February 06, 2018

Man as Animal (revisited)

I'm so horny right now.
via Ulric Collette
I've been reexamining the pillars of my understanding of Satanism over the past six months, and one of those pillars is the statement that man is no different from animals (sometimes better, more often worse, etc.) I'm not a scholar of Satanic history, but based on my understanding of multiple books written by Dr. LaVey, and how I saw this statement practiced by other Satanists, led me to think a certain way about it as a practitioner of Satanism.

According to the seventh Satanic statement, "Satan represents man as just another animal, sometimes better (but more often worse) than those that go on all fours, and who by virtue of his divine intellect has become the most vicious animal of all." Given that this statement was written by Dr. LaVey, and given that Dr. LaVey had a dramatic and inflammatory writing style, it is what it is.

But what is it, really? Based on what I've observed not only among other Satanists but also among myself, this statement is interpreted a few different ways:

First, humans are animals, and therefore it can be understood that humans have qualities which are repugnant to the mind of the "civilized" person but which are in fact a natural expression of humanity. In this way, I came to understand that the 7th Statement means that humans could be as free as animals to do whatever they desire, but because humans invent arbitrary morals to govern their behavior, they forfeit the pleasure and presumed benefits that would come from following their animal instincts.

Okay, fair enough. Humans do some pretty wild things both with and without the encouragement of imaginary friends. But the point where I feel like there's a disconnect is when Satanists take this to mean that the cruelest excesses committed by humans are part of the full spectrum of human behavior, and therefore it's fully "human" to be a vicious asshole, and therefore it's Satanic to indulge the worst excesses of wrath, envy, pride, greed, and lust.

But what if instead of taking the default position that Satan represents the most aggressive and violent expressions of human behavior, the default position is that Satan represents innate human goodness, the desire to share with others, and to feel compassion as a natural response to injustice? If the 7th Statement is taken to mean that there's a "natural" or "default" setting for human behavior, then why do some Satanists assume this default to be cruel and violent, instead of what we know from the scientific study of human behavior which shows that humans are not intuitively selfish?

This observation that the violent, selfish, cruel, and abusive behavior defended by some Satanists as being quintessentially "Satanic" leads to the Satanic apologetic about "herd mentality," "group think," and people being discouraged against acting in their self interest based on social pressure.

And yeah, I can see how this argument works when we're talking about a so-called "mob mentality" and the way people get carried away in a highly charged situation, but I think that this particular apologetic stretches awfully thin when you stop to consider that the vast majority of the population chooses to live a certain way not because they've been duped into it, but because it's simply the most economical, practical, or pleasing choice available.

Second, inhuman behavior from non-human animals is acceptable behavior for humans. This is a fallacy that I've been guilty of in the past, and is a perspective I continue to struggle to decide what role it plays in my understanding of Satanism. According to this perspective, the behavior of non-human animals is compared to the behavior of humans in order to explain, defend, or justify controversial decisions or beliefs. 

This kind of comparison between humans and animals is superficially convincing, but if you resolve yourself to really consider the deeper implications the results are terrifying. After all, it's been readily observed among a variety of animals that it's not unusual to eat ones own babies, gang-rape both males and females of the species, murder other animals for no discernible reason, and worse. Among animals, some of this behavior is normal. Among humans, I think we can all agree that it tends to be the exception.

And that's what leads to the third and probably the most fantastical interpretation of the 7th Statement made by at least a few Satanists: Satanists are different from regular humans. According to this line of of argument, Satanists are naturally occurring animals in great wide world, but because "Satanists are born, not made," some Satanists -- and some of them in supposedly authoritative positions --  have taken the position that there is an inborn quality in Satanists which has yet to be discovered by science that definitively makes a person a Satanist, and that a person can be a Satanist whether or not he or she even chooses to identify as a Satanist. Because... Satanists are born, not made?

Shame on me for not tracking the quote, but this goes all the way back to Dr. LaVey who hypothesized a sort of "Satanist gene" or other immutable character quality existed from birth which set the Satanist apart from the rest of the herd. In this way, the apologetic Satanist can argue that "controversial" and "offensive" qualities other people criticize are in fact "just naturally occurring" and therefore he or she is only embracing his or her true nature.

The strongest reason I can see for the perpetuation of this argument in favor of an "inborn quality" is because it's a necessary barrier for some Satanists to use in order to blind themselves against the evidence collected by social scientists and anthropologists who have demonstrated that most people prefer kindness over cruelty, generosity over selfishness, and community over isolation.

I could sure be wrong about all this -- maybe somebody will come along and take the time to explain why I'm off base? -- but this is what I've come to believe based on what I've observed among practitioners of Satanism and more importantly within myself. Maybe I just have a poor understanding of what it means to be a Satanist? Okay, I'm willing to be shown differently. 

But to my eyes, the 7th Statement that man is no different from other animals isn't justification for the most revolting and hideous of behavior, but encouragement to embrace those inborn qualities that make me human including naturally feeling angry about the mistreatment of others, appreciation for social ties, and caring about my community.

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