21 Comments
Mar 12·edited Mar 12Liked by Shikha Dalmia

As a person who's gay and raised in a Buddhist culture (Sri Lanka), I wish it had been more tolerable towards different sexual/gender orientations. Growing up all I could hear from monks (with regards to being gay) were that it's unnatural/sinful and goes against Buddhist code of ethics (specifically number 3 of the five precepts - Kāmesumicchācāra veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi).

Maybe it's because of a faulty understanding and perhaps influenced by the colonial era puritan culture under British rule. For me, personally, the path towards self acceptance came from western secular liberal values which I learned and embraced thanks to the internet. I think the embracement of diversity and pluralism which is central to the core of liberalism results in the celebration & *moral backing* of the aforementioned.

I also think If followers/preachers of Buddhism or any other religion don't get influenced by liberal values, they would often rationalize the religion in order to defend their intolerance or provide a half handed sympathy at best. For an example a Buddhist could say that we should be more sympathetic,kind & tolerable toward trans people because they were born that way as a result of karma/sins of the past lives. This is better than discrimination but lacks moral acceptance & backing. I think liberalism/liberal values provide that.

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This “pre-political sentiment” harmonizes beautifully with David French’s recent take on an insight of Jimmy Carter:

In “The Wisdom and Prophecy of Jimmy Carter’s ‘Malaise’ Speech”, columnist David French opines that:

“Carter’s central insight was that even if the country’s political branches could deliver peace and prosperity, they could not deliver community and belonging. Our nation depends on pre-political commitments to each other, and in the absence of those pre-political commitments, the American experiment is ultimately in jeopardy.”

Let sympathetic joy be the liberal order’s little engine that could.

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Mar 16Liked by Shikha Dalmia

While I like the idea of cultivating joy in other people's version of the good life when it differs from mine, I think requiring it as part of liberalism actually weakens liberalism.

To me the important part of liberalism is that it is completely opposed to our intuition, our feelings, our baser human nature. For example, I should support free speech for Nazis, even if I think their speech is harmful, terrible, and an affront. This piece seems to argue that I should be supporting free speech for Nazis because I should be happy for them that they are pursuing their life goals according to their own metric. That weakens the idea of rights even for people I hate.

To put this another way, some human beings are always going to hate other human beings, sometimes for good reason. I would rather have a rule that says "rights even for those you hate" rather than a rule that says "don't hate anyone". "Rights even for those you hate" seems to align much better with the realities of human nature. I prefer that than trying to tell myself that all pursuits of happiness are equally likely to turn out well.

This discussion kind of reminds me of the tendency on the left to say that Elon Musk is dumb and only wealthy because of his father. In reality, Elon Musk can simultaneously be doing stupid things, be a terrible person, and also be smart and earned some of the wealth through his own actions. It seems like the left wants to simplify in this case, but it doesn't need to. Smart people can do dumb stuff. Wealthy people can have ill-gotten and well-gotten gains. We don't need to simplify, and this kind of simplification causes us to be wrong about the world in ways that will cause us to err in future predictions.

I really want to keep the rule "rights even for those you hate". If we want to work on not hating people, that's great, but I definitely do not want to weaken the principle by turning it into "rights for everyone because I should appreciate their pursuit of happiness even if it is awful". I think that's beyond the reach of most, and honestly I'm not sure it is desirable. I think it's good for me not to like a Nazi's pursuit of happiness.

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Oh, dear, even "gentle" Buddhists can't resist taking lazy and dishonest swipes at Ayn Rand. In any case, I do agree that we should celebrate when other people are happy, as long as their happiness is not maintained by force or fraud. We're going to need more intellectual rigor to preserve a liberal society, though. No populist says, "Hey, let's go violate someone's individual rights, and then go out for a beer!". They usually couch their message in altruistic terms: someone's individual rights need to be sacrificed for the greater good. I'm no expert on Buddhism, but I don't think it's up to the task of confronting altruism.

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Nicely stated, and if I have any points of disagreement, they are minor.

"This can be true even if what makes another happy we find personally distasteful. (A critical point, for example, in the anti-transgender moral panic on the right.)"

Most of what you are calling "moral panic" is, to my view, not a wish for others to be unhappy, but merely a wish for them not to force their way into someone else's changing room or sports team. I don't care if a man wants to pretend he's woman, but I don't want my daughter to be forced to compete with him or leave her sport altogether.

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Mr. Powell, EVERY regime MUST enforce some set of values shared by the community. Your proposal simply tries to dilute a set of legally hardened "creedal" set of values into a dishwater meaninglessness, which you call "goodwill or sympathetic joy," which is nothing but butterflies and unicorns.

The problem today is that the humane ideals once championed by liberals as universal are in fact NOT universal. Is there anything more basic than the value of family? And yet your shower of flowers formula explicitly embraces "transgenderism," which is a farcical assault on the very concept of family; under your prescription we are supposed to cherish values that are "actually harmful, even violently so, to others." This is vacuous nonsense.

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Mr. Powell, EVERY regime MUST enforce some set of values shared by the community. Your proposal simply tries to dilute a set of legally hardened "creedal" set of values into a dishwater meaninglessness, which you call "goodwill or sympathetic joy," which is nothing but butterflies and unicorns.

The problem today is that the humane ideals once championed by liberals as universal are in fact NOT universal. Is there anything more basic than the value of family? And yet your shower of flowers formula explicitly embraces "transgenderism," which is a farcical assault on the very concept of family; under your prescription we are supposed to cherish values that are "actually harmful, even violently so, to others." This is vacuous nonsense.

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Mar 11·edited Mar 11

This all ties back into what you consider harmful. Many religious people would view being sexually active as harmful for both the individual and the community (dignitary harm). It is the same with abortion; it seems like a much easier case. One is viewed as quite literally killing someone else without cause.The debates eventually boil down to different philosophies which have been argued over for tens of thousands of years. We still have the same debates today over free will or morality that we had 100 years ago or 1000 years ago. One can engage in philosophical debates until the cows come home though. A community needs to make a decision on which one they will follow even if it hasn't been fully worked out. If one looks hard enough you can find contradictions and incoherences in all worldviews, whether that be a conservative christian or a liberal one. Christians have the trinity and the liberal have the problem of squaring consciousness and morality in a worldview which is inhospitable to both. Facsists have to square a worldview which obsesses with order in a world which is disorderly. A liberal and a religious person will agree that one should celebrate diversity and take happiness in other people's lives even if we hate what they like but disagree about what harmful means or what are exact instances of harm. To avoid this it would seem that people need to have a deep and far reaching sameness which is incompatible with difference or diversity that liberals are advocating. The best one could have is boutique pluralism.

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Nonsense. But sounds . . . kewl.

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Thanks for this, Aaron. If "sympathetic joy" is a concept from Buddhist that is more specific than is implied merely by "goodwill", does that suggest there's a Pali word for it, and if so, what is it?

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