One theme that I have been pondering over the past year or two has to do with the attack on post-modernism. Granted, I am not an academic, and I realize a lot of the criticism against post-modernism is based on the proliferation of that perspective in academic, institutional settings. Part of the reason why I may feel the need to jump to the defense of post-modernism, could be that I am experiencing it within the same context as it’s biggest critics, and it may be possible that I have more sympathy for them that I realize.. for example, even though I am a creative and artistic type of person, I’ve always been a little bit turned off by the institutional, conceptual-academic milieu of the art world, (art-school, art-theory) in which there is an obvious air of “bullshit” that post modernism’s critics respond to.
Society has deemed me to be a sick man because my mind can be hyper-associative. My tribe and I are deemed to be disordered because we perceive too much order in the world, we are judged to be out of touch with reality when we see signs of order in the midst of chaos, the signal in the noise. Don’t worry I don’t take these attitudes of illness seriously I am just “taking the piss”. But what I am getting at is that my mind works in such a way that I look for the connective qualities between things, I often find myself having some kind of insight into how two seemingly contradictory or opposing philosophies are really just saying the same thing in two different ways, or to use a classic analogy, it’s like they are all groping the same elephant in the dark, only one has found the trunk and the other tail, and they are disagreeing about it, blind to the fact that they have both found the same elephant.
Post-Modern writing is often very complex and in order for people to talk about it they tend to reduce it down to the basic idea of relativity, that there is no absolute truth, that everything is relative. I kind of suspect that something important gets lost in boiling it down to this one basic idea, but since that is what most of the dialogue going on is about, I will go with that for now.
One thing that I find interesting about this, is that I see a strong connection between this idea of “truth is contextual, truth is what you make of it” and the whole You Create Your Own Reality school of “new-agey” spiritual thought. I sometimes wonder how many of the people who subscribe to YCYOR are actually hip to post modernism. The way I see it, it is just a spiritualized form of the same concept, and all the criticisms people level at post modernism apply to YCYOR as well.
First of all that there is a strain of Nihilism, Solipsism and Narcissism in it. It is as if to say there is nothing real, outside of you, and what you decide is real, there are no objective “rules” to how things work and the only thing that is real is your own mind and what your own mind decides to believe in. You could even say that there is nothing essentially “real” about anything going on in your mind, but by investing into certain beliefs, you make them real, (create your own reality) by arbitrarily choosing something to believe in, and you can believe what ever you want, because nothing is inherently more real than anything else.
I have a different take on it though. I was flipping through an old Zen text, the Shobogenzo when I caught this idea that hit me on a deep level. The Shobogenzo is a classic text but what it was raising was something to do with the present moment, which you see popularized more recently with “Be Here Now” and “The Power of Now” etc.
The idea was that in order to act in alignment with what is, to use “right action” in your life, the only way you can possibly act in the right way is to act according to what is is coming up in the present situation, here and now, because that is what we have the most direct experience of. The idea is that when you are relating to the present situation from the heart, there is an intuitive knowing of what the right thing to do is, and that comes up in a totally spontaneous way, you could also say “uncontrived” as it’s not distorted by scheming over something, you are just responding to what is going on in simple and direct way.
In contrast to this, any idea we have about how we should respond to a future situation, is inherently not “right action” because since the future is not yet manifest, we are dealing more with fantasy than reality. Once you reach the present moment, it may turn out to be different than your prior speculation about it, and you may have to drop your plan to rightly respond to the reality of what is being presented in the moment.
So how does this tie into my idea of Post Modernism? Well I would say it’s not a Nihilistic idea that there is no such thing as “right action” or that the truth of what is coming up in the moment is whatever your mind wants to make of it, arbitrarily telling some story to tell yourself about what is going on. There is a real truth to what is happening, in an objective sense, but that Truth can only be seen and understood clearly relative to the context of the present moment and all it’s situational factors.
So it is not meaninglessness, it is not nihilism, there is a real truth there, beyond what you decide to think about it, but that truth does not exist separately from the context of the environment. An action only makes sense when you take into account the context of what it is in response to, or the context in which it is happening.
Dogmatic Ideology in this sense is doomed to fail, because by creating a hard set of rules that apply absolutely to all situations, fails to take into account the ever changing circumstances of the temporal world that we find ourselves in. So I think in some sense there is a difference between a “living Dharma” that is always fresh, a living response, an active intelligence in response to what is really coming up in the present moment, vs this idea of an fixed set of fossilized ideologies, some old idea that has no direct connection with the lived reality of what is coming up in your life.
There is something else on my mind, coming up from the Astrology course I am immersed in. Apparently the whole idea of the Zodiac is based on the Lunar Cycle.. 12 Lunation cycles of the moon in a year = 12 months = 12 signs. The moon is both seen as a symbol for something that is receiving and reflecting the light, similar to how our own awareness, our own consciousness is a kind of “receiver” for all that we sense, feel and understand. In one sense it could be seen as that which receives the eternal light of the divine, but the moon has another quality as well, which is it’s temporal and cyclical nature. The Moon moves faster than every object in the sky, one day it’s dark, a new moon, and a couple weeks later it’s full of light, and each day in between it’s a little bit different. So this gives you a sense that the always changing, always in flux nature of reality.
The Planetary Symbols, representing the Gods, are not fixed ideas resenting one simple thing, there is a whole dynamic that plays out with each planet, each have their light side and their dark side, kind of like a living personality dynamic that is always changing in regards to the situation of the present moment. A planet can find itself in a situation where it is doing well, it is working cooperatively with the other forces, or finding itself in a sign where it can express a certain side of it’s personality.. but this is all bound by time and circumstance. The meaning of the force this planet is a representative of, always changes depending on the context that the planet finds itself in. Venus is going to tell a much different story when it is trining the Sun compared to Squaring with Saturn.
So there is both something that these planets represent on their own, but it is a complex, diverse and ever changing dynamic that only comes into actualization, comes into being, in the present moment. Then we experience the truth, or the reality of how the Gods are manifesting in our lived experience. So this is how I see the idea of Post Modernism applied to Astrology.
However- the thing with Astrology is that the cycles are predictable, we can calculate where the planets will be positioned next year, or 10 years from now (or whenever) and a skilled astrologer will be able to read that and make a prediction of the situational context that will be arising in the future.
Of course this is all dependent on the skill of the Astrologer, and subject to error or misinterpretation. Still we have a method here for having at the very least a peak into the contextual unfolding of our reality, or the many relative and contextual shapes that truth will take over the course of our lives and beyond.
Does this contradict the attitude I mentioned earlier about Zen? Is it possible to clearly see the contexts and situations of the future as if they were happening today? I won’t get into all that now, but I will just say my point in all this is that I don’t see relativism as a dichotomy to some kind of objective truth.
There is some “real territory”, God is more than just what you decide to make up in your mind about him, there is some kind of “objective” ground that we stand on, but the way it manifests in our lived experience is relative and contextual, Truth takes the shape of a thousand masks, a thousand faces, none of them “less true” than the other, but each are like a temporary and contextual expression of a rich cosmology that that is holistic and all inclusive. There is the absolute totality which goes beyond our conception of it, and then their is the lived truth of our daily lives, which is many different truths, like eating the pie bit by bit, in bite sized pieces.