December 10, 2009

Oh Boy, David Loy

I just deleted a post on David Loy that was a pretty harsh vent, where I cast him as whiny and ineffectual. In his defense, he openly admits the disparity between his expectations and reality, and also has never claimed to be a man of action. David Loy is certainly doing his best to change the world for the better, and doing it the best way he knows how—through writing.

Via the Jizo Chronicles, I was pointed to a recent opinion by David Loy on Shambhala SunSpace. He has a very strong view that Buddhists have a unique role to play in the progressive movement. But I don’t see much unique substance to his argument beyond the following two points.

  • We should improve society and the world.
  • Buddhism gives us a unique way to do so.
I suppose the first point isn’t unique. He frames the Buddhist solution very broadly, in terms of general awareness. Because Buddhism is about moving beyond delusion, it provides the tools to better be aware of not just individual ills, but also social ills. He breaks down our social dilemmas in terms of greed, ill will and delusion, tying these defilements to various institutions. His rhetoric is clever, but I feel his words are utterly pointless beyond spurring people to action. How does a Buddhist perspective make change any different, be it easier, faster or more thorough than a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or simply a non-religious perspective?

I’m all ears.

You can read more work by David Loy at Enlightenment Ward.

2 comments :

  1. I also have a low opinion of Loy's writing. The Shambhala politically engaged piece you linked to is marred by a terrible analogy (perhaps the evil influence of that master of terrible analogies, Thomas Friedman?)

    I voted for Obama. I donated to Obama's campaign. I used up a week of my vacation time at work to volunteer for Obama, hit the pavement and phonebank. Not to mention the weekends, when I worked on Georgia voter registration at malls.

    I didn't do all this because I thought Obama was Maitreya about to lead us into the Pure Land! That's utterly ridiculous, and even insulting! Like a lot of other people, I had misgivings, but made a pragmatic choice that Obama was better than alternatives. Much, much better than the grim alternative of McCain/Palin. I did not expect him to produce much of an improvement in the area of foreign policy, especially... I just expected him not to be as much of a bloodthirsty maniac as McCain. So far Obama has met my rather low expectations in this regard. I made a prgamatic political choice... if I'd wanted ideological purity, I'd have worked for Kucinich or a third-party candidate.

    I think politically engaged Buddhism is a great idea. Loy doesn't make that case, though.

    "The lesson to be learned from the Obama campaign is that it’s a big mistake to expect the political/economic system to reform itself."

    That line of his brings to mind a popular expression ending with "Sherlock".

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  2. I'm going to skip the argument about Obama being better than McCain - although people love to give up on candidates that are closer aligned to their values and then blame those of us who stand up for the same candidates as idealists who tip elections in favor of the worst of two bad choices. It's a tired, false dichotomy - idealist v. pragmatist - that needs to be retired.

    But as far as David Loy's work goes, I've read a lot of it. Much more than just a few articles. It's easy to slam a few articles by someone, and toss their efforts into the collective waste basket. But if you actually dig into this guys writings, you'll see that he's doing his best to use Buddhist teachings to deeply examine the structures that are creating oppressive conditions in our world, as well as helping to create out of control material desires within most of us. He's not unique in doing this, but the more thoughtful voices on this, the better chance we might be able to shift some of our collective, destructive habits.

    Do I think a Buddhist perspective is better or faster than any other? No. But I do think we have different approaches that add to the collective wisdom, and thus should try to speak and act when we can.

    Do I think David Loy's work is always on the mark? No. He writes a lot, and it's uneven. I found his last book, "Money, Sex, War, Dharma," kind of sloppy. Some good nuggets, but overall choppy, with a lot of unfinished thoughts and examinations.

    And as for politically engaged Buddhism, it's long beyond the idea stage. People are out there, working together all over the world, in politically engaged ways directly informed by the dharma.

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