Tagritual

On Adaptable Modes of Thought

This piece originally appeared at A Future Worth Thinking About

-Human Dignity-

The other day I got a CFP for “the future of human dignity,” and it set me down a path thinking.

We’re worried about shit like mythical robots that can somehow simultaneously enslave us and steal the shitty low paying jobs we none of us want to but all of us have to have so we can pay off the debt we accrued to get the education we were told would be necessary to get those jobs, while other folks starve and die of exposure in a world that is just chock full of food and houses…

About shit like how we can better regulate the conflated monster of human trafficking and every kind of sex work, when human beings are doing the best they can to direct their own lives—to live and feed themselves and their kids on their own terms—without being enslaved and exploited…

About, fundamentally, how to make reactionary laws to “protect” the dignity of those of us whose situations the vast majority of us have not worked to fully appreciate or understand, while we all just struggle to not get: shot by those who claim to protect us, willfully misdiagnosed by those who claim to heal us, or generally oppressed by the system that’s supposed to enrich and uplift us…

…but no, we want to talk about the future of human dignity?

Louisiana’s drowning, Missouri’s on literal fire, Baltimore is almost certainly under some ancient mummy-based curse placed upon it by the angry ghost of Edgar Allan Poe, and that’s just in the One Country.

Motherfucker, human dignity ain’t got a Past or a Present, so how about let’s reckon with that before we wax poetically philosophical about its Future.

I mean, it’s great that folks at Google are finally starting to realise that making sure the composition of their teams represents a variety of lived experiences is a good thing. But now the questions are, 1) do they understand that it’s not about tokenism, but about being sure that we are truly incorporating those who were previously least likely to be incorporated, and 2) what are we going to do to not only specifically and actively work to change that, but also PUBLICIZE THAT WE NEED TO?

These are the kinds of things I mean when I say, “I’m not so much scared of/worried about AI as I am about the humans who create and teach them.”

There’s a recent opinion piece at the Washington Post, titled “Why perceived inequality leads people to resist innovation,”. I read something like that and I think… Right, but… that perception is a shared one based on real impacts of tech in the lives of many people; impacts which are (get this) drastically unequal. We’re talking about implications across communities, nations, and the world, at an intersection with a tech industry that has a really quite disgusting history of “disruptively innovating” people right out of their homes and lives without having ever asked the affected parties about what they, y’know, NEED.

So yeah. There’s a fear of inequality in the application of technological innovation… Because there’s a history of inequality in the application of technological innovation!

This isn’t some “well aren’t all the disciplines equally at fault here,” pseudo-Kumbaya false equivalence bullshit. There are neoliberal underpinnings in the tech industry that are basically there to fuck people over. “What the market will bear” is code for, “How much can we screw people before there’s backlash? Okay so screw them exactly that much.” This model has no regard for the preexisting systemic inequalities between our communities, and even less for the idea that it (the model) will both replicate and iterate upon those inequalities. That’s what needs to be addressed, here.

Check out this piece over at Killscreen. We’ve talked about this before—about how we’re constantly being sold that we’re aiming for a post-work economy, where the internet of things and self-driving cars and the sharing economy will free us all from the mundaneness of “jobs,” all while we’re simultaneously being asked to ignore that our trajectory is gonna take us straight through and possibly land us square in a post-Worker economy, first.

Never mind that we’re still gonna expect those ex-workers to (somehow) continue to pay into capitalism, all the while.

If, for instance, either Uber’s plan for a driverless fleet or the subsequent backlash from their stable—i mean “drivers” are shocking to you, then you have managed to successfully ignore this trajectory.

Completely.

Disciplines like psychology and sociology and history and philosophy? They’re already grappling with the fears of the ones most likely to suffer said inequality, and they’re quite clear on the fact that, the ones who have so often been fucked over?

Yeah, their fears are valid.

You want to use technology to disrupt the status quo in a way that actually helps people? Here’s one example of how you do it: “Creator of chatbot that beat 160,000 parking fines now tackling homelessness.”

Until then, let’s talk about constructing a world in which we address the needs of those marginalised. Let’s talk about magick and safe spaces.

-Squaring the Circle-

Speaking of CFPs, several weeks back, I got one for a special issue of Philosophy and Technology on “Logic As Technology,” and it made me realise that Analytic Philosophy somehow hasn’t yet understood and internalised that its wholly invented language is a technology

…and then that realisation made me realise that Analytic Philosophy hasn’t understood that language as a whole is a Technology.

And this is something we’ve talked about before, right? Language as a technology, but not just any technology. It’s the foundational technology. It’s the technology on which all others are based. It’s the most efficient way we have to cram thoughts into the minds of others, share concept structures, and make the world appear and behave the way we want it to. The more languages we know, right?

We can string two or more knowns together in just the right way, and create a third, fourth, fifth known. We can create new things in the world, wholecloth, as a result of new words we make up or old words we deploy in new ways. We can make each other think and feel and believe and do things, with words, tone, stance, knowing looks. And this is because Language is, at a fundamental level, the oldest magic we have.

1528_injection_splash

Scene from the INJECTION issue #3, by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire. ©Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey.

Lewis Carroll tells us that whatever we tell each other three times is true, and many have noted that lies travel far faster than the truth, and at the crux of these truisms—the pivot point, where the power and leverage are—is Politics.

This week, much hay is being made is being made about the University of Chicago’s letter decrying Safe Spaces and Trigger Warnings. Ignoring for the moment that every definition of “safe space” and “trigger warning” put forward by their opponents tends to be a straw man of those terms, let’s just make an attempt to understand where they come from, and how we can situate them.

Trauma counseling and trauma studies are the epitome of where safe space and trigger warnings come from, and for the latter, that definition is damn near axiomatic. Triggers are about trauma. But safe space language has far more granularity than that. Microggressions are certainly damaging, but they aren’t on the same level as acute traumas. Where acute traumas are like gun shots or bomb blasts (and may indeed be those actual things), societal micragressions are more like a slow constant siege. But we still need the language of a safe spaces to discuss them—said space is something like a bunker in which to regroup, reassess, and plan for what comes next.

Now it is important to remember that there is a very big difference between “safe” and “comfortable,” and when laying out the idea of safe spaces, every social scientist I know takes great care to outline that difference.

Education is about stretching ourselves, growing and changing, and that is discomfort almost by definition. I let my students know that they will be uncomfortable in my class, because I will be challenging every assumption they have. But discomfort does not mean I’m going to countenance racism or transphobia or any other kind of bigotry.

Because the world is not a safe space, but WE CAN MAKE IT SAFER for people who are microagressed against, marginalised, assaulted, and killed for their lived identities, by letting them know not only how to work to change it, but SHOWING them through our example.

Like we’ve said, before: No, the world’s not safe, kind, or fair, and with that attitude it never will be.

So here’s the thing, and we’ll lay it out point-by-point:

A Safe Space is any realm that is marked out for the nonjudgmental expression of thoughts and feelings, in the interest of honestly assessing and working through them.

Safe Space” can mean many things, from “Safe FROM Racist/Sexist/Homophobic/Transphobic/Fatphobic/Ableist Microagressions” to “safe FOR the thorough exploration of our biases and preconceptions.” The terms of the safe space are negotiated at the marking out of them.

The terms are mutually agreed-upon by all parties. The only imposition would be, to be open to the process of expressing and thinking through oppressive conceptual structures.

Everything else—such as whether to address those structures as they exist in ourselves (internalised oppressions), in others (aggressions, micro- or regular sized), or both and their intersection—is negotiable.

The marking out of a Safe Space performs the necessary function, at the necessary time, defined via the particular arrangement of stakeholders, mindset, and need.

And, as researcher John Flowers notes, anyone who’s ever been in a Dojo has been in a Safe Space.

From a Religious Studies perspective, defining a safe space is essentially the same process as that of marking out a RITUAL space. For students or practitioners of any form of Magic[k], think Drawing a Circle, or Calling the Corners.

Some may balk at the analogy to the occult, thinking that it cheapens something important about our discourse, but look: Here’s another way we know that magick is alive and well in our everyday lives:

If they could, a not-insignificant number of US Republicans would overturn the Affordable Care Act and rally behind a Republican-crafted replacement (RCR). However, because the ACA has done so very much good for so many, it’s likely that the only RCR that would have enough support to pass would be one that looked almost identical to the ACA. The only material difference would be that it didn’t have President Obama’s name on it—which is to say, it wouldn’t be associated with him, anymore, since his name isn’t actually on the ACA.

The only reason people think of the ACA as “Obamacare” is because US Republicans worked so hard to make that name stick, and now that it has been widely considered a triumph, they’ve been working just as hard to get his name away from it. And if they did mange to achieve that, it would only be true due to some arcane ritual bullshit. And yet…

If they managed it, it would be touted as a “Crushing defeat for President Obama’s signature legislation.” It would have lasting impacts on the world. People would be emboldened, others defeated, and new laws, social rules, and behaviours would be undertaken, all because someone’s name got removed from a thing in just the right way.

And that’s Magick.

The work we do in thinking about the future sometimes requires us to think about things from what stuffy assholes in the 19th century liked to call a “primitive” perspective. They believed in a kind of evolutionary anthropological categorization of human belief, one in which all societies move from “primitive” beliefs like magic through moderate belief in religion, all the way to sainted perfect rational science. In the contemporary Religious Studies, this evolutionary model is widely understood to be bullshit.

We still believe in magic, we just call it different things. The concept structures of sympathy and contagion are still at play, here, the ritual formulae of word and tone and emotion and gesture all still work when you call them political strategy and marketing and branding. They’re all still ritual constructions designed to make you think and behave differently. They’re all still causing spooky action at a distance. They’re still magic.

The world still moves on communicated concept structure. It still turns on the dissemination of the will. If I can make you perceive what I want you to perceive, believe what I want you to believe, move how I want you to move, then you’ll remake the world, for me, if I get it right. And I know that you want to get it right. So you have to be willing to understand that this is magic.

It’s not rationalism.

It’s not scientism.

It’s not as simple as psychology or poll numbers or fear or hatred or aspirational belief causing people to vote against their interests. It’s not that simple at all. It’s as complicated as all of them, together, each part resonating with the others to create a vastly complex whole. It’s a living, breathing thing that makes us think not just “this is a thing we think” but “this is what we are.” And if you can do that—if you can accept the tools and the principles of magic, deploy the symbolic resonance of dreamlogic and ritual—then you might be able to pull this off.

But, in the West, part of us will always balk at the idea that the Rational won’t win out. That the clearer, more logical thought doesn’t always save us. But you have to remember: Logic is a technology. Logic is a tool. Logic is the application of one specific kind of thinking, over and over again, showing a kind of result that we convinced one another we preferred to other processes. It’s not inscribed on the atoms of the universe. It is one kind of language. And it may not be the one most appropriate for the task at hand.

Put it this way: When you’re in Zimbabwe, will you default to speaking Chinese? Of course not. So why would we default to mere Rationalism, when we’re clearly in a land that speaks a different dialect?

We need spells and amulets, charms and warded spaces; we need sorcerers of the people to heal and undo the hexes being woven around us all.

-Curious Alchemy-

Ultimately, the rigidity of our thinking, and our inability to adapt has lead us to be surprised by too much that we wanted to believe could never have come to pass. We want to call all of this “unprecedented,” when the truth of the matter is, we carved this precedent out every day for hundreds of years, and the ability to think in weird paths is what will define those who thrive.

If we are going to do the work of creating a world in which we understand what’s going on, and can do the work to attend to it, then we need to think about magic.


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Video of “Under Its Spell: Magic, Machines, and Metaphors”

This video is from Theorizing the Web 2015, which was a fairly momentous weekend in the existence of Technoccult. A wide-ranging conversation about Magick, Technology, Labour, Work, Knowledge, Science, Ritual Initiation, Police Surveillance, and much more.

Starting at right around 44:30 Karen Gregory predicts the recent K-HOLE/ELLE/Vanity Fair/Capitalist Co-opting of Chaos Magick.

 

Presider: Melissa Gira Grant (@melissagira)

Hashtag Moderator: Anna Jobin (@annajobin)

Panelists:
Karen Gregory (@claudiakincaid)
Damien Williams (@wolven)
Debbie Chachra (@debcha)

Panel organized by Ingrid Burrington (@lifewinning)

Alejandro Jodorowsky Leads Group Psychomagic Ritual for Casualties of the War on Drugs

Psychomagic

Alejandro Jodorowsky made a rare public appearance in Mexico City to lead a group psychomagic ritual with over 3,000 participants:

It was billed as “the first act of collective psycho-magic in Mexico.”

The call made by the cult mystic Alejandro Jodorowsky said the event would seek to “heal” the country of the cosmic weight of so many dead in the drug war, by gathering for something he called the March of the Skulls.

On Sunday, on a wet and frigid morning in this mountain capital, hundreds of Jodorowsky fans answered the open convocation (video link in Spanish).

They donned black top hats and black shawls, and carried canes and Mexican flags colored in black. They wore calavera face paint or masks to give themselves the look of stylish skeletons gathered in this often-surreal city in the name of Mexico’s tens of thousands of sometimes nameless drug war dead.

LA Times Blog: Cult mystic holds ‘march of skulls’ for Mexico’s drug war dead

Update: You can find a collection of links to more pictures here.

(Thanks Trevor!)

Visiting New Guinea Cannibals, Corpse-Eating Hindus

“Australian-born adventure writer Paul Raffaele doesn’t let a little danger stand in the way of a good story. In the course of his career, he has reported on modern-day slavery, dived with great white sharks and accompanied Afghan police into illegal poppy fields.

Now, in his weirdly compelling book, “Among the Cannibals: Adventures on the Trail of Man’s Darkest Ritual,” Raffaele, 64, who writes for Smithsonian magazine, intrepidly makes contact with 21st-century man-eaters. The author, who is recuperating from shrapnel wounds suffered on assignment during a suicide bombing attack in Afghanistan, spoke to me by telephone from his hotel in New York.

Schatz: Why do the Korawai in Papua New Guinea practice cannibalism?

Raffaele: They do not see it as they are eating human beings. I see it as a Stone-Age rationalization of disease that kills you, and you don’t really know why…. What they’ve come up with is this monster from the other world called a khakhua. He comes into the clan, and he inhabits the body of someone they know. And then begins to magically eat the insides of another clan member who eventually dies. And when he dies, the Korawai have to find the khakhua who killed him, so they search about and eventually come up with the khakhua and kill that person and eat that person. They have to get revenge against the khakhua.”

(via Bloomberg.com)

(Related: documentary on the Aghori sect in India-“Sadhus: India’s Holy Men” and “Cannibalism May Have Wiped Out Neanderthals”)

“Myth and Ritual”

“Myth is commonly taken to be words, often in the form of a story. A myth is read or heard. It says something. Yet there is an approach to myth that deems this view of myth artificial. According to the myth and ritual, or myth-ritualist, theory, myth does not stand by itself but is tied to ritual. Myth is no just a statement but an action. The least compromising form of the theory maintains that all myths have accompanying rituals and all rituals accompanying myths. In tamer versions some myths may flourish without rituals or some rituals without myths. Alternately, myths and rituals may originally operate together but subsequently go their separate ways. Or myths and rituals may arise separately but subsequently coalesce. Whatever the tie between myth and ritual, the myth-ritualist theory differs from other theories of myth and from other theories of ritual in focusing on the tie.”

(via Mythic Passages/Mythic Imagination Institute)

Get Into Trance: Felicitas Goodman

Among the current onslaught of info on the web about scientific studies on meditation, I found this interesting post by Greg Downey about the late anthropologist Felicitas Goodman and her studies on altered states:

“Some readers may have thought I was doing my little anthropologist’s quibble with the research on gene expression in meditation in Relax your genes, when I wrote, ?I’d be surprised if variations in these techniques (such as those that use chanting or movement, for example) had no effect at all on the resulting neural, cellular, and perhaps even genetic processes.’ Some of you might have thought to yourselves, ?Sure, Greg, you always say stuff like that – you’re paid to say stuff like that as an anthropologist.’ But one of the things I was thinking about was the work of the late anthropologist, Felicitas Goodman, which I hadn’t really discussed at all on Neuroanthorpology.

I stumbled across the webpages for the Felicitas Goodman Institut (the page is in German), and the English discussion of her work, Ritual Body Postures and Ecstatic Trance, by Nana Nauwald, and the webpage for The Cuyamungue Institute, which Goodman founded, this morning. A bit of searching turned up an interview with Prof. Goodman at Conversations for Exploration.

Goodman’s own biography is pretty fascinating; she didn’t do her PhD in anthropology until she was in her 50s, already a veteran German professor at Ohio State where she emigrated after leaving Germany with an American husband (Glenn). She went on to teach anthropology at Denison University (Ohio), and is best known for her contributions to the study of ecstatic states, including trance and glossalalia (speaking in tongues). She wrote a number of works, including Where the Spirits Ride the Wind: Trance Journeys and Other Ecstatic Experiences and Speaking in Tongues: A Cross-Cultural Study of Glossolalia (now out in a new edition, according to Amazon). After falling in love with the area around Santa Fe, Goodman helped to found The Cuyamungue Institute in New Mexico, which, according to the institute’s website, ?continues her research into altered states of consciousness and holds workshops about the postures which she admits are but one door to alternate reality.'”

(via Neuroanthropology)

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