Op-ed: Dalai Lama

The Dalai-Lama had an op-ed in the New York Times a couple of days ago. His piece was titled “Many Faiths, One Truth” and in it he laments the lack of tolerance he sees among not only the religions of the world but also among those darned atheists.

Though intolerance may be as old as religion itself, we still see vigorous signs of its virulence. In Europe, there are intense debates about newcomers wearing veils or wanting to erect minarets and episodes of violence against Muslim immigrants. Radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold to religious beliefs. In the Middle East, the flames of war are fanned by hatred of those who adhere to a different faith.

Isn’t that just so cute. He notes that in Europe there is a violation of libertarians principles towards Muslim clothing and architecture. He then notes there is a violation of basic human rights in the violence against Muslim immigrants. Next he throws in atheists who criticize religion. Then he notes the warring that goes on in the Middle East.

Okay, let’s review.

  • Not letting people wear the religious garb of their choosing is bad.
  • Violence against members of a particular religion is bad.
  • Criticizing religion is bad.
  • Religious war is bad.

It’s like one of those tests where the question is “Can you choose which one doesn’t fit?”

To be fair, the Dalai Lama sticks to atheists who “issue blanket condemnations”, not merely those who criticize religion. Fair enough, right? Well, it would be if there was a whole group of atheists out there actually doing any such thing. I’m hard-pressed to think of a one and I consider myself well-steeped in atheist literature and happenings. Hell, even Richard Dawkins has repeatedly gone out of his way to point out that religion can be a source for good. Of course, that would be inconvenient for the Dalai Lama to acknowledge.

But notice the Dalai Lama’s stereotypes. There is no such thing as a “radical atheist” (save for Douglas Adams who used the term to be sure no one would confuse him with being an agnostic; of course, this was clever semantics and connotations on his part). “Radical atheism” implies that atheism comes with some sort of philosophy or ethical system. It doesn’t. It can’t. It’s a factual position. No morals, no ethics, no shoulds or oughts, no ideology, no nuthin’ follows from atheism. The same goes for deism, agnosticism, and the belief that rocks are usually really hard.

The Dalai Lama really means anti-theists. That’s an entirely different set of individuals. I include myself within that group, but I separately consider myself an atheist. And just as the same goes for millions, it goes the other way for millions of others. That is, it does not follow that because one is an atheist that one is also an anti-theist. There’s no way to know an atheist’s position on whether religion is generally good or bad or whatever without actually asking the atheist.

But that would have been too difficult for the Dalai Lama, I guess.

Zero tolerance policies are a failure

Zero tolerance policies are a way for many high schools and middle schools to enforce ridiculous rules. It’s basically an excuse to not have to justify anything with logic. Personally, I prefer to call it rule internalization. I’ve described many instances in the past, but I will quickly repeat a hypothetical example I’ve already given.

Say a mother tells her daughter not to throw toys. Her daughter later throws a ball around while outside. Her mother then punishes her for breaking one of her rules. This is, of course, an absurd scenario. It is clear the reason for the rule was that throwing toys can result in damage to the toys, hurt people in the process, and cause damage to furniture/items in the house. However, because the rule was stated more broadly than that, it technically applied to all scenarios, even throwing a ball outside. The girl violated the rule, but not the reason for the rule.

This is an exaggeration and unlikely to happen except in the most redneck of homes, but it illustrates the point. We’ve all faced this sort of rules-for-the-sake-of-rules attitude. It ignores both the human factor and the reason in the equation. The rule itself is undermined when it is enforced for its own sake; the point is no longer reason, but rather internalization. I would hypothesize that a study might reveal a higher degree of rule internalization among the religious as they tend to refuse to reason many of their fundamental beliefs within the constraints of logic, but the problem is spread beyond that group. Imagine walking into an airport with one of those rope mazes designed to corral long lines. Most of us are willing to look like jackasses and actually follow the path even when no other customers are present and it would be more convenient to walk around the ropes. I suspect this internalization of broad social norms reaches beyond the religious. (It’s the more narrow ethical field where the religious tend to be logically impaired.)

As it turns out, these sort of policies aren’t even effective anyway.

A number of the policies require security officials, administrators and staff take “zero tolerance” approaches in punishing students that carry weapons of any sort, or cause any event that poses a threat in classrooms.

The policies typically require automatic suspension and withdrawal of a student from a school district for at least one year as a consequence, although schools across America enforce the policy differently, researchers said.

This takes discretion out of the equation and that’s where the big problem is. School officials are forced (and probably sometimes enjoy) to blindly follow rules. It doesn’t matter that not all students are equal or that not all actions, even similar ones, should be treated equally. No. Just suspend them all, right?

I think that’s another serious flaw in these sort of policies. Why give suspensions so often? Why not sit the student down and make him read a book? Why not make Suzie Q improve her algebra grade? Taking students out of the learning process is a detriment to the very thing these policies are suppose to be helping. And it’s so obvious.

Thought of the day

I am currently crafting my response to Christopher Maloney. This will be fun.

Oh, and he thinks my middle initial is L. He’s wrong about that, too.