Forty signs of the Mike World Order. Buy some Naked Villainy products while you're at it.
A very well-timed accusation of the gay Episcopalian bishop Gene Robinson, two hours before the vote that is to ratify his installation. The vote is being delayed as the accusation is investigated.
Al Gore lacks many things, including, apparently, a sense of timing.
We have a new ingredient to chop up and throw into General Tso's chicken!
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, has a dream.
Mike Tyson, heavily in debt, makes a gesture that would be considered obnoxious in England, Australia, and New Zealand. There's an interesting cultural values issue at play here. In Korea, where personal debt is mounting, people have a different, if time-honored, way of dealing with the problem.
Frank J at IMAO does a hilarious sendup on a true story about John Wayne and Stalin.
The extraordinary claim is made that Saddam Hussein is currently wearing a shrinking cock ring that allows US forces to track him.
Muslims make another statement. Where are the moderates, out in force, denouncing this? Blocked by the media? Or just not there?
Raelian leader not allowed in Korea... but MARILYN MANSON IS COMING TO SEOUL!!!!!! This is the new shit!
Japan openly mulls missile defense. If things continue in a sour vein, it might not be a bad idea. It might also make China remember its unlucky history with Japan, and think twice about flexing its muscles too much. China is best eaten as a box lunch.
Suicide Watch: our next to jump? I wonder if there's a market for suicide futures...
Colin Powell lies through his teeth! (Oh, and note that we're the "Untied States" in the first paragraph.)
A quote from Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, this is an almost Buddhist sentiment (except for the clinging): Letting go all else, cling to the following truths. Remember that man lives only in the present, in this fleeting instant: all the rest of his life is either past and gone, or not yet revealed. This mortal life is a little thing, lived in a little corner of the earth; and little, too, is the longest fame to come-- dependent as it is on a succession of fast-perishing little men who have no knowledge even of their own selves, much less of one long dead and gone.
Something less sublime: Larry Flynt invites us to join in praying for Bill O'Reilly's death. It's funny, but a little too reminiscent of Howard Stern's prayers from the old days.
Tuesday, August 05, 2003
Forty signs of the Mike World Order. Buy some Naked Villainy products while you're at it.
1. Incestuous Amplification on "Korean media targeted by Roh."
2. Marmot's Hole on the Korean president being "a whiny bitch."
Extremely good (if justifiably pissed-off in tone) commentaries. Also, read Kevin's "I Can Feel It Coming." I'm interested in Kevin's prediction that the US will somehow be blamed for Chung's suicide.
My perspective on Noh: from the beginning, the man struck me as Clintonian. Triangulating (not an inherently bad quality; a politician can't be blamed for being adaptable, but when the adapting is all there is, then that's significant), emotional, mercurial. The staff upheavals under Noh remind me of Clinton's first few months in office, when he tried much the same thing, and learned to his dismay that you shouldn't toss aside the Old Guard on the assumption that they knew nothing. If Noh can't tack toward the middle... heh... maybe some disgruntled Californians will demand a recall election.
Monday, August 04, 2003
I was planning to write an essay that focused exclusively on the issue of essentialist Buddhists on the Beliefnet Buddhism Debate message boards, but I've decided that these Buddhists' essentialism is merely one symptom, among many, of a larger issue: the evil influence of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ, Son of the Living God, Second Person of the Holy Trinity (both economic and immanent), homoousios with the Father, and Savior destined to return at some unknown point in the future to kill us all.
Yes, it's the raging Jesus meme.
Sorry if I'm being flippant, but topics like Buddhist essentialism and Buddhists in the grip of the Jesus meme are positively swollen, like a recently kicked scrotum, with humorous potential.
You could ask why a Christian would bother harping on certain Buddhists for being essentialist. First, I'm no longer an essentialist myself. (At this point, I'd say my own metaphysics is thoroughly Buddhist-Taoist, and admits no literal, personal God.) Second, I think it's highly inconsistent for any Buddhist to argue from an essentialist stance, and this point needs to be made publicly.
By now, you're probably trying to reach through your monitor to throttle me, because I haven't explained what "essentialism" is.
It's not that hard to understand. Essentialism is a stance that thinks in terms of essences. Is there a "personness" to people? A catness to cats? A dogness to dogs? A bedness to beds? Do you believe in a human soul-- that changeless thing that is the "real" or "true" you, the kernel of your self? Do you believe the universe (or concepts, religions, etc.) "boils down to" something fundamental, or to a limited set of fundamental elements? Is there a such thing as "true" art?
If yes, then you're an essentialist. This is antithetical to Buddhist metaphysics, whose greatest contribution to world philosophy was and is a determined, systematic, and complete rejection of the notion of essences (cf. my essay on "Violence, Vegetarianism, and Emptiness" for a discussion of the Buddhist notion of emptiness; no need to recap here).
[NB: in academe, essentialism also goes by names like "foundationalism," "reificationism," "metaphysics of presence," and "substantialism." Also note that Buddhism will occasionally employ essentialist-sounding language, but always in the service of the nonessentialist metaphysic.]
Essentialism is one symptom in a constellation of symptoms I've seen in some Beliefnet Buddhists on the Buddhist Debate boards. Here's how I laid it out in a recent post:
...at the risk of having my massive ass roundly kicked, I'll remark that many Buddhist converts from Christianity on these boards strike me as still framing their arguments and having their experiences from very much within a more-than-just-residual Christian framework-- especially among the Buddhists who evince a rather ironic essentialism in their stance.
All the symptoms are there: a belief in the self-completeness of one's own practice, a highly developed us/them mentality (the essentialist trait in a nutshell: "That's not real Buddhism!"), a tendency to speak of one's own path to the denigration of another path, an unwillingness to accept being re-understood by the Other (cf. the very telling "Jesus as Guru" thread), a manifest lack of humility in tone. All traits ascribed to Christians (and not without justification!), but fully present in the enlightened.
Usually the claim is that, unlike the Christians, Buddhists don't proselytize.
Hm. I'd have to think about that.
There are plentiful exceptions on these boards, of course: nonproselytizing, nonessentialist Buddhists abound.
My basic feeling is that Jesus still has these Buddhists by the balls-- yes, even the cradle atheists. Why? Because Judeo-Christian tropes are all-pervasive in American culture. They affect how Americans see themselves, each other, and the world. Certainly there's a missionary aspect to the current political situation, and one of the major issues up for debate-- the question of whether Americans are cultural imperialists-- has as a major source the Christian urge to proselytize. That urge, to the extent that it exists, is not held uniquely by Christian Americans; non-Christian Americans can be just as fervent about the virtues of our culture, and just as adamant about the need to spread the American meme globally. "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations..."
To be clear: I am by no means referring to the majority of Beliefnet Buddhists I've had the privilege of encountering. Most are NOT this way. But enough exhibit strongly Christian (in the negative sense, as indicated in my quoted post) traits to warrant comment. Nor am I really indicting the Buddhists who do exhibit such inconsistencies; after all, we're all hypocritical in our practice, and it should be noted that the essentialism of particular Buddhists is often absent, depending on the topic being discussed.
A common complaint among the Beliefnet Buddhists is that the Christians who enter the Buddhist boards either want to proselytize, or seem intent on deliberately reinterpreting Buddhism into something it simply isn't. It is NOT essentialist for a Buddhist to point out the Buddha's original teachings are free of Christian-style classical theism; this is obvious even from a superficial reading of both Buddhist and Christian scriptures. There are, however, Beliefnet Buddhists who adopt unnecessarily essentialist stances re: whether Buddhism is philosophy or religion, what "religion" means, and what Christianity is.
The most hilarious examples of these tendencies can be seen in a thread called "Mixing Buddhism," which brings out the closet essentialist in quite a few Buddhists. The thread begins with a simple question about whether it's possible for a person to mix Christianity and Buddhism. Some sample posts might help you to see what I mean.
This poster, whom I will call Y, says the following soon after the first post:
Where is the word "Dharma" in the Bible? What Chapters and what versus?
I use word search on KJV and it turns up nothing.
Can you give me specific sentences (versus, stories, sermons, etc.) in the Bible that describe things such as re-birth, karma, "no-self", cause and effect, etc. Anything in the Bible about the NO ALCOHOL precept?
How about the Biblical equivalent of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva who vows to offer refuge to all those living in Hell? In Christianity, non-believers (ie, all non-Christians) are all condemned to an Eternal Hell with no chances of a salvation.
How about the NO KILLING precept, which is extended not just to humans but to all sentient beings such as animals and bugs. The closest you get is THOU SHALT NOT KILL - but look at the killings in the Bible, many of those are ordered or even performed by God Himself. Not very convincing, isn't it?
Poster Y, who posted frequently in this thread, never lets up in his insistence that Christianity is a certain way. When presented with contradictory evidence from actual practicing Christians, Y shrugs and claims that Christian scriptures serve as evidence that these Christians are wrong or deluded. Y's essentialist assumption is that religion, at least for Christians, must boil down to scripture.
What tickles me is that, while I can see a monotheist making a similar argument with a straight face, it is absolutely absurd for a Buddhist to do so. Another example of Y's stubbornness:
Zen stories are not literally ture stories, they are puzzles designed by human teachers to get to a point in the Dharma. The Buddha himself (nor the King of Heavens and any of his divas) had never ordered the killing of a dog.
On the other hand, Biblical stories are supposed to be literally true. For example, read the story of King David who screwed the beautiful wife of his own General and sent him to battlefield to be killed. God responded by killing his new born baby. Yes, King David was saddened by the death of his new born baby, BUT why did God punished him by killing an innocent baby? What kind of Dharma teaching is it? It seems that God loves to punish sinners by killing another individual.
If you say that the stories of the Bible is just stories - how about the cruxification and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Is it literally true or just a story?
Here again, Y assumes he knows how Christians treat their own scriptures, and tries to teach Christians Christianity. Basically, he's constructed a straw man and is debating nothing. But Y was not alone in arguing this way. Here, for example, is a post from someone I'll call T:
Christianity teaches that the crucifiction and ressurrection are literally true.
Buddhism (Zen in particular) has no problem with taking wisdom where one finds it. Many of us who are adamantly "Zen" or "Buddhist" recognize that there are valid ethical teachings in the Christian doctrine and accept them as functional "wisdom." That does not make us Christians, however.
Christians are welcome to take what wisdom they find in Buddhist teachings and use them -- but please, don't think the result is "Buddhsim."
Lemon juice is lemon juice. Lemon juice mixed with water and sugar is lemonade.
The only other thing to consider is that Christianity (according to the New Testament) disallows such "wisdom borrowing." Thus, it is actually Christianity that has the problem with "mixing."
The claim that "Christianity" teaches the crucifixion and resurrection as a literal truth is simply false based on the data. How is Christianity actually lived and practiced in the world? "Christianity" is at least as varied a phenomenon as Buddhism, if not more varied, given its sheer size. Christians come in all shapes and colors and persuasions, and even people sitting next to each other in the pews are not guaranteed to have exactly the same conception of core ideas like God, trinity, Christ, resurrection, miracle, etc. I was surprised to see this claim from T, but his background includes a long and bitter experience with Catholicism and fundamentalism, which may have colored his perception of Christianity as a whole. I can't say I blame him; it's true that most Christians are exclusivist and literalist. But the problem is that the theologically liberal wing of Christianity comprises millions of people; it's not some obscure minority by any means, and T is ignoring this fact in making his claim about what Christianity supposedly is.
Later, T says:
Christianity just flat isn't Buddhism.
I have no problem with this, and actually think it's a legitimate stance to take. It's a direct response to those people who try to turn religions into each other.
We need to be clear about what levels we're operating on, here. In Mahayana Buddhism, a prominent figure is the thinker Nagarjuna, founder of the Madhyamika (Middle Way) School. Nagarjuna propounded the "two truths," the idea that there are conventional truths and there is ultimate truth. For example, in the practical, conventional realm, I know the difference between an apple and an orange. But on the ultimate level, I know that both apple and orange are empty of substance, and they are therefore not fundamentally distinct. All phenomena are in process; being is becoming, and all things relate to each other in a dynamic of interdependent intercausality-- pratitya-samutpada, or dependent co-arising.
When T declares that "Christianity just flat isn't Buddhism," he's stating a conventional truth. The muddle is: how seriously is this truth being taken? If T is blatantly refusing to see that both Christianity and Buddhism are dependently co-arisen phenomena, then he's making an essentialist mistake. I have reason to believe, however, that T, unlike Y, isn't making such a mistake when you view T's two quotes in the larger context of what he's written on the Buddhism boards... but T is, at the very least, flirting with essentialism here (and some of his other posts are downright essentialist in tone and content).
More egregious examples of essentialist thinking in Beliefnet Buddhists. Y again:
I am not saying that there is no common ground between Christianity and Buddhism, but there are vast differences that are not reconcilable.
An analogy is eating Chinese Food and Western Food together. For example, try to eat a hamburger with black bean sauce or add soya sauce to your salad or eat chicken fried rice with salad dressing, it may taste good to somebody, but to most people it tastes aweful.
However, I do not rule out that sometimes it may enchance the taste, such as adding soya sauce to pork chop and then BBQ it.
Obviously, Y doesn't like fusion cuisine. (P'yu-jon is all the rage in Seoul.)
One gentleman, whom I'll call B72, says the following:
Well, let's face it, Spong, Borg, Tillich et al simply do not believe what St. Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and 99% of all Christians have believed for 2000 years. I personally find thier views vastly more congeneial than traditional beliefs, but it's interesting to note that if you do not believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead to sit on the right hand of God, then you are taking the side of the Jews and the Romans. This diluted Christianity is not what sent thousands to martyrdom in the arena. Yes, you can be an atheist and call yourself a Christian -- Tillich proved that -- but what's the point? You can be a socialist and register as a Republican too.
B72 is here referring to Christian thinkers on the liberal fringe. His contention that these thinkers don't represent the majority of Christianity is valid, but his reference to "diluted" Christianity contains an essentialist assumption. The immiscibility of religious traditions, for B72, is already a given, and whether he intends this or not, he is implying that religions (or at least Christianity-- and it's bizarre to isolate it from the wider world) are static and don't evolve. How this is consistent with the process ontology of Buddhism is beyond me.
B72 also says:
The Bible cannot be dharma because its teaching does not have the marks (or seals) of the dharma.
The "three seals" are impermanence (Skt. anitya; Pali anicca), no-self (Skt. anatman; Pali anatta), and nirvana (Skt. nirvana; Pali nibbana). I think that whether the Bible's teaching contains these three seals is open to discussion. A good book on the subject is The Gospel of Mark: A Mahayana Reading, by Dr. John Keenan, an Episcopal priest and Buddhism scholar at Middlebury College, VT. I would further claim that other religions' teachings may also bear the three seals, but I won't elaborate on that point here. Suffice it to note that B72's assertion is grounded firmly in a yes/no dualism and definitional essentialism that brooks no debate as it's phrased. Again, I find this inconsistent with Buddhist thought and practice.
B72 states further on:
Well, I don't mean anything special or different when I use the term. It means that from the Buddhist point of view, there is no God. And for "God" we can use any definition that's close to capturing what the vast majority of Christians, Jews, Moslems, and Hindus have believed.
This is not what all Buddhists would claim, and B72 is neglecting to mention this here. Many Buddhists do agree with B72's contention, but many also adopt a nondualistic position that refuses to view the question of God in simple yes/no terms. To answer either "yes" or "no" to the question "Does God exist?" is, from this Zen viewpoint (a viewpoint that also has roots in philosophical Taoism), untenable.
B72 and others on Beliefnet have repeatedly tried to emphasize that Buddhism is "atheistic" or "nontheistic." On one level, I agree with them (and there is plenty of support for this contention), but the claim of atheism or nontheism also needs to be examined. Whether Buddhists subscribe to an "ultimate reality" depends very much on the Buddhist. Abe Masao, the Zennist who famously dialogued with process theologian John Cobb, was quite comfortable using "Absolute" language in describing his own point of view, and even saw thematic links between the Christian notion of kenosis (Gk., self-emptying) and Buddhist sunyata, thereby establishing a link, albeit tenuous, to theistic thinking. By the same token, the question of whether Buddhism, on the whole, is nontheistic cannot be answered simply. Plenty of Asian Buddhists subscribe to a theistic cosmology, one that admits heaven and hell realms populated by gods, demons, people, animals, and hungry ghosts. Some forms of Buddhism, like folkloric Pure Land, place so much emphasis on a particular Buddha (in this case Amitabha, lord of the Western Paradise) that for all practical purposes the practitioner's belief system is highly theistic: the prayers and petitions serve almost exactly the same role they do in folkloric (and other forms of) Christianity. This also is true for many Buddhists' conception of the Dharmakaya, the cosmic "body of teaching" viewed by some Buddhists (especially in Asia) as a personified form of absolute reality.
What I sense among these Western Buddhists-- in their tone, their beliefs, and their essentialism-- is the hidden Jesus scuttling around their brain. Whether these Buddhists converted from Christianity or started out as atheists (or non-Christian theists), they are campaigning very hard to paint a picture of Buddhism that is unfriendly to Christian attempts at dialogue, or to non-Buddhist attempts at synthesis/syncretism. These Buddhists are reacting, strongly, to the Jesus meme, and are having difficulty getting rid of it. Their combativeness smacks of exactly the same tactics adopted by the Christians they deplore (or merely resent?), and their message board posts prove the extent to which they are slaves to the Jesus meme.
Another Buddhist poster, N, says:
If a Buddhist believes in God, it's more about that they don't understand the basic concepts of Buddhism. They can certainly call themselves whatever they like, though.
Are you beginning to see the pattern? What would N say to the Catholic priests who received inka and became Zen roshis? A roshi is a teacher in a Zen Buddhist tradition. This Catholic priest is, effectively, a Buddhist-- but one who "believes in God." By N's reckoning, this should be impossible.
Even later in the thread (it's 125 posts long as of this writing), the inimitable Y says:
All sinners who do not believe in the existance of God are officially heading to Hell, I do not make this up myself - it is in the Catholic Encyclopeida as published by the Vatican:
Hell [link was provided to the online Catholic Encyclopedia]
Since the Buddha did not believe in the existence of God and therefore accordingly all his followers will be heading towards Hell. Unless you Catholics elect (?) another Pope, this is as official as one can get.
Y's assumption, yet again, is that the written doctrine equals the religion. My contention, which risks its own essentialism, is that there is no religion outside of how it's practiced. While it's ridiculous to deny that scripture and doctrine play important roles in religious traditions, they mean nothing if not enfleshed in the people.
Y says further:
Plonker [another poster] also suggest that I should not take the miracle of turning water into wine literally. That would bring the credibility of the whole Bible into question - which Bible stories are literally true and which are not? How about the virgin birth? cruxification? Resurrection? How about the three wise men coming to see baby Jesus? How about the story that Jesus was born in a Manger and not in Holiday Inn (of those days)? Are such stories mostly true or mostly allegory?
By comparison, all Buddhist sutras begin with the words: "This is what I have heard". Thus stories from the Buddhist sutras are mostly allegory in nature, told by the Buddha to his students during sermon sessions to make Dharma easier to understand. Buddhist Sutras are sort of lecture notes that a modern day University student takes in classes whilst the Bible is supposed to be a record of the life of Jesus.
If Christians do not take most stories in the Bible (especially the life of Jesus) as literally true, than Christianity would fall apart. Jesus would just be a illegitimate child born outside wedlock.
The Bible "is supposed to be"...
Y is hampered in this discussion by a near-complete ignorance of the ins and outs and Christianity, yet is obviously a prisoner of the Jesus meme all the same. Note the stubbornness in the face of evidence to the contrary, the belief in the superiority of his own practice while denigrating others:
Whether you Christians believe in the Virgin Birth, free will, a creator God, original sin, redemption of sin, second coming, resurrection, Trinity, judgement day, etc (the core belief actually) ......,is your problem, not my problem. If you guys don't beleive that Jesus Christ is the only way, that is perfectly fine with me - but than that is not what the Bible says and you have a lot to do.
Obviously, Y doesn't have "a lot to do," because his religion's founder got it all right the first time and transmitted clear, unambiguous teaching. Which of course explains why there are so many schools of Buddhism, some of which exist not in harmony, but in contention.
I'll switch now to the "Jesus as guru" thread, in which a poster proposed that Jesus' and the Buddha's teachings are fundamentally similar (I'm actually not in total agreement with this). Note the defensiveness of Buddhist posters, who evince a bunker mentality quite similar to that of fundamentalist Christians. B72 again, very early on in the thread:
Sheesh. More Jeezus-wheezing. It's not enough that there's one whole, huge religion dedicated to this character, but people insist on trying to drag him into Buddhism, somehow ignoring that the central focus of Jesus's teaching is God and his kingdom, ideas which have no role whatever in Buddhism. I don't know why so many Christians find Buddhism to be an itch they just can't help scratching, but it certainly is annoying that every few days we have to once again try to explain to somebody just how different Buddhism is from anything found in theistic religion, based on Jesus or otherwise.
The original poster, whom I'll call TM, met with some stiff opposition to his original post, but also encountered some quite open-minded Buddhists who had sincere questions about the implications of TM's thought (it's a shame not to quote them here, but I have to keep focus on the essentialist minority). Alas, the relentless naysaying continued, as T says in this thread:
In the end, however, the theism of Christianity, regardless of the rest of the idiosyncracies, places it solidly in opposition to the teachings of Gautama Buddha.
T later utters the straw that breaks TM's back:
Mr. TM- if you want to borrow a cup of Buddhism come on in, but I have no need for Christianity whatsoever, thank you. It contains nothing that seems to be missing.
Here we see a perfect reflection of Christian smugness, the belief that one's own path is self-complete. I would argue that T's comment proves he is still very much a prisoner of his past.
TM's reply is exasperated, and he makes the point I've been trying to make in this essay:
Well, I guess your mind is made up, then, isn't it. You obviously have a perfect understanding of the Dharma and have no need to see it in a different light. The Christians I know who are interested in Buddhism study it because they think that it has much to offer. And they respect it. They purposely keep the "tea cups" at least partially empty. Have you checked yours lately?
You guys...do you know how intolerant you sound? It's like trying to reason with Christian Fundamentalists. Is that the impression you want to make for Buddhism?
I can't see any other explanation that fits. It's the Jesus meme. Has to be. The self-righteousness of some of these Buddhists is incredible, so evangelical Protestant. But quite to the contrary, Korean Buddhists I've encountered here in Seoul have little trouble with God-language, so long as the attempt is made on both sides to keep an open mind and heart. They don't claim, flat out, that God doesn't exist or that Buddhism simply denies God. There is, without doubt, a great deal of suffering caused by Korean fundamentalist Protestants, who do often abuse Buddhists, but my point is that the Beliefnet Buddhists and those Korean fundies have quite a lot in common.
T, who is also a board moderator (and therefore wields some authority) feels threatened by TM, and says:
BTB- Incrementalist proselytizing does become full-tilt proselytizing at a certain point. Just a friendly reminder.
A warning about proselytizing? This struck me as bizarre.
As I read through TM's posts, I saw zero evidence of an attempt to proselytize. (See for yourself; the thread begins here.) I'm really not sure what T was reacting to, but it's all in the service of my thesis. Bunker mentality as evidence of religious insecurity, even after years away from the Church.
T makes a further debatable claim about Buddhism:
Buddhism teaches that anything which one cannot prove experientially cannot be counted on as true -- and thus it is a waste of time to pursue. So we don't usually spend a whole lot of effort on speculative stuff.
Yes, such teaching exists. Buddhism is strongly empirical, and that's one of the things I like about it. But "Buddhism," taken in its totality, includes a whole magical, theistic, folkloric wing that these Western Buddhists would probably judge, essentialistically (!!), as "not REAL Buddhism." The Buddhist practitioners who petition the very personal Amitabha in Taiwan, for example, include in their magical worldview much that simply can't be proven experientially. Quite a few, like a Taiwanese woman I know, are folkloric Buddhist but have no working knowledge of the so-called "basics," such as the Four Noble Truths. This woman, after hearing my lecture on the philosophical underpinnings of Buddhism, came up to me afterward and said, "You know, I didn't recognize anything of Buddhism in what you talked about." Should I have written her off as "not a real Buddhist"? It's for this reason that I roll my eyes when I hear Western Buddhists declare, with the blind assuredness of a Holy Roller, "Buddhism is A and not B." My suggestion: you need to go meet your "fellow" practitioners across the Pacific. Some will resemble you; many won't. You're creating Buddhism in your own image and not acknowledging this.
Also: if a Buddhist were to argue that Buddhist "experiential proof" (e.g., experiencing the power of telepathy, a power some Tibetan lamas [and other Buddhists] claim to have) is not the same as "proof" in a scientific empirical sense, I would have to ask why these same Buddhists would then deny a traditional Christian's contention that his/her "personal relationship with God/Jesus" is any LESS "experiential proof" of the reality of God/Jesus. The routine anti-Christian claim is that Christianity is "propositional belief" (i.e., you have to believe the cognitive content of a set of propositions, such as "Jesus is the unique Savior"), while Buddhism is empirical. This ignores the fact that many Christians base their faith on experiences they've had-- radical or mundane.
A point is made toward the end of the "Jesus as guru" thread about how civil the discussion was, especially when compared to what usually appears in the Christian threads. Yes, I'd have to agree. A quick random sample from Beliefnet's Evangelical Christianity Debate board-- post #1 of a thread called "Gandhi was a lost sinner...":
As lost as Hitler or Stalin.Our works can not earn us heaven. Only faith in the Risen Christ,and His work through us. And today we remember Him,who in His body,bore our sins:
"He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities."
God have mercy on our wretched souls....
The thread is 276 posts long. It contains a lot of scripture-quoting, a lot of vitriol (and not all of it from the religious fundies). It's everything the essentialist (and other) Buddhists accuse the Christians of. It is also, however, quite similar in tone to what you may find in the Buddhism Debate boards, even if those boards aren't as openly confrontational.
While I find the Jesus Buddhists somewhat inconsistent, I don't mean to imply anything deeper about them. I have no insight into what these people are like in person; such things are notoriously hard to determine from online writing. My only point is that I see the Jesus meme running rampant in these folks, and I think the posts I quoted in this essay provide strong evidence of that contention. This is only a tentative claim, however; one could, for example, argue that the essentialist Buddhists are simply acting like anyone else on a cyber message board. In other words, their conduct may have nothing to do with a Jesus meme, and everything to do with message board psychology.
But that's not what I think. I am not witnessing generic online assholery; the behavior is too specific, despite the thousands of ways in which one could be an asshole. One thread on the Buddhism Debate board, devoted to finding out who among the Buddhists is a convert and who isn't, has, to date, uncovered NO cradle Buddhists on Beliefnet. While some of these Buddhists, like T, have been living and breathing the dharma for decades, they nevertheless evince attitudes and actions that seem rooted in a Judeo-Christian past, or they show the extent to which the "ambient" Jesus meme has sunk into their consciousness, even if they began as non-Christians. As a result, I submit (with admittedly shaky evidence) that these folks may be wearing a thoroughly Buddhist hat... but it's a bit off-kilter.
I should show a little more compassion, a little more sympathy, I suppose... but I can't. The scandal-plagued Hyundai exec Chung Mong-hun, son of Hyundai's founder, just effected a gravity-assisted meeting with death by leaping from the 12th floor of Hyundai headquarters, pretty much guaranteeing that his tortured spirit will haunt the company forever-- not a pleasant prospect for future board meetings.
I belong to the school of thought that views Hyundai's complicity in the $500 million "investment" in North Korean projects as no different from a payoff-- a payoff, mind you, that resulted in NOTHING for the South. While this attitude may alienate me from many South Koreans, I have only their best interests at heart. South Korea (and the US on many occasions) has been an enabler in NK's looniness, and as far as I'm concerned...
What we're seeing is karma.
fountain is the cause
making water-dung bloody
Shigella kicks ass
[NB: The Sino-Korean term for diarrhea is seol-sa (pronounce it "sull-sah"), which sounds a bit like "salsa." The pure Korean term is much rougher: mul-ddong, which is literally "water(y) dung." This is the term I chose for the haiku. Comparing Sino-Korean and pure Korean terms for things can be interesting. The Sino-Korean term for "anus" is hang-mun ("mun" means "gate" or "door"), but the pure Korean term is ddong-kumong, or "dung hole." I am reminded of high-register and low-register words in English resulting in part from Norman rule in England. The ruling class, speaking what was to become French, would have made reference to "pork." The conquered masses retained the more Germanic-sounding "swine," and both words are found in modern English, with "swine" still sounding a bit ruder and lower-class than "pork," which clever marketing has re-imaged as "the other white meat."]
Sunday, August 03, 2003
John Bolton... human scum? He must be doing something right if North Korea thinks he's lower than protoplasm. Too bad the NKers won't let him sit at the table with them.
In a shocking electoral development, the surprise winners are... the Stalinists by a landslide!
Chechens lose my sympathy.
Mad scientists developing blueberry burgers! The last line of this article confirms all my childhood suspicions about school burgers being mystery meat: "Bushway hopes the burgers will be a big hit with children who participate in taste tests for the program. "
I saw this story first unfolding on Instapundit a few days ago, but French unilateralism has taken a new twist.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, DC continues its slow fester...
George Bush passes a test!
Watch this carefully. I tend to think of Anglicans as evolving faster than Catholics, as they encounter and deal with certain key social and theological issues. They're certainly far ahead of us Presbyterians, who have also been kicking around the homosexuality issue for decades, but with far less actual, visible progress. Tentative prediction: schism if the gay bishop is approved. On a related note, read Den Beste on marriage amendments to the Constitution.
This is actually ancient news about a longstanding phenomenon, but the Scotsman's doing a report, soooo... here ya' go.
A film about a new Korean pastime that's been gaining in popularity.
This article brings up an interesting question for me: is it at all possible that the current North Korean "acquiescence" to 6-way talks is based in part on a belief that the US is showing weakness by withdrawing its troops? The larger issue: I think NK would love to push across the border and enforce reunfication, Kim Family-style. I'm sure it's desperate enough to be thinking along these lines at least part of the time. Certainly, when NK speaks of "reunification," they're assuming it'll be under the NK flag. Is it possible they misperceive US strength in the region and think that, if we pull back far enough and/or eventually leave, they can simply roll across the border? Would we be wrong to discount this as a possibility? Or has Bolton's rhetoric shown them we're not as spineless as all that?
China, in the meantime, continues to punch itself in the head. Communist government... privatized media?
Life is an adventure whether I want it to be or not. I already wrote about a burning minivan on my street.
Today, around 6:35PM (Sunday) we had a seizure in the PC-bahng. A guy right next to me suddenly groaned loudly. My first thought: he just lost at Warcraft. The moan went on longer than the typical "Shit, I lost!" moan, though. So, my second thought: this guy has cerebral palsy, and he must've come with a friend. In fact, when I looked quickly over at him, the guy (in his 20s) was still staring and gesturing weakly at his PC's monitor.
But a second later, his body went rigid, and he spilled out of his chair and onto the floor. His friend, who was on the floor beside him, was saying "Please call 119" [Korean version of 911] to me, but I didn't get this at first-- stupid me. Finally it clicked, and I went to the front desk and told the worker to call 119. He was already on it, though. His first attempt didn't go through. His second call did.
Meantime, I grabbed a bunch of toilet paper (for those of you who don't know, Koreans often keep rolls of toilet paper out on desktops, etc., much the same way we'd have boxes of tissue ready) and went back to the guy, who had urinated and vomited and was lying face-up. I tried turning his head to the side, but he kept resisting-- maybe still seizing, I wouldn't know. He seemed to have stopped vomiting (not much had come out), and his airway was rattling but obviously clear, so I didn't force the issue.
Quite a few people had left their PCs to see what was going on. At this point, there was little to do but wipe away the puke, hold the guy's head steady, and wait for the medics. One young lady sounded like she was offering some helpful advice to the seizure victim's friend; I'm not sure. Eventually the guy's seizure calmed down and he became lucid. By the time the medics arrived, about ten minutes after the call, the victim was able to sit up and talk with his friend. He still sounded woozy and disoriented. The medics walked in carrying nothing but a blood pressure cuff and a board on which to carry the guy out if need be. They asked the guy some questions, repeatedly asked if he wanted to go to the hospital, then left when the guy insisted he was OK.
Not a reassuring performance by Korea's Finest, but I have little room to talk, given how long it took me to recognize what was really going on. The only positive was that nobody freaked out.
Saturday, August 02, 2003
Steven den Beste on the Korean situation. His permalink is phrased, "North Korea blinks." True? Not so sure. Like Kevin and Robert, I have my doubts. We've seen this crap before. But China, China, China, it's all about that big booger called China. Den Beste puts his finger on it:
China doesn't want a reunited Korea under a government in Seoul which is an American ally. They don't want territory where America could deploy troops to be right on the Chinese border.
I agree. And this is something to keep in mind as we watch the latest round on the peninsula.
Also, a correction: I've been spelling his name "Stephen" for some reason. It's "Steven." My apologies.
Jews are converting to Buddhism. Lots of them. It's more than just a fad. Beliefnet has an interesting (if highly superficial) article about the so-called "JuBu" phenomenon.
I also recommend that you take a gander at Rodger Kamenetz's The Jew in the Lotus.
More in a bit. Gotta talk about Buddhist essentialism on Beliefnet, after all. I posted a little notice on the Beliefnet boards that I was going to write this essay; I already have at least one interesting reply.
Friday, August 01, 2003
Thanks to a perusal of Daily Rotten News, I found this article: "Dalai Lama misses sex, shoots guns."
In his autobiography, Freedom in Exile, His Holiness tells us that, due to a condition he has, he is obliged to eat meat. So much for ahimsa.
Maybe we should all agree with Korean Son Master Shin: "He should've stayed in Tibet!"
Stephen den Beste, doing what he does Beste, here and here. He mentions hominids in that first link. Doesn't specifiy whether they're big, though. Bastard.
Angry animals demand recompense for priestly molestation!
Experts anxious that your computer may attack you.
Iraq elections upcoming, which of course means two GIs get killed.
Parents apparently have a secret desire to eat their children.
In other news... a man with a lemon for a head suffers indignities.
Dick Gephardt receives support from the Mafia; an accompanying picture shows him describing how much of his colon was removed during a recent surgical procedure code-named "Operation Rectal Freedom."
A grateful nation pays Iraqi who found naughty, wayward poodles. The informant, to avoid reprisals, must now undergo surgical alteration, which will include a complimentary Operation Rectal Freedom procedure.
Democrats accused of practicing a particularly virulent form of satanism.
Supercompetent Philippine police open prison doors and throw a known terrorist out of jail.
Kim Jong Il says, "Yes, I will take it in all inputs. All I request is that my favorite sheep accompany me to the proceedings."
South Korea continues its bizarre habit of gnawing on itself.
South Korean Army more flaccid than Strom Thurmond's rotting dingle?
Now is the time to shop!
The Scots are no longer having sex with each other. Once again, investigations are under way to explore whether "conjugal relations with ovines" are a key factor in population decline.
President Bush fires wildly into a crowd of South Koreans.
North Korea continues to send delegates to Japan to convince the world it is a Stalinist paradise.
Merde en France est de retour.
Damn Jap linguist writes another fascinating article.
Ken Goldberg of WebMD.com answers a question from a nervous Hillary Clinton.
Aaron Krowne's blog strikes again, as I steal from it some old news (circa July 4th) re: pissed-off MITers who, "[annoyed] by the prospect of a massive new federal surveillance system... are celebrating the Fourth of July with a new Internet service that will let citizens create dossiers on government officials. The system will start by offering standard background information on politicians, but then go one bold step further, by asking Internet users to submit their own intelligence reports on government officials -- reports that will be published with no effort to verify their accuracy."
Yes! Fatness makes the news! This will be me someday.
Arnold milks it for all it's worth.
China chastises imperialist pig-dog BigHominid for reporting that it's pointing missiles at itself.
I was sure this was going to be a story about Iraq. But... no. Pathetic.
It appears that Yellowstone Lake is about to have its very first orgasm.
Meta-news: Reuters accused of racism.
This is why I try to control my flatulence in public.
Don't miss this post from Kevin at Incestuous Amplification, especially the paragraph beginning, "This is unbelievably painful." I agree: if South Korea is making noise like it's ready to toddle on its own, it should be given the chance to toddle.
Kevin's post "Coincidence or Direct Result?" is also an excellent read.
I had to react to these two posts from Andrew Sullivan.
The less important one first: Sullivan points us to an article re: evidence of an "active program" to create WMDs in Iraq. I believe, along with others, that the finding of WMDs is only a matter of time, and that the skeptics simply lack patience. As said before, by the Administration and others, this is going to take a long time. "A long time" was deliberately not defined. But however long it takes, the end result will be the discovery (and not, as some wickedly posit, the fabrication) of weapons of mass destruction. While I lack confidence in our current administration's ability to manage finances and deal with certain crucial moral and social issues, I think they're right on the WMD question.
Secondly: Sullivan, who is gay and Catholic, has also linked to an article about the Vatican's declaration on homosexual marriage and relationships. [The Vatican's declaration in full can be found here. Note once again that this piece of filth emanates from Cardinal Ratzinger's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?]
The NYT article quotes from the document:
"There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family," the document says, asserting repeatedly that marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples. Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law.
Sullivan's reaction to two emails he received from two gay men who have now left the Church because of this declaration:
I feel my own conscience getting closer and closer to making the same decision [i.e., leaving the Church]. It tears me apart to see no prospect of the Catholic Church ending its war on gay people and their dignity in my lifetime. In fact, I think it's getting worse; and the next Pope from the developing world could make the current one seem humane. Leaving the sacraments would be a huge blow to the soul; but the pope just called the love I have for my boyfriend "evil." That's a word he couldn't bring himself to use about Saddam Hussein. How can I recognize what I know to be true with what the Pope has just said? I cannot. It doesn't leave many options but departure.
I hate reading this, and agree that the next Pope is very likely to be far more conservative. I feel for Sullivan, and think he and other homosexuals are in a shitty position. The Church won't even grant the possibility that homosexual love is analogous to hetero? This sort of idiocy can only be propounded by a loveless German dickhead like Cardinal Ratzinger.
But JP2 signed off on the document. Maybe he knows his tenure is coming to an end, and now he can do whatever the hell he wants. The Onion, which must have been aware of the rumor that His Holiness is lucid only three hours out of the day, wrote a spoof months ago about him.
In a recent post, I said that JP2's been a good Pope. I stand by that, but maybe I should take the time to explain that my feeling is not unqualified. As I mentioned in that previous post, JP2 has done a lot of apologizing during his tenure (he's been nicknamed by some, not always kindly, "The Pope of Apologies"). He has also done much to try and further interreligious dialogue, and to continue to project the spirit of the Vatican II reforms of the 1960s into the 21st century.
But JP2 is also the temporal head of the church, and while I'm willing to grant that Rome is of many minds as it deals with the imminent power vacuum, ultimate responsibility for retrograde documents promulgated by Rome devolves to His Holiness. Cardinal Ratzinger's CDF is also responsible for the reprehensible Dominus Iesus of August 2000-- a document that, while not intended to be wide in scope, nevertheless set back Catholic interreligious dialogue decades, deeply offending non-Catholic dialogue partners across the spectrum. JP2 must bear ultimate responsibility for this wound as well; Dominus Iesus was cleared by him, after all.
The Pope has endured accusations of traditionalism and conservatism since the beginning of his tenure. Certainly he has been dogged throughout the 80s and 90s on the issue of reproductive rights (as was Mother Theresa, whom some called "criminal" for her role in Calcutta). Sexuality and Christianity have always been a turbulent mix at best. The Church's stance against homosexuality has also always been clear, and this stance is, unfortunately, very much in line with what American evangelical Protestantism and the conservative wings of the mainline Christian branches espouse.
It's unfortunate that such medievalism exists to this day, and causes hurt in the people who most need the Church. While certain Protestants flaunt their "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets, they spout the rhetoric of separation, brokenness, closed-mindedness, and ignorance. WWJD, indeed. The world doesn't move forward at the same pace, and some people prefer to cling to their primitivity rather than acknowledge how dynamic reality is. The sickest, saddest irony in all this is that the Church, which should ideally be the last of all institutions to turn people away, is remarkably successful at alienating them.
Thursday, July 31, 2003
1. Bush takes responsibility.
2. James Woods interview (no link; Salon makes you pay for this crap).
3. Salon is now hiring. They need a political reporter. You wanna try out? What, no free spots at the BBC?
1. Continued denials from Iraqi scientists about weapons programs. Hmmmm.
2. An item that, were it not on the front page, would barely impinge on American consciousness.
3. Kerry and Dean finally declare they are gay lovers. Yes, you read it here first. "It's the way he grabs my hair when we make love," says a blushing Dean, squeezing Kerry's hand. "That tax debate was just a spat, nothing major," nodded Kerry, who then tugged Dean away from the microphones and appeared to be whispering angrily at him as they walked away.
1. Bribery? In Korea? The hell you say!
2. China: "Despite the fact that we think Bolton is being an insufferable asshole for violating Confucian-derived codes of politeness through overly direct speech, we are cautiously optimistic about nuke talks."
British Superbike champion not killed by Superbike!
In fine anti-American form in this issue, L'Express headlines with "Mensonges, manipulations, erreurs..." (Lies, Manipulation/Chicanery, Mistakes) two lead articles re: failures in American intelligence and whether Iraq actually possesses WMDs. My opinion: yes, it does. Finding them is an urgent matter, but also a matter of time.
A missionary's letter from Palestine.
I'm disappointed: I thought Merde in France would be all over L'Express... but maybe there's just too much vitriol in the French press for one lone American to address, hein?
Via Aaron Krowne's blog: a bit of old news, but worth thinking about as we mull over China: the space race. BTW, Aaron's blog is the first blog I ever saw. He's a friend of my younger brother, Sean.
I don't know anything about John Bolton, the top US arms control official (whatever that means)-- is he a Dem? A Rep? Whoever he is, he's pissing off the North. I think that's not a bad thing. If the North wants to spew frenzied rhetoric, we should generate more harshness on our side to see who cracks first. Is this badgering? Yes. Should we be too cavalier about it? No. Unlike the war in Iraq, we won't lose just a handful of troops on the peninsula should war break out. But NK doesn't deserve coddling. Keep up the heat, John. Cause some MOVEMENT here.
China is aiming missiles at US forces in Okinawa. They've got the Soviet mentality down pat, haven't they.
Maybe this answers the question of where China will lean if war breaks out in Korea. Are human beings really this stupid...
...and is it any wonder the Japanese conservatives are hollering about total remilitarization?
What prompts this brief meditation is this article about China's new buildup of short-range missiles to be aimed at Taiwan.
Here's an excerpt from the beginning.
China Adds to Missiles Aimed at Taiwan, Pentagon Says (Update1)
July 30 (Bloomberg) -- China is on a path to increase by half over the next few years the number of short-range ballistic missiles arrayed against Taiwan, a Pentagon report says.
China has about 450 CSS-6 and CSS-7 missiles facing Taiwan across the South China Sea. That number is expected to grow by 75 a year "over the next few years,'' the report said. The missiles are mobile and have ranges of 372 miles (600 kilometers) and 186 miles (300 kilometers), respectively.
"As Beijing increases the accuracy and lethality of its conventional ballistic missile arsenal, a growing and significant challenge is posed to U.S. forces in the Western Pacific, as well as to allies and friends, including Taiwan,'' the report said.
Keep in mind that China's huge, and to my mind, it's got expansionist tendencies. It's already gnawed its way through Tibet-- a country that has effectively become Chinese (the Korean abbot of the temple I've attended in Germantown, MD, Master Shin Go Seong, says of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, "He should've stayed in Tibet!"), and India, often an irritant to Chinese ambitions, has officially acknowledged Chinese hegemony there and promised to monitor Tibetan dissent in its own borders (hint: Dharamsala). While China and the US are supposedly in agreement about a "one China" policy, the reality is obviously otherwise. If there is only one China, it wouldn't aim missiles at itself, and the US wouldn't be doing its part to help supply Taiwan with defense tech.
What I thought was very interesting about this article was the Israel connection:
Among other disclosures, the Pentagon said China "has procured from Israel a significant number of Harpy anti-radiation systems.'' The Harpy is a kamikaze drone produced by Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd. that's equipped with anti-radar sensors and a bomb capable of attacking Taiwanese air-defense radar. The drone would dive into a radar station.
The Harpy was used during July 2002 Chinese military drills in the region opposite Taiwan, according to press reports but the Pentagon had not previously confirmed the Israeli sale.
"The Harpy detects, attacks and destroys enemy radar emitters, hitting them with high accuracy,'' IAI says on its web site. "It effectively suppresses hostile surface-to-air missiles and radar sites for long durations, loitering above enemy territory for hours.'' The drone is already in use with several air forces, IAI said.
It's a complex world, and I'm still only just figuring this out. Whether Israel deserved as much money as we were giving it was a question I personally tabled after September 11. While I by no means view Israel as an innocent party in the larger issue of Mideast strife, I agree with friends and pundits who consider Israel to be an island of fairly secular Western-style democracy in the middle of a gaggle of angry Muslim theocracies. This in itself makes Israel worth defending. If certain Muslim countries were to adopt a similar model, I'd include them in that statement as well.
But the sale of defense tech-- whether it's the US to Taiwan, or the USSR to Afghanistan of old, or Israel to China-- is a disturbing issue. I'm not sure what the best answer is to this question, but there's a sick potential irony lying in wait if our own men and women are brought down in combat with the aid of American-made defense tech. How should we view Israel's sale to the Chinese, which works at cross-purposes to our sales to Taiwan? Sorry, but I take a dim view.
In the meantime, we've got this peninsular chess game to worry about. How to squeeze North Korea? Many Koreabloggers are betting on putting pressure on China. How to protect Taiwan, then, as China gets irritated by US pressure?
We are, once again, in the thicket of unintended consequences. The world is far too interconnected for us to gloss over the possibility that actions in one region may directly affect events in another, far off. An arms race, however, was a no-brainer of a pre-war prediction. This article confirms that China is (or has been) on its way. And as we see in the news quite frequently these days, North Korea is ratcheting the game to a new level.
North Korea's simultaneous ally and enemy is time. The longer South Korea plays its role as enabler and the US refuses to act more forcefully, the more nukes the North can manufacture and sell (or stock). At the same time, the longer the North waits, the more its citizens starve and the further its economy collapses. Nothing lasts forever; that includes the peninsular stalemate.
At this point, I think the stalemate is more likely to end in war than in a sudden, dramatic collapse of the NK regime. I am not sure which way China will lean should conflict arise on the peninsula. If it does indeed respect its "mutual defense pact" with the North, we may see June 1950 all over again, but this time, the South will have much, much more to lose. That would be tragic. If, however, China realizes that its business commitments to the US are worth keeping, it may, at the crucial moment, look the other way.
But Asians don't follow simple yes/no behaviors-- a fact that frustrates so many Westerners seeking black-and-white patterns. I doubt that China's future course will follow as neat a path as what I've just described. It will more likely try to find a way to retain vital economic ties while doing its part (quietly) to aid North Korea in its future time of need.
Europe actually figures prominently in this situation. Though I don't have the statistics right at hand, my impression is that European investment in China has been a lot more aggressive than American investment. US policy had allowed itself to become tied to the question of human rights, which often complicates our dealings with China. If China pays heed to its business ties, it may pay greater heed to the European wing, not the American, simply because that's where most of the money's coming from (Koreabloggers & others with stats, please write me, so I can update/correct this post). A further wrinkle is that certain American tech firms are selling China the software it needs to monitor its Internet infrastructure-- in other words, some of our own corporations are, through business dealings, abetting the repression of the Chinese citizenry. This has to stop.
The American political party that claims to be simultaneously pro-Big Business and pro-Old Time Morality needs to look deeply at itself and question this inconsistency. Business for business' sake is far too simplistic an approach to take in world affairs, especially in dealing with as large and complex an entity as China. The free market, however much I believe in its effectiveness, is NOT an automatic guarantor of Western values. At the same time, the party that claims to be pro-modernity, pro-diversity and pro-human rights needs to question whether naive idealism is appropriate as a political platform to carry overseas. In my opinion, business is one of the most effective weapons we have for exporting the trappings of American culture. It is possible, though not always probable (cf. my meandering essay on Western values and physical space), for us to use those business channels to pump in a large measure of American values. This, to my mind, is a better, more subtle approach to the question of human rights in places like China than moralistic flag-waving.
There is a school of thought that views the Middle Eastern question as a distraction: the real issue, in a decade or so, will be the rise of China, a superpower currently running a morbidly fascinating politico-economical experiment. It may well be that how China deals with the NK situation will be an indicator of where it thinks it's headed. Stay tuned.
Wednesday, July 30, 2003
The Marmot's site contains a photo gallery. In that gallery is a picture of boshin-t'ang, or dog stew. The stew in that photo is almost the same brownish color as what I ate (mine was a bit darker brown). If you know the English and Korean names of the green veggies in there, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org (type "Hairy Chasms" in the subject window, or I won't get your message).
Courtesy of Salon. Oesterreich liebt Arrrrrrrrrnoooooolllllllld!
Yet another example of misuse of religion. (via Salon)
How sad. It appears there won't be a terrorism futures market after all. It's been said that futures markets are better predictors than most experts. Why not do this? Just because it's morbid? (via Salon)
UPDATE (thanks to Instapundit): The futures market might still happen, but in the private sector (where many also think major SPACE TRAVEL PROJECTS should happen... and I'm beginning to agree).
The Gray Davis Titanic sinks further. (via Salon)
Notice how Salon.com is most useful for finding Reuters and AP dispatches.
Interesting article-- in Salon, no less-- about the "Democratic Weaselship Council." Love the accompanying graphic. No links-- this is a "Premium" (cough) article.
Merde in France and other sites are on the story about the Allied war cemetery being desecrated in France.
In the JoongAng Ilbo:
In China, new thinking on the war
BEIJING: A Chinese scholar has engaged in some revisionist thinking about the Korean War, saying that contrary to the Chinese government's official position, it was triggered by the North Korean leadership with the active support of the Soviet Union. While that assertion would raise no eyebrows among most scholars since Soviet-era Russian archives were opened after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is surprising coming from a researcher in China.
Any bets on this scholar's insights being derided/covered up/rebutted by Beijing? Come on! It's time to play the "Can He Stay Out of Prison?" Game!
More to the point, the article says:
Mr. Shi's urging that China stay out of any new war in Korea would challenge the legitimacy of Beijing's mutual defense pact with Pyeongyang, which commits China to come to North Korea's assistance in an armed conflict.
The Koreabloggers are arguing for the US to push China harder. I agree: now is the time. They got a new administration (Hu Jintao); there's upwelling pressure from a restive Hong Kong and a steadily freer market; and North Korea's baking nuclear pie. Something's gotta give. Let me jump on the blogger bandwagon and say, China's gotta give.
Amritas on Arabic... with a neat remark about the word "brother" and its Sanskrit incarnation toward the end of the entry.
A shout-out to Robert Koehler, who runs The Marmot's Hole, a blog about Korea. Of particular note: though his bio doesn't explicitly mention it, you can read between the lines and see that Robert's a graduate of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.
So: fellow Hoya in da hizzooouuuuuse!
I graduated from the School of Languages and Linguistics in 1991 (French major, Theo minor), making me an SLLer. All SLLers can attest that SFS produces nothing but arrogant assholes, and SFSers will attest that LingLangers are frustrated faux-intellectual wannabes who brag about getting through 50% of the SFS courseload.
Petty rivalries notwithstanding (hey, some of my best friends from undergrad days were SFS), I highly recommend the Marmot's blog (along with, of course, Incestuous Amplification) for Robert's insightful (and often pungent) posting about Korean culture and current events.
It's been so long since we last met
Lie down forever, lie down
Or have you any money to bet
Lie down forever, lie down...
Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Or so says the Naked Villain, who with his usual Jedi quickness has issued a correction. Far be it from me to propagate untruth. I bend over and gnaw my (quite tasty) genitalia as punishment. The Maximum Leader sends this link as proof of his rightness.
So maybe we'll get to watch Arnold dismember Arianna! Hooray! She is kinda cute for an older lady, but still, I'm afraid she's at the end of her usefulness and she'll be most entertaining when getting soundly pummeled by her own ripped-off arms.
Gracias for the heads-up, Mike. Faster, Arnold! Kill! Kill!
BBC vs. Churchill on Andrew Sullivan.
den Beste's latest-- very interesting. He parses the naysayers. Read how he phrased his URL for the permalink. Heh.
Definitely take a look at Incestuous Amplification's recent entry. Required reading. Kevin's site is helping me sort out my own issues about China, a country I do credit for some movement on North Korea.
Not good. Wake up, people. (via Drudge)
When metaphors attack! (also via Drudge)
Majority of NYC women are single. Wonder why. Could it be the self-absorption? The neuroticism? The fact that many of these "New Yorkers" aren't originally from NYC but want to blend in? The sudden need to explore whether one is bisexual (if you think I'm kidding, head over to the Salon/Nerve personals and peruse the 20-something crowd entries-- 90% NYC, 90% willing to swing both ways)? I mean... don't get me wrong-- bisexuality's fine by me, but ladies: don't hook up with a conventionally hetero boyfriend if you plan to bat for both teams. (via Drudge)
The no-brainer: "In language critical of left-leaning positions, the Democratic Leadership Council urged party leaders to avoid policies that voters may associate with big government and special-interest groups, including labor unions." Have we seen a coherent campaign platform yet? (via Drudge)
Sigh... replace one foreign-born pretender with another. Arnold drops out (maybe a smart move), but Arianna Huffington throws her wig into the ring. Check out Salon.com for this. No, I refuse to link to Salon's main articles because they make you pay to read news that should be available for free. Sorry. Either subscribe to Salon (which I don't really recommend) or sit through a 20-second ad to get the, uh, Premium Day Pass. Question: will Nia Vardalos lose weight and play Huffington in a TV miniseries? Or will Nia refuse to lose... forcing them to retitle the miniseries "Puffington"?
OK, that was a cheap shot. I admit it. But what did you expect from a guy who constantly mentions his own asshole?
It's UN-supported and being run by the French, but it still rocks. (via Salon)
When Vaticans attack! (also via Salon) Sigh... And I think the next Pope will be even more conservative. JP2, who gets darts from all over, has been, in my opinion, a very good Pope, both in terms of what he's done for Catholics and what he's done worldwide. Yes, he's not perfect, and some Catholics actually resent how much he's apologized for previous Church errors and sins, but he's done yeoman's work in a difficult job. If there's a heaven that's anything like Catholics envision it, I hope he goes there and gets a good rest.
The author of the document in question (contra homosexual marriage) is the CDF-- the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is headed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the Vatican's ultraconservative. From the article:
"The instructions, which call on politicians to oppose extending rights granted to traditional couples, are in a document prepared by the Church's guardian of orthodoxy, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."
So: The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!
I'm Presbyterian, and my Calvinist genes imbue me with the instinctual knowledge that I, personally, am going to fry in hell-- a fact decided since before the galaxies formed. But because I've got this lovely spare tire around my waist, at least I'll smell really tasty while frying. Who said hell had to be a drag? By the way, I have no idea what my burning in hell has to do with homosexual marriage.
Not exactly WMDs, but still... (via Salon)
Bob Hope died at 100, just like George Burns, if I'm not mistaken. He was part of my childhood. Adios, Bob.
Meantime, I'll be turning 34 on August 31st, at which time I will be having an "I Outlived Jesus!" party (since Jesus died at age 33, according to traditional calculations). Just thought you should know. No, you're not invited. I'll probably celebrate by eating another dog.
Damn, that feels weird. From now until I die, I can say... Yes, I've eaten dog.
LA Times: "Hopes Dim for 3-Way Talks with North Korea." Dammit, are the talks 5-way, 3-way, or 6-way!? It's like I wandered into an argument on the set of a porn video. All I know is... Kim Jong Il should take it in all available inputs.
In Korea, the US Army will be showing off the "Stryker" vehicle. Sounds like Christian heavy metal to me. (Korea Herald)
Also in the Herald: A little taste of the hairiness known as South Korean politics. [editorial]
Frank J at IMAO goes after Canada and its monkey problem.
Nasty story in the Scotsman, but I like the phrase "torso investigation."
JoongAng Ilbo: Making the Army base into a park? Why not? You can't have enough parks in Seoul.
Also in JoongAng Ilbo: Elegy for Korean pay phones.
Sure enough: Merde in France reports that Armstrong is once again accused of doping. This whining is a favorite French hobby.
Same site: keep in mind that France's population is now fully 10% Muslim.
Visit Amritas. No need to link to anything specific. Always fascinating.
Monday, July 28, 2003
I like reading Andrew Sullivan because he's a gay conservative who refuses to adopt the descriptor "Republican." Sullivan's essays can be shrill at times, but he is also a sharp thinker who admits mistakes, apologizes for going over the top, and even revisits predictions from weeks previous (eating crow if need be). Because he's gay, his relationship with "traditional" conservatives is sometimes rocky-- this has made him, I believe, more of a thinking conservative than, say, the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler, whom I enjoy, but who is too far right for my modest, saner, nondualist taste. Sullivan also has a knack for spotting trends-- and may even be in the avant-garde, initiating them. For example, his beef against the BBC and his predictions about its possible fall from grace were made months ago; his rants about British citizens having to pay a tax that effectively goes to the BBC, whether the citizens want it to or not, may have helped spark some activism in the UK. Catch his most recent anti-BBC rant here.
Sullivan is also unapologetic about the war effort, and says so in this piece.
My problem here, though, is the same problem I have with Steven Den Beste's justifications for the war: both thinkers may have out-thought the Bush administration, which in my opinion hasn't done nearly as good a job at making its case as the conservative (and some liberal hawk) apologists have. From some of Sullivan's writings, I gather he does have access, through journalistic connections, to a certain degree of inside information. But Den Beste? Not so sure. When you read his bio, you get the impression you're reading a really smart guy who should have inside connections but probably doesn't. His justifications for war make sense, but I have the sneaking suspicion that they're based largely on very educated conjecture and not on any substantive access to real sources inside the Administration. Maybe Den Beste would respond that his conjectures are rather obvious, and people like me are simply too distracted by swirling details to see the deep trends and underlying arguments that are moving events forward.
Den Beste describes himself as "results-oriented" in his thinking. If you read his recent fascinating piece (a lengthy response to an email in which he deals with issues like the Enlightenment, the Reformation, Puritanism, and Islamic fundamentalism), you'll see that, in the case of the Muslim question, his focus is on the issue of Them killing Us. I admire Den Beste's pragmatism, and consider him a bit less triumphalist than Bill Whittle (whose essays I also enjoy). But is the Bush administration "results-oriented" in the same manner as Den Beste? I somehow doubt it. And it makes me wonder how relevant Den Beste's remarks ultimately are. Anyone can provide post hoc justifications; how well they correspond to what's actually been going on inside the Bush camp is another issue entirely. This is most plain to me when Den Beste makes claims about what he views as the Bush adminstration's real motives in Iraq. Not to say I disagree with him: in fact, I agree with a lot of what he's been saying. But can he truly speak with assurance about matters to which the public isn't privy?
Better predictions of complex events arise from having a good grasp of many factors. The more factors you consider, the more accurate your model for prediction will be. There's always the possibility of chaos, of course, and no prediction, viewed in detail, ever truly pans out as formulated. But questions of a prediction's rightness or wrongess are usually relegated to the level of least fine resolution-- the brute "yes/no," for example, of whether we can expect a decrease in terrorism against American interests over the next decade or three. Conservative thinkers like Whittle and Den Beste and Sullivan would argue yes; some would push the argument so far as to say that we're already seeing evidence of a dropoff. Liberals would probably argue no. In my case, my own lingering doubts about unintended consequences make me lean a little more leftward. I think it's far, far too early to speak with assurance about our future security (Den Beste actually agrees that things are tenuous right now). I do, however, strongly agree with the conservatives who say we cannot undertake this effort in Iraq and elsewhere in a half-hearted manner. My agreement stems partly from resignation: war happened, so now we have to move along with the plan.
There is an axiological aspect of this issue that begs consideration. Is it inappropriate-- even cruel-- to wish to impose our values on others? Do we have the right to consider ourselves in the right? Den Beste has this to say:
Let's be clear that the fundamental strategy behind this war isn't totally unprecedented, but its application to the specific situation among the Arabs and Muslims is certainly fraught with uncertainty. It is not at all clear that we'll succeed at this. However, I believe we have no choice but to try, because if we do not then eventually someone will start using nukes and a hell of a lot more people will die.
I am sufficiently convinced of the Enlightenment ideals which inspired the American branch of the movement that I do actually think that we can succeed, and that creation of a liberal democracy in Iraq actually will make the people there more happy and more successful. I do not think that the fact that these ideas will have been imposed on them is a significant problem.
I don't think it's a problem ideologically, since I do not accept the multicultural axiom that cross-cultural pollution is inherently bad. I also don't think it's a practical problem, in the sense that the Arabs will somehow reject these ideas solely because they are foreign.
The evidence to the contrary is too strong. Part of why the extremists hate us is exactly that our ideas have been filtering into their nations and have been embraced by their young people. Their young people want to wear fancy clothes and hang out at the mall and date whoever they want and choose their own husbands and wives. They want to go to night clubs and dance; they want to listen to loud music. This embrace of our culture by their young people is one of the big reasons that the extremists hate us, because we're seducing their young people away.
If the narrow issue is one of our own survival and self-interest, then I don't think any American, liberal or conservative, can argue that the propagation of American values is a bad thing.
But is "embrace of our culture" the same as "embrace of our values"? Could Den Beste et al. be conflating the two?
Whether Western values do in fact take root in societies that have undergone so-called "nation building" is, in my opinion, open to question. Since I'm living in Seoul, I'll use South Korea (and what little I know about Japan) as a case study.
Den Beste and others have highlighted countries like Japan and Germany and South Korea as positive examples of nation building. This argument was, in fact, trotted out as an early rebuttal to liberal worrywarts who, like me (please don't call me politically liberal, though I don't mind being accused of religious liberalism), had grave doubts about the consequences of war and nation building. If Den Beste's judgment is rooted in his estimation of how compliant these countries have become-- i.e., how resistant to war against the US-- then of course he is correct that nation-building has led to results in the US's favor.
Is a country's apparent docility the only yardstick by which to measure a situation, though? I won't argue against the case of Germany. Germany, being a Western country, already shares so many values with America that Den Beste's argument seems to hold. But Japan... or South Korea?
Evidence of Westernization is all around me here in Seoul. The architecture of the tall buildings, the design of the better PC-bahng (Net cafes), the clothing fashion, the pop music-- so much reeks of Western rip-off or borrowing. Korean women (and some men) undergo surgery to widen their eyes. Everyone seems intent on dyeing their hair so that it's anything but the natural black (which, by the way, I favor, ladies! black is beautiful!). Colored contacts, which I began to see in Seoul in the mid-90s, are still alive and kicking. American market penetration is deep in terms of fast food (and the concomitant fast food culture), cinema (American films still dominate the market, though Korean films are rapidly gaining prestige... mainly because the filmmakers have begun adopting American cinematic techniques), and even language. A Chinese classmate of mine complained last year about how modern Korean includes too many English loan words. Too bad! Free exchange of ideas can lead to linguistic cross-pollination and accelerated linguistic evolution. This is only natural. Merken Sie gut, Frankreich!
But do the above examples of Westernization constitute compelling evidence of a sea change in societal values?
I would argue not that no such sea change is visible, but that it's not nearly as deep as some would contend. The evidence of my daily interactions leads me to believe that Koreans remain thoroughly Korean in terms of their deeper values and outlook. The Confucian ethic probably has more to do with social cohesion in both South Korea and Japan than does some recently-internalized Western notion of "rule of law," for example. A lot of this is reinforced by the nature of the Korean and Japanese languages, which both evolved to accommodate notions of social hierarchy. And ask any disgruntled expatriate teacher in Japan or Korea about how Japanese and Korean bosses regard paper contracts! The role of logos in East Asian society is nothing like it is in the West, and that's a values issue.
A lot of this is also reinforced by something only tangentially addressed by Bill Whittle, but not by Den Beste at all (from what little I've read): the question of geographical spaciousness and how it affects values.
Bill Whittle's excellent two-part essay "Trinity" deals with what he considers to be the three most important factors at work in American cultural robustness: capitalism, freedom, and (Yankee) ingenuity. But his essay's introduction is a wonderfully romantic evocation of spaciousness. The big sky, the loud music, the long, open road, the rocket testing-- it's all about space.
Freedom as Americans know it implies more than just the soul's room to breathe. It's the body's room to breathe as well. Witness the problems that arise in packed American movie theaters, or in American traffic jams, or in broken-down subway cars during rush hour, when Americans are forced into situations where they find themselves jammed together and unable to do much other than vocalize. All that loudness, that exuberant individualism, very quickly curdles into its dark side: the churlishness, childishness, and selfishness of people who, thanks to a culturally reinforced sense of entitlement, keep on acting as if they exist in large tracts of personal space.
I see this as problematic, especially in crowded sections of America-- big cities, or the coasts in general, for example. Americans on the whole are not culturally prepared to deal with being confined-- with actual space restrictions. Violence in the big cities is emblematic of this problem, though the problem is by no means restricted to the big cities. The libertarian notion that we should all be free to do as we please contains a caveat that's hard for many Americans to swallow: so long as what we're not harming anyone else.
The calculus of harm is something we as Americans engage in all the time. We have to, as new situations arise. Do I blare the music out of my car stereo in a traffic jam, windows down, saying fuck-you to the world? There's always the risk that someone else will think they have the "right" to undertake physical action to keep me from enjoying my "right" to be an asshole. Same with movie theaters. How much whispering or talking is OK? When does it cross the border from annoying to rude to obnoxious?
I don't propose answers to these questions; I merely highlight them as examples of the problems that arise when a notion of personal freedom is too closely associated with the need for physical space in which to enact/enjoy that freedom. Freedom as Americans envision it includes more than a wide gamut of opportunities or a chance at self-fulfillment or liberty of self-expression; it inevitably includes a notion of physical space. This commodity, of course, isn't infinite.
Moving to what I really want to talk about, then...
Nation building doesn't strike me as having fundamentally changed countries like Japan and South Korea. Or, more accurately: if fundamental changes have occurred, they're not as far-reaching as we think they are. Korean Confucianism, despite its many flaws (I certainly feel for the women in Korean society), is in my opinion a better social system for people who live in crowded conditions than the American paradigm. Conformism and the social orientation that puts group before self, tendencies we Americans view with horror, have their salutary uses. Hierarchalism does as well. Should Korean society evolve so far toward the Western paradigm that Korean youth (quite a few of whom already travel in motorcycle gangs and so forth in imitation of some Western stereotype) end up living the same kind of loud lifestyle that Bill Whittle would praise-- windows open, music blaring, shooting madly down the expressway, middle finger gleefully aimed at the world? I am watching with interest as tiny, jam-packed South Korea's 48,000,000 people deal with Western (specifically American) culture, and with equal interest as America begins to realize that its population of 300,000,000 is... a helluva lotta loud people. The coasts are already getting crowded; some experts view the Eastern Seaboard as a proto-megalopolis.
Perhaps on some collective, atavistic level, the Korean and Japanese societies are so possessed of the Confucian meme that the meme will fight to survive as Western values encroach. I doubt we'll see the dethronement of Confucianistic thinking anytime soon-- not even as women continue to make their gains. I do foresee severe problems, though, as the values change while the population density remains high. By the same token, I foresee severe problems in America, as the values remain the same but the population density inexorably increases. Physical space, which varies in part as a function of population, is a crucial factor in the values question. Are Western (read: American) values good for everybody? Could American values have arisen as they did in a country that was more crowded or had far unfriendlier terrain?
What complicates matters further as we turn our attention to Islam/Iraq is that Muslim culture, despite Den Beste's protestations to the contrary, brooks no secularism. It might have been either VD Hanson or John Derbyshire on the NRO site who used the adjective "creepy" to describe the Muslim obsession with Western products, even as they publicly hold to a theocratic ideology and decry secularist values. I agreed with that adjective "creepy," initially, but I'm not so sure how apropos it is anymore. It occurs to me that many of the countries that have appropriated our products, our pop music, our way of doing cinema, etc., have not really appropriated our core values. The Muslim case is therefore not unique or surprising in that regard.
But since I do agree that there is something highly dysfunctional currently operating in many Muslim cultures, I also agree with Den Beste et al. that we should remain deeply committed to the current project: the simultaneous war on terror and nation building in Iraq. I do not, however, feel our chances for definitive success in Iraq are high. Asian culture probably has an easier time dealing with (or even ignoring) Western secularism because its view of religion isn't the same as the Judeo-Christo-Muslim one. Conceptual and ideological lines are not clearly drawn in Asian philosophy and religion; a Chinese can claim without self-contradiction to be Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian all at once. Mainstream Christians in East Asia have a harder time making such claims, but Christianity in Asia is by no means immune to the ambient syncretism of the region. But as one of my best friends observed, "Islam does not play well with others." This exclusivist tendency, very visible in the "great" monotheisms and quite prominent in both mainstream and fundamentalist Islam, has to be completely changed. Many people are calling for a "Muslim Reformation." Will Muslims listen to this call and agree?
Where Den Beste sees young Muslims grabbing at Western values, I see them grabbing only at the fruits of Western culture-- at products, certain behaviors, certain privileges taken for granted in Western societies, all without any deep appreciation for what underlies Western culture: a profoundly different value system that, in my opinion, must somehow be put in place in the Muslim world for our project to make any lasting difference. Can this be done top-down? I don't know. But even as I root for the project's success, I have to admit I'm not as confident as some people are.
I realize that it's not correct to speak of culture and values as if they are totally discrete phenomena. I guess what I'm trying to say is that East Asia isn't a good analogy for the Muslim experiment, both because the Asians in question have not been fundamentally altered by nation building, and because in a Muslim country like Iraq, the issue of how to inject secularism into a determinedly nonsecularist society is going to require much more thought and effort than our project leaders and optimistic pundits currently believe. While I agree on many levels with the likes of Den Beste, Sullivan, and Whittle, I also have to take their rhetoric with a grain of salt.
[UPDATE, August 15th: If you take a gander at Stephen Hunter's review of Kevin Costner's newest movie, "Open Range," you'll get a wee bit of confirmation of my thesis. Hunter writes: The myth that underlies "Open Range" is the primal American definition of freedom as space. We're a people who like to move about. When we see an empty horizon, we yearn to know what's beyond it.]