30 March 2010

The middle of the middle

The essence of any thought-reform process is:

1) break down the existing identity of the subject. "Identity" is defined here as "the list of things that the subject feels that they have to do, or like doing, and will become anxious if prevented from doing."
2) replace that list with one you made up.

I've noticed this before with Marxist political groups. They will go into great detail explaining that CBT won't make you happy, drugs won't make you happy, TV or sports or beating up black people won't make you happy, because capitalism is a stinking memetic shitpile which makes everyone unhappy as the basis of its existence. True, that.

But they leave unspoken what the next step of the process is. The next step is, you should join the Marxist group and learn to identify your own happiness with political activism. This isn't necessarily a problem - this is how all groups which actually have life-changing effects (eg Weight Watchers) work. And heavens knows we need political activists, and Leninists and Platformists agree that having them properly organised is a necessity.

But the problem is that, in small groups which aren't properly democratic (which is virtually all of them in the advanced Western countries), "political activism" means "conformity with the goals and priorities of the self-perpetuating leadership and the group culture it promotes". Simply put: "You must give up your ego! So we can replace it with one we prepared earlier!"

So beware - be very aware - of any guru, political, spiritual or psychological, who's telling you "what you're doing isn't going to make you happy", but who isn't going into detail about what they recommend you do instead. Chances are it will be "giving me money", or "selling the ridiculous, badly-produced paper we edit on street corners", or "working for pennies on our agricultural plantation until the day we tell you to drink the Flavor-Aid", or something similar.

Robert Fripp has said that "any act based on principle is a good one". Dr Javad Nurbaksh has said that hooking up with even an inferior, selfish, not-properly-enlightened Master is better than letting your ego continue to run rampant. I find it very difficult to accept these propositions, because they're very similar to L. Ron Hubbard's dictum that "you must let others control you before you can learn to control yourself", which is clearly a cynical command to induce people to sign themselves up as slaves.

But I am having great trouble figuring out what the alternative might be.


  1. Total reliance on political activism for a sense of self-worth/validation is a real problem as you say, and certainly makes people much more susceptible to doing some really daft things which anyone with a healthy amount of self-respect/esteem would never dream of...

    I'm less convinced that the 'predatory guru' phenomenon is a major problem, at least here in NZ, as the left is simply too small to attract the kind of confidence tricksters that get off on exploiting peoples' desperation/loneliness for their own benefit. Those particular specimens are much more likely in this part of the world to move into religion, real estate or the weight-loss industry.

    Most leftist groups in NZ IMO are kind of like relatively benign therapy groups for individuals alienated from mainstream bourgeois society - the problem is though that the more time you spend in them the more you are likely to become co-dependent and incapable of leaving...

  2. If the goal is thought reform and personal happiness, is there a need to get involved with political activism?

    related 1: http://principiadiscordia.com/cramulus/index.php?title=Hodgehogs

    related 2: http://nietzschecoyote.wordpress.com/2009/12/28/analog-system-hacking-101-alternate-visions-built-in-the-gaps/

  3. FH: that comment makes as much sense as saying: "If the goal is to be personally healthy, is there a need to clean up the toxic waste dump you're living on?"

  4. FP: as to predatory gurus in NZ, perhaps not now, but back in the late 80's early 90's there was a fellow called Logan in Wellington who made quite a name for himself in that regard.

  5. but political activism is not a requisite for personal happiness. In my experience, the more politically involved one gets, the more frustrated one gets at the seemingly intractable state of things. If you can just detach yourself from it entirely, isn't that just as good (on an individual level)?

    We're NEVER going to have a perfect society. If we anchor our personal happiness to successful political reform, we will be eternally waiting outside the gates of contentment.

  6. I suppose it boils down to - if no-one does anything nothing will change in any fundamental way, and it is impossible to achieve the aim without suffering. The trick - and the Sufis agree - that the ego likes to create its own "false suffering", which will distract you from "real suffering" which might actually achieve something. So, as you said elsewhere - the question is Waking Up, learning what's real, what's not real and what's the difference.