Here Be Dragons!

Here Be Dragons

Manifesto For A New Adventure#

“Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.“ – Rosa Luxemburg

“Don’t get caught up in the spectacle of opposition. Oppose the spectacle.” “Those who lack imagination cannot imagine what is lacking.” – Situationist graffiti

“When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate”. – C. G. Jung

“Why should you study and practice Magick? Because you can’t help doing it, and you had better do it well than badly.”” Aleister Crowley, Magick Without Tears

“I believe that magic is art and that art, whether it be writing, music, sculpture, or any other form is literally magic. Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words, or images, to achieve changes in consciousness.” – Alan Moore

The Adventure of Modernity#

We are entering an era of exponential change, as noted by many, and as such it is impossible to predict what the outcome will be. The consumerist entrancement whose spell has claimed the lives and souls of the majority of humanity will be broken, simply because no-one can remain asleep forever. The only question is to how the awakening will occur, whether it is suddenly, as suggested by the spiritual teacher Barry Long; that the nuclear bombs will eventually be detonated and shock humanity out of its slumber1. Or it might be gradual – as an addict wakes up on the bathroom floor covered in vomit once again – we might find ourselves in a desert which was once a forest and realise that there is now nowhere we can go to find clean drinking water. Or we can look at the situation and choose to wake up consciously now, to maybe spare ourselves the worst horrors that our Fate has in store for us.

This is what is known as the Path of Wisdom versus the Path of Woe. The latter is what happens when you don’t face up to the consequences of your actions and just let things drift. We have all experienced this multiple times in our personal lives – for example the credit card bill doesn’t get paid, we get hit with massive interest charges, and this marks the last moment we had any real control over our finances. The Path of Wisdom is what happens when we can see what is coming down the road and start taking steps to avoid it, or at least to avoid its worst effects – avoiding some kind of global catastrophe is probably beyond us at this stage, given the converging crises we are currently facing.

One of the main symptoms of the spell we are under is boredom, which is itself a symptom of powerlessness, of impotence, of being discarded by the society we are in fact part of, but don’t have the feeling that we are. Nowadays it is evident that if you are not rich you don’t count at all. The vast majority of decisions affecting us are made for us by people in a bubble of privilege, and if you are poor, or of different ethnic origin to the mass in your society, your opinion counts for less than nothing. The neoliberal doctrine of ‘no such thing as Society’ means that you are an individual in competition for resources and simply by virtue of an accident of birth, you have already lost in that competition. The rules were invented before you were born and it was already decided that you were going to lose – and at best, pick up the scraps from the higher tables. At worst, we have some drones to bomb you and your children with from the comfort of our air conditioned bunkers. Or you will fall into the hands of desperate people who use fundamentalism to justify their insane and violent reactions to the dominant culture which has been imposed upon them.

The boredom which affects the majority of people in ‘developed’ nations comes from this feeling of impotence, that nothing they say or do has any effect on how things turn out whatsoever. And they are right in feeling this, insofar as they only do things within the narrow margins prescribed for them to whom we have given responsibility to ‘organise’ things. To do or think outside of these margins is of course to risk being labelled a ‘terrorist sympathizer’, or a hippy, or some other sort of undesirable.

A great deal of what is called ‘evil’ seems to be really just a perspective which is insufficiently large for the situation. For example, when I only consider myself and the convenience of my immediate family when making decisions. If omelettes have to be made then eggs have to be broken and I can’t consider my own choices to have anything to do with, for example, those refugees ‘out there’. This is another symptom of powerlessness – we consider that what we think and decide has no consequence – but opting to give responsibility to another is itself a decision. We may complain about what ‘our representatives’ do but we forget that it is we who are giving them the power with which to do it. Absolving ourselves of responsibility means that we also are the cause of our own impotence.

Shouting Into A Void#

All of this seems self-evident, in fact when I write anything like this I have a gnawing sensation that it has all been said before, and it has of course, everything has been said before – just Google it – and everything is obvious when it is stated in black and white, however this culture is one of immediacy and of amnesia, and as such it does have a value to re-state the obvious over and over again. If I don’t wake up, maybe I need to set the volume on the alarm a bit louder. This is not to justify hectoring and boring people by repeating the self-evident, but just that everything in the culture tends towards forgetting the bigger picture, towards an amnesia of where we actually are as a species and what awaits us if we do not choose to take the Path of Wisdom.

This feeling of mine of shouting into a void is in fact another aspect of the powerlessness we all feel, the suspicion that there is in fact No Alternative to neoliberal capitalism, that we had all better just vote for the lesser evil once again and try to make the best of things within the parameters presented to us as ‘reality’. But who defines what ‘reality’ is?

Could we start to define the limits of the possible ourselves instead of accepting the meagre vision handed down from ‘above’? Can we do better than putting the spare room on AirBnB and making a few extra bucks? Is it all our fault for not being better marketers? After all, we are our own product, and if things are not going well for us, then we must be doing a bad job of marketing our product. We maybe need to get a better haircut, present a better image of ourselves on LinkedIn, maybe embellish the CV with some more half-truths, get up an hour earlier and go to the gym. Is it our own laziness and lack of discipline which has caused us to be in the state in which we currently find ourselves? And why are we both overwhelmed with work and bored to tears at the same damn time? Why do we feel that nothing, nothing we do makes any difference to anything real whatsoever? Are we just running endlessly on a treadmill and going nowhere, or do we just feel like we are? For all the work that we do, why do we feel that nothing gets accomplished?

You can separate yourself from the ‘rat race’ and reject consumerism, boycott Nestlé and Bayer/Monsanto (in fact we all must do at least that), go up to the mountains and live ‘off-grid’ (I have done exactly that)2, but as the Situationists so astutely noted, ‘the policeman is in your head’. There is no escape from the dominant culture; we are as dependent on it as a baby is on her mother.

Where Is Our Adventure?#

So we are powerless, so what? What did you expect? Humanity’s history is written in blood, that’s just the way it is. We distract ourselves with entertainment, something to fill the gap between being born and finally succumbing to the inevitable, just as the last of our children’s inheritance disappears into the coffers of the for-profit nursing home. We revel in grand stories of adventure, of games of thrones and lords of rings, of star wars and empires… but where is our adventure?

Where is our grand moment where we vanquish the dragon and overcome adversity to come up victorious? That all belongs to another era, right? The age of chivalry is dead, long dead. No adventure awaits us in the ‘developed’ world, surely. That has gone the way of smallpox and the power of labour unions, never to return. Surely we sacrificed our chance of adventure when we opted for convenience and material comfort?

Well, yes and no. It turns out that our very abdication of responsibility has itself created a monster – ‘the future that nobody wants’ as per Otto Scharmer and his very insightful ‘Theory U3‘. So what do we actually do, and more to the point, when do we find the time to do it, given that we are all working all the hours of each day just to survive? Or to put it another way, when we are working as much as we are physically able in order to keep the capitalist charade going? Yes, we are dependent on the system and it seems we will die without it, but we really will die, and not just as a loser in a made up game, but as an entire race, if we destroy our true mother, the planet itself. Our day-to-day survival strategies are, little by little, creating a monster which is devouring us. We are dependent on that which is killing us.

So what does the would-be adventurer do when confronted with a monster? We must slay the dragon, that much is clear. But how do we actually do it? The paucity of options we appear to have is another facet of the precious diamond of our powerlessness, the jewel we covet above all others as the reason why we don’t actually do anything – and even get to call it ‘someone else’s fault’.

What we do in fact is turn away from the challenge, pretend it isn’t there, and hope for another one to come along which is more to our liking, more like the one that we were expecting. But I’m sorry, the news is that we don’t get to choose how or when the monster shows up, we have to deal with the one that is actually here, destroying the very fabric of our lives and the means with which to support them.

We turn away and then complain that we are bored, that modern life has no adventure in it. Yes, if we stay within the tiny area circumscribed for us by those to whom we have abdicated our power, we are correct – modern life is boring, it saps our vitality. But guess what? Step outside of the tiny ‘free speech area’ (getting smaller all the time), and we are into the uncharted lands where ‘here be dragons’ and all is adventure. And it is scary, of course it is – one leaves all certainty behind when leaving the comfort zone (which might as well be called the dead zone), but what else is life for? Are we here merely to add a few extra dollars of shareholder value? Or do we face the current challenge head on and enjoy the ride? It may end in disaster as we fear, but what have we got to lose? We are already heading straight for disaster; watch the news on tv tonight if you had temporarily forgotten.

The Land Beyond The Maps#

Am I therefore advocating becoming some sort of urban guerrilla or terrorist? Not as such, in fact not at all. You may have noticed that the enemy is heavily armed and takes pleasure in using violence. We are unlikely to prevail in that direction, assuming that such a thing was even desirable. So what then? Here we leave the well-trodden paths of the familiar and head out into the land beyond the maps, the land which is supposed not to exist by the bureaucrats, the specialists, the scientists and their followers, those who insist that we ‘be realistic’ about things, vote like good little liberals or conservatives, then retreat back to our holes for another four years.

The monster has been created by our neglect of our true responsibilities, our low self-esteem, and our failure to realise that we do indeed hold the power. We hold the sword of King Arthur, each and every one of us, and the fairy tale is now, except that we expected everyone to be wearing robes rather than jeans, and the dragon to be breathing fire rather than spouting bullshit on TV. However once we get out of the comfort zone that has been marked out for us, out of the shopping malls and multiplexes, out of the universities and institutions, out of the fear we are expected to feel about ‘the dangerous world out there’ – a myth propagated by the very people who are causing it to be dangerous, by the way – then we might begin to perceive the beginnings of how we can take back our power and slay the monster.

So what else do we need for a real fairy tale, a real adventure? Magic of course. Another thing which ‘doesn’t exist’ according to the gatekeepers of ‘the realistic’. But what if we assume, as per Alan Moore above, that magic is art? When you create a work of art, you are making something appear which didn’t appear before. If that is not magic I don’t know what is. However those of us who call ourselves artists (and the term can only ever be self-ascribed – I am an artist if I say I am, and I am not an artist if I say I am not and use that as an excuse to never make art), often don’t recognise the power we have when we are making a work of art. We think of it as something within the Spectacle4, as a commodity, as something to put on our profile page in a corporate social network, and not as a means to wrench back our power from the monster which is sucking our lives dry.

Time Is Art#

Most art is useless from a commercial standpoint and the time spent (remember ‘time is money’, folks!) could have been, in fact should have been, spent doing something economically ‘useful’, such as clear-cutting a forest or destroying the ‘environment’ in some way in order to convert ‘natural resources’ into ‘wealth’ (probably ending up as numbers on a screen via some ultimately unwanted consumer good). It could at least have been spent doing some sort of ‘bullshit job’ designed to keep us off the streets and generating enough cash to pay the bank/landlord for the place where we sleep. As it is useless to commerce (except in a few cases for its scarcity value, when it is deemed to be ‘collectable’ and thus becomes commodified), I would suggest that is as good a reason as any to start making art. Anything which is considered ‘useless’ by capitalism must have a revolutionary quality.

So we are creating art using the magic of inspiration, drawing down realities from who knows where and making them into something which can be perceived by the senses of those around us. We are consciously widening the definition of ‘reality’ when we make art, and taking back that power from those who believe they are entitled to do it for us. We abdicated the throne for too long, but seeing that it is still empty, we decide to reclaim our personal sovereignty and our connection to everyone else. In a spirit of solidarity we encourage others to make art, to create magic, and thus to actualise their hidden talents.

‘But I’m not an artist’ you inevitably cry! But maybe you make furniture out of things you found by the road. You cook delicious food. You sing in the shower, badly, but you sing. You dance around the house when your husband is out. You make small children laugh. You cultivate tomatoes in your garden. You dream of a better world, write it down but don’t show anyone. You tell jokes. You burn toast and laugh about it. You mend your old car. You wrote poetry but got discouraged when you discovered there was no way to make money with it. You help a neighbour with their shopping. You want to play an instrument. You think you have a novel in you. You take photographs. You can imagine realities which amplify those we are currently subject to and have the potential to transmit them to other people. Have you noticed we are living in the most connected era of human life ever? Have you noticed things are changing exponentially? Why not surf that wave and be a magician of the next moment rather than someone who is crushed by the dead weight of the past? It is up to you.

It will be hard going, for one thing we have to work out how to sustain life outside of capitalism, our evil stepmother upon whom we rely for our daily bread, yes, the one who abuses us every chance she gets and then tells us she loves us. It is true we have not figured that one out. But the reason we have not figured it out – yet – is the same fear that keeps us going back to the abuser, and that fear is born of the reduced possibilities we see when looking through the lens given to us by capitalism itself. It tells us how to think about everything, including how to support ourselves without capitalism, and then, surprise surprise, we conclude it can’t be done, that indeed There Is No Alternative.

Leave The Comfort Zone#

The way we vanquish this monster is to use our Magic to imagine something better than what we have and our Art to begin to create it. This will give us the inspiration and fortitude to take the inevitable hits which will come when we try to leave the ‘comfort zone’ (which, let’s face it, is getting smaller and less comfortable all the time) and join up with others who have had enough of the desperate illusion that passes for our culture, our so-called civilisation which is nothing of the kind.

Joseph Campbell said: “There is no humanity in the state. What runs the world is economics and politics, and they have nothing to do with the spiritual life. So we are left with this void. It is the job of the artist to create the new myths. Myths come from the artists.” So let us not neglect our duty to create new myths, new images of the world as we want it to be, to plunge into the wellspring of inspiration to clutch imagery which will inspire ourselves and others to fill this spiritual void, rather than trying to frighten people into sharing our worldview. I hear we must ‘declare war on climate change’ – a well-meaning sentiment but do we really want yet another war? Why can’t we imagine into being a world where the effects of climate change are undone and we start living in harmony with the planet, our true mother?

We need to dive in to the unknown, the world beyond the edge of the maps, not as some sort of ‘new colonialism’ of the imagination, not to bring back more growth for a moribund economy, not to get ideas for a television advertisement, but to divest ourselves of our ego, our attachment to our separate self, and connect to what ties us irrevocably to all of humanity, our shared Soul. Here in the centre of the living mandala is where we find the inspiration, the breath of life, which will give us the new myths, and at the same time the strength to face the fear of change, of leaving our comfort zones, of becoming more than our small and habitual self.

An Awe-Full Process#

And make no mistake, this is a fearful, literally an Awe-Full, process. We will be destroyed, and remade anew, and we cannot predict what will come of it. We need to be at our most courageous, most honest, at maximum integrity, showing up with full openness, leaving all the ideas of who we thought we were behind. The monster is essentially made of fear, and those who benefit from the monster’s rule – and they are legion – will do all they can to increase that fear and try to drive us back into separation.

They are telling you that you are not important, that what you want is not important, that artists are not important, are irrelevant, that magic does not and cannot exist, that ‘economic growth’ and other dead concepts are the be-all-and-end-all of what we can ever hope for. What you dream of is ‘not realistic’, according to rules you had no part in making. Maybe we start to define what is ‘realistic’ for ourselves, rather than allowing people with vested interests in our own disempowerment to tell us.

Is this prescription, this Manifesto, too vague? Too general, too head-in-the-clouds? Maybe, but on the other hand I can’t project myself into your life and tell you exactly what you should do, and neither do I want to. You could examine where the scepticism comes from – is it not from the same source which tells you that corporate ‘free market’ capitalism is the only ‘sensible’ way of organising things? All I can tell you is that if you think you can do it, you are right, and if you think you can’t do it, you are also right. I know which one I am choosing. Let us be magicians once again and seize the Adventure before us!

  1. The birth or release of the new culture from the human unconscious, where the idea of it is retained, will require the destruction of most of the human race by nuclear war, holocaust or some tremendous natural cataclysm. This could happen any day now.” From ‘The Origins of Man and the Universe‘ (pp 62-63)

  2. ↩︎

  3. Theory U ↩︎

  4. An Illustrated Guide to Guy Debord’s ‘The Society of the Spectacle’ ↩︎