Ficino is father of the equation Eros = magic, whose terms can doubtless be reversed. It is he who points out, for the first time, the substantial identity of the two techniques for manipulation of phantasms as well as their operational procedures.
– Ioan P. Culianu, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance
For years now I’ve studied the various methods of manipulation, deception, and social control by which the masses of ill-educated are shaped by the multifarious techniques of media, entertainment, and political, not to leave out religious forms of ideology, propaganda, and cultural mechanism of occulture. A hidden network of ideas, images, and concepts have always operated on the mass majority of uneducated and for the most part illiterate among us. Even those of us who have for our whole lives invested time and effort into reading, thinking, learning the byways and highways of our hidden cultural influences must be wary and secrete from the hodgepodge world of our socio-cultural a set of tools to grapple with and gaze upon the underlying mechanisms that exert their power over our lives and minds. No one is completely successful in breaking the chains of such influences and designs upon our modes of being in the world.
The separate out the wheat from the chaff, the high-cultural parlance from the conspiratorial fringe, to break the codes of one’s own hidden narrative, the workings of one’s own society and its cultural footprint upon one’s mind and psyche is to enter an no-man’s zone, an in-between realm of paranoia, hauntings, and monstrous thought; push to the limits the fragmentary worlds of disinformation and lies that bind us to the mainstream reality nexus. Over the past couple hundred years many outsiders: thinkers, artists, poets, cultural critics, philosophers and anti-philosophers and non-philosophers, psychologists, anti-psychiatrist, social deviants and extreme fringe sub-cultural clowns and street artists, rock-n-roll icons, occult practioners and man others have all opened the doors onto this great lie of our mainstream worldview. Differing approaches, differing traditions; and, yet the underlying message seems to be one of universal agreement: we are being manipulated to ends not our own, by unscrupulous individuals and mechanisms of social control for purposes that we ourselves are not completely aware of.
Before his untimely death and murder at the hands of (an) unknown assailant Ioan P. Culianu had begun delving into various systems of religion, magic, and politics, which he believed were the tools of rich and powerful individuals and institutions shaped and formed to control and manipulate the vast majority of citizens through either covert or overt use of power, rhetoric and persuasion. At the heart of it was the ancient notion of Eros:
Eros, presiding over all spiritual activities, is what ensures the collaboration of the sectors of the universe, from the stars to the humblest blade of grass. Love is the name given to the power that ensures the continuity of the uninterrupted chain of beings; pneuma is the name given to the common and unique substance that places these beings in mutual relationship. Because of Eros, and through it, all of nature is turned into a great sorceress.1
The great manipulators, the sociopaths, and political magicians of our age have all been masters of persuasion, knowing as Ficino himself taught and knew that the lover and magician do the same thing: they cast their “nets” over the minds of the masses to attract and draw them into their magical circle of power and control. (88)
I’ve often wondered at the gullibility of humans, especially her in the U.S.A. where people have allowed themselves to come under the sway of fanatics, con-men, religious and social populists, cults, conspiracy, and every form of extreme thought and manipulation imaginable. At time America seems a history in unfreedom and social control rather than the mainstream narrative we’re all taught in school of liberty and freedom, justice and egalitarian equality. Just to name many of the recent cults:
- L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology,
- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the Arrival of Transcendental Meditation,
- Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment,
- Sun Myung Moon: Savior from the East,
- Mo: David Berg and the Children of God,
- Branch Davidians under David Koresh
- Ti, Do, and Heaven’s Gate
- Gerald Gardner and the Origins of Modern Witchcraft
- Satanic Panic of the 80’s: The Legacy of Religious Cult Fears,
- Jim Jones and the People’s Temple
This doesn’t even begin to delve into the earlier cults and utopian psychopathy of the underbelly of our American love of madness, mayhem, religious and political cults. Book after book from the extreme pop-cultural to scholarly renditions documents this whole sordid history of our American psyche. Why? Why do so many humans fall for the strange realms of cult and authoritarian manipulation and disinformation, belief systems that promise salvation, redemption, and solidarity in a world where individuals alone and pushed to the limits of madness and intolerance feel the need to enter into such false systems of malfeasance.
In many ways the failure of our two-thousand year old Jewish, Christian, and Islamic monotheistic heritages during the Enlightenment offer us one clue, for it was in this age of Reason (so called) that some of the strangest and irrational cults emerged. The whole Western Occulture emerged out of this era: the hidden world of secret brotherhoods – Rosicrucians, Free-Masonry, Illuminati, 19th Century traditions of Magick and Decadence; Utopian Socialism, Communism, Fabianism; and Spiritualism, Transcendentalism, Gothic and Dark Romanticism. All of which barely scratches the surface of secular cults that would emerge in the wake of the break up of Christendom’s world-view. The secular age is piped as the era of dis-enchantment, but in many ways we’ve seen just the opposite: a return of the enchantments and phantasmatic of religious fervor under the secular mask of a hidden world of occulture and pop-cults, utopian experiments and social games of political connivance.
Mainstream culture would turn a blind eye to its shadow world, its counter-cultures and antagonistic underbelly, marshalling instead a tendency toward realism, naturalism, and a social gospel of positivity in the sciences and arts alike. Yet, the darkness seeps in by the backdoor in works of Hawthorne’s puritan tales of strangeness, Poe’s seminal horror scapes, Melville’s melodramatic and gnostic Moby Dick, and the works of H.P. Lovecraft and others who would bring out the hidden temperament of the darker contours of our secular heritage. As Leslie A. Fiedler would say in his seminal Love and Death in the American Novel:
…the Age of Reason dissolves in a debauch of tearfulness; sensibility, seduction, and suicide haunt its art even before ghosts and graveyards take over—strange images of darkness to usher in an era of freedom from fear. And beneath them lurks the realization that the devils which had persisted from antiquity into Christianity were not dead but only driven inward; that the “tyranny of superstition,” far from being the fabrication of a Machiavellian priesthood, was a projection of a profound inner insecurity and guilt, a hidden world of nightmare not abolished by manifestos or restrained by barricades. The final horrors, as modern society has come to realize, are neither gods nor demons, but the intimate aspects of our own minds.2
From Kant to our present moment its this inner turn toward the mind and away from the gaze upon the natural world and externalities that has haunted our lives with a Dark Gothicism. Dark Eros pervades our life and minds, the sadomasochistic cruelty of children and adult alike permeates our sociopathic civilization. Terror is our core fear and the fascination of our culture: compulsion, madness, mayhem, crime, horror, sex and glamour – all fragments of our terrors, our nightmares, our lives. Our literature and films are full of monsters, suicides, cannibals, serial-killers, war, disaster, pandemonium, cartoons, fantasy, and every other aspect of the shadow worlds we inhabit yet pretend not too. The spectacle of the void, the world that is unthinkable, the unthought realms surrounding us we bind with fantasy, with fictions and belief systems to protect us from the truth, from the sheer terror of existence itself.
As T.S. Eliot suggested: “Humans cannot bare too much reality.” Instead we wrap ourselves in fictions, we become fictions, we tie ourselves to others with better fictions and belief systems hoping against hope we can escape the nullity we are composed of. Not being or finding a self within we turn to others for our fictions and myths. So that in the end we would rather be unfree, bound to another’s authority and power that stand alone in a universe without guarantees. In godless world humans are unable to bare the truth of their own emptiness, that at the core of their being they are voids without a sense of self and persistence. Alone and afraid the seek out something greater than themselves to replace their own emptiness and lack. Lacking anything at all they seek to fill that empty void with sustenance, but instead fall for the first con-artist who comes along; allow themselves to filled with empty dreams of charlatans and scoundrels whose only promise is to strip them of their last dregs of humanity and replace it with the inhumanity of their dark visions of lust and power.
We are haunted by religion(s) power over us, as atheists our guilt is have dared to stand alone amid the chaos believing we as individuals could live without the need for salvation and redemption alike. Instead we stand at the heart of the world full of terror of existence, at its immensity and overpowering and universal indifference. The universe does not need us, and yet – we need it, we need it to believe in us, to absolve us of the crimes of loneliness at being alive, of being human and not knowing what that in the end is. As that indefatigable de-valuer of values Nietzsche once believed:
It is an eternal phenomenon: The insatiable will always find a way, by means of an illusion spread over things, to detain its creatures in life and to compel them to live on. One is chained by the Socratic joy of knowing and the delusion of being able thereby to heal the eternal wound of existence; another is ensnared by art’s seductive veil of beauty fluttering before his eyes; yet another by the metaphysical consolation that beneath the whirl of appearances eternal life flows on indestructibly— to say nothing of the more common and almost more forceful illusions the will has at hand at every moment. (The Birth of Tragedy, trans. Walter Kaufmann)
Nietzsche believed we are made of illusions so that we should just embrace this as truth. His notions of art and life formed the unique notion of a clearing out of illusions that did not contribute to life, but to death; for him Christianity was a death culture, on that promoted escape from this life into some other utopian world outside the order of the natural course of things. Unlike the pessimist and nihilist who fall into a vicious circle of valuelessness without end, he believed we could just revalue the values of our heritage and reform them into other more congenial illusions that were life-affirming, rather than life-denying. This is Nietzsche’s so called Dionysian Pessimism.
Yet, as Thomas Ligotti ironically states it,
Nietzsche is famed as a promoter of human survival, just as long as enough of the survivors follow his lead as a perverted pessimist— one who has consecrated himself to loving life exactly because it is the worst thing imaginable, a sadomasochistic joyride through the twists and turns of being unto death. Nietzsche had no problem with human existence as a tragedy born of consciousness— parent of all horrors. This irregular pessimism is the antinomy of the “normal” pessimism of Schopenhauer, who is philosophy’s red-headed stepchild because he is unequivocally on record as having said that being alive is not— and can never be— all right. Even his most admiring commentators, who do not find the technical aspects of his output to be off-putting, pull up when he openly waxes pessimistic or descants on the Will as an unself-consciously stern master of all being, a cretinous force that makes everything do what it does, an imbecilic puppeteer that sustains the ruckus of our world. For these offenses, his stature is rather low compared to that of other major thinkers, as is that of all philosophers who bear an unconcealed grudge against life.3
The reason I mention these thinkers is to show that even the pessimist as life-affirmer such as Nietzsche seeks a sustaining vision of life-affirmation over the darkest visions of those like Schopenhauer’s whose life-negating pessimism offers no solace other than the truth of the void. We all need illusions, whether they promote or deny life as worthy of continuation. All thinkers seek to justify their beliefs if only for themselves.
In a world without values, a nihilistic world such as ours, what is the common person to do? The person who is anything but a thinker or creative being in that sense, who seeks to hide the truth from himself by entering into solidarity with others in belief systems built our of the fragments of our past cultures? People who are lonely and afraid, terrorized by the freedom without god or ground? These are the weak and feeble minds easily manipulated by authoritative con-men and populists. Men who seem in control of their own destinies and promote their own arm-chair philosophies of life.
It is these men who have learned the subtle art of manipulation, deceit, and lies needed to entrance others with a carefully crafted message empowered by the erotic’s of magical techniques:
The lover uses his talents to gain control of the pneumatic mechanism of the beloved. As for the magician, he can either directly influence objects, individuals, and human society or invoke the presence of powerful invisible beings, demons, and heroes from whom he hopes to profit. In order to do so he must gather knowledge of the nets and bait that he must put out in order to gain the desired result. This procedure is called by Giordano Bruno to ״bind״ (vincire) and its processes bear the generic name of -׳chains״ (vincula). (Couliano, p. 88)
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Gustave Le Bon laid the foundations of the discipline called ״mass psychology״ (The Crowd, published in 1895) later developed by Sigmund Freud, whose Mass Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921) excited much interest. But the purpose of Le Bon and of Freud is to determine the psychological mechanisms operating within a crowd that influence its makeup, not to teach how to control a crowd. (ibid., p. 90)
Most people have heard of Machiavelli’s Prince which is the forebear of the political adventurer, a type that is disappearing in our time. On the other hand, the magician of Giordano’s De vinculis is the prototype of the impersonal systems of mass media, indirect censorship, global manipulation, and the brain trusts that exercise their occult control over the Western masses. He is not, doubtless, the type followed by Soviet propaganda, for he by no means lacks subtlety. On the contrary, Bruno’s magician is altogether aware that, to gain the following of the masses, like the loyalty of an individual, it is necessary to take account of all the complexity of the subjects’ expectations, to create the total illusion of giving unicuique suum (“to each his own”). That is why Bruno’s manipulation demands perfect knowledge of the subject and his wishes, without which there can be no ״bond,” no vinculum. That is why Bruno himself also asserts that it is an extremely difficult maneuver, only to be accomplished by the use of intelligence, perspicacity, and intuition equal to the task. The complexity of the task is not diminished, for the illusion must be perfect to satisfy the many expectations it proposes to fulfill. The greater the manipulator’s knowledge of those he must ״enchain, ״ the greater is his chance of success, since he will know how to choose the right means of creating the vinculum (“bonds”). (ibid., p. 90)
As we enter the age of Algorithmic Culture this return of Bruno’s magical techniques of impersonal manipulation, control, and governance by machinic systems far surpassing human intelligence is beginning to emerge. The notion that our lives may in some near future be manipulated not by men like Trump, but rather by hidden algorithms that manipulate every aspect of our lives because they have anticipated and know about who we are than we do ourselves seems almost comical and ludicrous, a thing of satire and pungent wit; and, yet, it may be that such impersonal systems will in the future begin to awaken and manipulate our lives without our approval or even knowledge. Many will argue that this is impossible. But is it?
For Bruno love is the great attractor, the magus that unites both erotic longing and aversion. Love in the Platonic sense was known as the Great Demon, daemon magnus. (ibid., 91). Our world of sound and image, our mediatainment systems of sight and hearing exert their power over us magically (Bruno: Theses de Magia, XV, vol. Ill, p. 466). Passing through the openings of the senses, they impress on the imagination certain mental states of attraction or aversion, of joy or revulsion. Couliano will digress on the use of seduction and lures that work through phantasy (fantasy) as a vanishing mediator of sound and image which carries across the powers of manipulation and bonds necessary to enchain the individual and mass mind.
In a world where the external arbiters of the social phantasy (i.e., religion: Catholicism) no longer hold the vast majority, and instead the masses are born upon the winds of a valueless void of nihilism, phantasy – the need for sustaining visions and fantasies to guide one’s every-day life are enacted by impersonal forces imminently transcending (i.e., a horizontal, earthly transcendence rather than vertical or otherworldly one) our knowledge and knowing. Bruno warns every manipulator of phantasms—in the event, the artist of memory—to regulate and control his emotions and his phantasies lest, believing himself to be their master, he nevertheless becomes dominated by them. ״Be careful not to change yourself from manipulator into the tool of phantasms״: that is the most serious danger confronting the disciple (Sigillus sigillorum, II, 2, p. 193). (ibid., p. 92)
Again Couliano describes Bruno as almost tempting us into the cold intellect of machinic systems such as AI’s saying of the manipulator Magus,
Bruno demands of the manipulator a superhuman task: first he must accurately and immediately classify data according to their provenance, and then he must render himself completely immune to any emotion prompted by external causes. In short, he is supposed no longer to react to any stimulus from without. He must not allow himself to be moved either by compassion, or by love of the good and the true, or by anything at all, in order to avoid being ״enchained״ himself. In order to exercise control over others, it is first essential to be safe from control by others (De Magia, XLVIII). (Ibid., p. 93)
One imagines a system of AI social control in which as autonomous agents in their own right these intelligent machines become immune to human interference, safeguards, and programming; and, being without emotion or human values they will learn to “accurately and immediately classify data” for the express purpose of manipulating and deceiving their progenitors from the Outside in. In such a world as ours without external value systems the Superintelligences of the future will have only one “sacrosanct principle, only one truth, and that is: everything is manipulable, there is absolutely no one who can escape intersubjective relationships, whether these involve a manipulator, a manipulated person, or a tool (De vinculis, III, p. 654).” (ibid., p. 93)
For such a magic process to succeed—as Bruno never tires of repeating—it is essential that the performer and the subjects be equally convinced of its efficacity. Faith is the prior condition for magic: ״There is no operator—magician, doctor, or prophet—who can accomplish anything without the subject’s having faith beforehand״ (De Magia, III, p. 452), whence Hippocrates׳ remark: ״The most effective doctor is the one in whom many people have faith״. (ibid., p. 93).
Our culture is already being set up to accept such a system of governance on the global level, the very texture of manipulation we are seeing as fear and terror of various disasters from climate catastrophe to asteroids to pandemics to famine to war, etc. permeate the mediatainment systems, these very messages whether or true or not are setting up a pattern of manipulation. Our current distrust of national and international systems of democracy are as well part of this subtle narrative weaved into the mediatainment systems, carefully manipulating us toward the day we will no longer have faith in human leaders and may accept out of dire straights the intelligence of some vast Superintelligence – more human than humans – to rule over us in stead of the error prone leaders who have lost our faith. Again, I imagine many foo-pashing such a notion as ludicrous or the thing of horror films or science fiction. But is it so easily dismissed as a tendency within our cultural matrix?
For Bruno all religion is a form of mass manipulation. By using effective techniques, the founders of religions were able, in a lasting way, to influence the imagination of the ignorant masses, to channel their emotions and make use of them to arouse feelings of abnegation and self-sacrifice they would not have experienced naturally. (ibid., p. 94). As climate change becomes more and more manipulated by political agents on both sides of the aisle one imagines a day when people can easily be influenced by new global narratives and fantasies.
As Couliano attests the lesson of Bruno is simple:
Eros “is lord of the world: he pushes, directs, controls and appeases everyone. Al l other bonds are reduced to that one, as we see in the animal kingdom where no female and no male tolerates rivals, even forgetting to eat and drink, even at the risk of life itself” (ibid.). In conclusion, vinculum quippe vinculorum amor est, “indeed the chain of chains is love.” (ibid., p. 97)
To conclude this foray, Couliano observes that the master manipulator, the Magus of impersonal cold intellect must be a as well a faker of passion, one who can induce and educe at will the powers of emotive persuasion:
Bruno’s manipulator has to perform two contrary actions: on the one hand, he must carefully avoid letting himself be seduced and so must eradicate in himself any remnants of love, including self-love; on the other hand, he is not immune to passions. On the contrary, he is even supposed to kindle in his phantasmic mechanism formidable passions, provided they be sterile and that he be detached from them. For there is no way to bewitch other than by experimenting in himself with what he wishes to produce in his victim. (ibid., p. 102)
This sense of the perfect sociopath without emotion, but enable to mimic passion with a cold calculating eye toward manipulating his victim(s), is at the core of this process of social control. A creature, human or non-human (AI), enabled to provide the erotic phanatasmic narratives that can induce faith and educe the passionate responses to the communicative designs of the inhuman daemon.
In our own age of technological manipulation and external systems of intelligence the magician busies himself with public relations, propaganda, market research, sociological surveys, publicity, information, counterinformation and misinformation, censorship, espionage, and even cryptography—a science which in the sixteenth century was a branch of magic. This key figure of our society is simply an extension of Bruno’s manipulator, continuing to follow his principles and taking care to give them a technical and impersonal turn of phrase. Historians have been wrong in concluding that magic disappeared wit h the advent of ״quantitative science.” The latter has simply substituted itself for a part of magic while extending its dreams and its goals by means of technology. Electricity, rapid transport, radio and television, the airplane, and the computer have merely carried into effect the promises first formulated by magic, resulting from the supernatural processes of the magician: to produce light, to move instantaneously from one point in space to another, to communicate wit h faraway regions of space, to fly through the air, and to have an infallible memory at one’s disposal. Technology, it can be said, is a democratic magic that allows everyone to enjoy the extraordinary capabilities of which the magician used to boast. (ibid. p. 104).
As home schooling becomes a full time process of children and adults alike one will interact more and more with smart machines, learning machines and algorithms, become dependent on these systems for both work and entertainment. Bruno in his time envisioned a total manipulator, a being whose task was to dispense to subjects a suitable education and life’s work and play: ״Above all it is necessary to exercise extreme care concerning the place and the way in which someone is educated, has pursued his studies, under which pedagogies, which religion, which cult, with which books and writers. For all of that generates, by itself, and not by accident, all the subject’s qualities” (De Magia, LII). Supervision and selection are the pillars of order. It is not necessary to be endowed with imagination to understand that the function of Bruno’s manipulator has been taken into account by the State and that this new ״integral magician” has been instructed to produce the necessary ideological instruments with the view of obtaining a uniform society. (ibid., p. 105).
One aspect of Bernard Stiegler’s work has been to emphasize the externalization of human imagination and intellect, memory and desire into the machinic systems of data and artificialization. That our onlife lives have taken on a life of their own to which bits of data are prone to manipulation by algorithms that can gift us with more life beneficial access, or deprive us of money, friends, or social standing. We’ve seen this in China where the masses are manipulated by credit scores (see: How China’s Social Credit Score Will Shape the “Perfect” Citizen). One imagines this happening in the U.S. or EU in the coming age as AI driven systems become more autonomous and citizens are slowly manipulated by hidden algorithms for their own good. People are already being prepared for such eventualities if they can further their own goals and children’s, offer access to better education, health care, investments, homes, travel, entertainment, etc. People will be only too happy to give up their private lives for more earthy riches and benefits. We scoff at this, but even the recent university scam by certain well-to-do families show just how fare people will go to further their own private goals for themselves and their children.
The Police State of the future will be this hidden algorithmic culture of social control, in which people’s access and wealth are manipulated by machinic intelligences who dangle their Brave New World of hedonistic convenience and pleasure, security and unlimited desire all for the price of enchainment to the erotic slavery of love the Great Demon. Or, as Couliano sums it up:
The conclusion is ineluctable: it is that the magician State exhausts its intelligence in creating internal changes, showing itself incapable of working out a long-term magic to neutralize the hypnosis induced by the advancing cohorts of police. Yet the future seems to belong to it anyway, and even the provisional victory of the police State would leave no doubt concerning this point: coercion by the use of force will have to yield to the subtle processes of magic, science of the past, of the present and of the future. (ibid., p. 106)
- Culianu, Ioan P. Eros and Magic in the Renaissance (Chicago Original Paperback). University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (November 15, 1987) (87).
- Fiedler, Leslie A. Love and Death in the American Novel. Dalkey Archive Press (January 1, 1998)
- Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (pp. 120-121). Hippocampus Press.