Department Ah, Morning, With The Delicate Aroma
Of Horseshit Wafting Through The Air
Sub Department Of Yet Another Reason Not To Check Facebook Before Breakfast
A wise and witty friend recently posted this on her FB site:
Right on!, moiself thought. I began to read one of the comments on her post, one which started with a teensy provocative sentence, and then, there was that blue more…
I should have left it at that, but, noooooooo. I had to click on more, and there was more. And more, and more, and more – and did I mention, *more*?
*More* turned out to be a multi-paragraph treatise of Buddhist proselytizing, starting with how we should remember that there are also poor and downtrodden white people  who don’t feel particularly privileged (which should have clued me in – it’s the, “But, all lives matter!” equivalent of deflection from the issue), and how people’s choices and actions in life lead to their circumstances, plus many other Buddhist tenets…. 
I thought about privately messaging Wise and Witty Friend, something along the lines of, Hey, WWF, would you allow someone to post a fundamentalist Christian tract on your page, because some Karma fundamentalist has just done the equivalent. It turns out WWF was way ahead of me, and deleted the comment soon after it was posted. Dang. Now I have to slag it from memory.
BTW, be it the Christian version, or Buddhist/Hindu/Karmic fundamentalism, I call BS on all of ’em. So, let the specific slagging begin.
The Buddhist Evangelical Fundamentalist Commenter (BEFC) quoted a Buddhist adage:
Sweet, and harmless, right?
Wrong. Especially as per the issues of privilege and systemic racism that the Black Lives Matter movement is bringing to the fore…as well as a host of other life situations.
As I read BEFC’s proselytizing prose I flashed back to a bar conversation I’d had many years ago,  with a friend who’d emigrated to the USA (with his parents) from India when he was an adolescent. We were  talking religion; specifically, his refutation of his religious background (although, in part to please his family, he kept up with a few of what he considered to be non-religious, cultural practices). He simply could not overlook the damage done by the concepts of karma and reincarnation (central to both Hinduism and Buddhism).
Karma…though its specifics are different depending on the religion… generally denotes the cycle of cause and effect — each action a person takes will affect him or her at some time in the future. This rule also applies to a person’s thoughts and words….
With karma, like causes produce like effects: a good deed will lead to a future beneficial effect, while a bad deed will lead to a future harmful effect….
Importantly, karma is wrapped up with the concept of reincarnation or rebirth, in which a person is born in a new human (or nonhuman) body after death. The effects of an action can therefore be visited upon a person in a future life, and the good or bad fortune someone experiences may be the result of actions performed in past lives.
What’s more, a person’s karmic sum will decide the form he or she takes in the next life.
(LiveScience, “What is Karma?”)
To summarize an hour-long discourse, the gist of my friend’s opinion: Besides being superstitious nonsense physically and intellectually unsubstantiated, karma essentially credits people for their successes and blames them for their failures. Your success is justified because it is either something you have achieved yourself in the here and now or it is the result of your good deeds in your previous life – the fact that you happened to be born in a powerful class/caste/gender/time period can be conveniently ignored. As for that poor Dalit (aka, “Untouchable“) man you sometimes run across, who does your laundry, sweeps your streets, unblocks your sewers with this bare hands and does other “unclean” work out of economic necessity? Yeah, that’s unfortunate for him, but who are you to interfere with his experience of cause and effect? It’s his karma; obviously, he did something bad in his previous life and/or has something to work out in this one….
There are so many Life Factors we humans don’t – or don’t wish to – understand (or even acknowledge), including those of luck and circumstance. In particular, people who are happy and successful are often hesitant to attribute their well-off circumstances, even in part, to the happenstance of their birth into the “right” (or at least more opportunity-providing) society/class/ethnicity/gender. People can be reluctant, even nervous, to admit that not everything is in their own control. This reluctance paves the way for religion/supernaturalism to step in with, “Don’t worry – here’s the answer!” or, “Sure, there *is* an answer, but it’s too much for mere mortal minds to comprehend so just trust in what we tell you and one day in the future/heaven/your next life you’ll get it….”
As to BEFC’s presentation, certainly the attitude embodied in the Buddhist saying (about the journey from blaming others, yourself, and then no one), has some merit, in the positive mindset/know thyself realm. But to avoid the fact that some things are mostly or even entirely out of your hand, and that sometimes other people and/or social frameworks and institutions *are* to blame – ignoring reality is not how we combat injustice.
The karma concept has always reminded me of a much-loathed – by moiself , at least – allegedly inspirational phrase from my own culture, which states that it is admirable and possible to Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. The thing is, in order to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, you have to have a pair of boots in the first place – you either can afford a pair of boots, or someone has given you boots. With straps.
A Black American family, working and saving diligently to be first-time home owners, can have the most positive attitude in the world, but when their mortgage application is denied, their “blaming no one” will not help them “arrive” on their journey to financial security when that loan denial is due to reasons out of their control.  “Blaming no one” will not alleviate the injustice when the family has been redlined, due to their skin color and/or the neighborhood in which they currently live and/or the neighborhood where the house they wish to purchase is located.
The concept of karma arose and survived because, like all religious philosophies, it tries to explain the unexplainable, and many of us are uncomfortable with uncertainty. Life is complex; there is much we don’t understand, about the physical world around us and the inner world of people’s thoughts motivations, and humans evolved to see and seek patterns even where none exist. But worldviews which admit to this reality – “Hey, this stuff is complicated and no one has all the answers” – don’t get many followers (and even fewer collection plate donations and tax credits).
Ah, karma. “What goes around comes around“…if only. Don’t we all know too many people whose actions merit shit pie, yet Life keeps serving them Crème Brûlée?
“For every action there is an equal and opposite re-action”
Karma and other religious principles are sometimes quoted as if they were one of Newton’s Laws of Motion, yet they are not even close to qualifying as laws of physics, let alone testable hypotheses. The karmic premises of cause and effect –
“each action (as well as a person’s thoughts and words) a person takes will affect him or her at some time in the future,” and
“like causes produce like effects”
(2) not borne out by objective data, and often refuted by experience;
(3) antithetical to the reality of injustice and systemic bigotry;
(4) aren’t the first three reasons enough?
Most abhorrent of all, whether you call it karma or one of those other, “You can do whatever you dream/You make your own reality” philosophies, such concepts lay the foundation for victim-blaming.
“… the accused had entered the West Delhi residence of the minor with the intent to ransack, but attacked (a 12-year-old girl) after she spotted him….
Besides the sexual assault, the girl was hit on the face and head with a sharp object. She was found lying in a pool of blood by her neighbours….
The girl has multiple head fractures and bite marks all over her body. She has been brutally assaulted to the extent that there are injury marks on every part of her body….”
(“Two days after 12-year-old beaten, sexually assaulted, one held
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who visited the hospital, said the brutality inflicted on the girl has “shaken is soul” and the government will hire the best lawyers to bring the guilty to justice.”
Two disturbing facts of life are that (1) sometimes people chose to do bad things and good people can simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time; and (2) cultural/gender privilege and systemic bias exist. But people won’t try to change that which they won’t acknowledge as existing…or which can be explained away by concepts like karma.
The white 16-year-old by pulled over by a cop for a minor traffic infraction (then let go with a warning) has the privilege of escaping violent stereotypes associated with his race, in a way that his 16-year-old Black classmate – pulled over for the same infraction yet subjected to an unwarranted drug test/vehicle and body search by the suspicious cop – does not. Neither boy is experiencing the “karma” – or “cause and effect” – of their own relatively short lives; rather, their immediate circumstances are determined by the biases of others who hold power over them.
Nothing that 12-year-old girl (in the above news story) did or could ever do is responsible for or related to the brutality which was done to her. Anyone who would even entertain a mindset which would allow for that possibility needs to wash out their mind with soap.
* * *
Departments Of Exceptions To The Rule
Moiself is, however, grateful for whomever dreamed up the concept of karma, if only for the fact that it (eventually) led to one of the best “The Far Side” cartoons, ever.
I wasn’t able to find the cartoon itself, so use your imagination. First, picture the silhouette of a classic Far Side Woman. ®
The cartoon consists of a single panel: two flies are on a refrigerator door. Looming over and behind them we see the shadow of Far Side Woman ®, her upraised arm holding a fly swatter. One fly says to the other,
“I guess I should have been nicer to my wife when I was alive;
this is the third time I’ve been reincarnated as a fly in her kitchen.”
* * *
Department Of Idiocy Makes My Brain Hurt
Sub-Department Of Let’s Just Cancel those Pesky Qualities of Imagination And Empathy, Part 102.7 In A Contemptibly Long Series
Adjunct to the Sub-Sub Division Of Why My Own Profession
Has Left A Bad Taste In My Mouth For Years
One of the worst things for writers is not to be censored, but to self-censor in fear of crossing the sensibilities and preferences of others.
I’ve written before of my frustration with and loathing for the “cultural appropriation” tribalism/mob mentality that has infected the world of literary fiction…and I’ll doubtless have cause to lament about it again. The latest instigation was a Fresh Air interview (a rerun, which I heard for the first time, this week) with actor/producer Kerry Washington.
Washington has been nominated for Emmy awards for acting in and co-producing the series, “Little Fires Everywhere,” which was adapted from the bestselling novel by Celeste Ng. Washington is Black; in the novel, the ethnicity of Mia, the character Washington plays, is never mentioned. Podcast host Terry Gross asked Washington how changing the character’s race changed the story and the story’s subtext. Washington said that casting herself in the role was the idea of her producing partners.
Washington (my emphases):
“…They had the idea to call me up and send me the book and ask me if I wanted to do it. And I thought it was an amazing idea. Of course, when I read it, I was reading it through the lens of Mia being Black because I’m Black. I think the novel is so much about identity and how the roles and the context of our identity contributes to how we live and relate to others in the world. So we knew that adding this layer of race would add to that complexity in an exciting way.
Then when I met Celeste Ng, the writer, for the first time, she actually admitted to me that she had always thought of Mia as a woman of color and that she had been drawn to the idea of writing Mia as a Black woman. But she didn’t feel like she had the authoritative voice to do that in the right way.”
I felt sucker-punched to hear that…yet I was hardly surprised. I’ve little doubt that author Ng’s hesitation about her “authoritative voice” was due to her anticipating charges of cultural appropriation (and the very real possibility of being boycotted by publishers, who would fear such a backlash): as in, how dare Ng think that she, an Asian (read: non-Black) writer, could create a full-blooded, multi-faceted, Black character?
* Although the Asian-American author imagined a Black woman as this lead character, she couldn’t bring herself to actually write her as such;
* Nevertheless, this Asian/non-Black writer was so successful in creating a compelling story about “identity and how the roles and the context of our identity contributes to how we live and relate to others in the world” that a Black actor could identify with this lead character as Black;
* And it was acceptable for the series’ casting director and other lead actor and producers to suggest casting the character as Black, and the Black actor allowed herself to take the role (“an amazing idea”), which was created by an Asian, non-Black writer….
* * *
Department Of Worst First (and last) Date Ever
Dateline: an early morning walk, listening to a Curiosity Daily (“a unique mix of research-based life hacks, the latest science and technology news”). One of the podcast’s topics was how male angler fish fuse with their mates without risking immune system rejection.
Narration: “… (the) male angler fish latches on, and begins to dissolve. As his tissues and circulatory system meld with the female’s, eventually most of his body parts and organs disintegrate, leaving his girl with only a pair of reproductive organs to remember him by. This is called sexual parasitism, and it’s totally unique to the anglerfish…”
Moiself : ” ‘Sexual parasitism is unique to the angler fish’ ” – really? ‘Cause I’ve heard stories from friends that would curl your hair (or dissolve your organs)….”
I’m thinking, is there a Barry White song which could possibly make this kind of coupling bearable? Nope; nada. Gotta be something more post-punk….
* * *
Department Of News Stories Like This Make Moiself Struggle With My Humanity…
Because I Am *So* On The Side Of The First Victim
This post, earlier this week on Facebook, from an Oregon Coast news bulletin board:
HUNTER KILLED BY ELK
” (Man, name; age, residence) was archery hunting on private property…. Man wounded a 5X5 bull elk but was unable to locate it before dark.
Man and the landowner attempted to find the wounded bull on the morning of (the next day) at approximately 9:15 A.M., Man located the bull and attempted to kill it with his bow. The elk charged Man and gored him in the neck with its antlers. The landowner attempted to help Man but he sustained fatal injuries and died.
The elk was killed and the meat was donated to the Tillamook County Jail….”
The lead sentence (which I omitted) in the post was, “Please send prayers for the family!” Moiself’s instinctive (if admittedly unsympathetic) reaction was, “F*** no; he got what he deserved! The elk was tortured, wandering for over 12 hours with a grievous wound….”
It was nice (? perhaps moiself should seek another word) to realize, as per several comments on the article, that I was not the only heartless judgmental bastard person concerned with the issue behind the issue:
* for the elk, this was literally a matter of life and death
* for the hunter, it was sport, and maybe some tasty elk steaks for the freezer 
Along with the posts saying, “Prayers to the deceased and his family”, I spotted several comments along the lines of, “Prayers for the poor elk’s family & friends.”
* * *
May you enjoy the exceptions to the rules;
May you cherish the simple windfalls of life, like not having an angler fish for a mate;
May you never give an elk (or any other animal) cause to think, “It’s him or me!”;
…and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 Nothing about the concept of white privilege claims or implies that there are no poor/struggling white folk….arrrrrrgh.
 With which I was mostly familiar, although there are several streams of Buddhist thought, and without the original post I cannot say for sure if the post-er was referencing Mahayana, Theravada, Vajrayana, or modern variants and “branches” of the those streams.
 As in, Wine and Deep Thoughts ® were involved.
 Part of our conversation included the fact that, by even acknowledging the Indian caste system, he might be creating “bad karma” for himself, as many higher-caste Indians who now live in America – and if they have the means to come here they are from the higher castes – surprise! – would rather pretend, in front of non-Indian Americans, that such a thing goes not exist. The social stratification of Indian society – including the emphasis of skin color and the bias against dark skin – is seen as an embarrassing cultural relic, yet, since it benefits them…why work to change it?
 Reasons which will be couched in other terms – the real reason will *never* be admitted to by the loan officers because although redlining is technically illegal, it is still practiced.
 With the emphasis on sport. Subsistence hunters don’t go for elk with bows and arrows on their landowner friend’s private acreage, and don’t care if it the animal they hunt, out of absolute necessity, is a “5×5″( a ranking system which refers to the points in each side of the antler rack).
Sep 14, 2020 @ 10:20:22
Have you read sTightrope by Nicholas Kristof? and I agree about the elk–I thought the same thing. Actually, I figured it was Karma for probably killing other elk and hurting this one.
Sep 14, 2020 @ 10:24:04
Nope, haven’t read Tightrope. And when it comes to karma, maybe I’ll make an exception for the elk hunter 😉