a dharma talk from Anonymous

As someone who has an interest in and has studied social change movements within the context of the social sciences it’s always interesting to note the way many of them develop over time.  Opinions and actions from the margins are what actually frame the larger scale social debates in societies even though they are rarely acknowledged openly. One cannot tell how big an issue is unless one seeks out or at least feels the influence of those margins.

The movement that has been labeled Anonymous is very diverse, has no unifying stated goals (except maybe lulz) and seems to embrace a huge spectrum of political opinion. The one thing that I can put my finger on about it is a certain amount of discontent with the status quo from a very small personal scale to a very large global scale.

imageBy and large religion is eschewed within the group as far as I have noticed unless it is for the purposes of criticism. This criticism has taken its most public form by way of of attacks and protests against Scientology (Project Chanology) and against the Westboro Baptist Church,whose website has been downed more times than I can count. The latter seems to be something of a sport similar to shooting at highway signs from moving cars.

This morning as I was scanning the Twitter chatter I came upon an interesting piece of writing which was an exchange of views between a couple of self-identified Anons about the philosophy of the movement. Buddhism was brought up. This is not the first time I’ve seen Buddhist principles discussed in these open memoranda or on Twitter or elsewhere but it is one of the more comprehensive.

It’s not for me to say if this constitutes Right View or anything else of that nature but it’s interesting to note that one can run into discussions of Buddhism just about anywhere.

The discussion began with @AnonyOps describing the non-unanimous viewpoint of Anonymous…that it is not a cohesive whole following any one particular line of thought or motivation. That is the encapsulation of the argument mentioned as being reposted below the response.

The most poignant line in the response comes at the end:

Everyone, you’re on your own, but let’s all try to act like we’re not.

Here is the exchange verbatim. From http://pastebin.com/xGdJDQ5N 

First, read this: http://pastebin.com/4vprKdXH (also re-pasted below)

@AnonyOps makes a good point, but it doesn’t go far enough in explaining the problem, or how to go about solving it. It’s certainly an astute observation about the perception of this context-less tide of individuals and small groups called Anon, acting in some vague sense of service to others; namely, that it doesn’t get recognized as such. Noble intentions are obscured by the sensational examples of mayhem that inevitably sprout within a movement characterized by such an undirected release of energy. It is driven more by an ideal, a system to fight against, an e-Mubarak, than a coherent agenda and resulting organized action.

First, and most obvious, an uncontrollable movement by unpredictable people wielding asynchronous power and talent (the last of which is mostly all that distinguishes Anon from the tea party rank and file; go figure) is both the scariest prospect and juiciest opportunity for cooption one could imagine, especially in fragile times like these. Evil peaks even as good rises to meet it.

However, much of the source of the problem @AnonyOps seems to resent is probably less malice than laziness, naivety, and conditioning to abandon nuance for drama. The disappointment is natural, the reaction to plead for clarification on non-Anon-unanimity ™ is useful, but to succeed, we need context.

And no one provides context like the Buddha. No, seriously, it’s really simple. A timeless spiritual tradition boils down to one thing: slowing the mind down to the extent possible, with stillness representing the divine. But, change is constant along this vast spectrum of speed, and everything that is happening now, each moment, with each of us, falls along this spectrum.

The way that energy affects matter, moving it between the 3 states we know so well, is a perfect metaphor for this all-important spectrum, and it is this metaphor which puts the current struggle of Anonymous, and the struggle of all dominated people, in crystal clear context.

When matter is a solid, lots of inertia. Think of a sleeping herd of cattle; dead weight. This is the worst possible situation. This is the nameless, barely-penetrable state against which Anonymous rebels, at widely-varying levels of self-understanding.

When solid melts into liquid, that energy finally begins to move matter around. More energy, less inertia; cattle begin to stir as they’re warmed by the first rays of sun. Sound like now? But! The liquid result is more unstable than it was, sloshing around shapelessly, lapping tiny tsunamis all over as it settles in the path of least resistance. Sound like now? Surely this is better than inertia, but it is, shall we say, ineffective even against the astonishingly few true common enemies of humanity. What a surprise.

The gaseous state of matter rectifies the drawbacks of liquid shapelessness. Like the (unfulfilled) Anonymous ideal, it cannot be destroyed, captured or controlled, because it fills all possible space immediately. In individual Buddhist philosophy, this steamy mental state simply means focusing on one thing at once with full attention, with calm, patience, determination, and most importantly, a broader desire to serve others, or at least do no harm to others as you help yourself, or execute a means to a noble end.

We’re individuals, and all of our civilizationary systems are ostensibly, but decreasingly, built on individual rights, freedom, and choice; we’re separate. Hence, in Buddhist terms, we live in a world of separation (from each other). And yet, most of us, deep down, know what Gandhi told a ‘depressed’ 1931 America via delicate transatlantic radio: there is some indefinable thing that pervades everything and connects us all. Many feel it though none see it. It is this unseen connection which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that any of us perceive through our senses. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-Cc_9lKUHE)

Religion, blah blah blah, but really, the only remotely religious implication any of this paste has is that ultimately, though we die as individuals, we live together, and we are generally happiest when those around us are happy and safe. But assuming one can accept as truth that the current system seeks to divide us, and our task is to unite ourselves in well-meaning triumph, such acceptance implies and implores consciously attempting to follow something along the lines of the following principles:

1. Seek to act in ways that leave innocents unharmed. Why release bystander personal information for the rabble of exploiters when one could execute the hack to prove the vulnerability, warn all affected consumers and coordinate public embarrassment by the deserving target who left its stakeholders unprotected. This is easier than it seems, but it takes much more coordination than apparently exists now. By doing this, one puts others first, and it feels better to turn minions on masters than to punish minions for being minions, guaranteed.

2. Beware of trying to accomplish anything through tactics that harm others or generate negative emotions. Any darkness can be made light, so the negative solution, resorting to violence, is never necessary. Oppressors never look worse than when they crack down on peaceful protests, and never look or sound more justified than when they prosecute hooligans hurting innocents. Luckily, the vast majority of protests so far in this building crescendo of global revolution have been overwhelmingly peaceful. Despite the rushing release of rage, time is on our side.

3. The best way to ensure that energy can be released in effective ways is to slow down, do less out of emotion. It helps to realize that you are not your mind. Read that again. Think of your mind as a car you drive or a television you control by remote. It generates roads and channels, you dictate where you drive and what you watch. By slowing down, you can train your senses for optimal concentration and results, even while hax0ring. Most well-executed Anon publicity already has this element of thoughtful action, but most loic’ing and destructive ops, sadly, do not. It’s really something that only each individual can do, consciously, all the time, so this is probably the toughest nut to crack.

If you skimmed this, you didn’t understand it. Thanks for reading. Someone over my shoulder just said that some worthwhile coverage of the current mess in the bay area is being assembled by thenextweb, sf appeal, and the east bay express. Judge for yourself, and cultivate friendships with bloggers, so that you maximize the chances of true stories getting told. See? Connection is good.

Everyone, you’re on your own, but let’s all try to act like we’re not.

End of transmission.

Anonymous is not Unanimous.

Anonymous has a perception problem. Most people think we’re a group of shadowy hackers. This is a fundamental flaw. Anonymous is *groups* of shadowy hackers, and herein lies the problem. Anonymous has done a lot of good in just the past 9 months. It has helped with other groups in providing aid to people on the ground in countries where "democracy" is a bad word.
The mainstream media needs to understand that Anonymous isn’t unanimous. I’ve yet to see wide scale reporting make this distinction. A destructive minority is getting a majority of the press, while those of us who toil in the shadow doing good work for people at home and abroad go unthanked.
BART protestors didn’t spring up out of thin air this week. Protests against BART have been ongoing for years. Where’s the media coverage? If the media paid more attention to peaceful protests and general social unrest, I think hackers would be far less inclined to do things such as leaking data just to get the attention of the press.
Finally, hacking isn’t just about breaking into web servers and leaking data to the public. Far from it. Hacking is just as much about breaking out of things as it is about breaking into things. Hacking is lifestyle, and a mindset. It is about learning more about the technologies we use and social norms we are subject to.
Don’t let the actions of a few skew your perception of hackers as a whole.

Buy your exotic baby here

imageThis image is somewhat controversial if not outrightly offensive to many people. I understand the sentiment behind the creation of the image though. I once referred to the celebrity types who insist on adopting a plethora of multicultural children as collecting tokens on an anthropological charm bracelet…[Poverty Porn, Dilettante Charity and a Holiday in Cambodia]

I do understand the desire to want to help a child in a desperate scenario. And I do know personally, people who have successfully adopted internationally, mostly from China. The children are healthy, happy and accomplishing much in loving homes.

In some cases there may be a genuine desire to bring children into their lives and truly care for them. That is likely the majority of cases. However, in others…the mommy or daddy dearest syndrome takes over where children become props for outrageously huge egos and to validate certain public or social presentations.

There has been a trend historically of dominant cultures co-opting the children of those they dominate.

I got in a conversation on Google+ with John Pappas on this issue, particularly in reference to Haiti. He wrote:

It is and has been for awhile a very commonplace practice. The idea is that there is an opportunity to pull people from the brink of damnation to the good word via tragedy. The same thing was prominent at “Indian” school in the American West. It is considered an act of civilizing.

The point especially regarding “civilizing” lies at the heart of the colonialist mindset.

Canada had a horrific history of residential schools where children were basically kidnapped from their communities and locked up in Catholic run schools that abused several entire generations. It was not historically however, popular to adopt the children into individual families.

Residential schools mostly run by the Catholic church have a history around the world. In India, at present, for example, at the town of Mussoorie where I had been living for quite a few years there are numerous schools run by that church. They are private boarding schools that are very prestigious. One notes in marriage ads in the newspapers, for example, a request or description that girls be or are “convented” which means having graduated from a convent school, that is one run by nuns. Convent schools exist in most major cities. The cost runs around 50,000 rupees per year just to attend-about $1300 not including boarding costs, uniforms, school trips, sports fees and a lot of miscellaneous other charges. These schools are often seen as the epitome of Western style education. Many politicians have graduated from them.

I do wonder if the reason for their continued success in India is due to the strict rules that prohibit foreigners from adopting Indian children. In other countries where these residential schools have flourished changes in both adoption rules and social trends that have allowed or disbarred foreign or interracial adoptions have led to a demise of these schools. It’s a correlation that I note but can’t find any research to indicate a causal element.

This whole notion of civilizing developed further with the crisis in Haiti, when hard core evangelical Christians began adopting Haitian children in order to proselytize and enlarge the congregation…even going to the point of attempting to kidnap them. No doubt the social capital they would gain for being “good” Christians in their current environment is that important. Couple of stories on that here Americans Charged with Haiti Child Kidnap, Kidnapping or Caring? Missionaries in Haiti Tried to Take Children to U.S. After Earthquake and The Evangelical Adoption Crusade. Another interesting thing to note on this is the concomitant rise of both Christian based home-schooling and of private evangelical Christian schools many of which have expanded enough to include a boarding facility.  These two trends are also on the rise in secular education. In some cases the private/boarding school function is meant to bring economic relief or increased revenues. Secular example Boarding School Goes Back to the Future: Public School Develops Boarding Program.

John wrote of his personal experience in encountering some Christians on the mission to influence foreign students in a student exchange program. He wrote:

In conversation with some local “Good Christians” they explained what an opportunity exchange student programs presented then in proselytizing the “good word.” They currently have two children from Japan for a year. Church twice a week and bible study. School out here gets out early on Wednesday for Bible School.

I was lucky enough to tutor these children after-school and learned that they were not Christian and found the whole church thing very annoying but seen as a necessarily evil to the exchange program.

One sees this in India as well where Anglican and other protestant churches are setting up after school tutoring programs in order to entice students and their parents into participating in religious activities. Many of the poorer people will come, not only for the tutoring but also for gifts that are handed out which include Christmas and Easter food hampers, books-which include bibles and other religious material and clothing collected during clothing drives. Implicit in all of these activities is a pressure to appear at church services and proselytize to other family members and neighbors.

Is that preferable to foreign adoptions? It’s all rather arrogant, ethnocentric and colonialist.

In terms of secular interracial and cross-cultural adoptions I have a mixed opinion. If adoption leads to a denial or disparagement of a child’s ethnic or cultural origins then obviously it is not in the best interest of the child to be involved in such an arrangement. They will always feel as if who they are and where they have come from is somehow not good enough.

Where I do see good quality parenting, with the child being wholly respected and accepted and especially coming from a situation which has very little by way of support for their developmental success and where there is little ability for local people to provide homes then it strikes me as a beneficial thing.

Unfortunately the mechanisms in place to do such thorough scrutinizing and filtering are not very well developed in many cases. And sometimes they are prone to corruption such as bribery.

There are many stories of foreign born children adopted only to be abused, abandoned or even murdered. Check out the Wikipedia List of International Adoption Scandals or look up foreign adoption abuse and you’ll find over 58 million references in Google.

This whole area of international, interracial and cross-cultural adoption really needs serious scrutiny.

Children are not accessories.

Where is Suffering?

There’s a lot of these witnessing retreats going on where the bourgeoisie pay substantial amounts to be with suffering, whether that be located on the homeless streets, at Auschwitz, in Rwanda or elsewhere.

This to me turns the extraordinary suffering of people into a circus. The spectacle of suffering.

The purpose seems to be to assuage some kind of privileged guilt. You can’t buy that. Give your money to a refugee organization and your time to a literacy campaign.

Suffering does not have special locations and events.

The most profound suffering is silent, silenced and unknown by most around it.

Being the Bad Guy

imageUku has a good post up called Burst your Buddhist bubble!  It has brought a lot of thoughtful commentary.

He discusses emotional honesty, means of expression and the frustration with the social pressure to conform to  “Buddhist” stereotypes.

Another point that got brought up related to the photo he chose to accompany his post. It is a picture of 2 of his kids playing with light sabers pretending to be the classic characters from Star Wars.

Lauren made an excellent point in the comments:

As I stared at the photo and considered your post, I had a fantasy someone wondered aloud to you how the sons of a buddhist monk could engage in such violent games, imitating killing each other, tisk, tisk [shaking of finger with a frown]. And as I thought of this, some truer (I think) realization came. Children can only engage in these games because they see the difference of “good” and “bad”, Vader against Kanobe, as essentially a show, a charade, a falsehood. Okay, they don’t conceptualize it this way, but they know, (instinctively?, with real prajna) that both beings are the same, equal, both-supposed-to-be-there, even though they are dressed up in differences. And, I think, they assume this of the adults they see. They assume all adults understand that the enemy is their friend dressed up and fighting for the exhilarating energy of the situation. They see us all as equals before they know how to conceive of the question of whether we are.

What an excellent point.

I’d like to take the ideas from the post and the comment on a somewhat different tangent.

When we notice children playing these kinds of games or perhaps when we recall playing them ourselves there is an eagerness to acting out either character. An undifferentiated enthusiasm. Kids will happily become Darth Vader or the pirate captain without hesitation. Playing some villains is often even better and more fun than playing the hero who generally must stay within certain behavioral guidelines and who are usually forbidden to explore beyond well defined boundaries.

In children’s literature there is often some element of the defiant character. The Cat in the Hat being a prime example.

Even in adult popular culture the bad guy as hero is a frequent movie trope. From Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Thelma and Louise and V for Vendetta to the Jack Nicholson character McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, these characters express sentiments and commit actions that go against the stream of their respective social situations.

On TV there have been similar characters such as Spike and Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dr. House, Alan Shore on Boston Legal and Tony Soprano.

In stand-up comedy the bad boy or rebel who speaks out is a staple. Where would comedy be without the voices of people like George Carlin, Chris Rock, Richard Pryor?

This is even more pronounced in literature. The outcast, rebel, misfit or even villain is given empathetic or in some instances heroic treatment. Consider novels such as A Clockwork Orange, Gormenghast-the Steerpike character or plays by Shakespeare which often contain characters that transgress arbitrary boundaries. image

One can call this acknowledging the shadow aspects of the psychological self or integration of our complete human natures or recognition of hidden desires or impulses. These characters symbolize elements we may be too timid or afraid to confront directly within ourselves.

All of these are about challenging status quo situations whether they are social or psychological or spiritual. These archetypes would not continue to exist and be popular if they did not fill some psychological or emotional need, be easily recognized by most people and have a social function.

“The antihero emerges as a perturber and a disturber, a subverter of things as they are.

For more on the literary value of the anti-hero read John Sutherland’s book review. “Beautiful Losers: A literary critic analyzes the role of European antiheroes.”, The New York Times, May 9, 1999.

That doesn’t mean it is advisable to wallow in nihilism or emotions that are blatantly destructive either. When we get too far toward the ends of the scale of idealism versus cynicism we end up negating much of our own reality as well as propagating an extreme level of social or psychological disruption. If we express all that is within in a manner of complete abandon there are social costs, and if we suppress most of what is within there are psychological costs as well. Neither of the extremes renders anyone fully functional. It is perhaps only useful to indulge in extremes in the creation of fictional works. Art has often been labeled a destructive process.

But that doesn’t mean that these extremes can be left unexamined in real life either.

When we practice Buddhism it may result in “becoming a better person” at some point, but if we don’t know what kind of person we are to begin with then “better” comes to mean more deluded and contorted and confined than when we started. Finding out who we are, in all it’s aspects is crucial to reaching some kind of understanding especially on the Buddhist path.

We can put on the most beautiful and ornate Buddhist mask in the world and please everyone we come in contact with. We can disguise our demons as angels and fill their mouths with marshmallows so they cannot speak. We can deny the substance of our desires by a feigned renunciation. We can bind up any hint of violence the second we sense it’s approach and hide it carefully.

All that can become the role and work of a lifetime. But there’s no life to it. It’s a facsimile of our idealization of ourselves.

We cannot resist against ourselves for the sake of maintaining the complacency and comfort of others. That is a form of slow motion suicide. We can have some amount of discipline in our expressions of ourselves provided we are aware of our own reasoning and motivations. But again without doing the work of the examination of the areas that provide much of our motivation, these being generally the more disruptive and unpleasant aspects, we spend our time living in fear of that which we do not really know. Ourselves.

For more on popular tropes, characters, stereotypes and the structure of fiction of all types visit the TV tropes wiki where a good deal of what comprises popular culture is well outlined and explained. The main index is along the left side of all the pages. You’ll be there for hours.

I know you’ve suffered
But I don’t want you to hide

I want to reconcile the violence in your heart
I want to recognize your beauty’s not just a mask
I want to exorcise the demons from your past
I want to satisfy the undisclosed desires in your heart

Regarding the Shimano Case

I am writing again about the Shimano Case because there is a meeting coming up at Dai Bosatsu in a few days and decisions will be made at that time that may impact future directions.

A new document [pdf] has appeared on the Shimano archive website that gives some indication of the predatory practices and lack of regard for students which Eido Shimano has practiced.

“Olivia”, in a open letter to the new abbot and ZSS board has written some of her story in an effort to attempt to bring further results to the severance of Shimano from that organization. There seems to be a great reluctance to let go there and numerous members have even called for a continued teaching relationship with him.

Students have left, board members have quit, outside parties have become involved yet the dependence for some is such that no amount of evidence will allow clarity of thought and vision.

In the letter, the author states that she received a sexually transmitted disease from Shimano and that even though she thought she was the only one he was involved with in this way there were several others simultaneously involved.

You can read the letter yourself at the above link for her story but a portion I want to quote here. After describing her joy at Zen practice and the surroundings of Dai Bosatsu she writes:

It was painful to leave all of that behind, as well as the possibilities that I imagined for the place as a whole. Unlike Eido Shimano, I was essentially banished from the monastery. In the aftermath of one of his own scandals, Eido Shimano has written that he “bravely marches on”. Marching on over the lives of women and men he has directly impeded, slandered or thrown aside—with the overall support of the board—is hardly a form of courage.

Olivia has shown great courage in revealing her story to add some perspective to the issue. These are not abstractions but human beings who have been injured, ignored and who must live with the way they have been betrayed, not only by Shimano but also by those who would not hear words against their teacher-god.

I don’t know what kind of Zen that is.

I don’t know what kind of Buddhism that is.

I don’t know what kind of never ending dream some choose to abide within.

Such fear.

This post also appears on The Buddhist Channel in the Letters section