Tag Archives: politics

Justice?

Last night as I was working on homework, I saw my twitter stream go nuts. Within less than 30 second there were 45 new tweets (this is a lot for my stream, I’m only following like 380 people). Reports were coming in that Osama Bin Laden had been caught or killed. No, definitely killed. US has his body. Obama to give conference soon…Then Obama gave his speech, confirming that yes, we had finally caught the man behind the USS Cole and 9/11 (and many other attacks).

During his speech, Obama made the statement “Justice has been done”.

“Justice”? Revenge? Yes. Justice? Hardly. I don’t see how this is justice. First, how is there any justice found in death? For a few reasons I am against the death penalty, but mainly because I don’t see how it is a punishment. What punishment is found in death? I can find none. Remember when we found Saddam? And he looked like this:

 

He basically became a laughing-stock. Look at him! We showed the world that this despot had no power left, and had been reduced to hiding out *literally* in a hole in the ground. He was then tried and sentenced to death in front of the whole world. This is what we do with even the most vile and lowly among us here in America. We give them a trial. But with Bin Laden, that ending never had a chance to happen. Instead, he went down in a blaze of glory, fighting his enemies to the bitter end. A martyr. Rather than demonstrate our own ideals of democratic justice, we ended up just killing the man. The SEALS obviously did their jobs, and returned fire like they should have, I’m not questioning their decisions, nor Obama’s. But I think somehow an opportunity was missed. We fed into the shoot-first-ask-later stereotype we’re associated with globally. Coupled with Bin Laden’s heroic death, our actions may just end up giving our enemies something new to fight for, one more thing to hate America over.

Back to the point of justice, how does this one death provide justice for all the lives he helped to destroy? How does it right the wrongs that led up to the attacks on the USS Cole and 9/11?  How does it right all of the wrongs carried out since? I don’t think it does. I think Osama Bin Laden was a real piece of shit. And there isn’t any doubt that the world is a bit better off today now that he isn’t in it. But I can’t find a shred of justice in his death. Maybe peace and comfort to some, and vengeance for others. But justice is sorely lacking in this situation.

I believe that rather than celebrating this death, we should attempt to examine the situation at hand on a little more of a global scale, checking our nationalism at the door. Let’s acknowledge that the world is just a little less evil than it was the day before Bin Laden was taken from it. But let’s also acknowledge the fact that the systems in place that created Bin Laden are still present today, and that our country still faces threats to our liberty both foreign and domestic. Maybe we can use this opportunity to examine how it is that Bin Laden came out as the winner in this situation.

Before I end, let me be clear. It’s not that I’m upset about this happening. I’m not. Like I said, the guy was a colossal piece of shit, a total waste of existence. I’m just not up for celebrating death, especially when it is being used as some kind of national rallying cry. I think I’ll save my celebrations for when we end the Patriot Act and bring our troops home. Then you might see me waving a flag in the streets.

Cheers.

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Time to make progress

 

via Treehugger

This is a picture of a dead bird. This bird died because it ate all of that plastic you see there. Plastic that you and I threw away, and ended up in the ocean, or washed up on the shore. This bird doesn’t know any better, because evolution in our feathered friends hasn’t had time to adjust to the industrial revolution. Evolution has also failed to equip this bird with the ability to digest any of this plastic, so it just sits inside the bird, and the bird will either starve or hemorrhage or choke to death.

 

These are the stomach contents from a dead sea turtle. Again, a ton of fucking plastic. Chances are, the turtle found the plastic here:

This is a small part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling mass of floating plastic and other garbage that is twice the size of Texas in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This is where my trash ends up. This is where your trash ends up. We’ve made this garbage patch.

This is another dead fucking bird. It died due to the oil that spilled in the Gulf of Mexico last year from the BP spill. That oil was being pumped for you and for me. We were going to use it to get to work, heat our homes, make our blue jeans, and to create a bunch of plastic, the same type of plastic the bird and the turtle died from.

This is one of the ways in which we source the oil that killed the bird and produced the plastic that created the trash that killed the other bird and that fucking turtle whose stomach contents are pictured above. We just fucking take it from other people. We make up all kinds of excuses for war and our international relationships and dealings, but it so much of it comes down to securing our unlimited access to oil and the profis that oil will afford a select few.

 

This is natural gas, and it is what some people are proposing we use to help get us off of oil. This is a picture of someone lighting their god damned drinking water on fire, because of the practice of hydraulic fracking for natural gas. Fracking allows natural gas to leak into the wells and aquifers that people use for drinking water, agriculture, and farming. Then the water is pretty much ruined forever. Though this is a pretty kick ass party trick. If you’re throwing a ” I can’t drink my fucking water any more” party, that is.

Meanwhile, while we’re burning all these fossil fuels, we’re making the Earth warmer. “Isn’t that a good thing?’ a total idiot might ask? No, it isn’t. One of the effects it is having is on the forests in British Colombia. “Who cares, because it’s only Canada?” you might ask? Well, that’s also something a complete idiot would ask. All those trees in the picture above aren’t supposed to be that color. They are brown and red because they are infested with bark beetles. Those bark beetles are experiencing warmer, shorter winters thanks to global warming, and that means that their offspring aren’t dying off during due to frigid temperatures, and their population is exploding. These trees are part of a system that forms an enormous carbon sink. But because they are dying, that carbon can’t be stored there. Which creates more warming. And more warming will cause more severe weather. So you’ll probably want to turn up the heater a bit more in the winter depending on where you live. And you’ll want to turn up the A/C a bit more in the summer. And that’ll require a bit more energy, which will end up using more oil.

Please, please do at least one thing today to change this. And then do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that…

One thing you might even do is write to your representative. Let them know that the EPA needs to be able to regulate greenhouse gases, including CO2. While you’re at it, let them know that you don’t want mercury, sulfur dioxide, and other particulates in the air you breathe.

Just do something, stick with it, and make progress. We need it.

“…progress,
man’s distinctive mark alone,
Not God’s, and not the beast’s;
God is, they are,
Man partly is,
and wholly hopes to be”                     ~ Robert Browning Hamilton
 
 
Cheers.

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Filed under Environment, Political

The steeper bill to pay

The bill that House Republicans are proposing that will set the budget through the end of the fiscal year (Sept ’11) “loads up every piece of the far-right social agenda in one bill, from restricting a woman’s right to choose to preventing government from protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink.” – quote from as Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo. in Huff Post today. While I find many of the proposals distasteful, it is the ones concerning the environment that I would like to draw your attention to. As some of you reading this know, I’m currently in school, pursuing a degree in Environmental Policy and Planning. These issues are important to me, and often I’m shocked that there is so little regard paid to them.

I found a list of the environmental riders on the budget bill at the Sietch Blog. You can read them here, and there is a pdf version here. My thanks to the writers there for posting this. I’ll list just a couple of the ones that I found particularly appalling:

Section 1746: Taking Away EPA’s Authority to Enforce the Clean Air Act – states that zero funds may be used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce or promulgate any regulation related to the emissions of greenhouse gases due to concerns regarding climate change. This far reaching legislation prevents EPA from regulating carbon pollution and protecting Americans from the impacts of climate change. This section stops EPA from requiring new power plants, oil refineries, and other major new sources of carbon pollution to begin reducing their carbon emissions. It also prevents EPA from setting minimum federal standards for power plants and oil refineries, and severely interferes with EPA’s permitting process for new or expanded facilities. In addition, this section prevents the public from learning how much carbon pollution is actually being emitted by the largest polluters. This legislation ties EPA’s hands and allows carbon pollution to continue or even increase unabated – endangering public health, food and water supplies, wildlife habitat, species, forests and coastlines throughout our nation.

Section 1747: Blocking EPA Efforts to Clarify the Scope of the Clean Water Act – halts the EPA’s ongoing effort to make clear which waters remain protected by the Clean Water Act in the wake of confusing court decisions and subsequent Bush administration policy. This provision leaves millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of streams without clear Clean Water Act protection. These streams provide at least part of the drinking water for 117 million Americans. It jeopardizes EPA’s ability to enforce the law against oil spills and waste dumping in these waters.

 Section 4008: Limiting Enforcement of the Cement Kiln Air Toxics Standard – EPA is prohibited from using any funds to implement or enforce a health standard to control mercury and other pollutants from cement plants. Cement plants are the third leading source of man-made mercury emissions and have evaded controls prescribed under the Clean Air Act for over 13 years. EPA finalized these life-saving standards in September 2010 with a compliance deadline of September 2014. These overdue standards will save 2,500 lives, prevent 1,000 heart attacks, and reduce 130,000 missed days of school and work each year, according to EPA estimates. EPA also projects that this rule would save $18 billion in health costs just from reductions of fine particulate matter. Defunding implementation of this critical reduction of mercury, lead, particulate matter and other hazardous pollutants will not remove any regulatory obligations. In fact, this amendment deprives states and cement manufacturers from getting technical assistance and support in developing compliance plans. Barring EPA from providing critical guidance for this protective health standard puts the public at risk and leaves industry without critical compliance input.

 Section 4015: Blocking EPA from Regulating Emissions from Stationary Sources – issues a “stop-work” order to the EPA for any regulation of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons, or perfluorocarbons from stationary sources for any reason, including their impacts on ozone, climate change, or any other public health threat. The broad impacts of this amendment, therefore, include blocking work underway to address dangerous carbon dioxide pollution; a de facto construction ban on power plants and factories; interference with the

Renewable Fuel Standard; preventing EPA from implementing a three-year study of biomass greenhouse gas emissions; interference with the EPA’s acid rain program; preventing enforcement of rules covering emissions of HFCs and perfluorocarbons from refrigeration and other equipment.

This stop-work order would accomplish nothing other than to ensure that more dangerous pollution is dumped into the air and that U.S. companies fall behind in the global competition for clean energy markets.

The rest of the list is just as disgusting. Everything from defunding NOAA to gutting funding for important studies and our involvement in the IPCC. Many of these measures will not only create conditions of unparalleled environmental destruction, but cost thousands of jobs, and directly (and indirectly) impact the health of tens of thousands (or more), and the potential to contaminate the drinking water of hundreds of millions.

 

This is all being done in the name of controlling the deficit. But I doubt that the motivation behind such actions is really just fiscal responsibility. For whatever reason, it has become the party line of the Republicans that any government proposals that are aimed at benefiting the environment are somehow inherently evil. While I don’t doubt that this meme was started in the interests of businesses not wanting to spend a few extra bucks complying with environmental standards that protect the air we breathe and the water we drink, I believe this new round of cuts is born out of something else entirely. It’s almost as if the new partly line is simply “fuck the liberals, let’s pass reactionary legislation that will drum up hysteria and unite our base”. They’re even bringing back styrofoam into the congressional lunchroom. Yeah, styrofoam, that substance that has been banned in several cities and is toxic throughout its entire millennial life span. Oh, and there is that state rep in Montana that is introducing legislation that would declare global warming beneficial to the welfare and and business climate of his state. The Republicans are basically taking their ideological positions to the extreme, in an effort to gut government of any type of power to protect its citizens from the dangers that industry can impose upon us.

Unfortunately, Republicans are living in the delusion of “now”. All of their proposed cuts to environmental spending are looking at the short-term deficit impact. None of these cuts address the long-term economic impact (hint: it isn’t good) nor do they address the long-term health-effects, or the long-term environmental impacts (which will impact the other two). Republicans love talking about how we can’t pass the deficit bill on to our children and grandchildren, but when we craft policies that demonstrate a total disregard for the environment, we leave them with a much steeper bill to pay.

Some like to claim that the green/lib crowd is trying to scare people with doomsday-type scenarios about climate change and other environmental issues. But the facts remain:

We are running out of fresh water

We are affecting global climate change, and the Earth is getting hotter

We are running out of arable land

We are dumping hazardous chemicals into the land, air and water that are screwing with our health and depleting the amazing amount of biodiversity found on this wonderful planet of ours.

These facts should be of grave concern to everyone, regardless of political persuasion. But they aren’t. Because in the culture of capitalism we currently find ourselves in, there are those that value the future balance sheets of our children’s bank accounts more than we do their health and livelihoods.

That’s all for now. Cheers.

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There were 19 victims in Arizona

 

I really don’t have much time to post lately, and I have thoughts of closing the blog down for good as I really don’t see myself being able to make time to commit to posting. More on that some other time perhaps.

I wanted to post today just a thought or two on the Arizona shooting that took place on Saturday. I’m sure by now you’ve heard the whole story, so I’ll spare going into any details here.

My only thoughts are this: 19 people’s lives were directly and permanently altered on Saturday. The shooter brought lots of ammo with him. While his main target certainly seemed to be Congresswoman Giffords, there were 19 others that were shot, 6 of which died.

Federal judge John Roll, 63, left behind 3 sons, a wife, and 5 grandchildren.

30-year-old Gabe Zimmerman, a Gifford’s staffer who was engaged and had a wedding date set for 2012.

Phyllis Schneck, 79 leaves behind 3 children, 7 grandchildren, and 1 great-grandchild.

Dorwan Stoddard 76 – this is from Huff Post: “When the shooting started Saturday, he dove to the ground, covering his wife Mavy, who was shot in the leg three times. The couple had been grade school sweethearts growing up in Tucson. After their respective spouses died, they independently moved back to retire, became reacquainted and fell in love all over again. Mavy Stoddard talked to her husband, who was shot in the head, for 10 minutes while he breathed heavily. Then he stopped breathing. He had two sons from his first marriage, and Mavy has three daughters.

Dorothy Morris, 76 whose husband was shot in the rampage, but is in the hospital also left behind a few daughters (I’ve seen 2 and 3, so don’t know for sure).

And then, what to me is the most tragic result of this mad man’s terror, Christina Taylor Green, only 9 years old. Apparently she had just been elected to Student Council and had an interest in politics, which is why she was at that Safeway to meet Congresswoman Giffords. She apparently wanted to have a career where she would be of service to others (I think I wanted to be a pilot at that age….). She enjoyed athletics. She leaves behind an 11-year-old brother. She leaves behind parents, and grandparents.

It isn’t too hard to read about the people the elderly victims leave behind. It’s generally expected that parents and grandparents outlive their offspring. It is tragic and sad, yes. And I certainly don’t want to value one life above another here.

But she was only 9 years old.

She was only 9 years old.

I understand the outrage pouring out over this incident. I just don’t understand how the conversation was so quickly turned into a left vs. right ideological battle. Within hours of the massacre people were trying to figure out who was to blame. We heard from pundits about other pundits and about that half-term quitter governor from Alaska, but we didn’t hear about Christina, and her story (other than the little I’ve shared here). We didn’t hear about her aunts and uncles and friends from school and 9 year old team mates that now have to deal with the fact that their loved one isn’t coming back.

It isn’t that I don’t agree with some of the political statements being made out there. Some of them, I do. And I do so adamantly. But their bodies weren’t even cold and all we could hear about was some redneck’s map and what Rush Limbaugh had to say and what books were on the shooter’s MySpace book list.

I remember when Kayla Rolland was shot. It was in my community. My mother worked with a close friend of the family (or Aunt of Kayla’s or something….) and I remember it vividly. Shock. Terror. Unimaginable sadness. A 6-year-old shot another 6-year-old. And I remember that very day, people carrying signs in favor of the 2nd amendment on some busy cross streets in my hometown of Saginaw, MI. Yes, we have freedom of speech in this country. I respect that. But just because you have the right to do/say something, doesn’t always mean it’s the right thing to do.

I also remember my teachers waiting a week or so before we started talking about the greater themes that revolved around the shooting like gun rights, poverty, drugs, homelessness and other broader social issues that contributed to the tragedy.

Already the 6 victims that were killed and the others that were wounded are being forgot. They’re being pushed down in the headlines in favor of partisan rhetoric, blame games, conversations on society’s role in all this and yadda yadda yadda. It’s not that I don’t think some of those points are important or valid. I do. My fear is that this intense personal tragedy will just get churned into fodder for the left vs. right meme machine. In 5 years most of us will probably remember that Congresswoman Giffords was shot, and that there were others shot that day too (I bet we’ll forget how many). Some of us will remember Christina, but I bet it will be the minority. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself if you knew who Kayla Rolland was reading that first sentence, without having to click on the link. It was one of the most tragic killings this country has ever seen, and I don’t know that anyone outside of Flint (and Mid-Michigan) still thinks about it.

Can we try holding off on the politicizing for just a few days? Maybe direct our efforts toward compassion for the victims and their families, even for just a few days? Is the “noble discussion” about whose fault it is and what role everyone plays in it that urgent that it can’t wait a few days? Maybe if we shine the spotlight on the victims for a bit longer, we won’t forget quite so soon this time.

I’ll leave it to others to cry outrage!

Right now, all I can come up with is tragedy!

  

Cheers.

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The Lesser of Two Evils

It’s election day. Well, kind of. Here in Washington State, we receive our ballots in the mail a few weeks before the election. I love this as it gives me the ability to look at an initiative or candidate on the ballot, read through the voter’s pamphlet, and do some research online all at the same time, and all in my underwear with a bottle of home brew in my hand if I so choose.

I’ve really been struggling this election. Usually I refuse to succumb to the “lesser of two evils” approach to voting. Thankfully in my state there were 8-10 candidates running for President that made it onto our ballot in ’08, so I didn’t have to choose between 2 candidates I felt would have been bad for the job. However now that the primaries are over, I don’t really have that choice in the current election. It’s either red/blue democrat/republican (and all establishment) on pretty much all of the races. In the past I’ve voted as a way to endorse a candidate I felt would represent my and my districts/states interests well, and if neither candidate was worthy, I would abstain in that particular category.

The lesser of two evils? Not according to this interesting bar graph...

But I don’t have that luxury this time around. To not consider the ramifications of my actions is irresponsible and naïve. The Senate race between Senator Murray and challenger Dino Rossi is a close one, and could sway the majority in the Senate one way or the other. The race in my Congressional district is also a fairly close one. My choices in these two races are actually pretty easy as I like both Rick Larsen and Patty Murray, and feel like they do a good job most of the time. Some of the state races I’ve yet to decide about though. It’s an important decision as it is a census year. The congress that we elect will have the power to draw up new district maps, which will influence politics, elections, and federal money destinations for the next 10 years.

We also have several ballot initiatives here. 2 concerning the state liquor laws, one that proposes a state income tax on those making over 200,000/year (or 400,000 combined family) and one that deals with taxes on junk food and bottled water.

The reason I’m posting about this here is because in Buddhism we can’t leave our ethics and morality on the proverbial cushion. If we are to truly engage the precepts and teachings, then we must strive to apply them in all aspects of our lives. And at the core of those teachings is the process of examination. There isn’t a blanket list of “do’s” and “don’ts” (except for some directed at the monastics) in Buddhism. Instead we’re asked to examine each moment and situation as it is, fully and use the precepts and teachings to help guide our actions. We must contemplate the possible effects of our actions, as well as our intentions and the motivations behind those intentions. I don’t think there is a Buddhist Way to vote, nor do I advocate any such premise. But I do believe that we should bring our process of examination into those political actions that we undertake. Buddhist practice isn’t something to turn on and off like a light switch (though it is a stubborn switch to leave on, isn’t it?) when we please. It is something that we bring into the marketplace, into the dust and dirt of life.

The moral and ethical teachings are relative for a reason. There are no one-size-fits all answers to the questions and situations that arise in this vast world. Instead what we have are guideposts, and tiny bodhisattvas that sit on our shoulders and ask us “why?” “where does this volition come from?” And so it should be when it comes time to make a decision that will effect not only my life, but my children’s, my neighbors, and this whole world.

Take for instance the liquor law initiative. Right now in this state, if you want liquor, you have to go to a state-run liquor store to buy it. It’s kind of a pain in the ass, and the prices are pretty high. When I first moved here I was blown away at this draconian system. However if this initiative rolls through, the liquor stores will be gone and grocery stores can begin selling liquor on their shelves. With this comes the end of a government monopoly (something I usually oppose depending on the issue) increased access, and lower prices on booze. But this also comes with increased access for teens to obtain alcohol, a loss of revenue for the state (which we currently CANNOT afford) and a loss of jobs for all of those employees. Here, sticking to an ideal (government = bad, private sector = always better) would have potentially fatal consequences, and have ramifications that will stretch out far and wide. If this doesn’t pass, we still have booze, albeit an ineffectual system for distributing it. Personally I’d like to see some modifications of the current laws (more stores, open more hours, lower prices) that kept revenue flowing to the state and liquor out of the hands of kids as much as possible.

I hate broad brushes. I’ve never once voted straight-party. Liberal or Conservative, neither has all the right answers. The lines between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are blurry at times. Life is relative. And I think this is why the Democratic party consistently fails. They embrace the relative while the Republicans stick to their ideals and policy of absolutes. They always have 1 message. 1 platform. The Democrats have more messages and more platforms than The Flying Spaghetti Monster has noodly appendages. It’s a tough sell when your party slogan makes for a better .PDF than a placard. But this is a more accurate description of America, isn’t it? Do we have one voice about anything? I digress…

I have no interest in thinking about how The Buddha would vote, or voting in a “Buddhist” way. The Christian Right has been doing this for years in our country. Groupthink and religious politics largely disgusts me.  However I am interested applying the dharma to my decision-making process in and of itself. Not in choosing who to vote for, but in examining the process I’ll use in making my decisions.

Cheers.

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Article Swap #3 – Buddhist Ethics in Political Dialogue (guest post by Justin Whitaker)

The following is a guest post from Justin of the wonderful blog, American Buddhist Perspective. This is part of the great “Buddhoblogosphere Blog Swap” that was set up by Nate over at Precious Metal. Check out this post for a list of all the other articles being swapped and hosted today. The article I wrote hasn’t been posted yet, but as soon as it is, I’ll post the link up here. I was in charge of assigning Justin a topic, and knowing that he is a Buddhist Ethicist, I asked the following questions:

“How do we apply Buddhist ethics in a secular way to the political dialogue/discourse we currently have in this country? Right now it is dominated by the fringe extremists with the loudest microphones and it is getting us nowhere. How do we combat (without combating) this extremism using Buddhist ethics? How do we make it part of the dialogue?”

Adam has posed some great questions here. I hope they elicit as much thought in you as they did me and that you will join the conversation. First off, we need to identify what “Buddhist ethics” is or are. From there we should be able to launch into engagement with our current political situation. 
 
Let’s orient ourselves. Where are we? If we call ourselves “Buddhist” (and often even if not) we no doubt see ourselves as on a path to awakening. We can think of this as our vertical or “Developmental” Dimension:  our own ignorance and suffering at the bottom, and perfected wisdom and compassion at the top. And we are also living in the year 2010, mostly (for readers here) in America. This is the horizontal or “Relational” Dimension, the world around us right now and on each stage of the path (see Firgure 1*).   

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        In this picture, Buddhist ethics can be seen as our conduct as Buddhists and the reasons we have for that conduct. How do we move “up”? How do we cultivate the twin virtues of wisdom and compassion in a world so dominated by extreme voices and ideas?
 

The Buddha’s own advice to people again and again was to relax their attention on the Relational Dimension and focus on their own development. One of the curious facts about this way of seeing things is that as we advance (upward) toward awakening, we open up more fully (relationally) to the world. Meanwhile, the more caught up in personal delusions, greed, and hatred we are, the more isolated we are from the world. This is what Alan Sponberg has coined as the Hierarchy of Compassion.
 
So this is our starting point. Right here. Not with the politicians or the pundits, but with our own mind and mental states. As laypeople we can begin with the five precepts:
1.   I undertake the training to abstain from harming living beings
2.   I undertake the training to abstain from taking the not-given.
3.   I undertake the training to abstain from harmful conduct in sensuality.
4.   I undertake the training to abstain from false speech.
5.   I undertake the training to abstain from drinking liquor or taking intoxicants.
Each day we can take a moment to evaluate our relationship with these training principles. Our first step in remedying the often contentious political sphere is to ensure that we ourselves are contributing as little as possible to it. Recall Mahatma Gandhi’s teaching, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
 
For some, “ethics” ends there. But I think we can see that the whole of the path is interconnected and that meditation and wisdom are not distinct categories of practice. It is in our meditation that our deepest mental convictions and afflictions become transparent to us, rising to the surface of consciousness where we can make the changes necessary to move closer to harmony with the Dharma. In terms of the political world, in meditation we can let go of divisive labels and self-other duality. In particular, in the cultivation of loving-kindness meditation, we invite to our mind an ‘enemy’ to imaginatively sit with us, seeing this individual as no different from a neutral person, themselves no different from a close friend. We see that all beings “fear the stick and tremble at punishment.”
 
The cultivation of wisdom, too, serves our ethical purposes. While notions such as non-self, impermanence, and interconnectedness can serve as mere intellectual concepts, they can also be applied on the cognitive level to challenge and overcome prejudices. The noble 8-fold path begins with right understanding, and I believe this is not accidental. If we believe in permanent separate souls or that moral actions hold no consequences, it is unlikely that we will follow the next seven steps on the path. While the complete understanding of reality as it is marks the culmination of the path, we cannot even begin if we are clinging to radically false notions.
 
But we are still at a very individual level. How do we ‘reach out’ to others? We begin with those nearest us, friends and family. If you’re anything like me, this group alone contains a very wide spectrum of political views. Generally it’s easiest to talk politics with those who agree with you and at times downright painful to talk with those who appear to be in the extremes. I’ve had conversations with relatives who say they’re “just waiting for him [President Obama] to start taking our guns away” and friends on the other end of the spectrum who lamented how horrible a nation America has become (under President G.W. Bush).
 
Sometimes the best we can do is listen, try to understand where they are coming from. At our best though we can ‘mirror’ the extreme position of a comment to the other person in a way that gets him or her to its extremism clearly. We might remark that Obama is having a hard enough time accomplishing his stated goals, so it might be a bit tough for him to do something that would be so widely unpopular.  Or we might note that America wasn’t exactly Eden before G.W. Bush – or mention a few of the dozens of countries that would be much more ‘horrible’ for our friend. What we see is that extreme positions are often very narrow, both historically and in terms of contemporary realities around the world. 
 
As our own thought and understanding deepens, we are less affected by extreme and misplaced views and opinions; much like H.H. the Dalai Lama as he responded to Chinese claims that he was a devil:

If he were to bitterly argue against such claims, they would only gain strength. But by laughing at them, and making us laugh in turn, we see the absurdity of the Chinese government’s position. The more often this happens, the weaker this extreme voice becomes. Similarly, teaching the history of Tibet, and showing the reality of people there today are other ways to cut through extremist claims.
 
But what the Dalai Lama’s story also shows us is that in the end, enlightened conduct might not win in the political sphere. This is a fact of the deluded state that most of us dwell in. Even the Buddha had enemies, including an angry cousin who tried on several occasions to kill him. The extremists have always been there and likely always will be. Through our own practice, though, we can develop the wisdom of seeing the context of our political lives and compassion through realizing the similarities we have even with our worst enemies. Bringing this ‘home’ in our own daily conduct and meditation frees us from merely reacting to the latest extremism in the world, allowing us to be creative agents of that wisdom and compassion. The greatest contribution, and indeed the most authentic one, that Buddhist ethics can give to contemporary political dialogue is in its tools of spiritual development.
 
* This schematization and the figures are taken from Sponberg, Alan. (1994). “Green Buddhism and the Hierarchy of Compassion,” in Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds. Tucker and Williams eds. (1997). Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, pp. 351-376.

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