By Patricia Ivan
(Edited and expanded from her Connections blog post “Tweet Your Own Horn.” Links at bottom. SEE UPDATE. 3-21-14])
I’ve just had a crash course in how networking and self-promotion function in the online Buddhist world. It’s rather simple: tweet your own horn, link to your own work, hook up with friends who flatter you and censor those who don’t. Above all: control communication, create an image and maintain it diligently.
This may be old hat for people in corporate marketing, but when the product is emptiness and compassion, the result is a new brand of hypocrisy.
On March 4, Ken McLeod retweeted a quote posted by Hokai Sobol on Twitter:
Connecting w/o contact, sharing w/o cost, and participating w/o liability, is not the future of tech, of identity, of culture.
I appreciate that Hokai and Ken felt the need to tweet their concern for human connection, sharing and participation in the online age, but apparently the contact, cost and liability are too much for them and a few of their other cronies from Western Buddhism Incorporated.
It started on January 23 with the following dialogue on Twitter between me and Vincent Horn, host of Buddhist Geeks:
Vincent Horn: Working on letting negative comparisons drop. The work I’m involved in is not made any better by disparaging others. 🙂
Me: Does your work spare critical thinking? Please do not disparage that!
Vincent Horn: Do you see dropping public negative comparisons as the same as dropping critical thinking? I don’t. 🙂
Me: No, only if you critically examine a public figure and find him/her wanting then censor your views.
The last half of the exchange was censored and, in spite of the smiley faces, I was suddenly unable to tweet with Mr. Horn. Apparently he sensed a painful public comparison and is now doing his critical thinking with the less disparaging in private.
Sometime later I tried to expand a tweet on Ken’s page and discovered that I was “not authorized to look up related results for that tweet.” Just for fun, I went to Hokai Sobol’s page. Sure enough, I was “not authorized” there too.
Turns out I am not alone in having been de-authorized from the tweets of Ken McLeod. Another former student of Ken’s contacted me to ask “Did Ken kick you off Twitter? It happened to me.”
How does Ken justify his refusal to dialogue? Of course he doesn’t. But, asked about the roots of a Buddhist ethics, he once explained:
It’s not about being good, obeying some kind of divine law or some set of rules that is being handed to us; it’s about acting in the world in a way that causes no regret or disturbance in ourselves. (Unfettered Question #98; emphasis mine.)
Rules, divine law and “being good” can be safely set aside here, for they have nothing at all to do with Ken’s main assertion. He is saying that the sole criterion for a Buddhist ethos is the degree to which our behavior spares us regret and disturbance so that, as said later in the same podcast, “the mind and the heart are quiet and at peace”. Ken presents as “ethical” what can just as easily be seen as a psychological defence, an egoistic “do not disturb” justified by a thinly veiled metaphysical solipsism.
In a world in which the sole criterion for our behavior is the avoidance of regret and disturbance, the narcissist and sociopath, encumbered by neither, float to the top. Yet the failure to appreciate that something other than our own peace of mind might bear on our responsibilities to others is typical of corporate Buddhist praxis and key to how power is wielded by unfettered minds.
One way to feel no regret or disturbance is simply to ignore anything that is difficult to hear and, in fact, excluding uncomfortable dialogue seems to be a popular way of handling disagreement by Buddhism Incorporated. James Shaheen hasn’t responded to my comment posted on his editorial comment “The Buddha Stain” published by Tricycle last month. Stephen Batchelor has not stooped to respond to the critical comments made by me and others on his post “Buddhism and Sex: the Bigger Picture.” Dennis Hunter, a fan of Ken’s, silently censored my comment on his blog post “A Monk No More.” Then, there is “The Naked Monk,” Stephen Schettini, who contacted me to inquire about my grievance with Ken. When I responded, after a pregnant pause in our email correspondence, he decided to solicit me for his spiritual autonomy counseling services at an affordable hourly rate. Maybe someone warned him of the potential cost and liability of contact.
Sometimes the exercise of power is hidden behind one or another principle of the eightfold path, like “right speech”. In this case, rather than hold oneself alone accountable to this standard, the standard is used to hold others accountable and to justify censoring, muting, ignoring or deleting their voices. Instead of saying “I am unable to remain present to this dialogue which challenges my peace of mind,” the problem is projected onto one’s interlocutor while the offended party claims the moral high ground, accusing: “you are not speaking nicely and I refuse to engage with your wrong speech.” (Listen to Ted Meissner on Buddhist Geeks from about 30:00). On the one hand, forceful or aggressive criticism is condemned as “clinging” too hard to “our ideas about things” (Vincent Horn, in the same podcast, at 17:35) and, on the other, right speechers like Mr. Meissner cling to the belief that it is okay for Buddhists to play dharma police.
Whether it invokes “right speech” or not, a Buddhist ethics that silences others or uses ignoble silence to exercise personal or corporate power forecloses dialogue and enables passive aggression.
Tricycle recently announced that it will now be featuring a Buddhist Geeks page on their website. “Strategic partnerships” I think they call it. Or is it “geeks tweak each other’s deeks?”
Those authorized to do so can go take a peak.
Originally posted by Patricia Ivan at Connections as “Tweet your own Horn.”
Stephen Batchelor, “Buddhism and Sex: the Bugger Picture,” at Sweeping Zen.