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BAP can't fly in a cage
Or, Notes from the Ridge Avenue Wawa
I just got back from Wawa. I went not so much because I wanted something from Wawa, but because I wanted something, and Wawa is right down the street, and I can usually find something there to scratch the itch.
I had ordered my turkey club at the kiosk and paid for it along with a bag of Ruffles (cheddar sour cream) and a 28-ounce Body Armor (tropical punch). I was waiting for the workers to finish assembling my sandwich when, for some reason, I began to wonder how the cheddar sour cream flavoring gets onto the uniformly ridged potato chips at the Ruffles factory. I pictured row after row of naked chips on a slow-moving conveyor belt being spray-painted from above with orange dust.
And then I started thinking about the nice cashier who rung up my Ruffles moments earlier, and what a day in his life is like. By the time he asked me how my day was, I’d heard him ask the same of the two customers in front of me. Somehow, it still sounded sincere the third time around. When I turned the question back on him, he said he was doing good, and “thank you for asking.” The extra emphasis he put on this expression of gratitude gave me the impression that his job is to ring up an endless stream of customers partly like me but partly worse, because most of them shove their factory-formed food across the counter without ever acknowledging that they’re interacting with a human being and not just the little slot that they stick their credit card in.
My thought experiment was interrupted by the sight of a man with greasy, shoulder-length hair — black from his shoulders up to his ears and the color of Mountain Dew from his ears up to his follicles — who walked up to the kiosk in front of me. About half of his underwear was showing but his body was so oddly shaped that I couldn’t tell why. Either his pants were down too low, or both his hoodie and underwear were up too high, but where exactly his torso ended and hips began, only God knows. The order he placed was complicated but it took him only about three seconds to place it. His fingers navigated the touch screen so gracefully that it seemed an extension of himself. He was a man of experience.
Suddenly I’m staring with an unfocused gazed at a shelf populated with umpteen different kinds of Tastykake. I think about how good they look on the shelf if you’ve never had one, but how disappointing they are every time you take a bite, and how after you’ve fallen for it a few times, they cease to look as good as they once did. And I wonder what they tasted like when my parents were children, because I’ve heard countless times how Tastykake just doesn’t make ‘em like they used to, but who knows if my parents’ recollections are accurate or colored by nostalgia. Then it strikes me as rather sad if the good ole days were when Tastykake mass-produced slightly better Krimpets.
Just as I’m starting to feel cynical about late-stage capitalism and misanthropic about the people mindlessly mulling about the Wawa, it occurs to me: what if a man came in here with a gun and started shooting? I can feel however I wish about the people and their alleged complacency (alleged by the cruel and lazy parts of my mind), but the fact is that I don’t have the slightest clue how any one of them — of us — would react. Maybe I would cower behind the Tastykake stand and bury my face in my bag of Ruffles while the man with Mountain Dew hair ambushed the gunman, stopping him before any blood was shed. Maybe the friendly cashier and I would lock eyes from across the room, an unspoken plan would pass between us, and I’d do something to distract the gunman while the cashier snuck up on him from behind. Maybe we would just all die. Waiting in line for a turkey club at Wawa is not exactly a heavenly way to die.
I listened to an audio book of Bronze Age Mindset last weekend. Overall the book is a muddle, but there are moments of clarity in which worthwhile insights or expressions of emotion shine through. The book is most useful as an articulation of spiritual discontents rampant in the twenty-first century west. As history, analysis of non-western cultures, and plan of action for remedying the aforementioned discontents… it’s mediocre at best and deranged at worst.
You should read the book; it’s culturally significant. A lot of people look to the author, Bronze Age Pervert, as a quasi-prophet. He’s influential on an ascendant New Right, and to some extent on a budding post-left, both of which are hubs of cultural innovation driving us toward unknown destinations. But I’m interested more in BAP’s animating impulses than in the details of his book; my notes from the Ridge Avenue Wawa are an attempt to capture some of those impulses.
BAP is both repulsed by the stifling mediocrity of secular liberalism and enamored by the loftier potential latent in its constituents. He despises social justice progressives because, to him, their obsession with fairness and tolerance and equity keeps the greatest among us from attaining the heights of human achievement. He despises National Review conservatives because their obsession with individual rights ultimately does the same. BAP lusts for glory; in his mind the purpose of human existence is to make your life a work of art, to master your environment and bow to nothing, to unite in unbreakable friendship with a band of brothers and together pursue your highest ambitions to the furthest extremes imaginable. Only men are capable of this and only a select few at that. All our contemporary talk of natural and human rights is nonsense because it’s all about freedom from various forms of suffering. To BAP only one freedom matters, and that is a freedom to — man’s freedom to realize all the greatness latent within him.
His vision, then, hinges upon a conception of greatness. BAP makes his conception clear with the following thought experiment:
Image a Mitt Romney, but different — a Romney who actually was capable of acting like he looks, and was worthy of his looks. Imagine a younger Romney who rouses the nation to a new war against India, through power and charisma and speech alone. Then he leaves on ship and heads the armies conquering India. But then come rumors that Mitt ran a black masked Satanist dinner in New York. Also, people awake one day and find that someone defaced the Holocaust Museum and the Lincoln Memorial. Rumors spread that it is Mitt and his friends in preparation to overthrow the government. So, he’s recalled from his command to stand trial. Instead of returning, Mitt runs to Russia, where he becomes a major advisor to Putin. Soon, though, he finally has to leave in a great hurry, when it is discovered he’s been banging Putin’s wife in secret. He runs to China where, again, he miraculously becomes a major political force and advisor, adopting Chinese customs and language with ease. After some time he leaves China and ends up living in Afghanistan, with the tribesman, as one of them, in one of their mud fortresses, where he is finally found by American special forces, and he goes out fighting, charging them repeatedly with a machine gun in his glorious black and gold armor and Dune-like headset. Exactly such, and more, was the life of the ancient Alcibiades, of Athens. How inconceivable…
Putting aside his gift for provocation, it’s clear that, to BAP, the great man is physically attractive, skilled at seducing women but not obsessed with them, a master of rhetoric and political strategy and military tactics, a natural leader of men. In other words, hyper-competent and capable of anything. He’s full to the brim with beauty and talent and charisma. What is he to do with all these gifts? He is simply to dazzle us, to set his mind to goals that most of us would never dream of and inspire awe in us by achieving them. Whereas us plebes might consider sleeping with married women, defacing cherished monuments, or conquering foreign nations on a whim to be reckless excesses, BAP sees these things as steps on the great man’s ascent to new heights — as necessary outlets of an inner vitality, the fullest expression of which is the sole purpose of human existence. To try to reign in these excesses in the name of fairness and tolerance is the only true injustice — the obstruction of greatness.
Now, not many of us will be persuaded by BAP’s vision of greatness. First of all it’s viciously and unapologetically sexist — women cannot attain Bronze Age Greatness; their purpose is to help men realize that higher human purpose — and second of all it’s almost completely amoral. It seems that one cannot be unethical in pursuit of greatness; the only unethical choices are the failure to pursue greatness and the attempt to obstruct it. BAP won’t even condemn Alexander the Great for tying a vanquished enemy to the back of his chariot and dragging him around the city. It’s not excess, remember — it’s expression of vitality, and if we don’t let Alexander express this vitality then he may lose it, and cease to be great.
It’s a ridiculous vision and, I suspect, intentionally so. BAP is a provocateur. But regardless of whether he’s more so writing in earnest or being strategically inflammatory, there is something of more universal appeal in Bronze Age Mindset. It’s observable in the chasm between the life of the cashier who rung me up at the Ridge Avenue Wawa, and the life of Alcibiades of Athens or hypothetical-world-conquering Mitt Romney. If we shudder at BAP’s vision of greatness, as I think we ought to, should we not do the same at the thought of human beings spending a lifetime ringing up Ruffles, sorting packages in an Amazon warehouse, or even sitting in a cubicle on Wall Street all day to pay for a yacht and a second home in the Hamptons? Isn’t there some voice inside us all that knows BAP is at least trying to nudge us in the right direction, that we do live in a culture of stifling mediocrity, and that perhaps there’s more to life — more to us — than the status quo permits?
Herein lies the value of Bronze Age Mindset — not in the answers it provides but in the questions it raises. BAP may not be alone in disliking the world he argues against, but even he wouldn’t like living in the one he argues for. He’d be at best a mid-level military general acting as a violent pawn in schemes of a megalomaniac like Alexander the Great. More to the point is that Alexander’s life was not a work of art; it was a monstrosity. He conquered the world by age 30, spreading misery and death everywhere he went, and had he not drunk himself to death by 32, his sins would’ve haunted him until he died in old age, ruined by remorse not for the great things he failed to do, but for the awful things he did.
Nonetheless, we all have a little BAP within us, and BAP can’t fly in a cage.