Comments on “Stances trump systems”

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Stances vs. Modules

Wow, I hadn't noticed our huge agreement here. The point you make on this post is a central theme on my blog. I use the term "modules" where you use "stances". But throughout my blog, I try to get Christians, Buddhists and Atheists AWAY from discussing systems and instead, digging down as deep as they can to discuss the smallest mind patterns they can recognize and name for the purposes of dialogue -- the less abstract the better.

Thus, I may even encourage to go deeper than "Monism" and "Eternalism" etc... But as a half-way point, so to speak, these are a far improvement over "Christianity", "Buddhism" and "Atheism", "Democracy" or whatever layered abstraction they use as a banner.

I think the challenge for us is to be encouraged with each layer down we dive but to never be smuggly satisfied with any layer we are at -- I'd wager you agree.

So, in light of our huge agreement, I have three thoughts/questions:

(1) Essentialism
I wonder if "Essentialism" is another module/stance that could be considered an important 'mistaken stance'? BTW, perhaps "unbalanced" stance may be another productive way to name these views.

(2) Web/Nest of Stances
I don't think a stance has consequences in isolation necessarily. But as a module of mind, is in complex relationships of networks with many other stances -- each weighted emotionally and each linked to particular environmental triggers. So that two people with the same stance, can display them completely differently -- one healthy and one unhealthy depending on all the checks and balances of other stances and habits.

(3) Judging a Stance
It seems we must have some way of judging a stance in utilitarian or some other standard to call it mistaken, confused or unbalanced. Have you been explicit with this? Is it merely the inability to accept nebulosity or something of that nature? Further, if my #2 is correct, even this judgment will be severely hampered and instead point us more directly to our standard -- the course on which we feel the ship should be set.

Basic mistakes

Interesting—could you suggest some pages on your blog to read on the topic of modules?

I'd be interested to see what would be more basic than, e.g., eternalism. That's a simple proposition: things have definite meanings. That has various implications, and it trails a cloud of closely related ideas (e.g. that the meanings are given by some eternal ordering principle) whose job is to make it seem more plausible. Because these go together in practice, I plan to treat them together; but they could be broken out. Maybe that's what you have in mind?

Essentialism is indeed a key wrong idea. If you look at my list of topic keywords, you'll see it is on there; but actually I haven't figured out yet how to treat it. It's closely related to eternalism (logically, and historically in Greek and Indian philosophy), but it's not the same thing. It doesn't seem to fit into the schema of false oppositions I find with other stances; what would be its mistaken dual? Perhaps denying that things have any properties at all; but that's not a mistake anyone actually makes.

Yes, I will be describing a "web of stances." In my schematic overviews, the "likely next stances" row describes allied attitudes that one is likely to slide into when a given stance is destabilized.

I take it that the confused stances are just wrong; there isn't a healthy way of adopting them. I guess you could be more or less effective in dealing with the cognitive and emotional problems they inevitably cause? (There are sane and decent eternalists; there are viciously deranged eternalists.)

For each of the confused stances, I do plan to explain why it is wrong. Each one is both wrong as a value-free description of the world, and wrong in causing problems for life. For example, nihilism, the denial that there is any "real" meaning, is factually wrong because some things are meaningful. It's also damaging because it provokes rage, depression, and obfuscatory intellectual distortions.

Contrived Pairs

Ah, I see you have Essentialism as a placeholder in your book -- awaiting your writings. When you say you "haven't figured out yet how to treat it", maybe that is because you strained too much to put all things into "False Dichotomy" categories so that you can transcend them with Non-Dualism. Such a methodology may obscure one's objectivity at categorizing or identifying.

Maybe there are tons of things like Essentialism and things more basic than them that don't fit into neat pairs. I see no constraining reason why the mind must develop models in pairs.

Concerning "wrong stances", I think another complication in the issue is how people may confess or proclaim a stance but they actually do not act on it. Thus, though proclaiming a wrong stance, their web of stances show that they give it almost no weight. I think "weighting" is an important element too.

Yes, maybe eternal ordering, eternalism, essentialism and many more are grouped and we could name more. To go out of your way to group them into false dichotomies seems like a methodology that may force you to miss much and oversimplify important elements. Your methodology may work as a great heuristic, or a convenient mnemonic, so I can see its attraction.

Scope

Yes, there probably are many fundamental errors that don't fit into the typology.

But, there is a scope question here. I have a methodology that seems to be productive (in the sense of generating insights that I haven't really seen elsewhere). In this book, I'm probably just going to turn the handle on that methodology and let it spit out whatever results it can.

Otherwise, the danger is that this becomes "David Chapman's rants about everything that's wrong with the world," and who wants to read that? In other words, there needs to be some limitation of scope, and a unifying theme.

Essentialism has been debunked pretty thoroughly elsewhere. Unfortunately, its faults are not popularly understood, and alerting JPFs to the problems is important. Lots of things are important... I probably will treat essentialism, but only because it is closely related to eternalism. I can't do everything...

What you say about proclaiming vs. acting on a stance is right, and important. One of the partly-written pages close to the front of my work queue is about that. (In my terminology, this is "committing to" vs. "adopting" the stance.) The existing page "Stances are unstable" is quite relevant. If you are a Christian, say, you are supposedly committed to eternalism, but you are likely to fall into materialism or even nihilism frequently and without noticing.

I totally understand that

I totally understand that scope issue. Perhaps saying it up front and referring back to it is helpful. For I think my basic suspicion will be common to many reader. But as I said, using the scope will prove a useful heuristic and I get that.

Minsky, no-self, and no-God

Thank you very much; I read all those and found them interesting. (Actually I think I had read them before, but the new context made them interesting in a different way.)

I was a student of Marvin Minsky, so it's unsurprising that we have similar takes on this. In particular, I agree that his Society of Mind ideas are a useful way of understanding anatman (Buddhist no-self theory).

I guess I still don't get that your modules are simpler than my stances. (But maybe that isn't important, at least not at this stage.)

Our projects are similar in trying to understand why people "believe" wrong things, and in trying to do something about it. (We also agree that "belief" is not a unitary or simple phenomenon, and that this matters.)

Eternalism is closely connected with theism, although I think more basic. All theism is eternalism, but there are also non-theistic eternalisms. Many of the reasons to reject God are also reasons to reject other eternalisms. I hope also to persuade atheists that they ought to oppose other eternalisms. Particularly, I'd like to get atheist activists on board in opposing non-theistic eternalist monism ("pop spirituality"), which I see as a big emerging threat. Monists are mainly hostile to science, technology, reason, and empiricism, for some of the same reasons many theists are, but also for some reasons specific to monism.

Interestingly, I had never

Interestingly, I had never heard of Marvin Minsky until well after I wrote my ideas on modules when someone said I sounded like him. For me, the society of minds came to me during self-observations and lots of unique (for me) experiences.

Yes, we agree on a lot. I like your categories -- all are very useful. I agree with your agenda. That is why I think it is a shame that there is not more variants of Buddhism for Atheists.

I must say, though, I can't imagine how people can get at many of these observations without strong self-observation -- it offers very valuable data sets otherwise missing in the dialogues.

Main Title

Karmakshanti's picture

I have been kindly referred here by Sabio. I have clearly arrived in the middle of the movie and the plot, philosophical terms, and characters are too complicated for me to engage the ongoing discussion. So I would like to pull back to the basic title.

As a Buddhist with Tibetan teachers and someone who often hangs around Roman Catholic blogs, I can only give very limited assent to "Stances Trump Systems". This is not completely so anywhere, and it is far less so among Catholics and Tibetan Buddhists. Why? Because, in both cases, the experts from the systems, Buddhist monks and Catholic priests, make proactive efforts to address the issue of stances vs. systems directly. The priests "catecise" as many of their flock as will cooperate, particularly among the young. Buddhist monks regularly "teach the Dharma" and teach it widely in the lay community, not just to novice monks.

The result of this in both these systems is a core and periphery phenomenon where many, if not most followers are largely governed by the principles of the system rather than by independent stances. And, in fact, most followers, monastic or lay have a high degree of knowledge of the issues within the system and a fair degree of sophistication about applying it.

There is, of course, always a fringe of people who are dominated by stances despite nominal assent to the systems, but among both Catholics and Tibetan-trained Buddhists [Both Tibetan and Euro-American] it is relatively small.

You will find this to be so on Catholic blogs, which are almost completely authored by the laity and are highly knowledgeable and quite sophisticated about the system and its issues.

And I can testify directly to this in the case of Buddhism. My own Dharma Center has been in existence for 33 years. We are at the point where we have a few Buddhist grandchildren as well as lots
of Buddhist children among long term members. The monastics have come to teach only 1-3 times a year for the Center's entire life, and we have one resident lama who teaches twice a month, but we teach 3 classes weekly--Basic meditation instruction, Beginning Buddhism, and Advanced Buddhism, as well as separate "book study" groups moderated by long-term members.

Virtually everyone who had been at the Center longer than 3 years is knowledgeable enough to teach at least one of these classes and many members of 5 years or longer can teach all of them. To say nothing of someone like me who is 27 year member. The traveling monastics expect this of us because they teach us at what would be an intermediate level in the monastery, where the Dharma is studied every day.

There are very few of us whose conduct is not mostly congruent with what we teach or have been taught. This was also the case in old Tibet, and among the Tibetan settlements on the sub-continent. Most families sent the first born son, and, sometimes, others to the monasteries and virtually everyone had a close monastic relative with whom they could discuss the Dharma in quite precise detail.

In other Buddhist traditions, China, Japan, Myanmar, Korea and so on, as well as in most Protestant denominations the experts are a close and closed circle who service the laity rather than teach them on the level of sophistication where knowledge becomes theology. The resultant gap between stances and systems is wider overall and touches more people. But even among these there are quite a few "non-experts" among the laity whose conduct and attitudes are largely congruent with the system, and who know a good deal about it.

Adopting vs commitment

Hmm... This is a "how much" question, rather than a "whether or not" question, so some kind of quantitative data would be needed to settle it. I am not sure how one could get that.

However, there is a possible definitional confusion here. Your point is that some members of systems (good Catholics, serious Tibetan Buddhists) understand the system well intellectually, and their behavior generally conforms to its demands. That could be consistent with my point that moment-to-moment experience may be dominated instead by stances that contradict the system. I call this the contrast between "committing to" a system vs. "adopting" a stance.

Often one adopts a stance only for a few seconds, and without noticing it. It is usually a matter of perception and emotion than intellectual understanding. I think that our actual experience and activity in the world may often be dominated by such momentary adoptings, without our being particularly aware of it.

This belief is based on informally observing myself and others. For example, I'm explicitly committed to a version of Tibetan Buddhism. I've got a pretty thorough intellectual understanding of it, and my outward behavior is reasonably consistent with it. However, I still find myself, briefly but not uncommonly, falling into each of the confused stances I write about on this site. I think that's the typical experience, although perhaps I'm unusually inept.

I hope that readers of this site will recognize these patterns of confused perception/emotion/activity in themselves, and want to find ways to resolve them.

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This page is in the section Stances: responses to meaningness.

The next page in this section is Stances are unstable.

This page’s topic is Systems.

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