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© 1998 Henry A. Flynt, Jr.



I. Life’s Forward Impulse

II. Generalizing about the Life-Course

III. Suffering and Despondency

IV. Accounting for Life as a Whole

V. Epistemology

VI. Possibility

VII. Visionary Elevation

VIII. Rejectionism’s Publicists


I. Life’s Forward Impulse

In the course of this exposition, we will find that the following precept is subject to certain complicated qualifications. Nevertheless, it remains the dominant consideration.

My consciousness is futural. The individual human life has a natural orientation toward curiosity, activeness, goal-seeking, relative self-reliance, relative power, happiness.

My willfulness is an affection which I can to some extent manage. I make myself resolute. I resolve to act. I make a choice to be numb to resistance and hostility. One may choose to walk into a fist fight, as we sometimes have to do. To plow through opposition and survive it.

We may be distressed at the proportion of accident, imposition, obscurity in our lives. But for all that, to live for an extended period where you are unable to strategize your means of survival, and your principal occupation, is abnormal; it constitutes a loss of autonomy and power which is life-threatening.

The overwhelming majority of people are not legally incompetent or incapacitated. That is approximately how I use the word ‘normal’ at the moment. Normal people set goals toward which they aspire. The vitality of a conscious person expresses life’s forward impulse. The forward impulse is not a metaphysician’s abstraction. It is a phrase for a family of palpable issues, even an issue of health or illness. It is not a single "it." We will find qualitative differences for different people in life’s forward impulse which are highly enigmatic. That is why the word ‘hope’ is not the right one here; it is limited by connotations of good will and good cheer. Only a segment of the mentally or physically ill, or those paralyzed by an immenent threat, lack the forward impulse.

Vernacular wisdom says, a person needs a reason to arise from the nightly sleep period. "Work is a disutility," but people do not simply flee effort. They discover themselves to be interdependent with other people; they discover themselves to have powers and are proud of their powers. They are gratified by opportunities to apply their powers when they favor the aims. If somebody simply wanted to remain on the shelf, passive, until they died fifty years later, that would not be a hip, avant-garde choice; it would be illness.

People, or some people, know what they admire in themselves. They have a sense of when their powers are at full strength and their judgment is undistorted. People, or some people, battle to preserve and exercise the preferred "self" as opposed to servile or ingratiating personas.

You spend part of your time playing a part, functioning like a puppet, because there is an overwhelming incentive to do so (earning a living, or needing to ingratiate). However, if you have personal authority, or something to express, or strong inclinations, you want to spend some of your time carrying out your intentions without an external direction. The battle to recover who you are or to return to who you are may require first a purging of the mind by a numbing or vacant episode, and then a gathering of memories and recovery of the judging capacity which make you most vital.

There is an extraordinary human interaction beween consciousness and vitality which an animal does not manifest. A human is not blindly vital; human vitality interacts with estimates of the future, with adopted goals, with strategizing.

You cannot refuse what are called responsibility and realized choice – while being alive for any length of time. (Even to remain on a bed in a nursing home for year after year would not be enough to establish choicelessness as a hip, avant-garde life-style. Just taking food is affirmation.)

The power of embracing a supernaturalist System or absolutist ideology, whatever it may be, has been noted for ages. Even though the doctrine is intellectually indefensible, the self-created sense of having something greater than oneself on one’s side, and of being justified, composes a person and makes them more effective. (The fact that the allegiance gains one admittance to powerful institutions and pre-assembled sodalities is not to be sneezed at either.)

When we come to a word like responsibility, which is a general characteristic of human actuation, we are told that we should not expect it to have a definition in the sense of: referral to an intrinsically clear system of coordinates at a "lower" reality-type. That is a claim of necessary vagueness for the word responsibility. Certain theological authors whom I will treat later make several claims of necessary vagueness. I disagree with them in that I think that we can and should intertranslate responsibility with other constituents on the same level, at least – to explain it to that degree. More of this when I come to epistemology.

The benign passive-receptive modes in life (both solitary and companionable) must be acknowledged. Sleep. Dreaming. Drowsiness. Reverie. Companionability. Trance. The speculation that we have premonitory imagery (supposed prophetic dreams).

We enter a reverie with the understanding that our latent self-consciousness holds control and can reactivate us when we wish. Or choosing in advance when to awaken from sleep. The possibility of a latent will monitoring the cessation of will is highly non-trivial and enigmatic.

And there is the occasional case where the subject cannot bring itself back.

Self-actuation is not all friendliness and cooperation. Activeness, autonomy, strength, pleasure can be realized through aggression. We obviously have the instinct for predation. There are people who thrive on malice and dominating others. Humans are like animals of different species in thriving on different emotional equilibria. There are people who enjoy crushing hope in other people, or demeaning other people, in petty ways.

I need other people’s approval because of emotional reciprocity, which is not only a pleasure but a palpable consideration in health and illness. I need other people’s approval because if all disapprove of me, then my freedom and my life will end, they will see to that. It is certainly possible to live as a double agent, complying on the outside and dissenting on the inside; but it is not possible to live without paying nominal tribute to others.

We continually wish for what we cannot have; and so we have the ever-present experience of being inadequate and constrained.

Every life ends in death, which as a loss, is humanly unique. Death annuls consciousness’ future.

Some psychiatric authors notice a relation between hope and functional ignorance. Most of the time, while I can conceive my death as a speculative possibility, I do not expect it viscerally and immanently. Hence "normal equanimity." Only when death becomes an immediate likelihood, as for a person scheduled for execution, is the forward impulse significantly dislocated.

When I start to walk across the room, does that mean that I believe that the floor is solid, even though I do not give a thought to the floor’s solidity? Does my very "optimism" or "confidence" disclose the presence of a sheaf of beliefs in my preconscious which I don’t overtly grapple with?

Some national cultures, not ours, demand self-sacrifice, and hold it to be honorable. Mussolini: "Then men knew how to die." The same self-loss is demanded and honorable in one nation – is the ultimate confession of failure in another.

We need the distinction between

(a) persevering through grief and discouragement, and

(b) having elan, feeling life to be sweet, walking on air.

(a) is like driving with the hand brake on. And (b) is an experience, not a proposition. It is the release of the powers you have, no longer having to drive with the hand brake on. Then you realize what you may not have noticed before, because you had become habituated to it: the drag. You carried a hindrance within, a discouragement, and you persevered because you can tolerate discouragement, because it is more advantageous to persevere than to lie down on the side of the road and die.

It is one thing to persevere in the face of discouragement; and it is another thing to be free of discouragement. The distinction is as palpable as being in a vat of molasses or not being in a vat or molasses. (b) means that the gratifying thing is attainable. Or a palpable hope is afforded us: that we can be innocently joyful, can see things as they are, can find like-minded people, can envision a better condition and attain it.

I do not know how likely it is that an act of will on your part can take you from (a) to (b). It is more credible to me that your relief has to come from without. Your only contribution is your openness to this gift of happenstance.

To be revivified by that which is demanding, you yourself have to be smart.

There are certain moments in life in which the movement from desire to fulfillment becomes palpable in an instant. A convenient example: love. Joy and love seem to be absolute fulfillment in the moment. But I do not want to idealize romantic affection, becoming a false advertiser in the interests of some ideology or other. Love does not guarantee an enduring "meaning." The passage of time can throw these moments in a different light, showing that what you loved was a projection arising from need. But whether or not it is lasting, we discover joy. The moment validates the moment.

For a very few people: an apocalyptic cognitive insight becomes fulfillment in the moment.

We have a resonance with all the possibilities to which we are liable, not only the agreeable possibilities. We place an absolute value on familiarization, the encounter with all the possibilities to which we are liable.

In the first place, one harbors rude impulses, and in the second place, if one wants to get much of what one wants, then one must expect adversity and prepare to cope with it.

So we place an absolute value on the encounter with the disagreeableness which, as is said, is a part of life. There are always people who understand predation because they know themselves to be capable of it. There are always people who want to face the gruesomeness and decay and destruction which may be their fate, and certainly have already befallen their family and friends. They wish to familiarize themselves with these disagreeable contents, to desensitize themselves – or, contrariwise, to give their capacity for revulsion some exercise.

So it is possible for a person to seek personal disintegration or death as a vicarious experience. Or to accept lassitude/torpor as an escape from a dreary routine, or from stress. These detours are not evidence that we are not oriented creatures.

People have a possibility which is always beyond the strategies they conceive for themselves. We are always, if I may put it this way, expanding into a possibility which is beyond our contrivance. We have a justifiable sense of being unbounded.

To posit this outer possibility is again to assert necessary vagueness.

II. Generalizing about the Life-Course

Methodologically, the present essay falls in the spectrum which includes my depth psychology, "Life-Conduct" series, "Self-Justification" series. These results would be improved if they could be reconstructed in person-world theory – but they might be too compromised for that.

I want to address our lives as something more than fleeting apparitions. If there is a subjectivity which above all characterizes a human life, it is the sense of possibility. If I think that I have to contend with possibility as my hope and my self-creation (and that I am at risk of regretting my choices), then I understand my existence as something other than an experience-world.

As well, I want to presuppose a natural orientation which is manifest and which is correlative to somatic maturation. At the same time, that cannot be a reason to let biology command the inquiry. I reject any notion that humans have an exclusively biological career or that human value is exclusively biological. To repeat myself: human vitality interacts with estimates of the future, with adopted goals, with strategizing. There is a power in embracing a supernaturalist System or absolutist ideology even though it is intellectually indefensible.

We posit that people try to escape suffering and try to reach happiness; it is interdependent, as always, with what they understand. But does that do justice to people’s willingness to abide with discomfort and with harm? Is there such a thing as a masochism which is natural? It really gets tricky here, because Freud precisely claimed that half the human race is congenitally and spontaneously masochistic. He posited the death-instinct as primary in every psyche.

People get some crude pleasure from risking harm or undergoing a crisis. Then, harm and pain can be cultural norms. (That is not even to speak of non-injurious trance or sensory deprivation or disorientation.) Smoking. The encouragement of drug addiction by elements of American society, including a segment of the elite. The Native American culture of torture. During the glue-sniffing epidemic, youths were seeking disorientation regardless of the price they had to pay for it. People who are hollow, bored, and aimless can be sold on ill-advised diversions. The individual gets played for a fool by the peer group.

As for the rest of it, my exposition finds multiple reasons why people are attracted to unpleasant subject-matter. Vicarious and sublimated unhappiness is a basis of art. Given that predation, injury, suffering are real, we do not simply avoid them; we try to be familiar with them, to cope with them, to treat them as lessons.


There is a highly elitist version of the opinion that people display a predilection (tropism) for misery. This view points to the willingness of the masses to seek or to abide with what is demonstrably the worse. Well, there are good reasons to take that view seriously, but it leads us away from the topics of concern in this essay. I will explore this view in Appendix 2.

Shortly I will find reasons to say that the majority of people are below average, even though that is paradoxical. It is not just a matter of my taste; the majority of people get in a dilemma which they cannot manage in an intellectually defensible way, for example. That supports the elitist view; but what the elitist view misses is that there must be a continuum between the typical person, even if sub-standard, and the person we consider to be inspired. Otherwise the capabilities of the inspired person have nobody to matter to. The phenomena of leaders and uneven development.

The typical person has what I call natural inclinations, and strives as I say. But as an outside observer, I remark that the results are often pathetic (in objectively definable ways). Precisely in conjunction with the imaginativeness and sociality of human aspiration, the typical person finds themself out of their depth. As well, the collective brings forth social structures tantamount to traps which the mere individual cannot, in general, escape. These considerations account for much of the appearance that the masses have a tropism for suffering.

Clinical illness affords an example of what it means to be deprived of the capacity for relish. It would be convoluted indeed to renounce the capacity for relish as a life-style choice.

In §V, I will give excerpts from my treatment, in "Uncompromising Positioning II," of codes of veracity and judgment distorted by addiction and brutalization. The lying and the attenuation of discrimination and discernment are not avant-garde choices. They are products of loss of control, and must be considered ill.

The concepts of normality and naturalness have for ages been ideological cudgels. Nevertheless, a norm or nature from which illness departs must be discerned if one is to be entitled to speak of health and illness, or to propose a restoration to health. Any health/illness distinction commits one to norms.

I find that there are certain deleterious psychological conditions in which, metaphorically, the person has fallen into the well of an attitude and cannot climb out. The only chance of recovery – if any – requires the affected person to pass through a moment of insight. It may be vague, but the phenomena urge themselves so strongly, and the lessons are so valuable, that I insist on them.

Such a claim may put me in frontal confrontation with psychiatry, which finds a vast number of people to suffer from mood disorders, and wants to view the latter as physiological aberrations to be treated by drugs. In any case, I can only speak in speculative generalities. As to whether a given person prescribed drugs for depression has a congenital biochemical disorder comparable to diabetes, it would be way premature for me to try to answer that.

As I have had to say in a number of my essays, I shall concern myself here with finding what conclusions I want to defend. I will be offhand about methodology; the methodological settling of accounts will have to come later.

III. Suffering and Despondency

The morbid and the macabre, sickness and decay, affect people we know – and they are risks in our future. It is no certainty that my life will have a happy conclusion, or that I will be spared ghastly misfortune. People acknowledge the morbid and macabre as real, and resonate with them, and want familiarity with them. All the while, suffering remains suffering; it remains a misfortune. Properly speaking, people always look for an escape from suffering.

We are capable of boredom, tedium.

We are capable of resentment. Would it be more expressive to call it "cosmic sour grapes"? It is a crucially important affection and I don’t have my appraisal of it prepared yet.

What are we to make of the people who "desire to escape from their responsible freedom as genuine subjects"? "The most addictive opportunity known is escape from responsibility." What is responsibility, that people fear and hate it in themselves?

Speaking for myself, my actuation oriented to "happiness" is a given. My opportunity as a responsible person to create myself is a given. I accept these – I’m not fighting them. The ideologue who looks within and finds nothing but idiocy and waste speaks for his generation, but not for me. (And if he finds nothing but idiocy and waste, then I wish he would get lost; but he doesn’t, he becomes a leader.)

Your opportunity and necessity to create yourself do not guarantee that you are your own best friend. You can be a poor guardian of yourself. You can disappoint yourself; you can harm yourself.

Humans can become slaves of their own unpropitious attitudes. If we are talking about something more substantial than silly suggestibility, then the lifting of the unpropitious attitude cannot be secured by the person’s own acts of will. Truly the person is a prisoner of his or her attitude.

Not to be overly dramatic about it, but we all have the option of lying down on the side of the road and dying while the others march on. If we don’t do that, then there is still a forward impulse, however joyless – and perhaps a sense of obligation to others.

The last extremity. A person whose life has come down to depletion and hopelessness. Roughly speaking, people who are in a condition of depletion and despondency have not made a more hip value-judgment, an avant-garde choice. They are ill.

The extremity which concerns us here has a definition in terms of comportment. The subject has accepted viscerally that he or she doesn’t deserve happiness; that he or she isn’t capable of happiness. If the means is offered to them to save them from misery and destruction, they will be unable to avail themselves of it. If one phone call would save them, they do not have the energy, the will, to make that call. If you take them at their word, then the privilege of life is wasted on them.

The number of resigned or despondent people is not small. For many, they have accepted terms of survival which have bred the originality out of their psyches. Below we will say: You have to pay a price for the privilege of being alive.

Certain depleted, self-constricted postures are not hip, avant-garde choices. One loses one’s natural orientation because one has been broken like a dog. But now I am in a frontal confrontation with psychiatry. Psychiatry wants to appropriate as many mental disabilities as it can to a model from neurophysiology, pharmacology, allopathic medicine. It is reductionism and misdirection. I do not yet have a pat rebuttal for it.

Psychiatry finds depression in large numbers of urban middle-class women. It concludes that their physiology is chemically out of whack [defines "depression" as excessive serotonin reabsorption], and gives them pills. Well, a pill has nothing to do with whether you created yourself in a gratifying way relative to the meanings and courses of action given in the environment, the milieu. Our definition of hopelessness is, provisionally, phenomenological [If the rescuing or reclaiming experience is offered to the depleted, hopeless person, they cannot avail themselves of it]. I find the psychiatrist’s attempt to co-opt all hopelessness to allopathic medicine to be a category error. Psychiatry gives you chemicals as an anodyne for regret. It is the same thing that dope peddlers have done for thousands of years – except that allopathic medicine deliberately seeks chemicals which do not intoxicate, which do not afford the pleasure of escape. I would credit psychiatry more if anti-depressants always rehabilitated the sufferers; but they do no such thing. Meanwhile, Prozac has in effect become a religion, surrounded with an entire devotional literature. So far from delivering you from worship, Prozac is the new sacrament.

I can mention a few publications at random as evidence of the loathsome perspective that is psychiatry – beginning with Freud’s co-optation of all of the Humanities into an occult physiology. Again, I am not ready to launch into a rebuttal of the material.

Sigmund Freud, "The Uncanny." SE 17:219

Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle. SE 18

Sigmund Freud, "Femininity" [from New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis]. SE 22:112

Phillip Slavney & Paul McHugh, Psychiatric Polarities (1987).

Paula Caplan, They Say You’re Crazy (1995).

Peter Kramer, Listening to Prozac (1993).

Peter Breggin, Talking Back to Prozac (1994).

IV. Accounting for Life as a Whole

Other things being equal, people show, by persevering, that they treasure life. All the same, it is a reality for most people that life punishes them. For many people, as I said, it comes from being unable to shield themselves from society. They accept terms of survival which breed the originality out of their psyches. So in many cases, the punishment is not cosmically inherent – nor is it embraced from a tropism for suffering. People incur it because they do not have the personal resources to protect themselves from society. The regular dissatisfactions:

1) Everybody alive wants more than he or she has. They would accept increased wealth or powers as a gift if it were on offer. Or would accept being restored to their original good health if that were on offer.

2) You have to pay a price for the privilege of being alive. That is, you have to consent to being unfairly used, to consent to sacrifice yourself. Any soldier in a conscript army understands this. An Aztec maiden climbing the pyramid to have her heart ripped out by the priest understands this.

3) The fulfillments which social myths promise you do not work. The rosy picture of love proves to be a lie. Relationships don’t work for any length of time.

4) The certainty of debilitation and death cancels every satisfaction you may attain.


There are nine questions which evidently arise in the lives of all normal people:

1. "What have I accomplished?"

2. "What is so important to me that I would gamble with my life for it?"

3. "What is so important to me that I would forfeit the privilege of life for it?"

4. "Do people possess a common humanity?"

There is a moment in adult life in which people finally have to understand that their conformity is an assent; or, on the contrary, they have to turn away from conformity. There is a moment in adult life in which you judge whether you and other people harbor a common humanity – or not. You cannot be "politically" neutral, because you live in a web of demands and interests: some people demand that you do things which affect other people.

Is there a common humanity which gives all people a claim on my respect, including strangers? A philosophically trained person may see it as a philosophical question, and an unanswerable one. But it is also a concrete question. It can be normal to own slaves. You may have the opportunity to treat people as beasts on a mass scale. Your superiors may expect you to be a slave overseer. They may also expect you to cooperate to kill millions of people quickly. Analytic philosophers who sit in offices and dismiss the question have temporarily managed to avoid a decision, but it will be a different matter when the decision spills over onto them.

But whether to credit a common humanity is not only posed by opportunities to brutalize other people. It also arises when numbers of people follow in the wake of one person’s achievement or have their circumstances transformed by that achievement.

Other people’s achievements change my expectations. Other people "open my eyes." The expansion of human powers is an ascent, according to certain familiar views. Other people furnish the setting for my self-realization. Without them, I would be nothing. At the same time, the expansion of human powers shows a consistent pattern in which a few lead and the rest follow. When the calculus was invented, it could be understood by only a few people in the world. Today every student suited to become a scientist is expected to learn it by age nineteen. When a leader opens possibilities, it affects the lives of others in profound ways. Other people understand what has been done – and as we say, are inspired by it; or, they become pawns of unleashed forces they do not understand. The latter case, it may be avowed, is a fault that needs to be remedied.

5. "What am I supposed to accomplish?" ("To what purpose am I supposed to apply myself? Who cares whether I am ever fulfilled or not?")

We already presented the explanation of this question. "Work is a disutility," but people do not simply flee effort. What is it worth to me to be alive if I cannot use my powers, stretch my capacities, on behalf of aims which I favor?

Inasmuch as people ask these questions, they demand an accounting of their lives and their relation to their fellow-creatures. They are not content for their lives to disperse in the banal details and the fruitless outcomes and numbness. What is more, these questions are more or less meaningful; they can be given definite answers. The most open of the questions is "What am I supposed to accomplish?" Nevertheless, taking yourself as the arbiter, it is possible to answer the question. This is no light matter: that people demand an accounting of their lives and their relation to their fellow-creatures, that they are not content with the banal details and the fruitless outcomes and numbness. They want something more than maximization of the length of life.

It is tragically noble – but we may not have to reach all the way to nobility for an explanation. The choices are not only heroism and banality; life can also be miserable. The question what people owe each other becomes concrete in slavery and genocide. Even if you are not shocked when your superiors order you to arrest them, I think you will be shocked when they arrest you and tell you that you are no more to them than an insect. And then there is the whole matter of the individual’s counsel with him- or herself. Lack of a purpose is not a neutral condition; it imposes penalties such as boredom and listlessness. You are wound up, with no reason to unwind, and the inner extirpation of energy is fatiguing. You become envious, bitter; you turn to the reckless pursuit of sensations. You feel disgust at yourself, and that cannot be an equilibrium; it is misery.

People think. Even the people who imagine they are too spoiled, too sheltered, to be touched by these questions are wrong – the questions jab at them.

The majority of people need an articulated code of conduct in order to lead an organized life. Why? Collective life presupposes an official conduct code because people have to know what they can expect from each other. But I assume that for most people, there is more to it than knowing the official rules (as one knows the tax code). They harbor an externally supplied code as a commitment. "God’s commands." Without it they cannot lead an organized life. What, then, is that need? I am told, people don’t have the originality to lead an organized life without a ready-made code. They are stupid. (That finds the overwhelming majority to be below average; but we must accept it.)

[Conscience is invoked by certain religions. There has been little inquiry into conscience which is not platitudinous. How is conscience to be defined, to be recognized as such? What is the assurance that conscience gives the same answer for all people? If the inner light, or guilt, is a subjectivism which gives different answers to different people, that has not been declared clearly enough.]


Let a person observe the sunrise, or the night sky, or ponder the procession of the seasons, the variety of plant and animal life, the antiquity of artifacts. Let a person ponder the spectrum of the human psyche and the nature of human commonality. Then he or she may ask: how may we understand the concept of "everything," the whole? What is fascinating is that the thought does not only occur to the miniscule number of people who might have something credible to say about it.

We may speak of the whole’s vastness, complexity, and "temporality" or process.

But then we come back to ourselves: this whole brought us forth and we have to make our way in it. And we have found that we have to choose practically whether to respect other people – or not.

6. "How does the knowing, the strategizing, in which I must engage in living mesh with the panorama of the whole as an occasion of knowing and object of knowledge?"

7. "What is the place of the uneasy consciousness in the whole? What is the uneasy consciousness’ reality-type?"

8. "Does the whole include a humanity common to individual humans? If so, what is the reality-type of our common humanity?"

9. "Is the panorama of the whole at least neutral toward me?" (The alternative would be that it brought me forth deliberately to dash my hopes, to gloat over my torment.)

These last four questions are meant to unfold the vernacular question "What’s it all about?" The vernacular question assumes a cosmic purpose; I want to throw the burden of any such claim on the respondent.

As I said, people don’t allow their lives to disperse in the banal details and the fruitless outcomes. They want a Meaning-System. Most people don’t know how to find a defensible answer to the question of life as a whole, and they know that they don’t. They would be safer intellectually if they left these questions alone. But they don’t.

Most people feel a problem which only a tiny minority can cope with in a defensible way.

My acquaintances do not confess their need for answers of this sort to me. It is because they espouse answers which are awful, which are not rationally defensible. Was Paul Tillich the one who spoke about ultimate commitments? It’s not just words. people do have demarcated, labeled ultimate commitments. They hide them from the likes of me because their commitments are not defensible.

They fall off the edge into a mud puddle. The secret in this area of life is, for most people – the gimmick. It is not unusual for the hippest New Yorkers to get their Meaning System from Dial-a-Psychic. They wouldn’t confess that to a philosopher. The fact that they do it exposes a vulnerability which is truly desperate.

People take operative comfort and strength from a specious salvation, a hokey Meaning-System. A dog-consciousness is normal. Any garbage will do as the ground of hope.

We might say, wryly, that the problem of the higher consciousness has already been solved: the human family admits of levels of understanding so different as to befit different species.

I meet people all the time who hold themselves above the vulgar mass. "The majority need a superstitious System to keep going," they say. But wait. Where do all the people who have made this discovery, some of them pundits, expect us to go? What good is this discovery? What is the value of realizing that the majority are unable to find equanimity within, that they are driven by insecurity to mythical answers? Shall we discover people’s mental servitude … and then DISMISS it?

There is something the pundits have not acknowledged. Some of them have it both ways. Privately, they know that the belief-systems are parochial and anachronistic. But they publicly affiliate with and represent a religion. They twist and turn to defend it.

My last questions may seem to have intuitive answers. The thesis of a common humanity is kept in play in social practice. Even though institutions have denied it, it is never altogether abandoned – because human excellence is not confined to a circumscribed group. All the same, I must say in the strongest terms that this is no answer to what human commonality is. What is more, to make an argument for human commonality solely on the grounds of historical experience, for example, is very risky. (Or to argue from genetics, as is popular with the Sunday supplement audience.) Historical experience or genetics is not guaranteed to support conclusions which will be politically acceptable to my readers.

Turning to the question of whether the whole is at least neutral to me, seemingly it is answered in the affirmative because most people cling to life in practice. Life is its sufficient reward. But wait. I am trying to disabuse us of some of the illusions, some of the cheap answers, of modernity. My reader’s snap reaction to the ninth question was probably that nobody in these modern times could believe that the universe brought us forth just to torment us.

But we need to approach the "disillusioned modernist" with more discernment. If we listen to him, the circumstance that he remains alive does not constitute an affirmative answer to our question – for him. It is rather than he has a double existence, finding it easier to preserve his corporeal existence, but having given the speculative question a negative answer.

Bertrand Russell is a spectacular example. I always thought of him as a valiant in the scientific battle against supernaturalism, albeit one whose simple certainties had been rendered quaint by the passage of time. But when I returned to him after having been sensitized by the considerations in this essay, I realized that he said something profoundly different from what I had seen. In the first place, his attacks on supernaturalism were directed exclusively at Christianity. What are we to make of this glaring particularism?

Beyond that, what we find is an astonishing rejection of the assumption that the universe is neutral toward us. It appears in essay after essay. In "A Free Man’s Worship," Russell takes his stand on unyielding despair. He goes on to say that the universe is hostile and evil; and he speaks of our common doom. In "Why I Am Not a Christian," he allows that the world was made by the devil.

… this world that we know was made by the devil at a moment when God was not looking. There is a good deal to be said for that, and I am not concerned to refute it.

At the end of the book Religion and Science, he again toys with the notion that Satan created humanity. I don’t consider it an obligation for anyone to be an optimist, but that is not the issue here. The issue is whether transcendent or supernatural considerations dominate us.

My term for the position that the universe is evil, is a theater of torment, is rejectionism. It may carry the implication that life is a opportunity to be despised (although the proponents usually refrain from killing themselves). We may think that in these modern times no scientific savant could believe that evil rules the universe. But it is precisely what we are being told, if we will allow ourselves to see it.

Rejectionism is taken further in Tony Conrad’s "On Shrewdness" (1973). A dominant theme of this essay is the meaninglessness of human life in the universe, which Conrad wields as a club to punish people who could be called idealistic or who have idealistic expectations. Conrad wants to strip "idealistic" accomplishments of their value. We cannot give ourselves nobility. Moreover, every idealistic accomplishment will be sullied by the manipulators. But that means that we are not only playthings of a cosmic tormenter; we are irremediably defiled within. The universe is a cosmic theater of our disgrace.

The promise of modernism was that science had delivered us from religion. Some of the time, Russell said that science was near the final answer, and that it had given us the formula for happiness. But suddenly a conviction leaps out which is anything but irreligious.


Let me resume my inquiry into life’s forward impulse. Constituents to conjure with:

–our thinking vitality

–our striving toward goals

–our sense of personal unboundedness

–our weakness in the general sense of not being able to have what we wish for

–our care for others

–our need for an accounting of life as a whole

What is the forward impulse which perseverance embodies, what "ontology" does it commit you to? What is the forward impulse which élan embodies, what "ontology" does it commit you to?

Is my confidence in my own powers the basis of my forward impulse? Am I the pillar on which the universe rests? There are people who seem to want to feel that they are godlike, all-powerful. However, as I mentioned in connection with the person who is a prisoner of an unpropitious attitude, and in connection with the regaining of elan, people find themselves in deleterious conditions such that they cannot will themselves well. They must accomplish something but discover that they can’t do it by force of will. Their only chance of relief lies in being open to whatever gift may reveal itself.

It would be suspect if you gloated that you were making it all happen all by yourself, if you gloated that it was all give and no take. Then other people would only be targets for your predation and you would be otherwise independent of them. But that is belied by the emotional interdependence, and need to communicate, which I am calling natural, and which are issues in health. It is unsatisfactory to have to suppose that:

i) other people are worthless

ii) other people never do anything for you.

If other people are that unworthy, that useless, if their minds have absolutely nothing you want, then why would you be honored by their company? My hope has to be extravagant enough to envision a future in which other people are good for something and surprise me in gratifying ways.

If I have felt love or joy in the past, but never expect to feel it again, does that mean that I am persevering in discouragement? (Possibly out of a sense of duty to other people?) Then perseverance in discouragement is a modality of the utmost importance.


A book that I will refer to repeatedly in this discussion is Max Stirner’s The Ego and Its Own. It took me a long time to discover this book. Stirner’s argument is a conceit, it is foolish; but in the course of being provocative, Stirner identifies many important issues and makes us aware of debatable assumptions by disputing them. I may say, by the way, that his book is hard to use because Stirner did not stay with it long enough to edit it properly. The most important section is "My Self-Enjoyment," in Second Part, II. What Stirner says toward the end often qualifies the iconoclasm with which he begins, either nullifying it outright or converting it into mere verbal trickery. When one is well into the book, one discovers that he will allow fellow-feeling – as long as it does not carry a theology of love and selflessness. He re-validates what was to be discarded – after having changed its name.

In Stirner’s conceit, nothing objective can ever separate itself from me and humble me. What makes it preposterous is that Stirner posited the eternal existence of a capitalist social system – urging, in particular, the sort of relations between employers and employees one sees today in the professional sports leagues. He wanted common-sense reality to endure as his platform – and at the same time be able to overmaster everything with his whimsy. I begin life disadvantaged and dependent. Stirner knows that, and I don’t understand why he doesn’t realize that that nullifies his absolutism of self-sufficiency. Near the end of his book, he asks rhetorically, do I ask you to be an animal? The reader may well reply, yes, you do.

So Stirner was out of his depth. He wanted never to encounter anything which had the advantage of him, and never to do battle with himself. He makes a great point that he does not find himself; he is already "there," a pure creature of impulse. But he cannot have it as he wants: in the eternal capitalist common sense which he endorses.

I can disappoint myself; I can harm myself. I have to please other people or I will cease to live; I cannot stop owing them something. I need to declare my thoughts, my approvals, my disapprovals to other people. The purposes which make me feel useful typically involve my reciprocity with other people. Most people are susceptible to boredom, which means that they cannot make themselves happy. There may be something which I must accomplish but cannot do by force of will. The question whether people possess a common humanity becomes a practical question during slavery or genocide; and the person who defends individualism is not likely to be the same as the person who comfortably collaborates. (Stirner wanted to believe that the oppressed masses, too, could turn his criminal insolence to their advantage, that he had solved "the worker question.")

V. Epistemology

This study would be intuitively more appealing if I could somehow stipulate the cognitive phase of life and did not have to launch into an examination indistinguishable from epistemology, a disquisition on reality and truth. But the abstract-technical issues prove to be at the center of the treatment of "meaning." People think (take stock) – and people think (predict, speculate). If the quality of the former matters, we have no choice but to occupy ourselves with the latter.

All of my studies of human relations, or whatever one wants to call it, involve compromises with the advanced insights which are my contributions – such as the solutions of meta-technology. I indulge in these compromises because we are not finished with the matter of living, we do not simply shut life like a book and proceed without life.

But there is a devilish difficulty: because the very precepts about life which dimension this inquiry carry massive presuppositions about reality, truth, and knowledge. These presuppositions are internally out of whack in ways that I cannot afford to overlook. In addition, the conventional wisdom is simply oblivious to my specific contributions – again, what I call meta-technology, for example – and so I experience them as confining and blind, not to say perverse. If you really want to see what I mean, read Tim Crane’s "The Waterfall Illusion," in Analysis, 1988. Crane is invested in an ideology of scientific truth which alienates him from his own perceptions in a horrible way. This sort of posture is exactly what I am not willing to acquiesce to if we have to settle accounts with "meaning."

In personhood theory, the progression has me backing off from the ostensible world to an unravelled depiction, and finally to personhood’s self-cancellation. But in my other studies of human relations, conformist presuppositions about reality, truth, and knowledge are harbored by the problem of life which I propose to address. Here I want to acknowledge the obstacle, without yet being prepared to resolve the difficulty. It is all the more acute because my studies depend on having codes of veracity.

I speak of futurity, of strategizing the future, of the increased self-reliance which is an expected aspect of maturity, of recognizing my liability to misfortune. In the mundane sense, the powers of humanity as a whole increase, as nuclear weapons are deployed, heart transplants are performed, etc. These intuitive notions are bound up with certain formal epistemologies. Just as there is a natural orientation toward curiosity, activeness, relative self-reliance, relative power, there is a natural preference for the expansion of consciousness. We get a definition of cognition as the seeking of awareness of what the obscure totality shows of itself. Leaving aside our awareness of our awareness, we assume a gap between our awareness and "the" obscure totality; otherwise cognition would not be venturesome and we could not make mistakes. There is a natural harmony between consciousness and truth. Truth and falsehood are at opposite poles; the poles are disparate. We can make mistakes – called falsehood or illusion – but mistakes are vulnerabilities, detours; truth is always waiting to expose them.

Truths are recorded in dogmatic affirmations; and the natural expansion of consciousness is the natural expansion of cognition, a natural cumulation of dogmatic affirmations. We don’t know what consciousness’ limit is. Formal logic in the twentieth century insists on taking as its topic the closure of propositional languages. There might be a consciousness which held all the dogmatic affirmations. Then formal logic trades on simulacra of such a thing. Meanwhile, the layperson has, for ages, believed in a consciousness which holds all of the truths expressed in words. All the while, scientific cognition is an endless trek toward a totality of quantitative truths.

Such grandiosity has a commonplace plausibility. In everyday life we set great store by our education and our experience (as English calls Erfahrung). And meanwhile, consensus perceptual exploration and science tell us that everything, the whole, is vast in extent and qualitatively diverse and above all temporally immense. The very word exploration has a principal meaning of roaming in the physical surroundings.

There is, then, a life of consciousness which is a cumulation of truths. I give this perspective the label majorization. Now an answer begins to attach itself to my sixth and subsequent questions from §IV. (Or to the vernacular "What’s it all about?") The answer is a grand affirmative dogma, a plenitude of content.

Over the centuries there has been a painful understanding that cognition is not a reproduction but a translation – that we supply the language and that we find what our language can express. That understanding has hardly been fully assimilated in the the more traditional epistemology embedded in "human relations," which remains representationalist, and no doubt underrates imagination.

All this – I must say as Henry Flynt – is primitive; and my results make it inexcusable. But at what point in my review of human relations do I disconnect from the traditional epistemology embedded in them?

The accumulation of dogmatic affirmations is a pat project. But there is a more intimate, more urgent role for knowledge and truth, in connection with what I call a code of veracity. I require that I write honest reports, not fabricated reports, of my dreams. Why? Because the episodes which comprise my longitudinal identity are evidence. If I eclipse this evidence with fabrications, then pieces of myself are irrevocably erased. I am honest because this partially unknown territory which is me is valuable to me. If I were to fabricate my dreams, then I would pronounce myself to be worthless.

To continue, truth-issues and reality-issues are profoundly related to personal freedom and to lucid self-interpretation or self-understanding. A person may be the captive of a base appetite which requires more and more of the interpersonal transactions called lying and stealing. When anyone throws him-or herself into denial and lives it for an extended period of time, he or she can no longer tell when he or she is denying. When they lie to themselves, they erode their capacity for discrimination and discernment. They cannot identify their purposes in their conscious realized choices. (Recall that we began with conscious realized choices.) They cannot distinguish qualities in their own comportment. We say, a free and lucid person can declare his or her own priorities. A person who is captive must deny their own priorities, then have those priorities spewed in the open when they fall apart.

As we already speak of an addict’s choice-making, and its captive character, we may anticipate the next section and mention another lesson. The addict lives with the fear that their doing, which formally is a choosing and a willing, will get them in trouble. They have to face the future fearing the possibility of an ungovernable impulse in themselves which will bring disaster on them. And: hoping that they will not have the ungovernable impulse. Then choosing/willing knows multiple selves, as it were.

But let us leave codes of veracity and return to the acquisition of affirmative dogmas, which is what the conventional wisdom thinks it knows. The conventional epistemology is badly out of alignment internally. There is perception, which is inhomogeneous because it has me as its vantage-point. There is common sense, which arrives at a world of things which exist independently of me, in a space which has no particular center-point or direction. Common sense is the only theory we have which is vernacular and which incorporates the world of things and the world of psychic actuation in the same theory. (You really see it, for example, when a perpetrator’s intent is being proven in a court of law.) Then there is the sophisticated cognitive project of our culture: natural science, quantitative and conceptualized knowing, the reduction to the inert element.

Perception and common sense are meant to support each other. That is the point of common sense, to be able to smoothly insert perception in a homogeneous perspective. I see a flowerpot on the floor on the other side of a warehouse. I want to use it, so I walk toward it. As I do, it becomes larger to my sight. I reach for it, and confirm what I expected, that it is rigid, inert, and ponderable. Common sense enables me to believe that the pot was unchanging throughout, and that its different visible sizes, for example, were due to the changes in my vantage-point. But then this conditions my perception itself, because I do not interpret perceptually the change in size of the pot as a magical growth of the pot. What is more, I expect that if I approach the pot along the line of sight, I can close the distance to it because it will not recede from me. And as I close the distance between myself and the pot, so that finally I can grasp it, I do not infer perceptually that the pot and its location came to me.

But then we have a rainbow, which satisfies the same visual conditions for a rigid thing in a fixed location in homogeneous space. But when I move toward it, I find that I do not close the distance to it. It does not behave like a rigid thing with a fixed location in homogeneous space. Here common sense radically fails; or rather, it gives the rainbow a category all to itself as a sight for which you should not expect the standard interpretation to be confirmed. Sometimes perception and common sense mesh, and sometimes they do not.

Christopher Wren built a cloisters in The Middle Temple in London in 1681. His patrons worried that there were not enough columns to support the load on the ceiling. So Wren added a row of columns in the middle, and everybody was happy. But the extra columns stopped short of the ceiling by one inch, not visible at ground level. Perception and common sense meshed: the columns were seen to support the ceiling – but it was false.

These are finger-exercises. There is far more to it. Natural science is built on an approach to the subject-matter and a manipulation of it on a common-sense basis. But natural science radically criticizes and humiliates common sense. It assures me that the solid pot was overwhelmingly empty space. It assures me that space – and even more, time – are not as I perceive them. This is no small matter, because my actuation is inseparable from temporality. Above all, natural science is ruthlessly reductionist and behaviorist. It finds no justification whatever for any aspect of the psyche, especially choice or responsibility. (Actuation-characteristics which have been called necessarily vague.) And yet without these aspects there would be no dilemma of life and no palpable difference between autonomy and mesmerization, for example.

We are not intimidated by science’s minimizing dogmatism, because, for example, without choice and without canons of integrity there could be no scientific experimentation and no right answers.

And: it is said that we know when we have reduced awareness to matter; but in fact knowing is the thematization of matter in awareness, a translation of the obscure totality into a language invented by us.

It’s even worse than that. A scientist has to believe that there is a system to be discovered. A scientist has to believe that there is a Master on the other side of the board in the chess game of cognition. It is a faith which science cannot do without; it is outside science proper but must be continuous with scientific abstraction. Science requires a Master. It emphatically has not been shown to be the same thing as the consciousness holding all truths expressed in words which the layperson may believe in.

In the prevailing culture, the culture in which conventionally apprehended human relations subsist, the incompatibility of science and common sense is an insuperable incoherence. The culture does not have a unitary truth-concept. It is worse than that: I, Flynt, am the only author I know who proclaims the difficulty in a forthright way. (Or to be more precise, I am the only author who mentions the difficulty from a vantage-point which is equidistant from common sense and science.) Nobody in the Establishment has tried to do anything about the incoherences I have just mentioned. (Charlatans merely exploit them as an excuse to return to superstition.)

Let me try to be completely blunt. The most sophisticated cognitive project of our civilization is natural science. Natural science, which overrules common sense, finds no justification for the aspects of the psyche or of "humanity" which furnish our very topic here. So any divinity-concept offered by this culture to answer "What’s it all about?" has to be a misalignment – just by the internal logic.

Limiting myself for the moment to the most restrained conclusions, my inquiry cannot accept the argument from the fixed stock of truths, or the argument from extrapolation. While I applaud exposes of reductionism, I cannot, in the name of opposing reductionism, accept the metaphysics which conjures more and more extravagant ontologies as the "grounds" of any proximate phenomenon. Science, by the way, pretends to reject traditional verbal grounding – as when the table is grounded in the table-idea.

In all fairness, the maneuver of grounding does have intuitive motivations. In everyday life, we search for, or thematize, an antecedent for a phenomenon which takes us outside the phenomenon’s reality-type to some other reality-type. In plain words, we infer heated water from steam, the watchmaker from the watch, the criminal from the crime, the human error from the failure of the mechanical system. (The Greeks, as we know, inferred the perfect, geometric sphere from the material globe; and the principle still informs pure mathematics, even if it is hard to get them to confess it.) And the maneuver of grounding is certainly encouraged by the notion that it is consciousness’ mission to acquire more and more dogmatic affirmations, that consciousness would be fulfilled by a plenitude of dogmatic affirmations.


There are two spiritual perspectives which present themselves as sophisticated which I want to register here. Some authors propose to make an object of worship out of the complement, in the totality of truths, of what humans know. They call it the Mystery; we may call these authors heralds of the Mystery.

The human lack of discursive knowledge relative to:

–existence of a cosmic lord;

–the nature of reality (in the sense of passing from the face of the watch to the mechanism?);

–the nature of love;

–the nature of death.

It is left unresolved whether these things are permanently unknowable. Man is a tiny creature in a vast objective universe – which has so much "logic" that it must have been made. We stand, humbled, before a vast extent of space and time and a natural order which must have been arranged. We are tiny creatures in an objective arena, and we know so much about what we do not know that our insignificance is obvious.

My response to all that is of a piece with the preceding exposition. The notion of human insignificance in the great universe amounts to an unnecessarily conventional credulity. Implicit in the exposition of the mystery is an entire fabric of content which can be faded up to visibility. The picture purports already to know the dimension along which possibility lies. It assumes that the enterprise of discursive knowledge – majorization – has been validated. It assumes that the cosmic topics we do not know about have been identified in a validated way.

To recall my previous complaint, this picture omits to declare whether its arena is common sense or scientific rigor. We can infer that the picture of personhood and personal affections is a common-sense one. Incorporated in the overall common-sense arena is a notion of the astronomical universe and its manifest natural order which is in fact a canard about the conquests of science. The mystery-worshiper worships the achievements of science while not being qualified to referee them or criticize their epistemology. So the conquests of science are popularized and taken on faith. Our cosmic residence is pre-decided by this exposition of the Mystery. We ought to worry about whether a cosmic lord exists or existed; that’s the dimension along which possibility lies.

There is no admission that science may be absolutely incompatible with the personalistic or supernatural circumstances which the heralds of the Mystery wish for. There is no sense among the heralds that "the objective universe" is a reductionist half-fantasy, as I have said again and again.


For ages, the need for Meaning-Systems has elicited what I will call the publicist of affirmation. Affirmationism typically posits majorization and a divinity-concept and invokes the Mystery as well. The divinity is the ground of ‘hope" (the good-spirited forward impulse) and is also the ground of human commonality. Our publicist is a middlebrow, and his perspective is manifestly slapdash. He invokes scientific majorization as a layperson forced into retreat by science; then makes an issue of how little we know as a way of undercutting our self-sufficiency; then assures us that the all-knowing and all-powerful one looks out for the individual’s interests.

I could have written around the affirmationist by dealing with each theme in his pastiche separately. Instead, I choose to name him as a type in the hope that it will highlight some of the observations I will make in the sections to follow.

VI. Possibility

The discrepancies among perception, common sense, and science are not the weightiest epistemological concern which intersects this inquiry. We have spoken about responsibility and we have spoken about having a possibility beyond anything we can contrive. And in the next section, we will say that there is no set limit on what we can contrive.

There is a conventional wisdom that these actuation-characteristics are necessarily vague because they are our limits (well, the publicists of affirmation say that).–And our limits are beyond our theoretical reductions. But, as I said at the beginning, I think we should at least intertranslate these enigmatic affections with other constituents on the same level.

I am trying in this discussion to cut away a series of Sunday supplement cliches and leave us with a more compelling subject-matter to ponder. Of all the abstract, skeletal issues embodied our topic, the one which is most refractory and at the same time has received the least amount of useful discussion is possibility. In particular, the issue of possible courses of events and their counterposition as actual and non-actual.

Possibility needs an extended treatment specific to it; and that may be found in my recent "How Substantial Is Non-Actual Possibility?" Here I will review some clues as to the centrality of possibility in the life-course: the urgent respects in which possibility gives life its tone.

This essay began by speaking of the forward impulse. That impulse is precisely possibility – as is clear when it is called hope. I want something, and I have a chance, but not a certainty, of getting it. I may face good luck or bad luck; all the while, it is partly up to me to make my luck.

To say that it is up to me to make my luck means that the world is permeated with causal regularities; I make my luck by availing myself of this option while eschewing that one.

We say, you have to try. You ought to rise to the occasion. You should tap untapped potential. We say, you could have chosen and willed otherwise than you did.

As I said in the last section, the addict has a very special relation to possibility. The addict lives with the fear that their own ungovernable impulse will get them in trouble – and the hope that it will not.

Then we must acknowledge the capacity to imagine and to live in fantasy, which is the basis of symbolism and story. The so-called abstract imagination: a famous example is Archimedes’ "The Sand Reckoner," not to mention the essay on method in which he anticipates integral calculus. Leibniz’s famous anticipation of mathematical logic. Hilbert’s vague programs for foundations of mathematics. Glimpses of unexplored realms of ideas with instrumental consequences. The instrumental imagination: the architect’s vision of the completed building. For the men who developed the atomic bomb, the possibility which they willfully but uncertainly courted must have been as palpable as a table.

I delve into non-pragmatic possibility, if you will, when I take on a fantastic identity. In our culture, it has come down to costume parties and the theater and swindles of impersonation; but the assumption of fantastic identities in ritual had a far more honored place in earlier cultures and was near the center of collective imaginative life.

We also look back to our discarded possibilities. Saying "I could have done that" to claim greater powers than I exhibited. Asserting that you did not have to do the wrong thing, as a way of asserting your responsibility. Regret. Exculpation: "I did everything I was able to."

We expect hazards to be respected. If I am almost run over by a car, I am psychologically wounded and I have to recover as if I had been badly bruised. Non-actual possibilities which I do not control can be very weighty.

But it is more heroic than I have said so far. It is a truism that happiness in the longer term is bound up with exploring one’s potential. We speak of aspiration, of my self-creation, of winning myself. Aspiration may mean directing myself to an externally posited ideal, trying to please my superiors. (The obvious, if mundane case of a rookie in a professional sports league.) There is some comportment by which I can go beyond what I have so far showed myself capable of. Beyond that, my sense of my unique nature, waiting to be realized, enters the picture. There is some comportment by which I can exhibit, achieve, what suits my unique nature.

These are possibility concepts of the strongest sort; they require me to imagine myself and to have an imaginative sense of my uniqueness as a person and to choose and will at that level. I can also let my most precious possibility slip away.

But my exposition so far has been heavily biased, in that I have merely reviewed respects in which we give credence to possibility. But you cannot really penetrate this topic unless you also have a sense that there is no body of intuitions in this area which is standard or mandatory. You cannot really penetrate this topic unless you also have a sense that there is something profoundly unexplained about giving credence to non-actual possibility, to what is not. If one is temperamentally an empiricist, for example, then we have a terrible problem. How can one seriously credit something which is not? And what of the deprecation that "anything you didn’t do was impossible for you to do"? Certainly you cannot rebut it, because you cannot revise your past.

I was always inclined to say that a question which is inherently unanswerable is a meaningless question – and that inaccessible realities are nothing you would want to rely on. When knowledge consists in a picture which is inflated (no telling how far) beyond palpable evidence, meta-technology sees a vulnerability to be exploited mercilessly.

Max Stirner re-enters our exposition here; once again serving as a helpful provocateur. Toward the end, in "My Self-Enjoyment," he launches an attack on the little word possible. People are good for just what they demonstrate, no more and no less. Thus, the social recruitment and cultivation of talent is nothing we owe to the world’s serfs. (What sort of a schoolteacher could Stirner have been?) Moreover, it is contemptible to strive for an ideal, to try to grow toward an ideal. You only sacrifice your present for some sanctimonious fiction. Stirner counsels you to consume yourself, to live in an altogether impulsive way, to live like a beast (although he does not quite say it).

He even dares to take on the possibility concept abstractly, saying that possibility unactualized is nothing more nor less than fantasy. What is is all that is real; what is not, you may be sure, is not because it is impossible. If one tries to explicate possibility as simple futurity, Stirner says, that still does not open a compartment outside of reality. That the sun will rise tomorrow is possible because at present, that tomorrow is the real future. It is too easy – but we have to thank Stirner for reminding us that futurity is also a box outside of immediacy which we treat differently from the past (although Stirner is telling us we shouldn’t); and that there is a conventional wisdom in which entailments concerning futurity and concerning possibility are interdependent.

But Stirner’s poorly edited book has not thought through his own positions. Much earlier in the book, he vehemently asserted his self-creation from nothing. To conjure my own identity from nothing would be a case of possibility indeed, since it is the opposite of inert and predetermined being. It is like the moment when I think my first thought, Stirner says. Well, it is not our task here to ponder these clues. But it certainly makes our issues more graphic.

Given the role of the possibility concept in our mental preparation to expand ourselves, nullifying stances such as Stirner’s, or literal empiricism, imply a debilitating attitude. Does that mean that to live as an empiricist or a good Stirnerite is mentally impossible?

Popular notions about human freedom carry us into even murkier waters. What of the widespread notion of fate or destiny in human relations? What of the untaken paths in human history? – do they have actual structures, or are responsible people who debate choices not made (eschewing the Vietnam escalation of the Sixties) talking nonsense?

If I, Flynt, stand at a fork in the road, is the Flynt who might travel one road the same as the Flynt who might travel the other? If there is something which I failed to do, am I the same person as the imaginary person who did what I failed to do? Well, in the first place, it cannot be a scientific question. Beyond that, whether a human person endures as the same, at all, is a classic question in speculative thought which is considered to have a spiritual dimension, and which remains vexing. Isn’t a part of our topic the opportunity to leave your old self in the past to one or another extent?


Person-world analysis considers it an advance to present choosing/willing as: a constituent of the person-world separable from the metaphysical questions of causality and determinism. Nevertheless, we are invested in causal thinking in our very strategizing. How does my notion of options in relation to my competence square with the notion of alternatives where events are beyond my control? Might we claim that the indeterminacy of the future is not an indeterminacy in what will happen but only a gap in what I now know? It would depend profoundly on the principle that one of a pair of opposites must be realized. (The sun will suffer a total eclipse tomorrow or it won’t.)


It may be the height of wisdom to recognize that our possibility extends beyond anything we can contrive. In the next section, I will say that there is no set limit on what we can contrive. (All the while, person-world analysis speculates on a mode which is neither efficient causation nor indeterminacy: retroactive signification, coherent novelty. A phenomenon whose understandability comes from the future because its significance coalesces later not earlier. Evidently I am toying with locating possibility and fate at the same point. It’s beyond this discussion.)

With these remarks, issues of possibility become the primary issues here. How extravagant must my ontological commitments be to support possibility as involved in my constitution of options and my so-called temporal emotions – and beyond that, the absence of a knowable limit on my potential? What is the substantial reality-status for non-actual possibility that is being claimed here, and what, if anything, is being claimed for fate?

The claim that we have a potential whose limit we cannot know is plausible, but we don’t yet know how to contain its extravagance – or how to explain a claim of unexercised and unknowable options.

Such is as much as I want to say here. There is an appendix with some basic observations on how the sense of possibility gives living its tone.

VII. Visionary Elevation

So far, we have spoken of imagination’s possibility in terms of conventional, extravagant thematizing and its mistakes. But our very topic of living and of its dilemmas and of "meaning" would not exist if imagination and the aspiration to veracity and media of transmission of cultural values did not gain us something. We have, if I may say so, the ground of the human interaction between i) vitality, ii) estimates of the future, adopted goals, strategizing – with which I began. So we need to fill out the account of our imaginative life as it matters palpably.

Here is the place to observe that there is no set limit on what we can contrive. From time to time, people surprise me in a favorable way, and the direction of my life shifts. (Whether La Monte Young, John Coltrane, Robert Johnson, Pandit Pran Nath, Christer Hennix, or those whom I don’t name.)

In life, there is a role for the notion that expanding personal powers are associated with a person’s acquisition of more truths and the expansion of consciousness, as I have said several times. (So extravagant conventional wisdom can appeal to that.)

My long acquaintance with the Hindustani vocalist Pandit Pran Nath conjured up some piercing questions. I write about it elsewhere, but let me just mention the most pertinent of them. He had an incredible system and technique, his contribution was the product of unbelievable discipline, and yet he made you feel that his singing was completely above technique, in an experience absolutely of the nature of one’s humanity. He forcibly confronted you with your own appreciation of emotion, poignancy, and exaltation. It pierced your heart. Why does the vicarious encounter of grief conjured up with musical tones have a healing, remedying effect?

Our emotion, happy or unhappy, makes us real, and profound, and we want to re-experience it as a recommitment to our depth. We are inherently oriented – so that a climate of self-respect and emotional honesty, a climate without self-masking, evokes awe. When another person conveys it it me, dissolves my self-masking, I experience that person as having the advantage of me. How many people have ever had a power to heal despair (or grief) – which goes beyond personal complementation (i.e. being one other person’s soulmate)? The achievement of Pandit Pran Nath was to take people into themselves and show them that they had sensibilities and heights which were latent, which they did not suspect.

Then it is predicated on his continuity with other people; he is eliciting something latent in them. And yet he is not as other people. If he had not done it, I would never have imagined it. So: during his apprenticeship, he obviously absorbed content from others, his mentors and cohorts. But after his apprenticeship was over, when his contributions were like nothing anyone else had done: was his content then held entirely within him, was he its sole source? Did he take the source to the grave with him? (Even though we know that: inasmuch as he sang in a traditional genre, and reached other people, there had to be a continuity between him and them?) Or, did the content which he transmitted reside in part outside himself? What is interesting is that naturalism allows only a sharply negative answer to the last question. But then here is the trap for naturalism. If it was all inside him, and went to the grave with him, then he was so superior to other human beings in some respects that the claim that all humans are approximately interchangeable cannot be credible. (He harbored an almost supernatural superiority to other people – and that leaves democracy a sham.) He had an unbridgeable advantage of us – and yet we respect him because he reaches us – because he opens us to ourselves.

Christer Hennix contributed an entire personal program of visionary elevation. More than anybody else, Hennix enlivened the program of expanding consciousness, majorization, secured certainties – and the cooperation between cognition and ecstasy. Hennix gave the European visionaries exactly what they said they wanted. But the public reacted with massive, implacable indifference and disregard. Hennix presents us with a great challenge; but also, inadvertently exposed that the intellectual leaders were faking it, that never for a minute did they want what they said they wanted.

I take up Hennix’s challenge in, for example, "Critical Notes on the Person-World," Part V. Here are my unique objections, and my alternative, to majorization and the like. That is, I invoke my perspective – which eschews majorization in a way that is inconceivable to the conventional outlook, to the Tim Cranes of the world. I enable élan in a way that is unique to me. It is beyond the scope of this essay, but we can proceed without these results.

Various drug-induced euphorias can be avenues to visionary elevation; in particular, as employed to stimulate creativity, ratiocination, insight. Dexamyl, LSD, synthetic mescaline. As is known, dexamyl enables you to wade through dense rationcinations and to summon elusive creativity. In addition, I would feel that my memory could reach back over decades to recover the early, searing episodes which shaped me. A reverse clairvoyance. I assume a familiarity with the panorama of Hennix’s work; that work amounts to a prospectus of visionary elevation.

Aside from the degree to which the apparent cognitions prove out, we experience a similitude of perspicacity that makes a thinkable goal of elevated perspicacity. We discover that we live as only a shadow of our possibility. There are other joys, such as love, which to me do not seem to belong with visionary elevation. And yet I suppose the preferred states of consciousness have in common a sense of frictionlessness and of having one’s most precious possibilities vivified.

There is indeed a long bohemian tradition of calling visionary elevation "more real" than alert waking consciousness Given that visionary elevation may be an inebriation, the accolade of superior realism hardly follows implicitly. Intoxication is grist for the mill of bohemian charlatanism. But then charlatanism can crop up in any department of life, including the stodgiest academic scholarship.


Reply to affirmationism

We may recall, from §IV, the sixth question – and the reflective question of the ontology which your forward impulse commits you to. Visionary elevation makes these questions richer. Anything which teaches us that we live as only a shadow of our possibility – that consciousness can be elevated beyond alert waking consciousness – makes these questions richer.

At the same time, the publicist of affirmation whom I introduced in §V needs for love and joy to be the same thing as cognitive majorization. But they have nothing to do with each other. (And palpable love and joy are not timelessly self-validating; they are liable to illusion.) We began with the problem of the forward impulse in anybody’s life. It has everything to do with possibility. It has hardly anything to do with cognitive majorization as understood by Leibniz or Hennix. The vision of majorization is cerebral in a way which confines it to specialists. The hope or perseverance of a cleaning woman does not come from problems of knowledge and reality as they are known to a miniscule number of scientific visionaries or to us.

Inasmuch as publicists of affirmation also proclaim the Mystery, they want an incomprehensible mystery to be the support of hope. But if it is an incomprehensible mystery, how does it support hope? If I espouse the metaphysical agnosticism which the Sunday supplement audience takes to be sophisticated, if "I do not regard any experience as final or intelligible in itself," then the certainties which a Meaning-System requires are not available. Why is an incomprehensible mystery supposed to have my best interests at heart? What is it in the experience of life that suggests that "the Mystery" is solicitous for every sparrow? How convenient: that the all-knowing one does not even have to make the decisions that heads of state make in war, to sacrifice a few to save the many.

In my perspective, which this essay appeals to only tangentially, the selection of a recognizable topic is already a compromise. Then that topic receives a specially matched treatment. There is not a single dogmatic affirmation like a magnetic pole to which all questions turn.


Meanwhile, the vernacular question "What’s it all about?" pretends that cogent cosmic speculation will be brought home to the average person. That is out of the question. You can’t produce cosmic speculation unless you are conversant with the best evidence (cf. my commentary on Hennix which I cited above); and the average person doesn’t know and doesn’t care. The answers which average people can assimilate fall so far short of the best evidence that they are silly.

We might consider Stirner, who knew how to pull us up short.

Yes, if men were what they should be, could be, if all men were rational, all loved each other as brothers, then it would be a paradisiacal life. – All right, men are as they should be, can be. What should they be? Surely not more than they can be! And what can they be? Not more, again, than they can, than they have the competence, the force, to be. But this they really are, because what they are not, they are incapable of being; for to be capable means – really to be. One is not capable for anything that one really is not; one is not capable of anything that one does not really do.


But then we are thrown back on a persisting difficulty. Ordinary people have to be motivated. They have to decide on a practical level whether people possess a common humanity. In an ideal world, would there be an appropriate cosmic perspective of which a version would somehow filter down to average people? That is exactly what does not happen in the world we know.

Having a cosmic perspective which is intellectually defensible does not matter to people. To the extent that people do not go off the deep end, they make do with what I called in §IV the intuitive answers to the eighth and ninth questions.

–Life rewards itself.

–We cannot disdain segments of humanity because human excellence is not confined to a circumscribed group.

But as I noted, this latter answer still does not tell us what human commonality is; and if the basis of the answer is historical experience, historical experience is not guaranteed to give the wanted answer.

VIII. Rejectionism’s Publicists

We spoke at length of personal despondency in §III. But now we move to another level, the level at which individuals become larger than life by enacting human conditions in public for profit. There is the Existentialist, the literary lion who could be found in drawing rooms, cocktail in hand, before he was run off by the deconstructionist. He wears a black beret, so that identifying him won’t put too much of a mental strain on his public. We find him complaining that the society has not provided him with a fulfilling role (although he cannot express it as clearly as that).

Well, that may be entirely true; societal conditions may be "wrong." But then one reacts by trying to change them. And that shows an underlying acceptance of life, shows that one lives in hope. Wrong conditions are no reason to judge that being alive is worth nothing.

In fact, the Existentialist or his latter-day counterpart is pulling our leg. He declares the meaninglessness of human existence in the universe, then proceeds precisely to counsel humanitarianism. How was it that the meaninglessness of human existence in the universe obliged Existentialists to express pious horror at just those cases of "man’s inhumanity to man" which are politically incorrect, such as civil rights violations in rich nations, or laws against abortion? There is a mangled logic here to the effect that "man’s inhumanity to man" can no longer be justified by religious dogma. But why shouldn’t it be justified by … Existentialism? In fact, Existentialists gloried in an aesthetic of the sordid and the cruel.

The Existentialist who is desperate to distinguish himself from others competing for fame and power may go so far as to say that the human condition as such does not allow fulfillment. Life is a curse.

Now we drift back within range of Bertrand Russell and his position that evil rules the universe. In "A Free Man’s Worship," Russell characterized his unyielding despair, and his conviction that the universe is evil, by calling himself a free man in his title. What sort of insane ideological legerdemain is this? Why is he not a cursed man, a bound man?

How many of the campaigners of naturalism and secularism in the first half of the twentieth century are in this range, the range of Russell and of the general rejectionism of the Existentialists (if there was such)? How subtle do we want to be in discerning these views? Freud is well known to have expressed a pessimistic view of human prospects and to have discovered an innate destructive tropism in people (not to mention the masochism of women). He held the manifestations of the death-instinct in repetition phenomena to be "daemonic." All the same, Freud clearly thought his circle to be above the general disrepute of humanity.

Somehow, the early modern pessimists all found that evil and despair oblige you to be a "liberal." They prided themselves on their membership in progressive causes and deeply resented it when anyone suggested that their philosophies might hinder them in being virtuous. At the same time, some of the spiritual leaders of secularism were renowned for their cultic sado-masochism. Bataille supposedly belonged to a cult which practiced human sacrifice.

Somehow, Russell’s despair did not become part of his image, while that of the Existentialists did define their image. But none of them were despondent in the sense I discussed earlier; none of them were in a condition of simple depletion. They all became overnight sensations, leaders, successes.

We know that Sartre embraced Maoism (actual totalitarianism) at the end of his life. When push came to shove, he easily discarded the individual autonomy and responsibility which he was famous for discovering. It is irresistible to remark that by embracing the authoritarian ruler, he replaced the god who disappeared with an absolute on the human plane.



The Existentialist exhorts us, if I may say so, to be stoic. He asks us to be true to ourselves even as life is unworthy of us. So it was with all of the crusaders for naturalism and secularism in the first half of the twentieth century. They told us to stand tall in an unworthy universe – and even to replace the god who disappeared with authoritarian governments.

But why? If the universe is unworthy and unfair, why not stand short in it? If you can’t fight evil, why not join it? In the second half of the twentieth century, the tone changes. Now the leading fad among the literati rejects high seriousness and responsibility. It finds "radical" political reasons to reject the self’s authenticity. (But why is it that we always want to be "on the Left," no matter what the content becomes?) Proceeding with mind-boggling insincerity, it proclaims an ethic of deceit and defilement.

I do not claim that the recent generation of leaders proclaims in so many words that evil rules the universe. If they have said it somewhere, I haven’t seen it. What they proclaim in so many words is the ethic of standing short in an unworthy universe. What they proclaim in so many words is the ethic of deceit and defilement. All the while, they combine their pursuit of deceit and defilement with an eagerness to be on the Left even more incongruous than that of Russell and Sartre. But let us see how the details of the outlooks of this generation of leaders play out.

There are general conditions transcending mere personal opinion which shape these developments. Sophisticated cultural forces (scientific reductionism, commercialism, artistic minimalism) now command any thinking person to be indifferent, numb, jaded, blasé. These forces modulate pride, shame, resentment – to yield an unprecedented hollowness. The New Age movement, incidentally, is no evidence that techno-commercial depersonalization is being moderated. The very point of New Age allegiance is to know, going in, that it is a scam, exactly like Dial-a-Psychic. They want the assurance that the psychic is laughing up her sleeve at them. And if the quackery is the reason why you embrace it, if the preferred experience is a scam, then it reinforces the demoralization. The New Age movement may not be important. But the lesson to be learned about spurious reassurance and its reinforcement of demoralization is profound.