The Burning Blade

Fireaxe Newsletter - edition 12.6

October 4, 2009

"What we face is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just
the details of policy but fundamental principles of social justice
and the character of our country."

- Senator Edward M. Kennedy, referring to
the matter of health care reform

"Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The
savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe.
Civilization is the process of setting man free from men."

- Ayn Rand, in defense of a limited form
of government based on her Objectivist

"My advice to people today is as follows: if you take the game
of life seriously, if you take your nervous system seriously, if
you take your sense organs seriously, if you take the energy
process seriously, you must turn on, tune in, and drop out."

- Timothy Leary, 1960s counterculture icon

"Fuck the establishment."

- A popular counterculture phrase which
is far more to the point that either of the
wordy quotes above.

What is the character of the United States? The president used Kennedy's quote above to challenge the American people to rediscover something that was discarded in this country decades ago: a common moral compass. He continues trying to channel the spirit of F.D.R. and invoke the sentiments of a left wing which has long since died out in America, having been replaced not only on the left but on the right as well with ideologies which champion a strong sense of individualism. The character of our country is simply not altruistic and hasn't been so for decades, yet Obama persists in compounding his most serious error: trying to move beyond the failed ideologies of the present by retreating backwards towards a failed ideology of the past. In this he will fail and a better look back into the past will reveal why.

The global economic collapse and Great Depression of the 1930s was a period of massive economic, social, political, and thus ideological upheaval. Most countries either turned to dictatorship, such as in the rise of fascism in Germany, Italy, and Spain, empowered their existing dictators, such as was the case in the U.S.S.R. and Japan, or allowed democratically elected leaders to act as virtual dictators, like in the U.S. and U.K. In all these cases, the collapse of the free market and failure of laissez-faire economics led to a massive rise in the power of the state, which seized control of the economy as well as many other facets of their citizens' lives. The leaders of the state first used their new powers in what they believed were altruistic ways: saving the people from exploitation by the greedy, protecting domestic industries from foreign competition, and fighting back against all enemies both outside and inside their borders. In the decades that followed these newly empowered states became more aggressive, redistributing wealth by force, instituting massive government run social programs, holding witch-trial type investigations against internal dissenters, slaughtering their own citizens if they opposed the state, declaring war on each other frequently, encouraging conformity, demanding fealty, and in general telling their people what to do. All in all it was a particularly dark and traumatic period for the entire world.

In those dark years antiestablishment sentiment was growing, quietly gaining strength until it exploded into view during the 1960s. What followed was an era of rebellion against the excessively powerful states which was just as global in scope as were the Great Depression and World War Two. The ghastly horrors of the Nazis had revealed how excesses of state power could lead to unparalleled atrocities, for once a state lends legitimacy to inhuman policies, those policies will be carried out by legions of loyal followers with ruthless efficiency and little regard for their victims. States appeared to have the power to make traditional morality null and void. Stalinist Russia and China under Mao showed that Nazi Germany was not an exception to the devastation that unchecked state power could bring. During this era, resistance, both peaceful and violent, was brought up against many governments and it was often met with brutal repression, which had the effect of reinforcing the point that placing too much power in the state will result tyranny. Communist states were especially brutal when it came to the exercise of state power, but Western democratic governments also produced many reasons for why they could not be trusted. In the U.S., Eisenhower's cover-up of the U2 spy plane incident, the hard-to-believe conclusions of the Warren commission regarding President Kennedy's assassination, and the Gulf of Tonkin subterfuge which was used to drag a reluctant country into the Vietnam War greatly damaged the credibility of the United States of America. In later decades Watergate, Ford's pardon of Nixon, Carter's impotence in dealing with domestic issues, and the Iran-Contra scandal further eroded the faith that people had in their leaders, even though those leaders were supposedly answerable to the people and not above the law.

The notion that the state was a tyrannical imposition on the lives of its citizens was something that affected both conservative as well as liberal ideologies. Although the sixties are mostly associated with the left-leaning anti-government counterculture, conservatives were also embracing the idea that government was the problem, not the solution, although the left and the right had different bones to pick with the state. It was during the sixties and seventies that both the traditional left and right underwent ideological mutation, downplaying the role of the state and uplifting the freedom of the individual.

The "old left" was the legacy of the F.D.R. years which had its last gasp during the Johnson presidency. The old left championed labor unions and embraced the government's role in directing the economy as well as redistributing the wealth of the nation through high taxes which funded programs like Social Security and Medicare. The "new left" downplayed the more socialistic elements of its past which tended to revolve around solidarity and government intervention and embraced the individual's right to "do their own thing". Social progress became their goal and ending segregation was the centerpiece of the new left's campaign. In the years that followed the new left made great gains through the decisions of the supreme court which struck down many racist and sexist laws, liberating the people from the imposition of old social norms by state and local governments.

On the other side of the political spectrum the distaste for government was also growing. Massive social programs enacted by F.D.R. and Lyndon Johnson needed to be funded through higher taxes, and the rise of labor as well as the environmental movement was coming at the expense of business interests and economic growth. Both the "old right" and the "new right" opposed these leftist policies but the "old right" still envisioned government as a tool to maintain the existing power structure and social order. The "old right" opposed change in all forms, but its embrace of racists, sexists, segregationists, and other extremists were destroying its political viability. The "new right" downplayed these elements and focused more on liberating individuals, and especially big business, from what they felt was excessive government taxation and regulation. The right used the miserable performance of the government run economy of the Soviet Union to make their case for deregulation and since 1980 they've been able to greatly reduce taxes and overturn many laws which restricted the conduct of corporations and reduced profitability. Though the new right still needs to appeal to extremists by embracing the notions of traditional social roles, most of its political progress has come in the area of the economic liberation of the individual.

In recent decades both the left and the right have come to despise government. This is the true character of the American people, at least as things stand today. Freedom to us means freedom from rules and regulations whether they are constraining our social identity, or our economic potential, and we resist the idea of having the government make our decisions for us. We believe that the government's role is to facilitate our successes and aspirations and not impede them or dictate which paths we should take. In other words, we are standing John F. Kennedy on his head: "Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you, and if it can't help out, it should get out of the way." Political philosophers on all sides of the spectrum have made the case for disengagement from government over the years which is what I was trying to show with the quotes from Rand and Leary above. We want the government to make sure that everyone plays fair, although the left and right differ on what the rules of the game are, but in general we want to be left alone to succeed or fail based on our own merit.

In the U.S., President Obama is trying to pass health care reform legislation which requires intrusion of the state into the private sector the likes of which has not been seen in decades and it is not surprising that he is meeting a lot of resistance. Any notion of a single- payer system had to be abandoned early on due to its clash with the strong feelings of individualism in the general populace. Single-payer means fewer choices for the consumer, and Americans like to have choices. As a result the current proposals underline the demand for more choice in the health care insurance realm: increasing the number of competing insurance companies available to choose from, adding a government run option that those currently without insurance can choose, holding back from changing the system too radically so that people can choose the insurance company that they currently have, and forcing insurance companies to offer insurance to everyone so that those who have few or no choices today have a number of options. The one choice that the plan takes away is the option to choose "none of the above", but given the generous provisions of the rest of the plan this option is likely to only appeal to a small minority who would literally be gambling with their health.

Even though the plan has been crafted to appeal to America's individualist spirit, it doesn't have enough support in congress. The right is opposed to any government run or government subsidized program for very practical economic reasons as well as the fear that government run health care may one day have to be rationed, which would erode an individual's freedom to obtain better and faster health care if they can afford to pay for it. The right wants to overturn F.D.R.'s reforms, not add new ones, and is reluctant to support any new government intrusion into the private sector. The left, as well as the general public, is more open to Obama's ideas due to the fact that private insurers have exploited the public so badly that they are willing to invite big government into their lives. Although the left distrusts big government, it distrusts big business as much or more. But Obama's popularity is fading among the left due at least in part to his many compromises in which he is seen as giving up too much and allowing both state and corporate power to grow. On the matter of health care he has already made a number of compromises to both big business and the opposition party and there is fear that reform will benefit everyone but the people paying for it. And when it comes to other compromises, many on the left feel betrayed by many of Obama's policies, such as his leisurely exit from Iraq, his aggressive policy towards Afghanistan, his continued support of profiteering private military contractors, his bailouts of banks and car companies, his delays in closing Guantanamo Bay, his reluctance to prosecute those who authorized torture, and his continued authorization of a great number of police-state powers that his predecessor conjured up after September eleventh. Obama is not restoring trust in the government in the eyes of the left as well as the right and public is finding it hard to trust our elected officials to deliver a health care package which is an improvement over the current dysfunctional system. It seems that instead of true reform we will get another compromise where taxes go up, big business feasts on more subsidies, and most of us end up paying more in premiums for essentially the same product that we are getting now.

This is a serious problem. The U.S. has become a nation which does not trust its own government, and thus in the face of a number of issues where the solution requires government intervention the nation stands paralyzed and unable to act. To make matters worse it appears that our elected officials have also lost their faith in the government and have put their individual interests ahead of their duty to their nation. They too have been influenced by individualism and it seems that they don't want to be told what to do by the people and are instead doing what they personally want to do as well as what benefits them the most. Corruption, careerism, allegiance to a political party, and the frequent exercise of the "revolving door" have further paralyzed the nation with every congressperson seeming to ask "what's in it for me" before deciding on how to vote. Not even the government trusts the government, so why shouldn't our public servants try to work the system to their own benefit and let the chips fall where they may? This too is the character of our country, individualism to an immoral extreme, and we are a long, long way away from Obama's dream of a country which comes together to take care of its own.

Speaking of health care, the program that I am on to improve my health is starting to show definite signs of improvement. Over the last two weeks I have been experiencing states of health that I have not felt in over six years and I think that I am finally seeing the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. My improvements are still coming in fits and starts though as my gradually strengthening immune system is hard at work fighting against the low grade bacterial and viral infections that have stolen a big chunk of my life. But I'm still guarded about pronouncing myself almost cured since I've had so many setbacks over the years, so again I can make no guarantees about future developments on the Fireaxe recording front. Yeah, I know, another announcement that I'm not back in the studio yet. All that I can say is that your disappointment about the situation pales compared to mine. I'm a person who thrives on being able to accomplish things and the past seven years have been like my worst nightmare. It kills me to not be able to do the things that I want to do nor feel the way that I used to feel. It honestly feels as if I am half dead a lot of the time, as if I am driving around firing on two cylinders instead of four, and that the rest of the world is rushing past me while I struggle. I often wonder if I will ever truly be healthy again or whether I will just have to accept living a life that I can't truly enjoy. The illness that I have has denied many of my desires and aspirations and I wonder if my recent stretch of good health is just another period of false hope. But regardless of how I feel I will soldier on, knowing that if I sit still that that is the point when I truly start dying.

A big ‘Hello’ to anyone receiving the Burning Blade for the first time. This is the Fireaxe newsletter.

The Ego, the Trendy, and the Almighty Dollar

In the credits for "Eternal Devotion to the Dark Goddess" I made mention to something I called the church of the Ego, the Trendy, and the Almighty Dollar. This was a direct reference to the forces that have corrupted the recording industry over the decades and turned it into a vapid, exploitative, chop shop filled with pathological liars, ruthless scumbags, and self-absorbed egotists whose only measure of success is the number of outrageously overpriced CDs that they can sell regardless of what they contain. At least, that's my opinion. And when I look closer at the evolution of modern ideologies it seems that those same forces are also hard at work reshaping almost every aspect of our society and ourselves, changing the ways we think and act towards each other, and slowly but surely corrupting everything of lasting value. As I outlined above, both liberal and conservative ideologies have been greatly altered by an embrace of individualism and a distrust of the consolidation of power, especially in government. And growing hand in hand with the rise of individualism are egotism, the superficiality of trendiness, and the worship of the almighty dollar. Our culture is suffering greatly because of it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a fierce defender of individuality. My strength lies in my creativity and I am at my best when I am given a more or less free reign to meet a defined target or goal. I know others who are the same way. When people are allowed to try new things or find their own way to a solution they can sometimes find a better way to do things than before or discover something new and useful along the way. When that happens we all end up better because of it. But it doesn't happen nearly as often when everyone is forced to conform to a certain ideal and is made to do things the same way as they have always been done. However, when taken to an extreme, an emphasis on individuality will eventually result in a lack of social cohesion and a sharp deterioration in our overall effectiveness due to a lack of cooperation and a reluctance to sacrifice for the benefit of others. While some individuals may end up doing quite well an individualistic culture, the whole is worse off than before. Both conformity and individuality have their merits and a blending of the two ideals allows a culture to reap the benefits of both while avoiding their weaknesses, but over the last half century our ideologies have moved from an extreme embrace of conformism to an extreme embrace of individuality and as a result our ideologies are coming apart right before our eyes.

For most of us, the freedom to express ourselves how we want to has become an almost sacred rite. We have absorbed the dogma of individualism: that we are unique, that our uniqueness makes us exceptional or at least will enable us to become exceptional, and that who we are is intimately linked to the material things that we amass, to the many things we have accomplished, and to anything else which makes us, as individuals, noteworthy . Our personal needs and desires are what motivate us and give us purpose. "Me" has far surpassed "we". And even when we are doing things for others we often see our actions as being things which build up our own self image. As a people, and as individuals, we have become narcissistic, but since all mental disorders are defined by a person's diversion from the norm, we do not see our self-absorption as a sign that something is wrong with us. We are all that way after all, and therefore we are all normal. Furthermore, we can all point to someone who is more narcissistic than we are and say that they are the one who has the problem while we are sane, balanced, and healthy. But over the years, and step by step, we have moved towards being people who are at the center of our own private universes, kings and queens of our domains, without fully realizing just how far away we have moved from what we used to call normal.

Take music for example. Half a century ago the music scene was essentially divided in two with "respectable" music played by white musicians and "scandalous" music played by black musicians. The divide was such that if a song performed by a black musician threatened to become popular, a white musician would do a cover of it, with the lyrics cleansed of their risqué content, and that version would be released to mainstream America. It was an age of rigid social norms, conformity, and uniformity, and everyone was encouraged to join a church, behave morally, and be a part of their local community. The music of that period reflected those preferences as was not particularly challenging or threatening. Of course, not everyone conformed. The fifties gave birth to rock-n-roll music as well as the beat poets, rebellion which would later grow into a massive non-conformist movement, but for the most part people listened to the few musical genres of the era and were content with the limited choices. People had more of a group identity back then, putting things such as the community or the church first and their own interests second. Music mirrored the times, and existed mostly as part of a larger cultural context: something to dance to or to enjoy in a public setting with others rather than something private and personal to be experienced alone.

The sixties and seventies were a time of great change, both in music and in society, and it can be argued that music was the driving force behind social change. In the sixties, television was responsible for creating the first rock stars, photogenic teen idols and girl groups, making them into national sensations. At first only respectable stars were allowed on television, but the growing popularity of rock-n-roll musicians allowed them, or at least the white ones, to spread their influence far and wide. And although mainstream America fought against rock-n-roll and other "corrosive" influences every step of the way, the non-conformist message of the new music could not be stopped. Teens now had idols who were brazenly sexual, egotistical, and who did things their own way. Many teens emulated their idols and broke out of the conformist mold, ushering in an age of self-exploration and experimentation. Music now served as a vehicle to deliver the message of individuality, of freedom to be who you were rather than what society expected you to be. But even with all the emphasis on individuality, the non-conformist movement was itself rather conformist. Those who broke free of the mainstream would join the counterculture movement and conform to its ideals and ways of thinking. Likewise, the music scene was still essentially divided into two parts, one for the mainstream and one for the growing subculture.

In the eighties and nineties the music scene exploded with new bands, genres, and ways to access music springing up all over the place. Now people could express and indulge their individuality with a style of music that seemed to be specifically for them and do so wherever and whenever they pleased. Teenagers everywhere could listen to their favorite bands in their cars or on portable music players and often proudly wore T-shirts with their favorite band's name and logo on their chests. The type of music we liked became a part of our identities. Music was everywhere and cable channels featuring nothing but music helped to create an army of teen idols. It seemed that anyone could become a rock star and garages and basements all across America were filled with hopeful groups of teens and young adults emulating their heroes and trying to become the next big sensation. Indeed, for many it wasn't enough to just listen to music, they wanted to be just like their idols: performing on stage, living the wild rock star lifestyle of sex, drugs, and overindulgence in everything, and being worshipped by thousands of adoring fans. The age of conformity and restraint had passed, and few mourned its death for more and more people were coming to think that mainstream America did nothing but stand between them and their dreams. Conformism just told us to grow up, be responsible, and cast aside our childish fantasies, and seemed to give back nothing in return so good riddance to it. We had been liberated. Now everyone was free to become a superstar, either in music, television, movies, or in whatever path to fame and riches that they wanted to pursue.

The turn of the century saw the dawn of the internet, which had a major impact on the music industry and on society in general. For the listener it created another explosion of musical availability. No longer were people limited to listening to the bands that recording labels thought were good. Now, anyone, anywhere in the world could listen to any band in the world at any time. A universe of music lay at every fan's fingertips. And for aspiring musicians it threw the door wide open to their dreams of success, connecting them with their fan base directly and releasing them from the need to "sell out" or cater their music to trend of the moment. Now anyone could become popular, all that a musician had to do was put together a website, add some songs that people were interested in, advertise here and there, and overnight you could become a star. As a result the number of bands in the world expanded almost exponentially, and recording technology advanced to the point where individuals could produce their own music in their own homes. Bands as well as solo artists like yours truly could express their individuality more easily than ever before. Music, it seemed, was everywhere, and everyone wanted to be a part of it. On television, programs that featured aspiring musicians competing for major contracts grew massively popular and millions of people tried out in the hopes of achieving their dream of stardom. Of course, not everyone can be a star, first you need to have talent, but then a lot of people are good enough to sell CDs. More important is the second requirement for being a star: you need to have fans; and if everyone is trying to be a star the dwindling number of admiring fans end up spread pretty thin. The market has become oversaturated. With so many people up on stage clamoring for the spotlight there is no one left to be in the cheering crowd. So some of us have to set aside our dreams of stardom and be fans so that others can become idols, right?

Well, no. Today everyone can be a rock star, and you don't even need to be good at playing an instrument. The surprising popularity of video games where you can dance, play an instrument, or sing at a passable level and watch or listen to yourself performing as well as your idols enables all of us to live out our rock star dreams. What is more is that you don't even need to put in the long hard hours practicing your instrument, learning music theory, or paying your dues in any significant way in order to be good at the games. Everything has been simplified and anyone with a modest sense of rhythm can pick the games up quickly. And to complete the narcissistic nature of the games, they also supply an army of virtual fans to worship us when we succeed so we can all be idols. We can believe ourselves to be great, even when we are not. And so we have gone from music as a force for cultural cohesion, to music as an expression of individuality, to music as a tool for personal wish fulfillment. We've gone from conformity to individuality to narcissism.

This same progression has occurred in more areas than just music, though not necessarily over the same time frame, and the basic problem remains: if everyone is talking then who is listening? And if no one is listening, there's no point in talking. You're more likely to make an impact by barking at the moon. Take blogging for instance, which is even more accessible to the public than music since it takes no natural rhythm and very little talent of any kind to do. At first blogging was a novel new form of communication, but advancements on the internet has enabled millions to write blogs about whatever is on their minds, whether insightful or trivial, and many millions have done so, but how many people are out there reading all those blogs? Do we need so many? And books are another example. Publishing a book used to be a somewhat exceptional event and it was mostly done by professionals, but now it seems that every public figure is out there hawking a book and everyone else has either tried their hand at writing one or has a great book idea in mind that they want to write. It makes one wonder if there is anyone out there reading all of this material, or even if a person can read a mere fraction of the stuff that has peaked their interest. Is this another oversaturated market?

Furthermore, with such an abundance of blogs, books, and music available, the value of that material is reduced in many ways. One way is that, with so many choices, people tend not to choose the more contrary or challenging selections, and instead choose the things that they are more comfortable with. The world can now accommodate them rather than the other way around and as a result people ignore the things which could teach them valuable lessons and expand their horizons. Secondly, we don't tend regard something which is in abundant supply as being precious, something that we should treasure, embrace, and explore deeply. Instead everything becomes just another piece of content that we absorb only superficially, agreeing, disagreeing, or ignoring it before moving on to the next piece of content. In essence, more has become less.

But beyond blogging, books, and music there are so many areas where there are so many people doing and so few people appreciating that the model for winning praise and achieving fame appears to be unsustainable. In a society filled with narcissists our narcissistic needs go unfulfilled because there are too many narcissists out there competing for the attention of too few admirers. Our dreams are dying in droves, but we can't seem to let them go. So in response we do what narcissists always do: either fall into despair or turn up the pressure we put on ourselves to succeed.

The competition between self interested individuals is fierce, and true narcissists are quick to discard any rules, traditions, or standards of behavior to achieve their ends. Narcissists may care about others, but their own interests always come first. Take the pursuit of wealth, which has been transformed from a generally conformist protestant work ethic approach where one starts at the bottom and climbs their way to the top through hard work, teamwork, and self sacrifice, to a Machiavellian approach where any method, legitimate, legal but immoral, or flat out unconscionable, can be employed to rapidly build a fortune regardless of who ends up going bankrupt in the process. Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy influenced many Monetarist economists who came to power during the eighties and tore down the existing regulatory structure in much the same way that the counterculture movement tore down the conformist mainstream in the sixties and seventies. Their belief that "self interest rightly understood" would naturally lead people into optimal, robust, and long lasting economic relationships championed the desires of the individual and allowed people to believe that greed was a positive force in the world. But as we are currently discovering this belief was an illusion as it brought out not the best in people but the worst. Of course, for a time the ones who bent the rules of the game prospered and became filthy rich while those who held fast to their morals saw their market share dwindling, and this lasted long enough to chase many of the more honorable businessmen out of the markets. As a result we are left with a financial system run primarily by a den of thieves and overseen by regulators who are ideologically opposed to regulation. This is another serious failure of excessive individualism.

The emphasis on individual desires has spread far and wide and many who have attained great wealth or power have sought to live like rock stars, coveting the overindulgent lifestyles of the idols they admired as teenagers. In recent years we've seen many people in positions of power and responsibility, such as CEOs, politicians, religious leaders, and popular public figures, caught indulging themselves in all manner of immoral and illicit behaviors for which "normal" people should be ashamed, but like true narcissists most of them have fiercely defended themselves, blamed others for their failures, denied everything, or insisted that what they did wasn't wrong at all. Our role models appear to be anything but.

Of course, it's easy to look down upon extreme examples of narcissists, but how much different are we common people? Before we point our fingers at the wealthy and powerful we need to point them at ourselves as well. Note that narcissists are extremely resistant to self-analysis, except when it is in the form of exhibitionism, so opening ourselves up to criticism is a good way to slow down our descent into a self-destructive pathological state. So let's ask ourselves, are we so much different than those whom we mock and wag our fingers at? How many of us joined in the stampede to make a fortune in the markets, both during the dot com boom and the housing bubble? Were we not trying to live out our "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" dreams? Many of us dreamed of making a fortune by getting in on the ground floor of a spectacular IPO run-up, and millions of us bought extravagant houses, filling them with toys paid for with our equity gains, and thought that we could keep getting richer the more the bubble inflated. Were we not putting wish fulfillment ahead of our better judgment just like those who destroyed the financial system for their own enrichment? Let's set aside our rationalizations and be honest, how much of a factor did the idea of making a quick buck go into decisions about a secure and stable future? Do you see how the two ends are contradictory?

Also how many of us have sought to reap the benefits of the obliteration of traditional sexual norms? Are we not trying to live out our "James Bond" and "Marilyn Monroe" fantasies or at least trying to shore up our flagging self esteem by having sex with someone in order to validate an image of ourselves as being sexy, desirable, and virile? Our sexual behavior has gone far beyond simply satisfying our needs for sexual release and companionship. Today we seem to be acting more like drug addicts looking for a fix. Our media is saturated with sexual content and overindulgence seems to be everywhere and anywhere. College campuses have become highly sexualized places for youths to experiment, and often overindulge in sex, alcohol, drugs, and anything else that is considered taboo but which our rock star idols and other heroes make seem to be the best things that life has to offer. The internet…well, need I say more? And everywhere we see people engaged in one night stands, serial monogamy, adultery, pedophilia, bondage, bestiality, and perversions of every kind which are more available and less frowned upon now than ever. You can get just about anything you want if you look hard enough and you'll find many people who are into the same thing too. But the problem is not that we are having a lot of sex, the problem is that a lot of the sex that we are having is pathological, narcissistic behavior. All of our excesses have come at the expense of deep, meaningful and lasting relationships, and our sexual activity has become much more about the physical and much less about the emotional. We fuck each other more and respect each other less than we ever have as a people. And when our marriages and relationships break up how often do we seek revenge against our former partners or wallow in self-pity for months or years on end? Like narcissists we react to the blows to our self image by going to extremes, often using sex as a way to get back at our former lovers. And how many of us have justified our loose sexual behavior by saying that it liberates us, or that its something we want to do before we die, or get old and lose our looks? Sex is best when it is something intimate that is shared between two people, but we have turned it into little more than masturbation, using another human being as if they were a sex toy whose only purpose is to fulfill our own personal desires and dreams.

The same can be said of gambling, computer gaming, or any other addiction that is so widespread in our culture today. The common theme in all of these things is that the self comes first and other people come second, or third, or maybe not at all. Do we ever wonder where the money really comes from when we try to get rich? Do we even care if we are involved in the exploitation of others for personal gain? Did we ever stop to think that maybe the stock market or the housing market was a bubble and that we were contributing to something that was going to destroy ourselves and others down the road? Do we care how our partner will feel after we discard him or her after we have gotten what we need out of our relationship? More and more the answer to those questions is becoming "no". But it's not just that we don't care, or at least we don't care as much as we used to decades ago, it's that we shouldn't care. We shouldn't care because our ideologies are telling us that it is wrong to care. The individualistic character of our ideologies tells us that we should take care of ourselves and to be responsible for our actions as opposed to becoming dependent on others and counting on them to look out for our better interests. This idealism forces us to be strong and independent and not be a burden on other people, but it also allows us to justify a lack of concern for others and persuades us not to bother helping them when they need it. After all, if we help people out when they are in trouble it will just make them dependent on us, and then they will never learn to take care of themselves. So instead we help them out by letting them work out their problems on their own and praising them when they find a solution. This makes them stronger and more capable, and this is the way that individualism, and narcissism as well, spreads throughout our society.

Many people are under the impression that narcissism is all about self love, thinking that a narcissist is someone who might spend hours staring into the mirror and admiring how beautiful they are. But narcissism is characterized more by a person's love towards an imagined version of their self along with hatred directed towards their real self or at least the way they see themselves when they are critical of themselves or depressed. Narcissists are very insecure people who require frequent positive reinforcement to feel good about themselves. This kind of pathology can arise if a person is made to feel inadequate or unloved most of the time, either through ridicule, neglect, or constant criticism, but is made to feel wonderful on those rare occasions when they accomplish something exceptional. The person will internalize the criticism, feeling as though they are worthless people who no one will ever love unless they achieve something great or are at least working towards greatness. This persistent state of feeling inadequate which can only be alleviated when one does something that supports their ideology is one of the key facets of the Fireaxe theory: that ideological indoctrination serves to psychologically enslave its members to serve the ideology. In the case of narcissism, a person is enslaved to the individualist ideal that self improvement and personal achievement are the measure of a person's worth.

Individualism causes us to focus on ourselves and less about others, encouraging us to pursue grandiose dreams of personal success and fulfillment. How such dreams got into our minds is no accident and is the result of ideological indoctrination. How often were we told that we could become anything we wanted if we just put our minds to it? How often did stories of individuals who fought against incredible odds, succeeded, and were lavishly rewarded get fed into our minds? How often did we hear that we too could become rich, or famous, or powerful, or exceptional, just like our heroes? Hearing such stories over and over again altered our perception of the world into one where individuals, not groups or organizations, are the ones who changed history and made all the differences. While this is true in some cases, in others it is certainly not, and our culture, and even our history books, often downplay or disregard the role of things outside the narrative of the individual being the primary agent of change. It all sinks in, making us believe that the independent self, striving towards personal glory and fulfillment, is the model that we should emulate rather than setting aside our egos and working with others to build something that all can appreciate and benefit from. Over and over we hear about freedom and individuality as being the forces that make our culture strong with anything else being dubbed as conformist and socialist. And as we come to think that way, the things we do and say reflect and promote the individualist ideology and help it to spread to others.

But the major problem is that our individualist ideologies are doomed and this fact is becoming more obvious every day. Since we are focusing more on ourselves and less on others there are fewer trappings of success to go around, making us feel more inadequate and either motivating us to try even harder to achieve our goals or causing us to lapse into depression and self-loathing. In either case our focus on ourselves grows stronger as does our devotion to our individualist ideologies. We do not see that individualism is failing us, we only see that we, as individuals, are failing ourselves, and thus we are trapped in a spiral of failure and further commitment to a failed ideology. As this situation progresses our scarcely fulfilled needs forces us to abandon standards of respectful behavior and we embrace any rationale which lets us behave in ways necessary to achieve our ends. In the process we end up manipulating and hurting others, who learn that trusting others is a mistake and start relying more on themselves. This is another way that individualism spreads, when we are lied to, used, and betrayed, we pull away from others and focus on our own needs in order to protect ourselves. As narcissism proliferates we have no choice but to focus inwards and cut off our ties to the world, which deprives others of our contributions to their well being. Once it gets moving, the process grows and grows. The more that we focus on ourselves, and strive to become an idealized version of ourselves, the less able we are to form lasting and meaningful relationships. And the less that we get back from our relationships, the more that we compensate for the loss by striving towards personal fulfillment instead. Our relationships become selfish and the expectations we place on our partners become impossible to meet. Social cohesion relies on people having a common vision, trusting each other, and setting aside their personal goals in favor of the interests of the group. When we refuse to compromise our personal needs and desires it ends up sabotaging our relationships, but we need the appreciation of others to feel good about ourselves and so we are constantly seeking out new relationships to replace our failed ones. The result is constant social turmoil and a persistent lack of trust in each other, making the forming of new relationships more and more difficult.

One depressingly common "solution" to this dilemma is to lie in order to get what we need from others. Narcissists will often put up false fronts and pretend to be what they are not in order to win the trust of others and gain their admiration, support, and sympathy. In a culture full of other narcissists the trick is to stroke the egos of those who you wish to exploit. In essence you simply tell them what they want to hear. By giving them the recognition and admiration that they crave and reinforcing their desired self image they will be open to doing what you want and may even become dependent on you for more of the same. This strategy can be found everywhere. From the "player" who tells a woman that she is beautiful, special, and fills him with passion whenever he sees her, to the pundit who tells his viewers that the rival political party is full of corrupt liars and that their party should be calling the shots, to the religion that tells its worshippers that they are better than everyone else and that they have immortal souls which will rejoice forever in heaven, those who want something from us know how to stroke our narcissistic desires. Some of us use this strategy knowingly but others honestly believe their own lies because those lies build up their own self image as well. When two people do this same trick to each other, their relationship is more one of codependency rather than cohesion, and it is generally emotionally charged, volatile, and short lived. The narcissist's ego needs constant feeding, and often requires larger and larger sacrifices in order to satisfy it. Enough never seems to be enough. Whether it be riches, power, popularity, or some other desire, those who become rich or powerful or popular can never seem to be rich or powerful or popular enough to satisfy them. And as they bleed the world of the things that they need to make them feel good, others become even more deprived, exacerbating a problem which only grows worse. Our narcissistic individualist ideologies are sowing the seeds of their own destruction but all we seem able to do is more of the same things which led us to this point.

This, incidentally, is one of the themes in "Eternal Devotion to the Dark Goddess" as well as other Fireaxe works. In "Eternal", the protagonist begins with modest goals and dreams and a naïve, traditional view of work and love. The less idealistic world takes advantage of him, forcing him to abandon his beliefs in order to get what he needs and he becomes a cruel and heartless narcissist, willing to do anything to be successful, and later doing anything to have his revenge against those who wronged him. It's meant to be dark and the protagonist is intended to make us uncomfortable, mostly because we see parts of ourselves in him and fear that we are a little too much like him than we would like to believe. What we only fantasize about, he does for real, and when we recoil from his actions are we not recoiling from something that is inside of us all?

Okay, so individuality has its problems, but is the conformism that we abandoned in the past any better? Unfortunately it is not since conformism can make people feel inadequate by excluding them from the group and rewarding them only when they exhibit the proper and accepted behaviors. And being forced by social norms to stay in a loveless relationship is just as unfulfilling as drifting from one superficial relationship to another. The answer is not that we were happy once and that all we need to do to be happy again is go back to that time and become conformists again. The simple fact is that all ideologies benefit by making their followers feel inadequate unless they are serving the ideology, they just do so in different ways, and as much as we may think that our dedication to freedom and individualism makes us free from ideological influence, we are very much mistaken. Make no doubt about it, we are Food for the Gods and we pray at the church of the Ego, the Trendy, and the Almighty Dollar.

Yea though we may visit churches where the words of Jesus are preached, we do not obey him. Instead we indulge our narcissistic sides in a Christian way by wearing crosses and "WWJD" bracelets, putting fish symbols on our cars, proclaiming our devotion to our savior in public so that we may be seen by others, and feeling oh so holy when we do good deeds. Never mind what it says in the bible, we'll just build up an image of ourselves as Christians and that will get our names written into the book of life. And if we don't get our personal wants fulfilled from time to time then that counts as sacrifice, right? What I see are so many Christians paying their biggest tributes to the church of the Ego where it isn't Jesus on the cross, but an image of themselves suffering their way into heaven.

The rest of us express our narcissism in other ways. We buy fancy cars to impress others, live in expensive homes that we show off to our neighbors, give extravagant gifts to show just how much we care about people, show off how clever or funny or talented we are when we talk or write or add stuff to our web pages, and do any of a multitude of things to impress others and win friends. Our egos demand it all and we strive to deliver what our lord and master requires.

The Trendy is our second deity, it being the result of our reluctance to form deep and meaningful relationships with anyone or anything. We interact with the world on a superficial basis, judging things only by what they can do for us rather than any deeper qualities, and thus what attracts our attention tends not to do so for very long. We move from one thing to the next, sucking the life out of what interests us until it no longer gives us pleasure. We don't have a culture, we just have trends that erupt out of nowhere, burn hot for a while, and then disappear without a trace, and we are desperately searching for the next Trendy thing to make us satisfied, at least for a little while.

And our trinity isn't complete without the Almighty Dollar. It is a symbol of the materialism of our age, the holy power that can transform our lives from the drudgery of the present into a glorious future filled with everything that our hearts desire. But the dollar is more than an object used to purchase one's dreams, it is the life blood of capitalism, pumping through the heart of our economic system and blessing everyone it touches with precious opportunity. The dollar binds us together in a way that our social and personal relationships no longer can. When you walk into a store you don't need to impress the store owner, or have a good reputation in the community, or be in any way attractive or desirable, for if you put your Almighty Dollars on the counter then you will get what you want, no questions asked. The relationships that bind us together today are our economic relationships with one another far more than anything else. A smile and a hearty handshake are often non- transferable, but wherever you go everyone will accept a dollar. The more money you have the more freedom you have and the more that people will seek to do things for you in the hopes that they can get their share. And it doesn't matter how those dollars ended up in your hands or what you had to do to get them. The dollars are just paper, unstained by the sins of the giver and the taker, and once they change hands they are as clean as the day they were printed. Our lives are governed by our economic relationships: how much you are to be paid for something, how much you owe to someone else, the contracts between people, industries, and countries which guarantee the flow of money for goods and services; and all are dependent on the implicit trust that a dollar is a dollar and will always be worth roughly the same value as what the holder did to earn it. It makes one wonder what would become of the world, and all of those billions of economic relationships, if somehow the Almighty Dollar were to fall from grace as it appears poised to do. If the dollar were to become defiled could we still afford the demands of our egos? If our security depended on our reputation and things of lasting value would we spend time chasing after the next superficial trend? If we watched our narcissistic dreams go up in flames before us would we set aside our precious individualism and pull together as a team to make things work again?

Well, I am well aware of the things that narcissists do when their beliefs are under attack, and acting sanely isn't one of them. I expect to see a sheer horror show of all the worst that humanity has to offer in the coming years, but as usual, I really want to be wrong about that.

And as for me, well I have so many narcissistic traits that I qualify as one of the people I've pointed my finger at in this essay. I've tried hard to fight against it, more so in recent years. I've tried to stay modest, to let go of a lot of my dreams and my expectations, and to treat others with respect and give them their due, but in today's world it can be like swimming upstream. The world doesn't give back very much and I find myself having to pull inward more often that I would like. But I want to hold on to those old fashioned ideals because I feel that individualism will fall out of favor soon and we will move in a new and different direction. Until then I will continue to resist conforming to non-conformist ideals and I urge you all to do the same.

The Fireaxe theory - Outline

I. Basics - well established theories

  • 1. Emergent systems - that complex systems can arise from the interactions of simple things
  • 2. Natural selection - that organisms mutate, proliferate, and compete, with the "losers" becoming extinct
  • 3. Behavioral science - that neurological systems, at their core, function according to the rules of conditioning
  • 4. Entropy - that within a closed system, entropy always increases, which limits the amount of transformation that can occur

II. Extensions

  • 1. That consciousness is an emergent system: a complex system arising in the human mind from the interaction of simple neurons.
  • 2. That civilizations are emergent systems arising from the physical interactions of humans whether conscious or not.
  • 3. That ideologies are emergent systems arising from the psychological interactions of conscious humans
  • 4. That emergent systems follow the laws of natural selection in much the same way that organisms do
  • 5. That the universe is, by definition, a closed system

III. Contentions regarding consciousness

  • 1. That consciousness is a survival advantage
  • 2. That being a member of an ideology is a survival advantage
  • 3. That making its members conscious is a necessary part of an ideology's survival
  • 4. That consciousness is created by instilling within a person a permanent sense of inadequacy - in essence a state of constant fear
  • 5. That the deeper the sense of inadequacy, the stronger the person is motivated - generally to serve their ideology

IV. Contentions regarding ideological struggle

  • 1. That ideologies fight for survival using many methods including, but not limited to, war and enslavement
  • 2. That aggression is a survival advantage
  • 3. That survival in the short term outweighs survival in the long term prompting ideologies to pursue shortsighted and sometimes suicidal strategies
  • 4. That aggressive ideologies make members of rival ideologies feel afraid and inadequate which in response become more aggressive, thus creating a vicious circle
  • 5. That aggressive ideologies must continue to grow or face internal strife as their aggressive members will feed on each other to satisfy their needs
  • 6. That internal struggle results in ideological mutation

V. Contentions regarding the future

  • 1. That internal strife is inevitable since the laws of entropy imply that continuous growth is not sustainable
  • 2. That the abstract bases for ideologies transcend mortality and thus suicidal aggression is not restrained by fear of death
  • 3. That technological progress has made the destruction of the world through ideological warfare possible and will continue to make it easier to effect
  • 4. That ideological mutation will eventually result in the creation of a suicidal ideology which will destroy the human race in the attempt to save it

How to order Fireaxe CDs

Ordering Fireaxe CD's is an informal process as I am selling them personally out of my apartment. Simply mail me a letter which contains the following:

  • 1. The names of the CDs that you want to buy.
  • 2. The address where you want the CDs sent.
  • 3. Cash, a check, or a money order for the total cost.

Or if you want to do PayPal, just send me the answers to 1 and 2 above in an e-mail and I'll tell you where to send the money.

Here is a price list. The first number is the cost for U.S. based customers, the second is for outside the U.S. The prices include shipping and handling.

Eternal Devotion to the Dark Goddess: $6 / $9
Food for the Gods: $12 / $14 (SOLD OUT)
Victory or Death: $5 / $7
Lovecraftian Nightmares: $5 / $7 (SOLD OUT)
A Dream of Death: $3 / $5 (SOLD OUT)

Send everything to:

Brian Voth
1301 Medical Center Dr. #415
Chula Vista, CA, 91911 USA

If you review CDs on a website or in a magazine, any one of the single CDs (Not "Food for the Gods") is free of charge in exchange for the review. In this case all I need is a request by e-mail. Please send me the URL of your review site or copy of your magazine with the review in it when it is done. If you want to exchange CDs, tapes, or stuff of equivalent value, make these requests via e-mail and we'll arrange a trade.

The CDs come with a booklet filled with awesome art, a letter about the project, and some information about the CD which can also be found on the Fireaxe site.

Lastly, if you want to print and distribute Fireaxe CDs I can send you an additional CD which contains tiff files for all the booklets, tray cards, and labels for each project. The tiff disk is free so just say the word.

The Future

In 2009, Fireaxe will take a step back and work on a couple of projects from the past. First of all, "Food for the Gods" has sold out and will be re-mastered before a second printing run is made. Also, it may also be re-mixed for even better sound quality depending on time constraints. Secondly, the first Fireaxe CD, "A Dream of Death" will be getting a complete overhaul before it is re-released. Everything will be re-recorded using much more modern equipment and with everything that I've learned over the last ten years going into it to make it better than ever. Also, since it was recorded at a time when CDs had a 74 minute limit instead of the current eighty, I will add six more minutes of music to the work in which I will explore a number of musical themes and make the CD that much better. So it looks like a year of sequels for Fireaxe. I'll probably leave the names the same but I've been kicking around a few new ideas for the CDs, such as "Food for the Gods - Regurgitated", "Desert for the Gods", and "A Dream of Undeath", "The Morning After Death", or "I'm Dreaming of a White Strait-Jacket - a Fireaxe Christmas in Hell".

My goal is to deliver music to whoever wants to hear it in whatever way is necessary. Whatever the market demands, I will supply, but I do want to avoid the mass marketing channel. Exposure is fine, but in the modern business, the substance of the music must be altered to match the demands of the marketplace. This would totally defeat the purpose of why I write music in the first place. I write music because it is a way to express my emotions. What I both think and feel goes into the songs. That is the power, Fireaxe is the channel, and any diversion diminishes the emotive effect. Thus I try to avoid such diversions. That is how art should be.

Rights to duplicate Fireaxe materials

Currently Fireaxe is not for profit. I sell the single CDs for $5 or $6, $12 for "Food for the Gods" since it is three CDs, which covers the production and mailing costs. For CDs sent out of the country, I'll have to charge an extra $2 per disk to cover the additional mailing cost. If you write reviews or put samples on your website I'll give you a CD for free. Since I am not making any money with the current recordings, you are free to make duplicates of them to distribute as long as you obey the following guidelines:

  • 1. You can only sell the duplications for the price of the medium or less, plus any delivery cost. You are not allowed to make any profit with the music.
  • 2. You should tell me how many copies you gave out and who got them so I can keep track. Also, if they have an e-mail address I'd like that as well so I can add them to the mailing list.
  • 3. You are likewise free to adorn any webpages or duplications with the gifs and jpgs on my website as long as you include an obvious link back to my website. This includes putting Fireaxe song samples on your site as well.
  • 4. You are free to play any Fireaxe songs (in unaltered form) provided you are an unsigned band without a marketting tie-in. You are not allowed to record those songs onto anything that you will sell.
  • 5. Do not fall in love with the Dark Goddess. I mean, seriously. She's the goddess of death after all. It's not a good idea. Furthermore, do not have sexual fantasies involving the Dark Goddess. She does not have a womb and thus lacks the entrance to that particular organ. Also, attempting to use other entrances will likely result in castration. Again, it's not a good idea.
  • 6. You are vehemently discouraged from doing anything depicted in the CD "Eternal Devotion to the Dark Goddess" such as: torturing someone, lying for corporate profit, rationalizing greed, beating, raping, and murdering your girlfriend, destroying the lives of those who've wronged you and their families, corrupting the government, trying to kill yourself with pleasure, kidnapping and ransoming people, committing atrocities, cutting someone's face to pieces, destroying half the world as revenge, and especially stating that any of these things are okay because "God is on your side." Please, think before you act.
  • 7. You are food for the gods.
  • 8. You are required to crank the song "Hounds of Tindalos" as loud as you can as often as you can. It's your only defense against THEM. Be warned, they come through angles. Note that the CD is round. Are your speaker cabinets square?
  • 9. Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, Hastur the Unspeakable, and all other mythos creatures are purely the inventions of Lovecraft and other fiction authors. None of it is real, at least that's what I'm going to say in court if you try to sue me for destruction of your property, house, city, or soul as a result of listening to the "Lovecraftian Nightmares" CD too much.
  • 10. You are free to play "The Rack" in school or church or any other institution bent on crushing your will and turning you into a mindless zombie slave of the corporate dominated world. Try not to develop a bad attitude about it.
  • 11. You are not free to commit suicide while listening to any Fireaxe song. I'm sorry, I'll have to prosecute. On a serious note, if you are thinking about doing it, please e-mail or call me if you have no one else to talk to. When I was in my teens the album "The Wall" by Pink Floyd used to really get to me. Just hearing songs like "Comfortably Numb", and "Hey You" would get me pretty depressed and mildly suicidal. I'm just trying to say that I've been there. If my music is having that effect on you, please get in touch. You aren't alone.

The gist of it is that you can do just about anything with the music as long as you don't profit from it and that I get some sort of credit for having written it. I'm open to any methods of distributing my music, such as compilation tapes or CDs, radio play, or recording label distribution. However, you will need my direct permission to do so or some kind of legal agreement.
Brian Voth - Creator of Fireaxe

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