The Tyranny of the Self

The problem with assuming the individual pursuit is that it puts a demand of acceptance upon people who have no obligation to accept. It is a kind of power, and one that is anathema to the Heathen project.

The center of power is the power of the center. Deny the center all one wants, but there is no denying the center's power. The center is the axis around which meaning revolves. Like a solar system, those in the orbit of the center dance in conjunction with each other in the companionship of meaning. Those who seek to be their own center spin endlessly, hurtling through space until they end up in burning up in the sun, or cast out in the deep black: a long slow exile where nothing happens.

Syncretism is a phenomenon of borders. It did happen, certainly, but always, it happens in the context of the group. An individual may or may not adopt other gods or practices, but the impact of that practice only held meaning when it was negotiated and adopted by the individual's community. There are examples of Christian Kings who died and succeeded by a Pagan, with the people they ruled reverting to the previous pagan practices. Or the centuries in which Bishops excoriated their congregations, and the time and and effort spent stamping out pagan practices only shows both that all new religious adoption is essentially negotiated. The example of late Antiquity, with its cosmopolitan attitude towards gods and religions, also shows that the easy adoption and amalgamation of different religious ideologies and practices creates fertile ground for exclusionary religions. After all, the religious man seeks certainty, and the only thing about an open door is that something is certain to enter.

Modern paganism is a space of borders without centers. Each participant in that space is an entity unique unto themselves, free from the burdens of group membership, yet craving those privileges. In a consentual religion, which is to say a communal religion, validation and acceptance is ultimately understood to be conditional. One must surrender some autonomy, in behavior, mindset, in identity, in order to lay claim to the acceptance of others. In the border lands, however, there is no adjudicating body, or at least, there is the appearance of no adjudicating body. Each being is autonomous, and acceptance is demanded as a matter of right, not privilege. This is a single sided tyranny, as we will shall soon see.

In the community expression of religion, one's thoughts and ideas regarding religion must be negotiated; they are presented to the community, debated, and either accepted, tolerated, or rejected according to the aggregate wisdom of the group, either through general adoption, or through the actions of leadership to either enforce the idea, or it's rejection. Those for whom such a situation is intolerable may leave, but in leaving face the consequences of self directed or communally imposed exile [1].

The exile lives in the border where rules are scarce and mutable; where the rate, and the price, of failure is astronomical. Even in the current pax modernī, isolation from social groups: friends, family, society at large; has a debilitating effect on those who suffer from it. That isolation can turn toxic, as the isolate demands the acceptance and attention of others, while never adjusting themselves to be in a place where such acceptance or attention is warranted. And that is important to understand, just as the over-emphasis of group dynamic leads to Cult (in the modern vernacular usage) behavior, so too is the over emphasis of individuality itself capable of bringing ruin, not only the individual in question, but on those around them. One can only look to the current coverage of mass shootings and see where such selfish assumption of the right to acceptance and attention from others, without a willingness to conform to a standard of behavior where both are warranted [2].

Toxic individuality is hypocritical. The toxic individualist attempts to wrap themselves in the ideal of acceptance, but they themselves do not practice it. One must only spend time, to see that they, too, have things that they refuse to accept. They, too, will seek to control discourse to place some topics out of bounds. Their problem is not that the refusal to accept a position is beyond acceptability, but rather that their position is not within the realm of the acceptable.

Toxic individuality sets people up for failure. (Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel; think of the children!). The toxic individual argues that to place group membership as a bar that must be cleared in order to be taken seriously, or to encourage it in those seeking to begin, we are denying Heathenry to those who don't have a group. Never mind such a thing is laughable, but in doing so, they seek to set themselves as a speaker of truth to power. In reality, they are a pied piper, leading those into ruination and slavery. Someone capable of the kind of individuality espoused by those arguing against group membership as an idea, or a valid pursuit, requires presence of mind, possession of confidence, a sense of self, and a measure of sheer luck in order to avoid the pitfalls and traps of solipsism to which the toxic individualist has themselves so often fall. It is a kind of viral reproduction, an infection, that hopes to achieve a kind of reproduction that group-advocates are seeking to pursue, entirely on their own terms, without negotiation, without compromise, and it is just as dangerous as cultic group-think, but whereas there exists awareness and techniques capable of defending against cultic group-think, flawed and under-utilized they may be, such dangers of radical toxic individuality are barely addressed save perhaps in literature and those who choose to debate with objectivists.

When discussing syncretism, the blending of traditions, toxic individualists will shrug and say that such acts happened, therefore it is okay for them to do it. But it ignores the central fact of such syncretism: when successful, it was an organic process, it was slow, it was also resisted, and the nature of the syncretism negotiated over years if not generations. Where you see it rapidly adopted, you see millenarian movements and cargo cults.

We are not seeking to create a cargo cult, but rather an organic, vibrant, living religion. This means that we must, in some way, find each other and work with each other. The Religious life is a sacred thing, as sacred as fire. A fire requires many pieces of wood to burn. Together, a group of wood burns bright, provides light, warmth, and solace. Remove those pieces, and you have flickering, dying embers. We need each other in order to husband that sacred flame.

Is it impossible for an individual to attain communion with the Gods? No, I don't think it is. But also, I know that such individuals are rare, and the toxicity of the cult of the individual is not simply in the behaviors outlined above. It is survivor bias, one where those who do so find their own meaning in their lives, free from the bonds of others, either the Nietzschian Übermench, or the Objectivist ideal of John Galt, or the archetype of the ascetic hermit. In each case, their non-concern with the opinions of others forces them to walk a lonely road, one in which they choose freely and leave behind the approbations of society to be true to their inner lives. In those cases, the individualist is out doing their own thing, not stalking round the edges of a community they claim to want no part of yet cannot seem to leave behind.

In the end, of course, the toxic individualist's meaning dies with them. The only way it can continue beyond their own lives is to become the very thing they claim to not need. Which is itself all the necessary proof that they are lying to everyone, not least of all themselves.

Notes
1: Such structure is essentially amoral, not immoral. There are groups that are healthy, that do this, and those that are not. After all, a group that accepts a convict may be one that is covering up current crimes, or allowing a path to rehabilitation. The dynamics involved in determining that situation are beyond the scope of this essay.

2: There is so much more one could pursue, if you wanted, into this line of thought. To do so, however, would be to engage in a lengthy tangent on privilege, power, and the way society is currently in the middle of a very strong realignment. Again, a topic worthy of exploration, but outside the scope of this essay. Also, please note, I am not saying those who argue for radical individual acceptance are essentially mass shooters. I am, saying, however, that mass shooters are trying to impose, through violence, an acceptance of their individuality, and pursue the attention, even in death, that such violence incurs.

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