On Earth – Response to AR’s Knowledge Ecology Post

Admittedly… I did not read all the comments, but I suppose the Earth is much like a layered envelope. I can’t help but want to add Teilhard’s insightful conceptions about spherical development which in some strange yet overwhelmingly coherent way moves from super heavy, dense and hot to ever increasing moments of freedom, lightness, and the consciousness found in biotic organisms. Foundations are the facts of structure and provide safe harbor for the creativity of flight.

Anthropomorphic qualities are extensions of subjectivity – ok. I believe mirrors are valid sign posts to understanding, but I like the move away from binaries if they’re not creative. The move away from life/death, subject/object is still tricky, but provocative. I would imagine that when the spectrum is view from the vantage of timelessness life and death fade from relative coherence. You receive an-other sort of gesture, a closeness or sense. When ontology fades under the weight of time what will be left?

Perhaps Earth is so deeply alive we wouldn’t even recognize it as life, per say. There’s a great analogy that comes to mind about a guru and a student. The student tells the guru that he wants to achieve enlightenment. The guru says that when he achieves enlightenment, the self that desired enlightenment will not exist.

I say all that to say… I’m sure I’m more a poet than a scientist because I think I’ve placed a hunch that the fulfillment of science ends in aesthetics.

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An Allegory of the Cave

I’ve been attempting to explain Plato’s Allegory of the Cave to my Chinese students. The language barriers are significant in my classes. A few of the more advanced students have grasped the concept but on the whole I am teaching material they don’t understand. Over the past two and half weeks I have been nervously plowing forward into material with few sign-posts to direct the educational path appropriate for their English comprehension. I’m getting better at meeting there level, but in the mean while, throwing Western Philosophy in their faces has been a blast!

As an introduction, here is what a few of my students had to write about the Allegory (I’ve corrected some grammar…;)

“The allegory of the cave means there is a group of slaves working in a group. Then one of them looked back and found out that the world was beautiful. So he went back and told them to look back but they refused.”

Another of my students concluded:
“This story shows how true reality is not always what it seems to be on the surface.”

I can’t help but consider the Allegory in light of conscious evolution, and embedded in Guilin, China, the development of global society. I believe that “development” and conscious evolution include both beauty and devastation. Isn’t that what Plato teaches us? Here we have the proto-philosopher – having escaped the shackles, he views the magnitude of the Sun, its Goodness, only to be devastated by his prisoner com-patrons when they refuse his new found experience with accusation and violence.

The power of perspective is overwhelming; it is the Allegory. The presence of our former selves become guiding lights through history, because of history. Our paths are hammered out on the anvil of experience. Touching Greek philosophy is a type of traveling. I have been more and more confounded by the depth of history that exists as I learn Chinese and consider its people and the depth of their evolution. The US knows nothing of nationalism when compared to China’s 5000 year legacy. Still, in terms of perspective, my students don’t understand how devastatingly polluted the air is; they have never lived under the crisp Appalachian air, breathed the fall horizons. History itself is changing and consciousness is less and less mediated through national boundaries; from the beginning it was constituted by the very objects whose shadows are cast upon the cave walls of our perceptions.

Yesterday, my school held an “English corner.” I am both estranged and celebrity; My whiteness, it’s particular privileges – American, Athletic, Attractive, Masculine, Fit, English speaking, my wealth, my global perspectives, my education and access to Facebook and youtube, Hollywood… even my God – all cast a seductive, strange shadow. For about an hour the students surrounded me and I performed. I thrived through the attention. There was one moment of curiosity I encountered. I was seated in a chair surrounded by 25 to 30 encroaching Chinese high school students asking me questions. They asked me what I found to be different between China and US. I took the moment to impress upon them the terrible air quality of Guilin. I used the word, “haze” so as not to use the word pollution outright. How should respect operate when accounting for such a blatant problem? But the responsive energy I encountered from the students was not what I expected. It was a curiosity, as if they did not know they were living in bad air. One of the student exclaimed, “We’re not like Shanghai.” I told them that it would be up to their generation to fix the problem, but later I became fascinated by the real probability that they had ever seen a clear atmosphere. Isn’t this the cave? Isn’t this global development? Isn’t this late capitalism?

I found myself sweeping up the filthy classroom yesterday too. One of my colleagues asked me why I was doing this, and I was feeling a bit feisty when I responded that I respected myself enough not to live in filth, even if the students did not. How racist is that? Or… is that just the allegory?

The Love of Wisdom

I remember the first time I encountered the power of not knowing. It was my second year of college taking my first course in Intro to Political Theory with Dr. Wells – hail my alma-mater, Carson Newman (former) College, now (University). I had never met the experience of education quite like this. It was like encountering a higher power, a power that held the key to my identity before I understood it as such. The deepest parts of me, my paradigm, and the seeds of my motivations seem to have been known to Dr. Wells. After a few years of study I began to grow suspicious as I witnessed this power operate on others. It was an operation, a surgery of sort. Only looking back now to I realize what was happening. (or do I?) We were literally moving through history, deconstructing and reconstructing our world-views. It left a strange feeling through. It was a bit more specific than I can explain … This change of worldview, this paradigm shifting, held a deep, quazi-sacred sense, with an undeniable, though subtle, hint of betrayal. The change was strange, liberating, destabilizing all at the same time. It was an encounter, an event that was at the same time a process. I encountered a teacher, or a teaching that exposed my mind as something known… by or for or to something larger than me. This is philosophy.

An emergence from the cave of shadows… who can leave the allegory?

What can said about the presence of wisdom? More and more I find myself answering questions with stories. Are you a Christian? Do you believe in God? Are you gay? What are your plans for marriage? Do you pray? How long have you been a teacher? The Chinese I have met have asked me these questions. They seem reasonable enough, and not at all different from the questions of contemporary cultural identity. Still, the distance between my story and their understanding of my English, the nuance, the person behind the appearance… is pretty fascinating.

The purpose and power questions are outstanding. Would you like a relationship with me? Do you feel me? May I ask… how can I love you best? My thoughts wonder to Derrida and Jabes – A people of the question. But the question was never just Jewish. It is also a human response, a Greek response.

At some point in every class I have taught (three now?) I write the word “Philosophy” on the board. I always refer to philosophy as the “Love of Wisdom.” I have a fondness and sensitivity for this meaning. The other definitions feel exhausted and trite in comparison… perhaps their value is more to the point of a specific age or culture of mentality, “the use of reason to investigate fundamental questions,” or “The passionate and relentless quest for truth.” Yes… of course this is philosophy.

But something about the invocation of love and wisdom makes words like “reason” and “investigation” feel flighty in comparison. I suppose that love and wisdom somehow extend beyond the calculations and the quest, they subsume the experience. The thing about seeking enlightenment is that once experienced the identity that sought the quest will be no more. I did not become a philosopher to squabble about ontology. I became a philosopher to live an ontology. So that I might commit to living axioms like the following from Bill W.:
“We will want the good that is in us all, even in the worst of us, to flower and to grow.” … As Bill Sees It, pg. 10.

I remember having the privilege of choosing the quote for my undergraduate philosophy honors fraternity. I was fond of medieval thought at the time and still a bit bitter at the Christian paradigm I was wrestling free from so I went with a quote from John Scotus Erigena, in what I though would be a subtle stab at fundamentalist Christianity and their conceptions of salvation, religion, and the role of philosophy. “True philosophy is true religion, and conversely true religion is true philosophy… no one can enter heaven except through philosophy.”

More currently:
I believe the conditions for wisdom require humility. If philosophy is a character or a person or an event… surely the largest quality must be that of humility. Humility – the door of wisdom, the power of knowing that you do not know, surely this is not Philosophy’s only quality! …but it might be…

Guilin, China Week One

It turns out that copy rooms smell the same. The paper and ink, the warmth of the paper after it exits the copy machine.

The furniture is made really well here. My bed for instance… the wood is sturdy, the screws set. From the couch to the table, it is all strong, even pleasant. Perhaps, its craftsmanship? Or is it that IKEA is the standard I’m drawing in comparison? Poor IKEA.

Everyone honks their horn here – ALL the time. It’s both a courtesy and a frenzy. It operates out of a sense of frustration that the roads aren’t very organized, cutting is understood and practiced. Who doesn’t want to be heard in a hoard?

This past week I got to meet my students. They were having a Sports Ceremony on Friday and the students wanted Amanda and I to participate. My sole purpose is to participate with the students, be of service to them – I’m all in. They had a choreographed dance for us to learn. This excited me! I got to breakdance a little in front of the whole school. What a welcome! Full immersion.

My classes begin tomorrow. I feel prepared.

There aren’t dryers here. I’m sure one might find one to buy somewhere? No one, as far as I can tell, uses dryers to dry their clothes. My jeans take about 8 hours to hang dry. My shirts about 5.

I now have China Mobile as my cell phone carrier. I’ll receive text messages from who I assume to be the governing Chinese bodies informing their citizenry about a whole series of things. I got a message encouraging me to eat well for my health, especially since the weather is about to turn cold. I’m not sure where the boundaries are between Governmental Management and the Private Sector. I’m not sure its correct to even qualify a company as “private” in China.

It is clear that the Chinese believe in their own growth. The evidence is in the air – literally. I commented on all the dust kicked up by the overwhelming amount of construction in my last post on China. Its still hard to ignore. I really am hang-drying my clean clothes.

This might sound a bit crude. The women here aren’t curvy – flat asses and small boobs. The seduction arrives differently somehow? I don’t see obesity here. I would say about 80-85% of all the bodies I see are fit; in one way or another the bodies are able, strong, sturdy – like the furniture!

I love how everyone is human. People respond like humans respond. Smiles break down barriers. Just saying hello with a smile is revolutionary. My mom asked me how I was doing this evening. I told her that it’s true – as a rule, all over this Earth… the love you receive is proportional to the love you give.

Response To Glide’s Theon

I think ‘we’ believe in poverty… so it continues. The notion of scarcity is written into our very DNA, from our biological origins to our social conditions. We’re all contending for acknowledgment, validation, access. It was Jesus that showed humanity – along with so many other saints, movements, institutions – that one must literally lay down ones life in order to receive. In many ways Glide believes in poverty the most – it’s very life blood depends on serving the poor even sustaining it. On the one hand it’s power is it’s practice of the social gospel, the generative spirit of service and celebration of life, and on the other hand it is constituting, enabling the very conditions it seeks to eliminate. It is a problem of history that we face. I am grateful God bends history. Our difficulties surround issues of race, class, gender, sex, nation, body, self, institution. Difficulties of difference, generational hauntings… But most importantly… amidst our work of collective mourning, consciousness is the door through which I find liberation. It is personal, but it does not end with some simplified psychological solution. The secret is more than merely adopting an outlook of abundance. Within all bodies their resides the seat of soul, an outpouring of creative resonance which is God. Not a deficient god of hermeneutic monotheism, rather a God so alive… it is. John Caputo called this God without God or religion without religion. In this space we literally discover different worlds. What would a world look like that asked different questions, sought new horizons of overcoming?  Secede Christ. Lay down the mirror, the representation… for the sake of the incarnation. In that radical space, one finds discipleship. I found this method in Cecil’s action against the cross – the space where its removal was literal, not symbolic.

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Spiritual Matters

Its amazing how many people don’t drink enough water. I was trying to encourage my new roommate in China to drink more water today – seems the least I could do for how helpful she’s been since my arrival. I found myself in another rant about the significance of water for our health – our wakefulness:

“Water is so important!” Adam said, enthusiastically. It helps everything about our bodies. It’s our firstm metabolic exchange with our environment, and then water and then food. “There’s an order here – Oxygen first, then water, then food. You know the rule of ‘threes!’ You can live about three minutes without oxygen, three days without water, and three weeks without food. It all starts with breath, because we are mostly oxygen.” Amanda interjected, “I thought we were about 70% water.” “Well, of course. Water is mostly oxygen though.” Adam continued his rant as if the subtle retort between the two hadn’t been Amanda’s signal that she’d had enough. “Actually, the first thing we do after we’re born is take our first breath, and the last thing we will do before we die is breathe our last breath.” And the death of the conversation ensued. Adam’s over-zealous desire to teach so often meets its compensatory mirror of disinterest – the hint of judgment is to heavy to hide and rebellion looks this way.

I have always loved this line of thinking – this “order of things.” There are orders, layers, envelopes, spectrums to just about everything and especially living things. It’s a bit paradoxical that oxygen, the lightest, no scent, no substance, would be the most essential to our survival. That the order of importance flows from lightest to heaviest intrigues me a great deal. This spectrum maps the course of our biological origins, indeed the evolution of all life. Even Rumi in the 13th century understood this developmental course. “We begin as a mineral,” He writes, “We emerged into plant life and then into the animal state and then into being human. And at every state we forgot our former selves except in early spring when we slightly recall being green again…” He continues to reveal that we exist within a migration of intelligencies, “And though we seem to be sleeping,” He says that we, “…eventually wake up, to the truth of who we really are.” How beautiful.

How spirituality matters is completely essential to waking up to who we truly are. From how much we value water for wakefulness and practice breath as the cornerstone of consciousness the body is the matter through which spirituality is channeled. In this way spirituality, the spirit – is brought to density, to matter. To become conscious that spirituality matters takes hella practice and mighty grace. If that spectrum holds and if the more lighter an element the more fundamental (at least in this analogy) then the spirit might be more important than oxygen for our survival. All major spiritual movements of humanity have made this claim. It is completely unoriginal to me.

Their are innumerable practices outlining paths toward spiritual growth. All have in common resonances that strum specific harmonics. If in mediation you dwell with the feeling of love, it is my belief that beings, entities, helpers with like resonance are touched in communion. This is what I find more and more in my waking life, with colleagues, peers, friends, community members.

When I meditate well, I find worlds of comfort. I find powerful allies. I find that I drink my needed water and my body heals better. I wake up in China on a mattress with the words “Love” written all over it. I notice grace, I live more peaceably with others; I’m of service. I never knew oxygen was so potent. I never knew how alive with Spirit, everything actually is… Spirit literally matters here.

 

 

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24 hours in Guilin, China

The amount of construction here is suffocating – literally. I heard about the poor air quality before I moved to China. I was offered a great position teaching English – housing, pay, medical, Mandarin, flight (Korean Air nonetheless – the best I’ve ever flown). Did I mention I would have my own classroom for the whole year. I’m teaching English, but I’ll bring philosophy, my America and it will be awesome. Sooo, the roomers of poor air quality were only blips on my radar when compared to personal, professional gain. Now that I’ve been here for the last 24 hours, more than anything else I have noticed the poor air quality. In my new apartment there is a film of dirt over everything, EVERYTHING! I wiped the floors down, counters, etc. But mere hours pass before the film returns. It’s the AIR! My GOD! Am I breathing this dirt-film in? ARE all these people breathing this air? ALL the time?

Yeah… Well… you leave the airport and the first thing you begin to notice is new huge resort like buildings popping up. There’s one. There’s another. Jesus… there’s three more. And more and more. Cranes and dump trucks are everywhere. There is CONSTRUCTION EVERYWHERE! No wonder the air so bad all over China. The entire nation is digging up dirt and building shit. They must be kicking up millions of tons of dirt a day. Its all in the air, floating around the atmosphere, landing on our furniture.

On to other aspects of discovery… The intimation factor is weird. Not being able to communicate and read is daunting. I’m not in Shanghai or Hong Kong; I’m in Guilin. It’s not Westernized; its China. Its not global, cosmopolitan, although its clear the city’s hope is to become more hospitable as a tourism destination. There seems to be a visible tension between its hopes for tourism growth and its native expression. On the roads you find VW‘s, Fords, Nissans, I saw a few Mercedes and one Porsche, but mostly its jerry-rigged motorcycles with trailers and many, many mo-pads. I’ve been told there are 4 stop lights here… somewhere. Road regulations are extremely limited. No stop signs, no stop lights. Everyone honks, merges, cuts, weaves, and avoids collisions. Whole families will be hoisted up on one motorcycle. Babies have no diapers; what they do have are slits cut in the seats of their pants.

AND speaking of shitting. Their should be whole dissertations written about the way people shit. Has anyone hear of Slavoj Zizek‘s commentary on how ideology is so pervasive its is expressed on the very toilets we sit? Well here it is:

 

Here in China all the toilets are set in the ground. You have to “pop-a-squat” to do the deed. Who hasn’t done this in the woods or some strange inopportune time of desperation? In China, and many areas of the “East” this how the world shits. And who could blame them when they accuse the westerners for being disgusting when we all share the same toilet seat? They touch nothing! haha! Like Zizek I can’t seem to separate some fundamental discourse of ideology from the matter. I haven’t quite fleshed out all my theoretical insight on this point, but in the least one can say that the Chinese shit close to the ground. Its much less lesiure than in the West. I will shit for hours if you give me a free day. I’ll read whole books on the shitter! I’ll eat and support my fattening on the can. This doesn’t seem possible here. The privileges haven’t quite yet flowed through the culture. And its shows in just about everything that’s captured my attention. There seems to be a fury about the place; a drive to stay in the show of development. There’s a feeling of general unrest about everything from shitting to driving to building buildings. I’ve been asking myself if I’m witnessing the difference between communism and democracy, but I know these blanketed frameworks are much to simple an explanation.

Everything here is up to global pace basically – wireless (sure there are some blocked sites), electricity, plumbing, housing, trash, the concrete’s in place (for the most part), but the little elements of social rush, anxiety, and the subtle expressions of disorganization are apparent, from the absence of stoplights to the unmanaged pollution. As a city, San Francisco is a little less worried than Guilin about whether people accept its global offering/presence. You can feel the difference and it lives in the bodies, institutions, and buildings.

I think I’m viewing the notion of development along a scale. I have studied the discourses of post-colonialism enough to know how much notions of development, white western privilege, and notions of needs and rights can suffer from racism and imperialism. Still, I don’t believe that the discourse of “difference” – “Oh, its just a ‘different’ culture…” suffices to account for every point of social aggravation or unjust practice. Sometimes things can be better and work, intervention, alliances must develop to move forward.

I’m told the mountains here are beautiful. Guilin is surrounded by them… I’m just hoping for some rain to knock the dust out of the air so I can see them!

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