This article is Part III of a three-part dialogue between Daniel Miller and Zero HP Lovecraft. Read Part I here, and Part II here. To read the full dialogue together, click here.
Dialogue: DC Miller vs Zero HP Lovecraft, Part III
Daniel Miller: The theorization of the contemporary Left as a religious movement follows from a misconception of religion. The Left is superstitious, not religious: the distinction comes from Cicero, who identifies the latter with Cultus Deorum, “the cultivation of the Gods,” and the attitude that the Gods are benevolent partners of mortals regarding the management of the world. The idea of religion is what Cicero calls the Pax Deorum, the peace of the Gods, that is, peace between Gods and mortals, which is also to say, peace of mind.
Superstition, on the other hand, is the antithesis and wreckage of religious thought: it incorporates religious elements, but in a broken way, just as a car wreck has a steering wheel, a gas tank and an engine, wheels, a hood, etc. but you can’t drive it on the highway. For Cicero, superstitio is the “empty fear of the gods.” Seneca writes “religio honours the Gods, superstitio wrongs them.” You can see the difference in Greek myth. The Olympian Gods are conceptual paradigms, who represent ideas in their relations. They rise up and overthrow the Titans, who represent non-conceptual, primitive forces. The myth narrates the story of the civilizing process and the victory of mind, Every hero in Greek myth likewise wins a victory over superstition.
What is today imagined as the religion of the Left is closer to animism than religious thought. It is superstitious to the point of paranoia, it believes in supernatural contagion, idolatry, fetishism, demonology. It is both destructive, and self-destructive. It represents, in effect, random emotional impulses projected into symbols and mantras. It has no consistency, no cosmology, and it produces no peace.
The inability to distinguish between authentic religion and this hideous parody extends from a positivist paradigm that represents the levelling process in action. This same levelling process underpins social media which reduces the complexity of social interaction to an essentially flat surface. The role played by the language of racism in this medium, or by transgression more generally, is extremely complex, since it concerns the degree to which cyberspace combines political, psychological and fantastical elements into a screen which is also a mirror.
The proliferation of contemporary ‘anime’ racism which defines social media can’t be examined apart from the fanatical ‘antiracism’ of the contemporary regime, which, as you correctly observe, hasn’t succeeded in reducing intraracial conflicts. Indeed, one must conclude this was never the intention: divide et impera has been a tactic for some time. The problem is how to respond to this. Anyone who has ever spent time in blue-collar environments, or outside of liberal enclaves, will know that racist jokes and banter is a social lubricant in bridging difference. But the humour of a joke depends on context, which is what social media destroys.
What’s also significant, and tends to be downplayed, is the extent to which contemporary identitarian classifications are not natural categories but rather political determinations indexed according to a privilege defined by their proximity to the regime. This is obvious from terms like ‘People of Colour’ or LGBTQ, which amalgamate into synthetic blocks completely different groups and people – but it is also revealed when former Vice President Biden claims that if you don’t vote for him, “you aren’t black.” Another kind of question comes into play here since an attempt to police language is even more undesirable than distasteful expression, and might be impossible. Still, the desire of the online anon Right to indulge in language best suited to a men’s room wall, even as you recognize you are speaking to the young, seems to me to be a symptom of regression, and a sterile and unbalanced agitation.
Zero HP Lovecraft: The key thing about taking a functionalist approach is that we have to consider what the relevant attributes really are. A car and a smouldering pile of rubble both have a steering wheel, a gas tank, a hood, etc, but as you say, only one of them can actually go. And indeed, if we look at progressivism today, it is moving very fast, and other supposedly ordered religions are not. I also admire the great men of the past, but there are many facets of the modern world that are fundamentally different from what they saw and reasoned about. I would love to hear what Cicero and Seneca would make of the modern world, but the fact is that their philosophies were developed before industrialization, before agricultural post-scarcity, before plastic, before radio, television and the internet. As long as these things are here, they alter the landscape in important ways that I doubt anyone truly understands.
I have been accused in the past of pie-in-the-sky idealism with some of my views. We all tend to have certain, shall we say, philosophical commitments that help us make sense of the world in our own way, but one of the things I think the internet reveals to us is how far the average person is, not only from having a hardened conception of “superstitio” and “religio” – but from even being capable of making the distinction. Especially when it comes to the idea of mass dissemination of ideology, of the religious or the superstitious variety, the end product will be a series of simple maxims and stories. And if you and I both had root access to what those stories and maxims are, (the ones that loom large in mass consciousness) I claim we would write them very similarly.
But that said, I think the things you call juvenile really are essential, for the same reason I think people need simple stories and maxims by which to live, because without them, that is, without simple stories that harden certain realities about women and also people of different races, you find yourself on a slippery slope towards all of the “emancipatory” and levelling impulses that I wish to oppose in the first place. Some truths, many truths, in fact, are crass and can only be shared among men, and because they are crass truths, they must be shared crassly. C. S. Lewis wrote “to be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown-up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence.” What you call juvenile I call primal. These are things that speak to men in their hearts, which are maybe too painful to just say them gravely and self-importantly.
“All quantifications are built out of abstraction and omission, and if they are overly relied upon, they tend towards perversity,” you wrote earlier. Precisely so. We live in an unbalanced and overdetermined society, riven by phantasms, freighted with meanings, clanking their chains. The new religious movements of this society, the sects which it now is giving birth to, like spiders, reflects a deeper derangement. These movements, or this movement, is now moving quickly, and even metastasizing like cancer, but it is going nowhere. What it is enacting is destruction; it is creating nothing, not even coherent thought. Here is yet another case of sterile and unbalanced agitation. It seems to me that the problem is not to fight these movements as if they were expressions of antagonistic but coherent thought, which simply exacerbates the problem, but to eliminate the force of mindless movements in the world. Towards this end, there is a conception of difference and realism which can be preserved without becoming chauvinistic. In fact, does this urge to ’emancipate’ not belong more to the chauvinist side of the aisle?
I don’t want to emancipate others nearly so much as I wish to emancipate myself (and those dear to me) from the derangement of others. In truth, I agree with everything you wrote in the above paragraph. But this is also why I approach religion from a functionalist perspective. Suppose I accept the superstition/religion distinction (I see it as a mere question of nomenclature), what does that change about the prescription? For that matter (I have often reflected) what is the utility of labeling this cancer a religion in the first place? Regardless, the thing we both desire is to replace bad beliefs with good ones. Pax Deorum is a fine idea, something I find wholly sympathetic.
But it’s not enough, clearly, to just have those good beliefs, or even to be able to articulate them. The derangement, the superstition, whatever you want to call it, is very compelling to many people, and without an understanding of why, that will continue to be the case. Telling people that the thing they believe is superstition (boo) and what they need is religion (hurray) might well be an effective rhetorical strategy. You’re not going to buy something from a salesman who doesn’t believe in his own product, which is why I’m not interested at all in gainsaying these constructions. Indeed, I believe some version of this is essential.
You describe a scenario in which bad beliefs oppose good ones. I claim that what we are confronting does not have beliefs. What it has are random emotional impulses, projected into a series of symbols whose definition is circular. Have you ever seen a leftist activist or journalist coherently articulate their views? Ortega y Gasset already describes the situation in The Revolt of the Masses: “Under the species of Syndicalism and Fascism there appears for the first time in Europe a type of man who does not want to give reasons or to be right, but simply shows himself resolved to impose his opinions… He wishes to have opinions, but is unwilling to accept the conditions and presuppositions that underlie all opinion. Hence his ideas are in effect nothing more than appetites in words.”
It is not a question of telling anyone anything per se: there is nobody to tell. The problem is to reconstruct the possiblity of reason, by defending the conditions it requires to continue to exist. What is today called the Left is not even the enemy, just as you cannot call cancer an enemy. What we are facing is mindless automation. Which is also why I maintain you are my enemy: hostis, not inimicus.
The interventions for cancer range from drinking poison to surgical removal. One is hesitant to draw too crisp of a parallel to what this might mean, by analogy… I think the apparent mindlessness of it is an illusion, because there are in fact many different sects of leftism, and all of them would happily tear each other apart if it weren’t for the ecumenical unity they find in their hatred and resentment of normal white men. But this line of thought quickly devolves into the need for, what, a taxonomy of progressives? I personally know some devout progressives who are highly competent, principled, and even vital. One man in particular I am thinking of believes strongly in the black supremacist notion of equity. He genuinely believes that ‘black underrepresentation’ is a searing moral issue of our day caused by systemic racism. He takes specific, effective, practical actions to try to mitigate this, and he is an evangelist for it.
The growth of the “cancer” is largely down to people like him. They aren’t moral anarchists in the slightest. The person I’m thinking of may not be able to quote chapter and verse in Foucault or Marcuse or whatever Frankfurt School or critical theorist bogeyman we are blaming this week, but his worldview was substantially shaped by intellectual currents in precisely these spaces, and also by the American civic religion, and also by the legacy of Christianity. One does not have to be aware of the philosophical lineage of his worldview in order to be an effective vector for it.
A huge part of the reason this cancer grows is that competent people, who do have moral principles, work tirelessly to help it grow. They do this because it animates their passions, and because they truly believe. It is altogether easier to believe that this thing is a mindless, cancerous rot, but the truth is much more horrifying: It captures the hearts and minds of many intelligent, motivated people, and it gives them strategic blindspots which cause them to act in ways that propagate mindless cancerous rot, and then, once they have done this, they see the chaos they have wrought, and deduce that their intervention was insufficient, and that they need to do it again, bigger and more vigorously than before.
We are not in dispute here. I agree with your distinction between intelligent, competent people, and the mindless force they can vectorize. Mindlessness isn’t a deficit of cognitive capacity but from an ethical defect, broadly defined. For Plato, the two philosophical virtues were courage and self-control. Without these virtues, philosophy isn’t possible, no matter how clever you are. One way or another you are going to remain as the prisoner of received ideas or opinions, because of your fear and/or appetites. Here again the point is that wisdom is not a purely technical object, but an attitude. Philosophy is friendship with wisdom, not analytic ability, or sophistic deployment of fashionable symbols or theories. The decision to stay within a haphazard epistemological universe is an ethical choice, and vice-versa, that amounts to a kind of defection on friendship. You can see clearly what happens to people who defect in this way; degeneration is sometimes quite rapid. As for this friend of yours, how does he calculate the correct level of representation?
Although I cannot be completely sure, I know that his method is to count the number of people of different races at the company and then compare them to the statistical averages of those races for the region and the country where his company is located. He finds that less than 13% of the company is black, but 13% of the people in the USA are black, therefore, there must be more blacks. He performs similar analyses for women and so on. The question we must ask is, when he reaches this statistical holy land, what then? I think we and anyone who has read this far understand that this will in no way constitute a stopping point, but it is a waypoint.
We are cynical about these people, so we predict that they will next measure the distribution of salaries, and make sure that the compensation of each group is statistically balanced, and once that goal is achieved, we start to ask questions about the racial composition of the leadership, and once the leadership is corrected, the people who are promoted in the name of equity, who lack the principles of the crusaders who promoted them, will proceed to nepotistically hire their own race while neglecting the ineffable qualities that made the business successful in the first place.
But suppose that doesn’t happen, suppose the principled progressive stays in charge somehow, then what? Then the next step is to argue that, due to historical injustice, even higher representations of ‘disadvantaged’ minorities must be met. At some point the desired state is statistically impossible, whereupon he will apply pressure everywhere he can to increase immigration of black-skinned people. This has the perverse effect of driving up the regional and national percentage of blacks even more, justifying even more statistical leveling. It ends when there are no more white people in charge anywhere. The progressive cannot and must not see this, but he isn’t stupid or evil. You and I call it deranged, but my friend is charming, sane, honest, conscientious, and so on. To call this merely ‘derangement’ is reductive at best.
Underneath the hood, he has a sincere faith, much the way a Christian believes in Jesus, or a Buddhist believes in nirvana, that there are no cognitive differences between peoples, and that even cultural differences are negligible, and that it would be obscene to contemplate them in any depth.
Aren’t there an infinite number of possible groups? Will he start chopping people in half at some point to hit the percentage points? He isn’t only assuming that cognitive and cultural differences between population groups don’t exist, he is also assuming uniform preferences and psychological homogeneity. The concept of difference is being effectively liquidated. This is a much madder vision than is usually recognized.
Yes, and from my understanding this is actually a teaching that is fashionable at present among HR departments and diversity commissars. They are concerned chiefly with race and sex, and they use a five-point racial taxonomy, and (backwardly) a two-point gender taxonomy. Lord only knows what they will do when they hire an ‘enby’. But he is a reasonable man when it comes to fractions; he’s no Solomon, that’s for sure.
Funny you’d say this since Solomon’s point was of course the indivisibility of life. What you see here is the fanatical extension of the scientific mind, from the PIE root “to cut, split” into domains it has no business being, while at the same time being absent from where it should be. It’s difficult to know how to grasp this procedure, which is evidently now everywhere, beyond what we’ve already said. Your argument is that it is not really relevant whether this is superstition or religion. I think the distinction is meaningful as the former isn’t sustainable. We are dealing with the witch craze, or the final days of Carthage, not the birth of Christianity. It is also not irrelevant that adherents of this faith refuse to recognize its supernatural character; this claim would likely even be received as offensive. It is instead ontological, and unquestionable.
These are beliefs that can only exist under certain conditions: luxury beliefs, based on something else than raw economic reason. HR, a kind of functionalist hierarchy without transcendence or coherence, is squandering the economic surplus the only way that he knows how according to the principles of contemporary sacred thought. Medieval man built cathedrals; the contemporary world has social justice. The underlying issue is a failure of vision, perhaps a failure of sense of humor, and a failure of nerve. Why must we pretend that social justice has a moral or a social purpose, rather than a purely sacrificial purpose? Why does it make sense that reparations, a spiritual idea from Jewish mysticism, are transformed into the notion of a cash transfer delivered by a giant government bureaucracy? How was it that so many people could not admit that Donald Trump was very funny? But laughter also is a sacrifice.
I don’t disagree with the points you have raised above, and I do agree that these are important questions. I also agree it makes no sense from the outside – but I think you are conflating a moral impulse with a moral purpose. Even to ask the question, “where is this going?” requires a high level of awareness and sophistication. The truth is that when most people think morally, they do not think teleologically or even consequentially; they think deontologically, and in my experience, these other modalities are not something that can be taught.
It’s a common leftist tactic to try to deconstruct natural categories by claiming that a particular trait exists on a spectrum, and as such, I try to avoid these types of arguments where possible. But if there is one thing that really is a spectrum, it’s the degree to which you exist between the immanence of the animal mind, in an eternal now, versus the transience of the human mind, awake to the contours of the past and the future. To say this plainly may come off as the most noxious kind of arrogance, because the implication is that the person saying it thinks he has somehow mastered this dichotomy; I don’t think that, but I recognize how hard it can be to make even one or two inferential leaps from an initial premise, and I see how very small most people are, and how small I too can be.
We are trying to thread a needle in this analysis: it is an error to ascribe too little agency to these social justice types; in which case you perceive them as the shambling, mindless hordes in a zombie movie, but it’s equally an error to ascribe too much agency to them, to imagine that it’s all in service of some grand purpose. You may see me as an enemy or a friend – and I would prefer you see me as a friend – but regarding our common enemy, I see them as human, like us, all too human, but I am not a humanist, and they are enemies just the same.