In the Land of Oz

There is not much difference between Parsifal in the Parsifal legend and Dorothy in Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. They are equivalent archetypes, one being male, the other being female. Likewise, the magician and illusionist Klingsor in the Parsifal legend corresponds to the great and powerful Oz in Baum’s tale. The hero’s and the heroine’s journey and quest are both represented — the passage towards maturity.

Klingsor and Oz are the equivalent of our contemporary brandmeisters, and this raises some interesting questions. Dorothy’s companions — the timid lion, the heartless tin-man, the mindless scarecrow — discover courage, heart, and mind through the three endowments or gifts presented to them by the wizard: a medal, a clock, and a diploma in “thinkology”, respectively. In the story, at least, it was effective. The gifts were “power objects” that served to ignite what were already latent potentialities in the lion, the tin-man, and the scarecrow, but which had been, apparently, inhibited for some reason. The fetish served to arouse them.

This is the justification for all branding. Oz is the snake-oil salesman, but his particular concoctions produce the desired result through what we call “placebo effect”. It is the same rationale that advertisers use to market brands — the brand promises a benefit well beyond its use value. It promises also to satisfy and fulfill some psychological or spiritual need or to assist consumers in “expressing themselves” by realising this inner potentiality through possessing the power object. Buy this and you’ll discover your courage. Buy that and you’ll discover your intelligence. Buy this and you’ll discover confidence. Buy this and it will reveal your inner beauty. Buy this and it will permit you to express your playful innocence.

The two magi, Klingsor and Oz, are, however, represented as somewhat deficient. Klingsor is a eunuch and a castrato. The great and powerful Oz turns out to be a faker and a phoney — a wimp. Parisfal exposes Klingsor and Dorothy exposes Oz. Yet, despite being illusionists, their illusions have efficacy. When advertisers (or propagandists) speak of “truth”, as in “truth in advertising”, it’s magical truth and not what logicians typically understand by “truth” — factual truth. It’s sometimes referred to as “higher truth” or a transcendental truth — the truth of magical efficacy and mythical narrative, the “pragmatic truth” of the placebo and nocebo effects.

For that reason, too, the word “persuasion” doesn’t mean what it used to mean — agreement reached through some syllogistic Socratic dialectic or dialogue or “rational argument”. It has come to mean the power of suggestion and even auto-suggestion, which is effectively magical technique. This is, perhaps, the main reason why the human figure represented in artefacts of the magical civilisations frequently has no mouth — the mouth only appearing with the mythological structure of consciousness and civilisation (for indeed mouth and myth are connected etymologically). Spell-casting, or the chant, is monologue form, not dialogical. Magic more often than not, works through the manipulation of images — the voodoo doll, the dead owl left on the enemy’s doorstep, bone-pointing. The sight of it is often sufficient to produce the desired result — wasting away and death or paralysis of the will. It’s effectiveness relies on a group consciousness and the power of suggestion and auto-suggestion. No one really doubts that placebo and nocebo effects are real.

It’s for that reason that academic analyses of branding and propaganda are often left dangling inconclusively, or are uneven and inconsistent in their conclusions. They are applying a model of logic and truth to a subject where tests of logic and truth are quite irrelevant because we are dealing with magic, and magic has to do with power and will and not with truth and falsehood. The return of the “irrational” — of the magical and mythical structures of consciousness — has perplexed and confounded the purely logico-mathematical tests of what is “real”. (See, for example, Paul Watzlawick’s very interesting book How Real is Real? Confusion, Disinformation, and Communication and also Berger and Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality).

“Techniques of persuasion” are no longer about the careful construction of syllogisms, of logical discourse and debate, but about the uses of suggestion and auto-suggestion. Some form of “group consciousness” is a prerequisite for magic. The shaman or medicine man or faith healer relies on summoning the patient’s own inner recuperative and healing powers to effect a cure (or to cause illness). A hospital in Calgary, for example, hired an aboriginal medicine man to work with its native patients. He was quite effective. But when he tried to work with non-aboriginal patients, he was not effective at all. There are similar programmes across Canada.

I recall reading, at university, the account by an anthropologist (if I recall, Bronislaw Malinowski) of his witnessing of a shamanic ceremony in shape-shifting at an Inuit camp in Northern Canada. The shaman transformed into a polar bear. All Malinowski saw was a man acting like a polar bear. When the ceremony was concluded, Malinowski sought confirmation of his perception from the other Inuit, but they were perplexed by his question. No, they didn’t see a man acting like a polar bear, or pretending to be a polar bear. They saw the man change into a polar bear and couldn’t understand by Malinowski didn’t see it at all. Recall that, after Castaneda morphed into a crow, he asked don Juan whether his friends would have seen him change into a crow. “That depends on your friends”, don Juan replied. Not satisfied with that answer, Castaneda pressed home the question: what would happen if he had chained his leg to a heavy rock, would he have still “flown” as a crow? Don Juan was astonished by that question and answered: “If you chained your leg to a heavy rock, I’m afraid that you would have to fly with that heavy rock chained to your leg!”

Shamanic reality is indeed “a separate reality” and it functions according to different rules than syllogistic or mental-rational ones. The perplexity of the mental-rational consciousness when confronted by the efficacy of the magical consciousness is the same theme in George Nelson’s memoirs of his time spent as a fur trader amongst the natives of Northern Saskatchewan, recounted in his letters to his father that were saved and eventually published as The Orders of the Dreamed. Magical Time is quite different from Mental-Rational Time. The “Dreamtime” is magical time. Basically, the main difference between the archaic, the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational consciousness structures and civilisations is that they transpire within different Time frameworks. “Structures of Consciousness” and Time Frameworks are practically synonymous terms, which is why Gebser calls “integral consciousness” also “time-freedom” consciousness — the coincidence or co-presence or synchronicity of different time frameworks, including timelessness.

“Magic” sounds charming and enchanting, of course. But it’s not to be forgotten that there is a very thin line between the awesome and the awful. And that’s basically Gebser’s warning about the “deficient magical” and the deficient rational modes of consciousness — sometimes the awesome and the awful end up being the same thing. Affairs of magic are affairs of power and will, and not of ethical values or logical values of truth or falsehood. This is the essential problem of branding and propaganda — the intoxication by power. And remember, power is one of the “enemies of the man of knowledge”, and without the counsels and checks of fear, clarity and sobriety that comes with consciousness of inevitable mortality, power perverts, distorts, and enslaves.

And that is the real threat and the issue of “technocratic shamanism”.



17 responses to “In the Land of Oz”

    • Scott Preston says :

      This brings to mind Jose Delgado’s earlier proposal for The Physical Control of the Mind, which I thought was dead in the water along with behaviourism. Apparently not.

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Another way of putting all this: The conflation of the magical and mental produces a kind of hybridisation of consciousness in which the two structures become entangled. This hybrid (or mongrelisation perhaps) results in “instrumental rationality” or, optionally, “technocratic shamanism”. This mutual entanglement of the two modes results in it becoming difficult to distinguish one from the other, where the concern is no longer with enlightenment or the discernment of truth, but with the exercise of power. What is true is what works and what works is what is true. This is a different mode of thinking than the contemplative mode or the meditative mode precisely because of the influence of the magical. The other term for this is “techno-science” – ie, that the purpose and function of communication and information is for attaining command and control, through the possession of some specialist technique for the command and control of some aspect of nature or of human nature.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    Last night I was listening to R C Sproul speaking about pragmatism and how it becomes the creed of the western mind, particularly the American mind which he summarized as confining the truth only to what works or as you have put it, What is true is what works and what works is what is true. Is it synchronicity at work. The philosophy that has been chasing out and still chasing eternity of the human discourse, the basic principle of our existence. The principle which all the writers you have been quoting are crying for. The problem that has started long time ago ever since the artist has been banned from the republic and thus the imagination has been shackled by the bondage of the rational. The imagination which is the domain of the god, The god who we can not understand out of the wide, rich vision of imagination. Limitation and necessity are human attributes and are not of the the divine attributes, that is why Ibn Arabi and Blake highlight the role of the imagination in the human life journey, in order not to be slave to limitation and necessity. Why god wants the human to move to his side, only to save him the shackles of necessity and fear, the the two traits that been exploited by the ill intentional. Often time I feel the problem is not in advertising, propaganda or technology per say, after all what are scriptures but propaganda, advertising and technology for the human to move toward him. The problem is in the way they are being used. Everything in life has two uses bad and good,efficient and deficient, negative and positive, right and wrong etc. The use is the domain of separation between the well-intentional and the ill-intentional, Those who seek the eternal and those who seek the mundane. It is a question of human choice and there is no divine constraints or compulsions in that choice. I was thinking about the perversion of the concept of jihad from a divine striving and disciplining tool for the betterment of the self and the human lot and how it was turned into a tool of aggression, exploitation and stupidity.
    At the end I like to quote Blake in a verse that reflects my mood beautifully…I am in god presence night and day and he never turns his face away.
    Let us avoid doubt to avoid the paralysis of the imagination and start from the divine premise, the field of imagination to avoid getting lost in this deceiving and misleading perverted human discourse. After all to him we shall return, the originator of all knowledge and he who has taught the human what he knows not.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    I’m trying to put my finger on the issue that annoys me when reading “how to” books by branders — something that hasn’t yet completely crystallised in my mind. It’s not just the conceit that seems universal with them — their self-importance in the sense of their being in possession of an effective and powerful technology of social and political control. It’s also not just their overweaning belief that all the cultural contradictions of capitalism, even antagonistic ways of life, can all be harmonised (or co-opted) through the magic of the market and in the metaphysics of shopping. Therefore what need is there of elections or government when advertising is the more effective form of government?

    It’s libertinism and libertinage (very much what Gebser says about “the individual being permitted everything” in The Ever-Present Origin). They believe they can marketise, commodity and sell anything and everything — including government and politics. This is, in essence, what Mickunas is getting at with his notion of the dangers of “technocratic shamanism”.

    Still, I have the sense that they aren’t fully disclosing their own motives themselves for why they do what they do, and perhaps it’s the case that their own motives — this apparent need to rule and dominate human nature — isn’t transparent to them either — the need not only to be powerful, but to be perceived as powerful.

    They are dangerous to political democracy, even contemptuous of it — which naturally follows from their belief that “average Joe and Josephine” has the intelligence of a 13 year old. It’s that they have a particular understanding of “human nature” (that usually applies to others, but not to themselves) so there is this implicit “objectifying” attitude towards “the masses” in which they begin to see themselves, instead, as an elite.

    The other side of the question is, of course, why so many people are willing to go along with this? Why are so many so receptive to the propaganda message? Another way of putting that, why are so many “other-directed”? Takes two to tango. Fact is, the propagandists sense of his or her own potency relies on the “targets” receptivity and willingness to be propagandised. If they withdraw that receptivity and willingness — the power of the propagandist evaporates (which is why it must always be conducted “in the dark”, as Huntington advised).

    Increasing urbanisation and increasing concentrations of population seem to mark two things — the increasing need for a propaganda technology of social management and control, and a corresponding decrease in the effectiveness of political democracy.

    Political democracy seemed best suited to a society of small landholders, relatively self-sufficient, or in the possession of some skill or handicraft of some form or another which allowed them a measure of independence, and as an expression of their individuality.

    Aye, there’s the rub, I think. The original conception of the “expression” of individuality was not in consuming brand goods and brand names, but in manufacturing handicraft goods. Individuality was expressed through production, not consumption.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes… that’s it completely, come to think of it. The “deskilling” of the populace through mass production, the devaluation of craft as the principle form of self-actualisation and self-realisation (and individuation) necessarily leads to a devaluation of democracy too. “Self-actualisation” is now not about what you make, but about what you consume. And with that goes the devaluation of citizenship itself — and individuation, too.

      This is what Blake means by his political formula “The Arts and all things in Common” — that is, your individuality, your franchise in the democratic polity, lies in your possession of a craft, an art, as the principle means of self-actualisation and self-realisation. Consumerism reverses this process, emphasising impression over expression.

      Not possessing land or capital individuates. Possessing a skill, a craft, individuates. This is why the Steiner schools emphasise the education in craftwork.

    • Scott Preston says :

      By George! Smolin’s “Inverted Totalitarianism” and “consumerism” are the exact same thing!!

  4. davidm58 says :

    Bingo. And this is why permaculture and Transition movements (based on Permaculture principles, and originally focused on what was called “The Great Reskilling) are so radical and revolutionary. Permaculture is not a set of quirky gardening techniques, it is a set of ethics and principles designed to help move us from being dependent consumers to being skilled and responsible producers.

  5. Dwig says :

    Yes and yes. George Bernard Shaw expressed it this way:

    “This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as I live it is my privilege – my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I love. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me; it is a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got a hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

    Re taking permaculture beyond “a set of quirky gardening techniques”, I recommend Hemenway’s “The Permaculture City”:
    A radical aspect of the book is that it directly takes on the view that an ecologically-inspired future has no place for these large, dense accumulations of people. Agree with Hemenway or not, the journey’s worth the time and attention it takes.

    • davidm58 says :

      Great quote from GB Shaw!

      Yes, I helped organize a presentation by Toby Hemenway when he was doing the book tour for The Permaculture City.

      He writes, “Urban permaculture is only slightly about gardening, and mostly about people. The human ecosystem that is the city is rich, and it includes much more than food. To understand, work within, and enhance that ecosystem, we need to understand not just how we feed ourselves in cities and towns but how we meet all our needs. How do we build, move about, use water and energy, feel secure, make decisions, solve problems, sustain ourselves, develop policies, live together?

      …We’re not just gardening plants but people, neighborhoods, and even cultures.”

      My review is here:

  6. abdulmonem says :

    They say, people, when unaware, are always trying to direct the fire to bake their loaves forgetting the loaves of others. In this money oriented society this is the unhealthy rule. The question as I understand it, is crafting the self artistically and not crafting something out side the self .To be used for a purpose as Shaw put it . The question again who put that purpose in me or for that matter where the pulse to use my dormant energy, comes from, why this kills himself by alcohol or the drug and Shaw wanted to carry a torch of service. Our cosmos is so complex and so vast and so rapidly changing and its too hasty to say this the only right path or the only interpretation. Carefulness is the path of the wise. All prophets are asked to work in the open and tolerate the disbelievers and to know that they have been divinely programmed so., that is to be understood as, he has designed the program of belief, he designed the program of disbelief and left it to the human to choice either. Often time I find it difficult to understand those who talk about wholeness and about polarity and talk about metaphysical shopping and when one talks about metaphysical worshiping they think it out of intelligent discourse. God accommodates everybody and they refuse to accommodate any one out of their tribe, as the bankers say they are doing god work and they have no need for god. This is the tragedy of our time and it can not be changed without the shocks all wise people are talking about. It is unfortunate that we are so consumed in social or natural laws and refuse to acknowledge the one who puts them in operation. Personally I choose the side of the believers irrespective of their brands and continue to strife to draw down his knowledge and as the Sufis say we got our knowledge from the one who never dies and whose episetemological showers never stop, rather than depending on the words of the dead or similar others. The forgotten path that despite all the so many prophets and saints who came to remind us to it, we never stop forgetting it, as if moving down is easier than moving up and this seems also the dilemma of the intermediate realm of the Buddha in his tri-movements to the source due to the absence of boundary between you and him.

  7. abdulmonem says :

    It is so strange that what is common sense is so often forgotten. We are living under the spell of antagonistic forces The divine force which I called the gravity force, I say that because I read and He who seizes the heaven from falling on earth and because Whitehead said Newton could not explained the phenomenon of gravity and the three subordinate forces that of the angel, the strong force and the devil force the weak force despite of all pretension of power and the battle domain of these forces that is the human the purpose of creation and the second knowledge, the human which I dare to equate with the electric magnetic force due to his possession of both power of good and bad, the pull and push poles , the negating and the affirming power. The human who dose not know the essence of these forces but know how to benefit from their effects whether negatively or positively This understanding has been with me for a long time and I have voiced it several times in my comments and Scott in his counter comment said he is going to give it some thought, that is why I repeated it here as part of the ongoing search for lucidness and clarity of what is going around us and in our selves regarding this awesomely haunting creation. It is clear that the counter campfire is growing in the way of burning the trees of those perverted concepts and those behind them that have been clouding the pure vision of our humanity.

  8. Scott Preston says :

    Well, yes… I do think there is an intimate connection between the fourfold human and the four fundamental cosmic forces. It’s all an affair of energy, after all. Blake would agree, I think too, that his “four Zoas” are a reflection in the human form of the four cosmic forces, or perhaps more so that the four cosmic forces are a reflection of the fourfold human form. Likewise Eastern philosophy and the ancient Greeks did not distinguish between the fourfold human and the elementary cosmic forces — Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. It was a seamless cosmic continuum rising from the human frame to the cosmic frame, and descending from the cosmic frame into the human frame.

    Likewise, each of Blakes Zoas have their “eternal form” and their deficient or time-bound form, which seems to correspond to Gebser’s “effective mode” and “deficient mode” of a consciousness structure. So there is a fundamental polarity to those energy fields even in the human form.

  9. abdulmonem says :

    It seems my appetite for commenting is open but this time in mode of questions
    Science says photons are carriers of information, religions say angels are light beings and are carrier of knowledge and all the inspirational process revolves around that .
    Science says that there are positive as well as negative energies in the universe, religions say the devils represent the negative forces in the universe and angels represent the positive forces
    Science speaks of the four basic energies,gravity, electric magnetic, the weak force and strong force.Religions speak about god light as the source of everything and positive strong angel force and the devil weak negative force and the mixed force of the human
    The question is not the bridge to cross from one side to the other and vice versa is clear or there is no possible connection among these metaphors.

    • Scott Preston says :

      The Christian Scholastics used to ask “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin”? They apparently had an understanding that the angels were very very small — photonic, in effect.

    • Dwig says :

      In the sciences (physical at least) “positive” and “negative” don’t have the connotation of “good” and “bad”; they’re complementary. Perhaps the same is true in religion? (This again reminds me of Holling’s adaptive cycle.)

      Another possible connection: the four elements earth, water, air, and fire could be seen to correspond to the four states of “mattergy”: solid, liquid, gas, and energy.

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