Sunday, February 27, 2011
After the symposium on Friday, someone told me “I can't believe that you conceded my point so easily.” To which I replied, “But of course—you were right.”
My interlocutor seemed to find my response freshly disconcerting. Why?
I've been feeling somewhat reflective about this and other moments. They seem to be symptoms of the Asura Realm that is default academia.
There are six realms of existence in traditional Buddhism: human, animal, hell, hungry ghost, gods, jealous gods. You can imagine these realms as psychological states. The hungry ghost realm for instance is the state of addiction: nothing is ever enough. Hungry ghosts have tiny throats and enormous stomachs, and they're always hungry. Yet everything tastes of pus and poison.
Asura means jealous god. The jealous gods are jealous because a beautiful wish fulfilling tree has its roots in their realm but flowers in the god realm. The jealous gods struggle for an inch of ground from the gods, like First World War armies.
Doesn't this epitomize the psychological state of academia? Places like Hollywood are god realms, full of effortless bliss. That is, until the gods are thrown out or die—then they usually go straight to hell, until they can make it to the Oprah realm...
Academia, however, is a realm of conflict and jealousy. Everything is struggle, attack, defense, paranoia. My interlocutor couldn't believe that I'd given an inch, and so easily too.
It takes a lot of work, if you're a scholar, not to get drawn into this psychological realm. You find that the things we like to think and say, the very concepts we generate and the attitudes we have to them (see Alex Reid's recent post for more on this), are colored by the jealous god energy (guess what color is the traditional one? Green.)
Let them win. Disarm them. The best way to defeat a jealous god is to be pleasant to them.