Monday, December 16, 2019

Thinking harder: "spiritual pipe dreams" and "vicious animals"

A previous entry on this blog discussed how the LaVeyan Satanic Statement “Satan represents indulgence, instead of abstinence” can be understood with more nuance than may seem evident at first glance. 

I have an addendum to that entry in the works, but since it will cover the concept of “guilty pleasure” (more specifically, the lack of use for such a concept that I find follows from my interpretation of Satanic ideals), it treads some ground closely adjacent to my most recent entry.  In the name of variety, I’d thus like to explore some other things for a bit here before looping back to that topic.

For various reasons, I’ve recently wound up doing an unusual amount of explaining-the-same-point-to-multiple-people re: the seventh Satanic Statement, which is “Satan represents man as just another animal, sometimes better, more often worse than those that walk on all-fours, who, because of his ‘divine spiritual and intellectual development’ has become the most dangerous animal of all.”  

In my understanding, this Statement is in turn proximate to the second Satanic Statement, “Satan represents vital existence, instead of spiritual pipe dreams.” 

This entry explores the following aspects of these two Statements:

This entry wound up getting rather more political as it went on than I had originally envisioned, vs. I’ve thus far preferred to make an effort to not have multiple entries in a row that go down that particular rabbit hole.  I’ve noticed in my blog statistics that the political-related entries seem to be the ones that are actually generating the most interest re: other people reading them, however, so I’ll have to reflect on what impact that should-or-should-not-have on my politics-frequency-principles in the future.

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Implications of “vital existence, not spiritual pipe dreams” via the Satanic Bible

The second Satanic Statement is typically interpreted primarily in terms of advocating a focus on this current earthly life rather than upon phantasms, typically of a religious nature, e.g. those entailing the afterlife or other transcendent realms and elements.  Three main points then follow.

Firstly, the second Satanic Statement acts as an amplifier and reinforcer of the first Satanic Statement, “indulgence, not abstinence.”  Its effects are to emphasize the high quality of earthly life that indulgence makes available, and to warn that abstinence means the giving up of that life – the only life we know – for something intangible and insubstantial, i.e. supposed afterlife rewards.

Secondly, what an individual Satanist believes about the afterlife does not actually matter, so long as that belief is not permitted to dominate one’s decisions about what to do here and now.  LaVey’s own writings on this topic I think can be construed variously as “there is no afterlife” vs. “some kind of continuation after death may be possible if one’s will is strong.”  Allowance for variety among Satanists, such that either of these options (or others) is fine as a personal opinion so long as your life is still this-worldly-oriented, strikes me as the best practice for indicating that the afterlife is not that important.  

By contrast, the insistence in certain abrasive atheist circles that one “must” not believe in an afterlife because it is irrational etc. winds up unintentionally reaffirming the same old religious assumptions re: what you believe in the afterlife is / should be definitive re: how you live your life now.  Such atheists are essentially asserting that everyone who believes in an afterlife will then, automatically, not put enough emphasis on this life.  A Satanist might then reject this assertion in the spirit of “actually, intelligent people are able to hold private speculations about the afterlife without that dictating the whole course of their life here-and-now.”

Thirdly, “vital existence, not spiritual pipe dreams” means that people should be wary not only of religious delusion, but also more generally about the fallacy of sunk costs.  i.e. if something you seek is realistically unattainable, it is better to admit this to yourself and seek something you can attain, rather than fritter away your whole life via “but I’ve already put so much into X that I can’t give it up now.”  Thus, the second Statement should no more be taken as an encouragement toward impulsive, short-term-at-the-expense-of-the-long-term –type indulgence than the first Statement should.  Furthermore, the Statement’s containing the word “spiritual” does not mean that its implications are solely (anti-) religious, as its applications are in fact broader.

This last point – that the second Statement has implications re: chasing the unattainable that go beyond the explicitly-religious realm – is what then informs its connection to the seventh Statement re: humans as vicious animals.  I’ll get to that a bit later down below, though, after first discussing a few implications of the seventh Statement.

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Implications of “humans as vicious animals” via the Satanic Bible

The seventh Satanic Statement I think can be a polarizing one, as there are some Satanists who dwell on it excessively so as to justify the misanthropy they feel toward the majority-sheep-herd, vs. others just kind of awkwardly ignore it because its long-winded phrasing is unwieldy and its cynicism off-putting.  Regardless though, really this statement is just a blunter, harsher-sounding formulation of the commonly-known LaVeyan contention that all humans are ultimately motivated by self-interest. 

A few nuances of this point that are then worth highlighting:

Firstly, the seventh Statement is not a normative claim in the sense of “we ought to be taking action to eliminate every last vestige of kind behavior from people” – it need not, in other words, be taken as claiming “it is good that people are vicious animals,” although some LaVeyans (in my opinion, not the most mature or intelligent) might interpret it that way. 

Instead, it is better understood as a descriptive claim, i.e. humans do tend to act this way, and if we then do not want to live in a Hobbesian state of nature in which life is “nasty, brutish and short,” we will have to set up society appropriately so as to limit viciousness, while at the same time grasping that its total elimination may be neither possible nor desirable.   

It may well be in one’s own best interest, for example, to maintain harmony among members of a community with which one regularly interacts, hence one gives up a degree of selfish entitlement in obeying a social contract.  In such a circumstance, “the end situation will be somehow better for me and mine” can still be argued to be the ultimate motivator though, and that is fine inasmuch as a constructive outcome is attained. 

Put another way: the Statement is not so much spelling out an end to be sought, but rather spelling out the means we are stuck with no matter what end we might seek.  One might lament that people are this way, but doing so does not change the fact that they are, nor does their being this way by default impel us to choose a society in which that trait is maximized. 

Secondly, a perhaps-obvious point: because people are ruled by self-interest, they can be expected to do anything that their current circumstances allow toward the end of seizing advantages over other people (or, at minimum, other people outside of their inner circle of loved ones).  Some will do this overtly via force, but much more commonly, it takes place via various forms of social, emotional and/or even intellectual manipulation – William Blake’s proverb “the weak in courage is strong in cunning” is relevant here.  Either way though, this observation correlates with the previous one discussed above: if you do not want this behavior running rampant, you need to set up society in a way that disincentivizes it, either by punishing it or by rewarding other, more pro-social behavior. 

Again then, self-interest being the default does not lead inexorably to the conclusion that we ‘must’ or ‘should’ put up with obnoxious, selfish behavior to an unlimited extent.  The point, rather, is that one shouldn’t expect much success if one’s sole effort toward limiting selfish behavior is to just go around preaching about how people “shouldn’t” be that way, or worse yet, to deny its existence outright because “I don’t want to believe there are that many nasty people in the world.” 

A related pet-peeve of mine is people who get all in a huff re: “I don’t believe in living in fear” in response to the idea that maybe you should lock your doors or take other such measures to deter crime.  From a LaVeyan standpoint such as mine, it would be “living in fear” to not take simple and obvious precautions against the potential predations of other human beings.

Thirdly, an insight that I take LaVey himself as having been keen to put forward is that refusal to acknowledge the reality expressed by the seventh Satanic Statement puts one at risk of the very taking-advantage-of just mentioned.  Again, in many cases, this will not involve the assertion of outright force, but rather the manipulation of social circumstances, appeals to altruistic values and so forth.  Hypocrites who use “good” as a means of deflecting attention from their own “evil” are the most insidious beneficiaries of such methods.  

This is not necessarily to claim that, in actual fact, every person who presents themselves as righteous is totally corrupt in secret.  The point, rather, is if you put any person or group up on a pedestal of pure good, to the point of forgetting that they are fallible human beings, you are thereby giving that person or group a blank cheque to pursue their own interests, potentially at the expense of you and yours.   

Fourth, a point stemming from the prospect of being taken advantage of:  No one has the right to demand of you that you “love and forgive” those who attempt to use you toward their own ends and thereby harm you.  It should be observed, moreover, that the very demand to do such a thing plays into the hands of such people, by putting you into a position where you are more likely to continue putting up with their behavior. 

I would even go so far as to assert that it is primarily this kind of situation LaVey had in mind when expressing positive attitudes toward revenge vs. negative ones about forgiveness in the fifth Satanic Statement.  That statement – “Satan represents vengeance, instead of turning the other cheek,” is not advising one to blow up at people for every little thing, but rather, to not put up with being used, harmed, etc., or else it will just keep happening. 

This about covers all that I’d want to clarify re: “Satan represents man as just another animal… etc.” as far as what is implied about that statement in the Satanic Bible goes.  So now, let’s move on to some perhaps-less-obvious implications that I think additionally follow from Statements two and seven.

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Combined insights: vicious animals are why spiritual pipe dreams are a problem

I’ll start off my expanded discussion here with the specific point in connection with the seventh Statement that I’ve found myself bringing up with multiple people lately:

Unfortunately I cannot currently recall the title and author of the article I am about to describe, but awhile ago I ran across an article written by a feminist back in the 1970’s, who was reflecting upon experiences she’d had in various leftist-activist circles.  The observation that this feminist made was that in many such circles she had become involved in, a hypocrisy issue arose between the ideals people espoused and supposedly sought to propagate in the world on one hand, and the way people within the circle treated one another on the other hand. 

More specifically, she would hear people talk a lot of high talk about equality and the absence of hierarchy in the group, only to discover that this really meant official hierarchy, whilst unofficial hierarchy remained alive and well in the form of high-school-esque cliques that there was then no protocol in place to challenge the power of.  Similarly, often these groups would pat themselves on the back for employing democratic principles without typical safeguards in place, such as secret ballot, with the result that they outwardly appeared democratic, but really it was a sham whenever they voted on anything since opposition to the will of the ruling clique would lead to ostracism, and therefore no one would ever express an unpopular opinion openly/officially.  

(Note added after: I think it's this article here, but the description I wrote above, prior to re-reading it, suggests I may also be conflating it with something else I read around that time.  Nonetheless, feel free to take a look.)

Around the same time I encountered the article just-mentioned, I also encountered an article that talked about something called The Iron Law of Institutions.  You can read that article at the link provided, but TL;DR, the Iron Law states that if individuals are put in a position where they can either do what is best for advancing the cause of their institution as a whole, or they can do what is best for advancing their own status within the institution, many will tend to do the latter at the expense of the former. 

I have seen things first-hand that I personally think illustrate this phenomena, as back in my Twitter days, one would frequently encounter “activists” presenting their political opinions in a style of snarly-snark that is almost definitely harming their cause in the eyes of the not-already-converted, inasmuch as it comes across to most normal people as arrogant, mean-spirited, clique-enforcing-via-in-jokes, etc.  But since this style of “cutting” commentary elevates the “activist’s” status within their own progressive bubble as “the most woke of the woke,” this way of talking nonetheless propagates itself all over social media.  (This phenomena is also discussed in the article I just referenced)

The tie-in back to “humans as vicious animals,” then, is that all the behaviors I just described are, in the eyes of a LaVeyan Satanist, completely predictable outcomes in contexts where there are i) insufficient measures to limit such behavior and ii) status-based incentives that encourage it.  I would even go so far as to suggest that every historical institution that intelligent people nowadays think of as obviously broken, from the Inquisition to Soviet-style communism, very likely had problems of these kinds, and was hence abandoned once the problems became undeniable to a large-enough number of people.

Noteworthy is the frequency with which, at the heart of such institutions, there stands a core of people who present themselves as committed to a vision of a better world that transcends the sinfulness and flaws of existing reality.  And here, then, is the tie-in between the seventh Statement and the second one:  the spiritual pipedreams of Inquisitors, Party members and other dwellers-in-phantasmagorical-utopias are easily and readily co-opted by the vicious animals of reality. 

Acknowledgment of the darker side of “vital existence” could have enabled anticipation of this outcome and the devising of protocols to mitigate its worst possible consequences.  But no, let’s instead get all up on our high-horses of idealism and then be surprised when people slack off when they can get away with it, or use credulity about certain kinds of crimes as an opportunity to get revenge against their enemies, or etc.

It is, moreover, interesting to observe that these sorts of high-horse, let’s-redesign-society-and-then-be-surprised-that-the-end-result-is-worse projects, different though they may look from one another on the surface, ultimately appear to all come trotting forth from the self-same gate.  The “gate” in question is a sort of meta-ideology based in the following assumptions:
  1. Humans do not possess a “nature” or anything resembling “instincts.”  Instead, they are a “blank slate.”

  2. Evil in the world is caused by the inscription of this “blank slate” by nefarious forces that are “supernatural” in the sense of being beyond/outside-of nature (e.g. “The Devil” or some kind of flaw in the soul on the religious side, vs. upbringing, culture and/or other such sociological elements on the secular side).

  3. Since Evil is thus separate-from nature and has no inherent foothold in it, it can in theory be eradicated completely if efforts are made to eliminate it, and the powers of Good then empowered to inscribe the “blank slate” in Evil’s place.

  4. Good is no less “supernatural” than evil, i.e. it too is in some sense beyond/outside-of nature.  And since Evil is currently in control of the world, only a select minority of special individuals are able to correctly discern Good.  Even these individuals may lose their vision if they permit themselves to fall under the power of Evil, and the utmost moral vigilance is therefore required at all times.

I would thus term this an other-worldly meta-ideology.  (Perhaps not the most elegant of terminology, but it will have to do for now.)  Its tenets, put in more philosophical terms, then include:
  1. Creationism: Despite being physical creatures that evolved from animals, human beings are somehow, in some magical way, totally separate from the animal realm and subject to different causal rules re: what makes them act as they do.

  2. Apocalyptic Dualism: The world is of significance primarily inasmuch as it is a battleground in which the struggle between supernatural good and supernatural evil unfolds.  This struggle is currently an especially urgent one inasmuch as evil has gained a frightening upper hand.

  3. Utopianism: No inherent barrier stands in the way of the elimination of evil, and therefore the emphasis should always be simply on opposing and vanquishing evil, rather than on taking precautions against it, mitigating it, or anything else that potentially takes energy away from opposing and vanquishing it.

  4. Exclusivism: Because of evil’s upper hand in the world, few people are able to correctly see good as “good” aside from a small and ever-besieged elite who see “truth” clearly and have a strong enough faith to remain oriented toward “truth” even amid all the wiles of evil running rampant in the world.

Since what I have just described will probably be taken by many readers as a religious way of looking at the world, it’s worth pausing a moment here to clarify: i) it is my considered opinion that the more you look at the worst end of the worst religions, the more you will indeed see these dynamics in play; but, on the other hand, ii) it is definitely not the case that these dynamics are found only among religions.  What I have to say below re: the applicability of this model to contemporary politics will illustrate this in detail.

The point I am making vis-à-vis Satanism right now, though, is that the other-worldly meta-ideology I have just described might be termed the spiritual-pipedream-to-end-all-spiritual-pipedreams, and I would thus characterize it as one of the foremost enemies of vital existence.

The second Satanic Statement thus highlights the phantasm to avoid, while the seventh Satanic Statement reflects the reality that said phantasm attempts to deny – a this-worldly meta-ideology:
  1. Evolution: While culture and other “supernatural” elements are not without influence when it comes to the human condition, human beings nonetheless do exist in a continuity with the rest of life and are therefore shaped by Darwinian forces to at least some extent. 

  2. Pluralism: There are no “sides” in a supernatural sense.  Instead there are a wide range of competing biological imperatives that drive various factions-of-individuals to sometimes clash and sometimes cooperate, depending on what is advantageous to them.  

  3. Realism: “Evil” is the word that factions throw around when some other faction pursues interests that clash with one’s own interests.  Thus, so long as there are clashing factions, there will be “evil” – i.e. always.  Therefore, there is a valid place for precaution-taking, mitigating, etc., vs. too-ambitious attempts to purify the world are likely to multiply suffering in unanticipated ways.

  4. Critical thinking: Some factions advance themselves by asserting that they stand on a spiritual/intellectual high ground that is inaccessible to everyone else, and that submission to their insights is thus the only way “forward.”  To prevent falling prey to the power-gaming of such factions, claims of “truth” should only be accepted upon the provision of arguments and/or evidence, not merely upon the basis of allegedly-exclusive insight and expertise that is, by its very nature, impossible for members-not-of-that-faction to challenge.

This this-worldly meta-ideology, while no doubt off-puttingly cynical-sounding to some, is the ally of vital existence inasmuch as it realistically acknowledges the vicious-animal side of human existence and seeks to work with it constructively, instead of forsaking reality for wishful idealism.  One thus sees, yet again, how the second and seventh Statements have intertwined implications.

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Relevance to contemporary politics

The final thing I want to discuss in this entry is the implications of the two clashing meta-ideologies I just mentioned for the current political moment. 

The interesting thing on this front is that from what I have seen of the far left during these recent bad years of my life, I have become convinced that the far left is actually a worse offender re: embracing an other-worldly meta-ideology than many religions are at this point (at least when it comes to mainline as opposed to fundamentalist denominations of said religions).  

Here are the connections I would then make re: the four elements of other-worldliness previously-listed:


The far left’s espousal of the “blank slate” position is extensively discussed in Steven Pinker’s book of that title.  I highly, highly recommend that anyone interested in this topic read that book.

Briefly put though, it’s one thing – namely, a good thing – to challenge bad data, poor methodology, etc., especially if the conclusions being reached with regard to evolutionary biology or other such sciences have the potential to be used to bolster socially-regressive bullshit.  But it’s quite another thing to not even care about looking at the quality of the data and methodology, instead rejecting the science out of hand because you don’t like what it supposedly implies about the recalcitrance of human nature, and/or don’t like the fact that a straight white cis male is the scientist.  This article about liberal creationism and post-modern creationism is highly informative about this kind of anti-science behavior.

Often, the explanation that the far-left critics will give for taking such an approach is that they don’t want to validate problematic views by actually engaging with them point-by-point.  But this then becomes an illustration of the next issue…

Apocalyptic Dualism

The statement “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” is emblematic as far as the far-left’s reduction of politics to a Manichaean struggle.  Likewise “silence is complicity,” “the personal is political” and any number of other similar “there is no such thing as neutral” –type slogans that so often get thrown around.  Add in a hearty dash of “everything the West ever did is bad” and “how can you possibly argue about these things when THERE ARE NAZIS MARCHING IN THE STREETS OMG OMG OMG,” and I’m sure most readers will get the picture here.

One of the things I find most crazy-makingly frustrating about the far-left is the steadfast contention some of these folks have that there can be no possible reason for being a centrist other than being lazy, ignorant and/or a coward. 

As someone who grappled with far-left arguments for years, reading things to try to “educate myself” and reflecting to the point that trying-to-force-myself-to-accept-what-I-intellectually-just-did-not-see-sufficient-support-for basically made me suicidally-depressed, only to nonetheless arrive at ultimately centre-left-ish conclusions, I strongly feel that I am a counter-example to this claim.  And I would contend, furthermore, that I cannot be the only one out there. 

The bottom line here is that many of these folks seem to have an established modus operandi where if you don’t fall in line with them, their response eventually boils down to accusing you of being The Worst Thing Ever.  Furthermore, your being out-of-tune with the-urgency-of-the-moment is framed as a big part of what makes your deviation so heinous. 

This particular combination of “us vs. them” –thinking with constant emphasis on how high the stakes are is a key part of what, in my estimation, adds up to a worldview even more “apocalyptic” than one finds in many religions today.


What I term far-left utopianism is made up of the following two components, where X represents some social evil that has thus far been resistant to eradication:
  • X is not merely a social issue, but a battleground upon which the larger Manichaean war of Good vs. Evil is being waged.  Evil should not be compromised with, or else it only results in more Evil, and unfortunately, most worldly institutions are on Team Evil.  Therefore, government, courts, etc. are always limited in what they can do about X vs. it is more purely righteous (lefteous?) for Team Good to preach directly to people to change their ways and/or use social (i.e. mob) pressure for leverage.
  • In an ideal world, there should be no X.  But if an idea, technique or etc. is aimed at preventing or mitigating X, that assumes a world in which X continues to be a reality.  Therefore, such ideas, techniques, etc. should not be propagated because they make people complacent about the continued existence of X, thereby taking away energy from Team Good’s nobler goal of eliminating X completely, and hence, by implication, serving the interests of Team Evil.

Now, I don’t deny that there are situations in which institutional responses to a social evil are indeed inadequate, or some piece of mitigation advice is flawed when presented in isolation, inasmuch as “do Y to avoid X” is taken by idiots as “people who don’t do Y deserve to have X happen to them.” 

However, it seems to me that if a person goes around behaving as if the two principles just mentioned are axiomatic, the implication winds up being, “neither existing authorities nor yourself can do anything at all adequate against X; instead, your only hope is to put all of your eggs in Team Good’s basket and march under its banner toward the total elimination of X.” 

Obviously, that conclusion is mighty handy when it comes to drumming up strong support for the activist cause.  Meanwhile though, axiom 1 deters people from seeking help from authorities who might actually help them, and axiom 2 can create this twisted situation in which people who make it through oppressive circumstances relatively unbowed are made to feel like they shouldn’t share/promote anything that contributed to them feeling still-empowered, or else they might make other victims feel bad about themselves for not feeling and/or doing the same.

Combine this configuration with the dynamics of Twitter, and these folks give me the impression that they are adherents of some kind of weird ascetic practice wherein they believe that if we all just focus as hard as we can on how much injustice is making us suffer, somehow all these suffer-vibes will magically take points away from Team Evil’s score and thus advance the day when Team Good wins.  Vs. any attempt to be constructive that doesn’t instantly-and-at-the-same-time address every last issue that progressives consider to be a problem must be shot down, lest The Great Negativity-Generator With Which We Fire Invisible Lasers At Evil fail to go into battle with its batteries fully-charged.

This configuration epitomizes the saying “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”  It also does a disservice to those it claims to fight on behalf of, by making them feel as if actual-coping-with-the-world-as-is is somehow less virtuous than unadulterated moping over the fact that evil is not yet definitively vanquished.


What I am thinking of here is the attitude detectable among certain members of the far left to the effect of “nobody less marginalized than me is allowed to ever question my experiences of marginalization in any way.”  While I am not unsympathetic to the idea that it is frustrating for someone to have to “prove” their suffering constantly, at the same time I think this configuration is used by some individuals to browbeat everyone around them into going along with whatever they demand, regardless of how poorly-argued it may be on its own merits, i.e. in isolation from the claim-maker’s favorable caste status according to the intersectional calculus. 

On this front, I have heard a number of personal stories from various friends’ workplaces re: individuals who are basically incompetent at their jobs using this kind of stuff to make it impossible to discipline them and/or to cause trouble for other, better workers.  This is, yet again, the very kind of thing that the seventh Satanic Statement predicts would happen if you set things up such that “being a victim” is incentivized: some people will take advantage of it. 

One might also at this juncture observe that the predictable leftist response to such claims – basically, “you and all your friends are just racist/sexist/etc. and unsympathetic to the marginalized because you haven’t checked your privilege” – just then reaffirms what I said above re: when arguments fail, these folks seem to consistently prefer to just start screaming “well, you’re evil then!” than to consider the possibility that the sweeping generalizations they go around making might not always hold true in every case with every individual.

On a related note, a couple interesting wrinkles in far-left exclusivism are i) the speed with which things turn around if someone is a member of a super-marginalized group who nonetheless happens to disagree with far-left political claims being made on their group’s behalf, and ii) the spectacle of more vicious attacks being directed at such people thus deemed not-far-left-enough than at people-actually-on-the-right. 

These two dynamics, it is worth observing, are to be expected in connection with the apocalyptic-dualism element, i.e. i) people are not allowed to just be complicated people with views based on their own individual experiences, being treated instead as mere vessels to be praised if they serve faithfully as the dwelling-place of Good and blamed if they instead become polluted by Evil; and ii) a lively spirit of “destroy the heretics before they can compromise anyone else’s faith” prevails when any threat to Team Good’s consensus emerges.

 * * *

Summing up and concluding, the above does not claim to be an exhaustive and/or on-all-points-adequately-justified-in-every-case account of the far left – i.e. “lots of leftists don’t act this way” is a fair rejoinder.  The point though is that when people do act this way – whether at that one end of the political spectrum or, for that matter, elsewhere – there is a problem, and my having crossed paths on social media with large numbers of people who seemed to me to be acting this way is a big part of my own angst about this issue. 

The current entry then gives substance and specificity to my now-long-felt contention that certain configurations of far-left thinking are against my religion.  That kind of talk may sound pretentious in isolation, but I hope what I have explained above re: the second and seventh Satanic Statements serves to give it some meaningful substance.