Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Criticism of Self-Help Karma

The way that I understand how everyday American self help adherents understand karma bugs me.

The first part of the definition of karma with this crowd probably coincides well with the original ideas of karma. Something to the effect of "what goes around, comes around" or "what you put out, comes back."

I see a divergence, however, from my understanding of the spirit of karma after that point. More often than not, the everyday self-help crowd will take a passive approach. Karma comes to them as a coping technique, to make the day-to-day toil bearable rather than as a tool for improving the world.

This self-help crowd inteprets karma as non-contribution to evil equalling good karma. My issues arises when they also willfully ignore contributing to the good. In our interdependent, complicated world, ignoring the cause of good contributes and furthers the cause of evil.

I'll be the first to admit that if you simply treat the people around you well, you will likely have pleasant interactions with those very same people. Even better, your positive attitude will likely rub off on them, bettering their mood and encouraging them to treat other people well.

That infectious pleasant meme can go as far as the network extends depending on the willingness of everyone in said network. Some people just have negative dispositions and resist positivity.

We also all mingle within multiple networks throughout our days. Every person sits in the position of a hub between two or more networks. The two networks could even just be a family or work/educational network (or a friendship network).

Only the most "pathological" anti-social would try to cut themselves out of any network. Even then, despite our mechanized world, the anti-social has to interact with others at some point, even if through chat, text or e-mail. The anti-social has some kind of network, despite how formalized and minimal they make it. Even purchasing, selling and receiving services counts as social interaction.

By virtue of their interaction in a network, the anti-social have some kind of affect on the people around them. Non-interaction is still interaction.

Through the intersections of people as social network hubs, a super-positive karmic meme could even clash with an anti-social's negative karmic meme from their non-interactive karmic network. The anti-social can disperse that positivity into negativity.

I have only used simplistic reductionary reasoning so far (something I usually try to avoid espousing or spectating) to illustrate the impact of karmic degrees of separation impacting each other through non-interaction.

More sophisticated reasoning that takes into account the reality of the world reveals phenomena much more disturbing.

Non-interactive karma memes also relate to the passive self-help crowd. Corporations, especially international mega-corporations, and governments have, when not active, non-interactive relations with everyone and everything in our world. They all have impact on the health of our societies and environment.

[I consider the economy as part of the social sphere since it's essentially a psychosocial construct that affects how people relate to each other based on beliefs about material, mental and behavioral possessions. The attempt at making an objective science for economy, despite its correctness in many cases, relies on assumptive cognitive bias. Some examples of these assumptive cognitive biases are: people make rational political economic decisions or that people can be manipulated through marketing.]

Back in college, I had this romantic image of the noble savage or a tribe of them on an island or some kind of lush outback. It’s their island or lush outback, not anyone else’s. They don’t have to let anyone else on their island or into their lush outback. These noble savages can stay pure and not have their society and cultures altered.

Then I remembered how the Europeans came to America and slaughtered and enslaved tons of Indians.

Despite Africans being party to it, the demand for slaves by the European powers certainly encouraged the enslavement and shipping of many native Africans.

China’s invasion of Tibet.

Hitler decimating most of Europe after the European powers tried to appease him with Poland. Russia took Eastern Europe. And even before that, Napoleon, Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great left their marks on the world.

Changes to the noble savage don’t have to originate from outright violent conquerors. These days, China’s demand for oil has jacked up the cost at the gas pump and to heat our homes in the United States. China’s desire for development has encouraged the influx of jellyfish in the waters between China and Japan.

9/11. From whatever side of the political spectrum you come from, you can probably think of some way that negligence either didn’t stop it from happening or encouraged it to happen. Whether the US government didn’t pay attention to the signs that it would likely happen or the US government and corporate interests alienated enough Middle Easterners to make them angry enough to blow up stuff, fault can still be pinned.

The manipulation doesn’t even have to be that direct or violent. Someone in a land of noble savages gets greedy. Maybe they just decide that the land is theirs, as a lone individual, not the rest of the country’s, simply by virtue that they say it is theirs. The “owner” sells or leases the land out to corporations or possibly even governments. Natives get kicked off their land to develop the land. The people of the county lose their freedom and become slum dwellers because they have nowhere else to go.

Or who knows, maybe the owner of the land might have the enlightened good sense to use the money they’ve gotten to culturally enrich the once noble savages. Fat chance of that happening, though. Hard to think of a land stealer being altruistic enough to give proceeds back to the people they stole from.

Even in more legitimate situations: the clothes that we buy fund these corporate take overs of third world countries. Maybe before the corporations arrived there, people didn’t have much free time to get bored, lie around or possibly culturally enrich themselves. Maybe they had to deal with serious but preventable disease and the more primal issues of getting food, securing themselves against nature, finding warmth and so on.

But there’s a certain degree of meaning that comes from facing off against the elements and surviving. At the very least, keeping busy trying to stay alive helps to fend off those feelings of alienation that we hope to address by buying stuff, watching TV, getting involved in pop culture, drugs, alcohol, sex and all the “addictions” of modern life. Sure, people in the modern world may live longer, but they’re also more susceptible to diabetes, cancers, cholesterol and blood pressure issues. . .and I’ve got one thing to say: Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

As we pull ourselves out of nature, becoming evermore mechanized and leisurely (at least, for the people who can afford it), the more we become susceptible to diseases, syndromes and neuroses of affluent leisure. Whereas the noble savage gets exercise through labor everyday and sees exercise as tedious, modern humanity doesn’t get enough exercise and makes it a leisure activity to hopefully encourage health and demonstrate their superiority.

While modern humanity progresses further down this leisure path, we enable our corporations and governments to bait other cultures down the same path. It doesn’t necessarily become a choice, though. Once ownership and an industrial economy enters a society, providing sweatshop labor to natives as a way out of poverty becomes a moral argument to the neoliberal or neoconservatism.

The money we spend on cheap goods, in ways that don’t seem to affect other people, enables these corporations and governments to enter into these non-modern cultures and modernize and industrialize them.

I’ve only highlighted the social degradation that can occur through non-interactive non-involvement. People love debating whether climate change is occurring. We don’t even have to go there to show the environmental damage caused by our corporations.

Rainforests get cut down without a thought to make paper and rubber products. Even for our modern world, there go great resources for developing medicines as clear cutting cause species to go extinct.

Monoculture destroys the fertility of soil. Crop rotation helps to keep soil healthy. Corporations love monoculture and keeping things on as simple of a system as possible. Even in the US, factory farms and ranches produce tons of meat and biomass for food and other products. To generate the most product efficiently in the case of beef, though, e coli is cultured into a virulent strain that can easily kill a human being if exposed to it.

The city of Los Angeles is trying to return to its native desert habitat. Chicago is trying to bring back the prairie. The process includes generating controlled fires.

Cities are following a trend of returning to the original environment, but I feel the impetus for this trend comes from the realization that the all the different parts of the environment evolved for a reason: it works within a balance. Look at what happened when the people of New Orleans built on the water and hurricanes struck.

Now I’m kind of wondering about the Back Bay area of Boston. It used to be a Bay until they made it land with landfill. Will that area always remain stable? Will Boston face some consequence from human ingenuity and hubris?

Just by being part of the United States economy on an unconscious level, someone will contribute to the degradation of cultures, the environment and the everyday lives of people. Low prices come at a cost: either from taxpayers sponsoring subsidies, the plundering of vast supplies of resources that will likely disappear or at the cost of human dignity, freedom and sense of meaning.

Non-interaction does not mean abstaining from contributions to evil or remaining neutral. Through non-interaction on an everyday level, we put out evil through complacency. At some point, that evil will come back to haunt us. . .or maybe not us, but our children.

I don’t see the shortsighted everyday self-help adherents taking these details into account when they think of karma. They should, they really should.

UPDATE: Recent article about finding vaccines in the Amazon and some politics that go into it.

Links of Interest: karma, noble savage, meme

1 comment:

Vijay Kumar Jain said...

As per infallible laws of karma ... we reaped fruits of karma performed! Nothing in cosmic system happened of its own! If we suffered in present life... all owes its existence to bad karma performed by us in past or previous lives!