Reflections on South Carolina, Super Tuesday, and a weekend of Buddhism study and practice focused on developing a framework of ethics suited to a dissolving world.
Zen & the Art of Activism
Every once in awhile, it is worthwhile to step well outside your comfort zone and expose yourself to an entirely different way of thinking and looking at the world. Prior to this past week, Roxanne and I had had a limited exposure to Buddhism, one or two books and articles read, a few conversations with friends with Buddhist studies under their belt, and Transcendental Meditation and yoga forays experienced in our 20s. But this past week we attended a five-day workshop at the Upaya Institute here in Santa Fe featuring the noted secular Buddhist thinker and rebel, Stephen Batchelor. It was far more than a foray, with days beginning at 7 am and ending at 9 pm.
Roxanne gets full credit for our being there, as I would never have noticed the event notice, but the title: “Autonomy, Imagination & Care,” caught her attention. And I decided to join her. A very good decision.
Days were comprised of alternating sessions of Zen meditation, samu (work practice), vegetarian meals, and lectures/discussions. As a leading secular Buddhist scholar, Batchelor offers Buddhist teachings as a framework for developing an ethics of care that can be applied to the challenges of contemporary life. There were 60-70 attendees, most of whom had significant background in Buddhist philosophy and practice. I am quite sure I have never sat among so much intelligence and mindfulness in my life. At the end of this post, I offer a YouTube lecture from Batchelor: “A Secular Buddhism.”
It will take some time to debrief and think of the important ways what we learned can inform what we do with Retake. Indeed, Roxanne and I have planned a full day retreat of our own, just the two of us, to sort this out. Stay tuned.
The Primary Past & Primaries Tomorrow. Needless to say, I was badly wrong in projecting that Sanders could well compete and even win in South Carolina. It appears African Americans and moderates lined up solidly behind Biden, and this could have a significant impact on Super Tuesday’s results. Having learned important lessons about humility throughout the retreat, and having those lessons reinforced in South Carolina, I am holding off on making projections or calling for joining a bandwagon. Let the bandwagon appear first.
Tomorrow’s Post: Cannibals & Columbus. The past week was full of insights and dots connected, as during the few retreat breaks I was reading Columbus and Other Cannibals, by Jack Forbes. At Journey Santa Fe last month, Dahr Jamail called it “the single most important book you could read this year.” He had that right, as I am devouring it. The book lays bare the interrelationship between Christianity, capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism, and the transformation of man’s relationship with nature. An indigenous leader and historian, Forbes is also an adept storyteller who lays out in a very clear way how Western “Civil”ization has led us to where we are today. Stay tuned.
A Look Back
Last week, we featured three posts that covered very different topics. Because we’re poised between the Biden landslide in South Carolina and Super Tuesday with 15 primaries and the likelihood that a few candidates may ponder withdrawing, the last post below is the one to read if you have time for just one. It focuses on the media’s manipulation of the truth to undermine the Sanders campaign.
I want to emphasize here that while the media’s focus is now on Sanders, two months ago when Warren was surging, stories surfaced about her electability, the flaws in her health plan, and the impracticality of a wealth tax. And her numbers suffered. So “Mainstream Media Goes Apoplectic” is not really just about Sanders, but about how far the media and the Democratic Party will go to undermine any candidate who substantially threatens the status quo.
My second recommendation would be the Medicare for All post immediately below, as it reinforces the theme of how misinformation is being used methodically to erode confidence in anything that rocks the boat and might deliver America what it actually wants.
Facts & Myths About Medicare for All
Much is said about how progressive policy is unrealistic. Retake is going to take a very deep dive into the truths and falsehoods involved in these claims. This post on healthcare is a preview of what this sustained focus might look like issue by issue, policy by policy.
Here, we went beyond examining the financial research behind the efficacy of Medicare for All. We also examined public support for the policy in America and in countries that have implemented it. The post also identifies a number of myths about M4A and then offers responses. This is well worth a read, as it dispels many myths. More importantly it exposes a dynamic that I expect we will find over and over again, a systematic misinformation campaign fueled by industry and Wall St. to keep control and maintain their profit while keeping us from whatever we want.
Click here to read the full post.
Human Impact in Methane Release Greatly Underestimated: So What Are Our Options?
This is a good news–bad news story. New research indicates that humankind is contributing far more methane release than previously understood, which suggests human control over those emissions. And the report outlines some promising signs that investors see the climate catastrophe ahead and understand that there are likely devastating financial consequences. Capitalists do not like to lose money, and so there are signs of shifts in investment leaders’ priorities as they realize that shifts in their policies are required.
The bad news is, thus far political leadership has been slow to act on methane and the actions have been insufficient. Nonetheless, if a larger proportion of methane release can be prevented, the math changes a bit on what may be possible, something we will explore more deeply in the future. Certainly, one immediate focus to activism would be expanded advocacy to vastly reduce NM’s thoughtless spewing of methane. Stay tuned.
Click here to read the full post.
Mainstream Media Goes Apoplectic
In prior posts, we have analyzed why Americans so rarely are able to legislate laws and policies that Americans want and that would be of great benefit to the world in which they live. The image at left captures one aspect of this: News structured to misinform, generated by six corporations who control 90% of media content. Clearly, this media monopoly generates enormous profit from their advertising coming from their brothers in theft, corporate America. It is no wonder this media then is fearful of and therefore undermines any presidential candidate who might threaten the mega corporations. Two months ago it was Warren who appeared to be posing a threat. Now it’s Sanders.
In this post, we examine the almost rabid representation of “the threat of socialism,” and the risk of total financial chaos and ruin should the US finally use the vote to advance their interests with either a Sanders or a Warren candidacy. What I find most interesting is the degree to which very thoughtful people, regular readers of this post, read some of the media’s rants and write to me that we’d be better of with a Bloomberg or Biden leading the ticket (anything but Trump). While I understand that perspective, with climate change I feel we do not have the benefit of time and moderation. I admit that this is an open question, but a question that does not benefit from inflamed media rhetoric aimed to scare voters into voting for their preferred candidate. A most worthwhile read.
Click here to read the full post.
For those interested in being exposed to Stephen Batchelor and what Roxanne and I experienced this weekend, take a peek. A familiarity with Buddhism helps, but is not required.
Paul & Roxanne
Good for you, Paul & Roxanne. What a great thing to do right after the Session – return to the reality of your own bodies and calm mind.
I agree that the mindfulness new-consciousness thing MUST underlie any and every effort at changing our world.
If anyone, anywhere, believes, in a few minutes or via a few sound bites or 150-word memes, that the dinosaur age can once again be revived and painted with soothing lipstick and ‘voila,’ all will be saved, is in full-on CYAF mode.
Biden is a caretaker with a squad of caretakers. He, Perez, Sen. Amy K, Pete, Hillary, etc., are bastard neoliberals, uber-persons of the nihilist extreme center.
You feel you are afraid now? You will be hung out to dry in 12 months, and your copy of the extortion letter will read “go along and we will see if you can get along.”
CYAF. On your knees in front of a gang of sadist freaks. The road to Perdition shortens and narrows by the day.
“We’ll see.” Words of the prophet whose only prophecy is profit for itself and a few others.
Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?
I approve most any comment, but do want to note that calling out the centrist Dems as sadist freaks is way overstating things. No fan of anyone you mentioned, but….
The sadist freaks I was referring to were not the candidates, but the members of the neoliberal elite and the extinct R cult, who propose the ‘go along’ attitude by extorting citizens to ‘believe me’ and gaslighting/intimidating them by calling them names they themselves are guilty of representing. Neo liberals were at one point real liberals, until position, renown, profit and arrogance took over.
I will remain suspicious of the Buddhism angle, along with all other religions. Buddhism has become the perfect vehicle for Neo Liberalism. There is zero evidence that any of this mindfulness or Buddhist practice has led to anything meaningful. Buddhism like the other religions here, has not appeared to contribute anything positive or observable in the local community. I have engaged in interesting conversations with actual Buddhists, from places where they practice it. Whatever they have going on around here, is not actual Buddhism and it has not improved anything or manifested in any visible benefit.
Like everything else in the US, it has been monetized, cheapened and watered down for the masses. Buddhists were silent about the commercialization of mindfulness, and the damage that has done. True mindfulness can be terrifying, reality is not always pretty. Like everything else in Santa Fe, it is all about superficial appearances.
I prefer to follow what the Reverend Barber is up to. Buddhists don’t have a problem with inequality and accept the suffering in our society as something that can be wished away or ignored. One would think that with all of the “faithful” and spiritual around here, of all stripes, things would be different. What they have cultivated is a detachment, as long as it does not directly effect them. This same detachment looks to be encouraging our countries drive toward fascism.
Thanks for the comment, but the entire purpose of the retreat and all of Stephen Batchelor’s work is predicated on an entirely different approach to Buddhism, precisely because Batchelor shares you view that mainstream or mystic Buddhism aims to transcend suffering, not address it. Batchelor’s approach is entirely different and offers an ethic that recognizes suffering and then acts upon it. It is very much a Buddhism focused on activism.
Mary. First, it would be incorrect to label Buddhism a religion. Some factions in recent history have attempted to take on that sheen, but are roundly rejected by Theravada and Zen practitioners. Unless you actually practice the major tenets of the philosophy, it would be difficult for you to condemn it carte blanche. No matter what your preferred belief or practice, it is risky to throw rocks from any glass house.
There is ample evidence that mindfulness has changed a great many behaviors, for many centuries. But I consider your observations in the light they were intended – to further the discussion.
I practice a very casual form of Buddhism, and have for five decades. If you think I am a neoliberal, then I have nothing to say to you but to rethink your stance. Any behavior can be morphed into neo liberalism, including all major religions and philosophies. That is not the fault of the philosophy itself.
As a human, it is terrifyingly easy to get stupid in a heartbeat, and if not chided or embarrassed for doing so, the behavior can become ingrained, like an opioid in the fat cells and the blood stream.
Mindfulness is not a practice, but a strategy that then involves many other practices and active observations. I would agree with you that capitalism and savagery have contaminated the behaviors of many would be Buddhists, but the philosophy itself is what it always was – an admission that grasping leads to suffering, and a belief that anything perceived can be viewed as permanent, including that suffering.
That is why it is a practice, not a belief in some externality.
Paul, your humility is appreciated. Especially after some of the incredibly elitist remarks about South Carolina on fakebook. South Carolina voters have been accused of being “stupid” and “uneducated”. I’m surprised nobody used the n-word. We need to see what the PEOPLE are willing to vote for. This is no time for extreme fanaticism.