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.

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