For the last several decades, the clarion call of conservatism in America (discounting the superstitious lunatic fringe) has been the demand for deregulation of the economic system. A return to the Golden Age before Roosevelt imported the policies of Stalin wholesale and forced hard working business men to abide by laws crafted by irrational collectivists. It may surprise many that I sympathize with these ends. I think the government should interfere as little with our lives as possible. My main problem with deregulation in its current form is that it doesn’t go far enough. We need to extend the success of free market policies into the sphere of our own private lives. As will be seen, this will also lead to vast improvements in the economy, in addition to ameliorating environmental concerns and generally bringing about a more dynamic society.

I will state what everyone has been thinking: we need to deregulate the taking of human life. For too long, since the beginning of what we call “civilization”, in fact, the legal ability to deprive another sentient hominid of biological vitality has been reserved for an unelected elite, often composed of those elements of society least qualified to wield such a power. And what has the “social stability” such a state of affairs admittedly brings about achieved: a mass culture in which the majority of the population spends the bulk of the time not devoted to pointless labor watching films and television programs the main content of which is, wait for it, people killing each other. Clearly, “civilization” has done little more than repress a natural human instinct: the primal need to shoot ones neighbor in the face. We must democratize the power of life and death.

It would be far preferable, indeed it is urgently necessary, to unleash this instinct and allow the natural balances of human relationships to maintain a more organic stability than that provided by our laughable “civilization.” This is a precise analogue to the advances made in economic relations, which have been so surprisingly efficient in bringing about our current state of overwhelming prosperity. In the area of interpersonal, lethal violence, we should expect the same Invisible Hand to guide the process. Allow people to decide, without coercion, whether they will or will not take another human’s life, and they will act in their own rational self-interest, just as they do in the economic arena.

The fact is, bullets are expensive. There is a finite amount of ordnance that a rational individual is apt to expend, based on simple cost/benefit analysis. In the proposed scenario, the decision to shoot or not shoot another will be based not on some metaphysical notion such as the “sanctity of human life” (what does that even mean, really?) but on the hard limits of how many bullets a person currently possesses, the likelihood of obtaining more, and the benefit the individual will derive from a given murder. This will also lead to a preference for less efficient forms of involuntary termination of existence. Stabbing, bludgeoning with bricks, strangling, and allied methods have a success rate far below the brutal fatality acumen of shooting. Thus “victims” will have a far higher chance of surviving than they do in a system that privileges guns by default.

Also note that, in this scheme, no one loses the right to sue anyone for material damages as a result of having a loved one or valued associate iced in the back alley and found with their brains splattered across a graffiti riddled dumpster. Frivolous suits, such as those involving non-material “damages”, and those where the deceased clearly deserved to have their spleen ripped out and fed to wild dogs, will of course have to be tightly monitored. But overall, I think we can trust the system to ensure that no one is unduly harmed by the death of another.

As part of this, we will also need to change the language we use around the act of taking another’s life. Words like “killing” and “murder” are burdened with baggage accrued over millennia. If we are to move forward, it is important to begin with a semantically clean slate. My suggestion is “Anthropocentric Corpse Creation” or “ACC” for short. This serves the dual purpose of emphasizing that “death” is also, considered positively, the beginning of a new state of being, and of creating distance between the act and the hysteria it breeds as a result of thousands of years of bad publicity.

Environmentally, the surplus of decaying matter will be an absolute boon. We are all aware of the deleterious nature of current farming practices. The nutrients provided by our rotting neighbors, family members, and friends, could act as a significant check against the degradation of precious soil. And surely it would give comfort for those “grieving the loss” of someone who was probably just taking up space waiting to die anyway to know that those lives have found a purpose in fertilizing a field, or a beautiful garden that all can enjoy.

Being pragmatic, we know that we can expect more “liberal” and “humanitarian” influences to modify this proposal and corrupt its simplicity and efficiency. We are thus willing to concede, at the outset, one benefit an individual could potentially derive from enthusiastic participation in ACCs. Obviously, a person who enacts an ACC would normally expect rights to whatever economic benefits they might derive from the corpse their labors have produced. However, we are willing to reverse this, and give entitlements to those who can reasonably claim intimate association with the recently deceased.

In the area of agriculture, these benefits are quite substantial. We envision the development of nutrient rich soil from surplus of bodies. One proposed name for this is “humulch,” derived by combing the words “human” and “mulch”.  But I’m not an advertising executive. I’m sure the creative folks from various firms will come up with a name that has the needed cross-demographic appeal.

Be that as it may, we will need to develop a system by which a particular body is given a static value based on the health of the individual at the time of his or her ACC. This value devolves upon the “family” of the deceased, so it becomes in everyone’s best interest to make sure those closest to them are in good physical shape at all times. An unhealthy corpse would be a net loss for these individuals.

We balance this generous safety net with a “cap and trade” system, similar to one of the saner methods of controlling pollution. If an individual opts in to this system, he or she will accept a cap on the number of ACCs they may commit in a year. Any extra “credits” they hold at the end of the year, representing unused ACCs, are theirs to sell to others who are also part of the system at fair market value. This system is totally voluntary, but the possible revenue makes it very attractive to financially conscious ACC enthusiasts.

As with all policies crafted by flawed human beings, this proposal has many ways in which it falls short. But, in the main, it has to be better than the current situation, where an unelected clique, answering only to politicians, is the only group allowed to pursue a basic human need. Those who make protestations about the “sanctity of life” need to take a good hard look at how they actually use their time. Wouldn’t society be much more creative and dynamic if we weren’t sure if we would survive until tomorrow? Such a life is the one we were meant to live, where every moment is enjoyed, every pleasure drunken in like sweet wine.

At least, that’s how it seems to me.

Note: While the absurdity of the foregoing should be obvious, and if we lived in a sane world, a serious author of such a piece would be considered absolutely barking mad, I am well aware that we, in fact, live in a terminally fucked up world and that there will be a few who regard what is suggested here as plausible or even desirable. To those who would use it to support some batshit crazy Libertarian wet dream, I can only say: Fuck you. Get psychological help. You are already a danger to yourself and others. I earnestly hope you do build a separate nation in international waters and find yourselves overrun by pirates until you run back screaming for help. Such a blunt confrontation with reality seems the only way you will ever grow up and join the human race.

 

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Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law

 

Magical ethics is one of those topics that seems to bring out the intellectual sloth in some of the best authors (the less said about the mediocre authors, and the rank and file somnambulists, the better). Generally, a given pundit will fall into one of two camps: extreme statements about the “Law of Three” and karmic retribution on one hand, and those who say that all of that is bullshit, and sometimes you really do need to use magick to hurt someone. There is a small amount of truth in both these sentiments, but the manner in which they are generally framed looks a lot like the point where the particular “authority” stopped thinking. This is true more obvious with the White Lighters, who by and large are simply regurgitating the teachings of their Tradition. But the offhand dismissal of the Camp of EEEEBIL shows the same phenomenon in a more abrasive costume.

The majority of books on the occult published today are written for a Wiccan audience, or are about a variant of Modern Paganism so close to Wicca that it would be indistinguishable to an uninformed reader browsing in a bookstore. Often, even beginner books on ritual magick present ethics in the frame of the Threefold Law, or some cousin of it. Very, very few are targeted at a Thelemic Audience, and those that are often breeze over the topic, devoting a paragraph or two to what is really a nuanced problem.

At the level of language alone, there is obviously a difference between “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” and “And it harm none, do what thou wilt.” The Law of Thelema is unconditional. Harming or not harming another person is not a primary consideration.

The way this is usually handled is to say that, when a person acts according to their True Will, no real harm should come of it. Ones True Will is the Will of God. Since everyone’s Will is also the Divine Will, the result of everyone following their individual Will ought to be harmonious. While I would agree with this in a general sense, I also think it’s a bit superficial and naïve if left to stand alone.

First, there is the issue of ontology. This is exactly the same problem that the Threefold Law and the Western understanding of karma fail to deal with. The Western notion of Karma assumes a balance inherent in the structure of the Cosmos. “As you sew, so shall ye reap.” Basic observation will tell you that this isn’t even generally true. There are any number of individuals who participate in heinous crimes and enjoy vast rewards for doing so. Our entire economy is based on lying to one another. It is quite likely that the people at the top of the pyramid of corruption will continue to prosper long after the rest of us are destitute and fighting one another for scraps in the streets. On a more personal level, we see others getting away with petty acts of dishonesty and even violence. Most of these people will never be caught, if what they are doing is viewed as wrong at all. What distinguishes those who pay for their actions from those who do not is intelligence; only those stupid enough to get caught receive punishment. It is often, if not generally, the “good” people who get fucked over by circumstance, their only consolation that they behaved “rightly.” It is fairly clear that we cannot assume, or even seriously consider with any degree of intellectual honesty, the existence of a Cosmic order than includes moral rewards.

In Book 4, Crowley spoke of Karma this way:

“The Karma of a man is his “ledger.” The balance has not been struck and he does not know what it is; he does not even fully know what debts he may have to pay, or what is owed him; nor does he know on what dates even those payments which he anticipates may fall due.”

….

Karma does not act in this tit-for-tat-way. An eye for an eye is a sort of savage justice, and the idea of justice in our human sense is quite foreign to the constitution of the Universe.

Karma is the Law of Cause and Effect. There is no proportion in its operations. Once an accident occurs it is impossible to say what may happen; and the Universe is a stupendous accident.

We go out to tea a thousand times without mishap, and the thousand-and-first time we meet some one who changes radically the course of our lives for ever.

There is a sort of sense in which every impression that is made upon our minds is the resultant of all the forces of the past; no incident is so trifling that it has not in some way shaped one’s disposition. But there is none of this crude retribution about it. One may kill a hundred thousand lice in one brief hour at the foot of the Baltoro Glacier, as Frater P. once did. It would be stupid to suppose, as the Theosophist inclines to suppose, that this action involves one in the doom of being killed by a louse a hundred thousand times.

This ledger of Karma is kept separate from the petty cash account; and in respect of bulk this petty cash account is very much bigger than the ledger.” (Crowley, Book 4, Part 2,Chap 9)

I could add numerous caveats to this, particularly concerning the inaccuracy of dubbing karma “cause and effect.” But I think the overall point is basically sound. Crowley is saying that karma is a much bigger, more unpredictable factor in the Cosmic order than a simple reward and punishment scenario would allow. (As a side note, those readers familiar with the concept of Dependent Origination might find the fact that this passage is from the chapter on the Pantacle, which uses the weapon as an analog for karma as the sum total of who the magician is, very interesting.)

Going back to the assertion that a global realization of the Law would result in harmony, we certainly can’t act as if we lived in a Utopia where everyone is fully living out their Will. How people might behave in such an ideal state is irrelevant to our lives right now. In fact, we can’t even assume that such a state would look that much different than what we have today. “There is none that shall be cast down or lifted up” (Liber AL, Chap 2 Ver 58.) I don’t think it’s appropriate to say that Thelema posits a formula for an ideal future. Rather, the Book of the Law presents us with a rather troubling prospect: that the Universe we dwell in is already absolutely perfect. “Remember all ye that existence is pure joy; that all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass and are done; but there is that which remains.” (Ibid. Ver 9)

From an ethical perspective, this could lead us to a kind of nihilism. Any framework that is really non-dualistic will take us there; the only thing to be said for such a philosophy is that experience of states beyond the narrow fortress of the ego make any other conclusion untenable. But it is also this anagogic trajectory that gives us a ground on which to build a much firmer foundation for a Thelemic ethic.

For a Thelemite, the concern is not with retribution, or with avoiding harm. Both of these motivations are fundamentally about fulfilling the needs of the false persona, the set of ego projections that an individual weaves between themselves and their genuine, divine nature. They are about wanting not Willing.

Our goal is not to avoid punishment and reap rewards. This is, to be somewhat melodramatic, “slave morality.” Our goal is to uncover our divine nature, whatever that may be, and live from that higher orientation. We eat to that end, sleep to that end, and work to that end. Any other concern is a distraction.

From this perspective, activities such as working negative magick against our enemies are suspect, more often than not worse than useless to us. It may well be that, sometime in our lives, we will need to do harm to someone else, perhaps even kill them, in order to accomplish the Great Work. But how likely is that, really? The more I engage in this strange activity called magick, the more I realize how much my problems and anxieties are about me, not about others. I fail to bring up a concern that later becomes a major point of contention. I ignore a problem until it is overwhelming. The times when I can say that another person has objectively done wrong by me become fewer as time goes on. And even then, devolving to the point of violence seems counterproductive at best. Cursing someone? A puerile waste of time.

We don’t need a fanciful concept of divine retribution to keep us in line, whether it be in magick or in life. We just need to remember that we’ve committed to aligning with the most authentic core of ourselves, rather than the momentary whims of our ego. If we keep our priorities straight, we may even fool others into thinking we’re a “good person.”

 

Love is the law, love under will

 

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law

 For nearly a century, a particular archetype has dominated occult fiction, particularly the sort written by Initiates. I will call it the Dr. Taverner model, after Dion Fortune’s alienist cum Adept. Though the pattern precedes her work, Taverner is the most well-known example of it, and arguably one of the most well executed. The basic archetype, which has seen little variation over the decades, is that of a confident pedant with the sort of character that middle class English people of the 1930s would have called “impeccable.” He (almost never do we see a female version) steps in and solves problems that stump ordinary mortals with wisdom gained from years of walking the Path of the Mysteries.

I think there are several problems with the continued appearance of this archetype. First and most important is that I think we are capable of creating a new character of our own. One that, at the very least, bears some resemblance to the sort of person we are likely to encounter in our post-modern, cynical era. They need not be on the extreme end of moral ambiguity, though that is the direction I tend to take in my own fiction. But in a context such as our own, he or, preferably she, really ought to have a few “spikes.” Even Sherlock Holmes was a drug addict, for instance, and he is a clear antecedent for Taverner and all the Tavenerlets that have followed.

Further, the clones of Taverner show marked genetic deterioration. In many ways, Dion Fortune was a novelist first, and a purveyor of occult teaching second. The same cannot be said of her literary descendants. There are occult detective stories out there that make Bulwer-Lytton’s Zanoni look like a subtle character study.

And, we might as well be blunt about this, in any other literary context a completely self-assured character of “impeccable” morals would be the foil for dramatic or comic irony. We would be waiting for the moment when their pretense comes back to bite them on the ass. When some detail, dismissed as if it were a fly buzzing near the foil’s ear, is revealed to be the fact that the entire affair hangs upon. This is not a post-modern or even modern tradition in storytelling. It goes all the way back to good old, Aristotelian Tragedy. The general flaw was called Hubris, subdivided into different variations, each adding a particular tone to the story.  To have such an individual breeze through their predicament with little doubt as to the outcome is, simply put, bad narrative form.

The point of experiencing a story is to watch a character or group of characters undergo some fundamental change. Television shows and special-effects showcase movies often forget this, but the best ones do not. The shows we remember, the movies we watch over and over again, do not simply pander to our desire to see shit get blown up or heroes battle impressive monsters. What Samwise in The Lord of the Rings might call “stories that matter” invariably show us a protagonist who has not only overcome the obstacles set before them, but also become a different person in the process.

Dion Fortune’s best work, The Sea Priestess or The Goat Foot God, for example, does a fine job of this. The protagonists in both of those books end the story in a place very far from where they were at the beginning. And while there are shades of the Infallible Adept in Vivian Le Fay Morgan, nothing of the sort can be found in Goat Foot God. If you’re going to mimic a better writer, why not choose to imitate her best work, rather than her embryonic first effort?

Perhaps it is sentiment, but I think it goes back to pandering and egotism. The Dr. Taverner model is a very effective version of what is called a “Mary Sue,” a sock puppet for the author. A Mary Sue actually does two disservices, one to the author, the other to the reader. It allows the author to reify her ego, rather than explore the parts of her that need to express themselves in the story. She is effectively asking the reader to either accept her received wisdom, or to actually identify with her, or both. This demonstrates a certain neurotic insecurity as well as a total lack of understanding as to what fiction is really there for. The reader, by either identifying with or succumbing to fawning admiration of the author, is robbed of the cathartic experience of living through a pivotal experience with a well thought out character.

What I’m arguing for is not necessarily the retiring of Dr. Taverner type characters. I think it is more important that occultists who venture to create fiction at least attempt to learn something about the craft of narrative composition before they foist their works upon the public. If you’re going to go the detective/psychiatrist/fill-in-the-blank- who-is-also-an-Adept route, at least make them a person. Give them flaws. Take the time to construct a psychologically believable human being. We owe that to the reader, and to ourselves.

Love is the Law, Love under Will

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law

I have a friend who says she wants to give the internet back. “Thanks, that was fun. I’m over it.” While I’m the type of person who feels like a limb is missing if he’s left without access to the Borg Collective, I can sympathize with her as well. The internet, for all the ways it allows us to communicate, for all the opportunities it gives people to share their creative work to a much broader audience than they would have been able to even as recently (relatively speaking) as when I was in high school, is also kind of like the gym teacher who left the room when your class played dodge ball on a rainy day. He wants to believe you’re just getting your exercise, rather than doing a ninety minute crash re-creation of the Stanford Prison Experiments.

The internet is a champion enabler of the Inner Jerk. Not only are you allowed to act like a complete prick online, you will be applauded for it. Watch your Facebook feed for an hour. Scrolling before your eyes will be a cross section of just how glib, insensitive, and self-righteous a peer group will encourage their comrades to be.

Provided they agree with what’s being said, or, more often, captioned over the creepiest still of Gene Wilder some enterprising sociopath could pirate. The Inner Jerk is happiest, after all, within the cozy gated community provided by a Circle Jerk. When the “likes” fall like bukkake mana from heaven, then doth the Inner Jerk swoon with the joy of momentary validation, yeah, the joy of momentary validation.

Those of us who write (however irregularly-shut the fuck up) about subjects that touch on spiritual communities, and spiritual development in general, need to be especially aware of this. The tendency is often to go the opposite route, to be so saccharine and “uplifting” that the reader gets a dizzy case of insulin shock. This actually ends up coming across as a more subtle form of bullying, in my opinion. Never saying anything negative, and proscribing negativity on the part of others, pretty much guarantees that everyone will settle into an almost numb state of accepting every ridiculous opinion as having the same value as a well thought out one grounded in facts.

But writing about topics such as enlightenment, spiritual growth, or whatever you want to call it, is a very tricky double-edged chainsaw to manage. First there’s the inherent impossibility of putting the most important insights into words that don’t read like a bumper sticker. Then there’s the obvious question of “who the fuck am I to even talk about this?” This is important, because the written word carries with it the implication of authority. Even when a person can comment on a post, the fact of being physically distant from the author, usually unaware even of what he or she looks like, puts the writing is a space that is cluttered with all the baggage attendant upon The Word. And of course you have to try to write something that people will actually want to read. On the internet. Where everyone else seems to get off on being an asshole, and there’s a certain “voice” that folks expect a critical piece to affect.

I’m pretty sure there’s not a one-size-fits-all way to handle this. It really boils down to being more aware of what’s going on inside you when you write, and the impact it is likely to have. Since this is a function of how aware you are generally, it seems the best approach is to just keep working on yourself, and trust that what comes out is, at worst, a record of where you were at when you wrote it.

Until some dipstick comes across a five-year-old post of yours and you end up in some cyber-version of a past life regression. Which is kinda fun, in a way that also sucks.

Love is the Law, Love under Will

Readers of this blog will be glad to know that I am not dead (yet) nor have I been arrested or indefinitely detained by Homeland Security. I have, in fact, been occupied with the writing of my first novel, Lady Midnight. It is being published through Concrescent Press.

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Fifteen years ago, they murdered her lover and pinned the crime on her. Now, Andrea Styx uses her psychic abilities and occult training in the service of an organization dedicated to the downfall of a corrupt system. But the arrival of a new protege brings her past screaming to her own back door, and awakens doubts about the purpose to which she has dedicated her life.

She has a plan.

The Cosmos has other ideas…

It is a different take on the occult fiction genre. Darker, edgier, more character oriented. Moral ambiguity abounds. There is no “Dr. Taverner” here.

You can purchase it from the publisher here or from Amazon

Dear OPD,

Please allow me to be frank at the outset: I get it. I realize that your bread is pretty much buttered entirely by representatives or interests otherwise linked to the financial institutions that rule this nation. And I realize that “social injustice” is, for you, an abstraction at best. That there may be a connection between rising street crime and the fallout of actions taken by the monied interests you ultimately serve has probably not entered into your thinking. You have a job to do, for which you are paid and average of 64k a year, roughly $9500 dollars more than the median income for a family living in Oakland. This is because you police one of the most violent cities in America, and it is hard to begrudge you your combat pay. And, so long as the ruling class sees fit to continue its rapaciousness, that violent crime is likely to increase, which translates as a steady (and steadily increasing) paycheck for you.

So, sure, I can see why you would go along with an order to disperse a crowd of protesters. It’s not as if they can make an offer that will stand up against the compensation you receive for doing little odd jobs like that. Not to mention the overtime. Besides, it gives you a chance to pull out all those cool, paramilitary toys you’ve been making us pay for.

However, I would urge you to consider two things. First, you seem to have mistaken the Occupy Wall Street movement for another configuration of the same college students and itinerant activists that are the routine attendees at most direct actions. This is not the case. A significant percentage of the people involved in various Occupations are “normal,” middle class individuals. Some, like Scott Olsen, whose skull you fractured Tuesday night, are veterans of wars in which the enemy often shoots back, with roughly equal firepower and numbers. They have spent their lives, and risked their lives, trying to build and defend a better world for the next generation.

Because of your confusion, you have elected to employ tactics more aggressive than even those used to subdue over 40,000 protesters at the Seattle WTO convention in 1999. Tear gas and flash grenades tossed at veterans and women in wheelchairs doesn’t just make you look like a bunch of lowlife, dirty, motherfucking pigs. It makes you look like incompetent and clinically insane lowlife, dirty, motherfucking pigs. Honestly, you surveyed and allegedly checked the sanitation conditions in that encampment for over a week. Didn’t you notice the rather less crunchy than average composition of the crowd? Did anything you saw seriously merit expending more resources than you probably will all year on, say, sex trafficking?

Second, your job is secure now. Guess what, Wakenhut has guys who can do your job, and make money for the “%1” while doing it. Do you think being a bigger asshole will win you points at a negotiations table when the question boils down to their CEO’s bottom line? You are not exempt from trends of the world around you. One day, it will be your job that is downsized. One day, it will be you who loses his pension to corporate malfeasance. One day, your child will be denied access to education because your credit got destroyed by the bursting of some speculative bubble.

You are not part of the ruling class, as much as they may require your services right now. When it becomes in their best interest to eliminate your career, cut your benefits, or foreclose on your home, they will. And when that day comes, you will understand what all those people you tear gassed were on about.

Or maybe it won’t take that sort of clue by four. Maybe you’ll think about it, and realize where your best interests are, and at the very least stand down if not make plans to arrest every bank CEO in the immediate area.

And maybe pigs can fly, even lowlife, dirty, clinically insane and incompetent motherfucking pigs.

Sincerely,
James French

The suspicion begins to grow in you when you reach adolescence, if it hasn’t already. You begin to feel a growing unease with the stories you’ve been told about the “way the world is.” Religious instruction ceases to make sense. The ethics you were taught seem notably absent and even actively opposed among the most successful of adults. Something is wrong. You begin to think that you’ve been lied to.

It is difficult to face this feeling. Most people just shunt it to the side and take comfort in whatever soothing sophistries their given adult authorities provide, or simply acquiesce to the present charade until they too buy into the mythos held dear by their particular tribe. These latter are marked by a bitterness that the innocent submissives do not share. For theirs is the mind turned upon itself, and they will defend their delusions more vigorously the louder the cognitive dissonance.

I will state unequivocally that I believe every such claim of deceit, no matter what the mythos, to be true. Unless ones parents are particularly brilliant and self aware, they are unlikely to have thoroughly examined their assumptions about reality to the degree that they could defend it against rigorous examination. For most, the thought of doing so never enters their minds. It is too close to their heart, too self evident. We cannot blame our early providers and teachers for selling us a half-baked narrative. They were sold on it themselves, and have little else to pass on to us.

For instance, I was raised with a Conspiracy Theory, masquerading as a religion. This Conspiracy was of a Cosmic scale, and featured no one less malignant that the Archenemy of God Himself. Satan was the great tempter and deceiver. It was His desire to turn us all away from the Love of God in order to get back Him for being tossed out of Heaven for asking a few inconvenient questions and starting a war when He didn’t like the answers. The Devil’s tricks were legion, and He had corrupted both a multitude of competing churches as well as the music industry and Proctor and Gamble. His most clever deception, it was said, was making people believe He didn’t exist.

Imagine this mindfuck, if you can. You’re faced with a wholly fantastic narrative that sounds like a comic book or a dark fantasy novel. It posits the existence of an Absolute Evil, intent on turning every living soul away from Good. It requires you to avoid two thirds of ordinary interactions with other human beings as “sinful.” For a person who has looked at their own foibles and seen how unlikely it is that any group of individuals wold be infallible conduits for Truth, regardless of the antiquity of their assertions, the story seems too clean, too easy. Just give your life to this Jesus character and you can be rewarded when all the sinners are smitten with the Sword of Heaven. They call this the Sin of Pride, which was the Devil’s sin, if you think about it. And then they hit you with the idea that not believing in the Devil is the same thing as following Him wholeheartedly. The final message is “think for yourself and you are damned.”

Clearly, all of this is a lie. There is no Final Judgement awaiting us, and there is no Devil. This is a story that people made up to make sense of a chaotic universe and a society that never stops changing, never stops reinventing Truth. That explanation probably needs an essay of its own, but that will have to do.

Because realizing you’ve been lied to isn’t enough. In fact, in terms of soul and intellect, you’re in more danger than you were when you believed in the lie. For starters, the specific details of the lie may have fallen to the sword of criticism, but the pattern is still there. I spent years cathecting various “revolutionary” political positions, groping for a replacement apocalypse in which the Devil Capitalists would fall in a Final Battle with the Workers and Freethinkers of the World. You have to be smarter than the reaction patterns you were raised with. Otherwise, you just end up hitting on something that recapitulates those patterns in a new form.

“Thinking for yourself” is a dangerous and difficult enterprise. Quite often, the very act is filtered through layers of unconscious assumptions gleaned from the worldview that was the problem in the first place. “Liking” an idea or ideology is actually a danger signal. It means that it confirms your basic assumptions, nothing more. Be suspicious of it.

I think there is a fairly clear conclusion that one will arrive at after looking at enough philosophies, ideologies, belief systems, cults, or other mental constructs. This is that no set of ideas conceived by individuals with a necessarily partial understanding of the Universe can ever be all inclusive or Absolute. But neither can it be utterly bereft of merit. It is highly unlikely that even some hideously stupid notion arose in someone’s mind without some insight. What happened in between that insight and the final draft is another matter.

We live in an era when cynicism and hostile dismissal of ideas is a kind of default position. “Thinking for yourself” and “subvert the dominant paradigm” have gone from stimulating ideas to suffocating injunctions that ignore the difficulties of both, especially when the general approach is to try to find a new paradigm to follow, usually one that someone else came up with first. “The dominant paradigm” changes depending on whom you speak to, and always seems to exclude the speaker.

In other words, we seem to live in a meme-sphere in which being an “outsider” is taken to be a normative injunction, regardless of any material facts which might make such a claim ridiculous. One can claim to be a “maverick” even if they are promoting the most blatantly reactionary ideology imaginable.

It would appear that what is needed is not “rebellion” but simply learning to actually think again. This requires real effort, however, and is thus unlikely to catch on unless someone can find a way to do it that allows you simultaneously vedge out in front of “Survivor.”