57. IBP: The Political Turn (The Great Feast)


It took a long time to get this one done and I hope it was worth it. Please note that the creative extras took up very little of that time, rather, it was finding a way to talk about big issues as a living practice beyond partisan politics and ideological capture.

This podcast episode tackles politics as living culture and suggests that complexity marks our age in a way that we cannot ignore, but almost always do. From Twitter to CNN and Fox News, very little thought seems to go into public discourse these days. It’s all about the hits, whether emotional or site visits.

This podcast episode invites you to change games and provides you with some tools for doing so. It also offers some meta positions on it all & doesn’t forget to include Buddhism in the discussion.

It will no doubt disappoint some, excite others, anger a few, and turn off others. For some of you, it may be a small act of sanity in a world going increasingly off the rails.

There are extensive show-notes covering the music and background of the episode. You’ll find them here: https://posttraditionalbuddhism.com/2019/08/08/the-political-turn-entering-the-great-feast/

Feel free to leave comments, complaints, praise, or indifference. Follow up guests will tackle politics, practice and Buddhism.

Enjoy! And come along to The Great Feast…

O’Connell Coaching: oconnellcoaching.com
Post-Traditional Buddhism: posttraditionalbuddhism.com

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Twitter: twitter.com/Imperfectbuddha


  1. What a stimulating episode, Matthew! A real pleasure to listen to, from the background music, to the theatricality, the humor and irony (what was that term, “virtue-markers”?), to the very language, and to, of course, the challenging (in both senses) content itself. Another feature that I found intriguing was your use of x-buddhist meditation instruction as a effective check-in feature. You won’t be surprised that I heard in this piece an example of buddhofiction. Since encouraging the creation of such works within the sphere of x-buddhist discourse is my current interest, I hope you won’t mind if I speak to that aspect. I don’t mean to suggest that this is the proper way to receive your ideas on politics, only one of many possible ways. (On that note, I am really looking forward to reading responses from listeners who subscribe to what you refer to as “woke” ideology.) There is so much to say, but I’ll keep it brief.

    I heard the “non” coursing throughout the entire episode, indeed, permeating and affecting (in-fecting) the piece as a whole. That is, you employed the non not as a restrictive negation that, too often, becomes a quasi-transcendence, a “beyond politics” or “post-politics.” Rather, in your hands, it served to mutate “politics” expansively, to broaden the category to something like a “pluri-politics.” On the way to this mutation, I can imagine that many listeners had their hackles raised. From my own more recent experiences as a participant in highly politicized environments, I would assume that the reason for this reaction is the one that you addressed directly: identity politics. We don’t need the right to divide us on the left. We do that ourselves through the politics of purity, through endless divisions based on the insistence that minute personal in-group identity needs be met. How I heard you deal with this was through a subtle application of the non, a non-politics that says:

    Individuals are not the objects of Politics. We, the in-humans, are not ultimately politicizable. Yes, we are always subjects of and to an ideology. But the non speaks of a predicateless human, if only in the last instance. We are, in that instance, politically indefinable. We get a clear vision of the precarious nature of predication at the Great Feast. What appeared as political identity is revealed, via robust engagement with the ideas of others, to be a political decision, an acquisition, to varying degrees of consciousness, of predication (identity). This condition is the political Real.

    Please correct whatever I got wrong there. Like you, I think, I am not suggesting anything remotely like political apathy. You helpfully mentioned that the notion “everything is politics” is just another instance of disciplinary harassment–the principle of sufficient politics. I would say that everything–from this forum to a conversation to management of a school classroom to an organization and so on–can be extrapolated out, if we take it far enough, into a large-scale political formation. So, another non move, in my hands anyway, is to transmute macro “politics” into micro “ethics.” As you make clear throughout, this involves an exhaustive commitment. It also requires interminable resistance to the attractive ideological seductions beckoning at every turn. The point of resistance, again, as you made clear, is not the chimera of an ideologically-free position, but rather a position clear from the “capture” that the chimera entails. Maybe if “emancipation”–spiritual or political or whatever–has any meaning, it is to be found right there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Why, thank you Glenn. I’m glad you found it entertaining and worthy of your time; clocking in at just over 2 hours, I wonder how many folks will make it all the way to the end.

      To respond to your comments, firstly, your idea of buddhofiction did come to mind after I was done editing, so you have confirmed that. Whether ‘woke’ folks will respond, or even get through certain parts, is, of course, an unknown. I did my best to entice them onwards and make my case in a non-threatening manner. If it doesn’t work, there’s not much hope for them, at least for now, and they will most likely end up proving my various points. Although I am obviously not the first to make those points, I may be the first to put together such a mix of them within a non- project of practice. As I mentioned, and I wasn’t lying, I took the episode as a practice myself and the steps I proposed are steps I also practice and they are liberating!

      I obviously agree with the point you raise on purity. It’s one of the keys to identifying their ideology-as-usual position. One of the things I find equally amusing and annoying is the capacity of the woke Left to endlessly argue its position in much the way certain Buddhists do. Decision, capture, circular reasoning and detail fetish all emerge as bulwarks against dissent and when I see or hear this, my hackles raise. This corruption of intelligence in the service of collective stupidity, driven by noble aims is quite the mix.

      I agree with the last point you make on emancipation. It’s increasingly clear to me, as I argue in the episode, that without some degree of freedom from ideological capture, there is no leverage for imaging the world differently and enacting the change the world desperately needs. This applies across all fields of knowledge. Either we accept Nietzsche’s and Sloterdjik’s call to think dangerously, or we are too often merely parroting the voices of our forbears.

      As for this section below, I’m not sure I really understand it. Apart from the penultimate sentence, which I agree with, I find it unclear. Can you explain it in another way perhaps?

      “Individuals are not the objects of Politics. We, the in-humans, are not ultimately politicizable. Yes, we are always subjects of and to an ideology. But the non speaks of a predicateless human, if only in the last instance. We are, in that instance, politically indefinable. We get a clear vision of the precarious nature of predication at the Great Feast. What appeared as political identity is revealed, via robust engagement with the ideas of others, to be a political decision, an acquisition, to varying degrees of consciousness, of predication (identity). This condition is the political Real.”


  2. I imagine it was a lot of effort to produce that episode, and the result is well worth a lot of effort, thanks very much. A general impression I’m left with is your desire to maintain a critical stance toward your own rationalisation of action. This comes along with your desire that others do the same. It is hard to disagree with this, so maybe this is something I should be critical of.

    People who are skilled at rationalising their position will tend to prefer “all cards on the table” debate. Politics is typically the use of other means. A scientist who excels at science will build a career doing important research. A scientist with less ability may develop political skills and become Dean of the university.

    Democracy always seems to involve the capturing of power in the interests of an elite. It might be more accurate to see democracy as an ideology. If politics serves the primary function of preserving society then it needs both conservative and progressive actions. The uni-dimensional left-right is perhaps again more ideology.

    I was hoping the turn might be a re-imagining of politics, but it is perhaps better understood as engaging with mainstream politics through this podcast. That is not a criticism.

    The ecology of living ideas is a nice metaphor, but the idea of detachment, of freedom from ideology seems problematic. It tends towards similar ideas of “getting close” to immanence, minimal transcendance etc. That would seem to be risking becoming willfully blind to our inevitable ideological commitments when acting.

    To put this in more buddhist terms, if I am trying to not identify with ideology then what/where am I? That smells of atman. If I am constructed through a history of relations and context (including ideology) then I is a conceptualisation of that process. I am not free because there is no independent I, but I can act in the interests of an ideology (e.g. lessen suffering) more effectively by being aware of the ideologies constructing me.

    I like the idea of randomly selecting citizens to represent the population for a fixed term in a parliament that uses democratic voting for decision making (with no executive branch). For example 20% of the parliament could be replaced every year. Likewise a random selection of the population could control the judiciary. This might motivate society to actually educate (i.e. enable critical thought in) the general population!


    • Hi Mark,

      Thanks for taking the time to listen to the episode and give feedback here. My first response would be to remind you that this episode is located within a year-long approach to practice and that within that frame, it makes more sense. I am not really equipped to ‘re-imagine politics’ as anything other than a lay person and I think the only novelty I have to offer is what you find in the episode though I am happy to speculate on alternatives and solutions to our current potpourri of dysfunction.

      I am also more than happy to accept that politics is ideology from the bottom up and that our configurations of ‘it’ are all ideological formations. In fact, your mention of this in the way that you wrote reminded me that I need to move on with a piece on ideology that has been waiting in the wings!

      I have to say that I am surprised you got the idea that I am promoting ‘freedom from ideology’ from the episode. I think the point I made was that ideologies themselves are not frozen in time but are rather living social spheres that we move in and out of and that we can act on or be mere obedient subjects to: They are the unavoidable textures of our shared existence and the more rich and sophisticated a human life, the more ideologies that are usually in operation. The point I make is to distinguish between identification with an ideological sphere or form in which one is captured and not even aware it is operating, and the sort of conscious break that occurs when there is a rupture in that ideological sphere through education, dialogue, experience, change, psychedelics, ceremony, ritual, travel, falling in love, imprisonment, etc. As ideologies are human creations, they can clearly be reshaped and refashioned and I think that resonates with your subsequent point.

      In terms of the practice of politics in a democracy, I tend to view greater participation of the general populace in the everyday workings of government as vital, so I can get on board with your last idea.


      P.S: Who are you Mark?


      • Hi Matthew,

        I agree it fits nicely in that year long project.

        My impression of your seeking “freedom from ideology” is partly from listening to the episode and partly from reading your reply to Glenn “It’s increasingly clear to me, as I argue in the episode, that without some degree of freedom from ideological capture…” Based on your reply to me, I think we are probably using different metaphors to point to something similar. It is the distinction of “you” and “the ideology” that might be problematic, it makes more sense to me if we imagine a heterarchy where fixed boundaries (e.g. between the ideology and me) are over-simplifications. This is close to your concern about “identification”. It is perhaps not so much a problem of identifying, but a problem of a static identity. Someone without an identity is only fooling one person 🙂

        In our skeptical age it is hard not to see democracy as a convenient way of subduing the population. It would be interesting to know how many civilian eyes and hands have been taken through police violence in the recent Hong Kong protests, compared with the recent Yellow Vests protests in France. In France the police throw GLI-F4 grenades with 25g of TNT at protestors, there have been at least 14 eyes lost by protestors (mostly due to police illegally aiming flash balls at the heads of protestors). There is one death directly linked with police violence, of course in democracies there is no independent agency for investigating police violence, so it largely goes unpunished…


        Liked by 1 person

  3. You’re right, reading it that way could give the exact impression that you took away with you. That was not my intention of course.

    In terms of a practising life, I tend to make a distinction between idealogical participation and capture. Both are necessarily ideals. Capture relates to imprisonment and entrapment and by this I obviously mean a person is incapable of ‘escape i.e. of becoming aware of their condition and therefore a slave to it. To recognise we are embedded in ideologies, is to come to terms with the all too human manufacture of collective modes and ways of being. If anything, the podcast has as part of its overall mission, the exposure of ideologies at play in Buddhism. The consequence of exiting the sufficiency bubble is to understand that compromise and negotiation are part of an increasingly self-aware participation in an idealogical form.

    Glenn uses the word emancipation above, which I like too, but to rephrase my original phrase it might be more along the line of “gain freedom from the unconscious identification with an idealogical structure, its reality filters, language games, behavioural norms and limits on thought.”

    Perhaps we would still disagree that this is possible? You’ll let me know. As mentioned, I need to write something about ideology as I use the term so much and my understanding of it has been evolving quite a bot of late.

    Like I said, who are you Mark? The last statements you made about democracy might make sense in some countries but not in others. Where are you situated? I think that those in power almost always seek out ways to control and subdue populations, if only for the mere fact that leadership is so difficult and any form of simplifying the demands of those you have to lead is going to be welcome. I think it’s very tempting to view politicians as other than human and Italy has proved more than ever that there is no elite controlling from the top-down….in fact, this observation has scared the shit out of masses of the electorate. Now there’s an interesting development!

    The tension of the yellow vests seems to be a mirror to the great challenge the nation state and therefore democracy face in a globalising world. Of course, any relatively healthy form of democracy is unlikely to survive a truly and fully globalised world, but I assume we’ll never get to that.

    I’m happy to talk politics down the pub, but I shall refrain from saying more here. It’s back to the practising life for me and perhaps I should be promoting the Political Turn a little more…


    • Hi Matthew,

      There are certainly conceptions of “freedom” that are impossible, but I think we both have set the bar relatively low for what freedom implies, we seem to be on the same page regarding this. My preference would be to adopt a process centric view and associate freedom with sensitivity to relations. Each ideology will promote certain relations and suppress others, what is suppressed can allow for all sorts of amoral processes to develop unchecked. This is how I understand your concern about unconscious identification.

      I’m in France, the Yellow Vests example is too close to home, it seems to capture the hypocrisy of democracy to have “le pays de la liberté” criticizing China over police violence while the United Nations investigates France for excessive police violence against the Yellow Vests. I am not claiming China is any better, I do think we need to be careful about assuming democracy is by definition a good thing.

      I am tempted to see politicians as a reflection of the society that put/let them into that position. This is perhaps a disagreeable view for those who despise politicians.

      The Yellow Vests are paying the price of a particular form of globalisation, as far as ideologies go I think neoliberalism has to be the winner over the last 40 years. There is a great deal of suffering, even in the wealthiest nations, which IMHO is largely due to that ideology.

      I will let you get back to the Political Turn and I’m looking forward to listening to where you take it. Like you, I am not a great fan of public bios, in this context I’m a student of social constructionism who took some of the non-buddhist discussions seriously enough to go back to school.



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