Black Friday

The Crowd is Untruth.

Mass democracy is the crowd. Hyper-capitalism is the crowd. Our modern world is a world of crowds.

Tomorrow (Friday) is called “Black Friday” in the United States. The name comes from the notion that retail stores, after earning money all year to pay off their costs, investments, taxes, payroll, etc., finally move from the “red” into the “black.” From here to the end of the year they are profiting. (I have no idea if this notion is true for the typical retailer, but that’s where the name comes from.)

But really, could the name Black Friday be any more appropriate? The biggest sales of the year happen this day. Stores open long before dawn. And the Christmas season begins. Here’s what we have become as a society:

(warning: these videos will make your stomach turn. Don’t click if you are in a peaceful mood.)


Black times, my friends. I’ll be headed up to Olympic National Park with family and friends to hike the spooky, wet, cold rainforest of the Pacific Northwest for the day.


The Crowd is Untruth

There is a view of life which holds that where the crowd is, the truth is also, that it is a need in truth itself, that it must have the crowd on its side.] There is another view of life; which holds that wherever the crowd is, there is untruth, so that, for a moment to carry the matter out to its farthest conclusion, even if every individual possessed the truth in private, yet if they came together into a crowd (so that “the crowd” received any decisive, voting, noisy, audible importance), untruth would at once be let in.


There is therefore no one who has more contempt for what it is to be a human being than those who make it their profession to lead the crowd.


A crowd is indeed made up of single individuals; it must therefore be in everyone’s power to become what he is, a single individual; no one is prevented from being a single individual, no one, unless he prevents himself by becoming many.

Søren Kierkegaard, The Crowd is Untruth, 1847

How to Break Up the United States

I haven’t had this blog for very long, but so far I have avoided addressing politics very much. I’m supremely uninterested in horse race politics, and I am not a Republican nor a Democrat nor a member or proponent of any third party. As a disclaimer, let me say that I do not consider these to be totally unimportant questions. I do care, on some level, about politics and the political situation of my own country, my state, and my community. I understand that these things affect my life and the lives of those I care about.

Politics simply isn’t the focus of this blog. There are lots of important things that I care about that I don’t address on here, like diet and exercise, for example.

Part of the reason for this is that one must maintain some boundaries to be readable. I care about all kinds of (unimportant) things like Seattle Seahawks football and coffee-growing conditions in Ethiopia, which are irrelevant at best to 99% of readers.

But another reason is that I find the things I do address to be most interesting and most important, at least for me. That is: God and religion; our relationship to the divine; the day-to-day choices that lead to the good life; the nature of the True, the Beautiful and the Good; and how to live a meaningful life in a time and place that deliberately sucks meaning out of every nook and cranny it can get its ravenous maw on.


It’s that last point that prompts me to finally address a semi-political issue on “Out of Sleep”. I often read Lawrence Auster’s View from the Right blog, and it’s one of the very few I see fit to link in my sidebar. I’ve also been a sometime commenter at that blog (usually posting under the name “Daniel H. in Seattle”). I don’t always agree with Mr. Auster, but I usually do, and I find him one of the most honest, forceful, and eloquent writers anywhere on or off the internet.

Something he’s occasionally addressed on his blog, usually with lengthy comments from readers (which to me signifies that he’s really hitting a nerve), is the idea of an eventual break-up of the United States along liberal/conservative lines.

I consider this a “semi” political issue because it’s completely off the radar of politics as they are in the USA today. Ultimately, the break-up of the United States would be extremely political by definition. But it’s not about today’s electoral politics; it’s not about the House or the Senate, or Barack Obama or Mitt Romney or Michelle Bachmann or anyone like that. So I consider it only “semi” for those reasons, if you understand.

I can’t rehash all the arguments here. If the topic interests you, here are four posts from VFR: link, link, link, link. But I find it a fascinating idea. Part of me thinks it is desirable, and all of me thinks it’s a cool idea, in the SciFi, counterfactual history sense. Does that make me seem intellectually unserious, that I entertain something for its coolness factor? Actually, I think we would all do well to let ourselves get inspired a little more, rather than immediately tamping down ideas because we’ve been told they are ridiculous. Frodo carrying the Ring into Mordor was ridiculous too.

The most recent post that Mr. Auster posted was this one.

So after all this preamble, I come to the meager kernel of my thought. One of the consistent threads running through the arguments about separating the United States into two (or more) separate nations is the idea of geographical separation. Things are thorny because unlike in the Civil War days, the warring sides are not neatly separated into geographically contiguous states. Rather they are separated mainly between urban zones and rural zones. And as I can personally attest, many people living in one zone are at complete odds politically with their neighbors. Here’s a map that probably no American needs to see, but merely to back up my point: voting patterns by county from the 2004 presidential election.

What Americans who want to break away from the overwhelming, overweening, multiculti, degraded and hyper-materialist State probably need to do is to form explicitly conservative communities. Of course, many small towns in the West and the South are already this way (and in the North and Midwest too, of course, to a lesser degree). But it’s not explicit. In order to have a political separation begin on the explicit level, there needs to be some sort of political confrontation.

The most obvious way for this to happen would be the Federal Government (by far the most liberal institution, not to mention the most powerful) to explicitly overrule a conservative community. Now, of course, this has happened many times before (over abortion, over regulations, over “gay rights”, etc.). The biggest potential for a really meaningful fight in the United States always happens at the State vs Federal level. States are very feeble against the Feds since the New Deal (and since the Civil War, really), but they still manage to win court cases here and there, even at the Federal level.

The most recent example of a really big fight between a state and the Feds was the immigration law passed in Arizona. Conservative Arizonans are still very much activated by this issue, though it has completely dropped off the national radar. But Arizona, while it’s not exactly New Jersey, is not the most conservative state in the country.

What if there were a serious court battle between Utah or Idaho and the United States Government? And what if that battle were over something explicitly conservative and anti-federal? It’s a stretch, but I can envision a scenario where Utah, sufficiently roused to action by something they really care about, declares some form of independence from the Feds. This tactic doesn’t even need to succeed on a legal level. It just needs to act as an impetus to the rest of conservative America. The start of something. Presumably it would be messy and complicated.

We saw the beginnings in Arizona, and that fight is perhaps not over yet, at all. But Arizonans are not pushing the matter very much. I think of Utah because it is of course mostly Mormons, who believe in themselves and who inhere as a group. They love their own and they don’t doubt their own right to live as they see fit. The rest of us non-Mormons don’t need to believe in Mormonism to benefit from the cohesion that Mormons have.

If Utah (or Idaho or Alaska) started a true separatist movement, that could, with the help of the internet, inspire a larger movement to create communities that were explicitly in defiance of Federal power. Even in my own “blue state” of Washington, there are many conservative people, especially East of the Mountains, as we say here. The Feds can clamp down on one little law like in Arizona, but they cannot quash a thousand communities across a dozen states, not if the people in those communities are strong of heart and courage.

Is this just a pipe dream? I don’t think so. The tension is real, and even if the truly conservative in this country are vastly outnumbered, they still number in the millions. It’s interesting to think about how the future might look. Certainly we will not see things remain the same. They never do.

Looking Out and Looking In

Two women touching magic:


Pandora looks in, unable to contain her curiosity. She is the self-interested mind, wanting treasures, fruits, knowledge. She stands outside of magic and looks in on it. Or rather, she kneels, kneels before power and wants it for herself. Her actions show no concern for the Law, or for the fate of the world. She unleashes great suffering and evil.

Pandora, John William Waterhouse, 1896


Miranda looks out. Her relationship with magic is a given. Her father is a great magician, powerful, kindly, and commanding. Miranda is steeped in magic effortlessly. She desires not power, nor even wisdom. Serene in her own virtue and her own beauty, she gazes out on the sea and wonders. Miranda regards the outside world, she is other-seeking and other-loving. Her love for Ferdinand is immediate and self-forgetting.

Miranda, John William Waterhouse, 1875


But if we feel like Pandora, how can we become like Miranda without going through a Pandora stage? That is a great riddle. Miranda simply is. If we have to ask, we are missing the point. To be Miranda, you simply need to dwell already within the magic. No action or spell or incantation will take you there.

Jaguar Blood and Drab Materialists

One of the best things about not being a materialist is that the world becomes a lot more interesting.

For example, I visited some Mayan ruins yesterday, one of the most astonishing archaeological wonders of the Western Hemisphere: the ruins at Copán. A friend of ours, a local, told us to “be prepared for the magic,” which we found to be a humorous way to phrase it.

When we got to the ruins we found that they were, indeed, magic. I wandered among the temples, through the tunnels dug by archaeologists, and among the stelae with their strange-faced kings. Flights of macaws lifted suddenly from the surrounding forest and screeched as they poured overhead in a streak of red, blue and yellow. I saw the altars on which jaguars were sacrificed and their blood burned to the Sun God, to give him strength in his underworld sojourns. I saw the ball-field, whereon strong young men strove to defeat their rivals. After the game, the best player, the winner, was sacrificed before a crowd of thousands, and under the watchful eye of the king and queen.

There was a dark power in that place, but faded and shadowy. The Mayans that built it came from the heart of their civilization further north around 400 AD. Within 400 more years, their great city collapsed and passed into ruin and was lost to memory.

As I sat on top of one of the temples, overlooking the altars of sacrifice, I imagined a dark power, a local god, that had arisen from the seething jungles of Central America. The people built a massive complex of temples, rendered all in white stone and blood red paint (the paint came from the bodies of insects, millions upon millions of them squashed to make the blood-red temples).

With grim determination they sacrificed year after year. They burnt the blood of the jaguar. The whole region pulsed with the power of the god: dark, hot, mysterious, and stern.

Then, as quickly as it had arisen, it passed away. Plague took the population: old and young died, food became scarce. When the last king of Copán died, the remnant took his harem and traveled back north to what is now Guatemala and Mexico, leaving the altars and temples and ball fields behind. The surrounding jungle slowly grew back, engulfing the stones and stripping their color. Roots of trees cracked apart the faces of the stone gods. The power subsided back into the earth, where now it lurks low and quiet, breathing through the strange tropical plants, lashing out in petty resentment now and again, taking people silently with snake bites and plague.


My companion, a nice and respectful person with a generous heart, is also a materialist and (basically) a Leftist, in the non-strict sense in which most Westerners are Leftists today.

He made several comments on the “magic” of Copán. He seemed to want to acknowledge the grandeur of the brown Other. As a white Leftist, he needed to express awe at the culture of a non-Western people.

And, as the place was spooky, I’m sure he felt something too. But there was an odd detachment in his talking about the “magic.” I wanted to press him:

Do you think the place is literally magic, or do you mean that figuratively?

If you don’t believe in literal magic, where do you suppose the strange feeling you get is coming from?


Ironically, I’m not ideologically bound to “respect” other cultures and yet I believe I take the Mayans of Copán far more seriously than my friend. For a materialist, all religion must be viewed through a lens of ironic detachment. Even when one is ostensibly “appreciating” the “magic” of a remarkable place like Copán, one is aware that it’s not really magic and the Mayans were, after all, rather silly for having built all these temples and sacrificed all those jaguars and humans.

What a dull way to live!

Let me add a disclaimer: I don’t mean to assert that the Mayans did not have superstitions that might have been baseless. I assume that all people at all times make category mistakes of one kind or another.

Neither do I assert that my imaginative account of the rise and fall of a dark power is definitively what happened (though I believe it’s probably much closer to the truth than any strict materialist interpretation). I’m just imagining things here. I’m neither a Mayan, nor a scholar of Mayans. And I have no desire to start sacrificing jaguars to see if it calls some demon out of the warm, dark earth of Honduras.

But I can imagine these things, and can do so from a non-ironic, non-detached sort of way. Putting aside all truth value of allowing oneself to exist on the spiritual plane (and there is immense truth value, in fact infinite truth value), it’s also just more fun to believe. More interesting, more spooky, more terrifying, more joyous, more liberating, and more real… more alive.

The materialist will respond that my beliefs amuse him, and that he simply can’t believe in a patent falsehood merely for the sake of fun.

I say, what a shame.

Yearning and Leftism

The spiritual yearnings of moderns get shunted into leftist paradigms.

Let us accept as a premise the idea that basically all westerners are raised to be leftists today. Let us also presume that God or nature designed us to be basically non-leftist.

Spiritual yearnings spontaneously manifest in the human soul. But the typical modern person has basically zero true metaphysical framework in which to invest her God-given yearnings. So you get Buddhism, Malcolm Gladwell, and “gentle” Leftism in general.

The problem is that when people put true yearnings into false terms, it’s very hard to counter their objections. Because in attacking their assumptions, it feels to them that we are attacking their very spiritual core (which is the last thing we meant to do!).

The classic example is the Leftist ideal of helping all poor people. When it’s not a resentful and backbiting endeavor, we must admit that the Leftist impulse to help poor people (or whatever) comes from a natural human desire to be kind to others.

You can, if you listen, hear the deep spiritual yearning behind the New Age-ism and silliness of most Leftists.

I don’t mean to excuse these people from their obligations as humans to seek after the truth. I’m just pointing out a particular feature I’ve noticed. For someone totally opposed to the divine, all you can do is pray. With someone who’s sincerely questing and who is open to arguments from all quarters (a very rare breed) you can engage in honest and kind-hearted dialogue.

But what about someone who manifests an other-oriented heart, a spiritual inclination and who also is thoroughly indoctrinated in Leftism. God gave that person her other-oriented heart, God gave her a spiritual inclination. And yet here on earth she’s been taught from an early age to reject authority, to embrace perversion, and to hate her own people. Once again: granting that we are all responsible for our own selves, can we not feel a stabbing desire to reach out to such a person?

I suppose that to ask the question is to answer it. All one can do is be friendly, set a good example through one’s own actions and words, and not shirk away from speaking the truth when the proper occasion arises.

I thought of all this when I was listening to a 36-year-old American woman (divorced with two children) and a 40-year-old American woman (married but childless) talk about their lives and their careers (the two were very closely linked, psychologically) in a way that only moderns have ever contrived, for women. The single mom kept repeating over and over “I’m just not meant to be a housewife” as if it had been drummed into her mind by the voice of Saruman. She talked about working, about being independent. But it all sounded so rote and pinched. The only time her face lit up is when she was showing pictures of her two young children, or talking about them. She constantly apologized for talking about her children. The struggle between her natural inclination and the feminism that had been beaten into her was painful to behold.

It occurred to me that there was probably literally no one in her life who was showing her the alternative. All her friends, her ex-husband, all of her work colleagues, everyone on television, everyone in the post-modern pop-lit books she reads — all human beings within her horizon — believe in atomistic, feminist, careerist, empty life. The only exceptions are fictional characters from novels, movies, history books: traditional people who are miserable because they live under the crushing yoke of patriarchy and benighted religion.

Her heart intuits what would bring her true happiness: to be a mother, to be at home, to submit to the natural order, and perhaps even to love God. But that simply isn’t on the list of options.

Sometimes, you have to order off-menu.

The Voice

Suddenly another voice spoke, low and melodious, its very sound an enchantment. Those who listened unwarily to that voice could seldom report the words that they heard; and if they did, they wondered, for little power remained in them. Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves. When others spoke they seemed harsh and uncouth by contrast; and if they gainsaid the voice, anger was kindled in the hearts of those under the spell. For some the spell lasted only while the voice spoke to them, and when it spoke to another they smiled, as men do who see through a juggler’s trick while others gape at it. For many the sound of the voice alone was enough to hold them enthralled; but for those whom it conquered the spell endured when they were far away, and ever they heard that soft voice whispering and urging them. But none were unmoved; none rejected its pleas and its commands without an effort of mind and will, so long as its master had control of it

The Intense Energy of Steadiness

When I was younger I used to wobble like a top off its axis. I thought that the way I veered and jerked about meant that I was “passionate,” that I was alive.

But it takes the same amount of energy to make a top spin properly. From a short distance, the top looks like a stationary object. But if you look closely, it is spinning more intensely than the one that wobbles. There is more life, more “passion” in the well-balanced top.

Also, the top off it’s access will soon spiral out of control and end motionless and dead on the ground, drained of all impetus, while the well-centered top spins on with its lovely blurring colors.

There’s a certain gravity that some people have, that has nothing to do with their physical stature and often even nothing to do with their age (though it’s very rare in the quite young).

I’m not talking about simply being calm. I’m talking about being centered on your axis. People who are centered on their axes can still laugh and dance exert themselves with intense energy when the job calls for it. Indeed their laughter is more joyous, their dancing more solemn and lovely, and their energy at work more powerful.

No, it’s not calm in and of itself. It’s purpose, it’s quiet discipline (the kind of discipline that happens when no one else is looking), and it’s deep happiness accompanied with an wise sadness that never despairs.

The question then becomes: what is it that’s going to center the axis? Career? Money? Entertainments? Status?

Seeing Our Worst in Others

I am a man of many sins. But a couple of my most serious flaws in life have been an overindulgence in drugs (coffee, yes, but especially alcohol and tobacco, and in my youth, even hard drugs); and a tendency to view women instrumentally (that is as instruments to be used to fulfill my own desires, rather than as human beings in their own right).

Of both sins I am still guilty. Though I am happy to say it is much, much less severe than it used to be, on both counts. Still, I have a long, long way to go towards healing myself when it comes to undoing the damage I did to the integrity of my own soul. And I still have tendencies to worsen the damage now and again, even though I now know better.

It’s a truism that the sins we hate most in ourselves are the same ones that irritate us so greatly in others. When I hate the presumptuousness of another person, it’s often because I am somehow being presumptuous myself (and I can see clearly the other person’s presumptuousness, but consider my own thoughts and opinions to be totally clear-headed and objectively true). When the nitpicking of another irritates me, I’m usually nitpicking by even noticing it. Usually they aren’t even being that bad!

So it’s eye-opening for me to spend time around someone who has my same weaknesses (drink, and not women but “girls”) and who seems to have completely given up trying to fight them.

[Incidentally there is a sort of bon-vivant way that many people portray this kind of embrace of sin. I certainly fell for it, and was very good at propagating it. A cheery sort of wallowing that proclaims (loudly, so all can hear) that this is living. It is, of course, just a way to drown out the pit-of-the-stomach sensation of emptiness and desperation. (Or at least, with me it was.)]

I’ve recently ended up spending extended amounts of time (because of extenuating circumstances, not by choice) with a man who loves to drink, to smoke, and to talk about prostitutes and cheap women.

Did I say “love”? I take it back. He clearly has forfeited all choice and indeed all love when it comes to drinking, smoking, and “girls.” They are compulsions. He needs them, but he no longer seems to even enjoy them. (I’ve seen only the compulsive smoking and drinking. Thank god I haven’t had to witness any purchasing of sex … only have been made to grit my teeth through his excruciating “flirtation” with whatever females are before him.

It’s instructional for someone like me. I realize this sounds hopelessly condescending, and I must remind myself that it is not for me to sit in judgment of this other man’s soul. Nevertheless, I’d be a fool not to contemplate the natural disgust and revulsion I have for this rag-souled person, this pathetic “bon vivant” with the empty eyes of a pack-less hyena.

It’s like my own sins are a book I have been trying to read… I wrote the book myself, and in my horrible chicken scratch handwriting, and the lights are low, and my vision is blurry. I can’t quite seem to make out what the words say.

Then someone comes along and puts the text into neat print, feeds it into a projector, and blasts it right across the wall for all to see in bold letters.

It’s not something to be grateful for, in the usual sense of that word. But it is something to be taken advantage of. Rather than dwelling on this other man’s weakness, rather than muttering contempt behind his back to other people (who I am sure agree with me), I can look calmly at his manifest blackness and see the corresponding blackness in my own heart. I can let it spur me to greater love, greater discipline, and greater contemplation.

A Sign Pointing the Way to La Esperanza

I’m old enough to remember when religious belief was still vaguely considered a “given” in public life. (I’m an American.) It was certainly already dying out when I was a child — almost dead in fact. But society hadn’t yet passed through the 1990’s and 2000’s, which acted as the consolidation period of the revolution of the 60’s and 70’s (which was itself merely the culmination of a centuries-long movement towards atomism, materialism, and alienation).

Latin America is not a particularly pious society (contrary to popular imagination). In small towns people still all go to church on Sunday, but that’s mainly to gossip and to see and be-seen. In the large cities, church-goers are in the minority.

But some level of religious belief, even if only as part of a tribe, is still assumed. And among those who do believe strongly, it’s completely acceptable to be very forward about it (people love to put decals of Jesus Christ on their cars, or wear their crosses in public in a non-ironic and non-gang-affiliated way).

Now obviously some people do this in the United States, but really it’s a vanishingly small percentage, especially in big cities.

Again, I don’t mean to put Latins on some higher spiritual plane than Anglo-Americans (though they may be, I don’t really know or even care right now). My point is this: in a society where religion is not considered anathema, where it is not considered some horribly embarrassing thing that only rubes and simpletons believe in, regular people still have an easy and constantly available ingress into a religious mode of thinking.

I thought of this today when I passed a road sign (in Central America) that pointed the way to La Esperanza. “The Hope.” Of course, many places in the US have religious names (St. Louis, or Los Angeles, for example). But I had just seen La Esperanza seconds after seeing a car decal that said Jesus es el Señor, “Jesus is the Master.”

Esperanza translates to “hope” in most dictionaries, but it carries the primary etymological meaning of “waiting.” The verb esperar means both to wait and to hope. Espero la cuenta means “I am waiting for the bill.” But Espero otra oportunidad means “I hope for another opportunity.”

La esperanza refers to the great hope that Christians have: the hope of eternal happiness. It is something they wait for, and also something they hope for. It struck me so strongly when I saw the road sign. These constant little reminders of the greater realities that surround our daily doings.

Again, I realize I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. But these are the kinds of small revelations that I have lately. The only reason I maintain this blog is to have a space to think about them. I used to be so grateful that I lived in a society that was relatively free from “superstitions.” And I considered the greatest evil of my society to be the lingering on of people who still (oh so foolishly) believed things.

Today I do not feel the same way. Names like La Esperanza thrill me with the thought of hidden joy looming just around the corner. Really, what is more exciting than a road sign that points, “Hope: This way” ?