In last week’s post, I presented an interpretation of Freudian psychology as the re-discovery of the Magical Consciousness in the West. Freud said all societies are based on the repression of instincts and drives. But if those instincts and drives represent primal energy, when that energy is channeled into the structures of society it becomes Magic because Magic is, by definition, the channeling of energy. When society channels Magic energy, it is called exoteric. When the individual channels energy, it is called esoteric.
Although I hadn’t realised it at the time, this interpretation also fits with developments in modern physics eg. mass and energy are different manifestations of the same thing. Materialism and Magic are then also different manifestations of the same thing. In any case, we are here using the Magic (energy) lens rather than the materialist one which is still the default option in the modern West.
For most of human history, the Magical energy available to any society was limited by the lack of “connectivity”. One way to view the Church in Europe (and prior to that in the Roman empire), was as a network which spanned across geographical and political boundaries and channelled Magic energy. That would explain why the Church used that network to actively suppress folk magic. It didn’t want the competition. The Church’s Magical power was allied with political power up until the 19th century. Some materialist cynics might say the Church was the propaganda arm of the State. To paraphrase Napoleon, religion was the only thing stopping the public from defenestrating the 1%.
The 19th century was the turning point when the Magical power of the Church began to wane and the State gained ascendancy. It’s not a coincidence that this was the time when the labour movement began. As the Church yielded it’s power over the public, other actors stepped in to fill the void. We can explain all this in materialist political terms in the way Marx did. But this neglects the extent to which modern politics is based on Magical power. The ability to form groups and channel energy into votes is what drives a democracy. The practical aspects of doing so require Magic. That’s why the Communist Manifesto was needed alongside historical materialism.
So, we end up at the start of the 20th century with two Magico-political power bases in Labour and Capital. This dynamic began to dissolve after WW2. Partly this was because labour had won a number of concessions from capital that eased the pressure (energy) in the political sphere. But there were a couple of other important trends.
One was the advent of consumerism and this is where we see the applied Magic of modern marketing via Edward Bernays as discussed in the last post. The workers were no longer to be beaten into submission on the waterfronts and picket lines. Rather, they would be turned into consumers via the Magic of modern advertising. All this was paid for by Capital who were the ones selling the products and so stood to benefit from the arrangement. In the process, however, marketing turned from an appeal to reason to an appeal to unreason i.e. Magic. The success of the new system meant that increasing amounts of Magic were practiced in the guise of a “free market economy”.
The consumer economy and its associated marketing Magic further reduced the Magical energetic base of the labour movement. The appearance of Blair, Clinton and Keating as leaders of the labour parties in the 90s was actually the official symbol that it was all over. Those supposedly labour leaders promptly implemented the neoliberal economic agenda. It took about 20 years, a very short time in historical terms, for the blowback to manifest as Trump and Brexit. But by then it was too late.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this was also the era of “spin” in politics. Not that politics had been a bastion of moral purity before that, but that there was a noticeable, shall we say, loosening of moral restrictions at this time. But spin is just the use of the same applied Magic that had already been shown to work in the consumer economy in the realm of politics. Some have called this the “post-truth” era of politics. But in our terminology, it’s the Magical era. Combined with the already high levels of Magic practiced in the market economy, this extra dose of Magic into the public discourse seems to have come mostly at the expense of rational discussion. Then came the next development really changed the equation: the internet.
In some ways, the internet follows the other development in the post war era that we can analyse using the Magical lens; namely, the rise of pop culture; aka sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. This was a bottom-up, grassroots Magical movement that allowed four working class lads from Liverpool to become the Beatles and a talented but disorganised dropout from America to become Jimi Hendrix. Although not many people would have thought about it this way, the movement was predicated on the same kind of esoteric spirituality that had become popular in the 19th century. It was a kind of personal magic. As Frank Zappa noted, the record company capitalists had no idea what was going on but they were happy to let it happen as it earned them small fortunes. They owned the infrastructure. The energy, the Magic, came from the people on the scene. This same pattern would later be reproduced on the internet especially in rise of social media.
Rock’n’roll died shortly after the internet arrived and not just because people now pay more attention to uploading selfies of themselves at a gig than they do to the music. There’s an obvious economic reason which is that the internet destroyed the monopoly of the recording labels on the distribution of music. Without that control on supply, the market was flooded, the price went down and a classic race-to-the-bottom quickly ensued.
From a Magical point of view, what happened was the dissipation of energy. The old record label system channeled the energy coming up from the grassroots music scene. When that system fell apart, the energy was dispersed and the power disappeared. The same thing happened to any other domain that was predicated on the exchange of information. The one that has had perhaps the most profound effect on the public discourse was the disappearance of the news media as the (genuine) fourth estate. Again, this was due to a collapsing business model caused by the loss of monopoly on supply but, in magical terms, we think of it as a dispersal of energy.
Beginning in earnest in the early 90s, the bottom-up movement that had manifested as post war pop culture was channelled into the internet. Steve Jobs is the best representative of that development because the early internet and computer practitioners were tied up quite closely with other esoteric, bottom up movements that were taking place. Jobs was hanging around with the hippies in northern California talking about systems thinking and open source software.
He went on to develop the iPhone and become a squillionaire. Did he sell out? Did he open the door to a tidal wave of narcissism? Maybe. But is Jobs really to blame? You can do all kinds of things with your iPhone. You can use it to watch porn or post videos of yourself dancing half naked on TikTok, or you can use it to dictate the next War and Peace. The fact that most people use it for the former and not the latter is not really Jobs’ fault. One thing the internet and iPhone did achieve was to network together billions of people around the world and that has had massive Magical ramifications.
With the Magical collapse of labour that became official in the early 90s, the political situation in all western countries was that there was no longer a single difference between the two major parties. Most countries became essentially one party states. Meanwhile, the public was no longer divided but had become a single mass of consumers. The Magical techniques that had worked so well in selling products now became ubiquitous in the political sphere. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, what all this amounted to was an enormous amount of power (Magical energy) suddenly concentrated in the hands of the western “elites”. To say that the power went to their heads is an understatement.
A key point to bear in mind is that the elites have been practising a form of Magic that had been accidentally discovered through Freudian psychology. But they don’t call it Magic. They call is marketing or public relations or spin or nudge units or whatever. The typical conspiracy theorist explanation is that they are all psychopaths who are using manipulative tactics to confuse and deceive the public. No doubt some of them are psychopaths. But if we think about this in Magical terms and we assume none of them know what they are doing when it comes to Magic, then another possibility opens up: they are possessed by their own Magic.
The robotic hypnosis of a Justin Trudeau with his ever-perfect, so serious, speech intonation or a Jacinda Ardern with her automatic “smile” or here in Victoria with our very own political terminator, Dictator Dan Andrews, betray all the hallmarks of Magical possession. Modern politics has become based almost entirely on Magic to the exclusion of reason and logic. Why else would politicians continually back projects that have no chance of working (like stopping a respiratory virus with an experimental vaccine). This would make them not just psychopaths, but imbeciles too.
[Edit: since writing this I’ve realised I need to distinguish between two definitions of “psychopath”. The one I used in the above paragraph is the standard definition in our culture: the calculating but morally reprehensible person who feels no empathy. The second definition is the one I am implying in this article in general: a person overtaken by magic and therefore not operating either at the level of soul (psyche+pathology) or reason (Mental Consciousness). I probably should have called this post “Redefining Psychopathy” as that would fit with the redefinition of psychology].
Politics is now nothing more than a power game and Magic is power. But when you practice politics as nothing more than a power game, when you are willing to say anything, absolutely anything, to hold onto power, you must give up any last vestige of the Mental Consciousness, which is to say any last grasp you might have on reason, logic and law. That seems to me to be a pretty good description of where the leaders of most western nations are right now.
Thus, we have one form of Magic which is the top-down Magic of the elites channelled mostly through the mainstream media which is now owned by the state, the corporations and the billionaires, the only entities in society who still pay for its services. The other primary form of Magic rests with the public via the internet. This is the personal, esoteric Magic that began in earnest with post war pop culture. The way in which this energy is channelled is the same as the old recording industry model. The capitalists own just the infrastructure i.e. the social media platforms, the search engines and the server farms. The energy comes from the ground up. This energy is mostly dissipated in narcissism but the networking effects of the internet allow for new, uncoordinated, decentralised blow ups.
These blows up look a lot like the kind of positive feedback loops we saw in the boom-bust cycles of 19th century capitalism. From the point of view of Mental Consciousness, they look crazy and irrational and that’s because cause and effect goes out the window. Nobody could have predicted that The Beatles would become The Beatles or that James Marshall would become Jimi Hendrix or that Apple Computers would become the biggest company in the world. Similarly, nobody could have predicted that Trump would become President or that a supposedly new cold virus discovered in China would lead to the entire global economy being turned on its head.
None of these can be analysed logically, rationally and causally. But the Magical doesn’t care about logic and reason. It just cares about energy and how it is channeled. The internet is the new medium through which that channeling occurs. Trump could never have won without the internet and corona could never have occurred without the internet. It took network effects, the random conglomeration of individual energy into a giant snowball of energy channeled through the internet, for these things to happen.
In the Trump presidency, we saw the bottom-up magical forces of the internet defeat the top-down magical forces of the elites and this is why the elites proceeded to have a total freak out and be reduced to blubbering incoherency. Corona also had all the features of a bottom-up Magical event again driven through the internet where daily case counts and videos of people supposedly collapsing on the street in China or whatever else. It’s not hard to see that Trump’s opponents saw what could be done with the situation early on and started pouring petrol of the fire. The role of the Church once was, theoretically, to be the fire brigade to try and control such magical energetic outbursts. But there is nobody to do that nowadays.
Where will things go from here? Is the west going to devolve completely into the Magical Consciousness? Perhaps. The problem is that you can’t run an advanced industrial economy that way. You need at least a modicum of Mental Consciousness for that to work. But the advanced industrial economy underpins modern society, including the internet. If it goes away, so does the Magic. We’ll discuss that more in the next post.