Not much to say about this one. Helps me to take the edge off stressful times.
- Buddhist terrorists and the Zen way of war Brian Victoria, Aeon
- Faith and empire: a realistic view of Tibetan Buddhism Ian Johnson, New York Review of Books
- A history of Soviet Atheism Elena Leontjeva, Law & Liberty
- “It’s now Raimondo’s world, and he’s not living in it” Curt Mills, Spectator USA
- “Buddhists have entered the era of militant tribalism” Hannah Beech, New York Times
- The German problem Samuel Goldman, Modern Age
- The Soviet century Aaron Smith, Harper’s
- Fully automated luxury communism Kristian Niemietz, Quillette
That’s the topic of my weekend column at RealClearHistory. An excerpt:
4. Buddhism was also outlawed and persecuted to the fullest extent of the Soviet law. Buddhism was practiced by a few different non-Russian ethnic groups in central Asia, and these small ethnic groups were given more leniency than most, but Buddhism came to be viewed by the Soviet intelligentsia as extremely dangerous, due to the fact that many left-leaning scholars abandoned socialism for Buddhist principles. The work of Andrei Znamenski, a historian of religion and ideology at the University of Memphis, is particularly useful for finding out why this happened.
- How Buddha became a popular Christian saint Blake Smith, America
- Russia, Germany at loggerheads over Idlib Yekaterina Chulkovskaya, Al-Monitor
- Arab melancholia Thomas Patier, Los Angeles Review of Books
- Does Locke’s entanglement with slavery undermine his philosophy? Holly Brewer, Aeon
- Examining the state of German identity Sebastian Hammelehle, Der Spiegel
- Tadao’s war memory manga Ryan Holmberg, NY Review of Books
- The Buddhist monk who became an apostle for sexual freedom Donald Lopez, Aeon
- Denmark’s most innovative city Simon Willis, 1843
- Abu Raihan al-Biruni, an Islamic scholar from Central Asia, may have discovered the New World centuries before Columbus S. Frederick Starr, History Today
- Gendun Chopel: Tibet’s Modern Buddhist Visionary John Butler, Asian Review of Books
- Toru Dutt’s strangeness from India and the French Revolution Blake Smith, Coldnoon
- Singapore in translation Theophilus Kwek, Times Literary Supplement
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during his 6 day visit to India (January 14-19, 2018), made some interesting points. While arguing in favor of the advantages of hard power over soft power, Netanyahu stated:
I like soft power, but hard power is usually better. You need F-35s (fighter jets), cyber, a lot of intelligence… Where does the power for hard power come from? It comes from economic power.
Interestingly, India in recent years, under current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been focusing on promoting its Soft Power through a number of ways such as popularizing Yoga (The United Nations declared June 21st as International Yoga Day), Ayurveda, reaching out to its Diaspora, and rekindling Buddhist linkages with neighbours in South Asia as well as South East Asian and East Asian countries including China.
Modi has reiterated the relevance of “soft power” on more than one occasion. Even in the context of India-Israel relations, soft power has played a key role. There have been efforts toward renovating historical sites of Jews in India, and there has been an outreach towards Jews of Indian origin now settled in Israel. There have been efforts to strengthen educational linkages between both countries. During the visit of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in November 2016, MOU’s were signed between the Hafia University of Israel and the Welingkar Institute of Management (WeSchool), and IDC Herzliya, Israel with the SP Jain School of High Technology. The joint statement issued during Netanyahu’s visit to India also made references to the importance of people-to-people linkages, the opening of an Indian cultural centre in Israel in 2018, and an MOU in film co-production.
The point made by Netanyahu has been made by a number of realists. Joseph Nye, who first put forward the concept of “soft power” as being the ability to influence outcomes without the use of force, later on argued in favour of the right blend of “hard power” and “soft power,” dubbing it as “smart power”. Along with Richard Armitage, Nye even set up a Commission on Smart Power. The concept was of course popularized by Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who at the confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2009, stated:
We must use what has been called smart power, the full range of tools at our disposal—diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural—picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation. With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of our foreign policy.
While there is absolutely no doubt that economic and hard power does give an impetus to soft power, it is also a bit of a stretch to totally dismiss “soft power.” Many would argue for instance that apart from geopolitical factors, soft power did give an edge to the US over the USSR, and later on over China, for a very long time. In recent years, China has been trying to focus on “soft power,” so much so that in the past decade, a large number of Confucius Institutes have come up in different parts of the world (over 500 in around 140 countries) including roughly 100 in the US. Apart from this, China has been trying to attract foreign students, and also tourists from across the world. Even its ambitious connectivity project, One Belt One Road, which has clear economic motives, is being packaged as part of its “soft power.”
In conclusion, “soft power” cannot be a determining factor, but it does play a significant role in strengthening bilateral relations, as well as building a positive image for countries. While we live in an age where being transactional is confused with being a pragmatist/realist. US President Trump too has been dismissive of “soft power,” and by his insular approach towards immigration, and indifference towards democratic values he has given up on two of the essential components of American Soft Power. Dismissing “soft power” because it does not help in achieving any tangible outcomes is one of the shortcomings of such transactionalism, and is an excessively simplistic view of a very complex debate.
Although I do not consider myself a Buddhist, I have always had much respect for Gautama Buddha and I have always regarded him as an exemplary person.
What I find most sympathetic about Buddha are his humanness, his epistemological modesty, and his insistence to use reason and scientific inquiry to understand the world and to free oneself from social dogmas and religious oppression. It is for these reasons that Gautama Buddha could be considered contumacious or rebellious; he argued tenaciously against the superstitious practices and beliefs of Hinduism. He encouraged his followers to cultivate the mind and develop reason, because he considered it to be an essential element of ‘magga’ or the eightfold path to enlightenment (right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration).
Smith & Novak write in Buddhism (2003) that there are six aspects of religion that “surface so regularly as to suggest that their seeds are in the human makeup” (Smith & Novak, 2003, p. 22), and that Gautama Buddha rebelled against all these aspects. The six aspects are:
- Authority – which was hereditary and exploitative as brahmins were charging exorbitantly for their services;
- Rituals – which became the people’s mechanical means to achieve quick miraculous results in life;
- Speculation – which entirely lost its experiential base;
- Tradition – which inhibited people from progress. One example is the tradition to instruct religious discourse in Sanskrit, making the brahmins’ knowledge effectively unavailable for the common people;
- Divine grace – which became confused with fatalism as to undercut human responsibility. Think for instance about the misinterpretation of ‘karma’ that was abused in order to maintain and rationalize the caste system;
- Mystery – which became confused with mystification and led to a perverse obsession with miracles and the occult. (Smith & Novak, 2003, p. 23)
According to Gautama Buddha, they were all too prevalent in the Hinduism of his days and he regarded them to be oppressive of human flourishing. As a revolt against the superstitious Hindu culture, Gautama Buddha preached a philosophy that is:
A. Devoid of authority – he tried to break the brahmins’ monopoly on religious teachings. In addition, he challenged everyone to utilize their own rationality and stop passively relying on the brahmins to tell them what to do.
B. Devoid of rituals – he believed that rites and ceremonies bind the human spirit.
C. Devoid of speculation – the monk Malunkyaputta, troubled by Gautama Buddha’s silence on metaphysical speculations, said:
whether the world is eternal or not eternal, whether the world is finite or not, whether the soul is the same as the body, or whether the soul is one thing and the body another, whether a Buddha exists after death or does not exist after death, whether a Buddha both exists and does not exist after death, and whether a Buddha is non-existent and not non-existent after death, these things the Lord does not explain to me, and that he does not explain them to me does not please me, it does not suit me (Kyimo, 2007, p. 206).
D. Devoid of tradition – he wanted a break from the archaic and he wanted to teach the peoples in their vernacular. On the question why his teachings should be followed, Gautama Buddha answers:
Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias toward a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them.
What Gautama Buddha is effectively saying here is that everything should be questioned; every tradition, every holy book, and even teachers including himself. He taught everyone to use reason and the scientific methodology of inquiry, and he emphasized on doing good and abandoning evil.
E. Emphasizes intense self-effort and opposes fatalism – everyone can become enlightened. He taught everyone that actions are meaningful and that everyone contains the power to change their lives immediately for the better. Everyone was considered responsible for their own actions and happiness. This puts heavy responsibilities on all individuals to make the best of their lives.
F. Devoid of the supernatural – he condemned divination and reliance on Brahma (God). (Smith & Novak, 2003, pp. 24-28) He could not conceive of Brahma who considered himself “the Supreme one, the Mighty, the All-seeing, the Ruler, the Lord of all, the Maker, the Creator, the Chief of all appointing to each his place, the Ancient of days, the Father of all that is and will be” to inflict so much suffering on the peoples:
If the creator of the world entire
They call God, of every being be the Lord
Why does he order such misfortune
And not create concord?
If the creator of the world entire
They call God, of every being be the Lord
Why prevail deceit, lies and ignorance
And he such inequity and injustice create?
If the creator of the world entire
They call God, of every being be the Lord
Then an evil master is he, (O Aritta)
Knowing what’s right did let wrong prevail!
At the same time, Gautama Buddha appeared to be one of us: fallible, sensitive, and insecure about life. Despite his immense influence, he remained humble enough as to never claim to be a son or a prophet of God – nor did he ever claim to understand the beginnings of the universe. His teachings were entirely devoted to alleviate man from his misery.
Talking about the Three Greatest Men In History (1935), H.G. Wells said of Gautama Buddha that:
[Y]ou see clearly a man, simple, devout, lonely, battling for light – a vivid human personality, not a myth. Beneath a mass of miraculous fable I feel that there also was a man. He, too, gave a message to mankind universal in its character. Many of our best modern ideas are in closest harmony with it. All the miseries and discontents of life are due, he taught, to selfishness… Before a man can become serene he must cease to live for his senses or himself. Then he merges into a greater being. Buddha in different language called men to self-forgetfulness 500 years before Christ. In some ways he was nearer to us and our needs. He was more lucid upon our individual importance in service than Christ and less ambiguous upon the question of personal immortality. (Wells, 1935, July 13)
 From Kalama Sutta: The Instruction to the Kalamas.
 From Digha Nikaya 1: Brahmajala Sutta.
 From Bhuridatta Jakata.
Examiner. (1935, July 13). Greatest In History. Retrieved from www.trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/51945346?searchTerm=GLOBE%20READER%20DIGEST%20&searchLimits=
Gunasekara, V.A. (1997). The Buddhist Attitude To God. Retrieved from http://www.budsas.org/ebud/ebdha068.htm
Kalama Sutta: The Instruction to the Kalamas. (1994), Transl. Soma Thera. Retrieved from www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.065.soma.html
Kyimo. (2007). The Easy Buddha. London: Prospect House Publishing.
Smith, H., & Novak, P. (2003). Buddhism: A Concise Introduction. New York: HarperOne.
There are many people who blame “capitalism” for the world’s economic problems, such as poverty, unemployment, inequality, and environmental destruction. This common belief is based on a confusion of meaning, and a lack of analysis. It is neither surprising nor noteworthy that many people fail to apply consecutive thought to economic issues, but it is sad that the Dalai Lama, as an influential religious leader, has not fully applied his compassionate thought to examine the causes and effective remedies of social problems.
The Dalai Lama, leader of Tibetan Buddhists, has identified himself as a Marxist socialist. He blames “capitalism” for economic inequality, and sees the Marxist alternative as the alternative that would increase equality. He advocates a more “human approach,” which implies less “capitalism” and more socialism. The Dalai Lama adds that he is not a Leninist, meaning that his Marxist views do not imply a desire for a totalitarian state.
The Dalai Lama believes that Marxism is founded on moral principles, such as economic equality, while “capitalism” is founded only on the pursuit of profit. His social and economic views were published in the 1996 book Beyond Dogma: Dialogues and Discourses. He said there that Marxism is concerned with the poor and with exploited minorities. Therefore, he said, “I think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist.” The Dalai Lama had studied Marxist ideology in China during the 1950s, and became attracted to it.
The essential problem with the word “capitalism” is that it is used both as a label for current economies, which are a mixture of markets and governmental interventions, and for the concept of private enterprise and free markets. Its use as a label for mixed economies makes it meaningless to blame “capitalism” for economic problems.
This confusion is similar to blaming diets for ill health. The diet of most people is a mixture of healthy foods such as vegetables and unhealthy stuff such as excessive sugar. The proposition that “diets” cause illness may be true, but it tells us nothing about which elements of our diets are causing the problem.
Likewise, to blame “capitalism,” meaning the mixed economy, for economic inequality, is meaningless, as this does not tell us which elements of the economy are causing the problem, whether it is markets or interventions. Blaming “capitalism” is worse than useless; it fogs the mind, because the label for mixed economies gets confused with the other meaning, private enterprise, so that, in a sly tacit shift of meanings, markets get blamed for economic woes.
It is meaningless to accuse “capitalism,” as a label, as only caring about profit and ignoring the poor, because the actual “mixed economy” cannot have any thoughts or feelings. Moreover, the concept of a pure market economy does have an ethical basis. The pure market is an economy in which all activity is voluntary. The concept of voluntary human action implies the existence of a universal ethic, or natural moral law, that designates acts as good, evil, or neutral, with voluntary action being good or neutral, and involuntary action consisting in coercive harm, which is evil.
One of the premises from which natural moral law is derived is the concept of human equality, that human beings have an equal moral worth, and should therefore be equal in the application of law. Human equality does not imply that all persons should have an equal income or wealth, because moral equality implies an equal self-ownership (or ownership of one’s body) of all persons. Therefore, each person properly owns his wage and the goods and investments bought from his wage. Income, however unequal, that comes from labor, including entrepreneurship, is not an evil outcome.
The mixed economy does create poverty, but not from private entrepreneurship. The poverty comes from government’s taxing the poor and subsidizing the rich. A study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy and the Pew Research Center recently concluded that the poorest fifth of households pay more than twice the state and local tax rate (11 percent) as the richest one percent. Also, although the rich pay a much higher tax rate on their income, many of the rich get their money back implicitly in the form of the higher rent and land value generated by government spending, paid for by taxes on wages, goods, and enterprise profits. The taxes on the poor are even higher than that found in the study, as there are federal excise taxes included in goods, and also, federal taxes and restrictions on labor and self-employment add to the interventionist burden of the poor.
The economist Henry George wrote that “There is in nature no reason for poverty.” Poverty and excessive inequality are caused by human institutions. If Marxism implies income redistribution or government ownership of industry, this treats, and mistreats, the symptoms, not the causes. The main causes are the stifling of labor and enterprise from taxation and imposed barriers. The ultimate remedy is a completely free market, with voluntary, contractual, decentralized governance. Given today’s states and taxes, government interventions can be minimized with a constitutional prohibition of restrictions and imposed costs on peaceful and honest enterprise, thus with taxes only on bad effects – pollution – and on the ground rent generated by government’s public goods.
If he understood the ethics and economics of liberty, then the Dalai Lama would become a much greater global leader in promoting effective reforms that would not only promote liberty but also greater prosperity and social peace.
I’ll be straight with you: I hate arguments that try to pinpoint Islam and Muslims as more prone to violence or bigotry than other faiths. Aside from lacking any evidence whatsoever to support such a claim, they contribute to hostility and bad faith when this conversation – about religion and society – could easily be used to contribute to tolerance and a better understanding of why government sucks.
All religions are exactly the same when it comes down to it.
Politically and organizationally, lobbying efforts on behalf of religions are necessarily going to aim for shoving its particular beliefs down the throats of everybody else. This is why separation of church and state is so important (church and state, not church and society; I could care less how people organize themselves in the non-political arena).
So, for example, the censorship we have here in the United States, on television, is the direct result of Christian groups that were able to successfully lobby the government to stifle free speech (see this excellent essay in the Freeman by BK Marcus on how the television markets are now changing thanks to deregulation). Can’t buy beer in your county on Sunday or after 7:00 pm on weekdays? Thank your local Christian lobby (or, if you’re in parts of India, your local Hindu or Sikh lobby, or…).
The extremity of the lobbying groups depends not on religion per se, but on the institutions that a state has in place. Anybody who argues that the Middle East is a more violent place than sub-Saharan Africa – the other region of the world that largely adopted Leninist socialism after independence – is a charlatan or a fool. It is, unfortunately, not a well-known fact that heavily Muslim, predominately Arab states are anti-capitalist, and staunchly so. This anti-capitalistic mentality has led to poverty, of course, and isolation (“cultural stagnation”), but it has also had an adverse effect on these states’ political institutions. Instead of becoming more open, and more inclusive of various factions (“lobbying groups”), political institutions in the Muslim world have been built around the executive branch – the Strong Man – and as a result the more populist a lobby’s message is, the more it is likely to receive support from the Strong Man (the oil states in the Gulf are considered wealthy, but they are still anti-capitalistic).
In a world that is dominated by a secular hegemon that often supports bad people in the name of savvy geopolitics, the popularity of Muslim populism is not hard to fathom.
Meanwhile, in Myanmar, the Muslims being targeted by legislation are mostly illegal immigrants fleeing Bangladesh. The most prominent lobby pushing for the bill, the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, is headed by a Buddhist monk (of the Theravada sect if I’m not mistaken).
In other news I still come across Americans, my own age, that support the Castro regime in Cuba (“because free health care and equality”). What kind of sick world do we live in?
EDIT: I had to edit this thing for clarity. Jesus donkey smears.
UPDATE (11/2/2014): Wait a second Brandon, did you just write that the Buddhist zealots are lobbying the state of Myanmar for legislation aimed at Muslims? How can this be? Myanmar is a known authoritarian state. Doesn’t the junta do what it wants, when it wants?
The short answer is “No, it can’t.” Authoritarian regimes are constrained by choices and popular opinion as well. One of the main differences between authoritarian and democratic states is the number of factions involved in the lobbying process. In democratic states, any faction can lobby the government for any reason it wishes to. Everybody has equal access (if not equal influence). This equal access (which, again, does not translate to equal influence) is, in part, what classical liberals and libertarians mean by political and legal equality. In authoritarian states the number of lobbying groups tends to be a lot smaller than in democratic states. I’ll let you figure out why this is.
It’s worth noting that calls to limit lobbying efforts by repealing Citizens United is, in its barest form, an authoritarian urge. For what is this repeal movement, if not an attempt to shut some factions up using the power of the state? The excuses always vary (in this case it’s “money”), but the pattern of authoritarianism through limiting choices remains the same.
The difference in understanding of equality between libertarians and conservatives/liberals strikes at the heart of American politics (I can’t speak for other places). Yet it also illustrates why libertarianism’s conception of equality is superior to that of the conservative/liberal. If there is a successful attempt at leveling out influence so that it’s equal in some measure (though conservatives/liberals are ambiguous on what they mean by ‘influence’, not to mention ‘equality’), then equal access has to be denied or else some factions would tip the balance of influence. Attempting to guarantee equality of influence would also lead to cronyism. Instead of lobbying the government for favors, factions would end up lobbying the committee that picks lobbying groups it deems worthy of lobbying for government favors!
On the other hand, if equal access is protected then everybody has a shot and no influence is guaranteed.
UPDATE (11/03/2014): The more I think about it, the more the Muslims-are-more-prone-to-violence canard sounds an awful lot like the Jews-secretly-run-the-world canard. People point to outbreaks of collective or individual violence perpetrated by Muslims or a Muslim and say to themselves “Well, this isn’t surprising, as their 7th century founder was a war chief.”
Disgusting. And, I suppose, Jews really are running the world because Judas stabbed poor ole Jesus in the back for 30 pieces of silver in the first century. The logic is exactly the same.
The Jews-secretly-run-the-world canard hides a nasty prejudice against Jews by creating a half-baked, pseudo-scientific rationale that can be used in public (this canard does not hide such a prejudice very well, at least to others; it may hide well from himself the intolerance and ignorance a person has in the form of rationalizing his prejudice). The Muslims-are-more-prone-to-violence canard is most often used by proponents of overseas military intervention in Muslim regions of the world.* Like the anti-Jewish voices, the anti-Muslim voices are not interested in Truth but in forcing their own deeply hostile beliefs down the throats of others. Hence the libertarian’s task of delicately balancing religious skepticism with the protection of religious believers from vulgar conspiracy theorists.
* There is a small cadre of religious skeptics and secularists who also use the “violence” thesis, though this faction, which includes myself, is more easily swayed by evidence.
From the New York Times:
After a ritual prayer atoning for past sins, Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk with a rock-star following in Myanmar, sat before an overflowing crowd of thousands of devotees and launched into a rant against what he called “the enemy” — the country’s Muslim minority.
“You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog,” Ashin Wirathu said, referring to Muslims.
There is much more in the piece, including this:
[…] images of rampaging Burmese Buddhists carrying swords and the vituperative sermons of monks like Ashin Wirathu have underlined the rise of extreme Buddhism in Myanmar — and revealed a darker side of the country’s greater freedoms after decades of military rule. Buddhist lynch mobs have killed more than 200 Muslims and forced more than 150,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes.
Ashin Wirathu denies any role in the riots. But his critics say that at the very least his anti-Muslim preaching is helping to inspire the violence.
What began last year on the fringes of Burmese society has grown into a nationwide movement whose agenda now includes boycotts of Muslim-made goods. Its message is spreading through regular sermons across the country that draw thousands of people and through widely distributed DVDs of those talks. Buddhist monasteries associated with the movement are also opening community centers and a Sunday school program for 60,000 Buddhist children nationwide.
This bad news is, of course, contradictory to everything Dr Delacroix and other imperialists have written on the subject of religious extremism. Imperialists in this century like to pretend that Islam has suddenly appeared to take the place of communism as the preeminent threat to peace and prosperity in the world. They point to violence, poverty and state-sponsored oppression as examples of Islam’s inherent incompatibility with the liberal world order.
This is all anecdotal evidence. There is nothing inherently violent about Islam. All religions are equally authoritarian at their core.
I pull two things from this piece: 1) it reaffirms my commitment to secular government and 2) it reconfirms my skepticism of democracy. These two things go hand-in-hand, of course.
A government that decides to adhere to one religion is necessarily going to oppress those it does not sponsor. This is easy enough for our Western readers to understand, but it is an argument that does not have nearly enough clout in the non-Western world (you could perhaps exclude China from this list, and India has essentially been Westernized; New Delhi even has its own condescending policy towards its indigenous minorities).
The democratic aspect, too, should be familiar to Western readers. Democracy needs restraints, and lots of them. The reasons for this are practically infinite, but suffice it to say here going to war in the name of democracy is a foolish, morally horrendous thing to do. The fact that imperialists today often shroud their lust for power in terms of democracy speaks volumes about the immoral nature of their worldview. (h/t Eugene Volokh)