Why democratise thought, or practice?
To democratise practice is to challenge the hierarchies present within practice traditions and remain attentive to how traditions condition our subjective space by inculcating us into practices of assent and striving towards frozen or idealised images of goals, outcomes, and the ideal practitioner, society, or world. This is a delicate area of non-practice. It would be easy to consider such a call as a sort of rebellion against authority, a free-for-all, do-as-you-please, middle finger to teachers, holders of tradition, and experts: A rebellious grasp of license, an adolescent pose. To take it this way would be to miss the point. Democracy is a mode of participation that does not centre on the individual, but rather the style of engagement and type of commitment that is required for individuals to participate in society at large, or projects or pathways, without a return to dysfunctional dominance hierarchies. It is a call to responsibility, a rejection of the manifestation of parental relationships and the disowning of the age-old act of gifting power to those who shouldn’t have it. In this sense, it resonates strongly with core principles of a post-traditional practice.
Rather than pose universally applicable guidance, it would be better to consider non-thought as operating like a carpenter’s or mechanic’s workshop where anyone can use the tools and improve their craft. Laruelle’s practice items are there and being central to non-philosophy, each can be taken as a tool with certain characteristics, each suited to specific circumstances and challenges. Each can be applied to Buddhism, or any practice tradition you are meaningfully embedded in. Each must be handled personally and with care before it can be used effectively, and each may be worth practising with for a time, made familiar, and eventually formed into one’s own personal tool set. With this in mind, I shall offer a few themes and a few questions to help the curious get started with tools that I have fashioned myself.
A final observation before tooling up; Laruelle, like any figure, should not be idealised. This is a practice without heroes. If we are not academics engaged in academic life, we are free to explore, play, and get our hands dirty and bastardise. As with Derrida, or the Buddha, there will always be those ready to tell you that you have got it all wrong. That is a game that can be played. If such players are generous, they may do so in a way that helps you learn. If not, claimants of absolutes should generally be told to politely fuck off. Lovers of dictatorships are anti-democratic after all.
Each of the following items will constitute a practice. Each has a title, a set of considerations, practice pointers, and a question or two for contemplation. I share these as a democratised practitioner, not a pro. Each of these items could warrant an entire blog entry. Each could be formulated in a variety of ways. These are partial takes on complex themes. If you think of them as practice fields, locations in which much does and will happen, you will get a more realistic picture of what it means to undertaken a journey through the terrain each represents and in most cases they ought to be terrains you are already familiar with: For they are shared terrains that our species has come across throughout its history and struggled with. In a sense, they remain forever unresolved as a true final answer does not and cannot ever exist except as an imposition.
Like any user’s manual, each part connects to the others; some tools may be more useful to you than others. Feel free to pick and choose.
P.S. I interviewed an expert on the work of Laruelle. Check it out if you find the philosophical side of it all more interesting: 72. IBP: Non-Philosophy with John Ó Maoilearca