Philosophy

Laws for the Tribal New Right

The following is a list of guidelines for the success of New Right organizations. They are designed to emulate Jante Law and Vox Day’s 16 Points: they are non-binding, but descriptive, and should facilitate cohesion and cooperation among discreet and different groups in a new political order:

  1. Remember your enemy. Other groups on the right may be competition and rivals, but they are not your enemy. The tribal new right is composed of independent and different groups pursuing separate goals and ideals. Some of our ideals will be at odds with others, but this does not make us enemies. The only enemy is the one who does not want any of us to be able to live in our own way.
  1. Condemn others; get condemned. Our strength as a movement, as well as our freedom, comes from our decentralized structure. Disagreements between groups are inevitable and positive, but using these differences to appeal to our enemy is corrosive and treacherous. If you denounce other right-wing groups to the left, you will be disowned and ostracized. If a group denounces another, you have a duty to and interest in mocking, denouncing, and ostracizing that group.
  1. Tridents catch more fish than spears. Different methods of persuasion and lines of reasoning will appeal to different people. Do not disavow certain strategies on the sole basis of personal incredulity or aesthetic distaste.
  1. Do not talk to the enemy. Do not talk to the left and their proxies in public except within the mindset of combat. Dialogues approached as a game of rhetoric and persuasion by skilled speakers is the equivalent of battle in a 4th Generation War. You will not receive good-faith arguments in public, so do not open your own group or other groups to their attacks. Anything you say can and will be used against you, or twisted until it can be. Talk to the enemy – especially the media – and you put your group and others’ at risk.
  1. Represent your group. Strength, courage, and competence of the individual reflect the same in the group and the broader movement. So do weakness, cowardice, stupidity, and hypocrisy. Our success as distinct tribes and as a New Right will depend upon the virtues of the individuals who comprise them; they lead to success on their own, and attract quality members to us. Hold other members of your group to account, and be accountable.

This post will be edited and refined as new ideas, criticisms, and comments improve upon it.

Rhetoric and the Morality of Hatred

Yesterday, I presented In Defense of Hatred to the Northwest Forum, run in absentia by Greg Johnson of Counter-Currents. My speech focused primarily on the importance of rhetoric in defending what we love and the moral legitimacy of hatred. You can listen to it above, or read the text below.

There are few things more hated today than hatred itself.

I read an article about two weeks ago from Psychology Today that a family member shared with me. The article was about Oxytocin, the hormone we associate with love and affection. It facilitates social bonding, especially between babies and mothers, and between partners during sex. It wards off depression. Sounds good, right? Well, it turns out that there’s also a dark side to oxytocin. Here’s a short excerpt:

“The same hormone that helps people feel warmth and camaraderie with friends and family is also implicated in the hatred and contempt they may feel for opponents. In recent years, researchers exploring the intricacies of oxytocin have revealed that it rouses envy as well as gloating over others’ misfortune. Psychologists conjecture that oxytocin plays a part in fueling ethnocentrism, xenophobia, and intergroup conflict.”

What I thought was truly impressive was the conclusion they came to. They did not consider whether hatred may have some benefit, or question why love and hate appear to be related at a neurochemical level. Instead, they decided to attenuate their appreciation for the “love hormone.” Since most scientists these days are materialists, this attenuated appreciation for oxytocin extends into a moral suspicion towards love itself. Maybe love isn’t so good after all.

This line of thinking might seem a little shocking, but it really is symptomatic of our culture’s collective opinion of love and hatred. And once you notice it, you begin to see it everywhere. Many in our society would rather not love at all than love something if that love carried ANY potential for hatred.

I wrote In Defense of Hatred because I noticed that this moral position had crept its way into the public consiousness, and was manifesting itself in attitudes so stupid it defied rational comprehension. One prescient example of this manifestation is the reaction we often see in the aftermath of Islamic attacks. As you all probably know, an injection of diversity explosively enriched Manchester at the end of last month. 22 were killed, and 59 injured. Then at the beginning of this month, another truck of peace brought the strength of multiculturalism to London Bridge, killing 8, and wounding dozens. These are just a few of the more recent episodes. I’m sure we can all think of dozens more. But it’s the responses to these sorts of attacks that reveal our society’s strange relationship with hatred, and it was a particular response to an incident that happened about a year and a half ago which really crystallized the matter for me personally.

In November of 2015, 9 otherwise totally ordinary Parisians led an attack against their countrymen with bombs and guns, focusing especially on the Bataclan theater. They killed 130 people, and wounded 368.

At this time, I was already beginning to get a little jaded to the novelty of terrorist attacks. However, as the flames and the blood and the bodies passed across the news headlines like white noise, the empty and unserious quality of the most prominent and public responses to the massacre came into sharp focus. I remember a video of a Parisian father and his son, of no more than five or six years old, being interviewed by a news channel in the aftermath of the attack. The young boy was quite concerned about what his family would do, now that there were clearly mean, bad men with guns in his city. His father, however, gently but firmly assured him that Paris was their home, and that in any case there were bad men everywhere. And then he told his son “they might have guns but we have flowers.”

“But flowers don’t do anything,” replies the boy. He flounders for a moment, trying to think of what flowers are actually for.

“Of course they do,” retorts the father. “Look, everyone is putting flowers. It’s to fight against the guns.”

“It’s to protect?” asks the young boy?

“Exactly,” assures the father.

Now, quick show of hands, does anyone present listen to that and think “what a good father?”

Who here actually feels their blood boil when they hear that kind of nonsense?

Alright, and who is so used to the banality of it that they aren’t even surprised or bothered anymore?

This father resonated with millions of people, who all thought that this was inspirational, and captured the soul of how a Western man ought to respond to concentrated and intentional violence like the Bataclan massacre.

At a biological level, there’s something deeply pathological about the desire to ignore or accept a threat against your family, your city, your nation, and yourself. We can all see that a father who tells his child that flowers will protect them from brutal, totalitarian theocrats with guns will leave the defenseless against threats that are very real. It is a pathology of unseriousness, and it is the same pathology that can compel scientifically-minded researchers to hedge their appreciation for love rather than accept that some degree of hatred or intergroup conflict may be necessary or good.

In Defense of Hatred is an exploration of the nature and origins of this pathology. It also provides a framework for understanding how hatred is not merely a necessity, but a moral virtue in its own right, precisely because of its relation with love. If love means anything at all, it implies an elevation of worth, and for this reason love is inherently relative. We love some things more than other things, and our behavior should reflect this. Does your family matter more to you than a stranger? If so, what would you do to protect your family, if it was threatened? What wouldn’t you do?

If something that we do not value threatens something that we value very much, we must stop the threat as though we hate it. Failing to do so would be an active denial of the love that we claim to hold. If we don’t protect what we love from things we don’t care about, it tells the world—and worse, it tells ourselves—that we don’t really love it that much after all.

Hatred and love are inextricable, because they are both facets of care. A world without hate would be a world without love, because hatred is love’s final and best defense. Without hatred, the probability of loss would make love an intolerable risk, in a constantly shifting world of competing interests, decay, and death. Hatred is no guarantee of the survival of what we love, but it is an effective tool and a powerful deterrent, which helps to make hope in love possible. I think this is something that everyone understands intuitively.

And yet here we are, in a culture that condemns hatred as a moral evil. This contradiction between our stated beliefs and our behaviors means that we did not get here through philosophy, but through rhetoric. If we’re being totally honest, the rhetoric appears purpose-built to deny the legitimacy of the love we have for ourselves and ours; love is just the collateral damage in a narrative power-play. If we want to have any hope of advocating on behalf of what we love–hell, for love itself–we will have to use more effective rhetoric, and we will need to steel ourselves against the pressure of theirs.

Towards this end, it may help to go back to the basics. Aristotle held that there were three aspects of rhetoric: Ethos, what is usually translated as personal qualification; pathos, that which stirs people’s emotions; and logos, what we might think of as oral demonstration of truth.

Let me begin with ethos.

Ethos is usually translated as the qualifications that make you someone worth listening to, but it is far more than mere credentials. Aristotle said, of ethos, “Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech [is] so spoken as to make us think him credible.” In other words, ethos is about more than just the individual. In fact, as it’s used today, ethos is really best thought of as the characteristic spirit of a group. You may hear of the ethos of doctors, derived from the Hippocratic oath, or the ethos of the US Marines. It’s not a coincidence that our word “ethics” comes from ethos; you can’t have a systematic framework for judging right action without a group with shared goals and values. When Aristotle talks about ethos, he’s talking about the speaker’s demonstration that he holds and adheres to the values and characteristic spirit of the audience. He’s demonstrating that he’s on their side, and can be trusted because they share a common identity, if not a common interest. That’s what makes him qualified and trustworthy. That’s what makes him persuasive.

By contrast, what is the ethos of the anti-hatred culture we live in today? Is there one at all? Out of the one great law “thou shalt not hate,” we can identify a rough moral consensus that promotes universal love; the kind of Rawlsian love that holds no preference for the child in your home over the child in another country. But this kind of love carries little in the way of commitment. It is a compassion of whim and convenience, that gives no sense of validation or security to its recipient. There is no elevation, and there is no loyalty.

This means that anti-haters tacitly acknowledge that they have no loyalty to any meaningful ethos. Their ethos is the ethos of the jellyfish. They can sort of squirm and undulate around a little, provided they’re in a fluid and amorphous environment, but they mostly drift wherever the currents take them. This makes them inherently untrustworthy to anyone who believes in or cares about anything concrete, anything hard, anything real. They are liabilities, liars waiting for the moment to betray you, and the fact that there might be no malice in their amorality is irrelevant. Their love is jellyfish love: more a function of chance than intent, and it stings when you recognize its nature.

We should all learn to identify this jellyfish love, and point it out. The anti-hater has no skin in your game; he openly says that he won’t help defend what is most precious and important to you… because that might be hateful. Nobody who gets on a soapbox about how terrible it is to hate can be trusted, because they do not share your identity, your interests, your ethos… because in condemning hatred, they condemn adherence to any identity; to any ethos.

How about pathos? What about the emotions?

Aristotle described pathos as “awakening emotion in the audience so as to induce them to make the judgment desired.”

When condemning hatred, anti-haters always reference the harms that follow from acting out in hate. They talk about lynchings, war, genocide, anything that can conjure a mental image of intense suffering, and this induces two responses. Can anyone guess them? Pity and fear; the tragic emotions. We naturally want to avoid these things. By tying hate to visually and symbolically significant violence, they persuade the typical person to avoid hate.

Like any good lie, it works because it captures half of the truth. Yes, violence, brutality, even cruelty, often follow from hatred. And in truth, there are inappropriate, weak, and self-defeating forms of hatred, just as there are inappropriate and even dangerous forms of fear, joy and love. Hope can be especially dangerous; just a few days ago, the british journalist Douglas Murray remarked that in Europe, a huge amount of damage has been, and is continuing to be done by “optimists.” We should all acknowledge that hatred which is not justified by good information, understanding, and the competence to act upon it, is almost always a bad thing, and that “hot” hatred tends to be ineffective because it makes the actor predictable and easily manipulable. For these reasons, I think the superiority of “cold” hatred is something we should all remember.

Of course, the anti-hater doesn’t want any hatred, cold or otherwise. They want to avoid the violence, and they correctly notice that violence can sometimes come from hatred. But they never answer–and sometimes seem unable to comprehend–the sorts of questions that follow from their stated position. For example, do they ever consider what motivates hatred in the first place, and if that motivation may in fact be worse than the hate itself? Have they considered, for example, why Vlad the Impaler erected his forest of Turks? Do they know where he learned this sort of barbarism from, and what probably would have happened to the people of his kingdom had he not deterred their would-be invaders by speaking to them in their own language?

Even if they were right, and contrary to all of the converging interests of evolution, haters are a bunch of Jokers who just want to watch the world burn, wouldn’t there be something both stupid and sinister about wanting to love everyone? Everyone? And isn’t there’s a paradox lurking in here somewhere?

The hardest question, of course, and the most important to ask is simply this: what, exactly, are we supposed to do with these hateful people? Where do we draw the line of distinction between the saints and sinners, the good people and the pure evil, and what sort of hell should we throw the latter into for their hatred? Can’t we all vividly imagine — in all the Orwellian details — how the cure is almost certain to be far worse than the disease?

They want a world that does not exist, one in which hatred not necessary, and for that reason, not tolerated. Their utopian vision cannot fathom its own contradiction with human nature, because all utopias are, to some degree, explicit attempts to overcome human nature. And since they cannot grasp the contradiction, they explain away all expressions of the contradiction as exceptions and anomalies, to be done away with, and forgotten. Anyone who has read a book like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago knows how fast the number of exceptions can add up. The body count of utopian idealism is infinitely greater in scope and often worse in its detached cruelty than the schemes of any petty dictator or warlord, even the most sadistic ones. The reasoning is explained by another great 20th century thinker, C.S. Lewis, who I think is worth quoting at length. He says:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”

Aside from the murderous destruction of ideologies that defy human nature, those who oppose hatred wish, fundamentally, to cure us of being human. Beyond the gulags, the famines, the censorious oppression and the fear, there is the willingness to be condescended to like children, that should deeply offend everyone that has even a shred of pride, and should terrify anyone who understands the sorts of condescending people that will end up in charge of it all.

Is all of that really worth it, to avoid the possibility of an occasional violent conflict?

We all wish to avoid needless suffering, violence, death, and destruction, but denying the moral validity of hatred is not the way to minimize these. It is far more likely to generate the most destructive of all forms of hatred: the resentful hatred of the disappointed idealist, whose nihilistic justice will condemn you by default and destroy you, for failing to transcend your own humanity. So our pathos is this: If you want gulags, if you want purges, if you want genocide; if you want censorship, fear, and loneliness that defies comprehension, simply lay out an impossible foundation as a moral standard, like forbidding a natural human emotion, and watch what happens.

Finally, we have logos: the “speech itself.” Logos is the etymological origin of the word “logic,” and refers to proving the truth of the claim through reason.

I’ve already gone over most of the logical substance of the argument for hatred, but in short form it is this:

Real value is expressed through actions, not through words, and any expression of “love” that is not backed up by some willingness to fight for what you love is essentially meaningless. The call to end hatred, therefore, is the call to end love itself. The kill-shot to the anti-haters is this: anti-hate is nihilism.

Like oxytocin, hatred is an intrinsic part of human nature, and a natural response to a threat against what we love. And there will always be possible threats against what we love. So we should all cultivate the capacity and willingness to hate, and to hate effectively, if we are to be moral and loving human beings.

Let me close with one final point on rhetoric.

It may be tempting to at times grant the liberal premise and run with it. We can see the hypocrisy so clearly, and yet they don’t seem to care that the real feminists would be protesting Islam and Saudi Arabia, et al. We should all be careful about accepting too much in the name of irony and memes. We become what we repeatedly do, and no matter how much we think we can separate our beliefs from what we say, we eventually become invested in the premises of our own rabbit-hole arguments with liberals. “Democrats are the real racists” began as a flippant rhetorical jab at liberal hypocrisy, but has since morphed into a core conservative premise. In some circles of the Alt-Right, “White Sharia,” which began as an ironic observation of the tolerance liberals are willing to extend to conservative Muslims, is beginning to take on the trappings of an unironic position.

I think that we on the Alt-Right should avoid making the same mistake with hatred. It may sometimes look convenient to say “we aren’t the haters, the progressives and globalists are the REAL haters!” But that grants the premise that hatred is bad. We are ALL the real haters, or at least we should be.

The prevailing anti-hatred ‘ethos’ of our age — the jellyfish ethos — has put our movement in a unique position. We have a real opportunity to actually speak truth to power. If we want to attract people and hold them, memes, humor, and wit are certainly important, but so is being serious and courageous about things that truly matter. Our friend Jack Donovan spoke at the National Policy Institute, and said that genuine culture is the product of love and hate, even if it’s not about hate. People are yearning for genuine culture, for feeling alive, and not separated from the world by screens, drugs, and protective bubble-wrap. We can be that beacon of courage, hope, and life, but only if we disentangle ourselves from the web of ironic premises that everyone else uses to hide from the world.

Let me close with a short quote from the book itself.

“The answer is not trying to manufacture hatred in ourselves. That is empty hatred, or at best unjustified hatred. Rather, it is to love, deeper and more passionately and more honestly. Let sincerity and joy drive out your fear. Any hate that you may require will arise organically and naturally from the unfettered love that you hold.”

Towards these goals—of love and of life—we should all embrace hatred, and we should not be afraid to say so.

Thank you.

Vanity and Improvement: An Ethical Evaluation of the Gym-Selfie

Pride may be a sin, but its true nature isn’t how we’re used to thinking about it:

She says ‘I’ve come of age as a writer in a time when it’s no longer possible just to write. A writer must also promote her work and in the process promote her herself as a person of interest. I learned the snarky, casually intellectual voice of feminists and pop-culture bloggers; the easy outrage, the clubby comraderie.’ So that was the age she came of age in and where she learned how to write to an audience, and always aware of herself as a kind of media personality, right? Now, what happened to her?

What happened to her was she became a mother. She had this viscerally real experience of becoming a mother, and she said one day, she was with her infant child on the front porch of her house and it suddenly dawned on her that she had no interest in snark. She had not interest in an audience that might want to comment on her experience. She wanted to get utterly into her experience, and let it simply wash over her. It’s as though the dense reality of this baby blew away her preoccupation with with an audience, and with being a personality.

Here’s  something else I want to just read directly from the article. Listen: “Before I had a child, I took it for granted that no intellectual writer type could ever be taken seriously, were she to cave in to conventional sentiment. As a mother, I was swept away by these huge, ancient, universal emotions I’d previously dismissed as uncomplicated.” It’s very interesting, isn’t it? It’s as though her baby just kind of broke through this carapace of self-regard, this sort of knowing, snarky distanciation from reality. This always playing to an audience. And she found herself immersed in the reality of the experience.

Now here’s what I find interesting. It’s a cool commentary on the generation today coming of age with social media, but it also points to a very ancient spiritual distinction between what is classically called humility and pride.

Pride is not simple self-aggrandizement, or self-affirmation. It is a kind of superiority derived from a perceived separation from reality, or at least from other mortals. The moral opprobrium derived from the sin of hubris doesn’t come from the quality achieved by the individual, or even their awareness of it, but from the separation — the distanciation — from other people and from the world.

It isn’t a coincidence that the self-proclaimed nihilists you know think that they are better than everyone else. It’s a short walk from distanciation from reality and distanciation from distinctions, from value, and from the ability to derive enjoyment from value.

In my opinion, the greatest application of the distinction between pride, as theologically understood, and pride as contemporarily, culturally understood, is the much-maligned gym-selfie.

Fundamentally what is wrong with taking pictures of yourself while working out?

A possible criticism is the distanciation that the camera itself tends to create (what Davis Aurini calls “the electric eye“). Such a phenomenon can be easily seen in the horrendous case of Fitbit, where the emphasis on metrics has in some cases so dramatically separated its users from the end goal — fitness — that they believe themselves to be “succeeding” if their numbers look good, even if their health and fitness are observably flat-lining or deteriorating.

If a gym-rat is simply taking photos every time they go to the gym, that’s obviously a concern. The photos, and not the work-out, become the goal, and their health can actually suffer from this shift in focus.

But to listen to the mocking and satirizing of photographer gym-goers, usually by people who rarely or never work out themselves, you’d think that the fitness aficionado had committed some sort of felony against common decency. The degree of contempt and caustic snark behind the criticism of the “vanity” of gym-bros ‘n hoes speaks to a different motive than generous concern.

Which side smacks more of “pride?” The people trying to improve themselves, taking pictures of themselves for encouragement, documentation, and personal enjoyment? Or the people who, from a cultural high ground, distance themselves from the reality of physical pain and struggle, pointing and mocking those arrogant pricks who go to the gym and aren’t ashamed to show it?

The watch you see above belongs to one Jocko Willinck. Willinck is a former Navy SEAL, an author, an expert on business leadership, and an avid athlete. He is regularly mocked on Instagram for regularly posting pictures of his watch, which shows what time in the God-forsaken morning he begins his workout. His response, of course, is to tell them to unsubscribe. Joe Rogan, for one, likes seeing what time Willinck is up and killing it in the gym. It motivates him, and it also motivates me. I want to be more like Willinck, and those watch-pictures remind me both of the distance between me and Willinck and of what I have to do to close that distance.

And I do close that distance.

What’s especially ironic about this issue is that any drive towards self-improvement is fundamentally motivated by an awareness of distance between your self and your idealized Self. “Humility,” in the colloquial sense, is the tacit motivation behind any attempt at improving a skill or working out.

What people normally call “pride” is simply a joy in yourself and your accomplishments. This is a good thing, especially when that pride overflows and inspires others to emulate or even surpass you in accomplishment. Vanity in the theological form — the distanciation and separation from this joy, perhaps for viewing it as naive, immature, or “uncomplicated” — is a bad thing. People looking to get in better shape should not let a confusion of these two meanings get in the way of working out, or in participating in the encouraging culture of fitness.

Philosophy v. Theology

I was attending a New Year’s dinner with some old friends a few years ago, when the subject of philosophy came up. My friend had a master’s degree in computer science, with a minor in philosophy, and was exceptionally well-read on the subject. At the word “philosophy,” a friend of my friend’s dad came over. It turned out he happened to have a PhD in the field, and had a thought or two to contribute to our discussion.

My initial challenge to my friend was the purpose of philosophy. My contention was that it was essentially about wisdom, “philo-sophia” literally meaning a love of wisdom. My friend, and the PhD acquaintance, held that philosophy was fundamentally about “truth,” and not wisdom. They were willing to grant that perhaps it had once been about wisdom, but had evolved and matured to the point of being about understanding the nature of things.

“Well, okay, I’ll grant your definition. Philosophy is about truth, which I think is important, but as a servant of wisdom, not as a thing in and of itself. I’m interested in wisdom: what do we call the study of that?”

“Um… pop-philosophy?”

I didn’t bother pointing out the (probably unintentional) condescension latent in the label, being offhand and casual. But the answer didn’t exactly sit right with any of us, and the struggle to distinguish the pursuit of knowledge — what is true — from the pursuit of wisdom — what is good — was challenging. It was distinction that eluded me for a long time after that meeting.

Sometime in the last year and half, however, the answer to the question revealed itself to me. The pursuit of wisdom has a name, and that name is theology.

I was an ardent atheist at the time of the philosophy discussion, and I suppose by the lights of certain fundamentalists, I might still be today. As with philosophy, it’s a label I’m willing to grant if “God” is defined narrowly enough, and “belief in God” confined exactingly enough. But even within Christian theology, there is more than one “God,” as tacitly acknowledged among the first commandments from the decalogue:

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

– Exodus 20:3

The precision of opting for “have no other gods before me,” rather than “have no other gods,” is telling. The commandment could just as well have told the Jews to believe there to be no other Gods, and yet it did not. This is not just telling about the spirituality of supposedly monotheistic faiths, but informative about the nature of what a God — and by extension, what theology — is.

Augustus Invictus and I had a lengthy discussion last month about the nature of religion, and of Gods. I brought up Wim Hof of a man who had, quite organically and independently, come upon the word “God” to describe his relationship to the cold, which drew him out of his depression and into a realm of superhuman ability, and into life. Augustus, in turn, referenced Frank Herbert’s masterpiece of science-fiction Dune, saying that religion is that which reminds me that I am not the man I want to be.

There is something odd about these examples, relative to the majority of religious tradition that most people are familiar with. Rather than being a pedagogical system maintained by a hierarchical institution, Wim Hof and Herbert seem to be describing something different, something more visceral, and getting there by a different route.

In my opinion, the most illuminating light that spans this understanding gap is, perhaps ironically, pop music. Consider the words of Leonard Cohen:

At our best, we inhabit a biblical landscape, and this is where we should situate ourselves without apology….That biblical landscape is our urgent invitation…Otherwise, it’s really not worth saving or manifesting or redeeming or anything, unless we really take up that invitation to walk into that biblical landscape.

From a traditionalist’s perspective, this may seem like a strange way of framing the situation. But the writer and performer of the famous song Hallelujah knows what he’s talking about. Aside from being a lifelong Jew, Cohen was an ordained Buddhist monk. He understood that religious talk was not so much a metaphysical theory, but a grammar for describing emotions and questions that cannot be described adequately in the language of ordinary life.

Lady Gaga isn’t the only one who understands this without having such a background in faith. Audioslave, System of a Down, and many other artists use Christian (or other religious) language to talk about emotionally complex, mysterious, or downright traumatic subjects. As a rule, artists that take the subject less seriously use the language less seriously; those who care more, as a function of age, inclination, or introspection, tend to use the grammar of religion more carefully and with greater reverence.

I was reading N.T. Wright’s book Scripture and the Authority of God today, and was pleased to hear him make the exact same reference I have been making use of in describing the “truth” of much of the bible. If someone asks “is the parable of the boy who cried wolf true?,” no one in their right mind takes that question as a historical one. The question is clearly about the message; do people stop listening to you if you deceive them? The truth of the parable is, when you think about it, greater than the truth of a historical event. We understand the timelessness of the relationships between archetypes, and no historical evidence is necessary. The parable, in other words, is a language for talking about relationships.

In this way, religion is the language for discussing values, wisdom, and how to live. This makes theology the study of wisdom, in much the same way that philosophy is the study of truth. Words like “epistemology,” “a priori,” phenomenology,” and “existentialism” are all words we use to talk about the truths of our experience of the world, and in exactly the same way, the stories of religious traditions (and here, one can’t help but notice that Christianity and Buddhism seem to rise to the top of these kinds of discussions) are the language for discussing wisdom, values, and the good.

It is for this reason that I’ve gradually shifted my focus from philosophy to theology… assuming, of course, that philosophy is, as my friend suggested, first and foremost about truth. This does not mean that philosophy is of no use, of course; truth is indispensable in pursuit of virtually any endeavor. But is it valuable in and of itself? Living well, and not being right, strikes me intuitively as the superior long-term aim. In this regard, I’m happy to side with Cicero, who’s opening in his Defense of the Republic was making fun of philosophers who sat on the sidelines and accomplished nothing. I share Cicero’s appreciation of theology more now than I did as an atheist, and am glad to be in such esteemed company.

Mostly, I’m just glad to have found a name for what I love studying.

Why Christianity?

Today’s right wing is rehashing an age-old debate, and one that I myself have grappled with for nearly a decade in some form or another: what faith should the West follow? Paganism, Christianity, or Atheism?

The debate begins, to my mind, first with a root separation, of those of faith from those without.  Let me begin by going over my own reasons for choosing religion over atheism.

Between the end of high school (2008) all the way through to about two years ago, I had been a very strong and vocal atheist. I was raised Christian, but saw through the illusion that was literal Christian dogma. I remember quite clearly a video I saw, which logically demonstrated that prayer which was answered by God in the form of “yes,” “no,” or “wait” was equivalent to a Geicko commercial promising to save “up to 15% or more:” it covered every base, and was indistinguishable from nonexistence.

From there I read Dan Barker’s Godless. Soon after that, I read Richard Dawkins, and eventually, the man that was to become my greatest intellectual hero: Christopher Hitchens. The arguments were flawless. God is not dead. He simply is not.

The beginnings of my unconversion (or reconversion, if you prefer) began by sheer chance. I remember stalking the aisles of a Barnes and Nobles, armed with a gift card to dispose of, and the title The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell stuck out to me. Without knowing anything else about the author or the theory contained within it, the title alone seemed to say to me “this is a book with a very big idea.” It was not the first nor the last time I judged a book by its cover, but it may have been the most fortuitous.

I found it to be one of the most difficult books I’ve ever had to read, more difficult even than the Thomas Kuhn I read back in high school. I understood enough, however, to see a deeper layer behind the literature being analyzed. I could not yet discern what it meant, but I could see that it was there.

At the time, I received most of my news, information, and entertainment from YouTube, and so one day, I decided to search for “Joseph Campbell,” and came across The Power of Myth, an interview by Bill Moyers with the famous literary theorist. This interview has since been taken off of YouTube, but for me, it was a light bulb moment.

All my life, I had been raised to think of religion as an assertion of scientific truth. If “God” exists, than he is essentially a man in the sky, who must be falsifiable or else presumed false. With this scientific world-view, the idea of a mythological religious attitude was perfectly understandable, but completely uninteresting. It was like Santa Clause, or The Boy Who Cried Wolf. It was not unique, and felt a little puerile. It was lame.

What Campbell began to illuminate for me was a phenomenological understanding of the world, wherein relationships between things, and between types of things, are the substance of our experience and the orienting forces in our life, rather than discreet “facts.”

From a scientific standpoint, a mythological story is inherently uninteresting because it is scientifically false. But mythological stories are not false. They stay with us for thousands of years, and we keep retelling them to each other because they say something essentially true about ourselves and our relationship to other people and to the world. In fact, they are in some sense more true than empirical facts. This, of course, depends on how one measures truth, but if the standard of truth is “what works based on collective experience,” rather than “what is most corroborated by scientific scrutiny,” than the experience conveyed in folklore transcends our contemporary knowledge of physics and mathematics by orders of magnitude, measured both in combined human experience and in relevance to living well. It isn’t much use to most people, knowing how to make an airplane wing in the correct shape. How to make a marriage work, and how to orient oneself in relationship to boredom and to suffering, are relevant to everyone, no matter your job.

I felt like an elite intellectual, like I had discovered the very top of the pyramid called “religion.” But this soon gave way to the feeling that G.K. Chesterton described in his book Orthodoxy, of one who has set sail from England to discover far-off South Sea islands, but somehow miscalculates and discovers England. As I reread old scripture–scripture that I had so casually dismissed once upon a time–a new layer of understanding shone through like a ham-fisted moral in a children’s fairy tale… and yet I had never seen it before.

The deeper understanding hadn’t just been there the whole time: it had been the underlying purpose the whole time.

But this was not my point of re-connection with Christianity specifically. Mythopoetic narratives, establishing, retaining, and building who we are, layered beneath a narrative that survives through literalism, are the foundations of most religions. I found myself facing a new challenge, not between faith and atheism, but between two faiths: Nordic paganism, on the one hand, and Christianity on the other.

Plumbing the depths of moral philosophy had brought me to face the hard-edged suspicion of Nietzsche. In the exploration of master-moralities and slave-moralities, and their resulting effects on the character of the human condition, what once seemed like the harshest criticisms of religion now seemed like weak and insufficient compliments: the problem is not that Christianity is violent and intolerant, but is in fact not violent and intolerant enough.

The national character of pagan faiths make them particularly amenable as psychological homes for particular groups of people, rather than as universal, one-size-fits-all spiritual systems designed for the particular nature of nobody in particular.

The more I thought on the topic, however, the more transparent it became that universal truths do exist, and that universal truths are not exclusive to more particular and contextual truths, of the sort that distinguish tribal faiths from the great monotheisms. The problem was not with Christianity, but with human nature… a problem which Christianity tackled head-on better than any other faith.

By illustration, anyone involved in Nordic paganism knows about and resents the politically progressive, hug-the-world incursions into their religious traditions. Indeed, it seems that most Asatru organizations that aren’t the equivalent of Unitarians are converging in a separate, but equally blasphemous direction: towards a business model, where the religious aesthetic is used as a marketing tool to ply “brutal” and “deadly” merchandise, from knives to t-shirts to necklaces. All in the name of Odin, ostensibly…

I don’t say this to condemn paganism generally. Christianity is not only as bad, in this regard, but arguably worse. What this use of paganism shows, however, is that the weakness in Christianity is not a genuine expression of the faith, but an expression of the weakness of mankind. Christianity is only more commercialized and politicized because it’s larger, at the moment.

I’m reminded of the story of a young woman, a main character in the story Reading Lolita in Tehran. She was a devout Muslim woman, who wore the hijab openly to school, prior to the 1979 revolution. The other women, who were Westernized and broadly secular, made fun of her for her peculiar religious habits. But for her, that made the garment meaningful. It made her special.

We often use the word “special” ironically and as a pejorative today. But this is only because of the way that people who were profoundly unspecial abused the word, and declared that everyone was special, in their own way. This amusing paradox did devastating damage to the previously unchallenged understanding that some things really are special. Indeed, the word “sacred” essentially just means “special,” or “set apart.” We should no more reject the meaning of “special” or “sacred” than we should the difference between our significant other and a stranger, or between our children and another child.

Anyway, the revolution of 1979 saw the return of theocracy to Iran, and now all the women had to wear head coverings. Suddenly, the sacrifice of the one devout woman had been rendered boring and “normal.” When everyone is forced, or perhaps even mildly coerced, into adapting a faith and its trappings, the faith becomes a victim of the character of its new converts. This is something evangelical Christians should bear in mind when proselytizing the faith.

So the choice between paganism and Christianity could not be one between the cultures each had adapted, but between the principles underlying them. The problem here, however, is that the religious traditions have been built slowly, by many errors and corrections, and by trial and error, over thousands of years, by people far more intelligent than myself. There is no way a mortal, even in a whole lifetime, can begin to comprehend the intersecting values, ideas, experiences, and principles that created the value-hierarchy, the beliefs, and the practices that form the core of a religious tradition. It takes what Kierkegaard called “a leap of faith.”

My decision did not feel particularly sudden, but if there was a decisive moment, it must have been listening to Greg Johnson’s interview with Paul Waggener:

GJ: […]And obviously you have diverged from Christianity as a path to Nordic neo-paganism.

PW: I wouldn’t call it Nordic neo-paganism, though that was certainly one step on the road. That’s not how I would express my spirituality now. I think that would be far too limiting a category to put it in. But yes, I certainly diverged from Christianity, and that was certainly one step along the way.

GJ: OK. So, how do you describe your outlook now and can you describe the Wolves? Tell us a little bit about them.

PW: As far as spiritual outlook, I would say that my spiritual outlook is tribal, in that my expression of spirituality now is organic, and it’s grown as the tribal organization of the Wolves, which I am a member of, has grown. And I think that it’s become a tribally-serving expression now rather than taking something from without and modeling a tribe after that. So, after the tribe took wings and has become more of a self-developed entity, the spirituality developed along with it. It serves the tribe rather than the other way around.

It occurred to me, while listening to their conversation, that religion is not something you choose. Certainly Paul and the Wolves are doing something like creating a faith of their own, but I already have a tribe. I have a wife. I have a brother, a sister, and a brother in law. I have parents, in-laws, and two extraordinarily close friends I’ve known for more than a decade. All of these people are either Christian or come from a Christian background; if they are not Christian, they reject the faith for reasons similar to those I once rejected it on. None of them are remotely familiar with, or interested in, Nordic paganism.

If I were to choose paganism over Christianity, I might experience some novelty, and the joy of exploring for myself a religion I was previously unfamiliar with. But because I was not born into it, I will never truly master the religion as one who was born into it could. And because my family and tribe were not born into it, my choice would be an abandonment of them and the culture they knew.

I have actually half-compromised, based on another passage from that interview, and opted to learn about and practice traditions of Orthodox Christianity, rather than the Catholicism of my mother’s side, the Episcopalianism of my father’s side, or the Methodism of my own upbringing.

Certainly I was raised with a very conservative Christian upbringing, but when I was young my father was actually an Anglican priest and he moved to Orthodoxy later on as a reaction to some of the . . . I think he would probably consider it to be creeping liberalism finding its way into the Anglican Church. He believes that Orthodoxy is a sort of last bastion of true Christianity left in the world.

I confess that I am not a particularly orthodox practioner of any spiritual tradition, and there are blendings of traditions, as much from arrogance in my own understanding as by accident. The necklace I have, for example, is actually an unconnected pair of strings with 100 knots tied in them. In this way, it resembles an Orthodox prayer rope. I also use it as the Orthodox do: to recite the Jesus prayer a minimum of 100 times a day. The knots themselves, however, more closely resemble a Catholic rosary, and moreover, they are separated into numerically inaccurate “decades” (of 25) by beads, as a traditional rosary is. The knots make it easy to casually loop the string into a kind of necklace, which closely resembles a rosary.

To make matters even worse, I will often bring it with me to the gym, and hold the cross in my mouth before attempting particularly heavy lifts. In this way, I hope to associate power and effort with the necklace, and imbue it with associative power that can be drawn from when I need it. While not incompatible with Christianity, this practice seems pagan in spirit.

Yet perhaps this pagan association reflects something that the Christian church has lost, and has a right — perhaps a duty — to reclaim for itself. Every religious tradition, in every generation, must be saved from the corruption of time and humanity. If I am successful in finding new life in Christianity, and showing that to others of my generation, it will make the work of my children no easier for the same task that they will have to perform. Yet it must be done regardless. Or, put another way, I get the privilege of pursuing this noble and rewarding task, despite the previous efforts of minds more brilliant than my own to do the same. Their work was not fruitless, but there is no final solution to the problem of human nature. And thank God for that.

In Defense of Hatred

The concept that began as a short video just over 14 months ago (a gut-response to the terror attacks in Paris), is finally published and up for sale.

You can purchase it in paperback here. Kindle version should be up soon.

The deracination of hatred is a subtle, insidious thing; more a function of mindset and programmed associations than anything else. Yet I still believe that most people, deep down, know that hatred is a moral, righteous emotion, and response. It is right to feel “disgust towards mind,” and to flee, face, or fight the existential threat which induces it.

I hold no illusions about my book single-handedly knocking down the moral superstructure that modernity has built up around hatred. But it should be a start.

If my work provides readers with the confidence in their own convictions, and the ability to laugh away–rather than explain away–the people who criticize their ideology for being “hateful,” than I think the book will have served its purpose.

Read it, and if you enjoy it, please leave a review. Even professionally-published books depend on good reviews, and us self-published authors need it more than them.

On Data and Science

 

The irrepressible Justicar recently exposed a fraudulent study published in the Journal of American Medical Associates linking Australia’s 1996 gun-restriction legislation to decreases in mass shootings, in which “mass shootings” are bizarrely and uniquely defined as having 5+ fatalities, rather than the usual 4+ used by the FBI and virtually every other serious organization studying the issue. This allows the study authors to tap in a triumphal “0” in the 1997-2013 mass shootings list, and lends credibility to the juxtaposed 1979-1996 firearm homicide mean (0.56/100,000) and 1996-2013 firearm homicide mean (0.2/100,000).

Off the bat, the minute scale of the increased safety achieved should be noted, even if the data is taken at face value. This is like banning vending machines in order to save the 13 people killed per year in the United States, on average. At some point, even convenience is worth a few lives on scale. How much more important than vending machines are firearms? They are not merely a hobby, a source of personal protection, and provider of food, but are enshrined in our Constitution because they are a doomsday provision against a tyrannical government. (No, superior military technology does not make defense against the government moot, or else we would not still be fighting illiterate shepherds with Kalashnikovs in the hills of Afghanistan).

But the data shouldn’t be taken at face value. Let’s break the firearm homicide rate down slightly more honestly:

1979-1981 – 0.65/100,000
1982-1984 – 0.68/100,000
1985-1987 – 0.68/100,000
1988-1990 – 0.46/100,000
1991-1993  – 0.47/100,000
1994-1996 – 0.44/100,000
1997-1999 – 0.32/100,000
2000-2002 – 0.27/100,000
2003-2005 – 0.14/100,000
2006-2008 – 0.16/100,000
2009-2011 – 0.16/100,000
2012-20013 – 0.17/100,000

Wouldn’t you know it, there was a downward trend prior to the enacted legislation.

It is tempting to see the 0.0001% increase in the rate of the preexisting decline, which does appear to be possibly attributable to firearm restrictions. This would, of course, involve trusting the data itself, provided by these dishonest scholars. I’m using it above for convenience and demonstration but otherwise wouldn’t bet my life on its veracity. But this itself excludes the very important issue of non-firearm related homicides. If you’re interested, feel free to study the data for yourself. Suffice to say, firearm restrictions did not meaningfully reduce homicide generally, certainly not beneath the downward trend it was already on. Those too eager to jump from data correlation to causation with the immediate decline might also find themselves in the awkward position of trying to explain a suicide spike in 1997-1998, immediately after the 1996 gun bill. I’m not saying this is in any way related to the gun restriction bill, of course (unless you believe that the gun bill reduced rates of violence, in which case, stop hating depressed people, you murderous psycho). I am simply saying that when culture, pathology, violence, politics, income, and happiness are influenced by more factors than we can possibly account for, and when large, preexisting historical trends are already at work, it is very easy to manipulate statistics and “science” to fit one’s own position.

This is not an argument against science or statistics, for the record. On the contrary, I am in fact making an argument for science, and, a bit more begrudgingly, statistics. What I am arguing against, however, is the tendency for people to allude to other people’s conclusions allegedly based upon science or “hard data” instead of actually making an argument (these people are, almost without exception, never scientists or statisticians themselves). The argument is the essence of science. The reason that scientists follow the “scientific method” is not because God came down from the mountain and told Moses “thou shalt divide thine research subjects into two categories, and thine shalt name the first ‘control’…” The scientific method has evolved into its current form because the results are (ideally) very high quality clay with which a scientist can form a robust argument. The possession of the clay, however, does not in any way relieve the scientist or the ideological champion from the responsibility of actually making the argument. And once the argument is made, it is always open to criticism and rebuttal. The strength of an argument is its ability to withstand this inevitable and never ending scrutiny, and the moment a conclusion is held to be above challenge, it is to that degree not a scientific conclusion any more, but an ideological one.

This means that appeals to science and data are, ironically, unscientific. When an actual scientist is asked a question challenging his own beliefs within his field, what you will almost always see is an argument. He will offer an explanation that utilizes the data and research, of course, but he doesn’t just say “here’s the data” or “I can read a graph.” Those who appeal to science without bothering to make the argument don’t understand the nature of science, let alone the science to which they are referring.