“You will be a candle for us all.”



Recommended literature: Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now, Moby Dick, Catch-22, The Brothers Karamazov, whatever bits of Lovecraft you enjoy. Yes, the first two are the same text, but they’re both interesting. Yes, I’m calling film literature. It’s accepted, I think.



Lovecraft is the right place to start, actually. The biggest Lovecraft trope, apart from fetishizing New England (and who doesn’t, am I right, unf), is the Cosmic Horror, which defies comprehension and the perception of which drives the mortal mind insane. It lives in the shadows, not because of secrecy but because none can bear (or manage) to relate its existence.


So, the awkward question: why is a bloated mollusk so terrifying that we can’t even mention it?


I mean, yes, obviously there’s some fear with something utterly massive that we know nothing about living at the bottom of the sea, as we’ve seen with whales and the kraken, but it’s not even close to insanity. So what gives? Why has the Lovecraft mythos taken such firm hold that we have Cthulhu plushies?


Of course, it’s because the squid isn’t just a squid, but rather a symbol for the Yellowstone volcano (or, more realistically, some other natural disaster which was more suitable for Lovecraft’s time). Cthulhu means that everything we strive for on Earth is pointless, is worthless, has no meaning or function, because whether it’s tomorrow or in a thousand years, Cthulhu (or the volcano) will wake and it will all have been for naught. (There’s more to it, but that’s a decent overview.)


This is why Lovecraft isn’t particularly scary for modern readers: in every instance, the horrors aren’t symbols, but have come to stand for themselves. Cthulhu has become just a squid. On the other hand, stories which didn’t grow so popular, like “The Color From Out of Space,” still have some oomph. That one, for the record, is about unknown disease and contamination in general and radiation in particular – in my eyes, at least. And disease, unknown disease that not only can’t be cured but can’t even be understood, is terrifying. (There’s more to that too.)


But, to get back to the point, the Lovecraftian narrator perceives the object, its symbol, and what it means.


And they promptly go insane.


This is where I suggest we try to replicate that experience, and where you wisely close this tab and never read my blog again.




Still here?




So why do the protagonists in Lovecraft always go insane? Simply: because what they are witnessing is such utter anathema to the worldview they previously had that they cannot reconcile the two. Their strength is tested against the danger which this new knowledge holds, and they fail and break.


(Of course, they don’t always go insane. Sometimes they just repress their memories, or hide from the truth some other way.)


And here it comes more clearly into view why this kind of story has caught on so firmly: we all have our worldviews, and we all have those terrible truths which could prove anathema. If we perceive these and break, we will go insane. There’s no question about it.


As a brief reassurance: Lovecraft’s characters tend to be unusually hard-headed early 20th-century know-it-alls. They are extremely inflexible in their thought and are almost painfully fragile, barring perhaps Carter from Kadash. They are the example of what goes wrong, and our lesson of what to avoid. Their disease can be summarized as such: they believe it is the terrible truth which has destroyed them, while in reality it was their own personal frailty, which in turn they impose upon all humans. That’s – well, classic narcissism. It’s not me, it’s the cruel world!


We can do better.


So, let us begin outlining nightmare therapy, wherein we imagine the worst horrors we can and survive them.


We all have beliefs and worldviews which define our thoughts and which define us. I’ll put one of mine on the table: I strongly believe that everyone can learn, grow, and live a good life, and that good discussion and reasoning can bring everyone to greater enlightenment. As such, I do not hate others or think of them as subhuman: I just haven’t had the chance to sit down and talk with them yet. (This doesn’t mean they’ll all listen to me as some visionary and accept everything I say, or that we’ll come to the same view on everything, which is pure arrogance. All it means is we’ll be able to come to some kind of understanding.)


The nightmare, then, is to assume this to be false.


Instead of inherent good and potential wisdom in everyone, there are harsh limitations in many which will doom them to wretched lives and manifest as evil. They will not be happy, they cannot be reasoned with, and they were born into this awful state. No kindness, no soft discussion, no effort from themselves or others can save them. They are doomed.


For me, this is the deepest kind of horror. To think that there are places which no kind of reason or goodness can reach terrifies me, because much of my conception of goodness is that it is universal, even if only in the abstract. For there to be null-areas for that which is supposed to be absolute nauseates me, in the same way that a small area which defies physics might nauseate some (See: R’lyeh). It utterly violates my worldview, and my mind recoils from it. I start to consider dark alternatives, like how to handle (destroy) the wicked of the earth, because it’s the only alternative left.


This might not be a nightmare for everyone. In fact, I know for certain that there are people who hold this view proudly, and although I don’t think it’s good for them, they clearly aren’t insane. This is my demon to conquer.


So how do I conquer it?


The simplest method would be to try to prove it wrong, to dig into kinds of evidence that show the nightmare to be simply false. I might look up studies, read supportive articles, or spend time with people to convince them of things. Of course, this will never help, because the secret behind all nightmares is that they are true. Not absolutely, but to some degree, and anyone looking to disprove them will only find more and more evidence that their nightmare is true, resulting in a spiral of obsessive, neurotic digging to try and prove their position which only gets them deeper into that hole. Nothing will ever be satisfying, and they will start believing no end of absurdities to try and string together incoherence, until finally they break – or become some variety of zealot, which is the same thing in the end. Frantic activity as a defense against impotence.


I don’t think I need to explain why totally ignoring the problem isn’t a solution, and between the two of these, we know how people are going insane. So what’s left? Totally giving into the nightmare? That’s ridiculous, because every position has its own nightmare. No, the solution is to figure out how to acknowledge the nightmare, account for it, without losing what was behind the initial position.


For my own beliefs on human potential for goodness, the root belief wasn’t so much about the nature of individual people as it was about goodness itself. Goodness needed, for reasons I won’t get into right now, to be a universal direction. And here, fortunately, lies a good answer to the nightmare.


Even if there are people who won’t be happy, who will cause evil, in this world, there remains the potential to move towards goodness. It may be slow, it may have setbacks, but the potential is there, and I can work with it. So, if I meet someone who seems beyond hope, it’ll sadden me for sure, but I can keep some (reasonably moderated) hope for them and a deeper hope for everyone. No, the lead-addled multiple rapist may not be good at heart, but that doesn’t mean nobody is or that hope should be lost. It just takes a bit more patience.


And so this demon, like every other, is laid to rest in a more mature position. It is no longer a threat, just a sad truth among many that we must work with. The nightmare ends.


There are other ways the nightmare can end, too. In many instances, the nightmare may itself be the best way of maintaining the deepest belief: this is known as conversion. (At other times, the nightmare merely seems it, and the convert blinds themselves in new ways. This is fine, so long as momentum is isn’t lost.) Whatever happens is up to the dreamer.


I should add: I put all this in a highly analytical manner, for the sake of providing a good mental framework to help guide people and keep them safe. The actual nightmare can’t be sanitized like this. If you want to gain anything from this practice, you need to fully sink yourself into the horror and pull yourself out. It has been, in my experience, normal to “wet one’s feet” by testing out how the nightmare feels before trying to resolve it, but your own method is up to you. The challenge is to engage with the deep nausea and horror of anathema directly, to endure your own nightmare, and survive intact. The practice will strengthen your soul, because if you’ve already confronted your deepest nightmares, nothing will ever be able to crush you.



All the works in the recommended section are highly potent examples of nightmare, and serve as excellent practice. Heart of Darkness is especially recommended; that book made me feel like something was crawling under my skin. Also, it’s original-English and ages out of copyright, so you can read it free online. Find something that gets to you in the worst possible way, and get really into it. You’ll learn a lot about yourself.


Oh, and after, go out to some pleasant environment, natural for preference, and take a deep breath. Relax, and let the nightmare wash away. It’s a beautiful world, after all.

Interim: A Wall Street Journal Exercise

“I confidently commend his experience to other skeletons.”

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery; I’m in the mood to flatter. See Alone’s work on, say, this.

I had the unparalleled pleasure of reading through the Wall Street Journal Magazine’s September 2017 Men’s Style Issue today. Yes, I don’t know what I expected, or rather, I know exactly what I expected, and the magazine delivered on every front. Half the advertisements featured the models at strange angles, half had them featured as paper cutouts, another half included mirrored sunglasses in some form, and the fourth half had some form or another of bizarre androgyny, leaving the magazine at (by my calculations) 340% advertisements, the sacred ratio agreed upon at Mt Sinai by God and Ben Franklin. I’ll leave the meaning behind those as a no-credit exercise for the reader, and instead delve into something a little simpler: an article, which I can quote without the damn nuisance of a scanner. Yeah, the whole thing’s gonna end up quoted by the end of this.


Artist Alex Israel’s directorial debut is an art film in the form of a classic teen surfer flick with the goal of showing high schoolers the possibilities of creativity.

Above is a picture of one of the plainest white dudes you can imagine, jeans and a button-down (t-shirt underneath, no need to risk the shock appearance of chest hair) and sunglasses to carefully hide that his eyes are dark holes into his own personal abyss. He’s standing on the beach, which of course why he’s so carefully dressed as to make sure he can’t enjoy it at all. He’s holding a glass bottle of Coke, a luxury reserved for the terminally middle-aged. I’d like to believe he was paid money for that promotion, but really can’t convince myself to believe it.

Let’s be real: we all know exactly where this is going, but that doesn’t stop anyone watching Hamlet, so let’s follow this Shakespearean masterpiece to the end. (Or is it closer to a Greek tragedy?)

The paintings and sculptures of 34-year-old artist Alex Israel tend to be big, sun-splashed affairs that reflect and refract the sparkly Hollywood demimonde he’s long inhabited.”

I had to look up “demimonde,” and I have to say, it wasn’t worth it. Let’s cross off “reflect” and “refract” from the bingo sheet, and delight at the charming choice of “inhabit” to describe what someone does in their home.

A rapidly rising star {if you say so}, Israel is best known for his self-portraits {uh-oh}, done in profile {so he can’t see his face}, that reveal a cool-breeze hipster {I thought you had to say hipster ironically these days} with stubble and sunglasses.

At least it can’t get worse, right?

In some iterations, he fills in his empty sillhouette with Hollywood iconography-

Okay, so he’s literally trying to fill in his empty soul with Hollywood. I get the feeling I don’t need the DSM for the diagnosis of “fucked-up.”

Let’s skip ahead a little… okay, he sold something for a cool million, ‘cause art’s about the dolla dolla and this is the WSJ, he’s got connections to the famous Mr. Chow restaurant empire, he even works out of Burbank the madman…

Oh. Here we go.

“It’s really sincere,” the artist says of SPF-18, his first film, done in the vein of Beverly Hills 90210, Baywatch and John Hughes movies.

What do you tackle first? The bizarre belief that saying you’re sincere convinces anyone? The awful name? The thought that “sincere” and “Baywatch” appear in the same sentence? No, I don’t know either, so let’s leave it behind.

“I think a lot of the entertainment being made for kids right now is really kind of cynical and ironic. I wanted to make this more like what I remember from my childhood.”

Great, so you think that the entertainment made by everyone who grew up alongside you is too ironic, so you want to give kids these days the same entertainment that your crew had. Nothing at all wrong with this picture.

SPF-18 isn’t meant to just entertain teenagers; it’s meant to rally them.

Someone who thinks that a 30-something with a glass bottle of Coke is able to rally teenagers – oh, wait, but he can do it because he’s special. Never mind that he’s trying to rally them with media from decades before they were born.

“The movie was built on the idea that creativity can help find your voice,” Israel says.

What? Isn’t creativity supposed to be your voice? Oh, unless creativity is blind regurgitation of whatever you happen to have seen last – wait, maybe I shouldn’t be saying that. Whoops.

Set in and around Malibu’s iconic 1957 Wave House, the film is a coming-of-age story about four sun-kissed L.A. teenagers who ride tall, fall in love and look fantastic in Israel’s custom-designed wet suits. “Each of the characters follows a creative path, which helps them evolve and make the transition from youth into adulthood,” Israel explains.

First: neither the Wave House nor Malibu itself is iconic to the teens Israel is (nominally) trying to speak to. People still surf in California, but the surfer era’s come and gone. Second: you can’t become an adult except through death or sex, so that “creative path” bullshit has nothing to do with adulthood. Third: we now know why Israel’s making the movie. Ever heard of the forced clothes-wearing fetish? Our buddy Alex is hoping you haven’t.

Although the stars are basically unknowns, the film has a significant boldface quotient, thanks to a supporting cast that includes ‘80s-era icons

Let’s just stop here. We already know the film is actually for Israel and people like him. No need to belabor the point. There’s some more name-dropping junk after this, so let’s skip a couple paragraphs:

SPF-18 will debut on a screening tour that will take Israel to at least 12 high schools nationwide before the movie [tries desperately to turn a profit].

It’s all well and good to make a video of you stroking your own dick, but it’s considered crass to then show it to highschoolers.

“I read that early surf films were shown in high school gymnasiums… it seemed like an interesting way of distributing films – and a way to pay homage to surf films.”

I’ve really tried to avoid using the n-word explicitly up to this point, but it’s hard to imagine much more self-serving than a 34-year-old pretending he’s some indie cool-kid showing his hip underground film to his fellow kids.

This gets followed by a couple of the 80s stars commenting on how great it is to “bring art” to kids (just show them actual porn, that way everyone can get off and not just you) and what a great “art adventure” it is for Israel (gospel truth), but the real gold is at the end:

But it’s also good business. The film will help plug the artist’s new line of sunscreen, Icarus. The commercial aspect is something Israel easily acknowledges. “I was talking to one of my art dealers when I said, ‘That’s kind of off-brand.’ And he was like, ‘You just referred to your art as a brand.’ I was like, ‘Yes, I did.'”

And what exactly is that brand?

“It’s me,” he says, and smiles.

I’ve reread this section four or five times now, and I find something new every time. I’ll leave the exploration for you to enjoy, and simply rest my case.


But wait. Did you notice it?

Careful now.

See it yet?



So why am I reviewing him?

Spoiler alert: the WSJ that I picked this up from wasn’t one I ordered. I didn’t read through the magazine because I wanted to read it; I read through it because I wanted to make fun of it. Well, no; I didn’t want to make fun of it so much as I wanted to make fun of the people who read it. Who would read about Alex Israel and take him seriously, I asked? Whoever they are, I could mock and ridicule them through mocking our boy Alex. He doesn’t make it hard; he makes it easy. That’s not a good sign. But wait, I’m not supposed to be the one reading it, am I? If you’re reading it, it’s for you.

What happened as a result of me reading through this? I felt more disconnected from “the generation” who could act like Israel; I felt more disconnected from people who would read about Israel; I felt more disconnected from the very guy who actually did order the WSJ. (He’s a nice guy, incidentally.) What does this mean? I withdraw more from those older generations, and more into my own – which puts me in a neat and tidy bracket to be marketed to. Divide and conquer.

“Are you saying the WSJ produced this article with your case in mind?” No, I’m saying that the article functions the way it does as the product of the system. This is what “if you’re reading it, it’s for you” really means: in a system where people across physical communities are neatly divided into identity groups, absolutely any piece of writing, art, whatever that targets one group will alienate all the others and this very alienation is what causes this division in the first place. It’s self-reinforcing: the more you’re divided, the more you’ll divide. Something which, on the surface, isn’t for you will make you more of your own group, which means, in turn, it was for you all along. It doesn’t matter who you are: everything is for you.

This is, incidentally, probably why the whole “generation” talk only started quite recently. What better way to fuel different buying habits than to make people in the same family feel alienated from one another? No, it’s not a conspiracy, but you don’t need conspiracies, that’s the point.

“So what do we do? Shut our eyes and ears to try and close everything out?” I mean, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad, but let’s try and avoid that if we can. I really don’t know what a long-term solution would be, but a short-term one would look something like: when you see something which “isn’t for you,” try to find a way of feeling closer to the people who it’s actually “for.” Sure, they may be rubes or dupes or horrible people, but that makes them more similar to you, not less. If you feel like the people around you, especially closest to you, are the Other, then that’s not just because they’re shutting you out – it’s because you’re shutting them out.

Maybe instead of spending a whole essay shitting on Alex Israel, from his appearance to his ideas, I should just sit down and – maybe not ask him about his movie, there’s no need to prod at sore spots – but maybe just see how his day was. That is, if he were my neighbor. He’s not, so instead I’ll stop looking down on him and the people who like him. Maybe if I do that, I won’t be such a goddamn asshole.

Wait, strike that. No maybes needed: if I don’t act awful towards them, then I won’t be acting awful towards them. Full stop. That’s the end of it.


“I… no longer wish to live like this.”

We need therapy.


How do I know this? Well, do you think you don’t? Do you think people on the whole think they don’t? No, everyone knows this. Everyone, in every part of America, needs therapy. If you’re not American, or at least Americanized, then I’m sorry but I don’t know what you’re up against. But in America, at least, everyone, rich and poor, urban and rural, Democrat and Republican, and every color under the sun, needs therapy. The country, the nation, is sick. We don’t function any more, at all. I know this. You know this. We all know this. Nobody thinks America is okay. That’s not a sign of one part being sick. That’s a sign of everything being sick. That means that the solution starts at home: we need to stop being sick. That means we need therapy.


Does that mean we need to all go see therapists? Hell no. They’re sick too. In any case, the best kind of therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (which shares its acronym most delightfully), is basically something you do to yourself in any case. All learning, all growth is something you do to yourself. That doesn’t mean a teacher, a therapist, is worthless, mind. It just means that they aren’t the solution. You’re the solution. That’s what it means to be the problem. The best they can do is give you some real good advice once you’re ready to hear. But the therapists haven’t gotten past this problem, so they can’t give you therapy on this. They can give you damn good therapy on some other things, though, so go see one for those.


So if you can’t get therapy from someone else, why am I writing this? Good question. Simple answer. I’m trying to give myself therapy, and I’m recording it, so hopefully someone else can learn from it. I don’t want to fix you. I can’t fix you. You might be able to fix you. I might be able to fix me. What’s the result of me fixing me? Hopefully, good things. Maybe I’ll stop being bad to others. Maybe I’ll stop being bad to me. Are those good reasons for you? I hope so. If they are, if you hate the things you do so much that you’d be willing to give anything to just stop suffering that horrible evil, then maybe you’ll be able to give yourself therapy as well. I really hope so, and I hope I’m not leading you down a false path. If I am, tell me. I don’t want to go down that path either.


Let’s talk about the sickness. It’s pretty simple: you hate your life and yourself. You’re probably wrong about which parts you hate. I’d guess you think you hate where you are in life and who you are as a person. That’s wrong, and that’s part of the sickness. What you actually hate is what you do in life and how you act as a person. There’s a big difference between the static and the dynamic. Namely, the dynamic changes and can change. Specifically, you can change what you do. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s hard.


Why do you hate those things, though? Easy. They’re meaningless. There’s no real substance to them. Let me guess: either you’re burning through low-wage hours and just scraping by, or you’re just meandering your way through some part of the “system” (school, work hierarchy, who cares) without a clear sight of what’s on the other side. Possibly drugs are involved, and drugs are as meaningless as you can possibly get, apart from video games, trash TV, junk food, social media posturing, casual sex, and masturbation. I do most all of these. We all do most all of these. It’s become normal to do most all of these. That’s a real problem. Why do we do such meaningless things? Simple: they’re all pleasurable in the most banal sense, and they’re all coping mechanisms. That’s why they’re so tempting, and why you won’t be able to kick the habit until you get therapy. You need terrible things like these to live the awful life you live. Oh, hatred’s another one. Hatred’s a big one. You can stand to live almost any life, so long as you’ve got enough hatred to keep you going. Do you think the Count of Monte Cristo’s life was good? No. It was awful. It was unbearably awful. Same with anyone else who lives with hatred. Don’t let that distract you from the others, though. They’re bad too.


How do you kick an addiction? Well, the critical step is changing the environment. What do you mean by the environment? Duh. You have to change the life, and to change the life, you have to change the mind… get it?


I said pleasure was a coping mechanism. I emphasize, banal pleasure. The little pleasures of life are essential to life. The empty pleasures of life are the enemies of life. So what, then, could possibly be worse to someone than to worship pleasure? There’s nothing.


Stop. You should probably read Plato’s Gorgias. It’s important. It’s one of the things that started breaking me free. I mean, I already had to be ready to break free, and that’s a combination of a bunch of other factors, like having a grumpy and antiquated aesthetic and having felt what it’s like to be inside an evil person. If you feel like you need to read it, then read it. If you don’t, then just remember everything from above, and come back when you’re ready. Nothing can ever help you unless you’re ready.


Maybe you need to feel what it’s like to be inside an evil person, too. I certainly did. We’re all in the right place for it, already. My big moment was to realize that something I had just done was actively evil, not in some abstract metric or in the eyes of society, but by my own direct light of judgment. It wasn’t that I didn’t want people to know what I’d done, but that I couldn’t bear to think I had done it. That wrecked me emotionally for a few years, and I kept doing evil things, but had to know I was doing evil the whole time. I hope I can actually learn to not do evil things, and that I won’t just end up convincing myself that I’m not doing evil things. This is where the Gorgias comes in again: the worst thing there is isn’t to suffer evil, but to do it. You need to understand this. What, did I just say there was another worst thing? Can’t there be more than one worst thing there is? Why the hell not?


My aesthetic just made me like Plato. There’s not much more to it, except for everything in the world.


So: meaninglessness. Other people have written on this. I’ll put links down below, and really, they should be up above. I think they count as required reading. In fact, the first thing that should be required for any of this is reading. The first target of reading should be the past. Are we new? Are we unique? No. Others have seen what has come before, and they in love have written down their advice. We need to do our part and read it. Who should you read? The classics are a good start. Books don’t become classics without good reason. Some are dated, some are quaint, but all are worth at least a little of your time and sincerity. I’ll put some of my favorites below. Read as much as you like, whether mine or that of another, and then move into the more current links. Or read the current links first. I’ll put movies, too, for people who don’t like reading, and some manga for the incurable Japanophiles (read: fucking weebs). Otherwise, pick whatever you like, so long as it fits the core criterion: that it makes you think, not that it tells you what to think. We need to think. There’s no way to do therapy without thinking.


You know something fun about therapy? It can go wrong. It’s possible for people to be hurt by bad therapy. We all should have known this already, just like we should all have known that Oxy is addictive. You don’t get power without power. This is serious therapy, so it can go seriously wrong. I can’t even quantify how wrong it might go. You could destroy your entire life in the worst way possible. I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen people who’ve done just that. It’s miserable looking at them. Willing to put that on the line? Yes? No? Well, good luck. Don’t know whether it’s good or bad if you weren’t frightened by this.


So, meaninglessness. Our lives are without meaning. Well, not entirely. Actually, I know a decent chunk of people who’ve got some solid meaning in their lives, and of various types. It’s relaxing to be around them. Those are the lucky ones. We’ve got to make meaning, and our society is oh-so-good at destroying meaning. The only meanings that survive are consumerism, consumptionism, and Disneyfied morals, which are the equivalent of a glossy veneer. Oh, and of course, hatred. Hatred is an easy meaning, and the one which destroys the soul the most thoroughly, because it constructs its entire meaning in something which it wants to destroy – how could it not destroy itself? I’ve watched some people, glowing people with decent meaning, start to lose their grasp of it in favor of hatred. It’s miserable looking at them too. You know what I’m talking about. If this is your solution, you’ve not achieved therapy. You’ve achieved utter erasure.


Playing a part, picking a team and going with them, isn’t the way either. There’s the hatred, for one, and you erase yourself just as easily. No, this isn’t about being special. You’re never going to end up being special, except in the very specific way that you are special precisely to yourself and the people who are special to you. If you’re confused, look up Kant’s refutation of Leibniz. It’ll make you more confused, but in a refined way.


People (read the links) suggest that religion is a source of meaning, or old cultures, or things like that. They’re right. They say that this meaning has vanished and that “God is dead” or something like that. They’re wrong. Fun fact: there’s nothing in Christianity about black cats. Ghosts and spirits get relatively fleeting mentions in Old and New Testament alike. And yet, when you look at Western European (read: Nordic, Celtic, and Anglo) countries after the spread of Christianity, the fundament of cultural belief sometimes seems to be more ghost than Holy Ghost. This isn’t some weird happenstance. Belief, and meaning, are strong, and they can carry on to our times in the strangest, strongest way. Think about the idea of the jinx. Something you say, regarding a possible good outcome, is regarded as being capable of cursing you such that the good outcome, however likely will not come to pass. If you try to say such a thing, people will reprimand you for jinxing them. It doesn’t matter that it’s usually a joke. It doesn’t matter that those people, if pressed, will publicly disclaim belief in jinxes, and say it’s something to do with people getting nervous if anything. What matters is that they will avoid jinxing themselves. Even if they don’t think they believe, they believe that their words have power. There’s meaning for you.


Obviously, I don’t mean that the solution is to just be as superstitious as humanly possible. What I’m saying is that superstition tells us something useful. It tells us that we still have access to meaning and access to power, even if that access is so faint we can barely feel it.


Also obvious: if you’re not Anglo/Celtic/Nordic, then think to your own superstitions and what you can claim as your own. I don’t know all these things, but I know they’re there for you. If you’re not descended from people from those areas but still bear the superstitions I mentioned, then you still have access to them. Skin color is no object. The only object is cultural heritage. You know if you have it.


Meaning is power, power is meaning. That is, real power, that is, power insofar as power is something which is good for you. Read the Gorgias yet? It’s not just a bit of word trickery. It’s word trickery to be sure, but it’s not just that. Power is only real power if it’s good for you. Otherwise, it’s just… a lack of restrictions. Lack of restrictions doesn’t help. An unending search for getting rid of restrictions probably got us into this mess in the first place. Do me a favor. Go to the supermarket, look for the toothpaste. Pick out some of them. Look at active ingredients. Fun fact: Colgate’s Tartar Control is identical to their basic toothpaste or whatever they call it, as far as the active ingredient and concentration is concerned (read: everything important). They try and say it has two different effects. You’re free to pick either. You have no power of choice. Those two statements are highly compatible, and what’s more, you already know it. Chances are you’ve railed on about that fact in the past. Chances are you’ve mistaken the reason why the toothpaste or the Tylenol or whatever are all the same thing. It’s not because of capitalism or some shit. It’s because you valued fake power over real power. It’s because it ever came down to a question about toothpaste in the first place. It’s never been about toothpaste. The toothpaste doesn’t matter. What matters is meaning, and you can’t buy meaning.


All this is coming off as way too anarcho-socialist. Fuck. That’s my mistake. I buy shit. You buy shit. We all buy shit. That’s fine. Let’s be real: we’re not gonna stop buying shit. Buying shit is important. We’re not gonna make our own toothpaste and get some deeper meaning from it. Not all of us, at least. I won’t stop you. We’re gonna buy Colgate or Crest or Store Brand or Tom’s of Whereverthefuck, mostly based on how much we like flavors and how much we want to spend, and that’s okay. Colgate can keep offering their full array of toothpaste and that’s fine. They can even keep offering that fake-as-shit Tartar Control stuff. The point is, it’s not something we should care about. Being able to buy a lot of toothpaste doesn’t matter. That choice isn’t powerful. It’s meaningless.


Let’s talk about the other side of it: highly restricted situations or patterns can be meaningful. Need an example? I’ll give you one. No, two. No, well, they’re pretty much the same: food and sex. They’re both carnal pleasures, unless you’re vegetarian, in which case they’re legumal pleasures or something like that. Same difference. People metaphorize back and forth between the two so often you’d think they got their dick stuck in a stack of pancakes at a formative age, or something something cucumber slash root vegetable. Whatever. Let’s get to the examples.


Imagine you’re sixty. Maybe you already are. If you are, kudos for reading this far. No, not because this is challenging and because you ought to be hopeless because you’re old, but because you gave this hideous, abrasive, and ignorant writing from someone way younger than you the time of day. That’s a massive amount of pain tolerance. Anyway, you’re sixty. You’re married, to whoever fits the bill as being someone you could stay married to for a good few decades. You have sex pretty often, though not as often as when you were younger. Maybe it’s more. Who knows. You also go out to eat pretty often, around the same frequency as sex in fact, and always to the same place. You know the waitstaff. Hell, you know the kitchen staff by now. You know the menu by heart. Maybe you get the same thing every time, maybe there’s a little rotation between your favorites. You say the same things to the waitstaff, you tip nicely, and you go on your merry way. It’s a routine by now. If there were an Olympics event for eating at this place, you’d score gold, no sweat. Perfect style points, no splash at all. The sex is basically the same, but I’ll spare the details. See? The metaphors are great.


Imagine this real hard. I mean, real hard. Tell me: what is it you feel? Is it boredom? Is it ennui?


Is it warmth?


If it falls more into the first category, then chances are you need even more deprogramming from the whole choice-is-power disease. If a lack of variance (read: distractions) makes you feel bored, then that doesn’t seem to be a problem with the lifestyle, but more a problem with you. Either you’re so used to (read: addicted) to variance that you’re unable to imagine fulfillment without it, or you’ve been so deprived of imagination that you can’t even begin to fathom what a restaurant you’d be happy with would look like. You can’t even imagine what a person you’d be happy with would look like.


Hold up: I’m not saying no variance. Variety is the spice of life. Let me repeat myself. Variety is the spice of life. Ever tried eating a spoonful of cinnamon? But it makes pastries taste amazing, when added in just the right amount. That’s something else to learn: moderation.


If you feel warmth, then chances are you’ve gotten a bit of the therapy completed, for whatever reason. That’s good. You recognize that something as simple as this can make you feel happy. Probably you had a kind and loving family, or some genuine friends, or something like that. And yes, that’s what makes that food taste so good, makes that sex feel so good. It’s not that it’s won three Michelin stars or some AVN awards. It’s that you have a connection with the people behind it. It’s that there’s meaning there, and that meaning gives you power.


No, it doesn’t give you the power to change the world, but it gives you the power to change one person’s world, and just by saying “I love you.”


Another metaphor. Imagine the devil comes to you, horns and all, and says: “I’ve laid a terrible curse on you!” You ask, “What?” He explains, “From now on, you will never act out of your free will ever again. I will force you to act, each time, in exactly the way that you want – nothing else!” You gasp. “Oh, no! Does that mean that I’ll just act on my basest urges and end up fucking, fighting, or eating everything in sight?” “What? No!” says the devil. “I mean ‘want’ in the holistic sense. It’ll be a tally of your base urges, your intellectual considerations, and your moral convictions, and everything else that could possibly influence how you act, all weighed against one another in a reasonable fashion so as to describe, at any moment, what it is you really want.” “Oh,” you say. Oh. And what do you say next?


If you’ve any sense, you’ll say: “So does anything actually change?”


That’s the secret about devils, of course. They don’t really corrupt anyone, but only hurt the people who are already corrupted. If you answer, “Of course it matters, of course I don’t want to be forced to act in the way that I already want to act, in the most holistic sense of the word ‘want!’” then you’re already solidly blinkered by choice. You don’t care a single bit about what it is you end up doing. All you care about is that it seems to you that you get to choose what you do. Can you imagine anything more meaningless than caring more about the principle of having a choice than over what ends up happening?


Let me make it a little more real. Imagine that you’re intending to do something, and then someone commands you to do that thing you’re intending to do in a really unpleasant way. What would you do? Would you not do that thing, just to spite them? Would you value the illusion of having a choice over the actuality of what you wanted? Do the things you want mean so little that you’re willing to sacrifice them just so you can play pretend that you’re a free spirit? That’s ridiculous and childish and powerless. The right answer, of course, is to do what you were planning to do anyway, but be rightfully angry at that person because they’re being a fucking prick. Fuck them.


Power. Back to power. We know what it isn’t. It’s not choice. We know one thing it can do, kind of. We know it’s meaning. Good, but not enough. Meaning by itself traps itself in a loop. Rather, it digs itself into a pit, or it traps itself in a loop. The loop: something has so much meaning to you that nothing else can mean so much, and then you develop a deeper infatuation with that meaning, and you trap yourself in orbit around that one thing. You know what to call that. It’s obsession. You know what obsessed people look like. It’s not pretty. Somehow, it’s worse when they’re in love, because then they aren’t just fixated on some material hobby, but on a living being that suffers if they hurt it, and hurt it they will because obsession isn’t love. The pit: even easier. You just can’t find any meaning to begin latching onto, to use to get to other meanings. That’s called nihilism, generally.


But power’s also something that’s good for you (if we’re to call power good). What’s meaningful and good for you? How about living a good life?


Wait. This is a common answer, which means that it’s not a good one. If common answers were good, we wouldn’t all need therapy. And yet, what’s the alternative? Are we going to say that living a bad life is good for you? Are we going to say that the kind of life you live is irrelevant? Are we going to say it just happens to result from making the right choices, rather than being the right choices? Nah. The problem is figuring out what the good life is. That one’s a bit of a doozy.


We have a couple of points to go off of, of course, like those examples about choice and food and romance and so on and so forth. Those are okay-ish, but it seems somehow wrong to understand them as the core of what’s going on here. It seems like we’re just focusing on the gloss, again, and not on the substance. I’m not going to pretend that if you just go to the same damn pizza parlor every day, that it’ll fix all your problems. It’ll probably do the opposite. That’s a surface-level fix, and not a real solution.


Maybe a better path is to say: power is the ability to live a good life, and living a good life makes you powerful.


So what do you need to live a good life? Obviously, knowledge of what a good life is. That’s meaning. The practice and experience of living a good life, too. Maybe we’ll call that character, or something similar. And how about the desire, the state of mind where you can pursue living a good life genuinely and fully, without being distracted by irrelevant details that have nothing to do with goodness and which make your life hollow and empty?


Well, that’s why we need therapy.


Yeah, I know, I left a lot of important parts empty here. There’s a nasty bit of circularity going on with the whole “good life” deal. I can give you my arguments about what I think the good life looks like on a more practical level, or some more detailed discussions about a lot of individual therapy elements, or a more detailed explanation of what therapy is (hint: read the later Wittgenstein), but those are my own individual answers. They’re a work in progress. So’s this, but it’s a bit more foundational. That’s a fun word, isn’t it? But more importantly, they’re incredibly contingent on my own individual position. This, I think, is much less contingent. More to the point, none of my own answers are central to the concept of therapy. You can use them, or you can not use them. The important thing to do, for the therapy to work, is to just start working with answers in a serious way. That’s basically all the therapy is, plus interaction with others to keep you grounded.


Despite saying that, here are some hints for people who want them.

Question one: where do I go to find some kind of meaning about the good life?

Answer one: read old books or ask wise old people. You know who the wise ones are.

Question two: where did they learn those from?

Answer two: old books and wise old people, but also from doing things randomly and seeing what stuck. Don’t be afraid to try that one, either.

Question three: how do I get practice living well if it takes practice in order to live well?

Answer three: imitate people who did it nicely, or fake it until you make it. Same as anything else.

Question four: I’m having trouble…

Answer four: give it time.


That’s all I’ll give. If you’re looking for absolute dictates as to how to live after reading this, then I’ll just say: you need therapy. Let this settle for a while, read some other things, and then start again.


Speaking of reading things… oh, but I should mention. It probably should go without saying, but read absolutely everything with a charitable and critical eye. Try seriously to get the points of everyone you read, but don’t adhere to them religiously. This is especially true for the internet links. I think they’re worth reading, but you’re in the wrong business if you take anything you read on the internet as God’s truth.


Reading list:

All of Plato, but in particular the Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Gorgias. Actually, skip the Republic, except maybe the first two or three books. People get too caught up in it and it messes with them. It’s good, but probably longer and more obtuse than it should be.

Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason if you want to turn yourself around in circles a bit.

Browse Aristotle and Aquinas: the Nichomachean Ethics and the Summa Contra Gentiles, respectively. Helps to give a glimpse into another world.

Descartes’ Meditations, just so you can say you’ve read them.

Get some other things, too, like good old novels. Pick fun ones, for that matter. The stuff above is rarely fun, and you deserve a break.

Watching list:

Basically everything directed by Kurosawa is a good starting point. Ikiru is a good ending point.

Pretty much every other movie you can think of that’s known as being good. Start with things twenty years old. If you find something you like, tell me. I’m not great on movies.

Reading list, but internet: – gives some nice terminology and mental tools, with comfortable base-level explorations into the topic I’m dealing with here. Check the top posts (top bar) to find some really good meat, and click through the links if you dare. – focuses more heavily on the ideas of pathology and therapy. Read this once you’ve read through a comfortable amount of Scott Alexander’s material, just above. Go to the archive (top right) and read through the two series in order. – extremely dark and cynical looks into pathology and therapy. You should consider this to basically be the foundational text. However, it should be noted that the author exists (existed?) in what amounts to a different mental plane than most of us do. It is not a pretty or pleasant place. In fact, it ought to deeply horrify you. It’s important to not confuse this horror with a judgment that he is incorrect or evil. He is troubled, but he’s not troubled for terrible reasons. He may be incorrect on some or even most of his points, but regardless of whether his precise conclusions are wrong, he is observing something real which needs to be understood. It’s worth reading him very seriously for the sake of trying to understand what he’s looking at. Click on the Narcissism link in the sidebar (scroll down), click through an arbitrary number of pages, pick a post, and start reading. Or start here:

Reading list, but manga:

Recommend you look for all of these on Batoto. If you aren’t into manga, don’t fret. This is for hobbyists.

Alice in Borderland

ib – instant bullet

Spirit Circle

It’s manga, so expect half of these to be mangled halfway through in some serious respect.