Theosophy and Postmodernism
Dec 10, 1996 10:42 AM
by Jerry Hejka-Ekins
>I like your reading of postmodernism, and I think it's quite OK
>to approach it that way. Of course, it raises some questions,
>and I would like to take those one by one.
>Ideally postmodernism, if consistent, should tolerate--and maybe
>even celebrate--all perspectives. IMO, the ultimately consistent
>postmodernist stance is to advance a point of view (we cannnot
>avoid making statements discussing certain things if it's not
>poetry or something like that) AND immediately uncover, in your
>own words, "the values and inner structure that underlie" it,
>and, in doing so, lay the groundwork for the next step. (IMO,
>this uncompromising fluidity of thought was achieved by
>If this self-deconstruction is missing, the postmodernist
>thinker may, getting out of one trap, get into another one.
>However, golden chains are no good substitute for iron ones.
The idea of tolerating and celebrating all perspective is in my
opinion the very strength and weakness of postmodernism. I have
always personally questioned whether being devoid of value laden
viewpoints is even possible. We may explore points of view,
uncovering the underlying values and structure, but
implementation, of the end product, in my experience, becomes a
serious problem. Derrida's deconstruction leads to an abyss of
texts and misreadings. Therefore, when I mentioned establishing
"the groundwork for the next step, I had something else in mind."
Carl Roger's unconditional positive regard may work in a
therapeutic setting under a trained and very skilled therapist.
I recall, that near the end of his life he was using these
techniques to resolve the Irish/British problem. Krishnamurti's
approach may also achieve the same ends for an individual in self
exploration. But in both cases, the revolution begins within--
not outwards. For instance, it would be asking a bit much of a
victim of violent racism or sexism to give the attacker the same
regard as Rogers would if the same person were his client.
I agree that no point of view is without values and structure,
and I would not even pretend to say that mine are any less so
than any others. I would also submit that Foucault's historical
narratives also remain value laden in spite of his efforts. All
narratives draw from information, and the informer must still
judge the relevancy of it to the selected subject. In other
words, I don't believe that a point of view without underlying
values and structure is possible.
> Now let's look from this point of view at just one paragraph of
> your interview.
> >It is not spiritual ideas, but the hierarchy of politically
> >powerful hierophants that creates human misery.
> What??? Why so general a statement? Is this a new social law?
> How do you know it?
This statement was meant to be taken in context with the
distinction I had earlier made between spiritual ideas to which
no one is bound, and the pressure exerted by social structures to
enforce them. Whether those "hierophants" are priests or law
makers, it is the enforcement of the spiritual ideas in the case
of religion, or of social ideals in the case of society that
forces the individual to submit to the will of the hierarchy
which enforces those values. An extreme example of human misery
created by such a hierarchy would be the inquisition, or the
Salem witch trials. This is not to say that hierarchy don't have
a positive side. I doubt if humanity would tolerate the
continuation of hierarchical structures if they were devoid of
> >For instance, it is currently in the news that politically
> >powerful groups of representatives of Christianity declare
> >that God is against abortion, homosexuals and prostitution.
>A distortion of the real situation. How about the grass-roots
>Christian fundamentalist movement? Are the guys who shoot
>abortion doctors and set the clinics on fire members of the
>politically powerful groups or the rank and file
I didn't mention shooting abortion doctors or setting clinics on
fire in the above quote. So it appears that you might be
distorting my original statement. I had in mind a less radical
but politically powerful religious right that makes the above
declarations. Demographically, I happen to be living in an area
where this religious right dominates the local politics. Until
recently, the town I live in was in the Guinness book of world
records for having the most churches per capita than anywhere
else in the U.S. So, my statement is based upon actual
> >But their assertions only serve to create guilt and destroy
> >human solidarity.
>This is a remarkable statement. First, it's of a very general
>nature, especially taking into account the qualifier "only";
>just another postulate, or a synthetic a priori judgment.
My above statement was in context to the earlier one concerning
hierarchies, that by definition have a powerful minority at the
top and a relatively powerless majority at the bottom. It is the
minority at the top that uses the value systems to control the
masses. Typically when an individual acts contrary to what is
socially or religiously ordained by the hierarchy, guilt is
created. Can you think of a hierarchical religious or social
structure where this is not so?
>Second, it pressuposes that it's bad to (a) create guilt, and
>(b) destroy human solidarity, isn't it? How do you know it? Is
>it a part of your belief system? Isn't your fear of guilt based
>on your early experiences as a child? Isn't your love of human
>solidarity a residue of the horde instinct? etc. ad libitum.
I can only address "good" and "bad" from my own perspective. But
by the phrasing of your questions, it appears that this is the
kind of response that you are soliciting. So here it is: I do
not like systems that create guilt and destroy human solidarity.
I don't like systems that enforce their values upon me. As to
your suppositions: I wrote nothing of "fear of guilt." Once
again, you appear to be creating your own reading here. Whether
my love of human solidarity is a "residue of the horde instinct"
is an interesting question. But since, I'm basically a loner and
don't have any particular love for the "hordes," I would say that
your speculation is unlikely.
> >A more constructive and postmodern approach would be to put
> >aside for a moment what their alleged God is for or against
> >and encourage people to use their own mental and spiritual
> >resources to explore the causes and social issues that underlie
> >abortion, homosexuality and prostitution.
> For starters, if you cannot read other people's minds, you do not
> know anything what is their "alleged God." Obviously, we do not
> have at our disposal precise means to describe our spiritual
> experiences, so even if someone tries to honestly convey his/her
> spiritual realization you cannot be sure you got it.
Whether I can read others people's minds is irrelevant. My point
here is a shift from dependence upon authority to self
> Next, you encourage people to use their own mental and spiritual
> resources, etc. In theory it sounds wonderful. The problem
> which you do not address is that different people, exercising
> their mental and spiritual abilities may arrive--and usually do
> (cf. Theos-l)--at different conclusions.
Their "conclusions" are not relevant to me. I'm interested in
> Let's suppose that a Christian fundamentalist comes to you and
> assures you that, as a result of his in-depth thinking, he came
> to believe that, to reach true human solidarity, we need to kill
> a few black sheep like abortion doctors and liberal
> intellectuals. Will you dismiss his views as silly and dangerous
> and send him away to think harder? Will you willing to consider
> his theories of human misery as another perspective as legitimate
> as yours? Will you celebrate his perspective with him?
Here you have created a a scenario that goes beyond the
"conclusions" and are moving towards actions. From my
perspective, the proposed murder of those unwilling to die seems
to be contradictory to an act of solidarity. Therefore I would
be interested in knowing how this person views these proposed
actions as acts of solidarity. I may "celebrate his perspective
with him," but considering the actions you are proposing, I would
say that it is unlikely that I would celebrate them.
> >I think that past experience has shown that effective social
> >change occurs when people operate from understanding--not from
> >notions based upon hatred, fear, prejudice and blind faith to
> >an authority.
> It's not clear what you here exactly mean. For cooperative
> action, people may (or may not) need to shape their understanding
> in the form of some ideas to share, compare, and discuss them.
> If so, I am afraid that you here are trying to replace hatred,
> fear, etc. with their opposites--freedom from hatred, etc. Or,
> in other words, you substitute new notions for old ones.
Again, the referent "understanding" is existential, as opposed to
existential "hatred" "Fear" etc. I did not mention "cooperative
action." Further, I don't believe that social change necessarily
requires cooperative action. For instance, sometimes social
change occurs from outward occurrences such as natural (or
otherwise) disasters, new inventions etc.
> For you new ideas may be better than old ones, but what if some
> people think otherwise? What shall we do with it--ignore such
> people? coerce them via some kind of social engineering, e.g. by
> sending them to a Gulag (if we happen to reach the position of
> power)? try to persuade them?
"New ideas better than old ones?" This strikes me as a strange
conclusion. How did you come to it? Once again, I have no
problem with people with contrary ideas. However, if those
people are in a position of authority, and they exert that
authority upon me, then I may have to respond to those actions--
but not the ideas.
>You see, your discussion of postmodernism began with a talk
>about "an approach to address the complexity of viewpoints,
>values and needs in our world without creating an authoritative
>dogma of its own," but ended with uttering a number of universal
>truths and assigning positive or negative values to various
>views. It is noteworthy that later you talk about such a thing
>as "universal morality"--a very good starting point for
>deconstruction of your interview.
The deconstruction would depend upon "universal morality" being
read as a reality. Deconstruction can equally be achieved
through readings of inconsistencies or misreadings of
consistencies. But this leads us back full circle to my initial
comments concerning Derrida.
>I hope you will not mistake my arguments for my own views.
I wouldn't dream of it. However, I hope that you understand that
I am expressing my views when they are preceded by phrases like
"IMO," "I believe that" etc. But these opinions are not
necessarily intended to be postmodern--only to be my opinions.
[Back to Top]
Dedicated to the Theosophical Philosophy and its Practical Application