What To Pray For

Let us consider a question – an important one (perhaps indeed the most important of all questions): How should we pray? For what should we petition God? What is it right to ask Him for? Perhaps just as importantly, what is it reasonable to ask Him for? It occurs to me that many problems in our spiritual lives spring from not sufficiently considering this. We all hope that God will answer our prayers, but do we ever stop to wonder whether we’re asking the right questions in them? After all, if you ask a bad question, you’ll get a bad answer. That much is obvious. And it should be equally obvious that if you petition God for the wrong thing – if you ask for something unjust or unreasonable – then He will not be under any obligation to help you achieve it.

So then, what should we petition God for? Above all, we should pray for our will to be in accordance with God’s will, and for our actions to be in accordance with God’s commandments. That is what it is right and just to pray for.

Simple enough? Not so much, of course. If we were back in the Garden of Eden with the first man and the first woman, it would be far easier. But we aren’t, and we face the great complications of the imperfect, fallen world inhabited by our imperfect, fallen kind: temptation and sin. For our will and our actions to be in accordance with God’s intentions, we must avoid sin. And so we may – and we often do – pray for help in avoiding it. This, too, is a right and just thing to pray for. But the older I have gotten, the more I have become convinced that there is a right way and a wrong way to do this; a way that is reasonable and a way that is unreasonable; a way that will find the favor of God, and a way that will not find the favor of God.

What my own experience tells me is this: Every time I have prayed to not be tempted – to not face temptations that I would have to resist – God has not answered my prayers. But when I have instead prayed for the strength to resist the temptations that I have faced, God has been far more inclined to grant it to me. This has convinced me that the former is the wrong thing to pray for, and the latter is the right thing to pray for.

For example: is it really possible to “pray the gay away” as some people contend? I would say it depends on precisely what one means by that. If by that we mean “pray to no longer have any same-sex attractions”, then no it isn’t. If by that we mean “pray for the strength required to not actually engage in sexual activity with someone of the same sex”, then yes it is.

Every time I hear of some televangelist preacher or Republican Congressman who has been caught in a public restroom stall with a rent boy, (and if I assume they were ever sincere about their stated principles in the first place), I cannot help but believe that this was someone who prayed for the wrong thing. They prayed to not be tempted instead of praying for the strength to not give in to their temptations. By failing to do the latter, they never learned how to properly deal with the temptations around them. They prayed not for the strength to fight, but instead petitioned God to not have to fight at all. Thus, when they inevitably did have to fight, as we all must, they did not have the strength to do it, and lost.

John Milton once wrote: “I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and seeks her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world; we bring impurity much rather. That which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary. That virtue, therefore, which is but a youngling in the contemplation of evil, and knows not the utmost that vice promises to her followers, and rejects it, is but a blank virtue, not a pure.” By this he meant that those who simply try to hide from temptation, to close themselves off from it so that they never have to face it, are, like a cowardly knight who can claim that he’s never been defeated in battle only because he’s never actually been in one, neither truly strong nor truly admirable. God does not mean us to hide from the battles with temptation that are a central, inescapable part of the experience of being human – He means us to fight them and win them.

Sons of Adam, the Lord thy God never once promised you an earthly life free of temptation. Even Christ, who committed no sin, still experienced temptation while in human form. Yet in His mercy, God has said that merely experiencing temptation is not a sin against Him. It is only acting on it that is.

But what of the Lord’s Prayer? Does it not include a petition unto God to “Lead us not into temptation”? Yes, but let us read that carefully. It is not a plea for God to remake the world such that temptation does not exist at all, or to remake our own fundamental human nature such that we will never be drawn towards it. That is an unreasonable request; the first man and the first woman made their choice, and we must live with this imperfect world as a consequence. No, it is a plea that we not be led into temptation. Temptation will always exist in this world, and humans will always feel its pull upon us; the question is whether we shall give in to it and walk into the embrace of the things that tempt us, or whether we shall reject it and flee from them. It is the strength to do the latter that is, and should be, prayed for.

Neoreactionaries say: “It doesn’t matter what you wanted, it only matters what you chose.” Just so; but this can have more than one meaning. In the Puritan* and leftist worldview (leftism is, as I have discussed elsewhere, thoroughly Puritan in its attitudes and worldview**), what a person is thinking is of paramount importance, because sinful thoughts lead to sinful acts. In the Catholic and rightist worldview, the emphasis is placed not on thoughts but on actions. This is why leftist governments tend towards thought control, while rightist governments tend to focus on controlling actions. An example can be found in the concept of “hate crimes” – to the leftist, it is important to know what a criminal was thinking when he assaulted someone; to a rightist, all that matters is that he did assault someone. To the Puritan/leftist, it is people’s motivations that are important; to the Catholic/rightist, it is only the choices that people make, regardless of internal thoughts or desires, that are important.

Choices are a function of the will. Therefore, let us pray for our will to be strengthened, so that we may make the right choices, and undertake the right actions. This, rather than praying to be released from the obligation to ever face temptation or to have to build up the strength of will to choose not to fall to it, is what it is right to pray for. A prayer to be released from this obligation is wrongheaded, unreasonable – it is to pray for the coward’s way out, and God does not mean for His people to be cowards; indeed, in this world filled with temptations of every kind, Christians cannot afford to be.

It took me many years, and many mistakes made, at the cost of many lasting regrets, to learn what to pray for. Brothers and sisters in Christ, I beg you, consider what I have said, and pray wisely.

(*Yes, I know that Milton was a Puritan and held a post in the Cromwell government. He was the only one of them who was worth anything or had any thoughts worth listening to. What can I say? Sometimes good people fall in with a bad crowd.)

(**This is especially true in America. There are very nearly no non-Puritans in America. There are merely right-Puritans and left-Puritans; Christian-Puritans and atheist-Puritans.)

Follow The Lady

A recent episode of an alt-right podcast to which I am a subscriber turned to a discussion of high-trust societies versus low-trust societies. The upshot of the discussion seemed to be that high-trust societies are not only the natural state of Western man, but essentially an unalloyed good. It is, so they seemed to say, only lesser peoples from cruder societies who fail to build high social trust; their societies are worse because of it, and their people incompatible with our better, more advanced social structures.

Perhaps. And yet, whether I wanted it or not, I found something nagging at me from deep with my consciousness; something that told me that there were flaws with seeing high trust as an absolute good, to be aspired to by all men of acute sensibility and good intent. Not a philosophical argument; no, a memory. One from long past – cold, as all old memories are, but clear…

* * *

New York City, January 1986

It was a blistering cold day under a crystal clear blue sky as I made my way through Washington Square Park, headed southeast towards Broadway. Cold as it was, my thick winter coat – a full-length one that went all the way to my knees, still my favorite of all the winter coats I’ve ever owned – kept me well-protected as I wound my way past the park’s great central fountain, past the statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, and out onto West 4th Street. This was the old, rough New York of the pre-Giuliani days – the fountains had been dry for years; the statue’s base was covered in graffiti and Garibaldi himself was caked in birdshit that no one had bothered cleaning off in ages. As I passed Mercer Street, I saw a disheveled black bum, with a crazy look in his eyes and his pants down around his ankles, loudly straining as, in broad daylight on a crowded street, he defecated in the doorway of one of the buildings of New York University. In those days of the old, rough New York, the cops didn’t care, and everybody simply pretended not to notice.

I pretended not to notice, too. What would I have done about it? I was alone, and twelve years old, wandering through the great city. This was something my father not only allowed, but encouraged. We would come into the city, and he would turn me loose for hours upon end, to explore by myself while he did other things. This was before cell phones, so I couldn’t easily contact anyone if I needed to. I was expected to simply be cagey and street smart enough to get by, and so I was; it was supposed to make me independent and self-reliant, and so it did. We had a time and a place to meet, and if that failed an alternate time and place, and if that failed, I knew how to get to my grandmother’s house in Brooklyn on the subway. I had a little money in my pocket, and a little more tucked into my sock. This was “mugger money” – if someone tried to rob me, I could give him what was in my pocket, and the money secreted in my sock would still be enough to get home with. You had to be ready for anything.

Someplace around where Broadway meets East Houston Street (that’s pronounced “How-ston” – if you pronounce it “Hew-ston” everyone will know you’re a tourist) I came upon a small crowd gathered around two sets of buskers. The first, a troupe of breakdancers whirling crazily on a mat made of old cardboard boxes, held no interest for me, and I quickly passed them by. But the second made me stop and look, for it was a genuine sidewalk game of Three-Card Monte.

Three-Card Monte is a simple game of chance in which three cards, one a queen (of any suit, it doesn’t matter which) are placed side by side, face down, on a small table. The dealer then quickly moves the cards around for a few seconds to randomize which one is where. If the player is able to follow the movements of the queen and correctly pick it out after the dealer is done, he wins. If not, he loses. A simple game of luck and skill – if played honestly. Which it never is, especially not on a sidewalk in lower Manhattan.

I gently pushed through the small crowd, close enough to see the table (actually three cardboard boxes stacked on one another), but not close enough to be mistaken for someone who wanted to play. The dealer was a young black man in a Yankees cap; personable, charming, funny, smiling a lot. Behind him were two more such young men, similarly dressed. All wore nice running shoes as well. The player was an older black lady of maybe 70 years, nicely dressed, and doing very well indeed. She had won the first game and lost the second. This next one, she said, was going to be her last for the day.

The dealer turned the cards face-up. He pointed at the queen, to demonstrate to all that she was indeed there. He turned the cards over, and, with lightning quickness, began moving them, chanting as he did:

Followtheladyfollowtheladyfollowtheladyfollowthelady…

When he stopped, the old woman extended her arm to point at the center card, but then paused, grimaced intently, looked at the dealer, and pointed to the card on the right. A winner again!

But of course she won – she was a shill. In a typical game, there are five or six shills – apparent onlookers who are in league with the dealer and assigned various jobs to help him out – sprinkled about the crowd. For example, there would be a lookout or two who would alert the dealer if a cop was coming, in which case he would make use of those running shoes, leaving the cop with nothing but a stack of cardboard boxes to inspect. There would be the “winner” – someone as respectable-looking as they could come up with – whose victories would convince the marks in the crowd that the game could be won. And there would be security, here represented by the young men standing behind the dealer, who would intervene in case a mark who lost a game got physical. Such labor was cheap and plentiful in the ghetto, which was where the entire crew lived, though we were a long subway ride away from it. All of them were, of course, on welfare and unemployed, which left their days free for pursuits such as these. Yes, food stamps covered necessities, but a bit of cash was always useful. After all, liquor stores didn’t take food stamps, nor could they be used for cigarettes, lotto tickets, marijuana, prostitutes, or (at least in those days; perhaps it is different now) expensive running shoes.

The old woman had done her job, and receded into invisibility in the crowd.

“Come on now, who’s next?! I can’t go home broke!!” the dealer cheerfully yelled.

Out of the crowd stepped a young white man of perhaps twenty-five years. In an accent that suggested an origin in the less wealthy end of Europe, he said “Alright, I’ll giff it a try”.

The dealer smiled broadly, doubtless already imagining the filled pipe and 40 of malt liquor that he was going to buy that evening with the mark’s hard-earned money.

“Come on up, mah friend, come on up!”

The mark came on up. The procedure was repeated. The queen was presented, the cards placed face-down, and the dealer’s hands began to move.

Followtheladyfollowtheladyfollowtheladyfollowthelady…

Almost imperceptibly, one of the security men gave a nod in the direction of the breakdancers. I couldn’t see what move they pulled, but it was enough to get a loud cheer from the crowd that surrounded them. For a split second, everyone looked away – the mark, the crowd around our table, the shills – everyone except the dealer. And me, as I knew what was coming next. As quick as lightning, one of the cards on the table went up the dealer’s loose, long sleeves, and another card, drawn from the sleeve, replaced it. It happened so fast that, even knowing it was coming, I almost didn’t see it happen. The mark, distracted for a split second, didn’t see it at all.

Now it didn’t matter which card he picked. The lady wasn’t anywhere on the table. He chose. He lost.

It was as the dealer magnanimously offered to let the mark win his money back that I finally spotted the remaining members of the crew of shills. A thin young man who had been standing to the side of the crowd came up behind one of the onlookers, a companion of the mark who was playing the game. There was an ever-so-light brushing up of one against the other, and in a flash, the onlooker’s wallet went from the back pocket of his pants into the front pocket of the thin young man’s jacket. This was the final bit of revenue enhancement for the crew, and probably just as lucrative as the game itself. On a good day, they might lift half a dozen wallets, or maybe even more.

But not mine. There was more than one reason I liked that heavy, knee-length coat.

The thin young man casually but quickly made his way towards the old woman who had won the first game I had seen, and who was still in the crowd. The stolen wallet dropped into the large tote bag she was carrying. This part was key – get the wallet off the pickpocket as quickly as possible; that way, if the victim noticed that his wallet was missing and confronted the person who had just bumped into him (or worse, managed to summon a passing cop), the thief wouldn’t have anything incriminating on him.

Followtheladyfollowtheladyfollowtheladyfollowthelady…

Two more games were played – both with distractions appearing at the appropriate times, and both lost by the mark. A couple more wallets were lifted. The crew was having a good day.

If my father meant for me to learn from experiences, I can say without doubt that, at least that day, he succeeded. As I observed the Three-Card Monte crew, it occurred to me that everything there was a fraud, a cheat, and a theft, and that everyone there was complicit. Even the marks, with their desire to make a quick something for nothing, were not blameless. And, in my silence as I watched them get cheated and robbed, neither even was I. There was much to be learned from that.

A loud whistle came from somewhere just beyond the crowd. I turned to look, and almost before I could snap my head back towards the game, the dealer and his security men were gone. It was a signal from one of the lookouts; as the crowd quickly broke up I could see two of New York’s Finest slowly lumbering their way north up Broadway. If they had spotted the game, they were in no rush to get to it, but one way or another they would be where we were very soon. The show was over, and, like everyone else, I turned to go.

I hadn’t made it more than twenty or thirty feet before I heard a loud voice behind me, in an accent that suggested an origin in the less wealthy end of Europe, shout: “Vhere de fuck is my vallet?!”

* * *

And what is it, dear reader, that you might believe is all on the up-and-up?

Do you believe that your government represents your interests; that it works tirelessly to address your concerns and solve the problems in your life?

Followtheladyfollowtheladyfollowtheladyfollowthelady…

Do you believe that judges of the Supreme Court really decide matters on what the Constitution says about them, regardless of any personally-held ideology?

Followtheladyfollowtheladyfollowtheladyfollowthelady…

Do you believe that the common man is independent-minded, full of republican virtue, and can organize in order to exercise the wisdom of crowds?

Followtheladyfollowtheladyfollowtheladyfollowthelady…

Do you believe that the news media are impartial watchdogs who bring you the objective truth, free from distortion or biases?

Followtheladyfollowtheladyfollowtheladyfollowthelady…

Do you believe that Hollywood has no political agenda, and exists only to produce art and entertainment that bring happiness to the masses?

Followtheladyfollowtheladyfollowtheladyfollowthelady…

Do you believe that if you saw it on TV, or read it in the newspaper, it must be true?

Followtheladyfollowtheladyfollowtheladyfollowthelady…

Do you believe that the schools and universities really have as their primary mission the sacred trust of educating your children in order to make them into productive and responsible citizens of a free republic?

Followtheladyfollowtheladyfollowtheladyfollowthelady…

Do you believe that going to college makes you smart; that it necessarily makes someone who has gone through it an authority worth listening to on anything?

Followtheladyfollowtheladyfollowtheladyfollowthelady…

Do you believe that scientists are all followers of pure rationality with no hidden interests – financial, emotional, or ideological?

Followtheladyfollowtheladyfollowtheladyfollowthelady…

Do you believe that the people in charge of things at the highest level of economic activity – in Washington, on Wall Street, at banks and investment houses – are really wise and farsighted stewards of your money rather than easily-spooked, trend-following grifters going for the short buck at all costs?

Followtheladyfollowtheladyfollowtheladyfollowthelady…

Do you believe that everyone – all individuals, and all groups of people – are really equal?

Followtheladyfollowtheladyfollowtheladyfollowthelady…

Do you believe that our ancestors were all fools and that we, outside of the single area of being able to produce wondrous machines, are smarter or wiser than they?

Followtheladyfollowtheladyfollowtheladyfollowthelady…

* * *

So what have I learned from my experiences?

I’ve learned that trust either flows in both directions, or it isn’t trust – it’s just being a mark.

I’ve learned that trust should be like the money on the dealer’s table – hard to earn and easy to lose.

I’ve learned that nobody is an easier mark than someone who thinks they’re going to get something for nothing.

I’ve learned that only fools play rigged games, or play them at all without knowing for sure whether or not they are rigged.

I’ve learned that appearances are not only deceiving, but they are often meant to deceive; designed intentionally to deceive.

I’ve learned to see things for what they really are rather than what I wish them to be; to judge them by what they actually deliver rather than what they promise.

I’ve learned to assume that everything is a fake, a phony, and a fraud, and that everyone is a cheat, a shill, or a snake-oil salesman until I know for sure otherwise.

* * *

So with apologies to the hosts of that podcast, I cannot agree with the belief that a high-trust society is really so good or desirable a thing. It is too easily left at the mercies of unscrupulous people who for whatever reason (personal enrichment, ideology, envy, or perhaps just plain evil) will take advantage of that high trust and use it as a weapon. Some may see a high level of societal trust as the sign of a people who are noble or honorable, but within my cynic’s heart, I can only see it as the sign of a people who are a bunch of marks, soon to find themselves shouting: “Vhere de fuck is my vallet?!”

So do yourself a favor and heed my advice, dear reader – take care, know what’s what, and don’t allow yourself to think like a mark even if everyone around you does.

The Scourge of Westeros

Game of Thrones has returned for its fifth season, and tuning in for the new episodes has left me with some thoughts I’d like to share.

Let me start by asking: Who is the real villain of Game of Thrones? A lot of names may come to mind. Is it the egotistical, conscienceless King Joffrey? Or is it maybe his mother, Cersei Lannister, with all her schemes and manipulations? What about the Boltons: Roose, who betrayed and murdered Robb Stark, and Ramsay his sadistic son? Or perhaps is the villain offstage, in the person of King Aerys II, whose madness and cruelty sparked Robert’s Rebellion?

I would argue that the real villain of Game of Thrones is none of the above. The real villain is the kindly, frail Maester Aemon of the Night’s Watch.

For those needing a reminder about Westeros lore, Maester Aemon is also known as Aemon Targaryen. Once, many years before the events of Game of Thrones, he was first in line for the Iron Throne, and could have taken power, but refused, and let the crown pass to his brother, who became King Aegon V. Aegon was the father of Aerys II, and it was when the crown was passed from Aegon to Aerys that the troubles of Westeros began in earnest.

So if Aemon had just taken the crown when he was younger, none of the troubles we see in the story would have happened. No Mad King Aerys, no rebellion, no Joffrey, no War of the Five Kings, no Lannister coup d’etat, no beheading of Ned Stark or Red Wedding or burning of Winterfell, no journey of conquest by Danerys through Essos, and a unified Westeros ready to back up the Night’s Watch if anything went bad at the wall. The Seven Kingdoms would, to the very day we join in on the story, have been ruled by the wise and kind Aemon, and everything would be alright.

Well sure, you may be tempted to say, but that doesn’t make Aemon a villain; it just makes Westeros the unlucky victim of a choice he made long ago that seemed like a good idea at the time. But this ignores a crucial concept that should have been a factor in his decision of so many years back: the Mandate of Heaven. The Mandate of Heaven is an ancient Chinese idea that deals with many facets of leadership, but in modern times it has been adapted by reactionaries into a deceptively simple three-step process to be followed by those in, or seeking, positions of power:

I. Become worthy

II. Accept power

III. Rule

One of the difficulties presented by this concept is that it is easy for people to make a very basic mistake when contemplating it; that is, to believe that this is (in order) a list of one responsibility and two rights (or even privileges). It is not. This is a list of three responsibilities. It is not the privilege, or even the right, of the worthy to accept power and to rule; it is their responsibility. Often, it is their responsibility to do so even if they must be ruthless in going about it; even if they must break vows or shed blood along the way. Because if they don’t accept power, and if they don’t rule, then someone else will. That someone else may not be all so very worthy, and if they are not, everyone will suffer.

One of the interesting aspects of the moral universe of Game of Thrones is that, in true pagan fashion (and Game of Thrones is very pagan in moral outlook) too much of any one virtue is not seen as a good thing. Instead, a balance of virtues is seen as optimal. Perhaps most notably, Ned Stark was too honorable, and the entire realm suffered because he wasn’t more cunning and ruthless when dealing with dangerous enemies. Maester Aemon had a similar flaw springing from an excesses of virtue – too much selflessness and too much humility. Certainly, it a character flaw to have too much ambition. But for the worthy to have too little ambition only results in them effectively ceding power to the unworthy. And what good does this do for anyone (other than unworthies who are not hindered by a similar lack of ambition)?

No, it is the responsibility of the worthy to accept power and to rule, even if they don’t want to. And the proof of that is hardly restricted to fantasy kingdoms full of fire-breathing dragons. Our own world is, and long has been, filled with problems caused by the abdication of the responsibility to accept power and rule by those who are worthy, and whose leadership is needed.

Our kings gave over their effective power power to parliaments, and by doing so left us all at the mercy of King Mob. The Church, through Vatican II, gave up its authority to intervene in worldly politics, thus handing its power over moral leadership to the fanatical utopian cult of leftism. The “Greatest Generation” refused to adequately rule over their own children, ensuring their unworthiness, and then, as soon as those unworthy children demanded it, ceded power over the nation and its culture to them without any real resistance. The mainstream right, as embodied in the Republican Party in the US and the Conservative Party in Britain, suffers defeat after humiliating defeat even when they have the raw power to win because they refuse to fully accept and effectively wield the power that they have. Most importantly, their refusal to roll back even the tiniest bit of Cultural Marxism when they have the electoral majorities to do so is what makes the “ratchet effect” possible and ensures their own continued irrelevance. And why do they refuse to do so? Because they have granted the right to judge their actions to people who hate them, thus effectively handing every group of leftists that throws a hashtag hissy-fit when something doesn’t go its way the power to veto any and all of their policies.

Or consider the case of Germany in the 20th century. The Kaiser ceded power, first to General Ludendorff, who proved himself unworthy enough, and finally to the even greater unworthies of the Weimar Republic. One could say that he was forced to do the latter, and perhaps that’s true – but still, he did. Once in power, the Weimar Republic proved itself unwilling or unable to effectively rule. I carry no brief for Adolf Hitler (sorry, white nationalists), but even I will not claim that all of his complaints were entirely invalid. Hitler complained of the moral degeneracy of Weimar-era Berlin, and indeed the Weimar Republic was unable to effectively restrain that degeneracy. Hitler also complained of the unfair provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, including the disastrous and extortionate reparations to be paid by Germany to the Western powers, who demanded ever more in order to deal with their own economic problems in the face of the global Great Depression. Hitler claimed that Germany could, and should, have simply cut off these reparations and told the Western powers to go pound sand, and he was right – that’s precisely what they should have done. It was what Hitler eventually did. But what if the Weimar Republic had done it instead?

That is, of course, a moot question. They were unworthy, they only half-accepted power, and they refused to effectively rule. Because of this, the people of Germany, to borrow a phrase from The Dark Knight, turned to a man who they didn’t fully understand. He was unworthy, too, but he did fully accept power, and he did rule. Unfortunately, the results were worse, not better. It was the end of a downward spiral, in which each unworthy ended up ceding power to someone even more unworthy, until everything, predictably, came to horror and ruin.

Understanding these consequences, then, we can see why the refusal on the part of worthies to accept power and to rule not be regarded as noble or selfless, but as villainous or even treasonous. The only circumstance in which a refusal by the worthy to accept power should be seen as a credit to them is if they live under an immoral system and their refusal is motivated by a principled desire to not do anything that would perpetuate that system. Where this is not the case, any worthies who refuse to accept power and effectively rule when the time comes and the need arises must be actively shunned and shamed. The nation and its people consistently suffer when they refuse to do so – in Westeros, in Germany, everywhere – so why should that be looked on kindly? No, for the sake of all, worthies must – they must – accept power and rule. Where they demur or defer to others who are less worthy, they should be seen as, and treated as, villains.

And that is why, as gentle, wise, and kind as he may be, Maester Aemon must be seen for what he really is – the greatest villain in all the Seven Kingdoms.

UPDATE: In reflecting on this piece, it has occurred to me that there was another Targaryen who was equally guilty of causing the series of events that ended in so much calamity for the Seven Kingdoms, and for essentially the same reason: Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. Ser Barristan Selmy once called Prince Rhaegar the “finest man I ever met”, and every account of him that wasn’t from one of his enemies (e.g. Robert Baratheon or Ned Stark) seems to agree with this assessment. He was brave, beautiful, kind, soulful, brilliant, scholarly, loyal, moral, and decent. And yet Prince Rhaegar twice – once through action, and once through inaction – managed set in motion the events that led to the war that resulted in his own death, the deaths of his wife and children, the end of his dynasty, and untold suffering among nobles and smallfolk alike in Westeros. The action (taking Lyanna Stark, willingly or not, away from her betrothed) was bad enough, but almost certainly would not have caused a war just by itself. The inaction was worse. Knowing that his father Aerys II had gone murderously insane, Rhaegar did nothing to stop him, long past the point where he should have taken some manner of action. Even Rhaegar himself understood this, too late, as evidenced by what he said to the young Jaime Lannister as he rode off to a battle from which he would never come back: “When the battle’s done I mean to call a council. Changes will be made. I meant to do it long ago, but… well, it does no good to speak of roads not taken. We shall talk when I return.”

As with so many things let go too long by people who should have been more responsible, that never happened. Rhaegar was (his indiscretion with Lyanna Stark aside) worthy, and his refusal to take power from his unworthy father came at a great cost not only to himself, but to everyone and everything he loved.

Forsaken

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”, that is to say, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” – Matthew 27

 

How disturbing those words are! And not just when one considers the suffering behind them; no, the theological implications of them are disturbing as well. These words have always particularly troubled me. If Christ is God, then how can God accuse God of forsaking God? Do these words not imply that Christ is not God? And beyond their meaning, why would the authors of the Gospels, who doubtless understood the implications of these worlds, include them in their works at all?

What does it all mean?

In considering this, let us ask ourselves two questions. First, what is the nature of God? Second, what is our relationship to God? To the first we may answer: the nature of God is perfection – God is omniscient, omnipotent, intelligent and wise literally beyond our ability to contemplate. To the second we may answer: God not only created us, but God will judge us. We will be rewarded or punished – harshly, eternally – based upon this judgment. But here we reach a problem; one that may not make itself apparent at first. The problem is that in some sense perfection is, in itself, an imperfection, or at least a limitation. There is one thing that a perfect being cannot be, and that is imperfect.

I am reminded of an episode of the 1980s revival of the Twilight Zone in which a professor (played by Sherman Helmsley, late of The Jeffersons) inadvertently makes a deal with a demon (played by Ron Glass, late of Barney Miller and eventually to appear in Firefly). The professor finds that there is one loophole by which he may be released from his deal. He will be permitted to ask the demon three questions, which he must answer honestly. At the end of this, he may ask the demon one final question, which he must answer, or assign him one task, which he must perform. If the demon cannot answer the final question or perform the task, the professor will be released from his bargain. Having asked the first three questions, which probed the extent of the demon’s powers, including determining that there was no point in space to which he could send the demon from which he could not return, the professor assigned him a task:

“Get lost”

At which point the demon disappeared in a puff of smoke. The professor had been smart enough to use the demon’s own degree of perfection against him by assigning to him a task that required imperfection. The demon, who could effortlessly and instantly find his way from any point in space to any other point, literally couldn’t get lost. A neat trick, and one that illustrates the counterintuitive imperfections of perfection.

Not only that, but a perfect being cannot even truly understand what it is to be imperfect. On an intellectual level, perhaps He can – but not really, not firsthand. Thus, one wonders, what makes a being who is incapable of experiencing true weakness, doubt, and hopelessness qualified to judge a being who not only can, but very often does? What can He know of what an imperfect being might do out of desperation when lost in the depths of the sort of despair that He can never truly comprehend? How can He condemn us for succumbing to a weakness that He is as incapable of experiencing as the demon in the story was incapable of getting lost?

After all, He cannot experience that level of despair firsthand – or can He?

This, I believe, is the true meaning of these words, which were the culmination of the passion of Jesus Christ. Not long after this, Christ died – but why only then? Why was it necessary for Him to live and suffer on the cross long enough to say them?

It is because only then, having been driven to such despair as to believe that God the Father had abandoned Him, that Christ really understood what it meant to be imperfectly human – terrified, alone, hurt, weak, desperate, confused, and left doubting that a loving God was there for Him.

And it was in that moment that the Christ became truly qualified to judge the souls of men.

Glanton’s Law

I like to think that I run a rather elite operation around here. I write with readers of a certain minimum level of intelligence (and I agree completely with Neal Stephenson’s statement that intelligence can be defined as the ability to comprehend subtlety) in mind, and thus what I shall say in this posting will be obvious to most of you, but it still bears saying anyhow.

Anyone who can comprehend subtlety and is not caught in the clutches of Totalism (either from lack of intelligence or for ideological reasons) understands that almost nothing in this world is an absolute. Such people all understand that degrees and exceptions exist for virtually everything. They all understand that there is some statistically rare edge case, theoretical or not, in which anyone would do, or countenance doing, that which they would normally find foolhardy or immoral. They all understand that in any population of people about whom a certain thing is generally true, there are a statistical few outliers about whom it is not true. Furthermore, they all understand that the existence of such degrees, exceptions, and statistically rare edge cases in no way invalidates general statements that are true the overwhelmingly vast majority of the time.

Having accepted this, I should hope we all find it unnecessary for a writer to qualify everything he may write with statements that explicitly spell all of it out. Unless there is some strong reason to suspect otherwise, we should – and here in this space, we will – presume that the writer and the reader are both smart enough to understand it without it having to be stated, restated, and re-restated, at every single turn. This is for the benefit of everyone. First because, as John Glanton of Social Matter recently pointed out, exhaustively qualified prose is a chore to read (it is also a chore to write). Second because this is not a “lowest common denominator” sort of place, and I have no desire to burden myself with the necessity of having to endlessly explain the obvious to people who are either unable to understand it or feign the inability to do so.

In honor of Mr. Glanton, I propose that this concept be called Glanton’s Law, a shorter formulation of which might be: “When making general statements, it goes without saying that degrees, exceptions, outliers, and edge cases exist. It also goes without saying that the existence of these in no way invalidates statements that are true the overwhelming majority of the time. As such, when making general statements, there’s normally no real reason to bother bringing those things up.”

It shall be the policy of this space (and my Twitter account as well) to conform closely to Glanton’s Law, and any readers who express unfamiliarity with the concept will be directed to this post for a full explanation. If, for some reason, they are still unable to grasp it, then I can safely say that my writing isn’t for them.

Why I Talk About Anime On Twitter

My dad once told me a story about a guru that he’d heard while he had been traveling around India. Dad is a Baby Boomer, and Baby Boomers have a special place in their hearts for India. The Beatles went to India, and then came back and recorded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Steve Jobs also went to India, and then came back and founded Apple. This sort of thing makes Baby Boomers believe that if they go to India, they too might come back enlightened enough to create something visionary and world-changing.

Which doesn’t really ever work. Mostly they just come back with diarrhea.

But whatever the case may be, after dad retired, he bought a plane ticket to India (of course he had the money – he’s a Baby Boomer) to go on the grand adventure at 60 (of course he was retired by 60 – he’s a Baby Boomer) that he had wanted to go on at 25, but hadn’t been able to. Dad didn’t come back and record any chart-topping psychedelic albums or start up a Fortune 500 company (I certainly wish he had), though in fairness to him, while he did not find what he was looking for in India, he nevertheless came to have a real appreciation for what he did actually encounter there. (A few years later, after my sister died, he took a portion of the money he intended to leave her as his inheritance and used it to found a small medical clinic, which bears her name, in a remote Indian village in which he had stayed for a time.)

But if dad was able to find something worth embracing in India, others were not so fortunate. Which brings us to the story of the guru and the Englishman.

The Englishman was also a Baby Boomer, and the Englishman had also come to India on an extended quest to find enlightenment of the sort that the Maharishi had imparted upon George Harrison. This was a task to which the Englishman devoted himself tirelessly. At some point in his travels, he managed to hear about the guru, who had a reputation for great wisdom and spiritual understanding even among other gurus. Unlike the Maharishi, whose taste for fame and all that comes with it eventually caused even the Beatles to disavow him, the guru was a hermit and an ascetic who lived in a humble cabin in an isolated spot many miles from the nearest town. The Englishman became determined to meet the guru. He rented a Land Rover (he had been told that many of the roads that he would encounter would be difficult) and with no more than a few rumors as his guide, intrepidly set out to find him.

And find him the Englishman did. After weeks of driving from town to town searching for information, he finally found someone who both knew where the guru could be found and was willing to tell him. First thing the next morning, the Englishman loaded up his Land Rover and drove off to find the enlightenment he sought. Paved roads gave way to gravel roads, which gave way to dirt roads, which gave way to a narrow footpath, but the Land Rover was designed for such conditions and made its way through them without any trouble. As the Englishman drove along the footpath, he noticed faint but unmistakable tire tracks on either side of it – evidence that he was not the first to have made this journey. Finally, as the sun began to reach its height in the clear blue sky, the guru’s cabin came into view.

The guru lived not on a mountaintop, but in the middle of a wide field, his cabin surrounded by a large garden in which he grew his vegetables. As the Land Rover came to a stop outside, the guru, who had heard the noise of its approach, opened his door and walked out to meet its occupant. The guru was a man of some years, thin and small of stature, but sprightly and energetic. As the Englishman got out of the Land Rover, the guru walked up to him, shook his hand, and gave him a few warm words of welcome. Surprisingly – or perhaps not, considering India’s history of colonization – the guru spoke pretty decent English. After introductions were made there was a pause, as the Englishman prepared to tell the guru about his purpose in coming, the questions he had, and the wisdom he was seeking. But before he could begin speaking, the guru broke the silence:

“Hey, that’s a really nice Land Rover. A newer model, isn’t it?”

The Englishman was rather taken aback. “Well, yes, but…”

“I believe this one has a V8 engine instead of the old straight six?”

The Englishman had to admit that he didn’t know one way or the other.

“Well, why not open the bonnet then…” asked the guru, “and let’s have a look?”

The Englishman answered in a tone of surprise, with just a hint of dismay: “Well… you see… what I really came to talk to you about was of a more spiritual nature…”

The guru had already started a walkaround of the car, and was now standing by its rear gate.

“Yes, of course. There will be plenty of time for all of your questions. You are welcome to stay as long as you like.” Here the guru paused, and then, almost apologetically, continued: “But there is one small thing I would like to ask of you.”

Suddenly encouraged by the possibility that now they were getting somewhere, the Englishman answered that of course, he would do whatever the guru asked.

Delighted, the guru replied: “Is there any chance that sometime later you might let me try driving your Rover a little bit? Don’t worry – I know how to drive, and this is such a fine piece of machinery.”

The Englishman, though more than a bit crestfallen, promised that he would.

It was then that the guru noticed a large cooler in the back of the Land Rover. The Englishman had left it open, and a few bottles of soda poked out of the ice.

“Oh, and… could I possibly impose on you by asking for a Coke?”

The guru’s level of asceticism was most certainly not living up to the Englishman’s expectations, and by this time the traveler’s reaction had gone from surprise to dismay to the increasingly upsetting feeling of having been duped, but he agreed nonetheless, opened the back of the vehicle, and handed the guru a bottle. The guru accepted, took a long drink, and smiled widely.

“Now, this is nice. Many thanks to you.”

There was a silence as the guru sipped his Coke. The Englishman was no longer so eager to interrupt it with questions, so after a few moments had passed, it was the guru, again, who spoke first:

“So you are from England! Have you come from there recently?”

The Englishman said that he had.

“In that case, I have an important question for you.”

Mustering the final bit of hope within him, the Englishman asked what the question might be.

With an interested look on his face, the guru asked: “How is Arsenal doing this season?”

The Englishman had had enough. He quickly concocted some pretext, closed the gate of the Land Rover, and left. As he had promised, he allowed the guru to drive the first half-mile or so back down the footpath, and then left him on it as he drove away alone. The last he saw of the guru was in his rearview mirror, as the guru, after smiling and cheerfully waving goodbye, turned around to walk back to the solitude of his cabin.

* * *

The Englishman had, of course, completely missed the point of everything that had occurred during the encounter. He had expected the guru to ignore the Land Rover, to have no taste for anything as artificial as Coca Cola, and to have no interest in banalities like football. He expected the guru, in fact, to actively wish to avoid such things in the interest of spiritual self-denial. But the guru understood something that the Englishman did not – that spiritual self denial is a point along a path; that it is a means, not an end. Its end lies in the ability of the individual to prove to himself that he can live without luxuries, comforts, and distractions. Once that point has been proven, once that lesson has been internalized, it is then possible to reapproach those things without excessive attachment to them. This is important because it is the attachment, not the thing in and of itself, that is harmful. This sentiment is expressed in the Bible as well. As some libertarians have pointed out, the oft-quoted remark from Christ that money is the root of all evil is a case of misquote by omission, one that changes the meaning of what was said in a subtle but important way. What Christ actually said is that love of money is the root of all evil. Money is simply a tool of trade, necessary in economies above the scale of a small village. It is the love of money – the excessive attachment it – that causes problems.

(One could, in fact, say that herein lies the real reason why Marxism failed. Marxism attempted to abolish avarice, meanness, and envy – all artifacts of excessive attachment to property – by abolishing property. What Marx, whose understanding of human nature was woefully inadequate, could not understand was that property in and of itself was never the problem; excessive attachment to it was. Thus, when the Marxists did abolish property, the negative aspects of human nature that spring from excessive attachment to property simply attached themselves to different objects, like political power.)

The guru, having freed himself from excessive attachments to luxuries, comforts, and distractions, had been able to reapproach them with a proper perspective in mind. By doing so, he could once again allow himself to admit certain truths: for example that Land Rovers are nice machines, and fun to drive; that Coca Cola is delicious, and (as any southerner knows) does wonders to cut the heat and humidity of a noontime sun; and that there’s nothing wrong with a enjoying a bit of footie. To deny that nice things are nice is not enlightenment but only a denial of reality, and there is no evil in simply being happy to have something nice. What had changed in the guru was that now he understood that none of these things is worth the emotional and spiritual damage of getting angry about, much less worth hurting someone else over. If the Englishman had not let him drive the Land Rover or had refused him a Coke, the guru would have lived without these things and borne no resentment towards him. The guru’s smile and friendly wave as the Englishman left were genuine, and would have been genuine either way.

That was the lesson that dad had taken away from the story, and I think it is a good and valid one. But I also think there was something else to be learned from it.

This wasn’t the first time that some Baby Boomer westerner had come to find the guru, and by this time the guru knew perfectly well what they all wanted to see. And while he felt no ill will towards them, he also felt no obligation to stage a Mystical Maharishi Metaphysics Show for them. That would have been an act, and why should he put on an act? After all, the guru wasn’t an actor – he was the real thing. Back in New Delhi there were plenty of people (fakers rather than fakirs) who would put on a show that would make the westerners feel very spiritual indeed, and that they could tell all their friends about when they got back to London or New York or Vancouver. Perhaps they should have known that anyone who has to put on a show of being something isn’t really ever the genuine article. Then again, if a person prefers a show to the real thing, then they aren’t ready to truly understand or appreciate the real thing. This is one reason why the guru was willing to gently send such people away.

Beyond that, one of the attachments that the guru had let go of was attachment to the approval of others. He could have gained the approval of the Englishman – and doubtless many more like him – by giving them what they wanted to see. But for someone who’s the real thing, that is both completely unnecessary and rather unseemly. The guru wasn’t going to go out of his way to be off-putting to them or to hurt their feelings, but neither was he going to change who he was to suit their desires. He wasn’t there to impress the Englishman, nor was he going to accept the idea that the Englishman was qualified to set any standards regarding how a proper guru should conduct himself. So he simply acted naturally, without much concern for what anyone else thought about it. He talked about the Land Rover because he was interested in the Land Rover. He asked for a Coke because he wanted a Coke. If the Englishman had been able to deal with that, and had stayed, the guru would have eventually answered all of his spiritual questions, as promised. But if he couldn’t, the guru would smile and wave as he left, feeling no anger towards the man, but no desire to chase after him and promise to do whatever it might take to be liked, either.

In short, as the kids say, the guru was too legit to be frontin’. Not only that, but he was also too based to care if other people couldn’t handle it.

Which brings me to the title of this essay. Why do I talk about anime on Twitter? Because I like anime.

If some people out there are looking for a guy who will put on a Righteous Rectitude Reactionary Show for them – someone who will speak only of the manliest things that were ever manly, who will claim to have no vices, who will say that he enjoys none of Modernity’s comforts, and who will pretend to not like fun things on the principle that fun is for pussies – then I’m not who they’re looking for. I don’t feel the need to do any of that, because I’m the real deal, I don’t have to put on an act, and if there’s anyone who can’t handle that, I’m not interested in changing to suit them. They can pack up their truck and hit the trail.

But hey, no hard feelings: I’ll smile and wave as they go – hell, I’ll even drive them the first half mile down the road.

The Chipotle Effect

“The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” – His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

Prologue: Moscow, June 1990

Natasha had great legs.

And she probably still does, wherever she may be. But on that summer day in the last full year of the existence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Natasha, dressed in a businesslike white blouse and black skirt cut just above the knee and wearing a petite pair of black stiletto pumps, captivated the attention of the 16-year-old version of me. I was in the Soviet Union as an exchange student, with an itinerary involving several weeks of traveling around the western end of the USSR, an experience I have ever since regarded as the beginning of my life as an adult. Natasha was my governmentally-supplied guide and minder. She was 24, slender, pretty, with wavy chestnut-brown hair and round glasses. Influenced by American-made Cold War movies, I had expected my guide to be a dour middle-aged male KGB functionary in a trenchcoat and a trilby. Natasha had been a pleasant surprise indeed.

The small tour bus slowly chugged its way up the Sparrow Hills, and Natasha stood at the front of it, back to me, chatting casually with the driver. There were a few American exchange students in the bus, and some of their minders had come along as well. Moscow was where all of us came into the country, before splitting up and going on our separate itineraries. I would next go to Sochi, many years later the site of a Winter Olympics, where I would get drunk for the first time in my life, in a hotel bar with a group of young Afghanistan veterans reuniting as civilians for the first time since they’d come home from their service together in the war. Then I would travel to Donetsk, which as of this writing is the front line in a war that would in those days have been unimaginable. I would, in Kiev, walk through October Revolution Square, later renamed Independence Square, and future site of the Euromaidan protests that touched off that very war. And I would go to Leningrad, where, as the result of a hangover following my second youthful experience with drunkenness, I would, as Natasha looked on in horror, vomit my breakfast into the fountains of the Grand Cascade on the grounds of the Peterhof Palace.

The bus reached the top of the hills. Below, the grand expanse of Moscow stretched out into the distance, with Lenin Stadium, which had been the centerpiece of the 1980 Olympic Games, in the foreground. I fumbled for my camera (Natasha had instructed me that she’d tell me in advance if I wasn’t allowed to take pictures somewhere), but before I could get it out of its bag, we were past the summit and the shot was gone forever.

A minute or two later, we stopped at what appeared to be a nondescript, whitewashed house along a four-lane road. We ambled off the bus. The air smelled odd. Everything in the Soviet Union smelled odd. Pollution – exhaust fumes and factory smoke and un-picked-up garbage. A faint smell of burning plastic was always in the air. It had rained early in the morning – small pools of rainwater still sat peacefully in depressions in the uneven pavement – but even that didn’t help much.

This place was, Natasha explained, actually a church – the only church in Moscow that had stayed open and active through the entire history of the Soviet Union – through the revolutionary fervor, through the Stalinist terror, through World War II and the Cold War. And now, in the last full year of the USSR, there it was still. I wasn’t much of one for churches back then. In fact, I don’t know that I’d ever actually been inside a church in my entire life. My mother was and is a lukewarm semi-agnostic of half-Anglican, half-Jewish background, and my father an embittered fallen Catholic who at the time was a convinced atheist, and has since become a devotee of whatever New Age pablum happens to be in fashion with aging Baby Boomers at any particular moment. I was, at the time… nothing, really.

The day was turning pleasant. Some of the group decided to go inside the church, and some decided to skip it and stand under the shade trees that lined the wide boulevard to relax, and flirt, and enjoy the warmth of the day. Natasha went inside, as this was on the tour and it was her responsibility to show it to me. I followed.

The inside of the church could not have been a greater contrast from the outside. Whereas the exterior was nondescript and unornamented, the interior, though not large, was almost indescribably beautiful. Every inch of the walls was covered in art, as is so often true of Orthodox churches. A haze of incense hung in the air, and its smoke made visible shafts of the light streaming through the few, narrow windows which hung close to the high ceiling. Three or four old women, the faithful who had, at tremendous risk, stayed faithful all their lives, were carefully cleaning the mosaics, and the icons, and the dark wooden floor.

The rest of the group, as disinterested in high culture as any normal American teenagers, poked about the place for a bit, glanced quickly at a few of the artworks until they thought their obligation to do so had passed, and then, one or two at a time, quietly shuffled out the door and back into the warm summer air. Even Natasha left. Before long, only I and the faithful old ladies, who continued going silently about their work, remained.

I stood at the center of the small church, in solitude. Particles of dust glittered as they danced in the sunlight coming in through the windows. The incense smoke made the cool air sweet and heavy with its scent. There was a moment of unearthly quiet and stillness, of clarity, and I felt…

I felt God, there, with me in that place.

It was not a moment of faith. It was a moment of knowing. God’s presence there, in that church, at that instant, was as real and tangible as the physical presence of Natasha, or my parents, or any human being. It was the same sensation as when someone you love enters a room when you aren’t looking, but you can feel their presence; you know who it is even without seeing them. God was there, with me in that place, and in one single blinding flash, I knew it.

I’m not sure how long it all lasted. Not long, to be certain, and it did not need to be. It passed, and yet it did not ever truly pass, for it is with me to this day, and will be with me forever.

Eventually, the front door of the church opened, and Natasha, looking a bit annoyed but not really angry, stepped inside.

“Hey, it’s time to go to lunch! Are you coming?”

Of course I was coming. She couldn’t actually let the bus leave without me, after all.

“Oh… yes… I’ll be right behind you” I stammered.

She turned her back and walked out into the warm air of the summer of that last full year of the existence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I followed, but paused before reaching the door, put my hand in my pocket, pulled out every dollar and every ruble that I had on me, stuffed it all into the donation box, and went away penniless.

Though it would be a couple of decades before I was formally baptized, it would be fair to say that I entered that church an agnostic, and left it a Christian.

* * *

Silicon Valley, Many Years Later

It was a lazy Saturday afternoon in the Silicon Valley in early autumn, a mix of cool sunshine and low, billowy clouds, and a temperature just to my liking. I was out for the day, with a little extra money on me, shopping, exploring, enjoying nothing so much as simply being there. And now it was time for lunch – with my bit of extra money I could have whatever I wanted. And what I wanted that day was Chipotle. For those of you who may not be from a land where Chipotle exists (more’s the pity for you!), it is a chain of burrito shops, a step up from fast food of the McDonalds variety and a step down from places with actual waiters. A step down in formality, at least – Chipotle burritos are renowned for tastiness, and have a particularly strong following among Silicon Valley tech types.

Silicon Valley is a nice place; flush with tech money and full of young, high-IQ optimates. On weekends, long lines of expensive cars carrying the wives of executives at companies like Google, Apple, eBay, and Oracle clog the entrances to upscale malls like Valley Fair and Santana Row. It’s not uncommon to see $250,000 Lamborghinis parked in front of coffee shops, their 25-year-old owners standing in line inside for a frappuccino or a bubble tea. It’s all very new, and very commercial. Locals joke that El Camino Real, the wide, traffic-choked boulevard that runs through the heart of the Valley, repeats itself every five miles – a store or restaurant from every imaginable chain recurring just as quickly as it makes financial sense for it to. The joke is only slightly an exaggeration.

Yet this represents something comfortable – something comforting – for a child of late-20th century suburban America. The shopping malls, the big box retailers, the chain restaurants, the wide streets lined by single-family homes with neatly-mown lawns, the office parks with late-model sedans lined up in freshly-pained spaces out front; all of these things feel like… normalcy. But of course, it is not just normalcy, but the normalcy of the most safe and prosperous age that mankind has ever known, or is likely to know again any time in the foreseeable future (it is, in fact, already in the process of slowly disintegrating).This is what generations to come, not as pampered as we, will never quite understand about this age. They almost certainly will be amazed at the aggressive hedonism that our prosperity has allowed us to fall into, but what they will never be able to truly feel (for while hedonistic pleasure is understandable to all creatures of the flesh, this will be quite alien to them) is the sheer comfort of it all, the safe and warm feeling of it, that sense of normalcy which contained as part of it in the belief, plausible for the historical blink of an eye, that it could all be maintained forever.

The particular Chipotle to which I had come had a few outdoor tables, which on a day like that were preferable to the noise and artificially-processed air inside. I sat at one with my burrito and my Coke Zero; it was past the lunch rush and I was blissfully (as I am an introvert by nature) alone. I removed my iPod from my pocket, put on my earphones, and scrolled through my podcasts for something to listen to over lunch. Being in a light mood, the RetroMacCast caught my fancy. I love retro tech from the 80s and 90s, and old Macs especially. Were the world not in the shape that it is in, were it not necessary to write what I do as AntiDem, I would probably write a blog or do a podcast along those lines myself. I ate, and listened. The food was satisfying, the air was cool, and it was quiet except for the podcast. The discussion turned to the short-lived Macintosh clones of the late 1990s – Ah, yes, I had one of those! My old Power 100! A quirky machine, but it sure served me well, and for a long time! – and I felt a bit of wistful nostalgic cheer. Everything was good, everything was comfortable, and I had not a single care or a complaint at all.

It was then that the thought came to me: What really is so wrong with this world? Surely, all this comfort, all this ease, all this prosperity – it should be enough to make me contented, shouldn’t it? Is it not a waste – of time, of energy, of happiness to which I could devote these moments – to make myself miserable by railing and raging against this, of all things? Shouldn’t I just enjoy it all instead?

This was not like those times when, in despair, I find myself wondering whether my efforts are futile in the face of a system that is far beyond my abilities to affect; or even worse, when I wonder whether the left may actually be correct, and this – in all its materialistic, soulless, hedonistic existential horror – might really be the end of history. No, there was no dread in what I felt; quite the opposite. I felt safe and warm and comfortable, and all of the things wrong with this age suddenly all seemed very distant and abstract and not so very worth worrying about.

And it was when, in one single blinding flash, that I felt the touch of Elua upon me.

But perhaps here some explanation is in order.

Neoreactionaries often speak of Gnon, the “crab-god” they have created to embody the ideas of teleology, of consequences, of inevitability – no more and no less that the simple yet somehow, in the current age, revolutionary idea that implementing bad ideas will lead to bad consequences. The implications of the existence of Gnon, whose horrifying visage hangs heavy over the merry bustle of every civilization (whether they believe in him or not, for he is one of those realities that continues to exist no matter if you do or don’t), is that maintaining a civilization is hard, tireless work; that monsters are always waiting in the darkness to devour those who slack off in this task, whether it be because they have become soft and lazy, or incapable and feeble, or even (perhaps especially) due to the hubris of believing that they are so advanced that such drudgery is beneath them and they can instead devote their energies towards utopian schemes meant to perfect the human condition. Gnon – who is compatible with both a theistic and non-theistic worldview – punishes these sins: this sloth, this gluttony, this foolishness, this pride, this hubris. Gnon is seen both in the God who rained fire and brimstone down on Sodom and Gomorrah, and also in the collapse of Marxism in all of its supposed “inevitability”. Gnon is to be feared, for he is a destroyer god, and a merciless one. There is no bargaining with him, no reasoning with him, no begging for mercy with him. If you fail, if you slip, if you trust the wrong people or the wrong ideas, if you are foolish or careless, he will destroy you and everything you care about. He exists as a caution to you, and you had better take heed.

In opposition to Gnon, Scott Alexander has placed Elua, a god who he has appropriated from the novels of science fiction author Jacqueline Carey. Rather than explaining Elua to you myself, I’ll let Dr. Alexander explain it in his own words (with apologies to him, I’ve mashed up bits of two of his columns here):

“Somewhere in this darkness is another god. He has also had many names. In the [Carey] books, his name was Elua. He is the god of kindness and flowers and free love and all soft and fragile things. Of art and science and philosophy and love. Of niceness, community, and civilization. All the other gods are gods of blood and fire, and Elua is just like ‘Love as thou wilt’ and ‘All knowledge is worth having’. He is a god of humans.

Other gods get placated until we’re strong enough to take them on. Elua gets worshipped.”

Elua is not the god that humanity deserves, nor the one that it needs – but he is the god that we want. Indeed he is a god of humans, and he is the reason for the warning that if you agree with your god about everything, take caution, because you made him up. Whereas the God of the Bible has commandments etched in stone that must be obeyed, and Gnon is the heartless god of consequences, Elua is the god of no commandments and no consequences. “Love as thou wilt” – and worry not about disease, or about the effects on your children, or about inheritance, or about the descent of your culture into coarseness and licentiousness. “All knowledge is worth having” – even terrible yet seductive ideas that have led to the pointless deaths of millions. Elua, always, in every circumstance, tells us what we want to hear. He tells us to spend, and that the bill will never come due. He tells us to eat and drink, and that we will never get fat, and there will be no hangover the next morning. In other words, Elua is a charlatan. If in Moscow I met the genuine God, then at Chipotle I encountered a fraud of one.

And yet Elua really is a god of humans – he is a god that humans want to worship, because he is the reflection and embodiment of their own desires, whether noble or tawdry – and I, too, am human. There in that place – though I must admit, far from the only time in my life – I was seduced; I allowed myself to momentarily drift into the dominion of Elua and the lotus-eaters who follow him. As in Moscow, the experience lasted for only a moment, and, as in Moscow, the experience never completely leaves me, nor can it, because in Modernity the pull of Elua is everywhere around me: in the shopping malls, in the chain stores, in the wide streets and the mown lawns, and even in my lunch. It is in the ease and comfort and security of it all – things to which, because I am human, I cannot help but have an attachment. But if I am able to break free of Elua – to reject him as a liar and a cheat, to face the true ugliness hidden not far beneath the surface of Modernity, and to rebel against it – most Moderns, understandably, cannot. Elua comforts them, placates them, assuages their doubts, and gives them lotuses to eat – 500 channels of cable television, craft beers, oversized SUVs, spectacularly dirty internet pornography, and wonderfully tasty burritos. In return, they embrace Elua (they may voice an occasional “It’s an awful shame” about the worst aspects of the moral state of the world he presides over, but little more), because they so desperately want to believe his promises, and to not believe that what he offers will result either in Gnon’s consequences or God’s judgment.

The reason that I cannot maintain faith in Elua is both because I have come to understand the truth embodied in Gnon and because I have felt the touch of the one true God. Gnon will not allow illusions, no matter how beautiful, to carry on forever. And as for God, his commandments are often unpleasant, wearying, and burdensome – they require discipline and hard work and self-denial – but in them are also truth, nobility, and decency. Those who follow them – who fight for them – may at some point find themselves denied the comforts that Elua promises, but down that path is also a measure of greatness (perhaps the greatness of a martyr or a saint, or only the simple greatness of a traditional wife and mother), and that is the one thing that Elua cannot offer.