Thursday, October 26, 2006

Thoughts on Veiling

I've been staying out of the whole veil/no-veil conversation, mostly because I'm ignorant about a lot of the issues involved. However, Jill at Feministe links to an article about the topic that I feel at least marginally qualified to comment on:

They argue that you do not have to look western to be modern. The veiled woman defies the sexual mores of the west, with its strange compulsion to “reveal all”. Where western men and women display their expensive clothes and flaunt their finely honed bodies as a mark of privilege, the uniformity of traditional Muslim dress stresses the egalitarian and communal ethos of Islam.

It seems self-evident to me that veiling is about more than a desire for modesty. You can dress modestly and downplay your body without going so far as to cover your face; the Ms. Armstrong never went to that extreme. Conflating a nun's habit with a full-face veil ignores this distinction. Part of the problem with analyzing this issue is that veiling has been adopted as a protest tactic, which muddies the water significantly when discussing veiling's significance. Let's look at the practice from a protest and non-protest standpoint and see where that gets us. Before we get into the meat of things I'd like to highlight that I believe people should be able to wear what they want; I'm in no way calling for any sort of prohibition against wearing headcoverings. Moving on... Consider the case where the veil is not worn as a concious sign of protest. As Ms. Armstrong points out, wearing a veil is not mandated in the Qur'an but rather is a social artifact, so its difficult to argue for the veil solely on religious grounds. Ditto the whole modesty angle; covering your face for modesty's sake only makes sense if the face is sexualized to the exclusion of all its other functions. Irshad Manji raises this particular critique in The Trouble With Islam Today; she considers it something of an issue that casual contact between the sexes has become so sexually charged in certain segments of Muslim society. In some cases women may very well be wearing the veil out of a sense of modesty, but its a sense of modesty which is derived from potentially pathological attitude about sex. So why wear the veil if not for modesty, nor religion, nor protest? Think for a minute about what a veil does; it obscures the face. I needn't remined the reader about the myraid associations between face and identity; obscuring one is effectively obscuring the other. Why would someone want to do this of their own free will? What is there to be gained by hiding your identity? I can think of a parallel to this situation in my own life which I believes helps to clarify the issue. One particular martial arts system that I've studied suggests that its instructors wear a particular type of belt when they are teaching. This "instructors' belt" lies outside of the formal ranking system; instructors wear this belt as a reminder that the formal ranking of instructor and student has little bearing on the instruction process. We have here a case where part of the instructor's identity is masked because it gets in the way of the goal which the instructor is trying to achieve. This suggests that there could be positive benefit to a woman choosing to conceal her identity. At the same time I believe its important to draw attention to the differences between the instructors' belt and veiling. One is a specific concealment of limited duration with a well-articulated purpose, the other is a much more encompasing concealment of arbitrarily long duration without a well-articulated purpose. What does the individual gain by concealing her identity in such a fashion? Absent some substantial, concrete benefits its reasonable to question the motivation behind veiling. For its very easy to make the case against veiling. Again, this goes back to the association of face and identity. When women wear the veil they conceal their respective identities. A group of veiled women are physically interchangeable; its but a short hop from there to treating women as generally interchangeable. Simultaneously, the wearing of the veil has the potential to diminish a woman's perception of her own individuality. If I were going to establish and maintain a patriarchal society I can hardly think of a better tool than requiring women to wear veils. As noted previously, all of the above presumes that the veil is not being worn as a symbol of protest; I also have some pragmatic criticisms of the veil as a protest device. I question the efficacy of a device which isolates you from the very audience that you are trying to reach; they may note your protest, but you're unlikely to win any supporters. Jack Straw, though his remark was ill-timed and impolitic, was correct in stating that the veil hinders communication. Again, adopting the veil as a protest device doesn't make much sense if you're unwilling to take it off when it gets in the way of the goals which you are trying to achieve (like talking to The Man).

For The Record

With all due respect to World O' Crap, I've a copyright on Harry Bellafonte-themed Apocalypto jokes. No worries, just send the check.

New Wine Bar in Rochester

For any Rochesterians who might stumble across this blog, I want to let you know about a new development in the South Wedge. Not only is the green grocer finally open, but we've got a new wine bar as well. Solera, at 647 South Ave., is very cool, as is the owner, John. I was there last night with my wife and was quite impressed. John has done a good job of selecting tasty wines at a very reasonable price ($4-7/glass) and promises that small plates are on the way. So please, go and support John and the South Wedge by buying a glass or two, yes?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

See, This Is What I'm Talking About

Remember when I posted about how religious exemptions are inherently flawed? This is a brilliant example of exactly what I was getting at. I'll say it again: making determinations as whether or not a particular belief warrants an exemption is not an appropriate function of government.

Open Source Voting Software

I'm not particularly an open source evangelista or anything, but I read crap like this and I get to thinking that developing voting software would be an appropriate expenditure of government resources. You know, that whole 'transparent elections' thing. Turns out that there's already a group doing just that, but they don't have funding or the endorsement of any government. Why is any government, state or federal, paying for Diebold's frickin' equipment when they could have open and auditable software for the low price of $1.5 mil?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Voter Confusion Serves No Purpose

I suppose its a victory for the good guys, but doesn't it undermine the whole notion of a 'free and fair election' if people are confused about for whom they are voting? It really shouldn't matter that its helping our side, or if the Republicans tried to stop the Democrats from doing the same thing before, or any of the other myriad reasons why people think this is a good thing. This is exactly the same as the goddamn butterfly ballots; get over it and find some amicable way to let people know what the fuck is going on, ok?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Engaging Zen Skeptically, Part III

I've mostly finished Zen and the Brain at this point. I'm still not convinced of the merits of Zen practice; Dr. Austin's writing makes it seem like a mixed bag at best. I'm in agreement that dampening the ego is beneficial to the individual. Quieting or eliminating its non-productive and reactive components seems like a winner, but the radical ablation of the self that he describes as Zen's central goal is of questionable merit.

I mean, I like being me. It reminds me of a quote I encountered in previous reading on this topic: "I want to taste the honey, not be the honey". The individuals which Dr. Austin describes in the final chapters of the book are, in a certain sense, barely recognizable as people. Consider the monk who displays indifference on being given a child, and further indifference when that child is taken away. This reaction reveals a radical detachment, but its not self-evident that such an approach towards life is desirable.

Even more telling, however, is the story of the samurai-turned-monk whose reaction, upon being spat upon, is to give thanks for no longer feeling the need to react to this incident. Dr. Austin writes that "'wrong' actions won't arise when a brain continues truly to express the self-nature intrinsic to its kensho experience". That may very well be the case; one who does nothing cannot commit an incorrect act. But "right action" implies, at some level, an active "doing" rather than a passive "non-doing".

Accepting things as they are with equanimity isn't right action, its quietism; sometimes action is called for. The appropriate response in the story of the samurai is to admonish the spitter, for to do otherwise reinforces the spitter's perception that such behavior is acceptable. But one can administer the admonishment out of a desired to change society for the better, rather than out of some sense of personal grievance (that would be the Zen way to do it, yes?). The monk is not behaving with compassion towards society. Instead he has taken the easy way out and abdicated responsibility entirely. The behavior of the monk is morally equivalent to someone who permits genocide to happen; the difference is a matter of degree, not kind.

However, this detachment isn't necessarily echoed in other portions of the book. The quotes and anecdotes from the various Zen masters depict engaged individuals. The story of the Abbot and the deer depicts the abbot as living in more than just the now; it also reveals a future orientation. And the principle of Shin seems to indicate that the advanced Zen practitioner is still influenced by emotional considerations.

Really, at this point I'd like to sit down and pick Dr. Austin's brain. He's clearly a smart guy, but there are a lot of contradictory statements throughout the book. I don't think these are "Zen paradoxes" either, but rather just the failure to explain or differentiate concepts sufficiently.

As a side note, I've been chewing over his ideas about the roots of ineffability. I don't think that ineffability results from experiencing something in a different mental state than normal. Words are ultimately arbitrary symbols whose meanings are arrived at by consensus. The ineffability of certain aspects of Zen is a result of the fact that not enough people have experienced them to come to a consensus definition regarding terminology. If the experience of "a crystalline void" was common to large numbers of people we'd have better words to express it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Datacenters Dead, Film At 11

Via Slashdot we find Sun's CEO predicting the downfall of the datacenter:

Now I understand that IT infrastructure has to be put somewhere. But the whole concept of a datacenter is a bit of an anachronism. We certainly don't put power generators in precious city center real estate, or put them on pristine raised flooring with luxuriant environmentals, or surround them with glass and dramatic lighting to host tours for customers. (But now you know why we put 5 foot logos on the sides of our machines.)

Where do we put power generators? In the engine room. In the basement. Or on the roof. And we don't host tours (at least in the developed world).

Wrong, just plain wrong. I feel like I could be accused of hubris, taking on the CEO of Sun Microsystems, but jeeze, he's so obviously wrong on this I've got to try. Yeah, generators may go in the engine room or the basement, but then again computers aren't exactly like generators, are they? If a generator is providing service to a building you generally have to put it in/near the building (don't you?). Whereas a computer that provides support to a bevy of office works can be miles away, thanks in part to that lovely Internet which you guys at Sun helped become so successful. If you could put all the generators for a company in one place and have them serviced by the same staff, wouldn't you take advantage of the economies of scale that would provide?

The original intent of the datacenter was to accommodate not computer equipment, but the people who managed it. Operators who needed to mount tapes, sweep chad, feed cards, and physically intervene when things went wrong. Swap a failed board or disk drive, or reboot a system.

Bull-pucky... that may have been the rationale behind data centers in the dim mists of computing antiquity, but it sure isn't the reason why they exist today. Ever heard of a "lights out" data center? You know, one where there aren't any people? Data centers exist today to provide a controlled, cost-effective environment for computing equipment. If you put all your eggs in one basket (while, of course, maintaining a DR basket somewhere else) then you can amortize your fixed costs (security, infrastructure, environmental controls, etc.) over a larger number of servers. Do you really think its more cost effective for businesses to go back to the days when every department kept its servers in a closet somewhere?

Therein lies an interesting quandary - at least from our internal analysis, the availability of IT infrastructure is inversely correlated to foot traffic. The more people allowed in a datacenter, the more likely they are to kick a cord out of the wall, break something trying to fix it, or just bump into things trying to add value.

Minimizing floor traffic is an excellent idea, see my point above about "lights out" data centers. But even if you minimize floor traffic you still have to put the servers somewhere, and putting them together in one place is a better idea then having them dispersed all over Hell's half acre from both an economic and a management standpoint.

As the best systems administrators will tell you, the most reliable services are built from infrastructure allowed to fail in place, with resilient systems architecture taking the place of hordes of eager datacenter operators. Instead of sweeping chad, they do periodic sweeps of dead components - or simply let them occupy space until the next facility is brought on-line. (Known as "failing over a datacenter.")

Maybe you do this at Sun, or did in your heyday when you were flush with cash. Let me let you in on a little secret: very few organizations have the free cash to build fully "fail in place" data centers. Even fewer have the resources to just let equipment die and sit around without being repaired. And this notion that organizations migrate from DC to DC as a matter of regular maintenance practice is just fantasy. They migrate when they loose their lease, or when they outgrow the DC, or when they need to relocate for risk reasons. DC moves are exceptional occurrences; they're not factored into everyday server maintenance. Trust me on this one, DC work is what I do for a living. When was the last time you were in a DC, Johnny boy? This whole stupid argument is premised on the notion that DCs exist for the convenience of maintenance staff, and idea which is just demonstrably false. DCs don't exist for the staff, they exist because corporations with lots of computers need someplace safe and sound to stick them. Staff convenience is an afterthought, at best.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Wishing Doesn't Make It So, Or, Wouldn't It Be Great If Everyone Had A Pony?

I've been trying to figure out for a long time why most of my critiques are directed at the contributors to Alas and similar progressive blogs. Yesterday, after reading Maia's post about how it should easy for young women to raise children, it finally clicked. The people who write for this class of blogs frequently have insightful things to say about what's wrong in the world, but then they go and tarnish their track record by screwing up the details. The following shouldn't be read as an attack against Maia specifically; she just happened to be in the right place at the right time to furnish appropriate examples. So, returning to Maia's post, I'll start by saying that I've reservations about teenagers having children, but on the whole I agree with her that the world would be a nicer place if childrearing weren't such a burden to women. But her analysis of the root cause of the problem is utterly inane:
Why does that mean that you can’t make music - and if you make music people want to listen to, why can’t they get to listen to it? The answer is, of course, ‘capitalism’.
Capitalism has nothing to do with it; the need to divert resources to the raising of children is endemic across all economic systems. A family in a closed household economy, about as far as you can get from capitalism, still has to answer the question "Who is going to raise the kids?". This reflexive blaming of capitalism for a particular social ill is unusual, being more representative of sterotypes of progressive thought than progressive thought itself, but is none-the-less a good example of the tendency to reductively attribute complex problems to a single cause. Other favorite catch-alls of this nature are racism, sexism, "the power structure" (my personal favorite), etc. It is true that these things are often contributing factors; capitalism probably exacerbates the pre-existing problem allocating person-hours to the care of children. But if such problems would still exist absent the cited influence then its inappropriate to point to that influence as the sole cause. Even if the root cause analysis is crude it's still possible to come up with a good solution to the problem. Maia's solution, such as it is, seems to be as follows:
We could organise our world so that parenting wasn’t just supported, but treated as the necessary work that it is.
This is a vague statement (a problem in itself), so its hard to tell exactly what she means. But, combined with her previous observation that "[p]arenting gets no economic resouces and no support", it seems to be calling for society as a whole to subsidize the parenting process. Again, this is an example of a common progressive response to a problem, suggesting that society should band together and "do x" without
  • Providing a rationale for why it is proper for society as a whole to do x.
  • Examining the broader implications of doing x outside the immediate domain of the problem at hand.
As an illustration of why this is bad practice, let's now consider both of the above as they relate to the proposed policy of subsidized parenting. Are there any reasons why society should make it easier to have children? From a pragmatic standpoint society may have a legitimate interest in self-perpetuation, so such a policy could be justified in the case where birth rates were unacceptably low. However, self-perpetuation isn't currently an issue in the world at large (see "population, over-"), so this rationale is a non-starter. Can the policy be justified on moral/ethical grounds? Here's where a fine, but important, distinction comes into play. Society should, as a general rule, refrain from interfering with individuals' child-bearing/-rearing in the interest of preserving individual autonomy. But the question raised by Maia's plan is not whether society should promote a policy of non-interference, but whether society has a positive duty to facilitate individuals' child-bearing/-rearing. Are people entitled to bear and raise children? In order to justify a policy of public support it becomes necessary to answer "yes" to this question. We've addressed the first point, but to do so we had to invoke a principle which isn't self-evident, that people are entitled to have kids. Why are people entitled to have children? Does Maia believe that this is axiomatic, or is it a derived result? You cannot judge the merits of Maia's proposal without filling in these relevant details. Moving on to the second point, let's accept entitlement as axiomatic; what are the implications/complications arising from this assertion? A brief list:
  • To how many people are children entitled?
  • What level of support is mandated?
  • Does a policy of public support for parenting implicitly devalue people who do not have children?
  • Can public support for parenting be reconciled with a commitment to preventing overpopulation?
These complications are non-trivial; its not immediately apparent whether the desire to support parents can be reconciled with other, equally heartfelt values. Again, the above isn't directed specifically at Maia; many of the critiques are equally applicable to other topics which I've written about in thes past. What it does demonstrate, however, is a pattern of reasoning characteristic of a particular class of progressive blogs. Contributors to these blogs are very good at spotting social disparities, but when it comes to finding solutions for these disparities they tend to treat the problem as if it exists in a vacuum. They either aren't aware of, or choose to ignore, the fact that their proposed solution must be integrated into an existing social framework. When it comes to actually integrating their solution all sorts of previously-unexamined conflicts crop up, making their solutions unworkable. It is often the case that reframing the problem can resolve at least some of those issues. For instance, Maia is concerned about the burdens that childcare imposes on parents, preventing them from leading fully actualized lives. By why limit your solution to just parents? Certainly other people deserve to live fully realize lives as well? As I've written about in the past, unless you're independently wealthy the constraints of having to work for a living often conflict with living a well-rounded life. So why not ask society to provide support for the self-actualization of each individual? By re-framing the proposed solution you've resolved some of the integration prolems. You're no longer faced with the parent/non-parent conflict. Additionally, by eliminating the link between subsidy and child-rearing you avoid the other complications on my list as well. However, but, yet, and still, you run into the problem of justification. You've replaced "people are entitled to be parents" with "people are entitled to be self-actualized". The latter in no more self-evident than the former. Which brings me to my final thought. Sometimes a solution, no matter how pleasant it would be, can't be justified. Sometimes a problem has no solution. Thinking about the details of a solution, rather than glossing them over, can identify an unworkable solution in its infancy, preventing wasted and ultimately fruitless effort. This, in turn, is beneficial to society because it allows us to focus on those problems which can be fixed.

Religious Exemptions Are Inherently Flawed

Ed at Dispatches has a post speculating on the limits of religious exemptions to various and sundry laws. He asks whether there's a coherent legal standard that can be applied in such situations. I'm surprised he's even entertaining the question; it seems pretty clear-cut to me that no such standard exists for the following reasons:
  1. Such regulations require the government to make judgements about the validity of religious beliefs.
  2. Such regulations show preference to religious over secular beliefs.
Isn't this exactly the kind of religious vs. secular entanglement in which the government is supposed to avoid getting involved? Consider item 1: Let's say I'm a Discordian, and I want my employer to give me Fridays off because that's my holy day. If government intervention is required then this situation puts the government in the position of judging whether
  1. Discordianism is a legitimate religion.
  2. Discordian scripture really requires me to take Fridays off.
The above example is certainly contrived, but is none-the-less valid. Determining which religions are worthy of recognition is not an appropriate function of government. Incidentally this is also why I think tax-exempt status for religious organizations is a non-starter. Regarding item 2: Suppose I'm a pharmacist with an ethical (but secular) commitment to zero population growth. Can I refuse to dispense fertility drugs? Suppose that I have a deep and abiding commitment to the elimination of ignorance. Can I deny medicine to the willfully ignorant? Why are my personal concerns any less valid for having secular roots? If the government is going to allow exemptions at all it needs to frame them as a matter of personal conscience rather than as exemptions specifically for the religiously-minded.

Monday, October 09, 2006

When Does 'Extreme' Become 'Mainstream'?

Ed at Dispatches links to a post at Electric Venom about honor killings in the Islamic world. Usually I'm inclined to dismiss such incidents as non-representative ("the work of extremists" in journalistic parlance), but the linked-to post paints a very different picture. The incidents listed in the post are broadly distributed with respect to geography (and probably strain of practice as well, since one is correlated to some degree with the other*). Additionally, the perpetrators do not seem to be particularly remarkable; the news accounts give no reason to believe that they are anything other than representative of their communities. These two observations strongly suggest that the beliefs/ideologies which lead to honor killings (and, presumably, other atrocities as well) are widespread at a grassroots level. Assuming that's true, is it appropriate to describe such activities as 'extreme' (or any of its permutations)? 'Extreme' is necessarily a relative label; if you're going to describe some behavior as 'extreme' its incumbent that the implied middle ground actually represent mainstream thought. It is still possible to argue that the above behavior is extreme in the sense that such behavior is relatively rare. But the ideological sense of the label 'extreme', that a view or behavior represents a fringe element, no longer seems to apply. So Ed, if you're reading this, would you still file the post under "Religious Extremism"?
* My thesis falls apart, of course, if stonings and such can be traced to a particular strain of Islamic thought. The articles referenced in the source post weren't particularly instructive in this area; if anyone has better information I'm all ears.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

O(Debunking) >> O(Lying)

Last night I had an epiphany of sorts: telling lies is a one-way function. Its easy to tell a lie, but it takes a lot more time and effort to debunk/disprove one. This may be a banal observation, but it explains so much about the state of things today.

Think about your favorite misinformed person; what would it take to disabuse them of one cherished but unsubstantiated belief? Probably a sit-down with charts and graphs and well-sourced papers, right? Now, consider how long it took them to acquire that same belief. Probably not so long, right?

What are the implications of this particular situation? That debunking in general is not going to be an effective tactic in the long run, since debunking is so much harder than lying; if you've gotten to the point where you're debunking you've already lost the battle. Rather, a more effective long-term approach is to "go meta" one level and seek to "debunk" the source of the lie by undermining its credibility.

Which leads me to comment on this post by poputonian at Hullabalo about the effects of lies generated by the Republican party. Rather than trying to counter each lie individually might it be more effective to just say "look, these guys are full of shit" and have at hand a detailed list of all the times in the past when they've been proven to be full of shit? If you assume that the uncle and brother mentioned in the post are rational individuals wouldn't that be more effective than debating the details of PNAC?

This would be a laudable effort on someone's part (maybe me, who knows?). Organizations like Media Matters and Think Progress are good primary sources, but they don't have a convenient list that you can just print out and keep in your wallet or anything like that. That seems to me to be the best way to approach things at this point; when someone says that "x says y" just point out that x has been wrong about all sorts of shit before, so why believe them now?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Random Reflection On The Dark Tower

I finished The Dark Tower series awhile ago. In the interim a random thought has been bouncing around in my head regarding the way that King decided to finish off the series. The last chapter of the book, which has Roland return to the beginning of the story, is definitely more in keeping with the tone of the series than the more upbeat original ending. But it also changes the meaning of the entire story. Forcing Roland to relive the tale again drastically shifts its focus; it becomes a narrative about karma or atonement, but its not clear to me what Roland has to atone for. By his own admission King seems not to have known that he would finish the series in such a fashion, so I wonder how well the story actually hangs together under this late recasting of the narrative. I now find myself in the position of wanting to reread the entire series from start to finish, probably something I should have done anyway since I started the series years ago when I was 12 or 13. That is all, carry on.

Defining 'Rape'

Seems like today is a day for definitions. Maia at Alas writes about her proposed definition of rape:
Now as I’ve said before I draw a strict line about consent. If a man is using any form of coercion* to make a woman sleep with him, then she cannot give meaningful consent, therefore if there’s any coercion then the sex is rape. * The important point about my definition of coercion is that it involves power - you can’t coerce someone to do anything unless you have some form of power over them.
This is a truly bad definition of rape for a number of reasons. For starters, rapes can occur in same-sex relationships, and rape victims can be men, so her definition should focus on the use of coercion by one (gender neutral) party to obtain sexual favors from another. But that's mostly nitpicking. The primary problem is that her re-definition hasn't removed any of the ambiguity, its merely postponed its appearance by a degree. When you look at her definition of "coercion" you find that it revolves around the concept of "power", as slippery and ambiguous a concept as you're likely to find. Power comes in a number of guises: overt, subtle, physical, emotional, financial; the examples which Maia gives seem to indicate her agreement in this regard. But her definition criminalizes any sexual activity which is not absolutely pristine of motive. For example, what if one partner has sex to make the other partner happy, or to protect the integrity of the relationship? In some circles this is laudable behavior; but it nevertheless will often fit Maia's definition of rape. A partner who fears a withdrawal of affection for failing to be GGG is being coerced, which makes the activity rape. How do we define our way out of this dilemma? It seems to me that the flaw in Maia's definition of rape is its absolutist attitude towards consent and coercion. In the example above we can recognize that a person may not want to engage in sexual activity at one level, but may still choose to do so for other reasons. Does this make them coerced? When answering this question you have inquire as to what alternative options are available? If a person is being threatened with violence as the alternative then coercion seems clear; physical harm is never an acceptable consequence of declining sexual activity. This example highlights what seems to be a much better heuristic for deciding whether sexual activity is being coerced: Would a rational person find the consequences of declining sexual activity to be reasonable?* If "yes" then the activity isn't coerced; if "no", then the activity is coerced. Let's apply this to the GGG question above: Is withdrawal of affection a reasonable consequence of failure to be GGG? I'd answer "yes", but y'all are welcome to quibble. The important thing is that we now have a much better heuristic than "power=coercion=rape".
* This heuristic relies on the "rational person" test, which is slippery in its own right, but there doesn't seem to be an alternative in this case.

The Great Debate: 'Pedophile' vs. 'Sexual Predator'

I'm going to disagree with The Editors over the definition of pedophilia on the grounds that such a definition is overly broad. Sure, Mark Foley is dirty and creepy, but is hitting on 16-/17-year olds as morally depraved as molesting a toddler? The term "sexual predator" is probably more appropriate, since the core issue here isn't really the absolute ages of the pages. Rather, the immorality of Foley's behavior arises from the following two factors:
  1. The relative age difference between of Foley and the pages
  2. The imbalance of power between Foley and the pages
Given the above, Mark Foley would still be conducting himself in an immoral fashion if the pages were 18. Calling him a "pedophile" focuses the discussion away from the above two items, while calling him a "sexual predator" focuses the discussion on the power imbalance which lies at the heart of the issue.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Engaging Zen Skepticlly, Part II

I find that one of the big problems I'm facing in trying to digest Dr. Austin's work is maintaining an appropriate level of skepticism. I do not wish to be blindly credulous and yet, at the same time, cannot tell if my criticisms are unwarranted or unduly harsh. A big part of this seems to stem from the fact that Zen is, at its core, anti-rational (maybe trans-rational is a better word?). The fundamental truths ostensibly revealed during kensho/satori are ineffable, which would seem to put them outside of the traditional realms of analytic discourse.

However, it should be possible to talk rationally about the practice of Zen apart from its transcendent bits, right? In which case I'm still unconvinced that Dr. Austin is accurately describing what happens during the process of enlightenment. I'm specifically concerned with the property of kensho which Dr. Austin lists as "perfection".

He quotes Alexander Pope, saying that "whatever is, is right". In my mind this seems to imply acceptance of the status quo, ultimately leading to a quietist sort of philosophy. Simultaneously, he claims that enlightenment leads individuals towards right thought and right action. Are these two things compatible? Don't "right thought" and "right action" imply an impetus to correct something which is not perfect?

This goes back to my previous post where I questioned whether Zen isn't fundamentally self-delusion. The fact that enlightened individuals are driven to help others would seem to indicate that the perfection which they experienced during kensho is illusory in some non-negligible sense, for in a perfect world no one would need their assistance, right?

Again, this interpretation could be the result of my ignorance on the subject and/or applying a rational approach to a non-rational discipline. And yet, when I review what I've written, it looks fairly tight; I can't think of any obvious counter arguments.

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