Keith418 is one of the most controversial figures in modern Thelema. His interviews on the defunct Thelema: Coast to Coast were often rigorous and demanding, yet highly contentious. Keith418 and I have had a ongoing conversation on the development of right-wing and left-wing ideological developments, the meaning of Trump, and. You can read our other interviews, here, here and here. There are nine so far.
C. Derick Varn: The Trump candidacy and eventual win took a lot of people by surprise, but not you in particularly. How has the Occult community you are exposed to reacted, and, perhaps, more importantly, why have they reacted that way?
Keith418: The thing with Trump, that few people really grasped, is that many of his supporters were smart enough not to tell anyone. They knew they’d be condemned and so they kept their thoughts to themselves, or perhaps shared them with close friends they knew were in agreement. I had people in my circles who I could tell were going to back him, but were choosing not to say anything and I brought this up early on. Predictably, it got very little play with anyone else.
All of the “conservative” people I know in the occult community backed Trump fairly enthusiastically. Weirdly enough, this included many self-proclaimed “small government” advocates and “libertarians.” All – and I mean ALL – of these people have heavy issues with authoritarianism in general, an unexamined pathology that I see as being very damaging to their occult work.
The vast majority of occultists and “Thelemites” are mainstream liberals who went with HC. The American leader of the OTO made some noise this year about the need for “Thelemites” to not only fight racism and sexism, but to do so “effectively.” Unsurprisingly, he offered not one bit of a positive example or gave any other instructions beyond hectoring or pleading. I suspect this was more a matter of reacting to the BLM stuff, but it may have been a coded response to Trump.
Overall, the reaction to Trump is the same as you see throughout the rest of mainstream society – it’s not even a little bit different. No matter what they tell you, occultists are more like average Americans than they ever want to admit. This is particularly true when it comes to politics. They have managed to totally divorce any of their occult ideas, or, say in the case of OTO members, the teaching of Aleister Crowley, from their politics.
C.D.V.: What do you make of it taking a real estate celebrity like Trump to achieve this?
Keith418:This whole situation is due to a series of colossal failures made by the managerial elites. The people running the government (especially foreign policy), the economy, the banks, and the media have failed over and over again. Trump is the result. Criticizing him and his supporters without blaming the people running the show, who allowed for all of this, is insane.
As I put it earlier this year, if you don’t want what happened at the conclusion of the Weimar period, then you better not create a Weimar society. Yet that is just what our elites seem to have been doing. Without their many mistakes, we never would have had a Trump. It’s nuts not to blame the people in charge. But many people now see demanding that kind of accountability as taboo. It’s like TINA (“There is no alternative”) has become so entrenched that it’s not just the overall system that can’t be questioned, it’s the decisions of the leaders and elites that no one can really go after. Trump may change that, but he’s still going to be dependent on these elites for all the reasons that every leader of a technologically advanced, dense-population country is – they are the only ones who know how to fly the plane.
If anything, I find that my own criticism of these same elites, which goes back for well over a decade, has proven to be prescient. The Sam Francis book (“Leviathan and Its Enemies” – which I hope you’ve read) is a fascinating and well-argued approach to this whole problem. It could not have arrived at more auspicious time.
C.D.V.: Why do you think it has been so hard for even supposedly counter-cultural movements like Thelemites to deeply criticize elites? It seems positively bizarre to me how many people felt like they had to support the status quo even when it became more and more obvious that weight or hubris was beginning to have a real effect? On Sam Francis,, why do you think even supposedly alt-right thinkers let him languish in obscurity for so long?
Keith418: Are these occult “movements” really counter-cultural? Heidegger once said something to the effect that a theory was too superficial even to be called “false.” I haven’t seen anything even remotely “counter-cultural” in any occult group since the 1990s ended.
People do what they are told to do. They have the arguments they are told to have and root for the teams they are told to root for. Occultists are really no different from anyone else. if our society moves back towards allowing for transgressions, we may see a change from them. But to expect them to change without the larger society’s permission? Never going to happen. They do not have the courage.
I don’t think the alt-right people let Francis languish. Paleocons and the people on the right have been pushing his stuff for years. This book was part of his estate and they got into print when they realized its worth. I’d argue that his orientation, via Marcuse and others, is a little too left-wing even for them.
I wonder what Francis and others would make of Trump’s own hedonism. He’s a casino magnate who has been married how many times? He rose to the top of the hedonistic, consumer society that Francis implicitly maligns. I am convinced it is this hedonism that is going to be the undoing of any really “revolutionary” work on the part of the alt-right. They don’t have the self-discipline to reject a consumer society based on sensual gratification and hedonism; not in the numbers they will need.
C.D.V.:I can definitely see that in a sense but I don’t know how many people on /pol/ would know what to do with someone like Francis. I was noticing the how some of his insights actually seem highly prophetic: “since purely racialist movements can appeal only to members of a given ethnic group, which by itself is a minority, no such movement, black or white, can take power in the United States merely by relying on racial rhetoric and ideology,” which is early in his Leviathan. What do you make of the paradox Francis is describing?
Keith418: Francis was not a dreamer. He could see how demographics doom white nationalism in the USA. I believe that he would also agree that the partition schemes are unlikely. Nevertheless, as we can see, the US is far from a post-racial society. So what happens? This paradox is now confronting the left as well. Demonizing white people isn’t working for them. So what’s the next step?
I’d also argue that the focus on Francis’s book needs to be on the elites. That’s what it is about. And why isn’t the left attacking them now in much the same way? I have asked you that for years.
C.D.V.:You don’t seem that impressed with the current incarnation of the alt-right, why is that?
Keith418: I was never too impressed with the “alt-right.” It didn’t start out that well and then got worse. These are not cultured, sophisticated, literate people. As soon as it got to a certain point of notoriety, the clowns swept in.
C.D.V.: How has managerial aspirations really damaged occultism and what do you make with superficial flirtations with it in art and elite circles as exposed in the Podesta e-mails?
Keith418: The Podesta stuff was dismissed by Snopes. Those people have no need for occultism. To the extent that there are occult trends in the larger culture, they may be aware of that, but beyond this kind of shallowness? Let’s not go there. My contention has always been that occultists are influenced by society… and not the other way around. More prosaic, perhaps, and more boring, but this is the reality. Occultists don’t use the society. The society uses occultists. Occultists aren’t the players. They are the played.
Crowley was never a managerial manipulator. He famously attacked “stratagem” and “diplomacy” as methods. Modern occultists see anything but managerial manipulation as dangerous and immoral. In terms of a differentiation between “foxes” and “lions” – The Master Therion was a proud “lion.” The OTO’s current leaders distrust this approach instinctively. They aspire to be the kind of manipulating “foxes” they see represented in the managerial elites. Hence the PC propaganda the OTO’s leaders can be counted upon to trot out whenever they get the appropriate signals from the leaders of conventional society. If you do not believe me I can send you the address a local leader made at his OTO body at a fundraiser they were doing for… Planned Parenthood.
Is this “damaging”? Well if you expect the occult to be anything but the weird little cup holder for the status quo, it’s very damaging. If occultists can’t think beyond the confines of the present society, then what is to become of occultism? In this sense, it suffers along with the arts – with painting, literature, poetry, music, film, dance, etc. – in being unable to break out of the limits that have been set and the choices that have been offered. This isn’t an accident. The elites we have don’t want any opposition and they do not wish to have to contend with an alternative culture. I always hoped occultists would resist this confinement. Because of their class status, they can’t.
C.D.V.: How do you class status related to why a real estate business celebrity came to be seen as populace warrior against the elites?
Keith418: Well, the thing about Trump is that even as a developer he was always on the outside looking in – in NYC. The established people hated him. This is one reason he is the way he is. So the idea of him betraying these people by becoming a tribune for the white dispossessed – which is the way one narrative goes – makes sense. It’s revenge. Look, many rich people thought FDR was betraying his class too, didn’t they? If that makes sense for him, why not for Trump?
The difference was that FDR had the allegiance of the emerging managerial elites. I think Trump is more a symptom of the collective failures of these elites – in particular the failure of the media elites to prevent themselves from creating a monster. In fact, Trump’s success, like that of Brexit in the UK, is the perfect way to see who these governing elites have failed. They failed his constituents – which is why they voted for him. They failed to prevent his rise and actually abetted it for the short term gains it gave them (ratings). Remember, the adage that “the capitalist will sell you today the rope you will use to hang him with tomorrow” can be employed by a nationalistic right just as much as it cane by a universalist left, right? They have, as Peter Thiel noted, reduced the economy to a zero sum game which has then created an equally viscous zero sum politics.Instead of looking at these failures and this collapse, people are focusing on Trump’s personality and vilifying his supporters. Hicks in Kentucky didn’t collapse the real estate market, nor did they crash the stock market. Why aren’t the people who did those things getting any blame?
C.D.V.: How much to do Trump clashing with some of the elements of the old GOP he has had to court to keep a unified party?
Keith418: How different is the campaign going to be from the administration? That’s what everyone wants to know. During the campaign, it didn’t seem like Trump or his supporters cared about the GOP establishment at all. If anything, he did everything he could to annoy them and disparage them – and his people ate it up. Like Lenin and others, he may have to use the managerial elites once he’s in power, since they are the only ones who know how to fly the plane. We see signs of this now when he defends the establishment choices he’s making for his appointments and staff.
Compare Trump to Bernie. Bernie is bending over backwards to support the Democratic Party and the people who screwed him over. Imagine what might happen if he had pulled a Trump and started viciously attacking them? That didn’t happen, because his mission is very different.
C.D.V.: This is an insight that goes back to James Burnham, but most of the complexities of society are almost impossible without management. How does a political movement get on top of that? What do you make of the notion that Sanders primary mission was to get people who were beginning to radicalize back into the democratic fold?
Keith418: I don’t know how anyone gets “on top of that.” I don’t think it’s possible. And unless more people start thinking about it, then there’s really no way out. I see people wanting to focus on anything BUT this question. They keep wanting to talk about identity politics issues rather than focus on who is really running things and if there is an alternative to them that’s possible. Too much of today’s political debate is one team of the managerial elites vs. the other team of the managerial elites. Until people can see this, what hope is there?
Regarding Sanders, I can’t think of any other way to put it. He was a sheepdog from the start. It’s obvious he was dragged along, past a certain point, by his fans and even then he couldn’t go very far.
C.D.V.: You have been pointing out that groups that think they are counter-cultural have been engaging in critiques of the mainstream culture that essentially make them part of it and engaging in general brainrot for years. Recently, you have seen a mild turn against that with publications like The Baffler and Jacobin critiquing the focus. Yet you have pointed out that there critiques are still from people engaging in pop culture. How long do you think it will take for people truly to go back to doing counter-cultural work?Do you think counter-culture is still possible when it is so easily coopted and monetized?
Keith418: I used to think the “so easily coopted and monetized” was the main problem. Now I have come around to seeing that there is a deeper need for approval and popularity that’s more insidious and more of an issue. Most people do not want to go very long without the support and approval of those around them. This is profoundly inhibiting to any counter cultural effort, since such an effort requires more courage than is being bred into people these days. We know this “approval seeking behavior” is exacerbated to an enormous degree on social media. They are not encouraged to be courageous, they are not being rewarded for it, it is not expected from them. As a teacher of mine points out, people forget how violent and antagonistic the counter culture of the 1960s really was. They wish to remember it as being all about “peace and joy and freedom” and it was really more about sharp generational conflict, paranoia, alienation, and physical violence. Kids today, especially middle class kids raised by helicopter parents, cannot handle even the whiff of this.
The people on the right in Europe have pointed out that you cannot fight the system and still seek to attain to “media cool” at the same time, since the media and the system defines what is “cool.” But those that forsake “media cool”? How do they appear to us? Inconsequential at best, hopelessly out of it at worst.I believe the solution is to watch what happens when more and more of the system starts to fail. When that happens, courage will be forced on people as a simple test of survival. I believe every counter cultural movement – from the Reformation on down – was instigated in large part by elite system failure. This is the opportunity generator. It’s how the elites “revolve” into power.
Remember Stalin himself was one of the people who first formulated a “cultural revolution.” But it had to happen after a political revolution (to seize the power of the state and its apparatus) and an economic revolution (to fundamentally change the way goods and services were appropriated). Only after these two revolutions could you get a cultural revolution. The West has been trying to start at the other end of the ice cream cone. The left wants to do culture more than it wants to govern and the smarter parts of the right want to do “metapolitics.” Is this reversal of the order of revolutions really going to work? isn’t any cultural revolution without profound economic and political changes just posturing? In the 1960s, people were able to see that these questions also applied to “nationalism” – like “black nationalism.” At the end of the day, doesn’t politics and economics bat last?
C.D.V.: To you think this is why nationalism has become increasingly appealing?
Keith418: Is nationalism an inevitable response by those who are, or see themselves as being, the victims of globalism and internationalism? What is the dialectical nature between nationalism and internationalism? Does such a dialectic exist and do we have one? Are we ready to have one?
A friend of mine works for an international firm and he supervises groups of workers in Europe. They all have much more vacation time and far stricter rules about what employers can demand than the Americans he also supervises. HC and the rest of the globalist Democrats seem oblivious to this. She was bewildered at why people were expecting what Bernie and his program was offering – as if it was bizarre and hopelessly naive. Well, folks, we WON WWII and these countries LOST. So why do their workers get mandatory six weeks of vacation every year? Why is it insane for Americans to demand this too?
I tend to focus on the hypocrisy of internationalism who still appeal to nationalist sentiments and emotions when it helps them in their immediate agenda. American “exceptionalism” is still being touted by the people who view open borders as a necessity. How exactly does that work and why isn’t anyone calling them on it? If citizenship needs to be granted to anyone who shows up here (and if anyone objects they must be “racists”), then how is this random collection of people exceptional and why do I, or anyone else, need to sacrifice our very lives for people who came here five minutes ago and may well leave five minutes later? This isn’t an issue for the elites who not only aren’t in the military, but don’t know anyone else that is, but in the red states – where everyone knows people in the military and many know people missing limbs or suffering in other ways from their service – it’s quite a different kind of question.
On the other hand, if we demand that people cease to make sacrifices for “their country” and start to struggle ‘for all humankind” then we must demand the same sacrifices not just from poor people from the red states, but from the rich kids in the blue states as well as from the kids living in wealthy European countries and Asia too. They must defend “humankind” as well, since if they don’t, then that jobs falls to Americans and that monopoly situation will then increase the tribalism and nationalism everyone wants to avoid, right? Is anyone looking at how half-assed and self-serving the elites are about their globalism? I don’t see that criticism coming from the left too often.
C.D.V.: Criticizing nationalism from the left in a meaningful way cuts too many people they see as opportunistic contingencies and cannon fodder out of the way. Becoming nationalists makes them functionally no different from Stasserites and National Bolsheviks or, at least, Peronists. It seems like that contradiction is absolutely best avoided which is why I have a hard time imagining a serious left at the table in the US.
What are the unintended consequences that you see from this election? Is this truly a realignment?
Keith418: Those seeking a true realignment need to ask themselves who they have trained to fly the plane. If they are depending on the same elites, the same “pilots,” then how can it be real realignment? Will Trump become the mirror image of Obama – saying the right things while serving the same masters? Has the left really come to terms with how that happened under Obama? Are we all just fighting over the window dressing?
On the one hand, most of the leftists I know bitterly hate the “Cultural Marxist” label they get from the shallow right. But, on the other hand, how are they not fulfilling that very description when they can’t focus on economics? Will the right be able to maintain its focus on getting jobs for all of the fat people in the red states? Or will it, too, descend into battles over “symbols” and try to refight every lost battle of the culture wars?