Sponsored Post: Never Write A Christian Novel

A couple of weeks ago, at the request of reader ZJ, I reviewed the first chapter of John C. Wright’s Catholic-inspired scifi anthology novel The Book of Feasts and Seasons. Having left off there, I promised to come back ASAP and review the remainder of the book, a promise which I am now here to fulfill.

The bottom line on The Book of Feasts and Seasons is that it wasn’t very good. That said, I am left with two options regarding how to proceed in reviewing it: either by doing a micro-review or a meta-review. The first would go into small detail about precisely the things I didn’t like in it, while the second would look at the overall reason why this book didn’t work. I’ve opted for the meta-review, as I believe it has more of general interest in it, especially to those who have not read Wright’s novel.

In the end, Wright’s Christian novel fails because it is a Christian novel. It isn’t a very good novel for the same reason that Kirk Cameron’s Christian movies aren’t very good movies. But (let us not seem here to be singling out Christianity too much) it is also for the same reason that the Communist ballet The Red Detachment of Women isn’t a very good ballet. It falls flat – they all do – because art that has being didactic as its primary purpose is inordinately prone to being boring, preachy, predictable, simplistic, stilted, ham-fisted, and dreadful. Almost all didactic art, Christian or otherwise, falls into these artistic offenses. Very rare is the work that avoids them, and Wright’s is not among the elect few.

The issue is a basic, conceptual one. A novelist who starts out by saying merely: “I am going to write a Christian novel” is like a chef who starts out by saying merely: “I am going to make spicy food”. It is the wrong place to start. When working on any problem – be it artistic, scientific, engineering, or even culinary – it is always necessary to start by asking: “Exactly which variable am I solving for?”. In creative endeavors, this is critical, because every other variable must give way to the primary one being solved for; all of the other other aspects of the work will necessarily be minimized in order to maximize that one variable. Thus, while one certainly can start by consciously deciding to make a novel Christian, or make food spicy, that provides no guarantee that you’ll wind up with a good read or a tasty meal.

This is particularly true when the variable being solved for is how to effectively deliver a didactic message. Both ideology and (especially) religion are heady, powerful stuff; like spice in a delicate dish, it is easy to ruin everything by adding too much. The right amount is recognizable and distinct, yet is subtle enough that it blends with all other ingredients. Too much overpowers everything else – it robs all subtlety from the end product, and its overly strong flavor makes the results unpalatable. Someone with a limitless taste for that particular ingredient may not mind, but everyone else will. Most people like a little bite of heat in their food; few will eat hot peppers straight out of a jar.

In other words, there’s a reason why Sam Goldwyn used to say: “If you want to send a message, try Western Union”.

Does this mean that it is futile to try to write a novel with Christian themes? No, but it is important to remember that basically all good Christian novels are not self-consciously Christian; that being didactic is not the variable they primarily exist to solve for. So what should that variable be? To tell a story. As E. M. Forster noted in Aspects of the Novel, “Yes — oh, dear, yes — the novel tells a story. That is the fundamental aspect without which it could not exist”. Forster wished that the essential heart of the novel could be something other than telling a story (he was, after all, a Modernist), but had to acknowledge the inescapable fact that telling a story is what novels fundamentally exist to do.

It is here that we hit something of a paradox. Even if you approach writing a novel as a Christian who wants to spread a Christian message, you need your novel to be a good one. If it isn’t good, then nobody outside of the relatively small number of people who primarily want a didactic message (i.e., those who make up a metaphorical choir that you can preach to) will ever read it. In order to be a good novel, its primary focus – the primary value that it solves for – must be telling a good story, not spreading a message.

And thus the paradox: if you want to write a good Christian novel, you can’t write a “Christian novel”.

I am reminded of the Christian libertarian writer Chris Bechtloff’s statement that, although they are by no means cinematic masterpieces, there is more interesting theology – more to think about regarding the nature of temptation and sin – in the Hellraiser series of horror movies than there in a thousand explicitly Christian movies like Fireproof. Similarly, I have long said that anyone who can look past the violent, foul-mouthed surface of Pulp Fiction will find there a far more powerful exploration of Christian themes than can be found in The Passion of the Christ. For all its popularity in the Christian community, at its core The Passion of the Christ is a story about someone being tortured to death by the Romans, whereas the story told in Pulp Fiction is at its core a complex meditation on wrath, pride, repentance, mercy, and redemption.

It is this insight that leads us to a way out of our paradox. It is true that in order to write a good Christian novel, you can’t write a “Christian novel” – but neither do you have to. All you have to do is to tell the truth: the moral truth, the emotional truth, the philosophical truth, the historical truth, and the cosmological truth. Since Christianity is true, the truth will always lead back to Christ. Once an author understands this, it becomes unnecessary to commit the artistic offense of being overly explicit or heavy-handed in presenting Christian themes in their work. Of this heady, powerful stuff, a little dash will do – just enough to remind the readers that it is Christianity, and not any of the innumerable heresies that it has spawned, that is being pointed to.

If Wright had remembered that, he could have written a good novel that was very Christian. Instead, he wrote a Christian novel that wasn’t very good.

* * *

Many thanks to ZJ for sponsoring this post – I hope my ramblings ended up somewhat resembling what he asked for. My next post will be a follow-up to Psycho Dish’s sponsored post, for which he has sent me a second donation, but so as to not be too repetitive here, I will probably give it to him to publish in his own web space. I will, however, be sure to link to it from here when it goes live for those of you who may wish to read it.

Sponsored Post: The Feast of St. Cuckold

This post will be the first part of a two-parter sponsored by ZJ, a reader who asked me to write a review of John C. Wright’s recent novel The Book of Feasts and Seasons. Wright is, as I am, an observant Catholic, and this work, an anthology of science fiction tales based on the Catholic liturgical calendar, is precisely the sort of thing to which I am by nature likely to be favorably disposed. Wright is also an avowed conservative whose views have run afoul of the Social Justice Warrior left, and to his credit he has stood firmly by those views despite their signature attempts to destroy or make grovel anyone who dares to not think as they do.

That, however, does not prevent him from being something of a “cuckservative”, and sadly I must report that the first chapter of his work is in fact so deeply cuckservative in its content that I felt the need to write a separate review of it all by itself. (Do not fear, dear sponsor – a review of the full work is still forthcoming).

The chapter, entitled “The Queen of the Tyrant Lizards”, is set in the deep south during what appears to be the 1950s or early 1960s (if you can already see where this is headed, congratulations – you’ve recognized the pattern flowing through virtually every piece of media that has been produced in the United States during the last sixty years). It is narrated firsthand by Sorainya, a white female (much is made of this, and early on) interdimensional time traveler who has come from a distant future to settle in mid-20th century America, apparently (no, I’m not making this up) because she lost her ID and it’s easier to live one’s life in time-exile than to go down to the interdimensional DMV and get a replacement. (This actually does make some sense – as everyone well knows, the DMV is a zone outside of normal physical laws, where time inevitably slows to a near stop. It seems that not even a time traveler with advanced future technology can overcome that.) Having arrived at her destination time-wise, she settles in an unnamed town that appears to be some manner of stand-in for Selma or Montgomery, Alabama. With apologies to my southern friends, I must admit to being rather baffled by this choice of physical locations to accompany her choice of temporal location. If someone with a time machine gave me a one-way ticket to, say, 1959, I would, once arrived, quickly make my way to Mad Men-era New York, or to Los Angeles during the Golden Age of Hollywood, or to Cape Canaveral to witness the early days of the Space Race firsthand. Selma would not rank high on my list of places to live in (then or now).

But the real reason why Sorainya ends up in the deep south during the dreaded, awful, unspeakably evil pre-Civil Rights Act era is the same reason that any white fictional character does – to show what a good person they are by white knighting for black people (and, by extension, to show what a good person the author is by writing about their characters’ struggle in doing so).

So Sorainya ends up on a city bus in this segregated southern town when she spots a black man riding in the bus’s rear half. Being an enlightened person from the distant future (or, alternately, being an utter dolt who didn’t do a lick of research on the time and place in which she decided to settle before she showed up in it), she of course has no idea what he’s doing there. She talks to him, and he turns out to be an aspiring paleontologist, which were apparently common in the backs of buses in the deep south during the age of Jim Crow. Perhaps even still – I cannot tell you how many times I have, when crammed into a city bus with a crowd of black people, thought to myself “I’ll bet this is a group of aspiring paleontologists”. I suppose that when you all reading this have been in a similar situation, you ignoramuses thought that the black people surrounding you were simply shouting in profanity-laced ebonics. Shows how much you know – it turns out they were actually perfecting their imitation of the mating cry of the Triceratops.

This is all told in flashback, as the opening scene takes place during the wedding of Sorainya and our budding dinosaur expert. The Ku Klux Klan has apparently somehow heard that the ceremony was taking place (How? Did somebody send them an invitation?) and the story opens in media res as the Klan is storming the church, weapons in hand. Once again, Sorainya is undone by her oddly limited skill set of being able to to move around in time, but not in space. One might think that if there was the slightest chance that something like this might happen, that it would be wise to load up a car and take a day’s drive to Ohio or Illinois to get married instead of doing so in a place where it tended to attract angry mobs. (Speaking of which, did anything like this ever actually happen? I’m going to guess not.) Again, one must question our advanced time traveler’s judgment in, with all of space-time and its collected wisdom at her disposal, moving to a backwater with a climate that half the year is like living in a dog’s mouth, and then instantly setting out to do the most offensive thing possible in the eyes of the locals in the riskiest and showiest manner that she could.

It was here that Wright came closest to succeeding in the aim of his work, and did actually make me feel bad for our padawan paleontologist. Men – of any race – do a lot of stupid things for nookie. We incessantly let women talk us into colossally dumb ideas. We can’t help it; we’re biologically programmed to. Our caveman programming tells us that when our woman says that she’s hungry and we should go fight a saber-toothed tiger so she can cook it up for dinner, we go ahead and do it. It was a useful survival strategy in those days – the physiologically weaker female was kept alive and healthy so that she could bear and raise offspring. Sadly for our dinosaur enthusiast, Sorainya’s bright idea of having an interracial wedding right in front of the Ku Klux Klan does not prove to be a very good survival strategy for him at all. How unfortunate that he lived in an age before The Artist Formerly And Once Again Known As Prince could enlighten him on the virtue and necessity of proper Pussy Control. Sometimes a man exercising better judgment and putting his foot down about it really is best for everyone.

So Sorainya’s ill-considered plan to get down with the swirl goes about as badly as one might expect, and the rest of the story is told from her perspective, starting at the moment when her brontosaurus-loving beau has taken a bullet through the chest and is headed towards the floor to expire. From here on, we enter Matrix-style bullet time, flash back and forward, and hear lots of internal monologue from the most unprepared time traveler ever to have moved between dimensions. It’s written in the literary Modernist style – anyone who has read James Joyce or Virginia Woolf should be familiar with it. It is also an exceptionally inappropriate style in which to write genre fiction. Science fiction, in particular, should always be written in a straightforward manner. By its nature, sci-fi is already taking the reader into unfamiliar territory that may be difficult to grasp. When that’s true, writing in an intentionally obscure style only serves to confuse the reader more than is necessary. Authors tend to write in Modernist style mostly because they think that it makes them look highbrow and avant-garde, and also because it seems easier to do than it actually is. But the thing about literary Modernism is that it’s like cooking scallops – it results in something delightful when done just right, but it is so very easy to end up with something that’s overdone and tough to swallow. Unless you really know what you’re doing, don’t try this at home.

One of the most common and expected of cuckservative memes raises its head in the course of the narrative: the notion that – say it along with me, kids – the Democrats are the real racists! There really is no statement in the whole world more cuckservative than this. Hey jabronis – even if it’s true, it doesn’t matter and nobody cares. The left doesn’t care. They don’t give a damn about your signaling and it’s not going to persuade them of anything because they aren’t even listening to it. They’re not going to stop calling you racists no matter how much you countersignal, and they’re not going to stop calling you racists no matter how much you bend over backwards (or forwards) to white knight for blacks. As has been noted elsewhere, in this matter, you’re going to do the time no matter what, so you might as well do the crime. As for blacks themselves, they don’t care either. The Republican Party spent a hundred years after the Civil War fighting for the rights of blacks, but as soon as the Democrats came along in 1965 and started bribing them with emoluments from the public fisk, blacks dropped the GOP like a hot rock, and now 95% of them vote for Democrats. Wright takes the time to accuse the Democrats of dastardly dealing by quoting LBJ’s remark that with his welfare programs, he’d “have those negroes voting Democratic for the next 200 years”. Perhaps this is so. And yet from the Democrats’ perspective, so far so good.

It’s hard to argue with success, especially if, as cuckservatives have, you’ve spent the last half century losing just about every battle you’ve had to face.

Rather less expected, especially in a book written by a conservative Catholic in the year 2014, is a cameo appearance by the “love is love” meme. This pops up a few times in the chapter. For example, as Sorainya considers her options, an alternate-universe version of herself from a reality in which humankind never rose above the level of tribal savages has occasion to tell our own Sorainya: “Either hate overcomes love, or love overcomes hate. That is the only decision to be made.” And there you have it: NO H8, shitlords! Was Wright just too tone-deaf to see the obvious way in which that sentiment could be applied to gay “marriage”, which, as a Catholic conservative, he opposes? Or worse, can he not see how once one accepts the frame represented by the sentiment that he is expressing, opposing gay “marriage” becomes indefensible? If the only decision to be made is indeed between love or hate (Two extremes! No nuance allowed! How Totalist!), and if the only factor involved in the decision to marry is the choice between the two (Are there no other considerations involved?), then by what justification do we tell gays – or anyone else – that they cannot marry? After all, whether or not they love each other is the only decision to be made. If there actually are other things worth factoring into the decision, Wright does not consider them important enough to be worth sharing.

This disappointing omission points to Wright’s most fundamental philosophical error, which is that he is unable to make the distinction between three concepts that are often conflated, yet are crucially different: a sin, a crime, and a bad idea. It is understandable that many do get them mixed up with each other, as the same act is often all three at once. For example, axe-murdering your wife and children is simultaneously a sin, a crime, and a bad idea. However, few individual acts achieve this trifecta. An act can be just one of these things, or any two of them. Adultery is a sin and a bad idea, but not a crime. Speeding is a crime and a bad idea, but not a sin. Engaging in the “Three S’es” (shoot, shovel, and shut up) if one finds a protected endangered species on one’s farmland is a crime, but neither a sin nor a bad idea. Smoking marijuana is a crime but not a sin, and whether it is a bad idea depends on whether or not one does it to excess. And so forth.

The upshot of all of this is that just because something isn’t a sin, that doesn’t require a Christian to believe that it isn’t a bad idea. Someone once said of Mao’s China that it was a place where “everything that’s not forbidden is mandatory”. Wright seems to be going for a derivation of that in which if an act – in this case, interracial marriage – is not specifically condemned as a sin in the Bible, then Christians must celebrate it and cheer it on (especially if the culture around us insists that we should). To say that I find no scriptural justification for this attitude is an understatement. Christianity is not a religion that relies primarily upon voluminous books of religious law to regulate all the various aspects of life. We are given a few such laws, certainly, but mostly we are taught a worldview and then are left to use it as a basis on which to exercise our own good judgment. I see no reason, therefore, why a Christian cannot come to the conclusion that, while degrees and exceptions exist and generalities may not apply in every single specific case, interracial marriage is generally a bad idea.

(As for Christian love extending to all people of faith, I am reminded of the statement, attributed to no less than Dr. King himself, that “You can be my brother, but not my brother-in-law”. It is a pithy way of expressing the idea that Christian fellowship does not, in fact, obligate one to find every request made by a fellow Christian to be wise or worthy.)

It is tempting here to accuse Mr. Wright of being a cuckold for not opposing interracial marriage, but that would be dishonest of me. In fact, I’m not calling him a “cuckservative” because he doesn’t find interracial marriage to be a sin (I agree with him that it isn’t), nor because he doesn’t find it to be a bad idea (I have my reservations on this point, but respect his right to disagree). No, I am calling him a “cuckservative” because Mr. Wright, obviously spooked by his encounter with the Social Justice vigilante squad no matter how defiant his public face may be when dealing with them, felt the need to include in his anthology this gratuitous bit of anti-racist countersignaling. What is any of this doing in what is ostensibly a book of Catholic-inspired science fiction? What is its relevance to such a work? Here’s an even better question: to whom is it directed, and for whose benefit did he write it? Certainly not leftists, who hate him, won’t read his book, and don’t care what he has to say in it. The other obvious answer is that he’s directing it towards fellow conservatives in the belief that they simply don’t get enough passive-aggressive tolerance lectures from the left, so he had best step in to do the left’s job for them by delivering one of his own.

But there is one other possible explanation: that he’s doing this for himself.

The story ends with Sorainya, after powering up with rage and summoning some ex machina particles, turning her almost-dead almost-husband into a prehistoric monster who tears the Klan members, some innocent bystanders, the choir that came to sing for her wedding, the National Guard soldiers who eventually show up to stop the massacre, and essentially everyone he can get his claws on to pieces, all told from Sorainya’s perspective and with a tone of absolute glee. It ends only when (as they had previously warned her that they would if things went this badly), all of the alternate-universe versions of her get together to erase her from the time stream completely, thus preventing the whole affair from ever having happened and saving everyone except her. There is some real psychology to be found between the lines here. Wright is willing to unleash an unthinking violent beast that will terrorize and brutally murder guilty and innocent alike, that will rip his own kind and even people who have come to help him to shreds, and to laugh over their bleeding bodies – anything, ANYTHING – if there is the even the slightest chance that it will get people who hate him to stop calling him a racist!

This is a story filled with fantastical elements of science fiction – time machines, parallel universes, alternate versions of ourselves – but the sad truth is that the idea that Wright ever could get those people to stop doing that, no matter what lengths he may go to in his attempts, is the must unrealistic of them all.

Many thanks to Zetjintsu for sponsoring this post. My review of the rest of The Book of Feasts and Seasons will be coming to this space shortly.

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that this chapter is, in fact, Wright’s attempt to rewrite (reWright?) a short story by some Social Justice leftist entitled “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love”. I skimmed the original – it’s short and unimpressive, but of course won enough awards to fill up the trunk of a ’62 Cadillac (which has more trunk space than any car made in the last thirty years) because it signaled the right things to the right people. I must emphasize, however, that what Wright has written is in no way a parody of the original – it is an attempt to show off by doing the same thing, only better. Thus, far from making me want to retract my charges against Wright, this discovery only adds to them. “I’ll do a better version of your leftist anti-racist story, but in this one, the Democrats are the real racists!” is about as cuckservative as it gets. But beyond that, it demonstrates a common bad habit of cuckservatives – an unhealthy obsession with what the left is doing and an irresistible drive to respond to it by topping them at their own game. This always ends badly – anyone remember the disastrous “The 1/2 Hour News Hour” that Fox News tried running as a conservative version of the Daily Show? It lasted seventeen episodes, and with good reason. Those on the right need to stop responding to what the left does – that only leaves the left leading the dance and setting the frame. Ignore what the left is saying; build your own ideas (including your own, distinct, unique arts) instead.

It also demonstrates a common bad habit of science fiction writers: assuming that everyone will get their industry in-jokes or care about their exceptionally nerdy versions of rap feuds with other authors or with industry organizations. I cannot speak for others, but I certainly do not, and I am again left wondering how this attempt at one-upsmanship directed against another author who won some awards that Wright thinks she shouldn’t have (and for the record, I agree) is relevant to a book of Catholic liturgy-themed science fiction. Add “indulgent” to my list of charges against “The Queen of the Tyrant Lizards”.

The Need For Thede

Hitler was wrong because he was a racist.

What’s that? Too pedestrian? Too commonplace? Too banal? You were expecting something more edgy and unusual out of me? Well, fear not – I don’t mean that the same way most people do.

What I mean is that Hitler’s myopic focus on racial purity was far too limited a vision to be truly useful. It left too many questions unanswered and too many issues unaddressed. It was, in fact, utopian in its own way, and the truth is that the conflict between Nazism and Communism was one of competing utopian visions. Communism believed that utopia could be brought about if we could just get everyone to believe the right set of ideas. Nazism believed that utopia could be brought about if only we could get the right people to build it. It has its own kind of logic to it: perfect people will naturally create a perfect world.

The only problem is that both visions are bollocks. Perfect people don’t and never can exist, and utopia is a fantasy that won’t ever come to pass in this world no matter who’s building it or what they believe. That doesn’t stop people from being utopians, however (hopeful delusion is one of those human flaws that we’ll never get rid of). There are lots of dead-ender Marxists still around (some of whom admit that thats what they are, and some of whom don’t). But there are also plenty of people around who believe in Hitler’s equally silly utopian scheme.

Here I do not mean to point an accusing finger at people who simply wish to exercise freedom of association in order to be around others who they perceive to be like themselves. The desire to do so is simply human nature, and after a couple of centuries worth of the disastrous failures of utopian schemes that have attempted to deny human nature, we have all hopefully had our fill of them. Neither do I wish to wage my own “war on noticing” by pretending that it is not true that certain racial groups seem to have naturally differing levels of average IQ, organizational skills, and propensity to criminality; nor by pretending to not understand why someone might want to live among a group that scores high in these areas. That is all understandable, and I have no criticisms to offer about any of it.

But myopic focus on ethnicity alone still too limited a worldview to be useful for our task of rebuilding the civilization that 250 years of leftist utopianism has utterly trashed. Consider, for example, the “Portland problem”. Portland is the whitest major city in America – but what are its politics like? And Portland is hardly an isolated outlier. There is a reason that leftism – and especially Cultural Marxism – has been referred to as “White Peoples’ Disease”. To those who fashion themselves “white nationalists” I say this: Fix white people first, then get back to me about white nationalism.

So we need something else – more than just the “Master Race”. We need to think more broadly – partly about people, partly about ideas, partly about technology (both social and scientific), partly about culture, partly about religious faith, and partly about history (both shared history, and the trajectory of future history). We need to take of these things into account as we consider how to survive what is to come, and how to begin to rebuild and create societies that recapture what was good, workable, and sustainable about the past, while adapting them so that they can continue to be robust in the future.

We need more than a Master Race; we need a Master Thede.

“A what?” you may ask. Well, to fully explain, first I must pull back a bit, so that we make take a realistic look at things the way they really currently are. So here is a no-bullshit assessment of the way things stand in the United States, and indeed virtually everywhere in the West at this point in history: If you are of the right or are even merely not a dedicated Cultural Marxist, if you are a serious Christian, if you value the traditions and culture of your people as they existed prior to World War II, and/or if you are a realist and not a fanatical utopian cultist, then the current system and every institution in it, from the government to the media to the corporate world, from the Supreme Court to the Boy Scouts to NASCAR, with only the possible exception of a handful of religious organizations, is lost to you – permanently and irreversibly. Nothing you can do will change this. There is no amount of protesting, or boycotting, or hashtag posting, or – especially – of voting that will do anything to alter this situation. Not ever. I know it, and – deep down, underneath any denials you may be tempted to offer – you know it, too.

So what do we do now?

To start, there is some good news. The current system and its institutions – everything that has been coopted by the left, and that we have lost to them – will collapse under their own weight anyway, and sooner than you might think. They are, to borrow a wonderful word that the environmentalist left taught me, unsustainable. There are many reasons for that, which include massive debt and other structural economic problems, imperial overreach, moral bankruptcy, resource depletion (and here I mean more than energy – look at California’s recent problems with not having enough water to go around), looming demographic crisis, loss of legitimacy and public trust… problems so numerous and complex that going into all of them in any detail would take me far beyond the scope of this essay. Suffice it to say that all of the institutions that make up the Establishment as it is presently constituted are living on borrowed time: they’re going to disintegrate, and it is probably for the best that the left will end up holding the bag when they do.

Well, great – but what do we do to survive in the meantime, and how do we put ourselves in a position to rebuild a decent and sustainable society when the time is right? The first step is that you must transfer your primary loyalty away from the current system. Among other things, you are allowed to ask of it: “What have you done for me lately?” Invade Iraq? Sue my neighbor into homelessness for politely declining to bake a gay wedding cake? Propagandize and promote all manner of sexual deviancy and unwarranted guilt to me and my children? Drive the faith of my fathers out of public life? Sneer at me on Comedy Central? To hell with all that, and to hell with them. You must stop believing in them, stop being sentimental about them, stop feeling any obligation to them, stop looking to them for moral guidance, stop protecting or serving them, stop singing their songs and waving their flags, stop being their fanboy, stop wearing their logos on your t-shirts, and stop acknowledging any power that they have over you which they do not impose at gunpoint. You must be willing to break all the programming given to you by years of public school and talk radio and television and advertisement and patriotic movies. Here I do not mean to adopt a survivalist lifestyle; you need not imitate the Unabomber by moving to a cabin in the woods and subsisting on wild berries. If you need an iPhone, go ahead and buy one – but do not feel any personal loyalty to Apple. If you need a professional certification from a university, go ahead and get it – but do not think of yourself as “a proud alum of the old alma mater”. Pay your taxes and register your car, because you must – but do not think of yourself as a loyal citizen who owes any allegiance to the government.

This last one will likely be the hardest for many people. Those on the right are by nature predisposed to patriotism; it comes easily to them, and abandoning it can be a bitter pill to swallow. Of course, it is perfectly possible to love one’s native land – its people, its history, its traditions – and to hate its government. But in an nation as gigantic as the United States, is loyalty on a national scale even possible or wise? Think: if you live in, say, rural Virginia, what real loyalty do you owe to Hollywood? On what do they base their claim to your loyalty? Hollywood is full of people who hate you – who do not share your faith or your cultural values and who actively work to see them eradicated; who laugh at you and think you a rube to be manipulated; who wouldn’t live in your “flyover” town if somebody paid them a million dollars to do it. What loyalty do you owe to New York or Washington or San Francisco, either – all places full of people who feel the same way about you? Why? Because they’re “fellow Americans”? Not good enough, say I. And what of the government? What has it done to deserve your loyalty? If you hold on to the Constitution, then you hold on to nothing – that scrap of paper has been DOA for ages now, and if it had ever possessed the ability to prevent what has happened from happening, then it would have. As for the rest of the machinery of government, it makes stupid ideas official policy, and consistently acts against your interests. This may speed up or slow down a bit depending on the results of this or that election, but it will never, ever stop. To willingly give loyalty to that beast is insanity; is suicide.

No, we’re never going to get through this by giving loyalty to people who hate us. We’re all going to need something better to transfer our primary loyalty to. What, then? Family? Friends? Church? Community? Like-minded people? Sure. But how about something that includes aspects of all of those? For that, we’re going to need to establish a thede.

So what is a thede, anyway? (Neal Stephenson explored a similar idea in his novel The Diamond Age, but used the term “phyle” to describe it). The most basic definition is that a thede is a group of humans who band together under a strong shared identity. This identity is usually based on a common trait or set of traits. These traits can vary depending on the nature and scale of the specific thede, and can include anything from blood relation to a common religion, class, language, philosophy or ideology, culture and history, IQ and education level, geographical location, shared experience, or any of a long list of other traits, or any combination of them. Ethnicity is, of course, one such possible trait, and is frequently a component of thede identities, but is neither necessarily nor always a component of them. No matter what set of traits they may be based on, thedes by nature must be exclusive – those who do not share the common traits that define the thede cannot be permitted to join it (and even possessing those traits may not be a guarantee of entry). Thedes can be large or small; there can be subthedes within larger thedes; there can be similarity and overlap between different thedes, such that two thedes which differ in some ways but are alike in others can be allied with each other. Thedes can be either formally or informally organized, and can be either localized in one geographical area or distributed. It is possible (maybe unwise, but possible) for a person to belong to more than one thede at once, but only one can have their primary loyalty.

Perhaps some examples can help to solidify the concept. One good example of a thede would be the Jews. “Jewish” is a strong shared identity that is fundamental to the individual identities of the people who are a part of it. It is, at least theoretically, centered around a religious faith, yet many who are strongly atheist in their religious beliefs still consider themselves Jewish, because Jewish identity is also partially based (and perhaps primarily so, in a de facto sense) upon aspects of culture, history, and ethnicity. The Jews have, at some points in their history, had a homeland – a common geographical location to call their own – and at other times have been a distributed thede. For many Jews, “Jewish” is the primary shared identity with which they identify themselves, and represents the thede to which they give their primary loyalty. The modern state of Israel, for example, was founded by Jews from many nations, who, justifiably or not, saw being “Jewish” as the identity to which they owed their primary loyalty, which is why they left the nations in which they were born in order to fight for, an become citizens of, a new nation based on that thede identity.

Another example of a thede would be the Freemasons. Wherever he may travel, if a Freemason wears his ring and does the secret handshake, other Freemasons will recognize him as one of their own even if they have never met before. Once they do recognize each other, Freemasons are expected to come to each others’ aid in whatever way they can, whenever such aid is needed. Many is a Freemason whose job interview was a mere formality, conducted with a wink and a nod by someone who was wearing the same ring that he was. Many others have received help in times of dire need as well. (When was the last time you heard of a homeless Freemason?) This aspect of mutual aid and obligation is not a feature of every thede, but is a vital part of any serious and robust one.

One more example would be the Mormons. Mormons take their moral guidance from the elders of their church, not from a court full of political appointees in Washington. If the elders find that marriage is something that only exists between people of opposite sexes, then that, not the opinions of a distant panel of lawyers in Hogwarts costumes, is the law by which they live. Similarly, the ladies of yet another thede, the Amish, wear long dresses because that is one of their thede’s customs. If they’d like to remain part of that thede, then those customs are, effectively, law to them. Here, a Marxist insight is useful: Whoever exercises authority over you is your de facto government. If you give your primary loyalty and grant the position of legitimate moral authority to your church elders, if the commandments of your faith or the customs of your thede are what you hold to be the legitimate laws by which you are bound, and if you see the de jure government as essentially an overgrown crew of corrupt gangsters, to be politely obeyed when their enforcers are watching and discreetly ignored when they aren’t, then your thede becomes both your people and your government, and the de jure government, along with all of its formally and informally associated institutions, becomes a burdensome but manageable annoyance.

If a thede is robust and resilient; if it is not just willing, but also able, to provide effective mutual defense and mutual aid to its members; if it is based on sound and enduring principles which resonate with high-quality people and attract them into the thede; if it can offer a space that encourages and rewards pro-social behavior; if it can help people to achieve the Good Life in a spiritual sense, a material sense, or both; in short, if it can be a worthy place for worthy people to direct their primary loyalty, then it will become a Master Thede. Once built, a Master Thede will serve (in the words of the Czech anticommunist dissident Vaclav Benda) as a parallel polis – a set of parallel institutions; a parallel culture with parallel art, philosophy, laws, customs, and manners; a parallel de facto government with instruments of defense, aid, education, and internal conflict resolution. It will not seek to replace the current government nor to declare independence in a “1776” sense – at least not for the foreseeable future. It is not intended to be an instrument of revolution under any common definition of that term, and it will as much as possible seek to avoid any engagement with the current government and current institutions altogether. A Master Thede forms a means of internal exit (especially for those unable or disinclined to move to a foreign country) – both a refuge from the current system and a basis on which to rebuild after it finally collapses. It is building just such a Master Thede (or thedes), and not trying to change the hopeless, doomed current system, that should be the focus of any practical action for reactionaries and traditionalists.

Ideally, everyone would already have a thede readily available that suits them and with which they can place their primary loyalty. In the midst of our highly atomized and individualistic Modern society, however, most people do not. In practice, any thede that will expand to a useful size will almost certainly either have to grow out of an existing institution (likely a church – no other civic institution capable of incubating a traditional thede really anymore exists) or organize through the internet. Much of it will be slow networking – finding trustworthy people, working out policies, and so on. Once a Master Thede is built, it will become successful, and when it becomes successful, it will attract others to it (especially as currently-existing institutions start to crumble and general prosperity declines even further). There will be challenges. Quality control will be primary among them: a Master Thede will have to reject many – entryists, freeloaders, insincere bandwagon-jumpers – who wish to become part of it. In terms of the people involved (and in terms of basically everything else), it must always place quality over quantity. Maintaining order and avoiding Conquest’s Second Law will also be difficult. Some within the thede may seek to change certain of its policies for reasons both good and bad. Good-faith discussion of how best to proceed should be encouraged as a tool by which the best decisions can be reached. But on core issues, the thede should follow a strict FIFO policy – “Fit In or Fuck Off”. Just as the nation-state’s ultimate enforcement mechanisms are imprisonment or execution, the Master Thede’s ultimate enforcement mechanism will be expulsion – i.e. those who won’t abide by the thede’s policies can go back to taking their chances with a government and a set of institutions that hate them and that with each passing day become simultaneously more oppressive and incompetent.

Much remains to be discussed about this topic (I do plan to return to it in the future), and doubtless many mistakes will be made, and hopefully learned from, during the creation of robust and resilient thedes. It won’t be easy. But creating them, transferring your primary loyalty to them, building them up, and defending them is your only choice. The currently-existing system and its institutions are your enemy – they will not help you, they will only seek to either bring you to heel or to destroy you – and anyway do not have all that very much life left in them. Circumstances are forcing you to look elsewhere. Let us take the first tentative steps toward creating an “elsewhere” to which we can look.