How We Live In A World Of Modern Ritual

Art by Anton Batov

I’m in the parking lot of Asiri Surgical when my daughter asks if she can hang off the edge. I idly say yes because I’m filling out a form but then I look and, like, fuck. “No. No.”

I’m filling out the form for her PCR test, in the unit they’ve setup sorta outside. It’s a complex ritual of filing, printing, and crying that I need to cast the right incantations to let my daughter fly. It is in fact only one of the many spells I have had to execute for access to the heavens, and the least pointless.

Arthur C. Clarke said any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, but I think he missed the point. They are magic. We call stuff like this godayata magic, magic to a villager. Obviously you could say modern spells work better, but they’re still working at the same thing. Changing reality is just the superficial part, the underlying point is to change social reality, the place we actually live.

I’m not saying that PCR tests and aeroplanes aren’t real. I’m saying that’s not what’s really going on here. Yes science makes it possible to fly, but then passport apartheid is imposed to make it difficult or impossible for most of us. And this apartheid is enforced by rituals. The COVID stuff is at this point just a thin layer of paint atop this pyramid of inequality, and the usual dance of passports is a complete farce.

The point of modern travel rituals, like ancient rituals, is reinforcing social hierarchies. Your passport is thus a talisman and the airport a temple, just a far less interesting one.

No human can really fly, that is reserved to the god Capital, which leaps across borders like Hermes. Hermes himself is reduced to selling handbags in the duty-free now. Meanwhile humble human beings can fly inside capitalist machines, but for this we must show that we believe.

Not in flight, which few of us really understand, but in the capitalist hierarchy which makes this possible. Like every priesthood has been telling us forever, say the words and stay in your place. Like participating in any ritual does, we accept and preserve this hierarchy when we dutifully hand over our forms and wait in line. We even participate in human sacrifice when we accept that people should be drowned or put in cages for crossing outside the lines.

Now and forever, certain people can fly and certain people can’t. Under the god Capital, the state religion of White Empire, spread by airlines across the world, poor and colored people default cannot fly. We have to sweat in visa lines, holding bank statements and offering sacrifice, to show that someone wants to lightly enslave us, or that we won’t stay too long. We have to be molested by privatized priests to get the right spells stamped inside our talismans, to be given the human right to move.

The point is not the flying, but the hierarchy. It’s the same shit different day. Yeah the spells work much better, but they’re spells all the same.

Take the construction of power in general. Rulers have long been telling us this is their territory because they have the mandate of heaven, and we could see this because of all the priests doing random shit while we watched. Today rulers enforce their territory by other priests doing other random shit. We find watching old rituals for hours boring, but then we stand in line for three hours waiting for some dude to print something out.

We dutifully watch privatized priest casting spells through computer systems, printing out various incantations that let us pass. And if the spells don’t work we dutifully turn around. To either an ancient or far-future Egyptian, how would they know the difference? Why would they care? It all looks like a bunch of meaningless rituals, offerings to some unseen god.

What are you even doing when you go through an airport? All we’re actually doing is occupying a physical space for a while–alternately standing in line, and sitting down. The movement is as circumscribed as the steps through a temple. Isn’t it the same movement?

Obviously I get that temples can’t actually make you fly, but why do we fly? Both movements still ascribe the social hierarchy of life, the ability to see your family and friends, to be seen by them in a certain way, to work, to go through the motions of life. The substance is obviously different with technology, but the meaning of a human life remains the same.

I have often wondered why people believed what feathered or painted priests were saying. Wasn’t it absurd? But I never looked at myself with the same distant condescension. How much absurd shit do we do all the time, under the guise of it being, not spells, but ‘important paperwork’. If I look at myself with a distant eye, my belief systems are also absurd.

Since the ancient era every ritual has actually worked. OK, they were bullshitting about predicted the future or getting that girl to love you, but they all preserved social order. These religions never fell apart because they didn’t ‘work’ in the literal sense, they only became absurd when the social order fell apart. Controlling social reality was always the point. Controlling actual reality was just a parlor trick, a term of art.

Every ritual, modern and ancient, puts certain people on top, and gets other people to agree to keeping them there. With all our paperwork and bullshit, that’s all we’re doing today. My daughter can fly, yes, but at the price of affirming and confirming a hierarchy that says people like her default cannot.

And again, I don’t mean COVID testing, which is great, I think a PCR jab should be part of flying, fine. I mean the fact that this testing costs money and time, and that it’s implemented haphazardly across countries, making it useless for a global pandemic. Health theatre is now like security theatre, a bunch of restrictions that make travel miserable for the poor while rich people fly private, doing coke and sneezing god knows what out.

Like every other ritual, these acts are ostensibly about health or security, but they’re all just a thin layer of paint on the giant pyramid of class and power. That’s what every ritual, regardless of its stated purpose, is really about.

Art by Anton Batov

Since forever priests have been telling us it’s OK to take your grain because the Sun God told us so. Today we’re like “ha has, that’s dumb.” Then we fill out a tax form and cast the spell on our fucking selves. Who’s laughing now?

We laugh at the past where some dude dunking the right oils on his head made him king, but we go through rituals of elections and inaugurations to accomplish the same thing. We call this democracy, but that’s a religious belief at this point. Greek democracy was more like jury duty, citizens had direct and actual power. They’d laugh at us just selecting from two potential kings, both paid off by oligarchs. Like “good job dumbasses, you just anointed a king.”

We say we live under ‘rule of law’ which is so much better than rule by kings, but we have more people in cages than ever. It fucking sucks. We still have people dressed in funny outfits called judges, interpreting obscure rules nobody understands. We still have to pay lawyers like paying a temple priest, to guide us through a ‘justice system’ as treacherous and violent as the netherworld.

We take it all seriously, very seriously, this is all real, and so much better than the past, but is it? To me as I sit in all these dumb lines, walking through the capitalist temples we call airports, carrying my folder of attested spells, I really wonder.

I sacrifice and genuflect at the temple of the great God Capital as much as anyone. For blessings for my children, for every important moment in life. You could say I don’t ‘believe’, but the innovation of modern ritual is ‘who cares?’ People will sacrifice and genuflect even without faith.

When you can still control the human body, who needs the human heart? In this way modern rituals do what ancient rituals did. They preserve the social order, and gods know, we all play our part.