Deontological Ethics and the Abyss

The topic of Thelemic ethics is something of a mine field. This becomes clear somewhere in the second chapter of the Book of the Law, where we are told to, among other things, “stamp down the wretched and the weak.” Thelema is said to be “the Law of the Strong,” and Crowley and those who follow his interpretations of the Holy Books closely would say that this emphatically and unequivocally means that that which benefits the “strong” is “good” and that which would tend to bolster the “weak” is bad.

There are numerous problems with this, beyond the more obvious carnage it would entail if taken to its logical conclusion. “Weak” and “strong” are ill defined, to start with. Generally speaking “strength” in this context is defined by the capacity of an individual to find their True Will and do it. Once the fledgling Thelemite finds this Golden Ticket, they are said to be infallible. They’re little God Kings now, capable of deciding what is “right” and “wrong” based on the advice of the little supercharged Jimminy Cricket known as the Holy Guardian Angel.

This agent dependent ethics is the reason many say that Thelemic ethics are opposed to deontology, which is what over educated people call the idea that some acts are inherently right or wrong regardless of the consequences. The True Will of the individual is the only arbiter of what is right for them. Of course, this “anti-deontology” is, in fact, an individualized version of Divine Command Theory which is itself a deontological position. But we’ll let that slide for now.

Instead, I want to focus on the problems associated with having a subjectivist ethics based on a putative and vaguely defined spiritual experience. These do not arise from the relativism of such a proposition. Rather, they involve something much more subtle. That is, the consequences of a semantic environment imbued with self-centeredness supporting transpersonal experience. Quite simply, unless one starts with a rather loose and metaphorical relationship with that semantic environment, they are likely to sabotage their own efforts and fall victim to “Magusitis,” that near ubiquitous syndrome found in internet chat rooms the world over.

Lets look at the two big landmark experiences in Thelema, Knowledge and Conversation and The Abyss. The first involves a surrender of ego. This is acknowledged even by the more muscular fascist Thelemites. Only they would say “false self” or (in true crypto-political cultese) “false consciousness.” The implication being that, regardless of the fact that Knowledge and Conversation is a personal experience unique to everyone, everyone’s Holy Guardian Angel agrees with Crowley circa The Law is For All. (We will again pass by with only this small digression the fact that this is still well within the province of deontology. In this case, it is Crowley who is setting the standard.) So, before earning the great cosmic wedgie, one is lost in the throws of a “false self” who needs a good talking to from their HGA. Afterward, they can use large words incoherently and call on Goetic spirits in an unfocused manner with the best of them.

Of course, a real surrender of ego, one that would be acknowledged as such by the rest of the world’s inner traditions, actually involves saying that the intellect is not enough, and that reason is imperfect. It involves saying “I don’t know and I’m willing to learn,” rather than “I have had the experience I am supposed to have had and now have the attitudes that people who say they’ve had that experience tell me to.” The first is letting go of a previous way of thinking, the latter is simply changing out the contents of that way of thinking and reifying them around an ecstatic experience.

Now, it’s time to break out the Ken Wilber. Take a look at this pretty picture:

This shows us the basic reason why it is a problem if we reify a spiritual experience around a particular map if we want to achieve something truly transcendent. Each state (the horizontal axis) can be experienced at any developmental stage (vertical axis). So we can achieve KC of HGA at a Mythic stage and think we are talking to Jesus or Aiwass or a Secret Chief. At one of the higher stages we would relate to that experience quite differently.

A highly literal reading of Liber AL speaks to a limited number of neurological circuits. Basically, the territorial ones. Among other things, these involve protection and support for the ego. They are narcissistic in the clinical sense, concerned only with the base drives of the individual organism. Given the above, it is unlikely that such a literal mapping would lead to a trans-egoic experience, but ego inflation.

This is the trap. Because if you achieve KC of HGA and you only end up reifying what you came into the experience with, the next experience, the Abyss, is going to sting. Hard. With Knowledge and Conversation you surrender your lesser ego to inclusion with the greater ego and the divinity beyond. At the Abyss you surrender even that. What would be the logical result of arriving at the edge of that Nothing with a stack of books you don’t want to let go of, dressed in heavy occult finery.

You will fall, and get spat out again. As one of the unfortunate members of the Black Brotherhood. This is not a pleasant stage of existence. It is death worse than death.

All of which can be avoided by taking the actual opposite position to deontology: consequentialism. That is, that the rightness or wrongness of an action depends on its consequences. Door number one leads to heavy ego reification and the Black Brotherhood. Door number two leads to actual transcendence.

One need not abandon Thelema to do this. Only see that there are traps laid, and to avoid them with a little critical thinking and logical extrapolation.

1 comment
  1. 93
    Great post. It was clear and concise. I agree completely but I would add another dimension. That of the individual and the colective and the supposed “tension” between values (or ethics) that lead only to the improvement of the individual and the values (or ethics) aimed at co-existing with others in society.

    The way Thelema achieves such union is this: The True Will is a formula obtained by calculating two things:
    1.- The properties of the star, how it’s made of. Because this will tell you how it’s orbit could be.
    2.- The orbit of other stars and it’s gravitational pull, because this plays a big role in the direction of the star.

    Who I am and who They are equals= True Will. This is true I think in a basic level, prior to the spiritual achievements.

    93 93/93

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