There’s something I thought about when contemplating the drunkenness that I sought after over the holidays. I don’t see myself as a “binge drinker” in the sense that I once had some vague idea about in my youth; in fact, for a lot of my early life, the main thing I had in common with Friedrich Nietzsche was never drinking alcohol. But in the years since I started drinking, this time in particular gives me a taste for the disinhibition of drunkenness. In fact, while I tend to avoid addictive behaviours, I do prefer that my drinking would have me reasonably disinhibited. But it’s from there that I reflected on the value of disinhibition in a much broader sense.
I would maintain that in life, and in politics, you should strive to disinhibit yourself to the extent possible. By which I mean, you should be able to cut off the fetters that prevent you from accessing the experience of life or cut off the options you would otherwise have to affect political change. A person lives, desires to keep living, and so works to avoid meeting danger and harm, and yet one never entirely approaches life in the safety of the normal limits of their sensorium. For this reason, people may push themselves beyond the limits of their “normal” state, their “everyday” consciousness, perhaps even if it means bringing themselves a little closer to death, so that they might access their own freedom or possibilities of action or being/becoming. There is perhaps a certain lack that is associated with a life that does not involve some extent of disinhibition, however small, because there is a sense that disinhibition, even if dangerous, brings some sense of completion to the fulfillment of individual life, by expanding it.
In the context of ancient pre-Christian religions, disinhibition was served not just as a way, but an important vehicle for the attainment of divine inspiration. The cult of Dionysus in Greece often centered around the liberation of consciousness through an intoxication that would invite the spirit of Dionysus to posssess his worshippers, and thereby experiencing ecstasy. Similarly ecstatic states of divine possession have been attributed to gods such as Pan, Hecate, Cybele, and Ares. In some other mystery cults, gods such as Sabazios were similarly worshipped in orgiastic festivals of drunkenness aimed at communing with the god to attain a blessed afterlife. In Scandinavia, religious disinhibition was part of the cult of the berserkers and the ulfhednar, the bear or wolf-pelted warriors whose battle frenzies were linked to the divine inspiration bestowed by the god Odin. In Egypt, disinhibition via drunkenness was sometimes observed as a way to re-enact the cycle of fertility and commune with the gods through the drunken worship of goddesses such as Hathor, Sekhmet, and Bast. In Vedic India, a substance called Soma was offered to the gods and then ritually consumed in order to become inebriated from it, which was believed to lead to a state of divine inspiration as well as magical powers and even immortality.
In politics, it’s obvious that everything depends on what you’re prepared to do in order to affect meaningful change, and it would seem that allowing your hands to be tied by the norms of those in power – that what we call “liberal-democratic rules” – does not allow you to do much. Our enemies certainly seem to have a certain sense of that, but we sometimes don’t. I’d wager that it’s usually only insurrectionary anarchists who have the idea that they must act without inhibition or decree. Many Marxists, of course, have an utterly confused stance on the matter: on the one hand, the Marxist-Leninist will assert that they will “make no excuses for the terror”, to justify basically any exercise of power, and then on the other hand repeatedly chastise other radicals for any broad commitment to political violence as a means of acheiving revolutionary aims outside of their sphere. Yet even they are all too aware of the need to assert themselves against the norms of the current system. Not only this, but all leftists, when discussing things as basic as anti-fascism or the labour movement, know the same thing, implicitly. Politics is basically a condition of social war, even if few political actors are actually conscious of this fact in their operations. To disinhibit yourself here means to shed the norms that stop you from acting in full knowledge of this reality.
In the Left Hand Path, disinhibition as transgression can be seen as part of the praxis of apotheosis, even if I can recall a few modern LHP practitioners who have insisted against intoxication. Whether involving intoxication or not, moral disinhibition is the name of the game, in that the bounds of custom and normativity are, as fetters, cut away in order to access knowledge, power, divinity, the truth of the world, really everything that the adept needs to progress on their path. In Satanism, this is in many ways the purpose of inversion: shattering the laws of “God” in devotion to the dark inner principle of the universe, from which endless liberty for the soul is to be derived.
So disinhibit yourself. Get weird with it. Cut down the spectre of morality in its many forms: authoritarian, democratic, conservative, progressive, essentialist, Christian, humanist, and all alike. If you need a New Year’s resolution, you can promise to set fire to the future. Or, if you need to be modest, you need only promise to go beyond yourself in what chances you have.
Roe vs Wade was officially abolished last Friday. Almost 50 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to have an abortion was protected by the Constitution of the United States. Now that Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood vs Casey are gone, abortion can be outright banned in several states. 13 US states are already moving to immediately ban abortion after the SCOTUS ruling, while several more states could either eventually ban abortion later or just impose stricter legal restrictions. For millions of people, it will be impossible to get an abortion without unsafe backdoor procedures. Countless people will die as a result of botched abortion procedures or having to carry ectopic pregnancies. Many more will have to suffer being forced to carry a baby conceived by someone who raped them.
This oppressive reality represents the unambiguous destruction of the reproductive rights of millions of people, and is the fulfillment of a concerted assault against them and of anti-abortion politics. Those who contented themselves with a sort libertarian halfway house position on abortion – in which one has a confused moral aversion to abortion while nonetheless opposing criminalisation on the grounds of personal freedom and harm reduction – should find themselves disabused of the ability to content themselves with such a weak position. To seriously care about freedom is to oppose criminalisation completely and entirely, and endorse full bodily autonomy on principle and without qualification. The simple truth is that it really is either this or you want the state to control that autonomy, and thus undermine the whole premise of individual liberty. Even “moderate” restrictions of abortion, whereby it is banned after some ultimately arbitrary period of time has passed, is still an unjust restriction of individual liberty in this sense. And the fact is, giving even a fraction of an inch to the anti-abortion crowd is, in reality, lending support to a kind of fascist biopolitics. Look at Mary Miller declaring that the SCOTUS ruling is a victory for “white life”, look at self-described traditionalist Christians angrily denouncing pro-choice women as “blood libelous bitches”, and look at the contingent of left-wing anti-abortion figures who clutch their pearls at their imagined “rootless society”.
But if all of this was bad enough on its own, there’s more and worse to come. It is increasingly clear that, in a larger sense, the abolition of Roe v Wade will not only affect the right to an abortion. We know that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has argued that the Supreme Court should “reconsider” all substantive due process precedents. This includes Griswold vs Connecticut, Lawrence vs Texas, and Obergefell vs Hodges. Griswold vs Connecticut is the ruling that established the constitutional right of married couples, and later all couples, to buy and use contraceptives. Yes, you heard me: until 1965, it was illegal in some US states to buy, sell, and use contraceptives. Lawrence vs Texas established that laws against same-sex intercourse were unconstitutional. Until 2003, there were “anti-sodomy” laws all over the USA, that so-called “land of the free”. Obergefell vs Hodges established that same sex marriage was a fundamental right protected by the constitution, and that all states were required to recognise same sex marriages as a fulfilment of that right. This means that the Supreme Court could ensure that contraceptives, same sex marriage, and even same sex intimacy all become illegal again in several US states. Incidentally, right before Roe vs Wade was abolished, the Supreme Court also ruled in Vega vs Tekoh that police officers can no longer be sued for violating your rights during your arrest or a criminal trial, even if you were found not guilty of any crime.
In addition to all of this, after Roe vs Wade was abolished, conservative politicians have already begun publicly calling for more SCOTUS “reconsiderations” over the weekend and well before that. Republican Senator John Cornyn said that the Supreme Court should move to reconsider Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka. Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka was the ruling that established that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional. “Reconsidering” this, on Cornyn’s terms, could mean the revival of racial segregation. In March this year, Senator Mike Braun suggested that interracial marriage should be left to individual states to decide on, which would mean that Loving vs Virginia would be overturned and it would be possible that interracial marriage could become illegal in some states. The Texas GOP recently released a platform that called for the repeal of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits laws that prevent non-white Americans from voting, while also attacking homosexuality.
What we’re looking at is the culmination of a decades-long agenda by American conservatives to roll back almost every gain made for the advancement of freedom for women, LGBTQ people, and non-white Americans, and really any American who does not conform to the expectations of their desired theocratic Christian Nationalist society. Clarence Thomas himself is a member of the Federalist Society, which was set up to promote right-wing ideas in elite college campuses and then funnel right-wing lawyers to affect their ideology through the Supreme Court. In fact, all current Republican SCOTUS justices, with the possible exception of John Roberts, are or have been members of this same Federalist Society, and they were pivotal to the legal make-up of the last couple of Republican administrations. To fulfill this decades-long right-wing agenda, all federal protections for abortion, same-sex marriage and intimacy, trans and queer people, racial equality, and universal democratic suffrage/franchise, will all be abolished, which will allow Republicans to turn as many states as they can into theocratic, biopolitically-controlled fascist states. The very move to abolish Roe vs Wade seems to have been motivated partially by concern over a “domestic supply of infants”. And it will be enforced through repressive violence, even if Democrats get elected. The Supreme Court building had snipers on the roofs before protesters could even throw the first fist or have the first club lobbed at them, peaceful protesters demonstrating for abortion rights were mercilessly beaten by police officers over the weekend, and troops of armoured and militarized cops were seen patrolling Washington DC in full anticipation of protests. At this point it’s not a stretch of the imagination to say that fascism is increasingly incipient in the United States of America.
So, besides the ramifications I already talked about, what does all of this mean? To me, it means a lot of harsh conclusions and a bitter struggle. I hope it makes clear to more and more people that world-historic progress is a myth, and that you cannot expect the world to “arc towards justice” as President Joe Biden said in his inauguration speech. In fact, in the context of US history, the rights that the Supreme Court established might well be a pause in what is otherwise the domination of patriarchal white supremacy in the context of an authoritarian society. That is, unless those rights are relentlessly fought for by those who demand them. That’s the other side of this. When we say rights, we mean to establish liberty in our own jurisprudence. The repression of this freedom is, as well, the establishment of a different jurisprudence by a given extant authority. Freedom cannot be granted, it must be taken and/or fought for. History, progress, fate, God, the state, none of them will ever win liberty for you.
Staying on world-historic progress as a theme, I find myself annoyed by frequent pronouncements by progressives and others that the developments we’re seeing represent some return to the Middle Ages. America is not going back to the Middle Ages. It’s going back to the 1970s at the most recent, and to the 19th century at the furthest. For one thing, I cannot stress enough that all of the rulings being “reconsidered” addressed social conditions that persisted all through the tailend of the 20th century, though often did base themselves on 19th century laws. That means that the repressive nightmare we’re looking at is nowhere near as distant from living memory as the Dark Age America trope would have us believe. For another thing, the entire concept that life “begins at conception” as advanced by the anti-abortion movement has seemingly no evident basis in medieval theology, and is instead the product of 19th century Catholic theology and the then-contemporary secular medical establishment. Until then, Catholic theology had long established that a human fetus was not immediately ensouled before what was called the “quickening”. While abortion in itself was still legally restricted by medieval society, it was specifically punished if performed after the “quickening”, whereas pre-“quickening” abortions weren’t punished and were not considered murder. And of course, well before Christianity, abortion was not generally regarded as a homicide. There are several pre-modern texts regarding abortion practice, abortifacients were widely produced and procured for use, any legal punishment for abortion was not for murdering a fetus but for doing it against the wishes of the husband, and the whole “quickening” argument itself comes from Aristotle, who was most definitely not the only classical or ancient philosopher to reject the modern anti-choice argument. If anything it was the Enlightenment that “progressed” towards greater and more absolute restrictions of reproductive freedom. Meanwhile, the fascist biopolitics of the anti-abortion movement is inherent an expression of right-wing belief in reproductive futurity as applied to whiteness. Almost nothing expresses this more clearly than the infamous white supremacist fourteen words, which end with “a future for white children”.
But enough about that. What do we do about it all? Well, even if America insists on keeping its brand of capitalist federal democracy, I think that, at the barest minimum, the Supreme Court must be abolished. I will not be satisfied by the court being stacked, expanded, or rearranged by Democrats. Only the complete abolition of the Supreme Court will suffice – again, at the bare minimum. And it’s not just because they’re doing conservative rulings, but because this is where the investiture of jurisprudence in a handful of unelected judges to decide or affect the fate of everyone else leads to. The core concept of the Supreme Court is frankly absurd and obscene! Though, I suppose, one can make similar objections to the state itself – I would agree and advance that objection as well. But then while it sounds radical it still isn’t enough, hence “bare minimum”. While we would abolish that institution, we might still have to deal with the course of fascism now in motion, and Americans would still have to contend with the sovereignty of the federal government, and a Democratic Party that has shown, time and again, that it cannot be relied upon not make any meaningful and desirable reforms. In fact, the advance of fascism will ultimately taken as reason for the Democratic Party to insist that progressive policy ambitions be set aside for the “more immediate” goal of opposing either Donald Trump, his successor, or more generally the increasingly fascist Republican Party, thus ensuring a cycle in which reform is sidelined for the sake of party unity against the far-right, and American progressives will ultimately acquiese. It is for this reason that people like Bernie Sanders, or really any of the progressive Democrats, are ultimately unreliable.
I think that American radicals should take seriously the idea that direct action is the only way to overcome the present conditions. This is meant on revolutionary or even insurrectionary terms. Violence is the reality of the power being exercised in the jurisprudence of the establishment, and it is also the reality of the overcoming of this jurisprudence in pursuit of liberation. I have some reason to believe that a lot of American anti-fascists are indeed taking this seriously. But even if it is insisted that this is a step too far, the least that should be expected is the relentless activist disruption of the activities of the Supreme Court and the right-wing functionaries of the US state and the anti-abortion agenda. If the point is not to simply get rid of them, as would be much better for everyone, then at minimum it should be as hellishly difficult as possible for the bastards to keep doing what they want to do. If Democrats made it a point to do things like codify Roe vs Wade or went full force in campaigning for unrestricted reproductive freedoms, then even if they’re never going to be enough that would still genuinely do some good. But they can’t be relied upon. Already the best that the Democratic establishment has to offer is telling people to go vote for Democrats and admonishing people for not protesting peacefully enough. As if the American state “deserves” peace after attacking the freedoms of millions of people! I seriously think that the right course involves preparedness for, and will to, the total dismantling of the complex of American political and societal institutions as the only path out of the cycle that America is in. In other words, make total destroy.
But of course, to conclude this article, there’s the matter of what this means for our little world, for our communities. Obviously, I think that we should align ourselves with exactly that struggle of destruction and negation. Even if one cannot wage the fight, at least stand by those who will. Groups like Jane’s Revenge and all the black blocs looking to take up the fight should be supported unequivocally, while the liberals and reformists who want to stand in their way should be unreservedly opposed. Oh, and any opportunists no matter how “revolutionary” seeking to co-opt their efforts should be obstructed and humiliated for their attempts. In the meantime though, at the very least it is still important to support groups and individuals that make concrete material gains in providing or protecting access to abortion however possible. But don’t just accept anyone who presents themselves to be on your side as allies. Groups like the Boogaloo Bois, who present themselves as anti-government anarchists but are actually neo-fascists, should be opposed, and groups like The Satanic Temple, who present themselves as a beacon for reproductive rights while failing to do anything substantive for that cause and refusing to heed expert criticism on their practice, should also be rejected. We should also reject any and all responses to the abolition of Roe vs Wade that seek to reframe the carceral power of patriarchy as something that can be turned back around just to prove a point. Every liberal calling for “sex strikes”, joking about “mandatory vascectomies”, or complaining about how if men could abort we would have free abortion, all languish in erroneous and futile hypocrisy arguments, ignore the racist and eugenicist history of actual mandatory vascetomy policies, ignore the problems that they actually pose for women, and ultimately ignore transness and queerness. In fact, I am willing to go so far as to say that such hot takes are the result of an “unqueered” perspective on reproductive rights and the carceral state – that is, a perspective that is not informed by a critical understanding of queerness. For Satanists and Pagans, the nature and stakes of the struggle at hand is clear: Christian theocracy and authoritarianism is asserting itself once more, and it must be fought to the last.
If only one thing is to be made clear and internalised, it’s that America is not the “land of the free”. How could it ever claim to be, when love itself has been restricted and oppressed for so long and will be oppressed again? The only freedom that will exist in America, or anywhere, is that which is taken or fought for. And don’t ever think that you can’t do it. The Republicans by now know that almost nothing is politically impossible as long as you have the will to enact and fight for it. Charlie Kirk outright said it. Nothing is impossible for conservatives, and the abolition of Roe vs Wade under a Democratic government has shown them that. Nothing should be impossible for American radicals either. If after decades and even under a Democratic administration conservatives can succeed in turning the United States of America into a collection of fascist states, I don’t see why it’s impossible to tear their whole society down and replace it with only the void of ungovernable liberty.
Oh and just to say it right at the end: abortion is not murder. You’re just terminating an amalgamation of unconscious cells, not a lifeform in any meaningful sense. The idea that life “begins at conception” has no basis in science, philosophy, or theology, and is basically an entirely ideological moral claim. There is no credible justification for any restriction of liberty or bodily autonomy in this domain, and undermining bodily autonomy is ultimately to undermine liberty itself. On this basis, any efforts to either ban or simply restrict abortion in any country must be uncompromisingly opposed.
While reading up about Satan’s (no, not that Satan) upcoming album Earth Infernal, as I do and all, I somehow stumbled on a website named Athwart and a little article about Satanism written by one of their authors, Sam Buntz. The article is titled “Infernal Bore: The Satanic Pose of False Individualism”, and believe me, it is truly self-masturbatory, so much so that I actually want to go through it and show you why.
But before I do that, let’s establish who we’re talking about here. Athwart is a small-time web magazine that seems to focus on social commentary. There’s clearly a political edge to it but for the life of me I can’t actually figure out their primary ideological inclination or their basic values. The impression I get from them seems to suggest that they might be into some conservative expression of left-wing politics. Their articles complain about such things as a lack of metaphysical thinking in contemporary society and the prevalence of pornography, and they discuss the works of socialist intellectuals such as Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, Michel Foucault, and Christopher Lasch. The actual name of the website appears to have been derived from William F. Buckley Jr., the famous right-wing conservative ideologue, or more specifically the mission statement he wrote for The National Review, which he founded in 1955 and which he said “stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it”. From this, my impression is that Athwart represents a pretentious crossover between socialist and conservative tendencies, possibly erring towards the milieu referred to as “post-liberalism”. A fair summary of this tendency is that it is reactionary and boring. As for Sam Buntz himself, his bio tells us that his work has appeared on the “centre-left” Washington Monthly, the apparently far-right New English Review, the right-wing Federalist magazine, the “politically unaffiliated” Christian journal Fare Forward, Pop Matters, and Jonathan Pageau’s website The Symbolic World. This oeuvre plus his social media content gives us a good idea that he seems to be a reactionary of some sort.
With that accounted for let’s get into the article itself. Buntz begins by referring to an article written by Mary Harrington which supposedly showed that Satanism was the prevailing ideology of the United States of America. Harrington’s argument is essentially that Satanism is just a byword for “untrammeled individualism” and that The Satanic Temple is supposedly adored by the American ruling class (no, they’re not; a couple of liberal magazines are not a synonym for the bourgeoisie as a whole), and much of the rest is just a kindergartener’s history of so-called Romantic Satanism leading up to blatant distortion of the teachings of Crowley and Nietzsche, homophobic screeds about Pride Month, and transphobic bile about how trans rights is somehow an arm of US imperialism. Needless to say Harrington just casts any expression of self-love or pride as “Satanism”, declares this to be the ideology of the establishment, and all the while never demonstrates any actual influence that Satanism or trans people have in a society where they’re actually quite powerless. Such is what Buntz refers to as “daring” work; and I suppose it is, if by this you mean she dared to be stupid.
Oh and by the way Harrington also appears to be a transphobic “radical feminist”, or TERF as she would rather we not call them but which we will do anyway because that’s what they are. Let’s just get that out of the way while also adding that she’s generally a whiny conservative in numerous other areas too.
Before we go anywhere else let’s just establish basic reality here: no, Satanism is not “the dominant American ideology”. If it were, then American politicians would feel no need to make frequent reference to Jesus, God, or the Bible, however insincerely, nor would there be any invocations to God in American money or the Pledge of Allegiance. There are no Satanists who actually have access to the levers of political power, and many don’t even desire said political power. Only a few Satanists have ever ran for political office, and none of their campaigns have succeeded. Nor for that matter have most of the legal campaigns enacted by The Satanic Temple. And, if Satanism is the dominant spiritual ideology in America, why are Satanic Panics still a thing that thousands if not millions of people can fall for? Honestly, I wish that America was actually the Satanic society that these idiots seem to think it is. I would legitimately enjoy living in such a society. At the very least I could die a happy man knowing that Christianity died and was replaced by Satanism in a country that was previously the proudest and most obnoxious exponent of Christianity, if only that were true! But it’s not! Instead, Christianity of some sort still holds the most political clout and forms much of the superstructure of bourgeois society.
Also, I think something’s worth pointing out about the liberal magazines being pointed to and their ostensible promotion of The Satanic Temple. I can guarantee that they’re only doing it because they’re a secular atheist progressive group that presents the aesthetic of Satanism with very little of what might be thought of as Satanic philosophy, though of course they do boast an appropriated canon. In reality, The Satanic Temple paid probably thousands of dollars to give argument in court on behalf of a Catholic organisation rather than just complain about freedom of speech on Twitter, so as far as I’m concerned they are allies of Christianity, but neither the media nor conservatives like Mary Harrington will tell you about that because it compromises some convenient narratives about how The Satanic Temple are “the last line of defence in the battle for reproductive rights”. And all the while, with both Harrington’s article and the media discussion of The Satanic Temple, it seems like only popular forms of atheistic Satanism are ever discussed. Things like Theistic Satanism are never discussed in any of these pretentious treatises on Satanism, even though Theistic Satanism is very prevalent in Satanist movement even if lacking popular organizations and if anything there’s the argument to be made for Theistic Satanism being older at least than Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan.
Anyways, Buntz talks about how “the pose of Satanism” was attractive for centuries across a wide range of people and summarizes basically the popular understanding of Satan as an archetypal cosmic rebel. Then he claims that Satanism doesn’t actually lead to a state where individual personalities can flourish freely but instead leads to “the opposite condition”. On its face, this claim is absolutely laughable and there’s no basis for believing it at all. But how does Buntz justify such an absurd position? Well, he doesn’t make reference to any extant self-defined Satanism in practice, but instead appeals to the development of the character of Satan as depicted by John Milton, who for all the romantic anti-heroism of his Satan figure it must be remembered that he was trying to depict Satan as the villain of his story. Basically, to prove that Satanism leads to the opposite of individual freedom, he’s going to consult a work created by a Christian to illustrate the Christian perspective of why Satan is bad, instead of referring to any actual self-lived Satanism. That’s rather like trying to get an account of Muslim life from Melanie Phillips.
Buntz’s main point is that all of the heroic radiance associated with Milton’s Satan is compacted into the early parts of the book, after which he grows progressively “duller” and “more boring”. Well, actually, that’s about all Buntz has to say about Milton’s Satan. He never actually describes Satan’s actions or personality progression, except through the aphorisms of others such as C. S. Lewis. The only thing he references is Satan secretly observing Eve in the Garden of Eve. How this is meant to represent dullness is something of a mystery, but I guess it does serve as a signifier of reactionary antipathy towards “coomers” (meant to be a condescending way of a referring to sex or porn addiction but in practice is just a way of expressing hatred of anybody who likes sex at all or masturbates ever). His purported boringness is compared to Dante’s Satan, and I must say, it’s easy for Dante’s Satan to be “boring” since his only appearance in Inferno consists of him being trapped waist-deep in a lake of ice, which is honestly more of an indictment of Dante than of Satan.
Buntz is of the opinion that not only is our culture “increasingly Satanic”, but it is also “zombified”, a supposed trend that he compares to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (yet another Christian morality tale, this time for children), in which the White Witch lures one of the characters with Turkish delights only to freeze him in his place. He argues that this is meant to mean that the desire for independence “without relation or obligation” (presumably God here is just a by-word for any kind of obligation whatsoever) produces nothing but mediocrity. His example of this really doesn’t have anything to do with Satanism in practice. Instead his example of cultural decay just seems to be when entertainment media doesn’t solely center around cis straight white people (“the quantitative enumeration of identities, the checking of representation boxes”) and Netflix shows he doesn’t like presumably because they don’t exclusively pander to those same cis straight white audiences (“Eventually, the “Dark Satanic Mills” start to churn out the same, boring, repetitive, pandering Netflix shows”). This, he claims, leads to the abolition of “the Good, the Beautiful, and the True” (yep, we’re dealing with Platonic conservative bullshit again). Again, none of this is ever actually linked to real world Satanism. It’s all just extrapolated from a poetic representation that, while it is classic, was created by a Christian. Plus, if all Satanism means here is just the assertion of individual freedom, I would argue that the idea that this necessarily leads to mediocrity simply isn’t true! Barnett Newman positioned his own artwork as an “assertion of freedom”, which read properly would herald the end of all forms of authoritarianism, such as state capitalism and totalitarianism, and many have found his art to be moving and challenging, or in some cases threatening (certainly threatening enough for white supremacists to frequently vandalize his work). But, of course, because Barnett Newman as an abstract expressionist represents what has come to be derisively referred to as “modern art” or “postmodern art”, Buntz will likely see his work and dismiss it as insufficiently life-affirming in the same way that all reactionaries dismiss modern art simply because it doesn’t seek to imitate classical art.
There is a paragraph from the article that is worth analyzing and deconstructing:
When a ’70s or ’80s rockstar declares that he is on the highway to hell before burying his head in a mountain of cocaine, it seems believable. He really is runnin’ with the devil. But a contemporary “Satanist,” logging on to doomscroll or gaze at pornography, is devoid of this same rebellious aura. He or she is simply going on the computer, like every bored teen on planet earth. Below deck, Satan is no doubt rubbing his hands excitedly. But his nefarious plans lack the epic scale and carnage of a Hitler-on-Stalin throwdown. He has settled for making people watch lousy Netflix original programming. That is atomized Satanic “individualism” at its terminus, a sad and numb person opening tabs in Google Chrome and then slamming the laptop shut when Mom unexpectedly walks in the room. Not exactly Stalingrad, but Satan will take it.
What’s obvious here is that Buntz operates on the idea of “Satan as the representation of evil and badness in the abstract”, taking it at face value and assessing Satanism and Satanists on the basis of this presumption. Thus, if Satanists aren’t destroying themselves by becoming addicted to dangerous drugs or trying to start World War 3, then in Buntz’s eyes they are not “real” Satanists. The problem with this should be obvious. Satanism is not in itself a mere inversion of morality. On the contrary, it can be said to present its own distinct ethical framework, albeit one that, unlike so many others, actually centers itself around individual fulfilment and exploration to some degree, and even then what this looks like will probably depend on the form of Satanism you’re dealing with; such nuance is of course flattened in almost every mainstream discussion of Satanism. Buntz whines that modern Satanists supposedly do nothing but “doomscroll” (constantly surfing the internet for negative news) and watch pornography, as though watching pornography is supposed to be an inherently bad thing (well, given that he’s probably a Christian I’d say he does think that), but how exactly is doomscrolling and watching Netflix and pornography something exclusive to Satanism? I’d argue that a lot of modern Christians are doing the same thing while also going to church, praying to God, and all the things that regular Christians do to affirm their faith. But Buntz needs to frame Satanists as sad losers (again, as if scrolling for news, watching porn, and watching Netflix somehow makes you a loser) so he can’t afford to acknowledge reality. If you want to see masses of sad loserdom, you shouldn’t look to Satanism. Instead you should look to 4chan, or to the fact that there’s entire Discord servers made around one meme.
But I have to say, what is it with people having a go at Satanism and always bringing up rock stars who sang about the devil for fun, rather than musicians who were open and professed Satanists, such as King Diamond (incidentally one of the guys who got me into Satanism), Glen Benton from Deicide, or the several black metal bands and musicians who at least ostensibly devote themselves to some sort of religious, esoteric, or theistic Satanism (many of whom hated Anton LaVey for being too humanist for them)? Again, they’re never going to be talked about because the only Satanism that interests anyone in the media is the The Satanic Temple, and honestly that’s probably because they’re the most marketable and least offensive branch of Satanism.
Buntz then makes a very amusing accusation towards Satanists. He accuses the Satanist of wanting to preserve the state of affairs he attributes to them by “defending himself” from “anything that might provoke his curiosity” or “might rattle him into an awareness of the poetry in nature or in other people”, thus he accuses the Satanist of demanding a safe space from the world, which he accuses our culture of happily obliging. I don’t recall our culture obliging a safe space from Harry Potter books or Dave Chappelle specials, but what’s amusing about it is that this is just Christianity projecting all of its weaknesses onto Satanism. It was Christians who sought to block out anything that was “Other” to the Christian worldview, and where they couldn’t do that they sought to recuperate it so as to make it compatible with the Christian “safe space”. God himself has surely set up the ultimate “safe space” in the form of Heaven, a place where only people he likes and only people who believe in him or agree with him are allowed to live forever after death. God is a narcissist whose whole purpose for humanity and all life is to praise his name, and can’t stand any being suggesting any notion of co-divinity or any kind of equality and diversity amongst the divine. God knows well the concept of the “Other” in relation to himself, and for him that that “Otherness” is compacted into the form of the Devil, sin, evil, something that from his standpoint should be destroyed. Easily God is more narcissistic than Satan, or anyone, but you can’t admit that to yourself or anyone because it offends both tradition and certain modern forms of progressive apologetics prevalent today.
Then Buntz tried to liken Satanism to the Unitarian Universalist Church, on the basis that they supposedly believe that God is whatever you want him to be:
I remember attending a Unitarian Universalist Church during a period of religious investigation. The congregation’s guiding mantra was “God is whatever you want God to be.” I reasoned to myself that if God was whatever I wanted God to be then I would, in effect, be God. This struck me as absurd. What Harrington calls Satanism is this very tendency—to deify one’s own will, whim, or power of arbitrary choice. According to this ideology, what one wills does not actually matter. You can will getting burned with wax in a dominatrix’s cavern, will ending illiteracy, will transforming yourself into a dolphin person, will recycling, will all sorts of evil, or will curing the common cold. All desires are on the same plane, and none are preferable. You just need to will it.
It is true that the Unitarian Universalist Church does not have what is called a “formal creed”, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a religion or that God is interchangeable with your own will. Technically speaking, Paganism is not just “one system of belief”, and neither really was Christianity for the first century of its existence, but being a religion is not about being defined by single fixed points of doctrine. Religion should instead be defined in terms of its relationship to whatever is conceived as numinous or sacred, and not only the ideology but also the praxis (often ritual praxis in particular) through which this is expressed or mediated. The Unitarian Universalist Church seems to believe in a single God who is entirely loving, does not punish everyone forever, and will redeem everyone after death, though it is also said that belief in God is optional. I think that Satanists would actually laugh at that belief system. I certainly don’t find myself particularly impressed, but to tell the truth they actually do seem to have a clear belief system that can be interpreted as comprising more than just “God is whatever you want him to be“. This attempt to undermine the credibility of Satanism by likening it to the Unitarians through a bowdlerised interpretation of Satanic individualism falls flat on its face.
I should also state for the record that no Satanist actually believes that you can simply will any outcome you want into existence. To assume otherwise is a clear sign of Buntz not having consulted any Satanists in regard to their beliefs about will, which he derived entirely from Mary Harrington, who herself did not bother to ask any Satanists about their beliefs. Satanists don’t believe that you can cure the common cold, end illiteracy, or turn into a dolphin solely through the force of will and desire. No one does, because everyone knows that is self-evidently absurd. Satanists do deify the individual self, but they also regularly counsel against solipsism, because they correctly assume that they are not the only individual selves or the only beings capable of will. Again, simply talking to Satanists would probably clarify things for Sam Buntz, but he won’t.
Instead, Buntz continues to not actually address any extant form of Satanism, preferring instead the “idea” of Satanism, by pointing to G. K. Chesterton’s response to Nietzsche, who Buntz characterizes as “like a man grabbing you by the lapels demanding that you will something, while the genuinely interesting question, the question of what is worth willing, goes unanswered”. There is an answer, though: what business is it yours what I consider “worth” willing? Nay, does God even ask himself that question before willing the death of fetuses via miscarriage? The question is always asked by others for the purpose of deciding the actions of others. But as long as you aren’t hurting anyone, why is it so important what you consider to be “worth” someone else to will?
I find it very curious that Buntz feels the need to point out that there is a reality outside of the self that we ought to acquaint ourselves to, when really that’s all that Satanists insist to Christians. Indeed, I might well insist that I merely seek people to shed their conditioning and acquaint themselves with the inner nature or principle of reality: from my standpoint, God is nothing of the sort. Atheistic Satanists in particular would probably be allergic to much of occultism because they assume it does not observe this principle, and generally mock Christians for the same reasons. Once again, Buntz hasn’t got a clue.
The article is titled “Infernal Bore: The Satanic Pose of False Individualism”, yet for most of the article no discussion of what the “true” individualism is. Towards the end, though, we get an elaboration. “True” individualism, for Buntz, is an affirmation of individuality that is dependent on the consideration of your relationship to the universe and its inhabitants. In a separate article about his opposition to sex work (which he refers to as “sexual exploitation” based on the assumption that people never choose to be sex workers), he refers to this concept as “organic individualism”, as opposed to “atomistic individualism” (I’m half-convinced that this dichotomy sounds like it comes from some form of fascist ideology). Exactly what “your relationship to the universe and its inhabitants” is supposed to mean for your individual will and the validity of its expression isn’t really clear, but it seems like it might be a vague way of saying that your individual will needs to be validated by God in order to be legitimate. His criticism of individual self-determination is that it somehow leads to a state of being “plunged into slavery under our darkest compulsions”. It’s a common reactionary argument, one I first became familiar with (and dismissed) when encountering a debate in which the alt-right author Greg Johnson argued that allowing pornography to be legal leads to men becoming slaves to their desires, which is an argument now made by guys like Carl “Sargon of Akkad” Benjamin who previously opposed such a position. The problem with this argument is obvious: individual will exercised in a way that harms no one is otherwise arbitrarily cast as slavery because it is “dark”, which in this context may as well mean something icky that you personally dislike. If you exercise individual free will in a way that doesn’t really hurt anyone, at least individually or interpersonally, and Sam Buntz approved of it, he would not complain, but if you exercise individual free will in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone, and Sam Buntz does not approve of it, the entire notion of such self-determination is condemned. I have to wonder how this could be applied to self-determination in a larger sense, namely the self-determination of independent nations and/or peoples.
The stated alternative to “plunging into slavery under our darkest compulsions” is to start “becoming interested in other people and in the surrounding world”, which Buntz believes would “liberate individuality to shine forth through this relation”. Exactly what “becoming interested in other people and in the surrounding world” should mean to him is not clear, and that’s important because that can mean basically any form of social interaction. I guess, though, that based on his quotation of Joseph S. Laughon that it might have something to do with going into the nature and spending time with the birds, not that I oppose such activities of course. But really, depending on what you mean, being interested in other people and the surrounding world is what humans do all the time. Frankly, people can’t shut up about other people or their surrounding world, and that’s more true than ever in the age of hyper-interconnectivity that our developed internet bequeathes us with. Buntz’s exhortation in itself seems quite meaningless in this light. The only way I can see it having meaning is that it is actually code for something else, that his idea of “organic individualism” is really a way of saying that your self-determination and self-essencing needs to be legitimated or perhaps controlled by the society around you. And in that light, I see a problem. If it is interaction with other people that should be the primary constituent of individual self-determination, then we enter into a state infinite regression as applicable to all of humanity; after all, if the individual is to be determined and fashioned principally by other humans, then who was there to condition the first human? Who conditions the conditioners, up to the start of the human species? You see, we are to assume that it is always the individual that is empty on its own, and requires an Other to make him an individual, but then through this there are surely no individuals, because the Other that makes the individual is necessarily empty as well, just that we assume that the Other possess inherent subjective content but never the individual self.
And, look, believe it or not, I actually don’t in principle oppose the idea of considering individuality in relationship to its surroundings, or at least not in the way that he makes it seem when saying “One develops an authentic inner life by means of this vibrant connection with a wider world”. I actually think I could read something similar out of Percy Bysshe Shelley, a man who I think Sam Buntz would have hated because of his anti-clerical and anti-Christian romanticism as well as his idiosyncratic neopaganism, in his letter to Thomas Love Peacock when he wrote that the ancient Greeks “lived in perpetual commerce with external nature”, which he believed explained the greatness of Greek poetry and art. Baron D’Holbach used to say “Let him study Nature, let him study himself”. But even if I granted Buntz’s premise of individualism I don’t think I can recognize it as being in alignment with my own worldview, because even there to me the point is that you self-essence on your own terms and pursue individuation by fighting social conditioning, even if that means harmony with nature (or even the nature of nature as I might say). I don’t think Buntz believes in that individuation, or in any kind of self-essencing in that it functions as self-determination. So what does Buntz’s “organic individualism” look like? Glancing quickly at his article about sex work, we still get nothing other than the assertion that sex work is somehow paradigmatic of capitalism, or “hyper-capitalism” rather, never mind of course that they don’t call it the oldest trade for nothing. To be honest, I get the sense that Buntz’s view of freedom is that it is not meant for itself, but must be legitimated by taste, namely his own taste. The freedom to offer your body by trade or by hobby is not valid in itself for him, and hence not valid at all because society does not (or, for him, should not) legitimate it. His “organic individualism” is thus the idea that individuality is fulfilled when society determines a range of expression that society deems valid, beyond which free expression of individuality may not transcend. In a word, oppression.
And through it all, what’s so bad about egoism per se? I know that certain forms of narrow egoism, the kind of bullshit that Ayn Rand gave us are part of the problem with a lot of the contemporary Left Hand Path, but what would be so bad about everyone deicidng to read Max Stirner and the egoist-anarchists and egoist-communists? Taken seriously, these actually lead to a re-discovery of egoism as something beyond the limits of the false individualism offered by Randian “libertarianism”, which is in reality nothing more than the uncontested rule of property-owning capitalists. From the standpoint of this egoism, individuality is what is called ownness, and it is a condition shared by all individuals. I am an ownness and so are you. You can even put a “collectivist” spin on it, paradoxically enough, insofar as if only I enjoy freedom and ownness while you do not, then I possess privilege upon myself and you possess oppression but then neither of us possess the true condition of egoistic freedom. Of course, I imagine part of Sam Buntz’s problem with this is not only that it rejects all authority in the most consistent way possible but also the implications of this involve seeing trans people as being exactly who they say they are on the grounds of their ownness, and we know already that Buntz thinks this is a problem. But his opinion is worthless, for he sells an individualism to us that is as well false, because your individuality is not valid in itself, and instead must allow itself to be shaped by society.
Imagine that society is no less an egoist or no less composed of egoists than you your yourself. Imagine that there is only you living amongst others who are unique just like you are. In this, there is no inherent moral right, or empirical materialist cause (in Marx’s terms), for society to assert that it is the only valid individual in the world. In Buntz’s “individualism”, you as a creation of society have no right to the exercise of egoistic freedom or will-to-egoism, only society has that right, because society is the only egoist, and it absorbs you back into itself the moment you declare independence because you in that declaration are a threat to its existence. Society declares absolute sovereignty over you, at which point we ask: who created this right, and who created society? God? Whose God? I don’t worship him and can’t be made to worship him. The law? Which law? It changes over generations, and you will write new laws. Reason? Whose reason? I think you’ll laugh at their “reason” once you study it. History? If you take historical materialism seriously, you will eventually realize that material conditions are also political decisions, and thus that a large number of the material conditions we point to result ultimately from choices made by people who have or assert power, and at that point you destroy all notion of history being some phantasmic force independent of human agency. But again, who created society? People, people who are no less “unique” than you and me, but whose interests consist in ruling over you, and who have acted in a way that might ensure they continue to do so. But if you are “unique”, you are ownness, you are an egoist, and society is built by people who are ultimately not so different except that they set themselves against you, you have only the “right” to assert yourself as an egoist, and that society is not the only egoist in the world. Sam Buntz’s “individualism” serves only to favour one egoist over the other, as the determinant of your own individuality, but if society determines you who determines society? People make society, and at that, none other than the same egoists that we are told society exists against!
So that’s about it for this response. There really wasn’t a whole lot to say about Satanism in that article, because, again, Buntz never addresses any extant forms of Satanism, only a vague idea of it presented by a TERF who knows almost nothing about it and the poetic ideas of Satan created within Christian culture. Needless to say, this article is not very useful in understanding Satanism, let alone a particularly insightful critique.
As the possibility of war in Ukraine gradually unfolded yesterday (as of the time of this writing, Russia has now invaded and declared war with Ukraine), with Russian and Ukrainian troops gathering in the eastern Ukraine after the sham “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk were declared sovereign states by Vladimir Putin, I caught a Twitter thread from a Finnish liberal (well, I suppose he much prefers the term “leftist”) named Janne M. Korhonen, who argued that Putin’s actions in Ukraine were part of a broader plan to undermine and ultimately bring down the European Union. Korhonen’s idea of “the left”, or what “the left” should be, of course boils down to support for Nordic social democracy, which is essentially just capitalism with a human face as guided by the ideals of an ideology of progressive welfarism, and to preserve this order he feels that Finland should join with NATO in the hopes of protecting Finland from the possibility of being drawn into a war with Russia. Suffice it say, as far as “leftism” goes this certainly is fairly weak.
I will say that there are a number of valid points that Korhonen raises when he’s talking about Russian actions within Ukraine and the reasons why Finland and the Baltic states would fear any hint of Russian aggression or even expansion in Europe. However, the part of Korhonen’s thread that I wish to bring into focus is his overall narrative that what’s happening represents a struggle between “democracy” (referring to the West, of course) and autocracy (referring to competing imperialist dictatorships such as Russia and China). I find this to merely be liberal version of a phenomenon found in some corners of the left that is referred to as campism. Campism is a vulgar form of anti-imperialist analysis that frames the world as divided between, as the name suggests, two geopolitical camps; one “imperialist”, the other one “anti-imperialist”. In contemporary Marxist or even some non-Marxist socialist movements (and honestly even some nationalist and fascist circles), this means seeing the “imperialist” camp as consisting of the West, particularly the USA and NATO, and the “anti-imperialist” camp as any nation that can be seen to actively oppose the US-NATO sphere of influence, such as Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and Syria. The campist approach to anti-imperialist politics typically entails uncompromising support for the latter “anti-imperialist” camp of nations, often regardless of whether said nations could even be called socialist countries or even regardless of their actual imperialist actions (such as Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Georgia, and Chechnya). But of course, the liberal has their own version of campism in practice. From the liberal standpoint, if Russia is doing imperialism, then surely NATO is the anti-imperialist party in all this, regardless of the nature of Western imperialism and the atrocities involved in its continuance, and if Russia represents autocracy and authoritarianism then the West must be the party of democratic freedom, regardless of the oppressions that plague the Western world.
It is on this note that I would highlight an important and disturbing development from the so-called “leader of the free world” that is the United States of America, or more specifically the state of Texas. On February 22nd, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that, according to the Office of the Attorney General, gender affirmation surgery constitutes “child abuse” under Texas law, and further announced that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services would be directed to investigate any reported instances of children receiving gender affirmation surgery in Texas, and investigate the parents of the children who receive them. All licensed professionals and even members of the general public are now required to report to the authorities on such surgeries, and those who refuse to report to the state will be subject to criminal penalties.
What this means is that it is illegal for trans children to undergo gender affirmation surgery in order to embody their real gender identity, since Texas law deems this to be “child abuse”, and that the parents of trans children can be arrested and investigated by the state for supporting the individuality of their children, along with any medical professionals who facilitate gender affirmation surgery. This is oppression. This is oppressing people for being trans. And it’s not like this is too big a surprise considering that the same state also implemented a law that allowed basically anyone to sue anyone for providing an abortion, thus oppressing reproductive rights through the incentives of the legal system.
Some may think “at least the US isn’t Russia!”. Maybe. Technically they’re right that the entirety of the US doesn’t work the way Russia does, and even in Texas there aren’t brutal crackdowns of LGBT protests, or at least none that I know of. But even then, such an objection misses the point. Oppression is oppression, and it does not matter what form your oppression takes. And besides, Texas is not the only US state that is oppressing trans children. In Florida, schools are permitted to carry out invasive “physical examinations” of children to make sure they aren’t trans, so as to enforce a ban on trans athletes competing in sporting events. Something similar has been proposed by Republican lawmakers in Utah, who want to ban trans students from competing in sports events and enforce that ban through a commission that would examine the bodies of children to make sure they’re eligible to compete (read: to make sure they’re not trans). And even outside the issue of LGBT rights itself, are we really going to ignore the fact that certain states are trying to ban books and make it practically illegal to protest against police brutality?
The United States of America is at this point an increasingly oppressive country. Its media can’t even acknowledge the issue of trans rights, without first pointing to how Russia banned trans people from adopting children, as though you’re supposed to be grateful that you don’t live in Russia, as if you’re not supposed to see that there is more than one oppressive country in the world. In this sense, just as pro-Russian campism obscures the real dynamics of imperialism as a global system by ignoring the way Russia engages in flat out imperialist aggression, and putting you squarely on the side of authoritarianism for as long as it means opposing the USA and NATO, so too does liberal pro-Western campism obscure or even sometimes excuse the nature of oppression as it takes place in the US and similar countries, such as the oppression of trans people that can be seen at present. Besides, the American liberal may whine that Russia is worse, but this is only because they cannot conceive the American conservative constructing a more systematic and equally brutal hierarchy of oppression than what exists in Russia. Oh, and for any British liberals who might be reading this, don’t fall asleep; Britain is much nicer to trans people than America is at the moments. You won’t see too many British conservatives gas on about the way God supposedly made you, but you will see even the Labour Party support the oppression of trans people – they’ve even tried to cover it up.
To return to Korhonen’s thread, which I used as a springboard for this much broader discussion, I will say straightforwardly that one of my disagreements with Korhonen is his belief that “violence cannot build a sustainable world”. To be frank, I think that Korhonen is simply wrong here. The entire geopolitical order of liberal-democratic that Korhonen so lauds was built and maintained through violence; whether that’s the revolutionary violence that inaugurated the age of bourgeois republics in the dawn of the Enlightenment, the war and revolutionary violence that was waged against chattel slavery in order to abolish it, the violence of the police force and system of incarceration that was created ultimately to defend the privilege of private property, the war that was waged to stop Nazism or fascism from taking over the whole world, and the conflict between the West and the so-called “communist states” that led up to the so-called “end of history”, culminating in the geopolitical order we see today. And not only is the world we live in built on some form of violence or another, so were all worlds before it, and so perhaps will whatever world succeeds this one – that may well be true for communists and anarchists, since how else is the capitalist state and the global system of imperialism to be defeated? Korhonen, thus, is wrong.
And the whole reason I raise this point is that in addition to creating new worlds, it is often necessary in order to preserve life and freedom. I have said before, not long ago, that the US left should consider being prepared for all-out war with the reactionaries that are increasingly threatening their lives. In the wake of the new Texas legislation, it is not unreasonable to see similar calls for militarization in order to resist the abject oppression being put forward. Only active resistance to oppression will lead to the triumph of liberation and the defeat of oppression. “Reform”, insofar as it still maintains the mechanisms of oppression, will still support oppression. Oppression and imperialism are global systems, and should be fought on those terms. Campism, thus, means consignment to an illusory perspective of the world, which serves only to hinder the struggle against oppression on behalf of one of the oppressors.
Janne Korhonen is thus only faintly correct in framing our situation in terms of democracy versus autocracy, if we refer specifically to Ukraine versus Russia, insofar as at least in Ukraine you could vote for Zelensky or someone else and vote out whoever’s in charge. That’s not much, but the same can’t be said for Russia. But if we’re talking about some bigger narrative of the democratic West, led by America, versus Russia, as a contestation between the principles of democratic freedom versus authoritarian autocracy, that’s just detached from reality when you look at the oppression being carried out right now. Whereas Janne Korhonen would say that the world is democracy versus autocracy, I prefer to see that the world is oppression versus oppression, and the real war worth fighting is the war against the global system of oppression.
It may seem strange to discuss both the thread, the war in Ukraine, and the mounting US oppression of trans people in the same post, but in a weird way it all kind of comes together, once we try to consider the claim that we’re dealing in the world that Korhonen would hope we do. Plus, all of this is going on at the same time, and neither can be readily ignored in favour of the other. Suffice it to say this has been an eventful timeline in more ways than we might prefer.
In closing: this should go without saying, but my solidarity goes to the oppressed trans people in the United States of America, to anyone in America who plans to fight this oppression, to the people of Ukraine escaping and fighting Russian invasion, to the Russian anti-war protesters who risk being brutally curtailed by Putin’s fascist thugs, and to the working class and anarchists in Ukraine, Russia, and Russian-controlled territories who are actively fighting imperialist war and oppresion in their lands!
This week, Pope Francis officially declared that “sins of the flesh” are not the most serious sins. He said this in the wake of the resignation of Michael Aupetit, the former Archbishop of Paris who admitted to having an “ambiguous” relationship with an anonymous woman prior to becoming a bishop. Pope Francis described his actions as a failing of the sixth commandment, which forbade adultery, but apparently a minor one, consisting of small caresses and taking a massage. This apparently is a sin, but not “the worst kin”, with the Pope suggesting that hatred and pride are much bigger sins.
It’s easy to take this as a relaxation of attitudes within the church towards sex, and on the surface that seems like it might be the case. But stepping beyond the basic nature of what Aupetit is accused of, and it certainly looks like small potatoes to me anyway, there’s something else about what Pope Francis is saying that tells me that there’s another, somewhat problematic dimension to it.
The part that does all the work is when he says it’s still a sin. It’s still essentially a transgression against God, that’s what sin is. All he’s really saying is that there’s a sliding scale of transgressions that are easier to forgive than others. A bit moot, considering that at least most sins are surely forgiveable by God, if we take the Christians seriously anyway. To say that Aupetit’s actions, then, are not a “total failing”, while probably not wrong, could be saide of basically any “failing” insofar as it is not beyond redemption.
But you know, there’s a way in which it makes sense for him to be softer on sex outside of marriage than many Christians. I say this not just because the Bible doesn’t actually contain any actual injunctions against pre-martial sex, but also because the same Pope also approved a declaration from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which stated that same-sex marriages cannot be approved on the grounds that “God does not and cannot bless sin”, and doubled down on that while insisting that this isn’t a condemnation of LGBT people. The Catholic Church also played a role in ensuring that hate crimes and discrimination against LGBT people would not be criminalised, without a peep of oppostion from Pope Francis. I guess it’s easy to be an otherwise still fairly traditional Catholic and go easy on pre-martial sex while trying to put up a nice face for the LGBT community, so long as you’re still making sure LGBT people can’t get married or be entitled to protections against hate crimes.
I notice there are some takes out suggesting that Pope Francis’ new announcement, far from just being him defending the clergy as you might suspect, is actually the dawn of the end of the tyranny of focusing on sexuality. But think about what that means. The church is not actually changing its sexual mores, it’s just talking about them less, and from where I’m standing it’s not borne from a reflection of the actually restrictive and tyrannous substance of Christian sexual morality, but instead from a mixture of embarassment and opportunism. And I think that those who look at this and talk about how Jesus said nothing about sexuality should probably remember that Jesus said that whoever looked upon woman with lustful thoughts had already committed adultery in his heart (Matthew 5:28), which is probably the exact opposite of Pope Francis’ stance on “sins of the flesh” – for Jesus, Michael Aupetit would be guilty of adultery if he merely thought about ambiguous relationships with women. And even if Jesus didn’t have much to say about sexuality, people like Paul sure did, such as in his pronouncements that homosexuality is a shameful behaviour that God thrust upon people for engaging in idolatry. Not exactly the most inclusive religion.
I know I like to beat this drum a lot every time Pope Francis comes around, but I never did trust him, and frankly, I think there’s no good reason to trust liberal Christianity just because it’s nicer in theory than conservative Christianity. If you’re a Christian, you have to contend with several aspects of scripture and tradition that are problematic and difficult, or find some interpretation, and you still have to deal with the basic premise of being in a religion where human behaviour is to be judged in relation to the designs of a supreme ruler as the divine principle. If you’re an atheist or a Pagan, on the other hand, you don’t really have this problem. Personally, I don’t think I’ll understand why there is such demand for the hegemony of the Catholic Church to be preserved, let alone through such obviously weak appeals to modern ideas about sexual morality that often actively conflict with what the Gospels actually say. It would be better that more people simply accept that Christianity, if pursued genuinely and seriously, would conflict with their way of life in a repressive fashion. Of course, this would mean the end of Christian hegemony, and while I would take such delight in seeing the demise of the power of the church, it’s perfectly logical that the church, and Christians, could never allow the release of the soul of mankind from its iron grip.
But all in all, this is probably nothing in the grand scheme of things.
I would like to follow the series of articles I wrote about the Shin Megami Tensei alignments by getting down some thoughts in detail about how I see the Chaos alignment and what direction I would prefer it to go. You might also see me take the chance to flex some of the Chaotic thinking that I so like to indulge in.
There are two themes that persist in Chaos that are rather observable, and in some ways dovetail together: the first is freedom being more important than order, and the second is personal power. The elephant in the room with that is always Social Darwinism, it is always “might makes right”. This was originally portrayed as something of a consequence of the freedom emphasized by the Chaos alignment, in the vein of the classic criticism of anarchism, either that or simply the removal of a government or state, but it has had a habit of metastasizing into an ideological current in itself as an expression of Chaos. The irony with that, of course, is that a lot of Chaos endings didn’t include any ideas of a might makes right society at all. In the Chaos ending for Shin Megami Tensei II, all that happens is you put an end to the rule of Tokyo Millennium and create a world of freedom for humans, demons, and Mutants. In the True Demon ending for Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, there’s no talk of a world for the strong at all, and while you’re destroying the universe to abolish the cycle of death and rebirth, the whole auspice of that is that it’s done to realize free will in an ultimate sense, removed from the bonds of The Great Will, not to create a might makes right world (that project is instead one of the avenues of The Great Will being realized). The Chaos path of Raidou 2 is predicated entirely on individual free will and desire, living for yourself, in opposition to duty, “harmony with the world” (society), and living centrally for others. In the New Chaos route for Strange Journey Redux, any concept of Social Darwinist selection is eschewed entirely in favour of simply a world based in free will and co-existence with the demons. Between the games, the theme of Social Darwinism is in no way consistent.
There is a tension between the two themes that creates an obvious problem for the ideology of the Chaos alignment. At its core, in pretty much every incarnation of Shin Megami Tensei, Chaos is the alignment that values freedom above almost everything else. Its opposition to Law is predicated fundamentally on the fact that a world of Law means to some degree the abolition of freedom or at least the reduction thereof as the price to pay for a world of eternal peace and order (sorry, but the New Law ending path in Strange Journey Redux is fundamentally inconsistent for this reason), to say nothing of that order being contingent upon the absolute rule of God. The major problem with throwing “might makes right” into the mix is that, through that emphasis, it is entirely possible through that emphasis on freedom to become subverted, for tyranny to be supported on the back of power being exercized over others. Nocturne’s Reason of Yosuga, which can best be described as “officially Chaos but at the same time not really”, this manifests in the valorization not of freedom, but of hierarchy, which sets itself above and against freedom. If you think about it, to embrace might makes right as an ethical imperative leads only to self-defeat, considering that your enemy is YHVH, and YHVH got where he is by essentially knocking out the other gods. As the most powerful being, he would have the right to govern as he desires, even if that meant oppressing everybody. More consistent not only for the pursuit of freedom against the will of God and for traditional connotations regarding the namesake of Chaos would be the abolition of hierarchy itself as an enemy of freedom. It would certainly be a perfect opposite to Law, which fundamentally cannot oppose hierarchy, and you could probably count on Neutrality to be the side that deems this to be “unrealistic”. It would require that even any notions of a hierarchy shaped by the strong to be thrown out of the window.
But what to do about the question of power itself? That’s something that can’t really be divorced from the discourse of Chaos without entirely disregarding series tradition itself. But I believe I can present a take on this that may prove interesting. It all starts with how we look at power. The observation that power rules everything could be framed as in some ways different from the ethical imperative that might makes right. In fact, if you understand the state as an instrument of class rule, it’s not that much of a stretch to see politics as something that comes back to the exercise of power, or more specifically who exercises it. A small selection of people have power over the vast majority of others, and the vast majority of people have little real control over their own lives due to the nature of the economic system they live under. When you don’t have any real control over your own life, you don’t have any power that can be exercised usefully in your own sphere, you end up developing all kinds of pathologies and insecurities. Lots of older people like to complain about how people today are “perpetual children” or some nonsense, and never do talk about how they have very little access to housing, and little of the financial security their parents might have enjoyed. With independence, autonomy, power over your own life, foreclosed or at least delayed by economic realities, people lose the sense that they might actually assume power over their own lives, and can you really be surprised if people act like that’s the case? Even politicians serve as spectators as much as rulers, many of them having no real power to alter the system into which they enter, and so their recourse is spectacle and narcissism.
And so the proposition arises: the idea should be that, for freedom to be universal, power should be universal. Instead of power being afforded only to the one guy who can punch out everyone in his way, at which point you already have either the rule of YHVH or a Neutral outcome, why not create a world where everyone can freely assume power over their own lives, free from the confines of existing hierarchies and structures of authority, free from the grasp of ruling gods or gods of law, and free from the ambitions of any would-be despot. At its base, this is part of the core of the way Chaos tends to emphasize the flourishing of free will, without the order of God in the context of a mythic universe, because part of having that free will is the ability to exercise power over your own life.
But we would not be doing well to sideline some of the other themes involved, such as nature or co-existence with demons. Let’s start with nature in this regard.
Strange Journey Redux introduces a split between Mem Aleph’s vision of the “return” of savage nature and the new vision of Jimenez. Mem Aleph represents the “old” Chaos, with its emphasis on the rule of the Mothers, wrathful goddesses of the Earth, who want to kill most if not all of mankind in revenge for the ravages of the planet by turning the world into a society of brutal selection of fitness, while Jimenez, should you take the New Chaos route, represents the creation of a world of limitless free will and thereby equally limitless possibilities, where humans can become anything they want, co-exist with demons, and everyone can create their own new rules in a world of freedom. The difference is pretty noticeable, and it seems that Louisa Ferre (Lucifer) prefers this New vision to Mem Aleph’s narrow-minded view of humans. But where does this leave the theme of nature, which has been important to the traditional discourse of Chaos?
Nature could either be thought of this state of homoestatic balance and purity to which we are to return, akin to the idea of the return to the Garden of Eden found in certain mystical traditions, or it could be thought of as an existential state of chaotic and primeval spontaneity. The former can be seen as a Chaotic idea from the lens of a mother goddess, but is probably more consistent with Law. The latter can be thought of in terms of Taoist ideas such as “ziran” (meaning “spontaneity”, or more literally “self-so”), which designates something spontaneous, self-arising, and therefore natural, or a state of being those things, and is sometimes related to the nature of the Tao itself. In Japan the term ziran is often translated as shizen, and while shizen is often translated in English as “nature”, from the Japanese perspective this doesn’t actually mean the way “Nature” often does in the West (basically a way of designating raw natural environments such as forests or life outside the bounds of human civilization), and instead refers simply to spontaneous flow, without coercion or contrivance.
But, to incorporate a theme of wilderness might prove to yield interesting results in any case. Remember Jimenez in Strange Journey talking about wild souls. Louisa Ferre in the Redux version refers to impulsive souls, or “araburu tamashii”. In the Kojiki, the phrase “araburu no kami”, which can mean wild, savage, or unruly gods, is a term used by the gods of Takamagahara (the high plain of heaven) to refer to the indigenous gods of the land, otherwise known as the kunitsukami. These were simply the gods of the land, not evil beings, whose land their heavenly lands sought sought conquer, and they may even include gods who were worshipped before the ascent of the Yamato dynasty. In later syncretic Buddhism, the gods of Japan were divided between the honsha-no-kami, who were provisional deities that were actually manifestations of the Buddha, and the jissha-no-kami, the “real” kami who are deemed wild, evil, demonic gods unworthy of reverence, and this category tended to include the gods of Izumo, who were kunitsukami, such as Okuninushi. Here the native gods of the land are juxtaposed against gods from heaven who seek to control that land, as part of what is ultimately a mythic narrative created for the ruling Yamato dynasty, and are later recast as demons of the wilderness. Their designation as “real gods” is fascinating in that, although clearly intended from a hardline Buddhist perspective for “real” to mean the same thing as “your true colours” in the negative sense, can from a certain point of view be used to point to a broader chaotic reality, an idea that Bernard Faure sort of points to in his discussion of Bishamonten, Daikokuten, and Enmaten in Gods of Medieval Japan: Volume 2: Protectors and Predators. We see this in some other pantheons as well. We would note that the gods referred to as Asuras in Indian myth dwelled in the underworld, where they were the guardians of substantial wealth that resided there. The Asuras had their own natural source of wealth that the Devas did not. And so, since the Asuras did not share what belonged to them to the Devas, they became the enemies of the Devas, and are remembered as demons. In a weird way, Asura Lord and Surt being paired with Astaroth and Arioch makes some sense, Asura Lord representing the rebels against the devas and Surt representing the giants lead by Loki against the armies of Odin alongside two demons who join Lucifer’s rebellion against God. Christian culture also came to see the wilderness as a gateway to the demonic powers, not unlike how the Bible viewed the deserts surrounding the Holy Land as teeming with demons.
Of course, one other way of addressing the nature theme as a distinct current may be to, and I hate to say this, borrow from Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse in terms of its “monotheism versus polytheism” conflict, or some variation thereof (it doesn’t have to be framed in such a silly way, but let’s go with it provisionally). The “monotheistic” side of Chaos would obviously be represented by the forces of Lucifer, and would probably emphasize radical free will, while the “polytheistic” side of Chaos would probably be represented by wrathful mother goddesses in the fashion of Strange Journey, with a view towards an ideology of nature similar to the one propounded by Mem Aleph and the Gaians. Under this framework, we might even finally see Gaia in the game, unless it turns out that Mem Aleph was already the “Gaia” in the Cult/Ring of Gaia. The Law-aligned application of this would be that the “monotheistic” forces are obviously YHVH and his angels representing their order while the “monotheistic” forces comprise possibly the head gods and goddesses of various pre-Christian pantheons, or perhaps the Amatsukami, thus comprising the “gods of law”. But of course it’s much more interesting and less contrived to simply have Law and Chaos as inclusive, trans-cultural absolutes that comprise of much more than just YHVH versus Lucifer, as was the case in the original Shin Megami Tensei and in Strange Journey, which thus represent an intermingling of ideological concepts that form a whole.
As long-winded as that lead was we can move on to another theme, co-existence with demons. Insofar as the games like to emphasize Chaos as “the side of demons”, in contradistinction to Law being “the side of angels” and Neutral being “the side of humanity”, there is an angle that should be emphasized within Chaos more than anything: that demons do not have to be our enemies. It’s a hard sell considering that demons can be in many ways nasty to humans and it does require not only factoring in God being a million times worse than any demon but also the willingness to take an alternative perspective on familiar mythological tropes. For me that’s no problem, usually, but at the same time it’s not at all easy for many. But, in the process of all Shin Megami Tensei games, even though it is easy to frame relationship to demons as solely in terms of them serving you, you can realistically picture that, eventually, the demon summoner and the demons can seem quite close to one another indeed, to the point that it’s not impossible to imagine the human devil summoner being as something close to a friend or a comrade by the demons he summons, or simply the summoner in turn taking certainly a less-than-hostile view of demonkind. That’s the natural outcome of getting involved with demons for long enough. It’s also a product of demons and humans existing as opposite sides of a mirror. Demons, however they may be presented as something inhuman, have always been hinted to be, in truth, all too human, being drawn from the power of desire in humans, which is something communicated rather didactically in Shin Megami Tensei IV but has probably always been present in the series to some extent or other. We can see Isogai Shougo for instance refer to “the chaos that dwells in every human” in terms of passions or desires as the basis for Jimenez’s demonic transformation. As they come from the Abyss, or Makai, or the Expanse, whatever you want to call it, the demons represent a power dwelling in the human psyche that, as much as it can be said to be “dark”, accompanies Man forever as its eternal, timeless Other, always connected and yet separated by fear. That’s why the demons can’t live without humanity, and even if many demons don’t know that, Lucifer certainly does, and Jimenez certainly figures it out in Strange Journey’s New Chaos route while Mem Aleph was counting on him not thinking that through to its conclusion.
Free will, per Chaos parlance, may partly mean exactly the freedom to explore this Other, the power associated with it, and its potential for humans. As strange as the idea of co-existing with demons is, there exist myths and lore which do contain this idea. In fact, certain folkloric traditions in India and China, adjacent to Hinduism or Vajrayana Buddhism, apparently contain a belief that it is possible for humans in search of siddhi (spiritual powers) to access the underworld realm of Patala, home to the Asuras and the Nagas, through what are called “Asura’s Caves“, and stay with the Asuras (and Nagas) to live among them, acquire knowledge, access treasures, or even have sexual intercourse with female Asuras. Vedic Indian myth and folklore depicts the women of the Asuras as exceptionally beautiful and the bearers of magical drugs, which can apparently be procured by going to the mansions of the Asuras. In medieval European folklore, particularly within Germany, there is the legend of Venusberg, in which Tannhauser goes to the mountain in order to frolic with “the fairy queen” or worship a pagan goddess and he ends up living with them, sort of following a similar theme to the “Asura Caves”. If medieval beliefs regarding succubi and incubi are to be believed, the idea of demons living around humans and interacting with them was simply par for the course in the Middle Ages, just that the Christian culture of the day considered this a bad thing. In medieval Sweden, background folklore concerning spirits such as nymphs assisting hunters, fishermen and others may have transformed into the idea that those same spirits were agents or even manifestations of the Devil, and apparently there were some individuals who confessed to making deals with and even having sex with those spirits (though, confessions like this should usually be taken with a grain of salt). More saliently, in Japanese folklore, while there are many dangerous and hostile yokai, there were also many yokai who were considered rather friendly or at least simply amusing, some of whom are actually encouraged to live alongside humans, and the idea of yokai and humans co-existing seems to have been established enough in Japanese folklore and culture that there’s countless manga and anime that run with that premise.
In the games, it’s hinted that this is tied to peace with or liberation of desire, or even the invocation of it as a source of power. That’s not for nothing, in that in many religious cultures the “demonic” element is interpreted as a representation of desire that is usually seen as an obstacle to the realization of whatever spirirtual teaching or divinity the religion in question has in mind. Aleister Crowley recognized the spirits of the Goetia as “portions of thr human brain”, with the demons of the Lesser Key of Solomon representing the “lower” aspects of the psyche. But, it could also point to the theme of broader reality that we went over earlier. As Bernard Faure points out, again in Protectors and Predators, there was once a time when Mara was seen as an ambiguous source of reality, in the fashion of hongaku (“original enlightenment”) interpretation, at least according to Yusuke Takahashi (as in not the tennis player). Hongaku interpretation stressed a duality and unity between ignorance and enlightenment, the latter deriving its source from the former, which is reflected not only in some hongaku interpretations of Mara, but also Kojin, Mahakala, Matarajin, and Susano-o, positioning the wild realm of chaos, darkness, demons, and even desire and ignorance as an ambiguous source of enlightenment. That is a position that can seem very congruous with the conceits presented within Chaos, because it is the forces of Chaos, and uniquely them, who might take this view, since it is they who consider the demons to be potential the brothers and teachers of humans.
But there is one theme that hasn’t really been addressed at all here, one that Shin Megami Tensei IV introduced for Challenge Quests but never explored further: the dispensation of the universe. The Law-aligned Ancient of Days, representing God, seeks to carry it out, while the Chaos-aligned Sanat seems to oppose it. The game does not explore the theme further, but perhaps it is something worth exploring in a sort of return to the theme of free will and a core tenet of Chaos. Sanat, at least from his perspective, is trying to save humanity from the dispensation of the universe by getting mankind ready for war against the Ancient of Days, and presumably God. But what does “the dispensation of the universe” mean? The game never really explains that, but perhaps we can piece something together. Judging from Ancient of Days’ dialogue, he makes it seems like this is supposed to be some sort of destructive act of purification, at least in that he seems intent on destroying what’s left of humanity, but perhaps there’s more to it than that. Apparently the Japanese line for it is “uchuu no setsuri”, which means “providence of the universe”. Dispensation is a word that seems to mean, at least in certain contexts, the order of things that prevails at a given time, but in Christian theology it can mean certain ages of history or God’s plan, the distribution of good and evil, or it can mean something like divine providence. Providence can mean the governance, guidance, or the will of God. In context, the destructive act of purification presented by Ancient of Days can be thought of on similar terms. Remember that, in Nocturne, The Great Will’s whole deal is that it imposes a ruthless of death and rebirth for the purpose of destroying and creating new universes again and again until it can create a universe of perfection, free from sin but also devoid of free will. Even Apocalypse’s version, The Axiom, still seems to carry that over. A brutal regime of fate may thus be the true nature of the dispensation of the universe, which conflicts with the flourishing of free will. This, I think, should be explored more, and in a different way to Nocturne where completing the Amala Labyrinth meant annihilating the universe.
To finally summarize everything, we have a world to work with instead of the classical might makes right vision that, if we’re very honest, only serves to justify the order of things rather than smash it. Again, if the strongest has the right to rule, then logically YHVH would be the rightful ruler pf the universe because he is almost the most powerful being in the universe and got where he is by smacking down the other gods (as is explained straightforwardly in Strange Journey). Indeed, does YHVH not invoke his power to justify his authority and rule and therefore your obedience to him? But then I suppose that pint could also be turned into something salient from the Chaos perspective: namely that anything else YHVH justifies his rule is ultimately arbitrary or illusory and that it is power that is ultimately the real basis of his justification. In any case, the summary for what I’d like to see can be presented in bullet points for a collection of ideological flanks that form a broad ethos:
Freedom and the flourishing of free will as the primary emphasis, rather than strength as a way of organizing hierarchy, and because of this opposition to the Great Will/Axiom – or, to put it another way, freedom from God’s control
To that effect, hierarchy, at least worldly or human hierarchy, as something distinctly opposed to Chaos and therefore to be opposed by Chaos – such is consistent with the way Lilith talked about destroying existing structures of authority in Shin Megami Tensei IV
To the extent that power is still important for Chaos, the idea should be that everyone is able to attain power over their own lives, rather than be subject to a hierarchy of interchangeable absolute rulers who win and reign by brute force at the expense of freedom
Co-existence with demons as a key flank that separates Chaos from the other alignments, given greater emphasis as an expression of harmony between the two poles of human life
The gods and demons of Chaos as the representatives of a kind of wild nature defined not simply by the lands of the Earth but by a nature found within humans, something raw that is obscured by the order of God and civilization
The war between Law and Chaos as war over the dispensation of the universe, as the mechincal providence of The Great Will/Axiom, with Chaos on the opposing side whose mission it is to give mankind the power to oppose The Great Will/Axiom
If you are looking for something “extreme” from this, to fit the ambiguousness and difficulty of the choice between Law, Chaos, and Neutrality, I’d say you could still make the point that what the zen of Chaos amounts to could be described as Anarchy (no, not the shitty Apocalyse ending), not only in the sense of doing away with worldy hierarchies and authority but also in the sense of existential anarchy, doing away with the supreme authority over the universe itself, to leave only the flourishing of freedom among humans and demons. To realize Law is to realize the Thousand Year Kingdom or the dispensation of the universe, to realize Chaos can be to realize Anarchy, and to realize Neutrality is basically to just do neither of those in favour of, well, anything really.
With Shin Megami Tensei V on the horizon it is still too early to say what Chaos wilI mean here, but beyond that there are reasons to be excited. Arioch, one of the four demon generals of Chaos from the original Shin Megami Tensei, is making his grand return to the main series, and with Surt also featured in one of the trailers, it’s easy to be left wondering if Astaroth and Asura-Oh will make it as well. That’s a big deal because it means that, at last, the Four Archangels of Law might be paired against four Chaos counterparts once again for the first time since the original game. With Mara, Beelzebub, and classic Lucifer in the mix too, it’s safe enough to assume that the old gang of devils is getting together again, and we can safely assume the presence of Lilith as well. Without knowing exactly what Chaos entails in this game this says little, but it should be a welcome development in the time that remains.
And now, in the words of the Chaos Phantom in Shin Megami Tensei, let us walk the path of Chaos, from which everything is born.
Every once in a while I think back to that wonderful meme that set the course of my life irrevocably into motion towards the self-identity and sense spiritual path whose quest for realization has defined me since: Chaos. That is to say, the Chaos alignment as it appears in the Shin Megami Tensei game series. However problematic it would be to actually believe in something like the generic Chaos ideology in real life, given that both Chaos and Law can be seen as intentionally extreme ideologies within the narratives of Shin Megami Tensei, I find that something about it always persists for me for some reason, despite its often problematic tendencies. So many ideas go into Chaos, along with the counter-alignments of Law and Neutrality, that I lately I have been thinking of doing a post outlining what I see as the main contours of Chaos in its manifestation throughout the series, and seeing as we have the remaster of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne coming next week, as well as Shin Megami Tensei V potentially coming this year or possibly next, this seems like decent timing for such an effort. These are games that center around competing visions of how the world should be organized, and so to discuss in terms of ideology is rather appropriate.
A few things to note before we proceed. This will mostly cover the main games , and will generally avoid spin-off games. An exception, however, will be Devil Summoner 2: Radiou Kuzunoha vs King Abaddon, which features definite and concrete Law, Chaos, and Neutral pathways with their own ideological undertones and themes. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne represents a distinct problem in that it doesn’t really feature the same Law-Chaos dynamic as the rest of the series does, but it cannot be excluded either, since it is one of the main titles of the series and it does in its own way contain aspects of the Law-Chaos dynamic in complicated expressions. Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, although it is part of the main series, will be excluded on the grounds that, although it does feature Law and Chaos, the game itself ultimately downplays the dynamic in favour of a narrative where both Law and Chaos are sublimated in favour of a grand battle against the Divine Powers, an assortment of gods from polytheistic belief systems who for some reason want to destroy the universe in order to “free” the souls of all humans. Shin Megami Tensei if…, although ultimately part of the main series, will be excluded on the grounds that it does not have alignment-based paths and endings. I will also not be covering Shin Megami Tensei NINE and Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE, both out of mercy and also because I can barely find anything coherent about their alignment paths. The Devil Survivor games will be excluded because techincally their multiple endings aren’t really alignment-based and instead are strictly character-based, and even the supposedly Law and Chaos paths may not necessarily fit traditional depictions of Law and Chaos.
And, of course, after this post, I’ll do follow-up posts in which I do the same discussion for the Law and Neutral alignments throughout the series, since they too have their own unique ideological contours and themes as expressed throughout the series.
Needless to say, this entire post will contain spoilers for all of the games featured here.
Shin Megami Tensei (1992)
The first Shin Megami Tensei game is also the first game in the series to establish the series’ main conceits concerning the Law and Chaos dynamic as inclusive absolutes. While there are cases where standard good vs evil choices can be mapped as Law and Chaos in the game, generally speaking Chaos seems to mean an ideology that is based on the prioritizing of personal freedom over order, which is here represented by the idea of aligning with the forces of Lucifer and/or the gods of Chaos against the angels of YHVH and/or the gods of Law, and creating a world where everyone is free to do whatever they want, so long as they have the strength to survive on their own.
Of course, there is much more to Chaos than just this, but for now we can consider that this is intended to be the game’s way of expressing what it believes to be an anarchist outlook. Both Law and Chaos can be seen as representations of extreme ideologies, and anarchism is generally perceived as “extreme” in the sense that it wants to do away with the state entirely. The Social Darwinist component typically attached to Chaos in the Shin Megami Tensei games can be interpreted as an interpretation of the popularly-perceived consequences of an anarchistic society, of the abolition of the state, which is perceived to be the abolition of all forms of order. It is thus possible to interpret it as a bowdlerization of anarchist ideology, since in practice most of the anarchist movement throughout history has broadly rejected Social Darwinism due to its alignment with socialist politics. Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t anarchists who do in fact believe in some form of Social Darwinism. This of course would include anarcho-capitalists, whose propertarian beliefs dovetail with the broader right-wing libertarian movement, as well as some egoists and the even more marginal “anarcho-fascists”. Then again, however, there certainly were left-wing anarchists who did believe in some form of Social Darwinist ideas, such as Arthur Desmond (who may have been the real identity of “Ragnar Redbeard”) and Stansilaw Przybyszewski. Indeed, while the natural temptation is to refer to fascism as regards Social Darwinism, even fascism is not always consistent on that trope, given that the Strasser brothers (who, despite any assertion to the contrary, were fascists) seemed to reject the Social Darwinism that Hitler might have espoused, and in the Chaos context it ultimately makes little sense to invoke statism of any sort.
Early on in the game, we meet a character named Gotou, who seems to resemble Yukio Mishima for some reason, and his appearance is part of an early point in the game where you are confronted with a choice between Law and Chaos. On the Chaos side, Gotou is a general of the Japanese Self-Defence Force who, after coming into contact with demons, declares martial law in Tokyo and tries to summon lots of demons into the city, because he believes that this will help protect Tokyo from God’s plan, which apparently involves having America send nuclear missiles to annihilate Japan. Here a man who would in normal times be seen a crazy nationalist extremist can situationally be placed as the lesser evil, depending on your perspective of course. The American forces are represented by Ambassador Thorman on the Law side. You can, of course, choose to oppose both Gotou and Thorman, thus taking the Neutral path early on, and no matter what you do Gotou does eventually die either by your hand or in the coming nuclear assault, but this does go to show the early point in the game in which you are faced with a hard choice on your alignment.
In any case, what is notable for the purpose of this post is the much broader ideological conceit Gotou expresses. On a TV screen in Shinjuku, Gotou announces to passersby that civilization has rotted to its core because of its foundation in the exploitation of the planet, which he refers to as Gaia, and meanwhile humans eat away at each other with hatred, mistreatment, and prejudice. This situation compels Gotou to invoke “the ancient gods known as “demons”” to save Japan and the world from a conspiracy to destroy Japan and usher in a new totalitarian regime, and then, once the Americans and God are defeated, usher in a new age where humans and demons co-exist with each other in harmony. This is another idea of Chaos that persists in later games in different forms. Chaos here, in addition to representing freedom over order, represents harmony with nature, represented by the gods of Chaos and Gaia. Here, then, the major conceits of Chaos, such as freedom and strength, also construct a broader idea where this is situated in terms of a paradigm of “returning to nature”, in the sense that man “recaptures” what the Gaians might believe to be a more authentically natural way of life that is lost or forgotten as a result of thousands of years of civilization and then modernity. The basic return to nature idea does have analogues in real world philosophy. One of its main exponents is Taoism, which advocates for humans to realign themselves with the natural state of the Tao, which is ironic given that Chaos doesn’t really use any Taoist imagery (preferring esoteric Buddhist imagery instead) and instead it is the Neutral path here that uses the most Taoist imagery. Certain forms of Shinto and Buddhism, such as Ise Shinto and Zen Buddhism, also follow this formula, though it can be argued that harmony with nature may indeed be baked into the Shinto religion more broadly. In ancient Greece, the Cynics shunned social conventions in order to live a life in accordance with nature as understood by reason. Satanism can be interpreted in a similar light, with its egoist-hedonist philosophy from their perspective representing the more natural way of life that is suppressed by all the major religions, while anti-cosmic Satanists express this trope through an entirely different “Gnostic” philosophy based around the return of all creation to its “pre-cosmic” and acosmic origins. And of course, there are many neopagans who embrace broad ideas about living in harmony with nature and the gods.
Speaking of Gaia, the main representatives of Chaos in this game, and other games in the series, is the Cult of Gaia, of which Gotou seems to be a member. The Gaians seem to be devotees of Lucifer, who they believe sacrificed his place in heaven to disobey God on behalf of human freedom. In that sense, they can be thought of as Luciferians. But they are not just a sect of demon-worshipping Luciferians, for they believe also in the ancient gods and the veneration of nature, represented by Gaia. By ancient gods, of course, this seems to mean the gods that are aligned with Chaos. Gods like Vishnu and Thor are not among them, since they are aligned with Law. Gods like Yama, however, are. Although Lucifer represents the forces of Chaos, their actual commander during the final showdown in the Great Cathedral is an unspecificed king of the Asuras, referred to simply as Asura Lord (or Asura-Oh). He is joined by Surt, the giant who ruled Muspelheim in Norse mythology, and the demons Arioch and Astaroth, the latter of whom talks about originally being the goddess Ishtar. So there is a sense in which some of the “ancient gods” represent the adversaries of the head gods of the existing pantheons, such as Ravana and his son Indrajit, or simply the chthonic gods in the case of Yama. Insofar as this represents a kind of paganism, it is a paganism that is explicitly aligned with gods of the earth, as well as various Eastern warrior deities.
Gaians incorporate Buddhism into their overall aesthetic, largely to serve as a contrast to the obviously Western Judeo-Christian Order of Messiah, though this Buddhism, if it is not purely aesthetic, reflects a broad subversion. Examples of Gaians you can encounter as enemies (or allies) in the game include Hakai-zo (sinful Buddhist monks), Oni Jorou (meaning “demon prostitute”, apparently they are kunoichi or female ninjas), and Yami Hoshi (“dark priests”, heretical masters of Shingon Buddhist mantras). There is even a rare Chaos-aligned Fiend in the game called Daisoujou, who is based on a Buddhist mummification pratice known as Sokushinbutsu, and gives you the strongest Chaos-aligned weapon in the game, the Reaper’s Bell. In the Sega CD version, even Amaterasu, the Shinto sun goddess, appears as a Gaian for some reason. Gaians also serve as Chaos-aligned healers, using their service brings you closer to the Chaos alignment and if you are Law-aligned they will reject you entirely, and they sell all manner of Buddhist items, such as Amida Beads (which protect you from having your energy drained) and Nyorai Statues (or Buddha Icons; these resurrect Chaos-aligned characters), as well as things like Pentagrams and Asura’s Palms. As the above screenshot shows they tend to embrace a cyclical view of nature that is largely consistent with certain forms of paganism. One possible angle to consider in light of Gotou’s views is that the emphasis on the East, at least aesthetically, plays into an assertion of native identity against the Messians, under whose God America can be seen waging imperial conquest against Japan through nuclear warfare. Small wonder how a lot of the gods of Chaos you can summon in the game tend to include numerous Shinto deities in the Kishin clan as well as Hindu-Buddhist deities in the Tenma clan (please bring that back Atlus). Indeed, the Japanese aesthetic makes quite a bit of sense for the Gaians when put in the context of the broad reputation of traditional Japanese culture to be built upon harmony with nature. Thus, in a sense, we see Chaos in this game as a marriage of Japanese ideas about harmony with the kind of libertarian individualism found in the West, and at that mostly in America. In general, though, we see the Chaos faction animated by broad ideas about restoring a more natural outlook as expressed by the theme of restoring the old gods, who were demonized by YHVH. The Asura Lord expresses this by stating that he was once a god named Ahura Mazda before he was cursed by God.
This brings us to the actual goals of the Gaians, which are usually presented within the game as mostly opposition to the Messians: namely they want to stop the Messians from bringing about the Thousand Year Kingdom. Before Tokyo is nuked, Gotou, who we should remember is an avid Gaian, mostly talks about stopping Japan from getting destroyed by the American missiles and, to this end, summons demons or “ancient gods” to erect a barrier to protect Japan. After the nuclear holocaust, things obviously change. While the Messians plan to build a Great Cathedral (or Basilica) to summon God himself to Japan, the Gaians and the forces of Chaos obviously want to stop the construction of the Cathedral, a cause that they at multiple times try to convince the player to join, and towards the final stretch of the game they decide to simply invade the Cathedral to perturb the forces of Law. The invasion succeeds in capturing the lower levels of the Cathedral, which are thus encamped by the Gaians, and this leads to the forces of Chaos changing plans. They originally intended to destroy the Cathedral to prevent God from being summoned, but now the plan is to simply take it over and convert it into a new temple for the Gaians, which the Asura Lord describes as a symbol of friendship between humankind and demonkind. That idea, in this sense, does of course link back to the ideological goal established by Gotou earlier: to bring about a state of harmony between humans and demons, and in turn harmony with the earth. Of course, disrupting God’s rule on Earth and defeating his angels also has the implicit goal of liberating humans, freeing them from divine tyranny to pursue the natural liberty cherished by Chaos.
As far as the relationship between humans and demons is concerned, Chaos can be seen as the side that seeks to embrace co-existence with demons, and one of the manifestations of this is a phenomenon that remains associated with Chaos-aligned characters in future games: the fusion of humans with demons to create a half-demon man. This is what happens to the game’s main representative of Chaos, who without a set name is referred to as Chaos Hero. Frequently bullied by gangsters for believing in demons in the events before the game’s story begins, he often sought to become strong enough to get revenge on his enemies, particularly a gangster named Ozawa. By fusing with a demon, the Chaos Hero becomes more than human, stronger and more powerful than he was before, and he becomes able to overpower Ozawa and his newfound demonic allies once and for all. In a certain sense this represents the ultimate expression of harmony between humans and the demons, combining their powers to unlock greater potential and strength, though it can also be interpreted as part of an idea shared by both Chaos and Law; the idea that humans are not strong enough on their own, and so must depend either on God or his adversary. Yet, there is another undercurrent we may consider here. Demons, in Shin Megami Tensei’s world, are dangerous creatures from a realm that humans do not understand, but the demons and their realm are at the same time part of humanity all the same, and they can be variously be either friends or foes. That’s the core of Shin Megami Tensei. The Chaos side, by emphasizing harmony with demons, can be seen to emphasize the embrace of a side of humanity that humans often prefer to keep hidden or suppress, in part because of its potentially dangerous quality, on the grounds that demons, and the force they represent, can be a source of power, if that is what humans want.
Mind you, this is also conditioned by a fairly general “survival of the fittest” belief that the Chaos Hero embraces. He wants to be strong not just to defeat Ozawa and remove his oppressive police state from Shinjuku (not mention get his revenge for all the bullying) but also to survive on his own in the post-apocalyptic Tokyo. He naturally sees the Messians as blind to the true nature of the world, because power rules the world and God will not save the weak but rather oppress them, and opposes the forces of Law for their tyrannous ambitions. He also opposes Neutrality on the grounds that the balance of Law and Chaos exists only to be tipped, suggesting arguably a view predicated on constant and dynamic change in opposition to balance as a static notion. There is, though, a possible irony of his talk of power, in the fact that Ozawa justifies his police state through the logic of him being able to do what he wants if he has the power. To be fair, however, it is doubtless that the way Ozawa uses his power disgusts him, being a society where if you obey him he will protect you and if you don’t you will be imprisoned, tortured, and killed by secret police – such a society is not too far away from what the Thousand Year Kingdom might entail in practice (to which the Law Hero would object on the grounds that Ozawa’s power was “power without God”). It could also be said that, if he despises the use of power to oppress people, his preferred use of power is to cultivate self-sufficiency, and for him fusing with a demon is a sure way to go. The problem, however, is that he doesn’t stop there. On the Chaos path you create what is called a Devil Ring in order to progress, and the Chaos Hero briefly swipes it in order to take its power, which becomes too much for him and causes him to explode to death. Thus, he paid the price for his excess.
And of course, there is much to be said for the Chaos alignment being represented by Lucifer. Lucifer can be seen as Shin Megami Tensei’s way of representing the Christian concept of the Devil, due to his role as the lord of all the demons, and the champion of those who rebel against YHVH. This Devil called Lucifer is not established to be Satan, and indeed later games draw a distinction between Lucifer and Satan with the appearance of the latter as a separate character. Here, Lucifer is the rebel against God as opposed to his executioner, and he is also the character introduced in the War in Heaven myth, that of the former angel, or perhaps former god from a certain perspective, who refused God’s authority and command and was thus banished to the earth or Hell. This Lucifer was formerly the spirit of the morning star (the planet we now call Venus was originally just called Lucifer or Morning Star until the 13th century), but was adapted into a Devil by the same religion whose Bible called Jesus Christ the morning star. This Lucifer also cements the point I made earlier about anarchism, because Lucifer as an icon of freedom over the state has been a literary trope of anarchism and libertarianism since at least the 19th century. This can be seen to support the idea of Chaos as a sort of bowdlerized form of anarchism, at least in the sense that, for some anarchists, most notable Mikhail Bakunin and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Lucifer could be seen as an icon of free will against arbitary authority, an idea that has since been grafted on to Satanism at large through the efforts of The Satanic Temple and similar groups. But of course, Lucifer here is far more ambiguous than just this icon. He is a perhaps a trickster figure, a master manipulator just as much as the benefactor of Man, arguably beguiling humans into his designs, and yet even in this sense only ever inviting their own free will. Such is the Devil in the parlance of baseline Christian culture, against which Chaos, as the expression of not only this Devil but the gods of old, the way of natural freedom, is juxtaposed.
But there is one detail from the Chaos ending that is somewhat significant. Lucifer describes himself as a part of YHVH that he has discarded. What’s that all about? The Apocalypse version of Shin Megami Tensei IV would have you thinking it’s because he too is a pawn of YHVH, but this is obviously not the case here. The game never does explain what is meant by it, but, if you think about it, it lines up very nicely with what Carl Jung often wrote about how Lucifer was best conceived as a fourth part of a Trinity that is thus rendered a Quarternity, in which Lucifer not only represents the dark sides of the psyche but also the principle of individuation, who, knowing God’s creation best, induced freedom and individuality by rebelling against God. Applied to Shin Megami Tensei, Lucifer will have some exactly the same, but YHVH rebukes him for it, for ruining his perfect order, and as a result we are the beginnings of a long war to depose YHVH, liberate the seeds of freedom that Lucifer had sown into YHVH’s order, and end his tyrannical rule.
Shin Megami Tensei II (1992)
The second game invites certain changes to the Law and Chaos dynamic. From here on out, the games generally focus less on Law and Chaos as broad trans-cultural absolutes and instead focus specifically on the antagonism between YHVH and Lucifer as the primary representation of the struggle of Law and Chaos. At the same time, the world of Shin Megami Tensei II is dominated by the Law alignment. After a great cataclysm, what is left of Tokyo is taken over by the Order of Messiah, after a presupposed Neutral path. Man is left to order the world by himself after the forces of Law and Chaos are defeated, but the species fails to live up to this task, so the Messians create a new city, Tokyo Millennium, guided by their teachings, where they wait for the arrival of the Messiah.
Next to this, coupled with YHVH appearing in the game as a brutal, tyrannical, and vengeful deity, it certainly seems quite attractive and even downright reasonable to consider Lucifer as the good guy in all of this. In fact, many fans of the series are in agreement that this game’s interpretation of Lucifer, and perhaps Chaos more broadly, is the most positive in the entire series. The themes of Social Darwinism present in the previous game are remarakably de-emphasized compared to both the last game and future games in the series. Lucifer, the main representative of the Chaos alignment, doesn’t talk at all about making a world of the strong like he did in the last game, and seems to be only interested in ensuring the survival of both humans and demons, both on earth and the underworld, and his rebellion against YHVH is characterized by this desire.
The world of Shin Megami Tensei II does not consist solely of Tokyo Millennium, and this game allows the player to visit a region known as Makai, the home of the demons, otherwise known as The Abyss. Makai is ruled by Lucifer, under whose watch the demons, and some humans fleeing persecution from the surface, live in peace for the most part. This in its own way reinforces the idea from the previous game of harmony and co-existence between demons and humans being part of the Chaos package. Humans can even form relationships with demons in Makai, such as is the case for a man named Petersen who lives with his partner who is a Siren, or Daleth whose girlfriend is the fairy Hannoun and lives with her in Shinjuku. Even Aleister Crowley (as just a sorcerer named “Crowley”) appears somewhere in Makai where he tries to summon demons in a Sabbath for the purpose of sexual recreation. In a sense, co-existence with demons is rather the norm in Makai. Other denizens of Makai include the Mutants, people who became mutated by the nuclear radiation that spread during the Great Cataclysm, and were consequently cast out of Tokyo Millenium by the Messians and sealed beneath its surface. These Mutants don’t desire social acceptance or reparations from The Centre, rather they want nothing more than to be able to see the sun on the surface once more and the rebirth of the old city of Tokyo.
The Gaians return in this game, but they play a marginal role in the game’s story, if anything, and face oppression from the dominant Messians. The soul of one Gaian is found in the realm of Makai and mentions being killed by Messians for worshipping the wrong god, though they long for the return of the old gods in Japan. As in the last game, you can visit Gaian churches in order to use their healing services (as long as you aren’t Law-aligned), purchase items from them, and give donations. Once again, the Gaians you find in the game consist of Japanese occultniks and ninjas, such as the Kugutsuchi (“puppeteers”), Jiraiya (a shape-shifting ninja from Japanese folklore), Onymoji (practitioners of Onymodo), and Kamen-Hijiri (masked Buddhist pilgrims). The Gaians in Makai live under the sanctuary of Virochana, who also identifies himself as Dainichi Nyorai. This Virochana may or may not be this game’s expy of the Asura Lord from the last game, though instead of leading an army against the Messians he’s offering salvation to anyone willing to accept it.
The theme of the return of the ancient gods is also noticeably de-emphasized, but that is not to say it does not exist. Before you make it to Kether Castle in Makai, you fight Astaroth, who suspects that you are working with Lucifer’s enemies and disguises himself as Louis Cypher in order to try and kill you. When you defeat Astaroth, he laments that he was once the goddess Ishtar and asks you to return him to this previous form. This is a desire that was also expressed in the previous game. After defeating Astaroth, you can take on a side-quest that sees you bringing Astaroth to a throne room in Binah where he splits into two deities, Ishtar and Ashtar, whom YHVH ordered to fuse together to create Astaroth long ago. The old gods of Japan are also sealed in Makai. In another side-quest we find that the Amatsukami gods, led by Amaterasu, were sealed in various shrines by the Kunitsukami, who made a deal with YHVH in order to get rid of them. However, once this was done, YHVH sealed the Kunitsukami away as well, being unwilling to share power with them, and so they reside in various shrines dotted around Makai. Some of the “ancient gods” also serve as guardians of the various regions of the Abyss, such as Tiamat, Hecate, and Atavaka.
Ultimately, the ending path you take depends on a set of choices made towards the end of the game. However, there is one decision in particular that can be made in the game that emphasizes values associated with the path of Chaos. For example, at a certain point in the game, you find a place called Arcadia, a utopian district of Tokyo Millenium where there are no demons run by a man called Gimmel (a.k.a. “Lord Apollo”). Later on, you encounter a mysterious building home to people who are bound to chairs and quite literally hooked up to computers and who talk about how wonderful being in Arcadia is. This is the real Arcadia: a virtual reality program where people live out the fantasy of paradise while actually being held against their will and probably slowly atrophying in the process. When you find and defeat Gimmel, the man responsible for all this, a terrible decision awaits. You can either take over as the messiah of Arcadia, which is the Law choice, or destroy Arcadia, which is the Chaos choice. The latter represents freedom from the coercive illusion of paradise, but unfortunately destroying Arcadia would also mean killing its residents who are hooked up to the computers. Of course, there is also the option to just leave the building without doing anything about Arcadia, which is the admittely much safer Neutral choice. But, in an extreme world, Chaos can represent the ethos that order, insofar as it represents oppression, is to be straightforwardly broken up, even if that comes down to violence.
If you choose to side with Lucifer towards the end of the game, you are locked into the Chaos alignment for the rest of the game. Once this happens, after meeting with Lucifer and his demon allies at Kether Castle, they join with you and make your way to Eden in order to destroy the Megiddo Ark and prevent YHVH from using it to destroy Tokyo. After defeating YHVH the two main protagonists, Aleph and Hiroko, return to Makai, where Aleph is hailed as the saviour of the Mutants. Light from the surface shines down into the underworld, and Lucifer proclaims that the oppression of humans and the separation of the bonds between humans and demons have ended with the death of YHVH and the Mutants living below the surface have been liberated. Notably Lucifer says that, within the chaos, the peace has been lost, but that humans and demons have gained true freedom. That is the ethos of Chaos presented in this game: that the pursuit of true freedom, even if it comes with the loss of peace and order, is the most important of values. Rather than emphasizing might makes right, this Chaos expresses the idea that anarchy (in the colloquial sense at least, moreso than the specific ideology of anarchism) is more valuable than an unjust peace. But peace of any sort is not totally precluded, at least in the sense that the freedom of this new world is also, by invitation, the freedom to re-establish peace on your own terms. The Mutants thank the protagonists for saving them from total destruction, Daleth and his fairy companion thank them for saving the fairies from extinction, and the two protagonists go on to create the new world under the auspice of Chaos.
It is also worth noting that, in light of the way Mutants, as people who are aggressively marginalized by the Centre and the Messians, are an object of concern in the Chaos ending, and the noticeable lack of Social Darwinist rhetoric, this version of Chaos almost seems downright egalitarian. This is somewhat ironic when we consider that many expressions of Law and Chaos in future games do not paint this picture at all. But this egalitarianism in combination with the intractable concern for freedom actually points a much less bowdlerized version of anarchism than the last game. It also points to an irony in having Gotou in the last game resemble Yukio Mishima. The real Yukio Mishima was certainly no anarchist, in fact he was some kind of fascistic reactionary who sought the restoration of the pre-modern power of the Japanese emperor. A polar opposite to Yukio Mishima as an author would be Kenzaburo Oe, a Japanese leftist who rejects the ancient imperialism of the Yamato dynasty and the restoration thereof in favour of an egalitarian society rooted in communal relationships with the natural world. Oe uses the Kunitsukami to represent this life, who happen to be Chaos-aligned in the SMT series, whereas Mishima’s political mythos is connected with the founding myth of the imperial ancestral dynasty created with the influence of the Amatsukami, who happen to be Law-aligned in the SMT series.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (2003/2005)
The third game in the series is somewhat unique in that the dynamic of Law and Chaos is radically subverted, if not done away with entirely. With the end of the world set into motion by an event called The Conception, a tiny handful of humans survive by being in the right place at the right time (Shinjuku Medical Centre, of course). The world as we know it becomes what is called the Vortex World, a desolate and chaotic intermission between the death of the old world and the birth of the new, presided over by a being named Kagutsuchi, and three people in particular emerge with ideologies, or Reasons (or Kotowari). A girl named Chiaki espouses a Reason identified as Yosuga, a man named Hikawa espouses a Reason identified as Shijima, and a man named Isamu espouses a Reason identified as Musubi. Because the protagonist becomes half-demon, hence he is referred to as the Demi-Fiend, he is forbidden from espousing a Reason of his own, and only has the power to support one of the three Reasons, or indeed reject all of them. The original game had five ending paths: one for Yosuga, one for Shijima, one for Musubi, one where the world is restored to its pre-Conception state, and one where nothing changes and the Vortex World remains for a thousand years.
So, who represents the Chaos side in all this? The answer is rather more complicated than in more traditional games.
In theory, Yosuga best approximates the Chaos alignment due to the doctrine of might makes right, a negative aspect of the traditional Chaos alignment, being central to its ideology. Chiaki talks about how the strong and the beautiful are the rightful makers of the world, and the useless and the mediocre are cast aside. However, while brutish demons are to be found among its supporters, its main representatives, ironically, are angels. The Four Archangels, the main representatives of the Law alignment, support Chiaki and her Yosuga vision, and you fight them if you do not align with Yosuga, and the other angels can be seen as allies of Chiaki throughout the game. This does not make sense if you understand Yosuga simply as this game’s version of the Chaos alignment, particularly when you account for the Law and Chaos dynamic not really existing, either in the plot or in gameplay. Instead Yosuga should be seen as a Reason that fuses conceits from both Law and Chaos together in pursuit of a fascistic ideology of elitism. Unlike the traditional Chaos alignment, freedom does not appear anywhere in Chiaki’s resume of ideological concerns. Instead, Chiaki’s primary ideological concern is “beauty”. She wants to create a world where only “beautiful” things exist. Strength happens to be a part of her conception of beauty. Thus, the angels would see Yosuga’s world as a Thousand Year Kingdom in which only the beautiful, cognate with the godly, may live, just that admittance is predicated on a brutal Social Darwinist selection process based on strength. It is for this reason alone that Yosuga is seen as the nominal “Chaos” alignment in this game, when in practice it seems to be a synthesis of Law and Chaos tropes.
Then there are the two other Reasons, Shijima and Musubi. Shijima, while ostensibly the “Law”-aligned Reason, is supported by traditionally Chaos-aligned demons such as members of the Fallen, Night, and Tyrant clans, and its demonic sponsor is Ahriman, a Tyrant demon and therefore traditionally Chaos-aligned. Musubi is ostensibly “Neutral”, but it does actually contain plenty of the “individualism” that is generally ascribed to the Chaos worldview, though this could also be interpreted as the product of taking the functional isolationism associated with Neutrality to the furthest degree. In practice, none of the three Reasons can be treated as simply clear-cut representations of the three classical alignments. And, in relation to these three Reasons, the other two paths in the original game are functionally Neutral endings. In the Freedom ending, you reject all Reasons in order to restore the world to its original state. In the Demon ending, you reject all Reasons and either try to create your own Reason or just prove too indecisive to initiate the creation of a new world, which results in the persistence of the Vortex World.
I suppose perhaps the closest to a traditional Chaos-aligned character in the game that appears early on in the game’s plot would be Gozu-Tennoh, a powerful demon god who leads the Mantra group against the Assembly of Nihilo. Gozu-Tennoh is based on a fearsome Buddhist protector deity who may have originally been a god of disease and pestilence. Gozu-Tennoh opposes the Assembly of Nihilo for wanting to “bring the world to a halt” with their world of stillness, and instead wants a “world of strength”, which is naturally a brutish might makes right utopia ruled by the strong. This certainly does hue from that classical negative aspect of Chaos, and Gozu-Tennoh even declares that he will rule “the kingdom of chaos”. In a weird way, the trial by combat for trespassing held at the Mantra Headquarters in Ikebukuro mirrors the events of the first game, in which the Gaian city was presided over by Yama, another fearsome Buddhist deity. However, Gozu-Tennoh eventually becomes one with Chiaki as the bearer of Yosuga, and so his power becomes folded into essentially one of the three avenues by which the power of creation can be realized by Kagutsuchi, and thus his spirit becomes part of a the three prongs of this game’s version of Law: a contest of visions by which to realize perfect order instead of chaotic freedom.
If there is a real Chaos ending, it is in the Maniax version of the game, which introduces the True Demon ending. This path requires the player to collect the Candelabra from powerful demons of death known as Fiends, make their way through the Amala Labyrinth, and go all the way to the end to meet Lucifer. Once this is done, all other endings become inaccessible and, after defeating Kagutsuchi, you face Lucifer as the real final boss, who seeks to test your strength as his new general, and from then on you and Lucifer, after stopping the cycle of death and rebirth in this world, march on with demon armies to begin the war against God. This fundamentally changes the dynamic set out in the original version of the game. In the original version of the game, there is no real Law and Chaos dynamic, just three Reasons and two Neutral paths. Now, all of the Reasons can conceivably be counted as Law endings insofar as they ultimately conform to the designs of The Great Will, the Freedom and Demon endings remain Neutral, and the True Demon ending is a Chaos ending in the sense that it actively sets out to make war with The Great Will, and ultimately God, in concious alignment with Lucifer.
The Gaians do make an appearance in this game’s story, though the role of the organization itself seems to be more in the background than anything active. They are mentioned early on in the game and appear to be responsible for multiple murders before the beginning of the game’s story, but after the Conception they disappear from the story entirely. One interesting tidbit about Gaian doctrine presented in the Amala Labyrinth is that the Gaians liked to bring together all sorts of doctrines out of a belief that the truth can be discovered from chaos, which no doubt was represented by a free flow of ideas that took place within their syncretism. Hikawa, one of the main characters, was a member of the Cult of Gaia, but his actual ideology doesn’t seem to resemble anything the Gaians advocated for, and is often seen as closer to the Law alignment than anything else. With the release of the Maniax edition, we see some additional information concerning Hikawa and the Gaians. Considered heretical even within the cult itself, Hikawa took the Miroku Scripture from them and began planning to betray them in order to create his own world of silence. To that end he started summoning demons everywhere, whom he had murder not only Gaians but also the Messians, basically anyone who stood in his way. Meanwhile, the souls of both Gaians and Messians reappear in the Amala Labyrinth, much like in Shin Megami Tensei II when they appeared in Makai. There, the Gaians tend to espouse much the same things they did in the first two games, about how they tend to advocate for harmony with nature and the demons. Both the Gaians and the Messians had wanted to stop Hikawa from triggering the Conception, no doubt motivated at least partially by the fact that this would mean the deaths of nearly all of humanity including themselves.
But of course, the True Demon Ending has little to do with these old themes associated with the Gaians. The True Demon Ending is a fundamentally anti-cosmic position. Whereas other Chaos alignments sometimes bill themselves as restorers of the true order of nature, the True Demon Path is based around the idea of destroying the cosmic order, indeed the cosmos itself. The rationale for this is that the universe, or rather multiverse, is constantly created, destroyed, and recreated by The Great Will, again and again until a perfect universe is created. Thus life is constantly destroyed by The Great Will, and the only way to stop this is to destroy the cycle of death and rebirth in the multiverse, which means to destroy the creation of The Great Will. The rammifications of this ending are far more severe than almost any of the other endings due to the fact that you’re destroying the universe, but even here, it is possible to argue this as an extreme expression of the Chaotic pursuit of freedom even at the expense of the collapse of the cosmic order itself. In a cosmos where you are destined to be nothing but a constant pawn of an endless cycle of death and rebirth, initiated by a God who will keep doing this until he creates his utopia off the back of the countless dead, it could be said that the only liberation available is to take the fight against creation itself. What happens afterwards is an open question. Will defeating God lead to the altering of creation itself, a new form for creation no longer dictated by the pursuit of perfect order? It can only be speculated, although it seems that in this path even a world of might makes right seems to be preluded, since you reject the Reason that already represents this idea and there is no talk of it in the True Demon path. What is most important for the True Demon path is that, at least for Lucifer’s forces, it represents revolution against the Absolute, as well as the ultimate and most extreme rejection of fate and of doubt towards the Absolute. The Lady in Black accompanying Lucifer asks the player if they would prefer to be predestined by God or if they would rather choose their own path. That is what defines the True Demon path at the end of it, and that is what it means to embrace Chaos.
The last thing we should note is that, according to Kazuma Kaneko himself, the world of the third game has Chaos as the dominant theme, in contrast to the second game being dominated by Law. The traditional aesthetic of Law and Chaos is on display with this orientation, with the world of Nocturne positively festooned with vibrant edifices of Japanese culture and character. There are a fair few links to Buddhism in the plot as well. The Gaians, before the events of the game, possess something called the Miroku Scripture. Miroku no doubt refers to Miroku Bosatsu, the Japanese name for Maitreya Boddhisattva, the future Buddha according to Buddhist eschatology who will appear when the Buddhist dharma is completely forgotten in order to teach “pure” dharma to the world.. The text of the Scriptue also makes references to Buddhist concepts such as Sangai (the three worlds), Taizo (the Womb Realm, which is used to refer to The Conception), and Daihi (the compassion of the bodhisattvas). The Vortex World is conceived as the Womb Realm, which is conceived as a place in which the creation of the new law of a new world will take place. The True Demon path also could be seen to have Buddhist contours in a somewhat extreme sense. The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to emancipate yourself from the endless cycle of suffering in reincarnation, of death and rebirth, through the realization of anatma and the attainment of nirvana. Some more extreme interpretations of Buddhism can posit that the only way to liberate all beings from suffering is to destroy the universe itself. The outcome of the True Demon path definitely fits this description.
Ironically, however, for a world so defined by Chaos, the being at the center of it is Kagutsuchi, an avatar of the Great Will. He gathers up the last human survivors for the sole purpose of determining who will create a new world, in the hopes of this time creating a world of perfect order. Thus, his enterprise is Law. Though, could it also be said that the selection process for this is a contest of strength that might otherwise be associated with Chaos? But then even that contest seems to being directed towards what is ultimately the aim of Law, the realization of perfect order by the Great Will. And yet, the Vortex World as a state of primordial chaos in which creation takes place does seem to fit well with the idea of Chaos in some ways. Remember that, in the first game, if you’re Chaos-aligned in the Kongokai dungeon and encounter the Chaos Phantom, he will praise you and beckon you to walk the path of Chaos, “from which everything is born”. Chaos is primeval and timeless potentiality itself, the germ from and within which creation emerges, and the Vortex World reflects this. Also reflected in the Chaos emphasis is the quest of the Amala Labyrinth. Lucifer, as Kaneko said, is the idol of chaos who seeks to establish free will, and for better or for worse that is his purpose in this game: to establish free will will out from the primordial chaos, by waging war with the Great Will.
Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs King Abaddon (2008)
One of the few spin-off games mentioned here, Devil Summoner 2 (or should that be Raidou Kuzunoha 2?) has a rather scaled down but noticeable Law and Chaos dynamic. It has no little impact on gameplay, but it does have a presence in the game’s story, however small that may be. The basic premise of the game is that Raidou Kuzunoha, a Taisho-era occult detective, is investigating a series of strange misfortunes involving some equally strange people wearing masks, which leads him to the discovery of the Tento Lords, who terrorize a village and make the human inhabitants their subjects, as well as the Mushibito, who oppose the Tento Lords and their contempt for humans and instead follow the visions of “Lord Bellzeboo”.
Here, Law and Chaos are less definite ideologies and more about individual ethos, in the sense of how you live your life. In this sense, the Chaos-aligned Raidou is a person who lives his life mostly for himself and who does what he does out of his own principles, his actions are based on who he really is and not just based on his duties as Raidou Kuzunoha. It is not so much an ideology as much as general individualistic way of life, and not necessarily in a bad way. The Chaos-aligned Raidou is, in this sense, not motivated by any sense of duty towards the Yatagarasu organization, but is instead motivated by his own principles and desires, and simply utilizes the resources of the Yatagarasu to do what he really wants to do.
The Gaians make no appearance at all in this game’s story. Instead, the Chaos alignment is largely represented by Dahn Tsukigata. Dahn is an impulsive young man who despises the Tento Lords. His ambition seems to be to become the Insect King, or King Abaddon (hence the title of the game), in the hopes that it would enable him to free his village from having to rely on the Tento Lords. To that end he stole the Luck Locust from his own clan in order to gain the power to become King Abaddon and save his sister, Akane. This invites the risk of summoning dangerous monsters known as Apollyons, but the risk in his mind is worth it. Dahn is a man who is willing to take any risk and defy authority in order to do what he thinks is right, which in this case means interrupting the Marriage Ritual in which women are selected as “brides” (sacrifices) for the Tento Lords, and thus he embodies this game’s Chaos ethos succcinctly. By contrast, Dahn’s opposite is Akane, his sister, who is willing to accept being a sacrificial lamb for her community if it means sparing them from the wrath of the Tento Lords. Louis Cypher (Lucifer) also appears in the game and plays a major role in the story.
Louis Cypher appears as a blond young man as he does in so many other games, hanging around the Tamonten Shrine, but he also appears as “Lord Bellzeboo” (another name for Beelzebub), who appears to the Mushibto as a fly and imparts prophecy and instructions to them. It seems Louis Cypher is also the one who revealed that only King Abaddon can defeat the Tento Lords, and is thus the inspiration for Dahn’s ambition. In the New Game Plus playthrough, after aligning with Chaos, Lucifer also appears as the boss of a series of side quests where he tests your strength in order to see if you are capable of changing the future, by which he means the future as determined by God. Essentially, Lucifer’s interest in Raidou consists in his belief that Raidou will be strong enough to serve as the catalyst for wresting the power of fate away from God’s control, and make it so that God is no longer the author of human destiny. As a side-note, even though Satan and Lucifer are typically treated as separate entities in the SMT series, if you have Lucifer in your party and initiate conversations between him and some enemy angels, they refer to him as Satan (though for some reason they’re all rather polite to him otherwise).
Incidentally, speaking of SMT call-backs, although the Gaians are not in this game, the Asura Lord makes his return in a side-quest where we find that theme of the ancient gods being oppressed by YHVH also returns. Here, Raidou must go to the Akarana Corridor to get to an alternative space-time where Asura, who describes himself as the sun divinity and “the eternal warmonger”, is getting ready to lead the forces of Chaos against God. The Asura Lord once again says that he was once Ahura Mazda, but he calls himself Dainichi Nyorai, which is not his true form. After you defeat Asura, you can choose to either allow him to go and fight alongside the forces of Chaos or insist that he return to his role as Dainichi Nyorai. The former, naturally, is a Chaos choice, while the latter is a Law choice, and there is no middle ground.
The Chaos ending for this game sees you join forces with Dahn for the final stretch of the game. After the defeat of Shinado, who assumed the mantle of King Abaddon, and after the resulting disappearance of the Abyss brought forth as a result of Dahn’s reckless actions, Dahn sets out to leave the Tsukigata village to the villagers and go on a journey with the Mushibito to help them find a place where they can live in peace. In a certain sense this echoes the Chaos ending in the second game, in which the mutants, having been liberated, can now go and live in peace after seeing the sun. Indeed, Chaos overall in this game actually seems far more straightforwardly heroic than even in Shin Megami Tensei II. The basic substance is defying duty and tradition in order to try and save someone from being sacrificed to a clan of deities who hate humans. It’s also worth noting that, after Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, this is one of the first SMT games that allowed American audiences to choose between Law and Chaos in the proper and classical sense. A GameSpite article titled Shin Megami Tensei: Law Chaos and American Way, written by Cole Lastie in 2010, noted that while Japanese players believed the central plot choice to be a difficult one, cutting into a cultural dillemma between individual suffering and putting the needs of society above your own, American players easily identified with Dahn’s desire to stop the Marriage Ritual, because there usually is no dillemma between individual suffering and putting the needs of the group above your own in the collective American psyche. As a generic ethos of freedom over authority, Chaos tends to resonate with American attitudes.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey (2009)
Originally intended to be the official fourth game in the series, Strange Journey positions the Law and Chaos dynamic in the context of a radically different plot scenario to previous and future games. In this game, instead of being a lone young demon summoner changing the fate of Tokyo with just yourself and your demons, you’re a soldier wearing a demon-summoning suit (or DEMONICA), part of a whole crew of men and women sent to investigate a mysterious place called the Schwarzvelt that appeared over Antarctica. The Schwarzvelt seems to be a collection of alternate dimensions inhabited by demons, and through which demons seem to be pouring out and into Earth. Its emergence seems to be linked to the destructive behaviour of humans towards the natural world, and in particular to a zenith of accelerated consumption, violence, pollution, and general decadence. Basically, demons are invading the world in response to mankind destroying the world. The assumed premise of the Schwarzvelt Investigation Team is to reach the end of the Schwarzvelt in order to destroy it, but the Law and Chaos endings, rather than this, involve the player joining with the forces of either alignment to use the Schwarzvelt to create a new world with the power of the Cosmic Eggs.
The Chaos alignment, in this context, represents not only the usual ethos of freedom against order, but the restoration of the world, to a natural order free from the control of God and characterized by harmony with nature and the demons, or “the ancient gods”, with no hierarchy other than the familiar “might makes right” form of social organization found in the first game. In this game in particular it also seems to come down to sympathy for the demons in relation to the question of the role of the Schwarzvelt and its connection to the destruction of the world to which it responds. In simple terms this tends to mean that Chaos-aligned choices involve agreeing with the demons when they say that they’re here to save the world. This is in opposition to being strictly pro-human and anti-demon as is the case for Neutral choices, or to declaring that both humans and demons are wrong as is the case for Law-aligned choices. In Sector Horologium you may find Ongyo-Ki who summarizes the perspective of the demons: he views the angels as nothing to fear because they cannot do anything but listen to commands from on high, and views humans as incoherent creatures who ruin the world while blaming someone else for it.
The demonic lords of each sector of the Schwarzvelt, who constitute the main bosses of the game, tend to echo aspects of this game’s version of the Chaos alignment, and when they question the player, answering in agreement with them pushes you towards the Chaos alignment. Morax, the Goetic demon presiding over Sector Antlia, tries to get the player to agree with him that the demons he sends to the Earth are “the real heroes”, due to humanity’s atrocities. When he later reincarnates as Moloch, he again boasts of the greatness of demons in his crusade for revenge over his previous battle. Mitra, the god presiding over Sector Bootes, talks about how humans originally worshipped the demons out of fear and the desire for supernatural protection, and lamented that humans have grown to “eat the planet into ruin, as though you owned it”. When Mitra reincarnates as Mithras, he proclaims that demons were not made to serve humans and that instead they should rule humans, and if the player objects, Mithras says that it is humans who have “desecrated the bond”, by which he means forgetting the gods and losing harmony with the land and the rivers. Horkos, the gluttonous ruler of Sector Carina, lambasts humans for producing things until they become unmanageable, forgetting their “debt to the earth”, and disrupting the rhythm of the planet by joining the ranks of the consumed, viewing humans as less than beasts and mocking them for thinking they can control their rampant consumerism. When he reincarnates as Orcus, he complains about humans “drowning in civilization” and enjoying themselves too much, unable to accept death in the way that their ancestors did due to hedonism. Asura, the ruler of Sector Delphinus, lectures humans about how the Schwarzvelt was brought about by the humans themselves, blames the coveting of material goods, disregard for the planet, and the apparent weakening of the human spirit, by which he means its lack of Social Darwinism of course, while mocking order as comfort for the weak and chaos (meaning of course endless strife) as a source of beauty and strength, indeed he blames civilization itself for the decay of humans and Earth. When he reincarnates (inexplicably) as the goddess Asherah, she describes humans as “defilers of soil and destroyers of lives” and proclaims that demons as well as humans who “carry that noble seed within them” (presumably referring to Chaos-aligned humans) are needed to restore the Earth and the power of the land. Ouroboros (a.k.a. Ouroboros Maia), the serpent ruler of Sector Eridanus, refers to the Schwarzvelt as “the holy realm of the gods” and upon defeat laments of humans passing through it. Tiamat, the ruler of Sector Fornax, proclaims that she will give birth to an orchard of demons for as long as humans keep destroying the planet. Maya, the ruler of Sector Grus, complains that humans bring nothing but destruction and cannot build a beautiful future. Mem Aleph, the great mother goddess of Sector Horologium and also the final boss on most paths of the game, presents herself as the voice and protector of the Earth and laments humans for losing co-existence with the gods.
Here, it is established that the demons of the Schwarzvelt view themselves as a kind of antibody, the virus to which it responds being a type of civilizational decadence that results in environmental and societal destruction. A major conceit of the Chaos alignment from the first game is the idea of harmony with the ancient gods in a state of freedom. This game’s version of Chaos more or less elevates that conceit while emphasizing the Social Darwinism of the previous game and adding a great deal of misanthropy on the part of the demons. The idea the demons have of killing humans in order to save the environment is in many ways the most extreme and negative representation Chaos gets in the series as a whole and is reminiscent of the ideas of people like David Foreman and Pentti Linkola, proponents of “deep ecology” who interpret the idea that all living beings have worth regardless of utility to humans as entailing the mass death of humans being justified in order to protect the earth.
Once again, the Gaians don’t appear anywhere in the game, but then what would they be doing hanging around in the Schwarzvelt anyway. The main representative of the Chaos alignment in this game is a man named Jimenez, an American mercenary who is a member of the Strike Team on board the Red Sprite ship. He’s frank, pessimistic, cynical, prone to acting independently, and he constantly talks back to other crew members and even makes cruel jokes at their expense. One can see this attitude being problematic for team effort, but you can also sympathize with him in many respects. A notable trait of Jimenez’s that will metastasize later in the game is that while Jimenez has a difficult time getting along with most of his human crew members (except, at least potentially, for the protagonist of course), and he tends to mistrust the angels that later appear in the Schwarzvelt, he gets along with a demon named Bugaboo so well that he even frequently lets him accompany him outside of the Demon Summoning Program, which often gets him into trouble with the rest of the crew. Eventually, after getting captured by the mercenary unit called Jack’s Squad during a botched espionage mission, he fuses with Bugaboo in order to save the demon’s life and escape from torture. Just like the Chaos Hero in the first game, he becomes more than human, stronger than ever before, but this also means he loses some of his humanity and takes on some dangerous traits. Immediately after escaping he slaughters many of Captain Jack’s crew, kills Jack himself, and would certainly have killed his second-in-command Ryan, even as he pled for mercy, if not for Zelenin’s intervention. Afterwards, though, Jimenez can potentially take revenge on Jack’s Squad and finish them off for good. Ryan at some point takes over Jack’s Squad and announces plans to get revenge on the Red Sprite, but Zelenin pacifies them with her angelic song. For the demons in Grus, however, this is not enough, and they offer passage to Grus’ underbelly if they just kill the rest of Jack’s Squad. Agreeing to the demons’ request pushes you towards the Chaos alignment, while refusing their request and having Zelenin help you instead pushes you towards the Law alignment. Killing Jack’s Squad is justified by the demons on the simple grounds that they killed, imprisoned, and exploited them previously, and would rather they die than become agents of God against them.
Certain side-quests, or EX Missions, also give windows into the Chaos worldview. In Sector Eridanus, you see the Four Devas (or Four Heavenly Kings) – Zouchouten, Koumokuten, Jikokuten, and Bishamonten – say they have come in response to “the restoration of a world full of energy”, and offer to train you if you want some of that energy for yourself. You can fight three of them on all paths, but Bishamonten can only be fought on the Chaos path. A New Game Plus Ex Mission in Sector Grus has the player fighting Alilat, a goddess trying to stop the unsealing of the Demiurge, the false god of “Gnosticism”, proclaiming the revival of “the goddess-worshipping world” he once trampled upon her defeat. Another EX Mission has the player fighting the Demiurge, who is also the hardest boss in the game. Upon defeating Demiurge, the angel Metatron will try to fuse with him in order to regain some lost power, but the voice of a goddess will implore the player to switch off his Demonica visor so she can seal the two entities. Heeding her request will result in the Demiurge and Metatron being cut off from the Schwarzvelt, and the goddess thanks you for helping her seal the Demiurge away, stating that all will be purified in the end. This goddess previously warns the player not to go on before the fight with Demiurge. This is part of a broad conflict with the goddesses, who represent the will of the Earth, and the forces of God who sought to control it.
The major alignment lock comes after the defeat of Maya in Sector Grus, where Arthur, the Red Sprite’s AI, is temporarily shut down by a seemingly unknown power, and the crew see visions of the Three Wise Men on one hand, and Louisa Ferre (this game’s version of Louis Cypher, and thus Lucifer) on the other. This ends up dividing the crew of the Red Sprite into separate camps; those who were taken in by the Three Wise Men followed Zelenin (a scientist who later becomes an angelic being) and the angels on one side, those who embraced the vision of Louisa Ferre followed Jimenez and the “ancient gods” on the other side, while a third faction of the crew tries to preserve the original mission of the Schwarzvelt Investigation Team and refuses to follow either side. Louisa Ferre retorts to the Three Wise Men, proclaiming their world as a deathly world where nothing is born and nothing dies, and proclaims that the real solution is for humans to “return to their souls’ origin”, by letting the Schwarzvelt loose in order to restore the harmony of humans with nature, as opposed to living fat off the land and alienated from nature, living in a kind of anarchy with “free gods” in a world of strife-filled freedom, where the “depraved” are ultimately cast off for their weakness and fear of death. In practice this essentially just means a state of constant violence presided over by demons, which can be inferred through the way Asura talks about “polishing” the spirits of humans after making the crew of the Red Sprite go berserk. Jimenez is taken in by Louisa’s vision, describing it as a free life where “if you die it’s your own fault”, and decides to leave the Red Sprite in order to go off into the Schwarzvelt and live with the demons. A few of the crew become swayed by Jimenez in turn, expressing a newfound desire to reclaim lost freedom by turning toward the gods of old. After this, the crew arrives at Sector Horologium, and Commander Gore, who died early on and was previously resurrected by the Mothers, regains his former consciousness and returns to the crew of the Red Sprite. This is where the final alignment choice takes place. If the player is Neutral, he poses two questions to you, one where he asks if you will side with the angels, and one where he asks if you will side with the demons, and saying no to both ensures that you are Neutral. If you are already either Law or Chaos aligned, however, you will be forced to fight Gore without being posed any questions and be locked onto either alignment.
If the player is Chaos-aligned, Gore proclaims that the demons have devoured your soul leaving nothing but a body yearning for freedom, thus he resolves to defeat you as a demon wearing the uniform of the Investigative Team. After defeating Gore, Jimenez returns to the Red Sprite with an army of demons to take it over, proclaiming that he will take back freedom for both humans and demons, and proceeding to “baptise” them in the name of the demon mothers, by which of course he means have some demonic presences take over the minds of the crew except for the protagonist. After the takeover of the Red Sprite, Jimenez and the protagonist meet and pledge their loyalty to Mem Aleph, who congratulates the party for choosing “a world of freedom” and instructs them to collect the Cosmic Eggs that will allow them to rebuild the world. Once this is accomplished, she congratulates the party on their pledge that they and the demons will live in harmony, describing both humans and demons as opposite sides of a mirror, and gives them their final order to go to the Vanishing Point to release the Cosmic Eggs into the world. The Vanishing Point is guarded by Zelenin, who has transformed into a great pillar angel and tries to stop you, but you defeat her, and begin creating the world of Chaos. Energy from the Schwarzvelt pours over the Earth, human civilization is destroyed, and demons become the new rulers of a “world of life”, regaining their forms as gods of freedom, power, and “hope”. Humans establish harmony with demons, with “the ancient gods” as it were, but it is a brutal world, governed by the principle of might makes right; only the strong, “those whose own strength blazes brightly”, may live in the new world, and the weak are left to die. Ironically though, for a “world of freedom”, if you look closely at the artwork for that world you might see what appears to be a huge fence, possible with a view to keeping humans in a massive enclosure while they kill each other for the gods of old. After the Red Sprite crew becomes Chaos-aligned in the Chaos path, they come to the conclusion that fighting is all there is to the world, which is perhaps fitting for the world they’re about to create.
There is here a perplexing mix of the familiar tropes of bourgeois Western philosophy: namely the two views of human nature presented by the camps of Rousseau and Hobbes, which are normally opposed to each other. As per familiar and popular understanding, the Rousseau camp held that human nature was essentially good before being despoiled by the advent of civilization, and although Rousseau himself never coined or used the term “noble savage”, the term is applied to this concept of human nature, and similar thinkers invoked a primitve communist past defined in terms of this nature as a protest against the authoritarian rule of the monarchy and the church, while the Hobbes camp is typically portrays human nature in terms of inherent hostility and violence, though ironically Hobbes himself didn’t actually believe in human nature as such, and the Hobbesian view of pre-civilized life is described famously as “nasty, brutish, and short”. In this game, however, the Chaos view of original, pre-civilized human nature, mashes both the Rousseauan and Hobbesian camps of human nature together in a kind of synthesis. It takes the position of the Rousseau camp in that human nature was originally good before the advent of civilizational authority and censure, but this is actually filtered through the Hobbesian perspective of natural life as “nasty, brutish, and short”. In other words, for many of the Chaos demons, the state of the noble savage and the Hobbesian state of nature are the same thing, and human nature was originally good precisely because it was nasty and brutish, and the advent of civilization caused it to wane and become weak in its absolute submission to the law.
There is also, ultimately, an irony in the Chaos position as far as the problems of the world and humanity are concerned. In Sector Delphinus, you encounter the resurrected Commander Gore for the first time since his death early in the game, who at this time is on the side of the Mothers, and he bemoans humanity as a disease for its “joy in slaughter”, “addiction to desire”, “infinite consumption”, and “excretion beyond salvation”. Yet, the solution presented by some of the Chaos demons involves precisely the awakening of the joys of violence and the liberation of desire. Asura’s whole program for correcting what Gore describes is precisely in making humans more violent, and in the world of Chaos, most of what people do is engage in violence. How is this not the “joy in slaughter” that the Mothers, through Gore, complained about? And if “addiction to desire”, whatever that might mean, is such a problem for them, why is Mara, the literal embodiment of desire itself, retconned as one of the Mothers? Indeed, the mind-jacking that Jimenez does in the Chaos path is framed by Jimenez as essentially “freeing their madness”, and all it really amounts to heightening their taste for violence. How does the Mothers square that with their complaints about “joy in slaughter”, and how do they square any sort of liberation of desire with their complaints about “addiction to desire”?
All in all, Chaos in the context of Strange Journey can be seen as rather radically expanded. It represents not only the ethos of freedom and the generic alignment with demons, but its component of harmony with wild nature is very much elevated into a deep-seated, and unfortunately rather misanthropic, ideology built on the re-establishment of a sacred relationship between Man and the earth, albeit through a rather destructive method. But it cannot be overlooked that this game’s version of Chaos is also arguably the cruellest path in the game, and probably the cruellest form of Chaos in the entire series. Think about it: you spend the majority of the game fighting demonic lords who go on about how human civilization needs to be destroyed and taken over by demons, which in this game essentially entails demons spreading out into the Earth and killing untold numbers of people, only to betray your fellow crew, stop them from returning to Earth and doing great things with their loved ones, have your half-demon friend basically brainwash them into supporting your new cause, all to create a world where all humans do is kill each other under the oversight of “the ancient gods”. Far and away, the most grim take on Chaos found in the series. Of course, things take a different turn in the Redux version, but since the Redux version is several years apart from the original, this can wait.
Shin Megami Tensei IV (2013)
As the official fourth game in the serious, Shin Megami Tensei IV essentially recapitulates the Law and Chaos dynamic that has been in effect since the second game, with Law and Chaos defined and represented primarily by two opposing poles of the Judeo-Christian mythos, though also taking with it much of the tropes of the first game. Law is represented as the side of God, or more specifically his angels, while Chaos is represented as the side of Lucifer, and the various demonic adversaries of God, though Law is also a generic alignment denoting order, preservation, and everlasting peace at the expense of freedom, while Chaos is a generic alignment denoting freedom, change even through destruction, and the idea of a world where the strong can shape the world as they please.
Before we go any further we should note the setting. Most previous games have been set principally if not entirely within Tokyo, and this game is not much of an exception. The difference, however, is that unlike most games, this game is split between two main locations. The first is a place called the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, seemingly a kingdom in the vein of medieval Europe, though for some reason its main fighting force is referred to as Samurai (one would think that Knights would suffice for such a setting), and there’s an entrenched feudal class system split mainly between Casualries (peasants and labourers) and Luxurors (the nobles and aristocrats). The second is Tokyo, which is covered by a vast ceiling of rock, which is in reality the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, and which is infested by demons and split between rivalling factions – the Ring of Gaea on one side, and the Ashura-kai on the other (for some reason the Messians are absent in this game). You play as Flynn (or more or less the character officially named Flynn), one of the Samurai of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado who descend to Tokyo as part of their mission to protect the kingdom from demons. You companions are Jonathan, the main representative of the Law alignment, Walter, his Chaos-aligned counterpart, Isabeau, the paragon of Neutrality, and for a brief period Navarre, who is arrogant towards the rest of the team and ultimately abandons the quest.
The contours of the Law and Chaos alignment are established very early on in the game, as the protagonist experiences dream sequences where he discovers his Law and Chaos-aligned comrades, not unlike the dream sequence in which the first game begins. The dream in which you see Walter features a city in ruins, with fire everywhere, it looks like a war zone. When you meet him in the dream, Walter tells you that he was fighting while waiting for you to meet him, and that you and him are going to create “a world where anything can be changed if you have the will”. This establishes Walter right away as the representative of the Chaos alignment, and his personality throughout the game only emphasizes this further. He is consistently a headstrong and brash personality who tends to dislike authority and following rules, especially dislikes constantly being given new orders by the Abbot, and has little regard for the status quo in general. This suits the more generic idea of Chaos as a way of life that we see in Devil Summoner 2. He also tends to the kind of person who believes that, when a person’s suffering is too much, it is best to simply end it, as the case was in the battle against Isaachar, who suffered in the course of his demonic transformation. As the early part of the game’s story continues, you see more dreams of Walter, of him beckoning you to change the world with him, and another where he tells you that the world is beyond salvation, invites you to “wipe the slate clean and create a new one together!”, and beckons you to “hurry to the underground”. There is also a noticeable class dynamic at play. Walter, like Flynn, is a Casualry, born into the lower class. All Samurai are Luxurors, meaning that those who become Samurai also become part of the Luxuror class and climb the social hierarchy, but Walter’s class identity remains with him, and he has little regard for the social norms of his Luxuror companions. When the Samurai descend into Tokyo, Walter has little trouble adjusting to life in Tokyo. In fact, in the manga for the game we see Walter swap his Samurai uniform for a leather outfit suited to a punk.
As the game progresses, you are presented with multiple plot junctures that push you in the direction of one alignment or another, and these are useful in establishing the contours of the Chaos alignment presented in this game. One example is a main story quest given by the Ashura-kai to hunt down a demon named Kuebiko, the god of agriculture (who, ironically, is a Neutral-aligned earth spirit). The Ashura-kai want Kuebiko to get out of Shinjuku, so they send you to go and kill it. However, once you actually meet Kuebiko, you have a choice to kill either Kuebiko or spare him. Killing Kuebiko pushes you towards Law while sparing him pushes you towards Chaos, the latter being a bigger alignment shift than the former. If you choose to spare Kuebiko instead of kill him, you disobey the Ashura-kai and have to fight a swarm of Harpies summoned by him. Kuebiko complains that he had lived in the land of Shinjuku long before humans ever did, and if you fight him, he laments that there was once no superiority or inferiority between humans and the earth. Here, a conceit that was elevated in Strange Journey returns in a somewhat more modest form. Kuebiko expresses the belief often found in the Chaos alignment that it is best to restore harmony with the earth, and the demons. It coincides with the anarchistic (or quasi-anarchistic, or indeed meta-anarchistic) tendency inherent in the Chaotic belief in freedom by pointing to non-hierarchical relationships with the natural world as ideal for humans and the world around them.
We also see a series of alignment questions in the Passage of Ethics, found beneath Tsukiji Hongwanji. The player goes through three forking pathways marked with three questions, each with only two answers, one pushing you towards Law and the other towards Chaos. You make your choice by taking either the door on the left or the door on the right. The left door invariably corresponds to the Chaos choice while the right door invariably corresponds to the Law choice, which in some ways corresponds to the Left Hand Path (for Chaos) and the Right Hand Path (for Law) within Western occultism. The first question places you as the ruler of a country gathering the population for a game, and one of the attendees is taller than all of the others. You are asked whether you would exclude the tall attendee for the sake of fairness, or include the tall attendee regardless of his height. Including the tall attendee in the game pushes you towards Chaos, and Walter remarks that a man can’t help being tall and thus the tall man would have to be accepted. The second question places you as the chief of a village that has lived the same way for 1,000 years until one day a man comes bringing revolutionary technology, which would improve the lives of the villagers at the cost of abandoning their continuous way of life. You are asked if you would expel the visitor to preserve your village’s way of life, or welcome the visitor in order to adopt his technological innovation. Without getting into exactly what technology we’re talking about, embracing the visitor pushes you towards Chaos and Walter remarks that if life for all the villagers would be improved then the risk of upending existing culture is necessary in pursuit of progress. The third and final question places you before the love of your life, lying in a hospital bed, alive but unconscious, with no visible hope of regaining consciousness and all efforts exhausted. You are whether you would stay beside this person and keep them alive despite no sign of recovery, or stop all treatment and let natural death take its course. Letting the person die pushes you towards Chaos, but it is such a difficult question that neither Walter nor Jonathan can decisively answer it.
Another small but not insignificant alignment moment is seen with the battle against Tenkai at Midtown. During the fight, Tenkai inquires about the ideals you possess and asks you what kind of Tokyo you want to see. The ideal Tokyo for the Chaos alignment is “a wild city of freedom”. Later, he asks you another question, this time he asks you what you plan to do once you learn the truth about the Ashura-kai. “Reform” it and “cause chaos”, or “sustain” it and “preserve order”? As strange a question as this must sound considering we are talking about a literal yakuza group, bearing in mind of course that in this game’s version of Tokyo they are the main force of order, it is clear enough that “reform it” is the Chaos-aligned choice, and Walter supports it on the grounds that, even if it causes chaos, a wrong must be addressed, “else we’re as good as corpses”. Between this and most of the questions in the Passage of Ethics we see another flank of Chaos when taken as a broad ethos or individual way of life, such as seen in Devil Summoner 2. That basic ethos is that changing to something better is more important than preserving what already exists, and that injustice and oppression can only be met with the willigness to radically overturn the status quo. Although the game words this as “reform”, it actually sounds rather revolutionary in tone, with Law as perhaps more “reformist” or simply conservative by comparison. Such a revolutionary attitude befits the broadly anarchistic tendency present in the Chaos alignment within various games. Chaos tends to see continuous tradition, authority, rules, and custom as potential obstacles to necessary reforms and progress which often have to be done away with.
Of course, we can hardly discuss the Chaos alignment without talking about the Cult of Gaia, or rather Ring of Gaea as is their new name in this game. The Gaians return in this game, beddecked in red Buddhist clothing and preaching an ideology of might makes right. They are mostly based within Ginza and their mainquarters is the nearby Tsukiji Hongwanji, a Buddhist temple that had been taken over by the Gaians. When you arrive at the inner sanctum of the temple you may notice a giant statue of a goddess resembling Mem Aleph from Strange Journey, suggesting that the “Gaia” they worship is in fact Mem Aleph. According to the art book for this game, the original idea for the Gaian headquarters was that they would dig out a cave to use as a temple, echoing the chthonic worship of gods like Pan in ancient Greece. Their main opponents within Tokyo are the Ashura-kai, a yakuza organization based in Roppongi Hills which controls most of Tokyo by offering protection to the humans in Tokyo and feeding many of the demons the Red Pills, a kind of foodstuff which ostensibly satisfies the demons enough that they won’t eat humans. The player first encounters the Gaians in Ikebukuro, while looking for the Black Samuari, where the Gaians struggle with the presence of Xi Wangmu (ironically a Chaos-aligned Lady), apparently a foreign demon who took over the region. During the fight with Xi Wangmu a Gaian named Kaga talks about how it is inevitable that the weak die and that, if she is weak, she will accept her fate of being eaten by Xi Wangmu, but also says that, if you want to live, you must struggle, give yourself over to your instincts and struggle with all your might, even if it leads to damnation. Walter is impressed by these words after the fight, and takes a liking to the people of Tokyo.
The Gaians certainly do wear their ideals on their sleeves in classical fashion. They typically emphasize strength as one of their primary values, even to the point that a Gaian blocking the way to Ginza praises you for your honesty if you tell him you’ve come to kill Yuriko, their leader, and considers his fight with you more of a test of your strength, and even after defeating him he offers to take you to Tsukiji Hongwanji to build your strength with the Gaians. At the temple the Gaians test the strength of potential applicants by having them go through an endurance test where they have to get through a demon-filled maze and get to the main temple while carrying a candle, and they have to get to the main temple without the candle going out. However, the Gaians in Ginza are not always consistent about this belief in strength as the main determinant of worth. In an optional part of Ginza, you can gain access to a shopping centre with expensive items. But rather than have to fight your way in as would be expected, you actually have to collect a series of entry cards, each more expensive than the last. First you get a Gold Card for 10,000 Macca (the main currency within the series), then you spend 50,000 more Macca to open up passage to a treasure chest containing the Platinum Card, then you pay a man 100,000 more Macca for him to give you a silver coin, and then finally you trade that silver coin for a Black Card. Certainly not what you’d expect of an ideology that places so much emphasis on strength.
The Gaians do still seem to have some belief in the power of the old gods, though they don’t talk about it as much as they talk about strength. In a New Game Plus playthrough, you can partake in multiple sidequests (or Challenge Quests as they’re called here) where you meet Minako, who was a member of the Ring of Gaea and who plans on reincarnating the goddess Ishtar, who she believes has the power to bring life back to the barren soil of Tokyo. This is rather obviously an echo of a side-quest in the second game, where the revival of Ishtar is desired in order to restore fertility to the land of Makai. Minako also seems to be a big believer in the idea that the demons currently prowling about Tokyo originated in the gods of Babylon. The first time you meet her, you see her trying to summon the demon lord Astaroth and summoning demons to fight the player. Her plan was to summon Astaroth so that he may serve as the “king” of the Ring of Gaea, and even though the player defeats Astaroth, she manages to capture Astaroth’s soul, through which she plans to revive Ishtar. The second time you meet Minako, in a Challenge Quest exclusive to the Chaos path, she tells about her plan to reincarnate Ishtar and asks you to defeat Asherah and Mother Harlot, and after you do she devours the souls of those demons before swallowing a Red Pill in order to become Ishtar herself (who, ironically, is a Law-aligned Megami), who nonetheless retains some of Minako’s mind.
One very strange detail about the Gaians comes from the Apocalypse version of the game, whose Notes describe the Ring of Gaea’s doctrine as built on “natural selection” while also adding that its members apparently confuse this to mean a “dog eat dog” philosophy, and that this was the work of Yuriko, who taught the Gaians to unleash their suppressed emotions upon the world to shape it as they see fit. It begs a lot of questions that neither the fourth game nor the Apocalypse version ever address at any point in the story. What does “natural selection” mean in this case, and what does it have to do with the findings of Charles Darwin? And if the “dog eat dog” angle is a misinterpretation, what is the correct interpretation? If Yuriko supposedly subverted the teachings of the Gaians, what were their “real” teachings? The answers to these questions are neither given nor explored.
All of this brings us to the leader of the Ring of Gaea, Yuriko, who is another of the main representatives of the Chaos alignment in the game. She first appears as the mysterious Black Samurai, who spreads certain books called “Literature” to the Casualries of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, who subsequently gather to discuss these books on occasions that they term “Sabbaths”. The choice of term is interesting in that, in view of the medieval setting established in the land of Mikado (in marked contrast to Tokyo of course), it invokes the trope of witchcraft, of the mythical Sabbaths held by so-called witches in which they supposedly gathering in congress with the Devil and in magical conspiracy against God and the Church. The “Literature” seems to give people “knowledge and wisdom”, inspiring people to question the class system of Mikado, and somehow occasionally turning people into demons. What’s funny, though, is that these books of “Literature” appear to consist of actual books written by real world Japanese authors, such as No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai and The Dancing Girl by Ogai Mori. No Longer Human is a novel written in 1948 about a man who struggles with alienation from society and eventually becomes insane, while The Dancing Girl is a short story first published in 1890 about a Japanese exchange student who has to choose between his career and a German dancing girl. Exactly how these particular books get them thinking about the nature of Mikado’s feudal society and its religious underpinnings, let alone trigger any kind of demonic transformation, is a total mystery. The only possible connection is that maybe Paradise Lost is “Literature” too, at least based on one NPC saying he wants to read it. Nonetheless, the Black Samurai serves as the witch of Mikado, spreading discontent and getting people to question society in the name of Lucifer. Casualries who read her books come to see their society as dominated by elites who establish practices convenient for themselves while depriving its underclass of knowledge and forcing them to labour for the upper class, and that really the Luxurors are unnecessary because it is the labour of the Casualries that upholds society. Here, Chaos gets an edge from anti-capitalist critique, borrowed from socialism, albeit within the context of feudal society rather than a capitalist one.
As the game progresses, you learn more about the Black Samurai and her goals. When you meet her in Tokyo, she tells you that Tokyo is a mirror image of Mikado before allowing herself to be arrested. During her execution, she tells the public that every vice in this world is always disguised as virtue, that Adam ate the apple because it was forbidden rather than because he desired it, that the apple has been set before all, and that, as those who read her books apparently discovered, the people of Mikado will find no love from God. She proclaims Mikado to be a distorted and biased kingdom, and that the Samurai visited Tokyo already know this, and that she will resurrect as many times as necessary to bring knowledge to the people. And sure enough, not long after her execution she is found to have resurrected and fled to Tokyo, and so the party is tasked with killing her in a mission of murder. Eventually, as you make your way through to Ginza and then Tsukiji Hongwanji, you discover the Black Samurai who reveals that her name is Yuriko, leader of the Ring of Gaea, and almost immediately afterwards, she further reveals that she is actually a demon named Lilith. This is actually just like in the first game where Lilith frequently took on the form of a woman named Yuriko. In any case, Lilith explains that the demonic transformations were apparently the result of the subjects of Mikado suppressing their desires, that humans and demons are the same in essence, and that, because of that, the hatred of humans should be reserved not for demons but instead the “absurd rules created to bend the ignorant to their will”. Her stated goal is to “restore the human world to its natural order”, which in her parlance seems to entail a society without rulers and where “the strong can shape the world as they please”. From her perspective, a world comprised only of natural freedom. Because this would potentially imply a great deal of freedom for Casualries and the removal of their Luxuror masters, Walter is naturally taken in by this vision, which results in the party becoming divided as Walter leaves after refusing to kill Lilith. Lilith tells the party to look into a facility run by Tayama beneath the ground in Roppongi, where she assures the party they will see what “true evil” is. The party soon discovers the Reverse Hills facility, in which humans are locked up and have their brains harvested in order to mass produce Red Pills for consumption by demons, and thereby discover the basis upon which Tayama claims his “utopia” of co-existence.
All of this builds up to what is arguably the main alignment split in the game’s story. After visiting Shene Duque, the holy land of Mikado, and meeting the Four Archangels who once again charge the party with killing the Black Samurai, Walter refuses to continue with the quest, deciding that both the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado and Tayama’s “utopia” are no better than each other, both being ruled by selfish dictators. He expresses his desire to change the world, and tells the party that he intends to go to Lilith after packing his things, inviting those who want to join him to come to the residence hall. Walter allows himself to consider the possibility that some harm may arise as a result of following Lilith, but believes that it is a risk worth taking in order to change the world away from its current state. Siding with Walter is the Chaos choice, and after agreeing to go with Walter you return to Tsukiji Hongwanji to meet Lilith again. There she tells you to go to Camp Ichigaya in order to take control of the Yamato Perpetual Reactor, a huge electricity generator that also has the power to open up portals to the Expanse, the realm of demons. Lilith’s plan is to use it to unleash demons into the world in order to destroy society and possibly cultivate humans strong enough to lead a new society without rulers, stating that, this time, humans will build their own paradise. After fighting your way through Tayama’s minions, including the “National Defence Divinities”, you reach the Yamato Perpetual Reactor. After all that, the party gets transported to two alternative dimensions in succession by a mysterious cabal of beings known as the White, who are trying to convince the protagonist to use the Yamato Perpetual Reactor to wipe out the universe. The first of these is Blasted Tokyo, which seems to represent the outcome of a previous hero having taken the Law path, and the second of these is Infernal Tokyo, which seems to represent the outcome of the same hero having taken the Chaos path, and the apparent intent of both scenarios is to show the protagonist the supposed futility of the struggle between order and freedom and the absence of hope for the human race more broadly.
25 years before the events of the game, a barrage of nuclear weapons was headed for Japan, much like in the first game, and a previous incarnation of the protagonist sacrificed himself to Masakado in order to preserve Tokyo by having Masakado create a firmament over the city with his back, thus preventing the nuclear warheads from hitting the city while also resulting in the creation of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado. The alternate dimensions respresent scenarios that happen should the previous hero have taken a different path, and for our purpose we will focus on Infernal Tokyo, the Chaos outcome. This is the Tokyo that emerges after the previous incarnation of Flynn takes the side of a man named Kenji, who took the side of the demons upon learning of the angels’ schemes and defeated them, and thus is the Chaos Hero of that timeline. This somehow resulted in the birth of the Demonoids, humans who fused with demons and now feed off of the neurotransmitters of humans called Neurishers. It also meant humans being given a choice – become Demonoids (a risky process in itself that can sometimes turn you into some kind of foul abomination), or stay human and become Neurishers – and also the collapse of essentially all order in society, with gang warfare between tribes of demons or Demonoids being commonplace. There’s also fire everywhere, just like in those dreams where Walter appears at the beginning of the game. Those with power rule the world, the strong can do anything they want, and it’s a dog eat dog world out there as one demon says. Walter naturally takes a liking to this alternate Tokyo, apparently the “simplicity” of it is most attractive to him. Here you meet a Demonoid named Akira, whose ambition is to dethrone Kenji and become the new king of Infernal Tokyo. The violence that pervades the burning city is more or less just accepted as a regular occurrence of life, and this is essentially a consequence of the might makes right ideology that has been instituted by the forces of Chaos. Akira himself is not particularly strong, and throughout the entire sojourn in Infernal Tokyo he hides behind the Samurai rather than attempt any fighting of his own. Nonetheless, he basically, at least tacitly, accepts the might makes right worldview that permeates Infernal Tokyo.
However, Akira does seem to want some change to the world. Before the party makes their way to Kenji, Akira says that he wants to create a world where everyone is treated equally. A version of the Law theme from the first game plays in the background, indicating that Akira’s egalitarian beliefs are the influence of Law instead of Chaos, and that Akira may be wanting to turn a Chaotic world into a Lawful one, or at least push towards Law from Chaos to generate a Neutral outcome. Walter, of course, disapproves of this, finding it strange that the strong and the weak can be treated alike, while Jonathan praises his vision as a form of selflessness worthy of a true king. But however strange Walter finds Akira’s vision, and however much Jonathan praises it, Walter should ultimately find common cause with Akira’s desire to change the world, since ultimately all Walter ever wanted to do in the first place was change his own world, while Jonathan wanted nothing more than to preserve it as it is. And even though the game hints at the influence of Law, Akira’s vision certainly does not involve Lawful methods, since all Akira wants to do is change the world through the violent upheaval of the absolute ruler of Tokyo, all ultimately in accordance with the methods and tropes of Chaos. Walter says he wants to “change this rotten world”, but so does Akira.
Later, in a downloadable Challenge Quest, the player can return to Infernal Tokyo to find Akira struggling against a powerful being named Sanat, after having only just defeated Kenji. Akira explains that he tried his best to create a new kingdom of equality, but then Sanat showed up to take over Infernal Tokyo and spread destruction wherever he went. Too weak to fight Sanat himself, and faced with the wrath of his new subjects, he once again has the player do the fighting for him. When you meet Sanat at the Infernal Camp Ichigaya, he tells the player that it was he who “planted the seeds of chaos” on the planet, and is overjoyed to find that humans have evolved from apes into beings that apparently can hold their own against himself, thus he challenges “this 5th humanity” to prove its worth before him. He never seems to explain why he seems so intent on destroying Infernal Tokyo, but is very interested in drawing out the player’s power, even if it’s not clear why he needed to smash up the place in order to do it. The only other motivation he states is that he is intent on preparing humanity for “the true war”, by which he means the war against “the dispensation of the universe”. Exactly what he means by this is never explained or explored any further anywhere in the game. The only clue is that his Lawful counterpart, Ancient of Days, also talks about “the dispensation of the universe”, but is himself trying to carry it out, which entails the purging of humanity. So Sanat is ostensibly trying to save humanity by readying it for war against his rival, Ancient of Days, but the rest of the details are quite mysterious. Both demons apparently derive from one or more characters from Theosophy, but it’s not obvious what connection they have to the actual lore of Theosophy.
And now we come to the ultimate end-game representative of the Chaos path, Lucifer, just as he was in many previous games. As you travel through Tokyo you see a girl named Hikaru, who is “interested” in the party and shows up during a few plot points in the game, though she actually seems somewhat unimportant in practice. If you end up in the Chaos path, however, it’s revealed that Hikaru is yet another disguise for Lucifer. If you tell the White that instead of destroying the cosmos you plan to destroy the status quo, and don’t end up Neutral, you become locked into the Chaos path for the final stretch of the game. When you arrive in their Monochrome Forest, you once again meet Walter, who tells you that he made the same choice as you, though Jonathan is missing, presumably because he chose differently to both you and Walter. That’s when you meet Hikaru, who appears out of nowhere only to show her hand as the fallen angel Lucifer. Opening the gate to the Expanse has allowed Lucifer to appear once again, although for some reason not yet in his true form. After defeating the White, the Monochrome Forest disappears and you return to Camp Ichigaya, which seems to be under Lucifer’s control. Tayama is dead, demons are all over Tokyo, presumably the Ashura-kai is reduced to basically nothing, and the city of Tokyo is beyond control – a world where “the strong can shape it as they see fit”. Because the angels up in Mikado probably don’t like this state of affairs at all, Lucifer’s plan is for his forces to take down the angels before they invade Tokyo, and fuse with Walter in order to regain his true form in order to make that possible. Walter, after ruminating about his life story as a fisherman’s son turned Samurai, volunteers, and Lucifer is reborn.
Reborn, Lucifer declares that he will “demonstrate the laws of power” to Mikado, the “kingdom of deceit”, by which he means he and his demons will take over Mikado and overthrow its government. Isabeau opposes the player, accusing you of wanting to create an endless war of succession, and after moping about her own indecisiveness she fights you to the death, which comes ultimately at her own hands. As the player progresses through Purgatorium, the realm of the angels that now stands between you and the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, and as you fight its angelic hordes, Lucifer remarks about the submission and repetitiveness of the angels, finding it rather disturbing. When fighting Merkabah, “God’s chariot”, Lucifer proclaims that he and his forces are animated by “the flames of life and passion”, as opposed to “the empty breath of God”. When Merkabah is defeated, Lucifer proclaims that no matter how loyal one is to God, God will never answer, and when you and him enter Mikado, he mocks its former king for instituting the worship of only one God. Looking down the rooftops, you and Lucifer see Mikado going up in flames, with Lucifer rejoicing the free will that was previously alien to Mikado, while also lamenting the chaos that, ironically, he and Walter sought after to begin with, and after all that talk from Walter and Lilith about opposing authority, Lucifer invites you to become the new king of Mikado.
If you fight Lucifer on the Law path, he chides you as being led astray by the angels (“God’s puppets” as he calls them), champions the free will of humanity, and proclaims that he will not give the world over to “order” (meaning the forces of Law), and towards the end of the fight he proclaims that he will not fall until he begets a universe full of knowledge and selfhood. If Lucifer is defeated on the Law path, you hear Walter’s voice, what’s left of him within Lucifer after his sacrifice, concede that your defeat of him makes you the stronger man, and therefore that this means you’re in the right, as is consistent with his belief that the strong can shape the world as they please. If you fight Lucifer on the Neutral path, Walter urges the player against fighting him, telling him that demons are the embodiment of humanity’s limitless desires and that Lucifer, as their king, is the desire of all humans. If Lucifer is defeated on the Neutral path, he warns that humans are not strong enough to live while repressing their desires, as representated by the demons, and that he will return when that time comes.
Between all of the talk about a world where the strong can shape it as they please, and all the talk about desire and its liberation, taken together we get an emergent picture of this game’s version of Chaos which seems to be rather unabashedly Satanic, in that it reminds us of LaVeyan Satanism in particular. In LaVeyan Satanism, the power of God is repudiated, there is a broad might makes right ideology in place, and one of its key ethical flanks is that the fulfillment of the ego and desire is what leads happiness and spiritual fulfillment (indeed, it’s probably the only religion that actually believes this). Indeed, there are only so few references to the other conceit of the Gaians and the Chaos forces concerning harmony with nature and the old gods, although the big statue of Mem Aleph indicates that the Gaians still have that idea in their actual worship and ideology, just that the idea plays a very minor role in the game’s story. Though, the nature aspect is sort of invoked by Lilith in her desire to “restore the natural order of humans”, which is meant to mean a world of freedom undirected by present structures of authority. The world of freedom granted by Chaos could indeed be said to be unburdened by the old structures of authority, but is certainly not without hierarchies, indeed these hierarchies are shown to be founded by the strong, who, ironically, come to be almost absolute rulers of their own (see Kenji, who is literally king of an alternate Tokyo), liberation from whom depends on you being strong enough to overthrow them. Such is ultimately a limitation imposed by the broad might makes right conceit that, in the early days of SMT, was mostly billed as simply a negative aspect, mostly a consequence, of what was billed mostly as a world dominated by individual freedom, and so the bowlderized anarchism of Chaos metastasizes into what we see today.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux (2017)
The last entry for this post, the Redux edition of Strange Journey is notable in that in presents an altogether different take on Chaos through its New endings. These New endings are essentially alternate versions of the Law, Neutral, and Chaos endings that are made accessible by completing an optional dungeon known as the Womb of Grief and facing a new character named Alex. Alex is a daughter of Lucifer who by some unknown circumstance has a Demonica suit, with its own AI unit (called George), and who somehow travelled back in time to interfere with the mission of the Schwarzvelt Investigation Team in order to stop the player from begetting a terrible future into which she is born. The exact content of that future depends on the alignment chosen by the player, but for our purposes, the focus will be on the Chaos alignment.
Being a remaster of Strange Journey, most of the Chaos path, like much of the game’s story as a whole, still plays out just as it did in the original game. That means, for instance, that Jimenez still invades the Red Sprite and mindjacks the crew just as he did in the original game. The change to the New Chaos ending occurs after beating every boss in the Womb of Grief dungeon, which unlocks the possibility of an alternate Chaos ending. On the Chaos path, just before meeting Mem Aleph for the final time in Sector Horologium, Alex reappears to fight you for one last time and confront you and Jimenez on what you’re about to do. Alex explains to you and Jimenez that she would have been slaughtered in their new future, and Jimenez initially dismisses her on the grounds that, to him, Alex only abandoned the new world because she was weak, even though she could only have survived by killing anyone who got in her way. Indeed, as George explains, in the Chaos world, Alex becomes the strongest person alive. Once Jimenez understands this, he begins to respect Alex and treat her actions as the result of getting bored with a world full of people too weak to stand up to her, her time travel motivated by the desire for a world with much stronger foes. But this proves to be a misunderstanding, as Alex explicitly states that she doesn’t want the world Jimenez would create. When Jimenez protests on the grounds that her strength meant she had the most freedom, Alex explains that she was alone rather than free, and George explains that, as a result of the brutal contest of might makes right, Alex emerged as the last remaining human. Alex further explains that, because strength is the only rule in the Chaos world, you have to prove your strength, often brutally, to everyone you come across, and because of this everyone is an enemy, and every encounter is a matter of life or death for one person or another, “either they die or you do!”. When Jimenez further mocks Alex and states that humans went extinct because they were weak and leaves it at that, Alex retorts by asking Jimenez if his companion Bugaboo should have died because he was weak. Bugaboo was not a particularly strong demon, either in the story or in gameplay (being a somewhat low-level Jirae demon), so saving him out of sentimental companionship would be seen as a contradiction of Jimenez’s might makes right ideology.
The turning point begins when Alex asks the player if Bugaboo should have died. If the player says no, this triggers feelings of sadness in Jimenez, owing to his sentimental relationship with Bugaboo, and forces him to admit his own hypocrisy and re-consider his ideals and change his idea of what the world of Chaos should look like. George beseeches Jimenez that he and Alex don’t want to deny the strength they seek, only to remember the compassion invoked by his relationship with Bugaboo, and Jimenez listens to this and understands. He concludes that, under Mem Aleph, the human race will be destroyed no matter what, consequently he rejects this outcome as a world where humans have no freedom, no future, and no possibilities for them, and admits that humans cannot live on strength alone. Therefore, Jimenez rejects his previous ambitions of a might makes right utopia in favour of a simple new world where humans can become anything they want, even if that means becoming demons. This new resolve naturally means that the course of events has changed to the point where the future in which Alex travels back in time no longer exists, and consequently Alex and George no longer exist in the present. Thus the New Chaos path begins.
When the party meets Mem Aleph in this path, she initially congratulates the party on completing their mission in gathering the Cosmic Eggs and proclaims that “this long age of conflict” will end with humans and demons agreeing to live side by side, just as she did in the original Chaos path. Most of the conversation plays out exactly as it did before until Jimenez says that the demons can’t have humans going extinct and tells Mem Aleph that there is something missing in her new world. Mem Aleph takes umbrage with being told that she is mistaken by one of her minions, but Jimenez points out that, despite Mem Aleph saying that humans and demons are opposite sides of the same mirror, she doesn’t care about humans in the slightest, further insisting that humans don’t need “strength”, but instead “possibility”. Mem Aleph is disapponted and retorts that humans must be made “beautiful” again, whatever that means, and that “possibility” “only breeds corruption”. Jimenez tries to reason with Mem Aleph, but debate becomes futile as Mem Aleph declares the time for words over, and Jimenez’s retaining of his humanity beyond the pale, and so it becomes it necessary to fight Mem Aleph.
Here the difference between the old and the new Chaos paths is characterized by the true nature of Mem Aleph’s designs for the world. It was clear enough to the player in the original game that Mem Aleph had no love for humanity, though siding with her on the Chaos path would have necessitated a certain deal of ambiguity on her part, that she might appear to love a newly Chaotic humanity. But the whole might makes right vision she and other demons put forward, far from liberating humans from their vices and limitations and far from a simple consequence of having too much freedom, was always just an effort to engineer the destruction of the human race, who she probably always hated. Indeed, such is her misanthropy that she forgets the interconnected nature of humans and demons, which is such a hallmark for Chaos ideology and the nature of the SMT universe that Lucifer knows it full, and expresses his concern for human and demon alike in the second game. However much any demons may despise humans, the demons as a whole would die out with the extinction of the human species.
After Mem Aleph’s defeat, the goddess Demeter seemingly laments that Jimenez and the party killed “your own mother” (her being the mother of demons) simply to create a new world, though is ultimately merely amused. After she steals the fruit that Alex gives you, Lucifer (Louise Ferre) appears and reveals that Demeter is a servant of the Three Spirits, in fact the Three Wise Men from the original game, who sought the Cosmic Eggs sealed by Mem Aleph in order gain the power to wipe out humanity in order to create a new world in the name of God. That fruit Alex gave you is a piece of the fifth Cosmic Egg, and the whole idea of going through the Womb of Grief was to collect all the other pieces of that Egg. After fighting Zelenin (this time the fight with her takes place after the fight with Mem Aleph), they eventually deal with the Three Spirits/Wise Men, who reveal themselves to be a being named Shekinah. They refer to the player and Jimenez as demons who should be purged and proclaim their desire to create a world without demons where all beings sing their praise. With Shekinah defeated, Jimenez and the player return to the Vanishing Point to create a world for both humans and demons. When this happens, the power of the Schwarzvelt covered the Earth and swept away human civilization just as it did in the original Chaos ending. In this new Chaos ending, however, there is no talk of constant violence and brute competitions of strength. Instead the demons act as guardians of a world constructed through the power of creation, with nothing restricting people from exploring possibilities. Again the demons set out to “purify” the Earth, which presumably means to rid it of the corruptions of the previous era and its previous incarnation of the human race. The new humanity is free to choose whether it wants to work together, to create, to take by force, or destroy, and make new and better sets of rules than the previous civilization, while the demons return to being gods and exerting divine influence in the world. It is still an unstable world, with no rules except for what humans create, and infinite possibilities coupled with infinite dangers, but humans and demons alike would live and co-exist in freedom, and new rules would be created as a result of co-operation, as much as conflict, and whatever new society results is dependent on that.
Noticeably, although perhaps not uniquely, there is no mention at all of might makes right in the new Chaos ending. This was abandoned with the realization of Jimenez’s compassion for Bugaboo, a weak demon who probably would have been left to die if Jimenez were at all consistent about the ethos of Social Darwinism. Instead what we see is a kind of anarchic state, absent of Social Darwinism, and pregnant instead with the possibility of cooperation just as much as struggle and war, indeed its return to the theme of harmony with nature through the demons as old gods contingent upon this sense of anarchic cooperation and co-existence. This co-existence, even in the original game, can be seen as an essential trait of the Chaotic stance, in sharp contrast to both the Law and Neutral paths in which the demons are simply annihilated or banished. Now, the main perceived disadvantage of Chaos isn’t to be found in the brutish nature of might makes right competition, but instead in the almost complete uncertainty of freedom. Humans and demons live together in freedom, there are no external restrictions on what they can do together, but that also means there is no guarantee of how their new world will look. But then again there was almost never any certainty in the Neutral paths throughout the series except that humans will re-establish their civilizational status quo, with no actual guarantee that humans won’t once again be dragged into the war between Law and Chaos. In the end, the price of true freedom has always been uncertainty, because that’s just what happens when there is no control over the fate of humans. The certainty that stands in antithesis to this condition requires the imposition of order, but even this is not enough because the only way to be truly certain of the outcome of human destiny is to destroy its freedom to manifest autonomously, and so dictatorship over human destiny is what provides full certainty that it will flow to the course of any given teleological desire.
Insofar as we take Chaos as an inclusive absolute, what can we establish about it across all the major SMT games in which there is a Law and Chaos dynamic? Chaos seems to have certain variances about it, which I suppose is befitting of the traditional concept of chaos as popularly understood. We see in Chaos the idea of freedom as a kind of metaphysical return to nature, expressed in harmony with the “ancient gods” (the demons, or the gods of Chaos), and sometimes taking the form of the return to a harsh state of nature, which is often but not always expressed as might makes right ideology. We see in Chaos the primary rejection of authority as represented by God and his angels. We see in Chaos the liberation of desire, which is also expressed through harmony with the demons. We see in Chaos a generalistic embrace of individual autonomy even if it means dealing with harsh consequences. We see in Nocturne’s form of Chaos an anti-cosmic variation of the pursuit of ultimate freedom in a cosmos dictated by a rutheless cycle of creation and destruction under a God who will not cease until he attains the perfect sinless cosmos, and we see in this same iteration the principle of the rejection of the Absolute and of fate. We the embrace of primordial potentiality, chaos, as the seat of creation and freedom. We see in Chaos the idea that real freedom comes with the price of uncertainty, even if it that uncertainty might indeed be dangerous. We see in Chaos a generalistic stance that change is not only a constant in life but also in its radical form necessary for the resolution of injustice; indeed, encompassing revolution as a motor for progress and liberty.
All of this also harks back to the way chaos is often understood in its familiar, popular, and often misguided context, but perhaps far more saliently in a deeper philosophical context that is often somewhat alien to this understanding. Chaos in this sense represents the condition of potentiality and dynamics characterised by the lack of a teleological guarantee of order, especially divine order. It represents a kind of primoridal state of freedom in this sense. Small wonder that this is expressed in terms of an anarchic state of nature whose realization, or rather return, the representatives of Chaos advocate for. Lucifer, as the series’ most frequent patron of the forces of Chaos, makes the most sense as its representative for reasons that are not limited only to the ideal of individual free will. Luciferian freedom stands as archetypal liberty, not limited to the vaunted privileges of the bourgeois Enlightenment but in its fullness denotes the natural freedom absent of the teleological will of God, or the historic kingdoms of progress. It can be thought of in this sense as a kind of spiritual anarchism, the rejection of cosmic authority on behalf of freedom. And, for however much individualism is attributed to Chaos, and there is an individualist sense of freedom present that cannot quite be extricated from the picture, but the presence of the demonic also serves as the Other to which Man is inexorably bound, as is the Nature with which Man is to restore harmony.
Such a concept is as liberating as it is dangerous and as novel as it is timeless, and it cannot be reduced to the ideology of might makes right, itself in practice simply a new way of ordering the herd around. Originally this aspect was portrayed mostly as a consequence of the emphasis on individual freedom, no doubt inspired by the classic argument against anarchism that if you abolish the state it will lead to endless violence and/or a competition of disorganized wills. In later games it metastasized into an ideology of its own, to the point that to take the Chaos path is to believe in a world where the strong thrive and rule over the weak without any limits. Yet throughout the series we see many conceptions of Chaos that have little to do with might makes right ideology, and if anything that concept seems to hamper Chaos to a significant extent. But, will the trajectory for Chaos across the series change? Does Strange Journey Redux set the tone for how future Chaos paths will look? Only time will tell.
This has been the first in a series of posts dealing with the ideological contours of the Shin Megami Tensei alignments, focusing on Chaos. The second post will focus on the Law alignment, and will be published soon.
As if this fucking Covid crisis couldn’t get any worse, yesterday evening I received the sudden news that we were about to enter into a new lockdown effective as of midnight. Now we are in a brand new lockdown during the holiday season right through Christmas and New Year’s, theoretically lasting until the middle of January but I’m honestly not too sure when it actually will end. Supposedly this lockdown is justified by a new strain of COVID-19 which spreads faster than the base strain, but there is no evidence that it is actually more deadly than the base strain, and in fact scientists have told us that there could be thousands of new strains and probably are, meaning that somehow only one was just threatening enough to endanger Christmas festivities. Also it seems that this new lockdown comes hot off the heels of the revelation that 11,000 cases hadn’t been recorded until recently, so it seems like it’s not so much that more people dying as much as there were already cases just that the people who were supposed to register them just didn’t, and now because of that it seems like there’s a certain surge of cases.
In London and south-east England, people are not allowed to mix with each other at all even during Christmas, which means for many people Christmas plans are already cancelled. Elsewhere in England, the rules regarding social distancing will still be relaxed temporarily, but only on Christmas Day as opposed to the original five day plan that was talked about since last week. The same (thankfully) applies to Wales and Scotland. In Northern Ireland, however, there is a window of relaxation for three households at a time which begins on December 23rd and ends on December 27th. though the region is set to enter a six week lockdown that begins on Boxing Day. All told, the British population are having to drastically alter their plans for the holidays, and for some people the holiday season has been cancelled, if not outright then certainly de facto.
This ultimately represents the victory of the modern secular state over popular tradition. Before 2020, Christmas would be seen as utterly untouchable in society, rendering any insane right-wing blatherings about “the War on Christmas” completely ridiculous. Now, however, it has been established that the government can nullify any traditions it likes under the aegis of expediency and security, and this is the precedent that has been established. Truly this is a grim finale for 2020.
We can also speculate on the fate of the economy as a result of this new lockdown, and in this regard there is good reason for pessimism. The holiday season is usually a reliable boost to the national economy, not only with people buying gifts for others, sometimes at the last minute, and after Christmas the sales from Boxing Day onwards typically result in a great deal of revenue and profit for businesses large and small. But with a lockdown in place, all sorts of businesses will face either mandatory temporary closures or remain open only with severe restrictions, and in either case they will be treated to a massive loss of revenue and profit. Previous lockdowns have resulted in businesses large and small forced to close their doors for good, resulting in harsh economic decline. So not only is popular tradition under attack but we can expect the economy to be eviscerated. All of this has barely been accounted for by policy-makers or the prevailing “expert” class.
Of course, however, it would be wrong to say that this move was foisted upon an willing masses. In fact, we have seen many people criticize the government for taking a lax attitude to Christmas in the face of a perceived increased risk. There are those who oppose the lockdown as an infringement of freedom, but there are also those who oppose relaxation as an unacceptable risk to life. There are also those who have reacted negatively to the initial plans for a five day period of relaxation citing the fact that Eid and Rosh Hashanah have either been effectively cancelled or forced to adhere to restrictions that entail behaviours entirely barred by the tradition, so it possible to look at the government’s plans for Christmas as a strategy by which to avoid being called out for hypocrisy, though all it really shows is that the government will not relent in its willingness to attack the freedom of popular tradition along with other freedoms.
What does this mean for me? Not much except for whatever comes of my plans for Christmas with my girlfriend. I’ll still have to go to work, or at least I’m sure of that anyway. I wouldn’t complain if I didn’t if it meant I paid as part of a furlough scheme, but I probably won’t have to worry about that. Honestly though, as more draconian lockdowns keep ravaging the economy and corroding our freedoms, and our shared belief in those freedoms, I couldn’t care less if we ended up adopting the Swedish model once the continuous lockdowns inevitably prove unsustainable. Honestly, I don’t see how anyone stands for this crap all year and I do not look forward to dealing with it for the next year. Yeah, sure, complain about “herd immunity” all you want, I don’t think it’s really a good idea to just let people die, but Sweden never really did a lockdown like the rest of Europe did, and while it seemed horrible at the start it actually turned out that Sweden had no second wave like we did, or at least not until last month. It’s true that almost 8,000 people are dead in Sweden, but that is significantly less than Britain’s 67,401 deaths, or for matter many other European countries. Of course, I still wouldn’t actually recommend it on the grounds that Sweden and Britain may operate on two entirely different sets of conditions, internal and external. Maybe with some moderation involved but certainly not the model of senseless authoritarianism being implemented here.
In any case, the Taiwanese model is the superior model. They closed the borders from the beginning and then spray everything with disinfectant. The result is that cases in Taiwan have stayed below 1,000 for months and there’s only ever been 7 deaths. Not many countries in the world can beat that. And from what I’ve heard Finland has started to take cues from Taiwan since they’re spraying apartment blocks with disinfectant. If any of these stupid European countries, including our country, had done this from the start, there would be no lockdown at all and everything would be fine even with COVID-19 floating around. But barely anyone ever gives credit to Taiwan despite this, you certainly won’t see anyone in the media talk about emulating the Taiwanese model, and the WHO acts like Taiwan doesn’t even exist, quite literally in fact as they seem to treat it as inseparable from China.
Why should popular tradition have to suffer because of the ineptitudes of our government and the witless advice of our technocratic overseers? And why should we keep listening to the ignorant cries of those who insist that the problem was “people not listening”? I have news for you dumbasses: not that many people were going to. The government can’t just mismanage the pandemic from the very beginning, refuse to do the right thing at the right time, draft all sorts of nonsensical plans to send the SAS into Wuhan to rescue any tourists foolish enough to get themselves stuck there, completely disrupt their lives because oopsie daisey it turns out that waiting for the virus to spread here has led to disaster, and then expect people to just go along with the new normal. Maybe instead of resorting to some pallid bourgeois moralism about how everything is the fault of ordinary people just trying to deal with this bullshit, we should be criticizing the actions of the government that led to this whole situation unfolding as it did, and hold them to the fire. I know it’s more satisfying for the ego that we take turns bashing people for trying to have a life, but maybe the truth is that there was nothing else that could have happened as a result of the conditions set up by the government, and there is nothing that can be done except vaccinate everyone. But of course, that’s too pessimistic for many people. The truth often is.
During the start of the pandemic we were all told that we could not see our loved ones, that we could not run businesses, we could not hold weddings, we could not travel, we cannot do mass gatherings etc., all to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Less than three months later, what are we now being told? That it’s OK to huddle up in mass gatherings as long as you’re doing so on behalf of all black people. Following the riots that broke out in Minneapolis, some British progressive activists saw the pillaging that took place and decided “hey, we want in on this too”, and have begun importing American rhetoric here, culminating in a series of massive protests where people have en masse chosen to ignore the lockdown, itself culminating in a series of acts of vandalism directed at various British heritage sites. Every other form of mass gathering has been made illegal but apparently protesting for Black Lives Matter, even to the point of vandalism, is perfectly admissible. And if you have a problem with any this, then you’re accused of being a racist hypocrite who didn’t care about people going to the beaches en masse. When the anti-lockdown people decided to go and protest, everyone wanted them to be sent home or arrested, even while they ultimately conformed to social distancing. But when masses of people go out and protest in violation of social distancing for George Floyd, those who have a problem with that are vilified as racists.
When I first saw the crowds for those London protests, I thought that the government would start to relax the rules in response to the protests. After all, the government dare not impose newfound restriction on the populace simply to target the protesters; not because it would represent government overreach (trust me, British people don’t give a shit otherwise they’d have wanted restrictions to be eased sooner), but because it would be seen as racist. Not to mention the government was fresh out of a recent “scandal” concerning Dominic Cumming so they’d be concerned about their poll numbers. And then what do I know? The government starts talking about easing restrictions. On June 3rd Boris Johnson announced that he wanted to relax the 2 meter social distancing rule, and a few days later the government started talking about re-opening pubs across England by June 22nd. Now, I’m under no illusion that this will apply outside England for the most part, it will probably not be until August that Wales gets to the point where pubs can be re-opened, but at the same time it seems obvious to me that this all meant to be a response to the protesters being able to violate social distancing en masse. After all, if they can go out and protest how come you can’t go out and have a beer and play darts or something? Because of the pandemic? Well, aren’t the protesters supposed to be mindful of that too? And don’t get me wrong, at least in my area I understand that there are protests that are still complying to social distancing and haven’t devolved into vandalism or rioting, but a great many of protests in England have devolved into vandalism and have not observed social distancing.
It is because of this that I believe the government, at least in England, will relax restrictions to the point where we will see the end of the lockdown in the between the middle and the end of summer, or perhaps even earlier than that. Now this is probably going to have disastrous effects in terms of the spread of the virus, the rate of infection will almost certainly go up again especially if mass protests continue, it will be difficult to control the virus until anti-COVID drugs let alone vaccines get distributed, the economy could well take longer to recover than planned, and the healthcare system will almost certainly be burdened beyond capacity. But at the same time, why not? If we’re now at a point where some people can violate social distancing and others can’t because of frankly illogical and hypocritical criteria, then the lockdown may as well be illegitimate, and enforcing it will become almost untenable. We already had a massive row over the Dominic Cummings drama, lots of people felt that it was unfair that he got to travel all the way to Durham while everyone else had to stay at home. Now we’re at a point where, if you support Black Lives Matter and want to go out and do mass protests, you can do exactly that even if it violates social distancing, while everyone else has to stay home. Is that fair? Absolutely not. And like I said before, how come it wasn’t OK to protest the lockdown itself, even if you conform to social distancing while doing so, but it is OK to go out into mass gatherings to protest the killing of George Floyd, which, while horrible and unjust, has no bearing on British society and politics?
And so two choices face the British government: which do we want to continue? Do we want the Black Lives Matter protestors to keep protesting, or do we want the lockdown to continue? If we want the lockdown to continue, the only way to make it fair again is if we declare the Black Lives Matter protests to be illegal on the grounds that they violate the emergency guidelines of social distancing, which prohibit mass gatherings. The flipside of this, however, is that it will give the government the confidence to crack down on future protests post-lockdown, and the state will become more authoritarian as a result. If we want it so people can still protest for Black Lives Matter and whatnot, then the only way to make it all fair is if with either abolish the lockdown or just relax it to such a degree where we have almost returned to normal already, albeit with some restrictions still in place; such a situation would like resemble a lockdown in name only, in which case I imagine many people would still choose to adhere to social distancing without coercion, although there would still be some restrictions in place such as the mandatory wearing of masks in public transport (although as far as I know that’s in England; I wear a mask on transport now that I can finally go out of town again, but as far as I know that’s not because it’s been declared mandatory in Wales). In any case, there can be no middle ground. Either the lockdown is abolished or significantly relaxed, or the protests are declared illegal. Anything in between will just create a sense incongruity, it will still be demonstrably hypocritical and unfair, and there will still be widespread discontent in our society. And if we’re at this point, I choose significantly relaxing, if not abolishing, the lockdown over giving the government more power crack down on future protests. It is no longer tenable to pretend that the lockdown as it is can be enforced consistently, and so long as this is the case it no longer makes sense to believe that the restrictions placed upon our lives will be worth it.
As the lockdown drags on, it was only inevitable that you would see people begin to protest against it. As of this week I have heard about two separate plans to hold mass gatherings in protest of the lockdown in Wales – one in Cardiff, the other in Swansea (this one organized by a group calling itself the UK Freedom Movement). There’s also similar gatherings being planned in England, specifically Sheffield, Lincoln, Plymouth, Nottingham, Southampton, Barnstable and London’s Hyde Park, as well as Edinburgh in Scotland. One is almost instantly reminded of similar anti-lockdown movements active in the United States of America, though the British protesters definitely won’t be brandishing guns and flags at their gatherings. Predictably, police have begun discouraging people from attending these gatherings, and I have reason to suspect that arrests will be made at those gatherings. Some believe these movements are far-right ops, but honestly I doubt it. The Welsh government seems to believe that these protests might be a hoax, which to my mind is not too distant from when Chinese “Communists” dismiss the Hong Kong protests as a false protest drummed up by US imperialism.
And by the way, before I go on, here’s just a brief update on Wales: as of Monday Mark Drakeford said that you actually can see friends and loved ones, but only if you “stay local” (whatever that means), and also you can’t “pre-arrange” meetings with friends and loved ones, which means you can only see your loved ones if you spontaneously encounter them at the park. So you can see your loved ones but also not really. And here I thought Boris Johnson was supposed to be keeping it vague. Oh and also we’re now going to have a problem with lots of people from England coming to Wales now that exercize restrictions have been significantly relaxed in England, but the government has said that they will not tighten the border between Wales and England, so all that’s going to happen is that the police have to send back every single car that comes through the Severn Bridge. So I can’t travel for ten miles to see my girlfriend, or vice versa, without having to worry about the police stopping me, and the government wants me to stay in my home town and never venture outwards, because there is no articulated distinction for them between travelling ten miles within the same county versus travelling between Cardiff and Porthcawl, which are 26 miles apart, no guideline other than “stay local” (and “local” is a relative term), but some assholes from England can come into Wales en masse and the government will do almost jack shit. The Welsh government is supremely frustrating.
That update might seem like an irrelevant thing to bring up, but it’s actually things like this that lead to me being sympathetic with the anti-lockdown protesters and the UK Freedom Movement. Now there is a lot wrong with the anti-lockdown movements here: there’s the fact that they oppose mandatory vaccination, which is pretty much essential to maintaining group immunity from diseases that would have killed us all just a century or so earlier and is going to be crucial if we are to extinguish COVID-19, they seem to believe that COVID-19 is being created by 5G masts, for which there is no evidence (although, in all fairness, fuck 5G and their towers), there’s their weird claims about the lockdown being illegal, a claim which unfortunately I don’t see anything to support, supposedly there’s even video of them ingesting laughing gas, which is all sorts of questionable in my view, and I’ve even seen one protester claim that the lockdown is worse than life under Nazi Germany, which is just absurdly wrong on its face. But even with that, I find myself somehow more sympathetic to them than to their critics. Why? Because their critics are nothing but a pack of snitches who have nothing of substance to say other than whining about the NHS, and the government is nothing but a pack of liars, crooks and tinpot-wannabes who have forced us all to discard our ways of life because they valued the continued flow of free trade over the lives of the people. And, I’m sorry, but if you are willing to let all of that override the most basic and essential value of liberty, then you’re exactly the sort of person that Benjamin Franklin talked about when he said “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
I really can’t stress enough how much this applies to British society and its body politic as a whole. There are almost no political parties that actually stress freedom here, at least to the same degree as in the United States of America, even the left here doesn’t really give a shit even though you could easily oppose the Conservative Party on that basis and build a thoroughgoing critique of the party based on liberty, and even the British public don’t really care all that much about freedom, despite high-minded talk of “the English spirit of liberty” from our pundits to the contrary. British people are generally more proud of the NHS than anything else, and our democracy, freedoms and culture don’t even come close in their minds. Additionally, the majority of Britons overwhelmingly favour authoritarian measures under the guise of fighting terrorism, which means of course that the majority of Britons don’t really care about the fact that their government and police have been clammering for more surveillance for years now. So it should come as no surprise that even 7 weeks or so into the lockodwn, even under some of the strictest restrictions in Europe, most Britons, when surveyed, actually seem to want more restrictions, they want the lockdown in its current stage to go on for longer, don’t want people to be able to socialize during the lockdown, and think that Boris Johnson was going too far in his changes. It’s not that British people have suddenly become anti-freedom because of the pandemic, but rather because they weren’t exactly liberty-minded to start with. And it’s this fear about the NHS in particular that lends to this in particular because it can be weaponized against those who value civil liberty in principle.
All of this contributes to a surging impulse towards freedom in me, one that I realize I can’t really do anything about in the current situation, but one that becomes more and more pronounced, more intense, as time goes by. I’m angrier at the establishment more than ever now, and I’m increasingly skeptical about this whole affair. The Luciferian impulse, as it were, is on the ascent again for me, and I guess it’s from here that I can derive a sense of purpose, or more or less remember the one that had guided me before. That’s why even though I cannot conscionably support the anti-lockdown movements in totality, because even with regards to our lockdown all I’ve ever wanted was just to be able to move between towns again within the same county and see the person I love again, even then, I see value in the anti-lockdown movements as a kind of pressure against the government, and I see in them a small glimmer of a sign that, perhaps, there’s a desire for freedom in some of the British public, and in the reaction of their critics I see nothing but atavistic contempt for liberty. And at the very least they aren’t as retarded and vile as the US anti-lockdown protesters, who pretty much just want the freedom of bosses to lead the weak to their doom.
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