The anti-religious religion of Peter Boghossian and Michael Shellenberger

Some people reading this might have some idea who Peter Boghossian is. He’s an atheist philosopher, of the New Atheist school in particular, the kind of atheist who loves getting self-righteous about their beliefs in a way that outmatches even many religious moralists. He’s also a conservative ideologue, in fact he’s pretty notorious for submitting intentionally absurd hoax papers for the purpose of “debunking gender studies”, which his employer, Portland State University, determined to be a violation of its ethics guidelines concerning research on human subjects. Like other New Atheists, Peter Boghossian is enamored with ideas about opposing vague constructs called “wokeness”, which he believes to be a threat to liberal democracy. Often times you find that “wokeness” is a thing that people struggle to define. Personally, I really hate the term “woke” as a way of describing anything. It’s a vague term often meant to describe any political position you happen to despise. But on November 11th, Peter Boghossian posted on Twitter a spreadsheet detailing the characteristics of what he called “the woke religion”. Ironically enough, I think it also exposes his own inner “religious thinking” for lack of a better term, as well as the true content of the manufactured “war on wokeness” now peddled ruthlessly by the mainstream of politics. So, let’s take the opportunity to dissect it.

Apparently compiled by both Peter Boghossian and Michael Shellenberger, himself a self-described “eco-modernist” and noted conservative contrarian, the table is divided between seven vertical categories and ten horizontal categories. The categories of the vertical axis consist of “Racism”, “Climate Change”, “Trans” (as in trans people), “Crime”, “Mental Illness”, “Drugs”, and “Homelessness”, all of them seemingly pet issues for conservative culture warriors. To be honest, I’m surprised “Immigration” and “Islam” aren’t sections here, considering where this is going. The cateogries of the horizontal axis consist of “Original Sin”, “Guilty Devils”, “Myths”, “Sacred Victims”, “The Elect”, “Supernatural Beliefs”, “Taboo Facts”, “Taboo Speech”, “Purifying Rituals” and “Purifying Speech”. Some of these sound like song titles from a shitty glam rock album. But, more importantly, they sketch out what Boghossian seems to think a religion is, and how “wokeness” supposedly works. First there’s the “original sin” doctrine, or rather what we’re supposed to take as an expy to the original sin doctrine of Christianity, here meaning basically the idea of a crime or transgression taking place which is responsible for the current problems of the world. Then of course there’s the people who are responsible for it. Then you have “Myths”, which apparently are supposed to be a creation story, which will seem all the weirder when we analyze what these “myths” are. There are “Sacred Victims”, who continue to be affected by “Original Sin”, and there are the “Elect”, a chosen few gathered to right the wrongs of the world. The “religion” is equipped with a set of “supernatural beliefs”, here defined as “beliefs beyond scientific understanding or known laws of nature”, and, of course, has attendant categories of “forbidden speech”, which attacks the “religion”, as well as counteracting categories of “purifying speech”, which upholds the “religion” while alleviating guilt.

So, Boghossian’s construction of “the woke religion” is apparently a salvationist religion in which there are, judging by the table, multiple original sins that need to be redeemed by an enlightened Elect, supported by purportedly non-scientific beliefs, origin myths, purification rituals and speech, and, of course, the persecution of heretics. Boghossian here is trying to frame all of his critics and opponents as being religious fanatics, or just given over to religious thinking in general, and it’s very obvious that Boghossian’s idea of the nature of religion is informed almost entirely by Christianity. The whole concept is essentially a caricature of Christianity, the religion most defined partly by the concept of “original sin”, though unlike Christianity or any other religion it also involves the presence of an “Elect” to be set up to correct society, which actually sounds a little more like Plato’s Republic than Christianity or any religion. Then again, perhaps “the Elect” is meant to have the same meaning as “the Church”.

At this point I believe it’s worth bringing up that Boghossian’s understanding of religion is, like that of many other atheists, a very narrow understanding of religion, one that only really responds particularly to a generalized set of claims made by or about Christianity, as well as maybe Judaism and Islam. It is entirely inadequate when addressing the diverse reality of religion, both historical and present, or many claims made by non-Abrahamic religions. Ideas about original sin, the temptations of devils, spiritual elects, and the like are all absent in the polytheistic religions of the world, and in the historical context of the pre-Christian world, Christianity actually seems unique, perhaps even “eccentric”, in this regard. Hinduism has one God, expressed through many deities, and Hindu class society does affirm a sort of elite spiritual caste at the top, but there’s no original sin in Hinduism. Nor is there original sin in Buddhism, with suffering merely being a product of continuous arisings of craving and ignorance that don’t seem to have an obvious starting point; there is no descent from purity to impurity. Shinto does emphasize ritual purity, very strongly indeed, but it has no concept of original sin. Finally, the nature of the gods of polytheism seems distinct from the One True God imagined by the monotheist faiths and likely the same God that is the sole focus of atheist responses. They are powerful, but not omnipotent, nor omniscient, or even omnibenevolent, they do not deal in the sort of divine command that God is known for, and in some belief systems they are not even immortal.

With that out of the way, let’s examine what Boghossian and Shellenberger seem to think is the “woke religion” in terms of what its apparent beliefs are, and this is where things get truly bad.

One thing I should note right out of the gate is that Boghossian uses the term “supernatural beliefs” not to refer to any actual supernatural claims but instead to claims that very much pertain to worldly society, often with scientific support, but which he himself happens to disagree with. For example, one of the “supernatural beliefs” he lists is “humans are causing sixth mass extinction”. Putting aside the obvious problem that the scientific community seems to suggest that this is indeed happening, it beggars belief to suggest that this might be interpreted as a “supernatural” claim. Do mass extinctions happen only because of a God flashing a magic wand, or like lightning bursting out from another dimension? No, they are very much naturalistic phenomenon, and until today they were all caused solely by extant, uncontrollable natural phenomenon. Or how about “prisoners aren’t guilty, the system is”. Again, we might well ask questions about the system that makes sure that non-violent drug offenders, often African-Americans, spend years of their lives in prison, while allowing millionnaires who literally committed murder to avoid incarceration, but how in the world are we to take that as a “supernatural” claim, or even a particularly extraordinary one? I also fail to see how decriminalization as a means to prevent addiction and overdoses qualifies as a “supernatural” claim. These are just a handful of examples of Boghossian’s absurd labelling of whatever claim he dislikes as “supernatural”.

The “Racism” section of the table begins in predictable fashion. Slavery, referring mainly to the Atlantic slave trade, is the “original sin”, the machinations of mercantile slavery here are somehow given a cosmic status that perhaps was never afforded to it by actual anti-racists, and white people and the police are the “guilty devils”, the implication being that Boghossian assumes that white people are assumed to never be capable of being allies in the struggle against racism or of dismantling racial hierarchy. The “Myths” section is ostensibly supposed to refer to “creation myths”, but contains nothing of the sort. Instead it contains strawmen such as “Asian success is due to Asians participating in white supremacy” and “structural racism is the cause of all racial inequality and the only explanation possible for disparate outcomes by racial group”. The “Sacred Victims” are of course non-white and indigenous people, and the “Elect” meant to save them are Black Lives Matters, critical race theorists, and basically a selection of anti-racist intellectuals that he doesn’t like (not that I’m a fan of Ta-Nehisi Coates or Robin DiAngelo either, just so we’re clear). Black Lives Matter here is supposed to be taken as a kind of elite movement, an appendage of the establishment meant to scold white people, when in reality they seem to repeatedly criticize mainstream Democratic politicians, such as Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, and have more recently earned the ire of the establishment for their declared solidarity with Cuba against US imperialism. The “supernatural beliefs” section here is just a joke. It consists almost entirely of strawmen, and the otherwise not incorrect claim that racism is as bad as ever. The “taboo facts” section would imply “things forbidden to say”, but claiming that racism is declining and that interracial marriages are broadly accepted is not the edgy, rebellious, or controversial statement that Boghossian thinks it is. If anything it just shows he understands very little of the subject, as is demonstrated by his claim that racism can simply be wished away through a single legislative act (surely “magical thinking” if I ever saw it) and that “black wealth” supposedly rising is somehow proof that African-Americans do not experience systematic incarcertation and brutalization. “Purifying rituals” here seems to mean essentially any policy intended to address racial inequality that isn’t the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as more performative measures that don’t actually address it, while “purifying speech” seems to include obscure phrases no one uses as well the concept of intersectionality itself. All in all a truly baffling mixture.

I kind of stress the implications of Boghossian’s apparent beliefs on racism. Based on what we’re looking at here, Boghossian might be a racist. He opposes the idea of any structural barriers explaining the prevalence of racism and the negative outcomes of black people, and it is my suspicion that when he hints at “other possible explanations for disparate outcomes by racial group”, he’s trying to hint at something more essential, like IQ, genes, or phenotypes. And if he isn’t, he will likely assert that the problem is cultural, that African-Americans partake in a culture of violence and the glorification thereof, while of course conveniently ignoring similar cultures among white men or even the very existence of “white trash”. Either Boghossian believes that black people are genetically predisposed to crime, or he simply believes that black people have a uniquely violent culture, and in either case, this clearly is racist, and so Boghossian has irrational racist beliefs. It’s also quizzical how he maintains the idea that rioting is inherently apolitical as a means to denounce it. What does he think the Rebecca Riots were? How does he think Stonewall fought for gay rights? In certain contexts, rioting can take on political significance as political actions. But of course even this is hardly relevant since he’s clearly referring to the 2020 “riots”, after it was found that 93% of the so-called “riots” were actually peaceful protests. You know, for someone who might claim to advance evidence-based beliefs over faith-based ones, Peter Boghossian certainly doesn’t seem interested in any evidence that might contradict his racist faith. I suppose this is the first proof that not believing in a god of any kind doesn’t actually make you any better at evidence-based critical thinking.

The “Climate Change” section is no better. In fact, it’s one of the clearest proofs that Boghossian has no idea what he’s talking about when he tries to discuss science. Here the Industrial Revolution and fossil fuel use are “original sins”, and the “guilty devils” are climate deniers, the Koch Brothers (who often fund them), and huge multinational corporations. Yes, Boghossian and his friend are actually defending corporations through their implication as persecuted heretics, and yes, the implication of climate deniers as the same type of heretic shows their sympathies towards climate change denial. The “Myths” section comprises of entirely scientific and factual claims about climate change, the “Sacred Victims” section is essentially a way of belittling indigenous people who might have their lives completely destroyed by the worst effects of climate change, and “the Elect” consists of an absurd mixture featuring climate scientists, the United Nations, Greta Thunberg, Vandana Shiva, and the long-dead economist Thomas Malthus, never mind that Malthus tends to be despised by many progressive thinkers as a racist because of his ideas about overpopulation. The idea that man-made climate change will make humans as well as the majority of Earth’s lifeforms extinct is inexplicably dismissed as a “supernatural belief”, as is the study of tipping points and the idea that prosperity does not equal happiness. Nuclear power advocacy is somehow framed as “taboo”, when in reality it isn’t, as are certain talking points about renewable energy, which are in reality anything but fringe, while “taboo speech”, meant to imply true but heretical ideas, consists of a string of delusional nonsense and non-sequiturs. “Purifying rituals”, yet again, consist mostly of any attempt by state policy, society, or the individual to address climate change whatsoever, although I will say: “net zero” really is just a buzzword.

This section is also, in my opinion, a good glimpse into the inner religious thinking of the otherwise secular atheist Peter Boghossian. If, as the common atheist does, we define religious thinking as meaning faith-based beliefs, not based in evidence or critical thinking, then to be perfectly honest Peter Boghossian embodies this in spades, even in just this one topic. One example of “taboo speech” is “wealth is good”. Why? How much wealth? For whom? Evidently not for everyone. Wealth is apparently so good that most of the world isn’t allowed to have it, and instead it must be concentrated into the hands of an abject minority of the global population. This is a value judgement that is never questioned. By his terms, it is an assertion of faith over reason. The idea that fracking actually reduces carbon emissions flies squarely in the face of basic facts about fracking and the methane gas it releases. The idea that human civilization, in its current trajectory, can continue to exist, at least without a significant reduction of prosperity, is quite possibly the most faith-based position you can have on climate change. If you think that humans can keep consuming the earth’s finite resources ad infinitum, destroy the ecosystems that sustain life on earth, and continue perpetuating anthropogenic climate change, and not expect that civilization will collapse or be significantly imperiled, you have way too much faith in the status quo and its power to resolve our situation.

More scientific ignorance and arguably faith-based talking points comprise the “Trans” section, and this one sure is a doozy. The “original sin” here seems to be the reduction of gender to the traditional sexual binary, which is then conflated with gender, and the “guilty devils” who perpetuate it are TERFs, as well as people who oppose trans athletes competing in the games of that correspond to their gender identity as well as “mandatory use of pronouns”. I think we can tell who’s side Boghossian takes here. The two “Myths” listed are either a strawman (“trans women or trans men are identical to biological women or men”) or actually a proven fact (“Violence against trans people is on the rise, disproportionate, and due to being trans”). The “Sacred Victims” are of course trans and non-binary people and the “Elect” are essentially any individual or group advocating on their behalf. The idea that puberty blockers and gender affirmation surgery have any effect on your gender or your sex is dismissed as a “supernatural belief”, yet another abuse of the very concept, and the other claim is simply s strawman.

It’s when we get into his idea of “Taboo Facts/Speech” that the depths of this ignorance extend even further. He claims that social acceptance of trans people is increasing. This is despite the fact that more trans people are being killed each year, and there seems to be an entire media apparatus dedicated to defending transphobes and never facing any political challenge because of it. He claims that trans kids “often benefit from parental involvement”. The truth of that claim really depends on what he means by “parental involvement”. We have evidence to suggest that strongly supporting trans kids in how they want to live, just letting them be themselves while accepting their validity and not withholding parental love because of it, dramatically reduces the overall risk of suicide for trans people. If that’s what we mean by parental involvement, then yes, trans kids do overwhelmingly benefit. But I suspect that this is not what Boghossian means. It’s clear that he in fact despises trans people or sees being trans as a purely ideological construct rather than an age-old reality of the human species. In which case, parental involvement for him would mean that the parents of trans kids repeatedly deny the validity of their identities and raise them to deny themselves. There’s no evidence that trans kids benefit from it, and in fact we have evidence that this is actually more likely to lead to trans people committing suicide. And, of course, like any died-in-the-wool transphobe, he brings up “detransitioners” as a “forbidden” subject, the supposed heretical status of it being a way to delegitimize trans people as tyrants. Putting aside the fact that J K Rowling can be defended for using “detransitioning” to justify transphobia, if you actually cared about evidence, you’d learn that “detransitioners” consist of less than 1% of the trans community, who themselves are a group that already consists of around 1% of people, and if you actually cared about logic, you’d realize how stupid it is to ban people (including children) from having gender affirmation surgery or getting puberty blockers on the basis that the tiniest possible minority might want it banned, especially if you’re OK with children going through other body-altering surgeries if it means saving their lives. Once again, by Boghossian’s own standard, his claims about trans people are in fact “faith-based”, since they are not evidence-based and reject evidence-based conclusions.

Before we get into the next section, are you beginning to see the big picture so far? So far the “woke religion” seems to consist of anti-racism, or at least any anti-racism that does not accept the liberal-conservative faith that believes racism has already been resolved, the acknowledgement that man-made climate change is a real and tangible thing which threatens the continued existence of human civilization and life on Earth, and the basic scientific reality that trans people are real and valid as well as the basic moral position that you should accept them for who they are and let them be themselves. “Wokeness”, then, seems to just mean any vaguely progressive position you can take: or more accurately, it means any scientific or social reality that you dislike and thus have to rationalize as a totalitarian conspiracy.

In that spirit, let’s examine the “Crime” section, which shows his fundamental deference to authority. It’s very clearly his way of whining about people who acknowledge capitalism at the root of any social frustration that might culminate in criminal behaviour. The “Myths” here consist of the almost universally acknowledged fact that the American police force descended from slave patrols, and that large numbers of black people are slaughtered by the police. At his most shockingly out of touch, he also claims that black people killed by police officers are considered sacred. Yes, in Peter Boghossian’s fucked up mind, there are people in America who, when they see a black man pass them by, they will immediately prostrate themselves in worship. Again we see evidence of Boghossian’s possible racism, as to be completely honest it sounds like something a white supremacist might say. Another possibile indicator of this strand of racism is his claim that the “Elect” of the “woke religion” on crime consists of Black Lives Matter, progressive district attorneys, police abolitionists, and George Soros. I trust that I don’t need to explain what’s anti-semitic and white supremacist about blaming all social and racial unrest on one rich Jewish man.

In yet another abuse of the concept of a supernatural belief, he defines “Supernatural Beliefs” to include the idea that “Prisoner’s aren’t guilty, the system is”, which is just a strawman directed at anyone who thinks we should address structural inequality in order to resolve the problem of crime, as well as the idea that “Jails and prisons aren’t necessary”. The “Taboo Facts” include the dizzyingly mainstream and common belief that the police reduces crime, and that the “taboo against cooperation with police and prosecutors is a barrier to successfully prosecuting criminals”. That’s doing all the work isn’t it? What matters to Boghossian is not necessarily justice in itself, but rather just “prosecuting criminals”, which in itself could just mean arresting and incarcerating more people. You merely want a justice system that meets arrest quotas, not necessarily a justice system that resolves crime. He also blames anti-police protests for increasing criminal emboldenment through police pullback. Again I would point to the ACLED data for 93% of the George Floyd protests being peaceful as evidence to disprove his claim. And of course, he’s one of those people who still hasn’t figured out that nobody actually believes “all lives matter”.

I mean, think about it. Let’s go back to the logic that Boghossian would like to talk about. The only thing to understand about saying “all lives matter” is that it’s meant as a response to Black Lives Matter, on the grounds that Black Lives Matter is somehow an exclusionary statement on the value of human life in the abstract. “All lives matter” is thus, in theory, an axiomatic statement that every human life has the same value, defined in terms of a kind of individualistic egalitarianism. If that’s the case, then guess what? You don’t believe it, and in fact I’d even argue that nobody does. Or, if you/they do, then you/they certainly are willing to make a lot of exceptions to that rule. How many people who respond to Black Lives Matter and their supporters with “all lives matter” actually care the lives of people settling in camps and crossing the ocean to flee their countries of origin? Certainly not enough to oppose them being labelled “migrants” and either getting shot or interned by the state. Sticking to Boghossian, the lives of trans people, indigenous and non-white people, and, as we’ll see, the mentally ill and the homeless don’t seem to matter to him, at least since he is willing to disregard their needs for failing to conform to his moral ideology. And what about in a more everyday sense? Does the life of someone who invaded your home and either abducted or killed your family matter as much as the victims? Does the life of a dictator matter as much as the lives of his oppressed subjects who might be about to violently overthrow him? Our willingness to put up with countless imperialist wars might suggest that the lives of the people of the countries we invade don’t matter, no doubt because they are strangers and foreigners. And what if we extend that to non-human life forms? Clearly, our attitude towards climate change suggests that human comfort matters more than the survival of countless non-human life forms. And even older, perhaps more animistic cultures, clearly didn’t think all non-human lives were sacred enough to not devour them. And if you’re squishing flies, spiders, and ants to death for the high crime of being creepy crawlies, or defend industrial factory farming because it gives you the meat you eat, then yes, something tells me all lives don’t matter that much to you. I sincerely wish people would give up the pretence.

Moving on, we come to the “Mental Illness” section, which is certainly an unexpected endorsement of conformity from an atheist complaining about enforced conformity. The premise he establishes is that “the woke religion” believes that psychiatry and the Enlightenment are responsible for inventing mental illness as a way to control neuro-atypical people. Of course, the “Sacred Victims” are neuro-atypical people and non-conformists, already suggesting that he ridicules and hates anyone who doesn’t conform to society (except himself, of course), and the “Elect” meant to save them consists of “advocates of mentally ill” as well as a motley crew of intellectuals such as Michel Foucault, Thomas Szasz, and R. D. Lang. Never mind for a moment that Michel Foucault was just this year accused of raping young boys in Tunisia based in the testimony of people who immediately retracted or walked back their claims, and the media or parts thereof just uncritically parroted those claims as objective truth. So much for darling of the establishment. As opposed to the “supernatural beliefs” that mental illness is made up and that mentally ill people should self-medicate freely, he advances the supposed scientific truth that mentally ill people are disproportionately violent and that many mentally ill people need or claim to benefit from “involuntary treatment”. The part that does all the work is “involuntary treatment”. What kind of “involuntary treatment”? What does it involve? Considering that he views neuro-atypical people as “Sacred Victims”, an inherently derisive category, and believes the word neuro-atypical is itself a mere buzzword meant to signal virtue, I suspect that Boghossian would be fine with taking autistic people away to have electroshock treatment to control or “cure” their autism. Another case where all lives don’t matter to the guy who says all lives matter.

The ” Drugs” section is yet another instance where Boghossian’s attempts to define progressive and/or libertarian positions on drug policy as faith-based superstition fly directly in the face of empirical reality. He attempts to portray the idea of decriminalisation and legalization of drugs as vital to preventing addiction and overdose as a “supernatural belief”. Aside from the obvious abuse of the very term, what Boghossian won’t tell you is that it’s actually true. In 2001, Portugal decriminalised the personal possession and consumption all drugs; those found to have a supply, rather than being arrested, were expected to appear before a local commission about treatment, harm reduction, and support services. This was accompanied by a broad cultural shift in attitudes to drugs, and resulted in a dramatic decrease in drug addiction, substance abuse, and related deaths. This, keep in mind, was after decades rampant drug abuse and deaths from overdose. Portugal is thus a shining example of how rehabilitation over punishment is the more effective way to resolve the problem of drug abuse than the other way around, and to claim the contrary would, again by Boghossian’s own standards, be a faith-based claim, not an evidence-based claim.

It is also apparent that Boghossian blames George Soros for widespread proliferation of drugs, since he appears as one of the “Elect”, along with the Harm Reduction Coalition and the Drug Policy Alliance, set up on behalf of drug users, who are the “Sacred Victims”. Again Boghossian is perpetuating an anti-semitic conspiracy theory in which Jews are accused of spreading drugs everywhere, which white supremacists believe is an effort to weaken the white race. Yet more racism from Boghossian and his friend. Boghossian then claims as a “taboo fact” that liberalisation, decriminalisation, and normalisation of drug use increases drug addiction. The evidence points to the contrary, but that won’t matter because it contradicts Boghossian’s faith. Distributing clean needles and providing services for homeless drug addicts is dismissed as a “purifying ritual”. I suppose it’s purifying in at least one sense; namely making sure the needles are sterile so that you don’t get infected with something and die. Oh look, more lives that don’t matter to the guy who says all lives matter!

And in that spirit we come to the last section of the table: “Homelessness”. It seems to be yet another way of whining about people who think capitalism causes problems by dismissing it as an “original sin” doctrine. The idea that homelessness is caused by poverty and high rents is classed as a “Myth”. Again, any available evidence on the subject suggests that it’s not a “myth”, but that doesn’t matter, because Peter Boghossian just religiously despises homeless people. The idea that people live in tents and sidewalks because of poverty is dismissed as a “supernatural belief”, and it is misleadingly presented as something people might “decide” to do. You wouldn’t “decide” to live under a bridge if you had the choice, you only do it because you’ve lost everything and have nowhere else to go. Logic might tell you that, but for Boghossian, his faith, albeit a godless faith, overrides logic. This faith also seems to override the facts about homeless people experiencing more violence, since Boghossian dismisses this as a “supernatural belief”. Instead he asserts that homelessness is caused principally by addiction and mental illness despite all evidence to the contrary and claims that trauma and abuse have declined. He also argues that subsidized housing should be contingent on abstinence. While he might consider that to be “taboo speech”, his ideas are already mainstream policy: it’s called means testing. Unsurprisingly, free housing and any programs focusing on homelessness that aren’t punitive in nature are dismissed as “purifying rituals”.

By now we have a clear picture of what “the woke religion” looks like, and by extension what “wokeness” is. It seems to just be a collection of progressive policies and ideas that Boghossian and his friend don’t like, and in particular policies and ideas that seem to involve criticially addressing the current structures of power. To call something “woke”, then, is to attack it for daring to challenge existing laws, norms and power structures on the subject of race, crime, gender identity, drugs, homelessness, really any issue, or for more generally questioning the status of quo of “Western Civilization”. That, I think, is one of the other almost religious ideas found among some sectors of the New Atheist. The more palatable form of this embraced even by non-reactionary atheists is the cult of the Enlightenment. It all starts from this idea that we progressed from being backwards apes in the throngs of religious superstition to being people who conducted their lives and thoughts based on rationalistic logic and reason. The more self-aware atheist is usually prepared to acknowledge the fact that this all came with a bucketload of colonialism and attempts to justify racism through science and even philosophy, though I suspect many New Atheists will simply gloss that over. That’s because the Enlightenment, or its twin phantasm called “Western Civilization”, are both functionally a kind of sacred center, a sort of ground of being for the worldview they would prefer to be dominant. The ideas they oppose have but one thing in common: they challenge a set of ideas that have been crystallized as the social basis of “Western Civilization”, which are justified through what seems to be the rationalist’s version of what is otherwise the typically faith-based thinking they might claim to oppose, and so they amount to blasphemy. You might say it even counts as “taboo speech”, ironically enough. Instead of an unshakable faith in one God and the promise of eternal life in heaven, these people have an unshakable faith in the order and progress of “Western Civilization” and its culture (often in the sense of a particularly homogenous culture if you know what I mean), and will bitterly defend that faith against anyone who criticizes their beloved civilizational order.

In the end, all this talk of “wokeism” seems like a cargo cult, an article of faith in itself, and just to show you that, let’s briefly, and only briefly, dip into Michael Shellenberger’s article on why “wokeism” is a religion. In it he mentions having met Peter Boghossian, who he describes as his new friend, and claims that Boghossian resigned his post at Portland State University “in response to Wokeist repression”. What Shellenberger won’t tell you is that Boghossian has been doing his “anti-wokeist” liberal-conservartive schtick for years now, and Portland State University kept rehiring him each year, for a decade, and before his resignation he was scheduled to teach philosophy for the next term, even after he was found to have committed ethics violations through his hoax paper. The university didn’t ask Boghossian to resign and there was no major campaign to get him fired. The “Wokeist repression” that Shellenberger and Boghossian are referring to is nothing more than the fact that Portland State University wouldn’t play ball and accept Boghossian’s hoax papers to prove his point that they would publish anything if it sounded “woke”, not to mention that Boghossian himself is unpopular and despised by his students for his nonsensical and bigoted political views. In fact, he hasn’t been particularly well-liked even by many atheists over the years. And for all his bullshit about being silenced and repressed, he has openly praised the Hungarian autocrat Viktor Orban for silencing his critics by defunding gender studies courses. This isn’t even the only time Boghossian has defended fascism. He defended violent neo-Nazi thugs from being referred to as Nazis, has appeared with the white nationalist Stefan Molyneux to accuse the left of being “the new racists” while announcing a broad trend of people calling guys like Molyneux out for their often cartoonishly misogynistic views as “the death of rational discourse”, and more recently has done a sitdown with far-right ideologues who think colonial violence was a good thing. Boghossian himself also likes Viktor Orban’s ideas about academia so much that he openly called for the defunding of Portland State University, a move widely suspected to be motivated by not giving him tenure. Meanwhile mainstream media seems to uncritically support his claims to being repressed by “woke” academics, while big name atheists like Richard Dawkins defended him for his attempt to submit a feminist version of Mein Kampf as a hoax.

Incidentally, it also turns out that Shellenberger and Boghossian got their concept of “the Elect” and many aspects of their “taxonomy of woke religion” project from John McWhorter, a conservative intellectual and the author of Woke Racism, who uses the term to refer to a class of progressive “neo-racists” and, well, perhaps anything else; seriously, McWhorter never adequately defines the term for himself. Shellenberger just summarizes it as “people self-appointed to crusade against evil”, which is meaningless. But apparently this junk philosophy can be endorsed by big-name skeptic atheists like Michael Shermer (who, by the way, is a sex pest) and fans of people like Sam Harris will simp for his work anyway, thus the New Atheist movement continues its reactionary drift.

This is the truth behind Boghossian’s and Shellenberger’s claims about “wokeist repression”. It’s all a big lie, a grift concocted by Boghossian to try and gain sympathy from idiots who might be inclined to believe his philosophy, and judging by the fact that Shellenberger endorsed him and became his friend after the fact, the grift seems to have worked. It’s nothing more than a pathetic manifestation of ressentiment that disguises rank failure, abject ignornace, and petty malice as common sense rationalism and skepticism, while framing the people opposing it as totalitarians, authoritarians, illiberals, what have you, which then justifies his own proposed actual authoritarian suppression of critics. But what’s really interesting and which I feel the need to stress more than anything is that his views, if we take them seriously, are fundamentally faith-based in the very sense Boghossian means when he condemns faith-based thinking. So much of what Boghosssian believes is proposed in direct contrast to evidential reality, and often seems to consist in what might otherwise be called “magical thinking”, or at least follows a similar logic. The way that the modern atheist movement, or at least certain sectors thereof, are defining themselves or have been defined by starkly reactionary tendencies, especially to the extent that they are supported by pseudo-science that presents itself as science, will never cease to fascinate me, between Peter Boghossian’s absurd attempts to frame everything he doesn’t like as a superstitious religion that must be purged and Lucien Greaves with basically everything he’s been doing up to this point. I’ve honestly been beginning to wonder what they’re even for over the last couple of months.

Strange bedfellows?: Peter Boghossian appearing on Fox News to complain about the nebulous spectre of “woke ideology”

Shin Megami Tensei V: a fun but middling Nocturne sequel

Well, it looks like Shin Megami Tensei V, the game for which I bought my Nintendo Switch in the first place has finally landed as of less than two weeks ago, and I’ve gone through at least one of its ending paths; the Chaos ending, of course. Obviously I’ve been hyped to play the game ever since the first trailer was released in 2017, and increasingly so in the last year as new trailers and new information came out before the game’s release. Now that the game is out, though, and now that I have played it, I can’t help having some mixed feelings about it. I’m glad to have played it, but I’m also rather disappointed by it.

From the standpoint of gameplay and visceral interactive experience, I will say that’s pretty damn good, and aesthetically kind of hits a lot of the right notes. Recruiting, fighting, and especially fusing demons is as addictive as ever, rendered all the more customizable through the ability to confer yourself and your allies skills through fusable Demon Essences, and your exploits accompanied by yet another spellbinding soundtrack composed by Ryota Kozuka, a lot of which manages to capture the feeling of what it feels to play a Shin Megami Tensei game. The game is also visually stunning, even as far as the desolate landscape of the netherworld known as Da’at goes, and I’ve got to say, as somebody who’s spent time working around the Unreal Engine (and by “working around” I mean I was in a university project that used it, and personally barely got to grips with it) it’s very nice to see what an SMT game run on Unreal would look like, and it’s fairly impressive. Being able to collect Magatsuhi is also a nice touch to the gameplay, allowing you to use special skills without costing you a turn or MP and also doubling as a source of healing on the field. It really is a blast to go through Da’at with your demonic allies to a solid enough soundtrack. I also took to the Cathedral of Shadows becoming the World of Shadows, and the introduction of Sophia, really well. It helps that Sophia’s lore colours the existence of the World of Shadows, and the music for it, once again, is enjoyable, especially if you happen to enter the World of Shadows during a new or full moon.

But to be perfectly honest, something about this game feels underwhelming for reasons that aren’t easy for me to explain. It’s true that the world of SMTV, set largely in Da’at, is open and fully explorable. You know, all four sections of it. But each section feels less like you’re travelling across the world and more like you’re running across a city-sized sandbox, almost literally when you consider the landscape of Da’at. You apparently can revisit Tokyo from Da’at, but other than occasionally meeting some classmates on the roof of your dorms, and one part of the story where demons raid your high school, there’s nothing to do in Tokyo. And taken together, overlooking any major challenges as well as side-quests and grinding, it feels like the actual main plot course of the game is pretty compact and short. I’m not saying it’s a breeze to play, but I’ll bet that skilled players could go through the main story before even getting to this weekend, or at least, it feels like it could’ve been over in just a couple of days looking back. The story itself also feels like it goes a similar pace, or, hell, the pace of the story probably dictates some of how fast you feel the game goes. It’s actually to the point that the final level of the game, and I’m talking about the very last place you see in the game, is basically just a corridor with a few bosses, mini-bosses, and two side-quests thrown in.

While I’m here I should cover the story itself, and I’m sorry to say that there are major spoilers ahead.

Here, demons used to be godly beings referred to as Nahobino, neither human nor demon, in a way transcending both states, whose existence God forbade when he assumed power. To that end, God deprived the other gods of their “Knowledge” and they became demons. As such, demons seeking to regain that “Knowledge” must find humans who possessed it and fuse with them in order to become Nahobino. “Knowledge” is never sufficiently defined, but I’m left to assume that it refers to some concept of divine identity. The war between order and chaos begins when Lucifer tempted Man to sway from God’s order, and culminated eventually in Armageddon, which seems to have ended in Lucifer’s victory over God. Meanwhile, the forces of order nonetheless keep fighting the forces of chaos, and Tokyo’s existence is maintained through a miracle set up by God after Armageddon took place, but its time is running out now that God is out of the picture. This means that the Tokyo you see at the start of the game is an elaborate illusion, cast over humanity to protect humans from the reality of the end of the world, and that illusion is slowly fading. And so Bethel, the organisation set up to protect Tokyo and the world from demonic incursions, leads the war against the forces of chaos, only to conclude that, with God dead, their new goal is to place a new creator god on the throne of the Empyrean to reshape the world anew. But the angels oppose this, preferring to maintain God’s order, and so does a man named Shohei Yakumo, who wants both God and the demons off humanity’s back forever. And so you, as a Nahobino yourself, must choose between recreating the world, continuing God’s order, or denying the Empyrean throne altogether. But before all that, you’re just a high school student, hanging around with your high school classmates, before you and your friends discover Da’at and you become a Nahobino.

I like the overall concept, insofar as the narrative of demons seeking to regain divinity goes and the incorporation of the serpent in the garden story, and I definitely wasn’t expecting the wham moment that is Tokyo being revealed to be this game’s version of The Matrix. What I don’t much care for is the way the characters navigate it. Your friends don’t demonstrate much evidence of consideration or thought process that ultimately leads them to their divergent alignment-based paths. The ostensible Law and Chaos champions merely insert themselves into the discussion, with little development towards their conclusion. The closest to this process is Ichiro Dazai slowly becoming friends with the angel Abdiel and wanting to become stronger through her, and then towards the end he starts talking about how there should only be one God and trusting him will make the world run well. Why? How did he come to this conclusion? Because Abdiel said so? He says it bugged him since the Bethel summit, but why? Yuzuru Atsuta isn’t much better. We have no idea how Yuzuru comes to the Chaos alignment and the conclusion that a world run by myriad gods is best. I can frankly only assume that he simply accepts this after Hayao Koshimizu, the director of Bethel Japan, tells him so, and his only argument is something about saving Tokyo. His sister Miyazu has essentially no role in the story besides getting kidnapped by Lahmu and his minions, and after you find her in the Fairy Forest you never see her again until you do a side quest. In fact, three demons who were introduced as major characters ultimately only have their story arcs fulfilled through side quests, which is incredibly disappointing. A demon named Amanozako is frequently implied to have a major role in the story up to the final stretch of the game where she breaks her usual carefree character to explain the significance of the keys to the Empyrean. But this leads nowhere and she goes back to her usual self, and it remains very unclear what her connection to all this is.

Not to mention, what about Aogami, the being responsible for you becoming a Nahobino in the first place? Supposedly he’s the “proto-fiend”, and his true identity is supposed to be the god Susano-o, somehow. But he was created in a laboratory and he’s referred to as an automaton by Shohei Yakumo. So is he supposed to be a robot? He certainly talks like one. Is the Nahobino protagonist really a cyborg? Obviously not, since you can’t unfuse from your cyborg self after becoming one and then go back to being a cyborg when it’s time to kick some demon ass. But that question feels like it doesn’t have an answer. And speaking of Shohei Yakumo, there’s a lot about him that the game never tells you. It’s implied through conversations with him that he knows about Bethel, and he seems to be militantly opposed to Bethel, but you don’t really get any concrete sense as to why, and he never really tells you why Bethel are so bad except for something about God being bad and Bethel seemingly work for him. And what about the Tree of Knowledge shown in the trailers and the title of the game? You only ever see it in the game over screen when you die. Its role in the plot is never explored. We have no idea what it actually does, and the game never tells us.

One aspect of the game’s story that was going to be interesting enough was when Kazuyuki Yamai suggested in an interview back in 2017 that the game was going to “reexamine the characteristics of the era”, defined by a broad set of troubles “such as troubles both at home and abroad, such as anxiety about finding a job and getting old, or terrorists and nuclear weapon”. The impression we got was that this was going to be an attempt to intersect a traditional Shin Megami Tensei story with a broad host of real world issues that older players could identify with and respond to in a diversity of ways. But such admittedly lofty expectations seem to have been dashed upon the game’s release. I see nothing of the sort in the finished game. The only thing even close to “sympathizing with such an era” is having a plot arc centre around getting bullied in high school, in which a girl gets involved with the demon Lahmu to get revenge on her bullies, in which you never actually get to sympathize with her choice. Your only moral conflict is do you emphasize helping her over killing Lahmu or killing Lahmu over helping her, and that choice had no actual impact in the game’s plot, in that there is no actual divergence in terms of what you get to do in the game’s plot. Contrast this with Shin Megami Tensei IV, where at one point you’re asked to kill a demon named Kuebiko, but you can choose to defend him instead and turn against the people who wanted you to kill him.

When Shin Megami Tensei V was shown at E3 2021 in June, the game received a ton of promotion from Atlus between then and the game’s release in November 12th (well, 11th if you live in Japan, Korea, and China). A big part of that meant the daily, and then twice daily, reveal of demons that can be found in the game. This was certainly unprecedented for a major Shin Megami Tensei release, and it was also pretty overwhelming, and a bit bewildering, though it was incredible to see some demon designs from way back return to the mainline series. But as time went on it also raised questions as to just how much was Atlus revealing. It turned out that Atlus had revealed almost the entire roster of demons for this game. As of my writing this post, Atlus has released 208 videos for its demons. After the game’s release, players discovered that the game has a total of 234 summonable/encounterable demons (including the Mitamas and a character who joins your party somewhere towards the final stretch of the game). That sounds like a lot, and it’s definitely more demons than Nocturne had, but there’s also demons from previous games that didn’t make it to the game. The Yoma, Wilder, Raptor, Snake, Avatar, Jirae, Jaki, Haunt, and Drake clans all have significantly less demons in them than they did in previous games, and in some cases there are often no demons in those clans past level 40 or 50. The Divine clan is also missing an angel, namely Virtue, and there are other familiar demons, such as Samael, Azazel, Seiten Taisei (or Qitian Dasheng), Jinn, Vetala, Gogmagog, Titan, Dis, Gurulu, Sarutahiko, Take-Mikazuchi, Hresvelgr, Fenrir, Amaterasu, Omoikane, and many more series staples simply do not appear in this game. Even Masakado himself is absent, with the only hint of his presence being the “Lord’s Sword” that was used to summon him in Nocturne, which just like last time appears only in a side quest.

In fact, some entire clans have been dummied out of the game. The Wood and Tree clans no longer appear, which mean demons like Mandrake and Narcissus got moved to the Yoma and Jirae clans respectively. There is also no Flight clan, although Avians and Raptors still exist. The Reaper clan also does not exist here, which means that Mot has inexplicably been moved to the Fury clan. Nymph no longer exists here, which means Anahita is now in the arguably more appropriate Megami clan. Enigma and Zealot are also absent, which means Attis (previously a Zealot) is now a Kishin and Neko Shogun (previously an Enigma) is now a Wargod. Hero or Famed aren’t here, but the Wargod clan from Nocturne is here, which means the few Hero demons who do appear here are Wargods in this game. While Kunitsukami are summonable allies, their Amatsukami rivals do not appear as summonable allies. Instead the Amatsukami only appear as non-playable characters and are practically only mentioned as the real identities of important characters in the game, or as some of the gods who died in Armageddon before the game’s story takes place.

Suffice it to say, it seems like there’s a bit of a dearth of demons compared to previous games. In fact, a rather embarrassing result of this is that the further into the game’s world you progress, the less demons, or at least types of demons, you will encounter on the field, to the point that the final level has no enemy encounters on the field except for some mini-bosses. Contrast this with the final level of Strange Journey, which has many kinds of demons from a variety of demon clans, or the Great Cathedral (or Basilica) from the original Shin Megami Tensei, and you’ll see my point.

Some demons have made some weird clan changes even with their usual clans around to house them. Orobas, typically a Fallen demon, was reclassed as Beast for no discernible reason. Seth, usually classed as Vile, seems to have been reclassed as a Drake, perhaps so as to finally acknowledge this game’s Seth as having little to do with the genuine article. Ippon-Datara, usually a Jaki, is now a Brute for some reason. Loa, traditionally either a Yoma or a Night demon, is reclassed as Jaki. Cleopatra, a Megami in the first game she was in, has been reclassed as a Femme, though it’s probably questionable that she was a Megami anyway.

Not to mention, out of all the demons that do appear in this game, the ones that don’t have Masayuki Doi’s designs overwhelmingly all happen to also have had their most recent 3D appearance in Persona 5 and Persona 5: Royal. There are exceptions, of course. Loki’s model last appeared in Persona 4: Golden, and Arioch, Turdak, Camael, Mishaguji, Muu Shuwuu, and Tsuchigumo all had their last 3D appearances in Devil Summoner 2. It actually kind of makes me wonder why they didn’t pull more demons from Devil Summoner 2, like Astaroth or Mahakala, or with Nocturne having been remastered the same year, why not bring in some demons that were in Nocturne but not Persona 5? Would that have been too difficult? Or, hell, was there a reason some demon models from Shin Megami Tensei Dx2 couldn’t be polished for this game? I’m surprised they didn’t just bring Centaur back as one of the Yoma, since they brought back Mermaid, Odin, and Danu as Doi designs from the last mainline SMT game.

As for the demons that were designed by Doi, it’s a bit of a hit and miss as usual for Doi, in that some designs really work, while others don’t and are ultimately baffling on occasion. The new version of Jack Frost, for example, is well-suited enough, being merely a touch-up of the original design. The standard Angel gets a radical redesign, and though the bondage suit Angel will be missed, the new Angel design actually seems more fitting of the traditional concept of what an angel is, and even brings to mind the Angels from Shin Megami Tensei II in some ways. The Angel gets a counterpart in Daemon, a Brute demon who serves as a generic minion of Lucifer, but while his design also works really well for the intended plot context, it is a poor fit for the Greco-Roman spirit called Daemon. I maintain to this day that it should have just been called an Imp instead, maybe put in the Night clan instead.

Plenty of brand new demon designs are perfectly acceptable and even refreshing to some extent. Fionn Mac Cumhaill and Hayataro, for example, are standout designs that befit both their original concept and the role they’re given, as do Hydra, Manananggal, and Loup-garou, and Kaya-no-hime definitely shows that there is a lot some range to Doi’s oeuvre. Nuwa, however, honestly baffles me, despite her popularity. She’s given a human form, which looks good on its own but it feels weird that she’s supposed to be some kind of seductive-looking femme fatale character in this one, very unlike her role in Chinese myth at least as I understand it, and then a serpent-like form, which is still just a humanoid but with a giant serpent body extending from the back of her head. I don’t get it. Lahmu is even stranger. Lahmu is apparently supposed to refer to a Babylonian apotropaic spirit that was depicted as a naked heroic man, but the game refers to him as a god depicted as either a large serpent or a man with a red sash. Neither concept is reflected in Lahmu’s design, which I would describe as an oversized quasi-Lovecraftian floating mask covered in hair and tentacles. Is that Doi’s idea of “a large serpent”? I’m not even going to get started on Idun, the Norse goddess who got turned into an Oktoberfest-themed J-Pop idol. Honestly that’s much more humiliating than God turning you into a demon. But one of the worst in my opinion is Amanozako. In Japanese myth, she’s supposed to be a wrathful demon goddess, the mother of the tengus and the amanojaku. But here, she’s basically a fairy who looks like a tengu, for some reason is classed as Genma, and plays the role of this game’s one and off version of Navi. If it were me I would have brought back the Tenma clan just to put her in, or classed her as a Lady, she would look more monstrous and noticeably more adult.

I think that those three examples in particular represent strong examples of an overall tendency of Masayuki Doi’s art for the game to focus principally on pre-set story roles given to those demons, and the scope of their aesthetic relationship to the original myths is dictated by those roles. A particularly strange example of this Khonsu, the Egyptian god of the moon. His appearance in the story seems almost random. He’s supposed to be the representative of the Egyptian branch of Bethel, the main demon-fighting organisation in the game, whose other factions are represented by head gods like Zeus, Odin, and Shiva, who for some reason prefers to use the serpent Vasuki as his proxy. Doi tells us that Khonsu is supposed to have a much larger role in the story. That “larger role” is actually a chain of side quests in which this god of the moon takes on the power of the sun and becomes Ra. Well, Khonsu Ra to be more precise, but come on, look at him: it really is just Ra. Honestly they should have just made Ra the representative of Bethel Egypt and cut out the middle man.

Alignment is very strange here. It seems to exist, the Law and Chaos dynamic is back, and the ending paths you can take in the game are all predicated on it, but your actual alignment choices don’t matter too much in that they don’t affect what you end up doing in the game. Instead, your alignment in the game seems predicated entirely on one choice you make towards the final stretch of the game. Unlike previous games, such as Shin Megami Tensei IV or Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, there are no alignment-based splits in the game’s story, in which you have to make a choice between either doing one thing or doing the other instead. There are, however, certain side quests that seem to vaguely correspond to Law and Chaos, and this is one aspect of the game I actually liked a lot. In each sector of Da’at, you can find a side quest from a certain demon who will tell you to go and defeat another demon. The interesting part is that you can actually go to that other demon and, instead of fighting them, hear their side and help them instead. An example of this is a side quest given to you by Apsaras, worshipped by other demons as a goddess of salvation. Asparas tells you to go and defeat Leanan Sidhe, but you can talk to Leanan Sidhe instead of fighting her, and accept her quest to defeat Apsaras instead, and then Apsaras’ quest could be invalidated. What’s more, by completing these side quests, the demon you help will reward you by joining your party. I like this concept, and I support the idea of SMT games allowing you to nudge your alignment through side quests.

Up to the final stretch of the game, the main impression the game gives of its conflict between order and chaos is the battle between the angels and the forces of Bethel versus the “demons of chaos” who apparently serve Lucifer in his war against God, and after that it becomes defined by monotheism versus polytheism. Up to that point, since you work for Bethel for at least most of the game and Bethel fights alongside the angels against the “demons of chaos”, you are essentially forced to serve what is ostensibly the Law faction for much of the game, until that same Law faction decides polytheism is the way to go and becomes Chaos-aligned, then the game lets you decide if you want to continue working for Bethel. But even there, you are never allowed to choose Lucifer’s side in all this. You are never allowed to decide if you actually like Bethel or if you want to oppose them until the time where they decide to make for the Empyrean. You’re not allowed to decide that, say, Ishtar is right when she denounces the tyranny of God and take her side, or turn against Bethel after Arioch tells you that God has been dead the whole time and that Bethel was on the side that already lost.

Demons have alignments in this game, again, but this time there are cases in which demons within the same clan can have different alignments. The Vile clan is a particularly strange case, in which some of its demons, Baphomet, Pazuzu, and Lahmu, are Chaos-aligned, while the others – Mishaguji, Girimehkala, and Mada – are Law-aligned, for seemingly no reason. Both the Deity and Megami clans are Neutral. In fact, there seem to be very few consistently Law-aligned clans in the game. But, some of the Megami, such as Demeter, are Law-aligned. Danu, who returns in the game in the Lady clan, is probably the only member of the Lady clan to be Neutral instead of Chaos-aligned. Most Beasts are Neutral, but Orobas, also a Beast, is Chaos-aligned. There’s even a Fallen demon who is actually Law-aligned in this game, although the rest are still Chaos-aligned.

What I find most striking about Shin Megami Tensei V, though, is just how thoroughly Shin Megami Tensei V is defined by Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne. I’m not just talking about the fact that you can fight the Demi-Fiend, the protagonist of Nocturne, as the boss of a downloadable side-quest. The central plot of the game tells us that Tokyo was destroyed in an epic clash between gods and demons that took place 18 years prior to the game’s setting. The game was released in 2021, and 18 years before that would have been 2003, the year Nocturne was originally released in Japan. That’s one of the main hints that the game was more or less intended to continue on from the plot of Nocturne. And if that’s not enough, Hayao Koshimizu, one of the major characters, explicitly refers to the apocalyptic event in question as “The Conception”, which is what the event was called in Nocturne. The protagonist himself fuses with a being who is later referred to as a Proto-Fiend, a term that is never directly made sense of in the game’s own plot context and thus can only be understood as a reference to the Demi-Fiend. The world of Da’at that the protagonist explores is a very similar in appearance and general feeling to the post-Conception landscape of Tokyo as seen in Nocturne, where basically everywhere with some exceptions is covered in sand and rocks with little signs of life to be found.

The other more important resemblence to or echo from Nocturne is in the fact that nearly all ending paths have the same final boss, and that final boss happens to be Lucifer. Even the ending where you destroy the throne of creation, as I understand it, could be seen as this game’s version of the Demon ending. In both, the creation of a new world never takes place, and instead the status quo of a post-apocalyptic desert filled with hungry demons is all that remains. And yet, the dynamic of Reasons that plays out in Nocturne isn’t present. Instead, the dynamic of Law and Chaos that wasn’t present in Nocturne in returns here, but in a peculiar way. In the Law path, the idea is that the world needs to depend on the absolute rule of just one god, while in the Chaos path, this order is rejected in favour of a new world overseen by a diversity of gods. Essentially, instead of choosing between Reasons, you’re choosing between monotheism and polytheism, or the rejection of both. Lucifer’s own goals seem to be very similar to his goals in Nocturne, in that he wants to end the cycle of creation, destruction, and rebirth so as to bring about true freedom.

The main difference, though, is that you never get to take Lucifer’s side, and it doesn’t seem like you ever get to see eye to eye with him. Even if defeating him means “taking his knowledge” and he claims that this will bring freedom to the world, you never do see any indications of this being a thing, let alone having any impact on the ending path you take. In fact, as far as the endings are concerned, you don’t really see the new world of each ending. Take the Chaos ending that I got, for example. You’re told that the world you want to create, a world ruled by myriad gods, will inevitably lead to strife and conflict, but because you don’t see any of your new world, you don’t know that. All you know is that you’re walking towards a giant white disco ball, itself yet another allusion to Nocturne, with all the gods floating upside down and sideways. The same goes for the other endings really, based on what my brother tells me after taking one of the Neutral endings.

Again, you need only contrast this with previous games. In Strange Journey, after the credits you get a glimpse of the outcome you’ve created for each ending path you take. In Shin Megami Tensei IV, you actually see what happens to Mikado when you help the demons take it over, as well as when you destroy all of Tokyo on the Law path. Even in Nocturne, there’s something of a glimpse of what you get for the ending paths you take. But here in Shin Megami Tensei V, there’s nothing.

I don’t want to go into too much else about the game’s story until I start delving into the alignments, which I plan to do in a post titled “Alignment and ideology in Shin Megami Tensei V”. Between exploring the other ending paths of the game, spending time doing some serious reading, and honestly getting into way too much leisure per the spirit of the holidays, I’m expecting to get this post out in January 2022 at the earliest. If I can get it out earlier than that, great, but I personally don’t expect to do so. For now though, in the overall, I think Shin Megami Tensei V represents an odd stage in the Shin Megami Tensei series where Atlus tries to simultaneously call back the traditional substance of Shin Megami Tensei while also completely reimagining the series. Insofar as they hoped to achieve a best-selling RPG, I have no doubt that Atlus was successful, but it did so at the expense of much of the substance that went with being an SMT game in the past.

All in all, Shin Megami Tensei V is by no means a bad game, and in certain ways it’s actually pretty enjoyable, and if you’re not trying to appreciate it as a continuation of the Shin Megami Tensei series you might even love it. But as a story experience, and a continuation of the Shin Megami Tensei series, it has serious flaws. In fact, as a story, it actually seems to be going in a trajectory that I’m struggling to compare positively with Shin Megami Tensei IV. It’s obviously not as viscerally appalling as Apocalypse, don’t get me wrong, but it represents something worrying that’s for certain.

But, would I recommend playing it? Ultimately, my answer is a soft yes, with a but.

Violence and self-reliance

Friday was host to the court outcome that both shocked everyone, and yet surprised no one. Kyle Rittenhouse, the young man who travelled from Illinois to Wisconsin to shoot and kill a couple of anti-police brutality protesters, was found not guilty on all charges, after a particularly farcical two-week long trial. Where even to begin with that one? There was video evidence of Kyle talking about killing people with an AR-15, which, if it made it court, would have shot down any suggestion of Kyle acting in self-defence. That’s probably why the judge barred the prosecution from presenting or even mentioning it. That decision itself seems almost predictable, at least when you learn that the judge was a MAGA ideologue himself, and this among other things made it seem really obvious that he was going to acquit Kyle Rittenhouse. By the end it seemed like the jury, largely handpicked by the defendant, were really doing the 12 Angry Men business judging by the delay, like they were trying to fight what we knew they were going to do anyway.

But, to be perfectly honest, the real point for me is the rammifications of all this. Everybody is talking about how Kyle’s acquittal is going to lead to a grim state of constant violence in which anyone with a gun can show up almost at anywhere at random can kill whoever they please under the pretext of vigilantism, at least so long as they’re sufficiently “patriotic” and shoot the right targets. If that’s going to be the case, that just means that violence against protesters, leftists, really anyone that opposes the system or some aspect thereof, will be attacked at whim and could be killed by terroristic reactionaries, and the legal system and along with polite society will help them evade justice. It’s easy to get blindsided by the fact that Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd, but Derek Chauvin was one of only eight cops to be convicted of murder. The rest are not punished for their crime, and are instead protected by the system.

Think about what that means. What should be the response to this situation? People seeking long-term change for the system are going to face violence from either the police or from adventurist vigilantes for their stance. If that’s the case, at a certain point, they should learn to fight back, because it’s the only thing to do. If it’s going to be the case that in America you can just be killed by right-wing fanatics only for those same murderers defended in court, then those who seek justice should be prepared for a war of all against all, in which those who side with the camp of liberation and justice fight brutally against their oppressors. I say this because, quite frankly, that might be coming.

Some might argue that this is a problem for reasons of optics, that leftists shouldn’t arm themselves because any discipline problems would end up attracting media attention. Well, Kyle Rittenhouse certainly got a lot of media attention and condemnation for his “discipline problem”, and he ended up getting acquitted of all charges. Basically every cop who killed unarmed black people could be seen as trigger-happy, “lacking discipline”, and most of those cops are protected for it anyway. It does not matter that you care what the media thinks. They will see what you stand for, and more importantly, that you stand up for it, and they will have made up their minds from the start, as will have the authorities who never intended to yield anything to you, and who have only given you any concessions because you forced them to, through collective action.

I said last month that struggle is the most basic reality that matters in politics, and much of life. That’s why I’m not going to complain if people see the Rittenhouse verdict and decide to take matters into their own hands in defence of themselves, their freedom, and their communities. That is, if it is indeed true that the threat of violence against protesters is set to increase as reactionaries become emboldened by Rittenhouse’s declared innocence. I would hope that it’s all bluster at the end of it. And yet, if it were all spin, I suppose the downside of that would be that it means that people go back to sleep. Don’t forget that the life of politics is that of a system that is at war against life, both human and non-human, and will not hesitate to suppress whoever is on the opposite side of that war, or whoever expresses conscience against that war.

Fuck the Satanic Temple

OK, so The Satanic Temple is really pissing me off at the moment. Just yesterday I learned from Queer Satanic, a group of ex-TST members who are currently being sued by The Satanic Temple, that The Satanic Temple have decided to support a Catholic organisation called Church Militant by filing an amicus brief for them. An amicus brief is a letter written to the court by people not involved in a case in order to present argument or evidence not yet presented by the parties involved to the court on behalf of one of the parties. Church Militant, also known as St. Michael’s Media, is a right-wing Catholic website which pushes climate change denial, LGBT-phobia, sexism, anti-Muslim fearmongering, and anti-abortion talking points as part of an ideological program of Christian conservatism, and its leader, Michael Voris, supports Donald Trump on the grounds that he believes Trump would have granted Roman Catholicism the status of state religion in America.

You did not misread that. The Satanic Temple, the very same organisation trying to bill itself as defenders of abortion rights and secular freedom in general against the threat of Christian theocracy, just supported an anti-abortion Christian conservative group dedicated to the cause of Catholic theocracy! And at that, the very same Christian propaganda network that has over the years repeatedly portrayed The Satanic Temple as villainous buffoons!

You might very reasonably be wondering what the hell The Satanic Temple would be doing allying with Church Militant of all people. Apparently, the Satanic Temple thinks that Church Militant is being “silenced” by the city of Baltimore. They say that even though they disagree with everything Church Militant stands for, they oppose the apparent “outrage” being committed against them, and they even do the typical Voltaire quote trope that had essentially become a religious mantra for “classical liberals” who, especially in the case of TST, inevitably fail to practice what they preach. Marc Randazza, the right-wing attorney who represented Lucien Greaves in his battle to get his blue checkmark back, is also representing Church Militant, which if we’re being honest is not a coincidence considering his record.

At this point we should ask, just what “outrage” is The Satanic Temple referring to? A few months ago, Church Militant planned to hold a rally at the MECU Pavilion in Baltimore, during the US Conference of Bishops on November 16th. Ostensibly, the rally was supposed to be all about speaking up against sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. That might seem funny coming from a Catholic organisation, but apparently Church Militant are not properly affiliated with the Catholic Church and the church itself seems to distance itself from them. The rally was also to feature former Trump advisor Stephen Bannon and professional non-serious person Milo Yiannopoulos as guest speakers, and purportedly involved support for the January 6th rioters. The city of Baltimore claimed that Church Militant risked inciting violence through inflammatory speeches, while Church Militant denied this and argued that the city is persecuting them over differences of opinion. In the end, on October 12th, the case was dismissed and judge Ellen Hollander ruled that Church Militant had the right to hold their rally in Baltimore. In TST’s amicus brief, Matthew Kezhaya, counsel for The Satanic Temple, argued that the rally was a religious event, on the grounds of the ostensible focus of the event as well as the involvement of prayer, and that the city of Baltimore was denying Church Militant their fundamental free speech and free exercise rights.

So, what to make of all this in relation to The Satanic Temple. Ostensibly, this is a free speech case for them, consistent with their fourth tenet which extols the right to offend. But if TST were at all consistent about that famous Voltaire’s maxim, they wouldn’t be suing Netflix for the use of their “Baphomet” statue in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, nor would they be suing queer Satanist activists for daring to criticize them in public – or, sorry, “commandeering” their social media page, per their politically correct interpretation of events. There’s no doubt that Lucien Greaves and Milo Yiannopoulos are friends, and Lucien has frequently spoken up in defence of Milo while condemning anti-fascists as threats to freedom of speech. If that’s the case, and it seems to be pretty consistent for Lucien, then this is less about freedom of speech for everyone including those who offend you, and more about Lucien Greaves simply sticking up for his far-right buddies.

Is it wrong to argue that the city of Baltimore was acting against Church Militant’s right to free speech? I’d say arguably not, at least in a vacuum. But this isn’t just Lucien Greaves going on his social media account posting Voltaire quotes to make innocuous arguments about freedom of speech. I wouldn’t complain if that were the case, but the reality of the situation is different. An amicus brief isn’t filed for free. I don’t know how much TST paid to file that amicus brief, but apparently, depending on who you ask at least, it can cost thousands of dollars in the US. That may not mean financial support for Church Militant, but when you keep in mind that Lucien Greaves probably derived at least some of those legal fees from the dues of its members, that means a lot of money drawn from TST membership went to Matthew Kezhaya just to provide legal support for Church Militant. Lucien Greaves could have just tweeted that the city of Baltimore was wrong and that they were violating Church Militant’s free speech rights, and then stayed out of the actual case. In my eyes there would be no problem if that was all that happened, as it would not mean any material support for the organisation. Instead of that he chose to spend lots of money, probably thousands of dollars, presumably pooled from paying members, to support Church Militant.

And let’s drag ourselves away from the strict details of the case for a moment to re-establish the real heart of the matter. The Satanic Temple paid thousands of dollars from its members to materially support an organisation that is completely against everything they and almost all Satanists and secularists stand for, and did so in the name of the right to offend, while at the same time they are actually suing left-wing Satanists for criticizing them, which only makes sense from the standpoint of having to justify punishing dissenters for having offended Lucien Greaves and his ego. And frankly, all this legal caping for theocratic anti-abortion Catholics while trying to act like the last line of defence for abortion smacks profoundly of contradiction, one that in my view completely invalidates the whole purpose of The Satanic Temple as an organisation. You can invoke the name of free speech and the right to offend as much as you like, but when you’re repeatedly trying to silence people for disagreeing with you, that to me is proof that, in all honesty, this is not about freedom of speech, and instead this is about how you support far-right, often fascistic, and even theocratic conservative people because, if we’re being fucking honest with ourselves and with you, you just plain like those people! Obviously religion has nothing to do with it. You just like right-wing authoritarianism, wherever that happens to come from. Given that Lucien Greaves was openly arguing for eugenics until 2018, continually sides with the right against the left, repeatedly defends hard-right ideologues against the left, and seems to have no problem with whatever the fuck Cevin Soling is up to, I’d say I’ve got a pretty strong case. Or maybe I’m wrong and you don’t, in which case the only option left is that this is pure selfish opportunism, since you’re still silencing left-wing critics and suing people over your dumb statue despite claiming to love the freedom to offend.

You might be thinking about all the “good work” TST supposedly does, the shit that launched the organisation to fame. Well, not one of its legal campaigns has ever landed any real success. Even the Ten Commandments vs “Baphomet” controversy that endeared guys like me to them can’t be credited to TST’s efforts. It was resolved by the ACLU, without any input or involvement from TST, but TST opportunistically took credit for it anyway. They are, in reality, utterly useless, coasting atop undeserved accolades. I’m gonna tell you right here and now that the only reason you might think TST are worth even half of a damn is the mainstream media. TST have done nothing of value, the cases hyped up by media coverage went nowhere, and meanwhile the actual leadership is authoritarian, opportunistic, and consistent allies of the far-right, but because they receive frequent and typically uncritical coverage from the media, often including sympathetic liberal and progressive commentary, likely taking advantage of their sensational opposition to Christianity, they enjoy a lasting reputation as progressive freedom fighters for secularism against Christian theocracy. In fact, I am sure that you have not heard of their support for Church Militant anywhere in the media and you probably never will because it’s inconvenient for the narrative they’re trying to create. The only times when the media is even vaguely critical of TST is when it has to talk about their dealings with Marc Randazza, for maybe a day or so. There is no coverage of The Satanic Temple’s attempts to sue the queer Satanists who criticized them, except maybe in an article from the increasingly conservative Newsweek, and even they couldn’t be bothered to do that unless it involved sleazy allegations regarding orgies.

You know, things like this have me thinking that Amaranthe Altanatum was broadly right about atheistic Satanism. I’m not saying all atheistic Satanists are like TST are even approve of TST, but there’s still a lot who will defend TST, and that’s probably because not enough people know what’s going on. Still even its rivals labor under the illusion that they can dismiss the Satanism of anyone they please. And either way, I think it’s something that has to be reckoned with.

Regardless, wherever you stand, The Satanic Temple aren’t your friends. They’re opportunistic fedora-tippers who are presently betraying everything that Satanism has ever held dear. They don’t deserve any support or honour.

Defund the BBC

I don’t know how late this is, but the subject matter is still very much current, and I have to address on some level or another. Simply put, there is no reason the BBC should be allowed to demand that we pay for it by law in order to own a television. The excuse given to its vaunted status as the central institution of public broadcasting and journalism in the UK is its supposed independence and objectivity, a standard that, theoretically, sets it above all other similar private companies. There are, of course, many reasons to laugh at this claim, but we’ll focus on a recent matter that shows the BBC’s true colours and is still an ongoing scandal.

On October 26th, the BBC published an article titled “We’re being pressured into sex by some trans women”, in which the author Caroline Lowbridge advanced numerous assertions about trans people supposedly peer-pressuring or coercing lesbians into having sex with them. Because there is no actual data to point to in order to empirically support such claims, the author largely cited a number of lesbians who all happened to come from explicitly anti-trans organizations, such as Get the L Out and the LGB Alliance, and represents the “trans side” of the debate through random tweets and a decontextualized video from a “social justice warrior”, almost without ever consulting the trans community or the LGBT community as a whole. This article is so notorious for its irresponisble assertions about trans people that it sparked a major backlash, prompted numerous complaints which led to some editions, some of the BBC’s own staff debated and protested the article before it was even published (evidently the TERF wing of the BBC won out), and now the article even has its own Wikipedia page.

The worst aspect of this comes from one of the article’s sources, Lily Cade, a lesbian former porn actress, who in the article discussed what she called the “cotton ceiling”, a belief attributed to trans people in which “breaking the cotton ceiling” was supposed to mean having sex with a cis woman. No trans person has ever even heard of the term or seen it used in that context before this article was published. Not long after the article was published, people discovered that Lily Cade was herself a serial rapist who abused several other women, and confessed to it, which meant that this was a proven and admitted rapist who then went on to accuse trans people of being rapists, with the approval of the BBC. And after that, Lily Cade took to her blog to release three angry tirades against trans people, all of them involving insane conspiracy theories about the supposed replacement of cis women by trans women and featuring explicit calls for the murder of trans people. They read like a series of school shooter manifestos or, in terms of language and subtext, classical white supremacist hate propaganda. It was only after this that the BBC, after initially doubling down on their article, eventually removed the Lily Cade section from their article, by which point everyone else also figured out that she was a pedophile as well as a rapist. But that still means that every other bigoted, unsubstantiated assertion about trans people was left to run unchecked.

As a matter of fact this article is not an isolated incident from the BBC. At one point they also had a Newsnight show about trans people which featured the likes of Graham Linehan, former IT crowd writer and presently psychotic TERF pundit, who compared trans people to Nazis. Much of the BBC’s coverage of trans people and their issues has actually been remarkably antagonistic to the trans community. Their exclusion of trans voices from any discussion that actually affects them is both systemic and deliberate, as is evidenced by not only the fact that the author of the infamous article chose not to include the testimony of a trans porn actress pointing to Lily Cade’s history of rape, but also by the fact that there are several BBC staff who are themselves transphobes. Some staff have reported that senior management within the BBC have lent an ear to figures with anti-trans ideological beliefs and themselves are taken in by anti-trans conspiracy theories.

The BBC is often talked about by the right as some bastion of progressive ideology, of so-called “political correctness” (a phenomenon that, I maintain, no one has adequately understood from the 1990s onward), but in reality the BBC is quite a profoundly reactionary institution. The regularity with which they churn out anti-trans propaganda is alone evidence enough of this. But we should also note that the BBC has exhibited other reactionary biases, such as its apparent bias against the Labour Party during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The idea of the BBC as an “objective” institution in the face of power is also directly undermined by its historic tendency to at least cave to pressure from the state, such as during the build up to the Iraq War. In fact, we get a good view as to the true, reactionary historical purpose of the BBC from the organization’s founding father, John Reith. Tom Mills’ book The BBC: Myth of a Public Service summarizes his convictions in the context of his response to the general strike that took place in 1926:

Recalling these events three decades later, Reith wrote that ‘if there had been broadcasting at the time of the French Revolution, there would have been no French Revolution’. Revolutions, he reasoned, are based on falsehoods and misinformation, and during the General Strike, the role of the British Broadcasting Company had been to ‘announce truth’. It was, he thought, quite proper that it had been ‘on the side of the government’ and had supported ‘law and order’.

From this perspective, it makes perfect sense that the BBC, beneath the modern perception of “liberalism” and objectivity, is a deeply reactionary, establishmentarian institution that is hostile to non-normative tendencies and threats to the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. You may also notice the attribution of social and political upheaval to “misinformation”. In a modern context, we might see this same belief motivating our discourse regarding social media, with basically any riot or upheaval that doesn’t get the sympathy of the media being deemed a product of “fake news”.

The BBC doesn’t deserve any of your money. If you get a TV, try to avoid getting the BBC on it, just to avoid getting a license. If you can’t, find a way to replace your TV with a computer. The BBC only exists to further the cause of the oppression of trans people and the working class. Frankly, it should not be a public corporation, supported by your tax dollars. Even if that means it becomes a private corporation, I guarantee you that even if that means the BBC’s editorial line becomes more reactionary than before, it would also just be an expansion of the already reactionary line it often had since its foundation. While I dislike privatization in general, and strive for a system where private property (meaning property held by capitalists to extract surplus value, not personal property) is but a memory and there are no more corporations, I also wouldn’t complain if the BBC, while it exists under capitalism, became a private company instead of a public one, because then you are longer no legally obligated to financially support them if you want a TV. Seriously, fuck the BBC.

Salute to Andreas Engholm!

I have just learned through Christopher Scott Thompson of an inspiring Pagan rebel in Denmark who took part in a protest against greenwashing. His name is Andreas Engholm, and upon seeing what he had to say, I can’t bring myself to ignore it. I simply must share what he said here. On September 9th, Andreas was arrested by the Danish police for his participation in “Bloody September”, a protest organized by Extinction Rebellion Danmark at C. Andersen’s Boulevard to call attention to the grave risk of climate change to several people in the Global South and demand that the Danish government immediately act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss within the next five years. After Andreas was arrested, he had this to say:

“I am happy to be able to wear a banner that to me expresses the totality of the relations that I love and aim to protect. No, not the state, not concepts or ideology, not an idea of civilizational superiority. Yes, the land, the people of the land, including all the non-human, and my connection to the web of Life that exists on planet Earth. Here in these relations, that are real, my loyalty remains. Something as entirely artificial as a state will never have my loyalty or willing obedience – I am a free person, not a servant, not cattle. This is our land, we are entangled with it. We must restore and grow our relations with everything real, land, people, ancestors and those who come after, or perish by our own stupidity and ignorance. It is as simple as that. Hail to the Rebel.”


Look at this statement. It radiates with Pagan pride! This man is proud to stand up on behalf of loyalty to life on earth against the systems that are destroying it. Rebellion on behalf of the land, the ancestors, and web of life, and the assertion of freedom over obedience, is what Paganism is all about for him. I was not expecting to see such beautiful words of defiance today.

I have been critical of Extinction Rebellion in the past, and to be fair that does come from the way they operate in my country, where members actively surrender themselves to the police. Frankly I’m still pretty skeptical of the movement insofar as I consider to be insufficiently politicized (unless of course they’ve shifted away from refusing to consider themselves political in the last few years). But if Extinction Rebellion, at least in Denmark, has heroes like Andreas Engholm in their membership, then even for their faults, perhaps I can consider Extinction Rebellion worthwhile.

We can all learn something for Andreas Engholm’s Pagan pride. We as Pagans should honor his conviction and nobility.

The Astroworld Satanic Panic

One of the things that convinces me that Progress is ultimately a convenient fiction is the constant reinvention of the Satanic Panic. It was only back in 2015 that here in the UK we already saw the revival of the Satanic Panic in the Hampstead scare, in which several people were accused of abducting, trafficking, raping, and killing children, all in a school in Hampstead, and even though those charges were soon dismissed and proven false, the basic idea continued to live in for a pack of conspiracy theorists who continued to pursue the phantom of Satanic conspiracy. Then of course there was PizzaGate, the belief that Democratic Party elites were abducting and molesting children at the basements of Comet Pizza, which eventually gave way to QAnon, a much larger conspiracy theory in which “satanic” pedophiles were abusing and sacrificing children but also were in the process of being secretly arrested by Donald Trump, a belief that persists in the American far-right to this day. Then of course there was the Satanic Panic being concocted against Lil Nas X for his Satan shoes and the Montero music video they accompanied. And now, there’s a new Satanic Panic centered around Travis Scott, the rapper whose recent Astroworld concert ended in a riot in which 8 people died.

Let’s get into the background of what happened before we go any further. On November 5th, the rapper Travis Scott performed at the Astroworld Festival in Houston, Texas. Apparently his appearance was met with a surge of fans rushing to the stage, which the escalated into widespread panic and violence. As the crush was happening, multiple fans were pleading with the festival personnel and shouting out to Travis Scott to stop the festival and to alert them to people dying, but these pleas were ignored. As a result, eight people are known to have died and the cause of the crush is still under investigation. But that hasn’t stopped certain reactionary conspiracists from getting the wrong idea.

Christian TikTok users have claimed that the stage at Astroworld resembles an inverted cross leading to a portal to Hell, suggesting that Astroworld was actually a Satanic ritual, which Travis Scott supposedly set up to deliberately kill people. Another supposed piece of evidence consists of a shirt he wore of humans walking through a door and emerging with horns, apparently proving Scott’s “Satanic” inclinations. Some users on Twitter compared the Astroworld Festival to some Hieronymus Bosch paintings depicting Hell, even though they’re probably meant to just be based on the cover of his album, Astroworld. Some people took the presence of an apparently winged creature above the stage as proof that his destival is all about Hell. One person claimed that Astroworld was “666 months + 6 days after the founding of the Church of Satan”. Others have tied the Satanic conspiracy angle to anti-vaccine conspiracies, alleging that Covid-19 vaccines made people susceptible to demonic trances that Scott’s music supposedly caused.

All of this is obviously complete nonsense. Travis Scott is not a Satanist, neither is Drake for that matter, and even if they were, odds are they would not have planned mass sacrifice. If anything, if that was the idea, you’d think that the event would be more clandestine and the death toll would be much higher than eight people. Vaccines most definitely do not cause any trances, let alone of the kind that have been called “demonic possession”, and even if they did it seems nonsensical to think that the effect would require you to go to a music festival to manifest. People can get into vaguely ecstatic states all the time in music festivals without the help of vaccines, demons, or even drugs. We don’t really know what happened as far as causes are concerned, but the fact that people have constantly complained before the concert about a lack of security and exits allows us to suggest that the people organising the Astroworld Festival were cutting corners; not spending enough money or effort on the safety of the festival attendees. As for Scott himself, I honestly don’t know why he just straight up ignored pleas to stop the show, but it seems to me that you don’t need demons in your head to be an asshole. Humans have managed to be sufficiently horrible either without demonic influences or, if anything, with the full support of their “better angels”.

I will say, incidentally, that the whole concept of demonic trances being involved is kind of fascinating to me mostly because of my research into pre-Christian beliefs. Possession by spirits was not an uncommon concept in the Greek and Vedic cultures, and it wasn’t always seen as a bad thing. In fact, states of nympholepsy in Greece or being “mounted by the gods” in African indigenous traditions were holy experiences that transgressed the boundary between self a d the uncanny other and, in a way, united participants with the gods. More importantly, divine possession was a key part of the mysteries of Dionysus, which were often targeted by authorities of the state cults of Rome for their apparently subversive nature, with Dionysus sharing important traits with our modern Devil. These are important considerations for anyone seeking to embody the Left Hand Path in a Pagan context.

But, at any rate, none of the facts about Astroworld, Travis Scott, or supposed Satanic rites are going to stop people from continuing to believe in Satanic Panics. It doesn’t even have to involve real conspiracies, such as the kind that the Order of Nine Angles and Tempel ov Blood are at this point known for (and kind of open about if anything), because the Panic depends almost entirely on fictitious events and false narratives of conspiracy, as these are what manufacture legitimacy for reactionary outrages against the marginalized. I’d also argue that the prevalence of Satanic Panic is to a point where, even though The Satanic Temple is an exception in that they’re covered all too favorably by mainstream media, one of the only times the media can actually criticizes The Satanic Temple is if they can throw in a something about orgies being involved. The funniest part about all of this is that Travis Scott and lots of pop musicians can be accused of being part of an elite Satanic cult bent on human sacrifice, but with black metal or death metal bands, plenty of whom are explicitly dedicated to Satanism, aren’t really subject to the same conspiracy theory treatment, even when some black metal musicians actually do commit crimes. I wonder why that is, and to be honest it makes me think that this sort of shit never is actually about Satanism per se.

And if you think about it, subtle forms of this exist even outside Satanism. We were all mad about Cuties, but as bad as it might have been, I’ve seen anime on Netflix with some at least moderately fucked up stuff in it involving childlike characters, but you wouldn’t hear anything about that except for occasional defence because it was made by Japanese guys instead of a woman from Somalia. As much as I denounced Michel Foucault last year, I have to point out that more recent accusations of him having raped children in Tunisia were immediately debunked and then walked back in the absence of evidence, and yet nonetheless were and are still taken as unquestionable truth to this day, which I’m retrospect had me wondering just how much else levelled against him isn’t as it seems, even if still arguably questionable at the end of it. And we all like to talk about harm and abuse, but we’re never consistent about it because it’s never about that. Take the Foucault accusations again. At worst, he dated 17-year olds, which is still bad, don’t get me wrong, but remember when rock and early heavy metal musicians would date teenagers and for some reason nobody complained even though you could legitimately say that was suspect? Keep in mind, this was all around the same time Foucault was still alive (he died in 1984). In fact I’m willing to bet the same baby boomers who join the TERF bandwagon about queers and trans people being pedophiles didn’t used to have a problem with cis straight rockers fucking young groupies back when they were young.

We’re almost all victims of the fact that the lie travels half way around the world before the truth gets a word in, and the lie has a habit of appealling to a complex of instincts that even people who think of themselves as transgressive or skeptical still have a hard time overcoming. And maybe that’s because truth such as it can be called isn’t a revelation but a continuous learning curb. But of course, the broad contours of that are things I should like to explore another day.

Scene from Astroworld Festival; Failed rap concert or portal to Hell? Definitely the former, but you wouldn’t know it from TikTok.

Chaotic earth: Aztec ethics and Pagan philosophy

So there was something about Aztec religion and philosophy that I stumbled upon while researching for my essay on the Left Hand Path in Paganism. On Aeon, there’s an article titled “Life on the slippery Earth”, though it also seems to go by “Aztec moral philosophy didn’t expect anyone to be a saint”, written by Sebastian Purcell, who happens to be an assistant professor of philosophy. I found that there were some important things to take away from it, concerning perfection, chaos, and morality.

Within the article we find that the Aztecs had a saying that the earth was “slippery” and “slick”, and another saying related to this which said, “Perhaps at one time, one was of good life; later, he fell into some wrong, as if he had slipped in the mud”. The apparently intended meaning of both sayings is that, according to the Aztecs, it is impossible to lead a perfectly good life because everyone, at some point, slips on the slippery earth, meaning that all people, even kings, are capable of moral failure and most likely will fail morally. The Aztec response to this dilemma would be to live a “rooted” life, of “neltiliztli”, which seems to have meant living by a form of virtue that can be defined by the pursuit of the “middle” of something. It’s much like Aristotle’s golden mean, but more like a loose choice predicated on the most apt expression of a choice in situational contexts, and less predicated on pristine individual character. The reality of the slippery earth also seemed to necessitate moral education not as an early phase of life facilitated through schooling but instead as a constant of life mediated by the community.

But for me there are more implications than perhaps were intended. Slippery earth is intended as a moral reality denoting the ease with which otherwise good people may morally fail, and the resulting impossibility of leading a perfectly good life. But I find that it is possible to envision something else, as well, in relation to that fundamental imperfection. Even though the Aztecs conceived the slippery earth in moral terms, the treachery of the earth’s surface to me has greater ontological implications. The word for “earth” in the Nahuatl language is “tlalticpac”, a word that is generally translated as just “on the earth”, but its apparent literal meaning is “on the point or summit of the earth”. That suggests a narrow, point-like place with a twisting path, is frought with dangers, and that seems like a pretty unstable place, doesn’t it? Constantly needing to keep balance on the surface necessarily implies that, on its own at least, the “earth” is a dangerous, indeed chaotic place. If our lives are led treading upon the slippery earth, then not only is human moral perfection an impossibility but so too is the notion of any kind of permanent order. From a certain point of view, the earth could also be “slippery” in that it has motion, and in fact always has motion, it is always moving, dynamically, and in this sense is always changing. Moral perfection does not exist, and neither does the idea of a perfect, static, unchanging order of things – whether that order is that of creation or that of some transcendent hierarchy of Forms hidden beyond the visage of the universe. Indeed, to the extent that we can speak of the cosmic order for Aztec religion, it seems that there was an endlessly self-generating and regenerating cosmos, not orderly or disorderly, but instead underordered, not governed by some immutable law and order but moved by the growth of all life.

Life is not a particularly predictable thing. It can create order, and break it down, it dies and rises again, and it pushes past the limits of contained experience. A cosmos teeming with life means that follows its own rhythms and patterns, but is also fundamentally volatile and unpredictable. Such is the chaos of the cosmos, the unordered rhythm of life. Our world is not a set of laws handed down by God. It is a set of ecosystems, composed of life which has its own rhythm – that of the land, seas, skies, beasts etc. These rhythms do not always conform to the designs of Man, nor do they align to well with the order attributed to God, or even some abstract notion of “the Good”, but their rhythms and us can, in sight of the cycle of reciporcity, find harmony. The point is to face a chaotic cosmos and seek reciprocity, harmony, and friendship with it, rather than try to control it (whether with the help of God or simply under the aegis of secular humanism). And that’s not the static thing that some New Agey takes on Mother Nature would have you believe. We stay true not through the restoration of prelapsarian, homeostatic purity that is thus called balance and harmony, but through rootedness, through memory, perhaps even a kind of anamesis, and, in a way, virtue.

Kadmus Herschen, in his seminal book True to the Earth, outlines a Pagan philosophy of nature and the cosmos that that sees nature not as a homeostatic entity structured through a kind of cosmic law and order, but rather as a dynamic entity defined by the process of growth, which is very useful to talk about in light of what I’ve discussed so far. He argues from the archaic Greek term “phuo”, which means “to bring forth” or “produce”, which is the basis of the Greek word “phusis”, or Physis, which is usually understood to be the Greek word for “nature” (its Latin equivalent is the word “nature”, from which we get Nature). This meaning is reflection in the Roman word for nature, derived from “nasci”, a word meaning “to be born”, which according to Kadmus signifies a concept of nature that denotes what is born and produces future generations. He argues that all of this signifies a concept of nature and the cosmos which is entirely alive, and that this concept is reflected in the Hesiodic story of “creation”, in which the various aspects of the world are understood to be the children of previous gods. The cosmos, defined by “phusis”, consists entire of life, life that changes, grows, declines, and regenerates, and pulsations and rhythms of growth of the multiplicitous life of the cosmos entails eternal motion, ceaseless expansion, free expression of life, with no room for the strictitudes of immutable law and order, only the negotiation of boundaries among living beings.

Life, at least in an individual sense, is volatile. It never truly stays the same, and it can easily unravel. It truly is unpredictable. A cosmos consisting of life follows natural rhythms and cycles, but insofar as life is unpredictable, we are faced with a cosmos which is equally unpredictable, and thus lacks the presence of immutable order. There is an order, but it arises from growth, from the embellishment or decoration of life by life. Humans embellish their environment through their creative agency, and to a certain extent this is perfectly natural. But, when we over-embellish nature, tyrannizing the cosmos through total human edification, to bring about total control of nature under Man’s order, leads humans away to ignorance from their real source, their real self, and, as we can see, destabilizes the world, causes disaster, and generates ruin. And yet underlying the reality of ceaseless growth in life, not to be confused with the idea of the endless growth of individual human potential, is a kind of instability of its own. It helps to think in terms of rhythm, rather than homeostatic balance or purity. When we allow this rhythm to flow freely, the world runs well. When we tamper with the rhythm of nature, believing that we are its rightful demiurges, the world is ruined and life suffers.

Another perspective of a chaotic nature that it is possible to derive from pre-Christian Greece may emerge from the Greek Magickal Papyri via the Invocation to Typhon, ironically enough a great adversary of the Greek gods. Typhon’s epithets are all suggestive of the wild aspects of nature. There is “Earth-quaker”, “Sender of Storms”, “Stone Shaker”, and “One Who Stirs the Depths to Motion”. He is also addressed as Erbet, which apparently comes from a Hebrew word meaning “mountain house”, and Aberamenthou, a name denoting water, namely the primordial waters of the sea and the sky. Uniquely in relation to the Greek myth regarding Typhon, Typhon and the magician invoking him are declared to be allies of the gods, though some say they are against the gods. Typhon was often considered to be the Greek equivalent of the Egyptian deity Set, the god of storms, through the process of the Greeks interpreting other people’s gods as their own. Even before Set became the villain du jour of Egyptian mythology following the expulsion of the Hyksos, Set had some associations with chaos, disorder, and confusion, owing to his apparent ties to inebriation but also rather sensible in him being the god of storms, as well as the desert, thereby linking him with the violent and disruptive forces of nature. Yet this same deity was for much of Egyptian history the protector of the sun god during his nocturnal journeys on the solar barque, guarding him against the wrath of the serpent Apep. One interpretation is that Set’s defeat of Apep ensures that the motion of the cosmos continues unabated, the stasis of non-existence held back, represented by Set striking Apep resulting in the release what he has swallowed, and the journey of Ra continuing unabated thus represents the cycles of the sun which are preserved by Set.

Frater Archer has a very interesting article on Goeteia, the Greek Pagan art of chthonic sorcery, in which he outlines a worldview of Goeteia that also seems to align with, and flesh out further, the worldview I’m trying to point to thus far. Archer establishes a connection between chthonic sorcery and Cybele, the great mother goddess of Phrygia, who is representative of the consciousness of the earth, and here is how he talks about this consciousness:

Ironically, the one thing a being so boundlessly powerful like the consciousness of earth cannot do easily is to uphold its own boundaries. It is in its very nature to constantly expand – whether that is excessive expansion into life or into death. ‘Nature abhors the vacuum’, we still say today. Our goêtic ancestors might have qualified more precisely: ‘Nature abhors anything constant’, the absence of movement, such as a boundary it’s ought to respect. 

Growth is the defining feature of this conception of nature. It cannot be limited by the boundaries that we set before it. This of course is not to be confused with modern capitalist illusions about the infinite growth of capital and civilization on the back of finite resources, but is instead to be seen as the

The way this connects to renewal is discussed just a little further on:

Now, looking through this keyhole from the human realm, behind that door we see the world of unleashed chthonic forces: tides of death and life clashing into each other, new forms constantly emerging and yet just as quickly falling back into atavistic states. It is the realm of the dead just as much as of the unborn. It is the mysterious and menacing place where graves are turned into wombs, bones into seeds and death into renewal.

The chthonic forces representing the tension of life and death are the primary basis of the goetic cosmos. The gnashing dialectic of forms, old and new, and the recurrence in which they partake, is the natural rhythm of indestructible life. Life becomes death, death becomes life, over and over again. This again is part of the growth that so centers the old Greek Pagan conception of nature. With goeteia, as well as certain chthonic mysteries, the idea from what we’re able to gather seems to involve a deeper contact with the mystery of life, death, and rebirth, engaging with that mystery in ritual fashion in order to join with the gods and gain enlightenment. For goeteia in particular, the idea is that the practitioner works with those daemons and worships the powers represented by Cybele, gaining power only at the same time as he is becoming one with those daemons.

What I’m getting at through all this is the broad strokes of a worldview where, instead of thinking in terms of an immutable body of natural laws, we see a cosmos throthing with the growth and development of life. If everything is alive and everything is living, then the cosmos is not an order as though directed by some taskmaster or demiurge but rather it is all things moving, growing, dying, being reborn. From a certain standpoint, it’s a chaos, at least owing to its unpredictable. And that is what we should embrace, because that chaos is the free-flowing movement of life itself, its multiplicity, and the generative power it embodies. From this standpoint, one Pagan outlook would entail that the right way to approach it is not to control that chaos but to co-exist with and within it, befriend it rather than fear it, cultivate reciprocity with it, and perhaps, even, deepen that reciprocity to the point where you become “one” with that chaos. There is no isolation from nature here, no cleaving of the disembodied intellect from the world, only the call to free yourself by awakening to the great Other that is the cosmos, whose writhing potency and life may be closer to your being than you might think.

byCipactli, the primeval crocodile of the earth in Aztec mythology

Sebastian Purcell’s article on Aeon about Aztec virtue ethics: https://aeon.co/essays/aztec-moral-philosophy-didnt-expect-anyone-to-be-a-saint

The British government may have cancelled Iselder

Something happened recently in my home country, and by my home country I mean Wales, that I would like to take the time to talk about. There was an announcement from Iselder, the one-man Welsh black metal band whose lyrics are dedicated to the cause of Welsh nationalism, which looked initially like an early retirement. Here’s what Gofid, the man behind Iselder, said on the band’s Facebook page:

Today was meant to be a day of celebration. Today was meant to be the day where all my hard work paid off. Today was meant to be the day where my second full length album, Metel Du Gwir Cymreig, was finally released. However, that’s just not the case.

It’s been almost two months since I was arrested on suspicion of inciting arson/criminal damage due to the “Burn Your Local Holiday Home” parody t-shirts, and the lyrics from the song “Llosgi Bwriadol” from the upcoming album. In a cruel twist of fate, my day started the same way it did on September 15th, with a loud knocking on my door. Panicked, I quickly got dressed with my heart beating through my chest, only to realise it was just the postman delivering Christmas presents I had ordered the week prior. If anything this made me realise how deeply this has effected me, with something as simple as a knocking on my apartment door triggering flashbacks and major anxiety.

Due to my PC being in police custody still, I don’t have access to the masters to be able to release the album, or create the merch people had ordered. I also don’t have the means to ship out CDs of past albums, t-shirts, patches, or other merchandise due to those also being seized. My main passion of creating music has been stripped away from me, and my emotional outlet locked away for an uncertain amount of time.

I don’t have much left to say except thank you (or diolch in my native tongue) for all your support over the past couple of months. From comments to private messages, you’ve been nothing but supportive of me throughout this whole ordeal, and I wish there was an easy way to repay all of you for your kindness.

It seems that Gofid got arrested in September, as he recalls in a comment he was accused of inciting or at least encourgaing people to commit arson and property damage. Not even violence, just property damage. This seems to be over his satirical “Burn Your Local Holiday Home” shirt, which parodies the archetypal church burning meme, based on the church burnings that occurred throughout Norway in the early 1990s. The charges are obviously spurious, since in order to book him for those shirts you’d have to arrest every purveyor of church burning shirts everywhere. But Gofid’s arrest seems to have resulted in his personal computer and merchandise being confiscated by the authorities, held in custody for an indeterminate length of time, which means that Gofid is presently unable to press his upcoming album, “Metel Du Gwir Cymreig”, or release new merchandise. At present, it is still possible to support Iselder by buying from his record label, Marwolaeth Records. Marwolaeth Records has explained in a post that Metel Du Gwir Cymreig is currently postponed until sometime in 2022, and it remains possible to pre-order it on Bandcamp, if you’re willing to wait for it.

At this point, I think it’s necessary to explain what the deal is with holiday homes, and why they’re such a pain in the ass from the perspective of Welsh nationalists/independence supporters. A holiday home is basically a second home rented out for people to temporarily live in while they go on vacation. In Wales, the increasing concentration of these second homes is seen to have a negative impact on the local community, contributing to a broader housing crisis by pushing up housing prices for people living in Wales trying to buy their own home. This problem is not only economic in nature, but it also has some cultural implications, with young Welsh speakers being driven out of the housing market by soaring house prices created by the proliferation of holiday homes owned by English speaking holiday-goers, which would contritbute to the decline of Welsh national identity. From 1979 to the 1990s, there was a radical Welsh nationalist group called Meibion Glyndwr who were responsible for burning holiday homes in Wales that were being used by the English bourgeoisie. Back in the day, rich English people, including politicians, would buy up second homes in Wales as vacation residence, which made regular housing in Wales much more expensive, and Meibion Glyndwr was formed as a kind of violent response to those conditions. It’s that history that Iselder is clearly drawing on in their satirical imagery.

Apparently, though, drawing attention to this reality through black metal satire is offensive enough to get you arrested and basically kill your musical career. I suppose this is England’s way of colonizing Welsh art while it still can.

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t expecting this to happen to anybody. I mean, I get that black metal is one of those artforms known for certain brushes with the law. Varg Vikernes was arrested for killing Euronymous (the latter of whom also probably wanted to kill him) as well as in connection with the church burnings that took place in Norway, members of the Greek black metal band Nergal were arrested because the police thought they were involved with a murderous “Satanic cult”, Dagon from Inquisition was arrested for having child pornography on his computer, and a few other black metal bands have also been involved in crimes. But Gofid didn’t do anything illegal, much less wrong, and he gets arrested and has his work stolen by the police. Meanwhile, there are actual fascist bands out there who get semi-mainstream status in the world of black metal. And I don’t just mean bands with problematic assocations like Marduk or Dissection. I mean actual, bona fide, white supremacist and fascist bands whose lyrics are based on white supremacist ideology. High-profile bands like Satanic Warmaster (an outright neo-Nazi band), Graveland (who still releases albums that glorify “the white race”), Destroyer 666 (whose first album literally had lyrics glorifying white pride politics and still has fascist lyrics on their later albums), Nokturnal Mortum (who still perform at NSBM music festivals), Acherontas (who also performed at an NSBM festival and whose later albums seem to contain thinly-veiled fascist lyrical themes), Black Witchery (who have quite a lot of anti-Semitic lyrics), Nyogthaeblisz (whose lyrics are not only anti-Semitic but also seem to be drawn from the Order of Nine Angles), and Peste Noire (a band that uses a Nazi prison gang symbol and whose music is all kinds of racist), to name some notorious examples. Not to mention whole record labels, even ones that have mostly non-NSBM/fascist bands, being owned by Nazis/fascists, like Iron Bonehead Records (run by an apparent neo-Nazi named Patrick Kremer), Nuclear War Now Productions (run by a racist biotech CEO and Yukio Mishima fanboy named Yosuke Konishi), and World Terror Committee (run by Sven Zimper, the vocalist for the NSBM band Grand Belial’s Key who was also in another infamous NSBM band called Absurd).

I haven’t seen any stories of any of those guys getting arrested or having their homes busted open by cops to arrest him for white supremacist lyrics. In fact, I’m willing to bet that merely being accused of being a Nazi is the only real trouble they’ve ever had to face in their lives! Meanwhile a left-wing/left-leaning black metal musician who just makes songs about Welsh independence, history, and heritage gets arrested and has his music confiscated probably just for scaring some dumb settler-colonialist Anglos and/or their snowflakey sympathizers.

Words can’t express how much this aggravates me. Gofid can’t play, but fascists are out there enjoying celebrity status and make money off their music, and even get to be in festivals where they can faciliate connections with actual far-right terrorists, and I haven’t seen them suffer any real social consequences, apart from occasionally getting “cancelled”, and then having the voices of concerned metalheads against fascism deal with the possibility of being drowned out, not even necessarily by fascists, but by whiny, reactionary, often “apolitical” consumerists who don’t want to even wrestle with the challenge of just dealing with any concept of problematic faves. That’s just fucking horrid. But, I guess it’s a pretty good reminder of which side the state is all too often on, don’t you think? I mean, if Nazis and fascists aren’t being arrested for glorifying violence against Jews, but you can be arrested for satirically condemning the existence of second homes owned by English capitalists, then you know for a fucking fact that the capitalist state has a habit of tolerating fascists while persecuting radical leftists. Remember that for the next time somebody tries to whine about how the radical left control everything because some liberal politician said “Black Lives Matter” once and then never talked about police brutality again.

All that said, I say we ought to give the British state the middle finger and show some solidarity to Gofid and his band Iselder. I don’t usually do pro bono promotions like this, but what do you say about showing where you stand by buying whatever you want from Marwoleath Records! I know I intend to! Show Gofid some love and give the Welsh black metal scene a chance, and don’t give even a penny to the fascists who are laughing at you while you help them piss all over your freedom!

Oh, and one more thing. While Iselder has been getting shut down by the cops, I notice that Winterfylleth, who are practically an English nationalist band, got to play in Cardiff twice last month. Let’s not give them any money for them to go on interviews to whine about “Cultural Marxism” and Antonio Gramsci. Support Welsh, Scottish, and Irish independence! Support Iselder and Marwolaeth Records! Reject English colonialism!