Justin E.H. Smith VS. The Dalai Lama (and others)

Justin Eric Halldor Smith is a brilliant young philosopher, the depth of whose writing and the breadth of whose encyclopedic erudition is leavened by a bracing humor. He can be contrarian (his descriptions of the Dalai Lama bring to mind the treatment meted out to Mother Theresa by the paradigmatic contrarian of our time, Christopher Hitchens), but never in a cheaply attention-getting manner. Smith’s writing is infused with rational commitment as well as sincerity. The following excerpt is from a piece entitled “Where’s Mao When You Really Need Him? The New Age Racket and the Left” in Counterpunch:

No, to find any authentic spiritual sentiment, or at least to market a product with the promise of authentic spiritual transformation, we must climb the Himalayas, or at least imagine ourselves on such a journey while flying to a meeting at the Kansas City branch office. The Dalai Lama serves as the best example of this tendency, and is likely also the best-selling product the New Age industry has yet put on the market. This is particularly troubling when we consider the fact that the Dalai Lama is, among other things, a political leader, whose movement has been conferred a legitimacy beyond scrutiny simply in virtue of his purported holiness.

What is so worthy about the Tibetan cause? How many if its supporters can really say? I’m not saying that it is not a worthy cause; many movements for national liberation are. But what about the Basque Country, Corsica, and Turkish Kurdistan? Nobody believes that continued occupation of these national homelands involves any sort of spiritual injustice, only the mundane political kind. This is all it should take, of course, to earn the global community’s opprobrium, yet Richard Gere and the Beastie Boys remain deathly silent, for these other national-liberation struggles lack a leader sporting a robe and claiming to be a divinity. Meanwhile, his Holiness jets around, meeting with world leaders and persuading them to support his cause- including George W. Bush, whom the Dalai Lama deemed to be, like himself, a ‘very spiritual person’. And even through all this, he is seen as being somehow beyond politics. This is the great illusion that sustains the New Age racket: that, because it is so spiritual, it is beyond all serious scrutiny. The proper comportment towards it is with bowed head, not open eyes.

Read the full article here. I also recommend other articles by Smith here and here.