The Islamic Vortex (Part 3b)

“This time is different” is a slogan designed for derision. Greer set me back onto it again, but it’s familiar background hum, and could have come from anywhere. In it’s most typical usage it applies to the psychology of business cycles, as the epitome of bubble denial, which is to say: investor hubris. (This book might be the best known example.) With blunt irony, it is placed in the mouth of a fool, who is prompted to declare that things won’t turn out the same this time around (so of course they will). It’s what somebody is expected to say shortly before losing their shirt.

There are a few quite simple things that can be said about the presumption, whether learned or instinctive, that things will almost certainly not be different ‘this time’.
— It is a cognitive stance that conforms almost perfectly with the dominant sense of ‘wisdom’.
— It is strongly aligned with the heuristic that history has important lessons to teach us (and that the lessons of deep history are especially profound).
— It is skeptical with respect to Utopian schemes of improvement.
— It has an emotional correlate, in aversion to enthusiasm.
— Every civilized (or even merely cultural) tradition has an identifiable version of it.
For all these reasons, it has a reactionary bias, due to its affinity with everything that resists the progressive impulse and its fantastic illusions. It remembers that change has happened before, and what happened when it did. Even when explicit, relevant memory is lacking, it assumes that tradition incorporates wisdom, and thus provides a bulwark against reckless enthusiasm. It is unmistakably biased, because there has been enough past to make it so.

The guiding maxim of Outside inOptimize for intelligence – is not primarily wise. Among the readers of this blog, however, wisdom is the prevalent mode of realism, and it is displayed in crushing abundance. When our digression into Egyptian practical neoreaction strayed into the exultant discovery of a rare moment in which everything changes, the push-back commentary was quick, hard, and relentlessly wise.

Learned wisdom, rooted in historical recollection, expects to be countered, usually by fools. Of all the things that have happened before, innumerable times, among the most common is a delirium of novelty, accompanied by rationalizations of greater or lesser sophistication. History is able to test doctrines of novelty, by excavating ancestral anticipations whose very existence amounts to a refutation. For any claim to the unprecedented, exposure to precedents is an embarrassment that cannot easily be survived.

From an occluded future, the disturbance of wisdom can draw no sustenance, but history offers it partial refuge, in two interconnected ways. Firstly, it can contest the time-scale of normality, pushing expectations into deeper and more expansive cycles, in order to relativize a formation of wisdom to a long-settled innovation, whose ‘naturalness’ rests on nothing beyond a comparative durability of change. Wisdom is challenged to deepen its memory, and to recall the difference it has mistaken for a foundation. If anything done can be undone – and even has to be – then what will not be undone, in time? Every establishment was once established, and thus rests upon some sub-basement of historical fragility.

Secondly, the precedents of innovation, when abstractly apprehended, disturb wisdom more effectively than they support it. Sometimes it has been different, unless growth itself is an illusion. Everything, seized at the right scale, is new. Ultimately invention envelopes wisdom, rather than the contrary. (This is not, admittedly, an uncontroversial claim.)

Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed each said “this time it’s different.” A sufficiently mechanical wisdom would even assert that, in this, they all said the same. At the very least, as original founders of distinctive establishments of wisdom, they each preclude a primordial refusal of innovation. An absolute wisdom would judge each worthy of crucifixion, or its equivalent in derision. If wisdom is to be the iron criterion, the Abrahamic faiths are all the works of great comedians. How could it be denied that — when strictly and consistently considered — religious inspiration is inherently unwise? (This is not a judgment I am dogmatically rejecting.)

The state, too, is an invention. It seems to be roughly as old as the institution of literate priesthood, with canons of wisdom to match. That time it was different, and recorded history began. Even then, a deeper and more enveloping wisdom can be conceived, associated with a lost (and unwritten) presumption: this nonsense is not going to last. Perhaps proto-states had been tried, and failed, innumerable times before. The prehistory of political abortions might even have exhibited sufficient richness to make the birth of the state obviously foolish. Equally, through a dilation of time-scales ultimately indistinguishable from wisdom itself, we can still stubbornly presume that this nonsense is not going to last. Or at least, if we refuse this presumption, judging it unrealistic, we have to do so as defenders of innovation, rather than as faithful voices of tradition.

So we return to the leading question of this series: what is the destiny of the Islamic State? Clearly, wisdom offers us no answer. The modes of reason engaged are quite different. We have to correctly identify the real innovations in the history of the state, and come to an equally realistic judgment about the relative priority of religious civilization and political order. Is the Islamic State a state, that happens — incidentally — to be Islamic? Or does Islam decide whether or not it is culturally tolerable to sustain a modern state? These questions are open to revision, and refinement, but the essential divergence of conclusions is inescapable. Either universal political science is possible, or it is not.

If universal politics is judged impossible, that is — in the delicate American turn of phrase — a BFD. The practical recognition of such a reality would make a difference, a durable change, and a disintegration of time. Islam either masters the state, or succumbs to it. That ‘choice’ is a war.

August 3, 2013admin 21 Comments »
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21 Responses to this entry

  • Lou Finch P.I. Says:

    Are there any independent criteria for ‘wisdom’ other than conformity with the dominant discourse? If not, your mutual identification of reaction with wisdom is going to look circular, or at least Mobius-like in this context.

    A truly rigorous skepticism would insist that if things are not necessarily going to change, they do not necessarily have to stay the same either.


    admin Reply:

    “Conformity with the dominant discourse” is not the same thing at all.


    Posted on August 3rd, 2013 at 9:36 pm Reply | Quote
  • James A. Donald Says:

    Theocratic states are normal, indeed arguably all states necessarily have some substantial theocratic element. Islam implements this in pure and direct form. It has pretty much worked for over a thousand years. Why should we doubt it will work for another thousand?

    Now what has happened in Egypt, we lack words to describe, which is why Kerry fumbled. A group that does not represent the majority, nor Islam, has seized power, on the entirely plausible claim that they will do a considerably better job. What manner of beast is this? Is it perhaps progressivism discarding its democratic pretenses and accepting some neoreactionary truths out of pressure of necessity?

    The brotherhood lost because it was Democratic Islam, which is an absurdity. On this question, Al Qaeda is simply right. Islam needs a Calif, perhaps on the model of the early Roman monarchy, where a King is elected for life in an election where the important people count for considerably more than the ordinary people.


    admin Reply:

    I guess my first question is about the universality of ‘theocracy’ as a category. If it remains roughly consistent across faiths, then it serves as a component of secular social analysis, employed to understand ‘the state’ in general. Civilizational differences wouldn’t ultimately matter very much, certainly not in comparison to basic political structures. The alternative inclination — one that’s more ‘Weberian’ in emphasis — attributes far more weight to cultural types, with the consequence that (for instance) an Islamic Theocracy and a Christian Theocracy would not be considered neighboring species of the genus ‘theocratic government’, but instead be assigned to the more general categories ‘Islamic’ and ‘Christian’ institutional systems. (I’m still very open to being pushed back-and-forth on this question.)


    Erik Reply:

    I think I see a resolution of this question in the distance…

    We are asking here: What is primary in the term “Christian Theocracy”? Is it 1) “Theocracy”, and the form of government groups more closely with Hindu Theocracy, or is it 2) “Christian”, and the form of government groups more closely with Christian Democracy?

    Answer 1, as you note, makes “theocracy” a political structure of practically secular nature, only incidentally painted with Christianity, Islam, Hinduism… or progressivism. And thus we are left with something similar to Moldbug’s argument that the US is a crypto-Calvinist Universalist theocracy.

    So this prong of the fork will have progressives sputtering in incoherent denial that their shiny secular government could ever be such a nasty thing as a theocracy, which already makes it fairly appealing. Now permit me to extend some consideration to the other prong.

    Consider a progressive who has been denouncing “theocracies”. Since Answer 2 implies that these are not a proper group, this means that the progressive who denounces Christian Theocracy should also denounce Christian Democracies, Christian Republics, and every Christian form of organization. This in turn forks into:
    2b) Deny that there’s any such thing as Christian Democracy, insist that there is only Democracy.
    2a) Accept that there’s such a thing as Christian Democracy, but denounce it. Deny that Christianity should ever have a place in government, even democratic government.
    And on both of these, one finds that Christians should not have a Christian government. (Muslims, Hindus, etc. too, mutatis mutandis.)

    This seems so morally retarded as to be obviously wrong in one way, and so consistent with extrapolated progressivism as to be obviously wrong in another way.

    Therefore theocracy should be considered a secular component of social analysis. (Apologies for twisting your words a little.)


    bob sykes Reply:

    I have to agree. The current situation in Islam, or at least its Arabic version, has persisted for over a thousand years. It will almost certainly persist for a very long time in part because none of the fragments of Islam is powerful enough to suppress the others. Moreover, the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and the other Islamist movements have broad support in the Islamic world. So why would anything change?

    Our own leadership has been brainwashed into delusion. And since they all went to the same schools (and likely had the same teachers) they share the same delusion. What would we expect anything to change here either?


    VXXC Reply:

    In 1924 the Caliphate was abolished by Ataturk. This has left a huge hole in the Muslim heart,
    it’s worse than say if Garibaldi had abolished the Papacy. Never mind if it had no power…when this happened it was a huge spiritual hole in their hearts.

    This was worse than the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, not exactly stabilizing either.

    So perhaps the blame is more on Ataturk than Sykes-Picot?


    admin Reply:

    “… perhaps the blame is more on Ataturk than Sykes-Picot?” — I think we’re talking about different aspects of a single event.


    VXXC Reply:

    Is this my State Dept job interview? Because that was my angle on that question.

    Hmm. Hmm. Your response could mean your either DoS, or you think I am and want the job too.

    Either way we’re both showing Cathedral potential.

    Posted on August 4th, 2013 at 3:54 am Reply | Quote
  • inthesaltmine Says:

    I have written a few posts on the subject of Wisdom on my blog, and in particular on the idea of an “enfolding” Wisdom, or a certain (mis)reading of Wisdom which envelopes and, in my opinion, must be secured as such. I do think that this is a rather constructive word to use here. I have long been fascinated by this “en-” prefix.

    While I am given to [ultimately] disagree with your statement “Ultimately invention envelopes wisdom, rather than the contrary”, I do recognize the controversy surrounding the underlying point you are trying to make. As it concerns Abrahamic wisdom traditionally understood, perhaps I might even be inclined to agree with you. I tend to agree, for instance, that the Christian logic of wisdom “expects to be countered”. On the other hand, I think you are using the word “wisdom” in a very specific but still almost fast-and-loose way, if I understand you correctly. I wish to make this a bit more clear.

    As a result, I am curious as to what you would make of Dharmic or just in case non-Abrahamic forms of wisdom, including magick, occult, esoterica, and other kinds of mysticism? Or, in particular, Wisdom more carefully understood in the sense of “gnosis”. This would add several other dimensions to your guiding question, I think. Keeping with the geography, some forms of ‘Gnosticism’ and alchemy emerged right on the fault-line between Eastern and Western religious traditions, with the Syrian-Egyptian school and Persian school. I think a major determinant of destiny might just be the way the Islamic state engages with these kind of “heresies”.

    To stay on the question of Islam specifically, I am curious whether or not you see, for instance, something in the idea of “mystical sound” (sawt-e-sarmad) in Sufism or Persian alchemy that might allow us to better engage with the question of the destiny of the Islamic state? To be specific, I have in mind a certain musicological analysis of the “soundscape” of the Middle East, much like your rather topological idea of the Crescent, that may provide some interesting clues.



    admin Reply:

    Whilst very receptive to argument on this topic (and definition), I have been persuaded that Greer represents something like an Ideal Type of wisdom, though expressed in a casual, modern vocabulary. The ultimate theoretical principle — which need not, of course, be recognized as such — is the supremacy of the cycle within the order of time. This applies to Vedic wisdom traditions even more convincingly than to Abrahamic ones, since time is apprehended at such immense scales that even the most resilient ‘evolutionary’ tendency is drowned in immensities, within which universes arise and dissolve like soap bubbles.

    (I’ll resist the temptation to utterly humiliate myself by expounding on the finer points of Persian Alchemy at this point …)


    Posted on August 4th, 2013 at 9:45 pm Reply | Quote
  • VXXC Says:

    Does an interview of Lindsey Graham by Candy Crowley constitute a valid Turing Test?

    “They want to… take over these Muslim countries **and create an al-Qaeda-type religious entity in the place of what exists today.”**

    I’m not sure if Turing is the right test.

    I have of course never actually met either one in the Flesh. Both appear in their respective fashion that they’d be remembered.

    I’m still not sure if Turing is the right test.


    admin Reply:

    Your last two remarks are quite heavily encrypted.

    I don’t think Lindsey Graham has any idea at all what “an al-Qaeda-type religious entity” is actually going to be like (although I do think he’s going to find out).


    VXXC Reply:

    Encryption: Sorry. It’s the Irish. We start being very oblique when our traditional politics begins to become shall we say part of the ambiance.

    Turing Test between Candy Crowley and Lindsey Graham: which one is the computer?
    Is either one Human? Is there a test for this? Could they both be defective computer simulations and neither one knows? They are both robotic and spouting nonsense.

    My joke on Cathedral Dept of State Job interview: If Ataturk is responsible for the fall of the Caliphate*, then we can get Turkey blamed and suck them in. Any success in that direction means we are qualified for not just research grant$$, but possibly our own desks at State. If we are successful at starting a World War we could have our own Academic Departments named after us at Yale and Harvard. Riches and Honors would be thrown at our feet. Memorials. The sky’s the limit.

    *Joking aside – the fall of the Caliphate and the hole left in the Muslim Heart are at least as responsible for our current ills as Skyes-Picot and the end of Ottoman rule.

    These two aspects are related *but not identical*. Unless you can find a century in Islam’s History where they lacked a Caliph. NO.

    They need a Caliph. Not in Jest.


    VXXC Reply:

    I guess Plan Caliph needs expounding. [NO HUMOR.]

    If you know anything about Muslims, or you know even seemingly worldly Muslims they have a profound and daily relationship with God.

    91 years ago Ataturk abolished the Caliphate. They have been without a spiritual head for 91 years. This has left an enormous hole in their Hearts, and it was all too easily filled with RAGE. All of this was going to happen anyway, Israel or no Israel, American involvement or not.

    Please remember they are decisively NOT HELLENIZED, they successfully immunized mainstream Sunni Islam 1000 years ago against reason’s assault on faith. “The Incoherence of the Philosophers.” The Faith is immune to reason, for God does not have to be rational or just. He’s GOD.

    [those more open to reason – the Shia – actually have spiritual Heads incarnated as the Ayatollah they follow. They’re only 15% however. And not the problem].

    So for 91 years people who have such a profound relationship with God it’s only comparable to Christian Religious orders, who’s term for “maybe” is “InShallah” have been unmoored from the spiritual foundations of their world.

    Remember: It’s immunized against Reason. Looking at the West I see why.

    Until that hole is filled: PROBLEMS PERSIST.

    admin Reply:

    I enjoyed the cryptic version, so I hope you don’t feel that you’ve been Nurse Ratcheded (or waterboarded). The decompressed version is indisputably helpful though.

    Your analysis strikes me as fundamentally sound. I might quibble at the margin, about the Shia, because their impact is not really represented by the 15% figure. In the core global hotspot (greater Middle East) it’s over a third, and the Shia powers (i.e. including Hizbollah) are generally more effective than their Sunni counterparts, with far greater capacity for large-scale coordination and focused purposive behavior. Perhaps even this is a legacy of the Caliphate-shaped vacuum in the heart of Sunni Islam that you describe, resulting in a central disorganization. In any case, the Shia have the Sunni on the back-foot at the moment, and the momentum is still predominantly carrying events in their direction.

    Posted on August 5th, 2013 at 11:43 am Reply | Quote
  • John Hannon Says:

    “What is the destiny of the Islamic State?”

    Depends on whether the Islamic state in question is of the hardline Salafist variety or one in which the Sufi tradition is venerated – the latter no doubt being far less of a PITA in its dealings with non-Islamic states, and a far less oppressive place to live in.
    Unfortunately Sufism has always been damned by the Salafists for its perceived heretical “innovation,” and it’s this uptight Salafism which is now the fastest growing Islamic movement in the world.
    Doesn’t look too promising.


    admin Reply:

    Unfortunately, Sufism isn’t stupid of bad-tempered enough to be truly popular.


    Posted on August 5th, 2013 at 9:51 pm Reply | Quote
  • VXXC Says:


    I should add that no, democracy or managerial liberalism will not fill it.

    Nor will Military Dictatorship, not for very long.


    Posted on August 6th, 2013 at 10:46 pm Reply | Quote
  • VXXC Says:

    @VXXC Yes on Shia impact.

    Yes on their version of 30 years war, and yes on the future Islamic vortex post
    that the bulk of the casualties will be sustained by the Ummah.


    Posted on August 7th, 2013 at 10:34 pm Reply | Quote
  • Outside in - Involvements with reality » Blog Archive » The Islamic Vortex (Map) Says:

    […] so it needs re-visiting, but I think it’s holding up quite well (parts 1, 2, 3, 3a, 3b, 4, […]

    Posted on July 12th, 2014 at 5:23 pm Reply | Quote

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