Thursday, March 1, 2018

Outer and Inner Gods: The Encroachment of the Inhuman

Historically speaking, there have been three types of gods. First, there are natural forces and processes, which the ancients experienced as wonders or as miracles. The sun, in particular, was the model of the ultimate God in some henotheistic or Gnostic systems, as in Plato’s Cave analogy, while Yahweh was originally identified with the power of storms. But the animists worshipped all of nature, because they personalized what were actually just the living-dead natural transformations (complexifications and emergence of higher-order regularities), and so they felt free to socialize with what they took to be a universal community of spirits. That way, too, they were able to explain away potential accidents and so eliminate absurdity from the world as they experienced it. Alas, nature has lost its divinity, thanks to scientific disenchantment, although cosmicist pantheism is waiting in the wings for existentialists who have reckoned with the philosophical implications of a science-centered worldview.

Second, there were the human psychopathic rulers of large populations throughout the Neolithic period, who were worshipped as gods and who served as models for deities in polytheistic and monotheistic myths. The indifference of natural powers provided for relatively weak subject matter, aesthetically speaking, and to treat natural events as intelligently controlled, the animists had to project themselves onto the rest of the world, which would have made their myths predictable. The revolution in religious fictions happened when small, egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers turned into large-scale, sedentary societies riven by social classes. Only in the context of civilization did the “gods” stand apart from the masses as terrifying, alien characters whose epic, amoral exploits inflamed the poetic imagination, giving rise to the world’s theistic scriptures. Myths were no longer covert autobiographies about mere archetypes from the collective unconscious, but were inspired by the manifest inhumanity of the supervillains in charge of the megamachines. The latter were the civilizations that featured mass slaughter, domestication of other species and of the human (beta) masses, and enslavement of foreigners for the enrichment and aggrandizement of the ruling psychopaths whose effective divinity made the talk of an immaterial, personal deity superfluous.

Third, there’s the god within each of us, according to mystical, esoteric traditions which identify God with an underlying state of consciousness. The roots of worshipping this inner god go back to the shamans’ use of entheogens to access altered mental states, but the notion of this God’s oneness derives from the convergence in ancient India of the Indo-Aryan and Dravidian cultures, which gave rise to attempts to systematize and simplify the many gods, rituals, and teachings of Hinduism. The Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, for example, analyzed the sprawling diversity of Hindu speculations and reduced them to monotheistic principles, by identifying the many gods with elements of Self and World, Atman and Brahman, and then by collapsing that final dichotomy so that the divinity that underlies all mental and material phenomena could be contacted internally, by meditation or other Tantric practices.

The Inhuman Sovereign

There’s a curious affinity between the latter two types of gods, because both involve depersonalization. Those who are politically and theologically elevated to positions of superhuman power and who are duly corrupted by those positions since their actions are selected by their mere mammalian brain, either never had the capacity for complex normative thoughts and so were attracted to politics or were groomed at an early age for “leadership,” or else they lose their moral compass once they’re thrust into the role of having to make decisions for tens or hundreds of thousands of people whose lives the rulers hold in their hands. The kings and emperors, dictators and business magnates, therefore, typically accommodate themselves to their jobs by dispensing with the social sentiments and moral ideals that the masses regard as essential to anyone’s humanity. In Nietzschean terms, the rulers grow out of “slave morality” and transcend the psychological humanity of what is just the herd mentality, acquiring godhood due to their freedom to create not just their values but the value systems that they impose on the dominance hierarchies under their control. Both ancient and modern rulers, then, tend to be mentally (but obviously not biologically) inhuman.

The political philosopher Thomas Hobbes explained the law of oligarchy that’s implicit in this account, as a result of the need for the “Leviathan,” for the sovereign to take on the illusion of being a monster so as to terrify the masses into submission, thus ensuring the peaceful operation of the societal machine. One myth that sustains the illusion, for example, is that of political representation according to a social contract: the leader symbolizes the entire population under his or her command so that if the population consists, say, of a million citizens, the sovereign is conceived as being a million times as large and as powerful as any one mere citizen. To be in the sovereign’s presence, then, is to be overwhelmed by the million people who speak as one through this single representative. Whereas the citizens are subject to the laws that govern their society, the sovereign must be lawless, because the sovereign is no mere citizen. There are no laws dictating what’s proper for a single person who encompasses a nation or an empire. Instead, the sovereign’s freedom from the law is precisely the source of the terror that sustains the masses’ faith in the law’s propriety for everyone else. The law is legitimate that flows from the sovereign’s authority, because the sovereign alone has the superhuman power to snuff out thousands of lives on a whim. The law is just identified, then, with the sovereign’s will, and so fear of the sovereign as a monstrous god is the basis of the social contract, for Hobbes.

I’d add just that that monstrosity of the sovereign is no illusion. The power inequality obviously corrupts the ruler so that he or she becomes literally monstrous, psychologically speaking. The sovereign becomes a psychopath and often, more specifically, a malignant narcissist, which is the most monstrous type of mind we can imagine. From the perspective of social creatures who aren’t gifted with the opportunity to acquire superpowers in some high office, and who must therefore learn how to cooperate by playing nice in our social relations, most actual rulers, then, are in a sense literally inhuman. If they’re neither entirely superhuman nor subhuman, they’re alien others: the rulers lack the capacity for certain complex emotions and sometimes sabotage their successes and destroy their civilizations out of pique, but they acquire other capacities in compensation, namely the talent for diabolical cunning, for dispassionate assessment of opportunities. The ruler’s amorality is both vice and virtue, weakness and strength, since while the ruler will necessarily make for odious company, just as you’d never want to bring a predator or a monster over for tea, the ruler isn’t burdened by the delusions that provide excuses for the unreality of our moral ideals. Thus, like traumatized soldiers returning home from war, the ruler can see through the social charade, becoming an avatar for mindless nature, objectifying (instead of personifying) both himself and everything else and acting rather like how an all-powerful posthuman who is entirely free from folk delusions might be expected to act, sacrificing the one for the many, for example, without a second thought.

Inhuman Consciousness

The god within is likewise impersonal, because it’s supposed to be the oneness of consciousness with the perceived object. The enlightened individual purifies her mind and learns to focus her attention, avoiding distractions including her inner voice’s chatter, that is, her personality, and in that trance or moment of clarity, called samadhi in Buddhism, she reaches nirvana, a state of mental emptiness. After the ego is dissolved, what remains is a shell of consciousness which is supposed to be the reality underlying the illusions caused by our personal cravings. Our unenlightened thoughts are dualistic, because we set up dichotomies in our lust to conquer the world on behalf of our short-sighted desires. Once we eliminate those desires and the chattering ego, what remains is the stark indifference of interconnected beings.

The three main Indian religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism seem to have diverging interpretations of what’s supposed to follow from this enlightened self-destruction, which correspond to the right-hand and left-hand paths. These are only orthodox and unorthodox, conventional and counter-cultural interpretations. On the one hand, spiritual enlightenment is supposed to be joyful, ecstatic, or tranquil. The ascetic who reaches nirvana is harmless, because she no longer desires anything in particular and must only watch events happen with the same indifference of underlying nature. Alternatively, if she’s a bodhisattva, she’s enlightened with a remainder, meaning that she hasn’t entirely purified her consciousness of personality, and retains a moral calling to help others in their spiritual endeavours.

On the other hand, there’s the more cynical view deriving from Hinduism itself, which is individualistic and which holds in contempt those religious conventions that would sacrifice elitist individuals to preserve the contentment of the ignorant majority. The elitist goal is to enlighten yourself as fast as possible, to skip past the ruses of commonplace religion, to break taboos and recognize your inner divinity. So the shedding of the unenlightened ego isn’t the extinction of all personality, but just the elite’s rebirth as a channel for underlying consciousness, for Atman or Buddha consciousness or for the soul freed from karmic bondage. Satanism, chaos magic, and other such pagan or Wiccan traditions are Western offshoots of this left-hand interpretation of the purpose of the Indian religions. Thus, the Satanist breaks taboos by worshipping symbols that conventional religionists regard as evil, such as the icon of Satan or of the purportedly fallen self. Moreover, the Satanist’s goal is self-deification, to take responsibility for his or her actions, according to the insight achieved with enlightenment that within each of us, or perhaps only within an elect, is some divine power that we can tap at will, if only we abandon the fears that sustain the social contract under the reign of some monstrous sovereign. The point, then, is that some of us, at least, can be sovereign, can be alpha rather than beta, predator rather than prey, wise rather than pleased.

Comparing Monsters to Saints

There may be a causal connection between the second and third types of gods. The models of monstrous, superhuman sovereigns, that is, the human rulers of civilizations might have inspired the herds to achieve similar freedom even though the masses necessarily lack the same political opportunities or the genetic basis of sociopathy. In line with Nietzschean terms of the revaluation of values, the resentful “slaves” might have sought to overturn the rule of the “masters” by discovering or inventing a rival form of divinity, one based on ascetic withdrawal rather than worldly domination. So the slaves turned inward and found they had the power not to care—about their inferiority or life’s injustice and absurdity or any anything else. Thus was born the third type of god as a rival to the second one.

Alternatively, the advent of the third type might have been accidental, with no historical or psychological connection to political sovereigns. Either way, the important point which explains the rise of the right-hand and left-hand interpretations is that the two types of divine powers bear comparison. Both amount to freedom from delusions, the terrible price being that the enlightened person severs her link to the community. The sovereign ruler is born a monster or becomes one, thanks to power’s corruption of the dominator. The ruler’s amorality and earthly dominance free her from the noble lies that serve the collective and from many natural obstacles that constrain the huddling masses, such as the need to hunt for shelter, food, and other resources. Those who are considered more “spiritual,” the saints, mystics, and priests of the world’s religions, are the opposite with respect to their worldly status: they renounce material advantages to gain insight through meditation or some other means, which likewise frees them from delusions. Although they may be especially sensitive rather than robotic and predatory in their thinking, because they’re introverts and losers in evolutionary terms, those who identify with the third type of god, such as the Buddha and Jesus free their mind from fears, if only by lobotomizing themselves with mental discipline or indoctrination.

Whereas the psychopathic rulers, then, have no choice but to take the left-hand path, those whose godhood amounts to a surrender of the ego to a deeper level of consciousness face a choice between the two paths. Their selflessness would direct them to the benevolent option of compassion for everyone, including the unenlightened, in which case the ascetics preserve the noble lies of mass religion that sustain communities. But the spiritual elites’ knowledge and aesthetic, objective mode of experience tempts them to take the elitist, subversive route, since from the enlightened standpoint, a human is as ephemeral and as insignificant as a twig.

In both cases, godhood is likely a foreshadowing of transhuman culture. Technoscience will deliver us from obsolete myths and present us with nature’s pointlessness and indifference to life. The heartless vision of nature is thrust upon the human predators who serve as avatars of monstrous nature, such as those who excel in politics or business. These secular elites may not understand the world philosophically, but their genes, upbringing, or occupation ensures that they’ll think and act like the more spiritual, enlightened individuals in the sense that both are liberated from the domesticated life which is preserved by the myths that ensure the cooperation of strangers. The dreadful truth rushes towards us on multiple fronts: from competitions for worldly power that play out in governments and markets, to the philosophical or religious struggle for understanding, to the technoscientific quest to pacify, in effect, the first type of gods: all three have the same endpoint, which should be antithetical to society as its been structured since the transition to the Neolithic, twelve thousand years ago. The dreadful truth is that the myths that maintain the contentment of the more small-minded human creatures are utterly false and laughable, and that those who appreciate that fact are poised to become monsters unless they can see their way to a nobler way of life.

4 comments:

  1. i usually like your writing. a lot. tons of insight usually. but not today. let's admit it your understanding of sanatana dharma is seriously lacking. perhaps in the future you will get a better understanding by studying the subject thoroughly. i surely am hopeful that good material comes your way and you are willing to learn.

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    1. I'm aware that my knowledge of Eastern religions is far from complete. But I'm not talking so much about orthodox Hinduism in this article. My point is more general. It's about the idea of a God within as a state of consciousness, which you find in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. And one implication of that is the split between orthodox and unorthodox forms of Eastern worship, between religion that's friendly to social conventions and religion that subverts them. I'm merely mapping that onto the point that psychopathic human rulers functioned as gods (of the second type) and were worshiped.

      If you think I'm misrepresenting Hinduism, though, I'd be grateful for your criticisms.

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  2. Have you ever talked with Scott about how Kellhus and Neil (from Neuropath) fits into this theory of the second and third types of Godhead?

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    1. No, I haven't, but I didn't mean to talk here about anything like a unified Godhead. My point above is more historical than theological. I haven't read Neuropath. Does that book make some similar points? I know he's got a complicated and dark sci-fi/fantasy theology worked out, so there are bound to be parallels.

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