Chris is cooking with propane these days, laying out the background for his tour de force dissection of New Age “spirituality”; once he fills in the details, the lurid story will set straight one side of the complex story of theological pornography of which The da Vinci Code (still selling in hardcover!) and Left Behind (of which the debunker nonpareil is the Slacktivist) [are examples].
When people substitute wish-fulfillment for critical thinking, fantasy for imagination, self-validation for disciplined inquiry, you get the sort of tissue-paper-thin spiritual expression that ornaments current best-seller lists, talk-show platitudes, and church mediocracy. “Wouldn’t it be cool if?” modulates into, “As we all know. . .” without argument or examination.
Rock on, Chris and Fred, let ’er rip.
Well said. That modulation from fantasy to widespread buy-in without benefit of intervening critical intelligence is a core dynamic in the hockey-stick spike of the NewAge++ phenomenon. By far the majority of individuals who have taken the resulting unfiltered hearsay as their personal savior would vehemently argue that they have no connection to New Age ideas. Yet many of the "principles" they just as vehemently believe in, defend, live by and proselytize derive directly from some of the flakiest theories ever cooked up by New Age precursors such as Blavatsky, Eliade, Campbell and Jung -- all of whom had at least an "uncomfortable" affinity for racial and ultranationalist axioms. I have coined the term NewAge++ as a hypothetical category that might embrace this fast growing but so far ill-defined (to the point of invisibility) "spiritual" demographic, and to some extent explain its rapid expansion in contemporary society.
It is worth noting here -- and underlining -- that many similarly unexamined core beliefs form the shaky foundation of much that passes today for "psychotherapy," which is too often no more than a form of bourgeois pop-mysticism taken as what used to be called "gospel truth." Typified by media all-stars such as the virtual combine of Oprah, Chopra, Tolle & Dyer, this numinous lunacy has become a lucrative growth industry.
deconstruction, ideological criticism, postmodern feminism, "transgressive" postmodernism, and other postmodern approaches to biblical interpretation
posted by Christopher Locke at #
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
[Robert Sharf in "The Zen of Japanese Nationalism"] ... shows that [D.T.] Suzuki's intellectual development was influenced by... Paul Carus, the German-born follower of Schleiermacher and US-based founder of the Religion of Science.... As a result of this exposure to Carus' protestant championing of the primacy of religious intuition, Suzuki came to view Zen practice, despite much evidence to the contrary, as providing unrivaled access to pure, unmediated mystical experience. This fact leads Sharf to accuse Suzuki of reappropriating "Japan from Europe as an exoticized object."
The Gospel of Buddha -- "Compiled from ancient records by Paul Carus, 1894" says the full-text online version -- has sold over three million copies in its long life. And who knows how many times it's been downloaded. In the editor's preface, Carus writes: "Soon after the appearance of the first edition of 1894 the Right Rev. Shaku Soyen, a prominent Buddhist abbot of Kamakura, Japan, had a Japanese translation made by Teitaro Suzuki." This is none other than the D.T. Suzuki who introduced so many influential Westerners to "Zen." In recent scholarly religious studies, the quotation marks around Zen are common, and for good reason.
In the same preface, Carus say that some passages "are rendered rather freely in order to make them intelligible to the present generation." Carus says, further on...
It is a remarkable fact that the two greatest religions of the world, Christianity and Buddhism, present so many striking coincidences in the philosophical basis as well as in the ethical applications of their faith, while their modes of systematizing them in dogmas are radically different; and it is difficult to understand why these agreements should have caused animosity, instead of creating sentiments of friendship and good-will. Why should not Christians say with Prof. F. Max Mueller:
"If I do find in certain Buddhist works doctrines identically the same as in Christianity, so far from being frightened, I feel delighted, for surely truth is not the less true because it is believed by the majority of the human race."
It's as if someone who grew up knowing only dogs, suddenly encounters a land of cats. Oh, he thinks, they're just like dogs! They're all furry, just like dogs. They have two eyes, two ears, four legs, a tail. Why they're practically the same. And while all those homologies do obtain, we know there are significant differences between cats and dogs. These aren't so important in the normal course of things. We don't think -- or care -- about such differences unless and until we conceive some questionable need to teach our cat to fetch. Then... problems.
D.T. Suzuki and his Japanese masters conceived just such a questionable need to make Buddhism look and feel and act like Christianity. As a result, what was presented to the West as "Zen" is an animal that never existed. And this bait-and-switch routine has had consequences that still reverberate in our current cultural assumptions, not only about who and what those others are, but about who and what we are -- ultimately, about who and what human beings are. And are not.
D.T. Suzuki and the Zen sect he came out of -- it's a longer, more twisted story than I can tell here (but see Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, & the Question of Nationalism) -- had their subagenda. Paul Carus -- who was deep into Theosophy and Swedenborgian spiritualism -- had his. And as in so many other cases, we had Dr. Jung to validate the whole weird hybrid mélange as utterly authentic.
the study of buddhism under colonialism
"suzuki's early interest in things western was wide-ranging, and included such fashionable quasi-religious movements as theosophy, swedenborgianism, and the 'religion of science.'" ~ from robert h. sharf's contribution on "experience" p. 101
Again, there's more to this story and it's not my intention to write an entire chapter on the recap. However, the principle that I'm here calling recursive orientalism -- the perception of the projected as "foreign" and thus both more intriguing and more genuine at the same moment that it's actually the familiar, and thus utterly false -- seems to be widely operative in these cultural poachings. Think of all the New Age "American Indians" out there, for example. Also, since I've been working on this post -- and another not yet finished -- for far too long, I'm leaving the confusing wording of this paragraph as it stands, for now, and appending the rest of this as notes that I don't want to lose. This is not so much authorial laziness as it is a tribute to your high intelligence, Valued Reader. I know you'll be able to read between these sparsely introduced lines.
Robert Sharf, one of a clutch of post-Saidian theorizers who have turned their attention to the interactions of Orientalism and Buddhism, has argued that Suzuki's construction of Zen bears the imprint of unorthodox, modern (post-Meiji) developments within Japan, of Japanese cultural chauvinism, and of Occidental values and assumptions such as those Suzuki absorbed from Paul Carus and other Western intellectuals. He also seeks to explain the appeal of Zen in the West in these terms:
Philosophers and scholars of religion were attracted to Zen for the same reason that they were attracted to the mysticism of James, Otto and Underhill: it offered a solution to the seemingly intractable problem of relativism engendered in the confrontation with cultural difference. The discovery of cultural diversity, coupled with the repudiation of imperialist and racist strategies for managing cultural difference, threatened to result in "the principle of arbitrariness" ... In mysticism, intellectuals found a refuge from the distressing verities of historical contingency and cultural pluralism.
"Today, military Zen has been resuscitated as 'corporate Zen,' which uses Zen practice as part of corporate training programs, because schools no longer emphasize the old virtues of obedience and conformity."
...religion and mysticism (which has come to be seen as a specific subcategory of religion) have been firmly placed within the realm of the private since the Enlightenment. The view that religion is largely a matter of personal belief rather than of communal involvement is a prominent feature of modern Western religious consciousness. The extreme example of this is the phenomenon that Robert Bellah labels 'Sheilaism' -- named after a respondent he met by the name of Sheila who claimed to have her own personal religion.... The modern privatization of religion is in fact enshrined in the Constitution of the most powerful nation on earth, the United States of America, with the explicit separation of Church and State and the freedom of the individual to practice the religion of his or her choice. Notice how the language of consumerism and choice has now entered the realm of religion.
Bellah notes of Sheila (Habits, p. 221) that her views are "significantly representative." And that was two decades ago. Since that time, Shielaism has taken a great leap forward, though tinged more today with "Zen" and suchlike Orientalist shadings than with Sheila's tenuous notions of a Christianesque God.
Did I mention that, as with "Zen," the same importation of Western-revisionist readings of Asian religion applies to "Hinduism"? It does. Vedanta was largely colored by Blavatskian theosophical notions, and thus considerably removed from any real grounding in Indian thought and culture. Yet it is via this route that Americans have conceived such a profound (loosely speaking) regard for such pop-media prophets as Tupak Okra. Or whatever his name is.
I salute the hyper-credulous, non-caveat-empathic consumer in you.
posted by Christopher Locke at #
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Brian Millar is an old friend, measuring "old" in Internet time, but it still counts. Counts even more, perhaps. I wrote about him in Gonzo Marketing, which of course you've read. Right? If not, it's now one of those Search Inside™ books, so you can click that link and plug in "Brian Millar" to see what I said about him back then. And here's his current bio...
Brian is creative director of brandtacticians.com. He was previously an advertising copywriter and creative director at agencies including Saatchi and Saatchi and Ogilvy, winning many awards around the world. He currently works with clients including Reuters and The British Museum, is an associate of Demos and has contributed to Pick Me, the latest AdAge book of advice for creatives.
I strongly encourage you to click on the picture, above, if only to appreciate more fully the larger version on the brandtacticians home page. If I didn't know Brian's head as well as you will after reading the following piece, I might miss the ROTFL irony. Don't you make that mistake, Gentle Reader. Who else but a twisted ad creative would leverage such a fine example of Early Bond IT softcore. I mean, check the guy's devilish sideburns. Check the fetching Bird. Check the calming sense of order conveyed by the whole masterful composition. Oh yeah, you're in good hands now!
Here's a bit of what I did write in Gonzo. It seems somehow apropos here...
[Millar] imagines "untranarrow ultramodern microchannels" offering endless loops of sampled video -- people swearing for hours on end, for instance, or interminably strung-together car chase scenes. "It's a meaner, more lizardly attitude to our treasured media archives," Millar admits, tongue firmly in cheek. But then, nothing's sacred. Brian tells me that myrtle [a former website] is also offering "Turin Shroud duvet covers. The extraordinary deposition image, only shown in public once per generation, preserved on your comforter forever. A gift to treasure. Yes. What have Turin Shroud duvet covers got to do with running an ad agency? Frankly, nothing as far as I can work out. But I bet they'd look nifty."
It goes on.
So imagine my joy when I got the following article in email last week, accompanied by this:
I have long wondered how so many advertisers took Maslow at face value, after all, he was a fairly dodgy old hippie.
Then it struck me: advertising planners usually run out of ad agencies to live in tree houses or start improv theatre groups. It’s because they take Maslow to be an actual plan for life. But to be taken in by Maslow, you have to believe that owning a house with a pool in Topanga Canyon makes you more spiritual than a caveman or a villager in Papua New Guinea. Which strikes me as wrong, not to say rather smug.
Needless to say I wrote an article about it.
And here, without further ado -- having already ado'd quite enough here -- is Brian Millar's piece on Maslow...
Crossing the Line: the curse of the pyramid
Are we so obsessed by the material world of hot bods, hot cars and hot interiors that we're neglecting our spiritual lives?
Advertising agency planners think not. In my experience as a creative, few planner presentations are complete without some reference to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, a theory put forward by Abraham Maslow, a behavioural psychologist, in 1943.
The central thrust of Maslow's argument is that some needs take priorities over others. The need to survive takes precedence over the need to reproduce, so when somebody tries to strangle us, we attempt to escape rather than try to snog them.
Maslow drew human needs as a pyramid (Exhibit 1). At the base are survival needs: food, water, shelter and warmth. Next comes safety and security. The level above this is the need to belong, to become Man With Nice Cave and Loving Family.
EXHIBIT 1: MASLOW'S PYRAMID
Maslow organised the categories of fundamental human need into a pyramid structure. An inferior need (at the bottom of the pyramid) must be satisfied before a superior need (at the top of the pyramid) appears.
The second highest level is concerned with our need for esteem: the respect and admiration of others. And at the very apex of Maslow's pyramid is the level that planners love: the need for self-actualisation. Self-actualisation is the happiness that comes from fulfilling your potential and realising your talents. People who self-actualise lead rich and examined lives. They seek knowledge and aesthetic experiences for themselves and help others to achieve self-fulfilment.
I have never heard anybody question the fundamental basis of Maslow's argument (at least, in its ad agency 'Intellectual Lite' form; I've never read any Maslow, but then probably neither have you). Maslow's hierarchy assumes that you have to have fulfilled the criteria of each need before you can move on to the next.
It is like a frequent-flyer scheme for life: 'I'm sorry, madam. This is the lounge for esteemed people. The lounge for people who've only found acceptance is down the hall. If you see the people trying to make fire, you've gone too far.' It's a vision of society ratcheting itself up need by need towards Nirvana. It's neat, and like all neat ways of measuring human behaviour, it's attractive to marketers.
And like all neat ways of measuring human behaviour, it just doesn't work.
In agency meetings everybody nods when you invoke Maslow. Of course, people who have Amex black cards, S class Mercedes and great job titles are actually yearning for spiritual fulfilment. So it follows that marketing should minister to those needs, as these people have vast amounts of money and a great hole in their souls.
In my experience, people who have comfort, safety and self-esteem mainly want more of the same, but better. Platinum card holders don't want to find themselves. They want a Plutonium card. If you drive a Mercedes kitted out in hand-tooled hide, you really just hanker after a car with more leather. Leather windows, maybe. Or a leather engine.
If Maslow is to be believed, people only start self-actualising when they have a surfeit of everything. This would be news to ice-age cave painters, creating great art on the brink of extinction, not to mention Diogenes, Vincent Van Gogh and Jesus.
Maslow can lead one to believe that poor people lead un-actualised, spiritually impoverished lives and will only respond to utilitarian offers at the lowest possible price. This is a dangerous and patronising assumption, but one that's all too evident in the 'come on down' approach of nearly all communication to people in lower socioeconomic brackets.
And there is a final danger in this kind of thinking. Have you noticed how few planners aged over 40 there are in agencies? Or that so many planners give up their rewarding jobs to become hippies in Poona, Marrakech or St Luke's? It's because there is one socioeconomic group that seems to conform rigidly to Maslow's laws: the people who keep telling us about them in PowerPoint presentations.
By ordinary standards of laboratory research, i.e., of rigorous and controlled research, this simply was not research at all. My generalizations grew out of my selection of certain kinds of people. Obviously, other judges are needed. So far, one man has selected perhaps two dozen people whom he liked or admired very much and thought were wonderful people and then tried to figure them out and found that he was able to describe a syndrome -- the kind of pattern that seemed to fit all of them. These were people only from Western cultures, people selected with all kinds of built-in biases. Unreliable as it is, that was the only operational definition of self-actualizing people as I described them in my first publication on the subject.
To help with training of Maslow's theory look for Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs motivators in advertising. This is a great basis for Maslow and motivation training exercises:
Biological and Physiological needs - wife/child-abuse help-lines, social security benefits, Samaritans, roadside recovery.
Safety needs - home security products (alarms, etc), house an contents insurance, life assurance, schools.
Belongingness and Love needs - dating and match-making services, chat-lines, clubs and membership societies, Macdonalds, 'family' themes like the old style Oxo stock cube ads.
Esteem needs - cosmetics, fast cars, home improvements, furniture, fashion clothes, drinks, lifestyle products and services.
Self-Actualization needs - Open University, and that's about it; little else in mainstream media because only 2% of population are self-actualizers, so they don't constitute a very big part of the mainstream market.
maslow is best known for his hierarchy of needs topped off by self-actualization
posted by Christopher Locke at #
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Let me go to hell, that's all I ask, and go on cursing them there,
and them look down and hear me. That might take some of
the shine off their bliss. ~ Samuel Beckett ~
Nothing new here for a while, I know. Partly, it's been because of events in my personal life -- i.e., that part of my existence I cordon off from what? Its more weighty impersonal, aspects? WTF, I agree. But my absence without leave was also because I've been slumming again -- I can't seem to help myself -- in the religion department. Mostly on Amazon, as usual, but also tonight in the brick-and-mortar Barnes & Noble in lovely downtown Boulder.
Ruiz compares the ideal relationship to the one we have with our pet -- say our dog. The relationship with our dog is perfect because we get exactly what we expect from our dog. We never wish that our dog would be better at being a dog, and we love it freely just as it is. Yet with our mate we tend not to accept them as they are...
I wonder if the mismatch between the singular "mate" and the plural pronoun "them" is a clue here. Perhaps "our mate" has Multiple Personality Disorder. That would explain a lot. And of course, most dogs don't have this problem unless they live on the Upper West Side. So maybe that's what Don Miguel was trying to say. Who fucking knows with these Toltec Wisdom types?
I can only take so much of Barnes & Noble these days. Which is why I was happy to get back home to Amazon and make the acquaintance of Tomoko Masuzawa.
Wow, what a great book cover. I mean, what is that guy doing? Inventing world religions, one supposes. Got his wrench out and everything. The book copy says...
The idea of "world religions" expresses a vague commitment to multiculturalism. Not merely a descriptive concept, "world religions" is actually a particular ethos, a pluralist ideology, a logic of classification, and a form of knowledge that has shaped the study of religion and infiltrated ordinary language.
The words "vague" and "infiltrated" are definite clues here. We are not -- thank God -- in the hands of Huston Smith and the cloyingly ecumenical perspective of The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. Note that "tradition" is a code word here, though you'd never know it lest you'd scryed deeply as I have, Matey, into the veritable heart o' things. Arrrggh! Consider the following, in which we have ignition, Huston ... no, I mean where Mr. Smith goes to Washington... no, I mean... Ah, fuck it.
The Wisdom Traditions (p. 386)
The opening chapter of this book mentioned T.S. Eliot's rhetorical questions: "Where is the knowledge that is lost in information? Where is the wisdom that is lost in knowledge?"
Note that he does not ask: "Where is the patient etherized upon a table?"
But further pursuing the theme of these wisdom traditions...
In traditional times it was assumed that they disclosed the ultimate nature of reality. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries scientists began to cast doubt on that assumption; for Scriptures only assert truths, whereas controlled experiments can prove scientific hypotheses. After three centuries of confusion on this point, however, we now see that such proofs hold only for the empirical world. The worthful aspects of reality -- its values, meaning, and purpose -- slip through the devices of science the way the sea slips through the nets of fishermen.
Leaving aside the editor's failure to change that last to fisherpersons, this passage raises a number of questions.
I guess we're supposed to skip over in silence the part where it's tacitly suggested that there's a world other than the empirical one -- though the world is not really "empirical" either, strictly speaking. So just forget anyone said anything.
The sea is supposed to slip through the nets of fishermen. That's what they're designed to let happen. Otherwise they don't work too pretty good for catching fish.
So let's get back to basics, shall we? Let's lighten up. Let's hie ourselves hither to some semblance, however tenuous, of concrete historical reality.
Mark Sedgwick shows how Traditionalism is a major influence on religion, politics, even international relations. Famous scholars, theosophists and masons, Gnostic ascetics and Sufi sheikhs, jostle with neo-fascists, terrorists and Islamists in their defection from a secular, materialist West. As a study of esotericism and Western images of the East, Against the Modern World compares in importance with Edward Said's monumental Orientalism. Likewise, it deserves the widest readership."
A pissed off Amazon reviewer (it's worth reading the whole thing to see what he's so bent about) says that Sedgwick
...betrays his fundamental ignorance of the fact that Traditionalism is not and has never been a spiritual perspective intended for the "broad masses."
I don't think so. I think we all got that part. And that part is a whole lot of the problem -- because "spiritual" elitism sucks no less than the "profane" kind. In fact, there are those -- I among them -- who would argue that it sucks a whole lot more. Allow me to illustrate...
OK, all right, I'll be the first to admit that I am demonstrating a reprehensibly bad attitude here, and that this is hardly...
Many academics in the hugely conflicted field of religious studies are naturally concerned with that very issue. However, as I am no academic (I'm a little teapot) and this is not a liberal arts curriculum (it's a fuckin blog) we need not dwell overlong on these thorny matters of pedagogy. And thus continuing in no particular order...
Henry Corbin's works are the best guide to the visionary tradition.... Corbin, like Scholem and Jonas, is remembered as a scholar of genius. He was uniquely equipped not only to recover Iranian Sufism for the West, but also to defend the principal Western traditions of esoteric spirituality.
Esoteric spirituality, ah yes, lest we forget. You will perhaps recall Dr. Bloom as the indefatigable Yalie cheerleader for Ralph Waldo Emerson and all things Transcendental, as well as the nonpareil proselytizer for Gnosticism as both trend and destination of American Religion. Suffice it to say: fuck this guy.
In the face of these huge, mobile, and infinitely complex symbolic complexes, the explanations offered by the history of religions often turn out to be feeble. Either they invoke supernatural processes and a mysterious Beyond that is the source and receptacle of absolute signification, or they borrow their interpretations from some other discipline -- depth psychology, sociology, or even biology. Eliade is a quite remarkable example in this respect, especially if we recall that he incarnated one of the principal and most powerful currents in the modern history of religions, and that as such he was received and honored by the most prestigious universities. (p. 87)
Most interesting, to me, is Dubuisson's pairing of the manifest destinarian mentality (my phrasing not his) underlying the history of the "history of religions" with a certain favorite personality disorder. See if you can spot it.
Through the idea of religion, the West continually speaks of itself to itself, even when it speaks of others. For when
it does so, it is implicitly in relation to the perfected model that it thinks itself to be. This is narcissistic objectification. (p. 95; emphasis mine)
I wasn't going to include that grafik, though I was curiously browsing through the book -- which talks a fair bit about Chögyam Trungpa, who first invited me to Boulder nearly 30 years ago -- plus, I did like the cover-dude's shades. But what turned the trick was yet another unexpected trip to Synchronicity City. Seems the author, Donald Lopez, is married to Tomoko Masuzawa -- remember her from way back up near the top of this thing? -- who inspired this post in the first place. I was looking for more dirt um background on Mircea Eliade, and she does a nice job, to paraphrase Mick and the lads, of destroying his notion of circular time. Way to go Tomoko!
I worry that the foregoing ramble lacks a certain something in the linearity department. Did you find it confusing, dense? Perhaps a tad telegraphic? Ah well. Notes to myself then. However, unless I am stopped by outraged lawyers or a fusillade of bullets from some self-styled Gnostic, this sort of thing is definitely to be continued...
comparative religion in the postmodern age
"38 pages with references to eliade in this book"
"45 pages with references to eliade in this book"
"48 pages with references to eliade in this book"
postcolonial theory, india and "the mystic east"
posted by Christopher Locke at #
Monday, September 12, 2005