“Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains.”
Since its earliest origins, with men such as Valentinus, Carpocrates and Basilides, Gnosticism had sought above all a non-religious or an a-religious attitude, for it was anxious to bypass the absurd antinomy of faith versus knowledge, the sacred versus the profane. They knew that the sacred, like the profane, is vitiated by evil and that the solution could not consist in opposing the first to the second, but in overcoming both one and the other and liberating oneself from the false dilemmas into which they drive us. This position clearly implied a total questioning of the very existence of the sacred, and therefore of the usefulness of religions and, a fortiori, of Churches. This tended to throw the most rational of the Gnostics into a solitary position where few came to join them, but which prefigured the attitudes of certain thinkers, philosophers, writers, and mystics of our own time.
I would define this position as a return to the fundamental, virginal interrogation of man faced with the problems of his life, with his need to escape from the yoke of systems and to arrive, in every instance, at a point of absolute zero in knowledge. If the Gnostics proposed a dualistic image of the world, it was not because, when faced with an entity, they were temperamentally predisposed to see its opposite, but because, confronted with the agonizing and omnipresent evidence of evil, it was necessary to oppose something to it. But their aim was quite patently to overcome this antinomy which did nothing but reflect the schism, the inherent rending in two of the world. By doing this-we cannot say it too often-they found themselves obliged to reject practically all the religious ideologies of their time and to live on the fringes of all accepted conventions, since, for them, the demands of truth were paramount, even if they were to lead them to the stake.
When one undertakes such a purging and uprooting of the human consciousness, when one snatches away from man the mythological and ideological illusions which justify his choices and, more often, his fantasies, it is perfectly obvious that one is exposing oneself, first of all, to every kind of misunderstanding and, still more surely, to every kind of retaliation. Idols cannot be cast down with impunity, and we can see quite clearly where the task of a contemporary Gnostic would lie: in attacking the new idols, the new Churches of our time, in short, the new faces which evil is forever putting on and which today we call ideology. The Secular World View of the Progressive Enlightenment with its ideology of improvement is at the heart of our eras economic and technological enslavement. It is presented as the soteriological faith of atheistic secularism, the positive world of the sciences which seek to master the universe, and offers the illusion of freedom and social justice of democracy as its core mythology.
Ideology has merely set up new graven images in place of the old. For example, in Marxism (one of the dominant idols of our time) one can see an analogous phenomenon, on the scale of the history of men and ideas, to that which the Gnostics denounced on a universal scale: the misapplication, the deflection of a thought-that of Marx-which revolutionary and mutant in itself and its time, has often ended up in fact as a caricature of a society, a mutilated Socialism. Very briefly, one can define this ideology according to the three terms proposed by Marx-to understand, to control, to change the world. Each of these terms is imperatively tied to the preceding one. In order to change the world, one must be able to control its mechanisms, and one cannot control them without first understanding them. It is the last of these three terms that has very rapidly been taken up as the most potent rallying cry, for it is the one that is most highly charged with irrational content. It is, in fact, the only one which appears on Marx’s tomb: `The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.’
What is most striking in almost all political and social experiments undertaken up to now is that they have effectively changed certain of the material conditions of existence while forgetting, somewhere along the way, why they had to be changed. Who remembers that Marx wrote, somewhere near the end of Das Kapital: `Socialism must not become the end but the means through which we change the world we live in’?
Instead in all of its modern forms Marxism under Lenin, Stalin, Mao and their followers would like the Orthodox Catholic Church undermine the very teachings of its progenitor and construct an institution of oppression rather than emancipation. All modern forms of Marxism were and are the outgrowth of ideological systems of dominion that sought to magnify and eternalize Marxism as Socialism: a Secular Church of Atheism. But just as the Catholic Church did nothing but reinforce the power of the Priest – a return to the pagan systems which, in other respects, it sought to abolish – so Socialism has reinforced the power of that latter-day Priest of our time, the Tyrant. Whatever name he is given, according to the political system in force, he remains the great victor in all revolutions, the one who survives all upheavals. No revolution – except for very brief periods such as the first three years of the French Revolution or the first five years of the Russian – has led to man’s achieving an increased emancipatory awareness any more than it has ever asked itself what is the meaning and nature of the major cause of alienation: work and the productive effort, regarding which the same general outlook has been preached – and very often in the self-same words – by all the existing systems. To keep our questioning on Gnostic lines, we may therefore ask ourselves: why must we, at all costs, produce more and more goods every day?
Profit, the modern God. Mammon – the accumulator of gold, diamonds, luxury, and money. I do not want to appear naïve here and suggest that the solution to the problem lies in a total refusal to produce (any more than a refusal to procreate is a realistic solution to the problems of the birth-rate). There will always be a handful of men-some rational, others Illumined – who will preach such a refusal and live on the borderline of the laws and conventions of their time, under whatever regime that may be. But one is well aware that, on one hand, production cannot go on expanding indefinitely and, on the other, that the mode of this production (or, in other wards, the relation between the worker and his work) is just as vital and as central to a society as its quantitative results. By way of illustration, I will ask but a single question: why has no Western Socialist system abolished the practice of working on an assembly-line, or at least tried to reduce it substantially? Why preserve (and in same cases even augment) this most alienating of all methods of production, as if the mere fact of nationalizing the means of production and suppressing monopolies sufficed to transform it suddenly into a means of liberation? It will be argued that this problem is so complex and would involve such profound reorganization of the techniques of production that it cannot be envisaged except on the time-scale of a whole generation. Very well, but it should still be done. And it is not being done anywhere, least of all in the places where the power is supposed to be in the hands of the workers.
I do not believe that a rejection of the world in its modern form, a return to communal life, abandoning factory production in favor of cottage crafts and industries, has a future in the world we live in. Not because it is a rejection of the principle of efficiency (the only real efficiency being that which gives meaning to our lives), nor even because it cuts itself off from the solidarity which, in our general misery, is necessary (it is always better to fight alongside the workers than without them), but above all because its motivations are more unconscious and irrational than truly critical. Moreover, this attitude is almost always accompanied by a return or a correlative recourse to religious doctrines, to the teachings of Oriental philosophers, to Zen, to Tantrism, to Sufism, and soon it will be the turn of Gnosticism (the last teaching still to await its adepts and its Enlightened Ones).
Some would have you believe that exit is the only option, but this is a sterile option leading nowhere; a utopian no-where such as those who suggest sea-steading or off-shore cities, or even those who would exit earth altogether for some pipe-dream Martian extravaganza (not to suggest that any of these do not have their place, but the notion of exit and withdrawal is not an option but rather a retreat from the all-pervasive power of global capital). There is nowhere to hide from the world-system. Not anymore. And seeking to exit into some tradition of the past as many suggest, whether of political autarchy or some religious world-view of Eastern or Western origins is foolishness as well. The cult of the past is pure nostalgia, a sinking into fantasias of false spirituality while pretending the actual world is not there. Another lie of ideological forbearance and seepage.
Political Gnosticism, unlike its religious forbear denies the past, as it does the future, any didactic value. No total light can come from an earlier religion or tradition. The tendency to delve into an immemorial past or to project the knowledge-that-will-save into a Messianic future can only distract humanity from his true quest: the quest for a new world out of the destruction of this contemporary decay and entropic system. Only through the ongoing destruction of the ideological and oppressive systems of economics and socio-cultural forces that bind us to a world-system based on accumulation and profit for a few at the expense of the many can instill in us a path forward. As long as this world-system of profit and oppression remains humanity will remain enslaved to its vampirism, its life-blood sucked dry and its bones scattered across the globe in a machinic world of endless work.
True knowledge cannot be sought in the past but only in the future. It is not in any way a question of rediscovering, but of discovering. It resides in that intense and virgin future, through the process of inventing the future as the new. The new sciences of the brain are teaching us just how prone humanity is to illusion, delusion, and delirium; cognitive bias and the errors of our inheritance from tradition and humanistic learning and education has left us in a realm of pure blindness, our minds entering a ‘crash space’ (Bakker) where we are left devoid of knowledge and folded into a realm of pure meaninglessness. For two hundred or more years we’ve been undergoing a demythologization and deanthropomorphic stripping away of both the Western Christian and humanistic world-views. We termed this the secularization of civilization, a supposed progressive agenda of improvement in socio-cultural and technological know-how in sciences that would master the forces of the universe while vacating it of all forms of projection and human errors. Instead we made a new religion of the process, universalized it, imposed our narratives of improvement and political notions of freedom and social justice onto the planetary mindscapes as a whole (i.e., we created and invented a new myth of the Secular World View and immortalized it as the only Truth). It is not.
Realizing that we have once again trapped ourselves in a self-imposed realm of error that has and is leading to conflict between the West and other older cultures and civilizations is a no brainer. Our leaders in their struggle to conquer and claim the remaining resources of an outmoded system of production and civilization based on fossil fuels has led us to the point of extinction. Our planet is already past the tipping point in the balance of climate change, a point of order that no denial can assuage. It is reinforced daily as floods along seacoasts become year by year more prevalent, and as the ice-caps of the North and South poles melt more and more and the tundra’s and seabed’s of the planet where helium has been stored is released into the atmosphere in the coming years and decades warming our planet into extremes never before seen. All this has been iterated by scientists for decades, but those in power who control the economic profit systems of the planet have denied its verities and castigated those who have warned us.
We live in an age when the very thought of what it means to be human is undergoing a vast sea-shift, and the notions of natural evolution shift into artificial evolution through such convergence technologies as CRISPR and the biogenetic editing of embryos proposes to alleviate the root causes of genetic disorders and inherited diseases. It also harbors the still hotly debated notion of enhancement procedures that could bifurcate the human population into naturals and enhanced forms as new class struggles allow the rich access to such genetic therapies leaving the poor and excluded behind. This knowledge implies the biological determinisms, psychic impulses, and economic constraints which govern and manipulate us, in addition to a total participation in the problems and miseries of one’s own time.
The Political Gnostic of today can no longer be a preacher of salvation, a holy one living a solitary existence on some mountain-top, nor some illuminated spirit living in a great city and devoting herself to beloved ancient texts of knowledge and humanistic learning, but rather must enter the fray, become a perceptive being, her eyes turned towards the present and the future in the political conviction that she possesses above all within herself the keys to this future, a conviction she must hold steadfastly against all the reassuring mythologies of secular or religious ideologies, the so-called salvatory religions and disalienating ideologies which serve only to hinder her presence in the true reality of our current struggles. For the important thing today is not so much to discover new stars as to break down the new frontiers that constantly arise before us, or which are delineated within ourselves, so that we may cross over them, as into death, with our eyes wide open. For the future is unwritten, incomplete, and open and we must struggle day by day against all odds to shape that future into a new world worth living in. At the same time we must destroy the present system of toxic corruption and waste, the global system of profit and oppression that seeks to enslave our minds, affects, and desires in a total system of false infinity. The present evil is neither ontological as in the older religious Gnosticism, nor is it a system we can escape or exit from or withdraw from into some safe haven. It is a system of surveillance and dominion, social, economic and political control that has labored long to instill, indoctrinate, and corrupt the youth of the world generation after generation. And it will not go silently into that good night…
Unlike the ancient heretics, those Gnostics that sought an a-cosmic knowledge of an exiled God, the modern political gnostic is based on the immanent desire to over come this literal world of evil imposed on us by a world-system that has enslaved us to its austere gravitational fields of profit. It seeks to enclose us in a false time of presentism, locked away from past or future escape or returns to origins or new worlds. Instead it seeks to keep us blinded within a world that offers us our heart’s desires, a consumer paradise for those loyal to its cause while turning all those that revolt against its illusions into robotic slaves dominated by technological power. A world of experts and technocrats constructing both luxury capitalists cities of pleasure for the elite, while developing megacities of oppression and slavery for the other 99% of humanity. There are no bugaboos behind the curtain, no one is pulling the proverbial puppet strings, the conspiracy theories have a half-truth but seek to blind us to the fact that the rich themselves are for the most part slaves to their own system as much as we. No one is in charge, it is a blind process as impersonal and indifferent to the rich as to the poor. This autonomous system of power is producing a new civilization of its own, one that will slowly oust us as the masters in our own house. Humanity is slowly but surely being replaced by machinic powers whose emergent autonomy will in the coming decades and centuries rise above the organic into an anorganic system that has no need for us at all.
Can we resist such a displacement? Oh, we will try, we will attempt to keep pace with this coming age of the machines, merge with their technologies through a process of enhancement and Cyborgization. This may help a small elite to last a few hundred more years, but as in all things our organic species like every other evolutionary experiment will come to an end. Fight it all we can, it is part of the way of the universe. Is this fatalism, of course not, it’s rather an acceptance of a truth about our universe. We built all our major spiritual systems to absolve us of this truth, to seek alternate spiritual worlds where we could continue, go on, live in some heavenly paradise with whatever gods or God our cultural lot handed to us. But has anyone ever returned from these realms? Even now in the Western nations we have a great influx of ghost hunters among us, people who seek some answer to the meaning of our afterlife as if finding through technology a voice (EMF) etc., or some other electronic reading of the noumenal world of the invisible one would discover the continuity between the living and the dead. Didn’t the ancient peoples do the same? Were not the ancient rituals of the past developed to assuage and placate the dead with gifts and blood at yearly and cyclical festivals? Even now one finds such things in Third World countries and the remnants of such festivals in our celebrations of Halloween or Mardi Gras? We are a superstitious lot, born of ignorance and delusion we seek in these strange fantasies a way out, an escape from the mundane truth that when we die that is it, there is only dissolution, decay, and entropy. Flesh to dust…
Some say that our Western disease of capitalism is nothing but a secular search for immortality, that we seek in riches and profits a way to overcome the truth of our earthly existence. To create a triumphant monument of monetary fame and give to our children the inclusive institution of philanthropic impulse toward immorality by placating the gods of economics. Herbert Marcuse, Norman O. Brown, Ernst Becker and others would write whole books on this quest for a literal immortalization through profit. In our own moment this quest has turned toward human enhancement and transhuman technologists who offer to stay the execution of death, to literally offer you in the coming decades a path toward purity and perfection, an immortalization through combination of machine and pharmaceuticals. As if we could stop the organic process of decay and entropy that is the only universal process in this universe, one that is not an illusion but the very core of time itself.
In fact it is Time that has been seen immemorially as the Enemy. Even as far back as Zoroaster it was the God, Zervan, the Time-Lord who held the keys of eternity. All those dualistic monotheisms that have come down to us began in this breaking of the vessels of the Time Lord(s), the great conflict at the origins of our universe: the spinning, spiraling burst of heat-death that gave birth to our cosmos. We are the children of a dead god, the creation of an impersonal and indifferent universe that does not even know we exist. Bound to these ancient processes billions of years old we have invented our little lies, our fictions to stay us against the ruins of Time. Yet, no one has escaped time’s entropic laws of dissolution, decay, and dispersal. None.
But why cry about the truth? Instead acknowledging it frees us to get on with our lives, offers us the truth that nothing we do will overcome this process, so why should we spend our lives accumulating wealth, struggling to attain some zombiefied immortalization in machine or pharmakon? What’s the point of prolonging the inevitable? Be happy with the lot that has been handed to you, live for the moment for all else is vanity. Create a world in which all humans can participate and enjoy what little organic life we have in mutual accord with the actual and real laws of the universe rather than seeking false promises and ideologies of immortal dreams or utopias. It’s our very dreams that have led to our misery and the oppression of most of the inhabitants and animals of earth. Nothing else.
One need not cite the whole history of philosophy, sciences, history, sociology, literature, poetry, art, aesthetics, etc. to back up such claims, one needs only to look into one’s own mind and heart and realize the truth at the level of one’s organic personhood. Some tell us the Self/Subject is an illusion. This may be scientifically plausible, but in the common sense world of everyday life it’s just one more ‘abstract truth’ that has no meaning for our personal lives. We feel and believe each morning we open our eyes that there is something unique and continuous about this organic process and substance that seems to speak and live, love and learn, raise families, work, play, worship or not. We believe we are selves that something exists through time and space that has a history, one filled with memories and awareness that cannot be denied. No matter how many scientists and philosophers tell us free will is an illusion and a cognitive bias and error we still believe we can make choices for ourselves, that we have will power to choose or abstain from the simplest gesture like pushing that bowl of ice-cream away because we need to lose weight. One could cite hundreds of examples, and all of these would be irrational and based on belief; and, yet, it guides our lives and relations in the world. We live in and with illusions, without them we could do nothing. Everything would stop. Period.
One of those cognitive biases that has come to fore in our time is that of skin color: of race and racism. People throughout history in many cultures have through religious and political oppression used the surface of skin color as a tool to separate and define groups and tribes. Tattoos and markings on the skin were another form of this strange disease of humanity to define and produce uniqueness of self or group. Why? I don’t have time in this essay to go into the history of genetic and social forms of this long and deadly affair. But in our time it has produced a politics of hate on the Left and Right of the spectrum across the planet that is coming to a head. One that might bring us to a planetary civil-war of such devastating proportions that most of humanity might in the end depopulate itself. Stupid. When instead we could solve and resolve this issue through actual real politics. But it want happen in the world of profit and gain, for it is this very system that has in itself instituted this segregation and oppressive registry of race relations that has brought this world to war. So turning to it is foolish if we wish to solve this problem. Instead this system of worldwide oppression must be terminated, destroyed, and replaced. Once again nothing comes easy, struggle against those who would seek profit, gain, and power-over others is with us long and now. It’s not going to go away easily… but we must begin to speak to power and change it, demand it relinquish its system or else… and, we all know what the “else” entails, don’t we? We need only study the revolutions of the past to know what is coming… one need not play stupid about that.
Nothing I’ve said is new, we really don’t need anything new to change the world, to destroy the present ideological bullshit of social, econimic and political control over our lives and manifest something else. It’s the “something else” which will be new… what that is and the blueprint for it remains to be seen. Hints have come from Marx and others across the years, but there can be no planned or central committee of people, no vanguard to lead us to the bright lands of some utopian future. No. The Messianic notion of some prophet – a Moses of the political exit, a desert voice of salvatory awakening – is complete and utter stupidity; and those who would follow such cults will as those before them end in doom or suicide. No. We alone and together must work hand in hand, day by day, struggling against the powers that be who would keep us down, vampire like feed off our surplus, and enslave us to their system of power and profits. No one else can do this for us, no savior, no political master; we, alone and together. That is all. This is the only true knowledge we need, a gnosis not of some irrational greater cosmic awareness, rather just the ordinary truth of our daily lives as humans in a world where we are alone and together, mere mortals in a universe of mortal things where entropy need not mean total death but rather a path into negentropic revolt.