Wednesday, April 30, 2008

AntiMatters & The Immanent Frame

Ulrich Mohrhoff ujm@auromail.net, date 28 April 2008 18:22 subject AntiMatters new issue alert
Greetings from Pondicherry!
With the publication of its fourth issue (Volume 2 Number 2), AntiMatters (http://anti-matters.org) completes its first year.
AntiMatters is an open-access e-journal addressing issues in science and the humanities from non-materialistic perspectives. It is published quarterly by the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education in Pondicherry, India.
The web-link to the current issue is http://anti-matters.org/0/current.htm
With best regards (and apologies in case you receive this information more than once),
Ulrich Mohrhoff Managing Editor - AntiMatters Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education Pondicherry 605002 India

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Articles
Materialism Sri Aurobindo 1-8
Beyond Natural Selection and Intelligent Design: Sri Aurobindo’s Theory of Evolution Ulrich J Mohrhoff 9-31
Sri Aurobindo and Hinduism Peter Heehs 33-45
Indian Spiritual Knowledge and the Psychology Curriculum Matthijs Cornelissen 47-57
Should We Expect To Feel As If We Understand Consciousness? Mark C Price 59-70
Diseases of Meaning, Manifestations of Health, and Metaphor Kim Jobst, Daniel Shostak, Peter J Whitehouse 71-80
Awakening the Genius Within Yasuhiko Genku Kimura 81-85
Can the New Science of Evo–Devo Explain the Form of Organisms? Steve Talbott 87-102
Book Reviews
Moalem and Prince: Survival of the Sickest 103-110
Vaughan-Lee: Alchemy of Light 111-117
Martin: Does it Matter? 119-126
Northcote: The Paranormal and the Politics of Truth 127-133
Book Excerpts
Reinventing the Sacred Stuart A Kauffman 135-144
The Ascent of Humanity Charles Eisenstein 145-165

from Jonathan VanAntwerpen vanantwerpen@ssrc.org reply-toreligion@ssrc.org,
to Tusar Mohapatra tusarnmohapatra@gmail.com, date 29 April 2008 01:08 subject John Bowen on "Islam and authority"
"In his new book," writes John Bowen today at The Immanent Frame, "Abdullahi an-Na`im argues that Muslims need a secular state to live their religious lives. Alongside his immensely informative account of modern developments, he makes a sustained argument against state enforcement of Islam along two major lines. First, it makes no religious sense for a state to force Muslims to follow God’s will, because Muslims should act from conviction and choice. An-Na`im makes a second argument that is parallel to the first: not only is it futile and religiously counter-productive to enforce Islamic piety, but doing so also distorts and impoverishes religion."
Read Bowen's full post.
Also new at The Immanent Frame:
Scott Appleby on "An indifferent pope?"
Charles Taylor on "Secularism and critique"

So-called "selfishness" and "selflessness" can actually be compatible

Scott Site Admin Joined: 20 Jan 2007 Posts: 321 Posted: Wed Apr 02, 2008 10:14 pm Post subject: Is Selfishness Compatible with Kindness? by Scott Hughes

Many cultures and moral philosophies have promoted so-called selflessness, such as the ethical doctrine of altruism by Auguste Comte (who coined the term altruism). Perhaps as a result, some other philosophies have promoted so-called selfishness, such as the ethical doctrine of Egoism and Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. Putting prescriptive morality aside, I contend that the self-interestedness supported by pro-selfishness philosophers does not necessarily conflict with the kindness supported by pro-selflessness philosophers.

The two philosophical viewpoints appear to directly oppose each other, but that appearance stems from the use of divisively confusing terminology.

Firstly, let's look at the use of term selfish. Generally speaking, what most pro-selfishness philosophers call "selfishness," I would just call self-interestedness. To most people, 'selfishness' generally refers to acting upon especially greedy, uncompassionate or narcissistic motivations. In contrast, 'self-interestedness' can simply refer to acting out of one's own interests, including indirect interests. Many people, including myself, argue that all people are inherently self-interested because, by definition, a person desires and values what he or she desires and values. Those desires and values also develop into goals, and the person makes their decisions in an attempt to most fulfill those desires, values, and goals. While everyone is self-interested, the label 'selfish' is usually reserved only for people whose interests are more greedy, uncompassionate or narcissistic than other people's interests.

Now let's look at the use of the term selfless. Generally speaking, what most pro-selflessness philosophers call "selflessness," I would just call kindness or compassion. Using the term 'selflessness' seems to absurdly suggest that an allegedly "selfless" person does not have any desires, values or goals or at least that the person does not try to act out of his or her desires, values or goals at all. But that is probably not what most pro-selflessness philosophers mean. When they call a person "selfless," they probably just mean that the person has compassionate desires, values and goals, in that the person likes to help other people and other people's happiness makes the person happy. In contrast to the misnomer 'selfless,' referring to such people as kind and compassionate more accurately portrays that the people each have kind and compassionate interests which they each act out as opposed to not having interests or not acting out of their interests.

In conclusion, so-called "selfishness" and "selflessness" can actually be compatible because the former can mean 'self-interestedness' and the latter can mean 'kindness.' And self-interestedness is compatible with kindness. In fact, I believe it is in most people's self-interest to help others, not only because others may return the favor, but also because we naturally love each other. We empathize and sympathize with each other. We feel good when we observe others feeling good. We feel bad when we observe others feeling bad. We feel enjoyment and satisfaction by helping other people and by making other people feel happy. What do you think?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Two very different ways of thinking about things

Shh! Don't give away our secret! Posted by Tusar N Mohapatra at April 27, 2008 4:47 AM Articulating Positions photo of the moments of a work process in motion In the throes of writing over the weekend, but I wanted to put up a quick pointer to a post from Carl at Dead ... Musepaper - http://papermuse.blogspot.com/

Stylistic virtuosity of the sort we find in Hegel’s Logic or ... By Tusar N Mohapatra Here I think N.Pepperell’s observations about Marx’s textual strategies are apropos. In short, the question is whether or not Marx’s claims could have been presented in a different way. I suspect they can. We see N. ... rainbOwther - http://rainbowther.blogspot.com/

A text like A Thousand Plateaus is designed to actualize itself in ... By Tusar N Mohapatra I’m inclined to agree with N, and I’m not sure there’s really anything more to add, save that bad writing isn’t necessarily obscurantist, or ‘difficult’ (in the sense of ‘intellectually arduous’). It’s just a nuisance, which has prompted ... Evergreen Essays - http://evergreenessays.blogspot.com/

Freud seemed working out exceedingly complex material in beautiful ... By Tusar N Mohapatra The conversation between N. Pepperell and Daniel strikes me as a classic sort of contrast between two very different ways of thinking about things, which I’ve tried to capture in my title for this post by hijacking Heisenberg’s ... Feel Philosophy - http://feelphilosophy.blogspot.com/

The Mother's Service Society has begun a project on The Secret, the book and DVD taking the world by storm

The Mother's Service Society's work since 1969 has focused on identifying the fundamental principles governing the process of social development. These principles form the basis of a comprehensive Theory of Social Development. One basic assumption of this theory is that the same or very similar laws govern the evolution of society, organizations and individuals and the process of political, social, economic, commercial, intellectual, scientific, technological and artistic creation. The theory is based on the conviction that any problem, individual or organizational, in any field of life, lends itself to solution. [The complete description of MSS social science research activities and a complete set of research reports is available at the following sister site: www.mssresearch.org]
A new project on Human Science was recently launched by the Society @ wikia.com. Human Science explores the application of universal spiritual principles to a wider range of fields, including personal accomplishment, social development, education, environment, governance, internet, management, money, peace, personality, science and spirituality. Please visit and contribute.

The Society has begun a project on The Secret, the book and DVD taking the world by storm. This study attempts to present the truths the book and movie do not reveal about the process of human accomplishment. The book and DVD explain the method but not the theory of why and how the method works. A full understanding of the theory behind The Secret will enhance its power. When applied with knowledge, conviction and intense aspiration, the method of The Secret is infallible. It cannot fail. (http://humanscience.wikia.com/wiki/Secret_behind_The_Secret_Project)

Recently the famous novel Pride and Prejudice was voted the most popular work of fiction of all time in a UK survey. Our Society has done an extensive and in-depth study of this novel to show how it reveals life's laws. The study includes a detailed character analysis of the main characters as well as a line by line analysis of the plot.
The Society has also applied its theoretical knowledge of the development process to the growth of business organizations. These findings are presented in four management books published in the USA over the past ten years.
A Study of American History was undertaken recently in order to understand that country's role on the global stage. To read the book online, click here.
Seeing an opportunity to promote international peace in the late 1980s, the Society helped found the International Commission on Peace and Food (ICPF) whose final report, Uncommon Opportunities was presented to the United Nations in 1994. (click here to see the Preface to the 2nd Edition dated Nov. 2004)
International Symposium on Uncommon Opportunities: Roadmap for Employment, Food and Global Security -- was conducted in New Delhi on November 19-22, 2004. For details, click here.
The Society has undertaken two specific studies -- applying the theoretical principles of development theory to trace the evolution of two crucial institutions in society—money and the Internet. For essay, click here.
A new website for ideas on Entrepreneurship Opportunities in India and abroad, has just come up: click here.
Experimental School In Pondicherry:
Inspired by the methods for early childhood education developed by Dr. Glenn Doman at the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential in the USA, the Society is operating an experimental school in alternative education at Pondicherry These methods have previously been applied successfully in Shikshayatan School in Tamil Nadu.
The Society has conducted extensive research on the writings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother in order to interpret their philosophic and yogic concepts in a language that can be understood by the common man. For essays on spirituality and yoga, click here.
Created December 27, 1998 Last updated on Feb. 12, 2008 by The Mother's Service Society Webmaster
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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Continental philosophers do make arguments. We expect writing to speak plain truths

The Ends of Thought JOURNEYS TO PHILOSOPHY'S THIRD KINGDOM Friday, February 8, 2008 Do Continental Philosophers Have Arguments? Posted by Roman Altshuler

It isn’t so uncommon to meet someone who thinks that continental philosophers don’t make arguments. I suspect that often this is the result of not having read much, if any, continental philosophy. But of course that isn’t the whole explanation. Perhaps some people have picked up the notion that continental philosophers don’t make arguments from others, but then those others, at some point, must have picked up the notion somewhere. So here I want to briefly say that the answer is: yes. Continental philosophers do make arguments. I am happy to refer anyone who doubts this to, e.g., sections 19-21 of Heidegger’s Being and Time, which feature his phenomenological critique of Descartes. Or to Badiou’s critique of Levinas in his Ethics (pp. 18-23 in Verso’s English translation). The real question is, why might it seem like continental philosophers do not employ arguments? The answer, I think, is that readers trained to recognize the analytic style of argument might often read a continental argument without noticing that it is an argument at all. I have already pointed out one reason for this in a previous post: continental philosophers have a tendency to embed their arguments within a wider conceptual scheme, in such a way that the arguments for the scheme and the arguments within the scheme are co-dependent.

But I think there is another reason why continental arguments often get missed, and this seems to me to reflect a general difference in the way analytic and continental philosophers understand the purpose of argument (an obvious but important point before I start: I am not describing a methodology common to all continental philosophers; nor am I describing a methodology that no analytic philosophers apply). Let me start this train of thought by saying something about arguments, which I hope will not come off as overly controversial or anti-rational: Knock-down arguments, at least against widely accepted positions, are exceedingly rare. Strong arguments, of course, are not all that uncommon. But strong arguments are not knock-down arguments; they are not, in other words, arguments the conclusion of which pretty much any reader must accept under pain of contradiction. Philosophers generally spend some time—a lifetime, or perhaps a week—thinking out a position, and they don’t abandon it lightly. If the position is at all cogent—or, sometimes, even if it isn’t but provides support for another position that many people want supported—it is unlikely to be dropped instantly in response to an argument.

The obvious point that philosophers generally tend to hold on to their positions has ramifications as well, ones that are familiar to anyone who opens an analytic journal. What typically happens when a strong argument is presented is not that the target of the argument rolls over, but that the target comes up with a defense, or a way of preserving her original position by either undermining the critique or avoiding its implications. This need not be understood as the product of simple ego inflation, though there is some of that, coupled with pressures to publish (I am, for example, somewhat at a loss for how else to explain the decades of literature about Frankfurt Examples). There are certainly solid philosophical reasons for maintaining an established position—it is, after all, established for a reason; presumably, it provides a particularly strong approach to some problem, or it lacks the deeper difficulties of its competitors. The point, though, is that a debate can often go back and forth indefinitely, and the waning of such a debate or the prominence of a position is often attributable to factors that have little to do with the rational force of particular arguments.

And here I want to suggest that one typical (though not universal) continental approach to arguments arises out of this recognition: arguments are viewed not so much as techniques used to demonstrate an opponent’s flaw, but rather as attempts to make intelligible underlying issues. An example (though not a continental one): Galen Strawson has argued that moral responsibility is impossible, because it requires of an agent that she be capable of self-creation. Certainly both compatibilists and libertarians have replies to this argument. But the strength of the argument seems to me to lie not in its point (since its point is, really, just the restatement of a very old problem and, as such, hardly worth restating again), but in its ability to make that old point—a point that, in its longevity, seems to reveal a deep underlying philosophical concern—intelligible within a different idiom and conceptual scheme. So while an analytic philosopher might take the arguments primarily as something to be defended or refuted, a continental philosopher may be more likely to look at the context of the arguments on both sides and to search for the deeper conceptual problems involved. Often this involves a method of looking for aporias (a method Ricoeur calls “aporetics”)—points at which both sides have been so thoroughly defended that the fruitful response is not to contribute to one side or the other, but instead to take the problem to be for all intents and purposes insoluble, and to seek the reason for this insolubility in the conceptual scheme common to both sides.

The goal of a continental argument, then, is often not to attempt to resolve a philosophical problem directly, but to try to make the problem itself clearer by providing an intelligible picture of why the problem appears so intractable in the first place. This may seem unphilosophical and, really, unsatisfying to those committed to solving the problem; but it involves the recognition that some problems cannot be solved, and they cannot be solved not because the terms of the problem are badly defined, or because a master argument has not yet been found, but because the problem itself arises out of a mistaken schema. One consequence is that this tends to make continental writing less contentious and more conciliatory—another reason that arguments might seem to be lacking. It is conciliatory in the sense that often continental writing proceeds not by attempting to show that a particular view is wrong, but instead by showing that it is inadequate to grasping a deeper problem. But instead of simply rejecting the view, the method often goes on to seek the truth of the position, roughly, what is right about the position in the sense that it can be used to make sense of the underlying issue.

(An excellent example of this is Ricoeur’s writing in Oneself as Another—he begins by showing that P. F. Strawson’s account of persons in Individuals, according to which persons are the bearers of physical and mental properties, is insufficient for an account of selfhood, and yet throughout his argument in the book he returns to Strawson, reminding us that this dual attribution has to be kept in mind throughout.)

I suppose this mode of argumentation comes from an assimilation of Hegel into the philosophical culture. What may make this continental approach hard to recognize as argumentation, then, is that it lacks two features common to analytic argumentation:

  1. Problems are often approached not by addressing them head-on, but instead by examining their context.
  2. Positions shown to be “wrong” or inadequate are not simply rejected, but partially incorporated into a wider narrative.

This is, to be sure, a different way of doing philosophy, yet its credentials to legitimacy, especially as a form of argumentation, strike me as well-grounded. Update: There's been some further discussion, and a very nice reading that makes my point sound much better than it is, over at Rough Theory. at 10:19 PM Labels: 16 comments Philosophy Blogs Power Blogroll The Garden of Forking Paths PEA Soup Ethics Etc The Splintered Mind Ideas of Imperfection fragments of consciousness Thoughts Arguments and Rants Leiter Reports The Chasm Selbsttatigkeit Now-Times The Space of Reasons

Perverse Egalitarianism “Sneaky, Cruel and Unkind” April 21, 2008 The Plain Truth, Please! by Mikhail Emelianov

Richard Crary of The Existence Machine muses about the difficult reading: We expect writing to speak plain truths–we assume truths are plain. We want the language, in general, to be plain-spoken. If a book cannot be simply opened up and read and grasped by an uninitiated reader, then it must be bullshit (”gibberish”). Writing that is not plain-spoken is difficult and therefore pretentious. People who claim to enjoy supposedly difficult writing are poseurs (or, possibly, elitists). Philosophy is suspect.

I have been thinking along the similar lines recently as I was revisiting the old issue of trying to use “difficult texts” in my Intro class: the rationale for me has always been that I will expose my students to a type of writing that in itself will allow me to teach them a skill. For example, even though Plato’s dialogues are quite “easy” to read, or at least I can say that most college students find the form of a conversation between several people to be quite easy to grasp, we spend a lot of time trying to explain why it is important to ask about the essences of things like “justice” or “piety” - the style of a dialogue itself is never really an issue, because the subject matter is what is most important. Is it possible, for example, to use a text by Deleuze or Derrida or Blanchot as a way of exposing a group of students to the style of philosophizing that, because it is impossible to clearly see the actual subject matter, would draw attention to itself?

Assuming that the students actually read, or try to read the difficult text, is it possible to coherently argue in favor of such an experience of confusion? Does it make sense to say:”Yes, I know some of you told me in private that you tried to read the text but you couldn’t understand anything, but that is precisely what I expected would happen. Now that we are in class we can read the same text together and see if we can figure it out, because that is the skill we are trying to acquire in addition to being introduced to a contemporary thinker.” In a sense, if students could read and understand an essay by Derrida, they wouldn’t need to be in an Intro class.

In a sense, reading a difficult text is an exercise in slowing down the usual speed of reading and comprehesion and thus of training through repetition - reading and rereading, thinking through, connecting one clear idea to another, situating unclear passages in the context of the understood, working through a text in such a way is a philosophical skill, isn’t it?

The post continues: My instincts tell me that this problem has to do with the culture of capitalism (and of course it has everything to do with education), but I have neither the time nor the energy to expand on that notion right now. (Having neither time nor energy being intimately related to said culture.)

I am not sure about this - it seems to me that the culture of plain truth comes before, and makes possible, the culture of capitalism. Think, for example, about Descartes: his Meditations on First Philosophy are written in a very commonsensical style, a sort of a “thinking aloud” style - that simplification of philosophy (vis-a-vis heavy Aristotelian style of pre-Cartesian thinking) constitues, in a way, a philosophical break. Such simplicity encourages seeking out “plain truth” - every time I dare to ask a simple question such as “What Is Thinking?” in my class, I usually get something very plain and simple like “It’s an ability to analyze, break things down, mentally take them apart” - the very possibility of “taking apart” assumes that thinking is all about simplification, about slowing down the act of actual thinking, about simple procedures, calculations, steps… A kind of thinking machine, a calculator, a computer…Posted in Craptasitc Academic Drek, Philosophy Tagged , , 6 Comments 6 Responses to “The Plain Truth, Please!6 Style « Larval Subjects . Perverse Egalitarianism has an interesting post up on “difficult books”. Blogroll 3 Quarks Daily Able Arrt Acephalous Blah-feme Censura Chimères Continental Philosophy Crooked Timber Cultural Parody Center Dialectic: University of Newcastle Philosophy Club Discourse Notebook Dreaming Without Memory in Strangled Sleep Философский Штурм Feel Philosophy (India) Fido the Yak ForaTV How the University Works ibitsu Immanent Frame In Socrates’ Wake Infinite Thought Jewcy John Protevi’s Blog Jon Cogburn Joyous Inquiry La revue des ressources Larval Subjects Lectures Archive Leibniz Translations Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog Meta-Philosophy Metastable Equilibrium Naught Thought Notebook eleven Now Times Outside Philosophy Pharyngula Philosophical Conversations Philosophical Reviews Philosophy Job Market Blog Philosophy Talk Public Reason Rate Your Students! Rough Theory Sadly, No Side Effects Societas: The Blog TalkingPointsMemo The Existence Machine The Pinocchio Theory The Psychoanalytic Field The Valve Voices from Russia What In The Hell… Wildly Parenthetical Writing for Ants

Sri Aurobindo has not gone deep into the kind of transformation the body is going to make

Re: Goodbye To All That: Nature and the Future Body in Sri Aurobindo rakesh Sat 26 Apr 2008 10:27 PM PDT Science, Culture and Integral Yoga

"Has our immersion in ubiquitous technological environments that discipline our bodies at exponential speeds already defined a discontinuity in our future physiology? Will this discontinuity render our bodies of the future unrecognizable when viewed from a perspective of biological evolution, as Sri Aurobindo describes it: our already developed evolutionary form? Or is such a perspective, while it may have been appropriate at the time it was conceived, in light of the evolution of culture over the past century something which we now must consider naive and to which we must say “goodbye to all that”?"

It is important to consider in these meditations about the kind of future body the Supermind or the Real Idea has in store for us. Is it the body that we with our limited mind conceive it to be. All we want is a body that can do the same work we do at a faster pace and live longer just like what we would expect an ideal machine to achieve, a 100% efficiency. Humanity does not have a mind to understand about the future body since the mind we use is incapable of understanding the real intention of nature for the future. So the most important thing before addressing the evolution of the body is the evolution of the mind. Unless humanity develops a higher mind than a penetrative material mind that it possess at this time it will only probe and manupilate the grosser or molecular parts of the body. It will not be able to deal with the subtle forces of nature that work behind the grosser sheath of the physical body. Even if humanity is able to achieve a body that can live longer the question we need to ask is will our social problems dissapear with a improved performance of a physcial body.

I doubt it becuase the problem is the ego and unhappiness in the society and it is a problem that is basically more psychological than physcial. So it would be worth thinking about how to evolve a higher mind that is peaceful and can give happiness to an individual so that he is in harmony with the society. This higher mind should be peaceful inherently. But we want a mind that can do calculations faster than a computer. This is where we are making a mistake even in dealing the physcial body. The evolution we conceive with our limited mind is not the same that a higher supermind would want us to be. We have to experiece the supermind first by the help of yoga and then only can we rightly concieve of the future body. That is also the reason why we have not been able discover cure of many diseases because we are not in a position of understand them. More intuitive sciences like ayurveda has easy explanation for many of the psychological diseases the present age suffers from but this knowledge though already available in some cultures is not available for the mass of the people of this world. Sri Aurobindo has not gone deep into the kind of transformation the body is going to make in the coming centuries since he has left that to the supermind to decide.

AntiMatters Volume 2 No 2 released at koantum matters
Beyond Natural Selection and Intelligent Design: Sri Aurobindo’s Theory of Evolution, Abstract PDF. Ulrich J Mohrhoff, 9-31 ... thisquantumworld.com/wordpress/2008/04/26/antimatters-volume-2-no-2-released/ - 1 hour ago - Similar pages - Note this

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Sri Aurobindo has addressed the current evolutionary crisis by pointing to the possible emergence of traits now lying dormant in mankind

The New Technologies and the Engineering of Perfection
By Rich Carlson www.sriaurobindocenter-la.org/newsltr6/journal.htm

The vital man, the mental man have had an immense effect upon the earth life, they have carried humanity forward from the mere human to the animal to what is now. But it is only within the bounds of the already established evolutionary formula of the human being that they can act, they can enlarge the human circle but not change or transform the principle of consciousness or its characteristic operation. Any attempt to heighten inordinately the mental or exaggerate inordinately the vital man, -a Nietzschean supermanhood, for example, - can only colossalise the human creature, it cannot transform or divinise him.
- Sri Aurobindo.

While the great Religious traditions speak to us from the Past, and such pursuits as Zen and mindfulness meditation are of the Present, Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga, is an integration of both and a herald of the Future, A Future which is ever present now as it was from the Human’s first thoughts and utterances upon a self-reflective existence. Not quite the space odyssey of 2001, though a crossroads of the destiny of the species may be at hand and a deconstruction and reconstruction of what it means to bear the title Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

This new destiny may be decided by how well mankind navigates the vicissitudes of his future evolution. Sri Aurobindo, has addressed the current evolutionary crisis by pointing to the possible emergence of traits now lying dormant in mankind, which if cultivated may lead to the advent of a new species, exceeding man the mental being as man himself exceeds the vital consciousness of the mere mammalian. Indeed he has shown how the awakening of this new mode of being can transform the mind, emotions, and body trichotomy, altering the very physical substance of his being. This radical new consciousness would enter into the Earth’s elemental nature, awakening in humanity an entity which transcends the terrestrial format of space, time, matter, and even death. This consciousness he has termed Supermind, the being referred to, is our Psychic Being.

At present Science is beginning to explore various domains of research, which promise to surpass our expectations of the possible, opening vistas of comprehension which offer a discontinuity with the past, in much the same way as the Agricultural and Industrial revolution did to the existence of the Nomadic and Aristocratic man.

Through the information sciences we now communicate instantaneously with friends and associates anywhere/anytime fulfilling the modernist program by straddling the divide of space/time. We can now retrieve information about almost any area of interest by simply moving a finger. This is taken as an inherent right by post-generation X’ers.

In the biological sciences truly great strides are being made today among them the ability to cure or at least to start coming pretty darn close, previously thought incurable diseases, to regenerate damaged organs from stem cells, or stimulate the spinal cord electronically allowing paraplegics to walk. Voice recognition software now enables the blind to write books and other interactive photo/face technologies facilitate communication for the severely disabled solely through eye movement.

These giant steps to wrest destiny from the hands of Necessity, the blind quest toward the Holy Grail of information to enlarge our understanding of the world shall certainly enhance our dignity as citizens of spaceship earth and add to our stature in this universe of information gatherers. But along with these prosthetic inventions which are simply tools to advance mans fit between this trichotomy of mind, heart, body, is yet another motive not simply to extend our relationship with our embodiment, but to create a new cosmic destiny through anamorphic relationships mediated by silicon and photon.

In the bio-chemical sciences the intervention of gene splicing techniques across species and cloning within species seek to enhance our fitness in nature, perfecting qualities thought the most utilitarian for ultimately furthering one's individual identity over the course of time and across the great chasm of death. Radical new techniques of altering our genetic code are being devised to manipulate our inherited biological traits, and our subtle physical existence, transmuting through electrical circuits - for which we are integrated in the feedback loop - the underlying fabric of our very nervous system. All comfortably for profit of course.

An attempt is now being made to extend our existential being, along the corridors of the information super highway, the million pinpoint-lighted lattice pulsating through the lasers and satellites of the communications juggernaut. Virtual reality as an interactive civic space for participation of the body politic, is being pioneered by a new world order of venture capitalist, politicians, and engineers, termed the Virtual Class.

Some postulate that our individual neural activity is rapidly being fused with an electronic aggregate brain of an emerging planetary super organism, which in the emerging terminology of Chaos Dynamics we act as "strange attractors" for. Such a view sees us as vibrating nodes along the infinite conscious trajectories possible within the global communications networks now being fashioned inside the mystical body of electronic being,. This is heralded by some as approximating what Teilhard De Chardin termed the Noosphere.

The quotes which follow are given with some of these notions of Science in mind, The attempt of man to fashion by his own hand a cosmic destiny and its inevitable invocation of archetypes whose non-linear forces being closer to the sole source of creation, baffle his inductive senses leading to intellectual and moral confusion is nothing new. The hidden creative muses residing in the subtle physical, and subliminal ranges of conscious have forever inspired chaos in the probing intellect be it magic, mythic or rational. But at present it does nonetheless seem as if something entirely novel, in magnitude and intensity is now emerging in the collective order, and yet necessarily it seems to remaining elusive to the conscious range of control...

But what kind of Aurobinian critique can be derived from this post modern scholarship on media, cyberspace, politics and biotech with its implications of flesh inextricably embedded in electric environment, spurred by the minds conquest to manipulate matter by silicon or dna chips. Transmuting the cellular embodiment through the algenist manipulation of bio-chemical engineering, rather than seeking a transformation of energy/mass through manipulation of chi or prana, by cultivating tapas or calling down of Divine grace. Entering into the anamorpohic virtual reality of the Cyboint via the electronic media; fusing our neuronal structure with the nervous system of the emerging planetary consciousness, developing sensors to enhance electronic perceptions rather than the extrasensory perception to recognize the psychic being.

The problems however, with critiquing the will to virtuality and the urge for a genetically engineered perfection is that many of its visions of electrodes embedded in flesh, or genes spliced across species to create new mutations of life appear repugnant to our aesthetic sense of what it means to our very sense of being human and our conceptions of Spirituality. At times they appear downright evil.

Whether it is the mind completely divorced from the flesh or being eternally cloned and/or genetically enhanced with silicon, the image which is conjured is quite often wholly opposite of what the spiritual life we conceive of…

If there is an evolution transpiring where the mental being man, becomes the supramental Gnostic being, shouldn’t this next step somehow coordinate with our conceptions of such a new state of being? But then again if we adhere to such expectations we are rationally positing a trans-rational state of being. In the prose poem The Hour of God, Sri Aurobindo states that at the time of transformation:

"Nor let worldly prudence whisper too closely in thy ear for it is the Hour of the Unexpected."

Throughout history the next phase in the evolution of civilization is often enunciated by what is considered evil, or the catastrophic, be it the overthrow of the Monarchy by the new emperor of tyranny, Napoleon, the spread of a European culture made possible by the technological innovations of the genocidal Vikings, Spanish, English, or any of the other hordes of invading colonial powers, the alienation and environmental destruction wrought from the advances of the Industrial revolution.

But the catastrophic advances have also left us with the inventions and cultural changes which have allowed us to live more humanely, by freeing us from tasks which we would otherwise be enslaved to by the mechanical laws of the physical prakriti, or social conventions.

Good and Evil Sri Aurobindo has written are shifting qualities dependent on the time and circumstance of the events which engineer them. What will the current prophecies of bio/electrical-engineering make of us; a digital ego in the corridor of night? How if at all will the new technologies serve the progressive evolution of humanity to come to terms with the highest ideals he has evolved towards , a spiritual life, in an embodied existence? Given the electro-chemical environment that post-modern flesh is heir to as it settles in pixel florescent dust across the flickering screen of mind. How does one maintain equanimity amidst the anamorphic cyber-chimera and not be seduced into forgetful participation in the samsaric play of vitally charged symbols and mental images? Images which emanate equally from our innerselves as from the emergent planetary consciousness of the Global Village, the Noosphere, the Cyboint, or whatever you may wish to call this electro-collective link which more and more of us archive into daily, to encrypt our coming human heritage, a repository of cultural artifacts for which we serve as consumers, or creators, which we open a portal into whenever we enter the world wide web or switch on CNN, or some other faceless acronym that sells us a window into this anamorphic collective endeavor that, the projection of the race of men, still bent on perfecting the technology of the crystal, still clinging to a carbon body.

  • In what light shall we discern the ethics and principles organizing the synthesis of chemical elements which are expediting the evolutionary processes of the future body?
  • To what degree do we risk to having our own physical being consumed and co-opted by the economics of the bio-tech industry or a neo-eugenics movement?
  • How does one now start to interact and move within these virtual worlds carefully avoiding the chimeras generated within the void of cyber space and do as Sri Aurobindo prescribed, to live within the psychic being and make it the direct ruler of life or station ourselves on the spiritual and intuitive planes of being and from there and by their power transmute our nature?

The idea of a new species is so to speak central to Sri Aurobindo's thesis

EDITORIAL www.sriaurobindocenter-la.org/newsltr6/journal.htm

The unity of the world, the extension of life, the shrinking of space and time, the mastery of Matter - these meet us everywhere as the signs of the New Millenium, its badges of apocalyptic futurism. And they seem, on the surface, wonderfully confirmatory of the prophetic vision of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. But as in Aldous Huxley's novel, a dark ambiguity haunts the signifers of the Brave New World. The collapse of the Berlin Wall as of Soviet communism are accompanied by the reverse totalitarianism of the capitalist world-market, more subtle, insidious and universal than any state autocracy. Levelling with its materialism the populations of the world, it produces the context-free, universalized consumer, bandaged with the invisible conditionings of the mythologies of capital. And behind these, the moral resources of the One (westernized) World accelerate and intensify to a climactic point the drive for the mystical-rational goal, now finally within reach, of the world-history which dawned 400 years ago in Europe - the civilizational expansion of Reason, the totalism of Rational Omniscience governing a perfected life on a perfected earth (and spilling over to colonize the spaces in perfected worlds beyond).

The dream of a rational organization of matter and of man forming the basis of a perfect life makes its appearance in western history in fact, right from the time of Plato - who would banish the poet from his ideal Republic for fear of his subversive irrational influence. The policing and repression of the non-rational (whether irr- or supra-) underlies the civilizational paean of the modern, the structured lucidities (dazzling dullnesses) of its Singapores and Dubais. At the same time, the hubris of Mind combined with its tragic and inexorable incapacity to possess the integral Knowledge, pushes it into the "dim camp of Night", a horrible netherland where the pseudo-sciences of Lysenko and Nazi Eugenics tinker with the building-blocks of Life to engineer their "rational" Will. Today this hubristic dream is active once again as the atom and the gene reveal their secrets - biotechnology and nanotechnology making the basic elements of matter and life, as never before, available to human handling.

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, unlike many others, are not averse to Science and Technology. They do not advocate the inhibition of technology or a return to premodern forms of society. But what they do draw attention to time and again is the impossibility and serious danger of external means of engineering perfection. The science of perfection is to be found in consciousness, its technology in surrender; from all the best manipulative intentions of Reason come only the dark distortions of a braggart human ignorance and its obscure pact with the Falsehood. When asked about the atom bomb the Mother lauded the human mastery over Matter that it represented, but in the same breath directed the focus on the consciousness of its user. The problem is not how "enlightened" or how "dangerous" our Science is; it is how puny and crippled and narrow or how vast and powerful and complex our consciousness is to confront the unstoppable momentum of the Age of Reason or to engage with the Idea-forces driving its wheels. For these forces become the sedimented assumptions of our everyday lives, perpetuating their agendas with or without our understanding or our consent.

And yet, within the creases of their victorious unfoldment, may lie the seeds of an alternate becoming. Even as Reason makes its desperate last attempts to stamp its seal on a world mastered materially from both microscopic and macroscopic ends of its being, we are invited from the depths of our consciousness to the Great Adventure, where the secrets of Matter glimmer with the messages of the One Being and are put to Its uses.

In her New Year Message of 1958, the Mother announced the birth of a New Intention within material Nature: "O Nature, Material Mother, thou hast said that thou wilt collaborate and there is no limit to the splendour of this collaboration." But this is not the announcement of the hour of complacency. The collaboration of Nature demands our consciousness. It is only through the choices of consciousness that Matter and Life will find release from Reason's despotism and the steps of the supramental advance establish themselves on earth. For this, to become aware of the intentions which utilize one's labour and one's time, not only one's subjective intentions but the larger embattled cosmic wills which position us on the chess-board of the spiralling world is an integral part of the journey we have embarked upon.

Accordingly, the Articles section of this present issue carries a critique by Richard Carlson of the "new species" that the bio-tech revolution may be helping to realize. In the author's words, "since the idea of a new species is so to speak central to Sri Aurobindo's thesis, I am surprised that no critique has yet come from the integral yoga community as to what the implications of the new technologies are in setting a course for the further evolution of humanity." Along a similar vein of thought is Stuart Schoen's amusing but serious reflections on the "Commercialization of Consciousness." Another focus of this issue is Sri Aurobindo's mantric epic, Savitri, which like the embodiment of the Solar Word that is its subject, unveils ever more of its Light, Power and Bliss with the passage of time; of which the Mother has said "He has crammed the whole universe in it" and "Reading Savitri is doing yoga." Under Articles, we carry an introduction by Mangesh Nadkarni on a passage in Savitri, descriptive of the Mother and linking to the theme of the Mother's Birthday. The focus on Savitri continues in the Reviews section with a consideration by Debashish Banerji of Volume I of the seminal selection of essays on Savitri, edited by R.Y Deshpande - Perspectives of Savitri. Savitri features also in the Creative section, where the script of a play on the Divine Mother excerpted from the epic by Loretta Shartsis is presented; as also in the Studies section and appropriately, under Themes in this issue.

Returning to the Articles, Anie Nunnally's much appreciated series of interviews of senior ashram sadhaks is continued in this issue with a feature on the octogenarian self-effacing remarkable poetess, Tehmi. Appropriately, Tehmi features in the People section and a sampling of her poems in carried in the Creative section. Finally, there is an article by the founder of the Sri Aurobindo Center and the one from whom our journal derives its name, Jyotipriya, on the issue of Birth and Death in the light of Sri Aurobindo. May is the birth month of Jyotipriya and of the Center; but one who was a close companion and helper of Jyotipriya and a devoted worker at the Center for a long period also left her present physical sheath in the recent past. Her name was Trudy King and in this issue, we carry a memorial to her in the People section.

Under Themes for this issue, we feature quotes selected around the Mother's Birthday, Her final arrival at Pondicherry and the birthdays of the Center and of Jyotipriya. We also carry quotes relating to other foci of this issue - Savitri, Science and Technology, Physical Culture and Death.

Apart from the above-mentioned selection of poems by Tehmi and the script of the Savitri-based play The Glory of the Divine Mother, the Creative section also features a short-story in the genre of magic realism by Michael Miovic, a travel account of a visit to the source of India's sacred Mother-river, Ganga by Sunanda Banerji and a selection of paintings by another ashram artist, Kiran Mehra.Under Reviews, apart from the one on the Perspectives of Savitri, we carry an appreciation by Amrita Banerji of a sitar concert offered by Pandit Budhaditya Mukherjee for the Center in October, 2000. Under Studies, we continue presenting interpretive summaries of the study groups on The Practical Guide to the Integral Yoga and on Savitri, held at the center on Thursdays and Saturdays respectively.

Additionally, every second and fourth Sundays of the month, Smt. Vasanti Jayaswal has been exploring selected hymns from the Rig Veda in the light of Sri Aurobindo and the Studies section features outlines of her interpretations of the Sri Suktam to Mahalakshmi and the Ratri Suktam to the Goddess Night. The continuing music programs, special events, guests and celebrations at the Center find expression in the News, Events and People sections. Circulations continues to be the spiritual market-place of community exchange and Projects outlines the continuing collective operations of the Sri Aurobindo Center of L.A. Apart from the ongoing projects, this issues features the Center's tape archival project.

Donna Haraway like McLuhan argues that technology is a natural extension of the human

Re: Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto (Carolyn Keen)
by Rich on Fri 25 Apr 2008 05:17 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link

Ned well I certainly agree with your statement here: "for every problem the Cyborg solves it's possible that it will create a new one because we can't predict all the possibilities of our new technologies"

As I read it Haraway's main critique is of the strategies of domination by patriarchal, imperialist and economic regimes through the fixing of essentialist organic identities upon women. On the one hand she is arguing against universalist claims that assimilate all feminine experience to one particular category of female identity, which constrains the ability of women to form other coalitions through affinities (e.g. women of color). In doing this she rejects the claim of archetypal feminine identity which the goddess represents. (Aside from the foundationalist difficulties one would have negotiating perspectives of spirituality in academic discourse this is perhaps why she does not add a metaphysical dimension here)

On the other hand the cyborg provides a certain liminal metaphor by which she can argue that even our most essentialist forms of identity, identity of the body with nature, are false and result in strategies of control, be it the mind over body, subject over object, male over female. Therefore, the cyborg is a rejection of these so called natural boundaries and a recognition that the human machine interface is not necessarily to be regarded as purely an artificial boundary. In a way she like McLuhan argues that technology is a natural extension of the human.

While the transcendence of natural boundaries may in some instances prove liberating - and although Haraway certainly recognizes other problems of domination associated with technology - she does not address the danger inherent in the crossing of boundaries through technological intervention, which Vandana Shiva in her book Stolen Harvest picks up on here:

“The mad cow as a product of boarder crossings is a cyborg in Donna Haraway's brand of cyborg feminism. According to Haraway I'd rather be a cyborg than a goddess. In India the cow is worshiped as Lakshmi because it is the source of renewal of the earth's fertility through organic manuring. The cow is sacred because it is at the heart of the sustainability of an agrarian civilization. The cow as goddess and cosmos symbolizes care, compassion, sustainability and equity. From the point of view of both cows and people, I would rather be a sacred cow than a mad one” (Shiva)

Friday, April 25, 2008

I wonder if terribly dense styles such as we find in figures like Deleuze, Lacan, Hegel, Derrida, etc., aren’t a form of intellectual terrorism

Style from Larval Subjects by larvalsubjects
Perverse Egalitarianism has an interesting post up on “difficult books”...

Hopefully I have enough “cred” to inveigh against “difficult books” (I am, after all, mired in the work of figures such as Deleuze, Lacan, Hegel, etc., who are the worst of the worst), but I have increasingly found myself suspicious of the “difficult work”. On the one hand, I read texts in the sciences that express extremely complex ideas in very basic prose. Somehow I’m just unwilling to concede that what Hegel is trying to talk about is any more difficult or complex than what the biologist, complexity theory, economic social theorist, ecologist, or quantum physicist is attempting to articulate. This leads to my concern. I wonder if terribly dense styles such as we find in figures like Deleuze, Lacan, Hegel, Derrida, etc., etc., etc., aren’t a form of intellectual terrorism. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not referring to the quality of their concepts or arguments. What I am referring to is a general writing strategy that demands so much work on the part of the reader in the art of interpretation, that by the time you’ve managed to make heads or tails of what Lacan is arguing or Hegel is seeking to articulate or Deleuze is seeking to theorize, you have so much invested that you simply cannot think critically about that figure.

Among the post-structuralists, at least, style was a way of subverting the metaphysics of presence and identity by drawing attention to the differential, the play of the signifier, our inability to pin down meaning due to the inherent polysemy of language. There’s an implicit politics here as well. The metaphysics of presence and identity is seen as being attached to centralized and totalizing social systems similar to the “Great Chain of Being”, where you have the sovereign giving decrees on high. However, isn’t there still an insidious power structure at work in these textual strategies as well?

On the one hand, post-structuralist texts (and other similarly obscure texts) take on the logic of the veil. When confronted by the veil our desire is evoked. We are led to wonder what is behind the veil. The veil suggests something hidden, something tantalizing, something just out of reach. “What is it that Derrida is saying?” “What is the secret of Hegel’s Logic?” “Is Guattari saying anything at all?” The veil in writing either produces a violent reaction of rejection or a sort of hypnotic attachment in the reader like a moth drawn to a flame. On the other hand, if the effect of hypnotic attachment is successfully produced, if we become convinced that the text hides a secret, we become locked in a power relationship with text and authorship where the author is now a master containing the truth of a secret, and the reader is perpetually inadequate, always close to the elusive truth of the secret of late Heidegger, late Lacan, Deleuze, Derrida, etc., while also always falling short. Far from freeing the reader, far from liberating them, the reader instead is locked in identity as a disciple and apostle of the text, devoting, perhaps in the extreme case of the scholar, their entire life to the hermeneutics of the text that has now become sacred. In short, this textual practice stands in stark opposition to its often stated aim.

Does this mean I cease to read such figures or reject them out of hand? No. I do believe they hide secrets. However, if Badiou has contributed one thing to Continental thought, if one thing lasts in the case of Badiou, I hope it is the rejection of stylistic virtuousity. This is not an endorsement of Badiou’s ontology but of his ethics of writing. I confess that I harbor some resentment of the hours of my life penetrating a text, navigating the stylistic gymnastics of some thinker, to grasp a concept that is really rather simple and which could have been articulated far more directly. If someone can articulate string theory in a straightforward way I don’t see why they cannot do so with ereignis. I’ve spent my fair amount of time defensively defending the writing style of figures such as Lacan, Derrida, Heidegger, Deleuze, etc., etc., etc. What I realize is that what I was defending was not their style but the value of their concepts and arguments despite their style. As per Lyotard’s remarks at the beginning of Differend, I would like to gain some time. We live, we work, we must integrate superhuman bodies of information. Perhaps a little consideration is in order.

Popper continued Bergson's work of providing a metaphysical foundation for an open society in an open universe

Home Archives April 24, 2008
The Left's Theft of the Open Society and the Scientific Method By Jonathan David Carson

Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies was aimed at Marx, Hegel, Plato and his philosopher kings, and their anti-democratic successors, such as George Soros. The Poverty of Historicism was aimed at Marxist historical inevitability and its pink cousin Western progressivism. We cannot predict scientific discoveries. Otherwise, they would not be discoveries. Scientific discoveries have an enormous influence on the future. Therefore, we cannot predict the future. Marxists and progressives who think that they represent the future are dangerous and deluded.

The idea of an open society was invented by the French philosopher and Nobel laureate Henri Bergson, who won the prize for philosophy in 1927, one of the few times the honor has been rightly bestowed. Like Popper, Bergson was an opponent of determinism and based his social thought on the indeterminism of the future, that is, its openness.

Also like Popper, Bergson was the object of fierce criticism, some of it perhaps deserved. The scientific establishment accused him of vitalism. The Vatican accused him of pantheism. But Frederick Copleston, a traditional Catholic and a Jesuit, says this about him in A History of Philosophy: "Bergson's widest influence was exercised by his general picture, which offered an alternative to mechanistic and positivist pictures. In other words, this picture exercised a liberating influence on many minds." Late in life Bergson drew near to Catholicism and would have converted but remained a Jew out of solidarity with the victims of Nazi persecution. He died in 1941.

So Popper continued Bergson's work of providing a metaphysical foundation for an open society in an open universe, free people in a world that is free to chart its own course. But a thousand times more significant than his social thought was Popper's philosophy of science. Whenever someone says that scientific theories should be "falsifiable," he is, probably without knowing it, citing Popper.

Unfortunately, The Logic of Scientific Discovery has been as much stolen by the scientific establishment as The Open Society and Its Enemies has been stolen by George Soros. As Popper recounts in Unended Quest, he created his famous philosophy of science in reaction to Marx, Freud, and Alfred Adler, another psychoanalyst, whose advocates found confirmation of their views in everything that happened, no matter how much it contradicted their theories, much as global warming hysterics find justification in both hot and cold weather and in both floods and droughts. The Left is fond of making predictions, not so fond of checking up on them.

Popper came up with the idea that a scientific theory must be falsifiable to distinguish science and pseudo-science, not to deny the meaningfulness of other modes of thought and expression, such as religion and literature. But the scientific establishment, in true Open Society Institute fashion, holds falsifiability up to the general public long after abandoning it itself. Perhaps it had to. What it did not have to do was to abandon it without telling the general public, which would have also meant abandoning its use against religion and traditional values.

The problem that scientists face is that they can often build a myriad of mathematical models that all describe the physical systems they are investigating. They may have no way to choose one among all the others and may never have a way. If we're lucky, they will choose the one that seems most beautiful to them. If we are unlucky, they will choose the one that seems most likely to unsettle the public, as when Scientific American says that each of us has an infinite number of alter egos far away in space, that we really exist in only two spatial dimensions and gravity is an illusion, and so on. None of these bizarre assertions is remotely falsifiable.

The scientific establishment uses falsifiability the way postmodernists use deconstructionism: selectively, to tear down the ideas of their enemies but not to apply to their own ideas. The deconstructionist will happily deconstruct your ideas, but never his own. You say something about economic growth or Islamofascism, and he wants to talk metaphysics. Just don't bring up metaphysics when he condemns Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. We can't believe in God because religion is unfalsifiable. We can believe in an infinite number of other universes from which no information can ever reach us. Western governments literally spend tens of billions of dollars annually in support of such lunacy.

As for the Western society that Popper so loved, George Soros and the scientific establishment are among its most vicious and determined enemies. Contact Jonathan David Carson, Ph.D. For more information, see makehasteslowly.com.

Žižek defends the idea of revolution while rejecting revolutionary terror

Home Arts & Entertainment The TLS April 23, 2008
The phenomenal Slavoj Zizek
Is there any subject on earth that isn't grist to Zizek's intellectual mill?
Terry Eagleton

Žižek is not a postmodernist at all. In fact, he is virulently hostile to that whole current of thought, as this latest book illustrates. If he steals some of the postmodernists’ clothes, he has little but contempt for their multiculturalism, anti-universalism, theoretical dandyism and modish obsession with culture. In Defense of Lost Causes is out to challenge the conventional wisdom that ideologies are at an end; that grand narratives have slithered to a halt; that the era of big explanations is over, and that the idea of global emancipation is as dead in the water as the former proprietor of the Daily Mirror.

Žižek is deadly serious about all this, though there is a typical element of contrariness about it as well. He began his publishing career as some kind of post-Marxist, and has now backed his way from there into Marxism. It is a cussedness which marks his sensibility as a whole, as idées reçues are mischievously upended. Paradox for Žižek is the stylistic equivalent of dialectical thought. And nothing could be more paradoxical than scrambling on board the revolutionary vessel at just the moment when it has been holed below the waterline. As he himself has grown more fashionable, his political case has become less so. He has only to scent an orthodoxy to feel the itch to put his foot through it; so that now Marxism is out of fashion, there is a certain twisted logic in the fact that he should return to it so assertively. In this book, as in several of its predecessors, he presses what one might call postmodern techniques (irony, paradox, lateral thinking, multiplicity, even at times a certain barefaced disingenuousness) into the service of thoroughly traditional positions.

The self-consciously outrageous case the book has to argue is that there is a “redemptive” moment to be plucked from such failed revolutionary ventures as Jacobinism, Leninism, Stalinism and Maoism. Žižek is by no means a champion of political terror: the Mao he offers us here, for example, is the mass murderer who mused that “half of China may have to die” in the Great Leap Forward, and who remarked that though a nuclear war might blow a hole in the planet, it would leave the cosmos largely untouched. His aim is not to justify such demented views, but to make things harder for the typical liberal middle-class dismissal of them. In pursuing this goal, the book offers us a wealth of political and philosophical insight; but it is not at all clear that it validates its central thesis...

French radical thought has often turned on a contrast between some privileged moment of truth and the bovine inauthenticity of everyday life, and Badiou is no exception in this respect. There is a spiritual elitism about such ethics, which is hard to square with this book’s suggestive reflections on the idea of democracy.

The keynote of the ethical life for Žižek, Badiou and Lacan is refusing to back off, staying obdurately true to one’s desire. Only by pushing one’s desire all the way through, in the manner of the classical tragic protagonist, can one flourish. Lacan’s great icon is thus Antigone, who refuses to settle for half. There is something perilous as well as attractive about such an ethics; but in this book, it is a view that allows Žižek to defend the idea of revolution while rejecting revolutionary terror. For the point about Robespierre and Stalin, so he argues, is not that they were too extreme, but that they were not revolutionary enough – and that had they been so, political terror would not have been necessary. The Jacobin terror, for example, is seen somewhat implausibly as bearing witness to the group’s inability to carry out an economic as well as a political transformation. Something similar is asserted of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

It is not the nave of its central thesis which makes this book so compelling, but its side chapels. Slavoj Žižek, as usual, seems gratifyingly unable to remember what case he has just been pursuing, and there are some splendid digressions, including an account of the changing role of the scherzo in Shostakovich, a disquisition on Schiller’s “Ode to Joy”, and reflections on Eisenstein’s lost masterpieces. In Defense of Lost Causes is a frenetic, eclectic parody of intellectual scholarship, by one so assured in his grasp of the finer points of Kafka or John le Carré that he can afford to ham it up a little.

Slavoj Žižek IN DEFENSE OF LOST CAUSES 208pp. Verso. £16.99. 978 1 84467 108 3
Terry Eagleton is Professor of Cultural Theory at the University of Manchester. His recent books include Holy Terror, 2005, The Meaning of Life, 2007, and How To Read a Poem, 2007

One should not confuse Sri Aurobindo’s “intermediate zone” with Alan Kazlev’s “somewhat clumsy” “intermediate zone guru”

Alan Kazlev (a self-professed “all round eccentric”) coined (as he put it) “the somewhat clumsy phrase ‘Intermediate Zone Guru’” (Ref) to describe what he subjectively believes to be: Gurus who are not as “enlightened” or as “liberated” as he thinks they ought to be. Therefore, one should not confuse Aurobindo’s notable “intermediate zone” phrase with Alan Kazlev’s “somewhat clumsy” and non-notable “intermediate zone guru” phrase.
Let us start by taking a look at Sri Aurobindo’s original letter and convoluted words pertaining to the alleged “intermediate zone”:- Click Here To Read Sri Aurobindo’s Letter About The Intermediate Zone ...
It is peculiar that for someone who is not self-realized, Alan Kazlev postures himself as an authority on people who may or may not be self-realized!
  • Were Aurobindo & The Mother Victims Of ‘The Intermediate Zone’?
  • What greater deception could a conniving and ghoulish Astral Entity from the “intermediate zone” perpetuate than to deceive people into thinking that Sri Aurobindo and Mother Mirra were above the “intermediate zone” and were thereby self-realized?

Sri Aurobindo and Mother Mirra claimed special and unique knowledge about the spiritual path and self-realization. It may come as a surprise to many that Sri Aurobindo and Mother Mirra were said to have communicated with each other telepathically and claimed that they used the “Force” (an “intermediate zone” buzz word) to have influenced the events of the Second World War against Hitler because he was under the possession of an Asuric (demonic) being who called himself “The Lord of the Nations, Master of the Earth” (Ref). As a matter of the fact, the following was written about Aurobindo, Mother Mirra and Hitler...

That’s right; Sri Aurobindo and Mother Mirra were alleged to have waged a war on the astral plane (aka “intermediate zone”) by using astral powers against an astral demon radiating dazzling light. Therefore, Aurobindo and the Mother’s teachings, visions and alleged powers may have originated from the “intermediate zone” and not from genuine self-realization...
In conclusion, Alan Kazlev’s self-described “intellectual arguments” are not so “intellectual” after all. He coined “the somewhat clumsy phrase ‘Intermediate Zone Guru’” by twisting and extrapolating on Sri Aurobindo’s words. The end result is a “somewhat clumsy” argument that is nothing more than camouflage for a lack of original ideas. Reference Filed under: Alan Kazlev, Aurobindo, Gurus, Hinduism, Hitler, Intermediate Zone, Intermediate Zone Guru, Joe Moreno, M. Alan Kazlev, Mirra Alfassa, Spirituality, Sri Aurobindo

Rawls and Habermas have not understood the normative basis for the contemporary secular state

Is critique secular?, Religion in the public sphere:
Secularism and critique posted by Charles Taylor

I think that these positions of Rawls and Habermas show that they have not yet understood the normative basis for the contemporary secular state. I believe that they are on to something, in that there are zones of a secular state in which the language used has to be neutral. But these do not include citizen deliberation, as Rawls at first thought, or even deliberation in the legislature, as Habermas seems to think from the above quote. This zone can be described as the official language of the state: the language in which legislation, administrative decrees and court judgments must be couched. It is self-evident that a law before Parliament couldn’t contain a justifying clause of the type: “Whereas the Bible tells us that p.” And the same goes mutatis mutandis for the justification of a judicial decision in the court’s verdict. But this has nothing to do with the specific nature of religious language. It would be equally improper to have a legislative clause: “Whereas Marx has shown that religion is the opium of the people,” or “Whereas Kant has shown that the only thing good without qualification is a good will.” The grounds for both these kinds of exclusions is the neutrality of the state.

The state can be neither Christian nor Muslim nor Jewish; but by the same token it should also be neither Marxist, not Kantian, not Utilitarian. Of course, the democratic state will end up voting laws which (in the best case) reflect the actual convictions of its citizens, which will be either Christian, or Muslim, etc, through the whole gamut of views held in a modern society. But the decisions can’t be framed in a way which gives special recognition to one of these views. This is not easy to do; the lines are hard to draw; and they must always be drawn anew. But such is the nature of the enterprise which is the modern secular state. And what better alternative is there for diverse democracies?

Now the notion that state neutrality is basically a response to diversity has trouble making headway among “secular” people in the West, who remain oddly fixated on religion, as something strange and perhaps even threatening. This stance is fed by all the conflicts of liberal states with religion, past and present, but also by a specifically epistemic distinction: religiously informed thought is somehow less rational than purely “secular” reasoning. The attitude has a political ground (religion as threat), but also an epistemological one (religion as a faulty mode of reason).

I believe we can see these two motifs in a popular contemporary book, Mark Lilla’s The Stillborn God. On one hand, Lilla wants to claim that there is a great gulf between thinking informed by political theology and “thinking and talking about politics exclusively in human terms.” Moderns have effected “the liberation, isolation, and clarification of distinctively political questions, apart from speculations about the divine nexus. Politics became, intellectually speaking, its own realm deserving independent investigation and serving the limited aim of providing the peace and plenty necessary for human dignity. That was the Great Separation.” Such metaphors of radical separation imply that human-centered political thought is a more reliable guide to answer the questions in its domain than theories informed by political theology.

So much for the epistemological ranking. But then towards the end of the view, Lilla calls on us not to lose our nerve, and allow the Great Separation to be reversed; which seems to imply that there are dangers in doing so. The return of religion in this sense would be full of menace.

This phenomenon deserves fuller examination. Ideally, we should look carefully at the double grounds for this stance of distrust, comment on these, and then say something about the possible negative political consequences of maintaining this stance. But in this contribution, I shall only really have space to look at some roots of the epistemological ground.

I think this has its source in what one might call a myth of the Enlightenment. There certainly is a common view which sees the Enlightenment (Aufklärung, Lumières) as a passage from darkness to light, that is, as an absolute, unmitigated move from a realm of thought full of error and illusion to one where the truth is at last available. To this one must immediately add that a counterview defines “reactionary” thought: the Enlightenment would be an unqualified move into error, a massive forgetting of salutary and necessary truths about the human condition.

In the polemics around modernity, more nuanced understandings tend to get driven to the wall, and these two slug it out. Arnold’s phrase about “ignorant armies clashing by night” comes irresistibly to mind. What underlies the understanding of Enlightenment as an absolute, unmitigated step forward?

This is worth asking, I believe, because the myth is more widespread than one might think. Even sophisticated thinkers, who might repudiate it when it is presented as a general proposition, seem to be leaning on it in other contexts.

Thus there is a version of what Enlightenment represents, which sees it as our stepping out of a realm in which Revelation, or religion in general, counted as a source of insight about human affairs, into a realm in which these are now understood in purely this-worldly or human terms. Of course, that some people have made this passage is not what is in dispute. What is questionable is the idea that this move involves the self-evident epistemic gain of our setting aside consideration of dubious truth and relevance and concentrating on matters which we can settle and which are obviously relevant. This is often represented as a move from Revelation to reason alone (Kant’s “blosse Vernunft”).

Clear examples are found in contemporary political thinkers, for instance Rawls and Habermas. For all their differences, they seem to reserve a special status for non-religiously informed Reason (let’s call this “reason alone”), as though a) this latter were able to resolve certain moral-political issues in a way which can legitimately satisfy any honest, unconfused thinker, and b) where religiously-based conclusions will always be dubious, and in the end only convincing to people who have already accepted the dogmas in question.

This surely is what lies behind the idea I mentioned at the outset, entertained for a time in different form by both thinkers, that one can restrict the use of religious language in the sphere of public reason. We must mention again that this proposition has been largely dropped by both; but we can see that the proposition itself makes no sense, unless something like (a) + (b) above is true... This entry was posted on Thursday, April 24th, 2008 at 12:02 am and is filed under Is critique secular?, Religion in the public sphere.