Is This How It Ends?
On Human Stupidity and the Meagre Promise of the Epoché
Yes, nuclear annihilation and the environmental catastrophe are looming threats to humanity. But it is we, the humans, who have created these monstrosities. Or rather, it is a certain human disposition, all-too-common in its manifestation, that is at the heart of our situation: stupidity. Hence, is it not a fair conclusion that the gravest threat of all is the stupid human?
Once upon a time, clever humans invented something called the epoché. This was a place, or really a practice, of communal contemplation. The object of the contemplation was the relation between human beings and the real conditions of their existence. The goal was to avoid implementing deluded ways of being and to develop strategies to limit the damage of those already unleashed. The university was supposed to be the grand palace of the communal epoché. Something like meditation was conceived as the refuge of a private epoché. In our time, both, while still practiced, are colossal failures. So contend the proponents of a new epoché: The university has become a vapid state-sponsored apparatus of predatory corporate-consumer capitalism, spewing out culturally ignorant subjects trained to heel at our grand utopian STEM machine (science, technology, engineering, math). Meditation (mindfulness, yoga, therapy, coaching, spirituality, religion) has become little more than “a sop to the pathetic twinge of human self-esteem,” and so yet another virus of delusion sustaining our American cult of phony positivity.
Can we create an epoché anew for ourselves? How? Alone? Together? What might that look like? For what, if anything, might it give us hope? Our guide to these questions will be the short book The Art of Philosophy: Wisdom as a Practice by the contemporary German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk. Note that the original German title is more descriptive of the enterprise at hand: Suspended Animation in Thought (Scheintod im Denken).
Facilitator: Glenn Wallis holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Harvard University. He is the author of six books including Cruel Theory/Sublime Practice, A Critique of Western Buddhism and Basic Teachings of the Buddha as well as numerous articles, chapters, and essays on various aspects of Buddhism per se and Western Buddhism in contemporary society. His most recent work places Buddhism face to face with continental philosophy and psychoanalytic theory. Wallis has taught at Brown University, Bowdoin College, and the University of Georgia. He is the founder of the blog Speculative Non-Buddhism.