The Revolt of the Asses
Decolonize your mind in three easy steps
The Library of Celaeno is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
I was moved to write this piece in part by a YouTube video by Dave Cullen. Watch for yourself- he’s speaking about the 60th anniversary episode of Dr. Who, where the immortal time-traveling alien was taught to respect pronouns by a muppet and a tr00n (it’s in the air as to which character requires the most suspension of disbelief).
He makes some great points in the video and I thought I might put them in a larger philosophical context. We in the West currently reside in a trough of decadence and cultural sterility. The instrumentalization and commodification of art has reached its absolute nadir; every trace of creative energy has been deconstructed, stripped to its marketable essence, and harnessed for the ends of managerial neoliberalism. We are, quite simply, at a creative dead end, and what’s worse, those who in other circumstances would be best equipped to deal with the problem are the most effective agents of the spread of the mind-virus behind it. I’m talking about nerds.
The word nerd used to mean something. It meant you were smart in a way that was off-putting- you made homemade radios or joined the Civil Air Patrol or learned Ancient Greek. Now nerd is a consumer choice, and otherwise intelligent young (and not so young) men are dragooned through the stick of loneliness and the carrot of endorphins into nerdom as a consumer identity. A nerd is now someone who buys nerd stuff, who spends his time, which could otherwise be put to creative intellectual use, pouring out his thoughts about lightsabers on Reddit. That element of the bourgeoisie that had the greatest potential to resist the pull of the mass is reduced to a bespoke version of it, imagining itself superior in that its fandom focuses on CGI spaceships rather than sportsball.
Of course, at its deepest level, the problem is spiritual. Apuleius, some 1,900 years ago, addressed the same concerns in The Golden Ass. The only extant Roman novel, the story follows the misadventures of Lucius, who, desiring to learn magic, is accidentally transformed into a donkey, and is passed from owner to owner, experiencing varying degrees of abuse and witnessing a wide cross-section of society. His world is one in a similar state of decadence to our own; spirituality has become perverse and transactional in the form of witchcraft, relations between men and women are selfish, cruel, and exploitative, and sexual depravity is the norm, as seen in everything from bizarre cults to the criminal justice system (Lucius in donkey form is at one point expected to rape a convicted murderess to death). One interesting theme throughout is the instability of identity- characters are constantly pretending to be other people or otherwise obscuring who they are. In one particularly symbolically charged episode, Lucius’ friend Socrates has his heart removed by witches while he sleeps and replaced by a sponge, which falls out and kills him when he bends over to get a drink from a stream. A man with a sponge for a heart who dies while streaming? I think we all know that guy…
Closer to our own time, we have the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset. Ortega y Gasset was the most profound expositor of the condition of modern man since de Tocqueville, apart from those with a Traditional understanding of things. He saw that in his day “mass man” was everywhere in the ascendant, defined by him at that creature molded by the forces of modernity such that he is not only fungible and mediocre, but insists on his mediocrity. As he famously put it in his Revolt of the Masses:
As they say in the United States: "to be different is to be indecent." The mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select. Anybody who is not like everybody, who does not think like everybody, runs the risk of being eliminated.
Mass man is the atom of the managerial neoliberal order as currently manifested. He is both the beginning and end of the feedback loop of the system, the spiraling speck of stardust swirling the black hole of contemporary creative life. The managers are qualitatively identical to mass man- Ortega y Gasset’s bourgeois señorito satisfecho. They are both an emergent property of mass man and the perpetuation of his existence. They are not aristocrats with a distinct and higher way of being exploiting peasant hordes, but merely the instantiation of mass man in nodal form, and in many ways, it is they, rather than mass man, who is the cringing servant. For though- as I pointed out in my article on fanbaiting- the cultural managers get a thrill out of throwing their unaccountability in the masses’ collective faces, they still can’t escape their own class identity-function of producing content, much like their counterparts in food companies churn out chemically-enhanced prolefeed. The pleasure they derive from their power is offset by what seems to be a growing awareness of the meaninglessness of it all, as demonstrated by their manifest desperate need (and failure to) differentiate themselves from mass man by adopting and conspicuously displaying their social capital in the form of progressive values. It rings hollow to them and to others, namely due to the fact that progressive values are merely an artificially rarefied and stylized form of the consumptive (in every sense) materialism of mass man, and thus it becomes increasingly desperate and shrill, as can be seen in their willingness to torch a sixty-year old show with dialogue like this:
It’s hard to pick a single exchange; the above video gives some highlights.
Observing that need for differentiation points to a way out of our current predicament for those of us who would be differentiated; Dave Cullen hits on it a bit, but not signaling anything other than liberalhood himself, must necessarily come up short. He says to walk away, but the question remains- to where? He seems to envision creating just outside the control of the forces he finds corrosive, but their influence is more pervasive than he seems aware. As Evola noted in The Bow and the Club, modern societies occupy space; traditional societies occupy time. Moving through space will only get you to another part of modernity and thus right back to the problems noted. To escape modernity and the crisis of our age we must move through time. Or rather, we must, like Dr. Who, transcend time. We must move into myth.
A myth proper has no author; it intersects with temporality at the precise moment some artist engages it and adapts it to his own circumstances. It represents an interplay of individual genius, cultural formation, and timeless themes. To return to The Golden Ass, near the end of the story Lucius has a theophany. Praying to a succession of deities the goddess Isis appears to him, informing him that she is known by all the names he cried out and many more than he’ll ever know. She tells him to eat a garland of roses held by one of her priests at the next day’s festival and he will become a man again. He does so and is healed, no longer an ass looking to its base needs but a man set upon higher things. Note that the theme of unstable identity that characterized the story as a whole is finally rectified- Isis is Isis, at once Egyptian goddess from millennia before Rome was even a village, but also somehow still a Roman goddess and the personal tutelary deity of Lucius. She is timeless but yet instantiated in both Egyptian and Roman culture, while still manifesting individually to Lucius. There is wisdom here for he who hath understanding.
Myth is the wellspring of creativity. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating- it was not for nothing that Odin sought wisdom from the pool of Mimir, that Christ described himself as the Living Water, and that one of the great marvels of Moses was his giving his wandering people a drink from a barren rock, struck by his staff of authority. We have forgotten this to our great loss. The managers told us that old stories would keep us primitive, that they could offer us a better world, that man lived by bread alone and that they would bake it for us out of seed oil and pesticides. We swapped our birthright for soup, and now even the soup is rancid, because it amuses our betters to watch us choke down their foul broth. So how do we get back where we belong? We decolonize ourselves.
They actually do this.
Yes, let us deploy critical theory right back at its source. Let the venomous snake choke on its own tale, so to speak; let the circle be complete. Let us purge our minds, bodies, and spirits of the cultural conditioning that has been foisted upon us since the days of the Enlightenment, which coincided with colonization proper. Did you really think this was only directed outwards? Liberalism in all its forms was always first and foremost designed to shape the home populations of the colonizers to accept the great project, first through pride, then shame, the great churn that resulted in neoliberalism began as a longing for more and ended in an acceptance of less and less. There’s no conspiracy here. As de Maistre noted of the French Revolution, it only appeared at certain points that this or that person was in charge- the forces that carried it through were supernatural. But for our purposes we must accept that we are colonized. Let’s see how the system recommends to its scheduled castes how to respond.
It is time to make New Agreements with ourselves. We have been told a lie and are living in an arrangement that is going to kills us all and hurt our planet. We have to rethink everything that we have been taught in our schools, homes, media outlets and other platforms…
Colonialism was and is one of the most decisive political and economic phenomena of the last five centuries. It has created upheaval, death and large-scale political, economic and social reconfiguration. Colonialism is not simply complicit in how we come to know ourselves and its politics. It also establishes sustainable hierarchies and systems of power. It scripts and violates the colonized as the violent other in contrast to the colonizer, who is pitied as the innocent and benevolent imperial savior. The historical relationship of the colonizer and the colonized continues to this day. It shapes and informs identities by re-creating colonial ideologies and mythologies.
Since all people have ingested colonial ideologies and mythologies, it is important to think of the internal and external work that must happen if we are to decolonize our future. Decolonizing our future will take a daily commitment to changing the power dynamic between the colonized and colonizer on personal, cultural and institutional levels.
Sounds like a plan to me, Quaker lady. I’m not joking; if you just switch the word ‘colonialism’ with ‘liberalism’ you have the exact same issue. Perhaps you think that ‘decolonization’ is objectively leftist framing and that something more esoterically rightist is needed. I offer two arguments for my case. One, decolonization, by virtue of the ubiquity of the concept in academic thought, can be picked up anywhere and jujitsued against those who deploy it to break down Western Civilization. Critically interrogate (these phrases are just great) the power relations between the decolonizer and those they would decolonize, note their cultural power and privilege, and hold them to their own contradictions. You object, “they don’t care about their hypocracy or logic!” True, but others do, younger, more honest minds who are searching for truth. The template for this sort of thing is what I consider the most effective meme of ever produced by the dissident right:
The picture comes from this article, ominously entitled “Campuses Confront Spread of ‘It’s Ok to Be White’ Posters.” Yes, the concept that simply being white is morally neutral is a mind-virus that must be confronted lest it spread. It is ok to be white. It’s ok to love Homer. It’s ok to read and cite the Bible (I would say it’s an obligation). It’s ok to frame your own culture as, well, your own, and having established that principle, to draw upon it. And in drawing upon our culture, we will see that the colonizer/decolonization dynamic actually has a pedigree going back to that first subtle critic of empire, Tacitus, writing about his father-in-law Agricola’s method of subduing the natives of Britain:
He likewise provided a liberal education for the sons of the chiefs, and showed such a preference for the natural powers of the Britons over the industry of the Gauls that they who lately disdained the tongue of Rome now coveted its eloquence. Hence, too, a liking sprang up for our style of dress, and the “toga” became fashionable. Step by step they were led to things which dispose to vice, the lounge, the bath, the elegant banquet. All this in their ignorance they called civilisation, when it was but a part of their servitude.
Now for a Nietzschean this would be the point where the baby was thrown through the window with the bathwater, as anything beyond Homer’s brutal aristoi represents a comedown from primordial excellence. The truth is that the lesser should bow to the greater, the barbaric to the civilized, and the crude to the refined. The Britons were servants not because they subordinated their barbarism to the Romans, but because they forgot who they were, as we have. Hence, we must RETVRN, not to an imagined lost age of single combat with terrible bronze spears, but to timeless heights represented by a spiritual and artistic connection to our collective heritage through the embrace of myth.
Bringing this all together- I promised you three easy steps. The ease lies in the theory rather than the execution. First, we must, as Dave Cullen says, walk away. Do not fund the people who hate you and oppress you; dump their tea in the harbor and drink coffee instead. Second, we must embrace myth. Intimidated by the prospect? Read Edith Hamilton to start. Read Mythology, the actual, physical book and then read her other works. Then move on to the primary sources. Then branch out to the myth of other cultures. Above all, read the Bible. You might not believe it is the word of God (though I suspect you will come to do so if you approach it with an open heart) but in any case it is a profoundly, indeed centrally important part of your spiritual and cultural heritage. I encounter people daily, bright and eager people, who advance a hodgepodge of half-understood theological word salad that could be cured with a few month’s worth of Bible study. And third, create. Put your study into action and actually create works- poems, paintings, anything- informed by a transcendent connection to myth. There is a reason we still read these stories after thousands of years and it’s not because they’re public domain. Support others who do so. Like and share their work. Promote them in the spaces where you hold sway. Starve the beast and breed its successor. Force the titan of liberalism to vomit up the children it swallowed so that the proper divine order can succeed him.
I again urge those of you who can teach to do so, to enter the world of education with the proper formation and to cultivate others along those lines. I do what I can, but I would love to hear stories from others doing the same. Apropos,‘s recent piece on Dark Academia seems to have struck a nerve with many in its critique of the soullessness of the modern university; clearly there is an appetite for something deeper out there. I encourage all of you who follow the path of Tradition to rise to the occasion history has presented to you and to meet that need.
The Library of Celaeno is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.