Saturday, May 7, 2011

Human Rights Final 3

Taoist philosophy takes a top-down approach to governance. One derived not from God or divinity, but from tradition. Taoism looks at “peace [as] the ultimate human goal” and is “attainable only through social harmony and equilibrium.” Specifically, Tao looks at the “way for human beings to follow.” This ‘way’ is one of peace, “fine weapons are instruments of evil.” Taoist philosophy looks at violence as an extreme violation of the ‘way’ “to praise victory is to delight in the slaughter of men.” The belief is that to conquer any injustices, a version of the categorical imperative must be followed, “repay hatred with virtue.” Similarly, there is a certain amount of pragmatism to changing the world, “great undertakings have always started with what is small. Therefore the sage never strives for the great, and thereby the great is achieved.” While not an explicit attempt at fulfilling human rights in a universal sense, Taoism enforces a belief in peace and harmony, “Taoists frequently refer to peaceful images of water or wind, both of them soft and yielding, yet ultimately triumphant over such hard substances as rock or iron.” This extends to the personal, “because of deep love, one is courageous. Because of frugality, one is generous. Because of not daring to be ahead of the world, one becomes the leader of the world.” Similar to Singer’s argument, Taoism refers to charity and poverty as interrelated ways of solving the world’s problems. But to contradict Singer, Taoism states, “he who makes rash promises surely lacks faith.” It is not about promises, absolutes; it is about doing what is right for the follower. While the laws assert a sort of moral authority, there is an ‘elastic’ clause of sorts that encourages free thought and action.

The Hindu philosophy appears to be almost opposite to Singer’s arguments. In fact, the very approach to the world is so fundamentally different the two views can be said to be at odds. Contrary to the language included in the rest of the readings, the cyclical perspective of the Hindu philosophy almost precludes any sort of intervention based on the categorical imperative. This is a radical counter to the view of human rights as has been studied in this class. Suffering, “experiences are fleeting; the come and go. Bear them patiently.” In Hindu philosophy, “the impermanent has no reality; reality lies in the eternal.” No action by man can be made eternal. It encourages a lassaiz-faire approach to suffering in the world, no transitory experience needs intervention. “One man believes he is the slayer, another believes he is the slain. Both are ignorant; there is neither slayer nor slain.” This seems to suggest that there is little reason to intervene in any matter. To the Hindu, “death is inevitable for the living; birth is inevitable for the dead. Since these are unavoidable, you should not sorrow. Every creature is unmanifested at first and then attains manifestation.” This philosophy can be seen as a justification for non-engagement. It can also be seen as a justification for selflessness. “They live in wisdom who see themselves in all and all in them, who have renounced every selfish desire and sense craving tormenting the heart.” This is a universalist way of phrasing the categorical imperative. You are the universe and you must treat it as you would treat yourself. Hindu philosophy is thus an approach to living selflessly. It does not make recommendations toward helping others though. It approaches the self as a tool for the use in a war against the selfish. “They are forever free who renounce all selfish desires and break away from the ego-cage of ‘I,’ ‘me,’ and ‘mine’ to be united with the Lord. And so there is some overlap in how the self is approached by Hinduism and Singer. But they differ in that intervention is the human condition breaking into the workings of the world. Indignation derives not from a moral sense of outrage or even from any emotional reaction. In fact, Hinduism suppresses the senses. “When you move amidst the world of sense, free from attachment and aversion alike, there comes the peace in which all sorrows end, and you live in the wisdom of the Self.” Hinduism is searching for the eternal, and in that process, it divorces the mind from the body. It also unites the mind to the universe. And then it asks the believer to understand an ingrained wisdom in that. “When you let your mind follow the call of the senses, they carry away your better judgment as storms drive a boat off its charted course on the sea.” Selflessness thus takes a different form than the Western tradition. Selflessness is to take on the world as part of oneself, physically attached, and to free the self from the confines of a body that is part of the everything. It is not that one has to act openly to stop a perceived injustice, it is that the workings of the world have a space for each individual that can only be realized once they let go of the transitory. Fulfillment comes not from helping others out of their suffering, but from releasing the self from the body and finding the eternal.

Finally the Buddhist philosophy represents the greatest deviation from the absolutism that is presented by schools of thought such as Singer’s and Gandhi’s. Looking to the universalism of the Hindu philosophy, Nhat Hanh illustrates, “there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud there will be no water; without water, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, you cannot make paper. So the cloud is in here.” The overarching concept is that within each object are non-object elements, “a sheet of paper is made of non-paper elements…the paper is empty…empty of a separate self.” Do distinguish the paper from the rest of the universe is to exclude the role that the rest of the universe plays in its creation. There is a great interconnectedness in Buddhism. So great that empathy and compassion become self-evident from this universalism. “If I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, I am now the pirate.” Modern schools of Buddhism have taken that empathy and universalism and applied it to improving the human condition. They seek to be honest about what they can do. “We try our best to help, but the suffering is enormous.” Their final goal is peace and reconciliation, “reconciliation is to understand both sides, to go to one side and describe the suffering being endured by the other side, and then to go to the other side and describe the suffering being endured by the first side.” They do not believe in necessarily alleviating poverty or any of the world’s problems through a specific type of monetary donation or forced course of action as Singer does. Rather, their main goal is to allow the parties to find their own solutions as facilitated by empathy and universalism. They also see the world less as a matter of philosophy and more one of application. To them the ‘ought’ can be confining, “do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.” The Buddhist approach looks at the world as one devoid of a human truth. “Do not think the knowledge you currently possess is changeless, absolute truth…Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge.” A Buddhist would take Singer and Neiman’s arguments as failures in that they rely on the conceptual and ascribe to the permanent. Similar to the Hindu philosophy, the eternal is rare and not found in the ego-self. “Through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness.” It’s not that the goals are different; it is that the approaches are. For a Buddhist, the path is not straightforward or absolute. The ends come and go in a transitory, often non-universal fashion. Buddhism asks that having a cause must also find peace with the control that exists.

What reasons do these authors and spiritual traditions offer to support the contentions that “doing good” by using our lives to help realize more fully the human rights of others is in fact the most fulfilling way to live a human life? They don’t; Hinduism does not see the ultimate virtue as being interpersonal. In fact, it is only a direct obligation for the Judeo-Christian traditions of which Singer and Neiman belong. Do the two authors and spiritual traditions use the same types of arguments? As has been seen, the arguments vary widely; the imperative to take action and what those actions should be have structural symmetry. Do they mostly agree with one another? There is some amount of agreement on certain points between the different philosophies, but there are large differences in questions of implementation as well as the absolutist nature of the specific philosophy. What should be derived from this paper? That idealism and philosophy may perhaps have their place in making the world a better place. In a pragmatic sense, the nonattached perspective of Buddhist philosophy probably allows for a framework that will work in the long-term. Encouraging empathy and people to find the solutions that work best to fulfill the categorical imperative is far more expansive and effective than a narrow philosophy with strict guidelines and burdens placed on the follower. More importantly, Singer’s Westernized approach is dangerously close to the development policies that got the world into this condition in the first place. Absolute philosophy has no place in a nuanced world. Empathy is fundamentally a human to human event, and must be treated as individualized. One thread in a tapestry. What works for one person may not work for everyone. Flexibility is key to understanding the universal.

Graney, Katherine, ed. "Peace Packet." Skidmore Government Department, 2011.
Neiman, Susan. Moral Clarity. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.
Singer, Peter. The Life You Can Save. New York: Random House, 2009.