People operate with diverse systems of belief and we can live with this incoherence - Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty - Page 118 - Paul W. Kahn - 2011 - Preview - More editions In the postmodern world, the...2 months ago
In view of the fact that multiple anonymous comments in a thread make confusing reading and it becomes difficult to track who is telling what and to whom, only comments bearing some name/pseudonym/identity will appear in future. [TNM 011110 SEOF]
Saturday 31 March 2007
Friday 30 March 2007
What most of them offer is simply the suggestion: read my book on the new paradigm. This is deeply disturbing
The U.N. was long ago taken over by leftists and has become the most illiberal institution on the planet
Thursday 29 March 2007
Wednesday 28 March 2007
Mill thought about ethical questions in their social context, and recognized that human beings must undergo a process of cultivation or development so that they might become capable of enjoying those things (literature, philosophy, art, science, mathematics, etc) that are open to human beings. As such, he recognized that it was not enough to simply transform oneself, but that social institutions must be transformed as well. Mill was a passionate advocate for reform in education, labor structures, economic structures, gender relations, etc. What seems implicit in Mill’s thought is the idea that humans always individuate, actualize, or develop themselves in a social environment such that we must think about their capacity (and limits) of happiness within such contexts.
This discussion led to a discussion of education in the United States, and I found myself horrified by what my students told me about their highschool education. These students related how all of their education had been organized around taking standardized tests, referred to here in Texas as “TAKS” tests. The entire curriculum during the school year was devoted to teaching what would be covered on these texts and developing strategies for effectively taking these tests. I found myself particularly bothered by what they said about their English classes. On the one hand, students were trained to write short, one page, five paragraph essays that summarized whatever material they were being asked to “analyze” (no critical interpretation). On the other hand, their literature courses focused on plot summary and they were told that this is the one interpretation of say Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet. Even where there was disagreement over interpretation or possibilities of alternative readings, the students were told that this is what the test graders would be looking for so this is what the students need to be able to repeat or replicate. Somehow this filled me with a sense of dread, sensing this was what Benjamin worried over in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” taken to its extreme. Some of my colleagues complain that students are today lazy, that they don’t know how to read, that they cannot write, etc. However, I think these judgments fail to take into account the ways in which students have been trained by the public education system and the way that they’re developing in our contemporary technological environment. We need to find ways to work with these challenges, not to blame students and teachers.
When I took English courses in highschool we would sit in a large circle and read whatever work we were studying line by line. We would have lively discussions about the texts, analyzing themes, metaphors, symbolism, etc., and how the text might resonate with contemporary issues. In engaging in these activities we learned how to read and learned that reading is not simply the ability to read the words on the page, but consists of actively engaging with texts, animating them, extrapolating from them, and drawing them out of themselves. Reading here became an occasion for theory building, where the students built sociological, anthropological, psychological, metaphysical, and ethical theories regarding the world. When we read Orwell’s 1984 we built a theory of ideology and attachment to power. When we read Sophocles’ Antigone we developed theories pertaining to why humans explain the world in terms of the concept of “curse” and other similar themes. Literature was a way of knowing the world.
However, literature also functioned as a way of shifting from immediacy, to tautological ground, to real ground. In immediacy objects, persons, and events are simply taken as they are, in their abstract immediacy without need of further explanation. The world is simply taken as it is. Tautological ground encounters objects, persons, and events as mediated or differing from themselves, requiring a ground of explanation. For instance, one says “objects fall because of gravity.” “Gravity” is a tautologous explanation in that it is identical to objects falling. It adds nothing more to our understanding of the object but merely repeats what it does. Or put more precisely, it changes nothing in our cognition of the content of the object. However, it does change the form of how we relate to the object in that we now recognize that the being must be grounded in something else, that it requires an explanation. Real ground then would add something to the content through giving an explanation. Literature took us through these stages of cognition, transforming the abstract immediacy of the world around us into something requiring explanation. The novel, the poem, the essay presented itself as an enigma to be explained and was thus a laboratory for “real world” thought.
Somehow the cynicism and cocerns of my students seem to resonate with a number of concerns haunting contemporary theory today. I am heartened that they could express cynicism towards this form of “education”, almost as if they instinctively sense that something is wrong here. Even though they have developed in such an environment, they still seem to recognize that alternatives are possible. The world of theory has taught us many dark truths in the last 100 years. Foucault has shown us how our relationship to ourselves and our relationship to others is pervaded by relations of power that give us form and identity. The structuralists have shown us how thought is governed by linguistic structures that organize how we think and relate to the world. Sociologists such as Bourdieu have shown us how or sense of self and interpersonal relations is organized by social habitus and power. Figures like Barthes, Baudrillard, and Lyotard have shown how signs and narratives organize our self understanding and world. Lacan and Freud have shown how the autonomous ego is a fiction in thrall of the unconscious.
In each case, the subject has become a sort of void or placeholder within a field of differential relations that contributes nothing of its own and which is buffeted like a small boat at sea by social forces beyond its control and comprehension. In this connection, I wonder what it could possibly be for a subject to be autonomous today.
- What can autonomy possibly be given what we know now about the nature of subject formation?
- How can we be self-directing humans when we are formed and actualized in this way?
Perhaps the most astonishing moment in Kant’s ethical theory comes when he argues that we ourselves are the legislators of the moral law. For Kant the moral law does not come from God, nor from parents or authorities, but we both create the moral law and bind ourselves with this law. This is necessitated by the formulation of the moral law that says “always treat rational beings as ends in themselves and never as means to an end.”
Were the moral law to come from elsewhere, we would become mere tools of the moral law. This suggests that there’s a perverse masochistic fantasy at work in the common religious belief that we’re a part of some unfolding divine plan, as we here see ourselves as tools or implements of Gods jouissance. Judge Schreber saw this clearly in his psychosis. That aside, given what we know about the nature of the subject today, is it possible any longer to think of ourselves as legislators or self-directing beings? Moreover, how can a pedagogy focused on rubrics and learning outcomes in this way possible promote the cultivation of autonomous, self-directing human beings? At the very least, a pedagogy that does not promote the division of the object from itself, its mediation and split nature, nor the division of the subject from herself– her lack of immediacy and identity with herself –fails to implement that void that would be necessary for acts of freedom and self-creation incalculable by social structure. ~ by larvalsubjects on March 27, 2007.
Perhaps a few separable issues here? One is the issue of technology, one the issue of the political push for “measurable” educational outcomes, and one the issue of how to conceptualise both the self, and context, such that we can more easily visualise potentials for autonomy within our present moment?
Personally, I’m still agnostic on the issue of whether recent technological shifts pose qualitatively new challenges for education - perhaps because I’ve been immersed in this stuff for so long, have worked professionally in the field, I may underestimate the significance of this shift… Not sure…
The focus on “outcomes-based” and easily measurable educational results is much more troubling to me - I don’t have a meaningful response, other than to say it was an issue I was heavily involved in when I was in the US, and that arises in a somewhat different form here, as well… At the individual level, I’ve focussed on trying to make my classes spaces where certain forms of reading, writing and thinking can be cultivated - resisting a distressing tendency I see in some other faculty to treat our students as “data” - as something given and unchangeable, as though our own practices and the relationships we develop in the classroom setting can’t have a meaningful transformative impact.
On the issue of self and context: I’m curious - from this post, but also from other comments here and there - at how strongly committed you are to the imagery you use here, which seems to suggest that the potential for the production of a free self resides, essentially, in the ability of that self to free themselves from context - to do something that lies fundamentally outside context? I’ve mentioned before that “context”, for me, is not something I perceive as a unitary thing, as something that contains only potentials for its own reproduction - I see context as shot through with contradictions and, as a result, I see room within context for the development of autonomous selves. I don’t, though, define autonomy in terms of the leap outside of context (to me, this always seems as though it points in the direction of abstract critique), but in terms of subjects positioning themselves actively in relation to the potentials we have collectively constituted in the complex and multilayered context we have generated, seizing the best of what we have taught ourselves is possible… Autonomy is thus contextual, for me - but its form is nevertheless far from predetermined…N Pepperell said this on March 27th, 2007 at 10:12 pm I do think the sorts of writing technologies we use have an impact on us developmentally, though I only have anecdotal evidence for this. I think there’s a much different thought process involved in navigating hyperlinks and primarily visual technologies that differs markedly from what’s involved in reading a texting and composing a letter or essay. For instance, temporally you have to be able to retend what came before in a text and anticipate what comes next. Increasingly I’ve noticed that students have a very difficult time encountering texts as unities or wholes, seeing the text as a group of isolated moments. I don’t think this has to do with the intelligence of the students, so much as a certain way of experiencing time.
I think there are broader issues with outcome based assessment than what simply takes place in the classroom. Here I think Foucault’s analyses of micropower are really useful and that this is fertile ground for a Foucault-style genealogical analysis. What is taking place in these pedagogical approaches is a subjectivization, a certain structure of thought and experiencing the world. It would be worthwhile to analyze this subjectivization and the diagram of power it embodies.
I am open to the idea that there can be both autonomy and context, or that autonomy doesn’t necessarily entail a break from context. I am, however, trying to pose the question as starkly as possible. The motivation for this has to do with the theoretical moment we find ourselves in– or I find myself in –with regard to primarily French theory. The tendency has been to reduce the subject to “subject-positions” enacting scripts or narratives or to even reject the category of subject altogether (Althusser). In this connection subject is seen as simply seen as reproducing social structure (or whatever social body we care to evoke). larvalsubjects said this on March 27th, 2007 at 10:49 pm This post was thrown together about twenty minutes before I had to teach, so the relations among the issues are a bit scattered. What I was thinking about was how the accountability and outcome assessment movement originally emerged in the United States. In my recollection this movement began to emerge about 10 years ago when it became increasingly evident that students were not performing as well as students in other countries. Now what’s interesting about this is that it was immediately assumed that teachers were the problem. Almost immediately there began to be calls for more educated teachers (now nearly all secondary school teachers are required to have master’s degrees) and “quality control” methodologies were drawn from the corporate world and applied to curriculum.
What’s interesting in this is that teaching methods and teachers hadn’t changed remarkably. Teaching methods current decades ago were still in use, yet it was teachers that were blamed for the decline in performance. In short, those analyzing the decline in performance did not examine whether something had changed culturally, socially, environmentally, or technology, producing a different type of student or subjectivity. My vulgar and simplistic hypothesis is that cognitively we develop differently in an environment saturated by communications technologies. Just as someone raised in a narrative culture as when Homeric poems were sung and known by heart thinks differently than someone actualized in a text culture, so too is the structure or “shape of consciousness” different in a culture saturated by communications technology. Of course, the weakness of my hypothesis is that it doesn’t explain why American students seem to be uniquely doing poorly in this way when other cultures that enjoy the pervasiveness of this technology are not encountering similar problems (and perhaps they are and I am just unaware of it). So that was the first point.
The additional issue surrounded looking at the “solution” itself and discerning the manner in which it is more a problem than the problem itself. The focus on rubrics and performance outcomes shares a number of similarities to theses in contemporary theory about subjectivization and interpellation that are worth taking a look at vis a vis issues of autonomy and what it means to be a free subject. larvalsubjects said this on March 27th, 2007 at 11:50 pmHere: Increasingly I’ve noticed that students have a very difficult time encountering texts as unities or wholes, seeing the text as a group of isolated moments.
My reaction is probably too heavily conditioned by the fact that I spent a lot of time working with some fairly marginalised student populations - in my own work, this was an issue before it would have been plausible to blame it on the technology, but this doesn’t mean that exposure to technology doesn’t have its own impacts. I have a reflex scepticism that probably derives both from, as I mentioned above, my own embeddedness in the field at various periods, and also the tendency in many literatures to get (from my point of view) too caught up in the hype - not saying at all that you are doing this, just that the fact that there is enormous (positive and negative) hype, means that I’m very wary in how I approach empirical work in this area, as I think we’re in a period where it’s very easy to over-attribute shifts to technology that may not exist, or not be as strong as we think, or be due to other factors. But this is not an in-principle objection to your point - and I emphatically agree that, whatever may or may not have changed, we aren’t talking about anything related to the intelligence of the students.
I also agree with you that outcomes-based assessment isn’t something that should be addressed at an individual classroom level - apologies, this had occurred to me when I wrote the original post, but I was in a rush. The movement has been underway for longer than 10 years - in Texas specifically, there were early stages of this when I was in middle school, and this was a major issue in the work I was doing with educational institutions in the 1990s. (And, of course, things similar to outcomes-based learning are one pole in a dichotomy with a much longer history, but the issue at hand is how all this manifests more recently.) This was, in a sense, a “bottom up” educational “reform” movement that has more recently gained a heavy dose of “top down” pressure, as well… And it has generally been quite hostile to the teaching profession (and, in various periods, was related to some not-so-subtle attacks on the level of unionisation in the profession - at least in the skirmishes in which I was involved… A sort of deskilling and industrial mechanisation of the concept of education…)
I’m curious that you take for granted the “decline of performance” claims - I’ve been out of this field for some time now but, when I was still working in the area, discourses of educational decline often had a sort of “moral panic” status: you would disaggregate the statistics, for example, only to learn that what looked like a decline, when students were viewed in aggregate, was actually an increase in educational performance in most or all subgroups - but in a context in which the relative numbers of marginalised or educationally disadvantaged subgroups had increased - thus dragging performance “down” when the stats were viewed in a superficial way. So what, from one perspective, could be seen as the educational system dealing better than it ever had before with an increasingly complex economic and cultural situation, was reinterpreted as a decline, and mobilised to support a quite conservative narrative.
But my empirical knowledge is essentially Reagan and Bush I era - I couldn’t tell you whether anything similar underlies the “crisis of education” discussion now. It’s just that my earlier experience with this has left me with an entrenched impulse to scrutinise such claims very, very closely: it may, in fact, be that there might not be a problem to solve. This would, of course, then react back on how we might interpret the impact of technologies or other social shifts…
Apologies - I’ve just added several more layers of diffusion to the discussion. And my direct knowledge on these issues (other than as they arise immediately in the Australian context) is badly dated and rusty…N Pepperell said this on March 28th, 2007 at 12:36 am
At any rate, at least nine-tenths of our freedom of will is a palpable fiction. That will is created and determined not by its own self-existent action at a given moment, but our past, our heredity, our training, the whole tremendous complex thing called Karma, which is, behind us, the whole past actions of Nature on us and the world converging in the individual, determining what he is, determining what his will shall be at a given moment and determining, as far as analyses can see, even its action at that moment. [Ghose , Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Lotus Press, 1966, p. 200–01.]
Tuesday 27 March 2007
While Sri Aurobindo is not seeking the Kantian ideals of the transcendental self and autonomous will, he is clear about the advisability of withdrawing from man’s material environment, without, however, rejecting it totally. The true law of social development requires of man and nation to act and think universalistically, not egoistically, shedding off the body-based egoism, individual as well as collective…
True subjectivism is a confluence of transcendental self-affirmation and identification of self with all others in the world…Only by admitting and realising our unity with others can we entirely fulfil our true self-being. [p.286, Sri Aurobindo and Karl Marx: Integral Sociology and Dialectical Sociology by D. P. Chattopadhyaya]
How groups and movements are formed that eventually transform balances of power and the field of discourse
- How did they organize? What communications did this involve?
- What were the material social conditions that fostered the attractiveness of this way of life, and so on?
These things can be evaluated, I think, without making judgments about the truth or falsity of these claims or where these questions are bracketed. And, I believe, such analyses are of value for both enhancing strategies in the present (clearly this is what Badiou is interested in with Paul) and understanding group dynamics. I find that there’s a sort of tragic tone in a lot of continental political theory, as if nothing can change. Yet when you look at history you discover that all sorts of things have changed that seemed impossible to change. How did they do it? I said the post was inspired by the discussion, not that it was necessarily about the exact themes of the discussion. larvalsubjects said this on March 26th, 2007 at 6:25 pm
Monday 26 March 2007
I’ve found myself inspired by a number of the themes in this discussion, which led me to write the rather underdeveloped post on populations today. I have a difficult time articulating clearly what I’m trying to get at in these meditations. Perhaps it could be summed up with the word “infrastructure”. Increasingly I’ve come to find myself dissatisfied with ideology critique and forms of political theory that search for the “right theory”. In this connection, I’ve begun to focus on the material dimension of how movements are formed and maintain themselves in time, and also how they pass away… That is, the material dimension of communication. Here I’m thinking about communications that circulate around the public sphere: Political pamplets, newpapers articles, public email exchanges, discussion lists, regular group meetings, blogs, certain repetitive phrases like “I’m an Oscar Myer weenie” that stick in ones head or “Gore said he invented the internet”, media stories, etc., etc. What has interested in me is not so much the content of these things, but the way they become formative of certain ways of conceiving the world and certain identities. I’ve tended to notice– with the help of N.Pepperell –that theorists coming out of the Frankfurt school and contemporary French political theory tend to suffer from a kind of sickness: Theoretical pessimism. Here I wonder whether this doesn’t arise from thinking about politics in abstraction and at the level of content, and ignoring the material dimension of how messages are produced and disseminated throughout the social sphere, how movements and groups are formed, and how institutions have successfully been short-circuited in the past, allowing for new institutions to be formed in their stead.
These thoughts have been on my mind for a long time… Since prior to the 2004 elections. But they also resonate with me personally having just witnessed such a transformation within my own neck of the woods. While I cannot go into details, here an utter transformation was made possible through public email exchanges that galvanized a group of people and which had the effect of leveraging a tremendous amount of pressure on higher management, demanding a significant degree of change. Here the form of communication– email –had a massive impact on what was and was not possible. Had the very same complaints been levelled in private to management in this organization, no change would have occured as the complaints would have been seen as 1) personal, and 2) as easily swept under the rug and ignored. It was the rendering public that allowed for a collectivization of identity that had to be recognized and responded to, lest the business explode. This was all made possible by mediums of communication, but also by forms of rhetoric that created a particular collective identity and that worked to transform concerns that might have been seen as personal into systemic problems requiring organizational change. As a result of this encounter, a new identity was formed that didn’t exist prior to this and that is now capable of things that it wasn’t before capable of.
When we treat any institution as a monolithic fact that cannot be changed, we are ignoring the manner in which this institution must perpetually reproduce itself through time through the agency of those that belong to the institution. We forget that the institution or form of social life is just as much produced by these agents as they are produced by them. We then resort to ideology critique and other forms of ingenious analysis, hoping to awaken these subjects from their attachment to the institution. What we don’t do is begin forming other institutions and subjectivities that get discourses on the table in a very public way– not academic, public, accessible –that force existing institutions to acknowledge them and into becoming through that very force. For a long time protests were able to do this but their messages are now too dilated by being filtered through media machines. More recently blogs have been very effective in doing this by getting information and certain themes out there to millions of people through linkages among blogs, raising money, organizing boycotts, and organizing letter writing campaigns that are very difficult for politicians and major media outlets to ignore. The impact of these media technologies on major media and politicians has been palpable and profound for anyone who has carefully followed how major stories have been broken and brought front and center in the last three or four years. This is transformation through viral infestation and contamination. I’m beginning to think there needs to be more concrete analysis, almost case studies like what Hallward is doing with his book on Haiti, or what Foucault did, or what Deleuze and Guattari allow us to theorize, and less abstract theorizing detached from context such as we find in Zizek, Ranciere, and Badiou. We need to look at those small skirmishes where profound change has been produced, and look at the mechanisms that allowed for the production of new identities, new institutions, and significant shifts in distributions of power.The Withering Away of the State March 25, 2007 • 1 Comment The State can be conceived as a series of institutions, but also as a system of categories through which members are named and identified as belonging to particular social categories. In the latter case, the State functions to homogenize and minimize difference by transforming differences into mere noise that can be easily ignored. For instance, we come to talk of “Christians”, “The Enlightenment”, “Men”, “Women”, “Blacks”, “the United States”, etc., as if these groupings all had one monolithic and identical content. All we can think of here are instead tendencies that happen to be more or less dominant in a situation. The question then becomes that of a concrete praxis devoted to intensifying other tendences within a population.
Discussing the process of individuation or the movement from the virtual to the actual in the process of actualization, Deleuze writes,
A living being is not only defined genetically, by the dynamisms which determine its internal milieu, but also ecologically, by the external movements which provide over its distribution within an extensity. A kinetics of population adjoins, without resembling, the kinetics of the eg; a geographic process of isolation may be no less formative of species than internal genetic variations, and sometimes precedes the latter. Everything is even more complicated when we consider that the internal space is made up of multiple spaces which must be locally integrated and connected, and that this connection, which may be achieved in many ways, pushes the object or living being to its own limits, all in contact with the exterior; and that this relation with the exterior, and with other things and living beings, implies in turn connections and global integrations which differ in kind from the preceding. Everywhere a staging at several levels. (Difference and Repetition, 217)
Perhaps one of the central contributions of Darwinian evolution is the shift from thinking in terms of abstract species, to thinking in terms of individuals and populations, where individual difference precedes difference in the species, serving as its condition. Geography here becomes an individuating factor, where relations among different populations, environment, geographical isolation or accessibility, all figure into thinking about the emergence of molar aggregates. That is, the idea of a species functions as an abstraction that covers over all these dynamic relations, such that we must conceive species as only ever being dominant statistical aggregates that “leak around the edges” rather than as being unchanging and self-identical units.A similar structure is at work at the level of the social. In some inspiring pages early in his A People’s History of the United States, Zinn makes some observations that resonate nicely with Deleuze’s remarks about populations and geography. There Zinn writes,
‘History is the memory of states,’ wrote Henry Kissinger in his first book, A World Restored, in which he proceeded to tell the history of nineteenth-century Europe from the viewpoint of the leaders of Austria and England, ignoring the millions who suffered from those statesmen’s policies. From his standpoint, the “peace” that Europe had before the French Revolution was “restored” by the diplomacy of a few national leaders. But for factory workers in England, farmers in France, colored people in Asia and Africa, women and children everwhere except in the upper classes, it was a world of conquest, violence, hunger, exploitation– a world not restored but disintigrated.
My viewpoint, in telling the history of the United States, is different: that we must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interests (sometimes exploding, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners. (9-10)
Zinn’s sorting here is a bit too neat and dualistic (victims and victimizers), but the interest of this passage is the way in which it undermines the legitimacy of molar unities such as “nation” and “state”, instead allowing us to see dynamic and divergent populations pulsing beneath. The problem with these molar categories is that they suggest homogeneity and unity where there are none. Quoting Deleuze once again,
There is a crucial experience of difference and a corresponding experiment: every time we find ourselves confronted or bound by a limitation or an opposition, we should ask what such a situation presupposes. It presupposes a swarm of differences, a pluralism of free, wild or untamed difference; a properly differential and original space and time; all of which persists alongside the simplification of limitation and identity. Oppositions are roughly cut from a delicate milieu of overlapping perspectives, of communicating distances, divergences and disparities, of heterogeneous potentials and intensities. Nor is it primarily a question of dissolving tensions in the identical, but rather of distributing the disparities in a multiplicity. Limitations correspond to a simple first-order power– in a space with a single dimension and a single direction, where, as in Leibniz’s example of boats borne on a current, there may be collisions, but these collisions necessarily serve to limit and to equalise, but not to neutralise or to oppose. As for opposition, it represents in turn the second-order power, where it is as though things were spread out upon a flat surface, polarised in a single plane, and the synthesis itself took place only in a false depth… In any case, what is missing is the original, intensive depth which is the matrix of the entire space and the first affirmation of difference: here, that which only afterwards appears as linear limitation and flat opposition lives and simmers in the form of free differences. Everywhere, couples and polariteis presuppose bundles and networks, organised oppositions presuppose radiations in all directions. (DR, 50-51).
What Zinn approaches without quite reaching it are these free and untamed differences, these networks, populated by antagonisms where identity is a principle become, and where the identities and institutions that we see all about us and which we experience as being eternal and unchanging– such that we can scarcely imagine a different world –are riddled with antagonisms and ripe with potentialities for both passing-away and becoming something other. Such a way of thinking suggests a very different mode of analysis, but also a different form of praxis aimed at touching upon these networks rather than playing upon the surface oppositions. Above all it is a form of praxis geared towards producing populations. ~ by larvalsubjects on March 25, 2007.
I was overall discomfited by this aspiring utopia, its aura of neocolonialism and strange inhospitability
What the new consciousness wants (it is on this that it insists) is: no more divisions.– The Mother
I will elaborate on these topics more as I continue to write about my personal journey. For now I merely want to note one thing: that it is possible to turn the most sublime truths into tools of division by reducing them to mere intellectual constructs, rather than actually carrying out the difficult process of self-transformation and surrender to what is.
For example, Ken Wilber, the latter-day bridge-builder between the worlds of exoteric and esoteric knowledge, and the popularizer of the term “integral” (though not in the Aurobindoan sense), has built up elaborate colour-coding and labeling systems to identify people at different stages along the spiritual path. I can understand the need for a psychological typology, but one would always have to keep in mind that no typology is every applicable across the board, nor is any typology final. Moreover, every individual is unique, and every group, however apparently ignorant, could have something to teach us regardless. The subject of a spiritual hierarchy is a very subtle topic indeed, because the sage does not see the world in terms of dualities, so hierarchy and equality are, from the sage’s perspective, totally consistent with each other. As Sri Aurobindo writes:
I heard a fool discoursing utter folly and wondered what God meant by it; then I considered and saw a distorted mask of truth and wisdom.
When thou callest another a fool, as thou must, sometimes, yet do not forget that thou thyself hast been the supreme fool in humanity.
The consistency of equality and hierarchy in the spiritual worldview is a difficult topic to write about and perhaps I will devote another post to this after giving it more thought. But the point I was trying to make in this post was that people who reduce spiritual to a set of mental formulas become stuck in just another fundamentalist religion. Wilberian integral philosophy is a clear example of this, and most people within that movement use his labels and his typologies to put down and denigrate other people with different belief systems. To me it just looks like an excuse to not take a closer look at someone.
According to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, often an honest atheist or a courageous agnostic is much closer to Godhood than a loud devotee, whose proclamations of faith are merely a mask for his or her intellectual and spiritual laziness. In other words, appearances are misleading, and labels are inherently prejudicial and divisive. Therefore, one must tread very carefully and never, ever pass judgment, which is just egoic...The task at hand is the annulment of one’s ego-mind so that all that remains is the Divine. This means no longer holding on to any fixed mental formulas or labels at all. In other words, true faith is beyond belief. It is not a change of mind, not a mere intellectual change. It is a change of consciousness entirely. It is transformative.
What, then, are the indicators that one is making progress on the spiritual path? In my experience, the only thing that really shows one is making progress is when one starts to lose their personal preferences and personal agendas, and starts accepting others more and more as they are. One starts to unconditionally accept what is. One is less jarred by the happenings in one’s surroundings. One reacts less. One loses their resentment and anger towards other beings. The look turns more and more inward: one takes responsibility for their inner state and stops blaming others for it. Increasingly, one responds equally to all beings and all phenomena. When everything one is and does is consecrated to the Divine, the distinction between the agreeable and the disagreeable starts to blur. At the summit of this, there is no distinction at all, and one feels neither pleasure nor pain, but a synthesis of both, that Sri Aurobindo calls “a purely fiercer form of Delight.”
Sunday 25 March 2007
In short: Wilber continually uses the semantics of the differentiated monism ( or Theosophy ), but, since it is juxtaposed on the extreme unitary monism grand blueprint, it momentarily loses its coherence and meaning.
Saturday 24 March 2007
Some of Auroville can feel quite colonial with rich westerners utilising dirt cheap local labour and help
Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds
- Firstly, as the drive to an ordered goal that is no longer recognizable, set amidst the collapsing of the 'insiders' and the 'outsiders'/'strangers' (a milieu in which the processes of cognitive ordering of the strange and different and the aesthetic appreciation of the strange and different are in continual conflict).
- Secondly, as a way of life in which such inherent human differentiation is accepted and reckoned with. His conception of social life is therefore not one of opposing the modern to the postmodern, but of interpolating two different logics within social life. (Hence, his present characterization of these two logics as being the dualistic 'solid' and 'liquid' modernity.) 1978: Hermeneutics and Social Science: Approaches to Understanding. London: Hutchinson.