A Desperate Call to Immanence

I wrote the following piece as reflections on the two Trash Community meetings we’ve had so far. As I say here, I have found these conversations extremely useful, while at the same time they have raised certain questions which I believe should be made explicit.

For example, what are the intentions which motivate our participation in this experiment? Is there any shared understanding from which we can agree to begin (for instance with the shared understanding of the necessity of an immanent approach)?

If this is not the case, is the aim of Trash Community less about moving in any particular direction with respect to an intention on how to act in the world, or is it a loosely defined opportunity to engage in vehement and passionate debates about the place of transcendence and immanence? I would love to hear people’s thoughts.


I would like to pose the following question:

What kinds of conversations are possible if we were to axiomatize the principle of non-transcendence?

This is a strikingly simple question. It is, however, one which I have been failing to discover an answer to. It seems to me to be the kind of question that evokes the greatest fear of the imagination: the very exposure of imagination itself, its violence against the human openly displayed for all imagining humans to stare and scoff at.

We have had two Trash Community meetings so far. The conversations being had during these meetings are, to my mind, extremely important. Yet there is one theme that continues to arise, one which I was hoping the Trash Community experiment could move beyond, but which appears to actually be quite difficult to move beyond: the human yearning for transcendence.

That all humans imagine and wish for transcendence is a fact as seemingly inescapable as life itself. Yet it is precisely this wish which all too often makes us forget that the aim of escaping life itself is unattainable.

Transcendence is often posited as a ‘truth’ which is only accessible to some mysterious substance called ‘consciousness.’ This is not what truth is. In fact, it is its opposite. Truths can only be immanent; this is the only way we are able to access them. I have never been one for telling the truth. In my efforts to become that, I have discovered why I never did so before: the truth is that which obliterates transcendence, and as such it will always provoke hostility from the imagination of those who want to transcend the truth.

A truth is a brutal discovery of an immanent world, of its limitations, of itself as a necessary fragmentation of totality, these “fragments” being the finite instances of human experience and of human Worlds. This is in opposition to The Truth™, or “enlightenment”, which is the childish denial of precisely the immanent world, of its limitations, and of itself as a necessary fragmentation of totality. The yearning for transcendence is a yearning to escape out of finite humanity, and into the infinite (hence the desire for infinite plenitude). Can we commit to resisting this pull, if only for the sake of seeing what happens next? Are there others out there who want to embark on such a project?

I will start by proposing that there are two axioms which are absolutely necessary (though not sufficient; I welcome more!) conditions for such resistance to take place.

One particular concern that I noticed arising in conversation is that the yearning for transcendence is often rooted in a yearning to escape intentionality. The salesperson for transcendence insists that we must abandon all intentions, social or otherwise, in order to understand The Truth™. This insistence on the abandoning of intentionality is an insistence on the humanly impossible. This is because, as humans, we always already have intentions. We have intentions first and foremost with respect to the process of production; that is, how we will choose to organize society’s productive forces.

Which brings us to our first axiom. It is suitable to quote Henri Lefebvre, appropriating an axiom of his to our purposes:

Axiom of strategies: Whether they are aware of it or not, social groups and individuals within groups have tactics and strategies (i.e. a series of connected long-term or short-term decisions). Conversely and reciprocally, a set of individuals without a tactic and a strategy cannot be a social group.

We must be careful in reading such a statement. The imagination of (and yearning for) transcendence will spew forth a reply about how The Truth™, that is, transcendence, requires us to abandon our intentions (and hence our tactics and strategies). This kind of reply, on its own terms, displays a desire to escape the social. The reality is that we are all already with social intentions. This is one of the most difficult thing for x-buddhists to accept, but simply by dint of the fact that you are reading these sentences, you are already existing, perceiving, and acting, within and through a social-symbolic system, and are thus already part of a social group. Since social groups must have intentions, tactics, and strategies, this means that you are already existing with intentions, tactics, and strategies.

It is often unwise to diagnose the intentions of others. This is why intentions should be made explicit. X-buddhists, unfortunately, actively conceal their intentions, because this illusion of non-intentionality is central to their selfhood and their curative fantasy, as we are about to see. We may, then, rather ask what are the tactics and strategies that subjects of the yearning for transcendence employ, for these are plainly perceptible to rigorous and critical thought. One commonly used tactic, for instance, is the x-buddhist’s bracketing of her intentions, and the masking of that tactic (i.e. that act of concealing intentions) in a bracketing of ontology (the latter of which can often be an important thing to do). This is a failure, as stressed ad nauseam on Speculative Non-Buddhism and over at The Faithful Buddhist, to grasp the objectively meaningful difference between the mind-independent world and the mind-dependent world. As social animals, however, we simply cannot succeed in bracketing intentions.

Such a tactic, and the strategies in which they are employed, in my view, only make sense if one is starting with the intention of reproducing capitalism, which is to say with the intention of shutting down any conversation that takes as its object—and its aim of transformation—social reality itself (rather than simply an individual mind).

How does the salesperson for transcendence propose we free ourselves of the chains of intention and desire, and of social existence more broadly? This brings us to the second axiom that is required for the kind of conversation that this essay begins by inquiring into. This axiom is a dual-fold rejection of the x-buddhist conception of the “collective mind,” which is intertwined with an idealist notion of mind, and its replacement by a non-idealist conception of the collective mind. Any theory of the collective subject must thus, in the last instance, be constituted materially, which is to say with an understanding of the determinant role of production as a historical situation, and with a material practice that is developed with this understanding in mind. But that is another matter, about which plenty has already been said. For now, our second axiom is this:

There is no “universal mind,” only existing historical and historically possible minds.

The transcendent theory of the collective mind posits some sort of “universal” mind that transcends ideological reality. This transcendent mind is infinite, and contains all possible configurations of mind within itself. All we have to do to access this vast repository of mind, then, is to lose ourselves in it through introspection, and to pretend that it exists as anything other than a socio-material phenomenon. Our second axiom, on the other hand, flips the script entirely. It posits that there are minds which do not yet exist, neither in the material world nor in some ideal form. They are possible, which is to say they can come into being, can be accessed, only through ideological practices, which are material and social.

I pose my question again, then:

What kinds of conversations are possible if we were to axiomatize the principle of non-transcendence?

Is there anyone else out there who wants to help me find out?

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48 thoughts on “A Desperate Call to Immanence

  1. “That all humans imagine and wish for transcendence is a fact as seemingly inescapable as life itself. Yet it is precisely this wish which all too often makes us forget that the aim of escaping life itself is unattainable…There is no “universal mind,” only existing historical and historically possible minds…”

    This essay is brilliant and beautiful. It argues persuasively for acceptance of an empirical reality (historically specific), a lived reality, a human reality that, as a matter of fact, cannot be ‘transcended’. Even the Buddha got old, sick and he died. There is no escaping the human condition.

    “Consciousness as the Transcendent Mind” (singular or collective) has been a problem in Buddhism forever. ‘Mind’ or consciousness becomes divinized as a stand-in for god, the eternal soul, etc. Mahayanists bristle when I tell them that ‘consciousness’ is impermanent and dependent on the life of the body, like everything else. Late Buddhism is plagued by Idealism, the concept that everything we experience exists only in our own minds. So that if one ‘imagines’ a transcendent life, one therefore (magically) accomplishes that. However, early Buddhism is plagued by the insistence that one can ‘extinguish’ basic instincts for survival, desire, feeling, cognition, even sensation. This is also nonsense. All of this is in denial of the basic biological facts of human/mammalian existence. Even if you could live that way for more than brief moments, why would you want to?

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    1. Shaun: I agree with you completely that the insistence that we ‘extinguish’ our desires, feeling, cognition, etc. is both nonsensical and undesirable.

      I would suggest that we be careful in speaking of things like desire, feeling, etc, as biological phenomena, however. Humans are obviously limited by the mind-independent world, but our subjectivity is always social, and as such these phenomena (especially ‘needs,’ as Lefebvre convincingly argues in his theory of needs) can only be understood socially. What kinds of desires, feelings, cognition, etc, do we have? How are these reproduced, and how do they function, socially? Such questions require a conversation about ideology, not biology,

      Ideology in general cannot be transcended, but ideologies can be changed. I’m unaware of any ideology that can be understood in biological terms better than it can be in ideological terms. This is why I think Tom’s distinction between the mind-dependent and mind-independent worlds is so important.

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  2. Yes! Let’s all be brutally honest, or at the very least genuinely curious, about the point been made here and the question at hand. This is after all the crux of the problem and the recurring dilemma and conflict that makes itself sometimes subtly and at others blatantly apparent in most of the discussions relating to x-buddhism and non-Buddhism. As FB puts it:

    “The yearning for transcendence is a yearning to escape out of finite humanity, and into the infinite (hence the desire for infinite plenitude)”

    … and most will go to any intellectual or anti-intellectual extreme to preserve the fantasy. Fear of meaninglessness and the hope for transcendence underpins I would say most of the arguments and opinions that get flung around in these forums.

    Now, what’s presented here is a fairly clear cut and quite convincing case for an axiom of non-transcendence, but the call to face an open ended question is not as obvious, for there is a position presented in the form of a desperate call to immanence. Forgive me if I have misunderstood the tone of this piece but it does come off as let’s scrap transcendence and go for immanence, rather than let’s scrap transcendence and entertain the possibility of immanence, as well as other possibilities including the possibility of no possibilities. As a process in the Hegelian sense of shifting from the thesis of transcendence to the antithesis of immanence (if in actual fact it can be considered the antithesis) and hence over the long term to some obscure synthesis which may include or completely decimate both, then it is a roaring affirmative from me to embarking on the project. If on the other hand this is definitive statement of Immanence as the The Truth then are we not just falling into the same trap as the x-buddhist?

    Immanence is captured at its best in the following statement:

    “A truth is a brutal discovery of an immanent world, of its limitations, of itself as a necessary fragmentation of totality, these “fragments” being the finite instances of human experience and of human Worlds”

    I think a lot of what is said here is exactly why we can’t even rest in this idea and these words themselves since they are subject to the same limitations and the same fragmentation from totality as everything else. To say “A Truth is a brutal discovery…” is making a value judgment on totality that according to the the rest of the statement is unknowable because of “the finite instances of human experiences and human worlds”. This could be a joyous discovery for some and an absolute disaster for others. Ontologically this is a can of worms that has barely been cracked and probably unmanageable once the infinite squirming of slimy presuppositions come flooding out.

    So how do we get to the satisfactory articulation of this liminal state of being or free fall that voraciously ravages all with a passionate disinterest?

    I will consider this as just another step in the act of ruination, blindly opening up to the endless complexity and imaginative opportunity that arises from a participatory intellectual entropy.

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    1. Mitro: I would say that it is not the “fear of meaninglessness” which underpins the yearning for transcendence, but rather the fear of social and ideological responsibility. Nobody really fears meaninglessness or relativism. Just the opposite: people fear strong ideological commitment and the necessity of social action.

      Your comment, in my view, partially displays the very kind of transcendence I want to reject. When I say ‘transcendence,’ I mean not just transcendence to some other dimension (or extra-dimension), but also a transcendence of our immanent social condition, which in our case is capitalism. I want to move beyond the kind of metaphysical conversations that force us to remain within the immanent/transcendent problematic in the first place. I do not want to “entertain the possibility of immanence,” much less “the possibility of no possibilities.” I’m not sure what the latter statement is supposed to mean.

      With respect to social formations, there is the actual (e.g. capitalism) and the possible. I am interested in turning the possible into the actual. This requires us to move past the “balance” of transcendence and immanence which you seem to be proposing, and to commit to talking about the actual state of affairs in our world, which is to say we have to have a conversation, first and foremost, about capitalism.

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      1. Thanks for the response FB. I’d just like to throw some additional points your way.

        I am not sure what the evidence or argument is behind your psychosocial/ philosophical assessment of people’s reasons for fanatically clinging to transcendence. You say that “Nobody really fears meaninglessness or relativism. Just the opposite: people fear strong ideological commitment and the necessity of social action.” Can you please elaborate on how this might be the only state that leads to transcendental fetishes?

        I agree with most of your second paragraph. My point here was not to use the potentially perpetual debate of transcendence versus immanence as a loop hole to escape the social fiasco at hand and allow for what Glenn referred to as just another one of the ‘innumerable iterations’ or manifestations of the transcendental truth. I agree that we need to polish this silver bullet and send it hurtling straight through the heart of the ‘endlessly harassing un-dead’. I am however curious about Shaun’s comment of “I would say be careful about saying there are no ‘transcendent truths’ as an absolutist statement” and Glenn’s question about what he meant by that which went unanswered. At least from my side, questioning the absolutist approach to everything including immanence is not at all about preserving the possibility of some semblance of transcendence but more about being truthful with regards to what can be known. Even if that means that we just accept that all we can tangibly know is within immanence and the rest is unknown so let’s just get on with tackling the nuances and consequences of this social physical and social matrix and stop fluffing around with unverifiable metaphysical and ontological theories and possibilities. Maybe what I am bringing up here is purely a matter of semantics or maybe there is another hidden transcendental demon in it. If you see him, please let me know?

        So from here, how do we start talking about the social formations, especially capitalism in a way that has not already been talked about to death by many throughout history including more recently Zizek and his endless and unrelenting expositions, which allows us to turn the possibilities into actualities? What sort of dialectical practice would shift us from the mere ramblings that would be at risk of being no different to the philosophical discourses that we are trying to leave behind, to the lived experience of social transformation? Other than the axiom that you propose which I am all in for, is there a goal other than the transformation of capitalism into something else that we will leave up to the random intellectual forces of non-transcendent dialogue?

        Whatever the case, it seems that a group that agree to the axiom is a first step, and from what you are saying, the trash community is not it.

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  3. “This is a failure, as stressed ad nauseam on Speculative Non-Buddhism and over at The Faithful Buddhist, to grasp the objectively meaningful difference between the mind-independent world and the mind-dependent world.”
    And this is why I would say be careful about saying there are no ‘transcendent truths’ as an absolutist statement. The laws of physics that shape the universe are a kind of transcendent truth in that they do not depend on my existence or my knowing about them. However, my existence is shaped by the laws of physics and my/our human scientific knowledge of them is limited. Those ‘mind independent’ realities are what I would consider to be ‘transcendent truths’. The question is whether they are the most salient truths in terms of human experience.

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  4. Shaun. I wonder if you mean to say that we should careful about claiming there are no transcendental truths. As I understand it, since Kant we take “transcendence” to mean the kinds of cognitive/emotional theological/metaphysical modes that Chaim discusses, and “transcendental” to mean a really existing something (“the laws of physics”) that escapes our immediate sensorium but nonetheless can be reliably reasoned to ground the very possibility of knowledge and experience, a priori, as Kant puts it.

    This is a really important post, I feel. I also feel strongly that moving forward in our thinking about practice and action will require putting to rest once and for all the seductions of transcendence. We will spend the rest of our lives trapped here otherwise. For, contrary to being “ineffable,” the Divine is, as Nick Srnicek puts it, “infinitely effable:” there are innumerable iterations of it, and the instant you’ve snuffed out one, another appears. And let’s be clear that it also has political, secular, atheistic, philosophical, etc., manifestations. I behold its radiant countenance even in hardcore materialist, atheist, anti-humanist, anarchist circles—as, for instance, “individual liberty,” and other idealist-tinged concepts. The Divine is The Endlessly Harassing Undead.

    Indeed, how to kill the Undead? Kant says:

    “Transcendental illusion…does not cease even after it has been uncovered and its worthlessness clearly revealed by transcendental criticism (for instance, the illusion inherent in the proposition: ‘The world must have a beginning in time’). The cause of this is that there exists in our reason (considered subjectively as a faculty of human knowledge) fundamental rules and maxims of its use, which have the appearance of objective principles. And this leads us to regard the subjective necessity of a certain connection of our concepts for the benefit of the understanding as an objective necessity in the determination of things in themselves.”

    In other words, the very powers of reason that enable us to see through the illusion that is transcendence are equally capable of conjuring that very illusion!

    This is why I am with Chaim is saying: Let us posit non-transcendence as an axiom of our communal thought and dialogue, and see what ensues from there.

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    1. This clarifies some things, Glenn, thank you. I would of course have to reject Kant’s “fundamental rules and maxims” which constitute a “subjective necessity.” But the distinction between transcendental and transcendent is an important one.

      The yearning for transcendence can function as an avoidance of transcendental reality (in the case of some Vedantic and some x-buddhist ideology) as well as social reality, or of social reality itself. This is why, I think, it’s entirely possible as you point out for “hardcore materialists” and atheists to invoke transcendence without noticing it. They may not posit some transcendent realm, and may be insistent on establishing the transcendental as a necessity (i.e. the mind-independent world), but they then want to collapse the two in an attempt to escape the social. When I’m arguing for non-transcendence, I am arguing both for an anti-transcendence with respect to the mind-independent world but more importantly with respect to the social.

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  5. “This is why I am with Chaim is saying: Let us posit non-transcendence as an axiom of our communal thought and dialogue, and see what ensues from there.”

    I’m totally down with this. We’ve already had enough discussion about transcendence (for thousands of years); it’s time to turn our attention to what has been neglected (immanence), by provisionally accepting the axion of non-transcendence.

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  6. But I want to bring up one point to Failed, T. Pepper and the Nons: You all think that there is some kind of correspondence between what a religion ‘thinks’ or teaches, i.e. its ideology, and how it behaves. There is no bleedin’ correspondence between ideology and behavior. That was the critique I made of Thanissara’s book ‘Time to Stand Up’, this belief that if you change the ideology of the religion, you will somehow change how it acts in the world, how it regards the world, how it treats people. There is no such f’n correspondence between ideology and behavior. Or it’s so weak as to be ‘statistically insignificant.’ Buddhist doctrine is extremist about non-violence; yet two of the most Buddhist countries in the world (Myanmar and Sri Lanka) are engaged in violent genocide and ethnic cleansing of minority populations.There is no f’n correspondence between ideology and behavior. That’s why I don’t focus on ideology. I look at how religionists actually behave.That’s why changing ideology doesn’t change the behavior of the religionists (whoever they are, Buddhist or otherwise, lay or ordained or otherwise). My focus on ideology is purely for my own liberation, the de-institutionalization of my own mind.

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    1. Shaun: What do you make of Craig’s suggestion that ideology as beliefs-in-practice solves (or at least brings light to) the issue you raise regarding the disconnect between beliefs and practices? With this understanding of ideology, there is no possibility of there being a disconnect between belief in practice. It suggests that a sex offender guru does not actually believe in compassion or freedom for desire: quite simply, claims to the contrary are rhetoric, not belief. If they did not believe that it is desirable and morally acceptable to rape women, they would not do so.

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      1. How ideology functions: by turning the desires and aspirations of the oppressed into mechanisms for their subjectification. You want liberation and enlightenment? You want to get all the way there in one lifetime? Suck my dick. That’s how ideology works. You want to build an enlightened society where no one works under a Capitalist regime, where everyone produces only for the well-being of all? Let’s build a perfect society in Jonestown, Ghiana where we can live that way forever. Drink the kool-aid. But just make sure you turn over all your cash and possessions firs. I need a Bently.

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      2. To Shaun below:

        Ideology is ideology it’s not necessarily good or bad. Of course I’d say Jim Jones ideology is full of suffering and so I’d reject it. There is no such thing as some non-ideological state of being. If an ideology can bring us so much suffering the an ideology can end suffering. THE ideology right now is capitalism and it is built on exploitation in all of our relationships with each other. Your ideology where everyone produces for good of all seems pretty good to me. How do we get there? We can claim an beliefs and practices where this is the case. An ideology where exploitation is not a belief in practice. This may be simplifying, but we can technically have any ideology we intentionally choose. Now, how do we get beyond the current ideology? I think the sole focus on capitalism is the way to go. But if nobody understands ideology then we are stuck in the beliefs in practice of capitalism. Many times I see these barriers to be old arguments or flinching. Drinking the kool-aid. Ideological awareness and choice is precisely the opposite of drinking the kool-aid.

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  7. I find the definition of ideology as ‘beliefs in practice’ solves the problem of the perceived disconnect between ideology and behavior. Have we ever really been intentional and changed ideologies? If the same practices continue, then the ideology is the same, no? One’s ideology could claim non-violence, but practice genocide and the belief, whether conscious or not, is that some violence is obviously necessary.

    Shaun-isn’t this idea that you using ideology to deinsitutionalize your mind ideological? A deinstitutionalized mind seems like a transcendent concept to me.

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  8. No, the move to deinstitutionalize my mind is not ‘transcendent.’ It’s an attempt to maintain basic sanity. I’m using the critique of ideology to deconstruct my own brainwashed thinking.

    Actually, if you really want to see how to thoroughly critique and deconstruct Buddhism, read Matthew Remski’s 21 Questions on Shambhala. He examines the behavior and power dynamics of the organization, and the total disconnect between ideology and actual behavior (not ‘practice’, which is just another form of ideology).

    http://matthewremski.com/wordpress/reddit-ama-21-questions-on-shambhala/

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    1. Shaun, read Craig’s comment again. He didn’t ask whether the move to “deinstitutionalize” your mind was transcendent. He was asking whether it was ideological. The point being, of course, that any goal of “de-institutionalization” is the replacement of one ideology with another.

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      1. Right. If I deconstruct the authoritarian ideology of Buddhism (ancient or modern, East or West), then I am left with the Capitalist ideology of the present system. But I have already (as much as is humanly possible) deconstructed Capitalist ideology. I’ve spent 30 years studying sociology to do just that, which is not to say that I have ‘rid myself’ of Capitalist ideology, but that I understand something about how it works. Your reference to LeFebvre is a nice addition to that toolbox of deconstruction. So you are involved in the project of deconstructing or undermining Capitalist ideology, to be replaced with what? Socialism? Marxism? Buddhist Wokeness? I’m not sure what your project is, but I’d like to know.

        All I’m asking is, if you switch out Buddhist authoritarianism for Buddhist Marxism or some other ideology, do you think that is going to change anybody’s behavior in a Buddhist institution? Perhaps you should read B. Scofield’s “How a Cult Infiltrated the California Institute of Integral Studies”. https://gurumag.com/how-a-cult-infiltrated-the-california-institute-of-integral-studies/
        It’s the story of how a political cult was established in the Cultural Anthropology Dept. of the CIIS. Yes, there are political cults, Marxist cults (Jonestown, The People’s Temple: https://www.history.com/topics/crime/jonestown). In fact the whole field of cult research developed out of the study of political cults, starting with Maoist re-education camps, which Communist China has now resurrected as Muslim re-education camps to repress Islam in China.

        Please read my essay on radical political cults, and how I recognized and escaped from a Buddhist political cult: https://engagedharma.net/2018/09/16/extremist-political-groups-act-like-cults/

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  9. Mitro, you say:

    I am not sure what the evidence or argument is behind your psychosocial/ philosophical assessment of people’s reasons for fanatically clinging to transcendence.

    I would suggest that the very nature of this comment thread proves my point quite clearly. Again, when I refer to ‘transcendence,’ I am talking about not just transcending physical reality but also (and even more so) social reality. When I say ‘immanence,’ I am talking about our actual, human situation of ideology which, at the moment is primarily the ideology of capitalism.

    So when I say we need to focus on immanence, my intention is to redirect the conversation away from conversations about transcendence and toward capitalism. I am arguing that any attempt to avoid talking about ideology, by instead trying to make ideology non-ideological (be it by invoking ‘biological instincts’ or transcendent realms), is attempting to transcend the social without acting on it.

    So from here, how do we start talking about the social formations, especially capitalism in a way that has not already been talked about to death by many throughout history including more recently Zizek and his endless and unrelenting expositions, which allows us to turn the possibilities into actualities? What sort of dialectical practice would shift us from the mere ramblings that would be at risk of being no different to the philosophical discourses that we are trying to leave behind, to the lived experience of social transformation? Other than the axiom that you propose which I am all in for, is there a goal other than the transformation of capitalism into something else that we will leave up to the random intellectual forces of non-transcendent dialogue?

    It is not enough to talk about capitalism, of course. It’s certainly necessary to do so, in order to understand just what capitalism is. I agree that the goal here is to create practices. This very dialogue, in my view, constitutes a practice, but I think regular, in-person community is essential, and this is what is most difficult to come across, and what I wanted to address in this article. I am not seeking to submit to “random intellectual forces of non-transcendent dialogue.” I’m not quite sure what you mean by this. Mass action, not “random” forces, is what we need. We have to start somewhere.

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  10. Failed Buddhist: please explain to me, because I’m sure you have a good explanation, how the pursuit and privileging of an alternate ideology to replace Capitalism (whatever that may be and I’d sure like to know which ideology you have in mind) is equivalent to or is in furtherance of the “Desperate Call to Immanence”? How is “ideology” of any kind the same as “immanence”? Or how does ideology of any kind further the pursuit of understanding immanence?I guess I had thought that immanence referred to something like ‘actual lived reality’ or what I call ’empirical facts’. Maybe your definition of ‘immanence’ is different than mine.

    Even classical Marxists acknowledge that ideology is nothing more than propaganda to justify existing economic relations, and to interpret the facts of class relations in a way that is favorable to the dominant class. Classical Marxist acknowledge that ideology bears no relation to the facts of actual lived reality (immanence?), but is used to manipulate the classes into acting against their own interests. So how does pursuing an alternate ideology yield a “Desperate Call to Immanence?”

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  11. FB, that clarifies a lot. So anything that attempts to escape, bypass, avoid dealing with or obfuscates the reality of our physical and more importantly social situation is transcendence, is that right? Is a taxonomy of trancendence important here in order to classify the main groups of transcendent practices? I think this would be helpful as I can see this going well beyond all the obscure transcendental ventures that have already been mentioned into the realm of activities of daily living including vices like intoxication, gambling, entertainment, socialising etc. Are these not also in a sense practices with the intent of taking one away from the dire social matters that our energies should be focused upon?

    In your concluding remarks you say:

    “I am not seeking to submit to ‘random intellectual forces of non-transcendent dialogue’. I’m not quite sure what you mean by this. Mass action, not random forces is what we need”.

    Well, that was far from obvious in your final statement on the axiom of non-transcendence and what conversation might be possible. At no point is action mentioned in the piece but only the possibility of more talk that is undirected and open as long as it does not contravene the axiom hence my reference to “random intellectual forces of non transcendent dialogue”.

    In terms of moving this forward, I think the mass action is a bit premature, until you have successfully recruited a big enough army. So it seems discourse will remain the most valuable tool for a while longer, unless of course you want to talk about dumpster diving and more modest group practices like shitting on governor’s doorsteps which I am happy to participate in as well

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    1. Mitro:

      Yes, we need to have discussions about the “realm of activities of daily living.” This is what I mean by ideology. The “vices” you mention such as “intoxication, gambling, entertainment” are not practised with the intent of “taking one away” from ideology, however. They are the ideology. They are, moreover ideologies which are “secondary” or subordinate to capitalism as a mode of production, and the relations which it involves. They are therefore ideologies that function to reproduce capitalism, to ensure that it cannot be challenged.

      I’m not sure how I could have been more clear that I am interested in material social action. I am operating from the premise that we are always already participating in such actions, and I am calling transcendence any philosophy which attempts to obscures this fact. Capitalism in particular is a form of mass action, since it constitutes the dominant mode and relations of production, and social relations more broadly. It logically follows that an attempt to replace capitalism requires mass action to that effect. I’m really not sure how you can fail to grasp such a basic and obvious point. Capitalism is the dominant ideology, it is practised and reproduced en masse, and thus we need to change our ideologies en masse to replace the dominant ideology.

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      1. FB: Ok, I am fine with the first part.

        But no, the call to action was and still is not as clear as you might imagine. I understand very well that our ideologies need to change en masse to replace the dominant one. This claim has been put forward by many and is far from unique to you and these blogs. My point is that material social action is barely represented in these expositions other than as an idea, apart from the fact that there is a discussion that keeps getting sidetracked by varying types of nuances. We don’t need to understand the intellectual details ad nauseum to act. Plenty of revolutions have been conceived and executed on much less including a fear that there will not be bread to eat tomorrow, and have learnt from their mistakes along the way. Rather than creating action this dialogue is delaying it and obscuring it… almost like a form of analysis paralysis.

        If we are to start actually talking about and taking social material action what do you suggest? Rather than continuing to attempt to justify your position why not put something forward that is practical? Let’s talk tangible action and the implications of it.

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  12. Failed Buddhist, T. Pepper and all: any, any ANY ideology, regardless of content, can be used to establish authoritarian regimes that dominate and oppress people. Not that content is irrelevant, but what’s most instrumental is HOW ideology is deployed within RELATIONS OF POWER, and that what we must foreground and understand is those relations of power.

    If you read Matthew Remski’s work, even the most silly and banal ideology of asana yoga can be deployed as an instrument of power over the participants. What we have to look at within Buddhist institutions, and all institutions, is the relations of power, how they are obscured and/or valorized by ideology, how they are deployed, by whom, against whom and for what purpose.

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  13. @craigneely: “There is no such thing as some non-ideological state of being.” There is no state of being that is not subjectified; subjectification involves ideology, but is much more than that. It involves the economic, environmental and material conditions of our survival; governance, legal and medical systems, education and culture. All of these systems are shaped and influenced by ideology, but they are not synonymous with ‘ideology’. You can’t reduce all of society to just ‘ideology.’

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  14. There is so much in this discussion – really – it’s a great thread (thanks FB) but I’d like to see some of the questions thrown out answered in greater detail. I still don’t have any sense of how your ‘vision’ of a non-Capitalist society would materialize FB – by what means – methods (and subjugation – because I’m quite sure it would involve subjugation). I agree with Shaun on all points of ‘ideology’.
    Personally – I’m not so ready to throw out a consideration/discussion of transcendence. Transcendence is inextricably linked to human desire. Please don’t tell me that human desire is totally fuelled by ‘ideology’ – I can’t accept that argument.
    In short – can you answer more fully Mitro’s question as its also mine. Thanks.

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    1. I would say that the whole idea of human desire is romantic ideology. When we assume things like human desire are inherent or natural then we lose any sort of ideological awareness and basically reify the existing ideology. In this case, capitalism. Everything is ideological. Our beliefs in practice is ideology and everything we do is beliefs in practice.

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  15. I think how we discuss what we mean by ‘human desire’ needs to be nuanced. On one level there is of course a strong correlation between desire and ideology.
    Maybe I’m trying to enter a conversation too late in the day (most individuals writing here and on SNB seem to have been grappling with the material for some time and have highly determined views).
    I want to understand what hooks the human subject into transcendence at a visceral level – I want to play with all those x buddhist materials that encourage/invoke a side stepping away from immanence. I don’t think I can do that without exploring more fully the relationship between desire/transcendence.
    In my view desire is, in part, inherent. We are born with primitive instincts – fear of loss, the need for attachment. These are not ideologies – but they can be expressed through ideologies and play out in numerous ways – including politically. Fear of loss/impermanence/death is a huge driver and the most compelling hook into transcendence. I’m just not convinced that concentrating wholly on Capitalism provides an answer that satisfies me – intellectually or emotionally.
    Again – late to the party – I’m not convinced that transcendence ‘necessarily’ saps the potential radical elements within x buddhism – either at the level of personal development or the call to social awareness/action.
    I seem so out of step with the dominant views here am I positioned in the x buddhist camp more strongly than I imagined and wasting my time trying to participate in the SNB project?
    That was a genuine question.

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    1. Paula: It’s fine to want to understand why people are drawn to transcendent promises, but this understanding is only possible through an understanding of ideology. You seem to think that there is something about the desire for transcendence that is non-ideological; that is to me no different from asserting that this desire itself is transcendent!

      Craig and Tom have said what needs to be said on the matter, but I would merely add that the fear of “loss” and “impermanence” are not what produce the desire for transcendence. Only ideologies, functioning within language, can produce such a desire. Nobody had the desire to be saved by Jesus before the ideology of Christianity existed. The reason for my insistence on the “axiom of strategies” is precisely that, in this way, ideology precedes subjectivity, including subjective desire. Again, if you think that there is such a thing as subjective desire which is not ideologically produced then you are asserting the existence of an independent atman which can have a subjectivity independent of an ideology. I reject this assertion.

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  16. I’m loathe to get involved in this particular discussion—I think Craig has already made the point I would want to make.

    However, I would suggest that it is the very opposite of “nuancing” to collapse together “desires” and “human instincts.” This may the the source of much of the misunderstanding—well, that and all the equivocal and imprecise uses of the terms “immanence” and “transcendence.”

    Surely we have an “instinct” for self preservation, and want to avoid pain, eat food, copulate, etc. But it is important to separate these biological “desires” from those “desires” that can only exist in a social, language-using species.

    Many people, for literally thousands of years, have tried to argue against this collapsing of the physical and the human—but today it seems more difficult than ever to make this point. I would suggest, as just one example but a short and particularly clear one, the essay “Self-Interpreting Animals” by Charles Taylor (in the book “Human Agency and Language: Philosophical Papers 1). Taylor clearly does believe in a transcendent soul. Nevertheless, he tries to explain why it is important to understand that many, perhaps most, of our emotions (and desires) are in fact socially constructed and cannot be explained by “primitive instinct” alone. Taylor’s essay may clear up some of the confusion on this matter, whether one agrees with him or not.

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    1. Tom – it is not my intention to ‘collapse together ‘desire’ and ‘human instincts’ ‘ and I was not suggesting an over-determination of ‘primitive instinct alone.’
      I will read the Charles Taylor essay to see if it helps clarify my thoughts, I also have your book downloaded to read at some point.
      As to the equivocal and imprecise use of the terms ‘transcendence’ and ‘immanence’ perhaps you could direct to a reliable source of clarification as to how that imprecision plays out in discussion and muddies the waters.
      Thanks.

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  17. Shaun: You are confusing ideology and science. The Marxist science of capitalist social formations is not an ideology. It provides a scientific description of class societies. So it would make no sense for me to say that I want to “replace” the ideology of capitalism with the science of Marxism. I’m not sure what your point about cults are. What is cult-like about a science of class societies?

    I can’t offer you a “vision” of should replace capitalism, any more than a peasant living in a feudal era could tell you what should replace feudalism. That’s not how revolution works. We don’t have to demand a detailed utopian vision for the future in order to change our ideological practices today.

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    1. “The Marxist science of capitalist social formations is not an ideology.” Oh Really? Marxism is not an Ideology?And everything else in the world that is not “The Marxist science of capitalist social formations” is therefore, an ideology? Ok, jigs up. I’m not letting you go on this. Expect a fight. You’re nothing but a hardcore Marxist ideologist, trying to pass off Marxism as ‘immanence,’ and labeling everything else as ‘transcendence.’ Marxism is therefore, YOUR TRANSCENDENT IDEOLOGY, the perfect position of knowing and acting in the world, and all we have to do is think like a Marxist Scientist, and we will have magically escaped ‘transcendence’ and ‘ideology.’

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      1. My claim is that there is such a thing as ideology, and that it is possible to have objective knowledge of what it is and how it functions. So, yes, there is a difference between ideology and science. Are you denying this?

        Again, I’m claiming precisely that we cannot “magically escape” ideology, but that we can understand what ideology is. Your comment is kind of like saying that a scientist studying the structure of the atom is somehow attempting to transcend the atom. This is absurd. Why do you insist that it is impossible to have a science of ideologies, or that such a science must be some kind of attempt to transcend its object of study? What is so terrifying and oppressive about gaining objective knowledge of our ideologies?

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  18. Shaun:

    The source of our impasse can be summed up when you say:

    How ideology functions: by turning the desires and aspirations of the oppressed into mechanisms for their subjectification.

    This is not at all how I understand ideology to function. As I say in my response to Paula, I take seriously Althusser’s contention that ideology precedes subjectivity. There are no subjects prior to ideology, who are then “oppressed” by capitalism. Capitalism as an ideology preceded me as a subject, and it is within the practice of this ideology that I am formed as a subject of capitalism. To think that all ideology is, is an oppressive force that imposes itself on our authentic self, is to believe in a transcendent atman who precedes ideology and that can be oppressed by it. This makes it impossible to consider that we are all collectively responsible for changing our ideologies. The idea that we should resist becoming subjects because all ideology is oppressive is simply an absurd and impossible demand. What we have to do is consciously choose which ideologies to be subjects of. This cannot be done if we are constantly terrified of being “oppressed” by the social.

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    1. “As I say in my response to Paula, I take seriously Althusser’s contention that ideology precedes subjectivity. There are no subjects prior to ideology, who are then “oppressed” by capitalism.”
      I never said that subjectivity is NOT preceded by ideology. I said subjectivity, which yes, precedes the subject, INCLUDES ideology, but that is not all that it includes. Unless you reduce absolutely everything to ideology, which is apparently what you’re doing.

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  19. @failedbuddhist “My claim is that there is such a thing as ideology, and that it is possible to have objective knowledge of what it is and how it functions. So, yes, there is a difference between ideology and science. Are you denying this?”

    No I’m not denying this and yes this is what I have been saying all along. But what I object to is that you have decided that scientific Marxism is “not an ideology” when in fact it is just another ideology–an ideology that has been constructed for the purpose of dismantling capitalism.And I have no problem with that either. I believe that’s what T. Pepper’s project is about–that we construct alternative ideologies to deconstruct and dismantle dominant ideologies. It’s Gramsci’s ‘counter-hegemonic’ argument. We can construct and deploy counter-hegemonies that unmask dominant ideologies..

    “To think that all ideology is, is an oppressive force that imposes itself on our authentic self, is to believe in a transcendent atman who precedes ideology and that can be oppressed by it.”

    First of all, I never said there was anything like an “authentic self” nor do I believe there is such a thing. I never said there was a ‘transcendent atman who precedes ideology’. In fact I believe and I have said repeatedly that we are all subjectified, SUBJECTIVITY PRECEDES us and that ideology is part of that subjectification. Language precedes us as well, we are born into language (Lacan, Foucault and the rest). That’s another condition of our subjectivity that precedes us.

    “What is so terrifying and oppressive about gaining objective knowledge of our ideologies?” There is nothing terrifying or oppressive about gaining knowledge of our ideologies. That is liberation. What is disturbing is that you have removed “Scientific Marxism” from the ‘universe’ of ideologies that need to be analyzed as such. We need to deconstruct ‘Scientific Marxism’ just like we deconstruct every other ideology that subjects us.

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  20. Once again you are confusing science and ideology. You continue to insist on collapsing the two, and I do not know how to respond other than to keep pointing out this error.

    Yes, my ideology of fighting capitalism is an ideology. But that ideology, again, is not the same thing as a science of ideology. There is my ideology of anti-capitalism, and then there is objective, obtainable knowledge of what capitalist ideology (and ideology in general) is and how it functions. These are not the same thing. A scientific analysis of capitalism does not equal an ideological commitment to its destruction. Just like the scientific understanding of germs does not equal the ideological commitment to ensuring that our society includes structures and institutions which help prevent disease from spreading.

    Of course, science is always motivated by ideology, and so I agree with you completely that challenging capitalism is an ideology. But, again, in order to challenge capitalism, we need to know what capitalism is, and for that we need to use science, not ideology. To insist that any attempt to analyse capitalism is synonymous with anti-capitalist ideology is just absurd. The scientific understanding of germ theory, which led to a massive reduction in the prevalence of contagious disease, was not an ideology. It was a science, even though science was used for ideological purposes. I am not at all attempting to deny that I use the scientific analysis of capitalism for ideological purposes. But I must insist on the difference between the two.

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    1. FB, you say;

      “Once again you are confusing science and ideology. You continue to insist on collapsing the two, and I do not know how to respond other than to keep pointing out this error”

      Maybe you should begin with your definition of science and how it categorically differs to your understanding of ideology and is hence exempt from the criticism of being ideological ( a term which you use in a much narrower sense that many would contend is the case). Paul Feyerbend for one was vehemently opposed to the existence of universal methodological rules attributed to science and argued endlessly that it was just another ideology, and a very sinister one at that since it cloaks itself in objectivity and neutrality, hence having a stronger grip on people’s mind than any other. I think this debate of whether science is an ideology or not is far from finished yet you seem to present it like it is.

      What I am finding here is that many of the arguments are based on customized definitions of concepts and as we all very well know, the devil is in the detail.

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  21. Mitro:

    By ideology, I am referring to human social practices that constitute our intentions for how to act in and manipulate the natural world, and the means by which we go about realizing those intentions (including the means by which we reproduce those means and intentions).

    By science, I am referring to the use of language to describe the way the world actually is, independent of what we wish it to be. Scientific knowledge can thus be with respect to the physical, non-human world, as well the human realm of ideologies.

    Since science uses human language, and since human language is ideological, our use of science is always ideological. That is to say, we use science in order to help us reproduce our ideologies. But that is not the same thing as saying that science and ideology are the same, because again, science constitutes a linguistic description of how the world actually is.

    So you see why I am utterly perplexed by the position that science is “just another ideology.” You seem to be insisting either that there is no way the world actually is, and so we cannot describe the world it, or that there is a way the world actually is, but that we cannot describe it at all. Both of these positions are so absurd that I simply cannot believe that you can possibly hold either consistently. If you believed either of these things, you would be incapable of describing the world and thus would be incapable of having this conversation. You are obviously perfectly fine holding beliefs both about the physical world and about human social formations, and yet you insist on being unconvinced that what you are yourself doing is possible. Do you really not see how absurd and childish this is? Moreover, do you really not see how such a ridiculous error can only prevent us from gaining agency over our ideologies?

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    1. Hi Failed Buddhist,

      You say “science constitutes linguistic DESCRIPTION of how the world actually is”. It is a strong (absolute) statement indeed.

      How about “linguistic APPROXIMATION of how the world actually is”, instead?

      And as to your call to immanence, and being fed up with capitalism, I fully support you.

      To start with, I propose the term “x-transcendence”, as in x-Buddhism.

      Why? It seems to me that all transcendence related philosophies, religions, ideologies, practices, and the like are driven (produced, supported, defended, advocated, preached, proselytised, etc.) by mind severed from the body. And although one can arrive at a transcendence based position via mind functioning in such a way, there seems to be no way to come anyway near immancence without the engagement (as full as possible) of the body as well. The subject has been covered, for example, both theoretically and practically, by Wilhelm Reich. And although he is a bit too absolutist for my tase, his The Murder of Christ (1966) is definitely worth a read.

      With respect,

      Marek

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  22. @FailedBuddhist “Since science uses human language, and since human language is ideological, our use of science is always ideological. That is to say, we use science in order to help us reproduce our ideologies. But that is not the same thing as saying that science and ideology are the same, because again, science constitutes a linguistic description of how the world actually is.”

    Thank you for making this argument for me because it saves me the trouble of writing it myself. “Scientific Marxism” = ‘Science’ that uses a human language and since human language is ideological (therefore) our use of science is ideological

    Including “Scientific Marxism.”

    “Marxism” also uses human language and “since human language is ideological” as you said (therefore) our linguistic use of “Marxism” is ideological as well.

    But I am not as totalizing in my definition of ideology as you are. Ideology shapes and influences; it does not constitute the sum total of all social phenomenon, as you seem to imply. Following Foucault and Derrida, there are gaps and aporias (GW) and mistakes and misalignments that reveal the the RELATIONS OF POWER that also shape social phenomena.

    RELATIONS OF POWER is one of the things you haven’t addressed yet.

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  23. FB:

    Although I agree with Shaun, I would take it one step further in saying that it is your very definition of ideology that strategically attempts to preclude science, the definition of which is absolutely critical to your argument. In a slightly broader understanding of ideology (and I’m not talking much broader), your science as the “use of language to describe the way the world actually is, independent of what we wish it to be” is itself one of many “human social practices that constitute our intentions for how to (mentally) act in and (mentally) manipulate the natural world, and the means by which we go about realizing those intentions (including the means by which we reproduce those means and intentions). The very act of wanting to scientifically describe and understand the world according to an assumption of “the way the world actually is”, is based on a belief that it is the right and only way to truly and purely understand it. This is a serious fundamentalist ideology, and as we have seen throughout history when certain so called “facts” at a particular time where turned on their head. Just on an aside, there are many Indigenous, religious and spiritual communities and societies that also have quite elaborate descriptions based on assumptions of “the way the world actually is” rather than what they wish it to be (which is far from necessarily problematic anyway as this whole blog obviously wishes the world was different, does it not?), but I’m almost certain you would not classify these as science according to your western very methodologically and rule obsessed perspective of what it entails.

    Your angle here is extremely arrogant and misguided and i think misses some of the very problematic nuances relating to scientific knowledge and practice. I am also learning that you have this very typical tactical approach to rebuttals to try corner your opponent into nonsense positions. You say:

    “So you see why I am utterly perplexed by the position that science is “just another ideology.” You seem to be insisting either that there is no way the world actually is, and so we cannot describe the world it, or that there is a way the world actually is, but that we cannot describe it at all”.

    Is it really this black and white or does it just suit you that way? Surely one can agree that there is a way that the world actually is but that one’s understanding and description of it is always limited and fraught with bias and ideology? Your yourself argued these limitations to me on another comment on an SNB post and yet now you praise and celebrate this treasure of science that sits on its ivory tower above and beyond all ideology, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent even though we don’t yet actually completely know it. Sounds a bit like God or maybe even Atman.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love science and live by it day to day, but I do not to any degree believe it’s the be all and end all or exempt from being an ideology even in a slightly tweaked version of your definition.

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  24. Shaun: I am not making the argument you seem to think I am making. The fact that we practice science for ideological reasons does not mean that science and ideology are the same thing. I really want to insist on the distinction between science and ideology. Given that the discussion here has turned into a discussion about Marxism, I must make another distinction, between the Marxist science of social formations and Marxist political ideology. We seem to be conflating these two, and I don’t think we should be.

    The Marxist science of social formations is not an ideology. It is a science. Marxist political ideology, on the other hand, is an ideology (one often associated with the Marxist science of social formations). The latter does not in any way necessarily follow from the former (and so when I speak of the Marxist science of social formations I am referring specifically to precisely the Marxist science of social formations, and not Marxist political ideology). Thus we have plenty of “economists” who “appreciate” and “find use” in Marx’s analysis, but do not share any ideological resemblance to Marxist political ideology, still being intent on reproducing capitalism.

    When someone offers an unscientific claim, such as that our desires are “biological instincts,” they are making an ideological claim. Such a claim can be refuted scientifically, with a correct description of what desires actually are given the ideological functioning of a particular social formation. This is because there really is a way that the world, including human social formations, actually is, and we can objectively know and describe this world through science. The claim that certain desires are social constructions that function in the reproduction of certain ideologies is a scientific claim. Such a claim would have to be elaborated through the scientific inquiry of the desires, and of the social formation, in question. People don’t just debate about ideology, as Mitro seems to believe. People also dispute facts about how the world actually is. The first kind of debate cannot be settled scientifically. We have to collectively choose our ideologies. The second kind of debate can is settled scientifically, by looking at how the world actually is.

    Therefore, it makes no sense to claim that the Marxist science of social formations is somehow a bad “replacement” for capitalism. Sciences don’t replace ideologies. Ideologies replace ideologies. We can learn to choose better ideologies only once we understand what ideology is in general, as well as the nature of the particular ideologies that constitute our social formation. To arrive at such an understanding requires a science of social formations, which Marx founded.

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  25. I am not sure why there is such a need to complicate transcendence and “Truth.” Just drop from my all divided thoughts such as “transcendence” or “immanence,” as well as sickness and health, youth and old age, birth and death. A wholeness is savored that then is beyond yet right through “transcendence” or “immanence,” as well as sickness and health, youth and old age, birth and death, here yet not in this world of “transcendence” and “immanence,” sickness and health, youth and old age, birth and death. Very easy. This “wholeness” which is simultaneously all the opposites and pieces of this world is then know as “Truth,” much as any taste, like the “Truth” of the taste and sweetness of vanilla ice cream on the tongue (whether or not one can break it down to its chemical formula, argue about whether the taste is subjective or objective or a bit of both or neither … it is this Taste. Very easy). Don’t muddle and miss the simple path of Liberation by tearing it too much to pieces. Gassho, Jundo

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