Monday, April 26, 2010

The Patriarchal Family and Original Sin

Wilhelm Reich’s "Mass Psychology of Fascism" is an important book for people trying to understand the power-structure inherent in the dynamic of the patriarchal family. Reich saw that the combination of sexual repression and herd mentality was what enabled totalitarianism, and he believed that the fundamental root of this sexual repression could be found in “mysticism,” which he identified as a necessarily reactionary phenomenon. Reich’s conception of mysticism bears a great deal of resemblance to the modern Liberal Secular Humanist characterization of religion qua religion. It is seen as necessarily hostile to individuality, necessarily hypocritical, and necessarily unable to withstand the natural expression of the human sexual instinct. This last necessity, according to Reich, manifested itself in the patriarchal family unit, which was the primary instrument of sexual repression. This totalitarian tool imprinted the characteristics of obedience and servility that were essential for fascism to triumph. The habits of behavior acquired by submitting to the will father, in other words, pave the way for submitting to the will of the government.

“The sum total of these moralistic attitudes, which cluster around one’s attitude toward sex and are commonly designated as “philistine,” culminate in notions of-we say notions of not acts of-honor and duty. … A touch of dishonesty is part of the very existence of private merchandizing. [i.e. advertising] When a peasant buys a horse, he runs it down in every possible way. If he sells the same horse a year later, it will have “become” [quotes mine] younger, better, and stronger. One’s sense of “duty” is molded by business interests and not by national character traits. One’s own commodity is always the best-the other person’s is always the worst. … Nevertheless the concepts of “honor” and “duty” play a very decisive role in the lower middle class. This cannot be explained solely on the basis of efforts to conceal one’s crude materialistic background. For despite all hypocrisy, the ecstasy derived from the notions of “honor” and “duty” is genuine. It is merely a question of its source.”

-Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, p. 52

This distinction between the notions of honor and duty and acts of honor and duty is key to Reich’s argument, and instrumental in defusing his attack on mysticism in general. We need look no further than “by their fruits, ye shall judge them” in the Bible to see that, in scripture at least, religion encourages us to make judgments based on what people do rather than what they say. Although Reich insisted, “every form of mysticism is reactionary,” (ibid, p. 24) he does not go into detail to provide evidence to support this statement, and his argument falls apart under close scrutiny. Islam totally revolutionized the nomadic tribal culture of the Pagan Arabs, overturning its entrenched leadership and paving the way for a new social order. Christianity revolutionized Monotheism by giving anybody who chose to identify with Jesus Christ access to the One God (which, as Gnostics would later observe, paved the way for the idea that “there is no God but Man” which shines forth in Thelema). Buddhism revolutionized the yogic practices of greater India and south Asia by giving them transcendent purpose. Rather than trying to secure a favored position in the cycle of death and rebirth, Buddhists sought to escape it altogether. Sikhism revolutionized synergetic religion, by showing that different Gods could be understood as different phases of the divine, that One could be Many could be One, expressed succinctly by the Guru Nanak’s epiphany that “there is no difference between the Hindu and the Muslim.” Although all of these ideologies were co-opted by reactionary political authorities, the distinct revolutionary character of the ACTUAL RELIGIOUS SCRIPTURES (as opposed to the behavior of religious institutions) cannot be denied. Reich sort of shrugs this off and, like our modern liberal secular humanists, focuses on the debate he can win, namely, the one where his opponents are fearful and ignorant. (see Reich p. 128 below)

An element of hypocrisy is germane to all corrupt institutions. It must be remembered that the Romans made Christianity into a political tool. Islam became another form of nationalism. Buddhism’s atheistic character provided the gateway for communism in China and ethnic chauvinism in Sri Lanka. Sikhism became a political ideology when greater India was partitioned upon ethnic and religious lines, with an independent state for Hindus and Muslims and nothing at all for the Sikhs. With a mere casual glance at history, this devolution is not hard to follow. Chauvinism of all kinds is based on a combination of hypocrisy and the obedience imprinting caused by the traditional Patriarchal family.

“I am the boss. I am the father of your family. I am your God.”

-Paul Castellano to Sammy Gravano during his Mafia initiation, Underboss, Peter Maas, p. 141

“A lot later on, I got to learn that the whole thing was bullshit. I mean, we broke every rule in the book. Like, at one of the trials, the lawyer asked me, ‘How could you break the oath of omerta?’ I said, ‘there was a hundred rules, and we broke ninety-nine of them. This was the last one. It wasn’t that hard anymore.”

-Gravano, in retrospect, ibid

The patriarchal family model is necessarily grounded in hypocrisy because the father is not God, and does not truly have the power that he appears to have to the child or that he assumes to have over his wife. For children reared in this kind of environment, realizing the truth can come as somewhat of a shock, and they find themselves yearning for something to replace the comfortable illusion that has been dispelled. This is what makes the Patriarchal family model so valuable to totalitarianism, but not, as Reich and the Liberal Secular Humanists would have us believe, necessarily valuable to mysticism or religion.

“Not only Victorian; wherever the family has been strong, it has always been an engine of tyranny. Weak members or weak neighbors: it is the mob spirit crushing genius, or overwhelming opposition by brute arithmetic. Of course, one must be of good family to do anything much that is worth doing; but what is one to say when the question of the Great Work is posed?…
In every Magical, or similar system, it is invariably the first condition which the Aspirant must fulfill: he must once and for all and for ever put his family outside his magical circle.Even the Gospels insist clearly and weightily on this. Christ himself (i.e. whoever is meant by this name in this passage) callously disowns his mother and his brethren (Luke VIII, 19). And he repeatedly makes discipleship contingent on the total renunciation of all family ties. He would not even allow a man to attend his father's funeral! Is the magical tradition less rigid?
Not on your life!”

-Aleister Crowley, Magick Without Tears, Cap. LII

The hypocrisy of the traditional family, which Reich sees as rooted in mysticism, has three main aspects. These are the divinity of the Patriarch, the denial of female sexuality, and the denial of sexual pleasure.

Focusing on the Church instead of the Bible, (i.e. the enemy he is equipped to defeat) Reich recalls a public debate in which he pointed out that, “If nature is so strict and wise, why did it produce a sexual apparatus that does not impel one to engage in coitus only as often as one wants to create children, but on average of two to three thousand times in a lifetime?” (ibid p. 128) To Reich, this elementary fact (along with a few others) exploded mysticism, because the men to whom he presented them were incapable of answering for their church’s policies toward sexuality in light of it. Aleister Crowley, a mystic who made great efforts to reconcile human sexuality with a religious life, took the same data and used it to conclude, “The sexual act is a sacrament of Will. To profane it is the great offence. All true expression of it is lawful; all suppression or distortion is contrary to the Law of Liberty.” (comment on AL I:42) In other words, Crowley saw sexual pleasure as a confirmation of divinity rather than a refutation of it, for the same reasons that Reich gives to try and score a rhetorical point. Of the crowd’s reaction to his presentation, Reich says,

“The clerical representative’s embarrassed answers evoked peals of laughter. When I began to explain the role played within the network of authoritarian society by the church’s and reactionary science’s denial of the pleasure function, that the suppression of sexual gratification was intended to produce humility and general resignation in economic areas also, I had the entire audience on my side. The mystics had been beaten.”

-Reich, p. 128

Leave it to a secularist to try and repudiate thousands of years of culture, mystical experience, philosophical study, and history by exposing some foolish and ignorant old men for the hypocrites they were.

As we can see from the above, Crowley has a critique of the family and its role in society that is very similar to Reich’s. They both see it as a fundamental obstacle to individual freedom, in that it imprints notions of obedience to authority. Both men recognized the traditional family relies on the oppression of women. Crowley went so far as to claim that “two-thirds of modern misery springs from Woman's sexual dissatisfaction,” (comment on AL II:52) and “laws against adultery are based upon the idea that woman is a chattel, … It is the frankest and most crass statement of a slave-situation,” (comment on AL I:42).

The totalitarianism of western Liberal Secular Humanism is covert. Its adherents do not realize that they are devoted to any specific ideology, although all the people who claim to have no specific ideology seem to believe the same things and repeat the same “truths,” (usually starting with, “there is no absolute truth” and “everybody has a right to an opinion about anything no matter how ignorant they are”). They say that they are free, but the fact is that this “freedom of choice” only really allows them to decide which products to consume. In the modern west, we have choices without meaning, because our society is arranged to ensure that the choices we make will not create significant change. People identify very strongly with the choices that they do have. They “find themselves” in the music they listen to, the clothes they wear, the movies they watch, the job they have, the car they drive, the school they went to, or where they spend their free time. Earlier forms of totalitarianism didn’t try to convince its subjects that they were free, and in this Liberal Secular Humanism has them beat. People want to believe that they are free, so they will listen to an authority that tells them they are, despite all evidence to the contrary. I think Reich provides the key as to why it has become necessary for this totalitarian ideology to make people believe they are free.

“More than the economic dependency of the wife and children on the husband and father is needed to preserve the institution of the authoritarian family. For the suppressed classes, this dependency of only endurable on the condition that the consciousness of being a sexual being is suspended as completely as possible in the women and the children. The wife must not function as a sexual being, but solely as a child bearer. Essentially, the idealization and deification of motherhood, which are so fragrantly at variance with the brutality with which the mothers of the toiling masses are actually treated, serve as means of preventing women from gaining sexual consciousness, or preventing the imposed sexual repression from breaking through, and of preventing sexual anxiety and sexual guilt feelings from losing their hold. Sexually awakened woman, confirmed and recognized as such, would mean the complete collapse of authoritarian ideology.”

-Reich, p. 105

So what went wrong?

I think it is safe to say that we live in a culture that his successfully disentangled the sexual instinct from the production of children, a move that Crowley calls “the first condition of the Brave New World,” (MWT Cap. LIII). Having achieved this, we see that totalitarianism now finds it necessary to use clandestine means to achieve its ends. It has become what the French thinker Chantal Delsol calls a “black market” ideology, with all of the danger and unreliability that implies. Liberal Secular Humanism, in spite of its cherished “tolerance,” shares the same basic quality as every other totalitarian ideology, namely, that it sees its own worldview as the only acceptable one. The only difference is that people who deny it are called “crazy,” instead of "sinners," or "enemies of the crown."

Totalitarianism cannot reveal itself as such. In a sexually liberated society of people who see themselves as valuable and deserving of freedom, that would cause mass outrage. So long as totalitarianism cloaks itself beneath the garb of individual choice, it can operate as it always has. As long as the choices it offers us remain meaningless, it will avoid serious interference. In other words: as long as it remains hypocritical, totalitarianism can continue to function.

The standard argument against hierarchical authority is based on a conflation of authority with totalitarianism. A hierarchical authority that is grounded in reality, has positive goals, and uses peoples’ individual strength rather than encouraging their common fears, could be an awesome force to direct the human race. But so long as the traditional Patriarchal family model continues to dominate consciousness, “authority” will be seen as equivalent to “totalitarianism,” which always relies on some form of the doctrine of original sin.

The basic premise of totalitarianism is that, “evil is more powerful than good, because we are fundamentally flawed.” This is what made it possible for the Roman and Protestant churches to rule over people’s personal lives and destroy their strength as individuals. This is what made it possible for German nationalism to exercise its xenophobic slavery/slaughter campaign, because in spite of the “fact” that the Germans were a “master race,” they believed that the slightest intrusion of a foreign substance would destroy their purity and thus their power (which is actually an admission of weakness when you think about it). This is also the basis of Secular society’s hostility to religion qua religion. If it can be demonstrated that people calling themselves religious have done bad things, this is seen (by committing one of the most basic logical fallacies, “this cat is black, therefore all cats are black”) as sufficient proof that religion itself is bad. At the heart of both ideologies is the belief that human beings are intrinsically weak and require redemption. What do Reich and Crowley have to say about this? I’ll let my subjects close this particular essay in turn.

“The extensive success of religious mysticism is to be ascribed to the fact that it is centrally rooted in the doctrine or original sin as a sexual act for the sake of pleasure. National Socialism retains this motif and makes full use of it with the help of another ideology, [Christianity] one in keeping with its own purpose.”

-Reich, p. 118

“The doctrine of the previous verses, which appears not merely to allow sexual liberty in the ordinary sense, but even to advocate it in a sense which is calculated to shock the most abandoned libertine, can do no less than startle and alarm the magician, and that only the more so as he is familiar with the theory and practice of his art. "What is this, in the name of Adonai?" I hear him exclaim: "is it not the immemorial and unchallenged tradition that the exorcist who would apply himself to the most elementary operations of our Art is bound to prepare himself by a course of chastity? Is it not notorious that virginity is by its own virtue one of the most powerful means, and one of the most essential conditions, of all Magical works? This is no question of technical formula such as may, with propriety, be modulated in the event of an Equinox of the Gods. It is one of those eternal truths of Nature which persist, no matter what the environment, in respect of place or period."
To these remarks I can but smile my most genial assent. The only objection that I can take to them is to point out that the connotation of the word 'chastity' may have been misunderstood from a scientific point of view, just as modern science has modified our conception of the relations of the earth and the sun without presuming to alter one jot or tittle of the observed facts of Nature. So we may assert that modern discoveries in physiology have rendered obsolete the Osirian conceptions of the sexual process which interpreted chastity as physical abstinence, small regard being paid to the mental and moral concomitants of the refusal to act, still less to the physical indications. ***The root of the error lies in the dogma of original sin,*** as a result of which pollution was actually excused as being in the nature of involuntary offence, just as if one were to assert that a sleep-walker who has fallen over a precipice were any less dead than Empedocles or Sappho.
The doctrine of Thelema resolves the whole question in conformity with the facts observed by science and the proprieties prescribed by Magick. It must be obvious to the most embryonic tyro in alchemy that if there be any material substance soever endowed with magical properties, one must class, primus inter pares, that vehicle of essential humanity which is the first matter of that Great Work wherein our race shares the divine prerogative of creating man in its own image, male and female.”

-Aleister Crolwey, comment on Liber AL I:52

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