November 16, 2012

Pragmatism, the big fight, and the Dalai Lama

Sadly for ThreeSourcers, a great mind and good friend of this blog is more comfortable engaging me personally on some issues. Y'all are the poorer for this person's reticence. I will summarize, badly, the key points of the thread. And then of course crash down to prove I am right!

Summary point number one is a pragmatic response to our little party bashing the Dalai Lama, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Mahatmas Gandhi. There's a great old saying about "picking one's battles" and I think I was close to my interlocutor's side when I asked blog brother jg whether we really had to open multiple fronts on belief in a Supreme Being and the plotline of every successful piece of fiction save seven since the dawn of time.

It seems a far steeper climb than liberty. I am comfortable making economic arguments and I can see that every now and then, somebody actually listens and considers them. My interlocutor suggests that atheism and anti-altruism are nonstarters and that few will ever hear the message of liberty that underpins it.

I made a valiant effort. "Philosophy should seek truth and not an electoral plurality," says I. "And besides, you misspelled 'pillock.'"

But I confess I lack the heart for the quixotic quest. I'd rather play at the margins. So I pick one fight, one unbeatable foe. And that is, of course, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. And in this post, I will run where the brave dare not go. I will use the only tool at my disposal: the Internet segue.

Segue intro: Great Chinese Famine starves 36 million people to death. (Link tries to sign you up for but you can tough it out and read if you scroll down.)

The Great Leap Forward that Mao began in 1958 set ambitious goals without the means to meet them. A vicious cycle ensued; exaggerated production reports from below emboldened the higher-ups to set even loftier targets. Newspaper headlines boasted of rice farms yielding 800,000 pounds per acre. When the reported abundance could not actually be delivered, the government accused peasants of hoarding grain. House-to-house searches followed, and any resistance was put down with violence.

Meanwhile, since the Great Leap Forward mandated rapid industrialization, even peasants' cooking implements were melted down in the hope of making steel in backyard furnaces, and families were forced into large communal kitchens. They were told that they could eat their fill. But when food ran short, no aid came from the state. Local party cadres held the rice ladles, a power they often abused, saving themselves and their families at the expense of others. Famished peasants had nowhere to turn.

In the first half of 1959, the suffering was so great that the central government permitted remedial measures, like allowing peasant families to till small private plots of land for themselves part time. Had these accommodations persisted, they might have lessened the famine's impact. But when Peng Dehuai, then China's defense minister, wrote Mao a candid letter to say that things weren't working, Mao felt that both his ideological stance and his personal power were being challenged. He purged Peng and started a campaign to root out "rightist deviation." Remedial measures like the private plots were rolled back, and millions of officials were disciplined for failing to toe the radical line.

The result was starvation on an epic scale. By the end of 1960, China's total population was 10 million less than in the previous year. Astonishingly, many state granaries held ample grain that was mostly reserved for hard currency-earning exports or donated as foreign aid; these granaries remained locked to the hungry peasants. "Our masses are so good," one party official said at the time. "They would rather die by the roadside than break into the granary."

Segue conclusion: And, yet, the Dalai Lama prefers this "let these swell masses die by the roadside" philosophy to that which brought them out of privation and provided a taste of freedom and natural rights. (I linked before, with actual, all caps profanity).
"Still I am a Marxist," the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader said in New York, where he arrived today with an entourage of robed monks and a heavy security detail to give a series of paid public lectures.

"(Marxism has) moral ethics, whereas capitalism is only how to make profits," the Dalai Lama, 74, said.

However, he credited China's embrace of market economics for breaking communism's grip over the world's most populous country and forcing the ruling Communist Party to "represent all sorts of classes".

"(Capitalism) brought a lot of positive to China. Millions of people's living standards improved," he said.

Yeah, that is swell and all. But I think I like the system that starves 36 million. Just personal preference, y'know, tomato-tomahto...

Philosophy Posted by John Kranz at November 16, 2012 12:40 PM

I confess that my escalation into discrediting religion was involuntary, and I regret the discomfort and push-back that caused for folks. I heard today that we "love others the way we want to be loved." I consciously chose the red pill long ago and want the whole explanation for everything so that's what I started in on with others, oblivious that my audience is diverse. I've come far but am still working on that aspect of my "higher consciousness."

"Atheism and anti-altruism are nonstarters and few will ever hear the message of liberty that underpins it."

Fair cop. Can we then agree that liberty, to be sustained, must be granted to every sovereign individual up to the point where he does actual direct harm to other sovereign individuals?

If one man is free to abort pregancies, consume mind altering substances, set up housekeeping with as many others of whatever gender he chooses, drive pedal-powered cars and wear hemp clothing - any other man must be free to trade value for value, retain ownership of his earnings, participate in governance at his pleasure rather than by force, develop underground natural energy sources, and any combination of these or any other self-interested choices.

All of this can be understood and agreed between and among Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Atheists, non-theists, Zoroastrans, FSMers, Greek and Roman mythologists, et. al. provided that government is prohibited from initiating force against individuals for any reason. Government, like individuals, must COEXIST with its citizens. (Coexistence with other governments is a fringe benefit but can't be assured and must not be a prerequisite.)

As you suggest, individual liberty is the foundation that underpins a diverse world. As a consequence, anyone is free to subscribe to Marxist values and live by them in concert with others - but no one is free to wield government power to his ends, except to enforce a prohibition of force upon others. Not the Dalai Lama, not the Chinese Communist Party, not anybody.

Posted by: johngalt at November 16, 2012 4:53 PM

Can we beat up on Gandhi next? Puhleeze Unky jk? I have all the ammunition ready...

Posted by: Ellis Wyatt at November 16, 2012 6:16 PM

@jg: apology not accepted. We're all big boys and girls or transgendered or whatevers around here and I do not think polite, respectful and thoughtful opinions should be withheld.

This is an important facet of a philosopher many of us admire and you make the case well.

@ey: sure, everybody hates us anyway, we might as well have a good time. I'll confess I accepted the Ben Kingsley version until very recently when I encountered some darker facets.

It does all add up to an overwhelming pragmatic question, though, of not only championing liberty, but opposing so many of societies heroes and heroic concepts.

Posted by: jk at November 17, 2012 10:58 AM

Where does Dalai Lamas authority come from again? A spiritual monarchy I believe. Not a king, not a priest, but both. And in future, a communist puppet.

The 14th Dalai Lama remained the head of state for the Central Tibetan Administration ("Tibetan government in exile") until his retirement on March 14, 2011. He has indicated that the institution of the Dalai Lama may be abolished in the future, and also that the next Dalai Lama may be found outside Tibet and may be female.[2] The Chinese government was very quick to reject this and claimed that only it has the authority to select the next Dalai Lama.

"Select?" Yet his appeal remains strong - his mysticism all the more mysterious. So one must acknowledge that there are barriers in the human mind which reason may not cross. This led Rand to advise us: "Reason is not automatic. Those who deny its existence cannot be persuaded by it." She told us to leave these people alone. Unfortunately for us, these people may still vote. Pragmatically, that means we no longer have the luxury of leaving them alone.

The original premise was that altruistic theists would dismiss appeals to liberty that challenged their beliefs. It seems a mind that, like the Dalai Lama's can acknowledge capitalism's success yet still prefer its antithesis, will be difficult to reach with any argument.

So the first basis of Dalai Lama's "miserableness" is not his pronouncements of collectivist beliefs but the miserable thought process that leads him to them.

Posted by: johngalt at November 17, 2012 11:20 AM

@jk, your comment that passed mine in the ether is segue to the second thought I wanted to make but reserved for later so as not to dilute the first. Namely, the steadfast refusal to grant the sanction of silence.

All are free to hold their chosen ideas. And of course the freedom of speech remains as well. I'm reminded of the scene from The Life of Brian where multiples of self-professed Jesuses seek to persuade and convert adherents simultaneously. Let the Marxists make their case in a free marketplace of ideas. Likewise the champions of other supernatural faiths. We are now obligated, more than ever, to make our case for the individual liberty that man's nature demands. [Don't be alarmed at the 90-minute length. The talk is 37 and remainder is Q&A.]

But this is a long-term proposition and the previously mentioned agreement to coexist must be honored immediately, for the consequence of initiating force is force in return. (This warning is meant for those who, having seen their standard-bearer's re-election, may be tempted to tighten government's grip around producer's necks.)

Posted by: johngalt at November 17, 2012 2:33 PM

So who decides who is reasonable? And once this is ironed out and the reasonable are forced to confront the unreasonable, what exactly does that confrontation look like? It must, necessarily for their own good and ours, mean revoking their right to vote and their right to self determination. And once they are no longer allowed to participate in our democracy they shouldn't need the same constitutional protections the rest of us enjoy. That only seems reasonable.

Posted by: Sugarchuck at November 17, 2012 2:40 PM

Am I following this thread correctly? We are looking to promote individual liberty, but only for the reasonable? Hmm...

Posted by: Sugarchuck at November 17, 2012 2:45 PM

No. Methinks you are not reading this thread correctly. I'm looking for the exact line that suggested disenfranchisement.

I think I can speak for most that the irrational may be allowed to vote, drink, eat, bid on the last box of Twinkies® on eBay, and post political humor on Facebook. None want to take that away (a day off might be nice but...)

The suggestion is that they who cannot be reached by reason are ignored. And it is the shame of our overweening government that they this is so difficult.

Posted by: jk at November 17, 2012 5:27 PM

What I'd really like to see is that nobody decides anything for anyone else, reasonable or not. But our democratic institutions prevent this at the present time. The outcome of elections overrules, more and more, our own self-determination.

What I am advocating is a concerted effort to promote a theory of individual liberty that doesn't rely upon God, Creator, or even the Constitution. This is necessary because those arguments are no longer sufficient to prevent a plurality from voting against liberty. We can debate the reasons but the conclusion was just proven: Six million more Americans thought it moral to force the "wealthy" to sacrifice even more in the name of helping, no longer just the poor, but the middle class.

Right now the traditional arguments of self-reliance are not preventing the advancement of the welfare state and its own faith dogma. A new argument is needed to confront the statists. For many reasons, that argument must be a secular one.

In my lifetime I have witnessed an evolution of faith. I suggest that the faithful must now accept liberty as a prerequisite to their faith, not as a replacement for it. Until they do I fear we will keep losing elections.

Posted by: johngalt at November 18, 2012 12:42 PM | What do you think? [9]