File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0111, message 75

Date: Mon, 12 Nov 2001 07:34:39 -0600
Subject: A religion for cyborgs


In your recent posts you have been discussing both self-interest and the
sublime.  I want to respond here in a way that attempts to connect both
of these concepts.

The classic problem of self is simply that it does not appear to be a
unity.  This fact led Plato in his Republic to propose a tripartite
theory of the soul which was a kind of miniaturization of the ideal
Greek city-state.

Aristotle opposed this and argued that the soul is a unity, but even he
recognized there was a distinction between reason and the appetites. 
The problem he identified in his ethics is sometimes referred to as the
problem of incontinence.

A simple example will illustrate what I mean.  Suppose in terms of your
self-interest, you have decided to quit smoking.  However, after a long
and stressful day, you found yourself in a bar with a drink in your hand
and you're dying for a smoke.  The ethical question then becomes; "what
is my self-interest?"

Do I have the momentary pleasure of a cigarette (which I truly need
right now,  I can still quit tomorrow) or do I endure the pain for the
sake of a somewhat idealized notion of my self-interest beyond the

In Lyotard's terminology, this might even be construed as a case of the

Now, consider the sublime.  I recognize that in Kant this terminology
becomes rather abstract as it supports the rather complex machinery of
his philosophical doctrine of the faculties.  However, if we focus upon
the sublime as a state in which an initial state of pain gives way to a
state of negative pleasure (or what Burke referred to as delight)  it is
possible to provide some simple illustration.

Imagine you are in a boat in the middle of the lake and it capsized.  As
you find yourself in the water, you fear you will drown.  Your entire
life flashes before your eyes as your hang unto the boat for dear life. 
Then a motor boast appears in the distance. You wave and shout.  It sees
you.  You are saved.

Coming to shore, you are aware of a different feel.  While in the water,
you knew only fear, panic and terror.  Now we know a kind of quiet joy. 
I is a very different pleasure than those found in eating and drinking
and making love, but it is complete and whole and perfectly satisfying. 
Through the grace of chance, you are alive.

It is said that when Epicurus was young and survived a shipwreck and
some have speculated that this is the source of his sublime and ethical
notion of happiness.  

For in the ethics of Epicurus, it is stated that all pleasure is a good,
but not all pleasure is desirable because it may merely lead to greater
pain and suffering (consider the case of smoking above). Instead it is
possible to achieve another state in which the pleasure is abiding and
constant and it is sublime condition we should seek.  He called it
Ataraxia or tranquillity and it is characterized by absence of pain in
the body and absence of anxiety in the mind.

What I also find interesting about this is that the state is exactly
like the one identified in various religions as the state of the
blessed.  It is typically realized by various means such as prayer and
fasting, yoga and meditation, contemplation.  

What is so intriguing about Epicurus is that he deconstructs the
supernatural base of religion and state a way in which these religious
ideals can be realized in purely materialist terms. 

As we search for a way to confront politically the commodity nature of
our current society, a way must be found to make alternatives viable. 
The promise of Epicurus for me is that his ethics point the way to a new
hedonistic society in which individuals remain responsible for their
actions without having to fortify themselves with conspicuous
consumption.  If there was a cultural movement that began to live on
these terms and made an exodus from the current society, perhaps this
would provide one of the foundations for a political movement.

Beyond this, there is also a mystical dimension.  As many have pointed
out, in every religion there is a more esoteric component which provide
what Eliade once referred to as the technology of ecstasy.   History
from time to time has thrown up mysterious individuals such as Meister
Eckhart, Rumi, Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharshi etc.  

What if such individuals were harbingers of a future state in which
which work do longer defined existence or the very notion of self. 
Then, perhaps a different self could be realized, one that is perhaps
more sublime.  The foundations of this society would be created
politically, perhaps, but in this new society, the political might no
longer predominate.  

Such a society might be described as religious, perhaps, but not in the
conventional way we mean it today.  For there the old god and goddesses
would be recognized as components of the psyche, facets of the diamond
self.  The goal of life would be found in ecstasy as all the various
conventions and form of social life were outshined in a a greater
bliss.  This would truly be a religion for cyborgs.



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