On Grant Morrison and his religious devotion to “the system”

These comments from the Grant Morrison in Arthur Magazine thread but I thought it would be worth highlighting them on the front page.

The first comment comes from Trevor Blake:

Role models for Aryan supermen, cartoon ethics, trusting in Bush / Blair /Nixon, negating the drive toward individuality, the holocaust was perfectly valid… y’all remember this next time you hear someone say ‘I don’t like [x], he’s a fascist.’

Morrison found flaws in his previous sense of what the purpose of his life and life in general was. He ditched the flawed understanding. Excellent.

He replaced it with a bigger ‘purpose’ in which everyone is as groovy as everyone else. Bunk.

Here’s the scoop: he, me, everyone, and everything has no ‘purpose.’ Some humans can give themselves a purpose that is satisfying. That’s about it.

In response, I cited another choice Morrison quote:

‘Asked about the current state of the world, particularly the war in Iraq, Mr. Morrison offered, ?perhaps it’s just an essential part of the system, as horrible as that may seem.’ He wasn’t particularly interested in being part of any active anti-war movement, and noted that in his previous experience, a number of those people only seemed to be ?interested in meeting up with the police.”

Then I went on:

I’d like to think that it goes with out saying that I don’t endorse Morrison’s philosophy on this, but since people very frequently confuse my opinions with the opinions of people I quote here, I figure I’ll set the record straight: I think Morrison’s whole ‘it’s all part of the system’s plan’ philosophy is a bunch of crap. I’m also not fond of his ‘individuality is an illusion’ stuff.

I don’t disagree with what I’ve read about Manuel DeLanda’s position on individuals and societies, but I haven’t read his new book yet. Shaviro’s review is here. He seems to reach a logical conclusion distinct from the over-romanticizing of of the individual and the problematic concepts of new age collectivism.

I look forward to reading Bloom’s Lucifer Principle as well.

‘Here’s the scoop: he, me, everyone, and everything has no ‘purpose.’ Some humans can give themselves a purpose that is satisfying. That’s about it.’

Agreed, more or less. Nothing has any meaning save for what we impose on it. This is not bad/depressing, but liberating.

Bush and his cronies did not have to invade Iraq to fulfill some systemic destiny. They made a choice. We have a choice as well – accept the decisions made by the control machines, or struggle to change things.


  1. Stealing from ‘Atheism: A Very Short Introduction’ by Baggini… a letter-opener has a ‘purpose.’ A robot has a ‘purpose.’ Do you want a ‘purpose’ too? Or does self-determination and self-discovery sound more interesting? Letter-openers and robots never fail to be what they are purposed to be. People fail. But people have the chance to learn from their failures.

  2. Absolutely. Meaning is not inherent in external reality, it comes from ourselves. If one doesn’t make one’s life mean something to oneself if not others, then it means nothing. (Zen aside, for most people, that’s not good.) This is responsibility. The gods of this place will do nothing without you.

  3. Yeah, never been a big Morrison fan. I don’t know that there’s much of a split here between his old personality and his new one. I haven’t followed the guy that closely. But from what I know, socially-disinterested indulgence in self-created mythologies is not going to be an unusual pursuit for magicians.

    I recently watched “Century of the Self” by Adam Curtis (documentarian that made “The Power of Nightmares”). The documentary makes the argument that Freud’s theories of the self were instrumental in creating new and powerful methods of controlling the masses. The series deals with the psychological theories which underly marketing and new religious and self-help movements; it also deals with the economic interests which were actively pushing that the theories be applied to public policy.

    It gets really weird at moments, like when interviewing MK-ULTRA victims or discussing the use of Reichian orgonomic theory to create the current marketing and media environment. One of the most interesting moments, I think, is when he traces the trajectory of white anti-Vietnam protesters who, disappointed their confrontations with the state were not just ineffective but so violently met by the state, funnel themselves into the Human Potential Movement and pop out of the other side of THAT abyss as Self-Actualized Republicans.

    In pursuit of the aggrandizement of the Self, we forget the Self is itself a socially constructed institution, full of political struggles both open and secret.

    Besides, wasn’t crossing the Abyss, even for Crowley, about the dissolution of the Ego in the pleroma of the Absolute? “Die every day”? The Ruach is the individuated consciousness; the Supernals are the Beyond of the Ego.

    “The kabbalistic idea of the Abyss is manifold.” The Abyss is Crowleyan, not kabbalistic. Crowley’s entire theology of the Abyss is designed to make transcendence seem like a heroic one-shot deal that only he, in the last 2,000 years, has been able to even contemplate attaining. That this theology is inspired by the Imperial Magics of John Dee is to me indicative of a certain political motivation to establish himself as the new central figure in a new mythology which is to last the next several milennia.

    Traditional Qabalah has a very different view from Crowley of Da’ath and the relation of the Above to the Below.

    If my “Self” has a “Purpose,” it is this: to embody the process of translating the cultural legacy (as it exists in the “Self,” “Society,” and “History”) into new strategies and tactics of collective survival. The problem with “new-age” collectivism, I think, is that it idealizes harmonies.

    Century of the Self – part 1 of 4:

  4. good topic–i am equally frustrated and fascinated by Morrison’s “System” mythology.

    If there is some unfolding “system” it seems like, to me, it would have to be, like every other system in existence, prone to some sort of sicknesses. Much like parts of your body can become cancerous, I assume parts of G-Morr’s system can get sick too–but he seems to forget this, despite carrying the “antibody” metaphor through to the end of the Invisibles. So parts of “The System” must be sick–right now there are cancer cells in your body, which your immune system is working to eliminate. Some dogma of “everything is groovy” would be like turning off your immune system–a bad idea.

    In a way, it seems related to the whole failure of the New Left (and, for that matter, the Old Right) in the 60s.

    “In pursuit of the aggrandizement of the Self, we forget the Self is itself a socially constructed institution, full of political struggles both open and secret.” Excellent point. I also think that Morrison conflates individuality, independence, ego, and self, using a lot of technical words interchangebly and confusing us all. Consider how Dr. Pinchbeck’s frequent refrain “maybe the ego is a good thing” essentially translates into “I am a self-absorbed drug-addled womanizer [the last two not necessarily bad] posing as a new age guru”.

    With regards to individuals having a purpose, I frequently get the suspicion that there’s a purpose, alright, it just isn’t exactly one that you could comprehend, and if you did, it might send you screaming. Life frequently feels like a Zoasterian Chessboard.

    I am not a fan of the collectivist solution frequently posited. While Douglas Rushkoff is a smart guy, he takes a lot of solutions to things, then tries to tie them under a banner of a new collectivism. And while things like Wikipedia may be very effective uses of the collective, consider how “groupthink” practically advocating some sci-fi strain of Maoism has essentially hobbled leftist activism and theory for thirty years now–if you’ve ever been to one of their things you know what I mean.

  5. I might add that I have similar mixed feelings about the frequently-seen (on-line, never in the real world or old media) conjecture that the growth of recording media and personalized web 3.7 horseshit alongside increasing surveillence tech will liberalize society as atypical behaviors and opinions will get more and more exposure.

    I think people advocating those behaviors have clearly never seen the reaction by the System. One of Slate’s writers pointed out that were such a iLife phenomenon to unfold that “the 2010s will be known as the great decade of divorce”, arguing that relationships demand the ability to forget and ignore mutual slights. I tend to agree. Likewise, I have seen people suffer reprocussions for recording, and making available, socially-unaccepted behavior on their part. Like it or not, despite the popularity MySpace page, pictures of you using something that looks like cocaine are only going to hurt you when they’re accessible to everyone. Drugs are still illegal, S&M is still taboo, and just because you have an internet support group for it doesn’t mean your potential employers, business parters, and lovers won’t ostracise you upon discovery of your Golden Shower Live Sessions from five years ago.

    Good luck, and make frequent use of your discretion. Godspeed.

  6. HM,

    Never thought I would jump in to defend Grant Morrison, but after reading the Lucifer principle, I think there is something to his whole idea of the universe as a system. Yes, the decision to go to Iraq was a choice, but it is a choice that can fit into a pattern of social behavior that is really cool when analyzed and can even work towards predicting that behavior. It’s scary to contemplate the idea that we are just game peices in a bigger fractaline system with no way to control the onset of things like war and genocide. I guess it’s just important to remember like Korzybski said, the map is not the territory. This is another neat tool for thinking about the universe.

  7. Jabber – I actually think that the universe/world/life/whatever as a system model is a very smart and useful. I just don’t agree with his bizarre position that it’s better to just sit back and let “the system” do its work rather than stop an obvious injustice. In general system theory, the point of learning a system is learning how to make changes that will effect a system.

  8. sir, your ego stands in the way of your final enlightenment. Enjoy battling on this plane. When it exhausts you, and you see it moves in its own path without any attention to your antics, perhaps you’ll kill your ego and move to the next level.

  9. There’s another thing. The concept of “I Am” came around for a reason, and as much as we can discuss it as some odd aberration, that sense of “I Am” along with the massive amount of neural back-and-forth are here. We can neither confirm nor deny a reason for that, so let’s let that be. As much as this romantic notion of “No ego” goes about, it’s what keeps us a useful part of everything, and to kill it will probably leave us with bedsores and scurvy from lacking enough identity to understand “get food, you fucker.” A lot of rhetoric seems to boil down on the blissful life of the communal animal, so free with its instincs, and yet we can’t get there. So what? But, this’s all some big digression. At hand, to do nothing and let everything just play out when injustice is recognized on a personal level seems more like an escape from personal responsibility, as if System/Santa Claus/Kal-El will just take care of it. The thoughts and rationale that make the Iraq war responsible seem to just be someone on the other hand getting lazy to play a role. I mean, how liberating is it to “break character”? The deal with a nebulous “system” is that it provides a Neptunian amniotic joyblanket that a person can relegate everything towards. So, the sitting back and saying that people, and certainly individual people and their decisions, aren’t responsible for the actions that led to the Middle East debacle sort of has Grant cocking the shotgun and shooting himself in the foot when considering how The Invisibles had Barbelith severing humanity’s collective umbilical cord at the end. Humanity goes from screaming and infantile to back into a self-delusional custom reality state, not unlike the gleeful joy of the lizard-brained fetus. I love the guy’s stories, and The Invisibles made me a born-again wizard, but his idea of outgrowing the individual flies in the face of actually being a useful part of a collective.

  10. Sorry I’m only catching up on this debate. I feel Morrison’s view of the role of the individual is being misunderstood or misrepresented here although i can see how he’s not presented it as clearly as he may in this interview. He seems more explicit to me here in Jason Louv’s Disinformation interview “Flick the Switch”:
    [Jason Louv]: …by the end of The Invisibles you almost refute the idea of free will. You say, well, the culture, or the way the world is progressing as a mass entity, you’re insignificant compared to that. It seems like the ultimate message by the end, or one of the messages, is just to sit back and watch the show.

    [Grant Morrison ]: In a certain sense, but no, it’s not as easy as that. What you actually have to do is participate with the show, the show demands your participation, it doesn’t want you to sit back and watch, nothing will happen. So, what we’re actually doing is collaborating with the universe, if you want to call it that, or the process, the huge process that is time and space. It’s a collaboration, we have to dance with it. And magic is a technique for dancing, it’s a long-established practice for aligning ourselves with what the universe wants.”

    i.e. its not such a passive point of view he’s advocating; feels to me more like he’s advocating an intricate awareness that in the end ‘we’re all one’, so that one knows how to most effectively direct one’s individual energies and play one’s individual part. But I’m predisposed at the moment to that sort of p.o.v. so perhaps i’m glossing a little uncritically. I find the man very impressive I must so, though i can see how his confidence and blitheness on such big issues as war, politics, genocide can easily rub some up the wrong way.

  11. I believe “with what the universe wants” is the operative phrase there. How is that different from saying “with God’s will”?

  12. “I believe ?with what the universe wants? is the operative phrase there. How is that different from saying ?with God?s will??

    I suppose it’s not different, and the question is about one’s definition of ‘the universe’ and ‘God’. Remember that in GM’s personal cosmology/revelation (from his Kathmandu experience or whatever) he claims to have percieved ‘universe’ or ‘universes’ from outside space and time as these purposeful contructs for growing these higher dimensional beings, which are actually ourselves beyond S/T (or something, I’m not certain I understand that fully). But in other words he clearly doesn’t see “the universe” as this dictatorial indifferent entity overiding our mere mortal wills (like your typical patriarchal ‘God’), there is a purpose behind the procession of history but its a communal self-directed purpose. It makes me think of one of R.A. Wilson’s posts:

    “I also suspect that this world shows signs of intelligent design, and I suspect that such intelligence acts via feedback from all parts to all parts and without centralized sovereignity, like Internet; and that it does not function hierarchically, in the style an Oriental despotism, an American corporation or Christian theology..

    I somewhat suspect that Theism and Atheism both fail to account for such decentralized intelligencce, rich in circular-causal feedback.”

    If there at times does appear to be a ‘hierarchy’ or an overiding of free will, it seems to me to be because the hierarchies are inside all of us. I think GM is pointing out the enormous hubris involved in joining the Good vs. Evil fight (with oneself in the ‘good’ camp of course) without looking a little deeper and seeing the energies of the opposite camp in oneself too. It seems quite a pragmatic view to me, perhaps overly so; like he says magic is the ‘bleedin’ obvious’ – becoming aware of the grand dichotomy of one being at once tiny and insignificant in the scheme of the whole universe, and yet each of us has access to all these grand forces or archetypes or whatever nonetheless -so which energy do you choose to dance with and have express itself through you?
    There are holes in his presentation of it (the Iraq war comment is pretty lacking in thought and finesse), I suppose I’m just seeing his philosophy chime with stuff I’ve been thinking about and I’m filling in the holes myself.

  13. Hey Klintron – your question really got me thinking. If you’ve seen my comment right above I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts if you have any. Cheers.

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