Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby tobes » Sat Mar 15, 2014 11:44 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:Aussies will know these people :rolleye: but the quote is true everywhere.

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Christopher Pyne has a very non-Platonic, non-prajna, non-karuna smile going down there......
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Kim O'Hara » Sun Mar 16, 2014 2:01 am

Zhen Li wrote:Well, in Australia you're all forced to participate, so I'm not quite sure how true that rings.

Voting is compulsory but taking an intelligent interest isn't, so a lot of Aussies vote without much thought - often following family habit or media "guidance" (which here is mostly right-wing).
Many of these people wouldn't vote at all if it wasn't compulsory but on the whole I think it's better that they do vote, however lazily, than not.

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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Zhen Li » Sun Mar 16, 2014 4:18 pm

Tobes, yes, managerial qualities, meaning who can rule best, e.g. philosopher kings.

I never denied what you're saying, I admit it in the OP.
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby tobes » Sun Mar 16, 2014 11:25 pm

Zhen Li wrote:Tobes, yes, managerial qualities, meaning who can rule best, e.g. philosopher kings.

I never denied what you're saying, I admit it in the OP.
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You keep asserting that everything is covered in the OP, but where??

My central argument - which I have raised various times - directly contradicts particularly points 1, 3, 6 and 7.

i.e. let's take your point 6:
6. Discussion of political topics is founded in ignorance as regards the Dharma Seals: Not knowing impermanence, people let their emotions about states of affairs at present, or conditions of nations at present, govern their actions, forgetting that from the perspective of kalpas, such states of affairs are insignificant trifles that will come and go like a bubble. It doesn't matter how much you think Obamacare, CO2 or Keystone XL are going to be the end of the world, they just aren't, they are so insignificant, and you will regret wasting time worrying about them when you could have been practising after you look back on your infinite lives when you're standing on the doorstep of Buddhahood. Not knowing suffering, people think that injuries against their egos are real problems, not keeping in mind the fact that real suffering is that of pain, change, and conditional states, all of which result from ignorance. Similarly, 'what suffers' is believed to be important and substantial, rather than the actual removal of ignorance, thus people discussing political matters do not know not-self; people think that what matters are injustices against their groups, ethnicity, nationality, gender, race, person, when what really matters are the injustices we constantly cause to ourselves by denying ourselves an accurate vision of reality. You may be able to talk about the Dharma Seals until you are blue in the face, you may know the history and scholarship behind them, but if you still have hang-ups that are irrelevant in the face of them, you haven't realised them.

I have argued that yes, this may be so. But it is not necessarily so. One can discuss political topics from a basis of prajna (i.e. one can know and realise the impermanence of life and language, but simultaneously recognise the utility (and importance) of teaching one's daughter the alphabet). So it follows that you have undertaken a successful critique of ignorant speech. But you have not established that all political speech is necessarily ignorant speech. If your general argument is to hold, you need to demonstrate this - you must show that it is impossible to speak about political phenomena from a non-ignorant point of view.

If it is possible than your argument merely establishes that ignorant people sometimes express their ignorance through political opinions - I think we can all grant you that without a moments hesitation. But you are trying to argue something far more robust.

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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby tobes » Sun Mar 16, 2014 11:58 pm

Incidentally, if one is interested in pursing the line of thought of the OP, I think the best way of trying to defend the thesis is to attack the premise of speech per se. Otherwise there is an enormously difficult task of trying to establish which particular concepts are moral, which are soteriological, which are metaphysical, which are epistemological and which are political and social - and then from there forming careful normative judgements which can discern wholesome and unwholesome with respect to those categories. To establish that all particular concepts associated with the categories of the political and social are always unwholesome would be a huge task, and one which I think very early one will prove far more complex and variable to carry or establish the thesis.

However, a more deconstructionist kind of argument directed at the processes of speech/conceptualisation per se might be a fruitful and plausible way of defending a Buddhist political quietism.

i.e. an argument of the kind: that all speech is ignorance. The particulars of political speech will necessarily be ignorant in that case. (However, so too would any kind of dharma topic).

I think that kind of proposition would be quite attractive to many on this forum - I would argue strongly against it, but I think it represents the best strategy of attempting to establish the unwholesomeness of political discussion.

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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Malcolm » Mon Mar 17, 2014 1:17 am

tobes wrote:
i.e. an argument of the kind: that all speech is ignorance.



But that is clearly not the case.
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby tobes » Mon Mar 17, 2014 1:35 am

Malcolm wrote:
tobes wrote:
i.e. an argument of the kind: that all speech is ignorance.



But that is clearly not the case.


I agree. It's not an argument I would wager, I'm just pointing out that if one is trying to defend the OP, that would represent the best available argument.

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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Zhen Li » Mon Mar 17, 2014 5:39 am

Covered in points 5 and 7. All actions are of positive, neutral or negative/black+white intention and karma. Discussing politics, and engaging in politics, entail particular evils - one can do good as much as one can, and I encourage that, as a politician, or when engaging in politics, but idealism should be avoided at all costs and illusions should not be entertained.
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby tobes » Mon Mar 17, 2014 6:28 am

Zhen Li, if you want to convince us of your position, you have to do a bit more than just continually referring us back to your OP.

How about actually responding to my arguments?

5. Discussion of political topics is not relevant to anything the Buddha said about governance, political debate isn't really skilful, as we were raised to believe, and the Buddha's advice to kings was to them as individual actors who could choose right or wrong actions with their own fruits - political debate is not the same as making a choice in governing. It is also unfounded that there were any republics in the Buddha's time as Romila Thapar has argued, since if you follow her footnotes when she makes such claims, you will see that the sources she uses all rely upon the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta, with regards to where the Buddha refers to the Vajjians, who are merely said to assemble and depart in harmony - but which does not say anything about debating political matters, which the Buddha still declared wrong speech, and certainly never results in departing in harmony, which would presuppose that political debate did not in fact occur. Ultimately, governing in accordance with the Dharma means enacting policies that you believe are ethically wholesome: which support the Dharma and the Sangha, which promotes non-violence, but security and not letting crime prevail (DN 26). He also argues that a king should never act out of anger or favouritism, hear all arguments and judge for himself, protect both poor and rich, promote harmony among one's own kingdom and others, and shun foolish and greedy ministers (Ja.V.109).

= completely irrelevant to my critique of 1, 3, 6 & 7.


7. But if you can't resist engaging in discussion of political topics, be aware that it comes along with downfalls, since we do need some politicians who can try their best to uphold Buddhist values. Sometimes we also must do what conventionally is considered wrong to practice the Bodhisattva path. A better world, even in the short term is not to be denigrated as a bad aim, but to give it greater importance than practice, or to let it guide your actions into doing anything that is in contradiction to the Dharma is a flaw. Being aware of this, one accumulates less demerit:


= a mere opinion that you happen to keep reasserting without justifying why discussion of political topics necessarily entails downfalls/akusala intentions or actions. If you can't demonstrate the necessity, your general argument fails.

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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Zhen Li » Tue Mar 18, 2014 2:50 am

Sorry, not true, because I didn't claim that discussion of political topics necessarily entails downfalls/akusala intentions or actions. That's a straw man.
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby tobes » Tue Mar 18, 2014 6:27 am

Zhen Li wrote:Sorry, not true, because I didn't claim that discussion of political topics necessarily entails downfalls/akusala intentions or actions. That's a straw man.
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There's no straw man - my point is that if you don't claim that there is a necessary connection, then your general argument(s) cannot establish that discussion of political topics is wrong speech.

Either you have to temper your thesis, by saying that discussion of political topics may (only) sometimes be wrong speech. In which case it follows logically that discussion of political topics may sometimes be right speech. In which case, a plausible Buddhist politics may be granted, given certain conditions.

I take it that you do not wish to temper your thesis in that way. In which case, you have to establish that discussion of political topics is necessarily wrong speech.

I'm sorry to play Mr Logician, but if your argument is to hold, that is what it requires.

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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby tobes » Tue Mar 18, 2014 8:41 am

Something further to consider: the quote from the Digha Nikaya in the OP suggests that talking about these things - " kings, robbers, ministers of state; armies, alarms, and battles" - is lowly and problematic.

But should this be read to cover the very wide terrain of what we now understand 'political' to mean?

For example, isn't the topic of justice (what is it, how might we achieve this as a polis etc) actually far more important than gossiping about a king or battle? Surely a Platonic treatise on that matter (or something more contemporary) is more exalted than a bunch of people at the bar expressing conceited opinions about Christopher Pyne's evil smile?

And if it is more exalted, than don't we have to make some kind of distinction between what might be lowly and problematic, and what might be important and necessary?

Also, how are we using the term 'political'? Being derived from ancient Greek, I don't think we can make claims that the Buddha said anything at all about it directly. Might the lack of discursive attention given to important political concepts such as justice, legitimacy, liberty etc tell us something (note, not everything) about why so many Buddhist nation-states have been so utterly unstable?

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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby odysseus » Tue Mar 18, 2014 10:31 am

tobes wrote:For example, isn't the topic of justice (what is it, how might we achieve this as a polis etc) actually far more important than gossiping about a king or battle?


Good point!
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Nemo » Tue Mar 18, 2014 1:39 pm

The OP makes sense if you think that benevolent totalitarian dictatorship is the ideal form of governance. I do not being one of the masses. I would argue the opposite. That apathy and not discussing political topics is wrong speech. Since social democracy is arguably the best form of governance so far conceived and only works in conjunction with informed citizens and participatory democracy. The argument does not apply in this circumstance.
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Zhen Li » Tue Mar 18, 2014 2:50 pm

tobes wrote:There's no straw man - my point is that if you don't claim that there is a necessary connection, then your general argument(s) cannot establish that discussion of political topics is wrong speech.

Logically, that doesn't make sense. There are necessities and contingencies. As a Buddhist, I hold that all dharmas are contingencies.
tobes wrote:I take it that you do not wish to temper your thesis in that way. In which case, you have to establish that discussion of political topics is necessarily wrong speech.

I already did, not only in the body of the thread multiple times, but in the OP, hence "almost always full of negativity" not "always." I don't know why you make these strange assumptions, you also assumed I was not a Mahayanist -- how much more further should a reader trust your judgement?
tobes wrote:But should this be read to cover the very wide terrain of what we now understand 'political' to mean?

I think it's far wider than the term political.
tobes wrote:For example, isn't the topic of justice (what is it, how might we achieve this as a polis etc) actually far more important than gossiping about a king or battle? Surely a Platonic treatise on that matter (or something more contemporary) is more exalted than a bunch of people at the bar expressing conceited opinions about Christopher Pyne's evil smile?

It's not gossiping about a king or battle, it's "talking about X" specifically. Gossiping is wrong speech by the nature of the type of speech, not the subject matter. And unless that talk leads to the goal of the path, it's not right speech. Remember right speech is part of the path, we're not talking about a definition of good speech regardless of Buddhism, but as a part of the proper and full practice of Buddhism as expressed by the texts.
tobes wrote:And if it is more exalted, than don't we have to make some kind of distinction between what might be lowly and problematic, and what might be important and necessary?

Yes, if it leads to the goal of the path it's right speech. If a certain political speech leads to that, then it's fine. If it's just about services and utilities, you're not on the path.
tobes wrote:Also, how are we using the term 'political'? Being derived from ancient Greek, I don't think we can make claims that the Buddha said anything at all about it directly. Might the lack of discursive attention given to important political concepts such as justice, legitimacy, liberty etc tell us something (note, not everything) about why so many Buddhist nation-states have been so utterly unstable?

Well, Buddhism doesn't really lend itself to ideology. Most Buddhist "states" historically modelled on some other system, e.g. Kautilyan, Confucian, Brahminical, etc.
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Nemo wrote:That apathy and not discussing political topics is wrong speech. Since social democracy is arguably the best form of governance so far conceived and only works in conjunction with informed citizens and participatory democracy.

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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Nemo » Tue Mar 18, 2014 3:20 pm

And where is this mythical enlightened despotism you so long for? Or an existing model superior to the social democracies of Europe? You have confused an imaginary system in your head with reality.
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Zhen Li » Wed Mar 19, 2014 12:00 am

I'm not going to claim that any form of governance is the best so far conceived.

Edit: Actually, I take that back. Dharmaraja, the kingship of the king of the Dharma, i.e. the Buddha - which leads beings to liberation. Then of course, a Chakravartin. Then, it's all conditioned and inferior.
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby tobes » Wed Mar 19, 2014 12:44 am

Zhen Li wrote:
tobes wrote:There's no straw man - my point is that if you don't claim that there is a necessary connection, then your general argument(s) cannot establish that discussion of political topics is wrong speech.

Logically, that doesn't make sense. There are necessities and contingencies. As a Buddhist, I hold that all dharmas are contingencies.


Well you tell me, what is your argument contingent on? How does it establish anything, given those contingencies?

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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby tobes » Wed Mar 19, 2014 12:54 am

Zhen Li wrote:
tobes wrote:I take it that you do not wish to temper your thesis in that way. In which case, you have to establish that discussion of political topics is necessarily wrong speech.

I already did, not only in the body of the thread multiple times, but in the OP, hence "almost always full of negativity" not "always." I don't know why you make these strange assumptions, you also assumed I was not a Mahayanist -- how much more further should a reader trust your judgement?



I make the assumption for the following reason: if you grant that it is not always, then it follows logically that it is sometimes right speech to discuss political topics. If you leave that possibility open, then your argument fails - it cannot be wrong speech to discuss political topics. What you establish as wrong is the negativity, ignorance etc, and this is clearly independent of the specifically political content.

The readers can decide for themselves where the contradictions may be found. It is not a question of trust, it is matter of reasoning.

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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Zhen Li » Wed Mar 19, 2014 12:55 am

Tobes wrote:Well you tell me, what is your argument contingent on? How does it establish anything, given those contingencies?

It's contingent upon whether one's speech leads to liberation. And yes, I have already granted that some political speech can do that - in peculiar circumstances upāya permits anything (but that's not license to do so as one did before).
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