All theory is gray, my friend. But forever green is the tree of life.
- “Faust”, Johann von Goethe
Few tales have ever captured the duality of the human spirit so much as the German fable of “Faust”, the eponymous brilliant but discontented scholar who sold his soul to the Devil in order to discover the meaning of life. There are myriad variations of this story, published in some form or other in many languages across hundreds of years. But in all of the versions lies the central conceit of a man so smart, but unfulfilled, that he wagers his eternal soul to find deeper meaning in life. This narrative device has become known as a “Faustian Bargain” — that is, sacrificing a part (or the whole) of oneself to achieve a supposed greater enlightenment.
There is a common four-act structure to the Bargain:
From his discontent with his current understanding of the world, Faust attracts the demon Mephistopheles, a corporeal representation of the Devil. Mephistopheles and Faust strike a bargain — Faust will be guaranteed the ultimate satisfaction of discovering the “meaning of life”, in exchange for Faust’s soul at the time of his death. Mephistopheles guides Faust on a long journey through the experiences of earthly pleasures, philosophical exploration, and reconciliation of man’s place within God’s creation. At last experiencing the Devil’s promise of happiness, Faust dies, with his soul alternately ascending to heaven or descending to hell.
”Faust” remains a tremendous cautionary tale of the lengths men will go to in order to fill a void within their spirit. Regrettably, most people who have a passing familiarity with the legend stop at this (admittedly essential) surface-level moral of the story. However in Goethe’s version, there is a much more profound truth to be found, one which unlocks an entirely new depth of understanding of what it means to be human. Properly framed, Goethe’s version of Faust unveils to us the meaning of life after all, and a new paradigm for understanding the modern “gender war” enveloping our culture in its suffocating embrace.
FAUST AND GRETCHEN
Two souls live in me, alas,
Irreconcilable with one another.
- “Faust”, Johann von Goethe
Let us place ourselves into the shoes of Faust himself. Each of us, with little exception, has been given the gifts of intellect, emotion, and sociability to varying degrees. From the dynamic interaction of these inherent traits, we form a specific relationship with the world around us and everyone in it. And in many ways, the story of Man can be best understood as his relentless pursuit of “meaning” within the context of the present day.
For primitive cavemen, “meaning” was as simple as survival and procreation. Life was, in a word, binary — you lived or you died, you sired children, or you didn’t. Over time, man learned to cooperate more effectively towards these binary goals, giving rise to group hunting, pair-bonding, and tribalism. As tribalism gave rise to civilization and specialization, so too did our pursuit of “meaning” evolve from binary concerns to more philosophical and spiritual matters. Whereas a simple question of meaning was once easily and immediately satisfied by mere propagation of the species, the matter of our relationship to an ineffable god is much thornier and more complex.
It is this uncertainty of meaning that drives man to this day. More specifically, it is the uncertainty inherent to our relationships with ourselves, our sexual opposite, and the manifestation of our spiritual focus. For today, we will focus on that middle domain, our intellectual and emotional relationship with our sexual opposites. Broadly speaking, we may define the two halves of this dynamic as Masculine and Feminine. I am less concerned with the notion of gender specificity typically attached to these labels, as our modern society is undergoing some tumultuous, distracting shifts around what has historically been strictly defined.
Faust himself is an avatar of Pure Masculinity — logical, searching, dissatisfied. It is his restless hunger for meaning beyond his understanding that drives him to wager his soul. Gretchen, with whom Faust sires a bastard during his detour through human pleasure, is a pure innocent, the Feminine Divine. She is the embodiment of human emotion, and the balancing force to Faust’s Everyman archetype. Whereas Faust sought to reconcile meaning within his internal locus of control and worldview, Gretchen seeks only to love, and be loved by, Faust. Their subsequent sins, and eventual redemption, flow from this duality.
In Goethe’s telling, both Faust and Gretchen are initially barred from heaven for the sins arising from their union. However, while Faust continued his journey towards “rational” enlightenment alongside Mephistopheles, Gretchen recommitted herself to a penitent life. Her spiritual growth was born from a genuine desire to seek the grace of God, and reconcile herself to His will. In the denouement of the fable, Faust’s eternal redemption was found in his love for Gretchen, and hers in her loving sacrifice on behalf of Faust.
THE (OVERLY) RATIONAL MALE
Though all would bow to me
Till I could drink my fill of fear and love
It’s not enough…
“It’s Not Enough”, Dustin Kensrue
What, then, may we learn today from this simplistic tale of arrogance, love, and forgiveness? Let’s return our minds to the frame of “Faust” and the “Red Pill”. The foundational premise of the Red Pill is that we live in an overly-feminized world that has rejected the historical concept of masculinity, while mobilizing unprecedented political, legal, and cultural pressure to destroy the patriarchal paradigm that has historically defined civilization.
Understand this: I agree with this premise.
[It is essential to what follows to note that I am strongly opposed to Feminism as a political, social, and cultural weapon. And it is not that I am “anti-woman” nor anti-male. What nonsense that is, unless one defines their whole identity according to a socio-political construct, rather than as a beautiful, complex, unique life experience.]
Much ink has been spilled over the years on what may be called the “Dialectic of the Pills”. I frequently reject the originalist explanation of the Red Pill as a praxeology — that is, a simple study of human action. Such a system cannot in fact capture the totality of dynamic, interpersonal relationships. Further, claiming the Red Pill to be exclusively a praxeology is a dodge that attempts to obviate the inevitable second-order actions that flow from study. Humans are creatures of doing. We are biologically wired to observe a thing, orient that thing within our framework of knowledge, make a decision, and then commit to an action. Theory and study are useless until acted upon.
We must remove that misconception and re-orient our understanding of what the Red Pill actually is — a dialectic. You see, the Red Pill does not merely offer a lens of understanding intersexual dynamics. It proposes an entire model of human action, that “men behave and think as X” and “women behave and think as Y”. In so doing, the Red Pill creates its own thesis and antithesis, a subject and its opposition. From this foundation, it is possible to do three things:
1. Attempt to create synthesis, or the resolution of the two subjects
2. Craft a narrative that places the subjects into the roles of hero and villain
3. Define and enact a set of steps or actions designed to mitigate the impact of the antithesis
Any, or all, of these actions is the natural progression from having defined the world in such stark, binary terms.
Let us return now to the archetypes of Faust and Gretchen, the Rational Masculine (Reason) and the Feminine Divine (Emotional). For most of human history, we held an intuitive understanding of the necessity for balance between our rational mind and emotions. The Taoist symbol of the “yin-yang” is a familiar representation of this harmony, with the main traits in perfect balance, and each further leavening the intemperate extremes of the other. In Garrett Dailey’s excellent “Pieces of Mind, Pt. II” essay, he identifies these as the “Chaos” and “Order” minds. In fact, most religions and philosophies have at their heart some notion of duality.
However, not every system treats duality the same. Many create the frame of opposition — dialectic, or the same perspective held by the Red Pill that men and women are by their natures antagonistic. Yet, a few philosophical perspectives treat duality as synergistic — harmonic. And it is the latter of these two approaches that illuminates the deeper meaning contained with the fable of Faust. It is synergy that we must embrace to achieve a higher state of personhood. Relatedly, it is the fundamental synthesis sought by the Red Pill that undermines its very foundation. More simply, whereas Goethe’s “Faust” provides a roadmap of human action that encourages the Masculine and Feminine to exist separately but cooperatively, the Red Pill’s dialectical perspective demands that one of the “teams” must submit to the other.
This is no different than the goal of radical Feminism.
Political, cultural, and religious synthesis is inherently about power. Faust and Gretchen were not redeemed by their desire to conquer and control one another. It was synergy that saved them, a divine harmony of Love, Sacrifice, and Reason.
The Faustian Bargain of the Red Pill is that a man may armor himself so totally in a rationalist worldview that he becomes impervious to the risk of intersexual interaction. He feels no emotional urges except those that reinforce pure Masculine will to power — anger, avarice, zero-sum competition. “No woman will ever hurt me again”, he says. And while that may well be true, it also true that no person will ever love him again.
As a man sows, so shall he reap. The inevitable outcome of rejecting emotion is that a man unlearns the intuitive ability to amplify his reason through emotions such as hope, joy, and sadness. Emotions are the fuel of the human machine, those pieces of our psyche that give meaning to our intellectual pursuits. But it also connects us to other people in a sub-rational, ineffable way. It weaves our individual stories into the resplendent tapestry of humanity.
A man void of emotion cannot be virtuous or loved by others because he rejects compassion or the ability to treat others as anything except a means to his own ends. By regarding the world as ones and zeroes, costs and benefits, risks and rewards, the rational man closes himself off from the ability to be anything more than a machine ruled by his selfish urges.
He sees no color, no drama, no opportunities for great heroic acts, or desire to leave a legacy of a life well lived and a family to carry on his name.
There is only the cold, lifeless grey of reason and a transitory satisfaction in knowing some new fact or cashing one more check.
At his end, there will not be a Gretchen there to redeem him from his own mistakes and self-loathing.
Neither will there a brother by his side in a moment of life and death, for a man does not risk his life for one with whom he does not share a deep emotional or ideological bond.
There will be no emotion to amplify his enjoyment of life, success, and accomplishments.
All that is left for the ambitious man of pure reason is the Faustian Harvest of bitterness and loneliness.
Dum spiro spero,