Can radical spirituality end racism?

“”What the superior man seeks,” said Confucius, “is in himself; what the ordinary man seeks, is in others.” In the West, those who consider themselves spiritual, thinking people, inevitably consider themselves to be concerned with the internal — the inner being — not the external. Frequently, though, nothing could be further from the truth. And therein lies the essential fault in the West, in how it relates to itself, and how it relates to others — or the “Other.” Let’s explore.

In contrast to the teachings of Confucius, as well as schools of philosophy such as Stoicism and religions from Vedanta Hinduism to Zen Buddhism, solutions to problems in contemporary society, as advocated by “progressives” (the most Western element of Western society in relation to non-Western societies) focus on the external. Racism is to be solved, according to this mindset, by focussing on race, not character or essential qualities that transcend race. While this is often portrayed as criticizing “the system,” it inevitably props it up in reality by reinforcing its essential assumptions.

“The superior man thinks of virtue; the ordinary man thinks of comfort,” Confucius also tells us. Yet since the First World War (and especially since the Second World War), Western man has increasingly thought of comfort, not virtue. Instead of wanting to teach logic, reasoning and debate, certain speech is criminalized, at least in Europe — because it’s “offensive,” and so that people don’t have to and, indeed, because they no longer have the capacity to, argue against it. We don’t want to teach restraint and responsibility in regard to gun ownership, we want to prohibit gun ownership, even as guns can now be created using 3d printers in anyone’s garage or apartment).

Laws are introduced after events and changes in society. In today’s world, with the fast pace of change in technology, migration, etc., the law won’t be able to keep up. The attempt to create societal harmony through prosecution, and the threat of prosecution, has created, and will create, only disharmony and the splitting of society into factions. That’s great for advocates of micromanaging society; bad for everyone else.

Consider the issues of religion and gay rights. For Christianity and Islam in particular, homosexuality is seen as a grave sin against God. If a Christian or Muslim were to condemn homosexuality, in Europe, though, he could be prosecuted for committing a “hate crime” (against gay people). But, if a gay man or woman in Europe were to condemn Christianity or Islam on this basis, he too would be committing a “hate crime” (against one of these religions). I don’t point this out to advocate for one side or the other, but merely to point out the inherent contradiction of the “progressive” worldview as advocated in Europe (and catching on in America), and, by extension, the essential problem of micromanaging people and society.

Bourgeois spirituality

The problem, though, isn’t about “organized religion” per se. Left-wing (self-described “communist”) maverick and cultural critic Slavoj Zizek has observed that modern, Western spirituality and “Western Buddhism” enables the practitioner to continue to participate in “capitalism” while comforting himself that he is really above it. The practitioner can become a cog in the wheel, a rat in the rat race, while telling himself — in Western spiritual-speak — that it’s really all an “illusion.” Despite usually seeing itself as opposed to it, to a large degree, this spirituality is the descendent of modern, Protestant Christianity — with its “Protestant work ethic,” “equality before the Lord,” and so on. (Or it might be regarded as a fusion of Protestantism and therapy/psychology, given the veneer of non-Western religion.)

“Capitalism” is an interesting phenomenon. As Zizek himself has observed, it can, and does, absorb anti-capitalism. You can, if you wish, buy not just a tee-shirt of the face of Marxist guerilla Che Guevara but you can also buy Che bubble bath and Cherry Guevara ice cream for the really revolutionary night in. Zizek would undoubtedly say that capitalism makes use of anti-capitalism to further itself. And this is, to a large extent true. Take Simple Mobile. It ran a campaign in 2012 with the slogan “more for the people, less for the man.” Consumers were encouraged, not very subtly, to buy this mobile plan on the basis that they were getting one over on big business. Was that an accurate presentation of the facts? Obviously not.

But while Right-wingers (including the Christian Right) often promote “the free market” (by which they often mean big capitalism), they — and many anti-capitalists — seem absolutely oblivious to the fact that people are freely buying into the values and ideas mainstream “Right-wingers” oppose: anti-Christianity, anti-capitalism, anti-Americanism, etc. Target and many other “freer marketeers” — from the Right-wing perspective — have advocated for Gay marriage or “marriage equality.” Zizek is correct that “Western spirituality” enables people to participate in “capitalism,” but, paradoxically, capitalism itself enables Westerners to participate in “anti-capitalism” — it’s the pose of revolution while remaining part of, and even a support for, the contemporary, dominant micromanagement worldview.

I accept, therefore I am

What spirituality in modernity has not cultivated is independence of thought, spirit, etc. Instead it has enabled the spiritualization of “the system,” with political parties providing the exoteric doctrines. This is the perennial temptation of modernity, and one that Rightist Julius Evola fell into when he took the late nineteenth century forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a spiritual text. The Leftist makes no less a mistake when adopts political correctness as his spiritual orientation or doctrine.

While contemporary ersatz spirituality requires the practitioner or believer to identify himself with, and to adopt unquestioningly, political truths du jour, authentic spirituality demands the discovery of timeless values and virtues (courage, integrity, patience, self-reliance, perseverance, hope, generosity, etc.), to discover the Truth. This requires risk. For Nietzsche, it meant “living voluntarily among ice and high mountains.” For us today it will mean cultivating an equally demanding inner strength and independence.

Return to integral virtues

Associated with old fashioned types of behavior, “virtue” isn’t a very popular word today. The earliest concept, though, was quite different. The ancient Roman Virtus (the root of the contemporary term) referred to what were regarded as the essential masculine virtues: courage, character, etc.

Modern spirituality (and, to a certain extent, Protestant Christianity as well) has created a worldview that excludes the virtues that permeate and give meaning to most religions and all civilizations. Yet, it is only here that the micromanaging of progressivism and the intolerance inherent in group identity can be transcended. Radical Black nationalist Malcolm X found hope for a colorblind society only after going on the Hajj (the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca), where he met with, and was treated as an equal and a friend and brother by, White Muslims, as well as Muslims of other races. For X, Islam — often a much stricter and harsher religion than Christianity, Buddhism or Vedanta Hinduism, etc. — offered a way of transcending color. It offered an identity that transcended race, yes, but that identity was brought about and sustained by the integral values and rituals of Islam, as its practitioners saw it.

Again, despite being — or, rather, precisely because he was — a Japanese nationalist, Yukio Mishima, Japan’s most famous author and playwright, was inspired by ancient Greek culture, and took up bodybuilding to acquire the physique of the ancient Greek ideal and the then contemporary American ideal. But, for Mishima, the physical was a mere expression of the inner, of integral values common to East and West.

Can radical spirituality end racism? Yes.

Today, conservatives frequently claim that capitalism is better at creating equality than socialism. This isn’t so surprising, perhaps, since capitalism and communism share the essential worldview that the economy is primary. Only when looking from outside so these allegedly opposite world views appear almost identical. So, too, do many of the allegedly opposite world views of Western man today. As British, Left-wing author Nick Cohen has noted, contemporary progressives have in many cases allied themselves to the most Right-wing Islamists imaginable, and have even defended such inequality as they would otherwise find intolerable. This is the logical conclusion of politics.

The solution is the return to integral values — and, as such, away from the excesses of modern, “pick ‘n’ mix” “Western spirituality” to authentic spirituality. It means rejecting the perception of man as an underling — an inferior, a victim, a loser — to be micromanaged, and ensuring the meeting of the (Confucian) “superior man” with “superior man,” regardless of his race, religion, and so on. It means forming deep, integral connections, not based on group identity, and the management thereof, but the transcending of identity through being, virtue, and the recognition of brothers who have transcended the mundane and the mediocre.

The virtues of the civilizations and religions are similar: the Roman virtus — valor, manliness, excellence, courage, and character. The Hindu Bhagavad Gita (16. 2-3) tells us that “Fearlessness, purity of heart… generosity, self-control, nonviolence… candor… integrity… dignity… courage, a benevolent, loving heart — these are the qualities of men born with divine traits…” The real question isn’t whether radical spirituality can end racism? It’s can we give up the privilege of micromanaging, and put these timeless, transcendent virtues into practice?

Angel_headshot_smallAngel Millar is an author, blogger, and the editor of People of Shambhala.

2 Replies to “Can radical spirituality end racism?”

  1. Very important article. I have been thinking along these lines myself for quite some time.

    1. Thank you very much, N Wahid Azal. I appreciate your feedback.

Leave a Reply to N Wahid Azal Cancel reply

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box