Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Torch

Like many revolutionary national movements, Tibetan nationalism is largely based on an idealized mythical, or even fabricated, past, and denial about the present. Before the communists invaded Tibet in 1950 in the course of re-unifying China, the social system in Tibet was, in the polite phrase, "feudalism". 70% of the land belonged to the monasteries, and almost all the arable land. Some Tibetan peasants were share-croppers. The majority were serfs. Serfs could be, and often were, sold. The less polite phrase for such a social system is "slavery". The communists overthrew the Tibetan social system by force, just as they overthrew the social system throughout China.

All the bitching and moaning ever since has been on account of the communists having been Chinese rather than Tibetan. The sole argument against Chinese intervention in an area that had been part of China for more than two hundred years was and is racial xenophobia. When someone strikes off one's chains, only a moron, dupe, or xenophobe objects to the ethnicity of the emancipator. This is like American slaves refusing emancipation because Lincoln and the Union Army were white.
But after three generations of disinformation both in Tibet and in the West, we have replaced historical reality with myth. Buddhism is cool. Communism is no longer cool. A successful social, commercial, and industrial system is definitely not cool.

An essential element of Tibetan Buddhism's appeal is that few know much about it. In fact, lamaist Buddhism is to the teachings of Gautama the Buddha as Holy Rollerism is to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. To those who have read anything at all about it, it is definitely Not Cool.

The Dalai lama's sole claim to moral authority is that he has a terrific smile and a wonderful presence. The best judgment on such a one is a line given Hamlet by Shakespeare, "That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain."

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