“If things were simple, word would have gotten around.” Jacques Derrida
I am currently engrossed in Peter Salmon’s recently published biography of Jacques Derrida and rather enjoying its stroll through the life of one of the most challenging and notorious philosophical thinkers of the last century. Derrida’s thought is infuriatingly complex for almost everyone, and his ideas have been put into the service of all manner of ideological project due, in part, to its slippery nature. Today’s guest is not unlike Derrida in his capacity to confuse, frustrate and outright annoy. His work on non-Buddhism has been cast as mental masturbation, over-intellectualising, and other playground insults that usually indicate the hurler is of the lazy sort when it comes to firing up the old intellect. “To practice!” such insult throwing folks might encourage us; just sit, breathe, pay close attention to the abdomen, nostrils, upper lip, mantra, image, subtle state, emptiness, bliss, and, whatever you do, don’t think too much, don’t explore thought, don’t engage it, keep it at bay, bring attention back to the breath, the sweet spot, right there. That’s it, now rest.
This is a vision of practice: A very fine one. Lovely. Great. I adore it myself.
But thinking is a practice also. And avoiding thinking is a practice too. And both can be put in service to all manner of goal; many of which we have spoken to and critiqued in the life of this podcast. There’s also more. Some folks have discovered it. And it is something quite remarkable. Developing meditative capacity can actually lead to a far more robust capacity to think, to reason, to elaborate theory, to think deeply and broadly, and to share company with the great minds of any practice tradition (in the very broadest of senses of practice). Silencing the mind can actually enable clarity, presence and sharpened senses to engage with the tentacles of thought as liberating, insight-exploring, creative wonder, and as the recognition that real problems emerge from poorly developed thought and its unthinking application.
But, for those thinking all this is rather obvious, this process should not merely provide the ground for the confirmation of Buddhist insights (as so many popular books on Buddhism and science have sought to do), but rather act as a leap off point into the Great Feast and its many, many, unfinished, human projects. Awakening out of self-absorbed narcissism, of the sort Buddhism specialises in addressing on a good day, can mean that the exploration of human knowledge, past, present, and potential future, can become an endeavour that no longer circles around the ‘I’ as locus of meaning, or Buddhism as the source of final, sufficient knowing. Thought instead can begin to liberate, and help us to identify better its many formed sufferings and entrapments, and support and perhaps even create new dharmas. For Buddhism is not up this task on its own in case you don’t happen to know.
Anarchism, yes, under appreciated, misunderstood. Ursula Le Guin wrote a fictional exploration of an anarchist society in action, recognizing its goodness and also the tendency towards problems due to human foibles and weaknesses. A very wise book. I wonder if you or Mr. Wallis is familiar with The Dispossessed?
Hi Jeff. Yes, we recently read Le Guin’s “The Dispossessed” in our Anarchist Reading Circle. (We’re about to change this to the Autonomist Reading Circle–see the comment and my response below.) Maybe you want to join us online sometime: https://inciteseminars.com/anarchist-reading-circle. We meet every other Thursday.
I know it’s not the usual practice to engage in discussion in comments here. I thought I might take a moment to serve as that person who disagrees with everything you say that you mention at about minute 34 (although I know, of course, that nobody actually wants this person around).
I think the most essential point to understanding everything else discussed here is the goal of “making explicit.” We can make our assumptions explicit, we can make the structures of power explicit, and in fact power is a wonderful thing (it enables us to do everything we collectively do) but only if it is made explicit. I discuss this at some length in Indispensable Goods (mostly pp. 114-132)
So I would ask how either of you would respond to the following concern. When we believe we are “autonomous individuals”, we are in fact most powerfully replicating the ideology of capitalism, and so making it very unlikely that we will be able to make explicit our assumptions (the assumption that we ever can be autonomous, that we must be autonomous first and then enter freely into the socially etc.). We begin, become subjects, as part of a collective. To foster the “ignorance of our own subject formation” that you mention at about minute 17, then is exactly the mistaken belief that we must first begin as “healthy autonomous subjects” and then choose to enter into social relationships, while avoiding losing our individuality. That is, our individually is always already a social construct.
It seems that the endless unanswerable questions about the problems of hierarchy and maintaining our individuality, which are common in all western thought, are the result of this one fundamental error.
Any thoughts? I don’t really expect an answer—I know you don’t like to engage in discussion in comments. Just playing the role of the persistent contrarian.
For context, we recorded this just after Christmas so it was around two months ago. I will have to respond to what you have written rather than to any specific details as I can’t remember what was said. Glenn will be far more equipped to respond to the specifics of your comment than I. You are free to comment, of course, and you are right, I generally don’t respond very much. Not because I’m contrary to doing so, but because I have too many demands on my time and it’s already a small miracle that I keep the podcast going! Responding to you is also quite a challenge. To do so well, requires a lot of careful thought, and therefore time and I cannot give that. Knowing this, I shall post my immediate thoughts anyway, and they will be inadequate as a result.
So, I’m really not sure how to respond to your comment adequately as it’s one you bring up a lot and I have sympathy for it but there is always a but. I think autonomy and individual are sites of critique and can be used formally and located within the history of philosophy, or psychology, or politics, and they hold a certain value and your analysis makes sense to me a great deal in that context. I think they can also be used as less loaded terms that have a certain practical usage that we can also make sense of. I am, on the whole, more interested in the latter at this point of my life: Less interested in formally identifiable beliefs than on the consequences on subjectivity, and action, of investing in ideas, and avoiding others.
For all its negative value, acting as if you are an individual is generally a better proposition than believing you are merely the creation of forces beyond your power, or that you are merely the product of social formation, and that the only forming principle is Capitalism. Acting so does not need to equate to ignoring how your individual subjective sense of self is fluid, clearly a product of history, culture, family, and so on. Belief, in a sense, matters in how we make sense of that observation or commit to a way of being in the world. Is it possible to perform such a move whilst developing awareness and understanding of the process of subject formation within collectives? I believe so, with training, with company, over time and probably as an open ended, forever unfinished project.
I think there is a paradox or tension there that plays out in how people live for sure. To state that individuality is only a belief produced by Capitalism seems odd to me and rather parochial, but that may not be what you are saying. To state that Capitalism reifies the individual to an extent that has never been done before in the societies we know of is fine and that seems right from what I currently know, but this seems quite a different claim too.
Hi Tom. As someone who hates listening to his own interviews (and who never has done so), I am responding only to what you have written. If the context is crucial, let me know.
I’m not completely clear about your question. I wonder if an equivocation of terms is the issue. I rarely use the term “autonomous;” but when I do, I have in mind the sense derived from the autonomist Marxists and then processed by the anarcho-communists. “Autonomous” already assumes collectivity. It is a social concept from the outset. In the most basic sense the term means explicit, self-aware (=ideologically transparent to the greatest extent possible) action organized by individuals outside of status quo organizational structures. Incite Seminars is an example of an autonomous organization (I hope). In anarchist discourse “autonomous” doesn’t mean what it does in, say, developmental psychology; namely, a self-realized individual who is capable of operating uncoerced by external circumstances, or whatever. The socialist “autonomous individual” is hyper-aware of the interminable coercion of the world; hence, the autonomous organization as a way to resist those effects to the greatest extent possible. In fact, “the individual” unfettered from “the social” is pretty much anathema in the socialist anarchism stemming from Kropotkin (though not of course in individualist anarchism stemming from Stirner).
In the spirit of “making explicit:” I don’t know what you mean by “healthy autonomous subjects.” I could imagine such a subject along the lines of what I just outlined. I’m also not sure what “to choose to enter into social relationships, while avoiding losing our individuality” means. We, as “individuals,” choose to enter into social relationships all the time, right? And when you say, “our individually is always already a social construct,” I’m not clear if YOU are saying that or if you think that I am saying that. In any case, I do agree with that statement.
Yes, as I was listening to the podcast, the conversation, the description of the practice group, and other details I was wondering if you saw that all involved were a group of people who were the product of a certain educated and privileged part of the world who felt that they truly had the discerning eagle’s eye view of the world. I wonder what your blind spots are and assumed unexamined truths. Or examined and retained because to let go of them is unacceptable though at the root still could be doubted. I know I have mine!
Hi Jeff, I’m curious as to how you reached the following conclusion: ‘…they truly had the discerning eagle’s eye view of the world.’
Hi Jeff. I’m not sure who you are addressing here, Matthew or me? If me: Yes, I see that MOST (not all) involved in the Posse are “the product of a certain educated and privileged part of the world.” But must it then necessarily follow that they feel “that they truly have the discerning eagle’s eye view of the world”? About “blind spots and assumed unexamined truths,” etc.–Of course. The existence of these aspects is one of the major reasons for doing the very work we are doing. We become more aware. More importantly, we act more decisively and less stupidly in the world.
I am addressing both of you. As for my conclusion concerning “discerning eagle’s eye view” derived from my subjective feel or summation of what I read and heard. I could go back and probably extract some quotes, but won’t bother to do so. By the way you both come across as kind safe people – more subjective summation. I tend conservative and and have a degree of paranoia about the left/progressive tendency to trust in or strive to be beneficent philosopher kings knowing what is best for all. That tendency can worm its way into even anarcho-communalism, which I have strong sympathies for. But for it to work how much of an overarching world view has to be held in common leaving certain values, viewpoints as unacceptable. or could it transmogrify into a type of tyranny using the very ideals of anarchism as seen in LeGuin’s The Dispossessed, though if I remember right it self corrected in the book at the end.
I think your paranoia is warranted and concern about the particular flavour of delusion that falls under the umbrella of self-righteousness is justified; it’s rife on the Left and has been there since I remember. I’ve been there myself and was rather surprised to find out one day that my left leaning views were not simply true and given as I had previously believed, but were part of an ideological identity I had unwittingly formed and never truly questioned. I will always be loosely left but no longer a signed up member of the club.
Perhaps you might find Laruelle’s work, and then Glenn’s subsequent reworking of it, worth a further look? The process of disenchantment in Glenn’s heuristic describes well the loss of political, religious or spiritual conviction and the accompanying identity that goes along with it. It also provides a way to relate to such a process without slipping into cynicism or a rejection of it all.
I can’t speak to LeGuin’s work.
“Process of disenchantment in Glenn’s heuristic” definitely above my pay grade, I am a simple minded Christian theist in my heart of hearts.
You choose odd company to mix with then 😉
Oh, I have an autistic streak that is expressed through arcane interests.
LikeLiked by 1 person