Other Background Influences

The contextual roots of this whole relation to being were post-Christian and post-modern. Inherent in modern and post-modern thought is a self-awareness of the subjectivity of consciousness. For humans, the ' ontological ', the reality of being, equates with existential freedom, and the reality of choice. Existential autonomy and responsibility exist in tension with anthropological variation, the relativity of which would objectify the subject as a random, arbitrary artifact; hence the autonomous subject has responsibility to objectively resolve all aspects of being; no conventional belief or customary behaviour can be simply assumed as given. Not to critically appraise and examine all such socio-cultural variables, would leave oneself like some amputated limb, in comparison to one's full existential-spiritual development. Hence the rationale and requirement of Psychological ? Physical relation to Being. It is only subsequent to such a full expression and experience of subjective relation to Being, that Christianity may or may not be rediscovered as a personal religion; in a different order of subjective relation than was historically customary. Although eventually experienced as relation to God, the initial spiritual co-ordinates of the dialectic were Buddhist. Whilst I still have the greatest respect for the wisdom contained in the traditions of Buddhism, there arises the question, why did I originally affirm it as the ultimate resolution of the spiritual?
This was relative to context. My personal cultural context has a distinctive Celtic-Presbyterian colouration, though my parents did not attended Church for most of my formative years. They had become Congregationalists in my birthplace of Edinburgh, and ending their days as members of a (recently- ‘split'!) Associated Presbyterian Free Church in Dundee; the Church of Scotland was too elitist, as anyone who has seen Elders serving themselves first at Communion might agree. At the crucible of puberty, school education provided scientific knowledge on the one hand; on the other, the only concept of God I was aware of was the transcendent, omnipotent patriarch of tradition. I became positively atheistic at twelve years old. As I later progressed through the insights of Marx, Freud, Sartre, Social Anthropology, their cumulative critiques of Christianity, appeared to meet no manifest effective response. On the contrary, contemporary writers such as RD Laing and Erich Fromm, who did base their work on Marx, Freud, and (in the case of Laing) Sartre, explicitly affirmed Buddhism as spiritual truth. Further, Eastern thought, with its rich sophistication, depth and holism, continued to be discovered by Western culture in general, and was in harmony with modern science, from microphysics to cosmology (see e.g. F. Capra in The Tao of Physics ); and Jack Kerouac of Dharma Bums fame had made it all hip. In the present work, the richness of Indian, Chinese, Japanese and other Asian cultures is often assumed and referred to in the use of the terms ‘Buddhism' and ‘Zen', Eventually, I realised traditional Buddhist practices would be repressive of the processes of my own psychological and spiritual integration; and later, that my own spirituality needed to express itself in a theist relation to Being.
However, the individual, empirical, experimental approach that underlies Buddhism is conserved in the dialectic; a generally Buddhist 'mindfulness' and inner-ness is incorporated with the existential-dialectical self-consciousness. Indicative of the flavour of this 'dialectical mindfulness', is a feature of the original which has been deleted for reasons of presentation, but which is nonetheless significant. In the more or less spontaneous recording of the original experience, sentences or expressions about personal experience, sensation, identity, etc., began with the term ‘sub.' : an abbreviation of ‘ The subject', or ‘subjective' : that is, the present writer. This rather phenomenological detachment and focus gives a central colouration and perspective, of precisely focus on the subject , which might have been better represented in this text, but is unduly repetitive.
Even as I write this, I am still assessing the role of this formative Buddhism. I was and remain influenced by Buddhist philosophy and values, such as the emphasis on the sentient identity of all creatures, having read a considerable number of texts. I did not practice traditional Buddhist meditation, and the dialectic of my own thought eventually developed into theism. Once I realized that traditional Buddhist forms of meditation would have suppressed this whole dialectical experience of this work, which is my basic relation to Being, I concluded that I was definitely not a Buddhist. But with hindsight I increasingly believe that general detached mindfulness of Buddhism, and focus on the strength and power of inwardness, is a key and necessary component of this dialectical relation to Being. Subsequently, at crucial progressions of wholeness and integration of subjective relation to Being, my orientation developed to theism. Again, this was seen as a further displacement of Buddhism; yet that is not necessarily the case, in terms at least of the Mahayana tradition. In a way that is retrospectively ‘logical' yet still a cause for wonder, my spirituality towards Being became to be informed by feminist concepts of a Mother God, which harmonized with my own valuation of the significance of generosity, unconditionality, and a profound innocence of all persons. It developed authentically and spontaneously as a sense of gratitude and dependence (prior to any acquaintance with liberal theology), with experiential components of soul, joy, grace, law, worship, sin. It required to find expression in three separate dimensions – historical tradition, which in personal terms was ultimately the Celtic church; community, especially the poor and oppressed; and worship, as the necessary, physical expression and realization of subjective spiritual experience. A key factor was that given the organization and power of various other social groups, some of questionable morals, spiritual responsibility to others requires institutional organization and ‘muscle'. The relation of this subjective experience to historical religious tradition and social context recalls Heidegger's sense of being ‘thrown into' the world. The subject does not choose the ‘facticity' of historical and social context. Born into a post- Christian society, I was originally and in many ways still am, extremely critical of the whole social milieu of Christianity. I was the very last person I might have expected to consider a church vocation, which was to become central to my project. My relation to Christianity evolves from the required parameters of subjective relation to Being mentioned above; in that sense it contains the distance and irony of post-modernism – yet, such a philosophical space between subject and social model has always existed in a sense, in mainstream Platonist theology. My planned vocation as a Minister on the edge of radicalliberal spectrum in the Church of Scotland was itself in turn blighted by socio-historical factors. Given my own generalist, synthetic and explorative orientation, I required a training that was compatible in practical terms, and allowed me to consolidate my bridges with Christian tradition. Due to family circumstances at the time, I did not wish to move to another town to study and decided naively to commute from Dundee to St. Andrews. Where I was hoping to strengthen bridges, here they were wrecked. The Anglicised theology department there was polarized between a feminism that was anti-Christian, and the conservative theology of Karl Barth, which some have described as theological fascism. This variously analytical, exclusive and authoritarian Anglicised sub-culture blocked the generalist-synthetic-inclusive bridges I needed for what I still consider should have been my true vocation. I subsequently transferred to Edinburgh after my first year, to broaden my curriculum and career options. I found here elements of compatible, tolerant, liberal department which included an awareness of the synthesizing aspect of Celtic spiritual tradition, but I was unable to regain my mental composure until I had left University; by which time other factors such as age and time became a personal and vocational issue. (ii) Culture The cultural experience described in this section is specific to being born in the Scottish Lowlands of Highland, Gaelic speaking parents, with an English-based government for over 250 years. The tension between Celtic identity and Anglo-Saxon imperialism has relevance both as explanatory of some of the content of the preceding text; and also to general concepts of culture, and relations between cultures. In the early 'seventies, at the age of about nineteen, having made an early, disillusioned departure from a degree course in Social Anthropology at Edinburgh University, I began a slow and still continuing discovery of Scottish culture. The poetic genius of Hugh MacDiarmid, which had erupted in the 1920's yet was largely ignored by the Scottish education system, fertilised my imagination with the (sadly) unfamiliar possibility of universal significance and meaning in Scottish and Celtic experience.

Works by John Prebble, dealing with the history of Highland Scotland, were becoming popular. I think it is in the introduction to The Highland Clearances , that the non-academic Prebble stated that he was the first person to research much of the primary source material concerning events of such profound significance in Scottish history; academics of Scottish universities found such events, and the people who experienced them, unworthy of interest. The cultural and political climate, while it has evolved somewhat in the intervening years, retains many features similar to the breathtaking marginalisations of the Scottish/Celtic reality described above - including the suppression of Scottish educational tradition itself, as described by George Davie in his landmark The Democratic Intellect . The cultural experience that informed the nascent period of this work, and persisted throughout, was one of disturbing, sometimes exhilarating, unveiling of primary cultural and historical reality itself. This is a quite separate experience from the "normal” growth of consciousness for such an age-group in an integrated culture; the best explanation I have encountered for it lies in the concept of "inferiorisation ", as developed by Frantz Fanon ( The Wretched of the Earth ) with regard to the external control of Third World countries, and utilised by Beveridge and Turnbull in The Eclipse of Scottish Culture (Polygon Books, 1989). To quote from the latter: "Fanon uses (the concept of inferiorism) to describe those processes in a relationship of national dependence which lead the native to doubt the worth and significance of inherited ways of life and embrace the styles and values of the coloniser. These processes are not to be seen as 'merely superstructural'; it is through the undermining of the natives' self-belief and the disintegration of local identity that political control is secured. According to Fanon, a colonised people are subject to a process of mystification. Central to this process is a sustained belittling of the colonised culture, which is depicted, by the coloniser, as impoverished, backward, and primitive. Fanon writes: 'Every effort is made to bring the colonised person to admit the inferiority of his culture.' Science and scholarship contribute to this undertaking, as in the work of the French psychiatrists Fanon quotes who tried to demonstrate that African "primitivism" was due to physical features of the brain. Another theme in colonialist ideology is the native's barbarism. In pre-colonial times, it is asserted, the natives lived in savagery, and it is only through colonial government that a reversion to this state of affairs can be prevented.... "The mythology of inferiority has been most effective, perhaps, in our reading of the history of pre-Union Scotland. Fanon's model seems perfectly appropriate here. He speaks of 'the work of devaluing pre-colonial history'. Colonialist ideology 'turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures, and destroys it ... The total result looked for by colonial domination was indeed to convince the natives that colonialism came to lighten their darkness.”

Thus, prior to the Union of 1707,
..."To quote (the contemporary English historian) Trevor-Roper (1967): 'At the end of the seventeenth century, Scotland was a by-word for irredeemable poverty, social backwardness, political faction. The universities were the unreformed seminaries of a fanatical clergy.'" Scotland was, indeed, "the rudest of all the European nations." (Trevor- Roper Scotching the Myths ...)

The Eclipse of Scottish Culture , pp's 5-8.
The contemporary English historian T.C. Smout assures 'modern rural Scotsmen' that, on the evidence, they need feel no sense of identity or continuity with their pre-Union forebears: 'In many ways there are much greater similarities between the peasant culture of seventeenth century Scotland and those of the more backward (italics added) tribes of Asia and Africa than between that culture and that of the modern rural Scotsmen who are their direct descendants.' It is perhaps a measure of the inferiorism of the Scottish 'intelligentsia' that it has accepted so readily as a major contribution to Scottish history a work which projects the pre- Union Scottish people, probably the most literate and, in the social and ethical governance of themselves, arguably the most democratic in seventeenth-century Europe, as 'backward' and 'primitive'. Ibid. , p.39 . This was, after all, the Scotland of the Reformation legacy, "a school in every parish"; it is precisely this social basis that could enable a peasant farmer to become the poet Robert Burns. Age-old Celtic spirituality and democratic communality had mutated into a Presbyterian egalitarianism and a Calvinist theology of such profound social awareness that it would eventually in turn translate into social philosophy of worldsignificance with the Scottish Enlightenment: "But the true home of theories of social development was Scotland, and can be located in the diverse hands of Dalrymple, Lord Kames, Ferguson, Millar, Robertson, and above all, Adam Smith. The theory is that societies pass through stages of development determined by the dominant mode of subsistence. Successively, societies are 'savage', where hunting is the dominant mode, 'barbaric, which is predominantly pastoral; agriculture determines the third stage, whereas the fourth and highest social form, civilisation proper, is dominated by commerce." David Richards, The Scottish-Canadian Connection; Cencrastus magazine , Spring 1985. The indebtedness of for example Marx, to such works as Adam Ferguson's Essay on the History of Civil Society , John Millar's The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks , and Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations is self-evident. At a personal level, one incidental aspect of the devalorisation of Scottish culture is a discovery I made while reading The Eclipse of Scottish Culture . In the past, I had eventually arrived at an awareness of the Scottish tradition of Common Sense philosophy, which in its "common" sense, unifying the other senses, parallels the subjective aspect of European existentialism, and in its concepts of relation to objective reality corresponds with dialectics. I had also become aware (see George Davie, above) of the Scottish tradition of generalist education, where for all students beginning university, philosophy was the main subject of study, and other subjects were studied from the stand point of a general or philosophical understanding of the principles involved; and that in tutorials, students were encouraged to debate with lecturers, issues being decided on a class vote. This philosophical tradition was subject to gradual attrition by English control. I was also aware that in Scottish and European terms, Anglo-Saxon culture is unphilosophical to an exceptional degree, its philosophical reduction of truth to mathematics in effect invalidating anything else whatsoever it has to say. As readers who have read the previous section on existentialism will be aware, my understanding of Sartre was profoundly indebted to R.D. Laing, who with D. G. Cooper had presented in Reason and Violence an interpretation of Sartre's later work at a time when no translation existed in English. This book was perhaps the single most important I have read and is seminal in the development of the present text. I had also influenced by Laing's famous other works, such as The Divided Self and Self and Others , which had an existential view of inter-subjective relations and the primary existential significance of the Other. Only after the long dialectic of this present text was completed, did I become aware by reading The Eclipse of Scottish Culture that the text Reason and Violence, like the rest of Laing's work , was possible because of the following: the general Presbyterian, moral-religious milieu of Laing's upbringing; his earlier affiliation to a Glasgow discussion group including philosophers and churchmen of predominantly existential interests; the Glasgow University German-Hegelian tradition (which had still survived despite the influence of the South); and because Laing was part of a modern Scottish tradition, including Anderson, Macmurray, Macquarry, MacIntyre, whom Beveridge and Turnbull describe as the “Scottish personalist school": "A foregrounding of the phenomenon of personhood; an insistence that knowledge is not exhausted in scientific cognition; hostility to the disestimation of important aspects of human experience which the triumphs of science have encouraged - these parameters of the ideas of the Scottish personalist school largely define the nature of Laing's intellectual career also.” Beveridge and Turnbull, ibid. p.107 Given that in the inferiorist model, Highland or Gaelicspeaking people were denied even the lowly status of the backward Lowland peasant, it is natural that the inferiorised, anglicised Scottish establishment deemed their history as inconsequential. For, thus, a fairly sensitive mind, after six years secondary education and a year at university, to discover, in the works of Prebble, the sequence of events - from Culloden, and its aftermath of widescale rape and pillage; to ruthless ethnic Clearance of communities of people, many exiled to America in slave-ship conditions, to make way for sheep; to cultural extirpation including the banning of bagpipe and tartan; to the heroic Celtic cannon-fodder of a seedy opium-war British Empire; to the Calvinist rationalisation that such trauma was judgment on the sins of an evil and guilty people…. as each veil of ignorance lifted, the reality of my people cut deeper and deeper in a raw racial wound that tormented my consciousness. The Anglo-Saxon manipulation of Scotland as a whole added to the pain and anger. In 1707, bribery and corruption of the Scottish elite achieved an illegal "Union" with an unconquered nation, to the accompaniment of popular riots. This recalls the American concept, between the Vietnam and Iraq wars, of "low-intensity conflict" to achieve domination. Scottish unionist politicians, in Scotland and London, still readily encourage fear and inferiorisation in their fellow Scots, lamenting the consequences of ‘divorce' from this historical and cultural abuse, and insisting that Scots cannot prosper as do similar small European states. The events culminating in the Highland Clearances appeared ultimately as a clash between, on the one hand, Celtic clan society and culture, and on the other, Capitalism, in which the Anglo-Saxon temperament seemed historically adept. (See Marx on Utilitarianism and social relations: remarks on Hobbes, Locke; followed by Capra on Bacon). After the traumatic denouement, there could of course be no reversion to the innocence of clan values and beliefs - especially given the inevitable complicity of clan chiefs in the historical process through the betrayal of their people. On the other hand, the Calvinist solution which historically prevailed, that such trauma was the natural reward for the sins of an evil and guilty people, was alien to a Celtic Christian identity traditionally based on the essential innocence and goodness of nature and humanity (J P MacKey, An Introduction to Celtic Christianity, p16; Ian Bradley, The Celtic Way , Chapter 3) and which had earlier challenged the doctrine of original sin and total depravity promulgated by Rome and Augustine. A Celtic consciousness, aware of its historical reality, would need to be pan-historic in the sense of rejecting any vestige of that clan culture which ultimately sold its land and society as capitalist commodities in the Clearances, but also in the sense of full critical awareness of the capitalist market and racist imperialism that led to genocidal extirpation. It must look to the beginnings of history, in which its comparatively recent social structure, and ancient, Indo-European culture, lie. For example, it has been observed that Indian social institutions and traditions can be the most illuminating model for Irish equivalents – Proinsias Mac Cana ( Celtic Mythology, p14) observes that usages of seventeenth century Irish filidh (roughly, poet-priests) ‘find there closest detailed parallel in the sacred texts of the Indian Brahmans'. It must be aware of its own cultural and spiritual distinctiveness, and must look also to the socio-cultural variations found in anthropological studies, to envision a human future beyond the barbarity of capitalism. Again, at the risk of being repetitive, I feel it is this cultural range of reference that led Adam Ferguson, himself born a Highlander and Gaelic-speaker, to conclude (prior to Marx) in An Essay on the History of Civil Society (1776) that man's behaviour is acquired through a process of enculturation and each epoch is conditioned by the mode of subsistence. Related to this integrated view of the socio-economic, I concluded at the formative stage of this dialectic, that this panhistoric or transcendent consciousness which was necessary to Celtic self-awareness, must include in its essence a rejection of the entire inter-related culture of capitalism - in music, for example the western orchestral tradition, in comparison to other Indo-European traditions, we may find a sensibility of manipulative triumphalism and sentimentality. Moreover, the mode of orchestral production, the hierarchic division of labour, of, composer, conductor, orchestra, passive consumer, is typical of capitalist alienation. In contrast, the development of the music of the Celtic harp or clarsach into the great pibroch, the classical music of the Highland bagpipe, again captures the spirit of intricate, improvised profusion, and also again points us to the great traditional, improvisational music of the Indian sitar. There is also an affinity with the supreme improvisational art-form, jazz. It has been remarked that Japanese listeners may find pibroch (Gaelic, piobaireachd) attractive in its spirituality. For this particular reader, there is also a harmony with the intricacy and feeling of the experience to be described in this text. An equivalent visual art of a precise intricate improvised profusion, matching in both complexity of structure and richness of symbolism the nature of the experience described in this text, is demonstrated in George Bain's Celtic Art - The Methods of Construction . Whilst The Book of Kells is one of the world's great works of art, it is symptomatic of the recent cultural situation that Bain finds it necessary to refute various infantile "travesties" that had previously been published claiming to depict Celtic art. Bain notes in his introduction that its origins were ‘Asiatic', philological, and developed from traditions that prohibit artistic imitation of the works of the Creator, as a form of blasphemy. This art expresses symbolically the rich intricate unity of Being, which our inner souls may aspire to mirror, and stands in profound opposition to capitalist art since the Renaissance, and the latter's celebration of individualism (which inherently implies exploitation of others and manipulation of Nature). Personally I find the form, symbolism and criteria of this art spiritually strengthening, expressing as it does centuries of devotion, often of ascetic intensity, on rocky islet or isolated cave, more akin to the Eastern traditions to which it is culturally and artistically related. This dedication was also expressed through the remarkable missionary spirit of the wandering Celtic scholars of the Middle Ages, whose approach was one of tolerance, inclusion and acculturation, and has continued through the role of Irish and Scottish missionaries in more modern times. (Interestingly, Bain (p25) ascribes the artwork of the Book of Kells to East Pictland – largely in Scotland – rather than the Iona / Irish school.) The same richness of intricate improvisation exists in language, where the position of adjectives following the noun they describe, allows the object, already defined, to be described in shades of subtlety and complexity, unlike English where the reader or listener would not yet know what was being referred to. (Remarkably, this style is observable even in Scottish writers without knowledge of Gaelic - see Kurt Wittig, The Scottish Tradition in Literature .) This linguistic facility adds to the sense of freshness and immediacy frequently attributed to literature in Gaelic, the oldest language in Europe. With regard to literary form, the conventional novel, an art form of individual's manipulative phantasy of others and of objective reality, is recognisably a part of capitalist sensibility (however "radical" the writer) and as such in opposition to the pre/post capitalist and/or traditional Celtic-Asiatic art and relation to Being here discussed. I hope others of oppressed traditions can share something of these sentiments and perspectives in relation to their own traditions, and that we can learn to honour our own traditions and respect those of others.

  (iii) Erich Fromm The mindset of this text was also deeply influenced by, and greatly indebted to, the ideas of the neo-Freudian Erich Fromm, who combined Freud's thought with Marxism (especially, his Anatomy of Human Destructiveness; and his ‘Marx and Freud – Beyond the Chains of Illusion; also, JAC Brown's Freud and the Post-Freudians). Fromm's neo-Freudian version of pre-genital character formation, his concepts of biophilia and necrophilia, his differentiation between instincts and passions, and other insights, continue to provide an invaluable frame of reference in general life. With regard to Sartre's criticisms of any ‘life or death instincts', I feel that an ultimate unity of Sartre and Fromm's work can lie in the concept mentioned by Laing of a pre/ para-verbal continuum of unconscious phantasies. I was also, beginning with JAC Brown's text, interested in the impact of Social Anthropology on the limitations of Western psychology, and indeed went to study this subject at University when I first left school, but I left disillusioned after a year. I would agree with Fromm's amazement that at the time he wrote the Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1974), there had been no attempt to form a general comparative theory of human destructiveness, in the whole field of academic social anthropology, and this typified as conservative, structural-functionalist approach. Fromm's ‘Analysis of Thirty Primitive Tribes', in that text, is especially illuminating.

Top of Page