Thursday, September 25, 2014


Jean Améry was tortured by the SS as an anti-Nazi resistance fighter, and survived internment in the concentration camps. He committed suicide in 1978. He described his torture in his book At the Mind's Limits.

The first blow changes everything, he says - while the physical pain is surprisingly bearable, the dark realization that the torturer is allowed to do this changes one forever. Help is not coming; there is no help.

"Help" or "support" in this sense is not a function of present material circumstances, but of the community from whom the tortured person is presently cut off. It is a function of their standards, what they will and won't stand for. The idea of "help" in the tortured person's mind is also a function of the community's agency, its ability to miss him and to organize its forces to aid him. It is the community that supports the notion of "help" in his mind, through its sacredness and its actions, and the notion of "help" in his mind fundamentally changes the subjective experience of victimization.

This "help" is justice. It has a component of sacred law - the community's standard for the permissible ways to treat a human being. It has an element of the material, in the sense that the community must gather material force in order to do its duty for its member. It is an idea in each community member's mind, and it being held in common with other community members facilitates the coordination necessary to render material aid. Its sacredness allows it to transcend time, punishing the torturer long after the act of torture occurred, in order to enforce its standards.

The opposite of justice, in this sense of society's "help" existing materially as well as psychologically in victim's minds, transforming their experiences, is Rotherham, UK, police arresting an eleven-year-old girl for being drunk and allowing her rapists to go free.

No person by himself, estranged from a community, can experience justice. Justice is a function of the community, and the community does its duty both psychologically (by having sacred standards) and materially (by coordinating to enforce its sacred standards).


  1. I know this feeling. I could see horrible things waiting for me in the near future. I thought, "no, that's not supposed to happen. I'm the main character." Of course, many of the horrible things did happen. This was an existential Gestapo punch. With a little thought, I came to the seemingly obvious conclusion that if a few million Jews can be tortured to death, I can't expect anything good to happen to me ever. If Josef Fritzl can rape his daughter hundreds of time and keep her in a dungeon, I can't expect my life to even be tolerable, let alone decent. This was not just the death of optimism, but the death of hope altogether. The universe did not give a fuck.

    That was the true horror. Whatever happens is completely independent of how good or horrible it will be for us. And the quote is correct: that realization takes something from you that you can never get back. It leaves a fissure in your soul that will hemorrhage for the rest of your life.

    1. We have an obligation to each other, a group obligation, to stand against nature itself, if necessary, and protect each other. We will fail, but that's no excuse. We have to give many fucks because the universe cannot locate one.

    2. "Whatever happens is completely independent of how good or horrible it will be for us."

      That's actually not true. The goodness and horribleness (and its expectation, and the expectation of its consequences) are a part of the actual physical causality that determines what happens and what doesn't.

      For instance, when people say, "You will pay for what you did!", this is not just an expression of emotion. It's also a prediction. I have been very angry about the suicide prohibition for about three years now, and this anger has caused real fiscal costs to the prohibitory legal and economic system where I live.

      When purchasing food, I strongly prefer vegetarian to non-vegetarian version. The causal reason is the anticipation of animal suffering ("how horrible it will be for them"). The causal consequence is a reduction in demand.

      All of this is physically real and conceptualizable without resorting to ephemeral concepts like group obligations.

    3. Hey, this is OP.

      I see what you're saying, and of course I understand. But I don't really think humans have agency so I just file everything we do in one category, which is "stuff we can't choose not to do." I tend not to bother making distinctions between one thing your brain makes you do and another. Perhaps this is intellectually lazy of me.

      You're not incorrect in a strict sense. I was just talking about the superstition that we are all born with that tells us we're the main characters in a movie and everything will end well for us. It's like a residual God that even most atheists still believe in (even if subconsciously). I guess it's been called the optimism bias or pollyannaism. I think the loss of the optimism bias is more devastating than the loss of God.

      And to Sister Y: I've been a long time reader and I really enjoy your work. I agree that we need to give a fuck but I struggle to find an objective justification for it. I identify as a nihilist but I support consequentialism and utilitarian (I guess those are my religion since I don't have an objective argument for why human suffering is bad).

    4. You have empiric evidence of how suffering is bad and there is no reason why not. Pain manifests universally as an undeniable violation of the being and that unconditional hostility to anyone it turns to, makes it 'Evil impersonal'. You could pay it tribute, as many do, but a force of nature has no mind for sparing you in return. As mindful entities, we have to give damns, so that we are given damns for. The objective recognition here, is that a human has a stake in the world and that that for him delimits ways of behaving 'accordingly'.

      However, 'justice' is not revived by rewarding injustice with injustice: one can't undo a victim's experience by extending it to the victimiser. Once broken it can only be broken further. Preventing injustice is the only way of preserving justice. Hence, 'giving a fuck for justice' should -IMO- be substituted by 'giving a damn against injustice'.

  2. "Everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the face."---Mike Tyson

    I personally experienced torture on several occasions.
    This man's subjective response is not illustrating anything absolute about Reality, just his subjective response to experiences he had. We apparently exist in a condition in which anything can happen, and that is what we have to learn to deal with. Human community is a response to our absolute vulnerability.

    1. "I personally experienced torture on several occasions."

      Are you willing to elaborate? How bad was it, and how does it compare to the best things that have happened to you? How did it change your view on life in general?

    2. It makes for good stories when you survive and come out the other side. In the moment though, it is chilling to feel that they are crossing the boundaries and willfully hurting you with no restraint on their actions. To the degree they are were sane though, I could see that it cost them internally to cross that boundary. One time the guy who was interrogating me was shaking so badly that I saw he could barely write what I was telling him.
      Another time, I was being held underwater. I decided to just let myself drown. I found out my will was not strong enough to command my body. That was humiliating.
      I did not have a view on life in general, I was still learning.

    3. I see. Thank you for your response.

  3. I didn't ever have the expectation of help and doubt everyone does, many of us who find ourselves in these situations got their through a long journey of disillusionment.I imagine when the collapse comes many of the snowflakes will certainly feel like Amery, They cant
    even take someone disagreeing with them those of us hardened in lifes crucibles will feel little pity we will feel we are reeducating them to the reality of Gnons world


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