Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year and a merry 1/1/11!

Let's do it right this time.

Will

two Winsor McKay cartoons about a path not taken

McKay wanted the US to stay out of the World War. The idea may seem heartless, but without US intervention, the Treaty of Versailles would have been more just and the Nazis would never have risen to power.

He was right about the wastefulness of war:



And he knew that refusing to intervene did not mean refusing to help:



Both images from Golden Age Comic Book Stories.

quote of the day: Doug Lain

"We are looking for our beliefs in all the wrong places. Our beliefs aren’t to be found in our private thoughts, but in our daily practices, and in the habits and rituals that fill our days."

From Ideology in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood « The Writings of Douglas Lain

America in Decline

Why Germans Think We're Insane | World | AlterNet: "Everybody in the European Union has cradle-to-grave access to universal medical and a dental plan by law. The law also requires paid sick leave; paid annual leave; paid maternity leave."

Thursday, December 30, 2010

male feminists of the 1840s: Friederich Engels and Frederick Douglass

When Engels was in his early twenties, he wrote in The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844,
"If the rule of the wife over her husband—a natural consequence of the factory system—is unnatural, then the former rule of the husband over the wife must also have been unnatural."
From Wikipedia's entry on Frederick Douglass:
In 1848, Douglass attended the first women's rights convention, the Seneca Falls Convention, as the only African American.[12] Elizabeth Cady Stanton asked the assembly to pass a resolution asking for women's suffrage.[13] Many of those present opposed the idea, including influential Quakers James and Lucretia Mott.[14] Douglass stood and spoke eloquently in favor; he said that he could not accept the right to vote himself as a black man if woman could not also claim that right. Douglass projected that the world would be a better place if women were involved in the political sphere. "In this denial of the right to participate in government, not merely the degradation of woman and the perpetuation of a great injustice happens, but the maiming and repudiation of one-half of the moral and intellectual power of the government of the world."[14] Douglass's powerful words rang true with enough attendees that the resolution passed.[15]

Martin Luther King quote of the day

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” —Martin Luther King

via Jorge Mariscal: Civil Rights in the Age of Neoliberalism

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Emma Bull: "Madonna of the Midway" live

Lyrics by John M. Ford, tune by Emma. Continuing the GaFilk series. Another song that needs to be worked up for an album after Emma finishes the sequel to Territory.

YouTube - Emma Bull in Concert at GaFilk11 #02

Monday, December 27, 2010

Emma Bull: "Raven in the Storm" live

Cruising the web, I found this. If you haven't heard any of Emma's music, be warned: it's just someone's grab of a convention performance, probably with a phone that does video. (And I thank them for posting it!)

I would love to hear her work this up for an album someday. (Hint, Emma, hint! In your copious spare time....)

YouTube - Emma Bull in Concert at GaFilk11 #05


The song is by John Gorka. He's great.

Time to tweak Marx's class analysis?

I've got a commie pal who says it's wrong to begrudge sports stars their super salaries: they don't control the means of production, so they might as well take what they can from the bosses.

But as the economic income and wealth gap increases, I'm wondering if Marx's three main classes (bourgeoisie, petit bourgeoisie, proletarian) need a fourth: the gros proletariat, the workers with super-salaries.

Hmm.

Nah. Workers with super-salaries buy stocks, land, businesses... The logic of capitalism forces them to become petit-bourgeoisie. That's how the game is played.

So, uh, nevermind. Just thinking on my keyboard.

Here's what provoked it:

Income Inequality and the 'Superstar Effect' - NYTimes.com:
Ultimately, the question is this: How much inequality is necessary? It is true that the nation grew quite fast as inequality soared over the last three decades. Since 1980, the country’s gross domestic product per person has increased about 69 percent, even as the share of income accruing to the richest 1 percent of the population jumped to 36 percent from 22 percent. But the economy grew even faster — 83 percent per capita — from 1951 to 1980, when inequality declined when measured as the share of national income going to the very top of the population.

One study concluded that each percentage-point increase in the share of national income channeled to the top 10 percent of Americans since 1960 led to an increase of 0.12 percentage points in the annual rate of economic growth — hardly an enormous boost. The cost for this tonic seems to be a drastic decline in Americans’ economic mobility. Since 1980, the weekly wage of the average worker on the factory floor has increased little more than 3 percent, after inflation.

Frank Capra, rightwing jerk

It Wasn't Such a Wonderful Life - Biography; Review - NYTimes.com


Whenever I think of Capra, I think of a famous Hollywood story: Capra had been interviewed about "the Capra touch" and never once mentioned his usual screenwriter, Robert Riskin. Riskin came in the next day, gave Capra a stack of blank pages, said, "Put the Capra touch on that, Frank," and left.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

commie article at CNN

Gap between rich and middle class grows - Dec. 23, 2010

a comics panel for Emma

Consumer lifestyle choice statement time.
via Comically Vintage

ETA: For folks who don't know Emma, I should add that this panel is not always appropriate. But on a day like today, when holiday items go on clearance....

retweet: corporate censorship, academic spine

tweeted by @kenanmalik:
The demand: & the smackdown: If only more academics had such spine (h/t @ & @)

"as American as Red Indians"

The Real American Pie | Feature | Chicago Reader: "Mince pie was once inextricable from our national identity. Blamed for bad health, murderous dreams, the downfall of Prohibition, and the decline of the white race, it nonetheless persisted as an American staple through the 1940s. So what happened?"

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Speed review: True Grit

Loved it. 4 1/2 stars. Bits involving black and Indian characters and the mentions of Confederacy could lead to much discussion; I'll get into that in the comments if anyone wants

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Palestinian recognition

John V. Whitbeck: The Shape of Palestinian Statehood:
On December 17, Bolivia extended diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine within its full pre-1967 borders (all of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem). Coming soon after the similar recognitions by Brazil and Argentina, Bolivia's recognition brought to 106 the number of UN member states recognizing the State of Palestine
That number is amazing. I don't remember any states recognizing the Confederacy, and I think Tibet was only formally recognized by one tiny neighbor, Mongolia. (Yes, Tibet and the Confederacy sent out ambassadors and did their best to act as if they were nations, but formal recognition eluded them.)

it's the taboo that manifests and propagates the misogyny

Notes From The Geek Show: Cunt

What Christmas Owes to Abolitionists

What Christmas Owes to Abolitionists

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Class Politics at Harvard

Class Politics Versus Identity Politics « Garibaldy Blog:
In Harvard, which I think takes 40% legacy students (other colleges take more and won’t even reveal the figures), 9% of students are black – but only 7% are poor. Michaels uses the outrage over the recent arrest of Professor Gates in Harvard as indicative of the fact that anti-racism and anti-discrimination enables the elite to feel better about the possession of its wealth – if discrimination against peple is removed, then their wealth is because of their talent, not structural inequality. And the poor deserve to be poor.
ETA: See Bill Colsher's comment below; there're problems with this claim. I dunno if the Garibaldy writer was sloppy or Michaels is wrong. I'm inclined to think the former; I know my blogging is sloppier than what I write to sell. I'll try to follow up on this sometime.

a little about Commie Santa

From The Santa Secret: Santa Plays Favorites:
I never remember believing in Santa, and even as a eight-year old, I remember it making me so angry that these kids were told that Santa brought toys based on who was “good,” knowing very well the kid who was going to get the most toys under the tree was the one kid in the class who deserved coal, and the sweet girl who appeared neglected might not get anything.
Another friend of mine, Tammy Nelson, reflected on her childhood to me, “I always loved Santa, but was baffled every year when the neighbor brats got a ton of cool stuff from Santa, and I got much less, and I was really, really good! …I always felt like somehow, I had done something wrong.”
It seems it still reflects in how we view the world as adults. We see rich people as more talented, intelligent, and generally deserving of their wealth, even if they acquired their wealth on the backs of people they mistreated. We’re grown-ups who still believe that those who are most deserving get the most toys, and if we don’t have everything we want, we must be at fault. And that is perhaps even more sad than an unanswered letter to Santa.
I'm of several minds on this. An argument can be made that it's good to tell kids Santa exists because that soon teaches them that adults lie now and then. And I love that Santa wears red and gives without expecting anything in return, like any commie. But there's no denying that under capitalism, Santa is forced to be extremely unfair. So far, Krampus is winning.

Haley Barbour and Racism

Haley Barbour’s Praise of Citizen Councils Stirs Debate About Racism - The Daily Beast
Rather than resorting to terrorism, the “town leaders” of the Citizens Councils used more genteel methods to punish African Americans who dared demand civil rights. When black parents in Yazoo filed petitions to desegregate county schools, the Citizens Council took out a full-page newspaper add with their names and addresses. The same information, Dittmer writes, was posted on placards in every store in town. All the signatories with white employers lost their jobs. The self-employed were subject to punishing boycotts: One grocer, for example, left the state after distributors destroyed his business by refusing to sell to him.
The last is the kind of thing that drove my family out of Levy County in the '60s. It may be why I tend to be suspicious of any attempt to silence anyone for their beliefs, no matter how much I disagree with them.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

three questions @jsmooth995 @sadydoyle

1. For all of my professional writing life, I've been writing about race and gender, and I've been praised for it. See Ellen Kushner's comment about Dogland or the feministsf wiki's claim that my "work features strong women characters and people of color." But since I added class to my concerns, people like you say I'm racist and sexist and someone who thinks we live in a post-racial America. Can you offer any quotes of mine to to support what you claim?

(If you're thinking of the selective quotes at Coffeeandink's site, my reply is here. The short version: In all of those cases, I was pointing out class to people who were ignoring it.)

2. You love to talk about other people's privilege, but you don't talk about your own class privilege. A quick google reveals that Jay Smooth attended some private schools, and Sady Doyle has articles published by mags that are, in your terms, institutionally classist, where the percentage of writers from expensive private schools is remarkably disproportionate. What private schools were you privileged to attend?

3. Can you provide any links to any of your work where you discuss class in any depth?

Respectfully,

Will

Nope, not embarrassing for Michael Moore

¡Viva WikiLeaks! SiCKO Was Not Banned in Cuba | MichaelMoore.com: "Sounds convincing, eh?! There's only one problem -- the entire nation of Cuba was shown the film on national television on April 25, 2008!"

Frederick Douglass on house niggers and politicians

"Few privileges were esteemed higher, by the slaves of the out-farms, than that of being selected to do errands at the Great House Farm. It was associated in their minds with greatness. A representative could not be prouder of his election to a seat in the American Congress, than a slave on one of the out-farms would be of his election to do errands at the Great House Farm. They regarded it as evidence of great confidence reposed in them by their overseers; and it was on this account, as well as a constant desire to be out of the field from under the driver's lash, that they esteemed it a high privilege, one worth careful living for. He was called the smartest and most trusty fellow, who had this honor conferred upon him the most frequently. The competitors for this office sought as diligently to please their overseers, as the office-seekers in the political parties seek to please and deceive the people."

the Captain America I love



via lots of places

Friday, December 17, 2010

things Andrea Dworkin has said

Andrea Dworkin is not on record as saying that all heterosexual sex is rape, but she has said:

"No woman needs intercourse; few women escape it."

"Seduction is often difficult to distinguish from rape. In seduction, the rapist often bothers to buy a bottle of wine."

"Men are sexually predatory in life; and women are sexually manipulative."

"A commitment to sexual equality with males is a commitment to becoming the rich instead of the poor, the rapist instead of the raped, the murderer instead of the murdered."

"Penetrative intercourse is, by its nature, violent."

"Intercourse is the pure, sterile, formal expression of men's contempt for women."

"Violation is a synonym for intercourse."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

web site of the day

The Equality Trust.

Walt Kelly's Christmas is coming



via Whirled of Kelly: Christmas is Coming

Steampunk coolness

Steampunk Brass Synthesizer Blows My Mind - Technabob (Thanks, Bill Colsher!)

Time to leave Blogger? Plus, what's the true self?

Everyone Uses E-mail, But Blogging Is On the Decline [STUDY]

I'm thinking about shutting down this old blog and just doing Facebook and Twitter. I dunno if that would mean I would blog less, but I might blog differently. I'm not crazy about Facebook, but I like its commenting system better than Blogger's.

And I like one aspect of its culture a great deal: you're expected to use your legal name there. I think that makes commenters a litte more, well, human. There's a saying by Oscar Wilde that I dislike because it's incomplete: "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth." Sometimes that's true. Other times, masked people take on personas that are less themselves. To use possibly outdated psychology terms, the masked self can be either id or superego. The true self is the gestalt self.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

China Miéville sees it clearly

rejectamentalist manifesto: The scene: a mass demonstration in Tehran/Harare/Rangoon/Pyongyang/&c.

fair world update: if we shared the wealth and income

I blogged the numbers on sharing the wealth earlier. From Working Group on Extreme Inequality » The Difference More Global Equality Could Make:
The world’s 4.4 billion adults, notes the new Credit Suisse research, now hold $194.5 trillion in wealth. That’s enough, if shared evenly across the globe, to guarantee every adult in the world a $43,800 net worth.
Lately, I've been thinking about sharing income. Wikipedia came through: World economy says every person in the world would get $10,500 (GDP/PPP).

Which means Emma and I would have a net worth of $87,600, and we would get $20,500 a year. Assume universal health care and good public transportation, and life would be sweet.

corporate censorship is not better than government censorship

The Layman Online: There’s (NOT) an app for that

I totally disagree with the Manhattan Declaration. But I disagree more with censoring them. Oh, Apple, please stop censoring folks or stop making toys that I want.

The Ramones - Merry Christmas ( I Don't Want To Fight Tonight )

The Ramones - Merry Christmas ( I Don't Want To Fight Tonight )


via The Journey: Great Holiday Songs You May Not Know - Day 15

College, Jobs and Inequality

College, Jobs and Inequality - NYTimes.com

Hey, Wiscon! Is this censorship?

Museum of Contemporary Art commissions, then paints over, artwork - latimes.com

I want to write worse

Why we love bad writing

Emma and I join the goggles set

Our signing at LosCon:
Emma Bull and Will Shetterly

Via LosCon 2010 « Book Signings and Events

Monday, December 13, 2010

Noam Chomsky is rich

Noam Chomsky has a bit about the very profitable business of criticizing capitalism.

I admire Chomsky, but he doesn't really interest me. I think academics and theorists are important, but they lose sight of one of Marx's most important observations: "Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it."

I can't blame Chomsky for being very careful about his wealth, but I wish he would live as if the future he wants has arrived. For most of us, that'd be a luxury. But Chomsky could afford to keep less and give more to organizations promoting a better future.

Well. We all have a little hypocrite in us. Just makes us human.

And I confess, if I was rich, I dunno who I would give my money to right now. I think I'd give it all to starting a US labor party.

via The Crow's Eye: The Noam.

Barenaked Ladies - "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings"

Barenaked Ladies - "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings" [audio]


via David Emerson, who says, "merges into "We 3 Kings" with guest vocalist Sarah McLachlan."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

a commie quote from Shakespeare

"There is thy gold, worse poison to men’s souls,
Doing more murder in this loathsome world,
Than these poor compounds that thou mayst not sell." —Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

more cool Christmas songs

Both recommended by aspyre.

YouTube - Coil - Christmas Is Now Drawing Near




lyrics: Oi To The World Lyrics - No Doubt. This may be the best Christmas song ever.

Carolina Chocolate Drops "Cornbread and Butterbeans"

YouTube - Carolina Chocolate Drops "Cornbread and Butterbeans"


via

punk Christmas, surprisingly beautiful

YouTube - Siouxsie and the Banshees - Il Est Né le Divin Enfant

too scary not to share

I could resist sharing an anti-capitalism rant by the usual suspects, but I have to share this, by a respected capitalist at a respected capitalist site:

10 reasons to shun stocks till banks crash Paul B. Farrell - MarketWatch

I guess this means I'm not taking a blogging break. Well, I'll try to make posts more personal or more unusual or more amusing from now on.

Friday, December 10, 2010

I have permission to post on javalina days

It's been a javalina week. Soon after we returned from the big road trip, we walked to the mail box in the middle of the day and saw a javalina crossing the road a few hundred feet away. Then, on a late afternoon walk, I saw ten javalinas cross the road several hundred yards away. And then, going to the barn in mid-afternoon, I stopped about thirty feet from an adult javalina who was in the barn. I strongly suspect he was the one who's been chewing on the insulation around the pipes. Javalina smell water and don't appreciate human efforts to confine it.

Tonight, a little after dark, Emma and I went over to a neighbor's to pick up a package of theirs, 'cause they're away for a couple of days and couldn't change the delivery date. As we came toward it, Emma said, "Do you smell skunk?"

That should've been a major hint.

I smelled something, but it wasn't strong. I forget my boring answer. I shone the flashlight on the package and started for it.

Something barked.

Well, not exactly, but just as my brain had first said "skunk", it now said "wild dog."

I stepped back toward Emma, and a javalina walked out from the bushes, heading away from us. He may be a loner living in the area. I should check to see if young males live alone. He's probably the loner I've seen the last couple of times. Or maybe he was just away from the other ten when we saw him alone.

But since I saw a javalina, I'm posting. Here are a couple of Friday night videos from my kind of people:

YouTube - 15 year old Tells Establishment to Stick-it.


YouTube - An Irishman abroad tells it like it is !! :-)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

beloved reader, is this my last blog post of 2010?

Time to take a blogging break. We're not going anywhere, but Emma and I have a lot to do at home. Our road trip was nice for reminding me that the web is a tool, and when you don't pay attention to your tools, they may start using you.

Advice that I hope you don't need: Never hesitate to tell people you love that you love them.

Bonus advice: When people are near the ends of their lives, they regret things they didn't do more than things they didn't have.

Since I'm not sure how soon I'll blog again (in theory, Jan 1, 2011, but perhaps tomorrow or never), I want to say I love you all like family. In a few cases, very annoying family, but still, humanity is one family, and even its annoying members should be treated with respect and love.

Have some hippie wisdom: Sly & The Family Stone - Everyday People

Kenan Malik's essay on why workfare doesn't work

we used to want to change society. now we just want to coerce the poor.

yes, Julian Assange is a journalist

I've been listening to people argue that Assange is not a journalist because he presents information and does not spin it. The same people will then acknowledge that he has written editorials and commentary. They'll say he's a pubisher, not a journalist.

It's all quibbling. Journalists present information about the world. Some try blatantly to interpret it, some try subtly. Some interpret it with their choices of information. It's all journalism--it's all the news that the journaler thinks is fit to print. Assange deserves every consideration that any journalist deserves.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Assange: not a cad, but a rapist?

My last post on the subject sounded like I was more certain than I am about whether Assange committed rape, so here's an article Stephanie Zvan provided that has more info: Julian Assange refused bail over rape allegations | Media | The Guardian.

I'm completely on the side of "no means no." But I'm also on the side of believing not all wrongs can be addressed by the law.

just don't talk to me about Obama

I voted for the guy because I wanted to vote for a black person for President--which was much less satisfying than I'd imagined back when Shirley Chisholm and Jesse Jackson ran. Because I had no illusions about Obama, his Clintonesque dance never disappointed me, or rather, it only disappointed me because I wanted to be wrong about him.

But it's past time for anyone who pretends to be leftish to give up on him. Robert Reich is right: (The President's Last Stand Is No Stand At All: Why the Tax Deal is an Abomination).

A few cartoons from Mike Flugennock:







regarding claims of British college racism

Oxbridge isn’t racist – but it’s failing the working class | Liberal Conspiracy

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Assange: not a rapist, but a cad

Supporters dismissed rape accusations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange... but the two women involved tell a different story | Mail Online

link via Neil Gaiman

post title by me, because I never expected to have an excuse to use "cad".

I confess, when I thought about the future, I expected the news would be about airships and jetpacks, not blowjobs and condoms.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Uprooting the Bedouins of Israel

Neve Gordon: Uprooting the Bedouins of Israel:
The practice of planting forests in an attempt to Judaize more territory is by no means new. Right after Israel's establishment in 1948, the JNF planted millions of trees to cover up the remains of Palestinian villages that had been destroyed during or after the war. The objective was to help ensure that the 750,000 Palestinian residents who either fled or were expelled during the war would never return to their villages and to suppress the fact that they had been the rightful owners of the land before the State of Israel was created. Scores of Palestinian villages disappeared from the landscape in this way, and the grounds were converted into picnic parks, thus helping engender a national amnesia regarding the Palestinian Nakba.

a story from Terri Windling's child abuse anthology

Dream Catcher by Will Shetterly. Originally published in The Armless Maiden, edited by Terri Windling.

some ways to help address child abuse

Little Red becomes the Wolf. - What -You- Can Do To Help (In regards to recent FaceBook drama.)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Neoliberalism: Diversity and Inequality

Neoliberalism: Diversity and Inequality by Walter Benn Michaels has several nice bits, including this:
Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panther movement in 1966, warned his comrades: “Those who want to obscure the struggle with ethnic differences are the ones who are aiding and maintaining the exploitation of the masses of the people: poor whites, poor blacks, browns, red Indians, poor Chinese and Japanese... We do not fight exploitative capitalism with black capitalism. We fight capitalism with basic socialism.” Now, with the rise of Obama, we still don’t fight capitalism with black capitalism, we try to save capitalism with black capitalism.

Not content with pretending that our real problem is cultural difference rather than economic difference, we have even begun to treat economic difference as though it were a form of cultural difference. What is expected of the upper middle class today is that we show ourselves to be more respectful of the poor, and that we stop acting as if things like our superior educations really make us superior.

And once we succeed in convincing ourselves that the poor are people who need our respect more than they need our money, our own attitude towards them becomes the problem to be solved, and not their poverty. We can now devote our reforms not to removing class but to eliminating what we Americans call “classism.” The trick is to analyse inequality as a consequence of our prejudices rather than of our social system, and thus replace the pain of giving up some of our money with the comparative pleasure of giving up (along with our classism) our racism, sexism, and homophobia.

about that Facebook meme

Making Child Abuse Facebook Famous | techyum ::
Facebook Activism isn’t just stupid; it’s dangerous. It convinces people that doing next to nothing is actually better than doing nothing at all.
via

Saturday, December 4, 2010

the white poor pay the price of diversity

Op-Ed Columnist - The Roots Of White Anxiety - NYTimes.com:
...which whites were most disadvantaged by the process: the downscale, the rural and the working-class.

This was particularly pronounced among the private colleges in the study. For minority applicants, the lower a family’s socioeconomic position, the more likely the student was to be admitted. For whites, though, it was the reverse. An upper-middle-class white applicant was three times more likely to be admitted than a lower-class white with similar qualifications.
White, Poor and Ignored? | Poverty in America | Change.org:

If we assume that poor whites are more likely to populate these rural communities, statistics point to a disproportionately low amount of money being distributed to assist these areas. For example, The Ford Foundation, which purports to be active in rural development, made just $68 million in active grants and loans to rural areas in its fiscal 2006, out of $360 million overall in the U.S. Also, according to a study by the Foundation Center, North Dakota was awarded $3.3 million from foundations, South Dakota $3.2 million and Montana $10 million — compared with $3 billion for New York and $2 billion for California in 2005. While North Dakota may experience the lowest unemployment rates in the country, residents there still must deal with growing poverty and homelessness.

The poet Emma Lazarus once said, "Until we are all free, we are none of us free.

Ron Paul on free speech

One reason why socialists may have more in common with conservatives than liberals: Ron Paul stands up for Julian Assange - Andy Barr - POLITICO.com:
“In a free society we're supposed to know the truth,” Paul said. “In a society where truth becomes treason, then we're in big trouble. And now, people who are revealing the truth are getting into trouble for it.”

Friday, December 3, 2010

Damn. I *am* too old for this shit.

or, My body is revolting.

First, on the big road trip...TMI warning...I got an annoying hemorrhoid. Too much sitting, too little fiber in my food. I ate better and walked more, and that problem went away.

But on the last day of the trip, I decided to gut through a neck ache 'cause I wanted to get home ASAP. And now I'm hobbling around with a painfully stiff upper back.

This may mean less blogging. Though every time I say something may mean less blogging, I end up blogging more....

By the by. This doesn't really mean I'm too old for long road trips. But I'll eat more conscientiously and stretch more often on the next one.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Buddhism and violence #2

From Sightings:

Making Violence Buddhist
- Benjamin Schonthal

In a recent Sightings column Martin E. Marty drew attention to a feature of Buddhism that many Americans find startling: there are Buddhist texts that seem to legitimate war. Marty’s observation contravenes a commonly-held belief that Buddhism is exclusively a religion of peace, one whose tenets reject the use of violence. Yet, Buddhism hasn’t always enjoyed this reputation. Victorian-era Orientalists saw Buddhism as a religion of pessimism, self-denial, even life-abnegating rejection of the world. During World War II, Buddhism was identified by some as motivating Japanese kamikaze pilots. 

More recently, Buddhism’s pacific nature has been impugned by followers of events in Sri Lanka who observe that, over the course of the island’s thirty-year civil war, Buddhist terms and themes were invoked regularly by hawkish Sinhalese politicians to call for more aggressive military action against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). For example, in an interview on the BBC in March 2009, Keheliya Rambukwella, the spokesman for the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense described the government’s military campaign against the LTTE as follows: “Our exercise is noble because we need to eradicate the source of human suffering. When you are on a noble path there are certain sacrifices that we all do to uproot the cause of suffering.”

The quote is striking because it uses Buddhist idioms to describe military action. Rhetorically, the statement links the Sri Lankan army’s offensive to the core ethical doctrine taught by the Buddha in the Pali Tipitika, the four “noble truths” which Buddhists must follow to achieve enlightenment. Rambukwella’s statement equates the LTTE with dukkha, the phenomenon of worldly suffering which Buddhist practice aims to overcome. It links the course of military operations with steps along the noble eightfold path, the system of moral action and mental cultivation that the Buddha preached to his followers. In short, it describes the war with the LTTE as analogous or equivalent to the pursuit of Buddhist religious goals. 

Does Rambukwella’s statement represent a distortion of Buddhist doctrine or one, among many, possible interpretations? To answer either way seems unsatisfactory. By dismissing the spokesman’s statement as illegitimate (a cynical, instrumental use of Buddhism), one exempts Buddhist ideas of any complicity in rationalizing or moralizing violence. By treating the spokesman’s statement as a bona fide expression of Buddhist piety, one normalizes a rather idiosyncratic, not to mention non-traditional, use of Buddhist concepts.

One solution is to bring human actors and religious institutions back into the picture. After all, it is not religion that acts. Humans map religious concepts onto violent actions through discourse. As Mark Juergensmeyer and others have pointed out, there is an undeniable convenience to so doing: religious concepts are suitable justifications for violence because war provides a congenial metaphor for piety. Buddhism is no different. Self-cultivation in Buddhism as in other religious traditions is conceived as struggleBuddhist virtue is understood as defeating craving, desire, and ignorance. It only takes a short interpretive leap to homologize ethical struggle to physical conflict.

What distinguishes the Sri Lankan defense spokesman’s use of Buddhist ideas from, for example, that of the Dalai Lama is not the validity of his interpretation, but its relationship to authorized institutions through which Buddhist texts, practices and concepts are glossed, transmitted and (re)produced. We may thus say that Rambukwella’s translating of military action into Buddhist idioms may be interpretively valid, but it is not authorized by most Buddhist ecclesiastical institutions in Sri Lanka. Similarly, the September 11 hijackers mustered an interpretation of Islam which may have some valid scriptural referents, but which is not authorized by most of the world’s Muslim institutions.

Why then has Buddhism tended to be exculpated from links with violence in popular media while Islam has not? One difference lies in how Western media have depicted the two religions as institutions. Islam is routinely presented as a singular, unified, institutionally-coherent religion with the possible exception of the Sunni-Shi’a split. Buddhism, on the other hand, is presented as anti-institutional, a religion of individual, self-guided practitioners. Using these models, popular media interpret Muslims’ actions deductively, as reflecting the dictates of some monolithic Islam, while interpreting Buddhists’ actions inductively, as expressing the actors’ own, personal views about Buddhism. Media outlets thus allow Buddhists more interpretive diversity, making it more difficult for a single Buddhist to be seen to speak for Buddhism as a whole. Of course, this discursive binary is wildly inaccurate. But it has remarkable power and persistence in popular culture.

In thinking about religion and politics—and violence is politics continued by other means, as the saying goes—we must be cautious not to lose sight of the people who are acting, and to examine closely their relationship with complex and heterogeneous institutions of religious authority. We also must take seriously the speech act. Under what circumstance are actors permitted by audiences to speak for a religious tradition? To do so is to recognize that there are no predetermined links between Buddhism or Islam—or any religion—and violence.  It is people who link them.

Benjamin Schonthal is a PhD candidate in History of Religions and a Martin Marty Center Junior Fellow.

The downside of diversity

The downside of diversity - The Boston Globe. From 2007, but I missed it the first time around. It's still fascinating. Its big failure: no mention of class or wealth to put "diverse neighborhoods" in perspective. 'Cause if these are richer neighborhoods, it's no surprise that the results are what they are: rich people are statistically more self-obsessed and less generous. Or if they're poorer neighborhoods, it makes sense, too: People may be too busy scrambling to survive.

The problem with talking about "diversity" is it's meaningless without an acknowledgment of the c-word.