Atomized and Reconstituted

I’m devoted to audiobooks. Years ago, when I first took up the habit, I thought it would never stick so well, that I couldn’t really pay attention while driving or cooking or doing the laundry. But boy can I ever! I’ve been able to treble my information intake with these things. 

Recently, I finished up anthropologist James C. Scott’s Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States, which deals with the consequences of the widespread social changes that accompanied the shift from hunting and gathering to sedentism during the Neolithic Revolution, ultimately leading to the formation of the first state societies. In his chapter on the importance and nature of slavery in early states, Scott has something very interesting to say about how enslavement proceeded in some of the earliest such civilizations on record…something with ramifications for thinking about Satanism. 

Scott dwells for a moment in his discussion on the process of what he calls the atomization of slaves, which consisted in their being “socially demobilized or atomized and therefore easier to control and absorb.” Large, concentrated slave populations with elaborated social ties prove a threat to the desired atomization of slaves and a constant thorn in the side of the civilizations attempting to exploit them for labor. Witness the constant slave revolts in Greece and Rome. In addition, Scott mentions that in some slave-holding societies in Malaysia especially, there was simultaneously a rapid cultural assimilation in play, whereby male slaves would eventually be married to female members of the slave-holding society, thereby becoming members of that society themselves, even eventually organizing their own slave raids on other groups. Thus, former slaves become slave-takers in their own right, eagerly perpetuating the system of their own original oppression.

I am reminded by this discussion of what many former neo-Nazis have to say about how they were recruited into the white supremacist groups they would eventually leave. One very common element many who follow that path share is their own personal atomization, a feeling of being abandoned or otherwise cut off from and neglected by other social units like family, friends, or just society at large. Recruitment into a neo-Nazi gang or group provides them with a feeling of reconstitution, reconnection, an end to their complete and total disaffection. And, of course, once they find those connections and become fully fledged members of the new “society” within the group, they turn recruiters in their own right. 

Many cults and street gangs operate this way as well, often with the additional element of actively attempting to atomize individuals and disconnect them from their previous family and social connections in the hopes that isolating them from one set of connections will prime them for reconnection to a new set, within the cult or gang. Destructive groups prey on lonely individuals and rely on this same process of atomized individuals who feel disconnected being provided with connection and built up into aggressive, eager members of the group, reaching out and enslaving others in turn.

I find all this fascinating and important for Satanism probably because of the recent kerfuffle within a prominent national Satanic organization that has made litigiousness its modus operandi and decided to brandish that threat at its own internal dissenters, hinting at lawsuits over presumptive breaches of non-disclosure agreements and then attempting to push another, even more restrictive such agreement on the remaining heads of its local congregations. I’m also fascinated by Scott’s discussion because I’ve written quite a bit in the past about how Satanists are “radically atomic individuals” and how the path of Satanism is one of “radically atomic individualism.” 

I think that Satanists self-atomize to a high degree. Indeed, I think that, in many ways, the path of a Satanist is to remain forever atomized, disconnected even while connected. Part of “becoming” a Satanist is feeling the enslaving pull of connection to a social unit and resisting that pull, even pulling back against it. Society, however it is structured, inevitably comes with a host of deontic duties and pronouncements enforced through one mechanism or another as binding on the individual constituents of that society. Satanists recognize this fact and resist it, often, it seems, just for the antinomian joy of resisting. I would also maintain, though, that such resistance and continued atomization are necessary for the Satanist to keep the appropriate critical distance from which to mount resistance, rebellion, and critique.  

So why, then, do so some Satanists seem to flock to Satanic groups and, once members, turn enslavers themselves, attempting to strong-arm others into enforced loyalty and dedication while quashing dissent? Why do some Satanists evince feelings strongly contrary to evangelization but then also show up a public events like parades and comic-cons seated at tables out front sharing publicity, swag, and information about their Satanic group? And perhaps even more critically, why do other Satanists remain atomized, preferring social demobilization to the inevitable domestication that comes with becoming and being a part of a strong social circle?

I’m not sure I have good answers for these questions, but I do feel that, for my own purposes, persistent atomization is the more authentic path for a Satanist to tread. I keep coming back to the few words of Stephen Flowers in Lords of the Left-Hand Path with which I unreservedly agree: the left-hand path is the path of non-union. 

For me, resistance to the societal pull toward remobilization remains the bedrock of being Satanic. Studying the dangers of human society and the ugliness that comes from enslavement to social mores and prevailing attitudes and power structures is a huge part of what motivates Satanists to wish to remain aloof. If we just reconstitute ourselves within new, nominally Satanic social groups and mobilize social capital and its attendant coerciveness all over again, we’ve done nothing but perpetuate under different aesthetics the same iniquities that drove our atomization in the first place. Radically atomic individuals must remain radically atomic. Union, family, friends, connection: these are the things with which we live as Satanists in great tension, often preferring to manufacture such groups of our own choosing rather than rely on those provided to us by the accidents of birth and early life experience. 

But what do I know? Even those paradigmatic examples of the left-hand path, the heterodox Hindu Aghoris, return to society after passing through all the stages of Aghor. There, they work on behalf of the oppressed and downtrodden as Aghoreshwars. In coming back to society, they bring some of their old apartness along with them, remaining aloof and free from the restrictiveness of purity-based societal distinctions and categories that undergird the prejudice of caste. So maybe their remobilization doesn’t much affect their continued commitment to atomization at all. Maybe it’s the very process of atomization that Aghoreshwars are mobilizing, choosing to rejoin society at the margins only to break it open from the inside.          

2 thoughts on “Atomized and Reconstituted

  1. Pingback: The Limits of Legibility – The Devil's Fane

  2. Pingback: What Counts as Religion and How is Satanism One? – The Devil's Fane

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