Standing at the Edge. A response in Six Steps and a Proposal

[The following text is my response and proposal to the event «Standing at the Age» organised by Mind & Life Europe, and broadcast on 26 January 2022. The Youtube link to the event:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOxcy5St-lg]


(1) I have listened very carefully to the interventions of the panellists. I found many valuable elements for reflection. However, I believe that there is an underlying problem that must be explicitly taken on board. It is not possible to talk about standing at the edge without taking into consideration that this edge is a civilisational construction. Is the expression of a very particular «totality with its exteriority», a historically instituted regime of social and ecological relations that dominates not only institutional forms and social practices, but also, in a subterranean way, our own consciousness, our imaginations.
«One world is dying and another has not yet been born». This phrase by Antonio Gramsci expresses the bardo’s experience at the political level.

(2) However, the world that is dying, like the life of each of us at the moment of our own deaths, is not just any world, but a concrete world, with its history, its character, its promises. Bardos are not empty experiences, but on the contrary experiences charged with our own unbridled history. Therefore, being open does not mean contemplating the desert of the real standing on the edge and looking at the abyss. The Heart Sutra says:
«Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form».

(3) Of course, we must maintain humility and avoid at all costs the kind of domineering and instrumentalist attitudes that has been so much talked about since the very beginning of modernity. Who could disagree? But this does not mean keeping a passive attitude. Dialogue with reality always demands a response on our part. The bodhisattva path is not merely contemplative. The bodhisattva is called to act, to restrain evil, and to promote goodness.

(4) The truth is that history will repeat itself if we do nothing about it. Buddhists talk about cyclic existence. Marxists about the recurrent cycles of crisis of a system characterized by inherent contradictions. So, we know what the future will be if we do nothing about the present.

(5) Therefore, we are faced with a situation in which reality cries out to be recognised on its own terms. This reality is characterised by the imposition of a regime of social and ecological relations based on value and valorisation, which feeds on life, which uses life as the means of this valorisation. The fetishization of such social and ecological relations is the most notorious expression of ignorance in our time.

(6) Therefore, we have to name «capitalism» by name, to reclaim life from the market, in order to avoid an abstract, gnostic spirituality that undermines a genuine understanding of the problems we are facing. This basically means encouraging us to link contemplative exploration with political reflection, not as a gesture of goodwill, but as a genuine assumption that our contemplative practice is always political and thus either a path to collective liberation or an encouragement for the world to remain what it is: a scene of violence, inequality and environmental destruction.

(7) We need to go back to the basics: the basics are survival and the ethical dimension involved in the mere survival as the foundation for any possible spiritual path of liberation. What do I mean by «survival»? I mean that the first ethical demand, as the philosophy of Liberation points out, is the production and reproduction of life.
This is in perfect agreement with the initial intuition of Francisco Varela, who, to some extent, was able to draw deep analogies between the functioning of the cell and the ethics of liberation and enlightenment. Here is where, for me, enactivism, traditional contemplative practices and liberation philosophy could share a path of mutual understanding and dialogue, uniting the political North with the political South, the spiritual practices of the global South with the spiritual practices of the global North.
But the place where the global North and the global South must meet is politics, understood as the dimension of will. For it is the wills for survival of the global North and the global South that are in dispute. It is not a theoretical problem, nor a practical-instrumental problem. It is a problem of political will.
We could put it in the words of Wendy Brown. The question is who deserves to live and who deserves to die? This is the challenge posed to us by the global right these days. A challenge we cannot shirk with impunity.

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