Alexander Bard: Shamanism in the digital age
This article is to introduce a series of YouTube conversations I am having with Swedish philosopher, futurist, rock star, record producer, TV personality, religious and political activist, and one of two founders of Syntheism (alongside with Jan Söderqvist)an amazing fellow who goes by the name of Alexander Bard. Click to listen.
‘The shamanic caste makes up about 4–5 percent of the population’, Alexander Bard tells me. By this he means priests, diplomats, philosophers, artists, but also the transexuals and outcasts of society. They are the ones who travel between tribes, who don’t care about skin colour or sexual orientation—they are characterised by an openness to strangers. Their job is to keep the tribes in harmony, to act as go-betweens, and to negotiate tribal issues.
In today's internet wasteland, even though we can entertain and titillate ourselves to near death, we are as wildly repressed as we were in the victorian age, lost in social media solipsism. Alexander Bard is the rare philosopher who isn’t repressed. At 58 he tells me ‘I’m a philosopher who parties. Why would you trust anybody who doesn’t?’ A quick peek at his band from the 1990’s ‘Army of Lovers’ will cast away any image of humbug. The band was about sex and wild longing—but in a ritual, formal, and almost religious sense. Army of Lover was a hit making machine and also high art and theatricality.
Bard’s philosophy shows us the same total dedication to serious concept making as his music had to ecstasy. He tells me we operate through a primary archetype, in his case the philosopher is primary and the artist secondary. He seems an extrovert to me, but tells me he is actually an introvert—I guess you would have to have a pretty strong sense of introversion to write massive tomes of philosophy, as he does. ‘I quit the music industry definitively to do philosophy full time’ he tells me.
One of the things I like about Bard is that he never merely complains about the state of things the way conservatives do — nor is he naively progressive or liberal. He’s all about energy, eros, and libido — of celebrating the life drive as opposed to the classic Freudian death drive or ‘mortido’ as he calls it in his book ‘Digital Libido’. This collective worship of Eros is the positive function of religious ceremony and ritual, and religion in this sense needs to be constantly renewed and reinvented.
Bard’s newest book Digital Libido is a dark and deeply Freudian take on our internet state. ‘Facebook is more evil than the Chinese Opium wars’ he tells me, ‘they hire psychologists to keep you hooked seven hours a day’. The exodus from Silicon valley of mega corporations is in the works. While the lumpen proletariat are getting their brains eaten in a Zombie apocalypse of hyper-narcissism on Facebook—something has to break. There are better options for communication, banking—all kinds of things—coming through the pipes. Get ready for all kinds of cultic insanity as well. These are fun and apocalyptic times.
Even though Digital Libido is a warning, Bard is a cyber utopian as well—but not in Ray Kurzweil’s sense. ‘The singularity has already happened’ he tells me: 7 billion people connected to the internet’. But Google’s Ray Kurzweil and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s autistic spirit forgets that human beings are not machines, and silicon valley boy-pharaohs are are leading us to peril. To remedy this we need to re-discover what a human being is, through deep anthropology, sociology, the study of religion and history. We need to bring back the scholar and the monastery—to become disciplined and highly learned, because, Bard says, we are moving into a new medieval age. It is not revolution we need today, but to go out into the wilderness and build new institutions of learning.
What we need most, according to Bard, is a grand narrative, and to smash postmodern relativism once and for all. By grand narrative he means religion in the etymological sense, as a force for bringing people together. To have real religion means to create God and Gods, not just be passively submissive to the Freudian Superego—to the big daddy in the sky—who promotes infantile submission toward an ‘abject’ or a what he calls a ‘false phallus’.
Human beings create Gods in any case, including the various God of scientism and rationality, but also the individualist Ayn Rand religion of the ‘individual against all’, as well as the death cults of the 20th Century, including fascism and Stalinism. The remedy is not to crush the phallic thrust of eros, but to participate in the creation of a future God, which means to have some kind of positive utopian vision, an image of a promise land—which looks something like an eco-utopia. God is our future potential rather than our origin or creator, in Bard’s theological vision. He doesn’t exist until we create Him.
Bard says are moving from capitalism to informationalism, which means data and attention are valued more than money or capital. In this brave new world both social collectivism and liberal individualism are blind alleys, outdated modes of being—what matters today is to integrate our tribal roots. Socially and biologically we have never ceased being tribal in nature, and just like 4,000 years ago, fundamentally, we function best in small bands — of about 150. Today our attention should not be on the atomised individual, but on what french philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s ‘dividual’, or the person embedded creatively within the tribe.
Institutions like Universities, like churches, have ceased being a central locust of creativity in the information age. The locust of creativity exists outside the school, the church, the bureaucracy, and the centralised modern state which Napoleon birthed in the 19th Century. The internet, on the other hand, is the new egalitarian God we are creating; however, it doesn’t make us human, which requires a libidinous force pushing back against the deathly passive state of consuming information. Again, we need libido, which is the ‘will-to-life’ and Eros, against ‘mortido’ and a death within life.
Like Nietzsche, Bard blames our collective repression on Plato, for neglecting the libidinous aspect of reality and trying to erect a perfect idea. ‘I hate perfection he says’. ‘We should not aim for perfection but for wholeness.’ Both Nietzsche and Heidegger wanted to take us back to Heraclitus’s emphasis on ‘flow’ rather than ideals — which is still present in Taoism and certain schools of Buddhism and Zoroastrianism, according to Bard. The focus is on integration and wholeness, rather than idealism and remoteness from God.
Bard pits Aristotle, Hegel and Nietzsche against Plato, Descartes, Kant, and Einstein, who were all too obsessed with ideals of perfection—the latter are the voices of the age of the atomised individual. But since them, Quantum theory has overturned any simple view of the world. Bard says we need to go back to Heraclitus and the ancient roots of philosophy which pre-date Greece, and even further back to the Totem pole. We need to restore a phallic vision, patriarchal storytelling, to balance matriarchal storytelling. Both are necessary, both are radically complementary.
Everything is religion, Bard says. We are tribal, religious people. We need a God. If God is dead we are bound to create him. The future religion, according to Bard, is ‘Syntheos’ which means ‘The Created God’ or ‘Creativity as God’ in Greek — the creation of God. Creativity as God.’ Now that is a grand idea! We have to create the God who is not yet here. And we are doing it already. The internet is the God we are creating, the God to come. It can be demonic, or it can be a force of God. It depends on us. We have to make it God.
The first in the video series ‘Sweeny vs Bard’:
Books by Alexander Bard:
The Futurica Trilogy, with Jan Söderqvist (2012)
Syntheism — Creating God in the Internet Age, with Jan Söderqvist (2014)
Digital Libido — Sex, power and violence in the network society, with Jan Söderqvist (2018)
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