Saturday, August 06, 2016

Freedom and Liberty, from a "Green Buddhist"

What's the difference between a Green and a Libertarian? They both are advocates for freedom and liberty, but their framework for both is very different. For example, L/libertarians generally think that Ayn Rand "framed issues with refreshing clarity" when she wrote: “What is the basic, the essential, the crucial principle that differentiates freedom from slavery? It is the principle of voluntary action versus physical coercion or compulsion…The issue is not slavery for a ‘good’ cause versus slavery for a ‘bad’ cause; the issue is not dictatorship by a ‘good’ gang versus dictatorship by a ‘bad gang. The issue is freedom versus dictatorship…If one upholds freedom, one must uphold man’s individual rights; if one upholds man’s individual rights, one must uphold his right to his own life, to his own liberty, to the pursuit of his own happiness…Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life…”

This is not "clarity" but is instead merely framing a complex question into black and white. It does not take a genius at logic to see how completely muddied and confused this description of Rand's is. The most obvious problem is that this kind of individualistic definition of freedom completely ignores or glosses over the primary fact that no person exists as an individual and therefore the question of freedom can never be merely a matter of the individual. Rand's formula leads only to the dictatorship by the capitalists in an anarchical economic system of might makes right. A capitalist manipulating markets and creating advantages for the ownership class by government legislation is not exercising "individual" freedom, but is merely using power to infringe on the freedoms of others to their inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The primary delusion of this kind of individualist thinking is revealed in the equation of a person's individual rights with the an imagined "right" to own property exclusive of others. This is what the Jungian psychologist calls the return of the shadow. In a worldview of individualism, the shadow returns to enter our consciousness by being unable to distinguish between oneself as an individual and one's projections onto property, and in doing so, one actually becomes a slave to things, products, commodities, and property of all kinds, and thus in servitude to consumption and its capitalist priesthood, all in the name of the individual's rights and freedom.  This nearly irresistible impulse for the consumption of things as commodities is the shadow side of our individualism and floods our conscious thoughts and feelings by creating our identification with the things of an outside world. Without our conscious knowing, we project our individual identity onto things such as our cars, houses, families, etc. to make their acquisitions into trophies of our success as an individual.

Another example of the illogical positions of L/libertarians is found in the attitude toward taxes. While there are different shades and styles of L/libertarians, it is a common denominator that taxes are considered bad, unless they are used specifically for a program that the individual (L/l)ibertaian supports, such as the military.  In the website quiz asking "What Kind of Libertarian Are You" the third question shows narrow range of the attitude toward taxes:

What is your stance on taxes?
All taxes are theft, and no tax is morally legitimate
Taxes should be low, and should only fund the necessary functions of government
Taxes are a necessary evil, but we are in a fight for survival against Islamo-Fascism! We need a big military!
The only legitimate tax is a tax on unimproved land
There should be no taxation -- government should be funded voluntarily
This aversion toward taxes is also based on the one-sided view of an individual, as if the individual can exist outside of the networks of family, clan, tribe, nation, culture, and society.  The L/libertarian  war against taxes is nothing other than a war against the irrefutable recognition that we are all connected.

The goal of freedom and liberty as seen from the Green perspective is inherently social because it uses the context of ecology to recognize that justice is social, that we are all necessarily connected in the great web of life, and that none of us exists as an isolated individual outside of these living networks. Where L/libertarians see economics essentially as interactions between individuals, Greens see economics as community based.  Therefore, from this view, the Randian conception of freedom as merely an individual right is not only preposterous, but factually untrue.  Thus the individualistic idea of unending unregulated economic growth, either as an individual or a nation, as the measure of a healthy economy is delusional from the Green perspective which sees the measure of a healthy economy as it's sustainability and equity.

The goal of Buddha Dharma is freedom too. Not the freedom "to do what you want and the hell with everyone else," but the freedom, liberation, and emancipation of the mind to see the true nature of itself and be free from the fears and delusions created by the mystery of birth and death. While the Greens approach freedom from the primary standpoint of deep ecological interconnectedness, Buddhists approach freedom from the related standpoint of the interconnectedness of the causes and conditions of everything in the cosmos without externalizing either things or the cosmos, and such freedom is "measured" through the awakening of the person (as the word "Buddha" means an "awakened one"). Buddhism is primarily psychological, not ecological, as the Lankavatara Sutra says, “one’s own mind is the measure of manifestation.” (自心現量)  Though the deep psychology of Buddhism is very close to the deep ecology of the Green view. This deeply psychological orientation of Buddhism is why, on his death bed when he was reading the book Chan and Zen Teachings, First Series by Charles Luk, Carl Jung said that when he read what Zen Master Hsu Yun said, "he felt as if he himself could have said exactly this! It was just it!"

This recognition of the central role of the person's awakening is sometimes confused with the nihilistic individualism of the L/llibertarian view, but it is definitely not the same.   In Buddhism, the freedom realized through awakening brings us back to the immediacy of the social context not away from it, just like rain falls to the ground not up to space. In this metaphor it is the gravity of life that brings the awakened person back to the marketplace of social interaction as depicted in the final image of Zen's 10 ox herding pictures. 

In awakening, we see through the illusions of "the individual self" and have our own realization that all things are only the manifestation of Mind (which goes by many names such as Thusness, Emptiness, The Body of the Dharma, True Suchness, etc.), then we can say with Zen Master Linji, "That which is the Dharma is the Dharma of the Mind. The Dharma of the Mind is formless; it moves unobstructed through the ten directions and is seen functioning in front of the eyes." (法者是心法。心法無形通貫十方目前現用。)

If we stopped here, we could easily succumb to a nihilistic or absolutist idealism, however in Buddhism the awakened person gets up from the site of awakening (菩提場) and goes on to become a being of awakening, a bodhisattva (菩提薩埵) whose primary motivation is compassion for helping others with their sense of bondage and lack of freedom.  In this we can reclaim the foundational idea of "economy" from its usurpation by the ideology of individualistic neoliberal capitalism.  As Fred Kofman wrote, in an article referring to the 10 ox herding pictures, titled "Entering the Marketplace with Helping Hands," even Adam Smith noted that an economy is based on the two primary poles of "benevolence towards others and self-interest." The neoliberal idealism of Randian L/libertarianism only sees one side of the polarity, that of self-interest, and they wholly ignore that "benevolence towards others" must have equal footing and impact in an economy for it to be healthy.  The L/libertarian usually rationalizes that self-interest will inevitably lead to an attitude that is benevolent toward others. The Buddhist sees that the selfless-interest of benevolence toward others is actually experienced by people as the more fulfilling kind of self-interest that actually produces the experience of happiness.