Only Ever Freedom
There is rarely ever certainty or security in life.
Success in entirely subjective
You don’t have to get a career
Credentials don’t equal actual knowledge
You don’t owe the state anything
Authority is only legitimate if you deem it to be
Dedicated to the voice chat regulars
After the publication of Exiting Modernity in 2021, many people reached out to me to state they had found the text useful as a sort of ‘guide’ for dealing with the modern world. I never thought it would be used in such a manner, and so quickly got to work on an actual guide. The text you have in front of you is the result. Far more systematic, a little less forgiving, and likely a last gasp at tackling the modern world.
I hope you this book helps you move towards a life of increased freedom, clarity, and love.
James Ellis, August 2022
The modern mindset and its consequences have been a disaster for man’s freedom. He unknowingly finds himself ceaselessly in a state of servitude to thousands of micro-masters, each coercing, compelling, and pressuring him into doing, buying, and acting in ways that are likely contrary to his genuine desires. I am ignorant as to what each individual person’s preferred desires are due to the fact they belong to another’s internal life. Such preferences don’t interest me as I don’t seek to push any individual person in any singular direction. In fact, I don’t seek to tell people what to do at all. The abstraction that is ‘the modern world’ on the other hand, does seek to control, it does seek to tell one what to do, and it does so via that individual’s own reason, using them like a flesh-puppet. Covertly stripping out values of culture, family, tradition, heritage, and religion, and parasitically infecting them with modern rhetoric - the modern mindset - that declares itself true by virtue of its own logical form alone.
My reasoning that the modern world is coercive is formed from the commonly held perspective that the modern world is shallow, vacuous, and nihilistic. That despite everything it affords us, it has failed to give us any semblance of meaning, contentment, or happiness. That, in spite of all the proclaimed luxuries, pleasures, holidays, getaways, treatments, therapies, innovations, progressions, advancements, sensual pleasures, and emancipations that the glorified modern world has afforded as granted, almost all casual and experiential investigation concerning the day-to-day life of modern people reveals that they are unhappy, anxious, depressed, demotivated, stressed, unfulfilled, angry, or just plain bored. In short, the contradiction this book seeks to tackle and uproot is this one - The modern world is collectively understood as an exemplary form of civilizational existence, and yet everyone is miserable.
Before going on I must make my position clear - I don’t primarily consider ‘modernity’ to have a connection with objects, material, and possessions. Modernity is an internal mindset, it is a materialistic parasite that seeps into the brain and quickly erodes basic understandings pertaining to liberty, freedom, individuality, principle, faith, belief, order, etiquette, and various other so-called (by modernity’s standards) outdated relics. To repeat, modernity isn’t material, it’s a mindset. Many of the objects which happen to exist within modernity have also existed within times that weren’t modern, and so it is only in our understanding of them that they become modern. I believe this to such an intense degree that I would even argue a computer can be used in a non-modern way, a smartphone can become alien to its habitat, and so-called ‘modern technology is simply technology that happens to exist within the era we define as modern.
One of the currents running throughout this book is the distinction between the internal state of man and the external state of the world. As far as I am concerned, the former controls the latter; the internal is our lens out into the external, it filters it in relation to our principles and ideals, and not the other way around. In some sense, the collective agreement that such a thing as the ‘modern world’ exists, has in turn developed a sort of autonomous psychic entity which we all refer back to when making our choices. That is to say, we all unconsciously make ‘modern’ choices, but have no anchored reference to what modernity actually is - its existence is thus materially elusive, and psychically invasive. The aims of this book are to learn how to unplug ourselves from this entity we call ‘modernity’, to learn how to stop being modern so we can perceive this state of being from a third position, and finally, to use this knowledge to develop a form of internal sovereignty unique to ourselves.
But what would such sovereignty actually look like? It would look like the girl on the cover of this book, from a painting entitled On Holiday (Girl resting on the grass) by Nikolai Dmitriyevich Kuznetsov. Here we see someone we all desire to be, someone who is clearly free, and someone who has found freedom. Not in her precise non-action - as lying around on the grass isn’t for everyone - but within her internal state. It is clear to us that this is someone who is at peace with reality, and has found a way to live, despite having to be in the world, which affords them this contentment. In the world, but not of it.
We see someone who is internally free, who - in reference to the painting - has symbolically detached themselves from the world, and yet still has a sensible relationship with it. She knows she has to be in the modern world, but on a deeper level, she understands she doesn’t have to be of it. Despite her appearance - lounged, relaxed, and contemplative - to attain this state of being actually requires a lot of work, and the further along in life one is, the more work will be required.
A child has almost no modern rot to clean out, they could enter into this state almost instantaneously - in fact, and one might even say it is their state. Teenagers might utilize their rebellious impulses to push themselves towards such contentment, but the pressures of their age could equally push them in the opposite direction more forcefully. Finally, an adult will need to work hard to uproot all the presumptive filth which has seeped into every pore of their being, and many won't bother, simply doubling down on their ‘lot in life’, shouting “C’est la vie!” as they drag their bloated, seed-oil filled dadbod on yet another dream cruise, scratching their existential itch just long enough for them to avoid having a genuine psychic breakdown.
So this is our individual task, to become like this girl resting on the grass, not externally, but internally. For some this might entail starting a homestead or business, for others it might mean dropping out and going nomadic, a few might wish to return to school, and many may simply find a few ideas which will help them ease the incessant numbing of the modern world. That’s the abstract task then, but what’s my purpose here? Why do you need this book at all?
The Average Day
The purpose of this book, beneath its frills, dramatics, and scorn, is ultimately related to the freedom of the individual within the modern world. So I won't begin with some absurdist philosophical gesture, or metaphysical expansion of what freedom is - I will begin from the average Western day (many of you have seen me do this before, but I find it such a fun and enlightening exercise), and then turn towards the basic presumptions, systems, and self-imposed constraints which have allowed such an existence to become an acceptable way to live. Firstly - and very briefly - I’ll outline the basic modern day, then I will take a lot of time to outline how it is we came to assume this way of living is normal, and finally, I will take a little time to show you how you can begin to deprogram yourselves regarding the basic presumptions of the modern world.
You may or may not be someone who wakes up every day begrudgingly, neither ‘here nor there’, as they say, regarding the day ahead of you. As far as you’re concerned, each day appears to be - despite various institutions attempting to prove to you otherwise - a dour repetition, the week itself melting into a homogeneous, indiscernible lump. In this manner, in this social and cultural understanding of the idea of 'having to get up in the morning', as an implicitly neutral or even negative thing, lies the mystery we’re seeking to unravel in this book. In fact, inherent within this negative perspective regarding the simple act of waking up, and following this, the gargantuan task of getting up, is found the slowly crystallized foundation of arrogance, cynicism, and ingratitude which bolsters acceptance of the misery itself; default secularism which derides its only pleasure from being cynical and sarcastic about even the most minor things. And so it is that the average day of modern man begins in just this way. His literal first seconds of routine existence are themselves proof of his servitude to a false idol. Modern man begins his day by internally stating that it sucks to even begin the day. The question, put simply then, is why do we seemingly have (or at least have the potential to have) everything we need to make us happy and content, and yet, we are collectively far away from this state of being?
Why aren’t we happy despite everything ‘being in its right place’?
Why, after acquiring a house, a car, a dishwasher, a big TV, and all the other required apparatuses and techno-umbilical cords needed to be a good, normal person, are we still not content?
Why, despite - often hidden - alternative options to the life we live do we continue to do that which knowingly makes us miserable?
First, let’s continue our look at the average day of a western consumer, primarily so we can pick apart many of these actions and their presumptions later on.
Promised some palpable Eden we - as we have seen - begrudgingly arise, awaking to a life which has resulted in one part grunt make-work, one part chores, one part hedonist nonsense, and one part lousy sleep. We can consider this the quartet of consumer bliss within the modern world. Arising to the searing bleep of multiple alarms, all needing to be set at various minute intervals for the fact that you no longer awake quickly or easily at all. Getting up has itself become the instinctual push against that thing you know you truly don’t want to give your energy over to, but have as of yet been unable to define. The limbs and the body move of their own accord at this point in the day, you have a vague sense of some semi consciousness within the top part of your body usually called the head, with the lower parts moving you of their own accord towards that cheap burnt good that people call coffee. And at this moment, the day has begun, as they say. The day begins then for most people in the sense that they're not truly awake, they're intuitively pushing back against something, and they immediately need an artificial means to stimulate themselves into giving themselves over to this elusive thing. Not a positive submission of fatigue or openness to something higher, but a submission that always adheres to friction.
At this juncture, you gather up your work stuff in a rush that never seems to end, nor manages to find a pace, rhythm, or routine. Everything is clunky, as it should be. Bundling everything into little bags and little pots, food going stale, nothing as good as it could have been if you'd just ‘found the time’. Eyelids drooping, brain fog slowly lifting as artificial stimulus courses through your hot and cold body, and just as you have a brief glimpse of fresh air in the cool breeze, you find yourself once again slamming a car door and trapping yourself within your vehicle. For now, it is time for commuting. This car of course was primarily bought for the fact that you need to get to work in the first place, 30, 60, 90 minutes of commute time, you don't question this and why would you ever question this because, of course, well, as they say, everybody needs to work for a living, and therefore, everyone needs to get to work.
Eventually you arrive at that place that you call work. False greetings to people you never really would have wanted to spend time with, these false greetings are then falsely returned; nothing sincere has ever seemed to develop between you and these people, and you know this for the mere fact that if the job was simply to cease and stop, you would message or contact none of these people again; this is not out of selfishness nor cruelty nor rudeness, you are perfectly amicable, however, it is just as if the world is an expansion of the high school playground, and everybody is just where they have been put, so you simply get on as best you can.
As for the job itself and the work that it entails, it could - as everybody covertly admits - be completed within 1/8 of the time. Most people in the same office as you, as in all the offices that surround you and all of your friend's offices too, understand that no one truly knows what the hell anybody else is doing. It appears that very few jobs actually have a clear purpose anymore. Most of the people you know and most of the people you've met seem to metaphorically be moving apples and bananas around, whilst every now and again you may happen to meet someone who still does the actual growing. All of this is to say that the majority of modern work is truly the equivalent of eyewash - “Work was like a stick. It had two ends. When you worked for the knowing you gave them quality; when you worked for a fool you simply gave him eyewash.” (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn). It appears to most people that if they were to cease existing, and thus stop working, very little - if anything at all - would change, and so most of their day is spent looking like they’re working, so as to keep their job, and thus be able to afford their preferred standard of living.
However, despite the utter vacuity of modern office work, most people would, as they say, ‘kill for such a job’. The general ambition of modern man, then, is to acquire a job that amounts to no more than drifting between various bits and pieces of data, wherein what one calls break time and lunchtime are no longer really needed because the work itself is so un-strenuous. Most modern work amounts to a human being existing within a room for the sake of appearances.
These days float by in a haze of bureaucratic filler, and as such you find interesting ways to make it appear as if you are working, such as re-formatting spreadsheets, organizing your emails, or simply sitting with a ‘professional’ document open on your PC monitor whilst you scroll on your phone out of sight. It quickly becomes clear to you that those who get pushed up the ladder and advance within these careers are simply those who make it appear as if they are busier, those who are more loyal to the illusion and theater of modern busyness.
Just as quickly as you realize this, you equally realize that the entire edifice of modern ‘work-life’ is built atop this pretense of busyness, and thus to point it out would be to act as the child in The Emperor’s New Clothes, likely resulting in a form of unspoken blacklisting where any possibility of career advancement has thus been terminated. Because to mention the fact that no one is really doing anything and most of the work is nonsense, isn’t just to question the practicality of time and resources within your place of work, but quite literally to admit to the modern equivalent of the death of God, uprooting the entire material structure we currently rely on for meaning. In fact, the theatrics of modern life are so strong, that if one were to mention the grand illusion we all partake in daily to a colleague or friend, it would likely land on them as if part of another language, something they literally cannot compute.
Anyway, let's continue with your day as it is within the world. Once again you get in your car at the end of the workday, you commute home not really noticing the time, and at this juncture the day is basically played in reverse. You get home, you do a few chores, you say to yourself that it's too late to start one of the many personal projects you keep putting off, and so you autoplay a vague TV program, the plot of which is so vacuous that one can still scroll on their phone and follow along. Dinner appears, and you could have put more effort into it but you didn’t (again), your eyelids begin to droop, and you find yourself in bed staring at the dimly lit screen of your smartphone once more. You think about the holiday that’s coming up, you think about the weekend, you think about drinks with the lads, anything but having to stare point-blank into the face of a life which is getting away from you. A life of seeming liminality, starting at no place and ending at no place. At no point in the day does one feel quite there.
There's more I could write on this, and plenty of people have written on this absurd way of existing within the modern world, but it gets boring fast, simply going over the minutiae of how dull, idiotic, and trapped we are. There are hundreds of cynical novels which have won awards for their distinct ability to ‘reveal’ the emptiness of modern life, there are countless philosophical and critical texts detailing what’s known as the ‘crisis of modernity’, and there are a multitude of texts outlining how to perform very clear types of external exit. But what about you and your life? Where can you begin? What actually is the problem here? It’s hard to see, but the reason we’re all so miserable is because we desire freedom, and we haven’t a clue how to get it.
Most people seem to not realize it, but their primary focus in life - one which I see as underneath all others - is the ‘quest’ for freedom. Before tackling freedom in general, as a concept, one might state ‘How can you know that everyone’s personal primary focus is freedom?’ Freedom is the right to act and think as one wants to, with respect to their individual preferences. So it doesn’t matter if you want to become a rural homesteader, an urban lawyer, or a grubby vagabond, as each of these decisions is solely of an individual, then each person, in ‘going after’ what it is they want in life, is making freedom their goal and journey.
Whether that journey is becoming free, finding out what freedom actually is, or, most importantly, understanding how you are in fact not free, beneath all actions is some form of relationship with freedom. Even between drastically differing worldviews, the quest is still for freedom, but simply undertaken from different individual axioms. For instance, as an example, if one believes in God then freedom is understood from the given parameter from which a relationship with the Lord is developed. If one is an atheist, then freedom is the default parameter from which meaning is developed.
As humans, and as individuals, we act. It has become the norm within the modern world to become reluctant to address the fact we do X instead of Y, or we have a preference for apples over pears. Due to increasing forms of intense propaganda, freedom is no longer understood as something which comes prior to our actions, thus positing the idea that things could be different. Instead, we live in such a psychological state whereby we assume to exist in the timeline with the most freedom, and thus don’t question our assumptions or actions. I do X because I’m free, and I’m free because I can do X. The justification, legitimacy, and thus unquestioning nature of our own freedoms have become tautological; our approach to the question of freedom has, on a very basic level, itself become unfree. Has this been caused accidently or by some agenda? Who knows? Do I care? No. Should you? No. What one should care about, once they realize they are in fact ‘in prison’, is how to get out of prison. Of course, the majority of effort in relation to escaping prisons of the psyche is first realizing you’re within one in the first place. So let me put some time aside here, deconstruct that beautiful ‘Day-In-The-Life’, and prove to you that you exist within a self-constructed prison.
On the Question of Freedom
The question of freedom is undoubtedly not a simple one. Ever since there have been debates regarding free will, we can understand that the question of freedom has been one of the utmost importance. Because, ultimately, if one either is or isn’t free in their actions, then the entire foundation of our reality is at stake. However, even though I trained in philosophy for a long time, and the specifically philosophical questions regarding human freedom do interest me, I don’t consider them to be all that helpful when it comes to our daily actions.
For instance, the primary divide between philosophers regarding the question of freedom is between determinism and free will. The former determinists believe that man could have taken no other possible action and his course in life is thus pre-determined. And those who believe that man has free will understand that his actions and decisions exist within a free spectrum from which he is/was free to choose various paths. With regard to philosophical investigation, these discussions are of course of the utmost interest and importance. Yet, with regard to one's day-to-day reality, whether or not the action they just took was predetermined or free has the appearance and reality of not mattering all that much. What matters - as far as I’m concerned - is freedom in relation to possible action. That may seem as if it has something to do with the ‘deeper’ philosophical question regarding freedom, but I posit that it doesn’t. My position regarding freedom is practical, and thus, analytical. Now, what do I mean by this?
In the same sense that Kantian philosophy has been split into two camps - continental and analytical - whereby we can say that the continentals are still concerned with the investigation of conditions of experience, and the analytics are concerned with experience after certain conditions are accepted, I too, regarding freedom, fall into the analytic camp. As far as I’m concerned, in relation to what I have been afforded regarding my own potential for freedom, the metaphysical, critical, and/or theological conditions of that freedom only matter insomuch as I have the ability to change my state of existence, and it’s in this actual capacity and effect of change that I’m interested. Which is to say, my following exposition on freedom begins from the analytic position, the reader is more than welcome to try to neutralize or disprove my ideas via a return to conditions. I would, however, ask them to ask themselves whether or not such an investigation is truly worth their time. We have what we have, one can either spend their time questioning the reality of that existence, or work with it, and I know which I would rather do.
All this is to say, reality is how reality is. If one can perform the action X which thus increases their freedom, the conditions of why or how X happened in the first place needn’t matter, practically speaking.
Now I’ve got the annoying disclaimer regarding the epistemology of freedom out of the way, we can begin to actually look at freedom in a basic sense. When one thinks of freedom from the perspective of the modern world, they perceive a relationship which is - supposedly - unilateral. This is to say, they understand freedom to be one-sided. Freedom, for the ‘moderns’, is always freedom of or for: freedom of choice, of place, of gender, of style, of taste, and freedom for more, for X, or for Y - in short, modern man’s freedom is always based on the presumption of consumption or excess. To enact his freedom, modern man needs to acquire, consume, show, tell, or display. His personal freedom is always aggrandizing. His freedom builds upon itself like a cancer, until his freedom becomes so top heavy he finds he has to develop a new form of positive-freedom to thus decrease his previous freedom, thus always remaining in the bounds of more, more, more. For instance, many contemporary forms of simplicity and minimalism have become so detached from their original definitions, that even they have become habits of addition and not subtraction. We see this in the notion of minimalist aesthetics, whereby one still owns the same amount of objects, but they’re all white or gray. Thus, even the freedom to not have something, becomes a consumptive freedom. One doesn’t simply adhere to simple living, but one consumes the ‘simple living’ lifestyle. More on this later, but for now let’s look a little deeper into the connection of freedom with consumption.
Once again, this all becomes a little complicated in abstract, so let’s look at how this works on the level of human action. In asserting his freedom man acquires some property, for instance a vehicle, various items, objects and furnishings etc. He continues to develop this freedom by purchasing various holidays, gadgets and trinkets to fill his time. This is the common path of modern man - live to consume, consume to live; consumption is meaning, meaning is consumption (I will get to the definition of consumption soon). Now, this modern man quickly notices that he isn’t exactly fulfilled in the ways in which he was subconsciously promised he would be by the ‘psychic entity’ we collectively call ‘the modern world’. He doesn’t feel too at home in his house, there’s already a newer model of his car being released, he finds he spends little time using his furnishings, and it appears everyone else is jet-setting to brighter and better locations than he is. He has reached a point of consumption-indigestion. He can’t really fit anything else into his life in a practical sense, and so is a bit stuck. Left solely with the function whereby meaning = consumption, the man who no longer can consume is coming face-to-face with his dead god. So, what does he do? He keeps consuming, of course.
This is where the truly malicious aspects of modern freedom enter. See, instead of admitting to the faults inherent in the actual logic of his consumptive, modern lifestyle - in short, that quantity isn’t equal to quality - modern man simply doubles down, and consumes forms of self-justified anti-consumption, as I’ve already mentioned in brief. ‘Minimizing’ his home isn’t proof itself that such a way of living is itself bereft of internal meaning, but becomes a new form of consumption. Instead of attempting to find a way to live with less commuting, or even - shock horror - without a car, modern man purchases an electric car - a positive-negative, if you will. Instead of consuming less clothing - the majority of which, if looked after, will always be fine - he finds a niche, ‘environmentally friendly’ brand from which to both appease his lust for consumption, and his internal need for signaled collective virtue. Instead of actually spending less time on the PC, modern man now spends the same amount of time on anti-tech or computer-critical websites and forums. Simultaneously understanding that he is good, righteous, and ‘above all this’, whilst still - knowingly, of course - participating in it. And this is the modern world in minutiae, millions upon millions of automatons consistently finding ways to eat their cake and have it too; a culture of unfulfilling consumptive action, followed by hasty self-justification. People consistently do things that don’t increase their quality of life in terms of actual freedom, and then offload this failed contentment onto various third parties, as a means to not have to admit they’re living a lie.
The fault of this logic is that one can somehow simultaneously consume and simplify, or even be free and unfree. Free in the sense of consumption, but unfree in lieu of the fact the act of consumption didn’t actually cause a genuine shift in freedom. Because, however, he is beholden to the myth of progress (the toxic idea that we are ‘progressing’) both on a societal and personal level, modern man can never take a step backwards, for to do so would be to admit that his entire ‘metric’ for meaning, value, and purpose is wrong. From this ‘progressive’ mindset, to take a ‘step backward’ is (seemingly) to surrender freedom. In the sense that each progressive consumptive act is itself freedom gained/acquired, then it follows that any reversion of this course is tantamount to the acceptance of limitation - itself, truly, modern man’s worst enemy. Let’s look at this assumption regarding this constant forward march of consumption a little more.
The Deceptive Denied Desire
The basic assumption one can make regarding human existence is one related to fulfillment or contentment. Humans seek to be free to be fulfilled in the way which works for them on an individual level. Some people find contentment in cars, others in their work, some in God, etc. In this sense, humans desire certain ‘things’, be they material, psychological, and/or spiritual, as a means to meet their preferred state of contentment. As such, to begin to unspool the malicious logic of the modern world, we first need to look even more deeply at how it affects our personal means (our desires), and thus eventually affects our ends.
When talking about desire we generally speak it in such a way that X - be it shoes, a car or any 'object of desire' - is something which can be obtained. This is of course the basis for our general understanding of desire. Or, put succinctly by David Foster Wallace - 'It did what all ads are supposed to do: create an anxiety relievable by purchase.' We have a lack, and that lack can be fulfilled by the purchase/acquisition of a certain item of value (products etc.), or a certain form of value (affection, love etc.)
This framework is pretty helpful in attending to most of life's quandaries and troubles in relation to the ‘why’ of desire, especially in relation to others. However, its implicit relationship with agency in relation to the negative is one which is extremely harmful. In fact, I've come to understand it as possibly one of the most harmful effects of our post-death-of-God world. Which is to say what, exactly? Well, if we're to understand that there is a desire, let’s call it X, and that the acquisition of desire X will fulfill a certain lack, then it (supposedly) logically follows that those who enter into a negative relationship with desire X (they deny or refuse it) are thereby ignoring an assumed lack, and are thus seen as walking around with a whole bunch of lacks, voids and abysses within them.
This type of relationship with desire-at-large creates a normative foundation (read: modernity) which inherently assumes that (very roughly) everyone desires everything which is considered to be a modern desire, and the position of non-desire, i.e. 'I don't need/want that.' isn't itself a positive position made on behalf of an agent, but always a negative position made in reaction to collective beliefs pertaining to various desires.
Let's put it more simply. Let's say Alan desires a brand new, top-of-the-range sports car. And so, believing his desire is the means to scratch that internal itch he has, he goes out and buys the sports car. Many of his neighbors become jealous, even rivalrous of his new acquisition, and as such wish to also attain either A. The said sports car purchased by Alan, or B. Their own personal desire-equivalent of the sports car (A new SUV, boat, bike, etc.) This is the general relationship the whole world has with production, consumption, and desire; we see it, we want it; we see others have it, and we really want it, so far so good. But along comes Paul.
Paul's just moved into the area and is invited over to Alan's for a welcome party, and the whole neighborhood is going to be there. Paul politely agrees, and upon arrival, everything is going normally. But soon all his neighbors - Alan included - begin talking about their new purchases, flaunting their filled-lacks, their scratched-itches, and their supposedly complete desires. Paul manages to ignore it...mostly. After a few more hours, and many more drinks, Alan corners Paul, noticing earlier that he didn't exactly warm to the conversation relating to Alan's fancy new sports car out front. Paul shrugs it off, but Alan continues asking him what kind of car, boat, bike, TV, extension, sex-toy, or lawnmower he's looking for right now. Paul keeps trying to avoid absolutely answering, but finally, after much pushing, he answers - "You know, there's not anything I really want, I'm pretty content with what I have." - With this Alan literally vomits, multiple guests leave after overhearing such slander, and one man (who recently purchased a 72" 5D TV) straight up dies on the spot. Quickly Alan tries to save face, stepping over his vomit (which is now seeping into his Triple-Shagpile-Ultra-Cozy carpet) and gets in Paul's face "What do you mean you're content?!"
Now, I'll finish my rather dramatic story there because anyone who's been in such a predicament will understand that there isn't actually an answer which someone such as Alan would ever find suitable. Their desires aren't simply their desires, but are understood as nodes within an ever-increasing universal foundation of desire, the likes of which are another cornerstone that holds up the crumbling reality we have named 'modernity'. What Paul really did in that story, though few who state such truths realize they’re doing it, is asserting that our relationship with desire doesn't have to be either positive or negative. For instance, if there is a desire X, a positive relationship with it is one in which one desires it or wants it, and a negative relationship is one whereby one doesn't desire it, doesn't want it. But the problem with this logic is that such a dualistic relationship (desire/non-desire - positive/negative - have/deny) is one that assumes that such a desire is part of a universal foundation called 'normality', thus entering those in internal disagreement with it into various modes of ostracization, alienation and pressure, the likes of which often leads people into debt, anxiety, and depression.
What the people who declare Paul as mad are doing, is assuming that everyone is like them and that their personal (subjective) foundation of desire is universal. What they refuse to do is to take a single step back prior to the birth of their desire and consider that not only is a wholly dualistic positive/negative relationship with desire false, but that such a world may exist wherein that desire quite literally doesn't exist for someone else. So if we were to look back upon the ruined party at Alan's house, we would understand that Alan and Paul are literally speaking two different languages and existing in two different worlds. The reason Paul can't ever give a satisfactory answer to Alan's query of real personal contentment is because in Alan's world there isn't one. Whereas, in Paul's world, contentment isn't so much a matter of acquisition, as something already found which is likely only to be spoiled by further consumption. Which is simply to say that Paul isn’t denying the desire, but the desire quite literally does not exist for him.
It's very difficult to see - especially within our contemporary, hedonistic and consumerist world - but there isn't, truly, any such thing as a negative relationship with desire. No desire has to be an option. It's entirely plausible and possible that someone seeks to exit from said framework of desire entirely. It's not that Paul doesn't want X, and it's not even that he never considered X a possibility of desire, it's that the acquisition of X isn't something which can enter into Paul's reality. In fact, X isn't even X in Paul's world, there's no such thing as a Porsche, a 72" 5D TV, or a Funko Pop Collection, for these things would be seen for what they are. Of course, the inverse is true, the collected works of Aquinas are valuable to me, but not a Funko Pop enjoyer.
It is not that one doesn't want, but that such a want is not. The more one questions the foundation of various wants, the more the mechanism of wanting begins to waver, ultimately revealing layers of internal contradiction, and eventual beauty, internally.
This form of 'reality-creation' or 'normality-creation' is extremely depressing, for the simple fact that it draws countless people into a world which truly isn't their own, one they never even conceived could exist. One wherein we find the masses scrambling over their own feet to acquire something which was never even a desire for them, they abide not by the desire-in-itself, but the desire-as-desire, that is to say, it's desired because it's desired because it's desired because it's desired…
It is not the case then, when someone - apparently - doesn’t want [insert popular thing] that they ‘don’t want’ it, such an assumption presumes a form of consumptive righteousness on behalf of the culture that thing represents, and thus, to not want it, is akin to a form of modern, material heresy. The reality, of course, is that there is a key difference between actively not wanting something, and genuinely being internally detached from it. The former state of being, whereby one is always in some form of relationship with [thing] - be in negative (don’t want) or positive (want) - induces a constant form of paranoia, misery, and bitterness. For in either the positive or negative relationship to the desired (or non-desired) item, one retains a mental relationship built upon the presuppositions of others - in short, in this state, one is always keeping themselves in check; in ‘pain’ because they don’t have the desired item, upset because their desires don’t match with the status quo, or even confused because the acquired desire didn’t actually fulfill them. There is, thankfully, a way out from this position. Detachment.
This notion of desire may appear as a limited phenomenon, but the (false) modern logic of one’s inability to absolutely detach from various ‘desires’, wants, and habits, is itself the very same logic which upholds the modern world itself. In the micro-case of a single object, such as a sports car, the idea of being detached from such a desire appears only to be of minor use. However, if one is to expand this notion of absolute detachment to the larger aspects of the modern world, such as jobs, careers, success, credentials, education, etc., then the fundamentally accepted ideas pertaining to what we consider the modern world to even be, begin to crumble. We are not, in this state, left with a confused mess, or something internally dystopian. But are simply allowing ourselves a hard-reset in relation to all the crystallized presumptions which internally cohere to form our understanding of modernity. I will utilize this concept of detachment later on when tackling the singular building-blocks of the modern world, but for now we need to develop our understanding of freedom to a greater degree before heading forward.
A Choice of Dependence
A working definition of freedom which I find to be helpful is that one is free to the extent they have control over their immediate environment. There’s a lot to unpack there, but within that definition is all the importance one needs to place upon freedom or even the potential desired increase of freedom. For instance, in such drastic circumstances where one is living under an authoritarian regime, this definition of freedom is helpful because it only admits to what we actually can do, what we can actually use, etc.
Let’s look at this definition in relation to both the micro (man’s individual life) and the macro (society, nation, and world etc.). Regarding one’s individual life, one is free to the extent that they have ‘control’ over their immediate surroundings. One’s immediate surroundings are those surroundings that in alteration, increase, development, destruction, and/or change will empirically affect the quality of life of the person in question, specifically in relation to their subjective desires, wants, and needs. To have control over these surroundings is likewise the ability to alter them via one’s own agency, without recourse to third parties, institutions, and/or superiors. This is all fairly straightforward so far. You are free to the extent that you can change your immediate life for the better. And thus, I am assuming that all people desire to increase their quality of life in relation to their desires, and, as we have already seen it is within that very notion of desire wherein a large amount of misery arises.
When one looks around their immediate surroundings they will find it full to the brim with gadgets, appliances, furnishings, objects, bygone pastimes, delayed hobbies, long-forgotten wishes, and various other detritus. Such objects are the items which one can utilize for a hopeful increase, or (accidental) decrease in relation to their quality of life. The extent to which we have control over these objects is the extent to which we are free. But this works on two levels.
Firstly, the practical and actual extent to which we have control over the workings of the objects themselves. If one is to take a quick glance around their room, one could ask themselves some questions: ‘If these things broke, could I repair them?’, ‘Do I understand how these things are made?’, ‘If this thing were to suddenly break, how would I replace its functionality?’ etc. - I’m sure more questions will arise organically as you begin to look around you. The point is that we live a life of material complacency. I’m not saying whether or not this is good or bad, as with most of the conclusions set out in this text, I’ll let you decide for yourselves - this isn’t exit-on-rails, you need to carve your own path.
Secondly, the theoretical extent to which - as the cliché saying goes - the things we own actually own us. Or, put another way, to what extent does ownership and reliance on these things construct one’s actual reality? This might seem like a fairly dramatic thing to say, but our presumptions regarding the acquisition, use, and thus need of various objects, quite literally outlines the basic guidelines of how we live our lives, how we see others, and notably, how we see ourselves. Once again, if you are to look around your room you may notice that the majority of your belongings, styles, organization, themes, and tastes are that way primarily because others also have them that way. Once again, this is seemingly an empty statement - Yes, of course the majority of people own seating…most people like to sit down; Yes, most people own some sort of cooking device, most people enjoy cooked food etc. The fact that such declarations are obvious doesn’t equally stop them from being presumptions.
Let’s take the humble bed, which in truth is a bed frame, headboard, mattress, sheets, duvet and pillows, and possibly some extras. The bed is the quintessential presumption of modern life. One gets a bed because one gets a bed. It is not a question, ever, as to whether one will get a bed; it is only a matter of birth or replacement. One could, if they so wished, sleep on a chair, or on a recliner, or on a sofa, or even on the floor - these are options. I will assume at this juncture that you think I might have lost the plot in some way, and through experience I have realized that it is surprisingly difficult to point out these presumptions many hold dear. It took me such a long time to realize them myself because I was, as you may be too, looking in the wrong place. The point is that in relation to the previous section on the notion of detachment, that in the ownership of any object - or any idea or habit, for that matter - is equally the ‘ownership’ of all the presumptions which are brought with it. Therefore, in one’s increased consumptive appetites is found the continual bolstering of the internal modern mindset. Each acquired habit brings with it a set of assumptions relating to how one lives their life, thus attaching them to a set way of living, and thus a set standard of living. I argue soon, that our standard of living, what I call the ‘modern standard’, is itself entirely programmed into us. For now, let us simply understand these given examples as symptoms of a far more invasive illness, and continue with our discussion regarding freedom.
Thus far I have spoken primarily of objects, of things. And, quite poignantly, this appears to be an entirely sensible discussion, and yet, what of that which is not external? That which is not of the material world? If one once again looks around their immediate surroundings, they will likely be hard-pressed to find any values, principles, or virtuous foundations. This isn’t to say that such things are solely represented by physical objects; it’s only that the external, nine times out of ten, takes precedence over the internal regarding decisions. If we are to make a decision regarding something which is actually internal, we ceaselessly seek to find a way to complete this decision via external means. But wait, didn’t I say that freedom was in relation to one’s immediate surroundings? Indeed, I did, and that includes yourself. In fact, our ‘immediate’ surroundings are not immediate, but inherently mediated. The external world is that which we approach or apprehend, and in doing so, bring to it - from ourselves - all kinds of ideas, traits, habits, beliefs, notions, prejudices, biases, sunk costs, illusions and deceptions; the world we approach is only ever the world of our approach, and not simply the world as it is. And it is this former world, the one we have constructed, wherein real malicious consumption is found, because beneath all acts of consumption is, in truth, the consumption of a belief.
A digression to be made at this juncture is that we all have to consume. We have to consume food, water, and shelter (property) as a means to live. We are speaking about freedom, and any possibility of freedom is dependent on the (living) existence of the free person in question. Due to the fact food, water, and shelter (within moderation - I’ll get to this) are mandatory for the continuation of existence itself, these forms of consumption - within the levels of necessity - are themselves anomalies in relation to the form of consumption I’m discussing. To drag out a prolonged discussion on those forms of consumption is to miss the forest for the trees.
When you consume, you consume belief first and the object comes second, it is but a symptom of one’s faith to some abstract ideal be it comfort, pleasure, utility, happiness etc. When you buy a new sofa you believe that in doing so your quality of life will improve, you will be more comfortable, and - if you’re a little more self-aware - you believe that your friends will think more of you due to your new increase of personal capital, that you have your life together etc. Most of these beliefs are innocent enough, but they culminate into a homogenous reality which in turn becomes a lifestyle, and increasingly draws one away from the immediate - themselves - to the solely mediated - objects. As this consumptive feedback loop accelerates, additional external extras are constantly needed to bolster and/or (perpetually) ‘finish’ the lifestyle in question. In chasing such elusive beliefs one loses sight of the internal in favor of the external. They are no longer themselves, but merely a duration and collection of objects and experiences. Modern man is forever chasing the external world of material and in doing so constantly runs from himself. As time passes and he becomes more and more beholden and attached to the material world, he equally becomes just as detached from his internal world, i.e. himself.
This is the primary reason - as I see it - as to why many of the people who materially ‘minimize’ their lives, find themselves, after much effort, no closer to the feeling of contentment they sought in the first place, because they first sought this feeling on material terms which in themselves are void of reason, and thus incapable of ever being satiated. There is a belief in the over-indulged and excess-driven western world, that if only one could reduce their possessions down to the bare minimum, that they would be happier, freer, or more content. But it’s the very belief in the external-object as being the meaning itself which truly troubles them, and so, in ‘minimizing’, they are but fighting an uphill battle. They find, standing now within their emptier rooms and organized cupboards, that very little - if anything at all - has changed. This is due to the fact that for so long they have placed the external on a pedestal, it hasn’t been what the external itself represents which has given them meaning (thus positing a relationship with the internal), but the object itself. In minimizing, western man throws away the only meaning he has, itself paltry, and is now left with himself, something he has critically neglected. What usually happens at this juncture is that such a person simply picks up the latest obscure hobby to fill the void, both scratching the itch of meaning and purpose, and yet equally easy to justify as not ‘mindless consumption.’ One, in the example given, has materially reduced their external life, but internally remained stagnant.
So, we gain a little ground in attending to the problem outlined at the very beginning of this book - If the modern world is so great, why is everyone miserable? We can begin to see that modernity’s reliance on externality as something to actually carry meaning is itself an impossible task. For it is only the internal life of man which can imbue external objects, events, and customs with meaning, and thus, if the internal life of modern people is inherently lacking, then it can be said that eventually no amount of material, or intensification of material, will be able to satiate his existential void. Consumer goods are only tools and means towards a greater quality of life, if the ‘consumer’ in question is internally bereft of any ability to find personal, authentic meaning, then no amount of consumption will make them happy or allow them freedom. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Stuck between the modern world, which has no inherent meaning, and themselves, who are internally unable to give it meaning. This leads us back to the original question, regarding our collective desire, what is freedom?
So in his current state man is stuck within a world which idolizes material and mistakes it for meaning in itself, and yet he is equally stuck with little capacity within himself to create or reveal meaning within the world via his internal life. It is this inability to function internally that short circuits our individual means of finding freedom. If we can’t think critically about the presumptions which create our world and thus create or reveal meaning, then we have no possibility of finding a form of freedom that works for us. Possibly my favorite quotation about freedom comes from the rocket scientist (among other things) Jack Parsons:
Freedom is a two-edged sword of which one edge is liberty and the other, responsibility. Both edges are exceedingly sharp and the weapon is not suited to casual, cowardly or treacherous hands. (Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword, Essays, Jack Parsons, 2001)
This notion is really referencing back to what I’ve already discussed regarding beliefs, which is to say that beneath each action is some belief. A belief that it will make one happier, more successful, slimmer, bigger, funnier, more charismatic etc. Each action one makes is, subjectively, an increase in one’s personal liberty, whereby the definition of liberty I’m using here is that one is free from (or becomes freed from further) oppressive restrictions which aren’t in agreement with how they wish to live.
The majority of restrictions in life are internal, very few are external, perhaps even none are external once one truly begins to ‘know thyself’. But this takes a lot of unpacking. Let me begin with a short tale based, loosely, off an idea posited by the (anti)psychiatrist R.D. Laing.
Imagine, if you will, that you are in a dark prison cell, at the end of a long corridor, running deep underground. You find that life within this prison cell is often miserable, confusing, mind-numbing, hostile, frustrating, impotent, anxiety-inducing, depressing, demotivating, and often all of these mixed together in a vague, drawn-out malaise. But the catch is this, the door to the prison cell is not only unlocked, but is actually open, and you’re free to walk out any time. Many people in this position seek to find out exactly how it was they came to be in the prison cell in the first place before they venture to leave, many more will seek for an authority figure to give them permission to leave, even more will view the cell but imagine the door locked, and even more - if not the majority - cannot even see that they’re in a prison cell, to begin with, nor imagine such a door would exist, let alone be unlocked and open. This, in short, is the state of modern man. The cell itself is the multitude of multitudes of self-imposed desires, obligations, habits, etiquettes, beliefs, pastimes, nostalgias, agreements, tasks, duties, liabilities, debts, engagements, pressures, compulsions, and constraints man internally puts upon himself as a means to appease the elusive judgmental social order he believes is eyeing him down 24/7; the external needn’t worry about policing, the internal has already got that covered; you can’t escape a prison unless you know you’re in one.
However, to stand up, dust yourself off, and exit that cell, is, to look back at the Parson’s quote, an act of responsibility, lest one simply switch one cell for another. The cell, despite its factual external structure, has, as its mode of atmospheric construction, the mind of its inhabitant. This is the case always, but most especially when one has the choice to leave and yet refuses to. This will likely be my most controversial statement, but, in short, the misery of the modern world is almost solely the fault of those who are miserable. The world is just the world, and you have every right not to be miserable. You have every right to internally mediate the so-called ‘modern world’ in a drastically different way than is expected of you. You have every right to purge all the presumptions the modern world collectively affords you and begin again. This is the foundation of the true freedom of which I speak, and for this, I will need an extensive digression on the difference between the notions of the internal and the external worlds which I have thus far only dipped into.
As one might imagine, by the ‘internal’ I mean, primarily, the internal life - the one ‘inside’ us, our thoughts, reactions, attachments, habits etc. And by the ‘external’, I mean all which is external to us and as such we are thinking about, reacting to, attaching or detaching from, forming as a habit etc. The key difference between the internal and the external is that we only have actual, full control over one of these domains, namely, the internal. To expand upon this basic understanding of these two domains, we can use a basic scenario, and from it build outwards as to fully understand how the merging of these two domains both causes us misery, and places us within the aforementioned prison cell of our own creation.
Let us look at the common, modern scenario of being cut off in traffic (someone pulling out in front of you), for those who don’t drive, you can equally replace this scenario with stepping in dog turd, a cashier being rude, or your package arriving late. Firstly, let’s look at the external reality of the factual situation. You are driving down the dual-carriageway in your car, suddenly a car passes by you quite fast, and quickly cuts into your lane. This action, in turn, causes you to have to quickly hit the brakes and slow down so as to not hit the back of this person’s car. These are the external events. They hold no meaning in and of themselves, and they will never change.
But as you all will know this external situation is drawn into one’s internal presumptions regarding a multitude of states, and is, following this, transformed into an event of possible misery and frustration. The car pulls in front of you, and the habitual response of annoyance, frustration, and/or anger takes over the scene, the external reality remains how it was and will always be, and despite this, one’s internal life and response alter this situation into a lesser form of prison cell. This might sound extreme, but the belief structure which presumes a certain habitual reaction is normal with respect to certain events, is the very same belief-based foundation which constructs the ideal of the ambitious, modern world within you. Many of the things which are the cause of your misery, alienation and anxiety, are precisely due to your choice regarding how your internal world forms a relationship with the external world. Do you perceive the factual external world, and, with this world ‘not meeting’ your internal desires, continue to have a minor internal meltdown? Or, do you perceive the factual external world, as it is, and accept the limitations of reality, and begin to undo your presumptive internal knots? The example of the car cutting in front of you is merely an extremely minute version of the same logic which builds one’s perspective of the world. We choose to, post-event, perceive the driver as a moron and thus get angry. Equally, our intricately complex relationship with the various external events and assumptions of the modern world is built from the exact same processes.
Once more, the external world is entirely factual, it is how it is. The car which pulled out would have done so despite your frustrations, the crap on the bottom of your shoe is not removed due to internal protesting, and the package which is to arrive late is always to arrive late - the external world is how it is. This does not mean one simply lies down and accepts all that comes their way in some feat of impotence or submission. It is only the question of not allowing the presently unalterable external world to transform one’s internal world in such a way as to degrade or decrease their quality of existence, let alone allow it to develop false presumptions of how the world should be.
This all seems very complicated, but truly, it isn’t. The external world, the world outside of us, the world of our senses, this is a world which as it is presented to us, in its supposed immediacy, cannot be changed. And yet, it is not immediate, but actually mediated. For before we are to understand, apprehend, or deal with the external world at all, we must first filter is through our intellect and our thoughts, and thus the external world - by its very existence as that which is external to us - is mediated via all of our collected presumptions, habits, and personal customs; we are our own worst enemy. The more internal requirements we have regarding the external world, the more we will become disappointed. Such requirements are usually unfounded, based on arrogant and presumptive logic regarding the state of the world; when facts meet our narcissistic ideals, we rarely suppose it is ourselves who are at fault (or overstretching), but that the facts must have glitched in some way.
It is almost never the case that the person who cut me off in traffic appears to have the same inner-life as myself, I rarely assume they may be late for something more important than my current errand, or perhaps are unwell, panicked, or in an emergency. No, it is always the world which is in the way of me. From such presumptions life never appears to be right. From a position of requirement, assumption, and habitual reaction, one becomes a slave. They have accepted that the world should be such-and-such a way, and when it doesn’t meet their demands they indulge in the disappointment and misery which follows.
The modern world is an infinite engine for such disappointments and indulgences. In ceaselessly developing further, greater, better, longer, and more innovative requirements with regard to your individual quality of life, the modern individual equally then continues to poke oneself full of countless holes pertaining to artificially created disappointments. A thousand desires never desired appear, as if from a void, and now a simple, happy, content life which could have been, is transformed into a perpetual game of cat and mouse, wherein no amount of purchase, consumption, or partaking can suffice to scratch the elusive itches. In developing a falsely-immovable internal relationship with the factually-immovable external world, we create a want which can never be fulfilled, an itch never scratched, a desire never quenched; from this point on, a truly hopeless search begins, for something which never was, never will be, and never can be. This relationship, between the internal and the external, will become clearer as I delve into the specifics of the modern world much later on. But before doing so, I wish to talk at some length about the various requirements, permissions, and presumptions one imposes upon themselves from within, which are the cause of much of their discontent. In looking at many of the presumptions the modern world gives us as granted - we need X and Y, we must do A and B etc. - one might begin to wonder wherein such a presumptive internal state began. So, in beginning my criticism of the presumptions themselves I turn to their clearest root, the modern school system.
You’ve Been Schooled
It will, I assume, come as no surprise to the reader that many of their presumptions regarding the way the world should and ought to be, come from their time within the western education system, due to the fact it is their primary source of information (mediation) for the first 16 years of their life. I truly believe there is not a more nefarious - and yet abstract - institution than the one we define as ‘public education’ in the west. It quite deeply internalizes various requirements pertaining to the state of the world which are both impossible regarding reality, and corrosive to the soul and liberty of the individual. School not only teaches us to desire things and trajectories we would never individually even humor, but it more maliciously implants the idea that to desire such desires as put forth by schooling is itself the normal, right and thus only way to be. Schooling applies gargantuan efforts towards corroding our internal functionality and leaves us only able to see a small selection of the choices life has on offer.
As to the question regarding the reality of schooling, the ‘why’ as to why it exists at all, this isn’t my concern, I’m not a historian, and to begrudge the fact it does exist would be to enter, once again, into that negative relationship between the internal and external. And so we shouldn’t ask, as individuals seeking internal freedom, why does this exist at all? But, what has the existence of this institution meant for the way I perceive the world?
If one is to think back upon their time within school, they may find either a complete mental block, a mass of disconnected memories (most of which are outside the classroom), or various recollections concerning forms of dull bureaucratic punishment and boredom. I imagine one would be hard-pressed to truly draw from memory (outside of specific, current requirements) actual knowledge, and even more strained would be one’s attempt to retrieve actual life lessons from this history. This is because, as Taylor Gatto points out at the beginning of his book Dumbing Us Down (1991), that contemporary education - in relation to actual education - equates to little more than teaching surface-level pieces of disconnected knowledge. The equivalent of a daily 6-8 hour stint of state-funded general knowledge quizzes, young minds are bombarded with everything from simultaneous equations to geometry, the rotation of the planets to mitochondria, and everything in-between, without any meaningful reason as to why.
Modern education, therefore, has little to no coherence. It is a disordered collection of facts, bereft of any larger purpose, being taught to minds which are craving that very same thing that has been cut away, namely, meaning. Of course, at this juncture, for a student to ask the question ‘Why are you teaching us this?’ is in itself laughable. Anyone who attended a modern public education institute will surely laugh at the idea of questioning the authority of the teacher in this manner. In such a line of questioning lies the skepticism regarding the entire enterprise at hand, e.g. Why are we here at all? And that isn’t a question you ask, as we’ve already seen in relation to questioning the absurdity of modern work. And as to the answer to that question, as I have said, I am not interested. The external reality is that we were schooled.
But what is it to be schooled? On the surface, in terms of teaching, we have little to look at. In terms of its personnel, we have recent graduates with no children of their own ruling over stifled, bored young minds; overblown prefects scraping out their modicum of state-legitimized power as a means to justify their bullying, and a large array of exhausted middle-aged state lackeys whose dreams of being a heroic educator have been quashed into the reality of becoming a full-time babysitter. Materially we have buildings which - despite student and faculty alike retaining a stoic ignorance of this - are akin to prisons in almost every single way, aside from visible bars, though one would add that invisible bars are far, far more damaging. And lastly, and least importantly, we have the actual education itself, a state-driven mess of credentialist-signaling, wherein each subject is as wide as an ocean, and yet as deep as a puddle. A curriculum sculpted not for the sake of genuine intellectual growth, intrigue, and aim, but for the ease at which each student can be homogenized into the grade-based feedback loop of state-agreed-upon-meaning. Schooling, at this juncture, appears to do two key things: Firstly, it ceaselessly and mercilessly bolsters the belief of the need for its own existence, and secondly (as a requirement) simply keeps students alive and programmed.
Of course, it’s doing more than this. For beneath its less-than-subtle false veil of approachability, creativity, and learning, exists the parasitic foundation for the majority of presumptions regarding the modern world which are to shape - and (supposedly) justify - the misery and discontentment which is to come. Ivan Illich, at the very beginning of his book Deschooling Society (1971), outlines the problem as succinctly as one could -
[schooling seeks to] confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success.
Once more, I must emphasize, I am not dealing with oughts, should-haves, or whys concerning the state of reality, it is how it is, and as such that is what we must move from. And so, schooling implicitly instills the idea that schooling is good. As such, more schooling is even better, and further schooling even more so. The substance of schooling - as we well know - is little more than a smorgasbord of knowledge-detritus, strewn around by babysitters who need to pay their mortgages. The process of schooling, however, is a whole other beast.
The substance of schooling being that which one actually learns and understands, and thus can utilize within the world to make their own and others’ lives better is clearly lacking. But this very same substance - knowledge and understanding - is subsumed into a system whereby it is confused for grades, matrixes, credentials, points, stamps, awards, etc. The quality becomes quantity, and thus academic proof is sought over genuine experience. (Note: This very same confusion is synonymous with the idea that complexity & difficulty = smarter/higher intelligence). Once one is taken into this system of schooling, the presumption is that a grade is needed to understand the subject at hand and that a higher grade is better than a lower grade. Thus, genuine knowledge is replaced with secondhand vetting. One comes to intuit that one is only good at something if they can achieve a high grade in it, and as such, one can only do something if a third-party has vetted their ‘knowledge’ and given them a credential. One, then, is both taught that one cannot do without proof one can do, and that such proof needs to be handed to them by the state.
Firstly, then, it is adjustive. Those who enter into schooling (a process) are adjusted to someone else's understanding of what merits a ‘correct’ or ‘normal’ person. However, schooling isn’t just adjustive, it’s also what we might call proto-adjustive, which is to say, it transforms people before they’ve ever had a chance to become who they actually are, and thus desire what they actually want. Such a ‘correctness’, as per the reality of modern schooling, is clearly not targeted at goodness, beauty, charity, humility, kindness, or even - surprisingly - productivity. The merit of a good, correct, and modern student is in their ability to quickly adapt to increasing demands from authority. Especially in cases where said authority is increasingly elusive and absent. As to (quietly, maliciously) demand that one obeys authority, such a system needs to implement a reward for such unquestioned obedience. The ‘reward’, of course, is that in obedience one gets further schooling, which, that very same process of schooling teaches is what is needed to succeed in life. The student quickly learns the loop: To stay quiet and obey is to learn, and to learn is to succeed, therefore to obey is to succeed. The system’s reward for obedience to the system is entry into the system itself. In acting upon their desired liberty any young person risks ostracization from that which upholds the only promise for their continuation. This is tyrannical. Once such obedience is in place, the rest of the process follows swiftly, and effortlessly.
Equally, once such submission is underway, and the process of schooling has definitively overcome the substance, the attention of the pupils is likewise moved from intrigue to grade. During the slow tyranny of schooling, the child, moving to adolescence, and finally, adulthood, simultaneously moves from qualitative natural intrigue to quantitative artificial state appeasement. This is to say that during the process of physical growth, we become intellectually (and spiritually) indifferent. Growing amidst the tyranny of the school is to unknowingly, internally crosscheck each personal impulse with the predefined limitations of the system itself, lest one risk alienation, ridicule, and failure. As per Taylor Gatto (Weapons of Mass Instruction, 2008) children become entirely indifferent to genuine, personal interests, focusing solely on those actions which will increase their standing with regard to the process of schooling itself. An undertaking that itself presupposes that its own process is universally sought after, and caters to the desires of every single individual. Likewise, this same process simultaneously instills the belief that one should act not out of self-interest, but out of a collectively agreed-upon desire to be normal.
However, such obedience might seem futile, and thus not take root, in the face of various other operating factors regarding the formation of any young person’s mind, namely God, family, friends, traditions, and culture. The problem? We have very few of these values left, at least not in any serious sense, and certainly with no ability to disrupt the hegemonic power of public education, which covertly justifies its hegemony by retaining the ‘keys’ to the kingdom of public success. Inclusive of commute time, the average child spends equal time (if not more) within public education as they do with their parents. As the parental responsibility is offloaded onto the state, the majority of the youthful formative experience is placed into the hands of the basic educational script -
School = Learning, Learning = Grade, Obedience = Grade, Grade = Success, Acquire Grade
As one can see the schooling script is tautological, it’s true by virtue of its own logical form alone. It proves itself. Once this script is firmly in place - bolstered both by the fact it is given by the primary caregiver (the state), and by the collective agreement that ‘That’s just the way things are, and thus must be good.’ - The various psychologically torturous - and borderline traumatic - experiences surrounding schooling are pushed under the rug, explained away as mere parts of what it is to be schooled.
First and foremost, there’s the question as to why such schooling experiences aren’t viewed as what they truly are - traumatic, demeaning, tyrannical, etc. - and are, instead, accepted as part-and-parcel of the schooling experience itself. Modern schooling, as we’ve seen, is a recursive argument, it derives proof of its superiority and legitimacy from the very fact it’s collectively deemed as legitimate. It follows that anyone who accepts the common understanding of schooling will thereby defend the process of schooling unthinkingly. Why is this? Because the process of schooling is the means for success, and the proof of schooling is found within grades, therefore, higher grades are equal to greater success. From this, it follows that to question the schooling system - one’s sole ticket to success - is not only nonsensical but a risk to one’s future comfort. It follows that those who find themselves fully obedient to the schooling system not only police the behavior of others - lest they destabilize their own chances for success within the modern world - but most malevolently, internally police themselves. It’s here we begin to see the clear formation of the ‘prison cell’ I wrote about earlier. Wherein the individual, in policing themselves, in actuality is taught to ‘guard’ themselves against desires which are alternative to the regime, thus constraining the entire spectrum of various possible lifestyles.
In conflating school and modern education with their sole pathway to success and the ‘normal quality of life’, the child becomes his own policeman, forever defending himself and others from the possibility of failure. Anything critical, destructive or questioning regarding schooling is treated as incorrect, and no investigation is needed into this claim, as schooling is right (due to the very fact it is schooling), and as such, that which critiques it must be wrong. It doesn't matter if it’s a friend, a parent, or even yourself, anything or anyone who is critical of schooling is a hindrance to the collective modern future and is ignored as such. As Taylor Gatto once again makes clear, what follows from this attitude of policing is the complete eradication of any privacy. Not only are children watched by teachers, educators, parents, and other students, but they even take on the role of these former micro-authoritarians by watching themselves; the schooled child reaches a state where they no longer even have the privacy of their own mind with which to find a moment’s peace. At this juncture, the school - and thus the state - is no longer viewed as an option, but is to be understood as something which always was, always is, and always will be the single path to ‘success’. Such an assumption regarding the legitimacy of schooling’s reach is found intensified within the notion of ‘homework’, whereby the elusively policed work of the school is performed within one’s own private residence. This seemingly innocent request, which is once again justified in relation to one’s grades, is actually neither innocent nor a request. The demand of homework is the extension of the schooling process into the home, increasing the literal policing apparatus of modern education into the family, and thereby usurping cultural and personal privacy. If such work is ‘refused’ on the basis of privacy, private-property, or personal freedom then one’s hard-earned (via obedience) privileges within school are revoked. Instilling within them a tyrannical life-long lesson: Do as we say, or we’ll make your life suck.
Many of the so-called ‘common’ experiences of modern schooling are, as a matter of fact, intrusions into personal space, violations of basic human decency, and arguably assertion of power for its own sake. Children who question such moronic and abusive rules such as permission to go to the bathroom, to eat food when hungry, or simply be able to leave a room without due reason, are duly punished. Such punishment is clearly not in lieu of genuine hostile, aggressive or abhorrent behavior, but for the simple act of questioning the tyranny set before them. However, as time goes by, and more and more households, families, and generations are instilled into the modern education system from birth, with increasing numbers going into such a system as their job, the cultural position of modern education - on both a personal, collective, national and transcendentally sovereign level - becomes such that almost no one mentions that such a system is optional. Those that, in earnest, do argue for deregulation or alternative options are firstly viewed as odd, then ridiculous, then radical, and finally - from the perspective of all those indoctrinated - are viewed simply as dissidents, and their requests (homeschooling) are not only shunned but often banned. (If you feel my argument is dramatic, let it be known that homeschooling is currently illegal in over 25 countries worldwide, the majority of which are within Europe).
To give just some of the experiences of modern schooling, from myself and others: Walking only on certain sides of the corridor, not halting at certain locations, only eating at X times of the day (often despite a lack of natural hunger), asking permission to go to the toilet, asking permission to go to the nurses office, asking permission to remove clothing when too hot, being disallowed to wear certain clothing when cold, disallowing various forms of aesthetics, needing certain licenses to do X, needing a note to leave a room during a lesson, being made to sit for eight hours a day under fluorescent lighting, being forced to spend prolonged time amidst people one had no interest in being with, being forced to spend time amidst literal bullies and aggressors, being forced to routinely be berated by ‘teachers’ for not completing something you weren’t interested in etc. If you find yourself justifying any of these so-called rules, and attempting to explain why they are in fact entirely understandable, then the rot of modern schooling has penetrated so deeply into your soul, that one could easily argue that you are spiritually sick.
I’m sure one could draw in many of their own experiences, and my older readers may even recall minor forms of capital punishment and have possibly found ways to suppress their traumatic nature and thus justify the actions. No, it’s not ok for a teacher - who has no legitimate authority - to smack a child for any reason. Anyway, the immediate reaction regarding these examples is to justify them via the very same systematic schooling feedback loop that I’ve just outlined, that such experiences are justified due to the fact they would need to happen to keep such a form of schooling in lock-and-step. I need only ask one to slowly go over the above list - and their own examples - and look as objectively as possible at their experience at school, and decide then, during the process of questioning the presumptions which allow these forms of bullying to be legitimized, whether or not they are truly right?
Inclusive within these experiences is the most definite fact of various acts of segregation, increasing in their abstract justifications for containment. Firstly, the general category of people we deem to be ‘children’ is segregated from society as a whole, bolstering the notion of a division between child, adolescent, adult, and ‘retiree’ in terms of general community, thus deflating the possible alternative education via local groups, the family, or non-state institutions. Such divisions are deemed justifiable in relation to ‘levels of maturity’, in truth stating that the former stages need more time to be programmed in obedience to become a fully-fledged adult. In containing various age ranges within these abstract notions of maturity, we collectively damn them to the societally defined in terms of the fate of those definitions. For any group to act in spirit, emotion, or physicality in the manner of another is to invite criticism. When a child ‘acts mature’ we criticize them for wishing their childhood away, when a teenager acts like a child we tell them to grow up, and in ‘acting’ as an adult, we accuse them of being mature for their age; likewise, an adult can be childish or angsty. And as for the ‘retirees’, whose worth - as per their signifier - is deemed lesser in relation to their lack of productive output, these are given free rein, becoming relics of purpose in a world that has given over its familial ties to the state, thus the retired pensioner is nothing but a liability, risk, and a drain on resources. Equally, these state-enforced forms of segregation instill a subtle hostility between respective groups, thereby intensifying loyalty to one’s own group, and containing everything within predefined bounds. Such abstract enforcement has led to a world where it’s become increasingly common for it to be collectively deemed strange to have groups of mixed age ranges, thereby damning each group to their segregated fate.
In subsumption into these categories, the productive attributes, talents, and capabilities of the individual are lost. A competent hard-working child is to be brought to play, a ‘mature’ teenager is to be treated as a teenager first, his maturity only a surprise, etc. Each individual of each category is at the whim of their group’s societal expectations, to breach these in a productive, critical, or even optimistic light is always perceived negatively, for in doing so one is unmasking the nonsensical categories, asserting the existence of the individual in a world where such an existence is only viewed as a hindrance.
However, many people may wish to try and askew my argument here into something it isn’t and state that I am alluding to the deconstruction of categories such as ‘child’, ‘teenager’, and ‘adult’. I am absolutely not arguing for this. Such categories and definitions are naturally born from the person in question’s relative maturity, and whether or not they can make an experienced decision about their own wellbeing. Children, due to their low level of maturity and lack of experience in the world, definitively cannot do this and should be reliant on their families to educate and protect them in such matters. However, schooling, in replacing the family unit for the majority of the child’s day now also replaces this familial role, and instead of focusing on education concerning healthy relationships, boundaries, and genuine individual sovereignty, it focuses on sexual education, diversity, and deconstructive gender theory as a means to replace (and thus conflate) authentic internal sovereignty with external aesthetic modern signaling. In short, when put into modern schooling - and thus ripped away from the family - children aren’t taught how to create a loving relationship with personally healthy boundaries, but are given the only form of emancipation schooling can offer, which can’t be ones that would question its own legitimacy (such as genuine personal sovereignty), and so they find a damaging, aesthetic alternative that seeks to prove its freedom by way of extremes. Once again, conflating all freedom with the form of solely positive freedom I wrote of earlier. Thereby reducing all individuals - and thus their boundaries - to a herd, and assuming the homogeneous preference of such a group is simply hedonism or pleasure.
I am writing, then, about the fact that the very notion of ‘being in school’ indicates that person - as a ‘child’ - is of no use outside of being a student. Their merit as a worker, a creative, an apprentice, or an employee is entirely nullified by the fact they become defined by their mandatory position in life as ‘someone in school’. With this dealt with, I can move forward into how this form of segregation unfolds itself further.
Following this first form of abstract segregation, there are the school-internal divisions of age-group and ‘intellectual ability’. Both of these forms of segregation are one-and-the-same, and equally naively vague. The former type of division based upon age requires the assumption that those of the same age will share a relative level of comprehension regarding ‘learning’. With respect to the form of teaching schools actually teach - indifferent, chaotic general knowledge - this may very well be true, but such a form of comprehension-based segregation makes no sense with regard to the differences between writing literature, painting a picture, working out a formula, running a mile, building a bridge, programming some software, cutting hair, caring for the sick etc. To homogenize such a vast array of qualitatively differentiating interests, vocations, and fields within a single classroom can only work if the specifics of each individual choice are filed down to a collective form of learning. As such, each interest is subsumed into the learn-by-rote mode of learning. Fields of quality - healthcare, home economics, art, literature - are reduced to quantity (quizzes, multiple choice answers etc.) And fields of quantification - programming, engineering, science etc. - are stripped of their qualitative practicality. Everything becomes abstract for the sake of the grade. It needn’t matter whether one could actually write a novel, develop banking software, design a house, or heal a broken leg, for the grade itself is proof enough that one could - and thus can - and so there’s no further need for questioning.
In slight relation to these forms of segregation - age, year, ability, and obedience - is the go-to defense of modern schooling when placed in opposition to its alternatives, namely, socialization. If one even remotely criticizes the school system they will be quick to find a thousand government drones squawking the word ‘Socialization!’ at them. It is perhaps one of the times people are most transparent about the purpose of the schooling system, as socialization simply means the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society. This all sounds agreeable enough unless of course one is to ask what’s entailed in this process, what are their accepted behaviors, and what is ‘society’? Socialization is almost always ‘oversocialization’, defined by Kaczynski (1995), in full, as -
…we are not supposed to hate anyone, yet almost everyone hates somebody at some time or other, whether he admits it to himself or not. Some people are so highly socialized that the attempt to think, feel and act morally imposes a severe burden on them. In order to avoid feelings of guilt, they continually have to deceive themselves about their own motives and find moral explanations for feelings and actions that in reality have a non-moral origin. We use the term “oversocialized” to describe such people…the oversocialized person is kept on a psychological leash and spends his life running on rails that society has laid down for him. (Technological Slavery, Kaczynski, p44-45)
I would argue that in the 27 years which have passed since the publication of Kaczynski’s infamous manifesto, seemingly everyone has become ‘oversocialized’, but most emphatically everyone who is fed through the school system becomes so. Socialized people are those who consent to a small group of genuine friends and family, and network in an organic manner. The oversocialized are those who are forced into a boiling pot of 1000+ strangers and expected to adjust themselves accordingly without any consideration of their personal preferences. It doesn’t matter if you're anxious, solitary, introverted, shy, hostile, quiet, or simply ‘unsocial’, you will socialize, and you will like it. The great irony of course is that despite ‘socialization’ is the stick used to beat down arguments for homeschooling, during school hours students are consistently told they are not there to socialize, and repeatedly told to keep quiet during their segregated class time, and thereby afforded only two small breaks to socialize, both are which are usually filled with eating and bathroom breaks anyway.
My focus on the forced segregation found within schooling may seem unimportant, a relatively harmless piece of practicality on behalf of the institution itself as a means to make things more organized. However, these forms of segregation based upon societal status (child, teen, adult), age, and ability are quickly internalized, and thus dragged out of their initial context (school), and into one’s future. Going forward one comes to understand themselves as someone who is acting in the manner of a child, teen and/or adult, they begin to constrain their productive ability in relation to their age, and understand their ability with regard to their assigned ‘set’ within school.
Firstly, if we’re to begin with the notion of schooled ‘sets’, whereby students are placed in groups of relative ability, we quickly come to realize that the very notion of ‘ability’ can only be understood with respect to a specific context, be it engineering, mathematics, art, literature, cooking etc. To homogenize, and thus reduce all these abilities to a relative quantified measurement is to ignore various talents inherent within each individual, subsuming them into a quantified herd.
Secondly, in relation to age, one comes to understand that because they are younger than 20, or 30, or 40 with respect to various productive pursuits and vocations, they may internally deem themselves ‘unworthy’ of such undertakings because of their age, in spite of the fact they have a genuine desire to do various jobs or tasks. The tyranny here is twofold. Firstly the person in question develops insecurity in relation to their actual merit based on the assumption of their age, and secondly, it demotes the creative, productive, and industrious work of the young to mere ‘juvenile efforts’, despite the fact that such ‘efforts’ are likely on par with the standard of various adults, if not often better due to their inherent lack of internalized modern constraint.
Third and finally, and definitely most destructive, is the adherence of various societal signifiers to the status of the individual in question. Once the segregation of child, teen, and adult is crystallized, the assumption is that those who are younger should, by their definition as being younger, be subservient to those who are older than them. Alongside this, there is formed the general understanding that between each iteration of societal status there is a period of transition. A child becomes a teenager, and a teenager becomes an adult. The assumption is that such a transition is primarily based upon a level of maturity, a level of responsibility, and a form of individuation. However, in a material-focused society, the transition itself is now reliant on various material signifiers. For instance, we consider someone an adult if they have a car, have a job, rent/own a house, and do various other ‘adult’ things, most of which are materially intuitive. Likewise, we consider someone to be a child if they play with toys, don’t take responsibility, and need an authority figure to make their most basic decisions for them. With a teenager respectively floating between these two points. The problem within the modern world, however, is that due to the combination of internalized servitude on behalf of schooling, and the lack of accessible adult-material-signifiers (property and responsibility), very few ‘young people’ feel as if they’ve truly transitioned into becoming an adult, and thus remain within an odd liminal-zone of existence, whereby their psychic reality is that of an adult, but their material reality is that of a child.
My theory is, that as this friction continues to intensify, by way of fewer young people owning or renting homes, driving, or having long-term employment (the signifiers of being an adult), in turn, their psychic life becomes increasingly more infantile. Caught within the material, societal net of a child, various people find themselves becoming man-children. Literal adults playing with toys, taking no responsibility, and unable to make decisions without a relative authority figure saying it’s ok.
In short: Within the modern world, which understands one to be a child if they haven’t obtained X, Y, and Z (house, car, career etc.), multitudes of adults are kept within an infantile-limbo due to their inability to ever acquire X, Y, and Z. In turn these adult’s dreams and desires quickly regress to that of children, wherein we now see many adult couples taking trips to Disneyland, entire markets are constructed around toys for adults, and some ‘adults’ even take to using adult coloring books as a means to calm down. One common argument against criticism of this is to ‘Just let people enjoy things.’ My counter-argument to such an empty statement is that such people don’t genuinely enjoy these pastimes but are artificially regressing to the state of a child in lieu of the fact that’s all they know, and all they have access to. Once again, such people are left without any means to construct a worldview based upon their own subjective preferences, and, without recourse to become an actual adult, retreat to the only thing they know, being a child.
Now, once more, I am not here to offer a solution to the past or to the present regarding schooling, I am dealing with what can be done on the individual level, and so we must look at how such forms of schooling have affected our personal actions and our personal understanding of freedom. These accepted punishments of schooling allow the process itself to become an indicator of loyalty. The longer one has remained within education, and the more one adheres to the logic of educational credentialism, the greater an asset one will be in terms of being abused for pay, time, freedom, and intellect. The longer one has remained within the education system of the state, the greater their capacity is for being an absolutely gutless, pathetic, pushover, who will do anything for the meagerest iota of institutional compensation. Even if that compensation consists solely of a ‘thank you’, the subject in question will feel a pang of bittersweet joy leap inside them. Such people are destroying our world.
As one can surely see, many presumptions regarding our position - inclusive of our understanding of freedom - within the world, are molded and ultimately born from our experience of being schooled. First and foremost is the presumption that we need permission to undertake varying tasks in life. Such permission-seeking, coupled with its partner-in-crime, credentialism, doubles up to create a tour de force of internal alienation, doubt, and societal shame with respect to one’s desired autonomy amidst the world.
As we proceed through compulsory schooling, we are allowed a gradual decrease with regard to rules, regulations, and constraints. At a very young age, we’re not even allowed to be alone and must be accompanied by an adult at all times, lest we spontaneously combust. As we slowly move through the years we are afforded increases with regard to our personal freedom - going to the toilet when we want, longer lunch times, wearing non-uniform, etc. As our personal freedom increases within the institution, so too do our potential responsibilities. Opportunities are afforded to us to be prefects, captains, representatives, or even helpers of some kind. Slowly instilling the belief that the greater one’s obedience to the system, the greater the potential for personal autonomy. As we eventually ‘leave’ school, the majority of our conceptions regarding freedom have been solidified, and we subconsciously understand that to take on a responsibility requires permission, either in the form of a grade (credential) or as afforded to us by a teacher (a ‘superior’). At all times we are taught to never trust our own judgment with respect to reality, but to understand that either a credential or a teacher - both of which represent an increased schooling-process - is the true metric concerning legitimate ability.
So there are two clear facets regarding one’s own autonomy and freedom - especially where decision making is concerned - namely, permission seeking and credentialism. The former, being the action whereby one offloads personal responsibility onto the equivalent of an omnipotent modern teacher, someone who by their very definition assumes the status of unquestioned legitimacy: doctors, experts, scientists, therapists, psychologists, teachers, police, and politicians being but a few examples. Transcendental societal signifiers which appease modern man’s internal requirement for institutional legitimacy; if a person existing under such a name (doctor, policeman etc.) proclaims something, it must be true not due to the content of the statement itself, but due to the status of the person saying it; doctors are institutionally reputable, they say things, these things much be true because a doctor said them, once again the tautological logic of schooling carries over into modernity writ large.
Secondly, credentialism, or grade-seeking. As we’ve seen, during the schooling process, and the conflation of educational substance with the process (being schooled over actual knowledge), we come to understand that a ‘higher/better grade’ is equal to a greater understanding of the knowledge at hand. Of course, this is easily disprovable by the fact any autodidact learner could follow the exact same course of study, not acquire a grade, but would still retain the same knowledge. However, what we truly come to understand is that legitimacy doesn’t have anything to do with internal competency but instead are reliant upon external institutional proofs, i.e. credentials, awards, and licenses. Such credentials are the equivalent of a continual hand-holding experience from the day of completion. Lacking confidence in one’s own abilities and thus needing an abstract form of legitimization in the form of a credential, a paper-school-teacher to state that you have indeed ‘Got this.’ One (flimsy and pointless) argument against this line of thinking is that credentials are in fact proof of one’s ability in certain jobs: mechanic, surgeon, dentist, carpenter, electrician etc. This is incorrect; proof of one’s ability regarding any undertaking is their output and notoriety. One could equally argue that such credentials imply a rigorous standard of learning whereby one knows they’re in safe hands, this may or may not be true. Unless we ourselves are also learned in the task at hand, be it dentistry or woodwork, then we are entirely ignorant as to the quality of the service which is underway. On top of this, it is rare to meet anyone who questions or inspects the credentials of those professionals which they trust with their body or property, the very fact they have such credentials is more than enough to once again appease one’s hunger for permission.
Following from this form of permission strictly pertaining to proof of ability is a far more nefarious type of internal groveling. In being taught to seek permission to act or a permission to act, one develops the compulsion to solicit evidence for their ability to do anything outside the bounds of ‘normal’ life (the notion of ‘normalcy’ is something I will cover soon). The neurotic internalized compulsion that one is ‘unable’ to ‘do’ without a credential or teacher seeps into every facet of life. From fixing your washing machine, replacing a car headlight, seeking (so-called) alternative medical advice, creating your own recipes, picking up a creative hobby, repair in general, starting a business, developing a truly individual style, skipping breakfast, the list goes on infinitely; all day, every day, we internally decide we are unable to do certain things, and so our decision becomes true. Such a state of existence accelerates to such a degree that most people find themselves living their life on rails, with the internalized requirement for permission intensified beyond all bounds of sense. Thus thickening the walls of the metaphorical prison cell we’ve already discussed, and limiting our practical range of freedom with regard to our immediate surroundings.
Success and Failure
One may notice from these cycles and presumptions brought about by modern schooling, that much of their impetus is equally reliant on a further elusive idea, or dualistic pair of ideas, that of success and failure.
In abiding by the school system itself in accordance with its programmed assumption that it is the sole path to success, the young student not only conflates the process of schooling with the content of schooling (grades over knowledge), but simultaneously overlook their own personal desires, initiatives, and aims in favor of the process of success itself. Once again, this all sounds quite complicated, so I’ll give you the long-and-short of it here: Schooling teaches you to form your life around the system’s understanding of success, without once allowing you to think critically about what success might mean for you.
The sensible reasoning behind human actions - actions of individuals - is that they undertake them in the belief they will increase their quality of life. We do things because we believe they will make our lives more comfortable, more prosperous, healthier, etc. These actions are entirely subjective, what one person considers an increase in their quality of life, another person may very well not do. Or: different people like different things, shock horror. Following this, to ‘succeed’ in life is, in reality, an extremely subjective thing. The notion of success, as defined as - the accomplishment of an aim or purpose - quite literally has no explicit values tied to it. A businessman who becomes a billionaire is successful, and so is a chef who gets 3 Michelin Stars, as is a devout Christian who enters a Monastery; success is subjective, to succeed is dependent on individual parameters.
As we’ve seen, however, schooling doesn’t care about individuals. In fact, not only does it not care about them, it quietly and maliciously discards the notion of the individual altogether in favor of age groups, sets, ability levels, vague interests, and collective strengths; some students will become X and others Y, none of this has anything to do with their individual interests or values, but is understood from the logic of the process itself. So we can now extend our modern educational loop, this time focusing on its implicit promise that one will succeed.
Need a Grade > Go to School > Obedience > Get a Grade > Success
Schooling promises you that by following its logic (by rote) you will succeed, and yet, it seeks to enact this promise without ever asking you, or anyone else for that matter, what exactly it would mean for you to ‘succeed’ in life? Of course, to ask each student about their personal values would be time-consuming, risk disrupting the herd mentality, and also treat them as adults. So, instead, schooling puts in place of genuine, authentic individual values a variety of modern ideals they assume each person would of course desire: money, fame, professional success, property, power, status, and acceptance. Whether or not these ideals are such that one actually desires them is not down to me to say, it is down to the individual. However, due to the tautological (true by virtue of its logical form alone) nature of the education system, these values equally become to be - collectively - understood as those values which one should be striving for. In determining the process, schooling haphazardly determines the ends.
One can, from the moment of complete initiation into the school system (around age 7), only succeed on the school’s terms. Any other form of ‘success’ would not be seen as such, and usually is viewed as either a hindrance or something altogether weird. I mean, who wants to tend to woodland, give themselves to God, live ascetically, live quietly, be charitable, create beauty, build a community, be a housewife, create a smallholding etc. when they could just be making money. So we now have a twofold problem regarding the schooled entering the world. Firstly, their understanding of success and failure has been artificially implanted within them, and secondly, they’ve never been given the opportunity to actually sit down and quietly discern what it is they actually believe in.
This might not seem all that bad, it may appear that from this moment on it’s just a case of figuring out what it is one wants to do with their life, and adjusting accordingly. For some this may be the case. We often hear of various people ‘dropping-out’, exiting, escaping-the-rat-race etc. People who in some moment of shock stare point-blank into their mind numbing reality and bolt for the door. But what about the rest? Is it the case that I’m saying absolutely everyone who’s living a modern existence is in the wrong? No, this isn’t what I’m saying. Personally, I believe that the majority of people desire to live a basic, quiet life - a family and a few immediate friends, a stable job, a few hobbies, and possibly some higher meaning. Beyond this, I’m not sure most people would ever enter into various political and social discussions regarding various values. This might not be true of course, you’ll have to ask the people you meet and figure it out for yourself.
The problem being that once such an artificial value-system is implanted (by school) one is both taking a trajectory towards something they may not actually want, and consistently blocking out time to think about what it is they do want. In short, schooling teaches people to chase desires which aren’t theirs. Seems harmless enough, but when you hit middle-age - or even retirement - and are still at an absolute loss as to why no itch has ever been scratched, and you’re still just as discontented and miserable as when you started, you’ll have no recourse to find out why you feel this way.
The majority of people have what one might consider entirely natural desires - to have children, to have family, to find shelter (own a home), to eat, to drink, to be social etc. Desires which are of true value to us as human beings and usually completely quash the prior feeling of being dissatisfied. Then there are artificial desires - to own a yacht, to collect books, to learn to make great espresso, to restore an old motorcycle etc. It isn’t up to me to say whether these desires are bad or good, it is however clear that they don’t construct the very fabric of human existence. E.g. Humans need to eat, drink, have children and socialize; we don’t need a yacht, a motorcycle, etc. In relation to this division, between natural and artificial desires, it’s clear that the former desires are simply within us, prior to anything. Whether one wishes to put this down to God or to evolution, the point still stands, certain wants are hardwired into us. The others…not so much.
One may have already noticed that the process of schooling has little - if anything at all - to do with natural desires. It teaches one nothing about raising children, growing a stable family, purchasing and maintaining a home, personal health with respect to food and drink, and the gesture it makes towards socialization is entirely understood with respect to obedience. It does, on the other hand, instill various artificial desires into one’s mind under the guise of success, with such an understanding eventually taking on such an intensity that those who are schooled equate success with being in a ‘high paying career’, and failure with various material lacks alike the ones we saw at the beginning of this book.
And so one leaves school, intent on making a ‘success’ of themselves, blasting through course after course, promotion after promotion, job after job, until they reach a point where they exist under some such signifier as CEO, executive, officer, Head of X, professional, managerial, chief, principal, director, or maybe even president. Along the way, the other ‘factors’ of their life often end up coming in second place, relegated to an afterthought once the real work towards success has been done. They miss various experiences with their children due to working late, dinners are often rushed or eaten over paperwork, their time off is a slave to their incessantly success-driven mind, their marriage or relationship fights to find applicable ‘date nights’, and each-and-every experiential, quality-centered part of life is slotted into the quantitative life of the modern professional.
As the years go by, everything starts to make less and less sense, falling apart at the seams as one's actions begin to take on a transparent absurdity. One begins to notice that no amount of promotions, raises, company cars, or additional status signifiers is making a modicum of difference to their actual wellbeing or quality of life, but left with the only value-system they know and understand - the one afforded them by schooling - they simply power on through, assuming that bigger, faster, higher, stronger, and richer will be the answer to their concerns. Eventually this type of activity literally takes on something akin to a performance. Nearing so-called retirement age, these wealthy washed-up automatons have doubled-down on their life of excess. Meaning is now solely derived from quantity and intensity, they take to extremes in an attempt to milk the teat of the modern world for all its worth - all-inclusive cruises, extreme sports, binge-drinking, prescribed opiate addictions, weight loss, weight gain, fast cars, slow boats, and an ever-insatiable lust for anything…anything which appears to be able to restore their lost youth and lost individuality. But alas! It’s gone, unknowingly handed over to the highest bidder for the price of a two-up-two-down suburban dream home. And this is why I consider schooling to be of such paramount importance. Because via its hegemonic, tautological position in relation to modern notions of success and happiness, it parasitically infects man with an alien value system, which by its very definition as alien to the individual in question can never afford him any sense of fulfillment. But, in addition to this, this same artificial value-system simultaneously erodes any desire for any other value-system, considering any alternative to its own hegemony to be suspect, dissident, or simply a glitch.
It is my belief, then, that everyone may very well be miserable, frustrated and discontented because they’re doing what they don’t want to do. And yet, at the same time, have no recourse as to find out what it is they actually do want to do. Implanted with values not of their own at a young age, modern man continues on without aim, without even the possibility of developing an aim; a consumptive automaton, ceaselessly pleasing those who don’t even know he exists. And why is it he carries on in such a way? For fear of failure, of course. Success itself - as seen in these circumstances - is never positive. In such a state, if one desires to ‘be successful’, such a desire is always understood with regard to the negative, which is to say - To wish to be successful, is truly to wish to not be seen as a failure. Without an actual aim or purpose to drive us (such as children, a wife, or something Higher), our compulsion to move forward can only be due to an implicit fear regarding our status in life; the successful are not failures, and there’s nothing worse - in the modern world - than being seen as a failure (read: unsocialized, weird, odd, not-normal etc.)
We can, knowing what we now know, view failure from two points of view, the latter of which negates the very possibility of failure in the sense we commonly understand it. Firstly, there are those who have failed from the perspective of the system. In setting itself up as the sole ticket for success (via grades etc.), the school system equally sets itself up as the only way to avoid failure - hence why people hold onto it (and their grades) for dear life. To fail, by the standards of schooling, is to not have acquired a sufficient amount or standard of grades as to be able to apply for either further education or a commonly sought-after job. To fail, then, as generally understood, is to be so disobedient with respect to schooling that one is unable to enter the ‘normal’, adult world. Existence within such a position leaves the said people feeling like children eternally, unable to make the societally accepted leap to normal life.
As we’ve seen however, school grading isn’t equal to actual knowledge or interests, and the logic of schooling itself is bolstered for the sole reason of further proving the existence of school itself. So to ‘fail’, as per the standards of a schooled society, is truly only to fail with respect to the desires of others and the system itself. You most certainly haven’t failed yourself; because it’s likely you never even got a chance to define what success means for you. This is the second perspective, failure as viewed from the point-of-view of a critical individual. Seen from this position, failure can only be understood in relation to one’s individual goals and aims. In this manner failure doesn’t attain the status of a collectively agreed upon god, but simply a state regarding one’s personal efforts.
The normal understanding of failure is doubly tyrannical in much the same way common success is. To be successful within the modern world, as I’ve shown, is usually to acquire a job or lifestyle you never wanted or questioned in the first place, and therefore all success is impotent, making one feel even more lost. The same applies for failure, and yet due to its inherent negative connotations it feels even more intense. What do I mean by this? If the success is false, then so is the failure. However, the problem is that if one fails then it appears such a feeling of misery, depression, anxiety or despair is just because one never actually succeeded. What people who are in such a state need to realize - as soon as possible! - is that if the common understanding of success in the modern world is not one they agree with, then equally, the notion of failure too is nonsensical. Once more, how can you fail in lieu of a success you don’t even consider to be a good thing? If you care not for riches, then to be poor is not to fail. If you prefer solitude, then one is not a failure for lack of friends. If you disagree that status is a sign of success, then the humble are far from failures. Again, decide for yourselves, I’m not here to decide what’s good for you.
Years, decades, and sometimes entire lifetimes after the schooled understanding of success and failure has taken root, one still finds adults bursting with despair and humiliation at their self-assumed position as a failure. We often hear of people berating themselves for ‘Never making anything of their life.’, or for ‘Being a total failure.’ and yet, usually these self-condemnations are understood with respect to schooled artificial desires, and thus such people haven’t actually failed, they’ve simply been duped. This notion often hits extremely close to home for many people, whose entire lives have been a precarious act of trying to walk along the modern tightrope of success, all the time either side of them is found the possibility for failure. Such a walk itself is riddled with anxiety, stress, fear, hostility, rivalry, hatred, tension, and malice, all for the sake of achieving something which never would have given even a second’s feeling of contentment. A life spent in a state of strained exhaustion, only to arrive at the end spent, with nothing to show for it, either internally, or externally.
We don’t have to live this way. We don’t have to agree because we assume agreement is the only way to success. We don’t have to accept predefined definitions of success and with them the assumption of failure. We don’t need to feel we need to be successful at all, we can, if we like, disregard this idea altogether.
Let us, however, for the sake of order at least, follow the conclusions of the logic of schooling to their own conclusion, the fated job, or, in schooling speak, a career. A job is ‘what people do’. When two strangers meet or are introduced to each other, the first question between them is usually ‘So, what is it you do?’ Collectively we’ve come to understand what it is ‘we do’ with our employment. We seem to have forgotten that as humans we actually do many other things with our time and not just work - hobbies, family, travel, creation, worship, and conversation, to name but a few. Now, many - lackeys and defenders of the system - will berate me for stating such a thing, arguing that if one was to answer the question ‘What do you do?’ with anything other than their job, this would be a pretentious act. I might be inclined to agree if it weren’t for the fact that after both parties in question answer with their respective jobs unless one has a connection to the other’s employment, the conversation usually stops there -
‘So, what do you do?’
‘I drive buses, you?’
‘Retail manager, you been driving long?’
‘Fair few years. Enjoy retail?’
‘It is what it is.’
Repeat this ad infinitum and you have the life of the average modern party for the first 3-4 hours, before enough alcoholic stimulation has seeped into bloodstreams to get things going; even an aneurysm would be respite from such living-death! The reason such conversations are so impotent is because they make transparent the failure of schooling’s value system to live up to its elusive promises. Such people did everything they were told, followed by rote their teachers, got the grades, and here they are, with nothing to show for it, in a job that would replace them in a heartbeat, without changing anything at all. Which is to say, answering the question ‘What is it you do?’ with your productive employment does make complete sense, as our employment is how we add value to the world. However, this notion falls flat if the people in question don’t consider their work (what they ‘do’) to actually be of any value and this is the case with the majority of modern people.
Since the publication of David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs in 2018, and with the additional workforce destabilization caused by the Covid-19 event between 2020 and 2022, it has become transparent that the majority of the modern workforce is merely making it appear as if they’re working. What work they actually do could be accomplished in a quarter of the time, and the majority of jobs could be done from home. However, despite a global reenactment of the Emperor’s New Clothes - with individuals like the young boy, and the modern world’s ethic as the Emperor himself - we seem to have ignored our own experiences, and regressed to the pretense that all is fine, all are fulfilled, and we just need a few more years to iron out the creases.
The cat, despite much panic, is out of the bag. It’s become widely acknowledged, though usually beneath a heavy helping of irony and sarcasm, that such careers have not lived up to our expectations. Perhaps a non-desired job which genuinely requires you to work can stave off one’s search for themselves for a lifetime, but a job which is at heart ultimately a lie, allows a little too much free time for its employees to think about what it exactly is they’re even doing. With only 50% of the workforce stating they believe their job has any meaningful impact on the world, half of the population has been left to the merciless whims of the logic afforded to them by schooling, and thereby fall into the idea that they’ve somehow failed. It is not the job itself which is meaningless, but is seemingly - after the logic of schooling has taken root - one’s inability to adhere correctly to the system which gives one their promised pleasures. The logic of schooling teaches us that it is perfect, and as such, if one follows its rails and comes out the other side critical, alienated, and confused, then that’s an error on their part, and not of the system itself.
I am putting forth the argument that the reason many people stay in jobs they - often openly - dislike, if not actively despise, is (aside from the need for money) because they have no capacity to develop an alternative structure of meaning. Stripped of sincere familial, cultural, religious, and communal values, the modern worker has little else to satiate their oh-so-human need for meaning than their job, to admit that the system has betrayed them would not only be to act in the dissident way they were barred from doing during their schooling, but would be quite literally to witness the death of their final god. At least with one’s miserable job they at least have the purpose of being miserable somewhere, without which they would be a human without an anchor, bereft of all meaning, and most importantly bereft of all possibility of meaning creation. In this way, the essence of the modern world is ‘to work’. If, therefore, one doesn’t work, then one is simply…existing. Some weird blob of flesh on the periphery of modern life, unable to do anything.
In the ‘completion’, then, of the schooling script, whereby one has finally achieved their final, top grade, and thus has acquired their desired job, one quickly finds themselves at a loss if they don’t continue to adhere to the script. Without the ceaseless striving for some far off promotion, upgrade, or modern innovation, modern man is lost. The entire structure of his existential satiation is based either upon subservience to authority, a promotion, an acquisition, or some form of training with sight for advancement. Therefore, if modern man isn’t gaining ‘modern’ ground, he is stagnant. In this place of stasis he comes to notice that little else in life affords him meaning outside of this form of acquisition, and so he quickly retreats to its comfort. This, I posit, is the reason so many people refuse to retire, undergo official schooling mere years from their death, or act out absurd fantasies during their retirement amidst confrontation with meaninglessness.
Everything which has been discussed thus far can be considered to be the foundation of all which we consider to be ‘normal’. If someone is understood to be a ‘normal person’ the general assumption is that they have the very same desires as everyone else, and have such desires for the very same reasons. The very concept of normality is for automatons, who utilize it constantly to appease their own inability to seek out an authentic purpose amidst life. If someone is normal they seek to succeed in all the usual ways - own a home, go on holidays, go cafe-hopping, display their endeavors via social media, get a car on credit, watch TV for a few hours a night, read the usual news sources, and be accepted as normal. Don’t get me wrong, the concept of normality is extremely useful; this is, however, usually within limited contexts. The further such a concept is stretched, be it over ages, races, communities, cultures, and nations, the more it homogenizes individuality into a culturally androgynous pulp, whereby all that remains are those attributes which are so definitively passive as to cause the least possible upset, turbulence, or offense.
The logic followed thus far therefore apathetically cuts away all which falls outside of its bounds, declaring it not a difference, but simply an error. The polarity between these two points (difference vs. error), and the pull towards either side is what makes the modern world appear as it does to any specific individual. On one side you have the notion whereby that which finds itself outside of the normal is viewed as a different, or an alternative way of living. (At least from this understanding one can begin to accept that such ways of living are even options.) On the other side, you have that which falls outside the norm viewed as simply an error, not an option, but something incorrect, a glitch in the very fabric of the ordered logic we have all internalized and thus agreed upon.
Despite its utility in understanding the situation one finds themselves in, the very concept of normality is one which is entirely presumptive. To consider something normal is, within the modern world, not only to assume that it is the standard the average person uses, but that such a state is typical, assumed, and/or expected. Normality is once again a tautology, it’s normal because it’s normal, and as such we name anything outside of its bounds peculiar, weird, odd, uncommon, eccentric, disorderly, irrational, or even insane. This logic, whereby normal becomes synonymous with correctness, slowly constrains various spectrums of existence. Whatever your spectrum of choice the very concept of applied normalcy slowly erodes potential, difference, and possibility via its very language. Be it political, fashionable, culinary, auditory, visual, social, or technological, reality itself is suffocated by the normal.
To look at this form of constraint in detail, we need to begin with a single common spectrum used in everyday life, for this example, I will use the Overton Window. The definition of which is:
The range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time. It is also known as the window of discourse.
Let us, quite haphazardly, imagine this window (or spectrum) as a line extending horizontally by 10 ‘points’, beginning from 1 and going through each number until 10. Our common understanding of contemporary politics is such that the division is usually seen as between the left and the right, or respectively between Blue and Red, Democrat or Republican, Labor or Conservative, Communism and Conservatism, etc. If we’re to place these ‘camps’ onto our spectrum we could begin to state that those at position 1 are the most left-wing, and those at position 10 are the most right-wing. (Note: This chart is representative of so-called normal, mainstream politics, and isn’t indicative of actual reality) So, moving left to right, from 1 to 10, the person in question gets more conservative. In consideration of this, it follows that those who are at either end of the spectrum would be viewed as the most radical of each respective camp, and as we head more towards the center the numbers of representatives for each side increase due to the propensity for radicalism and extremism to be only a minority.
With being political as part of everyday, normal, modern life, each individual of society generally has some opinion on the political ongoings of the day, and so will roughly be able to plot themselves on this spectrum at some point. But equally, the average person, being born from the logic of schooling, success, and modern presumptions, doesn’t desire to cause too much turbulence within the world, lest they upset the applecart of normalcy; in the modern world, there is no more greatly feared accusation than that of being ‘weird’, for such people pose a risk to the very fabric of society, then risk revealing the truth everyone else only intuits.
Due to the fact that the average, normal person - in-keeping with their built-in reliance on the logic of the system - wishes to retain their status as an average, normal person, they forthwith only adhere to average, normal politics, which itself can never be at the fringes of the spectrum. They might put themselves at point 2 or 8 as their limit for either side respectively. As time goes on, and the numbers of people at the so-called contemporary extremes (points 1 and 10) dwindle, those very same people begin to be ostracized due to the fact of their position’s inherent lack of popularity is itself an accusation of abnormality, and so the spectrum constrains itself by one notch. What once was 2, becomes 1, and what once was 9 becomes 10. This form of political constraint and containment has been underway since the French Revolution, and the amount of political difference we inhabit is the equivalent to existing between 5.5 and a 6.5 of 100-200 years ago.
This same form of compression is happening within every sphere of human life. The extremities of fashion find us stood between pastel shorts and pastel shirts, culinary risks are contained to ‘alternative’ restaurants, music drifts between plastic and muzak, the fringes of the cinema are westernized art-house films with enough explosions to keep the drones away, technology flitters between the latest numeric iteration of the same device we’ve had for 15 years, and conversation itself condenses in relation to all the aforementioned compressions, due to the fact they are considered the acceptable things to talk about. In short, normality always seeks to make itself more normal. And, to be ‘not-normal’ in the modern world is itself anathema to what it is to be modern at all. As such, normality’s quest to make itself more normal is always helped by those seeking all the elusive promises of our aspirational, successful, and professional modern culture. There’s nothing more normal than being normal, talking normally, eating normally, and even helping the norm to flourish! For we are normal humans and we do normal things, and to be normal is good and right and correct.
But wait! Before going on with this book, I want to make a drastic U-turn at this important juncture of excitement, reaction, and potential hostility. I wish to actually turn against myself and state a peculiarity…it’s ok to be normal. I know what you’re thinking, ‘Wait, James, didn’t you just spend a massive amount of time trying to tell me not to be normal?’ I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you realized this isn’t what I am doing. In truth, I spent the last pages attempting to only dispel the foundation of normality - we’ll get to its nuts and bolts soon. But for now, I would like to address another factor of the normal, modern world, namely its implicit ability to gaslight all those who come into contact with it.
This is quite the accusation, I know, and the beast I’m targeting it at - modernity - has in its arsenal a thousand means to shrug it off as angst, bitterness, rebellion, dissidence, disorder etc. And, as much as I would like to say that it’s the simple case that modernity is in fact only normality, this isn’t entirely true. For freedom from normality would be the false, singular freedom I warned you about at the start - freedom is always double-edged, gain and responsibility etc. Here’s where the knot of normality comes forth. For as much as the average member of the modern world is in complete obedience to normality and the compressions it brings forth, that very same normality contains within it its own negation, its own usurpation, its own exit; but any exit handed to you by the cave itself can only ever be false. Once again, what in the world do I mean by all this?
Despite the comforts, routines, and agreed upon habits of the sought-after ‘normal life’, it consistently reveals the existence of the possibility for escape as a situational pressure valve, a cathartic fallback, not for man, but for modernity itself. At all times a number of modern myths - small and large - are thrown around as a means to appease the internal struggle we exist within. Let’s think back to the prison metaphor I used earlier in the book. If one eventually realizes they’re contained within a prison cell, and that there truly is no chance of escape, then they will begin to detest the prison cell itself and all which they deem caused them to be there. Such a person would become ceaseless in their efforts to escape. Yet, this isn’t the case with the person, who, finding themselves in a prison cell notices that the door is open and yet doesn’t leave.
Such a person finds themselves in a taunting, malicious position. First and foremost, they know the prison cell, it’s comfortable and they’re used to its ways. Secondly, the fact they could - now they’ve realized it - just ‘get up and leave’ appears absurd. In fact, it appears absurd to such a degree that it is disqualified as a legitimate option altogether, it is nonsensical, even. Third and finally, however, there is now the understanding that such an option is available, thus making existence within the prison far more bearable, because, supposedly, one could leave at any time…if they really wanted to, of course.
This possibility of ‘escape from normal life’ is available to us, but it appears in two forms, both of which are controlled by the normal language of the modern world. Firstly we have the acceptable forms of modern escape, veiled in the polite-radicality of sassiness, we are offered holidays as ‘getaways’, spa breaks, camping trips as fleeing the city, rest days, and the accepted notion of time off. Such language allows for a cathartic acceptance of one’s situation from within the prison cell itself; a c'est la vie is sighed deeply before you bury your head in the sand once again. The second form of escape is far more malicious, veiled not in modern cheeky language, but assimilated into the realm of myth and archaisms. The genuine exits from the modern world are subsumed into romantic absurdity itself, spoken of in nostalgic terms as if lost forever. I am speaking of the hermit, the commune, the homesteader, the wandered, the ascetic, the prospector, the drop-out, the traveler - such people, such actions are oozing with myth to such a degree that they are no longer spoken about as legitimate options, but simply as break room ‘Yeah…what if, imagine doing that!’ and yet, they are equally utilized to such an extent within media that the option is kept open for us, a possibility forever cut off by its seemingly inherent absurdity. At all times all exits from the modern world are simultaneously open-yet-closed, controlled, or entirely useless. So how does this all relate to my controversial and seemingly contradictory statement that ‘It’s ok to be normal’?
This is due to the fact that just as quickly as the modern world seeks to retain an ordered level of conformity and normalcy, it simultaneously has to promote the possibility of ‘exit’ and escape as a collective means of catharsis, as if to say ‘Hey, don’t worry about the fact everyone is a mindless, unthinking automaton, they could be otherwise if only they wanted to be!’ - The modern world always holds the slight possibility for excess and escape behind in an attempt to disprove its social hegemony, as such, modern man finds himself always seeking more. Normality and modernity cease to exist if people become content, it has to keep its automatons desiring, consuming, and lusting for that evasive excess. And so, as much as modern man consistently seeks to prove his normalcy to other normals, he does so by flaunting his increasing desire for that ‘something more’. Be it a new car, a new phone, an exotic holiday, a fancy handbag, a crude film, a ‘controversial’ book, or a peculiar meal, moderns ceaselessly seek to internally prove their non-modernness, not for the sake of genuine interest, but for clout alone, thereby intensifying their own normality by way of following the herd. And so, in the sense that I proclaim ‘It is ok to be normal’, such a manner of being is defined by its impartiality, as opposed to the normalcy of modern man which thrives on excess. The former way of being is one of contentment; the latter is always discontented and thus seeks further normalcy and proof of its normal nature.
This is in no sense radical, revelatory, or epiphany, and yet articulating this to various people throughout the years has made me realize just how deep people are in the mud of modernity. It is ok to be normal. It is okay to be fine with your job as it is, with your car, with no car at all, with no TV, with basic food, with a few friends, with no phone, with ‘enough’ money, with not being known, with being quiet, with silence, with old hobbies, with odd interests, with worship, with sleeping on the floor, with eating tuna from the tin, with no mortgage, with a hut in the forest, with living on a boat, with alternative healthcare, with not believing what others do, with disagreeing with everyone on the most seemingly basic things…it’s ok to just be. All this needed to be said before I ventured into the specifics of the modern world, and how many more presumptions regarding how we live - mostly material ones - are the true cause of our misery and discontent.
One of the greatest presumptions regarding modern life is that of poverty, and the requirement for a certain standard of living. This might seem a little cantankerous, so I’ll turn to Duane Elgin’s Voluntary Simplicity for articulate exposition on genuine poverty:
I saw that poverty has a very human face - one that is very different from “simplicity.” Poverty is involuntary and debilitating, whereas simplicity is voluntary and enabling. Poverty is mean and degrading to the human spirit, whereas a life of conscious simplicity can have both a beauty and a functional integrity that elevates the human spirit. (p27)
Elgin’s book, now a classic of ‘off-grid’ culture, is focused on living simply, and thus only takes the time to understand the difference between simple living and genuine poverty. It isn’t his task, nor did he perhaps foresee, to understand how the modern world latches onto the very concept of poverty as a means to bolster its own consumptive logic. Before I go on however, I need to address the same territory as Elgin, and thereby define two separate types of poverty.
Firstly, there most definitely is the aforementioned poverty which has a ‘very human face’. One in which those who find themselves within such a state struggle to acquire the most basic essentials of existence: shelter, food, water, and clothing, usually due to a lack of income or lack of job prospects leading to a lack of income. We can name this type of poverty ‘Objective Poverty’. With respect to such a form of existence, I’d like to look at the words of Robert Heinlein, who states that ‘Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man.’ This is to state that prior to various technological and qualitative advances, societal arrangements, and contractual agreements arising at various junctures in time, most men and women existed in this state of poverty. Scraping together what they had as a way to provide the bare necessities of life for their families and communities. Most emphatically however, and one of the gravest errors of modern history, is to state that such people were in any sense miserable because of this. Such forms of objective poverty continue to occur in the modern day: the crisis of 1640, The Great Depression of 1837, The Long Depression, or The Great Depression of the 1930s, to name but a few instances. Events which raise their heads as an intermittent reminder that all is built atop the true ‘normal’ condition of man, that of (objective) poverty. Such a fated existence is nothing to joke about, nor address insincerely. Which is to say that those who in truth find themselves struggling for the most basic of basics pertaining to an extremely low standard of life are, as a matter of fact, legitimately povertous.
However, it is my argument that such a state is fairly rare within the modern world which I am addressing. This is where the notion of ‘subjective poverty’ comes in, a falsified, artificial poverty which causes misery in relation to non-existent ambitions. Here we can draw in the previous idea of natural and artificial desires as a means to view objective and subjective poverty. The objective is understood in relation to what is needed and what one must have as par the natural course. If it is understood that one’s desires for shelter, food, water, and clothing are actually less desires, and more thoroughly needed, then it follows that any absence of these is objectively povertous. However, when we begin to look at modern definitions and representations of poverty this isn’t, in truth, what we see. The UK Parliament has even addressed this issue by stating in a nationwide ‘poverty briefing’ that - ‘discusses income-based measures of poverty, but there is debate about whether this serves as a relevant measure of poverty. The Social Metrics Commission (SMC) proposed a measure based on the extent to which someone’s resources meet their needs. This accounts for differences among households such as costs of childcare and disability, savings, and access to assets.’
My argumentation here, as seen from the perspective of a modern man, will appear quite cantankerous, maybe even ascetic. But proposing a measure based on whether or not someone can meet their needs is, quite literally, an impossible metric to calculate. Why is this? As we’ve seen, and as we should understand, after our genuine, objective needs (shelter, food, water etc.) are met, anything further cannot, by definition, be considered a need, and to publicly consider it as such is to covertly insert artificial desires into the fabric of ‘normal’ society. Anything which is desired after our basic needs are met can be considered an artificial desire of some sort, be it for a specific object, or for an increase in comfort. (Once again, it’s not for me to say if for you these things are good or bad). However, any such desires can never be said to apply on a collective level in the same way genuine needs do. For instance, everyone needs food and water, but only a certain number of people desire yachts, toys, etc. So, instead of intensely interviewing every single individual within a nation to check if their personal ‘needs’ are met, most nations create a generic ‘standard of living’, or ‘quality of life’, which is projected onto each individual and each family as the agreed upon metric for whether or not they are poor or rich, failures or succeeding etc.
What actually happens due to this institutional projection of material ambition onto the masses is a mirroring of the schooling process. Poverty, by its very definition -
The state of being extremely poor, or;
The state of being inferior in quality or insufficient in amount
- implicitly denotes a negative state or even a failed existence. Now, not only has one’s life - and thus their capacity and proof of success/failure - been quantified via grading systems, but their private material existence is inserted into an institutionally created metric of poor and rich, as a means of statistically asserting just how well one is doing. Perhaps everything was going smoothly, and you were content in life with what you had, happy-as-Larry, and then one day you wake up and realize that you’ve been living below the poverty line all this time! Don’t tell the neighbors! Am I to dare go so far as to state that (subjective) poverty is entirely your choice? Yes, I am. If various governmental, financial, and institutional bodies just so happen to decide that to be non-povertous one needs a new car, a dishwasher, a coffee machine, two holidays a year, at least three TVs, multiple ‘leisure’ activities each week, and various other artificial requirements, then one is just as free to decide that such a definition of poverty is entirely false.
I’d like to ease off the acceleration a little here and focus more on the emotional aspects of poverty, because most notably, it isn’t the absence of certain material goods which cause misery, but the fact the absence arose in the first place. See, once a certain ‘acceptable’ (‘To who?’ One should ask) standard/quality of life is bandied around via various media outlets, it soon becomes the ‘norm’ (and we’ve seen how that pans out). In turn, this norm - which changes constantly - is quickly sought after by all the normal people as a way to once again appease their need to prove that they are in fact…normal. Very rarely do people ease off, step back, and assess whether or not such additions will genuinely add any value to their life, acting solely out of the fear of being seen as abnormal. See, everything moves so fast in the modern world, that to stand still is truly to move backwards. You may very well be ok with your (now dated) mobile phone, PC, and bicycle, but the modern world most certainly isn’t, and before you know it, you’re starting to look povertous. And as the very notion of poverty finds itself sticking to advances in technology, social media, and cultural identity, the question regarding personal contentment becomes one which is continually moving, and thus can never be content. As poverty picks up pace in lieu of celebrity culture, advertising, aspirational marketing, and various other pressurized sales pitches, the populace increasingly finds themselves at a loss to afford most of the things they declare they desire, but don’t worry, there’s always credit for that, which I’ll get to later.
What if you didn’t live like this? What if you stepped back, thought about your desires and your wants, pondered on the way you actually want to live, have you ever thought about it? Have you ever thought about the mass of trinkets, gadgets, habits, pastimes, social assumptions, diets, fads, ideas and objects you’ve picked up over the years, and really investigated as to whether or not they’ve made you any happier in life? Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t - I don’t care either way. Again, I’m not here to tell you what to do. (I repeat this because someone will accuse me of such). But hopefully you can see now that the - albeit rough - trifecta of schooling, success, and subjective poverty very quickly rule out a multitude of living arrangements, attitudes, and lifestyles, not because they’re impossible, but just because they’re not-normal, and people would find them odd. Now that this notion of poverty has been explained, I can delve into a handful of common modern pastimes, utilizing this very same logic to strip away our assumptions, and hopefully open the doors to the possibility of freedom. Your choice, of course.
Despite everything we’ve been afforded by the modern world - which is a lot, by the way - we continue to make an active effort to avoid it. With the majority of our common ‘hobbies’, becoming less about an intensification of life and self-betterment, and more about…filling time. Our lives, ceaselessly steeped in words, terms, definitions, images, jokes, ironies, double-meanings, and ultimately symbols, begin to seek out mediation in all things. We have come to fear the immediate, for the fact it is deprived of all third-party legitimacy. Alike a worn rural path without signage or even coordinates, the immediacy of experience brings to the surface our innate ignorance concerning the world. Once upon a time, this was called being human, now it is considered a secular sin to be out of touch, to not know, to not have an opinion, or to be ‘unplugged’. Mediation by way of various modern entertainments (which I’ll get to) pander to our regressive, infantile, and ultimately schooled reliance on the need to be told what to do. As such, in entering into his allotted amount of daily ‘free time’, man - who is always policing himself - askew his freedom in relation to what others would expect of him. Entering neither into pursuits he is supposedly ‘unqualified’ to undertake, nor doing anything outside the bounds of normality due to his inability to understand such a space. Modern man, even in his free time isn’t free as he’s brought himself with him. We see this same phenomenon mirrored in the moderns who proclaim they wish to go traveling to ‘Find themselves’, despite the fact that on embarking on such travels they will most emphatically be dragging their modern prison cell with them, and thus only be able to translate so-called foreign or exotic locations into their own, modern language.
It’s plain to see that schooling taught us to seek out this mediation and to distrust our immediate experiences. It may very well have been that you thought X, but if the teacher said such was Y, then that was how it was. We drag such a subservient attitude into life, leaving our understanding of world affairs to a handful of watered-down media outlets, the ongoings of reality to the ‘Scientists’, our healthcare to the ‘Experts’, and our personal wellbeing to various Drs and government advisors. Despite evidence to the contrary, we are consistently taught to distrust our own experiences.
First, such a way of being makes itself apparent in school, wherein, we internally state, ‘Of course the teacher knows best, that’s why they’re called the ‘teacher’.’ thus solidifying our lifelong submission to mediation. As we grow we continue to be taught to only trust credentialed individuals for the majority of life’s undertakings, and even if such things don’t work out, it’s never a fault of the system itself, but a glitch or an error. Eventually, we get our aspirational little lives, filled with jobs and objects and all that jazz, and we find that we now have this thing called ‘free time’. The gravest error we ever make with respect to our free time is calling it as such, as if to state that the rest of our time is no longer ours, and this is simply to be accepted. All time is free time if you’re internally healthy. Some time is work time, some is sleepy time, and the rest is a vague no-man’s land, where one spends their time awaiting sleep or awaiting work. And despite freedom being finally within our own hands, as seemingly completely as can be, we tend to squander it to further solidify the notion that we are normal, we do normal things, and we are of no concern. Why exactly is it that we're at such a loss of what to do with our free time? Why is it, when ‘allowed’ our daily ration of free time we tend to have little clue what to do with it, developing nothing, and instead giving ourselves over to what Ted Kaczynski calls ‘surrogate activities’:
“A surrogate activity is an activity that is directed toward an artificial goal that the individual pursues for the sake of the “fulfillment” that he gets from pursuing the goal, not because he needs to attain the goal itself. For instance, there is no practical motive for building enormous muscles, hitting a little ball into a hole or acquiring a complete series of postage stamps. Yet many people in our society devote themselves with passion to bodybuilding, golf or stamp-collecting.” - Theodore J Kaczynski, Industrial Society and Its Future.
As much as I find myself sympathetic to Kaczynski’s thesis - that we engage in surrogate activities due to our basic, objective needs being entirely catered for - I would allow for an opening of hope. Kaczynski, in defining all activities external to mere survival as surrogate, haphazardly erases the potential for beauty, goodness, and love from the world. Which is to say, and ultimately what this book is saying, that not everything within the modern world is of the modern world, and neither are all the people who exist within the modern world implicitly of it. In specifically overlooking the schooling process, and instead opting for the politicization of the term ‘oversocialization’ (which I’ve already mentioned), Kaczynski contains modernity to those of a certain political color, whereas, in reality, the logic of the modern world has affected everyone. And so in part, yes, Kaczynski is correct, we act out such seemingly pointless activities because all which is of objective importance has been sorted out, but that doesn’t explain why - with such newfound freedom - we seek only to perform pointless tasks, tasks which themselves are in concordance with the logic of the society at hand. Kaczynski, surprisingly, overlooks the fact that given such an abundance of free time (historically speaking) man doesn’t utilize this for the betterment of his mind and soul. It seems clear to me that man acts in such a way due to the schooling system and the logic of modernity itself, acting as if he is still being watched by some institutional teacher. Which, in truth, he is, because he is watching himself.
As such, modern man’s free time isn’t free. Being controlled and filled by modern man himself, such ‘free’ time amounts to only an extension of the world he believes he has ‘left’ for a few hours. If we were to revert back to the metaphor of the prison cell, it would not be the case that during his free time man has left his cell, if anything, in such moments he only develops an even unhealthier relationship with his cell, justifying to himself that certain less gloomy areas of it are in fact not the cell itself. But how, in practical terms does such a mediate existence actually propagate itself within culture? For that we need a common mediating tool, something to spread the message, and thus mediate between actual experience and the experiencer, and in the process change reality. What we really need to look at here are screens.
If I was writing this book between 1970 and 2000, this section would likely focus solely on television (as one can see by a few books listed in the bibliography specifically on the topic of TV). Even though the definition of television is a device with a screen for receiving television signals, I would assume that the majority of my readers would be in agreement that the terms television, ‘telly’, or TV are very outdated. Television appears to commonly denote a more archaic form of visual programming. The 6am - 11pm, 5 channel, mainstream, analog type, complete with its limitations of choice and transmission. However, as we well know, here and now in the year of 2022, the very concept of ‘TV after dinner’, or ‘a (single) TV in the lounge’, has completely broken out of all of its restraints. In the sense that writers of the 70s were concerned about television’s effects on our experiential reality when it existed in its primitive form, such finite concerns have now been made infinite. Which is to say - TV, everywhere, all the time, on tap, ready to go. And it’s for this reason I would, contemporaneously, prefer to replace the term ‘TV’ - limited in its scope - simply with ‘screens’, allowing us to look at the root problem, itself being the mediation of experience itself.
The difference between television (as a cultural concept, and not an object) and screens is important, because in understanding it we once more realize the extent of our cultural degradation. If one is to ask someone whether or not they watch TV, they may hesitate to answer, for the very fact they’ve become unsure as to what that term means. They might be quick to state that they do, but more so in the vein of streaming services, livestreams, or niche programming, as opposed to generally sitting down and ‘watching the box’. Likewise, if one was to ask what device one watches ‘television’ on, it may be the case that they reply with something we generally wouldn’t understand to be a ‘television’. Despite the fact that computer monitors, tablets, smartphones, and laptops ‘receive television signals’, we would feel it strange to define them as televisions. So let’s just take them for what they are, mediators of experience.
In pressing a few buttons on various devices all of a sudden one’s experience is no longer immediate, but mediated. There is now something - quite literally - in the way of their reality, something which is filtering their immediate life via its own programming, ‘agenda’, style, or position. Much like the famous image of Roddy Piper’s character George Nada in They Live (1988) putting on the ‘special sunglasses’ which reveal the real meaning behind various marketing messages (among other things), the majority of contemporary screen-usage is ultimately the reverse of this. One is presented with some empirical, immediate data, be it visuals, pain, personal insight, historic knowledge, revelation, or sense-data, and, instead of investigating and analyzing the reality from reality itself, one is quick to ‘look up’ the phenomena via their ‘screen’ and thus mediate the experience, handing over their responsibility to a third-party, just as they were taught to do from a young age.
Such mediation of experience wasn’t such a drastic concern when its effects were limited to a single room, and an extremely limited amount of channels - the very limitations of which meant entire spectrums of thought couldn’t be covered, thus giving rise to some modicum of critical thinking. In the present day however, this clearly isn’t the case. We wake up and check our phones, we listen to the radio on the way to work, spend most of our day staring at another screen, head home, and then sit down in front of the bigger screen in our lounge - of course, it goes without saying, that throughout this day we’re incessantly checking our phones. We are slaves to mediation.
Once again, I see this as all looping back to the logic of schooling. In the process of being-schooled one generally learns that you can know. We’re humans, we know things. We know that if you put seeds in the ground vegetables will grow, we know that when you turn a tap water comes out, we know when you turn the key the car will start, we know that eating meat and veg is good for us, we know absolutely loads of stuff…but we certainly don’t understand almost anything. And so, not only do we conflate the process of schooling with the substance of schooling, thus retaining and acquiring very little knowledge until it’s legitimately required for practical work, but we outsource our own critical faculties regarding the lost substance of schooling (knowledge) to a mass of institutional third-parties. On top of this, from the position of such information and instruction being received from the modern world itself, such information isn’t considered to be a single possible opinion or option among many, but due to the very fact it is modern, must therefore be the best and will never be surpassed. In condensing this process, what actually happens?
We, as human beings, acquire a question via some amount of natural inquiry such as - ‘I wonder why that tree is green?’, ‘I wonder why I feel sad?’, ‘What does it mean to be successful?’, ‘What is contentment?’ - and, instead of naturally, organically attending to the question via a synthesis of our own personal reason, individual experience, and sought empirical data (evidence), we offload this crisis onto a screen. Quickly typing in our question, sourcing an answer which best scratches our itch, and trusting it for the mere fact it has been mediated to us via various ‘legitimate’ sources.
But our toxic relationship with screens as an experientially mediating technology doesn’t end there. Via the same pathways with which a screen mediates our experience, it begins to entirely overthrow it altogether. After one begins to distrust their own experiences, their innate ability to reason about the world, and their capacity to draw their own conclusions, it follows that one would begin to forego actual experience altogether, in place of a virtually mediated digital experience. Such progressive forms of mediation not only alter our internal dialogue in relation to singular experiences themselves (whether we like or dislike them etc.) but simultaneously mutate the very reality we actually experience. As Mender states in his book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (1978):
Living within artificial, reconstructed, arbitrary environments that are strictly the products of human conception, we have no way to be sure that we know what is true and what is not. We have lost context and perspective. What we know is what other humans tell us. Therefore, whoever controls the processes of re-creation, effectively redefines reality for everyone else, and creates the entire world of human experience, our field of knowledge. We become subject to them. The confinement of our experience becomes the basis of their control of us. (p68)
In its re-creation, mediated experience eventually becomes entirely divorced from the reality it was created from, with the entirety of our screen-based virtual experience being subsumed under the common term ‘entertainment’.
Defined as either ‘giving enjoyment’ or ‘giving attention to’, to entertain is the primary task of screens. It doesn’t matter whether the content is images of starving children, a fictional war movie, a documentary, an advert for a chocolate bar, a live sporting event, or a food eating competition, the aim is simply to entertain and to retain, as long as the viewer’s eyes are locked to the screen nothing else matters. In the process further experiential spectrums are slowly withered down to numbed husks. Images of suffering no longer shock us, war becomes exciting, documentaries become fiction, sports become filler, and adverts the new static.
However, the true importance of entertainment is found in its overlooked second definition, whereby we ‘give our attention’ to something, we entertain an idea etc. In entertaining an idea, one takes it in, thinks on it, but doesn’t allow it to become of them. Or, as Aristotle said: "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." But we’re not commonly entertaining what’s afforded to us via screens in this sense, rarely are we thinking about that which appears before us in any qualitative sense, in a way which might make us question our presumptions. No, more often than not, in the process of mediation, we are - as I have already stated - simply handing over our attention to something, or ‘filling time’ as people often say. Outside of the logical loop of the modern world, many people find they have little else to do except ‘fill time’. And, despite the supposed ‘progress’ of the modern world, despite all the gizmos, gadgets, holidays, and brunches, multiple large surveys report that on average most people are bored. In abiding by the logic of modernity itself, given free time, man has little-to-no recourse of anything outside of that which has been programmed into him, and instead of cultivating a potentially rich, charitable, good, creative, beautiful, or virtuous inner-life, he simply plunks himself in front of one of the many screens afforded to him, and waits for his next allotment of allowed life, i.e. work or sleep. Modern man craves increased subservience to the abstraction of modernity itself.
It will come as no surprise that from this mode of being - one in which ultimately the individual’s personal agency is continually internally diminished and handed over - that two pastimes become increasingly popular, namely, video games and social media. I’ll begin with the former, move to the latter, and hopefully show you that they’re one and the same thing. Video games, a now entirely accepted and universal hobby, afford the user a reality within which they are in complete control. They allow one to create a fictional avatar which usually acts as a desired version of them. The user knows all the laws of the world, and all of its rules, but they equally know they’re entirely fictitious and can be broken without consequence. Such virtual realities allow millions of people within the modern world to become warriors, farmers, chefs, drivers, entrepreneurs, leaders, and heroes in their ‘free-time’. In single visual experience video games afford the modern user everything they’re unknowingly missing from the real world - responsibility, practicality, understanding, purpose, and meaning. Masses of people prefer to spend their time in virtual worlds (inclusive of films and TV shows) because such realities are easier to control and understand, openings and potential are to be found there inherently; the logic of video games, despite their obvious limitations, offer the user more freedom than the modern world for the fact one hasn’t been schooled within them, and thus one approaches the world as is, and explores it, breaks it, creates from it, sees what it can do. In fact, the distinct rise in popularity in video games which are literal one-to-one recreations of ‘real life’, complete with mundane jobs (Euro Truck Simulator 2 is a key example), gives credence to the idea that in truth, when people play video games, they are actually seeking internal freedom, one which they have been unable to reveal within the real, schooled, modern world, and thus need a consequence-free simulation to be able to metaphorically walk out of their internal prison cell.
In looking at the two acts side-by-side, long-haul trucking in the real world, and long-haul trucking in a video game, it’s difficult - on the surface - to develop a reason as to why the latter would in any sense be appealing as a form of ‘entertainment’, and yet it is. If one takes away the primary reason most people do their job (money), it almost pains one to figure out what it would require to make someone do that very same job for hours on end. And yet, this is what a mass of ‘gamers’ do every night, often alone, as their primary hobby. In entering the entertaining virtual world of various mundane jobs (Euro Truck Simulator for trucking, Farming Simulator for farming, The Sims for generic modern life , Powerwashing Simulator for powerwashing, Bus Simulator for driving buses - and yes, for the non-game savvy these are all real, and extremely popular) the user enters an exact replica of their ‘normal’ world, but one in which they are allowed (or, I should say, finally allow themselves) to be internally free. It needn’t matter if such freedom only amounts to ‘being a farmer’, driving an old bus, walking freely throughout a city, or creating a peculiar style of house, these virtual replica video games allow the user a momentary escape from their prison cell, without having to bear the cost of risking their real-life normality.
Before addressing this compulsion further, let’s look at the other common form unto which the same form of reversal happens, social media. Much like video games, social media affords the user a reality within which they are in complete control - they can sculpt their persona, ‘add’ or ‘remove’ friends, filter conversation, and even create the equivalent of a fictional avatar to take their place. Social media acts as the ultimate video game; the most intricate replica of reality one can imagine, seamlessly created by the user’s themselves, for the purpose of their own consumption. And, much like the virtual trucking simulator, social media is modern society condensed to the point of absurdity. In acting as themselves (read: normal, successful, happy, schooled moderns) whilst on social media, users engage in the very model of mediation that controls them. Understanding that the image they present of themselves on social media is equally the very same image which will be presented/mediated to someone else. As such, at all times the average social media user’s engagement is one that seeks to prove their schooling, whilst simultaneously allowing enough freedom for the cracks to start to show, due to the fact social media affords the user the same type of replicated reality as a video game, which is bereft of various real-world consequences.
Profile after profile listing years and places of education, credentials, courses attended, life events, interests, vocations, and jobs, complete with happy pictures, holiday snaps, and short videos of them ‘having fun’ - in fact, these people are having so much fun, and the event interested them so much, that they spent the times on their phone, taking photos of the events as opposed to actually enjoying the experience itself. And yet, despite the fact social media is an intricate replication of the world, people still have a preference to spend hour upon hour there as opposed to in the reality it represents (the real world). This preference is once again due to the world itself (social media) being at enough of a remove that the elusive consequences of questioning the status quo in the real world no longer seem to apply.
Taking these two forms into account, we can state that the logic of the modern world implicitly incorporates itself within the internal life of its inhabitant. The people who happen to be in the modern world are schooled in such a way that they become of it. Their very internality is always in dialogue with the external, subsuming all its (false) pressures and assumptions into it, and thus bolstering the modern mentality. Such an amalgamation of the internal and external denies optionality for the very fact it considers itself one and the same thing, e.g. ‘I am modern.’ In accelerating this logic to the extreme, hyper-realistic video games and social media (the same thing) offer an absurd simulacrum wherein one can finally simply exist within the modern world, and yet actually be separate from it, allowing themselves to redevelop some form of internal life.
It is poignant to address the fact, then, that two of the most common forms of ‘escape’ from the modern world are video games and social media, themselves largely replicas of the modern world itself. In attempting to exit the logic of the modern world, but without any recourse for an alternative way of thinking or being, man doubles-down, externalizing his impotent confusion in acts of virtual aggression, hyper-normalization, and/or the development of a virtual alternative self. The only way man feels he can truly exit is to become someone else altogether, be it an anonymous persona or a virtual avatar, he doesn’t for a second believe - though it’s more likely he simply doesn’t realize - that his internal life can ever be detached from its modern external master. Such a belief - in the mandatory subservience to the abstraction we define as ‘modernity’ - is so intense that users of social media and video games, given literal worlds without consequence, often only extend their freedom to the degree of changing their hair color, or wearing a funny jacket, or proclaiming a daring opinion. Once again, left without recourse for authentic construction of meaning, built from the ground-up, the modern individual strains themselves to actualize any true freedom.
And so, despite the modern world itself mercilessly affording us virtual, entertaining means of ‘escape’, due to the user’s inbuilt (schooled) inability to cognize the meaning of escape or exit in relation to something other than modernity, all forms of inter-modern exit can only ever become modernized. Open-world games become ‘modernity roleplay’, social media becomes a recursive proof of one’s own modernization, and general entertainment is reduced to an increased complacency. To attest to such an idea, one need only look at the statistics surrounding mental health and social media to understand there is a deeper problem. For in no real sense can social media be ‘reformed’ as it follows the logic of modernity itself, and so to reform it is to destroy it. Like looking at modern life in minutiae, social media is proof of our ceaseless ability as human beings to keep doing the exact same thing and expect different results. Once more we find ourselves back at the metaphor of the prison cell - deep, dark, miserable, always, however, with an unlocked and open door.
In pondering on the problem of filling their free-time, many modern men are likely to retort ‘Well, what else is there?’, if the answer is other than a quick slurry of various modern excitements (brunches, TV binge sessions, holidays etc.), they will draw a blank as to what else could fill their time except pure pleasure and hedonism. I’m not here to tell people what should ‘fill’ their time. I am here to investigate the absurdity of people living lives that make them miserable - statistically speaking - and yet they seem unable to change. It, of course, controversially, being my position that said misery is not politically caused, (but I’ll get to that).
Once more we find ourselves trapped within the logic of the modern world itself - we have taught ourselves that all we can do is all that which has been afforded to us. The very notion of ‘what is to be done’ has been overthrown. To act within the modern world is to act in the way a modern man would, to act in pursuit of a promotion, a better job, a better home, a faster car, etc. It is to be directed at aims never your own, and thus to be consistently disappointed. And so, the problem isn’t with what to ‘fill’ our time with, but with the very notion of ‘filling’ time at all.
The understanding that time is to be ‘filled’ is drastically different to simply experience itself. ‘Filling time’ is an experience already mediated. It’s the assumption that all time is to be allocated, and anything outside of one’s modern requirements (work, commuting etc.) is to be seen as a gap, something which must be filled, even if that which fills it is the equivalent of being in a coma. In part our obsession with allotted time harks back to our days in school, whereby each hour was designated for us. Instilling the idea that to be modern is to be busy, even if such ‘busyness’ in adulthood results merely in dumping oneself on the sofa and staring apathetically at a screen. One might argue that such a notion is ridiculous, and if we are alive, then we must by our very nature be doing something. Quite right, but it’s whether or not we’re acting sincerely or under the guise of a modern presumption which makes all the difference.
The difference can often be extremely subtle, and I’m not here to tell anyone what they should do with their finite time on earth. However, beginning from the assumption that most human beings are searching for a higher quality of life - with respect to their subjective standards - one might begin to question why we continue to live in such a way which causes us unquestionable discontent. But the question answers itself when we look back upon what we now know, and realize that for masses of people their personal preference regarding a ‘standard of living’ have been overtaken by the logic of modernity. They no longer question what it is they actually wish to build or do with their life, but unthinkingly agree with the physical and social presumptions afforded them. Firstly assuming that a career, a promotion, a credential will satisfy their larger aim in life. Following this they utilize the money to acquire various agreed upon trinkets of value: cars, houses, gadgets etc. And finally they fill their remaining time with a multitude of accepted time-fillers: brunches, holidays, TV binge sessions etc. Unsurprisingly, this entire lifestyle is continually bolstered by incessant mediating screens via advertising etc.
What exactly is the difference, then, between sincerity and modern status? It is, in truth, a difference between experience and object. I’ll start with the latter, of which I’ve spoken about above. In doing as good, normal, modern people do, the individual overlooks the experience itself in favor of merely solidifying his normal position. The brunch’s food and atmosphere are not experienced, but understood as things to either post to social media or tell other people about. The TV show isn’t experienced as a possible narrative to investigate the world from, but a visual object to ‘tick off’ and state that you have now consumed. The holiday isn’t understood as a location, a culture, and a foreign experience, but is an objectified experience to be added to one’s modern CV. Each experience, in being objectified, is dragged kicking-and-screaming from the present, and understood only in relation to its ability to bolster one’s modern identity in the future (a topic I’ll get to shortly). A sincere experience requires attention, objectivity, and patience, this is something modern man can never have because all the while he is bringing his modern mindset with him; everywhere man is, he is modern, and thus everywhere and everything becomes a mere asset for modernity. The question then, as to ‘What else is there?’ I will answer nearer the end of the book, for now, we must continue with modern man, as he defines himself after all the aforesaid is in place.
One may now ask why such a mode of existence continues to be, why is it modern man never undergoes a moment of introspection regarding his actions? The reason for this is due to something which has already been mentioned countless times - man’s internal life is not his own, it is modern. And so in any moment of introspection all he’s truly looking at is the modern beast itself, thus justifying any and all of his actions. In short, man’s very identity is of the modern world.
Identity (especially in relation to politics) has been the social buzzword of modernity for the last 20 years or so, and yet, in spite of this, very few people within the modern world have an ‘identity’ of any quality. Beyond vices, political allegiance, and consumption habits, the identity of most people is a withered husk, kept alive by the latest innovation in mainstream-mediated virtue. I don’t consider this to be a political issue, but a social one, especially as the issue itself covers the entire political spectrum. Those on the left define themselves by signaling their support for the latest minority group to scream loudest, those on the right by allegiance to more and more obscure reactionaries, and those in the middle eek out an identity by proclaiming no allegiance at all and get lost in the noise of identity. The modern identity is like a hastily sweated-out dating profile, people like certain things, dislike certain things, go certain places, and eat certain meals, but as for values, principles, heritage, and culture, forget it. The modern obsession with identity is, unsurprisingly, an inherently modern obsession, and so the only way to leave it behind is to exit modernity altogether. Unfortunately for modern man, locked in the bind of logic beyond its bounds, the only way he knows how to define himself isn’t by who he is, but solely by what he does and what he consumes. What it means to ‘be someone’ in the modern world has nothing to do with experience - in the sense of wisdom or values - and everything to do with status, itself legitimized by the logic of modernity itself. Who we are is who we desire to be within the modern world, a world we never even agreed to, and thus, a self we never agreed to.
Such a ‘self’ or identity begins its construction the moment we set foot in the school system. Slowly, at first, but ever so surely everyone around us begins to take on a predefined role and identity regarding their position in life. The teacher, in taking pride in the formality of Mr or Mrs Smith, strips themselves of all personal traits, and becomes - for their students - little more than a means to a job. The students, in obedience, begin to constrain themselves via their grades to certain futures. And continually, as we progress through our lives, we are surrounded by various ‘members’ of society who are solely defined by their job.
As this form of artificial identity development continues we find ourselves growing in an extremely lopsided way. Here we can look back at the notion of segregation within the school system, and understand that the inherent presumptions within these divisions likewise internalized our distinctly modern capabilities as our identity itself. In growing within an environment bereft of familial, cultural, national, and/or religious values, the modern self has only production and consumption as its benchmarks for understanding itself. Thereby instilling the assumption that to quantitatively work and consume more, is thus to have a qualitatively greater identity. Thus resulting in modern man’s ego being little more than a drawn out list of consumption habits and vices. Of course, even modernity has its limits, and herein we find a clear one. As - in being stripped of all heritage - modern man’s identity has become nothing more than a shopping list of the latest fads, as such there needed to arise a surrogate form of identity-substance. Enter politics.
In the earlier section on normality, you will note that I used the Overton Window (the range of politically acceptable opinion) as my example for how reality is consistently constrained in the name of the norm. If this theory holds water (and you’re free to disagree) then it posits that any political allegiance within and of the modern world in its entirety is nothing more than a consumptive, dualistic signal. What I mean by this is that modern political affiliation is nothing more than a collective, modern, masturbatory tribal fantasy. There are teams of blues, reds, greens, yellows, and every other color available. If you feel like your preferred political option isn’t special enough, you simply combine two of the major ones and create a niche movement. If you feel that isn’t special enough, you repeat the process again, and again, and again. Any political flux which takes place within the self-imposed boundaries of ‘modern life’ is inherently impotent due to the fact of its implicit imprisonment. Being able to talk openly, amidst the herd, of your political opinions without receiving criticism, hostility, or the threat of de-platforming is proof enough that your political stance is utterly devoid of principle, and is nothing more than a continuation of the logic of modernity itself. For as we’ve seen, anything deemed truly radical, dissident, odd, extreme, or weird by the modern herd cannot even be humored due to existing outside the bounds of modern logic; real politics is akin to an escapee returning to Plato’s cave - but lest we forget, the prisoners will try to kill those who return.
However, in relation to identity, politics as it’s commonly understood still plays a key role for the crystallization of the ‘modern self’. People get involved in politics - especially party politics - because it both allows them to avoid taking responsibility for their own life, and allows them to create an artificial reason for why their life is a mess. It’s capitalism’s fault I’m overweight; if it wasn’t for class conflict I’d be happy; I can’t get a good job because of immigration; if only there were more X then things would be Y, and on and on. Politics is always a presumed form/norm of utopian idealism which thereby degrades reality. Political affiliation and subservience in general act as a macro, collectively-signaled version of bringing your school teacher an apple. Likewise, it’s fairly obvious that politics functions as an elusive nation-based form of superior schooling, thus giving its citizens a reason to sleep well at night knowing ‘authority’ is in charge. It fulfills our desire for a teacher, a headteacher, credentialism (government regulation), policing, and a transcendent security structure. In fact, one could view the government as a ‘grown up/adult’ version of highschool and very little would change, inclusive of the tautological legitimization of authority.
Much like schooling, contemporary red vs. blue politics equally bolsters the logic of the modern world by way of segregation and ostracization. In presuming the collectively agreed upon limits to what politics ‘is’ (the Overton Window), modern political discourse considers those found outside of its bounds as errors and not options - much like those who might question the entire need for school in the first place. Therefore, the act of questioning governance itself is, by definition, anti-modern by the fact it’s questioning the tautological logic of modernity itself. To be definitively apolitical is to be non-modern or amodern.
As Ernst Jünger states in Eumeswil -
The liberal is dissatisfied with regime; the anarch passes through their sequence – as inoffensively as possible – like a suite of rooms. This is the recipe for anyone who cares more about the substance of the world than its shadow – the philosopher, the artist, the believer.” (p124)
Thus dissatisfaction with the regime is itself still subservience to the logic of regimes in abstract; one is still beholden to the authority even if they rebel against it. This form of thinking relates back to the falsity of positive/negative desires. For there is no one more uniform than the punk, who in complete aesthetic retaliation against society’s ‘norms’ merely bolsters them all the more against his own alternativeness. Political affiliation causes the soul to rot and wither, persistently reducing it to increasingly smaller contexts of time, place, and issue. Until, eventually, the horizon of modern-political-man’s vision is so stunted he can’t see past this morning’s news; existing in political-nano-durations, he develops virtue deficit hyperactivity disorder, an ever-present restless need to jump on the next political bandwagon.
My political advice? Don’t begin from a state of conditions you aren’t within. Begin from reality, and work up. Oh, you believe X should be Y, and that A should have more of B, well they don’t, and you being a whiny energy-sponge about the situation is only ruining your own life. I come from a working class family, which, during my youth would have most definitely been classified as poor. I was afforded the same state opportunities as everyone else. I say this because, in my lifetime, not one single political decision has made any discernible (read: objectively noticeable in reality) difference to mine or my immediate friend’s or family’s lives. I’ve yet to see a single protest change anything (outside of pissing everyone off and ruining their ideals in the process), and I’ve yet to see a single politician not lie. Tell me, please, why in the world anyone in their right mind would give over a single second of their time to the utter farce which is ‘modern politics’?
It isn’t defeatist to state reality is all we have, it is - by its very definition - realistic. One should hope and attempt to create a better world, yes, but that begins at home, within your immediate surroundings. Outside of this you’re only trying to appease your own prideful need for a collective pat-on-the-back. Giving over your personal sovereignty to a vague ‘group’ whose aims are abstract, who never seem to change anything, and yet manage to win you over each year despite this stasis. Politics isn’t anything special. It isn’t above society. Politicians are workers who have cushy jobs. It’s just another inter-modern pressure valve to allow one to perform a rivalrous catharsis. Politics is just sports rivalries for people who like to think they’re smart.
Thus far I’ve mostly attempted to tackle the very logic of the modern world itself, but for those still a little stuck within its supposed charms a key issue might arise, ‘Sure, this is all well and good, but what about money?’ The phrase ‘money is the root of all evil’ is thrown around constantly, and without the context of its origin (1 Timothy 6:10), is usually spouted with regard to a material desire unmet on behalf of a disgruntled modern. Anyway, this isn’t the point. In relation to much of what I have mentioned thus far, questioning why we do what we do, why we work where we work, etc., one might retort that such skeptical behavior is all well and good in theory, but when it comes to practice a man’s still gotta eat and have a roof over his head. Here, I am in complete agreement.
If you’re reading this book correctly (though, who am I to tell you how to read?) you’ll notice that I’m not technically anti-modernity. At least, not externally. I don’t want people ripping down structures, destroying things, or disturbing people’s well-earned peace and quiet. In fact, I would go as far to say that no amount of external change can alter the belief system of the world, such responsibility is found with the individual, within their internal life. As such, I’m not anti-capitalist (far from it, as many of you will know), things aren’t free, and people need to pay their way. Money may be the root of all evil, but that doesn’t mean that everything it touches is inherently evil. Money is a medium of exchange. It allows us to trade things for other things, it allows us to acquire that which we want and need with quantitative ease. But in the sense that money is a medium of exchange, it is merely a means, and not an end. Money is our means to get other things or to achieve our aims. Work is (usually) the means to which we get money. One common error modern men make is conflating both work and money with ends in themselves.
Understood as that which ‘makes the world go round’, and that which gives us as individuals access to all that we can afford, it is of no surprise that money often becomes an end in itself. With people putting in extra hours at work, taking promotions, changing careers, and sacrificing experience all for the sake of a little more cold hard cash. Money, we believe, will be the answer to all our worries and concerns. I could quite easily - and lazily - cite multiple studies showing there is a correlation between money and happiness, but only up to roughly $75,000 per annum, seemingly ‘proving’ that after a certain pay grade no further raises will satisfy our desires. As interesting and telling as such studies are, I find it difficult to qualify what exactly ‘happiness’ means to thousands of individuals. Of course, each individual would have answered the question with regard to their own subjective standard of ‘happiness’, but even so, such vague language doesn’t allow such studies to really tell us much.
Money is…peculiar. Tell someone they’re getting a raise - however small - and they won't be able to hold back their grin; remove money from them in a way they consider unfair and watch them squirm; mention salaries and payments around friends and feel palpable collective anxiety; talk to a contractor about how much they’re owed and watch as they feign politeness. Money makes people go weird. And despite all this weirdness, we never step back to think about what it is we’re evening talking about.
You go to school, to get a grade, to get a job, to get a better grade, to get a better job etc. And why is it we (usually) want to get a better job? Because we’ll earn more money. Sure, there are those who ‘have a vocation’, and may argue that going up the ladder in their respective career is seen as more of a duty, as opposed to something done with the hope of monetary reward. Very noble, now all we need to do is ask such people if they would take on such extra responsibilities without the extra money? Likely not. Money always plays a factor. So, after this loop, hopefully, if the modern world has done us well, we end up with a bit more money. Lovely. And…we aren’t sure what to do with it, in fact, as I said earlier, we never stopped to question why we wanted more in the first place. The entire logical work > money loop presumes a need for further money, which equally presumes there’s going to be further expenditure. But what if we just…didn’t desire those things we so desire? Sound radical? Sounds so downright simple that it simply couldn’t be? I don’t think so, let’s step back, all the way back to poverty.
Poverty is Your Choice
We have the two forms of poverty previously mentioned - Objective Poverty, wherein one’s actual needs (food, shelter, water, etc.) aren’t met, and then Subjective Poverty, wherein one’s desires/wants in relation to the ‘modern standard of life’ (holidays, appliances, fancy clothing, etc.) aren’t met. To exist within objective poverty is rarely (if ever) a choice. In olden times it would be due to a crop failure, a natural disaster, or a war; in modern times it might be due to a failure of the economy, an agricultural problem, a natural disaster, or a war (not much changes). The point being - especially from 1900 onwards (in the West) - acquiring the basics for life, and thus not existing in objective poverty, has been relatively easy, historically speaking. Subjective poverty, on the other hand, is always a choice. The modern world attaches its own ‘standard of living’ to its logic of success, and thus to be successful, is not only to be in a certain position but equally to live a certain way. The conveniences of modern life are no longer mere conveniences, but mandatory requirements of normality, for it is no longer a question as to whether or not you will acquire sofas, washing machines, mobile phones, tablets, digital watches, dishwashers, fridge-freezers, new cars, large screens, microwaves, coffee machines, and a thousand-and-one other new-fangled techno-gizmos with their respective upgrades to smart appliances, these are accepted as par the course. So, now is the moment where we can finalize the logical loop of modernity:
School > Grade > Job > Money > Promotion > More Money > Stuff
Once again, to ‘succeed’ by the standards of the modern world, is, unsurprisingly, to live by the standards of the modern world. A normal quality of life has been set, and to not live up to it is to fall short of what it is to be a modern man, it is thus ‘to fail’. How exactly does one attain this quality of life? Why money, of course. And you’ll need a lot more of it than you think to keep up with the incessant innovations and re-iterations of the modern lifestyle. In fact, you’ll find out soon enough that the modern lifestyle always manages to keep going, it somehow keeps needing you to buy just one more thing to complete your life.
I don’t think there’s a primary motivating factor for why we do what we do in the modern world, because the means and the aims all bleed into a single homogeneous blob. A Good Credential = Success = Promotion = Money, no single element takes precedence over the next, but all cohere into some semblance of intuited normalcy. With all of these parts in place, and moving ever-further towards their own expansion, one can say that the logical loop has taken root; man is normal, man is modern. However, as one will hopefully understand by now, once you remove, or even just question, one entry into this loop, the entire thing begins to crumble, and especially where money is concerned.
Arguably we only need money up to a certain point - to get us out of objective poverty - beyond that, any of the time we sacrifice and money we earn is used solely for something we want. There’s nothing wrong with this when the desire in question is entirely our own, and hasn’t been programmed into us by the modern world.
As stated, conveniences have overstepped their bounds into the realm of the compulsory. Comforts have become requirements. Life’s little extras are now life’s little stresses. Wait, am I saying that everyone should just live literally within their most basic needs? No, I’m not. I don’t care what you do or what you buy. Modern logic, however, does care, and it’s insidious. It has burrowed to the root of many psyches, making them believe they need the latest and greatest in various modern appliances and extras. Of course, these presumed needs of normality often overshoot one’s monetary earnings, leaving them with three options:
Earn more via a promotion or career change
Borrow money on credit (debt)
Question one’s assumptions regarding the normal ‘standard of living’
The first we are now extremely familiar with. One acquires grades and credentials, to get a good job, as a means to acquire extra money for the things they need. In this manner, what one is truly doing is sacrificing further time and energy for trinkets they may not truly have desired in the first place. In this case, one often finds themselves working longer hours, taking on extra commitments, and spending further time away from home all for the sake of buying things to…fill their home…the one they now spend less time in.
Secondly, we have the very modern phenomenon of credit, or, willing servitude to monetary debt. Debt, in every sense of the word, is the opposite of freedom. Of course, modernity has found a way to cloak such slavery in appealing language, enter ‘credit’. (Note: Am I writing solely of personal, individual credit here) The polite definition of credit is:
The ability of a customer to obtain goods or services before payment, based on the trust that payment will be made in the future.
Doesn’t that make you feel special? The store trusts us, how quaint. Now, admittedly, there is a difference between credit and debt. Credit is what you can borrow with the promise to repay later, whilst debt is money you've already borrowed but haven't yet paid back. Credit is merely the ability to acquire debt. As far as I’m concerned, outside of anomalous situations, there’s only one reason (and one half reason) to get in debt. The primary reason is to get a mortgage, and this makes complete sense as it is an increasingly rare situation wherein one can buy a house outright, though it can be done (see Early Retirement Extreme). The ‘half-reason’ is to buy a vehicle via monthly credit when the automotive market is high, and buying a secondhand car wouldn’t make sense with respect to repairs and upkeep.
Debt is money you owe, and - in truth - credit is money you can choose to owe if you so wish. In truth then, both cases come about when subjective desires meet with objective limitations, i.e. not enough money. Debt is servitude; it is willing slavery in the name of a few material acquisitions. In purchasing the modern standard of living on credit - be it cars, appliances, furniture, holidays, or even pizza - one hands over their life for the sake of a lifestyle they never questioned.
Which brings us to the third option regarding our modern ‘quality of life’ or ‘standard of living’, which is to question it. Despite both terms - standard and quality - denoting a spectrum (lower or higher quality/standard) there appears to be only one single standard with respect to the modern world, namely, the modern standard. The modern standard of living, as per its name ‘modern’ is inherently understood to be the best standard. Anything which isn’t modern is either in the past - and thus archaic, dated, and retrograde - or in the future, meaning the modern world will get there eventually. The modern standard isn’t minimalist or maximalist, colorful or grey, utilitarian or aesthetic, rustic or industrial, it is solely…normal.
It is also painfully difficult to talk about the modern standard because it never wishes to reveal itself, because to do so would be to reveal the possibility of authentic choice. But within such a perpetual feat of concealment, the modern standard becomes reliant on various signifiers it deems as unquestionable. Comfort, happiness, convenience, escape, refreshing, luxurious and pleasure, terms which signify a state which no one - who is ‘normal’ - would seek to question. Such signifiers don’t fully delegitimize criticism of the modern standard, but assume that anyone doing so is either a killjoy or an outright reactionary. Once again the subjective becomes objective, and we all begin to abide by a vague normality contract.
And so, after finally fulfilling the modern loop, man may be lucky enough to acquire a house, fill it full of stuff, and spend most of his day elsewhere. But in the rare moments he is at home, ‘taking the weight off’ as they say, he may look around to find himself surrounded by nothing he particularly likes or dislikes, nothing he particularly cares for or cherishes; but he rests assured that it needn’t matter whether or not his own home is in accordance with his deeper values, as long as it gives off the impression of his deeply imbedded position within the loop. Or, in short, ‘Look at me! I’m successful!’.
But what, in truth, would it be to question this way of living? Many people would retort that in questioning this way of life, or even going so far as to be critical of it, is actually just resentment because the people in question aren’t successful, rich, or ‘well educated’. As we saw at the beginning of the book, this argument absolutely does not hold court with me. In fact, people who would state such things (that criticism = resentment) are just little authoritarians who seek to force their lifestyles onto others, usually just to appease the internal dread concerning their own situation, e.g. They don’t know why they do what they do either, so they double down.
To briefly repeat the argument from earlier (The Deceptive Denied Desire) - Just because one person wants X, and you don’t want X, doesn’t mean you are denying a desire or leaving a lack unfilled. Not a denied desire, but no desire at all. Thus to lazily question the modern standard is to do so in the negative manner, where everything is looked at from the quantitative extreme. Such arguments often end with statements such as ‘Oh, what, you want us to all sleep on mud floors!’, ‘So we’ll just start doing our washing in the rivers again shall we?’, or ‘I guess we’ll all just forage for food then…’ Now, I have no problems with such ways if individuals wish to do them, the point, however, is that in understanding the modern standard as the standard, an absence of modernity appears to be an absence of life itself. It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than a life without a toaster oven.
The problem is actually something I skimmed over earlier, leaving until now to address because this area - the way we actually organize our lives - is where it’s found most clearly. I’m talking of the fact we conflate means with aims, and in doing so have no aims at all. Here I am extending the idea put forward by Jacques Ellul in his book Presence in the Modern World (1963), that the technological society is one which is solely means based. Technology itself has no aim, it is means all the way down, it justifies itself; technology is a means for more technology. The very same logic applies at the moment modern man wonders ‘what to do with himself’.
Schooling is a means for a grade. A grade is a means for a job. A job is a means for money. Money is a means for our needs and desires. Our needs and desires are artificially programmed and thus only a means to prove we are ‘normal’. Being normal is a means to a better job. A better job is means for more money. More money means…you get the picture. The question to ask, to disjoint this nefarious loop is: Where’s the aim? What’s your purpose? Where are we going?
In fact, in looking at each section of the modern loop one will notice that without a defined aim, each iteration becomes nihilistic. Schooling becomes ‘knowledge’ for its own sake. A grade becomes prideful proof of ability with nothing to target it towards. A job becomes a status signal. Money becomes superfluous, aimed at pleasure alone. And finally, without an aim, our very needs and desires are at the whim of whatever appeals to our basest self that week, that day, or that hour.
All the aims of the modern world are recursive; they prove themselves by way of leaning on one another. One follows the trail to find that the tautology of modernity has no central aim, it all runs forward for its own sake, with the occasional ‘self-evident’ purpose tacked on as time goes by. Such modern ‘purposes’ which are often thrown around as obvious declarations of meaning are happiness, enjoyment, or pleasure. But these always come after the logic itself. We enter into the modern circuit first, and then assume we’re doing so in the name of one of these unquestioned meanings. We are not taught to sit down, think about what we want, where we want to be, and - most importantly - who we want to be, no. We are shuffled into the race and rushed into assuming which of the pre-selected meanings are right for us. And yet, the pre-selected meanings of the modern world - career, credentials, and money, or happiness, enjoyment, and pleasure - are either means to the accomplishment of a true aim, or symptoms of achieving a true aim.
Careers, credentials, and money are means to achieve an aim. Happiness is an effect of having achieved (or currently achieving) that aim. These are causes and effects, but not aims in themselves. One may argue that certain jobs are one’s personal aim - being a nurse, a zookeeper, a writer etc. - but in this way, the job itself isn’t the aim, but a vocation which happens to be one’s aim. Or, in the case of money, if one’s goal is to get rich, then it isn’t money itself which is the aim, but the tasks needed to be undertaken to achieve riches (entrepreneurship). In much the same vein, many people declare that their aim or purpose in life is solely to be happy or to enjoy life. But as we all know, happiness, much like love, can’t be forced. One cannot simply be happy without said happiness being in relation to a higher goal, or at the very least being investigated. And it should come as no surprise, that more often than not the same people who state they solely just ‘Wish to be happy.’, are equally the very same people who happen to be abiding by the most vacuous, repetitive, schooled desires.
I’m not here to work out your goals, they’re yours, they are individual and subjective. But before anything solidifies itself within one’s life, they should spend at least a short amount of time questioning as to whether they truly need it. Do we need an aim, a purpose? What is life like with one and without one? Before we can answer these questions we need to take a step back, look at our life, and see what happens to it when an aim is found or revealed.
Life is a finite duration of time, moving from birth to death. It spans, on average, 73 years. Within this time frame you can do anything within biological, physical, and - for many - spiritual limits. Basically, you can do as you please. But as we all well know from modern TV usage, an excess of choice isn’t always good, and you end up in analysis paralysis and pick nothing at all. An aim is like a goalpost, one can see it further down the line and use it as guide. But if such an aim is simply a job (not a vocation), a grade, property, or money, one reaches such an ‘aim’ and realizes it was no aim at all, but a means, and just as soon as they’re celebrating graduation or finishing the first week in their new house, the feeling of ‘success’ dissipates and they’re back to square one. A life without any aim at all is hard to describe, it’s nihilistic, meandering, without any anchor; a life without aim is meaningless due to the fact one has nothing to compare oneself against, and nothing is better or worse. The problem being that we crave aims, we crave purpose. Year to year, month to month, even hour to hour we adore knowing what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
The modern why is usually happiness, sometimes it’s pleasure, sometimes fun, and sometimes money, but these all come under happiness. If this all sounds rather vague so far, it’s because it is. Much like the logic of modernity, wherein we accept the lifestyle schooled into us, we equally accept its conflation of purpose and happiness. Beneath most of what modern man does is an assumption it will lead him closer towards happiness, in spite of the fact he, firstly, has never truly enquired into what makes him happy, and secondly, that the majority of modern men are in fact unhappy.
There is yet another layer taking place beneath all this, the underlying notion of movement or even progress. This is undoubtable, as the oft repeated saying goes - ‘Change is the only constant.’ Our lives, as far as we’re concerned, move forward. We move from birth, to childhood, to adulthood, and finally to death. Nothing can stop this. This duration, as I’ve said, is what we understand to be our ‘lifetime’, and it’s where we place our goalposts. It doesn’t matter if you place many goalposts or few in relation to death, it will always be your end. It can become a form of goal in its own right, but I’ll get to that. First you might be asking, why the sudden morbid change? What has this got to do with the modern world?
Being unavoidable and universal, death has a connection to everything, and everyone. Because like it or not, the reason any actions you undertake have meaning is because you know one day you will die. If everyone was immortal, there would be no such thing as sacrifice, as everything you ever wanted to achieve could eventually be undertaken due to infinite time. As it is, I already know I won’t read all the books I wish to read, nor write everything I wish to write, nor see all I wish to see, nor learn all I wish to learn, or create all I want to create. As this is the case, each act is a sacrifice in relation to something else I deem less important. That which has more meaning for me takes precedence. Now sometimes, in relation to a higher goal - owning a house, completing a course, having a child etc. - people have an internal wish to ‘skip to the end’, or ‘skip forward’ in time in some manner. For instance, I’m currently writing the first draft of this book, and I know if I keep up my writing schedule that I will soon have a first draft. There is a part of me that is internally rushing towards that moment because I know how it feels. Likewise, those who’ve put a down-payment on a house are counting the days until they move in; those who are with child can’t wait for them to arrive; and those studying at university often can’t wait for graduation. As understandable as all these accelerative wishes are (including mine), all such people are doing is, in truth, rushing towards their deaths.
It is difficult to tell whether or not the notion of ‘wishing away time’ or ‘rushing forward’ is distinctly modern. I can’t imagine it is, but due to its abstract nature it’s hard to tell exactly where it arises from. Of course, throughout time, one can imagine than most people who are undergoing some form of suffering would likely wish time away so that the suffering passes, and I imagine too that those training in some grueling manner for a credential or rank may have at times wished to be past the early stages (boot camp etc.) However, once again, when we look at the logical loop of modernity, we notice that it implicitly pushes the idea that if only we just got to the next stage, then things would be better. The pushed maturity of high school, the autonomy of college, the freedom of university, the financial freedom of a job, the status of a promotion, the prestige of a better car, and finally, the rest in retirement. Each and every stage is in some way comported to be abstractly better than the last. We rush and rush and rush and die. We only ever rush towards a single destination, and that is death.
But I still haven’t managed to draw this back to the modern world and freedom, and that’s because herein lies modernity’s self-deprecating nihilism. The deep - yet surface level - fiendish tyranny we find on the tip of the tongue of many moderns. Despite the elusiveness of the logic I have described, the maliciousness of schooling, and the artificial prison which seeks to hide itself, modernity knowingly mocks itself; the modern world has a built-in tyrannical valve for individual and collective catharsis. Here’s where things get a little peculiar.
On Monday’s one might hear amidst exasperation ‘Here we go again…’ on Wednesday ‘Halfway there!’, and on Friday ‘Thank God it’s the weekend, I needed it!’ the agreed upon defeat beneath ‘Same again tomorrow!’ the collective agreement that a holiday is on par with salvation. Beneath modern actions isn’t found (in my opinion) a rally cry against work in its entirety, but against the promises which seemed to have never appeared. In spite of everything, we proclaim, with ironic defeat, we are not happy or fulfilled, and yet, we carry on. Samuel Beckett’s exhaustively repeated phrase ‘Fail again. Fail better’, needs to be replaced with ‘Holiday again. Holiday better.’ The point is that implicit within this exasperated language is a collective subconscious acknowledgment that we are, in fact, within that metaphorical prison cell we have already spoken of. But instead of this existential exhaustion being used as fuel to get up off our feet and jump out of the prison cell, it is instead subsumed by modernity, back into modernity itself as a means to release the pressure of its own absurdity. This is an extremely malicious form of control.
The philosopher Slavoj Zizek puts forth the typical idea of teenagers throwing stones through school windows. An act of cliché, but also developmental rebellion. The angst and emotional turbulence of being a teen is released via this anti-authoritarian gesture. Zizek then asks us to imagine the situation if a teacher were to come outside, and, instead of yelling at these young rascals, actually, join in the rebellious act itself, and begin throwing stones at the school. The teenagers would be perturbed, and the entire narrative would become nonsensical. Much the same thing is happening here. Instead of our complaints, grievances, frustrations, hostilities, and vexations against the modern world developing into a form of positive deconstruction, wherein something better is built from the breakage, they are subsumed into the language of the world itself, and become of it. Modernity knows it is modern, it knows such a lifestyle renders meaning impotent, and is simultaneously, tyrannically open about both these points, thus quashing any rebellion at its birth. Your seemingly radical declaration that the modern world is a loathsome, dry, boring hellscape, falls on deaf ears because you’re preaching to the choir, and modernity itself is very open about this fact.
And this is where we jump back to the idea of rushing towards the next goal in life, and ultimately rushing towards death. One notices within the modern world that everyone is always rushing around, hurrying from place to place and meeting to meeting. The goal is the next event, and the next, and the next, and on and on. Crystallizing nothing of quality as we go, modern man is a secular nomad with no higher goal. Now, when things in your life aren’t going well, a loved one is suffering, or things are falling apart in a negative way, it is completely understandable for one to wish to rush to the end of such destructive times. And equally, mirroring this, when things are going well and one is within the bounds of their aims, it makes sense to want to remain in the moment. But what if one has achieved all they were told would make them happy, has no alternative meaning, and their very objections to the misery of their situation are subsumed back into the situation itself? This is modern life, and as such, our rushing never meets with an end, without goals we are rushing into nothingness, filling our time with jolts of pleasure as we go. Modernity assimilates the secular pangs of suffering and death into it by way of making them matters of simple cynical derision.
I feel I’ve spent enough time on the logic of modernity now. I’ve done my best to outline its fundamental loop, and fill in details where needed. Most aspects of life have been overcome by this logic in some way; one need only look around to realize that all is tainted. I hope - in a more formalized way than my early essays at least - I’ve uprooted the modern system, and you now find it a little more transparent in its operations. However, this doesn’t really answer anything. Pulling back to the ‘green curtain’ only to reveal the strange absurdity of modern life doesn’t really help anything, possibly from such deconstruction one can formulate new ways to attend to life, but I’d like to draw in some basic principles in relation to that which I’ve already spoken about. Think about this later section as a mirror image of the first, offering a reflection of the modern world wherein one has become detached from its elusive orbit. It does need emphasizing here that how one comports themselves in the modern world is entirely their own undertaking, I can’t decide what’s best for you, whether you should quit your job, or what color to dye your hair. I also hope that this book won't be misconstrued as some manual for external hermit existence, political action, or a manifesto. It isn’t that. None of this has anything to do with the external world. The path to freedom begins with the words Know thyself.
The process of exit, escape, or dropping-out (all of which are primarily internal processes) begins with the questioning of assumptions. This, of course, sounds utterly banal. Everyone talks about thinking for yourself, in fact, many of the key buzzwords of the modern world happen to center around this elusive ‘critical attitude’, even to the extent whereby the school system itself tells us to ‘be independent’. Yet, in spite of this seemingly ceaseless push for such a manner of thinking almost everybody in the modern world appears to be mostly alike. Acting the same way, talking the same way, buying the same things, and living roughly the same lives. Rarely do we meet anyone who states or does something genuinely ‘outside-of-the-box’, and this is because much of what we commonly consider to be ‘outside-the-box’ is truly just at the limits of the modern world's acceptability. We all wish to believe we’re free-thinkers and have a critical eye for the world around us, and yet we all still drone on together amidst little apparent difference.
We’re met with a few problems when tackling this problem. Firstly, it’s very difficult to begin to see our assumptions for the very fact they are our assumptions, by their very nature they’re assumed as a given, and thus we accept them without even thinking about them. Secondly, this form of questioning is an internal process, and thus one can’t really tell if others are on the same page or not. Thirdly, due to the fact such processes are internal, they are equally entirely subjective, and therefore something I consider to be bad, another may consider good and vice versa. One way I could address such assumptions is to outline a few from daily life, and you can follow each process of questioning along in relation to your own wants, needs, desires, etc., and see where you end up. The ‘assumptions’ I’ll list are all, I believe, ideas, objects or undertakings of the modern world we assume as a given, accepted by almost all. This process of questioning isn’t meant to lead to anything specific, it’s meant to open up one’s internal dialogue and narrative with respect to their world, allowing them to view some of the ideas they hold. Let’s call this process Discursive Questioning, and such a process must begin with our needs, so it accepts our need for shelter, food, water, and clothing. Outside of these things, one needs to answer the questions for themselves.
Let’s begin with a job (not a vocation). So, why does one - supposedly - need a job? To earn money. Why does one need money? To be able to pay rent (shelter), buy food, buy clothing, and buy other things. At this point we could say that one only needs a job, or a wage, which has the ability to pay them the money required to attain shelter, food, and clothing.
Let’s now say that someone who is in such a position wants either extra things, or they wish to move to a nicer place. They now need more money because they want these extra things. So they either need a better paying job, or they need more hours. Usually one would opt for the better job, but in many such cases such jobs require transportation. So now one either needs to either use public transport or buy a car. And you can see how this can easily spiral into one assuming an entire lifestyle. The question being, what are the other assumptions which follow after you’ve accepted your job, which in turn accept various other material requirements (many of which are wants and not needs)?
What about one of the most common modern devices, a smartphone? Why do you need a smartphone? The usual answers are banking, photos, communication, social media, and access to the internet. But why do you need 24/7 access to all these things? In fact, one can question each of these apps in turn, and discursively develop a trail of assumptions which leads to a crystallized modern self.
Other intriguing objects and habits to question in this manner are: a bed, a microwave, a fridge, a shower, the internet, a Netflix subscription, a social media account, and a smartphone.
The practice itself might seem dry, but try and draw out as many connections to the assumptive modern standard of living as you can.
The most important thing to understand about freedom is that it’s primarily (if not solely) an internal state of being. This might seem like a far-fetched statement, but that’s because we’re taught by the modern world to think about freedom in extremely black-and-white, binary terms. From the point-of-view of modernity, one is free if they’re within it (job, career, education etc.), and unfree if they’re outside of it (wilderness, prison, vagabond etc.) One will notice that these are all common external reflections of an internal state, but aren’t the state itself.
In short, one could say this - There is a possibility that a billionaire, a homesteader, a wage-laborer, a vagabond, a freelancer, a public school teacher, a private sector worker, a janitor, and a principle are all equally free. Their external circumstances - job, possessions, hours, credentials etc. - do not define their internal state. This, however, is akin to the cliché ‘Don’t let your possessions own you.’ which is usually understood with respect to identity.
Let’s (very) briefly go back over the external/internal divide. The external is all which is outside us, it is as it is; it is events, objects, buildings, matter, and material, all simply there, externally. Then there is the internal, or more aptly, our internal. Our internal life which is the programmed reasoning for why we react and deal with the external in the way we do. Sounds complicated, but ultimately it amounts to the idea that separate individuals can react to the same object in different ways, but the modern world has attempted to train us to react the same way (largely as a means to make selling objects easier), and defends this habit forming process under the guise of ‘normality’.
For instance, when many people see a big shiny new car, they often think about it and react in such a way that they wish to buy it. A whole plethora of concepts quickly run through their mind: attractive, sleek, status, posh, classy, normal, likable, etc. All of a sudden they find themselves already legitimizing the need. Contrary to this we may find other people who, upon seeing such a vehicle, view it as abhorrent, a burden on their finances, and as ultimately needless. Contrary to these two opposing camps, we may find someone who views the car, but doesn’t see it at all, that is, it’s nothing to them, it is of zero interest.
So now, when one think backs on everything they read thus far about jobs, credentials, purchases, schooling etc. (all of which are external) they will realize - if they agree with my ideas - that the relationship between the external world and one’s own internal world has gone haywire. It is no longer the reality that the faculties of the internal world view the ‘thing’ before them (be a toaster or a job) and then decide whether it’s for them, but the logic of the modern world has programmed the internal world to assume values on behalf of the external world before the internal world has even had a chance to think about them. Certain jobs, items, credentials, and societal processes (school) are understood as good by the very fact they are the things in question. School is needed because school is needed etc.
The simple truth is that I’m not you; I can tell you that various assumptions have been made for you, I can possibly explain to you how to deconstruct them, but I can’t tell you whether you should be a corporate lawyer or a homesteader, a schoolteacher or a poet. I haven’t a clue because I am not you. But, alas, there is something in that, and it relates back to schooling.
In finding freedom in the modern world, one key undertaking is the effort we put into unschooling ourselves. Picasso said “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”, equally, it took me - and most others - 12 years (mandatory) to be schooled, and will take a lifetime to undo. It seems drastic to talk about ‘undoing’ schooling, but once again, if you continue to conflate the process of schooling with the actual content (knowledge), it will appear that I’m asking you to disregard what you actually learned, which I’m not. I’m asking you, firstly, to try undo the effects of schooling’s methodology, and the assumptions it brings forth. In short:
There is rarely ever certainty or security in life.
Success is entirely subjective.
You are entitled to absolute privacy.
You don’t have to get a career.
You don’t owe the state anything.
Credentials don’t equal actual knowledge.
Authority is only legitimate if you deem it to be.
If one is somewhat of an acute reader, they will have understood these basic truths from my earlier deconstructions alone, but here I will give a very brief overview of why these statements are true, what such truth means in terms of how one relates to the world, and - practically speaking - some tasks one may undertake if they wish to begin freeing themselves from the prison cell. Or…don’t, once again, I don’t really care what you do. So, firstly:
There is rarely ever certainty or security in life.
One of the key factors of schooling I overlooked earlier is certainty. I explicitly ignored it, and yet it was there clear as day. If one is to look at all of the major factors of modern schooling I mentioned - self-policing, careers, credentials, success, and permission - though all invasive and toxic in their own way, they all adhere to another malicious symptom of the modern condition, the insatiable lust for certainty, for completeness, to know that all is under control and no stone has been left unturned.
The modern world adores certainty, and abhors spontaneity.
The logic of modernity makes it so one believes they either are certain about something, or need to be certain about something. ‘What subjects are you going to study?’, ‘What university are you going to?’, ‘What are you doing afterwards?’, ‘Where will you work?’, ‘What will you be?’ etc. Most of these questions are pushed onto us at such an age where it cannot be even remotely expected of one to understand what it is they’re agreeing to. In self-policing we are developing a certainty of opinion (become fact); in a career one becomes certain of a multitude of cultural and resource factors; a credential is a (false) certainty of knowledge; ‘success’ is a certainty of accomplishment (itself subjective); and permission is a certainty of legitimacy. At all times, in all places, and amidst all things we are looking for certainty, mostly as a way to put our minds at rest with regard the question ‘Am I being normal right now?’
Modern schooling isn’t about learning, it’s about being taught. The answer is non-negotiable. Once the answer is the answer, the content doesn’t matter, one’s only concern is if they’re in agreement as to appease the authorities. Thomas Pynchon once said 'If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.' it follows that if the overarching question regarding our natural intrigue is quashed to the impetus of solely utilizing the information to find a job, then equally, nothing that follows matters.
We often hear people state such banal platitudes as ‘What does it matter, we could get hit by a bus tomorrow.’, or ‘You only get one life.’ or ‘You never know when you might die.’ - Now, despite the fact it sounds as if such people have become averse to the idea certainty exists, actually, the opposite is true. Such statements once again fall into the aforementioned tyranny where the modern world accepts it doesn’t have answers for its own shallowness. And the proclamations of ‘You only live once’ etc. are only ever to appease some inter-modern risky attitude; such sayings are stated prior to - shock horror - having a drink with brunch, or buying a new car, or going on an extra holiday, they are never stated prior to an undertaking which would be truly diverse (becoming a hermit, etc.).
When modern man emphatically proclaims You only live once! Prior to some banal binge drinking session, in truth he is only stating that he fears upsetting the normality of his singular life so much, that the limit of his radicality is merely an extreme version of normal life (yeah man, I’ll have the extra cheese, why not!)
The logical loop of modernity and the programmed guidelines of schooling ceaselessly bolster the notion of some form of transcendent security. If you get a grade you’ll secure a job, a job will secure a house, a house will be secure etc. And, despite continual evidence to the contrary, many people fall for this idea and have to attempt to uphold the contradiction as everything tumbles down around them. Likewise, with respect to certainty, a large amount of our mediated knowledge amounts to little more than faith in the guise of certainty. With various credentialed ‘experts’ or ‘professionals’ declaring various ‘facts’ which we agree to at face-value due to their position of authority.
Humans don’t learn from history, this much we know. But one thing we actively push against allowing ourselves to even see is that things end, empires crumble, nations fall, and all which is held as falsely eternal will one day collapse. On the macro level of nations this is rarely ever any specific generation’s concern. The collapse of empires takes hundreds of years, and right now we’re at the beginning of the end of ours. But in relation to the micro level of human ongoings, even relatively recent societal and cultural phenomena are held as absolute. Schooling, plumbing, electricity, automobiles, credentials, computers, and the internet are all held to be absolute mainstays of social life, despite the fact each one of these has been around for less than 200 years, with some finding traction only within the last 30. We’re quick to forget the past in our ever-present lust for certainty, and in doing so we trap ourselves within ever-constrained perspectives, limiting our own potential in the name of internal comfort.
Success in entirely subjective
This isn’t something I should need to explain, but here we are, in a world of homogenized success and ambition. Success: the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. That’s the definition, but the problem then lies in the fact that most moderns either don’t have any aims, or, their purpose has been defined by the logic of modernity itself. What one considers success is subjective. As to not fall into becoming some motivational guru book, I’ll let you figure out what success means, no more needs to be said here.
You don’t have to get a career
Once one internalizes that success is subjective, the very notion of getting a career may (or may not) be flung out the window. Now that one’s notion of success is critical of modernity’s logic, it finds itself free from the restraints of productivity and normality; no longer beholden to appeasing the collective need for one to be ‘in on it’, the future opens in a multitude of new directions. What once were merely dreams, fantasies, absurdities or errors become genuine possibilities. Despite this piece of advice being seemingly obvious, many people overlook it or actively disregard in relation to some perceived societal sunk cost. I’ve personally known and met multitudes of people throughout my working life who continue to work in positions causing them misery, anxiety, and boredom due to the fact they put time into getting there. Likewise, multitudes of graduates find themselves clinging on to soul-destroying office jobs for the sake of ‘utilizing their education’, as opposed to admitting to their preference for a job socially deemed lesser. Using the sunk cost of normality (wishing to appear normal), education, or time as their excuse, many people simply indulge in their misery as a means to avoid upsetting the atmosphere of their internal prison cell. Once again, the reluctance to take such an (apparently) bold leap is itself based upon another’s idea of failure. It’s rarely the case that one believes they will fail themselves - as they could just as easily pick up some or other job - but that they visualize somehow failing society, and looking like a fool for turning their back upon all which is deemed normal. Normal, again, being good because it’s normal.
Credentials don’t equal actual knowledge
This same form of collective agreement (X is good because lots of people agree with X, or, argumentum ad populum) carries over into credentialism. In fact, it’s the very fuel which turns credentials, awards, and certificates into the equivalent of some form of transcendent knowledge. E.g. If someone has X-award, or Y-certification they must have knowledge by the very fact they have the certification. Of course, anyone who’s reached adulthood within the modern world knows this to be untrue. More often than not our queries, problems, and practical faults aren’t solved by paying a ‘professional’. The fault in the car returns, the pipe under the sink leaks once more, the washing machine still rattles, your anxiety hasn’t gone away, and your back pain still persists. Often - though not always - despite handing our agency over to experts, professionals, and people with awards, we are still left with our initial problems. It’s at this juncture that our relationship with such notions of credentialism becomes quite tyrannical. Once we come to believe that certain credentialed people are the be-all-and-end-all with regard to their respective fields, in failing to ‘cure our ills’ or fix our problems, we’re left entirely without recourse for a solution. For from the logic of credentialism anyone who isn’t officially ‘credentialed’ (whatever that means) is a quack, a hack, or just plain wrong, and so if the experts can’t fix our problems, then who can?
Turns out we can do what people have been doing for centuries, we can decide to not outsource our problems to a thousand-and-one experts and actually take responsibility for ourselves and our property. The modern world is a narcissistic dreamland. If you’re a mean spirited, angry, and selfish person whose house is falling apart, it needn’t matter, we have a credentialed person to come and let you off the hook for each and every practical and psychological fault; in offloading all responsibility to a third-party, man is once again free to go fuck himself up some more - rinse, and repeat.
Credentials undoubtedly have many upsides (see my essay: The Modernity Mindset – Part 2: Schooling in Exiting Modernity), but in short, their very existence allows us to rest easy in the certified belief that our electrical outlets won't shock us, our toilet won't leak, and our food won't poison us. But the more we unconsciously rely on external ‘proofs’, the more we deny our internal experience. Or, in the words of Robert Heinlein (in Time Enough for Love)
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyse a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
In this sense, we can begin to understand freedom as being empirically reliant on our range of qualitative experiences. With regard to the average modern, in being filed down by the schooling system into a single ‘field’, and, in being continually promoted within that field, their experience becomes more and more niche, eventually exists within a singular spectrum of experience (business, law, mechanics etc.), and they feel they daren’t venture outside of this for fear of - once again - failure.
A thought experiment: If two people of the same competency both perform the required tasks and training needed to ‘be’ a competent mechanic, plumber, farmer, programmer, accountant, etc. But, if one of these people doesn’t do so within an institution legally allowed to hand out credentials, are they any different in actual ability? The answer is no. The point is - You can likely do most of the things you outsource, you’ve just programmed yourself to believe you can’t. And, in believing such, enter into voluntary servitude to a multitude of institutions, people, and contracts you are reliant on to fix things you could fix yourself.
You are entitled to privacy
After internalizing the idea that various micro-aggressions are entirely ok if performed on behalf of legitimate authority, one enters life with an overwhelming acceptance of a multitude of boundary-breaking societal habits. This mostly falls under the guise of digital surveillance, which in turn is defended by leaning on the aforementioned desire for security and certainty. Once again, such a defense of this form of invasion of privacy is tautological - ‘It’s ok because it’s the state, and the state being the state must have my best interests at heart.’ Itself buying into the false dichotomy of ‘If you have nothing to hide, why do you care about privacy?’ - You are either with us or against us. Based on the premise that privacy’s sole function is to stop wrongdoing, this relationship, with respect to individual privacy, places one in the position of either a dissident or a good government lackey. Whereby the state, in forcing your hand to state you in fact do have something to hide (because it’s embarrassing or just plain personal) forces you to feel as if you owe them an explanation as to why you have something to hide at all. Much like the absurdity of requiring a reason as to why you were late to class (once the assumption of schooling is stripped away), the presumption on behalf of the state in terms of intrusions of privacy can be countered with the statement ‘This is none of your business!’
You don’t owe the state anything
You may have noticed throughout this book that I have zero affection or support for the state. Whether or not the state is its own empirical entity, or arises solely from the logic of modernity, or is in some way a synthesis of both isn’t something I can thoroughly answer. In dealing with the state, and as such in dealing with schooling, one is entering into a discussion with something which is always trying to evade capture and questioning. Justifying its existence by recourse to its own logic alone, any legitimate questioning of the reality of the state is immediately subsumed under the definition of dissidence, rebellion, or radicality. And henceforth is either heavily policed, or socially ostracized due to the fact it’s considered not normal. You don’t owe the state anything, because you never consented to give them anything, be it time, money, energy, land, or values. In the words of Hans-Hermann Hoppe:
“No, the state is anything but the result of a contract! No one with even just an ounce of common sense would agree to such a contract. I have a lot of contracts in my files, but nowhere is there one like this. The state is the result of aggressive force and subjugation. It has evolved without contractual foundation, just like a gang of protection racketeers. And concerning the struggle of all against all: that is a myth.”
Any allegiance to the state can be considered only an extremely insidious collective version of stockholm syndrome. Wherein the herd which finds themselves born into the ruling of the state eventually come to not only develop feelings of affection for the state in question but actually end up defending its abusive actions. The contemporary form of allegiance to the state (especially in the west) isn’t even performed with regard to nationalism or patriotism, but done for sake of normality alone. Amidst the rising tide of globalism archaic symbols of specifically national support, be they flags, anthems, cuisine, history, customs, or style, are being homogenized into a falsely defined multicultural pulp. Compressed to such a degree that all singular cultures are refined into a single monoculture, itself only aspiring to bolster the accelerative logic of modernity. Appeasing or even pleasing the state, then, amounts to little more than being a good boy or girl and doing what you’re told. With the state’s legitimization amounting to nothing more than the classical parental retort ‘Because I said so!’
One might ask that if such is the case, and the state has solidified itself to the degree hereby articulated, then isn’t any form of anti-state action rendered impotent? One would be correct in affirming this, but they would be incorrect in assuming that such a position would be one I would ever agree with. Following Hoppe’s logic in his book Democracy: The God That Failed (2001), one needs to understand that any radical anti-state action only ever bolsters the (false) legitimacy of the state. In relation to what I have already mentioned with respect to both security and privacy, any destabilizing action is the state’s much-needed proof of its existence. ‘See! Look what happens when we don’t have control!’ And so, what is to be done? For an answer to this we can turn to Hoppe once more:
The decision to secede involves that one regard the central government as illegitimate, and that one accordingly treat it and its agents as an outlaw agency and "foreign" occupying forces. That is, if compelled by them, one complies, out of prudence and for no other reason than self-preservation, but one does nothing to support or facilitate their operations. (p91)
I would utilize Hoppe’s form of secession in relation to the aforementioned discussions on internality and externality. Such a form of succession (in my opinion) begins externally, and thus protrudes into the external by way of intuiting illegitimacy. The more people who consistently exit their internal prison cell with respect to the notion of state rule, the fewer people there are who continue to bolster the elusive psychic entity we define as ‘the modern state’. In short, following Hoppe, don’t work, volunteer, or do anything even on behalf of the state, do nothing which bends the knee to its false claims of legitimacy.
Authority is only legitimate if you deem it to be
What gives any authority its legitimacy is ultimately down to the individual in question. Unfortunately, the question of how one can begin to understand the very concept of ‘legitimacy’ is extremely lost within the modern world. Once parental responsibility is overthrown by state servitude, which is largely forthwith considered normal and right, the very notion of questioning authority only appears from within an unquestioned authority. The great irony of state education is that one of its more recent touchstones is ‘Being independent!’. Of course, such independence can’t be taught in such a way as to remove its dependence on the state. Once again, an inbuilt tyranny whereby one is given the illusion of freedom from within the prison cell itself.
Within the concept of legitimacy, we see a synthesis of schooling’s primary foundations: credential, authority figure, and state. Each becoming synonymous with each other, one slowly learns to not question various credentials be they law, education, or state official. This unquestioning behavior is bolstered by the fact the person in question is collectively deemed an ‘authority figure’, and solidified even more by the fact such person is a ‘state official’. Once again mirroring our obedience to a teacher for the tautological reasons we’ve already seen. So in truth, what one is doing when they bow down to a worldly authority or state official, is, in truth, policing themselves.
In the process of finding freedom, we of course begin by questioning what freedom is. During such questioning one comes to understand that freedom must be understood in relation to a lack of freedom, some form of imprisonment. As we’ve seen, however, such imprisonment is not an external phenomenon, but something which is primarily internal. In seeking freedom we can only turn inwards. In turning inwards we find ourselves sitting in the aforementioned prison cell, dark and miserable, and we see we have the potential to walk out at any time if we wish to only see the door.
The task of finding a way to see the door is the task of looking at the chains one puts upon oneself, all the assumptions, presumptions, habits, and customs which are not in agreement with one’s own principles and cause them a distinct lack of possible freedom. The task of freedom is to know thyself and is not something anyone else can do for you.
And yet I must ask, what is it to police ourselves? Policing oneself has only a loose relationship with the external world, which is but an afterthought of our internal actions. Policing oneself, as taught from a young age, is at first an active thing. We actively check ourselves, our actions, and even our beliefs to see if they are in accord with what will ‘get us ahead’ in life, even if what is ahead is not actually what we want. This active policing becomes passive, where our future life is one wherein we are subconsciously aligning ourselves with the world in a certain way. One might be in a shop, a forest, on a walk, eating, or in their own home, but they stand and exist in such a way which is internally imprisoned.
One can unpolice themselves in much the same way one might begin to do so in the external reality, that is by questioning the authority of the ‘police’ in question. First and foremost, one must realize that any internal policing is a form of authority solely given by oneself, such internal beliefs are only ever held up by the person who themselves holds them, and as such can fall apart in an instant when looked at from the right perspective. This perspective is, once again, an entirely personal thing. For this reason, I’m not necessarily interested in the reasons why things are the way they are. People seem to believe that in ‘unearthing’ the root cause of the problem, they will in turn acquire the means to deconstruct the problem itself. The problem with this logic is that firstly, much has changed since the problem first took place, and secondly, in seeking a reason to do something one is equally seeking to justify doing something. In many external cases, one does need justification for undertaking an action. However, when it comes to one’s own internal life, justification is never needed…as it’s your life, your mind, etc.
The process unto which I ‘undo’ (read: critically look at) most things is - once again - by a form of discursive reasoning. The same form of questioning which might help with your personal budget (Why do I feel I need a car?), is exactly the same form of reasoning which will help you dissipate much of the modern nonsense piled on you under the guise of opinion, hot take, up-to-date, political stance, etc. For instance, in asking oneself the question Why do I support X? If, for instance, X was a political party, one might then ask - Do I know anyone who X has actually helped? If the answer is no, then you can once again go back to the first question and continue going until you arrive at a conclusion.
The problem in writing about de-policing oneself - and in many ways the problem with writing this book - is that much of my argumentation can be condensed to the sentence ‘Just think!’. The thing is, most people don’t think, they just act out of blind collective faith. School is good ‘cus everyone goes to school. Government is good ‘cus we’ve always had government. Cars are good ‘cus everyone has a car. X-new-political-thing is good ‘cus everyone supports it. Careers are what we should go for ‘cus everyone else goes for ‘em and on and on and on.
If we’re to understand entertainment with respect to both its common definitions - to be entertained by something, and, to entertain something - we can begin to ask ourselves a helpful question: Are we actually being entertained, or, are we merely entertaining something? The former is a choice in relation to a personal value or preference, be it art, aesthetics, morals, interests, curiosity, religion, philosophy, etc. To actually be entertained is to be open to the possibility of having one’s internal world imbued with something more. To merely entertain something, on the other hand, is to sit in your prison cell and apathetically stare at the shadows on the wall. It once again goes back to the notion of filling time. To entertain something is to just have an unallocated amount of time and acquire enough mediated stimulation to make it pass by. Are you simply entertaining something for the sake of being in on it, being able to state that you also have seen the ‘latest thing’ and are thus normal?
Social media is the next in a long line of societal options which has since become quietly mandatory. People assume that one will be able to be ‘contacted’ via some social media platform, that there will exist somewhere online an artificial CV of that person’s life ready for public consumption. In short, in entering into various social media networks which have no specific preference (hobby forum); one enters solely into the form of modernity simulation I mentioned earlier. One wherein each user can sculpt their virtual mirror image to a degree unattainable in real life. Ultimately, one is simply entering into a network of envy, jealousy, and pride, wherein each action is undertaken for the sake of bolstering one’s self-image, proving one is normal, or parading external experiences as signified proof of one’s status as a modern person.
In entering into the social media theater of comparison, one merely weighs their own life up against the false, displayed lives of other people. First and foremost, the lives and experiences they believe themselves to be missing out on are mere highlight reels, curated images, and videos to prove the person in question is happy, content, normal, etc. Secondly, the collective promotion of homogenized modern experiences - brunches, holidays, beaches, food pics, etc. - only continues to bolster an innate fear of missing out within the viewer. Such fear of missing out may be entirely unfounded in relation to what any individual wants, but due to the social acceptance and normalization of selected modern experiences, the masses largely feel compelled to do that which they never question.
Social media turns life into an abstract competition. The only rule is to play, and to ‘win’ is to amass artificial popularity. In reality, it’s a competition one never chose to enter, in a race towards rewards one never cared for. All the while this very same race grinds one’s attention span to a pulp, increases anxiety, depression, and jealousy, normalizes narcissism, develops insecurity, and quantifies the quality. Millions of people exist within the contradiction of acquiring thousands of friends and likes, and yet still spending most of their time sitting alone staring at their phone screen, waiting for the next notification to vindicate the ever-increasing expanse in their soul.
The technological ‘progress’ of mobile phones is one which is very common for many types of technology. First, the technology in question is created with a specific use case in mind (professionals being able to contact people quickly from anywhere). Next, the technology improves its accessibility and affordability, meaning now everyone can contact anyone from anywhere. Next, this now common technology is ‘innovated’ with various apps and addons, relegating its initial use to wayside. Finally, the now socially viral technology is integrated into society as a general means and thus becomes quietly mandatory.
For the first two-thirds of my lifetime, I didn’t have a smartphone, not because I was the semi-luddite you see before you, but because they didn’t exist in their current state. It wasn’t the case that masses of people spent their day holding a small rectangle in front of them as a means to mediate the world. If people had a generic, useless question, they either pondered it or forgot it - they didn’t pull out their phone, accept the first answer on Google, and forget the information 5 minutes later (a process that damages our memory). If people wanted to talk to one another they would either call, wait to see them at work or school, or (shock horror) go and visit them. The ease of use of social media and smartphones in combination - unlimited communication with everyone all the time - results only in an increase in quantity and not quality with respect to relationships. Given the ability to talk to your ‘friends’ 24/7, one no longer refines or ponders on the content of their discussion, thinking about it and actually listening, but merely fires off a ceaseless stream of ongoing events and thoughts; friendship falls prey to an illusion of infinite communication, whereby in removing the prior physical limitations of communicating, one can now talk to their friends all day, all the time, like some infantile dream of never allowing the party to end. The conclusion is that such friendships become increasingly strained, reliant on the latest in pop trivia and social media updates to keep them fueled, as everything which could be said has been.
The increasingly common rebuttal against smartphone criticism is equivalent to sarcastically screaming the words ‘Phone bad! Phone bad!’ over and over again as to try to scare away the confrontation with genuine choice. Anyone entering into such a form of cynical anti-critique is forgetting that it was only 15-20 years ago when smartphones literally did not exist. Smartphones, like all technology, are non-destructive when used contextually. For instance, one used to bring a camera with them if one thought something might be worthy of a photograph, a cell phone was tucked in the car or back pocket in case of emergency, and an MP3 player was brought along with respect to long journeys. A smartphone, however, in being a literal portable, personal computer, brings with it all the functionality of a computer. As such, at any moment one can ignore the world and turn back towards a mediated world of their own creation, strengthening our inability to simply exist, in silence.
Many people offer tricks to beat smartphone addiction such as: placing the phone out of reach, de-activating notifications, turning on grayscale mode, deleting the distracting apps, a cut-off time for usage, etc. Such tips and tricks are another case of wishing to eat your cake and have it too. One is addicted to their smartphone, and yet, amidst all these ‘tricks’, don’t genuinely desire to get rid of their smartphone. This isn’t a technological problem, it’s a societal problem in relation to the logic of modernity. The inability of the addicted to detach themselves from their smartphone, is, in truth, an inability to detach themselves from the universal modern umbilical cord. In removing the smartphone from his life, modern man takes a decisive step towards de-modernizing his life, cutting himself off from perpetually mediated normality, ongoing trends, political discussion, etc. Getting rid of your smartphone is the equivalent of partially deworming yourself of modern logic’s parasitic infection.
If you live within the modern, western world, then it’s highly likely any experienced poverty is subjective, and thus an idealistic choice against reality. Objective poverty is the foundation of existence, man began amidst the wilderness and slowly developed the technological and socio-cultural foundation we all now consider to be normal. We could, at any time, return to such a state of objective poverty. It’s unlikely, but it’s possible. Anything beyond one’s immediate needs is optional. This appears to be a drastic statement, however, the average contemporary US household has 300,000 possessions, whereas an average household in the 1500s had less than 1000. One might argue that such a comparison is absurd due to the emphatically different contexts. The point isn’t to be understood with respect to returning to tradition, whereby I believe that returning to a previous time would be better for us. It’s meant to be understood that the life of the average Joe from history was one of bare necessity, floating just above objective poverty. Were these people unhappy? I would argue that they were not, and to believe such an idea is once again to buy into the distinctly modern idea that history progresses. The belief that one needs material goods beyond objective poverty is one built from a presumption of comfort, pleasure, and generic quality of life. I wish to present such assumptions neutrally, allowing the reader to declare them as good or bad for themselves. The point is - as we’ve seen - that a collective artificial standard of poverty imposes a societal pressure of conformity onto modern man, thus pushing him to unquestioningly consume, and thus become further dependent on various institutions.
All consumption is a choice. Such choices are based upon the belief that said consumption will improve one’s quality of life. This quality of life is likely based upon a ‘generic’, unquestioned standard of living programmed into you from birth. From this neutral position, one can begin to understand that the life of a hermit needn’t be perceived as deficient, nor needn’t the life of a millionaire be viewed as a material goal. The spectrum isn’t critiqued, as much as its falsely collective, objective value system is destroyed altogether. Who are others to decide how you are to live?
To Consume, To Hold, To Give
Within the modern world, the act of consumption appears to exist on a spectrum of a single direction, forward! Progress, innovation, overhaul, redevelopment, and growth are the navigational buzzwords of the modern world, vectoring us ever towards more, more, more. The forward march of personal, collective, and global consumption is made synonymous with virtue in itself. This mode of thinking therein conflates any lack of consumption with abnormality, regression, and a ‘return’ to worse conditions. Modern man can never be materially content because he’s internalized consumptive progress itself as a virtue. The reality, of course, is entirely different. The spectrum of consumption not only halts but even has a positive mode of return, once upon a time known as charity of giving.
Firstly, one can halt their consumption. They can, outside of objective needs, stop consuming…don’t worry, you won’t die. Halting consumption with respect to subjective desires is a great exercise in itself, for it allows a shock to one’s perspective, opening their vision to their infantile reactive need to consume at any moment of the meagerest discomfort. Bad day, consume; good day, consume; failed exam, consume; successful exam, consume; good thing, consume; bad thing, consume. Life’s successes are rewarded by consumption; life’s failures are consoled by consumption. Consumption has no affiliation; it is the antidote par excellence when it comes to feeling empty. But to conflate halting consumption with emptiness itself is to make a grave error, for one is not the culmination of their purchases and vices, and as such, in halting, one actually finds themselves.
Without new gizmos to distract, entertainment to pacify, or vices to excite, who exactly are you? Halting allows a shock, and in this crack within modern time, one is given an opportunity to look at themselves and begin to know themselves. A moment to ask, without any attachments, who are you?
You’ll need to slowly answer this question for yourselves, as I’m not you. However, after halting, we have the ‘reverse’ direction of consumption which is giving. Though some may argue that giving is in itself still an act of the self of the one who gives, the giving in question isn’t a form of consumption directly bolstering the subjective life of the person in question, but the one to which you give. Most contemporary giving, or charity, has itself been subsumed into the other side of the consumptive spectrum and is externalized as an experience to share on social media. ‘Look at me, I am giving to X charity!’, thus making it clear that the act of giving is being performed out of appeasing one’s need to signal their goodness, as opposed to a sincere belief in the cause donated to.
When one starts giving or even starts giving their stuff away, the reaction from the modern world is one of worry. For this is not a halt due to lack of money or credit, but an active renunciation of the modern consumptive foundation. Such an act is viewed (once again) as an error, a glitch in the system; such a person is not acting of their own accord, their programming must have gone haywire. And yet, quiet, unspoken, unacknowledged, unproclaimed, and unannounced giving is the first step towards an existence of quality. Quantity adheres to a point, and that point is primarily of the self. I have X, Y, and Z, I went here and here, I like and dislike, etc. A life of quality, however, expands in directions that aren’t of the linear self, and thus forms a position of empathy. In short, the act of silent giving is the real combatant of noisy consumption.
Who is Your King?
Once again beginning from the most neutral position one can manage, one can begin to ask themselves - as a task, as an exercise, as a duty - Who is my king? Who - or what - is it you bend the knee to? What is it you adore and idolize? What is it you perhaps unknowingly put before all other things? What is it you have faith in despite the fact it hasn’t once made you content? For in the words of David Foster Wallace -
“There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship...is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already - it's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness." (This is Water)
Those of the secular or atheistic camp might feel that using the language of worship and faith in relation to material matters is unfounded or ignorant. Yet, faith is simply a conviction in something, confidence without ‘proof’. Moderns tend to turn their noses up at such ideas because they’ve acquired a worldview which affords them certainty at all times. The notions of science, facts, and data allow them to believe they are always correct, despite ever genuinely being able to prove much of what they hear for themselves.
In truth, man never has, and never will, get beyond God and gods. For as many have faith in God; the masses have faith in gods, the idols of old which return time and time again: money, power, fame, and attraction, to name but a few. They believe that their belief in such things is not a matter of faith, but one of fact. They believe if they acquire enough money they’ll be happy, if they gain enough power they’ll feel in control, and if they draw enough of a crowd that they’ll finally feel secure. And yet, such is not the case. Money doesn’t buy happiness, all empires fall, and the famous are forgotten. We worship such idols as a matter of faith, with the belief itself being the force that keeps us believing, despite evidence to the contrary. Our material kings betray us each and every second, and yet we continue to forgive them in hope that one day the itch will be scratched. The great irony is that one needs to usurp the throne of their own mind, exit through the open door, delegitimize the king, and move onwards from a position of found contentment.
The Figure of the Anarch
As I’ve stated many times throughout this text, I never want to tell you what to do. It would be hypocritical to do as much. However, this doesn’t deny a palpable frustration being developed inside the reader as to just what it is they are now meant to do. Or, more aptly, how it is they are now to be. It’s extremely difficult, after having the rug pulled from under your feet, to find some sort of balance and get your bearings. One doesn’t want to accidentally jump feet first into yet another bunch of constraining presumptions. So, what is to be done, and how are we to be?
There is a figure in literature that isn’t exactly well known, is extremely divisive, notably explosive, quiet, reserved, forthwith, and notoriously difficult to ‘pin down’. I am speaking of the figure of ‘The Anarch’ as found in Ernst Jünger’s novel Eumeswil. As far as I’m concerned, the Anarch is the greatest ‘political contribution’ of the last 45 years. When we begin to remove ourselves from presumptions, and the logic of modernity itself, in truth we are becoming detached. There is no one more detached than the Anarch. And yet, there is no one more acutely aware of the world than the Anarch.
The positive counterpart of the anarchist is the anarch. The latter is not the adversary of the monarch, but his antipode, untouched by him though also dangerous. He is not the opponent of the monarch, but his pendant. After all, the monarch wants to rule many, nay, all people; the anarch, only himself. (p43)
Where the anarchist is throwing bombs, making placards, and attaching themselves to the latest-and-greatest political noise, the Anarch is taking a snapshot of the horizon, taking his notes, and stepping back to his internal domain. The Anarch, like Tolkien’s Tom Bombadil from The Fellowship of the Ring, has carved out a space - fully internal, possibly external - over which he is sovereign. Amidst the turbulence and smoke of modernity’s incessant continuation, the Anarch always retains himself. The Anarch is entirely un-identified; he is not indifferent, but he is impartial. He is, possibly, engaged, but he is simultaneously conscious of his engagement, and thus is able to step out at any time, nothing is crystallized and assumed. And yet, he is not apathetic, not pathetic as is the case of the cynic who bemoans his life; he is proactive in renouncing all which seeks to overwhelm his internal freedom. It takes strength to be an Anarch, the heart of a patrician, and a memory out of time. One must be ready to be their own anchor, amidst seas of -isms, -ologies, and -aries, the Anarch resounds and something entirely disjointed and out-of-time.
‘...as an anarch, I am on my guard’ (p73) - He is ready. Not in the manner of one whose sword is drawn and teeth are gritted, but he who is ready to avoid attachments and sympathies to collective abstractions, a sovereign armor that keeps freedom from being lost. He who remains free of all commitments yet can turn in any direction. (p99), uprooted presumptions are not stamped upon nor killed, only delegitimized by swiftly walking away without a care for their pomposity. Any further exposition on how to be an Anarch seems fruitless; needless external complexity to explain something internally simple. The Anarch, in the world, but not of it.
The anarch nurtures no expectations. (p168)
A final comment, a final note. This world is usually considered the one and only world, the only place there is. But I firmly believe that within your disillusionment with the modern world is something far larger, far deeper. Perhaps you don’t feel it yet, or perhaps you do and you just can’t quite name it. But to disenchant the world is to re-enchant…something else. I don’t want to say what that is.
See, in casting off many of the presumptions, shackles, and chains of the modern world, one quickly comes to see parts of it float away entirely. It can become loose and subtly turbulent, as if nothing really seems to be holding it together anymore. Fear not, you’re not going mad. Take your time, tread lightly and quietly, be patient, and things will open up. In leaving this world behind - not totally, of course - it’s as if you have to learn a new language. Modernity only taught you a restrictive, monosyllabic vernacular fit for board meetings and emails. And now one might find a peculiar language coming forth, another type of Word altogether.
If in time, one feels such is the case, then I would direct them to my book Be Not Afraid, which can be found for free on my website.
Dumbing Us Down, 1991 - John Taylor Gatto
Weapons of Mass Instruction, 2008 - John Taylor Gatto
Deschooling Society, 1971 - Ivan Illich
Bullshit Jobs, 2018 - David Graeber
Amusing Ourselves to Death, 1985 - Neil Postman
Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, 1978 - Jerry Mander
Early Retirement Extreme, 2010 - Jacob Lund Fisker
Presence in the Modern World, 1963 - Jacques Ellul
Democracy: The God That Failed, 2001 - Hans-Hermann Hoppe
Eumeswil, 1977 - Ernst Jünger
Industrial Society and Its Future, 1995 – Theodore Kaczynski