What if I told you our world isn’t as it seems? That much of what we call politics and the “culture war” is really an ancient theological war over the metaphysics of reality, colliding with the digital revolution? Well, if you’re willing to follow the white rabbit, then take whatever color of pill you’re partial to, strap on your VR headset, and buckle up, because this is gonna get weird.
Revolt of the Sexless Angels
When knight-commander Simon de Montfort arrived in 1215 at the walls of the French city of Toulouse at the head of a crusader army, he was warned by an officer that they had no way to distinguish between the heretics they had come to subdue and the Catholic civilians in the city. “Kill them all,” he is purported to have replied. “The devil will know his own.” This sort of brutality had by then become characteristic of the Albigensian Crusade, a twenty year struggle to eradicate a widespread heresy in the south of France that the Church considered a mortal threat to its existence.
Crusaders had found themselves fighting a protracted counter-insurgency campaign in the middle of Europe because, sometime in the 12th century, a cult belief system had arrived in the region from Bulgaria, taken root, and begun to spread like wildfire. Commonly known as the Cathars (or alternatively the Bougres, for “Bulgarians”), these believers not only totally rejected the authority of the Catholic hierarchy, but the whole notion that there was only one God.
Instead, they believed that an evil god, the God of the Old Testament, had created the physical world as a prison, in which human bodies entombed the sexless spirits of angels in the material realm. Trapped in a cycle of reincarnation, they could only be freed by a secret pre-death baptism, the consolamentum, meant to achieve purification from the corruption of the physical and allow their souls to rejoin the good god, the God of the New Testament, who existed on a purely spiritual plane outside the world. Those who had undergone this ritual were inducted as the elite Perfecti, the Perfect Ones, and recognized as trans-material beings already on their way to angelhood.
As a consequence of these beliefs, and despising the “garment” of the flesh, the Cathars – who referred to themselves simply as the Good Christians (Bons Chrétiens) – are said to have adopted extreme ascetic practices. Some few who took the consolamentum underwent the endura, shunning the ingestion of the corrupt matter of food and drink in order to speed their own deaths. For those who showed too many signs of recovery, suffocation by pillow could provide a helpful assist. The more moderately pious merely contented themselves with refusing to eat the flesh of animals.
Marriage, sex, and especially pregnancy were considered a great evil, given their role in perpetuating suffering, and celibacy was idealized. Being all too human, however – and consoled by the doctrine that all sin would be wiped clean on leaving the material plane – the Cathars instead became infamous for sexual perversion (or at least so recorded the Vatican). Given the need to avoid pregnancy, homosexuality and sodomy purportedly flourished as the preferred means of intercourse, to the horror of the Catholics (the English word “buggery” descends from “bouguer,” from Bougres).
Resonating with the many who already saw the established Church as hopelessly corrupt and out of touch, the ideas of the Cathar Heresy found strong support, however. This was of course untenable for the Vatican, and in 1209 Pope Innocent III launched its crusade to deal with them. The conflict would kill as many as one million people by the time it ended in 1229.
But persecution of the Cathars continued long after its conclusion. The Ordo Praedicatorum (aka the Dominicans) was founded in Toulouse in 1216 (not long after Montfort took the city) to wage theological combat against heresy, after which the Inquisition was established by the Council of Toulouse in 1229 specifically to root out the remaining Cathars under their guidance. It was not until more than a century later that the heresy was believed successfully extirpated (only for the area to soon become a hotbed of Protestantism instead, serving to kick off the French Wars of Religion).
The Vatican didn’t mess around with the Cathars because they were only the latest in a very, very long line of persistently recurring heresies to pop up and challenge – and occasionally nearly destroy – the Christian Church from its very earliest days. And the Cathars were of a kind with all those other challengers in their holding of the same remarkably consistent system of belief: they were Gnostics.
In Greek, Gnosis means “knowledge,” and to be a Gnostic is to claim to possess a special kind of knowledge: the knowledge that the world isn’t the reality it supposes to be.
So basically it’s religion for super-fans of The Matrix.
Beginning, most scholars believe, with anti-Rabbinical Jewish mysticism cults, Gnosticism flourished in the first centuries after the emergence of Christianity, following its collision with the philosophies of the Greek-speaking Mediterranean. Those included Pythagoras and Plato, who believed in a higher world of eternal, abstract, non-material forms discoverable only by reason. These ideas seemed to merge so easily with the young religion that some scholars have described Gnosticism as the “acute Hellenization of Christianity.” This produced a flourishing of dozens (perhaps hundreds) of major Gnostic Christian sects – to the point that it’s speculated the official Church and its canonical doctrine was first established specifically to try to squash this phenomenon.
While there were many variations of Gnosticism, all of them consistently revolved (and – spoiler alert – continue to revolve) around the same set of fundamental beliefs: the material world is a falsehood, or matter has otherwise been corrupted; human beings have been flung into this false world against their will, wherein they suffer; the material world can be escaped, transcended, or corrected by those with a special connection of the soul to the spiritual realm (Pneuma) and access to secret knowledge (Gnosis). Because the perceivable world is evil, this knowledge necessarily can’t be derived from empirical observation; it can only be gleaned from interior perception and the development of a special consciousness, or reached through purely abstract reasoning.
Usually the false physical world was created by a malevolent, Satan-like being, the Demiurge, who successfully tricked, or sometimes locked away, the true God or gods (often the Aeons, multiple aspects of the divine godhead, of which the Demiurge was typically one) with the aid of his demonic helpers/architects, the Archons. Frequently in the Christian-Gnostic tradition the Demiurge has been closely identified with the God of the Hebrews, Yahweh – a fact that consistently led many Gnostic sects be among the first to adopt a special antipathy toward Jews (leading famed scholar of Judaism Gershom Scholem to describe Gnosticism as “the greatest case of metaphysical anti-Semitism” to have ever emerged.)
Finally, Gnosticism has always by nature been a spirituality for the elite. Only special people can grasp the special knowledge and achieve special transcendence and liberation from the dirty physical world.
Over and over again, these beliefs perniciously returned to harass establishment Christianity in the form of one cult or another.
Cults like the Basilideans, who believed the true God had sent the Aeon of the Mind (Nous), in the image of Jesus, to the illusory earth, the lowest hell of 365 planes, to bring mankind the Gnosis. (Aeon-Jesus then tricked the Romans into crucifying some hapless flesh-and-blood man in his place.) And the Ophites, who worshipped snakes in remembrance of the serpent in the garden who heroically foiled the plans of the jealous creator deity Ialdabaoth, who sought to keep the Knowledge from Adam and Eve.
Then there’s my personal favorite, the notorious Carpocratians, who figured the Gnosis allowed them to transcend the material realm and that they were therefore no longer bound by the laws of the Ten Commandments. Moreover, they believed souls must experience every sensation, including every sin, within a lifetime in order to escape imprisonment. This led to worship via extreme libertinism, including engagement in a spree of orgies, murders, and “all those things which we dare not either speak or hear of” (as Irenaeus of Smyrna put it), that shook the Greek world before they were eradicated.
Century after century, Gnosticism has returned to produce cult after cult. And it never went away.
Escaping the Prison of Nature
In 2018, from the furthest depths of the online gender-sphere emerged Gender Acceleration: A Blackpaper. Authored by an anonymous transwoman, the paper rages against the assumed masculinity of the physical world, the gender binary, and the suffering it allegedly produces. Then, directly citing “the Gnostic view of the God of the Old Testament as an evil imposter, a Demiurge,” it declares that, “To be human in the service of humanity and human civilization, to seek for peace, equilibrium, and the continuation of the species [in the world as it is]… is merely orthodoxy in service of a fragile and self-righteous tyrant.”
Therefore, it proclaims, “The Body without Sex Organs [as] the project of [Gnostic she-demon] Lilith on Earth made manifest to break free of the repressive ordering of Man and God and accelerate fragmentation and individuation,” by which, through the accelerating knowledge of biomedicine and cybernetics, the body can become “free to plug its desire into the matrix of technocapital, towards pure production, the production of difference.” In this vision:
[T]rans women are technocapital producing itself outwardly into increasingly multitudinous configurations. Trans women as we know them now are the melding of technocapital with the human race and the expropriation of it towards its own ends… It breaks these lucky few free from the horrid curse of being human towards the lesbian autoproduction of demons.
But, ultimately: “Trans women as we know them are merely the beginning… With AI, the feminine finally finds its exit from patriarchy, and simultaneously humanity.”
The marginally-viral paper may merely be one extreme example from the crazier fringes of the internet, but its suffering cry to escape “the horrid curse of being human” through the re-ordering of corrupt, imprisoning matter, and ultimately transcendence into the purely digital, cuts to the heart of broader societal undercurrents.
As Mary Harrington astutely observes about the paper, this emergent “biolibertarian” dream of a “tech-enabled unmooring of gender from reproduction that ultimately, it hopes, will enable us to triumph over our own nature,” is not at all inconsistent with the self-perpetuating emancipatory aim of the broader neoliberal project.
Nor is what’s presented here as the ultimate victory for liberal feminism: “the dissolution of all constraint, and thus of even the residual masculinity contained in the abstract principle of order.” This has all, she points out, been a thread in place since the days of radical feminists like Simone de Beauvoir and Shulamith Firestone. (Or, I could add, Kelly Oliver, who once famously called for a revolution against the “absolute authority of recalcitrant Nature.”) Harrington is left to ponder how many “biorealists,” fellow feminists or otherwise, remain today to “defend embodiment, interdependence, and the human-scale preservation of relationship against the biolibertarian quest for total dissolution.”
But the modern attraction of Gnosticism is ultimately deeper than any one political project. Consider this passage from a recent report by Suzy Weiss on young people increasingly choosing sterilization over having children:
According to a new poll, 39% of Gen Zers are hesitant to procreate for fear of the climate apocalypse. A nationally representative study of adults in Michigan found that over a quarter of adults there are child-free by choice. And new research by the Institute of Family Studies found that the desire to have a child among adults decreased by 17% since the onset of the pandemic. “I think it's morally wrong to bring a child into the world,” said Isabel, 28, a self proclaimed anti-natalist who lives in southwestern Texas and did not want her last name in print. “No matter how good someone has it, they will suffer.”
Of course it is true that they will suffer; such is life. Hence why Gnosticism has kept emerging in response, because it ultimately serves as an answer to that toughest of theological questions: if there is a God, and he is good, why is there suffering? If the truth is that the divine is an evil imposter, or is locked away out of reach, or is dead, then Gnosis provides an alternative path to salvation within human control.
And control is the key here. Most people in the West today aren’t exactly very religious (or at least don’t think they are). They would of course find the original Gnostics’ occult rituals of prayer and magic silly. In our era it is science, technology, and reason that ostensibly rule the day.
But as Paul Kingsnorth points out, for mankind the line between the role of science and magic is a thin one. As he writes:
Here is Francis Bacon’s definition of science:
The knowledge of causes and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible.
And here is the occultist Aleister Crowley’s definition of magic:
The science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with the will.
These could be swapped around without anybody really noticing. The thread that links them together is control. Both the scientific enterprise, and the magical quest which it was [originally] part of, spring from the same desire: to know the world, and to bend it to our will. Will, in both cases, is the key word. When Aleister Crowley, pioneering occultist, rampant self-publicist and self-described ‘Great Beast’, created his own occult religion, Thelema, in the early 20th century, he gave it its own famous commandment: do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Thelema wilted on the vine, but we could say that Crowley’s dictum lived on as the foundational basis of what our culture has become.
Kingsnorth later distills this thirst for control, “the worldview of modernity,” through the French thinker Jacques Ellul’s concept of “Technique,” which Ellul defined as: “the translation into action of man’s concern to master things by means of reason, to account for what is subconscious, make quantitative what is qualitative, make clear and precise the outlines of nature, take hold of chaos and put order into it.”
Which is awfully close to Gnosis.
But there is (or was) at least one important separating factor from the old Gnosticism. As James Lindsay points out, science is “by definition anti-Gnostic,” because – if practiced as intended – it seeks to describe nature as it is through empirical reason. That is, science observes evidence in the physical world, and only then bases its theoretical conclusions – its Knowledge – on those observations of reality. After which we can then use it to achieve some relative progress by “better according our lives with reality as it is and thus doing better in reality.”
In contrast, Lindsay identifies “the general madness of the world at the present” as resulting from the “parasitic bugbear” of Gnosticism, and specifically what he categorizes as “Scientific Gnosticism.” What makes Scientific Gnosticism different from science is that it inverts the above process: it puts the conclusions of Theory (its Gnosis) ahead of empirical observation of the world. Thus:
Theory sits atop reality and provides the right understanding, such that those who embrace Theory are the only ones who can truly understand reality. Socialism can only be properly understood by Socialist Man, who is a Scientific Gnostic.
And if the world does not accord with Theory, then the world is wrong, and it “must seek to call truths things which are not.” Hence why George Orwell explains that 2+2 had to become 5 for the Party in 1984: because “the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense.”
It’s quite possible, as Lindsay warns, that Scientific Gnosticism is “perhaps the most calamitous ideological phylum human beings have so far managed to contrive.”
Unfortunately the New Faith of the West appears to be Scientific Gnosticism, layered subconsciously on top of a Protestant heresy, merging with the digital revolution.
The Digital Fey
“I don’t give a f*ck… Twitter is not a real place!”
So bravely proclaimed Dave Chappelle in The Closer. But we should consider carefully: is Twitter not a real place?
It obviously isn’t a physical place, unless you count a few server farms and some offices overseen by Hipster Rasputin. And what happens on Twitter certainly isn’t representative of what the majority of people believe, say, or do “in real life” – as journalists somehow keep repeatedly discovering to their shock.
But it is some kind of “place,” one where stuff happens. And that stuff influences the real world. Right now, as you read this, people are arguing on Twitter. Since journalists get all their ideas and information from Twitter now, whatever was argued about will show up online in the newspapers tomorrow. Since politicians base all their positions on what they read in the newspapers, they’ll begin angrily commenting about whatever that is the next time they appear on camera. Then people on Twitter will begin arguing about what the politicians said.
Maybe you don’t have a Twitter account, because you’re cool like me, so you don’t know what people are gathering together to argue about “there” right now. But sadly what is happening on Twitter and the broader internet can still have an effect on us, no matter how stridently we ignore it. After all, peasants didn’t know what was being argued about in the Acropolis, or in the court of the Tsar, or the Politburo, but that didn’t mean a tax man or conscription officer wasn’t going to show up the next day with some new decree to ruin their lives anyway.
Since Hell is other people on the internet, Twitter could still reach out and screw you even if you’ve never owned a smartphone in your life. Just ask that one guy who obliviously flexed his fingers the wrong way outside of his truck window and only found out his life had been cancelled by the internet when his supervisor called two hours later to tell him he’d been fired from his job. The whole experience of course came as a baffling shock. “A man can learn from making a mistake,” the dazed fellow told Yascha Mounk. “But what am I supposed to learn from this? It’s like I was struck by lightning.”
So maybe Twitter is a bit like Mount Olympus. You have no idea what the gods are arguing about up there, and it might not even be a physical place you can visit, but then one day you’re blasted off the face of Ionia by a thunderbolt out of a clear sky, just because of that one time Zeus turned into a duck and banged your mom and now Hera’s found out and is all upset about it for some reason and has demanded that you have to go, like, right now, or some crap.
The internet may not be a “real place,” but it does exist, somewhere out there, over and above, or intertwined with, reality. Many internet companies have been and are in the process of developing “augmented reality” applications that superimpose the virtual over the real. But in many ways this is not a huge step: the online world has already become an inescapable part of life. As internet writer Katherine Dee recently mused:
It seems to me that the internet has evolved from being a parallel life to an alternative life to something betwixt and between the two, but the big change is it is always on and fully immersive.
And the mysterious power of this realm to affect those who do immerse themselves is great indeed. See, for example, the teen girls developing tics – uncontrollable physical jerking movements and verbal outbursts – after watching videos of people with Tourette syndrome on TikTok. Because I guess when you stare long enough into the digital abyss, the abyss stares back at you.
Maybe then a better mythological comparison than Mount Olympus might be something like the Fey of Celtic folklore: another world running alongside our own, and in many places overlapping. And in these places, where the boundary between worlds is often weak and porous, what happens (and what lives) in the Fey can spill into our world, and vice versa. Hence why one had to be sure to carry Cold Iron or other charms wherever you went in order to ward off malevolent unseen threats that could emerge from the other side at any time. And, as in much of the old world, you had to be very careful not to accidentally articulate any taboo magic words or symbols that could attract evil spirits or unintentionally bring on curses.
Our Digital Fey might be a bit like that. It’s always there and “immersive” even if you want nothing to do with it.
Luxury Gnosticism and Political Order
For many of us this digital world increasingly rules all domains of life, from working to shopping to dating to pseudo-mating. And some people quite like it that way, of course. Not just because it makes their lives more pleasurable and convenient, but because it molds easily into two existing ways of life: Scientific Gnosticism and technocratic (i.e. oligarchic) governance.
For the richest and most powerful, this world (which they hath built) is a vast, global kingdom more fully under the control of their rule than any that has ever before existed (whether they intend to participate or not).
And for the priestly class, keepers of the Gnosis, it presents an unprecedented opportunity for Theory to wrest control from recalcitrant nature, for liquid narrative to triumph over mundanely static reality, and for all the corrupt traditional bonds of the world to be severed, its atoms reconfigured in a more correct and desirable manner.
The middle and lower classes can then be sold dispossession and disembodiment as liberation, while those as yet “essential” working classes who still cling distastefully to the physical world can mostly be ignored until the day they can be successfully automated out of existence.
But this intoxicating dream, which Harrington has labeled “Luxury Gnosticism,” is steadily driving the elite further and further from what most others still recognize as reality – a process already identified by Christopher Lasch more than 25 years ago in his book The Revolt of the Elites:
The thinking classes are fatally removed from the physical side of life… Their only relation to productive labor is that of consumers. They have no experience of making anything substantial or enduring. They live in a world of abstractions and images, a simulated world that consists of computerized models of reality – “hyperreality,” as it’s been called – as distinguished from the palatable, immediate, physical reality inhabited by ordinary men and women. Their belief in “social construction of reality” – the central dogma of postmodernist thought – reflects the experience of living in an artificial environment from which everything that resists human control (unavoidably, everything familiar and reassuring as well) has been rigorously excluded. Control has become their obsession. In their drive to insulate themselves against risk and contingency – against the unpredictable hazards that afflict human life – the thinking classes have seceded not just from the common world around them but from reality itself.
The real question is whether they can succeed in dragging everyone else along with them.
Not everyone is entirely thrilled with the state of things. For many, a life where nearly everything is mediated through the confines of an always-on digital world feels more like a nightmare, and it probably isn’t a coincidence that rates of anxiety and depression are at record highs. Some 64% of Americans, including a remarkable 53% of Gen Z (age 16-27), said in one recent poll that “life was better before social media.” Nearly 40% of Gen Z say so-called social media makes them feel “alone.”
Meanwhile the sweet seductions of Luxury Gnosticism don’t yet seem to be producing the boundless prosperity, liberation, and happiness promised. Instead the digital seems perfectly designed for disempowerment and totalitarian control. The connection between politics and the actual direction of life often seems meaningless. Authorities’ incoherence is covered up by deflection, misdirection, and further falsehood. The constant shifting of narratives and norms, and the demolition of any established boundaries, even logical and conceptual boundaries, has left nothing with any fixed definition. Two and two now equals five; maybe tomorrow it will equal three. Even what it means to be human is now without any firm basis.
As Kingsnorth writes about the interlocking systems of modernity (the “Machine”):
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the times we are currently living in would be regarded by many of our ancestors as apocalyptic. The degree of control and monitoring which we endure in ‘developed’ societies, which has been accelerating for decades and which has reached warp speed in the 2020s, is creating a kind of digital holding camp in which we all find ourselves trapped. The rising paranoia that extends now across the political spectrum and across the Western world – the anger and confusion; the sense of promises broken and established systems gumming up – all of this, I think, can be traced to the rise and consolidation of the Machine, this great matrix which strips from us our understanding of what a human life is, and makes us instead lonely cogs in its drive for self-creation.
The Machine makes us – is designed to make us – homeless. It rips up our roots in nature, in real cultures connected to time and place, in our connection to the divine centre. In their stead we are offered an anti-culture, an endless consumer present: planned, monitored, controlled, Smart, borderless, profitable and soul-dead, increasingly detached from messy reality, directed by who-even-knows, mediated through monitored screens.
For some, the general upheaval produced by the uprooting of any grounding whatsoever has begun to make life feel like a carnival funhouse: a disorienting and grotesque celebration of the absurd. I don’t think there is really a partisan political divide to this feeling, but it’s the Extremely Online Right, with its now near total distrust of established authorities, that has come up with a name for this place: Clown World.
Clown World is a place deliberately and malevolently divorced from reality. In Clown World nothing you do matters, but everyone can hear you scream.
The predictable result has been the recent (if now already old by internet time) emergence of an anti-Gnostic reaction that I expect will continue to accelerate, with unpredictable consequences. Even if it, ironically, remains primarily an online phenomenon (being driven by the young), this movement is in full flight back towards an embrace and celebration of the physical, the natural, the time-tested, and the traditional. For better or worse, this trend has unsurprisingly merged with a populist revival and reactionary and conservative traditionalism.
Look closely, and by their memes ye shall know them.
Memes like the now common use of the term “Based” – which originally meant basically being willing to speak the truth without fear, then evolved to have a more general meaning of being well grounded in reality and therefore unshakable and enduring, and can now be used to refer generally to traditionalist concepts and practices.
Or the even more explicitly anti-Gnostic meme of “Touch Grass” – meaning to reconnect with reality, including by literally disconnecting from the online world and going outside, but also by regaining emotional grounding and reordering one’s priorities in life.
But, if we’re being honest, probably none have done more to promote the popularity of this trend than the anonymous mad pirate king of the online Alt-Right, Bronze Age Pervert (BAP), who, in his wildly popular self-published book Bronze Age Mindset, encourages young men to opt out of Clown World and focus on physical fitness, sun-tanning, male-friendship, and preparing for post-civilizational war.
As he exhorts in one explicitly anti-Gnostic passage:
Let us strive, in our decrepit, cancerous and fetid world, for what is concrete and what we can try to attain. Those who forget the body to pursue a “perfect mind” or “perfect soul” have no idea where to even start. Only physical beauty is the foundation for a true higher culture of the mind and spirit as well. Only sun and steel will show you the path.
I’m not sure how many readers know that BAP’s prescription of “sun and steel” is a reference to a book by Yukio Mishima, an almost-Nobel Prize-winning Japanese writer who worshiped youth, strength, and beauty, formed a nationalist militia out of a body-building cult, and stormed a military base to try to convince Japan to abandon democracy before ritually disemboweling himself with a samurai sword. It’s hard to tell.
But in any case BAP has a way of demonstrating how taking this anti-Gnostic reaction to the extreme can lead to strange places.
Have you noticed it yet? The language increasingly used here to describe the place where we now reside against our will? An artificial world of lies; “Clown World”; the “great matrix”; hyperreality; a digital realm described by Dee as so comprehensive that, “Even people who think they have ‘escaped’ it and are ‘touching grass’ haven’t really,” since “the boundary is gone for everyone, not just the Terminally Online.” And the feeling, as BAP puts it, “that one can’t escape: the despair and panic of exhaustion and entrapment.”
We’ve started slipping around the horseshoe back towards Gnosticism.
Naturally, it is BAP that goes all the way:
[Man] can’t help but experience this new state of things in late civilizations except with dread, the dread suspicion… an uncanny suspicion… that the world is artificial. He begins to sense that this hothouse he lives in is the malevolent creation of a demiurge that likes to observe our sufferings, that He and his minions feed on them. In the remote future, should the evil of human innovation continue unchecked, we really will live in the world the Gnostics feared, and that spark of vital life and energy that is the gift of nature to all youthful peoples born from its womb, that spark will remain entrapped in “matter wrongly configured,” matter entirely foreign to its inborn desires and workings, but fashioned instead for the benefit of something else. In many ways the world we inhabit now already anticipates this living hell of the Gnostics, and the response of those in whom the pain of civilization and modernity is most advanced, the transsexuals, unwittingly help to further uncouple reality from nature…
But, unlike the earlier Gnostics described, BAP has identified a different target to blame for our imprisonment in what, echoing Philip K. Dick, he calls the “Iron Prison” of modern life: that “Pelasgian pedo-pervert Socrates,” who first gave us the dream of reason. And, worse, “The Jewish hatred of matter, an ancient prejudice that precedes the Bible,” and the resulting “aggressive nerdishness” of worshiping the divine Logos (the word, reason) that followed into Christianity and now afflicts the thinking classes of modernity. (Yes, he did manage to bring it back around to blaming the Jews.)
Now he’s in full-scale revolt against the Logos:
In the beginning was the word?? NO! In the beginning was the demonic fire that bursts out in men like Alcibiades and lays low the cities of men and exposes all their nonsense! Such men are sent by nature to chastise us and be our Nemesis. They are the great cleansing.
Nietzsche (BAP is a big fan) distinguished between two divergent forms of human ethos embodied by the ancient Greeks: the Apollonian and the Dionysian. The light and clarity of the sun god Apollo was the rational, structured view of the world of the mind; of pure reason, divine harmony, and higher order. The drunken nighttime ritual-madness of the wine god Dionysus was the representation of the passionate creative chaos deep inside the depths of the body and its psyche, of freedom from imposed inhibitions, structures, and limits.
Despite writing elsewhere that his goal is to “bring into view, unapologetically, the reality of nature that is denied by our regime; a reality that it seeks to repress, increasingly with coercion and violence,” the vitalist romanticism of BAP, with its vision of the destruction of the cities in fire and a return to a simpler, more primal Hyborian age, could equally be seen as a form of Dionysian Gnosticism – in reaction to the Apollonian Gnosticism that rules our age through liquid modernity’s clerisy and their alliance with “technocapital.”
But it would still be Gnosticism, still an attempt to escape the world as it is by burning it down and forging a new one.
Back to Reality
Maybe now you are willing to believe that a good portion of our world’s political strife isn’t actually about “politics” anymore. That it’s really about who will get to define reality, and how.
That the ancient hydra of Gnostic thinking has never been defeated, and that it’s the runaway train of a modern Gnostic heresy that is at the root of much of today’s great alienation and contention.
And that at least some large portion of people would really, really prefer to get off this accelerating train before it makes any more “progress” toward some kind of techno-capitalist utopia of Fully Automated Luxury Gnosticism – but that they sense the doors are quickly slamming shut on any possible escape to a place of stability and sanity.
Today, I would argue, there is an immense and growing popular thirst for a return to and reconnection with reality. And our leaders and would-be leaders should recognize this and understand that it is (I am convinced) an immense latent political force, of which we have only seen the first stirrings.
And if those leaders cannot deliver on this longing, others like BAP will. As former Trump administration official Michael Anton has admitted: “we need to acknowledge a serious rhetorical deficiency that we’ve not even begun to learn how to overcome. In the spiritual war for the hearts and minds of the disaffected youth on the right, conservatism is losing. BAPism is winning.” I don’t think it’s much different for the liberal left.
But the only way they will be able to do this is to commit to the difficult task of beginning to strip away the muck of accumulated layers of unreality in order to return us to more solid contact with the ground – not layering on new heaps of slime.
Unfortunately, we seem to be headed in the opposite direction.
It seems telling that, at time of writing, Facebook has just renamed itself “Meta” in order to better reflect Mark Zuckerberg’s grand vision of constructing a “metaverse” – an online, full-spectrum virtual reality space where we’ll all go in the future to interact, shop, work, and generally spend as much time and money as possible. The metaverse will “finally put people at the center of our technology and deliver an experience where we're present with each other,” says Zuckerberg. “I used to love studying classics,” he informed the press covering the announcement. “The word 'meta' comes from the Greek word meaning 'beyond.' For me, it symbolizes that there is always more to build.”
First coined in Snow Crash by the sci-fi novelist Neal Stephenson, the term metaverse originally described a virtual world where people flee to escape a dystopian real one.
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 Alternatively, it was the Abbot of Citeaux, Arnaud Amalric, who gave the famous order, “Kill them all for the Lord knoweth them that are His,” at the massacre of the town of Béziers six years earlier in 1209. It’s unclear which of these, if either, is accurate.
 This tenet is possibly preserved in the Quran: “They said ‘We killed the Messiah Isa [Jesus], son of Maryam [Mary], the Messenger of Allah,’ but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but the resemblance of Isa was put over another man.” (4:157)
This was a fantastic read -- enjoyable (if not, exactly, uplifting), from beginning to end. Your writing, and this is a compliment, reminds me a lot of Scott Alexander's. You might be quickly becoming one of my favorite essayists.
What I find interesting is how much the Cathars had in common with the Brothers and Sisters of Red Death, a Russian sect (not related to the Soviets in any way) some seven hundred years later.