#2b: negative causes are frivolous and doomed
Kant doesn't need you to resist the regime.
In this fragment of chapter 2, we’ll explain why negative causes that become popular tend to be doomed (likely to be defeated), frivolous (selected for excitement), and perversely sycophantic (reinforcing the regime they purport to oppose).
In the previous fragment, we learned that people who volunteer for positive causes tend to be signing up to stroke their own vanity by serving unaccountable power. Which is not very Kantian—it doesn’t make a good universal rule.
That’s okay—because you’re a dissident, aren’t you? And you knew all that already. As a dissident, you are trying to resist that power. Since the regime is bad, shouldn’t isn’t resisting it good by definition?
But no—because you are only trying to resist. You should stop. Resistance is useless—at best. In fact, you probably do more for the regime as a dissident than a volunteer. It’s a trap.
To illustrate this point, let’s map the objective impact of any collective cause, positive or negative, compared to the subjective perspective of its typical supporter.
A glossary of impact and power analysis
On the dimension of impact accuracy, the collaborator is either a voyeur, a sucker, or a player; on the dimension of power expression, a consumer, a saboteur, or an operator. It’s just like D&D’s nine alignments.
What is the objective impact of your action on its target problem? If you have no objective impact on the target, you are a voyeur. If your objective impact is the opposite of your intent, you are a sucker. If it actually works, you get to be a player.
Does your action produce any side effects? Unintended effects of collective action, like side effects of any medicine, have a harmful bias. They always express power—any harm does—anything that can harm becomes a weapon; any weapon is powerful.
If there is no such weapon, you are a harmless consumer; if there are side effects and they harm the enemy side, you are an operator; if they harm your side, a saboteur. The proper definition of harm is the military definition: an event harms you if it leaves you weaker than before the attack; it reinforces you if it makes you stronger.
(“Sabotage” in English implies malicious intent—but impact assessments ignore intent. We could speak of objective sabotage—in the same sense that Orwell called British pacifism “objectively pro-fascist.” There is no better word, unfortunately.)
Dissidents are more likely than volunteers to act collectively with power as an explicit (Y), not implicit (Z), intent—to act as competitors, not contributors.
Subjectively, contributors are just trying to get their way on some “issue.” Competitors are vying for sovereignty—formal or informal, partial or absolute. The contributor believes in the system; the competitor only accepts it. Thus the competitor is already halfway to detachment—a duality we shall revisit.
For the competitor, power is always the subjective goal. The competitor’s map has only one dimension; an operator is a player and a saboteur is a sucker. For the contributor, power is an unintended consequence—an operator can be a voyeur, or even a sucker. Most collaborators fall somewhere between these pure endpoints, of course.
Why dissidents fall into the trap
Like the vain and unaccountable nature of volunteering, the frivolous and doomed nature of dissidence is an evolutionary default, not a deductive fact. It’s a trap.
But a trap is a trap, not a dead end. The essential quality of a trap is that if you don’t know it’s there, you fall in. The reason to show dissidents that, by default, they are frivolous and doomed, is not to insult them; it is not to “blackpill” them; it is to explain how to stay out of the trap.
Even if you yourself are more of a volunteer, should any human being be in a trap? Better that dissidents should do nothing — and that they do that themselves, not by breaking an ankle in some snare, but by laying down their arms with honor.
With all this fancy vocabulary, we have a fancier way to explain why you shouldn’t be a dissident: there are no dissident operators. You shouldn’t be a dissident because the only purpose of dissidence is to express power. Dissidence does not express power. So it can’t possibly be Kantian.
The best way to understand that dissidence does not express power is to understand the whole nine-point impact map defined above. Let’s take an illustrated tour of that map, reduced to three stops by the one-dimensional perspective of a dissident competitor—though the nine-point map works for all collaborators.
A voyeur is anyone whose collective actions achieve nothing at all. If these actions have no side effects either, we see the pure and beautiful voyeur/consumer.
For this person, all collective engagement is recreational. Like watching football on TV, it does nothing and has no side effects.
Cheering or yelling at the TV does nothing at all to "support" your team. But that word comes easily anyway. If you support some policy or candidate in the same sense that you “support” the 49ers, you may be engaging in political voyeurism.
Whatever the motivation for political voyeurism, it cannot be an accurate application of the Kantian imperative. What is that motivation? It’s not too different from the motivation for watching football on TV.
Plato's analogy between thymos, political desire, and eros, sexual desire, has not aged. Nor has the market for inherently infertile stimulation of these desires. If Plato was right, an unrecognized function of much current media is the stimulation of thymotic voyeurism. Such content is acting as political pornography.
"PP" is content that makes its readers feel artificially powerful or important. All such material is evanescent and will survive only for the hardened specialist: pornography, for any desire, is a craft but not an art. And from this craft you never cross over.
Look at the difference when a game is on but you don't care about either team. This is the emotional difference between engagement and detachment. Aesthetically, you can still appreciate a great punt return. Aesthetically, you can still appreciate beauty in the wrong sex. But by definition, no one uses pornography made for the wrong sex.
Most collaborators, positive or negative, are just voyeur/consumers—with a slight edge of operator for volunteers, and an edge of saboteur for dissidents. Like gay and straight pornography users, they use different pictures for the same purpose.
As a consumer of political pornography, you are owned. You are and will always be political property. Try your hardest never to care when it doesn’t actually matter: it debases your spiritual attention. PP only distracts you from objectives that do matter, whether they are individual or genuinely Kantian.
A sucker is anyone whose collective actions achieve an impact which is the opposite of its ultimate intent. A saboteur is anyone whose collective actions have side effects which objectively harm their own side. Clearly, these logically orthogonal concepts are often but not always correlated. Clearly, neither is even slightly Kantian.
Voyeurs tend to be moderates; suckers, extremists. We do see true suckers among volunteers. But it is always the dissidents who really impress in the sucker event.
Throughout human history, the greatest traitors have been our brightest young stars—Alcibiades types. The sucker is an unconscious traitor; but unconsciousness is never quite complete. And the highest level of talent is not at all precluded; and the best suckers, pound for pound, are worth far more to power than her dearest friends.
How do people get suckered? Our regime, like all regimes, maintains the loyalty of its subjects by edifying them with a narrative in which the regime is ideal or nearly so. The closer the regime really is to ideal, the simpler this story gets.
The farther the regime gets from ideal, the more baroque its story of itself must grow. This story, like any story not the boring tale of an instant, unqualified success, cannot be told without enemies and villains. It'd be soup without salt.
And the narrative must be a true story, at least in the banal factual sense—so its producers have a casting problem. Who wants to play an enemy? A villain? In real life? No, Colossal Pictures will not be able to get you out of jail.
Sadly, as with porn, the producers don't have trouble finding actors. (In fact, a stint in porn looks better on your resume.) To be a sucker is to be a heel—to play your enemy's enemy on TV, for that enemy’s purposes.
The classic heel goes all the way to full-on terrorism—not just a service to power, but a spectacular service. It is a mistake to focus too much on these sad and nasty endpoints. The general use of the sucker is uniform: to fit the story.
Most heel roles are subtler and more common. They do less damage; sometimes, most insidiously, they actually do local good—creating the rare player/saboteur.
Of course power always has a story. Part of the story of all regimes is that the regime is a knight, defending its subjects against any and all dragons. True on all timelines, this story still seems like a dodge unless its audience can be made to believe in dragons.
When a dissident is a sucker, he invents a problem for the regime to solve. Crawling into his dragon suit, he inhabits a dragon for power to slay. The dragon is lifelike, because it is actually alive, because inside it our dissident is flapping his arms. He needn't worry that he can't breathe fire: for that, there's Photoshop.
The better he is at being a dissident, the more convincing the dragon. If the dragon flaps his wings well, the heroic dragonslayer might even come across as an actual underdog. There are so many dragons that the world, it seems, is ruled by dragons. Join the human uprising against the dragon kingdom!
So this poor dissident, who like most dissidents is a small, shy herbivorous creature, has a rueful funny moment when he picks up the paper and sees his own little face, morphed onto this fire-breathing thunder-lizard now coming to eat everyone's kids. Then he remembers that he has about the same chance of winning as the bull in the bullfight—and also, he doesn’t even like kids. Not as food, anyway.
At this point, he has three choices. Respectable voices, great voices, have taken each. He can flee the caricature; he can give up even vegetables, and eat only fruit. He can embrace it; after all this dragon, who is famous, is him; that means he’s not nothing. He can ignore it—and never even go near a dragon suit, much less flap his arms.
Of course, in a sense all the voyeurs are suckers too. Sucking your effort, or even just your attention, into nothing, is also a victory for your enemies. But once you inhabit a character in your adversary's narrative—that adversary will own you forever.
But why is it so easy for the regime to recruit heels for its storyline? First, when you see someone being an unsubtle heel, it is easy to say: what a clown. This easily blinds you to the possibility that, though not obviously a heel, you remain subtly a heel.
Second—who stitched that dragon suit? By definition, power shapes information. Anyone who grows up in a narrative, then learns to distrust it, will look for alternatives—and the first place to look is the villains in the narrative itself.
If you land in this trap, you have failed to escape power’s frame. You’re still in the same movie—you have just switched characters.
As the story demands, all heel characters have fatal flaws. When you emulate them, you emulate these flaws. You are owned, as in the story—and at the same time, you reinforce the story. So your failure is both individual and collective.
Always and everywhere, the worst way to resist a regime is to inhabit its stage villains. Like most bad choices, this choice is a bad default. It’s as you lived in 15th-century Paris and thought the Church was very corrupt and bad—but there was no alternative. You couldn’t be a cool Enlightenment philosophe or at least just a Protestant. Because it was the 15th century. And there weren’t even words for these things.
So you asked your priest: if not God, King and Church, in what would I believe? Who is against God and King and Church? And your priest said: Satan. And so, thinking logically, you became a Satanist. This probably actually happened to you, except it wasn’t a priest but a “guidance counselor.” The way the world works never changes.
If some party A asks how it should operate in opposing some opponent B, B’s vision of who its opponents are and how they operate is hardly the place to start! You could start with a clean slate. You could start with any other period in history. Instead you start by literally aping your enemy’s propaganda. The only possible cause of any such choice is laziness and/or immaturity: not promising qualities in an aspiring aristocrat.
So while in a way we can’t really blame you for falling into the default, which means falling into a trap, in a way it still is your fault. Not finding Voltaire or even Calvin on the menu, the right response is not to give up and settle for Satan—but to invent Calvin or Voltaire. On one side of the coin, this is an epic challenge; on the other, an epic opportunity.
Here we at last wriggle free from the department of losers, and get into real power. We will consider dissidents only in this section—the volunteer player/operator, who is just a straight-out winner, is truly part of the regime, and belongs to the next chapter.
Again, under our present system of government or anything like it, there is no such thing as a dissident operator. There is no obvious and realistic plan to build power against the regime. The rare dissident player can resist or divert it—but this work is useful only for itself; these successes, which are rare, do not make other successes easier.
This is because like water flows downhill, power flows to the regime. But why? How? We could surely imagine collective actions, organizations or operations which built power for the enemies of power. Let’s imagine some more concrete options in more detail, to see why there is no obvious way to solve the problem.
The general problem: since assaulting the enemy expresses power, the dissident operator is operated on long before he could operate. People will feel good because they hit you. They will hit you in any way they can. Since they are bigger and stronger than you, they will win. So don’t even think about hitting people. Yes, that absolutely is a thoughtcrime—thoughtcrime is real and always has been. Don’t do the crime, kids.
In a centralized regime, the dissident operator is a target for the intelligence ministry. In a decentralized regime, he is a target for everyone. He will not be hired; his books will not be published, nor will books about him be; his real-estate deals will fall through; his dog will be denied a dog license. In fact he is not a person at all. People will get in trouble for just knowing him. And this is his best-case scenario—if he takes every precaution to not be a usable heel.
Not even the excuse that you are just trying to do some innocuous Y, but you actually produce some side effect Z—which just so happens to make your side powerful—will save you. If you are in fact expressing power against the regime, anyone can express much more power by crushing you for the regime. They will be able to make up some reason they are right.
Your two roads to damnation
Let’s take an even closer look at some examples. There are two ways to build power: extragovernmental (by building regimelike things outside the regime), and intragovernmental (by infiltrating the regime).
Operating extragovernmentally, we could build informal networks for informal protection and defense. Such networks are not unusual in our society, in which an enormous amount of government-like activity operates beneath the law. And of course, the line between protection, retaliation, and coercion is always a blurry one—and the power to coerce is the power of government.
So surely we are on the way. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Or if it is not good—perhaps we ganders can, by exercising our anserine rights and behaving as the geese, prove that we are just as good as geese? And if geese have “muscle”…
Everyone who tries this discovers that the situation is not at all symmetric. Apparently water does not flow uphill, and ashes don't turn back into trees. What's good for the goose is actually terrible for the gander—who ends up on the news as a classic heel.
All power flows toward the regime because the first reflex of any regime is to crush all power outside it. Collective actions that would otherwise express power outside or against the regime are impotent at best once its thumb is on the scale. This goes double for your little black-shirted army of paintball wizards with road flares—which both physically challenges power, and does so by inhabiting power’s own stereotype.
The stereotype is the bacon of power’s story. Bacon goes in everything. It makes any dish taste great and feel real. The regime’s only problem is that it has a limited supply of bacon. Once the regime runs low on real enemies, its narrative has to resort to imaginary conspiracies, unstable teenagers, straight-out madmen, etc.
These low-grade heels work for most viewers; they do taste like bacon; but they lack a certain flavor. As a would-be dissident operator, you are the realest meat around. The more serious your plan, the more power your destruction will express, and the greater the forces that will assemble to participate in your destruction.
If your strategy is physical resistance, no law can protect you. You cannot even defend yourself—any self-defense will present as aggression—and whatever was good for the Minutemen, the Wide Awakes, or even the Weathermen, is certainly not good for you.
Intragovernmental infiltration is an even more precarious path. You might think it had been done before—and it has—but only by volunteers. Only power can infiltrate itself.
The problem is that heresy is not the inverse of fanaticism. Within the loop of actual power, fanaticism is always prosocial. Extreme fanaticism is misguided but still often charming. Heresy is always antisocial; excessive heresy is terrifying.
So while extreme fanatics can infiltrate a moderate organization, heretics cannot. When an institution is full of heretics, they usually have defected in place—or fanatics have built a new normal around them. A career in a profession that cannot accept you as you are is always a marginal idea; if you must pursue it, the profession should be as orthogonal as possible to politics.
The subversive strategy of pretending to be a moderate fanatic, while actually being an extreme fanatic, is so normal it's banal. The inverted-subversive strategy of pretending to be a moderate heretic, while actually being an extreme heretic, is just nonviable. No one says that the best way to beat the extreme heretics is to support moderate heretics. Every moderate heretic is already suspected of being an extreme heretic. You might as well shoot a lion documentary while camouflaged as a goat.
If your strategy is dissident infiltration, success means you succeed so perfectly in pretending to be a true believer that, objectively, you are a true believer. There is never any use, individually or collectively in "uncloaking." Hired in the closet, you retire in the closet. You’re essentially like a KGB agent infiltrating MI5, but without any support from the KGB. (At least you don’t have to write reports back to Moscow.)
And as you age, you may drop not the mask—but the soul under it. As Havel explains:
In any case, experience has taught us again and again that this automatism is far more powerful than the will of any individual; and should someone possess a more independent will, he must conceal it behind a ritually anonymous mask in order to have an opportunity to enter the power hierarchy at all.
And when the individual finally gains a place there and tries to make his will felt within it, that automatism, with its enormous inertia, will triumph sooner or later, and either the individual will be ejected by the power structure like a foreign organism, or he will be compelled to resign his individuality gradually, once again blending with the automatism and becoming its servant, almost indistinguishable from those who preceded him and those who will follow.
Power is heroin. Being an operator is heroin. There is nothing like it. But no one can both serve the devil and master him. And the only reason to do so is frivolous: like a heroin addict, your whole life is consumed by the stimulation of your own desire. And since you are not actually an operator—and likely a heel—this is not Kantian action.
Your warning sign should have been that your collective actions were futile. But they were too fun for you to notice. Well—not all fun is bad, or even bad for you. The best thing about being a dissident really was the friends we made along the way.
Ceci n'est pas un blackpill
There is nothing wrong with defining detachment as a spiritual or emotional commitment. Its very practice demands this commitment.
But every esoteric doctrine has a layer beyond each layer: a higher doctrine which completes and perfects the work below. To the profane and uncircumcised, this new revelation may resemble an exception, a contradiction, even a hypocrisy—which just shows how little these fools know.
The careful reader (who would never join a cult) will note that nowhere have we disproved the existence of forms of collaboration whose expected outcome does matches their predicted outcome. We have not disproved Kantian collective action, positive or negative.
We have shown something different: that the set of popular collective actions of both polarities is weakly selected for Kantian traits (like actually succeeding), and strongly selected for non-Kantian traits (like expressing power). So picking a cause from one of these popular sets is not Kantian.
But all this means is that, if you want to act, you actually have to think. You can expect the defaults to be all bad—or mostly bad. There may be Kantian actions out there. They will be hard to find—and harder to promote.
If you are a positive person and you want to only do good in the world, without expressing any kind of social or political power, you can usually find a way to do that. If you are a negative person—well, you're here, aren't you?
Detachment is emotional renunciation of the desire for power. Renunciation of any form of desire can go in two directions: abstinence or mastery. Once free from the blindness of desire, we can simply relax in our newfound freedom and truth.
But upon regaining our sight, we also see that we could execute more effectively—even without compromising our abstinence from power. This seems like a paradox, and it is—stick around for it: