I have found a new humility.
It was almost four years ago now that I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to this new place I have grown to love. It has been said that urban radical subcultures have a tendency to degenerate into ersatz religious cults or milieux for furnishing an extended adolescence for social misfits and eccentrics, and, from my small experience, that is true. But they are also spaces in which one, if conscientious, can learn quickly. As I moved to the Bay at the age of twenty-five, I was a self-identified anarchist who was passionately committed to living out my values, but I had a terribly naïve and incoherent worldview, in part because I had so few people in my life who could challenge my beliefs with anything other than mainstream boilerplate that I was perfectly capable of deconstructing.
But in the Bay Area, where I lived for three and a half years, I was suddenly around numerous anarchists for the first time in my life. Many were as young and foolish as I was, and many were thinly-veiled communists who would reveal themselves to be ultimately more authoritarian and hateful than normal people; but I was still able to learn from so many who were wrestling with a similar mix of enormously passionate visions, existential angst, and strategic confusion. Moreover, there were older anarchists who had shed many illusions, and, from them, I was able to do what every generation of healthy, pre-postmodernity humans has done: learn from the accumulated wisdom of elders.
I was at various times doing urban activist organizing, working with the publishing house Little Black Cart, doing the podcasts Free Radical Radio and later The Brilliant about once per week, participating regularly in protests that frequently became riots, living in group houses, and earning my income in the grey economy – in short, I was pursuing a kind of archetypal urban anarchist lifeway. Whatsoever its shortcomings, idiocies, and indulgences, it was an interesting set of experiments that I mostly do not regret. Every month was a seething boil of new ideas, activities, people, irritations, and challenges, all of which forced me to repeatedly reevaluate my beliefs about what I was really for and against, what was possible and desirable, and what was a meaningful and valuable way of living.
Toward the end of my time there, from just before my departure from Free Radical Radio and through my internship with Little Black Cart, I had sufficient hubris to believe that I had more or less arrived at what would be my set views philosophically. I knew that North American anarchism had been poisoned by Leftist ideology, especially the currently reigning Woke variant, and I felt very secure in what seemed to be a perfectly purified anarchism that drew from Nietzsche, Stirner, the Post-Left anarchist milieu, and the green anarchist critiques of technology and agriculture.
The stereotype of someone who falls in love with Max Stiner’s perspective is that they wield a Maslow’s Hammer: they call everything they dislike ‘reification’, as though doing so were an unstoppable refutation of any point. While I do not think I was ever that bad, I did push a quite extreme form of epistemological skepticism and moral nihilism. I thought of enlightenment as a series of purgations, consisting of one illusion being discarded after another. In my formal education at undergraduate university, I had come to realize that my unexamined scientism, metaphysical materialism, and political left-liberalism were rank nonsense, and the years following university seemed a continuing illumination via disenchantment. Eventually, I thought all that was real and true was the singularity of the absolutely distilled existential-phenomenal moment and the actualization of its liberated desire.
In truth, I was playing a kind of intellectual hide-and-seek with myself. I believed, on some level, my values were correct and true and lived as if they were – but I knew I had no metaphysical framework with which to argue that they were anything other than subjective preferences, and so that was what I said I believed. I acted as if truth was real, objective, and discoverable – and even despised postmodern relativism – but I felt it was impossible to justify rationally this view. And I knew in my heart that my anarchism was not merely political, social, and economic in its dimensions, but also aimed most of all at a transformation of consciousness and the feeling-toned fabric of life – but I felt this even as I inveighed viciously against any talk among radicals of “spirituality”. In sum, I took the Death of God seriously, as Nietzsche and Stirner had, and as most bien pensants moderns do not.
As I wrote my polemical Corrosive Consciousness, which expresses the zenith of this line of thought, I started feeling an immense tension in myself. I felt weaknesses in the worldview I was presenting, though I could not rationally grok what they were. In retrospect, I see it as a conflict between dianoia, discursive rationality, and noesis, the superior faculty of the intellect that allows for immediate, intuitive apprehension. I struggled to finish writing it (which accounts for its admittedly very unedited nature). By then, I had begun having experiences of a felt presence of which I could not make sense but which seemed immensely important.
It would happen to me during periods of being alone outside for hours, when I was either doing gardening or walking through the woods. In retrospect, I can see that these were spontaneous meditative episodes of a sort; but as I had no meditation practice at the time, I did not conceive of them this way. I would be struck by a feeling of being enveloped in a kind of enormous, abstract sentience – sometimes it would feel like the sensation of being observed, and other times it was far more emotional, so much so that I would be abruptly be moved to tears from a sense of beauty.
As with everything in my life, I tried to interpret these experiences philosophically. As a committed Stirnerian-Nietzschean hyper-atheist and as someone with an aversion to sentimentalism, my temptation was to interpret as simply resonating with contact with the nonhuman ecological world. But the recurring episodes resisted this interpretation through the nature of their character, which seemed somehow qualitatively beyond, beneath, or above the organic world. I learned around this time that I had Lyme Disease and genuinely wondered for a period whether I was experiencing some side effect of neurological damage, but I later had to dismiss the hypothesis when I realized the timing was wrong.
I was able to talk with a few friends about the experiences and was eventually led to return to studying metaphysics in a serious way. Much of my insistence on the hyper-hygenic existentialism to which I had been clinging for years was that it gives primacy to immediate subjective experience – that is, consciousness – even as it resists essentially any inference beyond that pure conscious experience. What I had foolishly ignored is the potential of building a fully fleshed-out philosophy beginning from direct experience and first principles. This path of inquiry – which engaged my reason, emotion, imagination, and intuition all at once – led me quickly to panpsychism, then metaphysical idealism, and finally the Perennial Philosophy.
Realizing the genuine existence of the Absolute (or God, Brahman, Tao, the One, etc. – names name It not) is the most significant event of my philosophical journey, even more so than having become an anarchist, since the latter is confined to the ethical dimensions of life. The implications are enormous in terms of the origins and places of value, the meaning and purpose of life, the possibilities and kinds of knowledge, and the implications of suffering and death. When I open the door to step outside now, I do not feel I am stepping into either a world of matter and energy or an absurdity of Sisyphean existentiality – instead, I see a symbolic manifestation of thought.
My tendency is toward intellectual hubris. In social gatherings, I tend to think I know more about politics, science, human nature, and philosophy than the vast majority of people and furthermore tend to think that I have better reasons to believe I genuinely know what I think I know. But I was wrong about almost everything for the majority of my intellectually conscious life thus far, and I now struggle, in spite of myself, to be more humble, careful, and provisional in what I say and think. Hence, I now have a blog, which lends itself to short, frequent updates and quick feedback.