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Tibet Isn't a Buddhist Litmus Test

Curing the Post Colonial Hangover

You have to come from a post-colonial country, perhaps, to understand that the difference between the occupying power and those being occupied is psychological. In India, for example, the actual strength of the British army was minuscule, but their assumptions of superiority, their confidence and domineering attitude held sway over a society that lacked all these qualities. Right now one is witnessing the entire Third World, as it used to be called, waking up from the hangover of colonialism.

Science vs. Wisdom

James D. Watson, arguably the most eminent geneticist in the world because of his discovery, with Francis Crick, of DNA, has been causing a flap. Intent bloggers have also taken notice of these racial charged remarks . In the wake of his latest comments yesterday he resigned from his positions at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The Nobel laureate, now 79, ventured to connect race, genes, and intelligence. Specifically, he was quoted in the Times of London saying that while “there are many people of color who are very talented,” he is “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa.”

James Watson

Your Apocalypse or Mine?

Some time back I wrote a post entitled “The Seduction of Apocalypse” (April 7, 2006), pointing out the dark appeal of believing that the world is coming to an end. This seems like a good time for a follow-up, because in fact there are two versions of the apocalypse teetering on the brink, one Christian, the other Islamic.

The Christian version is the familiar one and widely believed in. A recent poll found that while only 36% of Americans believe that the Bible is literally true as handed down by God, over 55% believe that the apocalyptic scenario pictured in the Book of Revelations is likely to be taking place in the Middle East. This irrational interpretation of current events can be explained by several factors.

With God Off Our Side

One of the bitterest complaints against both sides in the Iraq war is that religion has been a prime cause. When Pres. Bush proclaimed that the war on terror represented a clash of civilizations, he implicitly meant Christianity versus Islam, a view reinforced by his further claim that he was guided by God in his decision-making. No one supposes that a universal God spoke to him. It was specifically a Christian God. Even Judeo-Christian would be a stretch. The Bush administration came into office hard on the heels of a massive push by Pres. Clinton to bring about a Mideast peace accord, an effort that was dropped immediately as the incoming president more or less cut Israel loose.

Does Peace Have a Future?

If the pundits and pollsters are right, the American public has tuned out the Iraq War. It’s become a foregone conclusion that the conflict will grind on until at least Jan. 2009 when a new president takes office. The anti-war movement has been completely blocked, and grass-roots efforts against the war have become more or less futile. In realistic terms war remains a stubbornly unchanging policy controlled by the right wing. Does that mean that the rest of us — the vast majority who oppose the war — are left without options?

I think it’s possible to leapfrog beyond Iraq to consider the prospects for peace in the future. There is more hope on the horizon than people realize. Certain trends in the present could well become much stronger in the near future.

Your Genes Didn’t Make You Do It

It’s common with exciting breakthroughs in science that perception gets skewed and new facts lead to extreme interpretations. We seem to be in such a phase now with genes, which are being used to explain too many things in ways that are far too simple and mechanistic. It’s one thing to say that a child gets her blond hair genetically, but quite another to say that a child who is chronically shy received that trait exclusively by inheritance. Mechanists have staked out an extreme position, that all complex human behavior will one day be seen as genetically caused. At the opposite extreme, most psychologists have accepted for decades that behavior is created by early family influences, and especially by the style of parenting that a child is exposed to.

Buddha and the World

Since 9/11 there has been a pervasive sense of anxiety in the world, and at the same time a search for spiritual answers. Is violence an aspect of human nature that can be cured, or are we caught in an endless cycle of violence that will never end? One of the most optimistic answers to that dilemma came from Buddha more than two thousand years ago. In the light of what he taught, I wanted to post my thoughts about the Buddhist solution and what it means for you and me as we seek to live in a troubling world.

The Shadow of the Season

It feels discomfiting and eerie to have plunged so deeply into the realm of the shadow, which is what happened last week. In mythic and psychological terms, the “shadow” is a place of darkness in each of us — and in society as a whole — where we hide feelings we are too weak or afraid to face. The news this week was almost a catalog of the shadow’s contents: sexual humiliation for Eliot Spitzer, panic and financial ruin for Bear Stearns, dread of death in the Atlanta tornado and the crane collapse in midtown New York City. Beneath the surface of each event, unconscious turmoil magnifies their meaning. They are shared events, and thanks to the mass media, they are felt in ever widening circles. Whole parts of the world, like China and the Middle East, feel ominous.