Derridadaism ala Donald J. Trump

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“What differs? Who differs? What is difference?”



“Napoleon was better at canvassing support for himself in between times. He was especially successful with the sheep. Of late the sheep have taken to bleating “four legs good, two legs bad” both in and out of season and they often interrupted the meeting with this.” Orwell, Animal Farm


The bizarre appearance of Donald J. Trump as the President of the United States has been attributed to the postmodern musings of the late French rock star philosopher Jacques Derrida, an allegation roundly denied in liberal American newspapers. Derrida, an intellectual-stock-market conman, along with postmodernist allies such as Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard, allegedly perverted academia and corrupted naturally rebellious youth with nonsensical ethical relativism, which motivated students to do their own things no matter how ridiculous and foul. The cult of unreason with its fake reality was spread by media and has been enormously profitable to publishers and their advertisers. Americans, wallowing in relative luxury, were especially prone to becoming untethered from reality, mistaking media simulations for the real thing. Animal Farm came true at the White House with the election of the unreality show star The Donald.

It is with that in mind that I recovered ‘Derridadaism,’ notes I had taken on the University of Hawaii Manoa Campus decades ago, where I interviewed students enthused by Derrida. At that time it seemed the student body had been polluted by postmodernism, that it had infected the minds of many students, turning them into idiots. Now that I have reread my notes, Derrida actually seemed to make sense. I realized that it was my interpretation that made sense, because when I turned to translations of his work, what he had said was utter nonsense. Of course, and he would no doubt agree, a great deal was lost in the translation of French unpolluted by English words.

Derrida is most famous for his critical method dubbed ‘deconstruction.’ When asked to define deconstruction, he said, “It is impossible to respond. I can only do something which will leave me unsatisfied. The questioning subject might not even exist, or at least it is impossible to know it.”

Coral Two


Jacques Derrida advocated the critical deconstruction of structuralism that left radical thinkers with so-called postmodern post-structuralism, wherefore he was obliged to explain the conception he was demolishing.

Exclusive, dogmatic constructions are repressive creations doomed because they depend for their structure on excluded content hence the repressed content is always implied in the creation a structure and shall invariably return with destructive consequences.  Structuralism smacks of brittle metaphysical rigidity, of the nebulous permanencies of ontology. Structure is just another name for the outcome or production of a presiding being in itself unmoved but is at once the motivating principle from which systems are supposedly derived; such as, figuratively speaking, the principle of the line, which is a non-dimensional point, somehow present throughout the extent of the line. The history of an idea or object of thought is a series of such points or imagined being differently named.

“The entire history of the concept of structure,” posited Derrida in Writing and Difference (1967), “must be thought of as a series of substitutions of centre for centre, as a linked chain of determinations of the centre. Successively, and in a regulated fashion, the centre received different forms or names. The history of metaphysics, like the history of the West, is the history of metaphors and metonymies. Its matrix … is the determination of Being as presence in all senses of this word. It could be shown that all the names related to fundamentals, to principles, of to the centre have always designated an invariable presence – eidos, archê, telos, energia, ousia, essence, existence, substance, subject, alêtheia, transcendentality, consciousness, God, man, and so forth.”

As for the hidden essence of his Deconstruction, it was necessarily ambiguous, an eternally elusive eel, impossible to grasp barehanded or to mentally pin down. When asked to define it, Derrida evaded the question with his famous answer: “It is impossible to respond. I can only do something which will leave me unsatisfied. The questioning subject might not even exist, or at least it is impossible to know it.”

Nevertheless, he suffered the mystic’s desire to get immediately to the things themselves, to intuit the things-in-themselves, and ultimately the Thingie; i.e. the Thing-in-Itself or the X or Being or God and the like names for the same presumed subject of spiritual discourse. That coincides with the phenomenological project of getting rid of or destroying such concepts as ‘being’ with critical analysis because all such efforts are bound to fail: ontology, or the science of being, is a false science because it is impossible to know its subject, namely, being. But this begs the question by asserting the existence of being while denying its explanations. Since phenomenology is the science of experience, and we do have an experience of being ourselves, one might say a religious experience of the presence of some sort of absolute being, a phenomenalist true to his phenomena would describe that subjective experience without affirming or denying the objective existence of being-in-itself. Of course there may be no such thing in reality regardless of the experiential implications. Judging from his pursuit of the Impossible Being, Derrida obviously had faith in the existence of that absolute something or rather nothing that ontology failed to grasp intellectually. Apprehension of the impossible, absolute Thingishness of things is delayed or deferred (difference) by their differences. It is impossible to know the thing-in-itself, although one can try to grasp the slippery subject, and always fail because of its lack of qualities. The command inscribed on the temple at Delphi, Know Thyself, is an impossible task. The names we have for things, for instance, ‘self,’ fail to capture them; things in themselves, as Kant reiterated, are inapprehensible and inconceivable. The difference between things is in their relation to one another, the meaning of which is always deferred: as in the ethical relation, the sexual relation, the relation to the other, whom Derrida places in every self and to whom one owes a responsibility for everything, namely, oneself, the self that can never be known because knowledge is an ongoing, endless project. Although skeptical of metaphysical absolutes, criticism can be constructive, analyzing or breaking down things to find out how they work through the internal contradicting, and reconstructing or synthesizing another system to obtain a better result; this is where the deconstructionists have allegedly failed, degenerating into cynical and popular dogmatic skepticism.

Theologians were naturally interested in Derrida’s blathering to the effect that the irrational Logos cannot be approached by reason but only by a leap of faith.  Professor John D. Caputo remarked that Derrida had religion without religion. Indeed, in his maturity Derrida spoke of something “undestructible” and the undestructibility of democracy, hospitality, friendship, justice, democracy, etc. His criticism of conventional concepts was iconoclastic, the destruction of idols to clear the way for indestructible Being, a yearning for the independent absolute, the omnipotent Other. He was a sort of atheistic rabbi for whom God’s name was important because it was a way of naming the unconditional indestructible. His pursuit of the Undestructible betrayed his atheism and revealed that he loved the Absolute so much that he could not cease and desist from destroying the conceptions besmirching it immaculateness.

Traditional religions certainly give atheists cause for uncertainty, to doubt the things of this world and what is said about the Supreme Being, never fully known or adequate represented, although they may still believe that the universe has a hypostasis. The ultimate standard, whether it is God’s law, the law of Nature, or the correlation of the two, forever eludes our grasp. Simply calling the social mores natural or divine does not prove their moral worth. Love and kindness may come naturally by divine order, but so does hatred, despite the fact that we would absolve God of evil by blaming it on ourselves, or call evil good. Theodicy cannot turn evil into good: we may rationalize evil until doomsday, but it is impossible to rationally vindicate anyone for the pain and sin of this world. The beginning and end of the reasoning process that draws the ratio between good and evil is doubt, and that is as it should be if we are to survive our errors.

Indeed, the original sin of humankind is in the imperfection of the part in comparison to whole; if it were not for the individuality that naturally inclines it to error, the newborn baby would be innocent of such sin. Goodness is not merely knowing what one does best and doing it as one’s career, or in suiting one’s purpose in all honesty; we have an honest-to-goodness devil that suits the purpose of his career very well. God’s creation may be perfect, but we should not presume to fully understand its creator, if there is one, or to explain the divine plan. Wisdom is in knowing that we are in fact ignorant of some things, that we do not know ultimate things, thus leaving the future open for change. It is the true believers who make war on the world, and not the skeptics. The low tolerance for uncertainty in certainty certainly has motivated a great deal of violence in our world.

People of faith, who are faithful because everything is uncertain, have nothing to prove to themselves or to others; their faith is expressed in deeds. Religious bigots are people of little faith or bad faith. More often than not we find the pious at war with the world and each other. Their hypocrisy is unsurprising: we are seldom surprised when the do-gooder is caught with his pants down in unseemly places. As for atheists, the world’s greatest atheists are hardly infamous for iniquity. Incredulous and skeptical people are not as well know for evil deeds as credulous, superstitious people, who are more than willing to destroy lives for unseen things, for arbitrary causes, unaware of their ambiguity and repressed ambivalence.

Derrida had little faith in logical structures. He pointed out that the concept of structure was, up to a certain point, as old as the hills of Western thought, a notion he calls the ‘Epistêmê’ (Thought). Both the concept and our name for structure have, like a venerable old tree with a sign on it, roots “thrust deep into the soil of ordinary language.” The Epistêmê plunges deep into the fertile linguistic soil to incorporate the structural concepts below and elaborate figures of speech above:

“The structure of structure –although it has always been at work, has always been neutralized or reduced… by a process of giving it a center or of referring it to a point of presence, a fixed origin… to orient, balance, and organize the structure… to make sure that the organizing principle of the structure would limit what we might call play of the structure… play of the elements inside the total form. And even today the notion of a structure lacking any center represents the unthinkable itself… (T)he center also closes off the play which it opens up and makes possible. As a center, it is the point at which the substitution of contents, elements, or terms is no longer possible… At the center, the permutation or transformation of elements… is forbidden…. (T)he center, while governing the structure, escapes structurality. This is why classical thought concerning structure could say that the center is, paradoxically, within the structure and outside of it. The center is at the center of the totality, and yet, since the center does not belong to the totality… the totality is elsewhere. The center is not the center. The concept of centered structure –although it represents coherence itself, the condition of epistêmê as philosophy or science, is contradictorily coherent. And as always, coherence in contradiction expresses the force of a desire.”

The notion of a contradictory coherence, illogical as it might seem, is standard fare for Hegelian dialecticians. Static logicians who believe A cannot be A and not-A have logical cause to deny the self-contradictory existence of a center or point or principle of a structure or system or organization that is not in itself a structure. Yet a dynamic logician, who is willing to admit to the absurd reality of a continuity between extremes or coincidence or union of apparent opposites, might point out that the non-dimensionality of the principle of a line, namely the point continuously present in the line and referred to in its particular infinitudes by pointing howsoever clumsily to one small place along the line or another, does not disprove the ideal being of an entity whose concrete existence as a unit is denied; in fact, the concept of the invisible point derived from pointing at points is imminently practical. Likewise the principle of an arch in a bridge is invisible but may be imagined and idealized by the drawing of a line through a series of points. A catenary arch, say, the illusionary form of which we witness in the St. Louis Arch, which can be mathematically expressed, although invisible or “merely” ideal, practically sustains the weight of the structure and persons who rely upon it to traverse the impediments. Can the metaphysical beings of ontology do the same, at least metaphorically speaking? Must a human being, who must have faith in the ground under him in order to walk, have faith in the arche of nature, the archon of humanity, or the universal being, perchance to fly, so to speak, to transcend material reality?

Sociologists borrowed paradigms from the field of linguistics in their search for the underlying structures of a variety of sociological phenomena. Given the elements of speech, a virtually infinite variety of sentences can be produced from definite rules of syntax and grammar hence it follows that other forms of behavior might have, respectively, a fundamental structure from which their apparent diversity is derived. Nothing and only nothing is absolute, and even then the notion of nothing is only relatively absolute inasmuch as the negative or the nonexistent is dependent on positive existence. Chaos might be the origin of all things; but order somehow emerges out of chaos and is elaborates itself, giving form to all sorts of stuff. Yet Derrida challenged the notion that any particular order is necessary or final.

We observe that order is a relational quality and not a thing in itself; the term names a verb, the ordering process or way of doing things. We use a set keyboard, the QWERTY keyboard, for the fixed mechanical order of its letters, to mechanically produce the linguistic order of our language, but another typewriter system might do as well; in fact there is a more efficient keyboard-lettering system, one that apparently matches the natural law of our physiology, yet who wants to change now given the cost of the changeover in time and money, especially since the gain in efficiency is rather minor? But the human brain is much more complex than a typewriter. The god in the thinking machine, when unhindered by orthodoxy, loves to play and to experiment; this god when hindered for long shall revolt and be called Satan for whispering in the ear of the tyrant in us all.

Youth naturally tends to rebellion against received authority. A young man wants to be an authority in his own right; that is, to do his own research and arrive at his own conclusions. He would reinvent the wheel, in other words. His conclusions will resemble the ones discovered long before, because research invariably leads to what others have said on the same subject, and one becomes trapped in history, in mental culture, which is, after all, our collective memory, without which we would perish as human beings. Alas, by the time we find out what is really going on it is almost too late. Thus a great deal of time is seemingly wasted, but sometimes new and useful ground is covered when the wheel is rebuilt and the axle greased. When push comes to shove, bad habits might be broken and the behavior of those who have been doing wrong so long that they think wrong is right changes for the better. Hence the wheel must be challenged and retarded at every revolution lest the race be crushed.

Derrida was necessarily familiar with the classical turns of humanism, which are very difficult to master; and within that liberating narrative he found a sort of impossible center or crisis critical of every angle and arc as history rolled merrily along, presumably forward, that everyone might be freed of divisive differences. He heard the irrational screams from the rubble of wrecked Europe. She had careened towards the light at the end of the historical tunnel; not realizing that she was in reverse, she lost her bearings and crashed. Reason was not really at the wheel; at most reason is derived from passion or is a passion itself or part of a passion. Faith in reasoning alone can lead one astray, particularly when Reason is affixed as an idol to the dashboard, and the Heart no longer encompasses the course. Surely there must be some other course than the seemingly rational one that led to the great calamity where havoc and panic and murder and mayhem ran amok, as if the world could not turn without bloody contradictions.

For Derrida, Reason was a historical construction. Intuited truth is illogical and not a historically concocted, reasonable story. The attempt to understand reason tries to be reasonable about reasoning, but reasoning cannot be understood and more than can the man who reasons, or his other passions for that matter. In fact it is Unreason that leads to the One, and Reason to the Many.

Johann Georg Hamann, a Christian mystic, confessed that he was “close to suspecting that the whole of philosophy consists more of language than of reason, and the misunderstanding of countless words, the personification of arbitrary abstractions.” And, “The light is in my heart but as soon as I seek to carry it in my head it goes out.”  The Christian is skeptical of all but God, the ultimate source of arbitrary abstractions.

And Derrida, conditioned to skepticism and cynicism by a philosophical discourse that never seemed to arrive at the absolute truth because it is a creature of humankind and therefore fashioned by the historical circumstances at points in continuous time, was familiar with ambivalences, antinomies, ambiguities, absurdities, the so-called opposites or seeming contradiction which in continuous coincidence work the machines.  He was fascinated by the alternatives to everything; the more incoherently expressed the better. Surrealism for him was not surrealistic enough. At bottom reality was logically absurd: it was impossible for reason to get to the bottom of it. The notion of the Absurd, keenly felt by Gustav Flaubert, the frustrated romantic turned realist, and developed by Albert Camus, frustrated philosopher turned novelist, both of whom were well versed in the classics, was really nothing new, notwithstanding the German pool table and the English put on the French cue ball.

Derrida saw his opportunity in the Absurd, the Land of Opportunity, slapped together his texts, hustled the intellectual market, overturned the big trick and came out on top. For that he is denounced by the losers as an enemy of Western civilization, and even a terrorist, but what he did is at the basis of that civilization; that is, if proper European civilization is, as Pope Benedict thinks, founded mainly on Greek culture and the critical and skeptical philosophy that demonstrated that only the wise know they are ignorant of the alpha and omega of ultimate things. The Greek philosophers might as well be charged, like Derrida, for playing “mere” language games; they certainly loved their riddles.

Of course Derrida’s detractors were offended most of all by his style, which they called “postmodern” to his dismay; he should not have been offended, for there is some truth to the term. Yes, postmodernism is such a hodgepodge of intellectual rubbish left from the deconstruction of structuralism that it is impossible to define, yet when applied to architecture, the label implies a classical restoration, albeit somewhat disheveled under modern guise.

Derrida’s freestyle clouded the fact that he was offering up the same old dishes but differently sauced and garnished. Some things never change, like the bay leaves, which the Pythias at the oracle of Delphi chewed ad they inhaled the natural gas emitted from the earth with hysterical effect; the priests translated their ravings into ambiguous, bad poetry. Derrida’s allegedly unreasonable, anti-Enlightenment approach, however, was tethered to traditional standards, employing well the tried and proven methods of the ancient skeptical masters. As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the Sun. By all means one must avoid saying the same thing in the same way to avoid seeming platitudinous. If we bear with Derrida long enough, he makes sense because he is referring us to something we already know but cannot express.

Derrida certainly had his detractors. He was a skeptic who did not merely suspend judgement in his search for something but apparently believed in nothing verbal except nothing exists. The person who apparently believes in nothing is hated as an infidel. A most caustic, the October 21, 2004, obituary in ‘The Economist’ declared:

“The inventor of ‘deconstruction’ – an ill-defined habit of dismantling texts by revealing their assumptions and contradictions – was indeed, and unfortunately, one of the most cited modern scholars in the humanities…. It is not that Mr. Derrida’s views, or his arguments form them, were unusually contentious. There were no arguments or really any views either. He would have been the first to admit this. He not only contradicted himself, over and over again, but vehemently resisted any attempt to clarify his ideas. ‘A critique of what I do,’ he said, ‘is indeed impossible’….“The playful evasiveness of deconstruction masked its moral and intellectual bankruptcy.”

Playful deconstruction, then, is a rite of passage for rebellious children, maintained by adults who never mature. Since wordplay is multi-vocal and vents a plurality of unique interests despite a universal mode of expression, nothing is final: There is no such thing as absolute truth, nor is there a singular meaning of a complete sentence; everything metaphysically said may be misinterpreted and reinterpreted. One way to rid the society of the linguistic domination of its high priests is to make a joke out of it, to not take it serious, to play with it, to philosophize freely with it hence denying that philosophy is scientific, something reasonable and prior to language that must therefore be separated from the play of language in order to represent truth in some concise, terse, formulaic manner. It is talk about talk and that is all it is. The logo-centric deconstructionists do not want to take life seriously; they want to play with things, they would rather talk about everything than fight for the right; thus in their intellectually intolerant tolerance they leave the dominant oppressive power intact; they want to talk about talk instead of doing something useful; they are conservative in the sense of regression to babbling childhood. Their talk about personal identity in multicultural diversity is vain and subjective, deludes people into thinking their own lifestyle is righteous, and leads to ethnocentrism when challenged. Socrates’ declamation against the followers of Heraclitus may be recalled in our context: “If you ask one of them a question, they draw out enigmatic little expressions from their quiver, so to speak, and shoot one off; and if you try to get hold of an account of what that one meant, you’re transfixed by another novel set of metaphors. You’ll never get anywhere with any of them.”

Having faith in nothing, claiming that everything was defined by inherently indefinite differentiation, Derrida is said to have denied his responsibility for the irresponsible behavior of his followers. Literature teachers corrupted by his pernicious nonsense, were allegedly “armed with a new impenetrable vocabulary, and, without having to master any rigorous thought, they could masquerade as social, political, and philosophical critics,” and corrupt the youth and demolish classical culture.

Maurice Blanchot was one of Derrida’s heroes. Blanchot supported Petain during the decline of democracy, advocated terrorism and anti-Jewism. Another hero was Georges Bataille, averse to reason and an advocate of fascism as a charismatic martial means of glory and unity. Derrida’s concept of the Other was influenced by Bataille’s view, that otherness transcends the political and economic considerations of the money-loving, utilitarian, bulging-belly bourgeoisie. Furthermore, he used his deconstructionist technique to defend Nazi Party members Martin Heidegger and Paul de Mann.

Derrida’s radical skepticism promises reconstruction after deconstruction but never delivers, hence is by no means creative destruction or constructive criticism, but is in reality dogmatic skepticism, hence nihilistic. The deconstructionists therefore would not compromise or contribute to compromise or mutual give and take, that is, engage in a democratic process. Quite to the contrary, Derrida himself condoned irrational Nazism by not condemning his dead friend, Paul de Man, who had in his youth had written anti-Jew articles in Belgium for the Nazis, one of which articles seemed to advocate a final solution to the so-called Jewish Question: “A solution to the Jewish problem that aimed at the creation of a Jewish colony isolated from Europe would entail no deplorable consequences for the literary life of the West.” Professor De Man, by the way, had lied at Yale, where he was a member of the literature department: he claimed he was a refugee from Europe, and insinuated that he had been a member of the Belgian resistance. Derrida deconstructed his friend’s articles in such a way that led him to conclude they were not anti-Jewish, leading one critic to say that deconstruction could prove Hitler was not anti-Jewish.

Derrida wrote fondly of friendship, the affection people have for each other despite or because of the differences between the one and its others. Loyalty is the prime virtue of friendship, a favorite stance of neoconservatives until they are indicted and offered a deal. Still, personal integrity demands that we admit the faults of our friends when defending them, rather than deceiving ourselves and others because we believe we are always right in love no matter the defects of its object. He believed that the death of a friend one loses the significant other who opens up the world for us. “There come moments,” he said, “when, as mourning demands, one feels obligated to declare one’s debts. We feel it our duty to say what we owe to friends.” In ‘The Work of Mourning’, as a writer who writes because he reads, he recognizes his debt to other writers by way of mourning them with his words

Derrida defended Martin Heidegger, who had been exposed as a member of the Nazi party, and he stooped to describing Nazism, which is opportunistic and has no set philosophy, as a rational philosophy, admonishing his friend merely for his faint adherence to liberal humanism. Wherefore Derrida was accused of fostering racism and fascism and for being influenced by Heidegger’s philosophy of Being and Time. To add insult to injury, although he denied he was a “postmodernist,” he was accused of being a postmodernist associated with terrorism, guilty by association because postmodernist Jean Baudrillard had remarked that the destruction of the World Trade Center, the binary symbol of the military-industrial complex, fulfilled in fact the wishful thinking of people fed up with the arrogance of the sole superpower.

For Baudrillard, the external violence was the visible counterpart to the violence of internal security forces. Derrida himself rejected the description of the September 11 attacks as an act of “international terrorism” because the concept labeled “international terrorism” was too vague to identify the specific nature of the subject of discourse. Yet a propensity to terrifying physical violence was imputed to Derrida from his conceptual deconstruction of metaphysical notions; i.e., his radical criticism of dogmatic positions by using opposition to turn them upside down and inside out. Indeed, he was derided by his intellectual foes as a violent man for restating platitudes attributing progress from revolution and justice under the law, to violent enforcement. His deconstruction of grand traditional narratives is intellectual terrorism, it was said, was tantamount to the Nazi book-burnings. His champions, however, claim that his skepticism and active disintegration of the concepts embraced by warmongers made him an apostle of peace.

Derrida was purportedly a diabolical French agent of the German Romantic corruption of the democratic principles of the French Revolution, and an anti-humanist ally of Germany’s neoconservative anti-intellectuals of the 30s. His celebration of cultural differences undermines universality and thus constitutes a threat to imperial democracy, presumably the only reasonable and therefore valid universal form of civilization capable of the toleration of differences. The United States of America, the sole superpower and epitome of high civilization, is the epitome of representative democracy incorporated. So notwithstanding his pronounced repudiation of postmodernism, Derrida was classed with the postmodernists, who were themselves wont to praising his works.

Derrida’s detractors said that he, like the flotsam-and-jetsam postmodernists, hated America’s guts and wished all along for the fall of the military-industrial complex’s Twin Towers of Either-Or reasoning: One is either good and therefore for Us, or evil and therefore against Us; one must either buy this or buy that, by all means must buy into our consumer democracy; all those who do not lead productive lives as consumers are defined by the surgeon general as mentally ill and therefore need the subsidized drug industry. In fact, Derrida was faulted for not drawing Either-Or differences to raise one difference over the other, say Right over Left, except to reverse or subvert stated hierarchies in order to demonstrate that what can be raised high in a text can be set low, and vice versa, to demonstrate that no meaning is final, no concept is absolute, no value is permanent or eternal. He emphasized change over permanence, a sort of dynamic differentialism that struggles to know perfect, the impossible – Nothing is perfect. You see, binary oppositions such as Good/Evil are arbitrary, happenstance coincidences.

His admirers claimed his ultimate political target in celebrating difference or pluralism was totalitarianism of any kind. His detractors, however, insist that he, like Socrates, the greatest Sophist of them all, and other sophisticates and dialectical devils down to this very day, used reason to raise the worst thing as the best, to make the weaker argument the stronger, and the like; or at best, they cultivate a dangerous ethical relativism that tends to topple all gods and social goods, leading to the demoralization and degeneration of civilization, especially when one of the plural factions, say a racist or ethnocentric party, reverts to the barbarian tribal principle, that might is right, to terrorize all, suspend civil constitution, and establish arbitrary tyranny in defiance of the tolerant pluralism that allowed it to seize power.

Wherefore humanists, for whom the rational human being is the alpha and omega of discourse, worked to constitute rational safeguards that would prohibit, for the sake of the universal, any particular faction from seizing power and holding permanent sway over the body politic. A democratic constitution would ideally afford all parties in opposition to any party holding power a chance to take seats in legislative bodies, and, if the majority of the people so will or tolerate it, to preside over the state from time to time.

The authors of relatively democratic institutions warned against the emergence of particular factions and parties lest they stray from the common good and overthrow the constitution. Two major parties ordinarily emerge in a relatively free atmosphere, the left and right wings of the political bird, and both extremities are affixed to the central body. All too often the two major parties, who find it necessary to compromise somewhere in the middle to preserve their relative interests in keeping the body in flight, wind up playing musical chairs, simply rotating in and out of power in order to share the spoils of powerful offices.

Coincident to the population explosion of the industrial-scientific revolution, big political parties dominated by bosses became necessary to organize the masses and to educate them to the issues; needless to say, the education was simplistic and often exploitative, suiting the motives of power brokers rather than the needs of the people. The major U.S. parties, both of which recognize the same founding father, are essentially the same in their “neo-liberal” principle or organized greed; voters are given virtually the same candidate with different names and party affiliations; true, differing ideological campaign stances are taken, but radical reform is rendered impossible when the candidate takes the oath of hypocrisy, stating he will do the will of the so-called People instead of following his prejudice—but the general will is so diverse and in itself incomprehensible that the elected official can and will do pretty much what he wants whether it be in the public interest or not, and most people will not be any the wiser until someone gets caught with their hands in the cookie jar or in other inappropriate places.

Derrida’s deriders liked to associate him with the counter-Enlightenment, anti-Kantian, anti-philosophe, anti-humanist mode of thought with its right-wing authoritarian antipathy to liberal democracy, inherited by the New Conservative movement in Germany, a conservatism rooted in the line of thinking of the likes of Joseph de Maistre, J.D. Herder and his friend Johann George Hamann, culminating in the Nazi Party in Germany and the neoconservative movement in the United States. The neoconservative or pseudo-conservative ideology defends particular interests against the universalizing tendency of humanism, which liberates people only to totally enslave them after the final analysis. European conservatives went so far to insist that there is no such being as humanity, that the generalized Man humanists abstract from human beings and idolize simply does not exist except as a figment of their liberal imagination.

Humanism, as far as so-called neoconservatives were concerned, was responsible for the revolutionary violence that eventually resulted in massive crimes against humanity and the threat of nuclear annihilation. From their neoconservative perspective, the cult of reason with its obsession with liberating everyone in the world by spreading democracy throughout the world whether the spheres of interests like it or not is really sophisticated violence and oppression. The light of the Enlightenment, idolized Reason, has been overheated and is bound to set the world ablaze and scorch the earth, incinerating the natural environment and social organisms, each of which had its own, individual or cultural center of life – so much for the relativistic notion that one outfit is as good as another. Public reason claimed as the common good rejects the differences of others, disrespects otherness. Humankind must be liberated from the tyranny of reason and its oppressive either-or mechanic; given the native hypocrisy of the human race, every individual is at odds with itself and the others in the war of all against all; the doctrine of individualism, which would universalize all individuals under the rubric, category-of-one, is a collective farce.

One may resort to myth, magic, martinis, madness and religion to restore the person to exalted status, but there is no better agent for dissolving the nefarious leveling influence of unitary reason than the analytic acid of critical reason liberally applied to the perverse perfusions of so-called liberals – every person, conservative or liberal, would be liberated from his limitations. Of course to use Reason against itself and to set dogma against dogma is blasphemy, but Man seems originally bound and determined to contradict himself ad infinitum – columnists on both sides of every division feed on human ambiguity, hypocrisy, contradiction. Language, given its relation to reason, is in itself violent, a war by abstract means; philosophical writing is virtual suicide in advance of the fact: a philosophical book is bomb and its author a suicide-bomber. May the best or worst man win, for one is as good as another, and likewise his relative ethic and culture. Finally, might is right; hence rightists lash themselves together as a Total under chimerical central authority and are this time called fascists, patriots under Pater instead of liberal democrats led by a Caesar or communists by a revamped Tsar. Ideological lines may be drawn between the political organizations, but in the final critical analysis – that of the battlefield where man degenerates to brute and reduces civilization to rubble – all are the same in violence, devastation, death. Once the ground is leveled, the messiah may appear to compensate for violent, competitive patriarchy; then and only then shall a feminine center of attention hold, dispelling dystopia and giving birth to the New Man in Utopia. Yes, something must be coming from all of this, something much better than presently recalled from past presents, but it cannot appear until the slate is wiped cleaned – expectant Nothing is pregnant with meaning because we are used to waking up.

In any case, Derrida personified the politically divisive French school wont to undermine traditional standards. His followers allied themselves with gay rights, feminism, and Third World causes. People who knew him said he had the devil in his eyes and deliberately pursued a program he knew would madden everyone. As founder of the diabolically difficult school of the impossible philosophical project labeled deconstructionism, he deliberately used dense, complex, and circular language. He infuriated intellectuals with his insistence that the meaning of a set of words is never fixed and clear, for pointing out language is inherently ambiguous, and that the meaning of a term is never present with the word since its meaning depends on a the contextual complexity of innumerable other words. In other words, Meaning is not in the words themselves but in their relations. Those relations change, words are added and subtracted, their meanings change, and those meanings fluctuate by interpretation. Not even the author knows his meaning.

He was accused of corrupting the youth with nihilism, which he repeatedly denied. Arguably, to honestly confess that we do not really know who we are, or what the true nature of the universe is, or what, if anything, god is, proves a man or woman to be of sounder mind than other people whose ideological certainly renders them idiots inclined to destructiveness. After all, the presumably omnipotent Supreme Being, the absolutely self-motivated or uncaused cause, does not have to have a reason for anything at all, for it precedes all things, hence has no cause to think. Yet human beings like other mobile and mortal creatures have good cause to doubt at length in an ever-changing world; it doubt that moves them to exercise their reasoning power to extend their lives. We depend on our want of life for its pursuit by availing means. The human being stands upright with head in the heavens to survey the world in general. The individual shares that perspective with others and is accordingly a social person; the very I or unity of self-conscious processes is a social process. The absence of clarity and certainty of language for the communication of causes (reasons) moves us to reason and communicate all the more. The fact that there is no perfect system of self-help does not stop us from doing our best to help, and to fill the bookshelves with our findings.

An author’s style may be disparaged by critics who do not like an author’s ideas or do not understand them. Anglo-American professors of English who preferred plain English and wanted everything spelled out for them in short sentences did not like the way Derrida wrote, finding his style repugnant to their sensibilities. Human life is inherently ambiguous hence speech is fraught with internal contradictions that, when carefully examined, layers of multiple meanings, but pointing that out will tend to confuse people. His explanations of his philosophy were murky. Deconstruction, if there is such a thing, is an experience of the impossible, so he should not have said anything at all. His prose is turgid and baffling, with single sentences running into three pages, and footnotes even longer. His obsession with making much of difference by drawing differences is irrational, divisive, and destructive of consensus and social harmony, therefore unethical. Never mind that to recognize, account for and analyze differences of opinion is a rational process and one of the pillars of democracy.

Literary professors with scant wisdom tried to imitate his style and philosophical approach and establish themselves as philosophers with profound insight into human issues. Derrida was especially derided by the finalists, the academic lords who wanted traditional finality in their respective English departments, and he was duly praised by the critical climbers who wanted to play musical chairs with the high chairs, because he allegedly preferred to elevate the many over the few if not the one, the multiple interpretation of meaning over the singular, the one and only meaning of literature and life. After all, if literature and its texts have multiple meanings capable of virtually infinite interpretation, every innovative literary critic has an opportunity to become a noteworthy critic as well as a philosopher of note, and might even preside over his or her own English department some day. What could be more democratic, in the sense of equal opportunity, and rational, in the sense that everyone might have his and her ration or fair share, than the celebration of multiplicity? Did not the eternal rationalist and cockeyed optimist, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz do the same? Did he not reconcile the interests of the many individuals, each standing alone, with their common interest in individuality, in the category of one? Ah, but the lords of English at Cambridge adhered to the absolute, unmitigated truth, and militated against the perverse proposal that Derrida be awarded an honorary degree in 1992.

Derrida died at age 74 of pancreatic cancer. It is very bad manners to curse a man at his funeral, to drop deconstructive bombs on his wake. After all, who is “destructive” in distinction to “deconstructive”?  Every human being has its faults in the eyes of others if not in its own, and great beings have more defects than others. Jacques Derrida was the Representative or Great Man of Philosophy ala Victor Cousin, the French eclectic who stole Hegel’s soup, the same soup copiously imbibed by Derrida. Cousin was well aware of the flaws in the great men he studied, yet he said that we must emphasize their positive features to posterity. That being said, we offer this obituary:

Derrida was postmodern philosophy’s rock star; postmodern in this sense, that he was a classical philosopher in neoteric garb, a dandy who dazzled and corrupted the youth with skepticism for the authority we necessarily receive at birth whether we like it or not, doubting dogmatic authors who thought they knew everything in truth, but in truth knew absolutely nothing at all, least of all themselves and their gods; wherefore he continued the Socratic project of putting absolute authority to death, picking its metaphysical corpus apart and laying its authors to rest while mourning their passing into the Impossible—Comte’s Great Being, if you prefer—for the disciples of genuine masters must cut the cord and do their own thing, put their own twists and turns and spins on the same old thing; yea, the disciple devours his yogi and sits on his mat, and for Jacques Derrida that was not a hateful project but a painstaking, loving endeavor that would in time reconcile its unwholesomeness with its holy end, the death that seems impossible after waking up time and time again, hence Jackie had the dreams of a boy, of “dreaming of making love, or being a resistance fighter in the last war blowing up bridges or trains,” until Jacques, in his maturity, wanted “one thing only, and that is to lose myself in the orchestra I would form with my sons, heal, bless and seduce the whole world by playing divinely with my sons, produce with them the world’s ecstasy, their creation – I shall accept dying if dying is to sink slowly, yes, into this beloved music.”



Self Portrait par Moi

Philosopher Michel Onfray v President Emmanuel Macron

The Resurrection of  Reason by Darwin Leon


By David Arthur Walters

It’s up to me to make the souls of my parishioners live, to make them happy and dream that they are immortal, not to kill them. (Miguel de Unamuno, San Manuel Bueno, Martir

I had not heard of Michel Onfray before France became troubled by the Yellow Vest movement. He is reputedly the foremost intellectual of France; that is, outside of its center in Paris, where jealous critics scorn him for the popularity of his enormous production, referring to the university professor as a high school philosopher, which he actually was for many years in Caen before he founded his own anti-Platonic Academy.

First of all, Monsieur Onfray is reputedly an intellectual giant as opposed to a mean member of the intelligentsia. That is, he is an independent, unruly thinker. No, genuine intellectuals would not prostitute their very souls in institutional brothels, or so they might think until the devil offers them great jobs. And they shall read lots of books because they know that, as Onfray says, “words kill,” and they would like to do some killing themselves. That is why we find them whispering into the ears of kings, emperors, dictators, and presidents so that their will may be done as it is in heaven by the immortal god of death at the risk of becoming intelligent lackeys.

Eric Hoffer, an intellectual longshoreman and social critic, pointed out in The Ordeal of Change (1963) that intellectuals have been traditionally aligned with the powers-that-be; they seldom take up the interest of the masses unless they become frustrated or lose their status. Their love for the People is soon lost when irrational people get in the way of their rational plans. Where the exercise of power is concerned, they differ little from their former bosses: pharaohs, kings, presidents, generals, directors, executives, and so on. He observed that, although radical changes are pioneered by intellectuals, they in turn are eventually elbowed out by practical men because action takes precedence over words when something must be done. Nonetheless, men of words can win the battle for souls: “Only they can get around the roadblock which bars our way to the dispirited millions everywhere. There must be general awareness of the vital role the intellectuals have to play in our struggle for survival. And they must be given a limited share in the shaping and execution of policies which they will be called upon to expound and defend.” Enter the parade of poets, philosophers, writers, artists, scientists and professors to make the new policies “heard.”

Everyone scholiast knows that the philosopher’s Sisyphean task was inscribed on a temple at Delphi: Know Thyself. Onfray says to be a philosopher one must psychoanalyze one’s existential self (do not waste money on interminable Freudian analysis).

But one must know what his being is before puzzling his existence into pieces. That is impossible without the perception of someone else who reflects the self that one is besides one’s physical deeds, that is to say, his habit of thinking, the pattern of his symbolic action. Until then, the so-called ‘I’ or Category of One is an abstract universal, nothing but a myth, and a vain, empty one at that, making of every damned fool a god or colossal ego. Mind you that Onfray is careful to deny that his philosophy and self-spelunking psychology is egotistical.

Onfray’s perspective reminded me of Albert Camus, whose language is plainer, seemingly parched by the Algerian sun as if he were suffering from shellshock and inebriated incredulity. Nevertheless, I was not surprised to learn that both were cultivated in humble circumstances, both had suffered Catholicism, and that Onfray eventually wrote a book about Camus’ philosophy, a book that I have yet to obtain in English much to my disappointment because I want to know if Camus, who insisted he was not a so-called Existentialist, was more of a Gironde than a Jacobin, as some internationalists who claim to know the difference say. As far as I am concerned, the many interpretations of Camus’ works are far more pleasing to read than the works themselves. Yet what little I have read of Professor Onfray diverts me from boredom in its subtle attempts to evade the religious trappings of the prevailing death culture or structure of evil vainly designed to avoid evil by denying death. Google translations of his Romanic French into Germanic English preserves a tasty postmodern mélange that is often much ado about nothing in particular, or art for the sake of art conducted with greater ease than romantic Flaubert’s painstaking effort to be realistic in Leon while Colet was with other lovers in Paris.

Onfray’s wordiness would be tedious absent his rhetorical flourishes, his refreshing restatements of old platitudes, his neologisms, and his incisive if not caustic observations of a human nature that he ironically shares with the race and thus constitutes his self-portrait. There is apparently no such thing as writer’s block for him. Like Jean-Paul Sartre, he would not say exactly the same thing twice or quote his past work at great length, yet he still churns out hundreds if not thousands of words daily.

Indeed, he seems to be a “writing machine,” a label my own worst critic flattered me with after I commented at book length on the pictures she had posted on the Internet of herself and her girlfriend embracing nude under a running shower. On the other hand, my best critic, a public official and former activist journalist, flattered me by telling me I was qualified for subsidized “artist housing” because I was a “bullshit artist.” Of course that category of housing was promotional bullshit, and the darling artist featured by the local newspaper, a man who said he had trouble making ends meet, was graced by an inheritance and had an income of over $200,000 per year.

Onfray’s prolixity, in any case, is far greater than mine, perhaps because he has bigger ears than mine. I tried to listen twice as long as I speak after I learned I have two ears and one mouth. That may be a great waste of time because absolutely truth, unlike, for example, the relative voice and face of my fair lady, cannot be recognized if one does not already know it, and much of what we know of truth is premised on nonsense. Still, thinking and writing machines are machines. I opine that our machines fly from death in patterns describing structures of evil erected by society in its denials of death, wherefore Ernest Becker’s books should be made available at airline hubs so that we know where we are going faster than we think.

So independent intellectuals love the genuine wisdom of which the foolish crowd has very little despite a fool’s bestselling book to the contrary. We would be philosophers, and to that end plain language suffices better than fancy talk. Socrates said a philosopher lives to die, preparing for death instead of avoiding it, so that he may welcome it when it comes. The final cause of life is death, yet I am beginning to believe as I near the blankest wall that the purpose is in the interim, in the propagation of life as an end in itself. In other words, and no number of words shall do, the purpose of life is to take the most pleasure in life that can be had without hurting others, to perpetuate life on Earth instead of dwelling on The End that is really nothing. I believe Onfray agrees.

Monsieur Onfray perceives, perhaps with the “I told you so” pleasure of foreknowledge, what appears to be the application of a biblical structure of evil threatening France today, as if it were prophecy because history repeats itself. That awful machine, dubbed the Borg in science fiction, is the European Union, the proverbial leviathan that would twist the independent lives out of European nations. It has the poor souls of France in its stranglehold, and President Emmanuel Macron, whom he suggests is a brutal monster if not Satan himself, would be its great dragon king in the form of a bronze oven called Moloch, an oven idolized to preside over the sacrificial holocaust of untold millions of souls. Horror of horrors, for Cronus could do no worse with his children in time, devouring them en masse on suitable occasions.

Of course we might think there is no such thing as metaphysical entities in themselves, or gods for that matter, nor that there is there a universal god, the one-god expected to save chosen members of mankind; that is, the omnipotent hence masculine God religious atheists deny although they, as Camus noted, pray to Him in dire emergencies. Western culture is Judeo-Christian, nevertheless, so we forgive atheists for their references to God, who would not be good without Satan, the angel who loves him the most.

In fact, Onfray advises us in A Hedonist Manifesto – The Power to Exist, to take an inventory of what is left of the Judeo-Christian in our daily lives. He correctly says that it is an illusion that Christianity, a punitive religion of redemption through endless guilt and suffering, is waning. In fact he says its immorality has crowded our prisons and mental hospitals with inmates, filled the cemeteries with corpses, and has cursed humankind with Nazi death camps, Stalinist Gulags, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, terrorism, Western fascism, and Eastern communism. So let us do the virtually impossible: eschew the fictions and fables, the ethics of heroes and saints of false religions; let us adopt the true philosophy, an atheism that denies the Torah, New Testament, and Koran in favor of the revolutionary enlightenment of scientific reason. Let’s abandon the ethics of heroes and saints and follow the ethics of the superlative Western sage. Well said, Monsieur, yet you know why that will never happen, because man may be wise but happens to be an animal at heart.

The sage would no doubt be the author who, like Onfray, wisely follows in the footsteps of his atheistic, materialist, existentialist predecessors. The true philosopher must put individual existence before the “being” of essential social constructs, so that the individual is rendered responsible for knowing that it is a body with a thinking brain, and, furthermore, that what we call the “I” is neuronal.

Monsieur Onfray recently made much of President Emmanuel Macron’s statement that he, Macron, is the product of a brutish history, and we could do the same by elaborating at length on Onfray’s reference to the idealist notion that his philosophy is pig philosophy, but that would be rude. He describes his liberal project, apparently unable to rid himself entirely of Judeo-Christian philosophy because, after all, the first existentialists were Jews to whom the unknown deity was so unknown it was anathema to even pronounce the name.

Atheists, we are informed, would give bodily existence priority over destructive abstract universals:

“They refuse to turn pain and suffering into paths to knowledge and personal redemption. They propose pleasure, enjoyment, the common good, and gladly accepted contracts. They take control of their bodies and don’t hate them. They master their passions and impulses, desires and emotions, instead of brutally extirpating them. What is the aspiration of the Epicurean project? The pure pleasure of existing: a project that is always welcome.”

We may imagine therefore that we are mental fields with identities determined by various circumstances and the rather mystical power of self-determination called Will.  Indeed, our sage declares that I have the power to fashion myself. My attempts to exercise that power have given me considerable pain, and I feel guilty for reclining instead. One trainer tells me, “No pain, no gain,” and the other says, “Don’t do it if it hurts.”

“What should we endeavor to produce?” Onfray asks, and answers, “An I, a Me, a radical Subjectivity, a singular identity, an individual reality, a proper person, a noteworthy style, a unique force, an impressive strength, a comet tracing an untraveled path, an energy making its way down a luminous passage though the chaos of the cosmos, a beautiful individuality, a temperament, a character. We don’t have to aspire to a masterpiece or aim for perfection—of the genius, the hero, or the saint; we should just reach out for an insight that will give us a sovereignty we did not previously know.”

Of course we should use the Reason of the Enlightenment as our guide to the happiness of the greatest number. Is that the Reason idolized in churches during the Revolution? That Reason is an Ideal, a Being, the very sort of nonsensical nothing that Onfray would evade for our own good, wherefore his argument is beheaded, first of all, by the Absurd.  What we naturally love the most is power, and politics is the distribution of that power. Political reasoning justifies the beastly drives. The concept of Reason is a social construct; according to whose reasons or causes, and what school of reasoning should I act? Should I read books on logic after abandoning Christian Logos, and remake myself according to Onfray’s reasoning or President Macron’s reasoning?

The problem with reason is human nature. Reasoning is all too often the rationalization of the irrational urges of the beast within. We want to do something, so we do it in the name of reason, and say our conduct is logical. Logic exposes faults in the process, the story, but what is logical is not necessarily true to factual reality, so the effect we want from the cause does not follow. Scientific reason or ideology, the science of ideas, may be helpful in that regard, but politics, the distribution of the absolute power everyone would like to have alone in order to live forever without resistance, is ultimately destructive hence logically absurd.

No doubt Onfray believes that the ‘Reason’ of the Enlightenment, the Light of Reason, has served humankind well inasmuch as it has purportedly liberated the duly educated man from irrational superstitions and prejudices and autocrats. Conservatives may disagree, and some independent intellectuals believe our scientific ideology is idiotology, a philosophy that has replaced theology, that we are plagued by the same daemons within as always, given different names. Onfray may not escape the daemons however fervently he denies their existence, so he might as well refer to such mythical entities and Moloch, Satan, God and the like, and excuse himself by saying the names are merely metaphorical. He probably has perused Antonio Rosmini’s reasoning on this subject and appreciates his declarations that:

“It is clear that the essence of being cannot be known through any other knowledge but through itself. The essence of being, therefore, is knowable in and through itself, and is the means whereby we know all other things. It is, therefore, the Light of Reason. From this point of view we say that the idea of being is innate, and that it is the form of intelligence.” And.  “Human reason has only one Form, which I call the Form of Truth. Ideology is the science of ideas. Ideas are illuminated in the Light of Reason. That reason is Being.” So methinks the Reason of the Enlightenment is really the Supreme Being when idealism is realism.

A man enlightened by reason is supposedly not a brute. President Macron, presently confronted by the Yellow Vests, a mass protest of workers wearing yellow traffic emergency vests, purportedly implied that he is a brute when he told the press on 13 February 2018 that he is the fruit of a brutal form of history, a literary faux pas our Gaulish philosophe, Monsieur Onfray, pointed out in a polemical brief entitled ‘The Brute,’ now being romantically hailed as one of the most eloquent tracts ever written in the French language. That is in addition to other remarkable pronouncements he has made casting the president as a Molochian monster. To be fair, President Macron, well educated by his fair lady, Brigitte, was probably referring to another great principle of the Enlightenment, namely Progress, and meant to say his enlightenment is historical, something every Marxist would understand.

Never mind. Onfray claims that Macron, a student of Machiavelli, does not seek to maintain order but to repress liberal reforms. Wherefore ‘Monstrous’ Macron is virtually a devil incarnate although not as smart as Satan because he made snide remarks, sneered at the poor, and failed to corrupt them up front for appeasements that would soon be wiped out with inflation.

You see, animals are not stupid. The brutish, ‘Jupiter’ Macron, is both lion and fox, in keeping with Machiavelli’s formula for becoming a successful prince.

“The thought of Macron, too complex to be really understood, will enter the minds of citizens faster with the help of flash balls. At the behest of Jupiter’s reason, power breaks teeth, breaks bones, lets out eyes from their sockets, shatters jaws, tears out hands, handicaps, invalidates, fractures, hurts. Eleven people died so far. This armed response illustrates the lion’s share that Machiavelli tells us that with that of the fox, they share the political cake.”

He refers to Machiavelli’s recommendation that, “A prince being thus obliged to know well how to act as a beast must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from snares, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize snares, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those that wish to be only lions do not understand this. Therefore a prudent ruler ought not to keep faith when by doing so it would be against his interest, and when the reasons which made him bind himself no longer exist. If men were all good, this precept would not be a good one; but as they are bad, and would not observe their faith with you, so you are not bound to keep faith with them…. Those that have been best able to imitate the fox have succeeded best. But it is necessary to be able to disguise this character well, and to be a great feigner and dissembler.”

Monsieur Onfray attended a Catholic boarding school he did not like yet he obviously learned to sympathize with the poor and oppressed; he does not like seeing the common people brutalized by the power elite, now represented by The Brute. His listing of the victims of the brutish government is heartrending; we wonder why the United Nations did not intervene with troops after its human rights experts denounced the oppressive police tactics employed against the Yellow Vests; to wit: “Since the start of the yellow vest protest movement in November 2018, we have received serious allegations of excessive use of force. More than 1,700 people have been injured as a result of the protests across the country,” the experts said. “The restrictions on rights have also resulted in a high number of arrests and detentions, searches and confiscations of demonstrators’ possessions, and serious injuries have been caused by a disproportionate use of so-called ‘non-lethal’ weapons like grenades and defensive bullets or ‘flash-balls’.”

Onfray himself deplores “the violence of this Maastrichtian [EU] state against single women, single mothers, widows with amputated retirement pensions, women forced to rent their uterus for a mercenary sperm, victims of conjugal violence arising from poverty, young boys or girls who prostitute themselves to pay for their studies; the violence of this Maastrichtian state over the rural private day after day of the public service that their indirect taxes finance yet; the violence of this Maastrichtian state over the peasants who hang themselves every day because the ecologist profession of faith of the urban Maastrichtians does not clutter with ecology when it comes to the plate of the French that they fill with meat damaged, toxic products, carcinogenic chemistry, food from the end of the planet without caring for the trace carbon and which can even be organic; the violence of this Maastrichtian state on the generations of children cretinized by a school that has ceased to be republican and which leaves to the girls and sons of the possibility to get out not thanks to their talents, but with the help from the piston of their well-born families; the violence of this Maastrichtian state which has proletarianized young people whose only hope is the security of employment of the police, the gendarme, the soldier or the prison guard and whose job is to manage through legal violence the waste from the liberal system; the violence of this Maastrichtian state on the small bosses, the tradesmen, the craftsmen who ignore the holidays, the leisure, the weekends, the outings – the violence there, yes, was the first violence. These are the ones that did not generate violence, but just a first protest against the increase of fuel.”

Fuel costs around $5.50 gallon in France. That is very expensive for low paid workers who have been pushed out of the expensive metropolitan centers into outlying areas and who must therefore drive to work if public transportation is unavailable, not to mention the high freight cost to distribute products, high cost of utilities and so on. That and more, including taxes associated with membership in the European Union have made it difficult for hundreds of thousands of people to make ends meet. It is so bad according to press reports that some families have to huddle for warmth in one room under a single light bulb. Yes, small farmers are reportedly committing suicide. Meanwhile the government is doling out money to emigrants, some of whom are living high off the hog in nice quarters. So people are madder than hell.

The proximate cause of the Yellow Vest mass movement was an increase in the gas tax intended to fund climate change mitigation programs, wherefore Monsieur Onfray argues that Articles 13 and 14 of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen now embedded in the current Constitution specifically provide citizens with a right to determine for themselves whether taxes are needed, to consent to them, and to make sure the burden is distributed according to their ability to pay them.  Some members of the economic class concerned here, mostly white, lower middle class workers, are angry with the elected representatives and therefore want to exercise their right for themselves, that is, directly. They have no power to initiate referendums under the Constitution, wherefore they would have the president or parliament amend the Constitution to provide the right of initiative.

Monsieur Onfray has apparently forgotten to mention Article 12, a provision that certainly appertains to the police brutality he claims is employed by the President of the Rich to suppress the poor:

“The guarantee of the rights of man and citizen requires a public force; this force then is instituted for the advantage of all and not for the personal benefit of those to whom it is entrusted.”

President Macron suggests that he may be amenable to the provision of limited direct democracy, but claims the crowd is not wise enough to, for example, manage the national budget. He has called what may be a sort of constitutional convention in a series of national debates around the country to determine what measures might be put forward for referendum. Monsieur Onfray, however, claims the national debates are just perfume for the monster’s campaign to lead the European Union. The representative of evil, of capitalism run rampant, is merely exploiting the crisis for his own personal good and that of the “Masstrichtian camp,” a communistic allusion to the 1992 Maastricht Treaty signed by members of the European Community to further European economic cooperation into a political confederation.

From Monsieur Onfray’s perspective as an indoctrinated materialist, the idealistic president of France is a reactionary phony and a liar.  The debate is no debate at all because it terms are preconceived to arrive at foregone conclusions. Monster Macron, although a brute, is well versed in the methodology of the Greek sophists, and he is using empty rhetoric to pull the wool over the eyes of the ignorant, credulous masses in need of a thorough indoctrination in historical materialism, in anti-idealistic atheism, so the poor will not be deluded like Jesus into suffering the rich in the name of a non-existent god. Instead they shall take pleasure in self-serving hedonism. They shall be governed by epicures who shall determine what is most tasty.

As for the billions of Euros in concessions made to labor by the so-called President of the Rich aka King of the Bourgeoisie, they are mere “crumbs,” a favorite term of communist polemicists.  And never mind the mainstream media. Its journalists are the power elite’s running dogs. What you see on television is really fake news, propaganda to perpetuate the ruling order it is beholden to. The audience is so untethered from reality that it perceives whatever appears in fabricated virtual reality as truth. President Trump over in America does not even bother to read much because he can please his fawning base by feeding Fox news with outrageous lies and taking the advice of his favorite conservative talk show host.

Monsieur Onfray claims that the President and his ministers fed mainstream media with false propaganda, casting the Yellow Vests as a motley crowd of racists, homophobes, anti-Semites, anarchists, not to mention the Anonymous. Brown shirts, black shirts, yellow vests: it makes no difference. As a matter of fact, they were there in small numbers to take advantage of the situation, just as political ideologues, philosophes, armchair journalists, professors, and other intellectual people flocked to the media outlets to hover over the movement. The Yellow Vest movement, we know, is not tightly organized and lacks a charismatic Mussolini, wherefore it is destined to peter out with modest gains to the cause. Some of its members tried to police the demonstrations, but gave way to the “wreckers,” who use tried and proven techniques of rioting to provoke the police, into overreacting and appearing as brutes.

Violence breeds violence: the brute in almost everyone becomes inflamed; nice people assault gendarmes, the insult is returned, and someone trying to get to work to make a living gets mad and drives his car into the crowd. Fortunately, few people have thus far been hurt in comparison to the thousands lost in China during the Tiananmen demonstration. Even so, pots like to call kettles black, and the rhetoric of Monsieur Onfray, who professes non-violence, projecting all the blame for the violence on the government, and particularly on President Macron, may serve, in the minds of the participants, to justify further outrages, for, as he says, “Words kill.” After all, what is going on here, he says, is “populicide,” the slaughter or massacre of innocents, so presumably righteous people have the right to take up arms in self-defense. The president, then, is a murderer, in a manner of speaking, and it shall be an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. At least he has, with the help of the infernal Masstrichtian press that amplified his vilifications, murdered the souls of hundreds of thousands of poor working people, has rendered them zombies, wage slaves, that is, if they are lucky to have work instead of welfare.

Words from Monster Macron’s mouth are not merely bullshit. They are, of course, “symbolic violence” in the ears of people who disagree with him, opines Monsieur Onfray, and, what’s more, they are warmongering slaps in the face! Imagine being told that you do not know what is going on, and your ideas of reform are worthless because true reform is not a child’s play! And, he suggests without any evidence that agent provocateurs were at work for the government to provoke the crowd so gendarmes could beat the hell out of people, engage in murderous populicide, and terrorize the survivors into not coming back the next weekend. This is enough to cause some people to reach for their weapons in self-defense, to say that the best defense is an offense. But of course he does not recommend violence. It is best for a hedonist to refrain from violence if he would please himself for long, or for an epicure to retire to a utopian commune to appreciate the finest things of life instead of gorging oneself with red meat, or, better yet, to escape from reality by writing philosophical books because the best thing to do about something is nothing when the conclusion is ordained from the beginning: Never mind the brutal state: it will wither away one day, and people will live happily ever after, at least until a comet destroys Earth before humankind inhabits other planets.

Our philosophy professor is correct when he says the police overreacted, that its means were brutal in comparison to the method taken to quell violent rioters in 2005, and that the “child king” failed to immediately take appropriate action when the movement began. But he is incorrect when he says the President is a liar if he says he is not personally responsible for injuries and deaths, because, in fact, he is the head of state, and as such he is a murderer. The brute is him, sayeth Onfray. Do not blame his ministers entirely for the decisions made, for he chose the repression; each wound inflicted is his fault.  He is a perfect scapegoat.

My first thought when I saw the videos of the demonstrations was, “Why are the gendarmes tear gassing demonstrators and shooting at them with flash balls and trapping them in side streets to beat them up when they were just standing still or walking peacefully on the Champs-Élysee? The way this is going pleases the anarchists.”

There did not seem to be any rules of engagement except to engage the protestors in one way or another just to be doing something. Why so much tear gas? Tear gas can seriously damage the lungs, and is outlawed in war. Why the flash balls? There are other devices that disintegrate on impact, and there are water cannon. Why are they shooting people in the head with flash balls?

Not that I am a “bleeding heart liberal.” In fact, I was in Chicago with my family during the great blizzard, and when Mayor Daly said “Shoot looters to kill,” I agreed that shooting criminals after warning them was good policy. And I would not have cried out loud except for the loss to relatives if the French police shot wreckers engaged in destruction of property, looting of shops, and endangering the public.  Of course that may be bad policy since that may enrage a crowd to overwhelm the police, but I am not a politician.

My personal opinion was not that some monster named Macron, in collusion with the EU government, had ordered his minister to have the police terrorize the peaceful demonstrators in order to boost his aristocratic ego, perhaps become a virtual president of a United States of Europe, and cause dissidents to cringe and go home with tails between the legs. Imagine, what was going on behind the scenes? Was a communist plot detected and a coup feared?

More likely, what we saw was the result of inexperience, bad training of the rank and file, and outmoded police methodology. More likely, the government learned from the experience. More likely, Monsieur Macron is not as arrogant as he looked in the beginning, and that he and his cabinet and Brigitte loved the French in French people well enough to listen to people and provide billions in relief to everyone concerned. That relief is not as crummy as the power-hungry leftists would have it. The whole thing is a blow to the economy at the wrong time, just as the UK, which contracted nationalism measles, might exit the EU.

On the one hand, Onfray, whom we hope is a not a classic cynic or someone who has little faith in the value in the salvational value of the artificial or idealized cultures of man hence would presumably take pleasure in living like a dog under the porch and fornicating at will in public, portrays the President as being as clever as Satan. But on the other hand he mocks him for not being clever, that is, for not being as cynical as Pompidou back in May ’68.

He credits Pompidou with ending the disturbance by employing intermediate bodies with a political cynicism should have inspired Monsieur Macron: union and government officials colluded in meetings culminating in the Grenelle Accords with spectacular salary increase, increase of the unprecedented minimum wage, reduction of the weekly working time, expansion of the right to organize, a boost to family allowances, an increase in the benefits offered to the elderly, payment of strike days, lower user fees for social security, knowing very well that inflation would offset these gains a few years later.

Well, yes, it would behoove the President of France, that is, if he would be a great man instead of a diacritical mark over a vowel in French history, to promote the provision of such relief as can be had within reason, and that is what he is doing albeit he was late in the uptake. Yes, he knows that inflation might wipe out those gains, especially if more money is printed to foster socialism. As an investment banker he knows that inflation tends to reduce the value of debt, which can be a very bad thing for investors.  So I suppose he is cynical enough about the competitive nature of man to try to strike a compromise that might keep the people on the Middle Way, namely, the wisest path, perhaps a yellow or gold path that will widen the middle economic class and keep people fat enough to stay off the warpath.

As for May ’68, I must attend Monsieur Onfray’s class, because I thought it was actually Charles de Gaulle who saved France from revolution and not Pompidou’s “cynicism.” The great general was unpopular at the time, but when he disappeared to a military compound in German and his wife secured the family jewels, he gave the people the classic choice between order and chaos: the overwhelming number of people chose order and went back to work.

I expect the French people will most likely choose order today. Reforms are needed. People have their liberties and they are indeed suffering liberally. But they are not eating grass and rotten bread filled with sawdust and ground up bones of people starved to death. Would be leaders of the Yellow Vest movement are at odds with one another, and the gentler ones, the ladies, are being insulted and threatened as the movement is boiled down to its diehards. The movement does not have the students and the unions. It does not have a Mussolini and philosophers to fashion a popular political platform.

May revolution and war be forgone although militants advocate it, reasoning that a conflict is needed to keep the wheel of progress rolling forward. It would annihilate everyone in its path until total destruction is accomplished. May heaven forbid—the atheists would have their heaven on Earth. Herr Hegel the idealist was so shocked by the horrors of the Terror on French soil that he withdrew into the logical absurdity of dialectics. I prefer Madame Beauvoir’s ambiguities, but dialectic will do provided it is limited to pacific argument and constitutes rolling compromises.

The tendency of the progress of social organization is to growth and consolidation into a highly organized federal world or international global order tolerant of diverse cultures, states, and nations. That order is socialist, not the corporate board socialism of the few but the socialism of the many. Einstein was correct when he characterized nationalism as virus, a contagious disease.  The West is suffering an outbreak of this disease. The EU may collapse. The United States of America, an indissoluble union of states forged in civil war with the help of French libertarians, has lost its bearing in truth. Lacking a vaccine, billions may die of the plague, but we think not because a socialist backlash is mounting.

The vaccine is the right balance of freedom in order. Yes, man must have matter, the ground or hypostasis, not to crawl upon but to stand erect upon with his head in heaven. If Monsieur Onfray were correct in his perception that the government of France is repressing people so they may not stand up for their rights, forcing them to crawl on their knees for crumbs or be imprisoned or liquidated,  I would congratulate the intellectual giant for his eloquence. I refrain from doing so for now to see the effect of his words, whether they incite violence or motivate peaceful reform.

Shorn of its rhetorical ornaments and sophistries, his philosophy appears to be molded by communist propaganda of the pacifist sort. We might say, to please the French, that it is a secularized French version of resentment, namely, ressentiment, a silent resentment that frustrated peoples have towards superiors whom they blame for their predicament yet do nothing about it whine, remaining submissive while feigning moral superiority.

I agree with the man on many things, for he is like me whether we like each other or not. I agree the most with his pronouncement that:

“The self must have a healthy relationship to itself if it is going to relate well with others. An identity that is either missing or weak prohibits any kind of ethics. Only the force of an I authorizes the mobilization of morality.”

Whom do we hate the most when we hate the others, and whom do we love the most when we love the others? Hypocrisy is the underlying crisis between our ideals and realities. We hate because we love something better. Confess and forgive the beast, have faith in your higher self, hope for the best, and you shall have charity.


Miami Beach February 2019

The Metaphysics of Personal Existence







“Personal life is the fine flower of life.” Emanuel Mounier

I. The Gist of Existentialism

Personalism might be a popular ideology or at least a household word today if existentialism had not better suited the aversive reaction to the cult of supreme personality that had fostered two massive world wars. Whereas personalism emphasizes the social human being, existentialism places the onus on the individual alienated from society, and affords bare existence priority over clothed being. Existentialism is an anxiety-bound mélange of rationalizations spawned by homelessness, alienation, the meaningless of life and absurdity of death made apparent in the horrors of two world wars systematically fought pursuant to the institution and breakdown of political and economic systems deemed “objective’, “rational”, “reasonable.” Not only irrational faith in a personal god but faith in impersonal reason and universal, abstract systems-of-being was also lost when confronted with the disastrous effects of being fanatically rational and reasonable. Considering humankind as a whole, it does seem suicidal and therefore unreasonable to murder others; yet it also seems quite rational to align individuals or divide the population into fractions that murder perceived enemies for the sake of individual and group survival – there is safety in numbers.

The term “existentialism” was picked up by the press in a smoky Paris jazz cellar from a casual remark made by a jazz singer to a reporter about the “scene” observed by the American tourists flocking to Paris in the aftermath of the war. Jean Paul Sartre and other “existentialists” dismissed the term at first – they were just philosophizing – but when the label came into vogue, they adopted and employed the appellation much to their advantage. Existentialism as they described it includes especially the notion that the particular individual must be solely responsible individual for his own thinking instead of relying on habitual culture or rationalized systems of being; but existentialists seek the impossible, for language itself is a social tool dependent on and responsive to the will of others. Existentialism is not a system at all, but is more or less an anxious and absurd reflection of the human predicament, particularly the predicament of a man’s individuality made obvious by the disturbing fact of death. Indeed, any sort of systematic existentialist thought put forward by a so-called existentialist would contradict the very premise of existentialism – thus did Sartre, for example, strive never to repeat himself.

The subject of Existentialism abstracted from human personality, the subject that is individual human existence as distinct from and prior to human being, is the broadest of subjects, the subject of all subjects subjected to particular existence. Kierkegaard appropriately called abstracted individuality the “category of one.” Being and existence somehow converge in the category of one. The category of one is presumably a general term for particulate being or qualitative individual existence, as if objects stripped of their predicates still had a quality in common – “existence” – but still remain unique in themselves. We might revert to Leibniz and speculate on independent existences as windowless monads that are identical but for number, yet, although identically constituted, somehow have slightly different perceptions.

Suffice it to say that the category of one is incomprehensible hence is compatible with irrationality; the non-categorical category of absolute individual freedom has no relation to hence no dependence for its category on others; thus is existentialism is non-systematic, indefinite, and irrational despite the volumes of rationalizations that justify it. A perceived individual or particular is a unique coincidence of universal qualities had in common by many particulars, qualities that “survive” the individuals involved, so to speak; the qualities are sorts of general beings that have no perceivable existence absent their coincidence in particular objects. The uniqueness of individuals, needless to say, does not preclude their being typecast according to their similarities, thus they are accorded with a higher, more conceptual being. But denuded existence, or the conception of existents stripped of the qualitative predicates necessary for being, is virtually nothing and unknowable to boot.

Christian existentialism, for instance, is a contradiction in terms; Christians in need of an seemingly objective standard or external authority in order to prolong isolated or “freed” subjective individuality beyond the inevitable fate of all individuals, death, project the vague qualitative impressions of the fleeting willful self within onto a screen: the eternal Subject external, the Immortal Subject of subjects, the unknown self-god painted large, the Divine Individualist crucified by existence in the world. But then the Christian existentialist has placed Being before denuded existence, and in the form of a social creature, a human being, thus slips from Existentialism to Personalism. Yet here the human being is still alienated from the Supreme Being although reflecting it.

As Boethius said, “Nothing is said to be because it has matter, but because it has distinctive form. But the divine substance is form without matter, and therefore one, and is its own essence. But other things are not simply their own essences. For each thing has its being from the things of which it is composed. The Pure Form “is truly One in which is no number, in which nothing is present except its own essence,” of “God that differs from God in no respect,” and “where there is no difference there is no sort of plurality and accordingly no number; here therefore is unity alone…..” Precisely how this Being differs from Nothing is unclear, but like the category of one that is said to be individual existence before being, the being before existence strips or alienates the godly person from material existence, and it remains to be seen how this person really exists at all.

However that might be, long before the term ‘existentialism’ was coined, the abstract yet irrational subject of individual subjective existence was considered to be unlimited by or even antithetical to grandiose systems-of-being such as those cranked out by theologians and the likes of Hegel and Marx. Indeed, we have a history of centuries of alienation, freedom, irresponsibility, guilt, despair, and dire circumstances of persecution unto death, not to mention other factors of enormous interest to today’s existentialists.

II. The Gist of Personalism Personalism shares existentialism’s concern with the plight of the existent individual; the rhetoric is similar is several respects. Yet we may draw a convenient distinction to posit that personalism is the hopeful affirmation of the absolute value of the socially organized human personality, in contradistinction to existentialism’s pessimistic denial of the virtue of socially organized being. Personalism’s social optimism is not the positive mental attitude of the bourgeois towards the rational organization of economic mass man for production and consumption. Shortly before the Great War, optimistic leaders at international peace conferences declared that free trade between countries had rendered war obsolete; for, they argued, unprofitable war would certainly be self-destructive hence insane. But self-destruction is the unconscious motive for war. Of what avail is it to tell angry competitive men, for whom economic trade is an unsatisfactory surrogate for war, that the murder of particular enemies is on the whole a form of mass suicide no matter who wins or loses? The enemy, sayeth the prophets, are the rods of god, thus does the death instinct serve the god of death and relieve the swarm of its crowded stress that the remainder can begin anew with more elbow room. Once the ground is leveled, the survivors clutch their bibles, glorify their god, and the say ‘never again’ during the reconstruction period; but once prosperity sets in, bibles are laid aside and the golden calves are reestablished on altars for a repeat performance.

Emmanuel Mounier, a pioneering Personalist of Catholic disposition who took refuge in Vichy France, where he was involved in the moral indoctrination of youth, had this to say of the vicious cycle wherein the cheap, hypocritical optimism of having a positive mental attitude no matter what transpires plays an important role when business is done as usual before the next apocalypse:

“But our countries, devastated by weariness, now need the builders of hopes and duties. I have developed the theme of triumphant history, because it is the Christian view of history, not in order to make the plethoric Christians feel more at ease than the cavaliers of anathema and scorn. Perhaps tomorrow we shall be invaded by worse than barbarians, by Babbitts, with crucifixes of gold, teeth of gold, and hearts of gold, coming to preach their new theologals in a big way: optimism, good temper and philanthropy, which can be achieved much more easily, we know, through using the right toothpaste, well-adjusted foundations and a Parker pen, than through the Word of God. Then once more we shall need those great sombre voices.”

Personalism is essentially conservative and at odds with modernism and the unrestrained advancement of objectivist science. “Material” science, with its emphasis on analytical thought, its obsession with breaking everything down into bytes and bits, disintegrates the various social masks upon which dynamic human intercourse depends, reducing the human being to the status of a bare unit, a programmed, windowless monad whose program gives him cause to perceive that his existence is independent, while, at the same time, responsible. Ironically, he has been thoroughly socialized in the totalitarian sense. Nothing stands between him and the political-economic dictatorship. So devoted is he to rational production and consumption that he has little or no time left for clan or club or community; as for the nuclear family, it is an empty vestige of the productive institution it once was.

Not only has science dispelled belief in spirits, gods and other mythical entities, but its mechanical way of thinking if taken to its logical conclusion would transform nature and man into machines. Thus God, Nature, and Man are dead. Yet if a man were acting like a machine, we would deem him insane; providing, however, that we were not machines ourselves – in which case his behavior would seem normal. Wherefore we must revitalized and restore the human person – the social human being. This person is at least metaphysical or spiritual if not “divine.” Biological evolution and scientific progress are irrelevant in the personal context: in that context, only the person is real; the rest is mere phenomena. Our thoughts about the phenomenal world may or may not be valid, but reasoning will never disclose the ultimate foundation of reality or nature; for thought itself is phenomenal, and Being is prior to thought. A being, say, a human being, then, is always more than and prior to a thought.

Personality has an individuality or existent aspect, but it is one shaped by society: the individual human being is naturally a social, thinking, rational and reasoning creature. Theological personalism – in contrast to anarcho-Christian protestations of anarchic individuality represented by an arbitrary, divine Anarchist, avers that the ultimate reality of the world is a Divine Person who sustains the universe by a continuous act of creative will. For Emmanuel Mounier, that incarnate god or Christ calls human beings to be Christian gods:

“Christianity gives man his full stature and more than his full stature. It summons him to be a god, and it summons him in freedom. This, for the Christian, is the final and supreme significance of progress in history.”

Mounier pointed out that the bourgeois conception of individualism emerged from the revolt of the individual against traditional society during the Renaissance; it was a revolt against an inflexible church and domineering economic system; the revolt lead to the Reformation and Industrial Revolution. But the conception of freedom that inspired the revolt doomed society to another sort of decadence, a corruption presided over by commercial speculators who profit from doing little or nothing.

“This speculation, in which profit is gained without the rendering of service, was the ideal towards which all capitalist endeavor tended. Thus the motive passion of adventure gradually gave way to the soft enjoyment of comfort, the passion of conquest to the ideal of the impersonal mechanism, of the automatic distributor of pleasures devoid of risk or of excess, regular and constant, derived from the machine and from fixed income…. The substitution of speculative profit for industrial profit, and the values of comfort for the values of creation, has gradually dethroned the individualistic ideal and opened the way to the spirit which we call bourgeois because of its origin and which seems to us to be the exact antithesis of spirituality.”

The new Christian “is a man without love, a Christian without conscience, an unbeliever without passion. He has deflected the universe of virtues from its supposedly senseless course towards the infinite and made it centre about a petty system of social and psychological tranquility…” Therefore contemporary man “needs the tragic, the Cross, as a goad to prick him along the right course.” God did not create man perfect because he wants him to work for a living, to perfect his self.

No doubt the socio-psychological disposition dubbed ‘personalism’ has ruled the sentiments of sages since prehistoric times. Even people who fervently believe in abstract existents denuded of personal qualities tend to imitate personal models and behave according to their socially derived personal biases and prejudices – Camus depicted the typical atheist of his day, who fell down on his knees and prayed to God in secret when he felt his life was at stake. Despite the many professions to the contrary, personality is the ultimate reality for personalists.

Mundane personalism strives for the full awareness and understanding of the human condition so that an happy accord may be realized between the universal WE and the particular I, or the person as the synthesis of individual existence with the socialized individuals or persons it introjects from its environment during the course of its development towards being an ideal human being in existence; that is to say, in a philosophical phrase, the human concrete universal, or, in theological terms, god incarnate. Personalism therefore is not contemporary individualism:

“Individualism is a system of … mutual isolation and defense,” Mounier explained. “Man in the abstract … the sovereign lord of a liberty unlimited and undirected, turning towards others with a primary mistrust, calculation and self-vindication; institutions restricted to the assurance that these egoisms should not encroach upon one another, or to their betterment as a purely profit making association…. (Personalism) is opposed to contemporary individualism. Personal man is not desolate, he is man surrounded, on the move, under summons…. It is the primal sin of the West to have departed dangerously from the original truth.”

Nor is personalism other-worldly: “It is not affirmed outside the world or separately from the other, but against the impersonal world of the ‘one’, the world of irresponsibility and flight, of lethal slumber, amusements, ideologies and chatter, it asserts the world of responsibility, presence, of effort, of ‘abundance.'”

Personalism, according to Mounier, is a form of communion: “There is one affirmation that is common to all Personalist philosophies… that the basic impulse in a world of persons is not the isolated perception of self (cogito) nor the egocentric concern for self… but the communication of consciousness…. We should prefer to call it the communication of existence, existence with the other, perhaps we should say co-existence.”

III. Religious Implications of Personal Existence

We find nothing fundamentally novel in the modern personalism that places being before existence and thus emphasizes social being over the individual existence or existential aspect of the personal unity we call a person. The late Polish pope was certainly conservative of the ancient personal tradition; his admirers may be unfamiliar with the term, personalism, yet the pope, whom they consider qualified for personal sainthood at his death, was committed to formal personalism early on in his intellectual career. And the ancient Eastern Orthodox Church has as a matter of course taken religion personally; that is, as a religious commune of individuals who have their personal identify in the Divine Person of Jesus the Christ.

Hindus have enjoyed a lively dialectic on the personal or impersonal nature of the divine Subject of subjects for many centuries. Religious personalists insist that persons can only have genuine and effective faith in personal deities or in Supreme Personal Being. They claim that impersonalists, who roundly deny the reality of personal deities, are in fact atheists. The Invocation of the Sri Isopanisad, purportedly the essential verse of the variegated Hindu religion, of ultimate importance since it seems to indicate that people would presumably overlook their differences and be at peace if only everyone would realize that everyone and everything is part and parcel of the infinite, has become the main bone of contention on that point:

Om purnam adah purnam idam
purnaat purnam udacyate.
purnasya purnam aadaaya,
purnam eva vashishyate

The Gita Society ( publishes this translation:

That is infinite, this is infinite;
From That infinite this infinite comes.
From That infinite, this infinite removed or added:
Infinite remains infinite.

This Purport follows:


Brahman is limitless, infinite number
of universes come out 
and go into the infinite Brahman,
Brahman remains unchanged.


If we assume that numbers do not exist in themselves but are merely invented counting terms of a contrived mathematical language, then the insertion of the numerical concept in the Purport to demonstrate the being of an ideal infinite super-reality abstracted from material existence is problematic, for there would be nothing in that infinite sphere to count. At first glance we find nothing particularly religious in the original verse, unless religion is the exaltation of the abstract idea of the infinite or unlimited, which can indeed be expressed metaphorically as the mathematical concept of the infinite series; it is not difficult to conceive that there is an infinite number of odd numbers within the infinite series of numbers. Infinity is certainly not a conception beyond the reach of mere mortals, for something is always beyond our grasp; we always want something more than what can be had: so when we think of an object, even the universe, we think there must be something beyond it, perhaps more universes, ad infinitum.

If the Infinite is the unlimited deity, then we might hold that the adoration of any particular form besides the metaphysical form named by an arbitrary term (e.g., the Infinite) is sacrilegious idolatry. There may be an infinite or countless number of finite things to dispose of, but Infinity itself, which transcends every particular thing, is not finite. One might say that Infinity is the feeling of something more to be had, something besides what is grasped and apprehended, the unsatisfied want or desire for complete satisfaction that constitutes the essential dissatisfaction of existential life; for each instantiated life would persevere forever without impedance if only it could, and thus be unlimited power. Each thing would want for nothing and no thing would stand in another’s way; in time, every other installation would be consumed by an existent’s absolute power, and likewise for each other instance – in fact all things do perish, but they perish variously in differing instants of time.

Individual identity depends on relationship. Mr. & Mrs. Jones say they want to be one with one another in marriage, yet once in holy wedlock both complain that they cannot be their true selves because they have lost their identities to each other. If they were in fact identical, they would not have their separate identities, and in fact they need each other and others to be themselves. By virtue of their individual existence they are moved to fly apart. Yet the two may, instead, because they abhor the isolation within which they would each, standing alone, as social creatures be worthless or unwholesome (not sane), work to make inherent strife harmonious, that their differences be concerted in the composition of a mutual personal relationship transcending occasional discordance and cacophony. And that ideal marriage would be naturally motivated – although its ultimate success would require personal education of the existential motive – for each existent would not perish, and to that end it seeks temporal refuge in relationships with others.

Although intimacy is lost in the crowd, safety is found in numbers greater than one, and the more the better. Hence the whole is called good. Absolute safety in an infinite number compounded is thought best. That ideal security might be called Infinity or Supreme Being; as a relationship between socialized individual existents, namely, persons, the whole that is greater than its parts might be projected as Supreme Personality. But compound things are bound to disintegrate, for each particulate as such is, in the final analysis, fated to strive for independence or absolute power over the others and the whole to the best of its ability, and to perish in the process. Even harmonious strife will eventually bring the particulates as they exist to an end, as if they must die for one another that each may live. But if each arrived at the same conclusion at once in the One, nothing finite would remain; call it not-finite or infinite nothingness, if you please. That is to say, the apocalypse would uncover Nothing. Everyone might set aside multiplicity at once to end the war over differences; they might then “enjoy” absolute peace, but the death of the struggle for life would be beyond celebration, wherefore we are naturally moved to struggle against total assimilation and to take pains to enjoy some independence. Wherefore the wave prays to the ocean to protect it from the other waves. Understanding the very process that seemingly makes fools out of us might move us to make sport of war and to take to the arenas instead of the killing fields.

Variety is indeed the spice of life. A little girl in a pink blouse with the word SWEET embroidered across its front appeared with her mother at the Starbucks on South Pointe – the south end of Miami Beach. She had her mom’s facial features and her dour expression as well. Her mother got her a glazed donut, a bottle of orange juice, and a plastic cup of ice. As the tot chewed on her donut, without much interest despite her serious countenance, her mom offered her orange juice from the plastic bottle; but she reached for the ice instead, picked up and popped a cube in her mouth. Instead of pouring the juice into the container with the ice, her mother starting dropping cubes into the bottle, as if to show her child what should be done with ice cubes if picked up one by one. But the girl did not have that objective: she insisted on pressing the plastic lid on the bottle; then she took another ice cube from the glass and popped it into her mouth, whereupon her face lit up with delight. She did not want the liquid; she wanted the ice: she appreciated the sensational difference of form, and no doubt she appreciated the fact that she had obtained it for herself.

Again, nothing in particular would exist without differences; nothing exists within the simple unity and absolute self-identity of the perfect wholeness sometime called the final cause or the end for which all things were created and in which they are presumably perfected and therefore have their truth and beauty; to wit: Good. All existents in unity have hypothetically canceled each other out; nothing but Infinity remains once the vanities are consumed by the bonfire; but That would be Nothing in Itself, which is to say nothing in particular.

On the verge of the abyss, then, we might say “From Nothing to Nothing” instead of “From dust to dust.” We find variations of such nonsensical nihilism or idiotic iconoclasm at the esoteric or occluded core of several religions. Religious ascetics whose sacrificial religion constitutes the good death or virtual suicide, and who identify absolute being with nothingness, might deny the charge of negativity by stating that the affirmation of what is tantamount to Nothing is in fact an affirmation of the All; for example: empty space is the positive permanent fact; the forms of space are ephemeral negations.

In any event one might want eternal life, but in the end each must submit, so perhaps it is best to accept the fact of existential death forthwith and be glad and thankful for one’s small quota of life instead of grasping selfishly and vainly beyond the grave for more than one’s allotment. Of course the end of a finite existence in the infinitude does not erase the fact of its existence in time, wherefore the finite has its infinity within the Infinite. Yet even this scant thought is too much for those freedom fighters who would be finally done with determined existence at its end, and who loath even the idea of being remembered and thus further defined after their bodies are cremated and the ashes scattered in the river. The idea of reincarnation or survival in any form or a marker somewhere is a horror to them. They love Infinitude.

Brahman was not originally identical with the Infinite. We would have no problem with the interpolation of the term in the Gita Society’s Purport if it were yet another term for the Infinite, an arbitrary label completely unladed of its historical predicates. In fact, the accidental qualities attributed Brahman over time unduly limit the substance they are attributed to. The honest etymologist and lexicographer will warn us that the origin and meaning of ‘Brahman’ is rendered uncertain by various, often conflicting attributions. We may for instance boil the word down to the root, brh, which ancient Indian exegetes said meant “being strong,” hence we might conclude that Brahman, a neuter noun, names the absolute or unconditioned power that endures forever and ever, hence is permanent and eternal. Of course our denotation falls apart with the conception of “eternity”, for that which is eternal is timeless hence does not, strictly speaking, “endure” over time; so we dispose of time, the commonsense notion rooted in the experience of succession, and claim that time is an illusion.

Absolute power might be personified as an almighty god and named Brahma. But that would be a waste of breath according to other scholars, for the Brahman found in the Vedas is not eternal or immutable but is said to be “carpented” or made. According to Hindu lore, the personification of Brahman, Brahma, was the first created living being. Accordingly, Brahma does not get the attention or reverence due to an almighty god, not even from his wife, who considers him as her subordinate in one context. Indeed, Brh might have been made by Ma, she who draws out or gives birth to “breathing” things – Maya is at once the maker, the making, and the made. Now brh might also mean “swelling”, as in the swelling of “breath” or speech, or “formation” and “formulation”; wherefore our strongest power might be the creative power that formed the one verse or universe in one breath, perforce in a big bang from a non-dimensional point.

Such an incredible inflation presents a paradox or riddle to this very day – the term barh, incidentally, means “riddle.” Such enigmas are best presented by poets in poetic form. We might imagine Brahma as the poet who utters the universe as a poem; Vishnu maintains the verse by chanting it; Siva finishes it when he decapitates Brahma. Of course there is quite a debate as to this illusory process of creation, maintenance, and destruction. The riddling contest is called Brahmodya; it is a life or death ritual because the maintenance of life above and below depends on it. The loser must submit to becoming the disciple of the Brahmin who wins the contest, or else lose his head. The winners inhabit Brahman, “the highest heaven of speech.”

Now the intellectuals are at leisure to ponder at length and to weave finer and finer abstractions out of nothing and mount the metaphysical ladder or Chain of Being to the Vacuum of Being-in-itself, where they have their faith in Supreme Being, which is indistinguishable from Nothing, The vulgar lot below, who are given to working for their living or who do not want to wither away chained to their computers at the tops of towers, have cause to believe that the highly educated brahmins, no matter how pure they might be, are in fact atheists. What is sorely needed is an exoteric and practical religion; a material religion with representative objects to adore; a personal model, if you please, for the vulgar masses. A totemic idol, say a black bull or golden calf or redheaded jackass will not suffice: only a perfect person will serve the purpose of realizing completion of the whole as god-headed Good. Yes, a perfected human person, a supreme being, an absolute power incarnate might do very well. But how could That be That if the essence of That or the being of Being has no delimiting form or positive definition? We are confronted with an absurd riddle if not the Vanity of human vanities, the sort of contradiction that Luther liked to confidently refer to as “one of God’s mysteries.” For example, in Hinduism we are confronted with Krishna.

The mystery is further compounded by those who claim that the cosmos is really the body Brahman created out of itself, which is nothing in particular; and if we subtract that finite creation, we are somehow left with the universal infinite form, that of the famed person, Krishna, who would seem to be, at least to an ignoramus, a formless form or nothing at all that can somehow, nevertheless, take fantastic personal form on our planet. The Gita Society puts it this way:

”After taking away the infinite creation from the infinite Brahman during the creative cycle or adding infinite universes to the infinite Brahman during the great dissolution, the infinite Brahman remains in His infinite Universal form. This can be mathematically expressed as infinity, plus or minus infinity, equals infinity. This infinite Universal form of Krishna, the Brahman, was revealed to Arjuna and is described in the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita in great detail.”

How the infinite Brahman wound up as an He, instead of a She or S/he or It, to begin with, we do not know as of yet. How a form might remain after the forms of the universe are subtracted remains a mystery – we might suppose the possibility of a formless form, whose gender is merely metaphorically male, a He who may be described in detail when He appears on earth to tell warriors it is their duty to make war even against their own relatives because that is what warriors are ordained to do – we are mindful of the fact that the cause is ethical, for the society our enemies fight for is decadent and dissolute, as the Brahmins who sanction war know very well. Suffice it to say that Brahman may be considered as a fictional persona, a mask over reality, as it were, analogous to a man’s personality, a mask worn by, say, Brahma, the primordial living being, who is analogous to the super man who composes the constituent castings of humankind – His feet are the lowest caste of people, the Sudras, his head the highest class, the Brahmins. How Brahman can be a presumably subordinated form of Krishna, allegedly the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is a question only bona fide spiritual masters can answer appropriately. And answer they must, for the most of us are left clutching at thin air despite the mention of the being of a divine personality.

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of the International Society For Krishna Consciousness, examined the Invocation to Sri Isopanisad and declared that om literally means, “the Complete Whole, and purnam means, “perfectly complete.” He is not satisfied to leave it at that, and goes on to discuss the traditional implications. He rejects the obvious meaning, that, since no persons were mentioned, the deity must be impersonal. He says the Sanskrit words ‘Sri Isopanisad’ means “the knowledge that brings one nearer to the Supreme Person, Krishna. “ He identifies “Brahman” as eternal existence. In that impersonal sense, Brahman alone is insufficient for the Hari Krishna swami and his followers; although they do celebrate Arjuna on the warpath, Bhakti yoga, the path of love, is their path to the union with the godhead; they would be conscious of their dance and blissfully blessed in it. So the ‘Prab’ the acarya rendered this interpretative translation of the verse:

“The Personality of Godhead is perfect and complete, and because He is completely perfect, all emanations from Him, such as this phenomenal world, are perfectly equipped as complete wholes. Whatever is produced of the Complete Whole is also complete in itself. He is the Complete Whole, even though so many complete units emanate from Him, He remains the complete balance.”

“Realization of impersonal Brahman or Paramatma, the Supersoul,” Prabhupada explains in his ‘Purport’, “is incomplete realization of the Absolutely Complete. The Supreme Personality of Godhead is sac-cid-ananda-vigraha. Realization of impersonal Brahman is realization of His sat feature, or His aspect of eternity, and Paramatma realization is the realization of His sat [existence] and cit [consciousness] features, His aspects of eternity and knowledge. But realization of the Personality of Godhead is the realization of all the transcendental features – sat, cit, and ananda, bliss. When one realizes the Supreme Person, he realizes these aspects of the Absolute Truth in their completeness. Vigraha means “form.” Thus the Complete Whole is not formless.”

The impersonalists speak of an infinite number of finite things, and hold that human beings can rest peacefully as replicated common denominators of the common denomination called infinity; they are somehow comforted by knowing there is no fundamental difference between the waves in the ocean, or between the material forms of energy; fundamentally speaking, a cow, a man, a rock and a tree are the same. In fine, Thou art That, so stop fighting it, just accept it.

But contemporary Western culture would rather demolish the traditional forms or render them into commercialized relics in order to accept each other as equals in mutual animosity and make a profit to boot. Once the war of democracy on the world is won and the booty distributed according to merit rather than privileged rank, everyone shall presumably live most complaisantly. The disintegration of traditional cultural modes is graphically represented by the iconoclastic assault on the old art forms that paid ample respect to common human beings if not allegorical or divine persons. Art became increasingly abstract, and eventually the order or structures abstracted fell under the iconoclasts’ hammers, until the art world was converted to a post-modern anti-art world, a veritable junkyard or trash heap where ‘Thou art That’ means the individual is a junkyard dog. The only value remaining was the subjective appreciation of junk, perchance expressed idiotically as an absurd concept that nobody understands, particularly the anti-artist, whose popularity is determined randomly as each rebel contends to be more original or idiosyncratic than the next rebel, not understanding that the their rebellion is stultifying conformity with the status quo of the junkyard. No particular production is really worthy of praise or blame, not according to the dictum, “Art is not right or wrong.” Everything has equal moral value or is amoral, and this is all very democratic and seemingly peaceful and tolerable until the bombs start exploding at home – democracies thrive on wars abroad to tame anarchism at home, and are inherently imperialistic in their pre-emption of competition. Underneath the appearance of peaceful existence in substantial equality lurks an alienated crowd of potential suicide-bombers who would be glad to finally settle any remaining differences between people.

All this would be perfectly acceptable to someone who recognized the Supreme Impersonal Being in it all, for such is life and one might as well enjoy it.

Swami Prabhupada also believed that peace could be found in the Complete Whole, but only if it were a Supreme Person. A human personality, in contrast to the ‘personalities” of animals, is a cooperative fabrication learned and in part fashioned by individuals – hence we use the term “person” in the sense that a person is a synthesis of individual existence and social being. For Swami Prabhupada, the Person of persons, or Supreme Person, seen by Arjuna as Krishna, was the ultimate or transcendent reality of personal life. People who believe civilization causes their discontent may want to revert to wild-animal life, figuratively speaking, they would fain don an animal mask and dance around their totemic fetish. At least there would be no sin, then, in fighting over the kill and its scraps.

“Men face one another in enmity and snarl just like cats and dogs,” observed Swami Prabhupada in his Purport to Mantra One of the Sri Isopanisad, which advises individuals to want no more than their quota. “If they do not recognize the proprietorship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, all the property they claim is stolen…. Animals, birds, reptiles and other lower life forms strictly adhere to the laws of nature; therefore there is no question of sin for them, nor are the Vedic instructions meant for them. Human life alone is a life of responsibility.”

Human dignity is obviously at stake in this controversy between the impersonalists, for whom existence is sufficient reason to live, and the personalists, who desire an ideal personal example for their improvement. Krishna takes some delightfully human and superhuman forms in the literature, a literature far more entertaining than the published episodes of the life of Jesus the Christ, whose dignity was sacrificed to the mundane human order; he was all too human when crucified by existence. Jesus put a kind face or personal mask on the impersonal god – although ineffable Yahweh was, as the Lord, a “He” and a “Father”, he was no respecter of persons, particularly idolaters, and even murdered innocent children to have his way with the folk. Whereas Hinduism was an umbrella over diverse cults and was tolerant of diverse beliefs and behavior providing everyone kept to their kind, Judeo-Christians demanded a choice of either this or that: one choose this saving form of behavior or be doomed to that hell. Fundamentalists may have believed in the fundamental equality of individuals, who are “born equal in the eyes of God,” but not in the equality of developed personal qualities. Their religious form or social system of being takes precedence over naked existence.

Modern existentialist thought, the mainstream of which tends to impersonality in its rejection of social systems of being, professes individual responsibility: the responsible individual is faced with Either/Or and makes a choice: the existentialist does not choose, first of all, a system of being social, a system of relatively defined good and evil, but chooses his or her existence or self, or at least all subsidiary choices are meant to obtain that “selfish” end, an end compatible with certain protesting forms of Christianity, where the eternal salvation of the individual self and the will to endure forever of the existent meet and embrace.

IV. Existentialist Godfather

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) is the godfather of the anti-systematic movement of thought we call existentialism. His corpus elevates the arrogant individual to divinity and therefore gives us due cause to pause and distinguish between existentialism and personalism, a less well-known response to the horrors of the two world wars.

The subject of existentialism, the individual existent, when socialized, is a person. The person, the socialized individual, is a synthetic system. While existentialism focuses on the individual, personalism emphasizes the socialized individual. Indeed, its adherents may go so far as to claim that the person is a blessed spiritual substance.

For example, Karol Wojtyla (the late John Paul II), confronted with the despairing and anxious mental processes of war-shocked intellectuals whose main concern was their dreadful existence as alienated individuals, worked to rejuvenate the conception of the substantial person in his early work, The Acting Person. As a devout Catholic, he undoubtedly had a universal model in mind; that is to say, a supreme personal model people could systematically imitate and identify with rather than losing themselves speculating on an incomprehensible unknown god or impersonal force. A number of existentialists, all too familiar with the crimes against humanity fomented by charismatic personalities, abhorred the cult of personality in any shape or form, and they decried the “rational” systems of thinking and corresponding ways of acting that had apparently led to widespread havoc and panic instead of a new world order.

Many but not all existentialists were atheists. Some Christians among them were “protesting” Christians if not philosophical anarchists. After all, Soren Kierkegaard, existentialist godfather, studied for the Lutheran ministry and was in effect an independent Danish theologian. Most of all, existentialists are supposed to hate systems – Kierkegaard believed intricate systems of thought were big lies leading the world to ruin. The greatest existentialists systematically decried systems at length. Their literature often interchanged the term “person” with “individual,” but make no mistake about it, inasmuch as the person is a social system, anti-systematic thinkers would rid the world of that fictional entity along with the lies of the Establishment. But the reduction of the person to a supposedly “responsible” individual would unwittingly leave him, in his discontent, vulnerable to the charismatic likes of Mussolini and Hitler. Thus do we notice that some of the philosophical notions of the existentialists who survived World War II resembled in some instances the ideology of the enemy – not that the existentialists knowingly or willingly collaborated with the occupiers. Of course, the same might be said of personalists – after the war was over, the ranks of the Resistance swelled dramatically.

In any case, one cannot get rid of the vulgar person and still communicate effectively. Although Kierkegaard’s contempt for society led him to prefer the abstract individual or “category of one” behind imperfect personal masks, he preferred to project his inner conflicts and conceal his self-contradictions and hypocrisy by speaking indirectly through several personifications: his thought-provoking Either/Or , for instance, is presented as a conversational work of fiction involving fictional persons, and not as a direct philosophical tome in the form of a coherent system of thought. Prominent existentialists deliberately tried to popularize their abstract philosophy by presenting it in fictional form, in plays and novels, behind which their fundamental incoherence would be hidden by the obvious absurdity of characteristic life. Albert Camus, for instance, who admired Kierkegaard, is best known as the philosopher of The Absurd; he noted in his diary that a good novelist must be a philosopher. Jean Paul Sartre and others followed suit.

Philosophers have traditionally identified the highest good if not god with social goodness; however, as far as Kierkegaard was concerned, an ethical man had no choice but to choose himself, the penultimate good; the religious man worshiped the unknown god, his ultimate good; while the aesthete was a sort of pantheist, finding his good in anything he pleased. We concoct three equations for Kierkegaard’s three types. For the Aesthete, the relative: I am that multiplicity. For the Ethical, the duality: I am not that world. For the Religious, the absolute: I am I. We shall see that Kierkegaard’s distinction between the Ethical and Religious realms was in vain. Despite his assertion that the ethical man chooses his true self instead of creating it from scratch, his fondness for the individual reveals the individual, as an abstract “category of one”, as the indefinite or infinite wherefore unknown I-god, the YHWH or I-AM of yore.

“Only when I absolutely choose myself,” wrote Kierkegaard, “do I infinitize myself absolutely, for I myself am the absolute for only myself can I choose absolutely, and the absolute choice of myself is my freedom, and only when I have absolutely chosen myself have I posited an absolute difference, the difference, that is to say, between good and evil…. The good… being in and of itself, and this is freedom…. It is… not so much a question of choosing between willing the good or the evil, as of choosing to will, but by this in turn the good and evil are posited….”

Hence it appears that the Absolute One chosen by Kierkegaard is a private and absolutely free godhead, an Anarch, in a word, that disposes of and therefore transcends relative good and evil. Of course the essence of this “category of one”, the universal individual and god presumably chosen by all self-chosen, self-integrated, hence ethical individuals, differs from the nature admired by unethical persons, the dissolute aesthetics who are preoccupied with the highest sort of feelings called beauty. Beauty is normally identified with pleasurable feelings ascetics abhor because the painful contrary, the want of pleasure or pain, is implied by pleasure felt – in either case, of pain or pleasure, the dignity of the self-caused person, an arrogance found in his freedom, is threatened to be demolished by an external cause. To rid themselves of pain, ethical ascetics would dispose of pleasure as well; they throw out the baby with the bath water and lay claim to transcendental indifference to the felt qualities of life, the relative value of which philosophers tend to dispute.

The aesthete’s preference for felt qualities instead of abstract ideation seems mistaken because the feelings vary one from the other, hence provide no absolute escape from the disturbing dialectic rooted in the basic social conflict between the existent individual and its society. The basic conflict is internalized and gives the person over to normal anxiety. The person’s joint role as an “I” and a “We” – the “I” as part and parcel of “We” – are both “introjected” as social conditions, yet the mystical unification and at-one-ment of subject and object wanted by the anxious ethical individual in flight from his existence cannot be obtained in fact short of death; and then the objective world ironically survives the particular subject, which was in fact the temporary, unique coincidence of universal conditions, but who when alive might find take pleasure in his existential crucifixion, on the crossbars of time and space, in the notion of eternal life free of the impediments that gives him cause to suffer life in hopes of salvation from it. This supreme arbiter loves himself only, in his finality, and cannot part with himself to merge with the nymphs calling to him from the social forest. Life then, for Kierkegaard’s ethical person, burdened by the necessity of dreadful choices, which in effect constitute a negation of possibilities, is a bitter thing. But the lemon can be made sweet by a faithful leap to the religious sphere, a transcendental planet far removed from both the aesthetic and ethical planets.

That ideal religious sphere, fortunately for Kierkegaard’s temperament, would not be inhabited by the established church of socially compromising and therefore hypocritical Christians he knew on Earth. As a devout Christian-of-one, Kierkegaard, instead of loving his neighbors wholeheartedly despite their sins, was moved to hatefully denounce professed Christians for falling far short of his fundamentalist notions. He chose to elevate himself to the rooftop and to cry out to his neighbors, “Hypocrites!” When he collapsed on the street in the midst of his violent attack on the Danish National Church, he told a friend that someone must die for the cause, and he died shortly thereafter.

It is no wonder that the seemingly absurd commandment, to love thy neighbor as thyself, had to be written down long ago for lip services, since it is so easily forgotten by the human heart. Thus does the anarcho-Christian become the reflection of his fellow enemy – a bigoted, irrational, unethical hypocrite – instead of the reflection of the only Christian who has walked upon this Earth thus far, the very Criterion of Christianity, Jesus the Christ. Although Kierkegaard may not have been the Strange God of Love’s prophet, he was certainly a seer, and in his prescience he was himself, in his representative anxiety and egoism, a prefiguration of our own time. The godfather of Existentialism is highly regarded as a theologian. Indeed, he was a good Christian as far as many of our contemporaries are concerned, a Christian who died for a good cause: calling organized Christians hypocrites for the usually reasons: for selling their souls to the devil and their consciences to the state.

Kierkegaard advocated individual integrity and responsibility. But to what end? What does he integrate his self with? The ethical individual abandons his reasonable reflections, which are the very means to ethical conduct, and leaps blindly to faith in What, which, when described, turns out to be some quiddity or the other. He evidently no longer has faith in his ability to choose, so he chooses nothing, really, but non-sense, and he does whatever might come to mind in the form of an authoritarian command from the charismatic leader of a totalitarian state of being – Kierkegaard admired the biblical willingness of a father to kill his own son (Isaac) upon command of the unknown god. Thus do intelligent men whose criticism eventually leads them to suspend judgment even in the value of criticism fall prey to the preaching of that ignorance in which they find their bliss, and may go forth to wreak havoc throughout the world for its sake. Wherefore, until freedom is realized in death, let individuals rebel. “Down with the Establishment! Down with the System! Give me Liberty or give me Death!” are the slogans of misfits; that is, until their own system is firmly established on uncompromising, fanatical principles. Freedom from compromise is found only in the omnipotent god, and those who believe they are gods have the noun spelled backwards.

Kierkegaard, to pursue what he believed was the ethical life of either/or, ultimately choose himself alone. Some of us may choose things to get rid of them, so that we may feel miserable for doing what we thought was the self-righteous thing to do. Only a mate can adequately sum up humanity. Kierkegaard dismissed the flawed queen of his mundane affections, his girlfriend, Regine, upon whom he thereafter literally reflected at length, in lieu of the consummation he had forsworn. She was not good enough or god enough for him: only the unknown god was worthy of his debasement. The true lover must always be wrong; the beloved must always be right. He thought he had ditched her to save her from the mistake of loving the likes of him, a man with cold feet. He eventually made the ultimate choice, a suicidal leap to faith in perfection. Only god can do no wrong despite appearances to the contrary. But nothing is perfect. Kierkegaard’s faith was really in his own reflection in the pool slowly swirling around the drain, the very mirror of his perturbations, as it were, from which only a chimpanzee with distorted figure could foolishly grin back, for the apostle gazing therein had renounced his reason with an open proclamation of his foolhardiness. Only faith in something absurd can escape the torment of doubting reason; absolute certitude can only be had in ignorance. Nothing, no thing in particular, is really worthy of unadulterated love.

“(The Ethical) is not a question of the choice of something…. The alternative is the aesthetical, the indifferent ….” The aesthetically inclined person would find his escape from the ultimate cause of anxiety – mortality – in the enjoyment of ephemeral feelings and the appreciation of beauty found in nature and art, including the art of personal living, But Kierkegaard’s ethical individual finds his solace in absolute solitude, in premature or living death, in virtual suicide. He mistakenly charges the aesthete with his own melancholic indifference to the world at large: he claims that the ethical realm is an infinite movement along hierarchically arranged values whereby one realizes (not creates) what he is by making important choices, but the choices available in the aesthetic realm are relative hence of equal value, constituting a flight from the ultimate Either/Or, that of good or evil. Of course Kierkegaard’s ethical doctrine does not require a preoccupation with choosing good things: his point is that an individual must make willful decisions, and it is in those decisions and not the particular things or acts chosen that he eventually finds his real self.

Kierkegaard was an idealist in the Platonic sense: the ideal is the real; reality is in heavens unknown as of yet – if only horses had wings. “The poetic ideal is always a false ideal, for the true ideal is always the real. So when the spirit is not allowed to soar up into the eternal world of spirit it remains midway and rejoices in the pictures reflected in the clouds and weeps that they are so transitory. A poet’s existence is therefore, as such, an unhappy existence, it is higher than finiteness yet no infiniteness.” Infiniteness is, to wit, the ineffable X – we might aptly call it Nothing, or, if you wish, the Origin. The path to X is heady stuff; as Kierkegaard himself remarks: “There is hardly an anaesthetic so powerful as abstract thinking.”

[Indeed, we who are given to infinite reflections recommend that aesthetes withdraw from their addictive substances and take up philosophy instead. Still, we would not have them forsake the fine arts. In truth, the highest aesthetic expression of intelligent love of life found in fine art varies largely in technique but little in principle. Works of fine art would be worthless without social agreement, and that accord or harmony is common to human nature. The so-called anti-art movement of the modern cult of individualism that rejected the traditional and only principle of art, the feeling of beauty, amounts to a lazy reduction to an absurd claim that art is merely subjective, hence one individual work is as good as another, and any criticism of an individual work is an unwarranted intrusion into the right of “contemporary” artists to individual equality. Since the anti-artist is unable to think coherently, that is, along social lines, his concepts are as incoherent as his constructions – he is unable to give us a beautiful drawing of a person; may heaven forbid if he does turn to fine art, and that his gift of personal beauty is the ideal beauty of a clothed Madonna or nude Venus. The anti-artist’s success of course is a matter of whimsical chance – some piece of nonsense or an accident widely publicized may turn him into a celebrity].

Kierkegaard’s self craves its very self, apparently the highest good or Good, or even God. The dualist refrain is familiar: Self is Good, wherefore World is Evil. Kierkegaard wants it all for himself: unity, freedom, omnipotence. He chooses nothing in particular: he chooses will in general, the will to the Good, or goodwill. But that constant choice is really of the self, for Self is Good. Such a choice would make a subjective god of a man, a man whose will is free no matter what the objective circumstances might be.

Kierkegaard’s iconoclastic self, in its constant flight from objective determination by sensation, would be perpetually becoming and not a choice of a permanent being; only Nothing or God is permanent. His subjectively omnipotent self-god would apparently be, in opposition to its circumstances, more reliable than a projected hence ambivalent objective god, particularly if that unreliable objective god represents Good, in the social sense that the good of society is Good, or in the sense that society itself is god. In that case, Power would have to be gradually rationalized, no doubt by political intervention – religion worships Power, politics distributes it. No, the individual must be absolutely free.

Man (humankind) is naturally social. But thou shalt not have any god before god; wherefore thou shalt not idolize Man, for man exists by virtue of original sin – he is aesthetically inclined. Thus it seems to follow that, at least for Kierkegaard, the individual soul is, ironically and actually, the sole good, and not the Absolute God or Supreme Being. He does not mention the possibility that the real original sin is the sin of individuality, of being born individuals, and that his choice of self as the category of one adds insult to injury. Of course one might imagine that the microcosmic god reflects the macrocosmic god, or is part and parcel of god, or is in fact god in mystical unity with himself. Ah, but that would be utterly selfish and solipsistic. Kierkegaard avoids that conclusion with ambiguity or doublespeak:

“The mystic chooses himself abstractly … out of the world … The truly concrete choice is that wherewith at the very same instant some instant I choose myself out of the world I am choosing myself back into the world. For when I choose myself repentantly I gather myself back into the world … in all my finite concretion, and in the fact that I have thus chosen myself out of the finite I am in the most absolute continuity with it.”

Furthermore, “I do not create myself. I choose myself. Therefore while nature is created out of nothing, while I as an immediate personality am created out of nothing, as a free spirit I am born of the principle of contradiction.”

Is not that the principle of original sin? Is not that the hypocrisy or underlying crisis of man? Is not that the principle of original slavery that dooms us to choose or to die? Free will disobeys to god’s law, hence Kierkegaard’s formerly lauded ethical choices were in fact sinful acts. He says he repents even of his father’s sins. Why does he not repent of original sin? In effect he has repudiated his creative choice and his freedom. Afraid to love another, he had no choice but to choose himself, but that self must die. In the end, once he finds his true nature, he must resign his freedom and accept god’s law, that all individuals are born in sin and must therefore must die.

Repenting of it all, the existentialist theologian gets it all back: “He repents himself back into himself, back into the family, back into the race, until he finds himself in God.” Repentance, he says, is the only word that expresses love for God. He chooses to surrender to X. His choice destroys all options. He sets the self up as god and chooses god, thus destroying self and god for he has not chosen something but has rejected everything. From nothing he came and to nothing he returns – god or nothing is permanent. It appears that he identifies his instinct to survival with his particular self or the apotheosis thereof.

“I do not create myself. I choose myself. Therefore while nature is created out of nothing, while as an immediate personality I am created out of nothing, as a free spirit I am born of the principle of contradiction, or born by the fact that I choose myself.”

Kierkegaard would forsake the evil world for himself, for the category of one; but once he is at one with the category of one, he shall love the world: “If the despairing man makes a mistake, if he believes that his misfortune lies in his multifarious surroundings, then his despair is not genuine and it will lead him to hate the world…. When in despair you have found yourself you will love the world because it is what it is.”

And what is despair? “Despair is doubt of personality,” he says. Again, the assumption is that this self, whatever it is, is good if not the highest good or Good or God. It seems that if only one would love the self for what it is, first of all, then love for the world would follow, just as night follows day. If one loved himself rightly, he would love the world so much that he would gladly stretch out his neck for his executioner if need be.

It is a matter of attitude, really, and one’s attitude in choosing oneself must be sincere, for as one believes, so one is. What counts, says Kierkegaard, is the energetic sincerity of choosing the real either/or over the mere either/or, such as choosing to visit the bank or barber. The real choice is ultimately between good/evil, good being the real self. Kierkegaard admits that many other worthwhile decisions may be made along the way to finding/receiving one’s self.

We hear the familiar song hand down from ancient times: the treasure is within, in the inner unity where man is reconciled with himself if not his collective self projected as god. Kierkegaard criticizes critics for not taking up the inner life, for losing themselves in illusions, professions, callings and other forms of escape. Yet his own approach is also an escape. Indeed, life is an escapade! Are we to deride the philosopher who said, “As a matter of fact, I am not slightly interested in self-spelunking, given all the objects the universe has to offer.”

“You are capable of spending a whole month reading nothing but fairy tales – Kierkegaard writes in his either/or novel – you make a profound study of them, you compare and analyze, and your study is not barren of result – but what do you use it for? To divert your mind; you let the whole thing fire off in a brilliant display of fireworks.”

Kierkegaard opines that philosophy mediates the past but cannot mediate what has not occurred yet: it cannot choose the future. And philosophers would have no past to mediate unless there were an absolute Either/Or. One obviously has to do something besides philosophize to get something done. Life would come to a dead stop with philosophy alone.

“We have the disgusting sight of young men who are able to mediate Christianity and paganism, are able to play with the titanic forces of history, and are unable to tell a plain man what he has to do in life ….”

That is true. We must not entirely abandon self-spelunking – and we study others to discover our own nature. Nevertheless we find in Kierkegaard’s philosophy the usual Christian activism without specification of particular deeds. Kierkegaard’s philosophical protagonist offers nothing in particular except marriage and family to the hypothetical young man addressed in the book-long letter constituting the novel Either/Or.

“In my capacity as a married man it is my custom on every occasion to maintain against you, both orally and in writing, the reality of love….” In real life Kierkegaard did not marry his sweetheart Regine Olson. He broke of the engagement in 1840; supported by his inheritance, he took up philosophy while she embraced another in holy matrimony.

It is evident that Kierkegaard’s novel is a self-divided letter, a dialectical epistle to himself from himself, expressing a conflict or dialogue between his artificially divided emotional and moral nature. In a fugue of bourgeois self-contempt, he poses a conflict between art for its own sake and the realistic business of the mind, that he might continually choose something valuable upon which profit can be realized and infinitely accrued rather than something for fleeting gratification to be eliminated as waste. Why not pile up treasure in heaven instead of counting on earthly things that are bound to be relatively disappointing because they fall short of the ideal? He chooses for the sake of choosing, thinking he is making the ultimate choice, of his absolutely good self, as distinguished from creating art for its own sake – today students of contemporary art are taught that there is no such thing as good or bad art.

The primary ethical action we find in Kierkegaard’s is symbolic action – thinking – and that to criticize others for not acting ethically, for not taking the one-god versus the satanic multiplicity seriously. It is no wonder that confident persons of the enthusiastic confession conclude that almost anything goes as long as one has faith and hopes for self-salvation. Kierkegaard means to say that a man thinks before he acts if he would act of his own accord. He thinks self-importantly: his choice is very important because he believes he is choosing himself, whatever that might be. We think that in his feeling of self-importance he has self-consciousness, or his unity of consciousness as a subject posed before virtually infinite objects. He is an I or individual, a Category of One at Dodge City, facing down the multiplicitous world, a world rendered as multiple by the psychological interpretation of diverse inchoate sensations that the mind is delighted to organize and represent as a reflection of its microcosmic god, the individual.

V. The Russian Philosopher of Freedom

Nicolai Aleksandrovich Berdyaev, the “Russian philosopher of freedom”, is mistakenly labeled an existentialist because he emphasized anthropocentric subjectivity in his theory of “objectification”. His nods to Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, Jaspers, and other non-systematic philosophers also served to place him in the existentialist camp. Berdyaev, nonetheless, was more of a personalist than an existentialist.

According to Berdyaev, personalism idealizes the human person. There is no such thing as a national person. That is a self-conceited lie, stupid and ludicrous. The nation is the projection of everything evil as a collective ideal. Evil is called good. Hate, violence, egoism, pride, will to power are all converted into virtues. Do not idolize Nation or Volk. Do not be a slave to “the People.” Real personality has an existential center – of conscience. Real personalities are individual, and therefore Volk will crucify them.

Egocentricity and personalism are contrary concepts.

“Egocentricity is the original sin of man … an illusory, distorted universalism … a false perspective … under the power of objectivization, which it seeks to turn into an instrument of self-affirmation … Man is the salve of the surrounding external world, because he is the slave of him ….”

Of course, “The genius lives near to primary reality and to real existence whereas the culture elite is subject to the laws of objectivization and socialization.”

“All possession, whether it is possession by base passion or by lofty ideas denotes the loss of the spiritual center in man.”

The very notion of the soul as a unity derived from physical processes is false. The unity of the soul-process is the dynamic spiritual principle itself and not arbitrarily conceived points or ‘souls.’ The notion that the individual of individualism constitutes resistance to its environment and is thus constituted by isolated exercises of its own will is an illusion.

Such an individual would have to be exterior to the world in order to rebel against it, hence the individual would have to be alienated, impersonal, and self-determined or self-caused, as if it were a god facing a violent enemy. The enmity projected onto a seemingly violent world would define the supposedly self-determining individual who blames the objective world for everything perceived to be in opposition; thus is he in fact determined by objectivity rather than his presumed subjectivity. As ‘subject’ in distinction from ‘object’, he thinks he is a free individual, but the emperor has his foot on his neck. Since humankind is natural and human beings are a social species, the individual of individualism has dissociated himself from nature and society. For him, nature is dead; god is dead; society is dead. Since society comprises individuals, the person is dead as well, for the person is a social individual who enjoys not only individuality but the commune as well.

Ironically, the individualist believes he is free when in fact he is enslaved. Today he is in reality the over socialized, bourgeois individual of the militant protestant-capitalist system. He is fully engaged in the war of all against all where each individual crushes other and is crushed in the material arena of economic forces and interests. He has internalized the anti-social rules of engagement that subjugate him. Like a prisoner in Bentham’s panopticon-prison, he is constantly under observation and control by unseen wardens. But he is a virtual slave; a slave not to his circumstances, but to himself. He is, as it were, self-imprisoned, and is like the animal that stays put when the fence is torn down.

“The individualist is the slave to himself, he is under the spell of slavery to his own ego, and, therefore, he cannot resist the slavery which comes from the non-ego …. Man is always a slave of the non-ego through the ego…. The object world can make a person a martyr but it cannot make him a conformist.”

On the other hand, whereas individualists are “wolfish” and vicious, Berdyaev’s person of personalism is virtuously communal and fraternal. For personality is emancipation from slavery to the ego, and, at the same time, to the non-ego

“The fundamental nature of the person is not originality nor self-knowledge nor individual affirmation. It lies not in separation but in communication.”


Slavery and Freedom by Nicolas Berdyaev, New York: Scribner’s 1944

Be Not Afraid, a Denunciation of Despair by Emmanuel Mounier, transl. Cynthia Rowland, New York: Sheed and Ward ’62

EITHER/OR by Kierkegaard

Going Home Again – To Tibet and Beyond





Prior to all Buddhas and sentient beings
When even their names do not exist
Is ancestral wholeness, mind-nature.

Know thyself advises the oracle at Delphi. I am a frustrated nomad. No matter where I happen to live at the moment, I do not feel completely at home alone, all-one, at-one with myself, in the womb, where everything was done for me. Cast out into the challenging world, between life and death, I am unable to be still, to settle down for good, as I am always in between something or the other, between the past and the future, in the present, where I am compelled against my will.

The one we ultimately want to know is within, the very god one would worship yet casts without lest his peers crucify him for arrogance. He does not have to seek far afoot for clues to what he might find within himself nowadays if a great library is nearby, and then there is always Google Books. There I discovered curious old books about a Hungarian traveler and philologist by the name of Alexander Csoma de Koros, a name I had encountered long ago in a hardcopy of Arthur Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Idea.

During his Asian studies, Schopenhauer came across a story in the Tibetan Buddhism canon, the Kangyur (“Translation of the Word”) about a conversation the dying Buddha had with Brahma, wherein Buddha asked him if he had made the world. Brahma denied he had done so, and then asked Buddha if he knew who created the world. Buddha said the world is unreal, an illusion, empty, nothing. “Brahma, being instructed in his doctrine, becomes his follower.” Wherefore it would seem from that revolutionary moment that we are not of this world, that we must seek our origin elsewhere.

We learn from our virtual exploration that Csoma, born on the 4th of April 1784 in the village of Koros in Transylvania, “belongs to the rank of those noble minds who devote their lives unselfishly to a worthy, though apparently thankless object, yet in the pursuit of which nothing but death will stop their efforts.” He took up liberal studies, his favorite subjects being philology, geography, and history. He began in 1799 at Bethlen College at Nagyenyed (Aiud) in Transylvania, Romania, well known at the time for those courses, and remained for fifteen years. Besides the regular curriculum, his courses included Latin, Roman Literature, Greek and Logic, and he earned English, German, Romanian, and French as well, and some Turkish.

From 1816 to 1818, he studied at the University of Gottingen in Hanover, renowned for its lectures in public law, history, and the sciences. Its famed students would eventually include the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer and the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck among others. Csoma loved, most of all, the enormous library at Gottingen. Nationalism was in vogue at the time, wherefore the international students were enthusiastic about their respective nations. Besides, German scholars were exceedingly curious about the history, religions, and languages of Asia. Johann Gottfried Eichhorn, Gottingen’s Professor of Oriental Languages, so-called founder of modern Old Testament criticism, whetted Csoma’s curiosity as to the origins of the Hungarian people, proposing they were from Western Turkey, beside the Caspian Sea, in what is now Turkmenistan.

Csoma found a goal at university. He could have had a comfortable ecclesiastical career in Hungary, but he determined to know the origin of his Szekler tribe of Hungarians settled in Transylvania. Many ethnic groups wanting an identity secured by their faraway roots were curious about their native origins with the rise of nationalism and the recent French Revolution, but Csoma’s curiosity was insatiable.

“As my parents were dead,” Csoma recounts, “and my only brother did not want my assistance, I resolved to leave my native country and to come towards the East, and by some means or other procuring subsistence, to devote my whole life to researches which may be afterwards useful to the learned world of Europe in general, and, in particular, may illustrate some obscure facts in our own history.”

He planned on traversing Persia and eventually going up the northern route of the old Silk Road to Bukhara, Uzbekistan, and on to Turkestan towards Mongolia. He set out from Bucharest, Romania, to Sofia, Bulgaria, and ventured to Constantinople, went down from there to Alexandria, Egypt, shipped up to Beirut, Lebanon, then headed to Aleppo and Mosul, Baghdad and Tehran, where he finally changed into Persian garb before proceeding to Baghdad and Kabul. He did not write much about his journey, as if it were a matter of course, except to mention his study of languages.

Instead of continuing north to Bukhara, fearing Russian troops in the northern area, he took the southern route of the Silk Road, and travelled with two Frenchmen he had met in Kabul. They paused at Lahore, India, before going to Kashmir, and on to Leh, the capital of Ladak, from whence he would have continued to Yarkant County in Xinjiang (Sin Kiang), China, bordering Mongolia, but he intended instead to return to Lahore because he believed to go on to China was too expensive and fraught with danger for a Christian. Along the way he met an English explorer and prominent East India official by the name William Moorcroft, who ventured to Leh with him. Moorcroft, by the way, was the first Englishman qualified as a veterinarian; what he coveted in his exploration was the hardy Turcoman horses made famous by Marco Polo five centuries prior. He found none, and died 1825 in Turkestan of a fever.

It was in Leh that Csoma diverged fatally from his original goal of travelling to the geographic origin of his presumably Hun tribe somewhere in China, Siberia or Mongolia. He had picked up a few languages that he expected would help him achieve his original goal of knowing more about where he believed his folk had come from: Slavonic, Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Mogul, and Tibetan. He did not think of himself, however, as a mere linguist, but as a cosmopolitan who could fit in anywhere.

“I beg leave to confess that I am not merely a linguist—I have learnt several languages to learn polite literature, to enter into the cabinet of curiosity of remote ages, to acquire useful knowledge, and to live in every age and with every celebrated nation, as I do now with the British.”

Moorcroft was impressed with Csoma’s linguistic skills, particularly with his knowledge of Tibetan. Great Britain was naturally interested in civilizing remote parts of the world for economic exploitation, and there was Tibet just north to India, and to that end a dictionary of Tibetan would be more than useful, for Tibetan was the lingua franca of the educated in Buddhist countries and therefore learning Tibetan was a means of “penetrating” them.

The Tibetan language, however, is not directly related to the Hungarian, which is controversially said to be a ‘Finno-Ugric’ member of the ‘Uralic’ family of languages, a linguistic theory that denies the traditional Hungarian history of a Sumerian via Carpathian-Central Asia origin, the controversy being over whether or not ethnic Hungarians are basically barbarians instead of civilized Europeans due to their origin. Sino-Tibetan, in any case, is a primary language in its own right. The written Tibetan alphabet is derived from Sanskrit.

There is no evidence suggesting that Csoma himself found a relationship between the Tibetan language and the Hungarian language other than a word or two. An ancient Greek historian, Theophylaktes Simocatta, claimed that the Turks conquered the Ugar nation in 597 AD. Hungarian authors naturally noticed a similarity between “Ugar” and “Hungary,” not to mention “Hun.” The word “Hun” became, as we know, a foul epithet for “German” in the mouths of Churchill and Roosevelt during war against the Nazis. German researchers at one time proposed the Nordic origin of Hungarians and Germans, while the Hungarians looked towards Turkey and beyond, and the word “Turk” was a word for a wild robber or barbarian warrior wearing a helmet reminiscent of their view of a high mound or mountain in their original country, presumably in Mongolia or Siberia if not the Tibetan plateau. Csoma, as we know, had in mind the ancient nation of Kiang, i.e. Sin Kiang or Xinjiang in far Western China north of Tibet.

Suffice it to say that different folk have different strokes and that peoples believe they will know themselves better in comparison to other peoples, especially if the others are enemies with whom combat is waged to improve the moral fiber. That is, the human being may not need a particular identity but wants one anyway. No less than Hitler confessed in his talks that he did not really believe in the Nordic superhuman race, but it was convenient to propagate for popular consumption for people to identify with. Sympathetic anthropologists who went along with the myth also admitted that human beings are mongrels; there is no such thing as a pure race. Humans probably came out of Africa; some of them went to Tibet, Mongolia, Siberia, and China, and some came back. DNA analysis of Hungarians indicates a mixture of origins including Uralic and Turkic and others.

The overall results remind one of today’s popular DNA analysis advertisements where a woman wears a peculiar ethnic hat because the high percentage of her DNA was associated with a particular country in Africa. Yet she may think she cannot really know herself until she actually goes to the spot where her ancestors had their being, so she makes reservations, say, for Uganda, where she will venture to the so-called cradle of humankind, Lake Victoria. What will she find—mosquitoes and old bones? Why are we so fascinated with history that we have become gravediggers? Why are we discontented? What are we looking for?

That being said, what would induce Csoma to delay his search for his origins in Turkestan, Mongolia and Siberia, and devote nearly ten productive years to the study of Tibetan? For one thing, he was a linguist, and here was an opportunity to be paid at his profession. A thorough study of Tibetan was related to his quest, for he hoped to eventually travel to Lhasa, “Place of The Gods,” and peruse the Dalai Lama’s grand library to research the history of the Huns and Mongols to find what he suspected, that his tribe of Hungarians had come down through Tibet with Attila the Hun. And, as “exceedingly indifferent” or modest as he was described by his acquaintances, he might make a name for himself assisting the advance of Western civilization; indeed, he bragged a little on his death bed in Darjeeling about the recognition of his accomplishments.

“For the first time since I had seen him,” reported Campbell, Superintendent of Darjeeling, “he this day showed how sensitive he was to the applause of the world, as a reward to his labors and privations. He went over the whole of his travels in Tibet with fluent rapidity, and in noticing each stage of the result of his studies, he mentioned the distinguished notice that had been accorded in Europe and India to the facts and doctrines brought to light by him. He seemed especially gratified with an editorial article by Prof. Wilson, in the Supplement to the Government Gazette of 9th July, 1829, which he produced, and bid me read; it related to the extreme hardships he had undergone while at the monastery of Zanskar, where with the thermometer below zero for more than four months, he was precluded by the severity of the weather from stirring out of a room nine feet square; yet in this situation he read from morning till evening without a fire, the ground forming his bed, and the walls of the building his protection against the rigors of the climate, and still he collected and arranged forty thousand words of the language of Tibet, and nearly completed his Dictionary and Grammar. Passing from this subject, he said, in a playful mood, “I will show you something very curious,” and he produced another number of Wilson’s paper of September 10th, 1827, and pointing to an editorial paragraph, desired me to read it first, and then hear the explanation….” (Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol, ii, 1844)

Previous to meeting Moorcroft, Csoma had been living on a pittance as a virtual mendicant monk. Why not, thought Moorcroft after they met, contract to send Csoma to Western Tibet to compile a dictionary? Moorcroft obtained an initial funding of 200 rupees and a stipend of 50 rupees per month from the Government, arranged for an introduction to Sangye Puntsog, the Lama of Ladak. Wherefore Csoma went off with the lama to Yangla in the Zanskar District of Ladak, a part of the ancient Kingdom of Guge within what was Western Tibet, now North India. It was in Yangla that he, with the help of the lama, studied Tibetan literature in a small room in sub-zero weather without the benefit of a fire.

We doubt that the lama, whose evolved DNA would enable him to withstand cold and deprivation of oxygen, instructed Csoma in tumo, a magical technique that allows a carefully trained person to go about naked in subzero weather. Csoma’s reticence to tell traveler’s tales is regretted by occultists who wish he had recounted the paranormal events of his visit to what was then Western Tibet. If his lama, however, had in fact levitated off the floor, or had transported him to Lhasa by magical means and back, surely he would have related that in his papers. All we hear about is the painstaking, page-by-page documentation of records by candlelight in bitter cold.

“I arrived at Yangla, and from 20th June 1823 to 22d October 1824 I sojourned in Zanskar, the most south-western province of Ladak, where I applied myself to the Tibetan literature, assisted by the Lama. During my residence in Zanskar, by the able assistance of that intelligent man, I learned grammatically the language, and became acquainted with many literary treasures shut up in 320 large printed volumes, which are the basis of all Tibetan learning and religion. These volumes, divided in two classes, and each class containing other subdivisions, are all taken from Indian Sanskrit, and were translated into Tibetan. I caused to be copied the contents of these immense works.”

Among the canons he transcribed was an interesting biography of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha of the Shakya clan that is believed to have inhabited what is now Nepal, and an account of the rules followed by his male and female disciples regulating their attire, cleanliness, compassionate attitude, and the drugs they were allowed to carry and use. It is believed that Buddha himself was illiterate, so the religious canons were eventually developed by councils of learned monks after his death in memory of a charismatic man, who in reality was a rich prince sorely moved by the sight of suffering because it had been kept out of sight during his youth, resolved to find its causes to alleviate the effects, and did not intend to start a new religion, just as Luther in the West did not intend to found Protestantism.

Buddhists may protest that mundane view of Buddha, claiming that it amounts to a polite Western de-mystification by Christian missionaries of a divinely inspired being, depicting him as a humane hero in order place him beneath the divine Jesus. In any event, Europeans were keenly interested in Buddhism because its compassionate ideal and the notion that every human being has a potential savior or First-Buddha within reminded them of their Christian doctrines of love and the individual imitation of Jesus. Wherefore it was opined that Jesus visited India during the missing years of his biography, where he learned the Krishna lore and the heretical tenets of Buddhism, and that Buddhist monks had even influenced the Jews prior to the birth of Jesus the Christ, the world’s most famous Jew.

Csoma returned to Zanskar in 1826, stayed until 1831, and went on to Calcutta in 1832, where he reportedly delivered thirty volumes of Tibetan works he had collected. He settled in Calcutta for quite awhile, serving the Asiatic Society from 1837 to 1842 as librarian. Upon his death in 1842, his monetary effects included banknotes and government notes for 5,300 rupees, 224 rupees in coins, and 26 gold ducats.

Archibald Campbell, a surgeon with the Bengal Medical Service, attended to the dying Csoma. Campbell was the superintendent of Darjeeling, a sanitarium town for the British elite, at the time, and had been acquainted with him for several years. He is well known for the development of Darjeeling, including the gardens of a strain of tea he introduced, dubbed The Champagne of Teas. He had endeavored to assist Csoma with his mission before Csoma fell ill, and left within his Report of the death of Mr. Csoma de Koros, made to G. A. Bushby, Esq. Officiating Secretary, Political Department, from A. Campbell, Esq. Superintendent, Darjeeling, and communicated to the Society, an account of the virtual monk’s effects and intention.

Other than the money noted above, “His effects consisted of four boxes of books and papers, the suit of blue clothes which he always wore, and in which he died, a few shirts, and one cooking pot. His food was confined to tea, of which he was very fond, and plain boiled rice, of which he ate very little. 0n a mat on the floor, with a box of books on the four sides, he sat, ate, slept, and studied; never undressed at night, and rarely went out during the day. He never drank wine or spirits, or used tobacco or other stimulants.”

“All his hopes of attaining the object of the long and laborious search were centered in the discovery of the country of the ‘Yoogars.’ This land he believed to be to the east and north of Lassa and the province of Kham, and on the northern confines of China; to reach it was the goal of his most ardent wishes, and there he fully expected to find the tribes he had hitherto sought in vain.”

Csoma never set foot in the geographical origin of the Magyars, wherever that is, but he found some solace in life in the means or Journey to the goal of existence, the alpha and omega of things with innumerable names. Man is necessarily a goal-seeking animal. Some men are not satisfied with mundane goals. A nebulous, idealistic, unattainable goal has given many people hope for a better future if not immortality, and we witness numerous worldly achievements on the physical side roads, including several civilizations. It was either coincidence, or Jungian synchronicity, or divinely fated in the best of all possible worlds that Csoma was born a Hungarian and wound up sacrificing himself learning Tibetan culture from a lama in the vestiges of the ancient Kingdom of Guge, never making it to Lhasa, simply because in his youth he heard that Hungarians are Huns from back East.

The Tibetans themselves had a deep abiding interest in understanding the nature of human existence, why humans are born, where they come from and where they go. Csoma found some of their answers in Yangla. His room in the palace there is being restored and a solar school has been built for the children thanks to the endeavors of outside volunteers: Google Guge – The Lost Kingdom of Tibet, and Csoma’s Room Foundation, and related titles for fascinating YouTube videos.

Csoma, as mentioned, became familiar with the doctrines of Tibetan Buddhism if not its tantric practices while compiling his Tibetan dictionary and living as a virtual monk with the assistance of Sangye Puntsog, whom he frequently referred to as “the lama.” The lama of Ladak was imminently qualified. He began his religious career at an early age as a novitiate in a monastery, and embarked on a six-year, 3,600 mile tour of monasteries in Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet. At the palace of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa he learned the official administrative dialect. Back in Ladak, where he attended court functions, he was its highly respected chief doctor. He married the widow of the Prince of Yangla. He had a great library, and, besides medicine, was well versed in astronomy, poetry, linguistics, and the canon of Lamaism. It was said that he was an unusual lama for his breadth of education and open mindedness or lack of religious bigotry.

Some of Csoma’s essays of what had learned of Tibetan Buddhism at the time were published in the journal of Bengal Asiatic Society. We find there in his ‘Notices on Different Systems of Buddhism Extracted from Tibetan Authorities’ that the objective of the novice is Sangye, “the generic name for expressing the Supreme Being or the Supreme Intelligence in the Buddhist system. This word signifies ‘the most perfect Being,’ that is, pure and clean and free from all imperfections and abounding in all good qualities.”

“Sangye” means fully-eliminated ignorance, wisdom, i.e. buddhi, born again Buddha. This state is achieved by a compassionate bodhisattva who desires Buddha-hood, an enlightened one who would, once liberated, stay behind to free others from suffering by showing them how to eliminate its cause in attachment to desires except, it seems, except the desire for enlightenment.

Csoma quotes a verse, purportedly from a letter sent by Buddha to Ratnavali, a princess of Ceylon who begged the Buddha for wisdom, that he said sums up the entire doctrine of Tibetan Buddhism:

No vice is to be committed;

Virtue must be perfectly practiced;
Subdue entirely your desires.
This is the doctrine of Buddha.

Also included in the letter of instruction was this sloka:

Arise, commence a new course of life,
Turn to the religion of Buddha;
Conquer the host of the lord of death, the passions,
As an elephant subdues everything under his feet in a muddy lake.
Whoever has lived a pure life,
According to the precept of this law,
Shall be free from transmigration,
And shall put an end to all his miseries.

“The ten commandments (precepts) of Buddha are these:—I. Not to kill. 2. Not to steal. 3. Not to commit adultery. 4. Not to tell falsehood. 5. Not to use abusive language. 6. Not to speak nonsense. 7. Not to slander. 8. Not to be covetous. 9. Not to bear malice.10. Not to be stubborn in a wrong principle.”

He extracts sixteen rules from a work entitled Subashlta Eatna Nidhinama Shastra composed in a Tibetan monastery by Sakya Pandita, who flourished during the time of Genghis Khan and his successors. He may have suffered badly for taking the advice of a woman during that time.

“These sixteen rules should be added to the ten commandments of Buddha. 1. Reverence God; this is the first. 2. Exercise true religion; this is the second.3. Respect the learned.4. Pay honor to your parents. 5. Show respect unto superiors and to the aged. 6. Show good-heartedness to a friend.7. Be useful to your fellow-countrymen. 8. Be equitable and impartial. 9. Imitate excellent men.10. Know how to enjoy rightly your worldly goods and wealth. 11. Return kindness for kindness.12. Avoid fraud in measures and weights. 13. Be always impartial and without envy. 14. Do not listen to the advice of woman. 15. Be affable in speaking, and be prudent in discourse. 16. Be of high principles and of a generous mind.”

Csoma essays the adherents to Buddhism according to three vehicles, the three degrees of intelligence found in people.

“1. Men of a common capacity must believe that there is a God, that there is a future life, and that all will obtain, according to their deeds in this life, a reward hereafter. Those of common capacity are content with the observance of the Ten Commandments. Those of the first degree, seeing the miseries of those who, by virtue of the metempsychosis, suffer in the bad places of transmigration as beasts, &c, desire to be born again among men, or among angels, or among gods.

“2. Men of a middle degree of intellectual or moral capacity, in addition to the above doctrines, must understand that every compound thing is perishable; that there is no reality in things; that every imperfection causes suffering, and that deliverance from suffering, and eventually from bodily existence, is final beatitude. Those of the middle degree also endeavor to excel in morality, meditation, and wisdom. Those of the second class are not content with the lot of the former, and wish to be entirely delivered from all bodily existence.

3. Men of the highest capacities will know that between the body and the supreme soul nothing exists by itself, nor can we prove whether the supreme soul will continue forever, or absolutely cease; because everything exists by a casual concatenation. Those of the highest capacities practice, besides the above, the six transcendental virtues as well. The highest class, regarding existence, under whatever form, as suffering, crave for final emancipation, and by arriving at the supreme perfection, are enabled to assist others out of their miseries.”

Several devotional services are recommended:

“1. Take refuge only with Buddha. 2. Endeavor to arrive at the highest degree of perfection, and to be united with the Supreme Intelligence. 3. Adore Buddha. 4. Bring such offerings to Buddha’s image as are pleasing to any of the six senses. Such offerings are: flowers, garlands, incense, perfume, eatables and drinkables raw or prepared, cloths for garments or ornamentation, curtains, etc. 5. Practice music or singing, and to utter praises to Buddha, extolling his person, or his love and mercy towards all. 6. Confess one’s sins with a contrite heart, to ask forgiveness, and to repent sincerely. 7. Rejoice in the moral merits of all living beings. 8. Pray to those Buddhas who are now in the world, that they should teach religion, and not leave the earth but remain here for many ages, to come.”

Why does not Csoma dwell on the famous Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path? Well, numbered prescriptions for liberation were refined much later by the noble religious for popular consumption, mainly by the West, from literally hundreds of numbered truths and paths or theories and practices in Buddhist and Hindu literature, and these simple ones are enshrined in the West. The Truth is the theory, and the mundane path is the Practice or yoga of being Righteous.

Now, then, it appears that the end of existence is the end of suffering, and that “final emancipation” is a sort of virtual suicide or dissipation of egotism, yet we would like altruistic Buddhas to remain on the earth to liberate everyone else.

Of course the notion that human existence is unsatisfactory if not always suffering, and that we find its cause in our desires, not only desire for what we need to exist but the frivolities we crave and would even kill for, is nothing new, nor is the notion that the way to end the suffering is to somehow put an end to or transcend selfish desire by doing the right things or just knowing what the truth about suffering is, and maybe even becoming ascetic monks if that suits us. In sum, what we have in the Four Noble Truths is a logical formula or prescription:

We must know what the truth is, what can be done about it, and how that can be done. In other words, given the evidence that we suffer, we must to know what suffering is, what causes it, what will cure it, and what the exact remedy or process is.

To wit: 1. Suffering exists. 2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires. 3. Suffering ceases with the end of attachment to desires. 4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path of Right View, Intention, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration.

Gautama Buddha aka Siddhartha Gautama, whom some pundits count as the 28th Buddha, was reportedly counseled when young by one Arada Kalama, a follower of the atheistic Sankhya (“number”) philosophy, so-called for its numbered lists. A form of that wisdom is described as already very old in the tale of the great war of the Bharata clan occurring around 1400 BCE. The dualistic Sankhya theory is naturally based on observations of sexual reproduction and reflections thereon, the female role, which in India is active, being troublesome and even terrifying for males, the principle there being passive yet somehow enormously influential. Reasonable males have the privilege by virtue of superior strength to watch the hysterical proceedings of the female; indeed, they cannot take their eyes off her because she is beautiful hence blamed. The abstract partners, material nature and personal nature, would rather detach themselves and return to their original homes, but they are, as it were, in love with one another, and what is love of another but love for oneself? Their selfish desire causes their suffering. How can we go home to our principle, the Beginning, our Origin; our communal Cause?

We admit to the misogynist aspect from which equality is evolving. We would not return to two origins but to the One. Who is that One? It is the One to whom we trace back the evolution of humankind to the first being, namely Ma, or he who was drawn out of the womb. We call him Man. This philosophy is not really atheistic since Man is its unnamed god, and this original principle can be represented by totemic persons such as buddhas or enlightened ones and christs or anointed ones in whom it is incarnate, and, in fact, everyone has one within whether s/he knows it or not.

Wise men analyzed the situation, and proposed that the fact of existence is universal suffering, that emancipation would require cessation of the birthing process, which is perceived not as a transmigration of souls but as the reappearance on Earth of a fixed inventory of entities, and that, if an individual realizes the real nature of the difference between nature and persons, then interest in nature will be lost and the individual will be liberated. The ego or “I” must not stand in the way of the realization, wherefore it may be repeatedly said, “This ego is not me, it is not mine, I am not it,” until one is absolute one, or alone without qualities.

The Four Noble Truths are primary to the Theravada tradition, but secondary in the Mahayana strain of Buddhism from which the Vajray?na practices of Tibetan Buddhism is derived although not peculiar to Tibetan Buddhism. The so-called Hinayana school, purportedly a defunct element of the Theravada school, on the other hand, asserted that the self is non-existent or insubstantial hence the Truths do not apply for there is no real self to suffer. It was the so-called Voidism of the Hinayana school that caused it to fall into disrepute and even be disowned by Buddhists intent on saving a transcendent heaven as a place for immortal souls albeit indescribable because of the absurd merger of subject and object.

Yet common to Buddhism is a fundamental doctrine called pratityasamutpada i.e. dependent origination, a doctrine intimately related to the truths that all beings suffer. Everything is linked in a chain of twelve links that depend on hence suffer the rest; not one exists by itself so each is essentially nothing or empty without the others, and, besides, the chain itself is empty; break one link and the chain of suffering ends. Old age, disease and death follow birth, and birth is a becoming motivated by the will in which delusory passions abide, and wherefore covetousness and clinging to things touched because of desire, the outcome of feelings, which may be pleasant or unpleasant according to the intimacy of mind and body, and so on; wherefore to mitigate and eliminate suffering we may attend to, say, the pleasure link, to make sure we do not cling to pleasant things, nor would we shun unpleasant experiences, and so on. Furthermore, what we learn in this process we would not forget; forgetfulness is death and awareness is life.

Integral to the chain of suffering are the five skandhas, elemental bundles constituting the complex personality, which in itself is empty for the complex has no singular self or being; to wit: (1) physical form (2) feelings (3) perception (4) volitions (5) consciousness.

Priority in the Mahayana school is given to the notion of a blissful emptiness beyond description, attained by the Buddhist who becomes a compassionate Buddha, a bodhisattva who despite achieving nirvana, or liberation from suffering, self, birth and death, decides to stay around to save others from suffering because she or he is compassionate. That would be a spiritual leader, called a lama in Tibet, and we see that Tibet was a theocracy ruled by lamas with greater or less autonomy given Chinese influences until the Dalai Lama (big guru) fled and it became absolutely dominated by Communist China in 1959.

Again, the main philosophical doctrine of the Tibetan Buddhism that Csoma perused is that phenomena are inconceivably empty (sunya), that is, without substance or essence or independent existence because everything is interdependent. Just how empty or inconceivable emptiness is depends on your Tibetan school. That is, what seems to be empty of everything or nothing may not be absolute nothingness, but could be degrees of nothing made capital. Nonetheless, that the emptiness central to the religious aspects is indefinite and identifies Being with Nothing no matter how many different capitalized names are given to Nothing to glorify the emptiness, wherefore the associated rituals may appear to be apologia for nothingness, forms of nihilism or virtual suicide motivated by an instinct for death. Hopefully there “exists” an independent, transcendental realm for the salvation of immortal souls, and perhaps that realm may be populated according to imagination.

So it would seem that the essence of Buddhism, despite its cultural accretions, is atheistic, and that its relation to Hinduism, the catholic umbrella to many diverse sects, is revolutionary, notwithstanding the fact that Buddhism retains Hindu concepts and rhetoric, and that Hinduism is tolerant of personalist and impersonalists prejudices, for ‘god’ no matter its thousand names must be something or the other and not nothing at all. But perhaps this critique of the manner of dealing with the crisis of life is applicable to the theosophical world religions, that they are all, as Socrates said of philosophy as well, preparations for death, a return to our common Origin, the Home from whence we came.

The argument that we do not choose to be born into the world and then to die is denied by the doctrine of karma, which asserts that, once we are conscious of its workings, then a choice can be made to be liberated from the cycle of birth and death, and go to heaven for good unless we want to be nice and stay behind to help others meet their maker.

The idea that we have future lives to elevate ourselves excuses the miseries of the present life: hope springs eternal. Indeed, in the contemplation of death we detect the contrary to the fatal instinct, the erotic will to persist forever and ever without resistance, to be everything we can be within oneself, and, if immortality could be had without religions and gods, they would be dispensed with forthwith along with philosophies and their ethical tenets and moral codes. Tragically, no individual can exist as such without resistance to define it, so the baby would be tossed out with the bath water.

Now the Bhagavad Gita informs us that, even if this entity we call the soul is not imperishable, we should not grieve. If the “I” that seems to persevere is just a congeries, an incidental collection of habits or bundle of influences, why grieve for its disposition? Still, whatever it is, it is convenient for the time being to conceive of it as a singular entity, whatever name we use to that end in order that each one of us is responsible to our kind, and at the end of that time, or the time of times, so we shall go home again, relieved of whatever burden we may suffer. Of course there are those of us who find the very idea of the end insufferable, who love life so much they would rather be dragged out the door screaming and kicking than to go willingly into the darkness, and, if we are compassionate, we hope that in the end they will see the Light. Until then they too might heed the advice of buddhas not to cling too adamantly to what we shall lose in the final analysis.

As I said at the beginning, I am a frustrated nomad. No matter where I happen to live at the moment, I do not feel completely at home alone, all-one, at-one with myself, in the womb, where everything was done for me. Cast out into the challenging world, between life and death, I am unable to be still, to settle down for good, as I am always in between something or the other, between the past and the future, in the present, where I am compelled against my will. Yet, after making the preceding inquiry, I am not as frustrated. I no longer wonder, like Csoma, from whence my people came, for humanity is one, and what difference does it really make? I can look within myself for my home.

I wanted to go home again in and wound up in South Florida. The Dalai Lama visited South Florida in the wake of hurricanes to say that he did not know what existence is, and that he had showed up to smile and show his teeth to people who are miserable enough to want to go home again. In the wake of the destructive material whirlwinds, suffering was the Stick. Behind his smile was the Carrot.

If you find Tibetan has an exotic appeal, consider the awareness or rigpa of Dzogchen, the perfectly incorruptible, indivisible state of Being, the permanent essence without which nothing exists, in which you may lose your ephemeral personality and its delusory self-identity in relation to the objective world. That being or nothing made capital would be a version of nirvana, the Tibetan form being a griefless state. Do not be disappointed by the prevailing etymology of the word, that it means “blown out,” that your flame will be extinguished in nirvana. You may be pleased to know that nirvana may mean “not blown out,” that everything but the light itself shall be extinguished. Whether that light is singular or plural remains to be seen.

Contact the Dalai Lama or any bona fide spiritual master for more information about achieving that blissful state and what it would be like without your senses, perceptions and passions. Maybe there is no such heaven. Maybe you cannot go home again. Yet you may be happier on the road back to your beginning if you are god’s fool.


The Sly Way




Crazy Russians

The Russian mathematician, journalist and ‘Fourth Way’ philosopher Peter D. Ouspensky (1878–1947) is largely ignored and seldom taken seriously today by intellectuals. One might say that Ouspensky’s contributions to the ‘Crazy Russian’ stereotype were not appreciated by his peers. His reputation was virtually ruined during his lifetime, not only because of his enthusiasm for the fashionable fourth-dimension discourse of his day and esoteric subjects as well, nor for preaching his rationalizations of the self-remembering method of his iconoclastic master, yet another black sheep, the self-remembered mystic and lover of distilled spirits, G.I. Gurdjieff (1872-1949), but also because of his eccentric, drug-enhanced lifestyle.

Following in the relatively fresh footsteps of the Russian seer, tobacco fiend and professional charlatan, Madame Blavatsky, first Gurdjieff and then Ouspensky embarked on a nomadic, Oriental search for golden nuggets and priceless jewels of ancient wisdom, for miraculous notions and alchemical potions, a quest that contributed to their popularity among disaffected radicals of all sorts, bohemians, beatniks, and hippies. The eclectic product of their adventures was rendered absurd by its often self-contradictory assortment of ancient lore posing as modern revelation. Ouspensky’s attempt to gloss the Absurd over with rationalizations was taken to heart by persons who found some security in its mechanical or systematic aspect, hence we occasionally encounter an apparently objective or heartless system that provides for emotion in name only, an awful burnished machine that does not, however, raise consciousness to the classically harmonious realm purposed by the ‘Work’ of his fascinating master, Gurdjieff, whom Time magazine referred to as “a remarkable blend of P.T. Barnum, Rasputin, Freud, Groucho Marx, and everybody’s grandfather.”

In sum, Gurdjieff’s hard ‘Work’ was based on ancient premises and techniques that are by no means proprietary or unique to his school, but are necessarily platitudinous premises still held. And the related techniques and rituals are still practiced by modern psychologists. His therapeutic work employed music, dance, rituals, and a sort of psychological shock therapy to prepare the novice for initiation into the version of reality Gurdjieff had became acquainted with on his peregrinations.

Gurdjieff stated that his semi-biographical work, Meetings With Remarkable Men, was intended to be “prepatory instructive material for setting of the consciousness of creatures similar to myself a new world”; that is, a real world instead of an illusory world. He wrote another work, Beezlebub’s Tub, “to destroy mercilessly the beliefs and views rooted for centuries in the mind and feelings of men”, by arousing unfamiliar thoughts in their minds. Of course he employed more than words to shock his students out of their wits.

Most importantly, Gurdjieff emphasized an artificial, triadic structure of human beingness: In the name of the mind, the body, and the feeling, as One. He supposed that, IF the three centers were brought into triunal harmony, THEN a higher level or state of being-consciousness would naturally follow. Gurdjieff the mystic, by the way, was a composer and hypnotist. Although Ouspensky’s intellectual analysis of Gurdjieff’s Work tends to divorce the mind from body and feelings and exalt the rational function, Gurdjieff’s version of classical Harmony, his harmonious level of being, is an emotional state of being, at least from the perspective of modern psychology.

Modern Emotions

When a bow is pulled across a string of a musical instrument in just the right way, strife is music to the ears. When strings conflict in such a way that they insult ears sensitive to an accustomed musical system, the result is deemed inharmonious. Life itself is a sort of lover’s complaint in its war against nature, and all against all after bliss is left behind and self-consciousness gained.

What is love? Love is simply your life, said Swedenborg. So we say each life is a lover’s complaint because the individual would persist without resistance forever if only s/he could, but s/he can not. An individual with power unlimited would not be divided within nor without, and would in effect be as powerful as the projected Holy Power or Almighty so many persons worship with all their might. Hence, albeit a form of complaint, self-love is essentially life, and therein is the unity of all lives.

While militant philosophers believed strife to be the general Good from which all goods flow, and held that blood must and should be plentifully and frequently shed to improve the moral fibre of the race, others, who hankered after peace among men, abhorred strife, and they opposed to strife an altruistic love, an overarching metaphysical Love that would transcend strife and purportedly bring harmony. That is to say, harmony within, to the basic anxiety of existential complaints, which would, in turn, be orchestrated, and harmony without, in forms of loving cooperation to mutual ends. Or perhaps we would better say, in mutual admiration or mutual self-love, inasmuch as all are to love their neighbors as themselves, as absurd and repugnant as that might seem.

Wherefore we hear of “Harmony” in several languages from many philosophers who profess to hold usually three-pronged keys to an emotional state of being we might all enjoy; in a word we might call it bliss, the best emotion of emotions.

Now emotion is widely regarded as the thinking-feeling basis of morality. Modern psychology’s frequently stated tripartite analysis of emotion disintegrates the notion of integral emotion into body (feeling), mind (thinking), and behavior (acting) components. In brief, an emotion is a conscious feeling of pleasantness or unpleasantness, accompanied by a biological activation and expressive behavior. Again, emotion has cognitive, physiological, and behavioral components, which have been referred to in popular terms as “centers”, namely the thinking, feeling, and acting centers. A person’s behavior communicates her emotional state, which is not always clear without corresponding context, which may include verbal communication. For instance, the facial expression of grief, crying, may be misinterpreted out of context as laughter or “crying with joy” until the context is made clear.

The modern “scientific” analysis of the mind-body organic functioning into components or parts is made for the sake of convenience, usually with an interest in understanding human behavior in order to manipulate it to profitable (“good”) ends. The emotional “centers” are not “facts.” Furthermore, the interpretation of the facts or behavioral events is necessarily value-laden; that is, the artificial divisions are to a certain extent arbitrary and based on the prejudicial social mores and personal biases of the analyst. Wherefore the serious student of psychology should always keep not only the unique identities but also the emotional integrity of analyzed subjects in mind. For instance, the limbic system, sometimes mislabeled the “emotional center”, has pathways to and from the cerebral cortex, particularly the frontal lobes involved in the interpretation and control of emotions.

The modern theory of emotion is generally optimistic and coincides in some respects to the optimism of Gurdjieff and other students of psychology. To wit: behavior, including  thinking or symbolic acting, can be so managed as to increase the happiness of humankind. Otherwise, why bother with psychology, or, for that matter, any other human art and science?

Modern psychology’s Opponent-Process theory of emotions has practical implications because the theory asserts that an opposing emotion will gradually render a strong emotion weaker. Conflicting emotions can be resolved in favor of an induced powerful or “empowering” congruency, or a “negative” emotion can be deliberately replaced by eliciting in its stead a “positive” emotion, via physical (e.g. smiling) or symbolic (e.g. visualization or positive thinking) action.

The Shacter-Singer Two-Factor theory, which is a cognitive theory, posits that emotions depend on the interpretation of arousal, which we variously label. For instance: a man yells at you; you are aroused; you label his behavior “anger,” and perhaps respond angrily. But he may not be mad at all; he may be a “loudmouth” with something else in mind. Nor should you reflect his anger if anger were in fact the case. In any case, different labels may be applied with different effects (your responses) to the same event.

The Cognitive-Appraisal theory asserts that different people may have different emotional responses to the same situation. Emotional experience depends on cognitive interpretations; therefore reinterpreting the situations can change emotions.

The James-Lange theory posits an order of functions. The standard example: we see a vicious-looking growling dog; we feel nervous; we run; and then we realize we are afraid. Therefore we suppose that, if the behavior (running) can be changed, then the emotion can be changed. Laugh, as Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote in her famous poem, and the whole world will laugh with you. We should observe that the James-Lange interpretation of the order of function mistakenly denies the fact of cognition at the very outset: the dog looks vicious and is growling viciously – perhaps the dog is not vicious at all.


Moral Psychology

Now we can see that Gurdjieff’s so called quasi-religious approach to psychology and therapy is by no means unique. The contrary claims of his postmodern followers who assert that modern psychology has ignored his contributions, are spurious and serve to bolster their egos with the belief that they possess something special that sets them and their practice apart from and superior to mainstream theory and practice.

Modern psychology’s primary directive is not to applaud certain persons and psychological cults but to recognize the general nature and operating laws, such as they might be, of the human “psyche”, however that might be defined, and, presumably, to offer some sort of therapy for human improvement, however that might be defined. Since man’s  fundamental nature has changed very little since his emergence as homo sapiens, we are not surprised to find ancient moral platitudes at the bottom of many of the theories of modern psychology and psychiatry. Only recently has the term ‘moral’ been disassociated with ‘mental’. Moral behavior implies mental choices. The moral or socially acceptable behavior of the person is tantamount. Once the drugs are dispensed with, moral or mental therapy remains applicable to “mental illness.”

Garth Wood, for one, is a modern psychologist who believes that far too many mental/moral problems are defined as diseases and treated with drugs and self-defeating psychoanalysis – e.g., dwelling too long on personal histories. A moral approach directed to present and future behavior, particularly in cases of neurosis, would be more effective, he insists, in The Myth of Neurosis.

“In reality, of course, to behave in a ‘neurotic’ way is not a disease but a misguided decision and such behavior is a function of our basic freedom to choose, of our self-determination, of our responsibility for our own lives. Perhaps in some perfect world of the psychodynamists, in which all were exposed to their teachings and methods, such freedoms would be superfluous and there would remain only well-adjusted people, their psyches working smoothly in accordance with the blueprint for some mental machine dreamed up by metaphysical conceptualists who were longer on theory than they were on common sense.”

The Happy Machine

The modern mechanical elaboration and rationalization of man’s irrational incongruities in hopes of engineering a happy machine have rendered Gurdjieff’s relatively modern psychological system heartless. Gurdjieff and Ouspensky were no doubt duly impressed by the scientific, positive, and empirical schools of the West,  and the related modes of thought elaborated during the  Enlightenment; particularly in its later phase, represented in France, for example, by the academic Ideologues, whom Thomas Jefferson in America admired and emulated so much that he eliminated the subject of Theology from his university curriculum in favor of Ideology, a subject eventually taken up in its vulgar form throughout the country as the study of political religions rather than the “logic of ideas” recently abstracted by logical positivism (philosophical assertion of the primacy of observation in assessing the truth of statements of fact, while insisting that metaphysical and subjective arguments not based on observable data are meaningless). In any case, the Occident already has the Orient, in the persons of brilliant Arabs, Persians, and Jews, to thank for recovering classical metaphysics and for developing  inductive reasoning and the rudiments of modern science.

Of course Newton’s cosmic machine and the notion that man and his society are machines as well, to which mechanical principles or laws apply that heaven on Earth might be engineered, was all the rage back then, an optimistic fashion soon to be interrupted by the Romantically inclined – often to Gothic depression. And then a mysterious, fourth dimension was brought to light, and the human mind speculated on the nature of time and space, and curiously, timespace, waveparticles, and other subjects so occultly contradictory that even the most absurd doctrines of the ancient Brahmins were seemingly  upheld by quantum physics.

But the modern mechanical man was not to be thrown out with the bathwater. No, he was to be deprogrammed of his traditional, presumably bad habits, and reprogrammed to suit the times, that he might become a well-oiled machine. The well-oiled machine is not habitually engaged by negative emotions; the well-oiled machine doesn’t squeak. Yet the truth of the matter is that a machine depends for its motion on inherent contradictions whether it squeaks or not; moreover, life is largely a form of complaint we tire of hearing.

But never mind, if we are to be happy machines, we must, first of all, know that we are machines. After Jeremy Bentham applied the Inspection Principle to prison architecture, establishing an unseen monitor in the center of the Panopticon, he thought the concept might be suitable for the conditioning of students as well – his brother had already applied it to industry in Crimea. Someone asked Bentham, “Would not men, under the rational Utilitarian regime of  the greatest happiness of the greatest number, conditioned in panopticons, become machines?” No matter, replied Bentham, they would be HAPPY machines. Now the Panopticon has been liberally introjected into everyone, in part thanks to Bentham’s disciple, J.S. Mill, and his dad. Each thoroughly socialized individual – he thinks he is free – is his own indoctrinated and inoculated warden; yet, ironically, the number of external prisons and prisoners is accelerating, as if machines cannot be very happy even when they stop squeaking – perhaps because of the necessary mechanical contradictions that make the machine work. The brick and mortar prisons,  observes an upside-down postmodern sociologist, are necessary: the visible presence or prisons causes virtually imprisoned people outside the walls, who are in virtual chains to believe they are free.

Likewise Ouspensky, reflecting further than Gurdjieff on man’s propensity for automatic or habitual behavior, discovered that we are machines subject to certain behavioral drives or centers. Yes, he imagined, we are asleep, and our waking consciousness is really  a sort of dream state; we are mired in the psychological mud, so to speak, of our  habitual modes of life. Our salvation, at least as self-conscious beings, is to wake up from our stupor and remember our selves, whatever the self may be, if it exists at all.

Many of today’s Fourth Wayers have, instead of remembering themselves, lost the selves sought for in Ouspensky’s over-rationalizations of Gurdjieff’s work. They tend to tinker with the machine for the sake of tinkering, becoming so preoccupied with the parts, with telling the difference between a screw and a bolt, that the objective of the Work, the United Emotional State of Harmony, is forgotten, as if the tinkerer or gypsy had fallen asleep at the reins, unconsciously demonstrating, as it were, the cultish tendency of psychological pseudo-scientism to get lost in classification for its own sake. The Ouspenskian machine does, by virtue of its absurdities, work to disenchant and to destroy, at least in those who love nonsense, the hated habits and traditions that provoked Gurdjieff and like creatures to search for ancient oriental lore and habitude. We are left today, in my lay opinion, with a virtual rubbish heap; but a few precious things can be found therein, providing that the vanities are submitted to the bonfire.

Mind you that Ouspensky is not entirely to blame for the tinkering. Since Gurdjieff identified the Fourth Way as the “Sly Way”,  we might suggest that Ouspensky used slight-of-hand to fulfill an ulterior motive. Once the presumably sleeping or stupefied subjects are stripped of the old habits and traditions which block the recognition of revolutionary new masters,  said masters can distract them and virtually enslave them with yet another complicated  bureaucracy. We might tax lazy people to get them to work for us so they can pay their taxes; otherwise dissident intellectuals can be preoccupied figuring out the absurd tax code. There are many ways for a sly creature to fleece the sheep.

Personal Breakdowns

It might be best not to interfere with our machinery once we know we are machines. Gurdjieff was much impressed by the wisdom of a certain dervish who noticed him methodically masticating his food in an effort to get its maximum nutritional value. Well, so much for the traditional parental command, “Chew your food!” Too much chewing will over exercise the jaw and under excercise the stomach.

“It is not necessary to masticate carefully,” said the dervish to the delighted Gurdjieff, whose main childhood game was to avoid doing things the ordinary way. “At your age it is better not to chew at all, but to swallow whole pieces, even bones if possible, to give work to your stomach.”

Likewise, for the Hatha yoga that Gurdjieff was practicing at the time. No, we are not to take a deep breath, as old wives and others say, to improve our health, for breathing is automatic, an autonomous function. Artificial breathing will damage the machine! So forget the folk wisdom, still practiced to this day with “scientific” justification, that breathing exercises will drive the lymphatic system and thus eliminate toxins, improving tissue and organs and prolonging the person’s life.

“Without the knowledge of the fundamental laws of breathing in all particulars,” said the dervish, “the practice of artificial breathing must inevitably lead, very slowly but none the less surely, to self-destruction.”

From these instances the following induction is drawn:

“If you know every small screw, every little pin of your machine, only then can you know what you must do. But if you just know a little and experiment, you risk a great deal, because the machine is very complicated. There are many tiny screws which might easily be broken by a strong shock and which cannot afterwards be bought in any shop.”

So favorably impressed was young Gurdjieff by this revelation of mechanical laws that he reverently solicited the dervish’s instructions on “how to live in order to put an end to this tormenting struggle.”

We might spin large with the dervish’s assumption, project it onto the entire population, and assume that a radical disturbance of the social machine, namely, a revolutionary overthrowing of the traditions and mores much despised by the youth, say, when Gurdjieff and Ouspensky were young, might result in the utter destruction of civilization; that is, unless the population’s consciousness is simultaneously raised through class-conscious propaganda, and a new state machine installed, totally organized and regularly oiled by party technocrats led by an intellectual dictator.

Revolutionary  Breakdowns

Several social psychologists have noted that the revolutionary breakdown of social systems has perverse results: instead of elevating people to harmonious intercourse, they become primitive and brutish.

“Revolutionary society… loses its memory… it forgets traditions, beliefs, ideas…” wrote Pitirim Sorokin in THE SOCIOLOGY OF REVOLUTION, discussing the “perversions” or abnormal behavior that ensued after revolutionary intellectuals woke up and enlightened the masses and proceeded to rid the people Russia of their bad habits.

Pitirim Sorokin was certainly aware of the effects of “waking” people up in the middle of the night and making them acutely conscious of their bad habits and mechanical behavior – he was secretary to Alexander Kerensky in 1917. The complete breakdown of the state machine that resulted from the advance in revolutionary personal consciousness had many perverse effects besides famine. For instance, you might be a beloved comrade one day and executed on the next day simply because your spectacles and belly made you look bourgeois. Or maybe it was something you said again, but it was taken in another way. Sorokin was eventually arrested by the Communists, sentenced to death, released at the last moment due to the influence of friends, and, later on, banished. He became Professor of Sociology at Harvard in 1930.

“The gray cortex grows similar to a complex telegraph and telephoning station…. Often various contradictory messages are ‘sorted’ there…. ‘Sorting and appraisement’ demands time and energy…. The more intense and serious the process of reflection and thought, the more time will it require to come to a conscious definite decision…. The influence of inhibiting factors… makes us careful….”  The extinction of habitual processes results, according to Sorokin’s mechanical model, in “primitiveness” and “simplification.” “This degradation of spiritual activity is the fundamental feature of the psychical perversion of revolutionary society and render it akin to the psychology of the savage and the animal…. When a great quantity of reflexes… grows extinct in man, his nervous apparatus begins to resemble a complicated machine in which the screws have gone slack…. Because of this, the machine begins to work all wrong….  

“The perversion of conduct provoked by the first stage of revolution renders society more primitive and brings men nearer the conduct of animals…. Every extinction of conditioned reflexes means both the rupture, the annihilation of the former communication between the world and the organism; and a simplification, a returning to primitive motives; a decentralization of activity of the cerebral matter and the whole nervous system …. The mechanism of associating and of combining perceptions and ideas in revolutionary society shows a resemblance to that of primitive society….  It is primitively chaotic, inconsistent and unstable…. Today the Girondins are termed ‘Saviors’; tomorrow – ‘Executioners of the People.’ Today certain groups fight against each other; tomorrow they embrace.”

Eventually people become exhausted: “During the second period of revolution… ‘restraining factors’ and the exhaustion of energy sets in. Society loses all will-power…. You can do what you please with it…. Dictators strike…. It is like ‘new-mown flax’ ….”  The mob becomes like children and savages, more imitative, and it is then that the masses sleep: “They have grown to be somnambulists,” Professor Sorokin concluded.

Those of us who have not experienced, because of our time and circumstances, extreme social shocks, might, out of sheer boredom, secretly long for them, just as we might unwittingly long for death, as if we were subject to some sort of death instinct that would vacate the mind and resolve the body into dust. Indeed, not only do the young often long for revolutionary change, the old, as they approach the end, believe a general apocalypse is nigh. And then there are those who would just plod on and on in the same old ruts, even against their own interest – at least as defined by others – perhaps a cloud of LSD sprayed over cities or a voluntary course of shock therapy would wake them up so they could be reengineered.

The People of Byt

Beware, however, before taking a radical course of action, for there is some merit after all in repetitious or mechanical behavior. Moderation may be the key to success. Maybe orderly reform instead of violent revolution is the way to progress. A certain social platform is needed, a place where we can safely stand on habit, and then innovate if we happen to be disposed to innovate; but we must not be pulled under into the slough of despond by that platform. Russian was backwards; its traditional society was stagnant; something had to be done to wake up the masses, the majority of whom were peasants. Ouspensky noted that a certain, “unsuccessful”  type of people, the “people of byt”, are seemingly subject to eternal repetitive behavior. The Russian word ‘byt’  is difficult to translate. It can mean a habitual lifestyle, say peasant-life, merchant-life, rut-life and so on; or, in theatrical life, the typical voice or tone, the typical bit part, and so on.

“There are, first of all, people of byt, of deeply rooted, petrified, routine life. Their lives succeed one another with the monotony of the hand of the clock moving on the dial. There can be in their lives nothing unexpected, nothing accidental, no adventures. They are born and die in the same house where their fathers and grandfathers were born and died and where their children will be born and will die. National calamities, wars, earthquakes, plagues, sometimes wipe thousands and hundreds of thousands of them from the face of the earth at one stroke. But apart from such events their whole life is strictly ordered and organized on a plan…. It is just this absoluteness of repetition that creates in them some vague consciousness of the inevitability of everything that happens, a belief in fate, fatalism and, at times, as strange sort of wisdom and calmness, in some cases passing into an ironical contempt for people who are restless, seeking for something, striving for something.”

Ironically, like other Russians of literary note, Ouspensky seems to have a certain occult admiration for this repetitious type of person, the “unsuccessful” person whose, consciousness of repetition does not lead to reform but seems to ironically save him from fate by resigning him to it. But Ouspensky is divided against himself. He seems to push the doctrine of eternal recurrence to rid himself of it, but it rolls right back on him. He was a Russian fatalist who dreamed of the New World. East looks West, West looks right back.

In effect, the People of Byt were the Russian peasants whom the nihilists and other revolutionaries idolized and whom they even ventured to live with out in the sticks in order to wake them up and overthrow the Tsar’s state machine. The peasants were certainly creatures of habit, sticks in the mud, set in their ways. The regularity familiar to farmers was reflected in their religious rituals – a regularity that is disastrously interrupted, presumably by the deity, from time to time; a deity whose arbitrary behavior is rationalized by secular authority, whose own tyranny is therefore excused. The population of peasants was very large, and the urban intellectuals’ mission to wake them up was politically motivated. But the people of Byt, like today’s proud “Rednecks”, are not easily converted from their habits. The revolutionaries were disillusioned; millions of peasants were eventually murdered or starved to death. This is the context in which Ouspensky and Gurdjieff and the like should be discussed in order to be understood.  

Stupidity and Self-Remembering

Ouspensky reiterated the fact that Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way is the Sly Way; The First Way is the way of the Stupid Fakir. The Second Way is that of the Silly Saint. The Third Way is the way of the Weak Yogi. The Fourth Way apparently consists of cunning and deceptive tactics devised to manipulate people, hopefully for their own good; for instance, towards the usual, harmonious unity desired by alienated people. During our own stage of the Age of Dissolution, we strive to perfect a Fifth Way, the competitive cult of individualism, which we might call My Way, an anarchic way that further aggravates the isolation or alienation from  unity  associated with Original Sin, the diremption or violent divorce, if you will, from the Supreme Being.

Just as one dimension after another is being discovered or invented by modern science, no doubt more ways to salvation shall be forthcoming. Indeed, until the Final Hour of the Last Day, there shall be no end to the number of ways proposed for salvation. After all, alienation is the condition of self-conscious beings, creatures who are aware of their seemingly independent existence. Human beings are exiled for life. The estranged individual would seemingly persist forever as such if he could, even against his longing for a return to unity, an urge some thinkers have identified with a death wish. Yet he has no choice in the matter, for gravity is a tyrant unto him. No matter how far he strays from his origin, the exile must return home for dissolution and reprocessing. Again, it seems that the individual wanted to perish all along the way, for, despite the cultivation of individuality necessary for survival of the species, he seeks to lose himself by identifying with broader forms of alienation. Even the rebel who tears down all the fences has nothing to declare of himself in the end, except, “I am just another cattle.”

Perhaps most stupefied of all are those discomfited messiahs who are unaware of the Absurd and the Ubiquitous Ambiguities rooted in the underlying crisis or hypo-krisis of humankind. It is all too easy to go around with a lamp in broad daylight looking for an good man, or to climb up on a pulpit and accuse everyone of sin, or to set oneself up as a prophet and cry AWAKE! in the public arena; and not recognize that the accuser, in his witless arrogance and hypocrisy, is dishonest and asleep, even more so than the rest, and that the prophetic alarms are really unenlightening, perhaps even based on self-contempt extended to hatred for the race – the race of course is not so admirable in the light of higher ideals, hence it is easy to condemn. Of course the appearance of impropriety is concealed today by the modern scientific messiah with an objective, detached, facade of concern for the race being anal-ized or mentally butchered into machined parts. Indeed, the essential ambiguity, ambivalence, and hypocrisy of human nature should be the first recognized quality recognized by the self-remembered!

By the way, what is the self to be remembered besides some happy integer in the nebulae? We can safely assume that the entity remembered should be the true self, as opposed, to the false or conditioned, mechanical self. It is an ideal self by virtue of its current non-existence, a self to be perpetually strived for. Only nothing is permanent and perfect in itself. We doubt that the self is a reconditioned paving machine. We observe that Socrates’ Know Thyself results in skepticism, and not in an assertion that man is a machine, or should be machined after he is put in charge of machines instead of subjected to them.

Self-remembering, Gurdjieff remarked in Meetings With Remarkable Men, “is to take cognizance of one’s own individuality.” He rightly complained that journalism and advertising were putting people to sleep, causing them to forget their selves. Indeed, any mention of a person besides the third person casts doubt today on the truth of the speaker – therefore the ‘I’ here is usually ‘we’  – the plurality has more authority in a democracy. But in this paper ‘we’ are presumably the elite we of meritocracy, if not aristocracy.

Four Mechanical Manifestations

Ouspensky’s notion of self-remembering depends on the objective observation of certain psychological facts, four manifestations of mechanical life that prevent us from remembering what we are. Self-remembering is an awakening, as from a dream. Since we personally identify with the four manifestations, which are presumably bad habits, self-remembering or waking up is no easy task.

Habitual Lying is the first dysfunctional manifestation identified. Liars include persons who presume they know what they do not know, or who presume they are in possession of characteristics they do not possess. Imagination is the second mechanical fault, our tendency to imagine things then believe they are true to please ourselves. Negative Emotions and Unnecessary Talking are the third and fourth malfunctions.

Most misleading of all, claimed Ouspensky, is the notion of the possession of consciousness. Only a man can know if he is conscious or not. Others cannot tell, from direct observation, whether someone else is conscious: he may be a robot for all they know. Consciousness is a matter of degree: duration, frequency, extent of penetration of the objects of consciousness – Ouspensky was convinced that most people are dozing off or sleeping. A man cannot long sustain attention to himself. He is usually unconscious of himself. Hence “self-remembering” awakens him to himself. We cannot control consciousness itself, said Ouspensky claimed, but we can control our thoughts in such a way that we remember ourselves; that is, once we become aware of the fact that we have forgotten ourselves, or are, to wit, asleep. Hence the Work proceeds with the confession, “I do not know myself, I have forgotten myself.” This self-remembering process, he says, has immediate alchemical results on the body.

Well, the honest man will probably admit that human beings are habitual liars. Of course Native Americans observed that the invading European barbarian, the Western White Man, was a liar; one tribe went so far as to name him ‘Liar’ after getting to know him. Some peoples lie more than others. We might imagine that lying would not be the practice in small groups when the everyday existence of members depends on the communication of truth. Of course a people might lie to one’s neighbors as a matter of practice if they are perceived as enemies. But to make friends for mutual safety the truth is better told on essential matters.

The Vice of Lying

We note that the famous Ten Commandments enjoins adherents from bearing false witness against neighbors and from swearing falsely; rather narrow injunctions indeed, leaving a great deal of room for the propagation of all sorts of falsehoods. When populations are civilized through conquest, the competition continues by more civil means, and much of it is deceptive, as if man and his business were corrupt at the core and in need of legal restraint lest all hell break loose again.

As for the individual, we should remember that the child discovers the freedom of his individuality, at least that of his inner life, by lying and getting away with it from time to time. Hopefully he will learn to restrain himself and do no harm, and perhaps even do a great deal of good by virtue of a sort of white lie. He may discover that lying to himself, when restrained by the reality of his circumstances, is a very good thing for him and for his civilization; that is, if there is any such thing as positive progress to be had. In a certain sense, civilization itself is based on systematic lying, of presuming that we are better than we presently are. Religion, Freud said, is an illusion. But for all its faults, we might claim, it has served humankind well over the long run, and now we have other forms or religion besides religion, so to speak; for instance our political and scientific religions.

If man is a natural born liar and it is in his natural interest to lie and to imagine that he is something that he is presently not, then Ouspensky’s lie, that man will improve himself by ridding himself of lying to himself, is not the way to go. Perhaps Ouspensky’s Sly Way would simply replace one set of lies with another.

First of all, claims Ouspensky, a man must not lie. He must know what he has. He must know that he does not possess a thing in order to make an effort to attain it. A man is not going to pay dearly for something he already has. What he does not have yet ascribes to himself, is unity, permanent ego, individuality, will, consciousness, will-power.

“The change will begin with those powers and capacities which man ascribes to himself, but which, in reality, he does not possess. This means that before man can acquire any new powers and capacities, he must actually develop in himself those qualities he thinks he possesses, and about which he has the greatest possible illusions.”

The Virtue of Lying

Well, we suffer from the underlying crisis or hypo-krisis of our fundamental nature as hypocrites: we are not yet what we want to be, what we say we are. The Greek word for actor was hypocrite; Hebrew scholars, and then Christian thinkers with a vengeance, took up the word to provoke feelings of guilt for not realizing the ideals, for not treading the ideal ways.

Ideals are, fortunately for continued progress, moving targets. To become what we would be, something better than we presently are, we act as if we are just that. Thus, in a certain sense, we lie. We stand up on our hind legs, put our head in the heavens and imagine that we are more than animals; yes, undoubtedly we are much more than that: we are gods too, obviously because of a higher or divine will, a will that we seek unity with, and perhaps we may have it at the last moment.

Thus speaks cock-eyed optimists. People subject to negative emotions may beg to disagree, and point out that history is nothing but the continued history of man’s inhumanity to man, crimes of perpetual war waged in the name of perpetual peace and the one-god, crimes against humanity made large by high technology – low morality is still the rule. Furthermore, there is nothing we can do about it: we are determined to evil, to eventually run down like a machine or self-destruct. But let us not forget what Dr. Pangloss said: men are bound to corrupt themselves for their own good; for instance, to create war machines and slay one another.

“All that was indispensable,” said the Master, “and individual misfortunes create general welfare, so the more individual misfortunes there are, the more all is well.” As for free will in the best of all possible worlds, “Freedom can subsist with absolute necessity, for it was necessary that we be free…..” In fine, said Pangloss, “The fall of man, and his curse, were necessary components of the best of all possible worlds.”

The failure to recognize the truth behind the lies of Dr. Pangloss and other optimists has subjected the race to the misery necessary for its improvement. The few who realize what is really going on will prosper. Take, for example, a contemporary optimist, Jerome Robbins, who went from rags to riches and from fat to thin, pocketing a great deal of our hard-earned money by writing such books as UNLIMITED POWER. Many of us lack unlimited power and would like to have some of it at least: Unlimited Power is the subject of much religious worship. Mr. Robbin’s has entitled one of his chapters ‘The Seven Lies of Success.’ Mr. Robbins believes in lies and knows his Pangloss well:

“Belief #1: Everything happens for a reason and a purpose, and it serves us. Belief #2: There is no such thing as failure….”

If we would succeed, we should retrace our steps, learn painful lessons, examine the possibilities, mend our ways, and so on, says Robbins. Represent your experience in a positive way, imagining that it is just another step to success – don’t dwell on your lessons as mistakes unless you want to be a loser. Everything makes good sense if positively construed according to the drift of one’s wants and wishes. We’ve heard it all before. We find nothing new here for the price of a self-help book but copyrighted twists of the old hat, including the ‘novel’ NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) approach to imagination advocated, which Gurdjieff, a masterful hypnotist, and Ouspensky, a sly fellow in his own right, would find familiar although they have never seen the trademark.

Ouspensky’s derogation of the power of imagination is absurd.  Mr. Robbins owns technique-trademarks. His redundant tautologies of ancient wisdom have done many people a lot of good; white lies are a good thing; that is precisely the point.

Robbin’s fictitious or As If approach is not to be disparaged as mere pop-psychology. It is based on the common experience of the race and has been examined and deemed useful by professional philosophers and psychologists.

“The practitioner of Moral Therapy is not so interested in ‘objective truth’ …. In the absence of hard, permanent, unalterable purposes we should encourage the individual to settle for ‘useful fictions’… basically in tune with his moral heritage. He must behave as if he has a firm goal whether it is a realistic one or not. Garth Wood THE MYTH OF NEUROSIS.

But that makes a liar of Ouspensky, who would professedly rid people of their habitual lying and illusory imagination, as well as the negative emotions without which we would have no morality whatsoever. Remember that a negative emotion is often a response to a positive ideal disappointed. S/he who completely ignores evil is good for nothing. Of course that is not to say, for example, that love will not conquer hate in the long run. Popular psychology needs a better definition of “positive”, that the so-called “negative” emotions can be recognized and worked out and turned to more productive and harmonious endeavors.

There are limits to the power of belief or the credulity of the believers. The power of blind faith has no limit because it dishonors all refutation. But belief is not faith: belief is the gradual perfection of knowledge. One may, like Hitler, come to have faith in the truth of one’s own lies, but when  lying  has destructive effects, people cease to believe in the positive value of the lies and turn on the liar. Hence Mr. Robbins deliberately and rightfully provides in advance for certain painful adjustments.  

The Wrong Word For Good Intentions

And perhaps “lying” is the wrong word for our good intentions given the ingrained negative connotations of the term. It is not that we must lie but that we are entitled to our creative illusions. Gurus are right about maya and illusion. Things appear other than they are, as illusions. At least they are real illusions, and we accordingly refrain from jumping through plate glass windows. We are not deluded or hallucinating when we have certain illusions in common, just as we all see water glistening on a dry highway on a hot day due to an unusual refraction of light. Such is the law of phenomenal life, so why not accept that fact and turn it to good account?

Since we are always something other than we might think we are, why not take the illusion in hand and intentionally conceive of and imagine ourselves as otherwise? In our search for unattainable “Reality” or “Truth”, we may create our own illusory realities, conceived ourselves as other than we are, and, by virtue of this continual division of subject from object, live in accord with the law of motion which is the law of life. Such illusionism takes  therapeutic advantage of the restless urge for progress in general, or, conversely, nothing in particular – the will to freedom – and applies certain common sense guidelines for its exercise so that the individual will have a more satisfactory or healthy life.

The Ways

G.I. Gurdjieff and Peter D. Ouspensky were remarkable characters to say the least, and their eccentric ways of life and apparently unorthodox manners of thinking captured the imaginations of inspired many thousands of people, creative and progressive people, particularly creative and progressive persons drawn from the dissident or non-traditionalist ranks of the avant-garde -several variations on the Fourth or Sly Way persist today. Indeed, it is surprising that we find scant or no mention of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky  philosophical in dictionaries and encyclopedias. Their approach was hardly novel, and some of the theorizing is rather absurd, but the same may be said of much of contemporary philosophy and psychology today once the complicated elaborations of the platitudes are dispensed with.

Moreover, professional philosophers have remarked that eclecticism is inherently mediocre and necessarily logically absurd because of its contradictory borrowings; but we think they are too proud of their systems, rendered virtually incomprehensible by self-defensive rationalizations. I think it was Hume who noted that philosophy is an elaboration of common sense; we might turn a paraphrase and say that philosophy is usually a lot of nonsense about common sense

G.I. Gurdjieff, it is said, was quite a rake, and, in my opinion, somewhat of a fool; but he was a far more fascinating character than the professor of his Fourth Way, Peter D. Ouspensky. Ouspensky was no mean thinker. Some of his observations are perspicacious. His opus makes me think but leaves me emotionally cold, as if he were himself a thinking machine over-identified with his own intellectual center.

Ouspensky, like our contemporary superstitious PMA (positive mental attitude) pop-psyche preachers, is afraid of “bad” feelings, which he equates with “negative” emotions and thoughts. He preaches control as a way of avoiding negative information, and he seems to believe the repression of negativity, whatever that might actually be, constitutes the “objectivity” he preaches. His denial of imagination is destructive.

One might say that Ouspensky was a natural born ‘liar’, in a certain sense of that term, who gave the lie to his prohibition against lying. But his Sly Way was Gurdjieff’s – if Ouspensky was entirely sincere, then Gurdjieff gave the lie to him and made a fool of him. Credulous adherents are following suit to this very day. We hope it does them a lot of good. Such are the wiles of Lady Folly, that we are amused by all this, and can positively say so without negative emotions.

The High Way

Humankind has naturally developed many different folkways over the ages. Mutual animosity, or negative emotions, if you will, reduced the number of ways and cleared broad paths to several great civilizations. Wherefore people have had good cause from time to time to yearn for the security of one peaceful way rather than the many warring ways that depend on hate-based love or hate-others self-love.

Yet people soon tire of an single or universal way and long for personal identity with certain groups and ways of thought. Of course democracy or individual freedom promised a plurality of ways, even a unique way for everyone who wanted a singular, but individualism in fact constitutes, by way of dissolution and reduction, the utter socialization of existential units, achieving an massive unity in anxious singularity – the basic anxiety is masked by optimism – the smiling face and corresponding philosophy of life denies death.  

As for the unique aspect, we can only say, in optimistic self-contradiction ala Leibniz, that we are monadically unique because we differ in the quality of our perceptions. More abstractly, we might hold that each individual, as an absurd (unity of universal and relevant particularities) concrete universal, is a unique coincidence of universal qualities. We might find objective proof of our personal variety in the consumption of a wide array of mass-produced products, whereby each one of us might represent himself as visibly unique in the quantity and quality of his personal possessions, despite his identification with his caste, status, class and so on.  For a sense of particular identity in contrast to mass society, we might all represent ourselves as hyphenated-people; for instance, as African-American or Nigerian-French, and so on; and citizens of the cosmos may be cosmopolitan and thus retain their respective nations, and so on. Indeed, the possibilities for identification with different things and thoughts and people are infinite – for instance, a new kind of anarchism has recently been identified: Anarcho-Neanderthalism.

Yet during our metaphysical ascension of the pyramid to the presiding apex or non-dimensional  vanishing point, we tend to look down our long noses on everything below, and to have faith in Nothing if not the High Way. Nothing is better than the Fourth Way or any numbered way howsoever defined – the definitions are problematic hence stand in the way. The end of everything teaches us to expect Nothing, and, in the end, to have faith in Nothing, as if Nothing is best. Nothing is better than an infinite number of ways.

That being said by way of monologue, I beg your leave to sign off here and resume my visualization and breathing exercises.


Hegel’s Hypocrisy per Eric Voegelin

Eric Voegelin




Hypocrisy connoisseurs will certainly enjoy Eric Voegelin’s work, On Hegel. Voegelin charges Hegel with hypocrisy, in the sense that hypocrisy is the sin of pride in contradistinction to the humble role played by virtuous Christians, including himself, the arrogant author of a book condemning another man for his arrogance. According to Voegelin, Hegel fabricated a philosophical system that was bound to be false because it was founded on his own weakness, which, of course, Hegel was well aware of because he wrote it to overcome his own sickness. In other words, Hegel tried to pull himself up by his bootstraps. He acted like god while knowing he was not god.

“Thou hypocrite!” was once a favorite expression of Christians who derived its pejorative connotation from Alexandrine Jews who used it as a synonym for hanef – a godless person. Reverend James Marsh wrote a famous discourse on the subject, published in Boston by Crocker and Brewster in 1843 as part of Marsh’s literary Remains. Marsh quoted Luke XIII: ‘For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore, whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness, shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets, shall be proclaimed on the housetops.’ Reverend Marsh wrote, “These words of our Savior were uttered in connexion with a warning, addressed to his disciples, against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. In their immediate application, they were intended as a dissuasion from that conscious purpose of concealing selfish and corrupt principles under the show of respect for the law of God, by which the Pharisees were distinguished.” Thus does Reverend Marsh’s love for Jesus Christ – to whom he believes we must flee to since we cannot hide from him – based on hatred of another religious group.

In fact the Christian cult evolved from the liberal Pharisees sect whose rabbis taught, besides survival of the soul, not only the strict observation of religious law which the Christians were wont to reject in part, but also the gradual, humane reformation of that law. There would be no Christians without the Pharisees. Early Christians then turned on the Pharisees and called them hypocrites for pretending to be good, and even for actually doing good works while presumably having bad or selfish intentions; that is, for having bad faith: not believing in Jesus Christ as the one and only savior of humankind. Hence the great scapegoating injustice perpetrated against the Pharisees, rendering their name synonymous with ‘hypocrite’ as if they were all godless persons. On the other hand, Christians presumed that they were the only ones in possession of the real god, incarnated in a single man; but this was a supreme arrogance that Jews simply cannot stand for and still be Jews.

A man may think he is a god unto himself, but the sane man knows he is not god of the world or universe; every man who knows himself knows that he is limited and is not omnipotent. He who acts like a god while knowing he is not god is a hypocrite. Of course pessimistic Christians live not for this necessarily evil world but for the good world beyond, hence any attempt to bring the good order of heaven to Earth is hypocrisy. Wherefore Voegelin believes that Hegel is the typical system-building philosopher who would set himself up as a savior of the corrupt world, yet who is a hypocrite because he knows his salvation plan is built on his own sickness in the sick world, the rotten ground of the original sin of pride. Such spiritual rebellion is the product of an existentially deficient man; it aggravates the troubles of this world, making itself yet another source of the disease plaguing

Voegelin argues that, while prophets are not bound by history, philosophers are so bound. Philosophers wrongly assumed a religious role and declared that philosophy had emerged from religion to finally reveal the pristine primordial deity, ridding the world of the old evil god. In effect, such a philosopher implies that “History is an immanence of god leading up to Me, the One who will inaugurate the New Life.” He discards mysterious symbols, replacing them with “scientific” explanations of the good old mysteries; those intellectual fabrications are disguises for hypocrisy and are mistaken for knowledge by gullible and credulous people who would struggle for personal freedom from tyranny. Witness, for instance, the 1789 French Revolution, an historical example of such salvation-activism and its horrible result in anarchic freedom instead of the totalitarian outcome outlined in Rousseau’s little book that the rioting revolutionaries waved above their heads as their guide although many were illiterate and did not know a word of it.

No, says Voegelin, man is no god, he is merely a sorcerer – he can only see the directions of history, and, with the help of language, evoke its shapes, ghosts, fictions. Hegel tried to use his imagination to eclipse God’s Creation – unable to redeem himself, he created a holy book of philosophy and recommended the diabolical system therein to the world as its salvation. Therefore Hegel’s conceptual spiritualism should be replaced by unquestioning humility, voluntary suffering, repentance – by a pessimistic religious system of virtual suicide – that the individual person might be saved by his unconditional surrender to his own god and in effect to the status quo on this Earth, in order live the life of Riley in the hereafter.

The hypocrisy of all this is unavoidable, for, if hypocrisy is arrogance concealed to deceive, everyone is a hypocrite. Hence it takes a hypocrite to know one and to say – like perverse Christians who love to cast stones first yet cannot see the beam in their own eyes – “Thou Hypocrite!” Not that they all do; not that we should agree with the proposition that Christianity on the whole is the epitome of bigotry, of hate-based group love, of the most awful sin of pride, of the very apotheosis of hypocrisy.

Christianity has no monopoly on hypocrisy. Nor do the Pharisees, or the Alexandrine Jews who gave the Greek term for ‘actor’ its pejorative connotation. Judaism and Christianity are inseparable – Christianity does not have its own religion for it is unwilling to reject its Old Testament tradition with its barbaric patriarchal god, and admit that a genuine god of Love would have to be a complete Stranger to this world. Judeo-Christianity has often been debited or credited with the creation of the Western world, curse or blessing that it might be. But we might want to consider that religion did not make the man, it discovered him in his hypocrisy or underlying crisis between the real and ideal, between Earth and heaven. We find profound truths about men and women in Judaism and Christianity. We note well its revolutionary nature in the Jewish revolts against political empire; but the fiercely independent Jews would have had a virtual tribal theocracy under their messianic king; whereas we note the tendency to individualism and the multiplication of sects among Christians – this author’s favorite Christian, by the way, lives in a cave in the watershed, and calls Christian churches in the area “dens of iniquity” and “pits of vipers.”

In fact, for many Christians of all kinds, god is synonymous with freedom. Now the individual in its will to exist forever without impedance is an anarch. It would brook no resistance to its will, it would be omnipotent, it would be free from everything – absolutely free, as if it were the one and only god almighty, the supreme arbiter who has no reason to think before acting. God is the social projection of such individual freedom, a positive abstraction without any content at all, for any content would limit such a god. Above all, ‘god’ stands for the abstract unity of a group, just as the imaginary ‘I’ stands for the abstract unity of the individual divided from and confronted by the multiplicity of the world about him.

So much for omnipotent, absolutely free gods. The rest of us are free FROM something or the other. For instance, a certain strain of Christians, taking their cue from revolutionary Jews, would be free from the state. They might admit that a police force and a few public works are necessary given the original evil of humankind whose salvation by universal love will not be accomplished until the return of the god’s solitary son – the Greeks called the solitary son, who appeared as the brilliant and pure (Phoebus) Sun of Zeus, ‘Apollo’, for far-flung ‘unity.’ Throughout history Christians like everyone else have had a love/hate or ambivalent relationship with absolute states. The absolute god is an indefinite abstraction or Power whose forms cannot be maintained without the political distribution of that power; hence Christianity owes its present existence not only to its god but to absolute tyrants whose ‘might makes right methods’ were often similar to those employed by the unpredictable Terrorist Almighty of the Sky who did not let even innocent infants stand in his brutal path; the Hebrew thunder-god El, for instance, and the volcanic YHWH down south. On the other hand, with the advance of civilization, for which Christianity and Judaism does get ample credit, tyranny was curbed by the legal distribution of its own power.

With that in mind, we are not surprised by Voegelin’s attack on Hegel. Indeed, many good Christians hated Hegel with a passion, and called him a madman because his philosophy spelled absolute political tyranny, to be provided on Earth according to the systematic providence of the World Spirit. Hegel was initially a ‘liberal’ or an advocate of democratic liberty; his sympathies were with the French Revolution until its excesses caused him to violently back-pedal to the absolute state, which he conceived as the concrete embodiment of the god of the universal ethic, the nebulous Good (of course there is no etymological relationship between ‘god’ and ‘good’). For Hegel, individuals were so much dust to be ground up by the universal world mill operated by the world spirit. And whatever is here and now, is here because it ought to be as it is. Of course a few heroes or representative men are of greater moment as they help the wheel roll from China to its future in parts West; as certain Chinese Buddhists know, the Pure Land is in the West, the future into which the Sun descends – it appears that China may rule the world after California falls into the ocean.

It takes a hypocrite to know a hypocrite. As his critic Voegelin knew, Hegel himself wrote about hypocrisy from a similar perspective, that hypocrisy is the pretense of godliness, which is in itself an arrogance. Hence it would suit this occasion to provide a brief description of Hegel’s definition on hypocrisy for the hypocrisy connoisseur to savor.

In hypocrisy there is a difference between the good appearance presented by the subject and the subjective reality of his evil or selfish intent. Insofar as the subject is wholly self-interested or selfish, and conceives that he alone is a law unto himself, as if he were god almighty or the universe, he represents evil; for the particular subject in itself without any object other than itself is an empty or false universal. “On its formal side, evil is most peculiarly the individual’s own, since it is precisely his subjectivity establishing itself purely and simply for itself….” On the other hand, the moral man has the universal social good in mind and intends to conduct himself accordingly.

A hypocrite has a bad conscience when he is aware that his will conflicts with the “true”, or social, universal; yet, despite hits bad conscience, he sets himself up as pious and righteous in order to deceive others; or, he may use one good act performed as justification in his own eyes for his bad deeds; he may also justify some evil deed by finding a single good reason for it – say the recommendation of a single minister.

Hegel addresses the “empty formalism” of preaching duty alone. “Because every action explicitly calls for a particular content and a specific end, while duty as an abstraction entails nothing of the kind, the question arises: what is my duty? As an answer, nothing is available except to… strive after… one’s own welfare, and welfare in universal terms, the welfare of others…. Specific duties, however, are not contained in the definition of duty itself…. Duty itself in… self-consciousness… is inwardly related to itself alone… is abstract universality… it has identify without content, or the abstractly positive, the indeterminate…. In every end of a self-consciousness subject, there is [this empty or abstract] positive aspect necessarily present because [this general] end is what is purposed in an actual concrete action. This aspect he knows how to elicit and emphasize, and he may proceed to regard it as a duty or a fine intention. By so interpreting it, he is able to pass his action off as good in the eyes of both himself and others, despite the fact that, owing to his reflective character and his knowledge of the universal aspect of the will, he is aware of the contrast between this aspect and the essentially negative content of his action. To impose this way on others is hypocrisy; while to impose on oneself is a stage beyond hypocrisy, a stage at which subjectivity claims to be absolute.” (The Philosophy of Right)

The hypocrite’s deeds give the lie to his fine words. Even if they do not, we can accuse him of having bad intentions. Hegel, in Phenomenology of Mind, describes the psychological strategy of the hypocrite who knows his moral duty is socially determined yet takes his own individuality as the whole to which he alone has a duty. “(The particular self’s) pure self, as it is empty knowledge, is without content and without definiteness.” Yet it becomes “conscious of the opposition between what it is for itself and what it is for others, of the opposition of universality or duty and its state of being reflected into self away from the universal…. Over against this internal determination there thus stands… the universal consciousness; for this latter is is rather universality, duty, that is the essential fact, while individuality, which exists for itself and is opposed to the universal… is held to be Evil by the consciousness which thus stands by the fact of duty, because of the lack of correspondence of its internal subjective life with the universal; and since at the same time the first [empty individual or evil] consciousness declares its act to be congruency with itself, to be duty and conscientiousness, it is held by that universal consciousness to be Hypocrisy.

I think we get the picture. We see evil and good in their extremities at opposite ends of the continuum. Individual and society, particular will and universal will. With the horrors of the French Revolution in mind, Hegel favored the right-wing authoritarian end. It is no wonder that men and women pretend to be good as publicly defined. Are we all hypocrites? It seems that both Hegel and Voegelin, the critic who called Hegel a hypocrite, might agree that humans, as anti-social individuals, are originally evil. Is the man who admits he is evil and acts accordingly a hypocrite? Or is the sociopath a hypocrite?

Hegel presents the concrete state as the solution for dissolution of evil – the state is somehow provided by the World Spirit – we fear that it is a dystopian Totalitaria, a virtual prison. Voegelin would apparently have an indefinite, abstract god preside, but this personal god is the projection of the individual anarch in its original evil which both philosophers rightfully fear. In any event, may god forbid theocratic tyranny under fictitious gods. Further, we have good reason to fear the man-made calamities of the personification and deification of nations and states even more than the irregular natural wrath of the Terrorist Almighty.

We hope for a happy medium or golden mean rather than an “either good or evil” for our conversation or dialectic, that our conversant life may never end. Yet progressives may not be rid of the either/or, even if they say progress is from a lesser good to a greater good instead of from evil to good. Divided as individuals from unity by self-consciousness, we are given an underlying crisis or hypokrisis that requires decisions. We suspect that hypocrisy is the human predicament. But we do not want to water the pejorative term down and render it meaningless in its application to certain individuals who are much bigger hypocrites than others. Hypocrisy connoisseurs will appreciate the sophisticated philosophical hypocrites only in comparison to the vulgar ones in their collection.


Voegelin, Eric, HISTORY OF POLITICAL IDEAS, V.12 ON HEGEL, Columbia, Mo: University of Missouri 1997

Hegel, G.W.G., THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND, transl. J.B. Baillie, London: George Allen 1949

Hegel, G.W.G, HEGEL’S PHILOSOPHY OF RIGHT, transl. T.M. Knox, Oxford: Clarendon: 1942

Robinson, Jonathan, DUTY AND HYPOCRISY IN HEGEL’S PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND, An essay in the real and idea, Toronto: University of Toronto

The Great Atheism Controversy in Germany

ATHEISM resurrection of reasoning.JPG
The Resurrection of Greek Reason by Darwin Leon






German philosopher, religious thinker, and political radical, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, was accused of atheism. After being appointed professor of philosophy at Jena in 1794, he had begun a series of public lectures on Sundays, from ten to eleven o’clock, much to the consternation of the clerics. A local journal declaimed on Fichte’s revolutionary politics, accusing him of subversively substituting the worship of Reason for the worship of God.

That was a very serious charge in view of the situation over in Paris, where images of the savior and saints had been pulled down in churches renamed “Temples of Truth” and replaced with effigies of Reason and Liberty and paintings of natural objects such as flowers. Atheism was in vogue there to the extent that, if a priest bothered to even mention god in church, people openly guffawed.

Fichte, however, had no such mummery or cynicism in mind, although he was enthusiastic about some of the French Revolution’s basic principles, and he had written such tracts as “Reclamation of the Freedom of Thought from the Princes of Europe and Contributions Designed to Correct the Judgement of the Public on the French Revolution.”

The formal charge brought against Fichte, for worshiping Reason on Sunday, was resolved in his favor by the university senate of the Weimar government, with the proviso that any future lectures be given at three o’clock on Sunday afternoons instead of in the mornings. No such compromise was available however, in the matter of Atheismusstreit, the great Atheism Controversy which arose out of the publication of his 1798 essay on divine governance, “On the Basis of Our Belief in the Divine Governance of the World.”

The grand duke of Weimar had a liberal respect for scholarship, yet he wanted the whole thing hushed up; nevertheless, Fichte insisted on raising a vigorous public response to the anonymous charges against him, because, he said, the matter at hand was a vital public issue concerning the most fundamental of all freedoms. After all, a public airing of both sides of the atheism controversy would expose the stupidity of the authoritarian morons. Fichte had promised that he would resign if censured by the governing authority. As it were, he was mildly rebuked, but his offer to resign was accepted and he was dismissed from his university post. His dismissal was followed by anonymous public attacks on his character. The political authorities of various regions in Germany were embarrassed by the scandal, and they, in turn, ordered the journal publishing Fichte’s purportedly atheistic views confiscated, and they forbade students from their precincts to enroll at the university in Weimar.

What did Fichte say that outraged the anonymous religious authorities? In fine, he averred that god is the “World Moral Order.” That sufficed to outrage the theists.

Fichte thought that a person truly believes in god if he does his duty “gaily and without concern,” without fear or doubts about the consequences. A true believer is not afraid of the hateful hypocrites who go about casting anonymous aspersions on someone else’s version of faith.

As for the atheist, Fichte claimed that “the true atheist… raises his own counsel above god and thus raises himself to god’s position” by concerning himself with the consequences of doing his duty. The real atheist is a religious hypocrite who is concerned with what he can get out of his religion, the selfish person who does his duty concerned only with what is in it for him. As far as Fichte was concerned, doing one’s duty is imperative and not categorical, for duties by definition must be done regardless of the consequences. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about moral imperatives; for instance, the imperative not to lie: “You must not lie,” Fichte said, “even if the world were to go to pieces as a consequence.” So one should be willing to sign his own name to his beliefs and suffer the consequences therefor.

It may appear to the reader that, if the same good works are done, then the practical effects of selfish atheism and dutiful theism are the same, leaving the question of a person’s faith in god, which is really nobody else’s business. As long as the outward observances are dutifully observed, whether or not someone believes in god or not is between her and god. As for lying, the biggest lie of all is told by those who profess the existence of god but do not really believe god exists. If only people would start telling the truth about god, nation, party, family, and person, we would embrace our common humanity, in which pessimists believe a world war might break out.

Do not worry, advised Fichte, the truth will not cause the world go to pieces. If the truth is good for anything at all, surely it will keep the world intact. “The plan of its preservation could not possibly be based on a lie,” quoth he. Obviously, if god does exist, god is not a liar. Wherefore for Fichte, the moral world order that is god does not have to be proved; rather, it is the objective ground or presumed hypostasis necessary for certitude.

Fichte was not an atheist at all in the learned opinion of many great theologians who happened to be influenced by him. He was, one might say, an ethical pantheist who believed that god’s moral order or logos was present in every individual and available to each conscientious individual. That perspective naturally led bigoted dogmatists to charge Fichte with the mortal sin of deism, for intolerant bigots insist that deists are atheists. Deism affirms the existence of god and of rewards and punishments after death, and posits that each person aided by reason can discover the few simple truths of religion. Since god gives all normal humans reason, god’s doctrines are no secret; there are no specially anointed authorities who alone are able to understand and interpret god’s word. Conscience is a private matter. The deity winds up the universe like a clock and leaves us to do our duty or not. Finally, as to the form of worship, the deist worships god with good works. Deism, incidentally, was not unique to Europe; several founding fathers of the United States of America were democratically oriented deists.

The professors of stupidity charged Fichte with “making himself God” because of his reliance on reasoning rather than their irrational objective dogma. Fichte’s moral world order, however, was not the mundane mores of the mob or crowd, but was the real moral order of a supersensible realm where duty is not done for pleasure’s sake but for its own sake. His concept of Absolute Transcendental Idealism and the Absolute Ego or “I” smacked of heresy to bigots who wanted some godly object to idolize, a god of self-hate projected somewhere out there opposed to man and nature.

An object-god, say an imagined father-god who is out there somewhere, say in an imagined heaven, and who is opposed to man and to nature, is more of devil than a god. And it is for that reason that we should also be wary of Fichte’s absolute idealism, his apparent divorce of the subject (god and man) from the object (world and society). Furthermore, his idealistic con-fusion of god and man on the subjective side is dangerous, for an idealist who thinks his personal ideals are the one and only reality may dutifully be as intolerant as the religious bigot.

Indeed, an examination elsewhere of Fichte’s patriotic German utopia reveals a totalitarian dystopia. If he had known what we now know about the consequences of that line of thinking in World War instead of World Moral Order, he would not have been so enthusiastic about his German nationalism.

On the other hand, the wild, anarchistic hand as opposed to the totalitarian, heavy hand, we might admire Fichte for his assertion of the freedom of the will, the absolute freedom of thought and expression associated with the subjective nature of individualism.

In any event, Fichte was viciously and anonymously slandered by the professors of faith for expressing his conscience. The cowardice of the professors in remaining anonymous indicts their religion of ignorance, fear and hate. A profoundly faithful person rests secure in her faith; she is not pressed to prove the existence of her god; she certainly feels no need to make anonymous personal attacks on others. Naturally those who are insecure in forced faith fear that someone else’s reasoning might pull the rug called faith from beneath them, a rug laid on the shaky ground or shifting sands of their irrational fear, hence they respond anonymously unless they have a supporting mob; they answer with hate instead of love and would disallow any song except their own, desperately strident one.

College students conducting a recent study of hate-mongering cults were surprised by the loving friendliness the hate-cult members showed towards each other and towards new recruits. They love not the god of neighborly love piety raves about, for they condemn all to hell who do not agree with them. Surely this is not the worship of the god of love so many man-hating magpies chatter about in their assemblies, in churches, in neo-fascist meeting-places, but is rather the worship of hate itself. It is in effect hate-others-based group-love, a love based on fear.

Whether or not we like Fichte’s philosophy, the Great Atheism Controversy he was involved in, even though the atheism issue has grown increasingly moot since then, raises questions pertinent to our own time.

For instance, why would someone hide their name when expressing an opinion on an abstract subject unless they are terribly ashamed of their own existence expressed in words? Why are they so ashamed of themselves? Why do so many people hide behind false identities simply to insult people? And why do so many “religious people,” anonymously or not, resort to slander and libel, just as their forbears did about Fichte’s private life and sexual philosophy? Why, indeed, does their real god seem to be Satan, slander personified?