Marginalia and Religious Ethnography Botched: Another Interview with Keith418 on Aleister Crowley, Stalin, and Standards
Posted by El Mono Liso
This is the third interview in a series with Keith418. The first one is here,. and the second one is here. Keith418 is one of the most controversial figures in modern Thelema. His interviews on the defunct Thelema: Coast to Coast were often rigorous and demanding, yet highly contentious. Keith418 has also documented thinkers on both the radical right and the far left often comparing those thinkers to the problematic thought in the Occult community. The parallels are discomforting to all involved. This interview goes into territory of both my interview series so it will be considered part of both.
Skepoet: Just for my reader’s clarity sake. You and I come from similar but almost inverse points of view: I try to understand culture and religion and thus am fascinated with occultists but am I leftist. You are trying to figure out how societies work including in the occult community and thus study leftists. You often see many, many parallels that are instructive. For example, you have observed while officially most Marxists are supposed to be materialists–albeit of a very specific type–they often act like believers in the spirit or the transcendent. While Occultists are suppose to be idealists in the manifestation of their will, but often act like vulgar materialists. Why do you think this is the case?
Keith418: Because both groups are uncomfortable with the implications of what each are supposed to believe. The occultists are reluctant to give up on the influence of the material universe, and the Marxists are just as unwilling to depend on it and it only. Modernity, now, creates these muddles and the path out of them requires more self discipline than people are able to attain to these days. Consumerism erodes self-discipline and both groups swim in the same waters that everyone else does. People want to be “different” but no one wants to be “that” different. Changing the status quo really demands a commitment to a kind of radical difference, but since the end of the ’80s this has been harder and harder for people to see and muster the strength for.
Contemporary, so-called followers of Aleister Crowley seldom engage in any personal magick. Instead, what they want is a kind of pleasing, gentle, Unitarianism with faintly occult trappings. Most Marxists are unable or unwilling to penetrate the inner workings of the various players in various social classes the way Lenin told them to, because they do not have the strength to cope with the “symbolic violence” Bourdeiu described so well. In both cases, the ideologies serve as a way to cope with a world they cannot really change, rather than a means for them to change a world they can no longer cope with. Deviations like this are inevitable once people surrender. And, in each case, surrender they have.
I wonder how much of their problems are the result of the loss of a kind of “interiority.” Modern Thelemites and modern Marxists both, at times, seem barely literate. So many people have lost the ability to sit and read anything – to enlarge and expand on their own interior selves. Without this ability, how can they engage deeply with either Aleister Crowley or someone like Lenin? Academics that do not read for pleasure before they enter school are just as useless. A friends notes that it’s not a matter of people not reading because they won’t read – but because they can’t. They can’t sit and focus. If he’s right, then what chance do these people ever have of seeing why they are mistaken or totally off course?
Skepoet: This has led me to wonder what could fix this, and honestly while even my ultimate goals may be a stateless society, it will require a lot of discipline and a transition that will be ugly. It seems to me that a lot of revolutionary leftists want a revolution without the revolution part. That is they don’t want to look at the nature of the negation with the current. You have pointed this out by quoting, oddly, Spengler, Zizek, and Stalin as parallels?
Keith418: You have to look at the way our current society has been sold the idea that discipline has to be “ugly.” Modern consumerism is predicated on the exaltation of ease and a lack of discipline. This is part of the message of all its propaganda. What is the current origins of our disinclination to view self-discipline negatively, or as a “necessary evil? Why, for example, do we wish we wouldn’t have to struggle for things and why do people resist seeing struggle as something noble? These reactions are not formed by accident, nor do they exist in some kind of universal sense.
Zizek is pointing out the need, even the necessity, to rehabilitate and embrace per-consumerist ideals and values – values we find among both Bolsheviks and those involved in the “conservative revolution” (Spengler, Junger, etc.). Modern revolutionaries do not want to look at whether or not there really is a “decadence” that infected even their target audience, nor do they wish to really attack that decadence and its pernicious effects. Ironically, when they do, they sound too “conservative” for most liberals and leftists to bear.
The Marxists I talk to will acknowledge – sometimes – that the masses need to undergo their own political experiences. These experiences cannot be experienced “for” them, in some sort of vicarious fashion by the vanguard or by the leader. They have to undergo these experiences themselves and, in that process, they will change. Why wouldn’t we welcome that change? It implies that their current state isn’t that great. Well, say that enough and you’re going to damage people’s sense of “self-esteem.” It’s not a flattering thing to be told.
In the occult community, no one wants to admit that they need to change, or that they should change. Initiations, now, are just a further ratification of why they already are. To admit that one needs to change or must change in some significant sense is to acknowledge that real problems and deficiencies exist. Magicians, surprisingly, do not want to admit that they aren’t perfect “just the way they are.” Are Marxists going to tell the working class that isn’t wonderful just the way it is?
Skepoet: It seems like they are going to have to go through it anyway as modern capitalism can’t deliver on its propaganda these days. What are your thoughts on that?
Keith418: I keep wondering if people will be so distracted by technology that they won’t notice. This current generation – does it realize its parents lived better than it does? Or does it just want to play “Angry
Birds” on cell phones and fool around online? New technology often is deceptive in this sense. We are preoccupied with things like Twitter and Facebook, but they employ very few people. There is a – mostly -
unacknowledged contrast between the amounts of attention these things get vs. the number of people really involved with these companies.
There is any number of ways that this can play out. The modern state and corporations can offer the people more bribes to keep the “labor aristocracy” at peace. They can, of course, not offer those bribes and face unrest. But the meritocratic nature of contemporary capitalism tends to take away the best organizers and intellectuals for itself – thus rendering the organized left with very little in the way of dependable human resources. Smart people, talented people, highly disciplined and trained people – the kind of people who can lead and make a successful revolution, are almost always now bought off. The left doesn’t want to look at this “brain drain” for moral reasons, but it’s painfully obvious.
How much is the same current social engineering really a way to pacify the masses and take away the cream into non-profits and consulting work? The liberal left supports the agenda of the social engineers,but it may not realize the long term effects of all the therapy, pills, and training.
Skepoet: How long could those gadgets keep everyone at heel when the entire Western world starts looking like Greece? I don’t know. Does this sort of thinking infect occultist as well? Do you know if there are people trying to do Geotia on an i-pod or something?
Keith418: It’s a good question, but I keep expecting people to realize they are being played with this technology and they can’t seem to put it down. The more time people spend with video games and meaningless social media, the less time they are able to bring to anything more important and demanding – and that includes the occult.
There is a novelty element with new technology that few seem to be able to see through or resist. The new app, the new toy, it sucks people in and – just when they get bored – there’s another new one. The left and the people in occultism swim in the same waters everyone else does far too much of the time. How can they not be distracted this way and what faculties inside them atrophy in the process?
Some make a conscious effort to use these technologies in better ways, but they often devolve into thinking they are CNN reporters, or they exhaust their possibilities fast. I thought of all the people I saw on Facebook and Twitter furiously posting reports they were getting from all the same places everyone else got them. What’s the point of that? People caught up in “current events” all the time? How sad does that get after awhile?
Skepoet: It does get limiting quickly. The past parts of the “new media” are ways in that mimics the very old media, but its speed actually doesn’t always seem to help. It seems to limit reflection in some ways since things are pushed to be discussed now. It distorts our sense of time. Do you see this affecting Thelemites?
Keith418: I think the Situationists once said that they were indebted to the surrealists for revealing to everyone the poverty of the unconscious. In this sense, I think we are all very much indebted to social media for revealing the incredible poverty of the contemporary occult scene. The Internet showed all of us that most of the people involved aren’t educated enough, or brave enough, to do meaningful and interesting work with occultism and magick. Many of us might have suspected this to be true, prior to the Internet’s dawn, but it was more like a suspicion – born out of necessarily limited experiences. Now, it’s irrefutable. While depressing, to be sure, it’s better to know than not know. We have all learned quite a bit from the experience.
This brings me to another topic. Why don’t people follow Lenin’s advice and actually observe the social classes and see how they currently live. Not just in a revolutionary situation, but in general.
Skepoet: How do you mean?
Keith418: See, I don’t think it’s weird to expect anyone to be able to do what Lenin said, but no one makes this demand. Communist have retreated away from class psychology. This makes no sense at all
Skepoet: Many Marxist don’t want to look at the hard end of it, ultimately. They try to redefine old categories without clarifying a departure or they don’t talk about class explicitly. Sometimes, I wonder if this is partly because so many people don’t realize how severe a break with the current could or would be.
Keith418: But what else is communism but a break with the old? That’s all Lenin said it was a fight against the old way. You can see the Trotskyites fighting with me about the labor aristocracy and spontaneity. You know who said that combating spontaneity was one of the “foundations” of Leninism in 1924? Stalin? Come on. You cannot habituate people to spontaneous eruptions and then expect them to submit to planning and leadership. This is totally obvious.
Skepoet: Well, you see that people who quote Zizek, but don’t take him seriously when he says the next society will be disciplinary.
Keith418: Any work to take power away from the individual is seen as regressive. a strictly materialist, Marxist analysis is seen as degrading.
Skepoet: Well that’s oddly paradoxical because revolutions seem to be impossible if the current informs all thinking.
Keith418: Show me the way out of this. Even Marxists find Marx’s reduction to be degrading. Are you only the mirror of your role in production?
Skepoet: Gramsci ironically thought that the October revolution proved this part of Marx wrong , and, it is degrading.
Keith418: It may be degrading feeling, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
Skepoet: The problem is that if it’s true Marx himself is wrong because it’s circular and dialectics don’t get you out of it. The Immersation thesis has been proven objectively false.
Keith418: Immiseration thesis. Well, this comes back to imperialism.
Skepoet: Yes, it does come back to imperialism, but here’s an issue with Marx. If the base determines all elements of the superstructure, then change shouldn’t be able to happen from within a class, even the dominant class.
Keith418: The production changes. Everything is in flux. Read Stalin on historical materialism.
Skepoet: But the production changes itself?
Keith418: The social process changes the production, and the production changes social process.
Skepoet: But production is the determinant of last instances in Marx and Engels.
Keith418: It’s all a matter of progress from one state to another.
Skepoet: That’s circular.
Keith418: What does Hegel tell us about the circular? That it is the absolute. Read Kojeve.
Skepoet: That I haven’t read.
Keith418: It will blow your mind.
Skepoet; So one is left then, if it’s Marx or Hegel which is ultimately right. Zizek has been saying this lately that Marx wasn’t Hegelian enough.
Keith418: Be careful because there is this temptation to move away from materialism and its always bourgeois. The spirit cannot be happy making. This is Crowley’s grace. His spirit is not happy making
Skepoet: Yes, well if “truth” makes one happy easily, and without work, it is generally a lie.
Keith418: This is why I think we need to look again at the issue of what materialism really is. Because the contemporary Marxists aren’t telling me what Stalin is, and calling him crude doesn’t cut it. They don’t hate him because he’s crude; they hate him because he’s lucid.
Skepoet: No, his writings on historical materialism aren’t crude even with all the party baggage, although I know many who claim he just didn’t write the works. Furthermore, attacking HIM as opposed to his ideas doesn’t cut it either. Just because he made have deviated from them, particularly tactically, doesn’t make the ideas themselves invalid. If there are problems in the philosophy, they must be philosophically addressed.
Keith418: Mao said 70-30. I hold to that a lot but whatever his other faults poor writing wasn’t one of them. I am reading a collection of essays and they are gripping. On a related topic, in the 70s the Maoists I knew then spoke a lot about class consciousness. Who talks about that now? I mean really talks about class, not just the system or capitalism, but what it means to be a class and how it has changed. How can you have a revolutionary Marxism without an understanding of class? This is what is so crazy making to me, but class makes people upset. It reminds them of things they don’t want to admit.
Skepoet: Well, you have to be honest and say that only Maoists and Burnham and a few Trotskyist turned Fascists in Italy, actually tried to address the shift in the meaning and nature of class. The rest of the popular Marxists such as Negri and even Zizek don’t talk about class anymore in a coherent matter.
Keith418: Avakaian doesn’t either. See, there’s an analogy of Thelemites who don’t practice ceremonial magick and Marxists who avoid a discussion of class. They know that if they talk about class it will turn off their intended audience. It’s like the Trots who won’t tell people they are Trots
Skepoet: So you have asserted that education limits people dealing with people like Lenin or Aleister Crowley. Would you like to go into this in more detail?
Keith418: We have to ask ourselves, regarding both of these figures, what does it take, now, to read their writings in the original and fully comprehend them? If people are taught rigorous critical thinking and have had a decent range of readings and experiences, they can get a lot out of reading Crowley and Lenin. But are people getting these kinds of educations these days? Are they having the needed experiences? How often do these writers, instead, have to be filtered through interpreters (with their own limitations and agendas)? On the other hand, the people with “educations” now are often really not “educated” (in the classical sense) as much as they are indoctrinated with PC, mainstream social engineering. The people without educations can’t understand the materials, and the people with “educations” have been trained not to take radically different threats to the dominant order seriously. This paradox haunts both the left and occultism.
In the occult community, people aspire to higher education (usually because they want to be middle class) and then are trained – in the academy – to utterly reject occultism. Is there a similar process going on with Marxism – whereby energy is poured into strictly academic discourse and what you get, at best, are very weak versions of the old school “public intellectuals”?
Lenin tells revolutionaries that they have to come to profound and acute understandings of various segments of society – the inner workings of their character – from experience and not from a book. Are young Marxists really doing that? Do they go out into the world and really study different types in contemporary society to understand their inner logic and values? It’s not a matter of learning from books – he explicitly rejects that. I am often disappointed by young people who have led sheltered lives and never seem to know or have experienced a wide range of human types. This lack of basic life experience has got to cripple those on the left and those involved in serious occultism.
Skepoet: The kind of education you are describing can be said to be very instrumental instead of formative. I would agree, however, that most Marxists or anarchists have little familiarity with organizing workers or the problems of non-academic labor. So do you think this, well, laziness is directly related to consumer culture?
Keith418: Partly to that, but also we have to look at the kind of over-specialization we see today in academia. Academics used to pride themselves on their range of knowledge and their grasp of fields beyond their own specialty. The professors I knew as a kid thought only hopeless nerds and losers talked only about their own fields. Instead, you were supposed to cultivate a broader number of interests and areas of expertise – the arts, history, etc. Now, academics are so specialized, and the competition is so tough, who among them has the leisure time for anything beyond their own increasingly tiny niche?
Kids grow up today, provided they are middle class or above, in more and more structured, guarded, and protected environments. This cripples their sense of adventure, independence, and individuality. Coming out of these carefully managed “play date” upbringings, how can they expect to be bold and risk danger in their lives and even in their own thinking?
I think the left tends to support this movement towards greater and greater state intervention and protection at its own peril. It needs independent critical thinkers and then supports programs and social attitudes that inhibits the formations of whole classes that might prove revolutionary. I simply do not believe that a PC welfare state is going to produce the kind of bold, independent subjects the left needs. Needless to say, this same welfare state doesn’t produce subjects who can do anything with magick and occultism either.
Skepoet: While in my estimation a left that wants an expanded Fordist/Keynesian welfare state is no longer left in any meaningful sense as it is not progressing anything but merely trying to go back an immediate past without dealing with that’s pasts failures. But I would agree with you that this is largely a middle class development.
But the lack of imagination in this is staggering: I suppose that is why I find both the left and the occult community so interesting, but in the attempt to deal with modernity and, so far, powerlessness in actually transcending much of it.
Anything you’d like to say in closing?
Keith418: I think the imagination of the “real left” is then challenged to address ideas that transcend middle class conceptions of a welfare state. The people’s demands should inform these new ideas, but if the people really want a well managed welfare state, what do you do then?
There has to emerge a revolutionary class that can embrace those new ideas. In the same sense, there have to be individuals who can break out of the sterility of the contemporary occult and Thelemic communities and take it in new and better directions. Neither of these forces can emerge, however, without a criticism of present conditions, nor can they discover themselves and their own truths without a struggle. The irony here is that my receptive magical individuals prove to be just as elusive, given present ontologies and the creation of subjects (individual and collective), as your revolutionary class.
“These new enemies of mine were not capable of comprehending my criticism: because of their intellectual level they inevitably perceived any discussion based on serious cultural and critical apparatus as something both impenetrable and annoying – for, in an attempt to satisfy their sentimental urges and taste for the common and ‘occult,’ such people had grown accustomed to the popularization and debasement of certain subjects.” – Evola
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Posted on December 30, 2011, in ideology, Interviews, Marxism, Philosophy and Politics, Polemics, Religion, Socialism and tagged Aleister Crowley, New Left, occult community, occultists, Stalin, Zizek. Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.