Apr 8, 2007

In Defence of America

There's been some very heated discussion in the comments section. While it's good to see that the blog is generating some interest and controversy, it's time for everyone to take a deep and mindful breath. Some of the posts have crossed the line into wrong speech. I'm thinking particularly of Rod's nasty characterization of Americans.

While it's always wrong to slander a whole nationality, it's also rather nonsensical to apply such generalizations to a country as diverse as the United States of America. It's perfectly valid to be critical of American foreign policy, or the current administration, but America is more than that.

In my opinion, for what little it's worth, this presidency will surely go down in history as the worst and most destructive ever. And one of the most damaging aspects of Bush's legacy is what it's done to America's reputation around the world. Sadly, Rod's views are pretty widespread.

Something to consider; Bush was not fairly elected, either time. The first time, in 2000, Al Gore plainly got the most votes and almost certainly actually would of taken Florida if the vote count had not been stopped. In 2004, the election was shamelessly rigged with touch-screen voting. It is highly unlikely that at any time the majority of Americans actually supported Bush.

Something else to consider; most Americans are fundamentally decent and compassionate. The only way the war party has been able to sell their imperial projects has been to package them as humanitarian endeavours, "to spread freedom" and topple dictators. Even now, the most often heard excuse for prolonging the agony of the obviously failed colonization of Iraq is that an American withdrawal would lead to a "humanitarian catastrophe." If the Americans were really as mean and nasty as some would have us believe, Bush and his cronies could have just told the truth; "We're going in to steal their oil and we don't care how many of them we have to kill to do it."

Yes, there are ugly parts of America's history; the genocide of the natives and african slavery the most obvious, but the same is true of most countries. We should not forget the good things that America has given the world.

Unfortunately, when Americans of a conservative bent think of the good they've done, too often their mind goes immediately to military interventions. "America saved Europe twice." Not only does this miss the point and encourage the worst side of the collective American character, it's also historically dubious. America's importance in both world wars has been greatly exaggerated. (They were barely involved in the First, and Russia won the Second; the western front was a diversion at best.)

What America gave the world was first and foremost the concept of a free nation based on the consent of the governed and with a people holding inalienable rights. Remember the American Revolution predated the French one, and was pulled off without a reign of terror. This was quite an accomplishment, even if all they were doing was taking good old British liberties to their logical conclusion. It would be a particular tragedy if they let their constitution fail; it is on shaky grounds these days with even habeas corpus practically abandoned. (Gonzales partying like it's 1214)

As a free nation with a free and prosperous population, America has been a cultural powerhouse. Yes, I know ninety percent of American culture is crap, but as Theodore Sturgeon said about science fiction, ninety percent of everything is crap. It's the ten percent that is so impressive. America gave us Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer, Ken Kesey, Walt Whitman. And American cinema, at it's best, has no comparison anywhere. And let's not forget jazz.

And don't forget that when America puts it's technological know-how into something other than killing machines, they can do astonishing things like put a man on the moon. In the sixties. With less electronics on-board than it takes to power up your Nissan.

Most Canadians have mixed feelings about our big neighbour. Best way to summarize it would be to think of a major sporting event, like an international hockey tournament. Nothing makes us happier than whipping the American team, but if the Canadians are elimated we automatically root for the Yanks. Speaking personally, I like America and Americans, I've travelled around the States a fair bit and enjoy their brash self-confident open-hearted cultural persona. (Canadian joke; what's the best thing about Americans? You never have to tell them to speak up.) Which is why I am so troubled by the way the leadership is taking the country.

America is great when it remembers it's a republic, it's horrific when it imagines it is an empire.


Anonymous said...

Can one recognize an Arahant from his blog? Something in me screams "All Wrong!" I'm not sure why I expect something more from a monk. Is this my own ignorance or what? I simply find this blog strange and out of place. I can read about the Bush administration and politics many places online but don't want to here. Again, I'm not sure why. Someone set me straight.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I'm not the one to set you straight; you're not alone, though...

"Whereas some priests and contemplatives, living off food given in faith, are addicted to talking about lowly topics such as these — talking about kings, robbers, ministers of state; armies, alarms, and battles; food and drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, and scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women and heroes; the gossip of the street and the well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity [philosophical discussions of the past and future], the creation of the world and of the sea, and talk of whether things exist or not — he abstains from talking about lowly topics such as these. This, too, is part of his virtue."


Anonymous said...

I'm glad the monk has written this last post. I am also relieved because I like reading his Blog and the comments associated with it. But the last thread was so ugly I was on the point of deleting it from my Favourites.

No other Theravada monk is running such an interesting interactive forum. The whole environment has been - until this week - intelligent measured and provocative in a genuinely stimulating way. It is also refreshing in that is not the typical form taken by a Theravada Buddhist monk and it speaks to an audience that more traditional forums merely alienate with dry rhetoric and a pragmatically minded refusal to debate politics.

The Bhikkhu has pointed out something which is increasingly problematic as it has become something of a fashion to racially abuse Americans and America and that is not OK. The writer of the response above has mis-read the Bhikkhu's post if he/she is saying it is in favour of the Bush administration because the monk feels Rod's remarks in the previous thread were unacceptable. I think it is fair to say that being pro-Bush is not something one is likely to encounter in this Blog, in fact it has a consistent anti-Bush tone to it which is fine if that's where you see the problem. What the monk is saying is that Rod's posts crossed a line into gross racial generalisations.

Personally being on the receiving end of some pretty ugly ire for taking Rod on didn't hurt because it is all impersonal as no one here knows me and actually I live thousands of miles away. I also made it clear that I didn't think Rod was a deliberate racist. But what amazed me - quite apart from the surreal quality of it all - was the willingness to use Buddhism to justify racial remarks and some pretty ugly on-line bullying tactics. All the old chestnuts were roasted for the millionth time - karma, insanity (apparently for daring to disagree!) being called "berserk" (!) and a classic line used by witch hunters for centuries, "demonic"!! and of course the whole 'let's run him out of town' mentality surrounding it - all of which came out of a Buddhist Blog! It was just remarkable and very sad. (By the way, dyslexia is not a mental illness Boonlert. This individual said I was "truly a dyslexic nutcase"!!!) Actually the Bhikkhu said in his original measured post ('Dangerous Games')what I think would be a nice epitaph to this entire ugly incident, "Nobody wants to admit they made a mistake and say they're sorry." No one seemed to notice that I did not retort with racial abuse against Canadians and that would be because my own people were driven out of Ireland and Scotland thanks to famine, poverty, Governmental indifference and despair to find their home in Canada and were welcomed there. Indeed Canada looks like an enticing proposition to many people in the UK/US today for much the same reasons as our ancestors had. Ask a Scot or an Irish person what they think of the English and you'll get pretty much what I heard on this Blog against Americans. Racist rubbish in other words. Call it Blair or call it Bush it is all the same from a Buddhist perspective: that's the world speaking, that's Mara.

There seems to be a parallel between the ugly incident between Iran and the UK of last week and the sort of stand-off wall-building witch hunting that was going on in this Blog. That is interesting is to explore from the Buddhist perspective on the mind. We didn't get to that for jeering of Rod's lynch mob. That's a shame because that is precisely where the actual Buddhist debate begins.

This brings me back to my point about the novelty of this forum per se because the Bhikkhu doesn't follow traditional 'monk-like' approaches (the great Ajahn Buddhadassa aside) and yet politics is like the elephant in the room for most householders who get involved with supporting a Theravada Buddhist monk or community - we all know it is there but no one is mentioning it. It is a uneasy line in that context. Personally I have supported Theravada Buddhist communities for a long time but I have never heard anyone even mention politics except perhaps as a sotto voce aside. This forum has an opportunity to experiment in a highly creative way if we can accept some pretty basic ground rules about respecting diversity and using some restraint, especially the guidance of the precepts and the eightfold path. Drawing all this political debating about the problems in the Middle East or Palestine or Afghanistan into the Buddhist view about the nature of the mind itself strikes me as a very rich seam that is well worth exploring. I did make a stab at it but by then I was being lashed to the pole as the tinder was being doused in petrol.

Even now there has been a link drawn in the post above between political opinions and arahantship! I'm not even sure that is technically possible to be pro-Bush and an arahant (!)but it is a low remark actually. Sometimes it takes a little bravery to speak up and is especially true when one is dependent on the donations and offerings of a lay community and for that I'd personally like to offer my thanks to this Bhikkhu. I'd also like to say that his final line in the latest post was spot on, "America is great when it remembers it's a republic, it's horrific when it imagines it is an empire." That's also true of this Blog as well.

Anonymous said...

Admittedly, I am not an enlightened being. However, the word quagmire comes to mind. I am definetly not a supporter of the Bush administration for the record. I just feel a little uneasy reading about this here. Luckily I don't have to read this it is a choice and to that end I will say goodbye to the Bhikkhu's Blog. Afterall, I find The Onion far more entertaining. Bwahaha!

Ben 8) said...

Hmmm, no sooner is a temple built by one then another builds a chapel near by.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ajahn!
I am looking for a post I read a while ago and don't remember who blog was. I read a beautiful post about an American woman who was tracking in Tibet and came across a Buddhist monk.

The monk asked her what religion she was and she said she didn't follow any (atheist).

And the monk said: Ah! So you are a Buddhist...

And later she became an important female Buddhist in America.

Do you know this story or similar? Not sure if it is all correct.

I am really looking for it everywhere and cannot find it.

If you know please send me the link.

Many thanks

May you be happy, may you be well,

Angel (angelferrary@hotmail.com)

Anonymous said...

What did the Canadian Hockey player say to the Israeli Hockey player? "Pssst! Wanna buy a picture of Rod?"

Anonymous said...

It is common in Canada for self-rightous, nasty, and sometimes vicious left wing opinions to be taken as virtuous, or even as Buddhist. Apologies to American readers from the Rest Of Canada. Reading this was humiliating to me as a Canadian Buddhist and I won't be back either.

Anonymous said...

"Whereas some ascetics and Brahmins remain addicted to such un-edifying conversation [23] as about kings, robbing ministers, armies, dangers, wars, food, drink, clothes, beds, garlands, perfumes, relatives, carriages, villages, towns and cities, countries, women, heroes, street- and well-gossip, talk of the departed, desultory chat, speculations about land and sea, [24] talk about being and non-being, [25] the ascetic Gotama refrains from such conversation."

This is definitly no topic for monastics. Especially as biased as it was written - for a Theravadin who should know about the muslim invasion of Southeast Asia in 1000 AD and probably shares more values with the American Conservative than anti-Abortion...