March 11, 2013

Why Buddhism? Why truth? Why children?

I challenge Bob Wright about the way Westerners indulge in Buddhism and a few other things:

41 comments:

chickelit said...

People's resistance to Buddhism is measured in Ohms.

Kirk Parker said...

"... be on an economic treadmill for a long, long time..."

Oh come on--what else are you going to do with your time?

Kirk Parker said...

Ohhh, chickelit, that was pure gold!

Dante said...

Seriously, folks, this is obvious. The reason people reproduce is because if they didn't, we wouldn't exist. It's that simple. It's a property of life.

So there are all these naturally evolved things in both men and women to procreate.

The sad thing is when the government gets in the way and mucks with the basic stuff, and changes the balances.

mesquito said...

Not planning to watch. How far does it get before Wright starts shrieking?

bagoh20 said...

The reasons for having children are a billion years old. I think the way to look at the question is from the other direction of why do some choose not to. That's, I think, more instructive. You could take away religion and culture and births would probably continue, if not increase. The idea of not having as many children as possible is a new one. A new possibility, and some of the reasons are new. I can't imagine myself being childless if I was born 50 or 100 years earlier, regardless of if I was religious or not.

bagoh20 said...

Wright was actually very thoughtful in this one, and I thought you both made good points, but the idea that the "truth" Buddhism assumes is any more valid seems unexamined and probably just accepted as part of a western oikophobia, which I believe means fear of dead pigs in the drinking water.

Shouting Thomas said...

#2 on the all time Stuff White People Like charts:

Religions that their parents don’t belong to!

edutcher said...

Getting a "Stream not found" message.

Ann Althouse said...

"Wright was actually very thoughtful in this one..."

He's teaching a course called "Buddhism and Science" at Princeton.

Ann Althouse said...

He'd better be thoughtful!

bagoh20 said...

"Getting a "Stream not found" message."

I get that a lot when meditating?

Shouting Thomas said...

He's teaching a course called "Buddhism and Science" at Princeton.

God help me! Hipster affectation squared!

Shouting Thomas said...

Why would anybody think that a Princeton education encourages thoughtfulness?

Princeton is a nightmare of PC indoctrination and East Coast snobbery.

edutcher said...

Siddhartha Gautama was a lot like St Francis of Assisi, he saw how life was more than just the pursuit of pleasure and wanted to find a way to find true happiness, rather than the transitory nature of material things.

Given how materialistic Western society can be and how shallow a life without any real commitment to something other than one's self, it seems clear many would try it, but they're still looking for the magic bullet, the instant high.

Dante said...

The reasons for having children are a billion years old.

It's not really a "reason" per-se, anymore than the speed of light has a reason in physics. It's merely a property of life. That property has pushed all kinds of things into animals to make it an imperative, because those without the imperative died out.

As an example, I'm quite sympathetic to the idea of a gay gene that makes a predilection for homosexuality. Given the high incidence, suspect it is genetic with environmental triggers that cause it, for instance, boys who experience pedophilia have a higher incidence of homosexuality, as do children from all male families. It's not some "perversion" as many seem to think (though I maintain pedophilia is). The fastest way to get rid of homosexuality is to let it come out in full bloom, provided there is no strange sexual reproduction.

As in many things, the state has gotten in the way so much, I doubt there is much value to having a gay sibling. In the past, during trying times, there may have been. The gay succeeds indirectly by passing down his gay genes through his brother's or sister's genes.

While rare with humans, there is Polyandry, in which two brothers will marry one woman. This is under incredibly trying times, naturally, when poverty dictates it. It's also rare in the animal kingdom, though there are many examples.

phx said...

I really want to see this! I don't have time but I'm coming back to comment. See you then.

Dante said...

"The ego is what drives so much strife in the world."

This shows such a basic misunderstanding of what generates progress.

Strife, competition, drives progress. I was watching an amazingly well done episode from "Curiosity: Battlefield Cell," in which an attack of a virus on a cell was documented. The ages old battle has caused us to be what we are. As an example:

Q: What keeps our cells functioning smoothly?

A: Millions of specialized proteins build structures that keep our cells functioning smoothly.


Without competition, with sameness, what can one expect to be the future? I have an image of Bob closing his eyes at :26, trying to express what's hard for him to, and thinking the battle of ideas is going on. Ann, listening, clearly skeptical.

Imagine this video instead, with Ann having no counterpoints, merely nodding her head, saying, yes, sameness is the ultimate goal.

All alike, all equal. Screw that. Until recently, you would be better placing your entire life on a "Black" bet on the roulette table. At least let's take our un-evolving minds as far as they will take us. That too requires competition.

The Godfather said...

Ann, your assertion that people adopt religious beliefs that they find helpful, that they believe things that they want to believe, in understandable only because you live in a country that has broad religious freedom. People can pick out trendy religions like trendy clothes or shoes or haircuts.

But a lot of people elsewhere in the world believe things that get them tortured and killed. At this very moment, Christians in Libya, Egypt, Pakistan, India, China, and other places are being arrested, beaten up, tortured, driven out of their homes, etc., etc., because of their beliefs. Their beliefs are not particularly "helpful" to them, in the mundane sense that I take it you meant.

Christian beliefs are "helpful" only if they are true, that through Jesus Christ you will obtain eternal life, but I don't think that's what you meant.

Wright (in this one instance) actually came closer to the truth when he said that truth is a good thing in itself, and religion may bring you closer to truth. But he was talking about Buddhism, which is apparently a trendy road to "truth" in certain circles in the US today.

kentuckyliz said...

Westerners don't do "desire is suffering" well.

We claim Buddhism while driving our Beemers and drinking our Fivebucks lattes.

Dante said...

Ann, your assertion that people adopt religious beliefs that they find helpful

Assume she is correct. Why would liberals trend towards Buddhism? It's sort of fatalistic, completely self-deprecating, and views the end of non-consciousness to be the ideal.

Works great for top down societies. Leftists should love it.

Nini said...

edutcher:...Given how materialistic Western society can be and how shallow a life without any real commitment to something other than one's self, it seems clear many would try it, but they're still looking for the magic bullet, the instant high.


I agree that, that is the most common reason why westerners take up eastern philosophy as guiding principles in their lives.

I personally got involved in several traditions. And I agree with Ann that buddhism taken to its extreme conclusion is nihilistic,(the cessation of the "self" or "ego"). Btw buddhism is really an atheistic system.

However, that is not the case with other eastern traditions which are theistic. In these eastern theistic systems, especially of Indic origin, the self is considered as a vehicle through which liberation "moksha" is attained (eg. freeing oneself from the illusion of suffering in the context of eternal time). This eastern concept, though not the same in details are not so much different from the teachings of Christianity, eg. liberation through Jesus Christ. And I think in some Christian teachings you retain your identity in the afterlife??

What I see among westerners (and I've seen a lot!)who are into this kind of thing is that they sort of try to lose their cultural identity. They adopt not only the teachings but they try hard to become an Indian (for example, those into Indic tradition) or become a "Thai" (those into buddhism"). Then when they live in Asia they come to the conclusion that Asians are no more better than themselves, no more materialistic than they are and then they lose faith in the teachings. It seems like they're more into forms (eg. adopting the traditional clothing of the tradition they are following or even adopting the "irrational" practices of the culture), than into the substance of the teachings.

I was once like that when I was in my late teens, trying to look like an Indian.

I have come, later on, to realize that you can follow or adopt the teachings without changing the externals in your life; the externals really have nothing to do with the core of the teachings, anyway.

Nini said...

Ann said that people believe in something that they consider "truth" if that will make them feel good.

I think that is a reasonable position. Isn't there validity in the saying that the proof of the pudding is in the eating?

Kirk Parker said...

"How far does it get before Wright starts shrieking?"

No shrieking in this one, but just that same uncomfortable hang-dog look as always. Doesn't he have any friends? Someone who would help him arrange camera and screen so that when he's talking he's at least sort of talking to you instead of looking 45 degrees off camera? Note how profoundly more engaging Althouse comes across, and it's not only because she's cuter.

Kirk Parker said...

Nini,

"And I think in some Christian teachings you retain your identity in the afterlife??"

If you don't, then it's no kind of Christian teaching.

John Lynch said...

It's a way to be moral without being a Christian, much the same way prison inmates embrace Islam.

John Lynch said...

The West had the Stoics. They didn't catch on.

MayBee said...

Westerners don't do "desire is suffering" well.

We claim Buddhism while driving our Beemers and drinking our Fivebucks lattes.



So do the Asians. At least the ones whose economies haven't been wrecked by communism or murderous dictators.

Renee said...

People see children, as if they were a material item. Children are not 'a want', they are human beings. A wanted pregnancy is no different then an unwanted pregnancy, just the value we place on it.

I don't treat my children differently base on they were planned or a surprise.

whkeeler said...

Ann said that people believe in something that they consider "truth" if that will make them feel good.

I think that is a reasonable position. Isn't there validity in the saying that the proof of the pudding is in the eating?


Ah, but if you're really listening, the "truth" can make you feel (let's say) itchy and scratchy - not a usually a welcome feeling.

May you be peaceful.
May you be happy.
May all beings be safe.
May you awaken to the light of your true nature.
May you be free.

wyo sis said...

You can know truth.
There is something in the human spirit that resonates to truth like a tuning fork. It's not about what makes you feel good, although that's the end result. There's a lot more to it than just feeling good.
We want the end result first sometimes. Finding out that feeling good is the culmination of a lot of effort isn't usually greeted with joy.

Ann Althouse said...

"Ann, your assertion that people adopt religious beliefs that they find helpful, that they believe things that they want to believe, in understandable only because you live in a country that has broad religious freedom.... But a lot of people elsewhere in the world believe things that get them tortured and killed."

Wow! Did you miss the way my assertion applies in that situation!

I said people believe what they want to believe. The threat of physical punishment or social ostracism is a most powerful reason to want to believe something.

If everything about your life depended on believing X, you would almost surely believe it or at least believe that you believed it or something in that vicinity.

Not believing wouldn't even be an issue.

That's the situation for most people.

Ann Althouse said...

"Christian beliefs are "helpful" only if they are true, that through Jesus Christ you will obtain eternal life, but I don't think that's what you meant."

You're just not putting enough effort into thinking through how much my principle applies. I guess you don't like the way it feels to think that it's true. You could ask why I want to believe it's true.

If everyone around you is Christian, you may want to believe it to fit in and to be thought well of.

Beyond that it helps you accept your conditions in this world because the real life that matters is in the next world. Whether the afterlife really exists or not is irrelevant. No one know the answer to that question, but people really want to believe it!

Renee said...

As a Catholic, eventually my children have to make it their own. One can see this in converts compared to comfortable cradles. I really believe my faith and I share it in a way that even makes me realize how awkward I am in this society even around Catholics.

phx said...

Siddhartha Gautama was a lot like St Francis of Assisi, he saw how life was more than just the pursuit of pleasure and wanted to find a way to find true happiness, rather than the transitory nature of material things.

Given how materialistic Western society can be and how shallow a life without any real commitment to something other than one's self, it seems clear many would try it, but they're still looking for the magic bullet, the instant high.


Interesting comment.

bagoh20 said...

Very few people choose their religion, so the idea that you believe it because it works for you is backwards for most, and at one time nearly everyone was stuck with what they were born into.

The thing is that all religions have, as part of why they exist, some method of dealing with hardship, but few people come to a hard spot in life and look around for a religion to fit the purpose.

It's not that we believe just what we want to. We choose to believe that which best aligns with the truth we have seen and accepted so far. That's simply the smart and evolutionary purposed way to go. You will not survive long if you start your truth from scratch at every question.

Of course we still can fool ourselves if we stick too hard to the lessons, and never look back and reexamine them. That's why smart capable people can succeed and reproduce, and still end up unwise.

SJ said...

@ The Godfather

RE: persecution of Christians.

While Christianity is probably the most-persecuted religion at the moment, it is not the only one to have ever been persecuted.

Indeed, the Jews of Europe had centuries of on-again, off-again persecution. Though their religion is deeply tied to ethnic identity...

I don't know if Buddhists got caught up in the mess in large numbers, but there was a wave of riot/murder/plunder between Hindus and Muslims after the partition of India and Pakistan.

And the Taliban were probably harsh on any Buddhists they found. They did destroy the large statues of Buddha in Bamiyan.

Religious persecution is an old story, and I think that every major religion on Earth has felt the hand of persecution at least once.

The Godfather said...

Ann re 7:57 and 8:02 AM:

Yes, Christian (or other) belief in an afterlife could make it easier to bear an intolerable presentlife, but that's not what I was talking about.

The Christians who are being persecuted around the world don't HAVE to be Christians. They could become Muslims or Atheists or whatever it is that the local power structure demands, and then they wouldn't be persecuted any more.

Your statement does not address the fact that people may believe things that are, shall we say, extremely inconvenient, things that don't lead to happiness in the here and now, because they think those things are true.

William said...

I sometimes listen to the Wright/Althouse dialogues because they have a "My Dinner With Andre" quality. I was hoping for the best when I saw the Buddhism title, but I leave disappointed. There was none of that lasix focus and demented rationality that makes Wright such a compelling speaker. I was hoping that he would really rag on Buddhists like they were involved in some kind of spiritual NRA scam. No such luck. It was all pretty mild and banal.....For the record, if I were God--and can you prove I'm not?--I would opt for some kind of Buddhist arrangement for the afterlife. Life is just too damned comlicated to get right the first time. You have to keep practicing. I'm sure that if I were given another three or four tries, I could become a righteous man.....Nietzsche claimed that the Christian veneration for truth eventually undermined Christian theology. I wonder if a similar event could ever take place among liberals. Could they ever throw off their belief in, say, Head Start Programs the ways Christians gave up their belief in Genesis as the literal truth. Doubtful. They're still not convinced that Marxism is not a viable economic system.

Carl Heppenstall said...

Our culture does need a lot of shredding and a lot less ego. Lack of messy ego problems does not equate to lack of competition at all - In fact competition is much better.

Carl Heppenstall said...

Also interesting to me is that it does seem that we like to believe things are true if they make us feel good. However, ego-less truth does not involve believing in anything - It just is truth.