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Monday, February 13, 2023

Natural Law reading group, Week 12, 'In Doubt We Trust'

A marble bust of Pyrrho, the skeptical philosopher (Creative Commons photo, source.)

In this essay, essentially another discussion of maybe logic, RAW explains why uncertainty and doubt should often be considered the default position.

I was interested in his discussion about the real difference between cults and religions, i.e., his contention that there aren't any: "There are two clear-cut and empirical lines between a 'cult' and a 'religion' [a] membership (voters) and [b] bank account, [b] being a function of [a]. If a group has enough members to influence elections, it will also have a large bank account, and these two factors will guarantee that the politicians, the cops and the corporate media will treat it with respect, as a 'religion'."

While I think Wilson is on to something, it seems to me that the passage of time also seems to be a factor; if a cult lasts for generations, it acquires respectability and becomes a religion. But I'm having trouble thinking of any other criticisms of Wilson's suggestion. I was going to argue that cults don't take it well when someone tries to leave, but Islam is a religion that is famously hard on apostates. 

Elsewhere in the piece, Wilson states that a batting average below .333 means that the hitter "missed more than two out of three times they swung." Did RAW really know so little about baseball? (A batting average is the number of hits divided by the number of at-bats; a batter with three hits in ten at bats has a .300 average. The number of times he or she swung and missed is irrelevant). 

"... if  our perceptions are somewhat uncertain, then all of our ideas, which are deductions or inferences from perception, must also remain somewhat uncertain." 

Given RAW's interest in skepticism, I am surprised that I cannot remember any of his writings mention Pyrrho, the Greek philosopher who founded a school of skeptical philosophy, Pyrrhonism.  According to the Wikipedia article, one of the sayings of Pyrrhonism is "Perhaps, it is possible, maybe." Can anyone contradict me and point to a passage where RAW mentions Pyrrho?'

The RAW Semantics blog has a piece about Pyrrhonism which says, "I don’t recall RAW referencing Pyrrho in his writings or talks (although he may well have done). But when searching for such references, I found this nice description (by Erik Davis) of RAW’s philosophical vision as 'a kind of psychedelicized Pyrrhonian skepticism'."

Pyrrho by the way traveled with Alexander the Great's army, which reached India, and supposedly was influenced by Indian philosophers. 


Rarebit Fiend said...

I appreciate the fact you're around to tell me the baseball stat is bogus; I wouldn't have picked up on that otherwise.

I'd say you have a bit of something about the passage of time, but to escape "cult" status, a belief system also has to include growth. Take for instance the snake-handling Pentecostalists of my home: they are ostensibly an offset of Christianity (but so are many (most?) cults in the United States) but one considered to be a bizarre offset, at the very least. While I don't think the Church of Christ of Baptists, both extremely insular and us-against-them belief systems, are worthy of the distinction between cult and "legitimate" religion, snake-handlers are still seen as a pseudo-cult, at the very least. They are now dying out and therefore, despite their relative longevity, they are permanently relegated to the title of "extreme religious sect" or "cult."

Another example I could point to are the Amish/Mennonite communities hereabout. While an Amish person might not hold the same horror as a Scientologist for those of us raised on television exposes, they are very *other* than the rest of us. That is to say that very few people would consider joining either community as a sane choice, at least among "regular" people. I will admit I still find it jarring to see Mennonite women shopping in Walmart.

I could cite the Yezidi, Taoist curehound-mystics, Southern Black Protestant hoodoo and other religious traditions that are venerable but decidedly still "unnatural" in the eyes of many. Swendenborgians, Quakers and Moravians are saved by the fact they have universities. So, I guess don't think time has that much to do with it. Especially when we compare these ideas to Scientology, which wouldn't have any of the respect it is accorded under US law without attracting people with money and growth during the 20th century. If Scientology was just a bunch of L. Ron Hubbard fans without money, they'd has the same societal heft as The Church of All Worlds or (their splinter faction) The Process Church of the Final Judgement. If that. I guess this strengthens Wilson's point because even if there were as many Scientologists as there are today without the cash, they'd be much less protected/respected in the eyes of the law.

I think another thing that distinguishes a "cult" from a "religion" in our society's eyes is outward dress. The Apostolics of my hometown are tolerated, but we all (outsiders, "normal folk") know they're "weird" because the women don't cut their hair and only wear (of all things) jean skirts. The Nike Decade, a Raelian's swirl or the shaved heads of white Hari Krishnas is a sure sign of derangement for much of the populace (at least those that could identify such signs). We could argue that things like hijab or payot disprove this, since most people don't consider Judaism or Islam a cult, but the hostility from people outside those cultural traditions is undeniable.

So get bigger and make money; I guess the key to being a successful religion is corporatism. Which is why I desperately hope the OTO fails to become a tax-exempt organization under US law. I don't need that shit on my karma.

Oz Fritz said...

Great write-up!

I suspect RAW used the opening Woody Allen quote intending a pun on "Chinatown" with the film of the same name. He used chinatown in the film as a metaphor for Chapel Perilous, if memory serves. Elsewhere, I infer RAW recommends embracing doubt as a way through Chapel Perilous when he said it involved for him a choice between paranoia and agnosticism.

He uses "religion" to represent large, organized, dogmatic religions in this piece.

From p. 200: "I have no commitment to materialism as a philosophy that explains everything, since no correlation of words can ever do that, and a philosophy is never more than a correlation of words."

This resonates with the last Deleuze video I posted on Univocity where he says the problem has now become to transcend our form and break our syntactical link with the world. I interpret that as going beyond how we use words and the rules of language to translate our environment to us. Transcending our form indicates going for the higher brain circuits. Deleuze writes "[P]ilosophy merges with ontology, but ontology merges with univocity of Being." I suggest in the video not attempting to "figure out" this chapter but rather to experience it as an event.

Uncertainty finds its place as a pillar in Deleuze's presentation at the end of the First Series of Paradoxes of Pure Becoming. Speaking of Lewis Carroll's Alice:

"This is the test of savoir (French for learning) and recitation which strips Alice of her identity. In it words may go awry, being obliquely swept away by verbs. It is as if events enjoyed an irreality which is communicated through language to the savoir and to persons. For personal uncertainty is not a doubt foreign to what is happening, but rather an objective structure of the event itself, insofar as it moves in two directions at once, and insofar as it fragments the subject following this double direction." (Emphasis added. I believe Deleuze uses the word savoir for what we'd call programming or conditioning)

I've done both experiments mentioned on p. 201 with RAW in workshops; both had very interesting results. With the hallway exercise, RAW pointed out that no one reported seeing themselves in the hallway - this felt revelatory to me regarding how we don't "remember ourselves" in the Gurdjieffian sense. Ordinarily, our attention tends to completely identify with the environment, we forget ourselves.

The sound exercise got me mildly high, we actually did this meditation for 5 minutes. I experienced relief at not having to translate sounds into words that attempt to identify and represent the sounds. This later helped me do a better job as a sound engineer.

Spookah said...

Oz, although it could still be a reference to the 1974 film, Chinatown was directed by Roman Polanski, not Woody Allen. The film is set in California, while Allen has New York as a setting for many of his films, and Manhattan has its own Chinatown. Jack Nicholson himself directed a follow up to the Polanski film, called The Two Jakes (1990).

That said, I think you might be right in connecting the cinematic place 'Chinatown' with Chapel Perilous. In fact, I would advance that many so-called Film Noir could probably be used as examples of Chapel Perilous, with their typically labyrinthine plot, sense of a closed off diegetic geographical space, and beaten-down, borderline existentialist philosophy.
Pynchon himself tried it out with Inherent Vice. I liked the Paul Thomas Anderson film, but still have to read the book.

I admit failing to understand the Ezra Pound quote from the Cantos. Anyone willing to weigh in and help interpret it?