Perfectibilists

Perfectibilists: The 18th Century Bavarian Order of the Illuminati by Terry Melanson is a rich treasure trove of history, much of which I found I hadn’t quite been familiar with yet, and that, in spite of the author’s barely hidden bias, really puts the infamous Illuminati in a heroic position in their time.

I’ve always been surprised, and am now even more surprised, that the Illuminati are vilified. They were on the ground in the front lines of what became the Enlightenment. They were struggling against entrenched and violently repressive regimes in religious, scholastic and secular society. I think, ultimately, the Enlightenment and Revolutionary periods left them in the dust, perhaps justly, but they were there, at the beginnings, part of the vanguard for what has become the modern world. In the days before Revolution was possible, it seems rational to think “the only recourse, it would seem—short of a revolution—is to operate in the shadows.”

For example, I think, aside from the, perhaps spurious, part about poisoning and a caveat in regard to “passion rather than reason”, I can agree quite strongly with “such vicious moral and religious sentiments as that life should be controlled by passion rather than reason, that suicide is justifiable, that one may poison one’s enemies, and that religion should be regarded as nonsense and patriotism as puerility.” And, I largely laud “how harmful and dangerous the Order of the Illuminati will be for the State and religion, if allowed to flourish here and beyond.” I find I am mostly in agreement with the sentiment that “every King and every priest is a traitor and a thief,” just maybe not quite the Populist rural rabble’s revolting take on that, but in rather an equalitarian and egalitarian way of where humanity could be, if only it were perfected. I fear, for the author’s sake, I’m more aligned with the idea and ideals of this historical Illuminati now having read this history than I was ever before.

I agree with Weishaupt “in the indefinite perfectibility of man” and that humanity “may in time be rendered so perfect that he will be able to govern himself in every circumstance so as to injure none, to do all the good he can, to leave government no occasion to exercise their powers over him, & of course to render political government useless.” To the extent this is a “conspiracy against all government” and against the “evils of private property” then so be it, but we’re also not there yet.

The role of the Rosicrucian orders as agents of the Counter-Enlightenment was a bit of a surprise to me. Finding that out explains several things I found curious, not the least of which is Franz Hartmann’s switch from a Rosicrucian to an Illuminati focus in his fiction. But, I have a stronger idea of the tension around what became of literary Rosicrucianism when it began to accrete later innovations. But, suffice to say, it turns out, for me, anyway, the Rosicrucians are the villains that most people seem to think the Illuminati are.

I’ve gotten a lot of new book titles and names of people from this that I’ve put on my list of things to research. I’ve also become far more interested in the way Deism has played out in the Enlightenment in Europe and the Revolutionary period in North America. I’ve also started to read ancillary materials mentioned here, for example I picked up Thomas Love Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey because of this book. So, in addition to the historical information contained directly, this was a great point of departure as well.

Through this book I developed an appreciation for how the secrecy and hierarchical nature of the Illuminati went from being a reasonable and rational security culture to being a burden and ultimately, I think, the reason they were left behind by the overall Enlightenment, which proved too popular and too widespread for them to stay in control as much as the opposition was unable to control its advance. There’s much in the critical analysis of how the Illuminati failed as an organization that could be considered and contemplated by other orders that exist in the world. For example, Baron von Knigge is quoted:

“[As a rule, under the veil of secrecy, dangerous plans and harmful teachings can be accepted just as well as noble intentions and profound knowledge; because not all members themselves are informed of such depraved intentions, which sometimes tend to lie hidden beneath the beautiful façade … because for the most part, unknown superiors lie in ambush and it is unworthy of an intelligent man to work according to a plan, which he does not fully see, for whose importance and goodness he is responsible to people, whom he does not know, whom he must bind himself to, without them binding themselves to him.. because they [secret societies] cost time and money;…because they soon became the assembly places for adventurers and idlers; because they favor various species of political, religious, and philosophical Scwärmerei [zealous or insane enthusiasm]; because a monkish esprit de corps prevails in them and brings about much harm; finally, because they provide the opportunity for cabals, discord, persecution, intolerance, and injustice against good men, because they are not members of such an order or at least not the same order.”

In addition to technocratic autocracy dangerously enabling organizational dysfunction and antagonists, there’s much to be taken seriously here in the analysis of how hierarchical and secret orders can become burdens to themselves and their membership and the society in which they operate. I’m afraid that here I must finally, for reasons principled and philosophical and personal, part ways with this illustrious company so closely aligned with my own thinking, but ultimately not my allies.

The author makes a largely credible case that the Illuminati continued at least indirectly to exist past the point when it is largely considered to have demised as an order. I don’t take very seriously the idea that indirect influence and inspiration qualify as absolute continuity of conspiracy, as the author seems to believe, but it seems clear enough that the ideas of Enlightenment and methods of organization championed by the Order of the Illuminati were broadly influential long after the order, per se, ceased to be.

But, one thing else, that does come across for me, is that the Enlightenment is an ongoing struggle against which the collective diverse forces of Counter-Enlightenment are constantly and continually resisting. This is even more serious a point to me in the intervening months since I read this work to the time that I am writing now. There are people of serious mind to return to the way things were before the Enlightenment, and some of them are currently running the United States. The struggle is real. The Enlightenment is in danger.

Perhaps there is still a place, and moreover a need, for the Illuminati to continue to exist after all. But, it’s clear they don’t exist, because even if they did still exist, then they’re doing a really damned shitty job.

In the Kindle edition, the illustrations are awful and tiny. There’s also a lot of errors that appear to me likely problems of taking the original text and turning it into an ebook without proper quality control. One of the most common issues is that hardcoded line endings end up in the wrong place, causing lines of text to be split mid-sentence. Someone just didn’t bother checking the ebook output, I think. But there’s other numerous egregious errors, for just one example repeatedly misspelling something as obvious and central as “Wishaupt” instead of Weishaupt.

I made 151 highlights.

Secret societies, societies with secrets, and societies with spoilers

When thinking about secrets and mysteries in practice, I’ve long tossed about the idea of a difference between secret societies, societies with secrets and a society without spoilers. Especially in this day when so much is being made available online, but that really is just a matter of scale when there are plenty of historical examples of similar things, such as Aleister Crowley revealing the initiatory rituals of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn as serialized in the pages of the Equinox, the varied publication and exposé of so much Freemasonic ritual, and so forth.

There are still some pretty legitimately secret societies, which while well-known to exist are not revealed, such as the Skull and Bones society, and recently breaking the Copiale cipher seemed to tantalizingly promise that there might be still some complex and completely unknown societies, at least until it was revealed the material was pretty clearly Freemasonic in nature. But for the most part, I object that when people talk about secret societies they are engaged in flights of fancy about group about which not only their existence but much of their particulars are known. Quite often, of course, such wild imaginings are part and parcel with an agenda of fear mongering, but even still there are otherwise sane and rational people talking about certain societies as if they were actually not completely or almost completely public. Certainly Freemasonic tradition and ritual cannot rationally be called secret anymore, and the membership is in the habit of parading around, not to mention things like having decals on their cars and fobs on their keychains, and thus it cannot be called a secret society. Even traditional boogeymen like Aleister Crowley and Ordo Templi Orientis can only by the slimmest margin come anywhere near being called a secret society, with websites, public spaces, public event calendars, and so forth. There may indeed be legitimately unavailable secrets still, for example within A∴A∴, but that’s not enough to call these fraternal orders by the name of a secret society. In these cases there’s perhaps some legitimate secrets, but there must also be a practical recognition that most material related to these groups is available, outside the structured system of the society itself, somewhere, if one wants to find it.

Of course, just as much as one can avoid spoilers for movies and books and other things sequentially revealed, it is possible to avoid, for the most part, much of that material. It is not that there are no spoilers. Rather that spoilers do very much exist. Which is to say, the existence of spoilers requires one to decide to avoid the spoilers in order to fully enjoy the reveal. This is quite different from a society that pretends it doesn’t exist to outsiders, or a known society with things that it keeps secret.

 

There are modern examples of working with secrets within esoteric systems, and there’s clearly something interesting going on around secrets. There is smoke pointing to something important and useful at the source. There’s a tension, perhaps much as it ever was, between the urge to make information available and the various efficacies of secrets. T Thorn Coyle wrote a bit about the division in Feri between what had been called the “Mystery tradition” and the “public religion” factions, at “The Sundering of Feri“. Thorn, of course, also runs an online Mystery School. I was trying to find a quote where I recall her saying something about how paganism needed to have a Mystery tradition as part of it, but can’t find that right now.

Generally, when I talk about such things to people who ask, I suggest that initiation ritual, especially, is like a good book or movie with a savoury plot twist or two. You will only ever get a single chance to experience the participatory drama without knowing how it develops; that’s if one goes through it the first time not having read the materials. One and only one chance. Ever. So why throw that away by reading ahead? One can always read the materials afterward, as many times as one likes; but to read the spoilers is to waste a wonderful opportunity that cannot ever, barring soap opera amnesia tropes, be experienced once the reveal has been spoiled.

Whether one “gets” it or not (either initially or on subsequent viewings of a ritual or readings, of material) is another question entirely. And, it seems to me, in my experience, what constitutes “getting it” will likely evolve and change over time no matter what else is a consideration. When given the opportunity, I like to point out that one can go to many stagings of a play by Shakespeare and get new things, new depth of understanding and new enjoyment, as well as savour slightly different interpretations, so to me the re-play value depth of meaning of a work or body of work is something that is a different question to the idea of seeing something for the first time without spoilers.

But, still, people freak about things unknown, and try to minimize and control things by figuring things out ahead instead of being comfortable with being uncomfortable as a thing itself. Seems to me the still prevalent modern desire to conquer Nature and the pervaisive post-modern existential nausea about information overload and slavish ‘inbox zero’ mania are examples, perhaps symptoms, of where the ability to just relax about not knowing, not being in control, would be useful for people to practice in specific so they can have skill in applying it in general.

 

Another aspect that always comes up around secrets is the idea that somehow no matter what is revealed, the real secrets are impervious to such petty concerns. Seems to me blather about mystery being unspoilable is semantically empty jazz hands (or worse self deception (or worse-worse deception of others) about “spiritual” exceptionalism), and misses the point of initiation as orchestrated stressful situation intended to create a kind of imprint vulnerability, an altered state, in the initiate, and attempts to diffuse that stress and that experience before experiencing it is an attempt mitigate and in some form to not have the experience at all. The efficacy of secrets in a system are not just about the information, true, but the information is interwoven into an experience, and the experience is changed by the quality and obscurity of the information on which the experience is built. If one knows the rollercoaster has a blind drop at the end, one still experiences the drop in and of itself, but the surprise in and of itself is changed into anticipation, and that’s a different thing entirely which not only changes the experience of the drop but distracts from the experience of what occurs before.

For me, when I talk about “reading ahead” (spoiling) I mean that as a placeholder for activity the diffuses the effectiveness of initiation and mystery, whether written down and read or spoken and heard or whatever and whatevered. For me, being a candidate in initiation and mystery is to be an improv actor stumbling into a rehearsed stage play, and both savoury and exciting. One tends to think all kinds of things about structure and likely scenarios, if nothing else than a rite of passage (exit normal, experience liminal, re-enter normal changed) but it is the actuality, specifics and plot twists, the things that can be spoiled, which I think should be avoided and, yes, allowed as a personal experience.

 

To bring it around, my point of wondering about classification of societies is that there is a kind of society which is not itself attempting to pretend it doesn’t exist, and which has essentially much of its material revealed or potentially could be in future somewhere, but that points out there is a reason not to “read” ahead as a practice of discipline in and of itself; that there is a place for not knowing as a thing, and experience, to be embodied through ritual, especially dramatic ritual like initiation.

The trick of improv is to have characters and bits of business prepared and figure out ways to fit those into any circumstances, so perhaps the corollary is to become good at mystery and a good initiate prepared by building the foundation of skills, whatever those are in one’s tradition, that make the personal experience of the unknown richer.

If an initiatory working is in some form or another purely ecstatic, then perhaps more than one person will have no prior exposure. That seems quite different than a mystery tradition where something is being revealed. But, whether there is an actual script or not, a mystery tradition will have participants who have experienced or developed a relationship with the mystery who are inducting others. If those others have exposed themselves or been exposed prior to some element meant to be revealed, then they have failed to avoid spoilers, they have whatevered the whatever.

Maps certainly won’t always apply, especial when applied outside their intended scope. Just add as given to any structural approach “except where this doesn’t apply”. But, to be clear, there are other structures, but I’m primarily talking about a mystery tradition where something is being revealed. But, whether there is an actual script or not, a mystery tradition will have participants who have experienced or developed a relationship with the mystery who are inducting others. Here the word ‘mystery’ in a religious sense comes from Greek mysterion “secret rite or doctrine,” as in a thing to be revealed to initiates, whether, additionally as previously stated, those are “written down and read or spoken and heard or whatever and whatevered”, a secret doctrine passed on or a secret rite enacted.

Which begs the question: without a mystery (neither secret rite or secret doctrine) to be revealed, whither the mystery cult? Further, without a mystery, one might even be tempted to ask how can there actually be an initiation at all?

 

Perhaps, one might say of a modern non-mystery that an “impromptu ecstatic divinatory rite” took place which offered UPG, such that a previously unknown rite is enacted or previously unknown doctrine is developed. But without the secret rite or secret doctrine, which would have to have previously existed to those initiated few inducting others, there’s nothing to pass on that was previously held sacred, no previously held in secret doctrine or rite, tautologically.

“Nothing to pass on that was previously held sacred” may offer another name, perhaps more tripping, instead of “society without spoilers”: a “sacred society”, a society with things held sacred as in separate, something bound, enclosed and protected.

Unfortunately, one can follow the etymology of ‘secret’ to essentially the same place, the difference being one implies holiness and the other does not, I suppose, which “holiness” seems, to my mind, just a special case of any of the others three terms I suggested.

 

I suspect the apparent failure of the modality of a “mystery cult” in the modern world has to do with modernity, modernism and existentialism, and the lack of acceptance of shared concrete and coherent gnosis, thus the ground on which a modern mystery cult would be built is unsuitable for lavish neo-romantic structures, except for those already conditioned to such things, such as lapsed Catholics and such. Which is to say, perhaps any mystery cult would seem too superficial to a modern person to have the same religious and social impacts, simply because the assumed rich foundation is missing.

So, the feeling one might have that a mystery cult or tradition in the modern age has lost its luster is due not to the mystery cult but rather due to the overall modern age. There is still a lingering notion that something may be missing for rootless moderns which a mystery cult can offer by way of a more structured ritual, initiations, and a focused mythic basis for ritual; more robust spiritual meaning which then, in turn, offers deeper experience of life in general. But, I find myself wondering if the project of modern mystery traditions is undermined by a general lack of cultural foundation, those foundations of community and cohesion being so efficiently eroded in our public, political and even private lives. Not to mention the lack of what is still called a “classical education” with the broad base of and relationship of familiarity with languages, myths, archetypes and so on. This, then becomes a chicken and egg, which can only be resolved by realizing the false dichotomy that one must be completed before the other, and that the development in general is aided by development in specific, and visa versa, synergistically.

One possible route out of the morass, for moderns and post-moderns, I sometimes come to is the suggestion that situational certainty is a tool for meta-cognition. By this I mean, that the ground on which a mystery cult could be built, the solid ground of structured ritual, initiations, and a focused mythic basis for ritual is sufficient when internally consistent for its purpose and held to be true for the time that it is necessary. But, that threatens what is perhaps an entirely different discussion.

 

But, to bring it back around again, a ‘mystery cult’ is a cult with a mystery. A ‘cult’ is the external activity enacting a religious metaphor, a ritual behaviour. A ‘mystery’ is a secret rite or secret doctrine (to be revealed). Therefore, a ‘mystery cult’ is specifically ritual behaviour that involves a secret rite or secret doctrine. ‘Tradition’ is shared belief or behaviour through time. Therefore, ‘mystery tradition’ is belief and ritual behaviour that involves a secret rite or secret doctrine shared through time.

I’m so strongly reminded by this of something. I believe it was something by Karl Kereny (but it might be form Van Gennep or Turner, I can’t recall right now) which I paraphrase: “Ritual enacts Myth and Myth explains Ritual.”

 

It seems possible to conflate a general meaning of “mystery” as more of a kind of ‘gnosis’ or noetic experience with how I understand it is used in the specific sense within the term “mystery cult” which is more what I am talking about here. When speaking of the idea of whether a ‘mystery cult’ within modern systems would be useful in order to ground the work in structured behaviour, I’m assuming that we’re actually talking about ‘mystery cult’ not general unspecific noetic experience or so forth. This of course somewhat ironically points out a possible initial critique of paganism as a generalized, syncretic, eclectic system which lacks the benefit of what a mystery cult offers and hence the possible utility of that structured influence, offering specific external ritual behaviour around a secret rite or secret doctrine.

If you want mystery without mystery cult, that already exists in various forms of wild and wishy-washy moments of gnosis within the ecstatic traditions of modern life; but, why not try adding an actual ‘mystery cult’ back into the cultural mix? In fact, I could easily argue that there already is ‘mystery cult’ in various places within neopaganism, with a facile example being initiatory orders like OTO and others, which are perfect examples of mysteries for which spoilers exist and which spoilers therefore can be intentionally avoided.

A very salient point for this modern information age is the value an experience of not knowing, so that one can and must do less thinking prior to events, not more. Perhaps the suggestion contained within the experience of not knowing is that one should do one’s thinking after: praxis before theory, so that theory is informed by praxis without prejudice. If this is the case, why not work toward maximizing the possible experience instead of minimizing the probable damage of knowing by seeking after spoilers of any kind, even the mundane accidents surrounding specific quanta and quality?

Indeed, I would suggest that one approach an initiatory experience within an mystery tradition not as a result of successful prior thinking or a seal on attainment, like we are so often familiar with from diplomas, certificates and honors; but an invitation to view the world through a particular lens for a particular period of time, determined by the particulars of the ritual and tradition in which the initiation takes place. In other words, the initiation is really the beginning, suggested by the word itself, of an pervasive life experience.

The full experience of a mystery event intended to involve surprises, plot twists or situations unknown can be self-evidently spoiled by prior knowledge of those circumstances. Especially if part of the trigger for the full experience is the stress of not knowing. Certainly, I don’t mean that these things are binary (and it may be possible to salvage some part of the experience even if spoiled, but why not go for the whole thing instead of the tatters?), but that avoiding spoilers is a discipline that seems worthy if one is serious about that experience, and looking to have it be as rich as possible.

And, that this, in specific, will inform one’s general life as well.

 

And yes, one can point out that for completely ecstatic visceral events and such that are not within a mystery tradition, there’s mostly nothing to spoil by prior knowledge, per se. Except that maybe even still, for example, having that ecstatic visceral experience is based on a not knowing, in some fashion; for example, there’s only one time for the first such experience. All subsequent such experiences are informed by prior such similar events; but also, there may be circumstances around how the experience is induced that involve some fashion of not-knowing the mechanisms being used, which after the initial experience become less effective in themselves and experienced practitioners then rely on other means more, such as anchoring past experience to ease induction subsequently.

Also, for purely personal experience based on involvement in a mystery cultic practice, the former requires the latter, so saying the former can’t be spoiled is only true on the former level but it’s a logical typing fallacy to presume that spoiling the more primary function of mystery cultic practice can’t spoil the dependent personal experience of it. Mystery rituals are built around some kind of surprise, a revealing of the secret practice or doctrine at least. One could try to criticize the practices of mystery traditions by bringing up features of non-surprise ritual is not a feature of surprise ritual merely because they participate in the prior category of ritual. But, still the one is not the other. Noetic mystery is not mystery cult merely because the English word mystery is in both. But these are mostly different topics than suggesting the efficacy a mystery cult with structured ritual behaviour involving a secret doctrine or secret rite to a previous practice of generalized, syncretic, eclectic practice.

 

So, for my own part, I have come to prefer the discipline of having structured ritual events with their reveals unspoiled so that I can experience them with as little prior knowledge as possible, because it’s the only time I will ever get that experience in that way, ever. Of course, you go about your experiences however you like, but I suspect if the initial spoiler free experience is not preserved you’re not actually experiencing ‘mystery cult’ anymore, but rather just, one might say, an extended re-enactment of a transcript of someone else’s dramatized experience. And, if you want that, just watch reruns of some reality television program, or another, instead.

Societies with secrets, security culture and online social media

There’s a post about a new Social Media Code of Conduct for Massachusetts Freemasons [PDF] (HT @Masonictraveller) over at Freemason Information, part of The Beehive series by Fred Milliken. This document mentioned is particularly interesting to me because it touches on some issues I think are important; and the reactions to the document are also interesting. (I’m also more amused than I should be that the date on the original document is May 1st, International Workers’ Day, due to the frisson between seemingly oft conservative Freemasons and the ideas of the, frankly quite often more broadly fraternal to my mind, international workers’ movement; and, also because of the connection between the ideas I’m going to talk about and the direct and indirect history of May Day.)

I should also say that I’m intentionally using the term “society with secrets” here to mean not just Freemasonry, but really any group with secrets that is publicly known. Freemasonry is not a secret society, really, after all. But, like everyone sharing a book or movie recommendation who doesn’t want to reveal the important points of the plot, let alone the ending, Freemasonry does have secrets. (I’ve been meaning to write about my thoughts around “society with secrets vs secret societies” for a long time, but, I suppose the fullness of that topic will remains one of my own secret for now.)

 

The “code of conduct” document itself offers a number of specific directives about how the Freemasonic Grand Lodge of Massachusetts wishes its members to behave online, not just in social media though that’s what the title suggests is the scope.

 

“As a Mason, he must be aware that his postings are a permanent record; therefore, his conduct may influence the world with a positive or a negative opinion about him personally and also about any organizations to which he belongs.”

As the librarian of the Hermetic Library, I can say I’ve received email from people several times wishing my help to remove, alter or obfuscate content they wrote that still appears online.

In some cases, people want their names removed. In some cases, people want the content to go away. In others, they want links to archives of their content removed so that Google stops indexing the linked to archive. In even other cases, people have contacted me to let me know they’ve removed previously written content from their site due to a new role they’ve taken in which those comments aren’t now appropriate, as if the whole of one’s history is merely, and must conform with, the current accidents of the moment (which ironically requires history to constantly be changed to make an illusion). In some cases, it’s clear that the person contacting me is embarrassed by something they’ve written in the past and wants to distance themselves from that; which motive I personally find revolting and pathetic and deceitful. In other cases, the motives are more or less clean, such as needing to manage how others might use past writing as a weapon, how others might twist and misrepresent the past to impune the present person. (You might, or not, be surprised at how much vitriol and willful harassment there is out there, sometimes hidden in back channels and sometimes not, in which cases managing access to one’s information becomes important as a defensive measure against evil, unscrupulous or stalker-y people.) So, there’s a whole gamut of reasons why people seem to want their previous work forgotten.

Interestingly, there may seem a serious disconnect in my own views on this matter. For example, I am viciously adamant about my own right to remove content from services like Facebook, but I am relatively lassez-faire about my content being permanently on display in various revisions at the Wayback Machine. Of course, the primary difference is that Facebook, and corporations like it purporting to offer a service, is in fact constantly and expansively trying to enclose and encumber not just the works of our minds but every hour of our lives in order to control and monetize both; and to that my resistance is very consistent and internally consistent.

 

“Do not identify any Freemason as a member of the Craft unless he has provided his consent, or has already identified himself as such.”

Another of the points in this code of conduct is not to reveal the identity of a member unless they’ve already done so. This point is a big one for many sub-cultures, and is an important one. “Outing” another person is a serious breach of security and etiquette. But, it should also be considered a serious breach to reveal information about not just the identity but also the location and activities of another member, especially to strangers. (This point is a hint at why personally I almost universally refuse to broadcast my future whereabouts or add instant, or even relatively contemporaneous, geolocation data to my content. I also do not participate in any service which is either dedicated to showing my instant location data or where I cannot hide that, even from “friends”, even so far as to eschew instant messaging services in favour of asynchronous email.)

Anyone with any IT security experience should be able to share strong reasons not to succumb to social engineering, revealing important details to not only strangers but even well-known people who should not have some bits of information. Anyone who’s worked in retail or the service industry should be able to confirm how dangerous it can be to reveal personal information or work schedules of co-workers, both about their time at work and their time away from work. Loose lips not only sink ships and breach internal security, but lead to things like stalking and other antisocial behaviour.

I can hardly begin to tell you the times I’ve gotten strange looks and had eyes rolled at me when I’ve tried to educate people about the dangers and dimwittedness of revealing information about not only others but about themselves to strangers. I cannot count on my fingers the number of times I’ve tried to shush someone who’s speaking on the phone to some random stranger who’s just called and to whom they are revealing all kinds of privileged information about someone else’s schedule and whereabouts … It’s just shocking and disheartening to have people I know, or moreover people I’ve cared about, be so dumb about such things. Really, the Pavlovian desperation to respond most people have to phone and electronic communications, and moreover the ease with which most people reveal information (passwords, account information or even just random particulars) to some unknown person as if merely by being on the phone or online imbues some Milgrim-like authority, is something both breathtaking and bizarre to me.

Developing security culture is not just about the security of groups, but is also protecting individuals. I hope those people prone to such information breaches are never in the situation where they learn the hard way by ending up pursued by a stalker, pursued by someone so mentally stunted or backward that they cannot understand the meaning of “no” or even the basic social contract of consent, and then to have information about their activities and whereabouts revealed by themselves or others simply because they didn’t know better. And if that ever happens I hope that nothing seriously harmful happens as a consequence other than learning to be more careful next time, though so many worse things are possible.

Just one more story, of any number of others, about this: At one of the really big Occupy marches in Portland, OR, I have to tell you I cringed every time someone yelled out another person’s name to get their attention. Really? Serious protest foul, that, people!

But, really, the lack of awareness about security culture is a symptom of not having one in the first place. How’s that for a tautology? No, seriously, the adoption of a general security culture could be helped by having serious security culture in subcultural groups, and thus pushing out the wave of adoption by having smaller groups educate and inform their members who then end up bringing that awareness to larger groups and the overall culture in which they each participate. (So, now that you’ve read this, go and find out more so I can pretend I’ve been effective in widening the general awareness of security culture …)

 

The commentary in the post itself, and the comments by readers to that post, over at Freemason Information are interesting to me as well. Primarily the reaction is focused on how some of the points in the code of conduct are just common sense ideas about protocol and etiquette, but there’s also a perception that the code of conduct is an overreaching attempt to control the actions of members. I think this code of conduct document, while not perfect, seems to me a good first step toward building a meaningful and reasonable security culture. The worth of that, at the very least, is as a catalyst to considering and talking about meaningful and reasonable security culture for any subcultural group of people, whether that’s in, to name a few, a fraternal organization, social club, workplace, or, yes, even in one’s own home environment. But, recognizing that such ideas can be seen as unreasonable attempts to control behaviour suggests how important it is to reveal and share the reasoning behind them, and the reasons why they are being suggested.

 

There’s a lot of useful thinking and writing that’s been done on creating security culture, and this post is merely a few initial words on the topic. I wrote a setup document for GnuPG, aimed at members of a society with secrets in which I am involved which has a mandate for the use of encryption which is not supported by a culture in which use of encryption is easy for non-technical users or even has much use in spite of the mandate. In that document I tried to include some background and links to further information about security culture, by way of saying how important it is to at least think about such things in any social group with secrets. In the same way that the encryption requirement by the US Grand Lodge of Ordo Templi Orientis is essentially and largely mooted by the apparent lack of implementation among the membership, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts has started down a pretty slippery slope of creating mandated behaviour and requirements that it cannot hope to maintain ahead of breaches of conduct, but rather only after the fact in selective punishment against those who happen to get caught. Without a security culture, these rules are mostly meaningless as far as stopping behaviours from happening and are really only rubrics that can be used to evaluate behaviours that have already occurred. In other words, it seems to me, these kinds of guidelines need to be part of a program of proactive education instead of taken as proscriptive measures to control behaviour, and where they are merely the later they should be transformed into the former. Guidelines like these need to create a culture in the implementation not create criminals in the breach.

But really, I think the exposure to the ideas of, and how to create, security culture can offer an essential and necessary set of skills for people in this modern day information age to understand and implement the many overlapping circles of information scope in our lives. (Just as I believe thinking about and deconstructing propaganda models and theory offer essential skills for resisting the influence of not just canonical propaganda but also in resisting the influence of pervasive and invasive marketing and advertising in this Western culture.)

For a general primer, I’d encourage you to check out check out a few documents which stand out in my memory as good initial surveys: Towards a Collective Security Culture, Affinity Groups and Why do you need PGP?.

For further reading, you may be interested in Activism and Security Culture, Security Culture, and Security Culture. Beyond those, I commend you to your favourite search engine for further study.

As a last note, I can’t help but suggest and recommend two works, in no small part because these two are on the list of works that appear in my own thoughts consistently, which I think connect to this post and the broader subject of resistance culture. First, both for the history of the resistance of but also the resistance to the international labor movement, I’d like to suggest an excellent history of Industrial Workers of the World, The Wobblies: The Story of the IWW and Syndicalism in the United States by Patrick Renshaw. And, secondly, for the history and role of Freemasonry in the resistance culture of colonial and early American periods of United States history, Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order, 1730-1840 by Steven C. Bullock.

Freemasonry …

I’m looking for information about the system mentioned in Symbols of Freemasonry which, instead of being about Hiram and the Temple of Jerusalem, was supposedly about the building of the Tower of Babel, also switching King Solomon for King Nimrod.

I ran across some interesting pages whicle looking for this. Apparently, there’s some evidence that the origin of Masonry around 1717 was a 2 degree system, not a 3 degree system, nor did it have all the additional Royal Arch degrees which are the Hiramic degrees. [A Pragmatic Masonic History by Leo Zanelli]

That kind of makes me wonder if the Tower of Babel degrees were not a precursor to the Hiramic degrees, but rather one of the mentioned systems a la mode.

“They were the arm of Freemasonry, which called themselves Jacobins. (8) The Jacobin cries of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” led the first major accomplishment of illuminized Freemasonry, The French Revolution. The Jacobins named a rebellious ex-Jesuit, Adam Weishaupht, “Grand Patriot”. (9) Weishaupht embraced the occult mysteries and organized The Order of the Illuminati in 1776. By 1778 he infiltrated Masonry as a fully-initiated Master Mason. He then inducted the influential European elite of Masonry into the Illuminati—600 men by 1783. (10) On the other side of the Atlantic, mystical Masons were under siege by the occult Illuminists. The Illuminists saw America as the 13th step in evolution, and America’s spiritual destiny as accomplishing world union in the spirit of liberty, equality, and fraternity. (11) By 1789 the mystical Masonry of the New World succumbed to the occult one-world vision of the Weishaupht Illuminati, the guardians of the Ancient Mysteries of Nimrod.”

Yes, Virginia, Freemasonry is a religion by Mac Dominick

And here, all this time, I’ve looked at the Jacobean tartan as a kind of retared cousin to the “real” tartans …

From the same site, here’s an interesting rant about the idea of Freemasonry having an Inner and Outer Temple.

Oh, yeah, now I remember something else, from reading a little bit from the Matthew Cooke Manuscript, about Nimrod sending workers, masons, to work on the Temple of Jerusalem, to help King Solomon. Well, so there’s a reference, and it’d be easy to assume in that some kind of transfer of reference from Babel to Jerusalem. Perhaps this had to do with the sciences on the two pillars, and such, and then is really the two degree system, not something more. If the dating of that MS. is accurate, then the Babel verions must have been very, very old, since that’s several hundred years earlier than the 1717 Grand Lodge.

At any rate, the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and the Yukon’s site, which I’ve mentioned before, as a nice set of writings to gander through.

Early freemasonry …

So, interestingly, after thinking about the state of Freemasonry in the 1800’s I ran across a statement about the frission between mystic groups that append to every religion, the Gnostics to Christianity, the Kabbalists to Judaism, the Sufi to Islam, etc …

“All these mystic groups were disliked by the establishment and by the clergy — be it Christian, Islamic or Jewish — which claimed to represent them. For institutions require devoted followers not mystical seers, because what they seek is power, not truth.”

Symbols of Freemasonry by Daniel Bèresniak

That’s a pretty bold statement. I’m thinking that there’s a bit of pride to this whole thing, a kind of over statement of the real problem.

Wouldn’t it be inevitable for the power hungry to desire entry into the powerful society, and that society then runs into some inescapable dialectic between integrity versus survival and compromise?

Obviously powerful people would wield their wrath, being, in my view, rather self-centered and somewhat resembling a textbook ethical egoist, against any group which dared to keep a certain ethical purity by not letting such a person in. Certainly this isn’t a non-obvious dilemma. I suppose by having veil upon veil internally there would be ways to misdirect such a person, seeking merely to advance and gain power, as opposed to getting anything useful out of their membership.

So, perhaps that was the later development, in answer: the inner and outer societies. Using a society, as did Wieshaupt’s Illuminati use the Freemasons, as a filter, might be a way to re-direct those ambitious persons toward what they desired access to without creating a mess for everyone else.

The conspiracy theorist might have it the other way round, I suppose, where the ambitious are filtered away from those ethereal, ineffective mystics.

In a side note, I find it interesting that the previously mentioned “Symbols of Freemasonry” mentions Lodges which are a combination of Males and Females. After reading in Johnston’s works how important that division was, I find that a surprise. Of course, the book is a translation from French, so represents the French lodges … and we all know how those French are.

Semi-non sequitur: The Grand Lodge of British Columbia and the Yukon has a very nice website.

Check out their page on Palmer Cox and The Brownies.

Pythagorean backlash

While reading a book about Pythagoras, I came across a surprise. It seems that the Pythagoreans were the victims of a smear campaign that ended in the mobilization of violent citizens. This resulted in many deaths and also the diaspora of the Pythagoreans.

“Pythagoras and his associates were long held in such admiration in Italy that many cities invited them to undertake their administration. At last, however, they incurred envy, and a conspiracy was form against them …”

– The Life of Pythagoras, by Porphyry, trans. Guthrie.

What’s more interesting is that this all appears to have been due to the rejection of a powerful individual by Pythagoras himself. Further, this individual was able to play upon the fears and prejudices of the citizens. Those fears and prejudices revolved around the Pythagoreans being insular, exclusive mixed with that they were also often times politically, becoming the writers of law and becoming the politicians also.

This seems like a pattern I’ve heard about before. Primarily this made me remember some things I’d learned about the anti-masonic movements, and that Freemasonry not only resembled the descriptions of the Pythagoreans in my mind, but also that there are similar events in the history of Freemasonry in my country.

This link bewteen an exclusive, mystic tradition with active political clout very closly mirrors the position and character of Freemasonry during the the late 1800’s in the US. One source, a video program I remember, discussed how the orderly and debate oriented culture in the Masonic lodge became a training ground for political duty, and in fact that much of the polictical power in the early US was in the hands of men involved with Freemasonry.

An address by Fred P. Corson, President of Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa., was printed in the Congressional Record on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the United States Constitution. President Corson was talking about the stability of our government. He said: “America owes its governmental stability and her success as a democracy to her spiritual foundation. Prior to 1787 the work of laying this foundation was by the Church and by the Masonic Fraternity. It was no coincidence that of the six men who produced the Constitution, at least half were members of the craft.”
Whys & Wherefores by George Peter MPS

The link to the wave of anti-masonic feeling in the late 1800’s revolved around a flashpoint, the William Morris affair. This triggered, or was the fulcrum for the rise of one of the only effective third political parties in the history of the US, the Anti-Masonic Party. (See also “Whys & Wherefores” ibid.)

So, this pattern then, of an exclusive, private group which is founded on the ideas of an elite improving and bettering the world, sounds like a constant refrain. While both the Freemasons and the Pythagoreans, depending on whom you ask, are focused on creating more good in the world, other examples of this pattern might even be broadened to include disasterously evil things like the Fascist movements and splinter religious groups like the Branch Davidians, whom we all know from the siege in Waco, TX. Both of these latter groups were the targets of massive, violent backlashes.

Perhaps, this even relates to the severe backlash against groups like the Wobblies during the golden era of militant labor.

Obviously, there a gut level reaction to being an outsider, that creates resentment and fear. I wonder how much of this is the cause of the backlashes as opposed to the more likely scenario where the backlash was created using that resentment and fear as a way to mobilize the violent, to the agenda of a more machiavellian purpose.

Clearly a much repeated pattern reflects some core lessons for any such movement as these. Lessons about exclusion and elitism being the source for violent opposition should be clear enough, but what other lessons might there be?

Perhaps it is not so easy to tell the difference between the truly beneficial and the diabolical when secrecy provides such a blank slate on which to write one’s fears and prejudices, but that’s almost too easy. There’s something more fundimental here or at least more interesting.

There’s a fundimental resistance to change in the character of history. Revolutions seldom bring about such serious changes, after the dust settles, that you can tell the difference between the new and previous regimes. So, this mechanism is a way for history to push back against the revolutionaries, and the more revolutionary the more push back there is.

So the secret society is probably both a defense mechanism against this push back, an attempt to fly under the radar, and also a cause of the push back.

Clearly, a Sisyphean task this social evolutionary work …