The Affective Aspect of Decision

Disruption. X-buddhism’s network of postulation is a power grid pumping buddhistic charism through the lines of venerable transmission [see video title below]. Steadied by its rhetorics of self-display, the network extends to sangha sub-stations and into the affective-cognitive-decisional apparatus of the individual x-buddhist person. Speculative non-buddhist heuristics enable an interruption of the power surge in order to inspect its machinery and analyze its juice. (1)

Following on from the discussion at Der Un-Buddhist and here about What is non-buddhism? this post offers an example of one aspect of the decisional structure in action – namely affect (German version of the text at Der Unbuddhist). Please pay particular attention to the first five minutes of the video below, which is a good example of what exactly the affective aspect of x-buddhist decision looks like in person. The five minute long introduction is the prelude to a propaganda movie which weaves together a string of eulogies for a saint. A person disposed to reach out for spiritual help is seduced here via emotional framing into expectations which will lead her to judge the acts and statements of  the x-buddhist thaumaturge in specific ways. The thaumaturge himself – the Dane Ole Nydahl – does not perform in the film. This is an example of skillfull means, Upaya as x-buddhists call it: emptiness – this empty space – is filled with a fantastic narrative about Nydahl, invoking his god-like nature – which in turn seduces the aspirant into an ever more intense desire to really meet the thaumaturge in person.

First a differentiation: Cognitive decision is a decision which signifies in the Laruelleian sense a kind of logical operation. It is a syntactical apparatus which brings thought – the human thought-world – into a certain relation to the Real. Affective decision is based on those structures of the human cognitive apparatus which utilize affective modes. One can say that the former is based in a symbolic system while the latter contributes phylogenetically older structures. Both result in an amalgam which isn’t easy to untangle and in which various components influence each other.

The three components of decision are the dyad datum/fact and a unity which synthesizes both. In this case here decision has  the following shape.  

The eulogies, the reports about the wonderworking life of the saint and the exalted and euphoric orations of the witnesses of the divine behavior of the holy man, are the transcendental blue print – the fact – for the expected conduct.

The actual phenomenon – the datum – steps forward as expected from this preformation, as a superhuman being who cannot be anything else.

If this impression isn’t properly critiqued the empirical datum feeds back into the transcendental fact. Thereby a reciprocal relationship unfolds between the general notion about the saint and the specific appearance of Ole Nydahl. The general notion finds its expression in specific appearances and specific appearances confirm general notions. This is the circular reasoning of (not only) x-buddhism – and hence the need to disrupt in the SNB sense.

The unity synthesizing this dyad is, in the case of the affective decision, especially difficult to understand. Affective decision, in contrast to cognitive decision, undercuts the niveau which is available for introspection – actual thinking. The circular reasoning of  cognitive decision is perceivable as a specific logic, while affective decision is positioned partly in cognitive structures which operate below the threshold of perception and which are phylogenetically far older than the phenomena of cultural evolution, whereby the latter – and this is the important point! –  ‘kidnap’ the the former.

From the point of view of evolutionary psychology one can see it like this: the pattern recognition abilities of human specialists like, for example, ornithologists or currency traders to instantly spot differences which are invisible to the layman, are dependent on cognitive structures which helped hominoids to make instant decisions about survivability. This regards vital instantaneous operations regarding the ability to decide if another animal was a predator or a prey, a harmless cohabitant of another species, or a partner for mating. Not to mention the ability of offspring to identify their parents via an array of sensual inputs. Evolutionary psychology postulates here cognitive systems which must be able to utilize such skills. With further evolution such systems are ‘converted’ to other uses, an effect which is known in evolution theory as exaptation.

Similar points can be made about the causal essence. To put it simply one can say that hominoids (like hominids and a lot of older species) are dependent on the ability to instantaneously recognize the state and status of a con-specific. From the point of view of evolutionary psychology the respective cognitive systems are ‘kidnapped’ – exaptated – today by symbolic systems which assign a certain status in the given social biotope to a high ranking person.

What this means is that the synthesizing unity which welds datum and fact into one concrete, immanent reality, has its origin in the cognitive apparatus partly below the possibility of the self-awareness of introspection. For x-buddhism this means that its dogma of look-inside-and-find-the-solution-to-everything has a biological demarcation line whose disavowal or repression could have fatal consequences (cf. the video at 13:45). (2) In regard to this complex, compare also Max Weber’s notion of “Charism”.

The film shown here acts, in its complexity, not only as a simple construction plan, but reaches at once out to the affective capacities of the human watcher. This is achieved via certain typical cinematographic techniques like the positioning of the cameras, film editing, the composition of the sequence of scenes, the underlying music and – very important – the sequencing and strict selection of what is shown.

An analysis of the target audience will presumably show, that it is the young, (or young at heart), white, well educated, successful, affluent, middle class type who is meant to be interpellated here. The problem with this nexus is that the reception of specific content is dependent on specific forms of cultural capital. Groups not in possession of such capital aren’t able to acquire content like the one offered in the video. Cf. for this Pierre Bordieu’s notion of cultural capital.

So we have two findings here. First we see how affective decision is exploited for the generation and subsequent satisfaction of x-buddhist desire. Second we, at least, must assume the possibility that this kind of Buddhism is very much related to certain social groups and that it only exists in such groups.



(1)  Cf. Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice, p. 132.

(2) Cf. Biografie of an X-buddhist Thaumaturge (pdf). Cf. also pages 177 ff. in Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice plus the respective bibliographical references.

See also the section Affect in the previous post What is Non-Buddhism?

This video is featured on Dharma i okolice. Our thanks to Tomek Idzik (for the link and certain suggestions concerning the text)

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10 thoughts on “The Affective Aspect of Decision

  1. So what is the essence of the juice that Nydahl is feeding his mesmerized, confuzzled followers? And here enter unparalleled methodology of modern anthropology and it almost completely invalidates the whole x-buddhist syntactical apparatus, in this case with “the true nature of mind” at the heart of it. From this groundbreaking evolutionary perspective there is actually no essence in the “teachings” offered by gurus like Nydahl. Instead the whole network of postulation is based on a set of cognitive proclivities and assumptions such as the above mentioned folk psychological belief in hidden casual essence, but not only that. It appears that there is a strong link between obsessive-compulsive behaviors and the whole area of various rituals with the underlying issue associated with thoughts about pollution and purification, danger and protection. There is also the whole coalitional psychology – Boyer writes that: “When people proclaim their adherence to a particular faith, they subscribe to claims for which there is no evidence, and that would be taken as obviously wrong or ridiculous in other religious groups. This signals a willingness to embrace group’s particular norm for no other reason that that it is, precisely, the group’s norm.” Then comes cognitive proclivity towards super stimuli that is hijacked by religious specialists by way of their rhetorics of display… Boyers summarizes:

    “We should not try to pinpoint the unique origin of religious belief, because there is no unique domain for religion in human minds. Different cognitive systems handle representations of supernatural agents, of ritualized behaviours, of group commitment and so on, just as color and shape are handled by different parts of the visual system. In other words, what makes a god-concept convincing is not what makes a ritual intuitively compelling or what makes a moral norm self-evident. Most modern, organized religions present themselves as a package that integrates all these disparate elements (ritual, morality, metaphysics, social identity) into one consistent doctrine and practice. But this is pure advertising. These domains remain separated in human cognition. The evidence shows that the mind has no single belief network, but myriad distinct networks that contribute to making religious claims quite natural to many people.”

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  3. Juxtaposing this post with the previous one, I think it highlights the need for Non-Buddhism to be enacted. Wielded rather than displayed. There is life to this.

    Nydahl started a center right around where I live. I’m so curious to go now; that video was unreal. I almost suspect Tutteji is putting on the show.

    In focusing on this gross aspect of decision, one thing that isn’t highlighted is that affective decision is at play to some degree in almost any engagement with Buddhism. Its dicta fascinate and install themselves in the psyche, and the x-Buddhist is constructed to depend upon the terms that she now interprets reality through. To become rudderless without the notion of a transcendental enlightenment or unwilling/unable to look at life except in terms of Dharma. To the x-Buddhist, looking at the world without the distorted lens of the x becomes delusion. And it is particularly noticeable by the reaction one sees when a lama or school is criticized. This blog hasn’t seen to much of that (yet), but the SNB blog is peppered with it.

  4. Non-Buddhism enacted. Part of it would be to show that the emperor is naked. You mean this John? We could build a category at the blog for such exposures/examples. The heuristic in its decimative aspect could be exemplified in such a way. So if anybody likes… Personally I feel like going another way (mostly). In this case I first said to myself, “Oh no, not another fucking stupid Buddhist shit load of bad tasting sugary emptiness”. But what is interesting about this film is that it is a professionally made cinematographic piece of work to bring about a message. Apart from the obviously blunt rhetorics which is annoying for any halfway enlightened person, in its mode of presentation it is a piece of powerful propaganda targeting people who are for one reason or another receptive to the idea that there is refuge in the thaumaturge.

    The other way I find much more interesting (and frightening) is to look how research of this type by anthropologists like Boyer might be exploited by the military respectively by the economic system as a whole to keep at bay forces opposing its way of being. Coincidentally I came about an article in The Guardian yesterday which gives examples how such exploitation works – and that it happens. The article named Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown makes it clear for what we are heading with the ongoing development of The Empire of into a mass surveillance and mass manipulation entity.

    A US Department of Defense (DoD) research programme is funding universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various US military agencies. The multi-million dollar programme is designed to develop immediate and long-term “warfighter-relevant insights” for senior officials and decision makers in “the defense policy community,” and to inform policy implemented by “combatant commands. […] The DoD ‘Minerva Research Initiative’ partners with universities “to improve DoD’s basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the US. (my emphasis)

    Anthropology is used by the US military to understand better the behavior of masses and to get a better understand how they may be controlled and manipulated. For this end anthropological research is fed into the military system as Prof David Price, a cultural anthropologist at St Martin’s University in Washington DC and author of Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State makes it clear:

    The Pentagon’s Human Terrain Systems (HTS) programme – designed to embed social scientists in military field operations – routinely conducted training scenarios set in regions within the United States. The HTS training scenarios adapted COIN [counterinsurgency] for Afghanistan/Iraq to domestic situations in the USA where the local population was seen from the military perspective as threatening the established balance of power and influence, and challenging law and order. One war-game involved environmental activists protesting pollution from a coal-fired plant near Missouri, some of whom were members of the well-known environmental NGO Sierra Club. Participants were tasked to identify those who were ‘problem-solvers’ and those who were ‘problem-causers,’ and the rest of the population whom would be the target of the information operations to move their Center of Gravity toward that set of viewpoints and values which was the ‘desired end-state’ of the military’s strategy (my emphasis).

    The minerva program has a forerunner in the 1960s when project Camelot was launched (cf. here).

    Project Camelot was a 1964 research initiative, run by the Special Operations Research Office (SORO) at American University and funded with $6 million from the U.S. Army as seed money for a larger initiative. […] Against the backdrop of powerful insurgencies led by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and, on another continent, Ho Chi Minh, the purpose of Project Camelot was to mobilize leading social scientists to understand the sources of revolutionary movements and insurgencies in Latin America and to develop strategies of what the SORO called insurgency prophylaxis. (my emphasis)

    Project camelot failed to deliver. But this time the chances are much better that such strategies will provide the politico-military arm of The Empire with the desired silent arms to keep its power. Research as that by Boyer fits into this strategy very well. And in fact, I think the little video about Lama Ole (as he is called by his followers) is already ‘part’ of that strategy as it is part of the modus of reproduction of The Empire. In this respect Enacted Non-Buddhism, to use John’s wording, perhaps would be not so much a kind of intra-buddhist critique like ours here which doesn’t go very far. It would need to be more like a powerful exposure how modern Buddhism like the Diamond Way of Lama Ole provides The Empire with complacent and stupidly smiling inmates. In this regard it may be worth to show that these people do, in fact, take part in far ranging destruction of social an environmental structures – contrary to what they themselves often believe, that they work to better the systems (via ‘green’ politics etc.). A convincing analysis in this direction may haver more impact.

  5. I should reformulate the last part, “the far ranging destruction…” : It is about a reconfiguration of social and environmental structures about which x-buddhist are oblivious while they play nonetheless an important part in it (via the branching out of their technology via the mindfulness graze which now reaches global top level management – cf. Wisdom 2.0 Conference, World Economic Forum 2014 etc.). The reconfiguration is about the mentioned mass surveillance and mass control structures which are going to establish much tighter control over the citizen of The Empire through the police and military than previously seen. Co-opting x-buddhisms like the one here are part of this process, although they see themselves in the exact opposite situation. I think this must an important point about exposing and decimating them.

  6. What you say about the co-option of science (especially the human sciences) to the agenda of the corporate/military machine is worrying. Such co-option of academics, especially in the field of the (so called ) human sciences-psychology, anthropology, and sociology– is now ubiquitous. And what of the European situation, especially after the imposition of massive austerity programmes, coordinated by a coalition of the ECB and the European commission, at the instigation by parties committed to no-liberal policies of free market globalization? Certainly at the periphery of Europe and in France politics has been radicalized -a fact expressed in the huge vote parties of the left and right have received in Ireland, Greece and Spain. No doubt,such preparations are going on in Europe too. What is interesting is that the military/corporate elite has co-opted the pseudo scientific terminology of the ‘human sciences’—an academic jargon in which objectifying paradigms of the human are taken at face value so that, for example, the legitimate wish for viable and just structures of governance and economy become objectivised instances of (to quote the guardian article) ‘the dynamics of social movement mobilization and contagions‘ and (in the case of the examination of twitter and facebook posts) the identification of the typology of individuals who are likely to become ‘mobilized in a social contagion‘, and at what stage in the unfolding of such a ‘contagion’ they will ‘become mobilized’.

    This objectifying discourse, a mixture of philosophy and the pseudo-scientific is the justification for a massive programme of pre-emptive social control in which those ‘ordinary people’ (read politically pacified consumer oriented drones) who become politicized by the experience of having their ‘ordinary lives’ wrecked by market oriented economics, refuse to be further pacified (by, for example, x-buddhist mindfulness programmes) and instead take their anger and frustration to the streets and undermine bourgeois parliamentary democracy by voting for parties of the left and right who advocate extra- parliamentary methods of political redress.

    Laruelle has much to say ( in ‘From dicision to Hersey’ for example, from which the quotes below come) about the way this objectifying discourse comes into being as the admixture of science and philosophy, binding the human into networks of capture and control.

    Man has never been an object of the human sciences. Man does not recognize himself in this authoritarian predatory activity.; and the human sciences speak of something other than man. They combine in a strange way the plural and the singular: we are suppose to understand , now, that there exists mans in itself, inexhaustible, which multiple, impotent and ireal sciences try to circumvent[...] This indeterminate being, evanescent under the crushing weight that is slammed down upon it in the thwarted hope of fixing it[...] but man is definitely absent from the rendezvous of the Human Sciences, because he is absent first of all from philosophy.

    Laruelle’s non-philosophy has in its sights the whole complex of this objectifying philosophical/scientific (not mind you an anti-science) Such a project is the obvious form in which we could widen the non-buddhist critique-something that happened quite spontaneously in any case once the political and social implications of x—buddhist co option were articulated. We could,though, enter into this critique with more ‘gusto’ than heretofore.

    Laruelles critique of the admixture of the human sciences and philosophy and its connection with regimes of economic and political capture is very explicit and offers a powerful way of grounding social critique in critical thought without falling into the extremes of historicism on the one hand and a pseudo-scientific Marxist ideological critique on the other. (Although, as specific instances or last instances of a way of modeling the social/political they are useful)
    One thing is clear: Laruelle’s critique is unambiguously anti the alliance of science/philosophy as ‘melanges’ that offer a simplistic synthesis of disparate scientific/philosophical discourses of the human.

    One cannot take the anthropological forms of philosophy for a science of a rigorous theory of man, since anthropology is only the phantasmatic projection of Greco-Christian ontological prejudices onto real man.[...] Greco-ontological thought, with the annexed and bastard sciences which now trail behind it like so many disavowed corpses …has never been able to determine radically any object whatsoever or to appraise what a finite individual is […] for it confuses ordinary man with any man whatsoever, with the universal individual of which the exemplary figure, the excellent essence, is the philosopher-the human par excellence in speaking, knowing, acting.

  7. Co-opting x-buddhisms like the one here are part of this process, although they see themselves in the exact opposite situation.

    Matthias (#5), I don’t think it’s entirely as you say. Have a look at what a certain Von Sabine König is saying in Nydahl’s propaganda magazine. If I correctly understand her (I’ve got a Polish version) she basically says that her Buddhism and The Empire are pretty well adjusted to each other and she seems to really mean it.

  8. Matthias, this project Minerva is…chilling. And I think you summarize an excellent direction for the non-Buddhist.

    To elaborate on my original remarks, I don’t mean that Non-Buddhism should be constantly backwardly reaching or inwardly, insularly focused. I mean that it should have a target with a beating heart; it should draw blood — instead of explicating itself independently of its raison d’etre.

    Although I there is an element to the critique that is general – that it is an abstract formulation on x-Buddhism, a basic dynamic that repeats itself again and again, it always feels more vital when linked directly to the particular.

  9. Tomek, #7. I am not expressing very well what I want to say. You are right, the text by Sabine König is a good example how Buddhism is co-opting with the economic system here called market economy. My expression that x-buddhists are the “exact opposite” is misleading. What I have in mind saying is the following: The facts about surveillance, control and manipulation in the Guardian article are functions of a society these x-buddhists do not understand and do not see. What I want to say is that they oppose a view as that expressed above. Instead they say it is a free and fair society. Basically they oppose the view that there is any decision.

    Patrick, #6. We already talked about this via mail. I fear that the affective decision as we have it in this text could be again a kind empirical/transcendent circularity and that “one cannot take the anthropological forms of philosophy for a science of a rigorous theory of man” as you cite Laruelle. If it is still a empirical/transcendent circularity it is, I think, ontologically more frugal than the thought about thaumaturgical refuge (in the Ockhamian sense of his razor) but might not go as far as it it necessary….

    John, #8, as you say!:

    Non-Buddhism should have a target with a beating heart; it should draw blood — instead of explicating itself independently of its raison d’etre.

  10. Pingback: Propaganda: The making of the holy Lama Ole Nydahl – Tibetan Buddhism :: Struggling With Diffi·Cult Issues

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