Very good documentary on a town in Siberia.
Very good documentary on a town in Siberia.
The names are different, but the game is essentially the same in all cultures. Culture is a lowest-common-denominator set of controlling concepts. And every culture in the world discourages serious thought about itself in many important ways. Ethnic and religious myths are built on this, as are anti-ethnic and anti-religious myths. As is all politics. There is no escaping the herd mentality of whatever culture you happen to be stuck in. In this sense, culture is sort of “democratic” in that loosely-defined groups of low-minded idiots will always seek to and often succeed in pulling down anyone who is perceived as smarter, different, or better in some sense of the word.
Culture is a simplified fractal set of the language(s) it uses. Individual humans are fractal sets derived from the culture(s) they live within. If you step out of this matrix, even with the best of intentions, you are going to have a bad time. It doesn’t matter which culture it is. It’s essentially the same wherever you are.
Barkley is speaking about the American black community, but anyone anywhere in the world can, and many should, say roughly the same thing about their culture. The human mind is potentially wonderful and language is awesome in its capacity to express, and even culture has some good stuff as it gets us started in life. But wherever you go, culture is like a cage of light or darkness in the adult mind.
A valuable and basic definition of morality might simply be “clear signaling.”
If I harm you, I am messing with your signaling, making it less clear. If I deceive you, I am doing the same.
If my own internal signaling is unclear, confused, or contradictory, I am probably going to cause harm to others whether I mean to or not.
If we see humans as signaling networks at various levels of clarity or confusion, we can remove terms like self, personality or ego. “I,” then, am a system or network of signals that interfaces and interacts with other signaling networks.
By extension, there is no need for terms like “narcissist” or “abusive personality” or any of the other many, many words we normally use to describe human signaling networks.
For example, we can see that each human does social management within their own signaling system and as that system interacts with other human signaling systems. We compose a signaling system that we want others to see and then display it.
When a person often uses social signaling to manipulate, control, or deceive others, we can say they are doing malignant or immoral signaling instead of saying they are “narcissists” or “abusive personalities.”
The advantage of removing those traditional terms that assume an intentional personhood (narcissist, etc.) is we can see much more clearly what is actually happening.
With respect to narcissism, we can clearly say what a “narcissist” is. When narcissism is redefined as a signaling problem, we can also see that many narcissistic acts are done out of ignorance more than “selfishness.” People believe that they are supposed to be selfish or secretive or withhold important information simply because they do not know another way to act or have had long experiences with others who signal in those ways.
Of course, all of us manage our signaling systems to put us in a good light, at least to some extent. Refraining from gross behavior at the dinner table is a form of manipulating the signals you send to others. Since that is objectively a kind act, it is not narcissism.
Signaling integrity between adult friends is rarely perfect or even very good. Not because many of us don’t want that, but because we don’t know how to do it. Rather than make virtually all signals clear through a technique like FIML, we are forced instead to use off-the-shelf cultural norms to communicate our “personalities” to others.
Besides the few crude markers like punctuality, basic honesty and reciprocity, basic pleasantness, etc., it is very difficult to know another or even oneself without detailed control over the signaling we do with them.
If morality is seen as fundamentally a signaling issue, then the soundest ethical position would be to make our signaling clearer, more honest, less manipulative. Clarity depends on detail. In this light, we can say that there is a sort of moral imperative to do FIML or something very much like it.
The gist of a recent study, and there are more than just this one, is that people form strong opinions about others based on their faces—their shapes, prominent features, eyebrows, etc.
An article about the study, which is behind a paywall, can be found here: Impressions shaped by facial appearance foster biased decisions.
The authors of the study suggest a few ways to mitigate the facial effect, but admit that “more research will be needed.”
I doubt there is much anyone can do to mitigate the face effect, the lying-sack-of-shit-effect, the phony-persona-effect, the self-deceiving-fake-personality-effect, or any of other ways that people fool themselves and others.
Similarly, ideologies have not fixed the problems of bad government and never will.
In my view there is only one thing we humans can do to ensure that we get good leaders in society, honest workers at all levels, and real friends—develop accurate brain scans that can test for conscious lies and psychopathy.
Technology like that could be used to do more harm than good. But it could also do a lot of good. Any system of government will work if government officials are all honest. The same is true for education systems, businesses, science, and many other endeavors with significant social ramifications. If the people in those systems are all verifiably honest and verifiably well-meaning, the efficiency of society will increase tenfold if not more. Trust among the population will increase apace and most of us (save the psychopaths and scam artists) will be greatly relieved knowing that members of Congress really are upholding their oaths, teachers really do have their students’ best interests in mind, scientists really do believe their data, police really are there to protect and serve.
I don’t see any other way to raise ourselves out of the mire of deceit, error, mistrust, cruelty, and usury that has characterized all human societies for all time. Nothing changes in our minds when we change systems and ideologies. On the scale of society, only technology changes us.
(On the scale of the individual, change can happen due to personal and interpersonal effort.)
Most Buddhists know that a bodhisattva is someone who helps others through their understanding of “enlightened practice” or “enlightening practices.” The Buddha is called a bodhisattva when referring to the time before he became a Buddha.
A bodhisattva uses wisdom to do compassionate work or “generous” work, to use the terminology of the Diamond Sutra. Strictly speaking, “generosity” in the Diamond Sutra means sharing the Dharma with others, but in practice this concept can, of course, take many forms. For example, maybe just being nice to someone will help them more than an extensive Dharma talk.
It is possible when studying the Diamond Sutra to experience a kind of spiritual ecstasy or meditative ecstasy as one contemplates the fulsome purity of mind that attends the selfless generosity discussed in the sutra. At such times, you know without doubt that this is a higher state of mind, a better way to be; it feels like a genuine glimpse of Buddhahood, of the enlightened state of a Buddha.
I for one have no doubt that those states are higher and realer than the mundane states of mind we so often are consigned to. But it is important to understand that the Diamond Sutra is not only about being generous. It is also about being wise.
In all Buddhist traditions at all times, the highest virtue is always wisdom.
A well-known analogy is often used to explain this. If you want to save someone who is drowning you must know how to swim. If you can’t swim and you jump in the water, you will not help and probably only lose your life, too.
So a bodhisattva must be wise enough to know what they can do and what they can’t. This is not generosity with strings attached. It is wise generosity. It is wrong to have good motives but destroy yourself without even helping others. It is not even wise to destrpy yourself even if you do help others. I suppose there are degrees at this point. If you give your adult life to help some children, it might be a wise move.
But the basic point should be clear—generosity must be tempered with wisdom. The Diamond Sutra is not about moral idealism, or the belief that “individual rights and responsibilities are universal, regardless of outcome.”
Buddhist teachings are all about good outcomes. The point of Buddhist practice is to become enlightened. When we glimpse the bliss of pure selfless generosity, we are glimpsing Buddhahood. But at that point we are still merely bodhisattvas, at best. In this world, absolutely pure, selfless behavior will get you robbed and killed. So you need some smarts, a sense of what really can be done to get real outcomes. Even terrible reprobates can be helped and can change, but don’t be foolish about your chances for success or the methods you use.
In his The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America, Eric Kaufmann described liberal Protestantism as one of several liberal traditions in American history. Although it had its origins in the 19th century, by 1910 there arose a liberal Protestant elite committed to “universalist, humanitarian ethics.” Elite Protestants (but not the great mass of Protestant Americans) were opposed to immigration restriction in the 1920s and were at the vanguard of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. They embraced the dream of universal humanity, and they developed idealized images of Jews who, after World War II, had assumed the leadership of liberal causes in the U.S. (Bruce Shipman and the Idealized Image of Jews among Elite Protestants)
Interpersonal communication systems can become chaotic when there are misunderstandings. And they can become wildly chaotic when the misunderstandings are serious and/or involve emotional responses.
Normally, in virtually all cultures, out-of-control interpersonal communications are settled by authoritarian decree, by reverting to pre-established roles, by fighting until one side tires, or by ending communication all together.
It is nothing short of tragic when this happens in close relationships during significant or profound communication acts.
FIML is designed to fix communication problems that occur during communications between two (or more) people who care deeply about each other.
FIML is a “loose” method of control in that FIML largely does not have any content. It is a technique that allows partners to discover their own content and their own ways to fix their contretemps.
As with so many potentially chaotic systems, interpersonal misunderstandings can become wildly unstable for even very small reasons. A single misheard word or a single misinterpreted expression can lead to destructive chaos within the system, no matter how dedicated the communicants may be to each other.
Evidence that supports the use of a “loose” method of control like FIML can be found in this paper: Stalling chaos control accelerates convergence.
To paraphrase from the abstract of that paper and apply their conclusions to FIML, we can say that FIML works “…by stalling the control, thereby taking advantage of the stable directions of the uncontrolled chaotic” system.
By not having a set outcome in mind, by not allowing static interpersonal roles to control the outcome, FIML can succeed in fixing even very serious contretemps between caring partners. FIML accomplishes this by providing partners with a means of achieving a meta-view of their contretemps and from that point of view gently nudging their analysis toward mutual agreement, mutual transformation for both parties based on a complete and completely shared understanding of the unique conditions that generated the problem.
In this, FIML takes “advantage of the stable directions of the uncontrolled chaotic” system. The stable direction is the complete and mutually agreed upon resolution of all aspects of the contretemps. It is a “return” to the stable state of caring that preceded the problem, but a “return” with a significant upgrade because the new stable state will now include the experience of repairing the chaotic state that just passed.
The pleasure of a FIML resolution can be very great because the semiotic systems of both partners’ minds will achieve an upgraded level of stability and awareness. This kind of resolution, clearly, strengthens and resonates with the core of conscious beings who live in the midst of and use (often not so well) semiotics to understand themselves and others.
An article on the study linked above describes the “loose” control method as an “approach that cleverly exploits the natural behaviour of the system.” (See: Control is good, freedom is better)
FIML exploits the natural behavior of two people who seek mutual caring and mutual positive transformation by providing a method that allows them to intelligently deal with the chaos that is 100% bound to arise during some of their acts of communication. Rather than flee from communication due to the fear of chaos, FIML partners have a reliable method of controlling it and reestablishing harmony on a higher, better level.
The fifth section of the Diamond Sutra has been added. A link to the sutra can be found at the top of this page or here.
In this section, the Buddha continues his discussion of laksana (marks, characteristics) by asking, “Subhuti, what do you say, can you see the Tathagata in his bodily laksana?”
In this context, Tathagata means an “enlightened Buddha,” with an emphasis on enlightened. This question could reasonably be interpreted to mean, “…can you perceive the enlightened state of a Buddha through mundane (bodily) characteristics or marks?”
Subhuti answers, “No.” He then explains himself by negating “bodily laksana,” which are essentially delusive and thus not profoundly real.
The Buddha confirms his answer and emphasizes its import by saying, “All laksana are delusive. If you can see that all laksana are not laksana, then you will see the Tathagata.”
Thus, enlightenment and the generosity and wisdom upon which it is based or of which it is a manifestation cannot be perceived by mundane (bodily) laksana. In fact, the Buddha says, to become enlightened you must be able to see that “all laksana are delusive.”
A common interpretation of this section is that that the word laksana refers to the thirty-two marks of a Buddha. Since these thirty-two marks are discussed later in the sutra, it probably makes more sense to interpret them straightforwardly as “bodily laksana,” indicating mundane perception of the enlightened state.
The thirty-two marks or signs are also know as the thirty-two marks of a great man.
Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry on the thirty-two marks says the twenty-ninth mark is “Eyes dark brown or deep blue.” A few other pages I checked on Google claim the eyes are are “clear” and the pupils dark. Traditionally, this laksana has been translated as “blue” or “very blue.”
The Dhammawiki page linked above has this:
He has very blue eyes (Pali: abhi nila netto). Note 1: “very (abhi) blue (nila) eyes (netto)” is the literal translation. Nila is the word used to describe a sapphire and the color of the sea, but also the color of a rain cloud. It also defines the color of the Hindu God Krishna. Note 2: “His lashes are like a cow’s; his eyes are blue./ Those who know such things declare/ ‘A child which such fine eyes/ will be one who’s looked upon with joy./ If a layman, thus he’ll be/ Pleasing to the sight of all./ If ascetic he becomes,/ Then loved as healer of folk’s woes.'” (Lakkhana Sutta)
In Chinese, the Buddha’s eyes are described as “blue” or “jade-like.” Some years ago, I had a discussion with a very capable Pali translator on this point. He wanted to know what I thought (as someone who knows the Chinese) about describing the Buddha’s eyes as “clear.” I said I did not think that that was what the Chinese was saying and that, furthermore, that would be a strange meaning for ancient Chinese, as “clear eyes” is not the kind of thing they would have written. He agreed with what I said, and being an intelligent man, was amused by the whole controversy.
Whatever the case, I suppose it’s inevitable that PC sensibilities will enter even the history of Buddhism. It does seem likely that the Buddha, who is frequently referred to as an “Aryan,” was born into an actual Aryan family. We know he spoke an Indo-European language (Magahi) and that he could easily have had blue eyes. Alexander the Great had blue eyes as did many other people in those days.
A major interpretation of the thirty-two marks is that they are mystical and only an enlightened being can see them anyway. They are not a very important part of Buddhism. As the Diamond Sutra itself says, “All laksana are delusive.”
Still, it is fascinating to observe how people react to imagining a blue-eyed Buddha. In my experience, most Westerners who have not studied much Buddhism, imagine the Buddha to have looked Chinese. Some imagine he looked Indian. Just as Christ gained blond hair and blue eyes in some European portrayals of him, so possibly, a blond-haired blue-eyed Buddha gradually morphed into having a Chinese visage in the northern tradition and a darker Indian one in the southern tradition.