There are three types of people, regardless of culture, sex, age, or historical period. There are leaders, followers, and outcasts. These are minimal distinctions in that there are further subdivisions and other complications, but these are the main differences that emerge from the combination of our evolutionary function as social primates and our existential waywardness, our longing to transcend our station, to be supernaturally free. There’s a deeper division, though, between the followers, on the one hand, and the leaders and outcasts on the other, which is to say that the latter two find themselves paradoxically in a similar position: both are forced to face rather than ignore the existential crisis. Although biologically and psychologically all three types are human, in existential terms the followers should be designated as subhuman. At least, intellectual elites from Plato to Nietzsche tend to speak of the mob, the masses, rabble or herd, the vulgar peasants, peons and pawns. Why dehumanize the happy majority? Because most “people” are existentially inauthentic; they’re spiritually undistinguished.
Their happiness is the dubious frivolity of the mythical Adam and Eve, who were only prehuman until they ate from the forbidden tree. In the story, those two were animals rather than people, because they were unaware of the conditions of their existence as embodied creatures. Like the other animals, they could get around just fine, but they lacked the higher-order conception of what was going on. They didn’t understand anything in normative terms of good and evil—which is to say they didn’t understand anything at all, given that Yahweh created Eden for the purpose of testing his favoured creatures. In so far as everything is artificial, everything has a function; lacking that level of knowledge, animals are blissfully ignorant. They have practical know-how, but no godlike, philosophical perspective. Translating this myth into modern, naturalistic terms, the point is that most people are either burdened with the task of merely staying alive, because they find themselves impoverished in failed states, or they’re blessed with middleclass distractions which allow them to approximate the leaders’ decadence. In either case, these masses are undistinguished as human persons; they lack the self-control that requires higher-order thoughts, which is to say a meta-level of thinking about thinking, so that they can assess their mental states, steer their inner evolution, and take full responsibility for their actions. They tend not to engage in meta-reflection because they’re too busy competing in their dominance hierarchy.
Moreover, they don’t understand the natural conditions of life. For example, they don’t appreciate that the natural universe is freakish and wholly preposterous or that all life is an abomination that can be redeemed only by acts of tragic heroism, as is the secret cosmicist teaching of all the major religions. Preoccupied with sports trivia, sexual fantasies and games, idle celebrity gossip, and the minutiae of their increasingly meaningless jobs, the Western masses are ensconced in a real-life version of Robert Nozick’s Pleasure Machine. Nozick asked whether we would choose to be happy in a virtual reality or less-than-happy in the real world. Most people allege that they’d choose the latter, whereas they actually opt for the former, by retreating from the reality of wild nature to our artificial microcosms which serve as so many pleasure machines. The defect of Nozick’s thought experiment is that the pleasure machine, which we can think of also as the Matrix, is part of reality at the hardware level. So the actual choice isn’t between pure reality and fantasy.
Thus, a fantasy can be passed off as reality, especially when the former is an engineered part of the latter. It’s not as if sports teams, sexual pleasure, the entertainment industry, or stultifying bureaucracies don’t exist in the real world. It’s just that when we lose sight of the underlying reality of the undead god, which will eventually raze all the infrastructures that sustain such foolishness, we occupy a virtually virtual world, a sub-world that blinds us to the greater one. After all, secular humanists like Neil deGrasse Tyson are aghast not just because of the persistence of religious fundamentalism in the US, but because even many American secularists don’t take the time to appreciate the spiritual aspect of human history or the majesty of the cosmos. The masses are all about business or ephemeral, narrow-minded pleasure, lacking any existential wherewithal: they literally don’t know what or where they fundamentally are, and they don’t care because they’ve automated themselves to fulfill certain social functions.
The Subhuman Herd
These existential subhumans, then, are the followers. They follow in the same way that not just the less intelligent animals but all material objects as such follow: these things are all merely undead, meaning that their energy is naturally forced into certain patterns, with little transcendent (virtually supernatural or hint of posthuman) power of self-control. The beta masses’ flight from existential authenticity is sinful because they forsake their potential for self-control and for aesthetically noble transcendence, whereas the impersonal parts of nature follow natural law as a matter of course. The alpha members of social animal groups lead their pack, but without much originality; instead, they follow their urges to dominate and to do what’s best for the genetic basis of their species. Beta humans follow the social conventions that initially stand out as products of tragic artistry. Our cultural microcosms are all works of artistic rebellion against the wilderness, conditioned by some creative class’s awareness of such existential facts as that nature is alien and indifferent to us, and that there is no deus ex machina so we alone must look after our kind. But just as metaphors lose their freshness over time and turn into prepackaged, archaic memes, art and technology become stale, commercialized, and dehumanizing instruments of control. Notice how even ongoing wars or spacewalks become old news as the masses are distracted by the latest fad flashing on their mobile device. Those devices feed menacing corporations and the government mountains of personal data that streamline the unsustainable and deleterious hyper-consumption of material goods.
When we consume mass entertainments without questioning the implicit moral or detaching our innermost self from the absurd wastefulness and nauseating audacity of Western cultures, we’re less than human in existential terms. That is, we exist as animals, not as people who exercise our capacity to transcend, to create unique selves that respond well to the horrifying baseline facts of nature. We follow rumours and infotainments, the Machiavellian logic of our superiors in the dominance hierarchy, the impulses that enslave us to the undead genes. We lazily forfeit our talents for reasoning and artistic creativity, under the delusion that a happy life is the good life. On the contrary, happiness is unbecoming and irresponsible for humans who face the existential crisis of having to choose what to do in light of our dreadful knowledge of natural reality.
Happy folks, meaning those who are content with their lot, shamefully betray their aesthetic and ethical obligations to use art to heroically slay monsters. Heroes must slay those monsters wherever they’re found; alas, we live in an unimaginable monstrosity, namely the undead god which is the mindlessly-evolving cosmos. Tragic heroism is our ideal, because the world is impersonal and so there’s no guarantee of a happy ending. Happiness, then, rests on denial of our dire fate. All human life will perish one day and no one will mourn us. Our heroes will walk off into the sunset only in that the sun will eventually explode and consume our planet. Happiness is dehumanizing, since the mark of existential maturity is the sobering, countervailing thought that we all face doom. We have no happy ending, so all our happiness is fraudulent, resting as it does on delusions. When we’re content or overjoyed, we forget that most things in the universe are ominously indifferent to us; we allow ourselves to be carried down the river, our eyes set on some sideshow playing out on the log we call home, until we’re rushed over the waterfall into oblivion. Those who understand the world’s absurdity can’t afford to follow, to busy themselves in the cultural pleasure machine, because they’re consumed by angst and must create to avoid despair.
This isn’t to say that the beta masses are abominable as individuals or aren’t worth knowing at all. They may be highly skilled and perfectly amiable. Likewise, most mammals are hardly villains. We readily empathize with individual creatures of all types, including fish, reptiles, and even insects, not to mention dogs, cats, and horses—although we also tend to slaughter nonhuman life forms. When I call followers “subhuman,” I mean that they’re existentially uninspiring, that they squander their intellectual and creative resources for some transitory gain. There’s no tragic heroism in being such a follower, and I use “human” as an honourific. “Homo sapiens” is likewise an honourific, but “wisdom” (sapiens) isn’t precise enough to distinguish us from other species. The other animals also know what they should do, although their knowledge is mostly practical: they try to follow their evolutionary programming. Our predicament is that we’re uniquely freed from that bond and so wisdom for us requires a leap of faith, not just a calculation. We must choose what we become as we transcend what natural forces have made us. And the beta herd members evade that existential choice, objectifying themselves by identifying with the social system that supplies their typically dehumanizing artificial function.
Outcasts as Rebels
Outcasts, by contrast, are forced to ponder that choice, because they have little else to do. Standing apart from the womb-like collective and from the subworlds that sustain the beta herd’s virtual reality, outcasts are isolated, alienated, and more or less resentful. They’re separated from the collective, above all, by fear due to their higher consciousness and greater objectivity. These social outcasts are detached from society for one reason or another, and so they have an outsider’s perspective. But we’re instinctively social creatures, so isolation is detrimental to our health, that is, to our ability to carry out our evolved animalistic functions. What happens when we’re forced to be alone is an inner congealing, a cascade of philosophical doubts that leaves behind existential realizations. Descartes’ meditations, leading to his famous insight that skepticism can’t be total since doubting is a form of thinking and thus of being, is paradigmatic, even if he pandered with his dubious proofs of theism. Outcasts are forced to be introverted, because they have no broad network of associates or funds to add to the public microcosms, so they spend their energy configuring their inner world: they flesh out a deeper self, using ideas to create a worldview, a grand brainchild that mitigates their marginalization. Outcasts retreat to a world of their imagination which acts as a substitute and as a barrier from the masses and their delusions. But because they tend to think more than the ambitious followers, outcasts are afflicted by the curse of reason. Lacking any role in our social games, outcasts learn to see them for what they are, as an anthropologist reduces a foreign culture to a set of predictable processes. At the bottom of all of that thinking is the existential crisis, the question of whether life is worth living, given that life is absurd and horrific. That question haunts the outcast who lacks middleclass distractions. Fear, then, threatens to debilitate the outcast; indeed, homeless people are often mentally ill since they have no productive outlet for their excessive reflections.
The Hubris of Leaders
Ironically, leaders are more like outcasts than followers. The alphas who rule our dominance hierarchies are removed from mass society not by fear, although their shenanigans may be stressful, but by their will. Leaders aren’t thinkers or inwardly creative, since they have outer worlds to create and to manage. Leaders are typically corrupted by the power that must be concentrated for biological and pragmatic reasons. Thus, those who dominate our social systems are also godlike in that they’re free from moral constraints, free to indulge themselves and to rule over people according to their whims. Leaders lack the introverted outcast’s superhuman sensitivity; instead, they have transcendent freedom and power. They don’t have to fight to survive and instead of remaking themselves with philosophical doubts, leaders are molded by their wealth, fame, and control of their underlings. Supreme leaders, meaning autocrats from bullies to chiefs to kings to emperors to presidents to plutocrats, are made as monstrous as the undead god and are thus fitting avatars of the true divinity. While dominators are subject to their decadent elite culture, as in the case of the wealthy Chinese who demand shark fins and elephant ivory, that culture consists of fads for which they themselves are mostly responsible, whereas mass culture is dictated by natural law and by the rulers’ psychopathy.
Dominators are alienated from the masses by their evil and from nature by their arrogance. These social ringleaders have contempt for the second-class lifestyle of the followers who are wannabe alphas. Needless to say, beta morality holds no sway for the leaders who are realists about traditional moral codes, having been spoiled by their privileges and having hit upon Machiavellian logic to rationalize their innate or acquired psychopathic inability to empathize. And the alphas compete with nature as they create industries and cultures, acting as godlike potentates until nature snuffs them out in due course. Whereas heroic outcasts seek revenge against the world, having stared into the zombie eyes of nature and been appalled, leaders strive for apotheosis. In fact, the theistic myths of the world’s major religions are inspired by the inequality between human rulers and subjects. Gods do exist but they’re merely human supervillains.
Still, outcasts and leaders are similar in that they’re both detached from the herd. Individuals may be excluded from society because of their personality, their mental or financial condition, or just because of their physical appearance. Once removed, outcasts can succumb to or make the best of their predicament. And leaders are forced to live apart from mass society because the masses inevitably grow to hate and fear those that exploit and dominate them. After all, it’s quite impossible to become a multi-millionaire or billionaire, or more generally to occupy the highest social class, without perpetrating a range of immoral acts against your competitors. Moreover, no great fortune has ever been earned, according to any sensible metric, since as powerful as it is, a single human brain can’t change the world on a sufficiently large scale to justify such a vast difference in income. While people have, of course, greatly overhauled the world, we’ve done so collectively so that the sadistic rulers have needed the slaves that operate the megamachine. Thus, great wealth is always theft and so all such wealth is an outrage. Everyone knows this, so the leaders must hide themselves away in their private worlds for fear of a socialistic or anarchistic uprising. But the leaders are glad for that segregation, since they’re disgusted by the comparative weakness of the betas that wish to follow their lead. Yet where the leaders go, into their august boardrooms and private jets, McMansions, and secret societies, the lowly classes, as such, can’t follow.
This division between the followers and the outcasts and leaders may foreshadow the emergence of a certain posthumanity. Again, the dynamic here is that natural forces control animal behaviour until some animals learn self-control, whereupon they become people. But beta humans shirk their personal responsibility and retreat to animalistic subhumanity. Heroic outcasts and dominators put their freedom to work and transcend animalism. We might expect, then, that posthuman culture will be defined, roughly, by philosophy and psychopathy, that is, by introversion, artistic creativity, anxiety, and asceticism, on the one hand, and by audacity, cruelty, narcissism, and colossal feats of social engineering, on the other. Assuming the above trends continue, posthumans will be utterly autonomous and so they’ll be objective and will struggle with existential angst even as they’re corrupted by their vast technoscientific power. They will be part outcast, part dominator, and all of us will have prepared the way for their emergence.