I am aware that my article on Ahmadinejad will probably be comprehensible and attract much ridicule in some quarters (as may my earlier articles, On Zionism, though in different quarters). That is not a problem but it would be a shame. The whole issue is actually intimately related to my recent essay On Love and many other articles on the need to keep head and hart unified, to avoid allowing our ethical judgments be dominated by sentiment (the modern mistake and the central theme of Sense and Sensibility and all of Jane Austen’s novels in my view). Here I will try to draw these themes together and fulfill a promise to reply to a fellow blogger.
Robert Duquette, commenting on my essay, On Love, questioned this effort do all this loving through the intellect, and encapsulated Taleb’s idea (explained in his book, The Black Swan) that our memory, and indeed our whole way of understanding reality, is narrative driven, leading us to simply ignoring or immediately forgetting information that fails to fit the narratives that makes up our understanding of reality. Taleb’s idea makes perfect sense to me and is compatible with what my Buddhist teachers have taught me (as I have understood them).
I have said in a post On Antisemitism:
I think this whole area needs to be treated with great care and sensitivity. There is plenty of objective evidence that Jews on average are highly liberal, tolerant, educated and so on being much far more sceptical of the neocon nutty Iraq project than the population on average. As an ethnic group I find it particularly easy to think highly of them (and my ethics says that we should strive to think well of everyone).
In plain language I think very well of Jews in general, but the moment I say that then I am also saying that I think poorly of gentiles, so I prefer to fold my point of view into the statement and say that for me it is easy think well of Jews.
I also said that my ethics say that we should strive to think well of everybody, and the essay On Love makes it clear that this is at the centre of Christian and Buddhist ethics (and I expect all the major religions). But doesn’t this imply that I am setting out to delude myself by trying to ram all the evidence into a Panglossian narrative? Isn’t this what is happening with my articles defending Ahmadinejad?
I say absolutely not, and this is why. In the first place anger according to Buddhism is the most destructive delusion and it is a delusion causing reality to become frightfully distorted in an effort to accentuate the negative qualities of the object. Love that come mixed with attachment is equally a delusion as it will seek to accentuate the positive qualities of its object.
As I explained in the article pure love is (according to the Buddhist definition) is characterized by a wish for its object to be happy. Clearly for this is not compatible with harboring angry thoughts towards the object, and one of the best antidotes to anger is reality itself, by which I mean understanding the way that the person or group of people, or whatever, have become as they are. Once you understand that these hated characteristics have actually arisen out of a series of causes and conditions the hatred dissipates. The key thing here is that this a good thing as the anger only distorts the situation and inhibits a clear response to it. As well as being what I have been taught it is also my own experience.
Note that in coming to a better understanding of the pathology of the object that you used to hate you become equipped with a better understanding to avoid any further harm from the object. You are of course not in any way approving of the pathology either, nor are you surrendering the option to deal with it forcefully if that is truly the best way of dealing with it. You are just making sure that you are in a fit and rational state of mind to cope with whatever it is that has been causing grief.
Now you might think that the way that this works is by some herculean effort at repressing all those natural emotions rumbling around in that lizard part of our brain, all the emotions that make life fun and colourful. Nothing could be further from the truth. If this is done right, and with enough practice, it liberates a powerful force of natural love that remains otherwise obscured by our delusions. Buddhists refer to this as the Buddha nature that we all possess and Christians (and other theists) will think of it as the divine love.
Whether you buy all that hocus pocus is not the point. The point that I am trying to get at is to engage the heart and mind together for they really are inseparable. The disciplined thinking should remain inseparable from the feelings; it should put you in contact with the humanity of the person you are having difficulty, to empathize with them, in a sense to become them. This way we get in touch with our own humanity; it is a very liberating process and should be full of warmth and feeling.