Archives Amazing Facts or Amazing Paranoia?
John Michael Greer Comments Every month or so since the presidential election campaign hit high tide, somebody has asked me to say something about the weirdest and most interesting aspect of that campaign: When the first flurry of requests for a post about what I call the Kek Wars came my way, I decided to wait a while before responding.
My thought was that after a year or so, the losing side would get around to dealing with the fact that it lost, the tantrums would subside, and it would then be possible to have a reasoned conversation about what happened and why. Magic is the politics of the excluded.
When most people have at least a little influence on day to day politics, and have some chance of getting their needs heard and their grievances addressed, they tend to neglect magic. This is true even if their influence is limited and others have a great deal more than they do.
For example, the golden age of African-American folk magic was between and —the period when Jim Crow laws were most savagely enforced across the American South, and various devices were used to deny African-Americans the civil rights they had theoretically been granted after the Civil War—and built on magical traditions developed by African-Americans during the era of slavery.
In those eras when African-Americans had some access to political power—between andin the wake of Reconstruction, and from on, in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement—their interest in magic waned.
This makes perfect sense if you understand magic the way that operative mages do. Those are people who actually practice magic, as opposed to speculative mages, who just theorize about it. In the words of the great twentieth century mage Dion Fortune, magic is the art and science of causing changes in consciousness in accordance with will.
Magic thus becomes the logical fallback option for those who are denied any other way of pursuing their goals or seeking redress for their grievances. Periods in which magic becomes popular, then, are periods when more people than usual are excluded from whatever mechanisms their societies provide for seeking redress of grievances.
Majorities in both countries remained loyal to the regimes in question precisely because they knew they had at least as good a chance of having their nonpolitical grievances addressed as under democracy.
Educational systems are the usual venue for this filtering process. Among the privileged classes, their lackeys and hangers-on, and those who aspire to either status, the approved range of political, economic, social, and cultural attitudes is very narrow and very rigidly defined.
Those who have influence and wealth can get away with violating those norms from time to time, so long as none of their rivals decides to use their strayings as a weapon against them.
Those who aspire to influence and wealth, though, have to watch their every word and action, knowing that these are being watched by their rivals and superiors as well.
The sense in which they consider themselves better is subject to all the usual historical and cultural vagaries, of course, but as an aristocracy ripens, those vagaries give way to an interesting uniformity.
This matter of exclusion is of high importance. Every aristocracy is defined by who it excludes, but tries to excuse that definition in terms of what it excludes.
Exactly what criteria are used as a basis for exclusion varies from culture to culture and from age to age. Not much more than a century ago, the US aristocracy was defined strictly by gender and ethnic markers—the highest circles of power were restricted to heterosexual men whose ancestors all came from northwestern Europe, whose cultural background was overwhelmingly Anglo-American, and who went on Sundays to the Episcopalian or, more rarely, Methodist church.
As times changed and the American aristocracy caught onto the dangers of excluding too many of the talented, the criteria of exclusion changed. Over the course of the twentieth century, political and cultural markers replaced ethnic and gender markers to a certain extent; while most of the people in the highest circles of power still bear a close resemblance to their equivalents in —look at a group photo of the US Senate sometime—a modest trickle of women and ethnic minorities have been permitted to rise into those same ranks, so long as they embraced all the right opinions and shed all but the thinnest cosmetic veneer of whatever ethnic culture they or their immediate ancestors might have had.
The quest for ways to shut out the rabble has had far-reaching impacts. Consider the way that painters, sculptors, composers, and other producers of fine arts in America devoted the entire twentieth century to a heroic effort to drive away the large audiences their equivalents had in Back then a gallery opening or the premiere of a new opera attracted the attention and patronage of the general public, and artists deliberately courted success along those lines; Giuseppe Verdi, one of the two supreme opera composers of the late nineteenth century, earnestly advised the man who became the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York to ignore the critics and pay close attention to box-office receipts instead.
In America, at least, the fine arts became a means of exclusion by which the aristocracy defined itself as different from the rabble. In the same way, young composers were taught to avoid writing anything an audience might enjoy listening to: Painters, composers, and the like are creating works these days solely for each other and a tiny audience that mostly belongs to the academic scene.
The dramatic popularization of magic over the last four decades, I suggest, is a straightforward response to that closure. People turn to magic, again, when they have no other way to pursue their wants and needs or to get a hearing for their grievances. For the moment, though, I want to concentrate on the other end of the equation, and talk about the inmates of the self-referential bubble just mentioned.
Every aristocracy begins as a set of tough, capable individuals who come to terms with some reality the previous ruling elite has ignored too long, and use that reality as a battering ram to break down the doors of the status quo and take power from the overly delicate hands that previously held it.As for the real power in the world at large, the ‘money power,’ it is hard to see them prohibiting anyone from buying and selling.
That is the source of their wealth and power, so prohibiting even small groups is a bit of a nonsense, to them. Aleazanna is an avid fanfiction reader and an active particpant in the world of fandom. The Ganos had been people of some education and some means—clergymen, merchants going to and from the West Indies, or home-keeping planters in the South—for the little space of a hundred years before the Civil War.
Further back than that—darkness. Yes, other places in the world don't have separation of power, trial by jury, equal rights, but that doesn't mean those things are exclusive to Christians either.
The point is we really are playing out this social experiment and the results don’t suggest humans are solely evil. So far in the experiment we have gone to war a lot, invoked slavery and torture but we’ve also invented peace-talks, charity, Science, art and medicine.
* I don’t remember where I read this, but in ancient China, evidently when the peasantry had some real problems with something higher up the food chain, there would be a scare of some sort that would seem to have supernatural causes.