With this post Flora Sapio and I continue an experiment in collaborative dialogue. The object is to approach the issue of philosophical inquiry from another, and perhaps more fundamentally ancient, manner. We begin, with this post, to develop a philosophy for the individual that itself is grounded on the negation of the isolated self as a basis for thought, and for elaboration. This conversation, like many of its kind, will develop naturally, in fits and starts. Your participation is encouraged. For ease of reading Flora Sapio is identified as (FS), and Larry Catá Backer as (LCB).
Whose project is this, anyway? Does it serve an ends? Ought it?
(FS) A project is something that follows a plan or a design, and analogizing liberation to a project means that liberation can be achieved by design and through a series of activities which are consecutively scheduled, and have the goal to liberate life. If it were understood in this sense, as a project, liberation would be similar to an attempt to escape from a metaphorical prison only to end up in the grip of a different kind of constraints. That these constrains may be ‘chosen’ - more or less willingly - is completely meaningless: the life of those who follow a predetermined path to liberation are still lives ruled by precepts. As these precepts point us towards the one and only possible path to freedom, they can easily be held more sacred and inviolable than the lives of those who follow them. Thinking of liberation in these terms would be dangerous, as it would set us on the path to enslavement.
Liberation cannot be conceived of as a project, it cannot be conceived of as something you plan and then execute. Liberation is something you do, liberation is what happens during the process whereby one becomes what one is and with the process of becoming oneself. Becoming oneself does not serve any ends: this is not an utilitarian process but a process of re-discovering oneself by peeling away each one of the layers of false personalities and masks that one has accumulated over time. The logic is entirely different: there is no means end calculus because liberation is not something you decide but a step (or a series of small steps) you take when you realize that any attempt to fit the mold others have created for you would mean repressing your energies and stifling whatever potentialities you have.
Liberation is not a project but a possibility. Whose possibility? This is a possibility that belongs to all human life, and I am convinced that this is a possibility everybody can at least conceive of. In a sense, this possibility is before everybody's eyes, or pops up before them from time to time. The question of what prompts one to make the actual step to abandon one's false ego is a question I am still unable to answer. A decisive factor in my case was my witnessing of the actual psychosomatic damage (and the awareness of continuous suicides) caused by adherence to inauthentic lifestyles of various kinds. The question of how those who are enslaved - here, in Hong Kong and elsewhere - can become liberated is an exceptionally difficult question. Given their lack of economic security, and in the absence of mechanisms of social support, this reasoning does not hold for them.
On teaching either liberation or individuation - Simply, I do not believe in the idea of teaching either in academic or in non-academic contexts as teaching produces power imbalances and bonds of intellectual dependence. The result of teaching liberation would be making human beings endure subjugation under a different name. I believe in demonstrating, as when a skill or a technique is shown to others by engaging in it hands-on. This is a possible way to divest oneself of the power that comes with knowledge. But, to paraphrase the Sufis, there are as many paths to liberation as there are men, therefore what is really demonstrated or shown is that starting this process is possible.
I will answer the remaining questions slowly, one by one, in the next few days. I have been thinking about them but, I think intuitively and putting intuitions into more or less well formed rational thoughts is sometimes difficult.