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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 50, December 3, 2011

Occult! The Root of Consumerism

Friday 9 December 2011, by Sunita Samal


The occultist is likely to be interested in novel application of high technology with one or more creative endeavour—be it writing, art work, music or multimedia by using computers. Here, the reality of consumerism can be manipulated, twisted, shattered for fun to control and gain profit. Walking down a street at sunset striding with a sense of purpose what I realise is that I am in a movie. Like many modern films it has good sets with wild special effects but the script leaves something to be desired. All aspirations and desires have been carefully packaged and subsumed into the structure of commodities that move in marketplaces. The only stable principle is pleasure whereby the imagination is fed, screened, directed, curtailed and manicured. We do participate at many levels, in the continual reflection and intensification of symbols and images that are all around us. Reality becomes a sea of dreams on which any individual or group can form islands of consumerism built from images without any apparent efforts.

Appearances can be deceptive. Reality becoming a virtual field, constantly recycled through videos, computer images, televisions, internets etc. As hackers of the hyper real, we have to lever images apart, disentangling the webs crossing the temporary tunnels, climbing invisible mountains in the solid foundations of the world which wraps around us. The occult becomes the root of consumerism. The clay of consumerism in which the forces shape all things leaves the finger-prints of the occult most clearly.

Magic and mysticism are two parts of action within the occult. Magic is more about doing; mysticism, however, is more associated with transmitting reality. Neither is mutually exclusive. Why do we need to explain the world so completely anyway? We search for meaning through the shattered remains of past culture with the help of hidden knowledge. Occultism may give us the link to the past, remind us that the present is continually changing and individuals participate in their own future. The occult may offer the key to understand ourselves. Else the occult becomes merely another arena in which we continue to act out the same games of power and control.

The potential occultism is less about becoming ‘spiritual’ and more about becoming ‘spirited’. The peasant in the field tells us that the God is real, and that if you keep him happy, he does not strike him down with a bolt of lightning. Unless we have a strong religious sense, it is difficult to achieve this level of certainty nowa-days. This is perhaps the real place of the occult in modern society. Our world is so crowded with the miracles of science and technology that they have become common to us.

Our society is replete with secrets. The states and multinationals rapidly lead us into the areas which are truly occult. They conjure up images of robbed figures, cavorting in graveyards and inventing behind closed doors, studying dusty books inside libraries, manipulating DNA, walking on the moon. Where does the occult fit in? Is not there enough fear and horror, beauty and wonder on the crazy world without looking into the dark corners and dabbling with the forbidden? What formerly may have been ‘hidden’ is being increasingly brought into modern society through books, films, videos, internet—all the extensions of the new mass communication. The contradictions of post-capitalism have fragmented consensus where alienation and powerlessness are endemic in our culture. Newton introduced the occult to science when he discovered the power of gravitation of the earth. Science gives something to the stamp of authenticity in the same way that religion does.

Occultism strives to look at basic questions. Where am I going? How will I get there? How much fun can I have on the way? Occultism offers possibilities that have not been explained by science. It is changing too fast and promotes consumerism. The occult symbols are around on sleeves, company logos, and in fashion designing. They are becoming the other commodities for consumerism. It is another sub-culture. The occult is a fascinating subject because it draws from the past and attempts to synthesise with the frontiers of science and technology as well as art, philosophy and social engineering which help in promoting consumerism. The occult practices encourage the individual to look at the wider world. What is going on? What can we do about it? It is a meeting point in the cultural pot where all avenues of exploration can meet, merge and produce multiple spaces for consumerism in the name of synthesis.

COLIN CAMPBELL suggests an interestingly thesis for the emergence of magical thinking in consumer culture. For him, consumers are hedonistic in their imaginative longing, daydreaming fantasies and such a subjective state is bound up with the capitalist logic of instrumentalism. Here the consumer’s fantasies allow the agent to see themselves as an ‘Avatar’. This problem of their idealised self is at the root our consumer capitalist society. However, the problem for consumers is their inability to see the inequalities involved in the reciprocity of consumption.

The blessings of consumption are not experienced as resulting from work or from a production process. They are experienced as miracles which are a part of occultism. The consumers’ magical thought is a fetish, an indulgence of their imaginations to which they assign meaningful significance to an object, just as Karl Marx saw with surplus value. The consumer observes them from outside as if they did not emanate from himself or herself. What is involved in a ‘substance logic’ is that the commodity has a power of its own and the mystic resides in the product itself. The fetishist process gives salience to the visible practice of consumption as hedonistic behaviour where the majority parts occur in the imagination of consumers. The consumer is in a position of the pure receiver of the deity’s gifts through the sacrifice of his/her money.

The endemic problem then with the consumerist culture is that our occult is bracketed to a specific context and our magic is based in a paradox of belief which reaffirms faith in the power of the human agency through an act which is instrumental in form though. Money will only get us the articulated objects which remain out of reach as socially displaced ideals deity-fied in commodity form. In the idealised self, individuals as they peer into a shop’s window see the image of themselves ‘as they are’ and in the dress behind the glass. The product here is idealised. It shows the self in a transformed state, mediated by the sacrifice of money in transaction.

Dr Sunita Samal is a former Research Scholar of the JNU, New Delhi.

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