Un-Mindful Collusion

I want to ask a simple question: Are contemporary western Buddhists complicit in what is arguably a rabid capitalistic system?  I don’t just mean the conservative western traditionalists, like the Zennites, Theravadins, Vipassanins, Tibetophiles, etc. I mean those communities that modify “Buddhism” with words that are meant to impress you with their enlightened advancement over such regressive and irrational religionists. Modifiers like Secular-, Atheist-, Progressive-, Post-traditional-, Agnostic-, Existentialist-, Naturalist-, Insight-, Non-sectarian, and Postmodern-. And we certainly can’t leave out the Mindfulnistas.

Are these communities unwitting agents helping to extend our predatory social, cultural, financial, and political status quo? And, if so, do they give a shit? In Marxist terms, which comes first for an x-buddhist: private profit or social need? Please pause and think before those bodhisattva buddhemes start booming in your brain.

We may have to pose an even graver question: do western Buddhist communities and media actively aid in the creation of a person who is incapable of the passionate, risky, and sustained commitment that is perhaps the first condition of real change? Is the contemporary Buddhist person-subject just too nice, mindful, and equanimous to be anything but a dupe to Exxon and J.P. Morgan? I cannot tell you how many times I have seen an x-buddhist douse himself/herself with a debilitating dollop of “non-reactivity” or “non-judgmentalism” in the face of genuine passion.  Well, why should I be surprised? After all, the  roots of x-buddhism lie deep in the yearnings of world-renouncing ascetics.

At some point, I want to return to an earlier post on this blog, called “Slavoj Žižek: From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism.” That post presented Žižek’s controversial essay contending that western Buddhism “is establishing itself as the hegemonic ideology of global capitalism.” Indeed, thumbing through the latest slew of western Buddhist propaganda organs–Shambhala Sun, Tricycle, Buddhadharma, Mindful, The Mindfulness Bell –and checking my Google blog aggregator for x-buddhisty headlines, it is difficult to argue against Žižek’s claim that although “’Western Buddhism’ presents itself as the remedy against the stressful tension of capitalist dynamics, allowing us to uncouple and retain inner peace and Gelassenheit, it actually functions as its perfect ideological supplement.” More Žižek at another time.

For your present consideration, I would like to present to you a fragment of a comment that TOM PEPPER made on the preceding thread.(For the entire comment in its original context, go here, #7; edited to stand alone.) Pepper makes a crucially important assertion here. It is one, moreover, that will be pressed with increasing fervor on this blog. For, unlike x-buddhists, some of us at this blog still believe in the possibility of human liberation. (Glenn Wallis)

Tom Pepper:

I want to point out what I think is the core article of faith of Secular Buddhism: the unquestioning belief in the ideology of capitalism. Badiou defines this very succinctly: the belief that “there are bodies and there are languages.” That is, we are bodily, biological organisms, seeking pleasure for our bodies (including our brains), and we do this by adopting the most convenient language/culture at will. There are no constraints to the culture we can adopt, and no truth content to it: we need only adopt the one that maximizes our bodily pleasure—what Batchelor calls “moment-to-moment flourishing.” This is why in his first paragraph [of his statement “A Secular Buddhist”] he can refer to “biological evolution,” “self-awareness and language,” the “brain” and our “fragile biosphere,” but it would never occur to him to mention our humanly constructed social formations as a source of suffering that we CAN ACTUALLY CHANGE!! This is why Secular Buddhists always seek to limit the discussion of suffering to sickness, death, loss, etc.—to those things that we certainly must learn to accept because they will doubtless always be with us. Passive acceptance of the inevitable, and maximization of bodily contentment, is the goal of Secular Buddhism AND of global capitalist ideology. This is why we accept the “scientific” research on mindfulness that operationally defines the successful achievement of “happiness” as the ability to remain undistracted by external stimuli; we achieve mindful bliss, it seems, as the ability to remain completely Unmindful of the world around us, and never let it disturb our brain/body comfort.

Badiou explains: “the modern name for necessity is, as everyone knows, ‘economics,’ which should be called by its name: the logic of Capital.” The one unchangeable truth is the ineffable uncontrollability of the capitalist economy, and we must all simply adjust our languages and medicate our brains/bodies to maximize our bliss in the face of this inexorable truth. Secular Buddhism seeks to become the ideology of this power, which forces us to participate in the production of oppression, poverty, and suffering for the majority of the world population. We focus on being nice and accepting sickness and death, and believe if those poor folks in the southern hemisphere would only become secular Buddhists too, they’d be fine. Their suffering isn’t the result of economic and political oppression; it results only from their inability to become oblivious to the world around them! Be mindful, and enjoy your poverty!

152 thoughts on “Un-Mindful Collusion

  1. An example of what TNH, a pragmatic mindfulness and socially engaged buddhist teacher actually was doing in 2001:

    “This summer, a group of Palestinians came to Plum Village and practiced together with a group of Israelis, a few dozen of them. We sponsored their coming and practicing together. In two weeks, they learned to sit together, walk mindfully together, enjoy silent meals together, and sit quietly in order to listen to each other. The practice taken up was very successful. At the end of the two weeks practice, they gave us a wonderful, wonderful report. One lady said, “Thay, this is the first time in my life that I see that peace in the Middle East is possible.” Another young person said, “Thay, when I first arrived in Plum Village, I did not believe that Plum Village was something real because in the situation of my country, you live in constant fear and anger. When your children get onto the bus, you are not sure that they will be coming home. When you go to the market, you are not sure that you will survive to go home to your family. When you come to Plum Village, you see people looking at each other with loving kindness, talking with other kindly, walking peacefully, and doing everything mindfully. We did not believe that it was possible. It did not look real to me.”

    But in the peaceful setting of Plum Village, they were able to be together, to live together, and to listen to each other, and finally understanding came. They promised that when they returned to the Middle East, they would continue the practice. They will organize a day of practice every week at the local level and a day of mindfulness at the national level. And they plan to come to Plum Village as a bigger group to continue the practice.”

    If would like to read the whole peice you can see it at: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=271476892871807

    You seem to reduce and ridicule TNH but he is actually DOING thing to bring peace and solidarity about.

    Probably you and Tom would also say that Gandhi made it easier for the British Empire to keep dominating India !

    What abou your own unquestioning belief in the ideology of communism.

    Granted, capitalism is full of horrors, but what about comunism???

    Your own ideology doesnt allow you to grasp the FULL picture of horror and suffering in this world?

    What good is that?

  2. “Do western Buddhist communities and media actively aid in the creation of a person who is incapable of the passionate, risky, and sustained commitment that is perhaps the first condition of real change? Is the contemporary Buddhist person-subject just too nice…”

    My observation is yes. I don’t know that I can speak as succinctly (or smartly) as most responders on your blog, but in my own limited experience, my own passion for wanting to change things seems to be met with ire by people who think I am studying “Meditation” and by extension “Buddhism.” People seem to love when I talk about nice and happy things such as equinimity and peace. But, when I very vocally stand up for political change (supporting the LGBT community at the potential expense of my friends and family)…I seem to get the cold shoulder. I feel it very palpably that somehow people cannot square my meditation practice with my sense of injustice and my very honest language. I have actually been told to “just keep things positive.” People seem to keep saying to me to “take a deep breath” or they wonder when meditation will “calm me down.”

    It really gets back to whether Buddhism wants awareness a.k.a HONESTY about what is actually occuring, or do we want to “hope” that it will get better and just blindly accept when it doesn’t. I can’t speak globally, but I can speak to personal feelings and observations, and because of that I tend to agree with your assertion.

    Does compassion have to necessarily dull my passion? It is a question that has been on my mind lately. Not sure if my comment really speaks to all of the particulars in your post, but perhaps to some small lived human experience related to it.

    “I am not interested in good will. I am interested in change.” — Glenn Close

  3. April (!) (#2).

    “I am not interested in good will. I am interested in change, goddamit.” — Glenn Close Wallis

    Do you mind if I steal that for my signature?

    I can not tell you how many times I have heard what you report here. I get pissed at someone. They say, “I thought you were a meditator!” Eventually, I learned to reply, “not you’re kind of meditator.” That sort of constriction of the human affective-emotional spectrum does not come from meditating, does it? As far as I can tell, it comes from the coercive infrastructure that construct around meditation. But you know this already!

    Thanks a million for commenting. I hope you’ll stick around a while.

    P.S. I added a link to your blog on the blogroll. Have a look, everyone.

  4. Of course you can steal it, while you may see it on mine from time to time. It didn’t even occur to me that you both had the same first name…but it is late and I am chasing sleep after some family drama. Thanks for adding me to your blogroll, although my page may stick out like a rather sore thumb for it’s non-scholarly nature (and there is that jabberwocky again…damn him!)
    I plan to be around though, especially now that I am part of the sphere.

  5. #0

    Glenn, as an eastern-origin capitalist x-buddhist I am sorely disappointed that you have limited your focus only to how *western* strains of x-buddhism is complicit in its capitalistic system*.

    The glorious rise of capitalism in the east is undoubtedly the result of eastern x-buddhism. No where else has the three baskets of the founder been put to so much good use. No where else have I seen so many people prostrate themselves before huge golden statues of the Buddha asking for his divine intervention in winning the lottery and/or getting a big Western x-Buddhist contract to provide small golden statues of the Buddha.

    Millions have been lifted out of poverty resulting only in escalating Gini coefficients. This is surely undeniable proof that the Buddha and his countless singing Boddhisatvas are looking after us from the lotus-laden lakes of the Pure Land!!!

    If I wasn’t such an ardent x-buddhist I would be drinking at least five remy martin toasts to this, every *night*. (I limit myself to one drink a week these days because I have a very naughty naturapath).

    But it’s your blog, so I guess you get to choose what you want to focus on.

    So coming back to your point.

    I’m unconvinced that any of these participants are unwitting or unconscious. Instead, I argue that it is a collaboration (or actually, a market). The x-buddhist buyer is inherently a capitalist and actively and consciously seeks x-buddhism to buttress and further enable his (or her) capitalistic abilities. The x-buddhist schools/organisations (by process of elimination through capitalist darwinian processes) provide the necessary services and methods (for a fee) that satisfies the x-buddhist buyer’s needs.

    The eye-glaze you and your fellow Marxists** get when you talk to an x-buddhist about the evils of capitalism and how x-buddhism should bring in some bla bla about communes, solidarity and gulags – is not the dousing of socialist sensibilities with the drug of x-buddhism. There were never any socialist tendencies in the first place. The eye-glaze is actually a valiant attempt to stop eye-rolling in your presence.

    Now, capitalism = good does not make any more sense than capitalism = evil. I’d like to think that most of my fellow capitalist x-buddhists would agree that the engine of capitalism ideally requires a body consisting of an appropriate safety net***, effective and targeted government regulation, a nicely balanced list of individual rights and responsibilities, an educated empowered citizenry and an enlightened foreign policy. Sure the details need to be worked out and there will be a lot of awfully loud yelling and words in all-caps but that’s part and parcel of the glorious System.

    Anyway, my point is that you cannot assume that just because someone sees something different when they open their eyes, that this means they are blind. And you cannot assume that the only real passion is the passion for real change (what do you mean by real change anyway?).

    with metta as always.

    * it isnt working all that well btw just in case you haven’t noticed. those greeks for example. in my honest opinion they need more x-buddhism (specifically of the mahayana pure-land variety) and less greek gods.

    ** geeze i didnt know that any still existed until i happened on this forum. yeah, yeah, i see some uni students pretending to be marxists every now and then but i figure they grow out of it.

    *** i can’t actually believe the stuff you americans are against. what is wrong with universal health insurance?

  6. Hi there Glenn

    I wonder whether we need to apply Laruelle’s 4 ‘principles’ to the question of politics. Do we need a speculative non politics?

    As I mentioned on the other thread it seems as if we have been critical of *organisational* politics of various xbuddhist groups and secular buddhism and both you and Tom mention “the unquestioning belief in the ideology of capitalism” within Secular Buddhism which I suggest is also prevalent among most other western buddhist groups. However, there is also the unquestioned belief in the ideology of theocracy within Tibetan buddhism, the unquestioned belief in the ideology of nationalism within Singalese buddhism and Zen, or the political struggles of the Ambedkarite Buddhists in India, to name a handful.

    In my country, both the ethnic and western buddhists remain silent (while exuding metta of course) while organisations and both local and national politicians play their games using vulnerable people as their chess pieces.

  7. Here we have three of the first defenses of capitalism represented. Luis Daniel mentions the multicultural, as if the whole of the problem were getting Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, blacks and whites, etc. to live in peaceful capitalist harmony. If we were free to choose the language that makes our body most comfortable, all would be well. I won’t rehearse the critique of multiculturalism made in Badiou’s “Ethics” or Zizeks many reiterations of the same basic critique. Multiculturalism is one part of the great “bodies and languages” ideology of capitalism. And Thich Nhat Hanh was always a dupe of capitalism—and, I believe, and unwitting one. I don’t believe he consciously and intentionally became a tool of American anti-communist propaganda during the Vietnam War—and I don’t think he can see the problem with telling people it is okay to get rich making weapons of mass destruction, as long as they do it mindfully. I do get the impression that he means well, but is just so immersed in deep love of capitalist ideology he can’t see he is enabling the suffering he hopes to alleviate.

    Then, Jonckher insists on the glories of capitalism from within his positivist epistemology. He can’t let go of the idiotic insistence that knowledge is a matter of a list of proven claims, of “information.” There will never be a “study guide” of positive statements for non-buddhism, because it is not positivist—knowledge is the use of abstract concepts, the ability to understand, not name, phenomenon. This positivism is useful, though, because within smaller capitalist countries it is perfectly possible to make capitalism look good. The fact that capitalism is only possible so long as the majority of the people remain oppressed and poor remains invisible, if we can keep those poor and oppressed people confined to a different part of the world. Then, we can deny the existence of what we cannot physically see in front of us. For Jonckher, it is only “seeing” one thing or another—all are simply illusions we create, none is a truth. We need to get beyond such reductive positivism and realize that we can understand the truth of what you ‘see when you open your eyes.’

    For both of them, capitalism is just “natural,” and this was exactly my point. It may cause enormously more suffering in the world than any attempts a communism ever have, but it is “natural,” and so a better, because unavoidable, kind of suffering.

    Even the few attempts at communism have been doomed from the start because of a dependence on the ultimate delusion of capitalism: a monetary system based on exchange value. As Che Guevara pointed out, allowing limited privately owned manufacture in the USSR in order to fund the military was bound to lead to totalitarianism and collapse. China is another failure—the most thoroughly capitalist state in the world, producing for profit most of the world’s unnecessary junk, because their limited arable land limits the food supply.

    There is no “unquestioning” ideology of communism, because there is no communist relations of production to have an ideology of, as yet. And the stupid capitalist propaganda that equates communism with totalitarian state-run capitalism (which is the definition of fascism) is one of the strategies to promote the knee-jerk anti-communist reaction.

    Then, sometimesihatemycat points out the last ditch defense against struggle for equality: it is just rude, and lacking compassion, to make people see the truth. If people had real compassion, instead of mind-numbing comfort, they would always get passionate about eliminating the suffering of others. Unfortunately, if meditation does in fact make you see reality more clearly, it is not likely to calm you down. Who wants to be calm, anyway? That’s what drugs, and lobotomies, are for.

  8. “The eye-glaze is actually a valiant attempt to stop eye-rolling in your presence.”

    I guess I would just say that eye-glaze = good does not make any more sense than eye-rolling = bad. For me, that is the experiential crux of the whole arguement. Roll your eyes if it is an honest expression of what you feel. Perhaps then there can be real dialogue. Let’s all roll our eyes, and then proceed to ask each other why and how and then engage in the struggle. Why do we feel the need to suppress honest reactions? That is precisely my point related to passion. I would prefer it to glazing over, on most occasions.

    P.S. Tom Pepper, I must add wine to your list of calm-inducing agents, or I would be quite in denial…and not very honest. But then again, too much and all that calm gets flushed right down the toilet. 😉

  9. Here’s a thought that comes to my mind. I’m not saying I like it or agree with it, mind you, only that it begs response:

    The individual has pathetically little control over the wider society she finds herself embedded in. It takes enormous collective action to change what Badiou calls “the social formation.” Since most people find this to be an unreasonably daunting task, they take refuge in what they have more control over as individuals: bodily health, smooth interpersonal relations, and psychological wellness in the form of mindful equanimity in the face of all that is bad and out of control. The x-Buddhist project of “moment-to-moment flourishing” seems much easier to attain than any wholesale modification of society. This is not because people are necessarily lazy, corrupted, or stupid, but because people are relatively weak as individuals (billionaires and politicians and religious leaders of high office excepted) and they are blocked from meaningful collective action, mostly through the inertia of those around them. Even if you gather 100 accomplices to devote their lives to radical social change (e.g. the transformation towards a post-capitalist society) the chances are that you may up 1) failing, 2) impoverished, 3) imprisoned.

    Changing gears, now:

    The challenge presented in this latest blog post is an ethical one. But since a recurrent theme of this weblog is the facticity of “nihilism” (not just eternal individual annihilation, but the inescapable total destruction of humanity, the earth, and eventual thermal equilibrium of a cold, lifeless universe), I wonder what basis you have for such an ethical judgment? Why not some form of apocalyptic libertinism?

    My own answer to the above dilemma is an Aristotilean one: We do not come into the world as blank slates, but have a natural teleological nature towards human flourishing, including real concern for our fellow man as well as the rest of the biotic world. And this may also be the basis of collective social action: we are naturally homo politicus and we “fulfill” ourselves when we strive for the betterment of the demos, even if this striving will end in failure. (Mind you, Aristotle was an elitist bigot and dead wrong about plenty. We must pick and choose even from the best of minds.)

    What say you, Wallis, Pepper, and Badiou?

  10. To answer the opening question more succinctly: Yes, Western Buddhists are complicit — but they do this because that seems like the best available option in a world where wholesale, radical social change seems about as likely as Elvis coming back from the dead.

    I’m not saying that is true of me or that it is a situation to be proud of, but that’s what it looks like from my vantage point. I’m willing (hoping?) to be wrong.

  11. Brad,

    No doubt the individual is meant to feel she has little control over the world–that only the billionaire can make a difference. And so, we are meant to resign ourselves to being nice to our neighbors, and saving up for a new iphone. If you gathered 100 people, in one town, who were seriously as devoted to making meaningful change as most Americans are to baseball or lawncare, the effects could be enormous. But there would be no profit in it–nobody would make money, or find that state of bodily bliss. We would only fulfill our conatus as homo sapiens–something which we are taught never to do, unless somebody can get rich off of it. Imaginary plenitude, and not un-alienated labor, is the new fantasy of the working class. We used to read stories about being cowboys or sailors or explorers, with the illusion that their labor had meaning; now our kids read stories about having a magic phallus that fulfills their every wish without any effort. The goal is to lose all ability to see effort, commitment, as social interaction as good in themselves–once we’re alone with our iphones and 3-D television, we’ll have bliss.

    It is the triumph of ideology, but it is also, a little bit, laziness (which, of course, is encouraged in our ideology).

    So, many probably do seek Buddhism as a way to find contentment, states of euphoric happiness; but most don’t, or at least, they find that they can only be happy if they make an effort, and deal with other people, and commit to doing things that won’t always be fun and exotic–like organizing meetings, or reading hard books. I would estimate the average career of the American Buddhist is less than ten months–once the buzz of the exotic wears off, the zafu get shoved under the bed and they move to the next quick-fix. We want instant answers, and the answer must be fun, produce bodily pleasure, and require no effort–and, if possible, there should be some profit involved.

    My first goal is to free people of this ideological prison–then, once we get 100 people together, willing to show up every week, to commit time and effort, to keep working for year, not a couple of weeks, real change could be made. But if they accept the message that we can’t change the world, so don’t bother trying, then we can’t get started.

    Let me suggest a possible Badiouian response, by quoting from Bruno Bosteels’s book “Badiou and Politics”:

    “The task of a political intervention is twofold: 1) to turn a deaf ear to the noisy declarations about the impossibility of what is not, so as to enable oneself to hear what happens; and 2) based on an event as such a happening, to put into circulation a supplementary statement or proposition that forces the possibility of that which the dominant structure stubbornly confines to the realm of the impossible.” (p. 238)

    We need to stop listening to the defeatist ideologues, and learn to make happen what the ruling order would insist cannot be done.

    Those who turn to Buddhism for a state of quietist bliss, to quell the angst that won’t let them find happiness in their mcMansion paradises, will never be interested in this–but then, they’ll tell you, when they’re being honest, that they never do find that blissful contentment, that boundless compassion and equanimity, not matter how much they spend on retreats and Buddha statues and fancy sitting cushions.

    This is a rather disorganized reply, but I felt compelled to answer. I have suggested my basis for ethical judgement in a previous essay–the mind is a collective occurrence, and pure libertinism, pure atomistic hedonism, only increases suffering for all. We have a nature, as a symbolic species of animal, and we need the opportunity to use our abilities or we suffer. Suffering is worse than meaningful activity. From the perspective of the universe, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference–we’ll be gone soon. From the perspective of the human species, we have an obligation not to revel in bodily bliss at the expense of someone else’s suffering. And really, going to political meetings and staging protests and producing and circulating pamphlets can be meaningful activity, and really can make a difference.

  12. Dear Glenn, first of all I want to thank you for bravely creating this blog as a means to speak your mind and allowing others to do the same in the name of free thought. I’ve been following this blog for some time, but I guess as a young “mediator” whatever that means, and as a very recent x “Buddhist yes-man” I feel pretty confident that i’m ready to tear Buddhism a new asshole. I returned a few days ago from the infamous “non-sectarian” “dogmatic Goenka Vipassana retreat. After day 6 I had to bounce. Partly because I became physically quite sick and partly because I felt that pretty soon they were going to bust out some Kool-Aid and the fear that someone would soon begin start proclaiming a Resurrection of Buddha..

    To get to your question’s: “Are contemporary western Buddhists complicit in what is arguably a rabid capitalistic system?” and ” do western Buddhist communities and media actively aid in the creation of a person who is incapable of the passionate, risky, and sustained commitment that is perhaps the first condition of real change?”

    Can I get a HELL YEAH!!! In so many Buddhist traditions I’ve encountered a similarly disenchanting passive attitude towards my questions about politics, social media, capitalism etc. Buddhism continues to contradict itself by claiming to concern itself with the “suffering” of all beings with each tradition dogmatically implying it’s correct system of thought and meditation, while either completely DE-valuing other systems of thought or simply just ignoring their existence. We are then told, this is the way to freedom, use it or shut the fuck up. But, suppose I don’t agree in the system? In traditions like Vipassana the response I received from teacher “Tom Fantini” has been a militant, and now I quote “well, this is what we’re all doing here, if you don’t scan your body from the top down you won’t know what’s going on inside the body and you will be lost in confusion”!! And, in such traditions as Tich Nhat Hahn, which I hold close to my heart, and feel has a lot going for it, I continue to find myself unsatisfied and disheartened by the calmly gentle arrogance of what is known as socially engaged Buddhism. In this tradition, which I know very well, adherents are too often victim to creating a completely delusional mindful peace bubble around themselves, the teacher and the sangha. But, once you leave the monastery, once you leave the sangha meeting all the smiling and mindfulness is really just kind of corny and surfaced in conjunction to the pace of modern society and the aggression which we face every day just walking around.This dreamy calm state of tranquility isn’t real to the angry guy who wants me to walk faster because his girlfriend dumped him or to the homeless guy who doesn’t give a shit about eating mindfully but just wants a fucking hoagie.

    Buddhism, i suggest draws a line in the sand, a duality of right and wrong, peace and violence and compassionate between itself, which is of course reality, and liberation from the entire world outside of this framework, which is laughably the society in which we live in- and capitalist one at that. Buddhism therefore doesn’t go far enough in it’s investigation of what it means to be human in the world today and it damm sure doesn’t go far enough in addressing the world’s problems full circle. When I read a magazine, or turn on the TV i’m constantly reminded that i’m not good enough, i’m not man enough, i’m not cool enough and on and on and on. As a recent college grad. I have to start making decisions about my life.Capitalist society says in order to be someone in this world, I need a high status job, I need power and I need to be rich. At first Buddhist philosophy is refreshing for the young college student who is tired of hearing such a depressing message and bombarded with messages that he or she is inadequate and inherently deficient from birth. The young person is then mesmerized by the calm charismatic Buddhist master who is not only suggesting an alternative to this madness but a motherfucking solution! Not only is this a new way of thinking but it is concrete, easy and best of all it helps calm me the fuck down. But, eventually once one goes far enough in the mind Buddhism fails to do exactly what it sets out to do. So, zen master, enlightened teacher are you really telling me that the answer to all of my problems and the world’s are to just sit here? Well, I say, fuck you man my parents were hippies, and I was taught to fight the power not passively accept it. Yes, too much porn and empty sex are harmful to myself and to others but the solution then is not to be a celibate monk or a gentle meditative prude ignoring the urges of passion and overlooking the thrills of romance. The more I just sit here and desire for simplicity and equanimity the more Apple and Facebook are making products that make are jaws drop. I phones and Ipads are distracting in my search for enlightenment and Facebook is a hindrance to my awakening. I think we have to re-evaluate what it means to be mindful in the first place. I am mindful of my breathing, check,mindful I feel like shit, check, mindful of the earth and environment, check, mindful of wars and social problems, check. Okay good, now it’s time for walking meditation. How can we connect mindfulness with political activism and radical social action which can lead to concrete social change? I’m mindful of the greed off wall street, i’m mindful that for every job out there today, there are 6 applicants. Great, now i’ll just keep breathing. Well, I accuse Buddhism of being too chicken to step up to the plate and follow through in it’s quest for real change. It takes real courage and vulnerability to love, it requires being present in the uncertainty that I may fail at what i’m doing, but, i’ll do it anyway because I want to change the world not just watch it pass by. Don’t get me wrong, I love meditation. I think it’s an important tool that should be utilized, especially in places like America which have completely lost touch with what’s important and have become overwhelmingly destructive both globally and domestically. I will always be an advocate for meditation and I will always do it, but meditation is not enough in itself. Meditation should increase our passion for social change, advocacy, it should make us better lovers to our partners, better parents and motivate us to speak out against oppressive power’s, violence and aggression, social media manipulation and political brainwashing.

    “Love is what justice looks like in public”
    Cornell West

    PS. I’ve also been thinking: Is the story of the Buddha really a story we want to tell our children? I mean, after all, wasn’t the Buddha kind of irresponsible? In a city like Philadelphia where so many young kids are growing up without father’s do we really want to support a story of a man who had everything, a palace, a wife, a son, and one night just left in the middle of the night in order to seek full unquestioned eternal liberation? As a social worker, who’s worked with many children without fathers I don’t intend to glorify this kind ideal in order to convince a kid it’s the way to a better life.

    I realize this post may be a bit naive as i’m a little late in the game but, I just had to get my feet wet I guess and get some of that off my chest.
    Thanks again Glenn
    Soren

  13. I do what I can. I am beginning to spill my word blood. My lawn is a mess. I attempt (however fledgling) to engage people one on one to make change. I start with what I know, where I know it, and then I am taking some risks to step outside of that. In my humble experience…change can happen one person at a time and not just when 100 people gather. Although that has made great changes in our history. It isn’t just about the “hard books.” It is about a single moment with an individual who today told me that he confronted his pastor, who was speaking ill of meditation and warning him away from it. He, by all accounts should be under his pastor’s thumb. He is mentally disabled. But he looked in my face and told me that what we are doing “is helping me.” And, he told his pastor as much. He was brave! His perspective has changed in the last 9 weeks, he thought about something a different way…and fought for it, alone, in his chosen house of worship, up against the leader of said house. That is where it starts. Or maybe, that is where I can start…sigh. He is my example. May I be brave like Larry, regardless of what books I read or what philosophies I ponder.

    Just an observation from today, for whatever that is worth, Gentlemen.

    P.S. God I wish there was a spell check on this thing…I feel so self conscious posting up against you guys. But there is not, and I misspell. Hopefully my spelling mistakes will not make my contribution any less legitimate…but perhaps that is accomplished by other things, and yet…

  14. Of course, the Confucians have known this since at least the Sung Dynasty NeoConfucian “turn”. As the 20th century Japanese Confucian Okada Takehiko says:

    “…the Confucian criticism of Zen Buddhism is that it has abandoned human relations. This was the Confucian opinion toward not only Zen Buddhism, but the totality of Buddhist teachings as well as those of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu.”

    “…the affairs of the world cannot be trusted to the Buddhists. In criticizing the Buddhist, the Confucian is simply saying that the Buddhists do not study the methods for the ordering of the nation or issues of peace in the world. If indeed we can transform the common life of humankind, then we have to search into human relations and we have to investigate things one by one, searching for the principles that are governing them. This is the reason that Confucianism places so much emphasis upon the importance of learning and knowledge.”

    Okada also references a passage from the Analects in which Confucius was ridiculed by some hermits for going around “attempting to rescue the world”, rather than retiring into contemplative withdrawal. Confucius’ reply was: “I am a man amongst men”.

    The whole NeoConfucian stance has a long history of “muting the Buddhist vibrato” and objecting exactly to Buddhist refusal to deal with the social and the political.

    Quotations in this post from Okada’s “Zazen to Seiza”, three chapters of which are translated in Rodney L. Taylor’s 1988 study “The Confucian Way of Contemplation” (University of South Carolina Press).

  15. Re #13:

    sometimes,

    Yes, helping individuals struggling with problems is good, too–and doesn’t take a meeting, and may not require reading any hard books–although reading some Freud or Otto Fenichel doesn’t hurt, there, either. I would hazard a guess that people will always come up against personal difficulties, even in utopia, and it will always be good to help them.

    There are plenty of other kinds of suffering, though, that can only be addressed with political change, and require a clear idea of what the problem is and how to fix it. Some of these problems will require demanding study, and large group efforts, to fix.

    That, of course, doesn’t rule out helping individual people in your life in the meantime.

    And really, nobody cares about spelling–it’s a blog, and everyone makes typos when posting comments.

  16. Soren (#12). Thanks for the rush of reality! I’ll say more tomorrow. But I wanted to ask quickly: do you live in the City of Brotherly Murder? So do I! Soren sounds Danish or Swedish, though. And Landreau makes me think of Montreal, for some reason. But you write like an Amerikkkan.

    More tomorrow . . .

  17. I would say I agree to a good extent with your post. However, I usually frame the issue a bit differently. The dominant narratives in recent western Buddhism have rendered its practitioners almost incapable to deal with and respond to trade-offs (social or of any kind). Trade-offs are inherent to living in society, not just capitalist ones btw –Tom sweet Utopia of 100 men would face and be subject to the same challenges and tensions whether he acknowledges it or not. (Actually, trade-offs are inherent to life itself as well but that is another story). Living in society involves choices and decisions that will promote the welfare of some at the expend of that of others. Somehow, some Buddhists would like us to believe that as long as we act mindfully or out of compassion, refrain on the reactivity, problems and trade-offs will simply go away. (Actually the state of affairs is a bit grayer than that because some won’t go as far. They admit there are trade-offs and situations/conditions where compassionate or mindful responses are simply grossly inadequate. But then beyond that point their wisdom and actions are no better than that of the next guy.)

    But the unconditional nature of (so they claim) compassion makes it essentially useless when it comes to decide about unbalanced outcomes. Compassion can’t help me make a “hard decision” in favor of someone (or group) when it has to be at the expend of someone else (or another group). What if eliminating the suffering of others is not a straight line as they like to imagine but highly non-linear and losses can’t be avoided along on the way? That entails that good intentions are not enough …

    Analogously, the reach of mindfulness is also pretty limited. Look, most people are emotional screw ups and messes to begin with. So it is not surprising that having them pay a bit more attention to their affective life, take a few step back from its usual disfunctionalities, will help them to feel better! Meditation will change brain they say–so is taking a walk regularly or watching porn.

    Still a majority still hold compassion or mindfulness as the response to everything. They have to glorify compassion and mindfulness. Just be mindful and you will be fine. Compassion is just a flow from your Buddha nature. etc. And when you point to them that it is not true, that facts unfortunately tell a different story, that their narratives don’t make much sense and that they come tremendously short in their actions (relative to their mindful intentions), they answer by telling you are just a trouble maker, you should not be asking these questions, you should not bother them with these difficulties. Somehow, they accuse you (i.e. your mind) of creating the problems! Your should not criticize because you know, happy people can’t be negative! So you must be unhappy — become happier and everything will be swell … you will see!

    Whether it is about debating different point of views or assuming living in society, many Buddhists will simply run away from the challenges and the trade-offs these activities exhibit. The strand of Buddhism that has focused all its attention on meditation/mindfulness, whether they realize it or not, has done so at the expend of promoting the building of communal and social bounds. It is no accident that these Buddhist groups don’t exist under any complex form of community or society but only under very rudimentary ones. They cannot not deal with the inherent complexity and ambiguities of the former. Instead, they have simply become parasites feeding off the existing institutions and societies (research institutes, rudimentary meditation center, think thank, etc), and in many ways complicit to the dynamics of these institutions and societies. You can’t ask them to confront this side of their life they don’t have the proper narratives and tools to deal with it. Hence, they have very little to say about change or revolution beyond the boundaries of their inner life. Nonetheless, we must admit that this insufficiency won’t stop some of them to be driven to bring change; because who needs coherence, consistency and integrity when all you really need is to “wing it” because it feels right or it feels the action was born of out of good intentions! Others will simply retreat in the inner sanctum of mindfulness.

  18. Just to clarify, the number 100 was not MY number–I was just responding to Brad’s comments about gathering “100 accomplices”, and I don’t think that either Brad or I suggested they must be men. Personally, I’d settle for a dozen men and women.

    That said, JP, you are absolutely wrong that “would face and be subject to the same challenges and tensions whether [I] acknowledges it or not,” of that I am completely certain. The challenges an tensions they would face would be completely different, and therefor even more difficult, because there would be no experience with dealing with them. Of course, in MY utopia, we would all enjoy being challenged; the infantile fantasy of imaginary plenitude and bodily bliss would seem much less appealing than working with others and using our human potential. There’s no app for that.

  19. Oops, I hit “post” accidentally, while I was trying to “log in.” To add to #18: JP, you make the same assumption as so many others–Jockher is particularly fond of this assumption–that capitalist ideology IS human nature, and will remain eternally even if capitalism were gone. This runs deep in our culture. I have read books on popular science which suggest that subatomic particles operate in terms of use value and exchange value–that capitalism is in the very fabric of the universe. (In philosophy, there is a term for this: projectionism).

  20. “Of course, in MY utopia, we would all enjoy being challenged; the infantile fantasy of imaginary plenitude and bodily bliss would seem much less appealing than working with others and using our human potential. There’s no app for that.”

    Ha Ha! But, I agree completely. I think we are far closer to your utopia than most people realize. We are already struggling, challenged by others, in the middle of the mess. All we have to do is look around and honestly accept our human condition instead of all this trying to somehow deny our own situations/nature. (As, in my opinion, pretty much all religions are attempting to have us do.) How rich and fascinating it would be if we could just accept what is actually happening and work within the structure (human form) that is already here. That doesn’t suggest “accepting the way things are” politically or otherwise. But it does suggest being really honest about what we are and where we find ourselves, instead of running off to a house of worship (or a meditation cushion) to try and escape it. We will escape it when we die. I would rather figure out a way to really LIVE it.

    Not that we shouldn’t meditated/worship I guess. Perhaps I would like to try and be really honest about why I am doing it? To dull my passion in the name of compassion…I hope not.

  21. Soren, re #12

    Thanks a lot for this account of your experience. It seems like sanghas have to be schizophrenic. Grinning sheepishly while in the temple, becoming selfish and rude as soon as they leave.

    The young person is then mesmerized by the calm charismatic Buddhist master who is not only suggesting an alternative to this madness but a motherfucking solution! Not only is this a new way of thinking but it is concrete, easy and best of all it helps calm me the fuck down. But, eventually once one goes far enough in the mind Buddhism fails to do exactly what it sets out to do.

    That’s more or less what I experienced too. The question is, what makes one see that “Buddhism fails”?

    Perhaps one can say that to experience it like you wrote it, the will to be an autonomous being must be more developed than in those who succumb to the enlightened teachers with out further thinking. With a need for cooperation which we also have there then must be a balance of the two (if not more) vectors. On the one side the individual has to look for his/her system just to keep it running. On the other side we are always only communicating and cooperating beings.

    Could it be that contemporary buddhism is looking out mainly for overly cooperative humans? In other words, for weak characters which have not been able to develop a good balance between cooperation and autonomy?

    I am tempted to think in this direction, also via a more historical view. In the fifties, sixties and seventies the strongly hierarchical social structure which was the status quo in our societies up until WW2 was already in decay or destroyed and changing in to the flatland we have now. Could it be that those who went to the east or who began following the different buddhist schools coming in, where ‘instinctively’ on the look out for father figures which would restore there hierarchical social order? Historically seen this would make for two totally distinct groups of buddhists. One which tries to restore a hierarchically structured social order, the ones who simply dare not try to imagine what after postmodernity could come and instead want to regress into a dream. And one who dares to imagine something new.

    The point is not that a lot of people in buddhism look for a father figure (what might be true) but looked at it from a historical angel it seems then that x-buddhism would represent the reactive subject (in Badiou’s sense). A subject which does not want to overcome postmodernity and democracy but fall back on a pre-democratic order (do I really say this, overcoming democracy?). If x-buddhism is a representation of the reactive subject it has no interest in autonomy and in autonomous individuals. This would not be important from the psychological level but from the political.

    The complacency of x-buddhism then would be a kind of an aggression because with its reactive stance it hinders going on, imagination, creativity. Mindful retardation into blissful ignorance about the own historical situation is then not only a passivity but an activity against something new. X-buddhist tolerance begins then to look like intolerance against not only vitriolic nay-sayers but against every undertaking which tries to look beyond the common and familiar. As such it would simply be against life…

  22. Zizek, in an article that Glenn re-posted right here on this very excellent blog (without much of a response for that matter) , made a point somewhat similar to the one Glenn makes in his intro to the current discussion:  “although “Western Buddhism” presents itself as the remedy against the stressful tension of capitalist dynamics, allowing us to uncouple and retain inner peace and Gelassenheit, it actually functions as its perfect ideological supplement.”  

    Because this article made a bit of a splash (emphasize ‘a bit’), some of our Buddhist teacher types felt a need to say something, and as always these responses are quite revealing.  Ethan Nichtern, in an article originally published in the Huffington Post, and still available on-line, concludes his response as follows:

    “Eventually you have to get up and do something. But trying to change your life or the world without a real method for changing your own mind is inherently doomed to failure, because society is just a matrix of the hearts and minds of those who inhabit it. Built on the foundation of mindfulness and acceptance, radical transformation, beyond habit and assumption, can begin.”

    Now this ‘eventually’ will take a while. In the article Nichtern mentions that ‘personally, I haven’t met many people who report having realized the radical state of self-acceptance”.  In other words, the very same state that he argues is required to effect change is so rare that even Nichtern who lives and breathes x-buddhism can’t point to too many people worthy of the task.   So no matter wars being started, environments being destroyed, it is back to the cushion for us. I can’t think of a better illustration of the point Zizek makes than exactly this kind of response to it.

  23. Tom,

    1. China and other countries as fascist brutally-capitalist regimes, I couldnt agree more, EXCELLENT!
    2. Buddhism as a way to find personal contentment … we agree, we seek a practice as a way to embrace the FULL horror of existence and really change it.
    3. TNH: also agree with you! However I think his limitations are not due to Buddhism but, well, not having the exposure, the opprotunities to analize and study critical political economy, history, etc. And I could say to the brutal trauma of poverty and extreme politics.
    4. Here is what an enlargeg view of things could yield to this discussion: Buddhism was a tool of the powerful, Ashoka the first and foremost of them, but not the only one. There is even an organization with that name. They claim to change the world. I have directly told them that what they do is the best way to NOT change the wrold – the name is just a coincendence, or perhaps not.
    5. If everywhere buddhism has justified the status quo, but we have different concrete regions, countries or cities where social justice, democracy and freedom have achieved higher standards of living awarenes, it follows that is has NOT been buddhism what has made the difference. I dont know of any major advancement of social justice made a by buddhist or even better, made by someone because s/he was a buddhist.
    6. As a pragmatist I am interested in what makes THAT difference politically, without ignoring where capital flows have came and are coming from – doesnt take a genious to know that the exploitation fo the american continent capitalized the industrial revolution which in turn consolidated the dominant powerful in the hegemonic position.
    7. You say one has to be a millionaire to change things … I say you a right, the other source of power for change is popular power, the power of the many.
    8. With a dozen people, you risk political irrelevance, very little action or very little change.
    9. As a pragmatist -buddhism for me is this dialogue, continuos realization of contingency and solidarity and some meditation- I foccuss on what I call strategic change: how concrete mechanisms can bring about wider sustainable social justice.
    10. I think our actions are defined by the LACK of power we have to change things.
    11. In that regard I find consumer power to be one of the post powerful avenues for changing capital flows at the source.
    12. For this to happen, currently un-existent sophisticated but simple looking social feedback mechanisms that make it graphic and clear for each consumer the different options (regarding energy, or imported food or commodities) and the real time consecuences of their choice of consumption are necessary.
    13. Politics as the reform of income distribution and their use for to the highest social justice impact is what is most important for me. I dont see budhism as necessary for achieving that.
    14. A concrete list of changes is necessary to unify forces around action.

    I like the tone and clarity of your posts in this thread.

  24. This notion I mentioned in my previous comment, that “society is just a matrix of our hearts and minds” also provides a link from western x-buddhist thinking to a view held much more broadly, namely that we are all equally at fault when it comes to the causes of what is wrong with the world. ‘We’ started the war in Iraq, ‘we’ pollute, or at a minimum, ‘we’ cause pollution because of our never ending consumption. Now there is some truth to this, but what it tends to hide is that there are real culprits when it comes to problems in society, and real victims for that matter. Some people hold power, others don’t. Some people do marketing, other people are the targets of marketing.

  25. Radical self acceptance…I entered into meditation with that goal precisely. THAT is actually what I am trying to pass along, to Larry and others. I see THIS as one root of a lot of ills. This is why I go back to the cushion, to pay attention to what is really there…so I know what I have to work with.

    But then I think that little girls and women are faced with this choice early on. I know it to be true for me, and I see it to be true for my daughter. All this talk of capitalism and “father figures” and hierarchy make that “scary woman” that Glenn referred to, want to claw her way out and onto this blog. There seems to be a HUGE gaping hole here where a slightly different perspective should be. Perhaps I will take some time to formulate a response, detail by detail, but there is a definite lens through which all of this discussion is being seen. There are assumptions NOT being called out. There are underlying perspectives that are not being questioned.

    I feel like there is a can of worms here just waiting to be thrown against the wall and obliterated. But perhaps it would require a smarter, more well read woman than I. I must think about it. But then again, perhaps this is just the blathering of an angry woman, made invisible and used early on by this “Western, Capitalist, Hierarchical” system without question or even noticing. (I have a distinct feeling that the “Eastern, Socialist/Communist/Marxist, Buddhist” system is equally guilty.)

    I would only say, that we have been trying to change this whole F-ing system since we were born into it, used for what we have to give, then left silently to be on our merry way…

    Perhaps this is not the place for this rant, or not the post to have this conversation…my apologies…and there it is (damnit!)

  26. hatemycat: So, what ARE the assumptions that are “not being called out”? A more detailed response would be fine, but can you name one or two in the meantime?

    One assumption I have is that “radical SELF acceptance” is a waste of time–it requires that we have an essential self to accept. My assumption (although is is far from unexamined) is that the self is always a product of the entire social system, and can only be changed by changing the entire social system, because there is no essential self. Western culture teaches us to first improve our deep an private self, then, maybe, change the world a little by deciding which capitalist front man to vote for this year. And you are buying into the bourgeois feminist version of quietism–all this talk of economy and politics is for the boys, we girls know what’s really important is our feelings.

    The goal here is to question ALL underlying perspectives. If we’re making assumptions we are blind to, by all means point them out!!

  27. Re #23:

    I would insist, again, that Buddhist thought is not inherently a tool of the powerful. It is a radically powerful truth, which is repeatedly, throughout its history, contained by the powerful through reactionary institutions. The earliest Buddhist sangha was one example of an advance in social justice made by Buddhist thought and practice–breaking the grip of the existing economic and social structure; and of course it released enormous productive forces and dramatic social transformation that lead to war and containment of the radical potential in a new economic and social structure. This is the dialectic of truth and obscuration. If you see only the reactionary containment, it is because you are looking only within reactionary ideology.

    Your have named, once again, all the defeatist assertions of capitalist ideology I mention in #11 above. The illusion that only the rich can change things, that we must change things within the system (through our choices as consumers), that a dozen or even a hundred is not enough to effect change, This is the cacophony of defeatist propaganda we need to become deaf to.

    We can start with one concrete change: the elimination of the monetary system.

    And Luis, if you approve of my tone, then I must admit I’m worried that I’m not making my point clearly enough.

  28. Tom Pepper,

    On no-self: In my experience there are so many damaged people, a lot of them women, who would benefit from finding themSELVES before learning to release the idea of said self. You will never reach that population with the idea that there is no self, until first a sense of self that is actually under your own control can be found. I speak from experience. You could not have told me 15 years ago…in the throws of childhood abuse recovery, and self harming, that I had no self. I kind of already knew that…but not in any sort of enlightened or awake way. Since I had no self…what the fuck did it matter if hurt myself? It was a no-self that was a reaction and in no way involved living life. That type of no-self actually served as an escape…not unlike the lobotomy that some meditators escape to…only with life threatening results. In my experience, survivors must first be able to be in their own skin, then be comfortable in their own skin, before introducing the idea of no-self. Otherwise you risk doing MUCH more damage, potentially fatal. That is not a risk we should be willing to take.

    Additionally, my other point about self acceptance is that it is not an idea that was necessarily born on the cushion. Girls, and increasing boys now, are rather faced with the challenge and the choice of self acceptance early on. Do we accept all of the “shameful” things about ourselves, or do we disappear into the fog of group/societal acceptance. And if we do the latter, hwo much work must we do to get back to the former.

    On “bourgeois feminist version of quietism” — First I must say that is quite an ass thing to say, there really is no other way to put it. But thank you, a challenge can be a useful tool. (Do we thank women for being bitches, I wonder) Second I had to look this term up. Why? Because I have spent my life, since the age of eight, when my sexual abuse occurred and continued, NOT being quiet. I was confused by your idea. There is nothing new, or quiet, about my feminism. I have not picked it up from books or other “ladies” around me. Quite the opposite. My feminism, and my voice, have been about survival. It has actually evolved in the dark corners of real life, while the talk of politics and economy were loudly debated around me. I have watched generations of women around me stay silent with their wounds, while the men did all the talking. So please don’t assume that this is some new-fangled idea that I picked up while finding myself at college. This has been a gritty, shitty, lived experience…full of blood and bruises, and absent the niceties that a “bourgeois” ideology would afford. God I wish it were that easy.

    On “all this talk of economy and politics is for the boys, we girls know what’s really important is our feelings” — kind of makes my point about assumptions and perspectives all by itself. Rather dismissive don’t you think? Quite an assumption about what my motives are. I am not, nor have I been, chatting about feelings. I have been attempting, however poorly as this is my FIRST blog experience, to bring the conversation back to what is ACTUALLY occurring in real life while this debate is continuing. Are we trying to reach people, or dismiss them in the name of figuring all this out first? Do you lose the opportunity to have real life suffering people teach you something? I wonder if sometimes the experiential perspective is lost in all this. It is a bit like debating the policies of a war/non-war, but ignoring what the soldiers on the ground are trying to tell you in the field, or trying to show you as they kill themselves or harm their families upon returning home. The debate about strategy is important and necessary, but so is the information that those on the ground might have to pass along. A medic can tell you by looking at a wound, what type of explosive device and agents are being used in what region. Kind of important to know, even while strategies are being debated by men in marble halls. I digress…

    And what kind of change are we talking about anyway? Is there any more global or radical change than healing the wounds that a majority of the female population are walking around with? How would our economics, politics, social structure change if that happened? We are starting to see, but just starting.

    Underlying assumptions — I have mentioned a few above. The perspective that I see lost in many religious/philosophical debates, is simply a woman’s perspective. No more, no less. It happens in meditation halls, monasteries, churches, even in the religion of politics. I bring a different perspective and lived experience to the table. I have no over-arching assumption that all female perspective would be the same, would necessarily involve “feeling” (I think i am feeling nauseous quite frankly), or would necessarily be better or worse. But just different. Is this supposed to be a transformational or transactional conversation? That is the biggest assumption I see. I think the idea that people coming to meditation are looking for a “father figure” is quite an assumption. Really? I came looking for ME! There was in fact a “me” to be found in this sack of skin, before I could begin letting her go.

    Don’t know if any of that meets the requirements you set our in your response Tom Pepper. But it may have to do .

    P.S. I enjoy the debate and being forced to formulate some of this stuff. Obviously compassion has NOT dimmed my passion. I enjoy the perspectives and ideas being voiced. Perhaps at some point I can contribute more succinctly, but I am quite new at this. I hope this is not only a forum for the experienced blogger, I hope that fledgling attempts are welcome as well.

  29. Additionally..even my foray into this whole discussion argues against your idea that I would even suggest that women stay silent with their all-knowing feelings while the “men discuss economy and politics.” I just perhaps am getting my blog-legs out in the open for everyone to see my wobbling. YIKES!

    Or maybe I should just stick to “word blood” and let my marrow speak for itself…and yet…

  30. Tom (#11, 23, etc.)

    I’ve not read all the responses, but a few things pop into mind based on your response to me:

    1) Even 100 fully devoted social activists (unless they were the super-rich and powerful) would not be enough to topple global capitalism — which seems to be your ideal goal — although they could facilitate real change at a local level. Global capitalism is so powerful that I cannot see it’s demise short of some super-mega-catastrophe (e.g. a *total* collapse of the finance system, World War III, global biological pandemic, asteroids hitting the earth, etc). I don’t think I’m being defeatist, just realistic what anti-capitalists are up against.

    2) This is not to say that social activism is unimportant and that we should just accept global cowboy capitalism. I would hate that. But, perhaps piecemeal change is the best we can hope for: universal health coverage, full employment, a guaranteed basic living standard for all, vigorous environmental protection, an effort to educate people to value community above immediate private interest, etc. These are heady tasks in themselves, although they may be able to be accomplished within a broader capitalist framework. Which brings me to…

    3) You use the term “capitalism” as if it is one thing when, in fact, there are many different varieties of capitalism (US/UK, “Asian values,” welfare-state, etc). You are rightly annoyed when commentators here conflate Marxism with Stalinism, but do you do something similar when you fail to distinguish between various forms of political economies which include some place for market transactions?

    4) I’m afraid human nature does include a lot of what you feel capitalist culture alone produces in people: greed, selfishness, competition, conspicuous consumption, addiction to pleasure. I’ll cite as references Freud, Plato, and the Hebrew prophets. That humans have this nature is a very strong reason why we should be in favor of regulation and some forms of central planning. (Of course part of our nature also includes cooperation, care, intelligence, self-control, etc.)

    5) I don’t see the mind as only a “collective occurrence”, that “the self is always a product of the entire social system.” Society and culture are far too large and diverse for any human to be a *direct* (although we are all indirect, tertiary, etc) product of. Gangsta rap is part of part of our contemporary culture, but I fail to see how I am a product of it. Each individual human organism to some extent chooses what they wish to take in from the broader cultural matrix and this becomes part of them in some way. How is it possible that I live in a media-saturated culture where television plays a prominent role and yet I choose not to own a television? Individual differences matter and I’m unsure how viewing the mind as a “collective occurance” takes this into account. I don’t believe in an atomistic self. I think the self is more like a cell: individual, yet part of a larger network, interacting with it’s environment via a semi-permeable membrane, highly differentiated from other cells within the same organism, etc.

    6) A thought: Perhaps the bodhisattva ideal can be re-mythologized today as a person who willingly gives up some bodily bliss (perhaps even the bodily bliss of sitting meditation) in order to work for the attainment of the Pure Land ideal? And, in keeping with the tradition, the bodhisattva will *never* attain final enlightenment because the Pure Land, being an ideal society, will never be attained (see my #1 above).

    Have a great weekend.

  31. #28 Ihatemycat,

    “I speak from experience. You could not have told me 15 years ago…in the throws of childhood abuse recovery, and self harming, that I had no self. I kind of already knew that…but not in any sort of enlightened or awake way. Since I had no self…what the fuck did it matter if hurt myself?”

    If you knew that you had no self than why would you want to hurt yourself? Isn’t such self hatred directed exactly towards the idea of who we think we are?

  32. Perhaps we can leave the “father figure” aside for a moment. I was pointing to the coincidence that in that moment of history when a strongly hierarchical structured social landscape flattened out more and more, just then, an influx of a new hierarchy begins. The western style patriarch goes, the Dalai Lama comes. Wouldn’t that be interesting also from the perspective of a woman?

    btw: I am sure this idea is not new. Does anybody knows if somebody has already worked about this?

  33. #21 Matthias,
    “Could it be that contemporary buddhism is looking out mainly for overly cooperative humans? In other words, for weak characters which have not been able to develop a good balance between cooperation and autonomy?”

    I agree with you, man. I think you hit it pretty straight on. The sheepish smiling Buddhist is a direct result of postmodern angst, nervously breathing himself into oblivion and beyond. Not only is the post modern Buddhist too scared to act politically but simply doesn’t yet have the capabilities or emotional balance to do so. (As others have pointed to in this thread) You make a lot of interesting points, I promise to think about them and respond completely in a few days…..

  34. Soren,

    I appreciate the idea, and I understand it now. However, I am not sure that it pans out. Can you tell an 8 year old, just close your eyes and don’t be damaged, you don’t have a self anyway. Can you tell a 16 year old ANYTHING?! (said with a grin.)
    Did you know that early childhood trauma actually changes brain chemistry and neural connections…not unlike PTSD caused by war. Did you know that there is an actual phsycial/biological increased startle reflex that is at the root of self harm? Can we escape biology that is given to us by others? Can we ever escape biology? We can learn to work with biology, which is what meditation can do. Help me to learn to work with what I’ve got. But it is a long and arduous process to reshape biology. Which is why you can’t just tell ANYONE that there is no self and that be the end of it. Much less survivors of any sort of trauma; war, abuse, hunger, domestic violence.

    I am simply reminding that there are real populations out there which we have to consider when making these arguments.
    Isn’t this the eternal argument in philosophy? Real life and where does it enter into the conversation? Should it? I dont know, just wondering.

    There are inherent biases within any group, and I include myself. But in the name of awareness, let’s try and be aware of these inherent biases, even if we can’t change them. Can we be aware of the biases we bring to the table, can we admit it to ourselves?

    Let’s do it! I will start. My bias is that of a southern woman, a “victim” of violence perpetrated by a powerful man, a mother with a small child, a student, a wife, a veteran, a former baptist, an American. My bias is middle class, college educated, and white. So there it is…all “self” labels, I know. But biases none the less. If I can know them, and name them, perhaps I can be more honest with myself and learn to view things differently. There is no pure philosophical argument without bias…being unaware of them, at least in my mind, defeats the entire purpose of the argument.

  35. I can’t keep this up. My family is beginning to wonder where I keep running off to. Talk about real life intruding into philosophical matters…but there is laundry to be done, meals to eat, children to care for. (All of that said with some small amount of angst, and with the complete understanding of the irony.) But real life nonetheless. Everyone needs clean underwear, and I am off to provide it. I will check back much later. Au Revior Y’all!

  36. Re 18-19
    I guess you got me all figured out 🙂 It did not take that much! I don’t see things as and in extremes as you do. I am capable of nuances and dealing with complexity so what you think of what I think may be hindered by irreducible gaps. For instance, I don’t really know what “I” exactly mean (through you of course!) by “capitalist ideology” or “human nature”, neither could I be so loose and fast to “equate” both of them. I will just refer to Brad’s recent post to bring a glimpse of much needed nuance and shades of gray. Otherwise, I will let you pass judgments on the assumptions of an imagined version of my discursive life. More seriously, trade-offs are observed and have developed in living but non-human “societies” and systems so I don’t know how, from what I wrote, you came to your conclusions. I neither have to restrict my ideas to “human nature” nor to capitalist economies. The fabric of reality involves necessities that may (but don’t have to) be expressed as and through capitalist economies.

    On a slightly different matter, could you provide us with a society/community (that lasted more than a few generations of course and reached a certain critical mass whatever this number is) in human history that came as close as possible to your “expectations”? I think I am not the only one who would find your answer to this question enlightening. Thanks.

  37. Just a quick sanity check. Is it just me, or are JP, Brad, and sometimesihatemycat, making EXACTLY the reactionary arguments I’ve already addressed over and over again?

  38. We should be suspicious whenever we find ourselves arguing from common sense, when we are stating what feels as if it self evident because it is if not likely at least possible that ideology is in play.  This advice certainly applies to all of the comments that either define human nature as hopelessly evil (or pretty darn bad) or the current capitalist society as somehow the absolute end of the road.  

    The first world war was considered the war to end all wars, then lo and behold, there was a second one, so why is it so inconceivable that a third world war could occur?  A total collapse of the financial system, it couldn’t happen then?  We know that?  Feudal landlords at one time must have argued that capitalism was never going to take hold.  Now I have no idea what kind of society will follow, nor when it will manifest, but that it may be not at all like capitalism is something I actually am pretty confident of.  Unless in the next little while we manage to self-destroy of course…

    Similarly I would argue that we are to quick to decide that human nature is somehow hopeless, all we can do is design a society that keeps our base instincts under control and hope for the best.  Here I would argue that we simply don’t know, certainly don’t know to what extent this the case. Capitalism, with it’s glorification of profit, greed, competition, it can’t be helpful.

  39. I don’t believe you have addressed anything. All you do is making bold and general claims, telling other people they are wrong or under some spells, with very little shreds of evidence and blurring important distinctions. You refuse to ENGAGE into details and complexity or accept differences in views. For the most part you continuously repeat yourself, always framing others and their views, assumptions, etc. into categories of your own making. That is a neat way to be always right I will admit. Somehow a solipsist form of internal coherence suffices you. The problem is that for the most part your little discursive island only satisfies you — and your implicit expectations that others should be satisfied as well (“Go along with the Tom Pepper’s show or hit the road moron!”) is something of your own making. For many of us neither repeatedly quoting Badiou nor “the tin foil hat self-validation argument” (i.e. so many people think my views are way out there or without much confirmations that I must be right!) carry much weight.

    I asked you a simple question — you could have answered (or pointed me to a post where you did) but you did not. I guess I will simply join Robert’s club 😉

  40. Simple answers
    Your first question: “I want to ask a simple question: Are contemporary western Buddhists complicit in what is arguably a rabid capitalistic system? …
    Are these communities unwitting agents helping to extend our predatory social, cultural, financial, and political status quo?”
    My answer: Yes

    Your second question: “And, if so, do they give a shit?”
    My answer: It does give a shit but is unevitable

    Your third question: “In Marxist terms, which comes first for an x-buddhist: private profit or social need?”
    My answer: Neither of them, I hope you aceept they have their own priority. ´X-buddhists´ is not ONE category with ONE thing that comes first

  41. Underlying assumption alert:

    Even if someone is making a reactionary argument, does that mean there is nothing useful to learn from them. All of life is reactionary, even the belief in non-belief, even the belief in no-self, even the belief in ANY belief system is reactionary to something. Biology is reactionary. I see nothing inherently wrong with “reactionary.” And I actually think that sometimes reactionary arguments are best thing to assist in learning and alter perspective.

    And quite frankly I think your quick statement is rather reactionary, but then perhaps I just reacted to your reaction. 😉

  42. Sometimesihatemycat

    I think you’re missing the point of this whole thing and thank you for the science information but I would advise you to brush up on your biology. It is literally impossible to change our BIOLOGY through meditation! That is an absurd claim and it doesn’t make sense.
    Obviously you don’t begin helping an 8 year old girl by telling her there is no self. But, I think if you wanted to help that girl, and understood that there actually was no self to begin with, then, perhaps you wouldn’t feel the need for such a heroic motherly saving the world moment. Back to what Mathias was getting at, there is a tendency in the Buddhist cult world to need fathering and now I am inclined to also suggest mothering. Basically we just need a lot of hugs and attention even if it is delusional or continues to contradict the basic information that is all around us.
    Sanity check…………….

  43. Re 38, 40. My argument is simply that we suspend judgement for a while longer before we make up our minds. This post is about our hidden assumptions and the extent to which they are shaped by ideologies. You could say this is also the theme of this blog altogether, and Matthias, Glenn and Tom, all from their own angle, are working towards articulating a response to this question. My comment is simply intended to be a reminder to all of what this post is asking us to consider. It’s not asking whether capitalism is doomed or not, it isn’t asking whether social democracy is better than communism, it is asking to what extent these kinds of opinions could be shaped by social forces that we aren’t aware of. To be even more precise, it is asking to what extent those hidden assunptions are to be found within x-buddhist descriptions of the world.

    That said, I am formally disbanding Robert’s club, it’s spring here in Nova Scotia, the sun is shining and I have better things to do than typing away in a stuffy living room. It isn’t like anybody listens to me anyway. Ever.

  44. JP. My answer to your “simple (minded) question” is that no, I can provide you with not such example. This is an asinine question. It is like someone saying to Salk “look, can you point to an example of a cure for polio from the past, that has worked successfully? If there isn’t one, you should not try–nothing that has not been done in the past could possibly ever BE done!” I was trying to avoid calling you a fucking moron–but now, since you’ve asked again, I have gone ahead and pointed out just how stunningly stupid you are. I do have you all figured out–I guess just about everybody reading your posts does. You are a stupid right-winger who learned a few lame sophist tricks and keeps shouting them at the top of his lungs. You need to shut the fuck up and learn something.

    Brad: You are “afraid” human nature just IS greedy, competitive, conspicuous consumption. Are you seriously going with the “afraid sOOO!” argument? It may have been devastating on the 7th-grade playground, but it doesn’t carry much weight with grownups. About point 5: Are you seriously asking for clarification, or just offering up asinine arguments to avoid thought? I have trouble believing you are so stupid you really thought my concept of the symbolic/imaginary collective mind would somehow require that we all like gangsta rap, or even that if you don’t have a television you would could not belong to it. Are you offering up stupid arguments as a form of white noise, or did your really think this was what I’ve been saying?

    cat hater: The term bourgeois feminist quietism refers to a kind of feminism very popular in the 70s and 80s, which assumes the goal is for women to be able to get in tough with their true, essential self (essential being the key term). They were insistent that abstract theorizing was a male game that women couldn’t, or shouldn’t, play, and instead women should focus on their bodies, their emotions, and dealing with the personal and concrete. This is exactly what your posts suggest–that men deal with pointless abstractions, and women deal with real, raw emotions right here on the ground. This form of feminism also had a tendency to slide into playing the victim role: the more you’ve suffered at the hands of oppressors, the more authority your opinions have. Quietism means exclusively POLITCAL quietism–women don’t try to change systems, that’s for men–so, they wind up endless adjusting to them, endlessly victims to those very political and economic systems they refused to engage in. They certainly never were silent.

    I am NOT saying this is the sum total of feminism–or that it ever was. But you are using the language and strategies of bourgeois feminism, (even your persistent metaphor of the gaping, bloody hole that men cannot possibly fill is eerily familiar) and then, of course, I am an ass for pointing out what you are saying. Yes, I am an ass–I always point out the ideological structures of discourses, and that always makes me an ass. And, of course, my sanity is doubtful. Nevertheless, as Soren points out, if you insist on having a fully developed and fully content BHS (that’s old-fashioned marxist speak for Bourgeois Humanist Subject), you will waste a lot of time, and go on suffering forever. It is better to understand that that 16-year-old is suffering because of the unreachable ideal of the BHS, and not prolong her suffering by encouraging her futile endeavors to live up to capitalist gender roles. Nobody’s denying she really is suffering, but it is better to know the real cause of that suffering.

    Robert: I hope you won’t completely abandon the field just yet. I mean, sure, take a break–it’s a good day for a hike here in the northeast–but we must remain deaf to the roar of dereatism.

    One last note, before I go outside: Everyone seems confident that there is no hope of capitalism ever coming to an end. I wonder if this is an indication of the economic class of the people who are posting–because frankly, for most of the U.S., it seems we’re already in the start of a depression likely to rival the 30s. And WW II was the great war to end all opposition to capitalism–if it hand’t broken out when it did, we might very well be living in a socialist state now. So, it is not a WW III that would end capitalism–it is the LACK of a WW III. To quote the chairman, there is great chaos under heaven; the situation is excellent.

  45. Actually Robert, that was well stated. I too see that as the underlying purpose of some of these questions. I have tried to state as much.

    Soren

    “But, I think if you wanted to help that girl, and understood that there actually was no self to begin with, then, perhaps you wouldn’t feel the need for such a heroic motherly saving the world moment.”

    I think you must have misunderstood. I wasn’t talking about anyone else but me. (the 16 year old too by the way) I was talking about my own journey towards the idea of no-self. I was trying to suggest that it is an evolution, not just an idea to be believed. I wasn’t actually arguing that you were particularly wrong either, but I was trying to state that perhaps there are groups of people out there that might fall by the wayside if we can’t figure out an alternate approach to the idea of no-self.

    Not sure about the “motherly” comment. I think I have to let that zinger sit for a moment. Although my heroism is questionable, I have mostly been interested in saving my”self.” Well at least if not saving, learning to live my life. But I guess I would say that I see nothing particularly wrong with wanting to help others who find themselves in a situation that I have learned from.

    As far as the biology lesson, you may be right, most of us could probably stand to learn a little more about our own biology, I think it could be very helpful. Although I have had quite a few formal classes, for what it’s worth. If it were truely absurd and impossible to change biology, then perhaps we should stop taking antibiotics, psych meds, seizure meds, BP meds, birth control, etc… What about scientist researching ways to change the biology of tumors? What about the plasticity of the brain, especially with appropriate therapy after strokes and surgery. We play around with biology all the time. But you are right that there is an underlying biology always there that we have to account for, that was my point as well.

    All I know is that my own exaggerated startle reflex has indeed been dampened, during the same timeframe I have been meditating. Correlation, cause and effect, perhaps…I don’t know. But it has happened, as witnessed by those close to me.

    None of this is black and white, right or wrong. I have learned a lot from reading these posts…even ones I fundamentally disagree with. I think that I recall that someone said earlier that there is a bunch of grey area here. I thought that was the point of these discussions. To wade through the grey.

    Like Robert, I think I must be done. Not sure what I have contributed. (There go those silly expectations again.) I had some fun, enjoyed participating in and watching the joust.

    This motherly, heroic, bourgeois feminist, emotional, idiot of biology, is out. (Damn it! There goes my ego again.)

    Shalom Y’all

    P.S. No one took me up on being aware of and naming the biases we all bring to this discussion. I thought it might be a good experiment. Perhaps that could be a topic for another post Glenn. Pure philosophical argument vs. inherent bias.

  46. Robert (#44); sometimesihatemycat (#46).

    Thanks for making that point about “what this post is asking us to consider” (Robert) remembering “the underlying purpose of some of these questions” (sometimesihatemycat). Anyone who knows me, knows how I detest the pejorative understanding of “going off on a tangent.” A good question rouses comers from all quarters. A good question leads to discussion that is anarchic and chaotic. I like that.

    But I purposely asked a “simple” question here because I wanted, in addition to the rest, some focused response to just that question. I really am curious about how committed x-buddhist understand the aspect of subject formation that inevitably occurs in a “sangha.” When I abandoned academia, I was in the process of writing a book with the title Participation and Identity. Although I was looking at an eighth-century Buddhist ritual manual from India, I was also drawing parallels to contemporary western Buddhism. The basic idea–and one the lurks behind the simple question I asked on this post–is that the community’s material being (texts, spoken vocabulary, gestures, rhetoric, rituals, expressed or tacit values, and so on–constitute a blueprint for a subject being. It is, moreover, through participation in the material being of the community that this subject is realized as a person. Give me five minutes with an x-buddhist–we’ll talk about anything you name–and I can tell what form of x-buddhism s/he participates in. How can that be? Sangha’s are subject factories.

    The simple question that I asked here is just as Robert says:

    It’s not asking whether capitalism is doomed or not, it isn’t asking whether social democracy is better than communism, it is asking to what extent these kinds of opinions could be shaped by social forces that we aren’t aware of.

    The “social force” I am most curious about here is the x-buddhist sangha.

  47. Tom: Thank you for the answer. Regarding what I may do with and infer from it it surely shares no resemblance with your amusing rant and constructions. Sir, you are always one step ahead, only it is in the wrong direction!

    Robert: I was no referring to your last post as such but to the occasional ones, which ask good questions but remain unanswered–in particular, there was one where you wanted to explore inconsistencies between Glenn’s affirmation of some utility from sitting and getting intimate with our interiority (I am grossly paraphrasing here) and Tom’s view of the mind as a “purely social product”. As far as I can remember (may be I missed it), you never received an answer. I guess they simply did not find the issue as interesting as some of us did. I understand.

  48. Glenn: You drew me back in….damnit!

    Tom: Is it possible that I am seeing this blog, you, through a certain lens? Certainly! Could it also be possible that you have been applying a certain social lens to my postings, and that everything I say..no matter what it is…is being colored by the lens that you are applying to me? (sometimes a hole is just a hole) Perhaps i am trying to figure things out…not just state that I am the only one that knows the truth. But i have to start where i am. Here is the subject that I think Glenn is asking about. Do we know what social forces are behind our motivations, and communications, our being, the buttressing of our ego, consolation?

    I have tried to speak from experience, however in-artful. My history, my life is what I know. Which does not mean it is”better,” but it is what i know. How else can I approach this? Isn’t that where we all start? Maybe you have traveled farther than me in this area, but this is what I have to start working with. I have been taught over and over to get close to experience when expressing thoughts on meditation. Perhaps that is where my sangha has influenced/failed me. Meditation IS my Buddhist experience, that is where I started. Not formal Buddhist or Sociological education. I value learning from those who have learned more in these areas than me, including you. My sangha has taught me that learning involves struggle. But this may not be the place, I don’t know..I will have to see.

    Glenn: I can only speak from my limited and short experience of a “Buddhist” sangha. I think maybe that does not qualify me to be able to adequately respond. I think I misunderstood, and poorly fumbled my part of the dialogue here. I am as frustrated at myself as I am with others. I may have not really answered your question, or portrayed myself for that matter. Maybe part, but certainly not the totality. Is there room here to work through thoughts and beliefs? Or are we supposed to only state what should already be known?

    Your question: How has the social force of my particular sangha influenced me?
    My sangha helped me to believe that my own life experience is useful, also that the rest of the human race can relate, because at it’s core…all experience is relatable. My sangha is one that is based in a school, which has informed me that what I have may be useful for helping others, but also that I can learn from others. My sangha has encouraged me to meditate, and write, and think, and speak, and listen, and question. My sangha has said, “go ahead and muddle through and see what happens.” Are these good or right, maybe or maybe not. I have to really think about that.

    But my sangha experience is young…obviously. Which perhaps limits what i have to offer. So I tried to expand the definition to the larger sangha I have lived in. That may have been a misstep, but then who doesn’t have them?

    Robert: I agree with you, I would also ask for withholding of judgment. I will ask that of myself and of others.

    (I am acutely aware that everything that I say now can be seen though the lens of bourgeois feminism regardless of content or intent, the circular argument (and label) that has been applied here may be inescapable by me at this point.)

  49. cat hater: It’s not a matter of escaping labels, or proving you wrong–it’s just a matter of trying to point out that you are embracing an ideology that may lead only to further frustration, one that typically only lead to happiness (in my experience) for those who are wealthy enough to remain segregated from the poor, and narcissistic enough not to care about the rest of the world. If you aren’t one of those few, your ideology is not going to lead to much happiness, and it’s better to know that now–there’s no “further along” you have to get before you can see this. Don’t waste your time “feeling” your experiences deeply. Just take one and figure out the societal structure that causes it, that necessitates it. Bourgeois feminist ideology is perfectly escapable, but only if you realize you are really saying those things–the “label” isn’t being misapplied. Instead, think of it as simply a concept, to help crystalize the ideology within which you are constructing your discourse, so that you can see it more clearly and get some distance from it.

    I know, I know, I’m a terrible ass for pointing these things out. But I am very much seeing you through a lens–my lens is one that skews everything toward radicalism: what would this person have to know to become a radical? How can I make someone get engaged enough that they’ll dare to think? It is, really a very bizarre fun-house image of the world.

  50. #47

    Glenn,

    While working my way through the twisty maze of comments, I have come to realise that this blog is actually a secret x-buddhist tutorial creating the experience of samsara and *every single* x-buddhist hell. Tom with his unrelenting Shin Buddhist anti-monetary-system approach is probably a Mahayana Hell-Lord of some sort. I can’t explain how he has time to do all those good works, plot the non-violent destruction of the Fed(1) and write so much otherwise.

    The lesson contained within this tutorial is that which every x-buddhist teaching teaches: The only way to end the suffering is to shut down the computer, walk away and *never ever* come back.

    But none of us want to take the red pill so its on to the subject of x-buddhist sanghas.

    In the east and using the vast powers of generalisation I bestow upon myself, x-buddhist sanghas are vast and powerful organisations that mimic the Roman Catholic Church at its prime with its systems of indulgences. This is probably why evangelical good-works focussed x-Christian sects have become so popular and why eventually we will all be chanting our amitabha mantras in Mandarin when the PRC become our overlords (2).

    Within the west, I am also interested in x-buddhist sanghas especially those of the engaged buddhism variety. Do any of you people here have any experience with those? I personally don’t (4). But it seems to me that these sanghas are the ones that do attempt to consciously leverage the radical implications of x-buddhism to achieve social change.

    How successful are they? And if they are successful, how long before the combination of compassion, social activism and idealism implode under its own weight into a blackhole of insufferable righteous smugness?

    The ones I have looked at on-line seem to be extremely religious to me with actual monks and nuns (1). Are there any secular engaged-buddhist lay-sanghas or are they all of the feeling-compassion-is-all-i-need-to-do variety?

    Finally, it may well be that within the west it is not about injecting social activism into the lost-cause vinaya-based structure of x-buddhist sanghas but injecting appropriate x-buddhist techniques into secular social activist groups. A little less righteous rage and moral superiority coming from social activists will probably stop me from (1)ing at them all the time. Or will that just remove the true battery that social activists draw from so that they all end up on cushions?

    Yes, I did make a point, I think.

    with metta, as always.

    (1) following the advice of occasionaldoubleplusungoodfeelingstowardsfelines, I will now perform an obvious eyeroll right in your face: -eyeroll-.

    (2) as we will all be too busy carting around barrowfuls of eggs (3) to barter with after the destruction (peaceful) of the Fed.

    (3) Why eggs? Because its easy to raise chickens. With the result of (2). And don’t any of you lot dare to (1) at me. I have TM’d it and will sue.

    (4) I go to a mindfulnista secular buddhist lay sangha who has had Stephen Batchelor come and visit before. OMG -swoons-.

    ps: Finally, I assert that I am not only aware of but actively and consciously endorse each social force that both energises and enervates me. It’s a perk of joining the Borg.

  51. I’m really not sure which is worse, reading a bunch of middle aged intellectual x-Buddhists rant about how they are right or attending yet another over smiley religious Buddhist Sangha session. My revolution isn’t on a computer or a blog, good luck with your convictions folks.
    Take her easy
    Soren

  52. Soren (#53). You raise a great point here. I see the discussions on the blog as only one half of the story. The other half is visible only in the actions of the people involved. So, most of what happens here is opaque. Some of us are taking the ideas floated and debated here and plugging them in to real-life environments–sanghas, sitting groups, teaching, therapy, and more. My interests lie in real world human-to-human interaction. This blog is a sort of public forum, like the stoa, where ideas are dislodged–yes, sometimes like a weapon, sometimes like a crucifix, but sometimes, too, like a fresh torrent of water.

    Typing out things on your computer like [you are] “a bunch of middle aged intellectual x-Buddhists” is an utter waste of your precious, fleeting mortal time. If you’re going to call people names, can you at least try to be creative about it? And the word “rant” is so absurdly overused by people who refuse to engage in the substance of an argument.

    Soren, what did you expect from a blog whose tagline is “weaving a bloody tapestry of ruin,” and whose motto is “kick out the jams, motherfuckers!”?

    Hope you’ll throw a stink bomb our direction once in a while.

    Peace!

  53. No sir, I could really care less. I don’t feel your love I feel your ego.

  54. It would be wholly pathetic if writing on the computer were all we were suggesting, or doing. But ah, Soren, you cut us to the quick–if only we were lithe young nubile intellectuals, our “ranting” would be ever so much more glamorous and appealing! Better to be young and stupid, than those two most revolting things in our culture–old, and intelligent.

    Too soon old, too late smart, my great-grandfather used to say.

  55. Your right Tom, I am young and stupid. You are the older wise brilliant one that will save us all in time.

  56. Re 47. It’s a pity committed x-buddhists are so few and far between on this blog, Jonckher is our current specimen, and a very nice chap he is, but I prefer my x-buddhists maybe a little bit more to the point.  However, beggars can’t be choosers, and I sure hope he sticks around for a while longer.  In terms of x-buddhists altogether, it would be good if we could both piss them off, AND get them to continue to comment, but I know that is asking for a lot, even for those whose daily practice it is to patiently and joyfully forgive all the countless idiots that cross their path.

    So, we will have to make do.  One way to learn a lot towards answering Glenn’s question is to spend some time on the website of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, a non-denominational buddhist group who aim to change the world for the better as a political movement.  A couple of things strike me.  

    First of all, these are the good guys, let me be very clear, by and large I agree with their objectives (well, maybe Tibet is bit more complicated), and clearly they understand that tong len on its own isn’t going to do the trick.  Also, I spent only a couple of hours on their website, hardly an exhaustive analysis.  Also, I don’t doubt that there exist fully politically engaged buddhists, doing their thing quietly, excellent people without a doubt. Hopefully somebody more knowledgeable will take the time to set me straight.  

    Secondly, and this is much along what Glenn refers to in 47, they sure want you to know that they are buddhists.  Pictures of political demonstrations, with BPF members ostentatiously meditating, holding posters wishing that the 99% be heard and that all sentient beings be happy.  Here come the buddhists, every bit as obvious as shriners in a parade, let there be no doubt about that.

    And thirdly, very much convinced that they are bringing something unique and precious to the larger movement, namely a distinct lack of anger, compassion for all, and an absolute commitment to non-violence.

    I am not a buddhist, so really for me this is more anthropology than anything else.  If I were a buddhist however, I would want to think about this need to identify as buddhist, somebody special rather than just another demonstrator or what have you, and I also would approach any claim of a privileged mental state with an awful lot of suspicion.  And non-violence in my view isn’t always a no-brainer. But then again, everybody knows me as a curmudgeon.  

    A middle-aged curmudgeon!

      

  57. #47 — “to what extent these kinds of opinions could be shaped by social forces that we aren’t aware of”

    Glenn: I am wondering if this is a personal question to be answered, after some thought. As in, “Here are some social forces that may be affecting my vision of meditation/Buddhism, for better or worse…” Or is it a global question to answer. As in, “Well yes of course there are social forces at work in ANY collected group of people. Including right here.”

    I tried to answer the former earlier, and just now answered the latter.

    I think that I would love to have the conversation about WE, those of us here, are actually bringing with us when we interact here. What social forces are actually guiding our responses, right here, right now?

    #50 — “my lens is one that skews everything toward radicalism”

    Tom: I guess I was trying to suggest that there are other perhaps more “social” lenses through which you might be engaging me. I was attemtpting to suggest that perhaps there are other motives behind some of your responses, not just trying to “reveal to me my own idealogies.” Which I am willing to consider, but are you also? Also, I wonder if one is really all that radical if they have to state that they are “radical” in order to explain themselves? There is nothing particularly radical about you painting me with a very broad brush, the skewing of how it appears that you are interacting with me based on that. Nor is there anything radical about me being told by someone else that they have all the answers, such a silly girl am I, and if I only were smart enough, or listened well enough, I would understand. (That happens in the military, and in Baptist churches as well you know.)

    I appreciate your knowledge, but do not need you to save me. Is there a way for us to assume that we are all adults, who have lived a lot of life? Rather than any of us throwing around assumptions about age and wisdom (or lack of either.) I appreciate what you have to offer, but I FULLY reject the premise that you have all the answers that I need. (In fact I reject a lot of the premise of your last post to me.) I also think that perhaps it was a rather large leap for you to assume that I am in any way “Unhappy” because I am engaging in a struggle to live life. I struggle, but do not need fixing from said struggle. Personally I think that struggle happens period, unless of course we dissociate. Perpsectives, experiences, knowledge, prodding, even arguing all are things I value…not being dismissed, or stereotyped. I cannot stop being a woman, just like you cannot stop being a man. But I do not need your advice about how to change the type of woman I am in order to better serve my life. I alos reject that I am even a feminist, I am a woman with that perspective. The circular argument I was trying to escape was YOUR labeling of me…not your perceived idea of the “ideologies” you think I am stuck in. What are your own ideologies that could use some changing…now that would be radical!

    #55 — “My interests lie in real world human-to-human interaction.”

    Tom and Glenn: I think that was what I was attempting to communicate about when speaking about my own experiences. That sometimes these very formulated ideas may perhaps have to be taylored when applying to specific populations. And I was speaking from personal experience because that is the population I have experience with, not because I thought that sharing my “feelings” somehow trumped what everyone else was saying.

    Human-to-human interaction involves VERY much being aware of those social forces. Otherwise we may be doomed to just pass them along to others without being aware that we are doing it. Of course we create social structures every time we form a group, but awareness, and constant checking and questioning is paramount. At least we can say, “These are the forces at work here, are they serving a purpose, is it a purpose that works well here, will it work well elsewhere?”

  58. So, what ARE the ideologies I am unaware of? You have yet to point them out to me. You say you are NOT the kind of feminist I suggested you are–I never did say you WERE a feminist, just that you had internalized those ways of thinking–and yet, again, you post about how you feel, how I’ve insulted you, how as a woman you are being oppressed by sexist men–the exact same discursive strategies once again, and still nothing of substance about the question, just more lamenting being an oppressed woman, and what a terrible mean man I am.

    I have no suggestions about how you should “change the type of woman” you are. I am offering advice about the ideological structure of your discourse.

    Glad to hear that I don’t seem at all radical, though.

  59. Yesterday, the talk at our sangha was on engaged Buddhism. (No, I did not give it.) The speaker asked members of the sangha to mention a social issue that was important to them, and something they could work on to improve the situation. The issues were mostly what one would expect, all the big issues focused on by the media to make people feel a little more in control: gay and lesbian rights, animal rights, global warming, and mindful consumption. A couple people mentioned universal healthcare. Everyone seemed fairly satisfied with global capitalism telling them what it is okay to get outraged about. And even what they can do about it—mostly, vote, and be nicer to people in our lives. And give money to pet shelters and replace your incandescent bulbs.

    Nobody mentioned the economy. Well, I did, but it only got the familiar glazed-eyes look.

    What was even more depressing was the number of people who simply said that there is nothing we can do about the world, we can’t affect politics or economics, so we need to focus on just being kinder in our personal contacts. It just seems overwhelming to even think of change, and so everyone is fully prepared to give up.

    And here, on a completely unconventional blog, we get the same inundation of defeatists who insist that capitalism is just natural, necessary, not the kind of thing one changes, that would be like trying to change the laws of physics.

    We get Jonckher clowning around, and Soren simply expressing furious outrage that we are even trying to be right about anything (he doesn’t suggest we AREN’T right, offers no argument against us, except that having reached middle age our rightness or wrongness is now irrelevant, and we are by definition pathetic for continuing to exist). We get Brad and JP, furiously asking questions that are stupid and irrelevant, and angry that I try to avoid pointing out how stupid the questions are, then angrier when I finally consent to do it. Or cat hater simply saying “truth? No thanks—I’ll keep my delusions.” Soren, of course, also felt that speaking the truth was a hostile act, and he must call insults over his shoulder as he walked away.

    And none of this comes as a surprise. If we are all, as I have been arguing, simply the effects of a structure, parts of the collective mind (yes, Jonckher, Borg metaphors are actually quite close, here), then clearly most of us would have to think what the collective mind thinks, and be incapable of seeing its errors, and even outraged by challenges to the dominant ideology. Of course most people would assume that activist means only what the television says it is okay to be activist about, and that the economy is a complex, natural phenomenon, like neurology or subatomic particles, that we cannot quite explain yet—certainly it couldn’t be a human practice of which we could have complete control: unthinkable—literally!

    These posts are quite revealing, though. Because this response demonstrates that the really essential first task is still to break the hold of the dominant ideology on the western mind. Ideology becomes, then, a key site of struggle. Buddhism could be a place to speak the unpleasant truth and live with it, or a place to cloud our minds and wallow in our emotions, protected by our illusions.

  60. sometimesihatemycate (#61).

    First of all, I am behind in reading the comments here (company over the weekend). I will catch up as soon as goddamn real life gives me a break. (Just kidding: blogging is real life, too.)

    Yes, I think that answering the question on the basis of personal experience is very valuable. It is also interesting to extrapolate one’s personal process of sanghic formation out to more general conclusions. For example, if I am being trained within my x-buddhist sangha to place the highest value on dispositions such as equanimity and non-reactivity and non-judgementalism, how does that influence my actions within my social world? Do such dispositions help create a person who is politically quietist? Does the feel-good emphasis of many sanghas implicitly enable personal profit (my well-being, reduction ofmy stress) over social need (economic opportunity, equality)? What about the prevalent x-buddhist disposition of a “compassion” indistinguishable from a barren, status-quo-preserving niceness? I can imagine someone saying, “come on, Wallis; adults aren’t formed by x-buddhist sanghas; they think for themselves.” I have spent time in Zen groups in New York City, with highly-educated, culturally sophisticated practitioners. It even happens there. I created a dzogchen group when I taught at Brown–faculty and staff and students. It happens there, too. X-buddhist communities have real influence on the formation of subjects. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that a person joining such a group is looking for answers. They then receive a framework that can be applied generally–socially as well as individually. The question on this post is a very real one: do western Buddhist communities and media actively aid in the creation of a person who is incapable of the passionate, risky, and sustained commitment that is perhaps the first condition of real change?

    Robert’s post #60 about the Buddhist Peace Fellowship suggests that there might be x-buddhist sanghas that do hold promise as producers of subjects who advocate for change. Bernie Glassman might be another example. I don’t know. I’d have to spend more time with their materials. I have so far formulated my opinion, as you say, on personal experience.

    I am probably be sloppy here because I have to run to a meditation group. More later. Thanks.

  61. OMG! Is there no way for you to see what you are doing? You were so quick to point out what you thought my ideologies were. Can YOU aim that at yourself? I am asking you, you are equally not answering.

    You keep adding so much to what I am saying. It is impossible for you to NOT hear what you want to hear. I AM NOT LAMENTING I AM HAVING A CONVERSATION, or at least attempting to. Don’t you see this circular game that you are playing?

    And as soon as I try to tell you what ideologies you are bringing to the table I am lamenting etc…Your responses are so full of words that I have not used. For example: sexist, opressed, “gaping hole as vagina,” to name a few. YOU are doing that, not me. Your over-reaction to my attempting to be part of the coversation is stunning.

    I think I actually answered Glenn’s question over and over again. You have not heard my answer, you have plastered shit all over what I have said, or am trying to say.

    I am new at formlating this stuff via blog, perhaps you could loosen your grip on the almighty truth here and let another HUMAN BEING try to contribute.

    Perhaps you should back the fuck off, take a step back, and try to hear what I have said. Can nobody ever tell you anything? And that is human to human, not woman to man.

  62. Tom Pepper, my previous response was directed at you, not Glenn. Just to be clear. And you do an awful lot of rewording of what people have said. That rewording seems to be used to back up your own world view…no matter what the actual speaker of said words intended. That is quite an effective way to END a conversation don’t you think. What if your “truth” is actually NOT the complete truth? Does that make everyone else delusional? I don’t buy your idea of “truth.” That doesn’t make me delusion, that just means we disagree. Your words are as loaded as you think everyone else’s are. The ideology you bring to the table is that you have all the answers, and that you can learn from no one unless they infact think and speak like you.

  63. Certainly haven’t read all the comments above, yet…

    BUT, re: #s 26, 28. 31

    Seems to me the buddha would have been an idiot if he said there was “no self!” There is a world of difference between “no self” and “not self,” and hence, “radical self acceptance” would be the acceptance of the ever-changing process/flux Tom Pepper hints at. AND, contrary to the guys, I think it incredibly important to develop just that kind of radical self acceptance so that change can be made! It’s like the first of the 12 steps; gotta accept one’s an alcoholic before you can do anything about it. BUT, it’s still only the first step!

    I’ve worked with many, many young women and older women who express just what “sometimesihatemycat” expresses and I really think many (most) men haven’t a clue! Yet, I think the problem is with teaching ‘no self,’ with these women because when ‘not self’ is shared with them (and again, NOT ‘no self’) they understand almost immediately, and it is indeed therapeutic because they can see the impersonal causes and conditions behind their ‘self abnegation’ and self hatred and they see that because what they are is not an unchanging, independently arisen, essentialist entity, they can radically transform. “No self” is almost by definition going to exacerbate their issues; “not self” is healing. I’ve seen it countless times.

  64. Frank,

    I can’t see what difference the term makes–or at least not how it makes such an enormous difference. I have heard this passionate claim before, but it was for “non-self”: the claim was if we use the term “not self” it must and can only mean exactly what you claim “no self” means, and the use of the term not self betrays complete idiocy and ignorance of Buddhism. Then, of course, I’ve heard the exact same claim about the term non-self by those who insist we must say selflessness. Clearly the terms are all referring to the same concept–don’t be such a wank about it.

    RE: the discussion as a whole:

    Interesting, isn’t it, that every time the subject of politics comes up, we get thousands upon thousands of words about what an asshole I am, and how rude and arrogant I am to ever think I am right about anything, when clearly I am just an asshole, and don’t know that everything anyone ever thinks is equally true there is no truth, only assholes think there is. Of course, nobody ever even attempts to make the case that what I said was wrong–just that I am an asshole for saying it, and suggesting it is true (not just the opinion of an asshole).

    Anybody interested in bringing the subject back to politics? Maybe we could just start a separate discussion board for what a horrible jerk Tom is, so it doesn’t prevent all discussion everywhere else?

    Can people conceive of a non-capitalist world? Or is our mind just so thoroughly structured by the form of capitalist exchange value and use value that we cannot think any other way?

  65. Just to be clear, Tom, i’m not throwing insults and walking away we are typing into a computer screen. I apologize for the middle age remark, that was insensitive and thoughtless. But you sir, need to understand that from my perspective you’re just another coffee shop revolutionary who is so caught in his own ego that he is entirely incapable of listening and responding to another persons perspective. Sometimesihatemycat makes some great points and you’re just an asshole man. No, your not wrong your just an asshole.
    Whatever, i’ll walk away now because if I don’t someone will throw a book at me. But, what this whole blog is missing is love. We all in some way or another have been affected by Buddhist meditation but what is telling for me about such a blog is that it seems to be lacking the very element of Buddhism that I hold dearly which is love. Good luck to you all. I hope you find what you’re looking for.

  66. #68 Tom

    How dare you accuse us x-buddhist capitalists of failing in imagination?

    As their self-selected representative, I would like to inform you that we can very much envision a non-capitalist world. In fact we are in our various secret cabals even now constructing it.

    Much of it takes place in the (hopefully not too distant) future where our super-technology has made everything free (1)(2) and we are all immortal and/or uploaded into MMORPGs (3).

    Folks, I bring GOOD NEWS for verily the Singularity is NIGH! Prepare to be beamed up.

    May all sentient beings in the *entire* cosmos live long and prosper.

    (1) Although seeing as you are so grumpy I’m not very confident about your Whuffie score in our glorious post-scarcity world. (hint: you’ll be able to count it on one hand)

    (2) Or turned everything into grey goo but we don’t talk about that in polite company now do we.

    (3) Alpa-testers have been difficult to find for some reason.

    Addendum:

    Tom. I agree we are all effects of a structure, although I would say that it constitutes at least of: a two-way exchange (albeit heavily weighted on the side of the matrix), a collaboration/struggle/argument involving conscious and sub-conscious levels and significant cognitive dissonance.

    I think that structure transformation is possible through a critical mass event (maybe an enlightenment event?) but the structure has momentum and certain sub-structures and maybe individuals have vested conscious interests in perpetuating it. (i believe that evil does actually exist and that not everyone is redeemable) Transformation must be a perpetual activity, a continuous (r)evolution if you will.

    Given the times we are in (and your experiences in real-life and in the blog), the concept of social transformation/(r)evolution has become passe in the west (though not in the middle east or in x-islam). The ideology is exceedingly, irredeemably powerful. Can x-buddhism renew this? Can it bring hope? I remain pessimistic for the west.

    Now is the dimming of Middle Earth: the age of Illuvatar has passed, the last ships have left for the Gray Havens and none will return.

    The east however, is a different story. The hoards of Mordor are exceedingly interesting. Exceedingly.

  67. Tom. You are like the arsonist burning others’ stuff and then wondering why are people so fixated on the fires and telling them “please if anyone wishes to start a fire go do it elsewhere!” To quote sometimesihatemycalt: OMG!

    Tom. You are trying to tell us not to make the conversations about yourself by making it about yourself! Can you see the irony?

    You should know better than asking us to prove you wrong. For instance, proving your theory of mind as (circular) social product/entity is like you trying to prove that someone is wrong when (s)he affirms that there are blue creatures on Jupiter. You rely on assumptions and foundations that we don’t share, and those generally can’t be proven either right or wrong. Many of us are then simply humble and accept the great uncertainty that pervades the human endeavor of understanding and engaging each others. Others don’t I guess. Your demand that we prove you wrong skews the conversation in a perverse way that is likely to destroy its sheer possibility or existence. If you truly expect us to do so then your capacity to deal with others is even more dysfunctional than you yourself realize. You are sufficiently familiar with the history of mankind intellectual endeavor and smart enough to realize that ‘proving the right or wrong’ has always been fuzzy and secondary to an exchange (and please don’t go on a rant about how anti-intellectual I am …): simply look at the intellectual conversations and disagreements on the web, or this blog, or some recent “a bit more” extreme forms of that phenomenon, e.g. the avid watchers of Fox news or the deniers of evolution.

    Finally, since we are on that subject, have you come to realize how your own narratives and ideas feed and depend on the most naive narratives of x-Buddhism? In a way, you are at home with them. Without or beyond them, you theories and ideas have little credibility and are not taken seriously … but I know in your mind that exact development is one further source of validation … You accused me of relying on sophistry. Look inter-subjectivity has always had so far its inherent patches of fuzziness and our understanding of each others plagues by the boundaries of intimacy so it takes A LOT for me to rely on “you plaster your own shit on what I wrote”, and I do so with an immense reticence but man you have created your own monstrous discursive vortex … There is no other way to say it or deal it for us who are outside of it! And you can’t seem to help but to try to suck, like any decent vortex, us in as anything else that comes across its path … For instance, regarding the matter of keeping the conversations “on track”, I will simply give the reader a small assignment: go back to the past discussions on this blog and find the common denominator to almost all instances where they went awry. I will give you a hint or letter: T. Guys what is happening here is not the exception … Seriously?

  68. Jonckher, Soren, JP, cathater etc: Why don’t you just stop shooting at the wrong target. If you don’t like Tom’s manner why don’t you just argument? I am not interested reading through a flamewar. Why don’t you argument against Althusser’s theory, against Badiou or whatever or, in case this is too demanding, why don’t show how change is impossible? Or if you think it possible, how? Soren, why don’t you go on articulating your experience with x-buddhism in the terminology provided in Glenn Wallis’ article Speculativ Non-Buddhism? Look through the heuristics-part of the text and look if it helps you to articulate yourself better? Jonckher, how about something about the matrix? How does the plot of the film the “The Matrix” teach us anything in regard of the topics discussed here? JP, why don’t you destruct Tom’s own “monstrous discursive vortex”? JP you say: “You demand that we prove you wrong skews the conversation in a perverse way that is likely to destroy its sheer possibility or existence.” How is this? We are here to develop ideas. What do you want?

  69. Tom

    Re #27

    Your comment:

    “I would insist, again, that Buddhist thought is not inherently a tool of the powerful. It is a radically powerful truth, which is repeatedly, throughout its history, contained by the powerful through reactionary institutions. The earliest Buddhist sangha was one example of an advance in social justice made by Buddhist thought and practice–breaking the grip of the existing economic and social structure; and of course it released enormous productive forces and dramatic social transformation that lead to war and containment of the radical potential in a new economic and social structure. This is the dialectic of truth and obscuration. If you see only the reactionary containment, it is because you are looking only within reactionary ideology.

    Your have named, once again, all the defeatist assertions of capitalist ideology I mention in #11 above. The illusion that only the rich can change things, that we must change things within the system (through our choices as consumers), that a dozen or even a hundred is not enough to effect change, This is the cacophony of defeatist propaganda we need to become deaf to.

    We can start with one concrete change: the elimination of the monetary system.

    And Luis, if you approve of my tone, then I must admit I’m worried that I’m not making my point clearly enough.”

    ************************************************************************

    The cacophony comes entirely from you as does your selective deafness.

    You now take “buddhist thought” (only you may know what that means) as a Truth of an advance of social justice. May I remind you regarding buddhist truths that “ALL WE HEAR ARE OUR OWN VOICES”, as said Matthias.

    Certainly you and Glenn embrace the word Truth as the blanket to cover your frustrations. I predict that you and Glenn are and will always be good cultural critics and completely irrelevant political agents of change.

    For compensating the political irrelevance of speculative non-buddhism you need to embrace delusional concepts such as Truth Events and defend Buddhist Truths. For you and Glenn think ANTI-CAPITALIST BUDDHIST IDEAS are the ticket to INMORTALITY– please see Samsara as the Realm of Ideology.

    Well, that is exactly how traditional believers in platonism/essentialism feel: they can’t accept their finiteness, the uncertainty of their arguments, the presence of the Other, the limit of death and instead they need to defeatingly use abstractions of eternity to fool themselves. Good luck.

    In its arrogant self-sufficiency, speculative non-buddhism -that is Glenn and you-, fail to grasp the full horror of life. In the name of non-buddhism, you both stand alone with your un-sophisticated very overworked biases.

    Assuming the early sangha monastic model existed; it depended almost entirely on alms, on donations. I can hardly think of a more dependent validation of the existing economic system than that one. Your reasoning is completely inconsistent.

    Perhaps you want to elaborate on a concrete alternative non-economic model. Please let us now the date and place when you and a few others starts exchanging goods bypassing the economic monetary system. It would at least be something more than a cultural critic´s curiosity. In general y you and Glenn assume capitalism, or more specifically private entrepreneurship and market mechanism are inherently evil. For a start it would be good that you propose something concrete in its place, I mean, as a concrete consequence of your non-buddhist anti-Kapiltalist vision or whatever.

    I think the problem is NOT capitalism but EGOISM and SADISM. You and many traditional buddhists propose that the root of egoism can be eliminated “up-rooted” by this practice. Others like me think buddhism is NOT necessary to force solidarity upon others.

    **What is needed is to TAX and accordingly DISTRIBUTE economic income, provide high quality public services and eliminate poverty. **

    Now with regard to SADISM, defined as the need of some people to create suffering to other and enjoy it –pretty much what to tend to do here-, some people think that economic justice would not stop it. This is because suffering has many causes, not only economic injustice.

    SADISM as the way of abusing others because of their weaker economic conditions, creed, race, sexual orientation, has been well dealt with relatively successfully in the past few decades, and it hasn´t been buddhism what has brought that change about.

    **Actually your early sangha model is currently a factory of sexual and economic abuse almost everywhere, as you may well know – or perhaps that’s another surreal reactionary attack?**

    This brings me to my last comment about your tone and clarity. I meant that before comment 23 your comments were not attacks, your sadistic tendencies seemed to be inactive. The rest of the thread of course proves me wrong. So don’t worry too much.

    Overall, I think it would be easier if you and Glenn simply accepted your ever growing LACK of power to effectively change things and take it from there.

    You both could use questions such as:

    *Why do I lack power to change things?
    **What would be a better future for all?
    ***How can I effectively engage with others to bring about concrete change?
    ****Is (non)Buddhism an effective tool for political change?

    But politically irrelevant cultural (non-buddhist) critics die hard.

    And that´s ok.

  70. Okay, getting back to the actual post Glenn published above, Glenn asks some questions:

    1. “Are contemporary western Buddhists complicit in what is arguably a rabid capitalistic system?”

    My experience is that yes, for all too many. I’d be surprised if it weren’t so for most. BUT, not for all.

    2. He goes on to question:

    “Are these communities unwitting agents helping to extend our predatory social, cultural, financial, and political status quo? And, if so, do they give a shit? In Marxist terms, which comes first for an x-buddhist: private profit or social need? Please pause and think before those bodhisattva buddhemes start booming in your brain.”

    The majority of communities that never give a thought to such issues would, I think by definition be “unwitting agents” of propping and extending the “status quo.” Emphasis on “unwitting” because they rarely give a whit of a thought to such matters. Also, while I think it’s safe to say that most (all?) those drawn to buddhism are lured by private profit (they feel like shit and that life sucks, and want experience relief from that situation), I’ve come across more experienced practitioners for whom social need has indeed become their priority. And quite often the movement from the ‘private’ to the ‘social’ was the specific outgrowth of their practice.

    3. And then he proposes what he says may be an “even graver question,” which is clearly a rhetorical question as he gives his answer as well:

    “…do western Buddhist communities and media actively aid in the creation of a person who is incapable of the passionate, risky, and sustained commitment that is perhaps the first condition of real change? Is the contemporary Buddhist person-subject just too nice, mindful, and equanimous to be anything but a dupe to Exxon and J.P. Morgan? I cannot tell you how many times I have seen an x-buddhist douse himself/herself with a debilitating dollop of “non-reactivity” or “non-judgmentalism” in the face of genuine passion. Well, why should I be surprised? After all, the roots of x-buddhism lie deep in the yearnings of world-renouncing ascetics.”

    That ‘traditional’ buddhism is world-renouncing — and that so many contemporary buddhists (from my experience most proudly pronounced by theravadin buddhists) seem to be blind to just how life-denying it is — is perhaps the most pernicious effect buddhism has on buddhists! I screened “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” at my sangha’s monthly film series just to address this dousing of any passion with “non-reactivity” and (shudders) “non-judgementalism.” In particular, the advice given by one character to another in order to ‘pass’ through the town square now filled with ‘pod people:” “Keep your eyes a little wide and blank. Show no interest or excitement,” describes plenty of buddhist practitioners who seem to think such a state to be “spiritual” or “enlightened.” And as for “non-judgemental,” it seems to be “the buddha” made plenty of judgements!

    BUT, in meditation, non-reactivity is a strategy for investigating mind/body experience. It isn’t — or shouldn’t be — the prescription of how to live in this world! That buddhists have done and continue to do so is a travesty! My experience is that the practice of meditation has gotten me in touch with passion. And it has shown more skillful ways of expressing it in all the realms of life — from the intra-psychic to the social, financial, cultural, and political. Had I not “found” practice, there is a strong probability that I’d be dead or in prison now.

    Glenn then offers a wonderful quote from Tom Pepper that includes the following statement:

    “Badiou explains: “the modern name for necessity is, as everyone knows, ‘economics,’ which should be called by its name: the logic of Capital.” The one unchangeable truth is the ineffable uncontrollability of the capitalist economy, and we must all simply adjust our languages and medicate our brains/bodies to maximize our bliss in the face of this inexorable truth. Secular Buddhism seeks to become the ideology of this power, which forces us to participate in the production of oppression, poverty, and suffering for the majority of the world population. We focus on being nice and accepting sickness and death, and believe if those poor folks in the southern hemisphere would only become secular Buddhists too, they’d be fine. Their suffering isn’t the result of economic and political oppression; it results only from their inability to become oblivious to the world around them! Be mindful, and enjoy your poverty!”

    I don’t think “secular buddhists” should be singled out though! Traditional buddhism and much contemporary ‘religious buddhism’ also fixates on the psychological and ignores the social, financial and political structures of oppression and exploitation. I’m not denying that the ‘existential’ and psychological suffering that is ameliorated through practice around the four reminders (aging, illness, death, separation) is — or can be — transformational, but it too often stops there!

    Finally, there are many aspects of what is referred to as ‘engaged buddhism,’ some of which are props of the status quo by being merely bandaids, but there are others who are directly addressing the social, financial and political structures in various ways. These folk tend to remind others that there is nothing at all ‘natural’ about capitalism. These folk seem to me to understand the more radical implications of ’emptiness’ and ‘dependent origination.’

  71. #72 Matthias

    I will have you know that I am actually a big fan of Sergent Pepper and his band! The cacophony others accuse him of is music to my ears even if I do insist on dancing off-beat and making up my own lyrics. If Weird Al can do it, why can’t I?

    The Matrix (first part of the trilogy only please) is a minor masterpiece and to explain how I am using it and what I mean would make it too obvious and dreary – especially to myself.

    This is the secret I have figured out which I will share: It is essential that secrets are kept. When the matter is serious and people must understand what you mean, it becomes even more crucial that the message is coded and elusive. What is the point of a trial if the crime is made known and explicit, when the sentence is anything other than death?

    Meaning when tied down becomes dead and then you have philosophy and x-buddhism – meaning leading to more meaning eating itself up, chaining everyone to the game of definitions and contra-definitions.

    How boring!

    This comment brought to you by the number (1).

    (1) There is no (1).

  72. Frank Jude Boccio

    BUT, in meditation, non-reactivity is a strategy for investigating mind/body experience. It isn’t — or shouldn’t be — the prescription of how to live in this world!

    This has to be highlighted. I have experienced this a lot of times: Some one explaining meditation, the actual sitting, in such a way and then questions from the audience how to “live” this with others? If I think about the two or three teachers I met and how I remember such situations, the fault seems to lie on the side of the audience. The question is, is x-buddhism attracting a certain kind of character? Does it perhaps fill a hole in a certain kind of historical situation. But of course the teachers are also responsible.Why don’t they put more emphasis on the fact that “non-reactivity” is a very active passive state for the interrogation of the mind, a necessary skill to become clearer about what is the mind? Why don’t they just finish this bullshit business of sitting around giving “point-out” instructions to an audience which takes them as sleeping pills? Probably the fill the hole too.

    Jonckher, it is not about tying meaning down. Just the opposite is the case for this blog. It depends on how how decide on it.

  73. 69 Soren Landreau wrote: “Whatever, i’ll walk away now because if I don’t someone will throw a book at me. But, what this whole blog is missing is love. We all in some way or another have been affected by Buddhist meditation but what is telling for me about such a blog is that it seems to be lacking the very element of Buddhism that I hold dearly which is love. Good luck to you all. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

    This is a blog, and I compare it to other buddhist-communitys on the internet. What makes me tired are all the “loving” X-Buddhists who, once the soundness of their argument curdle, they do not at all “love” and accept or respond to the intellectual substance of the argument – because they really are not able to – but instead they cover up the shortcomings by responding with sarcasm, irony or personal attacks alongside references to suttas or fundamentalist interpretations, and always ending with “with metta”.

    This – SNB – is a great place because here X-Buddhists are not protected by silent acceptance of their “with metta”-hypocrisy. Instead they are really questioned and encouraged to bring forward the substance of their arguments – which usually seem to be very non-substantial and center around egoistic aversion. And, when evidently the arguments of the X-Buddhist does not stand well, a little bonus comes: because the hypocritical X-Buddhists are not supported by silent acceptance – they are outside the safety of their sangha – the true characters of the “loving” X-Buddhist really shines through.

    We need not more “love”, we need a base for inquiry. By submitting to the brutality of true inquiry comes uplifting joy.

  74. RE: #74

    Frank, you said:

    “Also, while I think it’s safe to say that most (all?) those drawn to buddhism are lured by private profit (they feel like shit and that life sucks, and want experience relief from that situation), I’ve come across more experienced practitioners for whom social need has indeed become their priority. And quite often the movement from the ‘private’ to the ‘social’ was the specific outgrowth of their practice.”

    It would be my contention that this movement is the ideal–we start out unhappy, dissatisfied, no matter how apparently pleasant the situation, and then, if we grasp the truths of anatman and dependent arising, really get the whole point of them, we are left with an unavoidable movement from private to social–because not only is the private completely an effect of the social, but transforming the social is our conatus as homo sapiens, and the only real way WE can stop suffering. Unfortunately, I find that most of the time the new Buddhist realizes where this might go, and quits–that is, I’ve seen many, many people, who are looking for meditation to serve as a kind of non-drug numbing of their discontent, and when they realize it won’t give them this, and that learning all these Buddhist ideas only makes them MORE discontented with their current life, they quit.

    I love the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” idea. When I was growing up, everyone I knew saw this as an analogy for the dangers of communism, but to me it was clearly about the dangers of American culture itself–to produce empty beings whose only goal is to reproduce themselves mindlessly.

    RE #75

    Jokerman, the goal of philosophy should never be to “tie meaning” down–it should always be to push meaning to the limit, and create new meaning, to enable us to think those things we are presently doing mindlessly. “Truth” is always the forcing into appearance of something that exists in the world, but is not allowed to appear in our system of knowledge–only the positivists and capitalists insist that truth be a fixed and settled list of statements.

    RE # 73: Luis, honestly, I stopped reading when you started making psychic predictions, but if this one is true, I’ll be content: “I predict that you and Glenn are and will always be good cultural critics and completely irrelevant political agents of change.” As so many have pointed out for centuries, a good cultural critic is always one essential (but not sufficient) component of any change; if that is all I accomplish, it will be a good thing. I feel better that you once again are angered by my tone.

  75. On non-reactivity: I tend to agree that non-reactivity while on the cushion is a useful tool.. In fact, it is THE tool. It is what we use to “examine the mind” as others put it, or direct awareness inward as I have been suggesting. But here is the rub, as I see it. When we extend non-reactivity to our non-sitting world what consequesnces does it bring? Is there room for passion and reaction in teh Buddhist world. The argument on this blog would suggest YES, thankfully. I have heard and seen non-reactivity used as a tool of passivity. Non-reactivity is actually used by some to dampen the EXACT kind of argument that is happening here. Which I think for the most part is useful for examining our ideas, listening to others, and basically engaging people with different perspectives than our own. Reacting? Painless, no…useful, yes!

    There is a difference between practicing non-reaction on the cushion and off. My meditation teacher has said, do what we do on the cushion, and then get up and go live your life. I struggled with that for a long time, but have come to see the usefulness of it. There really is no non-reactivity anyway. Passivity IS a reaction to something, just a quieter version of it. The more I meditate, the easier it is to use the tool of non-reactivity during sitting, the easier it is to SEE the option in daily life. That is where choice comes in. I thnk perhaps having the option is POWERFUL, but figuring out when to use it and when to NOT use it is the real challenge. Being “engaged” at all suggests that there may be important moments to se non-reactivity aside.

    I have not spoken about economics here because, in my mind the deep root of the question wasn’t actually about economics, and turthfully I actually cannot speak as wonderfully about this area as some of you. (But I still feel I have something of value to contribute, and I think I actually HAVE contributed something.) But also, it seems to me that Glenn is asking us to take a look at our own sanghas and our own practice. Glenn seems to be asking us to question what subject WE have become as a result of our teachers, or our own teaching. And what kind of subjects we risk creating as we teach others? (Is this a correct understanding of your question Glenn?) I took that question to heart, and have been looking for myself. Perhaps Buddhist is not the best word to describe myself, not even x-Buddhist…But meditator, and x-believer.

    What subject has my sangha produced? One that actually believes that meditation does NOT end the struggle permanently. But one that enhances engagment in life, to spite the stsruggle. I sit because I sit, lets investigate what happens next… My sangha is producing someone who says ASK QUESTIONS, ASK QUESTIONS DAMNIT! INVESTIGATE FOR YOURSELF…that is my attmept.

  76. JP, re 71. You say in your latest response to Tom: “for instance, proving your theory of mind as (circular) social product/entity is like you trying to prove that someone is wrong when (s)he affirms that there are blue creatures on Jupiter. You rely on assumptions and foundations that we don’t share, and those generally can’t be proven either right or wrong”.

    I disagree. So why do I think Tom’s fundamental argument is plausible? First of all, and in a very personal sense, because I frequently find that my thoughts aren’t my own but rather seem to align with beliefs and gut feelings that I share with others in the society that I live in. One obvious example is fashion, the same clothes that all my friends and I thought beautiful and cool when I was 14 now make me wonder what the hell I was smoking (actually, I know very well what I was smoking but that is another story). Or, to become a bit more society-focused, think about nationalism. The notion that your own country is best and right, essentially because it is your own country, is clearly not an entirely rational thought, and altogether those kind of feelings are more appropriately aimed at the soccer club we support and its competitors who we hate. Nonetheless, these thoughts and feelings cause us to die on the battlefield, fighting others who feel every bit as patriotic as we do.

    And not only do I share these kinds of thoughts with others (and they aren’t really thoughts at all but rather gut feelings, common sense, whatever you want to call them). When you take a closer look at their content it does become apparent that they frequently serve to facilitate the continuation of the status quo, the society that we live in. Actually, nationalism again is a good example of such a tendency. And you have to wonder whether our fashion sense and the capitalist need to sell us new clothes well before our old ones are worn out is entirely coincidental. So, based on this observation, since we live in a capitalist society it is always a good idea to approach any statements about how capitalism is here to stay forever, how human nature aligns enirely with capitalist values, and so on, with a lot of suspicion.

    When your and Brad’s original comments appeared I made an effort to respond to at least some of it, please see my earlier comment, 38. Maybe you didn’t notice, at least you didn’t respond at the time. So maybe we can start from there and look at the evidence for the idea that although ultimately we cannot ‘prove’ the contention that the dominant ideology in a society is a force that shapes our thinking it is altogether not as unlikely and circular an argument as you make it out to be. It certainly isn’t what you call a spell (your comment 40), in that there is no magic involved.

    So what do you say?

  77. I’m just curious, we talk about social action but what kind of work are you guys doing now? Isn’t the whole point of such a blog to inspire social action, to get meditators off of their cushion’s, wipe the forced smiles off of our faces and act? Or, maybe like Luis says, it’s just a place for Glenn and Tom to overcompensate their feelings of inadequacy to create change. Do you think this blog motivates more people than it revolts? If so, it’s purpose is served, I will invest myself 100% and formulate sound arguemnts and remain focused on the topics and questions proposed in the article. But, i’m afraid Glenn and Tom and other’s are writing from a much more perosnal vendetta than an actual desire to create social change and promote unity and political advocacy.
    I don’t know about anyone else but my life has been crazy. By most of your standards i’m just a working class hero, but I am activly engaged in activism around the city, i’ve organized several groups commited to bringing change in our communities. If you want to help out let me know – we can meet up whenever. But I have to tell you, most people involved in the cause don’t give a shit about your harvard degree’s or your intellectual prowess. I agree, love, metta can too often be a lame excuse for not wanting to do the real work to look at societies problems but then neither can an elitiist intellectual smoke-screen. I guess i’m just a working class hero right? Glenn, your not radical and overall pretty rude. Tom, I’ve never met you but i’m pretty sure you’re even worse. If you guys want to create a group dedicated and willing to do the tough work than I suggest you begin answering Luis’s questions. Try not focusing so much on what you can destroy but what you can build. Glenn, you seem to have a vendetta against buddhism but yet you are a proffesor at a Buddhist university. I wonder how much that has played a part in your beleifts.
    Anyway I guess I will finish with LOVE, although I know we are beyond love here at SNB.

    With love and a little bit of anger
    Soren

  78. Hello Soren. I sincerely hope your social activism is more efficient than your walking away from this blog. I count five comments since you told us we are middle aged fools and you are never coming back.

  79. #81

    Robert — Interesting, and extremely relevant, ideas. Your assertions are precisely, in my humble opinion, what Glenn was asking us to consider. I agree that we tend to think our counrty, and our ideas, are right simply because they are our own. And that we tend to bolster these by the groups we choose to be affiliated with. I also think it is possible to actually see that we are doing this, then choose to continue or not. But, at least let’s be aware, and perhaps take the risk of being part of a group that might challenge our cherished ideas. I tend to say that I agree with that idea of how social forces are at work in our lives. I also think that viewing any claim of a structure (capitalism) as one that is here forever, without suspicion…is, well, suspect. If we take impermanance to it’s logical end point, then it seems strange to think anything is untouchable. Including my own ideologies I suspect.

    In my own practice, these are some questions to keep in the forefront of my mind as I move forward learning and teaching.

  80. Re 83, Thank you very much, those are very kind words, ‘interesting, and extremely relevant’. If only the entire world would see it that way, heck, I would settle for just my partner…

    That said, I am maybe saying a bit more than you suggest in your comment. Not only am I saying that we have beliefs that claim to be thoughts, I am also saying that many of those beliefs are so aligned with the interest that society has in perpetuating its existence that it cannot be coincidental. Patriotism is an obvious example. But also the idea that fundamentally we are greedy, agressive, selfish etc. is another one of those notions that ultimately may exist more to support the continuation of the capitalist status quo than that it is based on reason, no matter how correct it feels. I think that when you look at the history of mankind what stands out is the observation that we are fundamentally social and moral creatures, and political and cooperative by extension. Just the fact that we even have a language at all seems to support this notion. Based on that I would argue that much of the greed, selfishness and agression we see is a product of our current social structures and not a natural character trait at all. Not all of it, of course, but as I said in an earlier comment, it sure can’t help that we live in a capitallist society. And most certainly you shouldn’t point to human nature to justify capitalism, because if any argument is circular it is that one.

  81. Re 71, 80: “For instance, proving your theory of mind as (circular) social product/entity is like you trying to prove that someone is wrong when (s)he affirms that there are blue creatures on Jupiter.” Only a positivist would see this a problem. It would be simple enough to demonstrate that someones reasons for believing in blue creatures are inadequate or downright delusional, whether those creatures existed or not. If the arguments are sound but rely on unshared foundational assumptions, assumptions that are unprovable and a matter of fundamental “belief,” then simply pointing to them and offering reasonable alternative foundational assumptions is the most effective argument–it leaves things undecided, but explains why we cannot decide.

    So, I would argue that the dominant ideology is not a “force” that shapes our thinking, it is the WAY WE THINK most of the time, the structure of our thought. That the pervasive structure of thought serves the needs of global capitalism almost all the time is something we can demonstrate, simply by pointing to common beliefs, practices, discourses, etc and demonstrating that they do, in fact, function in such a way. Just as an example: in the discourses of psychology and education, it has become a common “established fact” that the brain does not reach “maturity” until age 25–we are told this as a truth, and educational and therapeutic decisions are base on it, despite the fact that there is absolutely NO evidence for this, no indication whatsoever that what is being measured by the neuroscientists is anything we might call “maturity.’ Why would we need to accept this as truth against all empirical evidence and reason? It is an ideology, to the extent that it is a belief that is actually put into practice, justifying and guiding changes in educational programs–we believe the truth of it WITH NO SCIENTIFIC SUPPORT, and it becomes a truth because we make it true: we want it to be true, in order to justify transforming college education into extended vocational training, and eliminating that higher level critical thinking that “immature” brains cannot do. At this point in our society, we need a workforce with extended technical training, that requires enormously long training, we want them to pay for it rather than getting it on the job, and we certainly don’t want them being encouraged to think to much while they’re getting this training. Everybody now believes the truth of this claim and cannot question it. It becomes true that intellectual maturity is not reached, because we deny young people the opportunity to think so that they might reach it, and so, we have a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Soren: I am glad you are angry. Yes, I am much, much worse than Glenn, in every conceivable way. I will not list my social activities, because that is irrelevant here–it is not a matter of one or the other, we either write on a blog OR do something in the world, and to make this assumption that since we are thinking about things critically we MUST NOT be doing anything else is to fall into the same idiotic anti-intellectual trap that prevents social activism that is guided by clear thought. We are left, then, to merely be active in the ways that the capitalist powers tell us are meaningful and acceptable. Perhaps the fact that your ARE so angry, and still unable to walk away, is that you see some glimmer of truth here? That first chink in the armor of ideology often causes intense anger.

  82. Soren Yo, man, what the fuck happened between #12 and #81? The spirit of the blog didn’t change in the meantime.

    Sure, rollickin’ dialogia and polemos did rumble and roar. So? That’s what we do here. Unlike the copious x-buddhist sites, we have no rules dictating “right speech.” We find such restrictions bullshit to an extreme. We are a rare site because, although we employ the term “buddhist,” we still believe in human liberation. It won’t be pretty in the meantime. X-buddhism is just too tyrannical. What makes it so devious, moreover, is that it is tyrannical and yet so nice. I don’t have a vendetta against it. I am too disinterested in it for that. In fact, I find it tedious and, often, mind-numbingly boring. I am, again, concerned about liberation. So, I will interrogate x-buddhism for a while longer to see what it has to say to that theme. But again, it’s like interrogating a pathologically nice tyrant. Don’t worry. It shouldn’t take much longer. In the meantime, if you don’t mind, we shall continue to

    Kick out the jams, motherfucker!

    You said “hoagie,” so I am still assuming you’re in Philadelphia. So am I. Let’s meet for a beer…and a hoagie.

  83. Assuming others in the area are invited (perhaps a very wrong assumption,) I wouldn’t mind meeting for a beer/wine/hard liqour. Drinking and talking is always a good idea. Perhaps until it starts to slur and become indecipherable. Or would a face to face meeting dampen the fighting spirit? Kinda hard to call each other ass, and feminist, and moron, and insane, and old, and stupid, etc…face to face (said half joking) but perhaps worth a try anyway! 😉

    Also Tyranny and niceness go very well together in the South…from my own years of experience. It is not limited to Buddhism that is for sure, but then Buddhism IS the subject of this blog.

  84. #84: Robert

    Don’t we all wish our partners felt that way. Thanks for the elaboration. I didn’t mean to simplify your argument, just stating that I found it useful to me.

  85. sometimesihatemycat (#87). Of course, you’re invited, too. And so is anyone else in the Philadelphia area. I know of several regular readers who do not comment–join us! Soren, maybe you can even join us for Monday meditation.

    Robert, I am spending time on the Buddhist Peace Fellowship site. Thanks. My first impression is that it is very Catholic-y. It has that strange combination of subtle proselytization, missionary work, and social action. If I were to go that way, I’d want it to be along the lines of Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker movement. That movement grew out of church ethics, of course; but applied those ethics in a way that, although true to the spirit of communist Jesus, flew in the face of the Church. The Buddhist website has an awful lot of red-flags (really: red-white-and-blue- flags) of facility (like “on using mindfulness to find the roots of social problems”). But I will give it more time, and report back.

    By the way, Soren, while I do work at a Buddhist-founded institute of graduate education, my educational philosophy is consistent with the spirit of this blog. I am not explicit about this to every student at the Institute, but I employ anarchist educational models. I learned many of those approaches as a student myself, many years ago, in an experimental anarchist school. So, yes, I agree, I am not a radical. I am really quite a well-behaved bourgeois.

    Long live the ephemeral!

  86. Glenn, don’t spend any time at the BPF for my sake, if you read my comment carefully you will see that I wasn’t much impressed. However, my mother always said, if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all. Maybe that should be our motto, rather than weaving that bloody tapestry thing. Whose idea was that anyway?

  87. Zizek and Tom Pepper are right that Western Buddhism can be appropriated and applied in a complacent and self-indulgent way. However, I wouldn’t say that this is inherent in the “ideology” of, say, Stephen Batchelor’s “secular Buddhism.” I arrived at “secular Buddhism” via Batchelor as a very radical and politically active college student and it never once gave me the idea to become complacent and jettison my revolutionary beliefs. Instead, it informs my political beliefs and action in a positive way. This isn’t much different from the way MLK jr. used Christianity to teach others to be empathetic toward their adversaries and oppressors. One could just as easily interpret in a way that justifies a content, complacent, politically apathetic lifestyle, which is why there are mainstream Christians and “liberation theology” or anarchist Christians. It’s really a matter of interpretation. Coincidentally, having just went to a forum with the Buddhist Peace Fellowship on Sunday, I can tell you that many Buddhists are very politically and socially active whether or not they are active with Buddhist groups. Many of them are also just as concerned and focused on how difficult it is to integrate politics into Western Buddhism because of how many Westerners turn to Buddhism for an escape and refuge from the difficulties of the modern world. It’s not as if all Western Buddhists are new-agey, a-political hippies who have never thought about the tension between some interpretations of Buddhism and modern political activism.

  88. Robert — I did not say anything because I mostly agree with you. To a great extent, I have no problem with the observations and experiences you share in post 80. I don’t think anyone denies the significant influence(s) culture, society, etc. have on the ontogeny and unfolding of our minds and psyches. And if making these straightforward affirmations can bring back the conversation on track then the better. However, what we may disagree on are the nature of the underlying factors and explanations for them (e.g. what is the nature of these forces and powers? etc. I also understand that part of the inquiry process here is to better figure out those realities and concepts, collectively, and that’s great!).

    You wrote “So why do I think Tom’s fundamental argument is plausible?” You may admit that your observations and experiences do not prove the adequacy of Tom’s model. Are you sure you understand Tom’s arguments and theories? (see p#85)

    What is ‘mind’? Take any intro philo book on the topic and you see how discussions and arguments rarely or do not lead to a convergence of views. What is society? Again, take an intro textbook or look at this blog http://understandingsociety.blogspot.com/. Yes, Tom’s radical view of the mind may be compatible (although after reading #85 you may conclude that is not the case after all) with your observations but so are many other models and theories. Different combinations of theories of mind and society will also deliver or be consistent with your experiences and observations. We don’t need to reduce the former to the latter. I don’t think I need to point out the obvious, that not rejecting an hypothesis is different from proving something is true or even plausible.

    Tom’s model has much more extreme predictions or underlying assumptions (see p#85) than you suggest. I will argue that those can’t be “settled” so easily. I will just send you back to the intro books if you think it is easy … or

    “If the arguments are sound but rely on unshared foundational assumptions, assumptions that are unprovable and a matter of fundamental “belief,” then simply pointing to them and offering reasonable alternative foundational assumptions is the most effective argument–it leaves things undecided, but explains why we cannot decide.” I agree in principle with these affirmations but I will add a caveat: things are in practice murkier and ‘internal consistency’ often does not carry the argumentative power alleged by Tom. Despite all the principles of logic booklets written since the beginning of time what is ‘soundness’, beyond the easy to spot thresholds of ‘obvious incoherence’, is not always that clear. Often people can’t even agree on definitions making the soundness of any argument even murkier. It is rarely ” simple enough to”; I am just being pragmatic here. That caveat is simply based on countless experiences and records of exchanges, debates, published articles, etc.

    Does this mean however that we should not care much about the soundness of an argument? No. Quite the contrary. It is because an argument is so inherently fragile that we need to be even more careful and pay greater attention. I may come back on this issue when I respond to Matthias.

    To conclude, I will admit that the way to proceed forward for me, after having my fun with the last few exchanges, may be to simply ignore some of Tom’s contributions; but this may be easier said than done because the sheer size of his participation to and interventions on this blog (which is very laudable) seems to have an indirect influence (you don’t need to look for global influences, local ones matter too!) on the direction(s) of the conversations and exchanges by slanting them towards his own narratives. But we can’t blame him for that but everyone else, including myself, who can’t keep up with his contributions to this blog.

  89. Robert: just to clarify, in my comment #85 I am not disagreeing with what you said. I am just trying to alter the construction of the statement to avoid likely misunderstandings. All language is metaphorical, as we all know, and it’s common to get tangled up in our metaphors. The metaphor of a force affecting our thoughts is, well, not wrong–but if taken literally then it could be misleading.

    Jonathon (#91) That’s good to know. I hope we hear from some more of them. I do know a few–it’s just that the “new-agey apolitical” types have them vastly outnumbered.

  90. #74, 78

    Did I just see a reference of popular culture and what’s more SFF pop? Fantastic! I want to play too!

    The pod people were pure awesome and so very neat. If I was a vegetable mimetic invader from outer space would I pack up the remnants of my host and pod-afterbirth in a tidy garbage bag (1978)? Of course not! I’d be too busy rampaging down main street in my purpose grown 40 foot, 100 armed avalokiteshvara formed (severely pissed off aspect) body.

    House chores are for puny humans! You’re gonna need more than one tidy-tie bag once I’m through with you! GARGH!

    Anyway, those were the days when our monsters were not only cool but had an improving political message for us to ponder after we’ve left the theatre. Imagine the heated discussions over healthy milkshakes! OMG. Am I the only one missing very special sit-com episodes? Why isnt there a Modern Family very special episode dealing with crack-whores?

    These days, our monsters appear to be mainly poofter vampires and zombies (1979). Where have our monsters gone (1998) (2002)? Is the best we can do Mr Lecter and his spawn of endless Saw movies? Are we reduced to Lars Von Trier?

    Non-philosophers and non-buddhists, these are VERY important questions!

    And if you have to ask why and how this is related to the conversation, then I throw up my hands and make a very angry protective deity face at you.

    With metta, as usual.

    (1978) The Donald Sutherland version not the old fogey classic version from the neolithic era .

    (1979) And the occasional x-Islamic hostage taking terrorist although even that seems to have tapered off recently in favour of world cataclysms (2012).

    (1998) (2002) I mean western monsters that is. East Asian cinema appears to grapple with horrors unique to and resonant with our times – Ringu (but not the subsequent sequels) and the Korean movie Phone for example. Ok, I am biased.

    (2012) I never saw it but I liked the gigantanourmous wave swallowing up a gompa in the *frickin Himalayas*.

    This comment brought to you by a temporary interruption to normal programming. Boring yakkatiyak Services will resume soon.

  91. Soren,

    n. 81

    The actual -and possibly other only thing happening here – is this exchange itself, which is gloriously free and a genuinely useful contribution for everyone to the extent that everyone makes an effort to write and express genuinely. One of the comments in Stop Meditation, actually the last one, says he intended to write something but he found himself writing something different that what he had in mind! This is the great value of this practice; this is intelligent critical buddhism, much more than intelligent rants of perhaps just that, nevermind, still useful.

    If Glenn doesn’t understand what happened between the beginning of this thread and your last comment, he needs to devote sometime to actually read it and make an effort to understand or write specific no-rethorical questions.

    Having said that, in general really hot important question which question their – Tom and Glenn´s- assumptions are answered with silence.

    It is up to the rest of us the exercise criticism and develop the FULL COMPLEXITIES. Conversation stoppers are one characteristic of dogmatic believers. And they do have their own dogma. Hence they still can’t talk about certain things. Their beliefs don’t allow them to. And just pointing that out is good enough for me. Reading a comment like yours, a self-proclaimed champion of the working class from I don’t know where, is simply fantastic!!!!

    So bring the full angry intelligent rant! Pump up the volume! Furhter lose yourself in dialogue with no fear and enjoy!

    JP,

    n. 92

    “Does this mean however that we should not care much about the soundness of an argument? No. Quite the contrary. It is because an argument is so inherently fragile that we need to be even more careful and pay greater attention.”

    I like the empathy of your phrase, however this is no therapeutic space, the real changes are almost never expressly acknowledged, only indirectly. It takes time to see the actual change here.

    There seems to be no time or willingness to genuinely go in that careful direction here, except for Matthias of course.

  92. Luis Daniel (#95).

    I said: “rollickin’ dialogia and polemos did rumble and roar. So? That’s what we do here.”

    Point me to one of your “in general really hot important question which question their – Tom and Glenn´s- assumptions are answered with silence” and I’ll respond. I don’t mind if someone questions my assumption. In fact, I mind if they don’t. I wish I could respond to every comment. But there are a few reasons that I don’t. One is that things sometimes move very quickly here. And once I get too far behind, I feel it’s best to jump in where the blood be currently a-splattering. Another is that I don’t want to have to have a say in everything–let others determine the course for themselves. I am not a blog-daddy. Another is that I take many of the comments to be sort of informational or one-directional. I read every single one sooner or later, believe it or not.

    I wonder if you can see the relevance of the following Leonard Cohen lyric to some of the issues you raise. If not, consider it a riddle:

    Take this waltz, take this waltz
    Take this waltz with the clamp on its jaws
    Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay
    This waltz, this waltz, this waltz, this waltz
    With its very own breath of brandy and death
    Dragging its tail in the sea.

    Take this waltz, take this waltz
    It’s yours now. It’s all that there is.

  93. Glenn (96),

    Hey, good to hear from you!

    I take this waltz and merrily dance!

    I wonder if you can see the relevance of this other poem.

    Swinburne’s “Garden of  Proserpine”:

    We thank with brief thanksgiving
    Whatever gods may be
    That no life lives for ever;
    That dead men rise up never;
    That even the weariest river
    Winds somewhere safe to sea.

    I certainly have many questions that question your assumptions, as I have posted them. I dont have time at this moment to phrase them as questions. The subjects are Marxism, communism, and the need and importance of freedom and democracy, egoism and sadism as the root of the problem rather than capitalism, lack of power as the conerstone that conditions our existence, non-essentialism, the use of a language of certainty, why use buddhism as a political tool for change, why inflate things with concepts when much and everything gyrates around contingency and solidarity, ideology and truth as essencialism, and the importance of pragmatism.

    But let´s start with this two simple ones:

    Is there anything not-contigent? if so, what is a Truth for you?

    Is (non)buddhism an effective tool for poltical change?

    If so, how?

  94. Luis: I certainly don’t mind someone questioning my assumptions. I often ask them to, and they respond by telling me what a jerk I am–this is not an assumption, it is just fact.

    You don’t seem to grasp that simple contradiction is not an argument. I do assume, for instance, that capitalism is not a natural and necessary thing–it is not “questioning my assumption” to simply assert that you refuse to believe I am right, and would prefer to think that capitalism is good, natural, and inevitable. If you have some argument against my assumption, that might get a response–but a simple assertion that you don’t believe my assumptions, with no reason at all, doesn’t require an answer. Did you go to law school at the Monty Python Argument Clinic? Such block-headed empty rhetoric about “freedom and lack of power as the cornerstone that conditions our existence” may work in politics, but it is too meaningless to even require serious response.

  95. Glenn (and others)

    On “human liberation.” What is it that you are calling human liberation? Who defines what it is? Is it intellectual or experiential? Is it in fact something that can be decided by an individual or is it something with specific criteria to be met? If so then who decides the criteria? I suppose some here would say “The Buddha.” But then again maybe not. Is it an endpoint? I guess I am just wondering how everyone is defining this concept. And is it the undercurrent running through some of these arguments?

    I find that the more I am following this discussion, I just keep having questions, with maybe only a few of my own answers. Which I am not sure meet the criteria of “how to present your argument.” ( that keeps coming up over and over) Is the perfection of language/argument the goal here or the throwing about of ideas? And if those ideas aren’t packaged in a very specific way, are they null and void?

    I find many of the ideas (however opposed to each other they are) to be very interesting and useful. But I can’t quite make out if this can be a proving ground for fumbling and formulating thought, or just a battlefield for already composed, well articulated, imovable ideas. I am trying to figure that out. Perhaps the question is what is the purpose? Maybe everyone’s is different…but doesn’t that skew how each of us is arguing.

    The blood spattering doesn’t bother me, I quite like it actually. But the above are just questions I have. Perhaps they have been discussed before, but I am new in this neck of the woods and not sure I can read ALL of the past postings about every subject matter. I am starting where I am.

  96. Hello JP, thanks for your response, I appreciate it. I also have carefully re-read all the comments you posted under the current topic. I appreciate the reminder that things aren’t simple, and yes, I have read the intros to philosophy of mind and sociology, and please I beg you don’t make me go back to them.

    I think it is time for you to start bringing those arguments you hint at to the blog, because I am not sure that you have done so so far. The question you raise in 36 about the staying power of any community that would reflect ‘Tom’s ideals’ is clearly rhetorical, would just have ended any conversation at all, and simply doesn’t belong on a blog that calls itself speculative. And Brad’s comments that you consider to exemplify the nuance and shades of grey that we so need to me just seemed thoughtless and easily shrugged off. To refer to Plato, Freud and the Hebrew prophets (all of them, apparently) as Brad does in 30 to ‘prove’ something about human nature without any further explanation of what and how is not a subtle argument in my book. In fact it is worse that the Badiou quoting that you accuse Tom of, because at least Tom provides the actual quotes. To suggest that because Tom talks about a collective mind it follows that we should all like Gangsta rap is simply not convincing. After all, Tom has talked at length about the variety of ideologies that you will encounter in a society. I could deal with Brad’s other points just as easily. But maybe I am missing something, by all means, set me straight, that’s what we are here for.

    You ask if I understand what Tom is saying. I would not claim that I understand Tom’s current view, I think Tom himself is still coming to grips with the consequences of what he is saying. But then again, I am not interested in views I understand, so to speak. I have read his essays and I have seen his thoughts evolve, and I am intrigued by the ideas he is bringing to the feast of knowledge, as Glenn likes to call it. As with any thought system, it doesn’t really settle anything so much as that it makes some puzzles disappear, only for other question to arise. I happen to like the questions that it raises and the weaknesses that it exposes. It means we can all do some thinking here. By all means, prove Tom wrong, but don’t just hint at complexities and other opinions out there, bring them to this wonderful blog. But make sure they are substantial. For instance, in 71 you raise an interesting point about the place of Buddhism in Tom’s philosophy, but as it stands it is just an accusation, I can’t do anything with it, just wonder what it is all about. Why not write a comment that actually explans it, and see what happens.

    Thanks, my friend, please don’t take any of this the wrong way.

  97. Tom,

    You refer to capitalism as a single entity. I dont undestand why you say i assume capitalism as i given natural thing. I dont. I studied law here at the university of costa rica and deeply, founded an independent political party (its nane was demos) at the law school and created
    many study groups in one of which i kept asking for the ethical foundation of private property in article 45 of our constitution. It boils down to individual and social responsability. I the especialized jn international trade law and one day in a shamgai factory questined the exploitation of ghe workers there and decided to make a ph d in politicsl economy which i did. The vomitive voracity of EGOISM and my buddhist practice took me to work against poverty in education. We are changing public education in costa rica one educational center, one student at the time. I ve been doing that for 14 years and it will take another 5 or 10 years to complete the task. So when i am working against egoism and cleptocracy here every day. Therefore i question your assumption that institionalized egoism cannot be changed. You seem to assume that capitalism is bad in itself. Can you please ellaborate on why changing egoism (in e indecen accumulation of capital, lack of solidarity) within capitalism and democracy is not enough?

  98. Luis Daniel (#97).

    Thanks for your questions.

    1. “Is there anything not-contigent? if so, what is a Truth for you?”

    No. I cannot imagine what a non-contingent phenomenon would be like. Maybe that’s a failure of my imagination. But it’s a testament to my powers of observation and reasoning. About truth, by the way, Quentin Meillassoux is doing some very interesting work. Tom Pepper, too, has shown how Badiou gives us a useful way of conceiving of it, namely as truth procedures. To keep the discussion focused, I will only mention that my own theoretical work does not require a strong concept of “truth.” The farthest I would go is to distinguish between x-representation and the absence of x-representation.

    2. “Is (non)buddhism an effective tool for political change? If so, how?”

    “Non-buddhism” is not a program for political change. It’s a critical theory of the identity of x-buddhism. Since, as I am claiming here, x-buddhism is, among other things, a factory of person-subjects, it must also be seen as having political force. So, a critique of x-buddhism does have implications for political change in that regard. Is it an effective tool for such? That’s up to you. It is for me. How? It informs my interactions with people; it permeates my writing; it informs my approach to education; it permeates my sitting group. We are influenced by one another; we co-form one another’s thought-actions. To what extent remains utterly opaque for the most part. I do, however, see tangible results in the work of my students, responses from readers, reports from x-buddhist teachers about how sensitivity to the issues raised here has caused them to change certain things, like thoughtless buddhemic utterance, ventriloquization, and more. So, it’s an effective tool for political change if you use it in a certain way, namely, if you perform it. But the changes will always be personal and local, I imagine. So, here’s my answer: It’s up to you.

    I thank with ever-so-brief thanksgiving . . .

  99. Luis: Honestly, I cannot figure out exactly what you mean by “egoism.” The term seems vague to me, to the point of meaninglessness, so I can’t even see in what sense you would want to “change” it. Can you clarify the term?

  100. sometimesihatemycat (#99).

    Great questions. Thanks.

    On “human liberation.” What is it that you are calling human liberation? Who defines what it is? Is it intellectual or experiential? Is it in fact something that can be decided by an individual or is it something with specific criteria to be met? If so then who decides the criteria? I suppose some here would say “The Buddha.” But then again maybe not. Is it an endpoint? I guess I am just wondering how everyone is defining this concept. And is it the undercurrent running through some of these arguments?

    I am calling “human liberation” a certain kind of transparency. Its both cognitive and affective in nature. It is the capacity to know, to feel, to be aware of, the force of thought. The “thought” that concerns me the most is that of ideological representation. The fact that such thought is–as it seems–inevitable, only makes it all-the-more necessary to detect. I consider the antonym of “detection” to be “ignorance.” Ignorance of a representation as representation is dupery and bondage to that ideological representation. Detection is awareness and liberation from it (though I may still employ it). Dectection is exposure, disclosure, discovery. As such, liberation is always individual. I would also say that it is anarchic (in the popular usage) and chaotic and unfixable. I can see no end-point to it. In terms of this blog’s concerns, liberation requires that the x-buddhist, first of all, perform the heuristic (given in the article on non-buddhism). In doing so, s/he would still the dharmic vibrato that tugs at the seeker’s heartstrings, lose hope, perceive massive aporias, etc. The x-buddhist representation of reality will appear as a fata morgana. But, really, I would rather hear from you what, for you, liberation would entail.

    I find that the more I am following this discussion, I just keep having questions, with maybe only a few of my own answers. Which I am not sure meet the criteria of “how to present your argument.” ( that keeps coming up over and over) Is the perfection of language/argument the goal here or the throwing about of ideas? And if those ideas aren’t packaged in a very specific way, are they null and void?

    I appreciate the dense, undomesticated aromas of chaos and destruction. Apollo has much to recommend him. And I am happy to be his friend. But I love Dionysus. Who is your god or goddess? Bow down and worship! And damn all heretics! My Dionysus brings wine and a sword to the feast. Yours?

    I find many of the ideas (however opposed to each other they are) to be very interesting and useful. But I can’t quite make out if this can be a proving ground for fumbling and formulating thought, or just a battlefield for already composed, well articulated, immovable ideas. I am trying to figure that out. Perhaps the question is what is the purpose? Maybe everyone’s is different…but doesn’t that skew how each of us is arguing.

    I ask you to bring what you have. If you conform to how others are presenting themselves, who will present you? And: see my previous answer.

    The blood spattering doesn’t bother me, I quite like it actually. But the above are just questions I have. Perhaps they have been discussed before, but I am new in this neck of the woods and not sure I can read ALL of the past postings about every subject matter. I am starting where I am.

    Aha! Your god/goddess requires blood sacrifice. Out with his/her name? Or is that forbidden? I respect that. As long as you know. sometimesihatemycat, perfect your devotion! To whom or what do you owe allegiance? Certainly, not to anyone on this blog. These woods are filled with strange creatures, yes. And here, too, are grottoes–look there, where Apollo lies slain! Here is a riddle from Hoelderlin:

    Near is
    And hard to grasp, the god.
    Yet where danger lies grows
    That which saves.

    […or let us say: liberates.]

  101. #104

    Finally some questions I feel capable of answering. Good ones! And a language that I understand a little better, to be vulnerably honest. I am excited to spend a little time thinking about these things, and get back to you.

    I have to run practice my tango, and do my parental duty. But anticipate an attempt to answer those questions FOR SURE!

    My silence simply means I am tied up…but not that I am not pondering these answers.

    To be continued…

  102. P.S. I appreciate your response to my questions. To be very honest about my ego and such, it feels slightly pleasant to be included/acknowledged in this conversation. With all the crap that I admit that is loaded on that statement…I feel it nonetheless. While opening me up for “delusional” labeling and criticism…again I feel it nonetheless. I think sometimes simple “radical” honesty serves as well as the complicated honesty.

    Okay, really, to be continued…

  103. Glenn,

    # 102

    When not generating controversy and questioning on others – some kind of “skillfull” intervention you make-, you really tend to respond very lucidly and to the point.

    Except for the concept of truth procedures, I agree entirely with what you wrote – and that is something quite important for me -I mean here I am writing when I was supposed to be gone to an important work meeting.

    Here is another question:

    The question is: how the fuck do we become aware of the fact that is it inmensively expensive and difficult to develop this level of freedom and clarity and that what we want is not only to share it, co-form it and enhance it, but that others, as many as possible, can exercise their freedom as much or more, that is be liberated, isnt it arrogant and ignorant and defeatist to ignore the very fact that trying to reproduce it for others is betraying our own intention, how do we do it – how?

    For example, writing in this blog is fantastic, but it is only one way to do it, a tiny little beam of hope in a dark forest full of beasts.

    How do we do it ???? – apart from the good loyalty to ourselves of keep on writing here -.

  104. I am hearing that there are some ideologies behind Buddhism and that SNB has something to say about them?

    But, is the goal to just become aware of this ideology? or is to destroy it? And if we destroy it, do we replace it? I thought I read somewhere on here that it is impossible to be conscious without ideology (or maybe it was to think without ideology)? But if that is the case, we would need to replace it, yes? But with what? Are some ideologies better than others? If so, how can we determine which ones? Wouldn’t that determination process require a belief-system, which would lead to some sort of sickening circularity?

  105. RobS,

    My goal is usually to replace them. We cannot NOT have an ideology, in the sense that I use the term. We need to examine our ideologies, decide whether they are useful or not, and then decide to replace them or to keep them. There are many criteria for deciding an ideology is not useful, eg, it requires you to believe something that is not the true, or it requires a contradiction, or it serves to oppress someone, or causes suffering of some group of people. In my review of B. Alan Wallace’s last book, I give an example of such an ideological analysis. We need to be willing to pursue this ideological analysis with any set of beliefs and practices that guide our actions in the world.

  106. The argument keeps returning that I am wrong in everything I say because I assume that there is only one capitalism. I have ignored this argument, because once again to point out how stupid an argument it is would only bring more posts about what a jerk I am. However,

    Yes, there is only one capitalism. It is a classic pomo move to argue that we cannot use abstract concepts because everything is far too relative, constructed, and historically and culturally specific…so, we can’t, ultimately, say anything at all about what is not immediately in our field of perception (or, even, about that). There are many cultures, many political systems, but capitalism is one thing, and it now comes in GLOBAL for your oppression! To say we cannot talk about capitalism in the abstract is as moronic as telling doctors not to study anatomy because every human being is different. It’s a lame argument, only likely to convince the same idiots who think their intro to philosophy textbooks are ever right about anything.

  107. RobS (#108) and generally.

    This conference, Ideology Now, might be useful.

    Also, Tom Pepper’s Samsara as the Realm of Ideology.

    Here’s the description of the conference:

    What is the role of ideology in politics and culture today? With the disappearance of conflict between East and West in the Cold war, and with the apparent blurring of Right and Left in our recent politics, many have declared that ideology is a thing of the past. Politicians use the word ‘ideology’ as an insult. But has ideology really disappeared? And if not, where and how does it now operate? Is the narrative of the death of ideology itself an ideological move? Are there any overt forms of ideology that are still meaningful (environmentalism; neoliberalism; capitalism)? How do covert forms of ideology operate in politics and culture? Is the twenty-first century West more covertly ideological than other eras in history, or other places in the world?

  108. #104 Glenn,

    What does liberation entail for ME? (clearly aware of the “self” irony here)

    Conquering fear– not the very useful fear of pure animal survival, but the “representation” of fear, born twisted from that original animal fear. The morphed fear being created and fed by the force of thought that says discomfort equals potential death. The jabberwocky, if you will, mutually created by myself (as an adult) and by others (as a child.)

    Heuristic — yes, experience! If I said that I know what liberation feels like, I surely would be attacked…however I know what it feels like. I have had moments of what I call liberation, however brief. The genesis of these moments were precisely what you call losing hope, I call it muting the expectations. What does it feel like? It feels like nothing. It feels like just living my fucking life. It just feels like no expectations, or perhaps realizing that I am having them and deciding not to give too much of a shit about them. Operating that way is rare for me, but surely feels like liberation when it occurs. God I feel so alive and human when that happens.

    Living life without those expectations, enjoying it anyway (even with the shit). Not to imply “happiness” just the full force of throwing myself in and living it without fear. To spite what my exaggerated biology would have me believe about what I am supposed to fear. I am realizing that sometimes it actually means throwing myself in to the pain, being with it, looking at, where it is coming from, but not holding too tightly. When it goes, let it leave until later. There will be other opportunities…perhaps.

    Transparent — yes. For me transparency comes into liberation when I can reveal what is going on with me, without fear or perhaps without caring what others might think. Transparency, it seems to me, can help everyone involved. It stands a small chance of helping me to relate to others and vice versa. (Watch out for those “motherly heroic” expectations…saying to myself.)

    Still the “Dharmic vibrato that tugs at heart strings” – I am not sure exactly what is meant here? Is it possibly sentimentality or consolation? I would like to think there is a difference between experience and sentimentality. The trouble comes in the expression. When I try to express experience, it could be perceived as “being emotional.” I guess that may be where precise language comes in…but even then it is hard to guard against other peoples layering on of sentimentality. But I attempt expression nonetheless. Maybe explain what you meant by “Dharmic vibrato” and “heart strings.”

    Not that anyone gives a shit about all this “personal” stuff, but this is what you asked for, what I have been exploring today, and what I am writing. And my expectations for people caring is actually diminishing somewhat in spite of my last post about feeling “included.” There is something to be said for natural progression, and something here to be said for “blood spattering evolution.”

    There is some creative writing project in all this, just waiting to be born. (Insert bourgeois feminist joke here, and no I have not YET chosen to let that go, it just so easily slaps itself onto everything I write (hear the sarcasm) it also slaps itself easily onto what A LOT of other poeple are writing but whom do not get the same criticism for sharing personal experience…just sayin’) 😉
    There’s that victim again…there is no end to this imposed vortex…aaahhhhhhh!

    The “God/Goddess I worship” is still being investigated and written. I have been writing all day in between duties . It is a worthy exercise. I am intrigued by what I am finding.

  109. Glenn,

    I flinched. I realized it tonight while sitting. I used your term “heurism” and the acceptable Buddhist term “experience.” What is freedom to me, liberation? I want to FEEL my life. I flinched because of this blog. I spent most of my life dissociated, numb…in my marriage, my work, my school, my friendships, my family relationships. I refuse to let some ideologies of meditation teach me the same thing, REFUSE! Meditation, while dulling my startle reflex, has increased my ability to let myself FEEL all of it, without fear. Loaded, I know…but I don’t care. I have been learning to connect with life, regardless of safety or consolation. I want to live knowing that I am feeling it all, not creating drama, but really in it, feeling it. I have had moments, more than I used to. I could tremble with the possibility of what living that way would really mean. Carnage? Possibly. Liberation? For me…yes, HELL YES!

  110. #111 Glenn

    Thanks for the link to the conference. Very interesting stuff. Dr Beaumont’s presentation on “Ideology and Contagion: the Contemporary Disaster Film” is especially illuminating and entertaining.

    As usual, this blog delivers the goods.

  111. sometimesihatemycat (#112, 113).

    I think that all of us writing on this blog are extremely concerned with the “personal stuff.” In the end, that’s the very issue: the personal. The personal, though, several here are saying, is not an isolated sphere at the center of which hovers an atomistic mind. So, the personal is political, communal, and social. That you see, for instance, “some creative writing project in all this, just waiting to be born” is, to my eyes, evidence of the non-atomistic, communal nature of consciousness and the significant role, therefore, of communication.

    About the role that meditation has played in allowing you to more fully feel your life: we have had many discussions on this blog about meditation. One of the recurring themes concerns the relationship between raw sitting (in silence and stillness with attention hovering around the breathing body) and a framework (usually ideological in nature) for sitting. I am curious about this question. What do you think: to what extent is your reduction of mental-physical-emotional disassociation as result of (a) raw silent sitting, (b) the given language-concept-goal framework or (c) a combination of the two. This question is related to the question of what, for us, constitutes liberation and to the original question about subjectivity and group practice.

    “Dharmic vibrato that tugs at the heart strings” – I am not sure exactly what is meant here? Is it possibly sentimentality or consolation?”

    Yes. The vibrato is the resonance of our curative fantasy. Your text here (your expression as a whole; “you” always means your text) signals to me a person for whom the vibrato will never or rarely effect a deafening to the base realities of human being.

  112. Glenn,

    My reaction to the “personal stuff” comment is just that, a reaction to some very specific labels occasionally hurled around at everyone when personal experience is discussed here. It was actually my initial assumption, which I then questioned for awhile, that this was part of what you have been asking for in this blog. But, point taken.

    “What do you think: to what extent is your reduction of mental-physical-emotional disassociation as result of (a) raw silent sitting, (b) the given language-concept-goal framework or (c) a combination of the two.”

    I have to admit that this past semester gave me a nice little taste of the difference between (a) and (b). It is hard to say that there is never a (c). I think perhaps they always influence each other no matter what we do. But in an effort to answer your question. I do know that when I sat with a very formal (Theravadan/Vipassana) style…I was quite exhausted and burnt out by the end of the semester. Where as when I have come back to a more paired down style of sitting, I find myself more alert and aware. The Vipassana style seemed to me, to be very close to the kind of work I have already done in therapy in the past. Which is not a bad thing and can be very useful, just something I have done quite a lot of, and am not sure I need an additional avenue to approach myself in that same way. Sometimes if I am not careful, too much framework just becomes another tool that I use to put pressure on myself to “change” or “get better.” It becomes less about quiet and breath, and becomes filled with mind noise. But perhaps that is just specific to my personality type. Structure/framework can too easily be used as a tool to beat myself up.

    (c) That is not to say that as I am sitting still and quiet with my breath, that some of what I have learned in the Vipassana style doesn’t occur. It absolutely does, but it seems to occur in its own time instead of while applying very direct energy to constantly staying within a framework. It works better for me towards accomplishing my goal of lots of living, less expectations (hope as you put it).

    So for me, less framework suits me better…given my goal of feeling life, whatever it brings. God, I just want to feel what being human actually feels like while I am here. I am not interested in escaping this human form in any way, or my personality type either (which I think is part of that underlying biology.) I did that early in my life…it didn’t work. I actually deny the premise that we can escape our humanity/personality. Sometimes that is what is exactly implied in the way I hear some people talk about “ending suffering.” That will not be my definition of ending suffering. For me ending suffering means ending the dissociation that occurs while we are trying to stay comfortable and “safe.”

  113. But I guess you also asked “how” the simple silent sitting has done those things for me. I am not sure. I am going to think about it, and get back to you. I know that they are happening at the same time, but how the one determines the other, I am not sure I know.

  114. #100

    Robert: Thank you for your post. I completely agree with you that if I wish to continue participating to this blog I need to “bring those arguments …” My lack of positive and substantive contributions had not escape me be assured. But can someone enjoyed a brief “flame war” for the sake of it before getting serious!

    Regarding my comment about Brad — I simply wrote that he brings a “glimpse of nuance”. I did not claim I agreed with all he wrote. I did not say he was bringing “truer” views, simply that he was less extreme in some of his categorizations. I did not care much for his personal arguments. Brad alluded to different and relatively broad perspectives or issues, which have been argued or presented by other people in a much more extensive manner and in a better way. Why should I dismiss a view shared by many because one chap simply fails to build a good case. If someone is too lazy to bring extraneous elements to the table–like by searching for these better arguments in a book ;)–or draw connections beyond a particular post –then that is not my fault, and to evoke Matthias’ spirit, the substance of his views should be held accountable for that.

    As this tardive reaction suggest, unfortunately, I am not sure my time will really allow me to get serious, to contribute substantively to this blog but again, you were quite right in some of your advices if I indeed want to bring something to the discussions going forward.

  115. Maybe this thread just died, or we got distracted responding to accusations by our secular brothers and sisters. That would be a great pity. We’re not really learning anything new from much of the ongoing back and forth with the secular buddhists, clearly there is no hope in hell that they are going to change their mind even an iota, and the accusations either way are becoming repetitive. Nothing there that the Naked Monk didn’t already say on this very same blog a couple of months ago. I guess the Bhikkhu’s contributions are a good thing, and I am sure Glenn is paying close attention because it illustrates and provides evidence for much of what he argues is the case, but for somebody like me who isn’t a buddhist and who isn’t a non-buddhist it gets boring real quick.

    Or maybe Tom is right, and people just don’t want to think about political engagement, social change, complicity.

    For me there remains a lot to learn about the questions raised in this thread. Let me take another selfish stab at it.

    x-buddhism is indeed complicit in maintaining a system that is inherently unfair, mostly by suggesting that this unfairness simply isn’t a problem, the real problems are all personal. Solve the personal problems and society will follow, because what is society but the sum of all its individual members? And anyway, personal problems are so much more interesting.

    But no big deal, just as complicit as poor little x-buddhism are the press, the major political parties, the multinationals, the army, the police, our prison system, mainstream Christian churces, the list goes on, and all these institutions are doing a lot more concrete damage. x-buddhism is only a very minor voice in the choir of capitalist ideologies.

    The more interesting question is what does x- buddhism (and non-buddhism)
    offer to counteract this power that ideologies exercise over us? I have seen it suggested that meditation can help us see more clearly how this is the case, but I don’t understand why this is so.

    And equally interesting and important, what does x-buddhism / non- buddhism tell us about why we should even care at all? What is this mysterious thing called compassion? What is it that makes it all-pervading, rather than an empathy for just those folks we choose to feel sympathy for, esthetically pleasing, preferably cute? How do we sustain this compassion?

    And as Brad asked earlier, where does non-buddhism find its motivation to care about others, particularly in light of its many nihilist statements? I seem to remember Glenn mentioning somewhere that it is exactly this vview of nihilism that acts as an impetus to connect with others. I would like to understand that better.

    Thanks

  116. Robert (#119).

    Thanks for bringing us back to this important issue. In a way, the fact that that other conversation persists at the expense of this one is indicative of your larger point; namely, that for x-buddists–and perhaps, we are proving, not only for x-buddhists–

    the real problems are all personal. Solve the personal problems and society will follow, because what is society but the sum of all its individual members? And anyway, personal problems are so much more interesting.

    It is true that the politically-oriented posts here have gotten relatively little response. That may have to do partly with the above point about the emphasis on the personal–which I think is an undeniably major feature of x-buddhist rhetoric–but I suspect it also has to do with the shear difficulty in answering your question:

    The more interesting question is what does x-buddhism (and non-buddhism) offer to counteract this power that ideologies exercise over us? I have seen it suggested that meditation can help us see more clearly how this is the case, but I don’t understand why this is so.

    The non-buddhist theory appears abstract; and, of course, it is abstract in many ways. But it is also an eminently applicable theory. I am applying it within two material structures: a sitting group; and a masters degree curriculum. I would have to explain too many details to convey a full picture of how the non-buddhist theory is informing real life in these two material realms. The short answer is that in both instances the very questions are being asked. In the sitting group, the issues that we’ve raised here about the personal vs. the social, inequality, ideology, belief, cultural engagement at the expense of personal comfort, and more are being made explicit. You can see examples of the kinds of discussions we are having here. I think a logical next step will be to create a more engaged material mechanism to bring more social force to our ideas. This is, however, happening in the masters degree program. The graduates of that program are creating programs that bring both the ideas and practices to environments such as an alternative high school; hospice care; bereavement counseling; nursing and health care; psychotherapy; adult continuing education; and anger management. So, my answer to your question is somewhat Marxist in nature: The first step is to create the material conditions for the changes we’d like to see. You can do that tomorrow. Start a meditation group that sizzles with social-cultural concerns–a place where the personal coincides with the social. Of course, you will have to sell the people on this ideology of social change. People who show up for meditation in North America seem invariably to desire the escape into non-conceptual bodily bliss. I am constantly struggling against this yearning with my groups.

    And equally interesting and important, what does x-buddhism / non- buddhism tell us about why we should even care at all? What is this mysterious thing called compassion? What is it that makes it all-pervading, rather than an empathy for just those folks we choose to feel sympathy for, esthetically pleasing, preferably cute? How do we sustain this compassion?

    And as Brad asked earlier, where does non-buddhism find its motivation to care about others, particularly in light of its many nihilist statements? I seem to remember Glenn mentioning somewhere that it is exactly this view of nihilism that acts as an impetus to connect with others. I would like to understand that better.

    Those are great questions. (I’m sorry, Brad, that I missed yours the first time.) To me, “compassion” arises out of my horizon of thought and being, nihil. If, that is, “compassion” means this gnawing, painful, sickening being with the goddamned others. I personally cannot separate my equally sickening, exhilarating horizon of nothing from this sense of togetherness. That’s all compassion means for me. It has nothing to do with being nice to people. It has everything to do with being with people. And the being with that stems from my nihilism entails a level of feeling with that, frankly, I’d rather live without. But I have no choice but to feel with and to do so against the horizon of nothing. My choices have to do with what I do about the convergence of the two. And to explain those choices, I’d have to reveal my entire life to you.

    I don’t think we can offer a single good reason to anyone why he should care about others. I guess that’s why we have laws. Come to think of it, I guess it’s also why we have fire-and-brimstone religions, and x-buddhistic rebirth and karma–motivate them to do good!

    Thanks again, Robert. I will keep thinking about your questions.

  117. Robert (#119)

    Thanks for bringing us back to the issues of the thread….its well to check the etymology of the word compassion….the latin usually translates as “suffering together” and hence Glenn’s great definition above….

    “To me, “compassion” arises out of my horizon of thought and being, nihil. If, that is, “compassion” means this gnawing, painful, sickening being with the goddamned others. I personally cannot separate my equally sickening, exhilarating horizon of nothing from this sense of togetherness. That’s all compassion means for me.”

    Even in xbuddhist thought they distinguish between compassion and pity, which they call the “near enemy” of compassion.

    A modern day example of this confusion between the two can be seen in the russian and french translations of the name of Tschaikowsky’s 6th Symphony. The Russian translates as ‘Passionate’ whereas the french translates “arousing pity”. There are present day concerts where the conductor interprets the work from the ‘passionate’ perspective rather than the labouring pathos associated with the word pathetique.

    For me this whole concept of compassion seems to link really well with the concept of both internal and external revolution. Glenn’s no prisoners taken approach to his project on this blog seems to be pointing in this direction…. Is it possible to ever have a nonviolent revolution, either internal or external? Is it possible to sustain the ongoing instability associated with revolution?

    Possibly where xbuddhism has come to grief is the adoption of non harm as one of it’s core principles. I think all the xbuddhist precepts have some rather weird interpretations in the west and have become another way of controlling practitioners and not creating too many waves in society.

  118. <strong.Glenn (#120):

    Thanks for clarifying your views regarding compassion/morality.

    To me, “compassion” arises out of my horizon of thought and being, nihil. If, that is, “compassion” means this gnawing, painful, sickening being with the goddamned others. I personally cannot separate my equally sickening, exhilarating horizon of nothing from this sense of togetherness. That’s all compassion means for me. It has nothing to do with being nice to people. It has everything to do with being with people. And the being with that stems from my nihilism entails a level of feeling with that, frankly, I’d rather live without. I have no choice but to feel with and to do so against the horizon of nothing.

    [Emphasis mine.]

    Question: Have you not “flinched” in the face of nihilism’s logic? Or is there some demonic angel living inside you which forces you to obey the commands of non-nihility? This is a genuine paradox, no?

    I’m all for flinching, by the way, which may require some assent to living out a myth as in Nietzsche’s myth of eternal recurrence — or Tom Pepper’s Pure Land. But we must retain some lucidity about this necessary tactic: We must know that we are flinching.

  119. “I personally cannot separate my equally sickening, exhilarating horizon of nothing from this sense of togetherness.”

    I agree. For me, the idea of God/Buddha/Jesus (Dogma) etc…serves to comfort us in the face of that horizon of nothing, but at the cost of experiencing that togetherness. If we have a comfy place to fall, well then what is the sense in trying to figure out what to do with each other (if anything) while we are falling?

    It becomes too easy to look away from each other if we think we already know where we are going…and even more so if it seems pretty damn cozy.

    “People who show up for meditation in North America seem invariably to desire the escape into non-conceptual bodily bliss.”

    It seems people are always looking for this escape, which is probably why we move too quickly from one thing to another. This kind of bodily bliss cannot be found for long. Any good length of sitting will prove that impossible. Any good length of doing ANYTHING will prove that impossible…if impermanence and non-agency are in fact occurring. In my experience, they are always flashing me at the most inopportune times.

  120. Brad (#122), sometimesihatemycat (#123).

    Two interesting, and interestingly different responses to the same text. Brad, can you say more about what you are seeing as “flinching” in my statement? I’m not sure I understand. One of the first big let downs in my intellectual life was when I realized that Nietzsche bailed on his insight into nihil. I felt sickened by his “eternal return” trick. I actually wrote my senior thesis in philosophy on the subject: “After his betrayal to us and, worse, to his clear vision, lonely Nietzsche retreats into his stone sanctuary of Eternal Return, stretches his legs, and is seen no more.” (I resurrected that from thesis for a piece called “Meditation as Organon of Dissolution.”)

    So, a move like eternal return is what I understand as “flinching.” I don’t know what you’re seeing. It seems to have something with my statement that “I have no choice but to feel with and to do so against the horizon of nothing.” By “have no choice” I mean that feeling with is totally involuntary. It’s not a choice I make. What I do with it does, of course, involve choice; but the feeling with itself doesn’t. Maybe you can say more what you’re seeing.

    sometimesihatemycat’s comment is interesting to me because it points to something I have always seen as a paradox. Claims involving ultimate grounds or absolutes, such as, as she says, “the idea of God/Buddha/Jesus (Dogma) etc.,” invariably come bundled with pronouncements about the essential human necessity of embodying the truth of some sort of cosmic oneness in the form of “loving thy neighbor” or “having compassion.” From the evidence available from Planet Wallis, she is right that this move only “serves to comfort us in the face of that horizon of nothing, but at the cost of experiencing that togetherness. If we have a comfy place to fall, well then what is the sense in trying to figure out what to do with each other (if anything) while we are falling? It becomes too easy to look away from each other if we think we already know where we are going…and even more so if it seems pretty damn cozy.” When I do a thought experiment, and imagine that I believe in, say, my grandmother’s God, that sickening-exhilarating feeling with I otherwise get simple evaporates. It does feel cozy–cosmically cozy.

    Anyway, to relate this discussion to the post, I think the question of nihil–as a horizon of thought and action–is a potent one for anyone and any group exploring personal-social change.

    Just to be clear, when I say “nihilism,” I don’t mean depressing Gothic doom or Raskolnikov’s “illness.” I mean something more along the lines of Ray Brassier’s recent treatment (rehabilitation?) of it in Nihil Unbound. There, he says things like:

    The disenchantment of the world deserves to be celebrated as an achievement of intellectual maturity, not bewailed as a debilitating impoverishment.

    Nihilism is not…a pathological exacerbation of subjectivism, which annuls the world and reduces reality to a correlate of the absolute ego, but on the contrary, the unavoidable corollary of the realist conviction that there is a mind-independent reality, which despite the presumptions of human narcissism, is indifferent to our existence and oblivious to the “values” and “meanings” which we would drape over it in order to make it more hospitable.

    Nihilism is not an existential quandary but a speculative opportunity. Thinking has interests that do not coincide with those of living; indeed, they can and have been pitied against the latter.

  121. Robert,

    These are the important questions, it seems to me, because how we answer them determines what we do in life. They are, perhaps for that reason, the questions most of us don’t even want to think about.

    I can give you my answers, though, because I’m a bit odd and think about these things all the time.

    Let me take the question of ideological struggle first, because it is at the center of all the problems of political activity. My suggestion would be that the first step has to be to persuade people that they actually do HAVE an ideology, and that it is socially constructed, not natural and ineluctable, and so can be changed. It is a common belief in our postmodern culture that ideology is a thing of the past, we no longer seriously believe in anything—the “end of ideology” thesis originates about the time that capitalism finally went global, and capitalist ideology became as ubiquitous and imperceptible as water to a fish. Just consider how many responses on this discussion assume that the values of capitalism are “human nature.”

    So, if a greater awareness of the dependent arising of our thoughts and feelings can help demonstrate to people that what they take to be produced by their genetic, biological nature is a socially constructed thing, we will have gone a long way to loosening the grip of ideology. This is incredibly difficult to do, for almost all people. How many times do we hear the old-fashioned pro-capitalist language of freedom and choice from the most disadvantaged Americans? Communism would tell me what job to work at, or would limit the commodities I can buy, so it is not “freedom.” They cannot even see that the job they can work at and the commodities they can buy are already completely chosen for them, by Walmart. This “feeling” that I have freedom when I work at a job I hate to buy a car I don’t want to drive to Walmart and buy whatever crap Walmart decides to put on its shelves, well, it’s not a natural inborn and universal concept of freedom, but a socially constructed one.

    That, for me, is the first important step—to convince people to recognize that they do in fact have ideologies, which function to keep the world running smoothly and to make people feel that the way things are is inevitable, inexorable, resistance is futile.

    Secondly, we need to produce some alternative ideology—because we are never outside of ideology, we always must have SOME relation to our real conditions of existence. Even if it is a strictly negative one, an ideology in which we can take enjoyment from refusing to participate in the perpetuation of the social system (say, not buying the new 3-D television or the 4G iphone or whatever, or simply insisting on pointing out over and over the ideological function of all the forms our culture takes—a negative relation to the conditions of existence is still a real relation to them, it just focuses on the remaking aspect of reproduction of those relations, the transformation instead of the perpetuation.) Simple things like a sitting group that raises political questions, or organizing a counter-cultural film festival despite the fact that it will absolutely not turn a profit can produce the habits of participating, as a group, in things that are not mass-media-approved and profit-making.

    Personally, I remain optimistic that these kinds of activities will become more and more possible as we enter the age of permanent recession. As I’ve said before, WWII saved capitalism, but there are no new countries to plunder now that capitalism is global—we’ll never get out of this recession, and after twenty or thirty years of steadily declining standards of living, our children and grandchildren may finally be willing to abandon the delusion that the American Dream will come true for them. At the moment, most of my students, graduating with degrees in ‘business” from a third-rate state university, are still convinced they will be getting great jobs and moving up the ladder to success. There’s no convincing them that they are within eight miles of two more prestigious private universities graduating more business majors in any given year than there are jobs in the entire tri-state area. In a few years, if they’re lucky, my students will be assistant managers at the Taco Bell and will start having second thoughts about the truth of what they hear on Fox news.

    The final question, about why we should want to bother changing things if we accept nihilism, is for me related to my firm belief that the mind is a collective and socially produced thing. I cannot be happy while somebody else suffers, because my happiness is dependent on his suffering. In order for me to have more of the social product than someone else, I need to perpetuate a culture that oppresses him. To overstate the case a bit, think of a simple master-slave relationship; to be the master requires that I internalize a kind of egotism, aggression, and hostility toward the slave, even if at some unconscious level, which is incompatible with real happiness. I am constrained to feel aggression toward the other I must dominate to keep my position—and that aggression is the root of unpleasant emotions. This is, for me, part of the importance of understanding Buddhist thought: it is crucial to comprehend that our “individual” minds are completely and effect of the larger socially constructed symbolic/imaginary system, and our own complete happiness depends on the transformation of that system to make it possible for every individual subject to have the conditions for happiness. There’s no “flinching” here, no backing off of the implications of nihilism, but a complete acceptance of them.

    Believe it or not, my all time favorite movie is Warren Beatty’s “Reds.” I’ve seen it at least twice a year since I first saw it in the theater when it opened in 1981. There’s a great line in there, when one of the “witnesses” he interviews about Reed and Bryant says something about people who try to change the world either having no problems of their own, or refusing to face them. This is a powerful ideology in late-capitalism, that we should only deal with the personal, because the political/economic is a natural force and beyond change. Any attempt to advocate social change, like any attempt to think, is seen as a denial of our real selves, the unexamined mess of maudlin emotion that we must masochistically revel in as we suffer our way into heaven. This advocacy of the obsession with “facing” personal pain, instead of removing its social causes, is the most important ideology to get expose AS an ideology, and to convince people (subjects) to let go of.

    By the way, Glenn, I’m a hopeless Freudian, I know, but I couldn’t help finding this typo amusing:

    Thinking has interests that do not coincide with those of living; indeed, they can and have been PITIED against the latter.

  122. “This advocacy of the obsession with “facing” personal pain, instead of removing its social causes, is the most important ideology to get expose AS an ideology, and to convince people (subjects) to let go of.”

    I cannot disagree more. I think that some of the social causes of “personal pain” are silence, turning away from, not listening, not regarding, acting as if it isn’t happening, and shaming those who attempt to speak. That is exactly the environment in which human rights abuses are allowed to continue. Sometimes revealing (instead of reveling) can actually serve both as a personal project and one of social advocacy. I think that the constant seperating of the two is actually a mistake. A damaging one. It seems to me much more cozy to face some of these things as simply an ideolgy to let go of. But consolation is not the goal here. If the goal is change, sometimes it must be chaotic and revealing and personal.

    While your ideas about changing “subjects ideology” may theoretically be correct. I fear that it just may not always work to create the social change that I am interested in. It can certainly be an important part of the puzzle, but it is not all.

  123. Tom (#125).

    By the way, Glenn, I’m a hopeless Freudian, I know, but I couldn’t help finding this typo amusing:
    Thinking has interests that do not coincide with those of living; indeed, they can and have been PITIED against the latter.

    Ha ha! I love Freud–and his slips.

    Kick-ass of an answer to Robert, by the way.

  124. Re 126: Cathater: I can’t really see how you’re disagreeing with me at all. Except that you seem to have the typical knee-jerk response to the word “ideology” (Oh, you said “ideology” you must be wrong! There’s no such thing/ it’s evil and totalitarian/ only commies have an ideology, etc), you don’t seem to say anything that opposes what I’ve said. Did you read the post you’re disagreeing with? Do you understand what I mean by the term ideology?

  125. sometimesihatemycat (#126).

    Do I understand correctly that you don’t necessarily disagree with Robert and Tom that for contemporary western society, as Robert puts it:

    the real problems are all personal. Solve the personal problems and society will follow, because what is society but the sum of all its individual members? And anyway, personal problems are so much more interesting.

    Do you see merit in that view? I wonder if we need clarification on what is meant by a “social cause.” I understand that term to refer to what you see as the inseparability between the two spheres of the personal and the social. That is, there is personal pain; and that pain does not exist in isolation from real, discernible material-social structures. So, if we want to affect personal pain, we must attend to the material structures within which “the personal” is lived.

    I guess I am saying that I don’t see any disagreement (in this case!) between you and Tom and Robert. Do you?

  126. I wonder if it is really self-evident that from nihilism follows the question “Why care at all?”

    Does the void implicates carelessness?

    If the opposite of nihilism is somethingism is then the automatic response to somethingism “I care”?

    Does from somethingism follows caring and from nihilism carelessness?

    Is somethingism good, nihilism bad?

    Do we really have this simple equation?

    Perhaps we should look where this opposition comes from and who or what is interested in keeping it.

    And perhaps there is also a simple categorial confusion. What forces us to map the human of flesh and blood and phenomenality onto the development of the physical universe?

    Narcissistic self-actualization has to fear nihilism. Realistic self-determination as a political being gladly looses itself at some point into annihilation. Contrary to its atomized cousin it is a real sensual being. It really touches and is in contact. It feels the spectrum. The atomized is always cut off and falls back into panic-mode when the bloodstream of surrogate life stops.

    De facto, if we look closely, Mr. Something with his siren-song of surrogative somethingism does not care. De facto 80% of the world-population has less than 10 $ per day. His stance is de facto that of the cynic, indifferent even against his own descendant while taking every precaution against the terrorist reaching for his share. His something is nothing for most. He annihilates their good life. He makes sharing impossible. Caring is anathema for him.

    The void does care – otherwise I wouldn’t be here.

  127. Tom (#128)

    I actually don’t think I am having a knee jerk reaction. (Apparently you think I am and that is fine.) The “ideology bit” I am not completely disagreeing with, as Glenn suggests. I am simply having a disagreement about the polarizing of personal experience vs. letting ideology go. They are not particularly opposites, but work together. I am disagreeing at the suggestion of the idea that one can be accomplished without the other. It was your use of the words obsession, masechism, etc…. directed at the personal that I was responding to. Not your assertion that Ideology should be explored as well. I consider much of what I write to you and others as a response, part of the discussion, not a knee jerk reaction. It appears that you are determined to see it that way, however. There is not much I can do about that. But could your perhaps shift your view a little bit and trust my intention is to be part of the discussion and not to specifically pick on what you have said?

    Yes I read what you wrote? Did you read my response fully? Seems perhaps that is an equally valid question don’t you think?

    BTW…I only sometimes hate my cat. Very different than your created endearement towards me, which seems to have some deliberate creation behind it. I may be wrong however. Perhaps a real name would help. My name is April if you are interested.

    Glenn (# 129)

    You are correct. I am not completely disagreeing. Only stating that I think the personal and “social” are quite infact linked to each other. How could they not be? I was just suggesting that perhaps one doesn’t have to be at the expense of the other, which I thought some of the terminology being used suggested slightly. My goal is actually not to disagree with everyone, just to add an additional point of view. Discussion…that is my goal.

    “the real problems are all personal. Solve the personal problems and society will follow, because what is society but the sum of all its individual members? And anyway, personal problems are so much more interesting.”

    Yep, you are right. I agree. Although I must admit that at times it is hard to discern when statements here are made seriously, in jest, or with sarchasm. It can be so difficult to determine tone in the written word, but not always. The only reason personal problems are (to some) more interesting is because they are closer to the human source. When we talk of “social” problems, we sometimes remove ourselves a bit from the source, thereby making it slightly more “cozy” and slightly less “interesting.” Also a bit harder to solve because the problems take on a robotic feel instead of human feel.

  128. P.S. I don’t actually use the word “Commies” in my thought or speech pattern. And perhaps I don’t always understand what you mean. But I do not think that disqualifies me from participating. Do any of us completely understand what the others mean? We can only make an attempt, which I am doing.

  129. Re 131-132: I was just trying to sort out the confusion, because you say you completely disagree and I didn’t really see any disagreement. It does seem that you are understanding the term “ideology” in the sort of ordinary language sense (hence, my comment about “only commies have it,” which is what ideology means when, say, a politician uses the term–its those wrong [totalitarian, dogmatic] beliefs that are unnatural and only bad people have). On my understanding of the term, there would be no possible way to separate out our personal experience of the world from our ideology, since ideology is the symbolic/imaginary construal of the world in which we have our experiences; ideology is all that our “experience” is, in the sense of “personal experience.” Every single deeply personal emotion is completely theory-saturated, shot through with social meaning so that we cannot say “this is personal, not ideological.” The point is that the personal is always completely social, and so “facing personal problems” is exactly working completly within the terms of the ideological structure that produces them and makes them endless and unresolvable.

    I would say that for most people, dealing with the social causes of a problem is in fact the most uncomfortable thing of all–even unimaginable, for many people, since the social is understood as natural and inexorable. The enormous reluctance to address social issues, which Robert mentions, is a clear indication of this–go to Tricycle and see how very “cozy” people feel reveling in their deep emotions and personal problems. It is, of course, also MUCH less interestiing–that’s how ideology works: it convinces us that any attempt to change the system is dull, intellectual, boring, pointless “theorizing” that can’t change anything, while crying over pictures of abused puppies or starving children is real, meaningful, fascinating, and changing the world.

  130. You may be correct about my everyday use of the word ideology being different than how you are using. You obviously have learned a lot more than me about the subject, I apologize. But I stand by my point that revealing is different than reveling. That was indeed my point.

    I am not sure about those people who are simply crying over pictures of children and puppies, as I do not consider myself one of them. There is no “simply” about wanting to affect change, for me anyway. It is a slog. Not easy, not cozy, and I guess the boring part depends on where and how I am trying to make changes at a given moment.

    I do have a question though, for everyone. Where do the creative arts figure into this discussion about the personal and the social, and the change we are interested in? Does it figure in? Is it considered simply crying over puppies, or can the arts serve a vital function in realizing change? Are the arts revealing, reveling, or irrelevant? This is a real question, and consideration for me. Wondering what the thoughts are.

    With Wine (not whine)

  131. I am glad to see that this thread is on its merry way again. And as always, responses to my comment are much appreciated. It is so nice to have a place like this, I worry when I hear Glenn hint that this blog too is impermanent.

    My question is, why care about injustice in the world that doesn’t directly affect me? Glenn’s response (120) is more or less where I find myself at these days, fundamentally a vague and grudging feeling of kinship or empathy, but, maybe unlike Glenn, I am very frustrated by its inherent limitations. Basically I don’t like that it is a feeling. What do you do when the feeling isn’t there, does your solidarity with others take a vacation? And how do you deal with some other limitations, it being so much easier to feel empathy for the photogenic or the ones nearby and sort of like us? How is it truly different from pity, which implies that the one who pities is superior? If we care for others because it feels like we should than you are on shaky ground, we find evidence for the most ridiculous ideologies based on feelings. Why would this feeling of grudging empathy be any different, have anymore authority than for example somebody else’s feeling that gay people are repulsive?

    Tom offers something that addresses those questions: “I cannot be happy while somebody else suffers, because my happiness is dependent on his suffering. In order for me to have more of the social product than someone else, I need to perpetuate a culture that oppresses him”. What motivates Tom is no longer a feeling, it’s a concrete dissatisfaction that is always there, and what’s more, it is very direct, an almost selfish desire to change the world for the better, because it hurts the way it is now. But the problem is that I can be happy while somebody else suffers, I am living proof of that, a happy guy by most definitions, even though I know much of my happiness and wealth is gained over the backs of others, here and in the third world. And unconscious unhappiness just doesn’t seem to be a problem.

    Tom, is this outlook of yours an example of an ideology that you purposely constructed and nurtured, or are you suggesting that it is somehow more fundamental, more core to human nature? Is it really true, or is it “just” another ideology?

    Tom, Glenn, I am not trying to be smart-alecky, I am describing the problem. What don’t I understand?

  132. Robert

    “Glenn’s response (120) is more or less where I find myself at these days, fundamentally a vague and grudging feeling of kinship or empathy, but, maybe unlike Glenn, I am very frustrated by its inherent limitations. Basically I don’t like that it is a feeling. What do you do when the feeling isn’t there, does your solidarity with others take a vacation?”

    I struggle with this issue, question, feeling as well. (waving “hi” while falling…see #122/3) For me there is a physical manifestation that makes the difference between pity and empathy. For me, when I am feeling pity it is usually in my head. That is, my thoughts are telling I should feel something or that it is “appropriate in this social situation.” When I am feeling what I call empathy it is in my gut. It is raw emotion; be it anger or sadness or the feeling that if I don’t do or say something I might peel my own skin off. But, I guess that still has a selfish element to it. Maybe it all does. Maybe there is no social change without some selfishness. Maybe we shouldn’t be placing a moral judgment on the word “selfish” the way that we do. Can we ever really see the world other than through our own eyes, our own experience of suffering? We cannot escape that.

    Tom

    You may have addressed this before, but (in line with Robert’s question) do we ever function without ideology, or just replace one for another? Who determines what ideology best serves humanity? How do we decide, if we are aware of the ideology, that it needs replacing? Do others decide for us, or do we decide? (Again, real questions also without sarcasm or poking.)

  133. Re 135: ” But the problem is that I can be happy while somebody else suffers”

    Robert, I just don’t believe you. If you really could, I doubt you’d be here posting on this discussion. It is probably possible, if one is sufficiently ignorant and sufficiently rich, to be isolated from the inherently unpleasant aggressive and dominating attitudes necessary to remain rich and in power. We can imagine someone who is so rich that somebody does that for them, and they don’t even have to know that somebody is even doing it. For most of us, such insulation and ignorance is not really possible, and so we are going to feel some kind of discontent.

    As a brief answer to your question, I think there are two parts to my “outlook,” as you put it. One is a non-ideological understanding of how the world works: this includes economic knowledge of the relations of production, the psychological structure of the human subject, and the forms of ideology. The other part is very much an ideology which I consciously cultivate in an attempt to change things. This second part is the part that constantly needs work–because while there are millions of things about the state of the world I don’t know anything about, those things I DO know about I am fairly confident I am correct about. What I am not so confident about is the exact form of ideology, the exact relation to this objective reality, that will be most useful to effect change. I think it is true that it would help if people could understand that their ideology is in fact an ideology, but I also think there are probably many ways in which to convince them of that, and I’m not sure what the most effective one is. I try to do it with teaching and writing, going to lots of different kinds of meetings, and printing up and distributing free copies of pamphlets on marxist economic theory. I try to support the rare socialist candidate for political office. I don’t think I have to feel “empathy” for anyone to want everyone to have a better quality of life. Empathy is bullshit–nobody can really feel exactly what somebody else feels–if you think you are you’re deluding yourself. The term was originally coined in aesthetics, as a way to describe the production of an artificial emotional state in the experience of a work of art, and then got adopted by the American psychologists in the 20th century who couldn’t deal with figuring out what someone’s problem really was, so they thought just feeling miserable along with them would be a good idea.

    And hatemycat, as I’ve said before, I agree with Althusser’s insistence that we are ideological animals by nature–we will never be free of ideology, and should not want to be. That impulse is like Kant’s metaphor of the bird that believes it could fly so much faster and better without the air to slow it down. Our ideology is the way we experience with, interact with, and reproduce our world; we would not want to simply regard the world at a distance, in pure knowledge, and not bother to interact with it. Like the bird, we sometimes feel our ideology is a head-wind slowing us down, but it is also the air holding us up.

  134. Tom,

    Thanks a bunch, that was a great analogy. Great insight into your experience of ideology, and one that I am inclined to agree with. (Skys open up and angels are singing.) Ha Ha.

    I don’t know about the “empathy is bullshit” idea. Perhaps what each of us calls empathy is slightly different. While we can’t feel exactly what another is feeling, I think we can come close. I guess that would mean by your standard I am deluded, but I don’t think so. Maybe the definition of empathy, or perhaps the experience of, has changed a bit since those said psychologists needed some termanology. Maybe instead of empathy, what I feel is the ability to relate with some people. To feel that I have been where they are at a given moment, and may well be there again. There are certainly populations of people who have lived through similar experiences and have some ability to relate to each other, understand the circumstances, and therefore have an ability to help affect change. I know that to be true. Often the people who are changing specific social structures, are those who have suffered inside that same social structure. What drives that? If we aren’t calling it empathy, perhaps call it the ability to relate and understand, and the courage to try and affect change based on that understanding. Is that empathy? Maybe not. Maybe we need another word.

  135. Sometimes:

    I’m in agreement that we can really understand and sympathize with one another. The problem with the term empathy is that it almost always serves the purpose, for which it was invented, of preventing any such true understanding. The danger of psychoanalytic thought was its demonstration that we can, in fact, understand one another by thinking, and that, in fact, one reason we understand each other as well as we do is that we share the same socially produced languages and cultures. The danger, in other words, was that the implication of much 20th-century thought was that our thought and emotions are socially constructed, not naturally occurring. Psychology needed to avoid this implication, since it entails the obvious conclusion that the solution to individual psychological difficulties may be social, not personal—as in Laing’s insistence that the whole family must be changed to treat the disturbed child, or sometimes the child simply must be removed from the family in order to get better; or Freud’s assertion that sometimes the best psychoanalysis can do is to help the analysand reach the state where she will be able to alter her social situation to pursue happiness. American psychologists didn’t want to produce social activists, they were paid to produce compliant corporate cubicle-dwellers and continuously craving consumers of commodities.

    Empathy was an attempt to assert the understanding of another’s mind and emotions as a sort of semi-magical ability we just have, to foreclose the possibility that such understanding is done in thought, language, and theory. Star Trek the Next Generation literalizes this reification, when they have their ship therapist actually have a supernatural capacity to feel the emotions others are feeling. Intuitive impressions about what another is thinking and feeling are thus attributed to an innate capacity people have in different degrees, to avoid the danger of examining the implicit assumptions about human nature that are being made, or questioning the socially constructed nature of the particular emotions we believe we all share. It is sort of like when stupid (usually American) psychologists, like Sternberg, believe they can investigate the “true” nature of love, confident that it is not a social but an ontological thing. Empathy was/is simply an automatic, intuitive and unexamined interpretation of someone’s mental state, reified as an innate capacity of a good therapist (one that cannot be taught, of course), to prevent the danger of thinking about the assumptions underlying the interpretation: of course it MUST BE accurate, it’s “empathic,” and includes no thought at all!

    So, I don’t disagree that we can understand people, and that we can come to understand them better than we do by talking to them (there’s no magic empathic power, we just need to listen). I just object to the term empathy because it always falls back on some very problematic assumptions. The psychologists didn’t just invent a term, they invented the deluded belief in a magic power, that serves to foreclose our capacity to actually understand someone by communicating with them and thinking about their responses and actions and using theoretical concepts.

    What’s wrong with just saying “understand’?

  136. Glenn

    By “flinching” I mean pausing and considering the consequences of acting out the logical conclusions of nihilism. By “nihilism” I mean the absolute amorality and meaninglessness of the universe (I think this is also Brassier’s definition as you quote him). If one were to mirror the amorality of the universe this would necessarily lead to what are normally considered immoral acts.

    You say that you experience two things: 1) an involuntary feeling of some sort of empathy or “togetherness” with other humans, and 2) the choice to act on that feeling or not. If you assume nihilism you could try to convince yourself that this involuntary feeling is nothing more than the outworking of your evolutionary heritage (a blind process that just so happened to select empathy and cooperation in humans because they have survival value) and whatever environmental shaping you’ve undergone by all the clever apes around you. If you choose to act on the involuntary feeling towards what I may rather presumptuously call “the good” then you could be said to flinch in the face of nihilism, for nihilism doesn’t give a shit about “the good.” Do you believe that the involuntary feeling towards “the good” you experience is really good, or would you just be more inconvenienced (e.g. experience a bad “conscience”, social punishment, etc.) if you refrained from choosing “the good”?

    Then again, perhaps we mean different things by “flinching.”

    Do you think Nietzsche meant his myth of Eternal Recurrence literally? I take it to be a motivational trick one can play on oneself to emphasize the importance of one’s actions in this one assured life that we have. I don’t think Nietzsche actually thought the history of the universe would repeat itself ad infinitum. Perhaps you feel he flinched from the horizon of nihilism even if he did intend for a metaphorical eternal recurrence. I’ve read that Nietzsche actually wanted to save humanity from nihilism. I’m not sure if that’s such a bad thing!

    (An aside: I think these sorts of mental tricks we play on ourselves have tremendous value, although there is also the risk they could lead to pure fantasy and solipsism if they are not kept in check. I recently listened to an interview with a mountain climber who fell down a cavernous pit and faced near-certain death. He told himself to just keep working to get out of the cavern, and kept his mind occupied by doing things like counting his steps and pretending there were other climbers with him to keep him company. I don’t think this is immature at all. It was a fantasy, but a helpful, essential one. He survived.)

    I fail to see how one can proclaim oneself a nihilist and still make the value-laden judgments found on this blog. If the universe really is meaningless and amoral how can you, as an accidental, ephemeral, fucked up (and we are all fucked up in some way, me included) evolutionary product of this cold, indifferent universe really make any vigorous ethical judgments at all. Nihilism as a “speculative opportunity” can mean anything: Gandhian nonviolent social action or fascistic warmongering; utopian communism or cowboy capitalism. How can you judge between these outcomes? I don’t see how you can without recourse to the human “values and meanings” which we “drape over” nature to make life “more hospitable.”

    If one assumes a thoroughgoing nihilism then the only justification for critiquing the existing social order and working for a better world (communist or not) is simply because that’s what we want to do, nothing more. This hope for a “more just” world is simply a blind desire, an impulse — an impulse at the center of layers and layers of intellectual justification, but an impulse nonetheless. Is that really good enough? What would you say to the nihilist on the street that responds to this blog with a shrug of the shoulders and mumbles: “Whatever, dude. The universe doesn’t care about your little project so why should I? Even if it feels like I should care, why should I trust feelings that are simply the blind products of this farce we call evolution?”

    Then again, perhaps it’s not really accurate to say the universe is truly nihilistic at all. Perhaps “human values” like fairness and integrity are just as “real” as stars and stones. The number five is a human construct with no correlate in space or time in this universe, yet I’m inclined to say the number five is “real.” Are human values and meanings real in this same sense? If so, can we still call the universe nihilistic?

  137. Tom,

    Agreed! Listening, talking, understanding. That is the key, rather than empathy (if it involves some magic power of intuition.) I am, of late, skeptical of any system that invokes some sort of magic or spirit or divinity in order to affect change. THAT I can agree with you is bullshit. At least in my experience. I have found those things to be used to actually do the opposite of talking, listening, and understanding. They are quite effective conversation stoppers, in my experience anyway. Especially when they invoke some all knowing power that cannot be questioned.

    Which is why I enjoy conversations like these. I am not interested in simply stating a held fast belief, I enjoy thinking, parsing out, reading what others are thinking, questioning others and myself. It is quite invigorating.

  138. Tom, re 137, Thanks for your helpful response. It seems you have made several statements about the nature of suffering. First of all there is this notion that the suffering of some affects all since it manifests in our shared mind / language. Then there is the idea that any situation that sees some individuals take advantage of others causes suffering and fear for those wielding power (slaveholder, slave). Finally, you suggest in your ideology essay that foreclosing on the emerging of a truth is a cause of suffering. Would you say these are distinct ideas or are they all about the very same suffering?

    I am finally reading Badiou’s Ethics, and it is interesting that for him suffering as such doesn’t seem to be a consideration at least in his ethical system. We are predatory animals pursuing our interests and communicating ‘not beyond but below good and evil’, except that we – unlike other animals – have this peculiar ability or disposition at times to become subjects of a truth event. To ignore or deny such an event is ethically wrong but not particularly a source of suffering, it simply means you continue (or return to) your animal existence. By introducing the notion of samsara in this context are you introducing something new, or am I misreading Badiou here?

    Now Badiou in a way does apparently deal with my earlier ethical question why I should care about injustice if it doesn’t directly affect me, by turning it into a non-issue. Truth events first initiate through an immanent breach in a situation, a flash of a new possibility. Only once this initial breach occurs do individuals become subjects, naming this new possibility and seeing the event through to its conclusion. What makes it a truth event (apart from its universal potential), is that it makes a previously invisible element contained in the situation visible, which translates in the political sphere as bringing justice to a group in society that was previously not recognized as such, simply invisible. In other words, my question why I should care about others turns into the question whether I wish to live my life as an animal or whether I wish to pursue this other option, unique to being human, of becoming a subject in a truth event, which in the political sphere per definition addresses an injustice. But it also raises a new question, what causes this initial breach in a world that sets the truth event in motion?

    I feel like apologizing, I am so confused….

  139. #compassion, suffering and all things emo

    As a result of an exceedingly funny cosmic joke, we are herd animals and predators both. Conflict! Suffering! Songs about my brother not being heavy! And assorted religions telling you to both smite and love thy neighbour. Also football (soccer to you americanos) fans.

    It is confusing because we are hardwired that way.

    No blame! It furthers the superior person to enter the stream.

    With metta as always

  140. Robert:

    Re 142,

    I would say that all three of these kinds of suffering are manifestations of the same thing. The slave culture, for instance, requires that certain ways of conceiving the world stay in place, and this requirement of conceptual stasis prevents the appearance of truths. To maintain the suffering of those in the southern hemisphere who, those of us in the northern hemisphere who benefit from global capitalism are forced to think of capitalism as natural, and to remain ignorant of the brutal force required to keep it running. Our “happiness” is not one of using our potential, but numbing our minds with meaningless distraction—and so, many of us are dissatisfied, looking to Buddhism or “spirituality” of some sort to numb our minds more effectively.

    For Badiou, the problem is the same—he sees the inability to improve our intellectual and physical interaction with the world as a denial of our chance to become true, full subjects. This is, in a sense, suffering, but it is not suffering in the common sense of the term. The goal is not bodily comfort or relief from stress—because a true subject may feel compelled to work very hard and may be in a state of “stress” quite often. If one had asked Wiles, as he was on the verge of proving Fermat’s last theorem, if he was blissful, content and relaxed, I doubt he would have said yes; but, for Badiou, such stress and labour and even madness are not things we should seek to avoid—they are things that make us truly alive. They are a different kind of stress and labour, however, from the kind that the working poor face, which is really suffering. Badiou, that is, does set aside the question of suffering, because the idea we tend to have of happiness is a kind of animal idiocy—in our World, any effort is seen as suffering, and this stupid notion must be dismissed.

    Justice is a similar issue. Our idea of justice rests on a limited notion of equality, as equality under the law—we must have certain kinds of equality in order to guarantee that we feel no “right” to demand other kinds. This is why ethics should not be a question of justice or rules, but of the capacity, as Badiou puts it “to strive for the Good.” The justice/equality/happiness version of ethics demands that we must not work to bring new truth into the world, but to keep the World exactly as it is, and adjust ourselves to it.

    The big question, of course, is how a Truth Event can ever occur, right? This is the question that is most often raised of Badiou’s work—why would a Truth Event occur, and how can we recognize and Event when we see one? There is no simple answer, because this is, in a sense, the work of philosophy—not to produce the Truth Event, but to distinguish the truth from the reactionary attempt to contain it. I think Badiou goes a long way to answering how this can be done in “Logics of Worlds”; however, I would also suggest that we think of it differently: given that the Truth must always already exist, the real mystery is how the World, or the situation, or the dominant ideology, or whatever you want to call it, is so often able to prevent this existing Truth from “appearing” to us as obvious.

    To give a brief answer, then: the truth emerges in the world because it is always already there, like the Lacanian Real, limiting the ability of the imaginary/symbolic to structure our world; we crash up against this Real all the time, often in unpleasant ways. And, not all thought is ideological thought—we can never be without an ideology, but it is not the only kind of thinking we are capable of; there is also thought that does directly describe the real conditions of existence (instead of our relation to those conditions, which is produced in ideology). For this reason, we can and do come up against mismatches of science and ideology (which pseudo-sciences like American psychology try to contain and obscure). Okay, that wasn’t so brief an answer.

    And Jokerman, (re 143): I think it is always a mistake to reduce the problems of humanity to our natural history. It prevents us from seeing how many of our problems are culturally produced, and can be eliminated with effort.

  141. Brad (#140). Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    By “flinching” I mean pausing and considering the consequences of acting out the logical conclusions of nihilism. By “nihilism” I mean the absolute amorality and meaninglessness of the universe (I think this is also Brassier’s definition as you quote him). If one were to mirror the amorality of the universe this would necessarily lead to what are normally considered immoral acts.

    By “flinching” I don’t mean “pausing and considering.” I mean the kind of thing that I addressed in the Flinching post. There, Barry Magid laid out in no uncertain terms the non-negotiable, strict calculus devised by his teacher, Charlotte Beck: (1) There is being. It is not the cliché philosophical notion Being; it is bare-assed being. (2) There is “just this moment.” 1 and 2 being the case, there is (3) no ground for hope. Therefore, (4) there must be “radical acceptance of the totality of the present.” Magid, I said, flinched before this calculus. He did so by restructuring it. He adds an equals sigh and introducing an element completely foreign to the original calculus. Magid’s version reads:

    Being (cliché-free) “just this moment” + “having no hope” + “radical acceptance of the totality of the present” = “deep joy.”

    What constitutes such a move as a “flinch” in my eyes is that it lacks the courage to permit the conviction. Worse, Magid’s formula, with its equals sign and new element, negates the original calculus. We see this sort of thing all the time in x-buddhism. Just consider what an unflincing assessment of “emptiness” might yield. So, I say that Magid flinched not because he paused and considered the consequences of acting out the logical conclusions of Beck’s terms, but because he did not abide, would not tolerate, could not let stand, those terms. I let my nihilistic view stand. I live with it and out of it.

    If you choose to act on the involuntary feeling towards what I may rather presumptuously call “the good” then you could be said to flinch in the face of nihilism, for nihilism doesn’t give a shit about “the good.” Do you believe that the involuntary feeling towards “the good” you experience is really good, or would you just be more inconvenienced (e.g. experience a bad “conscience”, social punishment, etc.) if you refrained from choosing “the good”?

    Did I say that I had an “involuntary feeling towards ‘the good'”? I didn’t mean to say that. I don’t believe that. I don’t choose “the good” for the sake of goodness. I don’t even know what “the good” is in any given circumstance. I certainly don’t know what it feels like. I stop at the traffic light when it is red because, as you say, I would cause trouble for myself and others if I didn’t. But I can offer no irrefutable grounds for why I think one option is better than than another beyond that sort of thing. Sometimes it’s better to run the light. I used to get the evil eye from Germans when, at 4am after a night of drinking in Berlin I would not stop walking at the red light. Who knows where this good/bad bullshit comes from and how “deep” it goes. I make no pretense to stand on firm ground in these matters.

    Do you think Nietzsche meant his myth of Eternal Recurrence literally?

    From reading his texts as well as probably every biography that has been written on him, I would guess yes. He had the thought and it saved him–it gave him a way out–and that was that. (I asked Nietzsche about just this matter last year when I visited Sils Maria, and sat for hours at the great stone on the shore of Lake Silvaplana, where he had his saving insight. But, alas, no reply.) You make a good point that such fictions have their uses. Why not? I’m just not so good at it.

    That’s a good point in the next paragraph, “I fail to see…” I should probably think more about it. My quick solution is to invoke an economy of scale, or the micro/macro distinction that quantum physicists make. They say that the small-scale behavior of sub-atomic particles is not reflected in the large-scale real world (the cat is either dead or alive). With nihilism it’s the reverse. Although I can see no large-scale grounds for valuing, say, brushing my teeth, I can nonetheless see immediate, social grounds for doing so. I value it not because of any ultimate ground or fundamentally unassailable reason, but because no one will talk to me if I don’t do it. So, in that way, I agree that “’human values’ like fairness and integrity are just as ‘real’ as stars and stones;” but it’s not a realness that can hold up to much scrutiny. (One person’s “fairness” is another’s “reverse discrimination,” and so on endlessly.

    Anyway, I will continue to think on these things. Thanks!

  142. Tom, re 144. I am (almost by nature) very sympathetic to these notions that our inability to become full subjects and our living a mind-numbing existence is indeed a kind of suffering. I don’t want to argue with it.

    As you say yourself, this isn’t what most people would consider suffering. They would call that pleasantly spacing out in front of the tv with a beer, or two weeks of mindlessly laying in the sun on a Mexican four star resort beach, gated of course to keep the natives a a distance. Or in some cases, mindlessly being mindful at a silent retreat.

    So who are we to say that they are suffering in any sense? How would you go about proving it, (not to them, to me)? Do you look for examples, as Badiou seems to do (Jacobins, October 17, May 68, or Schoenberg, Haydn, Becket, or the example of deeply falling in love with somebody for that matter)?

    In other words, in your response, in passing, you describe being a subject of a truth event as ‘truly being alive’. What is this comparison really based on?

  143. #146 #144 (kinda)

    To my mind, the best concept that Marxism ever produced (even if it pains me to admit that it could produce anything whatsoever of value) is that of False Consciousness.

    “I like working for a multinational because I am motivated by share options and actually the health care is pretty good.” FALSE CONSCIOUSNESS.

    “I don’t mind staying at home looking after the kids while my husband goes to work. I’m actually pretty happy and fulfilled doing it.” FALSE CONSCIOUSNESS.

    “I actually quite like going on holiday in an exotic locale where the food is cheap and the natives friendly. Also, my tourist dollar does help their economy.” FALSE CONSCIOUSNESS.

    “On the balance of it, international capitalism alongside with development does seem to have lifted millions of people out of poverty, increased health outcomes and literacy and promoted greater social liberty.” FALSE CONSCIOUSNESS.

    “Marxism actually really sucks when you look at what has been done under its banner over the last few decades.” FALSE CONSCIOUSNESS.

    It’s so exceedingly effective and concise in completely and absolutely beyond doubt refuting all arguments (1) that, yes, you guessed it, I am going to have a T-shirt made:

    FRANKIE SAY
    FALSE
    CONS
    CIOUS
    NESS

    Because: 80s are cool.

    (1) also, it’s like saying to the other person “i have zero respect for your thought processes, agency, character, education, in fact everything because actually you’re delusional.” without having to actually say it. BOOYAH!

  144. Re 146: Who are we to say that they are suffering? Well, the problem is that perhaps they are not “suffering” in any sense that make THEM unhappy, perhaps their delusions about a future in heaven after a life of wine, sex and television make them perfectly happy. However, this kind of life is only possible because of the forced suffering of billions of others, and so we can perfectly well say that they have no right to it.

    We could, of course, imagine the hardworking manual laborer who is perfectly happy to come home and sit in front of “Billy the Exterminator” with a six pack. I would suggest, though, that if the threat of poverty and the promise of heaven were removed, he would eventually find this life less satisfying. I really don’t believe that being stupid and idle is all that satisfying, and I think most people would become bored with it eventually, become unhappy, restless, dissatisfied with life. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m overly optimistic about the species, but I do believe that if we were stripped of our delusions we could do a lot better.

    I am comparing the subject of a truth to the people I see every day, who have money and SUVs and cellphones and houses, and often vacation houses on Cape Cod and plenty of leisure time, who take prozac and drink a lot of wine to numb their minds, and are still irritable and unhappy. I live in a fairly affluent community–not really rich, but far richer than the one I grew up in, and when I was a kid we used to think having all these things would be enough to make us happy. This is what I’m comparing it to; the people I see every day cannot imagine why I am happy with my life–we live in the poorest part of town, drive old cars, don’t summer at the cape, etc–but they also cannot see why they are so unhappy.

    There are two parts to this question, then. Those who are “content” at the expense of others’ suffering just have no right to their luxury, and we have every right to tell them so. The rest, well, they’ll have to figure it out on their own–but I am optimistic that they could, if they could learn to let go of their reified ideologies.

  145. There are days when we are ALL irritable and unhappy and days when we enjoy moments of triviality, regardless of social class, pay grade, cars we drive, part of town we live in. I would hate to think that an entire blogs worth of assumption was being made about anyone’s suffering based on one moments worth of observable information…no matter who is doing the observing. Enjoying a sunset on a beach, the taste of a satisfying drink, a moment of spontaneous laughter at a trivial piece of entertainment, these are not the sum of an entire state of existence. Neither is choosing NOT to participate in those things. I would argue that these are in fact shared human experiences regardless of where you are or where you come from or the exact details of said experiences. I am not saying that these are constants, just that they are human experience. I am not denying suffering, social injustice at the hands of a larger group, or even the obligation to see these things (cape cod, wine, laughter) as transient and not an ultimate comfort. I just think that there are some broad and sweeping assumptions in your statement, along with some poignant truth as well. Is your suggestion that everyone should make the choices that you have made, or that they should at least appear to have made the choices you have made, and then all would be well?

  146. RE 149: I would hate to see everyone, especially my own kids, make the choices I have made.

    My point isn’t that we should never enjoy pointless things–I enjoy watching “The Mentalist,” a completely silly detective show, and sometimes I even eat ice cream while I watch it. The point is simply that this is never going to be the ultimate happiness for anyone. It’s one thing to go to the beach and watch a sunset, it’s another to think that lounging on the beach drinking wine and being waited on is the ultimate happiness. My assertion is simply that eventually, anyone will get tired of that, become unhappy, and need to do something more meaningful. And, eventually, we all need to take a break from doing meaningful things and go jump on the trampoline with the kids.

  147. Thanks for the clarification…whew. And, I agree. Doing both the mundane/silly AND the profound/social work with the same engagement, now that is the trick isn’t it? Not getting too comfortable in either state. I have often found, personally, that when I am comfortable for too long…I NEED to take a risk, do some work, have a challenge. As I look back that seems to have been a motivating factor to a lot of my decisions. So I totally indentify with THAT part of your statement, and think it is right on. But glad to know you jump on a trampoline with your kids too. I was very sad to leave our trampoline with our last house, so now I just spin on the tile in my kitchen and take tango lessons instead.

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