|Magick, Media & McLuhan
||[Oct. 15th, 2012|09:09 pm]
frater tanranin uhcheek gozaknee, 222
Magick, Media & McLuhan
by Frater 222
Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) was a Canadian born professor who received his Ph.D. in English Literature. He is the father of what is known today as media studies. His book the MECHNICAL BRIDE in 1951 was the first book to devote serious study to the medium of advertising. McLuhan's seminal work was UNDERSTANDING MEDIA: THE EXTENSIONS OF MAN in 1964 and it propelled him to international celebrity.
McLuhan had a cameo in Woody Allen's ANNIE HALL and on the popular 1960s TV show, LAUGH IN, it was asked: "Marshall McLuhan, what are you doin'?" Indeed, people at that time were unsure and only 50 years later are we beginning to more clearly understand what it was in fact he was doing. He also made the rounds in the talk shows of the day. For example, McLuhan can be seen on a YouTube clip being interviewed by Tom Brokaw on the TODAY show in 1976.
His esoteric take on the Carter/Ford presidential debates is quite striking in contrast to the mundane observations of a Tom Brokaw. McLuhan proposes the PA system broke down during the debates because the negative vibrations from the debates found their way into the speaker system itself. With a wry smile, he said: "the vibrations got through to the amplifier and said this must not continue."
Many famous thinkers relevant to occultists have spoken the praises of McLuhan. Timothy Leary highlighted the importance McLuhan's work throughout his life but specifically it was toward the end of his life that he did more fully embrace his theories. It was actually he who gave Leary his famous phrase: "Tune in, turn on, and drop out."
This little known fact in itself is enough to suggest McLuhan was something of a 'secret chief' of the 1960s 'higher consciousness' movement. In this regard I'm reminded of the following quote by Crowley: "1965 e.v. should be a critical period in the development of the child Horus! (i.e. Aeon of Horus) (p. 250 IN THE CENTER OF THE FIRE by J. Wasserman). Leary first spoke the famous catch phrase in public in 1966.
Terence McKenna said himself that "McLuhan should be looked at more carefully" (quoted in the podcast THE PSYCHEDELIC SALON, episode 242). In his ARCHAIC REVIVAL McLuhan's theories are closely tied to his thesis of the 'Archaic Revival' itself. McKenna says:
"Marshall McLuhan was correct to see that the planetary human culture, the global village, would be tribal in character. The next great step toward a planetary holism is the partial merging of the technological transformed human world with the archaic matrix of vegetable intelligence that is the Overmind of the planet. I hesitate to call this dawning awareness religious, yet that is what it surely is" (p. 225).
Robert Anton Wilson was also a proponent of his work. In COSMIC TRIGGER he writes:
"As Marshall McLuhan has pointed out, in THE MECHANICAL BRIDE and other works, the multi-model approach has now influenced all the sciences and even appears in modern art...[he] has even proclaimed, in his usual apocalyptic style, that the multi-model approach is the most important, and most original, intellectual discovery of the 20th century" (p. 16).
McLuhan was also respected and sought after in the political and business worlds of his time. He consulted on a Nixon campaign, advising he talk as little as possible to increase his chances of getting elected. He consulted at the Ford motor corporation and told them the automobile itself was obsolete. McLuhan was also an attendee at a Bilderberg conference in 1969 and was not invented back because of what he proposed. He told the world leaders that it was silly to fight against or be concerned with the spread of communism since the goal had already been achieved in the western world by the penetration of electric mediums and technologies of the 1960s.
He coined the term 'global village' and predicted the World Wide Web. For a time he was the patron saint of WIRED magazine. John and Yoko also made it a point to attend one of his weekly salons at his Center for Culture and Technology when they were visiting Toronto.
So you might be saying, "McLuhan sounds like a cool guy but what does he have to do with me, the magician?"
The most common definition of magick is: "the science and art of causing change to occur in accordance with one's will." However, the following definitions of magick by Jack Parsons are a little more nuanced and can better help explain why a serious study of McLuhan's work is now so important. He defines magick, in his essay 'On Magick' in the book FREEDOM IS A TWO EDGE SWORD, as:
"A concept of nature in all its parts as a living field in direct contact and intersection with each individual. A concept of the individual as a potential field embracing the whole of nature in total consciousness. The primary function of the magician is the understanding and control of the basic forces of life ... as they manifest in change" (p. 47)
When one hears the word nature the mind initially goes to the planets, the phases of the moon, the seasons, the tides, the stars, etc. McLuhan refers to this as 'first nature'. The magician has been very keen to focus on how first nature effects him but has neglected to factor in how, what McLuhan calls 'second nature,' effects him. What about calculating the effects of electricity, the Internet, TV, billboards, and advertising on the practicing magician? Human artifacts are 'second nature', but still nature nonetheless.
It is reasonable to say that our technological world is our nature, just as the beaver dam is the nature of the beaver or the beehive for the bee. How odd we might think it if we found out a bird did not consider his nest 'nature'. It is here that I will reference the fact that McLuhan often quoted de Chardin who said that the arrival of electricity with the telegraph was actually a 'biological event.'
The field of media ecology, inspired by McLuhan's work, studies media as an environment. McLuhanite, Neil Postman defined media ecology as looking:
"...into the matter of how media of communication affects human perception, understating, feeling, and value, as well as how our interaction with media facilitates or impedes our chances of survival. The word ecology implies the study of environments: their structure, content, and impact on people" (WHAT IS MEDIA ECOLOGY?, Media Ecology Association).
In THE BOOK OF BALANCE Crowley says: "Learn first - Oh thou who aspirest unto our ancient Order! - that Equilibrium is the basis of the Work. If thou thyself hast not a sure foundation, whereon wilt thou stand to direct the forces of Nature?" How can a magician have a sure foundation in our information-technological age if he is not aware of how media is effecting him?
I propose that anybody who is unfamiliar with the work of McLuhan has little to no awareness of the technological forces operating in their social context. They simply have no media literacy. This is not a dig at the occult community. I am merely pointing out that anybody unfamiliar with the work of McLuhan will simply not have the tools to understand the effects technology is having on them. Just as someone unfamiliar with the theory of the unconscious would be less in control of their behavior and would have less self awareness in general.
I am aware that chaos magicians have embraced technology in their approach to magick. In the NOVA PRINCIPIA MAGICA Irreverend Hugh, KSC writes:
"Chaos Magic is one of the few occult approaches today that wholeheartedly embraces the use of cutting edge technologies for magical applications. Many people in the occult are stuck in systems which use rather obsolete technologies, and that is fine so long as the effect occurs. But what of people for who the modern and the post-modern has more relevance? What is out there for the Pagans of the city, the urban shamans, or the electric alchemists? Music and the arts have progressed into cutting edge technologies. Magic should be no exception."
Although they have embraced cutting edge technologies, I do not think they have integrated the theoretical back ground which this essay provides. Or if they have I am currently unaware they have done so. This short essay hopes to open up today's magician to the work of McLuhan so they can better understand their current hyper technological world and in turn be better magicians.
I have shown that media and technology is an environment itself and part of nature. I have demonstrated the importance that magicians understand the effects of this '2nd nature'. I will now give you the tools for understating this aspect of nature.
When people talk about technology and media I'm reminded of the line from THE PRINCESS BRIDE. The character Vizzini keeps repeating "Inconceivable" to which the sword fighter character, Inigo Montoya, finally responds: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." And so it goes today with the words media and technology. McLuhan at times used the words interchangeably but for this introductory essay we will look at each separately: the medium and technology.
McLuhan has been referred to as important as Newton (gravitation) (Einstein (E=MC2), Darwin (evolution), and Freud (unconscious). McLuhan's simplified formula was 'the medium is the message.' At first glance it is a deceptively simple phrase.
McLuhan said that studying the content of a medium was as important as studying the casing on an atomic bomb. Meaning, when we study the atomic bomb we study its effects, not the content on the bomb itself. To explain further, what is important to study is not the content of a medium (i.e., types of TV shows) but the effect of the medium itself (i.e., TV in general) has on human consciousness. The most important question is how does watching TV in general effect people's consciousness in and turn the structure of society?
In his book that propelled him to international fame, THE MEDIUM IS MESSAGE: THE EXTENSIONS OF MAN (1964), he explained it thus: "
For the 'message' of any medium or technology is the change or scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs...'the medium is the message' because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action. The content or uses of such media are as diverse as they are ineffectual in shaping the form of human association. Indeed, it is only too typical that the 'content' of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium" (p. 8 and 9).
McLuhan highlighted three mediums that transformed the world and in turn transitioned the world from one age to the next: the phonetic alphabet (took man from the Tribal age to the Literary age), the printing press (Printed age) and the telegraph (Electronic age). We are now in the Digital Age. In each age a particular medium is dominate which in turn determines the structure of human consciousness and in term the structure society itself.
To further illustrate McLuhan's focus on the medium over the content I point out that I advocate children under the age of 18 not be allowed to use the Internet. Why would I advocate such a thing? To this question people often answer: because of pornography, cyber bullying, video games, Justin Bieber YouTube videos, or banal Disney channel TV shows. No.
The reason I advocate such a thing is because the Internet is changing the structure of children's brains. This in turn makes it difficult for them to operate in the school classroom. The classroom environment is still based on the Print medium, which makes children with a digital age mind unable to adapt. I propose this is the source of the epidemic level ADD/ADHD diagnosis of our school age kids. Because of this dichotomy our children need, the street drug 'speed' (i.e.: Adderall, Ritalin, etc.) to be able to adapt to the 1600s style environment of 'the classroom'. In this regard, McLuhan said that the child intuitively knows his education ends when he goes into the classroom and that the classroom is now a place of "detention not attention".
Often people put moral judgments on new mediums and technologies. McLuhan was adamant over and over again about the importance of not putting value judgments on new technologies. He said this would block a true understanding of their effects. McLuhan said to mitigate any negative effects we must understand clearly what these mediums are doing to us. Over and over again he warned against moralizing, which he said blocks accurate understanding. Can one imagine having moral judgments on the cycles of the moon and coming of the seasons?
In his landmark PLAYBOY interview McLuhan said:
"...we might as well sit back and see what is happening and what will happen to us in a cybernetic world. Resenting a new technology will not halt its progress...Thus, in order to make use of them at all, we must serve them as we do gods. The Eskimo is a servomechanism of his kayak, the cowboy of his horse...and soon the entire world - of his computer...The first and most vital step of all...is simply to understand media and their revolutionary effects on all psychic and social values and institutions. Understanding is half the battle. The central purpose of all my work is to convey this message, that by understanding media as they extend man, we gain a measure of control over them...if we diagnose what is happening to us, we can reduce the ferocity of the winds of change and bring the best elements of the old visual culture, during this transitional period, into peaceful coexistence with the new retribalized society. If we persist, however, in our conventional rearview-mirror approach to these cataclysmic developments, all of Western culture will be destroyed and swept into the dustbin of history. If literate Western man were really interested in preserving the most creative aspects of his civilization, he would not cower in his ivory tower bemoaning change but would plunge himself into the vortex of electric technology and, by understanding it, dictate his new environment- turn the ivory tower into control tower."
In regards to the tendency to have moral judgments against new technologies McLuhan pointed out that when a new medium/technology is introduced it creates a new environment. This new environment is then seen as banal and debased. Then the old medium it replaces is held up as an art form. For example, I gave this point in a recent lecture and then asked if anybody thought Facebook was worthy of serious study and one participant violently opposed. Not only was he not open to this idea, it simply was too ridiculous of a notion to ponder.
When viewed in light of McLuhan's thought surely it appears ridiculous to not make Facebook a topic of serious study. McLuhan points out that it was not until TV was introduced that film started being taken more seriously as an art form. He points out that the rise of film studies classes rose in correlation with the penetration of TV into society. The new medium is seen as crass and the medium it replaces is seen as an art form. These reactions are a result of what McLuhan and his son called the Laws of Media.
McLuhan said that technology is merely an extension of an already existing human sense or organ. For example:
-clothing is an extension of the skin
-the wheel is an extension of the foot
-the knife is an extension of the teeth
-electricity is an extension of our central nervous system
-the satellite is an extension of our entire planet
Often people only consider the latest technology to be technology. For example people think about their i-phone as being technology but forget that there t-shirt and eye glass are as well.
I will end this section with a Dion Fortune quote:
"Symbols are to the mind what tools are to the hand--an extended application of its powers." --THE MYSTICAL QABALAH
MAGICK AND MCLUHAN
McLuhan was adamant of the special role of the artist and what are magicians but artists? McLuhan said "The serious artist is the only person able to encounter technology with impunity, just because he is an expert aware of the change in sense perception." I can only imagine the power of the magician to change under will if she is aware of how different mediums change her 'sense perceptions.'
THE MYSTICSIM OF MEDIA STUDIES ITSELF
McLuhan had a holy book involved in his media research and life. This book was FINNEGANS WAKE. It is said that he read it everyday of his life and used it to expand upon his media theories. People also speak about the accurate use of bibliomancy with the book. I myself can attest to its powerful magickal use in this regard. FINNEGANS WAKE has been described as the most mysterious, the best and the only book ever written. McLuhan said the following in regards to the book:
"The title of his 'Finnegans Wake' is a set of multi-leveled puns on the reversal by which Western man enters his tribal, or Finn cycle once more, following the track of the old Finn, but wide awake this time as we re-enter the tribal night. It is like our contemporary consciousness of the Unconscious" (UNDERSTANDING MEDIA p. 35).
Surely no one would deny McLuhan was a mystic himself after reading the following:
"The extensions of man's consciousness induced by the electric media could conceivably usher in the millennium, but it also holds the potential for realizing the Anti-Christ - Yeat's rough beast, its hour come round at last...Cataclysmic environmental changes such as these are, in and of themselves, morally neutral; it is how we perceive them and react to them that will determine their ultimate psychic and social consequences. If we refuse to see them at all, we will become their servants...I feel that we're standing on the threshold of a liberating and exhilarating world in which the human tribe can become truly one family and man's consciousness can be freed from the shackles of mechanical culture and enabled to roam the cosmos. I have a deep and abiding belief in man's potential to grow and learn, to plumb the depths of his own being and to learn the secret songs that orchestrate the universe. We live in a transitional era of profound pain and tragic identity quest, but the agony of our age is the labor pain of rebirth. I expect to see the coming decades transform the planet into an art form; the new man, linked in a cosmic harmony that transcends time and space, will sensuously caress and mold and pattern every facet of the terrestrial artifact as if it were a work of art, and man himself will become an organic art form. There is a long road ahead, and the stars are only way stations, but we have begun the journey."
THE END/THE BEGIN
In closing I will quote McLuhan in UNDERSTANDING MEDIA when he speaks of the importance of his work in general:
"The present book, in seeking to understand many media, the conflicts from which they spring and the even great conflicts to which they give rise, holds out the promise of reducing these conflicts by an increase in human autonomy."
The magician unaware of the effects of the technological nature around her is not on a sure foundation to work her will. McLuhan's work gives her just that. To understand the effects (positive and negative) of new technological environments moral judgment must be cast aside. McLuhan said it was the role of the artist to lead humanity in understanding the effects new mediums are having on mankind. This essay is a call to magicians to step into that role in a more conscious manner aided by their magick, media and McLuhan.
For the last four years Frater 222 has devoted much of his time and energy to the study of the work of Marshall McLuhan. His studies and understanding have been furthered by his personal study with (and later collaborative research) the paramedia ecologist Bob Dobbs. Shortly before his passing Donald Theall, McLuhan's first graduate student, referred to Bob as the "new McLuhan". Bob's work has probed and explained the digital age (or paramodern age) being that Marshall McLuhan died before the digital age was in full effect.