Over the last five years or so, since I started this website and began publishing books, I’ve had rather a large number of criticisms, some fair of course — and very useful — but most at best misguided. Because many objections are more or less the same, I’m going to deal with all the common ones at once…
1. Refusal to [honestly] engage.
I have nothing to say to people who fundamentally disagree with me. Who does? In such cases, as we all know, argument is all but pointless. Occasionally, for the sport of it, I do engage, but If I get a strong whiff of foundational discord I tend to withdraw pretty quickly these days, if I reply at all; hence ‘refusal to engage’.
2. You’re saying…
As I criticise postmodernism, science, religion, mysticism, professionalism, the left, the right, business, the media, technology, feminism, sexism, sex, porn, vegenism, greenism, the myth of ‘mental illness’, our contemporary cultural wasteland and the shallow cruelty of civilised minds, I expect anger and critical counter-blasts, and, as I say, I get them. And that’s fine. Such specific criticisms have, however, been answered in my work — if you pay attention. And ideologues don’t pay attention. When they are criticised, or feel themselves under attack, they skid over the principle points, produce a great many secondary (and inevitably second-hand) objections and make all kinds of assumptions. This inevitably results in putting words into my mouth1 with the result that much of my response to criticism amounts to little more than ‘I didn’t say that’.
3. I love x but hate y
‘I love what you say about religion, but what you say about mental health is ridiculous,’ ‘I grok your fun stuff but the philosophy is sooo boring,’ ‘your politics is great, but sheesh your sense of humour is infantile,’ and so on.
What can I say? I’ve got many interests. Just stick to the stuff you like, I suppose, although I’m usually a bit suspicious if someone picks one thing out for special treatment. I’ve noticed that people have a tendency to agree with everything I say, right up to the point it touches on their jobs (such as being a professional mindworker) or hobbies (such as masturbation). Then suddenly it’s oversimplified, angry, purist, puritanical…
4. I enjoyed your earlier stuff but…
Putting aside that ‘early stuff’ usually appears to mean things I wrote allll of five years ago, it turns out many who enjoyed my critique of the entire system ‘didn’t enjoy’ my opposition to that same system’s unnecessary lockdowns, bio-medical coercion and vast expansion of its coercive technocratic power. Also, a few atheists, leftists, Marxists, feminists or adherents to ideologies that I hadn’t got round to criticising in my earlier work got a bit peeved when I wrote negatively of them.
5. You make some good points, but…
Criticism usually zealously focuses on two or three secondary details and misses the main or the overall argument. I’m quite happy to hear of these, but if a critic ignores the central point they are unlikely to grasp even supporting details in context.
But, in any case, what about those good points, hm?
6. Full of yourself / Pompous / Arrogant / Talk down to people
People who are not really sure of what’s good and true in life, can’t do anything to a very high level and / or don’t really enjoy their lives, often have low-lying resentment to — and therefore feel ‘talked down to’ by — someone who is, can and does.
‘Pompous’ I have found usually comes from those who are unwilling or unable to enjoy our cultural heritage and seem to think my understanding and praise of it — my conviction that we belong to a cultural tradition which it is important to maintain against the postmodern onslaught of unmeaning — and my disgust at the artistic wasteland we now inhabit, means that I look down on popular songs and films.
7. Negative / Too interested in provoking people.
I do find the outrage of some people quite entertaining, I do, evidently, enjoy writing about lies and myths and, I’ll admit it, I do enjoy a bit of a scrap; but annoying people is not a guiding motive, although again it seems that way if you are annoyed; an annoyance which makes it seem like I am some kind of hand-rubbing goblin, giggling at the stink I’ve made.
What I am interested in — amongst other things (for there’s a huge amount of non-provocative stuff in my books) — is an ‘apophatic’ approach to non-fiction writing, meaning the expression of truth through presenting what it is not; a kind of ‘last man standing’ argument for the truth (in Hindu philosophy this is expressed as ‘neti neti’, which means ‘not that, not that’). This looks terribly negative — not to mention obtuse — to those unable to see the truth when the stone has been lifted from it.
One kind of anger is natural. What is unnatural is struggling to control it or holding up an ideal of pacifism, which nobody can achieve. Much of the nice middle-class worship some kind of pacifism and look down on anger and violence as bestial lack of control, while fairly boiling with suppressed rage (belied by their armoured deadness) because of it.
More’s the point though, what kind of anger are we talking about? There is, for example, a difference between ‘anger’ and ‘outrage’ (see below), the latter being backed by some kind of impersonal quality. Being human, I do get angry sometimes, but impersonal outrage is far more common in my work.
The litmus test in such matters is how someone reacts to being challenged. The intelligence, soundness or quality of what someone has to say is inversely proportional to how violent, nasty or evasively devious they are when reasonably critiqued.
9. ‘More radical than thou’ / Puritanical
Radical refers to the root, or getting to the root of the matter and puritanical refers to purity. I’m not advocating any technique, or desire, to reach an unattainable [collective or personal] state or policing those who are not interested in doing so, nor am I congratulating myself on being better than anyone else. I’m saying that where I come from trees are well-rooted in the soil (are ‘radical’) and the water tastes good (is ‘pure’). If that makes you feel guilty or annoyed for faffing around in the branches or drinking sewage, that’s your business.
Just because I am extremely critical of pornography, masturbation, certain common forms of same-sex pleasuring, guilt, hope, useless mentation, using industrial tech and so on doesn’t mean that I am therefore telling people what to do. This is, actually, one of the most pernicious fallacies that can be made, the leap from ‘is’ to ‘ought’. Usually this takes the form of a jump from ‘x is unpleasant’ to ‘therefore we ought to stamp x out’, or from ‘x is pleasant’ to ‘therefore we should have more of it’. Reading my work a few people see that I am criticising something, say video games, and then assume I am laying down a load of laws and somehow puritanically ‘banning’ Pac Man, or perhaps suggesting that I am an avatar of perfection who never picks up a games console.2 Such a stupid assumption says more about the person making it than about anything I have to say.
10. Too many value judgements / Where’s your argument?
Modern writing, particularly in English, often begins with some meandering anecdote, followed by a load of facts and concludes with some kind of vague and limited platitude. My approach is usually to begin with a value judgement — e.g. modern literature is intellectual polystyrene or professionals are whores — and then explain the nature of whatever it is I’m looking at, how it came to be, what the consequences are and so on. What this means is that people who share the initial assertions are encouraged and interested while those who don’t, complain that it’s all weightless and confused and saying nothing. And that’s as it should be.
That said, I am interested in backing up all these ‘assertions’, or grounding them, and have written a complete philosophy to do so. Unfortunately, as this is founded on an argument for how rational thought can never, ultimately, touch qualitative meaning, those who need to intellectually grasp exactly what I am getting at (who fear confident declarations of right and wrong, good and bad and so on) will still come away frustrated and annoyed.
11. Plagiarism / Basically a synthesis
Anyone wishing to focus on my sources wouldn’t have a hard time. It’s all there. My analysis of technology is in debt to Ellul and Mumford, my critique of mental illness is heavily dependent on that of Szasz, my critique of professionalism is partly Illichean, my metaphysics partly Schopenhauerian and what I have to say about men and women would have been less interesting without Lawrence and Long.
Imagine though what torture it would be to read a book which was completely original.3. A good portion of original work is and has to be unoriginal, which critics focus on in an attempt to minimise or elide the genuinely new. They do this because the original (original ideas, original style and the original whole which they make up) is so hard to see, and they have to do this because they have no idea where it comes from. This is why second-rate minds, particularly critics, so often tell us that originality doesn’t really exist, or that there are only really ‘seven plots’ or that this or that great artist was really a magpie. Unoriginal minds can no more detect originality than a Geiger counter can detect good luck.
12. Poor style / Badly written
When I inspect this claim I usually find that it’s because someone cannot engage with what I’ve said, so automatically takes the safely unprovable ground of how I’ve said it. Very often when I try to pinpoint the claim that what I’ve written is stylistically poor, with an example, it evaporates. That said…
13. Verbose / Word Salad
I am fond of very long sentences, here and there, and perhaps one or two could be broken up. Most however are perfectly readable — provided you have the requisite attention span. Not that I’m blaming people who can’t read difficult stuff.
As for ‘word salad’ that one is either from a) people who are genuinely stupid, b) people who are intelligent and highly literate but cannot accept any expression of rationally-elusive enigma and automatically confuse it for gobbledygook or c) intelligent people who are not in the habit of reading difficult stuff and get annoyed at those things I write which require a bit of effort. Obviously I am most sympathetic to the latter group, and can only point them to the easier and lighter stuff. Those of the first two groups should go elsewhere.
14. Misunderstand Marx, Hegel, Lacan, Kant, Heidegger, etc.
It’s always possible I’ve made a mistake or missed something in work I critique, or dismiss; but my approach to all authors, before I get to work on a text, starts with a felt intuition, an unjudging reading of their ‘faces’, so to speak, and a feeling out of what they are saying. I do this with everyone (everyone does this with everyone), and, as long as I’m paying the right kind of attention, it is, even with misunderstandings, infallible.
15. Carping / Bitterness / Can’t stop moaning
People who can’t tell the difference between complaint and criticism are usually being criticised—a criticism which swells in size to squash everything else worth paying attention to.
As for ‘bitter’, this is usually from, or a reference to, people more famous than I am, the implication being that I am jealous of their success. That’s why I criticise them. It can’t be because I am outraged at the scorched cultural nowhere that intellectual charlatans implicitly accept and bene t from, because outrage has its source in an actual wrong. In fact I’m ne with both my fringe position and with the nightmarish decay of the world. Looking in bookshop windows does ll my soul with anguish, but wide acceptance of my non-fiction would be evidence either that I’m doing something wrong, or that the world is about to finally collapse.
I am a man. What do you expect?
16. Gender essentialism
Guilty. Sheep have essence, carpets have essence, fingernails have essence, chord structures have essence, boilers and stoves have essence, as do mice, hamsters and guinea pigs. Leaves have essence, as do trees. The part has essence, the whole has essence — everything has essence, even numbers. Why should men and women be different? They’re not. The idea that they are, that they are hollow, interchangeable factoids capable of being shifted around like binary digits on a flip-flop circuit, is a vile falsehood.
17. Self and Unself too difficult.
The first quarter is hard going; a lot more abstract than the rest of my work, and isn’t very light-hearted — necessarily, as I had to lay some technical, metaphysical foundations — so I understand why it ‘fell stillborn from the presses’ and alienated a few readers. Shame though.
18. Criticise industrial technology, yet using a computer
This one is moronic. Yes, I criticise civilisation also, but here I am in a civilised household. I’ve also driven a car, been to the dentist, worked for an oil company, worn clothes made in a sweatshop and eaten a factory chicken. No doubt if ever I went to prison I’d eat the prison food and sleep on the prison beds too.
What this objection misses, apart from the obvious fact that there is no escape from a high-tech society, is that I am criticising the whole system, not any particular part of if. You might be surprised to learn that I quite like my nice computer, and my high-end headphones, and my electric piano. The point (made here) is that I am enslaved and degraded by the system which gives them to me and would give them all up in a hot second if (or rather when) that system falls.
19. Repetitive / Predictable
Everyone who covers a lot of ground in his writing repeats himself. There’s even some repetition in this CRO. It’s almost impossible for different works from the same author not to overlap each other. Also, in the last five years I’ve written nearly a million words at a point in my life when I’m starting to forget who I’ve told what to. I work hard to keep track, but some repetition slips through.
Also, one or two things can’t be said enough.
20. Hand-waving / Over-simplification / Sweeping generalisations
Firstly, everyone makes generalisations.4 Language itself is a generalisation. Of course there are exceptions to those I make, which I allude to with liberal use of expressions such as ‘tend to’ and ‘that’s not to say’. I ignore objections along the lines of ‘what you are saying is not technically (literally) correct’ for the same reason my wife does.
Also, I’m not an academic specialist. What I have to say about the academic subjects I’ve written about comes down to what they have in common, how specialist thinkers are blind to this commonality and how this blindness obscures simple truths available to anyone. Specialists in possession of more facts than me, can, and should, amend the details of what I have to say when I am in error, because rational facts matter; they just don’t matter as much as what they have in common.
This is why it sometimes looks like I’m making ‘sweeping generalisations’ when I am really drawing attention to something beyond the details. This something else annoys the hell out of specialists who, in order to handle the irritation, tend to withdraw to their detailed field of expertise in order to try and ‘mount me’. Naturally, I wave them away.
Self takes the mystery from paradox and calls it contradiction.
22. It won’t convince many people.
This one (not really an objection; lots of very supportive readers have said this) reminds me that I’m doing something right. Of course it won’t, but it doesn’t have to. It just has to convince you.
One of the most appalling, inherent limitations of mass communication is that you have no control over who encounters it. It’s not such a problem with entertainment — which is one reason I’m interested in films and novels — but with this kind of naked, literal speech, I have zero interest in ‘convincing many people’ or of ‘being effective’, because the mass is inherently ignorant and all mass solutions are lies. I am not a democrat. People who get angry at what I write shouldn’t read it. They should read nice, comforting things.
No, friend, it’s just you I want to talk to. You’re the only person who needs to hear and who I want to speak with.
23. Your supporters…
Yes? Have weird opinions? Are hypocrites? Can’t use apostrophes properly? Eat children? This is the ‘weak man’ fallacy. Rather than addressing an unanswerable criticism one simply looks for its strangest, stupidest, most violent or most perverse or proponent who, because all attitudes, beliefs and viewpoints attract fools, extremists and madmen, is inevitably found. I’ve done my best to rid myself of such people, but one can only do so much.
24. Prove it!
This tiresome riposte is for any criticism which addresses morality, truth, beauty and so on. It is employed by adherents of objectivist science (a.k.a. scientism) and relativist art (a.k.a. postmodernism) to deal with accusations of ugliness, evil, self-interest and so on; which is to say lack of quality. Because quality is neither, ultimately, a caused fact in the objective world nor is it a subjective whim, any criticism which takes it into account can be easily dealt with by either asking the critic to locate it in the objective world or by asserting that it is ‘just your opinion.’
25. What are your qualifications?
I have none and need none to talk about quality (morality, beauty, truth, etc.), neither does anyone else. If I’ve made a factual error — always possible with those pesky things — please let me know.
The counterpart to this criticism is the view that professionals, particularly doctors, are qualified to make moral decisions; an opinion held by professionals, and their masochistic dependents.
26. Far right / Far left / sexist / ableist etc.
If you are, by definition, on the side of the goodies, then any criticism of you must be, eo ipso, coming from or ultimately indistinguishable from that of the baddies. An attack on lockdowns must be a far-right conspiracy theory, a critique of capitalism can only be a communist plot. A far subtler, but extremely common version of You’re a baddie! is in the Appeal to False Synonyms, in which superficially similar but fundamentally different ideas are conflated (e.g. to respond to an accusation of lack of intelligence with a demonstration of cleverness) and in the Appeal to False Antonyms, in which superficially different but fundamentally similar ideas are conflated (e.g. to respond to criticism of atheism by ridiculing theism).
If a criticism is trenchant enough, the criticised can sometimes pull the harassment card. It’s helpful if the critic gets angry, but the politest criticism can be branded a form of abuse. Those who can call on historical wrongs to justify their outrage — women, homosexuals, black people and Zionists, for example — are most keen on this form of objection, which is actually a version of You’re a baddie! for if a woman is being criticised, the critic must, ‘logically’, be sexist. Note that cries of Offensive, despite what opinions the ‘abused’ might have about authority, usually end up appealing to authority; to the law or to institutional authority or to White Knights.
28. How can you be an anarchist when…
I have been very clear by what I mean by anarchism. It is not the anarchism of the left, of democratic socialists like Noam Chomsky, David Graeber, Libcom, Freedom Press and Fifth Estate (all of which I’ve argued with). It overlaps with the classical anarchism of nineteenth century and early twentieth century, but emphatically departs from its materialism and violence,5 it rejects industrial technology as a tyrannous dominating force, it accepts powerless leaders, tradition, order and even laws, provided that they are ‘within reach’ of ordinary humans and can be rejected. And that’s just a start. If you take any of the meanings of ‘anarchism’ which I explicitly and carefully repudiate to be ‘the’ meaning of that word — if, in short, you run like a child to the dictionary to settle an argument — then no, I’m not an anarchist.
The thing is though, about anarchism and about what I write about it, is that it strives to get at the essence of humanity, or the human spirit. That essence, if allowed to grow freely, manifests in an infinity of particular forms, ‘unique flowers’ as U.G. Krishnamurti often said. It stands to reason therefore that ‘anarchism’ is going to manifest the widest possible variety of expressions, from Jesus of Nazareth to Alan Moore, from Chuang Tzu to William Blake, from primal societies to informal shanties (most of which do not even consider themselves ‘anarchist’, nor need they). It is those forms of anarchism which seek to dilute this variety by leaving the essence unexamined and by ignoring the means by which it is corrupted by democratic-socialist groupthink, for example, or by industrial technology, or by professionalism, which I reject.
29. CIA, narc, controlled opposition, illuminati…
I’ve been accused of all these; quite fairly. It’s well known, after all, that The Man has a very lax entry policy. All you have to do is write a book with thirty-three chapters and you’re in.
Not contradictory, paradoxical.
31. Why do you only attack the left?
I don’t. I criticise both the left and the right. The vast majority of 33 Myths of the System, for example, criticises capitalism; or, more accurately, the capitalist wing of the system. I do emphasise the problems of leftism however; for three reasons. One is that the left represent the limits of acceptable thought; go beyond the Guardian or, perish the thought, beyond Noam Chomsky and David Graeber, and you are almost, by definition, in the realm of the insane. What this means is, as Ted Kaczynski put it, ‘the political left is technological society’s first line of defence against revolution’ — amounting to ‘a kind of fire extinguisher that souses and quenches any nascent revolutionary movement’, directing them into safe demands for equal rights, social justice and less exploitative workplace relations. It is critical that this firewall be breached.
The second reason is that the ideology of the left is so much more insidious than that of the right. It doesn’t require much intelligence to see why it is wrong for a handful of people to own the whole planet, but to grasp why democracy is inherently coercive, why the mass is irredeemably unconscious, why communism leads to technocratic slavery or why professional power — particularly power over language — deprives ordinary people of their own experience, takes a little more insight.
To put that another way, the right wing — the owners of the planet — are obsessed with putting up ‘no entry’ signs, which is a moral crime, albeit rather an obvious one. The left wing, on the other hand — the managers of the planet — are only really interested in putting up ‘no exit’ signs. This is an ontological crime and an extremely subtle one. Unless it is fully grasped we remain free to wander but trapped in ourselves.
The final reason is personal. I happen to find moral hypocrisy at least as disgusting as immorality, sometimes more so. Not that the right aren’t sickening hypocrites of the first order, but their sense of ethical superiority is nowhere near as repulsively all-consuming as that of doctor-teacher-artist-journalist types. Even more of a personal affront is that many on the left consider themselves creative geniuses of the first order, when they produce nothing but hollow, meretricious, pretentious cultural cardboard.
32. Do you have children?
I am a child — is that any good to you?
Gotta laugh though haven’t you? Apparently you can only make meaningful comments about life if you’re terrified about losing your job and terrified about the future of creatures who are growing up hating you for it. Not that I’m down on having kids and, actually, I miss them terribly. Those who do have them should spread them around a bit more I think.
33. Why don’t you offer solutions?
Ultimately I don’t offer solutions, because there are none that can be literally given. Any literal solution given to what fundamentally ails us, personally and socially, creates the problems it is supposed to solve. I do provide ideas on how to improve your personal life (make love, leave work, embrace death, gather mushrooms) and even our social lives (deschool, destroy, detech, disco), but these are optional, trivial and dispensable suggestions. If you can see the truth of what I am saying, you’ll act upon it for yourself.
If you do what someone else tells you to do, no matter how wise they are, you’ll a) ignore the intelligence and complexity of the specific context you are in b) perpetuate the selfish desire to escape from whatever you’re following them to avoid and c) create stress and violence en route as you try to live up to (or cajole others to live up to) an alien ideal, one that the completely unique situation you are in, the context as it is, will pay no attention to.
That doesn’t mean giving advice is wrong (I certainly give plenty of it). It means there are no paths to a good life, because life is, ultimately, pathless. How can a path — a religious path, a political path, a spiritual path, a rational path, a common-sense path — take you into the wild? Most people think that to reach nature you need to navigate out of the city, drive up the motorway, take smaller and smaller roads, until you get to a little triangle of forest which you can then somehow suck into yourself. In the real world you are nature. Your body is a natural thing! You don’t need to take a path there any more than you need to get to the chair you’re sitting on.
So what’s the point of saying or listening to the truth if literally nothing can take you to it? Again, if you have to ask yourself this, you’d be much better off paying attention to those who do provide solutions and paths and techniques and visions and strategies and mantras and self-help and ‘we shoulds’ and ‘you musts’, and avoiding writers and teachers who are interested in living the truth as best they can and in expressing it. Truth, mind you, not mere facts. Although only a charlatan refuses to submit to and provide facts, they are subordinate to quality. The only value in listening to someone who is expressing such quality, is in smiling and saying ‘yes, that’s so true!’ That allows your truth to thrive, rather than throttling it with someone else’s solutions. If what they say doesn’t generate this experience in you, then stop reading. Smell the flowers, look at the clouds.
So no; no solutions. Some advice, some suggestions, some descriptions of what sane, happy people have in common, and some presentations of the false which, hopefully, will inspire readers to turn more fully away from it; but ultimately nothing that anyone should do; because if you put ideas of achieving a better world or becoming a better person before what is, whatever is, you’ll suffocate the only source of quality there ever can be. Reformers and teachers and revolutionaries and writers who do this, who dangle enlightenment, or ‘well-being’, or personal wealth, or a stateless utopia, or a ‘mass awakening’, or a religious paradise, or anything else before your eyes and then tell you how to get it are full of gas, which is why they live transparently hollow lives.
The only solution people who are free ever need is the truth of what is. They hear the truth and are inspired to act on it in their own way. This is why the freer you become, the more unique you become.
Those are the most common general criticisms. Nothing too serious there really, and, as I say, even if I’ve had more than my fair share of bile, I expect it and would find it weird if it didn’t happen. It is very occasionally hurtful — venom, after all, does hurt — but the many moving emails of gratitude and support (including financial support) I’ve received have more than compensated.
- Often by paraphrasing what I’ve said but leaving out a fundamentally important qualifier or shiftily adding one
- I do; I play video games with my mum.
- This is an original comment
- This is a sweeping generalisation
- I’m completely behind Dostoevsky’s so-called ‘reactionary’ critique of Bakuninian anarchism, in The Devils.