I’ll be as careful as I can with this one, because the outrage machine is always waiting to deliberately misconstrue anything the least bit complex or unconventional.
In the conventional sense, the answer is YES.
There definitely are real white supremacists, real neo-Nazis, real bigots, and real racists in this world. Without a doubt.
And there are real Islamic jihadists. And there are also real angry Leftists who cannot wait to punch anyone they label as a “Nazi” no matter how tenuous that label. I’ve met a lot of those people in person.
In fact, there are even more forms of racism and racism-equivalents than most folks probably imagine. In Kenya, I saw Kikuyu racism against Luo and Massai people. In Japan, I saw racism against Ainu, Okinawan, and Burakumin people. To most Americans these designations would be impossible to perceive.
Being a racist — or whatever-ist — is not just bad and dangerous for the folks you’re racist against (or whatever-ist against). It’s just as bad and dangerous for racists.
Racism and other such -isms don’t know any boundaries. This is one practical reason why it’s always a bad idea to side with any type of racism or anything that looks, acts, and smells even a little like racism. These arbitrary lines never stay static.
You don’t know when the line between the races/religions/castes/left-right designations/etc. is gonna move and you’ll find yourself on the wrong side. I have already found myself far enough on the wrong side of the current left-right dichotomy in the US to be called, unironically, a “neo-Nazi.” And I am a loooooong way from being any kind of a Nazi.
Because, unlike any Nazi, I know that racism is stupid. I know that any type of [fill-in-the-blank] supremacy is stupid.
If you join any -ism, you may feel safe on your side, but then sometimes the line crosses over you, and you’re left wondering why the folks you thought were on your side are now coming after you. You’ve become one of “them.” And, as such, you’re fair game for whatever pent-up violence your former pals feel like unleashing.
First, they came for the “Nazis.” But I said nothing because I hadn’t been labeled a “Nazi.” Yet…
Some philosophies are more likely than others to be used as a reason for being violent. And, of course, any philosophy that openly advocates [fill-in-the-blank] superiority is especially likely to be used as a justification for violence.
Still, a philosophy doesn’t have to openly advocate for [fill-in-the-blank] superiority in order to be used as a club against someone else.
Some Buddhists like to point out that Buddhism has less frequently been used as a justification for violence than any other major religion. But, of course, even Buddhism sometimes has been used as an excuse to do terrible stuff. And when it is, it’s just as stupid as any other form of [fill-in-the-blank] superiority.
Also, even those philosophies that do advocate for [fill-in-the-blank] superiority, can be bent the other way, as has been done with many formerly violent philosophies.
So that’s the conventional sense.
Here’s where it gets trickier.
Does everyone we’ve labeled as a “racist” because we saw a picture of him carrying a tiki torch — or whatever it is next time… are all those who we label “racist,” really racists every second of every minute of every day of their entire lives? Is everyone who ever attended a rally in support of the destruction of Israel an anti-Semite every second of every minute of every day of their entire lives? Is anyone anything at all every second of every minute of every day of their entire lives? Are we always ourselves?
And, just to be clear, I’m aware that one of those guys who got photographed with a tiki torch last week claims he’s not what we think he is. I am not talking about him. He carried a torch at a white supremacist rally. He should have expected some kind of backlash.
I’m talking about me. And I am talking about you, too.
If you’re not interested in Buddhism, these kinds of questions may seem irrelevant. But I am interested in Buddhism, and so this question seems extremely relevant to me. In fact, it seems far more relevant than the questions most people are asking lately.
We’re worried about making “moral equivalencies” among philosophies. We want to preserve the idea that “our side” is right while the “other side” is wrong.
But if there is ever an “our side,” I do not want to be on it.
“Rule 34” of the Internet says, “if it exists, there is porn of it.” In the same way, if any philosophy exists, there is a way to be an asshole about it. Just ask a vegan.
So, is the root of our problem racism? Or veganism, for that matter. Is the root of our problem the philosophies we espouse? Or is the real root of our problem something quite different?
Some white supremacists say that, if only they could establish a “pure white” state, everything would be fine. Some Islamists say the same thing about establishing an Islamic state. Then, they say, folks who wanted to live only with their own kind could do so without bothering anyone else. Some people believe establishing a state from which all racists are banned would be a good thing too.
If that were true, it might be a solution worth pursuing. But it is demonstrably not true at all. No purity of race, religion, ideology, or any other such arbitrary designation can ever be established.
This is because we are all made of exactly the same stuff, both physically and psychologically. Not only are we all composed of the exact same chemical elements, we all contain within us racism, bigotry, and hate.
I watched a funny video the other day from the recent rallies in Boston, in which a Leftist screamed with palpable rage at a Right Winger that “her side” of the Boston Commons was a “hate free zone.” Her team was Team Love, and his team, she had defined as Team Hate. But are there really any “hate free zones” anywhere at all?
I do not feel that I am a hate free zone. Nor do I believe that anyone else has ever been hate free.
We all slide in and out of various roles and states all the time. A contemporary Zen teacher said, “When you eat breakfast, you’re a breakfast eater. When you take a shit afterward, you are a shitter.”
When you engage in asshole behavior, you’re an asshole. When you cease to engage in asshole behavior, you’re not an asshole. Your justification for being an asshole is irrelevant in the moment you are behaving like an asshole. The side you’re on does not matter. Your intention is a moot point.
Whenever we try to hold on to our sense of self, we are setting ourselves up to act like assholes in defense of it.
A white supremacist is, in the Buddhist way of looking at it, just a person who is intensely committed to a sense of self that includes his being part of a superior race. A Buddhist might erase the last part of that sentence and say he’s just a person who is intensely committed to a sense of self. And, in that way, he’s not much different from the rest of us.
What happens when we recognize in those we have labeled as “hate-filled,” something we hate within ourselves? Will we continue to identify our own hate with an external person who seems, at this moment, to be expressing hatred more loudly than we happen to be? Or can we learn to see in others the hate we ourselves possess?
Can we ever rid ourselves of [fill-in-the-blank] supremacists if we hold our selves and our views as supreme?
I’m obviously not proposing being kind to racists as a solution to the problem of [fill-in-the-blank] supremacists. If anyone summarizes this article as, “Brad Warner says we should be nice to racists,” I’ll punch them in the face!
No. In fact, I think short-term, partial solutions like some of those I’ve seen proposed by others are good because they can sometimes help stabilize things to the point where long-term solutions can start to be dimly seen.
Perhaps one short term solution is to recognize that, yes, there are, indeed, people who are so invested in their [fill-in-the-blank] supremacist identity that it’s fair to say nothing short of a minor miracle will change them. For all practical purposes they’ll always be that way.
We can also recognize that other people are only acting out a [fill-in-the-blank] supremacist identity right now, perhaps trying it on the way lots of people try on different identities, and that they may be open to change if we don’t try to affix a permanent label to them.
And maybe we can understand that, by affixing a permanent label to someone, it is far more likely they’ll transition from a person who could potentially change into someone even more deeply invested in a [fill-in-the-blank] supremacist identity, because no one other than those also labeled that way will associate with them. Perhaps we should be more cautious about labeling people than we are these days.
Then, once we have gotten folks a bit calmer with short term solutions like these, we may be ready to look at the problem a little more deeply.
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September 7-10, 2017 Retreat in Finland
September 11-13, 2017 Stockholm, Sweden
September 15-20, 2017 Retreat at Domicilium, Weyarn, Germany
September 22, 2017 Talk in Munich, Germany
September 23, 2017 Retreat in Munich, Germany
September 24-29, 2017 Retreat at Benediktushof, near Wurzburg, Germany
October 1-4, 2017 Retreat in Hebden Bridge, England
October 7, 2017 One-day event in Manchester, England
October 18, 2017 7:00pm The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, CA
Every Monday at 7:30pm there’s zazen at Angel City Zen Center (NEW TIME, NEW PLACE!) 1407 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90026 Beginners only!
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