The Anti-Theist Urge to Blaspheme
Those who have spent time on anti-theist or rationalist forums have no doubt noticed a strange form of catharsis, characteristic of people hostile to religion – the desire to curse, blaspheme and profane symbols held as sacred by others. The emotional impulse that urges them to curse God is not an unconscious aspect of their behaviour; they engage in it deliberately, claiming it is a sign of high intelligence or that it exalts the only virtue held sacred in secular liberal societies – the freedom to disrespect deities. There is a strange euphoria surrounding such manifestations, as the rage of the blasphemer is reciprocated by his peers and drowned in a sort of general euphoria and unwarranted optimism.
Religious people, on the other hand, feel a strong sense of revulsion when witnessing such manifestations of irreverence, even when it is not targeting their own particular sacred symbols. The blasphemous act is perceived as vulgar, disgusting, the ramblings of a a madman.
Based on Jonathan Haidt’s analysis, we can fully understand and expect the difference between the two groups. Progressives tend to focus on the individualist moral foundations (1 -rage at witnessing harmful acts, because they care for the weak and 2 – fairness in sharing resources), while conservatives tend to focus on the binding foundations (3 – loyalty to a group or ethos, 4 – respect for elders and authority, 5 – sanctity, purity, avoiding degrading behaviours and 6 – liberty). Haidt also proved that conservatives are better at understanding the aims and concerns of progressives, because they themselves have average scores on the individualist moral foundations. Progressives, on the other hand, cannot understand any of the moral concerns of conservatives, because their scores on the binding foundations are virtually ‘zero’. This is one of the reasons why they cannot steel man an opposing view – because they are looking at the world through a warped, hyper-inflated sense of care and fairness that urges them to denounce, raise the alarm, cancel and curse anyone who does not share their concern.
This is where Haidt’s analysis ends. Insightful, as it is, it still treats the 6 moral foundations as a sort of black boxes; he does not explain HOW (neurologically) or WHY (morally) people are concerned with these values. In order to answer these questions, we must look at Iain McGilchrist’s research popularised in ‘The Master and his Emissary’.
The first striking thing we realise when reading the book is that progressives rely primarily on the left hemisphere, while conservatives – on the right. These two are not merely separate functional areas of the brain; they each have their own gestalt, way of being-there, as well as their unique worldview and definition of ‘knowledge’. Although every human being uses both hemispheres for all sorts of activities, it is possible that one of them becomes dominant and takes over the entire personality, imposing its worldview to the detriment of the mirroring side.
Iain argues that the left hemisphere (which he calls ‘the Emissary’) tends to do this by INHIBITING the activity of the right hemisphere (‘the Master’), sedating it so it can leave it the hell alone. Although it still needs to rely on the master for the essential building blocks of perception, of providing particular contexts and the metaphorical means of extrapolating them into general rules and categories.
The right hemisphere, on the other hand, is usually silent and does not kick in unless one invites it; most often this can be done by consciously silencing the left brain chatterer. If you don’t attempt to do it, it won’t happen and you’ll be stuck in an endless process of arguing with imaginary adversaries.
How do we know conservatives are leaning on the right hemisphere more significantly than progressives? Because they are better at something called ‘theory of mind’. That is the ability of knowing someone closely, relationally, in a participatory fashion. The right brain is an expert at this form of intimate knowledge of Jack or Jill. It can anticipate their reactions in a hypotetical case, say – would Jack be disgusted or amused if I cursed the Christian God? Would Jill buy my excuse for not bothering to call her over the past 6 months?
The left hemisphere engages in a different type of knowledge – that of general categories. In order to ‘know’ Jack or Jill, it measures their height, weight, eye colour, skin colour. It studies their social status, education level and so on. This kind of knowledge is a lot more statistical and inert. It does not stomach ambiguity or contextual cues. It is also unable to engage with Jack or Jill as Persons, and to anticipate their reactions in a hypotetic scenario.
Show the left hemisphere the commercial where Rutger Hauer drinks Guinness laying in a hot sauna full of hot women, while he looks at the camera and exclaims: ‘Chilly, isn’t it?’ The left brain won’t get the joke. It will consider Rutger’s utterance a bit of information on the temperature in the sauna, and will deboonk it as ‘false’. This is also why only the right hemisphere is capable of engaging in ‘theory of mind’. And conservatives are great at doing this. Not only because their moral concerns are more complex and balanced (a merely quantitative and opaque description), but also because they engage in right brain ways of knowing more frequently than progressives.
McGilchrist then goes on to say that human language evolved from music rather than the other way around. He offers extensive evidence to support this claim. And if music was a communitarian binding act, mainly rooted in the right hemisphere, language diverged from it in an attempt to deceive and obscure one’s intentions rather than to make them more apparent. As shocking as this sounds to a modern individual, it is way more difficult to lie when your way of communication involves both hemispheres; when you are perceptive, ‘in tune’ and with your ‘theory of mind’ running at full intensity – than it is when you relegate communication to a set of sounds corresponding to mental categories situated in the left brain exclusively. We’re all appalled at how internet messaging has made zoomers unable to read affective cues in face to face interactions. Looks like the first Zuccs and Dorseys were far more ancient than we thought. It also turns out that the main function of language, syntax and logic, was NOT to arrive at Truth and the so-called thing-in-itself, but rather – at achieving maximum goal-oriented behaviour. The left brain GRABS information, it GRASPS it like a tool or a hand; it uses language as a map in order to find the treasure, to win the war, to BTFO one’s opponents. Turns out the madman was right after all in asking:
“Are the words just echoes of an angel of lie
Ever inflating as the end draws nigh?”
While the right hemisphere engages in participatory, holistic and contextual knowledge, treasuring the flow and uniqueness of the patterns it encounters, the left hemisphere demands precision of language; it narrows down the focus on disparate components of the whole – not to better understand it (as it claims when asked what it’s doing), but to make better use of it for its goal-oriented behaviour. And Iain’s conclusion is sobering – in order to regulate goal-oriented behaviour, one absolutely NEEDS the Master to provide the final goal. Moral values cannot be derived from relationships between parts. The emissary is useful to the individual and wider society as long as it admits its subordination to the master. If he tries to overthrow him and take over the quest of establishing its own goals, it leads to sinister societal developments. And according to Iain, it’s been doing just this for at least the past 500 years.
According to McGilchrist, the absolute divide in the two hemispheres’ worldview extends to the way in which each define what morality is. If we look at Scheller’s Pyramid of values, the right hemisphere builds on lower-order values to embrace higher-order values, all of which require affective or moral engagement with the world. The left hemisphere, on the contrary, dismisses higher-order values in favour of lower-order values – it either reduces everything to its utility value or rejects it.
You might recall Peterson’s words on the crucial importance of having a hierarchy of values. I am also pretty sure that while looking at that diagram, you remembered cases in which you already followed the approach of the right hemisphere with good results. You also probably adopted the opposite worldview, especially when trying to convince yourself and others that a certain effort was not necessary; or when you tried to prove that your ideological enemies were wrong. However, all things considered, we all sense that the upward striving of the master is at least more neurologically complex; it involves more ways of being-there, of interacting with reality; it has more depth and richness, and it totally subsumes and eclipses the left-brain definition of morality.
A good example of this can be found in Zero HP Lovecraft’s article on the definition of love. The left hemisphere insists on defining love as ‘choice-maximisation’, while the right hemisphere defines it as ‘protecting people from their naive desires and leading them to the path of righteousness as they best understand it’. If the first definition encourages self-indulgence and procrastination, the second involves hormetic stress – the good kind of stress – low doses of trauma that you accept voluntarily, and which strenghten your mind and body and reward you with positive emotions only AFTER you have completed the challenge.
The left brain approach instantly rewards you with dopamine, but then it keeps urging you to further choose, drop and choose; never stop choosing, comparing, matching, scrolling down. On the long term it leads to rage and anxiety. Then it rewards you with some more dopamine, but keeps you in this hell forever.
Do you now realise how the left hemisphere maps onto the left wing drive, while the right hemipshere on the right wing one?
The dopamine-filled agressive chatterbox informs the progressive person’s moral matrix. It also leads to his intolerance and militantism. His refusal to consider higher order values. His anger at any notion of ‘sacredness’, of symbolic thinking, of elevation and religious purification. At the spiritual man’s rejection of consequentialism.
The left wing individual also demands focus and precision of language not because of the desire to better reciprocate his interlocutor’s thoughts (we know he is low in theory-of-mind and thus high in dehumanisation). The real reason for this demand is goal-oriented. Shock and terror – he JUST wants to deboonk and BTFO your ideas. And he will deconstruct them into nothingness if you refuse to engage in deboonking yourself. McGilchrist argues that extreme focused attention can in fact obstruct certain learned behaviours or modalities of knowing, by inhibiting the neurological activities that make them possible. Just as too much self-awareness can kill social interaction, or too much focus can make you unable to perform a musical piece from memory, it is possible to lose centuries-old folk wisdom and knowledge by casting too much artificial light on these areas and eradicating what cannot be proven or justified in a utilitarian mindset.
Now we understand why anti-theists feel the urge to curse, blaspheme and desecrate. The emissary, whom they have enthroned as supreme ruler, demands his blood rituals. They need to direct their goal-oriented drive at something, and if their values are not informed by something higher and more fulfilling, they will champion the only moral intuitions they have left – the utilitarian drive to care for the weak and ensure a more equitable distribution of resources. You MUST become their villain, they are in desperate need of an antagonist. The maddening screeching and cursing you hear is the legion of demons demanding a new host.
One last observation before I finish this article – if the leftwing drive corresponds to the left hemisphere, how can we then explain today’s political landscape, where the new conservatives seems stuck in rigid Evangelical doctrines, simplistic economic axioms and an unsophisticated drive to accumulate wealth? All this while the new woke left talks about gestalt, fluidity and psychedelics? I asked a scholar this question and he replied that travelling in time to the 18th century would be enough to elucidate the mystery. The conservatives of that age were all unconventional eccentric nutters, not very different from the hippies of the 70s, while the left of the time was stuck with a set of rationalistic talking points. You know the drill – the Puritanical rejection of artistic pursuits, their Catholic derangement syndrome, their left brain ‘conscientious objections’ and Whig vision of history, coupled with an obssession with the mechanical, the promise of a clockwork civilisation of progress and emancipation. And since the emissary was already on its path to historical hegemony, these fuckers, having far fewer doubts and dillemmas than their opponents, won the ideological war and imposed their worldview on all future ideologies, including those regarding themselves as right wing.
Today’s woke left is not very different after all; left brain go brrr, energised, angry, dopamine-filled. Their postmodern sophisticated notions they hijacked from the arch-reactionary Nietzsche; their notions of gestalt – from Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger. Their appreciation of the uniqueness of other cultures – Adorno stole and subverted from Oswald Spengler. The emissary realised that in order to prolong his usurpation, he MUST force the Master to talk to him and reveal some of his deep secrets. But those secrets still serve the Usurper’s goals. The endless gender spectrum is proclaimed only so that it is further divided into 72 sub-categories. The primitive shamanic aspects of exotic cultures are exalted only so that they can be relegated to pop-culture genres that are later eroded and dissipated into Globohomo society. Environmentalism and sustainable architecture are employed only to further consolidate Leviathan; to further erode grassroots communities and create an ever-expanding international superstructure of maximum care, quantification and surveillance.