Saturday, April 23, 2016

Postmodernism vs. Empiricism

     Just a few years ago I was living under a rock and almost completely oblivious to a relatively recent intellectual movement called Postmodernism. A little over a year ago I somehow became aware that “postmodern” didn’t refer simply to the most recent events and trends of the modern world, but something else in particular. I asked a friend of mine who is an architect what postmodernism is, and he gave me his take on postmodern architecture; and shortly afterwards another fellow gave me a copy of Simulations by Jean Baudrillard (author of the book in which Neo stashed his bootlegged computer discs in The Matrix), which I read and found to be almost unintelligible in most parts. So even just a few months ago I was still of the impression that postmodernism was just some kind of intellectual esthetic fashion within Liberal Arts, an effete philosophical art form with some applications in architecture, art, and literature, but still quite on the fringe of mainstream culture, something for people who read Foucault, wear berets, and actually take abstract art seriously. 
     Then very recently, during my fascinated, occasionally horrified binge of studying recent developments in Western “progressive” liberalism, I learned that recent “third wave” feminism, along with the new liberalism in general, has adopted a fundamental postmodern tenet with regard to the culturally conditioned nature of truth, and thus of virtually everything else. Thus postmodernism is plunging right into the heart of Western society. And so I feel the urge to write about it.
     As far as I could tell from the dense, convoluted, self-indulgent, and almost unintelligible prose of Baudrillard’s book, he considered symbolism to have reached a point in Western civilization where it no longer represents anything but itself. Symbols are purely artificial, yet nevertheless have become the highest reality of our society. Postmodernism on the whole seems to endorse this view to some degree: truth is merely relative, and created by society; therefore, we create truth to suit ourselves, or rather to suit whatever cultural positions we consider to be proper, or expedient.
     As a Buddhist I can accept this to some degree. Buddhism teaches two truths, conventional and ultimate; and I consider any “truth” that can be put into words or otherwise symbolized to be merely conventional. The “reality” of the ordinary person is also merely conventional and not ultimate. Also, I consider it very possible that our beliefs radically condition the world as we see it, and may even alter the empirical world accordingly.
     My acceptance of this aspect of postmodern philosophy goes beyond the limitations of Theravada Buddhist philosophy, as I can accept it more than a devout Abhidhamma scholar possibly could. I can seriously entertain the idea that we create our own reality practically from scratch; so that an alien being radically different from us in its perception of reality might somehow be in the same room with us, yet it would not see us, nor we it. (This is getting into the realm of philosophical idealism, which admittedly has gone very much out of fashion in the West ever since scientific realism became almost a monoculture, metaphysically and ideologically.) I wouldn’t insist upon that point of view, but I do consider it to be a possibility.
     In such a state of things, it would be our similarity as people that allows us to interact in this world. Although we human beings have many differences, with each of us being unique, still the similarities far outweigh the differences, psychologically as well as physically. In other words, it is our shared human nature that allows us to agree on as much as we do, one with the other.
     The point at which I deviate from this relativistic attitude of postmodernism, and at which “hard” science in general also deviates from it, is where the postmoderns declare that this same human nature is itself purely a social construct. (I suspect that to some degree this belief of the postmoderns is derived from Karl Marx, as he also ignored natural human instincts, and as Baudrillard in his book seemed incapable of keeping Marxism distinct from metaphysical and epistemological issues. This tossing together salad-wise of philosophy and social theory seems to be a characteristic of much of European philosophy in the past century.)
     This is rather a tricky issue, since ultimately I consider objective truth to be an artificial construct; yet we really do appear to be born with innate human nature which restricts the range of what we are able to perceive or create without being insane to a clinically significant degree. In other words, we apparently have to have certain similarities even to be born into the same empirical universe. Objectively and empirically, if we look at the evidence scientifically, we see clearly enough that Marx was wrong, that most 20th-century psychologists were wrong, and that we humans are a species of animal as laden with animal instincts as any other mammal.
     A classic and very typical example of this was given by Charles Darwin in his monumental and ground-breaking The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, namely: When we are surprised, our eyebrows go up and our mouth drops open. Why? Is this simply a cultural construct that somehow has become universal in the human race, or could it be called an animal instinct in us humans? (It’s more than just a knee-jerk reflex, as emotion is the trigger of it, the emotion itself arguably being a kind of animal instinct.) Imagine that you are a stone age hunter-gatherer a hundred thousand years ago, you are walking alone down a forest path, and suddenly you hear a twig snap in the underbrush nearby. To react naturally with the aforementioned symptoms of surprise would have real survival value: the eyebrows go up to help you open your eyes more widely, thereby increasing your peripheral vision and allowing you to see danger more easily. And your mouth drops open to allow you to stop breathing through your nose and start breathing through your mouth, which in humans makes less noise and allows you to hear danger more easily. (Darwin points out that a panting dog who is suddenly surprised does the reverse: he stops panting and starts breathing through his nose, since in dogs that way makes less noise.)
     We humans, from a biological point of view, are laden with these kinds of instincts, generally speaking. There will be exceptions to the rule, but even so it is human nature for us to prefer sweet food to bitter; to prefer flowery smells before we reach puberty, to prefer musky smells when sexually mature, and to start preferring flowery smells again in old age; to dislike slimy substances or small multilegged creatures getting onto us; to shout or scream in alarm when something really bad or frightening suddenly happens; etc. I have even read that the human brain actually has a snake recognition center, thereby presenting a physiological basis for a common human fear (or at least wariness) of snakes. All of this had real survival value to our prehistoric ancestors, again going with a scientific perspective. To believe that a human mind is a blank tablet at birth, and that all our emotions and seemingly innate human tendencies are purely social constructs, betrays a profound ignorance of basic human nature.
     This is not to say that we are entirely driven by instinct, or that we cannot counteract some of our instinctive drives via cultural conditioning. We are no longer in the stone age, and the modification of some of our natural drives is quite necessary. But even some behaviors that may appear to be purely artificial have a basis in instinct. To give a nonhuman example, few people would deny that the domesticated cat has a hunting instinct. Kittens chasing and pouncing on balls or each other are clearly acting out this instinct. But still the hunting instinct may be reinforced, as when the mother cat teaches her kittens to kill, or suppressed, as when a kitten is punished for trying to catch the family gerbil, or by simply lacking opportunities to hunt. We human beings also are born with instincts which can be culturally reinforced, suppressed, or modified. Our language may appear to be a purely social artifact, yet we do have speech centers in the brain, and even the babbling of babies follows a kind of proto-grammar which, along with a human eagerness to learn and practice talking, instinctively ensures that almost all humans learn how to speak a language, though not any particular one. Instinctive human drives are well documented by countless reputable scientists, and should not be controversial except to those whose ideology compels them to reject this.
     Enter 21st-century Liberal Studies (including much of what now is called Cultural Anthropology), and third wave feminist Gender Studies in particular. For reasons of their own, the followers of these ideological fields of study have largely adopted the same postmodern, pseudoscientific idea of the blank tablet that helped Marxism to fail as a viable system in the 20th century—any system that ignores or denies fundamental human nature is bound to be a bad fit for humanity and unstable in the long run. (This is not to say that Marx himself was a postmodernist. He was simply an intellectual who was ignorant of human nature—including the power of innate greed to fuel an economy—and of cognitive science, which did not yet exist in his day. He was also under the spell of Hegel, who wrote masses of verbiage even more elaborately incomprehensible than Baudrillard ever did.) 
     The way in which so-called “third wave” feminism has adopted postmodernism, which apparently is in vogue in the humanities to a degree I had not suspected even a few months ago, is to adopt this artificiality of truth, and of human behavior, to declare that gender itself is purely culturally conditioned, that gender has zero basis in biological human nature.
     This idea or ideology, like the denial of instinctive human nature in general, is essentially pseudoscience, debunked over and over again by scientific studies, not to mention careful introspection. Way back in the 1980’s I read a book entitled The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit, by Melvin Konner. He described a study by psychologists in which children were raised in a gender-neutral environment, with boys and girls being treated essentially the same since infancy. Even under such conditions, the researchers found that there were some clear differences between the boys and girls with regard to their behavior: girls still much preferred playing with dolls, and boys were much more likely to prefer rough play and machinelike playthings such as toy trucks. 
     Similar studies have been conducted in the 21st century, especially with infants too young to have been culturally conditioned. Baby girls, even if they are too young to play with them, show significantly more interest in doll-like objects, while baby boys show more interest in objects like toy trucks. Interestingly, this kind of study has been conducted with chimpanzees and at least two species of monkey, and the results are similar: girl chimps and monkeys prefer dolls and faces, and boy chimps and monkeys prefer mechanical objects. (This is not a scientific paper, so I’m not bothering to include bibliographical references; although you can pick up some details on the toy preference experiments in publications by Gad Saad.) These differences are attributed mainly to prenatal testosterone levels, and their effects on the human brain.
     It should not be too difficult to see how a liking for dolls could be more or less instinctive in females: It is a manifestation of a mothering instinct and a fascination for nurturing babies. It is quite natural for women to be more interested in babies than men are, especially considering that for most of the existence of the human race, up until the last century, raising children was one of a woman’s primary responsibilities in almost every culture.
     The liking of machine-like objects in young boys is maybe less obvious, but for that very reason more interesting to me. Based upon my many observations of the human race, it seems fairly obvious to me that men tend to be more objective, and women more subjective, speaking generally, in terms of average trends. Men are more interested in manipulating objects, like figuring out how to make better hunting weapons, while women seem more interested in interpersonal relations. Thus it is no surprise that men tend to be more interested in fixing machines, and women are often much better at public relations and learning new languages. A woman may make a better family physician due to a natural tendency toward compassion and a better bedside manner; yet men tend to make better surgeons, since a surgeon’s job is to treat a human body like an object, like a machine to be fixed. I would guess that most surgeons are men, even in societies in which most family doctors are women.
     But this is all politically incorrect of course, because it goes against the preferred ideology. Even plain facts are suppressed in the West nowadays as a result of what is called “cultural Marxism”: sacrificing empiricism and even sometimes reason itself at the altar of postmodern ideology. This is what happened in the glory days of political Marxism also; for example Lysenko’s theories of heredity were endorsed in the USSR for years, despite their conflict with internationally accepted empirical science, because they were somehow more in harmony with Marxist ideology—which eventually turned into an embarrassing fiasco, effectively sabotaging Soviet agriculture, since denying facts for the sake of political correctness is to deny empirical reality, which eventually leads to trouble.
     Nowadays it is politically correct to speak of sexist discrimination when trying to account for the fact that there are many more men than women in hard science and technology fields. Even when affirmative action is applied and women have the social advantage in getting an engineering job, still there are many more men. The feminist ideology blames an oppressive patriarchy for this, but a major reason is simply that men are more interested in such technical fields, being naturally more object-oriented. (This is also one reason for the notorious “pay gap”: highly technical and object-oriented jobs such as metallurgical engineering, along with dangerous jobs such as crab fishing in the Bering Sea, are simply less attractive to women despite the fact that they pay well—not so much because women are ostracized, but more because most of them just don’t want to do it, in accordance with innate feminine human nature.)
     Setting aside engineering, let’s look at a field that I have never heard a feminist complaining about: auto mechanics. Very few people would deny that fixing cars is almost entirely monopolized by men. I do not remember ever seeing a female professional auto mechanic. Why is this? Two obvious answers come to mind.
     1. There is a patriarchal conspiracy to prevent women from making a living by fixing cars. 
     2. Women in general simply are not interested in making a living by fixing cars, or by fixing machines in general.
     One can say that if men and women were truly treated equally, with totally free choice for everyone, there would be as many female mechanics as male ones, but I consider that to be extremely unlikely. Research has even indicated that in the most liberal societies, such as that of (rapidly disintegrating) Sweden, women deviate more from men in their life choices than women do in more traditional societies. So a woman may be even less likely to work at a traditionally male occupation in Sweden than she would in, say, Guatemala. Although I would guess that there are extremely few female auto mechanics in either country.
     What we’ve got going now in Western countries—especially among the political left, although it is becoming pervasive—is a case of cultural Lysenkoism, a rejection of empirical fact, along with natural human nature, in favor of an approved ideology, followed partly out of conformist herd instinct and a fear of being publicly attacked as a sexist, or racist, or whatever, and partly out of subjective emotionality. If disliked truths simply cannot be denied, a newly devised defense against them is to label them “hate facts.” It is largely the aforementioned feminine tendency for relative non-objectivity which is conditioning this trend. The situation is currently out of balance, in addition to being at odds with objectivity; and if this imbalance is not to result eventually in some kind of societal collapse, a more harmonious balance of masculine and feminine forces will probably be required.
     Of course this essay is totally politically incorrect, and so I may as well conclude by gratuitously making it even worse. Based upon an interest in philosophy and an observation of who the greatest and worst philosophers have been, in my opinion, I arrived long ago at the hypothesis that women, artists, and French people should stay away from philosophy, as they rarely make a decent showing of it. My guess is that for whatever reasons they tend to be too subjective and “touchy-feely” to come up with philosophical theories that hold water. I like Voltaire, who was an artist as well as a Frenchman, although his greatest philosophy consisted of little more than mocking the stupidity of the human race. This is not to say that I’m against women, artists, or French people. I like women, I like art, and most of the few French people I have known have been very likable people. I’m just unimpressed with their attempts at philosophy, with extremely few exceptions.
     The reason I bring this up is because I wish to point out that the philosophy of Postmodernism appears to be predominantly a French invention. So it goes. And finally, at the risk of tiresomely repeating myself over and over again like a mantra, Fuck Political Correctness.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

A Brief Analysis of the Apparent Suicide Attempt of Western Europe

“TRIGGER WARNING”: This post is almost certainly the most rampantly politically incorrect article I’ve written. It is not merely poking at PC hysteria, but is blaspheming the Holy Spirit, slapping upside the head all that postmodern PC society holds sacred. Any of you who require ideological safe spaces should turn off your computer, leave the room, and curl up in the fetus position under a table.

     Your destiny is written in the books upon your shelf,
     For history invariably returns unto itself,
          And all the seers and the sages
          Who survived throughout the ages
     Have decreed that you will castrate yourself.

     History is full of gutless bleeding hearts like you
     Who destroyed themselves for lack of gut and thew;
          And the heroes of the past
          Will have their laugh at last,
     For they know that you are finished—you are through.
     The Romans lasted near a thousand years,
     An Empire carved with axes, swords, and spears;
          The world trembled at their feet
          And saw their harvests reaped,
     Their cities raped and plundered, through their tears.

     But Rome grew soft and spoiled and timid just like you,
     And the men who survive this combo are too few;
          All the jewels on their sandals
          Couldn't stop those howling Vandals,
     And they fell like gutless wonders always do.

     You're as weak as milk, and soft as currant jelly,
     So beware the Vandal with the empty belly:

     He will never leap the net to shake your hand;
     He will never try to make you understand;
          He will kick you in the nuts,
          Grease his tank treads with your guts—
     At least you'll do to fertilize his land.

     The following discussion is only very indirectly and tenuously related to Dharma in general, let alone Theravada Buddhism; but now we are at the Epilogue of this blog, or so it seems anyhow, and I am writing about what is of greatest interest to me at present (I begin writing this on 23 March 2016). I have not entirely given up on Dharma however, and even this post will have a little blatant Dharma toward the end, like a stinger in the tail. 
     It has been said many times that history repeats itself. Also it has been said that the only thing we learn from history is that people do not learn from history. This may be especially true nowadays, as many people consider the modern (or postmodern) world to be so different from everything that came before it, with its science and technology for instance, that the events of long ago are no longer really relevant as a guide for our present behavior. We’ve outgrown all that, supposedly. But human nature is still very much the same; humans are still human—all too human—and people continue to make essentially the same mistakes that their ancestors made centuries or millennia ago.
     Consequently it should be no great surprise that the current migrant crisis in Europe (not so much a refugee crisis, since most of the immigrants are not Syrian refugees, but young men from other predominantly Islamic countries in search of opportunity), and especially German chancellor Angela Merkel’s role in the whole mess, can be called a case of history repeating itself. According to the historian Edward Gibbon, author of the great classic The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, after a long decline, the Roman Empire finally began collapsing in earnest as a result of a crisis brought about by a massive influx of foreign immigrants. What happened is that Huns invaded the territory of the Visigoths, east of the Danube, in around 375, with the Ostrogoths having been already defeated and subjugated. Fearing the Huns more than they feared the degenerate Romans, a Visigothic leader named Fritigern requested permission of the weak emperor Valens for his people to settle peacefully in Roman territory west of the Danube; and Valens ill-advisedly granted the request. What began as a controlled resettlement soon degenerated into an uncontrolled exodus of un-Roman barbarians; and within two years these same Goths began running violently amuck, destroying the only large army that the now unwarlike Romans could muster against them. According to Gibbon, the Battle of Adrianople in 378, in which the Roman army was defeated and pretty much destroyed by the “peaceful” Gothic immigrants, marked the beginning of the actual collapse of Roman civilization.
     I suppose I should state at this point that this essay, or whatever it is, is mainly inspired by a brief YouTube video I saw recently, in which a Danish journalist puts forth intelligent, objective, reasoned, and consequently politically incorrect, blasphemous arguments to the effect that the current transliberal feminist orientation of postmodern Europe is leading Europe into cultural and political suicide. The journalist, a woman named Iben Thranholm, begins with comments on the fact that in response to the mass sexual molestations of German women last New Year’s Eve, men in the Netherlands put on women’s clothing and peacefully demonstrated. In order to understand the situation better, you would do well to click the link (which is here) and see it for yourself.
     Consider, just as a kind of foundational circumstance, the hob feminist ideology has played with male/female relationships in the West. Much of feminist ideology sees white men as the enemy, representatives of the repressive patriarchy, the privileged ones who must be brought down in order for there to be equality and a better world. Consequently there is an open season on white men, with many women seeing “equality” as a matter of gaining as much superiority over them as possible. Men may be punished not only for paying unwanted attention to women, but even for having the temerity to disagree with them in public. Many Western men see Western women as having become such monsters that they simply avoid them as much as possible—leading to what is called, in America at least, MGTOW (men going their own way), also known as the “sexodus.” In the USA and probably in Western Europe also, a lower proportion of men desire marriage nowadays than ever before in history. This, besides women being taught by feminism that raising children and holding a family together instead of pursuing a professional career is demeaning and shameful, leads to reduced populations (which might be a great blessing ecologically if everyone were this way, but is a sociological disaster when nearby countries with a radically different culture continue to multiply prolificly and then overflow their borders). It also results in boys being raised without fathers, and being taught to think and act like women, which further results in greater gender confusion, leading to even more disruption of natural heterosexual relations and to the biological sabotage of the race. It also helps, of course, in producing a generation of soft, weak, effeminate men. But that is just for starters.
     The reduced populations of European countries were seen as one obvious justification for welcoming literally millions of immigrants from predominantly Islamic cultures—which, still being male-dominated, traditional societies, still have a centuries-old family ethic and positive population growth.
     These immigrants are predominantly single young men, many of whom are no doubt sexually frustrated in their new environment; and they come from a culture that is lacking in respect for women in general, and especially lacking in respect for women viewed as immoral—which certainly includes most Western European female liberals. Many traditional Muslims view these same women who so enthusiastically welcomed the migrants as shameless wantons worthy of death. Many Muslims also despise Western secular culture in general, and soft, “decadent” men.

Western Europe’s front line against Islamist aggression

     At this point it is expedient to plunge deeper into politically incorrect unthinkable abomination by pointing out some pretty obvious facts about scriptural, traditional Islam. This may be easier on a Buddhist blog, as I suppose I’ve already weeded out many of the secular humanist types who consider all religions to teach pretty much the same stuff. The prophet Muhammad was no doubt an inspired person and cultural progressive in 7th-century Arabia, but fourteen centuries later traditional Islam, as found in the Quran and traditional literature like the Hadith, is anachronistic and barbarous to all in the West but the Muslims themselves—and, ironically, to liberal progressives who consider it to be racist to acknowledge obvious unsavory facts about this particular ideology, not about a race. Muhammad began his spiritual career as a humble man, but ended it as a conquering warlord. Unlike the Buddha or Jesus of Nazareth, he ordered the deaths of hundreds of people, sold women and children into slavery, led armed pirate raids against caravans to supplement the incomes of himself and his followers, and he reportedly had sexual intercourse with a nine-year-old girl. All of this may have been liberal, relatively enlightened behavior for 7th-century Arabia—yet he is still considered to be the ideal role model for 21st-century Muslims. The Quran itself repeatedly exhorts Muslims to kill nonbelievers and hypocrites. The tradition itself commands the chopping off of a thief’s hand as punishment, as well as the killing of immoral women and homosexual men. To all of this the Muslims admit freely, and honor it as the perfect word of Allah, the benevolent, the merciful. This is not just an extremist fringe movement, but is represented within traditional Islam itself, even though most Muslims are presumably peace-loving people who do not participate actively in such draconian 7th-century morality. 
     I suppose I should clarify and emphasize that Islam is indeed a religion of peace, to the extent that peace and mercy are praised in the scripture and the tradition. It is also, however, a religion of violence, as war and the killing of human beings, for certain reasons, are also endorsed. Most Muslims presumably emphasize the peaceful aspects, which is a very good thing, although the warlike aspects are nevertheless still there; whereas canonical texts like the Buddhist Tipitaka and the Christian New Testament condone peace only, and not war. Thus Islam may be a religion of peace, but violent people may use it as a justification for violence to an extent that other religious systems cannot.
     It is true that the Hebrew Bible is even more violent and blood-soaked than the Quran, also condoning the killing of human beings, but there are some significant differences, one of the greatest of which is that Biblical Judaism continued to evolve, as did the Jews’ conception of God: as they became more “civilized,” for lack of a better word, so did their Deity. The Quran, however, by its very nature as a pure, divine revelation to a single prophet, has not and could not be changed or supplemented as civilization progressed. Also of course the Jews have had little intention of spreading their religion, by force if necessary, to everyone in the world, unless maybe their promised Messiah were to take responsibility for that. Also the Hebrews have had little conception of the glory and heavenly rewards of jihadist martyrdom—an idea that has inspired a great many Islamist suicide bombers of late. So of all the major religions in the world today, there can be little doubt that Islam is the one which most condones violence, the killing of human beings, and also the forceful subjugation of women. It is built right into the traditional Islamic system, and no amount of Western politically correct hysterical denial will change this. Traditional Islam and its Sharia law simply are not compatible with Western liberal humanist values.
     So ironically, very ironically, feminized liberals who traditional Islam views as abomination have welcomed with open arms traditional Muslims, most of whom are admittedly peaceful people, and many of whom are willing to conform to European culture, but some of whom are aggressive Islamists who don’t give the slightest damn about Western values, including the rights of women. Even the relatively peaceful Muslims who nevertheless believe that archaic Sharia law should be mandatory constitute if not a majority, a very numerous minority.
     Thus hundreds of thousands of aggressive young men from a traditional Islamic male-dominant culture come to Europe, are sexually frustrated, and gradually become generally frustrated and angry at the non-Islamic “defilement” prevailing all around them. It is no wonder that sexual molestation has become endemic in countries with many new Muslim immigrants; it is no wonder that terrorist attacks are more common; and it will be no wonder at all if the situation becomes much worse before it gets any better. The most aggressive of the migrants do not want cultural diversity; they want mandatory Islam.
     And what do the Europeans do about this? Well, for starters the men put on women’s clothing and peacefully wave signs. Is that going to solve the problem? Of course not. If anything it will make it worse, as such weak responses demonstrate to angry young Muslim men that Europeans are weak and decadent, and manifestly worthy of contemptuous hostility. For that matter, conformist ultraliberals refuse even to see the problem out of fear of looking like politically incorrect racists and Islamophobes and thereby being persecuted by their peers. When several hundred German women were molested in one night by gangs of Islamic immigrants, the feminized governments of Europe, including that of Germany, first tried to cover it all up, but there was such an indignant outcry over social media that they realized they would have to admit to the event…yet still they tried to conceal, or at least downplay, the fact that these attacks, and many others like them, were perpetrated by the same Muslim migrants they welcomed so enthusiastically. In short, the feminized system of Europe can do nothing to stop these events from happening, and for the most part are too hysterical in their denial even to deal with the causes of the predicament. Instead, efforts are being made to censor social media to prevent criticism of the crisis. 
     If you watch the video with Iben Thranholm you may notice that the primary argument of her interviewer, obviously a liberal feminist, is along the lines of, “But the sexual molestations shouldn’t happen!” Regardless of its truth, it is irrelevant. It would be just as ridiculous to say of an earthquake, “But earthquakes shouldn’t happen!” It happened anyway, didn’t it, and earthquakes will continue to happen, regardless of how we feel about that. And the soft, weak, feminized Europeans, including the men, and especially the liberal feminists more or less in charge, lack the backbone or the cojones to stop it.
     It may be that, as Thranholm says, Western Europe’s only hope for survival is a “men’s revolution,” which unfortunately may be perpetrated by pissed off, outraged men, the few remaining who still own a spine, in a reactionary, radical swing to the political right. Thus either way, whether Europe becomes Islamic or not, Western European women will probably lose the insane dysfunctional dystopia they are currently in the process of creating—with the best of intentions of course. The women of Europe may eventually have the choice of either fascism or Islamism! And especially in the latter case retreating into lesbianism won’t be much of an option, as Islamic law has ways of dealing with such women.
     And it may be that America’s greatest hope, aside from reliance on its geographical isolation, is for Western Europe really to be overthrown and supplanted by an Islamist emirate, with homosexuals and “immodest” women summarily put to death (and possibly millions of Jews also—which may sound familiar), to demonstrate the consequences of the insane fucked-uppedness of the policies of the regressive left. As it is, even now, disgust, indignation, and even horror at the endemic insanity of the new left, with its PC culture, victim culture, thought control, feelings police, demonization of white men, etc., is driving Americans by the tens of millions into the arms of Donald Trump.
     Joseph Stalin is said to have said, presumably before the end of World War II, “We don’t have to worry about the Germans, because they will arm themselves out of existence. And we don’t have to worry about the British, because they will expand themselves out of existence. And we don’t have to worry about the Americans, because they will spend themselves out of existence.” Despite being a genocidal sociopath, Stalin seems to have had some political acumen, if not prophetic talent. Anyway, now it appears that Western Europeans in general, and possibly the Americans and Canadians also, are feminizing themselves out of existence.
     If a nice, gentle, cooing little dove meets with a hawk, what do you think is gong to happen? What should happen is irrelevant. If a soft, fleecy lamb as it frisks along meets with a hungry wolf, what can you realistically expect? Wolves gotta eat too you know. Now I may as well toss in the Dharma stinger I promised, so here it is: From a purely Dharmic perspective, violence is ethically unskillful; it is better to die than to kill. So if we in the West all adopt such a view, with nobody willing to sacrifice his own karma, by fighting back, for the sake of society, then the best we can do when violent people want to destroy us and our society and we no longer have anywhere to hide, is to die with equanimity, and to forgive our destroyers. Ultimately, if karma is all that Buddhist philosophy says it is, then we are really destroying ourselves anyway, and getting exactly what we deserve.
     In conclusion I wish to remind you, dear reader, if you managed to get this far, that I am not against the equality of women. (Neither am I an Islamophobe in the literal sense, as “-phobe” means “afraid.” I would advise caution rather than fear. Hell, I don’t hate Islam, as it really can be and is a source of good and of wisdom, not just of violent fanaticism. Sufism is profound. I could become a Muslim much more easily than I could become a Christian, because of all that stuff about the Trinity and Jesus dying for my sins. And I must admit that from the perspective of social Darwinism, survival of the fittest civilizations, traditional Islam may turn out to be a much more viable system than what has come to prevail in the West nowadays.) But although I do endorse equal rights and female equality, I very much do not believe that men and women should be the same. Equal, but different. A civilization that socially castrates men and requires them to behave like women or eunuchs is a feeble, defenseless, doomed civilization, totally regardless of what should be the case.   

oh for the good old days when men fought lions with their bare hands what we've got is this

          Let your wife make your decisions;
          Drink your beer, watch television;
     But your children who are sleeping in their beds
          Will be softer yet than you are,
          And that's taking things too far:
     Oh, you've really put a curse upon their heads!

     Does your daughter, when she trembles in her sleep,
          Hear rockets roar, and hear the marching feet
     Of men who know a craving and a thirst
          For loot of war—and know they'll take her first?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

With All Due Respect

     Last year when I was in Bali I was asked to give a talk about Respect. I started the talk by pointing out that an American teaching Asians about respect is like a turtle teaching birds about flying. But, we do the best we can, which is really all we can do.
     Then not so long ago, shortly before my return to the USA, a friend of mine whom I've never met advised me that, when I return to the West again, I shouldn't expect the same kind of respect that monks receive in the East, and I certainly shouldn't insist upon it. After a few years of attempting to find a place in America and interacting with Western Buddhists, this advice was so plainly obvious as to go without saying. Even to expect even one fifth of the respect that monks receive in a Buddhist culture like Burma would be laughably unrealistic.
     This is a matter of American culture, and of Western culture in general—so it would be foolish to blame Westerners for being Westerners. This is just the way it is. In a humanistic, egalitarian society like America, where everyone is supposed, theoretically at least, to be equal, and thereby just as worthy as anyone else, then it follows that deep reverence pretty much flies out the window. I recently had a strange disagreement with an American person about respect which is a case in point. We had both attended a brief talk given by an American Dharma teacher in which he referred to a Buddha image, which he was officially installing under a Bodhi tree, as "this little sucker," twice, in possibly the most devoutly Buddhist country in the world, with Burmese people in the audience, and I pointed out the ironic strangeness of that, the strange contrast of the two approaches to Buddhism. She stated that in her opinion Americans have plenty of respect…and then went so far as to cast an aspersion or two on the validity of the Burmese version. Now, I have been totally overwhelmed by Burmese respect, sometimes even embarrassed and shamed by a relentless respect onslaught, and have gone hungry in America due to the indifference (or worse) of an American Buddhist community; and so this riled me a bit, and I didn't let it slide. So, I pointed out how, in my opinion, American respect and Burmese respect are like night and day, with the American version corresponding to night...and one statement led to another, resulting in her becoming so annoyed, or something, that she informed me she didn't want someone like me in her house or around her kids...which was the most extreme disrespect I had ever experienced coming from her direction. I admit, though, that from an American point of view she may have been perfectly justified. That whole interaction still strikes me as ironic, and very strange. 
     I am sure there are many genuinely respectful people in America. Not just polite or friendly, but deeply respectful. I have no doubt of it. Yet some folks in the West may consider themselves to be respectful; they may feel some respect sometimes and thereby have sufficient evidence that they are indeed properly respectful; and so if they are told that they aren't respectful they may become annoyed, even a little abusive. Yet, from what I have seen in rural Burma over the past twenty years, the average Burmese villager probably has at least ten times the amount of respectful feeling as the average American, at least with regard to religion and to other people. Maybe even fifty times as much. In this respect (no pun intended) the Burmese are so completely off the Western scale as to be incomprehensible. I've mentioned in a previous post the young village women who knelt along Taungpulu Sayadaw's path, bowed down, and spread their long hair over the path for him to walk on it. Even the old Indian tradition of showing reverence by touching an elder's bare feet is beyond the scale of most Americans. It's degrading. It's demeaning to one's own dignity and equality. It's obsequious bootlicking. It's even unsanitary. In America respect is shown by treating others as one's equals; and since most Americans, apparently, do not believe in themselves all that much, they don't believe in others all that much either. Or, in other words, most of us lay unnecessary, negative limitations on ourselves, and so in order for everyone to be equal we lay unnecessary, negative limitations on everyone else also.
      Even though monks must not expect much respect in the West, and certainly not insist upon it, still there is a minimum amount, a minimum daily allowance, below which the whole situation becomes, according to the Pali texts, inappropriate and unacceptable. In other words, a monk is pretty much obligated to clear out of such a situation, in the Buddhist equivalent of shaking the dust from his sandals. Even if people do not have respect for a monk personally, still there is the matter of respect for what he represents, what he has done with his life and why, and what he is able to share, in order for it to be appropriate for him to share it. Even if people dislike some monk in particular, still there is call for respect for the ideals of Dharma and Sangha, and maybe Buddha also. But this kind of respect is clearly not an established part of Western society, and it does not come naturally. Once I noticed on a Buddhist forum that one Asian person had mentioned that I had lived in a Burmese forest for years (often not even in a building), and another (Western) person's response was along the lines of, "So what. Forest rangers live in forests too." Living the so-called Holy Life appears not to be valued much in the West. A few people actually seem to resent its very existence. And this is setting aside the more practical rock-bottom issue of lack of respect for renunciants resulting in lack of support with regard to the requisites of life, such as food.
     To some degree the issue may be seen as a matter of Buddhist etiquette. For example, sitting on a chair or high seat when a monk (especially a senior one) is sitting on the floor or on a low seat has been considered crass bad manners in Buddhist culture for 2500 years. To Westerners it is nothing. It is no big deal at all to sit in a chair with a senior monk sitting at one's feet. I remember once when I was a very junior monk in California an older American woman came to visit me, and while I was sitting on the floor she sat in the only chair in the room—one reserved for the senior monks, so that even I was not supposed to sit in it. Burmese monks would look in and see something moderately outrageous (one could see it in their eyes), while the American woman probably thought absolutely nothing of it. There is actually a rule of monastic discipline forbidding a monk from teaching Dhamma to someone so disrespectful that he or she would sit on a higher seat than the teacher. This has nothing to do with American culture, however, and most people don't see it as a matter of respect at all; it's simply a desire to be comfortable, a matter of common sense. So, many monks in the West, including me when I'm there, let the rule slide and teach Dhamma sitting on a mat on the floor to people sitting on chairs.
     Of course one could say that Westerners simply are not familiar with Eastern etiquette, including traditional Buddhist etiquette. But even if they do become familiar with it, they may still have aversion for behaving in accordance with it. "Why should I have to sit on the floor? It's hard. I'd probably get sore, or at least uncomfortable. Besides, a monk is just a human being like anyone else." A more obvious example is bowing. Most American Buddhists don't bow to monks, at least as far as I have seen. I'm an American too, of course, so I can speak from my own experience on this: For the first twenty times or so that I bowed to a Buddhist monk, I felt very awkward and self-conscious, somewhat like the way I used to feel when I would dance without being drunk yet. But in my case it was't much of an option, since I was intending to become a monk at this monastery, and I wan't about to start acting uppity. Besides, I really did respect some of them—all of them, at first. And I had great respect for what they represented. 
     Still, though, if people do not have respect for Dhamma, if they attend a Dhamma talk as though it were a college seminar or public library lecture, employing cool, critical reasoning, or following a desire for entertainment, without regard for Spirit, then they probably aren't going to get much out of it. If you go to the ocean with only a cup, you get only a cupful. 
     Recently in Rangoon/Yangon a fellow from New Zealand was sentenced to two years in prison for publishing an advertisement for his pub showing a Buddha image wearing stereo headphones. Two years in prison for that. I assume that he vehemently assured the judge, more than once, that he meant no disrespect at all toward the Buddha, or toward Burmese religion; yet passive, unintentional disrespect is still disrespect. The guy may have been a clueless blunderer, and I suspect the Burmese government deliberately made a harsh example of him to show the Westerners flooding into the country that Western irreverence toward religion and Dhamma was not going to be ignored; yet even Western Buddhist teachers can behave in similar ways. Recall the "little sucker" incident. We Westerners just don't know any better. We may not mean to be disrespectful, we just naturally are. Or unnaturally are. Anyhow, that's the way we are conditioned. And again, since we've been conditioned that way since infancy, there's no point in blaming anyone. 
     But here's the thing: With respect, if someone tells us a truth that we very much don't want to hear, out of respect for who said it we may actually hear it, and maybe even act upon the advice in a beneficial way. Without respect, we simply won't hear it, and may spend the rest of our lives beating our head against the wall that we refuse to see. We Westerners acknowledge that a surgeon knows more about surgery than we do, and an auto mechanic knows more about fixing cars, but many of us assume that we know more about what is good for our spirit than anyone else, including extremely wise saints.
     Here's another thing: When a pickpocket meets a saint, all he notices are his pockets. And America, my friends, is a nation of pickpockets, so to speak.  
     We each create our own version of reality; and most of us in the West are creating a "reality" without sacredness, without anyone or anything being deeply respectable. The situation reminds me of René Guénon's observations about modern humanism and rationalism—humanism teaches us that anything higher than us is unimportant, if not totally nonexistent, and rationalism teaches us that nothing is higher than the reach of the human intellect. That is, that critical thought can understand anything, even the mind of God, if such a being actually were to exist. Thus everything in the whole Universe is brought down to the human or intellectual level, and rendered thoroughly mundane. We have an artificially created ceiling over us, limiting our world to what we can criticize. Wide-eyed wonder is for children. As for respect, maybe that's not even for children anymore, since children in Western culture are more and more viewed as the equals of their parents and teachers, and tend more and more to see themselves that way.
     In a sense, of course, we are all equal. Actually in more than one sense. Yet modern ideas of equality seem not very conducive to respect, let alone full-blown reverence. If we do not revere someone as being better than us or wiser than us or closer to Enlightenment than us, then it would seem that another valid sort of mutual respect could be found in the sentiment of the Indian word "namaste," which means, or so I've been told, "I honor the Divine within you." It is a word that is extremely egalitarian, since it acknowledges that we are all equally a manifestation of the Ultimate. But the Ultimate is beyond humanism, rationalism, and mainstream Western culture, and so we have not been taught to have much appreciation for it, if any. But because we are alive we cannot help but have a deep, subliminal consciousness that it is there.
     Getting back to the Burmese and their much more traditional culture, it's not just to monks and nuns, statues and pagodas, that they show respect that is off the scale by American standards. They respect their worldly teachers, and loyally support them and bow to them for many years after they stop being their students. For example, if a man learns how to fix cars from another man, he may stick up for him, his teacher, for the rest of his life, even though the guy might be a drunken troublemaker. They respect their doctors, too—once a monastic friend and I were visiting a Burmese surgeon (who ran a clinic in his house and performed throat operations in a room next to his sitting room), and two of his clients came in and bowed to him before they bowed to us monks. They really got down on their knees for it, too. In the villages near my cave monastery in upper Burma there are festivals held in honor of everyone in the village at least seventy years of age; they offer them a feast and gifts, and then they sincerely bow to them and ask for their blessings. Even the standard respect of one person for another, at least in village culture, is remarkable. It helps to explain why the Burmese don't care all that much about their appearance (unless maybe they are trying to attract a mate); people accept them even if they have a pot belly, one milky white eye, and missing or black teeth. And even the village idiot or crazy person is treated with a certain dignity, even if he gets really difficult sometimes. But in the West, as a general rule, things tend to be different.   
     We are creating an unspiritual modern world for ourselves. The stereotypical Western mind insists upon spiritual destitution, upon a spiritually comatose society that now appears to be in the process of dying. We feel a certain respect for the earth (the likes of which the Burmese do not pretend to understand—that is completely off their scale), yet in general we refuse to stop afflicting this same earth with our energy consumption, waste, and contributions to the birth rate—our convenience is more important than Gaia, or our respect for her/it. We live in a culture in which selfishness and alienation are actually encouraged by the system. We give everyone the same Please, Thank You, I'm Sorry, etc., out of a kind of mechanical, mandatory politeness, yet deep down we really don't trust each other all that much, and try to protect ourselves behind a wall of institutional regulations that don't work, instead of believing in each other, and in the human spirit, the divine spirit honored by the word namaste. But honoring each other, really respecting each other, let alone spiritual teachers, may be our only real chance of survival. The current way doesn't work so well, and is going to stop before much longer, whether we like it or not. Everything is impermanent, and our way of living is becoming impermanenter and impermanenter. 
     So, what do we do? Just saying "Be more respectful" isn't going to work. If you don't have it, you just don't have it, and talking about it is pretty much futile; on the other hand, if you do have it, then talking about it is pretty much still futile, in the sense of unnecessary. I really don't know what is going to happen with modern society. I do suspect, though, that a major change is necessary, and that it may be the result of a nationwide or worldwide crisis, something big enough to knock us out of our convenient ruts, and out from behind our convenient walls and barricades. People won't change until they have no choice. Maybe, after that, respect, including respect for teachers, spirituality, and Dhamma, will come into fashion. Once it's in fashion people will really go for it. But until then, I dunno.
     Anyway, be well and happy, and I hope you're not out there giving me the finger for suggesting that you, and we Westerners in general, are disrespectful.
     I conclude this harangue with a quote from Sai Baba which I have quoted before. He made his point in Hindu terminology, with regard to God in the form of Krishna, but it could easily be translated into the language of any spiritual tradition.
If you take Krishna to be a mere cowherd, a man of the world like others, then for you he will be just a cowherd! You too climb only up to that stage….You will have noticed that Uddhava who looked upon Krishna as his Guru benefitted more than Arjuna who looked upon him as a Sakha, a friend. If you have faith that he is God, He will be God to you; if you dismiss Him as a mere man, He takes on that role and becomes useless for you. Search for Him with the heart, not with the eye for externals. The superpower has to be sought in the super-state itself, not in the lower states. Then, if you have the eyes that are fit to see and the wisdom to understand, you will find Him. 

I'm pretty sure this isn't the picture
that got the New Zealand guy thrown into prison, 
but the one I think is the right one is so ugly
(lurid pink, with thick, ugly features)
that I don't want to publish it on this blog

Appendix: A Few Pointers on Buddhist Etiquette

     Even if we Westerners are "respect retards," at least we can learn some simple good manners from a traditional Buddhist point of view. Remember that, even though they are not Western manners, still one will appear like a rude and/or ignorant barbarian to those with a more traditional attitude if one ignores them. One may even unnecessarily offend people, or undermine one's own credibility as a Buddhist.

~Don't offer to shake hands with a monk or nun. It's better just to put your palms together in front of you and smile (especially if you don't feel like bowing).

~Don't point your feet at anyone, especially at a monk, nun, teacher, or elderly person, or at a Buddha image, Buddhist text, or anything else which could be considered sacred.

~Don't sit on a seat higher than a monk, nun, teacher, or elderly person; and if you yourself are elderly or injured and just can't sit on the floor, at least explain the situation and ask permission first.

~Don't sit listening to a Dhamma talk with your knees up, hugging them. (It shows one's butt to the teacher, and there's actually a rule against teaching someone who is sitting that way.)

~Don't even touch a monastic of the opposite gender—especially if you don't know their attitude on such matters.

~Don't approach a monk, nun, or teacher with your shoes on if that person is barefoot, especially indoors.

~Don't place Buddha images or scriptures on low or dirty places (like on top of the toilet tank), unless maybe a Buddha image is too huge to place on a shelf.

~Don't help yourself to food that has been offered to a monk or nun (this may seem obvious, but a few people have actually done this with me, even while I was eating it). Ask first, and then offer the food again, since your taking some of it may technically have broken the original offering.

~If you are walking with a monk or nun, don't discuss Dhamma with them if you are walking in front, or if you are walking on the path and the monastic is walking beside it.

~Try to remember that some monastics are relatively very innocent, and many of the remainder are attempting to regain their innocence; so exercise some restraint about what you choose to talk about. Casual conversation between laypeople is often much too irreverent and spicy to be appropriate, especially for Asian monastics that have been ordained since they were children.

~And remember that many monks (probably at least half of the Western ones) don't handle money, and they're simply not going to survive without the generosity of others. To offer food to a monastic is really not all that difficult or expensive, and you gather up treasure in heaven.

I'm sure I've forgotten plenty of important ones, but this is a fair sample. If you know of some crucial ones I've forgotten, feel free to let me know.

(written one year ago, in Yangon