May 21, 2009

Non-Gender-Based Thoughts on Rules

Because, you know, I'm not writing enough about them myself. Actually, though, these are great to see, since they're getting that my topic wasn't just the discussion of gender roles.

Phil got something out of the post that I never intended to suggest. It's no less intriguing for that (and maybe more so).

Having read it, I think I am beginning to see the torture debate in much sharper, and perhaps more sinister focus. If, as Stephanie suggests, this debate about the “legality” of the torture actions by that Administration is really a mask for a cultural debate, it makes more sense why the “Law & Order” Republicans are so hung up on excusing law breaking by their highest elective officials. It would also explain why so many former Bush Administration folks are so prominently attacking Mr. Obama these days.

And William posted a link to this TED talk about rules, punishment, ideology and conflict.

I have a few nits to pick with it, like the fact that liberals do not reject punishment and rules out of hand. Just ask any of us how we feel about the financial industry. Also, the Dalai Lama wields moral clout in the West largely because people don't know that a system of serfs was required to sustain all those Tibetan monasteries in their quest to disconnect from the world. That's kind of important to know. On the other hand, the nits don't mean there isn't plenty to think about in the talk.


Jason Thibeault said...

Yeah, I was nonplussed by the Dalai Lama bit too. I hadn't given it much thought til I saw Penn & Teller do a Bullshit episode on it last year, then kept researching, and my general outrage and annoyance at my own, and seemingly everyone else's gullibility ("Free Tibet" protesters at the Olympics f'r instance), grew to epic proportions.

I would actually argue that liberals in general prefer rules and punishment involving businesses, and conservatives in general prefer businesses to be as rule-free as possible while legislating every inch of your body.

The pendulum for rules has swung almost all the way to the right, to the benefit of businesses and the detriment of individuals, over the past 30 years (e.g. the drug war, the abortion fights, pushing gay rights back as far as they have), with the Bush administration successfully eliminating almost every law preventing businesses from self-cannibalizing with short term profits at the expense of long term viability.

I'm hoping that the pendulum is starting to swing back toward the left -- public sentiment has swung very far left at least, but government itself lags significantly. Since Obama is much more conservative than I'd like, and protective of his party more than I'd like, I don't expect to see him prosecute the perpetrators of torture and war, knowing that Dems are complicit.

But what do I know? I'm just a Canuck. :)

Will Shetterly said...

I only got as far as the comparison of Applebee's with Chez Panisse, something that only someone who makes a lot more money than I do could do with a straight and rather condescending face.

William Carlton said...

TED talks are well-suited to the internet age because they come in such bite-sized chunks. Unfortunately, that's the same reason many of them are rife with sweeping generalities. When you are budgeted a strict eighteen or twenty minutes to make your presentation...

I was worried the liberal/conservative dichotomy which Haidt belabors most heavily for the first ten minutes or so might put some off of staying tuned for the fascinating results from a commons dilemma experiment that appear around the twelve-minute mark.

Here is a link to the actual paper the presenter cites:

I certainly don't endorse everything Haidt says in the talk. I certainly feel that I'm in good company because I thought the Dalai Lama's supposed "moral authority" was equally specious.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Oh, Will. Ugh. I had technical issues as he was mentioning Applebees. I missed that comparison.

ByteReader said...

Hi there, new here. This discussion on rules has drawn me like a moth to flame.

What really drives me nuts, and I think Justin nails this, is that the right has such a selective view on where and when it enforces the rules.

My own thought is that rules are pointless if they don't equally apply to everyone. Any system in which a select few are exempt is a bankrupt system.

I didn't know the system of Tibetan monasteries was essential feudal in nature. This does lower my view of the Dalai Lama, then again, I never accorded the man all that much respect (I don't have much mental time for mysticism).

Thanks again for all the discussion by you folks. Definitely stimulating!

Unknown said...

Talk about sweeping statements and generalities...pointing to what may have been a feudal system 50+ years ago in Tibet as a reason to disregard or lower ones opinion of HHDL is a rather askew viewpoint. Were one to study the history of Tibet over the past 1000 years or so you would find a culture not much different from any other ancient or culture. The only difference being the suddenness of being thrust into modern culture having not had the opportunity to "develop" or evolve as most ancient cultures do. Their self imposed shut down of access to their country was based on a prophesy from the 13th Dalai Lama, and was a means to protect themselves from cultural destruction.
In addition, good luck trying to find any Tibetan who would say anything bad or unkind about HHDL. Much of the reason for this is their spirtiual beliefs which rather than being straight on Buddhism has been intertwined with the Bon religion which was the countries pre buddhist spirituality and is somewhat like a pagan or earth based religion. At any rate Tibetans look upon the Dalai Lama as christians would Jesus Christ if he were alive today. HHDL from my readings and the interviews I've seen with him is really not all that keen on their blind devotion and in fact is constantly telling people in his public teachings to not believe in anything unless they do the work of examining and questioning first. He is actually quite a modern man and has always encouraged progress. Unfortuantely he was literally a very young man/boy when the Chinese first occupied Tibet and had not yet begun his real work as the temporal leader. Having spent a good deal of time with Tibetan refugees who are now quite close friends I can say this for sure.....many of them come from very humble lives, with little to no access to formal education, regional dialects make communication difficult-some may not even understand what His Holiness says- in essence we are talking about 5 million people many of whom in numerous ways still live like they did a few hundred years ago on a mental/ emotional level. They desperately want their old lives back, they want to go back to Tibet iwth the Dalai Lama and live as they did prior to the occupation. Much of the information about serfdom in Tibet is churned out propaganda style by the Chinese gov who will do anythign and everything to descredit HHDL. This is a very complex and fascinating culture and if we assume they were miserable in their lives before the Chinese take over then we would most likely be very wrong.

Will Shetterly said...

Well, there's this from the Washington Post:

”I’ve already lived that life once before,” said Wangchuk, a 67-year-old former slave who was wearing his best clothes for his yearly pilgrimage to Shigatse, one of the holiest sites of Tibetan Buddhism. He said he worshiped the Dalai Lama, but added, “I may not be free under Chinese Communism, but I am better off than when I was a slave.”Not meaning to debate this. Just meaning to point out that there are propagandists on both sides, which does not mean the truth is in the middle, but it does mean it's not where either of the two claim it is.

William Carlton said...

What happens if you don't refer to him as "His Holiness"? What if you just called him Lhamo Döndrub? I think I'll just call him "Don" from now on.

I'm not trying to stick my finger in your eye over this. Wait a minute, yes I am. You seem like an educated person. Surely you can embrace the best of Buddhist philosophy and the trappings of meditation, etc. without perpetuating the mythical elements upon which his title rests. Look at Sam Harris.

I will give you this: Compared with other religious leaders, our friend Don is a great deal more plugged in than just about anybody else. I know squat about Tibetan politics, but at LEAST he's savvier than the last guy.

Philip H. said...

Aw shucks . . . (insert red embarrassed cheeks here). Ihave to say that the more I've thought about it, and the more I think about rules in general, there's a different picture emerging for me.

Rules are part of how we humans deal with the fact that we don't really control the rold around us, including the actions and reactions of others. Whether you are talking about crosswalk vs. jaywalking, or emitting carbon from powerpalnts, or the need to have a quiet place to sit and destress on the train ride home each day, without rules we'd all be at each other all the time. Having figured that out, and thus achieving a modicum of societal sanity, we've carried brightly on, under the illusion taht rules (and thus order) are THE key to finally subjugating the world around us.

Sometimes I go fishing. I don't do it to catch fish so much as to stand in a quiet stream and just be.

ByteReader said...

Sincere apologies if I am derailing the thread here. You can assign the blame to me if you'd like.


I think I need to clarify my comments in regards to the Dalai Lama and other authority figures (spiritual or otherwise). Perhaps I should have listened to the little voice that said "Make a comment only when well rested".

I don't accord respect to anyone solely based on their arbitrary status. Any ideas Lhamo Döndrub has need to be judged on their own merits, not any perceived merits accorded by his status as the Dalai Lama. The same goes for Joseph Alois Ratzinger or Karol Józef Wojtyła or Eizabeth Alexandra Mary (of the House o' Windsor) or Jesus Christ or $Your_Favored_Global_Figure.

I'm not ever calling any them "Your Holiness/Majesty/Whatever". They're just people. Their offices give them no greater insight into the genuine objective world than you or I have.

Perhaps I am reading too much into your comment, but from the wording and tone, you do seem to think I need to give Lhamo a pass because he is the Dalai Lama and he is at the tail end of a system that got derailed shortly after he took office. Perhaps he would have reformed the system that existed, the point is moot now.

I will not give him any passes because he is the Dalai Lama, nor do I give the current Pope (or any past Pope) or any Regent or any high official (yes, this includes the POTUS) based on their being the holder of that office. Their ideas have to stand alone.

Every time I proffer an idea (anonymously or otherwise), I give it with the expectation that the idea must stand alone. If the idea is bogus or incorrect, I gladly welcome criticism and will review and revise my idea.

And yes, further research did bear our the finding that Lhamo does indeed seem to dislike the system of blind devotion that he inherited. But I still refuse to give him more respect than I currently do (which is moderately healthy given my research) based on his arbitrary title alone.

To everyone else, again, I humbly apologize for having inadvertently derailed this thread.

DuWayne Brayton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DuWayne Brayton said...

ByteReader -

Ok, I have a very important rule for you;) - never apologize for derailing a thread, unless someone actually bitches that that is what has happened.

ByteReader said...

DuWayne -

I think that's a rule I could actually get behind.

Stephanie Zvan said...

ByteReader, I'm with DuWayne on that one.