The man standing outside my front door was carrying a clipboard and wearing a golden robe. “Not interested,” I said, preparing to slam the door in his face.
“Please,” said the acolyte. Before I could say no he’d jammed a wad of $100 bills into my hand. “If this will buy a few moments of your time.”
It did, if only because I stood too flabbergasted to move. Surely they didn’t have enough money to do this for everybody.
“There is no everybody,” said the acolyte, when I expressed my bewilderment. “You’re the last one. The last unenlightened person in the world.”
And it sort of made sense. Twenty years ago, a group of San Francisco hippie/yuppie/techie seekers had pared down the ancient techniques to their bare essentials, then optimized hard. A combination of drugs, meditation, and ecstatic dance that could catapult you to enlightenment in the space of a weekend retreat, 100% success rate. Their cult/movement/startup, the Order Of The Golden Lotus, spread like wildfire through California – a state where wildfires spread even faster than usual – and then on to the rest of the world. Soon investment bankers and soccer moms were showing up to book clubs talking about how they had grasped the peace beyond understanding and vanquished their ego-self.
I’d kind of ignored it. Actually, super ignored it. First a flat refusal to attend Golden Lotus retreats. Then slamming the door in their face whenever their golden-robed pamphleteers came to call. Then quitting my job to live off savings after my coworkers started converting and the team-building exercises turned into meditation sessions. Then unplugging my cable box after the sitcoms started incorporating Golden Lotus themes and the national news started being about how peaceful everybody was all the time. After that I might have kind of become a complete recluse, never leaving the house, ordering meals through UberEats, cut off from noticing any of the changes happening outside except through the gradual disappearance of nonvegetarian restaurants on the app.
I’m not a bigot; people can have whatever religion they choose. But Golden Lotus wasn’t for me. I don’t want to be enlightened. I like being an individual with an ego. Ayn Rand loses me when she starts talking politics, but the stuff about selfishness really speaks to me. Tend to your own garden, that kind of thing. I’m not becoming part of some universal-love-transcendent-joy hive mind, and I’m not interested in what Golden Lotus is selling.
So I just said: “Cool. Do I get a medal?”
“This is actually very serious,” said the acolyte. “Do you know about the Bodhisattva’s Vow?”
“The what now?”
“It’s from ancient China. You say it before embarking on the path of enlightenment. ‘However innumerable sentient beings are, I vow to save them all.’ The idea is that we’re all in this together. We swear that we will not fully forsake this world of suffering and partake of the ultimate mahaparanirvana – complete cosmic bliss – until everyone is as enlightened as we are.”
“That means 7.5 billion people are waiting on you.”
“We all swore not to sit back and enjoy enlightenement until everyone was enlightened. Now everyone is enlightened except you. You’re the only thing holding us all back from ultimate cosmic bliss.”
“Man. I’m sorry.”
“You are forgiven. We would like to offer you a free three-day course with the Head Lama of Golden Lotus to correct the situation. We’ll pick you up at your home and fly you to the Big Island of Hawaii, where the Head Lama will personally…”
“…yeah, no thanks.”
“But you have to! Nobody else can reach mahaparanirvana until you get enlightened!”
“Sure they can. Tell them I’m okay, they can head off to mahabharata without me, no need to wait up.”
“They can’t. They swore not to.”
“Well, they shouldn’t have done that.”
“It’s done! It’s irreversible! The vow has been sworn! Each of the seven point five billion acolytes of Golden Lotus has sworn it!”
“We are enlightened beings! We can’t break our solemn vow!”
“Then I guess you’re going to learn an important lesson about swearing unbreakable vows you don’t want to keep.”
“Sir, this entire planet is heavy with suffering. It groans under its weight. Seven billion people, the entirety of the human race, and for the first time they have the chance to escape together! I understand you’re afraid of enlightenment, I understand that this isn’t what you would have chosen, but for the sake of the world, please, accept what must be!”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I really am. But the fault here is totally yours. You guys swore an oath conditional on my behavior, but that doesn’t mean I have to change my behavior to prevent your oath from having bad consequences. Imagine if I let that work! You could all swear to kill yourself unless I donated money, and I’d have to donate or have billions of deaths on my hands. That kind of reasoning, you’ve got to nip it in the bud. I’m sorry about your oath and I’m sorry you’re never going to get to Paramaribo but I don’t want to be enlightened and you can’t make me.”
I slammed the door in his face.
A few days later, just as I was trying to order lunch on UberEats, my cell phone internet stopped working. I tried my laptop. Wasn’t working either. iPad? Not working.
I’d been wondering whether Golden Lotus was going to kill me. It was the natural thing to try in this situation. But I figured people who were too enlightened to break a vow were probably too enlightened to murder me, or to threaten to break my kneecaps, or to drug me, or to take any of the other easy ways out.
But starving me – that might work. And if everyone else was a Golden Lotuser at this point, they were like a world state. They probably controlled the infrastructure, and I didn’t think there were any ancient Buddhist commandments against shutting off someone’s internet connection.
There was a 7-11 on the corner of my street. I put on a jacket, prayed to any god who would listen to me right now, and walked outside.
My street, as I remembered it, was gone. The familiar buildings had been torn down. Far away, I could see tranquil gardens and intricate pagodas. But the street I was on – the one between my apartment and 7-11 – had been turned into a gauntlet. A series of flashing, attention-grabbing billboards and video-screens explaining Golden Lotus techniques, the virtues of enlightenment, and the illusory nature of the material world, accompanied by a soundtrack of giant speakers blaring sermons.
So this was their plan. Not very subtle, but I could live with it. I stared down at my feet and broke into a run, trying to make it to the store as quickly as possible without absorbing any of the information being blasted at me. Staring at my feet turned out to be a mistake – there were sutras written all along the pavement. The first giant letter was right past my doormat, and I saw them stretching forward, continuing in order to the 7-11 I was trying to reach. I tried looking up instead, but a transparent canopy placed atop the street was similarly laden with spiritual wisdom. I closed my eyes, but this slowed my progress forward, and made me more vulnerable to sermons coming from the speakers all around me. “SINGLE-POINTED AWARENESS ON ANY INDIVIDUAL SENSATION REVEALS ITS EMPTINESS!” blared one. “THE MIND IS LIKE A STILL POOL DISTURBED BY THE RIPPLES OF THOUGHTS” blasted another.
I thought about the technical problem facing Golden Lotus leadership: how do you enlighten someone who resists enlightenment? You can’t teach them practices, because they won’t do them. You can’t impart advice, because they won’t take it. But you can draw awareness to certain facets of their own thinking, along the lines of the old “You are now aware of the feeling of your tongue in your mouth”. You can present someone with metaphors of such explanatory value that they reshape the way he interprets his own experience. If you had a lot of very smart people developing the “curriculum”, and a lot of patience, maybe it could work.
How could one resist such an effort? I would have to close all possible communication channels. I put my hands over my ears, even though the awkward position slowed my blind stumble to the store. I took a few steps forward, then felt a sudden weight. I opened my eyes. A brightly-colored macaw had landed on my right shoulder and was staring straight at me. “HERE AND NOW!” it screeched, point-blank, before flying off.
Okay. Trained birds. They were really on top of their game. So maybe I couldn’t close off all possible communication channels. Maybe I would have to fight them on their own turf. Maybe if they’ve created a super-efficient science of enlightenment, I would have to create a super-efficient science of samsara.
The convenience store sold mostly rice and incense now, and restricted rice purchases to a single day’s supply. I picked some up and headed for the cashier. The aisles were confusingly laid out, and I realized after a moment that they formed one of those labyrinths that people sometimes walk as a spiritual practice. I didn’t think those things worked, but I couldn’t take any chances. I climbed a shelf full of meditation cushions, vaulted over, and climbed down the other side to the frowning cashier.
I saw another door on the other side of the 7-11, this one guarded by a stern-looking man in a golden robe. I realized it was the door to freedom – outside my enlightenment-ad-plastered prison and into the world of pagodas and gardens outside. I assessed my chances. The monk was really big, and I didn’t know if the door was locked or if there were other guards on the other side. I decided against it. I paid for my rice, stuffed enough of it in my pockets that I could reassume the hands-over-ears-eyes-closed pose, and walked home.
A science of samsara. What would that involve? Instead of meditating on lovingkindness, I could meditate on everybody I hated. Instead of a vow of poverty, I could take a vow of greed. Instead of practicing self-awareness, I could practice self-obliviousness. I took out a piece of paper and began to jot some of this down. This was going to be so much fun.
I was at the 7-11, buying a meditation cushion. My meditation on hatred was going well, but sitting on the floor that long was starting to hurt my back. I figured that on my daily rice run, I’d get a cushion, a bell, maybe some looser-fitting clothes. I was near the center of the labyrinth, picking them out, when someone tapped me on the shoulder.
It was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. She looked like a supermodel or something. She whispered to me. “Are you…the unenlightened person?”
I nodded, wondering where she was going with this.
“Look,” she said. “I have not had decent sex in a year and a half. Everyone is just like ‘abandon carnal desires of the flesh’ and ‘real pleasure comes from within’. And even when I can rope some guy into doing it, somehow it manages to be tranquil.” She spat out this last word. “Are you…uh…are you free tonight?”
I controlled my shock at my good fortune long enough to sputter out a short “yes”.
We stumbled back to my apartment together, braving the billboards and sermons and dive-bomb-parrots. In record time we made it to my bedroom and started ripping our clothes off.
“How did you get in?” I asked her. “Is this place well-guarded?”
“There’s a door in the back of the 7-11,” she said, confirming my suspicions. “There’s one monk and your side, and about five on the other. There’s no restriction on people coming in to talk to you if they want. Only on you getting out.”
I pulled her onto the bed and into my embrace.
“You feel so good,” she said. “It’s like a snake, coiled at the bottom of the spine, waiting to get out. Oh! It’s like the snake is made of energy, and the energy is escaping, moving upward…”
That sounded familiar. I stopped, pushed her off me.
“Wait a second,” I said. “That’s from tantric sex!”
“Tantric sex?” she asked innocently. “What’s that?”
“Don’t pretend you don’t know what tantric sex is! It’s that thing where sex can be used as a spiritual practice that brings people to enlightenment! You’re trying to trick me!”
She pouted seductively. “Come on, let’s keep going.”
I started putting my clothes back on. “You guys are scared of me. You’re scared that you’re not reaching me, that I’m immune to your tricks. Well, tell them that they’re going to have to try harder. Every day I meditate for an hour on all the people I hate, then another hour on all the material goods I wish I had, then for another hour on all the women I want to screw. Then I finish it off with an hour trying to experience selfhood as viscerally and dramatically as possible. I’m reaching depths of samsara they can’t even imagine. And there’s nothing you or the Head Lama or anyone else can do about it. Get out!” I threw her clothes at her. When she left, I slammed the door in her face.
A knock on the door.
I got up from my meditation cushion, eyeing the stains and scratches on it. Twenty years. Twenty years I had kept up my meditation practice, the four hours of anger-greed-lust-selfhood meditation I’d established a few weeks after my confinement started. To be honest, I didn’t look much better than the cushion. I was getting old. My rice and tap water diet kept me lean and wiry, but the years still took their toll. There were no razors at the 7-11, so I had grown a long white beard.
For the first few years, Golden Lotus had tried more tricks like the supermodel. I had seen through them all. Eventually they must have given up. I’d been unmolested for more than a decade. I wondered what they were up to now.
At the door was a kid. There was no other way to describe him. Scrawny, a little worn-out, looked South Asian, maybe sixteen or seventeen. He was wearing some kind of black plastic poncho over his clothes.
“Excuse me,” he said. “Are you the unenlightened man?”
“I want to learn from you.”
“Master, until now I have lived an unexamined life. Going to temple every day, meditating, taking the drugs, doing the dances. But I longed for something more. In an old library, I found a book which claimed the ancients knew of a state known as samsara, and of a mystery called the Self. That those who master these mysteries gain strange powers. Using the technique of Greed, they can attain such perfect willpower that they can work eighty hour weeks for abusive bosses without quitting. Using the technique of Lust, they can reach such perfect focus that all their thoughts for months revolve around the same person.
“I thought it might all just be legends. But I asked those who knew more than I did, and they directed me to those who knew more than them, and finally I heard rumors that in a far-off place called California there was an ancient sage who had achieved samsara long ago. Please, Master, will you take me as your disciple?”
I was flabbergasted for just a second before common sense took hold of me once again. “No,” I said. “You’re some kind of trick. Go away.”
“Master!” protested the kid. “I will wait kneeling on your doorstep without food or water until you agree to take me as a disciple!”
I shrugged and closed the door.
The next day, when I went out to 7-11, the kid was still there, kneeling.
“Master!” he said. “Please take me as your disciple.”
“No,” I said. “But if you want to make yourself useful, you can help guide me to the corner store while I have my eyes closed and my hands over my ears. And if you see any parrots, fight them off.”
“Yes, Master!” said the kid, and he took me by the arm and helped guide me to 7-11.
The next day the same thing happened. I went to go to the store, the kid was waiting on my doorstep, and he helped guide me to 7-11 safely. By the time I got back it was raining, and although the transparent canopy covered with sutra verses blocked out the worst of it, there was still a chill in the air.
“You might as well come inside and sleep on the couch,” I told him. “And have a little of the rice.”
The next morning, we began his training. I asked him to think about all the material goods he wanted. He couldn’t come up with any. I asked him to think about all the most attractive women he knew. He said he’d never thought about women that way before, and it seemed kind of objectifying. I asked him who really pissed him off, and his only answer was himself, when he strayed from the path of maximum virtue.
I tried for a few hours, then I gave up.
“Go to the spare room,” I said “and think about the sound of one hand clapping. Once you figure it out, come tell me. Until then, leave me alone. Got it, uh…what was your name again?”
“Maitrayaniputra,” said the kid.
“Not anymore,” I said. “From now on, your name is Brad.”
Somehow, my fame spread.
My apartment-street-convenience-store prison had turned into a makeshift ashram. Two dozen seekers from all around the globe. A select few slept in my house. The rest pitched tents on the street, or huddled into the aisles of the 7-11. The guard on the back door stared at them impassively, but said nothing.
I tried to discourage them, turn them away. But every time I yelled at one, or hit her with my cane, or slapped him on the face, more kept coming, sure this was some manifestation of ancient wisdom. A few gave up and returned back through the guarded door; but overall the numbers grew and grew.
Brad had declared himself chief of my disciples, the Peter to my Jesus. He would lead the congregation in meditation each morning, drawing off my old morning routine – an hour thinking of all the people they were angry at, an hour thinking of the material goods they wanted, an hour thinking of all the sexy people they wanted to screw – followed by a final hour of meditation on the Self. The novices failed in ways I didn’t even think possible. All the material goods they wanted were things like lotuses and celestial jewels. All the people they wanted to have sex with were particularly virtuous saints whose wisdom they admired. Sometimes, I would march into the room and demand to know what a novice was thinking. “Who are you having sexual fantasies about?” I shouted at one young man, who I had given the name Kyle. He admitted he was thinking of the Tibetan Buddhist guru Padmasambhava. “Are you even gay?” I demanded. He didn’t know what that meant, so I explained that some people were straight and should be having fantasies about the opposite sex, and other people were gay and should be having fantasies about the same sex, and other people were bi and could have fantasies about whichever sex they wanted. “But how would I know which of those I am?” Kyle asked me. I didn’t know what to say, so I hit him with my stick and stormed out.
But they kept coming. Kyle left the ashram, only to return a few weeks later with his sister. Her name was Shantideva; I told her she would henceforth be Sherri. Sherri was stick-thin, a dialysis port in one arm, and rarely spoke. Kyle told me she had a rare disease and would die before age 30. She had read Dylan Thomas’ “Rage Against The Dying Of The Light” and decided to achieve samsara before she died, so that she too could feel rage at her situation. I was nervous about her – she looked like the slightest breeze would tip her over – but she meditated with a fervor beyond anything I could have predicted, sometimes outdoing even Brad in time spent on the cushion.
I instituted a dress code for my disciples. I made the men dress as douchey as possible, and the women as slutty as they could. One day I dug my old printer out of a closet, and ran off a thousand copies of George Washington’s face. I distributed them to the disciples as unevenly as I could. “This is money,” I said. “It is an important ritual object. From now on, whenever someone wants something from you, you must refuse unless they offer you money. If they don’t offer you enough money, you should yell at them and call them cheap. If they offer you too much money, you should laugh at them behind their backs and tell everyone they’re an easy mark.”
“But Master,” protested Kyle, “why do we need all these rituals? Didn’t you yourself say that the essence of samsara is about mental states? Aren’t all these intermediaries and traditions only distracting us from the true work of self-transformation?”
“I will give you $10 to shut up and stop bothering me about this,” I said, and I handed him ten of the Washington papers.
Kyle slowly nodded and took them.
“Now do you understand?” I asked.
Kyle nodded, but I could tell he did not understand.
A few days later, Brad came into my room. I looked up.
“Master,” he said. “There is no sound of one hand clapping. You were just trying to get rid of me. I wasted almost a year of my life trying to figure it out, and there was nothing there. It was all a fraud and you’re a fraud and this whole piece of shit ashram is a fraud. Fuck you.”
“My son,” I said. “Today you have achieved samsara.”
Brad stopped as if stuck by a train. He tried to speak, then tried again, then fell silent. I watched as understanding flowed into his eyes.
“You bastard,” he said. “You magnificent bastard. You really did it.” He hugged me. I hugged him back. Then I marched him out to the street, where the majority of the disciples were eating their evening meal. “Everybody!” I announced. “Brad is unenlightened now! That means he’s better than you! He’s going to lord it over you, and you should all feel jealous of him!” A few looks of bewilderment from people who couldn’t grasp why they should be unhappy at anyone else’s achievement, but that was fine. I knew I had planted a seed.
Years went by. My first disciples – Brad, Kyle, Sherri, and the rest – left the ashram to preach to the outside world. New disciples replaced them. Life went on.
I grew into my role as samsara master. If Golden Lotus could enlighten people in a weekend, I needed to be able to unenlighten them faster. I spent more and more time in meditation, probing the true meaning of samsara, investigating each impulse, querying each baser urge. My doctrines became more and more esoteric. I began telling seekers that they were already unenlightened, if only they could see it. That there was nothing to attain. That there was no samsara separate from nirvana.
Some left, unable to handle the paradox. It was one of these, a middle-aged man I had dubbed Logan, who left behind the golden robe.
He had taken off to change it douchey clothes as soon as he arrived. And he left in the douchey clothes I gave him. The golden robe hung in my closet. Nobody missed it. Nobody knew I had it.
I decided to try a jailbreak.
I put on the golden robe. Then I dug up an old razor from the bottom drawer of my bathroom. Then I shaved off my long beard. Then I shaved my head, until I looked the very image of a Golden Lotus monk.
I went out to the 7-11 and walked up to the back door. “I’m sick of this place,” I told the guard. “I’m going home.”
He waved me through, and for the first time in twenty-five years, I stepped into the world beyond.
It looked like a Japanese garden. Bonsai-perfect trees grew everywhere, hanging over glassy ponds stocked with koi. The roads had given way to carefully tended paths, lined every so often by pagodas or temple-like houses.
I walked further, until I reached what had been the town center before. The general aesthetic continued, but the buildings were closer together now. I saw fellow golden-robed acolytes walking the streets or sitting contemplatively beneath the trees.
One golden-robed man sitting underneath a cherry tree looked exactly like Brad. He was talking to another man who looked exactly like Kyle. I could only hear bits of their speech, but it sounded very tranquil. I hid behind a shrine. What was going on here? Was it really them? Had they reverted already?
“Sorry!” said a jogger, as she almost ran into me. I blinked again, took a second look. It was Sherri, the frail girl with the chronic disease. She didn’t look frail or diseased now. I grabbed her by the wrist, made her stop.
“Sherri. What’s going on?”
I saw recognition in her eyes, and her lips curled into a smile.
I’d been right that first time then, all those years ago. A trick. They’d all been plants. Why? What had they accomplished? Getting me thinking about samsara. I retraced several years worth of mental steps. Trying to understand the nature of desire. Becoming more aware of the movements of my own mind. They had gotten me good. I had to distract myself. Think of a material good. Think of a red Ferrari. I concentrated on a red Ferrari as hard as I could, tried to block everything else out of my mind, all the insights, all the shame, all the trickery. Just a red Ferrari, on a black road, beneath a blue sky. Everything else faded.
Sherri clapped once, right in front of my face.
Upon hearing this, I was enlightened.
“Only the true Messiah denies His divinity.”
— Woman holding the Holy Gourd of Jerusalem.
That was fun. But I have to wonder, how many unenlightened men (and presumably women) living in isolated enclaves were being simultaneously told they were the “last unenlightened man”? The enlightened clearly aren’t above lying, and “you are the last unenlightened man” is on several levels a better pitch than “you are one of 4,936 remaining unenlightened men and women”.
Never mind the isolated enclaves, what about K street in Washington DC, Cleveland, and the entire state of New Jersey?
Science has proven that it is impossible to achieve enlightenment in any state where you can buy pork roll.
K Street in DC is easy. Get the favorite daughter on someone specific on schedule 1 of the executive pay scale to attend one of the 100% effective retreats, they pass the trait to Dad, who takes the office out to one as a team-building exercise, then the techniques get disseminated as required training for all employees of that Department, with enough cross-contamination at the top to spread to other departments.
The hardest group of humans would be the South Sentinel Islanders, assuming that they aren’t already enlightened.
The guy certainly accepted this. While it’s true that he may have experienced a pretty thorough isolation by the people in his community, the fact remains that during the entire narrative covered in detail by the story, he never like actually tries to find another person and do anything for their sake. It’s all about his own right to live on a pile of non-vegetarian Chinese food.
I strongly disagree with the premise of this story. Specifically, I strongly disagree that the absolute last holdout of a truly universal belief in the entire world would be a totally reasonable mild-mannered man with strong but clear convictions. Someone like that is not immune to all 7.499… billion peoples worth of peer pressure. I believe, but have no evidence, that it would take an highly insane schizophrenic mixed with Crastor from Games of Thrones living in far north Canada to achieve that level of mental isolation.
Didn’t strike me as the heart of the story. More of a conceit we were being expected to tolerate in order to explore a deeper theme.
Yes, and a billionaire playboy probably wouldn’t put on a bat costume and start punching criminals, and yet here we are.
Sometimes you gotta suspend that disbelief.
Off the top of my head I can think of two billionaire playboys who would at least consider it.
Were you thinking of Musk and Branson too? I mean, Branson’s too old now, but …
And the bodhisattva’s vow includes all beings in Samsara.
Shouldn’t they be more worried about the countless trillions of unenlightened termites and sea slugs rather than this one guy?
Maybe the termites and sea slugs were already enlightened and waiting on us?
They have no sense of self.
Maybe instead of uplifting chimps and dolphins, we should be downlifting ourselves.
e.g. the “dream apes” of Egan’s novel “Diapora”.
That same novel later had a savage and on-point rip on the dead-end’ness of “enlightenment”.
Nice, that’s one of his I haven’t read.
See also, Brightness Reef (David Brin) and sequels.
If you’re going for traditional Buddhist beliefs – at least, the one’s I’ve read about – and are interpreting them literally, then what you do is you wait for them to reincarnate as human and then enlightenment might be possible. Of course, if you’re really going for traditional Buddhist beliefs then there are other sorts of beings also in need of enlightening, and some of them stick around in their heavenly (deva) or hellish (naraka) realms for lengths of time… my sources differ on this, but some of the timespans I’ve seen quoted are substantially longer than the current scientific idea of the age of the universe – 3.39738624×10^18 years is an example from one wikipedia page. On a log scale, the scientific understanding is closer to Archbishop Usher’s idea than it is to such numbers. I digress…
That said, the theme of the story is very much in the Buddhist Modernism vein, so all of those strange beings and staggeringly long timespans probably have to be interpreted as metaphors for something, or just studiously ignored.
Or looked at from another way, it’s very much the perspective of the outsider to Buddhism looking in, and the nearest examples are very much modernist, so such questions are well out of the picture.
So eventually animals stop existing because there are no souls reincarnated into those bodies? It would suck to be born into a nearly enlightened world where everyone is a human but the ecosystem has collapsed, and everyone is engaging in unsustainable cannibalism for nourishment, which in any case is futile since you lack the gut bacteria to properly digest anything anyway being that all your gut bacteria have worked their way up the chain of being through reincarnation.
Ecological sustainability demands a high ratio of bad karmic entities to good karmic entities.
This feels like an alternate unsong-type setting, a grim dark dying universe where almost all souls have reached enlightenment leaving none to run the gut bacteria.
And some higher entity worried about there being no possible escape for entities trapped in a universe without enough bad karmic entities to sustain the environment.
Scott has written along those lines.
Scott is the living embodiment of “Simpsons did it”.
Well, this is already a solved problem, no need for enlightenment. There’s a cycles upon cycles thing, but one of those cycles is four stage. Stage one starts with everyone in the higher realms, and bad karma accumulates, leading to the lower realms gradually being populated, stage two – the one we’re in – starts when the first sentient being enters a hell, and continues for a bit. In stage 3 good karma accumulates and the lower realms depopulate, in stage 4 the lower realms are all safely empty when some catalysm destroys everything in the lower realms.
During the earlier parts of stage one, humans are “are not like present-day humans, but are beings shining in their own light, capable of moving through the air without mechanical aid, living for a very long time, and not requiring sustenance; they are more like a type of lower deity than present-day humans are.” or so sayeth Wikipedia.
This kind of implies that such petty concerns as the second law of thermodynamics are not really issues in certain realms and parts of the cycle, so presumably ecology is very different under such circumstances.
Also: it seems that traditional Buddhism has no concept of microbes, and I’ve not seen any talk of reincarnation as plants (note: I’m no Buddhist, I just share Scott’s fascination and keenness to read up… oh, hang on, “Some Buddhist texts assert that plants belong to this realm, with primitive consciousness”), so I’m not sure how that all works. I’m not sure if the Buddhist concept of animals maps neatly onto the kingdom Animalia (except for the humans bit of course), but if so, it doesn’t include bacteria.
So it all makes perfect sense, that is if by “perfect sense” you mean they’ve got plenty of get-out-of-contradiction-free cards, I mean looked at in a certain way, glowy energy beings solve anything.
A particularly nasty surprise for this strategy
It seems a stretch, but easy to swallow compared to “a group of San Francisco hippie/yuppie/techie seekers had pared down the ancient techniques to their bare essentials, then optimized hard“. I have only so much willing suspension of disbelief available and I just used up my allotment for November.
I dunno, I kinda liked it.
Like someone taking all the weird rituals around food prep and going “ok actually the reason that tradition was there was to remove cyanide, we’ve condensed it down to 1/10th the time and 1/5th the effort with better cyanide removal.”
or “hey turns out that root you used to treat plague? we isolated the key chemicals and made it into a pill 20x as effective as the old home remedy”
if someone properly figured out what “enlightenment” actually meant, figured out what it meant in the brain and really understood it…. you can bet someone would start working on a machine or drug or something that you could stick to your skull to skip all the hard boring steps and induce the state.
It’s not about someone figuring out what “enlightenment” means and how to get there efficiently and effectively – that’s the Buddhist claim in a nutshell. It’s where San Francisco hippie/yuppie/techie seekers are the ones doing it.
The only thing I can reasonably expect San Francisco hippies/yuppies/techies to do with regards to… well, pretty much anything… is to examine a problem, realize that it’s actually kinda hard, redefine the problem as something else entirely (that is much easier and fitting with their core competencies/desires) and solve/optimize that. Usually with little to no regard to who gets thrown under the bus.
Ah, the standard anti-geek rant.
So they’re not solving any problems… but somehow people are getting “thrown under the bus”, presumably workers who turned out to have an easily automated job and are incensed that their meager skillset is now worthless and being done by a rasberry pi and a brick on a string.
or solve it. Or realise it’s hard and still solve it.
As is often the case.
People don’t talk much about the ones that just get solved because they end up solved and people stop thinking about them.
Bacterial infections were a hard problem, then some worthless geeks discovered antibiotics.
Fast communication over long distances used to be hard and expensive, now it’s close to free and close to the limits of the speed of light.
the entire history of automation and AI is a long list of people declaring smugly that XYZ “will never be done by a computer” because it takes the magical spirit and understanding of a human…. and 24 months later those people are looking for a new job and a machine is doing their job better and faster.
Murphy, I am a geek.
The rant isn’t about actual people who work to solve problems. It’s about the San Francisco high-urban scene that excels at solving problems like “how do we get a big enough corpus for machine translation“, “how do we avoid having to pay for taxi licenses“, “how do we not have to worry about all the regulations involved in running a hotel” or even “how do we optimise for controversy“.
The phrase “too clever by half” was invented for people like that.
(Just to be clear, the employees at these companies who actually do the work involved in keeping them running are prolly mostly ok – and also prolly completely replacable, as soon as we can get a more permissive visa regime.)
I mean, I thought that part was supposed to be intentionally humorous/slightly absurd (I cracked a smile when I read it, and I got the impression that was Scott’s intent), I don’t think it was presented as something that was actually plausible.
Obviously if you think taxi monopolies and hotel oligopolies are good things I’m not going to change your mind, but what’s the matter with getting a corpus for machine translation?
Anyway, conflating hippies, yuppies, and techies as having the same issue is kind of odd. Hippies are famous for holding some amorphous spirituality above practical concerns. Yuppies are well known for putting love of money above all else. And techies are usually accused of making technical solutions which ignore the human element. All of these are rather different.
Why wouldn’t the same group that sees regulations as obstacles to be overcome and figures out how to overcome them also be able to see the barriers to enlightenment as obstacles to overcome and figure out how to overcome them in an effective manner?
We look forward to reading yours.
What about new babies?
Robert Adams used to tell a story about a man who hated God so much that He was all he could ever think about and in this way, became enlightened.
This is a recurring theme in Hindu mythology, by the way.
Valmiki is I think the most famous one right? Who are the others?
Why didn’t they drug his rice or use some aerosol to get him in his sleep? Are they so fixated on voluntary enlightenment?
The story raises an interesting question of how voluntary you can make coercion. The birds and billboards present a message forcefully but they require the subject to think. Being drugged is wholly passive.
They’re not willing to starve or torture him into compliance: I’m guessing drugging him against his will would similarly violate their moral code. And I would suppose that “true” enlightenment probably requires some kind of willing effort on the part of the enlightened.
A better plan would be to make a deal. Offer this guy all the carnal desires he could want for a year, five years, whatever, in exchange for becoming enlightened at the end of it. There’s probably lots of Lamborghinis and infinity pools and Scarlett Johanssons lying around in this enlightened society that they can give him.
I have to assume the narrator would still say no. If nothing else, the guy cares extremely little about the decline in available resources that he’s experiencing with his self-imposed isolation. He doesn’t care that the restaurants became vegetarian or that he can’t watch sitcoms now. What worldly desires is he actually getting fulfilled at this rate?
Great. Then after a year/five years he reneges on the deal.
Maybe they did. The narrator only narrated the things he was aware of. (I assumed the drug component of the “reliable path to enlightenment” would be less like LSD than like fluoxetine.)
Fluoxetine would have be a bad choice. If the narrator had some anxiety issue, the use of it might have become very conscious through the initial stage of increased anxiety; and if he only so much of ever heard of that — busted. And for general use, also not suitable: that phase is longer than a weekend.
The premise of the reverse ashram blew my mind to the degree that I was very disappointed when it ultimately turned out to be a fraud.
XdarksxedgeX’s comment thread above makes me wonder, is this the rare story which is best told in the 2nd person perspective?
I was rooting for him, though you could probably get me to root for anyone if you write them as the last holdout in a world ruled by a universal belief.
The ending brought two gin-scented tears to my face.
Have you considered publishing a book of your short stories? They’re incredibly good.
Considering this whole blog is licensed under CC-BY, nothing is stopping you from publishing it yourself. You’d miss a few stories from his old Livejournal, though.
Are there proper publishers willing to do that kind of thing? Would I have to edit it enough to claim that I own the copyright to the edited version, with a license restriction that it be attributed properly?
CC-BY doesn’t include SA, so the edited compilation would have enforcable protections.
The main issue is probably that if the book is a success, no one is stopping another publisher from undercutting the original publisher with a cheaper version. So this doesn’t work very well for the ‘subsidize many mediocre books with a few bestsellers’ model.
My enjoyment of Unsong was dampened by the feeling that much of it went over my head, too often for me to bother looking it up every time, but I very much enjoyed the writing style. These shorter pieces probably still have a few things I’m not catching, but it’s not noticeable in the way it was in Unsong. And the stuff I do catch is delightful! I think Scott’s sorry stories could do very well with a larger audience.
I felt like Unsong explained everything you needed to know to understand the story; I don’t think I looked anything up, and I know almost nothing about the Kabbalah.
I suppose there might have been things I missed that I didn’t realize I was missing. What sorts of things did you look up?
I really loved this. The hero’s journey in reverse.
This is really good. It reminds me of Ted Chiang’s short story “Understand”. Most actions are adversarial attempts at incepting the other.
Moreover, most acts are adversarial attempts at affecting the other’s very mind.
Yes, that’s what I meant. Most interactions are acts of programming to serve our own needs. I like the story because an entire group managed to do this and they were explicit about it. The unenlightened one knew that’s what they were doing and he still fell for it. The best way to reprogram people is to get them to do it themselves by providing them the right abstractions that they can compose themselves.
Exactly what I was thinking! Especially the end, where a single clap puts to execution all of the thoughts he’d been having in the months before. And the attempt to fight the inevitable churning towards “death”, by imagining a ferrari.
Have you found any other stories along similar lines? The most recent one I read was Aristoi and I found that by trawling twitter.com/chaosprime.
There’s a Spider Robinson (or maybe Spider & Jeanne Robinson) story very roughly along these lines, but I don’t remember which one it is.
I thought it was called “The Devil’s Children” but there doesn’t seem to be a story by that name.
Meanwhile, there’s _The Cosmic Rape_/_Meeting with Medusa by Sturgeon.
Sort by Controversial, published on a date just a week from today last year, has two minor characters named Shiri and Brad. Shiri and Brad. Sherri and Brad. Hmm . . .
This is not a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence.
I always love your short stories Scott, and this was no exception.
While I deeply enjoyed this story, some of its themes deeply concern me.
1. The narrator turns out to be the only “real” person in the universe. Everyone else in the story is acting in accordance with an extremely specific principle that is practically a law of nature.
2. The narrator is straight, male, and is white or at least proliferating hegemonic American culture.
3. These two conditions directly feed into each other in a normative, even hegemonic framework. The re-naming conceit. The douchey vs slutty codes of dress. The entire supermodel element. Most prominently, Sherri turns out to have been faking her chronic illness.
All the narrator ever thinks about is his self and his feelings. Even the possibility of getting laid is approached so casually as to seem like more of a drug exchange than based on any type of personality or interiority. There is no reverence whatsoever for the miracle that the universe contains other sentient beings, some of whom even have different experiences from you.
If this is how enlightenment (PNSE) actually works, I want no part in it and I can see why most of the American guys who got it are white males and may well get into sex scandals and worse, constantly.
I think it makes sense for a story about (one of?) the last unenlightened people in the world, written in the first-person, to have a self-centered narrator who doesn’t much care about what other people are thinking and what people not near him are doing.
Yeah, it makes sense, but a guy like that is still ironically approaching enlightenment and reaching it at the end. I don’t want to ever pass through a stage of such acute self-centeredness.
Within the story, it sounds like most people reached enlightenment through less drastic means. The enlightened people aren’t willing to compel this guy through violence, so eventually they find a way, at some personal cost, to convert him through his own actions.
I agree that overall enlightment doesn’t sound great, especially if they’re planning on ending the human race, but maybe it beats the alternatives.
It’s not bad, really.
How do you know your not in a state of acute self-centeredness right now?
Sure, the narrator is portrayed as selfish and irreverent and all that stuff, but he’s also stated to be literally the least enlightened person in the world. I don’t see how you’re getting “this is how enlightenment actually works” from that.
1. The narrator literally becomes enlightened at the end.
2. “If Golden Lotus could enlighten people in a weekend, I needed to be able to unenlighten them faster. I spent more and more time in meditation, probing the true meaning of samsara, investigating each impulse, querying each baser urge.”
Combined with my reading of the other posts on PNSE, it seems that PNSE is primarily based around querying your own urges, and this is what the narrator is depicted doing more and more over the course of the story. Interaction with other people, particularly outside of manipulating them to serve your own values, falls somewhere between irrelevant and antithetical to this process. (I mean, consider the resources that the Golden Lotus movement is portrayed to have. Because twenty years had passed, it would have been reasonable for them to generate and introduce an actual skeptical child, deliberately or otherwise. Instead, they introduce a plant. Perhaps it would go against the Bodhisattva’s Vow to let the kid go without The Weekend Experience, but still.) I have no interest in deprioritizing sincere human interaction that much.
It might be fun to look at other versions of anti-enlightenment. How about reading a lot of sf and not getting around to qi gong?
Now that I could get into. A movement where you Just Do Things. No implications. No thanatophobic crisis. Just the now. The appreciating what you have.
I read the re-naming conceit as a parody of the equal and opposite re-naming conceit.
I am gong to be honest, I did not realize just what a large percentage of outright monastic Buddhists engaged in the Dharma name practice. I did not make that connection. I now find this part of the story less disturbing.
However, it does still read different for me when it’s an American guy; I am reflexively reminded of many historical events most prominently Native American boarding schools and go, “Yikes.” The lack of this instinct in others with similar historical education is something unsettling to me.
Why were the native American students put into boarding schools? Partially, to make them lose their culture and convert to Christianity. What happened to the American guy in this story? He was browbeaten by the outside world to lose his culture and join their religion.
In your analogy, the American guy is the native American being forced into boarding schools.
Thiz is really downplaying the heinous physical violations that regularly occurred there.
Given that you were the one who analogized the situations, L, that’s on you.
No, it’s like this. There are actual imposed Anglicization movements that used extremely violent means. Relocation, hair-cutting, corporal punishment. The Golden Lotus movement depicted in the story is the most physically forceful when cutting off the narrator’s internet connection. Everything else is either talking their way onto the narrator’s property or modifying surrounding areas that are not actually his property. That doesn’t make the behavior beyond reproach, and you’re fundamentally correct that the forcible cultural reeducation desired by Native American boarding schools and the Golden Lotus movement are similar. I’m just saying, I read an account of gently imposed Anglicization, I’m reminded of the historically predominantly violent imposed Anglicization.
Native American Boarding Schools: [Anglicization: Yes] [Corporal punishment: definitely]
Golden Lotus Movement: [Forced reeducation though not Anglo: Yes] [Corporal punishment: not really]
Narrator’s Ashram: [Anglicization: Yes] [Corporal punishment: Only a little]
You can think my priorities are out of wack, that’s up to you.
L, it’s not exactly that I see your priorities as out of whack as that I think your pattern-matching is too strong.
On the other hand, in the story enlightenment is framed as strongly culturally Asian (Chinese/Japanese more than Indian, I think), and I don’t think that’s essential to the premise.
Fun to think about– if people were generally enlightened, how would the world be different? Definitely less violent, but what else?
Full of people who let themselves be abused?
Aapge, in regards to what a world of enlightened people would be like:
“Full of people who let themselves be abused?”
If Pinker is right, that’s the deal we got with civilization. People are less violent and more subject to violence, but it’s still a net win in terms of lifespan and numbers of people.
I don’t think that we are more subject to violence due to civilization, although we are more subject to coercion (although with the soft guarantee that the coercion is limited).
I’m just saying, I read an account of gently imposed Anglicization, I’m reminded of the historically predominantly violent imposed Anglicization.
Then it’s a quirk of your memory.
“proliferating”? Like with nuclear weapons?
I am straight, white and male and from a Western country.
I also like that country and it’s culture. More than any other culture, at least.
That I can by my very essence of being be as deeply concerning as nuclear warheads in the wrong hands to someone else feels kinda cool.
Thanks! Keep it up.
A Black, Arab, or even Jewish dude can be, by their very essences, deeply concerning to a lot of people out there, so it isn’t some exclusive club, or something.
If I wasn’t clear enough in my original comment, a self-centered narrator, and a straight white male narrator, are both quite innocuous things. In essence of being it is perfectly fine to be a straight male, or a white guy. It is not fine to be a white guy who treats the foreigners around him as uncivilized dancers who need to live in his proximity and drastically change their ways, or a straight male who treats all women he encounters as sex objects first and foremost.
Proliferate, impose, whatever word you want to use that has been used a lot of times… OK, fine, I’ll bite the bullet. Some of these tendencies were part of what culminated into the only historical usage of large-scale nuclear weapons, so I hope you are proud of yourself!
Umm, they’re not foreigners? The other people around them are enlightened. They haven’t forfeited their citizenship. Nor does he treat any women he encounters as sex objects.
Seriously, I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Additionally, I would think the proper form of his complaint would be:
L seems to be putting straight white males into some sort of seperate category uniquely prone to, capable of, and historically responsible for these objectionable behaviors.
In fact L hardly seems to be objecting to the behaviors at all, so much as who is engaging in them. This is made more prominent by the fact that the straight white man in the story is obviously the victim of these objectionable behaviors far more than the perpetrator of them. (If even the perpetrator at all, which i dispute.)
To twist the story in such a manner in order to make these kinds of demographically targeted complaints… I really can’t read anything into L’s comments other than an obsessive, deep-seated prejudice towards heterosexuals, whites, and men.
“And some, I assume, are good people.”
They have non-anglo names and then he gives them anglo names. The only one with a specified race is South Asian. Maybe people of color would have been clearer but whatever.
When a supermodel shows up at his doorstep he thinks only about her potential as a sex partner. This is far from nonconsensual but still falls into a pattern. The ashram dress code is douchey for men, slutty for women. Again, not nonconsensual, but shows a pattern.
If you can’t read this story as a straight white male treating the world around him as little more than his colony I really have no idea where you are coming from. He may use means less overt than rape and plunder, and not be seeking dictatorial power per se, but your other comments indicate the Soft Power of the Golden Lotus movement is still pernicious. If the samsara movement and golden lotus movement have ended up as mirror images of each other, they’re all about a cultural hegemony and exhaustive focus on your own urges. It’s better to occasionally think about what other people’s urges are. In real life you are not the only main character. In modern practice (not due to biological essence or anything) straight American males are especially prone to these kinds of faults. This is my actual point.
This is a joke, which inverts the practice of anglo people taking new sanskrit or pali names when they get heavily into meditation/buddhism. At least, that’s how I read it (and thought it was clever!).
To Null Hypothesis:
First of all, I use she/her. This was not directly indicated anywhere and is not truly necessary to every type of discussion. They/them would have been fine with me despite not considering myself to use those pronouns actively. But I find it bizarre that you engage in such a basic non-neutral decision and then impose your own ideas of how my words would be more proper if they were more neutral.
Straight white males are in some category of responsibility and tendency. Why is this even a question. Does Scott even actually dispute this, as opposed to a couple very fine details about causation? Against Murderism includes “I am not saying that racism doesn’t exist, I’m not saying that we should ignore racism”. Against Overgendering Harassment includes “The obvious explanation for gender differences in harassment has always been that men constitute 80% of sexual harassers for the same reason they constitute 83% of arsonists, 81% of car thieves, and 85% of burglars”.
> It is not fine to participate in a superiority paradigm, such as the historically common straight/white/male ones, that turns other people into objects for your service or sexual needs. Therefore, it is fine to be a white guy, but not to participate in the very obviously corresponding superiority paradigm.
There. Happy???????? It’s bad to be a Japanese person who thinks Koreans moving into your city are stealing your jobs. It’s bad to be in ISIS. It’s bad to be a gay guy who corners men. Whatever.
Look, if this whole line of discussion is too “Culture War” I can cut it out. But I am not actually just bringing criticism of straight white males’ hegemonic tendencies into a space where it does not belong. In Scott’s post about “The PNSE Paper”, some white male participants said it was impossible for them to be racist or sexist, but then they all were tested and turned out to show a degree of sexism and/or racism according to the Project Implicit test – Scott quotes this finding without disputing the nature of the test or anything. “Is Enlightenment Compatible With Sex Scandals?”, which set off the entire recent PNSE series, speaks for itself. I am aware that the post describes non-white and non-straight perpetrators, though they are all male.
The point again is not that straight white males are uniquely or universally bad. The point is that there’s a certain degree of historical tendency. And therefore, explicitly glorifying such a straight white man focusing mostly on himself and not engaging in serious multiculturalism (again, even encountering a disabled person turns out to instead be someone just faking) is disturbing to me. This can be taken in a lot of other directions like “well it’s the story’s unhappy ending” or whatever.
I read it as the protagonist sees being 2019 cis white as the epitome of selfish anti-enlightenment, so in his viewpoint, the farthest point from the Golden Lotus.
The idea that ultimate selfishness is epitomized by being a frat bro is funny and works for the story.
The enlightened people are against multiculturalism, wanting to eradicate non-enlightened people. That you oppose one person on earth spreading ‘bro culture,’ but are OK with nigh complete cultural hegemony of ‘enlightened’ people who try to impose their culture on others very strongly, suggests to me that you are anti-Western and anti-white male, rather than actually against cultural hegemony.
Note that I don’t entirely blame you for your abuse of language, as conflating the desire for a anti-white/male monoculture with multiculturalism is fairly common in SJ. Doesn’t make it right, though.
I think that Scott is wrong here and that men aren’t actually 80% of sexual harassers, but that society in general and men in particular are far more permissive of female harassment, often not classifying it as such.
A much higher tolerance of abuse of men doesn’t make women better behaved or men less victimized, it just makes people not see it as abuse when women do it and/or men are the victim & blame the consequences on other causes. The woman who engages in self-harm or who acts out in ways that harms others is a ‘survivor’ of trauma. The man who does the same is himself to blame (toxic masc…). I’ve seen that pattern a lot.
Some commenters criticized Scott for implicitly ( 😛 ) accepting the outcomes of Project Implicit in “The PNSE Paper,” especially as Scott has previously said that: “Implicit association tests probably don’t work (1, 2, 3, 4). That is, people who have “implicit racial biases” according to the tests are not more racist in everyday life than people who don’t.”
There are various historical tendencies. Unjustly blaming white men for the ills of the world is also a historical tendency, but not one that you seem too concerned about.
Even if we would grant that the protagonist is a problematic straight white man, calling this story the glorifying of “such a straight white man” requires one to interpret it as a morality tale, where I see no indication that it is intended as such. Note that the tendency to see stories as a morality tale is a habit of certain (sub)cultures that seems to inevitably leads to intolerance.
Arguable. One of the big lessons of Buddhism — along with Stoicism and a lot of other internally focused philosophical systems — is that most suffering is meta-suffering, i.e. internally generated based on personal and cultural expectations of suffering. If we’ve got a culture telling men to brush off all but the worst behavior from women that we’d damn as abuse or harassment going the other way, it’s quite probable that those men do actually brush most of it off. Not all, of course, but a lot.
Perhaps, although it is peculiar that we have all these totally not traumatized men who drink heavily, have anger problems, have compulsions, are very risk-taking or engage in escapism; all of which seems very much correlated with traumatic experiences.
Are people actually (sufficiently) less traumatized if you tell them they can’t be traumatized by something?
Note that this doesn’t negate the possibility that telling people that something is traumatizing generates trauma.
Aapje, how do you know those men haven’t been traumatized? I’m not saying they definitely were, but it seems like a strong claim that they definitely weren’t.
I think Aapje is ironic here.
As in Nornegast’s claim that stoicism shields you from taking harm, seem to not match the world he sees around him.
It’s sketchy as hell to point at some possible signs of some kind of trauma and insist that they must come out of these specific events for which men evidence few or no proximate signs of trauma.
There are ways this general line of thinking could get my attention, but you’d need some hard correlations at the very least. Otherwise I’d rather just take people at their word.
I didn’t think that I was subtle with the irony.
I don’t know to what extent it is true, but I would definitely argue that society is putting a lot of effort into making it true.
At the very least, I want to point out all the hypocrisy and circular reasoning (like: men shouldn’t complain about or attribute suffering to the same things that we believe cause great suffering in women because bad thing that happen to men are less traumatizing, which we know because they complain less and are less likely to attribute suffering to those experiences).
The logic’s just as flawed if we run it in the other direction, is what I’m saying: “we know men experience great suffering during these events, despite being unlikely to complain or attribute suffering to them, because women who experience the same events are more likely to”. The only satisfying explanation, to me, is cultural influence over perceptions of trauma, and you can run that influence both ways. There are logical alternatives, but I don’t find any of them very satisfying:
– Men and women might organically experience this kind of suffering differently, or convert it to trauma differently. But this doesn’t match up with gendered experiences of ordinary suffering: if I stub my toe and my girlfriend stubs her toe, we both swear at the bedframe, and we’re both fine the next day.
– Cultural influence might be capable of increasing apparent trauma but not reducing it, or reducing it but not increasing it. But that’d be totally wild — it’s unlike any other kind of cultural influence we know about.
– Cultural influence might mask or sublimate trauma but not actually reduce it, just force it to be expressed in weirder and more sinister ways. This is probably the least crazy alternative, but it’s too Freudian for my taste. Fortunately it’s testable: we’d expect to see a correlation between men who’ve experienced the instigating events but say they’re fine, and weird, sinister expressions of trauma.
These weird and sinister ways seem common as dirt. It’s called drinking, using drugs, sleeping poorly, personality disorders, etc, etc. AFAIK, the correlation between these and trauma is fairly strong.
Yes, they’re pretty common, but unless they’re more common in people who try to suppress their trauma, it isn’t my option 3.
And I’ve never seen a link established with the kinds of maybe-traumatic experience we’re talking about, for what it’s worth.
You prop up this group “straight, white, male” and ascribe to it an ecclectic mix of bad traits and “tendencies”.
I don’t consider the first historical use of nuclear weapons to have been evil.
It was probably a good decision, especially without the benefit of hindsight. Can’t be proud of it, cause I didn’t make it.
I don’t think that women are treated first and foremost as sex objects by straight men. Well…. I can obviously see that gay men and straight women would not treat women as sex objects at all. Seems hardly related to virtue, though.
I’m not even sure what’s meant by that or what that behaviour would look like. Doesn’t seem like you’re describing people.
Have you met them? Do really understand them?
Feel free to define others any way you please.
Prejudices, stereotypes and othering others is apparently very appealing, though I find such pleasures a bit gauche.
I found the narrator relatable. Make of that what you will.
If you impose on me this made-up identity, that supposedly exists in a coherent fashion and I should feel bad about being a part of or it should distance myself or should feel ashamed being…. or should in some way define myself in relation to.
Go ahead. Have fun with that.
I don’t like that game. It’s stupid. I won’t play.
I can interact with a human being primarily on the basis that it can provide me myself sexual attention, and this would constitute sexual objectification, right? Not engaging first and foremost with their humanity, or their precious individual priceless soul or whatever, but their capacity to provide me sex, if properly manipulated. What then, if I interact with a human being primarily on the basis that they can provide sexual attention to others? How is that not sexual objectification? They are not sex objects in respect of sex with me, but they are still sex objects. How is this not sexual objectification? In case anyone doesn’t follow, the point is that (to bring it back to the quote) straight women can and do treat other women this way (and men too I’m sure, but I don’t happen to have an anecdote to hand for that case). I wouldn’t expect any of the INTJ habitual-helmet-wearers on this site to know as much, but please believe that my sister is an absolute and total normie, and she has spoken to me about this form of sometimes quite strident dehumanisation, which occurs for example in bars nightclubs, and parties, at length.
It is not about feeling bad about your identity or any group memberships with which you do not happen to “identify”. It is also not about any unvirtuousness of being attracted to a specific identity/group. The basic assertion is that the actual racist, sexist, predatory, whatever attitude and behavior, is what is bad.
You immediately interpolated extremely harsh judgment into my words, so I thought I would toy with you, but you seem to be sincerely unaware or unsympathetic about the extremely common argument that an element of racism was involved. You could like, actually directly refute this claim if you wanted. I don’t feel like I have a decisive assessment.
My point is that if PNSE makes this myopia more common I don’t like it.
Shout out to Secretly French for bringing any kind of variety and diversity into this thread.
I thought this was going to go in the direction of gay men who grope models for purely aesthetic purposes and shake down surrogate mothers, but this works too.
[uhm… actually confused now, if you’re being merely descriptive of what is or at the same time stating it to be a problem. I kinda haphazardly assumed the latter and don’t want to rewrite. Sry 🙁 ]
Bars, nightclubs and parties aren’t places for being human.
Being human all the time gets tiresome and awkward. (and apparently not having hearing damage is tiresome to many as well, but that’s a digression)
Being human is complicated and being too much in our own (or trying to get into each other’s) head often gets in our way.
Perhaps that’s stringently dehumanizing, but if that seems to be exactly what people want to do, what’s so terrible with that kind of dehumanization? Revealed preferences and all that.
[differently put, a party/night club/bar is a place where the range of human expression is allowed to be a little different, not like we’re all changing species, not like humans aren’t animals either. The term dehumanization is obviously chosen to sound maximally bad. Objectification is too. Perhaps we’re still not talking about the same things, though.]
Why this insistence of seperating sexuality from humanity, that the term “dehumanization” implies? Humans have sex and want sex. And sexual desire is often what brings people together. Whether they stay together depends on other factors, that don’t matter as much at first. Seeing a person you just met as ‘mostly’ a sex-object? Seems appropriate.
Someone who gets too familiar and too attached too quickly is someone who has issues with boundaries. [very much intended as an “opposite end of the spectrum”-type argument]
“…. to others”-part:
As competition or are you talking some kind of pimp-scenario here?
Either way, might be objectification, but I don’t see the inherent problem with the former. And for the latter it sounds like an occupational requirement, be that occupation ethical or not.
Re: nuking Japan because of racism
I mean…. if it’s such a common argument, why are you linking to “the ecologist”? Which is at first glance some activist/anti-capitalist magazine that thrives on getting people riled up and making accusations like that?
Quoting from the article here:
Why not Germany indeed? Is the answer found in anti-jap propaganda? Is it likely that the people in charge believe their own bs-propaganda?
Even if so, the question has a more straightforward answer:
I vaguely remember that the bomb wasn’t ready in time. So my country thankfully got to surrender before it was ready. Pretty sure that Italy was already under Allied control, when the bomb was ready. So this whole question doesn’t really make sense.
Looking into it a little more (just going on Quora, but that’s usually not a bad source for history-questions, if one doesn’t need too much rigor)
So yes that, but conceivably Germany could have been hit, but there wasn’t good reason for it.
It was collapsing already, also the author below claimed that there were slowdowns in development, because all those European researchers weren’t thrilled with seeing the bomb detonated in Europe.
And that the Japanese would have made an invasion extremely bloody and were preparing the whole population to fight to the death. The Japanese back then were a rather intense people from what I gathered from Hardcore-History, compare with this:
So the people who wrote that, they don’t seem to care about details or the truth, but rather want to construct a narrative.
So they’re dishonest liars. Fuck ’em.
Uhm…. I’m not taking them seriously as a source, since they’re obviously engaged in motivated reasoning and “great claims require great evidence” holds.
re: what I originally made fun of
Well you used language that’s used for weapons of mass destruction.
Whether the culture you’re part of has mutated so much, that such an extreme and biased framing goes unchallenged, is par for the course in a casual discussion….. well, I find that ridiculous
I’d like language not be stacked against my people and “my culture”, thanks very much.
And I don’t want to defend or even define my culture, but you’re using those three attributes as a slur.
You’re problematizing my “people”. Doesn’t matter that those people don’t really even exist. Didn’t stop my fellow countrymen two to three generations ago either.
Implying that “people like me”, and thus me personally, perform some kind of oppressor-role and attaching all this sexist/racist/add-some-more-why-don’t-you-stuff.
Hard to take any of that in good faith.
L, what do you make of Japanese atrocities in China and Korea?
Is this bait? This is bait, isn’t it.
If anything, you could boil down my entire concern to the story turning out to be about mere bait, because I think that hegemonically dominant people seeing others as just bait, like disability fakers, is a problem.
I’m having trouble parsing this, though I’ll admit I’m not trying very hard.
You, and also Jane apparently, think I am “bait”. I assume this means saying something I don’t literally believe, in the hopes of thereby inspiring some specific belief.
No. I am not bait. I am completely sincere. I have these beliefs. I’ve attended meetups, though that’s perhaps not an indication of my beliefs. I even use this particular terse alias because I’m tired of some excesses of the contemporary social justice cluster.
A major part of this story is about Brad et al “baiting” the narrator. They say they believe in samsara when actually they believe in the golden lotus movement and are trying to make him also believe in the golden lotus movement. There is nobody in the story besides the narrator who has any motive besides increasing the narrator’s probability of assimilation into the golden lotus movement as much as possible. Furthermore, Sherri initially pretends to be thinking about her current personal experience of having a short lifespan, but then this illusion of diverse experience is written off as an irrelevant ploy.
Thinking of your enemies as a hivemind is something I consider bad. Against Murderism and Conflict Theory versus Mistake Theory are very critical of conceiving your adversaries as a hivemind. This story is about a guy who (truthfully) perceives his (fictionally constructed) adversaries as a hivemind. He also ends up following techniques that are well documented to lead to PNSE, like meditation on his urges.
If PNSE just makes you think other people are a hivemind, and also does little to actually alleviate the prejudices that happen to sometimes be common among straight white men, I want no part in it. I’m pretty disappointed that very few people are actually engaging me on this claim.
Why? Ideology, culture and ingroup/outgroup all tend to produce hivemind-like conformance.
Elsewhere, you ascribed a hivemind to Western white men, so you don’t seem to practice what you preach, either.
In my opinion, this has basically already been discussed in comments for the PNSE posts, except for the strong prejudice against straight white men.
Yes, it’s bait, probably by one of the right-leaning posters trying to make social justice liberals look bad.
On what basis? L seems perfectly sincere and frankly pretty tame for a social justice “liberal”.
Just the general vibe. I’m not sure I can articulate it very well, but I’ve heard enough of my favorite authors tarred with “oh, I don’t like his (sometimes her) female characters” to know that people do get legitimately upset over this kind of thing; but for some reason this one didn’t strike me as your garden-variety joyless scold. Maybe it was the buzzword density, or the clearly informed link to another Scott piece coming from a username that I’ve never seen before. It just feels… performative.
I doubt it’s a false flag op, though. Most rightists couldn’t come up with something like “interiority”.
OK, so putting the pieces together:
– long-time SSC reader who does not comment frequently though has commented at least once before; claims to have attended meetups (would be easily verifiable); shows strong evidence of having actually read SSC posts from 2017, 2018, and recent days
– seems to read and value wide range of leftist input
These are both… like… true things I have not at any time denied or tried to hide.
So what’s the big mystery? Is the only contradictory element your dismissive perception of anyone saying things like this as an incorrect “scold”? Aren’t I already making a less “joyless” point than “the narrator happens to have facial hair and low melatonin” – engaging with how an author writes female characters? Maybe I am just putting a lot of effort into my posts, citing both in-group and non-group sources and ideas? And you could?? Engage with me at face value?? Please??
(Also, thank you to Evelyn. I had assumed this would not merit its own comment, but now I am doing the courtesy of including it, since it happens to be a reply to your comment.)
I was going to say it was bait, but then I thought of Poe’s law.
Of course it is. Given how many posts they’ve made in this thread, I think this person would benefit from a nice walk outside to the nearest 7-11.
I just got back from Baskin Robbins and tried a new flavor.
Maybe I’m a little emotionally engaged or whatever but I am not a troll. To be honest, some of you are proving my point that reaching for enlightenment (rationality, intellectual advancement, whatever you’re pursuing) has a common failure mode of just making you less open to considering other people have different experiences and ideas.
What makes you think that the people who are criticizing you are reaching for enlightenment? What makes you think that the enlightenment from this story is a metaphor for self-improvement, rather than…’enlightenment’ in a PNSE sense?
Your comments are truly quite odd, in that they simultaneously show some familiarity with this community and Scott’s posts, but also, show an immense lack of familiarity, in a weird way*.
Finally, you seem to conflate openness to considering other people’s experiences and ideas with acceptance of the same. IMO, you have been making a poor case for your claims, so it’s not surprising that people reject those claims. That doesn’t mean that people aren’t open to more sensible claims and/or being convinced by better arguments.
* I can see why people suspect you of trolling, although a peculiar kind of bias could probably produce the same outcome.
Nice try, but the protagonist is never stated to be white.
“is white or at least proliferating hegemonic American culture”
Maybe this read will be fun for you.
So “whiteness” isn’t just race, it’s actually everything that guy doesn’t like about society?
Hey buddy, didn’t you hear? It’s OK to be white.
I can’t tell to what extent you are serious but I can’t find any reference to the character’s race, just a long white beard, which can happen to many sub populations.
I’m not reading it as advocacy for the “Red Ferrari Vessel” model of enlightenment. Most members of the order seem to achieve it through more conventional means of compassion and oneness etc.
But they’re attempting to solve the issue of how to enlighten someone who is inherently douchey, selfish and apathetic. He won’t even argue the point like an Ayn Rand fan might. 7.5 billion people devote their resources to enlightening a douchy white guy who REALLY does not want it and is immune to standard approaches.
So they get him from the other side, intensifying his experience of and focus on samsara by orders of magnitude via a desire to maintain it. Until he focuses too much and it falls away.
Thank you for your deeply thematic commentary. While I still think that any state that can be obtained exclusively through focusing on your own experiences that much is of little interest to me as the goal to end all goals (literally), I am getting behind the idea that the story is offering a less singleminded view. You could even argue that the point was to get the narrator into a state where he wanted to leave the ashram and out there would see the true forms of the plants.
I stand by my belief that cultural hegemony is a salient part of this story (though I have admitted that I did not get the Dharma name parallel joke). I will now let the story stand on its own merits as extremely thought-provoking, rather than slander its thrust itself as actively hegemony-normalizing.
Sherri’s illness seems like a hole in the story. In the initial description of her, she seems to be visibly very ill. I suppose I can steelman it as she was actually ill, but put off getting cured as put of the campaign against viewpoint guy. Scott, what was actually going on?
I interpreted it as similar to the drastic measures that actors have resorted to in order to portray a character who is in particularly dire straits. One particularly good example is Matthew McConaughey, who lost 50 pounds to portray a man dying from AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club. Obviously, movie magic exaggerated the effects, but I’m sure that 7.5 billion enlightened people could make a convincing illusion of a terminal patient to the protagonist.
I don’t understand your reading at all. To quote you:
“All the narrator ever thinks about is his self and his feelings. Even the possibility of getting laid is approached so casually as to seem like more of a drug exchange than based on any type of personality or interiority. There is no reverence whatsoever for the miracle that the universe contains other sentient beings, some of whom even have different experiences from you.”
I agree with this, and I think the point of that was to establish that our narrator is particularly unenlightened. I don’t find him to be good or moral, and I think that’s intentional. He’s not good, he’s bad in fact. The story doesn’t point this out, but knowing Scott and his audience, I think we’re trusted to figure this out.
The main conceit of the story seems to me to be an inversion of the usual state of affairs. In the real world, treating people as objects and self-centeredness are two of the biggest problems these days (outside of physical troubles like disease, poverty, etc.) and they’re encouraged by advertising (and possibly society as a whole). The enlightened one is an island against this.
In the story, you have the self-centered one as your “hero,” an island against a society of enlightenment.
I think the central difference in our reading is that I was laughing throughout. Here you have the opposite of an enlightened one becoming a guru for actual enlightened ones. The whole thing reads as comedy to me. Like a lot of Scott’s writing, it’s funny AND has themes and morals and such, but this one made me laugh quite a bit so it’s hard for me not to see it as primarily comedy.
I don’t think it’s meant to be a manual for enlightenment at all. It exists in its world, which is not our world, and the enlightenment of our narrator hinges on many contingent facts that are not true in the real world. This is why I don’t read it as any sort of a guide.
They set him up to focus on one thing, which they have prepared him to be very good at, and by shattering the focus (clapping) they clear his mind completely. That is what enlightened means at the end of the story, at least in my view. Take out all the contingent facts (narrator is a shithead, enlightened hive-mind, etc.) and it seems like a standard account of enlightenment (or stream-entry, or first level enlightenment, whatever the term is).
I don’t think you’re trolling or baiting for what it’s worth.
Haha whoops you’re trolling hard
You have intuited something valid, I feel. I cannot think of a surefire way that ensures that stress-forerunner continues for ever more.
Craving is stress forerunner. Craving:
1) postpones cultivation: sense craving (eg, preferring to relax over resuming meditation)
2) assists passion & delight: germination craving (eg, whatever passion & delight in the yet to be realized)
3) assists dropping & dropping relief: abortion craving (eg, the relief at the end of the meditation)
The draining of craving is the draining of stress. ie, One needs to identify and drain: sense craving, germination craving & abortion craving.
Can we please agree that translating dukkha as “stress” is ridiculous and not do it?
Hokey religions and ancient rituals are no match for a good blaster in your pants, kid.
………………………………..Murder? Genocide? You think this is relatable and funny?
They’re quoting from a movie.
Shame, you were pretty convincing upthread.
Wow, wait, I totally believed this was real until here. Oh well.
To be fair, original-trilogy Star Wars is probably not childhood-binge-rewatch material anymore, so failing to recognize the reference isn’t that odd. Failing to recognize that it’s not meant literally, likewise, is hardly a sin unique to these circumstances.
Certainly we’ve complained enough about running into it from the other end – motte-and-bailey, weak men, Nice Guys vs nice guys and so on are different in that they’re inherently misleading and not used for humor, but point is that it’s entirely possible to misinterpret this stuff without trolling.
Mildly successful and not-at-all funny troll, so banned indefinitely
Hokey religions, ancient rituals, and Darth Vader’s very own lightsaber more than even the odds though.
I suspect, Scott, that you have a more worked-out definition of just what exactly ‘enlightenment’ is than I do , and I would love to see a non-allegorical treatment of that subject.
A Reddit comment of mine on the definition of “Enlightenment” being thrown around in these parts:
There is a testable prediction about enlightened people in the story.
That will do very nicely for a definition. Enlightened people have reached an understanding that means they never resort to violence. No mysticism required and without the unsatisfying and circular “if lots of people describe a similar enlightenment like experience let’s assume that they are enlightened”.
This does pretty terribly for a definition. The narrator never considers resorting to lasting violence during the story. Even in the first part, he merely slams the door in the acolyte’s face. And yet he is depicted as unenlightened during that part, approaching enlightenment (through deeper and deeper meditation) during later parts (which include him beating his disciples with a stick, though it seems he does so lightly), and by his own description finally reaching it at the very end. His progress towards enlightenment is completely unrelated to deepening an aversion to violence.
The Truman Show
In my country, there’s a music festival where a long-standing tradition is that one of the stages – the “Krishna stage” – is full of really good punk rock and it’s sponsored by the Hare Krishna, due to personal ties between some high-profile punk rock musicians and the sect.
I staggered there once, drunk, got into a mosh pit in pouring rain, and felt that there might be something enlightening about the punk philosophy and something punk about enlightenment (see: all the Zen anecdotes, really, Palahniuk’s books, beatniks…).
Then I stumbled upon some Kirshna guru Q&A, argued with the guy for a while about why should earthly sensations be abandoned instead of cherished and decided he’s a tranquil deluded moron, much like you described.
I still have the intuition that the original thought was solid.
That should be “on your side”, no?
The “it” should be “into”, maybe? Not sure.
I just love that the word “bigot” was used properly in this post. That’s so uncommon.
Where are you hanging out? And what do they mean when they say “bigot” there?
“They can head off to Mahabharata”. ROTFL.
And yes, the bodhisattva vow is taken Very Seriously Indeed in Mahayana-land. I don’t see why a movement of instant techno-enlightenement would import so much religious ideology with it, but it gives us a really cool story!
I’m sorry you’re never going to get to Paramaribo 😀
“Paramaribo” elicited a belly laugh when I read it. I envy Scott’s knack for writing.
Two sf stories come to mind that resonate with this:
1) The “everyone’s enlightened except me, and I don’t want to,” taken entirely seriously: “A Song for Lya” by George R.R. Martin (yes, the “Game of Thrones” guy).
2) The “can’t achieve our goal until everyone agrees”: “Flight” by Peter Dickinson, which includes a maniacal cult whose goal is to convert everyone in the world and then commit mass suicide. Their reason for not starting with themselves is that it would leave the world still populated by unbelievers.
This was great! I agree with everyone saying you should make an anthology out of your short stories, I’d buy it.
I really liked this story. Who would’ve thought that someone reaching enlightenment could be such a downer ending? I’d like to think I could hold out even half as long as he did.
I was disappointed that the reverse ashram turned out to be another deception, though. I really liked the concept behind it, the way it held up a dark mirror to Buddhism the way that Satanism holds up a dark mirror to Christianity. It would be funny if the deception worked a little too well and some – or maybe just a single one – of the Narrator’s disciples actually fell for his teachings and became unenlightened, carrying on the torch of individualism for another generation and thus preventing the cultists from reaching
mahaparanirvanaParamaribo after all.
Not all that innumerable, tbh.
For those that enjoyed this story, I’d highly recommend reading the short story Coventry by Robert Heinlein, as part of his Future History anthology. It has a very similar, more realistic version of a man being defiantly ‘unenlightened’ and having it foisted upon him by society.
For those that enjoyed the ending, I’d highly recommend the book 1984, and that you never seek political power.
“Coventry” is far too optimistic. After rejecting being brainwashed, the protagonist is exiled to the state of anarchy, finds it sucks.
Nsgre gur znva riragf bs gur fgbel gnxr cynpr, ur tbrf onpx naq nterrf gb or oenvajnfurq, ohg nhgubevgl fnlf “ann, lbh’er tbbq”. V pna’g frr nf “ernyvfgvp”, gur nhgubevgl vf gbb ernfbanoyr nsgre univat orra fubja gb unir orra haernfbanoyr.
I feel like you missed/fail to recall several aspects of the story. Additionally reasonable-ness is subjective. The ‘authority’ acts consistently with their own values, which is all that is important for realism.
But mostly I dislike that you feel it’s worthwhile spoiling a story as it’s being recommended to others. Let them enjoy it on their own without having the plot revealed and their own conclusions preemptively coloured. Honestly I’d appreciate you deleting your comment, or editing it to express your dislike without spoiling the story for others.
It’s almost an 80-year-stale spoiler, and in other threads people are discussing a current TV series based on novels from 2012, but fine, I’ve rot-13ed it.
It’s the ending I object to, which is why I included it.
Imo, an obscure short story being old should be taken as evidence that revealing plot points us more likely to constitute a spoiler, not less.
That said, I’ve never actually seen someone use a cryptographic shift to serve as a spoiler tag. That’s pretty awesome – and provides a nice means of discussion.
Gunaxf sbe gur jbexnebhaq fb jr pna ratnqtr. V srry yvxr lbhe pevgvpvfz vf n ovg fhcresvpvny naq vfa’g ernyyl qrfpevovat gur riragf bs gur fgbel.
Gur nhgubevgl vf ubyqvat gur zna ba punetrf bs nffnhyg. Gurl unir qrpvqrq gung culfvpny nffnhyg vf abg gbyrenoyr va gurve fbpvrgl. Fb gurl tvir uvz n pubvpr – yvtug cflpubybtvpny erpbaqvgvbavat fb gung ur jba’g unir guvf nagv-fbpvny graqrapl. Iveghnyyl rirelbar va uvf fbpvrgl gnxrf guvf bcgvba, ohg ur’f cebhq naq bofgvangr naq qvfyvxrf gur pbaprcg bs crbcyr orvat oenvajnfurq naq cnpvsvrq.
Fb ur pubbfrf gur nygreangvir tenagrq gb nyy crbcyr sbe nyy chavfuzrag. Uvf fbpvrgl unf qrgrezvarq gung whfgvpr vf fhowrpgvir, fb sbepvat n chavfuzrag ba nalbar vf vzzbeny – urapr gur arrq sbe na nygreangvir.ibyhagnel rkvyr gb Pbiragel. N jnyyrq bss, znffvir puhax bs Abegu Nzrevpn jvgu nyy gur angheny erfbheprf arprffnel sbe n guevivat pvivyvmngvba.
Fb ur tbrf gb pbairagel. Ur cynaf gb yvir n avpr, nanepuvp yvsr serr sebz fbpvrgl. Jung ur svaqf vf gung pbiragel vf ehyrq ol arne-nanepuvfgvp tnatf. Gb znxr n fubeg fgbel fubegre, ur pbzrf gb nccerpvngr whfg ubj zhpu fbpvrgl bssref, naq gung vg’f jbegu rirelbar vaunovgvat gurzfryirf n ovg gb znxr vg jbex. Ur pbzrf gb n fhssvpvragyl rdhvinyrag fgngr bs zvaq nf gur cebprqher jbhyq unir oebhtug uvz gb, fb hcba uvf erghea, gur nhgubevgl qrgrezvarf ab zber gerngzrag vf arprffnel.
Guvf vfa’g vapbafvfgrag ba gur nhgubevgl’f cneg. Gurl qvqa’g jnag gb chavfu gur thl, gurl whfg jnagrq uvz gb orunir orggre. Gurl unir n cebprqher gb vaqhpr guvf, ohg vs ur npuvrirq gur punatr va crefcrpgvir ba uvf bja, gur tbny vf nppbzcyvfurq.
Gur fgbel vf fvzvyne – na ‘harayvtugrarq’ zna orvat guerngrarq jvgu oenvajnfuvat gevrf gb nibvq vg, ohg vanqiregragyl fhpphzof gb vg. Ohg gur xrl qvssrerapr vf va Fpbgg’f fgbel, guvf vf n znfgre cybg rkrphgrq ol n ulcrepbzcrgrag betnavmngvba gung qryvorengryl bepurfgengrf gur eriryngvba. Va Pbiragel, gur fbpvrgl vafvfgvat ba gur zna’f rayvtugrazrag dhvgr yvgrenyyl rfpurjf vgfrys bs nyy vagreiragvba. Juvpu znxrf gur punatr va crefcrpgvir uvf bja, naq guhf abg arprffnevyl fbzrguvat rivy be rira fbzrguvat gung pbafgvghgrf oenvajnfuvat ng nyy. Vg pnyyf vagb dhrfgvba jung gur npghny ‘cebprqher npghnyyl jbhyq unir orra – jbhyq vg unir orra nf trahvar? Jbhyq vg unir orra erfvfgnoyr, naq guhf inyvq vs fhpprffshy, be fgvyy shaqnzragnyyl rivy?
Vg envfrf n ybg bs tbbq dhrfgvbaf nobhg cflpubybtvpny fgngr bs zvaq, naq jung inyhr jr zhtug frr va gur wbhearl bire gur qrfgvangvba. Zrnaf naq Raqf.
Really? It’s been standard here for ages.
ROT13 has been used that way since the early 1980s on USENET. So subcultures descended from 1980s academic networking (which included the mailing list ancestral to Less Wrong, and through Less Wrong, here) accordingly include people who have been acculturated to it.
(Sorry for calling you out, just saw the opportunity to test-drive some analytics. Rot13 is used pretty frequently here, but often without explanation.)
Agreed 100%. I’m utterly baffled by the people who thought this was a happy ending.
Well, it appears that what that world lacks in cultural diversity it more than makes up for in the lack of human misery. It’s not optimal, but it’s far better than what we have. Scott’s old post against dystopias is relevant here, if you consider Golden Lotus a technology. While Golden Lotus’ treatment of the protagonist was pretty bad (and one that I’d never condone in real life), I don’t think the end result is a terrible tragedy.
I didn’t root for the protagonist because, while his tenacity is admirable, his cause seems to be pretty much arbitrary. Ultimately both sides just played a game with each other. I saw the final twist not as a good or bad ending, but merely as a brilliant checkmate.
Now I’m kind of curious, just starting the timeline right before the start of the story, what treatment of the protagonist would you condone? Obviously it’s a dick move to blare loudspeakers at him and the other invasive stuff. Let’s even assume we don’t turn off his internet and let him ubereats forever. On the other hand, with enlightenment as advanced as it sounds in this story, it seems like it would become natural for one of those take-out meals to come with a paper kids activity maze, like those labyrinths. Because that is just the kind of tranquil discourse the golden lotus folks actually think about. Are they supposed to just purposely give him plain white boxes instead? How much do they have to modify their own natural “talk about the glory of crystals all the time” tendency?
Let him live out the rest of his life in peace. After he dies, if he gets reincarnated as a human, raise him in the Golden Lotus way; if he gets reincarnated as an animal, apply whatever plan they have for animals; and if reincarnation isn’t real, then the problem would solve itself.
The vehement proselytism as depicted in the story is only justified under a materialist deontologist interpretation of the Bodhisattva vow that appears in the story, and doesn’t seem to be encouraged at all by the real Bodhisattva vow.
I think that it depends on how you feel about enlightenment. If one sees it as tricking the human mind into euphoria, similar to what one would get with drugs or (erotic) asphyxiation; it can seem no better than a society where people cope with drugs.
you cannot disagree with anything that you truly grok 🙂
I think it goes even further than that. We are constantly running simulations and the brain is really a predictive device. So to reject something one must first run a simulation of whatever is being rejected. We can only see in others what we see in ourselves, we can only reject in others what we reject in ourselves.
“The limit of nirvāṇa is that of saṃsāra. The subtlest difference is not found between the two. […] To distinguish between samsara and nirvana would be to suppose that each had a nature and that they were different natures. But each is empty, and so there can be no inherent difference. Moreover, since nirvana is by definition the cessation of delusion and of grasping and, hence, of the reification of self and other and of confusing imputed phenomena for inherently real phenomena, it is by definition the recognition of the ultimate nature of things. But if […] this is simply to see conventional things as empty, not to see some separate emptiness behind them, then nirvana must be ontologically grounded in the conventional. To be in samsara is to see things as they appear to deluded consciousness and to interact with them accordingly. To be in nirvana, then, is to see those things as they are – as merely empty, dependent, impermanent, and nonsubstantial, not to be somewhere else, seeing something else.”
I’m not claiming to understand nondualism as a matter of experience, nor endorsing the view (though I am sympathetic). Just adding this as context for those who are less familiar with Buddhism.
It just occurs to me that I may not have understood the story because I had no idea what “samsara” is, and indeed cannot recall being familiar with the word at all.
My understanding of Indian religions is poor, I guess. I thought “Samsara” was the cycle of death and life, and didn’t associate it at all with the suffering that we were trying to get out of, or that it was the counterpoint to Nirvana.
Ah, see, that’s just it. The cycle of death and life is the suffering that we’re trying to get out of, and Nirvana means an end to death and reincarnation.
I think. I just learned that reading this story, and I might be wrong.
I am really, really glad to see Scott writing fiction again.
I feel like this line:
“Just a red Ferrari, on a black road, beneath a blue sky. Everything else faded.”
is probably a reference to something. But I can’t figure out what? Websearch doesn’t help.
Maybe it’s something like Sky-Gazing Meditation? Or another reference to a common meditation image, like “one hand clapping” was.
The suchness of things (tathata). Just the here and now. In a Ferrari…
This story is good as heck!
So, how different would the story be if the last grain of sand in the machine were not white and/or not male and/or not not straight?
I assume then it would be a metaphor for the struggle of people of color/women/gays against straight white male hegemony instead of its current status as a paean to the bloody history of white colonialism and the patriarchy.
(Also I’m guessing this was supposed to be a reply to L)
Yes, it’s a reply to L.
It would depend. For example, a key element of the worldbuilding is that the narrator is doing OK on material needs and does not have a “weird” feeling like “I should be growing my own food”. Perhaps a narrator who had been raised in a demographic more correlated with poverty would be less insouciant that the golden lotus worldstate would provide for him indefinitely. Or for another example, there are a lot of straight women who would react to an attractive but completely unfamiliar man showing up in their isolated sanctuary, with a hearty dose of pepper spray.
The most critical element, and the one that would remain if the text were virtually identical only incorporating demographic changes, is the attitude. (You could interpret this several ways. Is the woman narrator who actually does go for a sexy stranger, a hypersexual internalized misogyny survivor? Or is it plausible for that to be her consensual enthusiastic decision, something the sex positivity movement in particular would often deem normal? Perhaps an outright objectifying misandrist?) An attitude where accommodating the different life experiences of other people is extremely unimportant.
Maybe I’m just exceedingly sensitive around the idea of illness-faking, and in many other respects the story is in fact reverent of diverse experiences. I hope that my reflexive position is at least sympathetic in light of the pseudoaddiction discourse.
That is highly implausible.
Poor, yes, but the demographics are a very rough proxy, especially when you could just argue for poverty.
Besides, the last hold-out is going to be someone who finds the state least appealing.
Loved the story, Scott.
I’m vaguely and pleasantly reminded of Stranger in a Strange Land, Brave New World, and Le Rhinoceros, but it was also original and very fun.
I really enjoyed the story. I don’t really see it as a bad ending. Reading it I felt like the assumption for the story was that the enlightenment was the true enlightenment, like the one universal truth. So of course his own meditation would reach that point, and of course he was being tricked. If the people were showing up at the door to be taught by him were honest then they could not be enlightened, if they were enlightened then they would not be honestly trying to learn from him. I didn’t see it of course when reading the story, but you brought it around at the end, which was great.
I think they already knew all the important points we he was teaching and were just faking ignorance. They pretended to be innocent of lust and wrath, when in fact they had progressed beyond those vices.
And there is the flaw in your selfishness that allowed enlightenment to creep in.
This seems key. ISTM that our narrator, by achieving nirvana, has also achieved samsara. If he still has all of his desires, he can experience enlightenment and eat cheeseburgers with no contradiction. I think we’ve got a Kwisatz Haderach here.
Does he eat cheeseburgers? He seems fairly contented with his 7-11 diet of rice, for example. There is also a distinct lack of actively indicating desire when he thinks of the ferrari at the end. My assumption at “everything else faded” was that he was just visually imagining the ferrari, and any sense of actually craving the riding in the ferrari was among the other stuff that had faded.
Great story. Super entertaining and thought-provoking. Dovetails nicely with the PNSE paper post and associated comment threads.
…Assume, hypothetically, you’re a highly intelligent atheist who is incredibly skeptical of anything resembling “self-help” or, worse, religion…
…Assume, hypothetically, you are pretty unhappy in life…
…Assume, hypothetically, somebody has developed a step-by-step process that would make you much happier (or even a little happier) if you followed the steps.
Would you want to know about this step-by-step process that would make you happier? The answer has to be yes, right?
How, specifically, could you be reached by a message advocating this step-by-step process?
If the answer is that nothing could convince you to even try the step by step process, then good luck with your samsara, I guess.
If your answer is that nothing short of a miracle (levitation, qi bolts shot from eyes, etc.) could convince you to try the step-by-step process, then hopefully there aren’t any non-miraculous happiness hacks floating around out there that you’re missing. And if there are… sucks for you, I guess. I wish I could help.
Reminds my of the theme from _Infinite Jest_ that, for some people, the smarter you are the harder it is to kick addiction with something like AA. You can poke holes in the logic of each of the 12 steps. So it feels rational to dismiss the 12 steps. That’s just of sheeple stuff. Without the 12 steps you keep doing what you’ve been doing. What you’ve been doing has made you an addict and thus you remain.
I’m thinking of a few friends and family members who are probably quite a bit smarter than me and pretty unhappy in life. They just keep doing what they’re doing and scoff at even *thinking* about any sort of [derisive-snort] “self-help” [eye-roll].
I have managed to make tiny changes to my habits of thinking that help with things like stressful situations at work.
I have no idea if PNSE or enlightenment exist. I expect to never find out. But if it does, hopefully I’m reachable.
Skeptical is better than gullible but you can still be reachable, right?
If you’re not and you’re over, I dunno, 35(?) hopefully you’re pretty satisfied with your mental/emotional game as it is.
Could it help to encourage those smart people to apply their intelligence to what they’re already doing as well as to proposed changes?
Why would it be necessary to love the system? Can’t it just progress to cynicism about the ability to improve things (or even merely a belief that others want to change the system in a way that is worse than what exists), for the system to be stable.
Also, is the system actually stable???
I’m not sure how best to fit it into the story, but I think it would be wonderful for him to achieve enlightenment after hearing the sound of one hand clapping. Perhaps instead of just a “dialysis port”, Sherri can be earlier described as completely missing a hand, or being entirely paralyzed on one side?
Maybe “Although I was still holding firmly to her wrist, Sherri somehow managed to clap crisply using only her free hand. Loudly, right in front of my face. Upon hearing this, I too was enlightened.”
Or is this they way the ending is already meant to be read, and it was just too subtle for me to consciously notice, but blatant enough for me to understand anyway? I’d almost guess from all the clues is that this was originally the intended ending, but for some reason (perhaps correctly) Scott decided to understate it at the last minute.
I strongly disagree. This is a very basic joke. It features in the Simpsons ffs. One hand clapping is a Zen koan and as such I don’t think it’s a euphemism for a slap in the face. The (very funny) joke in Scott’s story is that the protagonist apparently uses contemplation of the koan to un-enlighten an acolyte.
I just assumed that Sherri clapped with one hand, so I liked it as is. Maybe you could call it out subtly, by having Sherri and the narrator clasp hands a few lines earlier?
After thinking about this story for a bit, I am reminded of the Futurama episode “Obsoletely Fabulous.” To quote Wikipedia’s synopsis: “At a robot expo, Mom’s Friendly Robot Company introduces a new robot: Robot 1-X. Professor Farnsworth buys one to help out around the office. Feeling obsolete after witnessing 1-X outperform him at every assigned task, Bender decides to get an upgrade so he can be compatible with Robot 1-X. After witnessing another robot display a complete personality change after receiving the upgrade, Bender begins to have Second Thoughts, and mid-upgrade he changes his mind and leaps out the window. … Once 1-X saves them, Bender is overcome with feelings of gratitude and friendship for 1-X. It is then revealed that Bender never left the upgrade factory in the first place, and his experience on the island and everything after was an illusion triggered by the upgrade process.”
I think that instead of being a record of resistance to invasive enlightenment, this story is someone’s experience in whatever turbo-enlightenment thing the Golden Lotus has going on.
I need to know! Did everyone reach mahaparanirvana?
Of course not. The Great Leaders simply shifted the goal posts to “Well… Many of you are blasphemers and heretics. We cannot go until all of YOU are sufficiently dealt with..”
The vast bulk of the converts only “Converted” because of social signaling and such. They were *not* actually enlightened or the promise of “Greater and More Perfect Reward” would have had no sway upon them….
If they were Truly and Fully Enlightened – they would have been fully content with the world as it actually is and would have had no desire for a *more* perfect world…
They probably reached mahaparinirvana by realizing that the world they currently live in is the true mahaparinirvana.
Ironically – He was only able to reach “Enlightenment” by fully giving up his selflessness and contentment by finally acting on his selfishness, greed, and ambition…. 😉 😉 😉
Scott, Another great short story! Thanks.
I really had fun with this one – as my “Prior” is that around 90% or 95% of people participating in “Religion” don’t believe it and have never experienced any of the “enlightenment” that they claim. Most basically have no idea what it’s *actually* all about… They are just there for the social and personal “Cash value” it provides them – whatever that “Cash value” happens to be….
And Scott brilliantly showed the classic typical progression of a successful conversion strategy: You identify and “Convert” a couple of “Key” people – business leaders, social influencers, Prominent women, whoever that happens to be… And then THEY bring the whole rest of society along with them. It’s a mistake to believe that ANYBODY in this believes in anything though – even though they claim to be sufficiently “Enlightened” or whatever…. They are all doing it for the personal benefit it brings them….
And as Scott unwinds our tale – it turns out that our protagonist is the ONLY truly “Enlightened” one from the start…. He is already 100% fully content and at peace with the actual Universe in real life – no matter how “bad” it gets….
If he had been “Normal” – he simply would have said “I believe!!!…. Please help my unbelief!” just like everybody else… Then just recite the “Official Sounding Words” to make everybody else believe it. Then he could have had good food, friends, enjoyable TV, plenty of sex with super moldels, got high as often as he wanted, had a high status job, kids in the best schools, and all the rest… Just like everybody else
Everybody else is simply doing what they are doing for their OWN selfish gain – the Cash Value of rewards and signaling in the “Enlightened world” – they receive tantric sex with supermodels, better food and clothing, fine living conditions, a step up the “Enlightenment” ladder, and the final promise of “A better world” if we can only get Scott… And so the Rite of the Proselyte is to convert Scott with large rewards if they succeed… They receive honor, glory, position, and reward….
And so they selfishly chase THIS… Because if they can Finish The Quest – they too are enlightened and will receive The Reward!
Ok, now I’m jealous.
IIRC, Joe Haldeman described a similar situation in one of the “Forever War” books. A veteran returns to Earth and is discharged, but due to the effects of time dilation, he comes back to a world where the civilians are thoroughly pacified and enlightened. He can’t stand it and tries to isolate himself in a forest, whereupon the civilians, feeling somehow put-upon by his existence as an unenlightened soul, keep trying to send emissaries to convince him to rejoin society. He promptly starts to kill the emissaries. This only ends when they finally send a returned NCO out to see him, who convinces him to re-enlist.
So it turns out that the road of Excess really does lead to the palace of Wisdom. Huh.
Man I’m good at this samsara stuff
Reminded me of:
Ayn Rand’s Anthem — Ayn Rand is mentioned in the story; the protagonist of Anthem has to reinvent the concept of Self
the 2001 movie Samsara — a Buddhist monk becomes disappointed with life in temple and decides to check whether the sinful life really is that bad
Long time to moderate. Someone does not like this comment.
” Every day I meditate for an hour on all the people I hate, then another hour on all the material goods I wish I had, then for another hour on all the women I want to screw. Then I finish it off with an hour trying to experience selfhood as viscerally and dramatically as possible.”
This is fascinating to me–is there a state that is the opposite of enlightenment, a nadir to enlightenment’s zenith? And if so, does it have some sort of upside?
It’s interesting by way of the transvaluation of ethics. When reading about PUA, it was interesting that they were basically giving you details on how to be a *worse* person, and it was basically the inverse of every religion I had ever read–be selfish, put your needs first, the point is to sleep with as many people as possible, and so on. The same with the (rhymes with Galt-bright)–racism is *good*, universalism is just a trick to let the other folks take over, and so on. Everything you know is wrong–black is white, white is black. A stairway that leads to hell instead of heaven, except hell is actually heaven, and heaven hell.
(delete this last paragraph if you like, it’s just the example that seemed most familiar to me in my life)
Any self-help pop-psychology thing that tells you to cut out toxic people and love yourself? And leftist who tells you to feel entitled to fruits of another person’s labour? Anyone really who thinks you should be less of a doormant.
Alt-right are a edgy bunch so they don’t sugarcoat it, but lots of people tell you to be less, well, convenient.
This post had me laughing out loud. Thank you!