Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Spiritualism and Capitalism

i recognize value in, and actively try to learn from both the teachings of spiritual disciplines as well as critical theory. But i find deeply troubling things in both camps: in Spiritualism apolitical disavowal, and in Theory an inability to see the world outside of materialist terms, to recognize "deeper essences of reality".

For this post i will focus on my problems with the New Spiritualism very popular amongst upwardly mobile yuppies all over the world, and especially in Southern California.

Someone who might as well as be the woman in the photo above once explained the massive suffering in Africa in terms of "these people paying for things they did wrong in past lives".

As if colonialism, post-colonial exploitation and current global economic interests, of which we are all complicit, have nothing to do with the genocidal violence taking place right now.

Needless to say i was shocked and deeply disturbed.

ignorant, irresponsible, and morally reprehensible views like this is almost enough for me to turn away from this whole "Spiritual" thing entirely. And even when i realize that this particular statement is only one extremely stunted, naive, and abhorrent viewpoint, it does reflect an over all perniciously apolitical modus operandi of the New Spiritualism.

No good can come from easy absolution of responsibility, release of guilt, by absurd denial or willful ignorance of the consequences of our actions in the real world.

No good can come from discounting, ignoring, and dismissing the massive influence of social forces on how we perceive the world and what we think about ourselves.

No good can come from complete disavowal of Capitalism as the organizational model we exist within, which shapes us and our individual subjectivity.

No good can come from pretending that deep structural biases do not exist in our consciousness, and ideological conditioning do not heavily everything we think and do.

Critique of Spiritualism often runs along the lines of all this health and self improvement working perfectly with Capitalism (especially with some "Spiritual" groups outright teaching get-rich-quick schemes), and i have to agree. (however i have no interest in denying a spiritual essence deeper than Capitalism, deeper than even genotypes... although how accessible it is while under so many layers of coding and conditioning is up for debate)

Buddhism has been co-opted many times before by dominant ideology -- for example enlightened Zen priests supporting the rise of militarism and fascism in late 19th Century Japan, and later actively condoning extreme cruelty and violence during WW2.

And I see today the same kind of dangerous co-optation of Spiritual teachings and the power which they contain by Capitalism and its omnipresent and invisible ideology.

It is a good sign when the discipline in question embodies the political convictions of dominant ideology, espouses propaganda, repeats party lines, provides rationalization for its agenda, eases consciences, absolves guilt, and paves a smooth road for despicable action.

The pro-fascism Zen Buddhist majority in Japan not only justified genocidal slaughter but actively promoted murder on a mass scale, often using poetic, spiritual language.

They spoke eloquently of "the sword which gives life", and of the purifying and cleansing power of violence. The structural support of militarized hierarchy had accompanied the Bushido code for several centuries before the 19th century, and only had to be modified slightly to fit the rise of new Fascism: the life of the soldier is nothing compared to that of the master, and thus the life of the enemy is much less than nothing -- and so Buddhist teachings went to encourage gruesome torture, mass rape, forcing fathers to kill children, bayonet practice on young men.

Today i see the same thing happening.

Spiritual groups exalting selfishness and greed are the most obvious examples. You know the ones which teach that wealth is not only a right, but a virtue.

But in general, while the new spiritualism pay lip service to "the interconnectedness of all things", they willfully ignore pandemic suffering on a mass scale which are a part of the political economic system they exist in -- systems based on injustice, exploitation, and slavery.

Today's systematic violence is several steps farther removed than before, but it is no less cruel, and not happening on any smaller scale, than what took place during WW2. the disastrous consequences of our lavish and wasteful lifestyle are unknown to, and unfelt by us. The chain of causality is largely hidden, but just because we are disconnected with events in areas remote to us, does not mean they are any less directly caused by us.

And while the new spiritualism pay lip service to "peace", "love", and "compassion", they do nothing to raise awareness of things such as the Genocide in the Congo taking place as i type. In fact, most of them probably don't even know about it, or even care.

Instead, people continue to make each other feel good with incense, yoga, and slogans like "the Universe is Pure Love". Reassuring each other that all is well, and that nothing can destroy eternal peace and harmony. And the 12 year old child soldiers in Uganda? Well don't think about them. They are just paying for wrongs in their past lives.

So while i respect and want to learn much more from various spiritual teachings, and want to practice some of the disciplines, i also see that a LARGE part of the New Spiritualism is entirely co-opted by Capitalism, and is as sinister and despicable as the pro-fascist Zen Buddhism of 100 years ago.


Zen at War ~ Daizen Victoria and Daizen Victoria
Weatherhill; February 1998 ISBN-10: 0834804050

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