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.

Quips & Quotes from the NewCitizenDharma™ Cook Book

Making things accessible and easily understood by the masses seems to be the stated purpose of much Buddhist endeavor among English speaking populations at present. It’s not always successful and often complicates things unnecessarily. That’s OK. We are here to help.

Making milkshakes is also a worthy endeavor, especially if they are strawberry.

We here at the Madhushala, weaving drunkenly as always on our own self-aggrandizement, illusion and disillusionment, feel that now is the time to climb on a horse and get into this race. That’s the royal “we” not the plural we and it’s a mandatory affectation of this new program.

It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.


NewCitizenDharma™ is our proposal for entry into that spiritual-gastronomic-dadaist marketplace. We like this title. It is generic yet specific, modern yet old, descriptive yet vague, ordinary yet exalted. Our platform consists entirely of Twitter sized quips presented by Citizen-Teachers™ with non-traditional but commercially relevant and possibly viable titles. They are also magically delicious. It is egalitarian in that we each choose our own titles. Where one may have a traditional title these are generally transmogrified into NewCitizenDharmaSpeak™  While we’re not high enough on Google page rankings to merit much commentary thus far we will attempt some, where we can, in order to punch up the SEO a bhumi or two. The more words there are the more there is to index. More is always better, except on Twitter.

Our slogan:

Our milkshake’s better than yours.

We have searched over the entire Internets and come up with a good selection of folks we’d like to see join our cause and help us in the kitchen. Many have already composed their own slogans and possibly their own recipes, a collection of the former is listed below. As NewCitizenDharmatists™ of course they are not required to join anything and may certainly remain just as they are, none the worse for wear having been mentioned. That’s the essence of the First Paradox of NewCitizenDharma™ of our list of 2,149 Unsorted and Unnumbered Paradoxes™ which form our somewhat wobbly platform. The Second Paradox™ lies within the First as they are both numbered and unnumbered, sorted and unsorted. Resolving the Paradox Problem™ is the essence of the practice of NewCitizenDharma™. The Third Paradox™ involves leeks, Sharpies and a handful of ball bearings.

And if you join us you can be sure we have a few lovely rituals that will alter your perception if nothing else. [If nothing else consider yourself lucky] These are usually done to the following chant. We’ll even hire this very band if you donate enough.

So, again, here are some worthies we are considering admitting, possibly against their will.

I’ll get there when I get there. And so will you. ~ Bardo “Why you lookin at me?” Warmer, Mobile Astronaut and dinosaur fetishist

A sleepy monkey in hand is worth a blog post. ~ Rev. Jim “Catch This” Flood, Ambidextrous Spiritual Juggler from coast to coast

Graph this! I did. ~ Harun “the Angry” Likathi, Sociological Math-e-magician and 1st Degree Consciousness Raiser

Well groomed angst is not the path to nirvana ~ Maggie “May or May Not” Finewinegarten, Chief Hairdresser to the Neurotic and fancy talker in blogs such as this

In the midnight sun you can’t spit fire with a beer in your hand. ~ Paavo “the Norseman” Sankari, Wrangler of Ideological Implements and purveyor of premium juntas

One can’t hear the shuffling blur of leaves through the neighbor’s open window with electronic books ~ Jack “Hermes” Fotopoulos, Librarian of Nostalgia in the Babelogue of the Interneticus

Spiritual social media is my schtick. Get used to it. ~ Billy “Shytown” Black, Karmic Provocateur and part-time ego bouncer

I’ve got your philosophy right here buddy! ~ Justice “London” Wittgenstein, Academic Cyclotician and frequent guest on esoteric cable reality shows

Chewing gum, as a noun, is a little redundant. I decline it. ~ Jeremiah, Shader of Meanings and envied blog decorator

I ain’t your spiritual waitress! ~ Babs O’Malley, Provocatress and political bowling league organizer

Get some. Or not. Kodo Sawaki maybe said that. It doesn’t matter. Yeah! ~ Mac “Igo" Lateralinen, Exotic Running Gear aficionado and occasional inter-dimensional shifter

Zappa, wine, Dhammapada – order varies. ~ Ritchie “the Fox” Gerold, News Dude and human powered transportation devotee

Now that’s what I mean. ~ Davey “the Skeptic” Chaplin, Vampire Lore Remixer and Science Officer on the good ship Aro

The DJ is always on. ~ Mott “the Hoople” Mitchell, Professor of Isms-ness and Leader of Official Chants

There’s one for everyone. ~ Rev. Manny “the Fish” Piscatorian,  Lord of the Cosmic Dance and formerly Official Scrapbooker to the Movement

Some potential affiliates, if they step up their game paradox-wise:

Mental Technologies-R-Us are us. Really. They are. ~ Vaughn “Blow This” Piccolo, Director of Research for Mental Technologies-R-Us

If we join hands, what do we really join? ~ Eman “Mitra not Meetcha” Nichler, sponsor of and participant in Teach Ins, Sit Ins, Love Ins, Walk Ins and other matters of ingress.

Note: Please be advised that we are not associated with similar organizations which also pump out 140 character milkshakes at a rate we are striving to challenge. You will notice, as per our slogan quoted above, that our milkshake is quite superior to theirs. Here are a few samples of the lesser vintages:

We are not here to make others happy. We are here to make me happy. ~ Willy “I deserve it” Lexus, small time blog operator turned spiritual entrepreneur.

If things are as they appear then time will tell and we have a remedy for that ~ Brother Omniglot Nomenclature, Director of VanCare, ‘the “Walmart” of mobile spas’

It’s not how big your Tantra is but what you do with it!  ~ Douggie “Big Tantra” Merman

We at NewCitizenDharma™ would like to extend an invitation to all and sundry to join our cause, whatever it is, and donate bucket loads of cash to maintain our endeavors, whatever they may be. We operate somewhat like the Colbert SuperPAC but without the PAC or the Super or the Colbert as these are all extraneous expenses. Unmarked bills in plain brown envelopes via the mail to our anonymous post office box in Aruba works just fine for us. This is in keeping with NewCitizenDharma™ policy.

Want to learn the secrets of great Dharma milkshake making?…I could teach you, but I’d have to charge. See above for payment instructions.

Yeah OK it’s been a strange week

But then again not everything has to make sense.



And so it goes….

Moral Credentials by Proxy

Innocent corruption. In all institutions that do not feel the sharp wind of public criticism (as, for example, in scholarly organizations and senates), an innocent corruption grows up, like a mushroom.

Friedrich Nietzsche in Human, All Too Human (1878)

How do good people go bad?

How do bad people see themselves as good?

Those simplistic questions cover a complex topic.

We all want to view ourselves as good people. We know the difference between right and wrong yet we often do the wrong action despite that.

Many of the reasons for that have to do with biases and assumptions. There are a lot of these but one particular issue I came across speaks especially to those who maintain some kind of religious, philosophical or spiritual stance.

On his blog, Overcoming Bias, economist Robin Hanson wrote a post called Group Moral Licensing. Its basis came from a study called Vicarious moral licensing: The influence of others’ past moral actions on moral behavior. which demonstrated that those who participated in and recognized the moral character of their past actions tended to use that as something like a buffer to allow them to act in less then moral ways in the present.

This phenomenon takes the label of moral credentialing.

Numerous kinds of moral credentialing can be defined. All of these contain biases and rely on assumptions which I outline below relating them specifically to Buddhist contexts:


This position rests morality in past actions. If a person has a track record of group defined “good” moral behavior there exists an increased likelihood that behavioral vigilance relaxes. This provides one reason why we become shocked when historically good people are discovered to have developed moral failings.  Relying on this position states “I’ve always been good therefore I am and always will be good so I don’t have to bother with checking myself too seriously”. This solidification of a ‘”good” moral identity can erode for quite some time before the individual and social cognitive dissonance becomes evident. We can note this in Buddhist circles with phrases such as “I have belonged to the sangha (or meditated) for X number of years. That proves I’m good and what I say or do is right.”


If we maintain membership in a moral group, such as a religious institution or identify with a particular moral position and this is bolstered by a group, a tendency appears by which individuals assume the moral character of the group and abdicate their individual moral responsibility. This position summarizes as, “I’m a Buddhist therefore anything I do is automatically good and what I say or do is right.”

Attribution by others

Deeming someone moral, by way of a prize, honor or other social recognition can have the effect of a person defining themselves as morally good without examining their own actual moral positions. The expression of this becomes, “I’ve won the Nobel Peace Prize therefore the world deems me good so I can do what I want because it’s all good.” In Buddhist contexts this expresses as, “I’m the abbot/board chair/senior student so people recognize my goodness and everythingI say or do is right.”


When someone hears repeatedly and/or from numerous sources that their behavior/actions have a high moral quality a tendency develops for that to generalize and for the person to believe it of themselves without examination. The expression of this becomes, “So many people have told me I’m good so whatever I say or do is right.” “People say I am such a good Buddhist  therefore I don’t need to examine the truth of those claims much.”


A definite correlation exists between power and corruption. See the third link below for one study on this. This position can be summarized as “I am in a position of deciding for others therefore they trust me. So I must be right and good as are all of my actions or I wouldn’t be in this position.” Bit of a tautology (circular reasoning) there. Positions of deluded moral power develop with the assistance of some of the other factors but mostly with the help of social reinforcement. The more power one has the less likely one questions the rightness of one’s own actions.

You can see also that interrelationships exist between these positions. Power, based on attribution by others, amplified and of long duration can coalesce into quite a delusional moral trip. Think cult like delusion when you put them all together. They all rest on false premises that belie reality testing in the present moment. Questioning seems absurd when these social conditioning factors are in play. All of these can be used as justifications for immoral behavior and actions when people escape into a state of denial.  When these positions appear often the expressions come across as “holier than thou” and become increasingly irrational and entrenched. (ie Fox News) Objectivity decreases the more these factors appear, the longer they remain evident and the more intense they become.

All of these biases, assumptions and overlooked spots serve to cloak an individual from taking responsibility for their own moral positions and their own actions.

I call all these positions moral credentialing by proxy in that they don’t deal with the reality of a situation at hand but rely on conditioned biases from which moral decision making is made.


Related studies and their summarized conclusions from their abstracts [additional notes of mine appear in brackets] :

Striving for the moral self: the effects of recalling past moral actions on future moral behavior. People’s desires to see themselves as moral actors can contribute to their striving for and achievement of a sense of self-completeness. The authors use self-completion theory to predict (and show) that recalling one’s own (im)moral behavior leads to compensatory rather than consistent moral action as a way of completing the moral self. [I would call this a guilt effect. The compensatory behavior-similar to atonement-doesn’t occur when situations are morally positive or neutral]

In a very different voice: unmasking moral hypocrisy. Overall, results suggested motivation to appear moral yet still benefit oneself. Such motivation is called moral hypocrisy. [Even when reminded of moral stakes people maintain a certain amount of desire for self-benefit  and this influences outcomes]

Power increases hypocrisy: moralizing in reasoning, immorality in behavior.  In five studies, we explored whether power increases moral hypocrisy (i.e., imposing strict moral standards on other people but practicing less strict moral behavior oneself). In Experiment 1, compared with the powerless, the powerful condemned other people’s cheating more, but also cheated more themselves. In Experiments 2 through 4, the powerful were more strict in judging other people’s moral transgressions than in judging their own transgressions. A final study found that the effect of power on moral hypocrisy depends on the legitimacy of the power: When power was illegitimate, the moral-hypocrisy effect was reversed, with the illegitimately powerful becoming stricter in judging their own behavior than in judging other people’s behavior. This pattern, which might be dubbed hypercrisy, was also found among low-power participants in Experiments 3 and 4. We discuss how patterns of hypocrisy and hypercrisy among the powerful and powerless can help perpetuate social inequality.

Moral hypocrisy: appearing moral to oneself without being so. [People use various strategies in order to avoid comparing themselves to moral standards.]

Moral credentials and the expression of prejudice. Three experiments supported the hypothesis that people are more willing to express attitudes that could be viewed as prejudiced when their past behavior has established their credentials as nonprejudiced persons.

Moral credentialing by association: the importance of choice and relationship closeness. People express more prejudice if they have established their "moral credentials."


Note: This post attempts an E-prime perspective. See next post for a definition of that. If I’ve missed any spots let me know so they can be corrected. Quotations don’t count.

What Does it Mean to be You?

Philosophy is starting to catch up with Anatta. He even talks about that. But then in the interview portion he mischaracterizes it somewhat. Then he gets corrected by the interviewer. Interesting exchange though.

Don’t agree with some of his statements about Buddhist objectives. Oddly they are similar to what a few Buddhist teachers have said, which I also don’t agree with. Dissolution of or killing the ego is not possible. The sooner that notion is put to rest the better.



The topic of personal identity is strictly speaking nonexistent. It’s important to recognize that we are not the kind of things that simply popped into existence at birth, continue to exist, the same thing, then die off the cliff edge or go into another realm. We are these very remarkably ordered collections of things. It is because we’re so ordered that we are able to think of ourselves as being singular persons. But there is no singular person there, that means we’re forever changing.” ~ Julian Baggini


There’s a website called Edge that asks a provocative question once a year to a large group of well known thinkers and collects the answers. They publish them on the web and in a book. Their short description of this:

To arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.

There have been some remarkable questions and answers over the years. This year’s question is,


I’m working my way through these responses and one that I came upon is particularly interesting. It is from HOWARD GARDNER who, according to the byline on the website is a Psychologist, Harvard University; Author, Truth, Beauty, And Goodness Reframed: Educating For The Virtues In The 21St Century

He wrote:

"How Would You Disprove Your Viewpoint?!"

Thanks to Karl Popper, we have a simple and powerful tool: the phrase "How Would You Disprove Your Viewpoint?!"

In a democratic and demotic society like ours, the biggest challenge to scientific thinking is the tendency to embrace views on the basis of faith or of ideology. A majority of Americans doubt evolution because it goes against their religious teachings; and at least a sizeable minority are skeptical about global warming — or more precisely, the human contributions to global change — because efforts to counter climate change would tamper with the ‘free market’.

Popper popularized the notion that a claim is scientific only to the extent that it can be disproved — and that science works through perpetual efforts to disprove claims.

If American citizens, or, for that matter, citizens anywhere were motivated to describe the conditions under which they would relinquish their beliefs, they would begin to think scientifically. And if they admitted that empirical evidence would not change their minds, then at least they’d have indicated that their views have a religious or an ideological, rather than a scientific basis.

In the example given this is part of the science vs religion/faith line of thinking which mostly deals with Christian viewpoints. However the answer itself with the question “How Would You Disprove Your Viewpoint?” is a useful one in many other and broader contexts.

We all have a viewpoint and always will as long as we have consciousness so why not at least try to have one that is deliberate rather than conditioned by things we are only vaguely aware of. Why not work towards one that is actually manageable rather than wildly running in all directions without direction?

Disproving, or at least questioning one’s assumptions and so forth is a good start. It can help us to balance out a tendency to get stuck in a view, particularly when that view is not serving us very well but our obstinacy or fear or comfort with that viewpoint precludes letting go of it.

It’s also one of the reasons that some of my blog posts are so long. I try to come up with as many challenges that I can think of to whatever point I’m making, to essentially poke holes in my own argument to see how much, if any, water it holds.

Basically it’s like trolling your own argument. I’ve found it to be a really useful exercise in balancing out my views, rubbing off some of the more pointed ends and curtailing tendencies to kneejerk conditioned reactions. The latter of which may tend to be right in their impulse but definitely get sloppy in execution. Ranting without reflection brings some odd and often unpleasant consequences.

And it’s also useful to think about what you’re thinking. It’s one step in being able to identify your thoughts without getting carried away with them. When we begin to ask questions of our thoughts such as “Where did that come from?”,  “Is that really significant or do I just want it to be so?”, “Do I really need to keep that?”, “Is there an actual benefit there or is it just a habit?”  we start to put the contents of our mental house in order, much like we do when we look into a back closet or attic and examine the contents.

Many folks, when they start meditating don’t realize how much thinking they are actually doing and how they are living and experiencing through those thoughts, mistaking them for reality rather than what’s actually there.

Working with thoughts in this and other ways helps us pry ourselves away from their entrancing power and the effects that unexamined positions and wildly unmanaged thoughts can have on our emotions and our lives.

Maybe this approach is not for everyone but it is certainly helpful to me.

There’s a whole bunch more cognitive tools suggested at the Edge website for this year’s question, “What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?”. Bit of categorical imperative tucked in that one which makes it trickier than it looks. 

The previous year’s questions and answers are pretty good too. They also have articles and conversations on other topics with some of these sharp people. It’s free. Worth a look.