What Works For Me

Sep 15, 2006
Never one to pass up a beta, I've upgraded to the new Blogger. Expect some fiddling with format and such while I try to figure out what they've done to the thing -- and I think one of the restrictions now is that old-Blogger accounts aren't compatible with new-Blogger accounts, so feel free to leave anonymous comments if the system seems to hate you for any reason.

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I have refrained from writing mostly because I have been helping my roommate settle in, settling into my new job (oh god employment is so wonderful, even if I do have terrible hours at the moment), and fighting with a tempermental kitchen sink. I could have given you a very sanctimonious and self-reflective post on why these things do not encourage me to think about magic or religion at all, but I decided to save the tedium for something I was genuinely interested in.

One of the good things about my job is it involves an hour-long bus ride and a lot of downtime, so I'm getting a lot of reading done. Yesterday, on impulse, I picked up my copy of Alestair Crowley's Little Essays Toward Truth to take with me. Crowley is as close as I have ever gotten to finding Pagan literature that I really like; for all his over-reliance on Judaic and Christian ideas, his questionable combinations of Indian and Egyptian ideas, his egotism and his general self-righteousness, Crowley just does it for me. I can't explain it, except to say that I have always had an irrational love for the Victorian and the completely mad.

And, of course, I quite like many of Crowley's ideas. One of the first statements he makes in his essay on "Man" (and indeed one of his foundational ideas) is that "all phenomena ... may be classified for the purpose of discussing their observed relations, in any manner which experience may show to be the most convenient. ( ... There is no essential truth in any of these aids to thinking: convenience is the sole measure.)"

It walks the line, I suppose, between extreme relativism and extreme skepticism. On the one hand, denying the essential truth of any mode of thinking is tantamount to saying that one idea is as valid as another; evolution and creationism (to take a nice, incendiary example) are just two ideas, neither of which is absolutely true. It's the insistance on convenience that separates this statement from blanket relativism. Relativism refuses to make value judgements at all, but Crowley here is advocating judging systems based on convenience -- their usefulness to the practitioner.

To extend the earlier comparison, evolutionary thinking is useful in explaining all manner of things, from the biological origins of humanity to changing drug treatments, while creationism is useful primarily in promoting a specific Biblical literalism-based worldview. So if you're a patriarch of a Biblical literalism-based church, creationism is a great idea; for the rest of us, evolution is much more convenient. The whole basis for using convenience rather than truth as the basis for judgement comes from the tradition of philosophical skepticism, which de-emphasizes the possibility of ever really knowing the truth about anything. Of course, you can't go around denying the existence of everything in your daily life, so you have to judge things by their convenience, their use to you. (Unfortunately Crowley is in the habit of describing systems he likes as "scientific" rather than "convenient," but the concept stands.)

Reading this for about the tenth time (I always feel like I should blog these things; I've just never gotten around to it before) it occurs to me that this is where the eclectic "do whatever works for you" philosophy comes from, and not entirely without merit, although the idea has obviously been watered down drastically. Because that is exactly what Crowley says in this first essay -- "I think the Qabalah is the most useful tool in existence, but if you disagree, or if you can change it to suit your purposes better, do so -- just make sure you know what you're changing first and why." Which, in all fairness, is the responsible way to handle "whatever works for you" and the way I suspect a great many people do handle it. The problem comes in with the fact that relativism is a more common and more accessable idea than skepticism for most people, and so the eclectic ideal becomes too relativistic and, sorry, too open-minded. The emphasis on the statement should be on works, not on you.

6 comments:

Sojourner said...

I also switched to the new blogger recently and find that to use their new system, you really have to tinker with it, especially if you had custom elements incorporated into the blog before.

I am trying to make mine look similar to what I have now.(I have a "test blog" so that I don't mess up my current template.) It is proving to be tedious to get them to the same. I'm thinking that I may have to just let it go and embrace a slightly different look.


I've never read anything by Crowley before, but have always had the intention to do so. Maybe now is the time to pick up a copy of one of his books. I need some reading other than the text reading that I'm doing for class.

Good to see that you're posting again.

Jenavira said...

Hm. So it's a good thing I never got around to doing much customization, then. (Oooh. Maybe I can finally get around to putting in a title image.) I never liked wysiwyg editors, really, but if they're going to force the change on us eventually anyway...

I meant to put a link in the post -- almost all of Crowley's works are free online at hermetic.com, which is where I got mine from. (I bound Little Essays and Magick In Theory and Practice into books myself when I took a bookbinding class last year.) It's handy to use if you're unsure about putting the effort and cash into finding the books online or in shops.

Sojourner said...

Here's what I've figured out since I last commented:

I am able to keep my current template, which I find easier to customize, and still use the "labels" option. I don't have the 'Layout' capability, but I am finding that I really don't like it anyway.

What I am going to do is just add a section to my sidebar for the list of categories/labels. So everytime I add a new category, I will have to add a link in my sidebar so that they are easy to access.

The only drawback that I see so far is that I can't figure out where to change the word 'Labels' to 'Categories' (which is the title that I would prefer).

If you need help with customizing your blog, let me know and I try to help you out!


That is a great idea regarding the Crowley books. I may have to look into that. Or at least I could print them out and put them in a three ring binder.

Sojourner said...

BTW - putting a title image in with the new 'layouts' format is a pain. I spent about two hours last night trying to figure it out and still couldn't get it to look right.

Jenavira said...

I think I've figured out how to get a title image in -- it might involve switching back and forth between templates, but you can insert a picture. All you have to do is find a template you can stick the image in so it goes all across the top of the page, then switch back to the template you want. Which is tedious, but there you go.

I think you could probably change Labels to Categories if you edit the HTML? But that would only work for the sidebar, not the individual posts. Hmm.

Sojourner said...

The individual posts was what I was refering to, but I have now switched over to layouts and have changed labels to Categories. I also have changed the look of my blog somewhat. :)