Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Buddhism and Blogging

"Hate groups used to be hard-pressed to get any airtime; now they have a global forum twenty-four hours a day on Web sites and blogs." (David D. Perlmutter, Blogwars)
George Orwell, in 1984, had the "Two Minutes Hate" when people chanted away at those declared non-persons, enemies of the State. The internet has democratised the "Two Minutes Hate", and at the same time it dehumanises people. Like the picture on the Televisor Screen, faces are posted to become figures of hate. People are demonised, and those doing this cannot see that they are becoming what they hate.
Buddhaghosa said ""By doing this you are like a man who wants to hit another and picks up a burning ember or excrement in his hand and so first burns himself or makes himself stink", and this saying has been paraphrased, rather neatly as:
"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else - you are the one who gets burned."
The Dalai Lama has a good deal to say about the negative effects of hate: In his book "Healing Anger", he comments that:
"The destructive effects of hatred are very visible, very obvious and immediate. For example, when a strong or forceful thought of hatred arises, at that very instant it overwhelms one totally and destroys one's peace and presence of mind"
And he goes on to examine how hatred can arise:
"If we examine how anger or hateful thoughts arise in us, we will find that, generally speaking, they arise when we feel hurt, when we feel that we have been unfairly treated by someone against our expectations. If in that instant we examine carefully the way anger arises, there is a sense that it comes as a protector, comes as a friend that would help our battle or in taking revenge against the person who has inflicted harm on us. So the anger or hateful thought that arises appears to come as a shield or a protector. But in reality that is an illusion. It is a very delusory state of mind."
Without mindfulness, what starts as a defence can easily become a habit, and the bully is born. The road is one in which the virtues of compassion become lost, swallowed up in vilifying others. The Dalai Lama describes this in terms of:
"Only thinking of yourself, having no regard for others, a lack of concern for others' well-being."
It is notable that people who direct invective at people from blogs avoid meeting people face to face. As David D. Perlmutter notes in "Blogwars"
"Over the years of getting e-hate-mail responding to some of my newspaper op-eds, I have also noted the tendency of people putting the worst invectives and language into an electronic message that, I believe, they would not have expressed similarly in a phone call, in person, or even on paper"
There is a disengagement from the other in a blog or social media which can lend itself to very destructive words being used. And the immediacy of it means that there is often a lack of mindfulness. Meeting someone in person, you have etiquette of conversation, the give and take, the talking and listening which is part of dialogue.
People who spend too much time disengaged from dialogue with other people other than online may, of course, lose this skill, and simply harangue and shout at people, and be unable to listen when they do meet people. They lose the ability to speak to people face to face; this is another example of how the internet can dehumanise people. They are losing social skills, and becoming almost autistic in their inability to interact, take turns, and listen.
It is ironic, because autistic people, aware of their deficiencies, struggle to interact, take turns, and listen. What is hard for them to achieve, and what they desire to achieve, is a gift thrown carelessly aside by people who have it.
One of the most notable features of the lack of mindfulness in the internet is the ability to jump in and make pronouncements without looking at the facts. It's the world of the child's playground, of taking sides, of goodies and baddies, where everything is starkly drawn in black and white.
It does no good to provide facts, because without mindfulness, a person takes a stance, and does not change it, and defends it, never admitting or being willing to admit that they might be mistaken. Rather like writers like Von Daniken and his "Chariot of the Gods", suppositions rapidly become treated as facts; allegations, if they support your own prejudices, must be true.
That's not how science works, of course. Science works to look for falsification of your own theories and ideas, to test them, to be aware that they might be mistaken, and what you really want to be true is no guarantee that something is true. A theory has to be good enough to fit all the facts.
But pseudoscience takes a different approach, a selective approach to evidence, which screens out any inconvenient facts, and avoids confronting them; it is a fundamental intellectual dishonesty, and there is a lot of it about. Repetition is also used as a means to suggest something is true, as if the number of instances it is repeated somehow gives a statement a special verisimilitude.
The notion of critical peer review is something alien to this approach, because pseudoscience is tied up with an emotional investment in certainty; any criticism is seen as bad, the action of an enemy of the truth. That is a measure itself of how distant the pseudoscientific approach is from genuine science, and how it encourages an emotional immaturity which rejects a critical friend. As Popper remarked, even our most cherished scientific beliefs should not be beyond scrutiny.
The internet provides plenty of scope for rumour, and selective use of facts, and the rigours of a more scientific approach is discarded in favour of the attention grabbing headline. That is one area where the blog certainly can emulate the tabloid newspaper, in its use of lurid headlines, and the striking rhetoric, and ad hominem arguments, all of which sell the blog to its readers just as the newspaper sensationalises the story in order to sell papers.

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