July 21, 2013 TOLS

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.

A dozen years ago, my old pal Ali S. wrote a book about his native Iran. In it, he produced a critique of how the society had deteriorated under the Ayatollahs’ theocracy, in manners and general cohesion as well as religious faith.

He described it to me once over dinner, but it was never translated into English. In fact, it was never published in the Islamic Republic, though his publisher printed 3,000 copies. Even under the semi-tolerant President Khatami, the Ayatollahs didn’t want that kind of mirror held up to their own faces.

I remembered Ali’s unread book the other day after reading something written by George Friedman, the founder of Strategic Forecasting. Speaking of the NSA’s PRISM operation to track all emails and phone-calls, he observed,

“The problem with the war on terror is that it has no criteria of [a] success that is potentially obtainable. It defines no level of terrorism that is tolerable but has as its goal the elimination of all terrorism, not just from Islamic sources but from all sources. That is simply never going to happen and therefore, PRISM and its attendant programs will never end. These intrusions, unlike all prior ones, have set a condition for success that is unattainable, and therefore the suspension of civil rights is permanent. Without a constitutional amendment, formal declaration of war or declaration of a state of emergency, the executive branch has overridden fundamental limits on its powers and protections for citizens.” And this is from someone whose career has been founded on the security business.

I don’t profess to understand the US today, and probably I never did. But the relative absence of real discussion of this issue, beyond the obligatory 15 minutes of talking heads stuff, is sad. Many people in the US accept that a certain scrutiny of their communications is necessary to catch terrorists (even if PRISM is lousy at doing so), and provided their actual emails aren’t being read, or they don’t get men in suits knocking at their doors, they’re okay with it. Friedman’s remarks didn’t mark a dividing point, so much as acknowledge that such a point is well past now.

Thelema largely hibernated between Crowley’s death in 1947 and the mid-1960s, then re-emerged with lots of optimism that propelled it through the time since. People are drawn to it for various reasons, but it’s always promised a better world that’s realistic because it’s one we get to make for ourselves. There’s no Mahdi, Maitreya or Messiah needed for it to happen.

But underlying this optimism has been a belief that liberty in a general sense is widening. The racial divide was addressed first, then laws restricting sexual behaviour. It was possible, until very recently, to hold that things were going to get better. And in many, material ways, they have. But public discourse is stupider than it used to be, as is politics. We’ve pulled back our horns in many ways, limiting the subtlety of public debate (or having too much said by too many uninformed people), reducing investment in pure science, and allowing our opinions to be formed or reinforced by the shallowest of ‘thinkers.’

Finger-pointing is easy: George W. Bush, Stephen Harper, Islamism, Christian fundamentalism, liberal news media, conservative news media … But there were supposed, in all western countries, to be institutions, courts and customs that marginalised these forces. That was why they were put in place, to check the wider swings. Yet as confidence in the institutions has waned, there seems to be not so much fear (though it’s present) as a kind of doubt-filled sadness that has replaced that faith in an underlying backbone to our cultural world. Things such as the Occupy movement, or Anonymous, which might pose alternatives, seem bereft of any real plans beyond short-term disruption.

Watching this, it becomes plainer that all the time we’re pushed closer to a pure Thelemic concept of freedom, predicated on the will of the individual. The supporting structures for any kind of independent or original creative effort are dwindling, and our spending too much time concerned over why isn’t productive.

It’s easy to see the entire Thelemic enterprise as escapism. We select our own values, based on our best assessment of the world and what we can do in it, and limit ourselves to that rather than trying to ‘do good’ in all directions. The world’s convenience is not our concern, and we are open to being seen as effete elitists, or as callous. We accept that.

But our world now is pushing into an uncharted field, as the great machinery of western society (not just the US) loses its direction and self-confidence, and circles its wagons under the coves of systems like PRISM. It’s a long process, not a short trip to a brink, but mainstream western culture (shall we call it ‘post-Christian culture’ ?) has run out of positive impetus. It’s simply trying to conserve what it has, which isn’t how these things work well in the long run.

What’s to come is impossible to predict clearly, because it will the result of an interaction with so many different forces: economic, religious, geopolitical, technological and more. But to do our will as the whole of our individual law at least gives us a solid place from which to look out over the broadening desolation.

Love is the law, love under will,

Edward Mason

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.