Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rage against the Machine

From the Swaraj University FAQs
Being in the system, most of us start becoming so dependent on being fed structured knowledge and are accustomed to being told what to do with our time that we have difficulty remembering what it is we really want to do. So, when learners have unstructured time at their disposal it initially becomes difficult to deal with. However, it provides an ideal space for reflection, knowing oneself and one’s passions, understanding the world around and to unlearn their dependence on external sources of knowledge
A partial list of assumptions implicit in the above obviously truthy passage:
  1. Structured knowledge is a bad thing. (Written without a sense of irony on a webpage being driven by cutting-edge technology halfway across the world) The news for these lost souls is: Knowledge is structure.

  2. To have someone dictate how to use one's time is a bad thing. ("I don't want a job. I want to do my own thing. I won't fit into a mold")

  3. We all have something specific and long term that we "really" want to do. (Hint: We want to be loved and accepted in this competitive world which judges us mercilessly.)

  4. Knowing oneself is important and is hindered by knowledge. ("I am unique. I was born to fulfill a dream. To know myself in my glorious uniqueness and then to express that knowing out in the world.")

  5. We all have unique passions which need flowering. ("The stressful system is responsible for thwarting ME. If left alone, I would blossom. The world sucks. Earning money means I have to listen to what matters to others. No way! How can a spiritually advanced person like me serve less evolved people?")

  6. The dependence on external sources of knowledge is a bad thing. ("The only real knowledge is self-knowledge. I am all that matters.")
The irony is, in the guise of rebellion against the System, against technology, against modernity, this kind of "unschooling" is pushing people further into individuation, the mantra of modernity.

So, mass schools create people with similar materialistic aspirations. Not good. Agreed.

However, spiritual schools let people "flower" into being moochers, into kind beings (ironically) surviving on the "gift economy" (= kindness of materialistic people).

Once upon a time, there were two friends. One wanted money and bruised himself and the world in the process. The other wanted to spread the message of love and healing. One put his feet on the ground, and his money where his mouth was. The other walked in the clouds, and put others' money where his mouth was. One lived the message of selfishness, and felt guilty about it, and paid his taxes and tried his hand at charity. The other spread the message of altruism, didn't earn a penny, was proud of his humility, and survived on others' hard work.

One was called a worldly man, the other was called a saint.

15 comments:

Aman said...

I consider the materialist and spiritual people as having a symbiotic relationship. Materialists get solace from the spiritual and spiritual in turn get fed by the materialists.

Is that kind of a relationship bad if it is a win-win situation for both parties?

Pankaj said...

As you rightly point out, the assumptions of the passage may be flawed, but being taught how to deal with leisure may actually be a good thing, as Bertrand also expressed in his essay "the importance of idleness". And yes, it would drive people towards greater individuation. Leisure gives a person more time to reflect, to face the Self, to face the ambiguities of existence. People may not really have a "true calling" that the "System" keeps them away from, but leisure at least broadens the sphere of ones existence in the sense of a "considered existence" even if by a little bit (wrt the quote "an unconsidered life is not worth living"). This to me feels better than being an unthinking unit in a surge (or the system).

You seem to have concluded that individuation necessarily leads to alienation and crumbling of society. Maybe so. But is the other end of the spectrum any better. It is almost like saying people were better off in the medieval ages. Human affairs may take a cue from the scientific process, where the philosophical underpinnings of science may still be unsteady, but the realm of science still expands through the experimental method, slowly and surely, chipping away at reality. In human affairs, similarly, we should try to unearth and dismantle systems of control and oppression, even while we don't have a clear view of where it might take human society. The underlying axioms are evidently those of humanism. And humanism itself hangs in mid air.

But even your posts clearly reflect a belief in humanism.

Modern Man said...

I think it's best to read Harman's post-actualist posts through the eyes of a man who has seen through, and ultimately accepted the human condition. From this perspective, both the worldly paths and the spiritual paths are seen as foolish (if not dangerous). In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this perspective considers the whole pursuit of seeking the truth as futile, as well. What's left? Perhaps the answer can be found in the fact that Harman is posting anything at all. :)

-MM

Elduderno said...

I think it's best to read Harman's post-actualist posts through the eyes of a man who has seen through, and ultimately accepted the human condition. From this perspective, both the worldly paths and the spiritual paths are seen as foolish (if not dangerous). In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this perspective considers the whole pursuit of seeking the truth as futile, as well. What's left? Perhaps the answer can be found in the fact that Harman is posting anything at all. :)


# I do not think the whole of philosophical ideas from religion can be just lumped under one umbrella as spiritualism. There are some great insights to be found in the philosophies of Buddhism, and actualism tends to construct straw mans to dismiss everything with one stroke. Even Harman cannot deny the influence of Krishmaurti and Buddhism in his new found nihilism.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@pankaj:

You seem to have concluded that individuation necessarily leads to alienation and crumbling of society. Maybe so. But is the other end of the spectrum any better.

Nope. And the progress towards more and more individuation is inexorable. I don't fault the Swaraj University for wanting to promote communes and conviviality and disengaging from the Grid/Matrix.

The problem is: they are not going to solve the problem of meaning by asking people to create their own meanings and to disregard the society and the accumulated knowledge. In fact, they are going to make the problem worse (for the individual).

What is the solution? Not sure, but perhaps an acceptance of a certain meaninglessness and then to live a "normal" enough life, exemplary in its seeming contentment, with normal constraints and contexts, solving local problems, and with an inevitable occasional twinge of angst.

An acceptance of some suffering and void, knowing that now our minds are too capable to live immersed.

Anything else seems to be an escape from this angst into something worse than itself.

Aman said...

"Anything else seems to be an escape from this angst into something worse than itself."

Do you still sit? Do you ask HAIETMOBA? If yes, they still do work for you but not to an extent that they did earlier. What if they keep on working for someone else? Are you saying that everyone who is still benefiting from the methods is worse than experiencing angst? If yes, how so? Suppose a monastic is not experiencing angst and in turn helps to alleviate some of the symptoms in a materialist, how is this symbiotic relationship worse than //"acceptance of a certain meaninglessness and then to live a "normal" enough life, exemplary in its seeming contentment, with normal constraints and contexts, solving local problems, and with an inevitable occasional twinge of angst.//

Harmanjit Singh said...

@Aman

What if they keep on working for someone else?

I meant, of course, not the attenuating techniques (which can help) but a goal involving wholesale rejection of humanity and the socio-biological goals.

Partial rejection is fine, we all do it to some extent, based on our tolerance, sensitivity, and so on.

As long as awareness, meditation, etc. are means to live better WORLDLY lives, go for them.

But, start inventing wholly new kinds of ENDS (total freedom, enlightenment, deliverance from birth/death, etc.) and I claim you are in deeper trouble than when you started with your normal neuroses.

Aman said...

"Partial rejection is fine, we all do it to some extent, based on our tolerance, sensitivity, and so on."

What if for some partial rejection is not possible based on their tolerance, sensitivity etcetera? What should they do?

Harmanjit Singh said...

What if for some partial rejection is not possible based on their tolerance, sensitivity etcetera? What should they do?

Recognize the consequences of total rejection and then think how and when this goal got created, and whether they really want it.

It is usually for reasons of grandiosity or to escape the feeling of inferiority and inadequacy.

I guess the most natural cure for this is to find someone who loves them, and to cherish that love.

Aman said...

@Harman

Total rejection is not called for by spiritualists.

Meaninglessness of it all crushes grandiosity as well as whatever else there is. Out of this void can arise absolutely pure compassion. You have also pointed this out in your earlier replies.

Your suggested cure (I'm assuming worldly love) is impossible in this day and age and I'm none too sure if love has ever been able to cure anything like this. Even a mother's love wanes with the reduction in the hormone levels that produce strong maternal love for the offspring.

I think that spiritual love and compassion comes closer to providing cure. The more one understands meaninglessness, the better one is at providing compassionate cure for the masses.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Meaninglessness of it all crushes grandiosity as well as whatever else there is. Out of this void can arise absolutely pure compassion. You have also pointed this out in your earlier replies.

Look around. Do you see spiritualists reveling in grandiosity or not?

Spirituality is a conundrum. It only crushes the outer meanings but does provide a (very rich, i might add) world of inner meaning.

Also, while it advocates total rejection of the material world, but obviously cannot (since the rejector is a material entity). So it has to assert contradictions, revel in feeling, and limit intellectual inquiry.

Since the material world is pooh-poohed, this gives rise to a material dependence of the guru on the relatively materialist disciples. This economic imbalance is the start of exploitation (based on emotional dependence) and very soon encompasses sexual exploitation etc., as is seen all too frequently.

The successful spiritualist is one who doesn't care about the world but only about his relationship with God. Actualism goes further and rejects this relationship as well is hocus and imaginative. However, Actualism only seemingly rejects everything. It also has a belief system and morality, about perfection, fellowship regard, the benevolence of the universe etc.

But I didn't take on those beliefs, for better or worse, I depended on my own practice, and it left yours truly, truly rootless. :-)

As to worldly love, I find it is more authentic than spiritual love which is based on imagination and leaves you unable to function properly in the world as it is.

Most spirituality is based on questionable premises (for an intellectual), whereas motherly or sexual love is easy to understand and is consistent. Motherly love, e.g., doesn't have to be bolstered up again and again by group-think, as seems required in spiritual circles.

And spirituality leaves you dysfunctional: How can you really have money in your pocket if all humanity is one and there are beggars on the street dying of hunger? The worldly man doesn't have a problem with beggars. Whereas the spiritualist, in his compassion, cries over them and, if he is authentic, would not be able to enjoy a chocolate brownie while he knows in Uganda (etc.) people are dying of starvation.

Aman said...

@Harman:

Yes I do see a lot of spiritualists reveling in grandiosity and opulence.

It was my mistake to use the word spirituality because it strikes different chords.

Let me rephrase, what do you think about compassion that arises out of meaninglessness?

Harmanjit Singh said...

@Aman:

Let me rephrase, what do you think about compassion that arises out of meaninglessness?

I think it's a good thing to understand why people do certain things or value certain ideas or are passionate about this or that, so that one doesn't condemn or trivialize them. That compassion is a worthwhile attitude to have.

That understanding also means that one can't have THAT particular commitment to the same level in oneself. Being on a vantage point of understanding means being out of something's grip. That's inevitable, I guess, and one should be prepared that along with a wide understanding and compassion of humanity comes personal suffering and alienation.

Aman said...

"........one should be prepared that along with a wide understanding and compassion of humanity comes personal suffering and alienation."

#What if you replace 'wide understanding' with meaninglessness?

Did you experience meaninglessness before Actualism? If so, were you compassionate at that time?

I think that awareness of meaninglessness should take away the suffering and alienation being felt by oneself and be compassionate towards others.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Did you experience meaninglessness before Actualism? If so, were you compassionate at that time?

No, I was seeking a superhuman state till 2010, and therefore my life was quite meaningful, despite their being no worldly goals left for me. I was compassion incarnate many times in my spiritual years. That is natural if one practices meditation for long periods, I think.

I think that awareness of meaninglessness should take away the suffering and alienation being felt by oneself and be compassionate towards others.

I am not so sure. Compassion certainly can be there when one is with others, though there is also the (dangerous) possibility of one's commenting on another's predicament in a way which trivializes it.

Also, I don't think in one's idle moments a person aware of the absurdity of aware living is immune to despair, no matter how compassionate and understanding one is while interacting with others.