The Dalai Lama on Secular Ethics - Part 2

How might the teachings of His Holiness apply to public policy?


I was surprised to discover that much of what His Holiness spoke of recalled Libertarian philosophies. Self-reliance. Self-confidence. The power of the mind to reject fear, and focus on pro-active behavior to bring about happiness.

It's not that simple, however. One Buddhist I spoke with suggested that a flaw of Libertarianism and Conservatism is an over-reliance on the intellect, and under-reliance on emotional intelligence. The Right has been criticized for leaving too much to the free market, abandoning and even siphoning wealth from the middle class and keeping it for themselves. Those who engage in this behavior, without using their emotional intelligence, can lack compassion, become subservient to greed, and not live an ethical life. To live an ethical life, it is incumbent upon them to aid the poor, the weak, and those who lack the self-confidence necessary for self-reliance.

A great example is the oft-maligned corporate CEO who is paid $50 million a year. Having achieved wealth and stature, it is incumbent upon him to live an ethical life, to engage his emotional intelligence, and give back. Once again, we find ourselves in the realm of personal responsibility, and we must have faith that he will use his wealth not only to make himself and his family happy, but to contribute to his community and philanthropic endeavors. If he chooses not to, well, that's where the Buddhist concept of karma comes into play.

Liberalism arguably suffers from an over-reliance on emotional intelligence while eschewing rational intelligence. The Left has been criticized for disrupting the free market, disregarding earned success and even siphoning wealth from the upper class to distribute to others, encouraging these people to further rely on handouts instead of on themselves. Those who engage in this behavior, without using their rational intelligence, thus lack compassion, becoming jealous of success, and do not live an ethical life. To live an ethical life, it is incumbent upon them to do what they can to aid the poor, the weak, and those who lack the self-confidence necessary for self-reliance, without forcing others to do it.

A great example is the global warming alarmist. Having not achieved wealth and stature, or having spent too much time on others' happiness, it is incumbent upon him to live an ethical life, to engage his rational intelligence, and find happiness himself rather than take it from others. Once again, we find ourselves in the realm of personal responsibility, and we must have faith that he will use his compassion not only to contribute to his community and philanthropic endeavors, but also to make himself and his family happy. If he chooses not to, well, that's where the Buddhist concept of karma comes into play.


My Problem With Liberalism



As I see it, there are fundamental differences between the ethical life of the Liberal and that of the Conservative.

The Conservative makes his own choices about how, if at all, to aid the unfortunate.

The Liberal forces others to aid the unfortunate.

The Conservative sees problems in the world and chooses how, if at all, he will fix it. The Liberal sees problems in the world, and requires us to fix it his way, whether we like it or not.

Liberals' well-intentioned zeal to aid the less fortunate causes them to misdirect their focus onto others before tending to themselves. The danger is they create a happiness void in themselves, become jealous of those who are successful and happy, and seek retribution in an effort to "make things fair and equal" via things like higher taxes. I should know. I was a Liberal once. That's how my mind worked.

Now, if taking from others were done in a purely compassionate manner -- because there was a demonstrative refusal of the fortunate to help others -- that would arguably be ethical. However, there is no mistaking the resentful and vengeful tone I hear every day from Liberals that "the rich aren't paying their fair share", that "wealth inequality is bad", and "the rich have destroyed the middle class".

What I hear is a frothing desire for retribution.

And as with the case of bin Laden's assassination, it is not compassionate to take counter-measures if done in the name of retribution.

Liberals make things even worse by turning to an inherently corrupt and unethical system -- government -- to enforce this retribution. Next thing you know, our choice of light bulbs is done away with, to "save the world". But the ethical act is for the individual to make his own choice in saving the world. If the world is coming to an end anytime soon from a global warming apocalypse, then no solution will save it -- not recycling nor different light bulbs nor hybrid vehicles. Thus, there's no point in worrying about it, and certainly no point in forcing others to change their behavior. If the world is not coming to an end anytime soon, then no point in worrying about it, and certainly no point in forcing others to change their behavior.

The Middle Way is to have faith that each individual will do what they wish to do. In egregious circumstances, appropriate counter-measures must be taken to prevent further destruction.

Mind you, there is no doubt that Conservative principles can and do go awry. We cannot leave things entirely up to the free market, every single time. Unions exist for a reason. Some workplace regulations exist for a reason. The housing crisis happened for a reason. History has shown that ethical behavior is not always forthcoming from those who have formed attachments to wealth, but it is unfair to make blanket generalizations regarding those who have achieved wealth and power.

The Conundrum of Real Life

At first glance, it might seem that outsourcing American jobs to India shows a lack of compassion. Indeed, Americans suffer as a result. However, those jobs are valued by citizens of India, where poverty is rampant. Does one offset the other? Is it more compassionate to keep the jobs here in the U.S.? Why should nationality matter? If the savings from cheaper labor remain in the company, perhaps to be invested in the further production of goods and services to benefit society, is that so bad?

At what point must reasonable regulation be put in place to halt rapacious practices? How can we rely on government to do the "right" thing when government is a man-made structure and therefore inherently flawed, inherently corrupt and self-serving, and inherently unethical?

There is only one answer and, alas, it is not one we can rely on. Ultimately, the responsibility for living an ethical life falls to each of us individually. Only when each of us makes ethical choices and rejects attachments, retreating to the calm mind for guidance, can animosity, fear, and anger be defeated and harmony be achieved.

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