2.48: Cults to Culture to a Cultivated Self

This is being written by a person reflecting on two distinct (fictional) characters that he created. One of whom you’ll absolutely agree with being a (fictional) character, the other you might pause and say “No, that’s you.” The two characters are:

  • miltownkid ZEE – A 399-year-old Daoist wizard from Wudangshan
  • Casey Abbott Payne – A 39-year-old Chan Buddhist and Taiji Instructor from Milwaukee, WI

Something worth noting is Casey Abbott Payne is a collaborative work between miltownkid and “the author”. Before the wizard, there was a kid who mostly wanted to be a surf bum in Hawaii or a hermit atop a mountain in China. Last year miltownkid ZEE got behind the driver’s seat of this sack of meat and bones for the first time in several years and went on an epic adventure ultimately landing Casey (me!) in the hospital (that bastard never has to do time!) Earlier this year the dust from the spiritual adventures settled and I decided to hang up both the wizard’s hat and the Buddhist’s… what would a Buddhist hang up? Robes? Yeah… robes. Recently something triggered me into reflecting on both characters and asking my Self “Self… why did you create them?” (or “Self… what caused them to emerge?”)

What triggered the reflection you ask? I have a (probably) never to be finished blog post you can read if you want more details but it went like this…

A triggering YouTube comment about ”Parallel Universes of Self” by Frederick K Dobson ➡ me thinking about alternate universes ➡ me thinking about miltownkid ZEE’s universe and making a long rambly video about it ➡ another YouTube comment about Mark Passio, a guy conspiracy theorist/disinformation agent/spook who has “undertaken the task of assembling vast amounts of research in the areas of metaphysics, occultism, spirituality, symbology and consciousness studies” ➡ Steve Hager’s (coiner of the term Hip Hop, long time editor of the “High Times”, a founder of the Cannabis Cup, and counterculture iconoclast) article titled “Mark Passio and the Illuminati Hoax” ➡ thinking about culture and counterculture and the CULT in culture ➡ Googling “Culture is a cult” ➡

➡ YouTube video “All About Shamanism – Terence McKenna”

[Shamans] are not consuming culture, they’re generating it.

Terence McKenna

Now the stage is finally set to discuss cult, culture and the cultivated self. We’ll start with…

What is a Cult?

I did quite a bit of exploring about cults and culture in another (probably) never to be finished blog post. I’ve also recently spent a bit of time hashing the idea out among friends. I know you’re already bringing your own definition of “cult” to the table, but I’m going to break it down like this for today. The recipe for a cult is…

  1. A fringe idea (programming)
  2. A charismatic leader
  3. A following

That’s it. Throw out the religious requirement, throw out required exploitation of the followers, and open it up to anything. Are you with me? This is where it’s gonna get weird (or maybe not)…

Every single idea you have flowing through your mind about everything started with a cult. I’ll provide some examples.

The Cult of Atheism

Diagoras, “the Atheist” of Melos

Atheism seems to have sprung up all over the world at around the same time, but let’s stick to the Greek story since it’s derived from the Greek word atheos, ἄθεος or “godless”. There’s this Greek poet dude of the 5th century BC called Diagoras, “the Atheist” of Melos. From Wikipedia (emphasis mine):

In his Clouds, the Athenian comic playwright Aristophanes alludes to Diagoras as a well-known figure of the time.

The poet Diagoras of Melos was perhaps the most famous atheist of the fifth century. Although he did not write about atheism, anecdotes about his unbelief suggest he was self-confident, almost teasing, and very public. He revealed the secret rituals of the Eleusinian mystery religion to everyone and “thus made them ordinary,” that is, he purposefully demystified a cherished secret rite, apparently to provoke his contemporaries into thought.

Jennifer Michael Hecht

Whether he was actually history’s first atheist is debatable, but it’s illustrative of…

✔ A fringe idea
✔ A charismatic leader
✔ A following

The Cult of Democracy

Cleisthenes

Guess who’s back in the motha’ fuckin’ house? The O-OGs… (O = original, G = gangsters… or, apparently, Greeks)

The term “democracy” first appeared in ancient Greek political and philosophical thought in the city-state of Athens during classical antiquity. The word comes from demos, “common people” and kratos, “strength”.

Peep the Wikipedia if you wanna (or something more “official”) but this dude Cleisthenes basically rallied the Spartans and took over shit.

✔ A fringe idea
✔ A charismatic leader
✔ A following

The Cult of Science

Let’s just keep the Greek train rolling…

Thales of Miletus

Here’s Thales of Miletus. He’s is credited, in the West, for coming up with science. Go look for yourself.

✔ A fringe idea
✔ A charismatic leader
✔ A following

The Point I’m Making About Cults

We’ve been conditioned into thinking cults are bad religious things. Try to get that out of your head for a moment. The normal definition of a cult is absolutely a bad thing, but right now I’m trying to help you see that everything started with a charismatic dude with a fringe idea who developed or had a following.

Use this diagram but replace cult/sect/denomination with fringe idea/framework/system and religion with mainstream idea/framework/system.

Everywhere you look, everything you think, and everything you interact with is from cults. Religion is obvious, but the arts, engineering, sciences, economics, fashion, food, architecture, fiction, the list goes on and on and on… The clothes you’re wearing, the device you’re reading this on, the foods you eat or don’t eat, the movies/books/art you like, the languages you speak, your religious or non-religious views, the kind of sex you like or don’t like, the thoughts in your head…

A guy had a cool idea, he got people to buy into the idea and eventually, that idea became a part of…

Culture

“[M]ost cult behaviour is only a slightly more extreme form of the normal cultural behaviour that we are steeped in from childhood — for example, peer group pressure to conform.”

Exploring the CULT in culture”, Human Givens Institute

“Culture is defined as the collective mental programming of the human mind which distinguishes one group of people from another.”

Geert Hofstede

There are a wide variety of definitions of culture from various anthropologists. If we keep the chain of thought rolling from above it’s easy to see that culture is a combination of mainstream ideas/frameworks/systems/programming for language, art, faith/religion, beliefs, etc. all of which originated as fringe ideas/frameworks/systems/programming promoted by charismatic leaders with followings (cults).

Now onto the final layer…

The Self

Your Self is comprised of your base genetic makeup mixed with various ideas from charismatic leaders with followings from the past cults. To make matters more complicated there isn’t just a single independent Self. Along with natural fluctuations within your individual self, you dynamically adjust your Self to two other layers of self. The relational self (friends, family, coworkers) and the collective self (race, nationality, occupation, etc). You’re constantly shifting between these three depending on the situation.

Layers of My Self vs Layers of Culture

My nature (natural self) has always been at odds with the dominant social structures/cultures that I’ve been a part of. I think this is true for most people in the world as all leading social structures up to the present day have been designed (or naturally evolved) to have our human nature take a back seat to keeping power, influence, and resources in the hands of the few..

Most of the things that troubled me in high school continue to trouble me today.

  • The cult of consumerism
  • The cult of full-time work (to support the cult of consumerism)
  • The cult of corporate structure
  • The cult of college
  • The cult of capitalism
  • The cult of meritocracy
  • The cult of democracy
  • The cult of nation-states
  • The cult of Self

The solution I’ve always held in the back of my mind was…

I’ve long romanticized the idea of a life totally disconnected from collective and relational social structures. A beach bum or mountain hermit. Basically any version of myself (character I create) or person you see me as has been powered by a wannabe hermit.

If I’m not going to be a hermit, what’s the alternative?

CULTivating my Self

I’m having a lot of trouble writing this section… perhaps it’s because it’s mislabeled “CULTivating my Self” or perhaps it’s because it’s a complicated topic. I’m just going to let myself run with whatever comes out and not worry about what it is that comes out…

So miltownkid ZEE was an experiment. He didn’t start as an experiment though. At first, it was just a name for my Hotmail email address. I did put some thought into the name though (Mil-Town = Milwaukee, WI, my home town, kid = wanting to keep certain childlike qualities). miltownkid started to manifest in reality the day I used the name on an internet discussion forum. Over time he grew a following. Then there was this dynamic interaction because “me” (the scientist), miltownkid (the experiment), and the world. I kept pushing and blurring the boundaries between miltownkid as a character and miltownkid as “me” until it got to a point where I wanted to legally change my name in order to take the experiment, and artistic expression, to the next level.

I imagined a world I could create where miltownkid created content, sold merch, played video games, interacted with fans, etc. as… a way of life. Where… my life was my work (artistically and monetarily). It wasn’t a new idea. It’s been done time and time again in the world of entertainment. Creating it via the internet was the new thing and I happened to be there at the dawn of the age of the influencer. What I had in mind with CULTivated self was bending the reality around me (forming a “cult”) so that my Self could move through it uncompromised by the limits of the collective and relationships.

A new chart just came to mind…

It’s interesting that we use “social media influencer” as the label for people who cultivate a following. If you actively attempt to build a following purely for numbers (followers, dollars, etc.) what you’ll become is an “influenced self”. What the collective wants will influence what you do and how you do it. Ideally what you’re interested in matches what others are interested in and that’s that. The reality is the following you grow will create its own collective identity and you’ll be largely influenced by it. The influencer becomes the influencee.

This obviously isn’t the case for all influencers, but it was for me which is why “me” and miltownkid would constantly butt heads! In 2015 I started to decommission miltownkid. The problem with that plan was most of my Self WAS miltownkid. That’s when Casey Abbott Payne was created.

Hmmm… I had already created this chart and planned on using it to describe other people but it’s actually pretty fitting for me. As I said, miltownkid held most of my “Self” but he was being decommissioned. I created Casey Abbott Payne to be a version of me that could satiate a collective (taichi people, Buddhists, etc.) and be more relationally relevant. I don’t think any of my family and friends pre-miltownkid ever saw me as miltownkid. They saw me as “Casey” (whatever that might have meant to them). If I created a Casey that would satisfy them as well.

That was all fine and dandy for a while but miltownkid was somewhere in the background waiting for an opportunity to “strike back” and last year he did! Now that the dust is finally settling I’m in a better position to let a new version of myself emerge.

Shamans Generate Culture

Communing with the spirit atop Dharma Drum Mountain

In 1999, after 108 (give or take… 🙂 ) hours without food or sleep, I had an extremely spiritual experience. From my perspective, I was visited by an entity connected with Taoist immortals and wizards from China. I received a message that has influenced every decision I have made since then. I was ill-equipped to handle the experience and I was labeled bipolar from the events that took place immediately afterwards. If I had fully submitted to the cult of Western medicine I would have been convinced to write off the experience as a delusional manifestation brought on by physiological and psychological stress, and brain chemical imbalance (which is bullshit). Then I should have figured out how to properly integrate myself with society.

  • Take your meds
  • Get student loans
  • Go to school
  • Get a job
  • Pay taxes
  • Watch TV
  • Eat fast food

Was it a message from Taoist immortals or was it a message from deep within the psyche of my unconscious mind? The answer? Both.

…………………

I was stuck there for an hour. I didn’t know exactly what to follow up with. Then this thought came to mind. Let me give you some facts…

  • The United States is a collective fiction
  • “I” (Casey Abbott Payne born November 25th, 1979, in Milwaukee, WI) am a fictional character in a fictional universe

Receiving a message from a Taoist immortal was as real to me on an individual level as the United States is on a collective level. A bunch of people believing in something doesn’t make it objectively truly and one person believing in something doesn’t make it objectively false.

Back in 1999 I might have thought a Taoist immortal was someone who achieved spiritual immortality before they died and maintained some kind of consciousness which transcended the need for a physical form.

In 2019 I believe immortality is something you begin to understand that you are as you transcend all limiting cultural beliefs. The people who pull off living in accordance with nature merge with the underlying intelligence of the universe and become “immortal”.

Conversations between the underlying intelligence of the universe and the “Self” don’t happen with human encoded languages. They happen with languages of spirit. The languages of spirit are a part of the shaman’s domain.

Perhaps it isn’t that shamans “generate culture”. They have to step outside of culture into the “unknown” (spiritual realm) and interpret their experience using whatever culture tools they’ve been given, or in my case discovered. The way they convey these experiences will naturally exist beyond the matrix of culture. In 1999, my tools were mostly limited to Taoist mythology.

In 2019 I have a greatly expanded Taoist mythological/shamanistic toolbox. One which includes stories I’ve written (miltownkid ZEE, Casey Abbott Payne) and experiences I’ve had. My experiences have confirmed the existence of Taoist immortals. Not physical people who are hundreds of years old. Instead, a spiritual intelligence that responds to my belief in Taoist immortals.

I’ve always been drawn to shamanism and last year I discovered that I’ve been secretly practicing shamanism in the form of Taoism. I’m really looking forward to more deeply exploring the principles and practices of shamanism and combining them with my understanding of Taoism and taichi. I’ve done all of this writing in order to finally say…

I will no longer place a filter between my principles and beliefs, and what I present to the world. That just makes things more complicated for me… and for the world! I’m not 100% sure how this unfiltered self will manifest, but there has been a long trail of breadcrumbs left by both miltownkid and Casey Abbott Payne. I’ll be following them to see where they take me.

I’ll end this post with some wisdom from the immortals consulted via the Book of Changes (I-Ching, Yijing)…

Ha! Without going into a detailed breakdown I’ll just point out that the immortals, in their infinite wisdom, have a sense of humor and knew that an internet crowd would love seeing the answer to life’s question BUT with a twist. Just like yin isn’t complete without yang, what would 42 be without 24?

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