In response to my last post, Terence Blake had a very interesting and insightful comment. It resonated with me a lot, and I want to respond – or build off what Terence wrote – here.
1) In my doomed project, there was my father’s philosophy on one side and my academic philosophy on the other side. The project was doomed from the start because, while the project was to reconcile them, by essentializing the two sides, I froze them as basically in opposition. The way I set up the problem made the very solution I was seeking impossible.
2) It’s like the mind-body problem. Often mind and matter are defined in opposition, and then the puzzle becomes how to bring them together – and we wonder about how difficult the problem is. It is difficult, but the way the problem was set up places the difficulty in the wrong place. It is difficult not because it is impossible, but because it takes a breaking down of old concepts to face up to the problem more productively.
3) Terence in his comment captures really well the struggle and pain of this breakdown, and also the hope and joy of the prospect and pleasure of the new building up. Also the insight and joy in the breakdown and the agony and the snail’s pace of the build up. They go hand in hand. A deconstruction and a construction. Both are happening together because at root it is a metamorphosis of the person.
4) Terence’s comment brings out really well why I am ultimately skeptical of some of the current progressive discourse on race – one which keeps coming back to white supremacy in America. One way to tell the conflict I experienced is to tell it as a brown man being unable to bring his tradition into what used to be white classrooms. And I did tell the story like that for several years. It is an important way of telling the story. Eurocentrism in American academic philosophy is real. And it is awful – morally and intellectually.
5) But it is another form of essentialization to make the racial aspect of the story the story. There is really no “the story” – no one story, no the deepest story, no the story which everyone needs to agree on to capture reality.
6) Terence is a white guy (I think! – Terence correct me, if I am wrong) who, as can be seen from his website, was born in Australia, lives in France and mainly studied continental philosophy. I am a brown guy who was born in India, lives in America and mainly studied analytic philosophy. And yet when I read Terence speak of his “grand project of unifying “spirituality” (philosophy as a spiritual practice) and “conceptuality” ( philosophy as discursive practice)” and how “it filled up all my life with tension and exhaustion, lostness and frustration”, I feel a tremendous identification with him – and know, from his comment, as he does with me.
7) The brown vs white way of telling my story makes this kind of identification between a brown person and a white person seem impossible. As if at root the fact of my brownness is the deepest fact which explains my pain, for the pain is caused by my brownness running up against white supremacist structures. As if were it not for white supremacist structures, my growth would have been free and unhindered. This too is an illusion.
8) One reason I was always cautious about overemphasizing the white supremacist story – even when I was writing against eurocentrism – is because what drew me to philosophy, both with my Dad and with my professors, was the prospect of deep change within myself. Conceptual and psychic transformation, a dismantling of my assumptions and perspectives to grow into a new light, a new way of seeing the world. As Plato put it, to leave the cave. And as the Buddha put it, to awaken.
9) While white supremacy in the West and Hindu supremacy in India and so forth are real, it is a mistake I think to see one’s struggle mainly as caused by external forces. Yes, the external, social, institutional structures and historical oppressions are real. Yes, in some ways I suffered because of them, and in some ways I have benefitted from them. But there is also the struggle caused by internal forces – of one’s own conceptual, emotional, psychic and person growth.
10) The idea of Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Thomas Merton and Simone Weil, like that of the Buddha and Christ, or Socrates and Lao Tzu, is that the struggle of the internal forces is the deeper realm of social change. One reason why social structures remain often unmoved is because the people dependent on those structures are not seeking – or are unable to see how to seek – their deeper, inner change. They hold onto the external because they confuse their inner struggle with external struggle. Even more, they seek the comfort of the external struggle because the internal struggle feels so impossible that they leave it submerged, to merely act out of it unconsciously.
11) That is to act from within a dream. That is partly what I did for 25 years. Not only in terms of Eurocentrism. But more generally with seeing the conflict as that between my father and my professors – between my birth home and the outside American home. I defined myself from the outside in – as if I can find peace if only I could get the world to become peaceful.
12) Waking up from this way of structuring the issues is incredibly freeing because it is so empowering. My growth, my struggle, my transformation, my peace and my pain are more ready to hand for me, more mine to feel but also more mine to explore because I am not giving them away to others to control. Not to Donald Trump or to Joe Biden (though I support Biden). Not also to my father or to my professors. When I see the social reality around me, I don’t see now a one way direction of influence – from it to me, such that changing it is the only way I can influence anything. I see rather a two way multifacted, complex, dynamic structure, where the influences go in both directions, and where transformations within myself can be a well spring for transformation beyond myself. It opens up a kind of action at a distance.
13) There is no end to this process of change and growth – inner and outer. Waking from my dream of 25 years doesn’t take me out of the realm of concepts. It begins the growth of new conceptual structures and modes of life which frame my consciousness and day to day to living. It opens up new concepts, new habits, new perspectives, which are not free of illusion or self-deception or confusion – but are just a little more free of them. But like good medicine or compassion or love, even a little bit sometimes goes a long way. And can lift up the spirits for the next stage of the journey.
14) As Terence puts it, “Dream, wake, dream again, wake better, dream better etc.”. Amen to that.