Monthly Archives: August 2012

Theory, Practice & Confidence

August has been a very busy month for me so far, and I I feel the need to apologize for not updating as regularly as I would like. I have had a lot of family and social obligations that have kept me far too distracted to properly organize my thoughts.

However, all of this plays fairly neatly into some things that I have been trying to work out for a while. I have been struggling for a very long time about asserting my spirituality and my spiritual practice. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I have a sense of shame surrounding my practice, merely that I am intensely private when it comes to my spirituality. When my now husband and I first started living together, I did everything in my power to keep my practice out of his sight. It’s not to say that he wasn’t aware of my work, merely that I have been so solitary for so long, that the mere presence of another person, even someone that I love deeply, utterly altered the tone of my work, and I really didn’t know how to adapt. Over the course of a few months, however, I became comfortable with engaging in my practice in front of another person.

Now, I hardly do anything advanced or complicated on a daily basis, the vast majority of my practice consists of meditation and mantra work, however, this deeply personal, internal work doesn’t really leave room for other people. It doesn’t help that I’m pretty damned reticent to reveal my work to other people. I am an incredibly private person, and, for a very long time, I have lacked the confidence in my work to be comfortable dealing with other people questioning my practice.

Lately, though, I haven’t had the luxury of privacy. From various family obligations that have kept me away from home or my work schedule, split between two jobs, I haven’t really been able to establish a regular routine. I’ve been meditating in a rush, in little corners or places tucked away, trying to find some privacy. My practice has really suffered for it.

I have always had a hard time organizing my time, but when I have any kind of outside pressure, my schedule collapses entirely. Sadly, my spiritual practice is the first thing to suffer. I’ve realized recently, that for as much weight as my spirituality plays in my life, I haven’t done the personal work necessary for it to really support that weight.

It has become incredibly apparent to me that I need to spend more time not only building up my confidence in my practice, but also my assertiveness when it comes to that practice. I need to be willing to make time for myself to practice even if that means revealing my practices to the people around me. I know that in no small part, my hesitation stems from an assumed antipathy that I feel other people, especially family, would have toward me. However, I’ve reached a point in my life where this secretiveness is no longer helpful.

Early in anyone’s spiritual development, I do believe that privacy and solitude are terribly important, however, there comes a time when one must be willing to embrace that spirituality in all aspects of there life. What I find so strange about my own behavior is that I am quite comfortable talking about my spirituality in a theoretical sense, as far as discourse goes, my spirituality is pervasive. However, my practice remains, as silly as I find this phrase, deeply in the broom closet.

I have become, over the years, quite confident in my theory. I know that a good deal of this is a result of my academic nature. I have always been fascinated with theory. Now, as a result, words, language, philosophy dominate a good deal of my practice, writing this blog is deeply tied to my spiritual and magical practice.

My personal project for the next few months is thus to engage more deeply with my practice and build up my confidence.

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All or Nothing: Science Fiction, Law & The Subject

A while ago, I wrote an essay concerning Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission and the Supreme Court’s curious decision to rule in favor of Citizens United. The essay is too long to post in fullness here, but given my recent discussions of the subject, I wanted to return to some of the arguments presented in that essay.

I really do suggest that anyone interested read the ruling, it is a fascinating document. What I found so striking about it was the way in which the Justices, particularly Justice Kennedy, took the subjectivity of the corporation for granted at the very outset. There is, of course, a strange contradiction here. When we think of the subject, of a person, we are inclined from the outset to think of something like us. However, is it absolutely necessary that this be the case? We work from the presumption that all subjects must appear like us. However, how do we actually judge the presence of another subject? This has, in various forms, been a fascination of science fiction nearly since its inception. The android, the robot, the alien are all basic challenges to our traditionally held views on subjectivity. All of these forms are more immediately recognized as subject when they more closely resemble the human, but frequently the tension within a work of science fiction arises when the encountered being resembles us less and less.

Let us consider a small handful of examples. Stanislaw Lem’s classic and frankly quite bizarre Solaris spawned two quite different films made almost thirty years apart, each dealing with the encountering of a vastly different and strange form of intelligence. The terror of the film develops out of the strange manner in which the titular phenomenon, Solaris, interacts with the crew of the space station sent to study it. The manner of interaction, the creation of eidolons out of the minds of the human crew, is so shocking that the nature of Solaris goes unrecognized until nearly the end of the story. The basic presumptions of the crew, that only that which resembles us can be a subject allows them to mistake the apparitions which appear to them as real people, as true beings, and not extensions of the subjectivity of the planet Solaris circling below them, even when the synthetic beings behave in ways utterly unlike humans (the miraculous resurrection of Hari/Rheya).

Star Trek: The Next Generation tackles the issue much more directly with the presentation of the character Data. Data is an entirely artificial humanoid robot who does not, apparently, experience human emotions. A great deal of his character arc deals with the tension between his synthetic nature and his subjectivity. The unspoken question which follows him around is quite simply, “Must a man be flesh to be a man?” Data resembles the human in manifold ways, but is clearly inhuman. Yet, despite his superhuman abilities, he is regarded by the vast majority of the people who interact with him as human. His struggle is largely, save in a few key episodes, presented as an internal one: the android wondering if he is human enough to be human. Star Trek answers the question of Data’s humanity quite succinctly and tacitly: all the outward signs signal that Data has an interior life, that he behaves as a subject in the proper sense. Data is as subject because he behaves like one.

Oddly enough, that seems to be the logic which guided the Supreme Court to rule in favor of Citizens United. Citizens United was granted the legal status of a subject (at least within the realm of campaign finance) because it acts like a subject. The decision was essentially a pragmatic one. If Citizens United was not considered a subject, what would it be considered, and what would the ramifications of such a decision be? Given that it displays all the outward signs of subjectivity, is it not then deserving of the recognition of such? More simply put, how do you sensibly define the subject so as to include all beings which we traditionally accept as subjects and exclude those which we do not without also removing the traditional subject from that definition? The idea that the subject must resemble the human form seems insufficient, for what, precisely, about the outward appearance of the human produces its subjectivity? If the recognition of the subject is reliant upon the recognition of the presence of internal states, then mere behavior becomes the only viable rubric for judging the human.

Now, of course, the comparison of Citizens United to Star Trek’s Data is insufficient. Despite is variance, Data is still recognizably humanoid. A much better analogy would be to the Borg. The Borg are the most well known presentation of a corporate subject within popular science fiction. The Borg are no longer quite human, though they look human, they realize a strange paradox, the human embodiment which no longer contains a human mind. The Borg reverse the traditional problem of the subject as expressed by science fiction (and, perhaps, return to an earlier, folk loreic conception of the problem of other minds), here the body is human and the mind is substantially other. While the Borg are, for various reasons, horrifying, the basis of their terror rests upon their inversion of the subject. The Borg subject is moved out of the singular body and into the mass of the population. The Borg are not subjects, but subject. Each component entity within the Borg acts as an extension of its bodily mass. The more entities which comprise it, the larger its field of action becomes. The mind of the Borg is elsewhere, the bodies which compose it are merely limbs.

Thus, Citizens United, or any corporation, functions similarly. The total mass behaves as a subject and so is recognized as such regardless of the particular embodiment of that subject. Of course, the analogy is loose and fails to meet the conditions of the corporation on one very important point. Within the corporation the component entities which compose it do not lose their individual characteristics in their incorporation (indeed, they gain another characteristic, that of incorporation). The horror of the Borg arises in the deletion of the individual in favor of the collective, the corporation does not, in fact, behave in that manner (despite the insistence of modern capitalism and its drive towards total homogeneity). If the corporation is to be recognized as subject, that recognition derives from the subjectivity of its constituent subjects.

The corporate subject, as recognized by the Supreme Court functions as a subject due to the powers of the subjects which compose it. Each subject functions autonomously yet cedes a certain realm of action to the corporation, and lends to the corporation the use of its subjective capacity. Thus, the corporate subject is the sum total of its constituent subjects acting in unity with the corporate identity. The corporation behaves as a subject do to its composition, in other words, the corporation’s embodiment is such that it is capable of producing a subject. The particular embodiment of the subject need not take any particular form, the only requirement for such an embodiment is that it be capable of producing a subject. The subject, judged from without, it recognized through its behaviors, and as such, the corporation, the corporate subject, can be recognized as a subject if its behaviors are sufficient to produce such a judgement.

Within the essay which I wrote I do not use the above analogies, though they seemed fitting for the present purposes. My primary argument, however, is the same: behavior is the only appropriate rubric against which to judge a being’s subjectivity. There are a great deal of ramifications for the recognition of the corporate subject, primarily the effects which such a subject would have on its constituent subjects. Due to the unique nature of the corporate subject and its embodiment, I believe that the only way in which the corporate subject is truly capable of maintaining its subjectivity is by allowing for the full expression of its constituent subjects’ subjectivity and that the negation of any individual subject’s rights compromises the subjectivity of the entire corporation. However, I think that is a long and complex argument which doesn’t have much place in the present discussion (though I may return to it later if there is sufficient interest).

I wanted to return the this set of ideas because I realized some time ago that the set of arguments that I developed in favor of the corporate subject were popping up in the project I’m currently engaged with Emjay in developing. If we are working towards an Ontological Subject and the Theology of the Subject, then the definition and exploration of the subject becomes the center out of which everything else expands. Essentially, we are working backwards to the center of experience so that we make work forwards to the world and the divine.

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