Something brewing in the atmosphere

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. It was a terrible, gruesome act perpetrated by a home-grown terrorist. It’s been recently pointed out in the media and the blogosphere that the current political atmosphere is comparable to what it was then, and I’d have to agree. This morning on NPR there was someone from Pew Research talking about how much more angry and untrusting the right become when a Democrat wins the Presidency than the left do when a Republican does. You can see some of this sentiment now in the Tea Party movement, and much like talk radio in the early-mid ’90s, you see it splattered all over the internet.

Personally, I’m sick of all the bullshit coming from the right and the left which is getting us largely no where except to further the chasm between Left™ and Right©.  Recently I asked Justin what place Buddhist ethics has in political discourse. I did this because I believe there needs to be a fresh voice in politics today. One that isn’t driven by a desire to wipe out the other side’s ideas or beliefs. One that isn’t so dualistic in nature that it can only prop itself up with the rhetoric of the destruction of the “other” side. One that has its roots in compassion, and strives for understanding. We will never, ever all agree on the same political and moral principles, but we can at least stop yelling at each other long enough to understand where the other side is coming from. We need a voice that recognizes that any ONE idea or philosophy is inherently exclusionary and can’t survive in an emergent democracy. We are a nation of many peoples, many cultures, and ideas. This is where we draw our strength and have propelled our country to the world’s utmost superpower. It is only an inclusive, emergent philosophy based in compassion and wisdom that is continually updated to include present-day knowledge that will end the great divide we now see splashed across (and perpetuated by) our headlines.

The old idea of a system based totally on a “free market” certainly is lovely on paper, but eventually leads to plutocratic tendencies and an inherent wealth divide that is virtually insurmountable by those at the lowest rungs of the ladder. And the idea of a communal society simply cannot work on a scale as grand as these United States. It might work just fine on a hippie commune (for which I have great admiration) but there is no way to run that type of system in a world economy. These ideal states are fine for your Philosophy 103 term paper, but have little value in the real world.

A recent example of this would be supply side economics. The idea is a great one. Give tax breaks to the rich, and the rich in turn will buy lots of yachts and start-up companies and do all of these great things that will put America to work and eventually create a healthy middle class by means of employment.  But every friggin time that has been attempted in real-life in the past century, the exact opposite happens. The wealthy don’t invest or go buy a lot of things that put people to work. They just put that fucking money in the bank and get a little richer. Great idea on paper, but zero real-world benefit to the lower or middle classes.

I do believe there is a way to the middle ground here. Repeat after me: there is a middle. There is a happy place where markets can be regulated without hampering innovation, and where government can be a place where society pools its interests to take care of its citizens most basic needs without crippling the economy. There is a way to enjoy your personal liberty and take care of your fellow citizens at the same time.

But how do we get to that middle ground? What are the specifics, and what are the practical ways in which we get there? Is there a way to apply those Buddhist ethics in a secular way to achieve this goal? Is there a way to bring it from the philosophical and into the practical?

I’m considering starting a group political blog to help answer some of these questions (and others) as well as raise some other ones. It will look at modern politics from a Buddhist perspective, one based in compassion, empathy, wisdom, and of course Fudo Myo. It would be an enviroment where, as Justin put it “…. we can we educate moderates and the near-right to expose the problems of the extreme right, instead of fueling their fire…”

If you’re at all interested, leave a comment here.




Filed under Buddhism

7 responses to “Something brewing in the atmosphere

  1. nathan

    Obviously, I talk about politics, social action and engagement pretty often. I do think Buddhist approaches to social issues can, and do already, have a positive impact in the world.

    I have to say that the healthy middle ground really isn’t contained in the merging of ideas from the two ends we currently have. The middle way isn’t really in the middle; it’s something else entirely that contains the dualistic poles, but goes beyond them.

    I also think we can apply some teachings in a secular manner – not an easy task, but definitely worthwhile.

  2. Yeah, maybe I should clarify that a bit. I don’t mean the exact middle of the two extremes/ends we currently have. I do believe there is value in the some of the philosophies of both sides, but you are correct in saying that what we need transcends our current available options. I certainly don’t think it’s as simple as a bi-partisan bill in which the Dems get some of what they want and the GOP gets some of what they want and the rest of us are left with a mess.

    I think the middle ground is one that is rooted in practicality, and reality. There is simply too much fear-mongering on both sides for anyone to try altering our current system. So anytime someone attempts to meddle with the system (see Kucinich’s health care plan) the opposing side gets to work on their propaganda machine, instilling fear in the masses on a purely philosophical basis.

    Also, when I speak of “the middle” I don’t mean the Buddha’s middle way.

    As it is, the only way that the Red State-types will get what they really want is civil war. One in which they are free to form their own government free of anything left of center. But that isn’t likely to happen, and while I hold some VERY left ideals, I know none of those will come to fruition living in the country we live in. So there has to be a middle ground upon which we can build.

    And I bring up applying the dharma in a secular manner as a way to appeal to the masses. I don’t want to live in a theocracy, but I do believe there is much from our religion than everyone can (and do) benefit from.

    I hope that cleared things up a bit.


  3. I don’t want to live in a theocracy either. I think one problem comes, though, when people try to divorce their spiritual background from their social/political actions. We’ve had a history of Christian Presidents, Congressional leaders, etc., who have definitely allowed their religious views to influence their actions. This becomes a problem only when that influence becomes a desire to control and/or recreate the country in the image of the religious vision. Some of the founders clearly understood this, given how they spoke of religious views in political/social documents. It may have helped that they weren’t evangelicals or whatnot, but maybe the same conclusions could come from evangelical leaders who see the failures of one religion states, but still operate, partly, from religious principles.

    I personally wish to see a more diverse leadership, where atheists, humanists, Buddhists, Hindus, pagans, animists, Muslims, and everyone else that has been terribly under-represented is part of the power structure. And I’d like everyone to be able to at least have the opportunity to act from the higher principles of their given understanding of the world. I don’t care for forced total secularism, just as I don’t care theocratic control.

    Whatever the middle ground is here would be most interesting – and the necessary, practice ideas and actions could also be most interesting that spring forth from this middle ground.

    • I definitely agree here Nathan. I think what you said in the first paragraph here is what I was getting at by applying the dharma secularly. It has been done with success with the less fanatical Christians (and as you note, most importantly our founding fathers).

      What we are seeing now though, is Christians being too damn worried about mine and others’ souls. I’d rather see their values and morality be applied in a way in which we can live together in a more harmonious society. And for that, a little secularization is needed. Less hell-fire, more golden rule. It’s a messy process, trying to find that middle ground.

      I too, would like to see more diverse leadership. Maybe the first step is having a few out-of-the-closet Buddhists run for office (whether local or national). Maybe in 4 years when I have a degree, someone might take me seriously and I’d have a chance to run for public office.

  4. nathan

    More than one person has told me to run for office as well. Still considering my options on that one 🙂

    And yes, less hell-fire, more golden rule. No doubt.

  5. I would be interested in such a blog — your post parallels a discussion my wife and I had a couple of nights ago. It’s easy, when discussing politics, to express your opinion in such a way that doesn’t recognize the legitimate concerns of those who have a different opinion. When you do so, you sound like a zealot, and nobody is won over. The abortion debate is a classic example for me — neither side acknowledges the core argument of the other, and those two approaches to the subject aren’t even really dealing with the same issue, with the result that it’s not so much a debate as it is a shouting match.

  6. I’m interested. I keep spreading myself thinner and thinner these days, but I’d love to see such a blog arise and would do my best to read/contribute.