Interview with editor-in-chief Steven Van Neste

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You took over the magazine as Editor-in-Chief, why was this, and what changes happened as a result of this and what continues to be a conflict?

Mainly because I noticed there was no clear direction or focus in it. Though the idea of ‘no one in control’ often seems nice in theory, in practice it never works out that way. Everything always needs proper executive decisions, without these a vision cannot be furthered. I was asked to take over, so I did. As a result, a lot of things changed, first I cut out all the extra people because it was complicating things and I prefer simplicity. Secondly, I changed the presentation quite a lot and will continue to do so in the future. I dislike personal attacks, as such Ethics and the Modern Guru is not concerned with guru bashing etc. I am not opposed to inquiries, but to just call someone psycho etc. is just childish ad hominem. Being a philosopher, I prefer a philosophical approach, where we look at certain phenomena rather than focus on people, so our inquiries should be geared towards psychological mechanisms rather than just pointing fingers at a person.

What are the goals for the publication, and for “Ethics and The Modern Guru?”

As mentioned already, the approach is more philosophical and cultural. I don’t like conflict, so I prefer a topical focus and a move away from the many current ‘teachers’ out there, be the new age or non-dualistic etc. We can talk all day about this or that teacher, but it accomplishes little when we just lambast that person. I do like looking at the past, Jonestown for instance, and see how things could have possibly happened. Many of these modern teachers, however, are not really threatening at all and people fall for them because people like believing stupid things. Attacking these teachers does not change the mindset that leads people to all such nonsense. There needs to be a stimulation towards critical thinking and inquiries towards psychological dynamics and cultural entrapments. This also is why the last issue changed so much and turned into the Satyananda Edition, because in all honesty the whole Teal story is not that interesting. Psychic aliens etc. and wild stories, if people believe this then saying Teal is bad won’t sway them, as such, personally I never had a problem with Ms. Swan. I think she lies a lot and has this whole fabricated story of her past, but does that make her evil? As such, I am much more interested in the mindset that leads one to believe in all such stuff, than I am interested in taking people down. Ms. Swan obviously has the right to believe what she wants and if people want to follow her, then they are free to do so; saying Teal is bad suddenly won’t cause people to stop believing all sorts of nonsense and even if people stop following her because they realized she told lies, they will just flock to someone else who preaches the same stuff, so it changes nothing.

There has been critics and concerns from one of the writers, and threats of a lawsuit for several months, what is your take to this?  Are you concerned and why or why not?

All of that is without merit. Just gossip to occupy jealous and lesser minds.

Ethics and The Modern Guru is being attacked and vilified now by a small unknown cult, do you wish to expand on those circumstances?

Same thing, jealous and lesser minds seeking attention. I have no concern about it nor do I care.

Steven, what is your background?

I am a writer, poet and philosopher. My work on Ethics and the Modern Guru is really more of a side project, as it is an extension of my main philosophical work (see Nihilocracy, book 1: nomos). My main interest, however, is literary fiction, as I find there is much more freedom of exploration in there; add to that, our lives are largely fictional to begin with, hence our need to believe. The world in which we live is something we have made, constructed out of facts and feelings; as such, literary fiction is the perfect vehicle to explore our human world and fragile psyche. (Good examples here are the Faulkner, Balzac and Dostoevsky.)

What are your beliefs?

I am not entirely sure. I know I can be classified as an atheist and nihilist, though I try to be as free as possible from belief. However, an integral part of my philosophy is the inescapabilty of belief; even if we were to lead our life by the roll of the dice, this would constitute a belief. My thought is largely anti-humanistic, however, I also understand that we cannot ever escape our humanity; so I am not against man, merely against the idea man is anything else but a fragile species part of the natural world and food chain in the exact same way as any other animal. So for me, man has no more importance than a bacterium does, that being said, this knowledge does not solve anything and to a lot of people might even complicate things. How can we not be important? In spite of what some spiritual teachers might claim, we cannot ever be anything else than who we are and we cannot escape our own individual psyche, so our humanity is inescapable and no manner of thinking will ever change this. As such, though I may be an atheist, I do not associate myself with most atheism because they often remain trapped within something spiritual, it is just not perceived as spiritual. The whole idea that man can be cured and coached towards some new kind of rationalism, that we can just investigate our psyche and find a new clarity and all will be well etc., this is all nonsense, it just leads towards spirituality by another name and hence you get a cult of rationality. It is not that reason is not important, quite to the contrary (as I am very much pro critical inquiry and logic and I think that everyone should first of all learn proper logic etc. before trying to dabble in spirituality), it is just that reason does not solve anything either. No matter how rational I am about death being the end, it does not take away the anxiety we feel at the thought of being reduced to nothingness. So a lot of people who go full out against belief are misguided, we may believe very stupid things, but belief itself is not stupid; even more so, belief is an evolutionary mechanism and we cannot function without it. A man claiming to be perfectly rational and free of belief would be a liar, because his rationality is a belief. We cannot ever be spared from our thoughts and feelings; no amount of thinking can cure one of the feeling of anxiety, we can only learn to deal with it and become more tranquil. This was a major idea with a school of Greek philosophy (Pyrrhonism, an open ended skepticism that was later popularized by Sextus Empiricus), to use our thinking to understand the futility of thinking, in the hope that this futility shall lead to tranquility (ataraxia).

Any changes in the magazine?

The staff was minimized to just three people. Preliminary work on a new issue is under way and it has nothing to do with anything we have done before. Keeping things minimal avoids conflicts of interest and allows for things to run much smoother. The aim is to have a more scholarly approach, and as mentioned already, to have an approach that is more philosophical and cultural. This, however, does not mean it becomes a philosophy magazine, it is just the approach, as a light philosophical approach is the easiest to create and for everyone to understand.

Does the magazine hire writers and what is the policy for writing for the magazine?

I am open to consider contributions but do not actively seek anything. There will be no additional people added to the staff, but if someone wishes to contribute I could look into it, but it would have to be worked out on an individual basis, so there is no set protocol.

What are your other projects and interests?

I am very busy in editing all my past poetry and publish them. There are several volumes of poetry I have written over the years and I have published two last year, more will follow this year. At the moment I am into the final stages of proofing my novel Cha-Cha-Chaos which should be out in a week or two. It is a literary tour de force that has many occult themes and wanders between different narratives. The main theme is one of the quest for meaning, this search leads to a wandering, this wandering to being lost in a wasteland. It is a work with many layers which all blend in one another and there is no definite conclusion. It is very hallucinatory at moments and I am sure most will enjoy it, though of course it is literary fiction and as the name suggests it is not a linear something and has no traditional story driven narrative. I am also hard at work on a new novel that should be finished by the end of the year and in my head I am already composing a third novel and I still need to write the second book of my philosophy Nihilocracy. Besides that, I still have a lot of older material to go through and edit, so I have my hands full. Aside of all of this, I love going to Universal Studios, Seaworld and Busch Gardens, as I love thrill rides and love riding roller coasters. For the rest, I consider myself a very normal person and I lead a mostly quiet family life. The other hobbies I have are reading, playing video games, brewing my own beer and some weightlifting.

After note: Steven Van Neste new website has been launched at:  StevenVanNeste.com