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Saturday, January 22, 2011


... yet another entry from my Ms The ABC of Neo-feudalism ...


Zen Buddhism, as Buddhism in general, originated in Asian feudal societies and was transmitted within feudal Asian societies, predominantly India and China. When Zen reached the Western shores via Dadaism in Europe and later via the beat and hippy movements in the USA, it was mainly an expression of anti-establishment mysticism or as an anti-authoritarian way of life, and as a reaction against the crass consumerism of 20th century capitalism – and finally turning into exactly that (see shopping cart link above). At the time few commentators asked how Zen could have functioned in a feudal society where absolute power rested with absolute rulers. Presumably Zen took up the role of court jester, testing and teasing the lords and ladies who otherwise would have been bored with their subjects’ unquestioning loyalty and obedience. As such, Zen features many a koan (story) that dwells on just that:

Emperor Wu took an interest in Buddhism and spent a great deal of public wealth on funding Buddhist monasteries in China. When he had heard that a great Buddhist teacher, Bodhidharma, had come to China, he sought an audience with him. When they met, Emperor Wu had asked how much karmic merit he had gained from his noble support of Buddhism. Bodhidharma replied, "None at all." The Emperor asked, "Then what is the truth of the teachings?" Bodhidharma replied, "Vast emptiness, nothing holy." So the emperor asked, "Then who are you standing in front of me?" Bodhidharma replied, "I do not know," and walked out.
In typical fashion of subverting anti-establishment movements under Western capitalism, the initial popularity of Zen as a counter-culture tool was quickly turned into a cash cow, first unwittingly perhaps via authors like Keruac and Pirsig, and then via all manner of commercial products, e.g. Zen perfume (see advertisement above), Zen retreats, Zen leadership seminars, Zen watches, The Beginner's Guide to Zen Buddhism, et ad nauseam. Within a short time we were back to square one, namely to Zen Buddhism as a vulgar religion as practiced mainly in capitalist Japan.

Under neo-feudalism we can look forward to a return to Zen as the needle that pricks the voodoo dolls and entertains the power elites with ironic tales of nonconformity. Bodhidharma’s neo-feudal successor may well end up as a sort of neo-Jesuit who counsels the Eurasian oligarchs of the need to build elaborate Zen gardens and commission fantastic paintings that attest to the fact that nothing is impossible - or rather ‘impossible is nothing’ as the logo adopted by the sports corporation Adidas.

Indeed I hereby lay claim to a partial succession in that I was given - by a Buddhist nun - a Bodhi leaf from the Maha Bodhi Tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, and the nun proclaiming, I think, that I was a Bodhisattva. Considering that I considered myself a bit of a Zen Buddhist at the time, I was naturally blown over. In true Zen fashion I pressed the leaf and put it into a little picture frame - and eventually lost it during one of my many moves from A to B. These then are my two koan for you to mediate upon the coming of neo-feudalism:

Nothing is possible (I am more than willing to sell the trade-mark of ‘possible is nothing’ to the Adidas’ brotherly competitor Puma).
When President Obama heard of a Bodhisattva by the name of Wolf, he invited him to a secret meeting at the White House. ‘How then’ he asked the Bodhisattva ‘can we make the world a better place?’ ‘By putting yourself into jail’ he said in awkward English and according to his Master, Noam Chomsky. The President laughed heartily and thanked the Bodhisattva for his time. The latter was never seen again.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Advances in technology are amazing, always have been and always will be. I just bought and installed an 8 GB SD card in my mobile phone. It is a tiny slither of a thing. A more expensive 32 GB version has the same physical size. My first computer had a memory of 64 KB (the DOS resided on a floppy disk). The point being: nothing in human affairs has changed since that day, only technology has. From the invention of the wheel to the wonders of Nanotechnology the driving forces seem to be as contradictory as can be: to make life easier (transport, household appliances), to make life healthier (medicine) and on the other hand to make us work faster (robotics) and to destroy us more efficiently (weapons). The underlying theme seems to be that technology is eminently profitable for those who own the means of production. The demand for technology of all sorts (good and bad) is as insatiable as the greed to advance to the next level that promises so much for all but delivers mainly the luxuries for the few plus the trickle-down-effect. All the while the fully converted technophiles laugh at the few technophobes who invariably want to turn back the clock to the time when the earth was flat.

One of the beguiling promises of technology is that we are getting ever closer to that last level of the game when all will be well: all diseases cured, MAD peace, artificial intelligence solves all remaining problems … death, violence, god, unemployment due to a stand-still on R&D, gadgets that fix themselves. Luckily we’ll never get there but billions are bombarded daily to make them believe it anyway. We need to produce more, faster, more advanced, more sophisticated, more amazing stuff in order to grow economies, to employ billions of workers in factories, to employ millions to hard-sell the stuff, above all to ensure the technological edge in military hardware lest the most powerful nations become redundant in their noble quest to equate individual freedom with their technologies. A bit/a lot of high-tech space-age spying on its own free citizens is a fair price to pay for it. Big Brother ever getting bigger, watching us day and night – as predicted by George Orwell. Or perhaps to elaborate on a song lyric by Leonard Cohen, by way of saying that there wil be a camera in every bedroom of the poor so as to record their pathetic attempts to pro-create fodder for the labour market – to be screened on reality TV for cheap laughs.

So, is it true that technology is value-free in itself, only to be used and abused by value-laden and hence fallible people? The knife that cuts the bread as well as the throat? The gun that never kills were it not for the human trigger? Do we really need bad technology in order to protect us from those who use bad technology? Do I need a more-advanced gun to protect myself and my family from the gangsters, political and otherwise, who are out to get me with their less-advanced guns? The right to self-defence? The right to bear arms? Imagine if all pacifists of the world will refuse to arm themselves and will only defend themselves by their words: will the gangsters shoot them like sitting ducks and laugh their head off? Is it actually possible to ‘fight’ for freedom? What if freedom is the freedom to be free of all violence? Is this the last level of the game? The ultimate winner setting us all free? Are we getting into metaphysical crap just because we want to solve the dualism of good technology needing to coexist with bad technology? Who can distinguish between good and bad anyway?

Like Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times, there is every chance to be an accidental hero on the wrong side of the divide due to the multiple contradictions of technical life as a tragicomedy. As such I bought my 8GB SD card without much thought, until now, about the rights and wrongs my purchase might entail. I just responded to the need to be technologically up-to-date and able to store 2,500 high resolution pictures or 500 low-resolution videos on my mobile smart phone, ready for upload to the next-in-line 50 billion dollar networking site that will connect all technophiles of the world and create a world family of believers in technological progress leading to the Promised Land. Amen.