THE FUTURE OF THE SPECIES
- A transcript from The Hour of Judgment radio series -
Copyright (c) 1995 Kevin Solway & David QuinnGuest: Russel Kelly - Eco-psychologist, and employee of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Commission.
Hosts: Kevin Solway & David Quinn
I was glad to have Russell Kelly on the program as he was someone who could articulate better than most the ever-popular "everything is uncertain and there are many paths to wisdom" philosophy. He was fully into postmodernism with its beloved emphasis on "deconstruction", a school of thought which basically states that all knowledge is moulded by social and historical forces, and that no one individual can lay a legitimate claim upon Ultimate Truth. What makes Russell more interesting than most of these post-modernist exponents is that he finds it very difficult to dismiss the concept of the wise man. He had read Kierkegaard in his youth, for example, which seemed to have had a lasting effect on him - it may have caused him to reflect a little upon the spiritual path and what it implied. Thus, by the time I had met him several months ago, his mind was slightly open, just a touch, to the possibilities of perfection. He was, moreover, capable of a certain clarity of thought and possessed a good appreciation of logic. But he also had a lot of attachments, not least of which were love and women. Looking back on it all, I think he must have come to a point in his life when spirituality began to scare him. He obviously decided, consciously or unconsciously, that being an individual with all its attendant sufferings just wasn't for him, and more or less decided to block the whole thing completely. And yet . . . and yet, even to this day, in spite of his resistance, he still finds himself becoming inspired whenever he hears the words of a wise man. These days he concerns himself with the environmental cause and the plight of the Australian Aboriginies. At the time of this program, he had spent several years working with ATSIC (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Commission), and had just begun a PhD thesis on "the concept of self and its relationship to the environment". He believes that the key solution to the environmental problems of the world lies in altering our concept of self to embrace the whole biosphere. This is in stark contrast to our own position on the matter which is that we should eliminate the self altogether. The following conversation starts off exploring this particular issue, before moving off into deeper and more significant areas than merely saving the planet.
David: Hello and welcome to the humblest radio program in the world, The Hour of Judgement. My name is David Quinn, and I'm an up-and-coming sage who lives at West End. But sitting beside me is someone who literally embodies humility - he is probably the humblest person I know - and that is, of course, Kevin Solway, our regular, self-proclaimed expert on reality. Tonight, we're going to explore the nature of wisdom. In particular, we will look at wisdom in the context of all the environmental problems of the world. I'm sure it's not necessary for me to spell out in great detail what these problems are: exploding population, massive deforestation, species extinction, rapidly diminishing resources such as fertile land and water, possible greenhouse catastrophe . . . the list goes on and on. And so we will go into this issue a bit and talk about the survival of the human race and how to best save the planet. Now there are an increasing number of people who believe that the overriding cause for all this environmental destruction is our obsession with reason and logic, especially in the West, together with an overabundance of masculine aggressiveness. They say that we should embrace the more intuitive and more feminine values found in certain indigenous cultures, as well as in women, which tend to stress the interconnectedness between things, or between the human race and the rest of Nature. They say that we should stop limiting our concept of self to the physical individual and instead expand it to include the whole community, or even to include the whole of the biosphere. They say that by limiting our concept of self to the physical body we are creating alienation in the world - alienation between individuals, and between the human race and Nature. As I say, this is becoming more and more of a popular view, so we'll go into it and see whether it's actually valid. And to help us in this we are joined by Russell Kelly, who is actually doing a Phd thesis on eco-psychology. That's an interesting term, Russell. What does it mean?
Russell: Well, eco-psychology is a relatively new phenomenon, and is a new way of talking about psychology and a possible relationship between people and the earth. Part of answering your question would be to say what psychology is. And I suspect that what we're talking about with eco-psychology is a certain sort of discourse that may be useful in talking about our relationship with not just the physical environment, not just the social environment - which mainstream psychology has tended to focus on of late, as well as what's going on within the individual - but also focus on possible relationships between people and the natural environment, on the greater reality that goes beyond individuals.
David: So you would say that our actions come from our psychology, and by changing our psychology our actions will thereby change. So if we change the concept of self then this will have beneficial effects on the environment.
David: So would you agree with what I said in the introduction - that we should embrace a wider concept of self to include the environment, for the sake of the environment.
Russell: Yes. I think it has been fundamental to much of the environmental movement since its beginning in the early twentieth century, that in order to change the world we must first change the self. One way of understanding this is to think about identity - relating selfhood to identity. There is a natural tendency to nurture or defend those things which we might include in our sense of who we are. An example of that would be people whom we love, family, our possessions perhaps, pets - things which we hold dear to us, and which may form part of our identity. We don't have to think very much to defend people we love, people which are close to us. We don't make a cost-benefit analysis - we respond emotionally. And the thinking, certainly within the so-called deep ecology movement, and in a lot of eco-psychology, is that through certain practices and through developing certain discourses about the self and our relationship with our natural environment, we can actually expand the sense of who we are to include not just our car and our possessions and our loved ones, but so that we respond emotionally and directly to threats to the natural environment with actions of nurture or defence.
Kevin: This is interesting. If we look at the cause of all the wars that we've seen throughout history, I think we could say that all of those have come about because of this feeling of loving your family or your country. Each country loves their fellow members and unite in hatred of their neighbours. So this kind of philosophy seems to lead towards violence, doesn't it? So if we globally came together as a family, that would help us to go to war against other races, perhaps?
Russell: I think the thesis you make is a big one. But in some ways it seems that your analysis fits-in with my understanding, in that it's precisely a very limited sense of self to only include blood and race-
Kevin: And species.
Russell: Well, certainly, in terms of wars, if you wanted to make that thesis, then you're saying that with respect to one's own race or one's own family that these are sources of violence . . . and you may, may, be correct. But to expand that . . . if one was able to expand that sense of self to include the whole of reality, ultimately - Nature as Reality - which is, if you like, the logical extension of including the natural world, then, in theory at least, there are no enemies, because we're connected to all of reality, and certainly all of the natural world.
Kevin: Do you still think the feeling would be an emotional one, though? True, we do have an emotional feeling of protection and so on towards those people whom we love. We group together against an external enemy - the outside world. Communities join together against the forces of nature, to protect each other against change. So if we loved the whole of reality as our self, do you think we'd still feel some kind of emotional feeling to protect it?
Russell: I think we're dealing here with ideals, and we're moving into the realm of philosophy. I think in the real world where you're dealing with people, where a vast number of people lead what we might call normal lives, it is unrealistic to talk about ideals. I think the reality is there will always be emotional reactions. Perhaps there might be the odd sage who mightn't respond emotionally--
David: What? You don't think it's realistic that we'll have five billion Buddhas sometime in the future?
Russell: Somewhat not realistic, no.
David: But I wonder whether this idea about expanding the self out to include the biosphere actually does help promote the arisal of Buddhas. A Buddha - a wise man or a wise woman - is someone who loves the whole infinity of Nature as oneself. And if you have that understanding of Reality, if you understand that Reality is your own self - then you'd have no emotional attachment as to whether the biosphere continued to exist or not. So if the biosphere were to be destroyed tomorrow - if a comet, say, hit the planet and caused all life to disappear - then, as far as the wise man is concerned, it's still all his own self, including the extinct planet and so forth. He makes no distinction between the biosphere and not-biosphere - in an emotional sense.
Russell: I can see your point logically and speculatively, but certainly the aims of eco-psychology are far more humble in that they're certainly not aiming to create Buddhas, but rather to shift the culture, to whatever small degree, the "self understandings" of a majority of people in the West to be more sensitive and feel a deeper sense of connection to the natural environment. Clearly, the history of Western society, certainly since even the scientific revolution I suspect, has removed us from an emotional sense of attachment, sense of connection, a sense of with-ness and similarity with the natural environment. So I think it's still valid, even though it may not be pushing us towards sagehood.
Kevin: The more we become aware and the more we become connected with Nature, the less and less we are going to be connected with the people whom we traditionally have loved.
David: That's right. Is it possible to love both a woman and the biosphere? Can we serve two masters?
Kevin: That's right, a woman's going to be mighty jealous! If you have an intense love of Nature, the girlfriend is not going to be too happy. She's going to feel jealous that perhaps you love Nature more than you love her.
Russell: I think that's a very harsh judgment of a woman's love. It depends on how one defines it, but certainly the ideal of love that I would definitely hold, is that love is not jealous and discriminating and possessive. In a sense, the notions of love parallel this notion of expanding the sense of identity, and this has been made explicit by some thinkers in the field: that the attitude of love is to actually include other people in your identity, so that they are not separate, so there can be no jealousy.
Kevin: Well, for example, Russell, you have a girlfriend - if you were to spend all of your time out in Nature, with other women . . .
Kevin: . . . and no time with your girlfriend, obviously jealousy would arise in this scenario.
Russell: Hmm . . .
Kevin: So really, if we're truly going to extend ourselves out to encompass Nature, we can't become attached to individual people. We have to give our love, or give our understanding, equally to everybody on the planet. We have to relate to every woman on the planet equally, because every woman is an equal part of Nature.
David: This is in a non-emotional sense. To me, the emotional intimacy between a man and a woman involves blocking out the rest of reality. The very pleasure of the intimacy between a man and a woman involves ignoring everything else.
Kevin: It's a form of violence against the Universe.
David: And this is totally incompatible with saving the biosphere.
Russell: Yes, this is a very dark view, a very dark view of human relations, and certainly relations between the sexes. I mean, I hardly know where to begin.
Kevin: What did you think about David's starting comment there about how he believes we're entering a feminine fashion - we're going back to feminine or tribal values, where we value the community over the individual, where we value the community's values and ideas more than the individual's values and ideas? Do you think this is the way we should be going? Outwards towards the community?
Russell: To some degree I think that is the case. I think that part of the contemporary malaise - the "quiet despair that the mass of men feel", to quote Thoreau - is a response to the patently obvious loss of community and loss of tradition that we experience all around us. I was reading statistics just recently where between 1920 and the 1970's the number of households that had six or more people in the house declined from forty percent to two or three percent in the whole Western world. And the number of households where there was only one person living increased from one or two percent to thirty-six percent or something--
Kevin: And you think we're having a reaction against that now, and we want more of these warm, large groups?
Russell: Yes. I think we want more a sense of connection with other people. And I think the breakdown, or the unsustainability, of relationships is another symptom of this. The nuclear family, the smallest sustainable biological unit that we've had in the history of the human race - and it's a new phenomenon - is itself becoming problematic, and we're breaking down into individual units. So yes, the regaining of community, the sense of connection with others, I see, and I think eco-psychologists see, as essential to the salvation of the whole biosphere.
Kevin: I tell you what, I'll read out a short passage. This is from Otto Weininger and it's on the subject of woman and society and solitude, so this will give us some material to discuss.
"For woman the problem of solitude and society does not exist. She is well adapted for social relations (as, for instance, those of a companion or sick-nurse), simply because for her there is no transition from solitude to society. In the case of a man, the choice between solitude and society is serious when it has to be made. The woman gives up no solitude when she nurses the sick, as she would have to do were she to deserve moral credit for her action; a woman is never in a condition of solitude, and knows neither the love of it nor the fear of it. The woman is always living in a condition of fusion with all the human beings she knows, even when she is alone; she is not an individual, for all individuals are sharply marked off from other existences. Women have no definite individual limits; they are not unlimited in the sense that geniuses have no limits, being one with the whole world; they are unlimited only in the sense that they are not marked off from the common stock of mankind.
"This sense of continuity with the rest of mankind is a sexual character of the female, and displays itself in the desire to touch, to be in contact with, the object of her pity; the mode in which her tenderness expresses itself is a kind of animal sense of contact. It shows the absence of the sharp line that separates one real personality from another. The woman does not respect the sorrow of her neighbour by silence; she tries to raise him from his grief by speech, feeling that she must be in physical, rather than spiritual, contact with him.
"This diffused life, one of the most fundamental qualities of the female nature, is the cause of the impressibility of all women, their unreserved and shameless readiness to shed tears on the most ordinary occasion. It is not without reason that we associate wailing with women, and think little of a man who sheds tears in public. A woman weeps with those that weep and laughs with those that laugh - unless she herself is the cause of the laughter - so that the greater part of female sympathy is ready-made."
So Weininger is making the point that women have a special quality in that they are fused, permanently fused, twenty-four hours a day, with the whole biosphere, with the whole of society. In a sense, they're already fully enlightened - subconsciously.
David: In effect, they're perfect examples of what Russell is advocating.
Kevin: Yes, is that what we're going towards? I mean, when I look at the new age culture I see this exact same female psychology that Weininger describes, where we fuse. Just look at the new age people: when they first see each other they run up and give each other a hug! They ask each other "How are you?" - words, empty words. This is on the most crude physical level, an animal sort of a level. They believe, of course, that it's spiritual, but in fact it's the exact opposite because there's no rational or logical understanding there. What I'm worried about is that we're going in the direction back towards a primitive tribal type of culture, like the Australian aboriginal culture or the American Indians. We're going back to this tribal culture where there is no logical, rational connection with the world - it's more of a physical connection. For example, a clod of earth is definitely connected with the biosphere - it's connected physically - and in this sense tribal culture is connected, by force. It has no choice about the matter. It's just connected. But the genius, or the wise man, becomes connected consciously through his reason.
Russell: Well, it's difficult to respond to. I think the stereotype you've described there does a terrible injustice to the nature of womens' relating, and the nature of wisdom as seen from a female perspective. I can't speak on behalf of women, but my own feeling is that I certainly align myself with the view that our culture has been dreadfully masculinized, and that we need to regain exactly the sort of things that you were criticizing. I think that, like in all great lies, there's a certain substance of truth to part of what you were saying, and I think the core of it is that I think women do have a stronger sense of relationship. The sense of being connected is more important for women. To stereotype them and say they're fused, and to push it to the pole and say that women are fused and completely uncritical is, I think, a terrible injustice and just patently false.
David: Well, aren't you describing the feminine mind there, Kevin?
Kevin: Yes, it's the feminine mind for sure, which too many men today have, I think. I wouldn't be so sexist as to say that anyone with a female body was actually feminine. That would be a terrible crime. Certainly, most men today have very feminine minds and cry and weep at the first occasion, and don't feel themselves to be individuals capable of thinking for themselves.
David: So do you admit, Russell, the distinction between a sort of unconscious connection and a conscious one? I would say that a lot of indigenous cultures haven't got to the very bottom and reasoned out the true nature of things. Their connectedness has just evolved on an unconscious level, as a way of dealing with the environment, as opposed to developing a proper consciousness of Reality.
Russell: There's a few things here. I disagree with that analysis as well. I mean, it's very hard for me, again, to be talking on behalf of indigenous people - they're well able to talk on behalf of themselves - but my own view is that there were always wise men of the tribe. And I presume there are always less wise men and women of the tribe, and also wise women of the tribe. And there were reasoning and rational people within the tribe as well. But I also would want to take issue with whether in fact this ethic of rationality is the only path to wisdom, and whether this preoccupation with and heightening of rationality is the only way to wisdom and truth. I don't think that that is the only path. There are other ways, and certainly indigenous people's ways - "feeling" connections - rather than having an abstract, rational account of connections.
Kevin: Well, that's a good subject to talk about, but first of all we'll just have a piece of music. This piece sounds as though it's by a community, and it's proof that, if nothing else, communities can produce harmony - it might not be wisdom, but it's harmony.
David: Are there different paths to wisdom? Russell was saying before that rationality, which is what Kevin and I value, is not the only path to wisdom, that there are other paths. I presume he means feelings and intuitions and that side of things. But to me "wisdom" is just a word that we ourselves give meaning to, and I define the word "wisdom" to mean the understanding of Ultimate Reality. It's a specific definition. And to understand Ultimate Reality one has to cast aside delusions about Reality, and one does that by reasoning, by trying to expose contradictions between ideas and so forth - by actually reasoning and seeing what is false, and then rejecting it. And when one does this perfectly one sees Ultimate Reality; one sees what is the real state of affairs of Nature. Now I ask, how can this be done by feelings? Feelings and intuitions have no meaning in relation to this goal.
Kevin: Yes, couldn't we say that animals - I mean, animals other than ourselves: cows, for example - experience feelings of a sort? They certainly have feelings and they also have intuitions. So this kind of perception would seem to be of an earlier stage of evolution that comes before the kind of full consciousness that some human beings have. How can these feelings and intuitions lead to anything of real, concrete value?
Russell: Well, I think we have to back-pedal a little to your own definition of what wisdom is. And I think you've defined it in a way that privileges rational knowledge right from the beginning. And I just wonder whether being "wise" might not simply be to have a particular philosophy about the nature of being, which is historically situated, which has a particular history and which will change. I mean, how one defines the nature of reality changes over time. So we know that those kind of discourses, those rational discourses about philosophy have a history. But I just wonder if being "wise" might also actually involve a mode of being, rather than just a rational and particular state of consciousness. Whether being wise might involve a certain way of relating to people, a certain way of relating and responding to the natural environment, without even resorting to a rational method - without necessarily being able to speak using particular concepts to embody that way of relating. I am just reminded of Kierkegaard when he says that "Truth is Subjectivity" - that the Truth is a mode of being, and that only God, or some sort of Absolute that stands outside of history, is able to determine what Absolute Truth is. All that's left to human beings is to have a certain subjective stance.
Kevin: Well, this is interesting. "Truth is Subjectivity." This relates to that piece I read out earlier by Weininger, where he was praising individuality as opposed to this kind of fuzzy community. The fuzzy community has ideas - it's like a self, if you like, but the individual, or the genius, the god- man, the true individual, is the highest being of all, and they are one hundred percent subjective in that it's just them and the world. All of their ideas are their own ideas; they're not other people's ideas. And their values are absolute for them. So what they believe is true is absolutely true - other peoples' ideas are irrelevant.
David: But their ideas aren't arbitrary. You're not saying that they have the same sort of significance or value as an ordinary person's ideas?
Kevin: That's right. Subjective in that sense doesn't mean that the ideas are arbitrary; it means that they come from a true individual. And the individual is fully conscious that those ideas are his own, and that they have Ultimate Reality.
David: I think we should remember that Kierkegaard was speaking against Hegel here, who was talking about this imaginary or speculative absolute - an intellectual absolute - with which Hegel did not involve himself on a personal level, whereas Kierkegaard valued the personal relationship with one's idea of Reality.
Kevin: That's right. Hegel was going on about the balance between opposites and so on, and that somehow the Truth was in the middle of the opposites - and all of this gets rid of the individual and individual reasoning, which is what Kierkegaard valued above all.
Russell: Well, I think that's true, but within that too, Kierkegaard, as the original existentialist, valued authentic being, a term which was coined by later existentialists, but it was Kierkegaard who actually said: "Better to worship a false God rightly than the one true God wrongly." And clearly what he's on about there is that what counts for the individual is the--
Russell: Or the integrity. One's particular subjective relationship with the views one has of the world.
David: But even better is to have a relationship with true ideas!
Russell: Well, the whole notion of true ideas is fundamentally criticized by Kierkegaard. In his Concluding Unscientific Postscript, he's really tackling a view of the world which says there are objective, enduring, unquestionable, rational truths out there. There is only existential truth. There is only a truth that's truth for me.
David: Yes, but that particular book was written by a pseudonym, so it may not even be Kierkegaard's view there.
Kevin: And Kierkegaard certainly believed that his philosophy was ultimately true for all time.
David: Yes, to which he gave the name "God".
Kevin: He gives the name "God" to the Absolute, Ultimate Truth, which only the individual can arrive at.
David: And which is neither subjective nor objective. You can't categorize God in either of those two categories. So when Kierkegaard was speaking against objectivity he was just speaking against people's attachments to objectivity. But he wasn't saying that "therefore nobody can understand the Truth". He was just trying to get rid of people's attachments to certain concepts, for the sake of this higher Truth which he knew about. And so I wonder, how do feelings and the feminine values lead one to this Ultimate Truth?
Kevin: Continuing on from what we were saying before, it's better to worship a false God consistently than nothing at all. But the society we have today is totally nihilistic, in the sense that people's ideas are changing from day to day. They don't claim to know anything. I mean, we've spoken to a number of experts on this program - professors and so on - who don't claim to know anything. This makes doing the program rather difficult. It would be better if they claimed to know something so we could argue with them. But when people don't claim to know anything, and they claim that there is no Truth, for individuals, or for communities . . .
David: Well, I must say they are consistent to the idea that they don't know anything . . . and I agree with them!
Kevin: Yes, they're consistent in the sense that the earth is consistent. The ground is consistently ground. But that's not the kind of consistency that we should praise. We should praise consistency of consciousness, consistency of coherency of philosophy.
Russell: Some of what you're saying appeals to me in that it's a critique of the postmodern consciousness which is preoccupied with deconstructing everything around it.
Kevin: Except itself.
Russell: Often except itself, although occasionally there are postmodern deconstructionists who deconstruct their own thinking. And I think that's right and proper. To be relativising all of knowing and being out of existence is a terrible thing, and it's part of the alienation that we experience - that there is nothing to hang our hats on, nothing that we can know with any assurance. Surely, this is part of the epistomology that underlies recent thinking in psychology.
Kevin: If we're going to value Nature, though, we want to be consistent. So if we're going to love Nature then we should go the whole way. We should love Nature, full stop. Nature is the only lover that every man should have.
Russell: When you say "love Nature" . . . I'm just interested whether you have an emotional response to Nature?
Kevin: No, it's more understanding and experiential. So when we understand Nature and feel our place in it, and see ourselves out there in Nature, then at that moment, if we have faith in our own reasoning, we experience that oneness with Nature. When this happens, no other kind of love or interest is possible. It's impossible to emotionally love a human being when you're in love with Nature. You can't do both at the same time.
Russell: I'm interested in your comment there - your "feeling" for Nature and your "experience" of Nature. For me, they're the core issues - not whether one can have a particular abstract and rational view of one's relationship to Nature. But whether one does in fact feel and experience some connection with Nature.
David: Both those things can only be done rationally. I don't think Kevin was talking about some sort of abstract, conceptual connection with Nature, but actually the complete opposite. It's a casting away of all the conceptual barriers between oneself and Reality. So the only way one can be fully connected with Reality is to get rid of all barriers.
Kevin: Reason itself destroys all the barriers between us and the rest of Nature, if we're properly rational.
Russell: But to understand you correctly, though, the end point is still a feeling and an experience of connectedness.
Kevin: Yes, if you go the whole way. But what's happened in the past is that we've gone through a period of masculine rationality - so called - where there's great advances in science and technology, but people haven't taken their reasoning the whole way. They've gone the first step, they've gone one centimetre out of a thousand kilometers and said, "Hmm, well this doesn't look like it's taking us very far. We've got to a dead-end; we've reached a brick wall; we can't go any further, so let's go back to where we've just come from". It's like we've just been born: we've become little babies in the cradle; we've started to use science and reasoning and we've developed philosophy, and then we've said "Hang on, this is too difficult. I want to jump back into my mother's womb and become one with the earth again." We're afraid of our own consciousness! We're afraid of being real individuals in this cold hard world where we're faced with the prospect of having to work things out for ourselves.
Russell: On that point I see eco-psychology, the perspective that I'm interested in, as being profoundly post-industrial, and profoundly post-technological, post-scientific, and that the way forward is not a yearning after the old ways. But we certainly have to incorporate and use the thinking and the scientific achievements and those natural abilities that I think are connected with being human, and developing them, but under a wholly different ethic - within an ethic that values the connection and the sense of identification with the natural environment. Yes, so I'm critical of this uncritical identification with indigenous cultures. I think there's a lot of misconceptions about indigenous cultures, and a sense of throwing the baby out with the bathwater in terms of the Western tradition - I think it would be wrong, and it simply won't work. It would be wrong-minded to attempt to jettison the good things in the peculiarly Western tradition.
Kevin: Well, I question whether there is any wisdom in the old tribal cultures at all. I mean, you mentioned before that a lot of tribes had their wise men, but, my word, they can't have been very wise, because all of these cultures, as of this day, have just about been completely wiped out. I recently visited Ladakh in Northern India, where they have a very old, traditional Tibetan culture which new age people praise to the skies. But the culture can't protect itself. The West has got in there, invited in by the culture, and has run rampant, by the will of the very inhabitants themselves. And their culture is basically now completely wiped out. I mean, if there was wisdom in their culture to begin with, this wouldn't have happened. And in fact I see that our own culture, our own Western culture, has come out of those ancient tribal cultures. It's like the tribal culture is the juvenile stage of a life-cycle, and we are at the puberty stage, with all of our sex and feminism and so on. We haven't reached the adult stage, but we want to go back to infancy again.
Russell: I should just challenge that view of the world. I mean, that to me sounds just like manifest destiny - you know, the sort of philosophy that justified white America over-running the Indian populations, and certainly the colonization of Australia. And I think it's way off-track. I think that this view of the world, where there is no such thing as injustice, where there's no such thing as tragedy pure and simple, where there's no such thing as power relations and tyranny; this view of the world where something is inferior because it's been beaten--
Kevin: I'm not saying that. It was beaten because there was no true wisdom there. If there was true wisdom in a culture, it would continue to survive in some way.
David: Yes, because the very essence of wisdom is adaptability - being able to adapt to situations as they arise.
Russell: There's two points there. I would reiterate again that I'd like to disagree with that view of the world that wisdom can't be destroyed--
David: That's true. If a tribe is going to get wiped out by a machine-gun or a bomb then it doesn't matter how wise the tribe is, it'll still get wiped out.
Russell: The other side of it is that I think indigenous cultures do remain, and indigenous wisdom is still there alive and well, certainly in Australia.
David: Do you think it's possible that the culture can be wise?
Kevin: It's always possible that a few individuals can have some wisdom.
David: Well, I don't know. Is it possible that an indigenous person, an aboriginal, can be wise, given their culture? We ourselves used to be in tribes thousands of years ago. Now if you're living in a tribe and you start thinking about what is real, and you start to value reason, then pretty soon you'll be at odds with everybody within that tribe. And if you're going to be consistent to this truth that you're uncovering, you'll have to be attacking other people's false concepts - their attachments to one another, their attachments to life - and I can't see how such a person can do this and yet stay within the tribe. I mean, the tribe is just going to say, "Sorry buddy, if you don't want to be here, get lost!"
Russell: Again, I would have to take issue with your notion of what wisdom is. And to me it's a peculiarly Western and rational notion of what wisdom is. If I could just contrast that . . . if I think in my own stereotypes of aboriginal wisdom, which may or may not be true, but to me the notion of a wise aboriginal man or woman, perhaps a healer, is someone who senses and feels and believes their sense of connection with everything around them. Everything. All the landscape. All the human beings. The sky. Everything has spiritual significance. There are no objects out there that have no spiritual significance. They are not just landscape or just trees as they are to us now, but they're actually part of a whole sense of the spirituality of everything. This to me is wise.
Kevin: I would describe a wise person as someone who speaks the Truth. So if a person claims that they have an intimate connection with the whole of Nature, and that they feel one with the whole of Nature, and yet they don't speak the truth . . . ! I mean dangerous truths, truths that people don't want to hear, but which they should hear, of which there are many. There are very few people today speaking those truths. And these so called people who claim to be wise, and yet they don't speak the truth . . . it's a proof that they're not wise. I live in a kind of tribal culture up at Maleny, actually, and they definitely don't appreciate people speaking the truth up there. And this would be the case in any tribe.
David: Well, that's easily countered, though. We could define wisdom as a type of harmony. You know, fostering harmony within the group - that would be a type of wisdom.
Kevin: Yes, it all depends how we define the word.
David: Yes, so what you're saying there, Russell, about seeing the spiritual element in everything, I would say that it's something imagined. It's part of the imagination of the person. He's projecting a conceptual idea of spirituality onto the environment around him. This is completely removed from the understanding of Reality which we speak of - this direct understanding which is beyond concepts, if you like. Would you agree that there's a great distinction there?
Russell: I'd see the ideal of the aboriginal man or woman, in that state of consciousness, as the logical fulfillment of your own philosophies. The path to it may not have been following the particular ideas of perennial philosophy that you may espouse, but the outcome is a man or woman who has a profound knowledge and sense of the interconnectedness of things, and they would speak the wisdom that would flow from that sort of consciousness. And I suspect, like in any other culture in the world, there were prophets in the history of indigenous tribes who spoke hard truths to their own people. For example, in the indigenous tribes of the Jewish faith in the Old Testament, you had prophets speaking hard truths to their own people. So I would see those wise men and women of indigenous tribes as really the fulfillment of your own philosophy - but taking a different path there, perhaps.
David: Well, since both Kevin and I value rational analysis, and getting to the bottom of how things exist, even questioning whether things have real existence, I don't see how this has any connection with projecting, or "seeing", a spiritual element in everything around us. It's completely different because this person who believes in the spiritual element is still bound by delusions concerning existence. He hasn't gone to the very core of existence. It's completely different.
Kevin: And also you wonder what their purpose is. I mean, if their purpose is to simply heal individual people, this is a very narrow purpose. Any wise man has as his purpose the grandest of all purposes, which is the survival of wisdom. And this is why I say that a wise man is someone who speaks the Truth. It's the greatest gift. Better than giving someone's sight back, better than helping them to walk again, is to actually help them to become wise. And how many of these tribal elders and "wise men" actually speak the Truth and make people wise? There's no-one.
Russell: Without wanting to sound too harsh, I think it's a terrible conceit to think that only this particularly verbal and intellectual culture that has developed in the West has access to wisdom.
David: Ah, no. Who in the West are you referring to? Does the wisdom that Kevin and I speak about have any connection at all with Western society?
David: Maybe two individuals in all of Western history! Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, perhaps, maybe Weininger, are on a par with us. But in regards to all the stuff taught in the Universities, and the basic world view of Western Society generally, we have absolutely no relationship whatsoever to it. We repudiate all of it.
Kevin: But, in fact, we do go along totally with the teachings of Lao Tzu, for example, in the Tao Te Ching, and also the teachings of the Buddha and the Zen Master Hakuin. In fact, all of the wise men, whether they be from the East or West, have exactly the same teaching, and it's based on reason. They have all come to the end of reasoning, where reason has in fact undermined itself. So Truth is at the end of reasoning, but not before you've come to the end of it. It is only then one can enter the Infinite. And here's an interesting quote from Taoism - the word "Tao" you can replace with the word "wisdom", if you like:
When the Tao was lost its characteristics appeared.
When its characteristics were lost benevolence appeared.
When benevolence was lost righteousness appeared.
When righteousness was lost ceremonies appeared.
Ceremonies are but the unsubstantial flowers of the Tao.
And the commencement of disorder.
So it's like saying that the more community minded we become - you know, lets have a ritual where we all get together in the village square and dance around to Irish jigs and do a couple of Buddhist pujas for good measure - this is the commencement of disorder. It's the farthest remove you can possibly go away from the Tao.
David: Whereas "righteousness" is attachment to being an individual, attachment to being arrogant, and even that is a far remove from wisdom.
Kevin: Even though righteousness a higher step than where our society is today, which is on this crude tribal level of just dancing around fires.
David: Yes, I would characterize Western society as a type of tribal culture. It has its own dreamtime and its own myths. The worship of women is the big myth of our times. It is equivalent to dreamtime. So what Kevin and I are on about is infinitely removed from this reality. We value going to the very roots of existence, and there's not many people like that.
Russell: To me, coming from a psychological perspective, what I hear there - and I know this sounds very postmodern - but I hear a discourse from both of you - that is, a particular way of talking about the world and your place in it that may or may not be more or less profound than other people. And I think that no-one can ultimately make a judgment on that view. We can choose to make judgments, but no one will know . . .
David: Why not?
Russell: No one will know because of the nature of knowledge claims. You know, we're only speaking language. I suppose I'm making the point that - you're right, there are all sorts of cultures - but I would make the point that what you're saying is also one of them. It's a particular discourse, a particular culture--
David: A particular wise culture.
Russell: Yes, you might call it wisdom and use words which conclude that. And you have a particular rhetoric and a particular way of defending that. But certainly there are a myriad of others. Certainly, the feminist voice is one--
Kevin: Do you concede that it's possible for a human being to come to a perfect understanding of Ultimate Reality, the One, Permanent, Infinite, Reality? Do you believe it's possible for people to do that? I'm thinking of people like the Buddha who claimed to know this one and only Truth . . . or Jesus.
Russell: They may believe they have this understanding, but whether they so-called objectively do or not is something that will remain forever unknown.
Kevin: But do you think it's possible to know the one Truth?
David: Or was the Buddha fooling himself?
Russell: I think the Buddha only had language. I think he had some wonderful insights that were very helpful and creative, probably for many humans. But I suspect also that there are other ways to Buddhahood.
Kevin: Are you saying that you don't think it's possible for a person to come to this one Truth?
Russell: I think it's possible to come to a subjective sense of the Truth--
David: You're saying that it's possible to come to some idea of Truth, but one can't ascertain for sure whether this idea is true.
Russell: Yes, I'd hold that.
David: And why do you think this?
Russell: Because of the nature of knowledge claims. This is the postmodern epistomology: that we only have language, and that all knowledge, all ways of thinking, are products of our time and history.
David: But are you certain of this? Are you certain that we only have knowledge claims? And are you certain that we can only ever be uncertain all the time?
Kevin: And are you certain that we are limited by language constructs? Or are these just theories of postmodernism?
Russell: I think I'd hold them at the same critical distance as anything else. They're merely theories. We only ever have theories.
David: "We can only ever have theories" - are you certain of that one?
Russell: No, I'm not certain.
Kevin: It's a theory.
Russell: In compliance with my own view of the world, my own epistomology, then we can never know with certainty. We can have a subjective sense of certainty, but outside of that we can't.
Kevin: Are you certain of this?
Russell: No. I can never be certain.
David: You can never be certain?
Russell: That's correct.
David: Are you certain of that?
Russell: No, I can't be certain of this.
David: Why? Why are you not certain of this? This is what interests me, actually. Is it just some kind of arbitrary idea that comes into your head?
Russell: No, because I have a sense of the radically historical nature of all knowing and being - this is the historicist argument that there can be no words and no language that's not socially constituted. And that means that the very essence of a truth claim is constituted by social relationships.
Kevin: Well, you see, all words and all concepts refer to things, don't they. They refer to things in the world. So we project these boundaries out onto Nature, and we cut Nature up into lots of little pieces, and then we have words for all these little pieces, and then we join them all together with our philosophies and so on. But the totality, which includes all of these little pieces, goes beyond concepts in a sense, in that it's not a thing. The totality includes the observer; it includes the mind that's observing; it's infinite. So we're talking about this Infinite Truth. It's not the same as all these other things that we've cut into pieces and spliced up, and yet we can still give it a name. We can call it "God" or we can call it the "Infinite". And yet if the person who is using the word knows what he's talking about, if he feels and understands this "Infinite", well then, he's not limited by language, you see. He can cut the world up however he likes, because he knows that Reality is Infinite. He can use words however he likes. He can draw boundaries wherever he wants to. He's totally free, and he is totally free in language. That's why people all over the world have different languages, and yet they've all arrived at the same wisdom of Ultimate Reality. The Taoists call it the Tao, the Buddhists call it Emptiness or Sunyata, a Christian might call it God, David and I call it the Infinite. So even though we all have different languages we all arrive at the same Truth. Or at least wise men do.
David: And a wise man is not subject to concerns about certainty and uncertainty. Because he is actually not attached to anything at all, the whole idea of certainty and uncertainty is meaningless to him. He has transcended.
Russell: Much of what you say appeals to me. I would just question the value you place on that sort of discourse. Perhaps there are other ways of being.
David: That's right. We just value it. We value it because Nature has made us value it. We consider it important.
Kevin: Actually, I'm just going to read one final little piece before we finish off here. Another piece from Weininger; and it goes like this:
Genius is the highest morality, and, therefore, it is every one's duty. Genius is to be attained by a supreme act of the will, in which the whole universe is affirmed in the individual. Genius is something which "men of genius" take upon themselves; it is the greatest exertion and the greatest pride, the greatest misery and the greatest ecstasy to a man. A man may become a genius if he wishes to.
David: Well, that was . . . profound. Thanks Russell, and Kevin and I will be back next week. See you.