The Paradoxicalist



John S Moore

Part 1

The London life expressed in much nineteenth century literature is seen through the eyes of eccentric bachelors, possessed of much leisure and curious wisdom. There is a comfort and complacency in many such lives. Where today may be found anyone whose life forms anything like such a perfection? Without such complacency, such serenity, and such innocence of the unappeased sexual passion that afflicts all moderns, what comfort for the restless soul? The very phrase "confirmed bachelor" is now about equivalent to "screaming homosexual", which was far from describing my paradoxicalist. Ours is not reputedly an age of leisure. Gustave Flaubert characterised his own nineteenth century as an age of skunkery. Yet by his own standard, our own era has surely sunk even further, become even more unheroic and contemptible. Accordingly it is best symbolised by some foul substance like dog muck. I learnt all this from the paradoxicalist.

The street I remember is only a hundred yards or so from one of the most attractive open spaces in this part of town. There are magnificent plane trees in the street, rising to a great height. Seeing them over the rooftops from a nearby road, it is natural to assume they are on a mound, or hill. The land in the immediate neighbourhood is, however, all of a level. Mid to late Victorian redbrick, the houses are almost the same as they were a hundred and thirty years ago, though then some of them were new, inhabited usually by people just as mediocre as their modern equivalents, now forgotten, repellent in their devotion to business. Then they all contained servants, today in the street there are at most a few au pairs.

The people who live there today are not exactly contemptible, though one may think them boring, forgettable like their predecessors. One is involved with them as teachers, journalists, fellow parents, or whatever. Hardly any better oneself. Typically they are university educated, with occasionally some detailed knowledge of literature, or other branches of humane learning. Works of the philosophers may be seen on some of their bookshelves, suggesting a certain store of culture. They tend to be liberal in their politics, and believers in good causes. One may feel sexually attracted to the women among them. Some of the houses are divided into flats, one or two even into bedsits, inhabited by an ever shifting population of mostly foreign students.

In one of the houses of this street is to be encountered the peculiar character of the paradoxicalist, a being of the most singular views, who seems to have secured for himself a high degree of comfortable leisure.

I first met him in one of the local taverns, where I had seen him a few times before. He was a man of quite striking physical presence, tall, with a thick head of dark straight hair, clean shaven with piercing eyes. He was expounding to his companion opinions on the nature of our society which struck me as absurd, and I felt moved to protest. He was speaking of modern society as a monstrous pressure to conform.

"Always", he said, "there is this, painful pressure to yield to other people's values, to be loyal to the consensus. Independence of thought and feeling is under an unceasing, insidious attack, to such an extent that any temporary escape from normality has become the true illumination, the real meaning of life. Democracy, capitalism, socialism, whatever you call it, has become an oppressor God, an absolute spiritual tyrant, all pervasive". Dissidence, he said, gave life its meaning because it was the negation of a false meaning.

It was a Sunday lunchtime, and as was my custom I had come to the pub to read the Sunday papers. I had been much struck by the intelligence and perceptiveness of the articles I had been reading on the collapse of communism in eastern Europe, and felt annoyed at the rubbish I was overhearing. I told him he was talking balderdash.

He turned on me with a shocking torrent of verbal abuse, swearing at me and telling me to keep my nose out of other people's conversations. His companion was more conciliatory, apologised for his friend, and tried to find some common ground between us.

I refused to be put out, and persisted with my point. To say that modern England is not in all essentials free, I said, is sophistry and paradox. The great majority of people in this country, I said, are freer than they have ever been. They can do more things, satisfy more of their desires than ever before. Even illegal things like cocaine and videoporn are not hard to come by. What did the Soviet Union ever have to offer?

He adopted a calmer tone. "Of course I concede all that", he said, with an air of a schoolmaster, trying to enlighten a tiresomely stupid pupil. "I don't know enough about you to know if I'd even want you to understand me, but I'll explain something if you really want to listen. Of course modern society has a huge variety of good things on offer. The trouble is that far too’ many of them are contaminated with the spirit of slavery. Modern people have sold their souls to the Devil. All this I will give unto thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me’, the Devil said and they did. If you feel it's satisfactory that's because of your loyalty, that's all."

I did not understand him at all, and he admitted he was not expressing himself very well. After a couple more pints, he became much more eloquent, and I began to get some grasp of his point. In fact we all of us soon got fairly drunk, on strong Abbots ale. After an hour's conversation, we were all getting on splendidly, and I accepted an invitation back to his place for a smoke. He had the whole of one of these large houses all to himself. He had furnished it as a combination of library and ethnographical museum. large wooden statues of oriental demons, Buddhist judges of hell, mahakalas and dharmakalas, rude fetishes from the South Pacific, ebony figurines from darkest Africa.

Those eccentrics of the nineteenth century left no progeny. Politically speaking, their wisdom was only that appropriate to a leisured class, rentiers, parasites, one might call them. A similar criticism is levelled at the paradoxicalist. It is asked how any wisdom can be so evanescent. He belonged, he explained, to a dissentient order. He was devoted to esoteric wisdom, in religion he was a gnostic. He expounded to me the systems of Marcion, Mandaeus, Valentinus and Basilides, and gave them a decidedly contemporary twist.

"Why," he asked, "is your life not the fountain of delight it ought to be? Modern man is mostly a slave", he said. "The slave accepts what his master dishes out and is grateful for it. Abstractly speaking I today have immense freedom, all kinds of things are possible to me. But what interpretation do I put upon them? What meaning do they have? The context in which modern society gives what it does is that of a totally unacceptable dogma. For those who are prepared to accept that, nothing is wrong and freedom is near absolute, as it is to any slave who completely acquiesces in his slavery. To those who are not prepared to accept it, who wish to put their own value on their experience, life is a constant struggle to resist this totalitarian oppressor God that embodies the modern ethos. In my low moments that is precisely what depresses, my happiness is when I repel it with argument, as I did with you in the pub last Sunday. By no means am I continuously assured of what I believe, successfully asserting myself against the opposition is the flash of liberation".

His friends also were unusual people, and those I met certainly did seem to share much of this strange philosophy with him. They tended to adhere to strange, hopeless lost causes, without any hope of putting these to effect in the world. One in particular had some most original notions on blood and race, which I will describe on some other occasion.

The paradoxicalist told me about the political ideas of the dissentients, of their esoteric wisdom and ambitions.

The ideas such people brought into the world, he said, they would obviously like to promote. Such ideas are our children, we would not like them to perish. Yet the whole nature and existence of these ideas, their satisfying quality, lies in their character of revolt. Were such ideas to become popular, or accepted, they would lose their character of heresy, and therefore of wisdom. How then is this contradiction to be resolved?

The answer is through the secret society.

"I previously explained how we are all Gnostics, how we seek a liberation that is against the established order. How our aim is realised, perhaps even here and now, in this conversation lubricated with these bottles of Adnams Broadside".

I decided I should join this society. I wanted to taste the full fruits of this gnostic wisdom. I told him of my wish, and he promised to initiate me at some future date. I had to wait until I was ready.

Part 2

I moved away from the area and almost lost contact. Now that he is dead I am minded to research into the so called crimes that brought down this strange extraordinary genius, but I am told it is utterly forbidden, and that to venture to do so is to invite the fate that befell him.

When I first met him it was some years before the revolution in communication known as the Internet. When that came it presented tremendous opportunities for the realisation of some of his wildest inspirations. Now he could play the cabbalist with fantastic, hugely complex combinations of letters and numbers, conjuring up Heaven knows what angels and demons to do his bidding. Here was an intoxication that needed no Abbots, Adnams, hashish or cocaine.

I take it he was led to perform taboo acts, pressing forbidden combinations of keystrokes, refusing to be bound by the arbitrary laws of an order he hated.

For those who loved him his persecution was as cruel as what was done to Jesus, Socrates, Galileo or Giordano Bruno, and it had the same ritual quality. Here perhaps I should include other martyrs like Al Hallaj and the Bahullah, also witnesses to the truth as they had discovered it.

Why? What was his motive? Was it to be a witness to the truth? Am I destined to be his evangelist, spreading the good news?

The police said that they regret the high number of suicides that resulted from this particular investigation.

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