Current Comment #6

A weekly recap of worthwhile political opinion and social commentary.

Vol 1, No 6 ……… October 24th, 2020

OPENING NOTE – Presidential campaigning and coronavirus infection increases dominated the news again this past week, and both topics feature prominently in the pieces included below. In addition, there are two compelling essays on other matters – one examining social media’s questionable approach to moderating hate speech on their platforms, and the other taking a critical look at the questionable approach of certain Supreme Court justices (past, present, and soon to be appointed 😦 ) to interpreting the Constitution from an “originalist” standpoint.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

ITEM #1 – New Yorker contributor Andrew Marantz takes a close look at Facebook’s questionable approach to moderating hate speech and other explicitly dangerous content posted on its pages …

“In public, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, chairman, and C.E.O., often invokes the lofty ideals of free speech and pluralistic debate. But Zuckerberg’s actions make more sense when viewed as an outgrowth of his business model. The company’s incentive is to keep people on the platform—including strongmen and their most avid followers, whose incendiary rhetoric tends to generate a disproportionate amount of engagement. A former Facebook employee told me, ‘Nobody wants to look in the mirror and go, I make a lot of money by giving objectively dangerous people a huge megaphone.’ This is precisely what Facebook’s executives are doing, the former employee continued, ‘but they try to tell themselves a convoluted story about how it’s not actually what they’re doing.’ In retrospect, it seems that the company’s strategy has never been to manage the problem of dangerous content, but rather to manage the public’s perception of the problem.”

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

ITEM #2 – New York Times contributing opinion writer Michael Tomasky argues convincingly that, in light of the current politicization of mask-wearing, it’s time for the Democrats to take back ownership of the word “freedom” …

“One of the key authors of the Western concept of freedom is John Stuart Mill. In ‘On Liberty,’ he wrote that liberty (or freedom) means ‘doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow, without impediment from our fellow creatures, as long as what we do does not harm them even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse or wrong.’ Note the clause ‘as long as what we do does not harm them.’ Conservatives revere Mill. But today, in the age of the pandemic, Mill and other conservative heroes like John Locke would be aghast at the way the American right wing bandies about the word ‘freedom.’ Freedom emphatically does not include the freedom to get someone else sick. It does not include the freedom to refuse to wear a mask in the grocery store, sneeze on someone in the produce section and give him the virus. That’s not freedom for the person who is sneezed upon. For that person, the first person’s ‘freedom’ means chains — potential illness and even perhaps a death sentence. No society can function on that definition of freedom.”

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

ITEM #3 – Legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky explains the fallacious reasoning behind the theory of “originalism” – espoused by Amy Coney Barrett – as the method for interpreting the Constitution, Uand warns of the dangers it poses to our democracy …

“Rights in the 21st century should not be determined by the understandings and views of centuries ago. This would lead to terrible results. Following originalism would mean that Brown v. Board of Education was wrongly decided in declaring laws requiring segregation of schools unconstitutional. In fact, under the original public meaning of the Constitution, it would be unconstitutional to elect a woman as president or vice president until the Constitution is amended. Article II refers to them with the pronoun “he,” and there is no doubt that original understanding was that only men could hold these offices. Moreover, it is a myth to think that even identifying an originalist understanding can solve most modern constitutional issues. Can original public meaning really provide useful insights about the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and whether the police can take DNA from a suspect to see if it matches evidence in unsolved crimes or obtain stored cellular phone location information without a warrant?”

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

ITEM #4 – New York Times opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof details Trump’s “colossal failure of leadership” on the coronavirus pandemic …

“Trump says he deserves an A-plus for his ‘phenomenal job’ handling the coronavirus, but the judgment of history is likely to be far harsher. ‘It’s really sad to see the U.S. presidency fall from being the champion of global health to being the laughingstock of the world,’ said Devi Sridhar, an American who is a professor of global health at the University of Edinburgh. ‘It was a tragedy of history that Donald Trump was president when this hit.’ Trump did almost everything wrong. He discouraged mask wearing. The administration never rolled out contact tracing, missed opportunities to isolate the infected and exposed, didn’t adequately protect nursing homes, issued advice that confused the issues more than clarified them, and handed responsibilities to states and localities that were unprepared to act.” 

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

ITEM #5 – New York Magazine columnist Matt Stieb reports on former president Barack Obama’s speech at a campaign event for Joe Biden in Philadelphia earlier this week …

“’He hasn’t shown any interest in doing the work or helping anybody but himself and his friends,’ Obama said of Trump, before a rally of about 300 cars. ‘This is not a reality show. This is reality, and the rest of us have had to live with the consequences of him proving himself incapable of taking the job seriously. There are consequences to [Trump’s] actions. They embolden other people to be cruel & divisive & racist & it frays the fabric of our society. And it affects how our children see things…it affects how the world looks at America. That behavior matters. Character matters’”

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/10/obama-rips-into-trump-in-first-in-person-biden-2020-event.html?utm_source=tw

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

CLOSING NOTES – Once again, a quick reminder that, if you have a Twitter account, you can get a head start reading the articles being selected for the next week’s edition of Current Comment by following @LiberalBuddhist.

Have a great week, everyone! Take care of yourselves, and stay well … Tom

Current Comment #5

A weekly recap of worthwhile political opinion and commentary.

Vol 1, No 5 ……… October 17th, 2020

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

OPENING NOTE – Beginning with this edition, Current Comment commences with its new once-a-week schedule, and will be posted on The Liberal Buddhist blog by mid-afternoon every Saturday. 

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

ITEM #1 – New Yorker staff writer Steve Coll shows how the one and only consistently reliable characteristic of Trump’s chaotic presidency has been his complete and utter incompetence …

“It is painful to reflect today on the tens of thousands of lives that might have been saved if a less reality-challenged President occupied the White House. Trump has been consistently unreliable across the eight-month arc of our national crisis. Last week, as he recuperated from his own bout of Covid-19, he unleashed a fresh torrent of tweets and videos. These offered transparent nonsense (‘Maybe I’m immune’) and also dangerous lies, such as the claim that for most people the coronavirus is ‘far less lethal!!!’ than the seasonal flu. (Scientists report that the coronavirus is about six times more deadly than the typical flu virus.) It remains unclear just how the outbreak began and spread, but such an occurrence was perhaps inevitable, given the Administration’s refusal to require masks and physical distancing in the White House and at public events. Eventually, journalists and biographers will sort out exactly what the President knew about his own possible contagiousness before October 2nd, the day he announced that he had tested positive—and how he handled any risk that he might infect others. On October 4th, during his hospitalization at Walter Reed, when he was almost certainly contagious, he staged a photo op in which he was driven around in an S.U.V. and waved to onlookers. At least two Secret Service agents were required to join him in the sealed, armored vehicle, putting them at risk of exposure. It was an inane campaign stunt, and a study in selfishness. The essence of Trump’s failure during the pandemic does not lie with his Administration’s crisis management, botched as that has been; it is the result of his character.”

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

ITEM #2 – New York Times opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof argues convincingly that what matters most about any Supreme Court justice nominee is not whether they’re liberal or conservative, but whether they are looking to bring us forward or take us backward …

“[Amy Coney] Barrett is not a horrible person; on the contrary, she seems to be a smart lawyer with an admirable personal story. Yet she’s working with a gang of Republican senators to steal a seat on the Supreme Court. This grand larceny may well succeed. But for voters, this hearing should underscore the larger battle over the direction of the country. Voters can’t weigh in on the Barrett nomination, but they can correct this country’s course. Here’s the fundamental question: Will voters reward the party that is working to provide more health care, or the party that has painstakingly robbed one million children of insurance? Will voters help tug the United States forward, or will they support the backward thinkers who have been on the side of discrimination, racism, bigotry and voter suppression? At the polls, which side of history will you stand on?”

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

ITEM #3 – The Editorial Board of the New York Times makes an overwhelming case for the unfitness of Donald Trump to be the president of the United States …

“Donald Trump’s re-election campaign poses the greatest threat to American democracy since World War II. Mr. Trump’s ruinous tenure already has gravely damaged the United States at home and around the world. He has abused the power of his office and denied the legitimacy of his political opponents, shattering the norms that have bound the nation together for generations. He has subsumed the public interest to the profitability of his business and political interests. He has shown a breathtaking disregard for the lives and liberties of Americans. He is a man unworthy of the office he holds.”

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

CLOSING NOTES – A quick reminder that, as a follower of The Liberal Buddhist blog, you’ll receive not only each weekly edition of Current Comment, but also periodic posts featuring original political, literary, and cultural commentary.

And, if you have a Twitter account, you can get a head start reading the articles being selected for the next edition of Current Comment by following @LiberalBuddhist.

Have a great week, everyone! Take care of yourselves, and stay well … Tom

Current Comment #4

A twice-weekly compendium of political opinion worth pondering

October 10th ~ October 13th, 2020

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

OPENING NOTE – Beginning with the next edition, Current Comment transitions from its present twice-weekly format to a once-a-week schedule, and this new weekly edition will be posted on The Liberal Buddhist blog every Saturday.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

ITEM #1 – If the vast majority of Trump’s supporters had any inkling of the personal disdain their “hero” feels towards them, I wonder what they’d say … and even more so, I wonder how they’d have voted in the last election. It’s one of the most painful ironies in our recent history that this most plutocratic of individuals was able to convincingly masquerade as a populist, and to win the White House by his deceitful impersonation. Is it too much to hope that, like the Wizard of Oz’s famous comeuppance in that classic film’s denouement, the curtains are at last (and just in time for the upcoming election) being pulled back to reveal the hollow man standing behind them frantically tugging at the fake levers? …

“It’s hard not to wonder how he really feels about his supporters, especially when the coronavirus-positive president began walking mask-less around the White House. He has been, to say the least, careless about placing his most devoted people at risk. These include his own top White House and campaign aides, residence staff members, Secret Service agents, Republican senators and campaign advisers, and possibly donors at a fund-raising luncheon in New Jersey and rallygoers in Minnesota (depending on when he first thought he might be contagious).”

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

ITEM #2 – New York Magazine columnist Jonathan Chait points out the inherent flaws in the idea that Trump is too incompetent to become a full-fledged autocrat …

“The main underlying flaw is one common to many conservative elites who disdain Trump’s personality but dismiss him as a serious threat. They are incapable of seeing his authoritarianism as anything but an idiosyncratic personal project. They define his undemocratic maneuvers as actions he is taking on his own, without the cooperation of Republicans. And since it’s essentially impossible for a single person (even a president) to undermine democracy without the assistance of a party, nothing Trump does without the party can be a serious threat by definition. It’s a circular argument: Trump is not an authoritarian menace, these conservatives believe, because they only define his authoritarianism as actions other Republicans refuse to support. This is a logical assumption for people who might worry about Trump’s behavior but implicitly trust the Republican Party to safeguard democratic norms. But if you aren’t encumbered by naïve faith in the good intentions of Mitch McConnell and the Republican judiciary, and you expand the analysis to include anti-democratic actions that have their blessing, then the picture is much more disturbing.”

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/trump-authoritarian-dictator-incompetence-douthat-coup-election.html?utm_source=tw

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

CLOSING NOTES – If you’d like to get a head start reading the articles being selected for the next edition of Current Comment, you can follow @LiberalBuddhist on Twitter.

And, as a follower of The Liberal Buddhist blog, you’ll receive not only all regular weekly posts of Current Comment, but also periodic posts featuring original political, literary, and cultural commentary – all viewed through the lens of Buddhist ethics and liberal philosophy.

The next edition of Current Comment is scheduled for Saturday, 10/17/20. Until then, please take care of yourself, and stay well …

Current Comment #3

A twice-weekly compendium of political opinion worth pondering.

October 6th ~ October 9th, 2020

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

ITEM #1 – The New York Times endorses Joe Biden for president …

“Mr. Biden has vowed to ‘restore the soul of America.’ It is a painful reminder that the country is weaker, angrier, less hopeful and more divided than it was four years ago. With this promise, Mr. Biden is assuring the public that he recognizes the magnitude of what the next president is being called upon to do. In the midst of unrelenting chaos, Mr. Biden is offering an anxious, exhausted nation something beyond policy or ideology. His campaign is rooted in steadiness, experience, compassion and decency.”

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

ITEM #2 – Legal scholar and former Department of Justice attorney Mary McCord depicts the growing threat posed to our democracy by private militias …

“Twenty-five states prohibit teaching, demonstrating or practicing in the use of firearms or ‘techniques’ capable of causing injury or death for use during a civil disorder. Eighteen states prohibit either the false assumption of the duties of public officials, including law-enforcement officials, or the wearing of uniforms similar to military uniforms. All these laws point to a single conclusion: There is no right in any state for groups of individuals to arm themselves and organize either to oppose or augment the government. Now, more than ever, state and local officials must enforce these statutes. In battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as other hotbeds of militia activity like Oregon, Idaho, Virginia and Texas, they must ready themselves for unlawful private militias showing up at the polls and on the streets during ballot counting and beyond.”

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

ITEM #3 – A compelling, comprehensive video review of Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, titled “American Pathogen” …

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Current Comment is a twice-weekly feature of The Liberal Buddhist, published on Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings (Eastern time). Whenever a regularly scheduled posting date is missed, the edition posted on the next scheduled date will include all articles that would have been listed in the missed date’s edition.

And, of course, The Liberal Buddhist continues to feature original essays of political, literary, and cultural commentary – all viewed through the lens of Buddhist ethics and liberal philosophy.

Not yet following The Liberal Buddhist? Just click the “Follow” button at the top of the sidebar on the right, and you won’t miss a single edition of Current Comment, nor the occasional original posting.

See you again in a few days. Until then, please take care of yourself, and stay well …

Current Comment #2

A twice-weekly compendium of political opinion worth pondering.

October 3rd ~ October 6th, 2020

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Opening comment – The first two items below – both written on the day President Trump was admitted to Walter Reed hospital for treatment of the coronavirus, and both cautiously but optimistically raising the prospect that he, and the American public, might as a result adopt a more healthy respect for the risks from coronavirus – have been rendered somewhat obsolete by the subsequent irresponsible and reckless behavior of the president during and subsequent to his hospitalization. Nonetheless, they remain worthwhile reading for the hopeful and sensible ideas contained within each. The third and last item, also written on the day of Trump’s hospital admission, turns out to be a more presciently pessimistic forecast of the president’s disappointing words and actions.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

ITEM #1 – New York Times opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof urges a sensible and responsible response to Trump’s bout with the coronavirus …

“Let’s learn from the president’s infection. Let’s make this a wake-up call that leads to mask-wearing and social distancing, saving lives. Mask-wearing lags in the United States compared with some other countries, particularly among men. A poll suggests that many American men see mask-wearing as wimpish, ‘a sign of weakness.’ Likewise, some Americans seem to believe that avoiding masks is a measure of freedom. No, it’s a measure of decency, altruism and responsible behavior.” 

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

ITEM #2 – New York Times opinion columnist Maureen Dowd expresses hope that Trump’s coronavirus experience will change, if not the president’s own misguided behavior and views, at least perhaps the behavior and views of some of his followers …

“As president, [Trump] has created a bubble within his bubble, keeping out science and anything that made him look bad. He has played a dangerous game of alchemizing wishes to facts, pretending that he was a strong leader, pretending that the virus will magically disappear and that it ‘affects virtually nobody,’ pretending that we don’t have to wear masks, pretending that dicey remedies could work, pretending that the vaccine is right around the corner. Now, in a moment that feels biblical, the implacable virus has come to his door. This was the week when many of the president’s pernicious deceptions boomeranged on him. It’s impossible to know how — or even whether — this illness will change the president. But hopefully it will change his skeptical followers and make them realize that this vicious microbe really is contagious, that President Trump is not invulnerable and that therefore they are not either, that crowding together at rallies is not smart, that wearing a mask is important, and that it’s not all going to disappear like a miracle.”

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

The New Yorker’s editor David Remnick points to the grave consequences for the entire country as a result of Trump’s continued refusal to follow the recommendations of his administration’s health advisors, and since his hospitalization for the coronavirus, of his own physicians as well …

“The contrast between Trump’s airy dismissals of the pandemic’s severity and the profound pain and anxiety endured by so many Americans has helped define the era in which we live. As President and as a candidate for reëlection, Trump should not count on the silencing of American citizens—on a deference that he has never shown to the people whom he swore to protect and has not. Because of his ineptitude and his deceit, because he has encouraged a culture of heedlessness about the wearing of masks and a lethal disrespect for scientific fact, he bears a grave responsibility for what has happened in this country. The President is obsessed with menaces—posed by shadowy members of a ‘deep state,’ by ‘the radical left,’ by foreigners of all sorts. But the gravest menace to public health and public order has come from within the White House. So long as Trump holds office, no manner of quarantine will suffice to contain it.”

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/10/12/the-coronavirus-and-the-threat-within-the-white-house

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Closing comment – If you are already a follower of The Liberal Buddhist, you may expect to receive Current Comment postings on a regular twice-weekly schedule – Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings (Eastern time). Whenever a regularly scheduled posting date is missed, the edition posted on the next scheduled date will include all articles that would have been listed in the missed date’s edition. And, of course, you can still expect to receive the occasional blogpost of my own thoughts on both domestic and global issues of concern viewed through the lens of Buddhist ethics and liberal political philosophy.

If you are not yet a follower of The Liberal Buddhist and would like to receive future editions of Current Comment as well as original posts, just click the “Follow” button at the top of the sidebar on the right.

See you again in a few days with the next edition of Current Comment. Until then, please take care of yourself, and stay well …

Current Comment #1

A twice-weekly compendium of political opinion worth pondering. This edition covers the period from September 29th through October 2nd, 2020.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

ITEM #1 – New York Times opinion columnist Thomas Friedman explains in no uncertain terms why we should all be extremely alarmed at the prospect of another four years of Trump …

“I can’t say this any more clearly: Our democracy is in terrible danger — more danger than it has been since the Civil War, more danger than after Pearl Harbor, more danger than during the Cuban missile crisis and more danger than during Watergate. The Republicans have fallen in line lock step behind a man who is the most dishonest, dangerous, mean-spirited, divisive and corrupt person to ever occupy the Oval Office. And they know it. Four more years of Trump’s divide and rule will destroy our institutions and rip the country apart.”

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

ITEM #2 – New York Times opinion columnist Frank Bruni points out some useful lessons we can draw from Trump’s having tested positive for the coronavirus …

“The most obvious [lesson] is that the coronavirus has not gone away and there is no guarantee, contrary to the president’s sunny prophecies, that it’s going away anytime soon, certainly not if we’re cavalier about it. Which brings up another moral, also obvious but apparently necessary to articulate: There is a real risk in being cavalier. The president is now the embodiment of that. It is time, at long last, to learn. To be smarter. To be safer. To be more responsible, to others as well as to ourselves. The way to treat President Trump’s diagnosis is as a turning point and a new start. This is when we woke up.”

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

ITEM #3 – New York Magazine columnist Jonathan Chait examines Trump’s responsibility for his own positive diagnosis, as well as for the more than seven million cases in the country so far …

“As coronavirus victims go, Donald Trump is as far from innocent as you can get. [He] is deeply culpable not only for the national response to the pandemic but his own condition. Trump’s heedlessness of contagion was a predominant theme of his campaign. The president denied the seriousness of the pandemic from the outset. His campaign was a visual affirmation of his claim that the virus would disappear, that hardly anybody is affected, that the “lockdowns” are a plot by Democrats to sabotage his reelection.  The truth is that Trump’s positive diagnosis is more evidence of his own incompetence and unfitness for office. The pandemic he did almost nothing to contain has finally come home.”

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/10/trump-coronavirus-positive-test-rallies-biden-masks-circles-social-distancing.html?utm_source=tw

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Closing comment – If you are already a follower of The Liberal Buddhist, you may expect to receive Current Comment postings on a regular twice-weekly schedule – Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. Whenever a regularly scheduled posting date is missed, the edition posted on the next scheduled date will include all articles that would have been listed in the missed date’s edition. And, of course, you can still expect to receive the occasional blogpost of my own thoughts on both domestic and global issues of concern viewed through the lens of Buddhist ethics and liberal political philosophy.

If you are not yet a follower of The Liberal Buddhist and would like to receive future editions of Current Comment as well as original posts, just click the “Follow” button at the top of the sidebar on the right.

See you again in a few days with the next edition of Current Comment. Until then, please take care of yourself, and stay well …

Announcing “Current Comment” …

… a new, twice-weekly feature of The Liberal Buddhist blog.

Designed in the increasingly popular format of an email newsletter, posts in the Current Comment series will highlight a few selected essays of political commentary that I’ve read during the most recent three and half days. Each item included will consist of three parts:

  1. A sentence or two from me, introducing the topic and identifying the author and/or source.
  2. An excerpt from the essay, quoting (and, in some cases, eliding) one or two paragraphs that particularly resonated with me.
  3. A link to the full text of the essay.

Here’s a sample illustrating how two recent opinion pieces would be featured in a Current Comment post:

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

(1) New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wonders, and worries, about where Trump is leading the country as election day approaches …

“We’re in terrible danger. Make no mistake. This country, already uncivil, is on the precipice of being ungovernable, because its institutions are being so profoundly degraded, because its partisanship is so all-consuming, and because Trump, who rode those trends to power, is now turbocharging them to drive America into the ground. ‘Tribal,’ ‘identity politics,’ ‘fake news’ and ‘hoax’ are now mainstays of our vocabulary, indicative of a world where facts and truth are suddenly relative. Yes, there were conspiracy theories and there was viciously ugly feuding before, but there were no Facebook or Twitter to accelerate the sorting of people into ideological cliques and to pour accelerant on the fires of their suspicion and resentment. Those fires are burning hot, with dire implications for what happens after Nov. 3.”

(2) The editors of The New Yorker endorse Joe Biden for president …

“It would surely be a relief simply to have a President who is not a chronic liar, someone who doesn’t abuse the office as a colossal grift. It would be a relief to have a President who is reflexively devoted to democratic institutions and refuses to make common cause with white nationalists, QAnon, and other inhabitants of the lunatic fringe. [Biden] has the capacity to convey genuineness and fellow-feeling to a wide range of Americans. At his best, Biden has the potential to appeal to the country in an emotionally honest way that might help to engender a greater sense of social cohesion, compassion, and mutual respect.”

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/10/05/the-new-yorker-endorses-a-biden-presidency

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

If you are already a follower of The Liberal Buddhist, you may expect to receive notification of the first Current Comment posting early in October 2020. Thereafter, future editions will be posted on a regular twice-weekly schedule – Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. Whenever a regularly scheduled posting date is missed, the edition posted on the next scheduled date will include all articles that would have been listed in the missed date’s edition.

If you are not yet a follower of The Liberal Buddhist and would like to receive future editions of Current Comment, just click the “Follow” button at the top of the sidebar on the right.

Hoping you’ll find this new feature useful, and see you in a few days with the first edition of Current Comment.

Stay well …

Engaged Buddhism in This Time of Pandemic (3)

This is the third in an open-ended series of posts exploring some of the principle teachings of Buddhism for insights into how we might conduct our lives more skillfully during these challenging times of the coronavirus pandemic. For an overview of the entire projected series, please see the first entry.

 

The Three Characteristics (“Marks”) of Existence:

(2) Unsatisfactoriness

There are three characteristics (frequently referred to as “marks” in traditional Buddhist texts) that are said to fully describe the nature of our human existence – impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and no-self.  While each of them is present to some degree in just about any given circumstance, it seems to me that all three of them are manifesting in particularly unique and unmistakable ways in the current conditions that we are collectively living through during the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are some thoughts on the second of these three characteristics – unsatisfactoriness. (And, in case you’re interested in the first characteristic, impermanence, but missed that post, you can read it here.)

*          *          *          *          *

The characteristic of unsatisfactoriness brings us face-to-face with the root teaching of Buddhism, the fact of suffering (often referred to as “dukkha”, the Pali word used in the canon of ancient written texts upon which all contemporary Buddhist teachings are based).  It is reported in these writings that the historical Buddha said near the end of his life that, throughout his forty-five years as a wandering teacher, he had taught only two things: suffering, and the cessation of suffering.

It also seems to be the case that he defined suffering, or dukkha, in two very distinct ways: one of them describing a general, universal kind of suffering; and the other one describing a specific, individual kind of suffering.  The definitive description of the first kind of suffering – the universal type – comes from this often-quoted passage in the Pali literature where, having been asked by a follower what constitutes suffering, the Buddha purportedly answered “Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering; sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; association with the loathed is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering”.

The second kind of suffering – the individual type – refers to how each of us finds our own unique way of “adding on” to the first kind through our reactive habits of grasping after everything that we find pleasurable and pushing away anything that we find displeasurable.  We might think of this individual kind of dukkha as “invited suffering” – something that we bring upon ourselves almost (but not quite) willingly, a dukkha that is potentially avoidable.

Since this second kind of suffering is dealt with at great length in the Buddhist teachings concerning the second and third “noble truths”, and since in the near future I plan to discuss the four noble truths as part of this continuing series, I shall hold off further consideration of “invited suffering” until then.

For now, we will keep our focus on the first, universal kind of dukkha (old age, illness, death, etc.), which we can think of as “uninvited suffering” – something inflicted upon us by the very nature of existence, almost always against our wills, a dukkha that is completely unavoidable.  And there is probably no better contemporary example of unavoidable, uninvited suffering than the current coronavirus pandemic.

One could, of course, argue about just how unavoidable the pandemic itself was – given the various, possibly more effective public health and safety measures that might have been taken by the governments of all the countries that have been affected.  But remember that here we are considering not the pandemic itself, but rather the suffering caused by the pandemic.

This suffering – by the ones who have fallen ill, by the families and friends who have lost loved ones to the virus, by the health care providers working under extreme conditions of duress and danger to themselves, by those deemed “essential workers” risking their own health and safety to meet the pubic’s need for food and groceries and other critical supplies, by the elderly and infirm living in extreme social isolation, by the needy and homeless living in extreme desperation, and by just about every single one of us dealing as best we can with our fears and anxieties about the future – this massive amount of suffering all across the globe can surely be described as universal, unavoidable, and uninvited.

A fundamental teaching of Buddhism is that we should always look not to the actual event that’s causing us to suffer, but to the ways in which we are experiencing that event.  And for many of us, experiencing this pandemic involves such unpleasant emotions as frustration, boredom, anger, worry, fear, anxiety.  Right here is where we can begin an inquiry into what suffering – dukkha – might teach us about living more skillfully in this time of pandemic.

One of the principle features of the suffering being caused by this pandemic – alluded to in the list compiled two paragraphs above – is its massive, universal nature.  By keeping that in mind as we take note of our own individual (and especially our own negative) responses to the pandemic, we can also take note of how many countless others are suffering right along with us.  Going one step further, we can also take note of how many of these countless others are suffering to a much grater degree than we are.

When we adopt this expansive view of all the suffering, and of all the greater degrees of suffering, that are occurring outside the narrow confines of our own limited experience – when we truly take it all in – we cannot help but to begin experiencing a deep sense of compassion for the vast number of individuals across the globe who have been afflicted in far worse ways than we ourselves have by this unexpected, uninvited suffering.

The experience of compassion, as defined in the Buddhist tradition, necessarily includes the desire to somehow help to alleviate the suffering that’s arousing our compassion.  In the case of this current pandemic, the ways to help are practically infinite.  Just about every one of us knows of at least one person (and probably quite a few more than that) in need of some kind of emotional support or physical assistance.

Whoever the person, whatever their need, there has never been a better time than now for each of us to reach out to those persons and to offer whatever help we’re able to provide.

There has never been a better time than now, in the midst of this pandemic, for each of us to meet the universal unsatisfactoriness of existence with an unstinting personal practice of compassion, both for ourselves and most especially for others.

Stay well, everyone …

The next post in this series will focus on the third of the three characteristics of existence – no-self.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Engaged Buddhism in This Time of Pandemic (2)

This is the second in an open-ended series of posts exploring some of the principle teachings of Buddhism for insights into how we might conduct our lives more skillfully during these challenging times of the coronavirus pandemic. For an overview of the entire projected series, please see the first entry.

 

The Three Characteristics (“Marks”) of Existence:

(1) Impermanence

There are three characteristics (frequently referred to as “marks” in traditional Buddhist texts) that are said to fully describe the nature of our human existence – impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and no-self.  While each of them is present to some degree in just about any given circumstance, it seems to me that all three of them are manifesting in particularly unique and unmistakable ways in the current conditions that we are collectively living through during the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are some thoughts on the first of these three characteristics – impermanence.

*          *          *          *          *

While we all know that things are always changing, and that nothing lasts forever, we often act as if we didn’t know.  We do so, of course, for the very good reason that, on a day-to-day basis, the persons, places, and things that were there in our lives yesterday are usually still there today, and (we can reasonably presume) will still be there tomorrow. We rely on this day-to-day continuity for our ongoing sense of identity and purpose.  In its absence, our lives would be chaotic beyond imagining.

The mistake we typically make, though, is to conflate this essential aspect of continuity with the erroneous attribution of permanence.  We naturally expect things to continue on a daily basis as we’ve become accustomed to, because that’s been our lifelong experience.  But our presumption that this will remain the case indefinitely into the future is in fact just that – a presumption.  And this presumption flies in the face of the first characteristic of our existence, the impermanence of all things.

On the first day of social distancing and stay-at-home directives, we awoke to find that so much that we take for granted as permanent features of our experience – commuting to our jobs, seeing our kids off to school, shopping for groceries, dining at a favorite restaurant, taking a stroll through the park, visiting with friends – could practically vanish into thin air, like so many random pieces of paper blown out an open window by a sudden unexpected gust of wind.

Today, more than one month into this new normal, we have an opportunity to reflect upon the tenuous nature of our mistaken sense of continuity-as-permanence, and to correct that erroneous perception with a newfound awareness that every aspect of our experience is ultimately impermanent.

Such an awareness would not only put us in better alignment with Buddhism’s first characteristic of existence, but would also almost certainly change for the better how we experience life going forward.  Imagine what it might be like if, instead of thoughtlessly presuming that whatever it is we’re enjoying today will automatically be there for us again tomorrow, we took the more thoughtful attitude of appreciating today’s experience all the more because we know much better than to simply presume that it will still be there for us tomorrow.  Hopefully, of course, it will.  But now we would know that, perhaps, it won’t.

Embracing the characteristic of impermanence in this deep and lasting fashion would, I think, enhance our experience of every present moment – including each of the very challenging moments we are living through, and enduring, right now.

Stay well, everyone …

The next post in this series will focus on the second of the three characteristics of existence – unsatisfactoriness.

 

Engaged Buddhism in This Time of Pandemic (1)

Under normal circumstances, most of the essays I post on this blog focus on some current event or situation in contemporary American politics, which I then attempt to examine through the lens of Buddhist teachings, with the hope that whatever light passes through that lens might usefully illuminate the issue at hand.

Of course, we are currently living under anything but normal circumstances, and while I, like many others, have pushed political matters further and further away into the background of my daily concerns, I’ve begun to notice with each passing day that I’m pulling those Buddhist teachings closer and closer into the foreground of my concerns.

In particular, I find myself thinking about what a socially engaged Buddhism has to offer with regard to the social behaviors being asked of us during the pandemic. What insights can it provide through such traditional teachings as the three marks of existence, the four noble truths, the five remembrances, and the eightfold path?  And what particular forms do the essential Buddhist virtues of generosity, compassion, and wisdom take on in the throes of this pandemic?

Over the next few weeks, I plan to write exclusively on this topic.  Each post will explore some aspect of living in these days of the coronavirus pandemic through the lens of one of the above sets of Buddhist teachings.

I’ve long believed that, even in normal times, Buddhism has much to teach us about how we can live together more skillfully.  Now, in these anything-but-normal times, I suspect that what Buddhism has to offer is of more value than ever.

Stay well, everyone …

The next post in this series will focus on the first of the three characteristics of existence – impermanence.