If you're interested in Buddhist meditation and politics, you might find the blog interesting. Sometimes I love it. Other times it irritates me. Usually I like the enthusiasm of it, the energy they give to looking for ways to live better. Other times, I think they're a bunch of spoiled, insular and clueless New Yorkers. New Yorkers are better than anyone at being jaded and totally naive at the same time.
Last week there was a post that really needled me. I went back and forth in the comments section for a few days, trying to make a point which I was never successful at making. I offered to write a guest post on the subject but got no response, so I'm going to post it here:
The reason I'm so persistently trying to make a point here is that I believe cassmaster's story is a parable showing one of the spots where Buddhist practice and activism intersect. I think a huge liability for every political movement that is based on identity (the women's movement, the gay rights movement and all its spawn, and take your pick of racial and ethnic civil rights movements) is exactly what begins as their great asset: the individual's self-identification as a member of an oppressed minority.
It is that identification that brings people with common grievances together to fight. Strength in numbers. But then we become so strongly attached to our identities as oppressed minorities that we begin to read every situation in which we encounter frustration as the same story, in which we are the victims, the oppressed, and the other person or institution is the oppressor.
The tale of the spa gift certificate is a perfect example of how this works. In cassmaster’s telling of the story, there’s absolutely no support for an assumption that the boss’s gift was sexist (maybe condescending, maybe sweet, but who really knows?), yet the post is titled “the perpetual undercurrents of sexism in the workplace,” and the whole story is an attempt to gain support for, to solidify, that interpretation of the scenario.
So what starts out as empowering and ennobling -- our recognition that we are not alone, that there are others who are similarly oppressed -- eventually eviscerates any power we gained because we can’t see ourselves as anything other than victims. We respond as victims, we ask to be identified and classified as victims (hate crimes legislation, anyone?), we become permanent victims.
As long as we hold tight to this view of ourselves and our place in the world, we’re caught in a Catch-22. But I think, as Buddhist meditators, we have a special perspective to bring to the problem because we have found a method of unraveling it. Our path is all about loosening the bonds of identity, letting go of the storyline we feel secure in, in order to allow a more open perspective on our suffering, a more “real” view of how the world works. Can we bring this special perspective to our politics? What would happen if we did?