July 01, 2018

July 2018: Distrust & Disenchantment

This announcement has been a little while coming, but I wanted to be completely sure before I posted it: the spinal cord tumor I discussed earlier this year has to my great relief turned out to be nothing at all, and all the symptoms I was experiencing have mysteriously but thankfully vanished. According to my neurosurgeon, the mass inside my spinal cord remained unchanged during the six months between two MRI's, and he believes that it's probably only a build-up of spinal cord fluid that's doing absolutely nothing at all. The consensus right now is that the shooting pain down my arms, the numbness in my hands and fingers, and the weakness in my grip was a combination of generalized anxiety and psychosomatic suggestion. You don't even know how relieved I am that this whole ordeal turned out to be a cloud of smoke, but you what else you don't even know? How disappointed I am that this whole ordeal has shaken my trust in physicians generally.

You see, this whole story began over two years ago when shortly after I received a vasectomy I started experiencing post-vasectomy pain syndrome (TL/DR: chronic man-pain.) My wife is deeply skeptical of doctors and medicine generally, so if it were up to her I would have grilled my urologist like the TV stereotype of a cigarette-smoking police detective, but me being who I am I tend to trust doctors. My habit of trusting doctors is part of my habit generally of accepting the expertise of people more accomplished than I am and this is owing to the time I spent in the Marine Corps where I was taught the importance of compartmentalization. If this is your first time hearing that word, think about it like this: A team is composed of individuals, each of which exists in his or her own compartment. Each individual is responsible for managing his or her own compartment, and need not concern him or herself with what's happening in the other compartments. Instead, the individual must learn to trust that every other team member is doing what he or she must do to manage his or her own compartment, and together -- with the whole team working together in their individual compartments -- the whole team succeeds.

In a military sense, this is a matter of trusting in one's teammates and choosing to believe that the rest of the team is going to work toward the chosen objective, but in a general sense this means that, in the words of the paranoid conspiracy theorists, I don't have to "do your own research!" I can trust that if I did my own research, I would be drawing from the same body of knowledge that informed the knowledge of my physician. "Do your own research!," they say? Well, I could do a Google search... or maybe read some books... or maybe take some continuing education classes at the local college... or maybe go for a degree in chemistry or biology... or maybe go to university for pre-med... or maybe get licensed as a nurse practitioner... or maybe become a physician... or perhaps even eventually become an advanced medical specialist?

Or, maybe I could just trust in the knowledge and competence of my physician who already did all those things.

You know, whatever.

So the way I see it, when I'm already stressed out and either sick or injured, I don't think it makes a lot of sense to additionally exhaust and stress myself by poring over a potentially infinite number of Internet search results for days or weeks on end when I can let my physician do the job for which he or she has already been educated, trained, reviewed, and approved to do. It isn't that I don't want to be informed, or that I prefer to be ignorant of the possible risks and outcomes of a treatment, therapy, or surgery -- because I don't -- I just don't think it's productive for me to neglect the compartment of my own life including my marriage and my family just so I can take over the compartment already being handled by my physician.

This sort of compartmentalization works very well for me in many spheres of my life, but unfortunately it isn't a perfect life strategy because it only works when the other compartments on which I depend are occupied by people who give a shit. In this example, the urologist who was treating me spent a year and a half either prescribing the medical equivalent of M&M's to treat my post-vasectomy pain syndrome, or else referring me to other professionals who in turn couldn't help me and kept referring me back to him. It all came to a head when about 18 months after the vasectomy he sent me for an MRI. It was during this first MRI that the spinal cord tumor was found, and my urologist grabbed onto that like a grifter to an audience of Evangelical end-timers. 

In hindsight, I should have known that he was playing me because he's a urologist -- not a neurologist -- and he was weaving an elaborate story about the grave seriousness of this very rare and very dangerous tumor in my spinal cord that's pushing on my nerves and referring pain throughout my whole body. What responsible doctor speaks so authoritatively outside his or her field of expertise? Owing to my deference to experts and professionals, my urologist's insistence on a neurological cause for my symptoms, and the sum stress of the ordeal, my mind appears to have created and sustained a purely psychosomatic bogeyman to match my perceived reality.

This whole ordeal has on the one hand been a really fascinating, first-hand experience to the power of suggestion and the phenomenon of psychosomatic illness, but it's also been a disappointing and depressing experience because it's made it very difficult for me to maintain my strategy of compartmentalization. Living life through compartmentalization is like building a boat with bulkheads: even if one bulkhead fails, the others will remain airtight and keep the ship well above water. But having said that, being played by a doctor who in the final calculation was so obviously doing anything he could to keep me out of his office and refer me to any other professional whom he thought would take over my care is the kind of failure that breaches multiple compartments.

All of which is a really long way of saying that the past two years and change have been a personalized object lesson in the importance of limiting the degree to which I allow any authority to influence my judgement and perception. If you're a cynical sort, you might think that I'm whining that there's nobody to tell me what to think or do, but you'd be wrong. I mean, consider all the ways that you who read this have off-loaded numerous other decisions and jobs onto other people. You might think I'm silly for having trusted doctors the way that I have, but I'd bet dollars to donuts that you do the same in at least two other compartments of your own life. Whether it's your spouse, your employer, your elected representatives fact-checking services, or any of a number of other people or things I could name, I'm dead sure that there are times when you reject the exhaustion and delay of critical analysis in favor of the ease and speed of confident trust.

As a Satanist, I value doubt, skepticism, criticism, and analysis. As a Satanist, I think that nothing should be left unquestioned, and I agree with Socrates when he said that the unexamined life is not worth living. To leave anything or anybody unquestioned and unexamined is to allow the least desirable aspects therein to at best perpetuate and at worst to proliferate. But then, as a Satanist, I also value pleasure, happiness, indulgence, and relaxation. I don't know about you, but for me I find these two poles difficult to balance if only because the left-ward pole tends to point out the fly in the ointment that is the right-ward pole and which, once seen, is impossible to ignore and thus becomes difficult to further enjoy.

In the same way that I've been robbed -- or robbed myself? -- of the ability to fully trust my physicians, I feel that I've also been robbed -- or robbed myself? -- of the ability to fully relax into Satanism. This kind of distrust in people and institutions that I previously believed was well-placed and well-chosen owing to the perceived accomplishments, authority, and other qualifying bona fides feels a lot like disenchantment. I can't call back to me the figurative magic that allowed me the luxury of having to not dissect and examine multiple compartments within the totality of my self -- or likewise, within the totality of my life.

In terms of Satanism, this phenomenon of breached compartments -- the causes for which I've already discussed at length (1, 2, 3, 4) -- is starting to feel a lot like the internal development of a post-Satanic personal paradigm in which I've internalized multiple elements of Satanism but no longer feel drawn to participate in Satanism itself or identify as a Satanist myself. Considering how heavily the Church of Satan seems to emphasize post-Satanism ("true" Satanists aren't easily identified; "de facto" Satanists; "true" Satanism is defined by worldly success; etc.), and given that I was initiated into Satanism through the canon literature of the Church of Satan, this trajectory isn't surprising to me, but to experience it myself does feel disappointing and disenchanting if only because the whole thing feels a lot like unnecessary trouble and wasted time. Well, maybe not wasted time: I like myself and who I am, and I possibly would not have reached this point if not for the influence of the Church of Satan -- being influenced by both its success and its failures.

All the same, I still feel the sharp temptation to discard the distrust and disenchantment I've accumulated if doing so would return to me the pleasure and satisfaction I enjoyed in my previously intact compartment, but such a temptation is one that I'm neither able nor willing to indulge. Even though my broken compartment often feels dull and empty, I'm not going to repair the breach with willful ignorance or fill my compartment with fool's gold. It's depressing to watch compartments collapse because the people or institutions whose word I trusted turned out to be a fantasy unequal to the reality which they claimed to represent.

It's my preference when I write to persuade my audience toward a particular opinion or outcome, or to conclude each essay with some kind of solution, but I don't honestly know what the most adequate conclusion to this essay really is. If you've got any ideas, then throw them into the comment section below.


  1. I have several reactions to this piece. First, your comments about "doing your own research" bring to mind something I've noted of late and have decided to write a quick post about at some point soon: there seems to be a general debasement of the meaning of the term "research" in popular culture. You see folks vlog about the "research" they're doing on this, that, and the other conspiracy du jour (from anti-vax to flat earth), only quickly to realize that what they feel satisfies the definition of research is checking several Bible versions or passages or just lackadaisically Googling for a bit. I've even seen folks refer to checking Amazon or Yelp reviews as "research." Second and related, I've written a bit in the past about knowledge communities and how I think one particular battle that I see as particularly Satanic, even if it is a losing one, is refusing to rely overmuch on knowledge communities, but rather insisting to verify, learn, master, and command domains of knowledge all on your own. That makes for a life of toil, as you note, but I find it's the only really authentic sort of way to go, precisely in order to forestall if not avoid outright the kind of severe disillusionment of which you write here. On the subject of knowledge communities and the myriad ways in which humans externalize knowledge through community, I recommend to you the book The Knowledge Illusion by Sloman and Fernbach. Third, I find this notion of "post-Satanist" intriguing and would like both to know more about it (especially in a CoS context) and to think more about it myself. Good essay. Thanks as always.

    1. Thanks for the book recommendation -- I'll check it out.

      As for post-Satanism, I didn't spend much time dwelling on it in this essay, but as it regards the CoS, post-Satanism is a needle that they thread very finely and as you might be able to guess this is something they do to enhance themselves with the left hand while diminishing others with the right.

      For example, one of the apologetics that gets thrown around inside the CoS echo-chamber is that one need not be affiliated with the CoS to be a Satanist, and in fact one need not even identify as a Satanist to be a Satanist. So the logic goes, Satanism is a natural, inborn quality and therefore is evident in the most successful and powerful people everywhere -- because of course, it naturally follows that Satanists are born (not made), and Satanism is also elitism, and therefore all Satanists are of course better and more capable than the rest of the dirty, worthless herd of humanity (which of course overlooks the question of how a "sheep" human could give birth to a "goat" Satanist?)

      Getting off track, but yeah: accord to this argument which curiously only appears within the circles of the CoS, Satanism isn't so much as an arbitrarily defined religion and philosophy, as it is a natural and observable state of being. Therefore, while it can be fun, stimulating, meaningful, etc. to *IDENTIFY* as a Satanist and to participate in the play-pretend of ritual, the religious trappings of Satanism are only second to the primacy of the Satanic quality of the sum output of one's thoughts, words, and actions.

      In this way, powerful politicians, musicians, celebrities, captains of industry, and so on are frequently to one degree or another described as "de facto" Satanists. Much like the Mormons and their habit of making Mormons out of dead people, the CoS likes to likes to make Satanists out of living people.

      This sort of thinking is something that really infuriated me about the CoS because on the one hand they'll use the Satanic Bible as a sword and shield to delegitimize other Satanists who don't toe LaVey's line, but on the other hand will say that some people are by virtue of their thoughts, words, and actions (the behavioral sum) "de facto" Satanists even if they've never read a word of LaVey and even if they might be critical of or even repulsed by Satanism.

      This also particularly infuriates me because while this argument which curiously only appears within the circles of the CoS proves that the people making the argument are capable of judging people by their thoughts, words, and actions -- and not by their organizational affiliation -- the same people making this argument appear to be either unwilling or unable to extend their nuanced understanding to Satanists affiliated with the Satanic Temple (one example among many.)

      The leadership of the CoS and many members within the CoS have demonstrated that they understand post-Satanism in principle -- "living" as a Satanist without "presenting" as a Satanist -- but have demonstrated in practice that they're unwilling to reward post-Satanism, for example by not making a loud and sustained show of shitting all over people who are protesting anti-abortion legislation, standing up for children's rights in the classroom, demanding equal treatment under law.

      The CoS likes the idea of post-Satanism when it supports their literature, but when somebody comes along and says, "I'm going to express Satanic values and principles outside the ritual chamber in the form of political or social protest," suddenly they're not up for it and start shrieking about about how, "They're not Satanists because they're not doing it exactly according to our rulebook!" The CoS needs to shit or get off the pot when it comes to the Satanic / post-Satanic divide.


Freedom of Expression =/= Freedom from Consequences