vii: A Skeptic’s Guide to Defending Magick (What about that age was “dark,” exactly?)

There is a simple and well-understood explanation for the coin slot’s apparent conceptual disintegration back into the world’s collective consciousness just after its initial debut, the very idea of mechanized coin operation apparently having slipped headlong into the epochal void of malicious ignorance, even while perched for victory on the razor’s edge of early modernity (as we understand it, at any rate, thanks to the period’s temporal relativity to the first full construction of our cultural godhead, wrought out of the blood and dust of Golgotha.) 

The explanation is thus: that following a period of staggering growth and exchange, the world was plunged into an extended age of gnashing darkness, all of its cultural and mechanical advances cut to the nub by the cruelties of plague and tyranny; a sucking, self-perpetuating vortex of generational stupidity from which it took humanity the better part of two millennia to extract itself.

Applying the slightest amount of critical thought to this particular rubric ends up exposing the folly of its entire framework, perhaps even dragging to light the lengths to which our dominant and long standing narratives will stretch themselves in order to withstand the myriad crucibles of truth that occasionally threaten to expose us. Humanity’s eventual capitulation to the stories we find most palatable reveals more than we perhaps appreciate or care for, in regard to our overall ability to decouple ourselves from our reactionary grip on the physical world.

Of course, when set against the narrative of humanity’s certain plunge into cybernetic slavery, one might finesse the concept of information death enough that it begins to take on a pleasant demeanor. If, indeed, the asshole-end of our march toward digitization is evolution into a species we would no longer recognize in any manner as human, then the idea of a ‘dark age’ settling upon us, to slow down the unceasing, choking bloom of technological development, becomes nearly appealing; anything that gives humanity a chance to slow our blind march forward, to pool and soak in to reality’s fiber, to perhaps regard ourselves more completely and thus save ourselves from being taken by the machines before our time, begins to lose its misanthropic, cynical sheen. 

Perhaps fortunately, then, the choice between an extended plague-ridden anti-society and the mechanized maw of cyberization is clearly a false one.

“Hey, Picky, this is some good shit in here!” the Kid says, and the full-on shit-eating grin that accompanies his statement is a strong indication of his current sincerity level. He has a magazine in his hand, and he seems to be thoroughly enjoying what he’s reading.

“Oh, great, he’s gonna do this little song and dance,” Picky says, I guess talking to me, but staring intently over the counter at Etch.  “Y’know, we really don’t have to go down this road today…” To me, it feels like they’re quite a long way down this well-worn, dusty-ass trail already, and I don’t really hear the desire in her voice to put a stop to it.

The Kid clears his throat performatively. “Virgo: We know your money situation is tight, girl, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a season for seeding…” he’s obviously delighted with himself, putting some real ripe English on the words as he chews the proverbial scenery. Licking a finger, he ostentatiously flips a page.  “Capricorn: watch out for that offer you thought you were looking for, the 7th house is out of alignment for agreement. Trash that deal.’  Golly gee fuckin’ gosh, Picky, this is some pretty specific and terrible advice to give people who are liable to believe things like purchasable scrying.”

“Yeah, it ain’t great,” Picky says, in an uncharacteristically low and capitulatory tone. She continues to eyeball Etch, who’s only about ten feet away from where we’re standing, and given they’re about forty meters tall, it really feels like they must have seen us by now, suggesting that their refusal to acknowledge or even glance toward us to be a willful display. I’m guessing this is what’s currently driving Picky up the wall.

Wouldn’t expect any less, it’s exactly why I quietly admire them too much and thus somewhat willingly suffer their abuse. Well… also I’m half a masochist, but isn’t everyone?

“That’s… not a fun response,” the Kid says, flipping another few pages to an already marked passage.  “Your gloves aren’t off at all, Picky, I thought your gloves were coming off?”

“Let me assure you, there are no gloves in this scenario,” Picky says, turning and giving him a side-eye that feels more like a warning.  “So please proceed, governor.”

“Such a weird reference to just throw out…” I mutter.

“Oh, here’s some extremely specific love advice they’re giving to random Tauruses…” The Kid pretends as if he’s reading it for the first time… honestly when these assholes accuse me of being a performative weirdo with my writing and such, they’re projecting like fucking crazy, don’t you think?  “It’s about how you should avoid the usual pitfalls this week, especially Acquariuses…Aquariai?”

“Well yeah, dipshit, everyone knows Tauruses should stay the fuck away from Acquariai,” Picky interjects with a showy yawn.

“…but then it goes on to say you should give Leo a chance, despite the surface incompatibility. Oh, it says that surface appearances aren’t always accurate and occasionally water signs do actually make the best partners. So let’s posit a situation…”

“Everyone give the master straw-spinner some room, because he’s about to create the most exquisite man simulacrum you’ve ever seen…” Picky retorts. “…manulacrum?”

“Say, a credulous person were to meet someone they initially sensed as dangerous, and now all of a sudden, they have this book full of magical advice, telling them to ignore their intuitions and let this person, who was previously giving them toxic vibes, intimate access to their lives…”

“Well this strawperson sounds fucking borderline, and yes, they probably shouldn’t be getting their advice out of a fucking book, but they wouldn’t take good advice anyway…” Picky starts.

“Ahhh, so everyone who follows a horoscope is borderline, now we’re getting into it…” the Kid says, with a wicked relish that I’m not entirely certain he’s earned.

“Hey, make men out of straw all you want, but don’t fucking fabricate my words,” Picky says, her body language shifting slightly in a way that suggests total re-engagement. “Every category of person you can create is chock full of dopes. We aren’t gonna run out of dopes, unless you’re planning on asking the Maker to make a Buddha machine that forces mass enlightenment on everyone, which I think guarantees the destruction of the Drop, on a faster timeline than it’s already on, I mean…”

“Wow, you accuse me of creating straw men and then you shit out whole hay cities right in front of us, Picky, I dunno what the fuck you’re rambling about, but it doesn’t have shit to do with the terrible advice in this rotten fucking rag…”

“Do dopes not get to be dopes, the Kid?” Picky says, returning to the conversation from wherever she’d suddenly wandered. “Isn’t that, like, a fundamental principle that we all at least claim to subscribe to, who deign to commune at Chicago Street? Isn’t the reason I can fucking stand you at all, because I believe that you believe on some fundamental level that humans have the essential right to be free, even if you don’t know exactly what that means?”

“Yes?” the Kid sighs, performing exhausted dismissiveness to chef’s kiss-level perfection  “I think so? It’s hard to agree with any of your premises, especially if they seem to half-flatter me, since, you know, we’re stuck in an ego battle, and all… sometimes it totally escapes you that since you wield rhetoric as a weapon so effectively that you forget you’re constantly going around gouging people’s hearts out.” 

I appreciate the strategy of the Kid’s attempted check. To go along with Picky’s comment about all of us who live at Chicago Street having at least a basic belief in humans and their right to exist, which feels true, although, again, rhetoric makes language cheap and the soma of pleasant lies a drug of easy access… 

…but Chicago Street folks seem to have an equal capacity to name the bullshit they are engaging in, to really pin down the malicious nonsense in which they (we) sully ourselves,  and yet we’re usually still totally helpless to disengage from it.

Picky picks idly at her slightly chipped, mauve-hued fingernails as she monologues. “So, everyone has a different idea of what being a dope is, including you and me, and everyone, even the cluster-b people you really like deriding when using them as props in your your shitty little arguments… It’s like… take hypnosis.  You don’t think hypnosis is magic, do you?”

“No, I don’t think hypnosis is magic.” The Kid is attempting to sound bemused, but I detect a bit of actual fatigue creeping into the portions of his personality that really delight in trolling her.

“But it has its uses; any dope can get value out of self-hypnosis, right, it’s just relaxed concentration, right?”

“Hypnosis doesn’t claim itself to be fucking magic,” the Kid retorts, and I can almost hear the snapping spring of Picky’s trap, which is honestly pretty rickety given how far out of pocket they both are at this point.

“Have you fucking met hypnotists, and let me answer that question, because no you must not have, because you would immediately note that these people are carny as fuck, and that the culture of hypnosis is absolutely every bit as convoluted as something like astrology or, like… oh fuck, chiropractors, why didn’t I think of chiropractors?”

“I assume because chiropractors are deeply fucking irrelevant to the argument at hand,” the Kid practically spits.

“Bullshit, they aren’t, you know chiropractors are fundamentally based on the same kind of ephemeral bullshit astrology is, and yet…”

“”Based” is doing such hilariously enormous heavy lifting in your argument, as if science doesn’t progress…” the Kid retorts, trying to stop this train, but it’s really started rolling now.

“Mmmmm, nope, didn’t start as science, started as magic bullshit that weaponized the naivety of burgeoning scientific understanding …and yet, who was the only one who could offer any relief on that lower back shit you were dealing with a few years ago?”

“Jesus fucking Christ, Picky, the guy was a quack, but he was a quack who worked closely with an actual doctor, which proves that actual doctors find value in that supposed quackery as it develops; do you see shrinks out there consulting the fucking stars?”

“Well, lets put a pin in that one, how about, as again I don’t think it helps you much,” Picky says. “Look, I know we’ve gone pretty far out of field for someone like you to follow, so let me just place a neat fucking bow on it and say that there’s a wide world of bullshit out there, and you and I sample from it just like all of these people do. The person in your little horoscope story already knows what they want to do; they’re just gonna use the extra information from the book to help them complete their vague dope thoughts and more totally justify their actions to themselves, like they would do under hypnosis.  Dopes are going to be dopes, but pretty much any advice book with words in it offers plenty of wisdom for dopes, along with the bullshit.” 

For a moment, Picky seems like she’s ready to let things just kinda die, if the Kid is, but after another glance toward Etch, and a deep frown that I recognize as her “hates to be kept waiting” face, I see her take the kind of deep breath she goes for when she’s getting ready to preach a sermon or two.

“Dopes can’t help being dopes, you know?, she turns to the kid and smiles. “Oh, but you definitely know. And not for nothin, but “scrying” involves a reflective surface, and if you don’t even know the very fucking basics of magick, I dunno why I’m even bothering to argue with you, only I’m again reminded that this isn’t really an argument, it’s just me word-vomiting concepts you don’t quite comprehend.”  

“Ah, when you said “gloves-off” you meant “full condescending dickhead,” the Kid says, nodding to himself as if he’s been expecting this development. “You didn’t mean you were going to sharpen any of your arguments, unless that “improper use of figurative language” gotcha was intended to be an actual definitive rhetorical finisher.”

Picky looks like she’s going to keep up the ad hominem derail, but then takes a little breath and begins to speak in a voice that I’m sure she intends to sound even more condescending, although to me the slight squeak to it always makes me want to laugh (look I do feel bad.) “I’ll state it as simply as possible for you, if it’s really gotten too complex: the negative aspects of a given thing do not negate the intrinsic value of the thing, and I know this isn’t something beyond your understanding, because you like a great number of problematic things.”

“I like a lot of things you find problematic.”

“Don’t be cute,” Picky says, then takes a moment, looking up to indicate her searching her brainspace for further argument material.  “you’re not unaware that, say, all of that post-hardcore you still blast in your room fucking hates women…”

“It deals with pain that it perceives is generated by femininity within the limited vocabulary it possesses, if you want me to get po-mo with you. It’s an incomplete text written by incomplete people. That isn’t problematic to me; it’s an artist using their voice in their space.”

“Really can’t believe you get away with calling me a fucking college boy,” I mumble, but neither of them are paying any attention to me at the moment, which is pretty all right with me, to be honest.

“We don’t exactly have to slide very far down a slippery slope to see where that one can go wrong,” Picky retorts. “But in order to not totally vanish up our own assholes here, let’s agree that we both accept the premise that a given thing can have positive and negative aspects…”

“Let’s ‘deconstruct the artifice’ as the college boy over here would put it, and toss all the shit you’ve been piling on aside!” the Kid exclaims quite suddenly, tossing the magazine he was cradling onto the nearest shelf, revealing a thin, open tome underneath.  “Right here it says: Unless you’re a Capricorn, you’ll never be able to fully trust a Virgo… And it is fucking insane for a book to tell someone something that absolute, when they might actually believe it. It might as well be the fucking bible.”

“What is your fucking point, here, the Kid?” Picky says, letting real frustration first show itself in the thinning of her eyes, which reveal an angry set of crows feet that makes her look at once cronish and frightening. “There are approximately one billion different horoscope books and guess what, some of them, no, most of them are going to suck, just like every other genre of book in the world…”

“This isn’t some random book, I just pulled it off the New Releases rack, it’s a fucking best-seller.” He shoves some links into our feeds, as if I need to see this shit too. “Let’s read some of these easily-searchable posts about it on this extremely popular horoscope website.”  I bother to pop one open for some reason, and they’re all some form of “never trust a Pisces” or “don’t do business with/befriend/fuck a Saggitarius” (being a December boy i find it hard to disagree here.)

“Yeah, look at all of these assholes,” Picky says, with a shrug.  “You’ve proven there sure are a lot of them, out there.”

“These grifting fucks are putting up arbitrary roadblocks in peoples’ already difficult lives, and let’s not forget perhaps the most unhinged aspect of this whole ludicrous pantomime, the fact that this is all based on the position of stars and planets that do not even exist.  Never mind epi-cycles,” he concludes, referring to the erratic patterns that the early, heliocentric astrologers in Reality thought the planets moved in, thanks to their misunderstanding of their positional relationship with the universe.  “This whole fucking thing is an epi-synchronism.  It comes from nothing, it goes to nothing. A tremendous and tragic waste of energy.”

“Epi-synchronism, I like that. Explains how I feel when I wake up in the morning.” Picky sighs and pulls a plastic molded chair out from the empty table next to us, letting it scrape obnoxiously along this portion of the store’s cracked-tile floor.  She sits, and yawns, and then rests her head on her arms.  “Anyway, just say you hate fags and bitches.”

As long as humanity, as we generally regard it, insists upon its existence, there will be imaginations who embrace a sole vocation: the harvesting and dissemination of dreams. And what is a dream? No more or less than a corpulent knot of information, fired hot through the mind’s familiar chambers. And a collective network of dreamers form a circuit which can only alter humanity in some profound way, once their combined fancies become latent enough to pierce the evanescent veil, to then be harvested by the clever focus of technological stewardship.

Thus, the entire conceptual framework of a “dark age,” that is, a prolonged period of mass ignorance among a given population, where all previous knowledge is lost and no new knowledge is developed, is an ahistorical farce; information wants to be free and it wants to be passed on, and it routes around damage very well. 

Take, for instance, the era colloquially known as the European dark ages, a period which strikes us as the most backward in our recent cultural history; they are traditionally understood to have taken place between the 5th and 15th centuries, basically the entire length of the Western Middle Ages, with a revised, more modernist perspective that would pin the worst of it between 700 and 1300 AD. A few brief respites of flaring desire for knowledge, such as the Carolingian Renaissance or the High Renaissance of the 12th century, are often noted, if only to contrast their eventual fall with the pervasive ignorance of the age.

It would be more accurate to call those flair-ups an indication that the fires of knowledge and progress were still smoldering, although indeed their warmth and sophistication might seem less intense than the heat of collective human ingenuity and will given off by the Caliphates of the Middle East, the Wen, Qi, and Chen Dynasties of China, the Mississippian society centered around the great city of Cahokia, and the Toltec and Andean Empires to its south, plus the many other burgeoning civilizations thriving around the globe. 

The myriad European civilizations that would rise and fall in that time may be understood, then, to exist within a period of continental transition, and thus, prolonged regional instability, compared to those places who had managed to more completely centralize their civilizations for a fractal moment. It could be said that Europe simply couldn’t manage to hold onto the ball, empire-wise, during this period, and in typical Roman fashion, would eventually fumble it when it was passed to them.

Thus, the term itself becomes truly pathetic, in the Borgian sense, with a shade of intense self-loathing that suggests if the white world isn’t on top, the world itself may as well be worthless.

“Wow,” the Kid says, tilting his head and then freezing for a moment.  “Fuck you.  Wow.  That’s so out of line I… I don’t hate anyone because they’re gay or an asshole, but I’m feeling a pretty intense dislike toward someone who’s both right now.”

“I promised to stop being nice to you like five minutes ago and then I let you keep going on, and that’s on me,” Picky says, with that air of casual cruelty she’s so practiced at.  “But that time’s over now; that time you talk your trash is over.”

“Guess I don’t get how you’re gonna get me to shut up,” the Kid says, tossing the book he’d been using as a prop carelessly onto the nearest rack and practically crashing down into his own chair next to her.  “…Especially after calling me a bigot.”

“I didn’t call you a bigot, I merely suggested you admit to us and yourself that you are one…”

“Enough with this pedantic word-trick bullshit, I’m not playing, Picky,” the Kid says. Picky waves her finger and gives him a cold stare, unphased by his petulant reply.

“…that you admit to us and yourself that you are one, because every single goddamn time you talk around the issue, you find a new way to dismiss it completely, even as you invent whole brand new technologies in order to not talk about it…”

“Conversation’s over,” the Kid says with a scowl, leaning down low and crossing his arms. I think about bringing up that he just said he wasn’t going to stop talking, but then sincerely reconsider involving myself in this nonsense.

“You’re goddamn right it is,” Picky says, straightening her back and leaning forward on her elbows. “You’re goddamn right that this conversation is over. Because by even having a conversation with you, by engaging in ‘word-trick bullshit,’ it feeds validity into your trash opinions on a diverse set of belief systems that are employed, by and large, by gay men and women.”

“Everyone buckled in?” the Kid says, rolling his head around; no one is paying us much attention, although I feel like everyone in the immediate area has gotten about 20% louder in order to drown out our table’s chaos. “Time for the heroic monologue! Somebody get Sorkin on the line, it’s time for Colonel Jessup’s big moment!”  

I decide against pointing out that Jessup’s rant was his moment of total defeat, since it’s possible that’s how the Kid meant it, and instead choose to half-listen while looking up Aaron Sorkin trivia (remember how the first season of Sports Night had a laugh track? Weird, right? And remember how Saturday Night Live also existed in the Studio 60 universe? Wild choice, in a show of real wild choices.)

 It isn’t that I don’t find Picky’s haranguing kosher; I agree with it almost completely. I’ve agreed with it almost completely for years now, every single time that some exact version of this argument comes up, over and over again, to the point where I’ve long lost the belief that it’s anything but entertainment for them. A little bit of sport-hate to stay in practice for the real enemies of mankind.  Anyway, I try not to involve myself anymore. It’s whatever. Humans are weird.  

“Your out of hand dismissal of witchcraft as an act of feminine and queer empowerment, your absolute refusal to engage with these ideas philosophically and practically…” Picky punctuates individual details by slapping each finger with it’s opposite index digit. “You deny this basic underlying tenet of all of it because you don’t know shit about historical feminism or queering, while then expecting every practitioner to be a perfect example of humanity, and when they aren’t, you feel fine in using them as individual props, in order to paint a diverse collective with the same broad fucking brush. You never even stop to consider that these sorts of general guideposts can be useful for those who accept them as a basic framework, and that,” here she hits her thumb, pulls it back like she’s cocking a gun, and flicks it forward in conclusion, popping her mouth for effect. “…reveals your absolute contempt for not only womanhood but personhood in general.”

“Are you finished talking?” the Kid rasps. “Because I was legit finished listening thirty seconds ago.”

“And this, of course, all feeds back into your objectivity complex, where you fancy yourself to be the sole arbiter of the right to deconstruction: you, from your narrow point of view, within your narrow spectrum of understanding. You think you hate all unearned authority equally, you think you’re really sly about parceling out your bullshit in all directions, but this inability to see the bias in your bias is, like, the fundamental critical failure of your entire philosophical epistemology.”

“You could just call me stupid, like a normal human,” the Kid says. His shoulders are drooped and his head is down; clearly he isn’t having any fun anymore, but it’s not like either of these cats are going to ever admit the other one is right, so this is probably as close to a concession as it gets. Picky, for her part, seems uninterested in his sudden fatigue.

“I assure you, regardless of your rejection of “academic praxis”, or “the discourse,” or whatever you want to call it to dismiss it, prevailing wisdom has already long ago exposed your idea of deconstruction as flawed, because the reductive tools used to engage in it are inherently an expression of the construction itself. The way your bias expresses itself, my friend, is a classical case of unexamined internalized misogyny and probably closet-case homophobic self-loathing.”

“Wow, weaponizing gay panic,” the Kid says, looking up at Picky and shaking his head with the slightest grin. “We’re really at the bottom of the fucking barrel now, aren’t we.”

“I’m not saying this shit to just anyone,” Picky says, slapping her hands on the table with a bit too much firmness. “You speak in absolutes about the superiority of your sciencism over other matrices, a machine that has brought us phrenology, psychological torture, race science and the fucking bell curve, the new atheists and nuclear fucking weapons. Maybe it’s the invisible hand of the free market you need to be concerned about, and not some old lady cold-reading with playing cards for props. Anyway, you’ve succeeded in your attempt to piss me off, which was your whole game, so fair fucking play to you.”

“You know, you really do have a screw loose. Do you know you really have a screw loose, Picky? Or do you think healthy people monologue like a fucking Alan Moore villain?”

“Pretty sure Moore would call me a cunt if we were to get into an argument, so at least you have one up on him there,” Picky snorts. “Hey, you know the concept of defensive projection? Where you assign your adversaries a trait or traits that you possess in order to deflect criticism you find particularly trenchant?” The Kid doesn’t respond immediately, but I can see the gears grinding and I am pretty ready to bring this particular squabbling to a conclusion.

“Did you guys know that Sorkin named an episode of every one of his TV shows ‘What Kind Of Day It Has Been?’” I say, choosing the dumbest bit of trivia on the page I’ve found myself in, hoping that it will distract them from this boorish repartee. 

“Actually, I did know that,” the Kid says. “I also know that they were all for the season 1 finales except for The Newsroom, because he saved it for the series finale. I also know I watched the entirety of The Newsroom, and I gotta admit, I really laughed my fucking ass off.  Seriously, only Sorkin can write such effective parody of himself.”

“Weird dude,” Picky says. “Wrote a whole show supposedly about the process of creating comedy. No jokes.”

“He wrote The Newsroom.  Every Sorkin scene is its own glorious joke,” the Kid says.

“The three of us collectively know way too much about the works of Aaron Sorkin,” I say, after a quiet sigh.  “Especially given that he doesn’t physically exist.”

“Give it time,” Picky says. “Anyway, it isn’t his fault that writers on the Drop are pretty dull and not worth talking about. No offense to present company.”

“I’m a documentarian,” I respond, with a grin that i quickly recognize as sheepish. “I’m not trying to engage in the kind of myth-making that interests a guy like Sorkin….”

“Did you believe yourself by the end of that sentence?” Picky says.

“Nope.”  I suddenly feel antsy, and then consciously notice Etch has finally clocked us,  as they turn to serve up a steaming mug. Their eyes land on me first, even though I definitely wasn’t trying to draw attention, and I see the flash of recognition followed by disappointment from them that I like to pretend is kind of a bit at this point. They see Picky and almost smile, which for Etch means they’re practically jumping for joy. They compose themselves immediately, and give Picky a quick thumbs-up and half-nod, and then refocus on the customer in front of them.

“Hey, look, it’s Etch!” the Kid says, a wide smile breaking across his face, an opportunity to troll ME giving him new life, as is his wont. “They sure do fucking hate you, huh?”

“They hate you more than me,” I point out.

“If we could quantify and compare our level of caring divided by the level of loathing in this situation, who do you think would come out on top?” the Kid beams.

“Relax,” Picky says. “You’re both big winners, they fucking loathe Both of you. Anyway, they’re supposed to be off already, but surprise surprise, seems like the place is understaffed.”  I hadn’t noticed any other employees as we made our way to the front, now that I consider it. This is a pretty big crowd to manage alone, but Etch is one of those terminally competent people who seems to effortlessly succeed at things. “I know we’re on a strict timetable here so I’ll go press the issue.”

“Aren’t we on your timetable?” the Kid asks. Picky just winks at him as she strolls toward the counter.

Leave a Reply