Monthly Archives: August 2012

On the Road

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Heading back to Asia tomorrow. I was initially feeling somewhat apprehensive about it, largely because I’ve had very little time to practice my Chinese this summer, but I woke up this past Sunday and could feel my entire being aching to go back East. I’ve talked about the dangers of craving, but it’s certainly possible to distinguish between positive desire and afflictive desire. This drive I’m feeling to go back to Asia and experience an entirely different culture from any that I’ve ever been in before is definitely a positive one, pushing me onward to do something substantial with myself and for the sake of my personal growth. I’m riding high on all sorts of energy right now, which is about to take me all the way to the roof of the world in Tibet. After my time spent in Dharamsala among a number of Tibetan exiles, I’m anticipating that it will be a particularly powerful experience for me. However, I’m doing my best to have as few expectations as posible, in regards to my experiences in both Tibet and China. More than anything, I’m really just looking forward to some time among the clouds after six weeks of being extraordinarily grounded.

I’m not particularly clear on what my Internet situation will be like once I arrive in Beijing at the end of August, but am certainly expecting some degree of censorship. I hope to continue writing but will have to consider my particular circumstances before committing to anything. Hope to communicate with you all soon.

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The Religion of Inevitable Progress Part 6: Lead Us Not Into Temptation-R.I.P RIP

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Nature is much more playful than purposeful, and the probability that it has no special goals for the future need not strike one as a defect.
-Alan Watts

Thus far this all seems incredibly bleak. We are faced with a situation in which it appears that Western culture has been systematically constructing and strengthening an ideology that will ultimately bring about its own destruction, all the while becoming further convinced that we’re getting closer to living in a Utopia.

So what can be done?

It seems entirely unreasonable to suggest that people give up religion in every possible form. As animals that rely on the construction of a deeply complex symbolic network to help us make sense of the world and function on a day to day basis, it would be impossible to complete eliminate religion from our psychologies. The only feasible solution would be to find a suitable ideology to replace the Religion of Inevitable Progress.

This certainly won’t be an easy process. For many, the mourning period may seem almost unbearable. RIP provides material comforts in a more efficient manner than nearly any other ideological system possibly could. It is so successful that many people don’t even seem to be aware that there’s a problem at all. Daily life is usually bearable enough and the artificial amusements are generally distracting enough that things seem good enough. Bad things happen, and people deal with them with varying degrees of grace, but, well, “that’s life.” But that doesn’t need to be life. Many of the problems we face are not cruel twists of fate that the Universe has thrown at us to torture us, but are caused by our fellow man. So what ideology would serve to mitigate many of our intraspecies injuries?

Huxley proposes a widespread acceptance of the Perennial Philosophy and social policies guided by one simple creed: lead us not into temptation. Human beings are remarkably adaptive animals that are incredible responsive to the environment in which we live. I’ve previously struggled with the idea of whether man is innately good or evil, but I think that it’s the wrong question to be asking. Far too much of what man is and does is connected to his surroundings for the idea of innate nature to need to come up. While there may be an answer to what man may be like at the most basic level, it isn’t a particularly pragmatic question to ask because we do not exist in a vacuum in which man’s innate nature is the principle guiding factor in behavior. So much of man’s actions seems to be driven by what appears to lead to the best outcomes for oneself. On the surface, this might sound incredibly similar to the assumptions that modern capitalism makes about man and his desire to act in self-interest, but this new religion would provide man with a very different sense of self-interest than our current economic incentives do. As Alan Watts has discussed, that man always acts for some good or pleasure, whether immediate or in the future, that really is to say no more than that “we do what we do, for if we always do what pleases us-even in committing suicide-there is no means of showing what pleases us apart from what we do.” Thus any discussion of man and his acting in self-interest is a real muddling business that is much more complicated than our current view of Homo Economicus would lead us to believe and appearing not to even say anything (or at least anything rational) at all. In many ways, self-interest is a rather meaningless term and it begins to make more sense to consider the whole rather than oneself as an individual part.

Man must be lead away from the temptation to covetousness, pride, cruelty, power lust, and, most importantly, uncharity, all of which are behaviors that are seriously damaging to one’s fellow man. While many of these types of behavior might appear to act in favor of one’s self-interest in a society governed by a capitalist mentality, they really only serve one favorably in terms of economic and social status successes (and arguably evolutionary in the Neo-Darwinian sense that social and economic success lead to increased productive success.) They do nothing to help better one’s internal states in any meaningful or long-lasting way; they merely patch up the inner flaws that gape wider and wider, never truly providing in the way that one thinks they might.

Man must come to see that the Perennial Philosophy is really the highest common factor in all the world’s major religions, a fact that Huxley spends an entire book elaborating upon and is certainly beyond the scope of being adequately being covered in this post. This isn’t to say that all religions in the world are ultimately saying the same thing, as they most certainly are not, but that there are a number of common threads running through them, many of which have unfortunately been obscured by centuries of institutional and political constructions and alterations.

These are not inherently religious ideas, but ones that should come naturally to any and every human of somewhat reasonable sensibilities: love, compassion, interdependence, and charity. In recent years, the Dalai Lama has been adamant in promoting these ideas under the label “secular ethics.” People must become accustomed to seeing the innumerable number of ways in which we effect everyone else and everything living on this planet, often times in ways that are quite apparent to us, but far more frequently to degrees that we could never even conceive to imagine. And as with the Religion of Inevitable Progress, this is not a religion to be paid attention to only on Sundays or when in a house of worship; it is one that must be actively lived in daily life, unconsciously guiding mans every action. Life itself must be lived as a continuous ritual in which every object in the surrounding world is regarded as a remarkable symbol of existence. Not only would adopting some form of secular ethics or Perennialism help to reduce the amount of harm that man inflicts upon his fellow man, but such a philosophy also makes the slings and arrows of life itself far more bearable, giving one the appropriate mindset to take them on as opportunities for personal growth rather than impediments on the path to future progress.

As far as the actual social, political, and economic organizations that can turn this religion into a living reality, decentralization is absolutely crucial. There must be widespread private ownership of land and the means of production must be organized on a more local scale. These rearrangements will help to reduce the temptation for ambitious individuals to act tyrannously, while democratic and cooperative local organizations will prevent this decentralization from becoming too rugged and disorganized. As I covered more thoroughly in an earlier post about Perennialism and EcoBuddhism, we sit on the potential cusp of a 3rd industrial revolution in which sustainable energy sources combine with the remarkable level of globalization we have reached over the past decade. As Jeremy Rifkin discusses in his book The Empathetic Civilization, we are being presented with the opportunity to create an open source sharing of energy in which renewable energy is produced locally and is then distributed on regional, national, and continental grids according to needs. And because the potential for harnessing renewable energies doesn’t rest on the same geographic considerations as harvesting fossil fuels does, every region is more or less equally capable of achieving self-sufficiency and sustainability. Through such a system mankind would have no choice but to become intimately aware of our inherent interconnectedness and the sense of a force that exists beyond that of the individualized consciousness, the force of life itself. In a very real sense, the central nervous system of every individual would be expanded, connecting man to his fellow man and fostering empathy and understanding.

It seems that our species has gone through many of the growing pains of globalization over the past century as people have come into contact with folks that are different and, consequently, appear threatening. But if the new generation that drives this 3rd industrial revolution is educated at an early age about secular ethics and many of the ideals of Perennialism, man will be in a much better position to adequately handle new cultures and experiences, allowing empathy and compassion, rather than fear and hatred, to flourish. As the Dalai Lama often likes to say, the past century has been one of war and conflict, but this next one can be one of dialogue and openness. The minds that made these problems are unlikely to be the same ones to solve them, placing the burden of change on the backs of the upcoming generations. Will we bear this task with optimism and courage, or shy away from it as has been done far too frequently, potentially dooming both the planet and our selves?

The Religion of Inevitable Progress Part 5: Living in a Society of Organized Lovelessness

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Aside from individual dissatisfaction with life and our potentially species-threatening imperialism against Nature, adherence to the Religion of Inevitable Progress also bears a number of other poisonous fruits. As we have shifted towards a culture of mass consumption and mass production to feed our need for external markers of our progress and success, we have demonstrated a lovelessness towards the men and women that must engage in the fool-proof monotonous tasks that such high levels of production require. While much of the actual physical handiwork that goes into the economics of mass production has been delegated to machines (though not all of it), there is still the interminable paperwork that such a regimented and bureaucratic system demands, numbing the minds and spirits of the individuals that must be employed to deal with them.

This culture of mass production can only persist through an accompanying culture of mass consumption, which is perpetuated on a daily basis through the efforts of mass advertising. In Western society, the desire to have the material means to sustain oneself has been elevated to an absolute obsession with consumption and the supposed joys it can bring. Somatotonia, the personality type associated with assertiveness and energy, has traditionally been systematically discouraged by societies for fear of the potential for power-loving aggressiveness to rise in the majority of the population. Modern advertisements, however, have actively worked to shift public consciousness in the opposite direction, seeking to persuade everybody to be as extroverted and uninhibitedly greedy as possible, “since of course it is only the possessive, the restless, the distracted, who spend money on the things that advertisers want to sell” (Huxley, 160). Modern advertising is really nothing more than the socially sanctioned and organized effort to extend and intensify craving (a fact that is mighty unfortunate considering that nearly all modern religions hold craving to be the most sure-fire route to a life of suffering.) Indeed, RIP could not continue unless the somatotonic ideal is promoted and proliferated, constantly encouraging people to work ceaselessly for the undoubtedly brighter future.

Going hand in hand with mass consumption and mass production is mass financing, a practice that has placed the ability to drive industry in the hands of a disproportionately small number of people, “thus reducing the sum of freedom among the majority and increasing the power of a minority to exercise a coercive control over the lives of their fellows” (Huxley, 94). This minority is comprised of a combination of private capitalists and governmental bureaucrats, working collaboratively to ensure each other’s continued economic and social success. This is a system that is hardly restricted to Western nations, but has pervaded nearly the entire world, producing a fairly uniform ground of loveless relationships, clothed in a variety of ways according to local culture and habits of thought. In America, this issue has come to a head in the recent Occupy Wall Street movement. Much of the public is finally catching onto the loveless relationships that drive modern capitalism and have resulted in the clash of the so-called 99% and 1%. (Keep in mind that Aldous Huxley issued these prophetic words in 1945, revealing an eerily remarkable foresight.) However disorganized and uninformed much of the OWS movement has been, I certainly find it heartening that much of these issues have been brought to the forefront of public attention. I’m optimistic that we can expect OWS to come back with greater organization and a more coherent and uniform message in the near future.

This historic lovelessness of the 1% toward the 99% has resulted in the “crowning superstructure of uncharity”: the organized lovelessness of the relationship between state and sovereign state, “a lovelessness that expresses itself in the axiomatic assumption that it is right and natural for national organizations to behave like thieves and murderers” (Huxley, 94). By its very definition, a sovereign national state is an organization that not only allows its members to steal and kill on the largest possible scale, but actually encourages them to do so under the guise of nationalism and patriotism. Since power is of its very essence indefinitely expansive, it cannot be checked except by colliding with another power, leading to many of the international conflicts we have seen throughout history, from tribal warfare up to the world wars. And since, in our modern society, those that instigate these conflicts are unlikely to be the ones that bear the full burden of their actions, the less privileged are often the ones that suffer.

Even while this self-perpetuating conflict of interests in which the 99% must face the consequences of the crimes committed by the 1% continues, it’s rare that an impetus for change will actually occur. So long as the costs are not too high, even the masses of the ruled will continue their nationalistic idolatry, relating the state to themselves-“a vast and splendid projection of the individual’s intrinsically insignificant ego” (Huxley, 122). Continuing to buy into this illusion elevates the suffering that RIP causes from the merely psychological pain of the individual to a societal-wide epidemic, striking on both the psychic and physical levels. As has been mentioned in an earlier post, many people find it easier to continue to bear these inner wounds so long as the external comforts continue to increase, as they traditionally have in America, rather than turning to face the truth of the matter. Hopefully, on the heels of the financial crisis and the uprising of the OWS movement, people will stay awake this time.

The Religion of Inevitable Progress Part 4: Sizzurp and Lambos Make Me Happy, Right?

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While it may not be possible to accurately weigh the net costs and benefits of our technological progress, we can at least examine the fruits of individual human experience: does modern man find his life to be satisfactory?

The answer this question would have to appear to be a resounding “no.” Clearly I’m in no position to speak for every person living in America today because there are hundreds of thousands of people for whom genuine happiness is very real, but I think I can pretty safely point to the general trend that people are not even remotely close to being as happy with their lives as they could be. Based on how amazingly fun and glamorous everyone makes their life appear on Facebook, people seem to be pretty adept at hiding their dissatisfaction with their existences. But digging a little deeper into these virtual facades reveals that a disturbingly large portion of the photos in which people appear happiest are the ones in which they are surrounded by alcohol. As Kendrick Lamar notes, “my generation sippin’ cough syrup like water…got a high tolerance when your age don’t exist.” Much of youth culture appears to be going on a particularly hedonistic bender in which immediate sensory gratification is favored over personal development and a serious consideration of tomorrow. If progress is inevitable, it probably won’t hurt to put oneself in a drug-induced stupor, right? And perhaps the upcoming generations are getting a sense that the future that all this progress is supposedly leading to might not even exist. In that case, might as well go out in a blaze of fucked up glory while we can.

Further pointing towards the state of dissatisfaction that much of America seems to live in is the prevalence of the idea of the midlife crisis in American culture, marking the period at which an individual becomes haunted by the specter of their wasted years, coming to the painful realization that life has not been quite so satisfactory as one has deluded oneself to believe. This realization is usually staved off through buying an attractive sports car or bigger house, finding a more attractive girlfriend or boyfriend, or by consuming a mountain of prescription drugs, all of which are hopefully amusing (or mind-number) enough to serve as a sufficient distraction, pushing away the discomfort of one’s true circumstances for just a bit longer. The world of modern man appears to be so dull that one must constantly divert his/her mind from being aware of this dullness through a variety of these artificial amusements. So long as we keep singing the national anthem of pussy, money, weed as loudly as we possibly can, we remain assured that we really, deeply, and truly are happy. Sometimes this can lead to intensely pleasurable experiences, but when the high dies down the experience often becomes disagreeable at best and agonizing at worst. William Law, a relatively unknown name and likely one of the greatest thinkers that Western society has produced, has questioned,

How many inventions are some people forced to have recourse to in order to keep off a certain inward uneasiness, which they are afraid of and know not whence it comes? Alas, it is because there is a fallen spirit, a dark aching fire within them, which has never had its proper relief and is trying to discover itself and calling out for help at every cessation of worldly joy.”

(Note: On our current neglect of Law, Huxley has commented that it is “yet another of the many indications that 20th-century educators have ceased to be concerned with questions of ultimate truth or meaning and are interested solely in the dissemination of a rootless and irrelevant culture, and the fostering of the solemn foolery of scholarship for scholarship’s sake” (Huxley, 177). Why concern ourselves excessively with our roots in the past when our future is so clearly where happiness lies?)

The one saving grace that manages to pull modern man through these darkest of nights is the shining creed of RIP, that perfection lies in the future and happiness will come tomorrow. By clinging to the idea that happiness is attainable in the near future, if only a few more external conditions could be met, man is able to keep on propelling himself forward, driven forward by nothing but the faith that RIP must be true. This idea is reinforced on a daily basis by modern advertising methods, perpetually telling man that his dissatisfaction with life is obviously a result of his lacking the hottest new gadget and if only he could buy it, then life would be all that it is meant to be (I’ll return to the dangers of advertising in a later post.)

However, that this idea that happiness exists in the future is entirely self-defeating in that it essentially guarantees that it is always kept just out of reach. By perpetually believing happiness comes tomorrow, we guarantee by our very definition of where our happiness exists that we cannot be content today. If we cannot achieve an internal state of satisfaction with what we have in our lives, no amount of material accumulation will ever prove to be enough: “For those who seek al the rest in the expectation that (after the harnessing of atomic power and the next revolution but three) the Kingdom of God [again, I prefer sustainable and genuine happiness] will be added, everything will be taken away. And yet we continue to trust in progress, to regard personal slime as the highest form of spiritual moisture and to prefer an agonizing and impossible existence on dry land to love, joy and peace in our native ocean” (Huxley, 91). Once the most basic material needs of food, shelter and relative security against bodily harm are met, the only thing stopping man from being happy is himself. Material gains are ephemeral and always subject to being taken away, no matter how secure they might appear. One must be honest about one’s own internal states and work to improve these, not the surrounding environment. If you cannot be happy with life at this very moment, why would tomorrow be any different?

The Religion of Inevitable Progress Part 3: Is our Progress Really Progress?

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All this discussion of moral, political, and technological worship leads, albeit somewhat longwindedly, into my main point: all of these forms of idolatry ultimately fall under the encompassing Religion of Inevitable Progress. The creed of the devotees to this apocalyptic religion is that the Kingdom of Heaven (as Huxley refers to it. I prefer sustainable, genuine happiness and peace but it really depends on your personal perspective on the end goal of all of this) is outside of ourselves, and in the future. As I stated in my previous post, people tend to believe that if we can make our political and economic systems more effective and our technology more powerful, we will eventually reach a Utopian society. Heaven on Earth will be achieved through the human effort and ingenuity that has proved so effective in the past as we further our ability to manipulate and control the world around us. However, in our attempts to achieve the best possible future situation for ourselves we often neglect the serious acts of imperialism that we commit against Nature.

Today in America many people like to levy criticism against the empires of the past for their acts of colonial imperialism, but altogether neglect the war that we rage against Nature today, producing increasingly deadly tools that destroy the planet and the natural systems that provide for us. Instead of trying to cooperate with the Tao or the Logos of the world around us “we try to dominate and exploit, we waste the earth’s mineral resources, ruin its soil, ravage its forests, pour filth into its rivers and poisonous fumes into its air” (Huxley, 93).  We look on our technological advances with tremendous pride and yet ignore the consequences of these material strides. This comes back to a point made earlier that we seem to have a tremendous hope and faith (“in the teeth of all human experience” (Huxley, 79)) that one can get something for nothing. Modern man no longer has the appropriate reverence for the planet and, as such, finds it perfectly acceptable to act as an overweening conqueror and tyrant. Our hubris has grown to a cosmically unsustainable size and yet we refuse to acknowledge that our nemesis is coming.

As it is said in the Bible (boy, never thought I would ever write/say that), “the tree is known by its fruit; fruit will discover what a tree is, and accordingly judgment may be made” (Matthew 12:33). This judgment need not necessarily come from some sort of divine force, but can merely be the reaction of the natural systems of the planet toward our actions, or, often even more harsh, our own evaluations of ourselves when all the external noise we surround ourselves with dies down. “At least to some extent, the collective conduct of a nation is a test of the religion prevailing within it, a criterion by which we may legitimately judge the doctrinal validity of that religion and its practical efficiency in helping individuals to advance towards the goal of human existence” (Huxley, 242). It is through the boons that technology has provided us, as well as the afflictions that we receive as compensation for these advancements, that we may judge the success of RIP.

However, we face the insurmountable problem that it is impossible to accurately weigh the costs and benefits of our technological advances at the planet’s expense. As Huxley puts it (with some slight modification by me to account for the further increase in the power of our gadgets since Huxley originally wrote this): “Has the ability to travel in 6 hours from New York to Los Angeles given more pleasure to the human race than the dropping of bombs and fire has given pain? There is no known method of computing the amount of felicity or goodness in the world at large” (Huxley, 79). We can never truly judge whether or not the benefits outweigh the costs until we get to the point (as it seems we might soon be) at which it is impossible to ignore our nemesis as it is right in our face destroying the planet.

It is because the reality of this progress can never be truly determined that modern man must take it as an article of religious faith. We can surely posit that we must be happier than our ancestors were, but can never know for sure: “Because technology advances, we fancy that we are making corresponding progress all along the line; because we have considerable power over inanimate nature, we are convinced that we are the self-sufficient masters of our fate and captains of our souls; and because cleverness has given us technology and power, we believe, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, that we have only to go on being yet cleverer in a more systematic way to achieve social order, international peace, and personal happiness” (Huxley, 142). The more time we need to spend convincing ourselves of such, the greater the possibility that much of our society’s progress towards happiness is no more than a self-induced illusion, a charade reminiscent of the vision Orwell paints in 1984:

“It appeared that there had even been demonstrations to thank Big Brother for raising the chocolate ration to twenty grams a week. And only yesterday, he reflected, it had been announced that the ration was to be reduced to twenty grams a week. Was it possible that they could swallow that, after only twenty-four hours? Yes, they swallowed it” (Orwell, 59)

Obviously this example is a bit extreme and is not meant to suggest any sort of Big Brother-esque conspiracy theory that runs throughout the history of mankind, but is does point to what I find to be a far more fearful scenario: this can all happen without Big Brother. In many cases, self-delusion is often immediately beneficial and desirable for maintaining a semi-contented state of mind, leading us into a self-perpetuating system. There need not be any single person or group of people directing this sort of behavior when the necessary impersonal forces are constantly at work (an idea that I explore in a consideration of the Western will to omniscience). It is a method of control in which the ruled give their consent to be controlled to the controller in the belief that it is in one’s own best interest to do. A totalitarian government is unnecessary, and ultimately ineffective, when the prevailing culture manages to convince people that they are tremendously free when, in actuality, they are psychologically restricted and deluded to the point that an individual’s own interests can seemingly be best served through continual self-delusion. It is a situation in which the ruled will actually love their slavery. This type of system can be created through drugs, various forms of societal segmentation, and advertising/propaganda (an idea I’ll come back to in a later post.)

We cannot possibly know whether or not our technological advances will lead us to a Utopia or a man-made apocalypse, so we take the former to be true as a matter of faith, largely because it is most convenient for us to keep on moving the direction in which we are going. Huxley captures this idea beautifully in noting that, “People always get what they ask for; the only trouble is that they never know, until they get it, what it actually is that they have asked for…If we don’t know it is because we find I more convenient not to know. Original ignorance is the same thing as original sin” (Huxley, 250).

The Religion of Inevitable Progress Part 2: We’re All Idolaters and Most of Us Don’t Even Know It

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“If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact or evidence? No. Commit it then to the flames; for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”
-David Hume

In his book The Perennial Philosophy, Aldous Huxley notes that nearly everyone in Western society is ruled by some form of idolatry, no matter how strongly (and frequently in spite of) their professions to a higher form of religiosity directed towards God or, as Huxley chooses to refer to it for greater cross-cultural applicability, the Divine Ground. Even those that boast of their undying dedication to the Divine Ground are often truly just choosing objects of faith and worship that are strictly human ideas and ideals. Huxley classifies these forms of “higher idolatry” under three main heads: moral, political, and technological.

Those that commit moral idolatry choose their own ethical ideals as their object of worship. Virtue is treated as an end in itself, rather than a necessary condition for the achievement of something higher and more lasting. As noble as this form of idolatry may seem it is actually as self-defeating as the other forms of idolatry in that it promotes a form of narrow-mindedness, focusing on only the most benevolent aspects of our moral nature. As Thomas Arnold notes, “narrow-mindedness tends to wickedness, because it does not extend its watchfulness to every part of our moral nature, and the neglect fosters wickedness in the parts so neglected” (Huxley, 252). This isn’t to say that seeking virtue is bad, but that what people often promote as morality is, in actuality, righteousness and false charity. In addition to the dangers of the dangers of the lack of all around development, an excessive focus on virtue continues to foster the idea of a separate and individualized Self, which ultimately acts as a fetter to the achievement of full comprehension and knowledge of Reality. However, I should note that if everyone in the world suffered solely from moral idolatry, we would be in a vastly better situation than we currently are. It is the following two forms of idol worship that pose more serious and immediate problems to the overall well-being of the human race.

Political idolatry is the belief that social and economic organizations are ultimately the key to redemption, if only mankind can make them as effective as they theoretically have the potential to be. Devotees of this type of idolatry belief that “if the right kind of organizations were to be imposed upon human beings, all of their problems, from sin and unhappiness to nationalism and war, will automatically disappear.” (Huxley, 252) That this idea is naive should appear self evident. As beings with at least a certain degree of free will, if all the individuals within the system do not whole heartedly choose to make it work, even the best organization will not produce the intended results. Man’s internal states are not to be neglected. Further dooming these institutions to fail is the fact that the best interest of the general populace is often not the most pressing issue in the minds of the men that run for the positions that will make these dreams into a reality. As Huxley himself predicted in his prophetic novel, Brave New World, in 1931, “All that is needed is money and a candidate who can be coached to look sincere; political principles and plans for specific action have come to lose most of their importance. The personality of the candidate, the way he is projected by the advertising experts, are the things that really matter.” Among the people that buy into this political idolatry, most also have faith in the object of the third form of higher idolatry: technology.

Technological idolatry perpetuates the idea among its devotees that redemption and liberation depend on material objects-in this case, gadgets. It is from technological idolatry that millions of men and women in capitalistic countries today derive their working philosophy of life. This philosophy is couched in the erroneous belief that, where gadgets are concerned, we can get something for nothing-that we “can enjoy all the advantages of an elaborate, top-heavy and constantly advancing technology without having to pay for them by any compensating disadvantages.” (Huxley, 251) In the Greek phraseology, we have allowed our hubris to reach unfathomable levels without fully acknowledging or taking responsibility for the inevitable nemesis that follows.

Technological idolatry has been powerfully buttressed by the widespread belief that Americans have in scientific materialism, which ought to be regarded as a religion in its own right. It seems that many people today have forgotten that science does not possess (nor does it claim to possess) a comprehensive picture of Reality. It certainly has the power to explain much of the ways in which the world around us works, but the scientific method is simply not capable of dealing with all the immense complexity of existence. Through techniques of simplification and abstraction, science has achieved a tremendous understanding and domination of the physical environment, but it’s very easy to lose sight of that simple fact at which things began: it is ultimately an abstraction.

As long as it is kept in mind that much of science deals in abstractions, danger is largely kept at bay, but many people have passed into believing that this abstraction from Reality is Reality itself. With a deep seated belief in the reality of this abstraction, people believe that if we can only just be a bit more clever than we have been, if we can just be a bit more ingenious than our ancestors were, then we can reach that state of perfection and perpetual happiness that is a Utopia. It’s hard to fault society for reaching this conclusion given that it is very clearly difficult to be happy when basic material conditions are not being met. By improving one’s material conditions slightly, happiness increases. And if material conditions get a little bit better, then happiness often increases further! And if that is the case, then why shouldn’t that relationship continue until we can rise above the mire of our current miseries and evils into “a future set of material conditions so much better than the present that, somehow or other, they will cause everybody to be perfectly happy, wise, and virtuous” (Huxley, 201). It’s a slippery slope upon which we can easily convince ourselves that it is within man’s means to construct a perfect society for himself given the appropriate external conditions. But, as I’ll attempt to prove over the following series of posts, that that cannot be the case.

The Religion of Inevitable Progress Part 1: Is religion all about God?

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I was originally going to write everything I wanted to say about the Religion of Inevitable Progress (RIP) in one blog post but it became apparent pretty quickly that the topic has the makings of an essay that would be painfully long to read in one sitting. So I’ll be breaking it up into a series of more bite-sized chunks.

Aldous Huxley proposed the idea of the Religion of Inevitable Progress in his 1945 book The Perennial Philosophy (as far as I know) and it’s a concept that only becomes increasingly applicable to our modern culture and lifestyle as time passes. Huxley’s idea gets at a lot of the things I’ve been trying to work through in much of written on this blog, both explicitly and implicitly, so I was incredibly relieved to come across the idea in a relatively fully-formed state in the writings of a brilliant man. I touched upon the concept in my post of the Daoist parable on Nature, but haven’t really explored the idea in any meaningful way since then. The following series of posts will tackle the basics of RIP interspersed with my understanding and impressions of Huxley’s ideas. I’m not entirely sure how much my segmenting will make sense but I really just want to keep each post at a manageable length and am less concerned about reasonable starting/ending points of each portion. I’m aiming to write a section a day until I leave for Tibet on Friday, which hopefully gives me enough time to finish it, but if not I’ll pick it up when I next have Internet in China (or just finish it for my thesis). I imagine I’ll probably be going back to edit my previous posts almost every time I produce a new one as something falls into place that didn’t sit quite right to begin with, but I’m hoping each post will be in relatively final form by the time I project it into the great yonder of the Interwebs. I’d love for anyone that happens to come across any of these posts and is intrigued by them to leave some sort of comment, whether in agreement or (even better) in disagreement. Enjoy!

21st century America is one of the most intensely religious societies in the world. In a lot of the previous pieces I’ve written on here I’ve continuously been referring to Western society today as largely secular, which probably makes that last statement seem unimaginably hypocritical, but I think that a modification of my definition of religion is necessary. Religion has gotten a pretty bad rap in modern society, with most people eager to cite dozens of examples in which religion has lead to terrible atrocities committed by man against his fellow man, as the above picture aims to demonstrate (it’s a shame it fails to ask how we ended up with planes and skyscrapers in the first place.)

When most people think of religion they tend to imagine a theistic system in which people are engaged in worship towards some form of the divine, whether that be monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, or really any variety of belief in the supernatural. However, I think this definition is unnecessarily restricting and tends to ignore many types of behavior that I believe are pretty apparently religious. For that reason, I prefer the anthropologist Clifford Geertz’ definition of religion, which is stated as follows:

“a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.”

Notice, no mention whatsoever of any form of the divine. This definition not only includes systems that would typically be classified as religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism, but also ideologies like capitalism and Marxism. For those that are interested, Geertz provides a breakdown of this definition (along with further explanation) in his essay Religion as a Cultural System. However, for the purposes of these posts, I’ll allow his definition of religion to speak for itself.