Review of Desh Subba, Trans Philosophism. Trans Philosophism Doctrine on Marxism, Postmodernism, Existentialism, Criticism, Sociology, Ecology, Politics, Science & Language

Desh Subba, Trans Philosophism. Trans Philosophism Doctrine on Marxism, Postmodernism, Existentialism, Criticism, Sociology, Ecology, Politics, Science & Language, edited by R. Michael Fisher, Xlibris, Bloomington 2021, pp. 466.

Trans Philosophism is “a new wave of interpretation and exposition of knowledge”, as the author states in the Dedication, which constitutes the latest point of arrival of Desh Subba’s reflection on fear. Desh Subba, the author of the book, founded Fearism in 1999, as a literary movement and a self-declared existentialist philosophy. He founded the Fearism Study Academy in Dharan, Nepal, and published or edited some relevant books on Fearism and fear studies, like Philosophy of Fearism (2014), Philosophy of Fearism: a First East-West dialogue (2016), Fear, Law and Criminology. Critical Issues in applying the Philosophy of Fearism. He tries to apply Fearism to literature as well and has published four novels in Nepali. He won the National Indie Excellence Award and the Dr. Shyam Karki and Indira Karki Award in 2015. In the same year, he received an honourable mention at the Southern California Book Festival and the New York Book Festival Award.

Subba repeatedly defines this book a “Fearism treatise on political philosophy” which “attempts to study the communist manifesto, dialectical materialism and historical materialism in the Fearism view” (XXVIII), indeed the speculation on social contract theories and the clash with Marx and Marxism ideology play a major role in the book. The author devotes numerous dense pages to the analysis of the history of Nepalese Capitalism and the desperation that led to welcoming Communism, providing a clear and useful picture of contemporary Nepalese political situation, which is often ignored. This book also analyses the worldwide conflict between socialist and capitalist ideologies, and its most witty argumentations investigate the causes and try to predict the effects of some contemporary political dynamics. Yet, “building a theoretical bridge between East and West to have deeper critical conversations about the nature and role of Fear” (XXV) remains the ultimate goal of Subba and the political issues are just a part of the bigger picture. In this book, the author reconsiders his entire path through Fearism and tries to reorganize it, investigating the role of fear in different fields and experimenting new terminologies, from which the Trans Philosophism point of view emerges.

Subba has always believed that “Fear operates, directs, and controls all aspects of life. Principles, beliefs, and values linked to life cannot be separated from fear” (392). In the Introduction, the author starts from a quotation from Albert Camus, “The 17th century was the century of mathematics, the 18th century that of physics, the 19th century that of biology and the 20th century is the century of fear” (XXI), and concludes that “The 21st century is the century of Trans Philosophism” (XXI). Fearism is “the study of inertia needs […] trying to promote virtue fear” (76) and it is related to make somebody understand how to feel frightened in a positive way and reach fearlessness: “Whoever uses fear properly, his life will surely be happy and blissful. We can enjoy happiness, pleasure and wealth when we close Pandora of panic. Fearism helps to close Pandora” (17). Trans Philosophism starts from Fearism to “understand the theory of subsistence” (372): it aims at rethinking most of the previous philosophies, which were based on metaphysical hypotheses and were not sensitive in the sense of daily necessities of the struggling conditions and potentials of humans. In this sense, “Trans Philosophism is meant to bring a refreshed inspiration and artful reality back to philosophy‘ (XXI) and its path to knowledge must be ‘the way to this heaven on earth” (XXX). Fear is the means of taking such path and promoting a Fear Free Zone (439).

This book is composed by seven sections which show the role of fear in different fields and thus reflect on past theories and contemporary issues. Regarding the political dimension, to which Subba devotes most of the book, it should be noted that some hints of fear can be seen at least in Plato, Hobbes, Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Russell, however the author’s reflection revolves around Marxism. This is due to the fact that “Hegel gave emphasis to head (idea), while Marx gave emphasis to stomach (matter)” (XXVII), which is good, but we should go beyond Marx and consider that our relation with matter is driven by fear. This is the ground of the aforementioned fearist theory of subsistence. To sum up, Subba advances two further criticisms. First, “In Marxism, group, class is predominant, in Fearism individuality” (392). Second, Marx and Engels say that the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle, while Subba claims that history is rather grounded on an “ontological fear struggle” (69), because contradiction has produced fear since the beginning of history and “Floods of fear are on the planet. [...] Lots of feariers perpetuating murder, violence, devastation, unemployment, economic depression, increasing outbreaks of viruses, delusion, [...] environmental pollution – all become our context of everyday, all part of our surrondings” (136). We should balance ourselves and alleviate fear thanks to reconciliation, cooperation and good relations in order to reach the fearless state, which is incompatible with Marxism ideology: “This hostility in general, was created by the two creators of the Manifesto. [...] The Marxist interpretation of class struggle discourages peace living for citizens. [...] In the name of proletariat, and exploitation, the Manifesto has planted antagonism seeds and plants” (153).

Subba argues that the Russian model of Socialism has collapsed, leading to a new model, the Sotalism (261), which combines Socialism and Capitalism and is getting established in China and Russia. Given that “Humans do not separate capitalist or socialist, as their concern is rather for a happy life. They expect a fearless environment” (307), capitalist and socialist systems can mix, and the author predicts cyber colonies and a Cold War II between the capitalist model of USA and rising new socialist capitalist models led by China – I think the latest developments in the Russia-Ukraine War could support this thesis. It is not possible here to dwell on all the enthralling passages and theories proposed by Subba, like the transition from quantitative to qualitative change which articulates human progress thanks to fear (157) or the original interpretation of the Theory of Playing Cards (46) and the Theory of the Egg (443). Nevertheless, it must be mentioned that Subba’s Trans Philosophism dialogues with Existentialism in Section five and with Postmodernism in Section six, where he develops a remarkable reflection on the genesis of meaning. In the last part of Section four, Trans Philosophism also deals with Ecology and the relevant role of Science and Technology in human progress, stating that the place of humans is purely supplementary and any excess of humans affects the Earth’s natural development. In this regard, Subba warns that we ‘are going to be a high-tech metaman (iman like iphone)‘ (375) with an imprisoned mind and a body converted into machine.

This book may give the impression of a chaotic and naïve miscellanea to the Western reader that is acquainted with philosophical theories, but we should resist to the Western temptation to theoretically dissect Subba’s reasoning and reduce it to well-known paradigms. We should remember the aforementioned intention of building a theoretical bridge between East and West. From this point of view, Subba’s path is another Eastern philosophical reflection that approaches Western philosophical categories with an Eastern sensibility. Eastern thinkers’ increasingly frequent attempts to understand and dialogue with Western Philosophy – at least Nishida Kitarō and the Kyoto School should be mentioned here – should be considered as a precious occasion for enhancing a next level philosophy which goes beyond unavoidable cultural and social biases. Nevertheless, some criticisms arise. First, human and philosophical progress is not an arrow or a linear process. It follows different directions and copes with specific problems or needs, which intertwine and constitute a tradition to be innovated, a starting point for going deeper into old issues and new challenges. Thus, Trans Philosophism should not claim to be the next step in Philosophy, it can be just a relevant step in a specific direction of Philosophy. Second, choosing the singular lens of fear to understand the human progress could turn out to be reductive. Trans Philosophism confronts with Hegel’s Dialectic, in a way which is common to many Eastern thinkers, but, in my opinion, it should confront with Kant’s Critiques and Kant scholarship as well: Trans Philosophism is first of all a theory of subsistence and I think that Subba is probably right when saying that fear plays an essential role in the human being’s biological dynamics. Kant shows that we must neither underestimate the phenomenal and biological component nor reduce the human subject’s activity to it. Thus, my question is: how do Fearism and Trans Philosophism deal with ideal dynamics and the relationship between our spiritual component and the Transcendence? To me, it is reasonable that practical reason is grounded in something deeper than fear.

I think that the most relevant aspect in Trans Philosophism is its methodology. As R. Michael Fisher states in the Editor’s commentary, Subba “is not out to please anyone” (XVIII), he writes by no trained discipline or department standards of an institution. His writing is evocative and full of images which combine the theoretical dimension with the ordinary practical one. He walks with the reader and experiments with them during their walk without following a rigorous path. This is the original experience the Western reader should avoid dissecting. As other Eastern philosophical paths, Subba’s path educates our theoretical intellectual capacities to a sensitiveness that does not forget the ordinary practical dimension and the biological component that binds us to the natural world: after all, we emerge from the world (160) rather than coming separately into it.

The author’s methodology is already clear in the Preface, when he aims at bringing an artful reality back to philosophy, but it becomes explicit in the end of the book: “I have combined (made union) of two parts and built a body of thought. It is my understanding, solely one cannot form anything alone, even to clap, we need two hands” (382). Once again, we must be aware that trying to combine the opponents into one is common to many Eastern thinkers, yet Subba’s reasoning appears to be original. The new terminologies experimented in the book, like Appeadirance (244), Empiritionism (404), the aforementioned Sotalism and all the other terminologies listed at page 404 show that “By itself (as one), nothing happens; but union of two, shapes and carries movement as it brings human/universe” (404). Trans Philosophism is a Mateidealism (64), a “union of physical and metaphysical things. Here, consciousness does not exist as totally determinated from matter. […] Neither physical object alone can sustain, nor ideal alone” (64-65). To Subba, the motion of consciousness is like the motion of Yarsagumba, a Nepalese unique caterpillar-fungus fusion which is composed by an inanimate part and an animate one.

“Before the arrival of humans, the earth was just matter with no living thing. […] To be ‘living earth’ must have a head and stomach union. […] Consciousness makes the planet more dynamic. […] However, the human brain is not sufficient for conducting consciousness. […] It can’t work unless it is closed related to the physical surrondings of humans” (65). Thought cannot be developed in a void and “feelings are neither material nor ideas” (77). In this sense, Mateidealism follows the formula life-consciousness-knowledge (240), because consciousness does not come without life and “the senses are constructed, sub-senses are formed” (194). Kant has already investigated this path, which could be similar to what Subba means by Empiritionism, but contemporary philosophies from around the world are investigating such path from a less theoretical – yet rigorous – and more living point of view, which enhances our bond to the natural world and corporeity. Subba’s path is another relevant testimony of the global contemporary sensitiveness to living what we come to know in the world. This is how we can live a better life and reach fearlessness: “A great person is born by time, circumstance, sharp knowledge. […] They love their creations, arts, knowledge, philosophy, sports and inventions. They are drowning in it” (169).