Edge of the elusion
Updated: Oct 4
For a time when I was a teenager I was a straight-out Marxist-Leninist, of the pro-Soviet variety—which was an odd belief to hold in the late 1990s and early 2000s, given that the USSR had collapsed. How did I come to such an outlandish belief?
I’ve given it some thought over the years and I finally realised what it was—video games. The thing to understand about how people convert to different beliefs—Christian, Muslim, Communist—is that nobody changes their views based on rational argument, rational argument never convinces anyone.
No—what convinces people is the psychological mechanism introjection. To give an example as to what that is: when I was about 17 I met a guy about four years older than me who also had an interest in Marxism; he was already about to graduate university, an elite university, and to me he seemed incomparable in his wisdom and knowledge.
I saw him as a kind of guru and was completely impressed by him. What happened, as is usual via introjection, is that I picked up his verbal ticks and mannerisms—repeated his arguments and even wore similar clothes to him.
This is all very common in teenagers (and somewhat common in adults too—I’ve seen people who like me do it without even realising they’re doing it). Yet if you said, “Oh, you’re talking just like him, you’re acting just like him,” I would have vociferously denied it—because it was an unconscious process (though, at some level, I was aware of it—which is why I would have resisted the suggestion).
But I decided to be a Communist before I met this person, so it wasn’t that I was “under the influence” of the Svengali. So where did the original introjection come from? It came from the computer game Command and Conquer: Red Alert.
This series was my favourite computer game as a child. About a year before I decided to become a Communist, age 13, I played Command and Conquer: Red Alert a lot. Now, the game is set in a fictional world where WWII never happened—instead, “the Allies” fight “the Soviets” under Stalin.
For whatever reason, I didn’t identify with the Allied storyline very much (perhaps because to play “the good guys” is always boring). I preferred the cutscenes and stories from the Soviet side—the set-up being that you are addressed in each video, one-to-one, like a commander being briefed for a mission.
So, what happened? Simple. I played a game all the time where I was “the Soviet commander” in imaginative terms, and to put on the mask is to become the god. It’s the same as the idea of elusion—there is a psychiatric illness where the nature of the illness is that the person pretends to have a psychiatric illness. There’s the mask of a sane man who is ill, but beneath those two masks there is also the illness. This is shamanic.
In the same way, you could say that at one level I was a normal person who went to school and at another level I worse the mask of someone who loyally served the Soviet Union—and since video games are always played in an initiatic space, in a darkened room, I effectively initiated myself into it. I put on the mask, entered the elusion.
Indeed, I was so into it that I made little posters to announce that property had been seized by the local Soviet, by “the People’s Republic of Dry Sandford”—that was a game, but the next year the game became real.
What this meant was that when I happened to read The Communist Manifesto at 14, at a time when I read things like John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, I was, at a certain level, primed to feel predisposed towards the symbology and the ideas in a positive way. Hence, though from a rational perspective these beliefs made no sense, they seemed plausible and correct to me.
This is how all conversion happens, it’s exactly the same as how you come to like someone or seduce them—nobody comes to like you if you present “a case”, a rational case, as to why you are a likeable person. No, they like you from the non-verbal cues you present with your rational content—they like your semiotic and symbology, in other words.
It’s why people say “I don’t know why I like him, I just like him”, because what they like about the person is their semiotic—the way they fold their arms or hold their body, or the way they say certain things. The person’s actual content has little relevance as to whether you like them or not. As the old saying goes, “It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it; it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it—that’s what gets results.”
It’s why it’s futile to present a list of “reasons to join my religion” or “reasons to join my political party”—as advertisers have long known. It’s why the James Dean figure who just leans in a cool way against the lamppost in his leather jacket is attractive—it’s just the way he holds himself, the whole aloof semiotic, that attracts you.
Actual content is almost irrelevant—he could be an advocate for Islam, for Hitler, or the Buddha for all you know. But you don’t really care what he says…just keep talking, baby.
Indeed, he could be saying absolute nonsense—it’s why outsiders who aren’t in a religion or don’t follow a particular pop band just can’t “get it”. “I don’t know what you see in him—he’s just spouting nonsense, it’s gobbledegook, it’s just noise.” “You just don’t get it, dad.” It could really all be reduced, if you want to bring Nietzsche into it, to aesthetics.
And, at another level, the soul being a rhythmic pattern, it’s all about the soul (his voice has a certain quality—i.e. a certain rhythm <<I love you for the pattern you are>>). If you recall Whitehead’s idea that mechanical civilisation is characterised by goal-orientated problem-solving, whereas the alternative is complicated patterns that exist for their own sake, you see why modernity is soulless.
Artists are aware that content is irrelevant, that aloofness appeals. It’s like the statement by Andy Warhol that the artist should split from the group, do his own thing, form a nucleus, and then wait for the centre to form around him. This is a kind of Taoist paradoxical lesson: “To become the centre, leave the centre.” The trick is to be totally aloof and independent—totally cool and mysterious, like James Dean—and just do it, baby.
What happens is that even if what you are doing is “odd” a few people will stop and look, then a few people will wonder what they’re looking at and stop, and then pretty soon they’re a crowd—a crowd who have begun, through introjection, to copy you and copy each other as regards whatever you’re doing (to show appreciation). Sooner or later you reach critical mass and now you are the new centre.
It’s why the art world has a concern with “the fake”—you know, the Orson Welles film F for Fake—or like the song ‘Portobello Road’, “Rembrandts, El Grecos—Toulouse-lau-Trec-os (painted last week on the banks of the Thames).”
There’s the idea that the only thing you can be is a genuine fake, because it’s all faked in a way—the decision to stand outside the crowd is an arbitrary mysterious act and the fact you always wear a black cape is validated and becomes “normal and sensible” because there’s a crowd that stands around you.
In other words, the whole art world is fake—it’s all really good fakes, there might only be one genuine article in circulation (everything else is just a really good copy; but it is essential to the game not to point out the fake—because it’s all fake).
Like people, in fact—the only genuine people being those who know they’re fakes, whereas the phoneys think they’re the genuine article.
The secret is that everything is this way—even subjects like science that are meant to be immune from what is, to use their own nomenclature, memetic contagion; or, put another way, constitutes charms, spells, and shamanic mask-wearing (guising).
Hence I agree with those early 1990s politicians who said video games are dangerous, because people become what they play. Indeed, the Columbine school massacre was carried out by two kids who played the shoot-’em-up game Doom over and over again (set, in effect, in hell—their school being hell to them). I always hated Doom—could never play it.
For a change, I don’t think this was all Satanic as such—I think I could have as easily played some fantasy game and become obsessed with Tolkien, or a science fiction game and become obsessed with some aspect in science. However, it is a testament to the power of the mask.
There were a few other factors: first, in relative lifespan terms, the USSR seemed like “ancient history” to me—this seems hilarious to me now, because it had only collapsed 10 years before I embraced Marxism. But, back then, it seemed like “ages” ago (today I’d say that 30 years or so is hardly any time at all—that the Soviet collapse is still a recent event). I had no memory of the Cold War and so all the passions around it made no impression on me—the USSR was just something in a history book.
When I read The Communist Manifesto its first words “There is a spectre haunting Europe, the spectre of Communism” seemed eerily prescient to me in an irrational way, even though, obviously, Marx was writing about 150 years prior about the prospect of Communism—not the post-Soviet actuality. Nevertheless, this pseudo-prescience somehow impressed me with the document.
Other factors: When I was 10 I found a book my mother had from her polytechnic degree in the 1980s called Overkill: The Story of Modern Weapons. I read this a lot and really liked it, but it was only later I realised it was a CND book by a Jewish socialist doctor. But it and its arguments made quite an impression on me. That was another factor (indeed, eventually I joined CND).
Also, when the civil war in Yugoslavia happened, I asked my mother for a book to explain what was happening there. She bought me a book (she doesn’t understand politics) that years later I realised was from a Trotskyist organisation—I was too young to really understand the book, being about eight, but I think I absorbed some basic Marxist ideas then. Ideas like “the struggle of the working people” and “imperialism”.
I did read 1984 and Animal Farm when I was 12, but I read them just that bit too young. I got Animal Farm was about Communism but it was also just about pigs to me—the allegorical message didn’t fully strike home. As for 1984, it already felt like I’d “seen it before” because I’d seen so many things “like it” on TV (the sex scenes made me feel funny though—it’s a book about dirt, in a way; not sexual dirt, but industrial grime in post-war London).
So those books had no prophylactic effect on me. It was only when I went to university, moved away from the leftist group I’d been hanging out with, and read Hannah Arendt and Orwell again that I dropped the Marxism-Leninism. As is often the case, what changes your views is not anything rational but a change of social circle—or breaking with a social circle (as cult deprogrammers know).
From age 19 onwards I didn’t believe in it anymore, but I didn’t shed the last vestiges of Marxist beliefs until I was 27—partly for lack of anything better, but, more crucially, because I maintained elements of my previous Marxist social circle; and, like being in a gang, it kept me in a common belief. When I broke those associations, all my beliefs evaporated totally.
I would add that factors like social class didn’t come into it at all—I wasn’t in the proletariat, nobody I met in Communist organisations were in the proletariat (not that it really exists today); and most were upper middle class, up to and including one aristocrat. But that’s because leftism doesn’t explain the world and man’s motivations accurately—i.e. it’s not about socio-economic status, at least not like that.
What it all demonstrates is that masks and mimesis are more important as regards what people believe than the ideas as such (though it must be said I must have a disagreeable personality to an extent, because I held out as a Communist at an ultra-reactionary Catholic boarding school where I was actively hated for it; so I might have inculcated myself, but I would hold my self-indoctrination against total social pressure from my environment).