Tom Pepper is an Imbecile

…He is also one of the very few profoundly incisive, insightful, and knowledgeable people writing on Buddhism today. Really, of course, in writing about Buddhism, Pepper is writing about much larger issues impacting our lives, such as ideology, subject formation, and power. He and I have significant differences when it comes to our appreciation of Laruelle’s non-philosophy project. But I, like anyone who desires to understand the ways in which we are interpellated into Worlds (and what we might do about it), am grateful for his work. So, it is very good news that he has reopened his blog, The Faithful Buddhist. Here is an excerpt of his updated goal at the blog.


On Being an Imbecile

In the introduction to Less Than Nothing, Slavoj Zizek distinguishes three kinds of stupidity.  

There is the moron, who stupidly assumes the unquestionable truth of “common sense,” even when it is contradicted by his every experience.  Zizek’s example of this is the sidekick of the classical detective, who is ready to assume the impossible happened rather than question his assumptions about how the world operates.  I would suggest another example: the psychologist, who is blindly sure that any diagnosis listed in the DSM must be a universally experienced disorder with a “bio-psycho-social” cause, even when no actual person quite fits any such diagnosis, and many fit none at all.  The moron is anyone who continues to try desperately to fit the world to the categories and rules of hegemonic discourses, ignoring or distorting whatever doesn’t seem to be accounted for.  

Then there is the idiot, who too easily sees right through social conventions, takes every expression literally, and looks for some absolute ground to guide his actions.  Zizek’s example here is the child in the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” pointing out the absurdity of social conventions.  I would suggest that a better example would be the modern cult of reductionism, hoping desperately to find some biological determination for all human behavior, whether in the brain or in evolutionary biology, to avoid at all costs the possibility that human social practices are the reasons for much of what we do—that many of our behaviors might not be determined at all.  The idiot is unable to grasp the reality of the social, to even begin to understand why it might be desirable.  

But in between these is the imbecile, who sees that the common-sense version of reality is flawed and contradictory, but nonetheless sees its function, cannot escape recognizing the need for a social conventions, even while he sees that they are often at odds with reality.  Like the idiot, the imbecile can see that there are real material causes at work in the world, but like the moron he knows that they are not enough.  Zizek suggests Wittgenstein and Lacan as examples of imbeciles.  I would suggest Socrates or Marx.  But I would agree that being an imbecile is a goal worth striving for.

So my goal here will be to inhabit the role of the imbecile, unwilling to completely accept any socially constructed discourse, but also unable to pretend that there is any possibility that we can account for our existence without granting the realm of the social the status of reality, including real causal powers.  Often, I would say, causal powers that can be greater than those of mere brains and evolved tendencies.  

I’m going to do this in order to attempt to produce a tentative theory of interpellation.

Continue reading at The Faithful Buddhist.


5 responses to “Tom Pepper is an Imbecile”

  1. Shaun Bartone Avatar

    Tom Pepper is an imbecile, for sure. He got that right. As a response to his article “On being an Imbecile,” I suggested that he think about challenging authoritarian regimes which institutional Buddhism has historically supported, (e.g. Imperialism in Japan, Feudalism in Tibet, National Socialism in Burma and Cambodia). These were authoritarian regimes which were not coupled with a capitalist system. Instead of addressing the issue, he deleted the comment. Apparently he’s been accused of being an authoritarian in the past. I never accused him of such, I only suggested that he consider authoritarianism as a power structure apart from capitalism. Historically, authoritarian regimes have not been capitalistic, but have been coupled with several economic forms: feudal agrarianism (including slave labour), urban craft and trade mercantilism, and national socialism. Since he did not want to consider this question, he simply deleted the comment, proving that indeed he is an imbecile.

  2. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi Shaun. If anything is clear to me, it is that Tom Pepper is not an imbecile. I just borrowed his ironic conceit because it was a blog title too good to forego. (It has had over 3000 views, as evidence.) I figured some people would take gleeful delight that I was revealing an unconscious belief I hold about him. But I am not. I believe that anyone who is interested in thinking about the issues he addresses should feel fortunate that he takes the trouble to write and to share.

    One issue the he does not take up is the one you are addressing. Yes, authoritarianism as a power structure does indeed exist apart from capitalism, and we have plenty of examples of that in the x-buddhist world. But Pepper is precisely interested in our world, where capitalism is the dominant Golem. If you are interested in exploring the topic of x-buddhist authoritarianism coupled to economic systems other than capitalism, why don’t you do that? I imagine that it would have to be more historical than this blog is interested in, but it is certainly a worthy topic of exploration.

  3. Shaun Bartone Avatar

    So what is Tom Pepper proposing that we replace Capitalism with? (btw I’m a sociologist so I agree with his basic premise that social organization and power is real.) I said that my reading of social science literature is that capitalism is indeed in a termination stage. What will replace it? I’ll give you some already existing possibilities. (A.) Under authoritarian regimes that are not capitalist 1.) national socialism (prime example, China); 2.) forced labour/slavery (prison labour in the US and around the world; forced labor in Hungary, Syria); 3) authoritarian and military regimes that seize control of productive enterprises, wealth and resources (prime example: Russia). (B.) Under democratic and collective practices that are not capitalist: 1.) worker-owned cooperatives and social enterprise (primarily western Europe and Latin America); 2) self-organized local agrarian and craft economies that only produce for subsistence, not for profit (many local examples in South Asia, Africa and Latin America). 2.) the Commons, which is a form of property relations, governance and economics that so far exists mostly in theory; (some examples: common agrarian land in Africa, Asia and Latin America, private land trusts in the US and Canada). So the question becomes, what does Buddhism have to do with shaping our collective path towards forms of production that are not capitalist and also not authoritarian? I’m interested in finding out what Buddhism has to say about resisting both authoritarianism (which it has historically failed to do) and capitalism (which, I agree with Tom Pepper, it has also failed to challenge). If all that amounts to is “seeing that capitalism is an ideology and not an inevitable social form” Ok, good for you, you saw that, but then what? Seeing that “capitalism is an ideology” does not amount to creating a whole new system of production and governance that will replace Neo-liberal Capitalism. That requires a world of ideas and practices, amounting to a whole new social order and civilization, that comes into being entirely outside of Buddhism or any other organized religion. BTW, there are many current movements who are attempting to do just that, and they have nothing to do with Buddhism or any other religion or religious philosophy.

  4. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi Shaun.
    “So what is Tom Pepper proposing that we replace Capitalism with?”

    I don’t see Tom Pepper asking the question “what comes after capitalism?” Do you? It’s clear, to me anyway, that he has a different project.

    “So the question becomes, what does Buddhism have to do with shaping our collective path towards forms of production that are not capitalist and also not authoritarian? I’m interested in finding out what Buddhism has to say about resisting both authoritarianism (which it has historically failed to do) and capitalism.”

    I believe that Buddhism offers much good material for thinking through these two issues. My entire non-buddhism project is, in a very real sense, simply thinking them through. Because x-buddhist institutions and forms of social relation are deeply authoritarian, operations must be performed on the material to disable this endlessly harassing aspect. Again, that’s precisely what non-buddhism is about. Maybe an extra-Buddhist supplement is required. For example, I think a superpositioning of x-buddhism with anarcho-communism would be a very interesting project. Collision with the latter would depotentialize x-buddhist violence toward the subject, beginning with its authoritarianism. The question is, what kind of practice would this goal entail? Again, non-buddhism is an attempt to think through this issue. I see the work that Tom Pepper is doing on his revived (and revised) blog, as well as the work that Chaim Widger is doing at The Failed Buddhist, as attempts to think through the practice aspect more fully. Why don’t you write a fresh text on the topic?

  5. wtpepper Avatar

    The imbecile’s project has now turned into a (hopefully) imbecilic book. Personally, I think it makes good reading during the long dull days of the lockdown. You can get it on Amazon in America:
    and it should be available next week in other countries.

    Stay safe, and keep thinking…

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