Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Zhuāngzi Hermit

Benjamin Cain:

After all, what doesn’t seem much appreciated in Western societies is that so-called omega men are secular counterparts of the mystical ascetics who’ve been revered especially in Eastern societies. Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain ascetics, as well as Gnostics, ancient Jewish hermits and Christian monks renounced worldly pleasures as degrading or illusory, often with elaborate theological rationales... Ascetics have no place in secular postmodern societies, although the American beat generation and hippies, as well as the communists of the last century expressed similar anti-natural or transhuman sentiments. Still, introverts or men with few if any advantages in the social Game, who thus have little incentive to compete in it, seem to reach conclusions similar to the religious mystic’s, about the indignities of the popular social condition and the delusions needed to sustain the secular pursuit of happiness.

...As for the insinuation that the omega isn’t a real man, unlike the alpha or beta man, if “real man” means the one defined by scientific theories, then we’re assuming that a human is a naturally selected mammal; a vehicle for transmitting genes in the furtherance of a mindless, morally neutral biochemical process; a mortal cursed with the intelligence to understand all too well the likelihood of our species’ doom, the ultimate fruitlessness of our individual efforts, and the inevitability of our body’s decay. In that case, surely the omega man should take that emasculating insult as an unintentional compliment. Perhaps the omega is an inchoate transhuman, whose stubborn renunciation of natural reality is a precondition of a radical alteration of that reality which requires an inner transformation of hitherto “real” men and women. Only an alienated outsider could be motivated to combat all the evils of the natural dominance hierarchy, and thus to preclude the need for distinctions between alpha, beta, and omega men.

To clarify, I’m not so foolish as to recommend that all men be omegas. What I maintain is that the popular dismissal of omega men as weak-willed losers is complicated by the comparison of these losers with the perennial class of mystical ascetics. The problem with modern omega men is that the traditional defense of asceticism has few roots in Western societies, and so these drop-outs are doubly alienated--from natural forces and from non-omegas. More than anyone else, omega men (and women too!) need a version of mysticism that’s compatible with modern science and with philosophical naturalism. Certain forms of Buddhism are popular options, as are New Age bastardizations of Gnostic and Eastern religious traditions.

Thanks to Brian for the link. Reclaiming the omega male label as a positive ideal has been a topic in my wheelhouse before, and is closely related to my identification as a Bartlebesian and a Berliner, as well as my more general guiding principles of santutthi and bonsai minimalism. But if it's a mystical sheen you want, well, I found something interesting the other day on Wikipedia while browsing:

Scholars such as Aat Vervoom have postulated that Zhuāngzi advocated a hermit immersed in society. This view of eremitism holds that seclusion is hiding anonymously in society. To a Zhuāngzi hermit, being unknown and drifting freely is a state of mind. This reading is based on the “inner chapters” of the self-titled Zhuangzi

I'm okay with that one, too. Beneath notice, beneath contempt, beneath status anxiety and cultural competition, beneath even the need to frame one's insignificant irrelevance as inverted, disguised superiority. Silently through and out of the world.