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Charlotte Light and Dark
So, there's this terminology. I'm not sure where it began--probably it has roots in the pagan community and seems to have some meaning within Illuminati circles, but I came across it through Steve Pavlina's articles (who I read briefly because justbeast  likes him but more or less everything he says makes me boggle or start on a rant of some kind or another so for my blood pressure I've stopped.)

The terminology is lightworkers and darkworkers.

Lightworkers are people who devote themselves to others, see others as extensions of themselves, achieve higher consciousness by making things happen for other people and increasing the net awesome of the world, not by working for themselves, but by laboring for the advancement of others.

Darkworkers are people who devote themselves to their own advancement, who are driven by the desire to control their own reality and accomplish things for themselves. They achieve higher consciousness by increasing their personal power.

Now that last is a lot nicer way of putting it than Pavlina, and almost anyone I've heard use these words, manages when talking about darkworkers. They lie and manipulate and suck energy from lightworkers and are selfish and mean and bad. Pavlina also says that walking a middle path between these two will never get you as far on your path as devoting yourself to one alone.

So basically, there are good people and bad people. Let's just leave aside the usefulness of dividing the world like that, which I really think is none. On the other hand, what self help gurus do, essentially, is come up with metaphors that the rest of us can chew on and learn form and spit out if we need to and I keep thinking about this one, because I don't know where the artist fits into it. But more on that in a second.

First of all, the language is SO VERY SKEWED HERE. Obviously we're all lightworkers because we're all good people, right? And those nasty other folks we don't like, they're darkworkers because light is good and dark is bad. Note there are no long essays on how to be a good and effective darkworker (because it's actually not very groovy to leave a wake of shattered people behind you, it doesn't serve even selfish purposes to have no one want to work with you.) Lightwork is the only way to fly. Of course, if lightworkers see others as extensions of themselves, then their work is also selfish, and frankly, I find people who think I am only an extension of them to be rather creepy and upsetting and not very generous or kind at all.

Of course there are bad and selfish people in the world--but to divide everyone into two categories (LOVE AND FEAR) and call it a day basically declares war if anyone ever takes it seriously and I don't find that to be very "light" at all. Why is it a sin to take care of yourself, pursue your ambitions, seek control over your life? Why is it a virtue to exercise no control, let life take you where it will, and ask nothing for yourself? Obviously asking this makes me a darkworker. But it is possible to pursue one's own dreams and goals without being a total douchebag.

And so this brings me to: exactly where does an artist fit in to this horrible little binary?

Notice I don't capitalize it--I hate even using the word, really, because people often decorate themselves with it to excuse aforementioned total douchebaggery. But being an artist right now, in this world, is a brutal fucking business, and just the very act of wanting to make art is kind of selfish, isn't it? What I have to say is important and not only should you read it you should pay me for it? But at the same time, books and music and art enrich the lives of others--that is their entire point. Is the musician with a song for every fire a darkworker because she spends her waking hours thinking of ways to live by her craft and get her albums into the world? Is the writer who wants to continue to work, who wants control over his creations and to be recognized by his peers a darkworker because he is ambitious and devoted to his books? Yet the singer has a song for anyone who asks, and the writer has a story for those who need it. They want to succeed for their own happiness, yes, but without others and without touching their lives, what is the point of any of it?

I certainly don't like hearing that I'm a darkworker because I don't see everyone else as an extension of myself (what a sociopathic idea) and am driven. I don't think one can really have control over much of one's own reality, but certainly I control what I choose and who I am (most of the time) and I have chosen a life devoted to my own work. And yet, part of that work is helping younger writers to learn and get a leg up in the industry--one of the big lessons of a writing career is that the sales and success of others does not impinge on your own. You are good and they are good and your main competition is always yourself, which will never stop being capable of making crappy art. There are enough resources to go around, most of the time.

I don't necessarily want to come down on the side of "you have to have both." There are people who suck the energy right out of you and are only out for themselves. There are people who give everything they have to others. But it galls me how simplistic that is--and plenty of people who give their energy freely do it because they believe they deserve nothing better and destroy themselves in the process. And some of the people out for themselves start companies and make movies and run websites and even countries. Sometimes badly, sometimes well. I don't believe anyone who runs a country does it out of purely altruistic drives.

I guess I'm rambling at this point. But I came across the words again today and they made me as mad as they ever have. It's just not that simple. We're not just binaries where some are good and unselfish and some are bad and selfish. I write a blog. I do it for me and I do it to communicate and maybe sometimes I help somebody. But I still also do it because it brings me pleasure and I like it when people comment. Is it light or dark? I'd bet Elizabeth Moon wrote her essay as she did with the bet of intentions of communicating clearly and conversing with other humans. It doesn't make what she did any less ugly. Light or dark? The whole thing just makes me growl and my ornery nature makes me want to say fuck yeah I'm a darkworker just to show that you can want things for yourself and be ambitious as hell without being the actual freaking devil. Without ambition I'd just stare at the computer and eat bachelorette chow til I died.

We love binaries because everything in our culture is set up around them. Light and dark, yin and yang, good and evil. But they are poison and lead inevitably to the worst one: us and them.

Excellent post, full of great points! And none greater than the final paragraph. Thank you!

Aside from the binary thing being overly simplistic for just about everything except working with computers, there's also the slam against the nocturnal.

Would be funny if it turned out owls were having deep philosophical conversations about similar topics, and felt a deep distrust of lighties.

I actually wrote a whole book about that. Couldn't sell it though. *wry grin*

Night is awesome and day is awesome. We do not need to play out this crap anymore. It also plays into stupid racial shit, where the lighter = the better. It's a horrid and grotesque system that leads people to despise the world--or at least half of it.

Even African languages use light/dark imagery for good/bad, and presumably they don't mean it to apply to human pigmentation, but as a sensitive liberal, I'd rather not.

And I agree with you quite apart from that.

I suspect that it comes from humans not being nocturnal animals--we need the light to live and grow food, therefore it's good. Darkness lets predators hide and signals winter, and therefore it's bad.

And we’re not all cut out to be saints, either. I like helping people, but if I don’t take care of myself, I’ll have no energy to do it. There’s nothing wrong with advancing yourself as long as you aren’t harming others in the process; there are plenty of healthy feedback loops where it doesn’t matter whether your motivation if selfish or selfless because both sides benefit. Life is not a zero-sum game; the dangerous people are the ones who think it is, and feel that they have to step on others on the way up.

And also--culture teaches women to give up everything and become a saint who gives only to the children they obviously must have. The result? A lot of depressed and guilty mothers, some of whom kill themselves. And fathers who are encouraged to be selfish and self-centered. And none of that actually benefits kids at all.

Ugh. I think binaries as false dichotomies, non-choices... but they can be useful as ends of a spectrum, no one does one thing, one way, all the time. Most people have some balance in their lives, and spend some time working on others folks projects, and some time working on their own projects. Most of my favorite artists are people who collaborate on work and projects with other people sometimes, nurture other people's talent as well as following their own vision.

As you pointed out, living in the extremes does no one much good.

Seconded. The yin-yang dichotomy is only mentioned in the Lao T'zu to highlight the need for balance.

This reminds me very much of the Nightwatch series by Sergei Lukyanenko. In it there exists the Day Watch and the Night Watch, but the books go a long way to showing that the line between Light Ones and Dark Ones is very gray. (Also, ripping good stories.)

I keep coming back to Pavlina's claim that you can't get as far on the middle path as committing to one or the other. There might be some truth in that--but it's all in how you define "getting far" and since both paths are deeply flawed...


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I would love to think of myself as giving and outwardly focused, but I saw myself very strongly in the very mild description of darkworker. Does being goal oriented make you a darkworker though? Because I am very driven and interested in the world, but only because I benefit from the feeling of accomplishment and learning. If I didn't get anything out of it, I wouldn't do it. When I walked away from a career and religion that didn't work for me, I decided I would never again live my life by the shoulds of other people.

And frankly, I have never felt lighter....

This is the actual text on Pavlina's site, though I'm pretty sure the terms predate him:

For a darkworker the elevation of one’s own consciousness is all that matters. Usually this is achieved via the pursuit of greater power and control of one’s life. Darkworkers ultimately want to be the kings and queens of their own universes. If you don’t deeply desire some form of dominance and control over your reality, you aren’t a darkworker.

Since the consciousness of others is viewed as either nonexistent or irrelevant, darkworkers are willing to do things that lower the consciousness of others, acting like energy vampires. They believe it’s possible to create a net gain for themselves at the expense of others.


But you're right, the demands of others can bleed you dry trying to meet their needs.

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Interesting. What I took from the binary split wasn't "this one is good" and "this one is bad", because of the phrasing: "Pavlina also says that walking a middle path between these two will never get you as far on your path as devoting yourself to one alone."

From the wording, he's fine with either; either is a move up the consciousness ladder. Also, your paraphrasing of his definition of darkworker doesn't sound terrible.

And this could be because you are a fair and careful writer, and his own writing is more sloped.

Yeah, I'm making it sound much better than he does. He's definitely not fine with either--he has a long article on how to be a lightworker, but darkworkers don't get the same treatment. Here's his definition:

"or a darkworker the elevation of one’s own consciousness is all that matters. Usually this is achieved via the pursuit of greater power and control of one’s life. Darkworkers ultimately want to be the kings and queens of their own universes. If you don’t deeply desire some form of dominance and control over your reality, you aren’t a darkworker.

Since the consciousness of others is viewed as either nonexistent or irrelevant, darkworkers are willing to do things that lower the consciousness of others, acting like energy vampires. They believe it’s possible to create a net gain for themselves at the expense of others.

With respect to the list in 10 Ways to Become More Conscious, a darkworker will often employ the exact opposite strategies in dealing with others if s/he finds it personally advantageous to do so. This includes lying, using fear and intimidation tactics, being cruel, squashing others’ dreams, keeping secrets, and manipulating others. It’s a very competitive mindset. Darkworkers often make the people around them more fearful, more apathetic, and less conscious. Treating others this way isn’t their goal; for darkworkers it’s only a means to an end. Socially it may be important for a darkworker to avoid being caught doing such things, but they don’t suffer serious inner resistance to such a path.

You can often detect the presence of a darkworker by the effect they have on your consciousness. For example, if you work for a company run by darkworkers, you may perceive that going to work at your job actually lowers your consciousness compared to if you just stayed home."

Emma Restall-Orr's "Living with honour, a Pagan ethics" is pretty focused on connections between people (and animals and the planet) and accuses binary thinking of... well, everything monotheism often gets accused of. Making the evil 'other' into a dehumanised object, so it's easier for your conscience not to empathise with them when they feel pain. She stresses connection as the answer (in a framework of neopaganism) because it forces you to consider the outcome of your actions even on those you'd like to dismiss as unworthy.

My bigger problem is with the people who think they qualify as light, and what wanting to be only pure whiteness does to the psyche and society.

Your ORANGEWORKER comment is made of Awesome :)

See, like the "everyone thinks their in the 90% percentile of competence" thing, most people are not able to judge their own motivations so clearly as all that. Mostly because motivation is complicated.

Ugh. This is where a little old-fashioned concept called NON-DUALISM comes in real handy.

*Ugh-ing WTF-ing the concepts, BTW, not you*

I prefer nuanced, chromatic greys. It makes life far more interesting and flexible.

But, in seriousness, think about the idea of Ethical Egoism, which basically says that you're in it for you. That's all well and good, but what can You really do, without other people in the world?

Another binary: Either you use them and manipulate them, and someone says "Oh no, you really care for people, deep down," or you do everything you can to be generous and altruistic, and someone says "You're just a selfish monster! You only do nice things for people so that they'll do nice things for you!"

There's no winning this.

We are people, and we are all going to do selfish things for good reasons, good things for selfish reasons, and all points of the spectrum between. It's a matter of our perspective and the perspectives of those we affect, at the time of, looking forward to, and thinking back on our actions and intentions.

Time, the will, and intention are not so simple as to be cast as either "Dark" or "Light."

The world is divided into people who divide the world into binaries and people who don't...

But seriously, I think this darkworker/lightworker thing is a stupid, if all too common, way to view the world. There are actually sociopaths who think of other people and creatures as things, as objects existing to be manipulated or destroyed. And they're probably commoner than we think--they're not all serial killers or dictators (I'm pretty sure I've worked for at least one). But they're still pretty rare, and they're sick. Most people care about others. Most people are doing the best they can for themselves AND the people they care about. We all give and we all take. It's just the way things work. The food web, the circle of life, that stuff.

I'm mostly a utilitarian, so results matter a lot more to me than intent or universal principles. I don't care why you write, whether you write for me or for you. I get to read your books and I am inspired, soothed, and challenged by your words. There is a view of moral behavior where nothing anybody does comes from purely altruistic intent. Even if it's only the little dopamine rush we get from knowing we were helpful, there's still a reward of some sort. When I cook for my family and friends, they get fed a delicious meal. When I garden, other people get to live in a world with more flowers and less lawn in it, and my local ecosystem is healthier and more diverse. Those are very good results for people-and-creatures-who-are-not-me, but it's also the case that cooking and gardening are fiercely creative and meditative acts for me. I can't NOT do something with my creative energy. Happy for my family, friends, and neighbors that mine spills over on them; happy for your readers that yours spills onto us.

'She was the kind of woman who lived for others...'

'She was the kind of woman who lived for others. You could tell the others by their hunted expressions.'

And as for
Lightworkers are people who devote themselves to others, see others as extensions of themselves, achieve higher consciousness by making things happen for other people and increasing the net awesome of the world, not by working for themselves, but by laboring for the advancement of others.

Angel in the House much? Over to Virginia:
She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it -- in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others.

Because lying down and letting people trample all over you is so good for your soul and theirs.... NOT.

And don't get me started on the problematic binarism of the either/or embedded in this woowooery - somebody who is generally regarded as a significant spiritual teacher once said something about loving one's neighbour as oneself - not more than oneself - and you know, if you don't love yourself a bit (except to smugly congratulate yourself on how giving you are), loving anyone as yourself is not going to be a lot, is it?

Re: 'She was the kind of woman who lived for others...'

Yeah, given how culture would love to have all women act as lightworkers and men as darkworkers there's a troubling subtext. Of course the worst people I know are the ones who care only for themselves but trumpet what great priests of light they are.

I like the leg, though. *darkworker yoink*

This reminds me of my husband's major gripe with the Star Wars universe - you can be emotionless and a "good" Jedi, but if you embrace any sort of emotion, even love, you're doomed to be a "bad" Sith.


I'll be a tealworker. :)

Yeah, Star Wars is a bit whatever, fuck off. No emotions OR birth control YAY. Also women are EVIL and make you FEEL THINGS. (Oh wait there's a female Jedi with no lines in the back? IT'S ALL BETTER THEN.)

I would proudly call myself a darkworker by this scale. Or at least, one who wants to be.

plenty of people who give their energy freely do it because they believe they deserve nothing better and destroy themselves in the process. - I am one of those, or have been in the past, and it's darn near killed me. I still push myself too hard, believe that I have nothing to offer but what I can do to support others. And that ain't healthy. Just as using others exclusively for your own ends ain't healthy, and thinking that others are only extensions of yourself ain't healthy.

But at the same time, I started a company with the AMBITION of being able to make a living helping to polish other people's stories and get them out into the world. If that's not a, well, a duskworker...I don't know what is. It's both altruistic and selfish. I'm good with that. I want to get stories (mine and others') out in the world, and I want all parties to be fairly compensated for this, so we can keep making more stories up. I'm good with that. I'm ambitious, damnit, and selfish, and yet I also want to share with the world.

And now I'M rambling.

I think the takeaway from this is: Artists are duskworkers, if they want to be, and that's all good.

I love the word duskworker.

If you want to read what SP says about it, the original bloggery is here: http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2008/05/lightworking/


I tried reading some of Pavlina's stuff a while back. Couldn't get into it. Now - especially having read how he actually put all that! - I am glad I didn't spend more time there.

What an offensive, pointless, and stupid binary. I mean really, what tiny fragment of the population can even be classified into one or the other of those categories?

Well, in his rubric...the mass of people are ineffective because they do not choose one path or the other. (Which really is just the one path. Hew pays lip service in other articles to maybe they're not villains and maybe it's a valid choice but he still comes down on lightworking is good and darkworking at its best still kind of sucks and hurts people. He compares it to eating meat--yes, living things die to feed you but you're ok with that.)

Yes. This.

What I hate especially is dark = bad and light = good. It's just not true. That's like saying short = healthy tall = unhealthy. They just aren't related.

I don't see the world in black and white. I don't even see it in greyscale. I see it in a huge multi-spherical array of colors and textures and pigments. It boggles me when things are so VERY oversimplified, especially to the point where it doesn't make sense anymore when applied back to the realities from which sprang such definitions in the first place.

this is the steve pavlina that lives in las vegas and sells his $500 personal development workshops for a living? i think that's all you need to know really.

but i am nocturnal so i belong to the darkside and shouldn't be trusted either.

Uh, what novel is this in, so I can avoid it? Or is it a movie, because I ignore most of them as well.

If this is a person claiming that Pagans believe any of this s**t, he doesn't know any of the Pagans I know, and I know quite a few. I'm involved in both local and national organizations, and just about everyone I can think of would disagree with that dichotomy. Life isn't that simple. Very few Pagans work entirely for others or entirely for themselves. That way lies burnout and madness.

And what about the racist undertone of the "bad" being the "dark"?

It's not a novel, it's a self-help guru's theory. But I've heard the words in terms of thelema and light and dark magic before, and if you google illuminati-obsessed groups use them too. Pavlina does not mention paganism.

I have no idea who this guy is, but the whole thing sounds like quasi-pagan teenage angst oh-god-I'm-taking-myself-so-seriously-ness to me.

Like real humans ever get that big fantasy moment when light and dark angels descend and say "Choose, mortal!"

He's actually a pretty famous self-help dude.

I haven't clicked over to the Pavlina site yet, but I think I disagree with him. In my spiritual tradition and many others, total selflessness is the ultimate goal of existence. However, it is acknowledged that everyone's starting point is "darkworker" and on the path to "lightworker." Therefore, by definition we are all somewhere "in between," except for the sociopaths, I guess. I think he has a point that we serve ourselves better by serving others, but I do not agree that there are some "good" and some "evil" people out there--just people on different points in that lifelong spiritual journey. Also, I don't know how Pavlina is putting it, but there is room in every vocation for a focus on service to others. For writers, we entertain and inform. Sure, I would love to have a book on the NYT bestseller list. But deep down, if I really think about it, what I want even more is to touch someone, enlighten them, inspire them, change their life, make them feel understood, to *connect*. By doing my best to make that connection, I am serving others. Whether or not it results in a huge amount of money is another question entirely.

I have to be honest--I think I am still closer to the darkworker side of things, but I would like to think it's a *virtue* that I am moving along the spectrum to an other-focused life, and that it is better for me to keep moving forward than to decide to go all-in as a "darkworker." LOL.

Okay, I clicked over and had a major case of tl;dr. Ugh. I think this is what happens when you get your worklife productivity mixed in with your new age spirituality. Unlike chocolate and peanut butter, they are two great tastes that don't taste great together.

Let's face it. Not everyone is going to find enlightenment through work. A mature spiritual practice can enhance your personal life and your work life, and *sometimes* it can help your career. Other times, your career is just what you do to get money and you get your spiritual fix elsewhere. People who find the lightworker/darkworker concept appealing should take a leap and look deeper into philosophy and religion, which provides much more satisfying explorations of the concepts of self-sacrifice and enlightenment. I think maybe Pavlina should go back to telling us how to organize our email inbox.

Hmm, I've walked that path, when I identified as a Wiccan, and found it pretty toxic to be honest.

Now I think of myself as shaman, if anything, freely admit that I know nothing, that I'm trying to figure this shit for myself and strive for balance. All things in moderation [even moderation] and all that jazz.

It mostly works...

From what you're describing it sounds like a completely rubbish artificial dichotomy and not really worth wasting any time on.

Nothing that makes us think is a waste of time.

I have met assholes who are in it for themselves, and assholes who are in it for other people.

And I have to say, the assholes who are in it for themselves are *infinitely* easier to deal with. They respond to incentives. You can pay them off or refuse to deal or threaten them with jail or whatever. All you have to do in order to make them leave you in peace is figure out how to make it the most rewarding or least painful option. And because society frowns on overt selfishness, you can often rally allies to help you.

But assholes who are in it for other people? You have no leverage. You cannot make them leave you alone because all they want is to HELP YOU. Even if "helping you" means badgering you till you're ready to scream, putting crushing restrictions on what you can do with your body or mind, or burning you at the stake to cleanse your soul.

That's not to say that everyone who wants to make the world a better place is an asshole. But being a "lightworker" out purely to help others does not make one a good or constructive person.

Edited at 2010-09-30 10:26 pm (UTC)

Good points. And be careful if the 'unselfish' person goes for the next stage and thinks it's not how much good zie does the other, but how much zie zirself suffers, ie 'sacrifices'.

Don't mean to sound like a Randite, but for an example of early 20th century thinking, look in Goudge's otherwise delightful A CITY OF BELLS. There's a custom of giving used toys to poor children at Christmas. One middle class child chooses among her toys which to give away, and chooses her old favorite that SHE loves best, because that will cost HER the most suffering. Her good vicar grandfather knows the poor children would prefer a newer toy so she is wasting the toy and her tears. But he doesn't TELL her, because that would spoil her ... experience(?).

One of my friends from high school has drunk deep of the Steve Pavlina Kool-Aid. It's almost to the point where I don't want to talk to her about anything, lest I get smacked with something like what you're talking about here.

I like doing things for other people, such as baking cookies, but I also enjoy spending a whole Saturday doing the things that I want to do, like working on cross-stitch projects and watching PBS historical documentaries from 1974. You're right, though - it's not a binary spectrum.


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