Book: Confessions of a Failed Egoist
Author: Trevor Blake
Type of Book: Non-fiction, essays, philosophy, memoir
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: SubGenii Unite!
Availability: Published by Underworld Amusements in 2014, you can get a copy here:
Comments: This book showed me in many ways that I have become a very bitter woman. I don’t think I am an egoist because I am sort of filled with self-loathing and seldom know what the right thing to do might be and therefore have no business using my own self as a life philosophy, but I can still see the charm in this book of short essays and articles dealing with everything from egoism to the sexual lives of the disabled to selling used books.
Blake’s style is erudite yet irreverent and breezy, almost to distraction at times. And god this book could have been better edited. It actually fell outside of my bitchy upper limit of what I can endure in regards to errors in books, but it was charming and intelligent enough to make it still worth discussing. You will also encounter words like “siphonophore” (a sort of man-of-war water creature) and improving your vocabulary via arcane words is a good thing.
Let’s begin this discussion with Blake’s definition of egoism:
Egoism is the claim that the individual is the measure of all things. In ethics, in epistemology, in aesthetics, in society, the Individual is the best and only arbitrator. Egoism claims social convention, laws, other people, religion, language, time and all other forces outside of the Individual are an impediment to the liberty and existence of the Individual. Such impediments may be tolerated but they have no special standing to the Individual, who may elect to ignore or subvert or destroy them as He can. In egoism the State has no monopoly to take tax or wage war.
Yeah, yeah, I see the appeal but in this respect I’m a pedant and anti-intellectual to boot – if I can’t see it working in real life I can’t really discuss it in much depth. Philosophies that end up stating that one of their tenets is that the State cannot tax or wage war cause me to want to discuss whether or not Ariel the Mermaid should have exchanged her fins for legs and if the exchange was worth it. Both discussions occupy the same head space in my brain. Let’s discuss how many mermaids can dance on the head of a philosopher!
But even if I am philosophically stunted these days, there is much in this book that resonated with me.
“My Crowded Fist Theater Shouting Fire at the End of Your Nose” is a very short essay on the egoist approach to freedom of speech. It’s an important chapter in an increasingly baffling world where people who claim to be liberals insist that limiting speech they don’t like is, in fact, a democratic good. That calling a fat person a fat person, however pointless or nasty such a statement may be, should be a hate crime. That college law classes need to censor the word “rape” in legal courses so as to avoid triggering rape victims who presumably decided to attend law school knowing that crime exists and they would need to know about legal remedies afforded rape victims and the legal defenses offered to accused rapists. Again, Blake’s glib tone can seem distracting at first but he summarizes very well much in modern discourse that annoys the everloving fuck out of me.
My mom taught me long ago that sticks and stones may break My bones but words will never hurt Me. She spoke the gospel truth. Having a discriminating taste sometimes means developing a taste for discrimination. I divested when diversity donned dull conformity. What was to be an opening of the prison became a changing of the guard. Yessir, there are some mean spirited jokes out there. I’ve heard them all and I’ve even said a few. The civil response curiously includes both silently walking away and giving the speaker an oil-drum full of his own medicine. Free speech is worth every penny.
Hate crime laws exist only to make voters feel good about politicians who look good. Female genital mutilation, setting girls on fire for going to school, chopping women’s head’s [sic] off for being too Western – you might not want to call it Islam, but let’s agree to call it sexism.
I am increasingly unable to stomach current feminists who lose their minds over the Duggar family’s excesses yet are willing to explain why Muslim women are actually empowered by submitting to the men who control the entirety of Islam. And they do this as they praise the Muslim women and girls who stand up to the very religion that would have them killed for standing up. Absolutely baffling.
Speak your mind and take your lumps. Other people’s hypocrisy bugs me.
This was important to me because, though it has died down quite a bit, I still get push back from Eurabia True Believers who are just beside themselves that I analyzed all of Fjordman’s words and found that he was indeed calling for an armed insurrection against socialist examples of cultural Marxism and that his insistence that he never once did such a thing is full of pants. All he had to do was own what he said – doing so was not an admission of blame. He never really interacted with Anders Behring Breivik so there is no way he could be held to blame for the Oslo bombing and the Utøya massacre. But in Fjordman’s attempts to distance himself from the man whose acts he definitely influenced, he did his righteous best to deny he ever used language that could be said to encourage such violent actions. He really needed to take his lumps rather than insist he never said what he said often and with vigor. In modern society we talk a lot of shit, don’t we? The Internet practically demands it. But if we own our shit we can at least be honest assholes rather than hypocritical assholes.
“Multiple Name Identities” was a very interesting article for me given my own belief that James Shelby Downard was actually three different men pretending to be a Masonic-plagued old man. But this article was also interesting to me because it was nice remembering when I didn’t find pranksterism tiresome. Mr Oddbooks and I used to be members of the Church of the SubGenius (as was Blake) and I slummed around in neoism (I worked for a politician when I was experimenting in neoism and that was seriously the most fucked I have ever been – not even a drug-induced suicide attempt rivaled that time for the most miserable time in my life). Despite being relatively earnest now I still find pranksters enjoyable as long as they are not in my house. I like the sense of piecing together ruses. So it was fun reading about Kerry Thornley and Robert Anton Wilson and the entity that is Karen Elliot and various other multiple name identities. I also like the opposite of multiple name identities – single entity multiplicities. I engage in that a bit.
I found particularly interesting the article on how Islam is more or less anathema to the sincere egoist. “Lan Absalem! The Unique One Will Not Serve” is pretty much guaranteed to offend devout Muslims and extreme apologists who consider any criticism of this particular Abrahamic religion to be mindless Islamophobia. And Blake is utterly unapologetic about it all:
And no need have I, just an impish impulse to impugn Islam. Not for the furtherance of faithlessness, but for the sheer sport of it let me stick My thick hands into the bees’ nest. Yet fair dues, fair dues, there is a pathway to the Unique One for any Muslim who will present dorsal to Mecca. I am where I find Myself, and it tweeks My own nose to give the Religion of Peace a chance to redeem itself.
Because I am myself completely dismissive of all Middle Eastern religions (and despair of writing about my attitudes outside of book discussions because I love many Jews, Christians and Muslims and my love for them trumps my desire to argue about it all, which, by the way, is the sweetest tolerance of all). I have never before given any thought as to how Islam can be married to egoism. Consider it a spoiler alert when I reveal this article shows that egoism and Islam cannot really blend into a funky new world outlook.
Not to say that Islam has not produced some people whose individualism shone through dogma.
Bold strokes of individuality stand out on the caligrams of Islam. The Yazidi are to Islam what Mormanism is to Protestantism: older and newer, strange among strangers. The Yazidi peacock angel Melek Taus would not bow to mankind, and for his egoism was cast out by Allah and is thus revered by the Yazidi. Iblis is bliss! The Khariji claimed that anyone could be a Muslim leader and the Najdiyya noted no leader was needed. Closer to home we have Yakoub Islam and the Noble Hakim Bey traveling a silk road from anarchism to Islam and back again.
But Mohammed himself was a perfect example of why Islam is and always will be incompatible with the Individual.
Mohammed saw all the world as beneath him as the perfect man and the final prophet. Yet he surrendered his throne to an invisible monster that lives in the sky. He ruled Arabia not for jollies but because it was Right – a right common spook with no seat at the egoist table. He crystalized the world into sharia law, externally outside and suffocating the ego (particularly if you are a lady ego). Islam is for all the world, like it or not. Those who will submit are to be greeted as brothers, while those who will not submit are to be taxed or killed for their insubordination. Contrast this divine draft with the drafty designs of egoism. The only recruiting poster for egoism is My mirror.
He goes on, and this next part was very important to me, because as a person who pretty much lives and lets live, who took special pains to denounce Eurabia and the utter fear of Muslims, it can be interpreted that I am an apologist for Islam. Nothing can be further from the truth and apologists wear me out with their refusal to see reality: even “true” Islam is a regressive, repressive religion and speaking out against those repressive elements and Muslim extremists is not Islamophobia. Abrahamic religions as a whole are nasty affairs and individual acts of Muslim extremism do not happen exclusively because Whitey sucks.
…I think that when encountering an image of Mohammed, a burning Qur’an, or a lack of accommodation for each and every grievance the faith of perpetual offendedness offers that Muslims are able to decide how they will respond. They are not provoked, alakazam! into automatic murderous frenzies. That’s a choice they are making. Just like the choice to practice female genital mutilation, throw acid into a little girl’s face for the sin of learning to read, cousin marriage, honor killings, slavery, and oh, the list does go on. Like a battered woman who goes back for more, thinking this time she’ll love her man into not beating her, Muslim apologists can’t bend over backwards quickly enough to make sure nobody’s feelings get hurt. That tolerance of the intolerable is the reason the weirdy-beardies are treated with kid gloves, allowed to have triumphant temper tantrums as they rama-down your throat their arid desert cult.
It’s baffling to me, the recent turns in liberalism wherein feminists are actually Islam apologists. Intersectionality will be the death of progressive thought because it is used without any discernment to prove that the most oppressed is the winner regardless of individual choice and effort (or lack thereof), and has created a relentless race to the bottom among those for whom losing is winning. And this is the hell of the issue, isn’t it, that Islam, be it the actual text of the Koran or the demented interpretations by adherents (and shit like that never happens in the practices of Judaism or Christianity) – there is no room for the individual and individual reactions within dogmatic faiths and when the worst happens we blame the faith rather than the individual for every terrorist action fueled by megalomania and fanaticism.
It’s mighty demeaning, too, isn’t it? To explain away all nasty acts by patting the poor brown person on the head and saying, “Well, of course we made you do this, with our money and privilege and prestige and far better religion that doesn’t make us kneel several times a day.”
So while I’m likely not an egoist (though who knows, I may be – the utter self-indulgence I display in these massive book discussions points in a decidedly self-interested direction) it was helpful seeing my thoughts framed in such a manner. Because ultimately Blake’s perspective is far more useful for those of us who believe that human beings have genuine potential and are not just pawns in an ever increasing game of lack-of-privilege-assignation to explain personal failure, be it moral, social, financial or spiritual.
Another article that encouraged thought was “So You Want to Meet an Alien?” This article discusses the program The Skin Horse and other works by Nabil Shaban. Shaban is a writer and actor who has brittle bone disease and has major physical limitations as a result. This article discusses a UK television program Shaban was commissioned to make that portrays the sex lives of disabled adults. Blake mentions in the article that the program is more or less unavailable to rent or purchase, but a quick look online showed a real low-quality copy is available on YouTube. It’s definitely worth a view. Studying the The Skin Horse causes Blake to ponder the nature of beauty, sexual fetishes and the agency of people whom do-gooders often infantalize.
I’m not going to quote in depth from this article because it is one of the more serious articles in this book and I want you to read it without my interpretation of it, but I will mention that this article was particularly interesting to me. I’d recently read an interview with a man in the UK who is significantly disabled and uses the services of a prostitute who has a specialty with disabled men. She’s comfortable dealing with their limitations, has no fear or squeamishness handling such men, and as a result this man’s life has more meaning to him because he is able to have a natural, adult sex life, albeit one he pays for. Moralists and do-gooders feel far more comfortable denying this man his sexual agency and look at the prostitute as a person who preys on the weak rather than a sex/social worker who permits men who have no money in the sexual bank the ability to obtain a sexual life. (I cannot find this article but will link to it if/when I find it in my bookmarks.)
This article also reminded me of an article in Adam Parfrey’s Cult Rapture. “Please, May I Touch Your Scar? Queasy Hours Among I CAN: A Cult of Sex-Obsessed Cripples” isn’t a very positive look at the disabled who pursue a sex life. This article initially made me feel uncomfortable because I felt odd about how gross I found everyone mentioned in the article. Shaban as discussed in Blake’s article is a man with whom I would like to spend some time, talking to him and learning more about his work and his life. David and Violet Brandenburger as portrayed in Parfrey’s work weren’t really the sort of people any sane person would want to be around. In fact, David is probably a pedophile and definitely predates on other weak adults but initially I was stricken with the liberal-do-gooderism that says that one should not criticize the disabled because they’ve suffered and other reasons that are less clear to me. But the comparison between Blake’s and Parfrey’s articles show me how democratic the world can really be – assholes and gross people are assholes and gross regardless of disability. Calling a scumbag a scumbag even though she’s in a wheelchair is one of the most inherently democratic things a person can do – otherwise you’re just pandering.
Another article definitely worth reading is “Why Should I Speak of Them: The Strange Lives of Those Who Sell Books to Those Who Love Books.” In this piece Blake speaks of his time selling used books in Portland, Oregon, and it sounds much like my brief time spent selling used books in Round Rock, Texas. Best job I ever had and I still remember with great fondness several of the customers who came to know me during my short tenure. Best part of this article deals with the notes and ephemera Blake found in the used books he bought to sell. My series on my favorite examples of marginalia, inscriptions and ephemera I have in my own book collection shows my love of this element of dealing with used books, but Blake took it in a direction I never thought of. He plants his own bizarre notes:
Inspired by what I have found in books, I have left a note or two of My own. On the back of a photograph of a young couple I wrote “I KILLED THESE TWO PUT THEM IN A HOLE IN CANYON PASSAGE” and stuck it back in in [sic] a book along with a postcard from Canyon Passage. I won’t be around to see the reaction when that little treasure is found, but I can imagine…”
While I enjoyed the fact that some of Blake’s articles encouraged me to think critically about why I think what I think, the fact remains that the best reason to read this book is because Blake is quite accomplished at the art of the snarky, humorous observation. It’s sort of like if Charles Nelson Reilly was on a game show for years with Max Stirner and then wrote a book about his life philosophies. The one-liners and hilarious passages are the price of admission for this book and if you get a dose of philosophic thought as you read, that’s the bonus. Not that this isn’t a serious look at egoism, in its way, but it is also very sarcastic and amusing. Some examples:
From the article, “Really”:
Society can’t run fast enough across a million miles to shout in your face that you aren’t yourself. Everyone and everything is responsible for your behavior except you.
As the helpful hands of normalcy try to pull me in half, mistaking me for a matryoska nesting doll with the “real” me inside, there must be one phrase I hear more than any other. YOU MUST BE AFRAID. You must be afraid to be sensitive, you must be afraid to work, you must be afraid to die. It’s mentioned as a motive but it sounds like a command. You MUST be afraid!
Actually, as I type the above, I realize it’s not that funny but at the same time I need to mention it because again Blake expresses a problem I have had for a bit wherein I challenge an idea and those who defend it tell me I must be really afraid of whatever it is I deny. I still recall an online discussion about alternative medicine (a woman cured her genital warts or herpes or some appalling crotch issue with mushroom powder and doctors are furious with her for sharing her secret in a book she sells for an extraordinary amount of money). It devolved into an argument over whether or not oil pulling – the bizarre practice of gargling oil for 30 minutes straight in order to draw toxins out of the body – is real medicine versus stupid-ass quackery. I was told I must be afraid of foreign cultures and ideas if I denied the curative principles of some element of ayurvedic medicine. Did I need to use a doll to show them where the Indian shaman touched me as a child? Such condescension annoys the shit out of me. Just admit you have no proof that swishing coconut oil in your mouth has curative power and that you do it because it’s a safe way to obtain alt.culture cred without inciting the vitriol that would occur if you wore a bindi dot in public or a sari on Halloween. Also, when someone accuses you of being afraid because you disagree, it will always be a white woman who really hates the privilege that being white brings them. This is a corollary to the axiom wherein anyone who tells you to check your privilege will always have far more than you do. Always. No black women living in poverty have ever told me to check my privilege. Strangely white girls whose parents paid for them to go to Ivy League schools, and they totally spent a semester abroad in India so they know far more than my white-ass ever could about social injustice, are often concerned with my privilege and how often it is inventoried.
Wow. I’m a lot more bitter than I realized.
From “Triumph of the Wilt”:
A shibboleth for the sympathy sect is the claim that if someone suffered they were in the right. Everybody loves a martyr when it’s somebody else.
When a theist squeaks “you are oppressing me!” you can be pretty sure that means “you asked a question I don’t want to answer.”
To suggest that parent might be a verb as well as a noun is to be accused of oppression. It’s fine to neglect a child as long as you whisper a magic spell over the child as they die.
Conspiracy theorists love being oppressed. They hold the big secret, but the subject of the big secret is so powerful that they are powerless to do anything about it. They have all the rights of bettering society and none of the responsibility for doing so.
I’ve got a sensitivity to censorship. Free speech is worth every penny, but it spends better than the alternative.
As you man up, the marching mewlers will usually self-select you out of the cool kids club. You’ll also see some mighty crab claws reaching toward you as you pull yourself out of the bullshit bucket.
It’s hard to know if those who read here will like this book. I’m left-wing and I really enjoyed it but I also know a bunch of people who are themselves extremely left-wing who would loathe this book because they are left-wing in a different manner than I am left-wing. If you are a liberal who is sick of victim culture, attempts at censorship on behalf of the goals of identity politics, and the denial of personal responsibility as a social good, you will like this book. Ironically, many right-wingers who are also libertarian in their mindset will hate this book because it cuts Ayn Rand little slack and refuses to pander to Christian or doctrinaire morality. So I have no idea if you will like this book. Having a deep appreciation for word play and sarcasm will help, but even then if you are a so-called fourth wave feminist, reading this book may make you shit blood. Mileage, as always, varies, but I enjoyed it and will read more of Blake again as long as he promises I can proofread the goddamned book before it goes to press. Recommended for people like me, for the rest of you with reservation depending on taste, and in a sense there can be no better summation of this book than that recommendation.