On Whores

Meghan Murphy is angry. Mind you, she’s a feminist so she’s perpetually angry. I can understand. If I were in a constant war with the unstoppable might of hetero-capitalist patriarchy, I’d be pretty angry too.

I can also relate to her recent article criticizing her fellow progressives’ response to Pamela Anderson’s recent anti-porn op-ed. Sandwiched within her invective against patriarchy, racism, misogyny, and other feminist spooks, there are some choice cuts of anti-porn vitriol.

Are you really going to tell me that watching a grown man jack off onto the face of a supposed teenage girl has no impact on men’s sexualities and the way they treat women?

Whether or not you wish or believe that in some alternate universe there could exist some form of something called “pornography” that could maaaaybe “occupy a space in healthy sexuality” (and I’d argue that a thing that literally means “the graphic depiction of vile whores” cannot, in fact, be redeemed), the reality is that it does not.

I’d say those are the only two points on which I could agree with anti-porn feminists like Murphy. The left can call porn sexist, misogynist, or racist,  but we on the right have our own word for porn: degenerate. Indeed, how could anything defined as “the graphic depiction of vile whores,” be anything but degenerate?

So Meghan Murphy is angry. Rightly so. She has to listen to her fellow progressives dole out sex positive feminist platitudes defending a man’s right to jack off to whores. She rightly takes issue with “the graphic depiction of vile whores,” being pushed as an acceptable source of entertainment. It’s worth noting though that Murphy’s point of contention is that she is against the treatment of women as if they were whores, without considering the fact that female porn stars are by definition whores.

What is a whore? A prostitute. What is a prostitute? Someone who engages in sexual activity for money. What does a porn star do? I think we can connect the dots here.

Sex has a function, a telos, and that function is both unitive and procreative. It’s purpose is to unite a man and a woman for the sake of building a family and contributing to their community. The pimp, the whore, the pornographer, and others one might sportively refer to as “sex workers” violate this function by reducing sex to a base transaction. As such, they have taken something sacred and made it profane. You would be hard-pressed to find a feminist, even one stridently opposed to pornography, willing to defend this conception of sex.

Meghan Murphy and other anti-porn feminists have their hearts in the right place in the sense that they see how profane porn is and refuse to tolerate it. However, they lack the language to describe porn as profane, or degenerate, and can only call it misogynistic. Anti-porn feminists betray this tendency by emphasizing how women are exploited and objectified by men instead of emphasizing how porn sullies the act of sex itself.

Granted, I’m not disputing that women in porn or prostitution are exploited or objectified. Many women around the world are forced into sex slavery. Many women who go into porn wind up doing things that they didn’t explicitly agree to do before the cameras started rolling. And I relish the thought of sentencing to firing squad the pimps and pornographers who force women into these situations. That said, is it really so hard to believe that there are women who freely choose to be whores? Are they blameless for choosing to be whores?

Where Meghan Murphy sees sex-positive feminists enabling men to exploit women, I see whores enabling other women to be whores. Sex-positive feminism seeks to de-stigmatize features of sex that include porn and prostitution. They want the freedom to be whores without the stigma of being called whores. Sex-positive feminism is the quintessential byproduct of neoliberalism where all problems are solved through free exchange in the marketplace and everyone is equal in the democratic process. No wonder they fetishize consent.

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Homage to Pan – Felicien Rops

Where does this leave Meghan Murphy? Angry, to say the least. She closes with the following words:

My interest, with regard to rejecting pornography, is rooted in a desire to restore women’s humanity and to end male power and violence. I have no interest in protecting the feelings of men who are opposed to that project.

The restoration of women’s humanity. We all know what she means by this; women are exploited and objectified by men thereby denying their humanity. She wants to create a world where pornography, which is inherently exploitative in her view, is no longer tolerable. Sex-positive feminists don’t share her vision of the future of pornography and try to maintain a more optimistic view: making porn less exploitative thereby allowing women to freely choose a degrading practice. To the anti-porn feminist, this is truly a nightmare.

But this is the neoliberal world in which we live. Where sex can be so easily commodified, words like “exploitation” and “objectification” no longer hold the same weight that they used to. All it takes is a little regulation to make something less exploitative. Pass some laws, raise awareness, sprinkle a little Enlightenment empiricism around and voila! No more exploitation. Ladies, you’re free to swallow seven loads at once another day. Sex is no longer procreative, unitive, exploitative, or anything for that matter. Feminism set you free.

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Caligula’s Council Episode 5: Dead Puppy Removal Service

Caligula’s Council Episode 5 is on the air!

In which we discuss Parasyte -the maxim-: Environmentalism, Sociopathy, Altruism, and Bow Ties.

Watch Parasyte: http://www.crunchyroll.com/parasyte-the-maxim-

Studio Ghibli’s Parasyte that never was: http://www.crunchyroll.com/anime-news/2015/04/20-1/studio-ghibli-plans-for-parasyte-anime-revealed

Robinson Jeffers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robinson_Jeffers

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Caligula’s Council Episode 4 X Ascending the Tower

Ladies and Gentlemen, Caligula’s Council Episode 4 is on the air!

In which we interview Nick B. Steves and Anthony DeMarco from Ascending the Tower.

We deeply apologize for our audio quality causing our guests to sound like robots. We swear they sound better on their podcast Ascending the Tower. Go check them out on Social Matter!

Edit: All of our episodes are now on YouTube! Feel free to subscribe to our channel

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Caligula’s Council Episode 3: 3 Edgy 5 Amazon

Caligula’s Council Episode 3 is finally here everyone!

In which Obergruppenführer Nothingface and Irradiated Inspector Watt discuss Philip K. Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle and compare it to Amazon Prime’s TV Series The Man in the High Castle now streaming free for Amazon Prime members. How do they compare? Listen and find out!

In other news, you may have noticed that our two previous episodes are no longer available on SoundCloud. Please bear with us as we are in the process of transitioning to another platform that won’t charge us extra shekels to host our 2 hour podcasts. I will post an update as soon as all of our episodes are available again.

That said, please enjoy the new episode!

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The I Ching on Donald Trump: A Call for Nonaction

After reading Philip K. Dick’s alternate history novel The Man in the High Castle, I was inspired to obtain a copy of the I Ching also known as The Book of Changes. The I Ching is an ancient Chinese fortune telling book meant to provide guidance when you ask it a question. It answers your question in a sequence of broken and solid lines known as hexagrams, which you obtain through a series of coin tosses. Throughout The Man in the High Castle, certain characters consult the I Ching whenever they approach a personal crossroads or seek spiritual guidance.

In Dick’s novel, the trade minister of the Japanese Pacific States, Nobosuke Tagomi describes the I Ching as follows:

“We are absurd,” Mr. Tagomi said, “because we live by a five-thousand-year-old book. We set it questions as if it were alive. It is alive. As is the Christian Bible; many books are actually alive. Not in a metaphoric fashion. Spirit animates it.”

In the Brian Browne Walker translation of the I Ching, the introduction suggests that the I Ching is just a book. But at the same time, it is more than just a book. In Walker’s words, “It is a living, breathing oracle, a patient and all-seeing teacher who can be relied upon for flawless advice at every turning point in our lives.”

Call me superstitious. Call me spiritual. Call me whatever you want, but the I Ching has intrigued me and it’s now lying on my dresser next to a rosary.

When I first obtained my copy of the I Ching, I asked it the following question: “Will Donald Trump make America great again?” I took three pennies and tossed them onto the floor six times to get my hexagrams. The first hexagram I received was “Ta Chuang” meaning, The Power of the Great. There was one “changing” line in my first hexagram, which means it will form a second hexagram. The second hexagram said “Heng” meaning Duration.

Seems promising, doesn’t it? Judging by these hexagrams one might think the I Ching is saying that Donald Trump is great and powerful and his legacy will endure. But the I Ching offers a more complex answer than what you might think. In the explanation of The Power of the Great, the I Ching says, “False power and false greatness can be seen all around us in the world. Through egotistical and aggressive manipulations many people obtain a temporary position of influence. The I Ching teaches us a different way of acquiring and using power, one that leads to true greatness and enduring influence.”

Egotistical and aggressive manipulations are all too common in American politics. Is Trump an exception to the manipulative egotists plaguing the US government? He could be. But who is to say he isn’t? He’s a shrewd businessman, he knows how to manipulate the media, and he has expertly rallied masses of people around his candidacy. Democracy in general tends to select for characters like this, both right and left. Rarely are they ever trustworthy.

Does this mean the I Ching is saying that Donald Trump is a liar and a charlatan? I don’t think so. After all, that isn’t what I asked it. What the I Ching is really telling us is what true greatness is and how we can become great. Donald Trump could very well be a great man, but that doesn’t make us great by proxy. It may be tempting to feel empowered by a Trump candidacy, but that doesn’t mean that Trump supporters themselves have any degree of power.

The I Ching explicates further, “Through contemplation of higher principles you have begun to open doors for yourself; through alignment with what is true and good you gain insight into situations and the power to resolve them in your favor.” In other words, Ta Chuang indicates that greatness comes with the cultivation of virtue and character. Furthermore it suggests that “the truly superior person relies on stillness and nonaction, allowing inner truth to penetrate gently to the heart of difficulties.”

Recall Moldbug’s notion of passivism. Stillness and nonaction are the very principles passivism advocates. The idea behind passivism is that power comes to those who are worthy of it. Are you worthy of power? That depends. How have you cultivated your character? Do you adhere to good principles? Do you live a life of virtue? This is the first step in passivism, and it’s also what the I Ching says is the path to lasting greatness.

To acquire power you must first renounce it. This idea seems impractical on its face, but when you compare it to many right-wing activist strategies it’s the most practical thing you could possibly do. Activism exposes you to the cross-hairs of those who oppose your cause; the ones who wield the real power in this country: The Cathedral. As Spandrell pointed out recently, Roosh V publicly announced meetups around the world which led to his family getting doxxed by Anonymous. And after being silent on the subject for so long, feminist activists now have a convenient scapegoat, Roosh, to blame for the rape crisis in Cologne rather than hoards of virile Arabs. Renouncing the desire for power and disavowing activist causes prevents this sort of thing from happening to you because your political enemies aren’t paying much attention to you.

The second hexagram I received, Heng, further reinforces the importance of passivism. In this section, the I Ching states, “It is likely that a change has occurred, or is about to. It is your responsibility to hold to your course and go on without regarding this change.” (67) The change the I Ching refers to is most likely the presidential election. Donald Trump might very well be the next president of the United States. Hillary Clinton could also be the next president of the United States. Either of these outcomes will signify a great change for America, but regardless of the election’s outcome it is important to remain passive to this change. It’s not that the election is not important at all, but your individual influence on this election is negligible. To paraphrase Moldbug, voting makes you feel powerful in the same sense that playing the lottery makes you feel rich. Again, power flows to those who are worthy. Cultivate virtue in your own life and make yourself worthy of power.

It is the byproduct of a modernist mindset that we believe that we should stand up and be heard in order to change the world for the better. Rightists have fallen into the activist trap for years and have not managed to shift the Overton Window rightward in any significant way. This is the case because we have no significant power backing us while leftist movements have backing from the Cathedral which gives them legitimacy. So long as we lack power, all attempts at rightward activism will be a waste of time. While there’s no denying that Trump has done great work, and that he has been influential in his own right, it’s important to understand that he obtained power by cultivating his own virtues. As president Donald Trump can do many great things for America, but for America to become great, more and more of her subjects need to become worthy.

If you find it difficult to resist the temptation to act, or you have trouble conducting yourself as a passivist should, then consult the I Ching. It doesn’t matter what question you ask it; the answer it gives will always be a passivist one.

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Guest Post: The Michigan Plot

The following is a guest post from a radiated light bulb.

It’s hard to visualize a distributed blind conspiracy. A trend pushing throughout a culture, waves pouring forth from occulted powers. Let’s take a look at a snapshot of power. Three events that took place in 1965 all connected, but more importantly three events which were attended by people with real influence. As you examine the diagrams below, understand their scope, breadth and variety. These people whether guilty outright or by association permeated the fabric of America. Sure few occupied positions of power outright, but still these people had influence. They might have been someone’s professor, radio host, journalist or influenced some professional organization.

The events in question are the planning meeting which sparked the idea for the teach in, the first teach in at Ann Arbor Michigan in 1965 and the biggest teach in at Berkeley later that year. As you can see in the further reading these were coordinated efforts between professors to create the appearance of a grass roots movement.

KEY (1)

 

Further Reading from a participant:

Commitment and Agency in Social Movements
Author(s): William A. Gamson
Source: Sociological Forum, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Mar., 1991), pp. 27-50
Published by: Springer

http://faculty.maxwell.syr.edu/nkatz/Readings%20No%20Password/Gamson%20on%20commitment%20and%20agnecy.pdf

“Some members of the group agreed to call colleagues at other universities,
describing what we were doing, and asking them to hold a teach-in
on their campus. From this small organizing effort, teach-ins against the
Vietnam War were held on more than 50 campuses in the weeks that followed.
We did nothing to discourage the belief that these arose spontaneously
in response to the people’s outrage; nor was this completely false,
since it typically takes more than a phone call or two to generate activity
of this sort in the absence of a highly conducive climate.”

teach in conception

“Ann Arbor was home base, in those days, for many of the talented
national leaders of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). In the
postmidnight sessions, some of them led workshops on such topics as the
military-industrial complex, the cold war, U.S. intervention in the Third
World, and mechanisms for changing U.S. foreign policy. The report of
the U.S. Senate Sub-Committee on Internal Security made much of the
fact that among the films shown during the night, we included one made
by the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam that had been smuggled
into the country. Boundary lines between young faculty, SDS activists, and
undergraduates were blurry and difficult to discern as one wandered from
one intense discussion to another during the night.”

Teach in day of

“What can we learn about these collective identity processes from the
two cases considered in this paper? The teach-in depended and built on a
preexisting movement identity. First, there were close relationships among
many faculty members and the new left activists who made Ann Arbor
their base. When I began teaching at Michigan in 1962, it was only a few
months after student activists had met at Port Huron and formulated a
statement that became, in effect, the charter for SDS. Port Huron participants
began showing up regularly in my classes. ”

“We had further contact at a movement halfway house within the
university, the Center for Research on Conflict Resolution. The center,
with its Journal of Conflict Resolution, extended the peace movement of
the late 1950s and early 1960s into the academy. I was part of this interdisciplinary
peace research movement, carrying out my research on the cold
war through the center. ”

“Two SDS projects-the Peace Research and Education Project and
the Education Research and Action Project-became a quasi-official part
of the center’s activities, with offices there as well. New left students and
faculty interacted in the hallways and meeting spaces, discussing what was
happening in the world, and what we and others were doing about it.
Furthermore, several members of the teach-in group had been involved
earlier in the civil rights movement. Some of us had picketed
Woolworth’s in support of the sit-in movement in the South and been involved
in the testing of antidiscrimination housing ordinances. Many of the
New Left students had gone south to participate in voter registration efforts
such as Mississippi Freedom Summer.”

Berkley Final

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The Black Mirror of Retribution

If you must watch anything on TV, the BBC series Black Mirror is the show. It’s a science fiction anthology series in a similar vein to The Twilight Zone that raises questions about the implications of new technologies and whether or not new social changes are moving in a desirable direction.

The show is not for the faint at heart, as many episodes can be disturbing in both their themes and subject matter. One stand-out episode for yours truly was “White Bear,” involving a woman named Victoria who wakes up with no recollection of who she is and finds herself being hunted down by psychopaths in masks. She seeks help from bystanders, but they do nothing but silently film her with their cell phones.

Victoria later finds two other people who engage with her like normal human beings. They reveal that there was a weird television transmission called the “White Bear” that turned the vast majority of the population into voyeurs who stand idly around and film everything they see. It turns out they and Victoria were not affected by this broadcast. Neither were the psychopaths hunting them down, taking advantage of the fact that they can now get away with violent crimes without consequence.

Victoria and her new companions make for the White Bear transmitter to destroy it. When they arrive, they wind up facing down some psychopaths who followed them there. Victoria manages to wrestle a shotgun away from one psychopath only to discover that the gun is fake. The walls around her open up to reveal a stage, television cameras, and an applauding audience. Victoria’s apparent companions and enemies strap her to a chair where a TV show host explains to her who she really is and why this has happened to her.

The host reveals that Victoria had been tried and convicted for the murder of a little girl, Jemimah Sykes, whom she and her boyfriend had kidnapped. Victoria’s boyfriend killed Jemimah by lighting her on fire while Victoria filmed it. Everything Victoria went through up to this point was in retribution for her crime. Her memory was erased so that she was just as confused and helpless as the little girl she watched her boyfriend murder. All of the bystanders she encountered are meant to parallel her own complacence when she filmed Jemimah’s death. The name “White Bear” is a reference to Jemimah’s teddy bear. Everything that Victoria goes through in the course of her punishment is meant to mirror everything she and her boyfriend put Jemimah through.

But the punishment doesn’t end there. Victoria is wheeled away into a trailer made of plexiglass where the audience can yell obscenities at her and pelt her with fruit. They take her to the house where the episode began, strap her to a chair, and erase her memory of the day’s events so that they can administer the same punishment on her the next day.

This episode of Black Mirror, as you might guess, is not meant to be interpreted as an argument for retributive justice but as a critique of it. The audience of bystanders filming Victoria’s torment and pelting her with rotten fruit and insults is meant to illuminate the hypocrisy of the “eye for an eye” intuition.

But being the illiberal shitlord that I am, I couldn’t help but wonder to what extent this punishment depicted in “White Bear” was truly unjust. As I watched it I had no trouble believing that something about the punishment was wrong, but I doubt most viewers (or the episode’s writers for that matter) would agree with me for the same reasons.

In the book Just and Painful, Graeme Newman makes a case for why corporal punishment of criminals is morally permissible using a retributive model of punishment as justification. Chapter 4 of his book lays out 3 criteria for why a punishment would be considered barbaric and not civilized: mutilation, excess, and violence. These are the criteria we shall use in our moral assessment of Victoria’s punishment.

We can quickly eliminate mutilation as one of the problems with Victoria’s punishment, as nothing that happens to her as she’s punished violates her bodily integrity in any significant way. Indeed, for her to suffer physical injury would defeat the purpose of her punishment since not only does it not fit her crime, but it would also break the illusion of her believing that she is being hunted. Likewise, we can eliminate violence in our moral assessment since all of the violence is staged. The imposing psychopaths seemingly threatening to kill Victoria only serve to instill fear in her and they never actually inflict pain on her.

One can, however, make the case that Victoria’s punishment is excessive. Newman lays out the model for what he calls the punishment by “analogy to the body” which in his view inevitably became punishment for the sake of deterrence. One example of this punishment by analogy was a punishment for traitors in which the traitor’s heart was cut out and held in front of him with the words “Here is your heart.” These punishments were performed in front of an audience as well so that they would serve an educative function to the masses. Victoria’s punishment almost fits this model perfectly: her punishment is analogous to what she and her boyfriend did to Jemimah, and at the end she is placed in front of an audience in which the host declares: “Here is a child murderer.”

However, there are differences between Victoria’s punishment and the educative function of the punishments by analogy. First and foremost, the show host plays up the entertainment value that the audience is deriving from watching Victoria’s punishment. He riles up the crowd and encourages them to treat her with contempt. As such, Victoria’s punishment appears to serve a cathartic release instead of an educative function.

Furthermore, the fact that Victoria’s memory is erased at the end of the day so that she can suffer the punishment again reveals that her punishment is meant to entertain the audience more so than it is for her own retribution. A criminal who is punished multiple times for the same offense, but never remembers the previous times she was punished has only been punished once as far as her personal psychology is concerned. Presumably when she’s finally released, Victoria isn’t going to have any recollection of all of the previous times she was punished except the final day of her punishment. The only reason they continue to erase Victoria’s memory is so that they can entertain new audiences who come to watch her receive her comeuppance.

The fact that Victoria’s punishment exists primarily for entertainment reveals a utilitarian component to her punishment that makes it unjust. What good does it do for her to endure extended torment for the entertainment of thousands of people? A common critique of utilitarianism is that it suggests that it’s morally permissible to treat an individual as a mere means. Tormenting a criminal to entertain the masses seems like a textbook definition of using someone as a mere means.

At first glance, many viewers would be inclined to say that Victoria’s punishment is a case of retributive justice gone too far. But it’s specifically utilitarianism, rather than retributivism that pushes this punishment too far. While it’s true that retributive justice conforms to the intuitions that the ideal punishment should fit the crime and serve an educative purpose, the retributive intuition also tells us that excessive punishment is not just at all. Once a punishment goes beyond what a criminal deserves, it is no longer just.

As such I cannot find much at fault with Victoria’s punishment other than the fact it is a retributive punishment elevated to a spectacle. We do not punish criminals because of some kind of utility to be gained from doing so. We punish criminals because there is a logic inherent to retribution. The logic of retribution dictates that a criminal deserves punishment for their offense against society. They deserve nothing more and nothing less.

It’s important to understand the logic of retribution when watching this episode of Black Mirror. It may be obvious to us that something about Victoria’s punishment is wrong, but it may not be obvious why it is wrong. It isn’t wrong because she suffers. A child murderer deserves to suffer. The problem is that her suffering extends beyond the scope of retribution and into the realm of entertainment. Remember this as you watch the episode.

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy | 4 Comments

Caligula’s Council Episode 2: A Bowl of Melons

Ladies and gentlemen, goys and goyls, dindus and dindettes of all ages, Caligula’s Council Episode 2 is on the air!

In which we discuss the final issue of the San Francisco Guardian, racial segregation, homeless people defecating in a river, wizards, melons, and how we should stop transphobia NOW!

Posted in Caligula's Council, Humor, Ideology, Reaction | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Ruminations on the Nature of Sin

The following is a series of excerpts from the Penguin Classics publication of The White People and Other Weird Stories by Arthur Machen. In the prologue a Catholic mystic named Ambrose shares a dialogue with a man named Cotgrave, who has been brought to Ambrose’s house by his companion who remains nameless. The dialogue in question concerns the nature of saintliness and sinfulness. The discussion ends with Ambrose letting Cotgrave borrow a book that is meant to give an example of what true sinfulness looks like.

“Sorcery and sanctity,” said Ambrose, “these are the only realities. Each is an ecstasy, a withdrawal from the common life.”… “There are many, I think, who eat dry crusts and drink water, with a joy infinitely sharper than anything within the experience of the ‘practical’ epicure.”
“You are speaking of the saints?”
“Yes and of the sinners too. I think you are falling into the general error of confining the spiritual world to the supremely good; but the supremely wicked, necessarily, have their own portion in it.” (111)

“We think that a man who does evil to us and to his neighbors must be very evil. So he is, from a social standpoint; but you can’t realise that Evil in its essence is a lonely thing, a passion for the solitary, individual soul? Really the average murderer qua murderer is not by any means a sinner in the true sense of the word. He is simply a wild beast that we have to get rid of to save our own necks from his knife. I should class him rather with tigers than with sinners.” (112)

“And what is sin?” said Cotgrave
“I think I must reply to your question by another. What would your feelings be, seriously, if your cat or your dog began to talk to you and to dispute with you in human accents? You would be overwhelmed with horror, I am sure of it. And if the roses in your garden sang a weird song, you would go mad. And suppose the stones in the road began to swell and grow before your eyes, and if the pebble that you noticed at night had shot out stony blossoms in the morning?
“Well, these examples may give you some notion of what sin really is.” (113)

“But are you a Catholic?” said Cotgrave
“Yes; I am a member of the persecuted Anglican Church.”
“Then, how about those texts which seem to reckon as sin that which you would set down as a mere trivial dereliction?”
“Yes; but in one place the word ‘sorcerers’ comes in the same sentence, doesn’t it? That seems to me to give the key-note. Consider: can you imagine for a moment that a false statement which saves an innocent man’s life is a sin? No; very good then, it is not the mere liar who is excluded by these words; it is, above all, the ‘sorcerers’ who use the material life, who use the failings incidental to material life as instruments to obtain their infinitely wicked ends. And let me tell you this: our higher senses are so blunted, we are so drenched with materialism, that we should probably fail to recognize real wickedness if we encountered it.” (114-115)

“…If you met a very evil man and recognized his evil; he would, no doubt fill you with horror and awe; but there is no reason why you should ‘dislike’ him. On the contrary, it is quite possible that in putting the sin out of your mind you might find the sinner capital company, and in a little while you might have to reason yourself back into horror. Still how awful it is if the roses and the lilies began to sing on this coming morning; if the furniture began to move in procession De Maupassant’s tale.” (117)

There is a tendency to conflate sinfulness with mere wrongdoing. But if we accept the concept of sin as Machen presents it through the character Ambrose, we realize that it is something far deeper and more terrifying than an everyday act of degeneracy society sees fit to punish.

Whatever theological disagreements one may have with Ambrose, it is still worth considering that at the beginning of the dialogue, Cotgrave conflates everyday wrongdoing with evil. Ambrose rightly points out that our comfortable modern lives prevent us from recognizing evil when we see it. Consider how National Review managed to run an article in response to the Salon article normalizing pedophilia essentially asking, “What is so wrong with virtuous pedophiles? As long as they are choosing to be celibate, what’s the big deal?” This mindset fails to recognize what Ambrose, if he were real, would call sorcery. The sorcery at play here is the normalization of pedophilia by presenting it as an unfortunate sexual orientation or disability, rather than a mental illness that must be suppressed if not properly treated. In essence, National Review has fallen prey to sorcery.

Ambrose talks about our materialism clouding our judgment of what true evil is. I would actually go further and suggest that the byproducts of a materialistic mindset, such as moral subjectivism, prevent us from even seeing everyday nuisances for what they are. Consider how secular liberals have a tendency to dismiss theft as simply a means of cultural expression when it is done by gypsies and other nonwhite ethnic groups. If our materialism clouds our ability to critically assess the moral worth of everyday actions, what hope do we have of seeing another Gilles de Rais for what he truly is?

The true horror of The White People lies in the fact that one could even recognize wickedness and “have to reason yourself back into horror.” The presence of evil may not be obvious to us. In fact we may find ourselves easily drawn to it. Most of the leftward drift we see nowadays isn’t necessarily evil in the sense that Machen presents it here, but it at least indicates that we fail to make proper value judgments about the material realm as well as the spiritual realm. It’s ironic, to say the least, that it happens to be materialism that has beguiled us the most about the natural world around us.

Consider this an admonition from yours truly to start going to church.

Posted in Ideology, Literature, Philosophy, Reaction, Religion | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

A Little Twist of Cain: A Review of Grendel

John Gardner’s Grendel was assigned to my high school English class. I don’t remember much of what we discussed in class, which might be evidence that what we managed to cover wasn’t very substantial. One moment from the discussion stands out in the back of my mind, and it’s lingered there ever since. We had all just finished Grendel, and it was the last day of in-class discussion. The teacher probed us with a final question about the last line of the novel, Grendel’s last words after Beowulf wrenches his arm off, “Poor Grendel has had an accident, so may you all.” What do they mean?

To my teacher’s disappointment, we said nothing. So we moved on to the next novel we were to be assigned. Maybe some of us understood what Grendel’s last words meant and simply didn’t feel like talking about them that day. Maybe none of us understood and were afraid of looking like idiots if we spoke up. Whatever the reason, that segment of the class discussion has lingered in my mind for years, and I vowed to one day revisit Grendel so as to have a better understanding of the novel than I did back in high school.

Consider this my penance for my silence that day.

Grendel is a re-telling of the epic “Beowulf” from the monster’s perspective. The novel begins with the start of Grendel’s reign of terror on Hrothgar and his people, the Scyldings, and ends with Grendel’s death at the hands of Beowulf. Throughout the novel, Grendel laments his own existence and his consciousness of the mechanical workings of the world around him. In many ways, Grendel is a half-step between animal and man. He sees himself as mechanical in nature, prone to a particular behavior and disposition much like the wild animals around him. But unlike the animals, he is conscious of his own nature, and for this awareness he curses his own existence. Those who believe like True Detective‘s Rust Cohle  and horror writer Thomas Ligotti that human consciousness is a “tragic misstep in evolution” will find validation in Grendel’s existential plight.

A bard who resides in King Hrothgar’s mead hall, referred to as The Shaper, also fuels the fires of Grendel’s existential angst by singing songs of praise about Hrothgar’s prestigious kingdom. Despite Grendel’s assurance that the universe is a product of blind mechanics with no objective meaning to be found, he still can’t help but feel emotionally moved by the Shaper’s songs, leading him to think that there might be a grain of truth in them.  At one point the Shaper characterizes Grendel as one of the descendants of Cain cursed by God. When Grendel first hears this he appears to them carrying a man whose throat had been slit by another Scylding as if to say that humans are no different than he is, and they have no grounds to reject him. Naturally, this backfires as Hrothgar’s men misunderstand Grendel’s intention and attack him.

Grendel remains mystified at how the humans manage to shape the world around them in defiance of the seemingly meaningless universe around them. He consults with The Dragon (the same dragon who is later killed by Beowulf) who has knowledge of the past, present, and future, in the hopes that The Dragon will alleviate his distress. The Dragon remains primarily indifferent to Grendel’s plight, but he provides Grendel with a way of finding a purpose in his life. When Grendel suspects that it’s best not to torment and terrify Hrothgar and his men, The Dragon responds by insisting that Grendel has every reason to do so. The Dragon declares that Grendel “improves” and “stimulates” humans. By being the antithesis to mankind, Grendel gives their lives meaning. And in turn, by fighting and terrifying the Scyldings, Grendel obtains meaning in his own life. Even if the tales the humans tell of gods, good and evil, and heroism aren’t true (The Dragon insists that they aren’t), there is still a certain joy to be derived from attempting to nullify them.

Rereading this section of Grendel reminded me of a section of Moldbug’s “Why Carlyle Matters” in which he defines what a reactionary is:

 A reactionary is not a Republican, a Democrat, or even a libertarian. It is not even a communist, a fascist, or a monarchist. It is something much older, stranger, and more powerful. But if you can describe it as anything, you can describe it as the pure opposite of progressivism.

Notice how Moldbug doesn’t define the term “reactionary” based so much on what it is, but rather what it is not. In order to fully understand what Moldbug means by “reactionary” one must know what it means to be a progressive. We as reactionaries understand ourselves by understanding what it is we oppose. Likewise with Grendel. Grendel understands himself as being the opposite of humans.

Whether you agree with Grendel’s view of the world or not, it is important to understand that Grendel serves as the negation of what humans stand for and in turn validates their existence. Whether what humans blame Grendel for is true or not doesn’t matter so long as it gives human lives a sense of direction. Having a monster to battle is just one way humans give their lives meaning. It’s important to understand this because reactionaries are the Grendels of the modern world.

Grendel doesn’t choose to be the outsider. He doesn’t choose to be the descendant of Cain. And yet, the Shaper insists that he is, so Grendel becomes what the Shaper says he is. We reactionaries didn’t choose to be descended from civilized European colonists  old white bigots who made American civilization possible created a culture of oppression against ethnic minorities. But the Cathedral insists that we are, so we become what the Cathedral says we are.

I’m sure many of us in the past have tried to offer olive branches to the progressives the way Grendel does only to be met with anger and righteous indignation. What many conservatives can’t seem to understand when they attempt to argue with leftists in good faith is that the left honestly believes that the right is filled with monsters. And there’s no point in having a civil discourse with monsters.

So where does this leave us? Should we embrace the idea that we’re monsters and torment the Left the way Grendel torments the Scyldings?

One may object to the idea of “embracing” the idea that we’re monsters as adopting a Leftist frame. However, the fact that the Left considers us monsters despite our insistence to the contrary is unavoidable. Whether we decide to storm their mead halls or try to appease them with peace offerings is irrelevant to how they see us. If they have already decided that we aren’t worth engaging in good faith, then there’s nothing to gain from attempting to reconcile our differences. I think most of my readership has already come to this conclusion.

At any rate, I’d like to challenge the notion that “becoming Grendel” necessarily entails letting our adversaries frame the narrative as it were with another example from Grendel. Around the middle point of the novel, Grendel becomes rather bored with storming Hrothgar’s mead hall and terrorizing the Scyldings. But right as his existential angst reappears, he encounters a warrior named Unferth. Unferth stands out from the other Scyldings by making grandiose speeches about heroism, and the honor that comes through death in war. Unlike the other Scyldings who seem fearful of Grendel, Unferth sees it as a high honor to die by Grendel’s hand. Grendel realizes that killing Unferth will only bring him more prestige in death, so he decides to humiliate him instead. When Unferth confronts Grendel in the mead hall, Grendel answers his call to battle by throwing apples at him. The embarrassed Unferth pursues Grendel back to his lair in the hopes to actually do battle with him. Unfortunately for Unferth, Grendel sees through his attempt at heroism and instead of killing him brings him safely back to Hrothgar’s hall unharmed.

From then on, Unferth continues to confront Grendel whenever he attacks the mead hall. Grendel responds by ignoring Unferth and killing all of the lesser Scyldings. The lesson here is that even if Grendel operates within the Scyldings’ narrative, it’s still possible for him to subvert that narrative without simply devouring every human he sees. If a monster is clever enough to undo his opposition without resorting to brute violence, then surely we are capable of doing so as well.

There is much to be learned from Grendel, not just what reactionaries have in common with Grendel, but also what makes us different. Later in the novel, Grendel realizes that he can’t completely destroy Hrothgar. If he does, then his life loses its purpose. Reactionaries, on the other hand want to completely subvert the left wing so as to make it completely powerless. Unlike our conservative counterparts, we understand that complete rightist victory entails nullifying political voice and thereby nullifying all potential channels for leftists to gain a foothold on any degree of political power. If the reactionaries win though, they cease to be reactionaries, because there is nothing left to react to. Similarly, Grendel would cease to be Grendel if Hrothgar were to die and his house fall. Luckily for reactionaries, we have separate identities to fall back on that aren’t characterized by our opposition to leftism giving us a sense of purpose when the reaction is over and done with. At least, I hope that’s the case for at least most of us.

At last, I’d like to touch on Grendel’s last words, “Poor Grendel has had an accident. So may you all.” What do they mean?

For those who have at least read “Beowulf” recall how Beowulf kills Grendel. Grendel breaks into the mead hall while the Scyldings and the Geats (Beowulf’s people) are asleep. When Grendel picks up a supposedly sleeping Beowulf, Beowulf grips Grendel’s arm tightly and wrenches it off. In Grendel, we get to hear Grendel’s impression of his own death. Grendel insists that it was an act of chance that allowed Beowulf to get the upper hand in their fight. He makes excuses, saying that if he hadn’t slipped on a puddle of blood he left dripping from another man he had eaten, Beowulf wouldn’t have won the battle. Beowulf tricked him, he declares, yet the reader may be inclined to believe that the reason Grendel lost the fight was due to his own oversight, not blind chance.

As Beowulf wrestles with Grendel, he whispers things into Grendel’s ear that suggest that Grendel’s will makes things as they are. When Beowulf slams Grendel against a wall, he declares that the reason the wall is hard is because Grendel believed it to be so. The world, Beowulf declares, is what you will it to be, “Whether you make it a grave or a garden of roses is not the point” he says [emphasis in the original].

As such, Grendel’s fight with Beowulf reflects a struggle between two contradictory philosophical ideas. Grendel, representing the view that our sense perceptions give us access to an objective world around us, loses the fight to Beowulf who seems to have a semi-Kantian idealistic view of the world, postulating that our minds make the world as it is. While the fact that Grendel loses the fight doesn’t prove that his view of the world is unsound, it at the very least suggests that such a worldview can’t save him from death. Whether what Beowulf’s theory of mind and perception is true or not is irrelevant, the fact remains that he won and Grendel lost. Some philosophical ideas are more adaptive than others, even if they are far-fetched.

Thus, Grendel’s last words not only reveal his regret at the oversight he made, but also reflects how he steadfastly clings to the fact that his fate is the product of what he calls, “mere logic of chance.” He regrets what happened to him, but isn’t willing to acknowledge that he made some kind of mistake in challenging Beowulf. Despite the challenge to his worldview that Beowulf presents, Grendel clings to what he holds to be true until his death.

Grendel serves as both an amusing exploration of what it’s like to be an outsider as well as a somber cautionary tale. I don’t encourage readers to adopt Grendel’s existentialist philosophy (after all, look what it does for him), however, I found Grendel a fitting resource for putting the war between reactionaries and progressives in context. Progressives already see reactionaries as monsters, so what’s wrong with little acts of horrorism here and there? Why not add a little twist of Cain to your traditionalism? I encourage all reactionaries to draw from this book. See what you may learn.

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