Introverted social outsiders fortify their inner selves with philosophical reflections. Alienated from the rest of the world by their self-absorption, they redeem themselves by rebelling against monstrous nature, whether through artistic expressions such as aesthetically meritorious acts of asceticism or through prophetic calls for cultural renewal that periodically awaken the masses who are held in thrall to the institutions dominated by predatorial, sociopathic alphas.
But do the tragically heroic omegas, those who are furthest from being happy and who occupy a sort of cosmic vanguard, since all wise primates are outsiders in their relation to the indifferent universe as a whole—I say, do those enlightened few likewise have an obligation to rebel against the alphas, to oppose theocracies, kleptocracies, or neoliberal plutocracies as so many glorified biologically-driven dominance hierarchies that betray our capacity for godlike creativity? If the diatribes of enlightened outsiders have historically emboldened the domesticated human herds to seek to be more spiritual than animalistic, even if those scraps of wisdom are then typically misinterpreted and quickly coopted by the jealous gods themselves, by what C. Wright Mills called the power elites, as in Catholicism and in all other major religions, is that opposition to our corrupt “leaders” as important as that to the undead wilderness? Moreover, is the latter rebellion, which consists of technological and cultural re-enchantments and vivifications of zombielike, robotic natural processes, displacing the wilderness with artificial worlds embodying our intentions, purposes, and ideals and ironically vindicating the ancient mythopoeic visions of a spirit world—I ask is that rebellion not identical to the surreal means by which the sociopathic alphas deify themselves? Specifically, isn’t technological creativity consistent with the cancerous economics of infinite civilizational growth? Isn’t hostility towards undead nature a premise in the satanic argument of modernity and thus just one more metanarrative rationalizing the gross power inequalities between those who control antinatural systems and those who are degraded in their servitude to those systems? How, then, should the enlightened few distinguish their doomed but honourable resistance from the alpha’s monuments to hubris? Are alphas and omegas perhaps equally unwitting pawns in the grip of monstrous nature so that true existential resistance is impossible?
The Existential Context
To address these thorny questions, we must first consider what the alpha rulers are actually up to. We can do this by placing alpha behaviour in its existential context, that is, by determining how the power elites deal with the broader, existential problem of human freedom. Our defining feature as persons is our ability to control ourselves, which is to say that in contrast with other animal species, we build up selves in the first place, a self being a mind that can detach from biological and social regularities, thus acquiring the limited freedom to direct its individual course. We’re not entirely free from nature or from society, of course, although the effect of technology is indeed to render us supernatural, to replace the natural landscapes with artificial ones that facilitate our autonomy by allowing us more easily to carry out our will. We’re still physical objects and are thus subject to physical forces and norms, although we use airplanes and spaceships, for example, to overcome gravity. Likewise, we’re masters of our reproductive process and thus aren’t as constrained by natural selection as are the unknowing animals.
In any case, partial freedom from nature consists not of any mythical, metaphysical or theological property, but of the building of an ideological wall around ourselves which gives us the cognitive space to choose how we should act. The wall fortifies us against some environmental pressures, functioning like an event horizon, being the public form of ourselves which encloses our innermost character. That character isn’t an immaterial entelechy but a set of cherished ideas or sacred beliefs which are themselves remnants of our formative acts of faith. Who we really are is defined by what we genuinely, consciously or unconsciously believe. We are just such thoughts and convictions, nothing more, and so we’re liberated when our deepest thoughts are the primary or sole causes of our actions, when our worldview is reflected in what we do so that instead of being merely a chapter in a larger biological or sociological narrative, our life is self-scripted. Whereas the members of most species act out their life cycle as organic vessels for their genes, we’re persons in virtue of our having mental and thus more original, even idiosyncratic control over what we do.
As I imply elsewhere, the bricks in the wall that build up our personhood are experienced as states of consciousness. Consciousness is the discrepancy between the contents of a semi-liberated mind and the world that’s wholly enslaved to undead natural dynamics. When we reflect on our thoughts, feelings, or sensations from the higher-order perspective, thus experiencing what it’s like to undergo those mental contents instead of just passing through them in the less reflective, animal fashion, we separate from the world, retreating to an aesthetic vantage point so that we can act as creators of our life. This perspective is somewhat like the alpha-fixed point of a Mandelbrot set of fractals, the point at which similar bulbs of the pattern sprout like flower petals. Perhaps stretching the analogy too far, the idea is that one bulb is the world of experiential inputs to which a person responds with a second bulb of actions that don’t just maintain the given world but distort it according to a vision of certain ideals which prescribe how the given world should be altered. The fixed point between the natural and the artificial is what the philosopher Thomas Nagel called the view from nowhere, the cognitive space of objectivity which I argue overlaps with the aesthetic attitude, a sort of mental island that’s broken from the mainland by the power to think for itself. We don’t always occupy that space, since we often perform our daily routines on autopilot, behaving more like animals than fully-awakened people. But we typically face our existential potential for freedom when we’re forced to decide how to handle some crisis. Then we say we have to “dig deep” and meditate, calling up our unconscious convictions to put our personal stamp on our response. Just as we export our genetic code in sexual reproduction, so too we impress our personality into the pattern of our activities. Even the humdrum habits we tend to form are decided largely by formative decisions we make as children or teens when we first confront the world that we learn is fundamentally opposed to us by its indifference.
Champions of Monstrous Nature and its Undoers
How, then, do the power elites express their freedom? Here we should distinguish between extroverted and introverted forms of personhood. Wealthy and powerful individuals tend to be more extroverted than not, since they put a premium on action rather than on thought to obtain their wealth in the first place, by navigating complex social networks in the market. If they’ve inherited their dominant position they must likewise act either to retain their wealth or to squander it; that is, the inheritor must either oversee the family business or spend her inheritance in a carefree life of luxury. There are exceptions, of course, such as the subversive, artistic ruler (e.g. Steve Jobs or the Pharaoh Akhenaton), the billionaire philanthropist (Warren Buffett, Bill Gates), or the voluntary ascetic who renounces his oligarchic advantages (Wittgenstein), but these exceptions prove the rule. However someone happens to acquire a monopoly, whether partly through luck or a combination of business acumen and artistic or religious zeal, the power elites face unique temptations to which these individuals normally succumb to some degree or other. The norm is therefore for those who acquire immense power to be corrupted by the process of obtaining it. In particular, they lose the inward part of themselves, because they’re too busy acting rather than reflecting or understanding, and so they lack the resources for a rich inner life. Powerful individuals are thus more robotic and animalistic than personal in the modern sense, since their ambition drives them to become more or less sociopathic. For example, they must compete with equally talented or well-positioned rivals, so that victory often requires some underhandedness to tip the scales. In such a competition for the world’s greatest material prizes, empathy and a conscience are detrimental.
Nevertheless, powerful extroverts have their version of freedom. Although they’re mostly soulless because they’re too busy achieving worldly success to spend long hours philosophically pondering their situation, they have elaborately-outfitted bodies and extended bodies (houses, offices, vehicles, etc.). Inwardly they’re overrun by the primitive impulses of greed, lust, and pride, but outwardly they’re independent, meaning that their wealth liberates their body rather than their mind. Their body is autonomous in that it can do what it pleases, since it’s embedded in an artificial world that empowers them. For example, if they want to breakfast in Paris, do lunch in Hong Kong, and dine in Dubai, they can fly in their private jet and make it so. Their possessions liberate specifically their body even as their inner self atrophies. In short, they’re free to do as they please, but not to please as they please. They lack the introverted habit of entertaining higher-order thoughts, and so in the limit cases they have no higher or inner self to modify their base one. Their artistry, then, is confined to the outer world: they sculpt their bodies, select their possessions, design their mansions, play in their sex life, toy with their underlings, and manage their companies. Their possessions perform the same role as the ideological interface in insulating these powerful persons from the outer world, so that they too become alienated. See, for example, the fearsome dictator (e.g. Saddam Hussein or Hitler) who inevitably comes to be surrounded by sycophants and who thus is liable to mistake the fantasy that’s meant to flatter his self-image, for the real world which is indifferent to even the greatest tyrants and empires.
What, then, do powerful extroverts tend to please? As I said, because their inner, higher-order self is diminished so that they’re unable to originate novel thoughts and feelings (novel compared to much more widespread animal motives), and because the steps taken in pursuing and hording wealth exacerbate our narrow-minded, base impulses, these upper one-percent individuals are preoccupied with the sordid, short-sighted endeavour of aggrandizing themselves; more precisely, since they have little if any interior life, they seek to aggrandize what they effectively stand for—and just what that is will become clear in a moment if it’s not already so. The powerful extroverts are proficient at the practical business of succeeding in some concrete fashion, but their success warps their perspective. They, too, face the existential curse of human freedom, but they’re ill-equipped to earn honour in that mystical, alchemical project of deifying their animal nature. They, too, face the loneliness of exile as their wealth divides them from the resentful masses and from the natural world they conquer with their industries. Alas, they’ve foregone the philosophical skills and artistic sensibility to appreciate the existential stakes of their situation.
They channel their creative energy into deifying their outer body, neglecting the inner self that can select not just material possessions or playmates but the ideals to guide their ventures, by a creative leap of faith away from animalism. When the powerful extroverts earn the majority’s opprobrium, as those elites usually succumb to decadent pastimes and serve more and more as monstrous avatars of the undead, impersonal cosmos at large, they can respond to the mob’s torches and pitchforks only with an animal’s terror or cluelessness, not with remorse for having failed to help create a better world or with cosmicist wonder towards the natural cycles that prevent such a Buddha or Batman-like hero from emerging in the first place. In any case, the upper class members shouldn’t be interpreted as selfish or narcissistic exactly, since they’re more or less psychopathic and thus mentally vacuous. The genes equip them with rudimentary drives for sex, power, and fame, while their training at elite colleges furnishes them with techniques and social connections for mastering business. But because they literally lose themselves on their way to their fortune, they come to embody the systems that use them. As I said, their sociopathy symbolizes the undeadness of the natural cycles, which reward such predators.
By contrast, introverts build up the ideological interface (the wall made of abstract ideas), frequently occupying the inner view from nowhere, and so having the capacity for a higher form of self-control. Introverts can be artists in the creation of themselves since they can steer their preferences according to a vision that reflects not the biological cycles or the social systems whirling around them, but their leaps of faith that establish their inner selves from next to nothing. Omegas tend to be introverted, because their preoccupation with reflection prevents them from succeeding in the fast-paced business and larger social worlds. They’re cursed not just with an internal view from nowhere, that is, with higher-order judgments of themselves, but with an alienated vantage point on their society in which they’re marginalized. As a result, they’re liable to be embittered and resentful because of the pleasures they miss out on, but also sorrowful and disgusted on behalf of the unenlightened mob for the grotesqueness of its farcical affairs, that is, for the betas’ toing and froing between serving the natural order (the upper class in the dominance hierarchies) and enjoying the fruits of that order’s subversion by more creative individuals (e.g. such fruits as the fine arts). Whereas alphas are animated by animal drives (specifically by the unquenchable, genetically-determined greed for power over their competitors and for alpha status, requiring obscene displays of conspicuous consumption), omegas are driven by aesthetic daemons to create worldviews that spark their actions. Whereas alphas represent the natural cycles that imprison most forms of life, omegas are wild cards with fantasies of subverting the natural order in which they’re failures.
Just to drive home the point, there are, then, two paths to what we might think of as the vehicle of human freedom. Where the user will take that vehicle is determined by what the user has had to become in the process of acquiring the key to stepping into her freedom. The alphas who in one way or another rule in society’s upper class liberate their bodies at the expense of their inner selves. Much like Darth Vader who acquires power by committing numerous evil deeds, garnering a mighty outer body controlled by a withered, worm-like inner one, alphas inevitably become disproportionately extroverted and sociopathic as they climb to the top of some social hierarchy. Their wealth allows them to achieve all their goals, while their neglected inner self deprives them of the ability to make inspired choices of goals in the first place. By contrast, the omega liberates her mind by overthinking her experience, thus condemning her body to a life of relative inaction even as she acquires insight into the full range of social configurations. The omega earns the key to freedom by carving out a rich inner space, that is, by philosophically thinking about her thoughts and about the social conventions which less awakened folks take for granted. The irony, then, is rich in both directions: the alpha drives a Lamborghini but the driver has no visionary inspiration as to where to take that vehicle, whereas the omega drives a jalopy and has an elaborate mental map of the possible destinations, which that underpowered vehicle will never reach.
Traitorous Predators and the Neoliberal Smokescreen
All of that was by way of providing some needed background to the questions at issue. How, then, do neoliberalism and the technoscientific destruction of the ecosystems fit into this picture? Neoliberalism is an economic smokescreen that protects the power elites’ external godhood. This smokescreen is the idealization of a market that’s “free” to correct itself, such freedom from coordinated nonmarket intervention supposedly being the most efficient way of organizing society: the government shouldn’t redistribute wealth downward, for example, since centralized planning fails as it did in the Soviet Union, and so nature should be allowed to take its course, that being for wealth inevitably to be horded upward. Curiously, this economic “freedom,” the individual’s lack of constraints on her ability to achieve her goals and thus to “maximize her utility,” is the same nullified “self-control” afforded by the hollow alphas. This is the liberal’s idea of what Isaiah Berlin calls negative liberty, the ability to do whatever you want, ignoring the logically prior questions of whether you can or should want what you want. No wonder this neoliberal conception of economic freedom became established in the halls of elite colleges and corporations: those halls are occupied precisely by the extroverted, sociopathic individuals who don’t wish to be reminded that they had to empty their inner self along their route to those very hallowed hallways, that contrary to liberalism, there is palpably a meaningful question to ask about what sort of persons we should be, or what goals we should pursue. These powerful “persons” are forced to take their desires for granted, because in the limit cases they have no inner or higher-order capacity for self-judgment; they have no creative imagination or conscience or philosophical drive to evaluate their condition—and they’re grateful for that inner emptiness since only without that baggage can they enjoy their luxuries. The smokescreen of neoliberal economics is thus also a projection of the power elites’ self-image onto the whole of society and even onto the social outsiders who are neutralized precisely by their being engrossed in the undervalued business of establishing their positive freedom, their autonomy by means of higher-order thoughts.
In any event, the smokescreen aspect helps us address the questions at issue. Very clearly, the effect of consensus economics is to serve the upper class, by paving the particular highway on which the alphas wish to drive their sports car, as it were. The alphas represent undead natural cycles as their avatars: having vacated their mental space, lobotomizing themselves so they can dominate others without fear of succumbing to debilitating thoughts of the excruciating absurdity of their enterprise, natural forces rush to fill that space. So-called free-market economics is just a social mechanism for institutionalizing sociopathy at the macro level, by neutering government (the capacity for higher-order societal thought and action), thus allowing natural processes to overtake society. In practice, an economically “free” society is one that has regressed to the default social organization that’s found throughout the animal kingdom, in which a minority of superpowerful individuals lord it over the weaker masses in a dominance hierarchy. Without the welfare state, the religious ideals and leaps of faith supporting it, or any other myth-based alternative to natural inequities, nature is of course invited to take its course, stabilizing the flow of genes into the next generation by providing clear signals as to which individual has which genes, depending on his or her status in the power hierarchy.
Neoliberalism, though, is just the theory. The applications of mass lobotomy are the various ways science and technology are used not to destroy natural ecosystems, as is often naively believed, but to end the human experiment and so to allow natural selection once again to be the primary means of determining ways of life on this world. The environmentalist cries out against the rapacious consumer society for threatening the ecosystem and the planet’s ability to support life. This cry betrays a woeful lack of insight into the real stakes at issue. It’s very doubtful that our species could eliminate all life on this planet, if the sun itself or meteors or the planet’s core which have already caused several mass extinctions couldn’t do so. But even if we do manage to turn Earth into a wasteland like Mars, we don’t know how life begins so we’ve no reason to assume life wouldn’t begin again here or elsewhere, albeit perhaps eons after current life’s termination. We easily ignore the vastness of the solar timescale because it dwarfs our small-minded prejudices. Still, the point is that much of the modern enterprise, which seems superficially to be opposed to nature, that is, to the wilderness, given the myriad artificial structures we put in place of forests, mountains, and lakes—I say that much of our enterprise is instead in service to larger natural cycles.
This is because those sectors driven by the sociopathic upper class are self-destructively antihuman, the effect being to create unsustainable societies for sentient beings so that we either wipe ourselves out entirely or neglect our engine of subversive, antinatural creativity. Dominance hierarchies work for species that lack self-awareness, reason, morals, and an existential yearning for transcendence. For us, such default social structures are so many zoos for our domestication, for showcasing the differences between economic classes. And so historically the lower classes rebel against the overlords and there’s a bloody revolution or else one empire swallows another as the sociopathic rulers clash in a bout of megalomania. Either way, as our weapons of war become more deadly to us, if not necessarily to the planet’s ability to sustain life, the stakes are raised in our conflict with nature since we must contend with the traitors in our midst, with the superpowerful predators and incarnations of undead forces who quash our collective potential for positive freedom by subordinating government to the marketplace, that is, our higher-order societal planning and democratic autonomy to wild, egoistic struggles for survival and domination.
The true foes of nature aren’t the power elites or the beta masses who consume the planet’s nonrenewable resources. As I said, even if capitalism manages to turn our planet into a husk, billions of years from now the universe will shake things up: the elements that comprise Earth will be recycled and a new planet will form or at least other life-sustaining stars will have been protected from the potential starfaring species that was never allowed to lift off of its home planet. Rabid consumers and sociopathic power elites are opposed not to nature but to humanity; after all, they eliminate that which distinguishes us as a species, namely our inner worth (our imagination, subversive creativity, conscience, and higher-order thought). They degrade themselves to adapt to self-destructive social systems, hamstringing the emergent sources of true artificiality so that nature can regain its footing in our corner of the universe. No, the true foes of the monstrous cosmic order are the outcast omegas, the prophets and artists and freaks that are possessed not just by an original vision of how the world should be, but by a passion for vengeance. These social outsiders are the authentic humanists since they identify with our Promethean, satanic mission to protect our inner freedom to subvert the old, remote natural order by humanizing it. These outsiders experiment with psychological and social structures, conceiving countless worldviews and cultures so that our ways of life might be galvanized by our ideals instead of just run by impersonal regularities. Whereas the omegas might likewise seem to be opposed only to the societies that exclude them, the effect of their resentment is to create unnatural worlds, most of which live only in their imagination but some of which inspire others to form collectives that dedicate themselves to the vision. Some such vision is typically coopted by the ambitious alpha, whereupon it becomes a patchwork of noble lies and spectacles that haunts a desiccated civilization, glorifying a subsequent generation of predators while marginalizing the complementary future omegas.
Thus, the omega is hostile specifically to those cryptonatural artificialities which are the instruments of her defeat: she opposes those parts of society which have regressed to the default mode in which nature takes over and reestablishes a power-based dominance hierarchy together with what Marx called the ideological superstructure that rationalizes the resulting inequities and other natural degradations. Examples of such rationalizations are myths like neoliberal economics, Hollywood’s version of the sociopathic hero of the Old West, and the feel-good sex-centered advertising campaign. Coloured by her alienation from society, the omega reaches the point of higher freedom (higher-order thought or philosophical enlightenment) to conceive of fantasies in which the guilty parties are upended. Of course, those parties are principally the joiners who thrive in the society that shuts out the radicals who don’t belong in it and whose isolation affords them the objectivity to comprehend that society’s grotesqueness. Ultimately, though, the process of excluding heretics, radicals, and artists isn’t driven by the alpha leaders or by the beta herds that follow them, since they themselves are hollowed-out and animated by undead drives, impulses, and mental programs. At least, a society that produces a lower class in the clichéd, natural manner is one in which the targets of omega wrath are the natural forces and cycles which the upper classes effectively serve (by engineering self-destructive social arrangements). The introverted visionaries, who are compelled to explore mental terrain because they’ve little chance of liberating their bodies to make the material world their playground, will either attack the avatars and puppets directly in their artworks or else do so indirectly merely by conceiving of novel ideas which threaten the status quo by their very existence.
So does the call for technoscientific enchantment of nature make for strange bedfellows? Not really, because the true contenders aren’t the ones in the headlines. Science and technology can be used against nature, in which case existential cosmicists should applaud the negations of nature’s loathsome impersonality. Genuine artificiality opposes nature only to the extent that it holds back lower-order processes by an emergent organization. All too often, though, the complexity collapses and the base patterns unfold so that the sparks of unnatural creativity are short-lived. What begins as an ingenious, godlike conception of an alternative state of human and cosmic affairs typically ends in nature’s coopting of the vision, culture, and institutions, because our scope for heroism is tragically narrow. Modern European science began as an uprising against medieval theocracies, since institutional objectivity threatened the ruling myths. That revolution led in two directions, towards grim enlightenment, relativism, cosmicism, apathy, and hypermodern nostalgia for the blissful ignorance of some premodern infantile state, on the one hand, and to modern secular dictatorships and plutocracies, to secular demagogues and sociopathic titans of capitalistic industries, on the other. Just as there were shamans, prophets, and heretics as well as chieftains, emperors, and brainwashed peasants in past ages, so too after the Great Enlightenment in Europe there are those who are disenchanted with the hedonistic, materialistic, technoscience-driven social order and those who thrive in that order even as they’re thereby dehumanized.