Spirituality, Stanley Jordan, and BDS

Update: On January 6, Stanley Jordan has cancelled his collaboration with the Red Sea Jazz Festival, joining a long line of artists combining their ethics, politics, and spirituality. Joy Harjo, still has not made a public statement rethinking her stance on the issue.

Note: Stanley Jordan is scheduled to perform in the Red Sea Jazz Festival between 17-19 of January. Although, after much deep soul searching, he has written a statement that he intends to continue as scheduled (below), in our political reality, we don’t give up until the Jazzist plucks the first guitar string in front of a segregated audience.
For your convenience, the rest of the international artists performing in the festival are listed at the end of this article.

Stanley Jordan

I’m a Spiritual Atheist. I never knew you could capitalize that phrase, but thank DOG, the internet is a wondrous place:

SPIRITUAL ATHEISTS are people who are:
Spiritual Atheists do not believe in the existence of an entity external to the universe that supposedly created and rules the universe… Spiritual Atheists generally recognize the word “God” as a personal name that has been given to the collective personality of the infinite and eternal universe… Even so, many Spiritual Atheists are extremely reluctant to make use of the word “God”, due to the extreme desecration it has suffered by traditional Theists and Atheists alike.

Spiritual Atheists believe that the entire universe is, in some way, connected; even if only by the mysterious flow of cause and effect at every scale. Therefore, Spiritual Atheists generally feel that as they go about their lives striving to be personally healthy and happy, they should also be striving to help the world around them be healthy and happy! (“Wholistic Ethics”)

There are many people in the world like me. Some are atheists, some are theists. I respect all’s choices and love me a good theological debate, but to me, the most important piece of information in the above quote is “generally feel that as they go about their lives striving to be personally healthy and happy, they should also be striving to help the world around them be healthy and happy!”. This is also the first time I’ve heard the phrase “Wholistic Ethics”, I have my critique of it (and also have a critique of trying to unite atheists who define themselves as spiritual), but that would derail the conversation from what I really want to talk about: What does spirituality have to do with politics?

The Question of  an Occupation: What Does Spirituality Have to Do with Politics?

Much like culture isn’t created in a political vacuum, neither can spirituality and its manifestations (i.e. culture!) be divorced from politics. I spend the better part of my writing arguing that attempting to divorce culture and spirituality from the political reality is, in fact, a political act. And a political act of oppression at that. In this article, I hypothesize a new concept, complementing the old one:

Not only can spirituality not be divorced from politics, they are actually a different name for the same thing. Both being a prism through which a person analyzes their relationship to themselves, other people, and “the world” (and all that might encompass that isn’t included in the former 2).

OK, so that was loaded. And I actually like my readers to read what I write. So let’s get to the trigger of this article (I remain a one-track-mind kinda’ gal): Jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan.

On December 24, 2012 at 7:22pm Stanley Jordan, scheduled to headline the Red Sea Jazz Festival, posted the following statement on his “official Facebook Page” (not to be confused with his “personal Facebook profile”):

“I’ve received several messages from people requesting that I cancel my performance at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Israel. I promised a detailed response, so here it is. I would like to start a dialog right here to discuss this topic. Next to global warming the Middle East conflict is the biggest issue of our time, and it’s too important for black-and-white responses that ignore the nuances. And we truly need an open dialog with a spirit of mutual compassion for everyone involved. For my part, I want to use my talents and energies in the best possible way for the cause of peace. This purpose is deeply ingrained in my soul’s code, and I’ve known it since childhood. So the only remaining question is: How can I best accomplish this goal? I invite you all to weigh in. I’d like to start the discussion by recommending a wonderful book called, “Embracing Israel/Palestine: A Strategy to Heal and Transform the Middle East,” by Rabbi Michael Lerner. I’ve been reading a lot on this topic but this book stands out for me because it resonates with my own feelings. I encourage everyone to read it as background for our discussion. And please keep your comments clean and respectful. Let’s model the type of dialog that will eventually lead to a solution. http://www.amazon.com/Embracing-Israel-Palestine-Strategy-Transform/dp/1583943072”

The statement has been, meanwhile, hidden from his front page, after over 800 posts of a debate. However, it has been accounted for beautifully by Rima Najjar and Elise Hendrick (link currently not available), and meticulously archived in its entirety by Emma Rosenthal, who all participated. As Najjar and Hendricks point out, what was particularly infuriating about Jordan’s stance was very similar to what was particularly infuriating about Joy Harjo’s stance (and the stance that, as a BDS activist, I would say is rampant in the community of people who’s occupational category is “artist”):

Harjo, like Jordan, had cited the spirit of her art and higher consciousness as a major reason for not supporting the cultural call to boycott… [Stanley Jordan] felt his music went “to the heart of the subjective, interior dimension, and the world of all things spiritual” and had the power to “influence humans to be more humane”, so he just wanted to perform and to leave it up to his Israeli audience to “decide for themselves how to use the inspiration”.

I don’t know if Stanley Jordan is an Atheist or not, but most obviously he deems himself a “spiritual person”, and as I stated above, if that means you’re focusing on being happy and making others happy, I respect that. I don’t know what a “subjective, interior dimension” is, and I’ve never been to “the world of all things spiritual”, but as I stated above, I “love me a good theological debate”. However, contradictory to the way Jordan- originally and consequently- tried to frame the conversation, this was not a theological debate. This was a political debate. So the question, to my understanding, was: Through which prism does Stanley Jordan analyze his relationship to himself, other people, and “the world”?

Wait a minute! What?! I thought the question was “will Stanley Jordan be knowingly complicit in crimes against humanity by accepting cold hard cash from mechanisms practicing ongoing ethnic cleansing, and offering his services as a whitewashing mechanism, or knowing his part in all this (because really, capitalism makes it so this could happen to anyone), will he refuse to participate?”

The Binary of Evil

On one hand, in his framing of the safe space guidelines (something those who know me, know I’m particularly fond of) of the debate, Jordan was using the language of spiritual practitioners, asserting that  “the Middle East conflict is the biggest issue of our time, and it’s too important for black-and-white responses that ignore the nuances. And we truly need an open dialog with a spirit of mutual compassion for everyone involved.” On the other hand, all throughout the debate, Jordan was obsessed (my interpretation) with 2 parameters (interpretive bolds by me):

  1. “…the interior dimention matters too…”
  2. “I want to use my talents and energies in the best possible way for the cause of peace.”

I use the word “parameters” because, unlike what Jordan might have thought of the 2 above statements, to be something “flowing”, “immeasurable”, “infinite” (popular words in post-modern-spiritual-writing… pardon the French), he in fact decided to use them as binary mathematical equations that ethics are to be applied to.

To simplify:
To the question “am I using my talents and energies in the best possible way for the cause of peace by canceling my performance in the Red Sea Jazz Festival that its sponsors are guilty of ethnic cleansing and apartheid, while the festival itself is used to draw public awareness from these crimes?” (paraphrasing) The answer is of course “no”.

To the question “are we considering Stanly Jordan’s “interior dimension” when we ask him to boycott as a prerequisite to anything else he might do in Palestine.” Due to the former question’s computation resulting in “no”, this question will also reach the total sum of a “no”.

But what if the questions weren’t posed in the binary by Jordan to begin with? What if we were able to do some more complex mathematics and find a way to tally up the answers to a “yes”? Is there a way in which Stanley Jordan’s talents and energies could have been optimally utilized for the cause of “peace” (a variable in deep need of definition, if we are to pursue this mathematically)?

The truth is that the option of  both canceling the complicit show in Israel AND going the extra mile and doing music therapy with Palestinian children in refugee camps was always on the table. Mathematically speaking, unlike “peace”– an interchangeable variable rendered meaningless- as long as x ≠ “complicity with Israel’s mechanisms of oppression of Palestinians”, the rest of the equation- no matter how it manifests- equals “infinite possibility”. But Stanley Jordan somehow failed to see how that might open up his binary problem to some colorful, nuanced solutions.

Indeed, mathematical binaries will not solve the human condition. It’s all very existential really. And Jordan, framing the debate in his initial statement also touched on an Existential concept (also an anarchist concept, but I wouldn’t dare claim that philosophy has anything to do with politics, ’cause that’d just be antisemitic):

Let’s model the type of dialog that will eventually lead to a solution.

The reason I think this is important is because I argue that Jordan, with his two parameters, divorced himself from spiritual thinking (or “Authentic Existence”, as the Existentialists would put it). I’ll explain:

Existential Threat

When today’s popular, Western, spiritual writing comes together with ethics (most of the time it comes together with individualism and gives birth to their bastard twins, Capitalism and Neoliberalism) it draws mainly on Existential philosophy (Rabbi Michael Lerner’s book being no acceptation). To my limited understanding, Existentialist philosophers aimed to apply accountability to the individual in order to fulfill the rather simple task of “giving life meaning” (I just have to note that I have no idea how such a social premise is bastardized to become such an anti-social murderous system like capitalism, but I digress):

…human beings, through their own consciousness, create their own values and determine a meaning to their life… the person is (1) defined only insofar as he or she acts and (2) that he or she is responsible for his or her actions. For example, someone who acts cruelly towards other people is, by that act, defined as a cruel person. Furthermore, by this action of cruelty, such persons are themselves responsible for their new identity (a cruel person). This is as opposed to their genes, or ‘human nature’, bearing the blame. As Sartre writes in his work Existentialism is a Humanism:

“…man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards.”

Of course, the more positive, therapeutic aspect of this is also implied: A person can choose to act in a different way, and to be a good person instead of a cruel person. Here it is also clear that since humans can choose to be either cruel or good, they are, in fact, neither of these things essentially… a consideration of one’s values may cause one to reconsider and change them. A consequence of this fact is that one is responsible for not only one’s actions, but also the values one holds…

Thus, the focus on freedom in existentialism is related to the limits of the responsibility one bears as a result of one’s freedom: the relationship between freedom and responsibility is one of interdependency, and a clarification of freedom also clarifies that for which one is responsible.”

I’d argue that the problem with spiritual students/gurus/artists, such as Stanley Jordan, or Joy Harjo, isn’t their values, but their reluctance to act in accordance with their values (which could be argued, creates a third value-synthesis, which is not irrelevant to the roots of Existentialism, but again, I’d like you to read the whole damn thing), and that this reluctance is derived from their denial of their relative existential freedom (i.e. privilege) to the Other. This denial, again, leaves our soul-searchers with a binary paradigm, in which they can only see the Other-with-relatively-less-existencial-freedom as Other-that-needs-my-charity, or Other-that-is-my-equal, when the objective reality (i.e. political reality) is simply not so.
Which brings us to Jordan’s use of the terms “interior subjective dimension” and “external objective dimension” (apparently originating in the field of psychotherapy, and is a form of organizational consulting which can also be adapted to apply to the individual, bombastically titled Neuro-linguistic programming), known to Phenomenologists as “intersubjectivity” (not an improvement in terminology, if you ask me).

The interesting thing about Phenomenology is that it preceded Neuro-Linguistic Programing by almost a century, and it too was preoccupied with creating “conditions for objective study of topics usually regarded as subjective: consciousness and the content of conscious experiences such as judgments, perceptions, and emotions.” Stemming from Existential thought, however, Phenomenologists deliberately avoided to “attempt to study consciousness from the perspective of clinical psychology or neurology. Instead it seeks through systematic reflection to determine the essential properties and structures and experiences.”
So in order to maintain my readership, here’s my point: While the prism through which Stanley Jordan analyzes his relationship to himself, other people, and “the world” is a deliberate attempt at a scientific explanation of things that can not be neurologically detected; He insists it’s a spiritual prism. I insist he’s attempting at creating a spiritual prism for himself, and more power to him. Where we differ is that I argue that he’s barking up the wrong tree, and that if he had dug deeper to the roots, his answers would have been simpler, more accessible, and maybe even could have prevented the spiritual/Existential crisis he’s facing:

Despair, in existentialism, is generally defined as a loss of hope. More specifically, it is a loss of hope in reaction to a breakdown in one or more of the defining qualities of one’s self or identity. If a person is invested in being a particular thing, such as a bus driver or an upstanding citizen, and then finds his being-thing compromised, he would normally be found in state of despair—a hopeless state. For example, a singer who loses her ability to sing may despair if she has nothing else to fall back on, nothing on which to rely for her identity. She finds herself unable to be what defined her being.

Don’t go into crisis, my dear readers, we did not just slam drop right back into square one, because all of the above, already addresses Stanley Jordan’s first question: “What about my interior subjective dimension?” (paraphrasing) Already moving one step forward and left with just one more question:
Stanley Jordan asks us “If Stanley Jordan cannot play the guitar, then who is Stanley Jordan?” (paraphrasing)

Since we’ve addressed the interior subjective dimension, even Jordan would agree that we now need to address the external objective dimension. And in fact we find that we already did when we said that
x ≠ “complicity with Israel’s mechanisms of oppression of Palestinians”. And if this is indeed the equation, then we conclude that the statement “if Stanley Jordan cannot play the guitar, then who is Stanley Jordan” is false, because:

Stanley Jordan playing the guitar = x ≠ complicity with Israel’s mechanisms of oppression of Palestinians

Not a binary equation after all.

The Unbearable Lightness of Spiritual Enlightenment

I’d like, at this point, to calm my regular readers. This little spiritual journey only looks antithetical to my usual method of writing, but in fact serves as a tangible example of that question burning on every registered citizen of Israel’s mind: What does culture have to do with politics? [1,2]. So we’re back to BDS and contrary to the way Jordan- originally and continually- tried to frame the conversation, this was not a theological debate between materialist-atheists and spiritual-believers. This was a political debate about a specific tactic (cultural boycott) in a specific situation (Red Sea Jazz Festival). The answer, we were told, was to come, and so it did (and it and its own endless stream of comments has also been hidden from his front page):

Concerning my appearance at the Red Sea Jazz Festival:

After a spirited online discussion and much deep soul-searching, I have decided to honor my commitment to perform at the festival. I had received numerous messages from supporters of the Palestinian people requesting that I cancel my appearance and boycott the festival, so I opened an online thread in order to discuss the matter.

Our discussion revealed a crisis whose depth was even far greater than I had known, and I felt compelled to help. Like many others, I am deeply dedicated to the cause of world peace, and this situation goes against everything anyone with a heart could ever condone. However, after much consideration I concluded that the best way I could serve the cause would be to do my performance as scheduled, but separately organize an event in a major city in the United States to raise funds and awareness of the plight of the Palestinian people. The time frame will be in September or October 2013.

To those who participated in the discussion: I was very impressed by your intelligence and passion and by the generosity of your time and energy in dialoging with me and educating me on this major humanitarian crisis. I was deeply moved by the information you provided, and I want to make sure that your time and effort goes to a good cause. In particular, I am concerned at how few of my countrymen in the United States are aware of the dimensions of this crisis. Some of you who joined the discussion are living it every day and I want you to know that I have heard you and I will dedicate this year to making sure that many more hear you as well. You can follow my twitter feed at http://www.twitter.com/stanley_jordan for announcements concerning this event. If any of you would like to be involved you may contact my publicist, Edie Okamoto, at eokamoto@riovida.net, phone: 1 (323) 274-7744 ext. 3. This concert will be the most important thing I do this year and I would love to have your help. Thank you very much and Happy New Year.

Deep soul-searching, folks… I have to be honest, after 4 years of applying Palestinian analysis to my activism, which lead me to the tactic of appealing to public figures to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel’s institutions and mechanisms of control over the Palestinian people; I’m pretty sick of all kinds of professional intellectuals, artists, and self-proclaimed-gurus-and-students-of-the-subjective-interior-dimension claiming that their holy paths of “higher consciousness” are somehow more capable than Palestinian farmers, nurses, teachers and taxi drivers (and white art-school drop-outs like myself), in “doing the often difficult and elusive work to understand complex and seemingly unsolvable phenomena.”

Spiritually speaking, to each her own, but if your higher conscious is more akin to elitist condescension, then I argue that you’ve created an apartheid system, separating your interior subjective dimension (spiritual) from your exterior objective dimension (political), and that you are in no position to tell the oppressed that they “need a change in consciousness” or “influence humans to be more humane”. “Go and learn” before you leap, grasshopper.

Stanley Jordan had enough humility to repeat that he’s a “newbie” who is “just now trying to wrap their brains around this crisis”, but not enough humility to actually seriously consider he may be wrong ethically, spiritually, politically- and consequently- existentially. Of course, in Jordan’s world of all things spiritual, there are no definitive ethical “wrongs” or “rights” and no accountability for ones words, actions, or value systems. Just subjective experiences floating in space, and we- who sought to pull him down to earth- are but mere “externalists who are trying to convince him that the exterior dimension is all that matters.”

Stanley, have you considered that maybe, just maybe,  your interior subjective dimension [spiritual] and your exterior objective dimension [political] are one in the same? Both being a prism through which a person analyzes their relationship to themselves, other people, and “the world”?

Woah! Have I just proved my hypothesis? Is BDS a worldly political tactic that can be explained within a spiritual framework of ethics?!


International artists booked to the winter Red Sea Jazz Festival

Stanley Jordan Trio

  • Stanley Jordan, Guitar & Piano
  • Kenwood Dennard, Drums
  • Alex Blake, Bass

Jacky Terrasson Trio

  • Jacky Terrasson, Piano
  • Burniss Travis, Bass
  • EJ Strickland, Drums

Benjamin Taubkin and friends

  • Benjamim Taubkin, Piano
  • Joao Taubkin, Vocals
  • Amos Hoffman, Guitar & Oud (Israeli)
  • Itamar Doari, Percussion (Israeli)
  • Amir Shahsar, Woodwind Instruments (Israeli)

Erik Truffaz Quartet (Special Vocal Guest: Anna Aaron)

  • Erik Truffaz, Trumpet
  • Marcello Giuliani, Bass
  • Marc Erbetta, Drums
  • Benoît Corboz, Fender Rhodes & Keyboards

Motion Trio

  • Janusz Wojtarowicz, Accordion
  • Paweł Baranek, Accordion
  • Marcin Gałażyn, Accordion

Yuri Honing Acoustic Quartet

  • Yuri Honing, Tenor Saxophone
  • Wolfert Brederode, Piano
  • Ruben Samama, Bass
  • Joost Lijbaart, Drums

7 thoughts on “Spirituality, Stanley Jordan, and BDS”

  1. whew…the longest philosophic ramble i have ever read…
    and i agree with the rambler…
    politically and philosophically…
    double whew, and thanks…

    i remember stanley clark as a bass player…
    did he change instruments or is this a different guy?
    or is he an existential bassist and spiritual guitarist?
    thanks, again…

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