An interlude for a quote

An intelligent man’s tongue is located behind his heart.
A fool’s heart is located behind his tongue.
Imam Ali

What is natural, maturing, and destined

Confucius looked at the view in Lu-liang. The waterfall hung down three hundred feet, it streamed foam for forty miles, it was a place where fish and turtles and crocodiles could no swim, but he saw one fellow swimming there. He took him for someone in trouble who wanted to die, and sent a disciple along the bank to pull him up. But after a few hundred paces the man came out, and strolled under the bank with his hair down his back, singing as he walked. Confucius took the opportunity to question him.

– I thought you were a ghost, but now I see you close up you’re a man. May I ask whether you have a Way to stay afloat in water?

– No, I have no Way. I began in what is native to me, grew up in what is natural to me, matured in what is destined for me. I enter with the inflow, and emerge with the outflow, follow the Way of the water and do not impose my selfishness upon it.

– What do you mean by ‘beginning in what is native to you, growing up in what is natural to you, maturing in what is destined for you’?

– Having been born on dry land I am at home on dry land – it’s native to me. Having grown up in water I am at home in water – it’s natural to me. It is so without me knowing why it is so – it’s destined for me.’

(Chuang-tzu, chapter 9)

A bit of Trinity Arithmetics

There is nothing like delving into Pythagorean medieval philosopher’s cogitation on your way to university on a London bus (innit):

The number one claims an exceptional position, which we meet again in the natural philosophy of the Middle Ages. According to this, one is not a number at all; the first number is two. Two is the first number because, with it, separation and multiplication begin, which alone make counting possible. With the appearance of the number two, another appears alongside the one, a happening which is so striking that in many languages “the other” and “the second” are expressed by the same word. Also associated with the number two is the idea of right and left, and remarkably enough, of favourable and unfavourable, good and bad. The “other” can have a “sinister” significance – or one feels it, at least, as something opposite and alien. Therefore, argues a medieval alchemist, God did not praise the second day of creation, because on this day (Monday, the day of the moon) the binarius, alias the devil, came into existence. Two implies a one which is different and distinct from the “numberless” One. In other words, as soon as the number two appears, a unit is produced out of the original unity, and this unit is none other than that same unity split into two and turned into a “number”. The “One” and the “Other” form an opposition, but there is no opposition between one and two, for these are simple numbers which are distinguished only by their arithmetical value and by nothing else. The “One,” however, seeks to hold to its one-and-alone existence, while the “Other” ever strives to be another opposed to the One. The One will not let go of the Other because, if it did, it would lose its character; and the Other pushes itself away from the One in order to exist at all. Thus there arises a tension of opposites between the One and the Other. But every tension of opposites culminates in a release, out of which comes the “third.” In the third, the tension is resolved and the lost unity is restored. Unity, the absolute One, cannot be numbered, it is indefinable and unknowable; only when it appears as a unit, the number one, is it knowable, for the “Other” which is required for this act of knowing is lacking in the condition of the One. Three is an unfolding of the One to a condition where it can be known – unity become recognizable; had it not been resolved into the polarity of the One and the Other, it would have remained fixed in a condition devoid of every quality. Three therefore appears as a suitable synonym for a process of development in time, and thus forms a parallel to the self-revelation of the Deity as the absolute One unfolded into Three. The relation of Threeness to Oneness can be expressed by an equilateral triangle, A=B=C, that is, by the identity of the three, threeness being contained in its entirety in each of the three angles. This intellectual idea of the equilateral triangle is a conceptual model for the logical image of the Trinity.

C.G. Jung Psychology and Western Religion, from part 1: A psychological approach to the trinity, p.15

A plea for treeworship

Take this post as a series of open-ended unanswered questions.

In the history of monotheistic religions, as we call and categorize them, there is one particular approach to God that I wish to ponder upon. But first things first, whether god ‘exists’ or not whether this statement has any ‘substance’, or whether it ‘means’ anything is really not what I am after. But given that thinking about God is an activity humans like to indulge in, God is an idea, it is at the image of the spirit, it is the abstraction of thought, so to speak. The existence of God has nothing to do with humans thinking about it. Ok, I haven’t revolutionized theology and this is far from being a revolutionary call, but a benign plea.

One could read through the history of these theologies a certain approach to the idea, to the “ideational”, one that favors a complacent narcissistic understanding of God as emanating from inside, from the spirit. God is the abstraction of thought, etc.

As Kafka says cryptically: “We are nihilist thoughts rising in the head of God”, meaning a whole bunch of things, but probably one of them, as I like to read it, is that God is the logos, the thought, the verb, etc, and we constantly challenge the boundaries of how we think, we have these anti-thoughts in the thought. We try to derail the system that we erected for ourselves. It does not mean it distances us from God, it may actually do the contrary.

The great Sufi Ibn el Arabi proposed that in order to approach God you have to enter a state of bewilderment. You have to lose yourself, to be confused. God misleads. Approaching the divine can only take place when you destroy intellectual path, you deframe speech. You get out of the ideational. You probably go into the cult of ‘appearance’ like Nietzsche nicely put it.

Some currents in religions have intellectualized, or rendered the approach to God user-friendly. I do not know if we can escape from this platonic understanding of God as Idea, that even some Sufi currents developed (as we have read them through Orientalist writing mind you). But my suggestion is to re-introduce a Pagan element into this.

I may be fooling myself and still be dependent on the ideational, but when I look at a tree, I am amazed by its robustness, its entrenchment in the earth, its majestic spreading of branches its soft leaves and delicious fruits, this serenity it projects. But there is something that transcends this intellectual process. Something experiential. There are many lessons to draw from looking at a tree, and although I tend to humanize the tree (or Godify it), I want to refrain from thinking that there is something more abstract from it. Can the immediate ‘presence’ of the tree supersedes the idea of the tree? I have no answer to that. But if I did then I would have derailed the classical notion of God.

One thing is sure: being all too confident in the platonic world of ideas as a field for the divine is missing something of this divine. Although it may be political useful to shape the imaginary of communities. More on this later, but Happy Daggers sums it all here.

About language and an anecdote

Moussa has just asked me a weird question. And I really did not know how to answer. Do you guys happen to know what a “Makari” – مكاري – is in Arabic? It happens to signify the guy who rents donkeys.


Yes.. not the guy who rides, or owns, or sells, or even buys, but the guy who ‘rents’ donkeys!

Can you get me a more specialized language than that? There is not a doubt that Arabic is a very precise language. I’ll give you an example, how can you translate “passion” in Arabic? I have a passion for something. You basically can’t… That’s too much of a general statement, and Arabic likes people who are precise. A passion for what? Is it a hobby? then it’s hiwaya. Is it love for the opposite sex? than it is 3oshq. etc. Let’s give an economic example. What does “interest” mean in Arabic? Again at least 5 different words either having to do with work, hobby, etc.

Another point I’d like to make. A signifier in a language are (and change in function of) the historically determined construction of a society, its economic modes of production, its political and social institutions etc. So I ask myself where does this precision come from? Messick argues that the various texts and traditions making up the Shari’a have the most sophisticated theory of contract without any explicit mention of a precise wording for private property. Another thing Messick says is that round narrowed and homogeneous legal concepts like “human rights” “citizenship” “private property” are a peculiarity of European recent institutional discursive development. The Shari’a in its loose and fluid nature manage to elaborate much more sophisticated concepts because they are never named by one single self-contained word-signifier. But in the age of the nation-state, the systematic accumulation of capital, and techno-scientific development, the more artistic and virtuoso type of legal framework and describer of reality tend to have a hard time adjusting.

Probably one of the reasons why Arabic societies were so porous and vulnerable to colonialist penetration and probably why effective resistance is the one that clinched on the paradigmatic text (as Messick would call the Koran), and other entrenched signifiers. Those commonly called “the Islamists”.

Update1: Moussa just explained to me where did he come up with the word Makari. If any of you watched the imperturbable Berri yesterday with this scumbag Marcel Ghanem he would have heard him answering to the accusations of severely disturbed Walid Jumblatt that “wealthy Shi’as” are buying up land in the south. When Ghanem said that it is Farid Makari (vice president of parliament) who makes these accusations, Berri quite enigmatically answered: “yeah, he would know, he’s the Makari!”
So Moussa rushed to the dictionary to see what it could possibly mean and this is what he could find…

Update2: After listening the third time to the interview, this morning on the radio (yes Moussa is a dilettante home squatter having nothing to do else than listening to the pearls of wisdom of Lebanese politicians), and after exchanging ten emails on the subject, we ended up concluding that this was not what exactly happen yesterday on Kalam el Naas. Actually Makari was referring to Berri’s initiative. Berri launches every once and a while an initiative that calls for compromise, positioning himself as the eternal moderator. Seriously, I remember at least three initiatives of the same kind in the past two years only. Well, one thing is sure the rest of the Lebanese are barking so loud behind their respective fences that one could understand the humanistic drives of Berri. But anyway, that is not the point. Makari qualified Berri’s initiative as a “Bay3et Massa”.
Now here is another linguistic curiosity. This time an expression emanating from the spoken. “Bay3et massa” refers to the vegetables you sell at night, when they are already a bit damaged by the day. It is an expression that means that what one presents as a good is already kind of rotten. To which Berri answered famously: “Sure he knows this stuff, he’s the Makari!”
Do you get it?

God, reason, and language

Echoing with what I started fumbling about in a previous post, I found this marvelous passage in Derrida’s critique of Foucault’s History of Madness:

Mais Dieu, c’est l’autre nom de l’absolu de la raison elle-même, de la raison et du sens en général. Et qu’est-ce qui saurait exclure, réduire ou, ce qui revient au meme, comprendre absolumment la folie, sinon la raison en général, la raison absolue et sans détermination, dont l’autre nom est Dieu pour les rationalistes classiques ? On ne peut accuser ceux, individus ou sociétés, qui on recours à Dieu contre la folie, de chercher à s’abriter, à s’assurer des garde-fous, des frontières asilaires, qu’en faisant de cet abri un abri fini, dans le monde, en faisant de Dieu un tiers ou une puissance finie, c’est-à dire en se trompant ; en se trompant non pas sur le contenu et la finalité effective de ce geste dans l’histoire, mais sur la spécificité philosophique de la pensée et du nom de Dieu. Si la philosophie a eu lieu – ce qu’on peut toujours contester – c’est seulement dans la mesure où elle a formé le dessein de penser au de là de l’abri fini. En décrivant la constitution historique de ces gardes-fous finis, dans le mouvement des individus, des sociétés et de toutes les totalités finies en général, on peut à la limite tout décrire – et c’est une tâche légitime, immense, nécessaire – sauf le projet philosophique lui-même. Or dans son sens intensionnel propre, il se donne comme pensée de l’infinie, c’est-à-dire de ce qui ne se laisse épuiser par aucune totalité finie, par aucune fonction ou détermination instrumentale, technique ou politique. Se donner comme tel, c’est là, dira-t-on, son mensonge, sa violence et sa mystification ; ou encore sa mauvaise foi. Et il faut sans doute décrire avec rigueur la structure qui lie cette intention excédante à la totalité historique finie, il faut en déterminer l’économie. Mais ces ruses économiques ne sont possibles, comme toute ruse, que pour des paroles et des intentions finies, substituant une finité à une autre. On ne ment pas quand on ne dit rien (de fini ou de déterminé), quand on dit Dieu, l’Etre ou le Néant, quand on ne modifie pas le fini dans le sens déclaré de sa parole, quand on dit l’infini, c’est-à-dire quand on laisse l’infini (Dieu l’Etre ou le Néant, car il appartient au sens de l’infini de ne pouvoir être une détermination ontique parmi d’autres) se dire et se penser. [footnote on page 90-91)

Derrida, Jacques. 1967. L’écriture et la différence. Paris: Editions du Seuil

Philosophical thoughts

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the effect of the presence or absence of God in the daily lives of people and the very different aspects of how this give meaning to their daily practices (and thus provides ground for action). While I still don’t have a clear theory of that especially for my interest in understanding social mobilization, I inadvertently had some completely different types of thoughts (of a philosophical nature). It is just that because the idea of God is a language trick in many ways (something to develop on its own account), I cannot help but thinking of some of its drawbacks.

So Yesterday, I had this ‘illumination’: God is the product of reason. Ironically, all religions and beliefs represent divinity as what is beyond reason: At some point reason stops, thought-processes cannot comprehend this phenomenon and so you must believe in God. I would say that it’s actually the basis of our thought process (and so logic, reasoning, or intellectual activity in general) that creates or make the idea of God possible in the first place. Now if you then believe or not is another question. In the first place, if you did not have this capacity to think then you would not have even thought that God is an issue.

So my argument: Thinking is God, the latter being the perfect edge on which the faculties of reasoning must end. God is a pure reflection of our reasoning faculties. It is the ‘natural’ conclusion of the perfection in which we immerse our intellectual faculties.

As long as you think, you are trapped in this equation. It is only when you stop this intellectual dialectical process that God ceases to exist. That God ceases to be an issue. Let’s here hypothesize that internal arts like Yoga (This is probably why Yoga classical literature talks about a god, but one who did not create the universe, and who is only invoked to help with concentration techniques) may help in arriving at this state where the body is the siege of interest.The body is as such, mind being completely instrumental to what the body (the main field of Being) is capable of doing. The question is not anymore whether “God” exists or not (and what are the different arguments based on reason, or supposedly relinquishing reason to arrive at the certainty that he/she “is”). There are no more questions, just raw life forms in their contemplative state (imagine a tree for a nice metaphor). The idea of God (i.e. reasoning) ceases to exist and becomes immersed into the all powerful living body.