Enough time has passed since our selected betters decided to pretend they were marching for freedom of speech and went back to snooping on the entire internet, mourning monarchs who behead more people than ISIS, teaching Arabs about democracy by having a prince shoot at them from a helicopter, and selling our medical information to private companies for us to have a challenging discussion... "risk a little more light", in Gandalf's words.
What are we to do? I get asked this a lot. Seek the higher ground is one answer. I metaphorised it during my AMA that we all need to become Rivendell, the 'last homely house east of the Sea'. My resistance to further elaborating on this point is born of a number of frustrations.
- Firstly, if I have to tell you where your higher ground is, then it is not your higher ground. You aren't ready for your higher ground if you're just waiting to lemming after the first person who promises it.
- Secondly, contemporary discourse has become so appallingly bad that honest, challenging discussions -the actual risking of the light- are a disappointing waste of time.
Unfortunately, I can't let that second point drop because it is a cornerstone of the problem itself, an essential component in the debasement of western culture. (Pro tip: you won't find the higher ground on facebook so what are you still doing there?) Consider:
It seems to me now that the public face of social liberalism has ceased to seem positive, joyful, human, and freeing. I now mostly associate that public face with danger, with an endless list of things that you can’t do or say or think, and with the constant threat of being called an existentially bad person if you say the wrong thing, or if someone decides to misrepresent what you said as saying the wrong thing. There are so many ways to step on a landmine now, so many terms that have become forbidden, so many attitudes that will get you cast out if you even appear to hold them. I’m far from alone in feeling that it’s typically not worth it to engage, given the risks. The hundreds of young people I teach, tutor, and engage with in my academic and professional lives teach me about the way these movements are perceived.[..]
Suppose you’re a young college student inclined towards liberal or left-wing ideas. And suppose, like a lot of such college students, you enjoy Stephen Colbert and find him a political inspiration. Now imagine that, during the #CancelColbert fiasco, you defended Colbert on Twitter. If your defense was noticed by the people who police that forum, the consequences were likely to be brutal. People would not have said “here, let me talk you through this.” It wouldn’t have been a matter of friendly and inviting disagreement. Instead, as we all saw, it would have been immediate and unequivocal attack. That’s how the loudest voices on Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook act. The culture is one of attack, rather than of education. And the claims, typically, are existential: not “this thing you said is problematic from the standpoint of race,” but rather “you’re a racist.” Not “I think there’s some gender issues going here that you should think about,” but “you’re a misogynist.” Always. I know that there are kinder voices out there in socially liberal circles on social media, but unfortunately, when these cyclical storms get going, those voices are constantly drowned out.
I cannot attempt to satisfactorily answer the 'what are we to do' question without running the gamut of social media outrage. So get your hashtags ready. First, listen to this interview from my favourite American-historian-in-self-imposed-exile, Morris Berman. There are few people as adept at painting the reality of our situation with enlightened resignation.
Next, familiarise yourself with the Forest Passage. And by familiarise yourself, I mean read it. If you have not heard of it before, it's a long political essay written by Ernst Jünger in Germany in 1951. He was a WWI war hero. He was courted by Himmler and Goebbels to join their Nazi projects -and vigorously declined their offers. He twice turned down seats in the Reichstag. So he wrote the Forest Passage at a time in his country's history where the people were having to come to terms with their recent past as war criminals while living in a world of total surveillance, propaganda, growing police power and manipulated elections. Does any of that sound familiar?
At this point the question arises, not merely theoretically but in every human existence today, whether another path remains viable. After all, there are mountain passes and mule tracks that one discovers only after a long ascent. A new conception of power has emerged, a potent and direct concentration. Holding out against this force requires a new conception of freedom, one that can have nothing to do with the washed-out ideas associated with the word today. It presumes, for a start, that one does not want to merely save one's own skin, but is also willing to risk it.
What was Jünger's answer to the 'what are we to do' question? Find the forest passage. The forest rebel seeks and finds the 'unexplored yet inhabited land' of his or her interior. The forest rebel goes into internal exile from the world around them. This is easier said than done. This is not 'like what you like' or 'everyone has their own truth and so your forest can be reality TV shows and GMO foods.'
Emphatically no. As Terence McKenna said, the problem is not to find the answer, it's to face the answer.
Culture and civilisation
I've mentioned this before, but when Shakespeare wrote Othello, there were between 100 and 200 black people living in London, making it the blackest city in Northern Europe. It was also, by modern definition, the capital city of a totalitarian state. Racial, religious and cultural identities are always on the move, always in conversation. To ossify around one brief perspective and then take to twitter to express your outrage over its violation is just... I have no words to describe its moronic futility.
To some dead cartoonists, then. An appalling crime, to be sure. But is western civilisation under attack? No. Western civilisation is in rude health. It has drones, it has criminal bankers telling it what to do, it has the Kardashians, it has Nicki Minaj's new fizzy wine, it has Shake Shack's successful IPO, it has location-based dating apps, it has privilege checking, it has Black Friday, it has bromance films, it has agribusiness, it has Uber, it has Big Pharma and it has the greatest military capacity in the history of all mankind.
Western culture, on the other hand, is being subjected to the kind of habitat loss typically reserved for animals we like to crush up and rub on penises.
I wanted to skip referencing the events that happened in France this month -I tried to skip it, in fact- because it is self-evident that freedom of speech should be an absolute... it is a western cultural value that is both under attack from without and utterly, ruinously underminded from within. That's probably too long for a hashtag though, isn't it? But there was a flow-on effect from the violence that I can't let pass. Not this year.
Yes, like most people I found Bibi's weird, fake funerals he conducted in Israel for the Jewish victims of the Paris attacks (French citizens) sickeningly opportunistic. But he's always pulling that kind of bullshit. What alarmed me more was the hand-wrung distancing of this astonishingly violent case of Anti-Semitism in the press, particularly that of the Left. The whole archonology series is a rail against western hegemony -which includes Israel and doesn't shirk from calling a war crime a spade. That doesn't make it or me Anti-Semitic.
What is Anti-Semitic is to witness the deliberate, violent targeting of one religious group by another in a western country and then refusing to have a discussion about it for fear of causing offence. Typically, I think about Eric Pickles the same thing Frankie Boyle does.
Eric Pickles sounds like it should be the name of the Prime Minister's cat
— Frankie Boyle (@frankieboyle) January 20, 2015,
Except the Prime Minister's cat said something recently that I find myself in agreement with:
“The history of antisemitism shows the worst atrocities can begin when ordinary people turn a blind eye to small acts of discrimination, and minds drift lazily towards a mainstream, even fashionable, acceptance of prejudice.”
Fashionable. Acceptance. Of prejudice. That pretty much nails it, doesn't it, Guardian readers? A few years ago, Chancellor Merkel said that "multiculturalism has utterly failed". This was widely misinterpreted. Multiculturalism is a new and noble idea, designed as a map to hopefully fit the contours of the modern age. Saying it failed is like saying "this quadratic equation didn't work". It's not dismissing all of mathematics. Multicultural is not the same thing as multi-racial or multi-religious... the latter two having been historically proven to provide positive cultural impacts.
The idea of multiculturalism is that anyone, from anywhere in the world, can come and live in Britain without having to alter their way of life. A family from Israel can snuggle up next door to another from Palestine and there will be no problem, both will respect the other's cultural heritage and practises. Such diversity, argue its advocates, will enrich all who enter the grand "multicultural experiment"...
Years ago a radio show I was presenting where I tried to explain the problems with "multi-culturalism" got interrupted by a young producer, concerned I was being racist and broadcasting "hate speech". The topic is a tricky one to handle but my line was simple, it's a disaster for the reasons I've just given. Importing all the problems and arguments of the world and expecting everyone to get on fine without adapting their behaviour is absurd.
As the above tweet neatly explains, this is not the same as thinking a multi-racial or multi-religious society is unworkable. Even so our lying political classes have conditioned enough of the population to think any opposition to multiculturalism must be because of racism. So, sensible discussion of the absurd idea is interrupted by people keen to tell everyone how not-racist they are. This is how the advocates won the debate. They won it by not having one.
During the post-war period calling someone a racist became alike to demanding their excommunication in the dark ages of the Holy Roman Empire. This is largely because Europe was so blighted by the Second World War, caused by a massive racist. Hitler was racist because he believed that the different racial groups of the world were innately good or bad. Racism allows you to dismiss people on the basis of different genetics as non-human animals. That's why it's bad. The damage this idea caused in the 1940s has made it social suicide to advocate in modern times.
Unfortunately this fact has been used to protect various ideas from criticism by denouncing it as racist. Such an accusation in my profession could easily spell the end. Even if it isn't true, once the anti-racist inquisition is upon you, anything is possible.
So yes, our 'society' -which is a thing- now holds multiple cultural perspectives that are fundamentally intractable. In the UK, government money goes to mosques and Islamic cultural groups that believe gays should be stoned, women shouldn't drive and Jews simply shouldn't be. And then witness the squirming from their religious leaders when the political class -in the wake of what happened in Paris- called on them to assert solidarity with western cultural values like free speech. Islamism does not represent an existential threat to western society. How could it? The only nuclear weapons available to it are the ones we gave it. But our reaction to its presence and the dialectic being set up against it very much are existential threats. We would rather surveil the entire planet than insist upon equality of cultural respect. Thus we automatically lose by attempting to uphold one value -tolerance- at the expense of another -liberty.
No one is coming to 'fix' this. There is no political 'solve' that is in any way palatable, and no politician with the stones to attempt one, even if there were. Here's a fun thought experiment: Guess what Marine LePen's 'Muslim' policies will be when she becomes France's first female president in a few years time. (Is she going to try and deport families who have been French for a century or is she just going to ring-fence the ghettos and give them all ID cards?)
Instead of a solve, we will have a further debasement of western culture as we warp to avoid offence... or out of fear. And we are doing a really fucking amazing job of debasing, already! Education (Common Core) has been gutted and is still prohibitively expensive, broadcast media is a paedophile dystopia, no one under the age of forty can cook worth a damn, domesticity and tradition are suspect. My colleagues look at me like I am some anachronistic ice man, only recently thawed, because I spend my holidays travelling domestically rather than getting drunk somewhere warm.
Who is coming to save us in this situation? You are, my little forest-rebels-in-waiting. You are. Jünger again:
It is the natural ambition of the power holder to cast a criminal light on legal resistance and even non-acceptance of its demands, and this aim gives rise to specialised branches in the use of force and related propaganda. One tactic is to place the common criminal on a higher level than the man who resists their purposes.
In opposing this, it is critical for the forest rebel to clearly differentiate himself from the criminal, not only in his morals, in how he does battle, and in his social relations, but also by keeping these differences alive and strong in his own heart. In a world where existing legal and constitutional doctrines do not put the necessary tools in his hands, he can only find right within himself. We learn what needs to be defended much sooner from poets and philosophers.
From the poets and philosophers, eh? In that book I recommended that you still haven't read, The Origins of the World's Mythologies, Dr Witzel makes the distinction between 'grandfather stories' -those transmitted through shamans and priests- and 'grandmother stories' -those transmitted through folklore. You are now singularly responsible for pivoting western culture from a grandfather story to a grandmother story.
What do I mean by 'western culture'?
Dr Farrell took at stab at defining it recently when recommending a broadly similar approach to that of Jünger. Like it or not, western culture is an inevitably JudaeoChristian sweep of innovations beginning in Classical Greece, pivoting around the Renaissance and continuing through the rise of the legal rights of individuals as expressed in the first Nordic parliaments, the Magna Carta, etc. The whole notion turns on the idea that the individual human is sacrosanct... his speech is protected, her body is inviolable (and she can put it in a car unattended!), redemption is personal, belief is valuable and private, individual property rights are enshrined in unbreakable law.
The western cultural project gives us Plato, Goya and St Anselm. The western civilisational project gives us Dick Cheney and ISIS.
What are the implications of this definition? Firstly, that participating in 'grandmothering' western culture is emphatically not an ethnic process. You can be black, Chinese, whatever, and will still be participating in western culture if you are in it or value it. (Ethnic journeys are equally important but are intensely personal and not necessarily project-based, as this is.) Secondly, onto the other part of my Rivendell metaphor from the AMA:
Culture and civility. We are in an increasingly uncivil and lawless world. And I don't even mean the desert psychopaths intent on using the weapons we gave them to kill us. I mean the erosion of legal rights to property ownership, privacy, etc as well as the concept -terrifying to foreign eyes- of civil forfeiture and a police force with tanks. The solution to less civility is more civility. Glow with culture and civility in a darkening world.
The next step, the cultural one, emerges out of that curious paradox inherent in the rise of a digital surveillance state that values Kardashian tweets over Melville novels: what was once the signifier of disposable income is now free. Free. What was once kept from the grubby hands of the hoi polloi by price action is available to anyone with a mobile phone. And yet neither of my brothers -the tertiary educated sons of a doctor- could describe the differences in Plato and Aristotle's cosmologies. What hope for their kids, then? This is new. My grandfather, also a doctor, certainly could describe the differences between Plato and Aristotle. He could also gut a fish and graft rose bushes like the Devil. The medium and long term impact of the end of the continuity of cultural knowledge is unpredictable because we're in it... but it won't be good. Access to information is not the same as absorbed information, just as having aspirin in your kitchen cupboard will do nothing for your headache.
Your own Rivendell project means you need to know these philosophical differences. And you need to have read Mary Shelley. And have an opinion on Bach, Goya or Cezanne. Know how to read music. Know who the Plantagenets were. Get your head around Pascal's wager. Have a bedside copy of Homer. Know your grandmother's recipe for cottage pie or paella or how to bake sauerkraut by heart. Be able to describe why the Renaissance happened. Understand why the Magna Carta was important. Fall in and out of love with Descartes. And then pass it the fuck on. To your kids. To someone's kids. To anyone you are reasonably sure you will pre-decease.
Turn the TV off, quit facebook and grandmother that shit good. Return light to the world. Hey, speaking of...
The history of Candlemas is far more interesting than Imbolc, which is almost entirely lacking in evidence prior to the Christianisation of the British Isles. and achieves the pleasing aim of risking bringing more light into the world:
Egeria, writing around AD 380, attests to a feast of the Presentation in the Jerusalem Church. It was kept on February 14th. The day was kept by a procession to the Constantinian basilica of the Resurrection, with a homily on Luke 2:22-39. However, the feast had no proper name at this point; it was simply called the 40th day after Epiphany. This shows that the Jerusalem church celebrated Jesus' birth on the Epiphany Feast (as is common in some Eastern Churches today).
In regions where Christ's birth was celebrated on December 25th, the feast began to be celebrated on February 2nd, where it is kept in the West today. In 542, the Emperor Justinian introduced the feast to the entire Eastern Roman empire in thanksgiving for the end to a great pestilence afflicting the city of Constantinople. Perhaps this is when Pope Gregory I brought the feast to Rome. Either way, by the 7th century, it is contained in the Gelasianum Sacramentary. Pope Sergius (687-701) introduced the procession to the Candlemas service. The blessing of candles did not come into common use until the 11th century.
While some scholars have asserted that the Candlemas feast was developed in the Middle Ages to counteract the pagan feasts of Imbolc and Lupercalia, many scholars reject this, based on Medieval documents. While the feast does coincide with these two pagan holidays, the origins of the feast are based in Scriptural chronology. Some superstitions developed about Candlemas, including the belief that if one does not take down Christmas decorations by Candlemas, traces of the holly and berries will bring about the death of the person involved. In past times, Candlemas was seen as the end of the Christmas season.
Candlemas Day was also the day when some cultures predicted weather patterns. Farmers believed that the remainder of winter would be the opposite of whatever the weather was like on Candlemas Day. An old English song goes:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas bring clouds and rain,
Go winter, and come not again.
Thus if the sun cast a shadow on Candlemas day, more winter was on the way; if there was no shadow, winter was thought to be ending soon. This practice led to the folklore behind "Groundhog's Day," which falls on Candlemas Day.
Today, the feast is still celebrated on February 14th in some Eastern Churches, including the Armenian Church, where the feast is called, "The Coming of the Son of God into the Temple." Most churches celebrate it on February 2nd. [More.]
Roman in ritual origin rather than Gaelic, Candlemas is one of the few western Christian festivals that actually has some discernible antecedent in Judea, with the presentation of the mother's firstborn to the temple at the end of a ritual isolation period. For our current 'light bringing' purposes, the hybridity of Roman ritual, Judaic DNA, medieval folk customs makes it a festival par excellence.
Candlemas is also exactly 40 days after Christmas, marking the 'true' end of the Christmas tide. Here's a medieval carol:
Farewell, Christmas fair and free!
Farewell, New Year's Day with thee!
Farewell, the holy Epiphany!
And to Mary now sing we:
The queen of bliss and of beauty.
The opportunities to unpack the 'restoring Light to the temple' symbolism -especially if you adopt a mythicist view of the Jesus story- are not to be glossed over. For my money they are certainly meatier than the sort of 'something something milk something something jump over a candle' you'll no doubt read on one group pagan blog or another. In fact, this piece from Ælfric of Eynsham, a thousand years old, displays a far more sophisticated understanding of its symbology than is commonly found among occultists today.
The blessed Mary offered her sacrifice to God with the child, as it was appointed in God's law. It was so appointed in the old law, by God's command, that those who could afford it should bring a lamb of one year old with their child, as an offering to God, and a pigeon or a turtle-dove. But if any woman were so poor that she could not obtain those things, then she should bring two young pigeons or two turtle-doves.
This smaller offering, that is, the birds, which was the offering of the poor, was offered for Christ. The Almighty Son of God was very mindful of our needs in all things; not only did he become man for us, though he was God, but he also became poor for us, though he was rich, so that he might give us a portion in his kingdom and communion with his divinity. A lamb betokens innocence and the greater kind of goodness; but if we are so poor that we cannot offer to God that greater goodness, then we should bring him two turtle-doves or two young pigeons; that is, a twofold burgeoning of awe and love.
[There's a nice piece of wordplay here: the word I've translated as 'burgeoning' is Old English 'onbryrdnes', which sounds a little like OE 'bryd', i.e. 'bird'. I tried to keep the near-pun, but a more literal translation would be 'religious excitement' or 'inspiration with feeling' - he's talking about the feeling which provokes a conversion of the heart towards God.]
A man experiences this burgeoning in two ways: first, he dreads the torments of hell, and mourns for his sins, and then he feels love to God. But then afterwards he begins to murmur, and it seems to him too long a time until he shall be taken from the afflictions of this life, and brought to eternal rest.
A little thing was a lamb, or two turtle-doves, to bring to God; but God does not consider a man's offering so much as he considers his heart. God has no need of our possessions; all things are his, in heaven, and earth, and sea, and all the things which dwell in them, but he gave earthly things to mankind to enjoy, and commanded them that with those earthly things they should acknowledge him who first gave them, not for his need, but for their need. If you acknowledge your Lord with your possessions, according to your ability, it will help you towards eternal life; if you forget him, it harms you, not God, and you will lose your eternal reward.
Continuing my antiphon project from before Christmas, here is what I suggest. Get your (beeswax) candles in the window and play this:
Have a look at the esoteric symbolism in the Adorna Thalamum Tuum, one of three antiphons used in the traditional Candlemas procession. The original text was written by St John of Damascus, meaning it is one of the few borrowings that went east to west, from the Greek church to the Roman. Thus we have the Greek component to complete our cultural light project.
Adorn thy bridal chamber, O Sion, and receive Christ the King:
embrace Mary, who is the gate of heaven,
[embrace the Messiah and congratulate this mother}
who herself truly brings the glorious King of new light.
She remains a virgin, though bearing in her hands a Son begotten before the daystar,
whom Simeon, taking him in his arms, proclaimed to the people
to be the Lord of life and death, and Saviour of the world.
Risk a little more light, kids. Because we will need a lot.