Sunday, September 12, 2010
The Monk, the Philosopher, and the Tea Party
My daughters love going to the dump, or the "transfer station" as we call it. Ever since the town put up a swap shop where people bring goods they no longer use for others who might find a use for them, it's become an adventure for them. They never come away empty handed, and their bedroom is brimming with stuffed animals that have taken on a communal life, a virtual world, that is sometimes more compelling for them, it seems, than the ordinary and humdrum goings on in the house. I picked up a book there, The Monk and the Philosopher, that I started reading. It's a conversation between a renowned French scientist, Jean-Francois Revel, and his Buddhist monk son, Mathieu Ricard, a stream of consciousness ramble through the foundations of Western philosophy and Eastern mysticism and the roots of human consciousness from diverging points of view. Although I only started it, it got me thinking about the popularity of Buddhism, especially for young progressive folks like myself disenchanted with traditional values and lifestyles and the mess we're in as a society. The problem I see with it is that as a religion it espouses a liberation from the material world that can seem selfish and uncaring, an escape into a personal space of enlightened peace, no doubt, but sterile. This generational yearning for escape from the madness of modernity might also help with a problem that's been bugging me for many years: how to explain the dominance of right wing bigots and ignoramuses in our national politics, as evidenced nowadays by the coming Tea Party tsunami that the press has done its best to fabricate and help along. It doesn't surprise me that people in backwards nations of the world can be manipulated into supporting their would be oppressors under the guise of national pride or ethnic superiority or whatever, but that here in the United States we are going to place back in the position of power the party which just oversaw an era of unprecedented corruption and erosion of our economic, social and moral fabric, resulting in an economic crash it will take maybe a generation to dig out of, because they stand up for the ideology of Ayn Rand? What kind of world is this? I can understand the frustration with business as usual in Washington. And I even like some of the Tea Party ideas. A sales tax to replace income tax? Why not? But so many of them are just the type of scary followers, believing in any lie that supports their bigoted, angry world view, that put the Nazis in the driver's seat in Germany. I'm not equating the Tea Party with the Nazis, I'm just saying many of their supporters aren't too discerning. What's this have to do with Buddhism? Well, it's the absence of any countervailing progressive populist movement. I think too many of us are walking away from the fight just when it's heating up with the attitude of what's the worst that can happen, we get gridlock for another six years and the Republicans set up committees to investigate Obama's ties to Islam and Michelle's trips to Spain. Ho hum. Maybe I'll light a candle and meditate and it will all go away.