What Science Fiction, Fantasy, Magic, and the Esoteric Can Teach Asian America About Love
(14 min read)
1. an intervening space, especially a very small one.
WORLD OF DIS-ENCHANTMENT
“My son, do not despair; there was once a grain of sand that lamented that it was no more than a neglected atom in the deserts; at the end of a few years it became a diamond, and it is now the brightest ornament in the crown of the king of the Indies.”
— Voltaire, Zadig
Last weekend I went to grab dinner at Dominique Ansel at the Grove, a sprawling, popular mall in Los Angeles near Beverly Hills. The mall was packed, per usual, and the buildings were bedecked with Christmas lights and festooned with wintry decorations, including a snow show above the fountain the middle of the mall, where they sprayed a light flurry over the assembled crowds in periodic bursts starting from 7 to 8 PM. The irony and absurdity of people romanticizing snow in 60-degree weather in the dead of winter was not lost on me as I chewed on mouthfuls of melting ribeye and swished it around with Xiao Yun’s glass of Pinot Noir. At the same time, I could not help but feel the magic in the air, as the glowing incandescent bulbs around me melded into a romantic sea of suggestive lights and the relentless, cheerfully banal holiday music subliminally pounded my brain into a festive reverie. Despite being one of the crassest and most materialistic artificial confections of saccharine commercialism, retail worship, and gleaming commoditization I’ve ever witnessed, I confess to being quite enchanted.
Getting in touch with the Holiday Spirit at the Grove LA in December 2018
Enchantment, that electric feeling of being alive, is of course sorely lacking in the modern Western world as we near the one-fifth mark of the 21st century. We have come a long way from the Ancient Greek era of the Eleusinian Mysteries¹, the most famous of the secret religious rites. The Eleusinian Mysteries were part of various secret Greco-Roman cults known as the Mystery Religions and were set up in contradistinction to official public religions of the time and offered unofficial religious rites and experiences to the initiated. Most originated in indigenous tribal ceremonies. Eleusis, the Greek city that practiced the eponymous Mysteries, was supposedly where the goddess Demeter went to search for her daughter Persephone after she was abducted by Hades, Lord of the Underworld.
In the Homeric myth, the agrarian goddess was befriended by the Eleusinian royal family and decided to bless Demophon, the son of the King and Queen, by making him immortal. She did this by secretly burning him alive in the family hearth every night until the Queen accidentally interrupted her one night by walking in and screaming in fright. The goddess, angered at the reaction, lamented that mortals do not understand the concept and sacred importance of Ritual when it comes to imbuing Life with actual Meaning. Although Demophon would never obtain a life free from death as a result of the ceremony being interrupted, he would eventually become immortalized in History anyways, and spawn his own hero cult.
The Mysteries in Eleusis originated in the two-fold story of Demeter’s life: her separation from, and eventual reunion with her daughter in the Underworld, and her failure to make the mortal Queen’s son immortal. It began with a march of the initiates in a solemn procession from Athens to the town of Eleusis. The Rituals were then performed in secret in the Hall of Initiation — rites symbolizing the rebirth of Persephone and the eternity of Life, which flows from generation to generation, and whose actual details remain unknown to this day. From the fragments we can glean, many of the Mysteries involved visions and conjuring of an afterlife, which was often aided by psychedelic drugs (having taken a few myself during my old raver days in college — an Asian American cultural rite of initiation for my generation and younger² — I can attest to feeling the mysteries of Universal Love while eargasming to bass drops).
The Eleusinian Mysteries belong to a category of secretive lifestyles, religious beliefs, and spiritual customs and practices — Rituals — that are formally classified as the Esoteric, or Occult. In Western tradition, the history of the Occult has two major phases: pre-Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment (“modern Occultism”). Western esotericism, a bundle of pagan cults and superstitions and practitioners of magic, was first formally outlined historically in the 1800s, in the work of Esotericists like A. E. Waite, who sought to combine their own mystical beliefs with a historical interpretation of Esotericism as a class of essentially avant-garde movements rebelling against institutionalized Religion, Knowledge, and Spirituality, as well as the cold, indifferent, machine-like, Kafka-esque logic of mass industrial Society.
The formal definition of Western Esotericism concerns those private “inner traditions” (as opposed to public “outer traditions”) that seek to grasp the universal, absolute spiritual dimension of Reality — the Heideggerian Thing-In-And-Of-Itself or Kantian noumenal world — as opposed to blindly conforming to the Exoteric: the modern, bureaucratic, formal and public symbols of spiritual and scholarly authority embedded in large, corporate institutions (including the scientific academies and universities) and the dogmatic rules of formal religious belief systems and sects. Western Esoteric currents all share one common core characteristic, “a claim to Gnosis, or direct Spiritual Insight into cosmology.” This means Intuiting the True, Inner Nature of the World, without the intermediary of constructs or categories, and piercing the material veil of the Senses — what Buddhism refers to as Dukkha — Suffering, Anxiety, Unease, and Chronic Pain. As Schopenhauer, Nietzsche’s teacher, said: “All Life is Suffering.”
Why Intuition, and not scientific Reason? Beyond the practical limits set forth by Kant, in the Buddhist tradition, Dukkha is caused by a fundamental misperception of reality that arises from human beings imposing psychological constructs on the vast, teeming Universe in order to carve it up into bite-size chunks. This cognitive imposition prevents us from grasping the underlying primordial patterns of the Universe, its Harmony, which our conscious mind grasps at as though through a veil — like running your hand over the contours and architecture of furniture underneath thick and heavy cloth. The goal of Buddhism is to annihilate this cognitive imposition, a state referred to as Nirvana, as well as the reified psychological constructs that obstruct our view of Reality, in order to directly perceive the Naked Truth of the Universe³.
Like Buddhists, Western Esotericists and Occultists eschew an absolutist belief in instrumental Causality — things acting directly on one another to produce effects — and instead posit the possibility of Correspondence: different pieces of the Universe move together in underlying rhythms, like the movements of heavenly bodies being mirrored in the movements of the tides or events of your life, without a direct causal link. It therefore stands as a radical alternative to the disenchanted and increasingly secularized worldviews which have dominated Western European culture since the scientific revolution.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and Coraline (2009): Re-enchanting the World
In this day and age, to be an honest mystic, gnostic, monk, ascetic, or a practitioner of indigenous religion or pagan spirituality is to be avant-garde, in the holiest sense. It is to continuously create and recreate a world that is, as Max Weber said, “a great enchanted garden”, through the actions and meditations taken in everyday, ordinary life. Ultimately, it is faith in a common humanity, a universal life force that permeates everything, including our physical manifestations and bodies. In this paradigm, the origin of Evil arises from the human tendency towards compartmentalization and reification⁴ — atomization and alienation — and an adamant refusal to break free from the cold, frozen, lifeless categories and constructs created by mass society and self-delusion, out of fear of direct confrontation with the Real. This is known as Ignorance, the demon that the world-savior Shiva stomps on for all Eternity.
As I sat there on the second floor of the mall, deep in a euphoric food coma while contemplating macaroons for dessert and the effete, liberal bourgeois sham of European-American retail giants peddling their mass-produced, carbon copy consumer goods under the guise of spirituality and tradition — “Merry Christmas!” — it occurred to me that our unconscious minds are often grasping, sensing, perceiving, filtering, construing, and prototyping the Universe all around us, in ways far beyond what our conscious mind knows, both to our benefit and to our detriment as human individuals and as a species. Our intuitions are the source of our greatest insights into the nature of Life and the Universe, and also our own worst enemies when they are distorted by advertising and other people.
Like with racial preferences in online dating.
PIERCING THE VEIL
“A map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness.”
— Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity
According to the Father of Positivism and Empiricism, David Hume, everything we know is merely examples of Correspondence, and there is absolutely no way for human beings to ever prove Causality. We can observe that Thing A acting in a certain fashion appears to cause Thing B to react in a certain fashion, but this is only Correspondence, aka correlation. For example, when more ice cream is sold in America, the number of murders goes up. This is a well-established correspondence. Of course, to causally link the sale of ice cream to murders sounds absurd — the underlying correspondence is more likely that as the temperature increases, people start to get hungry for ice cream, while also becoming more homicidal from the heat. Or, maybe a hungry ghost has a vendetta against frozen desserts and goes around killing innocent human beings in retaliation for us enjoying more Drumsticks.
Ice Cream. Murder. How are these two things connected?
Regardless, there is an infinite regress of possible correlations that could explain this statistical fact, and that is precisely Hume’s Problem of Induction. For you to say that A causes B, you must be able to definitely prove that there exists no other cause for B except A. In other words, in order to be certain A caused B, you would have to literally know every potential correspondence in the Universe, which is infinite, in order to eliminate any other possible causes for B. Even the I-Ching isn’t that exhaustive. It is a mathematical and practical impossibility, which is why you should always completely ignore anybody that doesn’t believe in systematic racism and who asks you to continuously prove it. They will always find other possible correlations (and even offer “alternative facts”), because they simply don’t want to believe it. Yet the material, concrete, self-evident evidence is in front of their eyes, all around them, every day, 24/7, across all forms of media, especially in America. That means they need an attitude adjustment, not an endless series of proofs they will willfully ignore or deny.
The problem is, people always want to take refuge in their Intentions, their conscious motivations, which is a load of bunk since most of our actual human behavior in Real Life, our Impact, operates off of unconscious constructs, some relics of evolution and others simply socially implanted in our minds like microchips. Scientists refer to a selective “screener” in our brains, that determines what we actually notice and pay attention to in the real world, based on the mental prototypes (stereotypes) that make up our worldview. This “screener” is racist as all hell. According to Scientific American: “At a minimum, our findings imply that the unconscious can represent social goals, such as looking for a friend, a date, or a co-worker. And it seems to have opinions about which kind of people are suitable for each”⁵.
As any Asian dude who’s ever used OkCupid⁶ or Tinder⁷ can tell you, “No shit.”
The racial stereotypes you believe in exercise an asymmetric power over your conscious mind by shaping how you perceive and engage with the World, other people, and yourself. It selectively shapes what the conscious “you” gets to see, even though the conscious “you” has no say in the matter (unless you have become aware of your own biases and actively practice counteracting them in relevant real-life situations). Plus, it always has a head start; since thinking takes work, you’re likely to go with your gut more often than not. And your “gut”, your “screener”, or what we psychologists call your Personality, or the Way You Engage the World, has been completely corrupted and stunted in its development by White supremacist racism. This goes for everybody in America, including minorities, as evidenced by the Clark Doll Tests.⁸
For many Asian American guys, our most immediate and urgent encounter with systematic White supremacy, other than the frequently lethal mob violence that gets euphemized as “bullying”, is often in our personal, romantic lives, regardless of sexuality. It is there that we learn the fundamental truth — racism is not simply stereotyping or generalizing a group of people. That’s called Knowledge. Indeed, the problem is not that Asian guys are seen by potential partners as “all the same”. The problem is that the qualities we all supposedly possess in common are not real but are instead a rotating set of age-old racist fictions deployed by White supremacists to degrade, subordinate, harm, and humiliate us.
To put it simply, it’s not bad that we’re all alike. It’s bad that we supposedly possess specific undesirable qualities — short stature, small dick, stunted imagination — and possess them uniformly. If we were stereotyped as all being alike in that we all share certain traits that are desirable and worthy of emulation, the generalization would have a much different meaning and character. Instead, what we have is a mutually reinforcing web of prescriptive racial stereotypes that manifest in broad, empirical patterns of negative real world, material outcomes, like difficulty in getting a job⁹, getting a promotion¹⁰, getting a date¹¹, or not getting murdered by white racists during our bachelor parties (Rest in Power Vincent Chin).
Expand your universe of Asian masculinity: The Raid 2, Don 2, I Saw the Devil, New World, A Man Called God, Descendants of the Sun
According to 20th-century French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, this is known as symbolic violence¹². Structural violence arises from conditions of political and economic inequality. For example, if you have masses of poor, then some of them will most certainly steal out of necessity, which will inevitably lead to brutal state retaliation against them and result in people being locked up, beaten, or killed. This is violence as a result of the way society is structured. In contrast, symbolic violence is physical and psychological violence used to discipline and confirm an individual’s or a people’s place in a social hierarchy. It necessitates the oppressed internalizing the arbitrary structure of that hierarchy themselves, and obediently accepting their own place within it and policing others to conform to theirs (Racist Love)¹³.
Bourdieu suggested that cultural roles are more dominant than economic forces in determining how hierarchies of power are situated and reproduced across societies. Cultural capital — clout — as well as the fear of losing status, is just as, if not more important, than ownership of the means of production. Simply witness the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, which was dominated by the overriding concern of White America losing its cultural supremacy rather than economic anxiety¹⁴. Symbolic power, also known as “Soft Power” (although its effects are anything but!), is fundamentally the imposition of artificial categories of thought and perception (“false consciousness”) upon a dominated people who, once they begin observing and evaluating the world in terms of those categories (e.g., Western beauty standards), perceive the status quo as their own preference and rationalize it. Sound familiar? Anybody who’s ever used the defense of “it’s just my preference!” in support of a racist hierarchy in dating, has committed symbolic violence, the so-called “Invisible Hand of Oppression”.
Chinese Burn (2017): An example of Symbolic Violence
Essentially, that means all heterosexual women in America — including Asian American women — systematically oppress Asian men, by behaving in ways to confirm our subordinated cultural positions underneath a hierarchy of White Supremacy, while also helping to create and recreate fake correspondences between our behavior or our attributes and their own complicity with racists, a form of psychological violence known as gaslighting. From a recent article published by the National Institute of Health, the primary agency of the United States government tasked with biomedical and public health research:
“A recent study of internet daters finds that among those who expressed a racial preference, less than 10% of Asian men would not consider dating Asian women, yet approximately 40% of Asian women would rule out dating Asian men. It also reveals that more than 90% of women of all different racial groups who expressed a racial preference excluded Asian American men.”
The results of their own longitudinal study of almost 12,000 young men and women of all races and backgrounds, and their rates of romantic and sexual relationship involvement using state of the art methods, are even more illuminating¹⁵:
“The results suggest that Asian men, regardless of nativity status” — whether we were born here or not — “have substantially lower odds of forming a romantic partnership.
Our results lend little support for a cultural explanation of race and ethnic gaps in partnering.
We found no evidence that socioeconomic resources or physical characteristics were driving the lower levels of involvement among Asian men.
Instead, our findings are consistent with the notion that Asian American men are at the bottom of the racial hierarchy when it comes to the different-sex dating market. The significantly lower prevalence of involvement among Asian men, regardless of nativity status and ethnic group, challenges the notion that cultural norms and values may account for race and ethnic patterns in current involvement.”
As Hume said, we can never be 100% certain of anything, but that’s enough real-world evidence for me. It ain’t our fault, but it’s most definitely yours.
Written by Albert Joon-Ho Hur
[Edited by J]