Turning the Cube

I

Such a contest is not over empty prizes. Indeed it is nothing less than the human struggle for access to reality. And for humans, access to reality is what grants control… Without access to the understanding of something, one is powerless over it. If one does have that access, however, and is able to control the communication over a phenomenon, then one controls how it is to be understood. A contest over what is allowed to represent reality — and that is what intelligible access is all about — is a struggle over reality itself. This is the heart of our age’s modernism, the process by which we establish what “counts” as reality.

…As for “truth,” “origins,” or “essentials” beyond the “metanarrative,” the naturalist has a peculiar advantage — by attending to species who have no words and no text other than context and yet among whom there is an unspoken consensus about the contingency of life and real substructures. A million species constantly make “assumptions” in their body language, indicating a common ground and the validity of their responses. A thousand million pairs of eyes, antennas, and other sense organs are fixed on something beyond themselves that sustains their being, in a relationship that works. To argue that because we interpose talk or pictures between us and this shared immanence, and that it therefore is meaningless, contradicts the testimony of life itself. The nonhuman realm, acting as if common knowledge of a shared quiddity, of unlike by congruent representations, test its reality billions of times every hour. It is the same world in which we ourselves live, experiencing it as process, structures, and meaning, interacting with the same events that plants and other animals do.

— Reinventing Nature: Responses to Postmodern Deconstruction, eds. Soule and Lease

Argument for a provisional materialism. Recent posts may suggest that I have completely abandoned my materialist outlook. Certainly I am less rigid in it, and now take into account the fragmented, unstable nature of human perception and thought. Nevertheless, I have continued to and will continue to operate as a materialist, if only provisionally. See, e.g., “A Provisional Synthesis,” note IV and “Myth and Science.” As I wrote in “Organization” and still believe, materialism is “the cadre’s razor.”

But, to be clear, I do not insist on any particular formulation or philosophical strain of materialism. I only think the unifying elements of all the different kinds of materialism tend to provoke the right questions: a focus on the body, on the desires and needs of that body, a focus on our “unlike but congruent representations” of the world. What matters “ultimate” reality when the pain of the table against my knee is reality enough for me to scream “ouch!” and try not to do it again? What matters “ultimate” morality when, regardless of whether or not I am “justified” in not hitting my knee against the table again, I very probably won’t, and neither will those around me, willingly? These are the kinds of things materialism has better answers for than pure relativism.

For a more philosophical take, see Sokal and Bricmont, “Defense of a Modest Scientific Realism.”

II

“Egoism” — a fine framework. But this common phrase, “free from all fetters,” seems to me to lend itself to doctrines of self-denial. Free from others? This is as absurd as saying “free from food.” A sort of repulsive Western Buddhism. For egoism to be intelligible, the “ego” must be a rooted concept, not a vacillating and free-floating one, else it becomes too manipulable and loses the main thrust of the egoist argument in the first place.  And the ego, to me now, is nothing less than the whole person, which — again — regardless of “ultimate” reality, has an ineradicable element, a will that is reality enough. See “Critique of Repent to the Primitive.”

III

It is membership of society, and not isolation, Stirner suggests, which is humankind’s “state of nature,” in that it constitutes an early stage of development whose inadequacies are, in due course, outgrown. Elsewhere, he describes the developing relationships between the individual and society as analogous to that between a mother and her child. As the individual (the child) develops a mature preference for a less suffocating environment, it must throw off the claims of society (the mother) which seeks to maintain it in a subordinate position. In both cases, Stirner draws the lesson that the individual must move from social to egoistic relationships in order to escape subjugation.

Assuming the gist of my materialism in note I, above: it’s not that we should be “self-interested,” but that regardless of any moral code or ideology or pre-established symbolic system, we act from our material condition, pulling and pushing against bodies and wills, and following our will, choosing even if we do not choose what we choose. Becoming conscious of this, escaping the ideological cages of adolescence that say, We do because it is “right” or “good,” is what I mean by egoism. My suggestion, then, is that by looking at things this way — consciously — we have attained something — freedom, perhaps you can call it, that is beneficial, that I want, or… well, here it dissolves into “Lo.” No language adequate to me yet exists for explaining it, but maybe if I pray to the pagan God enough I can extract a new language for it — from the Lo! Let us pray a little, then.

What does it matter that you say “rape is wrong” to the man who wants to rape? When it comes to his actions, the primary battle occurs on the terrain of force and persuasion, not morality, which remains only an instrument of force and persuasion.

And morality is no doubt a powerful tool: those who believe it are bound by it, and those who don’t can then pull the believers along by their moral chains. It is a tool of herding. We have all heard tales of the immoral pastor who pulls his congregation along only to leave them feeling like dupes when his own unbelief comes to light. Yet when they believed in this pastor, he possessed an enormous amount of power, able to unleash the dogs of his congregation on any enemy he wished, so long as he framed it inside of the congregation’s moral beliefs. See, e.g., the battle between the Church of Scientology and the IRS.

Thus a distinction develops between the shepherd and the herd; the social relations between shepherds and the social relations between and within herds.

Within the herds there is the comfort of moral stability, an easing into the pillows of firm regulations between members. Man need not worry about his degradation because he is convinced he is shielded by the mere assertion that attacking him is wrong. He thus becomes a helpless and manipulable creature; he has no will to protect himself because he is assured of the armor he wears, never acknowledging that the armor can be penetrated by a man with no regard for it and a stronger sword! Listen to me: it does not matter whether or not you want to live in that world — you do — those possibilities for attack exist, and you must be able to fight them with more than a moral assertion.

If, however, you remain complacent in your armor, comfortable in the pillow of civility, your relationships to other men will be defined by the herd and the shepherd you belong to. You will enact the will of the shepherd, who is fighting battles with other shepherds with other herds. Nothing but a mere instrument, never coming to age or escaping your civilization.

There is no necessary reason to oppose this state of affairs. In some ways it is the human condition, only exacerbated and fragmented in modern society. Among primitive peoples the shepherds seemed to be the adults, the herds the children, but nearly always the children would be brought to age. Today, however, there remains the possibility of always remaining in the herd, leaving those who oppose civility with no option but to embrace a Promethean impulse, to “raise the individual,” and, hopefully, thereby lead to the destruction of the civil state of affairs:

Among the unanswered questions which I raise anew is the question of civilization… Man becomes more profound, more distrustful, more ‘immoral,’ stronger, more self-confident — and therefore ‘more natural‘ — that is ‘progress.’ In so doing, by a sort of division of labour, the more barbaric strata and the milder and tamer strata become separated, so that the general fact escapes notice…. It is in the nature of strength, and of the self-control and fascination exercised by the strong, that these stronger strata possess the gift of making others take their barbarization for a kind of superiority. For every step of ‘progress’ includes a reinterpretation of the strengthened elements as ‘good’… (The Will to Power, #123)

But let me be clear. In outlining this mission openly I put a target on my back. Prometheus did not have a particularly happy story: after tricking the gods and granting fire to the humans, he was bound to a rock, each day an eagle sent to eat his liver, which each day would renew itself. Only in some stories was Prometheus saved by the half-god Hercules: who will be my Hercules? Will there be a Hercules?

Or else, perhaps I am John the Baptist, soon to be beheaded, never quite redeemed. Still, the head of John the Baptist was lost and refound throughout the centuries, hidden and revealed. Will my head, too, be preserved?

Or still even perhaps I can, after much shape-shifting, or a Rhea and Gaia, become Zeus…

There are many shepherds and many herds, and each wants to make my story what they will. The resolution of the story depends wholly on my believers who become unbelievers, my true readers.

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