Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Casual discussion amongst spiritual friends.

Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby Alex123 » Mon Jul 09, 2012 10:13 pm

Ben wrote:Hi David,
David N. Snyder wrote:Maybe we shouldn't be dropping those bombs knowing that innocent people will be killed and injured.


I think Harris argues a compelling, if even distateful, case of the morality of using waterboarding to extract information from an enemy who is in possession of information regarding a nuclear strike.
What if we drop a bomb with surgical precision on a military target only to find out later that the enemy regime packed the site with living or dead women and children with an aim of parading their dead bodies to international media following such a strike?
What if we drop a bomb on a military target knowing that by doing so we knock out the ememy's capacity to launch a wmd that would kill tens or hundreds of thousands yet in the process of neutralizing that thread we inadvertently kill tens of innocent people?
I don;t think these hypotheticals are too far fetched. How do we negotiate these situations with our Buddhist sense of ethics?
kind regards,

Ben



We don't live in Ancient India. Rules of engagement are different. Damage with Nukes is not like with swords. In Ancient India, one person couldn't kill millions. Today with press of the button, ICBM can be launched or bomb explode...

Maybe we should see through black/white morality and do things that are maximally cost-efficient. If one can prevent deaths of millions by killing few, then it is better than not do anything and be indirectly responsible for deaths of millions.
World isn't black and white.

You can't play nice with those who can go any distance (including kamikaze) .
I was not; I was; I am not; I do not care."
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon Jul 09, 2012 10:41 pm

Ben wrote:I don;t think these hypotheticals are too far fetched. How do we negotiate these situations with our Buddhist sense of ethics?


Alex123 wrote:We don't live in Ancient India. Rules of engagement are different. Damage with Nukes is not like with swords. In Ancient India, one person couldn't kill millions. Today with press of the button, ICBM can be launched or bomb explode...


Good points, Ben, Alex. As I mentioned in a 'war' thread, in ancient India wars were usually or almost always about gaining more territory by a greedy ruler. However, today there could potentially be a war to stop a genocidal madman or to literally stop a genocide.

It all sort of comes back to the train morality dilemma, for example, killing a few to save hundreds or even millions. How do we negotiate this with the First Precept, as Ben notes.
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby kirk5a » Mon Jul 09, 2012 11:07 pm

Ben wrote:I think Harris argues a compelling, if even distateful, case of the morality of using waterboarding to extract information from an enemy who is in possession of information regarding a nuclear strike.
What if we drop a bomb with surgical precision on a military target only to find out later that the enemy regime packed the site with living or dead women and children with an aim of parading their dead bodies to international media following such a strike?
What if we drop a bomb on a military target knowing that by doing so we knock out the ememy's capacity to launch a wmd that would kill tens or hundreds of thousands yet in the process of neutralizing that thread we inadvertently kill tens of innocent people?
I don;t think these hypotheticals are too far fetched. How do we negotiate these situations with our Buddhist sense of ethics?
kind regards,

Since you say "we" Ben - which side are you identifying with?
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby Ben » Mon Jul 09, 2012 11:45 pm

Greetomgs kirk.
Its not about 'sides'. If the word "we" is objectionable, then please replace it with "one" - see below:

I don;t think these hypotheticals are too far fetched. How does one negotiate these situations with Buddhist sense of ethics?


kind regards,

Ben
"Only those who take to meditation with good intentions can be assured of success. With the development of the purity and the power of the mind backed by the insight into the ultimate truth of nature, one might be able to do a lot of things in the right direction for the benefit of mankind."

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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby kirk5a » Tue Jul 10, 2012 12:08 am

Ben wrote:Greetomgs kirk.
Its not about 'sides'. If the word "we" is objectionable, then please replace it with "one" - see below:

Your hypotheticals identify with the side that waterboards and drops bombs rather than the ones to whom these are done.

If nationalistic, ethnic, or religious identification has kicked in, I don't see how right action is possible, since wrong view is not abandoned.
Last edited by kirk5a on Tue Jul 10, 2012 12:27 am, edited 2 times in total.
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Tue Jul 10, 2012 12:16 am

I think the Buddhist response would be to agitate for the discontinuing of weapons capable of such destruction, support non-aggressive foreign policy and religious tolerance in order to prevent such inter-ethnic tension, and prepare to attend to wounded and otherwise affected on both sides should greed, hatred, and delusion lead to outbreaks of violence.

I see what you're trying to get at, but asking, "Would a Buddhist sanction violence when it was the only possible option for peace?" is a little like asking, "Would a Buddhist use drugs if he or she had an addiction so strong that death would come from going cold turkey?" It's definitely something to ponder, but it ignores the bigger question - through what moral failings did the situation get to the point where such actions are the only appropriate solution?
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby Dan74 » Tue Jul 10, 2012 3:44 am

It seems to me that the right thing to do has profound consequences even if in the short term its utilitarian value may actually be lower than the wrong action.

Take as an example this "War on Terror". Many (like Harris) have advocated that we should not be naive and take a proactive stance with invasions, drone strikes, active interference and covert operations in order to win otherwise more American (and Western) lives would be lost. But of course this attitude continues to cost the US a great deal of support and help the terrorists recruit more cadre. I think a great part of the problem is that the US (and the UK, France etc) have no semblance of any high moral ground left with the Muslim world and many other countries too after half a century of supplying arms and aid to corrupt regimes ("our sons of bitches"), deposing governments that do not suit their interests (from Allende in Chile, Sankara in Burkina Faso, Mussadeq in Iran, Grenada) assisting with terrorist activities in Nicaragua and training terrorists in Afghanistan, not to mention economic policies that have contibuted to starvation and massive poverty around the globe. Which is of course a vast disconnect with how the US citizens see it.

So I see this realpolitik which is manifestly immoral and dishonest as a great part of the problem with the terrorism which it then uses to just its continuation.

Samsara often feeds on itself and excuses itself - "it's an imperfect world, so we have to..."

I don't know. I am not a moral absolutist but some lines are better not crossed and we have truly trampled over lots of those.

Edit: I've just realized that we've veered completely off topic, so I will cease and desist.
_/|\_
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby sunyavadin » Tue Jul 10, 2012 4:38 am

I don't like Sam Harris and don't like atheism and the 'new atheist' writers. BUT, I do feel threatened by islamic terrorism and the Mujahadeen, and I do believe that military and even covert action must be taken, where necessary, to combat this insidious evil. Just this week alone, a person was dragged out of a jail, in Central Pakistan, beaten to death and incinerated for 'insulting the Koran'. A 22 yo woman was publicly executed in Afghanistan, to the cries of Allah Akbhar, for the crime of having been raped by a Taliban commander. Mujahadeen fanatics have destroyed world-heritage Sufi shrines and graves in Timbuktu. These are just the incidents that made the press. Doubtless there were many more that haven't.

This might not really have anything to do with 'religion', as such - or alternatively, if this is what 'religion' really meant, then I would agree with the atheists. It doesn't, and I don't. But I think there is enormous work to be done reforming Islam, isolating the radicals, and getting the moderates on board with concepts like 'separation of church and state', 'equal rights for women', 'habeus corpus', and a few other fundamentals of Western liberalism. Otherwise, whatever tolerance the liberal democracies extend towards them, is not really being reciprocated - it's a one-way street.

There is a Islamic judge who has issued a fatwa on terrorism. It is a great shame there aren't more like him, and that he doesn't get much attention in the media. But then I suppose executions, burnings and destruction of heritage sites make for much better news copy.
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby Dan74 » Tue Jul 10, 2012 4:55 am

sunyavadin wrote:But I think there is enormous work to be done reforming Islam, isolating the radicals, and getting the moderates on board with concepts like 'separation of church and state', 'equal rights for women', 'habeus corpus', and a few other fundamentals of Western liberalism. Otherwise, whatever tolerance the liberal democracies extend towards them, is not really being reciprocated - it's a one-way street.

There is a Islamic judge who has issued a fatwa on terrorism. It is a great shame there aren't more like him, and that he doesn't get much attention in the media. But then I suppose executions, burnings and destruction of heritage sites make for much better news copy.


This is what the reality is in major mulsim countries like Turkey, Indonesia and Tunisia, to name a few. The excesses you mention are more to do with the history in those areas, namely war, lawlessness, armed militias, tribalism and poverty. In others, like Saudi Arabia, there is one family ruling the country in feudal fashion with medieval laws and customs and we support them.
_/|\_
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby Kim OHara » Tue Jul 10, 2012 6:18 am

sunyavadin wrote:But I think there is enormous work to be done reforming Islam, isolating the radicals, and getting the moderates on board with concepts like 'separation of church and state', 'equal rights for women', 'habeus corpus', and a few other fundamentals of Western liberalism.

I don't disagree, sunyavadin, but I have to point out that Islam is not special in this regard.
The same sort of thing was required to disentangle Christianity from the State in Europe and the US. The heavy lifting has been done but the task is still incomplete - especially in the US, from what I can see at this distance.

And we have to bear in mind that both of these religions (and Judaism, I think) are fundamentally, intrinsically, at odds with the State and civil law. Why? Because anyone who really truly believes is required to put their god's will above his/her own, and above the will of any mere mortal.
God says the adulterer should be stoned? Better go and stone her. God says abortion is murder? Better go and blow up an abortion clinic. (In either case, you're a martyr and hero if mere civil law puts you in jail, and will be rewarded even more in the afterlife. Sigh.)

It's not nice but it is, in fact, the root of the conflict between Church and State.
Note that it does not work the same way for Buddhism or (lest we feel too smug :tongue: ) wicca.

:namaste:
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby sunyavadin » Tue Jul 10, 2012 7:14 am

Fair comment! Let's also recall that there is a real and justifiable distinction that can be made between 'religion' and 'dharma'. They certainly overlap, and I don't agree with those who just say, straight-out, that 'Buddhism is not a religion' as in some respects it is. But there is a very important element in Buddhism based on experiential realization rather than 'the word of God' which must be obeyed on pain of death. (In fact even Sam Harris says this, and basically makes a similar distinction.) There's an online article called Dharma and Religion about it which I rather like.
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby thetrouserman » Tue Jul 10, 2012 9:40 pm

thank you so much. That is a surprise.
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