Rhetorical Strategy in Confrontations with Occultists, Cosmicminders, and Supernaturalists
Principle One: Never let them get away with anything.
Occultist rhetorical strategy generally seeks to obtain your consent to some vague or slippery usage which has a superficial resemblance to Neo-A. doctrine, but which will also permit a spatial or mechanical construction. Once you allow such a usage to “get by” by nodding your head or simply not saying anything to correct it, they will employ it to demonstrate that you have contradicted yourself somehow. It is therefore necessary in the beginning of any conversation or debate with an occultist, to act like a mean and nasty son-of-a-bitch who refuses to “play ball” and insists on what may seem to be nit-picking distinctions. The occultist, in almost every case, will object to this on moral grounds, and picture himself as a generous and tolerant “Great Soul” for whom all such trivial differences are varieties of taste while you are a “hostile” and “aggressive” egomaniac possessed of a mulish wish to set up “barriers” between people. There are various ways to reply to this strategy but the best by far, in my opinion, is to tell your adversary what you think he is doing and why he is doing it.
You must assume from the outset that your major task in dealing with an occultist adversary will be to disagree, on philosophic grounds, with statements constructed so as to seem perfectly unobjectionable to the ignorant. Since the ignorant are not aware that it is possible to interpret life without the ontological assumption of a time-space continuum divisible into plural minds, various things, etc., no matter what you say to assert this point of view they will think you are saying something else (conformable to their assumptions) if you let them get away with it. In a way, your job is to make them believe at the very least that you are “insane” or “incoherent” or something of the sort. At that point they at least “have ears to hear” and are beginning to “get the idea” even if they don’t agree with it. When your occultist opponent says, “I don’t agree with you”—you have deprived him of his “out” defenses which always take the form of casting the encounter in terms of morality or psychopathology with himself playing the role of the “Great Soul” or Expert looking down from above on the animalistic animosities animating lesser beings (such as Buddha, Nagarjuna, Samkara, Plato, Hume, Emerson, Thoreau, etc.).
Ask him why, if these distinctions are so trivial, he doesn’t just accept your definition and give up his own?
Ask him if it is possible to make a false philosophic statement.
If he says no, refuse to discuss philosophy with him, on the grounds that he is an imbecile. If yes, ask him to give an example of how he distinguishes between “trivial” distinctions and important ones in the discrimination of truth and falsity among philosophic ideas.
Ask him if the affirmation or denial of the externality of relations is or is not an important question in epistemology. If he says no, ask him to name any major philosopher in the history of the world who agrees with him. Ask him to name an issue that is important.
Ask him in the name of “tolerance” and “understanding,” since he denies that the distinction is important, to assume what you assume (non-externality) in all his further arguments. If he won’t do so, ask him why he won’t.
Inevitably, the occultist will interpret what you are saying in terms of multiplicity (many minds with relations between them) instead of genuine solipsism, and will try to sneak that assumption into the conversation. You must stamp on this insect as soon as it scuttles out of the woodwork, or it will rapidly swell to gigantic proportions.
In other words carrying on a debate with an occultist is not like carrying on a debate with a person of honor and intellectual dignity. Before the actual debate can begin, you must get him to admit that he is engaged in a debate instead of a demonstration of your moral or psychopathological inferiority, and you must show your audience, if any, what kind of a devious and dishonest scoundrel you are dealing with.
Principle Two: Use the dream analogy in preference to all others.
The thrust of occultist argument is always towards physical reductionism and mechanization. The dream analogy is obviously “all mental” and “all psychological” and for that reason, they hate it. It’s too good for them, and they cower back in consternation and dismay whenever it is used, like the night scavengers of the jungles at the sudden appearance of light. Whenever you feel that your occultist adversary has “scored a point” and enmeshed you in the toils of a mechanistic analogy, think of the dream analogy and ask—how does this question apply in the context of an ordinary dream?
Occultist: “Well, I have a mind of my own, don’t I?”
Solipsist: “What if a pink elephant asked you that question in your dreams tonight? How would you answer?”
If he refuses to answer and insists that you answer, tell him you can only answer him the same way you would answer the pink elephant by saying:
Not to my knowledge. There is no contradiction in this for me, since I do not consider the context to be spatial—so please consider me to be one of your dream beings if you wish…and please notice that I am the personality in your dream who is telling you the truth about the overall situation.
Principle Three: Don’t get trapped into a narrow definition of “I.”
Just before Berkeley flips out, he is very good on this point. The “I” which you employ in philosophic discussion is the “I” which is defined as that which experiences everything—including the body and personality you identify as “I” when assuming multiplicity in intra-dream behavior. Make sure that this distinction is made at some point in your debate.
Principle Four: Stick to a narrow definition of enlightenment—that is, the realization that externality is delusionary.
If you don’t, your adversary will inevitably attempt to impeach your enlightenment on the grounds of your bad character by making the assumption (justified by no evidence whatever) that enlightenment implies sainthood. Frankly confess that you are a miserable sinner and full of all kinds of hidden lusts and dreadful perversions of every type and point out that it would be strange if you weren’t, given the condition of the world in general, which you consider to be your dream. Point out that you seem to be improving in a cyclical fashion and so does the world, every time you go through a death-rebirth experience. If you don’t take this tack, your opponent will punch your moral pretensions full of holes (as he should).
On the other hand, if you do take it, he will squirm, for occultists are almost invariably full of moral hypocrisy and pretense and all kinds of sexual and affectional fraudulences of every sort, which is why they devote so much effort to talking about sex, warm human relations, the avoidance of conflict and so on. They don’t know how to be honest and direct with themselves or others, so they make a profession or task out of those things which for a normal person are the very woof and weave of life.
Once you have penetrated the outer defenses of occultist rhetoric, which is almost entirely a matter of establishing that your position is not some bizarre variant of occultist fantasy, but an historically and philosophically distinct and genuine line of thought which contradicts occultist assumptions, your adversary is likely to make the following “concessions,” which are really not concessions at all, just further attempts to smudge distinctions, even at the cost of making you out as a “high-class” occultist.
If you are willing to settle for that, you don’t belong in the Neo-American Church, which is no more interested in “compromising” on such issues than is any other person or institution devoted to the search for truth, rather than political success. Nothing less than the total annihilation of the enemy is satisfactory, or his unconditional surrender. If, after a debate with you, your opponent rends his garments and pours ashes over his head and freely confesses his past errors and begs you for a corrective education you may consider that you have “won.” Anything less than that means that you have only temporarily held the bastard at bay, and you may be sure that 15 minutes later your opponent will have convinced himself that he won the debate, and that every point you made was, for some reason drawn from his vast store of rationalizations, illegitimate.
Here are some of the concessions to watch out for:
1. Well, yes, it is true that no great mystical teacher in history has advocated the development of magical powers. However, the reason for that is that such powers will come naturally as you progress up the great Stairway to Heaven. You will get them when you deserve them. They shouldn’t be forced. How true. Yes, I agree with you on that point. Now, what about…
At this point, stop the fucker in his tracks. If you give these people an inch, they will take a mile. Your reply should be along the following lines:
Powers? What powers? There are no powers, only the twists and turns of the dream. The great teachers never said anything at all about your getting these little bonuses for good behavior… unless you consider that infantile idiot-savant Evans-Wentz to be a “great teacher.” (A vicious attack on Evans-Wentz will usually disconcert and disorient your adversary, who will have enshrined this creep in his mind as a universally beloved source of wisdom.) Since we deny externality, there is nothing to have power over. Within the dream, what does it mean to say I have “power,” since I can solve only problems that I have invented in the first place? Yes, some personalities and phenomena and ideas may be said to be more “powerful” than others in a psychological or dramatic or even pictographic sense, but there is no ontological power. There is no physical (external) reason whatever in a dream why you shouldn’t read minds and move mountains or whatever, if that’s the way you want to have it, but there are many good psychological reasons why such behavior is undesirable, since it tends to produce a very messy, sloppy, boring and stupid story line in which it becomes apparent very early that there is no reason whatever to do anything—which is reflected very well in the myths of mankind and the observable practices of spiritualists and magicians who almost always end up in some kind of infantile paranoia. The great teachers did not speak of magic as either a desirable objective or a reward. They spoke of it only as one of the delusionary and petty concerns of the lower classes of the ignorant and ignoble, and that is all that it is.
2. Ah, yes, of course, even if that is true, the acceptance of paranormal phenomena is a step along the way, I’m sure you will agree. Now, what about…
Stop the bastard in his tracks again. If you don’t, your failure to object to the word “paranormal” (or whatever other vague usage has been employed) will be all that your adversary requires to cram you into one of his little pigeonholes.
Ask him what he means by “paranormal.”
His reply will show that he is assuming an ontological mind-matter dualism and that he is assuming that any evidence of what he calls “precognitive,” or “ESP” experience demonstrates the hypothesis that mind is greater than matter, or more “powerful”, and that it is the acceptance of this hypothesis that is a “step along the way.” Further (if you keep pushing him) you will discover that what impresses him about this kind of behavior on the part of “mind” is that it acts like matter, in that it “pushes things around” or “flows” or “reaches out” rather than “merely” thinking or perceiving. In this, he sees hope that his mind or personality will escape death and “transcend” matter. This is the “Buddhism” of such as Evans-Wentz.
It is “metaphysics” as physical reductionism, a way of turning the mind into a variety of matter that is (he hopes) “powerful” enough to survive.
(When you attack an occultist’s theories, he will usually respond by defending the possibility that certain events have occurred. Never question the events, even though they are frequently questionable. Admit at once that anything may happen, and insist that it is his reasoning, not his facts, which you find objectionable.)
Tell him that such thinking is not “a step along the way” but a step backwards.
Visionary experience, or “heavy” synchronicity (which is all that most “paranormal” experience amounts to) or “breaks” in the illusion of physical necessity and the supposed progression of cause and effect can be valuable, but only if they are NOT interpreted in the way I have just described. If such experience is interpreted in an empirical spirit and with logical economy (Occam’s razor) it will lead directly to the questioning of the hypothesis of externality.
If that happens, then such experience may be regarded as a step backwards on a false trail. True, you are not genuinely “getting anywhere,” in that there has been no forward motion (so to speak), but you have at least stopped, or backed off, from a false assumption. You have returned to “where you started” before you went wrong. (These spatial analogies are extremely dangerous, and, if you use them in argument you should be certain that everyone present recognizes that no “reification” is intended.)
It’s probably better to say that there are no steps along the way. All steps are steps backwards. The truth is right in front of your nose, and all your twistings, squirmings and brave marches into distant and alien territories will not change that fact one bit. All effort is in the service of repression. It is your (weightless) decisions that count.
Our country (in mythic terms, the US beast), is full of occultist wanderers, busily flitting from one scene to another, attending conferences wherein the blind maneuver to see which one of them will have the honor of taking the lead next month, visiting each other to exchange prejudices and to be confirmed in their bad habits, inventing organization after organization devoted to “research” which will give them a reputation among their fellow ignoramuses and perhaps make the great “breakthrough” which will, for once and for all, demonstrate conclusively that thoughts are things.
If any of such stray your way, fellow solipsists, play your tutorial role (that word, I have decided, is better than “guru”) the way you always do, and do not concede in the slightest any “fellowship” with such. They are if anything “lower” on the scale than your ordinary kid student, who comes to you in honest perplexity. These occultists come to be confirmed in their ignorance, and the best thing you can do for them is to insult their pretensions as vigorously as possible and send them away shaking their heads.
Do not think in terms of making peace. No peace is possible and no peace is desirable between the light and the darkness, between truth and falsehood. When one recognizes this,
Something drops from eyes long blind,
He completes his partial mind,
For an instant stands at ease,
Laughs aloud, his heart at peace.
(And if occultists would stick to writing poetry we would all be better off!)
“The apostolic succession from Eschylus to myself is as serious and as continuously inspired as that younger institution, the apostolic succession of the Christian Church. Unfortunately this Christian Church has become the Church where you must not laugh; and so it is giving way to that older and greater Church to which I belong: the Church where the oftener you laugh the better,”
—George Bernard Shaw, quoted by Frank Harris