Pt. 2: Cutting Through Cutting Through Spiritual Colonialism—A Response to Vinay Gupta
Beginning at the End: The Beginning of the End of the Beginning (of the End…)
I’ll start my response at the end of the original, to emphasize convergence. For conclusions are often expressed at the end, and we (as the correct always tend to) have come to the same conclusion. I have no one to hook with warnings of doom—here is our convergence: the end is seamless collaboration among everyone and everything.
“I have become a *remarkably* grumpy old man”, writes Gupta, and I suppose it is a similar sentiment that has led me away from writing recently, toward plans to acquire capital. But the words of a seasoned disillusioned capitalist prod me at least back to this conversation. For conversation is at least collaboration; the action feels fruitful enough that I can perform it without infinite procrastination.
Since many of my thoughts around this came from my experiences with the Daoist underground in China, since the topics fit readily in the same conversation, and since I have (temporarily) become so averse to writing, this post is also my promised continuation to my first post on The Daoist Mafia. Let me just say a few things grossly then, to start us off.
The end state is obvious. We’re trying to eliminate suffering. We’re trying to remove all bad. He without food tries to get food. Having gotten food, he finds that he is distressed by having no house, and he devotes his time and effort towards getting that house. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is largely correct. But the final stage “self-actualization” is a bit complicated.
Gupta writes: “As soon as the immediate fear of homelessness recedes, for most people, a huge raft of existential questions immediately surface.” And yes, as Gupta suggests, these may be suppressed by the new needs generated by parenthood. There are other possibilities—my connection to the Daoist underground in China, AZ, had the idea (and founded a startup based on this idea), that Maslow’s hierarchy connects to Peter Senge’s five disciplines. I tweeted about it here.
Here are Senge’s five disciplines:
- Personal mastery
- Mental models
- Building shared vision
- Team learning
- Systems thinking
It is clear that the need for needs is itself a need. For it is need that drives continued existence, in a tautological sense. Without need there is but oblivion, which is a sure possibility, but not here. Toward oblivion, there is nothing to write about or to do. In a sense, I (we?) have already won; but what are we doing? Something, hence driven by need. This stuff about a seamless and ubiquitous system, #GameB, various constructions at utopia avoiding the faults of previous constructions; even via negativa—all just because we’re here.
It’s okay, but I think it’s important not to pretend otherwise, as if oblivion or whatever were some universal terrible “wrong”, as if there were some positively existent universal principle driving us on. We start in the middle. Our needs are indeed ours, even if we do not choose them. And we need them in a real way; but they are ours. Therefore “cutting through” is all. I cannot establish anything, only cut through. Therefore I say I teach the production of alkahest. The elimination of suffering fits into this project. By removing all that is wrong, what remains, whatever it is, is the only ultimate.
The building of systems is one way to frame it all. It works for now, and I find no obvious flaws. Perhaps someday they will emerge, and I will cast this away. What remains, remains. I will still have my needs, or whatever I will call them then. Or I will be gone. The same with larger units, with society, with the totality of things. The relation between being (in time; i.e. the being of processes) and telos is not property inheritance or hypo/hypernymy, supervenience, or whatever category theory analytic philosophy shmilosophy, but identity (or equivalently, comprehensive absolute necessary and sufficient codependence).
How does this all fit together?
In China, the family is a core unit of organization. Nowhere can unconditional, un-cruel collaboration be found like within the family. Therefore the cohesive (remember, seamless collaboration) system AZ is trying to build in China takes families as its units. He says there is no hope outside the family. There are biological bases, and social factors too. I debated long nights with AZ over this; obviously the cohesion of the family unit is not so firm in the U.S.—I can say little of other places; and China is not immune to the trend.
The stuff is all highly contextual but there are things to be done. What to do depends on where you are. AZ builds systems of families in China. Gupta builds systems of moral visionaries in the West. There is always this outwards expansion; a sort of drive toward ubiquity, perhaps—at least something far beyond this lifetime. Vision. There is also always somewhere to start. There are needs that are difficult to destroy. There are forces that keep us existing.
The “somewhere to start” is important in the face of imminent cruelty and destruction. Here you are in a cruel world. It’s what Buckminster Fuller expresses in the metaphor of the trim tab. It’s also the universal human sentiment of the hero myth, or the more heroic Bildungsromans, or the archetypal shonen anime motif.
The cruel angel’s thesishttps://www.animelyrics.com/anime/eva/ngetnshi.htm
will soon take flight through the window,
with surging, hot pathos,
if you betray your memories.
Embracing this sky [universe] and shining,
young boy, become the legend!
Tidbits on Now Now
I must now spend a while to contextualize because I have a lot to say. Much is lost in saying a lot without context. The more is lost, the more to say and the less context. So all this is skippable is you really get it, and why I’m contextualizing, and you think it’s skippable.
All this talk is just a particular set of mental models—hence my current aversion to writing, somewhat, but I am only balancing; alas, I’m 18. I increasingly finding that I absolutely must write to a particular target audience, because nobody really gets it all and shares my language, in a way that I can just say whatever I want on all my own frontiers, and be mutually collaboratively advanced against them with the right people. Maybe I just haven’t yet met the right people.
I feel a tense burden of already having won. In the ultimate sense, I obviously don’t know what to do. The feeling of not knowing what to do is greatly exacerbated by the feeling of already knowing everything—i.e., there is nothing to learn.
Increasing knowledge leads to increasing optionality. To fully understand is to not be burdened by any arbitrary conceptual bounds, even that inherent in a name or language-system. But still here I am in space and time, left to make choices. Still I am constrained by capital; I have knowledge (therefore potential optionality) far beyond my actual optionality subject to material constraints.
I was privileged to the “huge raft of existential questions” early on, not by a trust fund, but by loving and competent parents who were frugal, happy, and not indebted. I answered them all by the absolute negation, which led to no small portion of conflict against my loving parents, converted from Communist Secularism to Fundamentalist Baptism, sanely in pursuit of need—to fill that emptiness.
So here I am in an awkward position, with nothing but alkahest. I have not sufficiently established virtue, have not sufficiently cultivated yang, have not traveled the left-hand nor the right-hand path, have not seen the face of God. I have no positive being to name; I chose “oblitero omnis obscurantis” as an aspiration name to see how it felt, but it does not feel absolute either. Nor is it via negativa, because nobody’s actually wrong. I used to consider myself a shravaka, but even this I am not, knowing beyond teaching that even all the teachers are absolutely wrong.
But here I am still. “ZMZM” I named my website, for 众妙之门—what follows 玄之又玄: mystery in again mystery; darkness in again darkness; a vortex, spiraling profoundly, sublimely, infinitely in the true interplay of emptiness and form, “同出而易名” (of the same source, but with different names). I feel it so profoundly; and increasingly, I don’t even want to share it with others. It’s not “good”, just ultimate. Good comes from the cultivation of good; emptiness comes from the reduction to emptiness.
“众妙之门” is presented as something really good. Wow, the gateway to all marvels. The door to many wonders. But who opts to fall into Wonderland? Alice does so in a dream, following the boredom of “sitting by her sister on the riverbank, and of having nothing to do.” That is the profound emptiness many strive to fill, “burning with curiosity” and “start[ing] to her feet” at the first thing “she had never before seen.” Perhaps this offers an explanation for the delirium induced by Ayahuasca or whatever other substance, maybe even profound meditation, letting us glimpse (in the case of meditation, at will) the White Rabbit to follow in times of boredom and need. I may extend too far, but note that dopamine is released upon novelty (i.e. errors in prediction), not upon reward.
I find in myself in such an odd position indeed. I don’t expect anyone in the world can relate to me as a person (or at least, that in my lifetime I will never meet such a person), and this is good for some things. I will not attract a small cult following to sustain myself off by producing transient bullshit. I will not easily deceive myself that I am saving the world. It’s good for decentralization, for immersing myself among all types, who hate each other, marking them wrong, and who may hate me. I suppose it lets me more readily obliterate all obstructions, maybe.
What is Capitalism?
Yeah, the system as it is sucks. The classic blame it on capitalism move is especially powerful for the disillusioned capitalist. But of course the problem is never with any specific instantiation of a form, but with form itself. Or, “why are we cruel?” The end of capitalism would not be the end of cruelty, nor its legitimization.
I think the answer to “why are we cruel?” is in disparate moments of perception, tense against each other, not seamlessly integrated in collaboration. Just fundamental game theory stuff, probably. Where opportunities for arbitrage exist, there will be those who take them. Flawed systems leave many opportunities for arbitrage.
Nobody is fundamentally motivated, explicitly, to harm another. But everybody is motivated to benefit the self. And so the problem lies in tension between the self and the other, where harm to the other can be benefit to the self, even very great benefit.
“Why isn’t everything already perfect?” is an increasingly deep question the more I consider it, and I have no definite answer. There are many smaller answers though; many are related to abstraction—the desire and possibility of control over that which is not and will never be directly accessible to the agent of control. Scalability issues across space and time; the very non-linear interactions of abstractions with each other, with us, with the world. The infinite complexity resulting from the fact that representational media are themselves objects in the world, capable of being represented, recursively, ad infinitum.
Nick Land draws a parallel between capitalism, natural evolution, and general self-improving artificial intelligence. The pattern of competitive self-reproductive self-maximization, which subsumes everything else that is not within it. Such a pattern is real, and I think it makes sense to call “capitalism” this pattern for the kind of value captured by money.
Money as it exists today is just one representation of something though. It’s a very unique representational medium, with various sub-media. Its patterns of communication and use and such are very different from other familiar media. There are fundamentally structurally different alternatives and varieties; we see historically in barter, in the idea of credit, now in possibilities in blockchain technologies. But there is something centrally common to these, the represented thing, I’ll call it “material value.”
Material value is not going anywhere. Its competitive self-maximization is not going anywhere. In that sense, capitalism is not going anywhere; but we may indeed work toward better representations.
It’s extremely difficult to get rid of all opportunities for cruel arbitrage though. People are foolish and prone to being deceived and exploited (i.e. easily harmed for the benefit of another, punishment-free). And where there are people to be exploited, there will be those to exploit them. Susceptibility to deception is greatly exacerbated by massive scale, where the scope of relevance extends far beyond one’s immediate capabilities of perception, hence understanding.
So the solution would have to lie in education of the masses, even in the enlightenment of all sentient beings. There is no small-scale solution for the large-scale (indeed global) problem of cruelty.
What is Spirit?
I’ll paint in very gross strokes; there’s a reason all the great spiritual traditions stop very early when discussing specifics before saying that no more can be expressed in text, and deferring to the necessity of such things as actual experience and a teacher.
I think Land misses a very important dimension in his thesis on the convergence of various divergent self-maximizing factors, or maybe it’s captured in artificial intelligence—I’m not entirely sure. That is the dimension of spirit, and its infinite self-propagation is expressed in the motif “enlightenment of all sentient beings.”
The pattern Land notices is the ultimate expression of the spiritual motif of the unity of yin and yang. Yang in yin, yin in yang, Thanatos and Eros as one and the same. Fundamentally, it is a fractally ubiquitous pattern to all things, but Land points it out at a grand scale.
Spirit is related to optionality, which is not the same as degrees of freedom. Optionality implies volition. Volition implies that the particular path taken in a situation with many degrees of freedom is somehow better than the others. It is not the same as random chaotic motion in a large phase space.
I will just say that increasing degrees of freedom becomes increasingly better with increasing spiritual development/attainment. And the ultimate state tends towards simultaneous increasing spiritual development and increasing degrees of freedom. But this is not all of what is encompassed in the word “spirit.” Part of my point is that the act of naming itself carries constraint—for there are only certain things and not other things which we will call by such a name and speak of in such a way—which spiritual development (at least of a certain sort—my sort, that I speak of here) escapes, as a fundamental aspect. This is key to the great difficulty in describing the spiritual.
The category is really a terrible category. All sorts of unrelated, vaguely interacting or non-interacting things have all been bundled under the category of spirit. Part of the problem is exactly the colonialism to which Gupta speaks. Various spiritual traditions are not inter-compatible under a monolithic colonial system; their unity is in emptiness rather than form. I write much more on this in other places; my perspective is largely consistent with Ri-mèd, as far as I know.
Words are for pointing. It is hard to point at emptiness because there is literally nothing to point at; so most of the words only point at ways to experience emptiness. There is more potential in art, which does not only point at the past, but aims to create experience directly.
Otherwise, note that spirit derives from the Latin “spirare”: to breathe. Some themes—cyclical, fluid, ephemeral, usually unnoticed but possible to voluntarily control, necessary to be here.
Space and Other Others
Just a few scattered thoughts here; no thesis. But a perspective I think may be valuable. I’m too young for space to feel real. It’s this cheesy symbol thing, lumped in with the rest of late 19 somethings Ronald Reagan grainy radio pixelated television propaganda whatever. I’m also not in the tech world enough to know what people are doing with real capital today, with regards to space. It would probably feel too distant anyway. Being 18, I literally don’t know how to conceive more than 18 years into the future (really more like 4 years, since I think around age 14 was when I started being maturely conscious of the relevant things); if I tried I’d probably be terribly wrong. But I’ll say some things about symbols, about hope, about my feelings, then other people’s feelings.
I had a big gabber/super hardcore techno phase when I was around 16. Around the same time, I was also taking a class in Women’s and Gender Studies, and deeply felt the feminist discourse. I did not connect these two until recently, exposed to cyberfeminist music, a la Arca or Bjork.
My favorite gabber album then was Alice in Voodooland. I did not consider why, and would have been quite unable to explain. But now I can put some things into words.
The distorted, overdriven kick drum feels like the tingling of the skin, numb from tears. And it sounds better harder, more distorted, just as I continued to cry, helpless in the face of oppression (me mostly for my youth, I think; the feminists obviously for their womanhood, and other intersectional factors—blackness, poverty… but I can not do justice to that whole discourse here). To be marginalized is not a symbol; it has felt effects in the world, among these—futility, struggle, helplessness, often hopelessness.
There is in overpowering distortion the will to power and to death. Our absurd heroine Alice again, and a similar aesthetic in “voodoo.” Power in powerlessness. The urge to destroy and to overcome. Beauty in distortion. Hope in flirting with destruction, with the feminine Abyss. To gently, vigorously overpower; light in the darkness; yin swallowing yang. Feelings lost in tears, lost in words; the quivering passionate anger, hope in hopelessness. Eros and Thanatos felt viscerally as the same, in the numbness of nothing left (to lose, to say); therefore ever more of all that—compression, overdrive, distortion, gain, senseless power and chaotic change. More feelings only the music can convey.
Now look at the music of another marginalized other—at Afro-futurism, the music of Sun Ra, or P-Funk. There are more examples than this movement, of the drive toward the outside, the other, clearly expressed in the music of the helpless, hopeful marginalized. It is the desire to escape, and identification with the “alien.” The hope appears clearly symbolic in Sun Ra’s movie. He does not know what he is talking about with regards to space. Do we? Do those billionaires?
Draw what connections you will.
After the End of Law
Maybe someone messed up somewhere. I’m not sure how it happened, but here I am fairly confident I’m as omniscient as practically attainable, along the axes that omniscience usually refers to. Yet I have not spent enough time cultivating anything that I necessarily must defend; yet somehow I’m here anyway.
So this body is especially vulnerable to suicide. There are many moments I’d not hesitate to painlessly die if the option were materially available—but even that is a difficult thing. For whatever reason, I’m still here. In the psychiatric ward, I was in a particularly hopeful and happy phase, perhaps from the novelty and various other very valuable things gained in the experience and interactions; so the staff asked me incredulously why I was there to begin with, and when I told the truth, nobody understood me, though there was a sense that they really really wanted to “help,” whatever that means.
Gandhi’s “fundamental problems” are lies, of course, so far as they are established in form. They are artful, are were effectively suited to their purpose; but they, as all lies, are fragile. I only need to demonstrate by one negative example—which as I often use, is my own person. I cannot live ultimately by them. They have no self-inherent sway.
Again, an immediately apparent problem is that I have not actually cultivated positive virtue. This is important and good for illustrative purposes. Lies, however noble, and however well-designed toward correct antifragile ends, are themselves fragile in the form they are constructed in. Reincarnation, God, and other such positive stabilizing ideas to live by—they are difficult to convince anyone of now, now that easier (i.e. more likely to be taken) negative alternatives are available and accessible.
Optionality again—and this is why more degrees of freedom is not always better without spiritual development. The absolute negation always leads to more degrees of freedom, and indeed the ultimate view is always to be expressed by the absolute negation. So we get the increasing possibility of bad decisions—but who is to call them bad, or much more importantly, to punish them? The problem is of scope, of our terrible capacity for conceiving futures, even our own. It is hard to make real and immediate that which is distant in space. Harder yet that which is distant in time. And the consequences are in the future—worse, perhaps beyond this lifetime. I have no children. Reincarnation is not real of itself, nor afterlives in Heaven and Hell (or at least, these negations are easily and convincingly demonstrable). There is nothing in the future I must love, outside this lifetime.
Padmasambhava said that sutra would last for a few hundred years, tantra for a few thousand, and Dzogchen forever. The former two would need to be periodically replaced by those who realized the last. But his time estimates, being given as constants, betray that his extrapolation was linear—and as with pretty much all linear extrapolations, I think they were wrong. Increasing interconnectivity of things and rates of interaction make the expected and actual lifespans of sutra and tantra much shorter, with negative second derivative. Indeed Dzogchen is still eternal, but it comes with no structural guarantees, and may well be, for example, in the extinction of humans. As a human, I would be expected at least to hope not—but I’m not sure if I really feel this hope.
Gandhi gave a great sutra, enough to fulfill its transient purpose and then some. But it is nothing universal. And Gandhi is more dead than God—at least by the Lindy principle, I’d expect the latter to last much longer still.
Many sages have prophesied an age after the end of law. Sad-dharma-vipralopa. Notice that law is “dharma”—this is not the end of any particular worldly system of law, say the “capitalism” that allows cruelty to legally abound. It is the end of any positively established pattern-system, form-system, to govern the operation of the world.
I commend and respect Gandhi for his noble and effective fulfillment of his need of need, and his recruitment of others to the same. I commend Gupta for the same—perhaps his system of meanings (i.e. needs and possible actions) will be appropriate for many others, to satisfy their need for need and to serve as means to their continued existence harmonious with the world. I commend AZ for the same.
But of course, none of these are ultimate. More directly, none of these are for me. On a more practical note, I also doubt that sharing one’s positive vision for the future, even convincing many others of the same, is a very effective thing toward actualizing said vision, and even less toward actualizing the empty, absolutely negative intersection of all good and harmonious visions. I expect Gupta knows this well, and I commend him especially also for his actions outside words.
Wei Wu Wei
So we come to the ever-important question of what to do. This is to be answered from several perspectives.
For one, heroes are nice to have. My current philosopher-heroes are Gilles Deleuze, Buckminster Fuller, Ju Mipham, Nassim Taleb.
For another, it is nice to have possibilities and hopes for the mid-term, within my range of felt anticipation. The Daoist lineage I’m connected to is considering coming to the U.S. to do the Gelug or Haier thing, of gaining “American” reputation for subsequent better native leverage. Also more immediately for better positioning in the global tension and conflict that will follow in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. (Just see that there are conspiracies in China that the virus was manufactured in the U.S., in the U.S. that it was manufactured in China; I make no further comment.) So I may become involved with that.
For me, I have given myself an immediate positive in “oblitero omnis obscurantis,” again the felt union of yin and yang. To make ultimate yin my ultimate yang, for it is the most powerfully suitable to that role, in the absence of any more intermediate cultivated other.
These are all very immediate things. There is no ultimate positive, especially one inaccessible and far-off. I think that far-off positive is inherent in and crucial to the idea of (futile) “effort”, and here I will also say a bit more on 为无为.
无, 無, wu, mu—is the absolute negation. In Hebrew, ע (ayin). Note that the letter o is derived from ע.
为, 爲, wei—often translated action. It also has functions like the words “as” or “rendered to.”
So we have doing by non-doing. Or effortless action. Or rendering to 0 as action. Nothing as action. As it is not as it is. As nonaction. Being as rendering to 0. Being as 0. As not as. All the wordplay I introduce with my translation works with the original—I’m not sure how meaningful it is, if at all, to non-Chinese-speakers though. There’s much that English can’t convey and also much that it adds—I find myself often having to introduce the problematic “being.”
So my drive toward the Abyss is described in 为无为. As is effortless expertise in any particular skill. It’s always a push against something; the idea is in removing something, not in positively being a particular way. It is also similar to “این نیز بگذرد” (this too shall pass).
It all shall pass. Whatever cruelties now. Whatever merits. Whatever constraints. Whatever hopes or grievances. Everything fragile, which is everything in form. Whatever positive visions for the future. Whatever efforts. Anything but Dzogchen, and even that when named; anything I can say.
Apart from this, I have no hope for the future. Therefore all this is but a “cutting through.” To what? Some may be dismayed to find, to absolutely nothing.