to reimagine how to live my life and comprehend what my future might hold (as incomprehensible as that always is!)

So anyway, just a general note of thanks and appreciation. You have so far proved, personally, one of the very best peak oil writers and a thinker with many fine and unique points to share. I'll be reading more of your books soon and will continue to follow this blog as long as you keep pumping out the posts and the internet keeps functioning.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Tony, I'll add my two cents to JMG's reply to your question. A common method for casting a spell to bring about some external result involves imagining the desired result in great detail, and then pumping up one's own emotions in the manner of a coach giving a locker room pep talk before the game. A person who does this over and over with the same goal in mind cannot avoid having his or her own outlook and expectations affected.

Part of the technical training for this kind of work is learning how to do a clean release mentally. Just as with people whose occupations involve violence and who try to compartmentalize their experiences in order to be able to be warm and loving to their families, there is a residual and lasting affect on the deep mind.

artinnature said...

For the last few years I've been fascinated and puzzled by the direction of US politics. The pseudo-conservatives and Tea Party crowd seem to be promoting an agenda that benefits the super rich and powerful, while siphoning wealth from the remaining 99%. But they in fact have the political support (votes) of a very large portion of the 99%, or they couldn't have achieved the recent election results.

Is this because much of the population has been "thaumaturgized"?

Alphonse Houner said...

I was off the boat on the first of these "magical" posts and though you were off the reservation. Last week deepened the sense that I had completely missed something but this one - well, it's superb.

Nice job wrapping up the loose ends and I look forward to the ensuing posts.

YesMaybe said...

Have a look at Book II of the Republic, search for "is our state matured and perfected" at . After discussing the minimum required for a state, there's a part where Socrates says that his ideal state would be the very simple one they'd gotten to so far. They go on to describe a more complicated state with guardians and all that jazz, but that's because Glaucon wants the people of the city to have luxuries. This means that the state described in most of the book is _not_ plato's idea of an ideal state (he says this explicitly in that passage in book II), though he does say it serves to make clearer justice and injustice. This was pointed out on another blog not too long ago, I didn't realize it before.

madtom said...

John - Profuse apologies if I seemed ungrateful for your past years of posts, or deaf to them. I meant that I was looking forward to new, magical help that goes beyond the ideas and practices that so many of us have been trying to normalize since the 60s/70s, and I'm starting to see that. I deeply appreciate your posts about green wizardry, and totally concur. My wife and I are in fact reclaiming a very hilly 20 hectares of old farm: planting figs, olives, macadamias, sequoia sempervirens, pinus pinea, Douglas fir, and many native (to New Zealand) species in old cow pasture, and helping the 10 or so hectares of "native bush" (original forest, once selectively logged) recover from decades of having its understory grazed. The idea is not just to have a retirement project that keeps us fit, and to do the land some good, but to give our growing grandchildren the right kind of good experiences outside the city life they ordinarily live, which I think is close to the magic you are talking about. And to provide a family fallback place if the city becomes untenable, though that is less likely to happen here than in the US. We would have called it "biodiversity acres" or "the food farm" but as you point out, setting an example is the way to go, not being preachy, and what we're doing (no grazing) looks strange enough to the neighbors as it is.

madtom said...

Kieran - I'm sorry that my post was so one-sided as to look like a lead-in to Social Darwinism, which I abhor. Darwinism, yes. But where Darwinism explains and predicts, Social Darwinism attempts to add a layer of deliberate interventionism (pretending to be morality) that perverts the syllogism. SD is a completely exploitative scam, stealing the name of good science.

Susan said...


One of my favorite quotes from the movie Forbidden Planet:

"Monsters, John... Monsters from the Id!"


By a strange coincidence, I am currently reading The Road to Serfdom by the economist Friedrich A. Hayek, which was first published back in 1944. Hayek covered a lot of the territory you covered in this week's post, although from a slightly different direction; for example:

"If we wish to find a high degree of uniformity in outlook, we have to descend to the regions of lower moral and intellectual standards where the more primitive instincts prevail."

"[The leader] must gain the support of the docile and gullible, who have no strong convictions of their own but are ready to accept a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently. It will be those whose vague and imperfectly formed ideas are easily swayed and whose passions and emotions are readily aroused who will thus swell the ranks of the totalitarian party."

"To make a totalitarian system function efficiently it is not enough that everybody should be forced to work for the ends selected by those in control; it is essential that the people should come to regard these ends as their own. This is brought about by propaganda and by complete control of all sources of information."

"The most effective way of making people accept the validity of the values they are to serve is to persuade them that they are really the same as those they have always held, but which were not properly understood or recognized before. And the most efficient technique to this end is to use the old words but change their meaning." (shades of George Orwell!)

Keep up the good work, and thanks for finding inventive new ways to open our minds to (dare I say it?) reality.

madtom said...

Chris - While your animals do provide value, and we have (so far) taken a similar attitude towards even the feral pigs that recently appeared, I doubt very much that any organisms there besides yourself consciously practice moderation. I suspect that they are all doing their utmost to turn the substance of the universe into more copies of themselves. The apparent moderation we see is the outcome of the complex competition among them all, together with the evolved cooperation that also serves the competition. I trace this conviction back to a long-ago day in Eugene, OR, when (with some chemical help) I realized what a fierce struggle all the plant life was engaged in, with those beautiful spring flowers doing everything in their power to advertise their presence to pollinators (special colors, patterns, chemical attractants, elevation above the surroundings, good food for visitors as sweet nectar and excess pollen - hey this is SEX we're talking about!), and that both trees and grass were using their own particular strategies to snag as big a proportion of the incoming solar energy as possible. Our good trick as big-brained humans is to consciously work out the best deal for ourselves as members of the biological community, and choose to abide by the terms of the deal, rather than yielding to the earlier (and still present) go-for-it instincts and getting weeded out if we carry that too far. I totally agree about the need to be able to live on current income. But I also think it prudent to take maximum advantage of the energy boom to obtain some enduring advantages like tools that I couldn't make for myself from available materials. [Which I know tells you nothing new, but is really meant to make my position clearer than I managed before - sorry]

Mary said...

The most successful bacteria is commensal; it benefits, or at least does not harm, its host. The least successful is the most virulently pathogenic. Say ebola, which rarely makes it out of a village.

Chris, the OWSers that I know believe that big government works for the big corporations and is owned by the 1%.

Robert said...

I don't think revolution is seriously on the cards however bad the economy gets and this is just as well. However tempting it may be to watch Goldman Sachs executives strung up from lampposts violent revolutions never achieve their aims.

This is partly because so much more of the old society always continues into the new one than the revolutionaries want or realise, and partly for another reason. There is a situational logic in revolutions. Disparate groups unite to overthrow an existing regime but once they have succeeded in doing so the cause that brought them together has gone, and they then fight one another to fill the power vacuum that they themselves have created. These internecine struggles, usually savage, among erstwhile allies perpetuate the revolutionary breakdown of society far beyond the overthrow of the old regime and delay the establishment of a new order.

The population at large begins to feel itself threatened by unending social chaos and in these circumstances a strong man who can bring the warring factions to heel and impose order comes forward and meets with widespread support, or at least acquiescence. Thus a revolution carried out in the name of civil liberties, or equality, or to bring a tyranny to an end, will itself end by putting into power a Cromwell, a Napoleon or a Stalin. All revolutions are uncontrollable, and all revolutions are betrayed. It is in their nature that these things should be so. This fact makes belief in violent revolution as a means of changing society not only irrational and delusory but profoundly immoral.

penrodschofield said...


I've been lurking a couple of years, and enjoying it immensely. Thanks for all you do.

I'm breaking my silence now to submit a short story:

Unfortunately, I can't figure out how to do the link thing.

-Bart Hillyer

Petro said...

"Hang on for next week's post," you said.

Boy, you weren't kidding. You bring to the surface things to consider that were sensed, but not yet seen.

The caution regarding believing your own BS when you venture to persuade is such an important reminder: Keep those horses in the harness!

Really, this is pretty high-level stuff by any standard, and it so greatly appreciated.

Mark Angelini said...

In a way, I am speechless: I feel that you've articulated something I've only yet begun to gain a waft of. I agree with Bryant -- this essay surely stands out. I will pray that you write a book on these topics. :)

John Michael Greer said...

Joel, thank you for clarifying. Yes, in one-on-one interactions where you can spend some time working with the other person, there's the possibility of constructive thaumaturgy, and if the other person is up for it, and you've done the theurgic work yourself, theurgy as well.

Hapibeli, I'll look for it. Thank you!

SLClaire, good. Yes, that's one of the available options.

Ramaraj, excellent! Precisely, and we'll be talking about that in a bit.

Justin, understood, and I got what you're saying; it's simply the restriction of existence to bare matter and energy that I find a bit startling. Yes, I know that hardcore rationalists make that claim; I find it bizarre when they say that, too.

Hypnos, of course there are differences in belief and worldview between Tea Partiers and OWSers. I wonder, though, if you've taken the time to sit down with a Tea Party member or two over a beer, and get past the media stereotypes.

Joel, it's a neat mathematical metaphor, but I'm not sure how applicable it is. Given that "real" and "imaginary" are wretchedly difficult to define in noncircular terms, it's generally seemed more useful to me simply to note that human beings experience a variety of different classes of experience, each of which seems to follow its own rules.

Brother K., true enough. The neoconservatives will be up for discussion shortly; they drank plenty of their own koolaid, no question, which is one of the reasons they failed as abjectly as they did.

Lance, depends on how you define the Great Work. The definition used in that set of DVDs is not really mine, but then I'm a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to alchemy. Many thanks for the book references!

SquarePeg, thank you for your company on the trip!

Will, I try to keep the different aspects of my work, if not separate, then at least distinct enough to read in isolation from one another. Still, magic is magic, and I really don't know of another useful way to talk about it; no doubt someone else will do that.

Ofthehands, I've already got tentative arrangements in place for when the internet begins to fold out from under us; it won't be too difficult to reframe these posts as a monthly newsletter with a large letters-to-the-editor section, and that's something that can be maintained with 18th century technology, so it should be workable well down the curve.

rtpstephen said...

Wanted to say during your earlier discussions of magic, that we cannot even talk about shutting down Wall Street for a year, which to me qualifies Wall Street as a perpetual motion machine. Magic! I hope Wall Street gets shut down for a year. Nature runs in cycles.

It's interesting how you avoid mentioning the Rupert Murdoch empire and Republican sloganeering by name.

RainbowShadow said...

"I wonder, though, if you've taken the time to sit down with a Tea Party member or two over a beer, and get past the media stereotypes."

My apologies, but if I may interject, I may not have sat down with a Tea Partier over a beer, but I don't watch the media either. Rather, my opinions of the Tea Party come from inferences I've made from interactions with members I've spoken to online, since there aren't many Tea Party members in my area.

And frankly, whenever I bring up the idea that oil is going to run out, or that we should be concerned about the environment, the Tea Party members I've spoken to went on screaming tirades about how I hated America, how I must be a Communist, and how much they fantasize about taking this country back from "you (insert expletive) LIBERAL MORONS!!!"

(Before you ask, John Michael Greer, no I am not a Marxist and no, I do not really hate America nor do I wish to sell us all into Communism. In case you were wondering.)

I hope they act more politely in person than they do online, because otherwise I'm going to form negative opinions about them (specifically, that they're unreasonable and won't listen to any opinion from the left without name-calling and are completely incapable of doing something as simple as looking up the word Marxist in the dictionary before they hurl the word at me) from their own actions, not media stereotypes.

However, if the Tea Partiers you've spoken to are more polite and are capable of making calm, rational arguments without hurling insults at liberals or leftists and without getting their entire worldview from Fox News television, then I'm very, very relieved and I'll use that information to make future political judgments.

And I'm aware that a lot of people on the left act the same way, like Keith Olbermann and Maxine Waters and Michael Moore, for example (I can't stand any of them any more than I could stand the Tea Party members I've spoken to online); I'm just discussing the Tea Party in this particular case.

Anyway, thanks for another beyond excellent post!

John Michael Greer said...

Artinnature, class struggles in the US are pervaded by a rich irony, because there are many more than two sides. The main struggle for hears has been between the relatively conservative working classes, on the one hand, and the relatively liberal middle classes on the other, and the working class has taken it in the teeth over and over again -- Obama's health care legislation, which will load an immense financial burden on the working classes, is only the latest example. That's why so much of the working class supports the GOP; it's a matter of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Thaumaturgy is involved, to be sure, but it's as much that this is how the left has blinded itself to the impact of its policies on the large segment of Americans between the middle class and the poor.

Alphonse, thanks for giving it a second try! I know this stuff is very difficult for those who haven't been exposed to it before, and I appreciate everyone's patience and willingness to tackle this material.

YesMaybe, that's a valid point, of course. I suppose in one sense, Plato managed to add neoprimitivism to his list of inventions!

Madtom, not a problem! I disagreed with what you said, but that doesn't mean I objected to your saying it.

Susan, that's fascinating. I may find time one of these days to read Hayek; I'd filed him in the long list of "most of the people who've quoted him at me cone across like true believers, so probably not worth reading" books. Clearly I need to reconsider that.

Robert, I'm not claiming that violent revolution is a good idea. My point is simply that when a revolution happens, the privileged classes tend to end up against the wall in short order, and that it's therefore monumentally stupid of today's rich to act in ways that are setting the stage for an explosion of that kind.

Bart, got it! You're in the contest.

Petro, good. It ain't over yet, either.

Mark, all my blog posts are first drafts of material for books. I'll keep everyone posted!

John Michael Greer said...

Rtpstephen, fixating on individual people and parties diverts attention from practices that are common across the political spectrum.

Rainbow, fair enough. I find it most useful to have such conversations offline, where the distorting effects of the internet aren't involved, and to do a lot more listening than talking, especially at first. There's been so much angry sloganeering on all sides that it's crucial to get past that, and establish relationships, before moving the conversation into potentially difficult territory.

John Michael Greer said...

Houyhnhnm (offlist), oh, for heaven's sake. You're beating -- well, never mind.

Ozark Chinquapin said...

JMG, your reply to Ventriloquist about deterministic analysis made me think of Jared Diamond's book "Guns, Germs, and Steel". Although I doubt he had thaumaturgy on his mind, it seems to have had that effect on many people. Although he knows his geography well, I have many criticisms of his attempts to fit all of history into a geographically deterministic model.

I won't go into my criticisms here as it would be a long off-topic post, but what's relevant to this discussion is the emotional reaction I've gotten from many different people when I voice them. Their defensiveness about Jared Diamond's theories is much more than a book of its type usually gets, and often there's little possibility of a rational discussion of the book. Keep in mind that I'm never saying the book is horrible, just that I have disagreements with certain parts of his theories.

I think I've figured out the reason for all these strange responses. Starting in the introduction, Diamond portrays his theories as the one alternative to racism, and continually refers back to that throughout the book. That places a dichotomy in many people's minds that causes them to think that if someone has any criticisms of the book, they must be racist.

Of course, there are many other alternatives to geographical determinism that don't involve any notions of racial superiority, but Diamond sure does push the buttons of people's unconscious. Would that be considered unintentional thaumaturgy? I have no idea whether he actually believes in his own dichotomy or if he just did that to secure his position of high regard among the political left. In either case, it only hinders real discussion on the issues at hand, and in my opinion takes away from his respectability.

Matthew Heins said...

There's some very interesting stuff in this post, Archdruid, don't get me wrong, and I'll contemplate and respond to them later.


It is starting to be a little bit beyond a little bit annoying that a thinker of your caliber unfailingly refers to the Bolshevik Dictatorship of Russia and the "Soviet Republics" -which were temporarily Leninist before becoming Stalinist and then imposing the same on Eastern Europe- as "Marxist".

Perhaps it is is down to the fact that I have devoted some time to study of Russian History and the History of Democratic and Communal and Revolutionary Movements.

But it is just mistaken and false history and I have to say -however petty or silly it seems- I really wish it would stop.

Calling the C.C.C.P and its post-war hegemonic States "Marxist" makes a neat point about Utopianism to be sure, but it is as much of a distortion as calling every Capitalist society "Smithist" or hanging the actions of 19th Century US Empire on Tom Paine.

At the VERY least, we owe it to the tens of millions who suffered and died at the hands of the Bolsheviks -and the hundreds of millions more who "only" suffered and died IN their hands- to not pretend that they didn't see through the lies of their State's propaganda as well as we do through ours. Especially not just to make a point about Utopianism that could be made using actual examples from history instead of these distortions.

I'm sorry to be harsh, and I realize this is off topic, but to me, this habit of yours is the equivalent of trodding upon the unmarked graves of cruelly massacred heroes.


stogieUSMC said...

Hi John,

I came over here for the first time from the Oildrum several weeks ago. I have been working on a novel for several years now, and today was shocked to find one of its central points- the backfiring of what you term mass thaumaturgy- so clearly explained. The goal of my labor is, as I explained to someone a few weeks ago, to cause the reader to change their perceptions. I did not consciously think of this as magic (although I admit that aspects of its plot were strongly influenced by Tim Powers, a writer whose style is sometimes termed, "magic realism." However, among the various villains and antagonists in the plot is a society whose members consider themselves "one-eyed men" in the world of the "blind," and thus naturally entitled to manipulate the perceptions of the masses, who couch their teachings in occult terms.

It is odd, but I find that recently, I have found resources for my goal in the most unlikely of places- I never considered that I might find a perspective such as yours linked to a website about resources and economics! Another incidence, in Jungian terms synchronous, was a friend asking my help in locating a book- Homo Sacer, by Giorgio Agamben. I was shocked to find the political philosophy of the villain of my story clearly an echo of Agamben!

What I mean to ask you, though, is if you might direct me to any further resources along these lines. The novel considers reality as a Rashomon-type exercise, but with hard-to soft cosmological scientific underpinnings- i.e., the reality we perceive is an artifact of our movement in spatial dimensions which are not apparent (such as theorized in Superstring Theory) which we unconsciously navigate using our irrational minds; generally, and often tragically, to find the things we expect and fear.

I look forward to your future posts, and thank you for any help or advice you may be able to give.

brazza said...

This is a critically important "read". I would summarise your extraordinary treatise thus: All forms of manipulation of matter (regardless of the level of vibratory resonance, or the well-meaning motivation of the practitioner) are attempts at black magic and doomed to failure. The ends never justify the means.

I am reminded of the matrix trilogy ... we see a certain world as a result of a manipulation of our own consciousness. And just as in the matrix, a tough awakening initiation is needed .. for some ...

Cherokee Organics said...


As an outsider to your political system I find it amusing that people frame the OWS and the Tea Party as opposing forces. It says a lot about those commenting. Also, I think calls for revolution are indicative of a desire for an apocalyptic way out of their own messy domestic situations. Therein lies the appeal for some. It is the ultimate in not having to clean up your own backyard!

The end point for both OWS and the Tea Party is that their supporters both just want jobs to earn an income and put food on the table - using the mental programs that they have learned to date. It's not much to ask for really, but with 10% official unemployment over in the US and a more than likely chance of an imminent depression, few in power seem to be listening and therein lies the fuel for the fire.

Speaking of fire, I wonder if those that lit the wick of the Tea Party understand what they've set in motion? My opinion is that they believe they can control the animal that they've set loose. But will it be a candle or a powder keg? Only the future can tell.

I was wondering if you've ever watched the outstanding UK 7up series? What an amazing social experiment and voyeuristic entertainment for us! I note that by the age of 49 most of the people had lost their spark. No disrespect to them, but I think the accumulated concerns of peoples domestic situations tend to muddy the waters which is why "the habit of giving up learning and personal growth around the age of 25 or 30 goes back a long ways" - in reality they're tired and overwhelmed, some are just lazy, but it is the life that they have chosen!



Cherokee Organics said...

Madtom - Peace mate, we're all good. I was merely pointing out that biology / ecology didn't support your viewpoint.

The animals here certainly don't practice moderation! You can be grateful that you don't have wallabies (we did give you possums though), who are all too happy to rip the top off a fruit tree that you've been growing for four years.

What I try to do is observe the natural systems and match my systems and outcomes to this as closely as possible. It makes life easier for me and has certainly influenced my thinking in recent years.

I think you may have missed out on the point I made about fossil fuels. Humans are only able to dominate nature because they access fossil fuels. Without these, they'd be just another part of the food chain. This is not sustainable and differs from the forest example that I provided where the animals are abiding on the resources that they can gain from their immediate area.

By the way, I also accumulate tools, knowledge and soil fertility using fossil fuels. However, I try to ensure that the diversity and carrying capacity is greater in my patch than in the surrounding forest. Therein is true wealth.

As you are a kiwi, I hope you've checked out Te Radar. What a clever individual and what a great message.

SLClaire - Not all Boards are staffed with people of similar persuasion, but sadly a lot are. The more successful businesses tended to have a more diverse management team. I used to take a perverse satisfaction in telling them what they needed to hear, rather than what they wanted to hear. It didn't make friends, but it did earn respect and I'm hanging on to my owed favours (until needed) which I've earned.

Susan - It may be an accurate representation of the truth, it may even be worse than that. I'm not convinced that the distribution of wealth in the US is as even as most may think. With quantitative easing programs it can only get worse.



tubaplayer said...

So much looking forward to next week JMG

andrewbwatt said...

So, speaking again as an operative magus, although a perhaps rather dense and numb-skulled one, I must say how delightful I've found the last few posts about magic. In three essays, you've helped me jump over a number of hurdles in my own practice, both of a theurgical kind and a thaumaturgic kind.

First, I have a tendency to read your essay on Thursday mornings before purple color breathing (thank you for another technique!) and select a thought or two for my morning meditation. It's been... illuminating.

But these three essays from you have also coincided with a massive increase in the number of requests that I've gotten from others to do magic — thaumaturgy — on their behalf. That is to say, from zero to about twenty... one or two the first week, seven or eight the second, and ten this third week. Mostly this has consisted of divinatory work, but sometimes something more.

A good many meditations of my other days, and a good many pages in my journal, have been filled with considering the ethics of thaumaturgy, and the role of the mojo-maker in helping people with problems. The injunction/suggestion of doing a divination before working magic on someone else's behalf seems highly perceptive here.

One doesn't rush into magic, but instead uses a divinatory process to observe the client, study the relevant forces acting on the client and their 'constellation' of related issues and persons. That data-gathering phase sometimes reveals the client's underlying challenge — which the meditations and rituals of theurgy help the magic practitioner to see! The consultation of books, and charts of correspondence, and the smelling of herbs and the careful weighing of the effects of one against the other... it's all a carefully-calculated process to help reach into the subtle places and help someone unlock their own greater potentials.

To use that same process to lock someone into a broken mindset, or limit their faculties, or damage their psyche... it's monstrous.

How much more monstrous when practiced on a whole people or nation! How much more monstrous when practiced on one part of a nation to the detriment of the other!

So now some things about politics and magic become clearer, too.

Thank you.

RainbowShadow said...

"Thaumaturgy is involved, to be sure, but it's as much that this is how the left has blinded itself to the impact of its policies on the large segment of Americans between the middle class and the poor."

My deepest apologies to you John Michael Greer if you find anything objectionable in my posts, but if I may interject again, it's actually a matter of debate as to whether or not Obama really represents "the left." A lot of people who actually ARE on the left, such as Joe Bageant, Chris Hedges, Morris Berman, Noam Chomsky, etc., think that Obama is a "sellout" and a "Republican in genteel clothing."

The point of my post isn't whether those charges are true or whether Obama's policy is sound, however, so don't worry.

My point, JMG, is it's possible that Obama may not be truly representative of the left given how a lot of leftists think of him, so scapegoating "the left" for what happens to America's working classes is not constructive to debate, any more than rtpstephen's attempt to scapegoat "the right."

Please be careful; since scapegoating is all too human, you can fall vulnerable to it too if you're not careful, despite your vastly superior knowledge of thaumaturgy compared to myself and most people in this country.

Justin said...

"it's simply the restriction of existence to bare matter and energy that I find a bit startling"

I mean exists in the scientific sense. I readily concede that there are things that don't exist in this sense but are nonetheless parts of our reality. I wouldn't insist that free will, agency, beliefs and so on do not exists or are any less relevant than the things that do exist even though there is no substance in the human body that is the equivalent of the human free will hormone, or that a Christian gene and so on. As I said, I think my vocabulary is simply failing me here because I get why it may be confusing. I am decoupling the question of existence and non-existence from real and unreal. I think this is real because what exists is primarily dealt with using our physical bodies and what doesn't exist can be dealt with using our minds. Before science, it was almost impossible to sort this out, because we pile layers and layers of non-existent meaning atop of existent reality and the two interact often.

For insance, money is nothing more than a bit of metal or paper with a few distinguishing physical features. Nothing more, nothing less. As a social construct, it obviously has a lot more meaning and impacts/mediates how we can access and utilize other pieces of existent reality. You can't deconstruct a social construct by yourself, almost everyone knows that money does not really exist, but that doesn't mean you can just ignore its role. You do have complete control over the non-existent parts of your reality that influence and shade your interaction with the existent. It does mean you can redefine your relationship to it, such as your message of voluntary poverty.
To change your understanding of the non-existent, or subjective, reality takes a lot of hard work. But its an inside job.

To do so for others, to dispell others of the unreality of money, or the contemporary definition of progress and the good life takes a lot more work. Its not as simple as telling people that a social custom can be ignored to get them to do so. That is my take of where you are going with this.

Maybe I should have used subjective and objective instead of existent and non-existent.

I'll add that a more explicit thanks for your work here. I am currently in the process of changing my objective and subjective reality. Not entirely thanks to you, I spent years before encountering your writing and ideas considering all the issues in our society and my role in them. The part that you have been an immense help in is taking action to change my self and my own role rather than sitting around and wondering why 'people' don't wake up to what is going on and do something about them, without being aware of the irony that here I was still going into an air conditioned, climate controlled, energy intensive office to work on computers.

das monde said...

JMG: I am getting a taste of what magic practice is according to your perspective. A few quibbles quickly come to mind though.

First is the question of proportion between the old socio-psychological knowledge (be it secret or not) and the knowledge added in the last 100 years. I would rather guess that, although social knowledge is not as academically precise as physical laws, the recent humanities knowledge might overshadow the ancient knowledge still. We not only have vast academic (psychoanalytic, clinical, neurological, anthropological) fields established, but novel “unorthodox” developments (such as NLP, Timothy Leary, fusions with Eastern practices) as well, and then commercial management evolution, even secret government programs (such as MK-ULTRA). We might argue about quality and completeness of the new knowledge (public or not), but why would Plato know everything better than us? Isn’t the number of recent human interactions and control attempts dwarf the total of tricks in thousand years? The star motivators might be missing something, but they do help certain people to manage themselves and others. And what is the mundane CGT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) if not involving the charioteer ahead of horses? Can everything be fitted into the distinction between theurgy and thaumaturgy?

Secondly, talks about Plato’s Republic usually assume either a social organism utopia or something even rosier. But motivation for social control might be either as mundane as your own sole benefit (by all neo-Darwinian cannons), or something beyond lazy imagination. What if resolution of peak oil and the overshot is already in the cards, say, through population control? Why wouldn’t some elites only pretend that they strive for a stable financial and social environment, or oil in Iraq? Couldn’t they possibly know something better in a rather near horizon?

A modern example of a managed republic (and getting people to do the right thing) is a large corporation (h/t SLClaire). How much thaumaturgy or something better is there? One side facet however: the top corporate officials are not exactly governors of their corporate realm. They are just thoroughly representing the owners and/or shareholders. And their top pay reflects this role, not the added product value.

das monde said...

I would not be surprised if socio-psychological knowledge was much richer (but not open) in the past than in appears historically, and it was utilized multiple times. If modern psychologists know nothing compared to ancient hermits, that may mean that there are significant obstructing factors against the mainstream research. But particularly the surreptitious social knowledge could be growing in the 20th century in leaps and bounds beyond hermits’ dreams. If the bolshevik or Nazi propaganda was crude (and even rather intellectual), the advertising and media manipulation (plus rat race and mortgage pressures, broad shock therapies and selective approval by Nobel prizes and Oscars) could have brought old bad thaumaturgy to impressively workable heights. I come to repeating my suspicion that a global scale political-economic management has been conspired. Hitler did not raise to power only by his thaumaturgic skills. Rather he was silently groomed and supported by a social stratum of good mannered wealthy Germans, and not only Germans. Tellingly, Hitler could defy the 1930s depression with his funny money and social discipline without pressing attention of big financial players - in contrast to the fate of Weimar’s Republic. Ever more controversially, even Lenin and Stalin are suspected to be projects of bored Western super-industrialists.

I am rather bemused by some developments since the 1990s. Right after the fall of the Soviet Union, most East Europeans appeared to be strangely well educated about financial and other imperatives from the West. In no time a small circle (of recent apparatchiks, mostly) learned most profitable privatization and financing strategies. A larger circle, almost a majority, was already fixated in emigrating to the West or scoring a quick profit at home, even ready to hook on pyramid schemes, three-card-monty games (and eventually, onto real estate bubbles). Plato’s three strata in action?! I found it also remarkable how massive was the perception of young women’s focus on foreigners, or cash-rich or other neo-Darwinian stereotypes - but I was naturally more tuned for that awareness then. After a series of self-fulfilling clichés the majority of population there is seen as poor loosers - and when you think of children, how much Darwinian sense is in there?

Public perceptions in the West are shifting no less coherently. The stock market was not the center of the world until the 1980s, the real estate craze did not take up until 2000, the liberals were not ridiculous until that time either, and the urgency of terror changed in one day. Sure, some patterns of human folly repeat in cycles - but, hmmm, I find it worthwhile to wonder how much intelligent design is here behind.

void_genesis said...

I'm interested in following on from the emerging 1%-99% meme that has taken off so well recently.

Can it be argued that the 1% serves an essential role in the process of societal overshoot and collapse?

The very mathematics of the relationship suggests a power law- the same thing that pops up in ecology for energy exchanges between trophic levels. 99% deer and 1% wolves for example.

Could the parasites and predators at the top have been serving a useful role all along? By oppressing and exploiting the others at the bottom have actually prevented them from doing even more damage to the planet?

Nature and the universe is all about cycles of build up and decay, but your discussion about how individuals can mentally adapt to the tumult is nevertheless very deeply appreciated.

I'm also interested to explore the idea that psychic manipulation through propaganda etc always ends up capturing its creators. What about psychopaths?(if they really exist). Or would anyone lacking the empathy to be effected by propaganda also lack the empathy needed to create/control it?

Ceworthe said...

FYI, in this weeks Kunstlercast on listener questions, you are given high praise by James Kunstler (though he is befuddled by the Archdruid thing it seems) at about minute 30 or so for about 5 minutes. Rest of cast is interesting as well. said...

Wait a minute, this isn't about Plato at all! This is Aristotle's De Rhetorica in the age of mechanical reproduction. Also, I'm not sure there's so much difference between the conjureman and the political thaumaturge, at least not in the arena of "peak oil." If you substitute "bugout bag" for "mojo bag" you have a powerful ritual totem to which many people return, on a daily basis to, as you say, focus the mind. Plenty of people consult daily with internet oracles to learn what charms to add to their bag, too.

Plenty of other rituals with less antisocial content (or at least fewer handguns) attend peak oil preparations, many of which are driven by a need for touchstones rather than rationality. I know I'm risking self-parody, but plenty of early-industrial skills (knitting, yurt-building, pressure-canning) are conducted in my household and among my friends with far more ritual sincerity than their sheer practical value would warrant.

Also, on the nose in re evolution and genes- multilevel selection theory is quite comfortable with the idea that some traits are beneficial because a large group that contains a number of people who express them will last longer than a group that does not, even if the affected individuals themselves do not survive.


Kieran O'Neill said...

@JMG: I've had the interesting experience this week of watching General Motors engage in a little simplistic mass thaumaturgy targeting cycling and walking in American colleges. And seeing it blow up in their faces with remarkable speed. They actually ran an ad with the words "Stop pedaling ... start driving."

What has been pleasant, however, was to see the civility in the responses from the cycling community. There's plenty of indignation, and a good bit of sarcasm, but somehow the shrill tone that permeates most political discourse in the US seems absent.

The ad actually says "Stop pedaling ... start driving."

@cherokee I would dispute that human's can only be dominant with oil. We've done pretty well historically with, by modern standards, some pretty basic tools. Even at hunter-gatherer stage we managed to spread across the entire planet to a degree unparalleled by any other species. And even before the advent of agriculture, we were pretty good at causing major ecological damage. Technology (and ultimately oil) has sped that up over time, but fire, clothing, spears and speech were about all it took.

@madtom Oh I wasn't accusing you specifically of Social Darwinism. I had that in mind because I've been seeing the argument put forward from the right lately that the poor are poor through some failure on their part. This goes alongside the recent resurgence of Libertarianism -- the belief that competition between individuals under laissez-faire capitalism is the solution to all of society's problems is nothing short of Social Darwinism.

But I was specifically noting, like others here, that evolution is not as simple as a "frenzied scrambling for short term gain", although that is a commonly held societal myth useful to those who would try to justify Social Darwinism. At the minimum, evolution selects for successfully making it through one reproductive cycle. And individual's offspring not only have to survive, but have to successfully produce their own offspring. In that form it is selecting for behaviors that result in gain over a generation-long time period.

But it goes further, since a more important unit of evolution is actually the species, rather than the individual. Over speciation-length time (abut 2 million years a species, on average), the selection is for behavior that ensures the survival of the species. This selection pressure selects against species that exhaust their environment (e.g. parasites which kill their host too quickly).

I recommend looking up life history theory (the descendant of r/K selection theory). It's a pretty modern view of how evolution works in practice, backed up by empirical evidence.

Joe Miller said...

Mr. Greer, are you familiar with the works of Herbert Marcuse?

idiotgrrl said...

I just got back from Weight Watchers. Listening to the lecture, I kept thinking "changing consciousness according to will." Yes, they are engaged in thaumaturgy, and they claim - and quite likely on the lower levels, think - it is for good. Yet, one deeply embedded, very toxic message comes through: "People are nasty to you if you're fat. Lose weight and they won't be nasty to you." The second, lesser one being "You can accomplish this goal by buying our products." OR "those we recommend." But that message pervades our culture the way water does a fish tank.

idiotgrrl said...

StogieUSMC said "However, among the various villains and antagonists in the plot is a society whose members consider themselves "one-eyed men" in the world of the "blind," and thus naturally entitled to manipulate the perceptions of the masses, who couch their teachings in occult terms."

That, without the overt occultism, is the plot of Michael Flynn's "In the Country of the Blind", and one of his major points is that the manipulators began with the intentions of saving the world and degenerated into getting rich and/or protecting their wealth and power - complete with dumbing down society to make their calculations easier. (The second major point is that all such eventually split and spend more time fighting each other than anything else.)

Those who have eyes to see, see the same things, eh?

scepticus said...

Thanks, I think you answered in detail the line of my questioning earlier.

The thing that strikes me here is that while political thaumaturgy is indeed doomed in terms of individual instances, the rise and fall of such instances has guided the path of our civilisation.

The trajectory of our species through the state space of all possibilities is necessarily path dependant (hence the oft heard complaint, "I wouldn't try to get there from here").

Sure, another force, arguably stronger, is the millions of individual minds and the theurgy therein, but these are necessarily shaped (the second horse) by the series of preceding **thaumaturgical** events in memory.

A sceptic must therefore ask what is the difference between a series of unfortunate thaumaturgical events, and culture?

phil harris said...

Void/ damonde
There are conspiracies. Prey / predator relationships do have some similarities with the 1:99 ratio: (fossil fuels could be viewed as the 'grass' to be converted by a lot of 'herbivores'; and we have 'wolves' with wings and smart technology). But I think the analogies with ecology and cabals run out of 'steam' at some point.

You just needed a profit motive, capital accumulation, and not too many prolonged shortages of resources, or to take too long over social-reorganization (modernization), and 'bingo', here we are, or some of us are. Plenty of crashes along the way; 19thC and 20thC; but thats the nature of market forces and social-reorganization of lsrge herds of 'herbivores' ;). To date thats about 1.2 billion in key locations; forget the rest,they don't count. Then sooner than you expect you run out of 'new frontiers'. It always was a competitive business to get there first and stay in front. Now it seems there is no where further to go down that 500 year road? 'Thaumaturge' your way out of that!

Lots of ways to trash the planet and fairly innocent (some totally innocent!) folks on the way out, of course. How in hell did you (figure of speech) give us in UK the obesity epidemic? Tenfold increase in 10 years in UK I read in my paper today. What do we do? Close down the advertising industry? (No good sacking the government).

Or keep learning 'theurgy' and back off out of range, like our man seems to be mildly suggesting? At least we can try to keep our head out of it?

Myriad said...

Hi JMG. I'm still following. I think I'll wait for the complete arc before any major comments, including addressing the question you asked me, a few posts ago, about applying empirical methods to consciousness (and hence, to magic).

But one point in the meantime, which I don't think anyone brought up in connection with last week's post: some people's social horses are a bit lame to begin with. (Coincidentally, "lame" is currently among the milder of the insults that kids fitting that description should expect to hear from their peers.) For us, not a lot of initiating is needed to learn to detach our rational selves from the distractions of our social selves. It's the opposite, learning to engage and value our social "horses," that takes some work.

Perhaps for that reason (or perhaps for some other), I've always found the kind of mass thaumaturgy you decry, in this week's post, transparent and easily disregarded or "shorted to ground." For one trivial but illustrative example, I decoded the admittedly not so subtle geis in TV ads for high-sugar children's breakfast cereals while I was still in the target age range for the ads. (The cartoon kids invariably chase, trick, or thwart other more powerful-seeming cartoon characters to obtain or keep the cereal; the overt message is "you want this cereal" but the hidden payload is "you must struggle with your parents for this cereal.") Whether it's car manufacturers selling uncluttered roads or special traffic privileges they obviously can't provide, evangelists upselling this era's version of indulgences by bundling good fortune in the name of God, or politicians giving away free samples of today's up-to-the-minute flavor of fear, I wonder who could possibly be gullible enough to fall for it--and then watch with familiar disappointment as so many rush off to buy.

Thank you for providing greater insight into why that happens. It hadn't really occurred to me to look for more detailed answers than "most people are just gullible."

scepticus said...

JMG, you disagreed that evolution doesn't always focus on short term gain. Are there any examples?

Surely if evolution is blind then it has no other option but to optimise for the present moment?

Thijs Goverde said...

Very much looking forward to next week's post, if just to see what exactly it is you're doing with this blog.
It aint thaumaturgy, if I follow this week´s post correctly.
It aint theurgy, if I understand the term correctly.
Well, we´ll see!

By the way, while I love your modernistic interpretation of the chariot metaphor (I don´t think the distiction between ´social´ and ´biological´ drives would have meant very much to Plato, but it sure is enlightening to a 21st century westerner) I feel you are doing the old pugilist a small injustice in your description of his state.
I don´t think the filosopher kings were to be only one third human. They got the same schooling as the workers and the guardians, if I recall correctly, and then a big chunk of extra schooling on top of that.
The extra schooling was to be philosophy, which in Plato´s day would be closer to meaning ´learning how to manage the horses´ than meaning ´lessons in rationality´. Wouldn´t that make the philosopher kings more or less theurgs, in a way?

idiotgrrl said...

scepticus said...

JMG, you disagreed that evolution doesn't always focus on short term gain. Are there any examples?

Surely if evolution is blind then it has no other option but to optimise for the present moment...

I can answer that one in one word. Grandmothers! It's been shown that where grandmothers are, especially the dreaded wife's mother, the little kids get a better start in life. But in the short run, grandmothers are a dead loss - too old to produce at a high rate of speed, too old to reproduce, too dried-up to be sexually attractive, and set in our ways, always bringing up the dead past as if it had some relevance to the mistakes you're making today - HUMAN evolution involves a much, much longer time frame that "grab-gobble-git."

John Michael Greer said...

Ozark, you aren't the only one; Diamond's geographical determinism has been savaged by other critics, and his insistence that his views are the only alternative to racism is, to be quite frank, a despicable bit of rhetorical gamesmanship.

Matt, when somebody starts insisting that somebody else's habits of speech amount to, ahem, "treading on the unmarked graves of cruelly massacred heroes," it's usually fair to say that they've stopped thinking and are simply emoting. I use the term "Marxist" for those political systems that derive from the thought of Ksrl Marx partly because that usage has been standard for nearly a century, partly to differentiate them from other forms of socialism -- of which there are quite a few, of course -- and partly because the flaws of the political systems in question unfold directly from problematic aspects of Marx' own theories.

In Russia these days they have a useful saying: "Everything Marx said about communism was false, but everything he said about capitalism was true," and that's a reasonable summary of the situation. Marx' critique of capitalism is something with which any student of political economy has to deal. His prescription for what should replace capitalism, though, is cruelly flawed -- an apocalyptic fantasy in secular drag that, in practice, consistently turns out police states with no respect for human rights.

That's far from a dead issue, either. Sometime in the next decade or so, I expect to see a serious attempt to revive Marxism as a revolutionary ideology on the American left, and the rhetoric they will use will doubtless attempt -- as you seem to be attempting -- to distance Marxist theory from all previous attempts to put that theory into practice, dismissing them as "not really Marxist." I don't find that a useful project, quite the contrary, and if you expect me to change my manner of speaking in a way that will further it, I have to say you're going to be disappointed.

Stogie, other than encouraging you to read the Ioan Culianu book mentioned in the post, I don't know off hand of anything else to suggest. It sounds like a fascinating project.

Brazza, I'm pretty sure I must be misunderstanding you. "All forms of manipulation of matter"? Whether you mean by magic or in general, that's vastly too broad; you manipulate matter with every breath you take. Magical ethics is a complex issue, as indeed is any form of ethical thought; the problems with mass thaumaturgy are simply one subject within that broad realm.

Cherokee, I haven't owned a TV in my adult life, so any question about whether I've watched a series is going to get the answer of "no." I think you're quite right, as it happens, about the Tea Party and its likely trajectory. It's very easy to start a populist movement, and very hard to control the direction in which it ends up going!

Tubaplayer, glad to hear it.

Andrew, good. Yes, it's monstrous, in the strict sense of the word; like the mixing of religion and politics, it produces a hideous hybrid having most of the worst features of both parents.

Rainbow, er, I don't recall saying that Obama represents the left. Like every successful Democratic politician in recent decades, he denounced the GOP until he got into office and then copied its policies word for word. The people who call him a sellout would do the same thing if they got into power, because any other set of policies would cut into the privileges of the classes to which they belong, and which they represent. Now of course the GOP is no better; one of the common pathologies of democracy is that it routinely turns into an arena in which class interests appear in a degree of nakedness bordering on the obscene. Still, I find it intriguing that you would consider this view, which is evenly applied to both sides, a form of scapegoating.

John Michael Greer said...

Justin, I'd suggest physical and nonphysical, or perhaps material and nonmaterial. Still, "existent" and "nonexistent" has some useful shock value, and that's a point in its favor. As for your process, I'm glad to be of help!

Das Monde, yes, we have this conversation every six months or so, and it comes down to the same unresolved disagreement as before. I'll pass this time, thanks.

Void, that's an interesting question. Toynbee argued that the 1% doesn't start off parasitic, but becomes that way once it fails to provide meaningful leadership and settles for domination instead -- leading promptly to the decline and fall of the civilization it rules. You might have an interesting time weaving his ideas into the analysis you're developing.

Ceworthe, Jim and I are fans of each other's work -- I read his blog religiously first thing every Monday morning.

Huntgather, that's one of the things about being a Neoplatonist; the Neoplatonic tradition absorbed Aristotle's logic and rhetoric, not to mention Stoic ethics and Pythagorean mathematics, in the course of filling in the many gaps Plato left behind, and patching up the holes where his more egregious mistakes got chucked.

Kieran, thank you! I'll see if I can manage to humiliate GM a bit in an upcoming post. That slogan deserves death by sarcasm.

Joe, it's been a very, very long time since I last read One-Dimensional Man. Remind me of his relevance to the present argument!

Grrl, well, it's your time, money and all, but I'd sooner gnaw on a rat's pancreas than go to a Weight Watcher's meeting. One of these days I'm going to have to do a post about the manufacture of the "obesity epidemic" and the tangled mess of collective emotions that gets dumped on the people among us who current body-fashions label "fat." That's not a project I want to do, because most Americans are basically not sane about food and body weight these days, and I'm confident that the response will include a lot of gibbering and even more spluttering tirades. Oh, well...

Scepticus, equating the history of culture to the sum of mass thaumaturgy is a bit like insisting that bassoons are the only instrument in the orchestra. It's one factor among very, very many. As for long-term factors in selection, good heavens -- I take it you haven't studied evolutionary ecology. Evolution is simply the sum total of what works to maximize long term reproductive success, you know, and long term strategies such as investing parental energy in childraising are among the common things that work. By and large, long term strategies are at least as common in living things as short term ones; you might look up the difference between R-selected and K-selected reproductive strategies, for example, just as an intro to the literally millions of examples.

Myriad, the cereal example is great -- thanks for passing that one on. I had similar experiences with some other kinds of commercials as a child, but that seems to be fairly rare.

Thijs, one of the problems with trying to discuss these matters in weekly posts, written on the fly, is that a lot of subtleties get left out. That's one of them! The philosopher kings weren't theurgists, not quite -- it was exactly the fact that Plato's mode of education proved to be insufficient to get the nonrational and rational aspects of the self into a state of balance governed by reason that led to the evolution of theurgic magic.

Mark said...

After last weeks post, I was going to ask if Advertising and Propaganda were forms of magic. After reading this weeks post, I think I've got my answer. Maybe I am understanding what you are writing after all. Thanks for building.

I'm reminded of a quote:

"If we begin with certainties, we shall end in doubts; but if we begin with doubts, and are patient in them, we shall end in certainties." - Francis Bacon

Also, I'm halfway through Wealth of Nations. You are spot on.

Dwig said...

Adding my vote to the previous praise: a very nice exposition! I especially loved the application of the chariot model to explain the internal contradictions of the practitioners of political thaumaturgy. It reminds me of a tongue-in-cheek definition: "a politician is someone who lies to a journalist, then believes what he reads in the newspapers".

Question: how does consciousness fit in the chariot model? Is it synonymous with reason/rationality? Or is the "social horse" also conscious to some extent? If so, they'd both be changed by the practice of magic, right? (Yeah, I know, I'm raising that question again, but at least in a more limited, and hopefully tractable context.)

On "planes of existence": here's something I've been mulling over: there's a certain set of about 300 million people; they exist. There's also the United States of America; it seems pretty clear that it exists, and has caused numerous effects in the physical world (and on the lives of the 300 million, as well as others). Would this be an example of "entities" in different planes?

"Sekenre, I was hoping that some of my readers would fall for that!" [Thinking that you would advocate political thaumaturgy.] Practicing a bit of thaumaturgy on your little community, eh? For educational purposes only, I trust. 8^)

hadashi said...

Ha-ha! Grandmothers are the answer? I'm currently in an under-the-same-roof living arrangement with my Japanese in-laws (on the map of Arch Druid followers I appear to the be one of the most isolated, geographically speaking). For the sake of my 2-year old I'll try to put up with some of the difficulties that sometimes come up.
(comment moderation: 'commo')

Hal said...

Since the conversation has veered toward contemporary politics, I think the most pertinent observation at the present might be a disturbing trend I've been seeing lately with the OWS protests. It looks to me like both the protestors and their detractors are trying to frame the debate over the protests, to define what the protests are about.

At first, there was no clearly defined goal of the protests, and there was a loud complaint from the media over the protest's lack of an "agenda." Unlike a lot of people, I didn't have a problem with that. I think it's OK for a protest to be about, well, just simply protesting something. In this case, I thought they were performing the valuable service of just pointing fingers where they needed to be pointed.

Over the last couple of weeks, though, I've seen the "99%" meme begin to take center stage. I'm sure that's got some rhetorical expedience, but it looks to me like a perfect example of looking for the emotion-based incantation. I'm guessing this usually involves more than just a "dumbing down" of the message, but also looking for easy targets for all of that emotion.

Now those that would rather the finger not be pointed where it needed to be are also busy casting spells to get the debate in the same direction, so it becomes a matter of simple "class warfare" and they can exploit a certain large reservoir of sympathy for the rich and famous. I've heard a lot of "I work hard for my money, who are they to say I shouldn't ..." as if the protests are aimed a lot more wider than Wall St.

The danger is that it might become a self-fulfilling spell.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG and all,

Thanks for your reply, I've been wondering about that issue. It will be interesting to see where it all ends up, it may even fizzle out, who knows? But I reckon the job issue is going to be really hard to gloss over in the not too distant future. My gut feeling is that they'll point to a scapegoat before too long and start yelling. It's at that point that the movement will run away from the fat controllers (the reference to fat controllers is an attempt at humour).

I quite like the 1% - 99% story, it has impact and creates quite an image, without providing a background story. It's very powerful. However, I've travelled a bit of the developing world and want to point out something obvious to the readers here, which may otherwise be lost on them. A lot of people in the developing world see us as the 1%. Think about that!

Someone mentioned psychopaths (I'll also include sociopaths). Unfortunately because of my occupation I have had more than my fair share of contact with this lot. A tell-tale sign with them is that they are unable to empathise with others, although this is not conclusive proof. There are plenty of souls who struggle with this. However, when their lack of empathy extends to assuming that they are smarter than the rest of the population you know you've hit the jackpot. You don't have to worry about asking searching questions, they'll happily tell you all you need to know. Good luck with that one! Avoid them, they mean you no good.

Kieran - You are correct, I hadn't considered that. I guess what I was trying to get at was the question of degree. The use of fossil fuels (from my perspective anyway) simply allows the overshoot to be that much greater. Hope that makes sense.



Unknown said...

Count me (Deborah Bender) among the ones Myriad mentions who began with a lame social horse. Our family got a television when I was about five years old, and not too long after, I watched an ad telling me that if I ate a particular food product, I would have more energy and more fun. I asked my mother to buy that product; she did. I ate it and noted that I did not have more energy or more fun. That was the last TV ad I ever believed.

I don't think any broadcast advertising has ever influenced my purchasing decisions at all, either to buy a class of products or a particular brand, or even to wish that I could afford to buy something.

sgage said...

@ scepticus

You said...

"JMG, you disagreed that evolution doesn't always focus on short term gain. Are there any examples?

Surely if evolution is blind then it has no other option but to optimise for the present moment?"

In addition to the points already made, I would add an even longer term adaptation - the maintenance of genetic diversity in a population.

Different "traits" are relatively more or less adaptive in different environments. And we all know that the environment is changing. Some genotypes that were once "misfits" (or dead) may turn out to be successful in the new environment.

idiotgrrl said...

The bookopalypse. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

No joke.

Jason said...

JMG: hypnotherapy [...]lacks some of the colorful elements of the older schools

Think so? :) As an initiate of it who also knows some hoodoo I see plenty of ritual, symbol and myth in that school as in the others. It's just been tuned to look right in context. That way it can serve people whose rigid beliefs won't allow mojo bags. There's research, another advantage of the approach, to this effect. Boogies and other interesting effects are never absent from this school either.

I liked Adrian Ayres Fisher's comment and your reply:

every religion -- without exception -- is the basis for a system of theurgy, and most religions have developed at least some basic methods along those lines.

People might not see these systems even when they're in plain sight. They fruit off from the spiritual traditions in which they grew. On my blog I've called this the bud-off. Yoga budded off from Indian spirituality and ch'i kung (qigong) from Chinese. Kabbalah budded off from Jewish traditions to be snapped up by Hermetics, which itself probably budded off from Hellenistic Thoth cults. Hesychasm has budded off from Orthodox Christianity and is heading West. Etc. Every one is theurgy.

The spiritual traditions need not be directly religious -- much is associated with the martial arts for example, and with healing. Both of those applications are legitimate thaumaturgies.

People with a yen for a quest have a lot to choose from. Transpersonal psychology has got to grips with some of the effects, including interesting phenomena I describe in my current post. (As Thoth became philosophised so kundalini has been psychologised, language-wise.) People tend to become more aware of all this work as they exit the standard groupmind beliefs, which paint it all as manipulative indoctrination. That's what Jungians would call projecting the shadow. As much as anything else, these systems create interesting independent people who are harder to fool. The authorities don't always like that.

Kieran O'Neill said...

Meanwhile, closer to home, and speaking of political thaumaturgy: in Vancouver, which has a municipal election coming up in a month's time, the right-leaning NPA have employed the services of professional political black magicians Campaign Research. These are the same people who got Rob Ford elected as mayor of Toronto last year, on a campaign of ripping out bike lanes and getting rid of street cars. The result here has been similar -- a campaign built upon an anti-cycling, anti-environmentalist platform, with not a single constructive proposition. The success of this strategy so far has been very disturbing.

Some of it, I suppose, is that the car-driving suburbanites haven't been bitten hard enough by gas prices as yet, so they fall prey to this kind of nonsense. So for now it is a waiting game. Nevertheless, I am looking forward eagerly to your upcoming "Defense Against the Dark Arts" post...

ganv said...

Very insightful. It seems that you are identifying more extreme means for manipulating public opinion as thaumaturgy. But I might see this as a continuum with much more mundane things at the other end. Almost anything one says is intended to affect the beliefs and behavior of others in some way. The post-modernists say 'language is a tool to exercise power over others'. But I greatly appreciate your warning that the person who fully embraces the use of language (or magic) to control others can destroy themselves. We simply are not smart enough to stray very far from the truth in trying to influence others.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi all,

The obsession with short term gains is probably a reflection of cultural values rather than anything based in ecology.

Human populations in a stable state relied far more heavily on co-operation than competition. I reckon that competition is pushed as a cultural meme because it is simply a repetition of the old divide and conquer strategy. It's a very successful strategy and one that it used quite a lot.



idiotgrrl said...

"Name magic is the oldest magic there is." Some time ago, I have no idea when, the oil and gas extraction industry started referring to their activities as "producing" oil. This renaming has proved so powerful that even those of us who know it's being extracted, no produced, get sucked into the common nomenclature.

Rick Perry's energy plan came out in Friday's USA Today. Three guesses what it consists of.

That's right. Vastly increased exploration for and 'production of' oil and gas. And doing away with all those business-crippling energy and environmental regulations.

Why am I not surprised.\?

siddrudge said...

@Cherokee Organics and all

Regarding sociopaths:

Be afraid-- be very afraid!

I highly recommend the book "The Sociopath Next Door" by Martha Stout.(2005;Publisher:Crown Archetype)

"Stout says that as many as 4% of the population are conscienceless sociopaths who have no empathy or affectionate feelings for humans or animals." [From Publishers Weekly]

"The single argument in this highly accessible thesis, the one that is down-right astonishing, (though not so after reading the reasons why) is that most of us "instinctively" know when there is a sociopath in our midst, but more often refuse to intellectually or rationally call them for what they are...why? The reason is that we would prefer to believe that the human being is fundamentally good, and pure evil is something rare or something beyond our day to day reality. On the contrary, there are people who move through their lives without a hint of guilt for their acts of harm. " [From customer reviewer C. Middleton (Australia)]

John Michael Greer said...

Mark, good! Bacon's always worth a quote, though the quote is always worth a good hard second look, too.

Dwig, consciousness cuts across the metaphor. Most of us are conscious of some parts of our biological and social selves, as well as of our reasoning processes, while remaining blissfully unconscious of others.

Hal, that was inevitable -- taking control of the narrative is one of the essential moves in any sort of political strategy. Still, I don't think you'll find many people who have deep symnpathy for the income levels of stockbrokers and bank executives.

Cherokee, you get tonight's gold star. It's not simply that people in the rest of the world see us as the 1%; we are the 1%, and they are the 99%. I wonder how Americans will deal with it as that balance begins to shift.

Deborah, that's not a lame social horse, it's a smart social horse, who picked up on the difference between useful interaction and manipulation.

Grrl, yes, I've been talking about that for a while now. If you want books to survive, save them, and start making arrangements to have somebody else take them over when you're gone. We're moving into the twilight of meaning very quickly now.

Jason, well, as I said, I'm far from well-informed about the subject!

Kieran, we're going to see a lot of that for a little while -- we're seeing it down here as well, of course -- and then the backlash will start. Yes, we'll be discussing that sort of thing later on, but don't expect to see rules on how to defeat somebody's political campaign.

Ganv, it's a little more specific than that; thaumaturgy manipulates the mind using wholly nonrational means. That's what makes it distinct from other ways of influencing people's thinking, and of course there are many other ways.

Grrl, good. I prefer to use "extracted" instead -- gets the point across.

DeAnander said...

@idiotgrrrl re Bookocalypse

that was a humour site? such a heartbreaking and maddening story, and it's on a humour site. kind of says it all.

I'm intrigued (in a "be afraid very afraid" way) by the recurring theme of anti-cycling, anti-public transport campaigns (by car manufacturers or their servants, the right-leaning representatives of capital).

Can we imagine a John Brunner-like social period in which eating organic food, riding a bike, even owning a fuel-efficient car, become "subversive" and "anti-American" activities?

The mind boggles. See smart monkey? See smart monkey shoot self in both feet?

Cherokee Organics said...





Clarence said...

i see the difference between 'produce' and 'extract' this way: when a stage magician pulls a rabbit from a hat, he says he 'produces' it. however, he didn't make the rabbit. he simply put the rabbit that was on hand into his hat for later 'extraction' in front of an audience. thus, the illusion proceeds. and thusly, words are used to affect perception.

your posts on magic and its uses are as well written and pertinent as ever. however, i have already noticed the effects in my own life. and those effects have included other planes of existence, most notably seeing things that are almost there and getting occasional glimpses of how things will be.

i struggle with the effects of childhood conditioning on an almost daily level. i know what is there but some of it is buried deep and there are roots going all over. but i have built a foundation on which to stand through reason and logic, self applied and continuously tested. it has helped that i have read widely and have continued my self education as a defense against the modern world.

you are, as the saying goes, preaching to the choir. but an audience provides feedback that you may not get from talking to yourself. i look forward to your contribution to my daily reading.


greatblue said...

idiotgrrl said... "Name magic is the oldest magic there is."

Wind "farm" is another powerful name that lulls us into thinking that turbines that generate industrial wind power have no more impact than telephone poles. With the name "wind farm" in your mind, you get no sense of the size of an industrial wind turbine until you see a picture like this one:
http://www.vermonters" Only then do you really start to realize that you don't want one of these anywhere near your house.

(word verify: tsumolog!)

hapibeli said...

An interesting map and article involving a journalists view of the real North American political/social divide;

This may be one of the factors that will affect the direction of our "Long Descent" and how the descent plays out?

Maria said...

Excellent post! I, too am aquiring reading material at a much faster rate than I can read it. I'm a couple of chapters into The Long Descent, and it's a credit to your clear and calm writing style that I am not at present hiding under my bed and shaking. Considering the fact that I spent my formative years being indoctrinated into the fundamentalist Christian apocalyptic worldview and I still jump at sudden noises 30 years later, it's an impressive achievement.

I've been combining what I'm learning with my own interests and skill set, and an actual life plan is starting to emerge. It's early days and I want to keep things flexible, but it's starting to come together. Thank you for your help in that, and I look forward to your next post.

hapibeli said...

From the same Miller-McCune article;
" These initial groups essentially laid down the cultural DNA that the rest of us who’ve come since have had to live to with,” Woodard said. “They created the institutions and cultural assumptions and norms over pieces of geography that formed the dominant culture that future groups encountered."

In John's "Star's Reach", the future populations may well be living with much of the social DNA of those who were living in their regions in our own time? Still reacting to theurgy and thaumaturgy as

das monde said...

Cherokee: The obsession with short term gains is probably a reflection of cultural values rather than anything based in ecology.

It it useful to check what Noam Chomsky says about evolution.

idiotgrrl said...

And by coincidence, as if the gods wanted to illustrate this week's point here in Albuquerque, a review of a play running next weekend in UNM's Experimental Theater:

Desire for knowledge comes at a high price

By David Steinberg / Journal Staff Writer | Sun, Oct 16, 2011

In Christopher Marlowe’s 17th-century play “Dr. Faustus,” the title character is o …

**The setting is today, on campus. This version's Faust wants to study magic in order to do good he can't he how to do any other way. Oops!**

Tony said...

On the topic of evolution and short/long term stragegies:

Long-term strategies tend (not all the time, but it's a trend) to emerge where and when species can count on relative stability of their environment. This can be considered one of the reasons that many invasive species are short-generation, K selected species - they can deal with rapid change by pursuing the sudden advantage they are given by putting them in a foreign environment.

One can draw analogies between biological and cultural/social evolution, though of course it is not exact. I find myself wondering if the exploitation of fossil fuels and various low-hanging technological fruit can be compared to thrusting the human mind into a completely new environment, under which circumstances the undercurrents and practices which are more similar to short term k selected strategies thrived and the longer term R selected tendencies got buried - and if, given time, the r selected ones will slowly outdo this initial k selected burst.

Tony said...

Apologies for splitting my post, the tubes seem to have gotten blocked somehow.

Anyway, regarding 'planes of existence' and the like: I keep getting struck by an analogy to something from Douglas Hofstadter's work, the idea of abstraction I think you can call it. In the same way that we can call a huge amount of physical matter a 'table' in terms of its purpose and what it is used for in relation to humans rather than listing 10^25 particle positions and velocities, you can call an idea or philosophy something real in that it tends to produce effects in the human world as a result of the actions of people who hold it in their minds. The idea has no physical existence (at least as anything but the most incredibly subtle and ephemeral patterns in their brains that no human currently has the capacity to decode), just as the table has no intrinsic 'purpose' inherent to its matter. But both have definite effects in the context of human life, and to ignore that is just making things harder for yourself.

My vocabulary/parsing for talking about thaumaturgy around me is probably still screwy, but I also couldn't help but note the way that these movements can start off organically, but then get captured by some existing power structure, as a counterpoint to one getting started off with some intention and then getting away from its creators. I'm more concerned about that in relation to the current set of disturbances sweeping the country/world, as each time the energy of the people gets redirected it seems that the vested inerests get more dug in and the disturbance required to shake things up gets larger.


I do have hope about my generation's ability to break off some of the spoonfed stories and get something done for themselves. I just got back from the university farm that has just started up this year; we harvested hundreds of pounds of organically grown sweet potatoes today, and the enthusiasm of the dozen plus people who helped out was palpable. We spread out slips cut from the vines between everyone to try to nurse through the winter in various ways and keep alive until planting time in the spring. Many dozens of people come there at least occasionally and everyone there is learning a lot and coming to value real things. This is the farm's first year, and the interest from the student body is already taking off - hopefully it can be a place to teach people things that are really important...

Kieran O'Neill said...

@Hal I went down to Occupy Vancouver yesterday, and took part in a spontaneous march through the downtown core.

What was striking was that, while the groups present ran the gamut from labour unions, anti-war protesters, first nations rights activists and environmentalists through to anarchists, communists, supporters of legalising the sale of raw milk and crazy conspiracy theorists, these were all very minor fringe elements. While the crowd might be described broadly as "progressive", the majority were a wide cross-section of fairly non-radical people.

This was also clear in the messages coming out in placards and chants. The overwhelming message protesting against income disparity, the brokenness of the global financial system, and the damaging influence of financial interests in an ostensibly democratic system of government (all three of which are strongly interrelated) was pretty clear.

The great strength of that message, and especially the 99% meme is its inclusiveness. During the march, chants of "we are the 99%" morphed into "you are the 99%" as the march wound through Saturday shopping crowds, and "police are the 99%" as it went past police officers escorting the march and keeping hotheaded downtown motorists from ploughing through it. Ultimately, this makes it pretty difficult for critics to pigeon hole (and marginalise) the movement, when it states outright that it is representing them, too.

Richard Larson said...

How many times has the destruction of the elite class happened through-out history?

Thanks much for the insights.

Mark said...

What I meant to say in the end of my previous post is that I am halfway through Wealth of NATURE.(I typed "Nations"). Sorry about the slip up. I hope you were not insulted by my confusing you with Adam Smith. :-)

And let me reiterate, that the book is excellent - I particularly appreciate the primary and secondary goods distinction made by Schumacher.

Thank You,

Thank you.

MM said...


The carp who jumped Hukou Falls said...

I'm surprised that no-one yet seems to have brought up Guy Debord, the Situationists, and 'The Society of the Spectacle'.

Loosely put (it's been a while since I read it last), Debord posits that we, the ordinary people/citizens/consumers/whatever will at some point become unable ti interact with the real world as such, since the mediated representation of the world -derived from mass media, marketing, etc - is all that we will know and be able to mentally engage with.

We may say that this prediction has come to pass in many parts of the world and, in particular, the parts of the world closest to home for many readers of this blog.

JMG, Occupy Wall Street, and others seem to be part of the movement that, nascently, is seeking to remove "the world that's been drawn over our eyes" (as Morpheus puts it in the Matrix)...

Joel said...

On advertising:

I'm, right now, watching a PBS documentary called "Art & Copy".

It's interesting to see Hal Riney talk about the childhood he wishes he'd had, and all the whiskey he drank while writing "Morning in America" and "Bear in the Woods."

It's also fascinating to hear people talks about adapting "Just Do It" from the last words of a man executed by firing squad, and being pleasantly surprised to hear that it has prompted people to get divorces.

Thanks, again, for the perspective!

Kieran O'Neill said...

@JMG: Regarding Americans as the 1%, I think it's an important point, but only half-true mathematically.

In support of it, and possibly of use to you for future posts, here is some excellent analysis I found, pointing out that the poorest 2% of Americans are still in about the 60th percentile globally, even accounting for differences in buying power.

However, the language in that article and elsewhere got me thinking about the actual figures in terms of the global 99%. Since the US has just under 5% of the world's population (4.48%, but I'll round to 5 to keep the figures simpler), even if all of the richest 1% of the world's population were Americans, they would only be the top 20% of earners in the US. Realistically speaking, there are plenty of the ultra-rich outside of the US, although wealth remains pretty concentrated there. So maybe if we guess that half of the richest 1% are Americans, that's still only the top 10% of earners. (In fact, the article linked above puts it at 8%).

So, with the caveat that they are almost all in the richer third of it, in terms of the global 99%, the vast majority (92%) of Americans are included.

RainbowShadow said...

Greetings, all. I wish I could share your optimism, all, but I'm not sure the OWS protests are going to work. The public DOES seem to feel sympathy for stockbrokers and bankers, despite John Michael Greer's predictions.

Why do I say that? I just found out today that there's a backlash movement now called "We are the 53%". I won't repeat some of their more foul language, but basically they think that the OWS movement is protesting over nothing, that the 53% that constitute the "middle class" are paying for the "working class" to protest and by the way, anyone who emulates Toynbee and protests the 1% is a "childish brat who needs to clean up his mess and go home, I pay my taxes and work hard so all those other people who are jobless and homeless are just whiners! Nobody else in the country has the right to complain but ME!!! I'M getting screwed out of my riches to pay for those BUMS!!!"

And that's the NICER language. Take note, by the way, that this is not coming from the rich. It's coming from the public, who DO in fact prize wealth over everything else, and cannot get rid of straw man arguments claiming the protestors "just don't want to work in the mailroom," when in fact many of the protestors have no jobs mailroom-or-otherwise and no prospects for ever having a job.

The American public LOVES the "rich and successful." I'm not sure how many thinking people understand that; this is not a case of domination by the rich, this is a case of the public loudly sharing the 1%'s "value system." That the working classes, or thinkers like the brilliant John Michael Greer, might have a good point does not occur to most people in America.

I'm worried the OWS movement will fail unless it first reinvents the public's value system to prize something in life other than money, and I'm not sure that can actually be done, money-worship is as American as apple pie, and the tendency to prioritize one's own complaints while angrily dismissing everyone else's right to complain (which is what the 53% counter-movement is really about) is equally as American as apple pie.

However, carp, thank you very much for the Guy Debord reference, I'll check that book out.

RainbowShadow said...

Part 2:

I don't mean to be so pessimistic, but I'm not sure how much attention CULTURAL (as well as political and economic and environmental and ecological) issues are getting in terms of analysis. I just feel we shouldn't get so excited about the possibility of the 99% meme to "save us all" that we forget we are still dealing with the American voting public, and all the materialism that implies.

I want the OWS movement to succeed. I really, really do. I just don't really trust in the power of the American voting public to perceive OWS' intentions correctly through their money-colored glasses.

Keep your eye on the we-are-the-53% counter-movement, I just wanted to let you guys know it existed in the first comment I posted a few minutes ago so you can enter it into your analyses.

As always, thanks for your insight, JMG!

x said...

Thanks JMG for the articles over the years. Always food for thought and I'm always hungry.

I'm beginning to wonder if there is such a thing as rational magic. One becomes a practioner of, say, horticulture with a solid grounding in one's pursuit and also maths, logic, the sciences and so on. However, one also develops an ability to leave the rational aside occasionally and let more random thoughts or possibly intuitions interlope leading to connections that wouldn't normally crop up in a completely rational analytical environment. It becomes a delicate balancing act of knowing that you are giving rationalism a rest or letting it ally with other modes of non-rational or random contemplation. You then can take the new connections/patterns/thoughts and experiment or play with them responsibly to measure their efficacy. (I also wonder if the goals of such a line of enquiry must necessarily be broad based and established within loftier intent?)

I then wonder, if one can develop this mode, whether another level can be explored? Logically, it seems so, although much tougher to enact.

best, from: make do and mend

The carp who jumped Hukou Falls said...

@RainbowShadow You're welcome! It can be hard going - it was written as a manifesto during the 1968 Paris unrest, so given the language of the times, the nature of the manifesto format, and translation issues, it can be an effort to read at times, but the ideas and analysis have stood the test of time... It's also pretty good for dipping into. The whole text is available online for free.

“The more he identifies with the dominant images of need, the less he understands his own life and his own desires. The spectacle’s estrangement from the acting subject is expressed by the fact that the individual’s gestures are no longer his own; they are the gestures of someone else who represents them to him.”

John Michael Greer said...

Clarence, if this is preaching to the choir, I'll take it. One of the things that continues to fascinate me about the readership of this blog is that I seem to have stumbled across a patch of common ground on which rationalist engineers and religious mystics can find something to talk about amicably!

Hapibeli, interesting. I think it's pretty much a given at this point that the US will come apart in the decades ahead, and divisions of the sort that article traces are among the many factors pushing in that direction.

Maria, glad to be of help. Given your background, you might find my book Apocalypse Not entertaining as well.

Grrl, good. That's a narrative that could use more attention these days.

Tony, that's excellent news about the university farm! I learned much of what I know about organic gardening from just such a campus farm, so can vouch for the fact that it can be a very valuable project.

Richard, quite often. Whenever a civilization goes down, its elite classes are the first ones up against the wall, and there are plenty of other occasions -- think the French and Russian revolutions for starters -- in which the former elite class of a society faces that awkward little choice between flight into exile and extermination. Thus it's quite conceivable, even before industrial civilization goes down, that the survivors of today's US banking and political families may fifty years from now be embittered exiles living in Europe and daydreaming about the old times, when they still had wealth and power.

Mark, that's a typo I've made myself!

Carp, now there's a blast from the past! I should reread "Society of the Spectacle" one of these days.

Joel, "pleasantly surprised"? Gah. When the mobs come for them, I hope somebody says "Just do it!" seconds before tearing them limb from limb. Seriously.

Kieran, of course you're quite right; I should have specified the American middle class, which is well represented in the current round of protests.

Rainbow, the "53%" people are those who haven't lost their jobs yet, and are loudly trying to distance themselves from those who have. The OWSers are those who have. I'm more concerned myself about the efforts of political hacks of the MoveOn variety to hijack the OWS movement and harness it to business as usual.

X, of course there's rational magic; it's only in the rhetoric of materialists that that can't exist. The competent ceremonial mages I know always test their results against objective standards. It's a matter of alternation of states of consciousness; when you're working magic you have to put yourself fully into the work and suspend the critical faculties; outside of ritual space, you can assess the experience and its effects critically, and draw conclusions -- and in fact many of the details of magical practice are intended to facilitate the shift from participatory to critical states of consciousness.

Kieran O'Neill said...

@JMG and Rainbow regarding the 53% idea, it's so rife with cognitive dissonance that I cannot see it having appeal beyond the far right fringes.

Mainly, the premise (that the 53% of Americans who pay federal income tax are the only tax payers, and that all of the OWS protesters are non-tax-payers) is utterly false -- most people who do not effectively pay FIT still pay other taxes, and while the long-term occupiers must be unemployed, the majority of the protesters have jobs but come in when they can.

But also, the 53% meme itself was started by a guy who has stated that he would threaten census workers with his wife's shotgun if they come to his house, and has accused an Associate Supreme Court Justice of paedophilia and bestiality (in far from polite language). On his own grass roots 53% letter about how hard his life is, he claims to work three jobs, but by this he means blogger, radio personality and tv personality.

That said, the saddest part is the number of people who seem to be supporting it despite actually being part of the 47%. There's even a counter-blog collecting the most contradictory of the 53% stories. I think Carp's point about people's connection to reality being so heavily mediated that they have lost sight of empirically verifiable fact applies in many of these cases. But that said, I think there is only so much distortion a human mind can stand, especially when the human in question is experiencing the hard realities their mediators are trying to deny.

@JMG: Re the co-optability of OWS, one of the strengths of the movement is that it is practising direct democracy in the form of open general assemblies for all major decision making. While unbelievably cumbersome, this process is fairly resilient against astroturfing and co-option.

RainbowShadow said...

Oh, one other thing:

Unless Ron Paul becomes the Republican candidate, I don't think we can afford to have Obama lose the 2012 election, because if that happens the "hopelessly dowdy" concept of "polite discourse" as your comment box puts it might disappear for good, at least in Washington D.C. I know it's on shaky ground as it is, but Obama bothered to try to be grown-up and polite at least.

Except for Ron Paul, none of the other Republican candidates (Bachmann, Perry, Romney, etc.) have any self-control when they speak and they're sneering and have no MANNERS.

Although actually now that I think about it, Herman Cain is mostly polite as well. My apologies, I didn't think of him at first.

The point being, Obama bent over backwards to compromise for the GOP, but they slapped his hand away despite how polite and civil he remained at all times and despite how he simply repeated GOP policies, which somehow got him branded a socialist and Chairman-Mao lover (which goes to show how many people in this country do not check a friggin' dictionary before they make important voting decisions, given how many liberals erroneously called Bush a fascist when he was in charge).

Do I approve of Obama's policies? No, you persuaded me with your health care example. But unless we get someone equally grown-up and in control of himself like Ron Paul our next Republican president might simply dispense with polite discourse COMPLETELY, since it didn't work for Obama.

John Michael Greer said...

Kieran, it's absolutely typical of the American middle class to insist that it got everything it has by its own hard work, while quietly ignoring the extensive government subsidies that support its standard of living. As for the OWSers, I hope they succeed in keeping their guards up against co-optation moves; there's just a chance they could accomplish something if they can keep outside the current political binary.

Rainbow, fair enough. The disintegration of common courtesy is a standard feature of political systems that are coming unglued because of issues nobody's willing to talk about; the US has a bumper crop of such issues, but I suppose it may be worth trying to push against that particular current.

Brent Ragsdale said...


I just want to say thank you for the part you've played in my awakening to our shared predicament. This year I've read your blog and The Long Descent & The Wealth of Nature. Recently, I purchased a bit of land where we hope to build a low-energy home and practice green wizardry. Best regards and sincere appreciation.

Tracy G said...

Has this link been posted yet? It's an illuminating set of charts at Business Insider.

"Here's What the Wall Street Protesters Are So Angry About"

(Note to anyone who follows these things: yes, I am aware of the author's, er, colorful history.)

The Peak Oil Poet said...

Hail Druid

I borrow from you extensively here


hope you don't mind


idiotgrrl said...

As long as we're talking about OWS - they have their act together now!

idiotgrrl said...

John - this should probably be on the Peak Oil Initiation thread, but ever since I started doing the Lesser Banishing Ritual morning and night, my heart is more deeply into conserving energy, but my body developed a nasty arthritic-seeming ache in my hips that would not let me bend down! I had some energy work done by a woman I know well who has studied to be a medicine woman and a curandera, and a lot of things came into my mind - and the crippling pain has ceased. A mild ache and a lot more flexibility.

Plus another physical reaction that seems to follow a metaphysical mind-body connection to getting the - shall we say, waste products out? - smoothly and easily! Or as a friend said, a movement caused by an addition of moral fiber.

Old Ma Badger was trying to hang onto the old ways, habits, and addictions because She never lets loose of anything, that's what I think was happening. And some part of me apparently was - refusing to bend!

Just a magical lab report -

Rita said...

Just finished reading _Apocalypse Not_. Great explanation of the meme. Was reminded of C. P. Cavafy's poem "Waiting for the Barbarians." . . . some people have arrived from the frontier;/
They say there are no Barbarians any more./ And now what will become of us without Barbarians?--/Those people were some sort of a solution." trans by J. Mavrogordato

Philip Carr-Gomm said...

Thank you JMG for this superb piece!