After the US election, an escalation of the Mideast war

http://kielarowski.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/51cf9-syriawar.jpg?w=378&h=245

29 October 2014

Last week, the Pentagon announced the death of a 19-year-old Marine, the first fatality among the estimated 1,900 US troops currently deployed in the new US war in the Middle East. This will undoubtedly be only the first of many American casualties in this war, a death toll that will be multiplied many times over for the Iraqi and Syrian men, women and children who will lose their lives in this latest imperialist intervention.

Less than one week before the midterm elections in the US, it is becoming ever more clear that, whatever the results in terms of the breakdown of Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Senate, the Obama administration will embark on a major escalation of military operations once the voting is done.

Already there is a mounting drumbeat from within Washington’s vast military and intelligence apparatus—and those in politics and the media who voice its demands—for stepped-up bombing and more US “boots on the ground” in both Iraq and Syria.

This campaign for military escalation was summed up in a lead editorial published in Monday’s Washington Post entitled “Mr. Obama’s half-hearted fight against the Islamic State.” The editorial asserts that “an unlikely consensus is emerging across the ideological spectrum” in Washington that the Obama administration’s current strategy in the war on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is “unworkable,” and that “the military means the president has authorized cannot accomplish his announced aims.”

The editorial criticizes the “modest tempo of airstrikes” as well as “the absence of ground trainers and special forces who could accompany Iraqi and Syrian forces.” It cites an unnamed senior Pentagon official as stating that the aim of fielding a new mercenary army of “rebels” in Syria is impossible “if you’re not on the ground to advise and assist them.”

“The United States will have to broaden its aims and increase its military commitment if the terrorists are to be defeated,” the editorial concludes. This means “a strategy to counter the Assad regime” and deploying special operations troops in combat together with Iraqi and Syrian proxy forces.

The editorial follows a report in the Post last week that US and Iraqi officials recently discussed increasing the number of US military “advisers” in Iraq, and that deploying them “in the field with the Iraqis” is under consideration, given the abysmal record of Iraqi security forces collapsing in the face of ISIS advances.

Along similar lines, Anthony Cordesman, a former Pentagon official and adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has written of US strategy in the Iraq-Syria war “imploding” and dismissed the campaign of air strikes in both countries as “military tokenism.” He insists that “advisers” must be deployed alongside Iraqi troops “as soon as possible,” and that the US must accept “risking combat losses.”

Then there is Lt. Col. John Nagl (ret.), the co-author of the Army’s Counterinsurgency Manual, who states that some 15,000 US “advisers” are needed on the ground, and that the war in Iraq and Syria will have to go on “for at least a generation and probably longer.”

The Vietnam War provides an instructive precedent for the steady escalation in the number of “advisers” deployed in a US overseas intervention. John F. Kennedy deployed several hundred to the country shortly after taking office. By the time he was assassinated in November 1963, they numbered 16,700. Within barely two years, 200,000 US troops had been thrown into the war, and by 1968 the number was well over half a million.

Obviously, there are vast differences between Vietnam, where Washington intervened in an attempt to crush a popular anti-colonial struggle, and Iraq and Syria, where it confronts a crisis entirely of its own making, forged through the destruction of Iraq in nearly nine years of war and the devastation of Syria by the Islamist militias that the US and its allies have armed and supported.

What they have in common, however, is that the existing forces on the ground, the Iraqi army and the so-called Syrian “moderate rebels,” are—like the South Vietnamese Army before them—wholly inadequate (or non-existent) instruments for achieving US aims. Thus, the demand for US “boots on the ground”—plenty of them and in short order.

Once again, the American people are being dragged into a criminal war of aggression based upon lies. While this war is being sold with propaganda about ISIS atrocities against minorities, beheadings, etc., the real objective is the use of military force to assert US hegemony over the strategically vital and oil-rich Middle East.

The aims of this war, which spans national boundaries, involves not only the re-occupation of Iraq, but also the overthrow of the government of Syria and its replacement with a pliant US puppet regime. These war aims, in turn, place US imperialism on a clear trajectory for military confrontation with Iran and Russia, posing the real threat of a Third World War.

Every step has been taken to preclude next week’s midterm elections from providing the slightest possibility for the American people to express their will in relation to the most important political question, that of a war which we are told may last for more than “a generation.”

Just before the bombs began falling in Iraq, the members of the US Congress scurried out of town for a two-month campaign season recess without taking any vote to authorize a war that is both unconstitutional and in violation of international law. Any vote that is taken will be held after the election in a lame-duck session of Congress, thereby assuring that no one will be held politically accountable. In the election campaign itself, the war—like virtually every other social question of vital importance to the masses of working people—is not even an issue.

Nothing could more clearly expose the entirely rotted-out character of the American political system, which is controlled lock, stock and barrel by a financial aristocracy, and in which decisions on imperialist war abroad and repression at home are made by an unelected cabal of military and intelligence officials for whom Obama serves as a mouthpiece.

The corrupt capitalist two-party system offers no means to resist the drive to war. The working class must intervene independently, mobilizing its objective strength in a mass antiwar movement based upon a socialist and internationalist program to put an end to capitalism, which is the source of war.

Bill Van Auken

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/10/29/pers-o29.html

Bill Maher under fire: UC Berkeley students petitioning against comedian’s commencement address

More than 1,700 people have signed the Change.org petition

Bill Maher under fire: UC Berkeley students petitioning against comedian's commencement address
Bill Maher in “Real Time with Bill Maher” (Credit: HBO/Janet Van Ham)

Due to Bill Maher’s recent controversial comments about Islam, students at University of California, Berkeley, are petitioning to have the university rescind his invitation to speak at a December graduation ceremony.

The Change.org petition, which had more than 1,700 signatures as of Monday afternoon, calls for U.C. Berkeley to stop the comedian and host of HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher” from delivering a commencement speech. “Bill Maher is a blatant bigot and racist who has no respect for the values UC Berkeley students and administration stand for,” the petition reads.

The petition was authored by ASUC Senator Marium Navid, according to Berkeley’s student paper the Daily Californian. Navid is supported by the Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition (MEMSA). The Change.org petition appears under the name of Khwaja Ahmed, who according to the Daily Californian is a member of MEMSA. From the Daily Californian:

“‘It’s not an issue of freedom of speech, it’s a matter of campus climate,’ Navid said. ‘The First Amendment gives him the right to speak his mind, but it doesn’t give him the right to speak at such an elevated platform as the commencement. That’s a privilege his racist and bigoted remarks don’t give him.’”



The controversial comments in question are from a now-infamous debate on “Real Time” between Maher and atheist author Sam Harris and actor Ben Affleck about radical Islam. At one point Affleck called Maher’s comments “gross” and “racist,” and the comments have sparked a wider conversation about religion and liberalism, and a response from author and professor Reza Aslan (among others).

Maher is not the only proposed commencement speaker to be petitioned against. In May 2014 alone there was a boom of campus protests that led to the declining of invitations by several invited speakers including former U.C. Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau.

According to the Daily Californian, University Relations has the final say on confirming Maher as the commencement speaker.

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email sgray@salon.com.

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Jian Ghomeshi to #Gamergate: Our culture’s toxic masculinity crisis on display

When do we get to talk seriously about misogyny and violence against women? A list of opportunities we should take

 

Jian Ghomeshi to #Gamergate: Our culture's toxic masculinity crisis on display
Jian Ghomeshi (Credit: Reuters/Mark Blinch)

We don’t often get to talk about misogyny, toxic masculinity and male sexual entitlement outside of certain feminist and progressive spaces, whether those spaces are online or offline. In fact, just use the words “toxic masculinity” in a sentence and you’re bound to lose a lot of people straight out of the gate. People, even people who think rape is bad and that mass shootings are terrifying and preventable and that men shouldn’t threaten women with death for critiquing video games, bristle when you direct these conversations back to what seems to connect most of them, if not all of them.

But try to talk about toxic masculinity and you’re likely to get dismissed as a cynical opportunist pushing an agenda. Or a misandrist. (A “creeping” misandrist, even.) I saw that happen a lot over the weekend when women I follow on Twitter tried to talk about the Seattle shooting, in which a 14-year-old boy killed a girl and badly injured four other students, as part of a pattern we’ve seen before. It was a familiar script. When I wrote about Elliot Rodger’s misogyny after he killed six people in Isla Vista, California, I received a lot of angry emails telling me that I was politicizing a tragedy. It seems that, even when a killer leaves hundreds of pages detailing his racist and misogynistic worldview, we aren’t supposed to talk about those things. (We also aren’t supposed to talk about the data we have showing that 98 percent of shooters are men. Or, as the Guardian’s Jessica Valenti pointed out on Monday, research that shows that responses of “explosive anger” are ”two to three times more likely to occur in male teens, and twice as likely in adult men.”)

There is a dangerous and deadly pattern at play, and every day I read something that I file away as part of the growing list opportunities to talk about toxic masculinity, opportunities we should take. Because these aren’t isolated incidents, but the product of something more insidious and more dangerous. Sometimes, I keep actual lists. This week, my list looked like this:



1. Cop stole arrested women’s nude photos as ‘game’: docs

2. Teenage Boy May Have Shot Up His School Because His Girlfriend Broke Up With Him

3. Is GamerGate About Media Ethics or Harassing Women? Harassment, the Data Shows

4. Oklahoma City police officer accused of sex crimes released from jail for second time

5. CBC fires Jian Ghomeshi over sex allegations

Now unless you are of the belief that men are wired to be violent (I am not), then talking about our culture, how boys are raised to view themselves and others around them, seems pretty important. And to talk about this does not mean that all men are rapists or violent killers. And to talk about allegations of rape does not mean we are convicting men in the “court of public opinion.” It just means that there is something going on here, that these stories tell us something, and that the response to these stories reveal something, too. We need to look at and challenge those things.

So maybe we look at the story of cops stealing photos and treating a gross violation like a fun activity or an Oklahoma cop who is alleged to be a serial rapist and we question abuses of power and abuser dynamics in law enforcement. Maybe that can shape some of our thinking about why women don’t always report sexual violence to the cops. And while it may be impossible to know what drove Jaylen Fryberg to kill another student and himself, we have a very familiar set of circumstances that we can talk about instead of running away from them. We can look to the tragedy in Seattle and situate it as part of a larger pattern of violence that has revealed itself again and again and begin thinking about what addressing that violence might actually look like. Whether it’s gun control or healthy masculinity or both of these things.

And maybe then we can think about Gamergate and the harassment that has come to define this “movement” and we can question why so many people seem willing to look past that and lend credibility to serial harassers who have forced women offline and out of their homes. And while we wait to learn more about the allegations against Ghomeshi, we can still think about where our allegiances reflexively go when we learn about high-profile assault cases. Whom we believe and whom we don’t. We can ask questions about how the details included and excluded in reporting on allegations shape our view of those allegations. And we can listen to women who say that they didn’t speak out about harassment or violence they endured because they were scared that doing so would lead to more harassment.

Answers don’t always come easily. But a willingness to sit with and try to answer difficult questions is a minimum standard. Sadly, it’s one we’re failing to meet again and again and again.

Katie McDonough is Salon’s politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/27/jian_ghomeshi_to_gamergate_americas_toxic_masculinity_crisis_on_display/?source=newsletter

There Are 80,000 Homeless Kids in New York City


It’s a disaster of epic proportions.

Like his predecessor, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to lower the staggering rate of homelessness in New York City. Unlike his predecessor, his strategy has not consisted of  hectoring the homeless for their plight while  cutting their access to housing programs.

Still, the number of homeless families in New York continues to rise, especially in traditionally middle-class neighborhoods that have seen rapid growth (e.g. gentrification), as the Daily News notes. According to a report by the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness, 12,000 families are currently sleeping in shelters, including 24,000 kids. That’s a 250% jump in 20 years.

In reality, the city’s homelessness problem is far more dire because many homeless families don’t get into shelters. According to school records highlighted in the report, close to 80,000 kids have experienced homelessness in the past year.

“For every child in shelter, there were roughly two additional children who were homeless and living in unstable conditions,” the authors note. That could mean doubling up with another family or sleeping on the subway or in a car.

“Unless something is done to address the underlying issues driving families into extreme poverty, more children will become homeless,” the report concludes.

While New York leads the pack in horrifyingly high rates of homelessness, cities across the country continue to see increases in the number of homeless families.

A 2013 estimate by the Department of Education highlighted by the Huffington Post found an 8 percent increase in homeless  students in just one year. 

Tana Ganeva is AlterNet’s managing editor. Follow her on Twitter or email her at tana@alternet.org.

US child poverty remains at highest rate in 20 years

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By Andre Damon
27 October 2014

Nearly one in four US children lives in poverty, the highest level in 20 years, with a similar proportion not getting enough food to eat. These were among the findings of an article published last week in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, entitled Seen but Not Heard: Children and US Federal Policy on Health and Health Care.

While the Obama administration praises the “economic recovery,” the facts presented in this report show that since 2009 there has been an immense social retrogression in every measure of well-being among the most vulnerable section of the population: children.

“It shouldn’t be this hard for kids to grow and thrive in the world’s richest, most powerful nation,” said Bruce Lesley, one of the study’s co-authors and the president of the child advocacy organization First Focus.

The report listed a panoply of dangers to the health and well-being of children in the United States, including hunger, lack of health and mental health care, cutbacks in social spending, the havoc wracked on immigrant families by deportation, and others. It found, among all these, that by far the worst impact on the health and well-being of children is poverty.

The report notes that there is overwhelming popular support for government programs to fight child poverty: “82% of voters want Congress and the White House to cut child poverty in half within 10 years.” But with the upcoming midterm election only a week away, such a project could not be farther from the minds of US politicians.

The Obama administration’s 2015 budget proposal, for example, calls for slashing the budget of the Department of Health and Human Services, which funds the Head Start preschool program, and the Department of Agriculture, which administers the food stamp program, by more than five percent.

The report found that 16.1 million children, or 22 percent, live in poverty. It lists a string of adverse health impacts, including “significantly higher risks of low birth weight, injuries, lower IQ, intensive care unit admissions, and infant, condition-specific, and overall mortality.”

The impact of child poverty affects people once they grow up, and even affects their children. As the report notes, “Childhood poverty is associated with substantially higher mortality rates in adults, regardless of adult socioeconomic status (i.e., even affluent adults who were poor as children have elevated death rates), and this increased mortality risk extends across 2 generations.”

The second threat to the well-being of children listed in the report is food insecurity. The report notes that sixteen million children, or 22 percent, live in food-insecure households. An enormous number of children—one in three—rely on food stamp benefits for nutrition, and 47 percent of food stamp recipients are children. The report concludes, “Food insecurity is associated with deleterious consequences for children’s health, including elevated risks of suboptimal health and hospitalizations.”

The report noted that budget cuts that went into effect last year have had a devastating impact on anti-poverty programs for children. For example, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which provides food assistance to children and mothers, was cut back by more than $354 million. It added, “Some in Congress are proposing SNAP [food stamp] cuts at a time when SNAP participants already experienced benefit cuts in November 2013.”

The report also noted that seven million US children, or nine percent, have no health insurance. Despite this, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, jointly funded by the states and the federal government, is scheduled to have its funding drop by 73 percent, from $21.1 billion to $5.7 billion, in 2016.

Congressional Republicans have proposed turning CHIP, together with Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor, into a block grant or impose caps on the amount of healthcare funding individual children can receive. The report noted that such proposals “devastatingly restrict or eliminate benefits, underfund Medicaid, disadvantage children with even lower caps, and ration care.”

Among the most tragic elements depicted in the report is the effect of mass deportation on children. It noted that between 2010 and 2012, under the Obama administration, more than 200,000 parents of US citizen children were deported. As a result of these deportations, more than five thousand children have been put in foster care.

The report notes that one in three US children are overweight—which it refers to as a “pandemic”—and that 17 percent are obese. It relates these health problems to insufficient access to healthy food, both as a result of poverty and cutbacks to the funding of school lunch programs.

One in five children have mental disorders, and the rates are growing. “Pediatric mental-health and substance-abuse hospitalizations increased by 24% between 2007 and 2010, and hospitalizations for mood disorders increased by 80% between 1997 and 2010.” Suicide is the leading cause of death among teenagers, and rates have gone up since the start of the recession.

Despite the widespread prevalence of mental illness among children, only half of US children with mental disorders receive any form of mental-health services, according to the report. On the state level, more than $1.6 billion in funding for mental health services have been slashed between 2009 and 2012, resulting in the elimination of 4,000 psychiatric hospital beds since 2010.

Whole areas of the country simply have no mental health care available to the poor, who tend to suffer disproportionately from the effects of mental illness. The report notes “35% of US counties have no outpatient mental-health treatment facility accepting Medicaid.” Only three percent of psychiatrists who practice alone accept Medicaid.

Despite the disastrous prevalence of poverty and preventable disease in the US, funding for medical research is being slashed. The report noted that the sequester budget cuts slashed $1.57 billion from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and $289 million from the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report is a devastating indictment of a society that is going backward, not forward, in every measure of social well-being. These disastrous cuts in social services, supported by both Democrats and Republicans, are accompanied by the enormous enrichment of the super-wealthy, who have doubled their net worth since 2009.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/10/27/chil-o27.html

The US elections and the American plutocracy

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27 October 2014

The 2014 midterm elections mark a further development in the disintegration of American democracy. Only eight days from Election Day, the general population evinces little interest in the campaigns or candidates of the two official parties. This is not because working people are satisfied or apathetic. On the contrary, there are many signs of growing concern and anger over ceaseless war overseas and relentless attacks on social conditions and democratic rights at home.

But the election process, more openly than ever, excludes any expression of the concerns or democratic will of the vast majority of the people. The issues that affect the masses—growing poverty and inequality, declining living standards, police violence and repression—are ignored by the two parties and the media. To the extent foreign policy is discussed, both sides indulge in chauvinist and militarist demagogy, seeking to outflank one another from the right.

Behind the mutual mudslinging and attack ads that insult the people’s intelligence, there is agreement on the need for more austerity, more government spying, more tax breaks for the rich, and a militarist agenda that leads inexorably to a Third World War.

It is little wonder, with none of the Democrats or Republicans proposing any policies to address the jobs crisis or the rise in hunger and homelessness, and both parties supporting savage attacks on the working class such as the bankruptcy of Detroit, that November 4 is expected to see a new record low turnout for a midterm election.

According to the most recent polls, hostility to the congressional Democratic Party is at a 20-year high, with only 30 percent approving and 67 percent disapproving. Congressional Republicans are even more unpopular, with just 25 percent of Americans approving, while 72 percent disapprove.

Popular alienation from the political system coincides with the ever more naked domination of both parties and the manipulation of elections by a handful of multi-millionaires and billionaires. A report issued last week by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) projects that the 2014 election will cost nearly $4 billion, a record for a midterm election.

Candidates and the Democratic and Republican parties will raise and spend about $2.7 billion, while outside political action committees, which have mushroomed since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, will spend another $1 billion.

Candidates and campaign committees are spending more than $100 million on the Senate races in Kentucky and North Carolina, and the governor’s race in Florida, and sums only slightly smaller in other close statewide contests, in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Colorado, Massachusetts, Louisiana and other states.

According to a chart published in this week’s Time magazine, spending on US political campaigns has risen 555 percent in the past 30 years, far more than the cost of health care or college education, and nearly four times the increase in household income. The vast sums expended have not won either party any genuine popularity—something that is impossible given their adherence to virtually identical ultra-right programs dictated by the needs of the super-rich.

The Republican Party will likely win a narrow victory on November 4, maintaining its control of the House of Representatives, retaining the majority of state governorships, and winning or narrowly missing a 51-seat majority in the US Senate. This reflects, at least in part, its roughly equivalent lead in the spending race, with the CRP projecting $1.92 billion in pro-Republican campaign fundraising compared to $1.76 billion for the Democrats.

However the two parties divide control of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, the financial aristocracy maintains a vise-like grip on all three institutions and on the entire machinery of government.

Last week, the New York Times Magazine published a cover story on the role of billionaires backing rival candidates in the Florida gubernatorial election. This was followed by a report in the daily Times on so-called “dark money,” funds that go unreported to the Federal Election Commission that now comprise half of all outside campaign expenditures.

On Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” NBC journalists Chuck Todd and Luke Russert chatted about the “group of modern-day oligarchs” funding the 2014 campaigns.

These conditions make a mockery of claims that the US elections embody genuine democracy. The United States has been transformed into a plutocracy, a country where government of, by and for the wealthy is openly admitted, and in some quarters, celebrated.

American politics is being brought openly into alignment with American economics. American society has divided into two great camps: a handful of the super-rich at the top, with a layer of upper-middle-class hangers-on; and the great mass of working people, struggling from day to day to make ends meet.

Last week, social scientists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman posted an article under the headline “Exploding wealth inequality in the United States.” In documenting the massive growth of social inequality over the past four decades in the US, they noted that the share of total household wealth owned by the top 0.1 percent increased from 7 percent in the late 1970s to 22 percent in 2012.

The colossal class divide between an oligarchic elite and the mass of working people underlies the collapse of democratic processes in the United States—and increasingly around the world. Democratic rights cannot be defended apart from a revolutionary struggle by the working class against the capitalist system, which is the source of inequality as well as imperialist war.

Patrick Martin and Barry Grey

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/10/27/pers-o27.html

The dangerous American myth of corporate spirituality

How invocations of “karma” and Zen are being used to justify deeply unequal systems of power

The dangerous American myth of corporate spirituality
Steve Jobs, Satya Nadalla (Credit: AP/Paul Sakuma/Brendan McDermid/rnl, Kaveryn Kiryl via Shutterstock/Salon)

Recently, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella gave some shocking advice to a young businesswoman who was concerned that her male peers were passing her up for promotions: Don’t question the systemic sexism of corporate America, just trust in “good karma” to get you ahead. While his attitude made waves in the blogosphere, in fact it accurately represents a form of spirituality that is becoming popular in the West.

You know what I’m talking about. When I go to yoga, I’m often surrounded by wealthy white women who can afford expensive classes and Lululemon threads. When I scroll through my Facebook feed, I see exclamations of bourgeois spirituality (“Staying at the Waldorf tonight! #gratitude #blessed #100happydays #livelife”). Moreover, my actor friends seem to use karma and positivity as tools to help them achieve commercial success.

We might call this a belief in spiritual meritocracy. The implicit idea here is that our professional and financial growth depends on our spiritual merit, not on the presence or absence of social structures and biases. We are told that if we are grateful enough, if we put enough happy energy into the universe, then we will be rewarded with material wealth and earthly pleasures. (Think “The Secret.”) We are told that we actually can have it all: a rich spiritual life, leading to a rich material life.

Of course, this is just the new-agey equivalent of the same old meritocracy myth that’s been floating around America since at least the 19th century; that in the land of the free, anyone can become rich if they just work hard enough, if they use the right brand of elbow grease.

Unless you are a rich Republican, decades of widening economic inequality should tell you how faulty this story is. While it is true that most successful people work hard, the meritocracy myth works more to justify an existing social hierarchy than to inspire us to make positive social changes.

So, for the same reason we look suspiciously on Horatio Alger-esque theories of social mobility, we ought to also be skeptical of their spiritual version, which says that underserved groups can get ahead not by standing up to power, but by focusing on love and positivity.



It’s times like these when I am reminded of Slavoj Zizek’s summary dismissal of “Western Buddhism.” Zizek cautions that while meditation may seem to come from an edgy counterculture, in fact Americans practice it in a way that is often consistent with consumerist capitalism:

“… although ‘Western Buddhism’ presents itself as the remedy against the stressful tension of capitalist dynamics, allowing us to uncouple and retain inner peace and Gelassenheit, it actually functions as its perfect ideological supplement … One is almost tempted to resuscitate the old infamous Marxist cliché of religion as the ‘opium of the people,’ as the imaginary supplement to terrestrial misery. The ‘Western Buddhist’ meditative stance is arguably the most efficient way for us to fully participate in capitalist dynamics while retaining the appearance of mental sanity … ”

In other words, rather than helping yogis become more socially conscious spiritual warriors, Buddhist meditation can get hijacked by the status quo. It only brings us a shallow peace that makes us less likely to question what counts as normal.

For the last seven years I have dedicated myself to a Buddhist meditation practice, and I believe that there is some truth to Zizek’s harsh critique. As I have become more skilled, I have enjoyed moments of sublime bliss. And the more mindfulness I developed, the better I got at daily activities. I got a little better at surfing, playing poker, driving; the truth is, meditation helps me achieve whatever goals I set for myself, whether that’s being kinder to my friends and family, or earning more money.

One problem with a capitalist-inflected Buddhism is that it can lead us to a kind of spiritual cul de sac. I found that my practice was in an uneasy tension with my leftist politics. I found myself attracted to a glamorous Santa Barbara lifestyle that left me feeling unfulfilled and disappointed. I found that it became easy to deal with disturbing images in the news by dismissing the suffering of others as the karmic products of their own poor decisions. (They’re just not being positive enough!)

Yes, I found myself tempted by tales of spiritual meritocracy.

Overall, I am happy that my Facebook friends and yoga moms are finding spiritual enrichment. But I believe that focusing only on the joyful aspects of spirituality can get us into trouble, if we aren’t careful. Every religion can get appropriated by the West’s consumerist ideology, and Buddhism is no exception. When we cultivate gratitude for our material wealth and ignore compassion for those less fortunate, comments like those of Nadella are a natural consequence.

In traditional forms of Buddhism, there are bits and pieces of teachings on karma that capitalism loves to pick up on. Our society emphasizes an interpretation of Eastern spirituality that does not threaten its own internal logic. It’s true, for example, that the Buddha taught that money was a blessing, and that one effect of an ethical way of life would be material prosperity. But it is hard for me to believe the Buddha would say that wealth inequality is solely the result of karmic patterns, and that we should ignore its hidden histories of slavery, colonialism and patriarchy.

The good news is that there may be a spiritual antidote for what Tibetan teacher Trungpa Rinpoche called “spiritual materialism.” And I’m not talking about intermittent bouts of Catholic guilt. I’m suggesting that if we work to complement our gratitude with mercy and compassion for those who are less fortunate, we can move away from the surface-level spirituality that is really just materialism in disguise. And this may be what the world needs more than ever.

There are plenty of opportunities for us to be compassionate. For example, as scientists’ long-term projections of the effects of climate change become more and more dire, somehow American denial of anthropogenic global warming is on the rise. This kind of denial is only possible if it is not met with compassion for those who are already facing the extreme weather of hurricanes like Sandy and Katrina, like the hard-hit women who are struggling to survive after flash floods destroy their communities. Cultivating compassion for those we usually ignore — whether that’s women in the global south who are facing the ugly end of natural disasters, inmates of American prisons, or businesswomen who make 20 percent less than men who do in the same job — is therefore both a spiritual and political imperative.

The point is not that we give up on Western spirituality, as Zizek seems to suggest. The teachings of Eastern religions are becoming more mainstream in America, but this is an opportunity as well as a cautionary tale. As we develop a more conscious lifestyle, let’s ask ourselves if we are deepening our spirituality, or just falling for the myth of spiritual meritocracy. May all beings be free from pain and suffering.

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/26/the_dangerous_american_myth_of_corporate_spirituality/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow