Religion Meet Politics, Soul Meet Body: Buddhism as the Perfect Socialism….

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Room with a view in Thailand’s temple city of Phetchaburi…

I’ve always been struck by the existence of what I call ‘village communism’, that primordial system around the world which keeps people more or less equal by virtue of jealousy, tradition, goodwill or convenience. It has nothing to do with democracy BTW, not unsurprisingly, which, despite all the advance hype, pretty much promotes just the opposite—vast inequalities… and vast loneliness, every man for himself. You are mostly alone in this capitalist democratic world, like it or not…

So in the traditional societies, with cities just one step up from the village, the old guild divisions still remain, with certain sections devoted to a certain craft or specialty. Now I can’t say with certainty why that is, but the result is that everyone stays at more or less the same level, copying each others’ products, and keeping a good eye on each others’ customers. Ever heard the old adage: “location location location”? This is similar to a central market even when there is none (though that is likely the origin): so no one has the advantage of location, not really, not much.  They’re all more or less equal…

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Temples everywhere in Thailand

The ultimate in village socialism, though, of course, is family, in which the family unit is not just a spatial unit occupying certain locations of varying importance, but a spiritual unit, too, a multi-generational anchor that occupies both time and space, and firmly, too. Ever played the Asian chess-like game ‘Go’? It’s like that, occupying space and time bit by bit in an ever-increasing complexity that provides an anchor like a tree’s roots, no reinforcing rods necessary. In Asia they love their blood ties, spouse optional. In the West we love our sometimes dubious choices made in the heat of passion…

I always thought that socialism and communism were much more appropriate to Asia than Europe for this very reason, that the societies there were so much more inter-twined and sharing to begin with, starting with the family. From there it’s a short hop to uniting those families by religion, or politics, or both. This is especially appropriate now that families are so much smaller than they used to be, down from a dozen to a few per generation, within the last one or two rounds, generally speaking, at least in the case of Thailand, with which I am most familiar. So what does this have to do with Buddhism?

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Temple in Phetchaburi, Thailand

Buddhism is perfect for this role, with its de-emphasis on the individual. The West, America especially, is sick with individualism, which, if carried to its logical extreme, gives you something like Election 2016, with its air of despair and its climate of hate, culture gone to the dogs, with any and all civility singularly lacking. In the future—tomorrow—true sharing will be a necessity, not just the pseudo-sharing of an Uber ride or a VRBO stay. That’s not sharing: that’s vanity, driver at your fingertips and somebody else’s house at your disposal. True sharing utilizes public transportation—and hostels…

A true socialism is an economy of sharing, by definition, and requires near-equality, and no poverty. That can’t work in societies with vast incomes and vast income differentials. Within tightly-knit societies that is less likely, since class systems function by means of class divisions. You can’t maintain an equality with people from whom you are divided. Tightly-knit societies advance together—or not…

The old industrial model of socialism is outmoded and outdated. We need updated politics and religion for the digital age—and the future. The great monotheistic religions have a Book. Buddhism has thousands. We can create what we need, and we need it now more than ever. The separation between church and state is an illusory pipe dream, and probably ill-advised at that…

The trick is for the predominant belief system to be inclusive enough to accommodate all sorts of individual and group tastes and predilections. Labor and management should not be at odds with each other in the perfect system, nor should sects or sexes. The true city of God would allow many paths to meet uptown at the temple to pray, and many jobs downtown at the office to work—for similar pay…

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