THOU SHALT HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE YOU. Moses breaks apart the stone tablets, in horror, dashing them against the rock, aghast at the waywardness of the mob, carousing before the golden calf that they have erected — a tribute to hedonic fertility. What is wrong with fertility? Why insist upon one god above all others? Why not tolerate diversity?
Were the ancients just ignorant? Have we transcended them in our sophisticated tolerance? Or is there perhaps a hidden truth, in the overwhelming monotheistic insistence, specifically in the Old Testament, against IDOLATRY?
“That which is ancient is most futuristic.” Read unkindly, chronological snobbery makes the past absurd. But the strongest argument is not against a straw man, but seeks the most generous reading, and, finding it, confronts it.
You may know a myth by its meanings. A myth is a kind of hermeneutical singularity: a dense point exploding with metaphoric possibilities. Pulling it apart for years, yet upon every revisitation, it offers up a new reward.
Just so, this Moses story — the sundering of the tables; of THE LAW — over and against the FOOLISHNESS and INDULGENCE of THE PEOPLE: this is full of interpretive richness. And I shall mine this mountain for gold.
A CULTURE IS BETRAYED BY ITS VALUES. To conquer a castle, study its weak points. If the structure has no weakness, look to its stores. If it is abundantly supplied, corrupt its people. Turn but one, one well placed man or woman, near the heart of power, and the city is lost. BE VIGILANT and examine your allies, your friends, your countrymen: who among you would succumb?
To turn but one, find leverage; to find leverage, discern their values. For thirty shekels of silver, Judas? Liberty over friendship, Brutus? Love over loyalty, Tristan? Patriotism over filial piety, Agamemnon? Faith over murder, Abraham? If you would guard yourself, know the price for which those around you may be bought: in gold, in glory, in pleasure, or in principles — for these are the primary currencies. The highest betrayals, the tragic heroes and villains, are not simple corruptions, but moments of recognition, clashes of values.
Having turned one, and taken the city, the next task is to govern it. To impose your will by force is expensive, unsustainable, and risks reaction. Having conquered by force, proceed to conquer by spirit. And the method for the spiritual corruption of many is the same as for one: discern their values, then gain that currency to buy them with.
TO MAKE SLAVES OF HEDONISTS IS EASILY DONE. Give them what they want. What they want is feasting and debauchery, sanctified by authority. They do not want pain. Threaten them with pain by day, and they will farm your fields and build your pyramids. Indulge them by night, and they will be too busy with pleasure to revolt, and will bless you for their pleasure. Slaves by day, free by night; as it were. But this freedom is a lie. What is the freedom of a drug addict, but a new slavery? Slaves to The State, To Pharaoh, by day, slaves to The Flesh, To Apis, by night. But slaves, nonetheless.
Who then, is free? The freedom of a free man is a slavery, too. The freeman enslaves himself to his highest principle, and binds himself to it — by oaths, by bonds, by sacrifices; if he can, beyond the point of no return.
My name is Francis, and that means Freedom in an ancient tongue. And I am a slave to God, in my better moments. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak…” In my weak ones, I am a slave, too, but to different gods. The best moments of all are the ones in which I discover new ways to bind myself to my spiritual will, so that in the next moment of weakness, I find the cords tight; and though I scream, the sirens pass.
TO LEAD SLAVES TO FREEDOM, YOU MUST GIVE THEM A NEW GOD, MAKE IT HARD, AND LEAD THEM THROUGH THE DESERT. Capitalism-by-water makes things easy, moving from high places to low, streamlining for convenience, removing friction: does better-faster-cheaper need any convincing? But one consumer in ten thousand buys on his own values, and unless he alone has a vast fortune, his vote-by-dollar is small, and he is a market of one. Capitalism-by-fire is for producers only, and it moves the spirit from low places to high, challenging you to greater and greater heights of art, craft, production and leadership. You must pass through fire to sell water. Those who pass through the most fire, sell the most water. Taste the water to know the volcano by which it comes. If water quenches your thirst, you will never draw water from the rock. Only fire quenches the spirit, and only the highest of all volcanos will satisfy you.
In The Religion Of Consumer Capitalism, one of the gods we worship is the god of Convenience and Ease. We have forgotten the ancient deities, that gave birth to these: Dionysus and Apollo were both sired by Zeus. Zeus is the higher god, and the higher god is always jealous. If the dependencies are circular, if the tail wags the dog… The children must be derivative and antecedent. Without first asserting the laws and values and sovereignty of Zeus, the bacchic rites are an abomination. The Pantheon puts pleasure in its place. In The Religion Of Producer Capitalism, convenience and ease are lesser gods, derivative bi-products of higher values such as Excellence and Beauty.
A slave is a consumer. They flow downhill. They are a hungry mouth. They are an erect penis and a wet vagina. They complain of thirst. They cringe at the sight of the whip. They are cowed by violence.
To lead slaves to freedom, you must enslave them to a higher god than attraction to physical pleasure, and revulsion to physical pain. Indeed, what is required is an absolute inversion of values. You must teach them to be skeptical of pleasure, to see that it is often a temptation, that it has a cost. If you feast today, you starve tomorrow. If you take your neighbor’s wife tonight, there will be vengeance on the morrow. If you do not endure the thirst, you will not make it through the desert to the promised land beyond, but will return to the land of slavery, where there is guaranteed water, but at the price of chains. If you cringe at the whip, he who has the whip is your master; but if you are a slave to principles, the principles whip you for cowardice until you muster the courage to overthrow the master with the whip. You must learn to love that physical pain by which greatness is born. You will never make the sacrifices necessary, you will never bless the pain of today, unless your heart’s desire is for the promised land of tomorrow. You must be taught a new hunger and a new thirst. You must see the promised land with the prophetic eyes of your heart, although all that lies before you is a wasteland.
NO MAN CAN SERVE TWO MASTERS. This is the truth of hierarchy. There is always One. One sovereign; One supreme; One law above all others.
No man can serve no masters. Everyone has a god. Atheists have a god. Your god is your primary value. Your primary value gives you permission to subordinate all other values to that value, in proportion to their service to that value. Your primary value becomes the rule and the measure, in relation to which everything finds its distance.
Why did they worship the golden calf? THEY NEEDED PERMISSION. They lusted, and in their lust, they discovered a divine mandate. They gave the feeling a shape, and rites of expression. Dressed in this way, they could be naked.
What kind of people worships harsh laws written in STONE? A HARD people. A STRONG people. They needed permission too. They needed PERMISSION TO BE STRONG. They desired freedom, so they enslaved themselves to the highest value that they could find: THAT WHICH NOTHING GREATER CAN BE CONCEIVED.
In asking THATWHICHNOTHINGGREATERCANBECONCEIVED what to do, — the wind whispered — and they knew what to do. In asking that-ness how to worship it, that-ness commanded them MAKE NO IMAGE, and call me by the sound of the wind, for I AM beyond names.
“The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao; The Name that can be Named, is not the Eternal Name…”
If you do not see the strong reference here to Anselm’s Ontological Argument within the Christian tradition, to Plato’s highest form in the Greek tradition, and to the iconoclasm of Taoism and Zen, then you do not yet fully understand the Moses story.
A free people is always going deeper and deeper into the slavery of OUGHT and SHOULD. They are obsessed with morality and aesthetics. What is highest? What is most beautiful? What is most just? How should we then live? How ought the wise conduct their affairs? Am I doing the right thing now?
To want the highest thing, is to want something beyond oneself. From this is born the will to resist physical desire, for spiritual desire. From this is born the inversion of values.
EVEN THE LEADER OF A FREE SOCIETY MUST CHAMPION ONE GOD ABOVE ALL OTHERS. Ignorant readers judge Moses for his ignorant intolerance. Graceful readers recognize the iron necessity of his actions. SMASH THE LAW. Yell at them: get their attention! Tell them that they do not deserve revelation! That they are not worthy of enlightenment! Indeed… SHAME THEM, for a moment, for in so doing, you shatter the illusion of permission, and regain the moral high ground taken by the false god. Replace one value for another. Put THE GOD CONCEPT on the throne. For the concept of the monotheistic god, is, by definition, an absolute concept: “that which nothing greater can be conceived” is open to debate, but it is precisely the highest debate, the right conversation, the conversation that a free society must constantly have.
THE ESSENTIAL PHILOSOPHICAL DEBATE OF A FREE PEOPLE IS THE NATURE OF DIVINITY, AND ITS POLITICAL DEBATE IS HOW THE DIVINE WILL MANIFESTS THROUGH THE STATE, AND ITS BUSINESS DEBATE IS HOW TO GIVE FORM TO DIVINE IDEAS, AND THE MORAL DEBATE IS HOW TO INCARNATE DIVINITY, AND ALIGN THE INDIVIDUAL WILL WITH THE DIVINE.
If the word divinity is a stumbling block to you, replace it with the formula: [thatwhichishighest], or [ultimategood], or [ultimatebeauty], or whatever ontology most awakens your imagination. Imagination, yes, and remembrance: for the more you do this, the more you will come to see civilization and its individuals as a return to Camelot, to Babel, to Aeon — a questing and seeking and striving, across time, to return home, to return to [the ultimate].
And if you are confused as to the definition of any of these ontologies, that is precisely the question. An ontology is an open question, a fill-in-the-blank: the answer of which you have to live with… and live out.