Sunday, February 22, 2009

Meditation Observations: Remembered Dreams and Watching the Breath

I practise meditation in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism. This, to use a really bad analogy, is sort of like the Catholicism of Buddhism. It's the oldest surviving school of early Indian Buddhism and, consequently, the most conservative of all Buddhist schools in existence today. The differences between all these different schools are great and fascinating, but that's not what this post is about.

The reason I mention this all is because in my tradition of practise, there are basically two standard types of meditation: samatha and vipassana. These translate (roughly) as "calming" and "clear-seeing" and they have two different though complimentary aims. Samatha, as one might guess, is all about calming the mind and learning to focus undistractedly upon the object of attention (typically the sensations of breathing around the nostrils or in the abdomen). This is very helpful for vipassana, which is the attempt to see, precisely and in real-time, the arising, abiding, and passing away of everything that presents itself to us. Of course, these two types of meditation overlap each other seeing as it is impossible to focus clearly on an object without noticing it changing and vice versa.

But for now, I have been focusing on samatha meditation. Since November, I've been (trying) to do an hour every day, but even if I cannot get an hour in I never miss a day entirely. Fifteen minutes is better than none. It can be really rough at first but after a while you get used to it and actually start to look forward to your daily sit. It's calming and you feel more clear when you do it. It's a lot like brushing your teeth except for your brain.

Anyway, as of late I've been noticing two interesting things about my meditation and how its going:

Firstly, I've noticed that when I meditate soon after I wake up, I recall dreams that I suspect I would not have otherwise. I often don't recall my dreams so this is cool.

Secondly, I've noticed I'm actually paying attention to the sensations of the breath. This might sound weird, 'cause the basic instruction for meditation is "sit down and watch the sensations of the breath at the nostrils." But it's true. As of late I am becoming more and more aware of the fact that although I was trying to follow those instructions before, I wasn't really. While I thought that what I was doing was watching the breath what I was really up to was thinking about watching the breath. But not in words so much. It's hard to explain but it seems like before the physical sensations were mixed up with some purely mental something but now I'm perceiving each independently. I don't know how to describe it better. Anyway, I am very happy about this realization, 'cause I figure it means I'm making some sort of progress. Yaaaaaayhe!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I, Buddhist

I feel like I have to come clean. I mean, in my very first post (my first real one, anyway) I trashed the idea of God, the afterlife, et al. I mean, yeah, I don't believe in that crap but this isn't to say that I'm completely devoid of any interest in things *ahem* spiritual (if I must use that term). I have my views on the big questions of life, death, the universe and everything, and if I'm going to trash other people's deeply held views, I suppose I ought to present my own. So in this vein, I'm gonna come clean and tell you what I think and what I do. In later posts I'll tell you about the things that people think I think and think I do which I neither think nor do.

Of course, if anyone actually read this blog and paid any attention to the sidebars, they might have already guessed that I'm a Buddhist. Yes, it is true, a Buddhist am I. I imagine most people know what that means but I also imagine that I'm the mostest* awesomest guy in the world and everyone likes me. Since that's manifestly untrue, a brief account of what I think.

The basic idea is this. There is a fundamental dis-ease to life. Most of the time we're trying to cover it up, but it's always there in the background, buzzing around your ears like a mosquito when you're trying to fall asleep at night. This dis-ease is called dukkha. Anyway, the reason it exists is because we're fundamentally confused about the way reality is. Basically, everything that we know, everything we love and hate is constantly coming together and falling apart. Impermanence is the name of the game, but we don't know that. Nope, we believe that things are permanent, stable, unchanging (including ourselves). Hence, we think that things (including our selves) will make us happy in a way that is permanent, stable, unchanging. This doesn't work. As a result of the disconnect between the way reality is and the way we believe it to be, deep down inside, dukkha comes to be. It's sort of like swimming upstream.

Therefore, the way to lead a truly happy life is to get rid of dukkha. This is done via the practise of meditation. Basically, we sit around for hours on end trying to directly perceive the utter transience of all phenomena as they arise, abide, and pass away, all in real-time. Simply thinking about it won't work, simply hearing the fact of impermanence doesn't end dukkha, or else you'd already have become enlightened reading this blog post! No, it's a deep belief, this belief in permanence. It's so deep and fundamental that we can't even recognize that we believe it. It's just how the world appears to us. So we practise meditation frequently, every day and try to perceive every sensation, every thought, every single thing arise and pass away.

And at some point, if we've been diligent and done the work, maybe we'll be one of those lucky enough to get it. We perceive the universe for what it really is and how it's really working and we just drop the dukkha like a hot coal. We just get that the universe is constantly changing and nothing's permanent and we stop fighting the way things are and live our lives without that added discomfort.

That's basically it. Everything else (like belief in rebirth, karma, psychic powers, etc.) has just been added on for one reason or another, maybe to appeal to some audience, maybe just because people couldn't be done with those superstitions. But they're really not necessary to practise and they're quite tangental to the truth of things and I don't ascribe much importance to them.

But I'll get to those items in other posts. Indeed, I plan on touching on all the crap that Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike like to believe they must believe about Buddhism (some of which is really funny). And I'll expound further on my views.

Until then.

* I call this grammatical structure a hyperlative. Yes, I have created a new application of the English language. Who's gonna stop me?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Long Time, No Blog

So it's been what, a year, approximately? Got busy with work, etc., and found I didn't have all that much time to do this stuff any more. Then the economy crashed. Yaaaaayhye! At least I'm still employed, albeit doing something different than I was a year ago. But I should have more time to get things like this done, methinks. I've been feeling stale lately, and I figure that this will be of some use to me. Not that anyone actually reads anything I put up here anyway. Ha. But that's not really the point, is it?

Oh well. Expect more soon.



Saturday, April 12, 2008

Alma Matters

I am so ashamed right now. Last Friday night at my alma mater, the University of British Columbia, a group of some hundred students staging a "protest" of a proposed campus development plan became involved in an altercation with police, resulting in the arrest of nineteen. At present, these students are calling this a "police brutality incident" and are rumoured to be considering going to the BC Human Rights Commission to seek some sort of inquest or redress. The police have issued a statement saying the protestors turned violent and resisted arrest. One protestors says "nuh uh, it was peaceful, man, they're violating our right to protest, myaaaan!" Is our stony friend right? Were his rights to peaceful protest violated?

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms describes those rights which are inalienable to all people fortunate enough to find themselves in Canada. Those described include the right to free speech, the right to equality before the law and, of course, the right to stage peaceful demonstrations. Nowhere does this venerable document enshrine (let alone describe) the citizen's right to get drunk and light a fire. Make no mistake; this was not an example of principled, disciplined social action. It mas merely social. (And in the shadows a little ways away, there was probably some action happening too. Giggity.)

So to respond to my stony friend... Nah, brah.

It's not really surprising that when you start one big, hella dangerous looking bonfire in the middle of a public thoroughfare, without a permit, the fire department is gonna show up pretty quick to put it out. It's also not all that surprising that the cops will show up too (it is after all, illegal to start a big fire without a permit). Also, one shouldn't be surprised that when someone tries to stop the fire department from putting out a dangerous, illegal fire, the police will exercise their authority to facilitate the putting out of said bonfire. Especially if you're acting like a bunch of drunk yahoos.

And what better a cause to act so stupidly about than the knoll?

Still, weren't the protestors' rights being curtailed? Weren't the police there because the protest was being shut down by the university or the government? Weren't the police there to serve and protect the interests of the global corporotocracy?

No. They were there because they received a call about an illegal bonfire and a bunch of public rowdiness. They were there because a very reasonable and just law (burning permits) had been broken and because the fire department would require their help to deal with the crowd.

But what about the alleged police brutality?

Now we didn't see what events took place immediately before we see the protestor being handcuffed on the ground. But I'm going to guess that this individual wasn't standing aside, being a completely harmless law abiding citizen. I would imagine that this person was probably being less than polite to the police. And so far as I can tell (from the video and the news) there was no baton, pepper spray, or taser involved. Just a little wrestling in the mud. Because this is how the police handle intransigent individuals, those who don't say "oh yes, officer, here you go, I'll just put my hands behind my head now."

Simple fact; if you resist arrest (which includes squirming) they will do what they need to do to subdue you. I once had an experience with the law. Someone had stolen an eighteen wheeler, been chased by cruisers, ditched the thing and ran for it through my neighbourhood. Unfortunately for me, I was walking home from my then girlfriend's house. The police had dogs and guns drawn when they found me they mistook me for a fleeing suspect (whom they expected to be armed). Anyway, one officer had me pinned to the ground (under his knee) while another was cuffing me, while a third read me my rights. I did not resist arrest and was not injured.

There's a lesson there. The police mistook me for an armed fugitive, yet I followed their orders and I was not injured. Obviously, it wasn't kid-glove treatment, but they didn't cause me harm. Now, those arrested last Friday night were pretty upset that they got their clothes dirty, but if you're standing on wet, muddy ground, what else can be expected? Should the cops politely ask if it would be amenable to be arrested here? Or would over there work better?

Furthermore, consider the circumstances. There's a crowd of erratic people. They might be drunk. They are, en masse, interfering with the work of the fire department. They are not listening to you. The situation could conceivably escalate. You're a human being that's having verbal abuse heaped upon you simply for telling people that the fire has to be extinguished. You're on edge. Then maybe someone jostles you. Maybe they spit on you or call you some horrible thing. You react because you're human, because you're nervous, because the situation could get out of hand, and because you're trained to.

We don't know what happened before the first arrests, other than the crowd was trying to stop the fire department from putting out the fire which is illegal. The later arrests were because the crowd then decided to hinder the police in fulfilling their duties. Which is also illegal. Of course a bunch of university kids would interpret this police action through the ideological lenses with which they are so newly and deeply enamoured, seeing this as an assault to democracy itself.

The truth of the matter is, of course, that they were being stupid, acting like child delinquents, throwing a tantrum when they couldn't have something their way. Instead of an inquest, this incident demands a shameful apology from the protestors. They've made the university look bad. And if they're at all representative of the way UBC educates its students then I suppose that rep is well-earned.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Om Mani Padme Hum

I'm starting to get bored of writing about Tibet at all. There are lots of other things that annoy me that I would love to write about as well. But, I had it in my head that I was going to make this a three-parter, so I guess I'm stuck. Anyway...

I guess the whole point of my posting on this topic is to refute (and hopefully clearly)what it is that annoys me about most people's take on the Tibetan situation. This isn't directed at anyone in particular (1:23), of course. It's just that people like those whom I pointed my finger at in the first installment don't usually think things through terribly thoroughly. Of course, judging by the present situation, Tibetan independence is a pretty worthy cause. But the whole conversation is very one-sided. Activists focus solely upon the evils visited upon Tibet by the Chinese, almost as if Tibetan history doesn't extend further back than 1950. This leads them into an absolute sort of belief that China is the entirety of the problem and that simply by gaining their freedom will all the Tibetans' problems be solved. I don't believe that in any of the numerous conversations I've had about this subject, that I've ever heard anyone say anything about what would follow the liberation from China. I really want to be charitable on this count, but I honestly wonder whether most people have even considered this.

Of course, this is only a problem for non-Tibetan pro-Tibetans. It's all well and good if a Tibetan doesn't give a rat's ass about anything beyond saving her homeland from goose-stepping Chinese soldiers. I wouldn't deny her that privilege. She's simply too invested in the issue. "Western" activists, however, are not (or really ought not to be - but that's subject for another post entirely). Consequently, I think it's important that we question the independence movement about their motivations and aims. Under the current circumstances, Tibet deserves her freedom. But I am only willing to advocate that freedom if it will actually improve the lot of the Tibetan nation.

Imagine good ol' Tenzin Gyatso riding back up to Potala Palace, crowds surrounding him, showering him with rice and pieces of coloured paper, prostrating in the streets. People are laughing, crying, shouting, dancing in the streets. Monks chant and meditate as he climbs the stairs and flings the doors wide open. He looks inside the musty old building and sighs, a tired smile tugging meekly at one corner of his lips. Quietly, beneath his breath, he murmurs, "I'm home."

Romantic image, isn't it? Everyone's happy and teary and it's all good again. I guarantee you Hollywood would make a movie about it (and maybe Brad Pitt would star in it). My merely "whelming" narrative skills aside, it is admittedly compelling. There's a pleasing sort of symmetry, a return of the prodigal son sort of thing. It just feels right. The unfortunate thing is that most, if not all, of the "Western" activists that I've spoken to seem to be happy with that picture. "That's great. Good enough. Tibet is free and we've seen the restoration of the legitimate leader, the Dalai Lama. Everything will be super cool now, 'cause he's a nice guy and they're Buddhist monks, man, so they'll rule all great-like. Dude, where are my Doritos. I swear I had them right h... oh yeah, right. I ate them."

Now, it's an easy thing to agree that the regime imposed by Beijing is not a good thing. It's oppressive and undemocratic. It tramples upon the Tibetans' rights to their language, culture, religion, and freedom. It really does need to be replaced with something else, something better.

The thing is, though, that thing's weren't so great under the old system either. Tibet was a theocratic state. That's right: theocratic. I don't profess to know the details about it, but I'm sure it wasn't all roses being a Tibetan before China arrived on the scene. There was no form of democracy in that society. Some particularly misguided minds might suggest that "that's alright because they had their own ways and who are we to say they're wrong?" I think we all know enough about the absurd way that successors to the Dalai Lama are chosen that it need not be explained here. I would only ask these cultural relativists whether they would like their own leaders to be chosen in this fashion. Somehow I would doubt it. If it's no good for us, why would it be any good for anyone else?

Furthermore, the old Tibetan society was thoroughly medieval. While China has been actively suppressing Tibetan culture, must we side unequivocally with Tibetan cultural conservatives? Is enforced change in culture necessarily always for the worse? For instance, in China women have full formal legal and political equality to men (admittedly, this often amounts to beans). I'm just guessing, but I'm going to suppose that under the old regime of the monks women were mere servants and chattel. I'm also just guessing, but I suspect that the laws in Tibet (under Chinese direction) have been altered to correct, at least in principle, this particular piece of backwardness. Also gone is the dominance of the monastic class, who literally lived off the sweat of farmer peasants in an arrangement not unlike the European feudal system, where your station in life was determined by your bloodline. Do we honestly want to see this restored?

Politics aside, activists also seem unaware of economic considerations. After independence, whence shall come the Tibetans' food and clothing? As I have stated above, their economy used to be a closed, feudal agricultural system. They made their own clothes, tilled their own soil, built their own houses. While this once again resonates with the deep current of romanticism so endemic to "Western" culture, we should be very cautious. These people lived in true poverty. Only the severely deluded would actually desire a return to the middle ages. They lacked security in their food supply; if there was a bad harvest, they starved. They lacked medicine. No doubt they suffered (and still suffer) from many maladies which no longer even exist in the most industrialized nations. And this is without even considering the share the monks took.

China, to its credit, has been doing something to actually improve the well being of Tibetans in this regard. They've opened Tibet to the booming economy along China's coast via rail links. They've opened the region to tourism. They've brought money into the region to construct hospitals and provide education. (Of course, it's not a lot, but it's more than the nothing that Tibetans could have expected without China's involvement.) And, yes, Beijing is trying to eradicate their culture through the educational curriculum, but arguably Tibetans have a sum total more options than in the past? Certainly no one is stopping them from farming if that's what they want to do.

This is not to excuse China's oppression, but it is to make the point that we need to consider what the economic situation would be. No one has ever suggested to me what the economy of Tibet might look like, post-independence. Besides vague promises (under the heading conclusion) of economic enhancement of Tibetans' well-being, no one seems to have a plan that would work. I recall reading somewhere (and unfortunately, I cannot find a link anywhere) that the Dalai Lama had a vision of Tibet's economy being structured toward the production of health and well-being products to sell to visitors from around the world. People would come to stay in Tibetan wellness spas, etc. They would take home incense and herbal salves, etc. They would be healed without "Western" medicine and Tibetans would labour at all their traditional crafts and everyone would be happy.

This is horrifying. Especially coming from someone as well traveled as the Dalai Lama. His vision of a prosperous Tibet is to turn it into some sort of Himalayan Mexico, in which the people still labour in cottage industry and pamper wealthy "Western" tourists. This isn't going to make Tibetans' lives much better. Mexico (alongside many other tropical so-called "paradises") has been playing the tourist destination game for a long time and the people are still desperately poor. Innumerable cottage industry manufactured knick-knacks have been sold to (comparatively) wealthy tourists and the general standards of living still haven't risen all that much. This is the model the Dalai Lama wishes to apply to Tibet.

Now, I am merely an armchair economist, but the unavoidable fact is that if your aim is to raise standards of living significantly, you must increase (industrial) production significantly. In the Mexican case, it was only after the introduction of NAFTA, which allowed Mexican manufactured goods to travel into the US and Canada, that we have seen the development of industrial manufacturing and, consequently, the first glimmers of improved standards of living. It is conceivable that His Holiness is entirely ignorant of economic theory, though from what has been told of his irrepressible curiosity, I would doubt it. Instead, I suspect that the truth is that he simply wants to see restored, wholly and with the least revision possible, the Tibet of his youth, social and economic justice notwithstanding.

His dream (which is shared by many Tibetans) is ultimately unrealisable. Tibet has changed irreversibly. This brings me to the last issue, probably the stickiest, of the whole Tibetan problem. There is now a sizable population of ethnic Han Chinese in Tibet. They are successful owing to some not insignificant favouritism from Beijing. And they are there to stay. The question is straightforward. What will be their place in a liberated Tibet? The image at the head of this post is of Tibetans and Buddhist monks busy trashing the premises of a Han-owned business. Is this an indication of the treatment that the Han in Tibet might expect following Tibetan independence? Pogroms? What might be done to protect their persons and belongings against any possible retributive action (like we've seen) by vengeful Tibetans? What rights and obligations would they have in an independent Tibet?

All these matters are absolutely of utmost importance to this issue, but not nearly often enough do we hear them discussed. This is unacceptable for (nominally) distanced "Western" activists, struggling alongside Tibetan activists. A Tibetan radical conservative has every right to demand return to the glorious past. Non-Tibetans do not. We have to be ready to ask tough questions, to demand answers to our reasonable questions. We have to be ready to demand promises that there will be reasonable improvements made before we offer our support. We have to have our own visions of a free Tibet and we have to be willing to demand concessions in exchange for our financial, political, and moral support. This is not unreasonable.

So what would I, in a perfect world, like to see in Tibet?

I would very much like to see a real democracy develop in Tibet. As with the Quebec example that I described in the previous post, I would not feel strongly about whether Tibet were independent from China if meaningful democracy existed. The institution of the Dalai Lama would survive (being a unique and wholly fascinating cultural gem), but in a similar capacity to that of the Queen in the United Kingdom and its former colonies. The political and social dominance of the monastic class would be ended. Tibetans would be free to practise or not practise any religion they wanted, to think and to enquire. The rights of women would be constitutionally ensured, ending their second-class status. Quality education would be provided in the Tibetan language. Medical treatment (of the effective variety) would be provided to all Tibetans. Economic policy would promote industrial development (even of old cultural goods). The Han population would be legally entitled to full equality with ethnic Tibetans and would be protected from prejudicial mistreatment.

Of course, this is my preferred option. It is not entirely realistic, but there you have it. I simply want to see Tibetans have a better lot and I do not believe that a return to medieval society would truly be in their best interests. The sad truth, however, is that there is no possibility of positive change as long as Beijing remains obstinate. If China were to democratise in coming decades, then there might be a chance for Tibet to prosper within China. If things remain as they are, which we may expect, then independence is truly the only worthwhile alternative. Consequently, Tibet must be free from China Beijing's shackles. But not only from Beijing's shackles, chafing though they are. Tibet must also be free from an entirely more restricting set of shackles. Tibet must be free from the shackles of its own past.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

"Oooh. That not so very much tea!"

So not much news has come to us from that mountain nation, Tibet, since my last post on the subject. The only real news is that, last I heard, Beijing has announced that over 600 vandals (or whatever they're gonna be called) have voluntarily turned themselves in to the authorities. Supposedly, the powers that be have graciously offered be more lenient with them than those they have to find the hard way. Yeah. Right.

Anyway, I promised a history lesson. This is kind of important, but only because it's a super pet peeve of mine when someone goes off about something they haven't really researched. So here's the very brief, Wikipedia version of events. 'Cause I'm lazy.

Tibet has a long, complicated history with China. Sometimes, for long stretches of time, Tibet was independent. For other equally long lengths of time, Tibet was under the heel of one or another "Chinese" imperial dynasty. Nonetheless, it all looks so cut and dried in Seven Years In Tibet. There were no Chinese soldiers and then there were. True enough, Tibet had had de facto independence since 1912 with the collapse of the Qing Empire, enjoying nearly forty years of the absence of interference. But the government of the new Republic of China never abandoned its claim to Tibet (though it was incapable of enforcement of any of its edicts – an inability mirrored throughout the rest of the territory it claimed to govern). Furthermore, the international community (with the exception of Mongolia) still accepted this government’s claim. So in 1950-51, when the Red Army of the People's Republic of China violently suppressed all opposition to their rule in the territory, the international community acknowledged this only as another stage in the civil war between the KMT and the Communists. In fact, I suspect that the only reason "Western" leaders have been so sympathetic toward the Tibetan plight was that this presented yet another rhetorical device to be used in the Cold War. If the KMT had behaved in the same fashion, we in the “West” wouldn't have paid too much attention. While Beijing is guilty of obfuscation and lies, so is Los Angeles. We simply choose to believe the version that stars Brad Pitt (and casts the commies as the bad guys).

This is the sort of thing that must be understood if activists are ever going to make any headway. It doesn’t help a cause if you can’t express an adequate understanding of the situation. So, in order not to sound like an apologist for Chinese rule in Tibet, following are some of my (very good) reasons to support Tibetan independence:

  • The nature of the historical claims by which Beijing claims legitimate rule are insufficient to justify continued rule.

Though Tibet possessed only de facto independence early last century it was independence nonetheless. The Seventeen Point Agreement, which handed over all sovereignty to Beijing, was signed virtually at gunpoint, making it a highly unsatisfactory agreement to accept (especially after the Dalai Lama's exiled government repudiated it in 1959). Further, it is also unsatisfactory to rely upon the justification that because the territory was once part of an empire it should remain beholden to future governments of said empire. Of course, this raises the question of whether the imperial continuity wasn’t entirely broken with the fall of the Qing. And this entire situation seems even more laughable when one considers that this is a communist government arguing for the imperial privilege of the Qing, a dynasty they undoubtedly opposed both in principle and practice. Finally, all this has taken place in living memory, meaning that this is a matter that still matters and is not simply a silly historical grievance.

  • Absence of democracy and meaningful inclusion in the political process in Tibet specifically and in China generally.

This matters. There is likely not a single state on this Earth which is free from the issues surrounding the presence of cultural, linguistic, ethnic, or religious minorities. For example, in my own country, Canada, we have several sources of such conflict. As our nationalist friend points out to us (and he's not wrong about the hypocrisy there), there is the question of the aboriginals whom the Europeans systematically drove back and ghettoized in the conquest of this continent. There is also the case of the Quebequois, a significant French-speaking, traditionally Catholic minority that jealously guards its linguistic and cultural identity against encroachment by the English speaking, Protestant majority. And of course, there is the ongoing matter of the integration of immigrant communities into Canadian society.

While the case of the natives probably has more historical similarity, the case of Quebec is more instructive. The province was ceded to the British by the French at the end of a war some hundreds of years ago. The people of the province were not consulted and were not interested in being part of the British Empire. There has been a long history of separatist sentiment in the province culminating in 1995 in a referendum which nearly divided the country in two. However, I do not support their desire to separate from Canada. This is because the Canadian government has made an effort to accommodate and include this minority group in Canadian society and governance. Quebec is self governed under the Canadian federal system. Quebequois participation in federal government has been successfully encouraged at all levels. French has been enshrined as an official language and is a mandatory subject of study for all students in elementary and high school.

This is not the case in Tibet. Tibetan local governance is essentially fiat from Beijing. There are token Tibetan members of the Tibetan Autonomous Region's government, but all decisions are enacted through the office of the Communist Party branch secretary. There is no self-government in Tibet and they can certainly forget about advancing in Chinese national politics.

  • Continual oppression of the local population.

Since the conquest, Tibet has been subjected to continual, gross oppression in excess of the same lack of democracy, brutal enforcement of restrictive laws, and police state tactics from which all Chinese citizens suffer. Tibetans have been imprisoned, tortured, or killed for observing their religion, customs, and for failing to observe restrictive laws. Beijing has implemented a program of importing ethnic Han Chinese to the region to shore up their control (the Han are far more likely to listen to Beijing's edicts). This has resulted in discrimination against Tibetans for job opportunities and is quickly making them a minority in their own homeland. Beijing is even trying to extinguish the Tibetan language by prohibiting its instruction in school.

Clearly, there is absolutely a case to be made for the independence of Tibet from China, whose rule is brutal and illegitimate. But we should not be so sanguine regarding the results of Tibetan independence, however. Simple independence would not solve all their problems and might conceivably cause others. But that's for another post.

(Part 2/3)

Monday, March 17, 2008

"Hello, China... I have something you may want, but it's gonna cost you. That's right. All the tea."

Having had the privilege of attending university I have, as a consequence, also had the not-exactly-a-privilege of being subjected to indoctrination into every thoughtful person and crank's pet issue. Some of these issues have been far more deserving of my time and attention than have others. For instance, the Spartacist League's insistence on "Defending the Revolution In China Against Backsliding Towards Occidental Capitalist Pig-Dog Anal Love-fests Without Lube Manufactured By Glorious Peasant Youth Organizations!" The truly shocking thing is that with a cause this just, urgent and necessary, I'm still not a fan. But I digress. There are, of course, many more reasonable causes to support. Tibetan freedom is one of them.

Now, I know that I'm going to be far from the first to comment on this. Apparently I'm not very on the ball these days. I had no idea that there was anything new happening in Tibet until I drove past the Chinese consulate on Granville earlier on Sunday to see protesters filled with inarticulate rage, banners-a-flailing in the cold March air. Actually, they weren't inarticulate so much as boisterous and incoherent. This is unsurprising as far as the university/white "Free Tibet!" crowd is concerned. Like a Bob Marley poster on the dorm wall, a "Free Tibet!" bumper sticker on the car is a pretty good indicator that there's some *ahem* higher learning going on. For some humourous evidence in support of this hypothesis, check this video starting at 1:23 and especially the blond dude at 1:29. They're even singing that old Marley tune: "Get Up, Stand Up".

'Nuff said.

Enough hippy-baiting for today, though. Their hearts are in the right place, after all, and they're standing up *hur hur* for what they take to be a just cause. What could be more just than trying to free a humble mountain folk from the evil empire? (All apologies, Russia, we know you're still trying.) Nothing, right? I mean, we know for a fact that Chinese claims to Tibet are fabricated because there were no Chinese there when Brad Pitt got there. Because he was there before they were. We all saw Seven Years in Tibet. Brad Pitt arrived, hung out with some bespectacled kid in drafty pajamas, then the Chinese started shooting people. Brangelina would never lie to us. Brangelina would never lie to us?! Right? Right! So we're right too! Free Tibet! Free Tibet!

Before the reader gets the wrong idea, I am actually a supporter of the Tibetan claim to independence. There are a number of excellent reasons (which I will get to in a later post) to support the struggle of this nation against the oppression heaped upon it by Beijing. But I'm also an even bigger supporter of deliberate and well-reasoned policy. Before we jump into bed with a cause, we first have to be sure that we clearly understand why it is that we support the cause. Even more importantly, we need to clearly understand what it is that we are putting our weight behind, and I’m not so certain that our well-intentioned friends pictured in the video linked above have a clear vision of what they’re advocating. Not that I blame them. It’s hard to see clearly through bloodshot eyes. (But that’s why God invented Vizene. Ha!)

Thus, I turn first to the why of the issue. Are we certain that we understand the circumstances of the case we are defending? There's no excuse for an irresponsible acceptance of Hollywood History. Of course, this is not to say that I advocate anything like this unreconstructed, revisionist, and vaguely amusing nationalist bile. The fact is that history is more complicated than either side is really willing to admit. That's right. It's time for a history lesson.
(Part 1/3)