Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Art Instinct; Arts & Letters Daily

Showing off the life of the mind
Denis Dutton sketches out our innate artistry
Robert Fulford, National Post Published: Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Charlie Allnut, the gin-swilling Canadian boat operator played by Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen, explains his drinking habits by saying, "It's only human nature." That doesn't satisfy the puritanical Rose Sayer, played by Katharine Hepburn. She answers: "Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in the world to rise above."

Denis Dutton, in his exhilarating new book The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure and Human Evolution (Bloomsbury Press), comes down firmly on Rose's side. But while Rose sees humankind battling to escape its innate imperfections, Dutton outlines something grander and more complicated, the struggle of artists "to transcend even our animal selves" through their work. Evolution makes art possible by endowing humans with imagination and intellect. Art, in response, lifts us above the very instincts installed in our brains by evolution.

As 2009 approaches, let us set aside the great puzzle of 2008 ("Where did the money go?") and deal with a more pleasant question: "Why are we so crazy about the arts?" Why, for instance, did Toronto build, in the last four years, an opera house, two major museums, a conservatory and a ballet school, each of them risky and expensive? Speaking as a Torontonian, I appreciate the effort, but realize it wasn't done just to please me. This flurry of construction, like many such civic phenomena around the world, reflects an urgent need for the arts -- a need that became part of our personalities over many thousands of years.

We do all this, Dutton explains, because it's built into us. We have no choice.
Originally a Californian, Dutton is now professor of the philosophy of art at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. He edits a learned journal, Philosophy and Literature, where he conducted a furious and much-publicized campaign against academics whose bad prose beats readers into submission just to prove "they are in the presence of a great and deep mind." More important, Dutton edits Arts & Letters Daily, a website that collates articles from everywhere on the planet and has become much more than its founders expected.
By shrewdly choosing the best material available, A&LD has emerged as the most useful intellectual magazine in the English-speaking world.

Dutton's interest in cultural evolution began in the 1960s when he was a Peace Corps volunteer in India. As a student he had absorbed (and partially accepted) the academic belief that cultures are so sealed off from each other that cross-cultural understanding is all but impossible; art is "socially constructed," the product of a certain time and place, nothing else. That suggests to many scholars that attempting to see connections between cultures amounts to a form of colonialism.

But in rural India, Dutton changed his mind. He discovered that the hopes, fears and vices of the Indians were altogether intelligible to a twentysomething graduate of the University of California Santa Barbara. And much of the cultural life of India was equally graspable. In Hyderabad he learned the sitar from a student of Ravi Shankar and found Indian music no more remote from Western music than 17th-century Italian madrigals are from the harmonies of Duke Ellington: "The lure of rhythmic drive, harmonic anticipation, lucid structure and divinely sweet melody cuts across cultures with ease."

How could this be? Were these cultures somehow connected at their roots?
In 1993 two Russian artists, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, organized a statistically impeccable survey of taste in 10 countries. They concluded that people from Iceland to China hold similar opinions about art: All express affection for landscapes, particularly landscapes dominated by blue, with water somehow involved. Melamid suggested that this implies that a blue landscape is genetically imprinted on humanity. It may be a paradise we all carry within us, he speculated. Perhaps "we came from the blue landscape and we want it."

Well, yes, says Dutton. In the Pleistocene era, the nomads who developed into people like us were (it's widely believed) living under blue African skies in savannas and woodlands. These protein-rich regions were good hunting grounds. Those who chose to inhabit that landscape had a "survival advantage." They prospered, had children, passed on their genes.

That process continued for a length of time that we find almost impossible to imagine -- about 1.6 million years, or 80,000 generations. In the extreme slo-mo theatre of evolution, the architecture of the mind developed. Countless minor choices, when rewarded by success, created impulses that live within us now.

Take, for instance, the universal obsession with storytelling. In all cultures (including the few remaining clusters of hunter-gatherers) narrative is an essential element. It's both a source of pleasure and a way to convey information. Those who had this inclination and talent in the Pleistocene era had a special "survival advantage." A nomad with a storyteller's imagination could weigh a group's travel plans, outlining a new territory's opportunities against its potential dangers. Storytelling, perhaps, began as a question of life and death. In detailing the complications that followed, Dutton demonstrates both his own poised scholarship and the infinite richness of the subject he's opening up.

And music? There's no obvious reason for it to exist, since the ability to perceive pitched sound provides in itself no contribution to survival. Dutton notes Charles Darwin's suggestion that musical tones and rhythm were part of courtship for our ancestors. And perhaps musical sounds were a way of inventing language. Dutton finds that plausible and suggests that music and dance also build "empathy, co-operation and social solidarity." He speculates that music, dancing, storytelling and other art forms "evolved specifically to strengthen the social health of hunter-gatherer bands."

The Art Instinct offers fresh and liberating ideas while demonstrating Dutton's profound sense of curiosity and his willingness to take risks while dealing with puzzling and largely fragmentary pre-history. He bluntly argues with fashionable theorists and the reviews of his book will not be uniformly favourable. Some will be offended and angry.

Whatever the critical response, the discussion of his book deserves to reach far beyond academics and people directly involved in the arts. His subject is the mysterious beginning of the cultural life that all of us, on whatever level of complexity, live. As he says, we resemble our distant ancestors in the way we share communion with other humans through art. "Our art instinct is theirs." Copyright © 2007 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sri Aurobindo’s writings are more complex than Wilber seems willing to admit on the subject of race

"Such a Body We Must Create:" New Theses on Integral Micropolitics Daniel Gustav Anderson INTEGRAL REVIEW December 2008 Vol. 4, No. 2 Anderson: New Theses on Integral Micropolitics

Theology as such is not necessarily a problem or a solution to a problem. My point in this instance is that when theology is asked to perform as if it were criticism, difficulties arise (see Theses Two, Three, and Six), counterproductive and unneeded ones. Specifically, the incorporation of certain theological positions into integral theory has caused a particular methodological problem120 I have alluded to already regarding Wilber’s misrepresentation of nonduality relative to dialectical practice, as well as his proposal for a "master map," attributed to Hazelton in Wilber (2003) (see Introduction), taken up more recently in slightly different diction in Wilber (2006) and elsewhere.

Theory is inadequate to the task of resolving differences in theology, much less to the reduction of said differences to another, master theology,125 just as it is incapable of determining which of these men (or none among them) may have been God in the flesh, a position no theorist can take without becoming a theologian, an ideologist, or both at once in the process.126

This "master map" process of adjudicating the "best" and "worst" of internally coherent but mutually contradicting claims even of various progressive-evolutionary postcolonial religious dispensations—those of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha,121 or of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad,122 or of Meher Baba, to give a representative sampling—enacts or makes possible a kind of epistemic violence that exceeds any mandate for critical practice. On one side, through an intensity of commitment to one’s teacher and tradition, one may make extraordinary, unverifiable, and in the end irresponsible theological claims at the expense of other traditions passing as criticism—theology, working as ideology, in theoretical drag.123 On the other side, through a conscious or unconscious bias for or against a particular teacher or tradition, one may attempt through theological gestures (or simply through vehement and repeated assertion) to foreclose a particular dispensation from responsible, contextualized critique.124

No single theology, master map, or God-is-on-our-side gesture has proven to be up to the task I propose of organizing a set of disparate social and spiritual movements, many of them theological in orientation, predicated on innumerable cultural traditions. History shows that adherence does not guarantee alliance, nor does simple adherence bring the subjective and objective developments needed for a comprehensive transformation to be carried out. For instance, if one seeks to draw together the participatory action of good-faith leaders from many religious and cultural traditions, and many intellectual disciplines, with a theoretical project, one immediately introduces a problem with establishing this theory on a metaphysical or theological proposition. One example: that there is such a thing as reality and that this reality "is not composed of things or processes," but is composed of holons (Wilber, 2000a, p. 41), which have their being in something of a divinized hierarchy in the form of a Great Chain that is also presented as real, as in the "ontology of consciousness" Litfin (2003) posits in her proposal for an integral macropolitics (pp. 55-56).127 This is an affirmative, ontological position, and this differentiates the coherence as propose it (see Thesis One) from the Wilberian holon: the coherence refers to a moment in a set of overdetermining processes, but is not affirmed as real or unreal; thus, it is not a litmus test of faith, only a tool at hand for anyone to use with no presumed ultimate significance or ultimate being (or non-being) as such.

What I am proposing instead amounts to a rigorously pluralistic, secular approach that invites the contributions of multiple traditions without affirming the Ultimate Reality of one over the rest by responsibly refraining from taking metaphysical positions relative to the integral project and instead insisting on the verifiable, the deductive—arguably another valence of the Big No, as I will show—the best inheritance of the tradition of antinomianism established on the North American continent by the Puritan theologian and proto-integralist Roger Williams in the middle of the seventeenth century. Further, this non-theological presentation of nonduality coincides with a radical skepticism: neither affirming nor denying the ultimate existence or nonexistence even of a category called "nondual," or of this pen in my hand (see Thesis One), therefore allowing room for all theological claim to circulate freely without favoring or excluding any, such that any responsible transformative practice regardless of its traditional origin may be of benefit according to its capacity in concert with all others, not to mention space for the creation of new values. (Of course, anyone’s irresponsibility in this regard is an invitation for criticism.)

Taken together with the minoritarianism I propose in Thesis Eight, the restraint and skepticism inherent in this proposal express my overriding aspiration for a radically democratic and ecologically sustainable social order. This is the "New Age" worth working for, worth making. As it happens, "the New Age" is another such metaphysical doctrine in much integral thought and culture about time and historicity, that the recent past and present (and perhaps near future) represent the opening of a new paradigm, world view, world order, or "omega point," a view expressed in different words and deployed in different ways (and to differing degrees) by Aurobindo, Teilhard, Gebser, and Wilber, and in Spiral Dynamics. The past has produced many such moments of apparent transformation coupled with millenarian aspiration that have come to naught; the events of 1848 in Europe demand consideration here, as a cursory example of how European post-Hegelian proto-integralists, Marx and Engels most obviously, saw a new age dawning as only more elaborate and comprehensive oppression emerged, some of it undertaken in the name of their project.

120 As with so much else in integral theory, this is anticipated in the work of Aurobindo Ghose. Like Milton, Aurobindo is a world-class poet and mythmaker, and a theologian to be taken seriously (and not only by the faithful); also like Milton, Aurobindo is a problematic political and cultural critic.
121 In the instances of the Baha’i Faith and the Ahmadiyya movement especially, one may instead begin to understand the similarities and differences between dispensations first by reference to the relationship of the faithful to the transformations brought about by the colonial process, and second by the minoritarian position of adherents in a postcolonial situation in Asia and in diaspora. Apart from a conflicted position vis a vis mainstream Islam (Shia and Sunni respectively), these are the most explicit common denominators between the two movements.
122 Situated in and from the Ahmadiyya tradition, Ahmed (1998) is worth close consideration for those committed to an evolutionary-consciousness position such as the ones posited by Hegel, Aurobindo, and Wilber.
123 Claims of this type, exemplified perhaps by Bakhtin’s (1984) hyperbolic enthusiasm for the religious conservative Dostoevsky and Wilber’s public endorsements of Franklin Jones (Da Free John, Adi Da) and, later, Andrew Cohen, along with books and publications by both (Cohen publishes "the only magazine asking the hard questions, slaughtering the sacred cows, and dealing with the Truth no matter what" [Wilber, 2002, p. xvii, emphasis added]), suggest that only this or that method, only this or that text or periodical or ashram, only this or that guru can yield desirable results—a difficult claim to verify.

Insisting on the exclusivity of Dostoevsky, for instance, begs the question: why only Dostoevsky and not, say, Joyce? Bakhtin shows a willingness to address this question, but never wholly resolves it, and in fairness, could not have read Ulysses at the time of writing his book on Dostoevsky. Analogously, one may ask of Wilber’s work: why an uncategorical endorsement of the claims of Franklin Jones at the expense of those of Shiv Dayal Singh, or Baha’u’llah, or Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, or Meher Baba, or any other, or not at all?

124 To give one example, Wilber (2001) claims it is "slander" to point out the racist overtones in Aurobindo’s writings (p. ix). But as I show in Anderson (2006), Aurobindo’s writings are more complex than Wilber seems willing to admit on the subject of race; it is not unfair to Aurobindo to insist he was among other things a product of his time, and that flickers of this time are legible in his work. By analogy, one can find moments of explicit racism in the writings of Mark Twain, even as Twain’s project was broadly and intensely anti-racist—and to say so amounts to critical honesty about Twain, not a slander to his legacy.
125 I recognize that a reader applying a hermeneutic of suspicion to this passage may object to my uneasiness about theological work as an expression of my own adherence to an explicitly non-theological (not anti-theological) spiritual tradition, Mahayana Buddhism. If the reader finds that my claims are unwarranted or otherwise problematic, and that a bias of this sort may be behind this problem, I invite that reader to demonstrate both the hypothetical failure of my reasoning and any imputed bias causing the same.
126 This distinction can be made by diagnosing the relationship of a given theological gesture to the regime at hand. If it is one of mimetic and mechanical or conscious identification, it can be said to be ideological. This analysis develops from the first positive task of schizoanalysis, to find out what the desiring machines are doing (Deleuze & Guattari, 1983, p. 322).

127 A thought experiment: imagine a gathering of representatives of many spiritual traditions, for ecumenical and peacemaking purposes. Before any dialogue has begun, before any bread is broken or coffee poured, the host of the gathering (following Litfin) proposes that all participants affirm a particular theological or ontological point—perhaps the emergence of a New Age of consciousness through evolving cosmic forms, or Kantian categories, or Hegelian World-Spirit, or Jungian archetypes, or the salvific power of X or Y guru’s grace—first. What happens? Such a gesture leaves little room for dialogue or space for the miracles that can arise under responsible leadership. At the same time, such a conversation would also be impossible without certain nontheological values in place, such as generous hospitality, a willingness to consider multiple positions at once and in context and to take them seriously, a recognition of all partial and provisional views as such even when they claim to be complete and universal, and a utopian aspiration to work collaboratively for the mutual benefit of all participants, for instance.

Friday, December 19, 2008

"I, Pencil" by Leonard E. Read

"I, Pencil" Turns 50 from Cafe Hayek by Don Boudreaux
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the original publication of one of the most insightful economics essays ever penned -- "I, Pencil." It wasn't written by a professional economist; it was written by Leonard E. Read, founder and long-time president of the Foundation for Economic Education. Although Read was no professional economist, his understanding of the way market economies work, and his ability to explain that logic in clear and compelling terms, far surpasses that of all but a tiny handful of PhD-sporting economists.


I am a lead pencil—the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls and adults who can read and write. Writing is both my vocation and my avocation; that’s all I do. You may wonder why I should write a genealogy. Well, to begin with, my story is interesting. And, next, I am a mystery —more so than a tree or a sunset or even a flash of lightning. [...]

I, Pencil, am a complex combination of miracles: a tree, zinc, copper, graphite, and so on. But to these miracles which manifest themselves in Nature an even more extraordinary miracle has been added: the configuration of creative human energies—millions of tiny know-hows configurating naturally and spontaneously in response to human necessity and desire and in the absence of any human masterminding! Since only God can make a tree, I insist that only God could make me. Man can no more direct these millions of know-hows to bring me into being than he can put molecules together to create a tree.
The above is what I meant when writing, “If you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing.” For, if one is aware that these know-hows will naturally, yes, automatically, arrange themselves into creative and productive patterns in response to human necessity and demand— that is, in the absence of governmental or any other coercive master-minding—then one will possess an absolutely essential ingredient for freedom: a faith in free people. Freedom is impossible without this faith.
Once government has had a monopoly of a creative activity such, for instance, as the delivery of the mails, most individuals will believe that the mails could not be efficiently delivered by men acting freely. And here is the reason: Each one acknowledges that he himself doesn’t know how to do all the things incident to mail delivery. He also recognizes that no other individual could do it. These assumptions are correct. No individual possesses enough know-how to perform a nation’s mail delivery any more than any individual possesses enough know-how to make a pencil. Now, in the absence of faith in free people—in the unawareness that millions of tiny know-hows would naturally and miraculously form and cooperate to satisfy this necessity—the individual cannot help but reach the erroneous conclusion that mail can be delivered only by governmental “masterminding.”

Testimony Galore
If I, Pencil, were the only item that could offer testimony on what men and women can accomplish when free to try, then those with little faith would have a fair case. However, there is testimony galore; it’s all about us and on every hand. Mail delivery is exceedingly simple when compared, for instance, to the making of an automobile or a calculating machine or a grain combine or a milling machine or to tens of thousands of other things. Delivery? Why, in this area where men have been left free to try, they deliver the human voice around the world in less than one second; they deliver an event visually and in motion to any person’s home when it is happening; they deliver 150 passengers from Seattle to Baltimore in less than four hours; they deliver gas from Texas to one’s range or furnace in New York at unbelievably low rates and without subsidy; they deliver each four pounds of oil from the Persian Gulf to our Eastern Seaboard—halfway around the world—for less money than the government charges for delivering a one-ounce letter across the street!
The lesson I have to teach is this: Leave all creative energies uninhibited. Merely organize society to act in harmony with this lesson. Let society’s legal apparatus remove all obstacles the best it can. Permit these creative know-hows freely to flow. Have faith that free men and women will respond to the Invisible Hand. This faith will be confirmed. I, Pencil, seemingly simple though I am, offer the miracle of my creation as testimony that this is a practical faith, as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.


Neoclassical theories Do Not Explain How Modern Economies Function
from Adam Smith's Lost Legacy by Gavin Kennedy

So, in the abstract world of neoclassical markets, they introduced into them a mystical, abstract, and wholly imaginary force that is their sole claim to the relevance of their abstractions for the real world, namely that “an invisible hand”, disembodied, ubiquitous and multi-talented, ‘leads’ each and every player to do exactly what they are required to do by a mysterious force (some actually credit it to God!) that guides their every transaction, of which there must be trillions taking place each working hour, irrespective of the outcomes, into a utopian perfect harmony. Not only is this wishful thinking; it is contrary to ordinary facts.

It’s nonsense, but unlike the harmless fun of the myth of Santa Clause visiting each child with presents once a year, the myth of an invisible hand is pernicious when economists, who should know better, come to believe that it exists as the guiding principle of markets.

I have sometimes felt, when addressing my peers with the gist of my paper on the invisible hand myth (downloadable from the Lost Legacy home page), that I am spoiling their party by pointing out that, like Santa Clause, it is a myth.

First of all, Adam Smith did not relate his use of the metaphor of ‘an invisible hand’ to market transactions; this was an invention of neoclassical theorists, aided by propagandists (some paid, others out of their misguided, convictions) for the activities of large corporations, which corner markets and act non-competitively, and in some cases destructively.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Whitehead strongly opposes absolute rules or principles of morality

Whitehead’s Theory of Value
by John B. Cobb, Jr.
John B. Cobb, Jr., Ph.D. is Professor of Theology Emeritus at the Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California, and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies there. return to religion-online

In Process and Reality Whitehead states that the aim of every experience is to attain intensity within itself and also in its relevant future. Morality has to do with this contribution to the future. The broader the future one takes into account, the more moral is the aim. Since "strength of beauty" plays the role in Adventures of Ideas that is played by "intensity" in Process and Reality, I will substitute that term here.
Consider a simple case. I am offered a piece of delicious cake. I am not hungry and have no need of more food. Yet the taste of that cake would add to the beauty of my experience for a few minutes. If the scope of the future that I consider is only that brief period, I will accept and eat the cake. But perhaps I am a little overweight. Eating that cake will tend to add to that weight. Being overweight detracts from the beauty of my experience over a long period of time. Alternately, to avoid adding weight, I will have to forego food I like at a later point, when, because I am hungry, the food will add more to the beauty of my experience than the cake will now. This broader consideration of the relevant future may lead me to decline. Whitehead asserts that the latter decision is the more moral because it takes into account a more extended future. Of course, I may recognize that I should decline, but eat the cake anyway. That would be immoral.

You will notice that the consideration I have proposed deals only with my personal future. I have offered only a prudential, which some exclude them from morality altogether. Whitehead does not exclude prudence from morality. For him, all reflection about future consequences belongs to the sphere morality. Nevertheless, considering only the personal future is less moral that considering others as well. If we imagine that my acceptance of the cake would deny it to someone else who is truly in need of food, then my failure to consider that person’s needs would be immoral.
Obviously, we all face far more serious moral problems than this. I am sometimes asked to subordinate my personal good to that of my family. To consider only my personal benefit and fail to take into account that of my wife and children would certainly be immoral. Sometimes we are asked to subordinate the interests of the family to that of the nation. To refuse to consider the well being of this larger community would also be immoral. Sometimes the interests of the nation are in tension with those of the community of nations. The wider the scope of our consideration, the more moral we are. Of course, those who do not perceive the wider scope as relevant, those with narrower horizons, will accuse one who subordinates the smaller to the larger group of betrayal.

These moral issues are of immense importance. There is nothing in Whitehead’s theory of value to minimize them. But it should be noticed that the good that is aimed at for others is an aesthetic good. It is the strength of beauty of their experience.
There can be a tension between the aim at strength of beauty in the moment and the aim at benefiting future occasions of experience, one’s own and others. Whitehead does not tell us how to resolve it. It is not the case that it is always best to sacrifice the present to the future. Living intensely in the present, enjoying each moment as it arises, has its advantage. On the other hand, the failure to consider consequences can be extremely dangerous both for oneself and for others. The purely aesthetic impulse and the moral one exist in a tension that cannot be totally resolved.
On the other hand, the tension is far less than this formal statement suggests. The relation is more a polarity in which each pole supports the other than an opposition in which they exclude one another. One’s own enjoyment in the present usually contributes more to the enjoyment of others than does a highly calculating morality. One generally enjoys oneself more, moment by moment, if one’s mode of enjoyment is contributing to the enjoyment of others and not harming one’s own future prospects. That is, anticipation of a favorable future for oneself and others adds to the strength of beauty of the moment.

Morality is often thought of as a matter of rules or principles. Whitehead recognized the need for these but also their danger. As general guidelines, rules and principles are highly desirable. Some are general enough to be useful in any society whatever, whereas others describe the behavior that is wanted in a particular society. We think of the former as the truly moral ones, but the line between the two is difficult to draw. In any case, one moral rule may be to observe social conventions unless these require behavior that is immoral in other ways. Also, even the most general ones have their limits. For example, although it is appropriate to have a general rule against lying and stealing, nevertheless, we can all think of circumstances in which such rules should be broken. This is true even for killing other human beings. Whitehead strongly opposes the widespread Western tendency to seek absolute rules or principles of morality.

Monday, October 20, 2008

I teach my ego how I can appear to "lose" a few debates by bowing out

Thursday, 3 May, 2007 For every one of your opponent's arguments, make three counter-arguments Joe Perez

In high school debate club, I mastered a technique called a spread. Do you know what that is? For every one of your opponent's arguments, make three counter-arguments. It doesn't matter if your arguments have merit or not. He or she will be so lost and simply unable to keep up with you that they will have to drop arguments. When you make your next rebuttal speech, you avoid all the arguments that the debater touched upon OR you respond with two counter-rebuttals for every one of your opponents, and then you extend all the dropped arguments and magnify them.

It's an endless loop, brought to a close in debate class only by strictly enforced time limits and the flexibility and range of a debater's vocal chords (to talk really, really, really fast).

Life is short. I've done my share of debating. Today, in my wanderings through the blogosphere, I'm content to make my views known, and the general rationale for those beliefs. I'm not interested in a proliferation of rebuttal and counterrebuttal. Once I start down that road, is there ever an end?

There is certainly rarely agreement. Often minor disagreements are traced to core worldviews and basic presuppositions about human nature. Those core beliefs are not likely to change as the result of an hour or two of conversation. I can plant a few seeds, but then I need to move on to areas where I can be productive.

I say this so readers will know there is no disrespect intended when I choose not to pursue the arguments of their comments any further than I do. I teach my ego how I can appear to "lose" a few debates by bowing out, and the world doesn't come crashing down around me. I will attempt to point readers in the direction I think they need to move to outgrow their current worldview, as best I can tell, and then it's out of my hands. Save to del.icio.usSphere: Related Content posted by Joe Perez at 5/02/2007 Posted by Tusar N Mohapatra at 4:51 PM Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. Post a Comment Links Careless remarks about Sri Aurobindo’s ontology

Friday, October 10, 2008

Specificity of individual case requires a decisionist approach. “Justice is mystical”

Thoughts, Books, and Philosophy The Critical Synopses of J.H. Bowden Home About
The Seduction of Unreason Richard Wolin, The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004) Further Reading:Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism Paul Berman, Terror and Liberalism This entry was posted on August 29, 2008 at 7:55 pm and is filed under philosophy, politics. Tagged: , .

In The Seduction of Unreason, Richard Wolin analyzed fascist tendencies in philosophical thought. Such tendencies frequently appeal to life, preferring brute force over principles and argument. While for Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) hermeneutics constituted an art of avoiding misunderstanding, many want to replace it with a hermeneutic of suspicion — not criticism leading to truth, but outright hostility toward truth, reason, and democracy — almost a Counter-Enlightenment.

For instance, Jean-Francois Lyotard (1924-1998) equated consensus with terror. Claude Levi-Strauss (1908- ) wrote that the goal of the human sciences is to dissolve man — every culture makes a choice that must be respected. Michel Foucault (1926-1984) enthusiastically endorsed the 1979 Iranian revolution; it was anti-modern, anti-liberal, anti-western, and fits today’s definition of progressive. This isn’t a question of personal integrity of specific thinkers, but a systemic relationship of a current of thought with totalitarianism.

The first chapter examined Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), the Nazi regime’s official philosopher. Nietzsche ranted about the Jewification of Europe, preached the Aryan race, celebrated Macht politics, and obsessed about breeding and extermination. Several commentators played a critical role rehabilitating Nietzsche. Even though Nietzsche “philosophized with a hammer” and described his works as “assassination attempts,”

Walter Kaufmann transformed Nietzsche into an aesthete, a mildly morose Voltaire content with addressing inconsequential matters of style. Alexander Nehamas interpreted Nietzsche as a perspectivist, despite grand cosmological doctrines like the will to power, the superman, and the eternal recurrence. Writers recruit Nietzsche to give cover for abortion, homosexuality, drugs, prostitution and so forth. However, Nietzsche would have nothing to do with trivial matters of identity politics — his concern was with more progressive matters like conquest, rape, torture, plunder, and domination, with a nice touch of misogyny added on top. Wolin is insufficiently harsh, but reading any dissent no matter how marginal from the Cult of Nietzsche is a sign Nietzsche’s reputation is waning.

The case of Carl Jung (1875-1961) illustrates how times of acute turmoil and stress can turn people to extravagant mythological means to endow the world with order and meaning. Jung’s mysticism offers a promise of redemption, a chance to get in touch with mysterious powers that transcend one’s atomized existence. While Freudians wanted to connect people with their inner self, one might say Jung wanted people to get in touch with their inner Fatherland. Jung was a fellow traveler of the Nazis — he saw his own theories coming to life in the movement. Jung wrote about Aryans and Jews having different archetypes, the Aryan archetype naturally being superior.

According to Jung, the Jewish unconscious has a special drive toward greedy and lascivious motives. Note that no SS thugs were forcing his hand in Kusnacht, Switzerland. Jung adored Hitler; the Fuhrer was a great medicine man. Jung went to great lengths to demonstrate the synchronicity between his own analytic psychology and the goals of the Reich. While I like Jung, he exemplifies what can happen when rational thought is widely rejected for the mythological and the mystic; occult elements played an important role during the formative phase of Nazism.

Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002) was a willing propagandist for the Reich and believed our prejudices constitute our being, not our judgments. In Volk and History in Herder’s Thought, Gadamer justified the idea of Nazi occupied Europe. Gadamer advanced, like Heidegger, that historicity is an indispensable feature of being-in-the-world. Understanding for Gadamer is not an act of subjectivity but a happening of a tradition; objectivity is a result of false consciousness. An animating idea for Gadamer is the genetic spirit and creativity of a Volk, and of course, Gadamer reminded us all cultures have racial foundations.

Wolin also placed Gadamer’s classicism and his political Plato in its German context. After World War I many German thinkers began to see Germany as Greece reborn. Hans Heyse and Werner Jaeger saw Plato’s Republic as the prototype of the Reich; Kurt Hildebrandt, who published a book on racial hygiene, advanced that like the Greek,a German becomes a man by subsuming himself in a State. Even Hitler considered the Spartan regime to be the first volkish state.

Wolin also spent time looking at French currents. Georges Bataille (1897-1962), the black sheep of the avant-garde, hated reason. Reason supposedly promotes standardization, regulation, transparency, and sameness, while a living man sees death as the fulfillment of life and pursues degradation, pollution, violence, communal bonding and self-laceration. Bataille venerated the orgiastic and excessive, and advocated sacrifice, potlatch, war, frenzy, and violence for their ennobling effects. Bataille wanted to bring ritual back to life, glorified difference and finitude– especially Hitler and Mussolini, who were the heterogenous “other.”

After war, defeat, occupation, and collaboration, there was a French will to non-knowledge to keep unsettling historical complicities, facts, and events at bay. Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003) for instance wrote articles for the Petain government. He doubted the representational capacities of language — for Blanchot, literature is only about itself, a notion that influenced later thinkers.

Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) saw logic and reason equivalent to violence and terror. But without reason, one must seek refuge in myth, magic, illusion, and intoxication, whether Derrida liked this or not. Derrida preached that one must be open to the “other.” Like Nazi theorist Carl Schmitt, Derrida thought an act of justice was a singularity. Rules could not be applied to it, since the specificity of individual case requires a decisionist approach. “Justice is mystical.”

Lastly, Wolin explores the long reaction against the ideals of the Enlightenment contained in the American government. Cornelius de Pauw (1739-1799) and Comte de Buffon (1707-1788) introduced physical explanations about the Americas making physical creatures, including men, inferior; Publius even took time to refute these claims in the Federalist Papers. Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821) emphasized the irreducibility of racial difference and saw a man sinful requiring authoritarian rule. For de Maistre, mysterious, irrational forces are the ultimate determinants of human affairs and we’re incapable of shaping our own destinies.

The white supremacist Arthur Gobineau (1816-1882), a prophet of racial decline, bashed the race mixers in America. Gobineau was friends with the composer Richard Wagner; Wagner’s son in law H. S. Chamberlain went on to write The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, ur-text of Nazi racial theory. Werner Sombart criticized America for being a Jewish dominated plutocracy, i.e. a spiritually impoverished Judenstaat, something increasingly common in my time. And of course, Wolin looks at Baudrillard’s comments about America being the last primitive society — they aren’t a new development when one examines the larger picture.
Ideas have consequences. Despite the conventional wisdom, Fascism does have an ideological core.

jhbowden Says: August 31, 2008 at 6:15 pm Gerry– We’re dealing with the same Carl Jung, unfortunately.

Jung genuinely felt guilty about the entire mess, even though he was only a fellow traveler. We cannot say the same for Heidegger, who never repented.
I do not dismiss any serious thinker, including Jung. Thinkers though can be criticized and if appropriate refuted after consideration. That being said, I didn’t even attempt to refute Jung above. I simply presented Jung’s occultism as a symptom of a larger social development, specifically one he sympathized with for a period of time.
Don’t act offended– a *lot* of people sympathized with fascism during the 1930s, and even the 1920s. Mussolini at the time was its biggest star, not Hitler. Here in progressive Chicago we even have a street named after Mussolini’s heir apparent, Italo Balbo. I’d recommend the first few chapters of Jonah Goldberg’s _Liberal Fascism_ if you’re curious about a portion of history many of us would like to forget.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Divine ease is not about life being a breeze, but a strong belief in goodness, truth, intelligence and beauty

Home >> Newsletter >> Divine Ease

As life becomes more fraught personally and globally, it's easy to forget that still we remain powerful beyond belief. We exercise our innate power by continuing to invite the sacred into everything we do - at work - at - home - with friends - out shopping - when driving the car. Sacred practice is about inviting the most life-enhancing possibilities into each moment - soul people - soul food - soul pursuits. We do these things not as indulgences, but to bring each and every unique part of us alive - so we can not only be alive to the moment, but to the many solutions that await our attention.

When we get lost in despair, we block ourselves off from these wider resources, our vision narrows and life becomes progressively more difficult. We lose the divine ease with which we were endowed on incarnation.

Divine ease is not about life being a breeze, but about learning to step through the good times and those that stretch us, with a strong belief in goodness, truth, intelligence and beauty. As Dr Clarissa Estes, author of Women Who Run With The Wolves recently admitted -

'I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it; I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate. The reason is this: there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here.'

We are co-creators of our human experience for the few short years we are here. As you start to consider what are you seeking to create for yourself and others, you may wish to log on to this site, March 2005

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Zizek is right to suggest that Stalin was morally superior to Hitler

More electoral ruminations from The Pinocchio Theory by Steven Shaviro

Thus, the Democrats’ hypocrisy is to be preferred to the Republicans’ cynicism, for good Kantian reasons (though Zizek would probably give Hegelian ones instead). As Kant famously said about the French Revolution, no matter how much this uprising might have “miscarried” or been “filled with misery and atrocities,” nonetheless any decent human being, observing the events of the Revolution from afar, would have to be caught up in “a wishful participation that borders closely on enthusiasm”; the sheer fact of this “sympathy,” despite everything that goes wrong in actuality, itself testifies to “a moral predisposition in the human race.” In other words, the sheer fact that something like the French Revolution could occur, no matter how badly it went wrong subsequently, gives us a legitimate ground for hoping that human beings are not forever subject to the Hobbesian alternative of either continual war of all against all, or severe and violent repression...

there was an essential moral difference between Stalin and Hitler. Zizek condemns the currently fashionable habit of lumping Stalin and Hitler together as totalitarian dictators. The difference, as in the Presidential race today, has to do with hypocrisy. Stalin professed support for human rights like free speech, for self-determination, for peace, and for harmony and equality among individuals and peoples regardless of race, ethnicity, etc.; all these principles are enshrined in the Soviet Constitution of the 1930s. Of course, in fact Stalin was a megalomaniacal tyrant who ruled arbitrarily, violated all of these ideals, and put millions of people to death; but Zizek is entirely right to suggest that such hypocrisy is morally superior, and far to be preferred, to Hitler’s overtly racist and anti-democratic ideology — which he unhypocritically put into practice. It’s for this reason that American Communists of the 1930s-1950s (observers of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath from afar, just as Kant was an observer of the French Revolution from afar) are far more honorable and decent (for all their ludicrous idolization of Stalin and sleazy maneuvers against other factions on the left) than the anti-Communists of the same period.

In recent years, and especially in the weeks following McCain’s selection of Palin, conservatives have excoriated liberals for, basically, thinking that conservatives are stupid, and that stupidity is the only explanation for why anybody would, say, be enthusiastic about Palin. And I think that the conservatives who argue in this manner are somewhat correct — at least to the extent that, as I’ve said before, many liberals’ scorn for Palin has prevented them from seeing the great appeal she has, affectively, to large segments of the electorate...

[ADDENDUM: The irony, though, is that I am mourning, not the failure of some grand hope, but rather merely the continued frustration of a hope that, even in "victory," would not have been fulfilled. I am mourning, in advance, the failure of a failure. Such is the depressive postmodernist condition: in comparison, even something like Walter Benjamin's melancholia seems like the most lurid optimism, a grand modernist gesture that we cannot believe in any longer. But it is precisely in such a situation that Kant's injunction, that we must believe in, and have hope for, the prospect of an improvement of the human condition even in the face of all empirical evidence for the contrary. Our deepest moral obligation is to be faithful to this hope, even though its fulfillment cannot be foreseen, and even though it is something that can be promised "only indefinitely and as a contingent event."]

[2ND ADDENDUM: I fear that I am beginning to sound like late Derrida, with all his words about infinite deferral, democracy to come, etc. I can only repeat what I have said before; that essentially Derrida's thought is a minor, but honorable, footnote to Kant.] This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 17th, 2008 at 11:58 am and is filed under Politics.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Series of sorries: Bruno, Galileo, and Darwin

Sorrier than thou TOI 20 Sep 2008, Mukul Sharma

Church officials, Christian theologians and the Vatican in particular have been doing a lot of apologising of late. It's for past errors and excesses committed in the name of religion and includes the Inquisition, persecution of Jews, the Nazi holocaust, comments that appear to link Islam with violence and for child abuse by priests. However, nowhere has this series of sorries been more forthcoming than in the field of science.

  • It began with Giordano Bruno, the 16th century Italian philosopher who was burnt at the stake for saying the Sun, and not the Earth, was the centre of the solar system. In March 2000, Pope John Paul II issued a document that "regretted" it had resor-ted to violence in Bruno's case and his burning was "deplored".
  • Then in the 17th century Galileo, who also advocated the Copernican model, was forced to recant by the Inquisition under threat of torture and put under house arrest for his last years. In 1992, the Vatican apologised and admitted the great astronomer, apparently, "had a point".
  • The most recent is Darwin, the 19th century naturalist who was attacked by the church for disagreeing with the ‘Book of Genesis' and saying that all species had evolved from a common ancestor. A recent essay by the Rev Malcolm Brown, a senior clergyman and the church's head of public affairs in the United Kingdom says the Church of England "owes" an apology to Charles Darwin for misunderstanding his theory of evolution when it was first published and making errors over its reaction to it. A full-blown mea culpa should be hopping along any day now.

The point to note here, though, is that the apologies are coming not only thicker but also faster so that a time may soon come when they might even catch up backwards with the concerned crime. And considering that at any given time there is at least one major active battle going on between the church and science, this may not be a bad idea for both parties.

For instance, there's homosexuality. Is it sinful, chosen, changeable, unnatural and abnormal for everyone? Or is it morally neutral, predetermined, natural and normal for a minority of people? If it turns out to be the latter — bingo — that's one more apology in the in-box. There's abortion too. A hundred years from now if scientists discover the soul actually enters the foetus exactly after 26 weeks then another very very sorry would be up for grabs. And one more when time travel's discovered and they go back and take Bishop Ussher who said the age of the Earth was only 6,000 years, to 200 million BC and leave him in a real Jurassic Park.

Actually in order to avoid any more embarrassment or moral fumbling in the future it might be an even better idea to just apolo-gise in advance for everything scientific the church stands for. For it is a fact that the results of most modern empirical inquiry are always going to be at loggerheads with antiquated notions of how the world works. And also because Christianity is not like some other eastern religions which even when science exposes a particularly cherished belief of theirs as pure poppycock, still bash on mindlessly as if nothing had happened.

What's more, if they did trump the scientific community this way, no one would have to look silly later since others would not be able to point any accusing fingers at them. Of course, it goes without saying this means they would also have to give up on lost causes and losing battles instead of brawling around in there to the bitter end and generally getting all bloodied and bombed out before retreating.

But look at it this way; in times to come people of other religions will talk with envy and awe about how great Christianity turned out to be. After all, it takes a lot of courage to admit you're wrong — especially beforehand — thereby proving that hindsight is not the only thing more perfect than science. Foresight is too.


I am not attempting to "Aurobindo-ize" Christianity." Why Darwinists Reject Evolution from One Cosmos by Gagdad Bob Sep 17, 2008

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Taylor's vision of authentic religion found in communion rooted in love

Bellah on Taylor and Authentic Christianity in a Secular Age
from Mirror of Justice by Russell Powell

The newest issue of Commonweal, in addition to our own Mark Sargent's insightful review of The Trillion Dollar Meltdown (which takes on even greater relevance given the most recent bank and insurance failures), contains a provocative article by Robert Bellah in which he engages key ideas from Charles Taylor's A Secular Age. Instead of emphasizing the historical fact of secularism, he focuses on Taylor's vision of authentic religion that engages those formed in a culture of secularism. According to Taylor, this authenticity is found in communion rooted in love.

At the heart of orthodox Christianity, seen in terms of communion, is the coming of God through Christ into a personal relation with disciples, and beyond them others, eventually ramifying through the church to humanity as a whole. God establishes the new relation with us by loving us, in a way we cannot unaided love one another. [We love because he first loved us, 1 John 4:19.] The lifeblood of this new relation is agape [the biblical Greek word for love], which can’t ever be understood simply in terms of a set of rules, but rather as the extension of a certain kind of relation, spreading outward in a network. The church is in this sense a quintessentially network society, even though of an utterly unparalleled kind, in that the relations are not mediated by any historical forms of relatedness: kinship, fealty to a chief, or whatever. It transcends all these, but [is rather] a network of ever different relations of agape.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The universe isn't chaotic but is full of patterns and structures, coherences and relationships

To Applaud the Large Hadron Collider Science, Culture and Integral Yoga
by RY Deshpande on Sun 14 Sep 2008 06:51 AM PDT Permanent Link

Great things were done in the past and man’s history had never been dull—and this was in spite of war and struggle and rampage. Surely there is something in him which always prompts him to search and express that which lies beyond his immediate reach as if the charm of the beyond is ever beckoning him. He has built schools of thought, he has built monuments, he has built centres of excellence in arts and sciences and crafts. He gave Philosophy, he gave the Tao, he gave Vedanta, he gave Religion, even as he engaged himself in secular occupations in many richnesses of life. It is that in him which pleases us and pleases the gods too. Thus he opened out for himself fields and fields of noble activity. Today we witness some other kind of marvel...

In this march of glorious history today we witness another remarkable event speaking for the widening spirit of man. But for this to happen cruel and spiteful battles were fought and prices paid to the unappeased gods. In the 17th century Galileo, the Father of Modern Science, had to suffer for the daring act of holding views about the heliocentric world contrary to what was believed in those days. The Catholic Church prohibited its advocacy and Galileo was eventually forced to recant his ideas. He spent the last years of his life under house arrest on orders of the Inquisition. He did, but also softly blurted out what he thought to be scientific and hence right.

But the Spirit of Man moves on.

And today! Wednesday 10 September 2008! It is a golden day in the annals of physics. It marks the beginning of a new set of experiments planned on a scale that never happened in the long and troubled days of mankind. Their findings are expected to throw light on the commencement and evolution of the universe in which we live. If matter is the foundation of this vast enterprise, then it becomes our natural curiosity also to know what really is there in matter that makes it so attractive, so potentially rich to give rise to this marvel of creation...

Two things that bolster our faith in science are the comprehensibility of the universe and the well-understood laws of nature that will not dupe us on the way, will not betray us mid-stream. Einstein famously said that "the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible". The universe isn't chaotic but is full of patterns and structures, coherences and relationships. It is to discover these patterns and structures, these coherences and relationships that we are willing to hold out a mighty bit of us. That is the search for truth prompting the scientist as a truth-seeker; that is the search for beauty persuading the scientist as a beauty-admirer. And the beautiful truth is, society is willing to give him that exceptional privilege—and that indeed is the truthful beauty of man.

Yet one could be screaming about the kind of costs involved in these truth-beauty pursuits which can no longer be private, not even single or national pursuits. But there is really no paradox. The inherent fuzziness of the Quantum world governed by the Uncertainty Principle means that to the finer and more subtle depths you go the more you pay for things. We have to sharpen our tools. But these are fructuous in more than one way. Witness for instance the Internet that came from such occupations. CERN itself had the privilege of giving us the World Wide Web...

But connected with this praiseworthy gigantic effort there are also a few spurious and dubious aspects and these aspects must be at once dismissed from our minds. We must first realize that the beginning of the universe from the big bang is a scientific theory and it is science which is going to judge it in terms of scientific criteria and parameters. Whether it is going to be upheld or is going to collapse,—well, it is science which will have the say in the matter and nothing else. There is a hurried tendency of the Vedantic mind connecting the big bang with the bursting of the cosmic egg, brahmāņda. But they are not on a par in several respects. For instance, brahmāņda is not going to collapse if Hadron Collider is going to dismiss the big bang. And then, and more importantly, one is a theory and the other an occult-spiritual experience. They belong to different categories and we must not mix them up.

But this mixing-up game was started in a rather bad manner some thirty years ago by Fritjof Capra when his Tao of Physics intriguingly mesmerized both communities, the scientific and the Vedantic. For instance, he writes: “Quantum theory forces us to see the universe not as a collection of physical objects, but rather as a complicated web of relations between the various parts of a unified whole.”

But what that “unified whole” really is, he does not define if it is not a physical object. Instead, he jumps to compare it with the eastern mysticism experiencing the world. Capra immediately quotes from Sri Aurobindo’s Synthesis of Yoga: “The material object… something different from what we now see, not a separate object on the background or in the environment of the rest of Nature, but an indivisible part and even in a subtle way an expression of the unity of all that we see.” ...

To compare what is interpreted of an observation based on the physical instruments with the direct observation by the supramentalised seeing, by supramental samjñāna, is the typical mix-up we see in the Capraisque formulations. Not that there cannot be correspondences between the two, but nowhere can the images or reflections or simulacra acquire the quality of realities not only of the spiritual but also the material objects seen by this samjñāna. There is a similar leap of imagination in Capra to equate the Dance of Shiva with the behaviour of the subatomic particles, their materialization-dematerialization described by the Quantum Physics, creation-annihilation forming a part of the cosmic rhythms of the God, the King-Dancer, Nataraj.

No wonder, under such an influence the India’s Department of Atomic Energy gifted on 18 June 2004 a two-metre bronze statue of the Nataraj to CERN. This was to celebrate India’s participation in the Collider experiments. This is good,—as far as it goes. But never should either of them lose sight of the fundamentals, their fundamentals, the spiritual and the material. If one is the breathing in and breathing out of the physical in the cosmic process of objectification, the other is the rhythm of the timeless set into the great movements of time. One is mental conceptualization and the other the truth-dynamism set into motion by the Spirit itself. Here our interest is not in mysticism but in physics proper, professional physics. So, as far as the Large Hadron Collider is concerned, let us applaud the startup operation and eagerly wait for the arrival of the Higgs Boson. It is a definite pointer towards what will give materiality to matter, substantiality to substance.

Keywords: Vedanta, Tools, Supermind, Studies, SriAurobindo, Spirituality, Mysticism, LHC, History, HiggsBoson, Heisenberg, Hawking, Einstein, DarkMatter, Culture, Creation, Cosmology, BigBang, Athens, Antimatter

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Mother’s vision was a vision of unity

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 37, Dated Sept 20, 2008 CURRENT AFFAIRS opinion
City Of The Dawn
Auroville is the laboratory for experiments that will contribute to human welfare
MARK TULLY Chairman, International Advisory Committee, Auroville
The Mother’s vision - Worshippers before a picture of The Mother

AUROVILLE IS the future in the making, a work in progress. The aims The Mother set for it are so lofty they may, in my view, never be achieved, but who can deny that “to realise human unity in diversity” is an aim worth working for? Aurovilians are doing just that but they are human, and we humans are frail creatures; so inevitably they have faced and still do face difficulties, and indeed, from time to time, failure. Because we humans are diverse we have our differences, and Aurovillians, who set out to be diverse, have theirs too. Over the last four years I have visited Auroville regularly as Chairman of the International Advisory Committee and I have come to know of difficulties, and heard different opinions on many issues, but I have also seen the progress that has been made towards achieving The Mother’s ideals and the potential for the future.

Ever since it was founded 40 years ago, Auroville has been trying to realise The Mother’s vision by attracting a wide diversity of people to live together as Aurovilians. People from 35 different nations now live in Auroville. Because it is very much an Indian city — The Mother herself stressed that — I believe it is absolutely right that a substantial proportion of the population, one-third, is Indian. There is no other country in the world I can think of which would have allowed Auroville to be established on its soil, and most Aurovillians acknowledge this with gratitude. A BBC reporter recently suggested that Auroville had ambitions to be a Vatican City but this was firmly denied by the Auroville organisation which liaises with the press.

Aurovilians are keen to increase their numbers, and a serious attempt is being made now to provide the housing which will be necessary if the population is to expand. Of course, the city must grow carefully, it must be sure that anyone who applies to be an Aurovilian shares the Mother’s vision. But the net does need to be cast more widely if Auroville is to be a truly global city. There are, for instance, so far no Aurovilleans from Africa.

Although small in number, Aurovillians have converted their city from a barren wasteland into a forest containing many native species which had disappeared from the area. It is the most remarkable afforestation I’ve seen in all my years in India. They themselves have also constructed the meditation centre that Mother said should be at the heart of the city. Called the Matrimandir, it’s a great golden sphere, reminding me of the rising sun, and symbolising the birth of the new consciousness Sri Aurobindo saw as the next stage in the adventure of evolution. The Matrimandir is regarded as an outstanding example of modern architecture in India.

Auroville has also become a laboratory for experiments that will contribute to human welfare. There are successful schools which continue to experiment, there are ventures in alternative energy, alternative building materials and architecture, organic farming, land reclamation, and many other fields. Afforestation continues and Aurovillians have developed their own botanical garden, one of Auroville’s resource centres for schools in the area. Some Auroville ventures have developed into commercial successes.

After seeing much, but by no means all, of Auroville’s work, and after many meetings with Aurovilians I have come to admire their commitment to The Mother’s vision and their faith in the future of their city. I believe it is a unique experiment which India can justifiably be proud of. But it’s clear that there is a long way to go with many potential hazards ahead. Both Aurovillians and the Government of India will have to tread delicately if the balance between the city’s autonomy and the government’s obligations is to be maintained. With their strong individuality, Aurovilians own diversity will destroy them if they don’t constantly remember The Mother’s vision was a vision of unity. (Tully is a writer and a former BBC correspondent) From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 37, Dated Sept 20, 2008

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The boundary between self and other is fuzzy, porous. And this has to be seen as a fact of experience, not a matter of “theory” or “belief”

A Secular Age: Buffered and porous selves posted by Charles Taylor

Modern Westerners have a clear boundary between mind and world, even mind and body. Moral and other meanings are “in the mind.” They cannot reside outside, and thus the boundary is firm. But formerly it was not so. Let us take a well-known example of influence inhering in an inanimate substance, as this was understood in earlier times. Consider melancholy: black bile was not the cause of melancholy, it embodied, it was melancholy. The emotional life was porous here; it didn’t simply exist in an inner, mental space. Our vulnerability to the evil, the inwardly destructive, extended to more than just spirits that are malevolent. It went beyond them to things that have no wills, but are nevertheless redolent with the evil meanings.

See the contrast. A modern is feeling depressed, melancholy. He is told: it’s just your body chemistry, you’re hungry, or there is a hormone malfunction, or whatever. Straightway, he feels relieved. He can take a distance from this feeling, which is ipso facto declared not justified. Things don’t really have this meaning; it just feels this way, which is the result of a causal action utterly unrelated to the meanings of things. This step of disengagement depends on our modern mind/body distinction, and the relegation of the physical to being “just” a contingent cause of the psychic.

But a pre-modern may not be helped by learning that his mood comes from black bile, because this doesn’t permit a distancing. Black bile is melancholy. Now he just knows that he’s in the grips of the real thing.

Here is the contrast between the modern, bounded, buffered self and the porous self of the earlier enchanted world. As a bounded self I can see the boundary as a buffer, such that the things beyond don’t need to “get to me,” to use the contemporary expression. That’s the sense to my use of the term “buffered” here and in A Secular Age. This self can see itself as invulnerable, as master of the meanings of things for it.

These two descriptions get at, respectively, the two important facets of this contrast. First, the porous self is vulnerable: to spirits, demons, cosmic forces. And along with this go certain fears that can grip it in certain circumstances. The buffered self has been taken out of the world of this kind of fear. For instance, the kind of thing vividly portrayed in some of the paintings of Bosch.

True, something analogous can take its place. These images can also be seen as coded manifestations of inner depths, repressed thoughts and feelings. But the point is that in this quite transformed understanding of self and world, we define these as inner, and naturally, we deal with them very differently. And indeed, an important part of the treatment is designed to make disengagement possible.

Perhaps the clearest sign of the transformation in our world is that today many people look back to the world of the porous self with nostalgia, as though the creation of a thick emotional boundary between us and the cosmos were now lived as a loss. The aim is to try to recover some measure of this lost feeling. So people go to movies about the uncanny in order to experience a frisson. Our peasant ancestors would have thought us insane. You can’t get a frisson from what is really in fact terrifying you.

The second facet is that the buffered self can form the ambition of disengaging from whatever is beyond the boundary, and of giving its own autonomous order to its life. The absence of fear can be not just enjoyed, but becomes an opportunity for self-control or self-direction.

And so the boundary between agents and forces is fuzzy in the enchanted world; and the boundary between mind and world is porous, as we see in the way that charged objects can influence us. I have just been referring to the moral influence of substances, like black bile. But a similar point can be made about the relation to spirits. The porousness of the boundary emerges here in various kinds of “possession”—all the way from a full taking over of the person, as with a medium, to various kinds of domination by or partial fusion with a spirit or God. Here again, the boundary between self and other is fuzzy, porous. And this has to be seen as a fact of experience, not a matter of “theory” or “belief.” This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008 at 9:09 am and is filed under A Secular Age.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Man cannot be the end of millions of years of God's labour

4 billion years ago
The Earth was only a mass of heat, gasses and fumes, conditions that could never harness life.
The miracle
LIFE did appear on the face of the Earth.
2 million years ago ... 2 million years ago

There was no place for reason, will and intelligence in a world of blind animal instinct.
The miracle

MIND came into being with the appearance of man.
Man survived. He explored. He grew. He thought. He dreamed. He sang. He created and he destroyed. He leaped to the moon, he spanned the outer spaces, he fathomed the oceans and he penetrated the atom. It should have been a perfect world. It is not.
Every political principle man adopted, every national policy he conceived, every religious truth he believed, every moral structure he erected, almost every thing he created since his existence is falling apart with an urgency that was never before. But the root-cause of this crisis is neither social nor political, neither economic nor religious. This is an "Evolutionary Crisis", says Sri Aurobindo. Man cannot be the end of millions of years of God's labour. The journey that began with inanimate matter and has come so far cannot stop at the imperfection and the mediocrity that is man. It must go on...
Today... Today

We can see no hope for man. We cannot conceive of a species after man. We believe that man, as we know him, is here to stay.
The next miracle

The advent of a new being. The reign of a new consciousness. The establishment of a Divine life upon Earth.
"Man is a transitional being", said Sri Aurobindo, and for the first time in the history of the earth, man has the chance to exceed himself consciously; to make the choice and become part of an accelerated evolution; to aspire and emerge as a New Being.
sri aurobindo society

An Invitation to Voluntary Workers and Helpers
Our work has been expanding in many fields. Several new projects in education, health, Indian culture, management, science and technology, preparation of websites, films, CD Roms, audio CDs etc. have been taken up.
Many persons have expressed their wish that they would like to participate in these projects as volunteers. Earlier this would not have been possible with different persons located hundreds and thousands of miles apart. Now, with the rapid growth of the communication technology, it has become not only possible but it is becoming easier every day.
Hence we have decided to make a Database of Voluntary Workers and to try to give a shape to this activity in an organised manner. Those who would like to be actively involved in any of our projects may please fill up the enclosed form and send it to us. In case there are some columns where you don't have the required information, they my be left blank.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Dharma is indeed action governed by the swabhāva

Re: Sri Aurobindo and the Future of Humanity: Integral Yoga--a Religion?
by RY Deshpande on Fri 29 Aug 2008 11:16 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link

What is Religion? If we go by the Cicero interpretation then Religion will have the sense of ‘choosing’ or ‘going over again’ or ‘considering things carefully’, but that would miss the occult possibility present in the sense of binding or connecting them together. The root significance of ligare is to bind or connect together; this is also quite akin to the ancient Sanskrit dharma in its deeper and fundamental meaning and connotation, that which binds things together. Perhaps, therefore, instead of asking the question “What is Religion?”, an appropriate and meaningful inquiry which might shed more light on it could be “What is Dharma?” Let us see this aspect briefly.

But let’s remember that the Dharma is twofold—collective and individual. Etymologically the word Dharma is that which holds things together, on which things find support to be. In The Essays on the Gita Sri Aurobindo explains: it is the word which means “holding”, from the root dhŗ, to hold. It is the law, the norm, the rule of nature, action and life that holds them all together. The very first phrase of the Gita pregnantly considers the issue of human existence in the context of Dharma, existence as dharma-kşétra, the battlefield of truthful action. But the Teacher of the Gita goes even a step farther and says that whenever there’s the decline of the Dharma, he looses himself forth into birth, looses to halt the uprising of unrighteousness, looses forth for the deliverance of the good and the destruction of the evil-doers. And yet, even beyond that, is his birth which is principally to do the divine work.

That’s the purpose of the loosing forth of the Divine Being in this creation, “to give a spiritual mould of divine manhood into which the seeking soul of the human being can cast itself. It is to give a dharma, a religion,—not a mere creed, but a method of inner and outer living,—a way, a rule and law of self-moulding by which he can grow towards divinity. It is too, since this growth, this ascent is no mere isolated and individual phenomenon, but like all in the divine world-activities a collective business, a work and the work for the race, to assist the human march, to hold it together in its great crises, to break the forces of the downward gravitation when they grow too insistent, to uphold or restore the great dharma of the Godward law in man's nature, to prepare even, however far off, the kingdom of God, the victory of the seekers of light and perfection and the overthrow of those who fight for the continuance of the evil and the darkness.”

If such is the connotation of the word Dharma or Religion, the etymology already carrying profound esotericism in it, then perhaps there’s nothing wrong, nothing alarming in the Integral Yoga becoming such a Dharma or Religion, though it’s not yet exactly that. Dharma is indeed action governed by the swabhāva, “the essential law of one's nature”, and, in a sense, is inescapable. It’s an inherent power of one’s consciousness, the will and action being carried through its agency. It’s the condition of being driven from within, the positive thing that contributes to the individual’s as well as the collective’s growth, growth in the righteousness, in the dynamism of the expressive and operative truth possibilities.

But at a decisive stage in the spiritual life of an individual arrives a marvellous moment also when he is conjoined to abandon all the dharmas howsoever great they be, sarvadharmān parityajya, and he is told to take refuge in the supreme Lord himself. “Abandon all dharmas,” proclaims the Teacher, “give thyself to the Divine alone, to the supreme Godhead above and around and within thee: that is all that thou needest, that is the truest and greatest way, that is the real deliverance.”

In the essence of the Gita’s teachings, this is exactly what the Integral Yoga also upholds and recommends—encourages us to put ourselves in the hands of the Divine and allow him to do his work unhindered in us. Nothing else then need be really considered or weighed in the spiritual reckoning. We might get deluded by what people do or don’t do, but that’s altogether immaterial if the core truth is seized by the aspirant soul. My relationship is with my Godhead and it least concerns me how others behave, how others establish their relationships with their Godheads, at least in the immediate context. Where are the creeds here then, and where the rituals and the rites, and the stipulations of this and that and of not this and not that? But the beauty of the Integral Yoga is far beyond the “real deliverance” offered by the Gita. Of first importance in the Integral Yoga is the lending of ourselves for the divine action in every part of us, in our will and thought and feeling, in our soul and in our spirit, down to the physical. And the Mother’s supreme Mantra was: “What thou willest, What thou willest” operating in the very cells of her body.

The idea of the collective Dharma in a scriptural way was first given to us perhaps by the Teacher of the Gita himself, the concept of the Sanatan Dharma, the Eternal Law. It pervades in a mighty way in the entire Mahabharata. It was again given in a living way by Sri Krishna to Sri Aurobindo in the Alipore Jail, during the early period of his incarceration, in 1908. He reveals to us: “Sanatan Dharma is life itself; it is a thing that has not so much to be believed as lived. This is the Dharma that for the salvation of humanity was cherished in the seclusion of this peninsula from of old.” ...

What is sectarian in it, creedal, ritualistic, non-secular even mystical or esoteric in this Sanatana Dharma? That which was “perfected and developed through the Rishis, saints and Avatars” has been reasserted in the collective consciousness.

As a collective way of life the ancient traditions were founded on this Religion of Eternity, the Truth-movement in the expanding ways of life. Let us just see its remarkable presentation in the tale of Savitri as given to us by Vyasa in the Mahabharata. We may, by way of an example, make reference to the colloquy between Yama the God of Death and Savitri. Yama has snatched away the soul of her husband Satyavan and she is arguing with him that he should restore it for the fulfilment of the natural conduct of life based on the principles of the noble Dharma. She pleads:

“Following one’s own dharma, approved by those who are established in the Truth, one knows the path which takes one to the goal; such is the dharma which the sages hold to be excellent. Holy people ever abide in the dharma, and do not the sages despair, nor are they afflicted any time. Such a company or fellowship of the pious with the saints is never without rewards or fruits. Never is for them any fear from the saints. By the Truth the saints lead the sun; by askesis the saints uphold the earth; the past, present and future find their refuge in the saints. Noble persons in the midst of the saints have never any grief. Those endowed with nobility honour and serve the dharmic practices of eternal value; in that they strive for the supreme good of one another, and at each other do not look otherwise. Benedictions of the person established in the Truth go never unfulfilled; neither in them is the ill of selfishness, nor is there the wounded sense of lost pride; and because such three qualities are ever present in the saints, they are hailed as the protectors of the world.”

Young and bright Satyavan himself was conjoined in the dharma, he was dharmasamyukta, and was beautiful, and was an ocean of noble qualities.

The organization of the collective life based on the Truth-principles, following the Truth-Law, the Dharma, is the true basis of a harmonious working. The Mother did it in the Ashram and initiated it so on a much larger scale at Auroville. The chief concern is that the Truth-Law must flow in this vast manifestation with a thousand possibilities opening out for its expression...

If so, then, what’s there in all this, really, to cry foul and say that Integral Yoga has become or is becoming a Religion, the conventional religion as understood by the common masses? I don’t see anywhere in the teachings of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo any such possibility; nor in practice enjoined by them. That does not mean that new aspirants don’t come with their earlier habits and ways of doing things, with their past samskāras, with their heavy baggages. Who would come without them? But if there’s the authentic inner call for the higher life, then nothing of the past should in reality discourage us. A well-focused pursuit—and that’s all that matters. And there are a thousand ways of engaging oneself in the pursuit.

All this can happen only when there’s the quiet receptivity in our souls, the soul looking for truth and beauty and joy and luminous power and knowledge. Ronjon has put a Mother’s Quote on August 23 as follows: “It is in the silence of your heart that the Divine will speak to you and will guide you and will lead you to your goal.” All religions will disappear when we listen to the Divine in the silence of our heart. But until then? Perhaps all that will be inconsequential from a spiritual point of view, not of much concern in the totality and the essentiality of things. ~ RYD Reply