Webs: magic, meaning, and science
In the political sphere, conservatives will often say that the left engages in magical thinking; for example, they will say that the idea that “white” people exploit “black” people by some unknown means amounts to magical thinking. “Where are these invisible exploitation rays white people emit?” they say—and the radical right, the Darwinian right, will say that the difference in success between the races is perfectly explainable through differences in inherited intelligence levels; again, no need for a magical explanation—the left is primitive, nobody “curses” the blacks; it is futile and superstitious to police racial epithets and slurs as if this will change reality.
The notion that the left thinks magically relates to the idea that everything is connected to everything else; and this is a magical idea—the primary magical idea. The writer William S. Burroughs held this to be true from a young age, so that he always thought magically; it follows that if everything is connected to everything else that everything happens for a reason. So Burroughs maintained that if you fall ill or fall off a ladder that it was not just “bad luck” or “something that happens”, someone from the next village may have cursed you—or perhaps you failed to honour the gods correctly before you started work. The observation that everything is connected to everything else is actually true; except, as scientists and philosophers would say, it is trivially true. It is all very well to say everything is related to everything else, but what we value are the concrete connections between things that lead to law-like formulations and the ability to reliably predict outcomes.
Famously, per Jurassic Park, in the early 1990s, there was a craze for chaos theory—for the metaphor that a butterfly could bat its wings in Colombia and so cause a hurricane to form off Miami. Yet this itself was still connected to law-like observations about reality; in other words, to particularity. Nevertheless, it indicates the way in which, in principle, science accepts that everything is connected; although it generally leaves it there, for the very reason that it does not want people to look at a butterfly and say—as with the saying, “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight”—“Ah yes, butterfly takes flight, wind off Miami tonight.”
However, the contention that everything is connected and that, therefore, everything happens for a reason is essential if anything is to have any meaning; and this is why science tends to abolish meaning: it thinks in a limited way about causality. It thinks like the stops on a tube map: Boston Manor—>Northfields—>South Ealing—>Acton Town—>Turnham Green. It is about problem-solving and it is relatively linear; it takes you from A to B to C: it tries to remove unwarranted assumptions in order to achieve law-like regularity. For example, your wife has a dream that she has a dentist who has decided, for no reason, to pull out one of her teeth—the next morning you find out your son has been killed in the war (a real example, taken from Ernst Jünger’s life). The scientist will say that although in the grand scheme of things these events are related through the interaction of matter, there is no reason to think there is any particular connection as regards a dream about a tooth and your son’s death; perhaps it is directly connected; but we cannot see how that could be so, at least so far as we now know—so we should disregard it until evidence arises as to why this might be the case.
This means that science places a person almost entirely in a problem-solving mindset whereby nothing has any significance unless it has been established through repeated experiment; and this means that the world is mostly meaningless; if an owl lands outside your window, you may formulate a hypothesis as to what attracts owls to this window type—perhaps the window colour, or its shininess, or owls are attracted to their own reflection. You are not allowed to make visual rhyme: to say that the owl landed there because you said something very wise last night at dinner and everyone was very impressed. The universe might have regularity, but it does not have rhythm—at least in this sense.
The reason why the left tends to think magically is because the left is heavily influenced, via Hegel and Marx, by the view that everything is connected; for both men, the contention that everything is connected was a touchstone for their thought. Further, Hegel promised to reconcile a phenomenon with its essence. We have science because the phenomenon is not synonymous with its essence; i.e. to really understand a sea shell, I need to grind it up and run various chemical tests to determine its composition and its age; science helps to get closer to its essence, initially starting—with Aristotle—with simple measurements and detailed descriptions as to its external appearance and behaviour.
Hegel also thought it was possible to get at the essence behind a phenomenon; and not simply by experimental science, but also through a dialectical process whereby our interactions with a phenomenon would eventually take us fully behind it—fully into its essence. Through constant dialectical splits—as a cell divides to reproduce to form a related but unique cell—Hegel thought consciousness would penetrate the essence of a phenomenon over time, the process would terminate at History’s end with a full reconciliation between observer, phenomenon, and essence. Marx took this idea over but placed it in the material world, so that it would be the oppressed class—as an agent of History mediated by technological development—who would see the essence of things; hence standpoint theory, the notion that an oppressed class has a particular knowledge as to the essence of things.
The counterpoint to this view is the Kantian outlook that holds that the noumenal realm, the essence or thing-in-itself, is unreachable no matter what method we adopt—we cannot see behind the screen. The sceptical British approach to this is that found in David Stove; a philosopher who decided that the thing that can never be reached—the essence, the thing-in-itself—cannot be reached because it does not exist, it is a thought artefact; just like Platonic ideas.
Let us assume that there is an essence of things, but that Hegel was wrong about how to access it. What if we can access the essence of things through another mode, the poetic mode—the shamanic mode. The reason science removes meaning from life is that it reduces us to a very limited array of causal relations. In fact, what we are after is not meaning as such—not A to B—but rather an attitude whereby we are aware of everything; it is in this state, where everything is connected to everything else, that meaning arises. The leaf falls on my foot before I arrive at the hospital, it is a sign my relative will die soon. In other words, the world has a language that you can read; and this was what the Druids thought, their language was written in the trees—they had an alphabet of nature that allowed them to interact with a thing’s essence; and they could achieve this because the shamanic state dissolves the ego and gives unmediated access to consciousness.
You have heard people say, “You just need to trust God,” and perhaps you shrug and imagine a being, God, in the sky (probably does not exist, such rubbish) who will look after you like a big parent (“Childish nonsense,” grumps the atheist). Perhaps another way to put this would be “trust the universe” or “trust the cosmos”; in other words, it is this shamanic state, fostered in a distorted form in schizophrenics, that is one where you have total trust—and this is because you have broken the ego-state, there is no division between subject and object; everything rushes in, actually there is no “in”—and this is unity with reality’s essence. Hence the idea, current in Heidegger and in Sanskrit, that the correct words and rhythm will change reality—if you are able to master the language of things, as the Druids did. The meaningfulness thus created in this state is not so much A—>B—>C, so much as a visual rhyme in the relation between things. The notion that everything is connected—to feel and act that way—is quite different from the assertion that specific causal relations, A—>B—>C, are connected.
The reason why people like psychedelic drugs is that these drugs put you into this state without any effort, everything is connected and this creates a warm glow—the glow being meaning, or what people might refer to as “God”; a similar effect can be achieved through alcohol—and a more sustained version through meditation and prayer. Although this can have a moral component, it is not about “being a good person”; it is more like a science, a sacred science, that speaks to the essence of things—the notion being that if you speak the right words, utilise the right visual rhymes, that objects and people will respond to you; hence the idea that people in ancient days could speak to animals.
The left dominates the right, in part, because the right—oddly enough—tends to represent the anti-religious view; probably because the Western right is secular liberal, it is already very far left. Hence it will say that the left makes statements that are not supported by facts, logic, and observations; and yet it offers nothing to replace the left’s vision. This is partly because Hegel accounted for the way consciousness changes through History, so that the need once fulfilled by Christianity (fulfilled by paganism and shamanism before it) would be superseded by a novel gnosis that transcended Christianity, as undermined by 18th-century scepticism, while retaining its function.
The left, being influenced by Hegel and Marx, puts forward a religious vision that makes life meaningful: a worldview, married to elements within science, that says that History is a process whereby all divisions between humans will be removed—especially through science and technology—and we will all live in an unmediated harmony where we speak only to our essential nature without any mediation (race, class, nation, and religion). Hence the left is highly proficient at generating meaning, whereas the right—generally having abandoned Christianity itself—defends a truly objective scientific method that cannot generate meaning; it can poke holes in the leftist outlook, but it cannot fully counter what was a development of shamanic gnosis, per Hegel, to a new level in modern conditions.
As noted in previous posts, the way back to what most people call “meaning” is not through objectives, goals, or God conceptualised as an external being—to think in this way merely constricts consciousness to A—>B—>C, whereas what you want is to just be conscious and let the connections form before you; fall into the river, swim with river, become the river. If you hold back, you will never experience it—yet most people, particularly stuffy conservative men who claim to defend secularised Christianity or “Judeo-Christian” values, refuse to trust reality and swim in the river. This is because to do so they would have to do abandon their plots and schemes to manipulate other men—their A to B plans; their attempts to remain safe and cling to their lives, their mere biological existence, at any price.
Poets, meanwhile, are commonly regarded as “mad” because they shatter the carapace and invest total trust in reality—as do mystics, such as the so-called mad monk Rasputin; a man who put total trust in reality and so was granted magical healing powers. The poets and shamans never hold back, they let everything in and let everything out—with both barrels and without calculation. In this way, the world becomes meaningful, for there is no longer an estrangement from reality. Calculators, meanwhile, see nothing: they see a dead world to manipulate.
A man’s quality is therefore measured by degree of heart he can invest, his boldness in doing so—and this amounts to being great-souled. So long as you hold back, analyse events and refuse to draw conclusions until experiments have been conducted, you will never see the world as a meaningful place. You take your dog to the vets to be put down, then afterwards you sit in the porch with a cup of tea to reflect; and then a butterfly lands on your hand—you think, “It’s my dog’s soul. He has come back to me.” It is only when you allow these connections to emerge that you will attain meaning. What people today do is have the thought “it’s my dog’s soul” and then quickly bat it away as childish nonsense; and this is because they fear to be emotionally overwhelmed—and yet it is that very moment, when their attempts to control reality are defeated, that they will see the beauty.