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Ghost Stories

Psi and the Far-Right

Here’s a philosopher who’s attracting interest in psi research circles. He’s Jason Reza Jorjani, half-Iranian by birth and professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he teaches on science, technology and society. The Parapsychological Association has reviewed his book Prometheus and Atlas, commending ‘his scholarship, his breadth, his commitment to the problem of the place of the supernatural in our thinking, his jazzy and spunky but serious style’. Jeffrey Mishlove has interviewed him three times on New Thinking Allowed. The Society for Psychical Research invited him to give a talk, and subsequently published a lengthy essay by him in its journal.

Why all the excitement? It’s largely because it’s unusual to find a philosopher of Jorjani's readability and erudition holding a big vision in which an acknowledgement of psi phenomena plays a major part. This comment by parapsychologist Charles Tart gives an idea:

Jorjani’s book is not casual reading, but it’s not a swamp of philosophical jargon and word games either. If you’re interested in the roots of both Eastern and Western cultures, and the conceptual systems driving so much of modern culture, including spiritual culture, it’s an excellent book. Particularly, Jorjani is aware of parapsychological phenomena, the specters as he calls them, which official culture tries to banish, but which are very important to our full understanding of humanity and reality. These “ghosts” just won’t go away in spite of our extensive use of “magic words,” masquerading as reason, to banish them!

Jorjani is familiar with psi research, referencing among other things experimental PK work by Robert Jahn at Princeton, the Stargate remote viewing program and Stephen Braude’s scholarly analysis of early mediumistic studies. But I think he’s less interested in the details than in its implications, that materialism is an imposter, a sort of upstart ideology that has succeeded by suppressing knowledge about ‘the spectral’, as he calls it. He’s good on the part played by key individuals in this, such as Freud who ‘deliberately and duplicitously’ concealed evidence of psi interactions that he knew to be true; and Kant, who was deeply influenced by Swedenborg, but publicly debunked him to protect his chances of getting tenure.

Even Descartes, who developed the mechanist framework that became the basis of modern materialism, nevertheless understood from his experience of precognitive dreams that this could not be the whole story; he just chose not to follow that up. But times change, Jorjani says, and in the modern era, thinkers like Henri Bergson and William James, have resurrected the idea of psi phenomena as being part of the natural world.

It’s not surprising that all this should strike a chord with many parapsychologists. But there’s a twist. Earlier this month a video emerged of Jorjani giving a half-hour talk to ‘Identitarians’ in Stockholm. This is a big deal. Identarians are a European ultra-right, openly racist movement, not large, as far as I can tell, but with strong roots to anti-Islam and anti-immigrant parties in other countries, at least two of which – Poland and Hungary – are in government. The video has been posted on the website Righton.net (slogan: ‘Putting the action in reactionary’), where it rubs shoulders with full-on, foaming Trumpism.

I listened to this talk to see just what psi phenomena might have to do with extremist right-wing politics. Jorjani repeats the view he expresses elsewhere, that parapsychologists have fatally underestimated the effects on society of psi phenomena – the fact that, as he puts it, that their research opens up ‘the ultimate epistemological abyss’. But he goes further in painting an apocalyptic vision of psi, first being harnessed to bring down the current socio-political order, then to replace it with a sort of psi-mediated utopia. A society in which ESP played an active part would be utterly transparent, he suggests, since it would mean the end of secrets and lies, and also of crimes, because the thought police would have precognitive knowledge of them and take steps to prevent them. PK could prove a deadly means of destroying enemies, producing ‘first rate psychic assassins’). All this, he considers, would pose an intolerable threat to the liberal democratic political order, which ‘would be absolutely incapable of enduring such a situation… Not since witches were burned at the stake have we had a legal framework that even considers such possibilities.’

A crude attempt of this kind has already been seen, he contends – in the brief flowering of the Nazi ideology. The party grew out of the Thule Gesellschaft (Atlantis Society), which was founded in Munich towards the end of World War I, and which merged theosophical ideas with German ultra-nationalism. Its largely secret membership, which included some top German scientists, believed that Atlantis was the ‘lost homeland of the Nordic master race that descended from the heavens’. Its ambition was to overthrow ‘the dogmas of revealed religion and the outdated rationalistic enlightenment concepts of liberal individualism with a new politics’.

Unencumbered by scientific doubts about psi, Himmler and others enthusiastically promoted psychic warfare – psychics based in Berlin are said among other things to have pinpointed the location where Mussolini was being held prisoner by Italian anti-fascists, facilitating his rescue – an early forerunner (if true) of the Stargate military remote viewing program, which Jorjani also references here.

To Jorjani, this is potentially a blueprint for a new order coming about through a ‘spectral revolution'. He concludes:

However catastrophically they failed, these first postmodernists understood that the key to overcoming modernity lay in a psychical revolution in the sciences, but also that such a scientific revolution cannot come about unless society has been radically reorganised into a hierarchically integrated organic state.
A caveat: this is a short talk, outlining provocative ideas that would need a good deal more elucidation to pin down. They’re apparently intended to inspire a particular audience but seem somewhat unclear and inconsistent, and indeed, what I’ve outlined here may not fairly represent his thinking. (They’ve certainly surprised parapsychologists, and I assume there’s nothing of this in his book.)

But it seems clear enough that Jorjani is pointing out to extremists the advantages to them of psi’s power to disrupt. If and when the science establishment can no longer block it, the liberal democratic order will be overwhelmed, and this will open the way for the development of a new order of which they dream. The Nazis tried and failed; but others in the future may succeed.

What do we make of this? One immediate thought is that Jorjani’s idea of what psi might be capable of vastly exceeds the known facts. He talks as though an arsenal of psychic superpowers awaits for humanity to exploit, just as soon as it stops pretending that psi doesn’t exist. Oddly, it’s the same mistake that some sceptics like James Alcock make – to argue that psi, if true, would be calamitous: a world in which certain universal norms can no longer be relied on. But the evidence from a century of a half of research indicates, on the contrary, that psi is extremely elusive, fickle and unreliable. There’s nothing to suggest that the mere act of acknowledging its existence will change that, let alone release some transformative power in which it becomes the bedrock of a future utopian technology.

What I agree we should be concerned about is the effects of a widespread belief in psi, and the potential of that to generate insecurity and distrust. But one of the ingredients of the fear of psi, it seems to me, is the inability to adopt a balanced view of it, at least in the first instance. The idea of it is so radical, it tends to promote radical ideas, in the absence of understanding based on responsible research. What’s needed is education, to encourage public understanding of what it is, and its limits, and persuade advocates not to make overheated claims.

I’m not sure exactly what Jorjani means by radical reorganisation into a ‘hierarchically integrated organic state' (perhaps because I’m not familiar with far-right jargon), but I assume it’s nothing good. Like many people, I worry about what we increasingly see in some countries and circles, a fashionable fatigue with democracy, its messiness and compromises, and a yearning for some better form of government. The term ‘illiberal’ society touted by Hungary’s Viktor Orban pops up in the European media – not necessarily approvingly, but it reinforces the notion that it’s now a legitimate ‘thing’ – and similar ideas are starting to get exposure in the US, with the publicity the ‘alt-right’ is getting from the Trump campaign. In reality, surely, there’s no alternative to liberal democracy that would not sooner or later lead to secretive, corrupt authoritarian government and economic stagnation, and that would take decades to overthrow.

It would be little short of tragic if these repulsive endeavours were to enlist psi research – a little and struggling scientific discipline – as the basis of a core ideal. It’s unhelpful enough for ‘psi’ and ‘occult’ even to appear in the same sentence, without the addition of ‘Nazi’, ‘Himmler’ and ‘SS’, and no modern, forward-looking enterprise, as I believe psi research to be, can afford to be linked to fevered Atlantean fantasies. Of course people are free to say what they like. But if this is what Jorjani really thinks, I can’t see the psi research community continuing to embrace him with quite the enthusiasm it’s been showing until now.

Comments

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Fascinating piece – initially exciting, then worrying. It's an article of faith (pun intended) with some atheist, anti-psi activists that "occultism" is invariable associated with fascists movements. (The Nazis had astrologers! Therefore anyone who uses astrologers are Nazis! The usual logic.) I'd hate to see an interesting new voice associated with groups like this, giving them ammunition. I will hunt down the book and read it with an eye to detecting any sort of implicit right wing ideology.

As for the dire warnings...I don’t want to trivialize the post, but I was reminded of the beginning of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, when the Minister of Magic appears in the Prime Minister’s office to warn him of the growing civil war. The PM asks something like, “But you’re magic. Can’t you just use magic to win?” To which the Minister of Magic replies, “Ah, but the other side has magic too.”

The obvious point being that if the bad guys manage to weaponize psi, the good guys will as well, and develop defenses accordingly. That’s been the pattern with every other weapon throughout human history.

I figure the lack of intense, universal psi has an evolutionary advantage. If we could read each others thoughts unimpeded, if there were no mental privacy, life would be untenable. No doubt, we'd end up killing each other.

In my opinion, one of the biggest holdbacks on mainstream social acceptance of paranormal phenomena are all the fringe groups and individuals that are attracted to it, and the charlatans who exploit the public hunger for affirmation of something they sense, but can't explain. Just when you gain confidence, along comes a con artist or mentally unbalanced type to throw superstitious ice water on the fire.

I've often wished we had a respected private, non profit agency that could draw the lines. Oh wait - we do! The SPR (NOT the American SPR).
The Psi Encyclopedia is a good start, and my hope is it launches other productive endeavors that make credible mainstream discussion of the paranormal possible.

I know all political opinions are subjective and up to the individual but it's interesting to know that some famous parapsychologists were far-right from the past. Walter Franklin Prince and William McDougall both held far-right views. McDougall even held discredited racialist ideas about Aryan superiority - he was a member of the American Society for Psychical Research and later the Boston split-off group set up by Prince.

Cesare Lombroso held racist far right views. Charles Richet was also a white supremacist, supporter of racial segregation and eugenics. This seems to be opposite to Russell Targ and many other recent parapsychologists who seem to be far-left. I guess back then it was just a thing of the times.

I wonder if its relevant to note that the great majority of comedians, columnists and commentators in the UK at least, though doubtless elsewhere, who are typically left leaning in their political outlook (as am I) are also sneeringly atheistic and by extension mocking of all things psi related. In the world of the comedy panel show ghosts, like God, decidedly do not exist, mediums are laughable yet despicable villains, visions are the result of drink and meaningful happenings are all coincidence misunderstood by science ignorant plebs.

I suppose its an extension of anti-authoritarian attitudes towards the Church. But it does appear to accompany leftist political views as surely as God, the devil and occultism are no laughing matter for parts of the political right.

very much appreciated. this glimpse into jorjani's story sounds fascinating, though showing an awfully bizaare twist.
at the risk of sounding clinical and from a big pic perspective, i am not so sure that we 'would all kill each other' if we honed psychic tools. how can we avoid projecting an entire existence of knowing only suppositions re: other's thoughts/motivations onto a scenario which might indeed exponentially raise other tools such as empathy and directness. there would be a polar shift in motivation by default. i dont see how we here now could fathom what that would look like - though the transition could potentially be Terrible. transitions always involve the squishing and reformation of ego. just look how the global market place is transitioning now. still, we shall come out the other side of it at some point.
looking forward to your links to jorjani; thanks again.

Calling them "far right" is a misnomer, historically the idea that nations (peoples) should continue to exist was considered unexeptionable across the political spectrum, and the idea that governments should encourage and fund invaders to destroy their own nations was considered unimaginable treason. Today's public opinions to the contrary are entirely due to the spell cast on the public by concentrated and coordinated media pushing false egalitarian propaganda, disguising the corrupt globalist oligopoly as being in some way democratic.

Not that "democratic" is anything particularly good, how many people under corporate tutelage believe something has little correlation with truth. Indeed, intelligence is formally defined as the difficulty of questions one can be expected to answer correctly; the most difficult questions will only be answered correctly by the most intelligent people, therefore the majority will be wrong on every hard question. There are easily superior systems to universal-suffrage democracy and proposition"nations": rule by the best, meritocracy or "aristocracy" properly speaking (not directly hereditary), or within a democracy, limitation of the franchise to those whose opinions are likeliest to be correct and whose interests are aligned with the nation proper.

The core of magickal practice is not psi but psychology, suggestion, influence, creating and changing world-views. This is nowhere more developed than in modern media propaganda.

It appears that Jorjani also shares the propensity for Aryan domination as well, or at least a racial-essentialist view of the world. From his latest piece on RightOn about Iranian philosophy:

"Although principle texts were forcibly written in Arabic, under the dominion of the Caliphate, nearly all of the thinkers of this so-called ‘Golden Age’ were Persians – in other words, ethnic Aryans. What becomes clear when you take a closer look at this period is the extent to which the Islamic conquest straightjacketed the once promising Indo-European genius of Iran."

Suspicion is warranted when it comes to describing racialized "genius".

What gets me, aside from far right whipper snapper philosophers waxing for a better world away from inconvenient calls for justice and equality, is the sad old ALL SECRETS WILL BE KNOWN idea.

Folks who purport to see the subtle bodies of people (by use of high sense perception as healer Barbara Brenner calls it) report that yes, they can see emotional blocks and even pin point root causes of disease but it's not like they can see you have a beef with your boss or are cheating on your taxes. They may instead see such things as inner conflict manifesting in the aura.

This end to secrets and lies, if such a thing would happen, may be more an ushering in of compassion for others more than the paranoid fantasy of routing out cheats and revealing the dishonest and/or unmasking our own dirty thoughts.

In any case, fine work Robert and welcome back to this blog of yours !

The psi community needs to distance itself from this guy as quickly as possible, especially given the current febrile atmosphere in Western politics. The alacrity in which his book The Spectral Revolution was accepted and lauded by the PA speaks to a certain inferiority complex among our peers, who jump at the chance for vindication from mainstream academics before fully vetting their credentials. More confidence is needed!

"More confidence is needed!"

Exactly the same thought crossed my mind too. I find myself at a complete loss in trying to find any healthy connection between politics and psi. It's like blaming the morality of the atomic bomb on nuclear technology. Psi simply is. It's potential is beside the point. Or am I missing something vital in the permutation? :/

'its' potential. How I miss an edit button. :(

Personally, I feel that all of the material on this page is literally dripping in political opinion. Comments included. Since when has political leanings been a requirement for the validity of phenomena research? The mere idea of politics as some linear line is a misnomer in the first place. They are more like a circle. The further you go toward the extremes, the more they appear the same. Case and point would be Hitler and Stalin. They should be stellar opposites, but in reality were political twins. Best to separate psi and politics completely, because I tend to doubt that it bothers to discriminate between the sides.

Could Matthew Ginty please provide references for the political views of Prince, McDougall, Lombroso, Richet, and Targ? Such would be a useful contribution to the discussion and would help provide some context.

Of course, the discussion of psi in the context of politics is a valid exercise. While the essence of this blog may be psi research, the effects upon society if psi became a respectable academic discipline clearly warrant analysis. These effects are almost certain to be far reaching, and the sooner and more thoroughly we discuss them the better.

Yes indeed. I touched on this in my book Randi's Prize, and hope to expand on it in my next. Behind the technical arguments is a sense that psi belief equals superstition, a subject that has to be tackled, wherever it leads.

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