Pres­i­den­tial chaos GARY LACHMAN

GARY LACHMAN won­ders whether un­der­ly­ing Amer­ica’s cur­rent po­lit­i­cal up­heavals is a dark web of memes and magic: are the alt-right prac­tis­ing chaos magick?

Fortean Times - - CONTENTS -

I f asked what sin­gle word char­ac­terised Pres­i­dent Don­ald J Trump’s first year in of­fice, many would an­swer “chaos”. His nu­mer­ous cabi­net changes, rapid hiringand-fir­ings, and pol­icy switches – not to men­tion FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tions – sug­gest as much; but, if noth­ing else, Trump’s per­sonal style it­self tends to the un­pre­dictable, if not the er­ratic. As he wrote in his self-help book The Art of

the Deal: “I play it very loose”; “You can’t be imag­i­na­tive and en­tre­pre­neur­ial if you’ve got too much struc­ture. I pre­fer to come to work each day and just see what de­vel­ops”; “Some­times it pays to be a lit­tle wild.” 1

Such tac­tics might work in busi­ness; pol­i­tics, how­ever, is an­other mat­ter. But is Trump the only one spread­ing chaos?

One of the odder in­ci­dents fol­low­ing Trump’s pres­i­den­tial vic­tory hap­pened dur­ing the an­nual meet­ing of the Na­tional Pol­icy In­sti­tute in the Ron­ald Re­gan Build­ing, not far from the White House, soon af­ter the elec­tion. Richard Spencer, leader of the NPI – a far-right or­gan­i­sa­tion which had backed Trump – opened the pro­ceed­ings with a chill­ing cheer, which was re­ceived with an even more omi­nous re­sponse. As Spencer de­claimed “Hail Trump, hail our peo­ple, hail our vic­tory!” the crowd re­sponded with en­thu­si­as­tic ap­plause and not a few Hitler salutes. 3 But what’s even stranger is that Spencer and his fol­low­ers took credit for Trump’s vic­tory. He called it “a vic­tory of the will”, and de­clared that “We willed Don­ald Trump

The essence of chaos magick is to have some prac­ti­cal ef­fect

into of­fice, we made this dream our re­al­ity.” 4

Writ­ing about this in­ci­dent, New Thought blog­ger Har­vey Bishop pointed out that mak­ing dreams a re­al­ity is the cen­tral aim of var­i­ous forms of “men­tal science” or “pos­i­tive think­ing,” prac­tices of which, we know, Trump him­self is a devo­tee. 5 Now it seemed that Spencer and Co. had been get­ting up to some­thing sim­i­lar. Th­ese and other forms of “cre­ative vi­su­al­i­sa­tion” or “mind magic” share the com­mon be­lief that “thoughts are things”. This means that if vi­su­alised per­sis­tently enough, through sheer men­tal in­ten­tion, an ar­dent wish can be­come a con­crete re­al­ity.

The way in which Spencer and other mem­bers of the alt-right made their dream of a Trump pres­i­dency a re­al­ity, if in fact they did, was through what we can see as a darker vari­ant of pos­i­tive think­ing. They used what is known as “meme magic”.

The term meme was coined by the bi­ol­o­gist Richard Dawkins. Memes are images, sym­bols, slo­gans, or any other cul­tural prod­uct that can be trans­mit­ted to and im­i­tated by oth­ers, and Dawkins be­lieved that they serve the same func­tion in cul­ture as genes do in or­gan­isms. When Dawkins first coined the term, back in 1989, the main me­dia for the dis­per­sal of memes were books, art, mu­sic, tele­vi­sion, films – old school stuff. Today, they spread through the In­ter­net.

The “magic” end of meme magic comes from its link to “chaos magick”. What’s that? Sim­ply put, rather than stick to the spells and rit­u­als of tra­di­tional magic, chaos magick prefers a “do-it-your­self” ap­proach that favours the ma­gi­cian’s per­sonal ini­tia­tive and imag­i­na­tion, his abil­ity, that is, to make it up as he goes along – rather as Trump seems to be do­ing. Rather than fuss over wands and bells and in­cense, the chaos ma­gi­cian uses what­ever is at hand; the prin­ci­ple is the same as with ob­jets trou­vés – the “found ob­jects” that mag­i­cally be­come “art”. What is at hand for the chaos ma­gi­cian today are the memes prop­a­gated across the net.

The essence of chaos magick is to have some prac­ti­cal ef­fect on re­al­ity – to “make things hap­pen”. In prin­ci­ple, it’s the same aim shared by New Thought and pos­i­tive think­ing. Although they seem worlds apart, Rev. Nor­man Vin­cent Peale – Trump’s men­tor – who pop­u­larised “the power of pos­i­tive think­ing,” and Austin Os­man Spare, the trans­gres­sive artist-ma­gi­cian, gen­er­ally recog­nised as the grand­fa­ther of chaos magick (see FT144:34-40), have more in com­mon than we might at first sus­pect.

Meme magick started when teenage on­line gam­ing addicts recog­nised that images from pop cul­ture they had been post­ing seemed to be hav­ing an ef­fect in the “real” world. For in­stance, they saw odd co­in­ci­dences be­tween the crash of Ger­man Wings flight 9525 in 2015 and a scene from the 2012 film The Dark Knight

Rises. Fans of the film started a thread (“Banepost­ing”) on which they com­mented on the many sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the film scene and the real-life disas­ter.

For ex­am­ple, “Bruce Robin” was the name of one of the crash in­ves­ti­ga­tors, and a town near the crash site in the French Alps was called “Bain”. Bane is the name of the vil­lain in the film, Bat­man’s se­cret iden­tity is Bruce Wayne and Robin is Bat­man’s side­kick. In the film, Bane causes the flight to crash, and the ev­i­dence sug­gests that Flight 9525’s co-pi­lot crashed the plane de­lib­er­ately. There are other co­in­ci­dences and read­ers can find them at the knowyourmeme. com site. 6

This phe­nom­e­non was chris­tened “syn­chromys­ti­cism.” 7 Syn­chronic­ity is the psy­chol­o­gist CG Jung’s name for a “mean­ing­ful co­in­ci­dence”, when some­thing hap­pen­ing in the mind seems to be mir­rored in the outer world, with no ob­vi­ous con­nec­tion (see FT171:42-47) – again, the ba­sic aim of chaos magick and pos­i­tive think­ing. “Syn­chromys­ti­cism” sub­sti­tutes the In­ter­net for the imag­i­na­tion. It hap­pens when some­thing on the net af­fects things in the “real” world. We can say that chaos magick – all magic in fact – works on the prin­ci­ple of

in­duc­ing syn­chronic­i­ties; and the same can be said for pos­i­tive think­ing.

One of the prin­ci­ples of chaos magick is that any­thing can be used as a “sigil”, a mag­i­cal sym­bol or im­age charged with will and imag­i­na­tion. Chaos magick dif­fer­en­ti­ated it­self from old forms by ap­pro­pri­at­ing images from pop­u­lar cul­ture and us­ing them as mag­i­cal tools. In the case of Spencer and Trump’s “vic­tory of the will,” the icon com­man­deered was the car­toon­ist Matt Furie’s slacker am­phib­ian Pepe the Frog.

Pepe started out in­nocu­ously enough, but once launched there’s no con­trol­ling a meme, and it wasn’t long be­fore he made his way to the dark side. He be­came a mas­cot for the alt-right, who posted his im­age all over the net. Pepe quickly be­came part of Trump’s cam­paign, with images of him ap­pear­ing along­side Trump and even as Trump him­self. The idea was that if ran­dom post­ing of a scene from a film could have a real ef­fect in the real world, then the in­ten­tional re­peated post­ing of images – memes – should pro­duce even greater re­sults. Sev­eral strange co­in­ci­dences sur­round­ing Pepe – which I can’t go into here – made it seem that he was in­deed mag­i­cal. Many saw him as the in­car­na­tion of an an­cient Egyp­tian god of chaos, with Trump as his avatar, clear­ing the way for his re­turn.

In any case, Trump won, and if Spencer and his fol­low­ers are cor­rect, then meme magic must be in­cluded, along with blue-col­lar dis­en­chant­ment and Hil­lary Clin­ton’s bad rep­u­ta­tion, as cal­cu­la­ble rea­sons for his vic­tory.

But po­lit­i­cal chaos magick isn’t limited to the Amer­i­can far-right fringe. Years be­fore the alt-right turned pos­i­tive think­ing and meme magick to its own ends, ex-Soviet dis­si­dent-turned- es­tab­lish­ment-in­tel­lec­tual and some­times Putin ad­vi­sor Alexandr Du­gin hoisted the flag of chaos over a po­lit­i­cal land­scape even more un­cer­tain than Trump’s chaotic pres­i­dency (see FT349:48-51). Du­gin, whose heady text The

Fourth Po­lit­i­cal The­ory pro­poses a “pol­i­tics of chaos”, has ap­pro­pri­ated the eight-pointed “chaos star” as the em­blem of his Eurasian Youth Union. This is the far-right pa­tri­otic move­ment – or street gang – that was un­leashed on anti-Putin protestors and lib­eral Western diplo­mats when nec­es­sary. The “chaos star” it­self, prac­ti­cally a trade­mark of chaos magick, be­gan its life as an el­e­ment in the Bri­tish writer Michael Moor­cock’s “Eter­nal Cham­pion” se­ries of fan­tasy nov­els, which cen­tre around a never-end­ing bat­tle be­tween the forces of Or­der and Chaos.

This is a theme Du­gin reprises in his own no­tion of a sim­i­lar eter­nal war be­tween the Western “At­lanti­cist” sea­far­ing peo­ple, and the mother of all con­ti­nents, the Eurasian heart­land. With his re­cent ex­cur­sions into Crimea and Ukraine, Putin seems to want this heart­land to ex­pand, and the English edi­tion of Du­gin’s book, Eurasian Mis­sion, show­ing him how do to so, sports a yel­low chaos star against a dark, som­bre back­ground.

Pub­lish­ers have to sell books and graphic de­sign­ers help them do it. But per­haps a burn­ing star of chaos ris­ing against dark­ness sug­gests some­thing more. I think it might, and in my forth­com­ing book Dark Star Ris­ing: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump (on which this brief taster is based) I ex­plain why.

LEFT: Richard Spencer: Hail Trump. BE­LOW: The Pres­i­dent tweeted an im­age of him­self as Pepe the Frog.

ABOVE: A right wing pro­tester holds a sign of Pepe the Frog at a rally in Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia, on 27 April 2017. BE­LOW: The yel­low-on-black ‘chaos star’ used by as an em­blem by Alexandr Du­gin’s youth move­ment.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.