First Steps in Mystagoguery

A platonic friend, whom I had thought was very wise until I started thinking about this incident, once told me that I was like an island without an anchorage, or one with a No Trespassing notice, I don’t remember just how she put it. The point was that another person could sail round and round me without ever finding a place to land. This greatly puzzled me, as I am a normally social individual, and I would have thought that my problem was not repulsing people, but rather failing to do so sufficiently. If I had a hundred euros for every incautious involvement in my life, I could buy Roman Abramovich. Everyone else says I come across as too needy, at worst as a tail-wagging leg-humper.

So what did that woman have in mind by saying that I was an island with nowhere to land? She would not explain, pretending that she could not. Rather, I think, there was nothing to explain, she had no thought behind her face corresponding to what came out of it. She aspired to being a mystic, and so this was the true mystification, that is, the purposeful bewildering of the suckers by playing on obscurity.

If what is said is sufficiently portentous, the mark will assume that he has failed to understand something, rather than that there was no content to the message in the first place. He does not understand, and assumes it is his own fault: score one to you, you have risen in the spiritual grades. Mullah Nasruddin said that he spoke at random, and when people looked impressed, tried to remember what he had just said. The technique of the mystifier is similar – when the mark looks uncomfortable, you have said something effectively demoralising that you can re-use.

A related technique is to demand the performance of X, without ever defining it properly, so that whatever is done, you can rule that X has not been achieved, and culpably so. I have known this employed by a Pilates instructor, so ornate psychobabble is not actually necessary. All you need is to say “wrong”.

There are a lot of high-falutin’ terms that boil down to the idea that something cannot be known. And of course there is indeed a something that cannot be known – the world independently of our knowing it. That we cannot perceive “the-world-as-not-perceived-by-us” is no mystery, merely a definitional truth. The second step is to play games with the meaning of “known”, as if being unable to perceive the world behind our perception of it were a serious matter, as if we cannot deal with the perceived world and learn its laws perfectly well even without confronting some theoretical quiddity.

For, after changing the meaning of “known” from the quotidian one into culpable ignorance of some Ahadiyyat al-‘ayn, some Uniqueness of Essence behind all the phenomena with which we already deal competently enough to live, the third step is for the mystifier to, with much handwaving, claim that he can perceive the “the-world-as-not-perceived-by-us”, in return for which you must Bring Him Stuff, if not gold and girls then at least narcissistic supply.

Posted on February 9, 2016 at 10:36 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE LONGEST CON, From Rationalism to New Age

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