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topics: spirituality, embodiment, knowledge, freedom, orientation, time, caring, self-possession, culture, European imperialism, genocide, politics, realism, idealism, empiricism, rationalism, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Roy Bhaskar, Immanuel Kant


Imperialist Culture and Self-Possession

If you are trying to replace one culture with another, then you are engaged in a culture war or possibly even cultural genocide, as attempted, for example, by the Canadian program of residential schools for children of indigenous communities, which, for more than a century, institutionalized a fierce effort to replace First Nations culture with imperialist European culture. (The December 2015 report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada identified the residential schools, officially, as a program of cultural genocide.) However, if, as an individual, you develop the mental skill of moving beyond the influence of all cultures (because they all carry forms of imperialism), the skill of moving into the self-possession of elemental embodiment and spirituality, then that is philosophical or spiritual self-possession. Unmediated acquaintance with embodied spirituality is not an ideology, but it certainly displaces whatever ideology was imposed by ambient culture as its sanctioned orientation within certain pillars of reality: conceptions of nature, transcendence, community, and individual subjectivity. Self-possession is the issue because communities such as sovereign nations, religions, schools, sport teams, and families regularly claim rights of possession over individuals, including the right to define a person’s identity and value; to enforce obedience, reverence, and a suspension of distrust; and even the right to decide an individual’s life and death. In that way communities express a human-on-human macro-parasite culture which sanctifies the pre-conditioning of individuals to accept exploitation. Imperialism is always macro-parasitism. The cultural genocide perpetrated by European imperialism (not just in Canada) is an especially obvious expression of such culture. There is in capitalism, offspring of European global imperialism, an intrinsically oppressively macro-parasitism and a continuous stream of propaganda to justify itself. Ideological pillars of reality are crucial parts of the pre-conditioning by which macro-parasite culture is preserved. Social conformity requirements in every community limit the opportunities for individual creativity just as much as laws of nature do. The counter-movement of spiritual self-possession first re-orients the sense of subjectivity as a personally transcendent interiority, and in doing that transforms an individual’s sense of community and of nature too, especially time. The embodied spirituality discoverable by re-orienting to innocent personal experience is not the guilt-ridden permanent child-nature declared by culture-bound Christianity and other religions, for example. There is no inherent subordination.

It Isn’t a Question of Knowledge

The personal movement outside culture, into the elemental self-possession of embodied spirituality, is not about knowledge. ‘Knowledge’ is a concept most comfortable in the company of realists, and is normally conceived as a perfect imprint, projection, or constructed model of objective reality, of nature. The idea “knowledge” assumes a rigidity and finality of objects (on the model of Platonic Ideas!), including social and political arrangements, because only a rigidly structured world could be known definitively. Such realism is a denial of the contribution of spiritual freedom and creativity in the world, a dismissal of individual (Stoic) interiority. Realism is an assertion that spirituality, the creative construction by an intelligence of its own teleological orientation, can be excluded from a description of reality without distorting the representation of reality. (For example, Roy Bhaskar’s Critical Realism declares that ontology is independent of epistemology.) There is an affinity between philosophical realism and empiricism because empiricists, still expressing the influence of anti-individualism in historical British Calvinism, intend to minimize the creative contributions of spirituality in the personal construction of orientation, and consequently they take “sense data” to be a direct representation or imprint of rigidly real objects. There is a corresponding affinity between rationalism and idealism, because idealism privileges effective spirituality, as rationalism does. Somewhat ironically, the most influential rationalists were materialists, exploring materialism as a politically bottom-up metaphysics in the context of their crucial recognition that conceptions of reality are political to the core. Rationalism has a tradition of expressing a primary interest in freedom, which is unavoidably political. That includes a tradition of being anti-authoritarian, in contrast to the technically non-political conservatism of empiricism.

Knowledge, Orientation, and Personal Incompleteness (Freedom)

The importance of philosophy as a spiritual quest is eliminated when the goal and object is knowledge. Since pragmatism, the aspiration and accomplishment of philosophical thinking is not limited by ideas of knowledge, and in this blog the emphasis is on self-directed re-orientation, on cultivating a personal orientation more supportive and empowering of freedom and self-creation. The point is to occupy the living incompleteness and newness that is spirituality, the personal bearing into an indeterminate and non-actual futurity. This is urgent as the only way to move decisively beyond the power of human macro-parasites and their pre-conditioning of individuals to be defined and exploited as belongings and creatures of hierarchical collectives. It is the only way to be rid of toxic misconceptions embedded in culture, and, consequently, the way to relate to other individual spiritualities on the basis of empathy and mutual recognition instead of through arbitrary and artificial rules, judgments, and ideals mysteriously cloud-sourced from on-high.

Knowledge is impersonal, but orientation and its spiritual quest is the most personal questioning. Orientation is unavoidably dual, unavoidably subjective. As soon as an individual recognizes personal spirituality, orientation becomes more important than knowledge, because ever-mutating orientation is the being of spiritual interiority. Theory of knowledge, epistemology, used to be the centrepiece of modern philosophy because knowledge (lately science) was pitched as humanity’s great prize, even sometimes as a special achievement of philosophical thinking (from Plato’s Ideal Forms as the objects of true knowledge). Knowledge nuggets were conceived as timeless and eternal jewels to be hoarded and guarded by hierarchies of robed and hooded initiates, trophies of conquest over the mysteries of life and nature’s darkness. In modernity, knowledge is capital, a commodity, intellectual property to be hoarded and branded, licensed and marketed to the highest bidder. It is controlled and controlling.

Horizontal Idealism, with Homage to Kantian Idealism

Religions are not the only cultural constructs with a primary focus on spirituality, because idealist metaphysics has, all along, described versions of spirituality. Idealism privileges effective spirituality, although that could easily be missed from an exclusive consideration of Platonic or Hegelian idealism, which seek the perspective of eternity. The problem is that in the ideal world of eternity there are no free agents, only objects with complete-destiny-included. Nothing is happening or being created in the perspective of eternity, and so the spirituality presented, typically presented as elevated and divine, is impoverished and effectively dead. On a richer and more living vision of spirituality, suggested in the work of Immanuel Kant, for example, spirituality is recognized as effective at the level of the individual person in ordinary life. Ever-mutating orientation is the being of spiritual interiority in that perspective. The “horizontal” in “horizontal idealism” is a recognition that there is no essential connection joining spirituality to divinity or deity, nor between spirituality and religion of any kind. It is also a recognition that no spirituality is all-encompassing. Individual eruptions of spirituality, such as yours now engaged with these words, are really separate, all at the same level, and must construct interconnection with others (which truly can enlarge the power of spirituality) using powers of embodiment. In that way, transcendence occurs as a scattered multitude of distinct individuals, each personally entangled in the duality of physics and spirituality, but with an orientation conditioned from early life by socialization into some cultural system of reality. The way to encounter transcendence is to look out horizontally to other embodied spiritual beings as into a mirror.

Spirituality: Time is a Structure of Caring

Every moment of life is the encounter of personal spirituality with manifest actuality via the particularities of embodiment. The descent from culturally imposed conceptions of reality into the elements of personal experience is mainly about acquaintance with a spirituality that is inseparable from particular embodiment. In our elemental embodiment we have the personal individuality of shape and placement, and we have arcs of kinaesthetic-metabolic energy depletion and restoration which model nature as a cost-shape of effortful mobility and mobilization and shaping of other objects. With embodiment we also have ingestion, gesturing, posturing and vocalizing, usually in exchanges with other embodied spiritualities. In contrast to embodiment, spirituality is elusive as only a sense of newness and incompleteness in the form of an openness and a directionality of flight into that openness. The experience of world-openness itself is a creative non-actuality, a construct and projection of cost-shape experiences carrying an increasingly remote past that does not actually exist.

This openness of being alive, as we humans are alive, is exactly our spirituality. A spirituality’s self-awareness takes the form of a particular bearing into a semi-obscure openness of futurity, including a structure of increasingly remote probabilities and possibilities, a structure of anticipation, evaluation, and aspiration, and so, overall, of caring, an expression of spirituality. Personal acts of caring both express and keep constructing the most personal newness and incompleteness. In that way time is a structure of caring which uses impressions of entropy physics (of embodiment and its working: muscle memory and kinaesthetic-metabolic memory) in a construction of expectation and directionality. Each spirituality is characterized by its own interiority of such temporally structured non-actuality, bearing into the openness and freedom of an indeterminate future with the force of curiosity, questioning, accumulated discoveries, an impulse to self-declare, to make a personal mark, and of sociability and empathy.

Idealist metaphysics is more or less always about the incongruence between spirituality and embodiment, or, in other words, between the supra-actuality of spiritual transcendence and apparent actuality. The freedom and creativity of an intelligence is in transcending the vanishing particularity of embodiment in nature, transcending its own particularity by always tilting into an indefinite beyond-itself, projecting active construction and expression from interior non-actuality. Nothing defies particularity outside spiritual creativity, and the peculiarity of spirituality is in being both particular and utterly beyond particularity. Evading particularity means asserting spirituality, making sure that a manifest expression is actualized, enacted, but of a kind that includes an ever-constructing incompleteness, an openness for surprise and newness. Self-creation is never self-completion.

Copyright © 2016 Sandy MacDonald.