The Skeptic: 'A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing'?

“Doubt. Doubt thyself.  Doubt even if thou doubtest thyself. 
Doubt all. 
Doubt even if thou doubtest all.”
-E.A. Crowley

I remember once about thirty one years ago, I was a child of about five years old. I was walking through the front yard of my house which happened to be a large enough forest to hide my house from the road.  It was a thick forest of oak, maple and birch; I remember trudging my way through a thick undergrowth of ferns, and I remember having a life shaking experience which continues to influence my thought and identity to this day. 

I can recall a spontaneous feeling of deja vu creeping over me, a feeling that I always had while dreaming and then realizing that I was in a dream.  I had the sudden experience that I was not truly where I thought I was, and that my sense experiences were but a dream in my mind. At first I was utterly terrified as that would mean all who I took myself to be and all the people whom I loved were not real.  As I came to from ‘the dream’, I concluded that my existence as a human being or even as a corporal being in general must also be a dream.  I saw no bed, no body and no other recognizable life. There was just darkness, nothingness; and I was an invisible entity of consciousness inhabiting this nothingness.  I realized that if I am dreaming then this is where I truly am and this is what I truly am. 

Then just as suddenly, I remember making the arbitrary decision that I was here in this life and this ego, this boy and this body was 'who I am', my identity; almost as if by some automatic form of magnetic attraction, my awareness was pulled from this world of nothingness, consciousness, and undifferentiated being back to this typical experience of a human being, a five year old child strolling through the woods.  Everything was so automatic, arbitrary, and without for-thought: the only thought I remember was wanting to be here, in this experience in this space and time, even if that meant that it might be a dream, might not be true. 

Today when remembering and reflecting upon this experience and occasionally reliving it, I’ve come to the conclusion that both experiences are true and they coexist simultaneously.  The points of consciousness in this infinite space of nothingness are the ‘twinkles’ that Crowley so often refers to in his ‘Star Sponge’ vision, and these twinkles of consciousness are the stuff from which this world of the here and now is made of.   

Of course I can only speak for myself and my own understanding about these matters as they relate to my life, my experience. However, after surveying much philosophy, both eastern and western, I have come back to this same conclusion again and again. I see my experience in that memory being the product of an ultimate skepticism, a sort of hyper vigilance, and from this we can see that skepticism can only go so far even when it is honest.   

In my opinion most people who put on airs of ‘skepticism’ are not true skeptics at all, but mere pretenders; their dishonest skepticism often  being a tool to simply maintain unquestioned beliefs by selectively discrediting others. This is basically a defense mechanism for the petty ego, since ‘other’ beliefs and ideas force us to reevaluate our own models of the world and may even expose the things that we hold most dear as illusions.  It is to these sorts of skeptics that I give the title ‘sheep in wolves clothing’ as they are usually just frightened people trying to make themselves feel safe by appearing authoritative and forbidding to others; also because they are not true skeptics. 

Like sheep, they are led by the nose in the name one particular sacred cow,  and secretly under the banner of that sacred cow, they slaughter all others in the surrounding.  I think we all have moments of being false skeptics; however there are certain minds out there (centers of consciousness in the sea being/nothingness) who literally make their living on such pretenses.  The so called psychic and spiritual ‘debunkers’ such as James Randi pop into mind here; while he and his accolades have done much to dispel superstition, there remains a stinking corpse of unchallenged agendas informing his zeal.  His sacred cow along with that of most pseudo skeptics is generally scientific materialism and what some now call ‘scientism’.  On close inspection these pretenders reject anything that contradicts the notion that humankind is just a meat machine.

While in the spirit of honest skepticism, let us take a look at some of our most cherished ideas such as cause and effect, space and time, even the truth of reasoning as a priori knowledge and our concepts of numbers.  Much work has been done already in the eighteenth and nineteenth century onwards regarding the specious claims to objective reality that these ideas were given.  Most of the work on this topic in Europe had already been initiated by the 18th century Scottish empiricist and skeptic David Hume, and the real implications of Hume’s conclusions are honestly dealt with by Friedrich Nietzsche.  Nietzsche’s deconstructions being the more summative, we will start with his general conclusions about this sort of Skepticism and then refer back to Hume along the way.

In his book Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche uses the mutually implicit relationship between birth and heredity as an analogy for the relationship between the human instincts and consciousness in order to point out that conscious thought, i.e. our ability to reason and identify truth and falsehood is determined by our deepest instincts.  Ironically, this rather unorthodox statement stands out since conscious a priori reasoning is typically seen by thinkers as a way to rise above the blindness of human instinct. Nietzsche, probably building on Hume, has put the conventional notion of reasoning on it's head.

 Here, conscious thought as reasoning appears king; however, Nietzsche shows that reasoning is directed into specific channels by the instincts in order to preserve a certain mode of life, or rather in my view, a certain mode of being.  Ideas and conscious processes that we think of as true and acceptable are not so much ‘true’ under a truly detached and scrupulous examination.  Rather, such are deemed acceptable and good, not because of their ultimate truthfulness in any honest and objective sense: no, such are deemed acceptable because they are conducive to life and growth; in other words, the fulfillment of the will to power, or the pure will as I prefer to call it.

This novel approach to investigating truth and a priori knowledge specifically, is a further development of an earlier debate between Hume and Kant.  Hume, who was a true skeptic, a wolf in wolves clothing, demonstrated a real and rare desire for truth in his ruthless examination, not only of God and metaphysics, but causality, reason, space, consciousness, and  even himself as an individual.  Hume, who worked independently, had no political constraints as one would in a university, and the rigor of his work brought him to the point of a nervous collapse during his youth. 

Many of the things that Nietzsche is given credit for, such as deconstructing metaphysical truths, he truly owes to the work of Hume in his Treatise on Human Nature.  And much of Nietzsche’s work is a response to Hume’s final conclusions, one of which was that if we accept our skeptical conclusions then there is no reason to get out of bed in the morning and act; thus, according to Hume: living requires a certain degree negligence and inattentiveness in regard to the findings given by an honest and skeptical analysis of our senses.  In sum, our will and inclination is what moves us and not our reasoning, reasoning then would have instrumental value only as an organizing and controlling agent of thoughts, perceptions and ultimately sensations, all in the service of this will, this pure unreflective will to be.

Hume who went on to do other great intellectual works, such as compiling history books in libraries, clearly chose life and followed his own advice.   Like Nietzsche’s superman, Hume managed to live a joyful and moderate life in spite of what his previous philosophical investigations brought to light. 
Hume’s life may provide a certain prototype, though not exact, of Nietzsche’s superman in so much that Hume sought authentic truth to the point of reaching an existential crises; one which could fragment the personality and lead to a nihilistic lifestyle.   Yet in spite of this virtual death of traditional metaphysics, Hume was able to create an authentic and meaningful life in the face of the inherently meaningless world he found outside of himself.

 He embraced the will to power inherent within: or rather his will to life overpowered the ultimate conclusions reached by the rigorous pursuit of truth.  This realization can be seen as either nihilistic in one view or completely liberating in the other, since it also means that here is no ultimate truth behind ideas and institutions that would seem to impose themselves upon the will; rather, the perceived opposition is simply a condition of the life that is carved out of nothingness by the intrinsic will to power that emanates from the Naught of unlimited being.

In contrast to Hume, Kant’s  Critique of Pure Reason, is essentially an emotionally and instinctually driven response to Hume’s work.  Kant, being a rational thinker could not shrug off Hume’s conclusions, though I’m sure he would have liked to have found a way to prove them utterly false, since Kant was a lover of a Priori knowledge-knowledge through reasoning. Kant recognized that causality, space and time etc were constructs of the mind, but unlike Hume did not declare them objectively unreal.   Rather, Kant declared that these categories belonged to a faculty of the human mind and that they were true in so far as they were necessary for any perception and cognition to occur at all. 

While Kant’s work gave us a good working theory by which to live with the ‘lies’ that Hume had exposed, Nietzsche was not satisfied with what he perceived as a philosophical dishonesty.  He perceived this dishonesty in Kant’s lack of a convincing foundation for the so called ‘faculty’ that he invokes to legitimize causality and a priori knowledge. 

Nietzsche writes:  “By virtue of a faculty’- he had said, or at least meant.  But is that –an answer?  An explanation?  Or is it rather merely a repetition of the question?  How does opium induce sleep? ‘By virtue of a faculty…But such replies belong in comedy…”[1]   

 In Nietzsche’s view, Hume would have been one of those rare philosophers who went ‘beyond  good and evil,’ while Kant, although profound in his own right, did not (knowingly at least). 
To this effect Nietzsche concludes: “To recognize untruth as a condition of life –that certainly means resisting accustomed value feelings in a dangerous way; and a philosophy that risks this would by that token alone place itself beyond good and evil.”  

In this context, skepticism is really the use of the analytical sword.  It allows us to filter and organize our impressions according to the mandate of our pure will.  It is the application of the subtle spiritual violence that is inherent in all being[2], meaning that for one thing to be manifest through space and time, in other words: our experience of history in the here and now, demand's that something else cannot be; something else must be destroyed, negated.  (A much older atavistic notion of sacrifice is given suggested here, which would provide raimen for a reading of myth and religion)  

The proper use of the sword is under love[3] that is a unifying principle in the will that seeks meaninful existence, this love is the nature of our will and its creative power; it is the nature of our will to be what we are in the here and now.  This will, cannot be skeptical of itself: it simply is.  This will is pure, it is naïve in that it is spontaneous, innocent, and beyond judgement, it is the fool, it is Parsifal.  It is a-rational, since rationality is contained within it and driven by ‘IT’.  Thus: “Only the simple can withstand the sword [of our skepticism].”[4]  A true skeptic then must ultimately be skeptical of his or her own skepticism, as per ‘Terrier Work’ in Crowley’s Book of Lies.  Ultimately then, it is this skepticism of one’s own skepticism which leads one to one’s pure will, the essence of our being whose a-rational positioning can only apply skepticism toward that which is incommensurate with it. 

The ‘sheep’ is ironically the false skeptic who is ignorant and often fearful of the naïve and spontaneous nature[5] of will and love.  This will and love of course is ultimately the power behind one’s own authentic point of view which is the direct and honest apprehension of one’s self and one’s relationship with the universe. 

The sheep’s false skepticism then becomes a blind veil for the naive nature and power of one’s being (the archetypal fool) which ultimately powers the incredulity (the archetypal devil) of one’s sword. 
This devil or wolf is the archetype of our skeptical and divisive nature and is more of an advisor which organizes our experience through a rational process to facilitate the mandate of the will.  As a positive force, this ‘devil’ is the advisor to the will, with the will being the heart and center of one’s being.  This advisor only becomes ‘evil’ as a ‘devil’ when it replaces the heart as the center of consciousness and interferes with the pure will, the animating and vivifying center of our being.

When human consciousness is in harmony, the heart of our will determines the ‘what’ of our consciousness and the skeptical nature of our inner 'devil' determines the ‘how’.  As long as ‘the how’ serves the ‘what’ of our will: all is in order. 

The ‘demons’ or rather, the 'distortions' of our nature arise from a disharmony: putting the metaphorical cart before the horse where the skepticism of our devil either decides the ‘what’ or eats it up by an over analysis of the how.  Paralysis by analysis may be one symptom of this; while losing the spirit in the operation itself is another.   In this spirit we might say: the end justifies the means, so long as the end doesn’t get swallowed up by it. 

The false skeptic appears as a wolf in his smug and imposing mask, but he or she is really just attacking all that opposes his or her accidentally determined biases, biases that more often than not have hindered, or distorted the integrity of his or her will.  This is often revealed by an over zealous nature in their skeptical attacks, they are secretly on some holy war for some sacred cow, or more likely 'demon' or distortion in their mind that has possessed them, cutting them off from the spiritual light of their will. 

[1] CF: Beyone Good and Evil, p. 12
[2]CF: Introduction to Metaphysics, Martin Heidegger.
[3] ‘Otherwise it ‘would be a black magickal weapon’ i.e. a tool for nihilism.
[4] CF: Book Four, Crowley.
[5] CF: See the fool atu in The Book of Thoth.
[6] CF: Being and Time Heidegger.

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  1. Again interesting for me, this time because Nietzsche is also someone I am not overly familiar... It also made me wonder if you had read much of Levinas, or those who write on Levinas and his relation with skepticism...