The Case Against Liberation: Mystic Pessimism
Today, all political thought is apocalyptic. The conservatives desire stasis in a world mutating beyond their control, churning and transforming into the dissolution of all the fine boundaries they’ve devoted their lives to upholding. The liberals desire Christ to come with a sword and cut Donald Drumpf from the Oval Office, as if that single act should redeem the stars and stripes for all time to come. The communists wish for a vague notion of collective herd-liberation to uproot capital and create a paradise that would be akin to a new Eden. The fascists wish for God to become man, and to smite the evildoers with strength and a smile.
In apocalyptic times, I must turn to my roots, as a leftist through and through, someone who sees compassion, universality and love embodied in politics as the answer to cruel, authoritarian depersonalization. And yet, when I turn to these roots, I find them thorned and spiteful, calcified over by some eldritch thoughts that betray my old ‘common sense’.
The endings of leftist political treatises reveal quite blatantly the limits of our ability to reimagine society. Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism tells us: “It would be easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism,” and the book more effectively instills that sense in the reader than the possibility of an escape. In the end, Fisher provides only the ideal of a sense of universal working class solidarity as an alternative to our current state of alienation and despair. Adam Curtis ends his documentary HyperNormalization with a kind of fatalistic acceptance of the fact that the human animal is not properly evolved to deal with the Information Age, and will instead be consumed by it. Most leftist works of political theory are critiques, existing purely in the negative, in reaction, in relation to the active forces of capital. The great works of Marx have culminated, as much as I have tried my entire life to deny it, only in insane authoritarian societies. A Soviet world would be worse surely than an American empire, as evil as the American empire clearly is. That choice, between the colonial West or the brutal gulag, crushed all the workers’ sentiment that had been growing so steadily before the World Wars.
But what hope is there for a worker’s revolution in a world where most service workers and most cab and truck drivers will likely be rendered unemployed due to the approaching threshold of mass automation? Would a universal basic income create a new renaissance, of free artists, or would the excessive freedom result instead in a permanent sense of lost, depressed malaise, a population that would become half-hikikomori (a Japanese hermit) and half A Clockwork Orange (dilettantes)?
It is time to face facts. Capitalism is the root of all our problems, and yet the path out of capital is more uncertain than it has ever been. The dream of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, of a globalized online consciousness unifying the mental sphere into a higher state of being, has been rendered excessively naive by the commercialization of the Internet. What freedom now exists in Facebook and Google? Did de Chardin even conceive of them? More worryingly, de Chardin himself said that a future eugenics would become ‘inevitable’. What will we become, then, as genetically-modified beasts slaving away under a future without meaningful work, where none of our information is private, right down to our conversations, and even our biometric data and our genetic makeup is opened wide to the corporations and bioengineers who will have the ultimate power over human evolution?
The old left won’t work. The old ideas won’t work. The problem is deeper than we have ever understood. The problem is so intrinsic to existence, capital itself is so intrinsic to our existence, that to cast it off is akin to casting off the curse of The Fall, the curse of the apple, the curse of malformed physical matter. The old leftist-mystic dream was for the striving animal to overcome the dim genetic urge and embrace a higher spiritual path of virtue.
And yet, how does one contradict what one is? How do we look past our own genetics, when we are made, in the eyes of modern science, as nothing but a material construction of those genetics? How do you overcome your own nervous system? Your own hands? The problem is surely that deep, as our genetics for millennia have encouraged us toward tribalism, misogyny, war, domination, rape and murder.
We are not a blank slate. Western philosophy and cognitive science have both proven that an organism requires an a priori cognitive system to apprehend and absorb information, a preset thinking machine that reacts to data in accordance with completely material engravings, the brain’s cruel and ancient hieroglyphics. The DNA does not speak for us. It speaks for itself, and for, as I shall later prove, the archetypal idea of the serpent.
Projects of radical liberation fail every time. Why must we deny this? In Russia, communism swallowed its own tail. There are also two recent American failures of leftist resurgence: the hippie movement and the summer of love became the decade of unfettered markets, the origin of our modern low wages and dim job prospects. Then there is Occupy Wall Street, where the old left was shooed away by the new intersectional left, and the ideas of infinite difference and infinite fragmentation of identity were supposed to bring us all together. Now, identity politics has broken the left irreparably. After all, if you are writing on politics and you are cisgender, that must be prelude to every sentence you write, correct? The implication is that there is no objectivity, there is no truth. There is no reality beyond the subjective shrug of our own solipsism. So then what becomes of our genetic heritage, and our accursed share? Denied, cast away, for a fantasy of ‘solidarity’, a pitiful reversed hierarchy, the meek over all else, even when the meek are trust fund babies and happen to inhabit a persecuted identity.
Class has, for all intents and purposes, been ripped away from the picture. Attempting to point this out brings forth accusations of not caring about gender or race. Then, a handful of rich young ‘oppressed’ people can continue their campaign to rule the campuses, while the society at large turns more and more reactionary. The left has won the university, no doubt. But the university has been irrelevant for a decade, most certainly now in the era of online.
What relevance does Marx have in the age of Google, when his apex met the gulag archipelago? I understand the attraction to Marx out of sheer outrage at capitalism, I truly do. But if Marx and left theory more generally had any tangible answers for us, someone would be out there right now building the commune. Instead, we just get books titled “Building the Commune”.
Real literature is inherently reactionary to the Marxist. The aim of literature is not to overthrow systems of power. Good literature, rather, infects us with life, in all its ugliest and most beautiful forms. If the goal of a novel is to put the world in order and teach you exactly how to change it, I surmise that you just read a terrible novel. Humanity is too complex to be summarized by an activist, and that is the sorry truth. How easily great writers like DH Lawrence would be dismissed by an activist as having nothing to offer to revolutionary thinking. How easily one could read the whole works of Poe, Melville, Lawrence, Dostoevsky, and at the end of it all, only be treated to an eye-roll and the question: “Wow, you really like white male authors, don’t you?”
The fixation upon the sublime cosmic whole, as infected the mind of Melville most poignantly, is not a revolutionary position. And yet all mystic authors seek that most confusing tide; all great authors are mystics in some way. They do not offer any method to heal the world. They simply wish for you to bask in oppression and suffering, and yes, at some level, to fall in love with it. It is reactionary indeed to love a complete story, the reflection of a complete humankind, a thing all too human, far, far from liberation and paradise.
The reflection of that honest, dark humanity doesn’t come from just another social contract. The black pools of our spirit are absolutely real, and they are embedded in our physiology. It’s in our genetics, as animals, to have a piece of us that comes from Cain, or Lucifer, or the serpent of Genesis.
How accursed really is our genome? How bad off are we, really? Well, our karma is our genetics. I propose that the origins of unequal material birth, the distribution of IQ, conscientiousness, agreeableness and other personality traits that determine our success or failure as individuals, this murderous inequality of nature, is embedded into the Christian Fall.
The serpent in the Fall is the key to all of this. The snake is the symbol first and foremost of our limited, non-transcendental state of being, and is at the heart of alchemy, Christianity, Kabbalah, and so many countless ancient myths. Consider the mystical stories told about the snake when it comes to the biological cell, the old alchemical dream of the discovery of the cell’s circular form arriving from the image of the Oroborous, the snake devouring its own tail.
The Oroborous, the flat circle of time, the consumption of life, is a symbol of sublime horror. It is incarnate in the Bhagavad Gita, where the lord Krishna convinces the hero Arjuna to go to war, to slaughter great and noble men, all to fuel Krishna’s infinite cycle, the rebirth, the conflation of life and death into the same whole. The Oroborous is a serpent, and the serpent is mortality and death. What else did Eve invite into the world? She invited the possibility of both knowledge and death.
Knowledge and death are both the gifts of a temporal existence. Floating like the Buddha in the metaphysical sublime whole, there is no knowledge. Knowledge is destroyed by infinite grace. There is also no death—it has been transcended. The wise serpent, who kills and taunts us, is the very image of our genetic code. What else is the tree of life, but a place where serpents dwell, hanging from the branches, awaiting a young ape to bite and to murder?
If the snake is a stand-in for death and knowledge, an agent of Lucifer’s influence, and Lucifer is the ‘prince of this world’, and the circular nature of time mirrors our own biological cells, and our DNA predisposes us toward hideous murderous animal behavior, then I do not see where in this portrait the casting off of shackles and the redemption of humankind in corporeal time could possibly emerge, particularly not at the height of the modern age of materialism, during the rule of Donald Drumpf and the underlying globalization of capital that founds literally every facet of your life. “There is no ethical consumption under capitalism,” is the secular sublimated form of Christian original sin.
Worse and perhaps most devastating, Christian mysticism, save for pessimistic and anti-natalist Gnosticism, revolves entirely around hierarchy. The numinous of the entire undifferentiated pagan cosmos is translated into structure only through the nine hierarchies of angels rising all the way from angels to seraphim and capped with the Holy Trinity. What of the Hermetic dictum, then, ‘as above so below’? The mystical magnum opus of Valentin Tomberg, Meditations on the Tarot, cites tradition as the fourth letter of the name YHVH and the only method of passing on genuine esoteric knowledge to further generations. It is the Arcana Emperor (along with Hierophant), literally the domineering father, the face of structure and hierarchy, the ultimate enemy of the ‘free love’ mysticism desired by communists and adherents of the New Age alike.
The fact that the mystical worldview is bound by hierarchy, and hierarchy on Earth implies structural and material inequality, deals a fatal blow to the ideal of a communitarian society ruled by equals in loving liaison with one another. It is a traitor to humankind’s true identity on fallen Earth, in both the crude DNA of evolutionary psychology and the rigid models of esoteric tradition, order and inequality are embedded in all functioning mystical systems. The only image of absolute equality is the formless, listless Dionysian pantheism that will surely accomplish nothing for its sheer lack of content, its lack of form, indeed—it’s lack of hierarchical structure.
The mystical worldview has been co-opted completely by unwarranted optimism. What, truly, is this dreamy solidarity, the unfiltered unity of all humanity, not under an ideology, but upon a great feeling? It is the Moon Arcana! It is the shapeless, formless, listless and irresponsible Dionysian nightmare, chaos and mud and void, and some believe it will work to establish cosmic peace and order? That is a confusion of metaphysics at the highest level. Without hierarchy, without inequality, without order, we are all nothing more than the orange goo at the finality of Neon Genesis Evangelion, the humankind too weak to face the world, who instead cemented themselves together into one unholy synthesis of absence, in exchange for an imaginary bliss.
So where does this leave us? In what wasteland do we strive to pretend that the curse of the serpent is not alive in every pulse of electricity that runs through our fingers, and our synapses, soon to be exposed to algorithm and stockholder in the vaunted halls of our inevitable tech overlords?
You may suggest that I am being apocalyptic, but once a simple face scan can unlock your phone, and that same scan can detect your sexuality, and detect your political views, how soon until all our biometric data is known and the only privacy we have left are our own unexpressed thoughts, most of them a point of vast depression? That day has already come.
If we deny the true depths of what we must overcome, we will never so much as glimpse the other side. If such an other side exists, I do hope to reach it. But to speak of optimism and psychedelics and brotherly love as our one cure in this present hour seems to me a sheep offering its belly for laceration.