One of the discourses within modern western magic and esoteric pursuits is that the magician is at the forefront or vanguard of evolution. By virtue of initiation and studying the hidden forces of the universe – as well as the occulted histories tossed into the dustbin of academia – the magician is supposed to be at the very crest of the wave of higher or evolving societal change. This view was, I think, first given substantial development by Eliphas Levi and became part of the rationale of Dion Fortune and others following her tradition.
With this in mind I am considering the debacle of the Copenhagen Sumit which shows we as a global community still can’t get our acts into gear. I do not know exactly how long occultists and magicians have been concerned and acting upon climate change. From memory and available sources at home and online, I suspect as a community we magicians have not really been surfing this societal wave at all. We’ve come on board no later or earlier than anyone else.
A few neo-pagans groups seem to have been writing about these issues a bit longer. But not that much. In any case, I remember hearing about ozone layer depletion back in primary school (mid 70s) and the wonderfully dystopian Soylent Green showed the effects of the global warming and economic collapse in 1973. Thirty five years later and we’re still flapping our arms about…
So personally I am not too sure about being on the wavefront of anything. And of course we are all indubitably in media res so it is really difficult to get beyond the spirit of our times and see from a deeper perspective. Still, that won’t stop me from trying. 🙂
One of the key issues that we are going to need to come to grips with is the ontological question of what makes someone a person. This follows on from our previous post about animals and is also a reaction to the latest abortionist murder in the USA. As genetic and reproductive manipulation becomes more sophisticated recognition of foetal rights and their status as people is going to be even more of a hot issue.
As esoteric folk where do we stand on this? Some older esoteric theories have the soul entering the body fully on first breath. With the advent of pre-natal ultrasound sonagraphs and pre-natal surgery this view is no longer in vogue as much as it once was. Other views state the soul enters the body around the end of the first trimester, once a foetus has developed from the embryo, though the soul may be linked to the embryo beforehand. Several schools of thought, including me ol’ mates the Hare Krishnas, posit that the soul is drawn in at the moment of conception via the subtle energies generated during sex. The more rarefied and spiritual forms of sex, with higher thoughts and chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra is supposed to attract a more evolved soul. Not sure if ‘Oh God, oh God’ counts or not 🙂
I am also not sure of contemporary occult theories and how they take into account new reproductive technologies. Take IVF for example, where conception takes place in a petri dish without any sex and possibly with one or both partners being deceased. Yet I am assuming all esoteric schools will accept the children born of IVF as having a human soul?
Whence then, if the soul is not physical, comes the soul? Does a physical mystery, fertilization – scheduled around a technician’s lunch hour – cause a non-physical mystery, ensoulment? Or does the soul only incarnate later when the foetal brain and body is complex enough to receive it? If so, are early embryos and foetuses soulless? And what about those poor babies who come to term but are born without any developed brain at all? It fairly boggles the mind, it does. I am so glad I grew out of having to know all the answers back in my twenties 🙂
Now abortion is only one area where society is going to have to come to grips with the thorny issue of personhood. Animals as people is another issue which will become fore-grounded as more research is undertaken and the economic need for vegetarianism grows.
Then there is the question of artificial intelligence and robots. The question of computers thinking they are people therefore they are/could be people is an old one and may not be solved for a long time. However, Bladerunner and inferior copies aside, the question of computers/robots being people is going to be a major conceptual leap for humankind. As a simple example, I currently correspond with a number of people I have never actually met. Or I assume I do as the only evidence we have for their existence is pixels on a screen. Any of these people could, theoretically, be a good computer program. 🙂 This will soon actually be the case, I am sure. It’ll probably come as an option on Facebook.
As a society we will need to get a grip on this issue very soon. Why? Because of the forthcoming wave of sex robots. Currently these beasties are unsophisticated. That will change and when it does it will be possible for a man to purchase a robot that imitates a woman sexually and socially to a large degree. As the law is now a man could own such a robot, abuse it, rape it, humiliate it and even ‘kill’ it. It could be programmed to act as a real woman would in these situations, expressing the same terror, fear and distress. Sadly it is true that some men, and some women, would like this and shell out big bucks for such a robot. To quote Jasper from the Simpsons as he enters a deep freezer, “Wake me up when robot wives are cheap and effective.”
If we view these future robots as machines then there can be no legal or even moral comeback. Since no human is harmed, no legal problems. However, in abuse damage is done to the perpetrator as well as the victim. It is also done to humanity as a whole, especially if the abuse is condoned or legitimatized. And from an esoteric perspective the energies in such abuse would not rest solely with the abuser but would in some way become part of the egregore of their family, home and culture.
The only way out of this dilemma, I think, will take humanity some way down the path towards acceptance of non-human computer based people, with some legal rights of their own. By now this is not such a weird concept, at least to sci-fi and comic book lovers. We have have been prepared for this eventuality thanks to decades of Astroboy, Walter the Wobot (2000 AD), the Doctor from Star Trek and other plastic pals who are fun to be with.
Again, I have no idea on the esoteric take on this? Once a computer or robot is complex enough, can it become ensouled? And just how – is it, like, flashing the firmware or something? Or is there something about the physical human body that makes it the only vehicle for souls? Again it fairly boggles the mind. 🙂