Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Comedy of Theism

The phenomenon of Western monotheism over the last couple of centuries belongs in a Twilight Zone episode. Few seem to appreciate the depth of absurdity in the persistence of exoteric theism after the Age of Reason, because those that do are faced with the real prospect of going mad. The danger isn’t just that outsiders in the minority may naturally feel more anxious and lonely; the threat, rather, is that the ongoing popularity of preposterous theistic beliefs is the rearing of nature’s ugly head, an appalling demonstration of the world’s tendency to unfold in bizarre ways. The strangeness of ordinary monotheistic beliefs and behaviour should humble the rest of us.

Beatniks, hippies, punks, goths, potheads, and other overt rebels against society were never the truly subversive ones; no, those who should be arrested on sight for threatening our sanity and our confidence in our freedom to rationally and creatively transcend our animal nature are ironically those credited as being the most normal: the secularized Jews, Christians, and Muslims who attend their religious ceremonies, watch pandering or self-righteous televangelists, smugly close their eyes in prayer, and shake their heads and mutter “Tsk, Tsk” when thinking of the dire supernatural fate of nonbelievers; who send their children to Hebrew school to keep alive fantasies of how Jews lived in the ancient past, as though the Jewish scriptures weren’t garbled appropriations of Babylonian and Sumerian myths, and as if Hebrew or the noble lie that laws derive ultimately from God means anything to materialistic and pragmatic secular Western Jews; who lack the courage to admit that Islam’s emphasis on submission to God played into the last century’s abysmal history of the Muslim world in which the majorities were conned into submitting instead to brutal dictators that ran their countries into the ground; who indoctrinate their young with religious toys and cartoons about Noah and Jesus; who talk casually about how they speak to God, how they walk with the Lord Jesus as though God’s voice would be a comfort rather than a mind-shattering alien blast of transformative data from another realm and as if the Gnostic and Essene Jesus wouldn’t personally behead 85% of extant Christians for their effrontery in claiming to be his followers; who proclaim that the Bible is different from everything else in the universe because that library is God’s Word, as though God wouldn’t be indirectly responsible for absolutely everything in Creation and as though God would have a mouth to speak or hands to write; who talk nonchalantly about miracles, as if the suspension of natural law weren’t the most terrifying prospect imaginable, and who boast that Christian or Muslim dogmas are supremely rational, as though these ingrates don’t hypocritically enjoy the material benefits of secularism and naturalistic technoscience and as if their creeds differ significantly from the ten thousand others they themselves dismiss out of hand; who walk around pretending to be serious, civilized adults, sitting in their offices or strapping on their high-heels, using three-syllable words as though the centerpiece of their belief system weren’t equivalent to a kindergartener’s chaotic finger painting, and as if they don’t falsify every idealistic word of their scriptures when they copulate like animals, taking care to keep the lights off so they can pretend their unseen bodies aren’t getting the better of them; who in fact betray their religious principles at every turn, rationalizing their worldly ambitions and double-talking their way out of conceding that their religion’s foundational prophecies are manifestly false. Yes, these average Western citizens are the true hooligans, because their inanities are hardships on the nontheistic outsiders who must square off against hostile nature not only without the protection of fantastic delusions, but with the extra burden of being alienated from their species. In this respect, as in several others, Western cultures are flat-out Kafkaesque.

The Horror of Theistic Absurdity

Think of how you react when you’re truly surprised. If someone creeps up behind you and touches your shoulder, you leap and cry out. Those are evolutionary responses: you leap to evade a potential predator and you cry out in alarm to alert your kith and kin. Action and reaction, a natural process that doesn’t fool around, because many thousands of years ago when we evolved this defense mechanism, the danger of being eaten alive was real. Now suppose you’re not just surprised but disgusted. You’re brushing your teeth and out of the corner of your eye, just inches from your hand that rests by the sink, you see a dark blur, and it takes a second to register what exactly you’re seeing, because you didn’t expect to see that there, so close now it’s nearly upon you: a large, hairy spider! Think of the insanity of this encounter: there’s no reasoning with a spider. Likely, as soon as you jump back, the toothpaste sloshing out of your mouth and your toothbrush falling in the toilet, never to be used again, the spider will scurry off in the opposite direction. But suppose you didn’t see the spider in time and it mistook your hand for an extension of the trusty, nonliving surface, in which case the spider could have crawled up your arm. Were we to meet with an extraterrestrial intellect, the result would likely be just as comical and horrific as this case of mistaken identity, when the spider crawls up your arm and you quake in irrational fear, your heart beats fast, you ignore the loss of your toothbrush, and you make inarticulate cries not of alarm but of shock and horror, the babbling of someone reduced to fleeting madness.

What I’m telling you now is that each cultural vestige of Western monotheism is as terrifyingly unexpected and monstrous in its implications as the spider that scares the wits out of you. To say that exoteric religion is absurd doesn’t come close to doing justice to the awful reality. “Absurd” is just a word, an itsy bitsy label taped to the inhuman hide of Cthulhu. Western monotheism is a real monstrosity, a mind virus that lives for thousands of years, that enslaves and degrades the majority of us, forcing us to act as clownish puppets, and that withstands even the antidotes prepared during the Age of Reason by the freethinking humanists, proving that that monster is only one head of the cosmic hydra which likewise cares not at all for our comfort. Think of how the tide should have turned merely as a result of the inventions of the microscope and the telescope. How much humbler we should have been as we literally saw that the universe was much larger than most of us could have imagined; how peripheral our planet is in the intergalactic scheme, and thus how dubious are most of our ideals and conceits, including our religious anthropomorphisms! Throw in the printing press which broke up the Church’s monopoly on interpreting the Bible, and also the scientific standards of historical criticism which should likewise have made literalistic fundamentalism impossible. And the technoscientific and philosophical progress went on and on, to Darwin, Einstein, and genetics, to Kant, Freud and Nietzsche, to the postmodern surfeit of empirical knowledge, so that now we take that progress for granted. The internet makes Westerners functionally all-knowing, just as our other luxuries complete the quasi-deification of the richest among us.

If accursed reason had had its way, we would all be writhing now in the quicksand of nihilism, having been dehumanized by the tools of rationality we hold just as those tools dissect whatever they objectify. We should all be miserable, alienated wrecks, lacking faith in any way of life as we contemplate the ramifications of philosophical naturalism. This is where reason alone takes us and the Age of Reason is now behind us. But the beast has not been slain! The zombie has picked itself up so that it can shamble on, its revolting decayed flesh nevertheless baking in the light of reason. And there are armies of such zombies and they walk among us: their gangrenous shoulders brush up against us in the streets; their solemn gatherings are broadcast far and wide because the congregations are confident due to their ignorance, their incoherent moans echoing and their chutzpah a dagger through each existential hero’s heart. And they pity us, those deluded creatures! Their every puppet dance mocks our heroic potential, which was fulfilled by our ancient ancestors, for example, who conquered their fears, learned how to survive in the wilderness, and revolted against the hostile world; moreover, all the subhuman clowning amounts to considerable evidence that our life is some grotesque collective nightmare. Still, the bumbling abominations have the temerity to grunt condescendingly when in the presence of those who tragically sacrifice their happiness for rationality, to pretend that their every waking moment as fantasy-mongers is anything other than an atrocity committed against the human spirit. Seeing the full dimensions of the madhouse, glimpsing the limbs that flail outside the windows, standing aghast as the gibbering lunatics scurry down the walls and dash naked up the street or dress like adults with the aim of conducting business, as though every one of their successes weren’t nullified by the toxic absurdity they emit like foul body odour—such encounters threaten to infect the sober spectator with the theist’s madness.

I’m climbing up a wall of the abyss to share my dread speculation, which I hope will make sense of the nightmare. I ask, as one wailing in the wilderness, what is the meaning of this absurdity? The question is paradoxical, but those who wish to live now in dignity must try to answer it. What meaning can be salvaged from the ruins of modern mythology? For secular humanism is now as hopeless as the lone survivor of a zombie apocalypse. We atheists, naturalists, pragmatists, pantheists, and esoteric (enlightened) theists in the West are the precious few survivors who must live in the shadows or hide our contempt for the majority so as not to arouse the beasts that only pretend to be human in the modern, psychological sense of that word. Wherever we turn we confront foolishness and audacity, but can we make the best of our lot? Can we save ourselves by avoiding the colossal folly of exoteric theism as well as the dead ends of ultrarationalism, which are the curses of naïve scientism and depressing nihilism?

I heave my shredded legs over the edge of the abyss to whisper that salvation is possible and its name is comedy. We must interpret the palpable absurdity of monotheistic religions as the signature of the greatest prank ever inflicted and we must learn to laugh rather than cry in response. Let our laughter be the mantra that returns us from the brink of madness. Oh, the folly of theism has been lethal to hundreds of millions over the centuries and the idiotic behemoth of the material world that’s perpetrated this prank mustn’t be taken lightly. We must keep our wits about us, inwardly bemoaning our fate even as we vent our frustration with begrudging titters. But learn to laugh at monotheists we must, because the alternative is to let ourselves be benumbed as the magnitude of the world’s assault on our kind dawns on us. As hostile as theism is to reason, so too is nature in general alien to our noblest preferences; indeed, various cognitive and social mechanisms—gullibility, fear of death, anthropocentric metaphors, tribalism, and so on—bring us the plague of exoteric theism. The few tragic existential heroes drifting through the postmodern wilderness mustn’t succumb to fear or disgust even though they’re surrounded by ancient undead programs possessing the majority of human brains, because those survivors of the passing of the Age of Reason are the precious heirs to the human spirit.

I rise from my bruised knees to caution against an all-out assault on the irrational hordes. Just as the survivors of the fictional zombie apocalypse can’t defeat the enemies by shooting or hacking them all, so too the minority that sees the real world clearly for what it is shouldn’t waste their mental energy in a rational counterattack against theistic propositions, as if those propositions merit that caliber of refutation. You don’t consult abstract theories of art criticism to judge a child’s finger painting, since doing so would be as foolish as gleefully slapping paint on scrap paper with your bare hands. Likewise, the question of theism’s irrationality is so far from being the crucial point that even to speak obliquely of the matter, as I’m doing now, is to be pulled back to the edge of the abyss of madness. Of course literalistic theism is preposterous. So too is the world that comes from nowhere (as implied by quantum mechanics) and that degrades our intelligent species by causing us to tend to believe in supernatural beings. Refuting theism leaves you not with an entirely rational alternative worldview, but with a superficially rational one that ends in nihilism and despair. Arrayed against the Western monotheist, all the weapons of logic and science, and all the knowledge of fallacies, cognitive biases, and religious hypocrisies and historical atrocities are like canons pointed at an ant. The rational evisceration of theism is not the path to salvation from our existential plight.

Theism as Absurdist Comedy

No, humour is the way. But how to find humour in a nightmare? Through aesthetic interpretation. From the rational point of view, exoteric theisms look like acres of forestland to a pyromaniac holding a flamethrower. But it’s hard to see the comedic side of absurdity if you’re preoccupied with deconstructing arguments and falsifying pseudoscientific generalizations. Rational demolition is a coldhearted business. Now, some absurdities aren’t interesting enough to be comical, but as I said, Western monotheism is the greatest practical joke of all. This wasn’t always so, since although monotheism was always false it wasn’t always irrational or demonstrably preposterous. Before the modern age, there were still ancient Greek, Chinese, Indian, and other naturalistic or enlightened worldviews, but they were largely speculative or reliant on psychedelic firsthand experience. Only after the modern European rise of technoscience has literalistic theism become an obvious embarrassment, like a lingering fart in an elevator. Theism’s absurdity is terrifying, when we reflect on the implications: only an uncaring, undead world could afflict us with the cognitive weakness needed to enslave us for millennia to childish, anthropomorphic projections. But that same absurdity is comical when construed as an inadvertent work of art.

Specifically, the exoteric theist’s lifestyle is a piece of performance art. The script is written down, mass-produced, and abbreviated and improvised by editors (priests, pastors, televangelists, religious rock bands, etc) who coach the actors on how to tighten up their performance. These actors are disconnected from reality even when they feign sanity to fit into nominally-secular society. And these are method actors, because they must fool themselves to withstand the enormous pressure in their mind caused by their innate reason’s howl of laughter at their performance. What’s their performance? Their act consists of their living as though their theistic beliefs were plainly correct rather than egregiously, unforgivably out of order. Just as a circus clown publicly makes a mockery of himself, pretending that his behaviour isn’t foolish, the mainstream theist relies on the cover given by politically correct, liberal conventions of tolerance, like so much face paint to conceal her shame. These performance artists act the fool for so long that they train themselves to ignore the palpable absurdity, to succumb to their primitive fears and irresponsible wishes, to publicly act out their dream so that anyone can see them tossing and turning, kicking their legs, and uttering nonsense while they’re half-asleep. The theistic lifestyle is nothing but a collective daydream and while there’s horror in this, there’s plenty of humour in it too.

There’s the slapstick of the theist continually bumping up against the indifferent universe, which is really the base comedy of someone punching herself in the face, since natural forces possess the exoteric theist and so abuse their puppet, whereas rational (and differently cursed) individuals are more autonomous due to their greater self-control. There’s also the schadenfreude of being forced to look down on these theists because of their self-infantilization. After all, what would comedy be without a spectator? And since most people alive are exoteric theists of one silly kind or another, the aesthetic appreciation of their performance falls to the minority of sober judges who should wince as they descry the real actors behind the makeup: undead natural forces pull the puppet strings, forcing the naïve literalists to perform their asinine skits, to bow their heads and read their lines so the show can go on. We rational few, forlorn but unbowed in our existential struggle, are the only ones left to identify the spectacle as a monstrous work of art. The performance might as well have been intended for our entertainment. Of course, it’s unintended, because the actor is undead and the theists have at best minimal humanity. But every horrible implication of theistic absurdity can be converted into a comedic one as long as we sit on our rational obligations and enjoy the show.

Sure, if the actors lose themselves in their improvisations and become violent, as in the case of Islamist terrorism, we’re forced to leave the theater and send in the security guards. But while opening nights can go awry and actors now and again can lose their place due to stage fright, neither eventuality should sour us altogether on the theater. We tragically-sober few must relish the comedies that we’re lucky to find, because we’re surrounded for the most part by a nightmarish wasteland. We’re therefore obliged to redeem the horror show which is the postmodern continuation of mainstream Western theism. Instead of being dragged down into nihilism, due to an ultrarational declaration of war against religious foolishness, we should turn the dross of undead cognitive processes into comedic gold by the furnace of our good taste.

And now, having imparted my secret for remaining sane even after staring into the void of nature’s meaninglessness, I stagger into the urban jungle, searching for a clown to lighten my burden.


  1. You are the staggering zombie, friend, seeking brains to devour because they disgust you. Your mockery of other sects is no different than the mockery Presbyterians offer Mormons, Lutherans offer Catholics, Jews offer Muslims, et cetera. Your uncritical faith in the shiny baubles of computers and airplanes--and your simultaneous co-option of and hatred for the planet and species who has built those toys--is the real danger, here. Without cruel philosophers like you at their head, the fantasies of all human religions--including western white boi techno-consumerism--would be pleasant myths. It is arrogant, hateful men like you who turn stories into belligerent creeds.

    All wars are ultrarational. They are always sold by evil men like you, who declare that Reason X justifies hatred, mockery, and annihilation. The religious boogeyman you want us to fear is no different than the religious boogeyman zealots always want others to fear, in order to drum up the misery and killing they thrive upon.

    You are little Calvin the sculptor, explaining to Hobbes why your art is so great because it condemns people too stupid to understand it. You eat the food, drink the drink, and sleep in the beds of the people you loathe. You share their air and use their smartphones. You log onto their internet. Without them, you are nothing, and that terrifies you. Your only hope--your only salvation, even by your tongue--is to live as the cruelest parasite, hating your host and thriving only on that darkness.

    It is people like you who have built the sorrows of today. You rouse us to hate each other, like any good demagogue, assuring us that the Papist, the Kike, the Mahometan, the heathen native is the cause of our troubles. Yet, without people like you, there would be no troubles. Your name is strife, for you ask us to misunderstand and make war upon each other.

    Again, dear brother, I thank you for exemplifying rationalism. Your cry is growing increasingly strong, and soon, ultrarational technicians in sterile, air-conditioned rooms will steer robot drones to sweep the planet of anyone who doesn't agree with them. It will be a crusade to end all other crusades, because it won't be called a crusade. But from a million miles away, it will just look like another war of man.

    One day Cain suggested to his reader, "Let's go out into the fields."

    1. I've touched a nerve with this one, then. I thought I might. I'm not talking here about all religious people, though. For example, I exclude pantheism and mystical, enlightened, Eastern-style religions. I'm talking about literalistic, exoteric, mainstream Western monotheisms.

      Now, you think writers like me are ironically the source of all the trouble and the cause of all the confusion. But you're attacking the messenger. What I'm talking about in this article/rant is a certain horrific phenomenological fact. The core beliefs of the majority of Westerners are grotesquely irrational and distasteful. (It's not just a matter of irrationality, because I think we're all largely irrational and I've criticized secular humanism and scientism for being substitute religions.) But the point is that the minority of Westerners who understand how religious metaphors work and who appreciate how the Age of Reason has made the literalistic readings of ancient myths obsolete are nevertheless forced, sort of as you say, to live side by side with what seem like alien creatures.

      And I'm saying (hyperbolically, for effect) that that feeling of being a marooned explorer on an alien planet threatens the explorer with madness. To help save the explorer, I recommend not rational attacks against theism, but laughter at the theist's expense. Unlike in an encounter with a real extraterrestrial intelligence, the nontheist isn't ignorant of what's going on with the theist, so that laughing at theism wouldn't be merely a crude sort of bigotry. Nontheists do need to defend themselves, but from their knowledge of theism, not from their ignorance of it. We understand exoteric theism all too well and sometimes the alienation can be insufferable. That's why many atheists band together, forming substitute religions, because they prefer not to feel like outsiders.

      Anyway, you say I'm exemplifying rationalism. Well, in this article the issue is indeed largely about a rationality gap, about succumbing to the innate cognitive weaknesses we all have. But I oppose what I call the dead ends of ultrarationalism (scientism and nihilism). So a hyperrationalistic, technoscientific WWIII would hardly be carried out in the name of anything like my writings. Hitler supposedly was inspired by Nietzsche, but of course the Nazis misunderstood Nietzsche because they were familiar only with his sister's biased edition of The Will to Power.

      As I see it, you're consistently misunderstanding my intentions. I'm trying to help people who are already in some way alienated from certain social conventions, who don't fit into society or who aren't satisfied with mainstream opinions. I'm talking about an existential predicament which I certainly didn't create and I'm looking for remedies. You keep saying it's writing like mine that causes this grief for intellectuals, but this just isn't remotely so. In this regard I'm only a messenger, just as Nietzsche was a messenger who brought people news of the death of God. Nietzsche didn't kill God. The Age of Reason did that. Not that my writings are as great as his, but would you have pilloried Nietzsche as well?

      I'm curious, though: elsewhere, you show that you respect the scientific temperament, although you strongly disapprove of the political aspect of scientific institutions and also of the social effects of technology. But when you're thinking in terms of evidence and observation and so on, how can you still defend exoteric, literalistic monotheism? Do you really think these are just "pleasant myths"? That they don't infantilize the masses and that they couldn't do much better, philosophically and existentially speaking?

    2. I am not defending exoteric, literalistic monotheism. The enemy of your enemy is not always your friend, and the friend of your enemy is not always your enemy. Say we're in a neighborhood, and you're running around setting fire to houses. I'm scurrying after you, asking you to stop doing it. My criticism of your methods does not mean that I am the ally or supporter of all of, or even any one of, the people in those houses.

      Your screed is remarkably similar to thoughts I have had myself, many times, in the face of various religious fools who believe in talking donkeys, divinely-inspired prohibitionary sexual minutiae, or any of the rest. We must watch ourselves, though, for if we fall prey to negative behavior, we become the very thing that we said we were fighting against.

      How do you think those exoteric, literalistic monotheisms were created, anyway? Did all those people awaken one morning and decide to be jerks? No. They followed the same path that you are on: they made observations, drew likely conclusions about them, got angry or frightened, felt hopeless, and then decided the only course left to them was to declare war on the Others.

      Babies are cute. Sunrises are beautiful. People die and we don’t know what, if anything, happens to them afterward. It’s not a long step from there to the nice parts of any of the religions you critique. Where those religions become toxic, though—where they draw the insane conclusions that form part of your recent banana bag—is when people give up hope in other people. Other people become goyim, sinners, heathens, nincompoops, retards, et cetera, not worthy of a specific understanding, but only of resistance, violence, mockery, or pity.

      The great mistake that entrapped them, and is entrapping you, is being guided by your logic into believing that the world sucks. They ascribe their rationality to prophecy, spoken by prophets they’ve never met; you to science, recorded by scientists you’ve never met. In each case, you’re a sufficient degree of confident in your beliefs to structure your worldviews around them; in each case, your conclusion is that things suck and most people are stupid. What your essay up there did is divide the world into a Chosen Few (the intelligent, philosophical laughers) and the Heathen Masses.

      When that point is reached, that’s something of a “singularity,” since we know you like singularities. ;-) Embracing futility leads to the coarse, impartial behaviors that shape absolutist societies around consumption and killing—even if you started down that road as a mere “coping strategy” for futility, the end result of believing in futility is lashing out at all the imaginary, worthless, extra people around you. That is the formula that created the absurd, violent religions you’re railing against. Here now, in speaking with you, I’m speaking with part of the nexus for what the next stage of sorrow will look like. It is a short step from burning books to burning people, as it is the same short step from laughing at futility to eliminating it. No matter how benign your current motives, you are helping build the logical framework for the elimination of a lot of people.

    3. Moving along, "The Age of Reason" is not a new invention. That is merely its selling point. For you to conclude that the Scientific Revolution has made any of the fantasies impossible is as temporally arrogant as the same claim at any other time. Hyperspace provides innumerable venues in which Jehovah might conceal himself; Hell could easily be on the other side of a wormhole; djinn could operate in the form of computer programs that eliminate viruses before you know you have them. Until humans are gone, there will never be a way of stifling faith; for you to claim, in 2013, that the books popular to the previous generation’s instructors have eliminated all reasonable fantasy is tantamount to Göring claiming that there would never be a faster airplane. At many times in the past, after many massacres and plagues, men have believed that possibility had been ended. It is a lofty western arrogance that “our” favorite classicists have done something unique.

      (I enjoy reading about, say, the Renaissance, too, but we can enjoy a chocolate chip cookie without it having to be The Best Cookie Ever, right? Let alone The First Cookie or The Only Cookie.)

      When I argue with you, I’m trying to prevent you from going any further down this path and completing the morph into yet another of humankind’s versions of hyperrational Us v. Thems. While writing this reply, I came across a couple blurbs from some absolute jackass ministers I know, who are in the habit of trying to reconcile only their favorite parts of science, only their favorite parts of the Bible, attacking Syria, TV commercials, and women’s rights, and shape all those things into some kind of grotesque, condescending outlook on human behavior. So believe you me, I recognize the temptation to follow the advice in your original post. :-)

    4. I appreciate the point that there's a danger in demonizing people. I certainly set up these theists as Others in this article. Some of my writings here aren't meant to be taken at face value. I think this particular rant should be read as somewhat hyperbolic, so I'm exaggerating to drive home the point. Still, I think there's merit in discerning the strangeness of exoteric theism, especially in the modern age.

      I think we differ on at least a few points. First, you're more optimistic about saving the masses. You think it's all in the hands of the purpose built into nature. Evolution is leading us to a brighter tomorrow, to the defeat of antilife forces. Maybe you think it's not inevitable, but you at least have some metaphysical inspiration to make you comfortable with your hope that everyone will eventually see the light.

      I actually have a similar inspiration, which is transhumanism, but I'm not religiously committed to this technoscientific optimism. So I'm left with a naturalistic (objectifying, non-normative) view of social hierarchies. And this leads me to our second difference. You seem to take on board the liberal's value of equality. You think we're all the same underneath, and of course we do indeed have all the similarities that make us members of the same species.

      But because of the natural power dynamics, most species are divided into dominance hierarchies, which means different people occupy different social positions. I'm not talking about jobs, but about more general positions that signal the differences between people's evident fitness to carry their genes. Alongside all the social games we play, which occupy most of our conscious thoughts, there's an animalistic struggle we're all part of. That struggle is entirely divisive, because it's a sorting process: the wheat are separated from the chaff.

      This is Darwinian evolution and one of its results, as I see it, following Nietzsche, is that in society there are what he called orders of rank. Nietzsche had his own theory of what separates these ranks. On my account, there are alphas, betas, and omegas, extroverts and introverts, esoteric and exoteric cognition, outsiders and insiders, winners and losers, and so on. These differences are produced by natural evolution. It's politically incorrect to talk about them, because liberals like to think everyone should be equal.

      Our third difference is that you interpret me as embracing an entirely negative worldview. I think the problem here is that my ideas are literally being lost in translation for you, since you're filtering them through your Manicheanism. If you read my earlier article on Brassier's nihilism, you'll know that I don't conclude that the world sucks. I assume that two purely rational ways of interpreting philosophical naturalism lead you to the dead ends of scientism and nihilism, and I reject both paths. That's why I emphasize aesthetics, comedy, and our nonrational capacities. I'm saying here that we shouldn't attack these theistic Others. We should laugh at the absurdity *if the alternative is to be horrified and maddened by it.* That's the lesser of two evils, as I see it.

      This last difference encompasses our views of the Age of Reason. You say this period wasn't unique, but I think you might be assuming a feminist version of postmodern relativism (I could be wrong, if I'm misremembering what you say elsewhere). The Scientific Revolution was indeed unique. It was a Cambrian explosion of the mind, leading to an evident transformation of our environments. Technology progressed much faster after that period. But the relevant point is that exoteric theism looks especially strange during and after all of that focus on rationality and empirical truth.

    5. Here's where we've returned, again due to your delightful honesty, to life versus antilife. Despite all of the seeming dazzle of the justifications you can call on in 2013, your argument is still, "life is separate," which creates, "life is struggle," "life sucks," and "life sucks, postscript we can at least appreciate a few things before we die, so from a certain point of view, maybe it doesn't completely suck."

      It would be appropriate to say that you've resurrected Plato, except that Plato never needs to be resurrected, this epoch; his idea of caste systems, and the classification of aspects of the world, including people, thereinto, has underlied all of the state/elite systems of control that have tried to slow evolution and technological development ever since they found classical foothold.

      The argument is self-justifying, though. Incumbent upon dating rags' depiction of alphas, betas, and omegas are the ideas of (1) caste, (2) exclusion, and (3) the bitter world that necessitates forming (1) and manifesting (2). Winners, insiders, outsiders, losers, and any other castes you mention can be easily fitted into that rubric: they all depend upon the Republican (platonic) viewpoint.

      For the losers, the excluded, and the un-enjoyers in these unnatural caste systems, the systems are often unpleasant. Intelligence breeds a sense of the horror and unfairness of it all. Yet, it is those unnatural systems of division that cause any of the miserable conclusions that justify nihilism or coping strategies thereof.

      Negative aspects of our worldview find their source in our creation of and play in these terrible, deadly systems. It is belief in them that leaves people alone, hungry, victimized by war, et cetera. They are self-serving, because negativity augments negativity.

      More importantly, we avoid responsibility for them. We're like a penniless drunk, blaming inevitable facts about the world, rather than our own drinking and splurging, for our empty bank account and headache. In the absence of caste behavior, we would be supporting each other. Notions of personal greed and control would not be constantly checking ingenuity and achievement; we would not be sick, starving, fighting, or lost, but instead constantly seeking out new delights in each other.

      Even in as seemingly innocuous a field as pharmaceutical regulations or agricultural patents, you can see how access-restrictions send ripples of misery across the entire species. Yes, sometimes children slip on rocks, get an unexpected illness, or die, but the small sadnesses of the real world cannot compete, even augmented a billion times, by the ones we deliberately and systematically do to ourselves, over and over.

      Our situation is our fault. Whining about how Mother Nature did it to us by forcing us to divide our societies into restrictive, absurd castes is childish, stupid, and lazy.

      The historical periods you celebrate--limited drastically to a few thousand years of recent record-keeping--are variations on the theme of division and sorrow. The Age of God-Kings and the Age of Reason are different only in the details. Pull the camera back a little, and they look almost identical, being merely different ways of explaining why humans are isolated, lowly creatures subject to the torments of forces beyond them.

      Later conceptions of Anubis, though, ate human hearts in mimicry of the pharaohs we had created. The nuclear bomb was not the atom's fault, but ours.

      When I say that, I become as unpopular as the one of penniless drunk's friends who tries to encourage him to sober up and get a job. Why listen, when it's so obvious that (1) hangovers hurt, and (2) being drunk is the answer?

    6. I agree we shouldn't blame nature for our choices. That's why, contrary to Jerry Coyne, for example, I'm not a determinist. I say we have a limited degree of freedom; otherwise, there would be no existential crisis. Indeed, as I say in "Authenticity and the Cost of Self-Creation," those who suffer the most, the omegas, outsiders, and introverts, are the most free because they're the most detached from their emotions; they have the highest, most abstract level of cognitive oversight of their thoughts.

      And that's another reason why I don't say life in general sucks, because I'm aware that the majority of people are happy. Their happiness is made possible by delusions which prevent them from confronting their dire existential situation, and those delusions also make them less free and less posthuman than the alienated outsiders. So life sucks only for the existential elites, those who tend to lose out in evolutionary terms. Life should suck for everyone, but most people avoid thinking about the unpleasant facts of life, because they have many distractions (work, sex, pop culture, etc).

      You say inequality is artificial, I say it's natural (biological). You know the three principles I bring to bear on this question (Iron Law of Oligarchy, dominance hierarchy, power corrupts). I certainly don't think social classes and castes go back merely to Plato or to ancient India. These inequalities are found throughout the animal kingdom, so they're natural.

      Anyway, I refer to such general processes not to blame them for all our suffering, but to explain and highlight our existential predicament. We're free so we're largely to blame for our choices; moreover, we must confront the existential challenge with a leap of faith in some creative, responsible way of life, and that creativity requires originality and thus--once again--freedom from the forces that drag us down and enslave us to cliches.

    7. 1) When you say that the majority of people are happy, perhaps you mean that the majority of middle-class-or-above people in certain "first world" nations would respond to a survey by indicating that they're happy. You may be leaving, say, the original human continent out of the question.

      2) Your pecking order metaphors still rely on your powers to read the minds of chickens (and/or other animals that some scientists have observed) and determine that they have the same individualistic desires to get things at the expense of others that people do.

      On the anthropological side of things, you're surely aware of the decades-long "mistakes" that modern anthropologists have criticized, where observers would go to native villages, superimpose western cultural ideals on them, and draw grossly erroneous conclusions about marketplaces, marriages, and social posturing, only to be disproved when someone who actually spoke the language talked to the people?

      It is often exceedingly difficult for westerners to imagine a world without greed and castes; they see themselves in everything, and are frequently wrong-wrong-wrong.


      Imagine a world where this hell is the relatively recent creation of selfish bastards descended from the Grecian and Roman slave lords, who refuse to believe that there is any other way. You can perform this exercise while reading a newspaper. =]

  2. High Arka: I hate to be harsh, but I am staggered at the implication that Benjamin, OF ALL PEOPLE, has uncritical faith in the shiny baubles of technology. That seems a pretty profound misreading of his writings here.

    But of course, you believe in some kind of vague "purpose" to the universe and quote ridiculous canards straight from the Answers in Genesis website (I mean, missing links), so... Jeezou!

    I enjoy some of your writing, too...but how is one philosopher, Benjamin, writing a rather esoteric blog some kind of profound force for EVIL in the universe? Especially given the document realities of the evil done in the name of religion. Not CAUSED by religion, of course, but certainly justified and made glorious by religion.

    1. Indeed, I don't have faith in technology, although I'm curious about the speculations of a technological singularity. Elsewhere on this blog I've said that technology makes us feel more at home in the wilderness, by creating vehicles for our anthropocentric ideals. I've said that we can use technologically in a creative, responsible way, one that deals well with our existential crisis and doesn't foster delusions, but I'm well aware that pop culture isn't so responsible.

      I think maybe High Arka was picking up on where I praise our ancient ancestors for learning how to control some natural processes. Indeed, there must have been great heroism then. Imagine the fears you have as a child who's first becoming self-aware. Now imagine there are no adults to guide you through that process. That must have been what it was like for those who first stepped out of Eden, as it were, who had no history to fall back on, which is why I suspect they jumped at the chance to hear what seemed like spiritual guidance from the warped images of themselves they encountered when they took psychoactive substances.

    2. We may be swirling around what constitutes a "shiny bauble of technology." What this one said above was not that dear Benjamin is wowed by touchscreen smartphones or cranial companions. A technological bauble can be much more; it can be a theory or idea dependent on the technology or infrastructure of the modern world. Much of what we believe about the world right now is based upon pure thought experiment, a.k.a. unfalsifiable theories. The things that Great Men proclaim after their rigorous in-head thought experimenting is as much a bauble of this age as a blown-glass bead in another.

    3. Sorry--should've read "touchscreen smartphones or tablet computers."

  3. After reading quite a few of your posts, I can't help but think you must be familiar with Miguel De Unamuno.

    1. Thanks for reading! I did read some of his book The Tragic Sense of Life, a number of years ago. I had a hard time getting past the Christianity, but there are certainly numerous similarities between our views. He's an existentialist and although he rejects Nietzsche, he judges life from that elevated, aesthetic perspective which reveals comedic and tragic patterns.

      Indeed, I'd compare Unamuno to Don Quixote. Both take a leap of faith (Unamuno needs Christianity to rationalize his desire for immortality), both stand by their choice of moral principles, but in my view, both have bad taste! They put their faith in archaic cliches. Don Quixote tilted at a windmill because he thought the modern monstrosity was a dragon; he was stuck in a premodern worldview and couldn't do what Joseph Campbell said we should, which is to update our myths as needed.

      Likewise, although Unamuno's Catholicism is easily explained by his Spanish social context, that influence right there is the problem for me. He didn't go all the way with existentialism; at least, if he did become an outsider, he leaped right back into the world of conventional Christianity. Mind you, he did appreciate the curse of reason; he kept torturing himself with an awareness of his faith's irrationality, and I do think that sort of inner conflict is a mark of intellectual integrity.