Tuesday, April 25, 2006


The Dalai Lama on Western Values --
Also posted to Street Prophets:

From this article in the UK Telegraph earlier this month, the Dalai Lama critiques Western culture.


"It is fascinating," he says, speaking in slightly stilted English. "In the West, you have bigger homes, yet smaller families; you have endless conveniences - yet you never seem to have any time. You can travel anywhere in the world, yet you don't bother to cross the road to meet your neighbours; you have more food than you could possibly eat, yet that makes women like Heidi miserable."


The West's big problem, he believes, is that people have become too self-absorbed. "I don't think people have become more selfish, but their lives have become easier and that has spoilt them. They have less resilience, they expect more, they constantly compare themselves to others and they have too much choice - which brings no real freedom."


He has lived as a monk since childhood, but the Dalai Lama views marriage as one of the chief ways of finding happiness. "Too many people in the West have given up on marriage. They don't understand that it is about developing a mutual admiration of someone, a deep respect and trust and awareness of another human's needs," he says. "The new easy-come, easy-go relationships give us more freedom - but less contentment."



The Dalai Lama criticizes a self-centered worldview. This is something that I've spent a lot of time thinking about. While rights-based liberalism is a good framework in which to negotiate between competing needs and wants of different groups and people, it has spawned in some people a philosophy of the primacy of the individual above all other considerations. I trace a host of phenomena, specifically the downward trend in group affiliation, whether it be labor unions, political parties, or organized religions, as part of this philosophy, which over-emphasizes the atomistic individual at the expense of groups that we belong to.

This is why I consider libertarianism, with its emphasis on absolute free markets and egoist view of individuals as completely unfettered by personal ties not of their own choosing as morally bankrupt. A common thread that you will hear in my arguments is that hedonism, focusing on pleasure for the sake of pleasure, is wrong. (Pleasurable things are not intrinsically wrong, nor are they intrinsically good; it is the unbalanced and unhealthy emphasis on pleasure above all that is the problem.)

My belief that freedom is generally a good thing is tempered by the realistic awareness that people too often act unwisely when given the freedom that is their due. It's not enough to work toward a freer and more open society; we sometimes need to talk about how people use their freedom, even if it entails criticizing their choices.
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