[iDC] Oh Yeah? Well, Magic Still Stinks, and It's Stunk for a Long Time

Bruce Sterling bruces at well.com
Wed Oct 11 07:37:02 EDT 2006

Well, if one wants to re-define "magic" as biological and cognitive  
phenomena that are really complicated, inherently chaotic and  
emergent, and not reducible to bombastic reductionist absolutism (in  
the way Natalie does, rather elegantly I must say), then we don't  
have an argument.  That's not the "magic" that stinks.  That's  
material reality which is difficult to test.  I agree that it exists  
and is very  important, but I object to resorting to superstition in  
order to name that.

I can't predict where the bubbles will rise in boiling oatmeal, and  
neither can anyone else, but it's vapid to choose to call that  
"magic."  Why even employ that term?  Why go there?  You might as  
well invoke the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

  I have a rather less Jesuitically contorted approach to "magic."  I  
don't think magic has got much to do with deterministic chaos,  
complex technosocial sense-making, situatedness, symbolic  
interactionism, or diversity campaigning.  I bow to none in my  
fondness for complex technosocial sense-making -- (I mean, that's  
what I'm doing right now, when I ought to be doing something else)   
-- but I  think magic is hocus-pocus and I  think it stinks.

If you're way, way into technology, but you're also oozing a weird  
tide of magic newage, these people are your spiritual ancestors.

TECHGNOSIS by Erik Davis

Amazon.com: TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of  
Information: by Erik Davis.
www.amazon.com/ TechGnosis-Myth-Magic-Mysticism-Information/dp/ 

In turn, TechGnosis also shows how the language and ideas of the  
information society ...

All techgnostics should read this fine tome of Erik's.  Really.    
You'll thank me.   You'll find all kinds of  marvels in here --  
visionary guys and gals who used the telegraph for spiritualist table- 
rapping, Crowleyite jet-propulsion freaks, wow, amazing stuff,  
amazing people.   Of course, they've mostly been long-forgotten.  Not  
because they were cruelly repressed by reductionist Gradgrinds who  
couldn't appreciate their situated ethics or tender poetry, however.   
They vanished  because they were cranks.  Cranks by their nature are  

If you're a crank, then you swan through life empowered your own  
intuitions, unhampered by feedback from objective reality.  You don't  
have to conjure up rationalist conspiracies in order to find yourself  
unheard.  You're a crank, and you're a flake.  Eventually, no one  
will listen.  Actually, they'll listen pretty eagerly, and then  
they'll try to do something useful with the so-called knowledge  
you're generating, and they'll come to grief. Then they'll not only  
forget you, but kinda resent you.

Palmistry and astrology are still pretty well whipping along, mostly  
because they just tell people to do stuff they were gonna do anyway.   
However, the magic practices that actually invade science and tech,  
like say Lysenkoists preaching Marxist liberation to barley so that  
it involves into wheat, well, they do tend to crumble into dust.   
Lysenko doesn't smell of roses. Lysenko stinks.

I wouldn't claim that  magic is some kind of big crisis.   I'm  
definitely  a pro-science rationalist empiricist pragmatist  
posthumanist rationalist secularist type, but I'm not gonna run  
around beating up techgnostic magicians.  They're great copy, they've  
got a nice spangly sci-fi feel to them,  and sooner or later they'll  
cheerily destroy their own credibility without any effort from me.   
That isn't what I'd consider a serious problem.

We're not seeing any hot Two Cultures combat between stoic  
masculinist engineering types and tender soulful magic poets.  That's  
just not in the cards right now,   not what's going down at this era  
in time.  Instead, we're seeing massive, global  culture war launched  
against every form of enlightened behavior by heavily armed,  
fanatical fundamentalists.   These are guys who read one book, one  
sacred book alone, swallow every contradictory screed in it, and then  
launch imperial wars and blow themselves to shreds right in the  
shopping malls.

If you're really upset about ontological imperialism from the  
arrogant scientific set, then you've got a major ally: Leon Kass, the  
architect of stem cell policy and the head of the President's Council  
on Bio-ethics.   While civilized ontological feminists are sipping  
tea and logic-chopping, this guy's actually cutting the science  
budgets. That's serious.  Meanwhile, in the basement next door, Exxon- 
Mobil is spewing carbon monoxide fumes all over the climate-science  
findings.  That's serious, too -- very serious.  Compared to these  
massive predators, Aleister Crowley the Great Beast is like some kind  
of lab-hamster.

So, I think there's a moral issue here.  If you're a pop musician or  
an actress, it's kind of cute to declare that you really, really   
believe in real magic.  It's got a nice period Woodstocky feel.   But  
it is corny, and, as a method of describing emergent technologies,  
"magic" is just way too easy -- it's fatuous, like telling a little  
kid that Santa Claus brought her the presents.

    Worse yet, if you're techno-intelligentsia in a time of  violent  
Lysenkoism and you are promulgating magic, you're in complicity with  
the dark side of the force.   Because you're a minor obscurantist in  
an era of major ones.

And yeah, that kinda stinks.

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