Rasslin’ with Humans

Rasslin’ with Humans
by Glenn Wallis

pigs

Kenneth [Folk], never wrestle with [the non-buddhist] pigs. All of you get dirty and stink badly, but the pigs like it. –Michael Roe, on Justin Whitaker’s blog

Of course people have the right to deceive themselves. Some choose to profit from this, others point out their delusions. Isn’t it funny that it’s usually the latter that are accused of being cynical and elitist? –Tutteji Dai Osho

What role do Buddhist studies scholars play in contemporary x-buddhist discourse? Does their detailed research on, say, x-buddhist textual transmission or the formative influences of socio-historical trends on x-buddhist doctrine, have any on-the-ground impact? Or are their discussions and proclamations obscured by/ignored because of the rarefied air of the ivory tower? In Tutteji’s terms, do Buddhist scholars function in the larger, public discourse to perpetuate delusion concerning “The Dharma” or do they provide tools for dismantling such delusion?

When I get some time, I’d like to explore this issue in more depth. Here, I would like to present what will surely turn out to be three broad strokes of that issue. I will do so on the basis of Justin Whitaker’s current post on his blog (links below). Whitaker, bear in mind, presents himself as a Buddhist studies scholar. I see in his posts a tendency common to much Buddhist studies scholarship: mirroring of x-buddhist ideology.

First, a pithy recap of the basic thrust of the speculative non-buddhist critique:

We are interested in explorations that locate the point where brute language, image, or action spins into a web of entangling ideological formations. (From our non + x site)

Our goal “consists in wresting vital potentialities of humans from the artificial forms and static norms that subjugate them” (Marjorie Gracieuse, “Laruelle Faces Deleuze” Immanance, Resistance, and Desire”).

“Critique” is that form of discourse which seeks to inhabit the experience of the subject from inside, in order to elicit those “valid” features of that experience which point beyond the subject’s present condition. (Terry Eagleton, “Ideology”, xiv)

To Adorno critique is not the promise of happiness, nor the promise of freedom. It is always immanent critique, the turning of thought back upon itself… This is the way that some of the so-called “social truth content” comes out of critique: It exposes the authority that concepts have over us. My suggestion is that one way to think about critique is in terms of looking for ways in our thinking to break the authority our thinking has over us. In that sense, there is nowhere to go outside of our own capacity to think. (Lydia Goehr, in a recent talk on art criticism)

The pithiest recap of all comes from the incomparable Master T-tteji: it is about exposing their ideology and rhetorical tricks.

So, here is a very brief non-buddhist analysis of Justin Whitaker’s all-too-common x-buddhist rhetorical trickery, to which he adds a dash of ideologically blind scholarly trickery. The goal of this non-buddhist look?—to break the authority that such “thinking” has on its readers.

The three tactics used by Whitaker, and commonplace in both x-buddhist dialogue and scholarly Buddhist studies exchanges, are ideological obfuscationfeigned objectivity, and vacuous nicety. Obviously, the first two moves are closely aligned, but it’s useful to separate them out a bit.

Ideological obfuscation. In re-presenting the 16,000+word discussion, Whitaker understandably wants to edit. He admits that he has done so on the basis of his “own subjective takes.” (And it is abundantly transparent how x-buddhist/x-spiritualist Whitaker’s “take” is from his About page.) Yet, in the very next sentence he tells us that he has endeavored to “copy the ‘heart’ of the various comments and ignore those that are ignored by others on the post.”  This is a double-obfuscation. First, Whitaker erases the fact of his own subjective takes and elevates that to having reproduced the heart. Second, he further obscures subjective take-as-heart by replicating the already x-buddhist ideology-driven ignoring of certain comments by Ken Folk. I am referring, too, for instance, the several argument-driven comments which, had Folk responded to them, would have completely changed the entire “heart” of the exchange. Folk refused to engage these pointed critiques of his work. Instead, he insisted on simply trying to, on his own account, “out-bully” his interlocutor. So, in replicating the “heart” of this x-buddhist refusal to engage serious critique, Whitaker merely doubles down on it.

Feigned objectivity. In an edit to the post, Whitaker states: “I myself will try not to steer opinion in any one direction.” He added this edit in order to explain that he has deleted Master T-tteji’s comment as well as my own. Both of us merely asked Whitaker to answer his own questions. I also asked him why, and using what criteria, he chose to present my one defensive comment and ignore my three substantive critiques. (Now I understand. See above.) How should we understand Whitaker’s belief that he is not steering the discussion in any particular direction? One possibility is that he is stupid, or at least not very sophisticated. But since he studies Kant, and, it seems, has not been kicked out of the program, that can’t be it. Another possibility is that he is entangled in the wheels of the x-buddhist decisional juggernaut.  One of the central spokes in these wheels in the belief is the possibility of a unitary objective account of reality (namely, The Dharma). This belief is so deeply ingrained in x-buddhists, and so essential to continued affiliation, that without that spoke the wheel stops turning.

Vacuous nicety. In the post, Whitaker displays nothing if not niceness. But it’s the kind of niceness that is endemic to x-buddhist dialogue; namely, the thought-killing kind. Here are examples. Robert Michael Ellis, the apostle of “Middle Way Philosophy” (“a practical and moral philosophy of universal applicability”) writes:

The point where the speculative non-Buddhists start responding to a balanced, thoughtful and compassionate engagement by calling the person doing this “a complete fucking idiot” is the point where I stop reading.

Whitaker responds to Ellis’s priggishness:

Thanks for commenting, Robert. Yes, that does seem to be a kicker for a certain percentage of the audience. On the other hand I wonder if it is that kind of (can I call it ‘edginess’?) that drives the discussion amongst another portion of their readers.

That’s a nice start, but… I could certainly think of a lot more to respond with. For example: Robert Michael, is that a Middle Way Philosophy response? Care to elaborate on how? Oh, it isn’t?  Care to explain why not? Or how about pointing out the probability of bullshit inherent in Ellis’s comment. After all, some version of “you’re a fucking idiot” has been uttered from the outset, yet Ellis just now stops reading? Bullshit. So, what’s up then, Robert Michael? etc., etc.

Another example of niceness quashing robust question-asking is Seth “Zuiho” Segall’s sorry statement:

Justin, I have tussled with the Speculative-Non Buddhists before (http://bit.ly/oczdYx), but I’ve continued to read their website out of sheer curiosity, and the belief that one ought to read what one’s critics are saying. Sometimes you can learn something when you least expect it. While my initial objection to their website was mostly one of tone, it’s come to be more about my disappointment with their content, or lack thereof. Simply put, there’s no “there” there. They are mostly Johnny-One-Notes. What’s useful about their critique has been said before and better by others. What’s unique is mostly sarcasm, spite, and ill-humor along with some warmed-over Marxism and obscure Deleuzeanism. I don’t find any of it enlightening.

Whitaker could ask: Really, Seth? You’ve determined that they are virtually without content, mere “Johnny-One-Notes,” and yet you continue to read “out of sheer curiosity”? Is the occasional reward so profound that you slug through their shite nonetheless? What’s really going on, Seth Zuiho? Or how about asking Segall to cite those “others” who have made the non-buddhist critique “before and better”? Now that would be interesting to hear about, don’t you think? No, nice Justin Whitaker responds:

Hi Seth – thank you too for the comments. And wow – yes, I see you and others did have a long tussle with the SNB crowd a while back. Thanks for the link.

Let’s see how he responds to Al Billings’s intelligence-phobic comment. Billings claims, for instance that “Their critiques have little impact on my actual lived, day to day, practice.” If Whitaker wants to further thinking, he could ask, for example, Okay, so which of the non-buddhist theories have you actually applied, and how did they fall short of “impacting” you? But I predict he’ll just be nice.

Niceness such as Whitaker’s (or Segall’s or Ellis’s or any other prudish right-speechist) is not innocent. An observer of such right-speech-driven x-buddhist exchanges will learn a lot about the rhetorical force of vacuous niceness by asking questions like:who gains by this niceness? who loses? what is lost? and at what cost? what remains in place? what is prevented from appearing?

What is the purpose of such reading and critique? Again, it is to expose the machinations and lost opportunities of unfulfilled thought. It is to expose the ways in which potentially coercive ideologies begin to take root. Most importantly for our purposes, it is to follow the witch’s flight of insight into human truths, charted, with potent potentiality, by Buddhist thought.

_________

As I was about to publish this post, I saw a comment on Whitaker’s post that made me scratch my head. Matthew O’Connell writes:

The most measured voice of the [speculative non-buddhists] was always Glenn, who seems to be more interested in critiquing Buddhist figures directly these days. I frankly find such a project a distraction. Perhaps Tutteji’s humour is a better way to go.

What is dismaying about this view is the assumption that the abstract-theoretical aspect of the discussion could somehow be isolated from the concrete-personal one. In fact, I find it hard to understand how O’Connell can see value in the non-buddhist critique, yet be so chummy with x-buddhist figures, like Hokai Sobol. If the heuristic exposes the workings of x-buddhism, it also exposes the manipulations of x-buddhists, particularly x-buddhist teachers. That is why I employ the theory on an abstract-concrete/theoretical-personal continuum. O’Connell’s plea for humor really just asks that we go easy* on the x-buddhist figures, whose M.O., I suspect, must be unraveling before his very eyes.

_______________________________________

* Not that T-tteji’s sublime humor does that.

LINKS.

Justin Whitaker’s blog

For a much more, ahem, flavorful discussion, see our Master’s site.

12 thoughts on “Rasslin’ with Humans

  1. Pingback: Wrestling with Humans | tuttejiorg

  2. This is a response to Justin Whitaker’s comment in another thread.

    The last few years I’ve spent way too much time reading blogs (including this one). I am still surprised, however, by the number of pointless, off-topic remarks that clutter even moderated comment fields. I’m not thinking of self-opinionated rants or purposefully disruptive “trolling” here, but trivial, “nice” yakking pretending to be something else.

    Justin Whitaker’s recent “response” to Glenn’s post is, of course, a good example of what I have in mind. It also reminds me of something I’ve noticed over and over again in seminar rooms and at academic conferences, where young (and nervous) graduate students often provide the most thoughtful and to-the-point comments, while senior professors are only too comfortable wasting everyone’s time with freely sharing their self-centred inner monologue. If nothing else, Whitaker seems to have emulated this bad habit of his senior colleagues.

    In Wrestling with Humans, Glenn has formulated a sharp, and potentially far-reaching critique, taking Whitaker’s recent blog as a starting-point. Apparently, Glenn also invited Whitaker to comment on it here. (As the reader probably knows, Whitaker has refused a number of us to comment on his blog.) And what does Whitaker say in his 380-wprd comment? He brings up what he (mistankenly, IMNSHO) identifies as the “heart” of Glenn’s post: That he (J W) steered the conversation over at his blog in a way that shows his x-buddhist bias. But instead of responding to this, Whitaker excuses himself (“it’s getting late”), and says he “might, might, might” come back.

    I don’t mind nice manners and friendly chats, and I often take delight in pure nonsense and sublime silliness. But Whitaker’s comment is really none of that. What I see is rather a half-assed attempt to deflect serious criticism. I’m sure some would se this as “right speech”. I call it bullshit.

    • Critiques of capitalism notwithstanding (and stipulated), production for profit does lead participants to adopt modalities of communication appropriate to the maintenance of the objective (what I guess some would call its ideology of communication, no?) I have found modalities of communication that have been found to have benefit for finding common ground for production of profit can be used for other objectives as well.

      I suppose, regarding the x-Buddhists of which you speak that it’s not out of a conscious attempt to suppress criticism, but rather, as is too often the case with humans, they just don’t see their blind spots.

      But I can understand the animus here, and it at least partially animates me, from a different direction; I’ve experienced that deflection elsewhere, but I chalk it up to an inexperience with techniques to in fact actively find common ground, which as you and Glenn have pointed out, did not exist.

      I don’t know how you get that skill reading Kant. Or Marx, or even Nagarjuna for that matter. But that makes it no less frustrating.

      That said, I think Justin, and even some of the other x-Buddhists mean well, but they don’t know what they don’t know, as is the case with most of us.

      I could (and might) write a blog post on “Right Speech: Active Listening as Verbal Sticky Hands and Its Application to On-Line Communication,” but I’m not optimistic about its chances of being adopted by predominant x-Buddhists, because it *would*, if applied in this context, I suspect, undermine some things they’re unwilling to undermine at the present.

      • Hi Mumon,
        I’m sure all of the people ridiculed here “mean well” (Rev. Gene Scott being a possible exception.) There is no limit to rationalization and delusion. But I’m less interested in their motivation than what they do, and the effects of their actions. I don’t expect holding up this speculum stultorum (or the SNB critique) will make them aware of their “blind spots”, but – as has been repeated a number of times now – these people are not the target audience.

  3. I find it amusing that out of the comments, brief as they are, that I made, you picked that particular one.

    At the end of the day, I just see a lot of words and self-importance here. As much as I know you’ll just dismiss it, the Dharma isn’t about that (though I do realize that you don’t care what the “Dharma” may be about).

    By all means, keep talking though. Perhaps someone wlll be listening. :-)

    • Al,
      It’s tempting to ask why someone who doesn’t bother (or is unable) to comprehend what SNB is about (but still dismisses the entire project), takes the time to comment on it? As you’re obviously obsessing about the subject, let me repeat Glenn’s question: which of the non-buddhist theories have you actually applied, and how did they fall short of “impacting” you?

      • Never underestimate the combined power of (a) boredom, (b) the Internet, (c) a hotel room and (d) a long trip away from home with your books finished. After dinner and a beer here in Paris, I saw my friend Mumon once again mentioning your groups collective…ranting (?) so I came to take a look. I doubt you could really call it obsession.

        As to “non-Buddhist theories,” are you referring to your modern philosophical circle jerk of Marxism and Western Philsophy? I’m afraid that I don’t find it engaging on any particular level. You and I live in different worlds, somehow, it seems, and they have little to do with one another though pronouncements seem to come from each. I don’t find SNB site particularly meaningful or engaging though I did hear about it often enough, here and there, to go look from time to time. I’d not obsessed with a need to replace Zen thought, for example, with Heidegger.

        But, please, say that I’m simply not up to comprehending the immensity of your endeavor or its true meaning or that I’m somehow deficient. That will make it easy to explain why an “x-buddhist” would show up but somehow be both unimpressed and bored. I will now go obsess about twerking or somesuch, as we unenlightened folks seem wont to do.

      • Thank you for this wonderful display of orientalist delusions and vulgar anti-intellectualism. In just a few lines you manage to demonstrate the essence of x-buddhism. Now, go watch some twerking or cable porn.

  4. To whom it may concern.

    The Al Billings here and over at Justin Whitaker’s blog isn’t the Al Billings who once was known to his relatives, friends, collogues and fellow Buddhists.

    I have information (which I cannot disclose here because of the risk of being hunted all over the globe by ‘interested parties’) that this Al Billings is a hacked system and part of a huge botnet. X-buddhism, as is known since some time, is such a botnet. Usually compromised devices of such a net, known as “bots”, keep a certain amount of integrity to fulfill their functions with a minimum of supervision and to harvest their creative impulses (so called semiautonomous bots, colloquially called “semis”).

    This said, the tragedy with Al Billings is that he now is the kind of bot we call a “zombie bot”. Autonomy of such a bot has been shut down and remains at zero. Usually such zombie bots are used for the most dirty duties the empire needs to fulfill for its survival. These are, for example, burning books, keep in line semis, parade in step to impress pseudo-democrats, execute lobotomy to shut down semis, dispose other zombie bots when they are of no more use and so and on and on and on. Zombie bots like All Billings are also known as The obscurantist subject.

    It may be sad news for some, but the human All Billings is gone since long. RIP.

    • With reference to Al Billings and bots, hows this for a piece of idiotic nonsense?

      “The fact is that I’ve never found the Western Philosophy of the last hundred or two years terribly engaging (especially when compared to that of antiquity). Perhaps their critiques only really resound to people actually interested in modern Western Philosophy?” Al Billings ( a recent comment on Justin Whitakers blog)

      A we used to say back in the old sod when the struggle was in full flight against Catholic versions of family planning—– the billings method lovey? Lets just forget the complications and shove it up your ass! Which is where I suggest Al puts his opinions on ‘Western philosophy of the last one hundred or two years.’

      Sorry if reference to such a far off and long forgotten struggle on a small island at the edge of Europe seems obtuse to you lads living in the Modern American Metropolis. Not to mention the esoteric complications of the Billings method. Ah we could have done with one of Daniel M ingrams charts back in those days for sure!

      (sorry for the intrusion Master. Couldn’t resist)

  5. Hello all,

    Sorry I’m a bit late to the table on this. I’ll take a shot at directly responding to Glenn’s 3 tactics discussed above.

    First, Ideological obfuscation. I really don’t understand where my “subjective” + “heart” comments add up to a double obfuscation. One can subjectively try to get to the heart of things, right? Then you say I am “*ignoring* … certain comments by Ken Folk. I am referring, too, for instance, the several argument-driven comments which, had Folk responded to them, would have completely changed the entire “heart” of the exchange.”

    So I’m ignoring comments by KF that he didn’t make?

    I thought I covered that when I wrote, “there is a lot of interesting discussion that doesn’t fall in with the main Kenneth Folk-centered conversation” and then gave a link to the full discussion. My interest was more in the fact that Folk was conversing with you all, not with your critiques of him and x-buddhism generally.

    Next, Feigned objectivity. This focused on my exclusion of the discussants from commenting on my blog. After the kind compliment on my managing to study Kant well into grad school, Glenn comments that “Another possibility is that he is entangled in the wheels of the x-buddhist decisional juggernaut. One of the central spokes in these wheels in the belief is the possibility of a unitary objective account of reality (namely, The Dharma).” That is an interesting “possibility,” but I’ll let you off the hook from further speculation, the real reason was to allow a space for others to comment. As in a trial, two parties have a chance to state their case – and in this case it was SNB folks vs KF – then the committee of judges or jury get to discuss the merits of each side without the two parties getting involved. So no, I wasn’t seeking objectivity, just some ‘space’ for people to come in and comment.

    Last, Vacuous nicety. “In the post, Whitaker displays nothing if not niceness.” Aww, gee, thanks.

    “But it’s the kind of niceness that is endemic to x-buddhist dialogue; namely, the thought-killing kind.” Oh, never mind. I suppose I would say that there is a place for niceness and there is a place for hard-hitting questions and demands. Like most philosophy/Buddhist studies students I know, I do enjoy the latter, a lot. But I’m also very large parts busy with life, teaching, writing, etc, and lazy; so I don’t have the time and energy to devote to the hard hitting stuff on my blog as much as you or others might like.

    Cheers, jw

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