Wednesday, December 14, 2011

American Awakening: Occupy Wall Street, Deconstructing American Mythology, and Creating a Compassionate Society (part 3)

I THINK the economic system and its accompanying culture is perpetuated by the American Mythology and its three main tenets:  the American Dream, Upward Mobility, and American exceptionalism.

The American Dream has come to be a symbol of what we value and strive for.  Americans have been told since their birth and their parents' births that this Dream was for all to attain, if only they worked hard enough for it. The dream of eventually having all you could desire:  a great home, great job, beautiful family, nice possessions, and of course, happiness.  The American Dream is a unique image, a specific group of ideas in each individual's mind, relative to each of the dreamer, while also always remaining a generic symbol for the American way of life. Along with the symbol is the belief that in order to attain your Dream, one must simply put in your time and work hard, make smart choices such as saving money, being innovative, and then reap your benefits down the road (quick aside:  interesting how the rewards of belief structures such as the American Dream & Christianity are always delayed…always something to be received at a later point. No doubt this is at least partly due to the fact that the creators of the “American Dream” also happened to believe in the Christian Creator and the tenets of that faith).  The pursuit of your own American Dream has come to be a primary source of meaning for the day to day lives of Americans, something to continue working diligently towards…and believing in.  But just like the promise of a beautiful afterlife, the American Dream tends be be unfulfilled goals for most people. It begs the question:  Is the concept of the American Dream a misguiding goal? The creation of an ends driven society focused on things to work for while neglecting the importance of learning how to live?  I certainly think so.

Upward social mobility: This is another staple of the great American narrative. It is the concept that individuals can work their way up the economic and social ladder through hard work and/or education and/or plundering.  This has served as not only a rationalization for the successes of a tiny privileged few and your even tinier rags to riches stories, but also for the justification for the perpetual impoverishment of the entrenched lower classes, especially minorities. Despite evidence to the contrary, Americans are still more likely to believe in upward mobility than citizens of any other developed country.

If a person goes from abject poverty to fame and fortune, the narrative that ends up being told over and over is one of hard work, sacrifice, education, and the individuals’ virtues.  We attribute the success almost solely to the individual. The truth is that for the miniscule number of rags to riches stories, they did have to overcome incredible obstacles, work hard, take advantage of opportunities, and just plain out be lucky from time to time.  But this is not the norm. It cannot be the norm. But, this narrative is taken and retold over and over again as evidence that it is possible to move up the ladder of society and that you are solely responsible for making it happen.  But by decoupling the individual from the incredible circumstances that makes for each of these stories possible, a distortion of perception is created. People believe that it too can happen to them. And so they continue to believe the myth…But when we think about the rags to riches from an analytical point of view using statistical odds, we realize that that story is akin to the person who has just won the Powerball lottery. Millions of people think it can happen to them, but it takes extraordinary luck and circumstances for it to happen. 

The other side of the coin, using upward social mobility as a justification for the poor, is just as disingenuous. When discussing a specific person or group of people who have been entrenched in poverty, the narrative being told over and over again usually comes to tell about that person(s) lack of virtue, that they have not worked hard enough, not sacrificed enough.  Lost in this blame game are again…the incredible circumstances that surround the individual(s).  Instead of giving consideration to the effects of growing up surrounded by poverty, the responsibility is placed almost solely on the individuals (and their lack of virtue). 

The truth of the matter is that our economic positioning is most affected by circumstances outside of our control:  what socioeconomic rung of the ladder our parents maintained.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t jive with our belief in upward mobility. We want to and do believe our country is a meritocracy. We want to and do believe it is solely within our hands to attain our dreams, including reaching the top of the ladder. We want to and do believe hard work is justly rewarded.  But, it’s not. At least not to the extent that we want to and do believe.  Bottom line: If you’re born into the lowest quartile of the SES food chain, you have about 1% chance of an intragenerational jump to the top quartile.  If you’re born into the middle class, your percentage of likelihood to do the same increases to 1.8%. If you’re in the middle class, you actually have about an equal chance to move up to the next rung as you do to fall down to the rung below. And as for intergenerational mobility (families moving up the SES ladder through the generations)…well the rate in the United States was second lowest of all developed countries (only the UK has a lower rate). And so despite evidence to the contrary, we continue to have faith in the belief of upward mobility, and continue to perpetuate the myth.
Side Note:  For those with extra time and interest on the topic, here is the basis for my conjectures (no, I didn’t just make these statistics up!):
1. The Economic Mobility ProjectThe Economic Mobility Project is a unique non­partisan collaborative effort of The Pew Charitable Trusts and respected thinkers from four leading policy institutes — The American Enterprise Institute, The Brookings Institution, The Heritage Foundation and The Urban Institute.2. Understanding Mobility in AmericaA report by the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank focusing on economic issues.

How could two ideas which have shown to be hollow and ultimately unfruitful for the majority of their believers continue to be so widely believed in? The American Dream and the belief of upward mobility are protected by obedience to the tenet of American Exceptionalism. This is the theory belief that the United States is qualitatively different from better than other countries.

The United States was founded under such pretty wild circumstances by some pretty wild dudes (and by wild I mean wildly wealthy white dudes). They thought they had something pretty special going on.  And by all accounts, they did. They worked to create one of the most free and open societies...for white male landowners.  But they did a great job in making everyone believe they were free! And relative to other countries in the world, people were pretty free. Oh, except for African-Americans. But then again, they were only considered a fraction of a person back then. Moving right along…it seems our country has had this self-image versus reality problem all along.  We want to and do believe in the IDEA of America and all it represents.  We ascribe to the tenets of the belief in America. We want to and do believe in the mostly unfailing awesomeness of America.  Yet these beliefs don’t quite match reality.  Like many religious systems though, our country has used the promise of deferred gratification, obedience to authority, and ostracization of nonbelievers to keep the worshippers coming to service, so to speak.

A heavy dose of humility would do our country a whole lot of good right about now.  A great first step would be to acknowledge and release our feeling of superiority in order to open up room for critique and dialogue about our country and its deep flaws.  A sound second step would be to stop looking outward to other countries for points of comparison and start looking inward.  Instead of comparing our reality to that of another country, let's compare our reality with our ideology. That should be the real test of our country's supposed greatness. We have all of these ideals that we were founded upon, but is this greatness real and more importantly, is it real for all Americans?

When we defer to dogmatic beliefs that distort our perception of our collectively constructed reality, we minimize our ability to clearly see need for change, suffocate those voices trying to draw attention to that reality, and ensure the perpetuation of a status quo that fails to realize the embodiment of our greatest ideals.

American Awakening: Occupy Wall Street, Deconstructing American Mythology, and Creating a Compassionate Society (part 2)

I THINK the OWS movement is a manifestation of problems that go deeper than employment (or lack thereof), income (or lack thereof), and debt (or the lack of lack thereof).
David Loy reveals a crucial truth to the nature and potential of the Occupy movement when he admonished we should "appreciate the general, unfocused dissatisfaction that so many people feel, because it reflects a general, unfocused realization that the roots of the crisis are very deep and require a more radical (literally, "going to the root") transformation".  The OWS movement is representative of the difficult realization about ourselves, more devastating than the economic injustices it rallies against, which is that our country’s values, our own values, are the source of our problems. 

Social conventions, such as an economic system, are based upon the choices people make. Choices are all about value. So I think at its core, the structure of our economic system is about value, our values.  It is a macro-manifestation of the everyday choices individuals make over and over again.  But how aware are we of this?  What are these values? And I’m not talking about values in the sense of what morally condescending people parade around with, holding their supposed virtuous morality over the heads of others they feel superior to, but values at a basic economic level. Our values can be identified by analyzing our behaviors, specifically our habitual behaviors. These behaviors are so ingrained that we often do not give pause and realize we make specific choices based on values, those of which we may be so used to making that the values that underlay them have become subconscious.

So what do Americans value? Based on our actions, I would offer up the following as the defining American Values:
-Material & Monetary Wealth:  This is not a shocking statement, though I think it’s underappreciated. This is so pervasive it is hard to condense all of the examples into one paragraph. The entire foundation of our consumer culture is based upon wealth, the gaining of, expending of, and displaying of. A great recent example:  on one day of shopping (an easy example of the value of material wealth), Americans spent over $11 billion dollars. Black Friday of 2011 saw Americans spend $11.4B. The importance of wealth is ingrained in our lexicon. Think of the ways we speak:  “How much money did you save? How much do you make? How much is it worth? At least you saved money. Well that didn’t cost too much.”  This is all in reference to either monetary or material wealth. It takes precedence over all other concerns.  I really don’t feel compelling to this point, that this is ubiquitous, but it is so intertwined into the fabric of everyday existence that I am having trouble detangling it to provide more illuminating examples. That’s how widespread it is:  We have trouble imagining what life would be like without concern for it.

-Productivity:  We value production and the perception of production, otherwise commonly referred to as productivity, or in more casual terms, “being productive”.   Our daily lives revolve around accomplishing tasks, whether this is getting things done at our jobs, or completing errands away from work/around the house. Each day we wake to a list of things we must get done, mentally checking them off as we complete them, fretting over what will be left undone, and continuously piling more tasks onto the list.  Our lives consist of a neverending to do list. Why is this?  It’s certainly not due to some inherent human nature. No, it’s because we have come to value it. We value productivity over any other possible choice.

-Consumption:  We value the opportunity to consume things and experiences.  This is shown by the choices we make with our limited amount of leisure time.  Consumption takes place when we go shopping, or in front of the television.  Certainly the former is understood, but the latter should not be mistaken for anything but a passive consumption of a service.  When we are not producing something, we are consuming something else.  

-Instant Gratification:  We love speed insofaras it saves us time by giving to us what we want, when we want it. This is in all facets of our society. We live life at a stupifyingly accelerated rate and as such will do anything and everything to save us time and get us what we want right now.  Just take a look at a few contemporary commercials to show how companies take advantage of our worship of speed.  Think of your frustration when something doesn’t arrive on time. I think of how I feel when I get stuck in traffic or slowed down by something outside of my control; I am anxious, frustrated, even angry sometimes.  I recall my last conversation with a stranger. For that matter, I can recall my last conversation with a loved one. No doubt they were mitigated by perceived time constraints, the attempt to get everything and anything done as quickly as possible. And why? Well, so that we can move onto our next task of production or consumption.

-Fame/Social Prestige:  Here is a list of reality television shows:  ( Sports stars, movie stars, music stars, television shows about stars, newspapers about stars, websites about stars, American Idol, The X Factor, Celebrity Chef shows, on and on…America loves (values) its celebrities and most would love nothing more than to be the next person to “make it big”.  Seriously, this is something we value deeply, whether we admit it or not.

Look at the list above.  This is what our country finds most important about human existence?  Certainly this does not encompass all Americans, and has not fully exhausted the things we value in our country. But these, in my eyes, are what are most ubiquitous, what drives much of our lives. No doubt the majority of Americans if asked to name what they valued most in life, they would not respond with these things. They would likely respond with family, religious/spiritual beliefs, being happy.  But what do the every actions of Americans say about what they value?  I would say they would tell quite a different story about what is truly valued and it would be much more aligned with the ones I mentioned above.  We have many problems in this country, but maybe none more pressing than a values problem.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

American Awakening: Occupy Wall Street, Deconstructing American Mythology, and Creating a Compassionate Society (part 1)

I began writing a sober, plotted out essay that attempted to deconstruct the American capitalist economic system and consumerist culture. It started with a seed of three key ideas that I identified in David Loy’s essay and wanted to run with a bit myself:
1.   Corporate Capitalism is socially defective because it is based upon our values, which are socially defective.
2.   The need to enrich discussion about potential solutions to our economic problems by eliminating the stranglehold that the myths of social Darwinism and upward mobility maintain.
3.   The need for personal revolution to take place before any substantive systemic reform happens.
But as I began to outline my arguments, the scope widened.  As I started to write, I realized I had a lot to say. I had a lot worthwhile to say (I hope). So this piece grew. And it grew. And it grew. I began to realize that few are/were going to take the time to read a 10+ page diatribe (rant). So in an effort to make it easier to digest, I am publishing a portion of the piece each day.  I will include the essay in its entirety in my Philosophy/Culture section once it is complete. With that said here are some things I think about David Loy's "Waking Up from the Nightmare: Buddhist Reflections on Occupy Wall Street" and beyond. I'm hoping for others to read this (and respond) critically and with open minds.

 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

I THINK the Occupy Wall Street movement represents a growing awareness of fundamental problems of our economic system and our culture.
We hear the grievances of the Occupy movement: heavily skewed wealth distribution, unemployment, student debt, and corporate greed. We hear the clamoring of potential solutions: higher taxes on the wealthy, loan forgiveness, higher wages. Some of what we hear from the Occupy encampments is the critique over the perceived unfairness of capitalism, and the need for an equal sharing of the American wealth pie, so to speak.  "If we all just had a little more of the pie, then things would be better. If we had a little bit better jobs, or better wages, or better opportunities, or...if the rich would just stop being so damn greedy and keeping it all for themselves. If we could just prosecute the rich for conspiring against all the rest of us; if we could just get them out of power. If we could..."

The first step toward any kind of change is awareness. One must consciously know of the circumstances and the role each individual plays in constructing the shared reality in order to be keen on any need for change.  The voices crying out of the OWS movement illustrate a general awareness that our current economic structure and consumerist culture do not meet the needs of a significant portion of our country. Over 46 million Americans fell below the poverty line last year according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  That is greater than 15% of Americans living in poverty.  Of course, we know all too well how this disproportionately affects minorities.  The percentage of African-Americans living in poverty sits at 27%, with Hispanics not far behind at 26%.  It should be an understatement when I say this is outrageous and unacceptable.  But even as I write these statistics I know they will be glossed over by many, barely garnering an emotional response.  However, the OWS movement is an emotional response to the some of the deeply disturbing problems, such as the reality of these statistics, in our society.

I don't necessarily disagree emotionally with the populist sentiments of OWS. I feel this way, too, at times. I am pissed about the inequality in our society. I do think it is outrageous that some people are lighting cigars with $100 bills (this happens all the time, right?) while a sizable minority of Americans cannot even find a job, let alone the even greater number of Americans (granted, some are double dippers here) who are below the poverty line. I do think the Occupy movements are justified in the collective bitching about our situation. Dissent is essential in a democratic society.  I applaud the OWS movement for mobilizing people to gather in the streets to voice their dissent all across the country, which is the manifestation of awareness about deep rooted problems in our society.  Even if OWS does nothing else, it has created a conscious collective awareness about the tragic flaws in the structures and fabrics of our society that all members are forced to at least consider.The quilt of complaints offered up by the OWS movement has at least one common thread stitching it all together:  The status quo is unacceptable and radical change is necessary to remedy the situation.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Waking Up from the Nightmare: Buddhist Reflections on Occupy Wall Street

David Robert Loy is a professor, writer, and Zen teacher in the Sanbo Kyodan tradition of Japanese Zen Buddhism. He is a prolific author, whose essays and books have been translated into many languages. David lectures nationally and internationally on various topics, focusing primarily on the encounter between Buddhism and modernity: what each can learn from the other. He is especially concerned about social and ecological issues.

I had the opportunity to study Dr. Loy's work in undergrad, focusing on his text "Lack and Transcendance: The Problem of Life and Death in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism" in my class on Existential Psychotherapy. Dr. Loy visited FGCU in 2008 to give a talk on "Healing Ecology: A Buddhist Perspective", as well as serve as guest lecturer in my class.  Dr. Loy returned to FGCU for a second visit, which occurred last week, when he gave a presentation on Buddhism and modernity titled "Buddhism's Confrontation With Modernity". I was fortunate enough to be able to catch this, as well as go out to dinner with him and several FGCU faculty and students following.  David's work has made a significant impact on my life, being a key influence in my incorporation of Buddhist philosophy into my life. Needless to say, getting to spend some time chatting with him one on one was a pretty cool experience.  

In addition to the works mentioned above, David recently published an essay about the Occupy Wall Street movement which has received wide publication in online magazines, journals, and newspapers.  The essay contains thought provoking insights you won't find in the big media outlets, though it is this kind of discourse, these kinds of ideas that I believe are necessary to find a real, transformative solution to our current problems, which as David points out, go deeper than simple economics.  I am republishing the essay here with David's permission. I will publish my own thoughts on this topic. I am encouraging any and all who read this to post their thoughts in the comments section.


- - - - - - - - - - 
"Waking Up from the Nightmare:  Buddhist Reflections on Occupy Wall Street"
by David R. Loy
In a Buddhist blog about Occupy Wall Street, Michael Stone quotes the philosopher Slavoj Žižek, who spoke to the New York Occupiers at Zuccotti Park on October 9:
They tell you we are dreamers. The true dreamers are those who think things can go on indefinitely the way they are. We are not dreamers. We are awakening from a dream which is turning into a nightmare. We are not destroying anything. We are only witnessing how the system is destroying itself. We all know the classic scenes from cartoons. The cat reaches a precipice. But it goes on walking. Ignoring the fact that there is nothing beneath. Only when it looks down and notices it, it falls down. This is what we are doing here. We are telling the guys there on Wall Street – Hey, look down!
As Slavoj and Michael emphasize, we are beginning to awaken from that dream. That’s an interesting way to put it, because the Buddha also woke up from a dream: the Buddha means “the awakened one.” What dream did he wake up from? Is it related to the nightmare we are awakening from now?
From the beginning, Occupiers have been criticized for the vagueness of their demands: although clearly against the present system, it wasn’t clear what they were for. Since then more focus has developed: many protesters are calling for higher taxes on the wealthy, a “Robin Hood” (Tobin) tax on trades, and banking reform to separate commercial and investment banking. These are worthy aims, yet it would be a mistake to think that such measures will by themselves resolve the basic problem. We should appreciate the general, unfocused dissatisfaction that so many people feel, because it reflects a general, unfocused realization that the roots of the crisis are very deep and require a more radical (literally, “going to the root”) transformation.
Wall Street is the most concentrated and visible part of a much larger nightmare: the collective delusion that our present economic system – globalizing, consumerist, corporate capitalism – is not only the best possible system but the only viable one. As Margaret Thatcher famously put it, “There is no alternative.” The events of the last few years have undermined that confidence. The events of the past few weeks are a response to the widespread realization that our economic system is rigged to benefit the wealthy (the “1%”) at the expense of the middle class (shrinking fast) and the poor (increasing fast). And, of course, at the expense of many ecosystems, which will have enormous consequences for the lives of our grandchildren and their children. What we are waking up to is the fact that this unfair system is breaking down, and that it should break down, in order for better alternatives to develop.
It is not only the economy that needs to be transformed, because there is no longer any real separation between our economic and political systems. With the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision last year – removing limits on corporate spending to influence elections – corporate power seems to have taken control of all the top levels of federal and state government, including the presidency. (Obama has received more campaign contributions from Wall Street than any other president since 1991, which helps explain his disappointing choice of economic advisors.) Today the elite move back and forth easily – from CEO to cabinet position, and vice-versa – because both sides share the same entrenched worldview: the solution to all problems is unfettered economic growth. Of course, they are also the ones who benefit most from this blinkered vision, which means the challenge for the rest of us is that the people who control this economic/political system have the least motivation to make the fundamental changes necessary.
Although the Democrats have not become as loony as the Republicans, on this basic level there’s really not much difference between them. Dan Hamburg, a Democratic congressman from California, concluded from his years in the U.S. Congress that “the real government of our country is economic, dominated by large corporations that charter the state to do their bidding. Fostering a secure environment in which corporations and their investors can flourish is the paramount objective of both [political] parties.” We still have the best Congress money can buy, as Will Rogers noticed way back in the 1920s.
From a Buddhist perspective, the point is that this integrated system is incompatible with Buddhist teachings, because it encourages greed and delusion – the root causes of our dukkha “suffering.” At the heart of the present crisis is the economic, political, and social role of the largest (usually transnational) corporations, which have taken on a life of their own and pursue their own agenda. Despite all the advertising and public relations propaganda we are exposed to, their best interests are quite different from what is best for the rest of us. We sometimes hear about “enlightened corporations” but that metaphor is deceptive – and the difference between such “enlightenment” and Buddhist enlightenment is instructive.
The burgeoning power of corporations became institutionalized in 1886, when the Supreme Court ruled that a private corporation is a “natural person” under the U.S. Constitution and thus entitled to all the protections of the Bill of Rights, including free speech. Ironically, this highlights the problem: as many Occupy Wall Street posters declare, corporations are not people, because they are social constructs. Obviously, incorporation (from the Latin corpus, corporis “body”) does not mean gaining a physical body. Corporations are legal fictions created by government charter, which means they are inherently indifferent to the responsibilities that people experience. A corporation cannot laugh or cry. It cannot enjoy the world or suffer with it. It is unable to feel sorry for what it has done (it may occasionally apologize, but that is public relations).
Most important, a corporation cannot love. Love is realizing our interconnectedness with others and living our concern for their well-being. Love is not an emotion but an engagement with others that includes responsibility for them, a responsibility that transcends our individual self-interest. Corporations cannot experience such love or act according to it. Any CEOs who try to subordinate their company’s profitability to their love for the world will lose their position, for they are not fulfilling their primary – that is, financial — responsibility to its owners, the shareholders.
Buddhist enlightenment includes realizing that my sense of being a self separate from the world is a delusion that causes suffering on both sides. To realize that I am the world – that “I” am one of the many ways the world manifests – is the cognitive side of the love that an awakened person feels for the world and its creatures. The realization (wisdom) and the love (compassion) are two sides of the same coin, which is why Buddhist teachers so often emphasize that genuine awakening is accompanied by spontaneous concern for all other sentient beings.
Corporations are “fuelled” by, and reinforce, a very different human trait. Our corporate-dominated economy requires greed in at least two ways: a desire for never-enough profit is the engine of the economic process, and in order to keep the economy growing consumers must be conditioned into always wanting more.
The problem with greed becomes much worse when institutionalized in the form of a legal construct that takes on privileges of its own quite independently of the personal values and motivations of the people employed by it. Consider the stock market, for example. On the one side, investors want increasing returns in the form of dividends and higher stock prices. On the other side, this anonymous expectation translates into an impersonal but constant pressure for profitability and growth, preferably in the short run. Everything else, including the environment, employment, and the quality of life, becomes an “externality,” subordinated to this anonymous demand, a goal-that-can-never-be-satisfied. We all participate in this process, as workers, employers, consumers, and investors, yet normally with little or no personal sense of moral responsibility for what happens, because such awareness is lost in the impersonality of the system.
One might argue, in reply, that some corporations (usually family-owned or small) take good care of their employees, are concerned about effects on the environment, and so forth. The same argument could be made for slavery: there were a few good slave owners who took care of their slaves, etc. This does not refute the fact that the institution of slavery is intolerable. It is just as intolerable today that our collective well-being, including the way the earth’s limited “resources” are shared, is determined by what is profitable for large corporations.
In short, we are waking up to the fact that although transnational corporations may be profitable economically, they are structured in a way that makes them defective socially. We cannot solve the problems they keep creating by addressing the conduct of this or that particular example (Morgan Stanley, Bank of America), because it is the institution itself that is the problem. Given their enormous power over the political process, it won’t be easy to challenge their role, but they have an umbilical cord: corporate charters can be rewritten to require social and ecological responsibility. Groups such as the Network of Spiritual Progressives have been calling for an Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment (ESRA) to the U.S. Constitution which would mandate that.  If our destiny is to remain in corporate hands, corporations must become accountable most of all not to anonymous investors but to the communities they function in. Perhaps Occupy Wall Street is the beginning of a movement which will accomplish that.
If so, it won’t be enough. There’s something else at stake, even more basic: the worldview that encourages and rationalizes the kind of economic nightmare that we are beginning to awaken from. In Buddhist terms, the problem isn’t only greed, it’s also ignorance. The theory most often used to justify capitalism is Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”: pursuing our own self-interest actually works to benefit society as a whole. I suspect, however, that CEOs are more often motivated by something less benign. It’s no coincidence that corporate influence grew at the same time as the popularity of social Darwinism, the ideology that misapplied Darwin’s theory of evolution to social and economic life: it’s a jungle out there, and only the strongest survive. If you don’t take advantage of others, they will take advantage of you. Darwinian evolution eliminated the need for a Creator and therefore the need to follow his commandments: now it’s every man for himself…
Social Darwinism created a feedback loop: the more people believed in it and acted according to it, the more society became a social Darwinist jungle. It’s a classic example of how we collectively co-create the world we live in.  And this may be where Buddhism has the most to contribute, because Buddhism offers an alternative view of the world, based on a more sophisticated understanding of human nature that explains why we are unhappy and how to become happier. Recent psychological and economic studies confirm the destructive role of greed and the importance of healthy social relationships, which is consistent with Buddhist emphasis on generosity and interdependence.
In other words, the problem isn’t only our defective economic and political system, it’s also a faulty world view that encourages selfishness and competition rather than community and harmony. The modern West is split between a theism that’s become hard to believe in, and a dog-eat-dog ideology that makes life worse for all of us. Fortunately, now there are other options.
Buddhism also has something important to learn from Occupy Wall Street: that it’s not enough to focus on waking from our own individual dream. Today we are called upon to awaken together from what has become a collective nightmare. Is it time to bring our spiritual practice out into the streets?
"If we continue abusing the earth this way, there is no doubt that our civilization will be destroyed. This turnaround takes enlightenment, awakening. The Buddha attained individual awakening. Now we need a collective enlightenment to stop this course of destruction. Civilization is going to end if we continue to drown in the competition for power, fame, sex, and profit."          (Thich Nhat Hahn)
21st October 2011

Monday, December 5, 2011

Picture of the Week: December 1-7

Picture of the Week:  Arches National Park (Utah) before the morning storm
click on image for larger view

I camped just outside of Arches the night before at a Department of the Interior campsite, awoke before dawn, and made my way into the park and to Delicate Arch to watch the sunrise. Unfortunately/fortunately, a morning thunderstorm cut my visit to Delicate short, and en route back through the park, I caught this photo featuring the streaked sky which frames the rock structure jutting out of the ground.