Peter Carroll’s psycho-historic model of aeonics provides a useful tool with which to evaluate the past and present changes of human consciousness. By evaluating the interactions of the three major paradigms of Magic, Transcendentalism, and Materialism, valuable observations and predictions can be made about the changes that have and will affect human social and psychological conventions. Indeed, several of the predictions that Carroll makes regarding social changes in advanced rationalist cultures are already beginning to manifest.
However, one of Carroll’s predictions – the death of identity – seems to pose a problem to human development. Identity, in one form or another, is the basis for human action and interaction, and establishes the way in which the individual contributes to the survival of the community. It serves as a focal point for psychological and biological survival drives, and enables the development of the complex social structures that drive societies across the planet. While being able to manoeuvrer within social structures is useful, especially to the magician, and loose social structures allow a great amount of freedom, a complete deconstruction of social systems seems counterintuitive to the continued success of humanity. Our social nature helps to define us as a species, and a deliberate attempt to disassemble such a vital component to the well-being of the human animal — even under the name of progress — seems very ill-advised.
As the Fifth Aeon bears down upon us, identity has already become fragile and ephemeral, leading to development of identity as a commodity. Ironically, in a time when people are free to adapt themselves to any social setting and define themselves however they wish, the need to have a strong identity which is affirmed by a group of like-minded peers is manifesting stronger than ever. While this might be interpreted as a resistance to the coming aeonic shift, it could also indicate an area in the human psyche that is too deeply rooted to hope to change within the next several thousand years of human evolution and thus might be best unmolested. Let us heed the cautions of the Bene Gesserit and not seek to meddle with the basic drives necessary to the survival of humanity!
Some human cultures root identity firmly in group structures, deriving a sense of being from their relationship to others or their role in the community. Others — most notably Western cultures — establish identity based upon individual opinion, desire, and achievement. These are the cultures that have given rise to the most violent societal changes, and which are fast ushering in the Fifth Aeon consciousness. The emphasis on the individual in Western cultures has led to the breakup of society, which in turn has left the individual with no framework within which to define himself. Identity is bought and sold as people consult lifestyle and makeover experts, experiment with new religions and sexualities, and redefine their social and political relationships to one another not just from generation to generation, but from fad to fad.
Obviously how identity is defined is flexible, but one fundamental principle cannot be ignored: identity is always defined. With few notable exceptions, there is always some way for a person to define who he is, and anyone who has that taken away from him will suffer great psychological distress. Chaoist theory seems to skirt this problem, careful to give the magician tools with which to define himself to varying degrees and in various settings. Indeed, considering this, it could be argued that Chaos Magic is not about destroying identity, but constantly creating it in order to fit into whatever social enclave is most useful to the magician.
Still, the nature of identity is changing. People are able to redefine themselves at a whim (if they have the psychological fortitude to do so), and the social structures that serve to establish and reinforce identity seem to be falling apart. If identity is so integral to successful functioning, then how can humanity survive the coming aeon? Is the Fifth Aeon the final phase of man before our eventual extinction, or will it leave us better able to cope with an increasingly complex technological world?
Perhaps Phil Hine’s observations on the nature of the sub-culture can provide a means of supporting identity. Hine rightly describes sub-cultures as a means of finding a stable environment in which identity can be established, especially when the individual finds the broader culture too chaotic or unappealing. It seems simplistically obvious that if sub-cultures offer a sense of identity in a chaotic culture, and culture is becoming increasingly chaotic, then an increase in the number and diversity of sub-cultures can be expected. Indeed, this is in line with Carroll’s predictions.
The nature of sub-cultures is itself changing, as various cliques are established based more upon tastes and opinions than ethnicity and socio-economic status. Membership in sub-cultures is also more open, making it easier for individuals to move from one group to another. With the development of more and more advance communications technology, even geographical barriers fail to impede interaction with people of like mind. Further complicating the situation is the fact that any given person can ostensibly belong to multiple sub-cultures or cliques, and can even hold differing roles and identities in each.
Looking back to Carroll’s psycho-historical model, this sub-cultural proliferation can be seen to fit the predicted pattern of the Fifth Aeon. Carroll describes the coming aeonic pattern as resembling the tribalized societies of the first shamanic aeon. While it is true that Carroll makes this comparison in asserting that the paradigm pattern of the coming aeon would serve just as well in supporting a post-apocalyptic primitive society, there is no reason to assume that this pattern of shamanic tribalism would not function in a post-modernist, high technology society.
A post-modernist theory identifying the proliferation of sub-cultures with a tribalist tendency has already been developed. In this neo-tribal environment, identity is subsumed into the group and defined largely by the role one plays within that group. The element which differentiates neo-tribalism from tribalism is the fluidity of the former – the individual is free to move between groups and occupy diverse roles.
This freedom to tailor personas according to the will of the individual is an underestimated element in neo-tribal theory. True, the identity of the individual becomes dependent upon the roles he plays in whichever groups he belongs to, but new social and technological developments allow him to select carefully which groups he wishes to belong to and which roles he wishes to play. Instead of relying upon social interactions with other within his locale, the individual is now able to interact with others based solely upon a projected intellectual image. The advent of the internet and the expansiveness of cyberspace have usurped the tribe, allowing individuals to form close social and emotional ties with people they may never meet in person.
This cyber-tribalism may be the only way to satisfy the human need for identity in such a chaotic environment. We live in an era where someone may never know his neighbors, may work a position which denies him human contact, may work odd hours and thus be denied social contact, or may have lifestyle choices that are out-of-place in his locale. Yet such a person can establish rich personal relationships through chat rooms and message boards, may hold important social roles in online organizations and communities, or may even develop fantastical personas to express otherwise repressed drives or interests.
The individual thus forges his identity through interactions via personas he creates of his own whim. Despite defining himself through group membership, he retains a purely individualistic control over his identity, and can even play varying and even contradictory roles in different groups. The quiet, shy woman in the next cubicle may run a dominatrix website, an online horticultural supply store, and a blog about unicorns. She may speak with her parents daily, even though they live thousands of miles away – her boyfriend (or even husband!) may live across several oceans. She may even operate a subversive political site, whose members believe her to be a man. Yet she is free to define herself according to any, all, or none of these things.
This cyber-tribalistic society is a potential boon for the Chaos Magician. While long-term paradigm shifts are best left to “real life” interactions, the increase of online interaction makes it even easier for the magician to adopt any identity he wishes, testing new personas and belief structures. Indeed, as the pace of life in Western society quickens, and the Fifth Aeon sets in, the need to adopt and develop differing roles and belief structures may become a social necessity. The need for identity will still remain a central element of human nature, but this need will be satisfied by carefully constructed interactions which reflect the preferences and tastes of the individual.