A central tragedy of the Homeric tradition sprouts from the bitter contention between Ajax and Odysseus over the armor of Achilles. Rageful Achilles was a consummate symbol of brave, thymotic masculinity to the Greeks. His divinely forged armor, a coveted reward. Both Ajax and Odysseus claimed the armor as just deserts for their own feats of war, and their king Agamemnon decreed that the claims should be decided by a contest of speeches.
Ajax was the stronger, more loyal, and more trusted man. Odysseus was the cleverer and more inventive. In the rhetorical contest, Odysseus prevailed. Ajax’s bravery and devotion had been vital to the Greek victory, but clever Odysseus’s strategem, the daring theft of Athena’s palladium, had been decisive. Ajax was driven to murderous rage by this slight, and then, after waking from rage, fell on his sword in despair at his dishonor. The justice of this outcome has been doubted ever since.
The Right today often emphasizes its Ajaxes. For an Ajax faced with the struggle to be recognized in our over-clever, endlessly speechifying world, it is difficult not to go mad with resentment and so his needs are urgent.
However, I myself am no Ajax. I’m a clever enough speaker with a few good strategems and resentment is not my challenge. For the right wing Odysseus-type, the problem is not finding opportunity but finding home.
Many of us today feel the present to be foreign. We are more comfortable among old books and future speculation. More than better representation in present political conflicts or resource payoffs from an elite, our politics seeks different ways of life: exits from contemporary societies and entries into others that would feel more like home.
One of the inspiring images of exit for neoreactionaries, especially Odysseus-types, is Nick Land’s Doctor Gno: the mad technologist who acquires enough power to destroy, so that he can successfully win autonomy from the International Community.
The image is striking, but it’s not clear how to get there from here. For young men, it’s a long way from college or a first job to gathering enough deterrent firepower to stay the hand of international government. Putting it mildly.
Still, this dream of unilateral exit can be begun another, quieter way: by becoming invisible. Private. A No One, a Nemo, a Mr. Nobody. And this makes an excellent precursor to all further plans for a young Odysseus type, whether they lead to Doctor Gno, a Mannerbund cabal, or life as the humble patriarch of a Benedict Option family.
This mission, should one choose to accept it, is to become Bond before Bond villain: to first learn to camouflage yourself to the Cathedral without compromising morally or intellectually. Then, to grow in wrongly forbidden wisdom and virtue, while hiding in plain sight—and make a more complete exit when the opportunity arises.
To escape control, one needn’t change laws or minds. That’s not how drug users act with impunity, not how Muslims establish their enclaves in Europe, and not how financiers get away with creative accounting practices. The key is to find blind spots: closed doors; impenetrable ghettos; limited expert attention. Becoming a reactionary man is discouraged and dangerous, but given most people’s general inattention and poor insight into character, it’s something that can be risked with confidence.
Visibility is key to enforcement power. On the Right, one often sees how the Left’s refusal to see the differences between different ethnic groups prevents it from effectively addressing terrorist threats and crime. In the other direction, one learns that gun registration is often the first step towards further gun control. What the government cannot see, it has difficulty controlling. If it wants to control, it will introduce new monitoring; if it wants to prevent control, it will ban monitoring.
The theoretical term for this visibility is legibility, defined in the excellent Seeing Like a State. This concept describes the limits on an organization’s ability to process information and how limits on what can be communicated through an organization in turn limit what it can effectively accomplish. A phenomenon that an organization can recognize, process, and respond to is legible to the organization. A phenomenon that always gets overlooked, that never gets reported all the way up the chain of command, or that doesn’t mean anything to the men with decision-making power when it does reach them, is illegible. Organizations do not act on illegible signals. Illegible actions can be performed unilaterally.
The path of Mr. Gnobody is to make one’s inner life illegible to progressivism while in its territory. This requires compromise. This is not a route for the bold and loud who want to always speak their minds without hesitation in defense of the good; this is a route for a man who can discreetly bide his time though vice and evil preen around him.
With Trump elected, some of our readers have new hope for free self-expression and open victory. For another group of us, however, his election does nothing to separate us from the virulent zombism that still pervades our places of employment. It inspires newer, hungrier mutations. This is for the latter group: my own group.
Many of us have already implemented this plan. It’s not hard to do alone, and the principles are simple. However, every time our movement grows there are those who encounter the need for illegibility as something new, and for these I’ll outline the basics. For those of us who have already achieved it, consider this an invitation to rethink one’s compromises and perhaps how to frame them best for newcomers or those who choose to live differently.
The first order before implementing illegibility exit is to determine the alternatives well. Without a plan, the most likely outcome for attempting social independence is merely social leprosy.
Begin by reckoning one’s requirements to maintain mental and moral stability over a period of 5-10 years. Make no room for liberal fantasies of autonomy. Plan to maintain family relationships, friendships, professional connections, and moral mentorships. Aim for more than strictly needed, since natural tragedy and social fragmentation easily upset too-optimistic plans.
Above all, when imagining potential exit paths think through 1) what good and bad influences can be brought close or avoided 2) what good and bad influences can be followed or resisted and 3) whether or not this more private life will be rich and warm enough to sustain long circumspection and emotional disconnection from the public.
1) and 2) are most complex and personal, but should also be most familiar. Everyone must consider these. The addition of 3) complicates the calculus for an aspiring Mr. Gnobody. Invisibility with integrity requires discipline. One bad day, and the arrangement may fail. With practice it becomes effortless as standing straight, but acquiring the habits is initially taxing.
What sorts of discretion will be most necessary? First, emotional continence: a reactionary’s feelings will not match those of most others and the deepest ones should be shown only to a few. Second, intellectual patience: one must get used to allowing others their follies. Third, stylistic conformity: never wear red in a Crip neighborhood and be careful using Heidegger’s vocabulary in the Ivy League. These are a minimum and provide a base for further refinement.
For 3), then, pay particular attention to the following. Will you need new emotional outlets for the things you no longer share with just anyone who will listen? Will you need new intellectual hobbies or clubs to satisfy a need for debate that until now you’ve been inflicting on whoever happens to be around? Can you keep your aesthetics illegible to all others comfortably, or will you need a few fellows with common artistic taste for community? None should be neglected.
Be especially careful of expecting too much of the women you’ll meet along the path as Gnobody. Relationships founded on the misunderstandings intrinsic to camouflage will present difficult challenges. Circes and Calypsos might offer aid, but they cannot substitute for home.
With 3) in mind, I’ll now say more on the subject of maintaining illegibility through discretion.
The most urgent emotions to contain are disgust and contempt. Among unrepentant sinners, there is little more offensive than being reminded of their sin.
One effective way to contain these emotions is proverbial: remember the plank in one’s own eye reflexively when irritated by the mote in another’s. This provides a true, inoffensive cover story for the disgust and contempt: one’s own failure. Further, it provides internal motivation for maintaining the polite sympathy good society requires.
An inferior but popular method is to universalize one’s contempt: to appear irritable through and through, the misanthrope who “hates everyone equally.” If misanthropy is just a pretense at first, the tongue leads the heart and the pretense can solidify into fact more easily than one expects. Even if it stays a pretense, think on Odysseus’s transparent attempt to avoid the call to Troy: feigning incoherence to cover up disloyalty only works while left untested, yet it invites testing by its extremity.
More tactics exist, and there are other emotions to consider. Open joy at Trump’s election, for instance, might easily cost us work and social goodwill. Obvious fear in ghetto neighborhoods could likewise.
The general rule to follow is always: do not allow one’s feelings to be tyrants, only proper subjects of the self that have every right to counsel the reason but no rights to take control of the face or tongue. Remember Odysseus and the Sirens: do not close the reason’s, the captain’s, ears to the Sirens, but do seal those of the body, the crew.
Like anything else, this can be practiced. Watch oneself in a mirror reading or watching things at the edge of tolerability; practice maintaining an even expression. Have good friends provoke you to try to break your cool. Taking small deliberate steps, soon enough one earns the privilege to feel anything one likes freely, forevermore, in any company.
And in case it needed to be spelled out for any single reader here, don’t drink past the point you can hold your liquor except with trusted fellows. The more any of this sounds constraining, the more friends you’ll need to pull it off.
Intellectual patience builds on emotional continence. First, one learns to avoid getting visibly annoyed when others say something one finds foolish. After, one learns the intellectual patience to resist correcting mistakes until the time is right. Flipping the two makes for the always-annoyed arrogant archetype.
This is often harder than it initially looks from outside. The further we go into learning true history and true philosophy, the more mistakes we recognize in conversation. And since people often reason by coherence, the smallest corrections may have far-ranging consequences. Too often, risky arguments about race and gender politics start from small corrections to matters of historical record. Save careful thinking and fact-checking for those you trust.
The best way to learn this patience is to pay close attention to your treatment by wise men who do not quite trust you to be reasonable. Watch their words carefully and pick up the patterns they use to probe for your readinesses or unreadinesses, your open-mindednesses or deep-set stubbornnesses.
A thoughtful priest is often the best candidate for this: someone used to explaining multiple interpretations of parables to multiple audiences as the situation requires. If no wise men are available, one can read about them. Read the Gospels, read Maimonides’s Guide, read Dostoevsky’s Father Zosima.
Mastering the art of speaking carefully does not isolate, it becomes the basis for community with others of the same skill. Nor does it entail cowardice. This patience is not fear of acting at the wrong time, but confidence that the right time is worth waiting for.
And if you ever feel the need to let loose, there’s always someone wrong on the internet. Use VPN and a pseudonym and don’t overshare.
However, all effort to make the content of our beliefs illegible to contemporary antagonists will be wasted if we cannot also pass more superficial tests of belonging. If one insists on being a reactionary in unfriendly territory, have the good manners to respect the sovereign morass at least as far as hanging their slogans at your window and pronouncing their shibboleths properly. We’re not punks; we respect authority.
The first thing to establish: how to put strangers at ease. When our goal is illegibility, the most urgent question is which status conflicts are bitterest and how each side recognizes an enemy. What types show up as TV villains again and again? What mannerisms characterize heretics in novels? Most importantly, when mysteries and political thrillers depict people ‘everyone knows’ will turn out to be a betrayer, what signs make them suspicious? Whatever those things are, they attract unwanted attention and speculations of evil character.
Chances are, the villains today will be creepy or cold white men. Don’t play the part. Once again, practice as necessary. The most graceful styles are second nature integrated so smoothly that they can be mistaken for first nature.
None of this, opaque emotion, patient intellect, or camouflaged style, is truly required for good character. There are emotionally transparent, intellectually combative, and intentionally provocative reactionaries no less admirable for all that. These are not universal virtues.
However, as situational virtues, they are vital servants of prudence in hostile social environments. They allow silent, no-motion exit from demotic society’s relentless self-policing in opinion, allowing free feeling and free thought even in the midst of intense pressure to conform.
An exit into moral illegibility is not complete. It hardly makes room for children. It does not allow exit from material anarcho-tyranny, only the spiritual portion. It does not allow exit from conformance to ugly norms that corrupt the soul in the long term.
This is just a first step onto the path to Ithaca for those of us who wake to political sanity in Polyphemus’s cave. For us, the legendary way out is to declare ourselves intellectually Gnobody and then lash ourselves to the bellies of sheep (stylistically) so that the giant cannot feel us out with its monstrous fingers. Only after this first escape do we orient and choose a next move.
As an Odysseus of the contemporary world, one may wander through many strange lands with foreign customs and unknown dangers after this first step. One must continue to mind provisions, travel carefully, and keep strong. The home one seeks, when reached, may require retaking before it will welcome its proper owner.
Be prepared to keep your name secret even when you first arrive.