Everyone is Marginalized

This would have been better to go with my previous article, but I only just rediscovered it. A flier for my band Zero Defex circa 1983.

I had a recent exchange on Facebook that I would like to share here.

One of the authors of the Lion’s Roar article, Stand Against Suffering responded to my piece about that article and to my previous article here. He said:

Dear Brad,

I hope you are well. While I hear your concern here, while I too recognize the dangers of an authoritarian “left” along with any authoritarian political force, while I see how sectarian politics can easily derail Buddhism, and while I totally agree when it comes to sanctimonious clergy, I would encourage you to call me or the others in the group and see what we actually believe.

Your analysis of “Stand Against Suffering” assumes pretty cynical intentions behind this article and – in combination with your more recent piece – seems to paint us as politically-motivated, duped, manipulative and reactive, not to mention rather unsophisticated in our understanding of the dharma.

We may have different interpretations when it comes to expressions of the dharma or the Bodhisattva vow, but I believe they are deserving of consideration even when they bother us. When I read your pieces, I do consider your critiques and where they may point to blindspots in my thinking and view, even when they bug me.

For me, they are supportive as a critique, but I lose connection when they become an outright condemnation that treats other teachers as if we are trying to manipulate the Buddhist community. While social media (in my opinion) is already a polarized and inadequate venue for caring dialogue, I feel this particular dialogue is important. So if you are interested in having a conversation by phone or in person, please let me know. I just don’t trust this venue to support us in remembering we are complex people with complex realities and opinions. Anyway, I would welcome an ongoing conversation with you, but not here where like too easily celebrates like to the detriment of everyone else. 

Here is how I responded (with minor corrections):

Thank you for responding. However, I think you may be taking my writings a bit more personally than they are intended. I was not writing to you or to the folks who wrote Stand Against Suffering. Not entirely, anyway.

Here’s what I saw.

The article Stand Against Suffering was written by 13 of the most popular, powerful, and influential teachers of Buddhism in the United States and was signed by an additional 140 extremely influential teachers. The message it conveyed was that all Buddhist teachers in America and many in Europe are united in a single political outlook.

This political outlook happens to be extremely mainstream, being supported by all but one of the major news networks, nearly every major newspaper, practically all of the Hollywood entertainment establishment, and so on. It is by far, the majority view.

The article sends the message to Americans interested in Buddhism that they need to align themselves with this majority political view, or shut up — or just stay away from Buddhism. Whenever a large group comes together to tell a smaller group that they are wrong, that their views are unworthy of consideration, and that they are unwelcome, this is a problem — especially when that large group are Buddhists who ought to understand this.

I realize this was not your conscious intention in writing the piece. But I also think you were not aware that this was the message you were sending. Somebody had to tell you, and they had to do it in a public way, not through private consultation. No one else was going to do that, so it was left up to me.

Also, someone needed to publicly make the case that not every Buddhist in America agrees with the majority point of view. Someone had to say that it is OK to take another point of view.

I do not believe that I am right and that you 153 famous Buddhist teachers are wrong. It’s not about that at all. In fact, like the 153 of you, I also have deep misgivings about Mr. Trump and his policies, as I have stated so many times I’m getting very tired of it.

But look. The feeling of being marginalized, persecuted, left out, and unrepresented is universal. It’s easy to tap into because everyone feels this way. The idea that only certain groups suffer while others do not is poisonous and deeply mistaken.

Certainly, when the majority bands together to intimidate a minority into silence, this is bad. That’s what you’re worried is happening in the USA now under Trump. But it’s difficult for me to understand how all of you 153 well-meaning teachers cannot see that, in writing and publishing Stand Against Suffering, you are doing precisely the same thing that you are decrying. I’m aware this isn’t your intention. But perhaps the other side does not have the intentions you imagine they do either.

I write what I do to try to provide some balance to the prevailing narrative. But don’t worry too much. I am just one person. Clearly my viewpoint is the minority. Therefore, it can be swept away easily by the collective power of the majority. You will win in the end. So don’t feel too bad.

That’s what I said.

I kinda regret my snarky ending. But that’s my honest feeling. Buddhists in America and Europe, by and large, completely agree with everything in that Stand Against Suffering article — not just what it says, but the way it says it, painting “we Buddhists” as kind people, pure of heart, standing against the evil tyranny that is Donald J. Trump and everyone who fails to hate him with the proper amount of passion. I’m not sure why any of the the writers of Stand Against Suffering would even bother reading what I wrote about it. It’s 153 against one. Game over! I lose.

Since I put out my response to Stand Against Suffering I’ve heard from a number of people thanking me for writing it, and telling me that they felt like their local Buddhist centers had become highly politicized lately, that their weekly dharma talks had turned into weekly anti-Trump diatribes, that they felt silenced and unwelcome.

I’m glad to be able to support that small group of people, people who are interested in Buddhism but whose political views differ from the mainstream — including those I disagree with (watch me say again how I have deep misgivings about Trump, how I voted against him, how I wonder if he really understands what his current job is — and again, watch people miss that completely).

I wrote those articles for them, not for the people that wrote Stand Against Suffering.

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