I see that you practice the rhetorical strategy of first misrepresenting what I say, then proving you are ever so much cleverer than I am because you can find a flaw in your own invention. (Tom Pepper)
What has become of Speculative Non-Buddhism? Mr. Pepper (alias Gabe Syme, alias Bill S.), has summarized it in his usual succinct way. Speculative Non-Buddhism has become a game of twisting and turning words, taking out of context and ignoring the development of arguments, confusing or intentionally misinterpreting meaning – all the while its proper and actual task has long been lost or hasn’t been achieved to any relevant scope ever. In short, the discussion degenerated into flamewars while François Laruelle went missing early on. The non of non-buddhism, which is the anti-decisional non of non-philosophy, has never been developed beyond an intuition.
This has a history, let’s recap it briefly. Mr. Wallis opened the Speculative Non-Buddhism blog in summer 2011 with great enthusiasm and clearly motivated to get some people together to form a fire starter against the mindful obesity of contemporary Buddhism and, perhaps, to think some serious stuff. Even before this historical date – as it should be called because it was the first time a voice from within American Buddhism began pointing at its blatant narcissism – Mr. Wallis formulated critical thoughts about Buddhism in his writings. Finally at some point before the opening of his blog there must have been a revelation or breakthrough in his thinking. Possibly Ray Brassier with his Nihil Unbound has been the catalyst and with it came the critique of decision respectively the philosophies of difference by François Laruelle. At the same time Mr. Pepper appeared. He at once pointed out that Brassier and Laruelle both are beholden to an “atomistic” view which places the individual wrongly at the base of any analysis while in fact it is an effect of ideology. The dialectics of individual and ideology would have been a point of departure to begin to work on Laruelle’s thinking and how it solves the vicious circle such a relationship develops, but that never happened. What emerged instead was a confrontation with contemporary and mostly American Buddhism on one side, plus the development of Mr. Pepper’s Buddhism on the other (what he later would call The Faithful Buddhist). Especially the confrontation took center stage soon with Mr. Wallis giving out the slogan of Word Blood. Ray Brassier and François Laruelle were never again heard of – at least not in any kind of discussion which would develop an understanding of their thought. Instead Word Blood got heated up. The repressive tolerance at the root of every Buddhist discourse today was challenged. Several very animated discussions took place during the coming months and some of todays prominent Buddhists were involved. Unfortunately an old error, we see within internet discussions regularly, took over: loosing respect. We see it so often often today, in any social network, in any shitstorm, an error as old as the net. What happens to be a major civilizing factor in face-to-face communication, the ability to back off from the outright humiliation of another human, gets lost in the area of mass communication via the internet. 2012 was a time in which each one of us reveled in the fact of eventually having found an arena in which raging against the x-buddhist machine was not only possible but that it would be heard too by those who were addressed. Additionally it was a rage with a very good point. Lot’s of arguments were made and lots of Buddhists had to struggle with them. But it went too far and so, in this respect too, the project went astray.
During that campaign in 2012 Mr. Pepper introduced a categorization developed by Badiou. The three subjects: the faithful (the good), the reactionary (the bad), and the obscurantist (the ugly). Subsequently it became clear that Mr. Pepper was using this terminology not as a qualitative differentiation developed from analysis but as a kind of caste system in which only those capitulating to his thinking belonged to the faithful. Debating or asking inconvenient topics and questions became a reason to be degraded to the lower castes. Certain topics like neurobiology or psychotherapeutics, for example, became effectively and affectively forbidden. People mentioning them without condemning them at once or in fact arguing in favour of them were met with blunt and brutal insult. Argumentation and analysis were put off while Word Blood boiled over in frenzy. Respect was absolutely no option. Mr. Wallis himself never took sides in these confrontations. At best he would console the victim of an assault via private conversation – never he openly took a position against Mr. Pepper. Although it was possible to see that Mr. Wallis actually had differing opinions vis-à-vis Mr. Pepper, it seemed he would not risk to loose the Pepper asset. Namely because Mr. Pepper indeed was producing something – his Faithful Buddhist –, and that, in the wake of Badiou, Alhusser etc., became priority, while the original intuition, that Laruelle got through to something even more important, was lost. And so Word Blood culminated finally in spring 2013 when the open debate about the social structure developing with the participants of the Speculative Non-Buddhism project was declared anathema by Mr. Wallis. At last the blog was closed and Word Blood ended in embarrassment by disease mongering dissidents. It was a capitulation to the inability to come to terms with an event and its challenges. There had been a strong campaign to confront contemporary Buddhism with its contradictions and Mr. Pepper developed one of the rare critical thoughts within this Buddhism, but that was it. It is unclear to this day, apart from some minor attempts, how the non-buddhist subject looks like.
With that background it seemed a positive development when Mr. Wallis announced this October that he would start writing again on his blog. It would be “a continuation, but redirection, of what came before,” he wrote. Mr. Pepper in the meantime had opened and closed again his blog The Faithful Buddhist (his texts are published though), while the posse at this blog – The Non-Buddhist – went further away from any Buddhist thought. I wondered what Mr. Wallis would come up with. At least we here tried to understand more about non-philosophy, in whatever meager way. Would he finally be able to get his project going again? When Mr. Wallis eventually came out with his post Worstward Ho! it was a disappointment. Yes, the topic was about the constructive side of the non-buddhism project, but again there was this ostentative pictorial and metaphorical language reeking of the romanticism of Word Blood: picking through the rubble of the ruins of the buddhist real by the practitioner who has ruined (decimated, cloned, flattened) the x-buddhist material, carrying out promising-looking husk and hull… What crucial change takes place when philosophical/buddhist material is indeed cloned and not just reappropriate without turning the white light of decision and difference off (like the so called theological turn of philosophy)? In praxis it never was shown. Neither in the early stage of the project, certainly not with Word Blood, not in Mr. Wallis’s contribution to our book Cruel Theorie | Sublime Practice nor in the worstward post. But being an disappointment in this regard, after all, Mr. Wallis posed the question of organization. We here discussed this since some time without any visible result. In this sense it was a welcome coincidence. But the discussion going on from this point proofed to be instructive in a way not intended. We do not have before us now the ruins of the buddhist real, it’s the ruins of the speculative non-buddhist project. We proofed one more time that with Mr. Wallis – and in the end with Jack in the box Mr. Pepper again – we are not getting away from a modus of debate which exactly is depicted in the insightful words which are cited as the opener of this text. Worstward indeed.
The final absurd tragedy of this project is that such a discussion, in which the art of intellectual flamewar is cultivated as the sole ethics of interaction, is advertised as a step forward to a new subject, to a new thinking and is indeed produced and sold at the exchange of symbolic capital as a new elite leading to liberation – while actually Mr. Wallis and Mr. Pepper look like the zombies of their own ideas now.
It is true, both produced a lot of important stuff which hopefully give a lot of people the proverbial food for thought. Mr. Pepper indeed developed ideas about Buddhism which are so rare today that one can only recommend one or two other projects with equal force within Buddhism. One being the Critical Buddhism of Hakayama Noriaki and Matsumoto Shiro, the other perhaps being that of Sulak Sivaraksa whose Socially engaged Buddhism for once does not seem to be another Buddhist ventriloquism. Mr. Wallis on the other side provides with his Performance of non-buddhist Heuristics an exceptional tool for every Buddhist practitioner who has only the slightest doubt about his praxis, to get rid of this delusional misinterpretation of most modern Buddhism as a means of liberation. Indeed, together, both thoughts might be the means of a new and critical Buddhism which could be a force to alter – to some limited extent – social structures of alienation, exploitation and general confusion disguised as enlightenment. But this is Buddhism – another, albeit better, X-Buddhism –, one which to the day neither addresses the question of the organization of resistance within power, nor one which in the least sense thinks about what was the intuition which brought this project to life.
As it stands now these two protagonists look very much like they have been zombified. One playing silly games as a sockpuppet again, while the other in his latest installment tries to reincarnate yet another round of Word Blood, declaring it this time the non-buddhist facilitator, who – of course – reveals to you – again – your own ignorance and stupidity. At best, in the sense of the above said, about the attainments of the two, Speculative Non-Buddhism is now philosophy as Laruelle analyses it, another not so stupid vicious circle, at worst it is ridiculous gimmickry of two men not knowing how to stopp after they have given their performance – spoiling thereby what has been achieved.
Either way it is The Zombification of Speculative Non-Buddhism.
[Edit: The blog Speculative Non-Buddhism – to which the two links at the end of the text point – was taken offline 11/27/2014.]
[2nd Edit: The blog Speculative Non-Buddhism – to which the two links at the end of the text point – was taken online again on 12/02/2014.]