A Buddhist view on what’s new

A Buddhist view on what’s new August 21, 2012

A quick wrap up of the last week-ish in the web and whatnot.

I’m on Pinterest now. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll do with it, but hey. Feel free to follow. I’m on twitter and Google+ too.

In Tibet news, the Voice of America shares the story that unrest is unlikely to fade. Meanwhile, Lobsang Sangye, the elected leader of Tibetans in exile, rightly complains that the immolations and other troubles have generally gone unreported in the West. And the propaganda battles continue with China continuing to portray Tibet as a place of happy, backwards, grateful simpletons (gotta keep those tourism dollars coming in)… On the other side, Tibetans report that another Tibetan singer has been arrested and banned from performing.

Of course the plight of Tibetans is still low on many people’s priority lists, as tensions flare up around India and neighboring countries, highlighting not only religious, but ethnic and economic divisions that have driven violence for several decades.

Something inspirational and intellectual: an interview with Douglas Kellner. One of my favourite undergrad philosophy professors was David Shermana sheer intellectual powerhouse, who, if we could just stay with him, could carry a whole class through Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit or Sartre’s Being and Nothingness as if it was Lord of the Rings or one of these vampire novels. He made, and no doubt still makes, everything fascinating. He could talk about a radiator for ten minutes and everyone would sit on edge waiting for the next phrase. Anyhow, I digress. I believe Sherman was a student of, or at least worked extensively with Kellner. Speaking of his teaching, Kellner writes:

My classes have been largely bookcentric, in which I teach students how to read, interpret, and critique texts, always in their historical context and attempting to grasp key ideas and their contemporary relevance.  However, teaching a philosophy of technology seminar in spring 2012, I had an apocalyptic insight that the era of the book may be over, as more and more young people spend more time with technological devices and less time with books. In an era of text-messaging, Twitter, YouTube, social networking and ever-proliferating new media and forms of communication, young people are ever-bombarded with more information and messages. In this intense interaction with technology, attention spans must be declining and the ability to do deep reading, critical thinking, and interpretation of texts and social life must be threatened. Of course, this trend started with television, in which individuals passively consumed information and entertainment, usually in the confines of their own homes, often becoming slaves of the “boob tube.”

I highly recommend the whole interview. It’s a good view into higher education, leftist philosophy, the 60s, and the world at large.

In somewhat puzzling news, Dr. Payne’s follow-up to last week’s OUP blog post about the rhetorical consequences of geo-political categories has been posted. I gave a pretty thorough post critiquing aspects of the first post and not much has changed, so I won’t say much more, except that I still don’t get it. I also wanted to point the wonderful irony that OUP uses his post assailing geo-political categories to sell books based on… GEO-POLITICAL CATEGORIES: Indian Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism, etc. (Okay, he doesn’t assail them, but he says we really need to think about them because they “suggest implicitely” this and that and become “hegemonic” and “privilege certain strains” via “legitimating rhetorics” and so on…). (Update via comments: the links aren’t to books but to Bibliographies that list a variety of books from multiple publishers on the topic.)

In terms of adding the ‘s’ to Buddhism, Dr. Payne suggests it highlights our ability to distinguish different parts (whereas ‘Buddhism’, like ‘gravel’ suggests a single heap made of insignificant parts). Again, I’m perhaps missing something here, but this seems like utter nonesense on many levels. As I mentioned before, anyone familiar with Indian Buddhism or Chinese Buddhism will know that each is made up of differing forms and that the borders and influences have ebbed and flowed over history as have most things.

And this isn’t just with Buddhism – it holds for isms in general and for nationalities, species, and other categories that have ebbed and flowed over time. We categorize. It’s human. And we generalize: soldiers carry guns. Well, generally sure, yes. But unless we’re under the age of 4 or have a problem understanding the difference between generalizations and universals, we can understand that some soldiers don’t carry guns (and that some people carrying guns aren’t soldiers).

To draw a bit more from the OUP website, another book advertised there was American Food and Drink (a tribute to Julia Child). We all know that America is a very diverse place. Should we say “Americans”? No. We know there are many Americans. And we know that there are actually many foods and drinks in America. But we can use the singular of both without confusion or implicit rhetorical legitimizing or privileging (at least I hope, for Julia’s sake). If people are confused about this, we need to better educate them, not an an ‘s’ to our categories… In any case, I agree with Dr. Payne’s conclusion that we need to think about such things.

And while we’re doing that, something fun: Alan Watts talking about life, animated by the guys behind Southpark,

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