Protocols of defiance : How to defy everything ranging from fear to loathing

What have I been up to? Well, there’s was that bad faith review, that I’ll comment briefly, because there was an update to that, sort of, me reworking that manuscript (because I don’t waste time, unlike many other people), and bunch of reading. I’ve been enjoying Félix Guattari’s ‘The Machinic Unconscious: Essays in Schizoanalysis’ in particular. I might comment it later on, but we’ll see. It’s great reading if you’ve read ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’ which he wrote alongside Gilles Deleuze or if you would like to read it in the future. There’s a lot of the same stuff going on, but both books have stuff that’s not included in the other book. I’ll look into something else this time, tying together a bit of Deleuze and Guattari, Carlos Castaneda and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Right, so, there was that bad faith review, which, turned into something even more absurd in the meanwhile, on its own, somehow, as the publication that rejected my manuscript (thanks to that one, lets say … ten pounds of … in a five pound … reviewer) made my earlier article free for all, all the sudden. I certainly did not pay the publisher to make it fully accessible for everyone, so unless someone else did, for some strange reason, the publication just managed to contradict itself. I mean, why would you make the article that explains the methodology that I applied in the subsequent article accessible to everyone, without a fee, paid once or as a subscription, if it is utter shit as the reviewer had the editor think? Now, which one is it? Is it excremental or not? By the looks of it, it would appear to the exact opposite. Unless someone with too deep pockets or enough influence made it accessible to everyone, perhaps for just shits and giggles, maybe just to troll the … out of such reviewers, which I highly doubt, I reckon that the publisher actually saw value in that article.

According to their own metrics, that article was like in the top three among their articles for that publication by popularity, for about two years since it came out. It’s now in the top five by popularity for that publication. Now I don’t know what means, really. My understanding is that it’s measured according to reads or downloads. Anyway, if my memory serves me correctly, it was and still is the only full fledged article (not a review article) that was not published as an open access article (because I don’t have that kind of money to spend), to be that popular. If I remember correctly, the other articles included in the same issue did not make the top three during that time span, nor do the may they make the top eight on their list right now. That issue is, however, the most popular issue at the moment. Hmmm, I wonder what might be making it popular, perhaps that article of mine? Then again, what do I know about doing good work, not to mention work that others want to engage with, just ask that reviewer. Anyway, be as it may, I reckon the article has been doing pretty great, which I guess is pretty darn good for a nobody who went against the grain with it, speaking in favor of quantitative instead of qualitative at a time when it was considered a nicht-nicht, and getting plenty of flak for it. So, unless the publisher accidentally made the article fully accessible to everyone, they saw the value in it, which is only like super ironic, like the world giving a gigantic middle finger to that one reviewer. Oh, you don’t like his work, the way he does things? Oh, how about we do our best to spread his message by making it even more accessible than it previously was when it was already popular? Haha! I never thought some corporate entity had a sense of humor! I’ll gladly take this infamy!

Right, to get somewhere with this, I’ll comment on Castanada’s ‘The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge’. Right, there is this bit in the book, marked as ‘Sunday, April 15, 1962’ (53-57) where Castanada lists four things one needs to overcome in order to understand the world, to be a ‘man of knowledge’, or so to speak: fear, clarity, power and old age.

The first one, fear, is, well, exactly what you’d expect it to be. In order to get somewhere in life, you need to overcome it. That’s the biggest obstacle in life and, I reckon, by far the most common one. The thing with life is that is that it’s about constant learning. You try to achieve something but it’s never exactly what you thought it would be. You do that, step by step, and it seems to be only followed by more steps that you need to take to get at where you think you need to be. Learning is tough. It involves work, putting in the hours, which isn’t fun, nor great if you are in a hurry to get to where you want to be, to learn what you feel like you need to learn. This is where fear kicks in, “mercilessly, unyieldingly”, as he (54) points out. You have two options, to cave in, to give in to fear, or to face it and defy it, to not let that fear terrorize you. For example, that reviewer was doing exactly this, attempting to terrorize me, to instill fear into my heart, but I said nay. I saw right through that, with clarity.

What is clarity then? Well, this isn’t tough to grasp either. Following fear, once you overcome it, you now see things as they are, perfectly clear. That’s why, for me, it was easy to see what’s what. It was obvious that the reviewer was trying to put me down, to discipline me, to get me to fold, to get me to do what the reviewer wants me to do. In fact, it was hilarious how obvious it was. It was so obvious that it turned into a parody. I reckon it could be included in a guidebook on how to write a bad faith review. It had these supposedly nice little nods, but they were only there to be used as points of contrast, to make the bits that the reviewer didn’t like look worse, way worse than they would be without those little tokens of appreciation.

Now, the thing with clarity is, however, that it can blind you. Sure, it makes you dauntless, but the downside of clarity is that you risk never doubting yourself. In Castanada’s (55) words, you “will be clear as long as [you] live[], but [you] will no longer learn, or yearn for, anything.” It only makes sense. Once you think you know it all, there is nothing to learn. So, what you need to do is to be defiant once more. This time you need to defy your own sense of clarity, to use it to your advantage, to see what’s what, but not assume that it will make you infallible. For example, while it would be easy for me to simply dismiss the reviewer, to say that I know what’s what because I can clearly see what’s what. I could certainly see right through the reviewer. That was easy to me. However, that does not make me incapable of making mistakes. I mean I’m pretty sure some of wording was slightly off, here and there, and I could have argued some things more clearly, been more explicit about them or, alternatively, hedged a bit, here and there. That happens to everyone, me included, I acknowledge that. No biggie. I have even sent manuscripts that contained typos to publishers. Mon Dieu! It was also not that long ago that despite my clarity, I managed to lock myself out of my own apartment, leaving the keys inside. The horror! The horror!

Castaneda (55) states that once you also defy clarity, overcome it, you’ll no longer be harmed by anything. So, to clarify the previous paragraph, despite having clarity, seeing things for what they are, you can still be harmed. To precise, you’ll end up harming yourself because you expose yourself through being blind to yourself. But once you let go of that clarity, acknowledge that you still can and do make mistakes, you won’t be harmed by them. You don’t wish to make mistakes, but if you do, you won’t mind having made them. They just happen. That’s true power for Castaneda (55).

The problem with power is that it is super easy to succumb to it. When you can do whatever, when nothing or no one can hurt you, except you yourself, you become enamoured by your own greatness. Because you are your own be-all and end-all, the master, everyone else can go and … themselves, as far as you are concerned. They are always wrong, they always fail you, and because that’s the case, it’s up to you to make the rules, just so that they aren’t a nuisance to you.

The thing with achieving this, having defied fear and clarity but not power, is that you can exercise power over others. As stated by Castaneda (55), that turns you into a cruel and capricious person. But what is it that goes wrong if you fail to defy power? According to Castaneda (56), failing to defy it results in being defeated by it, dying eventually, never having a clue how to handle it. In other words, power easily becomes a burden that one can’t shrug off nor bear; “[s]uch a [person] has no command over him[- or herself], and cannot tell when or how to use his [or her] power.”

Again, to avoid this fate, you must defy power. Now, here it’s worth emphasizing that managing to do that, to defy it, is a pretty hard task because, well, being situated in a position of power is a pretty sweet gig. I’ve written about this in the past, quite a bit, so I won’t get into it in detail. In summary, it’s like in episode 11 of season 1 of ‘The Wire’ where (the character of) detective Jimmy McNulty confronts the (character of) district attorney Rhonda Pearlman about how the people involved are just looking out for themselves. Pearlman replies to McNulty who complains about the situation:

“What’s the point? The point is that Morrie Levy is a past officer of the Monumental Bar Association and unless I want to spend my whole life as a fucking [assistant state’s attorney] I can’t spend my afternoons pissing on people who matter.”

To which McNulty replies:

“Another career in the balance.”

To which Pearlman bluntly replies:

“Fuck you.”

Which McNulty deflects with:

“No, fuck you.”

The point here is that McNulty is reprimanding her for acting in her own interest, not the public interest, which actually happens to be her job. She does what she does because it makes sense for her to do so. Doing otherwise would be bad for her career. In contrast, McNulty is defined as the character who gives a fuck when it’s not even his turn to give a fuck, to use the wording used by the writers in the pilot, the first episode of the first season. Now, to get back on track, this careerism is pretty damn common in academics. It’s just hidden under the sugar coating, that bullshit narrative about progressive development towards the truth that keeps being repeated in the media by people who have sweet gigs, by people who actually care about their careers. When push comes to shove, if it’s up to them, and it is, of course, because of their positions, everyone else can go and fuck themselves, to paraphrase the retort by Pearlman. If you’ve watched the show, you know how unrewarding giving a fuck is when it’s not your turn, your place to do so, but that’s what happens when you defy power, to get back to Castaneda, who (56) states that:

“[You] ha[ve] to come to realize the power [you] ha[ve] seemingly conquered is in reality never [yours].”

This is what McNulty is saying to Pearlman. Anyway, Castaneda (56) continues:

“[You] must keep [your]self in line at all times, handling carefully and faithfully all that [you] have learned. If [you] can see that clarity and power, without … control over [your]self, are worse than mistakes, [you] will reach a point where everything is held in check.”

Again, that’s what McNulty was trying to say, to keep Pearlman in check, to make her realize that while it might be a mistake, harmful to her career prospects, she clearly hasn’t understood that she should, at least, give a fuck when it’s her turn, her place, her job, to give a fuck, to once more paraphrase McNulty. The point here is, of course, that if you can’t keep yourself in line, in check, no one else is going to do that for you. Only you can do that. It may come with a price, but that’s the price to pay for defying power. McNulty sure is taking the heat for that. Oh, and making mistakes while at it, plenty of them. I have most certainly experienced that as well, being the person who, for some reason, keeps giving a fuck when it’s not my turn, my place or my job, to do so. Oh, and if you didn’t get it already, the aforementioned reviewer is the careerist in this elaborate example. That person was just out to character assassinate me, to send me to harbor patrol, if you get what I mean.

For Castaneda (56-57) the end comes with a twist. So, assuming that you keep yourself in check, that you avoid abusing your position and don’t exercise power over others just because you can, because you’re in position to do so, with impunity (gotta love that peer reviewer anonymity, eh!), you are faced with yet another obstacle. This time you can’t overcome it, only ward it off and plough through it, make it, or so to speak. Everything appears to be in order, but you are now tired and just couldn’t be bothered with all anymore. The problem is that it all feels like it has been a pointless endeavor, doing all that, just so that you end up stuck in harbor patrol. This hasn’t aged well. You grow weary. You’ve been fucked over so many times that you feel like quitting. You have this urge to forget it all, swap all the hassle for some quiet time. It’s time for you to get with the program. But if you can take it, all that excrement that they keep throwing at you, with grace, that is to say embrace wherever the path has taken you, you’ve made it. You are then invincible, unbreakable, albeit, perhaps, until everything fades away. But that’s exactly the point, you mustn’t be afraid of that, that you’ll fade away.

Nietzsche (16-17) covers this same thing in ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None’. For Nietzsche, there are these three metamorphoses of the spirit: camel, lion and child.

Similar to dealing with fear, for Nietzsche (16) the spirit can be burdened like a camel. In fact, the spirit may rejoice in this exercise because it carrying burdens shows strength and fortitude, does it not? He (16) goes on to list all kinds of heavy shit that the spirit can take upon itself. What they are is beside the point. But, unless you want to be a camel for the rest of your life, just letting everything pile on you, you’ll have to transform again. The point he (16) is making is that you need to just let go of those burdens, placed upon you by others, you know, like on a camel that is made to carry stuff on its back, because it’s convenient to have you, the camel, do that.

So, you need to become a lion, the master of yourself, and fight against those who wish to pile those burdens on your back. But, as he (16-17) points out, to be a lion, you need to be willing to fight everyone, even the great master, the great dragon, the god, whatever you want to call it. According to Nietzsche (17), what you need to overcome is this “‘Thou shalt’”, you know, like in the Ten Commandments, if you didn’t get it for some reason, a name given to the beast because it doesn’t have to do anything but say the words and everyone obeys it, out of fear, really. It says thou shalt dance, and thou shalt. As simple as that. The beast is the setter of values, “the value of all things – it gleams in me”, as he (17) puts it. So, to become a lion you need to overcome that fear and boldly state “‘I will!’” But will you?

Now, for him (17), this is a necessary transformation if you want to free yourself from the burdens of being a camel, made to serve the great beast. However, having freedom, for the sake of freedom, isn’t all that great. You also need to create. You also need to come up with something creative, something productive now that you have that freedom, now that you no longer feel compelled to carry the shit everyone else tells you to carry for them.

It’s worth emphasizing that this is a tough gig. Not only do you have to find it in you to say no to people, to tell them that you are no longer just going to take it, but you also have to tell this to yourself, that you need to give up on things you liked about being a camel, the perks of getting with the program. What, did you think the beast was going to be happy about you challenging its right to impose? Oh, no, no, no, obviously not. You have to put your neck on the line. You have to let go of your sweet gigs. It’s boat patrol for you, as far as the beast is concerned.

If you can manage that, to transform from a camel to a lion, you’ve managed a lot already. That said, you’ve created “freedom for itself for new creation” but not the capability to create something new, as pointed out by Nietzsche (17). For that you another transformation, from a lion to a child. The deal with a child is that children are highly creative. They have their own ways of doing things that to us adults look rather … childish. But when you think of it, children are the ones who are not only free to do whatever they feel like, but they also often do whatever they feel like, without hesitation, without wondering what will others think of this. Often they can’t even remember what they’ve done, nor do they care if they’ve already done something. For him (17), a child is like “a new beginning, a game, a wheel rolling out of itself, a first movement, a sacred yes-saying.” Of course, the adults do their best to turn them into their camels, as quickly as possible. We can’t have any free wheelers rolling around, now can we?

Now, you may object to these takes. You may argue that Castaneda just pulled the story out of his ass, or so to speak, and you may even be right, but whether Castaneda made up the story, whether the Indian Don Juan is a mere figment of his imagination, is beside the point. The same goes for Nietzsche who most certainly did not hang out with Zarathustra. It’s actually even better if the teachings work, if they make you think, without having any so called factual basis. It’s “[s]o much better if [Castaneda’s] books are a syncretism rather than an ethnographical study, and the protocol of an experiment rather than an account of an initiation”, as stated by Deleuze and Guattari (161-162) in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. Why? Well, if they were just accounts of something, rather than being protocols for experiments, then you wouldn’t find them useful to yourself. They would only be informative of what some other people have done in some remote part of the world.

Deleuze and Guattari (227-229) cover these passages or transformations presented by Castaneda and Nietzsche. In their parlance there are four dangers: fear, clarity, power and disgust. These match Castaneda, albeit there is some input from Nietzsche as well.

For them, fear has to do with the fear of loss, which leads people to cling on to arborescence, to the great molar categories that provide them a sense of security and sustenance. They give people status and make them resonate in concert. To be clear, the thing is that it’s not that someone else does this to people. There’s really no mythical beast or deity that makes people them do all that. Instead, it is the people themselves who do all that. They “desire all that”, as Deleuze and Guattari (227) point out. In fact, people are so afraid, so fearful that they are afraid of fleeing, which I think is a particularly keen observation made by Deleuze and Guattari (277). I mean, if you are so afraid that you are unable to run away, perhaps fearing subsequent ridicule from others, then you truly are afraid. In summary, fear is all about molar rigidity, great binaries, hence the arborescence. The more rigid things are, the better everything seems to people. In their (227) words, “[t]he more rigid segmentarity, the more reassuring it is for us.”

In contrast to molar fear, clarity is molecular to Deleuze and Guattari (227). When you’ve managed to overcome fear, you can see perfectly clear. Everything now appears in great detail, “everything has the clarity of the microscope”, as they point out (228). What happens here with clarity is what is explained by Castaneda as becoming blind to oneself. For Deleuze and Guattari (228) the danger lies in the miniaturization of the molar segmentarity, in supple segmentarity, in the fascism of the individual who thinks one is right about everything and feels the urge to impose on everyone else. People become self-appointed judges, police and executioners, all wrapped in the same package, and act with the clarity of a black hole. It’s all about them now. Another problem with this is that it spreads rapidly, like a virus or a cancer, from one cell to another, from one person to another.

The third danger comes in the form of power. This time the problem is a mixture of the two previous ones, fear and clarity, as it has to do with both rigid or molar segmentarity and supple or molecular segmentarity. In their (229) words:

“Every man of power jumps from one line to the other, alternating between a petty and a lofty style, the rogue’s style and the grandiloquent style, drugstore demagoguery and the imperialism of the high-ranking government man.”

But that’s not what makes the ‘man of power’ dangerous. The danger actually comes from impotence, as they (229) point out:

“But this whole chain and web of power is immersed in a world of mutant flows that eludes them.”

Now, I’m not going to explain this in terms of stratification and double articulation, or in relation to Louis Hjelmslev’s net, but if you know how those work, you don’t need an explanation for this. This should make sense on its own. But as it may well be that you aren’t familiar with those, the point here is that no matter how much you’ll try to control everything, the world always finds a way to elude and undermine that control. That’s why the ‘man of power’ is always impotent. This is exactly why I find the publisher making my previous article accessible to everyone so hilarious. I never thought impotence would be so funny.

There’s no need to sexualize this, but ‘man of power’ and impotence do probably make more sense to you if think of them in a sexual sense, as this machismo thing. The point here is that the impotent ones are the ones who feel the need to show off, to compensate for their impotence, but that’s exactly what makes them dangerous. In their (229) words:

“The man of power will always want to stop the lines of flight, and to this end to trap and stabilize the mutation[s].”

In other words, the ‘man of power’ will always want to make sure that everything is stable. That means that everything has to be trapped inside his system. Anyone attempting to escape the system must be stopped. Letting someone escape, do their own thing, may result in others doing the same and the ‘man of power’ simply cannot have that happen.

The fourth danger, disgust, is the most interesting one for Deleuze and Guattari (229). They (229) make note of the escape, the line of flight, that is stopped by the ‘man of power’. In addition to being stopped and subsequently being “recaptured”, “sealed in, tied up, reknotted, reterritorialized”, the escape from the system involves its very own danger. In their (229) words:

“[It] emanate[s] a strange despair, like an odor of death and immolation, a state of war from which one returns broken[.]”

To be more precise, they (229) define the fourth danger as:

“[T]he line of flight crossing the wall, getting out of the black holes, but instead of connecting with other lines and each time augmenting its valence, turning to destruction, abolition pure and simple, the passion of abolition.”

They (229-231) go on to provide examples of the fourth danger, but for the sake of brevity I’ll only summarize some of it (I’m sure you’ll find the time to read those passages yourself). The so called nomadic ‘war machine’, you know, the great horde of riders, functions to ward off sedentarism, as well as destroy such static (state+ic) formations on its way. But it may get appropriated by the sedentaries, for their purposes that are foreign to the nomads, to use war for peace: to ward off other sedentaries from expanding on their territory and to expand their territory on the expense of others. Once a sedentary state appropriates the war machine, it must stay put. It can’t go roaming like it used to. It becomes the institution we know as the military. However, being a war machine that is appropriated to serve the interests of the state, the military always poses a great risk to the state. When it’s locked into a stationary position, it serves no purpose of its own, so the only thing it can do is to destroy. The state uses it for this purpose, but the military is always also a threat to it in the form of a coup d’état.

I don’t know how to summarize this, considering that this essay is in itself more or less a summary of protocols, how find your own way and not be like others, others like that one reviewer I had to deal with (well, not actually deal with, because you can’t deal with reviewers, because the review process is a one way street). I don’t know what the next essay will deal with either. I have some options in mind, but we’ll see.


  • Castanada, C. ([1968] 2008). The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari ([1980] 1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Guattari, F. ([1979] 2011). The Machinic Unconscious: Essays in Schizoanalysis (T. Adkins, Trans.). Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e).
  • Nietzsche, F. ([1883–1885] 2006). Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None (A. Del Caro and R. B. Pippin, Eds., A. Del Caro, Trans.). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
  • Simon, D., R. F. Colesberry, and N. Kostroff Noble (Ex. Pr.) (2002–2008). The Wire (D. Simon, Cr.). Baltimore, MD / New York, NY: Blown Deadline Productions / HBO Entertainment.