Many of our modern social problems arise from the fact that there is a fundamental disconnect between the world as it is and the world as man was designed to live in it. This disconnect is nothing new; it is something of a continual obstacle for mankind to overcome. However, the degree to which this disconnect proves problematic has been growing steadily over time, and in recent generations, its rate of change has been rapidly accelerating (for reasons we will soon discuss). Now, whether we like it or not, our relationship with the world is almost entirely dysfunctional.
To some extent, it is an old story. For thousands of years ago, mankind experienced its first great environmental revolution- civilization, which relocated man from the tribe to the urban center; later, it experienced its second great environmental revolution- modernization, which resulted in a shockingly rapid creation and distribution of wealth and prosperity; finally, it is now experiencing its third great environmental revolution- digitization, which has resulted in large portions of human activity being relocated into the digital realm. Each of these revolutions resulted in a social environment that was radically different from what came before, and progressively more different than that of the last revolution. The next revolution will be the stars; the last revolution will be immortality, perhaps...
These revolutions created very different problems: the first, the problem of organizing individuals in order to provide and effectively distribute food, water, energy, and security; the second, the problem of managing the relationship between wealth, power, politics, and democracy; the third and final, the problem of maintaining a sense of organic connection with other human beings in a world that is becoming increasingly cold, distant, fragmented, and inorganic. And this organic connection that we are losing day by day is absolutely critical to human psychology. Without it, we lose our sense of being connected to other individuals, and with them, all sense of tribal context, which is- at least to some not-insignificant degree- the only context we are programmed to understand. Presently, we are suffering the consequences of this most recent revolution, whether we know it or not.
An exhaustive list of examples would be nearly endless, but this disconnection has resulted in long-term damage not only at the cultural level, but also at the personal level and at the professional level. We lack fulfillment; we share fewer ideals with our fellow citizens; we have less of an idea where we fit in our cultural framework; we create false lives online rather than living in reality; we develop digital relationships at the expense of personal relationships; we find our work un-meaningful; we find our families lacking in organic connection; we lack leadership; we find ourselves lost, lonely, frustrated, and fragmented. And all of these problems are interconnected. After all, we were designed to live in tribes rather than civilization, and tribal life was clearer, and less multi-faceted.
Our shared ancestral environment had fewer options, true; however, as a result, we had a much stronger sense of where we fit in the world. And this sense of belonging somewhere- in a particular time, among a particular people and for a particular purpose- is critical to cultivating a sense of psychological wellbeing. When we lack it, the very fabric of society itself begins to fray. The consequences of this fraying are profound: It results in crime, violence, mass incarceration, sex addiction, drug addiction, single mothers and fatherless children, not to mention a wide range of psychiatric disorders, including anxiety, depression, and suicide.
Something must be done.
The solution to the problem, however, cannot lie in moving forward without regards to the past, or to the deeply-embedded psychological patterns that form the very foundation of human behavior. We must take these patterns into account; we must turn them to our collective advantage. What we really long for is a revival of tribal dynamics in the modern world, so that we can maintain that critical sense of belonging that seems to be lacking today. And this is not an impossible dream.
Difficult, yes- but not impossible.
~ Joshua van Asakinda
Modernism notwithstanding, humanity is a deeply tribal species, and we misunderstand it if we understand it in any terms but tribal terms. This misunderstanding skews and distorts our worldview; it results in downstream consequences that are counter-productive to our capacity for navigating effectively the various trials and tribulations of daily life. Therefore, if we are to ensure a desirable future for our children and grandchildren, we must correct our worldview. And in this, we must be brutally honest with ourselves.
The human species spent thousands of years in small, tightly-knit groups of individuals who shared virtually all aspects of culture: art, language, religion, and philosophy. These groups rarely numbered greater than 200-300 persons. Relationships were close; each member of the tribe was fully dependent upon every other member of the tribe. The tribe was more than family; it was survival and mutual sacrifice.
These circumstances resulted in deeply-embedded psychological patterns that still determine our behavior today. And although we all may wish to believe that we are fully free in our decisions, most of our behaviors are unconscious- and those unconscious behaviors are driven by tribal experience, written into our DNA by evolutionary pressures spanning many millennia. Society too has been affected by these patterns of behavior, and we can see them in every aspect of social life: We see these patterns in nations; we see these patterns in families and in friendships; we see these patterns in sports and in big business and in military organizations. Wherever we look, we see tribalism- but we do not wish to see it, and so we pretend to be blind to its consequences.
But there is another way. For tribalism cannot be destroyed; nor can it be suppressed without making us all sicker, dumber, and weaker (for tribalism does have its purposes). And so instead of rebelling against these tribal patterns of behavior, we could each choose to embrace them in order to turn them to our collective advantage. How could this be accomplished?
Our shared psychological tribalism ought to inform the entirety of our understanding of the world, not to mention how we ought to act in order to navigate it effectively. It ought to affect our ideas about everything: self, family, friendship, religion, politics, socio-economics, etc. And it ought to affect how we plan to accomplish not only our personal goals but also our professional goals. For when we blind ourselves to human nature, we render ourselves less efficient in overcoming the many obstacles that will inevitably present themselves throughout the course of life.
Socrates famously commanded- in keeping with one of seven maxims etched across the door of the Oracle at Delphi- to "know thyself" (γνῶθι σεαυτόν). And this applies to tribalism as well. For we cannot know ourselves if we refuse to admit the central operating principle of human psychology. This kind of myopia is catastrophic; it virtually precludes us from leading successful lives.
Fortunately, we can always choose the path of wisdom.
~ Joshua van Asakinda
Æ: Agonistic Existentialism
Whatever is has power; whatever is not is powerless. Fundamentally, therefore, what we perceive as reality is essentially a system of power, a dynamic and evolving matrix for power-acquisition, power-ascension, and power-annihilation. Power- whether represented through physics, biological complexity, or socio-cultural symbolism (money, women, etc.)- simply is reality itself, and everything that exists within reality is an expression of it. This, of course, is hardly a popular idea.
A few great minds notwithstanding, the general trend of modern society has been against "power"- at least linguistically. "Power is bad; power is wicked; power is tyranny"- so goes the argument. However, power itself is neither moral nor immoral; power simply is, and like anything else that exists by virtue of being fundamental to reality itself, power can only be moral or immoral insofar as its use is moral or immoral. But that is not an ontological truth, nor is it an epistemological truth; rather, it is an axiological truth- that is, a truth about values, a truth about virtues. And so it is, simply stated, not a question of philosophy but rather of psychology.
Regardless, even the argument against a philosophy of power remains an act of power. Because what is power but the capacity for will, willing, and willfulness? It is the capacity for vying, acting, pushing, fighting...the question "For what?" is entirely irrelevant (at this point, but more on that later). And so whether we prefer to be honest and forthright- and so call power what it is- or rather lie, deceive, dissemble, and manipulate- and so call it by one of ten thousand socially-sanctioned labels-, the disagreement itself is proof of the point: We cannot exist without power, without seeking power, without contending for power.
The only real question is what one should do with it once he has it. But who asks such questions these days? Nobody. Or rather, far too few...
Today, power is considered only with skepticism. We condemn power; we have been conditioned to be untrusting of powerful persons, and of the pursuit of power in general. It is, perhaps, the consequence of our shared Judaeo-Christian upbringing. But what is life if not a continual struggle for power? Where there is life, there is will, and the will to power- what Nietzsche called der wille zur macht-, for power is merely the capacity to will, and that is the essence of being as opposed to non-being; it is the capacity for the creation of something beyond ourselves. Nietzsche's original term in German, after all, implies a creative act- macht as opposed to kraft-, an important distinction that is too often overlooked.
Assuming for a moment that we can all agree that strength of will is worth having- and it is, for nothing can be accomplished without it-, and assuming for a moment that strength of will is a necessary prerequisite of all other virtues- and it is, for virtue is nothing if not the capacity for self-command in the face of trial and tribulation-, then we might ask ourselves a question: What is necessary in order to develop power? And the answer is, first and foremost: pain- and not only pain, but perhaps 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...
And so, we must be grateful for strength, and we must therefore also be grateful for 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...
This is the essence of the philosophy of power- of agonistic existentialism (Æ)- insofar as the human being is concerned: It is a kind of quasi-moral dialectic. "Is such-and-such right?" we wonder to ourselves. "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, we are compelled to admit to ourselves that our foreground estimates of right and wrong- that is, our moral categories- are quite a bit more complicated than most of us 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, clearly, 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 deception and dishonesty towards ourselves and 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 and millions of miles? Quickly we realize that such a theory of behavior would lead to insanity- and it has.
Our modern conceptions of right and wrong are deeply flawed; we have traded wisdom, which is ambiguous yet authentic, for short-hand rules for moral action, which are unambiguous but inauthentic. The effect has been disastrous; the world is now 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, and vice versa. Everywhere we look, we find turmoil and conflict, and it is entirely due to our inability to recognize three very important truths:
1) WILLPOWER: that all human beings- indeed, all living beings- want power of some sort, and only differ in two regards: in their degree of power, and in their mode of expression of power- in other words, in how much power they possess, and in how they choose to apply that power;
2) HAPPINESS & SUFFERING: that because the external effects of our actions are wildly complex, and that "positive" effects and "negative" effects cannot be disentangled, utopianism is impossible- not to mention undesirable!-, for we tend to respond to extremes by rushing to the opposing extreme, and psycho-physiologically speaking, stress- that is, pressure and conflict (anti-utopian conditions)- is the primary requirement for growth, and for the flourishing of the human being;
3) REVEALING THE MASTER WITHIN: that because the "positive" and the "negative" are so entangled, all of our immediate estimations of value are rendered meaningless, and so the only means by which to measure the value of an action is through its internal effects- that is, by determining whether or not it represents power (over the "self," over the "passions," etc.), or whether perhaps it represents powerlessness, and a hidden weakness- which we might prefer not reveal either to ourselves or others (for instance in the case of what is today known as "virtue signaling").
This then- the internalization of the pursuit of power- is what we may call self-mastery, which is a far 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; most of us are merely conditioned to believe). It is also 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. And it is what might be loosely called the way of the warrior. Tragically, the wisdom of old has been almost entirely abandoned, and with catastrophic consequences…
~ Joshua van Asakinda
Joshua van Asakinda is a master-level psychological consultant, and the creator of ZenTactics, Heroic Theory, & Zenshida'i Silat-Serak.