I'M interested in real philosophy

Discussion of the SES, particularly in the UK.
Christoph

I'M interested in real philosophy

Postby Christoph » Sat Oct 09, 2004 9:46 pm

Being in the SES for twenty-odd years (or do I mean twenty odd years?) hasn't dimmed my interest in real philosophy at all. If anything, it's nurtured it. Yes, I freely admit that on my own account, I probably wouldn't have become so immersed in Advaita Vedanta without the drip drip drip effect of group nights at the SES, but I probably also wouldn't have become so interested in Christian, Buddhist and Islamic mysticism, particle physics, string theory, and everything else.

I have changed over the years. Is this the result of the SES? If it is, does it matter? The fact that I can ask this question probably suggests its own answer: it doesn't matter. I have no regrets that my thinking has tended to gravitate towards 'deep issues' - it beats a night watching Big Brother on TV, reading Hello! magazine, or drinking myself to a stupor. (If you detect a tone of superiority here, don't worry - it predates my attendance at the SES. I can irritate for England.)

What I would like though, is to discuss philosophical matters that are 'off the beaten track', SES-track or otherwise. For instance, I still regard myself as a Christian, but so much of the dogma I find absolutely impossible to swallow. Not only that, but inconsistent with the scientific understanding that God has provided as a part of our intelligence and curiosity. For instance, I find the Christian Trinity utterly unbelievable, and the attempts to explain it positively ludicrous. And the experiences of the medieval mystics seem to point in the same direction - they all talk of an experience of 'absolute unity'. (I realise that my language is faintly belligerent and dismissive, and that someone else would phrase all this more diplomatically and reasonably, but hell - ain't variety wonderful?)

If there's an intelligent maverick out there who'd like to talk, do join in the discussion. On the other hand, if you're a fundamentalist (capable of rational speech), perhaps you would tell me why? I've never understood you, and you scare the pants off me metaphorically speaking. But I'll give you a good run for your money, and maybe even put an irreverent thought or two in your head.

I'd like to end with a song. (Pretentious, moi?) For no other reason than I've never heard philosophy put so poetically with such a nice tune:

Round, like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel,
Never ending or beginning on an ever-spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain or a carnival balloon
Like a carousel that's turning running rings around the moon
Like a clock whose hands are spinning past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find,
In the windmills of your mind

Goblinboy
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Re: I'M interested in real philosophy

Postby Goblinboy » Mon Oct 11, 2004 12:51 am

Christoph wrote: If there's an intelligent maverick out there who'd like to talk, do join in the discussion. On the other hand, if you're a fundamentalist (capable of rational speech), perhaps you would tell me why? I've never understood you, and you scare the pants off me metaphorically speaking.



Christoph,

I'm neither intelligent, a maverick or fundamentalist, yet it seems scarely necessary to point out that your observations about things you claim to be either frightened of or do not understand are equally valid observations when applied to the SES / School of Philosophy. For example:

I find the Christian Trinity utterly unbelievable, and the attempts to explain it positively ludicrous.


Sure. Why should that be surprising? As you’d be aware from your experience with the SES, faith is about belief, not about rational argument. Frequently, the stronger the belief, the more resistant it is to rationality. The SES / SOP endorses a vast array of beliefs which do not hold up to rational scrutiny, from ranging from the more banal (how members dress), to the potentially dangerous (views on children’s education), to the arcane (the concept of reincarnation).

To someone who hasn’t spent 20 years being “drip fed” SES doctrine, the fundamental SES / SOP tenets are similarly “utterly unbelievable”. At least the established Christian churches are generally open to public scrutiny of their beliefs, however odd they may seem. The same can't be said of the SES / SOP. Just look at some of the SES primary school websites that make no reference to the fundamental beliefs of the SES, or admit a connection with the SES.

You claim to have spent 20 years being “drip fed” SES doctrine. I suspect that if you spent 20 years being "drip fed" Christian, Islamic, Jewish or other doctrines, you would willingly suspend your disbelief and accept whatever apparent irrationality was put forward as truth. And I don’t mean hammering you with dogma from day one. Just gently introducing the concepts in a comfortable setting, asking you “not to accept, not to reject”, providing you with a sense of affiliation and acceptance, etc.

On the other hand, if you're a fundamentalist (capable of rational speech), perhaps you would tell me why? I've never understood you, and you scare the pants off me metaphorically speaking.


Yet you have had ample opportunity to explore the fundamentalist mind throughout your 20 years with the SES, and not risk the loss of your trousery substances. It’s a belief system that attracts such a mindset. Just think of some of the more devoted members of the SES in your experience. There’s a rich opportunity for self-discovery here Christoph, if you choose to take it.

If you detect a tone of superiority here, don't worry - it predates my attendance at the SES. I can irritate for England


Not irritated (except for the Windmills bit and the fondness for cliches). But then, I'm not English.

Christoph

I'm interested in real philosophy

Postby Christoph » Mon Oct 11, 2004 9:36 pm

Goblinboy - I was very interested in reading your moderate and articulate response to my posting (I apologise if that sounds patronising, it's not intended to be).

First, I have to ask you - have you actually ever attended meetings of the SES? You sound as if either a) you were a member in the bad old days, or b) you have read / heard a lot of publicity and basing your criticism on that.

I have to re-affirm that I have spent twenty years attending groups of the SES without encountering irrationalism, fundamentalism, or extremism. I would certainly admit that the School can be dishonest in not stressing the Eastern philosophy from the outset, though different groups have different practices as far as this is concerned. But this is a minor flaw, I believe, because people who stay beyond Part One obviously find something that attracts them. If later, they find that the increasing emphasis on Advaita is not for them, then they are free to leave with no pressure being applied. I can confirm this as I have myself have left School three times, each time for a different reason, and no-one ever chased me or criticised me.

And I would also quarrel with your statement that the SES philosophy is fundamentalist and irrational. It's Advaita philosophy which is based on knowing your own deep inner self through meditation and self-awareness practices. In essence it's not different from the Quakers, another group I have belonged to for many years, a Christian organisation that is based on long, deep silence in meetings, and living life based on simplicity, honesty, and truth. Very very far from fundamentalism.

If you have bad experiences yourself of the SES, then I extend my sympathy to you. I can only repeat that it's not my experience, and I would condemn any person who exerts (or attempts to exert) unnatural pressures on others to make them conform to a set of beliefs. Any belief based on this kind of experience is utterly worthless and amounts to brainwashing in my view.

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Re: I'm interested in real philosophy

Postby Goblinboy » Tue Oct 12, 2004 6:27 am

Christoph,

Congratulations on your Quakerhood. Pleased to hear of it.

Christoph wrote:First, I have to ask you - have you actually ever attended meetings of the SES? You sound as if either a) you were a member in the bad old days, or b) you have read / heard a lot of publicity and basing your criticism on that.


Not a member – just related to members and had a relationship with a member (fabulous girl, tormented by trying to conform with the SES demands). Spent a lot of time squinting though the tobacco smoke of SES social functions, performances, etc.

Was aware of Advaita philosophy and was steeped in most of what the SES considered “fine” culture (and a lot of what the SES thinks is not at all “fine”). Couldn’t get many straight answers about the underpinning beliefs of the school, other than by observing the behaviour of its members, the majority of whom had little or no knowledge of the sources of the “philosophy” they were studying (they generally regarded it as the exclusive intellectual property of the SES!) and had a powerful need for affiliation and direction.

I observed a considerable amount of stress and unhappiness in the lives of members caused by the often absurd and ill-informed advice received by their “tutors” during “meditation checks”, and the desire to climb the hierarchy to be “like those senior members of the London School” who seemed to represent some sort of ideal (to my antipodean amusement).

I would certainly admit that the School can be dishonest in not stressing the Eastern philosophy from the outset, though different groups have different practices as far as this is concerned. But this is a minor flaw, I believe, because people who stay beyond Part One obviously find something that attracts them . . . If later, they find that the increasing emphasis on Advaita is not for them, then they are free to leave with no pressure being applied.


No, this is anything but “a minor flaw”.

Firstly, it’s misleading advertising. It is a philosophy – a particular creed, and, when followed to the letter of the School’s teachings, a religion (many times have I heard senior SES members deny that it’s a religion, then go on to describe their reverence for Lord Krishna, comment on the role of Kali in their lives, discuss their previous incarnations, ask me to admire their shrines to Ganesha, etc). Begs the question – why does the school hide behind this disingenuous public fa?ade? Surely it’s more ethical to admit the truth of what’s being offered. The excuse that it’s too hard to explain is garbage. It may not be possible to convey the experience in words, but the nature of the creed can be described in fairly simple terms.

Secondly, the school regularly states that “you can leave anytime” – absolutely true, but by the time you’re enmeshed in the “good company” of the SES community, and are involved in the at times self-sustaining group work, leaving at any time means leaving friends, support networks, and a sense you’re entrenched in something of great spiritual value, etc, etc.

The SES used to demand that members have no contact with ex-members, to the significant emotional detriment of members who could no longer continue with the School for whatever reason. There’s a significant incidence of psychological breakdown by members driven to breaking point by the punishing regime of “service”, etc, who were subsequently dumped by the school with no sense of a duty of care. Your experience is not matched by many other members in other branches of the SES. Your experience of leaving and rejoining leads me to suspect you’re spending time in the “side stream” of the SES – the place where the less committed members are parked.


And I would also quarrel with your statement that the SES philosophy is fundamentalist and irrational.


“Fundamentalist” behaviour - rigid and unquestioning adherence to the SES principles, often characterised by intolerance of other views - was something I encountered on a regular basis, and was also a reason for leaving given by many I knew who departed the organisation (and who were subsequently condemned to be avoided by continuing members of their groups).

Irrational – nothing wrong with irrationality necessarily – as I stated, faith involving irrationality is usually the most strongly held. And the SES’s Edwardian cocktail of Advaita and MacLaren's tastes in art, literature and economics involves followers swallowing a fair chunk of irrationality, as the experiences of ex-members and students of the schools on these boards testify.

I would condemn any person who exerts (or attempts to exert) unnatural pressures on others to make them conform to a set of beliefs. Any belief based on this kind of experience is utterly worthless and amounts to brainwashing in my view.


Fine. And I agree. But the history of the SES demonstrates the complete opposite of your view. Read the experiences of children at the SES schools in the 1970s - 1980s on these pages, in the light of your assertion above. Who is to be condemned?

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Postby a different guest » Wed Oct 13, 2004 11:56 am

I concur with Goblinboy. Having relatives in the SES I have seen firsthand how it has changed them -
Last edited by a different guest on Fri Feb 18, 2005 12:00 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby adrasteia » Wed Oct 13, 2004 12:26 pm

a different guest wrote:What sort of person wills an aquaintance as their child's carer when there is steady reliable flesh and blood family able to do the job?


When they feel the aquaintance knows the children better, or would be better able to take care of them, or has never had children of their own and would love to have them, the relatives may have a large family of their own to cope with, or any number of reasons...
...but I'm guessing this isn't true of this case!

Christoph

Re: I'm interested in real philosophy

Postby Christoph » Wed Oct 13, 2004 8:03 pm

Goblinboy wrote:was aware of Advaita philosophy and was steeped in most of what the SES considered ?fine? culture (and a lot of what the SES thinks is not at all ?fine?).

Oh I agree 100% here. After 20 years, my enthusiasm for rock'n'roll is undimmed and I have belatedly begun to explore hip hop. some years ago I had a tutor in School who was a nice chap but prone to come out with such gibberish as "if you see a child at a rave, it is your duty to pull them out of there, as the influence will harm them" - he wasn't talking about drugs, but the music! Recently though, a writer of techno music has been through the School. I wonder what they made of him?


I observed a considerable amount of stress and unhappiness in the lives of members caused by the often absurd and ill-informed advice received by their ?tutors? during ?meditation checks?, and the desire to climb the hierarchy to be ?like those senior members of the London School? who seemed to represent some sort of ideal (to my antipodean amusement).


I have heard of this, and I accept it has been true (in the past, especially in London I believe). Either I have been lucky in never encountering it myself, or - since I have been on residentials and met a lot of interesting and sane people in other branches - it's dying out. Certainly most of the excesses in the book (Secret Cult) which was written over 20 years ago now, I've never seen.

Firstly, it?s misleading advertising.


This has definitely changed. The latest leaflets for Part One in England do mention a lot about Plato and Christianity it's true, but now they mention Advaita and the Upanishads too. More upfront. And the new Part One material talks quite a lot about it too, in amongst the Zen etc (why is Zen not continued further on in School? I'd love to hear more!)

Secondly, the school regularly states that ?you can leave anytime? ? absolutely true, but by the time you?re enmeshed in the ?good company? of the SES community, and are involved in the at times self-sustaining group work, leaving at any time means leaving friends, support networks, and a sense you?re entrenched in something of great spiritual value, etc, etc.


But this would be true of any interest to which you devote a lot of time, meet new friends, etc. I mean, if your life revolves around golf for years, and you leave the golf club suddenly, your life will be that much emptier! Anyway, I think that people who make the SES the be-all and end-all of their lives are unwise. I never did, but I was never criticised for it.

The SES used to demand that members have no contact with ex-members, to the significant emotional detriment of members who could no longer continue with the School for whatever reason.


I heard about this rule right at the beginning, and I thought "right! just let someone tell me this and there will be one hell of an argument". But I never heard it - only references to it as a 'stupid old rule' by a couple of tutors who made it clear this wasn't philosophy as far as they were concerned.

Your experience of leaving and rejoining leads me to suspect you?re spending time in the ?side stream? of the SES ? the place where the less committed members are parked.


I have no idea if this is true or not. Except that I do go on full residentials, and I have tutored Part Ones in the past (disability now rules that out - my decision). But who knows? You may be right. If so, there's a lot of real nice people in the side stream!

the SES?s Edwardian cocktail of Advaita and MacLaren's tastes in art, literature and economics involves followers swallowing a fair chunk of irrationality

Agreed. Mozart good, Bach bad? Oh please!

Read the experiences of children at the SES schools in the 1970s - 1980s on these pages, in the light of your assertion above. Who is to be condemned?


I am reading them. They are horrendous in the extreme. Someone should pay for that, and if there's any truth in karma, someone will. I thought my schooldays were bad (English grammar school), but not that bad.

Anyway, Goblinboy - nice to talk with you. Good luck mate.


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