555. Difficulty at the beginning (X)
Belief is a luxury that leaders cannot allow themselves. The leader must deal in reality and reality alone—as such he will be impersonal and unapproachable. Familiarity breeds contempt, all the people we pretend warmness towards we secretly despise; we despise them for their weakness in their need for us, for the illusions they entertain about us when we know our frailties all too well. Familiarity is facilitated by belief: our beliefs are the warm and cosy blanket we pull over ourselves to keep out cold reality. We believe that he is a kind man, a loyal man, a reliable man—we believe in our football team, in our leader, in our parents, in our dog, in our lover. These beliefs keep us warm; but there always lurks a cold thought behind it all, the thought that says: it is all illusion.
Reality is indifferent to you, so to engage with reality you must let go the last belief: the belief that you yourself exist. Engagement with reality requires total discipline; every time you feel the warm temptation to believe, to lie down by the fire with your supposed mates, you must push belief away. They want you to believe in Putin, in Trump, in Biden, in Apple, in Heineken—in your own existence. It must all go, else you will disguise reality. “Don’t you know who I am?” “I’m nobody,” replies the leader; not a warrior for my people or an empathetic friend to the oppressed—just a blackness as complete as a starlit sky.
TE Lawrence understood this principle; it was how he came to lead the Arab Revolt. The man with total discipline and engagement with reality can enter an alien race and religion then lead it in war. He can do so because he only works with reality. The puffed egotist walks in and says: “Wot-ho, Britain is the greatest empire the world has ever known, don’t you know? You wogs better learn English, wot? Learn about parliamentary democracy. And have a bath, you dirty Arabs.” This is belief—and it reappeared decades later in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lawrence negated himself totally; he became a total realist. He mastered the language, adopted the dress; and because he only dealt with reality he could lead the Arabs. He had no mercy on himself; he became the desert, the rocks, and the stars. Alexander the Great did the same; he was taught to believe in ideas by Aristotle—yet his actions defied Aristotle’s ideas, for he only worked with reality.
The temptation is always to ladle the soft warm mash into your mouth, as with an infant. To believe in Putin, in Trump, in Hitler, in Mohammad, in Jesus—and yet what do these names have to do with reality? These names choke you as they comfort you. All political careers end in failure, Putin will fail or betray the belief you have in him—or fall from power when he believes too much, above all in himself; and the same with Trump, or Biden, or your mother. You go and believe if you like, go sit by the fire and pretend the lies you tell the other apes will keep you safe.
The artist adopts the same position as the leader: absolute refusal to believe—he sees. This is shamanic, the seer-shaman voids himself and becomes reality. He burns every belief, every document—even this one, you cannot believe what I have written here. Robinson Jeffers said: “Drunk on talk, liars and believers; I believe in my tusks.” He referred to the great boar that roots in the deep dark earth at Mal Paso Mountain; the boar that is also a symbol for the bear, for King Arthur or Arktos—the bear and the boar are the Druid’s symbols. To become reality is to become God—for the very word “God” is a metaphor for reality, for that which is utterly impersonal and indifferent. I do not believe in anything, not even death.