Here’s my lead article from cyberpunk magazine Machete Girl issue 8 a.k.a. the cyber mage issue, on how technology and magick overlap. Read the first half of the magazine on Issuu – part 2 and PDF downloads coming soon! And now, drop the reality warp drinks, pills and basslines, the warfare for the new Zeitgeist IS ON! (According to chief ed Comwedge, Machete Girl is back after a year of misdirection and lack of cyberpunk sexual drive. This is the first part of a two parter issue exploring the sigil punk method of the Cyber Mage!)
These brains are made for waking
APOPHASIS: MY FIVE MINUTES BEING A GOD
If you are a regular Machete Girl reader, there’s only a small chance you’re well acquainted with the Aarne-Thompson classification system, if at all. According to folklorists (and other lumbering beasts entirely made of glasses, beards and socially disruptive brainmeat), it is a collection of plot patterns found in folktales around the world. In the light of Arthur C. Clarke’s idea of how advanced technologies are indistinguishable from magic – and a growing list of articles from fringe culture to popular science sites really hammers home this fusion of different reality models -, this compendium of narrative patterns quickly turns into a collection of blueprints for innovative technologies. Or, a shortlist of concepts that could have made it to reality – possibilities range from insanely ingenious contraptions to time travel or mechanisms of the truly occult. This is Damage von Rock with your five minutes of cultural anthropology in the futurepresent.
I’m watching people fuck other people looking like cars in a shabby little hut somewhere in the Philippines. Bears eating salmon, and occasionally, each other, near the Brooks river, Alaska. The surface of Mars that looks just like Tatooine, and in a few years, a landscape most possibly LEGO’d out of Starbucks and Wal-Mart, hot items of the American terraforming industry.
That’s you, me and the rest of the world on the receiving end of an unevenly distributed future, half-gods since the web kicked in. Voyeuristic and unfathomably bored, we ended up omnipresent, even more voyeuristic, our levels of boredom defying language. Neumann, Berners-Lee and their kin brought this on our heads. Yet relentlessly, on we march, proud members of the counterculture crying biopunk, gene splicing and more implants to drift straight into the lane of the next breakthrough in cultural evolution: omnipotence, realm of the gods.
Arthur C. Clarke might have been a writer but between the lines he sounds like an engineer: equipped with just the right gear you could be an entity of supernatural capabilities. Sadly enough, transhumanist posterboy and carefully-tailored-trendy godhead Ray Kurzweil is just his antithesis: an inventor, sounding like a SF writer running amok in Vertigo’s private recreational pharmacy: we’ll make machines and AIs out of planets, then entire universes, then we’ll create everything that we could ever imagine, and then – elegantly taking this one step further – we’ll be able to make everything that we couldn’t even imagine, this line of reasoning so disturbingly grandiose and numbing that you decide to run with its flow just so he stands up and leaves your table sooner. Then you can let your brain weep. Uncontrollably.
But let’s just stick with being gods for a bit longer. Grant Morrison, chaos punk extraordinaire in his latest book SUPERGODS layed out in great detail how our Batman, Superman and other childhood icons are created along godly archetypes by the comics industry professionals and how these concepts are gradually thwarted by their fanbase, scattered into different personalities through different timelines, parallel universes or even cosplayer interpretations. Neil Gaiman plays that same trump in AMERICAN GODS, talking about a gradually disappearing pantheon of old gods and a plethora of new ones, mostly rooted in and funnelled by, consumerism. And a personal friend of mine whom all readers might and should know, Zoog von Rock of Angelspit, recently talked about how current mechanisms of fear are no longer rooted in religion but bureaucratic institutions. Satan does not make you feel vulnerable – insurance companies and troublesome policies do. (Go watch his cyberpunk blipverts. He has many words of wisdom.) All this propels us to the pivot point when we realize gods are so much our creations, we could just be them.
And that’s when the acid puts you on Ganymedes with an inflatable cucumber helmet, a rusty strap-on and two dozen pictures of Sarah Palin in an orgy of interracial furries.
First time being a trickster god, apparently.
INFINITE, ENDLESS TAILORING
Gods. Entities of omnipresence and omnipotence. Creatures with infinite levels of freedom.
Databases in the wake of the web2.0 revolution (and the ones facilitating the web3.0 breakthrough – however you care to interpret the version numbers), augmented reality, locative media and streaming technology made omnipresence possible, wonderfully and poetically described by Ben Russell’s HEADMAP MANIFESTO. Omnipotence comes to us through augmentations, implants and ingestable nanotech – and this is something that’s been floating on the waves for a long time, most politically by Lukas Zpira of the bodymod community with his BODY HACKTIVISM MANIFESTO and Bruce Sterling’s Viridian movement. (Note: Donna Haraway’s CYBORG MANIFESTO is a previous proof of academical thinking hinting at human/machine fusions leveling up human evolution.) And, most obviously – transhumanism, theorists, developers and roadside DIY grinders, who’re perfectly enacing the Zpiraesque dream. Given the r/evolutionary greenlight to parkour over the bio/logical boundaries of the human body and maintain all our rights for reinventing ourself through body modification and seeing how bodymodders and cosplayers break expectations for personality “bubbles” and social facades – mutation has apparently finished off evolution theory and the duration of processes reduced drastically from eras to mere months. Or weeks. (And finally, generous years in our life when we can be reborn without a host, take syringes and pressing machines as our fathers, studio sofas as our mothers and we can handpick family members, however we want them.) And obviously, cultural and market imperatives are driving baselines and ground zeros even further – from olympic records to porn trends, from startup results to the physical, physiological and moral greyzones allowed for better results. Zack Lynch will tell you more about it in his book THE NEURO REVOLUTION. Also, each and every one of you knows this from your own personal lives.
So it’s harder to be a god. Soldiers, commandos, corporate employees get the real treatments. Us, the new scum? We’ll DIY our ways until our eyeballs, metabolisms or brains burst. You know this, you’ve already been there. I know this, I’ve been there too. Got the new personalities, made up and did all the new rituals, made my personality, body and brain into an art medium, running mental processes, concepts and religions in and on it, making myself into a metacanvas. This is probably one of the very few magazines on the face of the planet whose readers do not need longer explanations.
One more thing, though. Superskills through implants make me remember two stories. One about a friend who went into shock on a train when a teenage boy was stabbed to death in front of her in under three seconds of tunnel darkness. For his iPod. The other about Steve Mann, Grinder of the First Order, professor at the University of Toronto, self-made cyborg, harassed and thrown out of a McDonald’s in Paris, mid-June 2012, for wearing his eyewear firmly attached to his head. Noone went helping. Noone would help when bothered for tech. If magical talents are acquired through technology, hide or disguise them. Technologically we’re evolving with the finesse and speed of a cheetah. Spiritually and culturally as a whole species – still not much difference from the evil little fuck next door tearing out spider legs.
There are bins full of torn out spider legs on the outskirts of middle-class liberal civilization.
Mind the gap.
AND NOW, INCEPTION TIME!
Magick and science/technology are more or less interchangeable ways of discourse for the same concepts in reality. (So if you have a fiery debate with someone over the existence of magic or not – you might just actually be fighting over terminology, not actual models of reality.) The most acknowledged definition of magick by one of the most influential names in modern occultism, Aleister Crowley – the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will – suddenly turned reality hacking from fireball throwing to lawn mowing – a skill that you can have a go at and that grows with practice. Also, this approach aligns itself perfectly to the idea of creative and advertising agencies like Droga5, BBDO or Troika as powerhouses of magick, something that Alan Moore talked about in his documentary THE MINDSCAPE OF ALAN MOORE. And the rabbit hole goes deep with the likes of Mandelbrot (his fractal mathematics reflected in nature mirrored in the mediaeval works of Hermes Trismegistos, most notably with the theorem of as above so below), Csíkszentmihályi (his positive psychology approach and his notion of flow much like Buddhist harmony states or the gnosis of chaos magick), Wittgenstein (his linguistic statement on words having only use and not meaning definitely illustrating the arbitrariness of magick) or Stanislawski (his renowned theory and discipline of acting having a lot to do with visualization and self-suggestion techniques).
And the same goes for objects, products and creatures, too. Take the magical objects in the Aarne-Thompson index. The purse of Fortunatus that replenishes itself? NFC phones with m-commerce apps. The poor girl’s spindle, shuttle and needle that showed the path to her house and adorned it so that the prince could find and marry her? Foursquare, Layar and some third-party AR decor app. The voice without the body in the Beast’s house that talks to the Beauty? Anything from a loudspeaker to closed circuit surveillance. Lycanthropes and various beasts of lore? Genetic experiments gone haywire. (Or intentionally let loose. Don’t know which is worse.)
Gods? Yeah, gods.
WHERE MAGICK GOT ITS FIRST DONKEY PUNCH
Cyber mage. That’s just high tech low life with high concept low gear, I nod, we all met this during the nineties or the double-oh’s, we’re all part of this counterculture, we know our Shadowrun rulebooks and COUNT ZERO’s with torn off covers and two megatons of Haiti Voodoo loa living in the Gibsonian canonical cyberspace. Our event horizons broadened explicitly and limited only by financial imperatives, so the big question really is: what are the skills, notions and concepts that can be harnessed and executed by brain, will, intent and psychic or spiritual capabilities alone, capabilities that no tech can augment or focus?
That is the point when ComWedge disagrees. You know him, he likes to keep the ball rolling. It is all about merging tech with the body and having extraordinary abilities, presented as a mostly male-oriented thing, he says.
I boldly disagree, then shiver. (University MA in cultural studies does that to you.) Cyberpunk gender politics are still present in issues like AI gender (do AIs sound female in a deliberate attempt to present artificial constructs with a traditional female submissive personality instead of a headstrong male one like H.A.L.?) but implant tech in 2012 is asexual in its practicality – Ghost in the Shell, Sleep Dealer, The Matrix, Gene Generation, Aeon Flux or the amazing Shirley Garbage in The Sarah Connor’s Chronicles achieved a lot in illustrating the numerous ways women merge with technology out of which sex is only a single goal of many. (And try envisioning an AI WITH a personality but WITHOUT a gender, Maslow gently sliding down into the trenches of uselessness.)
There might be a bridge, though. I’ve just finished watching the 2DVD version of TALKING WITH GODS, a wonderful commentary on the life of comics industry legend Grant Morrison, also a self-proclaimed rocker of chaos magick. He’s asked, if you finish an important project after creating, charging and firing a sigil of intent, was it magick, self-suggestion or just pure hard work? It’s the same, says Morrison, everything is.
Everything is magic.
I scratch my head. How I see things, everything is data, patterns or sets of quantifiable Bezier curves around blobs of vague human concepts. (Even recreational drugs – a set of physiological data already used in real-time speech assessment systems.) And I just had four ristrettos boiled down from Red Bulls, so I might be overplaying this for the sake of dramatic edge. But if everything is magic and everything is data, then ComWedge and me just got to this holistic unity thing ahead of you and we’ve just saved you thousands of dollars you would have spent on spiritual courses.
I leave you with one thing to ponder on. There is a well-known and much acknowledged ceremonial magick practice known as the Achieving the Knowledge and Conversation of The Holy Guardian Angel. Which is strange, because I’ve just checked my Google History and spent 200 bucks on a psychological profile with a statistic forecast for the upcoming six months based on my OpenGraph. So I’m pretty much done conversing.