Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law – AL I:40
It is one thing to call oneself a Thelemite, but quite another to act according to Thelemic principles. If we are indeed witnessing “the dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” we are challenged to explore and develop new ways of interacting with one another in line with “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” (The Book of the Law I:40). Since “[e]very man and every woman is a star,” we can look for no external set of moral laws that everyone must follow. Instead, each individual Thelemite must embrace the inherent right to be what he or she is and to discover his or her unique laws. The only duty in Thelema is to be self-governing. Yet not just any behavior is Thelemic. Certain broad, general principles of Thelemic action can be distinguished from ways of acting that Restrict self or others and make slaves of all those who adhere to them. One way of opening the discussion is through the concept of freedom. What does Thelemic freedom require and what does it prohibit?
The Thelemite and rocket scientist Jack Parsons famously observed that our innate freedom as human beings not only licenses each of us to live as we will but, equally, requires of us that we recognize and grant to every other individual the identical right. Perhaps surprisingly, even the license to live as one will imposes limitations on a Thelemite’s behavior, for it requires the Thelemite to rebel against Restrictions imposed by others, rather than going along to get along. When a Thelemite is on the receiving end of an action that attempts to interfere with his or her Thelemic rights to do as they will, the true Thelemite must not tolerate it. If he or she allows her rights to be trampled, that person is not a Thelemite, but a slave. A Thelemite has a duty to stand up against oppression and rebel, accepting and taking personal responsibility for the consequences. It should be noted that a mundane organization such as a job or a magickal Order can have rules and standards that disagree with a particular Thelemite yet do not as such violate the law of Thelema. For example, suppose a certain job requires me to come in at 6 am every day, yet I feel strongly that sleeping past dawn is critical for my creativity. I cannot justify my decision to come in at 8 by claiming that it is my Thelemic right to do as I will. Rather, my Thelemic right would be to quit that job or not take it in the first place. My rights would be violated only if I were not permitted to quit. It is up to me to find employment that is compatible with my individual needs, and indeed I have a Thelemic duty to do so, that I may abide by the self-given command, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” (AL I:40).
Parsons’ observation that a Thelemite must recognize and grant to every other individual the identical right to do as he or she will outlines yet another legitimate limitation upon a Thelemite’s actions. In broad terms, Parsons implies that a given way of acting is Thelemic only so long as it does not infringe on any other individual’s actual ability to write, speak, dress, love, teach, etc. as he or she will. In order to infringe on another, is not enough that the action offend or emotionally hurt another party, no matter how understandably. A negative judgement about someone, for instance, is not yet an infringement even if expressed in the subject’s presence. Kindness is not required by Thelema. Even verbal cruelty is permitted. However, Thelemic behavior may not cross the line from “words” to “sticks and stones.” A Thelemite may not interfere unilaterally (i.e. not in self-defense) with someone else’s physical autonomy or safety, the integrity of their property, their ability to speak freely, and in general their ability to enjoy their God-given rights to do as they will. Although the application is a bit more complicated than I am outlining here, the fundamental principle is simple: a star should not leave its orbit to interfere with another star. In the end, the requirement to allow all others to do as they will and the requirement to rebel when others attempt to Restrict one from doing as one will are one and the same requirement. There is One Will, and autonomy is required for each individual to operate as a unique vehicle of that One Will, that It may be done everywhere and universally.
Whenever a social, political, or religious movement seeks to make everyone the same, to enforce conformity for no matter what “good” or “cause,” no real Thelemite will stand for it. Any movement that tells people what they must believe, what they can or cannot say, or how they must behave (beyond non-interference with others) is a scourge on humanity and must be resisted wherever it is encountered. Jack Parsons wrote the following apt words in 1946:
[A]bsolutist and totalitarian groups of the most vicious nature use liberalism as a cloak under which they move
to re-establish tyrannies and to extinguish the liberty of all who oppose them. Thus religious groups seek to
abrogate freedom of art, speech and the press; reactionaries move to suppress labor, communists to establish
dictatorships—and all in the name of ‘freedom’. …
As I write, allegedly liberal groups are agitating for the denial of public forums to those they call fascist.
Americanism societies are striving for the suppression of communist or “red” literature and speech. Religious
groups, backed by a publicity conscious press, are constantly campaigning for the prohibition of art and literature
which, as if by divine prerogative, they term “indecent”, immoral or dangerous.
It would seem that all these organizations are devoted to one common purpose, the suppression of freedom.
Their sincerity is no excuse. History is a bloody testament that sincerity can achieve atrocities which cynicism
could hardly conceive of. Each of these groups is engaged in a frantic struggle to sell out, betray or destroy
the freedom which was their birthright and which alone assured their present existence.
Freedom is a two-edged sword. He who believes that the absolute rightness of his belief is an authority to
suppress the rights and opinions of his fellows cannot be a liberal. Liberalism cannot exist where it violates
its own principles. It cannot exist where the emergency monger or the utopia salesman can obtain a suspension
of rights, whether temporary or permanent. Liberty cannot be suppressed in order to defend liberalism.
(Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword)
In 2017, a great many people who agitate for the worthy cause of social justice do so in ways that seek to suppress the rights and opinions of others. Such suppressions must be resisted and thrown off by Thelemites and, indeed, by any who value freedom. From a Thelemic perspective, there is nothing redeeming about such movements, no matter what mask of virtue they wear. An excellent contemporary example of the suppression of Thelemic rights in the name of freedom is given by the case of Bret Weinstein.
Controversy at Evergreen State College
Dr. Bret Weinstein is a professor of biology at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. On March 15, 2017, Dr. Weinstein, a political progressive who has been an anti-racism activist for many years, made a formal protest through email against an upcoming campus event that billed itself as anti-racist. As a result of Weinstein’s protest, a group of over fifty student protesters disrupted Weinstein’s class accusing him of being a racist and demanding his immediate resignation. The students yelled in order to drown out Weinstein when he tried to engage in dialogue with them about his actions and their response to it. Cursing at him and shouting him down, they openly expressed that they did not want to hear his views. The college’s new president, Dr. George Bridges, to an extent capitulated to the students, at one point ordering campus police to “stand down” rather than protect Weinstein from a mob who, on a subsequent day, was going from car to car searching for him. That day, the police phoned Weinstein advising him not to come to campus, as they were concerned for his safety. As of this writing (June 25, 2017), the issue is still live. Although Dr. Weinstein has been blamed in writing by many administrators and faculty for causing the problem, as of now he neither been sanctioned by the administration nor defended by them.
Weinstein protested the event in question, that particular year’s Day of Absence, because the new way it was structured seemed to him oppressive and racist in and of itself. The Day of Absence had been an annual tradition for many years at Evergreen State College. It was based on a play by the same name by Douglas Turner Ward. In past years, the Day of Absence had been one on which some campus community members of color elected to remove themselves from campus in order to highlight the many contributions that people of color make to the college. In addition, participants used the opportunity to conduct dialogues about racism and other issues of social justice. This year, however, the event was organized differently. On the Day of Absence this year, those invited to stay off campus were the just the whites, and the intent was evidently not to highlight whites’ contributions to campus life but to make a more comfortable space for people of color. People of color and their “allies” were frankly asking people who they identify as whites to leave. Weinstein publically objected to this new structure as blatantly oppressive and contrary to the values of equity, civil rights, and social justice that the event was supposed to be about. In his email of formal protest he wrote:
There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a
shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles …, and a group or coalition
encouraging another group to go away. The first is a forceful call to consciousness which is, of course,
crippling to the logic of oppression. The second is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.
Weinstein then announced his intention to decline the invitation to stay away, and indeed on the Day of Absence he did venture onto campus to teach his class, incurring the wrath of a student mob who called for his resignation. It should be noted that some in the mob were white, and that many students and faculty of color privately expressed their support for Weinstein even though the mob purported to be speaking in their name. Further, none of Weinstein’s own students participated.
In an interview by Joe Rogan (Joe Rogan Experience #970), Weinstein recounts a faculty meeting in which a black, female colleague characterized Weinstein’s formal protest against this year’s Day of Absence as “part of a racist backlash.” When Weinstein objected that he is not a racist, he was told that the meeting was not the place to defend himself. When he then asked what is the place to defend himself, the same professor who had just called him a racist said, “There is no venue in which to defend yourself.” Weinstein observed to Joe Rogan the irrefutable “logic” of his colleague’s thinking: “To defend yourself against an allegation of racism is racist.” In other words, to be labeled a racist is an “invitation” to keep your mouth shut and be a pawn—or else suffer reprisals. Weinstein was even labeled in writing by some of his colleagues as a member of the alt-right, a diverse conglomerate espousing non-traditional, far-right views in often-provocative language who are often dismissed with the accusation that they are racist bigots and therefore not worth listening to. However, Weinstein meets none of the criteria; the Bernie-Sanders-supporter is not a conservative by any measure. The blatantly inaccurate nature of the smear campaign against Weinstein by his colleagues perhaps accounts for some of the unprecedented level of support he has garnered outside of the university bubble. His case highlights the perhaps-literal insanity of political correctness on college campuses.
Weinstein’s highly principled, articulate, and level-headed refusal to be bullied and intimidated by an irrational mob of “politically correct” activists has garnered national attention and surprisingly uniform support from newspapers and commentators from all over the political spectrum. The contrast between support from such a diverse group of outside observers and the powerful, even violent condemnation he has received by many on his own campus raises the question, what has gone wrong on college campuses? The question can and should be asked generally, not just of Evergreen, since Weinstein is only one of a growing number professors—often left-wing professors—who have suddenly found themselves afoul of a politically correct mob and left by their campus administrations to swing in the wind, often causing damage or death to their careers. Weinstein himself places the blame on postmodernism in higher education. Contrasting postmodernism (and, perhaps, implicitly, the humanities) with the sciences, he sees the former as a tradition that eschews logic and rationality as a tool of the Oppressor, rather than a means of getting at the truth—a word which can be seen provoking ire and frustration among student protesters in some of the videos that they posted of their own confrontations with Weinstein. Personally, though I agree with him to an extent, I believe Weinstein’s analysis here lacks sufficient subtlety—that he may be throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. I shall touch on this issue shortly.
My Own Passion for Diversity Training
Before going any further in this essay, it is important for me to say more about my own investments in the issues raised by the Bret Weinstein controversy, including my passion for diversity training. Although not currently working in academia, I have spent the better part of my life doing so, variously as teaching assistant, faculty, and staff. I have always had sporadic involvement with the promotion of social justice in academia, but for about four years while I worked at University of California, Riverside, I was heavily involved in spearheading diversity training. I was one of a handful of staff volunteers who, under the leadership of Dr. Gladys Brown, developed a powerful and inexpensive way to increase diversity literacy on campus. Not only was it successful by its own measures, but it was sought out as a model by other campuses and universities. I valued the program because it was inherently based on voluntary dialogue and communication, not on browbeating and a culture of conformity. Our aim was always to provide opportunities for people to learn about other campus members’ experiences based on all kinds of diverse traits, including but definitely not limited to race. Part of that mission involved structuring communication so that people could be respectful while also being honest and open. It was never to force people to have certain viewpoints by coercion, negative judgements, or other means. I always insisted that if certain viewpoints were going to be defined as off the table, we might as well not even bother hosting the conversation. I also found that when people could be sure they were not going to be demonized for their perspectives or even their ignorance, they were naturally curious and excited to learn about other points of view. Eventually, when our training group could document impressive levels of new understandings being created on campus, we were able to get the financial support to conduct a well-crafted campus climate survey in order to measure more objectively people’s experience of the campus’ openness or lack of openness along different dimensions of diversity.
Based on Thelemic principles, I oppose any effort to tinker with the makeup of campus community artificially, such as through quota systems in hiring or admissions, especially where such efforts involve lowering standards. I oppose quota systems based on my judgment that they constitute bringing about a result for someone rather than giving someone a helping hand to do something for himself or herself. Yes, the so-called beneficiary has to “show up,” but that is not enough to count as doing for oneself. Doing for oneself requires proving oneself ready for the challenge at hand, deserving of a chance based on one’s individual merits. Although it is consistent with the law of Thelema to offer assistance and accommodations so that an individual who has proven himself or herself “otherwise qualified” can achieve at a certain standard by his or her own efforts, it is not Thelemic to lower standards so as to force a particular outcome. The latter violates the will of the supposed beneficiary as well as of those who are artificially displaced. Many Thelemites forget that will is not an outcome, as in, “It is my will to go to college,” except and unless that outcome intrinsically and organically results from one’s own efforts. Will is a process; it is something one does of one’s own accord: “Illustration: It is my Will to inform the World of certain facts within my knowledge. I therefore take ‘magical weapons’, pen, ink, and paper; I write ‘incantations’—these sentences…” (Magick in Theory and Practice, p. xiii). Accepting a candidate because he or she fulfills a quota violates that person’s will even if he or she was qualified and would have been admitted anyway. Rather than being put to the test, the candidate is let in without having the opportunity to prove his or her real merits. A real and intimate relationship exists between one’s will and the means one uses to bring that will about; the two cannot be decoupled. Will is real, not abstract. Of course, the gods can use strange and unexpected means to bring a willed action about. But what we are contemplating here is someone else deciding for an individual what is good for him or her based, not on individual merits, but on membership in a category. The “benefitted” individual has not even come into play as such. He or she has not been appreciated and valued as an individual, as a star.
Furthermore, quota systems will always be based on an artificial list of preference categories, rather than being open to who may show up and what unusual facets of diversity they may bring to the table. A stellar candidate who can show that he or she also brings a rare perspective due to having overcome particular adverse life experiences should be preferred to an equally stellar candidate who has not. Rich life experience, which could include a history of dealing productively with real racism or poverty, a harrowing escape from a war zone, or other extraordinary challenge, should count for something extra, since an individual who has experienced it has learned something valuable that you cannot learn in books or test-preparation classes. As a person, he or she has more to offer to the community than the person who hasn’t lived yet. And, after all, the community is legitimately looking to benefit itself, not just be an impartial judge of merit. Of course, rich and valuable life experience could take forms other than overcoming adversity. For example, a rich kid who has set up an amazing non-profit corporation should get preference for having done so, compared to an equally qualified candidate who has done little on his or her own merits. It is up to the candidate to tell his or her story in such a way as to convince the hiring or admissions committee of his or her special worth to the campus community.
As a Thelemite I positively value not only naturally-occurring diversity, but also its enhancement on campus, including through outreach programs and voluntary cultural competency training. I strongly believe in creating the open and fertile conditions in which genius tends to express itself for the commonly-embraced mission of the university. Diversity of racial identities, social classes, national backgrounds, sexual orientations, genders, abilities, life experiences, and so forth increases the variety of solutions offered to common problems—but only if people are allowed to speak from their experiences freely and are valued and respected for who they really are, even when at times people do not agree with or perhaps even like one another. When an institution dedicates itself to valuing diversity in the context of open communication, it can perform wonders. But when it begins to clamp down on free expression—or when, through cowardice and lack of leadership, it allows some of its constituents to tyrannize others, the entire institution loses the functional value of any diversity it embodies. Box-checking or mere formal diversity is meaningless or worse: it is demeaning and stultifying. Attempting to raise one group by suppressing another creates slaves and destroys both creativity and morale. More, it violates the very core of who we are as human beings.
Bret Weinstein blames the almost-unthinkable and absurd treatment he has received from some of Evergreen’s students, faculty, and administrators on several generations of unchallenged postmodernist thinking, though he acknowledges that postmodernism has occasionally borne wholesome fruit. Postmodernism is notoriously hard to define. I find that most lists of postmodernist characteristics caricature postmodernism to the point of defining it as silliness, which robs the reader of a chance to engage with it on its own terms. Yet, despite the volumes of silliness that have actually been penned under the banner of postmodernism, it is, ironically, the only rational viewpoint left to us at this time in history. Now it is just a question of refining our postmodernist approaches so as to avoid the paths that produce its worst excesses and forestall the kind of idiocy so often done in its name, such as Weinstein has suffered. Broadly, postmodernism is a current existing since the middle of the last century in a wide variety of disciplines, including philosophy, art, and literature, that is characterized by a skepticism of and antipathy toward universalizing narratives. Postmodernism denies that there are viewpoints that everyone must take or be irrational. There is no “truth” that you can hit people over the head with like a bat, such that if they don’t believe in it, they are just plain wrong; and if there seems to be such a universal truth, someone, somewhere has pulled a fast one on you. The terrible, terrible problem with postmodernism is that people have used the fact that no universal truth is possible to justify any belief system at all, to set up cults, and to fail to apply adequate standards of measurement and utility to various judgments, instead falsely claiming that their opinions are just as good as knowledge derived through highly constrained, highly disciplined ways of getting at reality. They have confused the fact that there is no single, universally compelling truth for the false and dangerous idea that there is no reality except what we pretend it to be. Actually, while facts must indeed be made by humans, as the word’s Latin etymology implies, strong laws govern facts’ utility, and some facts just stink for getting anything of worth done. You can call a heap of idiocy a fact if you want to, but all you might achieve in doing so is giving your ego a temporary boost by gaining membership in a mob. Just don’t dare question the mob or think for yourself, or you’ll be out on your ass too.
The difference between my perspective on postmodernism and Weinstein’s can be explained by the fact that while Weinstein works in evolutionary biology, my studies have been in philosophy and history of science (within an interdisciplinary graduate program of Science Studies). A working scientist such as Weinstein benefits highly from adopting the position that there is a single truth to be gotten at. At a highly local level, perhaps that is even true. However, philosophers of science, including those who have deeply wished for there to be a single set of true statements about the universe just waiting to be discovered, can no longer believe it. Anyone who has looked seriously at the question has by now been forced to the conclusion that no such single set of true statements can possibly exist. Although there are multiple ways to approach the question, perhaps the most definitive was provided by a remarkable set of philosophers who set out to prove the very opposite: the logical positivists. The logical positivists attempted to codify scientific language, both theoretical and observational, in formal logic and to determine a foolproof method for acquiring knowledge. The failures of their brilliant program to formalize scientific thought have much to teach humanity, but in the end it was a logician—Kurt Gödel (1906–1978)—who showed us the folly of modernism by proving formally that no formal system can be both complete and consistent. In other words, even if science could be formalized and even if scientists had a purported set of all the true statements about the universe, either the set would not in fact be complete or there would be at least one pair of inconsistent statements among them. That result is a fact of logic, irrefutable. Now we must move on and deal with its implications, starting with the fact that a dream of a truly universal system of knowledge is unrealizable. Postmodernism is, at least in this limited sense, apt.
Although I disagree with Weinstein that postmodernism is the core problem, I judge his instincts in saying so to be far, far superior to those of his witch-hunters. In particular, Weinstein understands and takes seriously something fundamental that his detractors do not: there is such a thing as reality. Further, he understands from his first-hand experience of doing science that reality constrains us highly, and so ought to constrain our knowledge about it. That Weinstein’s accusers are frankly uninterested in whether he is really a racist or not—that they conduct no inquiry whatsoever, not even bothering to toss him in a river to see if he floats—speaks volumes about their lack of engagement with reality. His accusers are interested solely in outcome, not at all with a process of engagement with reality. This is the very definition of violence, in my book. How ironic that they sincerely believe Weinstein to be the bad guy. But if Weinstein’s accusers are not interested in gathering knowledge, in what kind of process are they engaged? I believe at least one commentator, Jonathan Haidt, has gotten it exactly right when he characterized the Bret Weinstein controversy as a “blasphemy case.”
The Appropriateness of Religious Language to Describe the Bret Weinstein Controversy
One of the many articles online about this case, authored by Jonathan Haidt, is aptly titled “The Blasphemy Case against Bret Weinstein, and its Four Lessons for Professors.” Haidt’s article appears on the website for the group Heterodox Academy, of which Weinstein is a member, and which describes itself as a “politically diverse group” of academic scholars who are concerned about the growing loss of diversity of political viewpoints within the academy. On their website homepage, a representative has written, “When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged.” Appearing in this context, Haidt’s article already implicitly suggests that the protest against Bret Weinstein has something to do with him dissenting against an orthodoxy, for violating the unwritten rules of conduct. Haidt, however, goes one step further in his article: “[Weinstein] violated blasphemy laws.” I cannot be sure to what extent Haidt intends to be metaphorical or ironic in describing Weinstein’s simple protest in terms of sacrilege. However, Haidt’s religious language points to a general malady that characterizes, not only political-correctness “fundamentalists,” but too much of humanity at this particular moment in history: a failure to relate organically to the infinite, resulting in either collective neurosis or (a description Weinstein himself used in his Joe Rogan interview) “collective psychosis.” The witch-hunt of Weinstein and other professors is but one symptom of a much larger disease plaguing humanity at the present time. We humans simply must overcome this challenge if the species is to reach its potential. The first step is to recognize it for what it is.
Carl Jung saw it: he observed that finding some sort of real connection to the infinite is not just a nice idea, but a universal need, and that people who dwell exclusively in the finite world become dangerously obsessed with trivialities. Jung writes:
The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his
life. Only if we know that the thing which truly matters is the infinite can we avoid fixing our interests upon
futilities, and upon all kinds of goals which are not of real importance. Thus we demand that the world
grant us recognition for qualities which we regard as personal possessions: our talent or our beauty. The more
a man lays stress on false possessions, and the less sensitivity he has for what is essential, the less satisfying
is his life. He feels limited because he has limited aims, and the result is envy and jealousy. If we understand
and feel that here in this life we already have a link with the infinite, desires and attitudes change. In the final
analysis, we count for something only because of the essential we embody, and if we do not embody that, life
is wasted. In our relationships to other men, too, the crucial question is whether an element of
boundlessness is expressed in the relationship. (Memories, Dreams, Reflections)
Most relevant here, people who have reduced the totality of who they are to the membership categories given in identity politics have cut off their relationship to the infinite. They may at first find new meaning therein, but quickly they exhaust the limited potential of the categories and find themselves hungry for real connection.
In order to explain how identity politics devotees have cut themselves off from the infinite, I must give a better explanation of what is implied by Jung’s use of the word infinite. Earlier I used the more prosaic word reality, and I suggested that Weinstein is in touch with reality while his accusers are not. Since his accusers would most decidedly disagree, I had better explain. I already pointed out that Weinstein’s accusers are not interested in learning anything about his views or where he is coming from. That cannot be debated, since they won’t even let him speak for himself. They have substituted a static idea of Weinstein based on his race, along with racialized roles they have prescribed for him, for an engagement with Weinstein’s reality. The model of reality I am accessing here posits it as infinitely open, infinitely capable of further exploration. We can always learn more and more about it. That infinite openness seems to be a necessary feature of any good model of reality is supported by the history of science and other fields of human knowledge-making, as well as by Gödel’s discovery that any consistent theory of what is happening right now is necessarily incomplete. On a human level, the appropriate response to the infinite dimension of reality is dialogue. Jung recognized, as Thelemites do, that although many knowledge-making ventures are necessarily collective, the primary relationship with the infinite dimension of reality is always embodied as between the individual and the whole. Those individuals who refuse to exercise their own powers of observation, imagination, and judgement have thereby abdicated, not only their natural rights, but their natural responsibilities. In Thelemic terms, such followers are known as the “slaves” who “shall serve.” The rabid irrationality of some actors on Evergreen College campus demonstrates that an engagement with the infinite—in other words, spirituality, far from being an immersion in mystical and abstruse nonsense, is a practical necessity that can and should be conducted in a sober way. Spirituality does not necessarily involve religion, and indeed some religions interfere with it. However, spirituality must involve a conscious and balanced relationship to the deep psyche and the powerful forces that live there, so that the individual does not end up as its neurotic or psychotic pawn.
Like any good cult, an oppressive political movement feeds the very hunger it has created in its followers by cutting them off from the infinite, but of course it does not feed them with real food. Instead, it must keep its followers hungry in order to keep them dependent. The cult offers collective might, the promise of future material gains, and, most of all, a sense of belonging in a morally or otherwise superior group. Of course, the price of membership in a cult is one’s personal autonomy and integrity. The political cult operates as a middleman between the individual and reality. It does so by providing facts and explanations by fiat and punishing those who will not parrot its dogma. There is no conspiracy involved in a political cult, such as that of political correctness, even if real human leaders are to be found somewhere. The dogma’s content originates in the collective psyche. It is simply the manifestation of un-faced phantoms that now operate through the cult’s followers as autonomous complexes, insecure demons who have taken over and now demand to be treated as holy. The identity politics devotees have purchased a ready-made feel-good story for the mere price of their essential birthrights: the personal freedom to be who one is and see things as one does. They have sold their souls in order to think themselves unassailably “right.” How ironic that, under the banner of abolishing totalizing narratives, they have adopted a particularly brutal one and, what is more, care nothing for the human sacrifices they make to their petty egos.
These tyrants of political correctness are unconsciously expressing a spiritual impulse for which they have not found or made sufficient other outlets. They have unconsciously fashioned the inevitable image of the infinite that is part of the human psyche into a utopian situation, and woe betide those who stand in the way of “progress.” And since they are unaware that the impulse toward “perfection” is from their own deep psyche, they project it onto others in often-violent ways while failing to realize that the perfect “correctness” they seek can never be found in everyday reality—which is not to deny the importance of genuine and sane work on social justice. This unconscious projection of the spiritual impulse onto reality is the same mechanism that fuels religious cults, quackery, terrorism, secular hate groups, and charismatic dictatorships. Every one of us must wake up and acknowledge that, as much as we may loathe superstition and hokum, we cannot rationalize spirituality away or ignore it as antiquated and irrelevant. Like it or not, we must recognize spirituality as a powerful and permanent feature of the human psyche which, if not channeled properly, makes itself a menace, including through mass movements of tyranny and terror.
Humanity today faces a spiritual challenge. Traditional, one-size-fits-all religions are meeting the needs of fewer and fewer people, particularly when they indulge in superstition and literalism, yet we haven’t yet trained people in how to satisfy the spiritual impulse for themselves as sane and unique individuals. Hence, we witness the multiplication of new-age cults and healers whose beliefs and practices are ill-constrained by reality. To satisfy the spiritual impulse for oneself requires getting a hold of that precious and all-too-rare commodity, the bullshit meter. Unfortunately, satisfying the spiritual impulse for oneself also involves the hard-won willingness and ability to turn around and face one’s own folly and phantoms. It involves taking personal responsibility for one’s outlook, not barricading oneself behind a ready-made version of “the truth.” It requires admitting that multiple, valid points of view exist based on various valuations of the verifiable facts while roundly rejecting those discovered to be based on bullshit. It involves allowing others the freedom to have their point of view, even if it disagrees with one’s own, and a willingness to engage in genuine dialogue. It requires genuine respect for others as individuals, not as members of categories. It requires conversation, not conversion. The form of openness I am describing is not a facile, unscientific attitude that “everyone has a right to their opinion,” but rather an expectation that each one of us do our homework—factual, emotional, and spiritual—and that each one own our views as ours and not as the “truth” to which that everyone else has to be enslaved or else risk reprisal and violence. It is time to find the courage to be oneself, alone, but one star in the vast heavens.
Written in Berkeley, CA
Sunday, June 25, 2017 e.v.
Moon in 28° Cancer, Sun in 4° Cancer
Love is the law, love under will. – AL I:57