One ever-present chimera lurking in the background of stillness, and the desire for freedom, is (as you should know by now), ideology: A regular conceptual guest of ours here at the podcast. Ideology is the hidden us, the lurking we-ness, too often ignored and unidentified by practitioners of the way of silence and individual awakening, but also by those intelligent folks who use their hard-earned clarity to spend a life dedicated to Buddhist thought only, whether to early scripture (digging in deep to find the ‘true’ meaning of this sutra or that aphorism), or working to unlock the mystery of that most secret of secret recently discovered secret tantras. There’s nothing wrong with all that. That’s not the point.
Rather, some recognise that the potential for awakening is everywhere; as much in a recent text from philosophy, or the twist of leaves in the wind, as from a sutra, often more easily accessed in a poem, felt in a song, or expressed in a novel than from teachings from another time and place and social context. If one knows how to read, as Derrida might suggest, or think and look, as great minds have done since before and after Buddhism, the opportunities for gaining insight through and from almost anything can occur in unexpected places. To be surprised by the world is a great dharma. To see anew is a great dharma. To experience thought as spontaneous, unexpected arising is a great dharma. Reading and seeing to confirm what one knows, or desires to be so, is not.
And there’s more, of course. There is collective karma, the interdependence of the many minds, ever-evolving and changing shared speech, and the collective and shared unconscious and sub-conscious acts that manifest in the automatisms that pepper our waking moments, and the symbolic dreamscapes of our sleep. They are the unrevealed play of our wishes, desires, and games as human plus human i.e. the great us, the great sea of humanity birthing, dying, struggling and striving in a continuous flow of unfathomable organic wonder, terror, and monotony. The recognition of the ‘us’ is, in my humble view, a call to stretch one’s practice driven thinking beyond Buddhism, and beyond the spiritual, to a more robust engagement with thought and practice beyond the confines of what we know. Buddhism doesn’t have all the answers. It never has. Which is fine, of course.
This is another way of understanding the Great Feast.
To enter the Feast does not appear to appeal to everyone. Glenn Wallis knows this all too well. He also knows very well that in the silence of stillness, many things lurk, and it is to them that much of his writing and critical discourse on contemporary western Buddhism has been focussed. He is not alien to sitting, standing, and walking, however, and I bet he’s even drunk a cup of tea mindfully at some point in his life, for his own life is punctured by moments and stages of practice. It is to some of these that our conversation turns in our most recent recording with him over at the Imperfect Buddha podcast. We also talk about his non-Buddhism practice group, and his most recent book on Anarchism, which might surprise you. The Great Feast beckons. Come in, grab a pint of ale, a plate of grub, and enjoy. Old Derrida is there too, and apparently he’s rather dismayed by the uses and abuses of his most famous creation: You know, the one that begins with de-.
The episode will be up tomorrow.
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.
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