The Radioactivity Of Atomic Individualism

We are told we now live in the Information Age, which to the educated ear is merely a sly name for an Entropic Age. We also live in the Atomic Age, a strange appellation that never quite fit. This age nonetheless haunts. It is an age in which nuclear weapons reshape all international contention, though they are almost never used or lately even tested, an age in which major innovations in nuclear power that could make fossil fuels appear laughably scarce are unused for fear of liability, and an age in which particle beams and high-energy radiation undergird all our modern chemical and biological sciences. Society, however, is far most interested in the pictures and hardly knows anything of the cameras.

There appear to be few better examples of technological stagnation in the present age than the half-aborted promise of nuclear technology. That promise looms around us whenever we allow ourselves to think for a moment about how our world could end, or what could await us among the stars.

This name ‘Atomic Age’ also haunts us in terms of reflecting on the way our society has been atomized in undesired ways and failed to become atomized in desired ways.

The nuclear family has proven to be quite fissile, with the self-pity and entitlement of each new divorceé spinning through society like a swarm of neutrons to destabilize more marriages. Now single motherhood and bastardy are common, but far from being liberated atoms in their own right, we find that the offspring are divided against themselves with poor self-regulation and high rates of mental illness.

Evidently, like chemical atoms, individuals do not fit the abstract conception of the atom, either. They can be split against themselves, and they cannot be extracted cleanly from their environments. In physics, this was discovered through the phenomenon of radiation: emission of electrons when light shone on metals and the emission of alpha particles from the atomic nucleus. Society is not so simple, but modern society’s radioactivity is clear enough to any honest eye. So this metaphor of atomization is worth reconsidering.

The base of the metaphor is the concept of an atom, shared contentiously between philosophy and physics. In the philosophical version, all material would be made up of atoms. In the physical conception, atoms and the radiation fields surrounding them are inseparable partners. ‘Atoms’ are familiar, but ‘radiation’ may seem more threatening and more obscure, and it is therefore a perfect lever to pry apart this concept of atomization.

Radiations mediate interactions. The most common, obvious societal interactions that humans make are linguistic, so language is our first candidate for a radiation of social atomism. A human communicates a pattern, another absorbs it, both are changed. When we understand each other’s patterns and are changed most by them, the communication is said to resonate with us, like light is best absorbed by an atom when it resonates with the atom. The light emitted from an atom fits the resonances of the atom, and so it is with communication we initiate. We talk and discover each others’ vibes, in an earlier parlance of the Atomic Age.

One can tell that atoms are inextricably part of their environment by the fact that many of their resonances depend as much on their environment as on their own properties. The same is true of people–how often do you find a message that resonates with you only when with the right crowd? A joke that’s funny with the guys may be abhorrent with a daughter. “Sure,” the atomists say, “the part of you that responds to jokes and talk may look a great deal different depending on who you’re with, and your own ideas might change, too, but your core, your nucleus, remains unchanged.”

Dostoevsky is one of the great reactionary psychologists and is notable in this context for his deep feel for the influence of company on character. To see it starkly in one of his best works, read the words of Dmitri Karamazov after conversations with his brother Ivan and compare to his words after a conversation with brother Alyosha.

Dostoevsky is a keen witness to the falsehood of shallow individualism, and in particular, the way that people who try to define themselves as atomic individuals fall into nihilism. As Ivan’s example shows, even when one fiercely maintains separation from all other men’s moral influence, without God, one may simply fall to talking with oneself as the Devil–and split, with bitter effects on friends and family, who were not so inclined to keep themselves clear of influence.

Mankind also interacts without language, often more consequentially. There are few more final ways to end a disagreement than by killing or enslaving. Less intentional, less direct means than whips and bullets also affect others without words–overflowing trashcans, unkempt appearances, long-unwashed urine and feces in alleys–and these, too, belie our individual natures.

When a human creature is incapable of politeness and acts like a barbaric savage, wise and ancient men considered it fit only to be a trained animal, a slave. To these men, slaves were hardly individuals. Their character was considered a product of their masters’ training, their natures often said to be two-faced and divided, and their motivations always said to come from outside: whether they are ruled by their passions or their masters, a Greek like Aristotle would never say they rule themselves. The master is held responsible for shielding society from the radioactivity of their charges. Where polite, educated slaves were found, the reckoning was different, but this does not contradict the point. In Rome, Greek slaves could be moral educators, but they carried themselves as old Greek citizens might have.

Training and education are essential for individualism in the modernist, Anglo conception descended from the classical view. The individuality of a person is guaranteed by their self-control; this individuality is a matter of having a personal will guided by personal interests. Out of this and against this, grew the postmodern conception, in which individuality is less dependent on training and more inclusive, but appropriately lacks atomicity as well. The postmodern individual is divisible, schizophreniccolonized. They are theorized to have the potential for responsibility, but also to fall short of actually achieving it. Pynchon’s V. is explicitly concerned with the self-modification and antihumanism of its titular mystery woman, and his characters in Gravity’s Rainbow explicitly concern themselves with the divisibility and mutability of the soul. Their mad tortures and capers are natural emissions of unstable minds, unable to remain the atoms their societies expected, seeking change.

Our current societal mess of souls desperately seeking identity and validation, while destabilizing the lives around them, explicitly contradicts the purported feasibility of atomic individualism. The shifting of fashion and cultural resonance indicate that however important individuals are for creativity, it is always humans in context who have that creativity. Neither of these failures of atomism is truly doubted by the Marxist left or the reactionary right, though both are still denied by libertarians and Anglo-centrists currently losing grip on the masses.

When one talks about Weimerica, then, one talks about a society that is almost past believing humans can live well as atoms, but is still resigned to atomized life, nonetheless. Our society is filled with the radiation spewed by hundreds of millions of unwise loudmouths, so that each child is pulled in thousands of directions before they can form stable relationships–and then, if they did manage a deep connection despite the odds, they are geographically dispersed to yet more radioactive universities, where they are asked to absorb the voices of generations of disaffected, unstable, unwise, but clever thinkers of the historical left.

It is almost impossible that something dangerous will not resonate in such a radiation bath, and as in chemistry those chance resonances will break bonds, whether the bond of a boy to his childhood church or scout group, the bond between high school sweethearts, or the bond between parents and child–assuming the parents have not already been seduced to see the child as a burden and break that bond themselves. And, since there is so much literal and ideological space to move through in modern society, entropic drift will ensure that bonds, once broken, rarely re-form as strongly. It is easy to stop calling, and it is easy to check Facebook without saying hello.

With every bond a person breaks inadvisedly, they become more likely to release more radiation. Whether it is callous words to a wife or child, the cat lady’s unmistakable ammoniac smell, insane lists of protest demands, mass molestation, or disastrous war, the desperate and misguided breed more displeasure, distrust, and alienation. Broken work relationships become pretext for dismantling men’s friendships; abused children provide pretexts for dismantling families; bitter loneliness becomes antisocial cruelty.

New bonds form, but rarely as strongly. Divorceés divorce again. Friendships become increasingly hard to form from scratch. Those who do not prioritize family when young do not get to relive their children’s first years. And without these bonds, mental health suffers; the individual splits apart. If all goes well, they decline quietly, but too often they make bizarre, harmful choices, or choose not to live at all.

In the end, our atomization is not separate from its radioactivity. The two are coupled faces of a single process. You are all alone, but, having been alone so long, who would want to be with you? If you claim to drink male tears, if you think all women are whores without agency, if you are wrapped up in demanding rights and concessions and justice, what do you have to offer others but your own wild radiation? What can you promise but to strain their other relationships?

The single best solution for this life in a sea of dangerous talk and action is passivism: maintain few, robust bonds at the deepest levels and react with circumspection to everything else. Never stoop to activism, never seek notoriety directly, never open mouth or ambitions to the masses.

Build quiet, stable, private community, even in the midst of the public conflagration.

Nonetheless, reactionary values make the public uneasy and reactionary social technologies are banned where it has been possible. The unease is unfounded; far from being the sources of radiation in society, passivists are simply ones who resist it well and therefore need fear it less. However, like in the panic of the Black Death, immunity suggests guilt. Reflecting or transmitting the radiation impinging on us since we do not absorb it, we are mistaken for sources of radiation by those it next passes on to.

Most unforgivably, we reflect men’s self-hatred back to them. We remember the Gods of the Copybook Headings. We make men feel their effect on the world and how those effects return to them. For the unfree, battered around by the emissions of thousands of others, with no strong, stabilizing bonds left, this is a reminder of their unfreedom and, most being unimaginative moderns, they imagine unfreedom as confinement. They cannot properly understand the unfreedom of chaotic but unreflective license: they have spurned this inheritance from the ancients.

So these utopians keep imagining that life is a confinement, wishing that someday, if we were open enough with each other, if the radiation pressure were built high enough, we atoms could burst our prison open and finally escape our own offal.

But of course it will not happen. There is no prison. The atomization of society is merely the combustion of society; people are not even potentially true atoms. We must order our lives and quiet this activist chain reaction lunacy that tempts us all from time to time. We are simply as we are: imperfectly atomic, occasionally radioactive, occasionally benign, and always living in the light of past actions.

Liked it? Take a second to support Social Matter on Patreon!
View All

21 Comments

  1. Barghest: “The single best solution for this life in a sea of dangerous talk and action is passivism: maintain few, robust bonds at the deepest levels and react with circumspection to everything else. Never stoop to activism, never seek notoriety directly, never open mouth or ambitions to the masses.”

    I dont know about radiation, passivism and all that, but here in Finland we went from zero to second biggest party in fifteen years, and now our party True Finns is in government, and we have four ministers. We have good and growing grass roots networks, including street patrols to prevent street crime and regular demonstrations for good causes, which gather more people than our opponents gatherings. We have always been active, always notorious in the eyes of others, always thoughtfully and sometimes passionately opened our mouths to massess, and always properly ambitious. What is your game plan?

    1. Neoreaction is not right populism, and I’m writing for NRx. Still, I honestly wish you and the True Finns the best of luck. As for my plans, they’re private.

    2. Valkea, I want to talk to you about some unrelated issue in Finland. What’s the best email to reach you at?

      Edit: scratch that, I’ll just email you from the email you listed in your profile.

    3. Finland had enough natural and unconscious passivists to enact a right-wing quasi-revolution (if that’s how you make it sound). Good on you. The same seems to be true of Poland, Hungary, Russia, etc.

      In much of the West, however, there are very few unconscious passivists left, and the Left activism and status competition is much more intense. Trump has a long, long way to go.

      Furthermore, it is doubtful that even if TF run Finland, they will assert total control, repudiate all Enlightenment dogma and Make Finland Great Again. If they do, it’s because the American Empire collapsed or because they fell into Russia’s orbit, which empire is much more happy about sane governance.

      Until TF restore the King to Finland, there is glaring work to be done. TF being a demotic party, it is more likely that TF will take over the government as the EU gets more insane, then either Russia or some Great Finnish Man will put a stop to the TF status signalling spiral about migrants and Finnish nationalism and enact a de jure or de facto monarchy. The alternate is that the TF signalling gets just as insane as the prog signalling is now.

      My advice is to begin discussing the reintroduction of monarchy and candidates for a king with your TF buddies. If they seem more interested in The Purity Of The Finnish Race(tm) than in sane governance for the long-term, you will be having problems in 10-20 years. Perhaps not problems as ahistorical and insane as the “migrant crisis,” but problems nonetheless, and they will be insane when you meet them.

      1. Agreed. The True Finns are not even vaguely close to being Reactionary, but I guess they are the best of a bad lot.

  2. Great analysis of the problem plaguing our current society. Quite pessimistic, but reality often is. I agree with your solution of circling the wagons around those we care about.

    1. Thank you, Bruce. Those who have wagons to circle are lucky in this day and age.

  3. Although this sort of take on the State of Reality is alluded to and implied around the NRx, I think few like to face it head on. Meaning, this is a difficult idea to accept and internalize because we must then realize it applies to us as well, not just “them”.

    My sibling is a social worker/SJW-in-training but they’ll tolerate my heresy sometimes. Recently we came upon, more or less, this same idea that society is in fact “resigned to atomized life”. They refused to believe that a point of no return has been crossed, that there is still room for “actions” to be taken.

    Clearly a distinction between political action and individual action must be made. It seems to me the suggestion is to take personal action against this atomizing force itself, stop it at the source in order to “Build quiet, stable, private community, even in the midst of the public conflagration.” But how, when we’re already alone and atomized?

    Training an NRx mentality does not inoculate us in some special way because we are still surrounded and infused by this radiation, still split. As a group we might be naturally better at being atomic individuals, but being an atomic individual is already unnatural— and I think it shows.

    My longwinded point seems to be that we could use more dismal yet realistic assessments of the environment that not only surrounds but affects us. Growing up in a liberal society and then coming upon the truth of sex realism does not immediately inform us on how to be a good spouse, let alone actually make us one— this is important but often glossed over.

    My personal hope for the NRx is that we can develop such a profound recognition for our “imperfectly atomic” and currently unstable natures as individuals that we, or perhaps our posterity, can eventually learn how to make room for meaningful bonds again.

    Thanks for the article Thomas, another hit in my opinion.

    1. Send an e-mail to Hadley about local NRx groups if you haven’t already. We’re working on building those bonds.

      1. I’m in Uruguay… perhaps an NRx vacation meetup.

    2. Thank you for the thoughtful comment, Salguod. It does apply to us as well as them.

      When it comes to making and maintaining these bonds, the most common problem I see among my atomized peers (and myself) is that they judge unjustly and act rashly. They have low tolerance for and low ability to recognize mutual misunderstanding.

      For that reason, I almost always recommend that they cool off a bit, and the best impersonal resource I know for doing that (the one that’s helped the most of my friends best) is Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. If you want an example of a miserable atom who thought he could solve every problem personally and broke a lot of bonds along the way, early Wittgenstein’s a great one, but he cooled off and his later work is an ideal example of self-therapy against atomization (including fixing splits). If you haven’t read it I recommend it.

      It’s a very frustrating book that takes a lot of patience and second-guessing to get through. However, learning to be patient with frustration and with frequent misunderstanding is the point. It doesn’t take any special background knowledge to read well, just patience and humility… not I nor anyone I know could get through more than a couple pages a sitting, when taking it seriously, and we all needed to reread almost every line at least twice each. So it’s not cheap revelation, but it’s somewhere to start and it’s more explicit and more fundamental than almost anything else I would recommend on fixing modern thought patterns.

      You won’t lose for trying it and if it works for you, you’ll leave with a curious ability to see through a lot of arguments and worries that would have bothered you before reading it. That makes it easier to make good choices, give good advice, and form stronger bonds. A personal role model or in-person NRx group would be better, of course, but I think this is the best initial resource I can recommend without knowing you personally.

      1. Sounds daunting, but I’ll take your recommendation and see how far I get as fixing modern thought patterns is near the top of my list of things-to-do, just after video games and check Facebook.

  4. A whisper of Epicurus reverberates in these lines. Exquisite.

  5. Great article.

    “When one talks about Weimerica, then, one talks about a society that is almost past believing humans can live well as atoms, but is still resigned to atomized life, nonetheless.”

    This is key. Everybody knows privately that everything is wrong, but whenever they attempt to help create a solution they end up voting for some goofball who is going to enact more leftism and make everything worse. Any solution to any problem besides “more leftism” is prohibited.

    1. Thank you, Mark, I’m proud to have you reading.

  6. “The single best solution for this life in a sea of dangerous talk and action is passivism: maintain few, robust bonds at the deepest levels and react with circumspection to everything else. Never stoop to activism, never seek notoriety directly, never open mouth or ambitions to the masses.

    Build quiet, stable, private community, even in the midst of the public conflagration.”

    It’s unfortunate that you have tainted such a wonderful article with these words. You are merely hiding your fear of pain and death behind a thin veil of sophistry while assuming that robust bonds can be built between people who lack the courage to face these most primal fears.

    Indefinite avoidance is not a solution.

    1. Thank you Sam, that’s something I’d also object to and I hope no one else will misunderstand me as advocating avoidance here. Circumspection is exactly what one needs when climbing cliffs, building bombs, or curing cancer; ‘react with circumspection’ means face facts ruthlessly and plan for what goes wrong.

      Passivism isn’t avoiding all struggle. It is not falling for set ups like mass politics, in order to fight better battles more intelligently.

  7. This was, as Yuray has stated, a fine article. The comprison to nuclear materials rather apt.

    “Reflecting or transmitting the radiation impinging on us since we do not absorb it, we are mistaken for sources of radiation by those it next passes on to.”

    Hence how we can be blamed for all the problems in the world, even when the reigns of power have been securely in the hands of Modernists for centuries now. I’m guessing this annoying feature will continue. It’s not as if the population is getting smarter. People say blacks and Jews are scapegoated, when guys like us are scapegoated 100 times more often, (see: feminists blaming the Patriarchy for virtually everything).

    1. Thank you, Mark, it’s great to have you reading.

      This scapegoating can definitely be troublesome, and I’d also bet on it continuing. Luckily, as the Bible shows beautifully, scapegoat can be a powerful role as well as a weak one. I think there’s hope.

  8. Not too long ago I read Houellebecq’s Atomised (also “The Elementary Particles” – the title is most definitely not a coincidence to the subject at hand). Here’s a fitting reflection made by one of the characters:

    “Children existed … to inherit a man’s trade, his moral code and his property. This was taken for granted among the aristocracy, but merchants, craftsmen and peasants also bought into the idea, so it became the norm at every level of society. That’s all gone now: I work for someone else, I rent my apartment from someone else, there’s nothing for my son to inherit. I have no craft to teach him, I haven’t a clue what he might do when he’s older. By the time he grows up, the rules I lived by will have no value – he will live in another universe. If a man accepts the fact that everything must change, then he accepts that life is reduced to nothing more than the sum of his own experience; past and future generations mean nothing to him. That’s how we live now. For a man to bring a child into the world now is meaningless.”

    1. Houllebecq is a favorite of mine, highly recommended for anyone who loves literature with grace, depth, and a bite. The Map and the Territory is one of my personal favorite books, and it also describes this atomization well. Thank you for this quote, here.

Comments are closed.