There resides infinitely more good in the demonic than in the trivial man.
Where is beauty? If it is in the things of the world, then the more of those things I have, the more beauty I can experience. If beauty is an objective fact then I can be taught how to create it, I can read books on writing great love songs, I can go on courses and I can copy masterpieces. If beauty is out there, then science can tell me what it is; a means of ensnaring big-hipped wives perhaps, or a play of dominance, or some kind of tool of social cohesion.
Whereas, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, anything goes. Whatever I feel is beautiful, is beautiful — cars, excrement, A24 movies, a three mile copper rod, rape, Greggs. There is no need to master any craft, any skill, because random, lazy, meaningless artistic productions are just as worthwhile as those that represent mastery. If you find my appearance or speech or facial expressions ugly — it can only be your problem, not mine.
Where is morality? If it is in the things of the world, those things can be measured and managed to ensure optimum morality, which means we need measurers and managers in charge of the world. What’s more, people who are good at measuring and managing must, by their very possession of the facts, be moral. Conversely, if morality is in objective things then anyone who doesn’t get with the objective programme — dissidents and outcasts — must be immoral.
Whereas, if morality is in my self, again, anything goes. Whatever I decide is moral must be moral. If I think it is moral to exterminate unbelievers, or if the group I belong to do, then your criticism of my morality is immoral. Not just that but all criticism must be immoral (angry, bitter), for no other reason than that it somehow restricts what I believe or feel is right and good.
Where is freedom? If it is in the things of the world, then I can learn how to get there. I can be told. There is a path, and all I have to do is get on the path and struggle my way along it, following someone who has gone before, some kind of spiritual master or self-help guru or revolutionary leader, and do what they did or what they tell me to do. If freedom is in the external things and events of the world, then all we need to do is manage those things and events, or be managed. We can obey our way to freedom.
Whereas, if there is freedom in my heart, why does it feel so constrained? Why is your freedom different from mine? If freedom is within, then why is it so hard to find it? Why bother changing the world at all, if everyone is already free but doesn’t know it? Surely all we need to do is a bit of meditating, a bit of mindfulness or say a few prayers and everything will be hunky dory? In fact let’s make a prison of the world, because ‘freedom is within’ yeah?
Where is love? If it is in the things of the world, then I must get the things I love and I must cling to those things like grim death, because they might leave me, or be taken away by someone else. If love is a thing, it must be a chemical, something which the body produces for its own material ends and which can be materially stimulated, manipulated, managed and bought. If love is an object… well, it’s not an object is it, so love is a lie.
Whereas, if love is all within, then I don’t need the world, I don’t need other people, I hardly need a body at all. What’s more, if I don’t feel love, then there must be something wrong with me… and yet, at the same time, if love is entirely an internal thing I can never be accused of being unloving, because how do you know? In fact how do you know anything about me? If my love is only here and yours is only there, how do we know they are the same? We don’t. We are strangers.
Where is truth? If it is in objects, then those who know the most things about those objects must be the most truthful — professional experts, for example — while those who know nothing — young children, for example — must be devoid of truth. If truth is objective fact then, if I don’t have the time to learn these facts, I am stupid, immoral and disposable, as poor people are.
Whereas, if truth is not in the things and facts of the world, then it is whatever I want it to be and the only falsehood is being told otherwise. Also, if truth is entirely subjective there is no way for me to know that my truth and your truth are the same and we are doomed to contention and isolation, not just from each other, but from the entire universe (unless I am the entire universe, in which case I can move objects with my mind, walk through walls and shrink to the size of a pea).
Where is life? If life is in the things of the world — in the facts, figures, images, pictures, ideas, words, theories, memories, beliefs and physical experiences — then anyone without those thing either does not know life or isn’t really living, while the most active and knowledgeable people — Richard Branson? Sam Harris? Joe Rogan? — must be the most alive.
Whereas, if life is not in the world, then the world is death, the body is death, food is death, sex is death, and I must leave the world, punish my body and abstain from physical pleasures in order to know and feel life. I do not need the world, or anything in it, and I can and must withdraw into my mind (or up my arse) forever.
Where is God? If God is a thing in the world, then either It (or He or She) is a man-made invention; the holy books which ‘prove’ God’s existence are full of absurdities, and a Godless machine of the universe clearly works just fine anyway. Or God is forever beyond reach, forever deferred, like the heaven It lives in, and I must spend a lifetime struggling to get there, following paths laid down by God’s favoured prophets, without ever really knowing if ‘there’ actually exists.
Whereas, if God is entirely within, then I am God and nothing you can say can gainsay me. Kneel before Zod.
Where is quality? Freedom, beauty, morality, love, truth, life and God—quality—is ultimately neither in the objective things of the world, nor in the subjective inner self. Positioning them in either leads to moral, logical and intuitive absurdities. The self creates objectivity and subjectivity—creates the difference between me here and you there. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t really a difference between me and you—obviously there is—but that difference is self-made.
This, naturally, cannot be known through the self, it can only be lived, or experienced, by something else; something which is not selfish. There is no way to arrive at this something else, any more than there is a way to arrive at the room I’m in. All that can be said to someone insane enough to ask how to get to where they already are, is don’t try to leave.
Have you noticed that everything and everyone is becoming the same? Children are losing their otherness, men and women their masculinity and femininity, regions and individuals their distinctiveness, accents their colour and music, songs and films their originality, lemons and walnuts their flavour and moments their uniqueness; while declarations to the contrary become more and more strident?
The world has, and has always had, this as its goal; distraction of heart, stifling of intensity, effacement of uniqueness and suppression of the ineffable; and now the goal is in view. History is ending with a smirk, in a grey paste, with the suburbinisation of the soul. It’s been happening for a long time, but we’re now reaching total spiritual heat death.
There are no objective or subjective solutions, there is nowhere to run, no paths that can be followed and nothing and nobody, in the objective world or the subjective self, that can possibly save me, or you, or us. There is only the quality of what is, whatever that is. Let what is be, whatever is, and then let that act. Only this, the experience of being neither here nor there, neither this nor that, neither me nor you, neither locked in my self nor locked in the world can generate the…
…strong vivid characters, the madly seductive women, the shocking, unrepeatable acts, the electrifying ideas, the I can’t believe he said that, the flaming moods with their own flavour, the laughing orgasms that won’t stop, the sarcastic asides from children, the games that come from nowhere, the not giving a toss about the grim future and the hard work and the difficulty to come and the problems that are weighing me down, the dancing badly but unselfconsciously in the street, the wild animals expressing gratitude, the smashing the world up with a smile, the dead bodies in the bedrooms, the people who really know how to do things, the sense of peace, that passeth understanding, that lightens the face and the shoulders and that lets go of all the useless effort and hanging on and trying and wanting and fearing, the lightness of touch, the song in the heart, even in the midst of the darkness, the knowledge that, actually, nothing can ever go wrong, even as everything goes more wrong than ever could have been imagined, the sensate warmth, the vitality at all ages, the vast, vast range of subtle feelings, spreading across the canopy of the day, the inwardness of all mysterious things that the ordinary-making mind locked us out of and the unconditional love, that is neither subjectively here, nor objectively there, that is panjectively everywhere and nowhere…
…that we hunger for.
An expanded version of this essay appears in Ad Radicem: the radical truth (not for everyone).