bitter, with a splash of loving-kindness

Via @claudia_m, I came upon this brief bit about Facebook (and promptly posted the article to my Facebook page where a couple of folks commented on it — ah, irony!). The article is provocatively titled “Quit Facebook” and is about the obsessive amount of time we spend constructing our online identities.

Next Friday we’ll be releasing the second installment of the live podcast. And in this episode, someone in the audience (you know who you are) asks about the stereotypes or assumptions people make about Buddhism that really bug us. When Harry reminded me of this question (I’d completely forgotten about it (they say the mind’s the fist thing to go) and Harry’s in the process of editing it), I got to thinking about where this question may be coming from. I’m sure I’m projecting my own egotistical shit onto the questioner (sorry about that), but I can’t help but wonder if my own online identity prompts people to think I’m little more than a rabble rouser, bitter and angry.

Not infrequently, people I consider to be very good friends (in one or two cases, people I’ve known since I had Flock of Seagulls hair), will call me up or send me an email asking if I’m okay. They’re wondering what the backstory is to whatever travesty must have inspired some random thing I Twittered/blogged/Facebooked about. And my usual response is, “what?” I have no idea what they’re talking about. Whatever travesty of injustice got me so riled up on the Internets was a fleeting concern, something that really chapped my hide during a lunch break, but now that I’m home, now that I’m with three dimensional people, now that I’m sitting on my sofa listening to music or hanging out with my wife — I’m sorry, what were we talking about?

So I wonder what sort of identity I am projecting to the world via my online shenanigans. (And, tangentially, I wonder how that’s changed since I started podcasting and my online persona made the subtle shift from purely textual to textual and auditory.) Do people see me as the bitter little Buddhist who revels in social criticism, deconstructing social systems just for the sake of deconstruction. The embittered academic against the Man, the Machine, the System, the State, the Whatever.

Because from where I’m sitting, there’s often a large disconnect between my snarky-sarcastic-embittered postings to the Internet and my usual state of mind. My usual state of mind is much less irked by things (okay, not all things. Just the other night I went off on a tirade to my wife about Barbara Ehrenreich’s latest book (actually, more to the point, her other book Nickel and Dimed) and then went off again to her parents when we were all having dinner together two or three days later. Jesus. Don’t get me started. So the gulf between online-me and real-world-me must not be so insurmountable. But still. Aren’t I in the middle of a parenthetical aside?)

The real thing I wanted to say at the end of many asides is this: I love you. I know. Such forthright and direct, unapologetic statements of sentimentality must be a shock to your system, must really conflict with my bitter little Buddhist street cred. But I stand by it. I love you.

And just to clarify, right here, right now, when I say “I love you,” I am thinking about something Harry said to the Zen folks out at Green Gulch. He said something (and I’m paraphrasing here) about Shin Buddhism being much more on the compassion side of the Buddhist spectrum than the wisdom side, and that one of the ways to understand Amida is to think about how the compassion of Amida embraces everyone. He said it much better (go, listen, now), but the take away for me was simply this: the thing about Buddhism for me is this notion of universal compassion. Combined with my sense of social justice and mutual responsibility for creating a better world (and to paraphrase Cornell West, that justice is the public expression of love), extending loving kindness to y’all is the only way to go. And whenever I stumble and forget, momentarily, why it is that I got into this whole Buddhist thing in the first place, I am reminded that it is because of this inherent interconnectedness we all share and as a consequence I have a moral duty to love you. I know I don’t always say it around here. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

So you’re just going to have to take it. Bitter ne’er-do-well and filled with loving kindness all at once, just as I am. Online projections notwithstanding.

5 thoughts on “bitter, with a splash of loving-kindness

  1. I’m interested in your ‘rants’ about Barbara Ehrenreichs books (both of which I find to be quite useful and good reads although politically I am well to her left). What do you think of her work?

  2. Ok. I followed the link to your thoughts on ‘Nickel and Dimed’. I get what you’re saying on that. But I think, despite its weaknesses, its a useful expose of the inhumanity and unacceptability of capitalism in the United States. I am also currently part of the low paid section of the working class in many ways with a truck drivers license and not much work here in the Los Angeles area, doing odd jobs and trying to finish a degree. Except for some pretty well paid, but infrequent work in the landscape field, it’s all pretty much ‘nickel and diming’ work for me. But what did you think about her new book (I assume you’re talking about ‘Bright Sided’)?

  3. I agree that Nickel and Dimed is a good expose of the problems with class-based economics. But what bothered me was that old adage, everybody hates a tourist.

    The fact of the matter is that Ms. Ehrenreich’s experience as a working-class person was an experience of choice. At any time during her trip to see how the other half lives she could have quit her job and headed back to her New York City condo and her middle-to-upper-class lifestyle. As you no doubt know from personal experience, this is not a choice that actual working class people have.

    And it is this issue of “choice” that is at the heart of the matter for me in regards to any conversation about any marginalized groups, whether it’s marginalization by class, gender, ethnicity, nationality or what-have-you. The privilege of choice. Those who have the privilege of choice often assume that everyone has the same choices when, in fact, we don’t.

    Furthermore, this voyeuristic perspective on marginal groups, apart from the obvious problems of the objectification of “the other,” is problematic to me for another reason. It tends to treat these issues as problems facing individuals and not as a part of a large-scale social system. Yes, this particular individual is suffering because of poverty; but lifting one person out of poverty won’t undo the class-based economic system in which we live. By focusing on individuals, we’re not having a conversation about the systemic issues at the root of individuals’ problems.

    As for her new book, Bright Sided, I haven’t read it so I can’t really comment on it. If I understand the premiss of the book correctly, she’s arguing that our irrational addiction to pseudo- and junk-scientific claims like in the The Secret will almost surely spell certain doom for humanity. On that point, I wholeheartedly agree! And when I made that comment in this post about a tirade about her latest book — I misspoke. My tirade was really about her appearance on the Daily Show a week or two ago, an uncomfortably awkward interview where Jon Stewart seemed to be suggesting that people who wanted her to “look on the bright side” when she was suffering from cancer were simply trying to be supportive in the only way they knew how, innocently and unintentionally being irritating to her but only because no one really knows how to act in those situations, an honest social faux pas. But Ms. Ehrenreich wasn’t having any of that. She shot him down time and again and came off as bitter and mean spirited and they never really got to talking about what I can only guess is the main thrust of her book — that anti-science, positive-thinking, New Age charlatans represent at least three of the four horsemen of the apocalypse which, again, I totally agree with!

  4. I basically agree with you on your criticism of the touristy-ness of ‘Nickel and Dimed’. It’s sort of a class version of the ‘Black Like Me’ phenomenon where black folks describe the racism and oppression they face because of their skin color for years and years and white folks don’t really listen or take it seriously. Then all of a sudden, a white guy passes as a black guy, experiences said racism and oppression himself, writes a book, and people start going ‘wow, this is wrong!’ But Ehrenreich is not one who argues that poverty and class oppression are individual problems. She is a long-time feminist socialist/social democrat type. In fact, along with Bill Fletcher, Jr., she has initiated a much needed and fruitful discussion/forum in The Nation magazine about ‘Reimagining Socialism’. You can read their piece as well as several other contribution here:
    In any case, on the main subject of your post, I don’t perceive your blogging to be overly bitter. These are harsh times and speaking and acting against injustice are needed more than ever. I enjoy the site and the podcast when I have the time to check it out and look forward to more from you.
    Cheers. Namaste.

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