January 28, 2009

A culture of dispassionate consideration and mechanisms of dialog

The arduous and disciplined thinking of a Heidegger, Foucault or Derrida walks perpetually at the edges of human possibility, testing the limits of language. In many ways, therefore, this thinking leads up to Sri Aurobindo. To think this civilizational linkage is part of its creative invitation. To believe that some "academic explanation" has exhausted its meaning is immediately to falsify its leading. It is in its historical place in the thinking of the human location and trajectory that it is "more evolved" than what has gone before it, whether humanism, metaphysics or religion; it is in the discipline of its own perpetual re-invention, which rests in the ceaseless re-invention of the human, that is its alignment with the cusp of the future. DB Re: The Evolution of Discourse and The Lives of Sri Aurobindo Debashish Sat 06 Dec 2008 02:38 AM PST

Much of the richness of a good academy comes from the radical differences of opinion which can be fielded impartially within it. Unless one is claiming supramental omniscience, human knowledge is all of the nature of interpretation and the expansion of such knowledge towards integrality can be much facilitated through confrontation with difference. What is required here is not so much sentiments such as "basic courtesy," but a culture of dispassionate consideration and mechanisms of dialog. Ananda Reddy's institution may, in fact, have served just such a role, were he not so eager to sit on the throne of judgement. Re: A Cultural Misunderstanding Debashish Tue 27 Jan 2009 10:15 AM PST

Well said, Mr. Sane! An effort in this direction, to create a culture of dialog and social forums for conducting these, is the need of the hour. But all this presupposes the acknowledgment of personal finitude, the openness to the other and the willingness to aim for integrality, as you point out. Re: Yoga, religion, and fundamentalism in the Integral Yoga Community by Lynda Lester Debashish Tue 27 Jan 2009 07:21 PM PST

January 18, 2009

This strident antipathy to Freud (and Marcuse) is consistent with prevailing opinion in academia

Of sterile flowers, poisonous weeds and a political smokescreen By Alex Steiner and Frank Brenner On Jan. 6, the WSWS carried yet another polemic against us, the second one in a week. This one came with a purple prose title, “Adam Haig responds to Alex Steiner’s burst of outrage”.[1]

There was no “burst of outrage” in what we wrote... Second, Haig’s riposte is not only overheated in its language but also murky in its logic... Haig is indeed claiming – falsely – that we are attempting “to revise, if not replace, modern Marxism … with the pseudo-Marxist Frankfurt School.” As for our real position – i.e. that “not all the work of the Frankfurt School and Marcuse is ‘worthless’” – Haig simply dodges the issue with an “even if”, just as he dodged it before with his remark about it being “beside the point.”

Haig then tries to seal his argument with a quote from Brenner: “Marxism in the 21st century is neither conceivable nor viable without assimilating the best insights of these thinkers.” But this only reiterates our position: we are not for revising Marxism but for “assimilating the best insights” of the critical theorists to it. (And the latter, by the way, includes not just Marcuse but towering intellectual figures of the last century like Walter Benjamin and Georg Lukacs.) Indeed, we are for Marxism “assimilating the best insights” from every field – science, philosophy, culture etc. Any other position amounts to a hopeless dogmatism that is totally alien to the outlook of the great classical Marxists. Read in context, it is clear that this is just what Brenner’s remark was meant to say.[5]

Incidentally, in this same passage, Brenner characterizes critical theory in terms of Lenin’s famous description of philosophical idealism as “a sterile flower” but one “that grows on the living tree … of human knowledge.” This rather jars with the claim that we are trying to “revise, if not replace” Marxism with critical theory.

In any case, Haig sets out to prove that there is very little worth assimilating from his chosen target, Marcuse, whom he summarily characterizes as “a reactionary neo-Marxist.” For Haig, Marcuse is much less “a sterile flower” than a poisonous weed, and in his first opus Haig hunts down a page-worth of quotes to prove that a key work of Marcuse’s, Eros and Civilization, “adds nothing to scientific thought or socialist theory” and that it constitutes “libidinal fairy tales.”

This kind of quotation-hunting is an intellectually dishonest way of proving whatever one wants to prove. Using the same method, one could show that Hegel, for example, was a hopeless reactionary – a supporter of the Prussian state, a god-believer and spinner of metaphysical “fairy tales”. And one could then take Marx to task for his “eclecticism” in assimilating any ideas from such a figure (as, indeed, Eduard Bernstein, Max Eastman and many others did).

Haig is nothing if not ambitious: having set out to demolish Marcuse, he is also eager to do battle with Freud. We are told that psychoanalysis “is not an experimental or quantitative field”, that Freud’s “methodology” is an “ahistorical subjective idealist orientation,” and then (somewhat inconsistently) that “Freudian individual psychoanalysis was based on mechanical materialism” and that it was a form of “biological determinism”.[6]

While these objections shed little light on psychoanalysis (we will soon be posting some material that addresses these issues), this strident antipathy to Freud (and Marcuse) is consistent with prevailing opinion in academia. Here it is worth noting Haig’s background in “literary and cultural studies”, since probably no academic field has been more imbued by postmodernism than this one.[7] The postmodernist rejection of ‘metanarratives’ applies as much to Freud as it does to Marx. And just as relevant here is the postmodernist hostility to utopianism.[8] It isn’t a huge stretch to see in the contemptuous way Haig dismisses Marcuse’s “libidinal fairy tales” – which is to say, Marcuse’s efforts to envision a non-repressive civilization free of the stranglehold of alienated labor – the lingering influence of his academic studies.

There is much more we could comment on (for example, Haig completely misrepresents Trotsky’s argument in Results and Prospects which was aimed against the kind of “shallow moralizing” that calls for a “moral awakening” of the working class before it can come to socialist consciousness – a position that is held not by us but by David Walsh of the WSWS editorial board.[9])

And we could also point out that despite his eagerness to hit back at our brief note, Haig manages to ignore one of the three points that we made (and indeed the one we spent the most space on) – which is that when his original essay was first posted on the WSWS, it had hyperlinks to the documents of ours that he was quoting, but several hours later those hyperlinks were removed and replaced by a deliberately vague reference to “Permanent Revolution”, not even indicating whether this was a book, a journal or a website. There is no reasonable explanation for this except that the WSWS editorial board did not want WSWS readers to have direct access to our material so that they could judge for themselves the validity of Haig’s arguments. While Haig gets very indignant over our brief note, he has no comment on – and therefore, one has to assume, no objection to – this obvious bit of intellectual bad faith. [10]

But let us go back to something we raised earlier – the willingness of the WSWS editorial board to post this second statement of Haig’s. Veteran members of that board like North or Walsh would have readily recognized this statement for what it is – an overheated expression of writer’s pique by someone relatively new to polemical debate – and in the normal course of things would probably have advised against rushing into (electronic) print.

But clearly the normal course of things doesn’t apply when it comes to the polemical dispute with Steiner and Brenner. Back in October, North launched his smear campaign against Steiner, with help from Ann and Chris Talbot; now Haig has been pressed into service for the same basic political agenda – which is to divert the discussion away from the criticisms we made of the IC leadership’s political line.

According to Haig, we are wrong in claiming that North’s series against Steiner is a smear campaign: “This is not demonization, but a well-grounded assessment of their [i.e. Steiner and Brenner’s] theoretical and political conceptions.” But a central part of our “political conceptions” is our critique of the IC leadership’s politics: how can North (or the Talbots) have provided “a well-grounded assessment” when they never said a single word about any of these criticisms?

January 16, 2009

Rejecting the philosophy of human access means rejecting Kant’s privileging of epistemology

Object-Oriented Philosophy from The Pinocchio Theory by Steven Shaviro

On his marvelous new blog, on which he manages to write more in a day than I do here in a month, and with consistent brilliance, Graham Harman makes a concession (or, I should probably rather say, a restatement) that I had been hoping to hear from him for a long time:
It’s not a matter of forgetting Kant’s exclusion from the in-itself. It’s a matter of questioning why he gives humans a monopoly on such exclusion. In a sense, I’m trying to let rocks, stones, armies, and Exxon join in the fun of being excluded from the in-itself. A sort of Kantianism for inanimate objects.

This is pretty close to one of the major theses of my own forthcoming book on Whitehead:
Whitehead rejects correlationism and anthropocentrism precisely by extending Kant’s analysis of conditions of possibility, and of the generative role of time, to all entities in the universe, rather than confining them to the privileged realm of human beings, or of rational minds. (p. 79)

Throughout his books, Harman rightly praises Whitehead for rejecting what Harman calls “the philosophy of human access,” that is to say, the philosophy that gives a privileged position to human subjectivity or to human understanding, as if the world’s very existence depended upon our ability to know it. Rejecting the philosophy of human access means, among other things, rejecting Kant’s privileging of epistemology. As Whitehead puts it, since the 18th century, and especially since Kant, “the question, What do we know?, has been transformed into the question, What can we know?” (PR 74). [...]

Now, when Heidegger (followed by Derrida) attacks metaphysical and scientific thought for its reduction of the reality of things to mere presence, what he misses is the Kantian sense in which any such reduction is also a positive construction: it is a new event, a creation, a transformation or a “translation.” (I am thinking here of what Levi Bryant calls “Latour’s Principle”: “there is no transportation without translation.” Harman’s own book on Latour is coming soon). Heidegger’s critique of presence might be summarized as the idea that translation is always a betrayal of that which is ostensibly being translated.

But Kant’s conception of constructive functioning maintains that translation is the creation of something new: a successful translation (which for Heidegger is impossible) is not a perfectly faithful reproduction of the original, but precisely (to cite the terms of Latour’s Principle in inverse order) an act of transportation, a carrying-across which, in the process, thereby makes something new. From this point of view, both Whitehead and Latour give us a Kantianism without privileging human access, a Kantianism for all entities. And seeing the constructive work of relays and transportations/translations in this manner releases us from the desperate recourse (though, of course, Harman does not see it this way) to positing a universe of occult substances that can only communicate vicariously.

January 14, 2009

There is no transportation that does not involve translation

The Hegemonic Fallacy from Larval Subjects

As I learned last night, electricity is a very powerful entity that produces many differences. My entire life, the life of my neighbors, and the life of many gadgets that inhabit the world was suspended in a variety of ways by a power outage that lasted hours. However, the recognition that an entire constellation of processes depends on electricity is very different from the reduction of the entities belonging to this network to electricity. All of these other entities have an autonomy from electricity even while entering into relations with the power line enabling all sorts of activities within these act-ualities.

This is entirely different than a Kantian making all objects, in the form of appearances or phenomena, depend on mind, or Leibniz’s God sustaining all monads. In the first case we have an assemblage where act-ualities equally contribute those differences that are within their power to contribute, while in the latter case we have one entity contributing all the difference (Leibniz’s and Spinoza’s God), or nearly all the difference (Kant’s mind). Indeed, in Kant the in-itself contributes no discernible difference or no difference that could intelligibly be talked about. Yet if any of this is to be thought at all, it is above all necessary to overcome the Epistemic and Ontological Fallacies. The first, as articulated by Bhaskar, consists in

“…the view that statements about being can be reduced to or analysed in terms of statements about knowledge; i.e. that ontological questions can always be transposed into epistemological terms” (A Realist Theory of Science, 36).

By contrast, the Ontological Fallacy consists in the view that Being and Thinking are identical. It is only when these fallacies are overcome that it becomes possible to consistently think both the Ontic and Ontological Principles.

January 11, 2009

Six primary areas of the integral paradigm

University of Human Unity SEMINAR programme for Spring 2009
Unity Pavilion ::: 9:30 AM

Toward an Integral Learning Paradigm: The Psychology of Social Development

Since Sri Aurobindo wrote the book that was originally titled The Psychology of Social Development (now The Human Cycle), the field of developmental psychology, and related disciplines in anthropology and sociology, have pursued an understanding of human beings and societies based on patterns of development from the archaic and magical to the mythical and rational structures of thought and behavior in Gebserian terms. Important references include authors such as Howard Gardner, Ken Wilber, Abraham Maslow, Jean Gebser, and the recent field of Spiral Dynamics.

In this course we will explore Auroville’s development in such developmental terms, with reference to six primary areas of the integral paradigm: social, linguistic, architectural and artistic, philosophical, psychological, and ecological/economical. Anyone interested in participating in such an exploration, either making presentations or participating in the follow up discussions, is invited to attend.

Place: Unity Pavilion Date and time: Every Saturday morning from Jan 17 to April 4, 9:30 – 12:00. We also warmly invite all the participants of last year's seminars on the different approaches to knowledge, to the planning session of the University of Human Unity for these seminars. Place: Unity Pavilion, Date and time: Saturday, January 10th at 9.30 AM.
posted by vladimir

January 10, 2009

The best proof of that comes not from Freud but from Trotsky

Psychoanalysis and the "empty place" of psychology within Marxism By Frank Brenner It is my aim in this paper to show that a familiarity with the basic concepts and major discoveries of Freud’s psychoanalysis can be of great value to Marxists... 11:45 AM

Trotsky on the autonomy of the psyche
To approach the mind as an autonomous phenomenon is the necessary starting point of a materialist psychology. The best proof of that, in fact, comes not from Freud but from Trotsky. His remarks on this subject are contained in some notebooks from the mid-1930s which were discovered only relatively recently in the Trotsky archives at Harvard University and published in 1986.9 The relevant passages are from a discussion about the interrelationship of consciousness and nature and it will be useful here to present Trotsky’s train of thought in some detail. Trotsky is arguing that this interrelationship needs to be understood "as an independent realm with its own regularities." This is because: "The dialectic of consciousness is not ... a reflection of the dialectic of nature, but is a result of the lively interaction between consciousness and nature and - in addition - a method of cognition, issuing from this interaction."10

Before this statement is misread as a lapse into idealism, it is necessary to emphasize that Trotsky’s point is about the dialectic of consciousness, i.e. about the process rather than the content of thought. Indeed, a few paragraphs later when he invokes one of his favorite analogies – "Consciousness acts like a camera" – it is perfectly obvious that he holds to the materialist viewpoint that thought reflects reality. But how does that reflection take place? – that is the issue Trotsky was trying to get at. The process at work in the mind (like the process at work in the camera) isn’t identical to the process of the reality it is reflecting. To argue otherwise isn’t materialism but rather Hegelian idealism: "Since cognition is not identical with the world (in spite of Hegel’s idealistic postulation), dialectical cognition is not identical with the dialectic of nature."

The camera analogy demonstrates this point: still photography "tears from nature ‘moments’ [while] the ties and transitions among them are lost"; motion pictures are more like nature in their "uninterruptedness," but the latter is an illusion created by "exploit[ing] the eye’s imperfection," i.e. by stringing together separate moments (or shots) with breaks between them too short for the retina to register. [...]

Kautsky’s ‘social instinct’
Marxists are forced to live in enemy territory; a gap in theory can therefore constitute a breach in their ideological defenses. The Freudo-Marxists claimed that this was the case with psychology: for lack of an adequate theory, Marxists were often led "to inject a private, purely idealistic psychology in this empty place,"19 Indeed, this is just what Marxists would expect to happen once we accept the basic premise. Examples of this are most often to be found in those writings where Marxists have, as it were, left the beaten track by trying to tackle matters such as ethics, art, sexuality, family relationships, etc.: sooner or later one reaches the limits of historical materialism as a theoretical guide in these matters and then the only available recourse is to start improvising a psychology, which almost always means smuggling in an idealist one.

Fromm mentioned one of Kautsky’s works as an example of this tendency and it is well worth considering here. The book is called Ethics and the Materialist Conception of History and it was published in 1906, which is to say, long before Kautsky’s apostasy from Marxism. Indeed, Kautsky’s strengths are evident in the book’s early chapters as he provides a broad historical overview of the development of ethical conceptions that takes in the ancient world, the Christian church, the Enlightenment and Kant. The latter was of particular importance to Kautsky since his purpose in writing the book was to counter the growing influence of neo-Kantianism inside the socialist movement. The Kantian conception of ethics was an ahistorical one based on the famous "categorical imperative," a philosophical restatement of the old Christian precept – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Kautsky was easily able to demolish Kant’s claim that this imperative was derived from pure reason and that it had nothing to do with historical reality; in fact, it represented a protest against feudal society, the ethical counterpart of the political ideals of ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ of the revolutionary bourgeoisie.20

But when Kautsky tried to put forward a materialist alternative to Kant, he quickly got into trouble. He postulated the existence of a "social instinct" with some rather extraordinary properties: "In the first place naturally comes altruism, self sacrifice for the whole. Then bravery in the defence of common interests; fidelity to the community; submission to the will of society; then obedience and discipline; truthfulness to society whose security is endangered or whose energies are wasted when they are misled in any way by false signals. Finally ambition, the sensibility to the praise and blame of society. These all are social impulses which we find expressed already among animal societies, many of them in a high degree."21 These impulses, as he went on to say, are "nothing but the highest virtues, they sum up the entire moral code." Moreover, even conscience was rooted in instinct: "We have no reason to assume that conscience is confined to man."22 The "social instinct" provided Kautsky with his ultimate refutation of Kant: "What appeared to Kant as the creation of a higher world of spirits, is a product of the animal world ... An animal impulse and nothing else is the moral law."23 [...]

Kant had taken the Christian ‘golden rule’ and turned it into an ahistorical "imperative"; Kautsky took his ‘virtues’ – essentially a belief that man is naturally good – and similarly turned them into an ahistorical "social instinct." Thus, the latter was little more than a categorical imperative by another name. It also had similar historical roots, i.e. Rousseau and the bourgeois democratic revolution. And it also had the fatal flaw of all ahistorical conceptions of morality: it was incapable of explaining how people born with virtuous instincts end up in a vice-ridden world. Kautsky knew he had a problem here and tried to extricate himself from it later in the book by drawing a distinction between the social instinct and "moral codes," i.e. the particular forms of morality, which were entirely subject to historical change. But this historical factor had no discernible bearing on the ahistorical ‘core’ of morality, i.e. the social instinct, which remained "that element of human morality which, if not independent of time and space is yet older than the changing social relations ... [it] is just that which human morality has in common with the animal."

January 09, 2009

Prithwindra Mukherjee has been awarded Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters

ARTICLE 3: Are appointed to the rank of Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres:

Mr Mukherjee Prithwindra, writer, musicologist

Prithwindra Mukherjee - Encyclopedia > Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres
A Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, sometimes called a Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (in English, Knight [of the Order] of Arts and Letters) is a distinction awarded by the Minister of Culture of
France in recognition of outstanding achievement in the arts.
French recipients must be at least 30 years old, must respect French civil law, and must have "significantly contributed to the enrichment of the French cultural inheritance", according to French government guidelines. Recipients from outside France may be allowed into the Order "without condition of age". Higher ranks in the Order are Officier (Officer) and Commandeur (Commander).
Anglophone recipients include
William Faulkner, James Joyce, Jackson Pollock, David Bowie, Allen Ginsberg, John Coolidge Adams, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lisa Appignanesi, and Michael Cimino.

Marx’s ideas about a sequence of modes of production in history are at best sketchy

Marxism and economic anthropology
from The Memory Bank by keith
An ‘anthropology’ is any systematic study of humanity as a whole. The modern academic discipline has its origins in the democratic revolutions and rationalist philosophy of the eighteenth century.

The question then was how the arbitrary inequality of the Old Regime might be replaced by an equal society founded on what all people have in common, their human nature. It was thus a revolutionary critique of the premise of inequality and a source of constructive proposals for a more equal future. Such a future was thought to be analogous to the kinship organization that preceded societies based on the state and class division and that could still be observed among contemporary savages. This framework for thinking about social development was retained and elaborated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But it is no longer the leading anthropological paradigm, having been replaced by an ethnographic relativism that is more compatible with a world society fragmented into nation-states.

Marx was a political economist, to be sure; but he also developed a coherent view of the place of capitalism in human history as a whole. For this reason, I consider Karl Marx to have been the greatest economic anthropologist of all time.

Marxism was shaped by the tradition I call the ‘anthropology of unequal society’ and became its most sustained source of development. Rousseau’s example inspired Morgan and Engels a century later; while Wolf and Goody have brought the tradition up-to-date. The most influential marriage of Marxism and anthropology was the French school that flourished in the 1960s and 70s. So this essay will have three parts: the economic anthropology of Karl Marx; a sketch of the anthropology of unequal society; and French structuralist Marxism.
The economic anthropology of Karl Marx
According to Marx, the history of precapitalist economies can reveal elements of the basic categories of economic life – value, labour, land, capital etc. – but only modern capitalism makes of them a coherent, objective system of commoditized social relations. Economy now takes on a general subjective dimension that was previously confined to the unsystematic calculations of merchants. Economy is first of all production, that is, all material activity and one side of an economic process that also includes distribution, exchange and consumption. Its definition is always coloured by the dominant mode of production. Thus for us productive labour is whatever produces value for capital. The commodity is abstract social labour: its highest form is capital. Only one commodity can add to value and that is labour, hence the historic significance of the entry of capital into the organization of production. When the market becomes the main means of social reproduction, the combination of money capital and wage labour under conditions of juridical freedom revolutionizes accumulation and productivity.
In the extraordinary passage of Grundrisse known as ‘The precapitalist economic formations’, Marx lays out a vision of human history in which capitalism is seen as the final dissolvent of those forms of society linking us to an evolutionary past that we share with the animals:
The original conditions of production cannot initially be themselves produced. What requires explanation is not the unity of living and active human beings with the natural, inorganic conditions of their metabolism with nature; nor is this the result of a historic process. What we must explain is the separation of these inorganic conditions of human existence from this active existence, a separation which is only fully completed in the relationship between wage labour and capital (Grundrisse, p. 489).
In making that break, capitalism is the enabling force for the emergence of a human society fully emancipated from primitive dependence on nature. It is, of course, not that society, but its midwife. Human evolution before capitalism is marked by two processes: the individuation of the original animal herd and the separation of social life from its original matrix, the earth as laboratory.

Marx’s ideas about a sequence of modes of production in history are at best sketchy, despite subsequent efforts to generate a formal scheme out of his occasional references to Asiatic (Oriental/Slavonic), ancient, Germanic, feudal and similar precapitalist modes. The economic determination of precapitalist social forms is always indirect. Marx’s method was rather to trace out the logic of the tendency of world history, using idealized examples. Indeed he makes it clear in Grundrisse that the historical explanation of particular cases must draw on an ad hoc series of ecological, political and other variables. He never resolved this split between philosophical speculation and empirical analysis. Class plays a minor role in his economic anthropology. The Communist Manifesto explicitly points to the plurality and confusion of classes, estates and orders in precapitalist societies. Only when commercial logic penetrates the bulk of production does class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat become dominant. Even then, this is more of a potential dualism, a tendency, than historical actuality, since residual classes often play a significant part in the movement of capitalist societies.
Marx’s anthropology is a special theory of industrial capitalism which conceives of the modern epoch as a turning point in world history. It is not a case study of western society. Rather industrial capitalism has set in train a series of events which must bring the rest of the world under its contradictory logic. It is not ethnocentric to deny non-western societies their autonomous evolution; history has already done that. For Marx then, economic anthropology is a set of analytical constructs of the capitalist mode of production, modified by awareness of the world that preceded and lies outside capitalism. Some (e.g. Lange) consider Marx’s greatness to lie in the fine historical sense that he and Engels brought to their study of Victorian capitalism; others (e.g. Althusser) see Capital as a positive text that escaped from the dialectical historicism and subjectivity of the earlier economic writings. However that may be, neither the subsequent Marxist tradition nor academic anthropologists have ever come close to matching Marx’s vision of human history as a whole.

The anthropology of unequal society
The most impressive achievement of Marxist synthesis in late twentieth-century anthropology is Eric Wolf’s Europe and the Peoples without History (1982). Against the prevailing norm of producing narrowly circumscribed ethnographies as standalone examples, Wolf places a wide range of anthropological knowledge within a comprehensive history of western capitalist expansion and local response. Rather than adopt the tainted conceptual vocabulary of precapitalist states (Asiatic, feudal etc), he coins a new term for societies organized by a ‘tributary’ mode of production. Jack Goody has produced a series of volumes comparing Africa and Eurasia, insisting that claims of Western exceptionalism in respect of Asia are false. Goody’s vision of world history was drawn from the Marxist prehistorian Gordon Childe’s materialist synthesis of the two great turning points — the ‘neolithic or agricultural revolution’ of 10,000 years ago (which Africa participated in) and the ‘urban revolution’ of 5,000 years ago (which it did not). The industrial revolution marked the third definitive stage in the history of human production and society. Childe got his basic framework from L.H. Morgan’s Ancient Society (1877) which some have seen as the origin of modern anthropology. Morgan’s achievement was to draw on the contemporary ethnography of groups like the Iroquois to illuminate the ancient Mediterranean origins of western civilization. At the same time he identified what are still considered to be the principal stages of social evolution (bands, tribes and states). His work was made more widely accessible by Friedrich Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884), drawing on Marx’s extensive notes on Morgan’s book. But all of them got the basic framework from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origins and Foundations of Inequality among Men (1754).

Rousseau’s essay deserves to be seen as the first great work of modern anthropology. He was not concerned with individual variations in natural endowments, but with the artificial inequalities of wealth, honour and the capacity to command obedience that came from social convention. In order to construct a model of human equality, he imagined a pre-social state of nature, a sort of hominid phase of human evolution in which men were solitary, but healthy, happy and above all free. This freedom was metaphysical, anarchic and personal: original human beings had free will, they were not subject to rules of any kind and they had no superiors. At some point humanity made the transition to what Rousseau calls ‘nascent society’, a prolonged period whose economic base can be summarized as hunter-gathering with huts. Why leave the state of nature at all? He speculates that disasters and economic shortage must have been involved.
The rot set in with the invention of agriculture or, as Rousseau puts it, of wheat and iron. Cultivation of the land led to incipient property institutions whose culmination awaited the development of political society. The formation of a civil order (the state) was preceded by a Hobbesian condition, a war of all against all marked by the absence of law. He believed that this new social contract to abide by the law was probably arrived at by consensus, but it was a fraudulent one in that the rich thereby gained legal sanction for transmitting unequal property rights in perpetuity. From this inauspicious beginning, political society then usually moved, via a series of revolutions, through three stages:
The establishment of law and the right of property was the first stage, the institution of magistrates the second and the transformation of legitimate into arbitrary power the third and last stage. Thus the status of rich and poor was authorized by the first epoch, that of strong and weak by the second and by the third that of master and slave, which is the last degree of inequality and the stage to which all the others finally lead, until new revolutions dissolve the government altogether and bring it back to legitimacy. (p. 131).
One-man-rule closes the circle in that all individuals become equal again because they are now subjects with no law but the will of the master. For Rousseau, the growth of inequality was just one aspect of human alienation in civil society. We need to return from division of labour and dependence on the opinion of others to subjective self-sufficiency. His subversive parable ends with a ringing indictment of economic inequality which could well serve as a warning to our world:
It is manifestly contrary to the law of nature, however defined… that a handful of people should gorge themselves with superfluities while the hungry multitude goes in want of necessities (p. 137).

Marx and Engels made fertile use of this precedent in their own critique of the state and capitalism, while Morgan’s legacy as Rousseau’s principal successor in modern anthropology has persisted in the twentieth century. In the postwar period, teams at Michigan and Columbia, including White, Wolf, Sahlins, Service and Harris, took the economic and political basis for the development of class society as their chief focus. But Claude Lévi-Strauss tried to redo Morgan in a single book, The Elementary Structures of Kinship (1949).
The aim of Elementary Structures was to revisit Morgan’s three-stage theory of social evolution, drawing on a new and impressive canvas, ‘the Siberia-Assam axis’ and all points southeast to the Australian desert. Lévi-Strauss took as his motor of development the forms of marriage exchange and the logic of exogamy. The ‘restricted reciprocity’ of egalitarian bands gave way to the unstable hierarchies of ‘generalized reciprocity’ typical of Burmese tribes. The stratified states of the region turned inwards to the reproduction of class differences through endogamy and the negation of social reciprocity. The argument is bold, but its scope is regional, not global. In any case, its author later abandoned the project in favour of a ‘structuralist’ approach to studying the human mind through stories. > 11:15 AM

January 07, 2009

Searching for some kind of wholeness beyond the brokenness of the world and the radical diversity of competing identities

Adam Seligman offered a completely different strategy for moving forward. In his extensive work with vastly different communities, Seligman noted that they never look for commonalities between participants but instead focus on finding ways to live with one another despite their radical differences. The search for commonalities too often turns tragic because it assumes commonalities where none in fact exist. As Seligman said, “Assuming commonality usually means assuming that you are like me.” Difference, said Seligman, implies brokenness. The groups that we call fundamentalist are usually searching for some kind of wholeness beyond the brokenness of the world and thus the radical diversity of competing identities. Rather than discovering some common core on which to build relationships, Seligman suggested, we need instead the stoicism to live within a fractured and broken world.

Seligman suggested that one way to help move discussions between differing groups forward is to distinguish three levels of meaning. Following Charles Sanders Peirce and Roy Rappaport, Seligman described low-level meaning as meaning that is simply based on making distinctions. This kind of meaning allows us to make basic statements such as “the cat is on the mat,” statements about which most can generally agree. This low-level meaning corresponds to the domain of the economic in human affairs because economics is based upon making distinctions, the division of labor, and so forth. A good economic transaction creates difference in the mode of profit. This low-level meaning is also, like economics, the realm of inequality. Mid-level meaning is, by contrast, based upon analogy and metaphor. A mid-level meaning statement might be “my love is like a red, red rose.” It issues in the realm of values and so primarily connects us to the domain of the political. It is a realm of empathy and trust, a shared community of faith. Mid-level meaning engages us in the subjunctive, the power to imagine “what if?” Finally, high-level meaning is based upon the perception of unity, necessity, oneness and so forth. This is the domain of the sacred and it issues in the great creedal statements of the religions: “Hear, O Israel…”, for example, or “There is no God but God…” High-level meaning engages us in the re-aggregation of the world, the restoration of brokenness, the realm of religion and mysticism.

These diverse levels of meaning interact with one another but, Seligman maintained, they need their own autonomy. Problems result when one domain attempts to legislate for another, as for example when traditional societies attempted to use high-level meanings to re-organize the low-level realm (e.g. in Catholic casuistry or, more recently, Soviet era communism). At other times, mid-level political strategies might attempt to re-organize high-level meanings as for example, Seligman suggested, when people attempt to force democratic reforms (women reading the Torah, gay bishops, etc.) on to the structures of high-level meaning. These border-crossings provoke distress-the downward imposition of high-level meaning is one way to describe fundamentalism, while the upward imposition of mid-level meanings might be called revolutionary.

This schematic gives us a kind of map for producing livable arrangements. By respecting the meaning levels, Seligman suggested, the contentious parties are more likely to come to some measure of accord. In response to Seligman’s presentation, Landau pointed out that his experience was that debate and rational arguments tended to fail when engaged in the peacemaking process. This may be because debate fails to engage the question of metaphor, of the imagination, the mid-level that is the domain of the political. If we take Seligman’s schematic seriously, then political solutions to the problems of the mid-East do not require debate so much as they require re-imagination and the activation of empathy, trust, and the heart. Summary for the September 10-14, 2006 Symposium on Jewish Fundamentalism Hosted by Esalen’s Center for Theory and Research (CTR) 11:38 AM 12:15 PM

January 05, 2009

To utter a mantra is to invoke the Deity signified by it

Highways Of God - Pandit, M.P. Keywords: PHILOSOPHY. PSYCHOLOGY; Philosophy of mind Downloads: 149. MANTRA Q: What is a Bija Mantra? Can it be effective even when it is not received from, a competent Guru ?

A: All manifestation is through Sound, Sabda- Brahman. Bija-Mantra is seed sound. It may consist of a syllable or a number of syllables. The sound or dhvani produced by the utterance of the syllable (or syllables) is, in the Mantra Sastra, the equivalent in human speech, the vaikhan expression, of the original subtle sound-vibration which is produced by the movement of the forces (of Consciousness) while manifesting a thing. That subtle sound, matrkd, is the true Name of the thing manifested and to repeat it is to call the thing into awareness, into active being. This is the main principle of the Mantra.

Thus the manifestation of a Devata which is an emanation, a self-formulation of the Supreme Godhead, is accompanied by a characteristic sound. This mdtrkd is the sound-form of that Deity. This sound-value rendered in terms of human speech is the Mantra, the sound-body of the Devata on the human level. When this sound is uttered the vibrations that go forth are the very vibrations that were active when the Devata first manifested and consequently they urge the same manifestation again. Hence it is that to utter a mantra is to invoke the Deity signified by it.

It goes without saying that the evocation, to be effective, must carry the power, the consciousness with which the original sound-vibrations were instinct. With- out it the Mantra is a dead word. The Mantra-caitanya must be awakened and made active. And that only a Guru, one who has already realised and holds in him-self something of the dynamics of the Mantra, can do. 1 When such a one communicates the Mantra to another, he not only speaks the Word, but also transmits in his very utterance the caitanya, the life-power of the Mantra^ so that when the recipient repeats it, it is a Word which is loaded with its innate power-charge that is released into action. 1

Theoretically it is of course possible for one to energise and enliven a Mantra by his own tapasya. It is also possible to receive the living Mantra directly from a Higher Source, as has happened at times. What is important and indispensable is that the Mantra must vibrate with the power that underlies its manifestation.

January 01, 2009

Sitting at Sri Aurobindo’s feet to hear him

All Life is Yoga

  • by Aju Mukhopadhyay
    In an age when the purport of spirituality
    has been lightened, mixed with sensuousness and frivolity
    I feel like sitting at Sri Aurobindo’s feet to hear him:
    ‘The delight of spirit is ever new,
    the forms of beauty it takes innumerable,
    its godhead ever young and the taste of delight, rasa,
    of the infinite eternal and inexhaustible.’
    ‘Spirituality cannot be called upon
    to deal with life by non-spiritual method . . .
    always failed and will continue to fail . . .
    for ‘The spiritual evolution of Nature
    is still in process and incomplete, . . . only beginning . . . .
    ‘Any premature attempt at a large scale spiritual life
    is exposed to vitiation . . . .
    the individual must be preoccupied with . . . changing
    his mind and life into conformity
    with the truth of the spirit’-
    While all this are mined
    out of his golden treasure of The Life Divine,
    I venture to go into his more pungent
    but luscious words found in a letter-

    ‘The supramental can only make
    the best conditions for anybody
    who can open up to it . . . .
    But it could not dispense with the necessity of sadhana.
    If it did, the logical consequence would be that
    the whole earth, men, dogs and worms
    would suddenly wake up
    to find themselves supramental.
    There would be no need of an Ashram or of Yoga.’

    ‘An Asram means’, he wrote,
    ‘the house or houses of a teacher
    or the Master of spiritual philosophy
    in which he receives and lodges those
    who come to him for the teaching and practice . . . .
    it is only what has been indicated above
    and nothing more.’
    And, no Ashram without the Gurus, he wrote to clear the point.

    About the institutions he wrote in The Human Cycle-
    ‘The existence of institutions is sufficient
    to abrogate the need of insisting on the spirit
    that made the institutions.
    But spirituality is . . . nothing
    if it is not lived inwardly and if the outward life
    does not flow out of this inward living.’

    ‘All life is yoga’- Yes he wrote.
    But without squandering its meaning,
    following Sri Aurobindo we may say
    All life of a Yogi is Yoga-
    not that of an ordinary man, dog or worm.
    © Aju Mukhopadhyay, 2008

The discourse of the critical theorist endlessly repeats without limit

International Journal of Žižek Studies: Vol 2, No 4 (2008) from Larval Subjects . by larvalsubjects - ISSN 1751- 8229 Volume Two, Number Four Žižek’s New Universe of Discourse: Politics and the Discourse of the Capitalist Levi R. Bryant - Collin College, Texas, USA. Truth punches a hole in knowledge. ~J. Lacan

Like the other discourses, the discourse of the critical theorist is characterized by both in impossibility and an impotence. On the one hand, the relationship between objet a and the master-signifier is characterized by impossibility insofar as no master-signifier is ever adequate to naming objet a. A remainder always returns that exceeds the organizing aims of the mastersignifier.

Here it will be noted that this impossibility perfectly captures Žižek’s gloss on the discourse of the analyst, underlining the manner in which objet a or the Real and the mastersignifier are separated from one another. On the other hand, the lower level of the formula is characterized by impotence insofar as ideology (S2) perpetually fails in containing or mastering the divided subject, but also insofar as the pursuit of revolutionary knowledge aimed at by this discourse never completely responds to the subject’s lack. As a result, the discourse of the critical theorist endlessly repeats without limit. Paraphrasing Beckett, the discourse of critical theory is characterized by the impossibility of going on, the necessity of going on, and the will to go on.

7. Conclusion
Throughout this paper I have attempted to show that the difference between Žižek and Lacan is to be situated not at the level of content, but of form. Where Lacan’s thought engages the universe of mastery and the discourses that inhabit that universe, a structure can be discerned throughout Žižek’s thought that engages a very different universe of discourse. Although Žižek does not explore all dimensions of this universe in depth, his work can be seen as a cartography of this new universe, both uncovering the mechanisms by which it functions and devising strategies for engaging with this universe with the aim of promoting emancipation by providing us with a language through which we might become capable of articulating our unfreedom. The structure of the discourses that can be discerned at work in Žižek’s thought reveals a very precise analysis of the structural organization of our historical present. However, these discourses also go well beyond Žižek, revealing a common ground among many very different forms of critical engagement, while also allowing us to discern the role that the unconscious and the real play within this new universe of discourse.

Appendix: A Brief Summary of Lacan’s Structuralist Theory of Discourse Lacan developed his theory of discourse between the years of 1969 and 1973, between Seminar XVII, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, and Seminar XX, Encore: On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge. Unlike other theories of discourse, the focus is not on the content of discourse, but rather on the structural relation between the speaker of the discourse and the addressee of the discourse, such that 1) something is produced in the discourse, and 2) the discourse is always constitutively incomplete by virtue of the role that the unconscious plays in the discourse. As Alxendre Leupin nicely puts it,

What is a discourse? It is a formalizable structure that positions itself in between language and speech. It can subsist without being spoken by an individual (as in the case of an institution), but it is not the whole of a language: it inscribes itself in language as a fundamental relationship. Located between the generality of a given language and the speech act of an individual or the extreme singularity of each human subject, discourses define social groups (Leupin 2004: 68).

A discourse is thus not so much what a speech act is about, but is rather a particular form or structure taken by social relations, between institutions and other institutions, groups and other groups, institutions or groups and individuals, individuals and groups or institutions, and individuals and institutions. As a consequence, speech acts that are about very different things can embody one and the same structure of social relations. For example, workers might overturn the owners of the means of production, but institute a social order that has precisely the same structure, with masters commanding other workers so as to procure enjoyment. This seems to have occurred in Soviet socialism where the mode of production remained the same even though those in charge changed. [...]

It is noteworthy that despite Baurdrillard’s own claims here and elsewhere that symbolic-value spells the ruin of Marx’s analysis of capitalism, the addition of symbolic-value does not destroy Marx’s understanding of the commodity. Marx very clearly argues that "needs" are not simply biological needs, but are also socially and historically produced needs, i.e., needs that are produced or manufactured. As Marx observes on the very first page of Capital, "The commodity is, first of all, an external object, a thing which through its qualities satisfies human needs of whatever kind. The nature of these needs, whether they arise, for example, from the stomach, or the imagination, makes no difference" (Marx 1990: 125, my italics). 9:09 AM