Come friend, take my hand, let us take a closer look at the Will to Certainty inside his cage; see him coiled and ready to sink venom into the unwary, hear him hiss words like foreigners, infidels, collateral damage, them n’ us… the Will to Certainty senses the weaknesses in our character. He sizes up his prey… The anxiety of helplessness is that sick sense of vulnerability in a world that is out of control and ready to tear itself apart. Fear is the next step in the process of building our highway to hell. Fear is much more specific than anxiety. Fear has a name. Fear can be confronted and faced down. We may have worries about, but we have fear of. The anxiety of fate and death becomes the fear of cancer, the loss of a loved one, the house getting repossessed. These are nice juicy fears that we can dwell on, turn over in our minds as we lay our tired heads on soft pillows at the end of the day. Fear becomes the living nightmare that consumes our life, negating all happiness and turning content into perdition. And now the W2C is out of his glass cage, we hold the serpent in our hands and offer him our necks. The venom courses through our veins, and we become poison too. Fear is crushed under our feet. We buy into religion, nationalism, prismism, schismism, whateverism. We become enemy-centred, and our lust for certainty becomes the existential strategy that shores up our failing sense of self. There is no more fervent follower than the recent convert or the born-again believer. As Eric Hoffer says in The True Believer, we seek to free ourselves from the intolerable burden of freedom.
Puncture marks on our neck, we find ourselves voting for the right-wing anti-immigration party – because somebody has got to solve the goddam refugee crisis that is crippling our decent law-abiding country. We need strong leadership at a time of crisis . . . and enter stage left the new Hitler. Don’t tell me it couldn’t happen again, because it could, anywhere. We haven’t learned our lesson because we want to avoid the god-awful truth of the Will to Power and the Will to Love. If a great nation like Germany can be corrupted into a war-machine, any nation, any religion, any political party, any economic system, is vulnerable to infection by fascism. Yes, economics, politics, world events form the context, but it is the map of the human heart that shapes the world, it is the aggregation of billions of individual W2Ls and W2Ps that create history. You matter. Your decisions matter. And don’t make me laugh and tell me rationalism and a golden age of technology could make the world a safer, better place.
The Will to Sensation lies at our heel, sleeping now, feel the rough fur between your fingers, tickle that warm tummy. But see those white teeth, and remember the power of that bite and the rabid madness that followed. The Will to Sensation dozes, content in the knowledge that we warm-bloodied mammals move from the anxiety of desire at -1 to acting on our appetite at -2. How do you resolve the guilt of compulsion? Self-condemnation lies at -3. I myself am worthless, I am desire, I am conditioned reflexes, synapses, and the product of millions of years of evolution. That bite mark on my arm gives me a bitey feeling too, like I want to chase someone down the street and sink my fangs into them, spread the contagion, that’d be fun. Oh shit, is that fur on my belly? Hell, if you can’t beat them, join the pack.
Nietzsche urges us to remain true to the earth – he has a point, because deep down we don’t really believe in any kind of super-earthly hope. So, preserve your youth for as long as you can, feed on the lifeblood of others if you need to, steal beauty if you are not beautiful, and you don’t need to dig your own well if you can drink from someone else’s. Because you’re worthless. Because you are an animal. Because once you’re dead you’re dead.
The Will to Despair is a proud old bird. It sits atop the highest tree and surveys the world, confident in its own beauty, intelligence, and prowess. The Will to Despair has grace and poise, and sometimes it deigns to come and sit on your shoulder and whisper its cold wisdom into your ear; but treat it with disrespect, brothers and sisters, for it could rip your throat out with its cruel beak and razor-sharp talons. The eagle of emptiness tells you of the pointlessness of life’s burdens and urges you to embrace doubt in a super-ordinate meaning. Grow your wings of pride, it advises, so you too can look down on the world. Be the birdman. Don’t be a dumbass.
Kierkegaard describes doubt as ‘thought’s despair,’ whilst despair is ‘personality’s doubt.’ In other words, doubt is thought and feeling; despair is a badge, it is who we are. Despair invites us to sit above the whole of creation and judge it as an aberration. I often hear the argument that humanity is a mere spec in the cosmos and the Earth a minor planet in a second-rate solar system. The argument goes that the great scientific processes of Physics, Chemistry and Biology are bigger than humanity and its pesky self-awareness. A giant dust cloud off the coast of Alpha Centuri beats a painting by Goya.
The Will to Negation lies inside his cave, unable to sleep. The great bear feels the anxiety of isolation – no-one in the forest talks to him anymore. It’s all that Beaver’s fault. His anger grows. I’m gonna tear that little furry fucker and his family to pieces, he decides; and I’m gonna destroy that little twiggy condo by the river too. He laughs to himself. Then the doubts appear: what about all those juicy salmon in the pond behind the dam? Would he lose his favourite food supply if he smashed up Beaversville? The thought of suicide enters the bear’s head. If he can’t negate others, if the anger backs up, the feelings of self-negation start to overwhelm him. Maybe I should get drunk, he thinks and starts humming a Hank William’s tune, then Heroin by the Velvet Underground. ‘Screw this,’ he says to the silence of the cave, ‘Am I a bear, or a mouse? I’m a gonna kill that damn beaver!’
We live in collectives. Individuals who are primarily devoted to Sensation (the Hedonists) move around in great swathes of humanity that the experts loosely term ‘shoppers’, or to use more precise technical terminology ‘consumers.’ Hedonists ravenously consume of a wide variety of foodstuffs: drugs, clothing, sex, books, CD’s, food, planets, TV, kettles, the matching toaster and the cuddly toy. The thread that holds a pack of like-minded hedonists together appears to be made up of 50% self-interest and 50% self-doubt. It is curious to note that the food Hedonists consume does not appear to nourish them and they end up consuming themselves.
The urbane, cultured, well-educated people who fall into the Despair camp are too clever to believe in anything cleverer than they are. Alas, the problem that believers in Cosmic Absurdity have is getting on with each other. Their natural inclination is scorn of anything, or anyone, not in complete agreement with themselves. The thread that holds the cynical proud educated elite together is contempt for those less intelligent than they, correlating increasing IQ against a diminishing propensity to believe in nonsense. Entry requirements to the clever kids club include a spiritual lobotomy. We might never win anything at football, but if there was an international competition for sardonic resigned despair, then we English would be world champions.
In the Cage of the Certain we have followers and leaders. Polished, polite, and organised … until, that is, you start poking around into whatever it is they claim to believe in. Then they start hissing, biting, snarling, and damning you to the hell reserved for the non-believers, the enemies of God, Science, State, and Corporation.
In Negation Club, the urge to be ‘part of’ is formed by a common loathing, by a destructive longing. The urge to negate the self is assuaged by the urge to negate something within society, or something ‘out there’ in the world. There is a common (and somewhat porous) border between Anarchy and Mass Movements. One of the interesting points that Hoffer makes in True Believers, is, that in the bunker, amidst a bombed-out Berlin, Hitler had moved from W2C to W2N. He and Germany were both going down together. It is interesting how often power and conquest seem to drop down into negation and anti-creation. Light the fire, see what happens.
How much of the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a desire to bring the war to an end, and how much was curiosity to see what impact the new weapon would have on densely populated cities? Such are the subjectivities of technology and warfare. None of us are immune to the potent thrill of destruction… do you build the snowman up higher or do you kick it down? Sauron’s attempted conquest of Middle Earth in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was an act of negation, a conquest of, and a despoiling of creation. For C.S. Lewis, Hell is a state of unmaking, a process of the dissolving of personality, exemplified by Weston’s fate in Perelandra.
The labyrinth within the W2P is interconnected. On our own we’d be in serious trouble. But we are not alone. When the black cloud is all I see, that is when I reach for the bard of passion and mirth, Johnny Keats.
‘Who hath not journeyed in this native hell.
But few have ever felt how calm and well
Sleep may be had in that deep den of all…
O happy spirit-home! O wondrous soul!
Pregnant with such a den to save the whole
In thine own depth. Hail, gentle Carian!
For, never since thy griefs and woes began,
Hast thou felt so content: a grievous feud
Hath led thee to this Cave of Quietude. ‘