What is 'Abyssality'?

20 juni 2024 | Sid Lukkassen

At the recent meeting of party members in the Dutch parliament, Thierry Baudet talked about abyssality. In his opening speech, he called FVD an ‘abyssal party’. He was referring to the book Be Abyssal, published in 2022 by yours truly, at Amsterdam Books. Abyssal is a word that has come up more and more since then - but what exactly does it mean?

A life-defining conversation

Abyssal means daring to look into the abyss - both society's abyss and your own. It means to draw life-defining conclusions from there and to find the courage to face the fact that some positions are irreconcilable. By virtue of the total content of your soul, and of the core of your character, it is inevitable that some paths will now separate. It takes bravery to confront that truth. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, ‘If I stare into the abyss, the abyss also stares into me.”

It was on an icy winter afternoon that I sought warmth in a Burgundy restaurant with the woman with whom I have an existential connection. From a deeply felt love and yearning for truth, we entered the subject of social morality.

Neither of us could have imagined that at least one of us would not leave this cosy restaurant as the same person. In a state of fusion of feelings and thoughts, the insight penetrated her soul deeper and deeper.

Her stare into nothingness suggested to me that time stood still for her. It was the retreat into the 'abyssal'. I took her hand and felt her warmth: the close bond of trust in which we opened our souls gave her the strength within which this conversation could exist, and this insight could be absorbed, even if it clashed with established opinions. We understood that the founding act occurs simultaneously with the establishment of morality, which then evaluates the founding act ethically. She knew that when time ran out again, she would be substantially changed by this insight. But what exactly does this insight entail? Let me take you through it.


Rome and the robbery of virgins

When Romulus founded the city of Rome, he lived in a chaotic period. It was mostly ragheads and semi-pirates who inhabited the first settlement. There had to be women and children, or the city would perish ingloriously. Romulus organised a religious festival - guaranteeing hospitality under the protection of the gods - and invited all the neighbouring tribes. As the drink flowed richly, however, he gave a signal. As agreed, all his henchmen grabbed a woman and made off before the guests understood what was happening.

This event is known as the rape of the Sabine women. Later, when Rome had become a powerful city and even grew into an empire, Roman historians looked back on it.  Of course, the abduction of virgins was and remains a morally dubious act. It was unprecedented and unheard of to violate hospitality. But apparently the gods allowed Romulus and the Romans to do it so that their city would would became great and powerful. If the gods did not exact retribution for this morally reprehensible act, who was the historian to do so?

An incriminating act finds its excuse in the result, wrote the Italian philosopher, Niccolò Machiavelli. If the result is positive, so too will be the excuse. Whoever understands this, understands how norms and values, morals and customs, become socially ingrained and coincide with the established order. They also understand how one can subsequently distance oneself from this again, via a soul which somehow feels called to break with social conventions. A soul arrives at an abyssal point and raises something from there which confronts the established mores.


Jean-Marie Dedecker versus female circumcision

This takes us back to the conversation in that cosy restaurant, where I dined with my interlocutor. We were discussing Jean-Marie Dedecker, the mayor of Middelkerke. He is a conservative Liberal of the old school, who operates in his town as a true civic leader, out of warmth and personal commitment. Dedecker's authority there is enormous: his party, the Dedecker List, has an absolute majority in the local council and people visit him personally to negotiate land that might come up for sale. He personally stops the federal government building speed cameras, and during the Covid period he held a big festival on the beach, on his own authority, which attracted visitors from far and wide.

We may conclude that Jean-Marie Dedecker has created his own moral universe, his own ecosystem or biotope with classically liberal, rooted-conservative keynotes. These are the values that characterise this moral universe: open-mindedness, realism, efficiency, small scale, personal involvement, room for entrepreneurship, down-to-earthness and respect for privacy.

Middelkerke, however, is not the only moral universe. Dedecker described having travelled and visited a refugee centre in Africa. Terrible scenes were taking place there, including the genital mutilation of girls and women. The refugee camp had fallen under the spell of a very fanatical movement: these were people who sewed up women's vaginas to supposedly ensure 'purity'. The seamstresses were women who did this to other women: "I had to go through this pain, so then you won't escape it either, seemed to be the guiding motive in this.

This brought our conversation to the question, whether this genital mutilation represents a universal moral evil, and how we should relate to it ethically and politically. So when you contrast the moral universe of Middelkerke with that refugee camp, it is clear that these are two absolutely incompatible moral worlds. There is an unbridgeable chasm between them - the two systems are irreconcilable.

Now it is tempting to think that Dedecker more or less lives in a fortress, that female circumcision is quite elsewhere in the world. They just do it, it is sad but, well, it is not our problem. I would never do such a thing to my wife or girlfriend and am glad it does not happen here.

However there is a chance that that flow of refugees will increase, that the refugee camp will become its own moral universe and that it might grow into a new civilisation, as happened with Rome. It sounds far-fetched, but prophets like Moses, Jesus and Mohammed went a long way in establishing their own moral universes. In the light of globalisation, it cannot be ruled out that one day a bus of immigrants will arrive in Middelkerke, slowly but surely seeking to make genital mutilation commonplace there too.

If you examine your own character, it might turn out that you could not exist under such a system of genital mutilation. You would have to be so alienated from your own nature and identity that you would literally rather go down fighting, than live under such a system. And faced with this, is there not a certain duty to purge that refugee village of that cult - to destroy that cult completely, before it can ever set foot here? Abyssality is the courage to confront this question in our innermost selves.


Theory of knowledge

In geology, the world consists of tectonic plates: layers of earth which rub and collide with continents on top of them. Now, in our comparison, the moral universe of Middelkerke under Dedecker is one such earth plate; the cult of the refugee camp in Africa is another. Abyssality refers to the deep fault line between these plates.  This is revealed through the theory of knowledge, the philosophical movement that focuses on the question of what knowledge is and how people produce knowledge.

Such a tectonic plate, a moral universe, forms around a conviction, a set of moral principles associated with the core of personality - what Spinoza calls the 'conatus'. A conviction is what underlies how we deal with facts and how we order the myriad facts that make up the world. Knowledge is objective, but where we seek that knowledge, and what we then do or do not do with it, is determined by beliefs (e.g. whether or not to undertake genetic modification and in which domains).

While you can reject a belief, you can never do so on empirical grounds because the belief determines how you weigh and value the empirical data. As in the example of the classically liberal Middelkerke versus female genital mutilation in the African refugee camp, there are apparently clashing worldviews which produce competing sets of empirical data. Empirical facts usually do not help change someone's beliefs: even if you can prove that the mutilation hurts women, what good is that if religious purity outweighs it?

This is why it is valuable that FVD and a broadcaster like Ongehoord Nederland (Unheard Netherlands) exist!  Both make visible and insightful how the development of our society is weighed, evaluated and experienced by a broad and diverse palette of viewers and target groups who jointly shape and direct the future of this country. In short, FVD and ON broaden the available perspectives, offer depth and increase citizens' mutual understanding of each other's beliefs, even if their beliefs are incompatible.


Beliefs and knowledge

A conviction is an ethical intuition, a representation or preference of the kind of society one wishes to live in, an intuitive preference in terms of society's design. In short, it is the basic opinion from which all empirical, trial-and-error facts that follow are weighed and ranked.

I recently published an article on Daniel Dennett, a philosopher who has stuck to the importance of truth as a guiding scientific concept. Like Richard Dawkins, Dennett wrote about memes: stubborn notions that take root in people's minds. Memes are transferable through media and communication.

If we connect abyssality with the concept of memes, do we end up with a Nietzschean will-to-power theory of being? Or to a conception of 'fanning language', as honoured by the French postmodernist, Jacques Derrida?

My book, Be Abyssal, is about bringing together two schools of thought: that of classical antiquity and the modern Enlightenment - the search for truth and the good - with that of postmodernism and Romanticism - the pursuit of power and the expression of one's inner core.

Now we are back to the being theory of tectonic plates, where you do not find from empiricism any reason to cross from any plate to another. What is the point of a technologically advanced civilisation, of investing in innovation, if you sincerely believe that earthly life is merely a test for the soul to be passed on to a higher sphere in the afterlife? This is ultimately reducible to Spinoza's conatus: truth is objective but the conatus, the inner core of your character, determines what does and does not stick of that truth, which facts you pick up and which you discard as irrelevant.

Geert Wilders, the leader of the Freedom Party, and Jesse Klaver, the leader of the Green Left party, will never convince each other with trial-and-error arguments because they find totally different things important in life. So we come to the abyssal. They can both be completely truthful and will still never convince each other. What questions you put to empiricism is something that itself is not determined by empiricism.

Where two worldviews clash, decisionism takes the place of empirical testing. As Nietzsche says, which opinion prevails at any point in time is not a matter of truth but of power. In other words, if you can totally destroy that cult of female genital mutilation, and prevent it from ever descending on you, should you take that step today?


Prophetic soul

Romulus founded the city of Rome.  He created a community in accordance with his own preferences, in which he himself could thrive. He founded a moral universe within which his own core forces were expressed and flourished. From the abyss of his soul he excavated something that was some distance from the moral tectonic plate on which he found himself. Romulus was a prophetic soul, an abyssal soul.

Creativity is so often interpreted as high-flying, as experiencing extremes.  Think of the genius who gets a sudden whisper from the muse and then starts writing incessantly, gripped by an experience of another order. This explains the high peaks and deep valleys associated with the creative.

Bumping into the outer world, someone with a vibrant inner world is always experiencing the contrast between the drab veil of the mundane and the festival taking place inside. Most people are so set in their ways that they would rather allow the mundane to tyrannise the inner and exceptional than bring their own colours into the world.

So there is clearly a battle going on between the individual and the crowd. Usually the world wins but by bringing a powerful meme into the world, the individual can, over time, bend the masses to his own will and create his own tectonic record. A soul which succeeds in this is a prophetic soul.



Where does this leave us and in what political direction does it steer us? We have learned that being abyssal means having the courage to trust your own judgment. Abyssalism is achieved where the reader gains the courage to made a radical break with virtue hegemony and thereby discovers and claims the space to engage in creative work of his own.

Politicians who one day called on us to 'clap for healthcare', and who the next day fled parliament when it came to voting on raising healthcare salaries, have lost all our esteem. The same goes for ministers who first admonished us over a life-threatening contagion threat and immediately afterwards supported a mass demonstration for Black Lives Matter. Their claim to moral authority rebounds on us: we listen to our inner voice, we find our own moral compass.

Exercising power also means prescribing norms and values. This is linked to group hierarchies. By taking back the creative power from your own autonomy, a person becomes lord and master of his or her own morality. If every individual applies this, group belonging disappears and different views will clash. However, the natural hierarchies which people rely on mean that the strongest soul, the most vivacious conatus, will express this power.

Recognising this, allowing it to penetrate you at the deepest level of individual identity, gives relief and enormous power. But to reach that inner creative power, to experience liberation, you have to dare to sacrifice everything. That is the only way forward, the only route to stay spiritually healthy. The imperative ‘Be Abyssal!’ expresses all this as the highest lifestyle a person can adopt: autonomous validation. Trust yourself and yours - like me and my conversation partner in the restaurant, whose musical energy permeates my soul and also feeds me in writing this text. Find the truth and build your own city.

Order the book: Be Abyssal! (In Dutch)


You may also like