I Wish You Great Heartbreak

 

I have no mercy for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight.

~Malcolm X

Last night I watched an hour long documentary called War in the Mind. The full program is on the web so you can watch it too. It was about soldiers with PTSD and the consequences they face having participated in war. Some of the soldiers were young and newly returned, some were very old and still affected by the conflicts they participated in such as WWII, Korea, Vietnam and other places and at other times. I had an uncle who was in the Navy in the Pacific in WWII. For decades after he was a genteel alcoholic, and many years later he hung himself in his garage. No one really knew what PTSD was back then. Once you have an experience of any kind but particularly an experience of horror, you can never return to the world you thought you knew or to whoever you thought you were before. Experience is a one-way street.

This documentary stuck with me all day today. It kind of shook me up. Sometimes I enjoy being shook up or upset. Enjoy may not be the right word there…more like “do not turn away from” or accepting, although accepting is also not wholly correct since that which is causing the disruption is not something that is accepted passively and filed away. It is more accepting the fact of being shook up and the reactions that arise because of the content of the trigger. I find when I have the urge to turn away or compartmentalize “that stuff”, the content, into some corner that will allow me to be numb to it, then it is often at that time, if I allow it to continue, that a moment of recognition or connection is at hand. It is hard to be vulnerable to anything but especially to horror and other people’s pain.

These kinds of things were on my mind when I read a Twitter discussion about Islamophobia. The gist of it was Islamophobia was merely racist. That description “merely racist” is not meant to downplay the seriousness of racism, but to point out that there is more to it than that. There’s always more.

This was followed by an article in Mother Jones, America’s 10 Worst Prisons: Pelican Bay, which describes what is a monument to inhumanity where prisoners spend, literally, decades in solitary confinement. There are currently 1,500 in solitary there. Entombed alive for life. Think about that for a moment.

The reaction of people to these kinds of things is often unthinking. It goes something like “Well that’s OK because they are “enemies” or “criminals” or “illegal” or <insert dehumanizing label of your choice>”

There’s two main ways that these kinds of reductionisms are understood and dealt with. In the first instance the label is used simply to dismiss something or somebody we don’t want to deal with in any substantive way. That’s the most common. In the second instance it is a call to action. I have consciously been shifting myself into that mode over the years after being well-conditioned to using the dismissive mode. [We all are similarly conditioned.] When I find myself using labels, I consciously try to separate the behavior and the human being. I’ve used labels in a derogatory way. My set of labels include, “fascists”, “Americans”, “capitalists” and so forth. By adjusting some of my thinking, and some of my language, what I am discussing becomes fascist behavior and ideology, nationalism as an identity, capitalism as a system that influence people to act in exploitative ways, etc. It takes a lot more work to be more precise in this way but it also brings a certain amount of clarity to issues of social structure and behavior. One starts to see the bigger picture then.

So while the reductionism of labels can confine issues to small words it can also be used to see beyond them if one is willing to do the necessary work.

That was something of a digression but it underpins what I thought about after being exposed to those particular pieces of disruptive information.

On Twitter I wrote:

I don’t think Islamophobia is *only* about bigotry. There’s a whole lot of hegemony underneath it.

Also the notion of a threat of collective (Ummah) identity which intimidates those who highly value individualism above all else.

[Hegemony is] Not necessarily state sponsored. It is now more of a dominance at all costs by anyone (or generally a group)ie cultural, economic

PB [Pelican Bay] and other supermax prisons are an abomination. It’s like entombing people alive.

That doc I watched last night on soldiers with PTSD kind of shook me.

Mainly the part when some recounted looking at their "enemies" and realizing the people they killed were human.

Imagine looking at everyone dehumanized with labels like "enemy", "criminal", "illegal", etc as humans. Hearts would break.

I wish that great collective heartbreak on every person in the world.

Comment on An Open Letter from the Buddhist Community on Islamophobia

For the past few days I’ve watched the discussions of many members of the Buddhist community in the United States, Canada and Europe about events happening in Burma regarding the persecution of a particular Muslim minority. Like all situations of oppression and persecution there are many nuances and complexities that are often lost in the media. History, colonialism, geography, group loyalties, language, culture, tribalism, economics, politics and religion are some of the primary factors within such complexity.

It was suggested that a statement from this self-assembled Buddhist group be forthcoming on the issue.

I am one who thinks stating one’s position on an issue is a good idea, particularly if that issue involves oppression and asymmetrical power relationships. A few concerns cropped up for me initially, in that it can be a delicate thing for a primarily well-off, primarily white, primarily male group to condemn events in which they are not directly involved half-way around the world. You know what I mean…imperialism and all that jazz.

Fortunately initial impulses gave way to broader context and more reasoned thought and the document signed and released covered the broader spectrum of Islamophobia in general. It also did not focus exclusively on events in Asia but brought some amount of cultural self-scrutiny along with it.

This is a good joint effort and kudos to the group for taking a public position.

The document is available here:

An Open Letter from the Buddhist Community on Islamophobia

Mindful war

Who knew that US military personnel were using mindfulness techniques in the field of intelligence work (aka spycraft) and elsewhere?

This article, Global Intelligence Gate: From Confessions of an Economic Hit Man to the Stratfor Corporation from WL Central, which deals with Wikileaks related news appeared recently.

It’s not only for the sake of relieving PTSD  or anything quite so compassionate. It’s more like how to keep your shit together when you’re waterboarding someone.

Why would mindfulness be useful in spycraft? One of the leading providers of this type of mindfulness training is The Mind Fitness Training Institute. They provide an 8 week course for “existing groups”. No it’s not your average warm and fuzzy retreat.

From The Mind Fitness Training Institute website:

With mindful attention, we can directly perceive an experience without the filter of biases and judgments that often accompany our thoughts about an experience.

That’s an interesting and accurate statement. To be able to just engage in an experience without filters can be a remarkable experience. Quashing that pesky conscience, home of moral judgments could also be quite remarkable. In some circumstances one might even go so far as to induce psychopathic behavior. Imagine a fighting force trained in that manner. Pretty horrific.

Now consider the context.

Mindfulness as an inoculation against PTSD sounds like a good idea. It might help prevent some of the veteran’s suicides, the numbers of which have increased dramatically in recent years.

The reading list in this program is quite extensive and wide ranging, from 

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face
stress, pain, and illness. New York: Delacorte Press.

Begley, S. (2007). Train your mind, change your brain: How a new science reveals our
extraordinary potential to transform ourselves. New York: Ballantine Books.

to

Asken, M. J. & Grossman, D. (2010). Warrior mindset: Mental toughness skills for a nation’s
peacekeepers. Milstadt, IL: Warrior Science Publications.

Grossman, D. (1995). On killing: The psychological cost of learning to kill in war and society.
Boston: Little, Brown.

Well if the Norwegian mass murderer can use meditation to help him kill better why can’t the US Army use a little mindfulness for the same thing?

Anders Behring Breivik used meditation to kill – he’s not the first

Helpful Imperialism and Genocide

The article What the Dalai Lama Should Do Now in Huff-Po by journalist Stephen Talty is quite ridiculous.

He writes:

The Dalai Lama and his followers should march to the Tibetan border and demand to cross back into their ancestral homeland. His Holiness should be accompanied by some of the tens of thousands of Tibetans who fled with him after 1959, along with young men and women in their teens and twenties who have never even seen the dun-colored hills and valleys of Kham and Amdo.

All of this to engineer a photo op of HHDL with supporters being turned away. This would be about the stupidest, most suicidal thing that could possibly be done.  It’s full of naïve romanticism, a faith in the Chinese regime that is seriously misplaced,  an absurd faith in the global media, as well as a severe lack of knowledge of:

  • the geo-political forces at play in the region,
  • the living conditions of Tibetans inside India
  • the unity of Tibetan refugees in various parts of India. They are not one big robotic group that will follow HHDL into the face of lines upon lines of heavily armed Chinese troops and you’d better believe those new railroads and airstrips in Tibet would be immediately full of troops ready rush to the front to mow down any massive migration.
  • the families of Tibetans that are now tied to Indian families through marriage
  • the stateless refugee status of many Tibetans and their non-recognition by other governments
  • the willingness of India and Nepal to militarily support the Tibetan refugees if shooting starts. They won’t, to put it bluntly. The Nepalese army is currently being trained by Chinese advisors.
  • conditions within Tibet to support refugees should they all return. That includes the ominous possibility of lengthy “re-education”.
  • the interests of Western powers and their populations. Do you really think Kim Kardasian’s followers are going to rise up for the Tibetan cause just because of a photo? They might wear a bracelet if the accompanying video is viral enough but that’s about as far as the action will go.

The author also writes:

The expedition would not only retrace the route Buddhism took from India to Tibet, it would echo other marches, such as Gandhi’s salt campaign and the two Selma marches. In those, oppressed people risked their lives to demand what was due them. The Tibetans’ cause is as good and as just as the others.

Oh yes let’s reenact some Buddhist history out of sentimentality just for good measure. And throw in other figures the West can identify with for good measure.

And it’s not like border marches haven’t happened before. They were put down pretty quickly. In 2008 for example  Indian police stop Tibetan marchers 

Video from the scene showed Indian officers dragging the marchers into police vans, sometimes as many as four officers per protester. Once inside the vehicles, the protesters furiously banged on windows and continued to chant, "Free Tibet!"

The protesters, who planned to reach the border for a confrontation with Chinese authorities just before the Beijing Olympics begins in August, were only three days and 75 km into the march when police stopped the march.

So perhaps a little bit of research on the part of the journalist would have been helpful.

Beyond that the Chinese government does not pride itself on it’s sense of justice, fairness or equal treatment. Sometimes such words are used but they have particular meanings that fall within Maoist ideology. Used in the Huff-Po article, they are projections of the author’s own imperialist tradition which is what Gandhi and King leveraged in their fight for freedom. [more on that in an upcoming post]

China has no shame when it comes to it’s own expansionist objectives. Expansion of the revolution is a good thing. Nor has it any shame when it comes to rolling over human rights to meet those objectives. Enforcing ideology is not only a good thing but a necessary thing in order to achieve the state’s objectives. The revolutionary codeword for that is “struggle”. If one has any familiarity with the doctrines that underpin the contemporary Chinese state that is obvious.

While Mao may not be cited with the frequency he once was, his adherents, along with the new generation of neo-Maoists who mix in free-market methodology as an expansionist tool, or weapon, depending on your definition, maintain firm ideological control despite what might appear to be capitalist leanings. Selling that rope globally! It was all outlined long ago by Mao and company.

Much of what had been written then is still in effect. For example see the notes:

On the Policies for Our Work in Tibet — Directive of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (April 6, 1952)

Talk with Tibetan Delegates (Excerpts) (October 8, 1952)

Don’t Hit Out In All Directions (June 6, 1950)

Chu Teh, Vice-Chairman of the Central People’s Government, made the following statement on May 23, on the conclusion of the Agreement concerning the peaceful liberation of Tibet (May 23, 1951)

If you read all that or other writings of the Chinese Central Committee membership over time then you will note the frequency of the term “Han majority”. Keep that in mind when you read these couple of quotes that were selected to be in Mao’s Little Red Book:

We must affirm anew the discipline of the Party, namely:

(1) the individual is subordinate to the organization;
(2) the minority is subordinate to the majority;
(3) the lower level is subordinate to the higher level; and
(4) the entire membership is subordinate to the Central Committee.

Whoever violates these articles of discipline disrupts Party unity.

"The Role of the Chinese Communist Party in the National War" (October 1938), Selected Works, Vol. II, pp. 203-04.*


One requirement of Party discipline is that the minority should submit to the majority. If the view of the minority has been rejected, it must support the decision passed by the majority. If necessary, it can bring up the matter for reconsideration at the next meeting, but apart from that it must not act against the decision in any way.

"On Correcting Mistaken Ideas in the Party" (December 1929), Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 110. [emphasis mine]

imageThese days the author of the quotes is not mentioned much but he is certainly not absent from Chinese society. His image continues to gaze over Tiananmen Square just as it always has and of course his mausoleum there continues to attract devotees. His ideas, however modified continue to underpin the policies and ambitions of the Chinese government.

Certainly individual Chinese people will have their own views, just as individual Americans, Canadians, Indians or Australians do. That does not mean the average citizen is cognizant of the philosophies or details or intentions of it’s own government policies without some amount of study or inquiry. How many people in the West have made a Freedom of Information request to their own government? Or even know how to do it or even know that they can do it? How censored is it when you receive it back, if you even receive anything back? Do you think the average Chinese citizen can blithely make such inquiries of their government without incurring serious scrutiny?

This piece is the second one I’ve encountered in as many days wherein the author felt it necessary to tell the Tibetan people what to do.

The other was on the Facebook page of another one of those “awareness raising” charities. He wrote a note To honor 30 Tibetans, 30,000 Tibetans and 30,000 Supporters needed for this effort . basically telling people to contact the media more. That’s all well and good however the same guy posts his plea for fundraising for his personal charity effort all over other people’s pages full of pictures of self-immolated people. Overlooking Tibet has a post on that Using Tibetan martyrs for shameless judgmental self-promotion

What is it with these Western people who think they have better answers than people who are actually living in and living with the situation? Do they not realize that media and international relations regarding the Tibetan people have been going on for more than half a century? Do they think they have better PR ideas and connections than Richard Gere’s entourage? Do they not know that what they say is said by every second tourist that shows up on their 3 week trip to Dharamshala to every Tibetan person they meet?

“Why don’t you do this?”

“Why don’t you do that?”

…as if every random Tibetan person in the street or café or hotel or temple hasn’t thought about their situation at all, has the ear of the government and the power to magically make things happen for themselves just because some tourist who is completely ignorant of geo-political reality, makes a “brilliant” suggestion.

Like is said, ridiculous.