“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Scale in Buddhism

he truth is a big truth, very big. It is big like the sky. It is true. Fire burns—true. There is one truth, even on the relative level; it is just reflected in different ways. It is like the story of the ten blind men and the elephant. One blind man says the elephant is like a tree trunk, one says it is like a leaf, and so on, but really it is just one elephant. Likewise, truth is not relative truth, but it is one truth, which includes different discoveries.
--Trungpa Rinpoche

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Nature writing as Postmodernism

Some of you have been getting a bit shirty about my post on that. Thanks for proving my point! To wit:

"Everyone knows that nature writers are self-reflexive" means:

(1) You have admitted my basic observation. (Yet Ecocriticism is predicated precisely on denying it, viz Jonathan Bate's struggle against Hartman, who made the same claim about Wordsworth.)
(2) You are claiming that I shouldn't mention that nature writers are reflexive.
(3) (2) has the force of an injunction to be silent.

"Of course everyone KNOWS that x" just is a perfect example of postmodern rhetoric, a symptom of cynical reason.

And I'd go on to say that Wordsworth is the only one in the bunch who truly gets the Romantic irony involved in being explicit about narration.

Yet Wordsworth like Abbey hide the fact that a female amanuensis is nearby to inspire and transcribe their wilderness narration...

And like I say, when I first pointed this stuff out in 2007, I was threatened with physical violence. At least y'all are past the anger phase of grief...

Just in Time for Dark Ecology

...this game where you play a virus. Very similar logic to the book's basic object of study!

Thanks to Ajay Kurian!

The Worst Signoff Ever Devised

“Best.” It means “Best wishes, but I can't be bothered to type six letters, so not really best wishes.” It is like ending your email with a splat of Vaseline or Marmite. Or a googly eyed face that turns out to be on a middle finger raised in insult.

As I learned at school and still practice, there is a sequence of signoffs. It goes:

Yours faithfully [which you keep if you are talking to Gandhi or other luminary who is truly cool]
Yours sincerely
With best wishes

“Best.” It's a sonic and social splat. No wonder we all hate one another.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Author Page

For some godawful reason I updated my author page at amazon.


Jayme Yeo just landed a job. I am totally not responsible for that but I did train her up a bit for the campus visit.

I Wonder

What's in it? Professor Wolfe gave it to me.

Good Guys with Guns

"Hey Salazar, you f--king fascist, you want to outlaw magazines? Come and f--king take them. Are you will to kill the f--king outlaw magazines, because you will f--king die."

A Colorado state rep heard this on his voicemail this week while preparing a law to restrict the amount of bullets you can have, mandatory background checks etc.

Which proves a point I keep making about Wayne La Pierre and his shouting potato performance: "The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

A bad guy with a gun is precisely a guy with a gun who thinks he's a good guy with a gun.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Rothko Death Anniversary

As someone who lives two blocks away from the Rothko Chapel I couldn't let today pass without acknowledging it's the anniversary of his death. Blimey if Jonathan Jones only figured out that Rothko's death gave his paintings gravity, he wasn't looking at the paintings.

You can see why the Catholic St. Thomas's University (round the corner too) opted not to use Rothko for their chapel (Philip Johnson instead). His paintings and the chapel space are the real thing.

And what is that?

Disturbingly intimate raw flesh, of course.

Anti-MOOC Death Ray

I just sent these links to a colleague of mine involved in the whole MOOC business (against it, in the colleague's case). Feel free to copy and paste. 

They are very well reasoned pieces by our Ian Bogost: 

Pith lines:
"We collectively "decided" not to fund education in America. Now we're living with the consequences. Lost on those who mount such defenses is the fact that running these online courses costs more rather than less money in the short term (Georgia Tech's Coursera faculty are taking on the task on top of their normal work), and doesn't produce any direct revenue for anyone, not even Coursera."

"Citing enormous enrollment numbers against very small numbers of instructors and instructional support personnel is a common way to justify the promise of MOOCs ("Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) with 100,000+ students" is the line in the Snowbird session description). Yet, we also know that these courses also exhibit very high attrition rates, possibly as high as 97%."

"If the lecture was such a bad format in the industrial age, why does it suddenly get celebrated once digitized and streamed into a web browser in the information age?"

"The fact that two of the major players in MOOCville are private, VC-funded silicon valley companies co-founded by Stanford professors who've quit their university jobs should offer plain and obvious evidence of what's really going on. Or, as I was recently quoted an article about MOOCs in Times Higher Education, 'The purpose of a for-profit that is venture-backed in Silicon Valley is to grow as quickly as possible and to exit providing a considerable financial benefit for its investors—and that goal may not be compatible with education.' "

"One night recently, it was raining hard as I drove to pick my son up from an evening class at the Atlanta Ballet. Like many cities, Atlanta's roads are in terrible condition after years of neglect. Lane divider paint is so worn as to become invisible in the wet darkness, potholes litter the pavement. But this time the danger was magnified: on large stretches of Interstates 75 and 85, two major freeways that intersect the city, the streetlights were completely extinguished.

"There are ways to fix such dangers. One option would involve allocating public funds to repair and revitalize the infrastructure in question. Of course, such services are difficult in an era of reduced tax revenues and massive public resistance to financial support of infrastructural projects in the first place. So another option might involve hiring private companies -- not to repair the broken roads and streetlamps, but to provide separate paved surfaces and illumination services to those who might choose to drive in conditions of wetness and/or darkness. After all, we're living in an age when traversable roads have become fiscally unviable. What choice do we have?

"Such is essentially the logic the state of California has adopted in its plan to offer online classes in the California State University System, a deal the state has struck with "massively open online course" (MOOC) provider Udacity."

Californian Wave Now Hitting DC

That's absolutely right Joe Palermo. I lived through that decade and it sucked. The UC system won't recover for another decade after that $1.6bn cut it sustained in 2009.

This is exacerbated by:

(1) Stupid fools who just want to win and think that they can get mileage from hating on a black president.

(2) A media "debate" about "bipartisanship." Compromise after compromise comes from the Democrats, while the GOP digs in its heels.

Spring Break

...a thing I haven't experienced since 2003. The quarter system gives you a long summer. And we structured our teaching so as to be able to have a quarter off each year. But that quarter always included graduate advising.

So say you had the fall off. You teach a ten week term starting in January. Then you grade a compulsory exam and final papers. This massively eats into your spring holiday. And you also have to prepare two more classes for the spring. This was a common scenario as most people wanted that space in the fall.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Comment from the British Government on Austerity

“Our policies have caused our credit downgrading. Therefore, we should continue with those policies.”

Nature Writing as Postmodernism

Here is an aspect of one part of Ecology without Nature:

Thoreau is about ponds and woods and fruits ... and Thoreau.

Leopold is about wolves and mountains and farms ... and Leopold.

Wordsworth is about fells and sheep and trees ... and Wordsworth.

Narrative is about events and people and plotting ... and narrators.

—The part after the ... is what nature writing is blind to. This blindness repeats the structure. Here I am writing about wolves and mountains. Here I am writing about a desert. Look, it's me, in a desert, writing. Did I tell you I was in a desert? I am in a desert.

It doesn't much matter if you upgrade Nature to Nature 2.0, all flowy and pantheist and squishy and embedded. The same structure happens. Because you have not yet seen the whole thing, the whole of your Nature writing thing.

When I was threatened (the only time I have been) with physical violence, for a stance I took (this stance), it was by a writer for an ecocriticism journal, who gave out his email address and said “Let's do it.” (I would have been cool if the paragraph had only been “Let's pour rancid animal fat over Morton's head at a conference.” And so would Oxford UP, just about, in whose contracts you have to sign that you will not incite violence. That was the press in charge of the journal.)

In defense of the paragraph, the editor said “But it's just metaphorical.”

Isn't that the quintessence of postmodern violence. “I'm not a racist, I'm just joking. Can't you take a joke?”

Nature writing is the ultimate postmodern performance art.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Bron Taylor: Dark Green Religion Liveblog 2

Q: isn’t this just like previous religions?
Weber: disenchantment of nature within religions
Enchantment of nature within science
science erodes long standing religious metaphysics
and it is easier or harder to incorporate it 
transcendent divine beings have a hard time vs Buddhism (not theistic)

Zammito: how does it evolve? 
organizational level?
Taylor: Where are the institutional expressions?
university as global environmental milieu
the sublime; how is it expressed today?
that kind of affective connection has all sorts of institutional expressions
some evidence that the world religions are coming around to this

Q: evolutionary time and apocalypticism
But part of what is interesting about so many world religions is that they are very developed views of eternity or the immortal or the completely permanent
what are the views of eternity native in this movement?

A: Ishmael by Quinn. He argues that the world’s religions are involved in some way in divine rescue from this world
Asia: rescuing people from cycles of suffering and of course the West
negative view of this world
overt pagans or overt animists: this is the one
well what about suffering and death? Lion King. Simba’s question on suffering to his father. “That’s the circle of life.” (Me: it is the favorite movie of the psychopath in Jekyll!)

Q: What is relationship of this feeling to environmental organizations?
Organizations exploit this feeling; try to promote it
A: a lot of environmentalists see it as perilous and divisive
but environmental scientists recognize how important it is
I was just asked to talk at WWF. They got interested in religion a generation ago. Meeting at Assisi. Religion as barrier. More secular people have now realized that we know enough about the science to be concerned, and we know enough tech to respond. But what’s with the human animal? 

Q: optimistic reading of the role of affect. It’s hard not to think that this is all very corporate. These are institutions that are experts in cashing in on affect. 
A: as a religion scholar we should be alert to how dangerous religion can be. I live on irony; it helps to get me through. Of course Disney is very corrupt and so on, wiped out an ecosystem in central Florida and so on. We are individually and collectively complicated. I was shamed when I suggested going to Disney at a recent meeting. But I went anyway. 

Q: Class not necessarily in the Marxist sense. Does this landscape of sacredness have a special meaning? 
A: I don’t think it’s just the property of the intelligensia. Patterns of beauty may be rooted in biology, in pristine biological systems that we flourish in. Biophilia. 
(Earlier Taylor had talked to me about the role of survival in assuming that something is alive.)
Our suspicion of grand narratives and emphasis on difference >> we forgot what unites us with the rest of the living world

Q: I have a complementary question. Have you come across a sort of negative ecological sense? Not based on empathy? But rather through hurricanes and so on, a religious sensibility of mother nature as pissed off? 
A: Blaming some kind of divine force is as old as religion. That doesn’t work with promoting reverence towards nature. It puts us in a place of opposition to the natural world. 
What about the subterranean evil animistic spirits? New forms of animism are developing. 

Q: animism is viewed as the system that orchestrated the slave trade. In African Studies we have a hard time with this term. 
A: there was a fashion that may have been short lived to not use the term (Tyler). There is a new animism. It is a serviceable term but people should know the history. I was at the People’s Earth Summit, focus of anti-globalization resistance. I got a different view of African spirituality there. 

Bron Taylor: Dark Green Religion Liveblog 1

Jeff Kripal introduces. 
“dark” = deep or profound and something ethically ambiguous and even ethically problematic
upgraded mysterium, sacred; alluring and terrifying; awesome and potentially deadly

1859 Darwin knew the disruptions to conventional faith that his work would have
he had left behind his belief in god
not wanting to leave readers with a loss of meaning
“It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank...” section at the end of the book
if you had been around at the axial age would you have recognized what would become the dominant religion
I think this is emerging today again--I call it Dark Green Religion
1985: Val Plumwood canoeing; crocodile rammed her canoe
she understood she was prey; broke past her sense of superiority 
the crocodile taught the philosopher a lesson
William C. Rogers, ELF, asphixiated himself << setting resort building in Vail on fire in 1998
learned he had been betrayed; charged for terrorism, facing life in prison
“I chose to fight on the side of the bears...I am just the most recent casualty in that war...but tonight I’m going to jailbreak: I’m returning home to the Earth”
Sanyo: “Think Gaia” campaign 
urge to symbiotic evolution and living with Gaia etc
Lanting, Eye to Eye (on animal eyes)
Mexico City, National Museum of Anthropology: first three panels on Earth, evolution, then assertion that we are part of the history of the world”
Australopithecus statue; earlier religions reinforced destructive misperception of humans as different
IONESCO Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve plan 2009
viewing stations set up in a ritual manner
Mashatu Game Reserve: Deep ecology viewing station
spiritual aura of surfing; Point Break movie (James Cameron, co-written)
surfing as a nature religion; Surfing Magazine “Nature = God” (Bron Taylor wrote an essay on it)
Avatar; struggle of Aboriginal peoples
on Pandora there are beautiful sacred forests, old growth trees, animistic spirits (bioluminescent sprites)
Cameron: cinema as technology of the sacred
Home Tree as the Axis Mundi (Ewa deity); Sigourney Weaver absorbed into it
science as wonder and love of the empirical world
experiencing nature oneself, first hand
indigenous people responded enthusiastically contra left, right and postmodern critics
and conflicts with western scientific understandings
can we deduce dark green religion from these examples?

religion: a difficult word
earliest roots: bound, tied, or connected to whatever one considers ultimate
logic square: spiritual animism / naturalistic animism // Gaian spirituality / Gaian Naturalism
Darwin: “we may all be netted together”
Spinoza, process philosophy
Aldo Leopold, “Thinking Like a Mountain”
epiphany in 1913 shooting a female wolf
sees “the fierce green fire die in her eyes”
Leopold and Plumwood both naturalistic animists

Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life
clearly this is the official religion of our day!
Oceans, Disney Nature documentary

this is about kitsch and products!
“we are teaching the intrinsic value of nature”

Sierra Club poster: “This is not about getting back to nature. It is about understanding we’ve never left.”
“You either feel it or you don’t” (hmm)

UN World Summit on Sustainable Development piece
redemptive possibility; children call world leaders to act aggressively
Kenyan Greenbelt Movement; Nanga Tiango attorney, mixture of indigenous and Christian traditions
he felt free to mix these because anthropologists began to say “you shouldn’t just accept all this colonial thought”
civil earth religion >> affective basis for aversion or mitigation of global catastrophe now unfolding

John Boswell, Symphony of Science, “We’re All Connected”
Sagan on patterns: what is beautiful is not what we are made of but how it’s put together

“An Unbroken Thread” with Sagan, Attenborough and Goodall

Is There Life on Stage Featuring Morton Things

In Zagreb, recently and soon.

Depression: The Reason Affect

I haven't read this entirely yet. Thanks Cliff! It looks most good.

I Have Discovered the Portal to the Future

Goth Aesthetics

...and here is a brief diagram of how Goth relates to Kant, black metal and constructivist art.

Goth Explained

In my Anthropocene Aesthetics class. I wrote this on the board and liked it. It's about "Pictures of You" (Cure) and Charlotte Smith, who invented Goth.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cathy from Wuthering Heights Resurrected, Starts Band

...it is called Curve.

Concerning the Concept of Affect

Let Me Show You

Why are the Welsh so good at (dance) music?

Because they are on fire.

Bron Taylor at Rice

Attendance is compulsory:

Jeff Kripal at TEDx

My friend Jeff talking on things spiritual.

Marty Kaplan on Global Warming

Nice one. Deft Rumi deployment.

From Cynicism to Allergy Medicine

What is the post-modernity (as opposed to postmodern) philosophical style? The top way of being right since the late eighteenth century has been cynicism. I am smarter than you because I can see through you better than you can see through me.

After this, if there is an after, philosophy in post-modernity (I would say an ecological era) must be a kind of Benadryl: allowing me to tolerate greater levels of contradiction and ambiguity.

This is one of the merits of Derrida, notwithstanding the authoritarian argument that a divine authority is impossible (the “radical atheism” strain).


Cor Blimey Guvnor

Just had a long chat with one of the many astonishingly intelligent Rice undergraduates. He had questions about Realist Magic (already!): awesome, unbelievably good questions. Viz:

1)Would it be fair to say that the aesthetic nature of withdrawn objects is related to Derrida's notion of différance?

 2)When you describe a poem as located in the future, do you mean the written-poem-object or the performed-poem-object? (perhaps both?) For me it seems as if the word poem always waits (in the future) for you -the reader, so that when you arrive, you realize that you are waiting also -for something to arrive. Sometimes when a poem is read (by myself or another), it seems as if an impossible answer was given -materialized in the breath and vapor of the speaker, but immediately lost as soon as one awakes from the silence. All that remains is a memory of a memory of presence. I am hesitant to flatten these into equivalent aesthetics. Perhaps I am misunderstanding what you mean. I have been having difficulty with the temporality.

3)Do you believe that strategies are necessary for aesthetic sensitivity? I assume the development of an OOO is in some way a systemic response to rational-reductive-materialist-positivism. I don't know: I suppose the I just want to say that I'm not very happy with our current situation, materially and theoretically. Do systems matter? Is there a sense in desiring a rational system which encourages/allows the power and dynamism of the aesthetic realm? Or do you believe that these things are unfazed by scientism/reduction?

 One thing that comes to mind is an essay written by Novalis, "Christendom or Europe" in which he argues for a certain system which best allows the flourishing of beauty. Do you believe this is a sentiment of merit? Does Human participation matter? I also think of the different manifestations of infinity in William Blake's poetry. For there is an infinitude in each particular grain of sand, but the reductive abstract of infinity is a dead object which contains nothing in its generality. Is it not an imperative to produce systems which allow -if not encourage the former?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Macro Quantum Effects, Again

...in Realist Magic I make quite a big deal out of Aaron O'Connell's discovery of coherence in a visible object. Now behold, Heisenbergian uncertainty in a visible object.

Remember folks--according to the Standard Model (correlationism) this shouldn't be happening.

Violence against Children

A disturbing BBC documentary shows that child murder (usually by very close relatives) is three times higher in the USA than in other countries such as Britain, Japan, Germany, France.

Why? Two possible explanations stand out:

--massive wealth discrepancies.
--culture of violence fomented by "foreign policy"

It was also notable that Britain had the lowest rate of the sampled countries. National Health? You get free nurse visits after a baby is born. Everyone gets them. At risk families can be spotted.

This is close to my heart because

--wife is CPA for the Children's Assessment Center which works with abused children (instead of having them sent to the police)
--mum used to be consultant for at risk kids' day care centers in the UK. Prevalence in UK and USA of social workers not seeing obvious signs.

Another Full Day

I like my job so much I put in another in a series of very full days. I'm being trained up as director of undergraduate studies. Last time I did this the job I was at had 1200 English majors. Rice has 77.

Nevertheless, my line so far has been--"I'm the new director of undergraduate studies. Run for your life."

Handy Hint 7

Your brain is not reality.

"Viruses are Sort of Tiny Nanomachines"

From the BBC. You can see them with x-rays, because their wavelength is so tiny.

On the Decks Today

An essay for Gerry Canavan and Kim Stanley Robinson, on Avatar. Gerry made some very helpful comments, which I'm incorporating. I like making bespoke things for people according to their specs.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Secret Life of Plants at Princeton

With Jane Bennett and a host of others!

The Secret Life of Plants ______________________________________________________________________________
Natania and Antonia:
We propose a joint presentation that explores the gradual passage of vegetal ontology
out of the domain of metaphysics and into that of imaginative fiction, both early modern (in literature) and modern (in film). We will investigate the animated plant—including such figures as the sentimental cabbage, the humanoid vegetable, and the sexy flower—as a character that comes to bear the weight of speculations on the position of being (human beings included) within a spatio-temporal framework subject to infinite, inhuman expansion. In other words, we will explore vegetal encounters, in fiction, as a way of thinking through the problems of interplanetary travel, on the one hand, and human extinction on the other. Our source texts will include one of the earliest of European science fiction narratives celebrating the plant as interlocutor, Cyrano de Bergerac’s mid-seventeenth-century _Les États et Empires de la Lune_ and _Les États et Empires du Soleil_, but will extend into the twentieth century (and beyond) with an examination of the early modern “roots” of plant horror films (including the Cold War version of The Thing). In boldly asserting the likeness between plants and humans—or at least the possibility of their having a relationship to one another—our work is not post- but prehumanist in emphasis: the plant is there at the origins of ontology, but also at the beginnings of fiction as a way of thinking through, about, and with that which is not human.

On Not Knowing About Plants: Poetry and its Dis/Contents

For it is vain and foolish to talk of knowing plants, since in my ignorance I should be at the bottom of any class of kindergarten naturalists, since I often do not know the word for the plant at hand, or I might have access to a bouquet of words but still have no mental image, no objective correlative, of the plant, and even after years of scrutiny I cannot distinguish a stalk of mustard from goldenrod, and it is only the generosity of capricious gods which has prevented me from suffering repeated cases of poison ivy.
But, you may well say, your entire lifeworld depends upon your interactions, overt and covert, with plants: you eat them, you wear them, you breathe them, you touch them, arrange them, pluck them, smell them, ingest them! You are indeed a plant co-dependent!
Pressed thus, I might have to think of my—of our—of the—plant unconscious. A phenomenon not so complex perhaps as Jameson’s Political Unconscious but not unrelated. Plants have always been “good to think with” and good to think through; I would further suggest that plants have been thinking poetry for a long while—and continue to. My talk will touch down on a few questions of plant poetics and conceptualization-through-plants: my specimens will likely
include English and Scottish ballads, Wordsworth, Shelley, H. D., Jamaica Kincaid, and some of my own poems. My presentation will be, then, a hybrid essay and reading, offered in the spirit of experimental testimony.

Vegetable Locomotion and Plant Communications: Secret Life of Plants initial questions

In the twenty minutes, I'd like to:
Think about the ways plants communicate plants communicate to other plants, to insects, and to animals, for various purposes, in light of Whitehead's theory of prehension.
Consider plants' attractive smells in light of Elizabeth Grosz's stimulating argument that sexual selection, rather than natural selection, is the origin of art.
Try to cultivate our plantlike qualities by perceiving some plant odors, first without identifying them. For this I will distribute olfactory items to the participants.
Time permitting, present some pictures from the history of traveling plants in art, beginning with the acanthus-vine scroll and moving on to Islamic variations that involve the plant in artificial life.

(And her previous abstract: Vegetable Locomotion: a Deleuzian Ethics/Aesthetics of Traveling Plants. Might humans learn from our evolutionary heritage by observing the travels of plants? I will ask this in light of the long history of traveling plants in art. Muybridge analyzed animal locomotion, but vegetable locomotion remains relatively little studied, as plants are commonly considered not to locomote. This fixity promotes in plants a discerning receptivity and a wily opportunism, both of which are themes in Bergson that inspired some of Deleuze’s work. Yet the movement of plants is also a significant theme on the underside of Deleuze and Guattari’s writings: not only the rhizome but also the foliated scroll analyzed by Riegl. “It’s just a weed,” Deleuze remarked of the acanthus; but in art and architecture the vinelike form becomes a transformative force as it twines from culture to culture. Further, we humans understand other creatures and plants because we have more in common with them than we differ from them; Deleuze and Guattari take up this argument from Bergson in Creative Evolution. But usually humans see, and make, plants in terms of our immediate needs. Much of plant migration is the reactive result of human agriculture, climate change, and genetic engineering. How might we expose ourselves to plant ways openly and creatively? I will turn to contemporary art in which plants are a living presence, as in the dancing trees and unpredictable mold farms of Gordon Matta-Clark, for examples of inspiring vegetable locomotion.)
_________ Jane:
Here are some preliminary thoughts about my contribution to our May conversations. Maybe begin with a prompt by Thoreau, who said in Walden that he was "determined to know beans":
What's contained in that complex claim, and in beans/pods/weeds/seeds themselves? More than Thoreau, I'm interested in plant life and plant-human assemblages in urban settings (see the two photos attached) and in thinking about other ways (besides "urban ruins") to think about such places (they are teeming with life). I will probably also bring Whitman into the conversation, in particular these lines from "Song of Myself" (which were influenced, I think, by Darwinism):
I find I incorporate gneiss, coal, long-threaded moss, fruits, grains, esculent roots, And am stucco'd with quadrupeds and birds all over,
And have distanced what is behind me for good reasons,
But call any thing back again when I desire it.

I also would like to engage some very specific Baltimore City plants (maybe bringing in a few samples?), by asking not what they are but what they can do (to us, with us, beside us, in us). __________
Experiments and investigations into critical pedagogy, student led-education, Permaculture, collaboration, mushrooms and group process.
Taking a variety of pedagogical ideas and themes from Anarchism, gardening, the writings of bel hooks, Augusto Boal, Paolo Freire and the School of Walls and Space in Copenhagen, Denmark. I will try to explain how a student-led learning process and the space in which it occurs can be developed and fermented through the collaborative and mutual exchange between fungi, plants, worms and students.
__________ Tim:
Schopenhauer argues that plants are manifestations of will—they just grow. In this sense, plants are just like algorithms, since algorithms don't know anything about number, they just execute computations. Thus algorithmic models of plants work just like plants, hence the success of the beautiful book The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants. A flower is a plot of an algorithm.
In this sense, a trope is an algorithm—a twist of language that emerges as meaning, by simply following a recipe (such as “jam two nouns together with the verb to be between them”). A trope is a flower of rhetoric, which is imagined as vegetative (anthos, hence anthology). Thus Milton's Satan curls around like a snake trying to turn into a vine.
That's what is disturbing about rhetoric and algorithms and plants and Satan—they exhibit a zero degree of intelligence, or not...we can't know in advance. Plants disturb us with what Lacan says “constitutes pretense”: “in the end, you don't know whether it's pretense or not.” They might be lying, which in a sense means that they are lying.
Just as an algorithm could pass a Turing Test—I could discern thinking and personhood in this “blind” execution—so plants are posing, and passing Turing Tests all the time. In looking at a flower, you are doing the flower's job. Bees complete the Test all the time, by following the flower's nectar lines. Or, as Schopenhauer puts it, plants want to be known, because they can't quite know themselves.
Indeed, a plant in this sense is the zero degree of personhood—as Nietzsche said, people are halfway between plants and ghosts. This zero degree is a weird, twisted loop that says something like “This is not just a plant.” Consider the zero degree of the Cartesian cogito: the paranoia that I might simply be a puppet of some demonic external force. Isn't this just the creeping sensation that I might just be a vegetable?
In this sense, T.S. Eliot's line about flowers is perfect, from the plant's own point of view: “The roses / Had the look of flowers that are looked at.” 

What a Nice Virus

The house remix of Robin Thicke's “My Life.” Its writer sent it to me just now. The bass line reminds me a little bit of Derrick May.

There are many interesting things about this tune. For starters, it's Robin Thicke, who is so channeling Michael Jackson. If you think about how the African American singing voice is the dominant mode, and that forms are like viruses, you can see that Thicke somehow was fantastically susceptible to it. I mean I grew up with Jay K from Jamiroquai (my brother was nearly his drummer, sad), who was channeling somewhat. But this is just extraordinary.

When I first heard the tune on the credits to Despicable Me, I assumed that it was indeed from the later 70s, so deft was the simulation. But "simulation" is an old postmodern concept for what this is. No. It's totally real: it's a strand of code and it's been reproduced.

And who can't like a song about meeting one's perfect mate on the dancefloor (I did), superimposed on imagery of the lovable villain falling for the little orphan girls? It is a beautiful computation of an impossible formula.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Whatever, Say Fish

...on the other hand, chimps aside...

Dark Chemistry Causality

Craig Hickman with another great post, this time on the thing I just published.

Chimps on Prozac

They realize that they are chimps. Not lab animals.

Rant for Rolf

Rolf Nowotny has an art show for which he asked me to write a piece. It's in NYC tba. It is called "Ecology, Dark, Weird."

Here is the opener:

Like a noir detective, humans have discovered that they are the culprits who ended the world. The philosophy that thinks this thought to the fullest extent possible is dark ecology. The darkness is not to do with ignorance, but precisely with its opposite: knowledge. Humans now know enough to encounter a reality stuffed full of entities that outscale them in every sense. Moreover, some of these entities are created by humans, such as Plutonium 239, whose half life is 24.1 thousand years, and global warming, whose amortization rate is 100 000 years. At that time scale, ethical and political theories based on self interest, however broadly defined—to include, for instance, the entirety of human beings on the planet and all their nonhuman agents, enemies and friends—begin to malfunction in a drastic way. For instance, it is better in the long run to allow all these beings to live in a state of bare life, as close as possible to death, than it is to give even slightly less of them a few of them total bliss for as long as they want. The same dilemma applies on the spatial scale at which global warming exists—that is, the whole biosphere. Thinking on a biospheric scale results in drastic problems for state based, and of course for individual based, political and ethical theories.

Biosynthesis: Same as It Ever Was

Just wrote this for Volume. Here is the basic argument:
This essay is a caution against the notion that we are indeed about to enter a “brave new world”—a thought that has defined the human as such for about five hundred years. The concept of “next nature” precisely (though unconsciously) states the paradox: what is being thought here is simply a “new and improved” version of the same old thing, a repetition. How well has that been working out for the last two hundred years, namely the inception of the Anthropocene? The Anthropocene, in case we need reminding, is the radical intersection of human and geological time that began with the inception of the steam engine in the later eighteenth century. Since then, humans have deposited a layer of carbon in Earth's crust that is now found in deep lakes and within Arctic ice. The term Anthropocene was recently ratified by an international consortium of geologists.

Before I suture gizmos to my flesh, I think a re-examination of what being human—qua this actual entity, called homo sapiens—is, is in order. Especially in light of the fact that knowledge now operates on a 100 000 year time scale (the amortization rate of global warming), well beyond the efficacy of a fluorescent tree. On the other hand, the knee-jerk reaction against the biosynthetic is just as problematic, though one can surely understand the impulse. It is the impulse of the Luddite, who quite realistically decides that the best first response to a machine that can take over her livelihood is to attempt to destroy it. The reaction is problematic, because I do not want to go down the rabbit hole we have already gone down—the rabbit hole called modernity, which is marked by industry on the one hand, and philosophies that swim in the wake of Hume and Kant on the other. This essay will all too briefly work out a map for a possibility space that includes more than simply accepting or bluntly denying biosynthesis, which just is the culmination of a certain trajectory of modernity.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Creating Enlightened Society (One Huge Tune at a Time)

We are trying to create a Buddhist world, an enlightened society, and one of the principal ways of doing that is for each one of us to become sane. Once you have understood, studied, and practiced, you might actually have to do something. Together we might need to wake up the whole world from its sleep and create an enlightened society in accordance with Great Eastern Sun vision. So we should appreciate one another. We should appreciate that we are going to create a wakeful world.
--Trungpa Rinpoche

Realist Magic Online

(Click to view)

Realist Magic Imminent

Probably later today.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Someone is wondering how anything can occur in an OOO universe. Really, the question should be the other way around: how come we have allowed models forever that find it incredibly difficult to explain why and how anything happens at all?

Realist Magic is about that. See the cover? See the cover?!

Fun Fun Fun

For my smalls, in particular the female small, Claire. 2.14.13.

Big Modernity Kaleidoscopes

By David Thomas Smith.

Elizabeth de Loughrey Lecture Tomorrow

My old department chair at UCD didn't allow me to go down and do a talk at her place, UCLA, a few years ago (I had done "too many" lectures, ie 2). So happily she is now coming here. Click to download.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Heidegger versus Hegel

Thought for the day: 

Language is—language...The understanding that is schooled in logic, thinking of everything in terms of calculation and hence usually overbearing, calls this proposition an empty tautology. Merely to say the identical thing twice—language is language—how is that supposed to get us anywhere? But we do not want to get anywhere. We would like only, for once, to get where we are already.

Against Lovelock 2

In the previous post I described Lovelock's rhetorical strategy as what I shall now call terra-ism. This strategy is not an optional extra. It comes bundled with the Lovelockian thought, as its mode of being thought.

Since Lovelock is fascinated by loops, and so am I, it seems appropriate now to examine the content of his thought.

Lovelock's favorite target is the positive feedback loop. Humans dump carbon compounds into the atmosphere, wash rinse repeat, end of the world. To fix this, humans dump chemicals or algae into the ocean, wash rinse repeat, end of the world.

There is a tension within Lovelock's work. This is his enthusiasm, or reluctance, to think that there are negative feedback loops (real or possible) that are powerful enough to bring down the malignant positive ones. In this respect his later work is far more pessimistic than his work about fifteen years ago.

In this sense Lovelock joins other Big Modernity thinkers such as Marx, who have an equally difficult time imagining that there are sufficient (or any) negative feedback loops out there.

This thought, that we are stuck in a loop, is part and parcel of Big Modernity. The end of the world is projected into the future. Big Modernity must be saved by Super Modernity, such as geoengineering, but this is probably bound to fail since it will be caught in the loop, imagines Lovelock. Thus resignation, as total as possible, is the only available response mode.

We are rapidly reaching a moment at which continuing to look to scientists for advice and philosophical consolation is quite evidently caught in the problem, which just is Big Modernity.

In Lovelock's instance, Big Modernity manifests as his tendency to see holistically: a system is bigger than its parts. Holism is a form of reductionism and mechanism. A machine is not reducible to its components. But a component is not irreducible. A component can be reduced upwards. I am really just a component of Gaia, and so is this trail of carbon dioxide. So is this polar bear.

On this view, humanity (not me, but the whole of which I am a part) has only one option: seize greater control of its destiny and geoengineer the heck out of Earth. We are Earth's pilots, Earth's nervous system, Earth's Dr. Jekyll (and Mr. Hyde). Alas, species will be wiped out, and we will end up crouching in a godforsaken corner of a toxic biosphere with the other survivors.

It is perfectly logical to see humanity in this way, just as it is perfectly logical to see no Gaia at all, but a series of totally discreet decisions, say to switch on the engine of my fossil fuel burning car. In both cases, I am trying to avoid contradiction and inconsistency. I am a metaphysician of presence: Gaia, or me turning the key in my engine, is more real than something else. And realness is a matter of constant presence. I have not yet come to terms with the nothingness inherent in the phenomenon–thing gap. Thus everything I say will be on the side of Big Modernity, including the way in which I prophesy that we must escape it.

Thus Lovelock's thought content cannot easily be peeled away from its noematic content, its phenomenological form.

Here are some thoughts outside of the Lovelockian style. I don't necessarily endorse them but it's interesting to see if you can think outside of Big Modernity:

1. Species are going extinct. But a species is not this particular lifeform, Freddie the polar bear. Freddie is drowning. What are you going to do about it?

2. I am already crouching in some godforsaken part of the biosphere with a bunch of other lifeforms huddled together in forced solidarity. Why is that horrible?

3. The end of the world qua neutral backdrop to human whatever has already occurred. This is the afterlife. I am already dead.

Against Lovelock 1

I was recently informed that someone was “terrified” by Lovelock and his vision of Gaia and Gaia's revenge, and so on.

Precisely. This is the problem. Lovelock, like many deep ecologists in a certain rhetorical mode, imagines a future without humans, or disastrous to humans. The reader is put in an impossible–cynical position outside her phenomenological envelopment.

Whatever one thinks of the science of Gaia, the thought–virus that comes with the idea is catching and it doesn't help at all. It's almost the precise opposite of ecological awareness.

Contra some of my young Hegelian acquaintances, it's perfectly all right to run around weeping and screaming when you are think about the end of the world. If that makes me a hysteric, fantastic. Or a narcissist, fantastic.

The attempt to delete this affect only results in sadistic rubbernecking of the other's hysteria. So suddenly a woman who ruins her wedding is admirable against a desperate mother. Ecological awareness is not a mode of mockery.

Like some speculative realism, this doom hippie approach is just modernity by another means. You turn into the David Morse character from 12 Monkeys. Looking on with fascinated horror as you let the security guard release the (phenomenological) virus you have made into the airport.

Now let's talk about the content: next post.


I just got invited to their editorial board. It's a very beautiful journal and the editors are amazing.

Happy Buddhist New Year

Actually it was yesterday. Year of the Water Snake. Year of the turbulent world tube.

Graham Priest on Buddhism

...transcribed by me. “I” refers to Graham Priest. He spoke at the History of Philosophy Workshop yesterday.

nothing in logic is in this talk! 
buddhist philosophy is of great interest for me
I don’t think I’m mainlining Buddha or Nagarjuna or Dogen
I want to formulate an ethics that is rationally defensible

a very old fashioned talk: nothing but talk and a little bit of chalk! 
I. Buddhist ethics
II. Objections

i. Buddhism. 
View philosophy religion. Siddhartha Gautama. >> variety of forms only one of which is now extent, Theravada. Because Mahayana. Exterminated in India << Mogul invasions. Nalanda, enormous Buddhist university, 10 000 students, sacked by Muslims 10th century. Spread through Asia at that time. Theravada >> south east. Mahayana >> northwest Kotang spread east to China, Korea, Japan. Then later to Tibet. 8th, 9th, 10th centuries. Different story in China: meets indigenous Taoism and Confucianism. Ch’an, Zen. Then >> West.
Pristine Theravada vs Tantra vs Zen. Many things. No doubt it will morph again but that will be interesting.

What makes a view distinctively Buddhist. You can be an essentialist about these things--or family resemblance; essentialism is at least plausible for Buddhism unlike some other religions. Cultural accretions. Buddhism has been patriarchal. But there is nothing particularly misogynistic about Buddhism. Grew up in highly patriarchal societies in that time. Abortion is bad Indian Buddhism (Ayurvedic medicine, life begins at conception.) Not true in Japan. Always permitted. Clear cultural accretions. 

Some things aren’t so clear such as rebirth. 

ii. The Four Noble Truths. 
Whether or not you are an essentialist about what Buddhism is, there are the original sayings of the Buddha. Contents of the Buddha’s first speech/sermon in Deer Park at Sarnath. Nearly all forms of Buddhism endorse this. 

Medical diagnosis: disease, cause, prognosis, treatment. 
First. The human lot is not a happy one. Dukkha. Kinda hard to translate. Suffering, pain, anxiety, unsatisfactoriness. A factor of everyone’s existence. A recurrent factor. Birth, old age, sickness, death, broken love affairs, children, jobs. 
Buddhism is not a wowzer (killjoy) religion. Doesn’t mean everything in life is bad. But that >> pain of loss. 
Second. Trishna. Thirst, craving. Attachment. Desire. Aversion. “Attachment and aversion.” When you suffer it’s because of trishna, the attitude you bring to bear on these things. If you reflect on the times when you’ve been dukkha’d it’s hard not to factor in your attitude as part of it. You have no control over most external stuff (stock markets, tsunamis).
Third. Get rid of trishna, get rid of dukkha. 
Fourth. Eightfold noble path (belief, ethical practice, concentration). Technologies of the self (Foucault); personal technologies. (Not a good way to put it, that Foucauldian way.) 

Obvious objection (for most Westerners): elimination of the negative. Point of ethics is to get rid of dukkha. But there is an obvious way to do that: just commit suicide or nuke the planet. But this is crazy. The purpose of life should not be to commit suicide or nuke the planet. The obvious reply is iii:

iii. Rebirth. 
After you die you will be reborn (Indo-Tibetan versions). You keep on doing that until you get it right. So suicide won’t solve the problem. Orthodox part of Hindu and Buddhist thought. 

Priest: like most Westerners, I cannot believe in rebirth. How to even conceptualize it if you don’t believe in a self. There is a problem of evidence, beyond this. Hundreds of people will die in Houston and millions will be reborn. Do we have any evidence that the newborn is reincarnated previous person? Some evidence such as people talking about previous lives. There could be this kind of evidence, and there isn’t. This does not show that rebirth is false. It simply shows that there is no particular reason to believe it. Hume: the wise person apportions their beliefs according to the evidence. 

The doctrine of rebirth never disappears entirely even in China, but in Japan all the focus is on the now and so it becomes somewhat irrelevant. 

You might think rebirth is not a cultural accretion but essential for making the whole thing a coherent package. 

An ethics should not just be about the elimination of the negative but the accentuation of the positive. Only one candidate: the flipside of dukkha: a state of mind that is joyful, peaceful, tranquil. 

iv. Peace of mind. 
Upekkha <> ataraxia, tranquillitas. A state of mind that is joyful, peaceful and undisturbed by the slings and arrows of not so outrageous fortune. Not disturbed. 

Incompatible with hatred. You can’t hate and be in mental equilibrium. Not mental flatlining. Quite compatible with positive emotions like joy. In the middle there is a wide range of things. You might think sadness is incompatible but this is not true. Japanese poetry. The impermanence of life. The aesthetic tone of aware. Bittersweet appreciation of impermanence. 

How to achieve something that you are not attached to. 

v. Compassion.
Buddhist ethics selfish? Your own peace of mind? But Buddhist ethics about developing others’ peace of mind. Karuna. Foundational is the development of compassion, especially Mahayana. 

Why should you be interested in other people’s state of mind? Different sorts of answers can be given. Here is Theravada answer. Metaphysics of a person. Your car or your motorbike. What is that? A bunch of parts. Come together and then fall apart. Nothing constitutes the essence of your car. Nothing more than a bunch of parts. In standard Buddhist metaphysics you are like your car. 

The quick answer is that “There aren’t any other selves. There are no selves!” There are just lots of parts. If suffering is bad it can’t be because it belongs to me, because the me in the relevant sense does not exist. So suffering must be bad in itself. Eliminating painful dharmas and inculcating peaceful dharmas. 

vi. Application.

II. Objections. 
i. Goods other than peace of mind. 
I enjoy the Met, wine, philosophical discussion. But there are some things that people enjoy that I don’t like. You can look at them as optional things that a person might do. People can choose things like that. Peace of mind is different. It is one thing that everyone would give herself if she could. It’s a unique thing in this regard. People can be left happily to choose the other goods in their life. You might choose very few (life of retreat, no wine etc., no philosophical discussions.) 

Peace of mind not a matter of free choice. Suppose you are doing something you enjoy, but you have niggling worries. So you can’t enjoy that thing as much as you could--so peace of mind is more fundamental. 

ii. Goods incompatible with peace of mind. 
For Priest this is the hardest objection. Nietzsche: it’s not implausible to see that life is a struggle, and what gives life meaning is that we need to strive to do things, fulfilling those goals is something that gives life meaning--but this implies failing sometimes and getting disquieted. If you didn’t struggle or succeed or fail sometimes and get down about it, life would not have its full meaning. 

“I feel the force of this objection.” First peace of mind is not emotional flatlining. But this hardly gets to the heart of the objection. There are things we aim at, with their flipsides. And these things seem to be valuable. 

Let’s examine a couple. Love and aiming at some goal (winning in sport etc.). 
Love. A good in many people’s lives. It enriches people’s lives. Most see as valuable in life. But you know that love has its downside. You suffer when your partner leaves, has an affair, finds out when you are having one, child dies, does drugs etc. This looks like one of Nietzsche’s examples. Buying into love means you know you will sometimes lose peace of mind. 

Answer: it’s not the loving relationship but the attitude that occasions the dukkha. One wants the other person to do things in a fairly self centered way. Of course you get upset when this doesn’t happen, << attitude of attachment to them. Caring without the attachment. 

Some argue that possessiveness is constitutive of romantic love. I don’t believe that. However the phenomenology of love is difficult. There is something like love called love* (the caring without attachment etc) -- we are better off without love with love* instead. 

Aiming at a goal: involves hard training, pain. If you’re going to win you’re going to lose. “The difference between winners and losers is that the winners lose more.” Inevitable downside. 

Answer: you should not identify pain with suffering. Most athletes take on pain quite gladly. Suffering is about the attitude you bring to bear on the pain you have. Illness--it’s hard to prize these things apart. Pain is one thing, your attitude is something else. 

Secondly, the kind of Buddhist ethics I’m talking about does not say you should not have goals. Compassion is an obvious example. Not just feeling like shit when someone else feels like shit. Buddhism is not incompatible with having goals. You can try to win a gold medal, but if and when you lose, don’t be attached to it. If you win, remember that your experiences are transient. 

There is a strong connection between Stoicism and Buddhism. Very different metaphysics but the ataraxia very similar. 

iii. Being psychologically unrealistic. 
This objection is that “The ethics sounds great, but you can’t be like that.” The trishna is so deeply ingrained that you can’t develop peace of mind. Or it might make you inhuman. Child in car accident. How could you not be upset by that--if you weren’t wouldn’t you be some kind of psychological monster?

Answer: No one said that Buddhism is easy. No one thinks that ethics is easy. Maybe an ethical path is impossible to achieve at the limits (Kant) but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and do it. Most people, if they reacted with peace of mind, to death, might be a kind of monster. Indifference. 

But think about it rationally. If you lose your peace of mind, where is the benefit? The child doesn’t benefit, you don’t benefit, nor the people around you. Rationality seems to suggest that if you can do it, maintaining equilibrium is something you should do. >> might as well accept impermanence

iv. Being theoretically unrealistic. 
Not that the ethics if psychologically unrealistic, but (action theory): in standard belief desire psychology, you need a belief and you need a desire. I am thirsty, I believe water will slake it >> I drink water. Without belief I wouldn’t have drunk, and without desire ditto. You need to desire to have action at all. Theoretically impossible. 

(Desiring to get rid of desire. “Wanting to have peace of mind.”)

Desire is a weasel word. In particular the term has a cognitive component but also an emotional component. Goal plus emotion that drives us. These are conceptually distinct. What Buddhism teaches is decoupling the two. 

It’s fine to have a goal eg of developing peace of mind. But that should not be coupled with trishna, emotional loading that we usually put with it. If I desire to alleviate suffering in South Africa this is sufficient reason to do some things. But there doesn’t have to be attachment associated with that. You don’t have to have emotive attitude to have goals and plans that you thereby act on. 

Being goal oriented versus emotion of desire. Being attached to it is self-defeating. 

v. Making others suffer. 
Nietzsche: suffering is part of point of life. He also says a lot more. Suffering is not only good, but it can be a good in itself. Making other people suffer can be a good in itself. This strikes at the very heart of the Buddhist ethics. I find it hard to have sympathy with this. He holds it because Nietzsche thinks that what life should be about is development of the will to power, creation of superman. When you get trampled, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. 

I can see a certain sense in this. Living through the concentration camps required an admirable strength of personality to survive frightful experiences. Many people did not survive at all however. And the survivors were badly psychologically damaged. Developing peace of mind much better by doing it to yourself rather than trampling on others. 

Why should you feel that the point is to get a leg up by trampling on others? Because you are deeply insecure to start with. The cause of the desire to make others suffer is itself dukkha. Once the dukkha is eliminated then the desire to make others suffer will go with it. Hard to imagine a peaceful person wanting to make others suffer. 

vi. Behavior to the bastards in life. 
There are people who go around hurting others. How do we react with respect to them?
Justice, retribution etc (Kantian). 
You should behave with compassion to even those who make others suffer. That doesn’t mean you should let them make others suffer. And sometimes you might have to use violence. Assassinate Hitler. But whatever you do your action should be driven by compassion, not only to the suffering but to the instigators. The instigators are almost certainly suffering themselves. 
(On a case by case basis this seems absurd, as in the Sorites.)

Stoicism: there is a kind of god or principle of reason, and no emphasis on compassion, not developing for yourself. 

Anne Klein: I appreciate you bringing this material into a more open context. 
equanimity: Buddhists reflect about this quite differently. 
Upekkha: four immeasurables (Theravada) of which upekkha is the acme
Mahayana: upeka is the basis; joy as the highest (Did Anne say that?)

Tibet: equanimity not indifference, which it is easily confused with
this equanimity must be combined with a deep state of concentration
We could look at other parts of the Buddhist map
not even overcoming suffering--there is a lot of joy and also tenderheartedness
Geshe Wangyal: one of his students died “There is no worse suffering than losing a child” and he wept

GP: what constitutes peace of mind? At the extremes it’s quite obvious but there is a vast grey area in the middle. Does crying and sadness cause a lack of mental equilibrium? The obvious answer (yes) may be wrong: you can be attached to what has happened. 

AK: it seems possible to cry without attachment. Freely flowing grief that was not getting stuck on self-identification. 
If you look at personalities of those revered Mahayana, they are pretty warm. 

GP: all the Tibetan monks I know are always giggling, and even the Japanese have an air of tranquility. An air of kind of “sympathy” not quite right. 

Q: belief-desire psychology; affect part vs goal setting part. I don’t understand it
Why are you motivated towards the goal

A: goal setting can be motivating
we often think that emotions are the only motivators

Q: karma
A: even without reincarnation karma has an effect in this life. Aristotle: we train ourselves into our moral dispositions. 
There is a way you can hear the doctrine as mean or fatalistic. “This bad thing happened because of your bad karma.”
Dalai Lama in Melbourne. 
karma almost negates compassion

Harvey: Stoicism. Despite parallels, one thing persists. The Stoics strove for tranquillity in a way that involved mastery and self-development and a rational conception of the cosmos
Mastery << rational understanding led the Stoics to a tenable ataraxia in the world with all the bad stuff, and compassion

GP: I don’t know a lot of Stoic texts. Of course it’s possible to recognize we are all the same boat without needing to be compassionate. “We each cultivate our own garden.” My goal is to get on the Stoic boat, but do I have a reason to make sure you get on the boat? 

Harvey: A community of Stoics based on common pursuits. 

GP: interacting with the sangha. Should you help everyone who wasn’t a Stoic? 
I was surprised when you talked about mastery over the world as opposed to yourself. My understanding is you can’t control the world, you can only control yourself. But mastery in that sense you do find in Buddhism. Eightfold noble path. Correct mindfulness. 

AY: putative understanding of the world increases self-mastery. Is that different? 

GP: I think that’s there in Buddhism. Correct understanding is first in noble path. There may be different details. 

AY: what about discourse as therapy? For Stoics this >> expanding ability to distinguish those pursuits that can be mastered and those which can’t?

GP: It may be part of Buddhism. Technologies of the self. I have no big line to run on this as it’s part of empirical psychology. 

Larry: if our guides for actions are elimination of suffering but we have this no-self, it seems that you would have to extend consideration to any being where suffering is localized. 

GP: This is not a human-centric ethics. Some Buddhists try to extract an eco-philosophy from this. I don’t think this works. The philosophy is sentience-centric. But it goes well beyond human people. 

Larry: Bentham? 

GP: People argue whether Buddhism is utilitarian or virtue ethics. How to fit into Western categories. My take on this is that (Jay Garfield): Buddhist ethics is more like plumbing. You got a problem? Let me tell you how to fix it. It doesn’t fit into Western boxes. 

Larry: This seems very different from the loophole ethics that institutionalized Buddhism gets into. 

GP: the precepts. Don’t kill, don’t drink etc. In Mahayana there is some flexibility. But as with all institutionalized religions they get ossified. What to do in each case is a hard call. The only way to decide what to do is << understanding of attitudinal schema and what Aristotle called phronesis. Rules of thumb should not be magnified into institutionalized rules. 

Most Buddhism has been down on gay and lesbian sexuality. Dalai Lama. I don’t see any reason to find gay and lesbian sex any more or less problematic than heterosexual sex. You have to look beyond the shibboleths in the precepts. 

Q: crying and mental equilibrium. Our brains are talking to one another despite our consciousness. This doesn’t contradict the Buddhist view that there is no one self. Having a child is a type of connection that is different from a stranger. Perhaps crying is the path to mental equilibrium. 

GP: That’s an interesting thought. A guess: for those who are not very good at this kind of thing, that may be exactly right. Crying a form of catharsis. If someone has mastered peace of mind technique maybe that’s not true. I don’t know. Buddhism has never been down on science in ways that the Abrahamic religions have been. Dalai Lama: science tells us something that Buddhism disagrees with, you must go with science.