Philosophy

The Homeric Political Paradigm

It has often been argued that all of politics can be boiled down to Plato versus Aristotle.

Plato takes a lofty, idealistic approach to politics. He sees potentialities and perfect forms, and for him, politics is a means to the approach of the harmonious balance between these purposeful entities, which is justice. To achieve this, a city must have a wise ruler who can direct the coordination of society’s constituent elements, like a conductor directing a symphony. This was necessary for the protection of the city as well as for the success of the individuals.

Aristotle, by contrast, begins with observations of what is, and builds upwards. He is an empiricist and a sort of proto-scientist. Rather than Plato’s dictatorship, used to achieve control from the top down, Aristotle favors a mixed-government style, of the kind which Lycurgus of Sparta instituted, and which Cicero was to go on to defend in De Republica, and which the Founding Fathers of the United States were to refine nearly two millennia later.

There is clearly a distinction in political nature between these two philosophies, but looking backwards across 2,000 years of development, it is difficult to determine which philosopher is “right,” and which is “left.” Does the question even make sense?

The modern right has championed limited government and freedom of speech, and so they might point to Plato’s totalitarianism and claim Aristotle’s republicanism for themselves, perhaps after pointing out the Left’s proclivity for expanding government power. The modern left, on the other hand, has consistently stood for more inclusive representation and a less fixed view of human nature. They might point to Plato’s more aristocratic understanding of virtue, and claim Aristotle’s slightly more plastic view of humanity for themselves, perhaps after pointing out all the right-wing fascist movements of the 20th century. In a similar manner, either side could claim Plato for themselves, and pin Aristotle on the opposition.

The Greek Philosopher distinction can still be made, but it is not obvious, and takes some unpacking to be useful in application to the politics of today.

However, there is an older and more useful Greek thinker that can help us distinguish between the political right and left: Homer.

Daniel Mendelsohn observed that in the realm of classics, there are Iliad people and there are Odyssey people (his father, after taking Daniel’s course on the Odyssey, revealed himself to be an Iliad person). They are dramatically different poems, in which the heroes seem to operate on completely different principles.

In the Iliad, the warriors Achilles and Hector are fighting for honor and duty, respectively. Survival is not even a question. Achilles knows he is fated to die young, and in the famous courtyard scene, Hector says he is compelled to lead the men from the front, regardless of personal risk. The predominant emotions of the story are wrath, vindication, loss, and forgiveness, and the story is essentially of the pursuit of meaning when death is inescapable.

The hero of the eponymous Odyssey, Odysseus, is not the same kind of hero as Achilles or Hector. While generally noble in his actions, and virtuous in the original Greek sense–“capable,” or “masterful”–Odysseus is not afraid of debasing himself, of beating himself, of begging, of submitting to more powerful forces, or of disguising himself as a vagrant. There is no obstacle, physical or moral, which can stop him from surviving to see his family again.

As with Plato and Aristotle, it isn’t immediately obvious based on the actions of the characters which book could be described as “liberal,” and which as “conservative.” The underlying motivations, however, are far more clear than those of the philosophers. To analyze these motivations, we can use Plutchik’s useful breakdown of emotions, and look for patterns which define the characters and the stories themselves.

Wheel-of-Emotions2-441x450.jpg

Of the Iliad:

Sing, goddess, the wrath of Achilles, Peleus’ son, the ruinous wrath that brought down on the Achaians woes innumerable, and hurled down into Hades many strong souls of heroes, and gave their bodies to be a prey to dogs and all winged fowls; and so the counsel of Zeus wrought out its accomplishment from the day when first strife parted Agamemnon king of men and noble Achilles.

If we were to choose words from Plutchik’s wheel of emotions, the key words I’ve emphasized in the opening passage could be labeled rage (x 2), grief, disgust, and anger/contempt, respectively.

Of the Odyssey:

Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Many cities did he visit, and many were the nations with whose manners and customs he was acquainted; moreover he suffered much by sea while trying to save his own life and bring his men safely home; but do what he might he could not save his men, for they perished through their own sheer folly in eating the cattle of the Sun-god Hyperion; so the god prevented them from ever reaching home. Tell me, too, about all these things, O daughter of Jove, from whatsoever source you may know them.

To repeat the exercise, we might label them admirationacceptancesadnessfear (x 2), grief, and disapproval.

The clustering is more clear in the case of the Iliad, but there is a discernible core motivation driving the Odyssey as well, especially in the context of the meaning of the paragraph.

These distinctions can be even further distilled by looking merely at the first word of each paragraph in the original Greek language and syntax. For the Iliad, the word is μῆνῐς (mênis). For the Odyssey, the word is ἀνήρ (anḗr). Respectively, these words mean “anger” and “man.”

Mênis actually means slightly more than “anger.” In his book on the subject, Leonard Muellner describes it as “a feeling not separate from the action it entails, of a cosmic sanction, of a social force whose activation brings drastic consequences on the whole community.”

As for anḗr, Odysseus’ virtue as a man derives from his “ingenious” devices and strategems he uses to survive a veritable labyrinth of lethal obstacles and dangers. This genius competence is put to the task not of justice or righteous wrath, but of survival, for himself and his crew. Although he failed to retain his crew, we are told that they perished due to their own sins, and not those of Odysseus.

In short, we have a book about justice on one hand, and survival on the other.

That these two poems were written by (or at least alleged recited by) the same person speaks to the synergy between these two motivations. Justice is an aid to survival, through the establishment of stable and predictable order which people can depend upon and build assumptions around with certainty. And of course, survival is useful–perhaps necessary–for the carrying out and maintenance of cosmic justice. If we ourselves are good and just, then Justice demands our survival.

But the synergistic nature of the relationship between justice and survival does not prevent individuals from being dominated by one motivation or the other. Those who we consider to be of the Left are those who are “justice-dominant.” Those who we consider to be of the right are “survival-dominant.”

This dichotomy is one I wrote about recently for Counter-Currents:

In his book A Conflict of Visions, Thomas Sowell argued that the political left–whatever their particular policies–reflected an unconstrained vision of human potential, whereas the political right reflected a constrained vision of human potential. Modern neuroscience seems to support this theory: liberals on average had more grey matter in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is active in navigating social situations, whereas conservatives on average had more grey matter in their amygdala, which (among other things) orients us towards potential dangers and threats. Liberals see options and opportunities; conservatives see risks and dangers.

In fact, “Liberal” and “Conservative,” as labels, are woefully inadequate in encompassing the distinction between those on the Left and those on the Right. This is because “liberal” describes not just one particular theory of justice among many, but also one particular means of going about enacting that theory within a civic order. “Conservative” is a bit more general, and thus broader in its inclusion of right-wing people. However, it is possible to imagine a person who believes that rapid change and “progress” is the surest way to preserve our species. I have personally met transhumanists and people pushing for space exploration who hold precisely this view. Their policies seem to be “liberal,” but their motivations are distinctly right-wing, and their friend-groups and personal politics bear this out, sometimes to extremes which would shock more “moderate,” and less politically-engaged people.

This Homeric theory also carries explanatory power in the realm of parenthood. It is no secret that those with children tend to be more right-wing (“conservative”), and younger people and those without kids tend to be more left-wing (“liberal”). When you become a parent, suddenly survival becomes a viscerally important purpose, and youthful ideals of “justice” often seem abstract, ephemeral, and paltry next to the overwhelming importance of your own children.

This may explain why I myself am slightly more of the left, in my idealism and my psychological profile (high openness, low conscientiousness). I am happily married, but as of the time of this writing, have no children.

It should come as no surprise that Odysseus was not returning to Ithaca merely because it was rightly his kingdom. As he was languishing on Calypso’s island, repelling the Goddess’s sexual advances, he was not longing for home out of a sense of justice, but out of a burning desire to return to his wife, Penelope, and his son, Telemachus.

Achilles had no wife or children that we know of.

This theory also explains why the military is strongly right-wing in nature, while academia is strongly left-wing. In universities, violence is an abstraction, foreign and removed from the daily affairs of life. Survival is a given, and so justice becomes the greatest point of contention. For a soldier, survival is not a given, and so it becomes the single greatest factor in the planning out of every action and every operation. They, like Odysseus, want to come home to their family. While the generals, politicians, and voters may go to war thinking of democracy, human-rights, and the liberal order, soldiers tend to fight for the man at their shoulder. Though they may be just, justice–as a motivation–is an afterthought.

So how do we go about identifying these motivations, in ourselves and others?

Circumstances often dictate the political frame from which we speak. A life of prolonged deprivation in childhood and adolescence may orient a person toward survival-strategies. If food and shelter were not readily available when you were young, ensuring that you have both and more in the future will be paramount in your decision-making. This could lead to advocacy for either traditionally “left-wing” policies (for instance, social services and equitable distribution of resources to favor those who have very little), or “right-wing” policies (property rights and low barriers to entry for those looking to buy and sell in the market). Both are fundamentally rooted in a survival, but are expressed in so-called liberal or conservative policies.

The fact that the “left-wing” policies might be proposed in a fascistic totalitarian society where the policy only applies to citizens of our nation, or that the “right-wing” policies could be proposed in a communistic dictatorship where free-market economics are unknown, is irrelevant. Every policy is enacted in a context. The time and place matter when determining whether a policy is justice-oriented or survival-oriented, as does the character of the advocate. A “right-wing” policy may be rightly viewed as justice-oriented, rather than survival-oriented, when advocated for on behalf of other people.

Others have suggested a quadrilateral analysis of political views, with left and right on the x-axis and authoritarian and libertarian on the y-axis. This is useful in charting the policy positions of various groups at the same point in time, but the problem of the left-right difference remains for both historic and cross-cultural analyses. By looking at the policies–the results of a particular political ideology–instead of the character and motivation of the people who created the political ideology itself, our analysis will always be retroactive and insufficient.

Instead, we must look to the underlying principles, motivations, and experiences of the governed. Through the Homeric lens, we can understand why people group together on seemingly independent issues, such as healthcare, foreign policy, abortion, religion, and literary preference, and we can do so without the slight mischaracterization of Sowell’s “unconstrained vision.” For predictive purposes and for seeking a path to cohesion between separate factions, we can only reach a true understanding through the mind of the governed.

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The Instagram Ethos

I’ll take with me
The Polaroids and the memories
But you know I’m gonna leave
Behind the worst of us
–Selena Gomez, Kygo, “It Ain’t Me”

There is a certain philosophy–most prevalently but not exclusively held by college girls–that I would like to put under the microscope.

It is a worldview which, correctly, observes that the early twenties is the period where people have an extraordinary amount of power. They have a sprawling labyrinth of options open to them. They are at their peak in physical beauty, at least if they are women. They have sudden access to financial resources, courtesy of student loans, which can be utilized for all sorts of only peripherally educational activities, such as traveling abroad to foreign countries or throwing parties in their dorms with other students. They are surrounded by friends and strangers in a similar situation, most of whom are sexually available, and who in any case might make for good company at a bar or a concert.

From such a lofty peak of artificial success (we might call it a “success bubble”), it is easy to look beyond graduation, and see that things will only be going downhill. You’ll have responsibilities, you’ll have to work around people significantly less attractive, less interesting, and perhaps even less safe than those around you now. In fact, you’ll probably be working extra hard to pay for the years you’re going to be experiencing anyways.

It’s as if death is coming at 23.

What do you do?

Live like you were dying.

This philosophy, which I will call the Instagram Ethos, says that we are in for a future of mundane and boring drudgery, preceded by a brief spat of glorious power and freedom. To optimize life, we should live life to the fullest in this brief period, accumulating “Polaroids and memories” which will hopefully last us a lifetime and keep us happy in nostalgic reminiscence into our old age.

As a worldview for rationally optimizing utility, it is actually quite understandable. It is a point which is made by, among others, the Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Church of Corinth:

If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.
–1 Corinthians 15:32

The college sophomore is not quite as naive as Paul uncharitably characterizes the unbeliever; the student at least believes that there is life after school. But they have tacitly accepted a view which characterizes this life after school as something like purgatory. Carpe Diem is no joke, for tomorrow you may not die, but you will clock in and out at your boring job every day, which is a kind of relative death.

Take all the photos you can. #YOLO.

There is a problem with this philosophy, however.

The happiness of the traveling, college, or other “empowered” young life comes from living in the moment, and the ability of the individual to continue to derive joy from these memories is dependent upon a kind of attention and value placed upon these memories.

Notice that this value must be chosen at the expense of the current present moment. What is included in this current present moment?

Among other things, any beauty, quality, love, or meaningful relationships. In short, all of the things which gave the “college experience” and its various analogues their magical quality in the first place.

I am not saying that these things are unachievable. Far from it. But in ordinary life, outside of the success bubble of the early 20’s, these things must be worked for, often for long periods of time. For people who never experienced the success bubble, the hard work makes the reward sweeter. But for people who have not only come down from this artificial peak of humanity, but are now burdened with paying for it, this work makes the re-achievement look impossible or difficult to the point of not being worth pursuit.

The trouble with achieving quality, beauty, love, and meaningful relationships is that they take loyalty.

Patience is one of the most important qualities for achieving all of the above experiences, and patience itself is a form of loyalty: it is sticking with one thing, or waiting for one thing for some principled reason, despite having reasons to do other things.

Humans are even more demanding, and more personal in their need for loyalty. You cannot enter a healthy marriage without the expectation of loyalty. The sorts of friendships worth having, the kinds that give meaning to your life, require loyalty. Given the choice between helping a friend who’s stuck on the side of the road or staying at home and watching the game, only the weakest “friend” would accept you choosing the game over them. Relationships worth having are imbued with value demonstrated through actions.

The Instagram Ethos puts the young person between two competing objects of loyalty: your memories, and your present. No boy-(or girl-)friend wants to be second to your memories of the people you fucked when you were younger. No boss or employer wants your attention focused more intently on your glory days as the star of the team than on the work of the company, because it isn’t sufficiently “satisfying” for you. And no friend is going to want to hang out with you if memories of old buddies are more fond to you than they are in real life. Especially if you refuse to shut up about it, and keep bringing up that one story about that time you and your friends had that one crazy experience.

More likely than rejection by others is your own rejection of them, or at least the refusal to invest the time and effort to build those relationships, to work for the quality and the beauty and the long-term gain. Why bother? You already have this bank of memories to feed off of, don’t you?

Why forgive your friend and get things sorted out when you can think about your other “real” friends you used to have?

Why put in the extra hours of paperwork and dull research at the office when you can show off that A you got in that one hard class, the paper you keep just to remind yourself how smart you once were?

Why work hard to find a virtuous spouse and work through fights and hard times together to build a lasting marriage, when you can easily remember banging someone way hotter than them, and whom you could probably find some simulacrum for anyways?

Of course, the work required to achieve these things does make it inconvenient. It’s especially frustrating to have to re-acquire them after having already had them. Perhaps this is reason enough to avoid the more hedonistic habits of many undergrads.

But the difficulty does not make the good things in life unachievable. And as time goes on, others will achieve them; friends, fellow students, siblings and exes. Eventually, you’ll run out of excuses explaining why everyone else is somehow managing to live a satisfying life, and you’re not. The scrapbook doesn’t help you over failures after life in your prime.

In point of fact, there is no reason that the early 20’s is, or should be, the prime of our life. The quality of life is a matter of our experience in the moment, and this experience is derived from the web of relationships we have with others and to the world. When we let these relationships slip, or never forge them, because we are relying upon Polaroids and memories to keep us going through the purgatory of life, we can make for ourselves a desolate, lonely Hell of an existence, as lonely spinsters and basement-dwelling bachelors. And no one will care.

Above all else, guard your heart,
For everything you do flows from it.
–Proverbs 4:23

The Slave Morality: An Alternative Hypothesis

The Slave Morality was a famous theory of the origins of “good and evil” proposed by Friederich Nietzsche, which argued that based on the etymological origins of the words “good” and “bad,” the concept of “good” arose as a distinction between the nobility and the commoners. “Good” meant “us,” the aristocrats being the ones with the ability and the right to coin language. Consequently, “good” carried the connotations and values of the patricians. They lived in the moment. They loved life. They overcame suffering through action. They had no need to lie or to concoct elaborate explanations to justify themselves because they had power. Power is good. Not having power is bad.

This was master morality.

Slave morality, by contrast, was how the commoner came to terms with their own condition. Not having power, they had to find some way to justify their own suffering in the form of a moral code that allowed them to survive in a state which the aristocracy could not tolerate.

“…you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.”

–Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War

And so the afterlife was born. For the slave, the true prize lay in the life which came after death. In this second world, the dead would be judged through a new moral lens, in which “good” meant those who endured their suffering without resistance, who “turned the other cheek,” and who helped others. “Evil,” a new word for a new category, described those who would be judged harshly in this second life. The evil ones were those with power, especially those who were not generous with their slaves and servants.

This slave morality was not designed to undermine the ruling class, though it may have had that effect in some cases. It was designed to make life tolerable for the underclasses.

This is one explanation. Here is an alternative explanation.

Religions, and the stories they derive from and describe, are older than the languages Nietzsche used to analyze the origins of these concepts. The Epic of Gilgamesh, for instance, is about 4,100 years old. It makes sense then to look rather to the origins of religions themselves, and the proto-religious parables that were gradually aggregated into broader religious systems. For whose interests were these developed, and what sort of morality was it?

The three that first come to my own mind are the stories of Genghis Khan and the Hawk, The Scorpion and the Frog, and The Ant and the Grasshopper (perhaps because I mentioned the first two in my book). All of these are of the same type, yet as a collection, they do not neatly fit into either the master or the slave morality. A case could be made that the Scorpion and the Frog is a proto-master morality story, but it is indirect at best. A similar case could be made that the story of Genghis Khan and the Hawk is a hidden slave morality tale, as it encourages mercy towards the servants and underlings of the masters. Yet this is not entirely different from the advice of Sun Tzu or Robert Greene in their books written explicitly for masters.

A far more sensible and obvious explanation is that these stories were developed–most likely cut away from a broader collection of more detailed stories, like a Michelangelo statue from the stone–by tribes, for the benefit of the next generation.

The evidence for this is in the historical nature of property rights. Land belonged to those who had lived on it the longest. Burying the dead was an important means of claiming right to land (“right,” of course, between relatively equally armed parties), but a collection of stories which documented the lineage of the current occupier, and the ancestral occupation of the same land stretching back for generations, could accomplish the same things. In agrarian, herding, and hunter-gatherer societies, land was life, and so stories of ancestry became life.

But although many of these ancestral stories were purely practical, many of them conveyed wisdom for the benefit of younger generations in addition. The stories of King Arthur, of Beowulf, of the Iliad, the long lines of “begats” in the Old Testament, and as a more modern example, Roots, are all stories of lineage and rights of pride (which translate into socio-sexual hierarchy value for the descendants of the hero), but also convey truths about our orientation towards, and relationship with, the outside world, that transcend master or slave status.

Many of these stories depict various transitions of the hero or the hero’s line through the position of both slave and master.

What this means is that “slave morality” is not older than, and therefore is not a reaction to, the “master morality” of the aristocracy. The name “slave morality” itself would be a misnomer. A better title might be something like “transcendent morality,” as it goes beyond the status and role of its adherents. To avoid confusion with Kant, we can call it “mythopoetic morality.”

“Master morality” is just realpolitik. As soon as you find yourself dispossessed and out of power, the works of Machiavelli and Henry Kissinger lose a substantial part of their value, as does the spiritual energy conveyed in Nietzsche, Ragnar Redbeard, and Aleister Crowley.

In the same vein, mythopoetic morality does not justify resentment and impotence, as the true “slave morality” is supposed to.

The evidence offered for the “slave morality” hypothesis includes the Christian obligations to “turn the other cheek,” to “love our enemies,” and to believe that “the meek shall inherit the earth.” But to take these standalone claims as the entirety of Christian morality is to pretend that the Gospel of Matthew is the entirety of Christianity and the Bible. I’ve written elsewhere of misinterpretations of Christian parables, and others have observed that simplified Christian prohibitions, such as those against hatred, are not theologically grounded at all. But no deep explanation is needed to observe that there are 65 other books in the Bible, and that the truths in Matthew, like the truths in every other book, are contextual.

The “slave morality” theory requires this simplified and decontextualized form of Christianity to be true, but it is not. The “mythopoetic morality” theory predicts elements of both “master” and “slave” moralities to exist within the Bible, in different contexts. This is obviously true. A “master morality” theme can even be found within the king of all slave-morality books: Matthew.

For this reason, the “slave morality” hypothesis is an insufficient and incomplete explanation for Apollonian religions that are designed for (among others) the masses. The cross-generational “mythopoetic morality” hypothesis is sufficient and is simpler as an explanation for moral systems which are not aristocratic in nature.

Sanguine Considerations

I had the privilege of enjoying a blood moon of sorts last night.

I say “of sorts,” as a true blood moon occurs only during a lunar eclipse. What we have had instead are wildfires, which have thrown up enough smoke to give the moon an orangish-red color. They had powdered my back porch with ash when I stepped outside this morning, and even the sun was faint and dull in color.

The blood moon is a powerful symbol in astrology and in Christian mysticism. It is associated with werewolves and with the apocalypse. In October, they are associated with hunting and with the harvest. The moon itself is cyclical, and so the blood moon is a symbol of death and destruction, but also of renewal, of food, and of regeneration.

The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.

–Joel 2:31

Wildfires themselves are not a good omen (to put it mildly), and perhaps many people might think of them as representative of what is going on in their country politically. People who once decried the lack of motivation and interest in politics on behalf of the lay citizen are now suddenly concerned by the increasing polarization of the parties. The cold has been replaced with heat.

A blood moon in such times might appear inauspicious. Some more radical Christians seem to think so.

However, the temperature, the anger, and even the violence, are not intrinsically bad. For someone worried that the greatest danger to America would be a Brave New World of apathy-inducing drugs and video-games, the political radicalization of the past 4-5 years should bring about a great sigh of relief. Blood is death, but it is also life.

Isn’t that a contradiction? Isn’t this just new-age nonsense?

It occurred to me that I might someday be accused of defining love in a similar kind of contradictory manner, in In Defense of Hatredbeing both the source of compassion and empathy as well as of violence and cruelty. It may appear to violate the inviolable rule of identity. It may apear, in other words, to be a kind of contronym.

A contronym is a word which carries two definitions that are essentially opposite. To bolt may mean to make secure, or to run away; to cleave may mean to join together, or to separate (as may clipping); something that is fast moves quickly, but something which holds fast doesn’t move at all; and to table can mean to put something on, or to remove something from, the figurative discussion table.

One such word is sanguine. In modern parlance, it is often used as a synonym for “bloodthirsty.” In olden times, however, it referred primarily to someone who was exuberant, optimistic, buoyant, and generally vivacious… someone who was full of life, blood being the primary conveyor of energy.

As someone who has been acutely anemic at several points, I can attest to the usefulness of this understanding, but I had never seen the importance of it in quite as dramatic a fashion as I did this weekend, where I got to watch a dialysis machine in action.

The patient in question had enjoyed a 35-year run with a donated kidney, but it had finally failed, and she was back on the machine that did the job for her. It involved sticking two very large needles into her leg to create a flow through the cleansing and fluid-extracting machine. This process took about two and a half hours in total, and had to be completed five days a week. Two weeks without the process, and she would die.

I asked her if she felt any different, cognitively, physically, or emotionally, before versus after the process.

“No,” she said. “It’s basically the same.” She later added that the process of doing 24 hours worth of fluid management in 2 hours was an energy toll on the body, and that it was a little tiring.

But dialysis was also an energizing process, for the same reason (if not to the same degree) that breathing is a revitalizing process. Cleaner, more efficient blood brings oxygen to the body faster, and only 20 or 30 minutes after the dialysis was complete, she was up haranguing a painter for missing an eave of the house, albeit in her typically cheerful and bubbly manner. I can’t remember if she was singing to herself as she walked over to talk, but I think I remember her having done so. She often was in other cases.

In at least one sense of the word, she remained the sanguine woman she’d always been.

Bloodthirst and vivaciousness aren’t opposites. Different as they may appear, they’re both symptomatic of being filled with blood–of being sanguine. The opposite of sanguine isn’t another facet of lively enthusiasm, but exhaustion. Stagnancy, tiredness, stillness, all of these are symptoms of being anemic, the true antonym to the supposed contronym sanguine.

It is in this way that love is not a contronym when it is rightly defined in such a way that is compatible with deep and meaningful hatred. Fear is the antonym, as are the apathy and irony derived from that fear.

I don’t know if the blood moon and the wildfires are symbolic reminders of violence to come. Recent news seems to indicate that the domestic terrorists are losing support and ground. Perhaps the real bloodshed can be averted. We can always hope.

I don’t think this is likely. The support for Antifa and BLM have come from far more powerful figures: Soros, Google, Facebook, Silicon Valley in general, the Ivy League, think tanks and interest groups around the world. Those groups aren’t going away, and appear to even be winning. We’ve not yet begun to fight.

But warfare and life are not antonyms. Life is not a contronym, despite including death and conflict, though those who hate you might wish you to think so.

The sanguine choice we have presented before us is essentially Hamlet‘s question: to be, or not to be?

It is no coincidence that his immediate elaboration juxtaposes long-suffering endurance (“nobler in the mind,” at least) with combative overcoming. Between these two, it is obvious which path leads to being, and which leads to not being. It should also be obvious that the two definitions of sanguine are not opposed at all, but are both possible manifestations of the condition called life.

And for that, I’ll take the beauty of the sanguine blood-moon over the palid full moon any month, ominous foreshadowing and all.

Hamlet’s Water

Hamlet is a masterpiece of a play by any measure, but the depth of its genius eluded me until I began rereading it recently. A few of the opening passages stuck out to me, and I’ve put together a theory explaining their role in a story that appears to be spiritually deeper than any other play, or even any other story, I’ve read, excepting perhaps the Iliad.

The opening scene of the final act involves clowns with spades (grave-diggers) preparing to bury a woman, and arguing over whether or not they are to bury her in a Christian manner or not, since she had drowned herself.

Later on in the same scene, Hamlet inquires of the grave-diggers how long a body will last in the ground before succumbing to decay, and the digger responds eight years, with tanners lasting nine:

Why, sir, his hide is so tanned with his trade, that
he will keep out water a great while; and your water
is a sore decayer of your whoreson dead body.

Water has long been a powerful symbol in literature: rains denote cleansing, the equality of mortality, and the rebirth of Spring. Baptisms also denote rebirth, while rivers and oceans connect people, denote the unknown, potentialities, and broadly speaking, the unconscious. But here we have an eroding kind of water, the sort that might carve a canyon, or a body.

Given that Hamlet is arguably among the most introspective characters in all of classical fiction, I think it is reasonable to interpret this as a kind of foreshadowing: Shakespeare is hinting that our Princely hero is going to be faced with a choice, of action or inaction–life or death–and the cause of inaction, decay, and death would be dwelling too long in the corrosive water of the unconscious.

So, what is the moral of the story? In a manner of speaking, it appears that it is to be a tanner. Repetition and action–perhaps in a trade–are ways of lasting, and of keeping out the water, during life and even after death. The great antidote to the will-eroding current of introspective consciousness and the paralysis, stagnation, putrefaction, and death which follows is ritual.

In Nietzschean terms, this would be considered a tragic point: a Dionysian truth conveyed not only through Apollonian means, but pointing us towards an Apollonian (a Christian) relationship with the world.

More evidence for this interpretation is the concluding portion of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy:

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

And of course, it seems relevant that Ophelia drowns, after her last line being about “rue,” (a clever double entendre conjuring the verb through the use of the noun, which is used as a pain-reliever and occasionally as an abortive agent).

This all may sound far-fetched, but the point behind the story and the symbolism used to convey it are remarkably similar across a broad range of literature. A river separates the land of the living from the land of the dead, in both Greek mythology and in the oldest story we have: The Epic of Gilgamesh.

The myth of Narcissus and the pool hits upon precisely the same point as this interpretation of Hamlet.

Beyond symbolic and mythological interpretations, other, more literal texts convey the same point. The bible conveys this in Ecclesiastes, where the reader is enjoined not to seek happiness in wisdom, but in the good of his labor… as a tanner might. Likewise, much of Buddhism is designed to draw people out of being lost in thought, as Hamlet appears to be.

As a theory, I think it’s plausible. It’s at the very least interesting, and makes the opening of the play even more enjoyable… even if we run the risk of diving too deep, against the advice of the story itself.

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.