“Studies in a Dying Culture”


by Ralph Dumain
“The escort service of the intellect”

Dedicated to Christopher Caudwell (1907-1937)
(Pseudonym of Christopher St. John Sprigg)
Martyr of the Spanish Civil War

Proceed directly to latest entry

Rouze up O Young Men of the New Age! set your foreheads
against the ignorant Hirelings! For we have Hirelings in the
Camp, the Court, & the University: who would if they could,
forever depress Mental & prolong Corporeal War.

— William Blake, Preface to Milton


“Everybody wants to get into the act!” Even the culture of critique is overloaded, as the dumbing down of America gets more lowdown than anyone imagined possible, and American culture scrapes the dirt way below the bottom of the barrel. Yet no one manages to dig deep enough to undermine this process. The benumbed and demoralized general populace remains uncritical as ever, but what of critical culture? Can critique be reduced to an algorithm? Can critique mystify as well as reveal? Is it possible to escape being overwhelmed by the propaganda environment? How does one climb out from under layers piled upon ideological layers? How to think one’s way out of this morass? How to escape the confines of popular, middlebrow, and academic culture? How to avoid entrapment and stasis, and creatively surmount the limitations of the age? With these thoughts as well as reservations I approach the already bloated blog culture. This cultural crisis is not just a replay of the 1930s, but aside from taking note of discomfiting historical parallels, we can pay tribute to the courageous resistance of the past. Christopher Caudwell’s Studies in a Dying Culture (1938) and Further Studies in a Dying Culture (1949) were my inspiration when I first publicly spoke on this crisis in December 1988, a year that was a turning point for me. My framework has since grown more sophisticated, but the political decline of the USA has now reached crisis proportions. Hence again I borrow Caudwell’s title for my own. (RD—10 July 2006)


Darwinism, Creationism, Naturalism, Philosophy of Science & Pseudoscience

David Hume vs. ‘Intelligent Design’

November Reading Review

Bertolt Brecht's Dialectical Aesthetics

William Auld, William Blake & Esperanto

Swami Agehananda Bharati (1923-1991)

October 2006

September 2006
August 2006

July 2006


“I labour upwards into futurity.”
— William Blake?, 1796
[Keynes, 262]

30 November 2006

Darwinism, Creationism, Naturalism, Philosophy of Science & Pseudoscience

Behe’s meaningless complexity by Andrea Bottaro, June 2, 2005

On Michael Behe's fraudulent arguments for "intelligent design" (creationism).

New Darwin War by Ophelia Benson

What a mess! I recently read a piece by Ruse that was tremendously confused on these issues. Dennett and Dawkins are not necessarily a disgrace in opposition to intelligent design, but they are a disgrace in proposing their alternative pseudoscience of memes. Dawkins' argument for atheism is awkward from a philosophical standpoint. But Ruse on "evolutionism" as a religion is also a confused and even disingenuous argument, which is a shame since he may be on to something in his criticism of the proponents of Darwinism as a universal explanatory device for social and cultural phenomena. There are other alternatives within the naturalistic geneticist camp. In any case, the proper description for the ideological dimension of "evolutionism" is "ideology" not "religion" (unless we are talking about certain developments in the 19th and early 20th centuries). It's a shame that Ruse mucks up things even worse. This is one thing I mean by the restricted dominant intellectual discourse of the Anglo-American world. That these are all the popularized alternatives we get, and nothing better than this makes it into popular culture, is a measure of the downward pull of a society of dumbbells on its intellectuals. One would think at least that the Brits would be smarter than Americans (though that's not much to brag about), but I guess a philistine even if more literate culture produces comparably insipid results. But more to the point, we need to analyze how the marketplace of ideas works literally, not just metaphorically, because if we are all oriented toward popularity or market values, and these don't bring us the best goods, we are going to be seduced into the superficiality and ideological constriction that affects society as a whole.

Quote from the article:

He [Ruse] pointed out that he defended evolution in the 1981 McLean v Arkansas case, when it wasn't a popular thing to do. Then he delivered a caution of his own: "I think that you and Richard are absolute disasters in the fight against intelligent design." He said what is needed is not "knee-jerk atheism but serious grappling with the issues" and that defenders of evolution are in a fight, and "we need to make allies in the fight, not simply alienate everyone of good will." Dennett replied emolliently: "I'll wait before replying to you. I doubt that you mean all the things you say here. Think it over."

Breaking the Spell: a review by Jeremy Stangroom

Stangroom, who is no religionist, gives Dennett a little taste of what he deserves.

Bunge, Mario. "The Philosophy behind Pseudoscience," Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 30, no. 4, July/August 2006, pp. 29-37.

Bunge has much harder philosophical criteria for science than does, say, Chris Mooney. I'm in partial agreement with Bunge, but I would treat some of his examples differently. He is stringent enough to relegate areas of partially respectable science such as cosmology and computational psychology to pseudoscience as well as pyschoanalysis and Marxism. He admits of borderline cases and potentials for current non-science (strictly defined) to become scientific. I don't agree with his analyses of all these cases, but he speaks at least indirectly to the issue of memetics and similar explanations. Bunge also dismisses certain philosophies of science such as Popper's.


I discovered only in recent months that Paul Kurtz puts out this academic journal on naturalism. I never found it necessary to think much about "naturalism", partly because, in philosophical terminology, it's an ambiguous term, and I prefer the less weaselly term "materialism" (a philosophy deemed un-American and subversive by J. Edgar Hoover). However, the recent controversies over evolution make me think about naturalism, as the antonym of supernaturalism. So while I would normally find this sort of stuff rather tedious, theistic philosophers are so deeply dishonest, perhaps there's something to keeping tabs on them. Which reminds me, that one of the many alarm signals I saw in 1980, the year in which I was startled into engaging the fight against irrationalism, was an article in Time magazine mentioning new proofs for the existence of God using modal logic. Philo deals with various arcane theistic arguments, figuring out ways to rebut them. While I generally don't have a taste for this literature, there are likely some important lessons in it we can all use.

"Defending Naturalism" by Keith Parsons

This old editorial from 2000 made an impression on me, not because it's news of any kind, but because it highlights a coordinated assault on the basic naturalistic presuppositions of the scientific method, a phenomenon so concerted we haven't seen since the days of Nazi Germany.

I think there's something else of importance, which is already obvious to you, but which is worth thinking more about. I have emphasized that belief in an abstract God has no inseparable connection with belief in any revealed religion. But of course the man on the street is too dense to make the logical distinction, and the theistic philosophers must know this. Even though they can't prove the validity of any sacred texts or doctrines, the mere proof of God in a logical technical sense is to make the whole lot of superstitious religious bullshit acceptable among the mass of believers, whom are all intellectually dishonest anyway. And really this is the whole point, because logical and metaphysical tricks really do not convince anyone anyway; they couldn't even convince the people perpetrating them, or they wouldn't have to try so hard to prove anything. Therefore, it is necessary to attack mendacity as well as logical fallacy.

Other articles of possible interest:

Beaudoin, John. "On Some Criticisms of Hume's Principle of Proportioning Cause to Effect," Philo, volume 2, number 2.

Drange, Theodore M. "Incompatible-Properties Arguments: A Survey ," Philo, volume 1, number 2.

[—> David Hume vs. ‘Intelligent Design’]
[—> October Reading Review (1)]

30 November 2006

David Hume vs. ‘Intelligent Design’

Hume is the ur-source for arguments against proofs for the existence of God and arguments for 'intelligent design" or creationism as alternatives to scientific evolutionary theory. Here are some links of interest.

[—> Darwinism, Creationism, Naturalism, Philosophy of Science & Pseudoscience]
[—> October Reading Review (1)]

30 November 2006

November Reading Review

Bharati, Swami Agehananda. The Light at the Center: Context and Pretext of Modern Mysticism. Santa Barbara, CA: Ross-Erikson, 1976.

[—> Swami Agehananda Bharati (1923-1991)]

Brecht, Bertolt. Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, edited and translated by John Willett. New York, Hill and Wang, 1964.

[—> Bertolt Brecht's Dialectical Aesthetics]

Levi, Albert William. Philosophy as Social Expression. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press, 1974.

I have to revise my initial impression (from October) upward. The chapters on Descartes and Moore are of exceptional interest. Moore's example is about the professionalization of philosophy, a story which Levi begins with Kant, contrasting him to the era of the gentleman philosopher exemplified by Descartes. Descartes is of special interest as Levi analyzes the social meaning of Descartes' philosophy. Apparently, Marxists (French Marxists at least—some are named) have been fascinated by the implications of Cartesian dualism, and Levi's analysis could be squared with the perspective of C. L. R. James. The final chapter summarizes the thesis of the book and ventures some generalizations about the nature of philosophy and its social dimension and the varying contemporary relevance of the philosophies of the past.

My initial suspicions about Levi's perspective, unfortunately, are borne out (unintentionally) by this review of a later work by Levi:

Albert William Levi. The High Road of Humanity: The Seven Ethical Ages of Western Man. Edited by Donald Phillip Verene and Molly Black Verene. Rodopi: Amsterdam-Atlanta. 1995. 156 Pages. Reviewed by Dennis Sansom in Books and the University: An Informal Journal Discussing Books Pertinent to the University by Faculty of Samford University, III: 1, Fall, 2002.

[—> Descartes' Dualism (Extract) by Albert William Levi]
[—> "Philosophy's Historic Fate: Museum Pieces, Messages, and Classics" by Albert William Levi]

[—> C.L.R. James on the (Post)Modern Intellectual & the Division of Labor (1950)]
[—> C.L.R. James on Descartes & the Division of Labor]

Phenomenology and Natural Existence: Essays in Honor of Marvin Farber, edited by Dale Riepe. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1973.

Farber was the main conduit for phenomenology in the United States but rejected Husserl's subjective idealist nonsense and sought to ground what is useful in phenomenology naturalistically. Husserl needs to be seen as a product of the profound ideological malaise of the late 19th century. He thought himself a rationalist but ended up as the vehicle for a whole new generation of philosophical irrationalism. And as the Nazis sent him packing, he never had a clue about the nature of the society he lived in or how it got that way. When you deny reality, you never do. Pathetic.

There is a naturalistic tradition in American philosophy—which includes Farber and several of his collaborators—that was never parochial or exclusionary as the American analytical philosophy establishment has been, or the duplicitous 'continental philosophy' franchise. This book's geographical center of gravity was Buffalo, NY. If only I had had the sense to take advantage of Buffalo's impressive philosophy department when I had the chance.

So far I have read through the first section, on Farber himself. In addition to the perspectives on phenomenology in the balance of the book, it would be interesting to learn what has become of naturalistic phenomenology in the ensuing three and a half decades.

See Dale Riepe's Introduction.

Untimely Meditations: On the Use and Abuse of History for Life (1874), translated by Ian C. Johnston, text amended in part by The Nietzsche Channel.

This passage was referenced in Adorno: A Guide for the Perplexed (p. 131-2). Nietzsche is asserted to possess great insight into the brewing crisis in reason in a relativizing age of scientism, naturalism, historicism, and psychologism:

Imagine the most extreme example, a person who did not possess the power of forgetting at all, who would be condemned to see everywhere a coming into being. Such a person no longer believes in his own being, no longer believes in himself, sees everything in moving points flowing out of each other, and loses himself in this stream of becoming. He will, like the true pupil of Heraclitus, finally hardly dare any more to lift his finger. Forgetting belongs to all action, just as both light and darkness belong in the life of all organic things. [Section I]

I can see Husserl as reactive against this climate, but it seems to me that Niezsche's purpose differs. He is concerned about the disharmony in the German soul between the inner and outer, form and content, a mood of irony and cynicism, and fears (condemning Hegel) that a science of history induces passivity and worship of brute fact. Nietzsche's worry over the loss of autonomous individuality seems to be motivated by fear of absorption into the mediocre mass.

Althusser, Louis. Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists & Other Essays, edited with an introduction by Gregory Elliott, translated by Ben Brewster et al. London; New York: Verso, 1990.

Contents: Theory, theoretical practice, and theoretical formation — On theoretical work — Philosophy and the spontaneous philosophy of the scientists (1967) — Lenin and philosophy — Is it simple to be a Marxist in philosophy? — The transformation of philosophy — Marxism today.

I will have much to say elsewhere about these essays.

Feminist Interpretations of Theodor Adorno, edited by Renée Heberle. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006. (Re-reading the Canon) Contents.

The introduction to this volume did not inspire me; most of this looks like academic feminist inbreeding to me. I'd just as soon turn the tables: instead of Feminist Perspectives on X, I'd like to see X Perspectives on Feminism. And if women is not a synonym for feminism, relating thinker X to women may produce interesting and maybe even better results.

There is some preoccupation here with the (suffering) body (reminiscent of postmodern preoccupations, though relevant to Adorno), e.g. "The Bared-Breasts Incident" by Lisa Yun Lee.

The one essay that piqued my interest was "Feminist politics and the culture industry: Adorno’s critique revisited" by Lambert Zuidervaart, author of a fat book on Adorno's aesthetics. The question here is the concept of the autonomy of art and the validity of Adorno's evaluation of the products of the culture industry, which Zuidervaart criticizes on uncustomary grounds. Since cultural institutions operate according to the laws of capitalist economics, the material basis for an autonomous art has to be a counter-economics not driven by the profit motive. This notion has relevance for feminist engagement in arts, more basic and necessary than a simple political instrumentalization of art, which itself may have questionable implications.

I also learned of a prior book on the subject:

Adorno, Culture, and Feminism, edited by Maggie O’Neill. London; Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 1999. Publisher description. Contents.

[—> Theodor W. Adorno & Critical Theory Study Guide]

Fain, Haskell. Between Philosophy and History: The Resurrection of Speculative Philosophy of History within the Analytic Tradition. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1970.

This book, like Levi (see above) was written during the period of the unquestioned dominance of analytical philosophy in the Anglo-American sphere. This is philosophy of history (and historiography and historical science) rather than philosophy of history of philosophy. Skepticism about the feasibility of historical explanation is addressed. Naturally, Hegel plays a role in this book. What of Marx? One need not accept the claim that Marx made history 'scientific' or discovered 'laws of history' to appreciate his contributions. Marx contributed a new frame of reference for making history intelligible. Marx's 18th Brumaire is treated in some deatil as a model of historical analysis. (233-240)

Chapter 9, "Decision Procedures and Concept Formation," is of particular interest. 'Decision procedures' apparently refers to working methods. Conceptual revolutions in history are not related to methodological procedures in historiography, which do not change dramatically. The conceptual dividing line is between pre-Marx and post-Marx historical thought. Jean Jaurès' The Socialist History of the French Revolution is a landmark Marxist history that changed the framework of historical investigation. (156-158)

The First Writings of Karl Marx, ed. Paul Schafer. Brooklyn: Ig Publishing, 2006.

I don't know whether it's a fluke or a defect in the whole print run, but there are several blank pages in my copy.

Note that Marx's work reprinted here comes almost wholly from vol. 1 of Marx Engels Collected Works (MECW), the only prior edition containing all the extant material from Marx's dissertation. If you don't have this volume already and don't plan to buy it, you could consider this paperback edition, assuming you can find a nondefective copy. If you already own MECW vol. 1, be advised that the only new material in the book is the editor's introduction, translations of several letters, and the select bibliography. Given the size of the MECW volume, this is a handy repackaging of that material plus the new material.

Marx's writings in this volume include:

Letter from Marx to his Father (Nov. 1837)
Marx's Doctoral Dissertation: Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature
Notebooks on Epicurean Philosophy (Selections)
Recommendatory Reference on the Dissertation of Karl Marx
Letters from Marx (1841)
Letters to Marx (1836-37)

This edition contains the all-important notes to chapter 4 (147-152), sometimes published separately, but omitted from some other editions of the dissertation. You can also consult a different translation on my web site:

Philosophy after Its Completion

Schafer has selected from the notebooks on Epicurean philosophy extracts from notebooks 1, 2, 4, 6. He includes nothing from notebook 7, whereas I found at least one significant passage in it:

Marx's Notebooks on Epicurean Philosophy (Extracts on Total Philosophy, Praxis, Historiography)

In addition there is some business-related correspondence on Marx's dissertation, and two letters from dad Heinrich scolding son Marx on his irresponsibility.

The editor's 60-page introduction may justify the purchase of the book, esp. given the comparatively little analysis of the young young Marx. I've never studied the main body of the dissertation in adequate detail, so I'm not the best judge. I find Marx's Hegelian take on Democritus and Epicurus very peculiar. Schafer terms it ‘dialectical atomism’. The Epicurean swerve of the atom is related to human self-determination via negation. According to Schafer, "To be self-consciously human is to be both for and against nature. In this sense, the individual human being is like the atom: it becomes actual only when it frees itself from relative determination and relates itself to itself." I don't understand any of this. Schafer also reviews Marx's view of praxis, or the relation between theory and practice, in the dissertation.

Burrow, J. W. The Crisis of Reason: European Thought, 1848-1914. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

Christopher Mack . "Review of J. W. Burrow, The Crisis of Reason: European Thought, 1848-1914," H-Ideas, H-Net Reviews, June, 2001.

This book is the motherlode, the natural prequel to Consciousness and Society by H. Stuart Hughes. Here you get the rise of scientism and materialism and the anti-materialist backlash, the political uses of evolutionism, nationalism, sociology, and the problem of modernity, changing conceptions of the self, and the resurgence of occultism; in short, all the unresolved philosophical contradictions of modern society.

[—> Consciousness and Society: A Review by R. Dumain]
[—> Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide]

Horgan, John. Rational Mysticism: Dispatches from the Border Between Science and Spirituality. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

Table of contents
Publisher description

See also my review of Thomas W. Clark's review, Debunking Enlightenment.

I approached this book with considerable irritation, but as Horgan's skepticism kicked in, I found the book if not its subjects far more palatable. This book pairs well with the work of Swami Agehananda Bharati; Bharati is not mentioned, though. Horgan's subjects have a variety of philosophical perspectives on mystical and paranormal experiences, all of which come in for questioning by Horgan, and thus Bharati's isolation of the zero-experience from moral and knowledge claims gains tacit support from the evidence here. I find all the individuals I've read about highly distasteful: it's enough for a person to claim an interest in this subject for me to detest him. Especially obnoxious is the perennial philosophy proposed by some and opposed by other researchers and proponents of mysticism, but the advocates of particularistic traditions are equally obnoxious.

Articles of interest:

Welger, Helmut. Komunika Etiko kaj Esperantismo [Communication Ethics & Esperantism], Simpozio, n‑ro 3, jaro 2-a, n-ro 3-a, marto 1984, p. 19-25.

In Esperanto: an essay which usefully recapitulates the rudiments of Habermas’ discourse ethics and links it to the character and aims of the Esperanto movement.

Mirowski, Philip. How Positivism Made Pact with the Postwar Social Sciences in America, Galileo, 2nd series, #31, May 2005.

Mirowski begins with a detailed consideration of Dewey's linkage between science and democracy (giving a more favorable slant to Dewey's 'scientism' than I had once appreciated), and why the very idea became a dead duck with World War II.

Far from becoming apolitical, Mirowski finds a highly politicized context for the American transformation of logical positivism, which he finds tightly integrated conceptually and institutionally with Operations Research. Reichenbach comes in for extensive treatment. Mirowski has an explanation for why non-marxist socialists had such a propensity for involving themselves in classified military research after the war.

There are a number of very important philosophical implications here, involving the division of labor, formalist philosophies of science, alienation, et al. This is a very rich subject matter.

I just want to note one important feature here, regarding the "purist" notion of science. It is one thing to promote a certain normative ideal of science or the "scientific temper"; it's quite another to claim that it is empirically instantiated as such in society, as the figures noted in this article claimed. Popper was just as bad: his ideological role is well-known, and I've never known a Popperian who wasn't clueless. (This is much worse than the problems with Habermas' discourse ethics.) All idealist liberal concepts have a similar problem: they aim to serve a critical function by declaring independence from absorption in social determinations, but then they conflate normative independence with actual independence, thus obscuring an assessment of how and why the normative concept does not get socially instantiated. The postmodern ideologues in their cynicism scandalize the name of rational autonomy so as to disable and enculturate us into barbarism. Thus zigzags the petty bourgeois mind.

[—> Vienna Circle, Karl Popper, Frankfurt School, Marxism, McCarthyism & American Philosophy: Selected Bibliography]

In a separate entry I will review essays pertaining to secular humanism, naturalism, pseudoscience, evolutionism, and religion.

[—> October Reading Review (2)]

14 November 2006

Bertolt Brecht's Dialectical Aesthetics

Some resources on Brecht, particularly his philosophical and aesthetic concepts. For Brecht scholarship in general:

International Brecht Society

Brecht's Works in English: A Bibliography

An important recent collection of writings I need to find:

Brecht, Bertolt. Brecht on Art and Politics, edited by Thomas Kuhn and Steve Giles. London: Methuen, 2003.

This contains an important piece I'm after:

“Speech on the Power of Resistance of Reason”, pp. (176-179).
Source: Rede über die Widerstandskraft der Vernunft (1937), Gesammelte Werke, Vol. 20, Frankfurt 1967.

Another important anthology:

Brecht, Bertolt. Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, edited and translated by John Willett. New York, Hill and Wang, 1964.

Links to the Brecht material on my web site follow. The first of these is a collection of brief quotes from the essays and lectures in the above-mentioned book giving the most abstract and barest possible account of his animating philosophical ideas. You will have to consult the book itself, not to mention Brecht's own creative work, to flesh out these statements. The editor's footnotes contextualize this work, and furthermore clarify the connections among these writings comprising Brecht's notion of dialectical theatre. The piece “Can the Present-day World be Reproduced by Means of Theatre?” (1955) indicates the problem which Brecht's approach set out to address. Though our present-day social context is different, we may need to ask ourselves this question as well.

Of contemporary note is a song put together by Peter O'Hanlon and Eamonn McCann of the Socialist Environmental Alliance using Bertolt Brecht's poem as lyrics:

Praise of Dialectics

This essay is also of interest:

Brecht's Lehrstücke - Modernist Learning-Plays

This fellow's web site is actually quite interesting. Much of it relates to theatre and other cultural issues:


13 November 2006

William Auld, William Blake & Esperanto

In memory of the recently deceased Esperanto poet William Auld (also a nominee for the Nobel Prize), and with the occasion of his birthday in mind (6 November), I compiled a webliography in his honor—William Auld Memorial Page / En Memoro. This renders my previous blog entry obsolete.

With Auld in mind and also the upcoming 249th birthday of William Blake (28 November), I compiled a bibliography and web guide, William Blake en/in Esperanto.

Of related interest, see also Odo al la Okcidenta Vento [Ode to the West Wind] de Percy Bysshe Shelley, translated into Esperanto by Kalman Kalocsay.

Of interest but not directly related, possibly the first article on the web linking the communication ethics of Frankfurt School philosopher Jürgen Habermas with Esperanto: "Komunika Etiko kaj Esperantismo" [Communication Ethics & Esperantism] by Helmut Welger.

2 November 2006

Swami Agehananda Bharati (1923-1991)

Bharati, Swami Agehananda. The Light at the Center: Context and Pretext of Modern Mysticism. Santa Barbara, CA: Ross-Erikson, 1976. See also:

Bharati is the author of several books, but the other classic work most relevant to this inquiry is his autobiography:

Agehananda Bharati, Swami. The Ochre Robe: An Autobiography. 2nd ed. Santa Barbara, CA: Ross-Erikson Publishers, 1980. (1st ed., 1962.)

Bharati's last word in book form (which I have not seen) seems to be:

Indology and Science: Towards a Hermeneutical Coalition, edited by Pranabananda Jash. Calcutta: Roy & Chowdhury Publishers & Book Sellers, 1989.

The Light at the Center gives me a lot of new old information that is simultaneously useful for several projects, including opposition to New Age Spinozism and Sam Harris's advocacy of mysticism. Bharati (Austrian by birth, and at least a generation removed from the hippies) demystifies the mystical hype from India peddled to the West and claims that the mystical experience, which he terms the 'zero-experience', gets you zero knowledge (and zero values) beyond what you learned by other means. I never heard of this guy until recently, which suggests how much BS the New Age movement and the counterculture were able to circulate without any real critical historical study of the genesis of these ideas and institutions circulating as well. I'm amazed that this book was published as early as 1976, and that the author could already see the turn from the counterculture to the yuppification of the New Age. The way that ideas diffused in the culture, the average person exposed to "eastern mysticism" never got the inside scoop, though I did get suspicious when I read a book by the Marahishi Mahesh Yogi containing laudatory remarks about the caste system. How badly we were deceived.

In addition to being a swami, Bharati ultimately settled into an academic position in anthropology, another dubious profession. As much as I enjoyed his debunking of Indian religion and society and New Age hucksterism in the West, I was puzzled by his continuing interest in a subject about which he had grown cynical. Bharati remained a swami, and in an attenuated sense, a spokesman for Hinduism. On the one hand, Bharati insists on the importance of the primary sources and scholarship (Sanskrit, etc.), as opposed to the anti-intellectual shallow eclecticism of New Age hippies. On the other, he shows how most of these traditions are based on bogus notions and institutions and isolates the zero-experience from them, while remaining a professional mystic and teaching the traditional disciplines. There's a missing punchline here, it seems.

Is the argument then that one must have the scholarship in order to penetrate the hermeneutics and socio-anthropological dimension of Indian (and other) mystical traditions so as to be able to extract that which is still usable from the corpus of oppressive superstition? If one could do this, wouldn't then the original literature and doctrines be rendered irrelevant save for specialized academic studies? One could just rewrite all that is useful in this stuff—presumably retooling it in a different fashion from eclectical New Age propaganda—and discard the original traditions altogether as a basis for doctrine and practice. As Bharati was so cynical about most of this stuff and essentially a free-lancer, other than being a specialist repository of this information, why would he continue in his traditional swami role? Is it because it granted him a specific social status, including access to his mystical peers?

Pondering the future of mysticism, Bharati notes how the hippies and the changing cultural mores of the younger generation are tipping the scales against the traditional puritanism and authoritarianism of both East and West. His very last words are these:

A rational mysticism is not a contradiction in terms; it is a mysticism whose limits are set by reasons: a quest for the zero-experience without any concomitant claim to world knowledge, special wisdom, or special morality. These latter three must be directly generated by reason, and by reason only.

I have more to say about Bharati's conclusions in forthcoming interventions. The links above provide further relevant information. How odd to read his conclusions of 1976 from a vantage point thirty years on. I don't things went the way he hoped.

First, the cultural revolution against traditional mores pragmatically succeeded, but subdued and stabilized within existing bourgeois parameters—a 'historic compromise' as it were. The powers-that-be could coopt hedonism; they could neither destroy it nor tolerate the universalization of a full-blown cultural revolution. The backlash of the New Right could accelerate the political destruction of social liberalism but could not fully succeed in its cultural goals without destroying the capitalist consumer economy and culture in the process. The result is the "Culture Wars" and the cynicism cum barbarism that defines American society today.

Countercultural mysticism morphed into Yuppie New Age institutions, bringing to the surface the class dynamics that were in it all along. Mass culture simply adopted hedonism with a new aggressive hipper consumerism that obliterated the honest counter-systemic tendencies within the counterculture. From 30 years on, the social premisses of the Swami's prognostications seem quaint.

The Swami's isolation of the zero-experience (which is, morevoer, held to be amoral, a-cognitive, and a-ideological in essence) is most interesting, especially as a weapon against New Age hucksterism, but I'm not totally satisfied with it. I'm still not 100% clear as to how the mystic compares to the prophet and to the saint. More needs to be said about nonduality and oneness. The experience is what it is, but its conceptual characterization is another matter, as this book argues.

The ideology of oneness, as I argued last month, is questionable, even within a naturalistic framework. The ideology of "oneness with nature" can only come about in the West at particular historical junctures. It is now different from the natural theology of William Paley and others of two centuries ago, but it too is essentially a petty bourgeois justification of the fundamental social (though not cultural) order, though in the New Age case it often comes as a protest against alienation and dualism. However, way back when there was also an artisanal and proletarian opposition to the notion of the beneficence and harmony of nature. See:

Desmond, Adrian. "Artisan Resistance and Evolution in Britain, 1819-1848," Osiris, second series, vol. 3, 1987, pp. 77-110.

Also, the radical mystical/prophetic artisan William Blake was deeply opposed to any notion of natural harmony, expressed inter alia in his hostility to Wordsworth. He retained the more traditional dualistic Christian language about 'nature' (though he was not a dualist), which in his personal mythology was deployed in pursuit of an apocalyptic destruction of the oppressive social order. This aspect of Blake was leavened out by the religious, mystical, and New Age airheads who took up Blake, including the radical mystic/prophet poet Allen Ginsberg.

These are just a few of the considerations involved in filling in the gaps of the Swami's perspective of how things stood in 1976 and with respect to developments in the cultural order of North America and Western Europe over the ensuing three decades.

[—> John Horgan, Rational Mysticism]
[—> October Reading Review (1)]
[—> September Reading Review]


On this site:

Christopher Caudwell: Selected Bibliography

Emergence Blog

The Frankfurt School: Philosophy in Relation to Social Theory, Cultural Theory, Science, and Interdisciplinary Research.
Phase 1: Horkheimer, Adorno, and Marcuse in the 1930s.
Study Group Syllabus

Ideology Study Guide

Irony, Humor, & Cynicism Study Guide

Links to Philosophical & Related Web Sites
(also critical thinking links)

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

Marx and Marxism Web Guide

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October 2006

September 2006

August 2006

July 2006

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Blog started 10 July 2006
This archive started 2 November 2006

©2006 Ralph Dumain