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critique of the invisibles

from Philip Sandifer’s Pop Between Realities, Home in Time for Tea 52 (The Invisibles):

So. Chaos Magic. The typical start date of chaos magic as an occult system and worldview is 1976, in a meeting between Peter J. Carroll and Ray Sherwin, but if you want to give it a date of public appearance you’d have to pick 1978 and the publication of Liber Null. It’s important to sort out what was going on here, and this requires flipping back in our playbook a bit because we haven’t actually dealt seriously with the evolution of modern occultism since about The Daemons. The signposts for this blog being what they are, Chaos Magic was invented in the Tom Baker era right around the transition from Hinchcliffe to Williams. It is, at least in its basic form, occultism’s reaction to punk. Where previous magical approaches focused on reinventing or subverting existing structures and traditions, chaos magic’s basic attitude was “fuck it.” Its core belief is that magic is simply the exertion of will upon reality, and that the trappings of magic are just there to shape what one believes in and thus what one can will. The core chaos magic belief is that of “consensus reality,” the default order of things that persists because we all believe it to be so, and the chaos magician’s basic tactic and maneuver is to defy consensus reality by imposing their own beliefs on the world, often changing their beliefs to fit the circumstances.
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But there’s a more fundamental problem that gets at the nature of chaos magic as a worldview. It is, ultimately, a worldview based on a radical individualism. In one regard it seems the perfect counterpart to the sort of hedonism implied by The Scarlet Empress, but there is far more to it. Central to chaos magic is the idea of imposing one’s will upon the world. However much one rejigs it to be about changes in perception and internal consciousness, the crux of it is still an immensely practical sort of magic that’s focused heavily on the idea that it is, in fact, possible to alter the world through the exertion of one’s will. It’s magic with a single-minded goal of doing things.

Which is to say that in hindsight chaos magic fits perfectly into the narrative of the nineties that has in hindsight proved so disastrous: the “third way” liberalism of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair that took for granted that it was possible to achieve meaningful social justice while fawning obsequiously at the feet of the most powerful people in the world. While it is largely a given that any attempt at radical reform of political institutions will swiftly be watered down and compromised, the triangulating leftism of the 1990s made the somewhat astonishing decision to sell our the possibility of major social change as its opening gambit, foreclosing on the possibility of revolution first and trying to bring one about second. In hindsight we can look at the consequences of the neoliberal consensus – a massively expanded wealth gap, a financial sector that can crash the global economy on the back of what is in practice little more than a terribly complex version of video poker and see no significant regulation in exchange, and all that good stuff.

No, of course Grant Morrison didn’t cause the financial crash. But as a form of radicalism, the one he spells out is fundamentally and irretrievably complicit in it. Chaos magic is magic for libertarians. It sprung up, unsurprisingly, in the late nineties because it was a flavor particularly suitable for the techno-libertarians who disproportionately dominated the early Internet. And it was, in hindsight, a complete and utter bust. It’s just another flavor of the Heinlein-style science fiction that animated Babylon 5 and space opera in general. It amounts to Robert Heinlein in fetish gear, which is mostly just redundant.

well worth reading in its entirety, including the discussion in the comments

hat tip to Technoccult’s Critique of the Invisibles

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