Materials Toward A Buddhohorror

Materials Toward A Buddhohorror

By Anonymous

“Hell, purgatory, and heaven are not for us, except insofar as all three are here and now, on this earth. The great tragic poets knew all three, and their visions can illuminate our hell.” (Walter Kaufmann, Tragedy And Philosophy)

If there is a conspiracy against the human race then who are the conspirators? For Thomas Ligotti, there is not a localized origin point that serves as the locus of propagation. Rather, the conspiracy emanates amorphously, spilling itself through time and eerily entwining itself between beings in a clandestine treaty with optimism the stain of its treatise. The conspiracy remains concealed for many reasons – among them repression, denial, and the bare verity that the human psyche bears an unconscious feature which is the storehouse of pre-cognitive activity, lifelong traumas, unspeakable ideas and unspecified strangeness. Etymologically, the word conspiracy is derived from the Latin conspirare, which means “to agree” or “to plot.” A further breakdown could be made ~ con = “together with” + spirare = “breathe.” What clues remain hidden in this term which was carefully placed within the title of Ligotti’s book—an “agreement,” a “plot,” “together with,” “breathe.” If there is a foundation to human existence and to the living in general, it is the activity of breathing. If there is a foundation that connects the varieties of human cultures, it is the evolutionary impulse to continue, to multiply, to persist…to live on.

It will be I? It will be the silence, where I am? I don’t know, I’ll never know: in the silence you don’t know. You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on. (Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable)

In Ligotti’s view, part and parcel with human existence as we know it is an idea that is the lifeblood of a common style towards life, so prevalent that is has become a norm. And a norm for so long that it has become an unquestioned, or unconscious axiom, from which our thoughts, ideas, and responses to existence issue from. Simply stated, this given is the belief that “life is all right.”  Through a resuscitation of a rich variety of pessimisms, Ligotti provides a contestation against this affirmative valuation and offers a liturgical contemplation of horror, death, and the misplaced meaning of it all still yet to be found. To any who have tasted alienation, estrangement, or any variation of feeling deeply that things as they are are out of joint, The Conspiracy Against The Human Race provides a peculiar form of deliverance through an invitation to not shoo one’s ontological angst away but welcome one’s queasiness as clarity’s signature. Making the conspiracy conscious involves a thorough uncoupling of Life and Happiness. Many systems of thought equate these two and set up an equation along the lines of – the more the human knows life’s inner machinery, the happier they will become.  For Ligotti, following Peter Wessell Zappfe, knowing Life more clearly is knowing the horror more clearly, the interminable givens of our predicament – sickness, old age, death, loss, heartbreak, etc. Is Ligotti’s book simply the outpouring of a distressed human convinced that this, just this, should not be? Or is there something more at work beneath the surface, an ethics perhaps and maybe even a moral stance? Is this a something more that is rarely unearthed because the eyes of the conspiracy enact a supreme phobia of anything that does not have a happy ending or a grand transformation waiting in the wings? For Ligotti, pessimism begins from the ground and the human misfortune of being a “hunk of spoiling flesh on disintegrating bones.” This is the most honest starting point for thought according to Ligotti. We don’t have to begin here, we can begin our thinking elsewhere, with an assumed transcendent awareness who we actually are or from a hidden utopia which is always already – puppets held in the left hand of the puppet master, along for the ride ~ in the puppet master we will forever abide. There are countless places to begin our thinking, Ligotti, encourages the reader to begin in the flesh and in the unspoken, that which is absent from common visions and ideas about life. He is interested in a mundane silence that is the tacit terrain we try so hard to keep hidden from the world and even from our self. Ligotti is an existentialist of sorts, holding tightly to death as the most formative feature of existence. Death is not something to get over, nor can we. Death can be obscured through a variety of strategies – including isolation, anchoring, distraction and sublimation – but it forever maintains its station as that which is just over the horizon and just under the surface, the more one digs the more it recedes and the faster one runs the quicker it vanishes. To hide ourselves from the reality of finitude, human life becomes an ongoing activity of minimizing our consciousness and an ongoing repression of this “biological paradox” that we are. “This is the tragedy: Consciousness has forced us into the paradoxical position of striving to be unself-conscious of what we are…” Is the activity of meditation a methodology of minimizing or maximizing consciousness? I leave that for you to decide.

No doubt, critics will try to indict Ligotti of bad faith by claiming that the writing of this book is driven by the imperatives of the life that he seeks to excoriate. But the charge is trumped-up, since Ligotti explicitly avows the impossibility for the living to successfully evade life’s grip. This admission leaves the cogency of his diagnosis intact, for as Ligotti knows full well, if living is lying, then even telling the truth about life’s life will be a sublimated lie. (Ray Brassier, Foreword to The Conspiracy Against the Human Race)

It is becoming more common to speak of the human as always already a mere mouthpiece of a culturally constructed worldview or ideology. To become a stooge of this sort is to enter into a level of automaticity in which the thinking faculty mutates into a mimic like faculty that merely reflects the positions of those segments of breathing earth we have deemed as on the right track in life. I write as one of these stooges. Most are stooges or “puppets” and I say this without an ounce of animosity or derogatory flare. Ligotti is up to something different in his text than simply naming customary ways of subject formation and diagnosing kinds of subjects through kinds of language. Ligotti is concerned not with what is said, but with what is not said. Faithful to the term conspiracy, he brings to light that which cannot be said without condemning the speaker to an everlasting stranger. A mute covenant that “life is all right” forms the very milieu of human life. Ligotti’s basic definition of an optimistic posture is holding to the idea that life should be as opposed to not be. A pessimism is that which begins from a different starting point, not from the idea that life should be but from the clear comprehension of the “’brotherhood of suffering between everything alive.” He aptly names the prevalent and highly conditioned attitude of optimism in all of its pretty guises and the way in which the optimistic trait is capable of copulating with almost any vision of life – a rebirth, an awakening, a release can always be inserted after any period of disdain, disgust, or disenchantment. Ligotti’s book advocates for a suspension of tragedy as birth canal to some more authentic and fulfilling life and invites the reader to remain with that which we are ever so quick, if we look at all, to pass over in silence.

As a fact, we cannot give suffering precedence in either our individual or collective lives. We have to get on with things, and those who give precedence to suffering will be left behind. They fetter us with their sniveling. We have someplace to go and must believe we can get there, wherever that may be. And to conceive that there is a ‘brotherhood of suffering between everything alive’ would disable us from getting anywhere. We are preoccupied with the good life, and step by step are working toward a better life. What we do, as a conscious species, is set markers for ourselves. Once we reach one marker, we advance to the next — as if we were playing a board game we think will never end, despite the fact that it will, like it or not. And if you are too conscious of not liking it, then you may conceive of yourself as a biological paradox that cannot live with its consciousness and cannot live without it. And in so living and not living, you take your place with the undead and the human puppet. (All unattributed quotations are from Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against The Human Race (New York: Hippocampus Press, 2010.)

One stark contradiction that Ligotti focuses on is the peculiarity of a very common double commitment ~ an allegiance to life as that which should be in a twosome with the fidelity to minimize/eliminate the anguish of earthlings. This vow to participate in sufferings cessation should sound familiar to any who have come across Buddhist thought and for this reason Ligotti dedicates a couple of sections to hashing out the possibility that Buddhism is a form of pessimism. The shared bond that establishes the connection between Buddhism and pessimism is their discipline to keep the attempt to understand the intricacies of distress at the forefront of why they partake in life at all. Just as there are myriad kinds of Buddhism’s, there are myriad kinds of pessimisms and Ligotti seeks to resurrect many thinkers in this lineage who have been shorn from the tree of mainstream Philosophy and common knowledge. As the tree of common knowledge and most of what we are force fed in our pedagogical upbringing is rooted in the unquestioned truism- the womb of most ideologies – that life is all right and should be. For Ligotti – in textual dialogue with Karl Popper’s “negative utilitarianism” – to remain faithful to the vow of eliminating suffering will eventually lead one into the terrain of antinatalism, an approach to human suffering which claims that if ending suffering is our aim than minimizing reproduction is the most efficient and effective means to fulfill this aspiration.

“And similarly, they should consider the fact that the greatest happiness principle can easily be made an excuse for a benevolent dictatorship. We should replace it by a more modest and more realistic principle — the principle that the fight against avoidable misery should be a recognized aim of public policy, while the increase of happiness should be left, in the main, to private initiative.” (Karl Popper, Conjecture and Refutations)

This writing is not an argument for antinatalism, but an appreciation of the trickiness of a fundamental trait of Buddhist thought. Anointing human suffering and its cessation as the centerpiece of our raison d’être is what brought me to Gautama’s ideas and what keeps me coming back no matter how valid the critiques I am exposed to.  The compass is pointed in the right direction in my mind. Like Greek Tragedy, like pessimism, like Buddhism, and any tradition of thought that attempts to remain true to the heartbreaking and paradoxical condition of all in existence, staying with the trouble and staying with that which is dislocated is valiant and worthwhile even after one discovers that everything is inherently without meaning or in Ligotti’s lexicon, “MALIGNANTLY USELESS”. This orientation would situate me within what Ligotti refers to as a “heroic pessimist”, an individual who turns toward and tarries with that “something pernicious” which “lurks” behind the scenes of life and “makes a nightmare of our world”, admits that this “pernicious something” can only be modestly minimized (never cessated), and despite this realization is willing to participate in the collective endeavor of making a better world.

All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. (Samuel Beckett, Worstword Ho)

The heroic pessimist is not better than the pessimist, nor is the optimist better than the antinatalist. To read this as argument for one or the other is not in accord with my intention. The aim is to complexify a fundamental and, in my opinion, righteous feature of Buddhist thought and the Bodhisattvic aspiration which deals with the unruly commitment to extinguish the suffering of all sentient beings – be this through spiritual, psychic, political or social change. To remain faithful to this aim brings one closer to the conspiracy that lurks beneath the covers – loyalty to extinguishing suffering (necessary and unnecessary) may be synonymous with fidelity to thwarting offspring production. As long as life is all right (pre- or post- awakening), does one remain heretical to the Buddhist commitment to end suffering? (enter commentaries that bring nuance to the difference between pain and suffering / ego death, identity transmutation, and the possibility that the self that is suffering is pure phantasmagoria). Ligotti’s pessimism begins in tragedy and ends in tragedy. For Buddhism to not comply with the conspiracy that Ligotti is naming, it will have to remain faithful to Dukkha and maximum fidelity to the first noble truth may result in a self-unraveling and produce something entirely novel. There is Dukkha’s Buddhism, Nibbana’s Buddhism and a human choice to make; and in that choice the conspiracy will be felt and tasted. For in that choice, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race is confronted and it may be this conspiracy that keeps Buddhism, as we know it in the West, in tact. And in truth, this conspiracy is one that I am currently unwilling to fully part with, as I am not disposed to admit that life is all wrong and should not be either. Condemned to be in between and in the middle, impossible vows issue forth in adherence to impossible demands and I remain in utter respect for those who attempt the impossible, to cease suffering without ceasing the species.

We know what verdict is reserved for those foolhardily enough to dissent from the common conviction according to which “being alive is all right,” to borrow an insistent phrase from the volume at hand. Disputants of the normative buoyancy of our race can expect to be chastised for their ingratitude, upbraided for their cowardice, patronized for their shallowness. Where self-love provides the indubitable index of psychic health, its default can only be seen as a symptom of psychic debility. (Ray Brassier, Foreword to The Conspiracy Against the Human Race)

Ligotti withholds from making the connection between a heightened consciousness of the tragedy of human life and the subsequent realization that this knowledge will lead an individual to an intensification of the grandeur of the possibility of being alive at all. This idea is uncommon in many of the circles that I have been amongst. A more common view is that a heightened awareness of the tragedy of life leads one into an increased experience of the preciousness of life and in turn, the opportunity to be at all becomes the supreme value and gift. Tied into this progression is an idea about how to nudge a human being to increase their level of care for their communities and the earth community in its entirety. I kept waiting for this move to happen but Ligotti is militant to not go down this road.  With every turn of the page, the reader will likely pose the question, what is the point of this kind of exposure? Is it a total waste of time to entertain a vision of life whose fundamental aim is not to increase the voltage of how amped we should feel about being alive? Many texts of this sort do well in their ability to name the “pernicious something” that haunts our everyday. But in most others, bringing the ineffable horror closer is secretly a means to a more fulfilling life and serves as that which provides the bandwidth to download and actualize a revolutionary authenticity that hovers each person in potentia.  

“We put our faith in pluralism, not in censorship. We study not one scripture, one philosopher, or a single poet, but expose ourselves to many. There is no better way to liberate men from the narrowness of their moral and intellectual imagination, to develop an awareness of alternatives, and to show how other human beings feel and think.” (Walter Kaufmann, Tragedy And Philosophy)

Ligotti successfully challenges the stereotype of the pessimist through this radically honest piece of writing. After reading it, one may be struck not necessarily with how much one agrees with Ligotti’s position, but with the conviction that the pessimist is not the failed optimist nor they have not gone deep enough or trained hard enough. Instead, pessimism is a legitimate response to Being and it is the conspiracy that keeps a text like this better left unread. The pessimist is an endangered species that ought to be preserved. We need a pluralism in which those who challenge the inherent goodness of life are not conspired against.  Fostering sincere dialogue between contradictory positions is critical and for this kind of encounter to occur, one’s absolutes will have to be adjourned to pave the way for “hunks of spoiling flesh on disintegrating bones” to meet and tell tales about their shared paradoxical predicament of having to incite alternatives with no panacea-like insight in sight.

21 responses to “Materials Toward A Buddhohorror”

  1. M D Macgregor Avatar
    M D Macgregor

    Thanks for this interesting essay Glenn, I currently have a free “Amazon Unlimited” account but can find few good books to read under this capitalist come-on – surprisingly Ligotti is available, now I have something to read…

  2. Shaun Bartone Avatar

    I’m not that interested in delving into this kind of necro-philosophy, because I find myself moving in the opposite direction: Life after Buddhism. I see Buddhism as necrophilic, empty of meaningful content outside of an arcane neuroscience, reducing life to such a minimum as to be barely human. Buddhist practice produces a ghost-like anti-existence that transcends, or rather, avoids life, for the sake of a necrophilic certainty of death, of never being birthed again. Buddhism turns out to be literally a dead end. Rather, I turn towards Life, as this is my existential lot. Yes, we are gong to die, but until then, we are stuck with living, so we’d better make the best of it. I turn towards Life as a being-in-evolution with a living and dying planet, eco-realism. My next blog post on

  3. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi Shaun. Yes, isn’t it interesting that Buddhism turns out to offer such serious hootch for realizing the malignant uselessness of human existence, and yet is made by our contemporary x-buddhist thaumaturges to administer an endless drip of Mindful Affirmation? What should we make of this turn? Of course, in pursuing this question, we would be analyzing not x-buddhism per se but contemporary society tout court. Among other conclusions to be drawn is the fact that our x-buddhists have unwittingly transmuted the antidote that they were charged with safeguarding into the very virus that it is intended to remedy. (As profoundly discombobulated subjects of the neoliberal Machine, should we expect otherwise from these poor, well-meaning, souls?)

    Is Buddhism necessarily mortemphilic, or could it simply be mortemequivocal, and, given the hysterical mortemphobic nature of our culture, merely appears the former for lack of any socially-permissible nuance? I ask because how one answers this question is crucial to the future of Buddhism as a viable system of thought. Any “real” thought must be mortemequivocal, right?

  4. Shaun Bartone Avatar

    First of all, to clarify, [Wiki] ‘Necrophilia’ is generally used in English to refer to the paraphilia (sexual perversion) associated with dead bodies, although the term has been used in a broader sense and in foreign languages merely to refer to ‘a fascination with death.’ So by ‘necrophilia’ I mean a fascination or obsession with death. To be more specific, I use it to refer to Buddhism’s obsession with ‘cessation’, with ending or stopping anything that provokes the slightest discomfort or ‘suffering’, yielding a pseudo-death, a zombie-like state of non-feeling, non-reacting, e.g. the walking dead. This is related to a state of transcendence that is revered in Indian religious culture going back to antiquity–the practitioner in a nearly comatose state of non-resonsiveness to the outside world. Many contemporary swamis are said to have the capacity to enter this state. I have known many X-Buddhists who brag about their ability to go on marathon retreats, sitting in meditation for many hours per day, for weeks and months at a time, in a state of suspended animation. What a waste of a life.

    As to the second point, re: mortemphilic vs. mortemphobic, alt. mortemequivocal, I can say this: the mortemphilic obsession with a death-like state of meditation is an avoidance of life, with all its complexities and problems, but so is the mortemphobic, which avoids the intrusion of the reality of death into daily existence. Neither of them deal with the complex reality of life/death. For example, it’s a scientific principle that evolution occurs because organisms die; species that don’t die don’t evolve. So the movement of bio-realism is, in the long run, toward the evolution of Life, which involves both the life and death of the individual organism. If that’s what you mean by ‘mortemequivocal’, then I have no problem with it. Is Buddhism mortemequivocal or mortemphilic? My argument is that it’s either mortemphilic in its ancient zombie form, and mortemphobic in it’s neoliberal pop-psychology form. It is not mortemequivocal, at least not contemporary X-Buddhism.

    Is Buddhism a viable system of thought? It might be viable if it correlates with systems of thought that we already have in the 21st century, including; deconstruction, empirical investigation, critical theory, skepticism, philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, cosmology, evolution, and so on, but in each case, you’re better off with the contemporary version rather than archaic Buddhist thinking. It’s more content-rich and has the conceptual chops to deal with the complex world we live in.

    Turning towards Life means turning towards life/death in a move towards evolution. Evolution is always increasing in complexity; systems always evolve towards greater complexity, unless they fail to adapt, in which case they revert to a simplified state, in order to evolve again. But archaic Buddhism and X-Buddhism cannot deal with complexity; they both always want to over-simplify everything into the One, as you said, or the Zero, sunyata. They always want to frame reality in absolute terms, and can’t deal with diversity, difference, change, i.e. complex material reality. Life is complex, so is society, and Buddhism has almost nothing relevant to say about complex social realities. That’s why for me Buddhism has become, literally, a dead end.

    my proposal for a never-ending project of conceptualizing a Buddhist social theory. But I’m afraid that Buddhism has so little to offer this project that it will never get off the ground. Several Buddhist theorists have attempted to sketch a Buddhist social theory [e.g. David Loy, David Brazier, Edwin Ng] but it’s meager and not nearly as useful as contemporary social theory is already, so why bother with Buddhism?

  5. Shaun Bartone Avatar

    Hey Nons: here’s a challenge project: create a meditation track using some concept of non-Buddhism and get it uploaded to Insight Timer. I did this with my Meta Buddhist Inquiry meme, and omg they actually approved it!

    [from Engage!] The idea of this guided meditation came from my experience of the meditation app, Insight Timer. What I noticed—and what anyone could not help but notice—is that nearly all the meditations and musical pieces hosted on Insight Timer are designed to do one basic thing: calm and relax the listener. They are designed to bring about states of relaxation, bliss, self-love, relieve depression and anxiety, provide psychological support and encouragement. All good stuff.

    But then I thought: this is just another digital bubble, another way to soothe and protect the practitioner from the stress of the modern world and existential anxiety. But is that really ‘waking up’? What if ‘waking up’ is actually an experience of anxiety and angst, like a sudden cold slap in the face from reality? Instead of being blissed out, what if ‘waking up’ were actually and experience of being disturbed by reality?

    So I started to imagine what such a ‘waking up’ would sound and feel like as a meditation. I decided to do a series of guided meditations whose purpose was not to soothe the listener into a state of bliss, but to actually, though subtly, disturb the listener into a state of existential angst. “No Final Answer” is my first attempt.

  6. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings

    Hi Shaun,

    I agree with all you say with a small caveat, but for me a very important one.

    I am very taken by the turn in biology — Thomson, Maturana, Valera, etc— the theory of autopoiesis, embodiment, extended mind, seems to me to solve (one could even say “heal”) one aspect of the divide between mind and body, nature and culture etc. Not to mention extending a real form of subjectivity to animals and putting the ethic of the industrial slaughter of animals and the destruction of the biosphere where it belongs– at the heart of the critique of capitalist social relations and commodity production, consumption and exchange. In combination with a recognition of the way thinking proliferates in self-generated feed-back loops, complexifying into patterns of habitual collective behaviour as “institutions” such a the state, systems thinking offers one useful way of “modelling” the human.

    That said, I always feel I need to return to Laruelle’s insistence on what he calls “ a rigorous thought”. One of the things he means, I think, is that we could insist on a critique of what he calls “an admixture” of philosophical and biological thinking, or systems thinking in general, which tries to escape the transcendental by subsuming the human into the sphere of the “thing in itself” conceived as a prior ecological field out of which both the mind and body evolve.

    This is the default pre-supposition of almost all scientists (perhaps because they have neither the time or the interest in thinking at the philosophical level) but it cannot withstand Laruelle’s critique of the decisional nature of philosophical thinking, which must always presuppose some sort of grounding which favours one aspect of a bifurcated structure (in this case nature and the human) over its opposite by way of a transcending or doubling.

    One way of thinking this is to conceive of concepts as existing in a given but unbounded world of discourse. Each concept exists in a state of immediacy or what Laruelle calls a democracy of thought, as a bare instance of thinking given prior to the work of philosophical thinking proper – all of the interminable proliferations, combinations, admixtures, negations, groundings, systematizations etc. This given-ness of thought, as one aspect of the given-ness of the real, is the condition for thinking as such. All subsequent operations on thought are incapable of grounding this condition in concepts that arise after the initial given-ness or immediacy of thinking – concepts such as the one, the many, ground, origin, negation, synthesis etc. The question .“where does thought originate?” — in a pre conceptual ground, in the social, in the biology of the brain — is unavoidably circular. It involves a subsequent deployment of thinking that by definition cannot escape immediacy. In other words “origin”, “where”, “thought” are already and always given and therefore cannot function in any theory of origins except as a provisional model, or fiction. There is no outside or transcendent realm although there is a transcendental structure of thinking, or given-ness, or immediacy of thought.

    Philosophy arises as the impulse to restore to thinking a peace which is inevitably disrupted by the immediacy of thinking – it always appears as the structure A not A , and all of the bifurcations that ensue– existence/non existence, being/non being, etc. No amount of subsequent thinking can undo this disruption, which is the transcendental condition in which the “I” finds itself in relation to the “non-I” or object. Laruelle call the acceptance of this situation a form of passivity of the stranger subject ( not to be confused with a passivity before the discursive world in the form of, for example, political quietism)

    In other words all absolutist thought is an impossibility and should be fictionalized to take account of the immediacy or given-ness of thinking. Since this was always and already the case such thinking remains, useful, dangerous or plain illusory, as the case may be. All that changes is that the absolutist tendency of philosophical thought and the admixtures of philosophy, science and ideology and all of the subsequent harassment of the human is shown, literally, to have no ground in thought.

    Scientists, and especially biologists should be happy to accept this because it guarantees the freedom to propose any theoretical formulation they happen to favour without having to constrain their thinking in favour of the prevailing admixture of science and philosophy.

    Sorry for the long-windedness but there is no easy or short way of making this point.

    Like you, I no longer have much interest in Buddhism. As you say, the best of it already exists in a more cogent and useful form in contemporary thought and practice.

  7. Shaun Bartone Avatar

    Ok, Patrick, I’ll try to deal with what you’ve said here, but I’m not a philosopher, I’m a social scientist, so I have a bias towards empiricism, however contrived or ‘given’ it might be.

    “I think, is that we could insist on a critique of what he calls “an admixture” of philosophical and biological thinking, or systems thinking in general, which tries to escape the transcendental by subsuming the human into the sphere of the “thing in itself” conceived as a prior ecological field out of which both the mind and body evolve.”

    Well, speaking of an ‘admixture of philosophical and biological thinking’, let’s answer the question “where does thought originate?” Two new reports in the journal Cell contend that human consciousness (indeed all forms of animal consciousness) are the unintended byproduct of the DNA of an ancient virus that inserted itself into our legacy DNA millions of years ago. In other words, consciousness is an ACCIDENT of nature that happened to be adaptive. In particular, this virus DNA builds the structures that allow for neuronal synapses, connections of electro-chemical impulses that allow for ‘thought.’ Without this viral DNA, we would not be capable of ‘thought.’ This does a lot to de-mystify Consciousness in Buddhism, which especially in Mahayana gets elevated to the level of Absolute Transcendence, Divine Mystical Consciousness, Rigpa, Big Mind, etc. etc.

    So what is a ‘given’ for me is that consciousness, and ‘thought’, is a biological product that proved to be a significant adaptation for animal life. Furthermore, at its ‘origin’ its not even human or mammalian–its a fucking virus.

    Ok, so I’m sort of done with ‘thinking about thinking’, whether its Laurelle or somebody else. Is it adaptive? Will it help us collectively live better on this planet? That’s my standard for ‘truthiness’ for now.

  8. Shaun Bartone Avatar

    On the subject of the prefix ‘necro—’, I had in mind also Achille Mbembe’s “necropolitics”, [Wiki] defined as “the right to expose other people to death. Necropolitics also includes the right to impose social or civil death, the right to enslave others, and other forms of political violence.
    [cont] Necropolitics is a theory of the walking dead, namely a way of analysing how “contemporary forms of subjugation of life to the power of death” forces some bodies to remain in different states of being located between life and death.”

    The necrophilia of Buddhism intentionally and by force of practice suspends practitioners in a state between life and death, i.e. an un-lived life.

    There is an existential fear of Death, but there is also an existential fear of Life, fear of a life so painful and meaningless that it is not worth living. When such a life is imposed by the State—as when opioid addicts shoot heroine to sustain their analgesic non-life, because the Corporate-Pharma State created a system that got them hooked on opioids—this is a kind of necropolitics. Imprisonment and the carceral state is another form of necropolitics, condemning people to bare existence in a cell block, to a life not worth living.

    What we are seeing now in Myanmar is a necropolitics that is at least partially a result of Buddhist necrophilia, of DECIDING (ok?) that the Rohingya are not worthy of a life. This has been going on in Burma for hundreds of years, long before the current military regime. In fact, to kill the Rohingya is seen as their ‘liberation’, because perhaps they will be reborn to a ‘better life next time.’

    The same happened in Sri Lanka for several decades, an attempted genocide of the Hindu Tamils justified and led by Buddhist monks, and is currently underway again with a new attack on Muslims by Buddhist extremists, probably emboldened by the genocide in Myanmar. A necrophilic worldview undergirds and justifies a necropolitics, but it is of course only one of many causes and justifications.

  9. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings

    Hi Shaun,

    Biology is a local knowledge practice which tries to understand life processes in relation to habitat by formulating theories and trying to validate them by way of empirical investigation. Scientists come up with many ways of formulating what life is. That’s all fine. Not many scientists are associated with dogmatic absolutist philosophy at the moment. That they have been in the past is probably well established. Lets just mention the way science was used to produce theories of racial purity, gender domination, class bias, anthropocentric practices of cruelty against non-human animals, etc. Living here in Germany, I think of the way engineers, technicians, statisticians, doctors, and chemists connived with fascists to exterminate about nine million people.

    At best scientists have, until recently, been quietest in relation to the way science and technology has been used to exploit human beings and plunder the earth.

    This is understandable, given that a scientist’s way of perceiving and conceptualising the world is shaped in the same way as everyone else: by a process of interpellation into a world view, often loosely held but hard to shake nonetheless. There is no reason to think that the current way of conceptualising the findings of biological or social science – systems theory, autopoiesis, extended mind etc, benign though they now appear, will not be appropriated by philosophers and used to fashion an new absolutist view of the human. In fact the outline of such a view is already discernible— it includes philosophical thinking about machine intelligence, technological acceleration, big data, bio-machine combination, and neo-liberal ideas about individual resilience and adaptation to chaotic or unstable social environments precipitated by catastrophic climate change.

    It would be naive to disregard the way philosophical concepts produced by division of labour in the academy eventually become introjected as world-views and concreted as social practices in complex feed-back loops of exploitation and repression. Laruelle’s non-philosophy is one strand of resistance which tries to go to the philosophical root of the problem by showing that absolutist ideas about the human are not ordained by fiat of a transcendent philosophical move, but are in fact a deluded product of the given world/structure/discourse. In fact any absolutist view of the human is impossible owing to the transcendental structure of thinking as such.

  10. Shaun Bartone Avatar

    Patrick: I can accept the truthiness of everything you’ve said here. Science is not neutral or benign, because it’s produced and deployed through institutions of power. Science, as power/knowledge, is a form of cybernetic control that not only understands the world we experience, but also shapes our experience of it.

    My Ph.D. dissertation is all about the ways that technology, and overly complex societies, can lead to social and ecological collapse. So I’m well aware of the problems and dangers of science. But it’s a helluva lot better than reducing everything to ’emptiness’. ‘Emptiness’ doesn’t tell me anything–it obscures details and dimensions. Buddhist philosophy is almost a form of gaslighting, trying to convince you that you don’t see what you obviously see.

    I want a philosophy that can deal with complex material reality, the material conditions of our existence. I don’t get that from Laruelle’s philosophy. As a philosophy of science, I would rather use something like Donna Haraway’s ‘situated knowledges’. I don’t need philosophy because I can use sociology to deconstruct the social and political conditions that construct the discipline of science, to understand its power and impact on human lives. All the statements you made are as much a product of the sociology of science as they are of philosophy.

    Laruelle’s non-philosophy just tells me that everything we think or say is a ‘decision.’ Well, yeah, ok, but so what? What else does he have to say about it? Does that say anything about institutions, power, networks, hierarchies, genders/races, economies, biological and material resources, and so forth? No, it says nothing about it because, like all philosophies, including Buddhist philosophy, it’s primarily concerned with language, but never delves into the MATERIAL CONDITIONS OF OUR EXISTENCE. I feel like screaming this at every Buddhist shrine room I have ever sat in.

  11. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings


    As for Buddhism, for me its a lost cause. In that it seems Glenn’s work here did it’s work, although I have noticed in myself a long period in which I wavered between rejection and a hankering to retrieve certain familiar elements. This long process of disengagement is over.

    I am not a Laruelle “follower”. I think he needs to be supplemented by other, even opposing, contemporary thinkers and by a knowledge of the sciences. For myself I like to supplement Laruelle with Marx, precisely to address the material conditions. Biology, anthropology and ecology are good supplements too philosophy and for similar reasons. Not to mention the arts.

    Your latest post at Engage “Life after Buddhism” describes something like the process I went through while writing for the “Non Buddhist”.

  12. Shaun Bartone Avatar

    ‘Laruelle with Marx’: Exactly. My next question was going to be; What would Laruelle say about the material conditions of this ‘decision’? What are the biological, social (cultural, historical, political, economic, etc) conditions and power relations that shape this ‘decision’? It would have to be very specific to each category of decision-making. For instance, the conditions (and therefore outcomes) of Buddhist decision-making would be specific to Buddhism, whereas for NeoPlatonism, it would be very different. Or so I assume. A discussion of that type might help me understand Laruelle better.

  13. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    If there is any single point I have tried to impart on this accursed blog, it is this: there is no “being done with.” It is all here to stay–buddhism, biology, philosophy, ideology, thinking, even mindfulness and neoplatonism. So, the point is not to confine these “local” materials to the trash heap of dead thought, and then move on to the Living. The “done with” thought is eternally undead. You can’t confine it to any sort of trash heap, not even the one in your own mind. (Because there is only the not-own mind, but that’s another topic altogether., isn’t it?) As, precisely, material, it has already and irreversibly burrowed into your thought. (This is also why force-of-thought is conceived in parallel to labor force.) So, in conclusion, the point is to do something with the material. Create. Clash. Conjugate. Continue.

  14. Shaun Bartone Avatar

    Glen: I would have agreed with you when I was stuck at a point at which I wanted desperately to claw my way out of this rabbit hole but couldn’t, because ‘after that’, I had nowhere else to go. So since I found somewhere else to go, i.e. Life, it become a reachable destination.

    On a very personal level, I first became interested in Buddhism through Joanna Macy’s book “Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory.” At the time I was reading it as part of my doctoral studies (sociology). I had had almost no exposure to Buddhism. Reading the book, I had an ‘awakening’ experience, but later I questioned whether that awakening was due to Buddhism or because of Systems Theory. Unfortunately, I confused the two and assumed that Buddhism was really Systems Theory. So I continued the study of Buddhism thinking I would find more connections to Systems Theory. I found none, in fact I found just the opposite: disconnections of all kinds, and a kind of irrational absolutism that was anti-empirical and largely nonsense.

    At this late stage in my dissertation, I have reconnected with Systems Theory as the kind of philosophy that really makes sense to me—and I’m not implying that it should necessarily make sense to you or anyone else in this discussion.

    There is a ‘done with’ and an ‘after.’ I’ve met many ex-Buddhists who have moved on to other pursuits. It’s a very slow process that can take several years. It’s very similar to overcoming the effects of brainwashing or leaving a cult. Fortunately I never got ordained or got a Masters in Buddhist Studies, so I don’t have as much baggage to throw off.

    I studied and practiced Buddhism for 10 years, which isn’t very long. I’ve pretty much exhausted Buddhism, and I’ve been exhausted by it, so it’s no longer of interest to me. There’s nothing more to learn, its an [un]dead end.

    “Create. Clash. Conjugate. Continue.” It would be great if Buddhism offered that kind of malleability, but there’s nothing you can do with it; its a closed system. It doesn’t admit other content or applications, no matter how hard you try. It’s a Black Hole of Emptiness that sucks everything into itself and disappears it forever.

    You’ve often talked about opening Buddhism to the ‘the Great Feast of Knowledge.’ Well, I’d rather ditch the Buddhism and just go for the Great Feast of Knowledge.

  15. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings

    “You’ve often talked about opening Buddhism to the ‘the Great Feast of Knowledge.’ Well, I’d rather ditch the Buddhism and just go for the Great Feast of Knowledge.”

    Ha! Amen. Which doesn’t rule out a critique of Buddhist ideology and practice as a sub-critique of religion in general. Nor does it rule out using particular Buddhist practices for specific personal or communal reasons. But I/we certainly can “have done” with Buddhism and “Create. Clash. Conjugate. Continue” elsewhere.

    “As, precisely, material, it has already and irreversibly burrowed into your thought”… yes… and in the process has already and irreversibly been transformed into exactly “my” understanding and “my” practice which I can now own or dis-own as I see fit.

  16. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings


    ‘Laruelle with Marx’: Exactly. My next question was going to be; What would Laruelle say about the material conditions of this ‘decision’? What are the biological, social (cultural, historical, political, economic, etc) conditions and power relations that shape this ‘decision’?

    That would be a very complicated undertaking . For one thing you would have to immerse yourself in the very particular range of concepts Laruelle has created to describe what he calls “the world” and the relation between that world and the axiomatically posited human-in-person as the condition for that world, reversing the philosophical insistence on reducing the human to a predicate of the Philosopher as Subject.

    I think you can get to a pluralist, democratic, diachronic, immanent and holistic understanding of the human by other means. If you have started down a particular trajectory of thinking it’s probably better to peruse it. For my money any trajectory of thought that manages to produce something like “Engage” is already “conjugating” and “creating” something remarkable, even were one to conjugate and create oneself out of any overt interest in the practice of Buddhism.

  17. Mal Avatar

    I’m now reading CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE HUMAN RACE BY THOMAS LIGOTTI, which is great read! Profound philosophy in a readable, even exciting, prose style. All modern philosophers should model themselves on Ligotti. So indeed get to Amazon and buy it, or make use of your free month of Kindle Unlimited. I’m so impressed that I’ll probably actually buy a Ligotti… any recommendations?

    Shaun – I think you should make an exception for this piece of necrophilosophy, He tackles your comment “I’m not that interested in delving into this kind of necro-philosophy, because I find myself moving in the opposite direction: Life after Buddhism.”… and explores how pursuing “Life” is so difficult, with or without Buddhism. In doing this he considers Nietzsche’s philosophy of Life. But he finds him wanting, as do I.

    So what is this Life we are all meant to pursue?

  18. Shaun Bartone Avatar

    I’ll respond by re-stating what I said above, which is that there are certain kinds of lives that we don’t want to live, which are a lives so full of pain and so meaningless that it’s not worth living, the kind of life that we dread, that provokes an existential fear of living, e.g. long-term imprisonment, war & torture, absolute poverty, chronic debilitating disease. There are social policies and political strategies that we can collectively work out to avoid being trapped in that kind of life. Outside of that, it’s up to the individual and the collective what kind of life they should live. If I suggested what kind of life one should live, I would be instantly shot down as ‘imposing’ a certain ethic of life on someone else. Not going there.

  19. ataraxy666 Avatar

    Mal: I’d read My Work Is Not Yet Done: Three Tales of Corporate Horror. Anyone who lives and works in late capitalism will recognize the feelings. To read Ligotti is to read with a wild beast’s jaws clamped around your neck. The Conspiracy Against the Human Race is different from other pessimistic writers, Cioran for instance. With Cioran, I can sense humor and a rhapsodizing of human knowledge. He is still partaking of the banquet of human learning, so to speak. Ligotti though… The gates of Hell close around you.
    It’s interesting to read this piece here; I enjoyed it. I came to Buddhism, and ultimately this site, through the pessimism and antinatalist blogs. Never able to fully embrace the ideas, too much of a staunch leftist for that. Still, I find myself in a certain place from time to time and the views are compelling in their own ways.

  20. […] Materials Toward A Buddhohorror […]

  21. […] Materials Toward A Buddhohorror […]

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