A cult of my own
One mark of a cult is the vast gap between the veneration of its leader(s) from the inside and the bafflement or outright hostility from the outside world. Utterances that feel like the works of genius or divinity to the faithful are mystifying to the outsider, like ‘how the fuck did anyone think this is worth my time?’
Most cults are exactly that: delusions of grandeur masquerading as the word of God.
Unfortunately, many (all?) genuinely new and important ideoplexes (my term for a cluster of ideas, ideals, identities and institutions that constitute a way of grasping the world) will appear to be a cult, for it questions the unquestionable. When the climate cassandra says ‘repent or you will go to hell’ they are speaking truth to power (or is that my cult membership speaking?), but right next to that climate demonstration is a person holding a placard saying essentially the same thing as a Jehovah’s Witnesses.
How to know which is which?
Some criteria I use to evaluate the promise of a cult is: can we make sense of its core beliefs and principles using normie methods? Is there an existing belief of which the cult is a radical twist? Can you present arguments and evidence for the radical twist?
If the default assumption is ‘the sun goes around the earth’ and you come tell me reality is the exact opposite, but are able to repurpose the old mechanics of circular orbits to make a case for the new model, gee, sign me up. Or if everyone accepts that humans have rights under most circumstances and you tell me: why not extend that belief to all creatures for they too suffer like we do, I’ll be like, ‘duh, of course.’ A good cult should radicalize an existing norm.
The globe’s capacity to set norms is well recognized: most universities have people teaching courses on global justice, global trade and global history. But the globe isn’t enough, and the planet lies waiting. But the globe isn’t superstition or a cabal run out of a pizza parlor. It’s wrong but it’s not ‘not even wrong.’ The globe gives us tools such as ‘voice and exit’ and ‘provincializing’ to make the case for a shift to the earth. I will be back to DC and AOH next week to get us going with those ideas. And ways down the road lies the meeting point of history and geography and economics and ecology and biology and computing.
We will learn how to reason and act at scale about worlds and planets for the first time by standing on the shoulders of global giants. I want to join that cult. It has a bright future.
By most measures, I am a serial cultist, having immersed myself in a series of heterodox ideoplexes with quirky leaders and a body of work that’s typically a lotus or two in a muddy pond. My favorite cults are the ‘brilliant idea obscured by massive amounts of hype & verbiage’ and the ‘something is deeply wrong about the world and here’s my solution’ cult. Cybernetics is a good example of the first and Veganism of the second.
Both find a place in the planetary cult of which I hope to be a reigning divinity.
Feedback, nonlinearity, interconnectivity are all cybernetic notions and are present explicitly and implicitly in almost all global technologies and social systems. The shift to the planetary will only increase the importance of the cybernetic cult. And I have said elsewhere that climate change is our biggest material failure (i.e., a failure in how we manage stuff) while the way we treat animals of other species is our biggest moral failure. Factory farming - by far the most common way to rear animals for food - is an evil beyond compare.
The planetary perspective foregrounds the flourishing of all beings and helps us manage the flows of material. It’s the cult of all cults. Come join it; you’ll have a great time.
PS: There’s the real possibility the globe will disintegrate, creating security states that are at all-out war against each other. I was surprised - and not in a good way - to see the top rated comments on this article in the NYT. Not only do they believe in what they’re saying, so are a whole host of others who probably see themselves as rational, progressive humans. Can’t say I am immune from this disease.
Anger at the ‘other’ is at a boil across the world. Some targets are predictable - Islamophobia and Racism for example - but Blue-Red anger has exploded like anything. It’s the explicit cruelty that bothers me the most. While we are hoping to build solidarity across all beings, it may be that existing solidarity, such as it is, will break down faster than we can create a flourishing planet. I guess I should pay some attention to these forces of division, for the same ingredients - data, adaptive technologies, transnational flows etc - can be combined into a poisonous cocktail as much as they can be into the elixir of solidarity.