Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: A Greyhound Station where I set my thoughts to far off destinations...
That’s one sense. There’s another sense, however, in which much magical thinking is not only lazy—how much less work is it to try to sing back the salmon than to remove a dam?—and not only is it a toxic mimic of real magic, it is grossly disrespectful of the complex technologies required to perform real magic. To say that people can merely “dial in” if they feel like it (and “if you can’t, no big deal”) is to say that anyone can operate these advanced and complex technologies, no commitment or knowledge (or effort) required. Would we say the same about constructing and flying an airplane? Would you want to ride in an airplane built and piloted by people with such minimal understanding and dedication? I wouldn’t. So why should we expect these dabblers to be any more successful at the technologies of “magic” than we would their equivalents if they dabbled in aeronautics or aviation? And why should we trust them any more? |
Magic happens. It’s all around us. Sometimes it leaks into our lives. But these leaks reveal mainly the power of magic or the numinous, such that even those who know nothing about magic, who have no communal infrastructure to support it, and who have made no particular commitment to it (and in some cases are actively committed to worldviews that disavow it completely) can still perceive it, if only vaguely. To fully enter into relationship with these technologies requires a commitment as deep and broad and abiding—if not moreso—than the commitment required to fabricate machine-based technologies.
Of course the question arises: if indigenous peoples had (and some still have) such advanced technologies, how has civilization conquered nearly all of them (and will probably conquer the rest as soon as the civilized decide to steal the resources on these people’s lands)? Doesn’t that prove that the civilized have more advanced technologies? Isn’t that the general rule, that those with more advanced technologies generally conquer those with more primitive technologies?
Well, they do and they don’t. It depends on what you mean by technology, and it depends on what are the functions of your technologies. The question ignores the fact that different technological strains have different functions. A straightforward example should make this clear.
Let’s say you and I are going to be locked in a room where we will fight to the death. We each get to bring one and only one piece of technology to this fight. Would you rather have a relatively primitive 1873 “Peacemaker” Colt Single Action Army revolver (in perfect working condition with plenty of ammunition)—or if necessary, the even more primitive sword or club—or would you rather have what is supposed to be currently the world’s most technologically advanced laptop computer, the Macbook Pro (complete with a 2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, next generation 802.11n wireless, gorgeous upgraded displays, wickedly fast NVIDIA graphics, and a beautiful 17-inch monitor)? If the laptop doesn’t seem likely to do the job for you, you can instead choose an Iphone. They’re pretty darn advanced. Or if you don’t think computers will help you, you could instead choose a bag of remicade, which is a highly technologically advanced medicine made of a combination of mouse and human genetic materials. It works wonders on arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and even ankylosing spondylitis. Or how about the most modern vacuum cleaner? A CD player? Microwave oven? No? I’m sure you can see that all of these technologies are far more advanced than a 135-year-old gun (and infinitely more advanced than a sword or club), so they should serve you better in your attempts to kill me, right?
I’ll take the gun, please.
The point is clear: to compare a gun to a CD player is to compare apples to oranges. The same is true when we compare this culture’s technologies to the technologies of many other cultures. Different technologies have different goals, and whether one person is able to kill another using some piece of technology is no indication of which person holds more technologically advanced tools. Nor is it an indication of which culture is more technologically advanced, more evolved, or, to get to the point, smarter. It might be an indicator of which has more technologically advanced means to kill, and it might be an indication of which culture has a greater propensity to kill, regardless of technology.
The fact that we even have to talk about this—the fact that a common belief is that one reason this culture has conquered most of the rest of the world is that this culture has more advanced technologies—says much about this culture’s relationship to technology, and what is the primary thrust and purpose of this culture’s technologies: it makes clear something we don’t often like to talk about, which is that the raison d'être of so much of this culture’s technology is conquest. This shouldn’t really surprise us, of course, since this culture is based on conquest (as Stanley Diamond famously wrote, “Civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home”); it could not be what it is without conquest; it could not continue without conquest; and as we’ll see over the next few years (because we live on a finite planet and there are fewer and fewer places remaining for it to conquer), it will collapse quickly without constant conquest and theft. So of course this culture’s technologies will be primarily technologies of conquest, of domination, of control (as George Draffan and I made clear in Welcome to the Machine, the function of a machine is to convert raw materials to power: this is no less true for this entire machine culture than it is for a particular machine such as an automobile or forklift). This culture’s economic system is based on conquest, domination, control, exploitation, theft, and slavery. This culture’s governmental systems are based on conquest, domination, control, exploitation, theft, and slavery. This culture’s religions are based on conquest, domination, control, exploitation, theft, and slavery. This culture’s epistemology (these days, science) is based on conquest, domination, control, exploitation, theft, and slavery (and if you don’t believe me, just ask Francis Bacon). This culture is based on conquest, domination, control, exploitation, theft, and slavery. So we’d be foolish to expect this culture’s technologies to follow a different path.
But other technologies, other epistemologies, other religions, other forms of governance, other economic systems exist, some of which are based on principles other than conquest, domination, control, exploitation, theft, and slavery. Some are based on long term (as in thousands of years) mutually beneficial relationships. In fact these other technologies, epistemologies, religions, forms of governance, economic systems, and so on, are quite natural, and until this culture began to destroy them, lasted far longer than this culture has.
I have a friend who lived for a time in northern Pakistan. While she was living in Hunza Valley, she had conversations with a ninety-eight-year-old-shaman who told her (amongst other things) that what we call magic isn’t magic at all, but in fact forces who have existed from the beginning of time and who can be harnessed, “but only if you listen and show respect.” My friend told me that “He compared his belief in these forces to things like this culture’s discovery of magnetic fields and electricity, saying if hundreds of years ago anyone had claimed that lights would turn on at the flip of a switch or that you could talk with someone thousands of miles away using a c-shaped utensil, people would think of it as ‘magic.’ The biggest difference, he said, between believers in science and believers in magic is that the former use the forces they harness to advance ‘the human project’ only, with no respect for the forces with whom they’re interacting, but rather an attitude that these forces should be bent to their will and made to ‘perform.’ . . . He told me that eventually these forces will tire of us and ‘bite us in the arse.’ He laughed out loud as he said this last bit. Practitioners of magic, on the other hand, mainly interact with the forces they understand to exist with a respect and awe for the forces themselves and with the understanding that these forces may or may not choose to respond. Further, the use of this ‘magic’ was not only for the benefit of humans but all ‘things which have spirit.’”
My friend dreamed of Hunza the night before we talked about magic. She told me, “I was standing outside my room looking at Rakaposhi (as I used to). I saw the peak change from white to grey and in my dream I was terrified. Usually when I dream of Hunza I wake up happy. But I realized that this dream was the peak letting me know its extreme distress. It needs our help. This culture is killing everything, and we need to stop it.”