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There & Then:
Personal & Memorial Reflections on Alan Watts (1915-1973)

WattsHereAndNow7,833 words

Alan Watts–Here and Now: Contributions to Psychology, Philosophy, and Religion
Ed. Peter J. Columbus and Donadrian L. Rice
Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2012

“It is the peculiar nature of my adolescent explorings of the Devon countryside . . . that made me what I am—and in many other ways besides writing. . . . I have never gained any taste for what lies beyond the experience of solitary discovery. . . . I have dabbled in many branches of natural and human history, and have a sound knowledge of none, and the same goes for countless other things besides I like a kind of wandering wood acquaintance, and no more; a dilettante’s, not a virtuoso’s; always the green chaos rather than the printed map. . . . I place all this entirely upon the original adolescent experience, for I do not think I was born so . . .”—John Fowles, The Tree

It all began with the FCC.

“It” being my some forty years of interest in outré subjects of metaphysics and general esoterica, as well as a perhaps poorly planned or executed lifelong indifference to the bourgeois way of life and the expectations of “success” therein.[1]

And “FCC” being the Federal Communications Commission, which, in those quaint days before Libertard ideologues fastened the “Demon of the Economy” on society (and when, curiously, the economy itself was performing like gangbusters, only to enter at that point a three decade decline, at least for the white working man, if not the Judaic 0.01%), actually dared to regulate the activities of those licensed to use the “Public Airways.”

One thing the FCC did was to create and enforce something called the “Fairness Doctrine.” Now, while I’m sure there were some problems, the general idea produced a situation in which, despite there being only three networks, extraordinary varieties of opinion could be heard.[2]

Another public benefit of this “regulatory straitjacket” was that every station had to present a certain amount of “religious” programming, preferably on Sunday morning. Well, you can imagine how this would set off today’s Left, especially the Sunday part (“We’re not ALL Christians now, you know!” Worse than wishing people “Merry Christmas.”) But this was just after the reign of Eisenhower, falsely remembered as an era of conformity and repression, but actually one of the freedoms of bland indifference: “In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”[3]

As usual, so-called “repression” and “censorship” resulted in creativity and innovation. Thus it was that Detroit’s WBAX, “the station that glows in the dark,” one of the pioneers of “freeform” or “progressive” FM radio,[4] began Sunday morning broadcasts of the recorded lectures, and the one or two LPs, of Alan Watts. Thus began—when and for how long exactly, I know not—my acquaintance with the voice and ideas of Alan Watts, which were to have a singularly profound influence on subsequent thoughts and, indeed, subsequent life.[5]

I never had a chance to meet Watts, or even to see and hear him perform live—a rock idiom that seems appropriate—perhaps on one of his many lecture tours, or later at college;[6] He died quite soon after I first started reading him, suddenly in his sleep, and unexpectedly, being barely in his 50s and having just published his seemingly premature autobiography.[7] In those pre-internet days, I learned of his death while paging through an issue of Playboy; Watts having been a sometime contributor[8] and seen as a promoter of Hef’s self-styled “Playboy Philosophy,” his death merited a mention in the front matter.

He had simply, in the natural way of things (the Way of the Tao, the “Watercourse Way” as his last, posthumously published book calls it), passed into my life, exerted a heavy influence, and then simply disappeared, almost as if he had never existed in the first place, merely some books and lectures attributed, with more or less confidence, to one “Alan Watts,” author.

Apparently, I didn’t miss much, as Watts by this time was almost continuously drunk and pretty useless as an advisor. What I did learn at college was that a psychology instructor, in his youth, had tried to visit The Master and, having tracked him down to his Sausalito houseboat (remember, no internet or Google) found him, in the middle of the afternoon, passed out drunk on the deck.

Moreover, this prevented, by a kind of divine force majeure, the development of the kind of guru-disciple relationship that Watts always disparaged. In one of his most famous slogans, “When you get the message, you hang up the phone.”[9]

Better, then, than any silly “guru/disciple” racket, I had his autobiography, which I would recommend to anyone as both an engagingly written account of a remarkable life, and as a compendium of Watts’ philosophy, or at least his best thoughts and one-liners, legitimately recycled while narrating their origin in the course of the surprisingly eventful life of a “philosophical entertainer.”[10]

I read it constantly, rather in the way boys of the same age and time were reading Tolkien;[11] and as many of them did, I eventually slowed down until I reached a point where I can’t say I’ve so much as looked at it—although I did acquire a nice first edition to put on my shelf—in years. But then, “When you get the message, you hang up the phone.”

Whether I could have become a disciple of Watts is doubtful; I was about 15 at this time, living in Detroit, not California, and lacked the kind of ambition, or gumption, or brutal necessity of poverty or abuse, that would have driven me out onto the road to join the kids running away to join the Summer of Love.[12]

While brushing aside any Freudian interpretations with scorn and derision, I might as well stipulate here that, as alluded to elsewhere, my father was poorly educated railroad conductor who worked double shifts and weekends so as to insure he had no contact with what we would have to designate as his “family,” myself and my mother. As far as I know I inherited nothing from him other than a tendency to violent outbursts at the most inauspicious times, while enjoying the dubious benefits of being able to read, listen to or—within the limits of my wallet and the aforesaid lack of gumption—do anything I pleased.[13]

Was Watts, then, a (shudder) “father figure”? Perhaps. Further evidence might lie ahead.

For, after whimsically choosing to attend an unheralded college in provincial Ontario (again, remarkable lack of parental supervision, they being happy as long as it was a Catholic college), I had decided to major in Philosophy, since that seemed to be where Watts’ ideas seemed to have led, and as noted, my parents had no interest in any practical results of my studies.[14] Fortunately, Windsor, in its very backwardness, was more like the sort of seminaries Watts was familiar with, teaching Aristotle and St. Thomas, rather than the modern, analytic schools that Watts loathed, where one “does” philosophy from 9 to 5 and then home to martinis.[15] I did dabble a bit in Asian Studies, and Religious Studies, but not at all in Psychology, but they were clearly as limited to specialists as Watts would have thought.[16]

Besides, since Watts advocated a “no-practice” approach to spirituality,[17] there didn’t seem to be any need, or much point, in undertaking anything but a theoretical path.[18]

And sure enough, though apparently wandering aimlessly and un-guidedly through the venia legendi, I found myself smack dab under the influence of another likely “father figure,” Prof. John Norbert Deck, PhD.[19]

Now Deck, though apparently rather more anti-Semitic than even most of his generation,[20] did show a propensity to create what Kevin MacDonald has called the “Jewish Guru Effect,” the creation of authoritarian study groups around charismatic figures, often involving the creation of private languages to keep outsiders at bay.[21]

Looking like Schopenhauer but dressed as a Trotskyite shop steward, Deck was easily the most oddly charismatic professor around, and I eagerly joined his Neoplatonic cult.[22] In an unprecedented burst of enthusiasm, I completed my coursework in little more two years, and eagerly entered the more private realms of the graduate seminar. Whereupon, the heavy-smoking, heavy-German-food-eating Deck dropped dead, in his mid-fifties.

That’s right, dear readers, two mentors, both almost immediately dead. And I was barely twenty![23]

Though something of detour, I do fancy I picked up enough of the Greeks and the Scholastics to finally be able—after about another twenty years—to read and appreciate the “Big Shots” that Watts initially promoted, like Guénon[24] and Coomaraswamy, although I knew that Watts himself had come to find them a limited, and limiting, perspective.[25]

So what, other than “Pheelosophy,” did I learn or absorb from Watts? Although Watts insisted that metaphysics was always “rockily practical” itself—there, I picked that up!—it’s mostly the practical matters that most readily come to mind, covered in the two aforesaid volumes, In My Own Way and Does It Matter? (the latter containing several of the aforesaid Playboy essays[26]); the first taking, of course, a more mouthwateringly discursive approach, the former more thematic, if not really “scholarly” or academic, the sort of light touch that led some to sneeringly call him a “popularizer.”[27]

Take “Murder in the Kitchen,” a consideration of our confusion of “diet with medicinie and cooking with pharmacology,” trashing kitchens designed like laboratories (“molecular gastronomy,” anyone?) and nasty plasticware made in Japan (now in China). In addition to inculcating a lifelong concern with what might be called bohemian gourmandizing, along the way Watts exposes vegetarians as philosophically inconsistent, ignoring the proven pain and emotions of plants simply because they lack faces and vocal chords. Not an argument likely to convince Savitri Devi,[28] but still useful at a time when the ethical pretensions of the trendy among us have moved beyond vegetarianism to veganism (collecting honey is exploitation, man!) and even raw food (cooked food being obviously fatal), seeking ever more rarified levels of moral and “scientific” one-upmanship over the proles.[29]

“Clothes—On and Off” take the same approach—”spiritual materialism”—to chart a sensible way between the false alternatives of asceticism (religious or “scientific”) and senseless indulgence. [30] In this case, Watts abjured both the tightly laced-up, up-tight styles of “square” adults and the “aggressively slovenly and dowdy” (In My Own Way, p. 359) styles of the hippies. He wonders, sounding like a scold for once, how people could take all those drugs and then wear those awful, dreary hippie duds. Even when Watts still affected “normal” Western clothes, they were well-tailored (complete with walking stick ‘for swagger’ as he explained to a puzzled customs agent on his arrival in the States) enough to fit in at Sterling Cooper, and even in his Orientalist period they were replaced by immaculate, classical kimonos—with sword!

As the reference to Mad Men’s ad agency suggests, today we’ve sunk so far into sartorial slobbery that even those “stuffy” old White men (who share Watts’ affection for mass quantities of vodka) seen swaggeringly stylish. Why, Alan would be right at home in Bert’s Japonaiserie office, bow tie and all!

Perhaps Watts didn’t quite get his own argument right; if he could have put aside a reflexive anti-Western, anti-businessman bias, and seen how low our clothing—especially the pants—would sink, he might have stuck with the Edwardian look. Perhaps, as Greg Johnson suggests, he just needed a better tailor? [31]

Watts [actually] offers a defense of dandyism as a rebellion against modern democratic leveling and conformism, as well as uptight and aggressive relations to one another and the natural world. He might also add Puritanical Gnosticism. There is no reason why the playful and refined embrace of material existence should not allow some room for male vanity. “Human beings the whole world over need to relax, become gentlemen, take themselves lightly, and ‘come off it.’ Easy, gracious, and colorful clothing might well be a beginning” (p. 68). But Watts also needs to “come off it” and admit that military uniforms, along with priestly vestments, are one of the great Western bastions of dandyism.[32]

More generally, Watts was certainly aware of, and opposed to, the way the need, as he perceived it, to “relax” was being perverted into “let it all hang out.” As Columbus and Rice note, though he was one of the founders of Esalen and the “human potential movement” himself, he was by no means supporter of “Beat” culture. In My Own Way has a stunning rejoinder to all that hot tub chatter:
In such situations people will invariably say to me, “Oh come on, Alan, we haven’t yet seen the real you.” To which I can only reply, “Well, look, I am right here, all of me, and if you can’t see you must question your own sensitivity” (p. 209).

He goes on to point out that the “metaphysical assumptions” of such hot-tub chatter, superficially “friendly” but really aimed to tear down and re-build, are “ill-digested Darwin and Freud, with a touch of Jesus” and are, moreover, “demonstrably false.”

As the references to Freud and Jesus show, Watts was, like many if not most intellectuals of his era, somewhat “jew-wise.” His opposition to the Businessman and Priest is implicitly Aryan and Traditionalist, and so is his opposition to their fake alternative, the Slob.[33]

And so it comes as no surprise that when he comes to consider “Wealth versus Money” in the opening essay of the book, the titular opposition is between the abstract financial chicanery of the Judaic-capitalist, versus the concrete wealth of real, material production. Rather than be seduced by the kabbalism of money, Watts urges us to “wake up” and realize that “money” is a system of measurement, and that the State can no more “run out of” money than it can run out of inches or gallons. [34] As Greg Johnson points out,

In fact, the foundation of his proposals is merely a version of C. H. Douglas’ Social Credit theory. Of course Watts had good reason not to mention Douglas in the pages of Playboy in 1968: Social Credit was the economic system favored by Anglophone fascists like Ezra Pound.

More than that, it was the basis of the successful rebirth of National Socialist Germany under one Herr Hitler.[35]

And speaking of Darwin, consider that other Judaic impudence, the Darwinist presumption. As always, it’s presented as Just Fact, too well established to bother with proof, and any questioners are portrayed, as Alex Kurtagic said recently in another context,

Primitive nincompoops whose company no self-respecting, cultured, intelligent person would ever seek or tolerate[, equivalent to t]he stereotype of the White hillbilly from the American South, dysgenically inbred, gap-toothed, jug-eared, and of negligible cranial cubicage.

So I was pleased to find, on perusing a lovely first edition of Alan Watts’ Beyond Theology, that the hip, Zen-read, LSD-expanded intelligentsia of 1965 were applying their psychedelic insights against dreary old Dad by advocating . . . intelligent design:

A universe which grows human beings is as much a human, or humaning, universe as a tree which grows apples is an apple tree. . . . There is still much to be said for the old theistic argument that the materialist-mechanistic atheist is declaring his own intelligence to be no more than a special form of unintelligence. . . .

The real theological problem for today is that it is, first of all, utterly implausible to think of this Ground as having the monarchical and paternal character of the Biblical Lord God. But, secondly, there is the much more serious difficulty of freeing oneself from the insidious plausibility of the mythology of nineteenth century scientism, from the notion that the universe is gyrating stupidity in which the mind of man is nothing but a chemical fantasy doomed to frustration. It is insufficiently recognized that this is a vision of the world inspired by the revolt against the Lord God of those who had formerly held the role of his slaves. This reductionist, nothing-but-ist view of the universe with its muscular claims to realism and facing-factuality is at root a proletarian and servile resentment against quality, genius, imagination, poetry, fantasy, inventiveness and gaiety. Within twenty or thirty years it will seem as superstitious as flat-earthism.

Well, he seems to have been a little off on that prediction; the argument is still valid, though.[36] I also love how Watts could see, even back then, that the argument was indeed about intelligence, and the phony opposition between Judaic Creationist Priests and Judaic Materialist Scientists;[37] and what wonderful phrases he comes up with: “insidious plausibility,” “gyrating stupidity.” I vote we start using these ourselves; what else is the opponent of ID but an advocate of “gyrating stupidity”; any guesses as to how many “factuality-facing” fashionable atheists will have the intellectual courage to grasp the term as indeed articulating their view, or give the reason why not?

But isn’t all this too specific, too small scale, to justify calling someone an “influence,” not just on oneself but on the culture in general? Maybe I should go back to the more general, more abstract level. Other than a vague, perhaps self-satisfying interest in philosophical contemplation, what ideas did Watts inculcate?

The problem here is the difficulty of turning one’s mind inward, and ascertaining what the gears and setting of itself are. If his ideas have become a part of my intellectual apparatus, how do I discern that?

As it happens, I recently got around to reading a book from the Wattsian ‘70s that, despite no evidence of any overt influence, reminded me enough of his ideas to serve a kind of mirror, in which I could find myself recalling one or more of Watts’ notions: The Tree, by John Fowles.[38]

Fowles seems to have had a late-Victorian, middle-class father very similar to Watts’ own (a pattern?), or indeed Watts himself (twice, or in Watts’ case thrice, married, and leaving endless children to support), with two “private anomalies”: a “fascination with philosophy” (though precisely of the analytical kind) and “his little sacred grove of fruit trees.” To his father’s frustration, Fowles did not grow up to share his love of pruning gardens and classifying reality, but “branched off” in quite another direction, deriving a different lesson:

We feel or think we feel, nearest to a tree’s “essence” when it chanced to stand like us, in isolation, but evolution did not intend trees to grow singly . . . they are social creatures, and no more natural as isolated specimens than man is as a marooned sailor or a hermit. Their society in turn creates or supports other societies of plants, insects, birds, mammals, micro-organisms,; all of which we may choose to isolated and section off, but which remain no less the ideal entity, or whole experience of the wood. . . .

The true wood, the true place of any kind, is the sum of all its phenomena . . . a togetherness of beings. It is only because such a vast sum of interactions and coincidences in time and place is beyond science’s calculations . . . that we so habitually ignore it, and treat the flight of the bird and the branch it flies from . . . as separate events, of riddles—what bird? Which branch? These question-boundaries (where do I file that?) are ours, not of reality.

That’s it! That’s Watts’ most characteristic, most all-around, most important notion. As such he, unlike Fowles, coins a word for it: “goeswith.”

The individual may be understood neither as an isolated person nor as an expendable humanoid working machine. He may be seen, instead, as one particular focal point at which the whole universe express itself—as an incarnation of the Self, of the Godhead, or whatever one may choose to call IT . . .

In the Nootka language, a church is “housing religiously” a shop is “housing tradingly.” . . . Does it really explain to say that a man is running? On the contrary, the only explanation would be a description of the field or situation in which “a manning goeswith running” as distinct from a manning goeswith sitting [remember that “the universe peoples” in the Intelligent Design quote above?] . . . “the cause” of the behavior is the situation as a whole, the organization/environment . . .[39]

Fowles also sees that this creating of relatively abstract objects by the imposing of boundaries for purposes of analysis, which objects are then mistaken for what’s really there, is what leads to the dreary pseudo-material world Watts’ Playboy essays were attacking:

Brainwashed by most modern societies into believing that the act of acquisition is more enjoyable than the fact of having acquired, that getting beats having got, mere names and the objects they are tied to soon become stale. There is a constant need, or compulsion, to seek new objects and names—in the context of nature, new species and experiences.

Since mere names are ultimately unsatisfying, yet we have been brainwashed into believing that names are things, we seek more and more (quantity) rather than better and better (quality). Our “materialists” are actually gnostic spiritualists. We need “a thoroughgoing spiritual materialism.”

Our fallacy lies in supposing that the limiting nature of scientific method corresponds to the nature of ordinary experience. [Rather] it is quintessentially “wild”—unphilosophical, irrational, uncontrollable, incalculable. In fact it corresponds very closely—despite our endless efforts to “garden,” to invent disciplining social and intellectual systems—with wild nature.

Which, of course, not only affects our world but also affects our psychology, our spiritual state; as Fowles points out,

We are all in a way creating our future out of our present; our “published” outward behaviour out of our inner green being. [Our] society does not want us to. Such random personal creativity is offensive to all machines.

We lack trust in the present, this moment, this actual seeing, because our culture tells us to trust only the reported back, the publicly framed, the edited, the thing set in the clearly artistic of the clearly scientific angle of perspective. . . . Nature resists this. It waits to be seen otherwise, in its individual presentness and from our individual presentness.

This is why the West has turned to various Eastern spiritual techniques, such as meditation; yet like Watts (the “Watts Fallacy” of no-practice), Fowles is skeptical:

As we in the West have converted them to our use, which seems increasingly in a narcissistic way to make ourselves feel more positive, more meaningful, more dynamic.

Now, at this point, you may be asking, if you are still here, “So what? Who cares about you and your Watts stories? And who cares about some equally, though more recently, dead British novelist with a tree fixation?” Fair enough point. Although Watts often referred to himself as a “philosophical entertainer,” he also considered himself a serious enough scholar, and would want to be evaluated as such. For this purpose, I suggest you cast your eyes back to the top of the page, and consider the volume that Columbus and Rice have put together, which Choice says is “well-conceived, well-written, well-edited, and accessible to undergraduates as well as scholars.”[40]

More particularly, the book itself is a remarkable demonstration of the breadth and depth of Alan Watts’ contributions to post-War culture. Chapters address perennial philosophy and psychology, psychedelic research and experience, phenomenological analysis, personal transformation, and, of course, gender and sexuality.

The opening chapter by Hood sets the framework for all this by laying out “Four Major Debates in the Psychology of Religion” and offering both Watts’ considered opinions, based largely on his own experience, as well as contemporary empirical research supporting him, concluding that “academics whose disdain of popular works kept Alan from a broader appreciation among scholars nevertheless belatedly championed his views in the academy” (p. 26). As Schopenhauer said, new ideas are first ridiculed, then silently appropriated.

Of course, as the kids say, your mileage may vary, or, as we used to say in Philosophy class, one mans modus ponens is another mans modus tollens. Hood, for example, thinks, like many of today’s academic counterparts of the ones who “disdained” Watts, that perennialism in religion (Guénon, Coomaraswamy[41] ) or psychology (William James) is somehow vitiated by “Cartesianism” and something he calls “objectivism”; as for me, I find my withers unrung, [42] and say hooray for Perennialsim, then!

On the other hand, Miriam Levering (“Alan Watts on Nature, Gender, and Sexuality: A Contemporary View”) thinks that Watt’s “polar” idea of male and female is what Luce Irigaray would call a “premature delineation.” And although using this as grist for the usual feminist mill, it also suggests to me Alain Daniélou’s criticism of appeals by self-styled “Traditionalists” to male and female “principles” as if they were static archetypes, rather than poles that conjure up an infinity of sub-divisions and re-combinations, as in the gods of the Hindu pantheon.[43]

Speaking of Traditionalists, or even White Nationalists, or at least those who might be a tad simpatico, there’s an interesting contribution from Ralph Metzner, who was one of the pioneers of drug experimentation at Harvard in the ’60s. While Leary seemed to worship himself, and Richard Alpert, in typical Judaic fashion, costumed himself as the “guru” Baba Ram Dass (or “Rammed Ass” as his brother liked to call him), Metzner, at least in recent years, has chosen to concentrate on his own Germanic roots. [44]

Metzner’s essay is mainly devoted to Watts’ personal and professional role in his life and career as a psychedelic researcher and spiritual adventurer; and while Editor Rice gives us an excellent account of “Alan Watts and the Neuroscience of Transcendence,” no one really ties together Watts on psychedelics, transcendence, and spiritual methodology.

Rather than concentrating on “The Watts Fallacy” of “no-practice practice,” as the representatives of various rival methodologies do,[45] we should notice first, that psychedelics not only confirmed for Watts his most important, already-arrived at insight — the stumble into alienation from the world and from our own selves:

The mistake which we have made—and this, if anything, is the fall of man—is to suppose that that extra circuit, that ability to take an attitude toward the rest of life as a whole, is the same as actually standing aside and being separate from what we see. We seem to feel that the thing which knows that it knows is one’s essential self, that—in other words—or personal identity is entirely on the side of the commentator. We forget, because we learn to ignore so subtly, the larger organismic fact that self-consciousness is simply a subordinate part and an instrument of our whole being, a sort of mental counterpart of the finger-thumb opposition in the human hand. Now which is really you, the finger or the thumb?

In short [writes Rice] transcendent experience for Alan Watts was a transcendence of dissociated ego consciousness. It is a vividly clear perception that “what we are talking about is ourselves, and ourselves in a sense far more basic and real that that extra circuit which knows knowing.”[46]

But also gave him the key to a no-method method: traditional spiritual practices are self-defeating, since they only strengthen the illusion that we are a separate thing (the extra circuit), which is able to control the ego itself.

But what if enlightenment is, itself, the giving up of control? How can increasing control end control?

Rather than concentrating on the “fallacy” of no-practice, as if it were just a matter of some heretical opinion based on linguistic maneuvers, concentrate on the inefficiency of traditional spiritual practices, such as the “aching legs” school of Zen meditation, versus psychedelic drugs.

This is the line that has been taken up by internet researcher Michael Hoffman.[47] On his website, Hoffman, who has said he regards Watts as the most important philosopher of the 20th century, writes:

Alan Watts’ genius was to understand Zen as insight into self-control cybernetics, a theme that I have followed through to completeness.[48]

Alan Watts translated the eastern philosophies into words the Western mind could relate to. I admire Watts’ style and goals of communication. He also proved his ability to write in the scholarly mode: The Supreme Identity, Behold the Spirit.

Watts focuses on enlightenment through taking frustration (about poor control) to its full development. Then you understand the true nature of control, through wrestling with it. Underlying all this wrestling with self-control is a deeper source of control that trumps our control. You learn to mentally see this prior or deeper level of control: the ground of being, from which emanates our every thought, choice, and mental tension. The only way to “trust” and “stop controlling” is to discover and clearly conceptualize the nature of self-control, and its relationship with the ground of being, or “the great Tao that flows everywhere.” Then you realize that all your controlling has always been, by its very nature, flowing from a source beyond your control. Then, you are logically, conceptually forced to see that trusting is the only possible action, because you have always been at the mercy of the Tao, that intrudes even into your decisions. This isn’t the very clearest wording possible, but it’s how Watts describes the essence of enlightenment in The Way of Zen and in the essay “Zen and the Problem of Control” in This Is It.[49]

The Tao’s control underlies all our sensation of lack of control and self-struggle, our inability to force and restrain our own thoughts, and our inability to silence our own mind. Watts portrays the method of Zen as “enlightenment through the complete frustration of control.”

Watts’ genius, in my view, is the discovery of the connection between self-control cybernetics, and Zen. My philosophy fully highlights this connection and makes it central. Self-control cybernetics is the foundation of my system of philosophy.

The way to escape ego and control is by pushing and magnifying ego and control to their utter limits, till they collapse of their own weight. Do not reduce and moderate ego and control. Rather, blow them up to make them fully visible in the light. The way to ego transcendence is to blow up ego.[50]

Columbus and Rice demonstrate the importance of Alan Watts to contemporary academic research; Hoffman’s website shows his influence on cutting-edge work. Glancing through either should convince any reader who has been intrigued by these reflections and wants to make up his own mind, that Alan Watts remains, a hundred years after his birth, a central figure of Western culture.

As for myself, my Sunday morning routine remains the largely the same as was set to back in the WABX days. I still find it impossible to sleep later than 6am, and while the local Pacifica outlet no longer seems to have any interest in Watts’ old KPFA broadcasts, even as giveaways during their incessant fundraising campaigns,[51] a local college station broadcasts two hours of Indian classical music, and then it’s time for Chris Whent’s early music program, “Here of a Sunday Morning.” I think Watts would approve, and come to think of it, Whent does have a goatee and a British accent.

Notes

[1] Or, as Watts would say, he had managed to live by “getting by, even successfully, without really deserving to do so”—In My Own Way: An Autobiography: 1915–1965 (New York: Pantheon, 1972), p. 262.

[2] I recall, for instance, even after the ascension of Reagan, which began the barbarian assault, seeing a debate between Arnaud de Borchgrave, reputed spook and editor of the Moonie-owned Washington Times, and Alexander Cockburn, Communist columnist and publisher. Today, while typically much is made of a superficial “diversity” of appearance, and even “conservative” networks talk about being “fair and balanced,” opinion is rigidly held to the respective “talking points” (another typical term) of the Democrat and Republican parties. Voices like Cockburn or Chomsky are banished to the “publicly supported” radio hinterlands, being “old White men” unfit to appear next to the vibrant voices of the Left (angry black women) or Right (bottle-blonde trannies). (Admittedly, Cockburn is dead, but you get my point).

[3] See the full context and subsequent history here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/And_I_don%27t_care_what_it_is

[4] “[Program Director Dave] Dixon had a “golden ear,” introducing attentive listeners to cross-cultural music on a world scale. Only on his show could one be exposed to such gems as Paul Horn’s Inside the Taj Mahal, Gandharva from Beaver & Krause, Richard Harris singing MacArthur Park and Harry Nilsson’s The Point (a complete LP side). In between, he might have mixed in a cut from John Mayall’s Blues From Laurel Canyon, some Savoy Brown (with original vocalist Chris Youlden), Cat Mother & the All-Night Newsboys and a track from Tim Buckley’s Happy Sad release. Toss in some Brian Auger Trinity (featuring Julie Driscoll on vocals) and Laura Nyro singing Eli’s Coming for good measure. Not to be overlooked, Detroit artists such as Frost (Dick Wagner), the Amboy Dukes (Ted Nugent), SRC and the Stooges (Iggy Pop) would also be integrated into the mix.” —http://floydslips.blogspot.com/2009/07/freeform-radio-masterdave-dixon-on-wabx.html#0

[5] Nor was I alone: “His KPFA radio program fueled the ‘San Francisco Renaissance’” (Columbus and Rice, p. 4).

[6] As it turned out, the only big name I would ever see there was Steve Martin, who performed in the Second World War era gymnasium and opened with a song apparently, and appropriately, entitled “I’ve Played in Lots of Shitholes But This One Takes the Cake”; Marshall McLuhan and Joyce Carol Oates don’t count, since they worked there.

[7] Although by the same age, Colin Wilson had published three autobiographies, with more to come.

[8] Several of the essays collected in Does IT Matter? Essays on Man’s Relation to Materiality (New York: Pantheon, 1970) made their first appearance there.

[9] The sort of time-wasting or downright dangerous shenanigans of the “guru cult” that Watts opposed are well studied by Georg Feuerstein, both yoga scholar and cult victim, in his Holy Madness: The Shock Tactics and Radical Teachings of Crazy-Wise Adepts, Holy Fools, and Rascal Gurus (New York: Paragon House, 1991; rev. ed. Holy Madness: Spirituality, Crazy-Wise Teachers, And Enlightenment, Chino Valley, Az.: Hohm, 2006). For Traditionalists like Guénon and Evola, the guru is needed to pass on the spiritual energy of initiation, literally bringing about a “re-birth” without which all study and practice is futile. Later we’ll look at criticisms of Watts’ “non-practice” style of Zen and whether Watts himself fits into Feuerstein’s “enlightened but psychologically non-transformed” diagnosis. Oddly enough I did have some later mild contacts with both of Feuerstein’s main subjects, Chogyam Trungpa, at Naropa, and Da Free John (known today as Adi Da). Ironically, it was Watts’ own gushing blurb on DFJ’s first book (“I think we have an avatar here”) that seemed to legitimize his “crazy wisdom” style as being “in the Way” of Watts; of course, he was probably just drunk when he wrote it.

[10] Although author of lots of books (including one bestseller modestly entitled The Book), Watts would not suggest using his books, or any books, as a guide: “Every Easter Sunday should be celebrated with a solemn and reverent burning of the Holy Scriptures, for the whole meaning of the resurrection and ascension of Christ into heaven (which is within you) is that God-man-hood is to be discovered here and now inwardly, not in the letter of the Bible”—Beyond Theology. The Art of Godmanship (New York: Pantheon, 1964), pp. 164-65.

[11] As a result, I never did get around to reading Tolkien (as always, too much of a real outsider to be a geek), and to this day I have resisted the Tolkien Cult; my nodding acquaintance with the Mythos derived entirely from a reading of the National Lampoon’s Bored of the Rings (Henry N. Beard and Douglas C. Kenney, 1969; reissued in 2011, the Guardian thinks it’s still worth a read, and so do I: http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2011/feb/08/tolkien-bored-of-the-rings

[12] You can find a mixture of both gumption and poverty in the 1933 film Wild Boys on the Road, in which nice, polite boys of the era decide the Depression has made them a burden to their families, and so take off to meet their fates on the road. Everyone was nice and polite then, even the kids and hobos! Today, they’d just move into the basement.

[13] See Greg Johnson’s “Interview with James J. O’Meara” in The Homo and the Negro (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012). As noted there, my mother, although an illiterate raised in the back country of the West Indies, did have, like many such primitive people, an unsuspected talent: something akin to astral projection, which could also account for my interests in the realms of the esoteric.

[14] “‘Pheelosophy!’ she exclaimed. ‘Why you can’t make a living out of pheelosophy!’ The clouded crystal ball. But then I almost believed her”—In My Own Way, p. 146. Well, I wasn’t going to waste time like Watts, I’d plunge right into the contemplative life. That this perfectly suited my indolent nature was purely coincidental.

[15] In My Own Way, p. 117, paraphrasing William Earle of Northwestern.

[16] Although, as noted, it was a Psychology professor who had actually developed an interest in Watts.

[17] According to Columbus and Rice, it’s even known as “the Alan Watts fallacy” (p. 8).

[18] Deck, in fact, made quite a study of theoria among the Greeks; see his doctoral dissertation, Nature, Contemplation and the One (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967; Burdett, NY: Larson, 1998), Appendix A; while the text of my Introduction to Philosophy class, Josef Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture (New York: Pantheon, 1952; new translation by Gerald Malsbary, with an Introduction by Roger Scruton, South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 1998) promoted, based on St. Thomas if not Guénon, the need for a caste devoted to pure contemplation. This was an easy transition from Watts, whom a contemporary reviewer considered to be “one of the few contemporary [1953!] philosophers for whom contemplative reflection precedes action in the world.” — Columbus and Rice, p. 7, quoting P. Wheelwright.

[19] It occurs to me that both Watts and Deck had huge families, with over 12 children and grandchildren, although Deck, the more traditional Catholic, had but one, obviously rather put-upon, wife.

[20] Unlike those romantic types who moved to Canada to join the RAF when America was still neutral, he had moved to Canada to escape the draft, explaining that “My Christian Socialism had moved to National Socialism.” “Heil” was his standard greeting to his favorites, and he found post-war philosophy “too Jewish, like that Wittgenstein chap.”

[21] See Kevin MacDonald, The Culture of Critique (2002)

[22] In what now seems a rather Straussian feature, all Western philosophy was secretly trying to emulate Plotinus. If you squinted hard enough.

[23] In all this, I fancied a remarkable similarity to the literally fatal influences Thomas Mann brought to bear on his character, Adrian Leverkuhn, in Docktor Faustus. That Leverkuhn was a stand-in for Nietzsche certainly warmed the old amour-propre if not amor fati. Prof. Schlepfuss was an obvious doppelganger for Deck, right down to his affectation of a “Jesuitical hood” accompanied by ironic bowing and hat-tipping to students (or, in Deck’s case, a Franciscan cloak and designating his rather dim students as “Doctors” and fellow members of “the happy research team”).

[24] The analogy I draw in “The Eldritch Evola” between Traditionalism and “weird fiction” lies in my inability to read Guénon’s more apocalyptic writings without an actual feeling of dread overcoming myself. See The Eldritch Evola … & Others (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012).

[25] Discussed by Greg Johnson in his contribution to this Festival of Watts.

[26] And given a thoughtful review by Greg Johnson here.

[27] Columbus and Rice choose to press heavily on the “dreary” and “repressive” note when mentioning his upbringing in pre-War England, as did Watts himself, but he certainly benefited from the comparative richness of even a second rate public school, learning enough to skip college and then later enter a seminary knowing more than the other students and even the instructors, eventually producing a translation of Dionysus’ Divine Names. (Deck would have approved!) Watts would point out that he could lard his books with Greek quotations and ponderous references, but what would be the point, other than to impress some stuffy academics?

[28] See Impeachment of Man (Costa Mesa, Cal.: The Noontide Press, 1991), available here.

[29] Earlier (1955), James Bond found it useful as a pick-up line: “You wouldn’t do that if you knew that flowers scream when they are picked,” said Bond. . . . There’s an Indian called Professor Bhose, who’s written a treatise on the nervous system of flowers. He measured their reaction to pain. He even recorded the scream of a rose being picked. It must be one of the most heart-rending sounds in the world. I heard something like it as you picked that flower.” “I don’t believe it, “she said. “Anyway,” she said maliciously, “I wouldn’t have thought you were a person to get sentimental.”—Moonraker, Chapter 16.

[30] Baron Evola took a similar approach in his magical and alchemical writing; abstaining from meat, for example, was a matter of spiritual hygiene, not sentimentality, and could be ruthlessly inverted in, say, Tantric rituals. Part of Watts’ attraction to Da Free John likely derived from a similar practical approach; though endorsing a raw food diet, DFJ also sanctioned the strategic use of “dietary extras” as part of his “Crazy Wisdom” style. “While this strict diet and periodic fasting were being observed in San Francisco, the guru and his fluctuating, but small, inner circle appeared to be engaging in increasingly riotous, drunken parties. I was told by one of the guru’s housekeepers that Da Free John and his “intimate associates” had somehow spent $18,000, in one month, on gourmet food items and booze! If true, this represents almost miraculous excess, given the power of the dollar in 1974.”—Scott Lowe, “The Strange Case of Franklin Jones,” in DA: The Strange Case of Franklin Jones by Scott Lowe and David Lane (Walnut CA: Mt. San Antonio College, 1996). Rudolf Steiner, in response to a student struggling over his diet, advised that “It is better to eat ham than to think about ham.”

[31] A not entirely facetious rebuttal; Watts may indeed not have been able to find a good tailor after leaving London. Paul Fussell, whose Class: A Guide to the American Class System (New York: Summit, 1983) served to expand and update Watts’ careful sartorial observations, remarks therein that “It is possible to become incapable of being comfortable in anything but a Brooks Brothers suit.” The actual fitting of a bespoke suit in London takes months, and includes an afternoon of crawling around on all fours.

[32] Op. cit.

[33] As Cuddihy and MacDonald have documented, the Jew, when “emancipated” by Napoleon, was faced with a cruel fate: how to “make it” outside the self-imposed ghetto, when by common consent he was dirty, stinky, ugly, and uncouth. The answer, from Freud and others, such as the Frankfurt School, was to create a “counter-culture” in which such features as bathing, neatness, and politeness were denigrated as “un-natuaral,” “repressive,” etc., and their opposites lauded as “natural,” “authentic,” and “free.” As a result, people fly from the up-tight to the un-couth, and the Jew wins every time.

[34] Thus, the State is perpetually strapped for “cash,” needing to “balance its books like a family or business,” as “conservatives” like to say; no money for heath care or social security. But when the “conservatives” want something, like a war in Iraq, suddenly trillions of “dollars” appear out of nowhere! For more on this topic, see the works of Kerry Bolton, such as “Central Banking and Human Bondage” here or his The Banking Swindle: Money Creation and the State (London, Black House, 2013), reviewed here.

[35] Watts tries to muddy the waters by having his economic guru abandon pacifism with the rise of Hitler: “Stop him now!” (In My Own Way, p. 113). And, as seen, he likes to mock military uniforms and “goose-stepping.”

[36] Watts might also be taken to task for not citing Shaw, among others, who saw through the Darwinist presumption to “read off” a metaphysical presupposition (“gyrating stupidity”) from “empirical evidence” (as Sir Peter Medawar said about the ridiculous “priest of evolution” Teilhard de Chardin), and exactly why they felt they needed to do so (to get out from under the Semitic Father God). But what else could they do? The “metaphysical” presupposition is actually absurd, and hence not metaphysical at all but “pseudo-metaphysical,” and lacking both religion [which they rightly opposed] and metaphysical tradition [Watts’ actual source, through Guénon, and which they were ignorant of, thanks to the same religion], only “science” is left to prop up their absurd claims. Those of us who have left the Semitic Father God behind find no such need, and hence can freely point out the impossibility of tornadoes assembling jet engines in junkyards “if given enough time,” while, as Prof. Dennett himself admitted in an earlier, more intellectually honest period (“Why the Law of Effect Won’t Go Away”; see Huston Smith’s discussion of it in Forgotten Truth [New York: Harper & Row, 1977, pp. 135ff.]), the materialistic scientist is forced to swallow the absurdity, for fear of letting God in again. The real source of their dogma is their own psychological checkmate; hence their obsession with propagandizing and mocking their opponents.

[37] “Our domestic enemies are . . . well-advised to subsidize, as they are now doing, the ranting of evangelical shamans and . . . the hiring of technicians who can pose as “scientists” and “rove,” by subtle or impudent tricks, the “truth” of the flimsiest hoaxes and the most preposterous notions.”—Revilo P. Oliver, The Jewish Strategy.

[38] John Fowles, The Tree (1979; New York: Harper Collins, 2010).

[39] The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are (New York: Pantheon, 1966; Vintage, 1989), pp. 78, 95.

[40] It’s ridiculously expensive, but also, for some reason, available online as individual pdf files, so knock yourself out here: http://muse.jhu.edu/books/9781438442013.

[41] Watts seems to have known René Guénon by books and A. K. Coomaraswamy by acquaintance; I can find no evidence of any contact with Alain Daniélou, despite sharing both funding from Bollingen and consequently a publisher (Pantheon), and none with Evola.

[42] “Let the galled jade winch; our withers are unrung” (Hamlet: 3.2., lines 281-84).

[43] See, for example, my “Tradition, Homosexuality, and Really-Existing Tradition” in The Homo and the Negro.

[44] See his The Well of Remembrance: Rediscovering the Earth Wisdom Myths of Northern Europe (Boston: Shambhala, 1994) and, more recently, Carl Abrahamson and Joshua Buckley, “The (Nine) Doors of Perception: Ralph Metzner on the Sixties, Psychedelic Shamanism, and the Northern Tradition,” in TYR 4, pp. 237-60.

[45] For the Perennialist riposte, see Whitall N. Perry, “Anti-Theology and the Riddles of Alcyone,” Studies in Comparative Religion, vol. 6, no. 3, here.

[46] P. 136, quoting Watts, “The Water” in Cloud Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown (New York: Pantheon, 1973), pp. 8-9.

[47] Not, of course, the scholar of Judaic treachery, who is, literally, Michael Hoffman II.

[48] http://www.egodeath.com/presetcontrolthoughts.htm

[49] The Way of Zen. New York: Pantheon, 1957; “Zen and the Problem of Control,” in This Is It and Other Essays. New York: Vintage, 1973 (1958).

[50] http://www.egodeath.com/egodeath.htm

[51] The “Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade” of fellow KPFA alumnus Peter Lamborn Wilson was a kind of Tuesday night substitute, though he seems to have disappeared somewhere upstate. For the importance of Wilson’s show see the Greg Johnson interview referenced in note 13 above.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Gregor
    Posted January 6, 2015 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this, James O’Meara!

    I also “attended church” on Sunday mornings, listening to those KPFA broadcasts. They had a huge effect on the direction of my life, at one point leading to “becoming” a Zen Buddhist monk. I “outgrew” that … or at least my aching legs did. To this day, I refer to Watts’ books, as well as selected audio files of his talks, on a regular basis. A little more “Sunday School” keeps the spirits up, whether on a Sunday or any old time.

    I truly appreciate Dr. Greg Johnson’s “inclusion” of Alan Watts among the great thinkers of our European tradition. It’s very easy for people to think that a man who wrote and spoke about “Zen” was all about Japan and China, and not about the spiritual and intellectual underpinnings of European Man. This essay, and others about Watts which have appeared on Counter-Currents, do much to prevent this misperception, the perception that the mindset of “Zen” and Watts is a merely “oriental” thing.

    I still have dog-eared imprints of Watts’ books published in the sixties. But I don’t have ALL of his works … yet. This essay stimulated me to buy the book reviewed, as well as a 12-disc audio set of Watts’ talks. Of course, all purchased via the Amazon link provided at Counter-Currents. The “cut” Counter-Currents gets by way of using their link isn’t a lot, but it’s something; a very small price to pay for the excellent work done at this site.

    Thank you James O’Meara. You’re welcome to teach “Sunday School” ala Alan Watts any time, and we all learn much from your efforts.

  2. Jaego
    Posted January 5, 2015 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Any trace of White Nationalism or Race Loyalty to be found in Watts? Any concern that we were losing our Civilization? Any sympathy for the Germans in the War? I’ve never heard of any or saw any in my reading of him, though admittedly not comprehensive. So since many men had realized these facts, and he had not, how enlightened could he be? If he was involved in a world denying path that would be one thing, but the Mahayana glories in not being like that. And the Zen he liked was especially worldly, so he has no out on this. Let’s face it: he probably didn’t know because he didn’t care. He also had contact with Japanese Culture and if he was so inclined, it’s own version of National Socialism could have been an inspiration for him.

    Really enlightened people will take care of their vehicle (physical body) so as to serve. Any hedonism is a deviation from the Truth. With his heavy drinking and love of gourmet dining, including sausage, he was the very essence of deviation. The more one knows, the heavy the karma and the more one can be blamed. There is a tradition of using alcohol in Zen, and apparently some respected Masters have made use of this and even become alcoholics. Zen training is very hard, and such men typically admit that the temptation to over indulge got the best of them. Watts is denied this “out” since he didn’t train hard – he just over indulged because he was like that in every area of his life.

    He did come clean a bit towards the end. As his health failed, he admitted that square Zen was the real thing. I think someone asked him about Gary Snyder who had left the circle to practice in a famous monastery in Japan. Watts said it was a good thing, since he was just an entertainer at the level of words and thought – and real Zen was beyond these things (without disdaining them).

  3. Posted January 5, 2015 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Re ‘Bored of the Rings’: I actually owned two copies of the original paperback edition. I think it was promoted in Kenney/Beard’s 1969 TIME parody. A few years later I got to know them both. Henry still seemed to think it was the best thing they had ever done together. The whole NatLamp pump-and-dump was an anticlimax.

  4. Athanaeus
    Posted January 5, 2015 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Watts’ Way of Zen and Karen Armstrong’s biography of Buddha were my introductions to Buddhism. Yes, I am a White Nationalist, you might even say a Nazi studies eastern religions. Ironic perhaps. I would probably be a Buddhist monk translating ancient Mahayana texts into English right now if witnessing the genocide of White people in our own countries hadn’t called me away from that path in life. For me, myrace trumps everything except my family, which is 100% white so there’s no real conflict of interest there. I just couldn’t sit back and chant to Amitabha while knowing my race is being extrminated by a hostile jewish elite. It is breaking heart to see my beloved race genocided…crucified for no sins. Occasionally I still find time to delve into Buddhism. But being a WN activist keeps me pretty occupied, and if it ever comes down to which master do I serve, I never forget that my race is my nation.

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