File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_2001/bhaskar.0111, message 15

Date: Sun, 25 Nov 2001 23:02:58 +0000
Subject: BHA: [politicsandspiritnetwork] Roy Bhaskar's *From East to West*

Dear all,

For information. Posted on <> 
25 November 2001.

Best, Mervyn

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Here is my summary of the main propositions of Bhaskar's *From East to
West* (Routledge, 2000), as requested. I've tried to keep it simple.
I've made no attempt for the most part to set out the supporting
philosophical arguments. (A more complex account is available in my
article 'New Left, New Age, New Paradigm? Roy Bhaskar's *From East to
West*. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 31:2, June 2002. I
would be happy to send a copy of this by email, together with other
accounts I have on file, to anyone requesting it.)

1. The human being is essentially God, or Godlike. 

I take this to mean that people, like everything else in the pluriverse,
are emergent (developing) forms of God. The whole expanding pluriverse
is (becoming) the material embodiment of God. God, the absolute, comes
to self-realisation in and through the relative world of human and other

God is not a person with a white beard squatting outside the pluriverse.
God is rather immanent in the world as the fundamental causal processes
and structuring principles of nature - the 'cosmic envelope' or 'open
absent totality' which promotes, sustains and orders the whole.

Science and religion are thus fundamentally united in that they are
ultimately concerned with the same thing. Even agnostics and atheists
can accept that, if that is what God is, science is ultimately concerned
with God.

Such a conception also enables a concept of the unity of all religions.
The different religions and deities are all so many manifestations, in
the zone of relative (ephemeral) being, of the absolute and eternal
which is God.

Bhaskar's system is thus a (stratified, 'polyvalent' or plural) monism
rather than dualism. There are not two completely different kinds of
thing in the cosmos, spirit or mind and matter, the ideal and the
material; rather, they are ultimately enfolded in the one stuff

The human being's essential nature or *dharma* is to realise God, both
in their inner lives and in outer love and solidarity with all other
humans and beings. This means that they are both essentially one or
united as a species and with the rest of the pluriverse; essentially
creative; oriented to being, not having or "attachment"; enlightened,
not ignorant; disposed to engage in "spontaneous right action"; and,
above all, free. The human destiny is to live in an 'enchanted' world of
non-alienation and oneness or connectedness with the totality of being
(cf the secular vision of Rousseau, Marx).

2. Human beings have, however, forgotten that they are essentially God

It was necessary that this should happen in order for them to become
*self-consciously* aware of their true nature as forms of God coming to
self-realisation: "there could be no enlightenment without *avidya*
[ignorance and superficiality] and . . .  if we are already enlightened,
no recognition or realisation of it without a prior forgetting (or
fall)". Compare attempts to create artificial intelligence: it is clear
that to have any hope of succeeding, the machine must be free to make
mistakes (must have free will). 

So, with the evolutionary emergence of the specifically human being,
after an initial period of enchantment and oneness with God (Eden; pre-
class society) people started to make mistakes and fall into error.
Their two most momentous mistakes ('category mistakes') have been, first
to define ontology (being) in terms of human knowledge and means of
knowing (the 'epistemic fallacy'); and second to give a purely positive
and 'monovalent', rather than negative and 'polyvalent', account of
being. The most fundamental moves in the Bhaskarian system are therefore
the revindication of ontology (the study of which has had a bad press
from the modern (bourgeois) Enlightenment), and the elaboration of an
adequate concept of absence. 

These mistakes, and human activities in accordance with them, have
compounded and concatenated to form a distinct zone of relative being -
the 'demi-real' (within which we all now live our lives). The demi-real
has two interrelated dimensions. First, and the more fundamental, a web
of *maya*, 'structural sin', or ideological illusion. Thus we have the
illusion that we are actually free, when in fact we are (wage-) slaves;
or that we are separate atomised selves when objectively we are
interconnected. This is the cumulative historical result of leading our
lives based on fundamental human error. Second, oppressive and
exploitative social structures (class, gender, ethnicity etc.), which
Bhaskar refers to as 'master-slave-type relations'. 

Together these constitute evil, i.e. evil is human error or forgetting
of God and its cumulative consequences. The ignorance produced by such
error has led to "attachment", i.e. on the one hand an ethic of *having*
or desiring more and more (materialism, instrumental rationality),
instead of *being*, and aversion or fear of realising our human
possibilities and acting on higher froms of reason and insight than
instrumental reason.

Evil is, however, entirely parasitic upon our essential natures,
existing only as "a dislocation of good, a warp". Society's erroneous
and internally contradictory structure of ideas depends on "a real
deeper realist one" which it, on the one hand, functions to mask or
occlude, and, on the other, presupposes and tacitly acknowledges. 

3. 'All' we have to do, therefore, to achieve the good society
(eudaimonia) is 'shed' or 'let go' of structural sin, like butterflies
emerging from a crysalis, and act in accordance with our essential
natures or selves (self-realisation, re-enchantment). 

However, we'll have to work very hard at it! For this, Bhaskar
prescribes two fundamental dialectics. First, the dialectics of
'inaction' (of abstaining from doing in order to be) - prayer and
meditation, 'witnessing-in-activity', etc (inner commitment). Second,
the dialectics of action (outer commitment and solidarity). Here the
fundamental dialectic is 'the dialectic of desire to freedom',
eventually transmuting into freedom from desire. Its drive is towards a
society in which "the free development of each is a condition of the
free development of all", which entails the abolition of "generalised
master-slave-type relations" in their entirety. Its twin motors are,
first, desire to absent constraints on human flourishing, and second,
the logic of dialectical universalisability, whereby we come to see that
it is in the interest of the flourishing of each and all to end the
suffering of all dialectically similar beings.

The ultimate driving force of these dialectics is unconditional love of
our essential Selves and those of every other being and God -
"conditional love just is (or implies) attachment". Love and solidarity
is the essence of liberated humanity. 

Today humanity stands on a precipice. "Dominant Western accounts of
society and knowledge, and more especially the demi-real . . .
categorial structures which inform them, threaten the survival of . . .
the planet". Eudaimonia is thus "a condition of planetary survival".
Western civilisation is in decline, and Western thought, with its
characteristic emphases on "action and presence", is in crisis. This
has, however, produced four progressive turns in thought over the last
few centuries: reflexive (self-referential); processual (red);
ontological (realist); and holistic (green). Together with an input from
East, with its characteristic emphases on "absence and inaction"
(negativity and 'being'), these have made the new philosophical
synthesis - "the philosophy of universal self-realisation" - possible.
But the Owl of Minerva, as ever, is taking flight only at dusk, and this
time it could well be "the final falling of the dusk" - unless we act to
end the mad demi-real dialectic of having and possessing through a
revolution 'far more profound than perhaps any of us can perhaps
imagine', and the species leaves the world of Bush and Blair (and Bin
Laden) behind and moves to a far higher plane of loving and *being*. All
change begins with self-change i.e. realising who we are and what we can

Many of these ideas are not new. As I have said I was struck by their
similarity to those presented by Michael Lerner, which have been echoed
by others on this list. Bhaskar's real originality is to have developed
them in the context of a powerfully argued and coherent philosophical
system. His thought belongs squarely, not within the modern bourgeois
Enlightenment, which it sharply critiques, but within the older
tradition of dialectical and spiritual Enlightenment going back to
Plato, Aristotle and the major world religions. In Bhaskar's hands, this
tradition 'overreaches' the modern Enlightenment, embracing important
aspects of it. 

His system stresses, first, the openness, plurality and 'depth' of the
world, and the primacy of the possible over the actual. Second, the
ontological primacy of the negative (absence) over the positive
(presence) and the crucial role of (non-logical) creativity, intuition
or transcendence in human thought. Third, the relationality,
connectivity, and processuality of the world - together with the
holistic and "quantised" conception of causality necessary to apprehend
them in thought. Fourth, our alienation from the greater whole
(Totality) of which we are a part, and our potential to overcome it. 

Bhaskar is under no illusion that the intellectual battle is everything
in the struggle for eudaimonia, seeing it rather as just one essential
dimension of that struggle. He aspires to generate a worldview fitting
for a global eudaimonistic civilisation - "to produce for *everyone* now
a *total* philosophy for the *whole* of their (i.e. everyone's) being".


Mervyn Hartwig

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