Saturday, January 30, 2016

Speech, Safe and Not-Safe - an alternative position

In response to my previous posting regarding speech and limits on speech, an interesting article with a different approach, by Liel Lebovitz, author of "Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen," was passed on to me.

Below is an excerpt that has his essential points, with a link to the full article following:

"...some of my dearest friends and many others I greatly admire and respect—signed up to join Open Hillel’s academic advisory board, supporting the nascent organization’s commitment to allowing even Israel’s fiercest critics to speak in front of Jewish groups on campus, something that Hillel itself opposes. Too often, this debate between Hillels, open and otherwise, is portrayed as a referendum on free speech and tolerance, with the parent organization accused of blocking out difficult and unpalatable opinions rather than having the courage to listen, reason, and discuss. The truth, however, is grimmer and more difficult to resolve. 

Hillel’s refusal to allow BDS activists to address its members isn’t an act of censorship—one, after all, hardly lacks safe spaces for Israeli-hating on college campuses these days—but the rational, even obvious, course of action. Just as you wouldn’t expect a gay student group to invite a practitioner of gay conversion therapy to give a talk, say, or a black student group to welcome a white supremacist arguing for the reversal of Brown v. Board of Education, so you shouldn’t be surprised when a Jewish student group refuses to let in those who ignore all of the world’s evils and all of Israel’s virtues to insist that Palestinian nationalism be lauded while its Jewish counterpart be banned.

Why, then, do so many smart, sensible people solidly support Open Hillel? Maybe because sensible and smart folks have a very hard time dealing in absolutes. To declare that something is irredeemably evil and something else good is a failure not only of the imagination but also of the moral instinct, which, like every good compass, is only worth a damn if it is able to capture the tiniest shifts in direction.

All this is true until, sadly, it is not: There are some moments, rare and arduous, in which our survival depends on our ability to clearly tell black from white. These moments offer little nuance, a dearth of depth, none of the pleasures a well-trained mind expects when it inspects the folds of a complex situation. These moments don’t call for disquisitions; they demand action, a decisive move that defines us against those who wish us real ill. This is why we oughtn’t indulge supporters of the BDS movement in dialogue but fight them with any means at our disposal...."

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Safe and Not-Safe

In relation to my Dharma Talk "Safe Way" (1-16-16)
I found the following blog post exploring the notions and consequences of seeking "Safe Spaces" timely. There are several significant points in relation to my earlier Freedom of Thought, Freedom from Thought   5/22/15 and Freedom of Thought, Freedom from Thought Part 2   5/23/15.

Here are a few excerpts and a link to the author's blog:

"The most striking thing about Safe Spaces on campus is how unsafe they are. How hostile and even violent they are towards anyone who has unpopular views, or who simply believes people should have the right to express unpopular views....

As one student union in Britain puts it, they’re spaces in which students must be “free from intimidation or judgement” and should always “feel comfortable”. These spaces are justified in inoffensive, Oprah-like language: it’s all about providing a space in which people can be themselves without fear of ridicule.

But in practice, Safe Spaces are ugly, authoritarian places. They’re propped up by menace. They’re fortified by a simmering threat of force against any transgressors of the new cult of psychic safety and moral conformism....

That Safe Spaces can generate so much unsafety is revealing. It exposes the iron fist of authoritarianism that lurks within the velvet glove of the self-esteem movement. It exposes the dark side to the cult of therapy and the idea that an individual’s feeling of self-worth should override other people’s right to express themselves as they see fit.

The motor of campus censorship is a profound feeling of psychic vulnerability among students. They see everything as a threat to their mental security. Statues of old dead white men, novels that feature sexual violence, pop songs… everything is considered potentially wounding.

This is best summed up in the idea of microaggressions, where even innocent, everyday conversation is reframed as a peril....

Yes, we should mock these little tyrants who fantasise that their feelings should trump other people’s freedom. But we must go further than that. We must remake the case for robust individualism and the virtue of moral autonomy against the fashion for fragility; against the misanthropic view of people as objects shaped and damaged by speech rather than as active subjects who can independently imbibe, judge and make decisions about the speech they hear.

The Safe Space is a terrible trap. It grants you temporary relief from ideas you don’t like, but at the expense of your individuality, your soul even. If you try to silence unpopular ideas, you do an injustice both to those who hold those unpopular views, and also to yourself, through depriving yourself of the right and the joy of arguing back, taking on your opponents, and in the process strengthening your own mental and moral muscles. Liberate yourself — destroy the Safe Space."

Thursday, January 21, 2016


by Elihu Genmyo Smith

This moment ongoing changing is the perfect manifesting of myriad forces coming together as our life now.

Experiencing is yours right now – no one else’s. This perfection right now is all particular experiencing of this moment, including the “good fortune” to be born human, to encounter and be able to practice.

As we sit, as we practice, we may discover how often and how much we are confused by words. Misunderstanding words (whether our own or that of others), being misused by words or using words to misunderstand life, we can miss this life we are, miss this experiencing moment.

Despite hearing “life is perfect as is,” that this Buddha nature is who we are, we may connect perfection with what I like as opposed to don’t like, what happens in the way that I want it to happen as opposed to don’t want it to happen. We may add other connotations and ideas about perfection or perfect. We may believe that perfection excludes effort right now, activity right now.

Experiencing is intimacy; being intimacy is this moment zazen. Intimacy may be this fear which we want to escape, this comfort, this discomfort, being friends with hard-to-be, grueling and exhausting to be, friends with what want and with what do not want, with what is painful to be. Experiencing is “being friends” intimacy – zazen life intimacy.

Though life is always right here, many of us rarely are this, despite not being able to miss this. We may hold to reacting as habits of like, dislike, good, bad, mine and not-mine - and thereby miss this unmissable moment. Does fear, holding to fear, keep us from experiencing? Believing fear is not experiencing fear – and yet noticing believing fear is exactly the opportunity of experiencing, experiencing visceral intimacy, experiencing this fear. Not easy - but this is ours.

When holding to and reacting from stories, we may be living as if we are a separate self (“somewhat” fixed, permanent), living in opposition to “others” (“somewhat” fixed, permanent, separate). We live “I”, “me” and “mine”- with harmful consequences. We attach to particular positions and, being caught and entangled by these, deny and reject our life experiencing, not seeing or doing what life calls for. Do you see this in your life? We are unable or unwilling to experience what does not fit our positions, refusing this ongoing changing that is life now. Instead, we believe stories, believe theories and dreams, believe reactive habits, and in believing these, we do all sorts of things based on them which results in unsatifactoriness and harm. When you see this in your life, this is your practice effort opportunity.

Seeing “harmful” things that people do may make it difficult to embrace this moment, this life, as perfection. We run from this moment - and sometimes we run into stories and ideas about who is good and bad, what should and shouldn’t happen, or into theories of blame and explanations – judgments of self-other such as “they are communist, capitalist, they are radicals, conservatives, they are white, black, privileged, racist, Muslims, Evangelicals, Jews” - and use these to justify anger, hatred and harming. What judgments do you hold? Based on this what do you do? Who is holding these judgments?

This moment cause-effect is the perfect universe, our opportunity to do our best now. We may hold to blame or anger for the forces coming together as this life now. Believing blame and judgment, we miss this right now. How do you maintain the precepts of the perfection of life, of not elevating self and putting down others, of not speaking of the faults of others? What is living your boundless experiencing?
The perfection that is our life is this moment now exactly as it is. Is this so for you? Is this not so for you?

We are the forces manifesting our life, the life of all beings we encounter: rich, poor; healthy, sick; strong, weak; nice, mean; vicious, angry, kind. It is not necessary to know what they all are - and sometimes looking for these creates difficulties. Everyone, everything, these circumstances now, the very habits and reactions of greed anger and ignorance which we humans manifest and are blinded by, are perfect manifestations of cause-effect life, perfect manifestations of this ongoing change Buddha nature. And in perfection is the opportunity to actualize the wisdom-compassion we are, which is being human, skillful appropriate effort and actions. This is your many hands-and-eyes Bodhisattva life.

This minutely subtle dharma moment of myriad forces includes reacting now – and our capacity of noticing-experiencing, even experiencing problematic consequences. Doing what is called for is manifesting this bodhisattva compassion wisdom that is not-two life, is “improving” perfection, manifesting perfection.

Yours is acting in the midst of caught-up attachments – in the midst of being blinded and hindered by attachment or caught-upness, in the midst of arising theories, blame or justifications. Seeing what is called for right now is in the midst of life reactive habits and hang-ups, all the people and circumstances of this moment. It is not some idealized person. Forgetting self and manifesting this unborn Buddha is this moment opportunity.

“The perfect way knows no difficulty, just avoids picking and choosing,” (Xinxin Ming, “On Believing Mind,” attributed to the Third Ancestor Sēngcàn [Sosan in Japanese]).

This life perfection is only troubled in holding to likes and dislikes, holding to reactions to what is so, despite the perfection of likes and dislikes. Yes, there are reactions to illness that we “don’t want” or “deserve”; the words that we don’t want others to say but they say nevertheless, difficulties and violence locally, nationally or internationally.

We may find that this perfection is not okay with us. OK.

OK if we want it a certain way, if we don’t want it a certain way; if we want it not to change, if we want it to change, fine; and yet holding to those wants, getting entangled in those wants and reacting – right here is dukkha, unsatisfactoriness and suffering. And right here is experiencing hindering, including noticing-experiencing holding and wants. Where is this opportunity in your life? With whom? When? Here is your practice effort, your practice vow.

It is for each of us to notice this, to create and use these supports enabling us to live these particulars moment-moment life - with friends, family, co-workers and strangers.

Perfection is your life, our life. Forgetting this is the perfection of ongoing change, is cause-effect this moment universe. We forget it sometimes by justifying feeling-thoughts such as I don’t like it - and therefore I shouldn’t have it and so I can be angry, sad and so forth. No problems with these, with any attempted changes, no problems with likes and dislikes - except as they blind us, except as we hold to this justification for anger, harm, stress, fear. They are this ongoing change life, this universe which includes liking, not liking; happy about, unhappy about; fearful of what will be, especially fearful given that we fall apart in some ways that we don’t want to, encounter disappointment and what we do not want, illness of self or others, encounter death.

We make difficulty in resisting the perfection of changing circumstances, resist embracing the many aspects of small and big dying. Please use these, experiencing seeing, hearing, feeling. These are our zazen, our practice opportunity, allowing and opening to this nurturing moment, doing what is called for as our life.

We are not opening to something else or elsewhere. The perfect way knows no difficulty – difficulty is not difficulty, closing-up no problem. This moment perfection is not distant for us. This is not-two - exactly who we are; not-two, not separate from this moment. But if we use how I feel and don’t want to feel to miss life, use how I think, use what should or shouldn’t be to justify doing what causes harm, unsatisfactoriness and suffering for us and others, then we lose our life, lose our opportunity of skillfully manifesting the way, skillfully responding as this ongoing change.

So, be this perfection, the perfect way that is not difficult, that releases holding to likes and dislikes. Allow and be this coming-going moment conditions. Allow and manifest this spaciousness that you are – here is experiencing. This moment is the perfection of life way, the perfection of our encounters and actions. This appreciation moment is it. Take good care, serve and enjoy the perfection that you are, this intimacy now.

© 2016 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes - Who guards the people from the "guardian" governmental officials? An administrative board attempts to take away power from the voters and free speech from office holders.

The attempts by entrenched administrative governmental bodies (often non-elected appointed officials) to extend their public power, to abuse their positions in their own self-interest and that of their allies and to deny legal power to the voters is a topic I often share here.

 I would not believe a fictional work depicting the following, but here we have it:

"Last week the California Public Employment Relations Board nullified San Diego’s 2012 ballot referendum that replaced defined-benefit pensions with 401(k)-style retirement plans for new workers. Former Mayor Jerry Sanders and other city officials campaigned for the initiative, which was sponsored by private citizens and approved by two-thirds of voters.

Lo, the Public Employment Relations Board, which reviews unfair labor practice charges by government workers, ruled that the city had “breached its duty to meet and confer in good faith” (i.e., collectively bargain) with its unions. The board says the mayor was required to negotiate pension changes since his actions supporting the measure “were motivated at least in part by a purpose to serve the City.”                                                                                                                                                         In other words, because the referendum’s supporters were civic-minded, their civic-minded reform had to be approved by unions, not voters. Thus lawmakers have no right to lobby voters for reforms that cross government unions. But unions are free to petition voters to, say, raise taxes. If the board’s ruling holds, the initiative process would essentially be gutted for challenging any union-negotiated power. Hiram Johnson, the progressive who led the fight for the initiative process in California a century ago, wouldn’t recognize today’s anti-reform progressives."                                                                                                                             The rest of this article is here: