The triple edged sword of irony or: All You Can Do I Can Do Meta

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… This warm, cosy – and smug – feeling is fed on the assumption that ironic distance is automatically a subversive attitude. What if, on the contrary, the dominant attitude of the contemporary “postideological” universe is precisely cynical distance  What if this distance, far from posing any threat to the system, designates the supreme form of conformism, since the normal function of the system requires cynical distance?

EDIT: The following comment thread is long, winding, and confused. I was thinking of breaking it up and move parts of it to a new page, but that would probably make things even worse, so I’ll leave it as it is. If someone wants to write a new blog post, dealing with some of the themes brought up here, I’d be happy to post/host it and have it as an introduction for a new discussion.

119 thoughts on “The triple edged sword of irony or: All You Can Do I Can Do Meta

  1. Pnin,

    You ask: “how’s this persuading thing going?” As you yourself explained, with the references to Adorno and Schelling in particular, the “game” is not to persuade, it is to expose and to present new openings. Both are means of operating on “thought [that] emerges from pre-reflexive intuitions.” That formulation echoes, if in a varied pitch, my use of Laruelle’s decision. (Laruelle limits decision to a cognitive act; but I expand it to include an affective one.) A crucial point, though, is that adherence to x-buddhist decision is neither pre-reflexive nor–it follows–intuitive. Decision is rendered reflexive and intuitive through quite specific means. These means are those employed in any form of subjugation. It is these means that the non-buddhist critique, in whatever mode, tracks.

    Your first paragraph is confusing. You think Folk acquitted himself? Of what? He was wholly incapable of responding to a single substantive criticism. And why a “fool’s game”? Finally, why do you see immanent critique as “dangerous”? You write a few more head-scratchers, but I’ll it at that for now.

  2. Head scratching’ you say Glenn. Is that a dog whistle of sorts? I hope not. Let me cede learning and rhetorical ability to you at the outset. You will outdo me in both of these capacities. We do seem to agree however, that appealing to others is not a matter of laying out propositional claims with compelling logic. This works only to the degree that other’s fundamental allegiances remain unchallenged – or better yet, confirmed anew. So, not persuading, then but ‘expose and present new openings’. But then, what makes those you lead to the well, drink? To take those new openings?

    And just to make sure we keep a close focus here, we have agreed that those new openings will not even show themselves if presented simply as argument. Adorno and Schelling tell us so, as does Laruelle. But then you tell us that x-buddhists – unlike you or me, say, are able to escape their always already given pre-reflexive allegiances.

    We seem to be going in circles here: if those x-buddhists have special means whereby ‘decision is ‘rendered’ reflexive and intuitive through quite specific means’ then not only are they doing something rather impressive, we need to counter that with something equally skilful. How will throwing proposition after proposition at them work? Adorno, Schelling and Laruelle say it won’t work (and many besides) and your experience with Non X-Buddhism shows those giants of critical thought to have it right. As I say, I find you and Tutteji only effective when you employ an aesthetic/mimetic approach. Both of which answer Adorno’s call for an immanent critique. As I understand it, when the body of the text is mobilised, so to is the pre-reflexive sense of the reader of that text.

    As to Kenneth Folk acquitting himself. He came, he tried, he realised it wasn’t working and he left. I make no judgement on whether he was right or wrong but he seemed to be consistent in his claims and actions. Most significantly for me, he seemed to be aware of what he was up to. After being caught up for a while in his own attempt at immanent critique – ‘out bully the bullies’ I think he termed it, he realised it didn’t quite match his own intuitive/pre-reflective allegiances and exited. I liked the display of self-awareness – and its open communication to us – more than any specific content. And there, too, you have the dangers of a mimetic/immanent critique: Spend too long countering the tyrant with his own methods and you become indistinguishable from him. And even worse if you lose all awareness this has actually happened. Kenneth Folk had a go and was self-aware enough to quit when it wasn’t working. My impression, for what it’s worth, is that to a large degree he is actually sympathetic to your concerns about Buddhism as late capitalist panacea/enabler.

    There is more that might be said, but, as with your head-scratching, that will do for now.

  3. Tutteji, To comment on, or argue against, something you or Glenn has specifically said would be to obviate my very point. You wish to move the hearts and minds of X-Buddhists from A to B. I’m saying that to do that by exclusive means of logic and argument is a waste of good breath and calories.

    Also: the aesthetic is not restricted to the pleasant in my usage. An aesthetic experience can be awkward and unpleasant. I use the term, overly broadly, perhaps, to mean any non-instrumentalising encounter which stimulates and offers openings to mystery, possibility, generation, new potential. Jane Bennet is a good resource in this area if you’ve any interest. Her term for the powers of the aesthetic is ‘enchantment’.

    And it wasn’t you I had in mind when speaking of self-assertions of exceedingly high intelligence. Apologies for the confusing placement.

    Finally, please don’t think that I’m saying propositional claims are without use or function. Not at all, the point is how to integrate them with more fundamental commitments.

    • Pnin,

      While I’m flattered by your appreciation of Tutteji as the award-winning spiritual teacher on the cutting edge of evolution, I think you might be missing one or two things here.

      First of all, and I’m speaking for myself (and possibly Glenn) here, I am not so much interested in “moving x-buddhists from A to B” as in moving them out from A, i.e. x-buddhism itself. And I have no idea what might come after A. It could be C or K or Å, perhaps 無.

      I actually also had in mind something similiar to what you’re talking about when I used the word “aesthetic”, and the “awkwardness” I mentioned has to do with the difficulty of integrating two very different kinds of discourse. (I’m not sure what you mean by “fundamental commitments”. Care to expand on that?)

      One of the reasons I had Tutteji break character was that I was getting bored with the responses to his pranks, while at the same time becoming aware of how some of his targets (e.g. Folk, Ingram, and Jundo) often responded to them with that ironic, cynical distance which was the topic of the OP.

      This sub-page (and, even more so, the Transintegral Scholars group) could be seen as a playful attempt at such integration. As I said in the (obviously parodic) manifesto:

      Being a transintegrally informed community, discussions are expected to be lively and uncomfortably oscillating between serious business and lulz, the dogmatic and the ironic, high theory and lower-middlebrow mindfulness- and psychobabble.

      Purposefully violating the first rule of being a troll (never admit you are a troll) while avoiding the passive-aggressiveness, sacrimonius stupidity and willful ignorance too often passing for sincerity in integral, x-buddhist or spiritual circles, transintegral discourse is an exploration of multi-dimensional, 4th tier, post-ironic meta-trolling, taking a particular and perverse delight in heated, inflammatory polemics, baroque verbosity, and sublime silliness.

      Sometimes interesting things come out of this experiment (and sometimes it’s just boring). We just have to wait until the real thing comes along.

    • Pnin,

      As I read over your several comments to me and Master Tutteji, I find myself, on the whole, in agreement. I also find myself pleased and relieved to have in you an astute and intelligent reader. It makes the rarity of such responses to the non-buddhist critique all-the-more curious.

      I think the most far-reaching point of agreement between us lies in our shared belief that aesthetic enchantment is more potent in moving others than propositional argument. I am currently reading Laruelle’s Anti-Badiou. What makes that otherwise dry and difficult book so much fun to read is that Laruelle subtly but unmistakably imitates Badiou’s voice. It’s that imitation more than the explicit counter-propositions offered by Laruelle that drive home the “argument.”

      But I say “on the whole” because some of the parts of your comments would need tweaking. For example,

      So, not persuading, then but ‘expose and present new openings’. But then, what makes those you lead to the well, drink? To take those new openings?

      It is as Tutteji answers. Also, as my reply to Matthew O’Connell regarding his two questions (somewhere on this blog) has it. The effort concerns getting them out in the open, out of the dank Dharmic fortress and under the clear blue sky of oi, here we are!.

      But then you tell us that x-buddhists – unlike you or me, say, are able to escape their always already given pre-reflexive allegiances…We seem to be going in circles here: if those x-buddhists have special means whereby ‘decision is ‘rendered’ reflexive and intuitive through quite specific means’ then not only are they doing something rather impressive, we need to counter that with something equally skilful. How will throwing proposition after proposition at them work?

      Why not you and me, too? I find that this work of seeing clearly where I stand (realizing the force of my reflexive allegiances), and then continuing to think from there, is without end. So, I don’t believe that x-buddhists have special means whereby decision is rendered reflexive and intuitive. As I said earlier, x-buddhist means of subjugation are the commonly used ones, in whatever domain the subjugation is occurring. Otherwise, they wouldn’t work, and the ideology would not be rendered opaque. But each domain has its quite specific content within these common means. Tutteji’s brilliance is that he captures both the general means and the specific content of x-buddhist/x-spiritualist indoctrination.

      How will throwing proposition after proposition at them work?

      As we both think, it won’t, at least not by itself. Recall my exemplicative braggadocio aka the detail fetish or my image of the world-conquering dharmic juggernaut, aka (mimicking Laruelle and his obvious predecessors) The Principle of Sufficient Buddhism. Tutteji asked as well: can you give a few examples of “pue” (non-aesthetic) propositions I’ve offered?

      I think that “when the body of the text is mobilised, so to is the pre-reflexive sense of the reader of that text” constitutes a good strategy.

      I am looking forward to reading Jane Bennet. Thanks for the reference.

      • Matthias, thanks for that link. I could imagine creating a parody of the “Ñana and Jhana Mind Map Explained,” but fear I would die of tedium in the process. Maybe our Master’s humor would save him in this regard.

        Isn’t Daniel Ingram commenting here, somewhere? If so: Daniel, what the fuck, bro?! “Relative simplicity, as these things go”?

      • Regarding the “relative simplicity”, that map is a very simplified overview of the internal maps that I use to navigate, explain, catalog and explore that territory, with those internal maps being substantially more complex, but I have found that the internal maps I use are not that useful for most people (as they use more subjhanas and subsubjhanas, etc.), as they either can’t or are not interested in perceiving, cataloging and parsing experience at that fine level (which is just fine, BTW, and I don’t intend to propose some artificial hierarchy or value structure to that, as plenty of the people and practitioners that I personally value most know don’t use these frameworks at all), so I stick to the level that most of the practitioners I have talked to find useful. Tedium may be in the eye of the beholder. These things have totally fascinated me for years, being one of the most interesting things I have ever gotten into, perhaps the most interesting thing. One might find a Khan Academy video on differential equations (good example here: http://www.khanacademy.org/math/differential-equations/first-order-differential-equations/differential-equations-intro/v/what-is-a-differential-equation) tedious unless one really enjoyed differential equations (such as for their supreme elegance and staggering profundity, as in the Bohemian ideal of “truth and beauty”, again, nothing negative implied by me for those not viewing them that way just because I do, as beauty is clearly in the eye of the beholder) or had a need to use them for something, such as solving the response a circuit with an AC input. In this case, if one is trying to navigate in unfamiliar territory that those frameworks help explain or perhaps trying to unpack and access what might be termed the “easter egg functionality” of one’s brain (meaning cool and fun experiences that one can have that one might not know one could have (such as “Super Watcher”, or the previously parodied “Nirodha Samapatti”) until instructions for accessing them were pointed out), then those maps are reported by users to have explanatory value. As to “afterglow” and “Super Watcher”, I am not particularly attached to the use of those particular terms, and I would be happy to hear your alternate terminology for those experiences that caused less sniggers, as in, “Huh, huh, he said ‘afterglow’, huh, huh.” (I realize that this simply shows my cultural upbringings, baggage and age, but it was hard not to imagine Beavis or Butthead saying that. No offense implied and hopefully none taken. This is clearly my own internal humor-sense coming online.) Those terms are not in common usage, as this is a very small group that discusses these things, and they are very likely mostly adults, so hopefully the level of sexual terminology offense cause by them will be minimal. It is interesting the things that people find humorous. Humor can significantly enhance one’s day and has been shown to improve cognitive function, so I am glad you can access that sense easily. I suppose that things like car repair manuals might also be funny, and I will see if I can look at them that way. Trying to parody them might be interesting also. I was thinking about this and came up with the following: “Oh, notice how they call the thing that goes in the oil tank the ‘dipstick’. How Freudian!”, or perhaps, “You could really roll the ‘r’ in ‘radiator’!”. Anyway, see what you can do with that. A recent video I was watching on queueing theory (the mathematics of lines, such as at a cashier) (see this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGkpXk-AnWU ) had a number of points that would be lots of fun to make fun of, such as, “Notice how he uses Greek letter lambda! Probably has something to do with lesbians!” This is actually well within the range of humor that I enjoyed at some unspecified point in my past and might enjoy again, as who knows? Good stuff. I think that, as humor goes, most of the stuff on the Tutteji website may have broader appeal, as that my vimeo video is basically designed for an extremely small audience of technical practitioners working a the very obscure far end of a very narrow tradition, being vastly smaller than those using queueing theory, which is actually quite important and relatively frequently utilized. Total views and downloads are just less than 6,000 since they were posted, so my Vimeo stats tell me, whereas sexual exploitation by gurus and rampant dharma capitalism (the sorts of things that make up some of Tutteji’s core competencies) are experienced on a scale that dwarfs that by numerous orders of magnitude, to such a degree, in fact, that statistically the world of technical practitioners is so obscure and statistically small as to barely exist at all, and might, given sufficient intellectual abstraction, which I will bet is well within the capabilities of those here, be so small as to be easily dismissed as likely being within the error of measurement and thus of no general or perhaps even particular relevance. BTW: That youtube video on queueing theory is the very best I found on the topic and has so far over 58,000 views, being vastly more popular than my truly small, technical, obscure videos (and that is truly meant without irony, hyperbole, or any other non-straightforward quality), and I mention it again just in case you are interested in the underlying mathematics of something that effects us all every day, including numerous inputs lining up in a buffer and then coming one at a time through into a server, for instance, which effects the speed with which we can post here and now, or patients waiting in an emergency department lobby for care by limited providers, as was the reason for my viewing it. As a curiosity, as the number of people who actually know anything about this very small corner of a very obscure meditation and philosophical tradition is so extremely small (again, meant without irony or hyperbole), and you happen to be among them, how might the major causal factors that created that inclusion be summarized, as you see them?

  4. Oh, I should also that the use of the term “afterglow” that caused all the trouble was not Freudian, as that would imply that its use was accidental in some way, or that its sexual implications were not intended when it was used, but they actually were, though, as I didn’t spell that out anywhere in particular, there is no way you could have known that ahead of time. Just as with you, the word “afterglow” for me has sexual overtones, as in and specifically, something like “post-coital afterglow”, and so it was utilized for the clear and obvious parallels, as Fruition is essentially the culmination and climactic moment of an insight cycle, and the “afterglow” that follows has clear experiential parallels to that following sexual climax.

    Speaking of non-Freudian labels, I just purchased the Swollen Pickle MK II Fuzz Pedal for guitar (an effects pedal that produces a distorted sound, for those non-musicians in this probably extremely small readership) by Way Huge, all of whose sexual implications I infer as having been intended, and I must say that is produces a wide range of great and usable fuzz tones. That these tones are able to be verified empirically and experientially and also that they are useful and hence pragmatic condemns the pedal itself to the category of capitalist. I must also reluctantly admit that it appears to have been produced by capitalists and was purchased from a capitalist pedal purveyor. If someone is aware of a good source of proper socialist, communist, or post-capitalist pedals distributed by a proper socialist, communist or post-capitalist mechanism, I would be very interested.

    It should be noted, for those who might consider me a fervent capitalist, that my leanings are generally pretty far to the left, and by USA standards would be considered totally off the scale, though by European standards or, say, South or Central American standards, probably moderately leftist. My wife was an active member of the Communist Labor Party in the US for years and still leans that way also. By way of example, Obama is much too center Right for my tastes, and so called “moderate Republicans” these days look just like the Fascists of old to me. I truly morn the loss of Labor power in this country, considering it one of the greatest threats we face at the moment, and basically believe the US government and about 90% of the media (perhaps more) has largely been bought and paid for by resurgent Robber Barron Capitalists run amuck. I really enjoy that I get to play Robin Hood and steal from the rich to give to the poor when I deliver care to all who come to my emergency department regardless of their ability to pay. I work in the largest rural referral hospital in the US, a not-for-profit community hospital system serving a large under-served community in the Deep South. I tend to get my best news from The Nation and Mother Jones, in case anyone is asking.

    As the parody involving a book about veterinary tranquilizers seemed to imply things about marketing and profiteering in the book and spiritual worlds, it might be worth examining the financial aspects of this straightforwardly. I get somewhere around $1000 annually for the print version of MCTB (the standard acronym for my book, for those unfamiliar with it), an amount that fails to cover the costs of the DhO (Dharma Overground, for those unfamiliar with that obscure specialty forum), all of which I fund. The DhO used to cost me about $50/month plus development costs, which in the last few years have run so far into about the $2500 range total, though now the better servers cost me about $180/month, meaning that my loss on the dharma runs at about $1000/year at this point not counting other development charges (about to pay $2000 to upgrade to Liferay 6.1, again for the free benefit of the community), and is likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future. I accept no formal students (preferring a community of fellow adventurers who help each other to the notion of formal hierarchy), charge nothing for dharma teaching when I do respond to an email or take some time to Skype with someone, and the few retreats I have conducted involved me providing free lodging and charging nothing and accepting nothing for my time in keeping with my general rule to accept no donations of any kind. If this is profiteering or capitalist, I clearly am doing something wrong. As it also well-known, I provide numerous places where people can download the book for free in numerous formats. Anyway, just thought I would put that out there, as, if you are to make fun of me, humor involves pointing out truth, and you should probably mock my total ineptitude at turning a profit in a field where turning a profit is so widely accomplished.

    It should also be noted that, while drugs are routinely discussed on the DhO, as is clearly noted in MCTB I don’t recommend them in general terms for spiritual practice, just in case anyone was confused on that point, as one could again think that the humor was based on truth, and the truth is that I have never done MDMA or LSD, nor do I intend to, and I also don’t drink, don’t smoke marijuana, and the only caffeine I ingest is the small amount in the very small amount of chocolate I occasionally eat, and then is generally only to get through the worst of my night shifts, and so, by normal standards and in comparison to nearly everyone I know, would be considered pretty austere in this regard, realizing that this is relative, and it should also be noted that I don’t tend to harp on that austerity and so this might explain why you seen to not know if it, with this comment post being the obvious exception to try to correct an apparent misperception, nor would I presume to necessarily try to impose that same level of austerity regarding substance use on anyone else, a courtesy that is not widely followed by the promoters of austerity. Anyone else like Dickensian sentences?

    • Daniel, re the first paragraph. That’s perfect. If it wasn’t a slip it wasn’t (and of course “afterglow” is no Freudian term (or was that a real subtle slip?)). If the sexual overtones were intended than that’s ok. Such attempts to describe experience are important (seriously, I mean it). Personally, re “afterglow”, I go for good old sex. Your schedule is far to complicated for me. What I still don’t get though, what is all the trouble?

      • “all the trouble” was actually just simple exaggeration for subtle humorous effect, and my apologies if that caused any confusion.

  5. One further set of thoughts:

    I can figure out if the underlying hypothesis of this crowd regarding meditative experiences and perceptual transformations is:

    a) That they don’t occur and those of use who claim them are just making them up.
    b) That they do occur but are “narcissistic” as is implied somewhere below the book about elephant drugs, and, if so, perhaps that this “narcissism” might apply to all pleasant and clear states of mind or perhaps just those cultivated by various meditative techniques.
    c) That they do occur but all of those of us who are claiming them haven’t actually attained them.
    d) That they do occur and that some of use who claim them have actually attained them, but they are humorous, sort of like children in the “latent phase” of, say, 7-10 years old might make fun of teens who were in love or kiss, for example.
    e) That they question of whether or not they do or don’t occur, or have or haven’t been attained is irrelevant, as the whole point (presumably, and correct me if I am wrong here) is that those in this crowd haven’t attained them, so making fun of them serves some useful psychological purpose.
    f) That meditative states are inherently funny, so psychoanalyzing why one might make fun of them is totally missing something.
    g) That they do believe they do occur, and they do believe they might have been attained by some of those who claim them, but that by making fun of they they hope to expose the weaknesses of those who are attached to those claims when they get angry about having them be made fun of.
    h) That the question of whether or not they do or don’t occur or have or haven’t been attained is totally irrelevant and unknown, but that making fun of them is fun for fun’s sake.
    i) That the question of whether or not they have or haven’t been attained is irrelevant, as the claims, however accurate or inaccurate, are being used for purposes such as profit, exploitation, fame, and the like, all of which deserve to have some jovial roasting.
    k) Some other reason I haven’t thought of.

    Any of those ring true, or is there some other basic explanation of the general paradigm regarding these things? It may be that various players in this small group have divergent core opinions on this, and, if so, some nuanced teasing out of that might be interesting. Hopefully the letters will make for quick reference. Feel free to add your own lettered possibilities, if you wish.

    • Oh, in case anyone is wondering what my take on this is, it is as follows:

      Those states and stages and the like do occur and are attained today. Not everyone who claims to have attained them has, some who don’t claim to attain them have actually attained them, and some who are partially correct in their claims and partially wrong in them, some of which is purely human error and some of which is pathological and for nefarious purposes.

      Regarding things like profit, exploitation, fame-promotion and the like, there are both people who have attained to some real attainments who engage in those and people who haven’t attained to real attainments who engage in those, with this not being always that easy to sort out, as I still assert that the correlation between success in training in morality and training in the concentration and insight attainments is sketchy at best and nearly totally disconnected at worst.

      Where there is profiteering, factitious claimsmanship, exploitation, fame-promotion, and the like, some roasting is clearly within the bounds of healthy behavior, realizing that it will not always be totally easy to sort out the true state of the person being roasted, as objectively measuring someone’s internal experience and true motives is clearly not within our capabilities, so some modicum of caution might be warranted, and the dangers of hubris exist for both those being roasted and those roasting.

      • Hi Daniel,
        You bring up several things here that I think would be of interest for our readers (I don’t know, or care, how many they are). If you feel like it, and have the time, I would suggest you write a separate blog post, and we could move the discussion there. As a starting-point, I’d also suggest you look at Tom Pepper’s response to you in another thread (Esp. the bits about ”Atman Buddhists” and non-duality.) There was also a brief discussion about the nature of contemplative or ”mystical” experiences here. If you care to respond to what was said there, I think this could be an interesting discussion.
        (You can reach me at tuttewachtmeister@gmail.com)

  6. Hi Daniel,
    I think you’ve left the Dickensian sentences (as well as the Joycean) far behind. Yours is a truly original style. There’s a lot to be said about your last couple of comments. I don’t have much time at the moment, but I hope someone else will chime in. Let me just clarify one thing (while at the same time ruining a perfectly fine joke): If there are similarities between Daniel Lingam’s work and your own, I don’t think they have to do with drug use per se. As the publisher of Lingam’s work, I sincerely hope his readers are intelligent and informed enough not to believe this is the case. (Judging from other reactions to the products offered by The International Tutteji Foundation and Integral Publishing, it seems likely I am terribly naive, though.)

  7. I do hope that Kenneth R. Lingam is not offended that his own publisher misremembered his name and instead renamed him even more after me than he previously was. ;)

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  10. Hello there,

    I haven’t read all the comments, so I apologize if this was covered before.

    Brief background: I’ve done a number of Buddhist and non-Buddhist meditation practices, and my background is in Western academic philosophy and psychology.

    First off, regarding the original point of this post, it seems to me that Mr. Ingram and Mr. Folk had a sense of humor about themselves. But perhaps I am not sophisticated enough to see the “cynicism” in their lightheartedness? (For several years I authored many articles critical of personal development texts and gurus and none reacted with lighthearted humor when I made fun of them.)

    That said, clearly all meditation techniques are ideological. You cannot even meditate without a series of belief systems that determine a goal state, and those beliefs and goals are culturally situated and defined.

    So in one sense, all meditation is ideological training, and the ultimate goal of a particular meditation is (in part) indoctrination in a specific ideology or school of thought.

    The question is, “is this always a bad thing?” and “can it be avoided?”

    If everything is ideological (including that idea itself), then there is no escaping ideologies. Then the question is what ought we to do given this condition. One solution is to aim for ideological flexibility, to freely switch and deconstruct ideologies. Another is to choose an ideology and adopt it with the full knowledge that our chosen perspective, view, ideology, belief system, etc. is not any ultimate reality but merely one limited and false position. To do the former is to attempt to avoid contradiction in pursuit of an ultimate truth (for even in seeking to be free from ideology we cannot ever do so), a kind of irony indeed, while to do the latter is to be willing to be a hypocrite, an unfortunate position but perhaps the only sincere act.

    I suggest we ought to do the latter, with a little of the former.

    I think we ought to choose, as if standing in the Void, the position we will occupy and stand for, and then develop and practice ways to consistently live that ideology, while also softening the edges through critique and deconstruction.

    There’s a non-Buddhist psychological-spiritual method I’ve done a lot of that I realized at one point was training in a certain ideology, that at the core every person is acting from a deeper positive intention. I felt a terrifying agony realizing this was just another ideological indoctrination, not some Truth about the Universe. And yet I still chose it, because of the pragmatic value of this ideology, for what we believe tends to influence others. In order to do so, I had to take the meta-position of seeing the value of the ideology itself, and being able to take such a position means I cannot ever be a “true believer.” And the approach of seeing deeper positive intentions works most of the time but not always (for instance in immediate life-or-death situations, it might not be advisable). But I still think it is useful to inculcate one’s self in such an ideology, even practice self-indoctrination in such a thing.

    So my question to the participants here is “is there something inherently wrong with a practice that reifies an ideology?” I think the answer is no, not always.

    For example, muscular development was brought up before as potentially non-ideological. Nothing could be further from the case. Muscular development ALWAYS exists within the context of many (sometimes competing) ideologies of physical training, ideas of masculinity and femininity, competitive sports, specific product marketing, etc. For instance, most men train within a bodybuilding ideology which involves concepts like “breaking down muscle tissue through training to failure,” which is a completely different and competing ideology to “strength is a skill, stop while you are still fresh,” which is a completely different ideology to “train for recovery and prevention of injury” and on and on. Entire systems of exercise have been developed to sell products like barbells and kettlebells, etc. Indeed, exposure to so many ideologies in training can itself be paralyzing, for one has to make the meta-decision, “what kind of person do I want to become?” before selecting an ideology, or mixing ideologies, and then selecting a program that could implement those ideas and values, etc. Perhaps it is better in many ways to not know of one’s options!

    But here we can see a parallel: a person can become quite fit and healthy (according to their own ideological standards, as well as “objective” standards determined from other ideological schools) without ever taking a meta-position on fitness ideologies. In fact, it might be much easier to do so due to lack of having to forge a creative path forward and make terrifying decisions with no ground to do so (such as “what kind of person do I want to become?”).

    So why is it important to even unravel such ideological assumptions? One commenter said that doing so is basically enlightenment. But he also said there is no freedom from ideology. So he ultimately is stating that his ideology is seeing everything as ideology (except apparently that statement itself, which simply is True). Again, if everything is ideology, shouldn’t we simply choose “better” ideologies? Of course upon what ground do we do so one might ask, but if there is no anti-ideological position, any ground that we sincerely believe to be good or useful will do to start with. One potential benefit from unraveling such assumptions seems to be to free up new creative possibilities, but in that creative freedom is often a terrifying existential burden of choice which can paralyze action and decision-making. One benefit of ideology is that the blinders it puts on us can lead to clear and focused action in the world.

    Anyway, those are some random thoughts.

    (Please refrain from personal attacks on me. I have made no personal attacks on anyone here, but that seems to be the tone of the discussion thread, from all parties.)

    • Hi Duff,

      I have no interest in making any ”personal attacks” on you, although I wonder why you post a comment here as you apparently have blocked me on Facebook.

      If you don’t understand why I interpreted the ”lighthearted” reactions of Messrs. Ingram and Folk as cynical, I suggest you read the original post again. An alternative interpretation would be to see their reactions as an example of the x-buddhist strategy of embracing, deflecting, and evading. You can read more about that here.

      I agree that meditation is an ideological practice (although many teachers of meditation and ”mindfulness” would claim the opposite: that meditation is about transcending ideology or dwelling in ”direct”, supposedly non-mediated, bodily sensations). So your questions ”is this always a bad thing?” and ”can it be avoided?” are nonsensical. Better ones would be ”What kind of ideology is a certain meditation practice serving?” and ”How can we understand and choose better ideologies?” And, yes, I think it is something very wrong with practices that reify an ideology.

      I don’t know if I’d call it an ”ideology”, but it doesn’t seem like a good idea to assume that ” at the core every person is acting from a deeper positive intention”. First of all, I don’t see any reason to believe there is a ”core”, and then we don’t know where a road paved with good intentions lead, right?

      Several of the people participating in this discussion have written about ideology, discussing in some depth several of the questions you raise. Good places to start would be here or here.

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