Brad wrote this blog in response to an accusation of cultural appropriation. The Buddhist theme of the blog is one that I support, but I would also ask if what Brad did fits in within the category of cultural appropriation.
Firstly Brad described Buddhism as a “religion” that examined the approach that enables us all to be “Buddhas”. It is my understanding that at the root all Buddhisms accept this, so how can it be considered religious appropriation?
Secondly I do not consider that a religion is a culture. Religious practices might make up part of cultural practice but on its own I would not consider religion a culture. Therefore in my view description of a religion as “cultural” is a misdirection, how culture applies to Buddhism is discussed below.
I want here to discuss “western” Buddhism, and I have previously felt that there is appropriation going on there. Let me expand, but first I need context. There is what the Buddha taught. Theravada believes they go back to the source, and that others, such as Zen (including the Soto Zen of Brad), are all revisions. But there are even doubts about the Theravada claims because no-one wrote down when he was saying (no tape-recorders!). Theravada justifications that they follow what the Buddha taught are based on the integrity of oral transmission, and that is maybe 50 years after his death. If you read what Brad describes in Bendowa from “Don’t be a Jerk”, what travelled to China and then Japan cannot be rigorously supported. And if you read his opening to Chapter 3 on the Heart sutra, there is even less rigour for such an important work. If you describe Buddhism as what the Buddha taught, it is very hard to be definitive.
But the problems don’t stop there. If you examine the way Buddhism is practised in the East you have great differences, I personally describe these Buddhisms as cultural. There is a kind of underlying Buddhist ideology connected with what the Buddha taught, and different cultures apply that underlying ideology within their own cultural framework. Hence we have very different Buddhisms practised in Tibet, Japan, Thailand and Sri Lanka. I have seen Tibet and Thailand at first hand – I live in Thailand, and to be honest I find it hard to recognise it as Buddhism. Yet Thailand is proud to call itself a Buddhist country, and I would not dispute that – nor even judge the statement.
To suggest that there is cultural appropriation of Buddhism anywhere is not appropriate.
I noted in the Bendowa blog that Brad is guilty of describing his own Buddhism as Buddhism. At the time I noted that it might just be habit, he speaks to audiences interested in Soto Zen, it would be tedious to continually refer to it in the correct manner of “the Buddhism he follows”. If it is not out of tedium then it is arrogant and inappropriate. We all make a decision as to which aspects of Buddhism we consider the truth for us, it is natural to then call that Buddhism. But if we cannot see that there are multifarious Buddhisms and cannot show tolerance to them, then the question of tolerance and arrogance has to arise.
When I think of western Buddhism I do feel there is arrogance. There appears to be an intellectual abstraction process that goes on in what I perceive of western Buddhism. Intellectuals examine the cultural practices of Buddhism, abstract the culture from the process and then decide this is what Buddhism is. This is the intellectual arrogance I refer to. I believe this intellectual arrogance is at the root of what is loosely known as western Buddhism. And this type of intellectual arrogance is common within academia, and I am not surprised that someone might refer to it as white Buddhism with some truth.
Because of what I will be saying I do not feel Brad is doing this. I surmise that Brad has studied Soto Zen in Japan, has been a part of bringing it back to the West, and has been so immersed in his own version of Soto Zen Buddhism that he has developed an approach that says his version of Buddhism is Buddhism. I further surmise that his single-mindedness that his sect’s version of Zen is Buddhism is a sin of omission rather than arrogance.
I therefore disagree with the assessment that Brad’s “white Buddhism” is cultural appropriation as asserted in the facebook quote “No please white American dude ….”, but ….
And it is a big BUT I feel there is so much more to the facebook quote and response, and this is significantly worrying and discussed in the next blog.
Trot manipulation is a judgement call in the same way as Blairites might call his manipulation of the party democratic – it depends on numbers on whether Corbyn support is genuine mass movement. Corbyn has a history of Trot support typified by the best being Socialist Conference discussed here. It is very hard to assess whether Corbyn support is Trot as Trots blow hard and loud. If the support is Trot it is a deal breaker but of course Tom Watson would know this – and it would not be unexpected to ses this “Trot spectre” to be a manipulation on his part.
Is Corbyn’s supprt mass movement? I think “yes” – my judgement call. Why? Because the support is based on mass movement alienation from the neo-liberal mainstream that Blair embraced.
But even if I am wrong I think the rules have changed. Party stalwarts such as Watson are of a mindset that existed when I was active, this was at the time when Trots were splitting the party, when neo-liberal engendered apathy allowed the Trots to have too great an influence. Since then Blair has lurched the party so far to the right that genuine mass movement support is splitting from the mainstream right where Blair put the party. But the mass movement is scared to follow where its notional leaders go – it is almost a group of Bolshevik intellectuals who are backing Corbyn – and comrades have always seen Bolsheviks as being at the core of the mass movement.
The “Trot Entry” tactic is again a scare of the right-wing parliamentarian opportunists, a group who are afraid for their jobs. The party has been divided by Blair’s manipulation of apathy, a standrad neo-liberal tactic. Now there is a continuing campaign to separate the mass movement from Corbyn as Corbyn offers a genuine alternative to the neo-liberal Veil. What else will these Wainwrights do?
This is a bit arcane – political jargon, but I am not about voters.
Shobogenzo apparently usually begins with Bendowa, and is about meditation. In Zen meditation is called Zazen, and the method of Zazen is described in Fukanzazengi or here, and discussed in Ch2 in Brad’s “Jerk”.
I must first note that Brad describes what he follows as Buddhism, this is somewhat of a surprise to me. There are a myriad of Buddhisms, and within those Buddhisms there are disagreements, so for Brad to describe his Soto Zen as Buddhism is divisive – whether I agree with Shobogenzo or not. But for someone who lives his life as a Buddhist speaker, reference to this type of correctness is conceivably tedious as those who are listening to him are probably his branch of Zen.
Whilst always being attracted to the real-speak of Brad it was when I read that Buddhadasa promoted Zen that I got into it more. Having done so, once I had got into practising Zazen I looked into Shobogenzo. And when reading Bendowa I was attracted to the letting go of mind and body so reminiscent of Buddhadasa’s “removal of I and mine from the 5 khandas”.
I was already hooked on Bendowa – had not really read past it, and then Brad applied the “jerk” filter to that chapter. What grabbed me was that part of Bendowa which apparently is known as Jijuyo Zanmai and is “bradded” on page 4. This has helped me clarify meditation for the time being.
Because of the method of Zazen we have right concentration. Zazen makes us stare at the wall, and keep bringing the attention back to staring at the wall. This is just concentration – plain and simple. It reminds me of Dharma Dan whose meditation was using the breath as object and then focussing on extending the stage after breathing (stage 1 in, 2 hold focus, 3 breathe out, 4 hold focus) where there is just concentration.
I cannot recall there having been insight during my zazen. This is interesting in two ways. It shows things are not right yet. And it shows that maybe it was not right insight under the old method. I did not use breathing as an object of meditation – the usual vipassana object. Once the daily grind fell away, sometimes insights came – give link. Today in Zazen I kept thinking about the problem with my teeth as well as this blog the insight for which I had days ago.
Reading Jujiyo Zanmai [p4] brought some clarity but care needs to be taken. Jujiyo Zanmai is translated as “the Samadhi of Receiving and Using the Self” [p2], and here the Self refers to the whole universe of the quote above. There is an anatta issue here – no self. The Self is not personal, it is not I or mine. This “Self and self” issue is raised much with Hinduism, theosophy and that part of Buddhism influenced by it. For many Self becomes confused with the personal, perhaps that bit of Gaia or Unity that is apportioned to the person whereas anatta of Buddhism clearly talks of no self. Because of the capitalisation there is a clear intended difference (from self), but it is still open to misconception. Knowing anatta first helps understand this. There is an interesting meditation I occasionally used – breathing in sunnata – emptiness. I sometimes feel that the focus is a block – I am doing it wrong, but today I moved to natural focus moving away from focus that could conceivably be mind; receiving and using sunnata could be an alternative to this.
“Real Buddhists all say that zazen is the best thing ever” [p4]. This paraphrase is typical of Brad’s approach as a good number of Buddhists would not know what zazen is, possibly even some real Buddhists. However the intent is very straightforward – you must meditate. I met online a number of Theravada intellectuals who could not meditate, I surmise that attachment to the intellectual sankhara (khanda) got in the way. The only exception to the need for meditation is the one Buddhadasa put forward, that maybe there would be someone totally naturally in harmony and automatically receive the truth – conceivable?
Perhaps the most important is an understanding that comes from “If one person sits zazen, being right in body, speech and mind for just one moment, the whole universe enters this state”. I think of the whole universe entering this state as being a form of insight, or vice versa.
Brad talks about enlightenment – not a word I like. He has a specific meaning and it refers to this “whole universe entering this state”. This can happen for a moment, and any description falls short. I don’t mind this although I would prefer not to use the word “enlightenment”. This tends to obviate claims of enlightenment such as Adyashanti or U G, or maybe knocks on the head claims of enlightened being with implications of permanent enlightenment. “So-called enlightenment experiences are not the finishing line” [p8] leads me to think that this Brad enlightenment fits in better with enlightenment as jhanas rather than enlightenment as nirvana. Whilst I don’t understand all that is spoken of jhanas, the jhanas that I know are of deep insight, bliss, the muse presence etc – discussed here link to blog. Maybe the different levels of jhanas could reach up to the level of the whole universe entering. “And what, bhikkhus, is right concentration? Here, bhikkhus, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the first jhana, which is accompanied by thought and examination, with rapture and happiness born of seclusion. With the subsiding of thought and examination, he enters and dwells in the second jhana, which has internal confidence and unification of mind, is without thought and examination, and has rapture and happiness born of concentration. With the fading away as well of rapture, he dwells equanimous and, mindful and clearly comprehending, he experiences happiness with the body; he enters and dwells in the third jhana of which the noble ones declare: ‘He is equanimous, mindful, one who dwells happily.’ With the abandoning of pleasure and pain, and with the previous passing away of joy and displeasure, he enters and dwells in the fourth jhana, which is neither painful nor pleasant and includes the purification of mindfulness by equanimity. This is called right concentration” [Samyutta Nikaya 45, as part of a description of the 8-fold path]. As in the quote bliss or rapture happens with jhanas, however the bliss is not to be attached to. This “enlightenment” that comes with right concentration of zazen is also not to be attached to.
The “whole universe entering” is not explicitly said in Theravada, but is very interesting. It adds to understanding of synchronicity and coincidence, and helps explain Unity “…. and receives the imperceptible mutual assistance of all things in the entire universe” [p4]. I am less likely to have a car accident or break my wrist if I am meditating!!
Attaining experience (jhanas) through concentration is meditation. What if you don’t get an experience? Keep going, zazen does you good. Just keep doing it.
Yet another Guardian headline has annoyed me. Owen Smith warns Corbyn that Labour “could bust and disappear”. Why should the Guardian focus on this when Corbyn is introducing policies of a National Investment Bank? Quite simple, the Guardian supports the Veil, the delusion of the two party electoral system.
There is so much at fault with this particular headline. First of all the Labour party can never disappear as it could always be the political wing of the mass movement. At present it is not. At present Blair more than anyone has created a party of opportunists who represent themselves and not the mass movement. The damage Blair caused would have taken a long time to heal but the opportunists have forced that healing now by engineering this leadership contest over Brexit. What we have in this leadership context is a leftward-leaning opportunist in Smith representing the parliamentary incumbents and Corbyn representing the mass movement. This is a genuine battle for democracy. Smith represents the Blair cronies who manipulated the membership apathy to put in opportunist clones from the ward on up through the party. Corbyn through Momentum seeks a genuine mass movement vote – more like genuine democracy.
I mentioned before the NEC meeting in which subterfuge led to a reduction in the number of new members being eligible to vote. This is being challenged in a court of law. Firstly the opportunists got a business stooge to bring a legal case to block Corbyn’s candidacy, and Corbyn’s people have now been forced to go to the courts to attempt to make the new membership eligible. Democracy is forced to use an undemocratic structure to fight its battles.
Smith is fighting the democratic vote for Corbyn. The mass movement want Corbyn, Smith has to win these voters. He cannot win on policy because Corbyn’s policies are genuinely democratic, they are peoples’ policies – this is why he got in. He has to appeal another way – through fear, the fear that the party will divide.
I remember another divide back in the 80s. This was not such a principled divide as the one that is happening now, I believe, although I didn’t follow it too much at the time. This was the formation of the SDP. A group of senior right-wing Labour politicians, known as the Gang of Four, were unhappy with the Labour party at the time and formed the SDP. To begin with they had some democratic support, but soon this dissolved into a Liberal-SDP alliance, disappeared into the Liberals and now the Liberals are disappearing. Such parties of Social Democrats, opportunists, cannot survive as they have no power base. The power base of the Labour party is the mass movement, opportunists are not candidates of that mass movement.
In other words, if these opportunists engineer a split in the long term they will disappear. In the short term they might affect an election or two, but in the long term the links between the parliamentary Labour party and the mass movement that were severed under Blair will be solidified under Corbyn. Of course by the time that happens Corbyn might be past it, and an opportunist could come in and replace him severing the links again.
The VBC continues as Smith representing the Wainwrights, the Blair clones, tries to undermine Perkins’ (Corbyn’s) links with the voters.
In the last blog I described 2 right views of the socio-political arena:- the Guardian view and the Occupy view. I described it as “The first view I will call the Guardian view. This view is leftward leaning but does not require a major change in outlook. We live in a trading society in which a few extreme individuals are exploiting others and if we continue to promote good works society can change for the better. This view looks at our neo-liberal system with its Veiled electoral democracy, and works within that system.” I did not explain the use of the word Veiled. It arises from the film “Beyond the Veil” in which the delusion of electoral democracy is exposed. Our two-party system is a manipulated system in which there is a delusion that these parties are two poles of a political spectrum, and that we are voting for alternatives. In practise they are different shades of the same colour, specifically Labour does not offer a socialist alternative. Reflect on the policy towards Ireland when there was the war in the North. Policies were the same, some would argue that to call it a war and ask for its end was electoral suicide but that was a fait accompli of the system whose Veil did not offer an alternative.
That is until Corbyn (and Sanders, Syriza and the Occupy movement). I want to discuss the alternative that Corbyn offers. But first I want to look at the Guardian view. Any reading of most Guardian articles about Labour and Corbyn shows a clear bias towards the parliamentary Labour MP’s, first Angela Eagle and now Owen Smith. They accuse Corbyn of dividing the party. Previously I have discussed this but it is worth repeating:-
Corbyn is trying to unite the party with the mass movement, it was Blair playing opportunist politics who divided the parliamentary from the mass membership. Let me explain how that worked. The mass movement was alienated from its supposed political wing by right wing policies such as the war in Iraq. With low attendance at ward meetings it was easy for Blair supporters to be elected as candidates. At the same time Blair made a point of giving clones posts in his cabinet, so by the end of his tenure those that wanted political office were Blairite and the mass movement had been divided from the party. The Guardian clearly shows its support of the parliamentary process, and therefore being part of the media that supports the Veil.
This Blair manipulation was evidenced in the leadership election that Corbyn won. He was a late addition on the ballot primarily as offering an alternative to the clones (including Angela Eagle), and he offered the only alternative to the party’s mass movement and was at the time surprisingly voted in. This ignited hope amongst the left, and opposition (from Hilary Benn and others) right from the start. When the feeble Brexit excuse came along the Blair clones were quick to unite behind the no-confidence vote leading to the current vote on his leadership.
This article from the Guardian is more objective. Owen Jones says “But who can have predicted Labour’s re-emergence as a mass party? In 2014, Labour had only 190,000 members; it now boasts over half a million.” His view is that the leadership election is a foregone conclusion in Corbyn’s favour.
It would be very interesting to know what the discussions of my erstwhile comrades in the NCP have been having. As previously discussed Corbyn was around when I was politically active. He ran a community centre in Islington and was responsive to his ward – his electorate. At the same time he was one of the leading lights in socialist politics along with Tony Benn, Red Ken etc. I have never been a supporter of Red Ken, and even though he developed a personal popularity amongst the wider electorate he was always one of the leaders amongst those who “shot themselves in the foot” – his recent statements on Israel being typical. I associate my work on anti-racism with Red Ken’s time as leader of the GLC but I have no details but that time was Thatcher-time and such good work soon ended. In the late 80s the activity of these socialists focussed on Socialist Conference, and when you consider Labour’s new half million membership I have to ask “how many of this half million would be typical of such a socialist conference?” And also whether the old guard of the NCP supports Corbyn and Momentum?
This is an important question, and requires consideration. What is the working-class now? We have the Marxist terms – bourgeoisie and proletariat. Since my activism times I have always considered myself as a member of the proletariat, and consider the terms proletariat and working-class synonymous. And middle-class an academic red herring. Why? We are the 1% or not, it is as simple as that. The 1% needs us to be divided, and so the academic obfuscations of class suits the 1%. The NCP had a cloth cap approach to the working-class. It is from the cloth cap working-class that the revolution will come, and despite the academics who led revolutions in Russia and Latin America such academics as myself (a teacher) were almost second-class proletarians. I suspect the majority of Labour’s half million are second-class proletarians. In one respect it is important to be derogatory of academics, they hold to theory and idea sets and because of this divide the mass movement – the Trots. And Trots made up the Socialist Conference.
25 years on from this we have Corbyn, we have Momentum, and we have half a million Labour membership. But how many cloth caps are there? Maybe the cloth caps of the occasional Militant?
But a more important question is how many of the proletariat are now cloth cap members? Since Thatcher there has been an intended reduction of the manufacturing base, there has been a concerted attack on trade unionism and movement to service industry, and more recently an increase of cheap migrant labour (non-unionised). The proletariat has changed. Academics such as me are an increasing proportion of the proletariat, so allusions to Corbyn’s half million members as intellectuals as opposed to working-class is perhaps misleading (“One challenge is that the Labour party membership is simply unrepresentative of the population. That has always been the case: it’s the trade union link that grants Labour any right to self-describe as a workers’ party. According to ESRC-funded research by the academics Tim Bale, Monica Poletti and Paul Webb, around half of Labour party members belong to the social group AB: that is, middle-class professionals. Yet only 22% of Britain’s population belong to this group. Those deemed to be working-class represent 47% of the population, but they make up just 21% of the Labour party membership. Nearly half of members live in London or southern England, and a large majority have university degrees.” same Guardian artcile.)
I do not use the term “cloth cap” as derogatory, they are fellow comrades. However these cloth caps would see their proletarian credentials as more “Marxist” than mine. In terms of the nature of their labour this is probably true as few could say that they chose their career in the way that I chose teaching. Who would choose to bottle beetruit – a Summer job of mine? This battle for Corbyn leadership is also a battle for the claims of uniting the proletariat again, but uniting amidst a diversity in which intellectuals are also considered wage-slaves as well as the more obvious “cloth caps”.
What Corbyn is doing is battling against the Veil http://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/lifting-the-veil-obama-and-the-failure-of-capitalist-democracy-2011/ , he is battling the neo-colonial system from within. I see it as forlorn in the same way as Harry Perkins never stood a chance but let us hope there is some substance to the Momentum. How can we have our representatives taking us into Wars for Profits?
As mentioned in the last blog I have just moved house and am ready for the next blogging phase, and that is trying to relate what I know as Buddhism with Zen – specifically Shobogenzo, the basis of Soto Zen. My efforts at Shobogenzo leave me feeling his Buddhism as unrecognisable yet every so often Brad throws in the 5 khandas or some other Theravada staple. To get at Shobogenzo I am going to read Brad’s “Don’t be a jerk”.
I am in total agreement with Brad’s approach, let’s use everyday speak to discuss, let’s relate to the everyday world and daily life. For me Theravada is like theory. Typically Thai people diligently pop off to the temple on Uposatha days. Equally diligently the monk delivers an appropriate theoretical (Therevada) sermon, and the people go home satiated. But no change has occurred, and one cause of that lack of change is that the sermon was couched in language that is not everyday, did not relate to the daily experience of the attending Thai people. A bigger cause is of course that these same Thai people, however devoted they are, do not meditate; thus they are unlikely to have a mind ready for change.
Everyday speak requires a right view, the first of the 8-Fold Path. What is Right View? One answer, typical of Theravada, might well be Buddhism with meditation – within its context a sound answer. But this does not bring with it a requirement of social understanding and practise, in fact for many Buddhism is detached from a socio-political view – to such an extent that there are people who have established Engaged Buddhism requiring of Buddhism that it attempts to effect change. My observation of these Engaged Buddhists is that they are leftward leaning.
It is however the detached Buddhism that I want to begin by examining. This approach allows all people of all political views to be accepted as Buddhists. Does this approach have right view? In Thailand the rich contribute much to the temples, and this of course is welcomed by the Buddhist hierarchy, but is that money tainted by ill deeds? All religions have this problem because they are forced out of politics by their own hierarchy or by laws on charity (charitable money not being allowed to be given to political organisations). This approach supports the status quo, and that status quo includes war and poverty.
It is necessary to move beyond the status quo, accepting the status quo is not a moral option. This is right view. But then we have a difficulty with right view, what is the right view of society whereby a Buddhist might attempt to effect change. I would suggest there are two caring views that might well be considered acceptable views.
The first view I will call the Guardian view. This view is leftward leaning but does not require a major change in outlook. We live in a trading society in which a few extreme individuals are exploiting others and if we continue to promote good works society can change for the better. This view looks at our neo-liberal system with its Veiled electoral democracy, and works within that system.
The second view I will call the Occupy view. Occupy has a radical agenda that requires the system to be fixed. There is a major change in outlook needed, basically seeing society controlled by the 1% and finding non-violent ways of wrestling control away from the 1%. It is the 1% influence which prevents society from developing in a more humane way – preventing society from changing for the better. The 1% promote the neo-liberal system of Veiled democracy whereas Occupy demanded a proper democratic system – not an electoral obfuscation – where policies are genuinely accountable to the people. Occupy seeks system change.
Both these views see that the problem lies with individuals who are exploiting, and one could argue that the differences between the Guardian view and the Occupy view are minimal. I would contend that this is not the case, and the keyword is influence. It is this pervasive influence of the 1% which affects everyday actions that is not recognised by the Guardian view. That view feels that change can occur by good works whereas the Occupy view would say that the power of the influence is stronger than the good works of so many.
I am tempted to call the Occupy view the Right View but it is divisive to do so. Buddhism does not seek division, it seeks deep consideration and analysis. I would suggest such analysis would include a careful understanding of the differences between the Guardian view and the Occupy view whilst recognising that the current approach of accepting the status quo is not moral – the current approach is effectively supporting the war and poverty that exists in the status quo.
Firstly Brad does not accept the status quo – the detachment that promotes theory (typically Theravada), however I would contend that Brad leans towards the Guardian view. In the introduction to “Don’t be a jerk”, Brad discussed science. In this he had a pop at those who dismissed science because science offers us so many benefits. Everyday science however is particularly susceptible to 1% influence. Science cannot proceed without research funding, and this funding is only given where profits can be seen – at the moment primarily technological research. Contrast this with the independent research carried out by Seralini into GMO products. This research can be individually assessed here , but here is sound research independently funded that counters the GM products of Monsanto. It was originally published in established scientific journals but because of its conclusions was withdrawn under the influence of Monsanto. For me science does not move forward based on insight, scientific creativity, and Nature’s search for knowledge but it moves forward based on 1% influence using funding as a means of control. To see what is happening in science it is necessary to take a detached dialectical review of Guardian and Occupy forces in play. The individuals that suppressed the Seralini study used a system that enhances their influence.
Whenever I read Brad this issue of Right View comes up. Unashamedly I see the Occupy view as more the right view whereas I feel Brad is much more Guardian. First and foremost Brad makes Buddhism real – everyday. However in his social analysis Brad leans to the safer Guardian view, and far too often I find it necessary to put the Occupy view to what he says. Buddhadasa says Buddhism is about the removal of the 5 khandas from I and mine. This is timeless, but our view of society cannot be so absolute. Applying sila to the socio-political arena and coming up with a right view is difficult and must be attempted and taught, but it is fraught with difficulty for monks vis-à-vis the Theravada monk I knew who in attempting to be everyday ended up supporting Tony Blair. At the time I thought it was wrong of him to be involved with politics because monks (certainly Theravada) live in cloisters. Now I feel he was right to try to be everyday but his analysis and view fell a long way short. By being everyday he was breaking the mould of Theravada monks, and this is to be lauded – I have changed on this. When it comes to the right view of society monks need to seek advice, cloisters are not a good place to judge society from.
It seems a lot longer since I have been writing but the last stuff on the fight for genuine democracy (NEC decision) was only 11 days ago. I have been through stuff since them so maybe it feels longer. I have moved house again. I have again found a house that is more than what I need and is situated where I need – in the country yet less than 10 km from Trat. So now I have to hope the landlord/landlady thing works out. The guy is the problem this time, he is an empire builder and this house is part of his empire. There are signs that he would want to interfere with my space because he sees it as his space, let’s hope he is not a pain like Serge. Of course I am completely paranoid about everything to do with renting here – having moved 3 times in a year. I am still settling in – no internet yet, I’ll have to wait and see.
Back to the blog. As an aside to the VBC against Corbyn, across the Atlantic there is a similar mass movement developing. On Sunday the chairperson of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) had to resign over the partisan nature of the DNC support for Clinton. None of this should be a surprise.
To be clear it is necessary to understand the reality of the current political systems called by some neo-liberalism. It is well explained in the movie “Lifting the Veil” , and the Veil that is being lifted is that of the apparent democracy of the 2-party system. Throughout the world after 4 or 5 years democratic countries (so-called) have an election between two apparently opposing parties. Somewhere in the past these parties will have similar histories, one party having allegiance to the landowners business and finance, and one party having allegiance to the mass movement. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that these parties are connected to their historical roots. In practice both parties perform the same function, they offer the voting people a delusion that they will be represented whereas the policies are those which support the 1%.
For some Obama was a disappointment. He was the first black US president, and black people especially hoped he would enact policies that would benefit them. But instead he had mock battles with Wall Street but did what they and the military wanted. For him to have risen in the ranks of the Democrats he had to learn the game of the Neo-Liberals.
Having said that Neo-Liberalism requires the pretence of democracy to maintain control of the people, in some way people have to believe they are electing their government. With this pretence there is the potential for a genuine democratic candidate – a genuine representative of the people. In recent years the distance between the representatives and the mass movement has grown greater and greater. As a result of this widening gap there have arisen genuine candidates on both sides of the Atlantic fighting for genuine representation, in the US Bernie Sanders and in the UK Jeremy Corbyn. I have been discussing Corbyn, just a short mention of Bernie Sanders. Bernie has run a campaign against Hillary, and did remarkably well given the forces railed against him. It is no surprise that Democratic Party staffers had been using influence to try to get Hillary elected as the Democratic Party is part of the Veil that is the election system. This influence was so severe that the party chair has resigned. One person resigning would be a small price to be paid by the 1% to ensure Bernie does not stand and risk the damage to Wall Street his presidency might cause.
The VBC continues as the Wainwrights try to oust Corbyn, and the leading Wainwright is Angela Eagle – someone who has tried to remove Corbyn from the word go. She is MP for Wallasey, my birth place, and somewhere I didn’t know had a Labour MP; maybe not Labour but a Wainwright. I just read she voted for the Iraq war.
The division between the parliamentary representation and the mass movement came to a head in the vote of no confidence that was 80% anti. Last night the talk was of whether Corbyn would actually be allowed to stand; I wonder how much that was feasible or desired. Quite simply so many Labour voters would have been alienated by such a machination that it would have severed the grassroots.
I am concerned this was a red herring. This Guardian article describes how the NEC accepted Corbyn with some very peculiar happenings. But I noticed this in the article “However, in a separate decision taken after Corbyn had left the room, the NEC ruled that only those who have been members for more than six months will be allowed to vote – while new supporters will be given two days to sign up as registered supporters to vote in the race, but only if they are willing to pay £25 – far higher than the £3 fee many Corbyn backers paid in the contest last year.”
I am not close enough to the ground to know the full meaning of this. It looks like a mechanism for excluding the poorer members, and I suspect those poor would be Corbyn supporters. I have a feeling that the Milliband measures that opened up the membership voting contributed to Corbyn’s success last year. I wonder whether the quoted change the NEC made last night (with Corbyn not in the room) was significant – I expect so.
I hope Momentum are strong enough to mobilise grass roots support. The Wainwrights say that Labour is unelectable under Corbyn. In part I agree, they are unelectable now with all the Wainwrights but within four years if representation can return to the mass movement and not Blair puppets that that swell of mass movement democracy could herald an electable opposition under Corbyn.
This is an RSA clip on how to live to a 100.
This raises interesting questions that are not necessarily discussed in the RSA talk. I believe there are misconceptions concerning longevity and life expectancy that need to be considered. Compared to 500 years ago our life expectancy has greatly increased, this is undoubtedly true. Here I would accept all of life expectancy, average life expectancy and importantly quality of life having increased during that longer life. Once we decrease that figure of 500 years and consider the trend different questions could get asked, as yet I am not sure what those questions should be. I am searching for those questions.
Let’s consider that search for those questions, and what are those search parameters? They revolve around the third category quality of life although they include longevity issues. The RSA talk graph looked at life expectancy in western countries but what happens if we consider degenerative diseases? I note that this graph considered longest life – a mode, a strange statistical measure to choose when mean or median might be more appropriate. What do the statistics look like if we include cancer, heart disease, diabetes (II), others? What about Alzheimer’s? Statistically those people are living longer but what about the quality of their life?
There is an unwritten assumption in mainstream scientific discussion on longevity that these degenerative diseases are diseases that we have not found the cure for yet. Typical of this is the cancer industry. Huge amounts of money are put into research, much of it wasted in my view, to consider cancer as a disease in which we could find a causative agent (such as virus) and then find a healing solution. But what if we thought of cancer in another way? What if cancer is some measure of quality of lifestyle? What if cancer were some kind of natural response to the quality of our lifestyle, and here I include lack of stress, natural health, lack of chemical intake, quality food etc. Science in curing disease seeks to find chemical methods such as antibiotics to heal disease, and yet there are side effects that have great debilitating effects; typically with antibiotics how does it affect the liver? Particularly when we consider how mainstream science looks at healing cancer – chemotherapy etc., we produce an appalling quality of life, a quality of life that is so bad that cancer sufferers might prefer a shorter life without the mainstream solutions.
Cancer treatments also have indicators that are relevant to this discussion of longevity because there are alternative treatments that examine lifestyle, healthy eating and even cannabis as healing methodologies. Unfortunately statistical evidence in the mainstream as to the effectiveness of these alternative treatments does not abound because, especially in America, the cancer industry prevents research into such. Macrobiotics is sometimes considered a “cure” but macrobiotic eating is not a medicinal approach. You cannot give a person a few sprouts and measure whether they heal. It is a lifestyle approach that almost has an infinite number of factors that compound each other in the healing process. However the medical use of cannabis, and the effects of cannabinoids might well be more easily researched if the funding direction so choose – unfortunately mainstream science does not want cannabis to replace the cost-intensive treatments that are now generally accepted.
I have explained why the science in these areas is not clear but what ought to be clear I feel is that the scientific assumption that longevity will simply increase as scientific method develops has some doubts. When considering longevity at some point lifestyle factors starts to affect the increased longevity that scientific method is producing. I accept the premise that scientific method increases and will continue to increase life expectancy but this scientific method has to exist within a controlled environment. In other words lifestyle considerations are considered beyond the scope of the experimental procedure, and as such the experimental method would attempt to control and factor out the impact of lifestyle. What would be seen as increase in longevity brought about by scientific advance would have to be seen as separate from the downward impacts of lifestyle, personal stress, work-based stress, the poorer quality of our food intake etc.
There is something else that is coming with ageing that has only recently (last 50 years) been considered, and that revolves around the notion of retirement age. Let us consider this as a notion. My first instinct is to launch into a tirade on wage-slavery but let me try to consider this in a mainstream way of accepting work as a choice. In general it is considered that we are physically incapable of working beyond a certain age, that age is nominally in the west taken as 65 – 60 for teachers thankfully. Pensions are now a big problem. I don’t know whether they have miscalculated but the pension burden appears to be damaging to the economy. However personally I do not trust such viewpoints, I very much doubt that money is being lost I just suspect they want more profits from the investment and that they want to increase the amount of time we work.
Here again I cannot avoid the notion of wage-slavery, they now feel we can work longer before putting us out to pasture. But there is a legitimate side to this coin. I took early retirement but do volunteer teaching at 64 – 4 years past the retirement age for teachers. I can do this because I was not burned out between 54 and 60 because of the early retirement. On reflection my health was a serious issue prior to retirement, the only play I had was during the holidays, being at home after work was little more than sleep and tv watching.
The nature of the work is important to consider. As I got older the general strategy of management was to increasingly want more work for their money; there were increasing pressures to do after-school work etc. This was a productivity drive, and getting more productivity without paying any more irrespective of whether the teachers were already working hard. As I got older my work got better, my work management got better, my quality of teaching students improved, and I have no doubts at all my teaching got better. But the physical toll it took on me definitely worsened. I want to look into this improvement more. Compared with when I started – or my first five years, I knew so much more about what I was teaching. My personal professional discipline was so much better, in terms of the classroom I was so much more value for money. But at 50 there were certain lacks, typically I couldn’t play 5-a-side after school on a Friday before I went out on the town.
But there was a “hidden” side that changed. I never bought into the system so even when I started I never accepted the values of system education. That never changed but as I got older it felt like I was more a thorn in the side of the management. When younger that non-acceptance often showed itself as a simplistic confrontation that never worried management. But when I was older my confrontation also included an element of recognition as to their incompetence, my position was closer to them and so I was more of a threat. It became clear to me that young energy, even that energy that rejected, was much less of problem than the knowledge that experience brought especially of that experience had not been bought off.
It seems to me that this discussion about age is being fundamentally driven by a desire to increase retirement age. I think that is misguided and cruel. People nearing retirement age need to retire – they have been used up. But in so doing tremendous experience and the wisdom that comes with it is being lost. This wisdom is an asset that is not used. It is lost because older working people are expected to maintain the same workload as younger people and also use that wisdom as well. That is not practical. Here is a bad example. The generals sat at home use their wisdom and the troops are sent in and killed. In this example the wisdom of the generals is used. But because of tiredness the wisdom of the experienced is not used as much as it could be.
There needs to be an alteration in work-based practices, and that alteration needs to be profession-specific. In terms of teaching there is no doubt in my mind that at 54 I had much to offer and at 64 I still have much to offer but physically at 54 I found the job hard and now would find it almost impossible. I completely understand the actuarial figures for teachers, and have many recollections of hearing of teachers who have died soon after retiring. They were stressed out by the demands of the job and just pegged out. It always seemed to me that these people struggled through the day, and as a younger teacher I had so much more energy. But they had more wisdom. I am suggesting that in some way wisdom needs to be recognised and traded off against energy. How to do this I don’t know but what I do know is that if older teachers were not stressed so much in their job their experience could be used long after 60. So long as their bodies were respected and their job recognised as different. I think this change should happen at 50 – or even earlier, but I have no idea how this would work because of salary, promotion and ambition.
But I don’t suspect this discussion of age is driven by a consideration of wisdom, but simply can we make the work units last longer?
And here is a good point for those who have retired. If this process of recognising experience could be introduced how much better would retirees feel because they would still be contributing and not just being thrown out to pasture. Older people know they have the wisdom without the bodies, they just wish people could use their wisdom.
In the talk she started with an assumption “what happens when everyone lives to be a 100?” As discussed this has so many holes. I found the discussion interesting but frightening. The basis of the discussion was an attempt to examine how to change views of a working life from that of education to work to retirement into a more flexible view. However such discussions are very dangerous. Working people have the right to pensions a significant proportion of which is paid by the employer. These pension rights have been under threat already, and the flexible view that is being presented could well mean that employers do not contribute to pensions. This would be a terrific loss in which working people will be seen as providing all their money once they have stopped work – and that the employer will contribute little. The type of vaguaries being discussed by these two around fulfilment and the like without recognition that there needs to be pension contribution is horrendous and tantamount to opportunist exploitation of needed financial security. Typical – there will always be academics who will sell out workers’ rights for their own careers.
The lack of structure that they describe provides huge loopholes for the employer to escape their contributions. They can discuss all kinds of theory of changing life models and structures but when the employer is looking for an excuse to avoid pension contribution such discussions are carte blanche for exploitation. Frighteningly dangerous – false assumptions about longevity and based on those assumptions alteration of the negotiation model that provided security for ordinary people. Book deals will have royalties, workers don’t.
With the publishing of this report (dld pdf), I am taking this opportunity to update my own position on racism. I am an avowed anti-racist in any form, but that does not mean I have removed all my racist conditioning nor not grown new racisms in my isolated life. I have the greatest conflicts however with the Israeli government policy because of my own Palestinian Solidarity. I see the Israeli government’s policies as expansionist and contrary to the genuine spirit of the UN. I have no doubts at all that the 1%, in supporting the formation of the country of Israel, were using longstanding enmities to destabilise the Middle East. I personally met people who had been displaced by the forces of the international community. A member of my maths department still held a deep and legitimate wound because his grandfather had been given 24 hours to get out of his family home – I think by British soldiers. It appears to me that the formation of Israel by the international community was handled badly and was based in guilt. However this occurred 78 years ago, and the crimes against humanity committed in the Middle East – I include Israel in the Middle East – are not acceptable. There is a state of war that has existed there for a long time. I taught a group of Israeli students at a language school holiday. They were polite. I wanted to talk about the history and rights of Palestinian people, they just wanted to speak of family deaths. Unless the international community intervenes judiciously to create peace as opposed to appointing warmongering lackeys such as Blair to mediate a “peace process” by defending Israel against the Arabs, the conflict can never be resolved internally. Yet there are genuine socialist voices in Israel and it is those voices coming out of Israel I listen to. But those voices are drowned out by the tide of nationalist expansionism that has been created by the history of the conflict and personal loss for that duration.
With regards to the Labour party I am unsure how much the racism has changed. It is supposedly the movement of the working-class, and a powerful tool of the establishment 1%-system is to divide in whatever way possible; this includes race. So the Labour party contains some racists. I remember an incident from a young foolish black lady back in the 80s. In the run-up to an election as a candidate she announced to the media that the party was racist, and the resulting publicity contributed to the subsequent loss in that general election. She, Dianne Abbott, is now shadow education secretary, I hope her politics have improved. No activist at the time disagreed with what she said, but as one of the few, fewer than now, black people in representation why was she saying it during a general election. It was at the time when Labour was famous for shooting itself in the foot, Blair rid the party of that weakness as he did other “weaknesses”- democratic accountability, mass movement representation, socialism and most disagreement with him.
In the past I have taken the word zionism to mean the policy of the right-wing governments of Israel, my misunderstanding of “zionism” included all the expansionism and war-mongering. With this meaning in mind I have defined myself as anti-zionist but not anti-semitic, my limited reading of left-wing Jews has ratified that distinction but maybe I have been misusing the term. According to wiki zionism is “a [[Ethnic nationalism|nationalist] political movement of Jews and Jewish culture that supports the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland in the territory defined as the historic Land of Israel”. Within reason I support that approach, in the same way I support land for the Kurds, any diaspora or indigenous peoples although I am not happy with the term “Land of Israel” as I believe it gives plausibility to expansionism. However following land being apportioned to Israel by the UN after the war, the governments of Israel have a continued policy of expansion and displacement of Palestinian peoples, as well as exploitation of those peoples as cheap labour. Previously I have considered this as zionism, maybe I shouldn’t. It is interesting to note from the wiki that at one time zionism was formally considered colonial and racist by the UN, although since rescinded. It is further interesting to note that in 1946 Palestine had 1076783 Muslims and 608225 Jews; what is it now? How are such figures decided? Whilst I had known to some extent of British involvement this wiki has informed me greatly of this. Further reading of the wiki does not discount my initial position but maybe it is too convenient as there is so much history, this puts me in an interesting position to see what the inquiry says.
“It seems to me that it is for all people to self-define their political beliefs and I cannot hope to do justice to the rich range of self-descriptions of both Jewishness or Zionism, even within the Labour Party, that I have heard. What I will say is that some words have been used and abused by accident and design so much as to blur, change or mutate their meaning. My advice to critics of the Israeli State and/or Government is to use the term “Zionist” advisedly, carefully and never euphemistically or as part of personal abuse” [p15 Chakabarti Inquiry]. In terms of my own usage this quote is particularly pertinent. It appears to me that my usage of the word, zionist, to describe the expansionism and Palestinian exploitation by the Israeli State is inappropriate. Zionism is concerned with Jewish nationhood and not necessarily these excesses. My position of supporting Jewish peoples by supporting Jewish socialists is not an anti-zionist position as according to the report such people might well legitimately support the formation of a Jewish homeland, the original meaning of zionism – as I understand it. I am against the excesses so I am against the Israeli 1% or Israeli capitalism. A very useful correction, it is good I have read this report.
I am going to invent a word now, obfuscationism. I define the word, obfuscationism, as the process in which powerful bodies or organisations, usually under 1% instigation, deliberately cloud and confuse issues. The purpose of this inquiry is to help clarify, and it has for me. But there is undoubtedly an obfuscationist policy in play with regards to anti-semitism. My own earlier misconceived anti-zionism was not anti-semitic as I clearly pointed out – I sought support from statements by Jewish socialists. But there is a clear policy of obfuscationism in which the excesses of expansionism and Palestinian exploitation are being identified with the neutral appropriate right for a Jewish homeland. This obfuscationism identifies the excesses with Jewish rights to a homeland, and encourages the pejorative of anti-semitic against those who criticise the excesses. Such government inquiries (as the Chakabarti Inquiry) never get to the full truth, and some form of condemnation of the widespread misuse of the word anti-semitic would have been constructive; I don’t think “What I will say is that some words have been used and abused by accident and design (my emphasis) so much as to blur, change or mutate their meaning” is enough. Summatively criticising the excesses of expansionism and Palestinian exploitation is not anti-semitic, it is human decency. [The latter half of the inquiry looked at internal Labour structures and education and training, not helpful for my own purposes.]
Jokes abound about the “racist card”. I have learned especially when younger by people helping me understand my racist conditioning. I later learned to be careful enough to have black sources for whenever I put forward a view on race. Yet when it suited I have been accused of being racist more recently, not often but occasionally. I always listen when black people describe someone as racist, I have learnt that there is a valid “feel” gained through black experience, something I could never understand. But racist is an epithet that needs to be used wisely, ignorant misuse is not helpful.
I have never been in discussion with regards to anti-semitic racism. Recently I have been involved in discussions with Jews on macrobiotic forums because they felt it was appropriate to promote propaganda within a forum on food. I had to leave one such forum. One very helpful lady repeatedly put forward her views that I disagreed with, and when I asked the moderator if she would block such politics she refused. I left. It happened again in another forum, only this time I decided to attempt to counter what I saw as misinformation. In neither case was the word anti-semitic used but in both situations I came away feeling they thought I was. In my view the conditioning of Jews is very strong. As I mentioned above Jewish people especially in Israel have experienced family deaths at the hand of Arabs. Israel is an enclave in what might be called “Arabia – the land of the Arabs”, and the government uses attacks by Arabs (whether instigated or in response) as a means to further anti-Arab feeling, anti-Muslim feeling. This indoctrination is quite clearly racist in practice. When I discussed my 3 years of living comfortably in Arab countries, Oman and Bahrain, my experience was dismissed as “wrong”, they were willing to say what I experienced did not happen because it did not fit in with the indoctrination.
The Chakrabarti inquiry is concerned with good practice in the Labour party, that was the brief. As such the brief was concerned with one-sided good practice. By the nature of such a brief the wider environment of inappropriate misuse of language and racist practice by others is not included, and that is a shame. I have a feeling that the anti-semite card is used far more than the race card – as I said obfuscationism.
Racism is always a part of war, you cannot kill people unless you think they are inferior. You cannot detach anti-semitic racism in the UK from the ongoing Middle East war. The examples of anti-semitic racism that led to this inquiry were based on the war and based on the legitimate need to raise consciousness concerning the atrocious excesses committed by the Israeli government. Policies on this matter were avoided in the inquiry yet such a blinkered one-issue approach is limiting because it avoids context. This is a big weakness of the inquiry. Whilst Palestinians are murdered by the Israeli government and its military, Labour party members are advised to control holocaust analogies and control the use of the word “zio”. This is appropriate advice but so misses the point. Of course attacking Israeli government policies would lose Labour votes.
Perhaps more significant is recent responses by some local councils to boycott goods from Israel. The Tories said such was illegal – here . Economic blockades affected apartheid South Africa, and applied pressure to create a solution that eventually led to a black government. It appears everywhere you turn there is control against constructive action to end war and oppression of Palestinians in the Middle East. This is worth saying.