Daniel Miller and Zero HP Lovecraft argue philosophy, politics, and more
Part I: Hostis
Daniel Miller: Would it surprise you to discover that I consider you my enemy?
Zero HP Lovecraft: Indeed, I would find that surprising, as I have so far found that we seem to have similar outlooks on society, its mechanisms of control, and its failures.
Daniel: Are you not a Nietzschean, a Darwinist, a materialist, an atheist?
Zero: I am all of those things, in greater or lesser degrees. But I am sure that Nietzsche means many things to many people. We could spill several books’ worth of ink trying to ascertain what exactly it means to be Nietzschean, for example. I find the ideas of Darwin to be undeniable, but I accept that there are problems with the theory as its currently understood. Regarding materialism, I have never found any reason to believe in invisible agents that act on the material world, but if such things exist, then they, too, will be bound by logic, and that they must exist within some physics of their own. Finally, regarding atheism: I have written at length elsewhere, that one must live as if there is a God, regardless of what he personally believes. To be succinct, I am an atheist who is ‘on the side’ of the Christians – though I know many of them won’t accept that.
Daniel: In short, you are a nihilist…
Zero: I have never heard that term used in any way but pejoratively. It’s not a label I would ever choose for myself. I believe in perpetuating myself, my friends, my family, and my civilization because I see those things as good and self-justifying in their own right. I think most of the ‘ultimate’ justifications that people provide for their existence are voluptuous rationalizations of amour propre and I find it to be more honest and more useful to discard the pretense. Any healthy organism desires to continue and grow, and needs no further justification for it. Across the whole earth, Man is alone in asking “why should I go on?”
Daniel: Is this question not Man’s greatness?
Zero: Perhaps, but I think the great men of history have only struggled with this question after achieving greatness. It is a decadent question.
Daniel: Or else their quest for greatness was a struggle for an answer. Alexander the Great, for example, said to have wept on the banks of the Ganges “because there were no more worlds to conquer.”
Zero: If a man lives to conquer, it is reasonable to lament having run out of conquests. But this is why I say it is necessary to live “as if” there is a God. Many people, I would venture the majority, do need to find some answer to this question if only to quiet their mind. One fixes one’s sense of purpose on the eternal, even though these same people (i.e., nearly everyone) having fixed their gaze on the eternal, proceed to pursue the immediate and the expedient. Such is human nature.
Daniel: You psychologize, biologize and rationalize activity; you speak of the health of an organism and the wages of reason. Is this very language not decadent?
Zero: I will confess to decadence; these are decadent times. But indeed, I think all of these things find their rationalizations in the body, in the blood. The part of man that answers why is something prerational, preconscious; it is that part of him which is still animal, the same dark fundament from which issues erotic desire. This isn’t to say that the desire to conquer is necessarily sexual, only that instinct is older and deeper than reason.
Daniel: This is true for Darwin, and Freud, and their followers, which now includes the greater part of the West. A nonmodern perspective takes a different approach. For Thomas Aquinas, intelligence was conceived as a property belonging to angels, not humans, that is, belonging to the celestial sphere that man as a spiritual being inhabited. Today we think that we can quantify intelligence, like every other property. You yourself believe this; But man is the measure of all things.
Zero: I would argue that while quantification of intelligence (I assume here you mean IQ research) does capture something real and observable, it is not sufficient to explain the successes of some individuals or people vs others. IQ is one facet of human capability which is measurable, but a complete model of a man would be exactly as complex as the man being modeled. All quantifications are built out of abstraction and omission, and if they are overly relied upon, they tend towards perversity.
Daniel: By “success” I presume that you are referring to material success within a context of social, biological or economic competition…
Zero: Yes. While it’s true that some few people can hold on to idiosyncratic definitions of success that exist outside of these categories, most people wouldn’t and won’t. It is ultimately an aesthetic judgement, however, which defies quantification.
Daniel: Any attribution of validity to the conceptions of the masses or majority is itself an argument from quantity.
Zero: Crowds are probably wrong about complex things, but they tend not to be wrong about simple things. Man is a social creature; you’re a winner if everyone thinks you’re a winner. You’re a loser if everyone thinks you’re a loser. We all know who is beautiful and who is ugly.
Daniel: The notion that the crowd, not merely has the capacity to adjudicate metaphysics, but itself supplies the decisive judgment in the very fact of its existence terminates in tyranny. Truth is not available for quantification. What is true is true no matter how many people believe it, and even if nobody does. To assert Man is a social creature, which is Marx’s paraphrase of Aristotle, is only half correct. Man is a social being, an animal, an organism, yes, but he is also more.
Zero: Isn’t it reasonable to suspect that the same metaphysical principles would be manifest in the people over whom they ostensibly supervene, in such a way that they would have some faculty for perceiving metaphysical parsimony? (Indeed that itself is a potentially hairy debate, but I think that you also believe some version of this. It must be, or else you wouldn’t be able to argue from metaphysical principles at all).
In any case, I claim that there is an important distinction to be made between ‘truth’ and ‘facts’ – gravity is a fact, and beauty is a truth; the former exists regardless of whether anyone believes it, the latter, however, is contingent on men. Unfortunately, we only have one apparatus for knowing things, be they fact or truth, so one can rarely be sure which is which. For this reason, it is perfectly reasonable to appeal to people and to consensus in some knowledge domains. (This becomes more complicated, as you understand well, when you introduce something like broadcast media into the equation, where it becomes possible to create society-scale epistemological feedback loops that can pervert this apparatus beyond redemption.)
Daniel: I’d say gravity is not a fact; it is a theory, which appears to fit the facts quite well, and enables certain kinds of operations while disabling others. As for beauty, this goes to the heart of the matter. The philosophical problem of beauty since Plato has been concerned with distinguishing Beauty from particular beautiful objects, according to a conception of philosophy as a discipline which moves from the perceptible to the intelligible. There are beautiful things, which are physical, as well as beautiful gestures, and beautiful memories, but beauty itself is a metaphysical quality. Accordingly, for Plato, beauty is the first idea, and the key to his philosophy, as a philosophy of the suprasensible. You wrote earlier that you had “never found any reason to believe in invisible agents that act on the material world.” Yet an idea is precisely such an agent.
Zero: An idea is not the same as an agent, and never can be. Agency means having internal states, motivations, and intentions; in short, an agent is a thing with a will. An idea has none of these things. There are invisible structures, such as those things which are discovered by mathematicians. But mathematical principles, or laws like gravity, have no agency. They are, at most, mechanisms. You cannot pray to gravity, or appeal to it, or convince it to change its mind. Moreover, agency requires temporality. An idea is eternal, being the same in the past, the future, and the present moment, but an agent acts in time, and through time.
This is also why beauty is contingent in a way that gravity is not. We could easily imagine some other kingdom of creatures, aliens perhaps, who have an entirely different faculty of perceiving beauty from us. Even within our own terrestrial experience, we have little doubt that the aroma of feces is sweet perfume to flies and certain other insects. But no matter how the aesthetic faculties of aliens or flies work, they are equally bound by the laws of gravity.
Daniel: Etymologically agent comes from Latin agentem (nominative agens) “effective, powerful,” present participle of agere “to set in motion, drive forward; to do, perform; keep in movement.” The assertion that an agent must possess internal consciousness or will is not a definition that I’ve previously encountered, and it seems to involve collapsing into a single term two distinct, although connected qualities. In fact, what you appear to be seeking is the reduction of all phenomena to a metaphysics of will. I would be curious as to where you imagine the source of this will, given your materialist postulates. If reality consists of the instincts of organisms, stripped of any spiritual dimension, will is simply another materialist force, that is there is no will, or even mind but simply things enacting code, on other things. This view provokes further questions. Do you believe ideas lack power?
As for gravity, I will share with you McLuhan’s comment: “Newton, in an age of clocks, managed to present the physical universe in the image of a clock.” But “poets like Blake were far ahead of Newton in their response to the challenge of the clock. Blake spoke of the need to be delivered ‘from single vision and Newton’s sleep,’ knowing that Newton’s response to the challenge of the new mechanism was itself merely a mechanical repetition of the challenge. Blake saw Newton and Locke and others as hypnotized Narcissus types quite unable to meet the challenge of mechanism.”
Zero: Blake was a fine poet, but it’s telling that there is no Blakean school of rocketry or chemistry or so on. Newton’s view of the world as mechanism is ‘correct’ in the sense that it is possible to build on his work (along with that of people like Faraday, Edison, and Von Neumann) something like the internet, without which we would not even be having this discussion. Blake and McLuhan were both keen observers of the human heart, but the heart (by which I mean the soul) is quite a complex thing, whereas the things Newton et. al examined are much simpler.
My use of the word agent derives from my understanding of game theory and artificial intelligence: an agent is an entity that acts. The laws of mathematics (for example) do not act, they merely obtain. They are much more like an object than a subject. Subjectivity is a necessary precondition of will. When we talk about things like angels and devils and God or gods, we conceive of them ‘anthropomorphically’ – that is, we imagine them more or less as people, albeit people with special attributes. The Bible of course says that Man is made in the image of God, but regardless of which way the relation points, the idea is the same. I don’t see will as something atomic or fundamental; a will is also a very complicated thing.
Agents, which have will and subjectivity and so on, are built out of primitives like what scientists study; logic, matter and electricity. Regarding the question of how ideologies exert power over men, there is no way that living in a deterministic universe undermines the emotional power of ideas.
Daniel: Newton was ‘correct’ if correctness is conceptualized in terms of technical criteria. The theory of gravity was evidently very useful for extending the technical domination of man over nature. Eventually this domination gave birth to machine guns, concentration camps, and atom bombs; as you acknowledge, technical development has now reached the stage where the world is ringed by a global communication system in the process of mutating into a totalitarian social control matrix. Man is subordinated to a second nature, as exemplified by cyberspace. Your work as a horror writer is focused on this world; you’re a kind of anthropologist of the dystopian near future. But you yourself are trapped by it.
For example: “The Bible, of course, says that Man is made in the image of God,” you claim, “but regardless of which way the relation points, the idea is the same.” The idea, I think, is not the same. Between the classical view and the modernist vision that God was created by Man are the battle lines of two implacably opposed philosophies. This problem of agency, or will, or consciousness that we are now confronting is situated right in the center of this battlefield. On the one side is the possibility of order in the universe, on the other is a materialist or nihilist conception of the world as random chaos. Between them is the recognition of thought as something other than a synapse firing in a brain. Perhaps you now see why I say we are enemies.
Zero: I think that enmity only exists at a very abstract level. I claim that in the practical realm, we would both like to structure society in a very similar way. I consider universalism of all kinds to be perverse. It is precisely this demand for ideological purity, which can tolerate no dissent even in the private space of one’s own head, which is the animating force behind so much of the tyranny we encounter in the modern age. A world where we can have philosophical debates but we don’t have to worry about our physical security is a desirable world, and it’s much more interesting when the mind is free to roam.
Technological development comes with its own attendant horrors, but the genie can’t be put back in the bottle, short of a total industrial collapse. We have to find ways of maintaining our humanity within a technological society, and to some degree, that means embracing horror.
Part II: Society
Daniel: 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: 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.
Daniel: 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.
Zero: 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.
Daniel: 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?
Zero: 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.
Part III: The Left
Daniel: 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: 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.
Daniel: “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?
Zero: 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.
Daniel: 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.
Zero: 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.
Daniel: 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?
Zero: 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.
Daniel: 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.
Zero: 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.
Daniel: 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.
Zero: 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.