Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Folly of the End Times

One night, stumbling through the channels on late night TV, I came upon a show in which a group of young people were depicted being lectured by a zealous Christian speaker of similar age. The subject was the “end times,” and the speaker was making numerous connections between current events on the world stage and passages from the Book of Revelation. Such talk has become, to my dismay, familiar in the culture, since Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth in the 1970s, and particularly in the last decade with the Left Behind books and other “Rapture” related writings. But what struck me in this case were the expressions of the actors playing the audience in the show (for this show was obviously a scripted performance and not an actual talk). As the speaker continued to draw supposedly compelling conclusions about the Biblical significance of the Middle East conflicts, the European Union, and so forth, young people in the audience would look at each other with a mingling of fascination and alarm, as if to say, “Maybe it’s true! The world might be ending soon! How do we get out of this alive?”
I leave aside the irrational and arbitrary nature of the connections drawn between current events and scripture. One might as well try to argue with the logic of a paranoid schizophrenic in the mistaken belief that reason can have an effect on pathological delusions. What I do find interesting, however, are the basic attitudes or assumptions that are displayed here regarding religion and spirituality, and especially what is missing from the picture. At no point in the show was there any mention of love, compassion, or for that matter even moral belief. There was no evidence of any awareness of faith as an aspect or expression of one’s way of life, either in terms of one’s sense of self or in relation to one’s conduct towards others. In fact, the only feelings one could sense in the presentation were fear of calamity and death, and a desperate desire to survive.
This “end times” sermon could be summed up simply as, “If you want to save your ass, hitch your fate to Jesus Christ and hold on tight. “ If you substituted the name “Moloch” for Jesus Christ, the message would be the same. The religious seeker’s motive is reduced to fear of pain, death, and annihilation. The selfish desire for personal survival has masqueraded itself as spirituality, as “religion.” Faith, belief, worship: these are mere means towards an end that is wholly defined by self-centered fear, the ever-shifting anxiety of the ego.
The spiritual nullity of apocalyptic beliefs is not, however, a mere symptom of bad motives. I would argue that millennialism as religious doctrine is inherently false, philosophically mistaken in itself, and for reasons that are deeper than the familiar deceptions of self-interest.
All meaning in the spiritual sense refers ultimately to our subjectivity. Spirit, or soul, is always the starting point—thus the word “spirituality.” In theological terms, spirituality always involves the relationship of the soul to the ultimate reality—that which is absolute and unconditioned, the Divine, or God. But for reasons too involved to explain in this essay, spirituality as expressed through the social order—i.e., religion—became largely alienated from the soul, taking on a separate life of its own, as a force of social cohesion and control. The connection with spirituality is still there to varying degrees, but the alliance is often an uneasy one, because religion surrendered, along with humanity in general, to a view and a way of life that values our abstract knowledge of existence over the only direct knowledge we have, namely experience. The effect of this view and way of life is to elevate the idea of the objective world to an absolute value, and to devalue the soul, the self, to an insignificance that, for all intents and purposes, is identical with non-existence.
One of the consequences of this inversion is the notion of a god who works through history. We imagine a narrative of human life through time, as if gazing on humanity from above, and this is useful to our understanding, and valid in the same way any abstract knowledge is valid for us. But once we attach a transcendent value to this abstraction, we eliminate the basis of spirituality—the relationship of the soul to the Divine. Now the soul is merely one of a myriad of tiny particles that is part of a huge process known as “history,” and it is this process that supposedly has meaning and purpose. History now contains a goal, and we are just indirect means toward that goal, and not ends in ourselves as we are in the direct relationship of spirituality.
Since this imaginary goal is transcendent and absolute, it alone lends value to life. The consequences of this error, this attribution of absolute value to history, is that human beings lose all value, and are ultimately expendable, necessary sacrifices on the way to the goal. The end of the world involves the utter destruction of millions of people, yet the “religious” person who has made an idol out of history welcomes these deaths as necessary. We can see the foolish and extremely dangerous consequences today, when zealots actually hope for nuclear war in the Middle East in order to confirm their beliefs regarding the Book of Revelation, and will even seek to help this horrific result take place through political means.
The sad fact of the matter is that the believer in the historical god is denying the absolute and transcendent nature of his deity by making its will depend on an historical process. In the twentieth century we witnessed a political movement, ideologically opposed to religion, which posited an inevitable, and supremely desirable, result of the historical process. I’m speaking, of course, of communism. Under Stalin’s rule, for instance, millions of people were murdered and enslaved in the belief that this was a necessary step towards the historical goal. When millennial religious believers seek to enact an “end times” scenario in the world, the purpose is ironically similar to Stalinism. Although the rapturists project their desires onto their deity, the existence of nuclear weapons makes their dreams, if they “help” their god to make them come true, more deadly than Stalin’s or Mao’s, and indeed fatal to the world itself.
The crucial point that needs to be understood here is that by putting absolute value on a future “end,” the apocalyptic believer eliminates all human values. Existing individuals do not live in a timeline of history. They can only be seen as such by taking an imagined stance outside of them—an “objective” view which is without spiritual meaning, and therefore merciless.
I am convinced that any belief system, religious or otherwise, that is founded on the expectation of an historical result rather than on the human spirit itself, is inherently false. Yet even in the New Testament, the millennial conviction is coupled with the warning that “…of that day and hour, no one knows…” (Matthew 24:36). In these words Jesus presents a basic and essential humility, an awareness of inescapable human limitation, as the proper attitude of a human being regarding God’s times and purposes. In Christian terms, then, our modern rapture-mongers, with their certainty that they’ve decoded God’s plans as revealed in the scriptures, are nothing more than blasphemers. Not only do they claim to know all the signs, they think that God might need their help.
This essay is not aimed at such believers. The self-centered fear and thirst for power that informs the Left Behind crowd makes them all but impervious to reason. My words are intended as an aid to understanding for those who do not share the millennial delusion. It is important to realize that the “end of days” is a perversion of spirituality and a very degraded form of religion—a religion without meaning or conscience. This realization may also, I hope, aid those who are engaged in the direct experience that I call spirituality—whether they are Christian or otherwise—to understand the error of turning the Divine into an historical actor or puppeteer, and thus avoid the consequences of this error, to their own inestimable spiritual and moral benefit.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Fight For Our Lives

Tristero gets it right on what the torture bill says about the state of the Union. We have a rogue President who refuses oversight or correction. I would say a criminal president, an illegitimate administration. In any case, we’re in a fight for our lives. The establishment wants to avoid the truth at all costs—that the republic is in a state of collapse, subverted by a lawless executive. So politicians, including many Democrats, go along under the “business as usual” paradigm.
The torture ratification bill proves that the neo-Nasties will go to any lengths to hold onto power. But it also proves that there is a serious possibility of martial law in this country, complete with concentration camps, disappearances and murders. If you understand the simple fact that BushCo doesn’t really want to fight terrorism, but actually loves terrorism as a way to maintain control, then the conclusion is inescapable that imprisonment without charges, secret prisons, and torture, are methods aimed ultimately at us.
In addition to being a human rights issue, this is also an urgent matter of self-interest. Totalitarian movements have an internal logic of their own—the machine ends up swallowing everyone. If you think having white skin or an income will protect you, think again. Nothing is off limits.
Note: if this depresses you, read Christy Hardin Smith over at firedoglake for some fiery inspiration.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Remarkable sayings

“Kindness is a mark of faith: and whoever hath not kindness hath not faith.”

“To listen to the words of the learned, and to instill into others the lessons of science, is better than religious exercises.”

“The ink of the scholar is more holy than the blood of the martyr.”

“What actions are most excellent? To gladden the heart of a human being, to feed the hungry, to help the afflicted, to lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful, and to remove the wrongs of the injured.”

“Do you love your Creator? Love your fellow beings first.”

“He who knoweth his own self, knoweth God.”

Who said these remarkable things? The Prophet Muhammad.
(Source: The Sayings of Muhammad, Citadel Press, 1990).

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Obvious Mystery of Experience (part 2)

Experience is always one: this truth has that peculiar quality of being self-evident which prompts us to dismiss its relevance. It is inherent in the individuation of life, of all living beings. But for human beings this has taken on the character of a problem. It becomes a problem for us, not because of consciousness, of subjectivity itself, but because of self-consciousness.
The power of thought, as it progresses, results in reflection. No longer do we experience life only as subject—now we are able to know the subject itself, the “I” as an object of our own experience. When I touch my arm, for instance, I assume my identity with it, in other words with the body. But at the same time, I perceive my body in the same way everything else in the world is perceived: as an object of perception, an object to my subject. What then is the subject? Our attempt to perceive this subject inevitably fails, since the subject is itself that which perceives. But by an instinctive method of reasoning, we decide that the “I” is inside the body, a soul or a spirit inhabiting a material dwelling. In modern times we have come to scoff at this idea (or at least we seem to), and indeed it cannot withstand the careful scrutiny of reason. Yet we have failed to locate the source of this idea, attributing it to ignorance and superstition rather than to the ineffable nature of subjectivity.
Subjectivity is the context by which all experience, all that we know, takes place—it is not itself an experience, but the power that makes experience possible. The wonder that the philosopher or scientist feels when he or she ponders the mysteries of existence are put into words like these: How is it that anything is, rather than nothing? Why this particular universe, and not a different one? What is the origin of all this? How did it come to be, and by what laws does it continue? But behind or beneath these questions, however, lies a greater wonder that is rarely expressed or even noticed: What am I? How is it that existence itself comes to be lived, and eventually known, as experience?
Thought and language, by their very nature, express everything in terms of objects experienced by a subject. This works just fine for the purpose of navigating the practical necessities of life. But when applied to ourselves as subjects, it involves the most fateful and entangling difficulties. Philosophy was eventually forced to make a distinction between sensation and existence. When I look at a tree, for instance, and touch it with my hand, the visual and tactile sensations, the impulses that travel along the nerves to the brain and produce a “picture” or a “feeling” of the tree, are therefore different than the tree itself, which exists separately from the sensation of the tree. If I move my eye with my finger in a certain way, I can see two trees, which seems to prove that the experience of the tree is separate from the actual tree. This becomes a fruitful source of inquiry for science, as it should be, but for philosophy it’s a mistake, because it takes the abstraction for reality. When I touch the tree, it is the actual tree I am touching. My perception is not a separate thing from the perceived—it is only spoken of in this way because we have to separate and abstract one phenomenon from another in order to communicate. But the reason this seemingly arcane issue became so important is that sensation, perception, consciousness, subjectivity itself, has an essential quality of wonder and ineffability, a quality that seems useless for science but is in fact always present and always exerting a mysterious influence on the way we think and feel. Without metaphor, without poetry, the only way I can speak of this wonder and ineffability is to give it a dry, abstract name: the Absolute.
It seems absolute because it is the context of all we experience. It seems absolute because it never goes away during our lifetime. It seems absolute because it somehow (magically?) contains everything else, providing the condition for all awareness, and therefore seems unconditioned in itself.
It is only much later in the life of humanity that reason follows the lead of this unspoken wonder, and applying its lesson to existence itself, says, "The conditioned, the limited, the relative, the finitethis cannot be unless reality itself is unconditioned, unlimited, absolute, and infinite."
Thus religion and philosophy start from the same place. That they eventually part ways is due, not primarily to the development of our reason, but to the problematic nature of human experience.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Verdict of History

How will history view President Bush? The answer is: Who cares? The whole idea of a President trying to secure his “place in history” is narcissistic beyond belief. We’ve heard the same rubbish for the last three decades—during Clinton, Bush I, and Reagan too. It’s the essence of junk politics that our discourse is taken up with such things instead of actually looking at what a President has done, or might do for the people of the country.
The fact that Presidents think about securing a place in history, rather than how best to serve the public, is an indicator of the megalomania that has overtaken the office. But it also seems a result of the portrayal of politics on television. During the week of the Harriet Miers fiasco, in which I believe the Libby indictment also occurred, I was watching a network news show and an anchor asked a reporter, “This has been a very hard week for the President. How do you think he will try to bounce back?” You see, it was a hard week for the President. Not for us. We’re just the spectators at a kind of national soap opera, with Bush and all the other politicians as characters. And what we want to know is: How is Bush doing? Is he holding up? How will he cope with this new crisis? It’s as if none of what happens at the pinnacle of power has any real consequences for us, as long as we can enjoy watching our cable TV.
I don’t care if it was a hard week for the President, or a good week. I’m not invested in the contest between competing political factions for who gets to be the next celebrity, the next President, the next history maker. I am indifferent to what strategy the Republicans are planning next, or for that matter, what the Democrats should do to counter them. Politics is not entertainment, or a horse race. Right now, politics is life and death, for millions of people around the world. And the rotten things that are being discussed so blithely now in the corridors of power could mean a jail cell or a death sentence for an innocent person down the road.
Nevertheless, I do know what history’s verdict will be: the people in power wasted years of time, years of opportunity, and for nothing. They could have talked about helping the environment, helping our kids, fostering justice and fairness in our society and our schools, promoting peace, working together on things that matter. But they wasted our time on Iraq and Iran, on hatred of immigrants and people of color, on trying to push women back in their place, on demonizing gay people, on encouraging phony religious values, on fear. They lied and they stole and they killed, looking only for their own short-term political and financial gain, ignoring the future and the real problems we face. That’s what history will say. If there is any history left.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Every Death Has Meaning

Time and again, I have heard the sentiment expressed that if we leave Iraq, then the deaths of American soldiers in that conflict will have been meaningless. The motives behind such a sentiment are understandable—it is very difficult to contemplate the death of troops in what may be perceived as a “losing” cause. But when examined closely, this notion is revealed as a disservice in itself to the memories of those who have died.

The death of a soldier in war is profoundly meaningful. That soldier gave all that he or she had, paid the ultimate price of service to country. To make this meaning contingent on the war’s outcome is actually to belittle that sacrifice, to make it dependent on circumstances. The families of soldiers know, and every soldier knows, that the sacrifice made has a far greater significance than any later narrative that becomes identified with the war. Every death has meaning because every person is precious, and because the act of service and sacrifice transcends our limited conceptions. Death allows us to recognize ourselves as ends rather than means. In honoring the dead, those who respect the mystery and finality of this sacrifice know this meaning in the depths of our hearts, where politics does not play any part.

On the other hand, from the belief that to withdraw or suffer defeat deprives the dead of meaning, many conclusions follow, all of them absurd. Everyone who died in a losing cause would be dying in vain. Their dignity would be dependent on the outcome of the war. The deaths of the loyalist fighters in the Spanish Civil War, for example, would be devoid of meaning because their side didn’t win. But even if the cause is considered unjust, we recognize the dignity of the individuals who died on that side, at least if their conduct was honorable. Many military men who have faced battle have known moments of respect for the enemy, even if they hate the opposing cause.

More significantly, this notion makes it impossible for the nation to recognize mistakes in its waging of a war. By this logic, any war we fight must continue to be fought regardless of its nature or consequences, simply because soldiers have already died in it. Thousands more must die in order to provide meaning to previous deaths, and only on condition that victory is eventually achieved—or, I presume, self-annihilation. The possibility that the government could be wrong about a war, that a war that we are waging could be wrong, or unwinnable, is not even permitted. To question the validity of the war is, by this line of reasoning, to deny meaning to the deaths of our troops. This is an inhuman and insulting way to consider the lives of soldiers. Their sacrifice is thereby drained of meaning, and made to pay service to purely political ends.

Only in the knowledge that every death has meaning can a nation wage war with the proper attitude towards its troops. Death in war is irrevocable—the lives of young men and women cut short forever. Therefore, war is not an occasion for joy or a means to glory. If a war is necessary, then it should be waged, but in the sure knowledge that it is a tragic and dirty business, and should be carried out in the most effective way possible, avoiding as far as possible a needless loss of life. People who have been in the thick of battle know this truth. Unfortunately, armchair warriors often do not.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Business as Usual

One of the reasons for the “news” media’s disconnect from reality is a subtle, but powerful factor that is not often noted—the almost universal assumption that what we’re seeing is part of the normal political process.

For example, if you watch “Washington Week” on PBS, or Lehrer’s “News Hour” (sources widely considered more intelligent than the news from the commercial networks), you will see pundits discussing in all earnestness the goings-on in our government just as if the politics and issues involved were part of an unbroken continuum with those of the past. Most importantly, the President is the President, and so all discussions about his doings and statements take place in the conventional tone of business as usual.

It would be unthinkable for the media to discuss the Bush government as a criminal operation. This possibility probably doesn’t come to mind for a pundit or newscaster, not even subliminally, for that would disturb business as usual, and require a response too risky to contemplate.

I maintain that in order to understand what has happened for the last six years, one must realize that the Bush administration is a criminal outfit. Not just criminal in the pejorative sense that one could apply to any administration since the dawn of the Cold War, but literally—criminals have usurped the political process and have actively subverted and continue to subvert our laws, deliberately breaking the law for their own gain, both home and abroad. Leaving aside the theft of elections (as if such a shameful violation of our basic right of suffrage could be actually left aside), even a cursory glance at White House actions since the 9/11 atrocities reveal a conscious and consistent pattern of lawlessness. An illegal war, suppression of civil liberties in the name of security, disappearances and torture, the outing of a CIA agent, warrantless spying—the list goes on and on. But in the eyes of the media, the narrative remains one of normalcy. It is a bitter fact that justice is being done only on the margins, by a commission of inquiry with no official sanction, and of course no attention whatsoever from the corporate media.

If the Mafia managed to elect someone to the White House, he would then be “the President” to all the media, with the aura of prestige that has come to be attached to that title. This is precisely the danger—the paradigm of “business as usual” paralyzes the mainstream discourse. Knowing this, the President can openly advocate crime, as he is doing now in his attempts to validate the torture and the NSA spying “program” through legislation, after the fact.

To fight back effectively, we need to let go of the “business as usual” paradigm and realize that we have an illegitimate criminal regime in the U.S. Only then do we gain the resolve to put up the kind of resistance needed to overcome the threat. A neofascist movement cannot be mollified or tamed through our rational discourse, although reasonable discourse is still essential for the rest of us. It must be inflexibly resisted, at every point, every time, and without remorse.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Softening us up

Chris Floyd accurately dissects the Bush strategy to legalize torture. I've long believed that torture, far from being the sideshow issue that the press has made of it, is central to the aims of the Cheney gang. Among other things, it gradually softens the American people up to the idea of torture being okay. These guys are always pushing to make us desensitized to crime, and willing accomplices to whatever horrors they wish to perpetrate. Make no mistake: American citizens are the ultimate targets, and the goal is political. They don't care about security. The less secure the country is, the more advantage it is to them.
Also check out Glenn Greenwald's excellent post analyzing the ravings of National Review columnist Mark Levin to illustrate the anti-American fascist bent of the right and the torture-promoters.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

George Bush's favorite holiday

Monday is September 11. George Bush and his friends will be celebrating all day. It is their favorite holiday.
You see, the Boosh gang were actually happy about September 11. It pleased them. Condoleeza Rice said it was an "opportunity." I remember seeing James Baker (the Boosh consiglier) on TV only hours after the attacks. He already had his talking points, blaming the whole thing on the constraints that were put on the CIA in the 1970s after their skulduggery was being exposed by the Church Committee and in other post-Watergate revelations. And you could see Baker barely suppressing his glee. He was happy!
Dick Cheney loves September 11. It gave him and his pals the chance they needed, to go out and carve up the world into an American empire, to dismantle the U.S. Constitution in order to institute an official dictatorship of the elite, one party rule, complete with spying, torture, and all the other trappings of totalitarian government.
While normal people with feelings grieve, Bush and his buddies use September 11 to advance themselves. They think nothing of using the victims of that day to get themselves elected, attack their opponents, smear anyone who opposes them.
And the foolish U.S. press, along with the TV news, which is too degraded to even think of as the "press" anymore--have let them get away with it, over and over, and some have even encouraged them.
This group of thugs--the neocons, the right-wing Republicans, the phony Christian zealots--have in fact betrayed the victims of 9/11, and all of us, by trying to make this atrocity the definition of who we are. Cheney, for instance, talks as if this one event is an excuse to radically change our institutions and values. We've survived the Civil War and World War II, to mention just two major crises, but this bedwetter thinks a single atrocity means that we should abandon our American traditions and become like China. Is that why we fought in Normandy? Okinawa? It all seems like a sick, crazy joke, but the astounding thing is that many Americans, made stupid by propaganda and their own complacent affluence, have swallowed it whole.
I believe that the Boosh gang will fail. They are already failing. The only question is how many more innocent people will go down with them.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Moral Myopia

I still find it remarkable that no one on the "Christian right" has said anything about torture.
It seems obvious to me that if you fail to condemn torture, you've proven that you have no moral standing whatsoever. To my knowledge, there have been no statements condemning the military's and CIA's use of torture from Mr. Fallwell, Mr. Robertson, or Mr. Dobson. If they can approve of that, I don't see how they can claim to represent anything approaching morality, or even religion. Unless we're back in the Middle Ages when they burned people at the stake.
These people have trivialized Christianity, turned it into some kind of a political action group. If you were to listen just to them, you'd get the impression that the Christian religion was just about making sure fetuses are not aborted, teenagers don't have sex, and gays are kept in the closet. Then at the same time--silence on torture, silence on killing of children in the Middle East and elsewhere by their own government, silence on Republican corruption and racism.
There comes a time when someone loses any credibility as a spokesman for religious views. Being silent about torture invalidates anything else these people may say. To continue to allow them TV time, to act as if they're legitimate like the press does, to break bread with them at all, is to participate in a monstrous sham. They are the pharisees of our day. Actually, that's an insult to the pharisees, who were learned men, but it's the best Christian analogy we have.

Monday, September 04, 2006

China Envy

Among the numerous absurdities in American politics, I would consider the rhetorical use of the word “freedom” to be among the most egregious. We are supposedly fighting for freedom in the Middle East, and not only for the Iraqis, but for us. To criticize the war and the occupation of Iraq is to fail to support our troops, who are fighting for our freedom. The administration and the Republicans trot out their freedom rhetoric under any and all conditions, but I must confess that I’m at a loss to comprehend what they actually mean by freedom.

I always assumed that freedom, in the American context, was founded on nothing else but the Constitution of the United States. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom from warrantless searches and seizures, the due process of law ensuring freedom from arbitrary judicial power, these are among the freedoms established by our founders in the Bill of Rights.

But one can’t fail to notice that whenever a threat to our nation’s security becomes evident, the first thing that conservatives (as they call themselves) do is to look with suspicion upon these very freedoms. We are supposed to believe that our Constitution is inadequate when it comes to matters of security--that our freedoms, in effect, make us too vulnerable. The Constitution is supposedly used by freedom’s enemies (especially liberals) to undermine our security. Thus we have seen a consistent pattern from the current administration and the party in power to characterize dissent as unpatriotic, to attack freedom of the press as aiding and comforting the enemy, to invalidate the need for warrants, and to circumvent the due process of law in every major respect.

After much study, I have come to the conclusion that what the right-wing means by “freedom” is simply the freedom for big business to make as much money as it can. In terms of the rhetoric aimed at the public, freedom means the freedom to live in relative prosperity, in material comfort, with plenty of available products to buy and consume, both necessities and luxuries. If it were possible for big business to have its special kind of freedom without the Constitution, I believe that the right-wing would gladly sacrifice our founding document, which only encourages permissiveness, unrest, and liberalism.

Mr. Cheney and his associates don’t care about the rights and freedoms that our founders considered inalienable. They can rely on their money to guarantee the freedom of their plans and movements. What would please them, I think, would be for the United States to become more like China. In fact, I can imagine the neo-conservatives, the conservative Republicans, and the rest of the right-wing elites in business, politics and media, burning with envy when they look at the power of the Chinese government.

China has a capitalist economy. At least, that’s what we are told. Business is free to make money there. But it is unconstrained by labor unions or legislation designed to protect their workers from abusive conditions—surely this counts as an advantage. Furthermore, there is no freedom of speech or press in China. The government can arrest anyone that criticizes their policies, and they regularly do just that. Troublesome protesters can be imprisoned at will. There is no habeas corpus in China, no need for search warrants, no judicial protections for persons accused of a crime. Once the state’s enemies have been sent to prison, they can be tortured. And they are, all the time. This is exactly what Mr. Cheney and his friends are claiming the right to do to America’s enemies. The Chinese government, however, doesn’t need the approval of a legislature. Their laws will never be reviewed by a judicial branch. If there was ever a “unitary executive” in the history of the world’s governments, China is it.

Well, there you have it. There’s nothing particularly American about the so-called conservative movement, or the “Bush doctrine.” It’s actually more Chinese than American. In fact, if I truly had to characterize the direction in which Cheney and company desire to take our country, in one sentence, it would be this: We want to be more like China.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Obvious Mystery of Experience (part 1)

The most obvious truths are also those that seem most inconsequential. Our reason operates by abstraction. The more directly we attempt to express the truth of experience, the more constrained our reason feels. So we tend to dismiss these “simple” truths as not worth our consideration.

The more obvious something is, the more we take it for granted. That which we take for granted most of all, we completely ignore.

What we completely ignore becomes a mystery to us, and thus it seems as if it were never obvious at all.

This is where we begin our explorations. I am resigned to the probability that, to those not familiar with philosophy, they will seem too dry, and to those who are, they will seem too simple. At first, when the foundations are being made, the reasoning needs to be followed slowly. Only later will the details manifest themselves at a speed and with a facility that seems more natural to the mind.

All experience is single.

Everything experienced in your life is experienced in one mind, by one self, in the context of a single subjectivity.

You never experience anyone else’s life but your own. Without a doubt, other people relate their experiences to you, through words or other means, and this in fact is the basis of all knowledge in the usual sense. But the actual experience of your life is only experienced directly by you. Furthermore, you never wake up in the morning to find that you have become a different self, or are living your life in a different mind, a different subjectivity. In itself, your subjectivity is identical to yesterday’s. The changes that have occurred since your birth have all occurred within the context of a single self—and this continuity is proven by a single body, a particular history, and even a proper name. You will live as this self, this mind, this subjectivity, until death.

Now, by the most elementary reasoning, we can elevate this truth of your experience to a universal truth about all experience.

All life is experienced in one mind, by one self, in the context of a single subjectivity. No being has ever experienced any other life but its own, and no being ever will. There is never an experience in which two or more subjectivities are at work (and there never has been, or ever will be). Even this idea of “two or more subjectivities” is unthinkable without adding the element of people relating their experiences to each other, through words or other means. In terms of actual experience itself—the very fabric, if you will, of our life as we live it—anything other than singleness is impossible. This truth, then, reveals itself as a law—all experience is single.

There are two reasons, intimately related, for the appropriateness of this truth as a beginning for philosophy, its great consequence for human life, and at the same time, its general neglect.

The first is the essentially ineffable nature of subjectivity.

The second is our knowledge of the objective world, or as it is often so fittingly called, “the outside world.”

For purposes of reason—in the abstract, that is—I will characterize these two reasons, which are in fact two aspects of the same reality, as experience and existence.

In this abstract sense, I do not speak of any particular experience, but the fact of experience itself, regardless of what is being experienced, or even how. In reality, content can never be separated from context, but we must be able to do so in our thought in order to gain understanding.

No form is conceivable without experience--no quality, no multiplicity, nor even duality can ever be manifest without subjectivity. Yet this subjectivity cannot be grasped, at least not in the way we grasp the phenomena we experience—beings, things, objects, and so forth. Subjectivity contains all these things without seeming to be any of them. If you are in a room right now, there is a sense in which the room is within your consciousness. Your subjectivity provides the context in which the room, or in fact anything at all, is experienced. But the fact of experience itself—or in terms of self, the experiencer—cannot by nature be experienced, precisely because it is that by which we experience. This is just one way of indicating the ineffability of experience. It can only be indicated indirectly, by metaphor, and this is true in a sense even when we attempt to describe it in as abstract a way as possible.

But although the objective world can only be known through experience, we understand it also through agreement. On the most basic level, we know that things exist because more than one person experiences these things, and in essentially the same way. You and I both see the moon in the sky, and we relate these experiences to each other. If one or both of us dies, the moon is still there. The world is therefore not created by our experience, but precedes it. This reasoning is completely valid, and the truth it reveals is absolute.

Keeping this in mind, we return to the mysterious nature of the obvious, and how this relates to our knowledge of the objective world. For the time being, I will only indicate the problem through example—in a foretaste of explorations to come. Picture a crowd of people gathered in a town square—hundreds of people coming together for some event. Now apply the truth that all experience is single. In terms of the only experience there can be, therefore—in terms of the only way that life is actually known and lived—there really is no crowd, but only one person in the crowd, experiencing the crowd.

Now apply this to all life, all events, all history.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Ideas and Insights

In this blog I will share my thoughts on spirituality, philosophy, politics, and culture. I speak with urgency, knowing that old ways of life and thinking, based on power and domination, threaten the very existence of the human race. My name is Chris Dashiell, and I welcome your comments.