Think back… way, way back… to when you were an infant. The word “infans” means “without speech”. That’s a long ways back, although not entirely inaccessible.
Before you are born, you know neither need nor desire. As your bodily organism develops in the mother’s womb, all its requirements are provided by its environment, so that the sense of need or desire never arises at all. There is no delay, really, between your organism’s needs and the satisfaction of those needs. There is no sense of separation between the organism and its environment.
After you are expelled from the womb, it’s another story altogether.
You’re first encounter with a sense of apartness or of separation is the sense of need, desire, want, and the perhaps traumatic realisation that the new world into which you have entered throws up resistances to the immediate satisfaction of those needs, desires, wants. Suddenly, you’ve encountered the first of the Buddha’s Noble Truths — suffering and neediness, dukkha. There’s a sense of helplessness and neediness. But, over time, you learn that to get attention for your needs, a little bit of bawling and crying brings attention, comfort, and satisfaction of need.
You begin to sense that you face a frightening and even hostile world, one that apparently resists the satisfaction of desire, and so you have your first rudimentary awakening to the subject-object differentiation, which somehow you must bridge. Crying helps, perhaps. It brings attention. But even better is speech. And as you learn to speak, and leave infancy behind with the learning, you also make your first discovery of magic and magical technique. It’s not a coincidence that the word “grammar” is connected with words for magic and spell-casting. The names and tenses of grammar made the spaces and times of your immediate reality governable. “Johnny wants a cookie!” gets you want you want, along with that other magical word “No!” — and especially when it’s repeated 3 times: “No! No! No!” — since 3 is the number of magic.
I’m not entirely sure why three is the number of magic, yet, but threesomes keep recurring in connection with magic — Macbeth’s three witches, and Hermes Trismegistus, or “the thrice-great” Hermes. The number three, as the number of magic, insinuates itself through the mental-rational consciousness as the technique of dialectical reasoning — thesis, antithesis, synthesis — represented by the pyramid surmounted by the Eye of Horus or Eye of Ra become the perspectivising eye of the Age of Reason. As Gebser has it, all concerns with will, all concerns with power, belong to the magical structure of consciousness. Repetition, formula, prescription, recipe belong to magical technique — the power to “make happen” (for magic and “make”, as well as German Macht are related words, as is machine, magnificent, majesty, magus, and so on). And for the child, speech especially is spell-casting. The Greeks used the words “techne” and “magikos” interchangeably. And before the word “technology” — or “reasoning about the means” — came to be applied to the study and design of machinery and the means of production, it originally referred to the study of grammar — a “how to” approach to representing meaningful and ineffable truth in articulating, grammatical speech. Naming, and the power to name, was itself magic.
Magic arises as will to power, and the first experience of magic is the attempt of the child to overcome the gap between the arousal of need and desire and the resistance thrown up against the immediate satisfaction of the need or desire by the environment. This is our first orientation in reality — that there is, indeed, an evident difference between the “in-here” and the “out-there” that must somehow be overcome and managed by a technique. Technique is, for that reason, magical and is the chief expression of will to power for the purposes of satisfying need and desire by overcoming the resistances to the gratification of that need and desire.
And this is the issue of what Algis Mickunas calls “technocratic shamanism”. But he approaches it from a rather more abstract level than is necessary in his essay on “Magic and Technological Culture”. We can indeed speak of the ontology and metaphysics of contemporary instrumental rationality and techno-science as having its roots, unconsciously, in the magical consciousness structure, but really what it boils down to is that this ontology and metaphysics — or world-outlook (or “reason for being”) and method or means (quantification) correspondingly — is just a very sophisticated and refined approach to the child’s attempt to overcome the differential between desire and the resistance thrown up to desire by either nature or other human beings. In other words, it’s all just a sophisticated way of saying “Johnny wants a cookie!”.
If that sounds rather childish, it’s because it is. Much of contemporary techno-science (and I include in that also the advertisers and “brandmeisters”) are just great big overgrown children trying to find ever more sophisticated techniques for getting a cookie. In that sense, and in psychological terms, there is something very infantile about technological culture. The admen are just as childish in their neediness — in their need to control others for fun and profit — as little Johnny is desirous of getting someone to get him a cookie.
Of course, a lot of sociologists have already noted how infantile, childish, petulant, and narcissistic the consumerist culture of Late Modernity really is. Rosenstock-Huessy even noted that about the great Rene Descartes — that his thinking was that of a frustrated adolescent. So, what does Mickunas have to say about the ontology and the metaphysics of contemporary rationality that invokes the claim that it is rooted in magic (or more correctly, the “deficient magical”)?
First, Mickunas notes that the contemporary mental structure is characterised by two principle features: instrumental reason and will. These belong to the modus of the magical structure of consciousness and are formally expressed in the more or less conscious ontology and the metaphysics of the technological culture. He actually begins with a brief recapitulation of the fragemented and growing decoherence of the mental structure of consciousness — of “reason” — but we won’t revisit that here. It suffices to say that for Mickunas this fracturing of the consciousness structure is best characterised as “overspecialisation” of societal subsystems each making a claim to the possession of a specialist technique for the domination of some partial aspect of nature or human nature. In other words, pretty much the meaning of the old parable about the five or six blind scholars and the elephant. Underlying all this fragmented approach to nature and reality (and human nature too) in the form of the “disciplines” is a shared ontology (or world-outlook, or “reason for being”) and a common metaphysics that specifies the proper approach to that reality, and which takes the form of “method” or “methodology” or procedure.
The ontology of the technological society is the social construction of nature in which nature’s “reason for being” as such is to satisfy human wants. It exists for human use. The metaphysical or instrumental approach that follows from that is in the form of quantification, and as Mickunas puts it “Quantification is used as a way of establishing rules that may be applied to the ontologically designed world. Such rules allow the human to become lawgiver to the environment.”
This characterises both techno-science and propaganda, too, inasmuch as advertisers aspire to be “scientific” themselves which, in the literature, really means to achieve command and control of human behaviour and which we should probably call “behavioural engineering”. The motivations for this do not lie in science, per se, but in magic. All this “ontology” and “metaphysics” is just a fancy way of saying that Johnny has figured out how to cast his spell over the environment and other humans to get a cookie every time. His wish becomes a demand and a command. And that’s pretty much the gist of magic — the power “to make happen” rather than to “let happen”.
There is, of course, an authentic magical mode of awareness which has more to do with the mastery of intent. Gebser himself was more concerned with the manifestations, in our time, of the “deficient mode” of the magical consciousness. Bear in mind that Gebser began his Ever-Present Origin around 1932 (the same year Huxley published his Brave New World) and only published it finally in 1949 — the years that span the fascist period in Europe, when the intellectual culture of Germany succumbed to the influence of the unconscious ancient forces of magic and myth, when Nazi science served fetish and cult, often quite enthusiastically itself.
In fact, the “ancient forces” of myth and magic are real. They aren’t fictions, and Gebser insists its our task to recognise their continuing effective reality in our psychic constitution. They still lurk about in our dreaming, and in our dreaming we also rehearse our own approach to everyday reality. The boundary between what we call “consciousness” and “unconscious” is indeed very thin and very fluid.
“The priority of the will reintroduces the magical consciousness structure. This magical consciousness structure integrates instrumental rationality and technological production on the grounds of vital wants, performance for effect, and the power to transform all things into any desired shape. For magical awareness, everything can become everything else. Everything can be changed into any desired effect. All that is required is an appropriate and precise ritual. The ritual can be a rain dance or the seeding of clouds, a healing chant or a plastic heart. The principle is the same: Magic is the consciousness of the power to make, to transform, regardless of the qualitative and natural differences of things. Willing wanting, making, and power dominate this consciousness. Thus, all things are referred to the will and to the power to establish desired results.”
What must be added to this, of course, is the issue of efficiency. Where efficiency in the production of results as the satisfaction of wants trumps ethics, or in fact becomes the ethos itself, this also belongs to magical consciousness.
Here, I want to quote at some length from the concluding paragraphs of Mickunas’ essay, in which he turns his attention to the implications of techno-science for the political state “in the context of magical intentionality”. This is of some importance since it pertains to my recent research into the meaning of “holistic branding” a.k.a. “marketing 3.0”,
“First, since the claim is made that all things, including human thinking and even the conceived political institutions guaranteeing human rights and freedoms, are products (results) of certain conditions, then it follows that the remaking of conditions should abolish such institutions. Second, those who know how to redesign the conditions must be free from institutional restraints. Third, since an understanding of the complexities of the technocratic world is unavailable to the general population, there must be a political technocracy that is capable of employing technological processes, innovations, and humans for the construction of conditions that can yield the future desired result. Such a technocracy must be both the lawgiver and the designer of the conditions for the material processes in every area of social life. Fourth, the political technocracy claims that it has scientific knowledge about how to attain the ultimate promise of the scientific enlightenment (i.e., the establishment of the material conditions that can release all persons from external and internal forces). Consequently, everyone will live in a world dominated by human will. Fifth, since the material conditions and provisions are not yet adequate for the total mastery of all events, the technocracy must continue to manage society scientifically.
The technocracy thus becomes the new priestly class, the new shamanic elite…. This is to say, being in a position to master the conditions and to construct the future in accordance with their own forecasts, the technocrats become the true shamans of the modern age. This technocratic shamanism has a tendency to posit a future liberated state based on a behaviourally modified “new man” and to use all available means, including humans,as so much material force to achieve scientifically necessary and predictable results. This is a tendency toward the reductionism of the human to a means and a product. The result is a loss of the very concept of autonomy so important to political enlightenment and initially for the integrity of scientific enlightenment. Moreover, technocratic shamanism must regard the views of political enlightenment, which stress the autonomy, rights, and freedoms of the individual, as unscientific, outdated, and indeed a hindrance. Martin Kriele has argued that with this trend, there emerges the rule of human over human, in the form of a political technocracy that can dictate events on the basis of its claim to a scientific, technocratic understanding of what and how things are to be done…. The final liberation of the masses and their ability to shape their own destiny without institutional or shamanic involvement are always postponed to the future, when the political technocrats will have established the right conditions.
This problem of political technocracy and technocratic shamanism is extensive and is manifest as institutions that guarantee the freedoms and rights of autonomous individuals. If the basic aims of a person within a technologically oriented society are the production of material commodities and the constant striving to guarantee the continuity (or even incrementation) of such production, then the emphasis in social life is placed on the materially determined vital needs of the individual. While the purpose of an autonomous political being is to participate in qualitative, rational discourse concerning common interests, such a purpose is being abolished in favor of the magical process of enhancing the production of material well-being. Thus, the public is more attuned to magical consciousness, which is capable of integrating the atomized ontology and the quantified metaphysics, than to the deficient mental consciousness. Instead of managing the public domain of autonomy, even political figures are called upon and held responsible for the enhancement of technocratic shamanism, with its promises to fulfill all wants….. The public sphere of autonomous freedom and democratic institutions is reduced to the domain of technocratic shamanism. Once the magic sets in, the only reason for political institutions to exist is to manage and fulfill wants. In this sense, public institutions become means to be appropriated and used by contending groups, each seeking to enhance and extend its power.”
Now, all this sounds very dystopian indeed. But I have quoted it at some length because it is a very exact description of “holistic branding”, and already a partially realised condition. This I will show in subsequent posts. The “magical integration” via techocratic shamanism is precisely the meaning of “holistic branding”, and which is today less about the “engineering of consent” than it is about this behaviourally modified “new man”, ie, behavioural engineering also called “branded behaviours”.
It’s probably worthwhile here, also, to include in full Mickunas’ Postscript to the essay, because it bears some pondering,
“In principle, technocratic shamanism is a sign that political enlightenment is being surrendered to the metaphysics and ontology of indifference toward the human, subtended by a one-sided magical consciousness of the pure logic of power. No doubt, there is an ambivalence between the promise of modern technocratic magic and the fascination with power for its own sake. The latter seems to be gaining pre-eminence as the very driving notion of the self-proliferating cycles of the myth of progress. Perhaps one of the most dangerous aspects of the current consciousness is the collapse of the mythical and magical structures, that the very myth of progress itself is identified with the ceaseless incrementation of power. Here deficient rationality, especially in its forms of instrumental and formal reason, is no match for the conjunction of magic and myth.
The overcoming of this fascination cannot be achieved by a detached consciousness attempting to survey our current state of affairs and propose various activities to combat the magic of modernity. The public is too fascinated with shamans and their constant promises of the fulfillment of every want. Myth, magic, and reason all have a background integral consciousness. The task is to extricate the latter integral world from its entwinement in the three deficient modes of consciousness. The extrication of the integral consciousness has been accomplished by Jean Gebser’s work.”
I can, from my readings into Marketing 3.0, vouch for every word Mickunas says about “technocratic shamanism” as the logical development of consumerism. “Branded behaviour”, “management of meaning”, “perception management” and “psychological marketing” all pretty much resolve in the notion of behavioural engineered “new man”. In coming posts, I’ll marshall the evidence for that, and why there’s a pretty good chance that they can pull it off.