Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Spirituality, The Dark Pact

Retreat from Reality

I don't like the word "spirituality." It has far too much mystical nonsense and fluffistry attached to it. Spirituality is an excuse to avoid rigour and represents an agreement between people to leave their respective vague nonsense unchallenged and held immune to examination.

I have been known to rail on about "external referents" and entirely "private, internal realms." Well, I'm not just talking about claims to factual knowledge. Ever notice how, in natural language, spiritual feelings are analogous to mysticism? That's no coincidence, folks.

It seems both the religious and spiritualists claim to have spiritual components, which are feelings (often of "oneness") they have carefully constructed around their "understandings." To classify feelings as spiritual is an attempt to place feelings beyond public scrutiny, in the same way that defining beliefs as faith attempts to put beliefs beyond refutation. The spiritualist wants to have their cake and eat it too. They want all the benefits of an entirely private emotional (intuitive) realm of "truth" without the discomforts of reference to external reality, be that in the form of empirical verification or in the form of social negotiation.

In this way being spiritual places feelings in an "entirely private realm" that has no "external referents." This functions precisely the same as faith places statements of belief in an "entirely private realm" with no "external referents." In the case of spiritualism, external referents really means negotiating the legitimacy of feelings with others. Morality, from the religious/spiritualist standpoint, is a peculiar mix of belief and feelings.

The Dark Pact

The relief the spiritual person expresses when you claim to be spiritual is the understanding that you "recognize" the legitimacy of their private emotional realm as being somehow sacred and therefore not subject to examination, refutation, or critique. Spirituality is an excuse to avoid rigour and represents an agreement between people to leave their respective vague nonsense unchallenged and held immune to examination. It another way of saying, "I won't challenge your woo if you won't challenge mine."

I don't make this deal with anyone. I don't want my private internal realm to be immune to critique. I am fallible and prone to error (think about how humble a realization that is!) Making one's ideas immune to critique is the short path to insanity.

The dark pact, however, underscores a deeper problem - the idea that our understanding of reality is reality itself, the "true for me" mentality - that there are different realities for different people, rather than that we experience the same reality differently. If we do not recognize the commonality of reality, then we lose our ability to explore it in a way that is useful to, not just ourselves, but others as well. But, aside from that, spirituality is the very antithesis of self-discovery, since spirituality allows self-critique to simply stop.

"But feelings are harmless!" wails the spiritualist.

Ever notice how spiritualists seem to be in a world of their own? They are. This, contrary to popular opinion, is not a good thing.

Let's be blunt and to the point. History shows that we advance when we move beyond mysticism. Things go from being un-understandable to understandable. We go from being helpless pawns blown along helplessly on the winds of capricious fate to being efficacious beings capable of understanding and affecting reality when we get rid of mystical elements. Mysticism is perhaps the single most debilitating and disabling idea in human history.

Lately, as a species, we have been moving away from mysticism and faith, with tremendous effect and benefit, through a methodology of empirical verification (science). Every time we ignore the mystical, we gain human efficacy - the ability to influence. We have done this in terms our understanding about the natural world (beliefs). For simple, practical reasons, we need to do the same thing with respect to concepts of self and emotional realms (feelings).

Social Beings, We

We are social critters. Our social state of being is, to some degree, negotiated. We need to make our private, internal worlds public and open to critique. Spiritualism is a denial of that basic, human, social function, even when it is screaming loudly about being "connected." Ever notice how that connection is only peripherally concerned with other people? They want to "rise above it," when we, as people interacting with other real, living, breathing people, must be "down in it," engaged and involved with other human beings - not making excuses to not be engaged and involved. The claim to "connection" is shallow, self-absorbed and lost in egotism and often references vague, undefined (and undefinable) realms and entities. This is the same as having no external referents at all. It is anti-human, despite its fluffy emotive bent. It is dogmatic. It is the cult of "I."

Negotiating our concepts of self is a vital human function. It is also intensely difficult and fraught with peril. There's always the possibility we might be that unthinkable thing - wrong. Spiritualists deny that negotiation function. They trump human negotiation of our understandings in favour of their little private realms. They mystify their feelings and pretend they are somehow sacred. Things get a little muddled when those feelings also *seem* to include others, most notably when spiritualists attempt to spread their sickness, making it appear as if they are engaged in the human negotiating process. But their part in the process is entirely one-sided. They are attempting to influence others, without permitting themselves to be influenced by others. This is not merely dishonest; it is sociopathic.

The worst kinds of spiritualism, just as is the case with the worst kinds of religion, make no reference to external reality in any way whatsoever, and therefore are never subject to empirical critique. It is emotional intuitionism in its most fundamental, irrational form, but it appeals to those who want to claim expertise without the burden of evidence or, in terms of being social beings, never being subject to the social negotiation process of definition/redefinition of concept of self.

Just like religious belief, spiritualism is self-centered and egomaniacal, placing the self above reality and other people. Denying critique or negotiation through force of will. Spiritual "growth" is a distancing from humanity.

It seems to me that the most appropriate way to view religious belief and spiritualism is as rotting diseases of the social capability of the mind. They do not "inform" (as the euphemism goes); they define and restrict - hobble development and growth, distract into meaninglessness. The claimed "depth" of it is merely mental/emotional drowning in egotism.

Beyond Spirituality

So, what is my point in writing this? Reason and rationality require analysis and critique - not just of what other people think and say, but also of what we think and say.  Being rational requires a profound distancing from our egotism, to the point of allowing an external referent be the arbiter of our understanding. Being critical is more than pointing out how a view doesn't match one's own (different views talking past each other), as if one's own view were the final arbiter of truth. It is about holding one's own ideas up for critical analysis as well. It is also about framing our understandings such that reality is relevant to them. If one's internal realm consists of gods, vague apparitions, and undefinable ideas, held as truths, then there is nothing for anyone, including oneself, to get a grip on. We can all build elaborate mental/emotional constructs that make no reference to empirical reality at all, but that is hardly profound. Your average small child does that when imagining an unverifiable/unrefutable monster in the closet or under the bed.

We need to do better than your average young child.