Suffering and the ‘Self’

As the title of the video suggests, I’m discussing Buddhist ideas of Suffering and the ‘Self’, or more specifically the illusion of the ‘Self’.

What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula – https://smile.amazon.com/What-Buddha-…

Waking up by Sam Harris – https://smile.amazon.com/Waking-Up-Sp…

The Self Illusion by Bruce Hood – https://smile.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_…

Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright – https://smile.amazon.com/Why-Buddhism…

The Way of Zen by Alan Watts – https://smile.amazon.com/Way-Zen-Alan…

Secular Buddhism Podcast – https://secularbuddhism.com/57-all-pe…

Articles on Apophenia: http://skepdic.com/apophenia.html https://archive.is/20130121151738/htt…

Levi Bryant’s referenced Blogs: https://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/… https://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/…

Other Referenced Article: http://www.insightmeditationcenter.or…

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The Horror of Philosophical Language

In a recent blog post entitled “Philosophical Language“, philosopher Levi Paul Bryant highlights the way in which certain fields and areas of study, especially and specifically philosophy, seem to participate in a kind of subversion of language, that is, the distortion of normalcy in everyday speech. Bryant describes this endeavor as “an athleticism of language,” explaining this to be “an inventiveness that challenges and disrupts  what the analytics call ‘ordinary language'”. To which I respond with an excitedly affirmative “precisely!” This can be witnessed in nearly every philosophical work of merited weight, importance, and vigor. Commonplace words, terms, phrases, and even ideas are packed and loaded with a plethora of seemingly extraneous ‘meaning’, significance, nuance, and subtlety, making language that was commonly and ordinarily understood anything but. Here, as Bryant explains, “Philosophy breaks language from its moorings, sending it flying in new trajectories…and unheard of directions.” We may think we know but, we have no idea.

In one regard, I think this is not so much the insidious desires of the philosopher alone but, may actually be the evolutionary nature of language itself. Here, it would seem that the subversiveness of language with its disruptive un-mooring and inventive new trajectories is indicative of its emergent properties as a ‘complex adaptive system’, that is, a dynamic and fluid system in which behavioral mutations and adaptations evolve, and continue to evolve, individually and communally in conjunction with alteration eliciting events in agency interactions. In other words, language, adapts itself to the necessities, requirements, and demands of changing events within the progressive interactions of agents. Language reflexively twists itself into new permutations aiding agency in its ability to adapt to changes within the environment.
Lacan’s theory of the symbolic order proves useful here when he explains that “language is not man’s creation and instrument, it is man who ‘dwells’ in language.” Said another way, Laurie Anderson supposed that “Language is a virus”. It continually replicates itself, spreading infectiously, and the more we try immunize ourselves with its understanding the more it mutates into ever more resistant forms. It would appear that we may be in a kind of parasitic relationship with language, language is a parasite and we are the host. If this is the case language was never ‘ordinary’, never safe but, always already twisted, disturbing, and disruptive.
This, in a way, seems to be in keeping with what Bryant is suggesting when he proposes that Philosophy’s ability to disturb the commonplace usage of ordinary language is “always a bit grotesque and shares a resemblance to science fiction; even before science or fiction existed.” In his book, In the Dust of this Planet, Eugene Thacker attempts to outline and explicate Philosophy’s ‘sci-fi’ underpinnings and methodology, which also seems to go a long way in uncovering and explaining philosophy’s ‘monstrous’ use of language. He does this through horror…
Thacker writes that “one of the greatest challenges that philosophy faces today lies in comprehending the world in which we live as both a human and a non-human world – and of comprehending this politically.” Thacker expounds,
On the one hand, we are increasingly more and more aware of the world in which we live as a non-human world, a world outside, one that is manifest is the effects of global climate change, natural disasters, the energy crisis, and the progressive extinction of species world-wide. On the other hand, all these effects are linked, directly and indirectly, to our living in and living as a part of this non-human world.

Zizek writes that “speech does not only register or express a traumatic psychic life; the entry into speech is in itself a traumatic fact.” Zizek continues saying that “speech tries to cope with the traumatic impact of speech itself.” However, Zizek goes on to state that this reciprocity should also be reversed, stating that, “speech does not simply express/articulate psychic turmoils; at a certain point, psychic turmoils themselves are a reaction to the trauma of dwelling in the ‘torture-house of language’.”  Thacker suggests that this seems to be illustrated by the ‘fear’ induced by horror, or, more specifically, the horror genre. Here, Thacker proposes that “horror be understood not as dealing with human fear in a human world (the world-for-us), but that horror be understood as being about the limits of the human as it confronts a world that is not just a World, and not just the Earth, but also a Planet (the world-without-us).” Horror is indicative of the unknowable, the ineffable, “the paradoxical realization of the world’s hiddenness as an absolute hidenness” (Thacker, 171). This is the experience of the confrontation with an ecological totality that is ultimately and primarily ‘non-human’. Thus, Thacker proposes that this is “the paradoxical thought of the unthinkable” and “In so far as it deals with this limit of thought, encapsulated in the phrase of the world-without-us, horror is ‘philosophical’.” As such, horror is nothing short of an “attempt to think about the world-without-us philosophically.” Here, philosophy is horror, and horror is philosophy, in so far as it bears an air of mysticism, becoming a kind of ‘secularized/atheistic’, negative or apophatic theology.

If this is the case, as Thacker suggests and Byant alludes, then how else could such a realm be explored or thought about but by the contagion of an infectious linguistic viral fluxing, the grotesque mutations of philosophical speech, the twisted and tumultuous inexpressibility of traumatic trajectories, and the whole new, ‘wholly other’ disturbing directions of a mysterium tremendum. Language, in symbiosis with philosophers, becomes like elves transformed to Orcs, once serene, beautiful, majestic, and regal creatures “taken by the dark [daemonic or daimonic] powers, tortured and mutilated” evolving into a brand new species aimed at ending the reign of man, that is, revealing the ecological essence of the world. As Thacker elucidates, this is not “the world-for-us” of the ‘World’, nor is it the “world-in-itself” of the Earth, but a nebulous in-between, “impersonal and horrific,” it is the “world-without-us” of the Planet.
Zizek suggests that “Language, by itself, is lying.” “[H]ow” then, “does one rethink the world as unthinkable? – that is, in the absence of the human-centric point of view, and without an over-reliance on the metaphysics of being,” as Thacker asks? Here, Zizek expanding upon Elfriede Jelinek answers, saying “‘Language should be tortured to tell the truth.’ It should be twisted, denaturalized, extended, condensed, cut, and reunited, made to work against itself.” In between gods and monsters may we summon challenge and disruption, invention and subversion, with the horror of philosophical language.

Wor(l)d Made Flesh: The Materiality of Interaction

I just finished reading two interesting blog posts by Levi Paul Bryant, whose blog Larval Subjects I highly recommend you follow. In his post, entitled “Thinking at the Edge of Apocalypse“, Bryant emphasizes that the essence of ecological ontology is not ‘nature’ (i.e. “pertaining only to rain forests and coral reefs), which, regardless of how suffuse, is representative of an illusory binary that severely limits ecology to a very narrow scope. Instead, and in all actuality, as Bryant explains, the utter impetus of ecological ontology is, in fact, a kind of inter-relational totality. Here, Bryant writes, that “To think ecologically is to think beings in relation; regardless of whether that being be the puffer fish, economy, or a literary text.” Simply stated, “Everything is ecological,” including and especially “culture and society”.

This in itself is a scathing critique of capitalistic and consumeristic ideology, which precisely proves Bryant’s point. In her article, “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” Gillen Wood demonstrates that “It is the character of modern consumer society to promote the idea that nothing is connected”. The orientation of such a societal structure is entirely individualistic, atomistic, and, above all, pathological, propagating a deleterious ontology of false segregation, thereby eliciting deprivation, and disenfranchisement. However, Wood writes that “Sustainability, by contrast, teaches that everything is connected,” as such, “sustainability is truly the science of everything, from technical strategies for repowering our homes and cars, to the ecological study of biodiversity in forests and oceans, to how we think and act as human beings”.

In this regard, Bryant further elaborates the immensity of ecological ‘inter-relationality’ and ‘interactivity’ in his post “Interactivism“. Yet, here he makes the vital distinction that these interactions of ecological ontology are not “ghostly”, phantasmic, abstract, transcendent, nor apparition-like but, instead are unavoidably material, concrete, and fleshly. Byant writes that “there is always a materiality of interactions” and that “Every interaction requires flesh.” He explains that “Even symbolic and linguistic interactions require flesh to occur,” noting that “They require an atmosphere…or electro-magnetic signals, paper, smoke, or any number of other mediums.” Flesh is matter and, as Sallie McFague explains in her book, The Body of God, flesh not only “includes all life-forms” but, also “all matter on our planet” (17). Flesh, it seems, “links us with everything in the most intimate of ways” (McFague, 17, *my emphasis added). Flesh “knits us together with all life-forms in networks of shared suffering and joy” and is without a doubt “the most intimate and most universal way to understand reality” (McFague, 17).

These are but my initial thoughts, reactions, inclinations, and musings based solely upon cursory inquires and peripheral readings. I look forward to delving deeper, thinking further, and researching more…

The Fray: A Weaver’s Dilemna

Almost a week ago I came across a blog post that an associate of mine shared on Facebook. The post, written by Patheos blogger Ryan Bell, was entitled “Watch Me Unravel“. Here, Bell discusses the ‘unraveling’ experience of one’s whole world view of ultimate concern coming undone and the temptation of nihilism that comes along with it. These grand and over-arching narratives are the myths in which we live by. As author Daniel Quinn makes clear, “A culture,” is nothing more than “a people enacting a story”. These ‘stories’ provide us with the means of describing and defining who and what we are, how it all works, and what it all means. In some cases they are the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves to make ourselves believe. And when these stories, these narratives, these world views come apart at the seams it is the deepest agony of existential angst. It is the feeling Nietzsche described of the Earth being unchained from its sun, moving where we know not, “Backwards, sideward, forward, in all directions…plunging continually,” not knowing up from down, “straying as through an infinite nothing,” set adrift on an infinitely boundless sea of an horizonless ocean without an objective or ultimate guide, without an absolute or supreme compass. To quote Qoholeth, it is “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly Meaningless!”.

Bell explains his own process of coming undone. Brought on by the severe “cognitive dissonance” of his irreconcilable and incongruent religious worldview, Bell began the arduously paradigmatic undertaking of unraveling; moving from fundamentalist to liberal Christianity, and beyond, eventually arriving at a kind of humanistic post-theism.

My initial thought after reading Bell’s blog was “This is my story!” My own experience of dissonant unraveling is a mirrored parallel to that outlined by Bell. I grew up, born and raised, completely enmeshed by the pentecostal/charismatic brand of Christian religious fundamentalism, though something always seemed a miss and askew in my relationship with this community but, I knew nothing else. The older I grew, the more I probed, until my questions became bigger than the confines of such a devoutly conservative sect. When I could no longer ethically align myself with the theology and soteriology of this fundamentalist church I made my exodus. I briefly experimented with forming something of a house church. A small group of individuals would meet at my home every other week with the distinct and determined purpose of reexamining, reevaluating, and critically analyzing our faith. It was a constant struggle and it fell apart almost as quickly as it came together. I chalked it up to my own lack of knowledge and so I made the decision to go back to school to study religion. About this time I made my way to a very liberal ‘open and affirming’ UCC church. I was reading voraciously,  New Testament scholarship, Biblical criticism, theology, philosophy,  sociology,  anthropology,  and the list goes on and on. I made a special connection with the UCC pastor and under his recommendation I began studying process theology, himself being a rather committed process person. This was a refreshing perspective at the time and I began to adopt a more panentheistic approach. Still my questioning continued never completely satisfied by any theological position I came across. Finally, it occurred to me that all these divergent theologies were complex and elaborate attempts to make the ‘God’ idea plausibly functional. I began to think that if it took such an extreme amount of effort to make the concept of God work, then perhaps it simply wasn’t an idea worth keeping, perhaps it simply didn’t work. Thus, I began to seriously explore atheism and at last this made sense, this truly resonated with me deeply, it was like coming home.

Obviously, Bell’s story not only struck me but, also stuck with me. I commented to the post with the following response:

“The unraveling I’ve come to embrace and even appreciate, I’ve also come to accept and understand pessimism and nihilism as valid and conducive philosophical positions. However, what continues to be a great difficulty is the lonely and isolated placelessness.”

To which a Facebook friend commented in kind, saying:

” I have been able to “re-knit” the yarn into a humanist/naturalist worldview that, while it doesn’t provide much optimism, there still are small glimpses of hope interspersed. The “sweater” I’m reconstructing is helping me to value each day more, knowing that time is a precious commodity.”

Since then I’ve not only continued to ponder the post but, also the comments above.

I sympathize with these sentiments and yet, I remain skeptical of “re-knitting”. These ‘knitted’ or ‘woven’ “sweater” worldviews, even when reconstructed from the remnants of an un-threaded system, still seem to maintain the scent or lingering specter of what Lacan refers to as the Big Other. Here, two other blog posts I read recently touch and expand upon this point: the first by philosopher Levi Paul Bryant simply titled “Atheism” and the second, “I Believe in Gods” by Kester Brewin.

Bryant explains that for him atheism is not “a thesis about religion,” nor is it “a thesis about the supernatural or the magical or the divine,” but rather “a thesis about masters.” Bryant explains that ‘atheism’ is ” a rejection of all masters, whether they be divinities, kings, fathers, mothers, intellectual figures we fawn over; anything raised over the rest.” “Atheism,” then, Bryant writes “is the recognition that there is no being, divine of otherwise, that is deserving of the place of master or sovereign.” In this regard, Bryant details that what atheism positively affirms is “a commitment to fraternity and sorority and other unheard of ways of relating to humans and nonhumans on a flat plane“.
Thus, Bryant elaborates that “atheism” is not simply “a synonym for that which rejects myth and magic” but, “is a synonym for anarchism, that which is without arche or sovereign…it is a synonym for those that would fight any would-be gods, whether they be divinities or fathers or kings of leaders.” Therefore, Bryant concludes that “Atheism targets not so much an end to divinities…as an end to fathers, kings, mothers, and masters…It wills only an egalitarianism of actors.”
Likewise, Brewin acknowledges that we are surrounded and inundated by the the ecosystem of Big Other systems, saying that “all around us are people who are living in service of and devotion to gods,” that is, what Bryant calls “masters” and the “worldviews” Bell analogously references as being ‘sweater-like’. Here, Brewin, too, proposes an anarchistic, bottom-up criticism from below which resists, rejects, and revolts against “the dehumanising demands of divinity” and “the systems that we have put ourselves in service of,” stating that “the most human thing we can do – and thus, paradoxically, the most godly – is to lay down our devotion to these gods” and to actively seek “the death of all gods.” Perhaps, we should, as Nietzsche suggested, philosophize with a hammer.
This raises several questions for me: isn’t every ‘weaving’ or ‘re-weaving/re-knitting’ of a ‘sweater/worldview’ an act of constructing yet another master, god, or Big Other? And, if so, wouldn’t any ‘sweater’ I could construct or knit deserve to be unraveled?
Perhaps, it is better, or at least more honest, to simply sit Shivah among the strands, falling fallow amidst the frayed, fragmented, and fractured fibers.
Perhaps, we should theologize with scissors.
Perhaps we should devote ourselves to what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “the art of suffering.”
Perhaps, we should learn what Rob Bell has termed “the art of failure”.
Perhaps, we should adopt what is known in Navajo culture as the practice of ch’ihonit’i. The word translates to mean “there is an exit; there is an outlet; there is a way out”. In the Navajo weaving tradition chi’ihonit’i is what Jill Ahlberg Yohe defines as a “purposeful mistake,” in which the weaver purposefully leaves or creates a flaw in the piece, such as an unfinished or frayed corner. It is believed that this creates an outlet or an exit for the spirit that gave rise to its construction to escape; it is not pigeonholed to the piece,not constrained by the construct. As Yohe explains that this practice simultaneously materializes “the positive attributes of human imperfection and humility,” while also creating “a symbolic path for the survival of the weaving tradition to continue into the future.” This culture proposes that perfection is not something to be desired or even sought, as it is ultimately a negation of our humanity.
Perhaps, everything we construct should be purposefully flawed. Perhaps everything we do should intentionally fail and fall short.
Perhaps, every ‘sweater’ knit should be deliberately frayed and prone to unravel.
This is our outlet, our exit, our escape, our means or making sure that whatever Big other, be it god, master, father, mother, ‘sweater’, worldview, that we are unconsciously serving, which may have even inspired our constructs, can be exorcised. And we are allowed to always remain open to the process of a new, continual, and perhaps even an infinite and indefinite unraveling.