I jump from thought to thought like a flea jumps to a light
You could give an aspirin the headache of its life
Maybe it's the crazy that I'd miss
Watering plastic plants in the hope that they'll grow
Seeing a message flash and then smashing up my phone
Maybe it's the crazy that I'd miss
It won't get better than this
I like the way your brain works, I like the way you try
To run with the wolf pack when your legs are tired
I like the way you turn me inside and out
I like the way you turn
The Wombats, “Turn”
The last post was almost incomprehensibly dense, wasn’t it? Well, there’s a reason for that.
I have a confession to make, kids. I haven’t been entirely level with you.
People read Substack (or anything else) because they have certain expectations with regards to both form and content. Take newspapers. Newspapers are structured a certain predictable way in both their physical form and the structure of the articles within the newspaper itself. You have a lede, supporting facts, and an attempt to relate those to the broader context, all in an inverted pyramid structure with the most salient points closer to the beginning (the top of the pyramid). One of the reasons skeptical people, who read critically, get so angry and frantic over the subversion of media by special interests is that the structure of the presentation of news has been maintained while the promise of impartiality has been abandoned; the form is the same, but the content is often intentionally misleading or intended to advance or advocate for a non-neutral position.
Substack, similarly, has a fairly standard form. It’s mostly argumentative essays that are structured in a particular way which is familiar to its readers. I thought it would be interesting to try and hew as close to the form as I could while doing something completely fucking bonkers with the content. I’ve been writing didactic essays that I’ve tried to structure like argumentative ones.
Slime Mold Time Mold, my favorite mad scientists, brought up the idea of the didactic novel a while back. They had a couple of examples of existing didactic novels, one of which was Shogun. I haven’t read it, but going by SMTM’s description, at the beginning of the book, the reader is presumed to know no Japanese. By the end, large chunks of the book are written entirely in transliterated Japanese. This is accomplished by teaching the language slowly, bit by bit, in the course of an entertaining story. And apparently, it works.
I decided I’d give it a try. But what to teach? Well, I’m good at a few things. Social skills. Rhetoric. I think about the world a certain way, which is the way of a rhetorician with an autistic approach to social dynamics, so my point of view is definitely in there. But the last two posts were a bit more ambitious. The last two posts on this blog have been magic lessons.
I’m not the first one to try this. Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles (which I understand is about to be made into what will undoubtably be a terrible, woke-ass TV series) was a seminal comic book that was also explicitly a magic spell. I have no idea what its purpose was or whether it worked (if it was a spell to make Morrison incredibly rich and famous, the answer is an unequivocal “yes”), but regardless, it is a phenomenally useful text for teaching magic, and I encourage anyone who isn’t on drugs to read it.
(The Invisibles is the worst possible text for anyone who’s fundamentally untethered from reality to read, ever. I’m serious. I cannot overstate what a bad idea it is to read that series if you suffer from clinical levels of paranoia. It will mess up your life. If that describes you, don’t read it.)
Let’s talk about what I mean by “magic” for a minute.
First of all, there’s lots of different kinds of magic, and some of it requires conceptual reframing—putting things you probably currently put into separate boxes into the same box. The methods by which you do it don’t matter with regards to the particular tradition you’re following as long as your intent is clear in your own mind—Voodoo animal sacrifice, throwing the I Ching, and various Wiccan Goddess rituals all work equally well.
Divination magic? That’s a basic understanding of statistical probability plus a good understanding of patterns and a very good understanding of human nature. Charm magic? That’s a solid grasp of the principles of hypnosis, some specific principles of behavioral psychology (fixed action patterns, mostly), and a nuanced take on social dynamics. Healing magic? My estimate, based on experience, is that putting principles of behavioral psychology that relate to authority, the placebo effect, and some knowledge of human anatomy and physiology in a box in your head labeled “magic spells” will get you, on average, a 20% boost in your recovery time from illness or injury if you stack it on top of actual medicine, sometimes more. (My favorite medical grimoire is Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection, by John H. Sarno, M.D.)
There’s other branches of the occult that I’m not getting into today, like magic to do with animals and heavy stuff like geomancy and necromancy, but they’re real (for a given value of “real”), too. They just don’t look the way they do on TV or in the movies. (Very few genuinely interesting things do, in fact, which is a gripe I have with visual media in general, but I’ll save that for another post.)
Getting back to D&D and the APA: While I love me some tabletop RPGs, the idea of “game night” (which is what I threw into the “search for an image” box to get the photo for the last post) fills me with creeping dread. It’s the most sickeningly milquetoast framing of “hanging out with your friends” imaginable. If you want to figure out how your old pal Rollins actually feels about the concept of “game night” IRL, kids, this video should sum it up:
The values I hold are essentially countercultural. But the counterculture doesn’t look the way it did when the wokies (who think they’re the counterculture rather than what they actually are, the establishment) were coming up. It looks like (or is beginning to look like) that post John Carter did last week. That’s why the presentation of woke values is so fucking aggravating. “Transgressive” sexual behavior isn’t transgressive if H.R. sends out memos about how everyone is expected to “affirm” it. I’m not in favor of rebellion for rebellion’s sake, but I am in favor of authenticity, and honesty, and calling a spade a goddamn shovel. I’d care less if they owned their complacency and stopped acting as if what you identify as or who you like to fuck makes you wild.
Countercultural values are just that, values. Questioning the norm. Skepticism. Living the way you want to live as opposed to the way society tells you you have to live. Presentation isn’t irrelevant, but when multinational corporations swoop down and monetize and commercialize bohemian style as soon as it pokes its head up, expressing yourself through fashion is at best secondary to expressing yourself through the way you live your values. Tribal markers get coopted. Tribal values are a little tougher to market.
I could argue my beliefs about politics and social dynamics all day, and sometimes I do, but I’m not a journalist or an academic. Freddie deBoer’s got ethics and cultural criticism covered and Curtis Yarvin’s analysis is more cogent and his political philosophy more thoroughly worked out than mine. I’m good at rhetoric and magic, but you don’t argue in favor of those—they’re tools, and the utility of tools isn’t really up for debate. Tools just are. So what I’m trying to do here is teach people how those tools work. Rhetoric, magic, and social dynamics are methods by which people can live whatever values they hold in a way that doesn’t get them in trouble, doesn’t lose them their jobs, and gives them some ammunition with which to fight back; they're all forms of successfully arguing and interacting with others, especially religious zealots, that don’t compromise the content.
“Dungeons & Dragons and the APA” was an experiment, which I’ll continue some of the time, especially if there’s interest. But to be clear, it wasn’t just about what I said it was about.
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Please do not require listening to a video, especially a music video, to understand a point in the future. :)
John Sarno < Stuart McGill. Stu has a 5 page section in his seminal work Low Back Disorders that articulates the (true) bidirectional relationship between pain and psychosocial issues more accurately than Sarno. He synthesizes his knowledge from 40 years of making some of the most significant discoveries relating to spine biomechanics in the primary literature with that of his wife who is a sports psychologist along with the experience of treating thousands of patients, many of whom are olympic and professional athletes into a slam dunk over the heads of the pain neuroscience fetishists. Am I a fanboy? Yes, I think Stu is the GOAT and the reason treating low back disorders present such a challenge to clinicians is because he doesn't get the attention that is warranted amongst clinicians. He does get a lot of attention from pro athletes mind you, just not clinicians. I could go on and on, so I'll just leave it at that. Thanks for the mind bending content!