Saturday, October 30, 2010

Morning of the Magicians: Magical Thinking for a New Age

"I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose." --J. B. S. Haldane

Rationalists of a certain literal, materialistic mindset look at the world’s current state and its future trajectory, crunch the numbers and conclude that, with a high probability, we’re all doomed. It’s an understandable conclusion, too, if you project current capabilities and priorities linearly into the future. But what is missing from their equations — from their entire worldview, in fact — is the element of what I’ll call, for lack of a better word, "magic".

Magic is the discovery of fire, the development of language, the evolution of consciousness, the invention of religion, civilization, science and technology. Magic is the unforeseen game changer, the quantum leap in human powers, the singularity in human affairs which renders all previous predictions absurd. Magic is the force that drives us onward and upward, individually and collectively, to a destiny which is, for all practical purposes, infinite in all directions. Call it genius, divine inspiration or the hand of God if you prefer, but magic is exactly what must save us now, in our moment of great crisis.

Doomers call this magical thinking; they speak mockingly of "pixie dust and unicorn farts" when anyone dares to suggest that humanity will invent a way out of its "peak everything" predicament without vast suffering and loss of power. But magical thoughts are what we should be thinking, for humans are, above all else, the magic-wielding animals. Aleister Crowley defined magic as "the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will", and bending the world to our will is what we do, far better than any other creatures in the known universe. The doomer tries to place an arbitrary upper bound on human meddling — "recognize your limits", they say, "find your place in the natural order", "don’t be greedy" — but what they’re really saying is we should reign in our magic powers — the one indispensable survival tool without which we truly are doomed.

Crowley said it well almost eighty years ago, at a similar moment of global crisis:
"We are in the middle of a world crisis. It is a very good world crisis — better than any crisis we have had before — and there is no man alive with an intellect big enough to grasp the threads of the problems which confront the world today. There are two ways out of that. Either consult a superior intelligence, which Magick shows you the way of doing, or you can develop your own mind, for it has a faculty which is as superior to the intellect as the intellect is superior to the emotions.

All magical operations require a very elaborate training of one kind or another, but I think the only way out is that we have got to put men in charge of this planet who are really more than men. We must get back to the times of the prophets or we must make ourselves prophets. And we must look at world problems from a standpoint which is entirely alien to that existing at present."

A few months after Crowley’s speech a man many consider to be a black magician and prophet of evil took the reigns of power in Germany, so we should be careful what we wish for. But the election of Barack Obama had a similar air of magic to it, as an improbable candidate rose from obscurity to cast a spell on an entire nation with his mesmerizing, messianic persona. As we again enter a period of escalating crisis and uncertainty, it seems that history is repeating itself and the magicians are being called upon to take over where less gifted leaders have failed.

But it will take more than oratory enchanters to solve our problems this time; we need wizards in the tradition of physicist-alchemist Isaac Newton, mystic-inventor Nikola Tesla, visionary polymath Buckminster Fuller and occultist-rocket scientist Jack Parsons. We need geniuses of science and invention who can produce the "energy miracles" that arch-mage Bill Gates recently called for, devise new methods of agriculture, new modes of industry and new forms of community. It may even take a prophet, like the mythical Moses, Viracocha and Lao-Tzu of previous ages, to inspire us to make the changes in our worldviews necessary for life in a new age. You could be one of these wizards, as could your child, or the girl next door. For wherever there are humans, there is magic, and wherever there is magic, there is hope. So while some say it’s almost midnight for mankind, I say it’s really the morning of the magicians.