I want to start at the end, and state my conclusion at the outset, so that it doesn’t get lost in the supporting text that follows. Conclusion: x-buddhism leaves its politics unthematized, and therefore hides it from (1) itself and (2) its acolytes. We should, of course, expect this degree of unconsciousness from a form of thought that is grounded in faith in an abiding absolute such as The Dharma (not to mention its zombie-like persistence in positing a transcendent Self.) Affective and cognitive conditions ensue from such faith, and these conditions breed an unthinking political subject. I have in mind in particular the conditions of x-buddhist specularity, whereby the world becomes x-buddhism’s self-reflective mirror, and the Principle of Sufficient Buddhism, whereby nothing other than The Dharma need be thought.
How else might we understand the lack of political awareness exhibited by our x-buddhist communities? Does, say, Jon Kabat-Zinn, give thought to the real-life political implications of his rhetoric of “non-reactivity” and “non-judgmentalism”? Weren’t those qualities on full display during George Bush’s build-up to the American war in Iraq? Does Sharon Salzberg understand the political implications of her many comments along the lines of “We learn and grow and are transformed not so much by what we do but by why and how we do it”? Right, Sharon. The Koch brothers would like to offer you a job in their PR department.
I asked this before, in Extrapolating Equanimity, to virtually no response, “what kind of political philosophy might we extrapolate from x-buddhist teachings?” For instance, can “equanimity” be seen as a buddhacized version of “political complacency”? Now, we also have to ask that question about the project on this blog: what are the implications of the non-buddhist critique for political thought and action?
So, to the beginning.
As so often happens, several matters came together to form the critical mass of a new post. The first matter in the present case concerns the interplay on this blog between the theoretical-practical discussion of x-buddhism and that of political thought, specifically marxism. Many readers seem to find the two topics unrelated. So, I started to give it more thought. Then, second, in his comment to Craig’s recent post “Practicing in Delusion,” Patrick posed a bunch of probing questions directly related to that theme. For instance:
Various factions within Marxism contest many of the elements of Marxist theory and practice.
Therefore: Which ‘Marxism’?
Can one adapt the project of non-buddhism and retain an allegiance to capitalism and capitalist ideology?Can one adopt the project of non-buddhism and hold allegiance to an ideology critical of capitalism but overtly anti-Marxist?
Does the adoption of the project of non-buddhism require that one should also adopt the project of non-marxism as a method of decommissioning one’s allegiance to ‘the network of Marxist postulation’?
Then, third, I got into an e-mail spat with a well-known Zen teacher. This morning I received a mass-mailed message from this teacher’s community that he is looking for “a volunteer” to create an index to his new book. I wrote to the teacher that I felt not paying the person a fair wage is “shameful.” He wrote back with an explanation (the proceeds go to the zendo, not to him), and added that my “talk of shame is inappropriate here.” I replied:
Not paying someone a fair wage is shameful, pure and simple. And that is true regardless of where the proceeds eventually end up. … Exploitation comes in many sizes and varieties. Zen Buddhism has a long, sad history of teacher-student exploitation. We need new, and better, examples.
On reflection, our disagreement struck me as being about a political arrangement, that between authority and its productive labor, so to speak.
So, how did all of this come together? I should explain that the reason Patrick mentions marxism in particular is two-fold. First, the person who has shown the most passion for the political on the blog, Tom Pepper, places the discussion within a marxism/capitalism framework. Second, I have said (here) that there is indeed a close relationship between non-buddhism and marxism:
Some people may see these discussions on marxism and communism as tangential to the blog’s topic, x-buddhism. But given that the initial inspiration in formulating (if not conceptualizing) non-buddhist theory came from Laruelle, they make perfect sense. Many of Laruelle’s most important concepts are derived from Marx. And many of these ideas have relevance to our critique. For instance, just a few off the top of my head: determination in the last instance; force of thought (of labor); Humans (Man); relative autonomy; Science-of-men; material; performativity (the criterion of practice), and others. We also now have a strong influx of Badiou’s ideas in the mix. [Badiou is a communist]. Finally, given our recognition of the unavoidable necessity of thinking through the ideological nature of x-buddhism, we began looking to Marx’s twentieth-century student, Althusser, for some guidance, and we have stuck with him.
But does this affinity between the theory being worked out on this blog and marxism imply an inherent necessity? As Patrick says, we’d have to first discuss “which marxism.” And that would be quite a detour. It is one that we’ll have to make at some point. Whether we like it or not, our ideas always imply a politics. I am acutely aware of this fact. That fact and my awareness of it are precisely why my theoretical work begins and ends with Marx’s “first premise,” in The German Ideology:
The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals (163).
That’s all I want to say for now. Maybe everyone can actually read a bit of Marx the thinker before we talk more about it. And as you read, maybe you can ease your mind of the judgement that history has wrought by considering Marx’s own statement: “If anything is certain, it is that I myself am not a marxist.”*
- Reported by Engels in a letter to Eduard Bernstein. Original: “What is known as ‘marxism’ in France is, indeed, an altogether peculiar product — so much so that Marx once said to Lafargue: ‘Ce qu’il y a de certain c’est que moi, je ne suis pas marxiste.’” (Source.)
From the blog Die roten Schuhe. See also the Reuters article, “Karl Marx bank cards prove hit in eastern Germany.” East Germany was, of course, communist from 1949-1989.
52 responses to “A Spectre is Haunting Buddhism, or: Give Marx Some Credit”
I saw that email today and it made me feel strange, although I could not quite put my finger on why. Your response to it articulates well, in a way I wasn’t able to formulate, the problem with it. I am actually grateful to go back and re-read it in a new way. I am not sure I can adequately comment on Marxism, if I tried I would surely come across as an idiot, but I do agree that some of these “truths” that we find being thrown at us in Buddhism carry undeniable political weight. And, we ignore that at our own (and others) peril.
I welcomed on “Practicing with Delusion” Craig, Glenn, and Jamie’s encouragement to address x-buddhism–via anti-capitalist but perhaps not only Marxist critiques. At #101, Patrick raised anarchism. I’m tossing out a few ideas from my recent reading: I’ll confess I tend to generate discussion more than to provide solutions. But, you’re an ideal audience, from whom I’ve been learning–if keeping to myself. Teaching Comparative Religions, week one I highlight (inter alia) when introducing scholarly interpretations of the origins of religion this familiar phrase, but also within its wider quote:
I admire, despite the awkward phrasing, the vale of tears of which religion is the halo phrase: when I subtitled my own blog I chose “my exile in this vale of tears” to refer to a Marian hymn and this Marxian analogy. That is overlooked by those elevating the “opium,” and “vale of tears” directs us to the problem of how to promote “real happiness.” Is it materially driven as a necessary precondition for a more spiritual or emotional fulfillment?
In earlier years, I often gravitated towards Marxist critique but the side of me attracted towards a more ethereal quest found its materialism dispiriting. Terry Eagleton in his 2010 Why Marx Was Right elaborates (if incompletely) the hints in his 2004 Routledge Marx monograph of a reading of Marx as closer to an anarchist tinged, decentralized, more democratic socialist vision. Jonathan Sperber’s new biography of Marx places him more as a sustainer of ideas better suited to the French Revolution and his own century rather than the one and more succeeding it: analyzing the MEGA archives opened up since the end of the Cold War, Sperber (if I may quote my own review argues that his ideas look more backward than forward. (Engels and others advanced their own version of Marx after Karl’s death.)
Certainly, SN-B debates the merits of departing from the received wisdom transmitted from a revered, iconic Founder. And, I wonder about the necessity of fidelity to an origin myth, versus using its scraps and scatterings as bricks or bricolage to build another structure: less imposing or indomitable but being less monolithic more amenable for magpie sorts like me. This reminds me of two other texts.
David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas imagines a ruin of treasure, to use a term we’ve heard before on this site. A replicant who’s gained sentience finds a brief safe house in a decaying cave monastery during a Korean corporate hegemony of a future a century or two from now, perhaps. She’s told by its Abbess– who as a novice decades earlier was the sole survivor of the materialist dictatorship’s purge– that her own incomplete knowledge of one called Siddhartha, whose names and teachings are nearly forgotten, but somehow enduring at least to generate cooperation and compassion inspired a few “tapeworms” as the regime calls them (soon to be renamed “terrorists”) to found a commune and scrabble off the grid, away from a society where consumers must spend everything they earn, to enslave themselves to support the economy and to stay in the good graces of the corporacracy.
This leads me to direct you to Gary Snyder’s similar encouragement ca. 1969 (in Buddhist Anarchism–an essay revised from 1961). He takes on not only the Judeo-Christian but also the capitalist and a Marxist West. He lauds the West’s liberal reforms but he laments the greed that drives us on–shades of Mitchell’s future system. The mercy of the West has been social revolution; the mercy of the East has been individual insight into the basic self/void. We need both. Snyder fits his own separation from both soul-crushing ideologies.
What I’d like to shift this into, back to you all, is how this may relate to cultural positions and political models that might be applied vis-a-vis the theorists many of you apply on S N-B. I anticipate naysayers will put down Snyder as a pacifist, but I find his countercultural resistance to pretas refreshing. I’d also suggest looking at the success or failure of those who tried to drop out of the mainstream in the wake of Beats and hippies half a century ago vs. those who, say, manned the barricades or took to the streets may test the efficacy of Snyder’s Dharma Bums “rucksack revolution” predicted ca. 1955. Given his essay’s 1969 revision, these issues were of course very relevant to the struggles and arguments current then–and now. You can find more contexts, with some pro/con links to Socially Engaged Buddhism, Situationists, and non-violence, under the entry for Snyder’s Buddhist Anarchism.
I’m kind of puzzled that you don’t first examine the political systems that have emerged already under the influence of buddhism: e.g. Tibetan feudalism (ancient and modern); ancient and medieval Japanese feudal and military states; the military state of Burma; the quasi-military state of Sri Lanka; and the various militarised constitutional monarchies that exist in places like Thailand.
I can’t think of a (nominally) Buddhist polity at any point in history that had any relationship to Marxist political philosophy. Buddhist states are typically conservative and authoritarian. China might be an exception except that they are so strongly influenced by Confucianist political thinking it’s hard to know. They went from feudalism to state socialism, and are now veering into capitalism. Maybe we could cite Asoka? A sort of ‘remorseless’ (a-śoka) imperialist who became a benign dictator?
Tang era Changan (capital city of China) makes a fascinating case study. Buddhist monks hoarded “incalculably wealth” (Beg, Historic Cities of Asia) not just from donations of coins counted in the billions, but from usury, and from the products of bonded agricultural labourers. Eventually the state had to sack the monasteries to regain control of their economy and it’s money supply (though they wouldn’t have thought in those terms).
Traditional Buddhism is strictly hierarchical, and institutionalises power relations through titles, robes, and other marks of status. The emphasis is on traditional conservative values (especially as seen through the lens of George Lakoff’s analysis of political metaphors). Father heads the family with mother in supporting role. Father is ” is morally strong, self-disciplined, frugal, temperate, and restrained.” Father teaches his children about right and wrong and “he teaches [them] to be self-disciplined, industrious, polite, trustworthy, and respectful of authority.” Etc. Sounds like you criticising X-Buddhists, Glenn 🙂
I’ve thought for a long time that Buddhism is far more compatible with conservative and libertarian values than with the left. Particularly American Buddhism. And yet most actual Buddhists I know are strongly influenced by Marx, and are deeply disturbed by the the NeoLiberal social policies being pursued in the UK at present. However when you look at the structures these former hippies and counter-culture anarchists have actually set up they are not communist by any means – they are top down, exclusive, patriarchal, distrustful of the hoipolloi.
I agree that it might be interesting to tease out the nuances of Buddhist political thinking, but the formative minds in Western Buddhism are mostly Baby Boomers who are falling back on the values they learned in childhood as the revolution they fantasized about has become an empty joke. They retain the Libertarian distrust of authorities but many of them have become authorities in institutional hierarchies of power (though many of them are in denial about this).
The phenomenon of unaffiliated teachers and practitioners could do with some unpacking, but I’ve run out of steam for today.
Jayarava (#3). You raise interesting points. Before I say more about that, a brief reminder that this blog’s critique is limited to contemporary western Buddhism. I should have made that limitation clear in the post.
But the topic you bring up is indeed very interesting and important. Buddhism does, of course, have a very long history of collusion with the political masters that be. In fact, one could make the argument that the two, Buddhism and politics, were woven together at the very outset. The protagonist Gotama, in any case, is extremely attentive to the various princes and kings who ruled the lands he traveled as he taught. We also have that persistent, yet not really substantiated, idea that the original sangha was structured along the lines of the “republican” Sakya tribal councils. Scholars also tell us that subsequent rulers and sangha leaders consciously followed the model created by the Buddha-figure. And still, all over the Buddhist world, there is a close link between the two. Heinz Bechert’s masterpiece Staat und Gesellschaft in den Ländern des Theravāda-Buddhismus (State and Society in Theravadan Buddhist Nations) brilliantly details this relationship.
But all of that says something about a political relationship imposed on Buddhism, rather then following from Buddhist postulates and principles. Your comments along those lines are very interesting to me. When I was in my twenties, I remember debating with fellow sangha members about what kind of political systems might be extrapolated from Buddhist thought. I concluded that it be anarchist in nature, whatever the details. My partners in debate felt it would be more democratic. I think, as so often happens, we were not really “extrapolating” anything, but rather simply expressing our current understanding of Buddhism. Anyway, I wish someone would do some of this work. That is, take the basic principles, axioms, etc., for his/her brand of Buddhism, and think through what sort of political theory they entail. That would be very revealing. Maybe someone can begin with seems, too me at least, a pretty obvious case: the American variety of Secular Buddhism.
One last point. You say that the traditional Buddhist “father,” as political patriarch:
is morally strong, self-disciplined, frugal, temperate, and restrained.” Father teaches his children about right and wrong and “he teaches [them] to be self-disciplined, industrious, polite, trustworthy, and respectful of authority.” Etc. Sounds like you criticising X-Buddhists, Glenn 🙂
Do you mean that I fit the description of a tradition “father”? I would have to modify that notion to the point of, I think, discounting it. I am indeed “self-disciplined,” “trustworthy,” and “industrious,” but “polite…and respectful of authority”? Not me. And I am hoping to have a similar bad influence on people reading this blog.
Jayarava — I love that you point out the unspoken hypocrisy that seems to be prevalent in some Buddhist groups. I would add that perhaps this is not just a problem with Buddhism but with any system that becomes entrenched. I see it everywhere. A system starts as creative, abstract, and free thinking. Then by virtue of too much effort to maintain the exact system, and perhaps power, it starts to display hierarchy, order, and conservatism. All the while the SPOKEN rhetoric of the original system continues and draws people in. Behold HYPOCRISY, and more converts to help maintain the system.
But then I guess that wasn’t specifically a critique of Secular Buddhism, but perhaps systems themselves…or at least a critique of blindness to/ignorance of systems that are operating right under our noses.
Can you explain further your statements about “father figures?” I am unsure of the tone. I want to assume it was perhaps a sarcastic tongue-in-cheek tone, but would prefer more discussion and explanation about it before I assume and contribute on this point.
Jayarava#3, Glenn #4, and Sometimes #5:
Regarding “power relations,” hierarchical structures, “unspoken hypocrisy,” the countercultural “collusion” with capitalism it must curry for favor, the predicament of “work-practice” as endured by the lowlier adepts vs. those more privileged that’s coming more from monastic “postulates and principles” (arguably, as feudalism may impose itself on today’s model): may I recommend this case study about a Buddhist experiment. It’s the first monastery (and co-ed) founded in a big city in the West, in the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. I agree w/ Glenn and Sometimes that a similar study of Secular Buddhism, with a more advanced cyber presence, invites research. (My own interest being how the dharma’s marketed and transmitted worldwide takes me into less theoretical terrain as I prefer to wander among pop culture.)
If you are curious about how Buddhist structures attempted to graft themselves onto Western ones, if not Marxist, then the San Francisco Zen Center may serve as a telling cautionary tale. “Shoes Outside the Door” by Michael Downing documents–by interviews with many who were there–Michael Baker and the S. F. Zen Center as he took over from Shunryu Suzuki in the early 1970s. What it or my blog’s review lacks in theory may be balanced by this 2001 book’s testimony from not historical studies of past polities but contemporary contexts for a sangha within our own capitalist predicament. It shows how idealism and alternative structures flounder when transplanted.
As these current scenarios remain S N-B’s focus, I share this and a couple of other texts to generate relevant discussion. They are not theoretical and they are not secular, but they provide raw material to mine from x-buddhists which can be refined for non-Buddhist speculation and implementation. With my own post #2 on “Buddhist Anarchism” via Gary Snyder by way of Marx, his recent biographer, and Cloud Atlas, I’ve already responded to Glenn’s encouragement to begin w/ Marx’s writing.
As to the field where secularists may jostle with Buddhists, I have not read Walter Isaacson’s bio of Steve Jobs, but that’d be another valuable subject to analyze. How did Apple’s vision try to supplant and/or cash in on Western capitalist consumer commodification by design and promotion supposedly inspired by an Asian or Zen ethos? Flimflammery or sincerity? Steve Silberman from an x-Buddhist p-o-v starts wondering in 2011 with “http://blogs.plos.org/neurotribes/2011/10/28/what-kind-of-buddhist-was-steve-jobs-really/” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”>”What Kind of Buddhist Was Steve Jobs, Really?”
Speaking of the wired realm, carrying over from “Practicing in Delusion” and its sub-thread query about an online “sorta-sangha”: here’s an Australian Zen practitioner and sociologist’s 2012 analysis of attempts at meditation in virtual communities My brief Amazon US review: Joanne Miller’s “Buddhist Meditation and the Internet”.
Hi Glenn – no, I don’t see you as a father figure, but I think your descriptions of X-Buddhist followers resemble Lakoffs descriptions of the children of conservative families (I could be wrong about that). I think we (myself included) behave as if, and even go searching for, a disciplinarian father figure (someone who creates and sustains order), which frequently leads to disaster. I’ve seen so many people attempt to subordinate their will to our group in utter naivete and then have massive reactions when the father figures turned out not to be strict or particularly moral. It’s all so tedious. The myth of the ordered universe is particularly strong in religious people methinks.
I’ve often pointed out to friends that historically Buddhism has only taken root in other countries when the rulers have been converted and that until we start to reach the ruling classes we can never hope to create a Buddhist state in the West (as some wish to do). And as you point out the ruling classes have a vested interest in ruling so they will shape Buddhism in their image – and Buddhism has often historically been a tool of oppression (one way or another). I think this has to be the background for any discussion of this sort. I would argue that the patriarchal, hierarchical structures are evident in Buddhist literature and archaeology from the beginning. There is no sign of anarchy, but that may be because *the conservatives wrote the histories*.
However I see the direction you wish to go in and I’ll give it some more thought: if I started from my fundamental values what kind of political system would it produce? I almost dread to think.
@Sometimes – Yes. The political metaphors I refer to draw on types of families (simplified to two main types by Lakoff) and they surely do manifest in all kinds of groups. Most of us don’t understand our own unconscious motivations and biases. We mainly see them in retrospect as we notice patterns of things going wrong – which can take years and many iterations. Even when we think we know, we probably don’t.
I heartily recommend reading the long paper by George Lakoff that I linked to. The paper is called “Metaphor, Morality, and Politics” and it outlines two family based metaphors for political styles (with a bit of American bias). Lakoff is a linguist who, like Chomsky but less successfully, dabbles in political commentary. Lakoff has scintillating and original thoughts on how we think about our experience.
Re Glenn #4
Glenn, maybe I’ve missed it before but your comment that “there is indeed a close relationship between non-buddhism and Marxism” is the most explicit you have been on this blog.
While apparently anti-capitalist you have always struck me as being rather cagey about this in the past. If I understand your approach correctly, you have been more concerned with the ‘destruction’ of x-buddhism and turning the questions back on us, while keeping your own political views somewhat obscured.
Now that you are more explicit, I’m interested to know whether you still retain any of your anarchism and where you might diverge from marxism. What are your view on democracy? What has any of this to do with buddhism?
Having said that I do think it’s good you encourage us to think for ourselves.
Geoff (#8). I have discussed my personal political views explicitly, if somewhat abstractly and fragmentarily, in maybe a dozen comments on this blog. I’ve mentioned, for instance, that I was very influenced as a teenager by certain anarchist ideas. And I don’t mean the -beer-swilling-protest-yammering-Galoise-smoking variety. I learned anarchist thought from very sober, mature people in the experimental high school I went to. Maybe I will be explicit later. Maybe not. But it’s pretty basic stuff, more of an ethics with political implications rather than a politics. I have also been very influenced by marxist thought, or I should say, by Marx’s writings. Again, his thought comes down to more of a personal ethics for me. Maybe that is, after all, the idea behind the slogan “all politics is local.” By “ethics,” that is to say, I don’t mean some external action-regulating system. I am talking about a reflexive knowing what to do within the situation. Because the situation changes all the time, so do my ethics. Both anarchist and marxist thought has, more than any other “political” thought, convinced me of the truth of (i) the singular situation and (ii) the inalienabilty of the human. This blog is a manifestation of my anarcho-marxist (I hate that fucking term) influenced “politics.” For instance, the blog is set up to permit the force of labor/thought. I don’t want to revel any other secrets, though. You brought up your parents. My father was–still is–an ardent progressive who admired Marx. He was in the communist party for a while. He eventually became very engaged in grassroots progressive politics as a college student. He and my mother were harassed by the FBI to testify against a friend who was active in the in the communist party. This was McCarthy era America. He told them to fuck off. He lived his politics more than he advertised them. I learned a lot from him about situational ethics and politics. Basically, I follow the Lacan-Beckett line and just keep going, not giving up on my desire (what I desire forms me as a subject). My politics is not to compromise the truth.
Anyway, I’ve said all this and more before. I’d have to search the comments and then go back and dig them out. I don’t want to do that–but you can! Here’s a succinct statement of my politics:
I have inherited from the dadaists and the surrealists
A wariness concerning technological society–
Its grayness, uniformity, and boredom.
Like the horsemen of the apocalypse
I know the yearning for a completely different world,
A paradise which can–and should–be realized.
I take my fantastic constructions from utopia
But want to integrate them into realizable projects.
I refuse to banish the dream and boil down the real
To what is currently achievable.
In moments of bombast and, I suppose, desperation,
I claim for myself that supreme disposition
Of children, animals, and idiotic saints: hopefulness
That others will respond with concern
To that which stands before them.
Does Gary Snyder’s 1969 essay (#2) offer any guidance as to x-buddhist “ethics with political implications” that can generate practical models for non-Buddhists? Is Beat poet Snyder the equivalent of the “very sober, mature” people who’ve explicated and lived anarchism? Last October, I reviewed Sasha and Emma a joint biography of Berkman and Goldman, and Emma’s own reprinted Anarchy! anthology of the Mother Earth writings edited by Peter Glassgold. Was that fractious pair always mature?
Following my own #2 and #6, I’ll again elicit responses to Snyder’s attempts from his own fractious era (full of a situational-ist stance) to place the counterculture’s Marxian and anarchist influences within frames of reference that may include Buddhism rather than dismiss or demolish its resonance. Not to defend Buddhism, but to examine “Buddhist Anarchism” (as linked to the site above via #2) in ways that may assist us here to test the relevance of its arguments against violence, for cooperation, and promoting an ecological sustainability and small-scale economics that may align with, or may clash with, theorists whom on S N-B have been already analyzed or recommended as models for the “manifestations” here. I wonder about the hippie-era Diggers, too, and how psychedelics may or may not have sparked “transformation.” If the definition of “intoxicants” as we all know results in a continuum of permissive or restrictive interpretations, do we take these substances today as remedies or poisons?
Speaking of poison, with fresh headlines warning of unprecedented climate change this century, the environmental impacts of both capitalist and communist systems who’ve eagerly exhausted the resources of our earth, its habitats, its creatures, and its workers appear ever more daunting. Many smart people precede us in bringing about or fumbling change: what efforts to bring about “real happiness” (to return to Marx’s phrase in #2) for all sentience do his theory-toting followers accelerate–or terminate?
The concomitant tension between ascetics and indulgence in our consumer society, full of gadgets we may access for this forum–as the section I noted above in #2 from Cloud Atlas touches on– complicates any “activism” via a virtual community. How much we admit online vs. personal reticence, as is hinted above in #10, adds to the challenge, as that Buddhist Meditation + the Internet study investigates as to efficacy of physical vs. mediated “occupation.” I recall my presence and my observations at Occupy L.A. in Fall 2011 vs. coverage of Occupy livestreamed as a relevant digression.
During the punk scene half a generation after Snyder, my anarchist guidance was sporadic: a few Catholic Workers, the peace movement and C.O.’s, the then-nascent Greens, and reading Murray Bookchin. The Marxists were far more prevalent among the leftists I encountered, and I imagine this to be the case for those schooled in “our” generation informally or academically. That’s why I remain curious about–and beyond– prevalent Marxian models. Many on S N-B reveal intense training under tough mentors. Lacking such a boot camp, I sidle alongside you, kicking up a little dust–at least in my eyes.
P.S. Two errata from #6. (Given my own “wariness about technological” process, sometimes this site does not allow me to preview before posting.) Richard Baker, not Michael. Got two “father figures” confused, due to the unfortunate prominence in local coverage of the L.A. Archdiocese sex scandals. M. Baker was a pedophile known as the “Hollywood priest.” R. Baker was the Abbot of the S.F. Center with his own slew of scandals.
Sorry about the broken link in #6
What Kind of Buddhist Was Steve Jobs, Really?
I would like to step back from the discussion so far and return to the basic question of this entry: “What are the implications of the non-buddhist critique for political thought and action?”
This is a curious question. To me, the wording suggests that 1) speculative non-buddhism is now itself an ideology, or—at the very-least—a recognizable frame of reference, and 2) that ideology or frame of reference may have implications for political thought or action.
I have lots of other questions about the basic question above because I find it to be very broad. I also have some tentative responses to my narrowing of that question. But first, how about it? Is speculative non-buddhism truly speculative, or does it now have a shape? If so, what is the shape beyond mere process of speculative critique?
I’ve given it some more thought and I don’t think I’d start with Buddhism if I was going to create a political system from scratch. I would certainly be influenced by Buddhism, but I wouldn’t begin there. Mainly because Buddhism as we know is encrusted with a whole bunch of non-scientific ideas and superstitions; and because I think McMahan is right and Buddhism in the present is as much to do with Romanticism and Protestantism as Buddhadharma. I have no real problem with scientific rationalism, but this puts me at odds with all forms of Romanticism which give me the shits. Protestantism is somewhere in between.
I’d start with basics like observing that we are social animals evolved for particular kinds of social structures – hierarchies are inevitable and I don’t see anarchy ever working (I’m struck by observations in Adam Curtis’s film ‘All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace’, part two especially his observations on the fate of US counter culture communes in the 1960s – virtually all were taken over by strong individuals and there was no process of checks and balances).
Maybe I’d start with reading Jane Goodall’s book In the Shadow of Man. It’s a good primer on basic social primate behaviour and social dynamics. I would decentralise a lot of decision making, paying close attention to the research of Robert Dunbar on effective groups sizes for various purposes and arrange the structure of participation into layers with people providing conduits up and down.
I’d pay attention to researchers like Dan Pink you seem to understand human motivation quite well. I’d want to incorporate ideas drawn from the work of Lynn Margulis, particularly her critiques of NeoDarwinism and Social Darwinism – I’d give prominence to the notion of symbiosis as the driving force of evolution, and while not dismissing competition, relegating it to a subordinate place. Insights from Anthropology, Sociology and Social Psychology about influences on behaviour would replace mad John Nash’s Game Theory as the ideological basis for regulating society.
I think my political system would be combined with a form of capitalism. Not the present NeoLiberal system – but one built on a more rational version of economics. I would implement ideas put forward by Ann Pettifor, Steve Keen, Ha-Joon Chang, Nouriel Roubini and other heterdox economists. Every 50 years all private debts would be forgiven. A more sane form of money supply would be implemented based on the proposals put forward by the Positive Money Campaign. Environmental concerns would be central to determining economic policy. In terms of taxation I would radically alter the balance of how we tax the factors of production. At present we focus on labour (wages) and capital (profit), but we don’t really tax land (rent). Rent seeking is one of the most pernicious factors at work in the present. I would adjust this so that much more of the burden of taxation fell on land and other rent producing factors. Thus I would not tax a residence, but anyone with more than one would be taxed heavily on the more expensive of the two. I’d like to see virtually everyone have a direct stake in the company they work for – if not ownership of the means of production then at least a stake.
I would show everyone the Lewis Powell memo and remind them that while hippies were fucking their brains out (with sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll) the squares literally took over the world and (metaphorically) fucked them up some more. The revolution certainly happened, but it wasn’t what the peace and love brigade imagined. Dropping out is suicide. We need to educate people in deconstructing bullshit: every kid should be taught to recognise and deconstruct bullshit: political. religious, and commercial. Because when we believe bullshit, like “passivity is a revolution” or “all you need is meditation” we end up getting fucked. I think George Carlin is one of the best commentators on this, and his language is appropriate not only to the USA but to the whole world. “It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it”.
In terms of voting I think it would be consensus at lower levels – up to the 150/1500 level perhaps. All large scale representation would be proportional, and thus all government by majority. compromise and cooperation. The adversarial nature of present day democracy in the so-called “free world” (not) is a defect and one that fritters away opportunities. We may need to provide incentives to politicians to grow the fuck up. One of our major problems at present is lobbying (aka corruption) – for every congressman in the USA there are 5 full-time finance industry lobbiests. Buying political influence is a huge problem.
If I had to get from where we are now, to this, I suspect some fairly draconian measures would be required to redistribute the wealth. Mind you with Warren Buffet and Bill Gates as role models maybe nationalising the multi-billionaires might be unnecessary. Though a little soul searching at how they came to be that rich in the first place might not go amiss.
I don’t think you can get to this from Buddhism without a lot of convoluted mucking about – and we’d end up just arguing about trivia for centuries as we’ve always done. The building blocks all exist for the political system I’d like to see and which would be far more consistent with my values as a Buddhist than anything presently available, including any nominally Buddhist government now or at any time in history (that I’m aware of).
The last thing we need is a political systems founded on immutable truths. We already suffer from politicians who adhere to ideologies and refuse to consider alternatives. Most Buddhists I know are reluctant to let go of the tradition, so they kind of make themselves useless in a world of change. And most Buddhist have disdain for the material world so they’re not really qualified to be in charge of it. You can’t run the world if you fucking hate everything about it. “Render unto Caesar!” If you are running the economy of a country it’s more important that you understand economics than that you understand paṭicca-samuppāda. On the whole Buddhists strike me as far too ignorant to take on redesigning our world: they don’t pay attention to politics and economics because it sullies them.
OK that’s probably more than enough, though far too little in many ways. And remember folks, if you don’t like these ideas, I have others. (With apologies to Marshall McLuhan).
Glenn re #10
Thanks for your response. Is this relevant, if at all, to Buddhist thought?
Jayarava #13 mentions his political views are consistent with his Buddhist values, one of which I take to be compassion. From your past comments you (& Tom Pepper) don’t seem to be particularly concerned with compassion, at least explicitly but more concerned with finding and not compromising the truth.
Is that a fair assessment? If so, where does that leave Buddhist thought?
Compassion as a concept seems to be a slippery slope where as truth is a litte more concrete. What is compassion? I’m not sure. I like to be really specific about my values like active non-violence, ending hunger, shelter, no war, health care for all. I guess this would be buddhist too. At the this point, I really don’t know what buddhism is. There’s probably some ‘truth’ within it, but it’s a hot mess.
One way to see compassion is precisely telling the truth, much like a therapist might. For example, I do my patient no favors by keeping from him that he has body oder that might have something to do with his social problems. In that same sense, I see Tom being quite compassionate when he tells someone they are stupid. He’s telling the truth and is not being mean spirited at all. I’ve had to work very hard in my practice/life to be able to listen to the truth. When I have strong reactions to feedback it’s usually true. In that case, I do the work of looking at the reaction, thinking about it etc. If it’s not true, then I waste no time with it. In this same sesne, Marx was quite compassionate…very concerned about the suffering of all, the capitalist and the worker caught in an alienating system.
Do you also think it is compassionate to call someone stupid who you believe has a mental illness?
You know, I don’t know. Like I said, compassion is a slippery slope. All I can say is that I too got into a spat with Tom on this blog and was able to stop my end of it and really learned a lot from Tom. At the same time, the tone of this blog can be off-putting if one doesn’t understand the intentionality behind it. I will say that some of the interactions on the previous post were quite juvenile and ridiculous. It’s hard not to take things personal in life, but nothing should be taken personally on this blog. To answer your question, no, I wouldn’t call a mentally ill person stupid, but that says more about me than anyone else. Compassion is not all black and white.
That’s a very generous answer.
Does he also call his self- conscious overweight thirteen year old daughter stupid for not improving her diet?
Or does that say more about me than anyone else? I suppose that’s my problem – all that’s missing is the roshi’s stick as well ….
Another way of looking on it is that his obnoxiousness unnecessary obscures what insightful observations he might make. But then nothing’s going to stand in the way of “forcing the appearance of truth” ….
No wonder Marxism has trouble getting off the ground. Can I suggest a good spin doctor…?
Myself – I think I might stick with juvenile….
Yeah, this whole right speech thing is interesting. I know that I have dismissed things that are probably true because the communicator was an asshole. At the same time, maybe I’ll never get beyond a certain amount of delusion. How will I ever know? Consensus doesn’t seem to mean truth. For some reason, I just decided to quit getting caught up in the rhetoric here and find nuggets of knowledge that I hadn’t thought of.
Anyway, I’m curious about your statement about ‘why Marxist has had trouble getting off the ground’. Not specifically in the context of Tom’s comments, but more in what you see as it’s failure to communicate. I was very attracted to it in college, but then moved in a more liberal capitalist direction. As life has not turned out any way I was told it would with all my hard work, I started revisiting Marx and the ideas around democratic socialism. The alienation and exploitation of labor really seem true to me at this point. That’s about as far as I can go at this point. Obviously some sort of state run imperialist regime is not what the next step I have in mind.
Hi Geoff: re 16
Here’s a thought: If a commenter has a mental illness, but offers that information in full disclosure before uttering stupid gibberish nonsense (plus being rude and disruptive), they will be spared being called ‘stupid’. On the other hand, if the diagnoses came here by another commenter on this blog, that person may be still be called stupid as well as mentally ill.
I’m disappointed that this discussion has got so self-referential. Does no one else think about politics and broader issues? It seems to me a retrograde step to be discussing our personal problems instead of the ideas at stake. And isn’t this entirely typical of navel gazing Buddhists?
It’s precisely this reframing of every discussion in personal terms that makes Buddhism irrelevant to the world at large. In ancient Greek someone who was not involved in politics and absorbed in their own affairs was referred to as an idiot (where idio means ‘self’) You can’t extrapolate a political system from idiocy.
Jayarava #13 + 21
You’ve made cogent and clear points about alternative structures in the light of this thread, as I tried to at #2, 6, 11. Thanks for the Lewis Powell memo and the placing of that in contexts that mesh well alas with the ’69 Snyder attempt to shake things up, or maybe cool things down, among the disenchanted idealists. The strain of the counterculture to foment change and remain non-violent or turn to violence, and the commodification as the granola generation spawned Whole Foods, and geeks on dope founded Apple, makes for me (an adolescent at the end of the Aquarian Age) a fascinating if cautionary tale. I watched a film about a similar New Age trend recently, Kumaré, which I offer as a parable for discussion.
I’ll hope Glenn’s entry sparks sustained attention and real-world analyses. I remain puzzled about how one can integrate a disbelief in permanence with an immanent and then perpetuated triumph of the worker and peasant class. I’ve also long wondered about violence in the cause of equality, given the traditional withdrawal from such, and within the tensions that Jayarava noted earlier in actual Buddhist-ruled polities. Finally, as many have, I wonder where in Marx how much room’s for the spirit as apart from the material, or if any such separation makes sense in a super-structured system. Liberation theology and the “Red Buddhism” of the dalits may be applicable analogies. The practicality of this endeavor: testing Marxian models against what we know since of the fate of those who tried to adapt them– and not only postmodern critiques or psychoanalytical applications– to me remains a very immediate a concern given our post-Occupy malaise and systematic failures. Some disagree; apparently shifting away from everyday events back to theoretical speculation, given the blog’s title, beckons more.
Many of S N-B’s theoretical posts (cf. the one after this, as you all are active there) may generate dozens to over a hundred comments within a few days; others as this one to date hesitate. Such is the nature of conversation; even as you and I try to spark it, why this fizzles I can’t jumpstart at a distance. We tried.
I visit here for the contributions from S N-B’s community that make sense to me practically; for others, it appears they thrive more on theory. For me, teaching in an urban technical college, I must connect by less elevated levels of communicating. Marx’s predicament when his 1840s Cologne proletariat did not have the foggiest what that journalist-activist with a doctorate was going on about as he addressed them as his audience– full of notions about surplus-this and Hegel-that– needs to be remembered today, too.
That new Sperber bio of Marx was reviewed (stub for “The Revolutionary”) by Terry Eagleton in the April 2013 “Harper’s,” if anyone wants to triangulate his take with my review linked in #2 on the relevance or lack of re: Marxist ideas, given his own recent championing of them in Why Marx Was Right which I found intriguing more for his attempt to place Marx in a social democratic and possibly decentralized anarchist countercultural milieu, which does not receive this same emphasis in Sperber, to be sure. It’s telling that in our post-Occupy mood/mode, fewer intellectuals or everyday folks regard Marx’s ideas as currently viable, even among his interpreters such as Eagleton. Yes, I know some disagree and champion Marxism as the vanguard of world communism. I recall the Marxian pamphlets I saw scattered and underfoot when I hauled books to the 2011 Occupy L.A. encampment.
Marx’s aura survives, like that “halo” over our vale of tears. I cited Karl up in #2; he’s an icon now for a few to treasure in a ruin of late capitalism, where what follows us appears uncertain, if we survive at all. As Jayarava notes above at #13, Marx may not be a viable mass model. That #2 Cloud Atlas vignette serves as a cautionary tale about the fate of dharma in an era that’s nearly successful in killing off the Buddha, if not quite anticipating Maitreya, who may be all but D.O.A. in that future dystopia.
This will excite few if any here given TNH et alii, and Nathan Thompson’s skepticism about psychological norms, but as a sign of what passes for a bold critique among Buddhists wondering about political impacts and social change, I found this “by one of the most highly regarded Zen practitioner writers in the blogosphere today”, for what it’s worth: Maladjusted Buddhism.
Can someone explain to me what it means to “adopt the project of nonbuddhism?” I get (and appreciate!) the process of speculative nonbuddhism, especially Glenn Wallis’ self description> of the purpose of Speculative Non Buddhism…
What I don’t understand is what it would mean to be a critic of x-buddhism–to do this critique–and then ask the question that jumpstarts this blog entry, found in the opening paragraphs: What are the implications of the non-buddhist critique for political thought and action?
If I am a restaurant critic does that have implications for my politics? I’m sure I must be overlooking something obvious, but I would appreciate it if someone could point that out to me.
Still trying to figure out, how does one extrapolate a (general?) politics out of critical engagement with a particular institution… Does a critical stance towards something point towards a theory of politics, or is it the other way around? I realize that both critic and object of criticism inform one another, so to speak–and I certainly understand clearly how one’s political views color criticism–but please help me see how (well-deserved) criticism of x-buddhism of necessity implies that a political theory may be extrapolated from that criticism. I don’t get it. Of all the comments on this thread, I don’t see any idea that is explicated arising specifically out of the process of open-ended criticism of x-buddhism. What am I missing here?
Steve (#23, 124)
Oz supplies a good example at the post “Practicing in Delusion,” comment #66.
The original point about extrapolation was more concept-specific than general. That is, I asked how certain x-buddhist ideas translate from a spiritualized domain to a political one. I took the example of equanimity. It is valued in x-buddhism as a quality necessary to personal well-being and social harmony. But how might it manifest in the political arena? What do you say to someone who argues that significant social-political change requires non-equanimity? Such a person–and I know many of them–would equanimity as a hindrance to, not a requirement for, a better world. So, what do particular x-buddhist values look like when extrapolated in this manner?
Me, too. It was meant as a question, one to be given thought. The point is that political positions and implicit social values are present in all x-buddhist formulations. But since x-buddhism understands itself as a spiritual structure, it is blind to its political-social implications. But those implications are present, and they are solidified and passed on via the x-buddhist sangha. You tell me: What kind of political-social structure is reflected and perpetuated in a community that has a strict teacher-student hierarchy, that has a higher-lower student structure, that values order and conformity and inculcates these values through ritual and dharma talks, that teaches Gelassenheit in the midst of the world’s tumult, that emphasizes new forms of naming and style. Now, compare that to a group that consciously introduces forms to subvert traditional hierarchies, etc,. etc. Do you see my point? So, we can ask, what kind of political-social formations are being perpetuated on, say, the Secular Buddhist Association sites? You can do that analysis. And then look at what kinds of political-social formations would follow from a site like this. It’s not clear and obvious. It’s work to be done.
This I understand; it’s been made perfectly clear many places:
The use of equanimity to illustrate your point is instructive to the point made above. Equanmiity is a value, and the value implies a politics. Pretty clear to grasp. What’s not clear to me at this point is the fundamental values of this criticism, this site, this endeavor, this… nonxbuddhism that in turn would point to a political theory. The prime value that I see here is that of questioning received ideas, especially those of xbuddhism. Is that value alone sufficient to form a politics? Are you posing the question of “What useful values could be extracted from nonxbuddhism and serve as the basis for extrapolating a politics?” Or, are there other values represented here that would serve as the basis for extrapolation to a politics. Or, maybe a different question: is it necessary to have some (a set?) of values prior to fabrication of a political theory?
I see the connection between xbuddhism and the work of extrapolating its implied politics. That is interesting, revealing, and probably personally experienced by many of us drawn to this site. What I don’t see is any particular connection between the nonxbuddhist project and a politics. I don’t see that questioning received forms and practices implies anything political except possibly the act of creative destruction. Is there more?
Glen Wallis :
I have tried my best to understand your overall arguments in this blog, and despite some instances of undeniable allergy / intolerance I share some of your disdain towards American forms of ‘branded’ buddhism : its in may instances a degenerate, corrupted capitalistic form of marketplace activity peddled by vendors who deepen ideas of materialistic interpretations of human well-being far more than what it should have done in a fiduciary capacity :: promote non-materialism.
The main area where I disagree with your way of looking is that you do not attempt to interpret Buddhism from a personal standpoint : what the average person has to benefit from it, even though its basic dispensing mechanism (the ‘professional’ buddhist lobby is far removed from its ‘source’ goals of creating ‘monks’ who have no material motives as opposed to today’s self-help gurus who are often industrially promoting it.) The attack on Buddhist ideas is far less productive than the attack on the ‘vending industry’, if you consider how Martin Luther’s attack on the vendors was far more effective in the Protestant reformations, than attack Catholic doctrine per se. Its a matter of being ‘practical’ – by not hastening to throw the baby with the bath water. Ideas are practically impossible to fight through propaganda or methodological skepticism alone, they stay on, as long as they remain relevant to people’s lives. If you accept classical Marxism without any criticism that : “Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand.” (Karl Marx, Grundrisse, 1858), you are in essence denying any possibility of existence of personal transformation and growth.
Do you really see a legitimate mechanism to implement Marxism through communism in modern democracies : who are you going to overthrow, and how ? Its important by all means to fight capitalism, but trying to find ‘scapegoats’ for capitalism (as your current attempts to find it in x-buddhism) is something which although might make sense to you in a marxist context, is something which stands on very thin ice. One of the fundamental reasons for this lies in the fact that the way Marx defined ‘das capital’ was quite different from the challenges which modern Western societies face. Capital isn’t just money, neither ‘labour’ as it was in its classical sense. It incorporates intellectual capital in a large sense, as Western economies have increasingly become reliant on knowledge-based assets in service economies. As en-masse production has in large chunks shifting to Asian countries, with economic globalization (and free trade), the classical Marxist arguments I am afraid, are anachronistic. There is no burgeoisie any more, neither the working classes as in the 18th and 19th centuries. Instead its China which holds the keys to ‘capitalistic goods production’ on a large scale, and most of the manufacturing capital has flowed there.
In our service based Western economies, only innovation and technology remain the key drivers of intellectual capital development. The competition you see out there, people trying to get education jobs, bigger salaries, isn’t the same as class struggle anymore. Employers in the service sector are forced to look at skills as their main asset base in IT, pharma, medicine, aerospace and banking; and in this, they have a vested interest to develop skills if they want to remain sustainable. The real enemy of the people in recent years has been the centralized financial system, which has been susceptible to considerable manipulation with the aid of governement legislation to deregulate it, and has led to certain unscrupulous banking practices to achieve massive power over the governments too. Apart from rampant corruption. If you attempt to look at a Marxist solution to this basic problem, you will have to attack the financial system head on as today’s main sources of exploitative evil, and there is no class struggle here – the notion is ridiculous. A handful of major banking institutions have taken over political control – they are the ones who are controlling every aspect of the economy. Industry is stagnating, there are no jobs for life anymore, and every institution or business is just struggling to survive.
Calling Buddhism as a capitalistic mechanism is ridiculous as you are ignoring the reality and the bleakness of the situation. There is no Marxian class struggle to fight for, the enemy is the Big Banking Industry who have got everyone by their neck. They are not governed by any capitalistic ideology in the way Marx described, they have no fortresses or property to defend. They know only one thing – to control money, control prices and profit from instability and chaos. They know the art of creating money out of nothing. And they certainly dont look at capital the way Marx did – its irrelevant to them, as they create money out of thin air by exploiting the fractional reserve system (no one has been able to put up any resistance on this front since Abraham Lincoln I believe.)
X-Buddhism and speculative Buddhism are infantile, childish intellectual diversions that would not even have a tiny ripple on any way of effecting a Marxism in this climate. The enemy is too powerful, and Karl Marx is totally irrelevant as a solution in this global threat that we face.
I find Marxist critique to be helpful in seeing the ‘money class’ issues you illustrate above. The ‘revolution’ will probably be more of an implosion, more than anything else. I am curious though, if you seem Marx as irrelevant and non-buddhism infantile, what is your paradigm for critique? Solutions?
The solutions are being discussed out in the open. The ‘deregulation’ loopholes must be closed first. 1. Fractional reserve must end. 2. The hegemony of big banks must be ended through repealing laws that allow them unlimited power. 3. A return to the gold standard is being urged. 4. Pressure on governments to re-introduce some protectionism which will bring jobs back from rampant outsourcing.
Making a 36 degree U-turn, even Alan Greenspan has talked about ending the FED. http://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanlewis/2013/03/14/if-alan-greenspan-wants-to-end-the-fed-times-must-be-changing/
The fall of the money masters is more likely to happen when the methods of making money from nothing are snapped down shut one by one. (a) Return of 60’s style regulation when it comes to lending (b) Particularly in the USA, more aggressive grassroots campaigns by socialist democrats. Don’t see why if all people with socialist mindsets act together in unison, with the trade and labour unions, the socialist lobby wouldnt become a force often as in European parliaments. (By the way, the USA social democrats for some reason is anti-communist, although it need not be so. IF you look at Europe.) (c) Large-scale non-violent but sustained campaigns are possible against those aspects of globalisation which fundamentally help Big Banks than people. There is no useful purpose that lifting trade barriers serve apart from making Banks richer.
Give democracy serious thought and respect, and use every rightful and lawful mechanism to use demonstrations, activism and raising public awareness of the reality of the situation. But first, respect one of democracy’s fundamental rules : do not attack people for their beliefs. And that includes X-Buddhists. They are not the people who have any significant role in the modern abuse of capitalism.
Isn’t the act of creative destruction good enough for staters?
Of course if you conceive of dialogue only in the realms of theory then it seems to ‘destroy’ only in realm of ‘ideas’. But theory and the realm of ideas are not separate from the actual world. What I mean is that all of your statements here are political acts in the real world. Your interventions here are the active side of a two -way interaction –between theory and the world of ideas, and practice and the actual social world. These dichotomies can be conceived as separate entities by thought and that’s all well and good. But they are ‘events’ in the real world of thought and social practice.
We don’t have to consciously act in a political way in order to have a political affect—that is our interventions here are already an extrapolation in practice. But we can go further and consciously extrapolate— we can make our interventions consciously political if we desire to do so.
I think one of the obvious implications is that the very nature of the non-buddhist critique is that it cannot help but have political implications by virtue of the critique itself. This is because any critigue of xbuddhism must necessarily critique the default political stance of xbuddhism. By default I mean the condition in which xbuddhism hides its own political implications from itself but none-the-less extrapolates its political implications in practice. And this in turn begs the overt question: Is the non- Buddhist heuristic sufficient to critique the political implications of x buddhisms default position?
I think the answer has to be yes and no. Yes, non-buddhism already exposes the ideological nature of xbuddhisms default position; No, non-buddhism is not itself a critique of the relationship between ideology and particular social formations; for that it needs some version of Marxism.
Does this mean that non-buddhists must necessarily adopt some version of Marxism as a political stance?
I don’t think so, although I think it would be a good thing if they did (as long as they subjected it to a rigorous critique). I think it is possible to adapt elements of the Marxist heuristic without making a decision in favour of Marxism. That might involve a parallel project here of subjecting Marxism to a non-marxist critique in order to discern the elements that would be useful as critical tools of use within non-buddhism.
One way of doing this might be to extract key Marxist postulates from various seminal Marxist texts and subject them to a critique in order to push them to what laruelle refers to as ‘the last thought but one’ A good example of such a procedure concerning the term ‘prolatariat’ is contained in Katerina Kolosova’s text available here. http://www.academia.edu/381829/The_Project_of_Non-Marxism_Arguing_for_Monstrously_Radical_Concepts
The relevant section comes near the end of the text.
Sidg219 (#27). Thanks for these great comments and questions. I will write a post to clarify how I view the relationship between the critical work we are calling non-buddhism and politics.
A couple of real quick points, sort of paragraph by paragraph.
* “The attack on Buddhist ideas is far less productive than the attack on the ‘vending industry.” I completely agree. Non-buddhism leaves Buddhist postulates intact. It attacks precisely the x-buddhist “vending industry”–the current mechanisms through which those postulates are formed and manifested. And the approach begins and ends with “the personal.”
* I am not in the least interested in “implementing marxism.” I am interested in destroying x-buddhism as we know it. Who is being overthrown? The x-buddhist “vending industry’s” grip on Buddhist-articulated truth. Certain marxian ideas have entered this blog through the theory’s use of (largely, but not uniformly, accepted) thinking derived from Laruelle, Badiou, and Althusser.
* You say, “Calling Buddhism as a capitalistic mechanism is ridiculous as you are ignoring the reality and the bleakness of the situation.” I am not–non-buddhism does not–call Buddhism a capitalistic mechanism. It asks questions like: in what ways do current iterations of x-buddhism mirror and reproduce the social-economic status quo? to what extent are x-buddhist communities complicit in the perpetuation of the capitalist subject, albeit a relaxed and optimally de-stressed one? how might central x-buddhist “spiritual” values like “non-reactivity” extrapolate out to social-political (non)action?
* That last paragraph is the mantra of the reactionaries. It’s also pretty stupid. You figure out on your own why I say this.
Thanks! More later . . .
Unfortunately, more regulation does not address the problems with Capitalism. For example, consumerism, commodification, lobbying, profit motive, poverty, failure of charity, exploitation, alienation.
32- The desire to own property and the fruits of one’s labor is so anthropologically instinctual, that it takes an entire suspension of human rights to achieve ‘all capital being owned by the state’ (not one exception). The regulations in the systems that allow and encourage private capital are merely to ensure that no one is kept out of participating in the market by force. Agreed, that its difficult to keep markets totally free, but why can’t a man call his home and his land his own ? And sent off to prison if he doesn’t agree that he is not allowed to own anything.
One’s labor in a capitalist system does not allow one to even buy the product one creates. A man’s property and hard work is a myth. Alienation and exploitation are the reality. No one ever truly owns any property and ALL property was initially taken for free…no work. You need to do a bit of reading on the critique of capitalism.
I readily accept the failure of cartesian dualism, representationalism, etc. and can see the merits and potentials of enactivism, etc.. I take it that an important aspect of the criticism here is that capitalism has a vested interest in falsified philosophical assumptions. It seems clear enough that imperialism has a vested interest in capitalism but no less clear that capitalism is by no means the only position it is holding in it’s portfolio. Imperialism appears to thrive as readily in past and present communist states where marxism is not the anathema it is in capitalist states. Even more concerning is the viability of imperialism in a state such as feudal Tibet. Obviously non-dualism has long been central in Tibetan buddhist thought however this has done nothing to mitigate the entrenchment of imperialism in Tibetan buddhist culture (or any buddhist culture) past or present. With this in mind why should we suppose that any shift in philosophical understanding could or should have any impact on a socio-political dynamic which appears to be able to function equally well regardless of the prevailing philosophical culture?
An idiotically generalised statement that’s so obviously self-defeating that I wonder about your motivation…maybe you are just whiling away your time in between stints at whatever it is you do. Anyone who has the capacity to compose it must also know that its content is generally contested… to proclaim it offhandedly is nonsense.
‘it takes’ implies that the experiment has already taken place. Where and when? If you are going to make such general statements you need to do it after offering sustained argument …instead you bleat what sounds like inane propaganda. ‘with no exception’…profound after-thought… give one example from history where that was attempted…try to explain in philosophical terms how such a thing could even be possible?
Again; bland statement with no supporting argument… you certainly love pontificating. Don’t you think that maybe (just maybe!) the fact that capital is held in the hands of less than 5% of the population might be construed as a sort of ‘force’ or at least a constraint that achieves a similar result while sustaining a pretence of neutrality on the part of the state. On the other hand maybe that’s expecting too much from your ‘cognitive capacities’
‘Agreed’…comforting to know we are all in agreement with you as you pontificate? Free markets …love to see you have a go at explaining that one.
I presume you are American… it sounds like it.. if you are not you should apply for citizenship immediately… for you are American in all but deed. (I don’t of course mean the geographical place or its people but an Imperial state of mind)
Ah land and home! How quaint…rugged individualism… America, America blah blah blah blah blah blah… how does the song go? Why don’t you drag your American ass onto your horse now and ride off into the sunset! (and drag your soiled flag after you)
And while your at it try to get that ‘black man’ in your ‘white house’ to stop exterminating by drone the enemies of your ‘free market’ ( and with total impunity of course…ah the American way ..one international law for the strong and another for the weak. But of course rugged individuals always sleep well at night knowing ‘land and home’ are being kept safe)
In the immortal words of Tom Pepper…fuck off.
Thanks for pushing back against this reactionary nonsense…Beautifully stated; hats off to you, sir.
Capitalism ‘functions well’ only for a small minority. And yes, I do think a philosophical change can impact socio-political culture. This idea of Endism just stops the precise conversation this blog is attempting to have. X-Buddhism has been co-opted by the consumerist capitalist society, hence the need for non-Buddhism and annihilation of the former.
The immortal words of Tom Pepper indeed!
“If you are not American you should apply for citizenship immediately.” Hilarious!
On a serious note, this mythology of rugged individualism is part of America’s seemingly complete inability to even discussing socialist critique of capitalism. It’s also the reason why we love our atman and our Zen…IMHO.
I asked a question about the resiliency of imperialism. This is the first I’ve heard of endism. Is it being used here to refer how a parrot only speaks one answer regardless of the nature of the questions? Obviously capitalism privileges a very small minority. Mindlessly repeating this does not answer the overarching question about imperialism.
I asked why there is seemingly always a one percent with privileges and powers and a 99 percent which experiences deprivations and oppression. This can be as readily observed in a commune or kibbutz. Entirely in the absence of capital, among the aboriginal nations of north and south america prior to the european invasion there were also a 1% who enjoyed the best of the resources of hunting and gathering, who exercised privileges and powers over others.
I’m not going so far as to say this kind of disparity of wealth and power is invariable only that its absence appears to be extremely rare. I don’t give a shit what anyone ‘believes’ philosophy can do. Are there actual historical examples of when and how philosophical thought has played a role in overcoming these imperialistic inclinations?
My point was that you seem to be taking capitalism for granted…like it’s the final evolution of economics. I see it as going hand in hand with imperialism. One impetus of imperialism is exploitation of people and resources.
I don’t believe in philosophy, per say, it’s just a general label for what’s always going on in terms of political, social, religious etc. conversations. Imperialism is absolutely based on philosophy…Manifest Destiny, no?
I guess you’re trying to separate capitalism and imperialism, where I don’t think that’s possible. Capitalism almost assumes and imperial imperative.
I don’t know of any historical examples of philosophy / worldview overcoming the phenomenon of the 1% over the 99% (although I’m no historian). Do you think that implies that it cannot happen? Are you saying that the absence of precedence means that we should adapt to this sorry state of affairs? I think you make a good point: it isn’t capitalism in particular that creates the disparity – the disparity was created the moment agriculture created a surplus. Perhaps even before that there were places where a kind of leisure class existed. You point to Tibet as a culture that has simultaneously embraced feudalism and “non-dualism,” but Tom’s critique shows convincingly that Tibetan thought smuggles a “subtle atman” in the backdoor, so that example only strengthens his point that any ideology which is based on an idea of atman will produce an unfair society. If the prevailing ideology were based on the insight that the self is socially constructed – a collective product – do you think the imperial phenomenon could survive?
Why would I be concerned about separating them? I’m not interested in defending imperialism or capitalism. Imperialism obviously exploits capitalism to great advantage. I’m questioning the implication that imperialism requires capitalism not the tired saw that capitalism requires imperialism. The implication that imperialism requires capitalism appears easily falsifiable.
42. A society entirely composed of so called beings without any atman would be interesting. Good luck with that. If that is a prerequisite for social justice I would think we are screwed.
42. Another thought. Where would that leave human beings? If human beings are understood to be without self, then it is not a leap to ruling that humans are not persons. That would leave only corporations as persons. Corporations with rights and humans without. Sounds like some kind of capitalist utopia as opposed to a recipe for human emancipation.
42. Lastly. “I don’t know of any historical examples of philosophy / worldview overcoming the phenomenon of the 1% over the 99% (although I’m no historian). Do you think that implies that it cannot happen?”
I don’t know, but it seems worthwhile to ask the question. Does philosophy has anything at all to do with the social injustice that has dogged us throughout human history? I don’t recollect any of the schoolyard bullys quoting from Hegel or Kant. Perhaps expecting philosophical concepts to free us is a colossal waste of time. Perhaps it is vital. If philosophical correctness is a prerequisite for social justice and definitive philosophical conclusions remain distant does this likewise distance social reform? Perhaps there are other human values and intellectual pursuits apart from philosophical perspicuity that might be useful.
You saw things like ‘tired saw’ and ‘easily falsifiable’ but make no arguments. What’s your point? Not to mention your willful ignorance of Endism and subtly using it as an insult.
Re 36: Not to pick on Patrick, but here is another example of accepting the error of your opponent, and so confusing ideology and science. The assumption that communism means “all capital being owned by the state” is a fundamental error. The goal would be to eliminate capitalism completely, something which is inconceivable from within capitalist ideology, because capitalist ideology is by definition the set of beliefs and practices designed to reproduce the existence of capital. Once you accept this error, you have slipped into arguing which capitalist ideology is best–like arguing where is the best place to be seated in a plane crash.
And if I ever told anybody to “fuck off” I apologize. I probably meant to say “shut the fuck up!”
Of course there has never yet been any historical example of something that has never yet existed. That should be obvious.
Nathan: RE 43: I condensed your four comments into one. Regarding the society without any atman: it already exists. There already is no such thing as an atman. The point is to construct a society in which we are aware of this truth. This awareness has always been one of the goals of Buddhism.
The argument that human thought has absolutely nothing to do with our social formations because bullies don’t quote Kant is stupid beyond belief. It is, of course, one of the common ideological maneuvers of capitalist ideology. To refer to Balibar’s book on Marx once again, it was only once we became convinced that thought cannot produce any effect that we could be completely oppressed by the power of one particular kind of thought–capitalist ideology, which determines our every action while we convince ourselves of the impotence and unimportance of thought.
By all means pick on me! Why the reticence?
Well, of course I realise the error he makes… the truth almost all ‘bourgeois’ critiques of Marxism will not accept is that the internal contradictions within capitalist social relations are themselves the condition for the negation of those social relations and the appearance of a new synthesis… leading eventually to the withering away of the state and a new dispensation in which social relations become human relations. At that stage the economic sphere is no longer the realm of class struggle but one in which the principle of ‘ for each according to his ability to each according to his need’ becomes the norm by which individual and collective needs coincide.
Obvious to you maybe, but not presumably to someone arguing from an opposing stance or someone who is only at the stage of exploring new ideas. Or are you referring to my own grasp on Marxist ideas and presuming I would make such a ‘fundamental error’
Not too sure what you mean here. Are you referring to the Marxist analysis of capitalist social relations as scientific? Or something else?
Of course the position of Marx and Engel’s was that a transitional stage was necessary in which the proletariat would exercise a dictatorship. When asked what this might possibly look like they refused to be drawn and often pointed to the fact that a dress rehearsal had already taken place during the Paris commune.
At the transitional stage the principle governing the new socialized relations would be ‘from each according to his ability to each according to his work’. This in turn depended on the internationalization of the revolution and its appropriation of the huge productive potential especially of the German economy. Things, as we know, turned out differently.
This sort of root radicalism (in contrast to a radicalism that only fumbles at the margins) is something that capitalist ideologues are always determined to dismiss as silly utopianism. The belief that capitalist social relations are just ‘given’ or ‘natural’ is an insidious stance that they try to establish as the ‘default condition’ in the context of any discussion of change.
Anyway I don’t want someone who sidles in here and makes off the cuff remarks to determine the parameters of the debate. It seems strange for me to even go into the details of what might constitute a Marxist stance, partly because in talking to you it seems ridiculously condescending since you obviously have a lot of knowledge and have come to concrete conclusions, and partly because I wonder if this the best place to discuss it all? ; Maybe it is…I think though that the ‘political discussion is often not very well integrated into the xbuddhist/meditation discussion, although I notice that you often naturally link the two in interesting ways.
There are a few areas of interest where we differ. I would very much like to explore them systematically—–I am already doing that myself but I think you offer a critical stance grounded in a more contemporary idiom then the one I am used to…especially in relation to Badiou, whose thought becomes more and more fascinating the more I delve into it.
I will match you well as an opponent in the context of classical Marxist Philosophy but in the area of post-modernist thought—Derrida, Lacan, Foucault, Deleuze, Lyotard-forget it!
My knowledge is full of holes and my ideas ‘half baked’.
Another area where I think we might differ (and these are the areas that interest me) is in relation to the role of the biological sciences in any integrated view of what constitutes the ‘collective subject’
I often notice a pronounced suspicion in post-modern thought in relation to biology. There is of course a justified critique of science, and especially biology, that focuses on the way science is implicated in a reductionist or atomistic stance, and the way science can presume an unquestioned access to truth that by-passes the necessary apriori moves that science needs to make before it can even begins its empirical investigations.
But we are biological creatures; and we are undeniably embodied,; and we have co-evolved with other creatures on the planet ; and we are irreversibly coupled with our natural environment; and instinctional drives do play a part in the way we interact with one another; and ecological and environmental destructiveness is one of the most serious consequences of unending capitalist development . What does this mean for any vision of what a revolutionary subject might look like?
Is all of this mere ‘animality’ as Badiou puts it? And is this all Badiou has to say about our embodiment? I hope not!
Has Badiou made any sustained critique of, for instance, enactivism, or extended mind models that you know of? As far as these models are concerned I think their greatest drawback is that they consistently disregard the way our ideas are socially constructed and the way both the ‘body’ and ‘biology’ are, on one level, socially constructed entities within a language bound continuum of ideas.
Are there any contemporary biological/neurobiological / cognitive models that in your view escape the charge of atomism or ideological subscription?
Anyway this has gotten too long and covers far too wide an area to cope with I think!
Patrick: It seems to me that all of the “areas where we differ” are different versions of the same problem: the distinction between science and ideology. You seem to have some concept of “science” that is incomprehensible to me, and to have a very different idea of what “ideology” is than I do. I would never think of science as having any “unquestioned access to truth”; in fact, that would be the very opposite of science–it would be the production of the worst possible kind of ideology, ideology that pretends to be a transcendent truth. Science, as I use the term, is an attempt to explain the way things are in the world; it is the use of models and metaphors to enable us to conceptualize and interact with the world we inhabit. Because all “science,” all knowledge, is metaphorical, it is infinitely corrigible–there is no “final metaphor,” because, as Badiou puts it, a truth always appears in a world. We can be “right,” in a sense, about how the mind-independent world works, if our model or metaphor is a useful tool within our ideological “world.” But what kind of things about the world we choose to investigate will always depend on an ideology.
Ideology is not falsifiable, not a transcendent or “intransitive” truth about the world. It is what we humans choose to do in the world, the set of beliefs-in-practices in which we reproduce our social formations. If our ideology requires deception, idealist illusions, or the acceptance of error about the mind-independent universe we live in, then it is probably an oppressive ideology. But not all ideologies require such deception. A legal system can present itself as a humanly created code meant to help social relationships run more smoothly, or it can present itself as some universal ideal of justice; both are simply ideologies, but only the latter requires idealism and deception. We must have an ideology, because nothing about the mind-independent universe will ever give us any reason to do anything at all in it. Even the choice that it is better to live than to die is ideological–the universe doesn’t require our existence.
In the sense I use the terms, you tend to conflate science and ideology, and this leads to an impasse. There is no cognitive model of how the mind really works, for instance, because it is not a science, but an ideology masquerading as a science. Cognitive “science” is not an attempt to construct a useful metaphor about how the world really works, but a attempt to prevent any such description from being constructed, because any such actual description could be used as a tool to change the social formation. We certainly have bodies and live in a material world, but to think that we therefore have to use biological sciences to explain social formations is to once again conflate science and ideology, and fall into the “spontaneous ideology of the scientists.” There is no “suspicion” of biology, only a dismissal of attempt to use biology to explain things that are not biological–this is where science becomes the worst kind of ideology. It is good to know how the brain works, bad to assume that global capitalism is an evolutionary necessity hard-wired into our brains.
And I am absolutely not a postmodernist. Neither was Derrida, or Lacan. And Badiou is one of the most vocal opponents of postmodernism in philosophy today.
Well, that’s a beautifully put clarification. Again thanks for the detailed explanation.
As before I need to give it all some thought. But as far as the following is concerned
On that reading I would have little hesitation in calling Marxism ‘scientific’. I can only try to clarify what exactly I mean by science and ideology. But for it to be useful it will need some thought and a precise use of words.
I was steeped in post-modernism in college and was surprised to see it criticized when I started reading this blog. I need to learn more about this. My basic critique is that post-modernism can fall into cultural relativism pretty easily. At the same time, it seems like a necessary step in the evolution of philosophy…everything is a social construction. That part seems true, but the next step is to realize that social constructs have real causal effect in the world.
Am I on the right track?
I’m all over that non-vegan idea although it sounds exhausting. What’s interesting is the anti-vegan vegan sites becoming everything they initially loathed. I think of health and diet in the same sense we are looking at buddhism and marxism…it’s all ideological and not really interested in truth, health, sanity. It’s interested in profit, number of hits, etc.
Tom / Glenn,
If I get the gist of what you guys are on about…
In laymen’s terms (if that’s possible here) – in the nature / nurture debate, you guys come down firmly on the nurture side ie everything can be explained from a social / linguistic perspective (& there is no inherent self that stands outside of this).Of course this fits in well with your marxist project, being a social / linguistic philosophy.
However, from a political perspective I cannot see how this project isn’t doomed to failure.
If we are the result of interactions with our social / linguistic environment (mind you I’m not sure ‘who’ is doing the interacting with this environment), then what hope have we to change that social / linguistic environment to bring about the required model marxist subjects (are we still subjects)? Does it require another 1917 Revolution? How do we prevent another Stalinist state capitalism – as Tom calls it? What will happen to my treelopping business? Will it be confiscated by the people’s collective? What if I don’t want that?
Also – as a little observation on the nature / nurture issue.. it’s interesting how different siblings can be in their personal inclinations despite such similar nurture…eg Cain & Abel
You guys provide some interesting personal history. Glenn the son of a communist harassed by McCarthyism & Tom the working class labourer turned academic. I’m just wondering how different you might be if you had a comfortable middle class upbringing instead and how unusual Tom’s background is – ie for every academic Tom with that background there must be 99 (for those whose motivation hasn’t been drained) who would instead intend to become the guy who instructs the others to get up on that hot roof .…
Judging by your word output, I admire your determination to “force the appearance of truth” – although perhaps bordering on zealotry (is Marx to you what Dharma is to x-buddhists?)…
Having said all that – I still reckon you guys are a refreshing contrast to the stifling niceness of x-buddhists everywhere.
[…] “But given that the initial inspiration in formulating (if not conceptualizing) non-buddhist theory came from Laruelle, they make perfect sense. Many of Laruelle’s most important concepts are derived from Marx. And many of these ideas have relevance to our critique. For instance, just a few off the top of my head: determination in the last instance; force of thought (of labor); Humans (Man); relative autonomy; Science-of-men; material; performativity (the criterion of practice), and others. We also now have a strong influx of Badiou’s ideas in the mix. [Badiou is a communist]. Finally, given our recognition of the unavoidable necessity of thinking through the ideological nature of x-buddhism, we began looking to Marx’s twentieth-century student, Althusser, for some guidance, and we have stuck with him.” SNB […]
[…] spirituality. I raised related issues (at #2, 6, 11, 21) in response to Glenn Wallis’ “A Spectre Is Haunting Buddhism or Give Marx Some Credit” about anarchism and the counter-cultural roots of certain x-buddhisms. To complete my […]