Wednesday, 27 January 2016

City Life

"To call for the de-urbanisation of the world is only to recognise the historical truth that city life has never suited more than a strict minority of mankind - mainly merchants and intellectuals. Of course, intellectuals tend to make much of the city because it is congenial to their temperament and necessary for their role in the world. They relish the fast turnover of new ideas, the intensive interaction of contrasting tastes and values. But the city is, at best and even on its modest premodern scale, hectic and wearing. It burns up its human material rapidly and therefore has not been to the liking of many. That is why, until the latter nineteenth century, cities were few and small by our standards. And yet, though small, they were often more culturally fruitful than the contemporary megalopolis. Athens of the the Golden Age and Rennaissance Florence, for example, were about the size of Lubbock, Texas, or smaller. We now tend to think of cities as necessarily immense, and the bigger the more truly citylike - as if more people in the city meant more people sharing the spirit and benefits of the city, a foolish non sequitur, rather like assuming the more people in church on Sunday, the more true Christians in the world.

As anyone who loves city life knows, size kills cities and replaces them with cadaverous 'urban areas' full of people who loathe the city and appreciate none of its essential values. In 'The Secular City', a sadly misguided encomium on 'technopolitan culture', Harvey Cox has praised the supercity as 'an ingenious device for vastly enlarging the range of human communication and widening the scope of individual choice' - which rather suggests that every dormitory suburb and decaying slurb in America enjoys the lively ethos of New York's Greenwich Village, or Chicago's Near North Side, or Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue. But there are not more than a few dozen inner-city neighbourhoods in the entire United States where something like real city life can be found, and most of these are smothering under pressure of the hypertrophic urbanism around them. When cities swell into urban areas, it is their fat that increases, not their creative heart and vital organs. The essence of city living was never size or density, anonymity or mobility; those are the liabilities of the city. But they are as much as most urbanized Americans will know of city life."

- Theodore Roszak, "Where the Wasteland Ends"

Saturday, 16 January 2016

The Sacred Authority Complex

The book I've been cogitating on about The Doors is not about that band really, but about the extraordinary time in which they were immersed. In many ways the band themselves are philosophically quite easy to understand, but the bizarre emergence of the counter-culture, and its psychotic denouement are much more problematic. However, I'm currently reading Morris Berman's "Wandering God", which although ostensibly about nomadic hunter-gatherers, posits a remarkable theory about non-nomadic agriculture-based civilisations (i.e. such as the one we live in) that Berman calls the Sacred Authority Complex.

Berman maintains that hunter-gatherers have a "horizontal" consciousness which is largely non-hierarchical, and is focused peripherally outward on the environment, as one would expect for those whose existence is predicated on paying close attention to the natural world. Hunter-gatherers, Berman posits, have no division between the sacred and profane, and thus no gods. They also have no sense of ownership, historical progress, and no conception of heroes. Their perception of "the sacred" is immanent in the natural world, in an everlasting "now" that their constant alertness demands. However, with the birth of agriculture and sedentarism, hierarchy emerges and consciousness becomes "vertical" with the sacred removed from nature and placed in an unreachable upper realm, embodied in an abstract God or gods directly accessible only to leaders and heroes, while values become contested and worth fighting over, and warfare emerges. Because the sacred is no longer immanent (or rather the immanent is no longer sacred) the deprived denizens of these societies seek the sacred (or oblivion) in short, intense blasts - through prayer, music, drink, drugs, intense orgiastic communes etc.

However, the really important thing about the Sacred Authority Complex is that it is the one and only template for every social institution in every post-nomadic society. As such it is "hidden", with everyone who wants to remold or change society being blissfully unaware of its existence. As such, although these societies think they are changing and evolving, all they are doing is undergoing superficial makeovers while the underlying pattern remains the same. This is why, no matter how radical or egalitarian or utopian a political movement or ideology may be, it will always give birth to the same familiar hierarchical pattern. According to Berman, all post-nomadic religions, ideologies, institutions and theories are ultimately about "worship" - of Jehovah, Allah, The Market, Dialectical Materialism, Money, The Beatles, Jim Morrison, the Corporation, the United States of America, whatever you want to name. Another remarkable aspect of this idea is that once you are presented with it, you start to see it everywhere. Your workplace is a Sacred Authority Complex, because it can't be anything else.

And this idea also allows us to begin to understand both the counter-culture, and the larger culture that it attempted to counter. The Military Industrial Complex was (is) an instrument of the Sacred Authority Complex of the USA and "Western values" that attempted the salvation of Vietnam, because anything that opposed its sacred values was a threat. Soviet Communism was also a Sacred Authority Complex, of course. However, the counter-culture, because it grew in the same mold, also became a Sacred Authority Complex, seeking the salvation of mankind from capitalism, militarism and war, and as its "mission" was frustrated it thus itself became a miasma of conspiracy theories, bullying, drug dependency, and eventually murder and terrorism. And how this panned out, I think, should be the subject of a book.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

I was going to put down some thoughts on David Bowie and Donald Trump in reply to Enda's comment in the last post, but instead I've decided to put them in this entirely brand spanking new post. What I intended to say is that I think Bowie's death is really significant, in that regardless of what one thinks about his music, he was one of the handful of pop/rock stars who were true "magicians", in that they were first and foremost consciousness changers. I think the other significant magicians were/are Dylan, Lennon, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones and John Lydon.

Bowie's death signals that this line of consciousness changers, and the values they inculcated (the "baby boomer" values) has not only come to an end, but is being depleted. There is no replacement for Bowie, and so the values that he represented are being denuded of the presence of such an active vital force.

The magicians who are changing consciousness now - the likes of Trump, Le Pen, Wilders - are antithetical to the values that the likes of Bowie symbolized (internationalism, cross-fertilization, cultural flux) and want to roll back the changes of the last 40-50 years. I think this will be the story of the next decade or two - how long will the baby boomers' values endure without the talismanic presence of their foremost cultural representatives. I think this is why the likes of the BBC are going a bit overboard on Bowie's death, as a great many influential culture vultures of a certain age must now be starting to feel somewhat rudderless.

The changes that that generation wrought have long been considered by them to be permanent, and this has been one of the undertones of the Bowie coverage. However, I have detected that these assertions are not being made without a certain pang of anxiety. It is possible that not just Bowie, but the entire cultural movement in which he played a central part, may in the not too distant future appear an incomprehensible curio, an aberration that evolved from specific and unrepeatable social, cultural and economic conditions. Which is to say that I think the significance of Bowie's passing is that it is the harbinger of a greater death, and I think that at an unconscious level this is widely understood.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Starting to wonder now if the last World War II veteran will outlive the last 60's/70's rock star.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Just spent the afternoon in an estate pub watching a bunch of 40-50 year old Neo-Nazi skinheads wearing T-shirts depicting Wehrmacht divisional symbols repeatedly putting this on the jukebox:

It really is a great record, but do normal people remember it?

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The general awesomeness of The Ruts is not generally appreciated, I feel. This was years ahead of its time:

As was this:

And this:

Friday, 11 December 2015

Stop The War

There's been a fair amount of controversy lately regarding the Stop The War Coalition, and various "positions" it has taken regarding the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, and even allegations that it has "lost its moral compass". However, it is not a moral compass that has guided the organisation since its inception, but a religious one.

The important thing to understand is that what Stop The War and anti-interventionists such as Chomsky, Fisk, Milne, Pilger etc. are ultimately peddling is a Garden Of Eden myth in which the USA and "The West" play the role of the snake. The underlying idea is that without meddling Western “imperialism”, which can be loosely defined to encompass almost any kind of economic or cultural interaction, the rest of the world will automatically return to its natural state – an idyll of peace, harmony and equality. The reason this idea has such potency is because it has deep, but unconscious, religious roots. It is tapping into the latent Christian conception of The Fall. It certainly has no historical basis, as non-Western nations have always been perfectly capable of generating vast tides of violence without any Occidental assistance.

This in turn gives an insight into why the Stop The War Coalition is widely considered to be a success, when it singularly fails to prevent wars. The definition of its success is usually attributed by its enemies to a suspicion that its real purpose is to provide a front for various radical Left groups, most notably the SWP, to conduct recruitment drives, with the anti-war message simply acting as a lure. After all, any genuine attempt to prevent the UK going to war would entail the risk of long jail sentences for its protagonists. However, the mythology of anti-interventionism only makes sense if The Fall occurs and the West goes to war. The anti-war protests are therefore a form of ritual psychodrama which frame the act of going to war precisely as The Fall, as an attack on innocence, and it is on these terms that the Stop The War Coalition is successful. It may well be correct that Stop The War has "called it right" over various Western interventions, but this is the correctness of the stopped clock that tells the right time twice a day. Anti-interventionists oppose all Western interventions by default, and theologically cannot do otherwise.

What matters to the Stop The War Coalition is not stopping wars, but ensuring that their commencement is properly ritualised.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

"We love death as much as you love life!"

Remember - Britain is not a secular society, it is one of the most religious countries on Earth.