Throughout history, books and ideas have held an inspirational place in the actions of Great Men and era-defining movements. They’ve shaped the course of history to the will of such peoples or birthed new ways of life within existing frameworks, often breathing new life into a faltering civilization. Alexander slept with a copy of the Iliad, the communist manifesto coagulated unwashed masses around the world into armies that toppled ancient regimes. The Jesuits, arguably more influential than the Conquistadors, carried little more than their Bibles into the new world. Uncle Toms Cabin fueled the abolitionist movement, and Lincoln said it “made” the Civil War. The Beats – Kerouac in particular – birthed the hippie/counter-culture movement that shaped much (most?) of American popular culture for half a century.
Today, story-telling occupies a profane place in our culture and moves like maggots through the corpses of dead artforms. To a large degree, story-telling media like novels and films have devolved into passive consumerist endeavors to stave off boredom and impart catharsis, a salve for loneliness and an antidote to modern ennui. Even serious literature, philosophy, and politics in our age takes on an escapist element as little more than an intellectual exercise akin to a crossword puzzle or, if explored with an interlocutor, a game of chess. David Foster Wallace, the addict-depressive, spoke of “serious” literature this way, a way to emulate a lost fellowship with humanity, whilst treating escapist literature as worthy of scholarly critique (google his class syllabus, its full of pop lit). As serialized objects for consumption, we find the novel and its debased offspring, the graphic novel, endlessly cycling through old forms. The age of Earthsea, Dune, and Lord of the Rings ended long ago. Harry Potter and Twilight were akin to taking the dustbin of myth, fantasy, and horror and dumping it in-toto onto the page, while the endless superhero movies are proof of a totally extinguished creative class in film. Hollywood mines comic book culture to keep a once vibrant art form ambling on exclusively for commercial purposes. Even films with redeeming integrity, like those of Iñárritu, Villeneuve, and Eggers can be seen as little more than highly polished copies of past inventions, akin to the American wave of Black Metal, Japanese Spirits, or Roman Hellenic statuary.
These dead forms have led to much arrested flourishing in America. The mass production of escapist fantasy results in dead-eyed sexless blobs who can only be riled to action if someone insults or tries to take away their video games. Video games, by the way, deserve as much or more credit for killing literature in America as Hollywood and cable TV, for any talent for story telling that crops up, if it wants to earn someone a living, must be swept up in one of these maelstroms of never-ending franchises or their attendant professional “criticism”. Academia bears much of the burden as well, for our dead arts. A liberal arts degree now is sure to teach you much and more about feminist, Marxist, queer, or trans theory, sure to expose you to middling novels about the experience of the “marginalized,” none of which results in a skill with any use-value. These graduates emerge with the ability to dissect and dismantle all cultural productions but, apparently, no ability whatsoever to produce anything culturally relevant or accomplished. Just in these two realms – gaming and liberal arts – we see a major siphoning-off of potential skilled or specialized workers from STEM programs into pet humanities degrees, which leads to job shortages and talent gaps, which lead to influx of skilled immigrant professionals, which results in the flight of American dollars to their home countries. This talent gap is only made worse by the opioid crisis (to be expanded on in a future essay), which itself redirects staggering flows of tax revenue and potential talent into treatment, social-services, policing, and jailing.
The realm of ideas is even more rotten. Old ideas have mutated or putrefied into Zombie Ideas that spread through and animate many in society like the bloodthirst virus in 28 Days Later that birthed zombie/lunatic hybrids. There are many examples of Zombie Ideas, but the foundational and most detrimental are “democracy,” “socialism,” “capitalism,” and “multiculturalism.” Were it not for Trump, 2016 was going to be a race between two nascent political dynasties, a sure sign that democracy had become a farce and had been dead for a while. The fact that they were superseded by a television star should prove the implications of the above paragraph, but this is not an anti-trump screed (there is a case to be made, elsewhere, that his crippling of the emerging dynasties may be the most important and positive political event in America since WW2). Socialism, on the other hand, met what appeared to be a timely and inevitable death with the fall of the USSR, prompting Derrida to invent “hauntology,” the ghost of Marxism haunting the left, who refuse to let its spirit die. Its animated corpse is ambling on through people like Bernie Sanders and AOC, who actively promote it and helped, along with Occupy (perhaps the progenitor of all this) spark a socialist revival in America. The “Democratic Socialists of America” have more members than ever before and “Black Lives Matter” zombies amble through our cities, rendering them the post-apocalyptic wastelands befitting any zombie film. All this of course was a reactionary leftism, reacting to the ungainly behemoth birthed by neoliberal capitalism and the devastation wrought by the 2008 housing crash. Businesses, for their part, more than happy to take up whatever cause or imagery happens to be in vogue, regardless of its implications.
Financialization and globalization , two heads of the gore spattered Cerberus of capitalism, have given our society several grievous injuries, with the 2008 crash, the job-flight to Mexico and China, and several waves of drugs, disease, and human fallout migrating from those same regions. This brings up our last Zombie Idea, “multiculturalism” (perhaps the third head of Cerberus) which should conflict with “socialism,” for the greatest indictment I can find of immigration and multiculturalism comes from Upton Sinclair, a communist party member. His misused and misunderstood classic “The Jungle” is decidedly *not* about the meat industry, but is a stinging indictment of immigration as a capitalist lie in its inexorable quest for cheap labor. Yet somehow the mad scientists that run the country have figured out a way to graft this animated limb awkwardly on to the already mutated form of American ideals and, worse, the mass of the left are trying to tell us the arm works just fine.
These Zombie Ideas, when played out on the political stage, can be analogized with Raskalnikov’s horrific vision at the end of Crime and Punishment. The difference however, would be that in Dostoyevsky’s time the disease of rationalism (the Titan of all modern ideas) was in its pathogenic phase in Russia, in which it was actively infecting his fellow Russians. Now we might say we are, if not in a terminal phase, certainly in the exponential growth phase of pathogen reproduction. In Russia, Raskalnikovs dream of “rationality parasites” proved Dostoyevsky a prophet with the Russian Revolution, and clearly here in America we are watching an illness manifest from these festering dead ideas. The press has mobilized unashamedly against Trump in an even more brazen fashion than it did in support of invading Iraq, all in the ostensible interest of some combination of the Zombie Ideas. On another front, we see sustained leftist destruction of cities across America in the supposed interest of enfranchisement of black and brown Americans, and a massive, protracted purge of professional and popular culture in the interest of feminism and anti-racism (the bastard children of socialism and multiculturalism).
I’ve not even touched on another aspect of the fall-out from all this, the far-right “white nationalists,” reaction/neo-reactionaries, conspiracy theorists, and other armed groups like the minute men at the border. These people cling to another idea that some might call a Zombie, that of Nationalism, though I’m not sure that idea ever really had its day in America and therefore cannot be considered dead. Perhaps it is still in the womb, and these people are trying to prevent its abortion. Suffice it to say, Marxists believe communism is the inevitable end point of history as it passes from feudalism, through capitalism, culminating in Communism and, as such, they say communism is an idea “from the future” that we are catching up to. I would argue, and may do so at another time, that it is fact American Nationalism that has not yet arrived, and that some form of Imperial America may be on the horizon. However, it is certainly not here yet, so for now we can lump the far-right figures mentioned above in with the already discussed SJWs and gamers, and address them all under one umbrella term: LARPers.
LARPing has become a seemingly ubiquitous accusation against almost any subculture, particularly those of a political or reactionary bent (remember, I’ve already shown I consider todays leftism to be reactionary, therefore for our purposes that is a catch-all phrase). The self-aware LARPERs, who dress up as medieval folk at Fairs or TV/Comic Book/Video Game heroes at Cons are only one side of a coin with politically motivated LARPERS; “anarchists,” “communists,” “trad-caths,” “rationalists,” “nazis/nazi-pagans,” etc, who are endlessly accused of LARPing by outsiders. In fact in some corners of the internet you can see an ironic embrace of LARPing, with references to Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons (Magic seems to be Right and D&D seems to be Left, but I’ve not conducted a scientific study). LARPING could be a result of a confluence of conditions, psychologically and historically, but one ultimate state of affairs lay at the heart of all this LARPing: ones conviction that one lives in the wrong time. In some cases, we see the conviction their time has passed and, in others, it has not yet come. Either way, Utopia is a place that exists in another time, in another realm.
These myriad LARPings – commonly referred to as subcultures – play out in diverse ways, and are astutely characterized by Spenglers discussion of the proliferation of cults. The state of affairs we are concerned with, that of proliferating cults or the endless LARP, manifest when a cultures coherence begins to break down, typically as a result of urbanization and financialization. In an earlier era, when religion imparts a strong sense of shared destiny, citizens operate as a part in a functioning whole whose collective ends -that of the nation – are achieved through the actualization of individual ends. In later eras, be it the Imperial Age in Rome or the Post-Modernism in the West, we see the pursuit of individual goals as a stressor to the system when it was once a bonding agent, and the cliché “breakdown of meta-narratives” results in an existential crises of civilization. This crises leads directly to all the vices that characterize decadent ages, for now personal enrichment or personal pleasure gain primacy over ones destiny. One no longer labors towards destiny in these ages but towards ones own nihilistic and material pleasure. Ones purpose or essence is not given or predetermined, as with pre-modern eras where sons took on the professions of their fathers. Rather, one must discover or create for oneself out of interest and utility ones raison d’etre, and ones profession too often fails to fulfil or actualize ones essence. Hence, the LARP.
The other path one my take with this existential crises is the LARPing of a former or perhaps future noble lifestyle. Spengler recognizes this, bemoaning the pitiful attempt of megalopolitan man to “return to nature” or his “second religiousness.” In these instances we see a people look backwards to an earlier time in which their connection to nature was spontaneous and their religious faith was inherent. According to Spengler, we cannot return, for us nature is bathed in a “color-wash” that we painted over it, while for the founders of our civilization nature was animated from within by the light of Spirit. We see this played out on a grand scale with the hippie movement, and it has now entered some anguished period of lamentation with the Global Warming movement (passing through many other phases as well, with Green Anarchism and Earth First!). It has taken another form lately, this time on the right, with the Pagans and the Trad-Cath farmers. First generation farmers, you might argue, are carpet baggers. “Trad-caths” are accused of being materialist and even protestant at heart whilst mimicking catholic sacraments and values. Spengler himself says that these attempts to return to early religion and communion with nature are terminally tainted by the materialism of an age.
Many of these back-to-nature LARPERS are looking to grow something organic through the fissures in the concrete and steel overlaying the earth, something that will outlast urban civilization. “Anarchists” and “communists,” the LARPers for a world yet to be, return to their single-family homes -their own or their parents -after a protest, go to work the next day, and many of them even vote. In other words, they live totally normal and prescribed modern western lives. On the right, “Nazis” and white nationalists may hold any grey mixture of non-aryan/non-Germanic blood. Can all minute-men trace their lineage back to the mayflower? We could go on. And the few who may truly embody these genetic and historic ideals are perhaps the saddest of the bunch, for them it’s not pretend or dissatisfaction, this world truly is no longer for them.
The self-aware LARPers – the gamers, anime, and Renn faire types – are unsatisfied with the inert world around them, they find it far more boring than their fantasy obsession, and therefore make real the outfits and accoutrements of their favorite characters. The life-style LARPers, the ones who bankrupt their families to buy a farm (or more likely, cash out their stocks), drag them off to mass every Sunday, don black at the local protest, or get swastika tattoos, are in a far more compromised situation, and these are the people the following series of essays are truly concerned with. This endless LARP-loop we are caught in goes far deeper than just the boredom and ennui inspired by a bourgeois existence and can be understood as the effects of civilizational development and urbanization on the collective psyche, the hopeless materialism of Spenglers “megalopolitan man.” We live in an uninspired world, the voices of the Gods cannot be heard, the Heraclitian Fire has been snuffed by the liquification of spirit and we are left as atoms fliting about blindly in a fog, unaware of the superstructure in which we must surely reside.
6 thoughts on “Introduction: LARPING for a Vision – Dead Forms and Zombie Ideas”
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
This came to my mind while reading your essay
What did Spengler meant by “that these attempts to return to early religion and communion with nature are terminally tainted by the materialism of an age.”?
specificly the “materialism of an age” part.
i should also have mentioned that by “materialism” we mean that people have such bounty of food, shelter, clothing, and sexual satisfaction that they favor and regard these things higher than immaterial, like spirituality. the “materialism of an age” is for people who have many of lifes pleasures to choose from and everything becomes a sample at a buffet, including religion
That the blind faith of an earlier time has been replaced by rationalism and materialism bred by learning and disconnection from nature. The god is dead quote is apt and i address Nietzsche in the next essay
I come from quite a different standpoint from yourself but nonetheless find this to be interesting. I think you have seen through many of the traps of contemporary western, specifically America, ideology. While there are things i disagree with here, as well as more fundamental disagreements, what i do agree with is that the vast majority of the institutions, ideas and practices you have criticized deserve criticism. Though something I would add is that positions such as “Marxism” are not limited to the form they take on in liberal universities, and in fact come from a vastly different history and tradition. You will find for interest, a much greater wealth of thought when studying either the classic figures, or even from contemporary thinkers from eastern europe and asian, where marxism has an entirely different meaning than it does in a liberal university.(the Chinese even mock western leftist for perhaps many of the same reasons you might).
Thank you for this comment and the easiest way to respond is simply to say I kept this short-ish and sort of wished I had elaborated on some things because I had very specific things in mind, not all Catholics, back to the land people, marxists, what have you, are larpers, I painted with a broad stroke. Regarding marxists I am of the opinion that no American can be truly marxists anymore (which shouldn’t imply a positive or negative connotation)