In the Tenebrous Satanism glossary, I specifically mention “Harboring absurdly strong opinions about books that one has not personally read” as a trait of homo hubris. I thus associate such behavior with maladaptive arrogance, and feel the world would be better off with less of it. In recent years, however, it seems more and more otherwise-intelligent people are treating it as some kind of virtue. This post is about what may be motivating that, and why Satanists should oppose it.
There is nothing remarkable about openly anti-intellectual people being snidely and hastily dismissive of things they know little about. All the more so if the dismissed-thing is associated with an “enemy” group. And all the more so yet, amid a deluge of negative messaging about said enemy group posing an imminent threat. I am capable of sympathizing with how the making of snap judgments would be evolutionarily-adaptive in such circumstances. And though I dislike, say, fundamentalist Christians making snap judgments about “devil worship books,” such reactions are easy to understand.
It is a different case when such behavior arises among people who think of themselves as “educated” and “open-minded.” Traditionally, one associates such designators with qualities of intellectual rigor, inquisitive investigation, fair and honest assessment of arguments, etc. Increasingly, though, I’ve crossed paths with highly-educated people whose closed-mindedness comes across to me as downright anti-intellectual. The kind of people I am thinking of here almost never see themselves as “religious.” And yet, on certain topics, they behave no less closed-mindedly than the most rabid evangelical confronted with blasphemous heresies. They also resemble religious fanatics insofar as their ideology excuses the refusal of compromise via the “urgency” of opposing “evil.”
Am I talking here more about one end of the political spectrum than the other? On the basis of my own experience, yes. My point is not, however, that “everyone” on any side of the political spectrum acts in the way I’m describing! Rather, my point is that if individuals are acting this way, then it is a problem.
I thus hope to avoid defensive reactions stemming from someone thinking I am attacking their “side.” If you and your associates are indeed not doing the thing, then relax: this post is not about you! 🙂
The issue: rushing to judgment
The kind of closed-mindedness I’m raising as an issue has many manifestations. This entry will deal with but one area: books, and the way people talk and think about them.
First, though, a few pointers about what this post is not saying:
- It is not saying that you “have to” read any given book in order to be a “good” or “educated” person. We all have limited time and interests.
- It is not saying that you are obligated to tolerate Internet strangers harassing you to read something. Fuck know-it-all troll bullshit.
- It is not saying that you are “not allowed” to harbor preliminary judgments. Everyone is affected by “first impressions,” as that’s simply part of the algorithms by which human beings navigate the world.
What I nonetheless object to are the rise of the following behaviors. Among ignorant people, they are unfortunate, but unsurprising. When “intellectual” people act thus, though, I feel they are betraying the essence of what it means to be “intellectual.” Those toward the top are forgivable in moderation, amid a world in which everyone is frequently busy and/or exhausted. Those toward the bottom, however, I see no excuse for, regardless of how “imposed upon by life’s Perils” a person may feel. I’ll explain why right after the list itself.
The list of don’t ‘s
- Public conversation about the book among people whose tastes you share is predominantly negative re: ideas the book presents. You therefore conclude that the book has no merit whatsoever, and have no interest in it.
- You haven’t heard nearly so much about the book’s actual ideas as you have about how the author. For example, they are morally transgressive, are “of the wrong demographic to be telling that story,” etc. You assume, based on this, that the book’s actual ideas are bad, and have no interest in it.
- Situation as per 1. You therefore preach openly against the book by repeating other peoples’ opinions about its ideas, without having read it yourself.
- Situation as per 2. You therefore preach against the book via condemning its author, without reading it or otherwise engaging with its actual ideas.
- Situation as per 1. You therefore are prone to assuming that, if a stranger likes the book, there is something “wrong” with them.
- Situation as per 2. You therefore are prone to assuming that, if a stranger likes anything to do with the author, there is something “wrong” with them.
- Situation as per 1. But then a friend of yours comes along who has read the book, and says it wasn’t all bad. You would rather revise your opinion of your friend negatively than revise your opinion of the book you haven’t read.
- Situation as per 2; otherwise the same as 7.
Discussion of rationales re: severity
Re 1 & 2, I get it re: there is only so much time in the day. I personally still think conclude is bad, though, because there’s a better option that I’ll discuss below. Still, this kind of dismissiveness isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
3 & 4 are understandable in the same light as 1 & 2 re: amid limited energy & attention, said algorithm kicks in. Here, though, one is seeming a bit credulous regarding the infallibility of opinions circulating in one’s social circle. 3 & 4 also become far of a problem if “preach” means “write bad reviews of a book you haven’t read.” Why? See below.
5 & 6: It’s one thing if you’ve been harassed by people from the book’s fandom, and that’s a separate issue if so. It rubs me the wrong way, though, when people get really huffy re: “only assholes could like that book,” whilst personally knowing literally no one in said category. Like, how do you know? What if they like the book for some reason that is totally unrelated to why your circles dislike it? Also, what happened to “it’s okay to like problematic things”? Do you not see the inconsistency in defending “guilty pleasures” for yourself and your friends, whilst denying this to strangers?
I judge 7 & 8 as most serious because that behavior destroys my trust in the person who does it. You care more about ideology and/or conforming to the herd than trying to understand where your friend is coming from, yet you are “friends”? Nobody needs “friends” like this!
I’d note lastly that the ranking above is based on potential harm to human relationships. Ranked purely by degree of betrayal of intellectualism, though, I’d instead say 1, 3, 5, 7, 2, 4, 6, 8. Why? See below.
Objections from a Tenebrous perspective
Some readers may say, of course all of this is problematic – any reasonable citizen of a secular democracy would agree. No special appeal to Satanic values is necessary to declare intellectual dishonesty, sloppy reasoning and submersion in mob mentality “bad.” Nonetheless, I have long found that it is as a Satanist that this entire spectrum of behavior especially disturbs me. I can parse this into the virtues of Tenebrous Satanism thus:
Zeal & Empathy
Respect for these two virtues in concert entails an appreciation for passions and interests differing between individuals. When you assume that the only reason why a person could like a “bad” book is because “they are bad” by your standards, you are acting as if ideological investment is the only facet of a person that matters. Such an attitude negates human subjectivity. It is the attitude of the Dogmagian fanatic who sees people only in terms of the roles they play in one’s own favored ideological story. Satanic celebration of both the dark and light sides of the human experience demands a rejection of such a blinkered perspective.
Simply put, you can’t learn anything if you decide in advance that you already know everything. Likewise if you decide in advance that “your people” (e.g. your end of the ideological spectrum) have it all figured out and never need to check their insights against other human perspectives. In reality, everyone is fallible, and there is always more to be learned. There is also a big difference between analyzing and dismissing a genuinely-bad idea, and refusing to even engage with it whilst denying its validity based on irrelevant innuendos.
Re: 2, 4, 6 & 8 in my list especially, then, it seems to me that something has gone very wrong in the area of “wisdom” when people lose the ability to distinguish between “the book is bad” and “the author is bad.” Basically, you are trusting the herd to make decisions for you, whilst somehow failing to see that there is anything anti-intellectual about doing this. The autonomy of the individual that Satanism prizes is endangered thereby.
Firstly, it’s my conviction that “what people deserve” entails not judging people by superficial factors. “Reducing people to their like of one particular book” is definitely a thing I would put in that category.
Secondly, book reviews are for reviewing books, not for waging ideological war against people we don’t like just because our friends don’t like them. This point seems to be agreed-to by everyone except the ideological fanatics who ruin the meaningfulness of reviews for everyone else.
Thirdly, friendship should entail sufficient appreciation for the other person’s subjectivity to give them some minimal degree of benefit of the doubt, and try to understand where they are coming from. If you instead just jump immediately to the conclusion that they must be an idiot for disagreeing with the mob about a book you haven’t read, it seems like you are, to put it mildly, not much of a friend.
Having excessively strong opinions about books you haven’t read thus leads to behavior I consider dishonorable – i.e. violation of various social contracts that I, as the kind of Satanist who is not a solipsistic psychopath, would prefer to see upheld.
I anticipate some might defend the behaviors I’m attacking via rationalizing like “but the book has such bad ideas that they’re equivalent to literal violence against me” and/or “I shouldn’t have to do the emotional labor of engaging.”
Now, I am not unsympathetic to statements like those describing someone’s heartfelt lived experiences. And as I said above, nothing in this entry is meant to imply that anyone is “obligated” to read books that “offend” them.
But I also don’t think you can use those kinds of objections to justify buying into ad hominen arguments that are just bad ways of arguing, making sweeping generalizations about strangers, and other such behavior that is ultimately rooted in unproductive resentment. Going down that path is basically training yourself to be a weaker person.
As a Satanist, I would prefer to see people empower themselves by developing emotional self-control, so that they can treat ideas and people fairly despite the adversity they themselves have faced. I believe even the most downtrodden can accomplish such a thing with effort. Any ideology that says otherwise does more to keep the downtrodden discouraged than to uplift them from their current state, it seems to me.
An alternative: suspending judgment
If I am then criticizing certain ways of engaging (i.e. failing to engage) with books, what do I propose instead? Something that used to at one time be a normal expectation of capable adults: the ability to suspend judgment. The idea is to scale back the actions and assumptions to an epistemologically-justifiable limit. Meaning:
- Public conversation about the book among people whose tastes you share is predominantly negative re: ideas the book presents. You therefore anticipate that the book is probably of limited worth, but admit that you haven’t read it.
- You haven’t heard nearly so much about the book’s actual ideas as you have about how the author. For example, they are morally transgressive, are “of the wrong demographic to be telling that story,” etc. Based on this, you either i) keep these issues in mind re: the book seeming questionable, or ii) don’t care, because you grasp that the book could still be good anyway.
- You do NOT do anything else that was on the list. You thereby spare yourself from i) looking like a goddamn idiot for beaking off about a book you haven’t fucking read, and ii) acting like an ideology-robot and/or judgmental asshole.
There is sure to be a fair proportion of the audience of this blog who thinks this is merely common sense.
It is, shall we say, a sign of our interesting times, that I feel it is a thing that nonetheless needs saying.
I do foresee some individuals getting their backs up about what I’m arguing here, though. And my question to such people is:
Might it be worth asking yourself, why, really, you invest so much in defending what most normal people see as dogmatic stupidity? Why “must” you hurry to pronounce judgment, jump to conclusions about strangers, and alienate well-meaning friends?
I suspect the answer will entail:
- Your emotions and/or ideology convince you that such snap judgments are necessary for survival.
- You are convinced that objective evil exists, that you are capable of recognizing it, and that any compromise with it is “letting evil win.”
- You perceive loud judgmentalness as normative for intelligent people nowadays, and wish to present yourself thus as “intelligent.”
- Other people in your circle are being loudly judgmental about these things, and you fear alienating those people.
I must then say, in connection with such possibilities, that I am concerned about you. I am concerned that you seem to have adopted habits detrimental to your own flourishing and self-evolution. Specifically, it seems to me that:
- You are allowing your emotions to rule over a realm that it would make more sense for reason to rule over.
- You have become invested in a simplistic dualism that both obscures human complexities and inflates your own ego.
- Your identity is unhealthily dependent upon fitting in with the herd.
- You seem unaware of the extent to which you are surrounded by dogmatists, and that other options do exist.
Neither these things, nor the judgmentalness that proceeds from them, are good for anyone. Hence why my book seeks to promote liberation from such conditions.
How unfortunate, then, that willingness to read books is the very thing we are contending over… 😉
Finally, an announcement…
This entry is actually a prelude to a new series of posts I am considering working on. In said series, I myself will read books often dismissed as objectionable, and endeavor to summarize, in an accurate and honest manner, content of said books that I see as nonetheless useful and/or of interest to my blog’s audience.
What drives this? I have, at this point, had a very large number of negative experiences involving seemingly-trustworthy “intelligent” people trashing certain books, then myself going and reading the book, only to find i) they are distorting its contents to the point of basically lying, and ii) even if some elements of the book are problematic, other parts prove uniquely enlightening and useful to me. This has occurred regarding not just one topic (e.g. occult), but many (e.g. science, anthropology, etc.). I’ve thus become jaded toward the “intelligentsia”, and would like to provide the public with something better than they have.
Of course, my telling you what’s in a book is no substitute for reading it yourself. Our times’ intellectual climate being what it is, though, I would like to still try to do what I can to role-model the attempt-at-objectivity that I would like to see.
You can, of course, anticipate that, given Tenebrous Satanism’s inspiration, “heretical literature” will deal with Order of Nine Angles works. Note, however, that this will NOT be aimed at defending the indefensible: the reputation of O9A itself. Yes, the O9A “brand” is firmly associated with Nazism, some members stand accused of various horrific crimes, etc. We know all that already. It’s therefore not what interests me. If you’re hung up on guilt-by-association to the point of being unable to look at the ideas I present on their own merits, you are free to not read this blog.
I don’t just have plans related to O9A texts, though. I’m also interested in “here’s a technique from a dubious New Age book I still found useful” -type explorations. Pure “offensiveness” is not the only reason, you see, why I think people dismiss books too hastily.
Not sure if I’ll cover non-occult books or not. If I do, though, it’ll likely wait until after Nine Keys of Abyssal Darkness is published. Firstly, it will cut down on how much about Tenebrous Satanism I’ll feel like I have to unpack on the blog to explain “why are we talking about this book?” Secondly, there are a couple books I’d consider doing where, if it blew up on social media, I’d like to have my promotional game already in gear… ?
Have you read any books that you feel it’s “unpopular” or “dangerous” to admit liking, finding useful, or etc.? Let me know in the comments.
This post received minor edits for stylistic consistency on Aug 22/23.