On Orthodoxy, Idolatry and Iconoclasm

Interview with World’s Greatest Dad analysing how progressivism proceeds via a strategy of Iconoclasm and contra-moral insurgency. WGD proposes that divinity is a protocol, which facilitates interactions in social space that take place along a trust vs faith continuum. WGD argues “Anything that is strong and good and therefore a solid receptacle of faith is attacked by progressives and destroyed”.

You were raised as a secular liberal and converted to Judaism as an adult. This has provided you with an interior / exterior, reflexive perspective on the meta-religious structure of both ideologies. What are the core similarities and differences you’ve observed between them?

Firstly, I should explain in more detail what I mean by secular liberalism and Judaism. Secular liberalism is, in my experience, a Christian heresy (more on this later). Judaism of the sort that I now practice would be considered “Orthodox” or “Torah” Judaism, and is essentially deference to the Rabbis (who defer to previous generations of Rabbis, going back to Moses). Making these definitions difficult, there is a form of secular liberalism that refers to itself as Jewish.

Torah Judaism is very diverse, ranging from Mizrahi and Yemeni traditionalists to Sephardim, and Ashkenazim, each of which is perhaps best thought of as a Jewish ethnic group, with numerous subgroups holding a wide array of beliefs. For example, all Jews are explicitly iconoclastic, but some groups venerate certain past Rabbinic leaders on a level well beyond that which other groups would. All these disparate groups rest on a foundation of three core tenets: Keeping the Sabbath, Ritual Family Purity, and Kashrus (Kosher food). There are 613 core Mitzvot (things to do and not to do) and a nearly infinite number of subtle distinctions in their observance, but by those three core tenets any Jew will recognize any other.

Secular liberalism is largely binary, with people who are rabidly iconoclastic, and people who are only anti-Catholic (I joke, but…maybe not?). Because it does not explicitly or formally stand for anything, secular liberalism takes all social limitations from human nature, allowing us to see the effect that civilization’s laws had on humanity quite clearly. Reformed, Reconstructionist, and any other hyphenated Judaism is just a way for ethnic Jews to obfuscate their defection. There is also a “Conservative Judaism” in America, which is much like the Republican party.

To respond to your initial question, from the inside, all religions are objective truth, and can be derived and defended by the pure application of logic and reason, while from the outside, all religions are characterized by the degree to which they encourage idolatry and iconoclasm.

Core to your analysis of Progressivism is an expanded conception of Iconoclasm. How do you define Iconoclasm, and how has Iconoclasm been weaponized by Progressivism?

I had an interesting experience not long after I became observant. We had a house-guest from a different subgroup of Judaism, he was also on the road to observance after a secular upbringing, and he enthusiastically shared – with something of the zeal of conversion – “secret” information about a religious figure, suggesting that perhaps he considered this figure to be something more than a mere man. This was distressing to me at the time, because it *felt* like idolatry. However, I didn’t really know what idolatry was, what exactly differentiates idols from icons from little Warhammer 40k models, or even why idolatry – so frequently condemned in the bible! – was bad. The Jewish explanation, as far as I understand it (and I’m no expert) is that worshiping a made thing distracts from worshiping the creator, and thus needs to be fought and destroyed. Iconoclasm is therefore the elimination of local faith loci (I often use the term “intermediaries when discussing divine loci, because the infinite creator is ineffable, and our minds seem to require a compiler). In Judaism this is largely precluded by preventing the formation of these loci (although the Black Swan is pretty impressive when one does form), but progressivism has no pre-emptive measure, creating an iconogenesis/iconoclasm cycle that moves at the speed of information.

If we look at the heresies of the middle ages, and compare them to Luther, we see that the church had been a divine locus, but that iconoclasm was unable to gain purchase before the printing press. Once the intermediary is removed, it’s something of a slippery slope (how long did the Scandinavians actually stay Christian for?). Progressivism is, in some senses, the willingness to destroy or route around a locus. In our modern times, with any meritorious loci destroyed as quickly as it is discovered, progressivism is forced to turn iconoclasm itself into a locus. Nietzsche was a fool when he thought that Gnon could be killed, or that destroying the prime locus was where the process even started!

If I had to pin down a definition for iconoclasm that works, it is rapid, intentional, intergenerational change. That is, it is any intentional change that creates a discontinuity between a father and his sons. Progressivism is a cult of iconoclasm. We have had more unintentional change in the last two centuries than at any other point in human history, and progressivism has ridden that change into social disintegration, which has allowed will to power to overwhelm social restraint. To clarify, iconoclasm is a natural instinct, and is a useful tool in the right context. Divorced from its appropriate context, iconoclasm is a spiritual cancer.

Progressivism is a Religion of moral inversions – it sacralises the profane and transmutes sins into virtues. Abortion and sodomy cease to be crimes and are elevated to the status of divine ‘personal’ rights. They are no longer merely defended by the State but are actively propagandized. Its symbol should be the upturned cross. Would you be inclined to agree, or do you find the structure of moral inversion too reductive / misleading?

This is true, but too limited to be functionally useful. As Curtis Yarvin (PBUH) laid out, our current version of Progressivism is merely one position (the terminal one, G-d willing) of a longer-running process. If we start from pure animism and progress to today, we have an infinite supply of divine loci reducing down to one (or none). Each successive bout of iconoclasm was a valid coup, whereby the new, less idolatrous elite replaced the previous elite within the same ingroup. Obviously, the spread of Christianity and Islam (in particular) accelerated this in areas where it may have been longer coming, but the general trend holds.

What makes today special is that the postmodern sociopathic status maximiser has no ancient and powerful elite iconography to push off of and looks for anything that resembles divinity. Anything easy to burn is already gone; Yarvin’s “ugly lies”, like chattel slavery, and “ugly truths” (all the isms), are ash, so we’re left with beautiful things. Look at something as mundane as sportsball, or Star Movies, or video games about trying to get an anime girl to hold your hand, and it’s clear that the iconoclasmic attacks on fun are because fun is real – an actual thing – and that’s all they’re left with.

Iconoclasm functions as an attack on tradition – historical compound knowledge / practice. Can you go deeper into your analysis of the methodology of Progressive Iconoclasm, and how it constitutes a form of anti-tradition?

Progressive Iconoclasm is about will-to-power and narcissism. It’s a civilizational disease; progressive horse-archers are considerably less likely to lead hordes off the steppes than the alternative. Whig history is a spook, but there is a line of iconoclasm running from prehistory to the Yamnaya (polytheism) to the present. Always eliminating, like selection, except that we have writing now, so we can’t even mutate new loci that are worth a damn (or can we?). Because there is no obvious and apparent power base, perhaps due to elite overproduction, the anti-priests of this anti-religion will attack anything that looks real and true, which is why they will turn on each other without provocation.

Religion ultimately provides a ruleset for status competition. The biggest grain donation at a harvest festival is an objectively delineated status game, for example. Iconoclasm removes some of those rules through each iteration. If it’s being particularly obfuscatory, an iconoclastic pass will actually dilute the old rules by adding new ones that are stricter, which explains a fair amount of modern socjus behaviour. When everyone is guilty of something at all times, pure will-to-power is ascendant.

You have proposed a “trust vs faith continuum” as the guideline for “personal knowledge vs belief”, which positions anything not apprehended / learnt via direct experience as being, at least by degree, an article of faith. Can you expand on this line of enquiry, in particular with regards of the effect of Dunbar limits on trust, and the concomitant relationship of faith to politics?

Without doxing myself, I will say that I have some personal insight into how the information sausages are made. Gell-Mann Amnesia was a quaint artefact of the television era, but susceptibility to it will become a major risk factor as our world transitions into a post-truth, post-trust environment. Whole genres of fiction depend on things like photographic evidence, or even just evidence in general. Imagine trying to prosecute a murder when the perp has a CRISPR kit and planted a bunch of his rival’s DNA all over the crime scene! Deep fakes certainly aren’t getting worse over time, which might correlate with the decline in search quality.

So who can you trust, and who, or what, should you believe in? Well, ideally you can trust your parents and siblings to have something approximating your best interests at heart, and they can trust theirs, but unless you have a shockingly Amish or Haredi family, that doesn’t give you a particularly large team. What we’ve been seeing lately is a strange sorting, where people find beliefs that appeal to them, then trust people who also hold those beliefs. Over time this may work its way out into ethnogenesis and the formation of new tribes, but in the meantime, I find it useful to trust sources that earn it, and limit my faith to the creator, and the loci that represent his first principles.

Thanks to millennia of iconoclasm, the only socially acceptable forms of faith are in abstractions and messiahs. This strikes me as a very brittle way of organizing a society, because it prevents authority from accumulatingand establishing continuity. Faith, for most people that I have known, seems to be a social trait. This is why a massive street protest feels much more meaningful than it is. This is why “learn to code” is such a brutal insult, and why many people seem so rigid in their career decisions; being a journalist requires believing in journalism over all else. The boomers believed (maybe still do?) that going to college was the path to heaven, or at least an upper-middle class happily ever after. This is where trust and faith start to blur, because everyone can spin up an anecdote or ten, and data is suspect.

You have articulated the belief that the West is dying from a spiritual malaise, and that Universalism burns human capital by burning faith. Can you describe the mechanism by which Universalism puts a torch to faith, and how the social sickness you observe follows from an act of spiritual arson?

I suppose I’ve largely answered this in previous responses, but I’ll try to provide the other side of the coin. I happen to be a big fan of @WokeCapital, and I’ve noticed that the main offenders are typically publicly traded. Without decent loci, faith cannot be passed along intergenerationally, and as the old saying goes, “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” What did Google stand for when it was founded? What did Chic-Fil-A? What did the United States stand for when it was founded? England was for the Anglos until it became Great Britain, and then what did it stand for? Many of these individual iconoclastic changes were necessary and inevitable, and also transferred faith from a weak locus to a stronger one. What is strong today that will be strong tomorrow? If we’ve got a great stagnation brewing, why should anyone build anything? People try to be nihilist, but end up narcissistic and fragile. We evolved to believe in things that were bigger than us, and we suffer greatly when we cannot do so. If we think about the three abstractions that most motivate men we have commerce (the exchange of valuable things, including information), which wokecap has shown is not really a path forward to western men, heroism, which BAP is determined to bring back (and isn’t entirely gone, as any vet can tell you), and let’s call the last one monument, or creating things that are worth making. It is this last abstraction that seems most ripe for a rebound, because it is most enduringly tangible.

Divinity is a protocol. Religion formalises the area for politics i.e. inter-ape status competition. Can you expand on this line of reasoning and its implications for routing through contemporary political structures, which are comparatively Gnostic / occult in their machinations?

As the Philosopher has said, “War is God.” Is it the only god, though? Not traditionally. Anything worth anything is represented by a spirit to an animist, by a deity to a polytheist, or by a Saint to a Catholic or Orthodox Christian. Humans will compete in areas where there’s something to win, and the rules of a game are always religious (in American football, thousands of hours are spent each year determining the legality of a “catch,” and if this doesn’t seem religious to you, it’s because it’s your religion). The more important the prize to be won, the more zealous the competition, and the more nit-picking the rule-set becomes. The further an urbanized culture drifts from biological imperatives, the more important governmental politics becomes, until the horse archers show up. That is to say, a “biggest pumpkin” competition doesn’t need terribly complex rules, but a knitting forum will get them.

I have extremely limited exposure to Gnostic / occult ideas, but as far as I can tell, Gnosticism functions as a sort of pressure release valve for iconoclastic urges within an overly idolatrous framework. Gnon tends to favour things that are formalised exactly as much as necessary, and no further. Idolatry is effectively over-formalisation, while Iconoclasm is the opposite. Any given materialist context will have a spiritual range within which a religion may fit without cracking, mutating, or being replaced completely.

You have argued against the conceptual separation of ‘religion’ from other phenomena, such as ‘culture’ and ‘spirituality’. Why do you regard it an error to approach religion as a separate phenomenon / domain?

It’s entirely possible to fight against something that is not understood, as history shows us, often through cultural or religious traditions that are missed spectacularly after their removal. That said, it’s a lot easier to win a fight against an enemy that *is* understood. Many problem solvers tend to be quite materialist in their thinking, and try to solve problems (like the collapse of fertility in most of the world) with economic answers. One look at Orthodox Jewish fertility is enough to falsify this belief. From my own experience, I can say that observant Jews are having kids because they *believe* that it is the right thing to do. The dramatic majority of observant Jews that I have met are also almost completely divorced from secular cultural debris, and I suspect that this is, if not causal, at least related. Religion is much more pervasive than we assume, and without having an accurate definition and understanding of what it is, we will lose the war for our souls.

Religion is how we interact with time; a man’s connection to his ancestral past and the future. It is so automatic to westerners that it is impossible to conceive of a western culture that is devoid of religious behaviour. Our shared beliefs regarding the past, and our shared faith in the shape of the future create the general outline of our religion. Efforts to retcon history, and the diminishment of hope have caused a fork between those who hold the old beliefs and see no future for their children, and those who take on the new beliefs and are uninterested in having children.

All human actions are social actions (the proverbial child raised by wolves will behave like an actual alien), social groups have Overton windows, and Overton windows are religious boundaries. We trust what we know, and for everything else we rely on intermediaries. In my culture we use a fiat currency, which requires faith in the government that backs it. Now we’re into faith, and faith puts us squarely in religion. When the majority were farmers, they had to have faith in G-d to provide them with the right weather to bring them success. Nowadays people have to have faith in their employer, or worse, in the economy. That doesn’t mean they aren’t religious (why go to work tomorrow if you don’t believe in what you do on some level?), and in many ways it requires greater faith than the poor farmer.

What I’m for is formalising our faith into a more enduring religion. So many people have been so far below replacement for so long that they really do see the end of the world looming (their genes ain’t carrying on into the future), but for the rest of us, we need things to pass to our children – and more importantly their children – and connect them to what came before. The only reason that westerners can walk around acting as though they’re not religious is that they’ve been thoroughly severed from their own ancestors. Our PIE ancestors brought their gods to the four corners of the world, where they evolved independently for generations until they were formalised again in the Hellenistic period. From there we went through cycles of expansion and refinement until Islam and the printing press unleashed extreme iconoclasm.

The last century has birthed more gods and monsters, both in fiction and in the course of history, than the preceding two millennia, but our iconoclastic faith has prevented any of them from sticking. I believe that this is unlikely to continue, because change is not the *only* thing that people can believe in. Many of us believe in ourselves, in our families, and in our fledgling communities. Most of our founding myths will burn off, but some will stick around. Maybe we’ve got structural impediments to building new “gods”, and “idols”, and even maybe to “saints”, but perhaps we’ll find a new name for these new representations of enduring concepts, and we’ll build around them.

How would you relate the irreality of postmodernity to an absolute foundation in the Real, which simultaneously lies beyond and encapsulates it, that postmodernism can deny / occlude but never transcend?

Civilization needs the unreal. Moldbug showed exactly how nonsense is more useful for organization than truth, and all religions need multiple nonsense nodes upon which to organize. Humans cannot engage directly with the Real, and will actively avoid engagement with it. That said, some humans are capable of getting a bit closer than others, and those tend to be the ones who have the clearest judgement. Unfortunately, the Real tends to suggest futility, and passivism is close to passivity, which becomes nihilism in many. Our postmodern priests love outliers, because mass media can transform an outlier into an archetype, which makes nonsense appear as sense (or at least as plausible).

If anything, postmodernity affords too much access to the Real. The wizard behind the curtain, the actress behind the character, the rare earth elements in the smartphone, these all steal the magic and make it mundane. The world is full of chaos, but we are largely cordoned off. Even our children, natural chaos mages, are taken from us and herded into cohort classes where all magic is beaten out of them and replaced by politics. Politics, as an aside, is the establishment of hierarchy in an obfuscated environment; when the status gap in status between two actors is close enough to create friction, politics occurs. Postmodernity creates the illusion of order beyond the degree of Real’s order. This is easily dispelled by the meme of the pine branch. In the end, all bills come due; the Real is the realm of the Black Swan.

Finally, you’ve previously used the analogy of computing / the Matrix to elucidate the relationship of different levels of reality and articulate our subjective experience of them, with a logic similar to the Urbit code/language stack. Can you conclude by unpacking your perspectival mechanism for decrypting the Real, and the social relations which are enacted upon it?

Humans parse the Real through narratives, first and foremost. Narratives are like objects in a UI, and even a talentless hack can wiggle a narrative around and retell it for his kids without doing *too* much harm. This level of narrative repetition is the foundation of faith. We generate the structure of our beliefs from the stories that we are told when we are children. Public schooling is theoretically secular.

Undernearth narratives lies a level of greater abstraction, the level of ideas, which is less accessible to most. This is where a narrative is manipulated as necessary, and can be broken down into its component parts, rearranged, examined, and reassembled. It’s the level where an old fairy tale can be blown out into a novel or film. I tend to think of this level as the level of code (C++ or whatever the kids are using these days), and it is certainly the level of art.

Underneath this is the level of machine language, completely inaccessible to normal humans, and largely inaccessible to even the most motivated. Humans generally do not belong on this level. Nobody really understands the Matrix as the Matix, but some (like Yarvin, imo) can understand it with some focus. Those who are able to comprehend reality on this level find it difficult, if not impossible to persuade others who cannot see what they see.

More importantly, persuading others to act on things that they cannot see is dangerous. To put this in the parlance, the red pill (introduction to the code level) is dangerous to the normiecon (a narrative consumer), because he will be inspired to wrongspeak. Knowing how to play a violin does not qualify a person to conduct a symphony! The next level of “pilling” almost always results in black pilling (nihilism), which is the wrong conclusion, but unavoidable for most. Knowing how to conduct a symphony does not qualify a person to invent new instruments. In my experience, most intelligent people are capable of consuming and replicating just about any narrative, manipulating ideas within their own area of expertise, and with guidance, understanding the basic metaphysics behind some of the ideas that they are most intimately familiar with. For the most part, most of us live our entire lives on the surface level of narratives, which lately include considerably less magic than they once did.

Unfortunately, I cannot unpack my personal mechanism for decrypting the Real, because it is indistinguishable from lunacy; if I have had an idea of merit, it was likely given to me in a dream. I have been blessed with friends and family who (mostly) understand me, and help me articulate my understanding in ways that are at least partially accessible to normal people, and have done incredible work in convincing me that I am not a lunatic, and that the ideas that have been given to me are useful, helpful, and worth sharing.

4 thoughts on “On Orthodoxy, Idolatry and Iconoclasm

  1. I think WGD slightly misunderstands what the will-to-power is. His interpretation seems to be that it’s just a naked scramble for power–it isn’t. Further, the God that Nietzsche declared to be dead was not Gnon: it was the Judeo-Christian God. Nietzsche, who celebrated the spirit of war and warriorship, would be at home with Gnon.

    I want to hear more of WGD’s madness. Perhaps because he is speaking to a wide audience he has couched his description and defence of of religion in materialist terms. But this is part of the very problem he seeks to overcome and it is a problem he shares with Moldbug.

    The Puritan-Judeo-Muslim tendency towards iconoclasm that WGD identifies as being at the root of progressivism is intimately connected, per Heidegger, with the Cartesian tendency to understand the world in terms of mathematics alone; and also with the atomised “I” or ego held apart from the whole.

    The problem with WGD and Moldbug is that by understanding progressivism in a Cartesian way (“loci”, “virtue signals”, “government as software”) they continue to occult Being–the apprehension of the numinous–only in an apparently anti-progressive way; but ultimately they are just another set of iconoclasts! NRx Twitter culture is nothing but iconoclastic (of progressive sacred cows) and is, to an extent, an extension of post-libertarian ultra-Cartesian rationalism. This doesn’t help, because it merely obscures the being of Being and so is anti-integral in its mode of operation. It’s this fundamental absence of real thought (as opposed to mathematisation and utility) that comes with modernity and which has led to the current impasse; more of the same will not help, we must be more radical.

    We need to escape the Cartesian-progressive-Judeo-Purtian approach which is, above all, literate and mathematical. It prioritises, as with Marxists, a priesthood interpreting texts. Anyone who can read can set themselves up in this business (most people today), and so the world becomes fractured with iconoclastic sects (think of all those Marxist parties).

    The alternative is, to borrow a progressive phrase, to explore “other ways of knowing”. In particular, we need to restore a tradition of oral revelation and tradition as an alternative to literary exegesis (more spontaneous YouTube, fewer blog posts)–since the latter is a hallmark of progressivism. This oral form of revelation and tradition was attacked and destroyed in the early days of Protestantism and Puritanism; hence the contemporary hatred of Trump, since he works acts of oral disclosure and minor feats of revelation.

    In short, we need poetry and visual art and a return to revelation. NRx will never exit the current malaise, because it still operates in a Cartesian way and will recreate what it seeks to destroy. As I said earlier, we need to hear more of WGD’s madness–our salvation lies in the madness of revelation.

    Tl;dr We need to be more retarded.

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