Moving between Animist & Panentheist, Druid & Heathen, Bard & Philosopher, Anarchist & Autonomist, James Lindenschmidt has embraced the word “Pagan” for more than twenty years. He feeds his spirit by bonding with his ecosystem, and learning to work with it in better and better relationship. He views fermentation as a devotional practice, with mead being the highest alchemical expression of an ecosystem. Read more at http://www.jameslindenschmidt.com.
“In an age where we are confounded with rampant materialism, where our lives seem dictated to us by machines and prior programs, what does it mean to live magically?
You and I exist in a world beyond the divine right of kings. For hundreds of years, just wearing a crown made you someone chosen by God, and here we are, us moderns, looking at something like that and thinking, hmm, what an anachronism. Where do you think that came from? Do you think people just woke up one day and said, “well, you know, kings, fuck em.” No. It took people thinking magically. It took people imagining a world beyond…. and not knowing how it was going to manifest itself. Isn’t that what we do?”
Episode 4 begins with the sound of my favorite natural spring in the world, and it flows throughout this episode. Music is provided by Eddy Dyer, recorded at a recent benefit concert in Maine. Eddy’s guitar graces most of this episode, and he plays a medley of “Under The City” (music by Jimmy Otis, lyrics by Eddy Dyer), followed by a Cure cover, “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep” (Smith/Gallup/Thompson/Tolhurst/Williams).
“Under the city lies a world beyond the pale
There is no sacred thing on this side of the veil
Under the city I’ll be hiding from the drones
Preaching my visions on a rusty megaphone”
In addition, we have a sermon from Dr. Bones, and a meditation on Dreams, Enchantment, and Living Magically from C.S. Thompson.
“This is the difference between being an enchanter, and being a person who is under an enchantment. We tend to think of the world around us as being disenchanted because we’ve been enchanted to think that way.”
Thanks to the spirits of the spring for their song, to Eddy for his enchantment, and to Dr Bones & C.S. Thompson for their wisdom.
“I remember the very first time I went into the prison. You go through the front gate which is all barbed wire, which is weird. Then you go through these series of portals, of gates that make these gigantic clanging noises when they lock, it’s really just totally unsettling. By the time you finally get out into the population you’re completely unnerved already.
But then I got out into the main yard, a little nervous of course, and I start looking around. I’m looking at all these guys, looking them in the face, in the eyes. I realized, these are just a bunch of Mainers. These are the guys I grew up with. They’re just people who screwed up, and most of them should not be prison. The fear immediately disappeared.”
“This is the power of the state elevated to godhood.”
“We’re number one in prisoners.
By every measure the U.S. leads the world in prisoners, with 2.2 million people in jail and more than 4.8 million on parole. No nation tops that – not China with 1.7 million, not Russia with 670,000. We not only have the highest number of prisoners, we have the highest percentage of people in prison or jail. In the U.S., 702 of every 100,000 people were in prison or jail in 2013. Cuba has 510 per 100,000 people in prison, Russia has 467, and Iran has 290.
Black and Latino Americans have been especially hard hit: they form over 39 percent of the prison population. One in every three black men is expected to serve time during their lives (at least under our current criminal justice system). Approximately half of all inmates are there for violating drug prohibition laws.
How is it that America, supposedly the beacon of freedom and democracy for the rest of the world, has more prisoners than any police state?”
“If you don’t want to reach out to somebody in prison, work on building the pagan community…. period.”
Thanks to Alban Artur, Kevin Emmons, and Janine Marie for their insights and experiences. Thanks to Dr. Bones for the rant. Thanks to the Order Of Maine Druidry for playing the community drum and holding space. Thanks to the weather gods for the rain transitioning into snow. Background music and rhythm programming by James Lindenschmidt.
“There’s something about winter that… a lot of revolts, a lot of insurrections, have happened in the winter months when a lot of the external distractions of the difficulties of society have gone away. Everybody is in enclosed spaces, it’s cold, and it’s raw. Life is raw. We start to see the real conditions of life and we become restless & discontent.”
In episode 2, our own managing punk anarchist druid editor, Rhyd Wildermuth, tells the story of the origin of Gods & Radicals, and walks us through a detailed preview of A Beautiful Resistance, the upcoming print journal that will be shipping very soon.
“Every day I will think about polar bears. There’s just no doubt about it.”
In July 2013, Matt Dyer, a Pagan poverty lawyer, was attacked and nearly killed by a polar bear in Torngat Mountain National Park in Labrador. Increasingly, polar bears are roaming further and further south in search of food, as climate change has severely disrupted the arctic ecosystem. Matt tells his story, along with percussion, violin, and forest sounds, in Episode 1 of this podcast.
“We had an electric fence we set up, that was supposed to keep the bears from getting in. High voltage. We were all asleep, 7 of us, and sometime in the middle of the night I woke up, and above my tent I saw the silhouette of bear legs. Two of them. I knew right then it was trouble. I started hollering, and down the bear came, got his teeth around my head, and just ripped me out of that tent, right through the fabric, and off we went.”
Even before the throat injuries from the attack changed his voice, I always told Matt I might get him to do a voiceover recording someday when the narrative called for an authentic Maine accent. Now with the raspiness his voice has, I may still do this at some point. He’s a great example of a softspoken person, who uses the power of his voice with great precision as a self-described “poverty lawyer,” helping very-low-income folks fight for their legal rights in civil cases.
The most difficult part of Matt’s recovery was psychological, coming to terms with the aftermath of this most extraordinary event while under the influence of the strong drugs he had been given while recovering.
“I was in a coma for maybe a week, two weeks, I don’t know. I would occasionally come out of it, but I was not out of it. I was in strange places. I had a terrifying hallucination that I was in a bar in Miami, imprisoned and made to dress up like a mermaid and serve drinks to people. It was not funny at the time. I was completely convinced that this was reality. That was so much worse than the encounter with the bear.”
For Matt, this experience changed the way he relates to people, drawing the line between alternate realities and experiences of realities, whether a near-death experience like his, shamanic experiences, or psychedelic experiences.
“It gave me great insight how hurt people are when they are in my office telling me the government has put implants in their heads. I don’t relate to those people the same way now, because I know that for them it is very real and very terrifying. it may be that what they see is an alternate reality but as a society we are not equipped to have any kind of meaningful communication with people that are walking that road.”
A year after the attack, Matt returned to the park, with a film crew accompanying him to document his experience. His interaction with the Innuit locals was informed by his experiences as a pagan.
“The old Innuit religion prior to Christianity… they did have a shaman-based religion but it seems like they’ve forgotten how it worked. I asked them, because I’m interested in this stuff. I was involved in Heathenry for a while, reconstructionism is very important, so I was wondering if these folks ever thought of that. There didn’t seem to be a whole lot of interest but they knew that there were old ways that were shamanistic. They held the polar bear in high regard, they thought he was a man who put on the skins of the bear and could take it off again.”
We talked about edgewalkers, those members of the tribe who can go to the extreme edges of reality and come back with messages for the tribe. I asked him if he ever thinks about his experience in this way.
“I don’t have any training in any tradition or anything like that, but I did get nearly killed by a large animal. I guess the message I would bring back, and it may have been the same message had I not been hurt or if I hadn’t gone, is we are all animals. There is not a whole lot of space between you and I, the bear, the dog, the hawk, and I think it’s important to have this brotherhood and sisterhood, and also realize that life and death are so much a part of each other…. We eat things, bears eat things. We convert life to life in this absolutely amazing cycle, this dance that’s been going on and on and on from the time that the stars were born. It’s very humbling, and also comforting, to know that maybe there is no greater role for one; just living and being able to experience a life that we have in knowing that it’s transitory but don’t freak out about that. It’s continuing to go on forever.”
Thanks to Matt Dyer for the story; Alfred Lund for the percussion; Carson Lynch for the violin; various Maine woodland creatures, particularly the barred owls, for the forest sounds. Campfire by James Lindenschmidt, using a ferro rod, birch bark, and dry pine.
It is no great surprise to me that Silvia Federici‘s book Caliban & The Witch has gained so much traction in the Pagan community in recent years. When I first read the book more than a decade ago, I knew it would be important for Pagans, simply because it told our story, our history, from the most complete and insightful historical and theoretical perspective I had ever seen. I am on record as saying it is the most important political book yet written in the 21st century, since it deals with the story of the transition to capitalism, with all the violence, blood, fire, and greed that accompanied and forced the transition. But since I have been a Pagan for nearly 30 years, I tended to see the subject matter less in terms of the transition to capitalism, but rather more in terms of the final transition away from Paganism, in the multitude and myriad of ways various paganisms were expressed before they were crushed and assimilated into the new mechanistic worldview of capitalism.
But Silvia Federici is not a ‘Pagan,’ despite the great service her work has been to our community. The context of her work, however, can be just as valuable to us as Caliban itself has been. Three or four decades before that book was published, a few groups of thinkers, writers, students, and teachers began working together. Two of them were the feminist Wages For Housework movement, as well as the Zerowork Collective. Both are worthy of investigation and further study. But by the end of the 1970s, a new group had emerged, which will be the focus of this piece.
A Brief History
History tells us that the Midnight Notes Collective began in the late 1970s with discussions between Monty Neill, Hans Widmer (aka p.m.), and George Caffentzis, with John WiIlshire Carrerra and Peter Linebaugh getting involved early on. Indeed, the membership of the Collective has been quite fluid over the years, both because people naturally tend to come and go over the years, and also because there were years when they intentionally remained anonymous to avoid overt harassment and repression form the establishment, an important strategy of self-preservation for a group demonstrating a “commitment to revolutionary possibilities.” They also wanted to avoid the “rock star” cult of personality, which was common in academia at the time. In addition to the people directly involved with Midnight Notes (including the above as well as Silvia Federici, Dan Coughlin, David Riker, Vasilis Passas, Johnny Machete, and Michaela Brennan, among others ), there were also various friends & associates over the years, including Steven Colatrella, John Roosa, Harry Cleaver, and Massimo de Angelis.
Despite the fluidity of the group, there was an important coherence to their ideas, expressed in a variety of publications over the years, starting in 1979 and running through the Reagan Years into the Bush era, all of which are now available online:
These earliest publications from Midnight Notes are worth checking out, as a great glimpse into the political climate of the Reagan/Bush years, as the transition of capitalism from Keynesianism to Neoliberalism was cemented.
After these original issues, there were several more publications, some of them book-length, from the group:
Midnight Oil: Work, Energy, War, 1973-1992(1992, Autonomedia)
This anthology is an analysis of the “energy crisis” of the 1970s, which they framed as a “work/energy crisis,” as well as a look at the evolution of capitalism in the 1980s. It contains several of their previous writings from earlier publications, namely The New Enclosures and The Work/Energy Crisis And The Apocalypse, with other articles written to fill in some of the theoretical gaps, additional analysis, and history. This book might be the best overall introduction to the thought of Midnight Notes in general. While in some ways it is dated from the 2015 point of view, it is my personal favorite analysis of the transition from Keynesianism to Neoliberalism, and broadened my understanding of today’s capitalism.
Auroras of the Zapatistas: Local & Global Struggles of the Fourth World War(2001, Autonomedia)
This book is an anthology of writing, using the Zapatista uprising in Mexico as the focal point for anti-capitalist, anti-neoliberal, and anti-globalization theory and history. Midnight Notes saw that this uprising was “a luminous crack in a clouded sky,” the first “movement that consciously pitted itself against global capital and at the same time was rooted in a territorial reality.”
Promissory Notes: From Crisis To Commons (2009)
This much shorter piece, published in 2009, is an analysis of the 2007-2008 “Great Recession” or global financial crisis. It also showed that the crisis was largely yet another “apocalypse” or evolution of capital from the neoliberalism from the 1970s through the early 2000s, and represented neoliberal “capital’s flight into financialization,” or the “attempt to ‘make money from money’ at the most abstract level of the system once making money from production no longer sufficed.”
After barraging you with so many links to their writings over the years, I will now attempt to distill their writing into a few of what I perceive to be their key ideas over nearly 40 years of writing.
3 Key Ideas
I remember when my own political outlook begin to evolve away from mainstream partisan politics in the US and toward a more radical outlook, I felt a dearth of information. Most of this was getting used to where information comes from: learning how to disengage from the received dialogues and worldview propagated by the capitalist media and the prevailing cultural outlook I grew up with in suburbia, and toward more obscure, alternative sources was a challenge. To this day, I think that truth discernment is arguably the biggest challenge facing alternative thinkers in the information age. In some ways it’s even more challenging these days, since you can encounter just about every possible viewpoint articulated somewhere on the Internet.
In the late 90s, I was lucky enough to begin studying philosophy at the University of Southern Maine, where George Caffentzis was a teacher. It was a small department, so if you hung out at the philosophy house it was easy to get to know some of the folks who taught there. I was intrigued by George’s ideas and thoughts right from the beginning. There are a lot of great teachers there, but I knew right away that I had a lot to learn from George. I remember early in my freshman year, he did a senior seminar on the philosophy of money, and being really bummed that I was nowhere near far enough along in my philosophy study to be able to take it. So I began to poke around for some of George’s writings, and before long I discovered Midnight Notes. This was in the early days of the Internet, before the writings were available online. I began to read them, and they were definitely challenging. I hadn’t yet read Marx or really any other radical political writings, and in retrospect Midnight Notes served as not only a fabulous introduction, but also an enduring foundation for my radical political thinking. I am grateful for this bit of serendipity that brought me to Maine at this point in spacetime.
Having studied Midnight Notes over the past 15 years, I think these are the most important ideas to glean from their writings:
1. Capitalist Crisis/Apocalypse Is Always About Class Struggle
This idea was first articulated in their 3rd issue: The Work/Energy Crisis & The Apocalypse, written in 1980 after the so-called “energy crisis” of the 1970s had been underway for the better part of a decade, peaking in both 1973 and 1979. I was a child in the 1970s, and I remember seeing the long lines for gasoline, complaints about OPEC and Jimmy Carter, but very little about class struggle. Interestingly, this was also the last decade where labor strikes were common, since strikes were more or less wiped out by the Reagan administration starting in 1981 when he fired the air traffic controllers who had unionized under PATCO and voted to strike. Their argument is quite detailed, but the essence of it is that
Capitalist crises stem from a refusal of work…. The term “energy crisis” is a misnomer. Energy is conserved and quantitatively immense, there can be no lack of it. The true cause of capital’s crisis in the last decade is work, or more precisely, the struggle against it. The proper name for the crisis then is the “work crisis” or, better, the “work/energy crisis.” For the problem capital faces is not the quantity of work per se, but the ratio of that work to the energy (or labor power) that creates it…. Through the noise of the apocalypse, we must see in the oil caverns, in the wisps of natural gas curling in subterranean abysses, something more familiar: the class struggle (Midnight Notes, The Work/Energy Crisis & The Apocalypse).
2. The New Enclosures
Arguably the most important insight that came from Midnight Notes’ writings is the notion of the New Enclosures. Before this insight, enclosure, or “primitive accumulation” in Marxist terminology, was largely seen as a historical artifact from the beginning of capitalist society. Midnight Notes showed that enclosures
“are not a one time process exhausted at the dawn of capitalism. They are a regular return on the path of accumulation and a structural component of class struggle. Any leap in proletarian power demands a dynamic capitalist response: both the expanded appropriation of new resources and new labor power and the extension of capitalist relations, or else capitalism is threatened with extinction.” (Midnight Oil, 318)
Midnight Notes then argued that the New Enclosures took five forms:
Ending communal control of the means of subsistence
Seizing land for debt
Make mobile & migrant labor the dominant form of labor
The collapse of socialism
Attack on our reproduction
They — both the collective itself, and several of the writers working outside the collective — have continued to develop these ideas of enclosure since then.
3. Commons & Commoning
The last idea I think is the most important to come from Midnight Notes is reclaiming the notion of the Commons and Commoning. This idea is the logical extension of their insights about Enclosure, since the Commons is the very thing that is being enclosed. These insights came later in the Midnight Notes, particularly through their admiration and analysis of the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico beginning on January 1, 1994, the day that NAFTA went into effect. Midnight Notes argues that these struggles represent
on one side, capital’s attempt to form a new level of global superstate and economy and, on the other, an anti-capitalist struggle moving from a multiplicity of localities to large-scale confrontations like the “Battle of Seattle” in late 1999. The Zapatistas have aptly named this struggle “the Fourth World War.”
Commoning is at the center of this struggle, since the commons provides subsistence for resistance, and “this power to subsist/resist is exactly what capital wants to eliminate throughout the world.” In general, and to some degree, capital is always enclosing, whereas the working class is always commoning, and commoning is central to resistance against capital.
After this all-too-brief look at the Midnight Notes Collective itself, I now want to turn to 3 new books, published by PM Press, from three of the most important voices within Midnight Notes. While George Caffentzis and Peter Linebaugh have been involved with Midnight Notes from its earliest days, it is important to note that Silvia Federici has remained a bit more aloof from the collective over the years. While she was part of the collective for a few of the later original Midnight Notes publications (namely The New Enclosures), and her writings appear in Midnight Oil and Auroras of the Zapatistas, she is not listed as a member of the collective in either of those books. While I do not pretend to be privy to the undercurrents of interpersonal dynamics and ideological differences within the group, I suspect that Silvia’s unwavering commitment to feminism is at the root of the aloofness. And I should also point out that George Caffentzis conveyed to me in a conversation that for the most part it was Midnight Notes responding to Federici’s work rather than vice versa. All three of these books are anthologies of writing from the careers of each writer, to which I now turn.
In Letters Of Blood & Fire: Work, Machines, & the Crisis Of Capitalism
Of the three, George Caffentzis is the most traditional, albeit radical, “philosopher of the anticapitalist movement.” In Letters Of Blood & Fire is divided into three sections. Part 1 is Work/Refusal, Part 2 is Machines, and Part 3 is Money, War, & Crisis. Part 1 begins with the aforementioned “The Work/Energy Crisis and the Apocalypse,” which remains foundational to much of Caffentzis’ subsequent work. These analyses contain wonderful insights, such as this analysis of the relationship between capital’s production, value, and prices:
The hand of capital is different than its mouth and its asshole. The transformation of value into prices is real, but it also causes illusions in the brains of both capitalists and workers (including you and me!). It all revolves around “mineness,” the deepest pettiness in the Maya of the system: capital appears as little machines, packets of materials, little incidents of work, all connected to us — its little agents of complaint, excuse, and hassle. Each individual capitalist complains about “my” money, each individual worker cries about “my” job, each union official complains about “my” industry; tears flow everywhere, apparently about different things, so that capitalism’s house is an eternal soap opera. “Mineness” is an essential illusion, though illusion all the same. Capital is social, as is work, and it is also as pitiless as Shiva to the complainers, whose blindness capital needs to feed itself. It no more rewards capitalists to the extent that they exploit than it rewards workers to the extent that they are exploited. There is no justice for anyone but itself.
Part 2, on Machines, is a more technical analysis of the place of machines within capitalism, and particularly within the Marxist analysis of capital. Central to his arguments is the piece from 1997, “Why Machines Cannot Create Value: Marx’s Theory of Machines,” whose argument is self-contained in the title.
Part 3 contains a very short and succinct piece, which I recommend as the briefest and most coherent introduction to Caffentzis’ work overall. “The Power of Money: Debt & Enclosure” is a very brief look at money in the human experience:
For most of human history, money either did not exist (before roughly the seventh century BC) or it was of marginal importance for most people on the planet (until roughly the nineteenth century AD). Why is it so important now?
He then articulates the “economist’s fairy tale,” which is the received story about the function of money simplifying exchange as compared to barter, as well as “lowering costs” of trade. He points out that money, too, has its transaction costs that mostly go overlooked by capitalist economists.
All in all, these writings convey Marx’s image that the story of the origins of capitalism, and its reproduction, are written “in the letters of blood and fire used to drive workers form the common lands, forests, and waters in the sixteenth century.” I highly recommend this book for readers interested in the most technical analysis of capitalism, from a detailed philosophical perspective.
Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, & Feminist Struggle
As previously stated, Silvia Federici is the feminist of these three thinkers. Revolution at Point Zero, an anthology of her work over the past 40 years, all of which explore the “zero point of revolution” which is where “new social relations first burst forth, from which countless waves ripple outward into other domains.” It, too, is divided into three parts. Part 1 is Theorizing and Politicizing Housework, containing her earlier, foundational work such as “Wages Against Housework” from 1975, as well as “Why Sexuality Is Work” and “Putting Feminism Back on Its Feet.” Part 2 is Globalization and Social Reproduction, and contains 4 essays including “Women, Globalization, and the International Women’s Movement.”
Part 3, Reproducing Commons, has her most recent work including “Feminism and the Politics of the Common in an Era of Primitive Accumulation” from 2010, which contains the powerful argument that there is an “oblivion” in “our blindness to the blood in the food we eat, the petroleum we use, the clothes we wear, the computers with which we communicate.” For Federici,
Overcoming this oblivion is where a feminist perspective teaches us to start in our reconstruction of the commons. No common is possible unless we refuse to base our life, our reproduction on the suffering of others, unless we refuse to see ourselves as separate from them. Indeed if “commoning” has any meaning, it must be the production of ourselves as a common subject. This is how we must understand the slogan “no commons without community…. community as a quality of relations, a principle of cooperation and responsibility: to each other, the earth, the forests, the seas, the animals.
Federici’s writings here concentrate on “social reproduction,” which is the ways in which society and the people in it reproduce themselves. It is the food we eat, the social relations we share outside the work environment, our basic needs down to clean water & air, shelter and clothing. All of these things are “the most labor-intensive work on earth, and to a large extent it is work that is irreducible to mechanization.” It is also work that is largely unwaged, and exists in the context of capitalist enclosure. I highly recommend this book for those interested in not only a feminist perspective, but also in very practical, day-to-day ideas about how we can be commoning and resist capital.
Stop Thief! The Commons, Enclosures, & Resistance
Finally, Peter Linebaugh is the historian and storyteller of the three. He is an engaging writer, and the stories he tells need to be heard and retold. Stop, Thief! is divided into five sections. Section 1, The Commons, is the best primer I know of to exploring what Commons & Commoning is. Start with “Some Principles of the Commons,” which is a very short introduction, showing us that the commons “is best understood as a verb,” and then “Stop, Thief! A Primer on the Commons & Commoning” fills in one’s understanding that the commons “is not a thing but a relationship” as it applies to various modes of living & knowing.
Part 2, “Charles Marks,” are some of Linebaugh’s contributions to Marxism in history. Part 3, The “UK”, are looks at English History including “Ned Ludd & Queen Mab,” which shows us that the Luddites were not technophobes but rather were cross-dressing warriors, “anonymous, avenging avatars who meted out justice that was otherwise denied.” Part 4, The “USA,” contains “Introduction to Thomas Paine” and “Meandering at the Crossroads of Communism and the Commons,” which take a look at the vast commons that existed in pre-colonialist North America. This analysis is continued in Part 5, “First Nations,” with its three essays, “The Red-Crested Bird and Black Duck”, “The Commons, the Castle, the Witch, and the Lynx,” and “The Invisibility of the Commons.”
Of the three, Linebaugh’s writing might be the most readable. I agree with Robin Kelley, who wrote about an earlier book from Linebaugh that there is “not a more important historian living today. Period.” I highly recommend this book for people who want to broaden their understanding of the Commons and Commoning, through the voice of a master storyteller, an engaging and agile writer.
The Witching Hour Legacy
These three thinkers, as well as The Midnight Notes Collective and all who have participated in it over the years, represent a vast treasure trove for anyone wishing to broaden their understanding of capitalism, crisis, resistance & class struggle, enclosure, commons/commoning, and revolutionary possibilities in the 21st century. These writers and ideas were foundational to my own development as a radical thinker and writer, and I remain grateful for their work.
I think the name of this website contains an unlikely pair, which is one of the reasons it’s one of the most interesting sites on the web for me. Indeed, I remember when Rhyd Wildermuth was conceiving of this “Pagan Anti-Capitalist website.” Of course I was very excited, since paganism and anti-capitalism are two of my favorite subjects. But I have a confession to make. When I first heard that the name of the site had been registered as GodsAndRadicals.org, I was underwhelmed. You see, I don’t identify as a polytheist, despite my appreciation and respect for polytheism. I felt the “gods” part would alienate the non-polytheist pagans who might otherwise appreciate what we are doing.
In addition, historically speaking, most radicals (such as Anarchists and Marxists) usually don’t align themselves with religions or theological points of view other than atheism. Most radical traditions emphasize materialist metaphysics, largely neglecting if not outright rejecting the realm of theology. I thought, therefore, that any mention of “gods” would be off-putting to a sizeable population of radicals who might otherwise be interested in what we are doing here.
I no longer feel this way. As an example of what I mean, I will turn to a recent critique of capitalism that has gotten quite a bit of attention in the past few weeks for further analysis.
I was really happy to see Paul Mason’s article, The End Of Capitalism Has Begun, published in The Guardian this week. Obviously that’s a major global media outlet, so any aspect of anti-capitalism getting attention in such a place is a good thing. And indeed, there is a lot to appreciate in Mason’s article. His diagnosis of the present and ongoing crisis of capitalism is solid, where in its current manifestion, “neoliberalism was the first economic model in 200 years the upswing of which was premised on the suppression of wages and smashing the social power and resilience of the working class.”
His main point is in line with what has been called “cognitive capitalism,” or the observation that the dynamics of this “new” mode of capitalism “are profoundly non-capitalist” in the sense that, rather than facilitating production, capitalism seems to get in its own way in these new modalities of production. While there is definitely some truth & insight in these arguments, there are several critiques of Mason’s position. One is our own Sean Donahue, pointing out that Mason’s view of how feudalism transitioned into capitalism is flawed. While it’s true that there was a labor shortage brought about by the Black Plague, which therefore tipped the balance of power more in favor of the feudal working class, early capitalists via their Enclosure movements and looting wealth from the new world were able to manipulate these circumstances to their advantage:
“People were driven out of their communities and into the cities as communal land was forcibly seized and privatized and sold to people who had become wealthy as a result of Spain paying back its debts to British and other Western European creditors with gold and silver looted from the Americas… created not a shortage, but an abundance of available labor, which provided the workforce for British industrialization.”
In addition, George Caffentzis offers up critiques of the “cognitive capitalism” ideology in his book In Letters Of Blood And Fire, specifically the chapters “A Critique Of ‘Cognitive Capitalism’ ” and “Why Machines Cannot Create Value: Marx’s Theory Of Machines.” I won’t fully reproduce his detailed arguments here, but the essence of it is that theorists of cognitive capitalism underestimate Enclosure, ie, these “theorists’ argument concerning the withdrawal of capitalists from the production process does not quite reach its conclusion unless the very transformation process by which capitalism becomes itself is jettisoned” (Caffentzis 120).
Mason rightly learns from the Free software movement, which he refers to as the Open Source model, and calls for this methodology/philosophy to be expanded to other areas:
“If I could summon one thing into existence for free it would be a global institution that modelled capitalism correctly: an open source model of the whole economy; official, grey and black. Every experiment run through it would enrich it; it would be open source and with as many datapoints as the most complex climate models.”
I can understand his enthusiasm. I’ve been an advocate of Free software (I prefer this term to Open Source software, which was conceived basically as a way to market Free software to businesses by de-emphasizing the political & social benefits and emphasizing the practical methodology of developing software in the context of freedom) since I discovered it in the late 1990s. In 2000, when I was excited about the broader social implications of the Free Software movement, I wrote that Free software
“represents a test drive in a post-scarcity environment. Similarly, it can be seen as a socioeconomic experiment of global scale and with global repercussions. This experiment, as the next phase in the Information Revolution, will require us to ask new questions: How should economies be structured? Is it acceptable to put private profit ahead of public well-being? Is cooperative technical innovation scalable to areas outside of software development? The Free [software] social experiment will make answers to these questions clearer, provided we are wise enough to use the data we gather from this phase of the Information Revolution to decide how to invent our future.”
But by 2004, after I had come to understand Enclosure & The Commons more fully, my optimism had faded somewhat, as I expressed in The Virtual Enclosures:
“But the virtual commons is being enclosed; this enclosure will have a similar effect in both brutality and scope to the previous enclosure movements in history. The virtual enclosures threaten the very existence of the Internet as we know it, along with a person’s ability to access his or her data on his or her computer. We are moving into a future where … ownership of virtually all works created on computers will be controlled by software corporations, alienating the creative person from their creations; where advancing technologies will allow corporate interests to conduct pre-emptive strikes against all possible copyright violations; where ultimately, the mere thinking of certain copyrighted ideas will transform the thinker into a criminal.”
Indeed, we have seen these predictions come to pass in the past decade-plus, and I think that Mason underestimates the power of capitalism to adapt and impose itself onto any competing modality of production. We must not forget that Karl Marx believed the end of capitalism was imminent…. when he was writing in the mid-1800s. It has been the unfortunate oversight of many an anti-capitalist thinker or activist since then to continually underestimate capitalism’s ability to navigate each apocalypse that comes along, and ultimately turn the situation to its advantage by expanding its ability to exploit, enclose, and accumulate.
What Comes After?
Yet, my biggest critique of Mason’s work is the vagueness with which he talks about what will come after capitalism. He calls it, simply, “postcapitalism,” and does not talk much about what production will look like in this world:
“Capitalism, it turns out, will not be abolished by forced-march techniques. It will be abolished by creating something more dynamic that exists, at first, almost unseen within the old system, but which will break through, reshaping the economy around new values and behaviours. I call this postcapitalism.”
He then lists 3 changes brought about by information technology that, he believes, will facilitate the change. But he doesn’t talk much about the capitalist infrastructures in place, upon which these changes depend. Will the smartphone used by his “educated and connected human beings” be manufactured in a factory with suicide nets around it, to prevent workers from ending their misery? Will the environmental destruction from rare earth mining, which provides the raw materials for these technological commodities, continue under postcapitalism?
Imagination, Will, Reality
“The future exists first in imagination, then in will, then in reality.”
— Barbara Marx Hubbard
“In order to transform the world, it is necessary to see that transformation is possible, to move beyond the world in its “givenness,” recognizing the forces and limitations that constitute it as such. Humanity cannot do what it cannot imagine that it can do.”
— Jason Read, “Towards a Bestiary of the Capitalist Imagination”
It is precisely in imagining our future where, in my estimation, the gods are of primary importance. I will not presume to define “gods” in this article, for several reasons. Each person will have to define gods for themselves, in their own terms, so if I commit to a single definition here I am sure to alienate most of my readers. I will say that my own conception is between, inclusive of, and broader than both the polytheist definition where gods are literal enduring personalities we can encounter in our lives, with coherent personalities, wills, and ideas of their own, and the atheist/skeptical conception that gods are fantasy & delusion. I can navigate this apparent contradiction via consciousness. A few months ago, I wrote that
I don’t experience relationship with gods that manifest as coherent personalities. I’ve tried, and I haven’t given up that it may happen someday. I’d love that (at least I think I would….. as more than one of you have pointed out to me). I’ve spent a lot of time over the years, in meditation, in devotion, in prayer. I’ve burned candles, incense, and bonfires, sitting in contemplation, in service, honoring them, learning about their stories, their personalities. I give regular offerings, mindfully, “from the gods to the earth to us, from us to the earth to the gods, a gift for a gift.” And for me, it’s all just energy.
I realize that this paragraph was, in a sense, an invocation, or at the very least an invitation. Be careful what you wish for, right?
The point is, in order to re-enchant the world, we need to be open to these experiences, these presences, even if we don’t quite believe they are real. The world is bigger than the mechanistic, reductionist viewpoint upon which capitalism depends, and a willingness to see beyond our set of comfortable ideas — which may or may not include gods — is necessary. We must, at the very least, be open to the possibility of relationship with something larger than ourselves. Gnosis will be at the heart of the transformation away from capitalism, opening up the possibility that it doesn’t transform into something just as as oppressive and destructive, if not more so. When we are in better relationship with the world and everything in it, from our ecosystems to the creatures in it, from the memory of the ancestors lingering in every place to the land wights and nature spirits who dwell there, we will be more apt to protect the incredible gift of life on this planet. The experiences we have when we are out looking for gods inspire our imagination, clarify our will, and help us create a better reality.
“Most people can find in their genealogy or in their own lives some point when their ancestors or they themselves were forced from lands and social relations that provided subsistence without having to sell either one’s products or oneself, i.e., they suffered Enclosure. Without these moments of force, money would have remained a marginal aspect of human history. These moments were mostly of brutal violence, sometimes quick (with bombs, cannon, musket or whip), sometimes slower (with famine, deepening penury, plague), which led to the terrorized flight from the land, from the burnt-out village, from the street full of starving or plague-ridden bodies, to slave ships, to reservations, to factories, to plantations. This flight ended with “producers becoming more dependent on exchange” since they had no other way to survive but by either selling their products or selling themselves or being sold. Thus did “exchange become more independent of them,” its transcendental power arising from the unreversed violence that drove “everyone” into the monetary system.”
George Caffentzis, “The Power Of Money: Debt and Enclosure,”In Letters Of Blood & Fire
It is spring, 1870. My great-grandfather, Mons Olsen Fuglie, then an 8 1/2 year old boy, left his ancestral home in Valdres, Norway, traveling south to Kristiana (what had been, and is now, called Oslo). He boarded the Argonault under the command of Captain S.W. Flood, bound from Kristiana to land in Quebec, before continuing the journey to their new life in Minnesota. The journey across the Atlantic took two months, with 237 passengers aboard a ship whose length was 147.5 feet and beam 29 feet, depth of 11 feet. With Mons were his 3 siblings, his mother Ambjor Monsdatter and his father Ole Arneson. Pre-industrial transatlantic travel was grueling, so much so that Ole was weakened from the journey and collapsed, 25 days after landing in Minnesota, dying of what they called heat stroke. My great-grandfather thus grew up on a new continent, in a new ecosystem, in a place with new languages, without his father.
When I was growing up in a midwestern middle class suburbia of the 70s and 80s, I don’t remember hearing much about displacement. When we did, it was usually in the context of studying the standardized, whitewashed account of slavery in the Americas, where African people were kidnapped from their homelands, taken against their will in slave ships across the Atlantic, and inserted into the capitalist system as slaves. In one sense, I was lucky that my high school had a good racial mixture of people. European-Americans like myself were the majority, but there were a lot of African-Americans and Asian-Americans as well. Despite an interest in my genealogy as a child, I never thought much about displacement as it applies to my own life and ancestry until the past decade or two. It is no accident that I have also spent this time cultivating my connection with place, as part of my spiritual practice.
It is also no accident that this spiritual connection with place was developed around the same time I moved to Maine. Maine is an extraordinary place, with some astounding ecosystems and nature spirits. I have an ocean, beaches (both sandy and rocky), marshlands, mountains, rivers, forests, springs, small cities, lakes, ponds, parks, trails, and farms all well within an hour’s drive of my home. I have spent more time in nature in the 1/3 of my life in Maine than all the other places I have lived or visited combined. I have slowly picked up a rudimentary knowledge of the ecosystem, learning to identify plants, trees, animal tracks, scat, game trails, and geological formations. I find it fascinating, but despite all I’ve learned I know that my knowledge is dwarfed by the knowledge any child who has seen 8 summers in an indigenous culture with an ancestral connection to place would have. Despite my increasing comfort level with the ecosystem here in Maine, I know and recognize that I am “from away” (in the local parlance). As beautiful as Maine is, and as much as I love “my” 2 acres of it, I know that on some level — the most primal, ancestral level — that I don’t really belong here. I have no doubt that the Arossagunticook people who lived here for hundreds of generations prior to the arrival of the Europeans would concur.
Maine is also as close as I can get to my ancestral homelands without leaving the US. I’m sure the fact that I ended up here is a coincidence. Of course.
Valdres Roots & Husfolk
“The visitor to Valdres … by traversing its whole length between Spirilen and the wilds where Sogn meets Gudbrandsdalen, with excursions into the many spots of beauty or grandeur on either side, … has the opportunity of seeing some of the best that is to be found of a practically all elements of scenic attractions that Norway offers the sightseer anywhere, and he will understand why the native of Valdres thinks his Valley the most beautiful region of all the old Fatherland.”
Andrew A. Veblen, Book of Valdris, p 19
For dozens of generations, my Norwegian ancestors were Husfolk — “land tenants” who subsisted in mostly feudal arrangements with the landed lords — in Valdres, a fogderi (county) in southern, central Norway, just south of the Jotunheimen mountains. From 1750-1850, the population of Norway doubled, from about 700,000 to 1.4 million. This was the period of Enclosure in Norway, which drove my ancestors from their subsistence on the land, and destroyed the ancestral link they had with it. Much of the potential farmland, that had lain uncultivated and intact since the Black Plague in the 1300s, was enclosed as private property. For the Husfolk, this gave them fewer options; since they didn’t own land and had no way to buy it, they could only be subsumed within the labor exploitation of capitalism. Yet, industry hadn’t really come to Norway, certainly not to the Valdres valley away from the cities. As a result of the lack of “opportunity” in Norway, 900,000 Norwegians emigrated to America between 1825-1914, such that by 1920, there were more people in America descendent from Valdres than there were people left in Valdres.
One can therefore see the appeal for the landless Norwegians to emigrate to America, particularly in post-slavery America, the land of “manifest destiny,” provided that the Europeans were courageous (or desperate) enough to risk the frontier, in its wildness and with the last remaining packets of resistance from the Indigenous peoples of the continent protecting their ancestral claims to the land. My ancestors, therefore, left Norway for both sides of the capitalist enclosure coin. Norway had been completely enclosed, and there were too many people there without land rights struggling to eke out a living. On the other hand, in the so-called New World (or if you prefer, Turtle Island), enclosure hadn’t yet begun if you went far enough west, where there remained millions of acres of fertile land and far fewer Europeans to claim them. So while my ancestors were being pushed out of Norway, they were also being pulled toward Minnesota.
Blood Roots & Mud Roots
“The ancestors are such an important part of our spiritual tradition. When we call to our ancestors in ritual and prayers, we may be asking for specific guidance from those who are conscious of our existence and coherent in their form, but perhaps more poignantly we are waking our own perception to their unceasing presence. We speak of their stories humming in our blood and bones, and this is true in terms of our genetic inheritance, yet felt too in the sense of their presence being everywhere. We speak of the breath we breathe having been breathed by our ancestors, and in this too we accept the practical logic of our globe’s one body of air, yet also in the poetry and omnipresence of their consciousness.”
Emma Restall-Orr, Living Druidry, p 204-5.
I never knew my grandfather, Milton. Cancer claimed him long before I was born, when my mother was 12. Mons, Milton’s father, also died when Milton was a child, having been kicked by a horse. So along with Ole, who died shortly after arriving in Minnesota, the three consecutive generations preceding me all grew up without their paternal connection to their homeland. This is, through my mother, grandfather, and great-grandfather, my connection to Valdres. I find it interesting that despite these generations of disconnect, I feel the strongest connection to this quarter of my family tree, over and above my Irish (Mom’s Mom’s side) and German (Dad’s side) ancestry.
In Druidry, we talk about Mud Roots and Blood Roots. Mud Roots are a connection to a particular place. Blood Roots are those who came before, the ancestors. For more than a thousand years, as far back past history and into mythology as we can see, up to the late 19th century, these Blood and Mud Roots were intertwined in Valdres, until the connection was broken by the capitalist enclosure movement. Think about that for a moment. This ancestral connection to place was strong enough to withstand centuries of hardship, famine, plague, warfare, the imposition of Christianity by force (spearheaded by Olaf the Saint, another one of my ancestors, but that’s another story), not to mention a thousand harsh Norwegian winters, only to finally be destroyed by something so powerful, yet so insidious, that people today have to be taught what “enclosure” means. The notion of “private property” remains so abstracted, such a given, that many believe it has always existed, assuming that feudal Lords “owned” property in the same way as today’s landlords, and that serfs were much closer to slave status than we ever could be in these enlightened times. On the contrary, as Silvia Federici reminds us:
The most important aspect of serfdom, from the viewpoint of the changes it introduced in the master-servant relation, is that it gave the serfs direct access to the means of their reproduction. In exchange for the work which they were bound to do on the lords’ land (the demesne), the serfs received a plot of land (mansus or hide) which they could use to support themselves, and pass down to their children…. Having the effective use and possession of a plot of land meant that the serfs could always support themselves and, even at the peak of their confrontations with the lords, they could not easily be forced to bend because of the fear of starvation. True, the lord could throw recalcitrant serfs off the land, but this was rarely done, given the difficulty of recruiting new laborers in a fairly closed economy and the collective nature of peasant struggles.”
The Husfolk of Valdres, therefore, were not slaves, or mere servants of the lordly class in Norway. There was a powerful bond between them and their place, a bond that, by the mid-1800s, after more than a century of capitalism and enclosure, had grown weak enough that more than half the population of Norway had been displaced.
It is only in the past 300 years — far less than 1% of homo sapiens time on this planet — that we must distinguish between mud roots and blood roots. Prior to that, as rates of migration were much slower, they were much more intimately intertwined.
Domestication & The Capitalist Accumulation of Labor
“In the aftermath of the Black Death, every European country began to condemn idleness, and to persecute vagabondage, begging, and refusal of work. England took the initiative with the Statute of 1349 that condemned high wages and idleness (author’s note: with higher wages, workers could work fewer hours and therefore had more leisure time), establishing that those who did not work, and did not have any means of survival, had to accept work. Similar ordinances were issued in France in 1351, when it was recommended that people should not give food or hostel to healthy beggars and vagabonds. A further ordinance in 1354 established that those who remained idle, passing their time in taverns, playing dice or begging, had to accept work or face the consequences; first offenders would be put in prison on bread and water, while second offenders would be put in the stocks, and third offenders would be branded on the forehead.”
After my great-grandfather Mons settled in Minnesota, where he lived until he died in 1925, he raised a large family there. But displacement caused by capitalism would strike again, this time in the form of the Great Depression. It would cause my grandfather to leave most of his family in Minnesota and settle in Ohio with his sister and her husband. In due course, he met my grandmother, married, and started a family before his premature death in 1958.
So of course, the winners of this game of severing ancestral connections to place are, and continue to be, the capitalists. A people united with the land they occupy will give much more formidable resistance to enclosure, accumulation of land and labor, and exploitation of all the resources it can than a divided, domesticated people severed from their ancestral place. Capitalism requires workers to exploit, and most people, given the choice, will not enter into such an exploitative relationship. Therefore, the choice had to go, and capitalism had to make people more dependent on what they were offering. Human domestication, via displacement and other strategies, had to be stepped up to a new level.
By most estimates, human domestication has been underway for 10,000 years, but it has accelerated dramatically in the capitalist era. Ostensibly, it doesn’t matter where we live now. Just in my generation of my family, a few stayed in Ohio (where they’d been for only 2 generations), but I have siblings or cousins in Indiana, California, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Missouri. As strangers in strange lands, our domestication and dependence on the infrastructures of industrialized production grows more complete and absolute, such that not only are we uprooted from our ancestral homelands, but our connection with any place at all is broken. How many of us have a sense of place, where we humans are part of an ecosystem, when the majority of us go not to the land for subsistence, but to the grocery store, buying factory-farmed food that has traveled thousands of miles before landing on the shelves?
Domestication is what happens when a connection to land is severed, and subsistence, provided by an industrial infrastructure, becomes abstracted from place. At one time, exile was a fate as bad as, or worse than, death, because it meant one had little or no access to subsistence via the tribe, a collection of people working together for the common good. In this new, domesticated world, access to the tribe is mediated by money. Those without money — the poor among us — are on some level exiles who must fend for themselves. And the quickest way to end one’s exile is to allow oneself to be (re-)assimilated into the capitalist system of labor exploitation.
My daughter, unlike I who am still “from away,” is a Mainer. She was born in Portland and has never lived more than 20 miles from the city of her birth. She still most strongly resonates with the streets of Portland, rather than the far more rural area where we live now (check out her music, by the way, it’s really good, said the proud immediate ancestor). I wonder, having grown up in this place, how her children and subsequent generations will be connected to their places, and whether their place will be in Maine.
The world is undone. In the age of neoliberal capitalism, otherwise known as “globalization,” our people and our cultures are scattered to the four winds. Most ancestries in the 21st century are intertwined and complex; the stories I have told of my ancestors above are but one branch of my genealogy. Virtually everyone is, in some way, a victim of ancestral displacement. My point is not to level out the differences between the different cultural victims of displacement, colonialism, and capitalist enclosure. While nearly all people of nearly all cultures, races, ethnicities, and groups have now experienced displacement, the fact is that my white ancestors who arrived in Minnesota found themselves inserted into a different place in the power hierarchy than earlier peoples from Africa, kidnapped from their ancestral homeland, to be slaves in the Americas.
Re-enchanting the world will not occur in an office, in the checkout queue at Whole Foods, or in the blogosphere. It will require humans to get out into nature, and work ceaselessly to re-establish relationship with what they find there. There are some positives we can take from this situation we find ourselves in — for instance, most geneticists agree that diversity in our gene pools is a good thing — but until we exist in better relationship with our place, rewild ourselves, resist our domestication by rejecting the infrastructures of capitalism where we can, and begin re-weaving an ancestral connection to place for future generations, the world will remain little more than something to be owned and exploited.
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I love the idea: souls travel in packs. It works on several levels, and can describe the peculiar bonds souls form with one another, in countless different ways and contexts. Everyone has the experience of meeting someone for the first time, with immediate rapport, a feeling of connection, where the souls effortlessly fit together like long-lost pack-companions. Packs mean that you depend on one another, you protect one another, and you look out for one another. T. Thorn Coyle’s Like Water is a story of such a pack of souls.
Like Water is set in “in-between Oakland.” I don’t have much personal connection to Oakland, but the setting of the novel is nonetheless quite familiar to me, being situated in the post-Occupy radical community, in academia, in paganism, & in the polyamory community. These are my people. So the story’s context got my attention right away.
As did the event that drives the course of the novel. This event occurs before the novel begins, so I don’t need spoilers to say that Alex, one of the main characters in the story, is killed when a police officer hits him with a taser and it disrupts his heart. Much of the story revolves around people coming to terms with Alex’s death, moving on from it, and using it as fuel for their own inner fires. Jonah, Alex’s best friend, in particular has difficulty adapting to the world without Alex, and much of the story revolves around his particular struggle doing so. And of course, we hear quite a bit about Alex’s struggle adapting to death.
There are many things to like about Coyle’s first novel. First of all, I dig the writing style. I’ve read a fair amount of her stuff over the years, but this is the first time I’ve read her fiction (and I believe this is her first published novel). It can be a challenge for a nonfiction writer to enter the realm of fiction, but Coyle does so seamlessly. We do hear a lot of the character’s inner thoughts, almost nonfiction contained within the fiction, with some nice philosophizing in the “thought bubbles” each character has. For instance, in one passage, Alex is reminiscing about when he was alive, thinking about his lover, Amber:
Nothing wrong with sex. Most art required it. The best art grabbed us kicking and screaming and wrestled us down to look something in the face. To feel something, once and for all. That impulse was the power of life. The power of life was sex. People mistook this all the time. Even the gentlest art — the paintings of sunrise over water, the love songs that were filled with sweetness — if it was good, it tapped that primal life connection. Picasso? Tupac? Zora? ‘Yonce? They ripped your guts out. Great art requires us to confront life. To confront ourselves. That’s why it’s so painful sometimes (71).
I also liked the metaphysics of the book. The fact that Alex is the speaker in several chapters (each chapter has its own speaker) despite being dead is a nice touch, as are Coyle’s insights of the dead. They have no sense of smell, for instance, and that’s the biggest jolt of novelty they must grow accustomed to. In addition to the dead themselves, Calliah, Jonah’s partner, has the ability sometimes to see the dead:
I don’t see ghosts all the time, thank goodness. I seem to see them only when there is some trauma, or a message to be passed along. Mostly my ghostly encounters are just about having a sense of something “other” hanging around. It’s not like suddenly there are figures with gold teeth floating around me… It’s gone. Although I hadn’t really seen Alex yet, I knew when he was around. And not just when I was picking up on the sense of him (81).
By focusing on several consciousnesses, alive and dead, having their experiences, Coyle weaves fertile ground to tell a good story. And tell a good story she does.
I loved “the Moms,” or Alex and Jonah’s Marxist & Anarchist mothers. These matriarchs raised their children together in radical, intentional communities, still working together even after their children are grown. I got a chuckle out of Kate, the token polyamorous witch; it seemed like Coyle had fun with her character and the insights she provides. I liked the rapping in the novel, which is strange because reading rap lyrics is a vastly different experience than listening to music. Coyle credits MC Do D.A.T for “lending Alex his rhymes,” and they are good. I’m not sure how Coyle managed to convey the energy of a live performance with music into text, but she did.
Despite the 3000 miles between me and Oakland, I feel that Like Water is a story about my tribe, my comrades. The reality of police brutality, violence, and murder of civilians on the streets is foregrounded in the story, but the novel never comes across as preachy or even judgmental. The fact is, these characters must endure, each in their own way, in the aftermath of state-sanctioned murder. This is the story of Like Water.
Because this is a story about my tribe, I really wanted to like the novel. I am happy to say I didn’t have to work very hard to do so. I recommend this novel, and I can’t wait to read more fiction from T. Thorn Coyle.
I have heard this statement from more than one source in the past few days. This is often the case for me with statements that resonate in my soul as strongly as this one did when a friend of mine uttered it and I heard it. When consciousness hears a resonant idea for the first time, it will often see iterations of that same idea all around, and would otherwise remain hidden without the spark of the initial idea feeding it.
Perhaps, therefore, I am keener to the idea; since it is already in my consciousness, I more easily recognize it. My inner psychologist concurs.
Or perhaps it is the will of the gods, manifesting themselves & their wills in specific patterns discernible to those sensitive to such things. My inner gnostic concurs.
In other words, there are a variety of ways to interpret the statement, and through the process of interpretation, creating truth. All of these interpretations have some element of truth to them. Philosophers speak of epistemology as the theory of knowledge creation, but for me, another word is more applicable for this phenomenon.
The Magic Of Capitalism
It’s a controversial word, magic, as in “the art of changing consciousness at will.” For me, magic is the correspondence between what one holds in one’s mind, and what happens outside consciousness, in the world. It is not superstition, delusion, wishful thinking, or illusion.
You can see magic in operation every day, indeed every moment.
For instance. one man this week had an idea in his head, that People of Color are “the biggest problem for Americans,” that they are “stupid and violent” (oh, the irony), and “inferior.” These ideas did not originate with this man, but he accepted them as true, and they certainly manifested from consciousness into the world, in Charleston.
Interestingly, magic has many different connotations for most people these days. Most of them aren’t particularly positive: prestidigitation, illusion considered real by naive observers, conjuration, deception. And it can be these things.
But capitalism has its magic. It has its thought-forms that seep into our consciousness. In some ways, the contents of an accountant’s spreadsheet are more real to many of us than a homeless person starving or freezing to death in an alley. These ideas govern the very fabric of society, of resource allocation, of comfort & suffering for every living thing on the planet. The world is seen through the lens of quantification, reduced to a mere number, and capitalist wizards work their arcane lore to manipulate these numbers to their favour, manifesting their will to profit in the real world.
And the costs are externalized, as always. This is part of capitalist magic and privatization in general. When the numbers come in, they belong to the owner-wizards. But when the numbers need to go back out, it’s everyone’s problem.
Have you ever been to a corporate training seminar? They are really common these days. They cover a lot of areas, like exemplary customer service, or sexual harassment in the workplace, or assertiveness training for women in business, or techniques for results-oriented communication, or effective employee motivation, or really just about anything that a “limited liability” corporation needs to sign off on, so they can create the appearance that their employees know all about the topic the seminar covers.
Whether or not all the employees actually do understand these things is not important; what is important is that the corporation is no longer liable if trouble ensues when an employee acts in a way that clearly shows he does not understand. Usually when these conflicts occur the liability shifts from the corporation to the employee, who is disciplined or simply fired. And then everyone pretends this is normal, and as it should be.
But here’s the thing. There is a key component missing from a lot of the capitalist magic going on out there: will. The most important task for an occultist is to turn inward, into the self, beyond the veils of illusion, and learn to discern what the will is. The will is not whim, it is not passing fancy, it is not going along with what everyone else around you is doing. By suppressing and thwarting the ability of millions of people to discern their will, and choosing to move forward and defend the very system that oppresses them and benefits their oppressors, capitalism works its magic.
Capitalist magic is particularly prone to what Whitehead called the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness, which is “merely the accidental error of mistaking the abstract for the concrete.” The problem is, the abstract & the concrete (or theory & practice, seen from another angle) are not always two separate worlds, forever cleaved in half. One influences the other. The abstractions we carry in our minds usually regulate our behavior. If we focus on changing behavior without addressing the fundamental thought patterns that underlie it, we will forever be chasing small fires that keep arising. Overthrowing capitalism will require a transformation of human consciousness — the very essence of magic.
Ragnarök & The Transformation of Consciousness
So yeah, Ragnarök. For those unacquainted, it is the end of the world in Norse mythology, the twilight of the gods, deaths, disasters on a vast scale. It’s not difficult to imagine in the 21st century, where sensitive souls can see the damage being perpetrated on the planet. We are now in an extinction event, where some scientists think that humans will be extinct within a century. And many of the most ardent radical anti-capitalists feel hopeless to stop it, that there is nothing we can do.
But if we follow the example of my polytheist friends and take the statement — Odin is recruiting for Ragnarök — literally, there is plenty we can do. This perspective not only shows that Gods are aware of the problems we are facing, but that they are fighting against it and recruiting help. This is comforting.
Or, we can take the statement metaphorically, and realize that the machinations of capitalism also have their opponents in those of us who would protect the precious ecosystems of the planet against capitalist exploitation and destruction. We can re-enchant the world, but we must also re-enchant consciousness.