This article is Part II of a three-part dialogue between Daniel Miller and Zero HP Lovecraft. Read Part I here, and Part III here. To read the full dialogue together, click here.
Dialogue: DC Miller vs Zero HP Lovecraft, Part II
Daniel Miller: The triumph of the technological society is incontestable. Nonetheless, what is also increasingly clear is that this society is now in crisis. One can speak of a total crisis, of a crisis in every domain. The totalitarianism now extending throughout the world is the result.
The essence of our problems is metaphysical. We do not have the conceptual language or the metaphysical faculty for grasping the realities which now confront us, so we have to recover it, or repair it. You spoke earlier about metaphysical principles being manifested in people “over whom they ostensibly supervene.” What you are describing is an ideal society, organized according to varnas, or callings. The tragedy of the masses, this figure which arrives on the stage of the world with modernity, is precisely complete alienation from metaphysical principles.
Your commitment to positivism and materialism is itself an expression of alienation, as you admit. Recognizing their inadequacy, you continually back away, attempt to evade the implications, or address the limits of these discourses but you have no means of doing so beyond invoking your own judgments, or it amounts to the same thing, your sense of unease. Your acuteness of feeling, and simultaneously, your paralysis, gives your work its disturbing and uncanny qualities. You are issuing reports, amounting to signals of distress, from inside the cave. You are skeptical, furthermore, that there is anything outside the cave, and it is not even certain that you desire to leave. You are almost a fictional character, traversed by the contradictions and deadlocks of the contemporary world, which you capture with unusual lucidity, to the point of almost standing as their spokesman.
From the other side of the aisle, I am not sure if you are charging me with an intolerant demand for purity and a correlative intolerance of dissent. What is strange is that I find myself identifying with this charge, but on another level – and I’m also skeptical that any such demand is driving contemporary political developments. Has one been articulated? What we are facing is a volatile mixture of fanaticism, cynicism and derangement trailing the disintegration of political, intellectual and moral structures. Evidently, this phenomenon also drives disintegration, by fuelling persecutory dynamics and incentivizing ethical defection. This phenomenon is not at all restricted to the so-called Left.
When I ask myself how I would like to structure society, as if this decision was mine, I can only think in terms of balance, on the one hand between principles, and on the other, between forces. Ultimately the only proposal I can really articulate in terms of a government is rule by the wise, which seems like almost the furthest extreme from our present conditions. The truth of the matter is that a healthy republic or monarchy resembles each other more closely than healthy and unhealthy versions of what is nominally the same system. This recognition shifts the issue from the problem of the correct ideology, and towards the problem of virtue and the cultivation of virtue. This isn’t a topic I have ever seen you address.
Zero HP Lovecraft: When I refer to “how society should be structured” I am not speaking of a specific political arrangement. As you observe, “healthy” political structures resemble each other more than they resemble “unhealthy” political structures, regardless of such things as separation of powers or whatever political formulas one wishes to invoke, whether it’s the divine right of kings or the will of the people or what have you. Tyranny and oppression may emanate from the rulers of society, but they are enacted primarily by our peers; by our friends, our families, our coworkers and colleagues, and they do this in accordance with the norms of the society that contains them. Those norms are in part set by the upper echelons of our society, by those who occupy various newsrooms and boardrooms, but all of those people are also in thrall to those norms they enforce.
I recently read an interview you conducted with CJ Hopkins in which he observed that these norms and their enforcers are a hydra, ergo, it is impossible to kill it by chopping off one or more heads. I do think that if a majority of those heads were replaced by /ourguys/, it would be possible to shift those norms in a direction that you and I would both find much more favorable. “Rule by the wise” is a contradiction to most people whose heads are filled with modern ideas, and I agree this is desirable – but first one needs to have an understanding of what constitutes wisdom, and how to identify it.
To the charge of being skeptical about the existence of cave exteriors, I will plead guilty. Outside the cave is only another cave. What I propose instead is a project of remodeling. But I’ll also be the first to admit that if the norms of the ‘Twitter Right’ were elevated into the place of cultural centrality that ‘the Left’ (as I understand them) occupies today, we would only be trading one tyranny for another. Wisdom is exceedingly rare.
The aim of classical education, as exemplified by the Greek Paideia was the cultivation of virtue, or arete, according to the ideal of Kalos kagathos, the beautiful and the good, which is more or less what we mean here when we say healthy. The aim was to train citizens to be capable of defending and maintaining the polis, conceived as an ethical structure, on the basis of loyalty to permanent values and their own power of judgement, or Phronesis.
The problem you recognize with regards to contemporary norms concerns the collapse of this structure, following the collapse in the ability to recognize permanent values. The aim of modern education — at best — is the transmission of technical objects of knowledge, not the cultivation of character. Young people are trained in the acquisition of skills to become apolitical units in a technocratic society. This training has an anti-ethical character, which is directed away from the exercise of independent judgement and towards a kind of moral anarchy in which the assertion of any normative ethical claim, or hierarchical aesthetic judgement, is conceived as repressive, if not fascistic. What is curious is this model doesn’t result in a libertarian free for all, but the elaboration of a new set of entirely negative regulations occupied now only with policing transgressions — as opposed to aiming for greatness, which is itself now a transgression.
In recent years the defence of this reality has increasingly been identified with the global Left, with the online Right reacting in a variety of ways. Many things can, and have been, said about this opposition, but it seems to me that ultimately the deepest conflict is not here. Stated ideological allegiances, which can change at any time, do not supply any reliable way of identifying virtue. Individuals pin colours to their masts for different reasons, and may change them when the circumstances change. What exists beyond conformity to the official narrative or signalled opposition to the same is character. From that perspective, it isn’t altogether clear to me who /ourguys/ are.
I’m very skeptical about the possibilities of mass education, or at least, of formal schooling, to fix anything. I think when it comes to moral lessons about how people are supposed to act towards each other, or what they are supposed to expect from each other, they learn more these days from television than from anything else. The format of modern schooling is the only lesson it really teaches, which is the lesson of how to occupy a desk and do meaningless white-collar work. Mass education is the industrialization of school, and I question whether such a system can ever instill virtue in people at scale.
I want to dispute the claim, however, that modern education has “an anti-ethical character, which is directed away from the exercise of independent judgement in the service of a kind of moral anarchy.” I think there are very clear moral judgements in both our schooling system and in the wider culture they are designed to serve, but those morals are inverted from things we would like to recognize as good. We are talking about people who believe that ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’ are the most important things, followed very closely by ‘the environment’. All of these symbols have precise meanings to the people who use them, meanings to which we would likely object. The word equality has fallen out of favor, yes. People now prefer ‘equity’ – a word which means, in Orwell’s formulation, that some are more equal than others.
Similarly, when they speak of ‘the environment’, what they mean is that people should accept various forms of privation and austerity, overseen by technocrats, and born of a corrupted scientific process that is divorced from reality, feeding instead on its own incentives to perpetuate itself into a world-swallowing leviathan. I know that you know this. But the point is that it’s not moral anarchy at all, there are things that are valued morally, there are duties that people perceive themselves as having. Wearing a mask because of Covid is a recent example: the people doing it very much see it in terms of good and evil. They are sanctimonious about these things, but they aren’t cynical.
Others may perceive left and right differently, but to me if you recognize that there is merit in a “hierarchical aesthetic judgement” then you are inescapably of the right, because the underlying principle of all leftward movements, be they economic, sexual, or anything else, is to effect a great leveling of all mankind; no one above anyone else, no one better or worse. This is not possible, of course, because wherever there is leveling, there must be a special class of people who oversee and enact the leveling. This is an inherent flaw in all egalitarian societies, but it won’t stop people who subscribe to these principles from trying to burn down the whole world in order to rebuild it. To be “on the right” is to oppose this movement at a moral and metaphysical level: that is what I mean by /ourguys/. I think it’s a mistake to try to project these things onto the party politics of any country today, although of course there are parties that map onto this spectrum.
Do terms like equality, diversity and the environment possess precise meanings? It seems to me they have very vague, often contradictory meanings. Generally speaking, they are not available for rational analysis, or explanation. Their meaning instead is primarily emotional, if not liturgical. They represent sectarian watchwords that signal submission to power, as opposed to terms with noetic content. The meaning of this language is not to clarify but derange.
This same point holds with respect to the new rituals which have been established around this so-called pandemic: these are acts of superstition, not religion. I agree these people see things in what they see as moral terms. But they are not seeing clearly or even really thinking, except in reference to the force of social pressure. I call this anarchic because principles are not involved, which is why these people can’t be reasoned with, and also why they have no memory. To change their mind, you have to completely reconstruct it, which is extremely difficult and sometimes dangerous.
You claim the Left is the force of a levelling process against a Right which stands for hierarchy. It is useful to emphasize here that hierarchy means sacred order, or order of principles, as opposed to simply social order. The essence of the conflict must be spiritual in nature, which is to say these forces necessarily traverse political instantiations. From this angle, I find it very difficult to see the opposition mounted by the online Right as anything more than sporadic. A significant part of this sphere remains content to entertain itself with the crudest expressions of racism and misogyny. Another part is defined by opportunism and casuistry, and abandons ethical positions as soon as they cease to be convenient. What defines the online Right spiritually is a sense of defeat, combined with resentful contempt for the victors, or the slaves of the victors, no doubt with some justification. What defines it theoretically are materialist postulates, a vision of politics as a zero-sum tribal war, and myths from the nineteenth and twentieth century. Is this assessment unfair?
Diversity has a meaning, even a rational one, it just has nothing to do with the dictionary definition. Nearly every progressive will look at a picture of a group of dark-skinned African women and proclaim “oh, how wonderfully diverse!” – this is not a contradiction. Diversity means to them that the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. It’s an extremely Christian principle (and to me, the worst of Christianity) only it has been, as you say, fitted into a materialistic framework. The online right has a long history of pointing out how deliciously racist it is to venerate diversity in this way, because of its implicit assumption that dark-skinned African women etc. are not only last, but that they always will be. The trick of it is that to speak this plainly would be racist within the progressive framework, so it remains forever as an undistributed middle. But for someone who doesn’t hold progressive piety, its logic is simple and clear.
We could provide a similar analysis for the other moral waypoints in progressive thought. Each of them has a simple, precise meaning which demands that, as part of its sanctification, it cannot be spoken, because to speak it would be to violate it. These contradictions are hardly unique to progressivism. The particular evil of it is that while traditional faiths contain their contradictions in the spirit realm, where they barely impact everyday life (caves within caves), progressivism must locate its contradictions in the material realm, where they matter a lot. There are many ways in which the thing pointed at by BLM/LGBTQ/Climate Justice are different from ‘classic’ religions, but they have all of the attributes I would expect from a federation of denominations with overlapping doctrines: they have priesthoods, liturgies, saints, organizations, tithes, taboos, eschatologies, evangelism, and foundational texts.
The thing they lack is formal awareness of themselves as a fundamentally religious movement, and this is to their benefit. It doesn’t matter if they “are not seeing clearly;” clarity by your reckoning or mine has no bearing on the internal logic of it, or on the subjective experience of the faithful. Pointing out the contradictions is useful and can be effective rhetoric against it, to a certain type of person. All of the things you are saying can be effective.
As for your second charge, I must, regretfully, agree with (some of) your analysis. The opposition mounted by the online right is indeed sporadic. Arguably there are very few of us who were even alive when the battle was being fought. The important political fights were lost in the 1920s, 60s, and 70s, and the rest has been mostly cleanup, in a sense. The events of the 2016 presidential election are instructive here. There is a huge potential for right-wing ideology to capture minds if it is allowed to propagate. A small group of people with a knack for propaganda could and did use the internet to amplify their voice and drive actual electoral change, (what that is worth is maybe more debatable) but very quickly we also learned that we were fighting in enemy territory, and now that potential has been mostly dampened and lost. We are never going to organize and rise up or win through any kind of activism. Rightists have had fantasies of this for decades and they have never come to anything, because these tactics are antithetical to the ways of life we idealize.
No one has any idea what the right solution to our plight is, not me, not any of the pundits certainly, not Yarvin or BAP or any blogger or Substack writer besides. The best thing any of us can hope for at the moment is that we continue to exist, to encourage and support each other, and to look for an exit. I don’t mean an individual exit. At this stage it is possible to live in places where one is relatively unharassed by progressive insanity. You can still get married and raise a family, though one increasingly feels the need to homeschool. The only real limits on achieving personal excellence are internal, and I think there are many in the online Right who are motivated to make this kind of journey by what they see and hear online.
Do we have contempt for our rulers and their pets? Of course we do. How can anyone reach for something higher if he does not know how to despise himself? How can we dream of a better society if we cannot despise society? The racism and misogyny are necessary elements of our counterculture, because they are both funny and true. Anyone who wields racism without humor is not one of us. There are real psychological differences between people of different races, and we have precisely two ways, collectively, of dealing with that: we can either kill each other, or learn to laugh about it. I choose laughter. Progressives choose killing. I fully expect things to get worse before they get better, but there are more, many more than you think, who read us and laugh at what we have to say. Those people tend to be young. They will grow up and remember. That is our best hope.