Ponerogenesis and the "Other God"
Fractal Metaphysics and the Demonization of Gnosis
Let me tell you a bedtime story of the genesis of the gods.
Once the gods were fickle and all too human, and we were the playthings of the gods.1 Then Plato the dual-natured dreamt up his greatest innovation: cosmic monotheism. Higher than all the gods, his Demiurge had fashioned the cosmos out of chaos. Not merely first among equals—like Zeus among his children—the Demiurge was the one absolute mind of all the cosmos, and wholly good. A philosopher’s God, not a storybook one.
Plato now deemed the gods to be not fickle, but wholly good like their creator. According to Plato’s political program, all mention of gods behaving badly was to be memory-holed by some Winstoneas Smithisthenes employed by the Ministry of the Gods’ Honest Truth. “The gods are good. The gods have always been good.”
Capital-G God did not create humans, however. The small-g gods did that. They brought life—mortality—into the world. And as humanity’s divine blood became diluted through the generations, so did their goodness, until they had to be wiped out in the destruction of Atlantis. Thus was solved the problem of the emergence of evil, as God could not create anything un-good.
The Jewish scholars who wrote the Bible retained Plato’s vision in Genesis (good eternal creator of a good creation, peace and good relations amongst terrestrial gods and between their respective nations).2 But come Exodus, Plato’s creator of the universe and the regional god of the Jews (Yahweh) were increasingly conflated. And Yahweh behaved badly, indeed, sowing division among the gods and proclaiming himself divine creator of all—all those who stood in his people’s way to be wiped off the map.
Naturally, some mortals noticed and cried out in the wilderness, “Somethin’ ain’t right!” One of the first Christian “heretics,” Marcion, saw the problem. The “God” of the Old Testament obviously wasn’t good, and thus couldn’t be the God of Christ. The god of the Old Testament was not God, but the demiurge who fashioned the physical world of matter and biology, which by extension was flawed and evil.
What a mess. Plato’s good demiurge, creator of the cosmos, was now not only bad but also the creator of mortals (and thus also of evil). I feel there is a Freudian lesson in all of this, something to do with that which you deny (or censor) coming back to bite you in your posterior. By denying evil its archetype and conceptualizing it as either mere ignorance or mere failure to align with divine goodness (a state of affairs remedied by cognitive/intellectual effort and “proper” social structure, respectively), Plato left a hole to be filled in some quite creative ways. The demiurge acquired properties of the old gods (in both their pre-Platonic and Platonic forms). It seems the focus on goodness—to the point of myopia—brought its opposite into sharp focus.
Mainstream Christians developed another solution, which wasn’t all that different from the dualists’ demiurge and archons: Satan and his demonic minions. After all, whomever Paul was referring to as “the god of this age,” the basic idea is the same: there is a source of evil not to be equated with God the ultimate creator, and mankind is under its sway. Whether that is “Yahweh” or “Satan” is simply a doctrinal dispute.
In fact, the dualists were just as dogmatic.3 Yahweh wasn’t in fact a demon-god; he was a literary creation whose name was repurposed, prior to which he was simply one among a whole slew of tribal gods. And if it weren’t for the initial perversion of Plato’s system, absolute dualism may not have developed as it did, with its idea of a coeternal malevolent god who trapped humanity’s immortal souls in decaying bodies, and a creation fundamentally and irredeemably evil.
Why am I writing about this? Two reasons: 1) humans have always tried to account for evil, some more successfully than others, and 2) the gnostics can actually teach something about pathocracy, not in the sense proposed by Shafarevich (that they are socialist ideology’s progenitors—a view held by many anti-socialists and socialists of past eras) but that socialism is actually a perversion or caricature of gnosticism. Gnosis (i.e. knowledge of God) is simply the mystical or inner path of religion (perfectly kosher if you actually read the New Testament), or, in Dabrowski’s terminology, religion as experienced at a high level developmentally.
However, ask a Catholic and they’ll probably tell you the “Gnostics” (like the Cathars) were dangerous heretics who hated the world, people, and God—a transgenerational, continent-wide, monolithic conspiracy with designs to tear down the Church—who performed incest, bestiality and orgies, glorified suicide, and practiced cannibalism and, of course, infanticide. Since the times of Tertullian and Irenaeus, “the church” has been on the warpath against such heretical wrongthink and satanic conspiracy—to the point that Catholicism is one of the few major religious denominations to lack any well-developed mystical current. Whereas other religions (and other Christianities) revere their mystics, the Catholic church burned theirs—to the church’s own detriment—and then made up some of the most over-the-top atrocity propaganda to demonize them for all time and disguise their own holy sadism.
This is the characterization more or less taken as a given by Shafarevich in The Socialist Phenomenon, where he presents the gnostics as progenitors of chiliastic socialism. As he points out, groups like the Cathars eschewed money and property, refused to procreate, and rejected mainstream religion (Catholicism). Since the evil god ruled the realm of matter (and the good god that of spirit), by extension the whole world was tainted with evil, a prison from which we must be liberated. “World-destruction” was thus an admirable goal: ideally everyone would just stop breeding so the human race would die out and we could all escape this hell on earth. At least, that’s how their critics frame their beliefs, in the most cynical form. Sounds like socialism, no?
In Caricature of Love, Cleckley makes an important point about context:
Since the context in which something presents itself frequently decides whether we will be attracted by it or frightened away, whether we will see in it the physiognomy of decay or of life, the same matter can express abundance, the growing life, or decomposition, the passing away. The sweat of an athlete who has just won the contest will not prevent his girl friend from embracing him. The perspiration which covers the face of the sick has quite another effect. The difference is determined by the difference of context to which the parts belong. In the first case, sweat, breathlessness, even exhaustion, still carry the expression of strong, healthy life. They express the lavishness of someone who can afford it. Although in the second case a loving soul may overcome all initial sensual aversions, yet in kissing the sick one, as St. Francis kissed the leper, one does not follow a longing for unification. The legend reports that St. Francis first passed the leper. When he had turned his horse back and had approached the outcast, he found the strength to express a charity which reaches beyond disgust, sickness and death. . . . (pp. 255-256, quoting Straus)
Dabrowski too sees a deeper, multilevel complexity in human psychology and our reactions to social reality. For instance, take the the overly simplistic common view that social adjustment is good and maladjustment is bad. Dabrowski adds another dimension:
negative maladjustment: “Rejection of social norms and accepted patterns of behavior because of the controlling power of primitive drives and nondevelopmental or pathologically deformed structures and functions.”
negative adjustment: “Unqualified conformity to a hierarchy of values prevailing in a person’s social environment. The values are accepted without an independent critical evaluation.”
positive maladjustment: “A conflict with and rejection of those standards and attitudes of one’s social environment which are incompatible with one’s growing awareness of a higher scale of values which is developing as an internal imperative.”
positive adjustment: “Conformity to higher levels of a hierarchy of values self-discovered and consciously followed. It is an acceptance of values after critical examination and an autonomous choice.”
Now add in the ABA’ structure and the problems and solutions become a bit clearer. Take the example of libertinism:
A: “Freedom and liberty! Freedom from the moral constraints of society, which means I can do what I want (lie, cheat, steal, kill, sleep around).”
B: “Who are all these crazies crying for freedom and liberty? The system works fine just the way it is.”
A’: “Freedom and liberty! Freedom from the stupidities of this society and the control over my actions exerted by my own lower nature, which means I can want what I do (living by a higher standard, by my own ideal).”
There are dangers in the transition from conformity to positive maladjustment, however. As Dabrowski notes of Level III (spontaneous multilevel disintegration, where the beginnings of the inner separation between higher and lower first appear): “Negative adjustment … becomes rare, but negative maladjustment (global rejection of external norms) is more frequent taking the form of extreme individualism” (Multilevelness, p. 133). Paul encountered just this in Corinth: “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12). These Corinthians misunderstood what it meant to be “dead to the law”—not merely maladjusted to external norms, but adjusted to higher values.
In other words, there is a sense and a context in which dissatisfaction with the world and rejection of the social order is healthy—especially when that order is pathological to one degree or another.
These dynamics contribute to the allure of socialism, and the disconnect between alleged socialist ideals and their practical implementation. The “anti-good earth” respond to them in their pathological form; the “anti-rocky earth” respond to them as if they were higher values, maybe even latching on to some pathological notions of freedom, but “fall away” when the secret police come knocking and the appendages start flying.
Grand social projects are not the place for these values. When they are found there, they can only produce para-appropriate responses4 in those inclined to respond positively to them. Renouncing property, family, external norms, and even mainstream religious ideas or interpretations only makes sense in something like a monastery, or in a group united for a common, higher purpose. And they only make sense when accepted of one’s own free will. In fact, coercion will probably have the opposite effect on those most likely to find such things attractive:
Level III: “Rejection of norms forced upon one by external pressures.”
Level IV: “Total rejection of external norms and opposition against them whenever they influence human development toward inauthenticity and dependence on social opinion.” (Multilevelness, p. 133)
This implies that the overall trend of a system of mass-coercion to impose any socialist utopia will only be to alienate those capable of perceiving higher values, and to empower those who are incapable. Pathocracy is the only logical conclusion of such a political project.
So let’s turn back to the Cathars as representative of a larger group of “gnostics,” “mystics,” and “esotericists,” and see how a pathocratic party resembles a spiritual brotherhood in caricature. First, there is the overall structure. Shafarevich remarks on the “concentric” structure of the heretical groups, “a narrow circle of leaders who are initiated into all aspects of the doctrine and a wide circle of sympathizers who are acquainted only with some of its aspects” (SP, pp. 78-79). In the case of the Cathars, the narrow circle of bonhommes or parfaits (the “good men” or “perfecti”) was surrounded by the credentes (ordinary believers). This isn’t some secret society or country club. Rather, it’s the individual’s level of being that determines their membership. The perfecti were akin to Paul’s “saints”—those who had experienced a death and resurrection, a baptism in the Holy Spirit, and who could devote their lives to the level of asceticism and transparent morality required of the position.
In a pathocratic party, by contrast, an elite circle (primarily psychopathic) is surrounded by a less odious circle of more or less loyal bureaucrats and enforcers. Lobaczewski even refers to them as “elite initiates,” possessors of a “secret (psychopathic) knowledge” unavailable to the outer circles (e.g., PP, pp. 156, 158, 208). There is both an element of arbitrary secrecy (compartmentalization of information on a “need to know” basis) and an existential one—only those of a similar mindset can be part of the club.
As Lobaczewski highlights, any group can become ponerized under certain conditions. The paranoid deformation of “gnosticism” comes out in Shafarevich’s comment:
Socialist doctrines themselves change, acquiring an intolerant, embittered and destructive character.
The idea of dividing mankind into the “doomed” and the “elect” makes its appearance, followed by calls to destroy the “godless” or the “enemies of Christ,” i.e., the opponents of the movement. (SP, p. 78)
Arthur Versluis writes this about the totalitarian mindset:
By embracing a rigid ideology, whatever it is, the ideologue now is able to convince himself that he is the possessor of the truth. He is part of the ‘inner circle,’ the elite group who are called to take on themselves the burden of policing society, of ‘improving’ the human world. Ordinary people, they don’t understand, and so must be coerced, sometimes even tortured or killed ‘for their own good.’ (New Inquisitions, p. 140)
The Cathars never did this. In fact, the Catholics did this to the Cathars. As Obama would say, “We tortured some folks.” Take a look here for some an idea of what that would’ve looked like eight hundred years ago: an inquisitor shoving a “Pope’s pear” up your rectum or vagina and tearing it to shreds.5
Gnostic groups were also “apocalyptic” to one degree or another (in the sense of predicting a violent end of the world, though also in the sense of being based on divine revelation). There are a few points to consider on this front:
apocalyptic writings are political in nature, calling attention to conditions of foreign occupation or corrupt leadership
cosmic catastrophism is historically and scientifically justified
this is probably the easiest doctrine to put towards nefarious ends (just witness all the apocalyptic death cults from Muntzer to Jim Jones)
Some imagine the end of the world “saturated with the mood of death, catastrophe and destruction,” like the Czech Taborites who wished to “wash our hands in … the accursed blood” of the greedy clergy, or collectivist anarchist Bakunin: “We must devote ourselves wholly and completely to unrestrained and relentless destruction” (SP, p. 275). When it comes to catastrophic collapse, some people want in on the action.
As for the more positive interpretations of the new world,6 I’ll leave it to the mystics to speculate on the possible reality of “higher states” of physicality and the nature of the “kingdom of God.” Let’s just say I don’t reject the idea that they might know what they’re talking about.
Socialist ideology is imbued with the notion of a coming fundamental break, of the end and destruction of the old world and the beginning of a new order. This concept is interwoven with the idea of “imprisonment” and “liberation,” which, beginning with the Cathars, is understood as imprisonment of the soul in matter and as liberation in the other world. Later, the Amalricians and the Free Spirits saw the idea as spiritual liberation through the achievement of “godliness” in this world. And finally, the Taborites and the Anabaptists conceived of it as material liberation from the power of the “evil ones” and as the establishment of the dominion of the “elect.” (SP, p. 78)
I don’t know about you, but I’ll take a dominion of the elect and a side order of liberation from the power of the evil ones, please.
As for the other ideas mentioned, here are three variations for each:
A: “Normal society is a prison. People are sheep and so-called ‘morality’ is for suckers.”—spoken confidently with a smug grin
A’: “Normal society is a prison. People are mean and dumb and I wish we’d all just die.”—spoken with a whiny pout
A’’: “Normal society is a prison. Our baser instincts and stupidity keep us there. Let me show you the way to true liberation.”—spoken confidently with an all-knowing smile
A: “I am a god, perfect as I am. Now hand over whatever’s in the cash register.”
A’: “I am a god, perfect as I am. It’s so liberating to not be constrained by socially constructed norms. Hey, let’s all have an orgy on Friday after yoga.”
A’’: “Through a process of deification, I am become God. His will is my will, and I cannot but do what is good.”
And to bring all this back around to Cleckley, let’s deal with anti-sexuality. We’ve already seen what that looks like on a low level (antibiologic repulsion, undifferentiated promiscuity, associations with decay). What about a higher level? For Dabrowski, a certain kind of anti-sexuality is compatible with high levels of development. Some excerpts:
Third factor determines what constitutes a positive or a negative experience in relation to higher and lower levels of sexual fife. It eliminates all that is animalistic and selects all that is authentic, individual, social, and empathic. Third factor thus chooses exclusivity of emotional ties, responsibility for the partner and the family, and the unrepeatability of the union of love. … Example: “…Union of minds and hearts, never the physical union alone. I feel disgust toward the tyranny of the physical aspect of love, but in its spiritual aspect I feel close to something like an ‘immortality of sex’.” (Multilevelness, p. 49)
The sexual aspect of a relationship becomes sublimated. Love and friendship may flourish without much interference of demands from the biological level of the sexual instinct. (Multilevelness, p. 50)
The Cathars had some odd ideas about sex (or at least, their ideas led to some odd implications). Whereas the Catholics viewed procreative sex as good and nonprocreative sex as bad, the Cathars saw it just the opposite (which meant that for a Catholic masturbation might be worse than rape, while for a Cathar married sex was worse in principle than homosexuality). Regardless, only the parfaits chose a life of celibacy (not much different than other forms of organized asceticism); ordinary believers were free to have sex and children to their hearts’ delight. (Similarly, Paul saw celibacy as the best option, marriage as an acceptable second.)
The Cathars were also popular, not feared—respected for their transparent virtue and moral integrity: “When Bishop Fulk of Toulouse, a leader of the Cathar persecutions, berated the Languedoc Knights (funded and ordained by the church) for not pursuing the Cathars more diligently, he received the reply: ‘We cannot. We have been reared in their midst. We have relatives among them and we see them living lives of perfection.’”
As far as I can tell, Catharism wasn’t ponerized to any significant degree. They never devolved into a paranoid mass movement, never engaged in mass violence like the later Taborites and radical Anabaptist factions. The potential was there, for sure. I can easily imagine a corrupt, hypocritical Catharism. After all, “Asceti[ci]sm, self-abomination, or suicide often reflect a lack of equilibrium in multilevel development” (Dabrowski, Personality-Shaping, p. 121) and in Level III “Sometimes one observes deviant forms of devotion of the divinity characterized by artificiality, excessive self-criticism and self-abasement or spiritual narcissism” (Multilevelness, p. 97). Strange beliefs can attract some strange individuals. But that just doesn’t seem to have been the case.7 The Languedoc Cathars’ selection criteria seem like they were pretty solid.
This finally leads me to the idea I originally wanted to write about after those two Shafarevich excerpts—other ideas kept coming first. I’ve highlighted several oppositions in the last several posts like sexuality vs. anti-sexuality and religion vs. anti-religion. Overall, I’ve come to see pathocracy as the anti-society, a diseased caricature of what a healthy group or society could be, perhaps exemplified by small “gnostic” groups or the communities the may lead or serve.
Just as pathocracy represents a sociopolitical “Sierpinski triangle,” the rules of which are determined by the individual and collective psychopathologies of its participants, “logocracy” (to repurpose slightly Lobaczewski’s phrase for a new, better system of government) proceeds along the opposite lines, directed by the highest exemplars humanity has to offer. Two opposing societal fractals, opposite ends of humanity’s developmental bell curve, represented mythically as the two gods.
On the surface, the attitude of a fanatic revolutionary or Party member and a devout exemplar of humanity have a lot in common: subordination of personal concerns and total devotion to the cause, self-abnegation, bound by no external standard or law, total “freedom” of action, the impossibility of inner disagreement with the ideal. But whereas the ideals of one deny humanity’s higher nature, the other embraces and embodies it. Beneath the surface they have different goals. The are pulled by competing attractors: destruction vs. creative transformation.
Now with that in mind, here’s something fun that may give you nightmares, a picture of the destructive attractor in its idealized form (i.e. its fantasy vision of itself minus all the bone and gore that needs to be washed down the floor drains). Dostoevsky saw socialism like this: “Without the instincts of bees or ants that create their beehives and ant hills faultlessly and precisely, people undertook to create something like a faultless human ant hill” (SP, p. 234). Here’s how Shafarevich pictured an “ideal” socialist society, based on the socialists’ own writings:
People would wear the same clothing and even have similar faces; they would live in barracks. There would be compulsory labor followed by meals and leisure activities in the company of the same labor battalion. Passes would be required for going outside. Doctors and officials would supervise sexual relations, which would be subordinated to only two goals: the satisfaction of physiological needs and the production of healthy offspring. Children would be brought up from infancy in state nurseries and schools. Philosophy and art would be completely politicized and subordinated to the educational goals of the state. All this is inspired by one principle—the destruction of individuality or, at least, its suppression to the point where it would cease to be a social force. Dostoyevsky’s comparisons to the ant hill and the bee hive turn out to be particularly apt in the light of ethological classifications of society: we have constructed a model of the anonymous society. (SP, p. 269)
The presence of individual bonds has great importance for the structure of animal societies, which are divided into anonymous societies, in which animals do not distinguish each other as individuals…, and individualized societies, in which animals are linked by individual relations … Astonishingly, among the forces supporting the existence of individualized animal societies, according to the ethologists, are precisely those factors (seen in human society) with which socialism is in conflict: the upbringing of offspring by a family, individually bonded children and parents and, in general, individual bonds between members of society. (Deschamps foresees “life without separate bonds” in the future society.) Other individualized animal behavior includes animal hierarchies in which individuals have different importance, and where, for instance, older members can use their experience for the benefit of the whole group, while stronger individuals defend the weak. Finally, there is a phenomenon which may be regarded as a prehuman analogy of property: the notion of territory in animal society. (SP, p. 265)
As we’ve seen, this anonymous model doesn’t work—human nature just isn’t made that way. But oddly, it does seem to work for a smaller group: the Party “superorganism.” Oddly, for a bunch of antisocials, pathocrats tend to cooperate with each other quite well, as if all they need is a social structure suited to their nature. Recall: “Their life has meaning only when they are carrying out the aims of the superorganism without which they cannot exist.” We see a type of coherence “not guided by conscious intent” (SP, p. 328). A social body—and since I’ve been using religious language here—not the “body of Christ.”
Lobaczewski was a scientist, not a theologian, but he was a Catholic and thought he saw the shadow of Satan at work (see Appendix III in Political Ponerology, his response to Father Bogusław’s criticism of his book for not mentioning “the role of [evil’s] main perpetrator”). What I call “attractors” (non-material teloi pulling individuals in certain directions and taking certain personal and social forms as a result, like some sort of morphic fields) can just as easily be called gods. At the very least, that is how humans have conceived of them, as purposeful beings. Maybe they do possess some type of agency or personality? Lobaczewski stopped short of going there, but we don’t need to. Dostoevsky and Berdyaev wrote of “the possessed.” They might not be far off.
So let me just throw this out there: what we’re looking at is a form of “demonic” coherence—a hyperphysical “attractor” that organizes and inspires a group of likeminded beings to behave in certain ways and take on a corresponding “shape” (the “Inquisition archetype,” pathocracy). Like an AI singularity, this collective superorganism takes on an intelligence of its own, a higher-order “body.” Its individual members need not be aware of what’s going on—they are just cogs in the machine of the emergent social fractal. The string-puller is unseen—the “other god” in action. Denied by Plato, re-articulated by the dualists and demonologists, and manifested with a vengeance in the 20th-century, now it’s going global. At least, that’s how it looks to me.
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See Michael Witzel’s The Origins of the World’s Mythologies for a very cool argument that most of the world’s mythological systems trace back to a common origin, i.e. the “Laurasian” myth of the generations of the gods, humans, the age of heroes, and the final destruction.
They really were a competing belief system (another holdover from Plato)—complete with internal schisms based on contrasting interpretations and dogmas. Though the Languedoc Cathars were less concerned with doctrine (compared to the Italian Cathars) and more concerned with lifestyle, i.e. practice.
Shafarevich: “The religious idea of the end of the world presupposes, in essence, its translation, after human history has achieved its goal, into some other state” (SP, p. 281).
To be fair, Shafarevich acknowledges this possibility, as well as the Catholics’ twisting of their own ideals by resorting to power, wealth, and coercion: “[The heretics’] activities belong to that border area where it is so difficult to distinguish between the free seeking after spiritual truth and a conspiracy having as its aim the forcible diversion of mankind from its chosen path.” (SP, p. 74).