Reality Wars

From another comment thread:

It [Bush’s reputation] can be destroyed by the perception of Bush failing despite adherence to the scheme in the eyes of his followers. Call it occultism, identify and mock the particular tenets, point out how they fail in Reality, and the “faith” collapses in a hurry.

Ironically, this is something I have been struggling with for some time. I do, in fact, believe in the power of the will to alter reality. So, in fact, do you — it’s just that your variant of this belief is called “science,” and requires different forms of action than magickal/spiritual methods. 😉

Seriously, until science brings physical principles into common knowledge, laws of physics are occult, aka “hidden.” The basic idea of magick is that there are principles in the universe that can be uncovered with inner explorations rather than (or in conjunction with) outward ones. However, there are limits to what any one person can do, because there’s a whole universe out there filled with people and other elements (animals and natural forces, whether you call them spirits, forces of nature, laws of physics, or all of the above) that affect reality all the time, and if you come at them cocked at an arrogant angle, they will take a Santayana-esque delight in knocking you down.

This is called hubris, and it is the greatest danger of the will-worker. And I can think of no greater statement of hubris from a will-worker than this:

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Pride goeth before a fall. This is a psychological truism, based on the blindness caused by hubris — but it is also a magickal truism, and overreaching on this tremendous a scale will mess you up every time.

In this particular instance, the problem is that Iraq is the brick that said “no you won’t, either,” to paraphrase Bill Cosby. They tried to create their own reality there, but the existing reality — backed by 24 million wills, the religious beliefs of a billion others, and a ton of sheer logistical facts on the ground (which obviously have their own power) — left the neocons with the proverbial broken hand. And so their hubris has cost them dearly. Alas, it has also cost the world far more dearly.

In short, reality is partly subjective, but it is also a consensus, and locality matters. Convincing tens of millions of Americans that your beliefs are reality doesn’t do jack when the tens of millions of Iraqis that are right there can see you royally screwing up.

It really amazes me at times that, no matter what honest belief system, paradigm, ideology, or theory of governance you come at these people from, they manage to be vile, incompetent, hypocritical fools. They’re like this from every angle.

It is all well and good to use positive thinking, faith in higher powers, or “magick” to change your own little corner of the world. Instilling confidence in yourself, using your belief to overcome obstacles in helping the poor and victimized, and ritual action taken to defy Murphy are all benign uses of this method no matter what your beliefs. What the Rove/Cheney axis is up to represents an entirely different, and quite possibly unprecedented, level of activity. I suggest that judging any general group by their actions, whether Christian, corporate, American or mystic, is unfair.

(/) Roland X
You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland. And I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. — Morpheus

Originally posted to Roland X on Sun Oct 17, 2004 at 11:39 AM PDT.


Strange, and true.
I hope this sparks lively comments. I’ve recommended this. Probably more from me later. But I stayed up to 5 a.m. reading and am tired at the moment.

by Timaeus on Sun Oct 17, 2004 at 11:57:34 AM PDT

I’ve created my own reality of magic
and on Nov. 2 the magic will be visible, palpable, and real.

Nice diary. Thanks for the effort and the thoughts.

all people are created equal

by thebloviator on Sun Oct 17, 2004 at 11:59:18 AM PDT

A simple test
is William James’ statement that “truth is what is good in the way of belief”: does a belief get you what you want?. I take that to mean that truth never resides in the belief itself, it resides in what is good. Without that distinction, belief is no more than superstition.

If you analyze the Bush/Republican/neo-con “belief system” by looking at the results it’s produced, there’s nothing good about it. It hasn’t even produced the results it claimed it would – not in Iraq, not in the US economy or healthcare system, not anywhere.

Science is nothing more than a systematic way of arriving at a set of “good” general beliefs – beliefs that reliably produce good results, and who’s opposite isn’t very useful. Today’s right-wingers want you to think that it’s only the beliefs (their beliefs) that matter. The counter to that is to point out the results those beliefs have produced and to demonstrate that “we can do better”.

by badger on Sun Oct 17, 2004 at 12:47:08 PM PDT

As a sometime-Wiccan
and sometime Unity-church-goer, I believe in the essence of what you say. However in my own life I’ve been somewhat ineffectual in manifesting reality for myself, esp. in the area of abundance, and I also agree that reality is a group hypnosis.

That said, I do think that the dynamic at work in the world today is between two fundamentally different sets of belief systems, which (for lack of a better way to say it) correspond to the Suskind article’s “faith-based” vs. “reality-based” perspectives.

That’s oversimplified, of course. Some of us have faith that clear-eyed, honest and value-driven problem-solving, combined with positive visualization, CAN change the reality of the world for the better, as opposed to the evangelical closed-eyed, dysfunctional, denial-based wishful thinking. Hubris, as you say, is definitely a factor; an inability to confront the “grey areas” and “shadow” aspects is also part of it.

I’m not as faith-based as I used to be. I am so angry and cynical lately at the pervasive dishonesty of the other side that I have trouble believing God or anyone else will help us if we don’t get off our collective asses and help ourselves. The falsely pious have pretty much ruined genuine religious belief for me because their “values” have proven to be so empty of heart.

But ultimately I do believe that the extremists will fail, that they become louder only because they are losing power and struggling harder to survive, and that sanity will prevail.

Liberals are conservatives who have been through treatment.

by marjo on Sun Oct 17, 2004 at 01:05:01 PM PDT


Well, thank you for going so far in response to my rather telegraphic post. I felt some it simply had to be said, in however deficient a form I was able to at that time of night. I’ve been gnawing on writing a monograph of sorts about the subject- the occultic method and behaviorisms of the Bush team- for over a year and a half. The Iraq war run-up and followthrough failure was a classical Manichaean kind of mass delusionality followed by reaching limits of competence. But then the Dean phenomenon, which was almost the same kind of thing, made it difficult.

I think occultism and magical thinking are always going to be popular; a great deal of it is based in peoples’ lebenslugen and accumulated fallacies that have to be maintained. As for the allegations made about science…I am in fact trained as a scientist and learned the rigorous thinking of it quite well, I think, and certainly no subscriber to scientism. It’s not science I believe in, it’s only a method. What constitutes ‘scientific knowledge’ is a matter of memory and records and interpretation of the chunks of it that are reliable, and the people who see their job as marketing something as scientific knowledge generally perpetrate the crimes of marketers and often of not having understood or interpreted the material properly in the first place. But GM’s marketing practices don’t make their vehicles inherently good or bad, and the same is true for the advocates of Science. The automobile is a proven mode of transportation despite GM, and the rigorous thinking/argument at the heart of scientific research is why Carl Sagan’s sillinesses didn’t destroyed the reputation of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Rigorous thinking is why science survives, despite its admirers, and lack of it at crucial points is why everything the Bush people touch turns into Failure.

Your assertions about reality- I think you lump ‘consensus’ and ‘reality’ together too easily. ‘Reality’ has lost its concrete meaning in American English, that is true, when TV football analysts use it more than three times in a broadcast. You might agree that some kinds of reality are less fungible than others- you can will many things, but no one has been able to keep a radioactive lump of material from radiating or a thrown rock from shattering a window pane by wishing it to be otherwise.

I have to admit to coming at occultism from the other side, from ‘real’ mystical religion (I’m with the RSoF). The critique to make of your defense of your general point of view is the one Evelyn Underhill makes in “Mysticism and Magic”, Chapter 7 of her magnum opus Mysticism. (There are 2-3 renditions of it online, if you Google it up, one at She defends theism and classical Christianity far more than I consider defensible, that is the book’s major flaw. I’d add that my personal, operational, definition of ‘will’ is ‘desire acted or to be acted upon, with minimal regard to reality proper’. Of course much can be achieved via will, but I consider “where there’s a will, there’s a way” a falsehood: will works where a path already exists, however overgrown. Like Underhill (whose language is unnecessarily harsh on this point, but she’s trying to go to other places) I do find a lot interesting about white magic and feel very utilitarian about it: if it helps you live more well and doesn’t cause social conflict, I see no reason to condemn it. The Black kind, however, is a begging for destruction and immoralism that is imposed on us. I think we can agree that it must be vanquished.

I do regret the ambiguity that came with the phrase “particular tenet” in my earlier post, and that you quote. I meant that the very particular way the tenet is manifested as policy or behavior or process has to be identified- no one can possibly understand the Hermetic or Constant-ine Dogmas being dealt with per se. But the Believers know when a pillar of their Faith is demolished, and when all of them are demolished for a particular item the item cannot be Believed in anymore.

by killjoy on Sun Oct 17, 2004 at 09:15:10 PM PDT

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