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#1729 - Friday, March 12, 2004 - Editor: Jerry
In my pilgrimage and explorations through India this month one
thing that has stood out in my mind as worthy of note is the all
too obvious gap between what passes for religion among ordinary
people and what constitutes true spirituality, or recognition of
the Truth of Reality, among those who dedicate themselves to
spiritual awakening. Religion is the generally mechanical
repetition of rites and structures that is infrequently analyzed
or considered profoundly. It arises after a real outbreak of
"spirit," not before -- that is, spirituality is prior
to religion when looked at in this light. The process is
astonishingly fast; it doesn't take centuries for a spiritual
movement to devolve into mechanical religiosity, but can happen
in a matter of moments, in the period between an inner awakening
and the time it takes the personal ego to solidify the vision and
make it into a "structure" to be exploited for some
Petros (currently in Vrindavan, India.)
All I've ever needed to know,
I learned by watching logs burn in my fireplace.
Another zen story from paul reps:
A zen student came to Bankei and complained: Master, I
have an ungovernable temper. How can I cure it?
'You have something very strange,' replied Bankei.
'Let me see what you have.'
'Just now I cannot show it to you' replied the other.
'When can you show it to me?' asked Bankei.
'It arises unexpectedly ,' replied the student.
'Then,' concluded Bankei, 'it must not be your own
true nature. If it were, you could show it to me at
any time. When you were born you did not have it,
and your parents did not give it to you. Think that
by Jeremy Stangroom
"Regular readers of this column will have noticed that I make frequent reference to Gordon Graham's book, The Internet: a philosophical inquiry. I originally reviewed this book in the Winter 2000 issue of TPM. I liked it, but thought that he didn't know quite enough about his subject matter for it to be a really good book. I stand by that judgement, but in retrospect think that I underestimated the significance of at least one of his arguments, namely, his analysis of "pure confluences of interest".
Graham's argument is that the internet is a medium which enables people to seek out exclusively kindred spirits and to avoid ever being exposed to views which are contrary to their own. He claims, for example, that:
"the self-made philosopher with a grand but completely vacuous 'theory of everything' will sooner or later find a coterie of people whose knowledge and critical acumen is even less, but who are willing to be impressed." (p. 99)
He thinks that this is a bad thing, because it encourages moral fragmentation, a descent into a kind of moral anarchy.
My objection to this argument was that it rested on a misunderstanding of the internet. The internet, I claimed, is a critical and self-reflexive community, and I noted that whilst it is possible to find self-proclaimed philosophers on the net, it is also the case that when they venture onto public forums they tend to be chased away mercilessly. I now think that this objection is mostly wrong.
At first thought, it seems obvious that the internet is an aggressively argumentative place. If you have a look at the various newsgroups, for example, you'll find that peace only rarely breaks out. And even the myriad special interest discussion forums which have sprung up in the last few years are characterised as much by dissent as by agreement. However, what I failed to recognise when I originally reviewed Graham's book is that the simple fact of dissent is not enough to guarantee that people's preconceptions and prejudices are properly challenged. The reason why has to do with the nature of group dynamics, and particularly with a kind of virtual world "groupthink".
The term "groupthink" was coined by psychologist Irving Janis to describe how decision-making in groups can be distorted by various pressures to conform. He argued that groupthink is characterised by a deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment. Specifically, groupthink can result in: shared stereotyping; a denigration of non-members of the group; intolerance of dissent; moral certitude; a reluctance to examine preconceptions; and a resistance to new and countervailing ideas..
Janis was interested in the specific question of how groupthink can result in bad policy decisions, as in the case, for example, of the Bay of Pigs fiasco. However, it is quite possible to see a kind of groupthink at work in internet communities. For obvious reasons, this is most evident in those communities dominated by people who share pre-existing religious, moral or political beliefs. In such communities, one does find dissent and argument, but it tends to be circumscribed in two important ways.
First, amongst the most active members of the group, whilst there might be disagreements over matters of detail, there is normally very little disagreement about fundamental beliefs. For example, if you visit the discussion board of the extreme right-wing UK political party, the National Front, you'll find that whilst there are arguments about how the repatriation of non-white people should be achieved, there is no disagreement that repatriation is a good thing.
Second, on those comparatively rare occasions that somebody does question the more fundamental beliefs of the community, it provides an opportunity for its core members to reaffirm their commitment to the group by means of their condemnation of the interloper. Moreover, it is in their responses to this kind of challenge that group members will most often manifest the characteristic signs of groupthink.
It is primarily for these two reasons that the ubiquity of argument on the internet is no guarantee that people's preconceptions and prejudices will be properly challenged. Does this matter? On occasions it probably will. For example, consider the case of the "Heaven's Gate" cult. Thirty-nine of its members committed suicide seemingly because they believed that the Hale-Bopp comet was a sign that it was time for them to "leave" the Earth to be transported by means of a spacecraft to another world. The interesting point about this cult was that its isolation was facilitated by the internet. It was financed by a web design business, which meant that members had no need of contact with anyone but other members. Indeed, as Martin Rees points out in Our Final Century, the core beliefs of the cult were continually reinforced by selective transcontinental electronic contact with other adherents of the cult.
Of course, this is an extreme case, one that might not ever be repeated. Nevertheless, there is something slightly disturbing about the idea that the internet allows people to filter the kinds of inputs which they receive so that they largely avoid material which challenges their worldview. Although the internet is trumpeted as a great force for bringing people closer together, it might yet turn out that in many aspects it tends to encourage moral fragmentation and group polarisation."
silence on the rocks
in protective coloring
showing when the food is good
small friends can be great
--Jan Barendrecht NDS
Review of Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment, by Jed McKenna from http://www.wisefoolpress.com
Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment is a
continuation of Jed McKennas first book. But it leaves me conflicted;
to write a review that unpacks its many penetrating facets would be a
book in itself, so I have to be content with the alternative of
creating thumbnail images of its magnificence, which in itself would be
flawed because there would be too many for the length of this brief
So let me concentrate on one of the books main threads;
narrative device that of re-examining Moby-Dick. McKenna does this
not as some intellectual exercise in literary criticism, but as an
investigation of what was most likely a process of spiritual awakening
for Melville. And while doing this, McKenna deftly interprets
Moby-Dicks symbols within the paradigm of awakening, where this
unfolding happens within the context of slaying the false, of the
pursuit of truth; truth at any price. But is this all? I am happy to
Why? Because the Moby-Dick thread intertwines with the story
of a woman
deeply involved in undoing herself through the writing process that
McKenna calls Spiritual Autolysis (the journalist Julie whom we met in
the first book). And all of this is situated within the story of Jed
himself; the story of an awakened author unmasking a literary
masterpiece, which is about a character, Ahab, unmasking himself, which
is really about its creator, Herman Melville, unmasking himself. And in
the process, inevitably, it is about Jed McKenna unmasking himself. For
me, this is the true intent of the book. Is it about awakening? Yes. Is
it about what others show the awakened condition to be? Yes. But it is
more. And if you can pierce this more, you the reader will begin to
awaken, by unmasking the layers of fictions we are caught in. McKenna
points out that Melville plays fair with his readers and shows us in
the very first line of Moby-Dick who Ishmael really is. McKenna also
plays fair by showing us who he really is. This is also revealed in the
opening lines of this book:
"Call me Ahab. Though, in truth, I am
more Ahab than Ahab. I am the underlying reality
of Ahab; the fact upon which the fiction is based. Captain Ahab is a
rendering; the literary likeness of a true thing. I am that true thing..."
It is my sense that Jed McKenna is saying to the reader
pulling her by the collar and forcing her to look that if you can
unmask the fictions of this work then you, the reader, will be
unmasked. And in that unmasking you might discover that there is no Jed
McKenna, as indeed there is no you.
And, theres more
McKenna tells us what we can and
cannot do in terms
of awakening. We cannot choose to awaken out of the dream, but we can
choose to awaken within it. The latter is about becoming a Human Adult.
Not something that is characteristic of most of humanity. And lets not
forget the piercing voice of U.G. Krishnamurti, which places in relief
the story that McKenna so skilfully weaves.
It might be that some may see Spiritually Incorrect
better than its predecessor. McKenna has made it awfully difficult for
me to decide. And why should I? Theyre not two.
Kriben Pillay, D.Phil.
Editor of The Noumenon Journal
Author of The Story of the Forgetful Ice Lollies
Harsha and Eric P.
This morning I mentioned to someone what I thought was
a classic funny quote, "Life is tough and then you get
old and die."
I was told that the actual quote is, "Life sucks and
then you die."
I like my version a lot better. The term "suck" seems
a little negative.
One of Buddha's four noble truths was that, "There is
suffering," which is a way of saying the same thing,
so these things do go way back.
Love to all
Eric P. wrote:
written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman
(Sound and Woody Allen monologue begin)
White credits dissolve in and out on black screen. No sound.
FADE OUT: credits
Abrupt medium close-up of Alvy Singer doing a comedy monologue. He
wearing a crumbled sports jacket and tieless shirt; the background is
There's an old joke. Uh, two elderly
women are at a Catskills mountain
resort, and one of 'em says: "Boy, the
food at this place is really terrible."
The other one says, "Yeah, I know, and
such ... small portions." Well, that's
essentially how I feel about life. Full
of loneliness and misery and suffering
and unhappiness, and it's all over much
too quickly. The-the other important
joke for me is one that's, uh, usually
attributed to Groucho Marx, but I think
it appears originally in Freud's wit and
its relation to the unconscious. And it
goes like this-I'm paraphrasing: Uh ...
"I would never wanna belong to any club
that would have someone like me for a
member." That's the key joke of my adult
life in terms of my relationships with
women. Tsch, you know, lately the
strangest things have been going
through my mind, 'cause I turned forty,
tsch, and I guess I'm going through a
life crisis or something, I don't know.
I, uh ... and I'm not worried about aging.
I'm not one o' those characters, you know.
Although I'm balding slightly on top, that's
about the worst you can say about me. I,
uh, I think I'm gonna get better as I get
older, you know? I think I'm gonna be the-
the balding virile type, you know, as
opposed to say the, uh, distinguished
gray, for instance, you know? 'Less I'm
neither o' those two. Unless I'm one o'
those guys with saliva dribbling out of
his mouth who wanders into a cafeteria
with a shopping bag screaming about
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