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My Code, Continued

Aristotle-at-university-of-thessaloniki-greece [1]2,926 words

In an earlier essay [2], I shared ten aphorisms from “my code.” In case you missed that essay, I will just say that a few years ago I decided to establish a code to live by. Like most of the things I do, this turned into a major project and I wound up gathering nuggets of “practical knowledge” from all manner of sources: Aristotle, the Stoics and Epicureans, the Eddas and Sagas, medieval Chivalry, Japanese Bushido, Tyler Durden, G. I. Gurdjieff, and even Indian Shaivism. In addition, I included various aphorisms of my own invention, forged in life’s bitter (and sometimes not-so-bitter) experience. In all, my Code consists of about 50 items.

A number of readers asked me to share more of my “aphorisms,” so here goes:

1. Keep your body pure and in good condition.

Ethics does not apply exclusively to how we treat others; how we treat ourselves is also a matter of ethical significance. The Scholastics (who are right twice a day) taught us that the body is the vehicle of the soul. But most people would never treat their car the way they treat their bodies. I can’t ingest junk food without suffering pangs of guilt that would turn St. Augustine greener than those pears he stole. If I go for a week without visiting the gym I feel like I’m turning into the picture of Dorian Gray. As I have pointed out in other essays, our worldview is one that accords with nature [3]. And I can no more pervert or neglect my body the way most modern people do, than I can allow my soul to be corrupted by popular music, television, and modern “morals.”

My readers are aware that I am no Christian, but there is wisdom to be found everywhere. So take note of Corinthians 6:19-20: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” Arise, ye sinners! Get off the couch and get to the gym. We must strive, so far as possible, to make ourselves beautiful outside and in. Pray to St. Leni and St. Arno for guidance. And go Paleo. You will thank me.

2. Live in friendship with animals.

This one comes from Shaivism, as transmitted to the West by Alain Daniélou. My cat is my best friend. At least, my best friend who lives locally. (My best human friends live hundreds, in some cases thousands of miles away.) To me, animals are quite close to being people. I’ve formed deep bonds with dogs and cats in my life, and they with me. (I want to smash every book-smart modern materialist moron that tells me that my cat is only sitting in my lap for warmth – in July.) Humans were built to be capable of symbiotic relationships with other animals. It’s often said that dogs are man’s best friend because, over the course of thousands of years, we have bred and adapted them. But we had to adapt to the dogs as well. The truth is that we evolved together. And while we don’t love tree frogs and blowfish quite the same way (because they’re just not cute), nonetheless we have a fascination with all things living. Decent people feel a responsibility to care for and preserve the natural world. This is not a “left wing” position. It’s as Right Wing as you can get. Ask Göring, or Savitri Devi [4].

3. Honor your ancestors and their ways.

To honor your ancestors is to honor yourself, because you are them. We know from studies of identical twins (conducted this time in Minnesota [5], not Poland) that temperaments, opinions, attitudes, emotional responses, coping mechanisms, hobbies, talents, interests, and reactions to certain stimuli all have a genetic basis. As I grow older, I see my father in myself more and more – in the way I think, and in my emotions. And I see my grandfather in him. I often wonder if we are all playing out some primal scene that began with some distant ancestor of mine, perhaps the chap who landed with William on Britain’s shores in 1066. I wonder if the men in my family aren’t both blessed and cursed with behavior patterns and character traits that go back many centuries.

I fear that I am perhaps burdened with the guilt of that Norman fellow from long ago – who is partially responsible for the deplorable fact that around a third of modern English is derived from French. Oh, well. C’est la vie. Like it or not, I am he – at least part of me is he. And to fully live the adage “know thyself” is to know one’s ancestors and to respect and honor them. Without them, you would not be, or be who you are. And though they may have encumbered you with quite a bit of baggage, it’s your unique combination of ancestral baggage that makes you an individual. It closes off certain possibilities for you (e.g., I will never be a jockey), but it opens up others (e.g., I am good at cleaving things in twain).

4. In any discussion, put yourself in the other person’s place.

I realize that this one might sound a bit mushy and liberal, but it is actually quite good advice. I tend to expect too much of other people. When I was younger I was always shocked and angry when I heard others expressing social or political views I disagreed with. I assumed that they simply had to be evil. But I came to realize that many of them were just stupid. Or, if they were intelligent, it had simply never occurred to them to question things that I found self-evidently wrong. Dishonesty, motivated by fear, is another factor: some people take the positions they take because they are afraid not to (even if doubts nag them). In dealing with people, I’ve found that it’s often very helpful to try to see why the other person is taking the position he is taking, and then to use that understanding to reason with him.

You will be surprised how effective it is, in debating hot topics, to say to someone whose blood is boiling, “Yes, I think I understand why you are taking this position. You think that X is the morally right course. Whereas you see me as advocating Y. But what I think you don’t understand is . . .” I have often been astonished by other people’s unwillingness to admit that I have won an argument. In the past I would just keep hammering away at them, until I realized that some people allow their egos to become involved. Not admitting defeat is their way of saving face. I get that, and I have learned to ease up on people at a certain point and allow them to save face. After all, they and every witness present, knows who really won. As my mother used to say, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. If we want to win people over to our side, this is an important lesson.

5. Bear misfortune and good fortune with equal propriety.

This comes from Aristotle and is one of the characteristics of “the great-souled man.” It means that when misfortune befalls him, the great-souled man maintains his dignity: he does not wail and shriek and cry before others. (Though he may do so in private; that prophet of self-mastery, G. I. Gurdjieff once told a pupil “If you come by my room at two o’clock in the morning you will hear me gnashing my teeth and weeping bitter tears on my pillow.”)

The odd thing here, however, is that Aristotle tells us the great-souled man bears good fortune with propriety. What does this mean? It means that it is just as great a loss of dignity to jump up and down and squeal with delight as it is to moan and cry. Just think of the people on those Publisher’s Clearinghouse sweepstakes commercials. Or the winners on The Price is Right. Or Dan Quayle reacting to the news [6] that he’d been chosen as George H. W. Bush’s running mate. The point is: the great-souled man does not lose control. He is unmoved by fortune. He refrains from squealing with delight not just because it’s girlie, but because it shows him being too vulnerable; caring too much, perhaps, about things others value.

6. Speak the truth when it is prudent to do so, and sometimes when it is not.

This is a variation on something else that Aristotle says. Aristotle actually wrote:

[The great-souled man] will also be outspoken concerning his hatreds and friendships, for secrecy is a mark of fear; and he will care for truth more than for reputation; and he will speak and act openly, because he has contempt for fear and secrecy and falsity. And hence he will be truthful, except when he is ironical, and if ironical, it will be only towards the many. [Nicomachean Ethics, 1124b26-31; italics added.]

The problem with what Aristotle says is that you and I are secret agents [7]. Most of us have to keep silent about our views much of the time, or risk losing our jobs – and the possibility, perhaps, of never finding another job. That is why I write under a pen name. There are very few people like Greg Johnson, who work for our Cause openly, and full-time. Being secretive goes against the grain for me. At work, when certain things are said I feel a very strong inclination to speak out – but I usually hold my tongue, reminding myself that if I lost my cushy job and had to do real work I’d have a lot less time to write essays like this one. So my aphorism says “speak the truth when it is prudent to do so.”

Note that Aristotle says the great-souled man will sometimes speak ironically to the many (i.e., the masses, the mob, the hoi polloi, the booboisie). In other words, sometimes he will deceive. Aristotle is saying basically the same thing that I am.

Note also that I have said “Speak the truth when it is prudent to do so, but sometimes when it is not.” What I mean here is that at some point, when we least expect it, we may be landed in a situation where our self-respect demands that we speak out, even if it is imprudent. If the consequences of remaining silent really are the loss of self-respect, then we must speak out. For nothing is more valuable than our dignity and self-respect. Sooner or later this is going to happen to me. And it is going to happen to you.

7. Never define yourself by what you possess.

This is one of the lessons (one of the many lessons) of Fight Club. Tyler hath said, “The things you own end up owning you.” Oh, and: “You are not your f***ing khakis.” Now, this may seem obvious to readers of this website. But we are living in an insidious world, in which even dissidents such as you and I are continually being tempted into defining ourselves through consumer goods. I went shopping yesterday with a friend of mine, at one of New York’s enormous outlet malls. (I was looking for some new summer clothes.) As we left the food court, I reflected happily on what I had already bought, but also on what I had worn there: snazzy black Calvin Klein windbreaker, snazzy slim-fit black Nautica polo shirt, Levi’s jeans, Calvin Klein boots, Victorinox Swiss Army watch. And I felt suffused with a kind of warm, middle-class beatitude. I had it all. I felt one with my fellow shoppers – white, black, and brown. We were united in an ecstasy of consumption. I had achieved unity with the Hive Mind.

Needless to say, when I reflected on this I felt the Kung Pao chicken rising in my stomach. Quickly seeking to atone for my moment of weakness I ripped the Ray-Bans from my face and stuffed them in my Calvin Klein windbreaker. I would do penance by squinting the rest of the day. The entire modern world is designed to reduce human identity down to the level of being a consumer. These little trips to the outlet mall are the reward for Wage Slavery; for a life almost entirely absorbed in working for the enrichment of others; for a life without beauty or edification; for a life without any ideals or aspirations that do not transcend the material. And we are all vulnerable to the allure of consumption – so much of which is founded on playing upon perhaps the most loathsome of the seven deadly sins: envy.

In the interests of full disclosure I must admit that part of my shame involved the realization that anyone with real class and real money wouldn’t be caught dead in what I was wearing. (Incidentally, the best fictional illustration of the principle “the things you own end up owning you” is not Fight Club, but rather D. H. Lawrence’s short story “Things [8].” Do yourself a favor and read this today.)

8. Learn to distinguish between what is in your power, and what is not.

This is one of the lessons of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, and it is one of life’s most important lessons. It is famously expressed by the Alcoholics Anonymous “serenity prayer,” that has been attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

No snickering, please. This is valuable stuff. So much suffering in life is caused by trying to “fix” things that we cannot change, and will not accept. But a great deal of suffering is also caused when people are too weak-willed or cowardly to change what they can change, and plead instead “It’s hopeless!” or “I can’t help it!” I hear people say this about the cause of White Nationalism. We’re certainly in an awful mess, aren’t we? But is our situation truly, definitely, absolutely hopeless and beyond our power to change? Only if we all believe that it is.

9. Trust your instincts and sentiments.

This is a lesson that life has taught me the hard way. Like most intellectuals, I live in my head. Needless to say, however, I often have feelings, emotions, and gut reactions. The trouble is that I hardly ever listen to them. And almost every single time, I regret it. Trust your instincts – especially when something feels bad to you. (We have to be a bit more wary, however, when things feel good.) You can’t reason everything out, and sometimes there is a case to be made for both sides. Go with your gut. Aristotle doesn’t say this, but that’s what the great-souled man would do. It’s part of what makes someone a good leader – having a perceptive gut, and listening to it.

Notice that I mention “sentiments” as well as instincts. What I have in mind here is what Adam Smith called “moral sentiments.” Life, and dealing with other people, cannot be all about rules. We have to have a sense of when rules need to be bent or broken. This is where moral sentiments come in. These are a danger only where a person is prone to being weak-willed, gullible, or sappy. Sometimes – now, please don’t stop reading me, okay? – you have to listen to our heart. That’s part of being human. It’s the virtue that Confucius held to be primary: ren, “benevolence” or “human-heartedness.” It’s perfectly compatible with love and preference for one’s own. In fact, it is chiefly one’s own that brings out this virtue in us. It is part of being human, and a big part of being White, to feel a certain sympathy toward the stranger. But when that sympathy causes us to act in such a way that we sacrifice the friend and the family member, then we know that somewhere along the line our sentiments have become perverted and are being used against us.

10. Retain a sense of wonder.

This is one of the qualities that makes children lovable. I have seen adults react to the wonder of children with a combination of amusement, love, and melancholy. The latter is due to the fact that they have lost their sense of wonder. There are people who are jaded and think they’ve “done it all.” They haven’t. They have simply exhausted the narrow set of interests and desires they accepted uncritically from society. I have found that it is always important to keep exploring. Travelling, listening to new music, reading widely, seeing new films, meeting new people. This is one of the ways I console myself when I think about the awful state we’re in. Despite everything, this is still a world that it is endlessly, infinitely fascinating. There is always some new place to go, some composer I’ve never listened to, some subject I’ve never explored. But it is also important to try as hard as possible to retain a sense of wonder about the familiar – especially about nature. It is important not to lose the ability to feel this way, because the loss of it really means spiritual death, at the most fundamental level. I will leave it to you, gentle reader, to reflect on why this is the case.