Welcome back to the Imperfect Buddha Podcast. It is hard to imagine anything less important than a podcast episode from a niche podcast like this one when the Ukraine is under attack from a ruthless tyrant and delusional megalomaniac. A situation that threatens the stability of Europe and challenges democracies worldwide to reconsider their relationship with Russia, China and the engage seriously with democratic decline globally and at home. Unfortunately, this attach changes everything and for all his faults, Putin is not stupid or as short-sighted as most democratic politicians in western countries (our short-termism continues to be one of our greatest weaknesses). If you can afford to do so, please send some financial help the the Ukraine. Here are two links that will help you do so.
How can I help Ukraine: This site features a ton of verified links and ways to help.
World Kitchens: These folks are currently providing hot meals to Ukranian refugees escaping the war. Please note Russian soldiers are currently shooting and bombing civilians, pushing them to the Polish border. The charity is awaiting them.
Now, you have done your part and helped out, back to the podcast episodes.
These episodes are about two fundamental challenges we are currently facing: conspiracies and fake news, and our epistemic limits and the role of doubt in keeping us sane and human. An ongoing theme throughout my work here concerns hyperreality and it does seem that Russia is a country living in a world apart, rooted in a collective hallucination fed by Putin, state media and amplification of emotions, ideas and belonging rooted in a reality that does not exist but is preferable to the one that does.
It could be argued that the wider context is that of a world in revolt. Assigning an excess of agency to figures like Putin, or Trump or Johnson, or identity politics or the extreme left or right is to miss the context of a world struggling with globalisation and the death of meaning, roles and certainties that marked our previous age. Sloterdijk‘s spheres has much to say about community, identity and meaning making and the reactions against globalisation. Putin seems to be incarnating not only the desire to be a great Tzar again but a reactionary move against a global order in which his significance and that of his failing country is forever in decline.
Anyway, to the podcasts.b You can play them from the embedded player to your right, or at the bottom of the screen if you are using a cell phone. Or, visit the New Books site by clicking here.
86. IBP – Doubt Part 1 “I don’t Know.”
“Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.” Voltaire
You know too much, yet understand too little. And it’s the same for me, and everyone you and I happen to know.
And, so it begins.
What follows are a series of posts and audio-casts that respond to this living human condition, bringing together practice materials from non-Buddhism, post-traditional approaches to Buddhism, and the work of Peter Sloterdjik. Each post represents a visit to the Great Feast and provides ideas for practice for those who simply cannot find a home in mainstream Buddhism, Mindfulness, Atheism, or some other form of spirituality.
This first part engages Socrates and the Buddha and tosses a practice salad of exciting ingredients for the hungry practitioner.
It can be read and re-read here if you still have appetite for more:
87. IBP – Stef Aupers on Conspirituality
Stef Aupers is professor of media culture in the Institute for Media Studies at the University of KU Leuven in the Netherlands. As a cultural sociologist, he studies the role of cultural meaning in the production, textual representation and consumption of media. Stef has published widely in international journals on the topics of religion, modern myth, conspiracy theories and the way these cultures are mediatized.
We discuss the fascinating phenomenon of conspirituality, which refers to the overlap between conspiracies and spirituality, something we have seen explode with Covid, and now the attack by Russia on the Ukraine.
In this conversation we dive into conspiracies, the spiritual turn, the sacralisation of the self, the New Age, Covid, and more. As always, these conversations bridge the gap between the intelligent practitioner and the academic expert and there is something for everybody in this rich conversation.
Website for Stef Auper here
I love how Stef believes he has no beliefs.
Conspiracy theory defined as:
Who has the power?
Where is this power situated?
What are the implications of groups in power?
would make sociologists conspiracy theorists (Stef seems to agree). The distinction Stef makes is that a conspiracy theory must involve intentional malevolence. That seems like a moral position – one person’s sociology (e.g. labelling people) is another person’s malevolence. Opposing this, some conspiracy theories seem grounded in the idea of narcissists abusing their power.
I would draw a big distinction between conspiracy theories with evidence and those lacking evidence. For example, once Snowden shares the information about the NSA, the conspiration of the NSA can’t be, reasonably, denied.
If I’ve followed the logic, it seems that you either accept the dominant dogma or you are a conspiracy theorist. Considering the pandemic, anyone taking a serious look into this could only become a conspiracy theorist – literally we have the emails showing Fauci and others conspiring to supress a scientific investigation into the source of Sars-Cov2. Do you know how many BSL-4 laboraties are in the country where you live ? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biosafety_level#List_of_BSL-4_facilities In France we only have two BSL-4 labs run by the military, the third one is in the second largest city. Nothing to see here – of course the military need those labs for the good of humanity.
We need a sociologist to debunk the entire concept of conspiracy – something used to manipulate the public, by discrediting anyone that does not support the state’s narrative, by labelling them as a conspiracy theorist. Now there’s a conspiracy theory for you 😉
Lucky you were vaccinated – otherwise you might have caught covid. Oh no, sorry that is the very very old narrative. Lucky you were vaccinated – otherwise you might have transmitted covid. Oh no, sorry that is the very old narrative. Lucky you were vaccinated otherwise you would have had a serious case. Oh no, sorry that is the old narrative. Lucky you had a booster. Of course this must be true – we have no evidence of the narrative changing. We don’t need open science. No need to understand risk-benefit tradeoff for medical interventions. Trust Pfizer. They couldn’t possibly have anything but your best interests at heart. (You wouldn’t want to become a conspiracy theoriest now, would you.)
What a spirited comment. If I were to read into the ‘tone’ of it, I might wonder how personally you take all this talk of conspiracy and vaccinations. But I won’t. Or did I anyway? Oh, it’s all confusing.
I make a habit of not talking about vaccinations or Covid to those who start ranting either for or against and although that may not be your intent, you’ve gone down that rabbit hole sufficiently for my warning bells to go off. You’ve put together a whole series of trigger points too; Fauci, Pfizer, vaccinated, not vaccinated. It appears Amerocentric and thus uninteresting.
The podcast episode is what it is. The evidence is multiple and varied. In Italy, Fauci was far less important than our own virologists and Pfizer was one vaccine among many. I happen to teach medics, scientists and researchers (we have a major science park here in Trieste) and have done so for years and am under no illusions to the imperfections of modern medicine, including vaccines, but am obviously utterly convinced of their fundamental utility. Outside of this, I have no place debating the merits of modern medical practice here or anywhere.
Just remember, the focus is on spirituality plus conspiracy in this podcast and that is where the more interesting conversation lies! For the rest, you may want to seek out a different forum.
Anybody reading this, stop being distracted. Go and donate to the Ukraine.
Imagine if I imagined you would imagine what I was imaginging. I can only imagine how unimaginable that would be.
I will ceratinly admit to some frustration, as I’ve seen so many people unable to critically think about the situation. It was a shame to see people promoting critical thinking chose to ignore uncomfortable questions when it mattered more. It is this lazy analysis that leads to the mainstream dogma being so easily adopted. So now we are off to war with the hero Zalensky and the evil Russians.
I am, of course, pro vaccine, like everyone else I’ve spoken to who is not supportive of mandating mRNA vaccines to the entire population. Trotting out the “anti-vax” argument is about as convincing as the “conspiracy theorist” argument. Intended to shut down your own critical thinking ability while supporting your belief system.
The particulars of mRNA vaccines is not the point – this is just an example of how many people are unable to think critically. There could be the same discussion about Ukraine or many other issues e.g. donate to Ukraine while the government uses your taxes to send arms into the conflict area and punishes the Russian people through sanctions. A little bit of history would go a long way in seeing what will happen by trying to “crush” Russia – in France the minister of the economy has literally said we are trying to destroy the Russian economy and litterally used used the word “war” in describing the stategy.
If you have “no place debating the merits of modern medical practice here or anywhere” then why bring up modern medical practices in the first place. Perhaps it was intended to show how modern subjects blindly adopt the modern faith and encourage listeners to do the same?
That I mentioned Pfizer was not meant to imply that I am unaware of there being two mRNA vaccines. That you did not have access to vaccines using more traditional technology is not because they were not available. Is it just a coincidence that your health can only be protected by medications made in the West (and of course they must be patented) The connection is completely rational between geopolitics and biology…
I have no need to debate the topic, the facts are clear enough.
The wisdom of militarising biotechnolgy is very doubtful. And you dutifully ignored the topic. That is not implying anything about Sars Cov2, it is just that critical thinking highlights a problem. It does not matter whether Sars Cov2 came out of a lab, the point is that it could have. In fact there are documented cases of Sars Cov1 escaping from a lab and killing people. I guess our grandparent’s generation gave us the nuclear bomb and we will give our children biological weapons – progress never ceases.
We are here to learn to think not actually think 😉
I keep trying to get the non-buddhist tone right – so hard with such exigent judges!
Maybe I need to add 🙂 icons. I hope you are not taking any of this seriously!!
You know Mark, I’m still waiting for you to discuss Con-Spirituality and not just conspiracies.
See previous comment for the rest.
I am taking the Ukranian situation very seriously.
In reply to “I’m still waiting for you to discuss Con-Spirituality and not just conspiracies” I think I did that above in “as far as I can guess, once you come down from the mountain you will be sensitive to the sociology of your identity, and this does require peeling the onion, and that does lead to doubting the dominant discourse.” That would include nearly all the discourse about spirituality. I can see some utility in a distinction between material and immaterial but spirituality is often a marketing term.
Because Ukraine seems to be a theme and it is hard to find good analysis people might appreciate this interview on UnHeard https://youtu.be/PRb5YHQsTqU?t=890 I don’t think this forum should be a place for detailed discussions on these topics. As far as I can guess, once you come down from the mountain you will be sensitive to the sociology of your identity, and this does require peeling the onion, and that does lead to doubting the dominant discourse.
I also found this discussion that involves Timothy Snyder well worth watching. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCjBki16zl0 And, this Twitter stream is also a good summary of Putin’s current obsession: https://twitter.com/SamRamani2/status/1501178540900982790?s=20&t=OAfOgl0dNeXxbvRTS9dUcg There was also a decent post in the Corriera della Sera today for anyone that reads Italian, highlighting the decline of confidence in the West and America’s distraction and internal self-hatred: https://www.corriere.it/politica/22_marzo_09/putin-sottovalutato-democrazie-4f53849a-9f1a-11ec-937a-aba34929853f.shtml
All that said. Donate to the Ukranians, help out. https://linktr.ee/voiceforukraine?utm_source=linktree_profile_share<sid=a3806391-0bf5-4d8d-9213-5b340d6dea9b
Well, ok. Those are metaphors for sure that connect loosely to the topic, but need unpacking themselves. Which mountain? Come down to what? Peel the onion, ok, what do the layers represent? Which dominant discourse?
The spiritual folks that buy into nonsensical conspiracies tend to believe that they have done just what your metaphors point to, and yet, they have usually merely created a hyperreal bubble in which they entertain utopian spiritual fantasies coupled with anti-materialist, anti-human paranoia rooted in dark fairy tales.
They are caught in one the foundational problems of our age: hyperreal positionality.
The Italian philosopher Umberto Galimberti wrote an interesting piece on the tendency for a good deal of anti-vaxxers to be those sort who are fundamentally against everything imposed from above through a kind of adolescent rebellion. This might explain why in some countries, such as here in Italy, the rules brought in to manage them could be interpreted as parental. I think the pandemic highlighted the lagging, dragging, unsustainable individualism and selfishness that’s still hanging around like a dirty pair of socks from the neo-liberal experiment, which promoted such tendencies. My utopian desire is that this experience and now the war in Ukraine will at the very least serve as a wake up call.
Please note, I was pretty disciplined in mostly following the pandemic locally. The British and American situations were reactionary to say the least and I kept myself sane by focussing on my city, region and then Italy and ignoring much of what was going on in those other places. It kept me out of most of the chitter chatter in the English language world.
Anyway Mr Mark, you know too much. How’s that working out for you?
We can refine those terms but we will not be able to ground them. The mountain as a metaphor for a spiritual journey – lots of effort, some sort of awakening (the peak) and then either stay up there preaching to those below, or descend back down and engage without the mystical material/spiritual foundation.
Rather than talking about imaginary people, why not talk to the people listening. Maybe you are, but I doubt there are “spiritual folks that buy into nonsensical conspiracies” listening to your podcast. Maybe some have bought into what you consider a nonsensical conspiracy but I suspect most are trying to get over one rather than defending one. The idea that everything should or could make sense is itself nonsensical.
It is weird that you want to pull things back to vaccines. You did this in the podcast, then you basically said you did not want to use that an an example and here we are again going back to vaccines. Do you have close friends who are not vaccinated? Do you speak to them with these labels of anti-vax and conspiracy theorist? I’ve not yet met an “anti-vaxer” if that means someone who does not believe in the benefits of vaccination. I’ve met only a very small number of crackpots who believe all vaccines are good for all people all the time. The situation seems to be far more shades of grey than you would like it to be.
I don’t think it is possible to understand what is going on with the pandemic without looking at information sources from around the world. A small country like Italy was unable to push back against the narrative and does not have the institutions to have an independent public health policy e.g. they did not run clinical trials, did not develop vaccines, are part of the EU, etc. Italy had to trust the FDA on the vaccine safety data and that is only now being pried out of that dysfunctional institution (through court order), here is a pro-vaxer reviewing the first batch of documents, it is worrying I think: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YOD9drZasM
Probably the best thing to come out of the pandemic from my perspective is how effective it has been as a filter. There are a few truly heroic people who put their reputations and careers on the line in the interests of public health. There are a few who maintained a somewhat balanced critical analysis of the data and followed the science even when that meant being effectively cancelled. The fraction of people who were able to hold an open mind was surprisingly small. Most just put their head down and swallowed the mainstream narrative – you seem to be in that group.
Interestingly many of the same people who were so pro vaccine mandates etc are also relatively pro war e.g. sharing links for funding the Ukranian military (as you did in the above first YouTube link “If you want to support Ukraine’s soldiers with medical materials, or Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense, or give for humanitarian aid you can donate, among others, to the accounts below:”) I assume you do not want to fund Ukranian soldiers but perhaps avoid pointing listeners to people who do.
Individualism is not a product of neo-liberalism. I think there would be a stronger case for neo-liberalism as the product of individualism. We are running into the side effects of modernity and they are overwhelming the very fundamentals of modernity. The support for things like vaccine mandates is an example of this – many people are more than eager to become the collective police. One of the things that amazed me was how cheaply people are willing to sell their freedom – it seems most would prefer an authoritarian regime if it means they can go to the cinema.
The pandemic and the Ukranian war will not lead to positive changes in society. We are headed toward much darker days but complex systems are unpredictable so maybe it will lead to something worth all the suffering.
Personally I feel responsible for the disastrous state of the world and it is a very uncomfortable experience. There are a few spiritual tricks I can pull out of the bag to ignore this situation. When that doesn’t work there is always hedonism and the company of others. If I am having a good day I try to channel the frustration into making a material difference toward an alternative. I’ve not had so much time for podcasts and comments – I’m overdosing here 😉
The last paragraph is the more interesting one for me for two reasons. The coping mechanisms are ones I am very much familiar with; the feeling of responsibility is not. I do not feel a responsibility for what has happened to the Earth but do for what will and the feeling ranges between being highly motivating and terribly frustrating. As for spiritual tricks, I think this is one of the great gifts of genuine tragedy; it strips away the illusion that practices will shield you from the reality of real world events. They can aid you in facing them, but there’s no ultimate protection when a bullet flies past your head, or into your flesh, or a crippling disease sends you to the hospital.
Anyway, Timothy Snyder, who you likely know of, and if you don’t you should, produced a more benign list of ways to help out the Ukranians. I’ve posted it below. His excellent work On Tyranny speaks of the problem you laid out above though does so in more interesting contexts.
From the perspective of a modern subject, responsibility is limited to causal relations i.e. you are not responsible for something you did not physically do. Even then, this is watered down based on “intentions”, where many would not feel responsible unless they consciously intended to perform the action.
From the perspective of a non-modern subject, the concept of individual and responsibility changes. From a non-foundational process centric paradigm, the bounds of the physical body and conscious experience are not the bounds of the non-modern subject and responsibility expands with sensitivity to history, possible futures, and social processes.
Regarding Ukraine, I want the war to stop as soon as possible. The last thing we should be doing is supporting either side in prolonging the war. The only way to stop the war is through diplomacy. I do not support the attempts of the Ukranian government to involve NATO in this war. The West has lied repeatedly to the Ukranian people and to the Russian people. I do not support any sanctions that increase the suffering of the Russian people. Ukraine could have (should have) chosen to be a neutral country. Instead they were manipulated by the West into breaking the Minsk agreements and threatening Russia with NATO expansion. This is obviously not a justification for war but the situation is far more complex than just Putin’s narcissism. As I’ve understood, from speaking with Ukranians living in France, there were protests in Kiev that stopped the government following the Minsk agreement (a planned referendum on independence was cancelled). I’m all for supporting the Ukranian refugees. It is worth noting that men can no longer leave Ukraine as they are required to be canon fodder.