Episode 041: How the West Was Mu

Eastern thought has been a curiosity for Western culture ever since Marco Polo made his epic journey to Asia in the 1200s. The legacy of this curiosity lives on, and so Bad Philosophy has decided to undertake the momentous task of reconciling Eastern and Western philosophy in a single episode (because we’re just awesome like that). Joining me for his first episode ever is mechanical engineering graduate student Sean Mullen, alongside an uncharacteristically in-person Kevin Saunders. NUF (Numero Uno Fanboy) Jed Cummins worked the camera (sort of) and despite many technical difficulties we actually managed some good conversation. So grab a fortune cookie, sit down on your tatami, and have a listen…

You can also watch the live *UNCENSORED* Stickam recording below.

This week’s post-show song pimpage: “I Like Chinese” by Monty Python

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5 Comments on "Episode 041: How the West Was Mu"

  1. artistfire
    18/08/2009 at 11:21 am Permalink

    First, I should say that I have truly enjoyed listening to this show since I stumbled upon it a few months ago.

    I have found your discussions to be highly intellectual and well researched.

    Perhaps it is this high standard which causes my disappointment with this episode, it is unfortunate that my first comment be a critical one, having had many positive thoughts about past episodes. But I say what I think.

    What I found Disappointing was the fact that you attribute these types of Spiritual Mysticism only to Asian Culture.

    It is in fact true that almost every culture had some form of Spirituality or Mysticism. Early Europeans had a Variety of Forms of Paganism, including Wicca, Druidism, and Celtic Shamanism.

    The Native Americans also widely practiced forms of Shamanism as did the Australian Aboriginals.

    An Early form of African tribal Spiritualism was later fused with Catholicism to create what we now call Voodoo.

    Most of these belief systems Predate the Judeo-Christian way of thinking, And many still exist today, although, for the sake of avoiding persecution, very much underground.

    I will concede that Asian Mysticism is currently the most Widespread, and widely accepted of those still enduring today, and its images have been adopted into Pop-Culture on a very large scale. But to imply that Asian culture is the ONLY source of these Ideas is, well, un-Inclusive.

    I hope that you will not take offense to this as no offense is intended, instead that you receive this merely as an Intellectual Counterpoint.


  2. Taz
    21/08/2009 at 12:31 pm Permalink

    Sorry it’s been a while guys, but I moved home recently. Everything’s been up in the air and the web has been a trial to get on to. In the end I’ve had to settle for trailing around 20m of cable; it was either that or revert to grunting at my wireless router and threatening it chunks of flint lashed to a stick.

    Anyhow, great show this week. Potentially a great jumping off point for further discussion into the eastern philosophies. Personally, I love this stuff and find it infinitly more useful than both classic and continental thought. I’ve always preferred Taoist thought; though perhaps I’m too easily swayed by the painting and thought behind the three vinegar tasters. Confucius was obviously brilliant. Epochs worth of oreintals* show this to be true. But the man was clearly insane: as are all those with totallitarian tendencies. Okay, sure, Mohammed told the middle east with which hand to wipe their asses (and I wish to hell I could give citation for this) but he did it with the very best intentions. I mean, you go wiping willy-nilly between meals and you’re asking for a chort sharp slap from the dysentry fairy. But tea ceremonies? Myriad, situational tea ceremonies to be carried out to protocol X. Confucius, you mad old coot, feel free to sit and swivel.

    Buddha. Unfortunately, my reading here is slim. Even slimmer when you introduce Zen into the equation. But anyone who’s prepared to lay down a statement or idea like “life is suffering” should probably be sidestepped. He always kinda struck me as the sort of guy that hangs around outside the toilet at a house party, waylaying any unfortunate soul who succumbs to their bladder but is to prudish to utilise the bushes in the back garden (A painful 10 minutes some years ago now in which I learned too much about the issue of printing out every email to a given business and filing them away and about the possibillity of using inverse square law to predict how much data any one conversation may eventually produce). However, as I said, I’m unread, and happy to take correction.

    Then we get to Lao-Tzu. How can you not love a man who basically just suggests that you should take it easy, don’t stress yourself or those around you, and go with the the flow.

    As for the saturation in western culture, well it ocurred to me while I was listening, that the grand dichotomy between east and west is the magnitude of the thoughts and the presentation therein. Let us say that Everything was in fact a cow. The West, well they hack it up into 60oz steaks and attempt to kick it down your throat from a distance of 20 yards. The East tends to stick the whole thing, still mooing and pooing, into a pot and then serve it up as a chunky soup.
    That migfht be a bit erroneous actually, but I liked the imagery. Still, look at the thoughts. One of the most famous from the west is undoubtedly cogito ergo sum. Brilliant. What a marvellous piece of thought and word smithery. Truely beautiful. Means nothing to me, but it’s great nontheless. As a philosopher (so long as you’re religious) cogito is a thing to marvel at. As a human being… hell have I got time to ponder the true nature of my existence during the average day.
    Now, let’s take the taoist concept of Pu or Wu Wei (wie?), one of those two. I’m going to trim this down because I’m supposed to be at the pub right now. Not only does it cover basic existentialism – albeit without western style proofs – but it goes on to deliver this wonderful message that can be loosely boiled down into “go with the flow”, emaphasising the importance of simplicity. Action without action, I believe is in there somewhere (it’s been a while since reading), and that is something I use (loosely) on a daily basis. Take the simple route and the the thing happen by itself.

    My point is that eastern philosphy is full of things that you can read and latch on to within minutes, things that you can apply to life. The nearest equivolents from the west – say Hegel’s writing on synthesis – require a massive amount of time and resource to understand, let alone apply.

    Finally, @ artistfire. Dude, you’re right, there’s a metric shit ton of stuff permeating western culture and there’s a lot of stuff they didn’t mention, but they were covering Eastern philosphy specifically and in under 2 hours to boot. I feel we can forgive a certain reduction of subject matter. No doubt they’ll turn their attention to much of it in turn at a later date.

    Once again, great show guys, one of my favourites to date. Keep ’em coming.


  3. KevSaund
    21/08/2009 at 4:49 pm Permalink

    Hi artistfire, thanks for listening.

    As I would have pointed out before Taz (had I not had some password difficulties, too many to remember and reset) we were pretty much strictly focusing on the dichotomy between East and West, and how they’re perceived in modern (American) society. Had we looked at spiritualism as a whole we would have had a very different show (one we may do yet, who knows. I don’t usually know the topic until Stephen tells me right before we record.)

    Anyway, I think I can safely speak for Stephen and myself when I say we love any sort of feedback (especially Stephen) Heck, we like it so much we made our firstr ever fan an occasional guest! There’s always going to be an episode or two that some like more than others, (personally I”m not terribly fond of the ones I’m not in) but we hope the overall quality (what? Where?) keeps you around.

    Thanks for listening!


  4. MossyQuartz
    02/02/2010 at 1:09 am Permalink

    I didn’t finish listening (yet) to this, but I promise that I will after I’ve had some sleep. It was almost painful for me to listen to some of this because all the eastern philosophies were getting jumbled together and they are so so very different even within their own localities from one another. Like, I mean, Zen for example, you say Zen and I think, oh yeah, the atheist version of Buddhism. Or, if you say Tibetan Buddhism, I think, oh yeah, the polyTheistic version of Buddhism that includes the hangers on bits from local hill people religio-supersitious customary beliefs. Yet both are Buddhism diverging from the Hindu passing through China and picking up some Taoism along the way (the dau that can be spoken of is not the ordinary dau) and becoming Chan Buddhism, then being kicked out of China because it didn’t make good soldiers it was displaced by something more ritual oriented, something that made obedient citizens in a place where so many people had to do what was good for the city in order to keep civilization civilized (fooey on that, no wonder the peaceful philosophers left) and Chan mixed with Shinto and internalized to seek the essence and became existentialistic (do you face the white wall or does the white wall face you? and if it doesn’t matter, chop wood and carry water). Those Asian philosophies were formed from the common knowledge and common practices and common needs and horse sense of the Asians, in the same way as the English or the American or the foreigner philosophies were formed from common knowledge, practices, needs, and horse or donkey sense of the English, American, or foreign locality. Same planet, same air, same will to live, but different way of saying it. Taoism was different from the contemporary ritualistic practices, but its practitioners changed it between the time the Tao te Ching (book of the way) was initially (allegedly) obtained and, for example, now. Confucianism, if it can be called that, would be a restatement of what was essentially a government sponsored religion officiated over by the likes of Confucius (or Con fu sai, or whatever his name was) and made well known by a translation of the Analects. The Analects of Confucius were supposedly commonly known, not something new from him (but, yes, they’d look good in a fortune cookie; I particularly liked the one about how the ritual gets confusing after the ritual beverage has been served).

    I’m sorry, I’ve been awake a long time and I’m rambling and I owe it to you folks to have a sit and a listen and give a kind and thoughtful feedback. I’m falling asleep. I’m sorry. I’ll pay close attention and write good stuff…soon.

    I love your shows. Please, do, continue.

  5. MossyQuartz
    03/02/2010 at 12:26 am Permalink

    The show sounded better when I wasn’t so tired. This is interesting stuff for me. Good show, guys.

    Separation of philosophy from religion, is that an eastern and western difference? It may be, but philosophy if being a love of truth and religion if being a conviction that a set of beliefs is true, these are not dissimilar topics.

    Remixing old stuff, yup, I was surprised. What do we hear about eastern? The My Name is Earl show did remind the general public about the concept of Karma. The Beatles reminded the general public about the concept of Karma. The New Agers are repackaging the same material as the Theosophists, who were repackaging the Hindu writings, Mahabharata, Upanishads, Vedas.

    That young prince living the protected childhood, not knowing anything other than the controlled surroundings he was given, seeing an ill old person, was way messed up from seeing that. It was an impossible puzzle to his upbringing, but it was a puzzle that stuck in his mind and he pondered life as he knew it and life as he discovered it and the result was Buddhism. This was Buddhism in India. I couldn’t help thinking of Gautama when I first heard about Skinner and that bothered me.

    The cleverness of a bumper sticker is in its ability to say much in few words. The koan has this same restriction. The few words of the koan are selected for the purpose of causing the person hearing this koan to pause mentally before thinking, “oh, yeah, I was missing that whole point and now I get it.” A properly worded koan is likely going to be a non-sequitor.

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