Over at Strategic Sorcery, Jason posted about his frustration with the ‘model’ model. (Get it?) As ever, I am pretty much in complete agreement with him about their pitfalls and limitations.
However, I think some of the people leaving comments may have missed what he is saying. They’re all making perfectly valid points but no one is actually speaking to what he writes in the post.
The pitfall in talking about ‘models’ is that we all seem to be using the word -and indeed the idea- improperly. We’re like toddlers playing dress-up in adult clothes.
In academia, the Clash of Models (boy, it really does sound like a Bravo show, doesn’t it?) has brought amazing insight into science, economics, anthropology, history and so on.
Except they’re not silly enough to bind themselves to this word; ‘model’.
Academics will more often use the word ‘reading’ or ‘interpretation’ as in a ‘Marxist reading of digital economics’ or the Copenhagen Interpretation.
You see how that sets up a different relationship between you and the text you are studying? (Note: in cultural studies, anything can be a text.)
Cluster enough interpretations together and you get a school -like the Feminist School. Again, the relationship here is one of ‘learning’ and ‘studying’ from a text rather than ‘explaining and seeking justification’.
As I understand Jason’s post, he’s not calling for an end to critical analysis, he’s suggesting that the search for the Next Top Model is conceptually dangerous for the unwary. The word ‘model’ implies some pretty bold ‘truth claims’ that are -at best- counterproductive.
Where we get our models
“Man is a creature who lives not upon bread alone, but principally by catchwords.” – Robert Louis Stevenson.
It would be truly wonderful if we could all wake up one day and find the word ‘model’ had been expunged from every corner of the magical universe. Unfortunately, this just isn’t going to happen. ‘Model’ is one of those words that magic picked up in Victorian times because adding a smattering of science to your spirituality was all the rage. Even crazy ol’ Blavatsky was doing it.
Fun fact: The Golden Dawn was founded years before the electron was even discovered. That’s the level of sophistication of the “science” that informs the bedrock practices of Western Magic. (It’s also quite probably the origin of some of the weirder views of “Occult Energies”: No one had actually found an electron… Energy models of all kinds were shots in the literal dark.)
Science, at the time, needed models because scientists had a vague notion of how things probably worked but very little in the way of supporting proof.
We are in a more fortunate place, today.
How to abuse models
Eat chocolate in front of them. (Couldn’t resist.)
Whenever you are tempted to use the ‘m’ word, may I suggest you stop and ask yourself the following two questions:
- Are you trying to legitimise a tenuous argument? By that I mean are you trying to ‘fudge’ data that doesn’t belong in a particular interpretation. Or -more worringly- are you trying to ignore data that doesn’t fit into your current favourite interpretation? As I understand it, this is what Jason means by “dangerous”.
- Are you trying to summarily dismiss someone else’s entire Path?
It’s the second one that is the most troublesome in my eyes because it impacts people other than yourself. It is why academics adopt ‘softer’ terminology. The data -or text- exists independently and the interpretation lives in your head. You don’t try and swallow every piece of data up in the one model.
- Interpretations are exploratory.
- Models are explanatory.
Magic is a big deal
Possibly the biggest. Wherever someone is on the Path, their success has been hard won. You wouldn’t walk into someone’s house and start ripping up baby pictures of their kids before stealing the tea set they inherited from their grandmother?
Cavalier use of the ‘m’ word can be similarly upsetting. We can all probably find better ways of engaging with someone else’s worldview rather than competing over who has the most comprehensive map.
But didn’t you guys break it?
Chaos magic is most often fingered for starting this model abuse but as I argue on my About page, I would suggest this is more a function of the times in which it rose to prominence rather than any inherent quality as a discipline.
A conscious rejection of metanarratives doesn’t automatically mean you throw ten thousands years of spiritual history in the food processor and see what comes out. (The answer is pesto, I’m pretty sure. Or at least it should be. Pesto’s awesome.)
Don’t believe me? Check out what Phil Hine and Peter J Carroll are up to. Both early leading lights in chaos magic… Now off on wildly divergent Paths. They’re not sitting around randomly picking beliefs.
Why I say this model abuse is a function of its time is that prior to chaos magic, tremendous effort was used trying to smash together a whole host of global beliefs and practices. Ever seen what happens when you load up a Christmas tree with too many ornaments? We were all doing that to the Tree of Life.
Chaos magic shouldn’t get all the credit for the inevitable and ultimately necessary Great Sundering -but neither should it take all the blame. It was happening across music, the arts, anthropology, cultural studies, physics and mathematics. We all grew. As a thinking species, we grew. I think it’s safe to declare we’re all too old for the chop/change/chop/change approach to the metaphysic these days.
Don’t get me wrong. This is a chaos magic blog. I make no bones about my scientific pantheism/anthropological interpretation. It’s how I’m wired.
But I go out of my way to try and make sure what I write is applicable across multiple worldviews because -don’t shoot me- I genuinely want to hear what others have to say.
I don’t want to convince or convert anybody. I’ll happily compare interpretations of specific topics with people but I am under no illusion that I have The Best Working Model For All Magic… Whatever that is. Nor am I even seeking it. Believe me, I’ve got enough things that I’m currently seeking.
This magic game is a messy business. People are bound to get upset. I’m just saying there are ways we can frame engagement without recourse to the emotionally loaded ‘m’ word, without trying to compete to have Sorcery’s Next Top Model.
Let’s not be lazy
Does this mean that all interpretations are created equal and everyone’s experience of truth is equally valid?
Anyone who has set foot in an airplane or had surgery or heated up pizza in a microwave or accidentally caused poltergeist activity or visibly bi-located doesn’t get to make such lazy, relativistic truth claims.
The very foundation of magic -just as it is in science- is based on the notion that there are Things We Can Know. Every developmental system needs quantifiables; whether that’s in a workplace or on a spiritual path.
Understanding grows by subjecting our interpretations to Things We Can Know. If they don’t fit, change your interpretation. Don’t ignore it. If they do fit, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s the best or only way of learning about the Things We Can Know.
What we should aim for
Rather than arguing endlessly over which model fits best -like the wicked stepsisters fighting over a glass slipper, we should aim for a spirited (pun?) exchange of interpretations across a whole bunch of texts.
If the slipper doesn’t fit then it is your foot that’s in the wrong -not the impractical shoe.
Find some data you don’t like? Don’t ignore, don’t flame… Engage. Everyone experiences this feeling. And I do mean everyone.
You know that famous story about how Einstein -unhappy with the spiritual implications of quantum theory- exclaimed “God does not play dice with the Universe.” He couldn’t stand the idea. He spent decades trying to unsuccessfully crunch the numbers back into a more orderly, preferable view of the universe.
Do you know what Niels Bohr said in reply:
“Einstein. Stop telling God what to do with his dice.”