Thank God for Pain
When I was a boy, I was weak
But heard a voice that to me would speak
“What is within you now must die
We’ll do it together, you and I”
So I and the voice did pray
Through the dark of the night to day
“Dear God, will you give me pain?”
For the pain is a flaming sword
Burning bright through the darkness poured
Through a whispering Hell to me
“We’ll break you; wait and see”
So I and the voice would pray
Through the dark of the night to day
“Dear God, will you give me pain?”
‘Til my demons, defeated, fled
Back to the land of the dead
(They return when I close my eyes!)
But the voice is a master wise
So I and the voice will pray
Through the dark of the night to day
“Dear God, will you give me pain?”
“Dear God, will you give me pain?”
Joshua van Asakinda
Stranging the Beautiful Noise
On the 10th of August, 2018, I was stabbed in the back getting into my car, and over the course of the fight took stab wounds to the back, hand, head, and face, which I clearly survived. Over the course of the following months, part of my self-directed "therapy"- in addition to my actual, traditional therapy- was to write, and it was during this period that I wrote Thank God for Pain and Then Came the Beast, the poems that bookend this post. They are certainly not the best things that I have ever written, but they do provide some insight into the conflicting thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that I struggled with during my recovery, and still struggle with to this day. However, the general philosophy underlying both poems is nothing new: It is, essentially, a philosophy of power- what I now call Virilis, and which I once called Heroic Theory.
Of course, in our modern world, power is considered only with skepticism. We condemn the powerful: If we are liberals, we condemn elitists on Wall Street, and call them capitalists; if we are patriots, we condemn elitists in Hollywood, and call them communists. But in either situation, the case is the same: We have been conditioned to be untrusting of power, of powerful persons, and of the pursuit of power. It is, I am convinced, the consequence of our shared Judaeo-Christian upbringing (I say this as a present day Buddhist raised in the Presbyterian church). And yet I have had a great deal of time to consider the question of power over the course of my recovery, and that question has not merely theoretical to me; it has been practical as well, even visceral. Because what, after all, is a fight to the death- and it was to the death- between two men but a struggle for power?
We fight, we defend ourselves, we go off to war in some far-off country, for power, for the power to live, to breathe, and yes, even to die (but not today!) as we see fit- and also for the power to form the world as we see fit, which is, ultimately, the driving motivation behind every ideology, whether social, religious, or political. Sometimes we give the will to power- what Nietzsche called der wille zur macht- some pretty name or title: We call it patriotism; we call it the right to self-defense; or, if we are less honest and more mealy-mouthed about it, we call it freedom from the tyranny of the bourgeoisie or some such other gibberish. And yet, in the end, it is all the same; we all want power, because power is the ability to will anything at all- and that is the essence of being as opposed to non-being.
Power is not only the capacity for survival, however; it is also the capacity for the creation of something beyond ourselves- children, works of art, etc. In fact, Nietzsche's original term in German (wille zur macht) implies a creative act- macht as opposed to kraft, which is more primordial- rather than raw physical or political strength, an important distinction that is too often overlooked. However, for the moment, let us call power by some other name, which is less apt to ruffle feathers; let us merely call it strength of will. Because, oh, how we love our euphemisms!
Assuming for a moment that we call all agree that strength of will is worth having (and it is, for how could a person accomplish anything at all- whether right or wrong- without it?), and assuming for a moment that I can convince the reader that without strength of will, any other virtues are impossible (and they are, for without strength of will, how could a person command himself to obey his own moral code in the face of temptation to do otherwise?), then we might ask ourselves a question: What is necessary in order to develop power? And the answer is: pain- and not only pain, but also conflict, suffering, despondency, degeneration, and nihilism. After all, where there is no stress, there is no growth; where is no adversity, there is no overcoming of adversity. Because what is good within us is always entangled with what is dark within us- but perhaps that is the Buddhist within me, that I see yin and yang in everything, and everywhere...
Nonetheless: There is no phoenix without the fire. And so, if we must be grateful to God for the strength that he has given us, then we must also be grateful to God for all of our trials and tribulations. Because it is only through trial and tribulation that we develop the strength of will necessary to overcome the next set of trials and tribulations; we grow, hour by hour and year by year, through pain and the conquest of pain. There are always two forces at work in everything: yin and yang; right and wrong; goodness and darkness; the Buddha and Mara; Jesus and the Devil; nirvana and samsara; AWAKENING and the Wheel of Birth and Death...
And this, I think, is the essence of my own personal philosophy insofar as the human being is concerned: It is a kind of quasi-moral dialectic. "Is such-and-such right?" I wonder to myself. "Perhaps, but it will only seed its opposite: Goodness leads to weakness; weakness leads to darkness; darkness leads to hardness; hardness leads to goodness- and the wheel goes round and round and round..." Finally, I throw my hands up in disgust.
I find it more difficult these days to care much for politics; I used to be very political. But now I only care about strength. My mode of thought has changed: Where once, I might have thought in terms of right and wrong, now I find myself thinking more in terms of wellness and sickness. Because the moral position no longer seems tenable to me.
I will give only a few examples of my strangely quasi-moral dialectic, only applied to world events:
The point, incidentally, is not to show that subjectively "good" things are not good, nor to show that subjectively "bad" things are not bad, but merely to show that the relationship between these two categories of value is quite a bit more complicated than most would care to admit. Because it is not difficult to imagine, for instance, that one might do a very "good" thing for a "bad" reason- for instance, slavish obedience to the law-, or that one might do a very "bad" thing for a "good" reason- for instance, out of a sense of love and loyalty for a friend or family member. Furthermore, if the relationship between these two categories of value is indeed as complicated as it appears to be- if, in other words, "good" outcomes can come from "bad" inputs and "bad" outcomes can come from "good" inputs-, then we must admit that we require a new standard by which to measure the relative value of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We find ourselves pressed with a decision either to find a deeper solution to the moral problem, or to abandon moral evaluations of any kind altogether.
Now, in a sense, there is a flaw to my logic, because individual human beings cannot be held accountable for the large-scale consequences of their behaviors, which are at any rate incalculable; they can only be held accountable for themselves - and yet that is precisely the point. Because there is only one measure by which we can determine whether or not an action is desirable (we cannot even say "right" or "wrong" in this sense); there is only one question that we must ask ourselves: "Does this reveal strength, and mastery of the individual over himself?" Ultimately, that is all what we all desire, after all, and in any event, we cannot reasonably predict the end results of our actions past their immediate effects. So to judge the value of an action by any other measure conceals from us our own motivations, which leads to self-deception and dishonesty towards others, not to mention moral and psychological slavishness. To judge the value of an action by its consequences, however, is an equally foolish goal, and also destined to fail; the complexity of the world is far too vast to calculate "ends" or "effects" of actions. After all, how far down the road should we calculate the consequences of our actions? A day? A year? And to what extent? How far should our estimations reach, across how many miles? Quickly we realize that such a theory of behavior would lead to insanity- and it has.
Therefore, I have concluded that all of our modern conceptions of rightness and wrongness are deeply flawed; we have traded wisdom, which is ambiguous yet authentic, for short-hand rules for moral behavior, which are unambiguous but inauthentic. The effect has been disastrous: Our entire world is filled with philosophical contradictions- we ourselves are filled with philosophical contradictions!-, and too often we find ourselves unwittingly condemning the very causes of the conditions that we claim to support. Everywhere we look, we find turmoil and conflict, not only within the world but within our own inner worlds, and it is entirely due to our inability to recognize three very important truths:
This then- this internalization of the pursuit of power- is what I call self-mastery, which I believe is a stronger and more truthful philosophy than what most of us believe in today (if the vast majority of people can be said to believe anything at all today). It is also, in my belief, the essential characteristic of all ancient religious traditions; it is only because of modernism- that is, the weakening effects of material prosperity on human psycho-physiology- that our religions have decayed. Furthermore, although this particular form of systemization is mine, it would be arrogant to claim that I somehow realized it all on my own: I have been deeply influenced not only by my study of meditation and the martial arts, but also a number of great thinkers, including Friedrich Nietzsche, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Carl Jung, and Joseph Campbell. Finally, it is only a very small post, and as such is not intended to be a final theory.
Whatever shortcomings it possesses are of course my own.
And now, finally, for that last poem that I promised at the very beginning...
Then Came the Beast
The beast had descended upon me that night
To crush what was brightest within me
The Devil took form in that grainy lamp-light
Yes, I hung by a thread, and hung thinly
But there was a destiny buried down deep
So that none that might meet me would know it
The Devil, surprised, took to wing with a leap
Near the threshold of death did I show it
Now I, alive, walk about ‘neath the sun
For the beast that descended would perish
But what of my beast? A new story’s begun
Yes, his power protects what I cherish
My beast was not made for this sunny-bright world
Full of ladies and gentlemen good
Righteous or wicked, my beast has uncurled
To do what it may, will, or could
Joshua van Asakinda
Stranging the Beautiful Noise
~ Joshua van Asakinda
P.S. These poems are available through Amazon, and can be found here (a shameless bit of self-promotion, I know, but it is what it is):
Although it is no longer politically correct to speak an obvious truth, men and women are fundamentally different, and at every level of human development: the chromosomal, the genetic, the structural, the neurological, the psychological, the social, the cultural, the behavioral. There are literally no aspects of the human condition in which men and women are equal. None. Zero. Furthermore, these differences express themselves at both the personal level and the cultural level- that is, they scale in magnitude.
These differences persist across time and space, and are apparent in every culture ever tested. The social argument- that these differences are mere "social constructs," and have no reality in and of themselves- would perhaps hold water if cultures could be found that show the opposite trend, but such a culture has never yet been discovered. The list of sex-specific universals is enormous: Never in history have females formed the majority of any military; never in history have females formed the majority of weapon makers or metal workers of any kind; never in history have females formed the majority of workers of the most dangerous jobs. The list goes on and on. And controlling for socialization provides no help: Cultures high in gender equality oftentimes show even greater degrees of gender differentiation than cultures low in gender equality, almost as though the free pursuit of personal fulfillment creates a higher degree of inequality- and indeed, that seems to be the only answer.
So men and women are fundamentally different, at every level of human development, and in every culture ever studied, no matter where in time and space. Men and women, once more and for the last time, are different. This does not imply that the one is better than the other, or that the one is more necessary than the other. In fact, the very spirit of male-female relationships is one of partnership: Human sexuality is founded upon cooperation and complementarity rather than combativeness. This natural propensity for partnership benefits both sexes, though for the purpose of this discussion, we will focus on manhood.
What Is Manhood?
Generally speaking, men are bigger, stronger, faster, more violent, less sympathetic, tactical, tribalistic, and prone to linearity and discrimination in thought process. These traits make sense from an evolutionary point of view: Men have been, are, and will always be the protectors of the tribe, and so they display a far stronger inclination towards leadership and that general willingness to march into danger, destruction, and death that so typically characterizes the heroic personality, which makes sense in this context (because the male investment in children, physically speaking, is exceedingly small compared to that of the female- a few hours, perhaps-, he is, from the genetic perspective, more disposable, and so more inclined to risk his own safety for that of the tribe); women, on the other hand, have been, are, and will always be the creators and caretakers of children, and so they display higher degrees of empathy, verbal fluency, and appreciation for verbal communication, along with generally higher risk and danger aversion, which also makes sense in this context (because the female investment in children, physically speaking, is exceedingly large compared to that of the male- nine months plus years of care-, she is, from the genetic perspective, less disposable, and so less inclined to risk her own safety for that of the tribe). And so all of these differences take on a kind of logic when considered from an evolutionary point of view: Because it only takes a single man to repopulate a village while every pregnancy threatens the life of a woman, masculine psychology is designed for self-sacrifice while feminine psychology is designed for nurturing life.
Furthermore, men appreciate the traditionally "hard" virtues far more than women, and vice versa: Men appreciate "tactical" virtues- that is, virtues that are useful in battle, such as strength, wisdom, and fearlessness- while women appreciate "pathetic" virtues- that is, sympathetic virtues that bind individuals together, such as love, mercy, and compassion. This yin/yang polarization of human sexual psychology is deeply ingrained in the species, and cannot be argued away, no matter how subtle the academic sleight of hand. The pattern repeats over and over, in all times and in all places.
Men, therefore, are characterized by two qualities that generally set them apart from women: leadership and protection- that is, men enter into danger first (the real meaning of leadership), and establish borders and boundaries (both physical and philosophical) in order to protect the tribe. This is manhood in its most simplistic form: It is hardness of mind, and the willingness to make difficult decisions for the greater good. Paradoxically, this may sometimes look a lot like amorality, or even immorality. But there is sometimes reason in madness.
Walking that fine line is not easy, however. The entire purpose of society, after all, is to teach individuals to obey what is highest within themselves, in order to rise above those seeds of self-destruction that lie within each of us: hatred, greed, and delusion. This is even more critical in the case of boys, who- by virtue of the fact that they are bigger, stronger, faster, more violent, less sympathetic, tactical, tribalistic, and prone to linearity and discrimination in thought process- can wreak havoc on society if they are not taught how to master themselves. And so for the vast majority of human history, there has been a tradition of training boys- of teaching them what manhood really means- and this tradition has always been passed down from grandfather to father to son, or, alternately, when the natural father is absent, the tradition can even be passed down from teacher to student, or from mentor to mentee, as in the case of military cultures, but it is always passed down organically, from adult male to adolescent male, and never from adult female to adolescent male.
After all, the natural character of a woman is oriented towards softness rather than hardness, and so the quality of masculine psychology- and therefore, all the needs of male-oriented pedagogy- typically run contrary to female psychology. The willingness to draw hard lines, the willingness to demand heavy sacrifices- these cannot be communicated via womanhood, partially because most human beings do not learn so much through education as through emulation. So although a mother may try to give her son some idea of what manhood is, she can never be a man, and so her instruction will always be the instruction of an outsider. Thus, her teachings will always ring hollow.
So what happens when there is an explosion of single-motherhood, and boys are left to their own devices, without fathers to teach them the tradition? What happens when boys are left in a perpetual state of boyhood, and never learn what manhood really means? Predictably, the results are catastrophic.
"Boys Will Be Boys..."
The purpose of boyhood is the effective transition into manhood.
Every behavior expressed by a boy is essentially manhood in development. When he plays, he plays at things that will one day make him useful- not only to himself, but to his wife, his children, and his peers: He plays rough because life is hard; he competes with other boys because male social systems are hierarchical in structure, and and he prides himself on being strong and loyal and courageous because males are psychologically attuned to crisis environments that require strength, loyalty, and courage. These behaviors are normal and natural in boys, in spite of their having been condemned by feminist psychologists. But they are neither "harmful" nor "dangerous;" they are neither "toxic" nor "problematic."
So the phrase "boys will be boys" really means "men will be men"- in other words, that boys are unique (in that they are not girls) precisely because men are unique (in that they are not women). And that is an eminently rational position, one supported not only by common sense but also by thousands of years of scientific enquiry.
However, because common sense is no longer common, perhaps some data would be in order. Because psychiatric disorders and general psychological dysfunction result in lower success in life and higher rates of asocial behavior, incarceration rates can be used as a general proxy for dysfunction. As we can see from the graph below, imprisonment in the United States was fairly uncommon up until the 1980s when there was a sudden spike in rates of imprisonment.
Incidentally, these rates are almost entirely male rates. Women are wildly under-represented among prison populations, as can be seen in the graph below. Similar variations in representation can be found universally throughout human civilization, no matter the time or place. Crime, whether we like it or not, is a quintessentially masculine phenomenon.
So the question, of course, is why do we see the explosion in incarceration rates specifically in the 1980s? One possible suggestion- and, it should be noted, the only correct suggestion in light of the data- is that this had everything to do with the rise of single motherhood and the corollary drop in father engagement in the United States. Although it should go without saying, the welfare system has essentially incentivized the single parent family, and to disastrous effect. This can be seen in the graphs below.
The power of the father cannot be overestimated. And this can be proven by the profound effects his absence has upon the psychology of his children. The absence of a father has been shown to increase the risk for virtually every disorder it has ever been tested against; the children of single mothers have higher rates of violence, gang involvement, drug and alcohol abuse, and of course criminality in general. But perhaps most shockingly, there appears to be no increase in risk for any of this for the children of single fathers.
It is here that we are forced to enter into the realm of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell (with some modification). From a psycho-mythic point of view, it is the father that represents authority, especially for males. The reason for this is simple enough: The father is stronger than the mother, but less prone to sympathy- in other words, the father has power but lacks mercy while the mother has mercy but lacks power. As a result, we are psychologically predisposed to viewing the father as the earthly representation of discipline and to viewing the mother as the earthly representation of compassion.
This is seen in religion as well, as God is almost always represented as a father rather than a mother, and is only represented as a mother in pre-civilized- that is, unstructured and undisciplined- social systems. All the examples of man rising out of savagery into civilization have entailed the rise of a masculine and patriarchal religious authority of some sort. For instance:
The list goes on and on, but the point is easily made. Furthermore, we can see the relationship between God and the father in the negative effect of an absentee father on religion, which can be seen in the graphs below.
"Our fathers were our models for God.
If our fathers bailed on us, what does that tell us about God?"
~ Fight Club ~
However, it does no good to pretend that we can turn back the clock.
We are here, and this is the situation we find ourselves in. So what do we do now, and where do we go from here? How do we re-instill a healthy manhood in an entire generation of boys raised by women, with no conception of what healthy manhood really is? That will be difficult, admittedly, but not impossible.
Boys- and men as well- thirst for social interaction. This fact flies in the face of much of modern psychology, which has effectively branded boys and young men as anti-social. Such an argument cannot be taken seriously by anybody who understands manhood: Males are not anti-social, but simply long for a different kind of social interaction than do females. And that is why males typically are attracted to competitive, hierarchical social systems: sports, business, leadership, military, etc.
Such things are more and more being denied them today. While the push for "inclusion" has resulted in more and more opportunity for females, it has resulted in less and less opportunity for males to be males among other males. There are no environments left anymore in which men can be men with other men. The consequences are troubling: Males are being judged more and more by the standards of females, and worse, males are judging themselves more and more by the standards of females. Not only is such a situation deeply demoralizing, it is also psychologically dysfunctional in the extreme. Simply stated, men are not women, and cannot be judged according to the standards of what is psychologically healthy for women.
And yet we do just that, at both the personal level and the cultural level.
The result is that boys have simply been opting out of the game, hence the rise of gang violence, "incels" ("involuntary celibates") and MGTOW ("Men Going Their Own Way"), none of which is healthy, but all of which express the same sense of disenfranchisement that young men feel in the face of a world that no longer values their masculinity. They have been left utterly alone and adrift, with no idea how to right the ship. And there is really only one solution: mentorship. Older men- or even men of a similar age who have already found their way- simply must begin taking other men under their wing.
Resurrecting the Classical Tradition
Mentorship, which exists all throughout the ancient world in the form of various rites of passage, is the psychophysiological mechanism by which boys are directed into the state of manhood, which is essentially a state of leadership and fatherhood, and which is necessary in order for the human being to flourish, not only as individuals but as groups of individuals. Sadly, rites of passage are barely an afterthought in the modern world: They do still exist in certain arenas- sports, the military, and the martial arts, for instance- but in general have been condemned; even fraternity "hazings" have been nearly universally abolished on college campuses. However, these rites of passage, though apparently senseless and barbaric, actually serve a very important purpose in male psychology because male psychology is both hierarchical and competitive; male psychology is dependent upon stratification, and the competition that determines placement within that order of rank. When these mechanisms are removed, male psychology becomes unmoored from its anchoring point in the world. This results, predictably, in a rapid descent of male psychological health and wellbeing. Finally, society itself begins to unravel, because when that half of the species designed for leadership loses its way, the rest will surely follow.
This is why it is so very important for us all- men especially- to rediscover the classical tradition of manhood. And of course this is why I began formulating Virilis (originally called Heroic Theory, which is telling): It became apparent to me early in my graduate studies that the modern psychological paradigm had utterly abandoned manhood in all respects, and that a new paradigm was needed. Hopefully, it will make some impact in the world. But if not, at least I did not remain silent, content to watch the world fall apart, like a sheep, meekly awaiting the slaughter.
~ Joshua van Asakinda
"Since I was a boy, I have been fascinated by the heroic.
~ Joshua van Asakinda
Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote in The Will to Power that, "He who has a why to live can bear almost any how." And Viktor Frankl agreed in Man's Search for Meaning, which he wrote after surviving the horrors of the Holocaust, that, "Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but by lack of meaning and purpose." These great thinkers knew something that we have forgotten: It is only through meaning that man finds fulfillment. For no material thing will ever be sufficient to the task: No amount of sex, no amount of glory, no amount of luxury, no amount of power, no amount of money, no amount of recognition, will ever make up for a lack of why. So although we think in binary terms- we love "happiness" and we hate "suffering"-, what we really long for is something greater and more profound than either: fulfillment- that is, a why. Discovering this why, however, can be difficult, especially in a world so fragmented and so distracting.
There is no greater question than, "Why?" This question lies at the bottom of everything we do as human beings; we are, essentially, a meaning-seeking species. Above all else, this longing is what separates us from every other animal on the planet. We wonder why; we go in search of an answer to why; we will not rest until we have satisfied our need to know why- and woe unto us when we fail to find our why. For when we are denied an answer to this most critical of all questions, we become sick, confused, despondent; we feel lost and alone, isolated and without purpose. This is what philosophers generally refer to as nihilism, and it is what Nietzsche considered the most horrifying of all states of being- worse, he considered it a near certainty. For Nietzsche believed in the death of God- that is, he asserted that mankind had abandoned belief in God as a historical fact- and he believed that this great event, which was in his estimation greater than any other event in human history, would doom all of humanity to nihilism. And then how would we justify our own existence to ourselves? We would go mad, he argued- if we were lucky...
A new meaning would be necessary.
This concern has been addressed by a number of thinkers since then: The pursuit of meaning lies at the very heart of the works of early psychoanalysts such as Carl Jung; it is to be found everywhere in the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell; and it of course innervates the work of a few modern day thinkers as well, for instance Jordan Peterson. It is not merely an academic problem, however; nihilism is at the very foundation of virtually all of our social ills. For without a why, there can be no how. Tragically, the world has us distracted, and so here we are, lost, confused, and despondent...
"Hell is empty, and all the devils are here."
~ The Tempest ~
Luckily, there is a path forward, and that is the old way.
The old way is the classical tradition in quasi-religious form; it is the psychophysiological need for self-mastery, and all the rites and rituals leading towards that end. Although such ideas are looking upon with skepticism these days, they are no less necessary; the world need the old way even when holding the old way in contempt. However, there are many ways to resurrect the traditions of the past: in film, in music, in religion, and in psychology. We all bring something special to the playing field; each of us should play our part to the best of his ability.
Discovering what role we play, of course, is no easy task- but it is worth it.
~ Joshua van Asakinda