[UPDATE, February 26, 2004: I've been thinking of retitling this "On Attachment," because the essay doesn't really focus as much on Islam as I thought it would. And maybe that's proper, because attachment isn't uniquely a Muslim problem. It is, as I argue in the essay, a human problem.]
I've been trying to figure out a way to write a Buddhist critique of Islam. I've already written and deleted two long essays, and it's getting frustrating. The thoughts are there, but ultimately, I'm concluding, the essay would have to be short (which goes against my prolix nature).
Buddhism isolates only one major human problem in the Saseong-jae (Sino-Kor. "Four Holy Truths"): the problem of tanha (Skt. craving, thirst, hunger, desire). This is the cause of dukkha, suffering. Eliminate tanha, and you eliminate dukkha. Somewhere in between tanha and dukkha, there is upadana, attachment or clinging.
I tend to view attachment as "desire over time." It's what happens when you allow desire to gain momentum. If I become attached to a particular idea and allow my attachment to gain momentum, then my thoughts, speech and action will cease to correspond to reality. Perhaps the worst feature of attachment is the obsession with fixity. Attachment is an echo of the basic desire we have for permanence and solidity. I want to believe I'm going to live forever, so I believe I've got a soul, and/or there's a permanent God who sits in judgement of it. I want to believe God is numerically singular, that he is "our rock and our salvation." Like Isaiah, I want to affirm that "the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever." I want to believe that mine is a house built on rock, not on sand. Fixity.
But Buddhism tells us reality is change. Being is becoming. It's all sand: even rock is going somewhere, eventually.
If you're a traditional Christian, or any kind of Muslim, you don't want to hear this. Truth for you is probably eternal, unchanging. And if you don't believe this, I bet you probably believe the truth is founded on something firm-- the ground of the universe, the Ground of Being. For Christians, truth is incarnated in the Christ (incarnatio); for Muslims, it's reified in the Koran (inlibritio). We have souls; there is a paradise which the good will inhabit forever; there is no God but God.
And that's the problem. If you clutch the scriptures and shout, "This truth! Only this!", you're only showing the depths of your attachment to ideas: ideas about God, truth, reality. Attachment isn't healthy, which is why a proverb like "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!" arose. You have to let go of truth, of scripture, even of God. If God exists, if scripture has any meaning, then these things are alive and dynamic-- moving.
The child clutches his teddy bear, refusing to let it go. It's an unreasoning attachment, but perfectly natural for a child. What happens when you reach for that teddy bear and try to pull it away? The child goes nuts! As adults, we should behave more maturely, but we rarely do. We still grab and cling-- to political affiliation, religious teaching, and unhealthy habits of body and mind. Try shouting, "Muhammad was just another guy!" in the streets of Tikrit. What happens? The child goes nuts!
Attachment to ideas is the worst. The belief that this, and only this, is the Right Way-- that's attachment. The resultant inability to see the other's point of view, as they see it, produces suffering. Attachment, which is "desire over time," always produces suffering.
This could just as easily be a Buddhist critique of Christianity or Buddhism, because attachment is a universal human phenomenon. No one is immune. But my focus for the moment is Islam, and what I see as the root problem in Islam is attachment: attachment to specific ideas of God, attachment to specific interpretations of scripture, attachment to specific forms of interpersonal conduct.
Does it make sense to plan your lifelong diet by following, fanatically, only one recipe? Such closed-mindedness will lead to malnutrition, I think. If your recipes don't reflect the changing reality of your needs and your surroundings, then your life will lack zest and variety. So we have to be ready to put aside our favorite recipes as we face new situations. My famous gumbo, chock full of shrimp and andouille sausage, isn't going to work if my dinner guests are all vegetarian. I'll have to put that recipe aside. Or I might have to keep the recipe, but vary it: maybe the Gumbo Lovers' Society is coming over and they all love my signature gumbo... but with a different kind of sausage.
Attachment causes suffering. It's a product of the child's mind, and a thought-habit we form early. Let's say I want to go see "The Matrix Reloaded." I round up some friends, and off we go to the local multiplex (pretend for a second that I'm not blogging from Seoul, and am in the land where multiplexes are sprawling affairs with huge parking lots). During the ride, my friends suddenly decide they'd rather watch "X2." Now I'm pissed. I feel betrayed. I grumble assent, but inside, I have no desire to see "X2." My concern is only for myself: How could my friends be so inconsiderate?
Analyze the situation and see where the attachment lay. It lay in my fixation on a particular movie. Far from viewing this evening as an opportunity to hang out with friends, I toss aside the human realities and make a damn movie my focus. This is selfish, but I'm blind to this. So now I'm in a bad mood. My friends see I'm pissed, so they're not in the best mood, either. "X2," far from providing a good night's entertainment, turns out to suck, mainly because I'm pouting. Attachment leads to suffering.
When religious folks get into arguments about truth or God or the True Path, they're still children clutching their teddy bears, because that's the childish lens through which they view the world. You know I'm right: the lack of rationality, the lack of a sense of responsibility for one's own actions, the overemotionalism-- it's all there. The teddy bear scenario, the movie scenario, the Islam scenario-- these are all situations that can be analyzed the same way, because the root of the problem is the same in each case. The difference is only in degree, not kind.
[NB: this claim may horrify some of you who'd like to insist that there's a fundamental difference between killing 3000 people in the space of a few hours, and spoiling an evening by pouting about a movie. I submit that the objection to my formulation is grounded in essentialist presumptions, and you already know, if you've read previous posts, my opinion of essentialism. If you'd like to write in, though, I'll respond at length to this issue. Suffice it to say I do realize there's a real and vast difference between 9/11 and a bad movie night; I'm only saying that that difference isn't fundamental. The same moral issue is operative in both cases. If you're still shocked, I want you to analyze that for a bit. You may discover that, at the roots of your own emotionalism, you're attached to a melodramatic notion of "human catastrophe" that prevents you from seeing the moral connections I'm trying to highlight. There may be a such thing as evil, but evil comes from somewhere.]
Because Buddhism's Four Noble Truths (I'm reverting to the more typical English translation here) boil the human reality down to such a simple dynamic, is it any wonder that Buddhist dharma talks often sound repetitive? Sit in on a few Zen dharma talks, and you'll see what I mean. I've managed to write the long essay I wanted, but in truth, the actual Buddhist critique of Islam is brief, because it's the Buddhist critique of all unskillful action: suffering is the fruit of desire and attachment. These things are all rooted in the mind. Human problems and solutions all begin and end in the mind. Which is why each of us, in our own way, has to wake up.
Tuesday, August 19, 2003
[UPDATE, February 26, 2004: I've been thinking of retitling this "On Attachment," because the essay doesn't really focus as much on Islam as I thought it would. And maybe that's proper, because attachment isn't uniquely a Muslim problem. It is, as I argue in the essay, a human problem.]
The Maximum Leader revels in the finer things.
The Marmot peeks out at the rest of us, opens his mouth, and breathes fire. Enjoy his news survey.
Check out Kevin at IA's "Retarded Apes on Shrooms."
Glenn is pretty sure Osama bin Laden is dead. I think bin Laden's more like one of our action movie villains. You blow him up, he seems to be gone, then right as you're about to kiss your woman before the fadeout he appears, screaming and brandishing a machete. Never assume the enemy's gone unless you're actually gripping his head-- which you severed yourself-- by the hair.
Saddam's right arm found!
Satan's Anus, from whom I stole the above reference, also links to an article about North Korea here. The upshot: in a war between North and South Korea, the South will win, but it'll win faster if the US fights alongside it. Not much new information here, but more confirmation from an analyst that Seoul's still gonna get it.
Nature to technology: you suck.
French boner suffers further deflation.
Al Qaeda makes me laugh.
The UN isn't liked in Iraq.
Saudis give us another reason to blacklist their country.
Paul Newman speaks from the whirlwind.
Frank J, hilarious as usual, lampoons them all. If he ever comes out with a "collected works" (edited for spelling, of course), I'm buying.
This edition of Red Meat is right up my alley.
Failed hijacking. Fucking retards.
ArnoldWatch: the recall gets the official go-ahead.
North Korean bluster continues.
A shortened South Korean work week looms on the horizon. Will labor unions stop striking now, for God's sakes? This country's rapidly turning into France.
Not all South Koreans are happy that Noh apologized to the North.
Thievery! Which, for the moment, I assume to be primarily Korean.
A happy NK story, for once.
Grrrrrl power. Something to note: while women are still up and coming in politics, they're a major force in Korean Christianity.
This is the kind of story that reassures me that Russia and China won't get in the way if war breaks out here.
Tina Kim might not be the Scots' plate of haggis, but Edinburgh is apparently liking traditional Korean p'ansori.
The Scotsman tracks the new sniper shootings in the US-- again, not too far from my home.
Monday, August 18, 2003
You may or may not have noticed a Vomit Vile Vituperation link on the left margin in the "Links to Lick Repeatedly" section, beneath the PayPal buttons.
It means I've given in, at least partially, to the people who want to post comments. It's technically a guestbook link, but there's nothing to stop you from signing it repeatedly. I do have some control over the postings, though, and will likely censor anything I find overly displeasing. Bad prose is more likely to set me off than insults or complaints.
So if you've avoided writing me because you're a lazy bastard who didn't want to bother typing "HAIRY CHASMS" into the subject line of your email, now's your chance at some instant gratification.
A woman tries to get killed by the police.
In a piece of classically Scottish news, people fear the rise of binge drinking that will accompany liberalization of alcohol laws.
Harry Potter books don't influence everyone, it seems.
Here's a perk they should offer Korean taxi drivers.
The Scots have their answer to Margaret Cho: Tina Kim! And: she's not funny.
[WHOOPS: Note to self: Must fact-check. Tina Kim is American, doing a Margaret Cho shtick, slummin' in Edinburgh.]
The more I read about Scotland, the more I'd like to visit. Think they'd accept a lumbering, 260-pound half-Korean?
Ah, the froth before the talks...
We already know the upcoming six-way talks are going to amount to nothing. NK confirms this in its insistence that the only way the US can prove its good faith is to "sign a non-aggression pact, establish diplomatic ties and make clear it would not hinder Pyongyang's foreign trade." I can imagine Colin Powell wanting to provide some sort of written guarantee to NK. I can just as easily imagine Rumsfeld screaming, "We will darken the sky with their ashes! Fire all quantum torpedoes!"
And part of me agrees with Rummy. But I'm not sure it's our decision.
I think we should propose complete withdrawal from the peninsula-- not during the two-way phase of the six-way talks, but right there in front of the other five participants. Our conditions shouldn't be conditions: just declare unilaterally that we're going to do this. Along with this, we say, "Further, we affirm NK's juchae ideology and hereby cease all aid to North Korea, which can obviously rely on itself. Along with this, we encourage the South Koreans to affirm their brotherhood with the North by allowing them to take full responsibility for any and all economic and military arrangements between the two Koreas, up to and including reunification. We believe China, Russia, and Japan should move in the same direction."
Meantime, SK and NK practice a little diplomacy on the side. For those of you not familiar with the situation, this shit happens all the damn time. Technically, the peninsula's still in a state of war. Which is why I always get a laugh whenever the North raves that a given US action "will be considered an act of war." We're already at war, dickholes.
In other Korea news: BOY, I'M GLAD WE'RE SAFE FROM TERRORISM! I must say, though: it's interesting to rub shoulders here with Iranians, Jordanians, and others. Let me indulge a paranoid thought: there seem to be more and more Muslims on the subways in Seoul. I see them every single day, especially as I trundle along Line 6. Like the Indians, they tend to move in packs of three or four. What if... what if... some naughtiness were being planned? What if some Muslims were plotting to precipitate war on the peninsula (more egg on America's face), and what if something catastrophic happened... but South Koreans realized the source was Muslim (just bear with me), and suddenly North and South found themselves united against the radical Islamic threat? Oh, that would make for some interesting fireworks.
Even as Seoul kisses Pyongyang's ass, Pyongyang farts chunkily in its face!
UPDATE: Pyongyang may have decided to accept President Noh's groveling apology and seems, for the moment, to have desisted in its chunky farting.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?
The debate over the shorter work week continues. I'm actually FOR a shorter work week, because I know full well that, even with weekends free, Koreans will still end up working the same number of hours per week. The companies will see to it. Salaried folks already get squeezed for all they're worth (granted, they're not always working while in the office, but it still sucks to be trapped in your "veal fattening pen" away from family, alcohol, and PC-bahng); that's not about to change. College is about the only time a Korean can expect to experience a little freedom... and for guys, that gets interrupted by obligatory military service.
The Dong-A Ilbo quotes some Chomskian blather.
If you're a poor, AIDS-ridden villager in China, and you ask the local government for better health care, wouldn't you expect to be the target of a raid in which you and your relatives get savagely beaten? Of course! All in a day's work for Chinese authorities: the SARS playbook works for other diseases as well!
Sunday, August 17, 2003
First up: a man killed when his hair is caught in a fairground ride.
Of note: the man owned the ride that rose up and killed him.
Note to self: do not spray lube on ride's tracks while the ride is in operation.
Next up: a man beheaded by a rampant elevator.
Of note: the man had converted to Christianity, only to suffer a deadly ascension.
Note to self: do not pray to Christian God for protection.
Finally: the Pope. No, he's not dead. But he often wears white (see photo). In Korea, white can symbolize virginal purity, but it also symbolizes death. In this article, the Pope decries Europe's values crisis, so maybe this is the death of the "true Europe" we're talking about. I dunno. I just wanted to slip the Pope in.
Of note: the God who failed to protect a recent convert from a hungry elevator is unlikely to protect Europe from converting (as it's slowly doing) to Buddhism.
Note to self: don't be too sure, despite Buddhism's popularity, that Europe won't go Muslim.
[all the above from Drudge]
COMPLETELY UNRELATED: Wanna watch some neat lightsaber fight choreography? Then go to this Star Wars fan site and watch "A Question of Faith." The acting is awful and the script could use some help (which makes it hard to differentiate from a Lucas production), but the fight scenes are impressive. I was fooled, at first, into thinking that the final "two-swords vs. two-swords" scenario was done in Chinese style, but a closer look showed it was almost all European (watch "good Ash vs. bad Ash" in "Army of Darkness" for similar Euro-style moves). The saber vs. quarterstaff scenarios, though, seemed a little-- even a lot-- more Eastern (more Chinese than Japanese, I think). Write in with your thoughts. Mine: the back-spin kicks vary in quality, depending on the actor. One amazing piece of choreography I like is in the final fight between the two brothers: each disarms only one of the other's swords, and it all happens in half a second. Other stuff I liked: active footwork! Keeps the fights moving. And the pace is very Star Wars-ish. The choreography's intelligent and dynamic, and the crew does a good job with saber effects (except when the sabers nick branches & prove they're harmless). What I'd like to know is what kind of material they were using for the lightsaber blades. The Star Wars crew of the second trilogy uses metal (not the old glass rods from "A New Hope"!). I'd use PVC piping, but it's way too fragile, even when padded. Hmmmm...
UPDATE: Watch the bloopers reel. These guys went through a lot to entertain you. The acting lessons at the end are... well, watch & you'll see.
A-HA: In this episode of ArnoldWatch (this comes via Satan's Anus), we focus on a lovely roast of Arianna Huffington.
While the Iraq-Turkey oil pipline gets sabotaged, we have to deal with this shit:
A South Korean labour activist has been arrested for illegal contact with a North Korean agent through a pro-communist group in Japan.
Read the short article about this.
Saturday, August 16, 2003
First, a news article describing a recent anti-US rally that took place around the Yongsan US Army base in Seoul.
Next, an article about an art exhibit in DC to "celebrate" 100 years of Korean immigration to the US.
Just... think about that contrast for a bit. In Korea, nothing positive is being recognized about US-SK relations. Meanwhile, in America, they're "celebrating" a century of immigration to the US.
You know, there hasn't been much recent focus on the disconnect between the Korean population (naturalized & not) living comfortably in the US, and the Koreans in South Korea. Maybe an angle to work on in future...?
All of which means... Glenn Reynolds must be impaled!
(pic of Glenn Reynolds in action to be found here)
Dogs of War Doggerel here.
The Reverend Alvin O'Neal Jackson of National City Christian Church in Washington DC was discovered to have been preaching-- almost verbatim, it would seem-- from other pastors' sermons, and has been doing so for at least a year-and-a-half, without once giving credit to his sources.
Read the story in the Post.
Saint Francis of Assisi was known to preach extemporaneously, sometimes by selecting three random Bible verses and weaving them into a sermon. I have never yet seen a Zen master give a dharma talk with a printed speech in front of him (maybe such masters exist; I don't know). I'd counsel the good Reverend to meditate on these things as he faces the bitter consequences of his unmindful actions.
[UPDATE, Aug 19: Jackson has publicly apologized to his congregation and offers "no excuses" for his behavior. Many in the congregation applauded. I think Jackson did the right thing, and did it quickly, without stonewalling. Whether he'll do it again... who knows? Here's hoping he won't. Maybe this will prove to be a minor chapter in what appears to be an otherwise distinguished pastoral career. Whatever the reality inside his heart, this was the right public step to take, and Christians should forgive-- not because he asked for forgiveness, but because that's The Way of Things. The Way of the Force.]
Friday, August 15, 2003
war on Glenn Reynolds!
Sauron of the blogosphere!
I could write that drivel while
taking a brief shit
Glenn rumors I heard:
breast reduction surgery
on Uncle Sam's tab
life is more than links!
get a clue, you InstaFool
blog a thousand words!
Frank will kick your ass
over here, then over there
while we point and laugh
"real bullets" will fly
Instapundit better duck
monkeys fling their dung
France is but the start
soon we'll heat and eat Glenn's brain
with a dash of salt
Frank J's steel-toed boot
has a date that it must keep
with Glenn's testicles
Hulk mad! Very mad!
Want to smash Instapundit!
Crush Glenn between pecs!
shot while in mid-sex
Glenn jerks once, then falls away
much to sheep's relief
Glenn descends to hell
Satan shows him his torment:
Undead Puppy Room
In honor of Frank J at IMAO, whose noble crusade against Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit I shall craft into an epic that will rival La Chanson de Roland. Good luck with the war, Frank.
If you like the haiku, you might consider buying my book. Plenty more haiku in there, along with short stories, Star Trek & Star Wars parodies, and more. Or... kick back and read a few essays on the blog. There's a little bit of everything here.
FOR THOSE OF YOU NOT IN THE KNOW: The blogosphere finds itself in a state of war as the forces of light and darkness gather on the cyber-battlefield and clash. Frank J of IMAO has declared war on the evil Glenn Reynolds, the terrible Voice of Darkness who runs Satan's Anus. Frank's immortal cry, "Instapundo delenda est!" has echoed across the cosmos through time and space, and reached the hairy eardrums of the Big Hominid, who just composed some Dogs of War Doggerel (n'oubliez pas les PUPPIES) to aid Frank in his apocalyptic struggle against Satan's Anus. Forward into battle!
THIS JUST IN: Glenn Reynolds's latest masterpiece!
Un parcours des blogs... but first, I need to note that I received sad news: one of my favorite professors from Catholic University passed away last week. Father William Cenkner was a Hinduism expert, but well versed in Asian religion in general. I had three courses with him: Hinduism, Asian Spirituality, and Comparative Theology. Father had lived in India for quite a long time, and there were occasional whispers that he'd "gone native." I thought I saw traces of this in his in-class mannerisms: he'd point at the blackboard with his middle finger, and would often end sentences with a grunt that sounded a bit like the French "hein?". Scant evidence, perhaps, but it gave me cause to wonder.
Father Cenkner and Dr. Charles Jones were my two favorite CUA profs; the sad news came via Dr. Jones. Together, they were the Asian studies wing of the CUA School of Religious Studies. I don't know who's been found to succeed Father Cenkner (he retired only last year; I was in both the classes he taught that final spring semester), but I know that things won't ever be the same. Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest, Father.
The blogs, then.
The Vulture tears out George Bush's eyeballs and munches them slooooooooooowwwwwly. While I agree that Bush is inarticulate and quite likely a sloppy thinker, I also agree that his critics have, as a result, underestimated him because of their relentless focus on his not-so-stellar qualities. Where Bush is scary is his immunity to criticism (and what some speculate is a secret love of being underestimated), which translates into the kind of dogged resolve that made Uday and Qusay go, "Uh... they're serious this time. He's not like Clinton." Whether this means Bush actually has backbone, I don't know. But it does mean that his stubbornness or stupidity might very well be the appropriate Unstoppable Force to grind against Kim Jong-il's Immovable Object and cause premature erosion.
Theories were tossed around about Reagan in a similar vein (and Andrew Sullivan speculated on this long ago re: Bush II). Was Reagan simply nuts to be so provocative with the Soviets, or did he realize that his unpredictability would set them running in exactly the wrong direction? Bush, some say, may be operating (purposely or not) in much the same fashion. He scares leaders who perceive a cheerful-but-stubborn dimwit perched atop the world's most dangerous fuck-your-shit-up-good military. This may work to Bush's advantage, though the more cautious crowd is right to note that literally millions of lives are at stake every time such diplomacy is employed.
I haven't spent much time on this blog describing where I think Bush is wrong. The two main areas where I see Bush as wrong are (1) social conservatism with regard to issues like homosexual marriage, and (2) the economy, stupid.
I haven't ranted much about the economy mainly because I'm not an econ expert-- didn't go through GU SFS like The Marmot, so never did Micro Hell and Macro Hell. All I have is an intuition that Bush could afford to raise taxes to gain revenue, and people won't complain. The "real" conservatives have looked on in horror at Bush's fiscal profligacy and openly wish he'd stop spending the inheritance. I agree. And come to think of it, I agree with the "real" conservatives (paleocons, is it?) that Bush's current efforts to expand governmental powers are Not A Good Thing. I haven't ranted much about Bush's social conservatism because I think I've made it obvious that, while I'm politically fairly neutral, I'm a flaming religious liberal and will probably never agree with the likes of Bush or the religious right. As far as I'm concerned, homosexuals have exactly the same right to marry, to be ordained to the priesthood, and to enjoy the other fruits of liberty enjoyed by heterosexuals. To the people who say I'm just tearing up the Bible and making it up as I go along, I reply: attachment to scripture is precisely what turns the Bible into little more than toilet paper. It's exactly the kind of dogmatic literalism that Jesus is repeatedly portrayed as railing against. I need to go back and revise my essay on sexuality and religion, come to think of it...
The Marmot gives me a shout-out for the nondualism essay-- hapjang. In return, I point you to the Marmot's latest observation: Koreans celebrated Liberation Day without a SINGLE NEWS ARTICLE written in which America's role as liberator is acknowledged! How fucked up is that? But it's a sign of the Noh Mu Hyon times, I think; the Korean public isn't feeling particularly warm or thankful toward us, even less so since we're contemplating things like force redeployment (and, I hope, eventual total withdrawal). All the more reason for us to get outta Dodge.
Marmotic money quote:
Makes it look like the country was magically "liberated," then forcibly occupied by two invaders. Note to the Herald editorial staff: I'd like to remind you that American and Soviet troops entered Korea in order to accept the surrender of Japanese forces on the peninsula. That is to say, the Japanese surrendered not to Korean "liberation fighters," nor to the "Korean government in exile," but to us (and the Soviets). Any guess why that may be?
Look, I know it hurts your all-important national pride, but I think it should be common Liberation Day courtesy to mention, however briefly, which country did the liberating. It's not too much to ask, is it? You don't even have to mention the United States by name - you can just use the term "Allies" if you find an overt show of gratitude to the Americans too galling. Really, it's no wonder why Koreans are raising a whole generation of youth who know nothing of the history of US-ROK ties besides the Taft-Katsura Agreement, Nogun-ri, Apollo Ohno, and the Mi-sun and Hyo-sun...
Check out Kevin at IA's meditation on divisions in US policy. I think that Rumsfeld will be spooing gallons if Bush gets reelected: NO COLIN POWELL IN THE SECOND TERM! Yaaaaaaaayyyy!! With the State Department (much like China) under new management, things will be confusing, and Rumsfeld will likely get more of what he wants. So long as Rumsfeld is still preaching the "smaller, sleeker, more flexible and more mobile" doctrine, I can't say I'll mind what he plans for the military. I heard some murmurings that Condoleezza Rice might be primed to replace Powell, but I also heard she's not game.
The thing I've always wondered about is why Rice isn't used more prominently when Washington needs to talk with Putin. The woman speaks fluent Russian, for God's sakes. She should be getting a hell of a lot more face time with ol' Vladimir, maybe challenging him to some judo matches or something. Vlad needs calming: the Anglosphere is encroaching on Russia as ex-bloc countries show more friendliness to America than they do to France and Germany.
Whoops-- and then an update! On the Temporarily Savoring Poetic Justice front: Iraqis offer US blackout victims tips on handling life without power (along with a few hope-you-suffer-too gibes). I found this article... cute.
Happy Liberation Day, Korea.
Happy Assumption Day, Catholics.
Kevin at IA links us to WaPo articles of note.
The Marmot visits a temple.
The Vulture surveys the Korea/Corea debate and ponders some patronizing journalism.
Den Beste on the blackout and "diplospeak."
Wanna do something charitable? Drop a little something in my donation jar. Or buy a few copies of my book (see the link in the left margin to read an excerpt... don't be alarmed if you have to click twice; Blogger sucks).
Thanks to a link from the Naked Villainy blog, I went and read Victor Davis Hanson's recent piece titled "The Awakening." Hanson's article is sweeping in scope and says much the same thing that many people, especially conservatives, have been saying since before the war.
I didn't end up agreeing with everything Hanson wrote, and I'd like to go through the article, not to fisk (I rarely do that), but simply to comment.
Hanson's "awakening" refers to an American reassessment of what the US is, where it stands, and who stands with it. He offers four major terms that require fundamental reassessment:
(1) [Military] Base, which Hanson redefines as "either a nexus for local anti-American resentment or a means of exacting political or financial concessions."
(2) Ally, which Hanson spins as "a state benefiting from American friendship that in turn expresses its thanks by gratuitous expressions of hostility in times of crisis."
(3) The United Nations, to be seen anew as "an international organization where Western liberal states seek to ingratiate themselves with tyrannies, theocracies, and tribes-- appeasement winning accolades of justice, while principles earn slanders of racism, colonialism, and imperialism."
(4) Military alliance, for which Hanson offers no succinct redefinition, but says, in effect, "What we're not seeing in South Korea."
Hanson's points are well taken. I ended up agreeing, during the war, that the UN had become a tool to serve the interests of states like France, which still hasn't truly owned up to its own oil-related interests in Iraq. I agree that our bases' locations need to be changed to match geopolitical changes (and further agree with Hanson that they should be smaller).
Bases must be far smaller and built at the invitation of the host, and we must have in advance a clear understanding of under which exact conditions they can be used. Our German deployment should be cut up and resituated among many Eastern European countries, with advance guidelines as to how soldiers can be sent out should trouble arise in the Middle East.
I agree with almost everything, but question the assumption underlying the phrase "at the invitation of the host," which seems to imply that, if the host country has invited us, that country's people will accept our military presence. I think the situation is more complex than that. Perhaps a qualification, then: "at the invitation of the host, as long as s/he speaks on behalf of his/her people."
Since our defense tech is reaching a point where force projection will happen almost independently of base location, I see this as an issue whose relevance will dwindle as time goes on.
I agree completely with Hanson when he says the following:
We should also accept the notion that neutrals are not allies, and thus should not pillory them for their triangulation. We are angry at France only because it is a duplicitous ally; once we cease seeing it as a close friend, we will be no more angry with it than we are with Sweden or New Zealand-- which both have at times expressed their anti-Americanism, and expect nothing from us should they find themselves in crises. Germany's behavior now grates on us, but only because we expect it to be a Britain-- rather than a Belgium, to which it is far more closely attuned.
When I lived in Switzerland with a host family back in '89-'90, I used to hear my Swiss "mother" complain about the uselessness of the United Nations. Switzerland recently joined the UN, but they were probably right to hold out as long as they did.
To see France as not-ally, not-enemy might be a good idea. The French have always been special, and since I love their food and their wacky joie de vivre (as well as their women), I can't find it in my heart to hate them as deeply as some Americans do. The French do indeed have much to offer the world, but for us to appreciate them, we need to re-understand them. I think Hanson's solution-- i.e., remain calm and reappraise-- is a good one. Certainly better than heaping on the rhetoric.
I disagree with Hanson, however when he says:
We should never be angry with Canada, simply because we should never expect anything from it-- inasmuch as it has long ago decided to emulate the European Union model. Let us respect its status as a neutral and pacifistic state that neither wishes nor deserves cooperation with the United States in defense matters.
Canada and Mexico share enormous, largely porous borders with us. It is absolutely crucial to remain in dialogue with them and promote intra-North American cooperation, especially on the defensive front. The ability to sneak material into the US via either route (remember the old articles about Middle Eastern terrorists sneaking into the US through Mexico, relying on a similar racial "look" to get by?)-- and to do so easily-- is cause for concern. Canada can't be ignored. If anything, we need to be leaning hard against it, positively demanding "cooperaton with the United States in defense matters."
By the same token, we must cease treating belligerents as friends and friends as neutrals (or worse). It makes absolutely no sense, for example, that Egypt has hundreds of Abrams tanks (that can only be used against Israel) while Australia has none. Indeed, the latter proved resolute and supportive in our current crisis; the former, constantly critical. More importantly, Australia is a rich, democratic, continent-sized nation, with common traditions and values like our own-- and has been at our side through every major war.
Again, I agree completely. It was months and months ago that I read the term "Anglosphere" on Andrew Sullivan's blog, and that concept stuck with me. The Anglosphere, comprised of the US, the UK, Australia, and Eastern European states who take democracy seriously (and are wary of Western Europe's love affair with socialist economic models), is still in the process of coalescing, but I see it as a potentially formidable bloc as the world continues its realignment (and yes, we could eventually include India).
I applaud this paragraph:
Because Europe uses the United Nations to restrain American initiatives, it is precisely there we also must quietly turn, with principled reforms rather than bluster and invective. As part of a broader initiative with democratic India, we need to insist on the latter's membership in the Security Council, along with Japan. France should share its veto with the entire European Union. And any nation that wishes to enjoy a vote in the General Assembly must first prove that its own citizens enjoy the same privilege at home.
While a lot of anti-UN sentiment is rooted in vague emotionalism, this is one of the major legitimate points highlighted by the American internal debate over the UN's role and significance. The UN runs according to parliamentary procedures and democratic principles. Its member states, however, do not all do this. While I don't absolve the US/Anglosphere from its own hypocrisies, I agree with those who believe that states like Libya and North Korea (and a host of others that disrespect human rights) don't belong in the UN at all. An open, democratic style of government should be a basic membership requirement. At present, it's not, which explains how Libya can chair the UN Human Rights Commission. The practical problem is: how do you chuck out a huge country like China?
Hanson writes, re: the Korea situation:
Given the far greater economy and population of South Korea in comparison with the North, there is little reason to deploy American troops on the DMZ at all. A gradual withdrawal-- with promises that in a time of conflict our planes and missiles will be right behind South Korean youngsters as they slog toward the front-- makes far more sense.
I've been arguing for this, as have others. While I don't think we need to send our troops all the way home, they do need to leave Korea. This becomes more obvious to me the longer I live here. I hope that that is, in fact, what Rumsfeld is effecting: a slow, subtle redeployment that ends with our complete departure from the peninsula, hopefully within a decade.
But I think Hanson trips up in his conclusion:
...we should worry less and less about Old Europe and the tired Arab street, whose collective bark is far worse than their bite. The sad fact is that, for billions of people in an emerging Asia and the Americas, Europe and our enemies in the Middle East are mostly irrelevant, and will become even more so in the months ahead.
First, I'd argue that Old Europe is still a huge controlling force in the EU, and can't be ignored. Second, I'd argue that it's far too soon after the Three Weeks' War to say whether we can turn our backs on the so-called "Arab street." Bush, for all his faults, calls for patience and vigilance; he's right to do so, and we should be thinking in terms of decades, not months. I agree with Hanson's belief that reassessments and redeployments are necessary for American viability, but not because we can turn away from current problems, now resolved. To the contrary, these changes are necessary because the current problems still need to be resolved.
[UPDATE, Aug 18: Kevin at Incestuous Amplification has a different take on VDH, worth reading.]
If you're reading this blog in the States, you're already very aware of the huge US-Canada blackout that's affected over 50 million people on either side of the border. Blackout victims are behaving remarkably well, but I was nevertheless reminded of that quote... how does it go?
"Civilization is only three missed meals away from anarchy."
[NB: There are all sorts of variations to this quote, so maybe I should have added, "or something like that." Type "meals away from anarchy" or "missed meals away from anarchy" into Google and you'll see what I mean.]
UPDATE: Is this really a blackout... or is Trinity simply trying to help Neo reach the Source? Spotted any flying Keanus lately?
That leads me to another thought. The christic resurrection myth is, in my opinion, based largely on wish-fulfilling fantasy. When people refuse to acknowledge someone's death (as is the case in modern times with Bruce Lee, Elvis, Tupac, etc.), this fuels the speculation that eventually gets written down and turned into "fact." Or at least tradition. John Spong is probably right to conjecture that Jesus is buried somewhere in an unmarked grave.
Thursday, August 14, 2003
If NK expects to receive any benefits from talks, it must agree, publicly, to the following.
1. The NK government must issue a statement renouncing juchae (self-reliance) ideology and affirm its decades-long inability to operate in a condition of self-reliance. If it continues to demand aid without renouncing juchae, there will be no negotiations. Either this, or NK must cease to demand aid from anyone and truly act out its ideology.
2. Kim Jong Il must star in a bukkake porn video, to be broadcast in NK, non-stop, for one year, and sold overseas. The video must be shot and intra-NK broadcasting must begin BEFORE the late-August 6-way talks. Worldwide distribution of the video must begin no later than 7 days after the conclusion of 6-way talks.
3. Kim Jong Il must personally affirm that America possesses the right to demonstrate an equal level of commitment to all US-NK agreements as NK has demonstrated. Should the US choose to back out, for any reason, the mere desire to renege will be considered legitimate grounds for reneging.
4. Kim Jong Il must replace all his generals with losers from American "reality" game shows.
5. NK must cease all South-ward propaganda broadcasts or allow Michael Jackson to establish "Neverland II" on top of Paekdusan.
6. During the 6-way talks, NK must never once utter the word "nuclear."
If this is true, then it's truly no laughing matter. Let's hope someone's just been misinterpreting stats. Much as I resent the French govt's (and many French people's) attitude, I don't truly wish them to die. (That's what some of their demonstrators wished about our troops in Iraq.)
If the statistic is true, then I hope the French get on the ball and save themselves, because it's doubtful that anyone else is gonna roll in there and do it.
But to Arianna, all I can say is... HAW HAW.
UPDATE: Hi, I'm Black! is also tracking the French dying en masse... and has a theory.
Steven Den Beste gloats about European economic woes and makes a gloomy pronouncement about Europe's future.
It's become apparent to me that the Marmot long ago acquired a taste for human flesh. In a recent post, he goes after Tom Plate. Bloody chunks of meat everywhere.
The Vulture, meantime, covers several topics: (1) the Korean film industry (and Korean cultural insecurity); (2) the hypocrisy of Korean whining about American cultural imperialism, even while President Noh vows to make Korea into a cultural superpower; (3) the goofiness that is the Korean online universe.
Instapundit notes that a bunch of bloggers named Kevin have been blogging about Arnold. But yours truly isn't mentioned, dammit.
Alas! Chief Wiggles deprives the Hominid of any hope of being on his blogroll, but this is probably for the best, and my hopes weren't all that high, anyway. Chief's reasoning for removing his blogroll is sound. I'll continue reading his journals all the same.
Theft of Maria Shriver's favorite dildo perhaps not as important as first thought.
ArnoldWatch: The Big Man thought Riordan too confused and disorganized to run for governor?? So writes Robert Novak. This displeases me, because if true, this substantiates the implication made on the DUdu site that Arnold had betrayed his friend. At the same time, this pleases me because it shows Arnold is capable of the Machiavellian thought process (and determined focus) that will help him win the recall election. Interesting to note that Novak completely ignores Arianna Huffington. This is good.
I think Camille Paglia should run for governor of California. She'd bitch-slap that state into post-feminist mindfulness. She can be loopy and disorganized herself (ever read Sexual Personae?), but I love the woman.
Dates set for Beijing orgy. Expect a lot of sweaty, fat bodies covered in olive oil, a lot of grapes and oysters inserted in orifices... and at the end of the orgy, NK will go, "Well, that was cool. Thanks for all the concessions; we'll think about whether to honor our part of the bargain."
I still think Kim Jong-il needs to be caught and forced to star in a bukkake porn flick.
The American police state creeps further into view. I think this'll happen in bits and pieces. It won't be Big Brother in the sense of one master overseer; it'll be various agencies/interests, for various reasons, from which a decentralized-but-ubiquitous Big Brother will arise epiphenomenally.
When French citizens are exposed to high heat, THEY BEHAVE LIKE BRIE AND MELT TO DEATH. When British troops are exposed to even higher heat... THEY GET MAD, and refer to the 140-degree Iraqi summer as "unpleasant conditions." Hats off to these badasses.
A desperate Gray Davis's attempts to clone Democrats to replace him goes horribly, freakishly awry!
DUdu goes on the warpath (when isn't DUdu on the warpath?) about celebrities who get into politics. The article features some interesting points along with a lot of nonsense.
Frank J at IMAO riffs on the subject of presidential biker gangs.
A shining example of the interconnectedness of all things.
More freakiness. A warning to gun owners: carelessness can kill.
Uh-oh. Not good PR. Keep on this and see what develops.
The UN still thinks it can be picky: Annan reiterated last week that he would support a new U.N. resolution with a broader mandate to get the world to pull together and help stabilize the country. But the secretary-general said, "the membership are not ready to move on it yet."
Interesting Salon article about Mel Gibson's "The Passion" (again, I won't provide the link because Salon makes you either pay or watch ads to view so-called "premium" content). A somewhat superficial treatment of the scriptural, historical, and theological issues revolving around Gibson's narrative, but a good jumping-off point for discussions. I'm interested in seeing the film and will probably write a review of it here if/when I have the chance to see it. In the meantime, I want to reserve judgement. A similar furor, for different reasons, surrounded the arrival of "The Last Temptation of Christ"; I remember being with my good friends in DC, standing in line for tickets, and being accosted by picketers. Gibson's film will generate controversy, but that'll die down. To many Christians' credit, though, this probably won't result in Christian fatwas calling for Gibson's death (trivia: the Koran mentions Jesus by name [he's called "Isa"] more often than it mentions The Prophet). Imagine if Gibson decided to make a film about the life of Muhammad. In Islam, you're generally not supposed to even depict Muhammad.
I saw "The Last Temptation of Christ" again two years ago, on video. It was actually better the second time around. I should make a list of religious films I recommend. They'd have to include "The Exorcist" and "The Matrix," of course.
I tend to view this not so much as an isolated incident, but as the rumblings of a brewing diplomatic storm. People've been predicting this for a while: a sharper focus on Saudi Arabia. As the oil begins flowing more freely in Iraq, Saudi will lose its clout, and we'll be a bit less buddy-buddy with it. In this sense, yes, oil has been and is an issue. Our [to my mind, shameful] dependency on oil makes it an issue. But the flip side is that we'll finally be facing a problem that needs to be faced: Saudi has never been a true friend.
Also on Salon: Joe Conason talks about Arianna Huffington. To her credit, Huff has more of a platform, right now, than Arnold. Unfortunately, polls put her support at around 4% (this according to the Conason article). Plus, if you read Conason's quotes of Huff's draft speech, you may wonder: if California's woes are mostly Bush's fault and not Gray Davis's, then why is she legitimizing the recall election by running in it? Shouldn't she be on the sidelines, pulling to have people vote "no" to the recall? The Naked Villain was right to call her "an evil little social climber." At least Bill Maher poo-poohs the whole thing (even if I disagree with him). Arianna, social climber that she is, wants to straddle, to have it both ways. Woman-on-top position may be sexy, but this is California we're talking about, and straddling issues in Cali is like straddling a sandpaper-covered dildo. I don't think she can ride this to conclusion without a lot of bleeding. A peek at Arianna's political future, then: here.
Check out guest blogger Air Marshal on the Naked Villainy blog as he explores the meaning of an Arnoldian candidacy, especially here and here.
Incestuous Amplification tackles the issues of concessions to NK, Bolton's absence from the upcoming NK talks, and the value of straight talk.
A Washington Post article meditating on the NK threat to global security.
A WaPo analysis of an Arnoldian victory in Cali.
WaPo on Europe and health care.
Russia and China are chewing over their own security guarantees to NK. Considering that Russian troops recently trained with South Koreans, this strikes me as... I don't know. Bizarre. Considering that China and NK already have a mutual defense pact... that's also bizarre. Is this China's way of showing it still leans NK-ward? I'm very much against any sort of American guarantee to NK that they won't be attacked-- unless we make a "guarantee" knowing full well that it's bullshit. I think we could make a guarantee, but openly claim "right of revocation" based on NK's own precedent. By acknowledging that we value US-NK agreements as much as they do, we'll keep NK on its stubby little toes.
President Noh presses the attack against, uh, the press.
August 15th is Assumption Day for Catholics, but for Koreans in the North and South, it's the day to celebrate liberation from the Japanese.
China remains tone deaf about how the market works.
Koreans bellyache about unemployment, but it's one of the consequences of things like privatization-- a welcome trend that's getting a bumpy ride in South Korea. I'm all for more privatization and entrepreneurship in Korea. Variety and decentralization are key for a healthier market that weans itself from the Japanese model.
The expressive press responds to Noh's pressing a repressive suit against the press! Impressive or depressing?
Flashlight pointed under fridge discovers more roaches.
When chaebols attack! Hanaro is in the process of being torn apart by three biggies. Hominid pulls up lawn chair to watch.
Another reason why I'm not convinced when pro-war people argue that nation-building has worked in places like Japan and South Korea. The old values (and dysfunctions) are still firmly in place, and they are the constant cause of shit like this.
No pity for the baking French, but much pity for the Scots. I like salmon.
The Scotsman also offers insights into interconnectedness. This is doubly of interest to those of us attracted to Buddhist-Christian stories.
L'Express decides its lead article should be irrelevant: it's about blondes [in French, and not particularly gripping].
Merde in France mocks the French health care system, brought to its knees by the heat wave even while French journalism doggedly focuses on the body count in Iraq.
Interesting article on Corporate Motherfucker exploring the "throwing water in the fryer" image. If you're in the office right now, you corporate motherfucker, you may find this article depressing.
Wednesday, August 13, 2003
My SiteMeter button has been great for proving that *I* am responsible for most of my traffic (though I've had up to ten time zones reading me, which is cool). But I'm going to have to take the button down, because it's causing me and others too many damn problems, especially with scrolling downward to view my older posts. For whatever reason, you can't scroll past the level of the SiteMeter button itself, so if I've written a long post (and I'm often afflicted with Den Bestiality that way), you probably won't reach the end of it.
My solution has been to resize my window-- make it part-screen, then make it full-screen again. Once I do that, the problem goes away, and I can scroll all the way down. But if I refresh my screen, or if I leave my blog and come back later, I have to go through that process again.
Which bites dead horse balls.
So: BYE-BYE, SiteMeter button! It's not your fault; I blame Blogger.
(We'll meet again, though. I like some of those nifty SiteMeter features.)
I mentioned Hyon Gak sunim (formerly Paul Muenzen of New Jersey) in my "Dharma Smackdown" post. Here's a recent profile.
He's a cheerful guy. His dharma talks are great-- funny, blunt, salty-tongued. He knows his audience at Hwagye-sa's International Zen Center isn't completely fluent in English (there are plenty of Koreans and non-Americans sprinkled in among the Americans), and he often resorts to a kind of Konglish while speaking. His Korean is very fluent (way, way better than mine), if still heavily American-accented.
If you're ever in Seoul, look Hyon Gak sunim up.
UPDATE, February 26, 2011: This book is now being sold on eBay!
Autographed copy here!
Cheaper un-autographed copy here!
A Picasa slide show that lets you look inside the book here!
An old Amazon.com writeup of the book here!
"Nasty" is one letter away from "tasty."
--Desmond Tutu, while drunk one night
So I put together this collection of scatological humor, Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms: A Panoply of Paeans to Putrescence and a Cornucopia of Corrosive Coprophilia, in the hopes of attracting droves of like-minded scatophiles. I've attracted some, and the book seems to be gaining a quasi-underground following (not on par fnord with the Discordian movement, perhaps, but it's there).
What I failed to realize, not being a businessman, is that "Field of Wet Dreams" was wrong: "If you write it, they will come" is not an automatic given. There's this little thing called marketing that goes along with creating a magnum opus, and I admit it: I haven't been marketing the book at all. Scary Spasms is apparently making waves by word of mouth, and perhaps through the raw charm of its simple, direct front cover (which you can see if you waddle over to the Amazon.com entry).
But I'm not happy with a steady trickle of sales. I want this to be a true movement, dammit. I don't want a modestly hissing fart; I want blasting, shotgun diarrhea. WHY? you ask. Because I wanna get rich? Yeah. Right. I don't have any ambitions in that direction, but if I can make some sales, pay off some major educational bills, and perhaps squirrel away a little something extra to offset future costs of PhD work, that would be something.
So I'm marketing now. And it's shameless. I feel like a complete ho' doing this, but just as you can't dig half a hole, there's no such thing as spreading only one buttock cheek (I still didn't look up anal winking, Julie, so if you'd like to write a long post about it, I'll stick it up on the blog for all to see).
What follows is an excerpt from my book-- the entire preface, in fact. I may add some other passages to this, so check back periodically.
[NOTE TO THE READER: You're missing out. The following pages contain a slew of cartoons and greeting card designs that cover topics like French-kissing Sesame Street puppets, "pungent genitals," the eating of children, phosphorescent snot, overly cheerful amputees, the cooking of live mice, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer's fate, and a man with several arms growing out of his head. Once I become more HTML-savvy, I may actually display these pics. But for the moment, you'll just have to imagine them. OR: Visit www.bighominid.com and snoop around. There's a steaming heap of old material on that site; I'm hoping to clear out the old stuff and move the blog over there, eventually.]
(long pause as Barbara catches on)
(Barbara stands, pulls off her skirt and thong, bends over with her ass pointed at Kevin, and extrudes a long, graceful anus-tongue.)
(c) 2001 BigHominid.com Publishing
Buy the book. You know you want to.
Like many geeks, I receive my daily "A Word A Day" (AWAD) email. Sometimes I learn something; sometimes I don't. Very rarely do I feel interested enough to scroll down and read whatever trivia Anu has written/collected about words, and I always delete the weekly newsletters. But in today's AWAD, which featured a word I already knew ("foley"), Anu offered a kick-ass link. Enjoy.
In other news... go to the Naked Villainy site and read Mike's latest on the California recall election. Mike argues against the complainers calling the recall election undemocratic, and seems to imply (am I getting this right, Mike?) that the recall may actually represent a bit too much democracy! Tyranny of the masses, voters getting exactly what they deserve, etc. A must-read post for ArnoldWatchers and all the rest.
More ArnoldWatch news (via Drudge, Daily Rotten, etc.):
GOPers flirting with death!
Bush hesitant to endorse Arnold too strongly, but Arnold's campaign may be salutary for Bush, anyway.
The world, meanwhile, points and laughs.
God angers Hindus in Virginia; some interpret this as a pro-Arnold endorsement, noting the religious significance of the number 9, though questioning why the endorsement happened on the east coast.
Satanic anti-Arnold pact.
Bush playing coy, but meanwhile, Brits become more and more agitated.
Worried that Arnold's movies might act like a sort of Jedi Mind Trick, the FCC takes matters into its own tendrils.
Unresponsive to the world as usual, the French continue to die and suffer power losses in Paris, where people completely miss the metaphorical parallel between electric power loss and France's increasing irrelevance on the world scene.
Dirty politics at work: Briton tries to steal Maria Shriver's favorite dildo.
In unrelated news: this is what enlightenment is like. Pay special attention to God's description of it.
Another sign from God about the coming Reign of Arnold... but why, Lord, why in Egypt?
North Korean fear of Terminator results in a diplomatic casualty.
North Korea, in attempt to imitate the blunt Terminator's peremptory ways, makes pre-talk demands.
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
True story: On a sunny spring day in 2001, a strange woman wearing a white hat and white gloves, her exposed skin covered in what appeared to be a nasty case of psoriasis, crossed the Catholic University main quad, approached me, and decided to strike up a conversation. We discovered we were both Presbyterian and both CUA students (she appeared to be about 15 years older). Somehow the topic drifted from trinitarian theology to Buddhism. She'd heard of the Four Noble Truths, so I enumerated them, ending with an item-by-item recitation of the Eight-fold Path: "Right views, right intention, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration."
"Ah," she nodded sagely. "But right according to whom?"
That's the rub, isn't it.
If we're going to talk about a Buddhist nondualistic reckoning of right and wrong, there are two major aspects of nondualism we need to address:
1. The nondualistic view doesn't have an absolute frame of reference.
2. The nondualistic view isn't synonymous with nihilistic relativism.
Absolute Frame of Reference?
The mind is a great organ for finding and creating patterns. The latter capacity is what gets us in trouble all the time. We often create something even if it's not there to be found: the man in the moon, the horse in the clouds, the snake in the dark, the sexual attraction I thought I saw on a beautiful woman's face. Many Buddhists would argue (I think rightly) that this is what happens when we perceive "evidence" for a personalistic God. Far from "discovering" this God, we are creating him. Look at the laundry list of qualities ascribed to God, and you see nothing but human qualities, writ large. It's not unreasonable to think that the personalistic God we "see" is in fact a God whose presence and nature we impute.
In Buddhist metaphysics, all phenomena are dependently co-arisen, and exhibit the character of emptiness. Emptiness is not a thing in itself, any more than the color blue can exist without objects that are blue, requiring a human eye to be perceived as blue. Emptiness is a quality; specifically, the quality of impermanence, dynamism, and interconnection that implies that there is no fundamental permanence or selfhood inhering in anything-- be it a mountain, a person, or an idea (including the idea of emptiness).
If everything is dependently co-arisen, it becomes impossible to talk about a fixed, absolute frame of reference. We can create and impose such a frame of reference-- and this is indeed what humanity has done. But for the Buddhist, the fact remains that the frame of reference is imposed, being, like all phenomena, dependently co-arisen.
Take, for example, a moral maxim currently getting a lot of air time in American public discourse, thanks to some nasty priest scandals:
It is never good to sexually molest a child.
Personally, I agree with this maxim. It makes sense.
But is it an absolute? No. You can see this right away. The maxim's very existence depends on a few things, and if any one of these things is missing, the maxim has no value: children, sexuality, human brains to understand the maxim, etc.
The maxim, which might have seemed absolute at first, is shown to be dependently co-arisen. It would have had no meaning back in the Jurassic Period, for example, before there were human beings. The maxim isn't a principle somehow graven in the stony nature of the cosmos. Quite the opposite: the maxim's existence is conditioned and dependent, or "contingent," as Western philosophers say.
There are other ways to deconstruct the so-called "absoluteness" of moral maxims. Is it ever good to kill innocent families? If we review the cases of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (or Dresden, etc.), we see very quickly that, while no one would affirm that the deaths of innocents in any of these cases would be called "good," their deaths are deliberately (and unfailingly) pegged to a larger context that makes them, if not good, at least bearable, and not only bearable but perhaps necessary in order to reach a "good" end. This is the kind of logic that's prevalent in war.
My purpose isn't to judge such thinking, especially since I'm not a pacifist and agree that there are cases when violence, on a small or large scale, may be necessary. My point, though, is that we fool ourselves if we insist that our judgements are based on some sort of absolute principle.
I've just tried to establish that the nondualistic perspective doesn't base itself on absolutes, because the very notion of absolutes is a metaphysical impossibility for most Buddhists [NB: Quite a few Buddhists do use the language of "Absolute," but the term isn't being employed in quite the Western sense... perhaps that's a post for another time.]. The next question deals with the opposite extreme: is nondualism, lacking absolutism, a perspective that evinces a spineless, nihilistic relativism? If I admit no absolutism, am I therefore a gooey relativist? Certainly some would be quick to say so.
We have to distinguish here between relativism and relativity. Relativism is an attitude, not unrelated to nihilism, in which the thinker thinks, "You know, it's all the same, one way or another. Things are relative, so there's no privileged perspective, no solid standard anywhere upon which to make firm judgements." I.e., it doesn't really matter.
Relativity, on the other hand, is a simple fact of existence. Like emptiness, relativity can be thought of as a quality. All things, to the extent we can talk about discrete "things," exist in relationship. There are no phenomena that exist all by themselves, floating in some a priori conceptual space. And yes, I'd even include analytical truths (like 2+2=4) in this claim. Why? Because 2+2=4 requires a universe in which that equation has meaning. How meaningful is it to posit that 2+2=4 is true in all universes, the existence of which we don't even know? It's safe, I think, to claim that 2+2=4 is true everywhere and at all times in our universe (though maybe the jury's out when it comes to what happens inside singularities like black holes!).
The analytical truth "2+2=4" is dependently co-arisen, like everything else. Its meaningfulness is directly tied to the existence of human brains that ascribe it meaning. It exists in relation to the universe.
Please note what I'm saying here. I'm not positing that 2+2=4 is merely a human convention, and that maybe, somewhere out there in our cosmos, 2+2 can actually equal 5. I'm not saying, as a postmodernist might claim, that analytical truths are always and merely human constructs, as flexible and hermeneutically pliable as any of the "softer" human truths, as if 2+2=4, instead of being an analytical truth, were instead the cynical instrument of, say, evil Western ideology. I fully grant the context-transcending nature of analytical truth in this universe (i.e., 2+2=4 has nothing to do with whether I'm a white Westerner; it's just as true for a black astronaut on the surface of Mars as it is for a Gujarati highschooler living in Zug, Switzerland), but submit that analytical truths and this universe exist in a state of mutual interdependence. Because they are interdependent, these truths, like all phenomena, exhibit the character of emptiness.
But I digress. The question is one of relativity and relativism.
Buddhists, on a certain level, acknowledge the deep interrelatedness of all things. But eventually, even the notion of relationship must give way, because relationships imply discrete "A"s and "B"s that relate to each other, as if entities came first and "relationship" is the product of the "A"s' and "B"s' proximity. This is dualism, not nondualism.
Notice, too, that relativism requires the same kind of sneaky conceptual imposition that absolutism does: a certain universal quality or component is assumed to be there, despite the lack of supporting evidence. In this case, the imposition is that all things amount to the same thing. When you think about it, such an idea flies in the face of common sense. I "Super-Size" my McDonald's Extra Value Meal for a reason.
To understand how the nondualist perspective is not absolutist, but at the same time not relativist, imagine two taekwondo experts on the mat. Fighter X throws a punch at Fighter Y's face. The punch is real. It's not going just anywhere; it's heading quite specifically toward Y's face. Can you be a relativist in such a situation and claim, "Whether I'm hit or not hit, it's all the same," or "It doesn't make any difference where I get hit or how hard the blow lands"? The East Asian view of such a person is simple: "You're stupid."
So Y is facing a punch. Not a kick. Not a swung weapon. And this punch is heading for Y's face, not the chest or groin. Y has learned a repertoire of techniques that can deal with this blow. Dodging, knife block, kicking block, combination block-strike, etc. What's best for this situation?
If Y has trained well, then the "best" move will arise naturally as a harmonious consequence of all the events that happened before it, moving the fight forward, neutralizing the blow, and somehow shifting the situation to Y's advantage. I can't get more specific than that, and that's the whole point. The fighter's mindset is not rooted in policy, in statements. The fighter's mind must be adaptable, flowing, in harmony with the moment. There is no yes/no question of the role of intellect; if intellection serves the situation, then by golly, it'll arise as needed. If unthinking reflex is more appropriate, then that will arise as it should in the mindful fighter. Viewed nondualistically, what we're seeing is not two fighters; to the contrary, we're seeing the event. Flow. Process. Y's mindset cannot be one that admits preconceptions, because preconceptions get in the way of the actual situation.
So a nondualistic mindset is going to frustrate the absolutist, because the nondualist knows that reality moves. Where the absolutist draws one "map of reality" and follows it stubbornly, the nondualist is constantly redrawing the map to conform with the actual terrain. One policy, one doctrine, one belief system, does not fit all, cannot possibly serve as a foundational principle in all situations. At the same time, we move about in a world of difference and specificity; if our answer to every new situation is the same fuzzy, muzzy-headed vagueness (the true mark of a Westerner pretending he understands Asian thought!), we get nothing done, and act as if nothing matters.
Maybe your question at this juncture is, "Well, how do you apply that to something like the Iraqi or Korean situation?" And I would chastise you, because you've obviously missed my entire point. Your question is a stubborn attempt to look for a specific, clear, fixed answer-- a policy, a rule: unchanging logos.
"Right according to whom?" The assumption of God as the Big Who, God the Measure of All Things, the Ultimate Fixed Reference Point.
My point has been that reality moves, so the truths we adopt must move as well. You don't find a rule and stick with it. That's as stupid as the man who insists on adopting a rigid posture on his surfboard, no matter where he is on the wave. How long can he last like that before he spills?
Does this mean that Buddhism can't talk about right and wrong? Not at all. Right and wrong exist, but they are interrelated, implying each other, erupting out of each other, even negating each other. Right and wrong exist on a conventional level, even if they don't exist at the "ultimate" level (cf. Nagarjuna's notion of "two truths," conventional and ultimate). Right and wrong are dependently co-arisen phenomena like everything else. They have no ultimacy, but they still present us with practical problems.
The great mistake we make is to create and impose upon the cosmos value systems that brook no change, that filter everything into absolute categories like right and wrong, good and evil, light and dark. This is the primary fault of religious fundamentalists, but religious liberals are just as guilty of this conceptual rigidity (another Buddhist term for this rigidity, this inability to let go of fixed concepts, might be "attachment"). Right and wrong have to change with circumstances; they are dependently co-arisen, not fundamental, a priori concepts. But dead things don't move. In order for right and wrong to be living concepts for us, they have to possess the dynamism of living things-- growing, changing, existing in harmony and competition... even dying in order to make room for new concepts.
The five colors blind the eye;
The five tones deafen the ear
To see beauty as beauty,
This in itself is ugliness
--Tao Te Ching