Mystic wisdom

I was reading this blog post about a Zen master. There is part of the blog that attacks the intellect. Basically, the blog post highlights a passage along the lines of: ‘Ignorance is peaceful and the intellect destroys this peace by disturbing it without supplanting an alternative order or peace”

I hear this sort of thing all of the time, and it is hard not to get swallowed by this meta criticism of intellectualism. The paradox is that intellectualism is equated with criticism, and criticism is a destructive force that does not build/create, and thus intellectualism is not the path to enlightenment because the truth requires building understanding not destroying it, all while this is a intellectual criticism of intellectual criticism.

I proffer instead that one will never understand, nor will one ever find truth…which I’ve touched on before. It’s more about the journey than the destination. That sort of mumbo jumbo.

The Zen mystics are so frustrating because they are always presented in a way in which a supposedly enlightened person claims to be inwardly peaceful and offers you some cryptic metaphors that seem wise. They offer understanding in a form that requires surrender to an infinity. Most of what I have seen/read is about conquering the ego. And I like to explore these ideas because there is something to ego destroying that I find appealing…I won’t claim to be an expert or a scholar in the subject. I’m going off of some random blog posts, some Alan Watts, Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, etc…

These mystics play on the ignorance of western presupposition, and they are worth delving into just because they don’t buy into western thought full stop. But I was inspired to write about this to point out how annoying it is that the mystics are so able to criticize western thoughts by playing by different rules, and then bring up a defense of ignorance by presupposing the intentions of criticism.

Criticism is easier because you have something to work with. There is a framework some other person/people proposes, and they assert it as truth. The critics show them they are wrong, and there is some prestige offered to the critic. The critic is considered smart. etc…Yay.

The problem is that this is true. All of it. Criticism is easier. There is an incentive to criticize, and critics offer nothing really in the place of the original idea. It’s not appeasing to the blissful idiot.

The conclusion that critics are somehow lesser than the creators of a flawed idea is equally false…because all ideas are flawed. It’s not logical, as neither position could be said to be ‘more’ true. Many of the criticisms lead to modifications of original ideas/theories etc…to make them more robust. The whole cynicism around it is so hard to get a handle on, there is no moral lesson in any of it. No lesson that helps you make decisions about how to approach some theory. Do you take the extreme of accepting all ideas you have never heard before? Do you take the extreme position of rejecting all new ideas? Do you take only ideas that seem to be in the ‘spirit’ of building up understanding? Do you take only ideas that operate in the ‘spirit’ of tearing apart other peoples’ work? Nothing sounds like the ‘right’ way to do it. So don’t we sit now in the uncertain position of a disturbed, what was once blissful, ignorance? Is it any less fulfilling because we don’t know what it is we are talking about?

It’s funny because in the end, none of it really settles the debate. But here’s my position: it’s all wrong. And at this level of abstraction, in the blessed world we live in, where ‘meta’ has entered the contemporary jargon, we can go so ‘meta’ that it is a nice big ‘meta’ circle.

Want something for nothing? How about accepting that nothing you know has solid footing, nothing. Not even the physical sciences. So like you bend your knees and become more subtle on unsteady ground, so too you have to bend your mind’s knees, whatever that means.

When it comes down to criticizing the critic, by hailing the position of ignorance–and we all do it at some point, I am confident we could make that seem plausible–think about it in the lens of social conditioning. By raising the status of blissful ignorance over the know-it-all critic, what behavior is being encouraged? Blind acceptance of the status quo…which sounds equally shitty, because in power relationships between people, people exploit ignorance for whatever end suits them. It suits the Zen mystics, because in a world that is paying less attention to them…you know because they don’t use the scientific method…it makes sense that they would attempt to raise the relative status of blissful ignorance.

But really, this is just an intellectual criticism of Zen mysticism to raise the relative status of intellectual criticism.

Hot damn do I feel clever. C’mon people, gimme some status.

How Good Are We? Part 3.

This post is in response to comments in prior posts. It’s chaotic.

I’m going to go ahead and say that the happiest people are those who feel fulfilment, which is a Marxist sort of approach, but I’m not about to go wave a red flag out there. There are many impediments to fulfilment. One being the feeling of powerlessness. Which is what I’m going to focus on.

But first, there is also a problem with opting for personal happiness as a supreme guiding principle, in that it often comes at the cost of others’ suffering, which is tragedy, which is morally bad. Not in an entirely relativistic sense, either, there are mutually agreeable bad situations: lose-lose outcomes that can result from micro-level decision making.

If to focus on one’s personal emotional toils is to not acknowledge tragedy and to believe you somehow subvert tragedy via casting a smaller gaze Then you are denying your role in systemic evils–those evils–evils are simply defined as undesirable outcomes–that only exist in macro-scale societal interactions. If you acknowledge tragedy and you do nothing to avoid it then…why not try? I can only assume certain reasons…and one of them is a feeling of powerlessness.

Why feel powerless? I assume it is because individuals are at best, marginally powerful, and it’s a very tiny margin. So fuqit.

I point you to the tragedy of the commons as just one example of the value of “macro” good thinking, and one that is rigorous and also shows how tragedy is inherent in the world, especially if people do not attempt to evolve their thinking/perception collectively. What can an individual do in this situation? Mostly nothing. Progress might be possible if a critical mass of people were aware of this brilliant essay, and so “spreading awareness”, would have the cause-and-effect of getting enough people to absorb this so that the ideas of this paper are taken as given, and the thoughts about what to do in response to this problem can progress. That is the only expression of power available to most individuals in this issue. So stepping out of objectivity: do it, you have that responsibility. You’re absolutely not living up to that responsibility if you never take that opportunity.

Thinking correlates with acting, because there is a default behaviour that the collective needs to alter in order to avoid tragedy, even if it is likely impossible to avoid total tragedy. Can the thinkers come up with a rule of thumb to infect individual decisions? Yeah, maybe. It’s been done in the past. Think about laws and enforcement that keep murder rates at globally historic lows in at least the western world, those come from people thinking–“ok shit, murders keep messing up my business of taxing serfs and getting rich.” Progress is making that connection. It isn’t always so higher minded, but logic doesn’t dictate that higher minded sentiments are useless because selfish minded sentiments often have led to good (desirable) outcomes. It is also possible that those in power didn’t make the connection between murder and less taxes, but rather some bystander noticed it and “spread awareness” to the king (or whoever).

Switching gears. Accepting tragedy as part of life seems to be the more honest approach. It would effect many micro-scale choices. If you learn something you do results in tragedy, and there is a “least worst” option, then you might opt to do that “least worst” thing instead of the thing you were originally going to do. Ex: telling jokes that belittle a minority, might be a good way to bolster your own immediate status among some people, everyone’s immediate experience might be enhanced through the jest, but it contributes a marginal amount to systemic discrimination–which ruins people’s lives. But you only ever get to the point of not contributing to systemic evils by “knowing more”, and probably a lot of people had to do the striving to “know more” through “doing”, and were cast aside and their own lives were tragic and full of suffering. Societal tolerance doesn’t come from micro scale thinking, it has come from people who suffered to enhance the lives of the next generation.

So what lesson does that teach us about sticking to “micro” actions in service of happiness as the good life? How would the cynic critique the lives of the martyrs? They were fools OR  more fairly: you can’t emulate that sacrifice to any meaningful end. OR more likely: it’s stupid to seek martyrdom…because it is, the cynic is right about that. But there are smaller scale levels of sacrifice. It is not a binary in anyone’s life choices when they sit down in their elementary school’s life management courses: to be a martyr or not to be. There is power to be wielded in that moment just before telling a racist joke: forgo status and tread not on the lives of others. But there is also the power everyone has to seek the ways in which stupid little actions contribute to systemic evils. So again casting aside objectivity, you have the responsibility to look into how gay jokes are hurtful…and to go beyond that. To find out what else I am doing that’s terrible. To seek knowledge is not about obtaining a universal truth, but to cease actions for which we can find links between seemingly innocuous behaviour and real life harm. In this sense, the quest to “know more” is a moral imperative. It is a place the individual has power to do good, but it is also very very marginal, no delusions about that.

The pointless exercise of laying out a butterfly-effect chain of events, whereby one innocuous “good” deed snowballs into a tragic event, is that you establish cause and effect in the absence of a counter-factual. A good deed could be a piece of an ultimate disaster, you can’t know, so what’s the point? This objection is defeatist, and is an attempt to get off the hook from a moral imperative. What would have happened otherwise? How would you construct the cause-and-effect chain if you were to work backwards? How many like-situations have the innocuous deed in common? That’s where competent research would start. Drawing from prior comments, how often is the root cause of an over-dose the direct fault of those who gave a junkie 5 bucks? Some semblance of understanding the cause-and-effect chain is reasonably attainable. Again, because we have collectively done so in the past with violence.

It all comes down to confidence in how you live. Is it good? If so, that’s what you will act upon. Focusing on oneself is commitment to individualism, but individualism is a myth, at best. People are social animals, and they really do not prosper in isolation, regardless of how much that is romanticized. Individualism focuses on cause and effect, and evaluation thereof in isolation to the real world consequences and starting points that involve the actions and lives of others. Individualism might give a sense of power to the individual, but it’s not equipped to define what a good life is. So my goal would be to erode confidence in individualism, because it is easily just as much bullshit in a moral sense as “spreading awareness”.

“spreading awareness”

We all hate the guy that got caught jacking it trying to save the children in Africa from Joseph Kony. Why?

Spreading awareness is an easy target for cynical critics–mostly because of the pompous righteousness of the slacktivists who rest their laurels on “spreading awareness”. Smart people can smell the bullshit for what it is.

My stance: spreading awareness is bullshit if done to elevate ones own status. How can one judge if this is what someone is doing? I don’t know. Spreading awareness is probably never for purely altruistic purposes. Some people might simply not know what else to do, and so they cling to this one thing they can do. Some (probably most) people are bandwagoners, and these people are actually just clueless, mostly motivated by fear of not projecting the “right” values publicly.


Spreading awareness is also what you would call sharing information about important issues. There is nobility in championing a cause.

The reason there is status to be gained by the slacktivists, and the reason people try to attach themselves to causes for status, is because there are real people out there that accomplish good things through raising awareness. Sometimes we call these people whistleblowers, sometimes we call them martyrs, sometimes we call them heroes. There are real stories about these people, and they really did accomplish good things. Not everyone is a charlatan.

….but probably 99.99999% of the time the cynics are right.

Let’s get murky.