On Zen as a Weapon Against Mind Control
Reflection on political (neuro)science by a political scientist and philosopher
By MARTIN REZNY
At first when I started reading Joe’s article, I was worried that it would be one of those articles that treat the determinism of neuroscience as a holy gospel, negating any human capacity to act as free agents. It seems though that Joe does believe people can awaken from illusions at will, including those used for political mind control, as he mentioned meditation, among other things.
The reason for my worry was that it would take a major bit of cognitive dissonance to believe literally in neuroscience, that we simply respond to stimuli unconsciously and that’s all there is to how our minds work, while at the same time arguing for any kind of choice to stop succumbing to our subconscious brain shenanigans manipulating us like fleshy puppets.
Before I go into my experience with zen meditation, I think I should mention my professional opinion on the matter of predictability of politics based on explanations from neuroscience or related psychology — politics are not predictable. They can be made to make sense in retrospect in any number of ways, but there’s a reason why significant political events like Trump winning or USSR collapsing had not been predicted. Even Einstein found politics hard.
The problem is that while in retrospect one can identify a singular cause or mechanism to explain what happened, it would not work for the purposes of prediction because too many factors interact in the making of a future. It’s only after a major reduction of scope of the prediction that one may begin to hope to control for enough factors to achieve any level of research reliability.
Yes, people are quite gullible and tend to simplify things, especially when they don’t make any conscious effort to become aware, but that’s nothing new. There’s a lot that modern social or psychological sciences are “discovering” these days that has been known for ages, despite the lack of scientific method. Zen has been one of the pioneering efforts to dispell illusions for millennia.
The thing is, the human capacity to become aware of bullshit and adapt against it is what I believe to be one of the main contributing factors to the general difficulty in replication of social and psychological studies. Zen is predicated on the fact that many perceptual illusions and oppressive mental constructs can be destroyed if conscious attention is focused upon them.
Contrary to new age nonsense interpretation, the goal of meditation is not to make one feel better, it is to become more aware. In terms of connection to feelings, awareness is actually tied the most to pain and anxiety, if anything, and the realization of something being profoundly wrong may certainly be quite unpleasant, but that’s the point. Pain serves a purpose, it protects us.
It is the complacency of comfort that comes from ignorance, a very pleasant sensation to be sure, that allows the deterministic subconscious processes to become dominant. Even at its most carefree and happy, zen always stresses the need to be able to distinguish what is affecting one’s mind from within and what is affecting it from without, and that both are illusory — only the observer is real. Id, ego, superego, ideology, and more, those are all lies.
On the other hand, personally, I don’t think that the most traditional interpretation of zen as an enemy of all desire is the most correct one either. While it is true that one needs to understand things like fear, sexual desire, appetite, or even the need to belong as ways one can be manipulated into a state of greater suffering (such as debt, disillusion, or electing an asshole), the ultimate goal of zen is simply to allow one the ability to be free of them at will.
Maybe it actually can be explained in terms of neuroscience as a constant tug of war between the lizard brain and the neocortex, but however it works in terms neurochemistry, the most advanced (and real) power of the human mind is the ability to say no to any kind of impulse. Man who masters this ability, which, if zen teaches us anything, is very trainable, is a man that cannot be manipulated. Certainly not by material comforts or cultural stereotypes.
Which is where I really do agree with Joe that what is needed are more people making a conscious effort to achieve this sort of awakening. How likely something like that is to happen is a question for another day, though it would be nice if more political scientists especially started subscribing to any kind of voluntarism instead of behavioral determinisim. Just think about the very notion of predicting the choices of voters for a second. Yeah, pretty dark.
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