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Barbara O'Brien

Please Empty Your Cup Before the Tea Freezes

By January 7, 2014

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My local part of the globe is experiencing what the television weather people are cheerfully calling a "cold snap." The temperature is stuck in single digits, Fahrenheit. That's not unheard of for this part of the country, but it's also very cold in places that normally don't get so cold. I understand this is being caused by arctic oscillation and the polar vortex and is likely connected to global warming.

Here in the U.S. we've lacked the political will to come to terms with global warming. Many have been persuaded that global warming is a myth. Or, if it is happening, it's just part of normal planetary temperature fluctuation and is not man made. Yes, there are corporate and political forces spreading this denialism, but that will have to be the subject of someone else's blog.

Science and Buddhism both discourage practitioners from clinging to dogma. It's more skillful to stay open to new understandings. It's hard to fathom how people can so stubbornly cling to views that contradict 97 percent of scientific studies, but let's consider why they do.

Austin Cline, About.com guide to Agnosticism/Atheism, argues that climate change denial is linked to authoritarianism. Basically, parts of our political spectrum place a high value on ideological loyalty and conformity. And authoritarianism does not handle change well. (I would add, it particularly does not handle change well when authority figures have a vested interest in things not changing.) I won't repeat Austin's entire argument here, but I think it is valid.

From a Buddhist perspective, I'd say that there's a lot of existential angst supporting the authoritarianism.

Buddhism teaches that the world we live in is a creation of our own projections, made up of beliefs and assumptions that often are anchored in our subconscious. Anything that challenges our projected reality can feel like a mortal threat.  The stronger the challenge, the more some of us will retreat into denial and irrationality.

Loyalty to authority is one strategy for keeping the loudly growling snow-tossing monsters (see the last post) that challenge us at bay. As long as there is some authority -- any authority--- telling us that our projected reality is the true one and the challengers are crazy, that's all some of us need to hear. No amount of data or scientific explanations will make a dent in authority-validated beliefs.

Unfortunately, I fear this means the climate will have to get a whole lot worse before we can begin to make it better.

Comments
January 7, 2014 at 4:56 pm
(1) Lee says:

my experience has been that people make decisions as to what they ‘believe’ and from these beliefs construct their ‘reality’. They will grasp at any information that substantiates their view and deny any evidence that is contrary to their view. Over time these ‘beliefs’ form chains that bind people and they help fuel hatred and greed and war. Buddhism says “let go of the chains…drop the beliefs… see reality! (and by the way here’s a simple way to do it: just sit! and keep the precepts… SIMPLE.) And if one simply sits some of the construct begins to melt away the chains and the stubbornness and compassion and tenderness and love begin the rise.

January 7, 2014 at 9:54 pm
(2) Mumon says:

“Science and Buddhism both discourage practitioners from clinging to dogma. It’s more skillful to stay open to new understandings. ”

There has been a statement in the zendo I go to about how Zen is not about “-isms.”

In the practical world, of course we do have to often face the “prisoner’s dilemma,” meaning that we have to play a certain “game” in which the set of outcomes is not favorable for all, but might be slightly more favorable for us as players in the “game.”

But that does not mean that we can’t promote the “not – ‘ism’” in the course of doing so.

I’m sure the weather will improve in most of the country, and hope it causes little harm. It is a part of why I moved to the Pacific Northwest 17 years ago; I’d rather have “the rain” then multiple weeks of below-freezing temperatures. But that’s me. And it’s not the solution for everyone of course. I’m with you here, especially on your argument re: denialists.

January 8, 2014 at 7:50 am
(3) Barbara O'Brien says:

“There has been a statement in the zendo I go to about how Zen is not about ‘-isms.’”

Mumon, as long as I’m limited to standard English conventions, everything I say is going to be wrong. I accept that. I understand the quibble about the suffix “ism,” but making a big anal deal about it suggests a denial of the larger issue of using *any* representational speech to discuss the dharma.

If everyone who came here were a Zen student I could fall back on zennish. Or if everyone who came here even had enough acquaintance with dharma to understand why the “ism” is a problem, I could maybe find another way to express “the way.” But that’s not the case, so I can’t. And given that this site is About.com Buddhism, I can’t very well avoid the word. So deal.

January 8, 2014 at 10:16 am
(4) Mila says:

re: “… and compassion and tenderness and love begin the rise.”

Indeed ….. as Barbara writes –“Anything that challenges our projected reality can feel like a mortal threat” — and of course it is a mortal threat to the notion of ourselves as a separate, independent “me.”

As this deluded notion “dies” (i.e is realized as imaginary so naturally dissolves) what emerges, quite spontaneously, is true compassion — the compassion of the Unborn, which knows all apparently-distinct entities (i.e. “you” and “me”) to simply be limbs and organs of One Body.

In the same way that my right hand knows my left hand as being part of one body — my two-hands holding a cup of hot tea can know your two-hands holding a cup of frozen-tea to, in Reality, belong to the “same” body.

Then com-passion — feeling-with — true empathy, tenderness, love, skillful action …. arise naturally.

btw — check out the Korean film “Poetry” for a beautiful portrayal of human empathy — not necessarily of the fully-realized Unborn kind, but pretty powerful nevertheless:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fo2dfY317-k

January 8, 2014 at 11:14 am
(5) Mumon says:

Barbara,

Sorry, I think there was a miscommunication by me. You’re right about your readership of course. I actually agree with you and your point, especially with regard to the word “Buddhism” itself, and the larger point of your post, i.e., denialism as enabling authoritarianism.

I think you’re actually doing what I wrote there too.

January 8, 2014 at 12:45 pm
(6) Mila says:

my mother & step-father live in Door County, Wisconsin — which a couple of days ago was registering at –27 F

this gave me cause to suddenly appreciate the 10 F I had previously been feeling a bit oppressed by :)

January 10, 2014 at 10:56 pm
(7) the torbay goddess says:

love the way that Buddhism embraces the understanding of cognitive dissonance! if I understand correctly, this is what Barbara was referring to with:

“Buddhism teaches that the world we live in is a creation of our own projections, made up of beliefs and assumptions that often are anchored in our subconscious. Anything that challenges our projected reality can feel like a mortal threat. The stronger the challenge, the more some of us will retreat into denial and irrationality.”

:)

January 16, 2014 at 9:02 pm
(8) tofuroshi says:

<b>”Science and Buddhism both discourage practitioners from clinging to dogma. It’s more skillful to stay open to new understandings.”</b>

Adhering to the idea that global warming is occuring and is man-made is just another kind of dogma. It is also promoted by ‘forces’ with their own agendas. Are you <i>invested</i> in the idea of global warming, or could you let go if it easily if it was found to be untrue.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2485772/Global-warming-pause-20-years-Arctic-sea-ice-started-recover.html

January 16, 2014 at 9:55 pm
(9) Barbara O'Brien says:

“Adhering to the idea that global warming is occuring and is man-made is just another kind of dogma.”

Sorry; it’s not “dogma” if there’s a boat-load of scientific evidence corroborating it. And you are linking to the *Daily Mail*? Oh, please …

I’m not “invested” in anything here except rationality. I’d much rather there were no such thing as global warming, but if 97 percent of climate scientists say there is, I’m not going to deny that, yes, there probably is. The notion that all these scientists are somehow fudging their opinions because they’re going to make money or something from it strains, um, human intelligence. How, exactly? On the other hand, the petrochemical industry is funding much of the “oppo” science. See, for example, “Dark Money” Funds Climate Change Denial Effort in *Scientific American.”

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=dark-money-funds-climate-change-denial-effort

January 16, 2014 at 10:14 pm
(10) tofuroshi says:

The source information is from Climate Dynamics journal.

Just looking at the other side of the coin…isn’t it worth considering?

January 17, 2014 at 2:08 pm
(11) Barbara O'Brien says:

“Just looking at the other side of the coin?isn?t it worth considering?”

Of course it’s worth considering, and I have considered it. And having considered it, it’s obvious that we’re looking at the evidence-based — but not infallible — opinion of the enormous majority of scientists in the field versus doubt and propaganda being sewn by special interests who stand to lose a lot of money if people stop depending on fossil fuels. If you can’t see that, get your vision checked. The very Daily Mail article you linked is a good example.

If you do some googling for the Curry and Wyatt arctic ice study referenced in the Daily Mail article and read about it in objective sources, which do not include the Daily Mail or the several right-wing blogs that picked up the Daily Mail story, you’d see that the Daily Mail article distorted the study and made it appear it was saying something it didn’t actually say. Curry and Wyatt are not arguing that global warming isn’t happening, or that it’s all going to go away by itself and we don’t have to be concerned. They weren’t addressing that at all. They are proposing a climate model that might explain some of the unpredicted variations in Arctic ice. Wyatt himself says that his study neither supports nor refutes anthropogenic global warming:

“How external forcing projects onto the stadium wave, and whether it influences signal tempo or affects timing or magnitude of regime shifts, is unknown and requires further investigation,” Wyatt said. “While the results of this study appear to have implications regarding the hiatus in warming, the stadium wave signal does not support or refute anthropogenic global warming. The stadium wave hypothesis seeks to explain the natural multi-decadal component of climate variability.”

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-10-stadium-lull-global.html#jCp

January 17, 2014 at 2:01 pm
(12) n. yeti says:

Buddhist or not, it would be frankly — and I apologize for saying this — stupid to think that humanity with billions of people, industry, electricity and so on, are not at the very least horribly serious contributors to global warming if not the primary cause. And in the view of science, we are the primary cause.

There is a political industry funded by a very small but very powerful group of industrial interests (e.g. the Koch brothers, among others) who actively invest to convince people to look the other direction with an oncoming train of ecological catastrophe. Crackpot theories with semi- or pseudo-scientific basis (such as one recently about “volcanoes” being the cause, what a joke) gain public traction as a result of the active efforts by the denialism industry.

Alright, I’ll just go there. I would not be the least bit surprised if “tofuroshi” is on the payroll of these interests, i.e. so-called “blog spies” who are hired in various industries to propagate commercial interests in as diverse media as possible. He/she is obviously not here to talk about Buddhism, or any kind of spirituality for that matter. Just doing a little pro-global warming copypasta. Good on Barbara for booing that down!!

There are very few people who would go out of their way to spread disinformation about global warming without some kind of gain, either political or economic. Just a word to the wise.

January 17, 2014 at 9:31 pm
(13) tofuroshi says:

“Buddhism teaches that the world we live in is a creation of our own projections, made up of beliefs and assumptions that often are anchored in our subconscious. Anything that challenges our projected reality can feel like a mortal threat. The stronger the challenge, the more some of us will retreat into denial and irrationality.”

I thinks the subject of global warming is a shining example of dogma, where people (on both sides) are so completely committed to an unproven idea (concensus is not proof), that they are unable to see clearly any longer. To me, that seems to be happening right here. Conspiracy theories, accusations and insults are offered as a reasonable defense of the idea.

It is easy to believe in global warming since it is so widely accepted and reported. But, how do you know that you are not the one who has been silenced by ‘authority’ into conformity?

This is about buddhism. It is exactly what Barbara’s article describes. We are attached to our ideas and they shape our experiences, and often we don’t even realize that they are not necessarily true or real.

January 18, 2014 at 7:43 am
(14) Barbara O'Brien says:

tofuroshi — Are you being paid to leave comments sewing global warming doubt? No, consensus is not proof, and I have already indicated that I don’t regard the science as infallible. But the science is not based on guesses or dogma, either, but on an enormous amount of research and data. So to dismiss it as “dogma” or to suggest that the oppo research funded by the petroleum industry should be given equal respect is irrational.

Science is never settled, but the best information we have now is that global warming is real, and is happening, which means we’d be idiots to dismiss it. And in your case, after I showed that your Daily Mail article was a lie, I’d think you’d want to slink off somewhere and reflect on your position. Since you aren’t, I must conclude that you are a paid shill.

Further comments from you will be deleted. This conversation is over.

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