Non-Buddhism by another name?


Timothy Morton’s essay “Thinking the Charnel Ground” (link below) is by any standard a radical reformulation of Buddhist postulates. Anyone who has read Glenn Wallis’s text Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism or perused the long comment treads at SNB will recognise in Morton’s essay an example of the sort of thing Wallis expected from anyone practising Non-Buddhism — one brings the postulates and practices of Buddhism into proximity to critical thought and/or science, decoupling them from the decisional structure and re-conceptualising them as axiomatic first names. Morton does just that with the terms meditation and enlightenment by bringing them into proximity with Freud’s concept of the death drive. In this way he arrives at a thought about meditation/enlightenment that cuts across biology, Freud’s theory of drives and Dzogchen.

Key here is Morton’s direction of thought away from a linear or one-dimensional thrust, taking instead a path that simultaneously intersects different cultural, geographical, and historical contexts. Morton exploits thinking’s capacity to range across space and time, or if you prefer, to contain within the present-moment gestalt thought worlds separated in time and place and perhaps alien to each other. Thinking in this way has an imaginative reach excluded by a narrow definition of rigour, at least if one confines oneself to thinking within a certain sort of philosophy – one adhering to a strict logic or to rationality as such.

Fortunately thought is not so confined – one can practice forms of thought that, by their nature and intent, decimate logics and rationalisms as a matter of course. I mean the arts –poetry, literature, film, painting, sculpture, installation and, with often devastating impact, ordinary everyday humour. More importantly for our purposes, one can write in a way that never quite conforms to the logic of any one discipline and so is suited to just such and enterprise. Morton’s essay is a perfect example. Continue reading



How, in an era of globalization, market volatility, and crisis can differing theoretical positions and different models of organization and programs of action function as one effective transnational movement for change? Historically, Marxists answered this question by pointing to the uneven development of the productive forces in different regions and the varying levels of working class consciousness dependent on this development. As a result Marxists classed certain countries as in the vanguard of the revolutionary movement in contrast to other politically and economically “backward”regions.

While the doctrinaire interpretation of Marx’s theory of the conditioning function of the productive forces continued to insist on the vanguard nature of the working classes of advanced industrial countries such as England and Germany, the first seizure of power by a communist party took place in “backward”Russia. For Trotsky especially this presented a challenge since he was committed to a stance that insisted on the international nature of the revolution and the necessity of harnessing   the industrial and technological capacity of advanced capitalism to  the service of the new system. Electrification = communism was the formula Bolsheviks believed would deliver Utopia. It expressed a naive faith in science and technology that would survive  up until the late fifties.

By then Marx’s thought had become “Marxism” a totalist philosophical/ideological system as pernicious as any form of religious cultism. Like religion it had its sacred texts, top down hierarchies, cult of the prophetic founder, eschatology of  future redemption,  authoritarian centralism, heresies, schisms, and an oracularity made possible not by direct conduit to God’s wisdom but by access to a scientific understanding of the objective laws of social development. This certainty reinforced group think, cohesion and self-sufficiency, even as each new version of Marxism believed itself to be in possession of the truth delivered by a  science Continue reading

Food for Thought.

Matthew O’Connell’s post “Critical Thinking” is a good introduction to the practice of critical thinking from a rationalist perspective. Not to be confused, though, with the Critical thinking tradition of (mainly) European philosophy which decidedly challenges some of the pre-suppositions of rationalism and science. Laruelle is critical of the alliance between science and philosophical rationalism, citing the way the human becomes the predicate of the rationalist/scientific mode and a victim of its ideological off-shoots and pseudo-sciences –- economics, psychology, psychiatry, sociology, anthropology.

We could distinguish between a rational practice of thought which would display the characteristics listed by Matthew – clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairnessand rationalism as a philosophical stance. Rationalism presupposes a correlation between its mode of thought and an objective reality existing “out there”, With the help of science and logical thinking, it tries to map reality so that thought and the “thing in itself” coincide. Kant long ago pointed out the difficulty for such a stance –- its imposition of a dualism of thought and substance meant that one must account for thought’s coherence —its rationalism – by positing a  transcendental category, or one must collapse the division between thought and substance, negating the possibility of an aware and free subject/agent

At any rate rationalism and one of its opposites romanticism are two variations of an unending  dance between philosophers – a form of self-sufficiency built into the philosophical gestalt that produces a circulation of thought around its own axis, and in the process a mountain of repetitious and pseudo polemical writing. (it’s never really a matter of more than a fake opposition since one knows that one’s position is only a variant on what went before and is dependent on an “opposing” form of thought, which one mirrors in the act of opposition ). Philosophy, for all its bladder about radicalism, is still a conversation among “gentlemen” even if the age of the bourgeoise and the aristocrat has morphed into the careerism and consumerist populism of the neo-liberal world. Continue reading

Critical Thinking

We are all ignorant: every single one of us. Some of us don’t like to acknowledge this fact, but that doesn’t change it from being one. Even the brightest among us is blind to most of what takes place in the world. Ignorance may be obligatory; an indiscriminate factor of the human condition, but persistent refusal to engage with reality is not, especially when institutionalised. I think of certain forms of entrenched belief as voluntary ignorance. A person or group chooses to ignore facts, refuses to engage with reality, and sticks to their beliefs in spite of all the evidence.

The choice to be critical, curious and creative in one’s exploration of all knowledge is stifled by religious belief which counters the flexibility and revision that are a fundamental part of increasing knowledge and independence of thought. Religious beliefs block our ability to see the world as it is rather than how we want it to be based on our prejudices and religious allegiances. Religious belief formation is clearly a form of manipulation, even when the intention behind its dissemination may appear positive. Continue reading



While the various strands of liberalism, free market economics, early libertarianism, American contemporary libertarianism, and neo-liberalism of the Thatcherite and Reaganite varieties, had divergent and often contradictory principles and aims, all of them shared a rudimentary belief in the freedom and independence of the individual, as opposed to the determinism of the socialist, collectivist or Marxist view.

Historically, collectivist and individualist philosophical theories and systems of thought developed as dichotomies, feeding off one another at philosophical, ideological and political levels and broadly divided between the individualist current on the right and the collectivist on the left; although there is a strange crossover when one enters the marginal worlds of the left anarchist and individualist anarchist traditions and the anacro-capitalist /libertatianism of Tucker, Spooner, and Rothbard.

The neo-liberalism of the Thatcherite/ Reaganite variety, while based on broadly liberal ideas of free market economy, individual liberty and a curb on state power, sought to establish an objective or scientific basis for the idea of individual freedom on a par with the “objectivity”of Marxist determinism. The most influential current of thought developed out of the Rand think-tanks, where the mathematicians Nash and Arrow introduced “objective” criterion, via mathematics and probability theory, into the study of agency and decision-making. What became known as rational choice theory reinterpreted the liberal and libertarian idea of the free individual on a “scientific” basis. This current of thought strongly influenced the Regan and Thatcher regimes, (Volcker, Friedman, etc.) and became integrated into mainstream economics, so much so that the ideological trope of the self-interested and calculating “player” has, in popular imagination, been naturalised as the default state of the individual over and against the altruistic or cooperative impulse. This is clearly an ideological trope and not a conclusion based on scientific observation or practice. It is also clear that many of these economists displayed the sort of self aggrandisement they projected on their object of study (the isolated game player) and feathered their nests via consultancy fees, seats on corporate boards, directorships, lucrative publishing and speaking opportunities, university seats, and access to the “corridors of power”.

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Death in the Mediterranean; Once by Drowning, twice by Philosophy.

In a post on the Non — “Kinderstunde in der FAZ, oder: Warum wir die N-Wörter lieber ersaufen lassen.” — Matthias Steingass has established an unambiguously radical perspective. The post is about an article in a Frankfurter centre right newspaper (F.A.Z for short) which  advises Parents about how to explain to their young children why so many people are drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. He demonstrates that one can be a determined partisan for the oppressed even in the absence of a dialectic, or even because of its absence, and despite the misgivings of Marxists and their narrow definition of radicalism.

In fact we should reject this “unity of oppositions and their synthesis”, proclaimed by Marxists as the cornerstone of a scientific approach superior to all other radical stances. Such a stance involves a transcendent move whereby the “Marxist” philosopher succeeds in being in two places at once —  as an element within the situation (since he insists on a theory of the historically conditioned nature of thinking — its class basis) and as a transcendent arbitrator free from conditioning who resolves the conflict “on a higher plane”. That is to say he must elevate himself to a position in thought at right angles, as it were, to the situation. From there he pronounces on the nature of the real. This is a crude Idealism in which  terms are parceled out without reference to anything other than the logical consistency of the theory — a self-sufficiency of thought in which no reference need be made to the actual situation, other than as the raw material upon which thought builds its edifice. Against this crudity we should posit a determined materialism  (determined-without-determination — that is determination in the last instance and as axiomatic first name — from which we could create provisional theories related to practical projects, forgoing an impossible comprehensive theory of the real).

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Alive and Kickin.

rip-curl-alive-kickin_230Just in case anyone is wondering both Matthias and I are still alive and kickin , although Matthias is doing his kicking for the moment over on the Non. We have both published a series of posts there . Mine are considerable rewrites of two posts first published on this blog, while Matthias’s are wholly new and beautifully written pieces in German. Link  here. Since we are both now writing for two blogs you can expect less posts here, although I for one would like to keep this blog going as I think it’s focus on Buddhism is worthwhile for the way non philosophical critique delivers massive amounts of new thinking in whatever area one applies it to. Proven, if proof be needed, by Glenn Wallis’s powerful, original and poetically exuberant text Nascent Speculative non-Buddhism and the book and blog posts which followed from it. ( Non X issue 1)

I’ve spent a lot of time recently reading Timothy Mortons essay “Thinking the Charnel Ground (The Charnel Ground Thinking): Auto Commentary and Death in esoteric Buddhism (link below) which is a mine of ideas for anyone interested in the relation between esoteric Buddhism and non philosophical thought. Its strength is that it brings Buddhism into dialogue with various strains of modernist thinking by a process of juxtaposition in which modern philosophical texts are used as a tool to probe esoteric texts and visa-verse. The result is a series of insights beautiful in their strangeness. Needless to say the text requires an effort at thought .

I am making a series of written ruminations on the text as I read and re-read Morton’s beautifully argued essay. If what I’ve written reads as conceptually overcooked that’s because it is. See what you think. (literally  – see what you think)


We have a non totalisable reality, openness to the new and to the stranger, and a non realizable infinity of interrelation. What we have is non-theism rather than theism or atheism, if by theism” we mean belief in some transcendent beyond, and if by “atheism” we mean simple denial of anything beyond the empirical.” (Morton)

What most caught my interest here were the words non totalisable and non realizable. They highlight the way non- buddhism denies the simple opposition between the immanent /transcendent dyad. Non-buddhism presupposes  the non-viability of the juxtaposition of opposites  as  a dialectic of the real. To use philosophical terminology,  the terms non-totalisible and non-realizable, as epistemological statements about  knowing or not knowing an infinity of interrelations, posits a state of mind, of knowing, which is without an ontological object. The terms non- realisable and non totalisable as statements about an ontological real subsume the dyad trancendent/immanent, bypassing a philosophical operation that would produce a synthesis (the One, the Unnamable, Suchness etc) in favour of a wholly unspeakable otherness that precedes any operation whatsoever — what Laruelle calls a given-without-givenness.

To correct the above it should read:

We have a non totalisable reality, openness to the new and to the stranger, and a non realizable non-infinity of interrelation.

What the non adds is a decimation of the ontological term “infinity of interrelation” which is the determination (in the last instance) instancing the epistemological terms non realisable and non totalisable.

In this way we arrive at a triadic of terms two of which are orders of non knowing — non realizable/non totalisable where a third term, non-infinity of relations, function as a non ontological term (in the last instance) for an immanence of the real.

If this sounds like the state Dzogchen communicates by way of auto commentary as a yogin’s effortless abiding in the already and always given natural state of non-meditation, that only goes to show that many a culture can arrive at the knowledge of the essential non-correlation between the real and conceptual thought by circuitous route and without implying any sort of syncretism.

Timothy Morton’s essay