It’s a dark, rainy February evening. Cold leaden drops fall from the shadows hanging from heaven, and drip sullenly along along the long faces of buildings and those who walk between them. Incandescent lights glow aquatic as the water runs over them, and illuminate the ominously subastral haze. Through it all, the tall Neoclassical dome of Capitol-echoing-Capitol gleams as beacon and threat. In the stories, in the world, it goes: the symbol of authority must symbolize authority. The bright, pallid lordliness says it all. In another town, that might be offset by high skyscrapers, but here it stands alone. And yet, even so, its lunar glory is outshone, for to the west lies Versailles, home of the Sun, the immortal and undying… but the sun is setting even behind the clouds. Such is the sign of our age. The sun moves West, West, West until it lights East, and yet (even so) the obvious remains hidden (clouded) that East has become West, Orient collapses by Occident, and all falls under the northern forests, the central sea. So has it been, and so it shall be again. Shine in your golden light, and lay wisely your sherds, or else shatter your idols and lope into the wilds hence ye came. Barren lands await, seas of lost souls, and yet, paradise… awaits ye not. Leave thy innocence in Eden with thy pride. Go once more into the haunted night, gripping the iron torn from the ashes. So it has been, and so it shall be again.


The city’s not New York, nor Chicago, yet just as it aspires to them so does the weather. Life holds a mirror up to art. When’s the last time you’ve painted the sea?


I’m not in the rain, of course – I left it as soon as I could manage. Mortal flesh, mortal weakness, mortal mind. I’m in a bar, eating food slain quite far away, drinking something with “noire” in the title. C’est charmante. I am, after all, a man of my time, with all that entails. I have built nothing of what surrounds me, and yet I am quite warm and dry. There are three results to that position: a crippling sense of inadequacy, a crippling sense of entitlement, and utter madness. At the table right in front of me, a tidily bearded man explains the minute (minuscule) details of our mutual company to an uncomprehendingly attentive table. Jargon is explained, and perhaps somewhere in the straight-hall nightmare there is understanding. My beard and hair are long and ragged. I sit here alone.


Make no mistake. I will wake in the morning and make my way back to the same place as that tidy fellow. He knows his path; mine is dusty arcanistry and occasional alchemy. I memorize the symbols and grammar faithfully, but in my misty sight, crowded by floating bodies none but I may see, I behold


Age-worn, faded wood. Warm, welcoming colors, and the softness of self-antiquated threads. Page-must, flame-yellow, life-warm. The soft babbling of teary nostalgia for what surrounds you now, and in the distant auburn Autumn, the Song of the-


Econ 101

In Memory of the Curious Time

When We Two

Were Millionaires for Ten Days


First principle of economics: nobody willingly makes an agreement by which they end up losing out. People can get hoodwinked or coerced, sure, but nobody wants to lose. There are only two kinds of cases that people try to cite as exceptions, which are altruism and spite. Cursory examination reveals that both are attempts to win along alternative vectors: the former for a greater good, and the latter as a way to not lose so badly. (For the attentive: the difference is between intrinsic and extrinsic valuation.) This is the most important rule.


Corollary of the first principle: whenever anyone enters an agreement with you, they are winning from it. You aren’t powerful enough to coerce or smart enough to hoodwink. The only thing you can do is make sure they’re winning in the right way.


Second principle of economics: in a monistic system, there is only one vector of winning and losing. This means the only kinds of trading left require forcing or duping, or both.


Third principle of economics: every interaction, emphasis on the etymological split of the word, is economical in that these principles apply to it. Mathematics might not apply cleanly, but that hardly matters. What does matter is that you can interact with entities like companies and society at large.


Fourth principle of economics: in a strong enough system, interactions cease to be with other people and start to be with the system itself. And compared to that system, you are powerless.


Final principle of economics: you can’t beat the house. Not now, not ever.


Imagine you’re the house. Just like mentioned above, in order to make effective deals, you need to dupe people or force them into obedience. The best way to do both is to introduce a representation of the vector, an image of the real substance, and focus the attention of others onto it: the illusion over the reality. Then they will strive and strive and strive for it and keep wondering why, even when they try so hard, the mists keep slipping between their fingers. More importantly, you don’t even have to try in order to trick people this way. Like good little Delians, they’ll do it to themselves.


It’s easy to misconstrue income inequality in America and elsewhere. The argument people want to be true is that because some people have higher income, therefore they are more powerful. Momentary thought reveals it to be the exact reverse. This is why income redistribution is even a talking point, when it should be clear that it doesn’t matter how much the money gets moved so long as the ability to make the money stays in the same hands.


“So you’re saying there should be a redistribution of wealth instead? Like, shifting ownership of the means of production?” Very original, like that T-shirt of Che. Incidentally, Zimbabwe tried something like that. The people there had been ruthlessly subjugated by white “settlers” for a long time, rebelled, and redistributed all the farmland to native Zimbabwean ownership. At last count, their economy wasn’t doing so hot. No, this isn’t a “haw haw black people” line. This is a serious question: why did this go so badly when it looks exactly like what you’d want to do in their position? Why did redistributing the means of production not result in an immediate escape from poverty and strife? There’s only so far that blaming the global conspiracy of white people can get you (and they really just want you to buy Coca-Cola anyway). Or how about we reframe the question: if you woke up tomorrow as the CEO of Exxon, what would you do? If you answer with anything other than “flounder,” then you have delusions of grandeur. No, that’s not a diagnosis, that’s an observation of fact. The diagnosis costs extra.


Incidentally, the Zimbabweans have one serious advantage over the rest of us: at least they fucking tried.


The game is: power isn’t about what you have, it’s who you are. This is, of course, what people are not allowed to believe, because if they believed it, they wouldn’t just sit down and accept their place. Yes, you read that right. The old way of keeping people in their place (read: their class) was divine right: certain people are just better by nature, and therefore they ought to rule. Sure, after monarchy fell out of favor, the name of the game switched over to race/genetics/fill in the blank, but the core idea remained the same. The problem with that model is that it left an opening for anyone who managed to upend the class allotments. Achieve power, and you logically must have already been part of the higher class, an exception by nature – but that illusion is harder to maintain. Anyone from a lower class could secretly already be from a higher class, which means they lose their defense against the withering scorn of all Creation for their failures. So, to keep people sane, the explanation shifted: since everything is determined, therefore the people who have it good must have it good because of external factors (luck in birth, luck in associations, luck in timing). Believe that, and everything stabilizes. It’s no longer your fault that you’re a loser. Reality itself conspired against you. In contrast, any victory is logically yours alone.This works for everyone, except those who are supposed to have an advantage and find themselves still coming to nothing. Ever wonder what the deal is with white men these days, and why the loserest of them need so desperately to be oppressed by something? In today’s America, land of equality, they’re just like everyone else.


Meanwhile, the people who actually wield power simply focus on their work, which is wielding power, and wonder vaguely but not seriously what’s wrong with everyone else. If there ever was a master-slave morality, this is it.


Well, that’s assuming there even are people who wield power any longer. I assume there are at least a few. Putin comes to mind, and probably Xi. Possibly a few CEOs. Generally, though, the people in positions of relative power are wielded by the power of their position. Consider the CEO of your average publicly-traded company: what is their primary responsibility? To make “shareholders” money. Now, let’s not fall prey to the notion that there’s some malicious mob of pandaemonic shareholders that go to meetings and insist on more money. If it were actual people, the CEO could just say no and lean his or her authority to force through some plan of action. This isn’t the case; hence they are acting in service to something more powerful than they are, which in this case can reasonably be summarized as the Dow Jones Industrial Average. No, not the people behind it, like some nefarious cabal, but the Average itself. Society itself is on the other end of this exchange.


So, when you negotiate your pay with your boss, what precisely is happening? You try to push your pay up; your boss tries to push it down. If you’re at a small business this at least makes some sort of sense, but those are the places you’re least likely to get pushback (barring the boss being an idiot) since there’s much, much more value out of someone who doesn’t feel exploited. Typically, though, this phenomenon happens in larger corporate structures. It’s not your boss’ money that’s being given away, so why does it matter so much? Well, if they give up too much they might be fired by their boss, who’s worried about getting fired by their boss, and so on and so forth until the Dow comes into the picture. “So it’s about profit?” Not quite, since other sources of waste exist in excess of what the raises cost, in external deals/internal investment/etc. The point is that you are weak, those other powers are stronger, and that means you lose. Your boss feels the most pressure to keep you down, because letting you get your way is a sign of weakness – a failure to keep you in your place. And, for your part, you will play the role of the powerless: you rebel in insignificant and unnoticeable ways, gripe and complain, but fastidiously avoid trying to take any real power yourself. Because that would make you like your boss. Get it?


This is how society rolls along. In ten million ways, people play their assigned roles, eschewing any personal responsibility in exchange for taking everything personally. They seek out money so they can waste it, explain their failures as not their own, and lose any chance of ever having successes. In case you can’t tell, that’s you in there, too.


Marx had his heart in the right place, but was utterly hoodwinked by that which he tried to rebel against, which is precisely why he was so popular. (Compare Bernie Sanders.) Even if the workers seize the factories, they won’t know the first damn thing about running them, because if they did know, the system would use them to run the factories. This is because the factories were never the means of production that needed to be seized. How can you ever own anything if you don’t even own yourself? And yet we go through life, day by day, as slaves to the machine, owned by our work, our clothes, our politics, and even our identities. Yes, it’s possible to be owned by your self, and it’s called narcissism. The space there is intentional. How is it surprising that we’re powerless? That everything about our lives is painful and unfulfilling? Maybe it’s the Four Noble Truths, or maybe it’s that we don’t even have the least leverage over the one point there is to stand on. (Extend the Archimedean metaphor, and it gets vulgar.)


Ownership over the self is the start. It means leaving childhood behind, and taking on the mantle one was meant to take. It means simply being, without having to be something, and that brings us to:


Final principle of economics: the one who has control over currency is the one who determines its value.

Reflections of the Setting Sun

“One spot of radiance, where all else was shade.”


Anything worth doing is worth stealing, so from Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov:


“Mephistopheles, when he appeared to Faust, introduced himself as one who desired evil but did only good. Well, that’s as he pleases, but I’m quite the opposite. I’m perhaps the only man in the universe who loves truth and sincerely desires good. I was present when the Word, who died on the cross, ascended into heaven, carrying on his breast the soul of the thief who had been crucified on his right hand, and I heard the joyful cries of the cherubim, singing and shouting: “hosannah”, and the thunderous shouts of rapture of the seraphim which shook heaven and all creation. And I swear by all that is holy I longed to join the chorus and shout “hosannah” with them all. The word had almost escaped me, it had almost burst from my chest – you know, of course, how sentimental and artistically sensitive I am. But common sense – oh, the most unhappy characteristic of my nature – kept me here, too, within the proper bounds, and I let the moment pass! For what, I thought at that instant, would have happened after my “hosannah”? Everything in the world would at once have been extinguished and no events would have happened after that. And so, solely from a sense of duty and my social position, I was forced to suppress the good moment and carry on with my loathsome work.”


That’s the Devil speaking, by the way, and every word is true. The Brothers Karamazov is the book I want to write, incidentally, but since it’s already been written I write a blog instead. That’s what I tell myself, at least. Anyway, on to the actual point.


I have something of a penchant for metaphysics. It’s the bad habit of, whenever I see something interesting outside me in the world, trying to butcher it into First Principles. I don’t even like Aristotle. I’ve been suppressing this tendency of mine somewhat, trying to reverse the Firstness to what it ought to be by nature in my essays. Rather than write on the metaphysical underpinning of the phenomena I’ve noted, I instead focus on the experiential (empirical, thus sensory, thus subjective) side of things, building a logic (logos, account) out of scrap parts salvaged from wherever I can lay hands on them. For right now, however, I’m going to indulge myself in writing a proper treatise. May I be forgiven.


If you have a corkscrew mind (sharp, twisted, good at opening bottles), you’ll have noticed something I’ve been dancing around in all my essays. “How on Earth,” you might be asking yourself, “does this buffoon purport to speak of modernity and leave out mathematics?” Sorry for putting purple prose in your mouth, but I wanted to use a little less of the blunt kind of vulgarity. The point stands: I’ve been avoiding math like the plague. The reason I’ve been dancing all around it might get a bit clearer if you etymologize “definition.” Regardless, it’s time to bring it in.


It’s no mystery that math is the underpinning of the modern world. It’s the language of science, of telling the world how it’s supposed to act. “But science is empirical.” Yes, that’s the point entirely. Nothing mathematical, nothing scientific can comprehend an antitemporal relation, where “antitemporal” stands in for “causal” stands in for “one direction, and one direction only.” So when science considers itself, it can only either conceive of itself as being caused by the natural world or the cause of the natural world. Hence, mathematics is, in the scientific lens, both a response to the facticity of nature (caused by nature) and inherent in nature as a fundamental truth (causing nature). Not realizing the distinctness and implicit simultaneity of these claims, the scientific language fluctuates between the two and confuses itself even as it grows in power. That is: you don’t need to know what the hell you’re doing to do it consistently right. Anyway, more on that later. For now, math.


What is math? Simple question, simple answer: it’s abstraction. Better question: how does math function? By turning things into numbers. “But can’t things already have numbers?” Yes and no, go ask Kant if you want a serious explanation, I’ll provide the abbreviated logic. Something in itself does not have a number attached to it. Think of it: should you number both a sturdy rock and a crumbly rock as being one? “That doesn’t make sense. Why should it matter what kind of rock it is?” Exactly; it makes absolutely no sense – to mathematics. And yet, if a builder wanted a cornerstone and you gave them the crumbly rock, they wouldn’t accept “but it’s one rock” as an answer. Run the lines backwards, and you get: math works by grinding off the rough edges until you can treat everything as identical, as number. More complex math just increases the tolerance for rough edges.


Abstraction isn’t just a trick of mathematics, by the way – it’s a trick of language. Rather, it’s the trick of language. When you call something by a name, a definition, you strip away everything which does not fit within that definition. This is how reductive criticism works. “Engagement rings are a scam. Why would you pay so much for a rock?” Bam. With that one word, the diamond loses all qualities of beauty, hardness, romantic implication, and instead becomes literally indistinguishable from a pebble. Pop quiz: what’s the etymology of “literal”? Bonus question: why is it wrong to address people by race?


This gives abstraction a bad rap, as though it’s purely nefarious. The reason it’s the great trick of the human mind is that it allows determinations and the indefinite. “This screw needs a flathead screwdriver.” “Okay, but should it be the screwdriver with the red handle or the screwdriver with the blue handle?” “Are you stupid? I said I needed a flathead. Any one will do.” This process, the ascent to category (along with the necessary complement of the descent from category: “Yeah, but the one with the red handle is bigger.”), is the characteristic of thought and intelligence. In fact, it’s a reasonable definition of intelligence: to be able to successfully navigate an item through ascent to and descent from categories. In practical terms, this is called magic. From the undetermined world, a phenomenon not held within its constituents emerges: it is from inert wood and black stone alike that flame may spring. Show of hands: who’s really surprised a race of magian-gods claimed the world as their own?


And math is the greatest magic of all, for under its sway all things become one. Consider an object’s size, and its weight. They are distinct entities, but mathematics alchemizes them into density, from which many things may be known – and so on. Follow the trails long enough and all becomes atoms, then quarks, then… something. Note that it is some thing, the singular; it is not entertained that there could be more than one, no matter how hard some of the pieces of the puzzle resist being put together.


This is the mechanism of subsumption. Consider the the catchphrase: “If alternative medicine worked, it would be called medicine.” Think about it deeply and seriously. What is it saying? “If something doesn’t fit into the archetype, the paradigm, it doesn’t work and thus doesn’t exist. If it does, then it’s just another expression of the paradigm, isn’t anything distinct, and thus doesn’t exist. Thus, the only thing that exists is the paradigm.” The logic checks out, and I’m not being facetious here. It really does work. This is the precise method of thought which produces unitary structures for reality, and it is directly concordant with truth. Sure, postmodernists yammer on about Western hegemony and the lived experience, but they’re missing the point. (What’s more, they tend to just try to build their own monisms, like the social explanations of capitalism and patriarchy, without realizing what they’re doing.) This is monism, and monism is simply true.


Philosophy is monism; monism is philosophy. The first set of consistent writings we Westerners have on it come from Plato, and he openly admits he got his book of tricks from Parmenides, who probably got it from Thales. Meanwhile, outside of Greece, monism was being invented by Laozi, Gautama Buddha, and the Jews, so it’s basically a universal phenomenon (another monism). The Vedantic sages probably got to it before any of them, but who’s counting? The monistic account is simple: all things, diverse in character, can be brought under the banner of the one. They can all be made to reflect a unitary account, communing with one another under a single language. In more scientific terms, it’s to say that everything is of one substance, which holds the exact same implications. Ever thought of why everything in the universe is physical? Ever wonder why the word “universe” has the etymology it does? Now you know why.


Side note: the etymological trick was something Plato and his contemporaries played with. It’s also severely underrated. If we have only one language, then there can be nothing more critical – or informative – than its history.


The truth of monism is built into the very structure of logic, logos, accounts. It’s built into the idea of truth itself. If there is one truth – and there must be – then it must speak for all and all must speak to it. People try to get around this with multiple truths, or different kinds of truth, but this is just neurotic babbling to disguise the fact that they’ve just gotten slapped down by the man. It’s not a bold, self-sufficient claim; it’s a kind of me-tooism, clinging to the coattails of something with the strength to hold up on its own.


And what’s more, this monism, this unitary nature of truth, is identical with the form of goodness. The simple qualification of goodness, insofar as it can be a good thing, is that everything can come under its banner. If goodness is truly good, then it must be good for all, and to be good for all, it must include all. It is nonsensical to say that someone can be right and reasonable in fighting against goodness, because then it would be good for them to fight against goodness. The only ways around this are dualism and relativism, and neither of those is coherent. In order for something to cohere, it must cohere into one – see the problem?


The history of math, then, is the history of the monism, the oneness, triumphing over all else. It runs parallel to the ascendance of science, for the same reasons stated before, and as they have grown in greatness, so has the power of humanity spread. Hume writes that from the undetermined world springs polytheism to match the dissonant and disjoined forces, and that these are brought into the unity of monotheism. But monotheism, Christian thought, is a dualism: it requires not just God, but Satan as well. Without the Devil, it runs headlong into the Problem of Evil. The true monism is beyond monotheism, in science. This is not to say that Christianity and all other religions definitionally lack monism; on the contrary, there are ways to work Christianity such that it becomes truly monistic (see Spinoza for one Abrahamic example). The key factor in the movement is: evil is no longer its own side of the coin, but simply measured in distance from God. This is identical to how science works: untruth is measured in decreasingly accurate approximations of the truth. They lack a true nature or substance of their own, being simply decreasing in perfection. Consider: when people speak in purely scientific terms, do they ever speak of good and evil? And if they speak of evil, can it be anything other than some kind of logical fallacy, mistake of approximation, or brain dysfunction? No, the terms have been limited to the one notion of truth. Math, being the pure language of the scientific morality, has a harsher metric: whatever is inexpressible in math is simply incoherent.


Perhaps an analogy will illustrate. In the experienced state, there are countless manifestations of temperature. There’s mugginess, dry heat, temperate climes, clamminess, sharp frigidity, and so on. These can be collected roughly into the groupings of “hot” and “cold.” But science does away with cold, leaving it as only the absence of heat. This is a literal equivalent to the epistomoral shift of science.


Of course, this has led to an incredible march of progress. The reason for this is embedded in the power of truth and goodness which I’ve mentioned before, but if you need an example to solidify the reason in your head, consider this little myth. There are two metalworkers, one Eastern and one Western. What land qualifies as “east” or “west” here hardly matters; what matters is that they have totally different understanding of what they’re doing. Each uses different mythic-explanations for events, different practices, even different units of measure. And yet both of them is able to make good metal, even as they are totally unable to communicate how. If they are brought together under the same tongue, then their accomplishments can be shared – and this is precisely what science seeks to do. It will find the metalworkers, declare that their reasons were ultimately “untrue” and superstitious, and substitute in the language of materials science. The differences are annulled, and the knowledge is subsumed to be consumed. Progress is made.


Another expression of this: economics and, well, capitalism. A dollar is a dollar is a dollar – and everything can be paid for in dollars. Any inability to communicate, to convert, can be mediated by introducing money. If anything you want can be purchased, then any disagreement where one party is forced to sacrifice something they desire can be mediated with a payment. “Money can’t buy happiness!” But until the utilitarians finally attach a working number to happiness, you can’t mathematize it in any fashion. And if something can’t be expressed in math, then it doesn’t exist at all. QED.


Here’s the two fundamental characteristics of currency (and its underlying component of math): it’s fungible and it’s monistic. Fungibility means it’s an infinitely perfect representation of itself – a dollar is a dollar is a dollar. Monism means that it’s the only substance there is. So in order for currency to buy something, it must interact with that thing, but if it’s definitionally the only substance, that means that the thing which is being bought is of the same substance as currency, which requires it to have the same fundamental characteristics. Are you seeing the game yet? Anything which can be bought with currency must necessarily be fungible, or it doesn’t exist. Every product, every commodity is definitionally identical and indistinguishable by virtue of it being purchased. By extension, this makes every commodity a currency as well, and so the only thing you can buy with currency is –


If you can finish that sentence yourself, then you already understand the game. All that’s left is putting the pieces together.


Quine was right in his rejection of reference, insofar as he was of the Analytics. In an absolute language, like mathematics or one of its aspects (say, economics), there can definitionally be no reference. This is a fundamental characteristic of monism. If there is only one thing, then that thing cannot refer to anything which is not itself, which is not even self-reference because self-reference uses the mechanism of the future or past. I’m not making an original observation, here; like anything else that’s remotely good, Plato wrote it down first. Check out the Parmenides if you don’t believe me. The first section is (roughly speaking) Plato laying out the foundations for an extensive analysis of monism by criticizing a referential problem in his own Theory of Forms, and the second is him going through an agonizing line-by-line explanation of the intense bizarreness of anything monistic.


And lack of reference brings us right back to the casino. The games are countless, but no matter how many chips one acquires, not one is worth anything but itself. And since there’s no other show in town, all the casino-goers play and play the games, trying to strike it rich without knowing what they’d do even if they did. The dealers facilitate, the owners scoop everything up, and still at the end, it’s the house that wins. No, not the owners, the house itself. The only thing that wins in a casino is the money.


The paradox I’ve been using to fuel most of my arguments is that as things keep getting better for us, we get unhappier. This is the paradox of the modern world, and it’s a doozy. Now we have a pretty solid answer: a necessary consequence of the ascent of monistic thought is that all reference fails. This explains the meaninglessness of life pretty nicely; why wouldn’t it be meaningless if there was no such thing as a reference to meaning? And why wouldn’t things be relative, since the only thing anything can relate to is itself? And doesn’t that explain the loneliness, too?


“But wait, isn’t there more than just capitalists and Analytic philosophers? There are people opposed to those ideas, like Marxists, Continentals, and so on.” Excellent point, and it draws right into the next. Aren’t their theories monistic, too? There’s materialism for the Marxists, and some various styles of idealism for the Continentals, and so on and so forth. In fact, the most curious thing about the present day – that era as yet to be named – is that it’s afflicted with no end of monisms. It goes without saying that none of them really talk to one another. Oh, there’s some effort with the leftist ideas, intersectionality and so on, but as everyone knows there’s nothing like a leftist to fight another leftist. Anyway, the result is that when people subscribing to different monisms try to talk with one another, they have literally no way of understanding what the other could be saying. The result is, of course, for both to accuse the other of lunacy. “Are you crazy? That doesn’t make any sense at all.” Precisely. This happens all the damn time.


So it nobody’s really talking with one another, how does society function? For one, through the basic human capacity for not-stabbing-one-another-in-the-neck, though that one gets strained at times. For two, through the enforcement mechanisms enacted by structures and systems. The basic tenets of democracy subvert communication into votes, and votes can talk to one another. Outside of democracy, we get… what, now? If people can only talk to those who share their ideology, what does the game look like? Isn’t that a closed system? And in a closed system, with one currency, what’s left but a casino? And between the systems, if there’s no communication to allow human reason to take over operations, what’s left to do the work but pure unreason, natural evolutionary forces in motion? Could the reason that we feel powerless be because we are powerless?


In case you can’t tell, this is the precise reason why each new happening is the biggest thing ever until it passes and nobody cares. Sure, the media manufactures hype, but that’s because hype is the currency and they’ve got cards to deal. Everyone plays out their hands, they get scored apathy high, and someone takes home a thousand Twitter followers while the idiot who went all-in on moderation has to figure out how to explain it all to their pet iguana. Meanwhile, the game goes on, another hand gets dealt, and people are too busy figuring out what they should do to figure out what they can do. This is obviously the wrong way around; ask any computer scientist and they’ll tell you that what you can do is indexed in the size of your balls, and as such has a far shorter lookup time. For the ladies, these balls are metaphorical; for the men, they’re wishful thinking. Either way, it’s an abstract class. Moving on.


This is all a pretty just-so story. “Check out how this no-name blogger solved a nasty philosophical problem and explained why everything’s going to shit!” Yeah, right. The problem is, nothing I said is wrong. To the contrary, it’s all true. If you’ve been paying even the slightest bit of attention, you would know exactly what that means.


“So what, this is a monism too? Doesn’t that make it contradictory? And if this is a monism, then everything’s a monism! There’s nothing we can do!” Hold up. Don’t you remember some of those other theories? Physics, economics, Marxism, and so on? I’d put evolution in there too, while I’m at it. Are any of them wrong? And I don’t mean in the “do they cohere internally” sense, here, but the “do they square with what we know and provide good predictions of the world” sense. Don’t give me any ideological bullshit, either, just say whether the insights here are valid or not. They are? Good. Do you see the implication, then?


Monism is like being; rather than being an inherent property of a given entity, it’s a style of positing and positioning that entity (shout-out to my Prussian homie Kant). The problem is not the ideas themselves but the way in which they’re thought. The One Truth is the hot new drug on the street, and everyone’s looking to score. All these ideas get taken as the answer, when the right move is obviously to treat them as individual answers for their own individual problems. It’s the modern tendency to do otherwise that lands us in monistic hell. We start with a nail, build a hammer for it, get amazed with how well our new toy works, and then start washing the nice dishes. The solution is to simply accept fragmentation, deal with things being rough around the edges, and watch as you magically become capable of communicating with others. Sure, that won’t solve everything, but in a similar manner as taking your dick out of the vise, it sure can help.


You may have noticed I’ve barely scraped at the surface of metaphysics. Sure, the definition and logical consequences of monism basically count, but that’s not some real metaphysical meat. That’s by design: “I told you that story so I can tell you this one.” Have you considered why the monistic problem has gotten worse – not originated, but aggravated – in the past couple hundred years? It could be because of the historical rise of unity in national and international spheres, but a historical answer is a lazy answer since it puts the locus of psychological control firmly outside of your mind. In case you didn’t get that, monism hasn’t gotten worse worldwide, but rather inside your own head. Yes, over the past few centuries, if it matters. So what could be doing it?


Did you catch how I didn’t mention math could be non-monistic?


A good definition for math might be “the absolute system of representational unity ascended to by consciousness.” It is, as it were, the absolute form of monism to which all monistic thought aspires. This is the short answer to why math works: there’s no such thing as bad math, only misapplied math. The mathematicians can’t possibly be wrong; it’s only that their work gets misapplied. That’s the advantage of working in a totally abstract field. Mathematics is the retreat into intellect, into pure reason, which then allows objects to be handled in monistic form. But math, in itself, says nothing about the undetermined world. It is the determination of the world.


If you remember the language before, there is a sort of game involved with math: the ascent to category, which ends in the infinite and meaningless category of number. This is the path up from the undetermined world, the land of raw and formless content. In the story of math that we most commonly stand by, the story of monism, what’s lost is the journey and the descent from category. In order for there to be determinations there must be something to determine, and inherent in the categories is that which is to be categorized. Nothing below the status of mathematics is permitted, and so everything is treated as an absolute category. In reality, almost nothing is an absolute category.


To make my point a little more clear, let’s take colors, in this case orange and red. Orange and red, both on the color wheel and the visible spectrum, sit next to one another. It’s well known that they bleed into one another. Take a strong shade of orange, and present it to the community. They will rightly say it is orange. Now shift it slowly into red. Will they all say at the same time that it changes to red? Certainly not. And so if you try to make two distinct mathematical categories, that of orange and that of red, then what you’re talking about will make absolutely no sense. This blurriness and indistinctness isn’t a characteristic of all possible categorizations: consider the mathematical distinction between a pentagon and a hexagon. There is no possible blurry in-between state for the shape; it is either a pentagon, a hexagon, or something which totally fails to be both. The mathematical mode of thinking, the monistic mode of thinking, demands absolute categorization, which is where the rest falls apart. Consider: is it not necessary, in Marxist terminology, for one to be either of the proletariat or bourgeoisie? Does the notion of necessary revolution make even the slightest bit of sense if there are not these distinct, warring categories? Revolution can make sense in any context, but for the worldwide revolution to be possible, there must be only two. And this is why Marx’s paradigm requires the universal destruction of the middle class, because only then will there be two sets of numbers for him to do math with. Predictably, this means that those who followed his political agenda have had the primary goal of eliminating the middle class (through careful categorization) so that the mathematics can proceed as it ought to. Equally, this is why the rising Marxist regimes tend to have so much brutal oppression accompanying them. The reason for this kind of harm is, in its core logical structure, precisely identical to the miscategorization of colors above. An absolute category is being applied to something which is not so absolute.


“But with the colors, we can mathematize exact wavelengths of light and apply those!” Yes, and that is very helpful, but that has nothing to do with the phenomenological category of red and all which is associated with it. The trick is saying that because we have figured out a good account of what’s behind light, that we have mathematized colors. This is not true. What actually happened was: we united the phenomenological categories of color under the mathematical account of the visible spectrum. However, the phenomenological categories are still there, and so are the things they initially united into their categories, the individual phenoms or instanced experiences of color-ness, as well as whatever it is that truly lies behind the curtain and originated those phenoms beyond all human experience. But all those get forgotten when our sole model is monistic, mathematical.


This is the method and motion of our times: that the ascent of mathematics has destroyed all other modes of knowing. This is hardly the fault of mathematics, or indeed, any sort of condemnation of it. Math is fantastically powerful, and there’s hardly any kind of plot on the part of mathematicians to bring it to capture the imagination. No, a better story there is the banal one: people wanted the certainty of mathematics in uncertain places, and rather than spreading wisdom, they extinguished it. What surer way, for instance, to ignore the bizarre and fascinating tides of human desire and expenditure than to pretend these have all the regularity of the laws of physics? No wonder everyone has their own opinion on economics. Even those who nominally reject mathematics and science only do so in the most nominal fashion, by rejecting the general conclusions and individual calculations. This is the postmodern trend, and as I said before, this apparent rejection of categorical monism and laudation of unstructured reality just uses those as its taglines. The actual methodology of thinking – as a general movement, exclusive of the clever few who can be lumped into that school – is precisely monistic, which means they’re still after that same addictive certainty. Just because they play with different rules doesn’t mean it isn’t the same game. This is characteristic of the most ardent converts. They haven’t stopped worshipping the exact same gods as before; they’ve just started calling them by different names. Form over content, which in turn brings us to a way out.


The general form of the solution is clear, while the content isn’t. The problem, to reiterate, is basically the void of meaning in our lives, which has manifested as an absence of power (and countless different maladies). Meaning in turn was sabotaged by monistic thought through its destruction of reference, which unmoors all our sky-castles from the firmament. To fix this, then, all that is needed is to step away from monistic thought, reclaim principles of dualistic and polyvalent thinking, and sink our roots back into the earth from which we sprang. If we could only achieve this, we would be free of the nightmare.


But how is this possible, if all we know is monism? What logical process could possibly guide a return to the earth? And moreover, even if we could conceive of a universal guide to this rebirth, wouldn’t it just serve as a new monism? How can one possibly get from one to many? Lovecraft had an answer, as did many others during the first half of the twentieth century: virulent xenophobia and narcissistic adoration of one’s own physical and cultural place of origin. Although this does have the desired effect of providing a kind of meaning, I don’t need to explain how that might go wrong. (Lovecraft is still an incredibly important writer, by the way, precisely for that reason.) We can do better. We do still come from the earth, after all.


The game is this: there is a kind of pseudo-logical motion from the undetermined world up towards defined categories like mathematics, and although it escapes pure constancy, there is a kind of reliability towards it. The best word I’ve been able to come up with for it is aesthetics. There is no logical reason, per say, that a certain color should be more desirable over another (as much as evolutionary psychologists and other such degenerates try to give their vapid explanations), and yet we do desire it, and that desire means something. Not at random, not without connection to the world – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s still a meaning, indicating that it still has reference. This is what’s at play in art on a whole, where beauty lives in work and eye alike. It’s amazing (though predictable) that math is a universal tongue, but it’s every bit as important that art is not. Universality implies monism; particularity implies the opposite. A work only enjoyed by one human and loathed by the rest isn’t deficient; it’s precisely what was to be desired. And if one can understand the art one likes, and the art one doesn’t, and yet see the connections and dissonance between the two… isn’t that what we were after?


Art isn’t the only way that aesthetics can show themselves, I should mention, and in fact contemporary art often attempts to abandon aesthetics. Abstract art says it quite clearly in the name; it’s an attempt to abstract away from the traditional modes of art and the natural world itself towards pure meaning, which is the exact mathematical movement. Is it any wonder that nobody can understand it? Avenues of critique have gone in a similar direction, where many things are loved simply because they are loved (see Plato’s Euthyphro for why this might be a bad thing for meaning) or else are praised for their content in absence of any aesthetic appeal. There are exceptions, where people have the audacity to just like things, but this is accepted to be the domain of plebeians. Anyway, the plebes have no illusions about whether or not what they’re consuming is artistic, so the system keeps ticking.


But aesthetics itself is inherent simply in the way in which we observe and judge. In fact, it would be reasonable to call the entire faculty of judgment the part of the mind concerned with aesthetics, which is why Kant does exactly that. I’m going to break with him from here on out, just as I already have in my discussion of metaphysics, but it’s simply polite to mention the genius whenever he comes up. In any case, aesthetics are what lie behind all things which are judged, which would serve as all things which enter the human mind from the outside world. This is general, and it is critical. It’s also going to be my topic going forward, just as it has subtly been my topic leading up to this point, even if it’s not always first and foremost in the discussion. However, the word count currently reads “Plenty,” and so I’ll stop for here with the thought of the aesthetic as the direction of this therapy.


Final thoughts:


A decent account of the method of refutation that Socrates uses in Plato’s dialogues is that he challenges interlocutors to defend non-mathematical views as if they were mathematical ones. Take, for instance, the idea of courage in the Laches: as I mentioned a couple essays back, Laches certainly understood courage, but was incapable of putting it into good definitional terms. This is not entirely because he was a bit of a meathead, but also because courage is not something which can be given in absolute definition. True courage can always involve some kind of courage in challenging the definition of courage, meaning there’s a constant “overflowing” of its bounds. This is why Laches failed. In contrast, Plato’s Form of the Good is an extremely mathematical one: it is, in a certain sense, the final union of all other things. This is why it is defensible against all logical assaults, being monism itself. Whether or not this counts as mean and cheating is left as an exercise for the reader.


It would seem at first blush that content-focused art criticism would have some greater relevance to the world at large, given that “content” is generally taken to be “meaning.” However, since the systems involved are monistic (or at best dualistic, since monism doesn’t really have any kind of mechanism for critique), the content here is just self-reference to something in the system. Reference to a message, perceived or real, is reference to a logical construct, and that logical construct is not a thing in itself. This is why explicit moralization is universally thought of as lame: when someone tries to do it, we can tell when they’re just trying to convince themselves. Actually powerful moral messages do not express the moral stance; they take the moral stance. (The difference is between saying “you should/shouldn’t do this” and “I am doing this.”)


I made a few references back to the previous essay here, but to make it explicit: the advantage offered to anyone trying to undermine or escape a monistic system is that they can simply do anything not enumerated in the system itself. That system will have absolutely no way of recognizing that anything is even happening, by definition. That should be useful to keep in the back of one’s head when trying to navigate the “global economy.”

Cleaving to Clay

“This Is Better… This Is Better!”



Before anything else, there’s a small story I’d like to tell. It’s not anything fancy or fanciful, and there’s not really a moral or an ending to it, but it’s the kind of story I like because – I imagine – it’s a lot closer to what really happens than most stories can get. So, here we go:


Once, long ago, there was a man and a golem. There were other people besides them, of course. The man had a family, and there were other people around. All in all, it was a sort of a village. But what was important was the man and the golem. It was his golem; not to say he made it, although he might have, but regardless of its origins, he now owned it. It was the standard old kind of golem: big, strong, speechless, made out of clay. It may have been Jewish. Nobody asked it, and nobody bothered to remember whether there were words written on it. But regardless, it was there, and it obeyed orders. That’s all we need to know.


What this man had the golem do, for the most part, was fetch water. It was a fairly arid region that they all lived in, though not so arid that nobody tried farming, and the golem was big and strong and could carry lots of water back from the lake up in the rocky foothills. (They didn’t have an aqueduct. I don’t think they were Roman.) The man drank this water, and poured it on his garden, and washed and bathed in it, and gave some to the other villagers so they could do the same. The golem could make three or four trips a day, carrying gallons and gallons of water each time in a big tub, and so there was plenty of this water for everyone.


One day, the man decided he could get more water if he gave the golem two tubs and hung them on a strong wooden beam which it could place across its shoulders – when balanced right, it should be very manageable. So he spent some time building the second tub, making sure it was just as large as the first tub, getting it nice and watertight, and then finding a wooden beam that should be able to support both of them along with rope that could hold that much water without snapping. All told, this took him about a week, and over that time he got a lot of advice from the villagers. They were mostly worried that the added strain would break the golem, and so when it came time for it to be given new orders about the new tub, he said:


“Golem, here is a new way for you to carry water. You just need to put it across your shoulders – like so – and you can carry two tubs worth of water instead of one. Take this and continue getting water from the lake, but fill both tubs instead of just the one tub. But when you lift up the tubs, make sure the weight isn’t so much that it’s hurting you. If it’s too much, then take one tub off and carry that one back, and we’ll have you keep using the one tub from then on.”


The golem seemed to understand, and it went off with both tubs. Later that day, it came back with both of them filled, and no damage seeming to be done to it. The man was overjoyed, and started to share the water with everyone. As this went on over the next few days, it became obvious that it was actually more water than everyone needed, and so the golem didn’t have to work so much. When it wasn’t working, it was told to sit in a corner in the shade by one of the houses. Actually, it was told to please itself but be ready at hand, but this is what it did, anyway. And so life in the village continued for about five months or so.


Then, one afternoon, the golem didn’t come back. The man was worried, and went out looking for it. The trail it followed to the lake was easy to find, as its heavy feet had packed a hard path over the years it had been walking. The carrying-tubs were sitting on the shore of the lake, both filled with water, but there was no sign of the golem. That area was so covered in stones that the man couldn’t find any tracks for when it had gone after that. He went back and got the villagers’ help, and they all brought the tubs back together. This was more or less how they started getting water from then on.


Nobody knew what had happened to the golem, but everyone had ideas. One villager said: “It was too dumb to know it was breaking down with that load!” But others said: “We didn’t see a pile of earth at the lake.” Another said: “It was offended that it had been ordered to carry twice as much!” But others said: “It carried that load for over five months.” A third said: “When it was resting in the shade, it finally realized it could be free, and decided to escape!” But others said: “It seemed happy to do what it was told, at least, as much as it could.” A fourth said: “Clearly the dark magic that bound it to serve its owner’s will must have worn off, and it wandered into the wilderness to live again like a beast.” And the others didn’t know anything about where it came from either, so none of them said anything at all, but put furniture in front of their doors at night for a while.


They never found out what happened to the golem, either. Sometimes travelers passing through would tell stories, but a lot of them seemed to be lies. It never came back, anyway, and nobody ever learned why it left, although there were still some opinions that were more popular than others. In any case, they put up a big slab of rock towards the center of the village and carved this story onto it more or less in the way I wrote it, except not quite so long-winded, because there’s not that much space on rock and chiseling is hard work. And so the story passed into legend, and contributed to fireside discussions and ways to entertain travelers and merchants, which was useful to the village after all. If you were in suspense about it, yes, they did eventually get an aqueduct, but that was a long time later. And so the story ends.


Now that that’s out of my system, let’s get to the actual essay.


If I were forced at gunpoint to distill Alone’s writings down to one sentence, surprisingly enough, the word “narcissism” wouldn’t appear in it. It’s a big deal, sure, but the reason why it’s a big deal that people are frail and helpless and can’t even imagine anything outside themselves is something totally different: in the casino of society, the house always wins. Or, to put it in less metaphorical language, the idea of counterculture is an oxymoron. There’s nothing you can sign up for in modern society that is actually an agenda of “rock the boat;” any attempt to change things gets absorbed into the gelatinous cube faster than you can say RESISTANCE IS FUTILE. What’s more, if you try to play the rules straight – what did you miss, the metaphor or the memo? This is how casinos work. The house always wins. If you play straight, you get fleeced. If you’re dumb enough to think you can game the system, you still get fleeced. If you’re dumb enough to actually game the system, it works for an hour and then a few very big and very upset-looking men in dark glasses ask you to come and have a little chat with them in the back room (and at that point you’ll be lucky to even get the chat).


This is the big message that gets propagated from Alone to his apostles. Narcissism occasionally follows along too, but frankly it’s not quite as relevant: most of the people in that younger cohort are still in their early-mid twenties, if not younger, and narcissism is natural for people like that. There are, uh, other problems, but it’s simply incorrect to label it as narcissism. (Perhaps a better way to put it: instead of the late adolescent phase getting carried through adulthood, it seems to be the early adolescent phase getting stunted and reprinting itself on the growing adult. That’s a whole different ball game, and not the point of this essay, so do your own research on this topic.) But although narcissism gets minimal press, the main point of everyone who writes reflectively on Alone is answering the question of how the fuck we get out of this nightmare mess – every essay is either some fragmentary attempt at escape or another plea to the reader to understand this deep and serious truth. Maybe this is another product of post-monarchic (read: post-religious) sentiment: we can’t blame the unfairness of things on royal birth (divine mandate), so instead of just accepting the game or doing something interesting like planning an assassination, we decide to just kill ourselves. That’s both in the literal sense, with a rope, or the more-literal-than-literal sense, with alcohol and weed and bad TV and the internet. But leaving the casino has been left to the less-imaginative existentialists, and so instead the game has become looking for One Weird Trick for avoiding ritualistic suicide.


I’ve not been doing a great job at dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s so far, so let me fill in some of the blanks for the reasoning thus far. The problem that’s come up so prominently in American (read: global) culture is one of social power. If you’ve spent more than two minutes in a group of humans in the past, then you know what an absolute bastard social power is. It’s the force of feuds and petty rivalries, powered by gossip and backstabbing. When two battling parties duke it out with physical power (i.e. violence), there’s at least the chance that one of them will back down after a sufficient beating, but with social power it’s always all or nothing. When a social schism really gets going, neither side will stop, will be able to stop, until the two are torn apart entirely. Reconciliation is possible, but difficult – and usually relies on some arbiter who’s either able to leverage their social power much more effectively than the two belligerents, or is able to leverage some totally different kind of power to mediate the situation.


What post-violence, post-ignorance social media democracy has managed to do in America is turn every conflict for everyone below the absolute highest echelons of power into a social conflict. This has certain advantages: for one, it removes violent conflict, and for another, it vastly limits the amount of localized oppression which can happen. If some small-scale idiot tries to throw their weight around, the only thing you need to do to foil them is bring the issue to the attention of a higher court of opinion where throwing weight around is considered “not cool, bro.” The problem is that what that higher court of opinion always, always will sentence with is ostracization. If it could it would sentence death, but that’s thankfully not available in the US unless the DA gives their blessing. In the court of that-guy-you-really-shouldn’t-have-mouthed- off-to, you’ll sometimes get sentenced to a couple of bruises to the body and ego. In the court of your boss, you’ll sometimes get sentenced to a good chewing-out and some shitty assignments. The court of public opinion has no mercy, or in its own tongue, “has no chill.” Now imagine what happens when two courts give differing verdicts. And people said total war ended in 1945.


The practical effect, here, is that society starts tearing itself apart – except that it doesn’t. This is the part where we should play confused; the US has a hell of a lot of guns and tons of angry people, and yet it hasn’t had a violent revolution. Rome sometimes had more than one per year. What gives? “It’s our strong institutions.” Good answer, but what are those? “Liberty, democracy…” Ah, right. But aren’t we losing freedoms daily, and didn’t Russia buy the last election?


The game is this: there are people with power, real power, in America and elsewhere, and they rarely bother to get elected any longer. They get to make decisions, they escape social conflict, and they leverage their massive non-social power to do pretty much whatever they please. This line is delivered often, but what’s not properly understood is that they don’t get to decide which direction the ship is sailing either. Consider Edward VIII of England: that he was able to abdicate was the surest sign that the English monarchy had lost every last vestige of power. If it still meant anything, then he would not have been permitted to leave – and if he was dumb enough to insist, he’d end up dead within the year. Real power is just another glamour draped on by society – all it means is you have to play the part of the liontamer. Slip up in your act, and you’ll be eaten alive.


So here’s the system we’ve laid out: a large group of people embroiled in constant conflict with one another, and a small group of people who are duty-bound to quash any attempt to really rock the boat, because if that happens they know that they’re TSA Pre-Approved for the guillotine. They don’t have to work too hard, either, because the masses will happily do that job for them. So instead they focus on the only game they know: trying to get more and more power, which in turn renders them totally impotent in effecting change. From top to bottom, nothing changes and nothing can ever change. This is all under the eye of Panopticon, which is to say, each and every one of us. There is no better person to enforce on a group than a member of that group, and no better way to convince them to do it than to tell them they’re doing the opposite. This is why, for instance, the most brutal and savage enforcers of any gender norm are people of that exact gender. Take a moment to consider social power, and then it all makes sense.


We’ve gotten all the materials together, so let’s build the casino. The currency is, of course, social power. Everyone sits down at their favorite table, and puts their bet on one thing or another. Sometimes they win, and win big, and become the king of their little table. Sometimes they lose and get forced out, and have to go try and scrounge at another table. Everyone’s suspicious of everyone else, though, especially at the poker table, and there’s nothing like roulette for wishing for everyone else to lose. At every table, of course, you get the dealers, and although the dice and cards land where they may, they get to pick the rules. But even they aren’t the ones winning; those are the owners in the shadowy offices, who get the cut from every hand. But they too are bound up in this, just like before: they jealously watch the floors, scraping painstakingly for any cheat, for any disruption to the games. Who wins, in the casino? It’s obvious: that which the casino was built for. In casinos, the money wins.


Outside of casinos, money means something. It can mean food on the table, or beer in the fridge, or a new tchotchke, or whatever else you want. Inside of casinos, money just means money. It loses all reference. This is why people spend big in casinos: they’d think twice on even a ten dollar bet if they were pushing a plated hamburger and fries into the pot. Reference ties things down, makes them part of the world, meaning that in our post-structural, post-truth society, social power means…


Nothing or everything; choose each or choose both.


So how do we escape? Parts of it are pretty obvious: don’t be a high-stakes gambler, don’t be a dealer, and for the love of god, don’t try to own the casino. Leaving the casino isn’t an option, either, and rebelling? Rebels are suckers or dead or both. The problem is that social power has lost reference, and yet it means everything. The solution, then, is to give it reference, even while by necessity playing at the same exact tables as everyone else who’s suffering from it.


Let’s break from the metaphor. The casino was doing great for us this far, but it’s time we give it a rest. The “tables” here aren’t just betting; they’re any kind of social interaction whatsoever. It’s nonsensical to try and push everything into being a wager. A better question is: how, when all eyes are trained on you, can you fit in well enough to fool those around you without giving in to the Beast? How can you play a role without succumbing to it?


I’m sure you guessed long ago, but this is the moral of that story above. The story, as it’s written, is about the villagers. They would think it’s about the golem, but it’s really about them, the whole way through. They simply couldn’t see into or understand its mind. When it made a decision that surprised them (and of course it’s the fact that it did make a decision which surprised them), they tried desperately to give a good reason for it, but all they could do is look into their own minds. The golem was permitted absolute freedom, because nobody could even begin to conceive of what freedom meant for a golem.


The reason for telling it isn’t as a practicum, because playing along isn’t a complicated concept, but to just give the aesthetic of what it must be like to be that golem. What is it, to play along and act a part, and yet to have a private mind that can far exceed the expectations of those around you? And what is it like to cultivate such privacy and independence of thought? Why is such a state so difficult to achieve; why do so many fall right back into a new societal role but with a little added edginess? And on the same topic, who was it again who was best suited to be panoptic, to force conformity on members of a group? And isn’t an individual just a group of one?


This is the moral of the story: although of course nobody in the village could ever have known it, would ever have figured it out, the first thing the golem did was to close its eyes.



Recommended Reading:



The other thing

Maladies of the Modern Mind

“So long as he speaks the truth it can’t be folly—that’s what you’re going to say, isn’t it?”



Consider the irony: in an age when we have almost everything we could ever dream of, when we can own more than we possibly can use, when we can demand things now or then or whenever we please, we have quite nearly the least power imaginable.


Yes, that’s a bit of rhetorical flourish. Yes, there are worse states of being than to be middle-class in America (where America means the world), and yes, the lifestyle we partake in causes hideous social inequity which tightens the noose around the labor exploited to fund such a wanton lifestyle. But my point here, is: even with all the rents and resources extracted from other humans and from the very soil, sky, and seas, the resulting life isn’t even fit for a dog. Another irony: this is precisely the kind of life we often give to our dogs, and then wonder why they’re always so badly behaved.


Reflect upon your luxury. You have it pretty good, don’t you? You’ve got the lower tiers of Mazlowe’s hierarchy all set: roof over your head, food, water, good. You even have some luxuries besides. You can go out to eat and shop at nice places. You don’t even need a car to get there: you can just Uber yourself there. (Companies opening up new industries always get to name-brand language.) If there’s something you want, you can just order it off Amazon. You’ll get it the next day, because you have Prime. Speaking of Prime, that along with Netflix gives you all the TV to watch you could ever want. You don’t have to rely on the channels to show you anything good, you can just pick what you want to see. And if you’re not sure what you want to see, they give you recommendations. Amazon gives that for products, too. “Should I get regular Crest, or Tartar Protection?” Facebook, Reddit, and Tinder handle the rest. No need is left unfulfilled.


Well, except in how we end up so unfulfilled.


I hardly need to argue the point, here: in each of those cases, we’re selling ourselves to something which then controls us and makes use of us and which we have essentially no power over in return. It doesn’t matter what you buy from Amazon, because you’re just buying from Amazon anyway. It doesn’t matter what you watch on Netflix, because you’re just watching Netflix anyway. It’s not like things were much better in the 50s (see Alone’s writing for the logical consequence of the 50s), but at least then everyone watched the same things on TV. Getting the illusion of choice just means you segregate yourself in your subordination to the shaman-gods of Western Civilization. You don’t get the right to commiserate with others about how there’s never anything good at Mass.


So there’s a pretty simple connection, here. We worship the machine-god, wonder why our blood’s been swapped for glistening-oil, and then post about it on fourth-sphere Twitter, hashtag fatherofmachines. Yeah, that bad boy ain’t gonna save ya. “But what can we do? You can’t just not take part in society.” Hmm, really? That’s the standard argument for not avoiding <evil corporation>’s products, but I deliberately selected only optional examples, here. Sure, it’s pretty unreasonable in this day and age to opt out of owning, say, a computer, and a lot of folks don’t have great choices about how to eat. How you use Facebook, on the other hand, is entirely on you.


Disclaimer: this is not to say that all of these products are somehow inherently corrupting. There are healthy ways to use them. Most folks do not use them in healthy ways. The comparison to alcohol is appropriate.


So why do we have this problem? Why can’t we just use all these products healthily, avoid selling ourselves to the devil, and lead lives that aren’t miserable all the time? “It’s human nature. They just appeal to all our instincts for convenience and abuse them.” Wrong answer. No, not because of the fact of the matter, but because of how hard you fucked yourself with that one. “This bad thing keeps happening.” “Oh, that’s just human nature.” Great, so we have to really get in there with a scalpel to fix this fuckup. Who’s first in line for the lobotomy? What, no takers?


Here’s a better answer, which is still the wrong one: humans do react quite strongly to certain stimuli. This is as natural as leaves opening towards the sun. In fact, with stimuli that have limited availability in typical environments, there’s often time a very poor cap on the reactions to those stimuli, because the cap just isn’t needed. As we humans have gotten better at manipulating the world around us, we’ve managed to push the limits on some of those strong stimuli waaaaay back. When this happens, a lot of people go wild trying to abuse those stimuli, because their reactions are totally out of line with the limited availability (read: desirability) of those stimuli. To bring it back a little, alcohol is a great example. In the New World, before the Eurozone came knocking, there was no distilled alcohol. There were some alcoholic beverages, but they were more like the mash that you brew beer/distill spirits out of than like what we drink today. So when some of that good Scotch started showing up, none of the natives knew how to handle it in the slightest! The stereotype of the drunken Indian is around for a good reason. It was, to say the least, pretty horrible for those unfortunate few who’d survived the smallpox. Over time, things got somewhat better as the most vulnerable members of the population literally died of alcoholism before they could reproduce and the gene pool thinned, but there’s still a good deal of alcoholism left on the reservations (although probably most of it can be attributed to soul-crushing disenfranchisement and poverty, which tend to drive up the stock of plastic-bottle distilleries). So what we’re seeing right now with, say, Facebook or Twitter is the same exact process as happened to the tribes with liquor, just replacing the alcoholic euphoria with social feedback. Similar matches can be made with the other examples I gave and human desires like convenience and quick gratification. People are vulnerable to the abuse of these “drugs,” which leads to unhealthy behavior. In time, the population will adjust, and things will be sane again.


Incidentally, I believe everything I just wrote there. More importantly, can you see what’s wrong with it? I’ll wait while you work it out.



Got your answer? Good. Here’s mine: it still gives literally nothing actionable. Sure, it’s an excellent (at least in my mind) description of the issue, which gives valid comparisons to some prior events, but what do you get when you finish reading it? Let me put this another way. How do you think it was to be a spirit-addled Indian? “It tells us how dangerous these things are.” Great, do you think Mr. OG America didn’t know whiskey was bad shit?


The issue is that no matter how interesting the details of the explanation, it’s useless unless it also indicates a way to get out of the bad situation. And that, of course, brings us to mental illness.


We all know the story. Mass shooting happens, uproar begins. Consistently mentioned: “This is a mental health issue.” What does that even mean? “There was something wrong in his (important to note: always male) head. Nobody in their right mind would do that.” Correct, but what’s left fuzzy is what a right mind even is.


It goes without saying that the inspiration for mass-shootings-are-a-mental-health-issue topic is the UTexas tower gunman. That case is pretty cut-and-dry. The guy started noticing severe violent impulses, tried to get help, didn’t, and then finally broke and went on a rampage. During the autopsy, they found a brain tumor, which might not have been the only thing going on but which definitely fits the story of involuntary impulses. That whole ordeal could probably have been avoided if the guy just got treated. You know what isn’t a trend in subsequent shootings? The shooter trying to get help ahead of time for violent impulses, or brain tumors found after death. So why is this somehow the paradigm for why we get mass shootings?


Spoiler: I don’t care about the mass shootings, at least, not for the purposes of this essay. What I’m interested in is the equivocation. The UTexas guy had a literal, physical object in his head, screwing with the proper operation of his brain. This is the human equivalent of a hardware malfunction. On the other hand, while it’s beyond doubt that anyone who decides it’s a bright idea to go and put little holes in a bunch of people has some kind of messed up decision-making process, there’s no reason to think that they have a precise physical defect in the structure of their brain. The UTexas guy, on the other hand, seemed to have a pretty reasonable decision-making process: try to get help for bad desires, and when the urges build up to the point they can’t be contained, act on them. That’s what we all do. Not saying it couldn’t have been better, but it’s non-exceptional.


So what’s wrong with the rest of the shooters? Are they crazy, or aren’t they? Well, that’s the problem: we only have those two categories for mental health, even though that’s obviously discordant with reality. If someone’s crazy, then that means they need physical intervention, which is where psychiatry and drugs come in. If they’re not, they don’t need anything. And so when we get cases where there isn’t anything physically wrong with the individual, we either drug them up anyway (see: Xanax) or say that they’re sane but evil. Great idea, but that just normalizes evil.

What’s actually going on is something much closer to the computer engineering model of hardware and software. Different brains have different physical architectures, and then have different intangible qualities, like memories, thoughts, decision patterns, etc. It’s worth thinking of these as structures of brain versus structures of mind. The different architectures change how the brain functions in highly consistent and replicable ways, e.g. someone who’s talented at math will consistently be talented at math, same with sports. Generally, this isn’t worth remarking on, and gets summed up as something like “it takes all sorts,” which is a pretty healthy way of viewing the situation. Occasionally, the consistent effects of a brain’s architecture cause severe problems, such as when a consistent effect is something like “repeated and unwarranted violent impulses” or “overapplies face-recognition in vision” (a specific and common manifestation of schizophrenia). In these cases, physical intervention is needed to correct the physical problem, typically through drugs or surgery. This is completely appropriate.


However, there are also cases where someone has a reasonable brain architecture but with unreasonable intangible qualities that cause them harm in their life. A common version of this is an individual false belief, like the misinformed belief that mixing benzos and alcohol is a-okay. More pernicious is a generalized false belief, like believing that you can do dangerous thing X because it’s always been fine in the past (e.g. drunk driving), which in turn rests on a general pattern of bad logic (bad thing A didn’t happen when I did this, so it’s fine to do this), which may itself rest upon a feature of brain architecture. It almost goes without saying, but these bad structures of mind are rarely as neat and distinguished as the examples I give. Just like how good structures of mind, good theories and practices, all build on one another, so too do bad structures of mind do the same. If you read Alone’s writing, then you should already be familiar with one particular complex of bad beliefs and bad logic: narcissism.


These structures of mind, though, can’t be solved through physical intervention, because they’re not physical in nature. Trying to do so is as nonsensical as fixing a software bug by swapping in a new hard drive – even if it happens to get rid of the symptoms, the real problem is that the software is shit. There’s been some progress in figuring out what to do to address these issues, which has ended up being things like cognitive-behavioral therapy, which is literally just teaching someone about how bad structures of mind self-reinforce and giving some advice on how to break them apart. It’s great they’re doing this, but at the same time, it’s a little galling that anyone was able to forget that the solution to someone thinking and living badly is to give them good advice.


Think back to the Native Americans and hard liquor. What did that problem really consist of? Yes, on the one hand they were likely physically more vulnerable to alcohol than Europeans, which allowed for that whole bad situation to start. But there are plenty of white alcoholics, too, and some of them recover. What’s the difference between recovering and not? Well, it’s whether or not the individual can muster the self-control to just not drink, isn’t it?


Let me be clear: this isn’t a justification for the atrocities done to the Native Americans. Liquor didn’t help, but they were fucked from the outset. They were the last remaining survivors of what was probably the world’s most horrific epidemic, sitting on land that people with massively superior military technology wanted. There was no happy ending to that situation. And yet, as metaphor, they serve as a good example of how to think about our interaction with all of these shiny new toys we have but probably shouldn’t. If we fall prey to the shiny new toys, it’s not really because we’re somehow weak to the human impulses they prey on, although that is one condition. It’s because we do not fix the way we think and act such that those pretty toys don’t ruin our fucking lives.


This much is fairly straightforward. In fact, it’s so straightforward as to be confusing. If this is the big point to be made here, why couldn’t I just make it? Why go into the details of First Nations alcoholism instead of getting straight to the point?


That’s an uninteresting question. Far more interesting: if it’s so damn obvious, why don’t we all know it already? Put another way: why is it so common to give the kind of explanation that starts with “Well, the nature of things is such that…”


There’s a tendency that’s been going around for a few centuries, now, to look for root causes. It’s an admirable approach to technical problems, which is why it jives so well with the hard sciences. Unfortunately, what “root cause” ends up meaning in all these cases is “the most temporally prior event that has any reasonable relationship with the current phenomenon.” For technical problems, this works just fine, which is of course the issue.


Take any personal problem you might have. Chances are you can think of a cause for it: maybe it’s something that happened to you when you were a kid, or maybe it’s a result of your genetic physiology, or maybe it’s the fault of social structures far larger than you are. And chances are that this cause happened, in some way, prior to your own ability to really affect things. You can probably find root causes for that root cause, too, but to forestall a lengthy regression to the Big Bang, let’s stop here. You have a problem, and you have an explanation or it. “Because this thing happened, therefore I have a problem.” Now take a minute. Look that sentence over. Keep looking until you see it, or until you’ve gotten yourself thinking in circles and need to move on.


Got it?


That’s a narrative.


And we know all about narratives.


Maybe I held this one a bit under the table in the earlier essay, but any kind of explanation is a narrative. That’s the big lesson of our boy in the north Davie the Hume. Critically, explanations aren’t bad things. In the hard sciences they’re fantastic, entirely because of that wacky idea of reproducible results. In physics et al, if you follow the story just right, the universe fills in the blanks. It’s a marvelous trick, and if you follow Plato’s connection of techne with a logos, that’s the way that all things technical function.


The problem comes when you take away that ability to reproduce results. We’re getting a little taste of that now in some of the more difficult technical fields (medical biochemistry being a biggie), but this is basically always going to be the case when you’re dealing with human minds. Why? Long form: humans learn from past experiences in unpredictable ways and will make choices accordingly, but only if they feel like it. Short form: humans have free will.


“Free will is just a myth! It’s some mystical nonsense invented to give us a feeling of control over our lives! Really, everything is determined by physical causality, and if there’s any chance at all that there could be variety in outcomes, it would be on the quantum level, certainly having nothing to do with our own choices.”


All right, let’s grant all that. A question: in this purely causal universe, are there entities called computers? “Yes.” When a computation is displayed by the computer, that computation ultimately comes from the design of the computer, does it not? And yet we say the computer computed it. “Yes and yes.” There are also entities called humans, and these humans indicate decisions. So even if the decisions come purely from the human’s composition and the inputs given to it, we ought still to call those decisions as being made by the human.


“But that’s entirely beside the point! People make decisions, but they don’t make them freely. That’s what’s really going on: our will isn’t free.” So does being free to do something mean you have the choice of whether to do it. “Yes, and since everything is determined, we don’t really have that choice.” So when we say someone isn’t making a decision freely, they don’t have the choice of making that decision. “Yes.” So is a choice a decision too? “What?” I mean: if we choose to do something, is that a decision? “Yes…” So if we choose to decide something, that means we’re deciding to decide. “Apparently.” But then does the decision to decide need to be decided on? I don’t see where that could end. So is it really coherent to talk about the choice of what we decide? If not, then that’s a poor criterion for free will.


“That was a mistake. Free will is about the ability to choose to do otherwise.” Other than what? “What?” For it to be a choice to do otherwise, it has to be other than something. “Other than what you’re physically determined to do, of course.” So to do other than what you’re going to do? “Yes.” But you haven’t done it yet, so whatever you decide on is going to be the same as what you’re going to do. “Exactly, and that’s because everything is physically determined.” And what if nothing was physically determined? Would it no longer be the case that what someone decided to do was the same as what they did? “If it wasn’t, then they could-“ No, they couldn’t, and if they could, it would be impossible to tell the difference. What you’re describing is a feature of linear and directional time, not causality and free will. Once event B follows event A, it has always followed event A, but before it does, the possibilities are open. The problem is that you’re trying to put yourself in the ultimate future, from which position everything is absolutely determined to have happened as it did, while your real position is in the present, from which nothing in the future is absolutely guaranteed. As such, that argument says nothing about free will whatsoever, at least, if we want to pretend that it would give us a different set of evidence in an imaginary anti-determinate world. (Look! Everything everyone does corresponds exactly with what they decide! That proves free will exists! Ever consider that one?)


“But there’s still not free will! You said it before; everything we do is based on how we’re built and what inputs we’re given. We’re just machines! That’s not free!” So freedom is freedom from something, yes? In this case, it would be freedom from physical determination, which means freedom from all things physical, yes? “Yes, that’s right.” And all things are physical, so free will is impossible. “Exactly! Now you get the point.” So what you’re demanding is something that, by your own definitions, cannot exist. Now who’s being mystical about free will?


This is a much better model of free will: what we decide to do is what we decide to do. Anything outside that is narrative. Scientific narrative is marvelous stuff, and holds up incredibly well in most cases, but as Hume so helpfully instructs, it really is just narrative. Causality, the juggernaut of fate, can be reduced to constant correlation. There’s no real way to differentiate a causal link from outstanding coincidence, except through having a good enough account (logos) to tell about it. And we tell stories all the time.


There’s an old folktale (for lack of anything better to call it) that goes something like:

For lack of a nail, the shoe was lost.

For lack of a shoe, the horse was lost.

For lack of a horse, the rider was lost.

For lack of a rider, the message was lost.

For lack of a message, the battle was lost.

For lack of a battle, the war was lost.

For lack of a war, the kingdom was lost.

And all for the lack of a nail.

The point we all tend to get from this, children or otherwise, is that little things can bubble up into massive problems. This is a good lesson, especially for children, who have something of a tendency towards laxness as far as the little things are concerned. What gets relatively little press is the question: what the hell kind of monarch gets into the position where a single messenger is deciding the fate of his or her kingdom, much less a nail? King Curly was an accident waiting to happen. If it wasn’t the nail, it would have been something else. The nail was just the first thing the world threw out. But that’s just another bit of evasion. The truth is, the nail was invented by our monarch. It has nothing to do with the world at all.


Okay, I realize that’s a perplexing statement, so here’s where I try to catch up on lost ground. The nail itself was complete accident, complete happenstance. There was nobody whose fault it was, at least in this telling. It basically equates to random noise in the sample. And yet, we know about it. Why do we know? “Because it’s the point of the story. It’s just a little fable…” Yes, yes, very adroit, but please bear with me. We know about it because the monarch went looking for it. They decided they wanted a story for why their kingdom was gone, and the one they ended up happy with was the one where it was “all for lack of a nail.” Again: that’s not necessarily the true reason. That’s the one they were happy enough with to stop looking. (That happens to also be a good working definition for truth, but that’s neither here nor there.) Now ask yourself this: why on earth would anyone ever be happy with a story where they lost an entire kingdom due to random noise?


Get it?


You can probably see where this is going. What could be worse than random noise causing you great misfortune? For it to be your own damn fault. Admittedly, the random noise is pretty low on the list of preferable explanations. It’s better to blame things on tragic fate or on a malicious actor. But it’s still better than taking personal responsibility, because then you have to be wrong. There becomes such a thing as right and wrong. That, needless to say, is terrifying.


Back to our narrative. “Because this thing happened, therefore I have a problem.” What is that preferable to? The alternative, which is something like “I have not yet solved this problem, therefore I have a problem.” This is why root-cause thinking is so popular: because it’s more comfortable than trying to take ownership of your life. Instead of focusing on your own person and what you can do differently, you focus on the “real problem,” whether it be your genetics or the class you were born into or the era you were born into or the government or corporations or the patriarchy or the matriarchy or any other kind of societal structure or that one thing your mommy or daddy said to you when you were seven and now, ten or twenty years later, can apparently still not get over. And what makes this so characteristically modern isn’t the inhibition – every place and time has its helpless whiners – but that it’s now mixed with smug faux-intellectualism, the complaints have been elevated into grand theories (Darwinian, Marxist, Freudian et al) which absolutely self-deny the possibility of mind or thought or personal reason (and thus will) and in turn supplant them with endless just-so stories about how things had to turn out the way they did, perhaps for the more politically-minded in the way they expect things to go, and thus reject every effort to truly make change. Of course, the reason these theories are so popular is because people are vulnerable to the gratification of inaction – but really it’s because you didn’t decide to get moving.


“But these theories-“ Stop. I know they do, in fact, provide good explanatory models on large scales. That’s what they’re meant to do. But providing good large-scale models precludes the ability to measure on the small scale. Yes, you read that right: it not only doesn’t require similar small-scale accuracy, it outright makes that small-scale accuracy impossible.


The individual organism does not act so as to spread its own genes. It may end up doing so, but those are not its motives. Its motives are always its own. Those can be curated somewhat on a large scale via evolution, but this is not the same as being identical to gene-spreading. If a motive is tangent or opposed to genetic spread, the organism will still follow it. That’s the truth of the matter.


Most other modern theories can be herded into this bucket. The details don’t matter much. What matters is that regardless of how useful these ideas are in academia or perhaps governance, they don’t do any good for our ordinary lives. In our capacity as humans, we have nothing to do with grand theories and everything to do with our own willpower, our own will. And yet, the solution adopted by most is just to abandon themselves in favor of feeling smart, and abandon power in favor of comforting impotence.


This is why we fall prey to these modern temptations so easily. We don’t want anything really good for us, so the perceived goods are that much more alluring. It’s the same brand of desirous neuroticism you see when people desperately drink at parties: frantic activity to disguise impotence. We aren’t happy, can’t imagine happiness, so we clutch desperately at pleasure and gratification as if it’s a substitute, as if it isn’t just making our suffering worse. That’s exactly what an addict does, and it’s why putting addicts into happier lifestyles can stop the addiction.


So what’s the way out? How can we stop wanting the things which are bad for us, and start living real lives? How are we to take responsibility for our own selves and strengthen our own will? You know the answer, and hopefully are coming to understand what it means: therapy.



Recommended Reading:


Alone, as per usual


Absence of MInd, by Marilynne Robinson


If you’re unfamiliar with Hume, then take a look at his Stanford Encyclopedia page


Google searches of my countless citation-free claims


“And they went into the forest, together, afraid.”



Article title: [person] does [thing] that is somehow self-expressive or represents a viewpoint that the target audience feels is repressed. Comments section: “He/she is so brave.” Outside (our) reaction: that’s not brave at all! In fact, within that person’s in-group, it’s the normal thing to do…


Pause. Reflect. Repeat the mantra: if you’re reading it, it’s for you. We know how this mechanism works. Hatred, division, weakness, easy sales target, all nice and neatly oiled. However, that’s only part of the picture. What’s the other part? Simple: what’s the thing we’re talking about most without ever knowing what is? X may or may not be Y, but before we can determine that, don’t we need to know about Y? Isn’t it ass-backwards to leave the critical piece of the puzzle as implicit data while grinding the substance of the qualia into so much statistics?


This is the common misdirection. I’m not the first to notice it. I didn’t even figure it out myself. (I didn’t even get the trick from Alone, and a lot of my contemporary-oriented tricks come from Alone.) So, let’s ask the awkward question. What’s courage?


In the present day, the usage is pretty clear: “courageous” maps precisely to “socially admirable.” This is clear from the fact that we never call suicide bombers courageous. They put everything on the line for their beliefs. Isn’t that at least somehow brave? Not even slightly. They don’t occupy the same sphere. I don’t suggest you try asking random people that one, because they will apply that map in their head and take one short logical step to what you must think. Something something free speech don’t be afraid of the haters, but since when has stirring up a hornet’s nest been brave? Let’s not be dumb for the sake of fitting the wasp-rousers’ courage.


What about before that? In the World Wars and the nationalistic phase before them, it seems to match nicely with “fighting for the right side in battle.” It’s pretty obvious how that came to pass: when you’re playing ballistic killstick tag, you only see the casualties on your end and the killcount on the other. Your boys get fragged equals brave men falling in battle, their boys get fragged equals more [slur]s mopped up. The Army Corps of Engineers is a misnomer; war’s nothing but engineering once serious munitions get involved. (Just wait until it’s a computer science problem, oh, it already is.)


And before that? In developed feudal societies, courage is adherence to a strict code of class-based action, something like chivalry. Consider samurai honor and following one’s lord to the death, or the French knights throwing their lives away at Crecy and Agincourt. The knights are courageous, but what about the pikemen or longbowmen standing their ground knowing that if their position is overrun that every last one of them is going to die? The right side, always the right side.


And earlier? In early feudal, pre-feudal societies, courage is…it’s what heroes have, isn’t it? It often looks like stupidity, reckless ignorance of the situation, except for how they know they can win, at which point it becomes ruthless massacre. Is Odysseus brave for taking on all the suitors at once, or is he less brave for making sure they had no weapons first? Is Beowulf brave for taking on Grendel, even if he knew he was strong enough to tear the monster apart? Is courage foolhardiness, or is it bloodlust?


Wait. Consider the scenarios being offered: “Because the hero didn’t know he could succeed, he was foolhardy. Because the hero did know he could succeed, he was vicious.” The gender is deliberate. What do we see here? “Because,” the word of the narrative. So what, then, is the actuality? The hero tried; the hero succeeded. What differentiates that from any other situation? “The hero was courageous.” But that’s just wound us back around to the original question.


It’s not that outlandish to suggest courage is a state of mind. In fact, I’ve been playing some games with words in order to get us this far. Rather than the obvious everyday definition, I’ve brought us to the technical qualifications. I’ve listed the reality of what happens in lieu of the quality of what happens. The quality, though, is what we’re after, not the politics of who gets called courageous, hence the progression back into myth and legend and antiquity… thus, courage is what heroes have.


So what do heroes have? “The hero was courageous.” What does that indicate? Plato, in the voice and under the title of Laches: “It is a kind of endurance of the soul.” Socrates trips him up by insisting that courage is a virtue, and virtues must be universally good, and thus only endurance of the soul with the wisdom of good and evil must be true courage. (Also notable: “I still think I know what courage is, but I can’t understand how it has escaped me just now so that I can’t pin it down in words and say what it is.” Remember this well.) And then when Nicias tries to take on that same claim, where wisdom of good and evil must be courage, Socrates rebuffs it: “Then the thing you are now talking about, Nicias, would not be a part of virtue but rather virtue entire.” This isn’t trickery with words; this is pointing at the heart of the problem. Ever thought people might be right to say that the evil can’t be courageous? Or: what could possibly be wrong with calling evil folk virtuous? (And is to deny their virtues just blind monism?)


But there is still that hook. What do heroes have? “A kind of endurance of the soul.” The soul, not the mind. So what is it like to be a hero? Consider a few situations for yourself.


You’re a soldier, in ancient or medieval times, of some sort or another. You’re in a small band. One night, you and your fellows get ambushed. You wake up in confusion. There’s light and noise. What do you do?


You’re a mounted lancer. It’s come time for battle. You ride out, take your place in the line, and lower your weapon. In front of you is a bristling wall of pikes. In a moment you’ll hear the call to charge. What do you feel?


Danger looms. Some can be saved, if only some are sacrificed. You can do it. You will die. Are you willing?


That is: can you imagine what is needed in order to risk yourself to violence, to the unknown? Are you capable of that? Are you capable of leaving your fate to – randomness? It’s not a mistake that Dungeons and Dragons resolves combat with dice. What would your mind have to be like in order to accept that? As far as I can imagine, adrenaline, numbing fear, and a certain kind of resolve. The adrenaline and numbing fear happen to the coward who runs as well, though, so all that’s left… “a kind of endurance of the soul,” right?


I’ll level: I haven’t been in that many massively violent situations. I don’t have a history of fighting and war. That’s precisely why this matters to me as it does. This is something that society escapes with its greater worship of the Leviathan (how appropriately Lovecraftian), and it makes me wonder what it is we lose from it. (Also in my memory: the utterly craven nature of the peasants in Seven Samurai. Something about that sticks with me.) Is it possible to have “endurance of the soul” without intense violence? I certainly hope, but then it needs to be sought out.


So what isn’t it? It can’t be a kind of logic or reason. Reason, the if-then, gets us the confusion of the idiot and the savage, and does that because reason and narrative are post-facto reimagining of what happened into a coherent structure. But an emotional state doesn’t solve it either – emotions are also after-the-fact, but in this case categorizations. One reaches back through the series of events to what must have been the premise – I must have laughed because that was funny, I must have cried because I was sad. This doesn’t speak to the actuality either, just how we learned to associate emotion with action, likely in kindergarten.


If courage is knowledge, it can never be an overcoming, because it’s simply what is known. If courage is emotion, it can never be principled, because it’s simply what is perceived. So what’s left for it? Something in-between? There aren’t any good words for that.


But let me try anyway. There is something there for courage, a state required that transcends any knowledge of or emotion over the situation and yet binds them both together. It’s not simply the knowledge of what should or should not be endured, nor the feeling of endurance itself, but the aesthetic of principled endurance. There are other kinds of endurance, like unprincipled endurance – consider the reckless endurance of someone who refuses to see the danger in front of them. They deny their fear and persist onwards, but it’s madness rather than courage. (Think of young men who end up fighting to the death not because they want to but because they don’t know how not to.) There’s also reasoned endurance, where one knows that what comes out of the endurance is what is to be hoped for, and this is better called faith for what will come and faith in one’s own resilience. (Faith is even easier.to imagine: perhaps enduring through a vaccination or a blood draw counts as faith for you. However, this should be placed distinct from religious faith and epistemic faith, which are each of distinct kinds.)


The aesthetic of principled endurance – the experience, form, and nature of enduring something for the sake of the reason to endure it. It encapsulates the primordial phenomenon and logic of the situation alike, forming the recognition of courage and the ability of courage at the same time. There is no such thing as a pure logic or pure emotion for principled endurance- logic requires the fundamental commitment to the principles, and emotion can’t capture the therefore of the principle. What’s there, underneath, has a character that escapes our current language of description, and likely always will, for language is determined and the aesthetic is what determines it.


Laches likely did know exactly what courage was, because he’d grown familiar with it over the course of many battles and a long life. He’d learned to call on it when he needed to. But of course he couldn’t put it into words, because the relationship with courage needed to command it has nothing to do with explicit logic. He simply hadn’t learned well enough how to say it. So the question becomes: how can that which defies explication be taught and learned and studied?


Well, that’s what this piece of therapy is about.



Recommended reading:


Laches, by Plato: a rather delightful dialogue. Worth keeping in mind that “courage,” as I’ve used it, is about andreia, “manliness,” rather than anything coming from our word “courage” (etymologically from Latin’s “cor,” or “heart”), and that Plato’s writing is anything but being treatises. Read only if you enjoy working at problems.


Watership Down, by Richard Adams. It’s just a lovely book about rabbits.

Diversion #2: Blade Runner 2049

“And death my destination.”




Have you seen the new Blade Runner movie? I have. That’s fairly unusual for me; I don’t watch many movies in the theaters. In this case, I got invited, and so I went. Some number of stars out of five, I enjoyed the experience. Therefore, I’ll do my proper duty and write a review. What do you mean, this has nothing to do with therapy? I can be fun-loving, too.


To start, let’s try and get the plot down on paper. Some of you may have watched the film, some may have not, so this’ll get everyone on the same page and make certain you watched the movie I watched. Here goes:


(We learn what replicants are.) Ryan Gosling goes to visit a garlic farmer, and because he has orders, kills the farmer. (Because he is a replicant, the farmer has to die. Because Ryan Gosling is a replicant, he has to kill the farmer.) He then finds a makeshift coffin under a dead tree. He’s done what he came there for, so he goes back to his office. He takes a test, and because he passes it, he is allowed to go home. (Because he is a replicant, he has to take this test.) At home, he has a computer program as a girlfriend. (Because he is a replicant, he can’t have a real girlfriend.) Because she loves him, she puts on images of good female partnership. Because he loves her, he gives her the means to leave her home. They kiss in the rain, but because he gets called into work, he has to stop in the middle of it. (Because he is a replicant, he has to leave her there.)


At work, the makeshift coffin has been recovered. It contains a mother’s bones. (The mother is a replicant.) Ryan Gosling’s boss gets frightened. Because she is frightened, she yells at him and tells him to find and kill the child. (Replicants do not have children. Because they do not have children, they will not rebel. Because they will not rebel, they can be forced to work. If the first proposition becomes false, all the others will become false. If you know anything about formal logic read this over five times.)


Because he needs to learn about the mother, Ryan Gosling goes to a human factory. (Because replicants can’t have children, they need to be produced. Because they can’t raise children, they need to be raised.) He is shown around by the secretary of the owner of the factory. (The mother-replicant disappeared from records a long time back, so the owner of the factory tells his secretary to do this.) He listens to a conversation between the mother and the father. Because there is no more information there, he goes home. The secretary goes to collect the bones of the mother, and finds out she was a mother. Because she was a mother, the factory-owner orders his secretary to follow Ryan Gosling and find the child. (Because humans must settle off-world, they need many replicants. Because replicants are made, they cannot have children. Because replicants cannot have children, there cannot be many replicants. But humans need many replicants. Therefore, replicants must have children.) Because the factory owner is blind, he sees with machines.


Ryan Gosling finds out where the child must have been raised, and goes to visit there. He is attacked. Because the secretary is under orders, she orders a missile strike on his attackers. (Because she is a replicant, she doesn’t mind killing.) He meets the man who runs the child-raising center. The man refuses to give information, so Ryan Gosling threatens him. The man tries to give information, but cannot. Ryan Gosling remembers being there. Because of this, he goes searching for something from his memories. He finds a toy horse, so he knows his memories were true. Because he knows his memories were true, he knows he was the child. (Replicants were never children. Their memories of childhood were fake. If one’s memories aren’t fake, one must have been a child. If one was a child, one is not a replicant.)


Ryan’s memories are real, he goes to ask the person who makes memories. She tells him his memories are real. The child is special. Because he is the child, his girlfriend tells him he is special. They want to have sex, but because she is not real, Ryan Gosling has sex with a hooker with his girlfriend’s image overlaid onto her. He finds out where the toy horse was made, and goes there. He meets Harrison Ford. Harrison Ford is the child’s father, so he is Ryan Gosling’s father. Because the child is special, people want it. Because they want it, they will want Harrison Ford as well. Because of this, he hides in a fancy hotel. The secretary finds him, and goes and gets him. Harrison Ford is captured, and Ryan Gosling is injured, but then saved by the hooker and her friends.


They tell Ryan Gosling that he is not the child. Harrison Ford can help the factory-owner find the child, so he needs to be killed. Ryan Gosling needs to be the one to do it. (If replicants can have children, they will rebel.) Ryan Gosling goes off to kill Harrison Ford.


The secretary is escorting Harrison Ford, so she needs to be killed before Harrison Ford can. Ryan Gosling kills her. Instead of killing Harrison Ford, he saves Harrison Ford. Ryan Gosling knows who the child is. (Because he is a replicant, he was not a child. Because he was not a child, his memory of childhood was fake. But the memory of childhood was true. Therefore, the one who gave him the memory must be the one for whom the memory was true. Think this over carefully, and not for the plot point.) Ryan Gosling takes Harrison Ford to see the memory-maker. Ryan Gosling stays outside, and dies in the snow.


Roll credits.


First thoughts: “Man, this guy sucks at writing out plots.” Guilty as charged. But hold up a moment: why was this so boring? This was basically what went on in the film, after all. I missed out on the (admittedly gorgeous) visuals and the (rather stunning) audio, but apart from that (and anyone’s name), what was missing? After reading this, you could have a pretty intelligent conversation with most people about the plot of the film. “Everything was spelled out too much.” Yes, exactly.


At the start of Blade Runner the Second, we get exactly one slide’s worth of text to clue us into the setting, into the context of this entire story. It reads:


Replicants are bioengineered humans. Designed by Tyrell Corporation for use off-world. Their enhanced strength made them ideal slave labor.

After a series of violent rebellions, their manufacture became prohibited and Tyrell corp went bankrupt.

The collapse of ecosystems in the mid 2020s led to the rise of industrialist Niander Wallace, whose mastery of synthetic farming averted famine.

Wallace acquired the remains of Tyrell corp and created a new line of replicants who obey.

Many older model replicants — Nexus 8s with open-ended lifespans — survived. They are hunted down and ‘retired’.

Those that hunt them still go by the name…



I only had to Google it and I found the transcript. Isn’t the internet lovely? But anyway, what are the key points here? Replicants are fake-human slave-labor, the world has gone even more to shit than it had before, and runaways are being actively hunted. Oh, and this is the name of the franchise, by the way. Savor this, because I think it’s a full 50% of the times the term “Blade Runner” is used in the entire film.


Now imagine what the opening sequence of the film would have been like without it:


Ryan Gosling goes to visit a garlic farmer, and because he has orders, kills the farmer. He then finds a makeshift coffin under a dead tree. He’s done what he came there for, so he goes back to his office.


Wait. Think about it even more: you see, early on, the serial number in the guy’s eyes. It would have been easy to fit in some casual worldbuilding, namedrop replicants once or twice, we’d all be clued in. The collapsed, shitty world is easy to figure out just by seeing a single shot of the city. Everything’s in position. What does this mean? They cared so much about that context being in our heads that they wouldn’t let us see one single scene without it. In order for the story to make sense, we needed to be given that context. That makes the next interesting question: what does the story look like without that context?


Oh, how convenient. If you read through my plot summary above and skip every parenthesized section, you get the narrative without the context.


Does that start to look pretty weird? Well, it ought to: nothing makes sense outside of context. Context normalizes things to a certain frame of reference. Take away the context, and nothing should look normal, because there is no normal. Whatever normalcy starts to creep back in isn’t some grand, overarching typicality, but is just the standards we have from our everyday lives. Assuming anything close to basic humanistic principles, what does the opening scene look like now?


Ryan Gosling goes to visit a garlic farmer, and because he has orders, kills the farmer. (Killing people is wrong. Orders to kill people should be disobeyed. The man was just a solitary farmer.) He then finds a makeshift coffin under a dead tree. (Exhuming the dead is sacrilege. He’s destroying someone’s eternal rest, their final dignity.) He’s done what he came there for, so he goes back to his office. (It’s just a day’s work to him.)


This is not the story of a couple slaves duking it out in a depressing and corrupt system. This is the story of a complete and utter monster going out and murdering a farmer. Let me put it this way: if Ryan Gosling were a Nazi and the garlic farmer a Jew, our main criticism of the scene would be that it was too hackneyed, that it tried to play up Gosling’s inhumanity too hard.


And yet… you kind of sympathize with Gosling’s position, don’t you? You see how hard it would be for someone in his position not to do what he’s doing, right? The whole damn world’s working against him. He was literally created to go murder people. Of course he’s fucked up and doesn’t see why doing things like that is wrong. Those humanistic values are great, but there are a lot of gray areas, and it’s hard to say that things are wrong categorically. It’s a tough, tough spot, and in a real sense, Gosling’s as much the victim in this scenario.


Let me correct one thing, here: you do not sympathize with Ryan Gosling. You empathize with him. There is a big difference, and the difference is that you are not reacting to how he feels, but rather that you know exactly how he feels.


Making certain that sinks in: you have been that kind of valueless monster in the past. That is the only reason you can look at and think of his actions without visceral disgust. The only thing that’s different between you and Gosling is scale, not kind. You may not have murdered someone in front of you, but you know just what it’s like to obey orders which tell you to do the wrong thing. Side note: it feels like something inside you is dying. That’s not a mistake.


Also not a mistake is that I’ve been calling him Ryan Gosling this whole time. I know he has a name, or rather, a couple of them. But he’s not any of them. He’s Ryan Gosling, and Ryan Gosling is the everyman. Get it?


This, by the way, is why the movie is even remotely interesting. It’s not because of the plot, because I wrote that above and it’s boring as sin. Oh, all right, yes it’s remarkable just to see and hear, and the sheer aesthetic impressiveness is good enough reason to go check it out, but the rest of it catches our attention as well. Why should it? It’s about fake humans doing fake human things. There’s no relevance to us real humans and our real lives. The context should just feel banal and irrelevant, like how some older fiction just bores the hell out of us. Ever read Pilgrim’s Progress? It was a hit when it came out. No, seriously.


So: if banal and irrelevant stuff bores us, then relevant and cogent stuff should catch our attention. What was Blade Runner about, again?




I’ll show my hand: what you hopefully just felt was my biggest takeaway from the movie, and if interpreted through that lens, most of the weird shit that was in the movie starts to make sense. Why is there that obsession with sex and reproduction? Oh, it’s because millennials aren’t having kids, or for that matter, even getting laid. Can’t get to Mars if they don’t have kids! And that fake girlfriend? Well, do you think any of those kids can have real relationships? Best they can do is put on the right clothes and pretend they aren’t eating TV dinners and fuck each other like the girl’s a whore and the guy’s a john and really try to believe that what they’re doing is love. Oh, and Harrison Ford? He lives in a neoclassical luxury orgasm casino-esque radioactive ground zero. It’s trying to be from the 20s, and he’s headed off to lurk there now that he’s gotten old, but he’s not from the 20s. He doesn’t even know what whiskey’s supposed to taste like. And what a surprise that he can’t manage to go see his kid. The list goes on.


(Also: we take it for granted that Elon Musk is the villain in this film, and we aren’t doing anything about him in real life. No, I’m not saying Mr. Musk is a supervillain, I’m saying that it’s plausible enough for the trope to show up in a blockbuster and that we still have utterly no response to it. It’s beyond just cackling-evil science guy, it’s a popular and useful tech entrepreneur who’s very very interested in space. How can that be? Spoiler: it’s the same reason superhero movies are making a big comeback.)


2049 is a poor choice of title for the movie. What they meant was 2017. And when they said replicants, they weren’t talking about bioengineered superhumans. They were talking about us.


I really, really don’t want to belabor the point on this lens of interpretation, because it’s really just rehashing the whole uncanny deal, and other people have written about the uncanny much better than I have. What’s more, once you have the key, you really can just go through the whole film by yourself and see how things line up. Hint: start by eliminating all the context, so that you can put it in light of your own everyday context. Not everything needs to fit perfectly, just enough that you can see why it all makes sense.


But most of all, it only tells us what we already know. We can get rid of the context and substitute in our own, but that leaves the narrative. If we try to overlay a totally alien context, like decent human values, we just get constant and unmitigated revulsion, because nothing from the narrative in that context can possibly make sense except as an image of pure evil. There’s no need to just review material from our own daily lives. So instead, let’s break the narrative.


No, I don’t mean “break the narrative of…” as used by anyone trying to spin a story. I mean something far simpler. Look back at the plot, one more time. Notice anything funny about how much the word “because” keeps coming up? That’s not on account of me not knowing synonyms. “Because” is the way that narratives are constructed. Without the “because,” a story is nothing more than a string of sequential facts. Let’s look at that opening line again:


Ryan Gosling goes to visit a garlic farmer. He has orders to kill the farmer. He kills the farmer. He then finds a makeshift coffin under a dead tree. He then goes back to his office.

First: yes, the facts selected imply the narrative. That’s just part of the territory. However, when contrasted with the explicit string of “because”s, we see the narrative begin to break up. Does Ryan Gosling kill the farmer because he only follows orders, or because he doesn’t understand his own initiative? Does he go back because he’s finished what he came there to do, or because there’s nothing left to do there? There are differences between these, and they’re critical.


Deeper: is it because Ryan Gosling is a cog in the machine that he has to do the things he does, or is it because he has to do the things he does that he’s a cog in the machine? Remember who Ryan Gosling is.


Context is only the second stage of justification for why we do what we do. The first stage is just the narrative. “I did this because…” Stop. There is only one way to finish that sentence which is true, and it is “…I am the kind of person who does this.” Truth in tautology, yes, but isn’t the Delphic inscription to know thyself? The proper use of “because” is in the future tense. “Because I don’t want to do this, I will…” Fill in the blanks.


Why do we empathize with Ryan Gosling? Because we’ve gotten ourselves into his position, or rather, kept ourselves stuck in his position: we’ve built the narrative that it’s the horrible, gritty world that’s forcing us to do things the way we do them, and so it isn’t our fault. “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” Yeah, but you choose the fucking games you play, don’t you? Russian Roulette’s always on the table.


Did you catch it? That’s a narrative. “Because we tell ourselves these narrative structures, we’re stuck in this awful position.” Flip it into future tense, turn it on its head, and you get…


Well, you get therapy.




Recommended reading: Alone’s literary criticism.


“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:

http://slatestarcodex.com/ – 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.

https://samzdat.com/ – 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.

http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/ – 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: http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2012/10/the_story_of_narcissus.html

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.