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July 15th, 2021
In yesterday's entry I wrote about three paths that might be leading towards a second Axial Age, which are paths people tend to walk down when they become “seekers” and start to transform their life more consciously. The paths are ...
The Path of Wisdom
The Path of Awakening
The Path of Love
These paths respectively afford a certain relational efficacy towards reality, aka positively navigating, witnessing, and loving reality. I argued that if one does not know what path to choose, it is wise to choose the Path of Wisdom, as that is the path that can lead you to the other two paths when it is wise to do so. I will explore this path in more detail tomorrow, but for today I want to discuss what these paths have in common, and three paths that you probably do not want to walk down.
I always like finding a philosophical throughline between things, and it bugs me when one is not announced. So, what is the philosophical throughline between these three paths? I would say that these paths are life transformative and the word “life” is key here. Many other paths can be transformative, such as athletic, artistic, and business paths, but there is something about these three paths which transform one’s entire life, as well as what their sense of what living and being alive is.
To allow my Christian bias to show, I would say that these three paths are heavenly paths that can lead one to a heavenly life, where the good, true, and beautiful can flourish. I think there are three other life transformative paths, that equally transform one’s entire life, but the transformation is not towards a heavenly life. These paths are…
The Path of Doxa
The Path of Power
The Path of Chaos
The first path is about following others' reality, the second path is about controlling reality, and the third path is about destroying reality. I will unpack these three paths, and argue against walking down them.
The word “doxa” refers to the beliefs that are common and opinions that are popular. The Path of Doxa is about living an unexamined life and having an unconscious sensemaking and choicemaking strategy, where you look around at what your peers are doing, and simply follow suit. More provocative terms used here are normies, NPCs, or dead players.
You might be wondering how this path is life transformative. The transformative aspects may be slow, unnoticed, and “normified,” but change is happening; it is simply not consciously directed. The old self-help adage from Jim Rohn is relevant here: If you don't design your own life plan, chances are you'll fall into someone else's plan.
Those on the Path of Doxa are vulnerable to those who have the power to shape common belief, and can end up becoming consumers for products, or culture warriors for causes that do not have their best interest in mind, and which would not lead them to a heavenly life. Robert Anton Wilson referred to this as the “consensus trance,” a society-wide trance that regulates a populace.
Now, I would say that it is wise to adopt many norms that those on the Path of Doxa have, like washing your hands when they are dirty, being polite to people as a default, and wearing masks during a pandemic, but when you wholesale outsource your sensemaking and choicemaking towards the beliefs that are popular, then you are placing trust in those who have power to shape the world, and worldviews— aka those who walk down the Path of Power— to bring you a heavenly life.
I was considering calling this the Path of Success because becoming successful, or having a fear and shame of not being successful, usually is a preoccupation on this path. I think it can be wise to become successful in certain domains, in a way that makes you appear successful to many, but I do not think being successful for its own sake is a wise telos for one’s life.
There are those who do not care about fitting in, and who are not preoccupied with success, but with power. I am fascinated by the writings of an obscure Polish author, Andrzej Łobaczewski, who writes about “political ponerology,” the study of how politics and evil intersect. He argues that those with personality disorders, mainly psychopathy, have the proclivity to reach the heights of power.
Łobaczewski discusses a term that I sense is important to get to know: pathocracy, a system of governance where political power is wielded by a psychopathic elite. I like this term, but I want to be careful here, and I do not want to be uncharitable to psychopaths. I think there can be three classes of psychopaths: malevolent psychopaths, benign psychopaths, and even benevolent psychopaths, depending on how they were raised.
It makes sense why malevolent psychopaths get all of the attention, and that the word psychopath is generally considered synonymous with this class, because these are the kind of psychopaths that are on the Path of Power. I would say the philosophical throughline between all three classes of psychopaths is them having a dysfunctional prefrontal cortex and amygdala, leading to impaired empathy and other prosocial emotions, along with a lack of anxiety and fear.
It makes sense that if one is born with this as a biological given and is not raised in a culture of virtue, then one will not care about others and will have fearlessness in pursuing their selfish desires. This is what researchers in psychopathy call “fearless dominance.”
If a psychopath is high-functioning with a high IQ, they will come to the conclusion that achieving power is the best meta-goal to pursue, rather than simply achieving success like those on the Path of Doxa. This is because greater power facilitates achievement in a greater range of their selfish desires. Once on this path, the high that that power brings eventually becomes an acquired taste, and becomes an end of its own.
The best strategy to pursue power without any policing of virtue is what Li Zongwu advocates one ought to pursue: a thick face and black heart. In his “Thick Black Theory” treatise, he suggests that if one wants to pursue power they need to hide their true intentions, via lying or bullshiting (aka having a thick face), while being absolutely ruthless with others (aka having a black heart).
It makes sense why Daniel Schmachtenberger often talks about psychopathology when he talks about civilization redesign, and his phrase “ubiquitous psychopathology” is a good one. If there is a pathocracy, then one can imagine that a “trickle-down psychopathology” is happening. The phrase “sociopath” is useful here, which is the term for one that has been socialized to become a malevolent psychopath. This is why I do not watch most movies and television shows anymore, as a lot of them glamorize a sociopathic way of life.
So whether you are biologically susceptible to walking down the Path of Power, or socialized into pursuing it, this path is the opposite of the Path of Love, just like how the Path of Doxa is the opposite to the Path of Wisdom. Truly loving others, or all of reality for that matter, cannot be instrumentalized towards pursuing power as an intrinsic thing, in fact it is the antidote towards doing so.
It makes sense why criminal psychologist Robert Hare calls psychopaths (or malevolent psychopaths) our “intraspecies predator,” because they view the rest of us, especially those on the Path of Doxa, as prey. Some of the high-functioning intraspecies predators are at the top of the pathocracy, and these are the ones who have the power to influence whatever consensus trances are at play.
I do sense it is really important to gain a power literacy, and to learn the “metalanguage of power” so we can demystify power, spot when power moves are occurring, and do what we can to protect ourselves against them. If the transition from “Game A to Game B” is going to happen, or from “Empire to Planetary” to use Robert Gilman’s languaging, we’ll need to understand power, to see who currently has it, and to know how to virtuously use it.
I am putting a lot of attention on this power thing, because it is a huge blindspot to most, especially those warring in the culture war, and most people in culture war mode lack a power literacy, or view power in a very myopic way through only one reality tunnel. The thing about intraspecies predators is that they do not give a shit about culture war issues, as they are engaging in what Martha Stout calls “limbic warfare,” aka the strategic hijacking of a collective's agency.
I do not want to poo-poo on power all together though; power is an amoral thing, and it only becomes evil if it becomes one’s telos. I find the power dichotomies from Mary Parker Follett and John Holloway helpful. Follett makes the distinction between “power-over and power-with” and Holloway makes the distinction between “power-over and power-to-do.”
The dichotomies are pretty self-explanatory, and they both share the power-over distinction, which is the kind of power that those on the Path of Power, with their thick faces and black hearts, are really good at. All of this being said, assuming it does not become the main pursuit, it can be a wise thing to have power-over, power-with, and power-to-do, if the context requires it.
The last path, the Path of Chaos, is not about pursuing some notion of success with what is or gaining power over what is, but about destroying what is. This is the path of the “chaos agents,” who cannot be bothered with either success or power, and they lean into entropy hard.
Certain strains of “accelerationism” fall into this category, as well as nihilists, and misanthropes. This path seems resistant to group formations, unlike those on the Path of Doxa, who cohere around a consensus trance, or those on the Path of Power, who cohere around “trust through distrust” mechanisms such as blackmail.
The Satanic “Order of Nine Angles” and “Gruppo Di Nun” are perhaps exceptions here, but the Path of Chaos seems to be an individualist affair. GG Allin is the artistic archetype who comes to mind. In the more extreme end you’ll get serial killers like Richard Ramirez, who engaged in existential terror on a localized level, and on a more global scale we have the emergence of what Thomas Friedman calls “super-empowered individuals,” these individuals are defined by Small Wars Journal as:
An individual or small group possessing the knowledge and/or access to critical nodes in complex social systems, and the power and willingness to leverage such to either change the system’s rule set or at least a strong challenge to it.
Think of a genius lone-war hacker archetype, which is not as cartoonish as you might think. If one of these individuals cultivates a lust for entropy, then some serious existential terrorism may occur.
This path and the other two mentioned today do have important functions, as doxa, power, and chaos are not inherently unwise things to pursue, and they only become unwise I would argue when those things become one’s intrinsic value. So yeah, do not walk down these paths, and if you feel pulled towards one of these attractors, then cool, there is something there to honour, but not to idolize.
To riff on the “both/and” phrase, I sense the Path of Wisdom is uniquely positioned to “all/and” these three paths, which is to say see the good in each. Tomorrow, I will continue this roundabout inquiry on the framing of my practice, and explore what the Path of Wisdom could be.
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