Yesterday I responded to a comment by Marshall Mead that I’ve “never had an idol in my life”. Turns out this is completely false and I just didn’t understand the concept.
Koanic recommended the show The Profit to me a couple of days ago, and I’ve been watching it obsessively since then. It’s a reality show where an altruistic angel investor, Marcus, fixes dysfunctional small businesses. Presumably the homophony with “The Prophet” is intentional, which is an interesting aside that I won’t go into right now.
If you approach this show with a red pill perspective, then it is a great red pill introduction to the world of business. This is comparable to watching The Office with RibbonFarm-tinted glasses. I’ve learned a ton of vocabulary (“lien”, “skimming”, “copacker”, “wholesaler”, etc.) and I now have a memetic framework for understanding the world that I’ve experienced heavily on the working class end, and the combination gives me an extraordinary new perspective on these experiences. I will probably do a CONSCIENTIOUSNESS on the physiognomy aspect of the show, episode by episode.
But what was really interesting was when I was at work last night/early morning, and I started hearing commentary (Edit: hearing internal commentary :-P) from Marcus on my job process and the products around me. It wasn’t direct quotes from the show, but rather comments that my brain thinks he would have said if he were there. “What’s the margin on that product? How many boxes do you unload per hour?” I even imagined a device I could invent in order to speed up my work process and imagined selling the idea to someone based on the reduction in training time compared to the cost of production and installation of such devices (in the show, one of the consistent refrains is renovating the business’ physical layout to industrialize labor processes). These aren’t things I have ever thought about, having been a wage slave for 16 years with no interest in money, business, accounting, or things like time restraints on accounts receivables.
Now it’s pretty obvious that what has happened here is that I’ve been internalizing an ideal “Marcus” mindframe that I’ve begun to subconsciously emulate with my strange big-occ processing style. When I said “I’ve never had an idol” before, I was saying that I’ve never done this consciously in the way that I’ve watched other people around me do this. For instance, I remember a friend who was really into golf when he was younger. He put up posters of Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer (IIRC) and told me outright that these were “his idols”. He was obsessing over them on purpose in order to absorb whatever qualities had made them great at what they did, because he also wanted to be great at what they did. It’s a cheap way of having a mentor, because while having a real-life mentor is great it will never happen for 99.999% of the population. “Mentorship programs” are laughably farcical imitations of the real thing, which requires an unusual, spontaneous confluence of factors in both mentor and the mentored.
A conscious understanding of this sort of emulation was common in other ages. In most cases, when a great artist or thinker from history refers to someone as his “teacher”, what he means is that he idolized that person and tried to emulate their mindset in order to reproduce the qualities inherent in their handiwork. E.g. In mathematics, Lagrange refers to Euler as his “teacher”, but historians say that it’s unlikely they had the sort of relationship we’d understand that term to mean. Rather, it seems that Lagrange simply considered Euler a luminary of his craft. E.g. In poetry, it’s unlikely that Brunetto Latini actually mentored Dante Alighieri in a significant way, other than by demonstration and recommending an occasional book to the younger poet. Aristotle’s tutelage of Alexander the Great would be a rare exception to this rule.
Returning to the point expressed in the title, we can now better understand—presuming I’m correct, of course—the Biblical proscription against idolatry. In religious circles, idolatry refers to the action of expressing ideal virtues by creating personages which exemplify the virtues, then attempting to emulate these fictional characters. For instance, if I wanted to use this technique to motivate myself to acquire physical strength, I would try to imagine the most ideal expression of a physically strong man, and try to act the way that guy would act. Off the top of my head, I figure I’d create a myth of a half-man, half-bull who journeys around the world seeking tests of his strength (probably spicing up the story with the universally interesting plot elements of sex, violence, and drama).
But when God revealed himself to the world, his attitude toward this sort of activity was obvious. We are not created to worship our own virtues, which are gifts from God. We are created to worship God alone.
This bears an interesting analogy with heresy, which is the elevation of some aspect of belief to a position of ultimate importance. Often, it is the elevation of something good like charity, or love, or power. The best example is Phariseeism (aka legalism), which elevates the Law of Moses even over God himself, the lawgiver. This sort of idolatry is perfectly expressed in the response of the Sanhedrin to the appearance of God in the flesh—they tried to kill him several times and eventually succeeded. Talk about performance art!
In conclusion, it’s peachy to have virtue (like Marcus’ business sense), and learn about the virtues through artistic representations (like The Profit), and even to study arcane theology for understanding, but the bottom line is this: We’re supposed to be idolizing and emulating Jesus. We were made in his image for this precise reason. If we decide to idolize something particular and good about Jesus instead, it becomes an unbalanced perversion.
So even though the WWJD bracelets were kitsch and faddish, the idea is absolutely correct.
Oh, and if God shows up and tells you to do something, learn from the mistakes of the Israelites throughout the Old Testament and FFS just shut up and do it.