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In Which I Disagree With Internet-Popular Notions
In this piece, I analyze two internet-popular notions, drop-outism and Traditionalism. (Articles on Ron Paul, bitcoin, white nationalism, New Age philosophies, Communism, Scientology and other popular trends may be found elsewhere.)
Question: If time is circular, will (at some point) the future be the past? Or is there a linear time, such that we keep growing until at some point we don't even resemble the past at all?
It probably depends on whether we think our situation in life is in any way related to what we are, instead of the properties of life itself and higher consciousness as an experience.
When we take to the internet, in a more intense way than the editorial pages, the need for a narrative defining "future," even if including or limited to past, grows at a furious pace.
A decade ago, Ran Prieur wrote "How to Drop Out" to much acclaim. People collect internet personalities like dolls, and use them to explain themselves. "This is my rocker chick, shows I'm adventurous, but here's my marine biologist, my serious side, then my neogoth, points out I'm vulnerable..."
And often, our reading choices reflect what we want to believe is true rather than what we know is true. For centuries, the independent person who owns nothing and is accountable to no one has been a trope of our literature. This is the nature of established society, which is that we see the grass is greener on the other side and want freedom from the obligation of maintaing civilization itself.
This is why 50-year-old suburban white women with all of the comforts of life at hand and almost no fear in their existence long for the life of, say, a homeless hip-hop impressario, or a yeoman artist who lives in the sewers of New York. They want to give up the plumbing, electricity, air conditioning and safe secure neighborhood for less responsibility and more "adventure" and "meaningful experience."
Such a situation isn't new. It's an eternal human pitfall, like the old "the grass is greener on the other side of the fence" homily that gets bandied about at times. People crave what they do not have and what they are not. This is because it is easy to see the disadvantages of something while you are living it, but with its opposite, you see only the advantages.
"How to Drop Out" starts promisingly:
If you stopped reading here, you win. This is the real takeaway for this article: "our whole society is insane."
That's the starting point for all future health, when you throw out the bad and start with the new. It's not quite that simple as another homily, "Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater," should remind us.
Much as it is necessary to "hit rock bottom" in order to begin working past an addiction or other crippling pathology, those who face society must embrace the totality of the problem. First is outsider status; then comes a re-evaluation and a sense of what it is we want to keep.
The counterpoint to this is that we can't throw the baby out with the bathwater. The framework that exists is something we need; in fact, most of what we see is fine, just in need of refinement or direction. It doesn't make sense to destroy everything and try to start over.
Prieur found himself in a typical position for Generation X:
Translation: we saw our parents -- Baby Boomers, themselves the scarred progeny of the fallout from the Jazz Age -- waste their lives on accumulating capital, and then in their bitterness at having no time, turn on us their children with retributive justice and control.
Thus we are ready for a life without excess. However, this doesn't take into account our fear of not having so much that we can step out of the game, and finally have free voices such that we don't have to fear for our jobs, livelihoods, etc. when we speak the truth.
However, he does make a valid point here about the inward process corresponding to the outward process of discarding civilization:
Those who wish to re-make society must first make an image of what they desire in themselves. At the simplest level, this is knowing what they want, not simply what they don't want. On a more complex level, it is having a plan and a goal. On the most complex level, it is having the moral and intellectual discipline to become the seed of a better future.
He also makes a good point about needs versus wants and luxuries:
Of course, this doesn't take into account getting older, or people who face health challenges.
Here's where he goes off the rails however:
This isn't much different that tune in turn on drop out, and means you'll never have power. You have assented to the direction of your society. If you decide to wait by the sidelines for society to collapse, you're taking a bet on a volatile process that can nonetheless take centuries.
At this point, when I first read the article, I departed from his narrative. First, I don't see the point in discarding all of the good that our ancestors fought so hard to bring us in modern life just because our leadership has failed and there are people around us who are so dishonest as to support them. Second, rendering oneself impotent is playing into the hands of those who want to wreak further destruction upon civilization.
Luckily, most didn't even read this. They were caught up in a vision. The essence of what appealed to people -- sort of like a visual image, or a story summary -- was this:
What does this sound like to you? Freedom. Own nothing, be obligated to nothing. Reduce your wants to the minimum and live outside of society. There's some problems with this however.
His article takes a dark turn when he goes searching for an audience beyond that vision. There's also some warmed-over Communism:
This forgets that someone must build the housing and maintain it, and they have kids to feed, too. It also forgets that when you don't have ownership, there is no risk-reward structure that picks better efforts above the rest. This isn't about working hard; it's about achieving results. When you remove that results-based structure, you end up encouraging people to do the minimum. Worse, the minimum becomes an ever-declining
This is the crisis of socialism. When you remove accountability, you've lowered the bar. At that point, there is no reason to rise above the minimum, because there's actually a disincentive. When risk isn't rewarded, risk itself is looked upon as "don't rock the boat" and thus can cause social retaliation. The first guy to invent fire was unpopular because he might have ruined that raw meat with his weird flame-voodoo.
The root of socialism is social, or social feelings. We feel better when everyone gets along. In order to do this, you have to give every person whatever they demand. Food, property, money, sex... just hand it over. You appease them, buy them off, and placate them. That way everyone gets along. However, that's not only not realistic, but it's a path to decline. We call this path "equality" and "freedom," both of which mean the same thing: that the individual can do whatever he/she wants without rules, common sense, realism, values, culture or standards stopping them.
We want people to rise above the rest. To invent new things, to do a better job, to be more moral or more realistic/intelligent than the rest. We want wisdom to prevail over ignorance. This requires that we be able to test things against our current standard, and pick what's higher. Socialism is afraid of this, because the individual fears this. "What if I'm the one who's wrong?" Thus socialism mandates that all participation is equal, and everyone gets rewarded, and by doing so both disincentivizes the higher and accepts the lower, including the criminal and parasitic.
I wish he'd elaborated on this point:
Is life a zero-sum game, meaning that for one person to succeed takes from another? I don't think so, because that other rarely had it in the first place. Rather, someone succeeds because they have something that other people want.
If I move to desolate land, de-toxify it and remove the rocks, then turn it into a fertile field and grow abundant delicious crops there, have I taken from someone? I am taking their money, but they'd have to spend that anyway.
The point that Prieur didn't and doesn't know he's making is that the best must rise. If you have ability, apply it. Others will be offended for social reasons, because now you have something they can't demand in the name of equality.
Finally he gets to the most interesting point:
This point is that anyone who wants a better society must achieve an identity first. Something that can be a quick conversation reply, such as "I'm an x-ian, and we believe in y as a means to a society of type z." Then the ability to explain that. What does your identity stand for? In other words, what's its basic value system? And how does that translate to a society and everyday life?
I think this is where ultimately the line of thought that led to this essay began to crumble. Dropping out isn't an identity; it's a negative identity. Being aware that society is totally insane isn't a plan; it's a complaint. There's a need for another direction, and it's not going to jive with the Communist sentiments earlier in the piece, since Communism is the idea of a worker's state and nothing opposes a sensible direction like the "we're all equal/let's all get along" that has gone with every single worker's state ever.
Prieur updated his article four years later. From the 2008 update:
This radical advice is one of the shining lights of this piece. However, it's also not universal. Some people find work doing what they love; most don't. The question is really not what you love, but what you should be doing. Here, his thought verges dangerously close to endorsing a caste system, where people are put to work doing what they are genetically best at.
But then there's an even more interesting turn:
Wait... what happened? We've gone from drop out and live with no obligations on $20/year to an idea of building a career, having a home and owning things. This is advice for how to live within civilization, not drop out of it. Even more, it's advice for making yourself comfortable and possibly financially well-off. In the span of four years, we've gone from radical drop-outism back to bourgeois values!
That's because he threw out the baby with the bathwater, and rejected civilization as a whole. Had he started from the beginning with the inevitable answer to his salient observation that society is all wrong, he would have done better. However, that observation is "let's fix society" and it is incompatible with the leftism he frequently succumbs to, as well as the Crowdism of his general appeal to vagabondism, and finally, with the individualism that is the core of his message.
"Drop out" works for someone who essentially wants to parasitize on society. Now we've left that behind, and are talking about contributing, but doing so in an "ethical" way. This means your own acts don't contribute to the madness, but they don't stop it either. Like all leftists, you're left waiting for the Crowd to voluntarily, magically join hands and decide to do-the-right-thing(tm).
He brings the essay back to reality with some quality observations:
First is that society itself is reactionary. That is, to participate, you're going to be constantly forcing yourself to react to it. This essentially blocks out your own thoughts and replaces them with reactions. What does the boss want? What's the cheapest per ounce I can purchase ketchup? What's the best route home? How do I get this paperwork filed? They seize your brain and your time, and fill them with pointless activities that are fundamentally ugly.
His point is a good one however. The ultimate test of anyone who wants to get beyond social order is self-discipline. The sheep instinct in us loves social order because all we must do is follow the rules. As under socialism, we don't have to do it well qualitatively, we just have to connect the dots and submit a plausible imitation of the lowest common denominator. It's easy! Do even 1% above the LCD, and you're on your way to success. No wonder it's so popular.
Even more, society offers affirmation. When you wake up in the night, realizing suddenly that you're mortal and when your corpse is gone, nothing will remain and no one will remember you, it's comforting to think that you're "doing the right thing." Going to work. Being nice to everyone. Adopting children from Central Africa or Indonesia. Drinking organic fair trade coffee. These are what modern society gives you in exchange for eternal death.
It's sort of like the Soviet Union. People went to their deaths believing that they were doing the right thing as Communists, thus doing the right thing by their society, thus they had some moral claim to an eternity they did not believe in after the cold nothingspace of death grasped their personalities and evaporated them.
He explains this contrast here:
Trying to measure work by quantity is a dead-end path because one person's hour of diligent, perceptive, high-speed work does not compare to another's hour of participation, attendance and LCD.
In our race to include everyone, called "equality" or "democracy" or even "freedom," we have made a system that measures by quantity. As a result, we get lower results with more participation... a lot like socialism, only not quite as whacked-out and removed from reality.
He can't quite go there, but he has refuted all of the left-wing sentiments earlier in his piece. That's OK, because if you read carefully from his 2008 introduction, he does something remarkable. He refutes the earlier piece. He reverses all of his core points and goes from dropout to bourgeois careerist, in the same way hippies became the capitalists who sell you free-trade coffee at a 400% markup.
That's not his fault. It's the only path to follow, if you insist on letting equality hobble you. There is another way: tradition. This is closely tied to identity because it reflects a continuity between past and future. That requires a consistent belief, purpose, ideal, value... they all mean the same thing at some point. It requires an ideal that can be applied to an ongoing goal, a self-improvement that we call evolution.
This leads us to another legendary article, John Morgan's What Guénon and Evola really meant by Tradition (...and why many get it wrong). Morgan is the highly-respected and widely popular editor of Arktos, a traditionalist/anti-modern book publisher cooperative.
This article is in response to two groups of people, first the political types hijacking "Traditionalism" to be a thin cover for either far-left or far-right beliefs, and second the spaced-out "Tarditionalists" who make Traditionalism into a bizarre, Byzantine religion full of I'm-cooler-than-you rules.
Let's take a look at the first one:
The point is this: philosophy refers to wisdom derived from the study of reality, but as time goes on, it often comes to mean the practice of philosophy itself. This is the classic confusion of the tool for its target that occurs whenever civilization is established. At first, people produce things; later, they participate, and if they do well in that participation, are rewarded by others.
Interestingly, the West has struggled with this idea for millennia. Plato made it feature prominently in The Republic, where he used a simple explanation to defeat it: like people watching a film strip, we have confused the projection for the reality. That is because the projection is what everyone sees and, like society itself, is a proxy for reality because since everyone sees it, and agrees on what it is, it is used to unify the group for action.
I think moderns misread this passage from Guénon. It is not about a mystical division. It is about how all ideas decay as soon as there is an intermediate, namely civilization, that rewards people for participation in the institution devoted to the idea, instead of applying the idea itself. This is the same thing that socialism does, if you think about it. It rewards people for quantity of output, rather than quality. Quantity refers to something socially-mediated, like popularity, democracy and products. Or ideology, as in socialism.
But here's where it gets interesting:
We will get nowhere without setting up some definitions first.
A great example of an exoteric order would be Communism, or perhaps even the freedom/consumerism paradigm that the West adopted to win the Cold Wars and WWII (higher overall productivity dwarfed the enemy, suggesting we have a better control structure). An example of an esoteric order is playing guitar. There are infinite levels of proficiency, and they require dedication and talent, and each higher order only presents itself when the prior lower order is conquered.
The point Guénon makes here is that modern philosophies are rationalistic, or exoteric. That means they are oriented from conclusion back to source in such a way that they can be "proven" visually, or through data and facts, where ancient esoteric orders by relying on the subtler study of underlying patterns did not require such false end results comparison. My analysis for this for some years has been that the modern tendency is to take one attribute of thousands, compare it in a before-versus-after study under laboratory conditions, and conclude that one act "caused" another.
Rationalism by its nature is backward-looking. It does not look toward root causes, but proximate causes. It is linear in that its causal study denies context. Where Schopenhauer chose causal chains, and Nietzsche spoke of "Will," the modern rationalist sees Object A slamming into Object B producing a result of Object C. This is the nature of conclusion-based philosophies; they deal in objects and final states, not the nature of the interaction that produces them.
Here's where I disagree with Morgan:
That's a bit of a broad conclusion. Instead, Guénon argues shows that exoteric philosophy is fundamentally unrealistic. More importantly, the point is that when philosophy becomes mediated by social determinations, it becomes exoteric and discards its esoteric (inward, structural, design-based, pattern-based) component and thus loses track of reality. This is a case of us confusing our perceptions with reality, and not getting feedback from reality itself.
There is no more mystery to it than that. Morgan adds this thankfully:
Dead on and perfect. Not only that... he might have replaced "the least important aspect" with "hostile to" and not been wrong.
Onward with Guénon:
That which is transmitted. Not that which is written. Got it: transmission requires two antennas, one receiving and one sending. They must be tuned to the same frequencies and, if a direct transmission, sending information back and forth. I'm reminded of the telecommunication protocols which consist in one side sending and then the other sending back a checksum to indicate what it received.
Here we get into Plato territory again. Tradition is not civilization; tradition is the transmitted wisdom that produces higher civilization. That is because, worldwide and among people of a certain ability and inclination, there is a recognition that we're not just looking for adequate, but some form of excellent, corresponding to Plato's "the good, the beautiful and the true" and Eliot's "the perennial things." What is eternally true? The best of things, which are not formulated as boundaries, but goals.
Another important motif here is the reality referential, not self-referential, outlook of Guénon's text. Socially-mediated knowledge is inherently self-referential by a group of people; however, any tradition which is found among a "widespread group of men" (shared among different societies and ages) is not derived from social conceits, which are either arbitrary or gamesmanship to preserve and raise social status, but derived from reality itself. This fits with the esoteric idea that if we study reality, we will appreciate its function in successive waves, each new one arriving as we understand the prior.
Guénon uses the term "mental outlook." This corresponds to the frequent observation that philosophers write philosophies to justify their personal approaches to life. What if it were not personal, but a type of inclination? The healthiest inclination in life would exhibit vir, or the sense of an aggressive desire to place everything in harmony, each getting what it deserves, as Nietzsche wrote. Philosophers are guided by the mental outlook of vir not by some data or explanatory framework, which corresponds to the initial observation that modern philosophy has become detached from its essence; the outlook is the essence, the explanation the projection.
Here's where Guénon makes a fatal error:
In other words, without metaphysics you do not have Tradition. This makes two errors, first in separating metaphysics from physics and thus venturing into dualism; second, by assuming something that isn't true. People can understand causes beyond the proximate/immediate/tangible and thus study pattern, form and other esoteric things without being religious.
Furthermore, he's pointing his finger at something most likely corrupted, which is the nature of metaphysics to take on a dualistic or emotional-mystical characteristic that separates it from reality. This is why Nietzsche suggests we do not try to be "higher" men, but lower. We must reinvent God from mud, earthworms and sunlight, not from airy emotions which inevitably lead to social "feelings" and Crowdism.
If you want to know why this site turned back from Traditionalism "in its pure and true(tm) form," here it is. We are perennialists and Monists; we are not dualists, and in fact we are hostile to dualism because it is entirely a human projection and a toxic one, derived not per se from the modern time but endemic of it. Even more, it's a toxic virus. It is both blockheaded and a fundamental building block of thought so that anyone infected with it infects the rest of their thought.
This part of Guénon's philosophy represents him making the same error he complains of in the first quotation, which is that he has confused the vehicle of a truth for the truth itself. The truth itself is reality, and all principles must be derived from that; he has replaced it with the human projection of metaphysics leading to dualism.
His error is fatal because it breaks the esoteric chain between the "outlook" and the translation to actable engrams from which action may be inspired.
Here Morgan points out another contradiction in Guénon's thought. He is treating Tradition as an artifact of the past, a fixed thing, where this is not what it is. When a child is formed, a few chemical interactions are set into place and, through consistent reactions to those, the complexity of the fetus is developed. Similarly, each person grows by experiencing life, realizing conclusions, and acting on those. All of knowledge is re-learned by each actor.
This is one of the essences of what I call Parallelism, which is the philosophy of independent actors rediscovering reality; this is part of the genius of our universe's design, which is that truth is not encoded anywhere lest it be corrupted, but is derived. This is why dualism is not just stupid, but blasphemy. It's entirely incoherent with the design of the universe itself.
Parallelism posits instead that idea, matter and energy exist in parallel, and that what influences more than anything else is design. We would be tempted, as Schopenhauer did, to assign this to "thought," and it's possible that this is its origin. However, it is more likely that there is a different underlying nature to the universe, which is pattern itself, and that this is manifested in reality and in additional dimensions to reality. Thus there is no dualism, but a continuity between matter and idea, with idea not being the "cause" per se of matter, but the principle of its organization, much as patterns organized that idea itself.
More toxic confusion from Guénon:
While I am a lover of all things India, I think it a mistake to ascribe to any place Tradition, or to any tradition, Tradition.
It is reborn in every soul that can listen to it, and the readiness -- that "mental outlook" -- is how it knows it has a home.
When you think about it, that is esotericism itself: wisdom comes to those who are ready for it, and can meet it halfway.
Guénon blunders again with the above passage. Tradition is as it is practiced; like all esoteric or meditative practices, it is brought out by people making their hearts and minds ready for it.
Why would Tradition be any different from any other form of esoteric learning? He has admitted it cannot, indirectly, but now he seeks to argue that it must be a connection with something outside of the world, like a dualistic notion of purity.
There is no purity. There is no dualism. Such things are blasphemies against the order of the cosmos and dare we say it.... the intricate design and loving countenance of God.
Whether we view "God" as an underlying order to all existence, or as a proxy for nature or through nature, does not matter. We acknowledge the pattern of patterns that is our universe and forms the cosmic order.
With that in mind, it is clear that Tradition is renewed and reborn each time someone retraces the causal path of thoughts leading to its realization. There is nothing more to it. Mystifying it is pointless, as very few humans have the patience for following this path, and those of evil heart can only be stopped by good people identifying them and destroying them; they always subvert barriers set up to exclude them because subversion is the realm of an evil heart and it will always be superior in that discipline.
Guénon stumbles into modern liberalism next:
He argues that we must get our Tradition from the East, and that to want a Western Tradition can only result from hostility to the East.
This is analogous to the modern argument that the only reason to oppose multiculturalism is "racism" (a word they never define, hence it's in quotation marks until we figure out what the NWO means by it).
The point for desiring a Western tradition is that we of the West need our own identity and our own method of deriving our esoteric knowledge.
Here Guénon measures philosophy not by its best, but by its worst. He assumes that because, socially, philosophy has become an activity, that the underlying process of thought cannot be separated from the academic institutions and social practice of the same.
This shows the fundamental error of most Traditionalists who, as we noted above, are caught between the political extremists who want to use Tradition to justify their crusades/jihads, and the spaced-out New Age "Traditionalists" who want to turn Tradition into a clubhouse for those who cannot live in reality.
This error is the oldest one of all human errors, which is confusing the essence of a thing for its instance. Plato, for example, writes on this topic. For him, the world of forms is the essence, which is defined not by a dualistic blueprint somewhere, but by presence in many active instances and the commonality of pattern, which does not "exist" so much as it is derived from the interaction of informational forces required to produce the object.
For example, logically and informationally, the design of a chair exists because it is the simplest self-supporting object in which a human can sit. Variations can exist on this design -- parallelism -- without changing the fact that the root design "exists" simply because it is indicated by what we know of the forces of gravity, friction and equilibrium.
The essence of experience is reality; humans witness a single instance of their own experience, and humanity witnesses a class of experiences defined by our place in the order of the cosmos. We cannot confuse a tangible, fixed instance for the essence, and yet this is what Guénon has done by confusing the impression of Tradition in past for the living Tradition that, per the operation of esotericism itself, is discovered by all those who make themselves open to reality and then invest the effort to test their knowledge according to it.
Traditionalists do us all a great disservice by simultaneously mystifying and contracting the world of possibility. Tradition is closer to the scientific method, but in a non-rationalistic holistic sense, than it is to this form of weird dualism which recreates the worst errors of the past and tells us they are the only method of salvation.
Evolva, as an experienced Nietzschean, understood Tradition as an outpouring of the fundamental Will underlying all life. From "The Occult War":
In this case, Evola is using "dualistic" to mean a chaos/order distinction. As a nihilist, I find the assumption of inherent order disturbing except to the degree that there is an underlying order to the universe; we choose actions compliant with it to the degree we wish to succeed.
However, his point is more coherent than the "dualism" of Guénon -- in which there is a pure metaphysical truth/world in opposition to the material world -- because it embraces the sense of pattern-order pervading both, and the esoteric notion that the more we understand this order, the greater our strength within it.
For another look at tradition, we turn to Huxley, with "The Perennial Philosophy":
Here we have a statement of esotericism that is monistic in its core. The Divine Ground is not alienated from the material world; rather, it is a higher level of abstraction for the same, and both are organized according to the patterns of this order.
Huxley describes Plato's concept of forms and matter above. The dualism of degenerate societies, in which there is a true path versus a false physicality, is replaced by the idea that an order pervades reality based on the Divine Ground.
This Divine Ground is not describe as separate from the order of reality, but discernible from it, in the sense of esoteric learning. Further, as in the Nietzschean sense, it is not a doctrine but an "outlook," or Will.
Finally, Huxley does not place Tradition in a glass case. It is discoverable, but even more, it is personally discoverable as an essential process of life itself.
For those who are not religious, it is possible to see Divine Ground as simply a mathematical order. I do not think harm is done by this; those who do not relate to religion can use their metaphor for reality as they see fit.
As a Perennialist, I affirm the above, which negates the necessity of a metaphysical/physical duality and instead sees both as part of a substrate organized according to the Divine Ground, which is ultimately an informational order and not a separately physicality-like place as in dualism.
Perhaps Traditionalists will abandon their philosophy which is reactionary to modernity and thus bears its imprint and instead turn toward this timeless and eternal system of belief.
November 24, 2013