People should and must take responsibility for their choices and the consequences of those choices. This is not to say there are no class, gender and race barriers. There are. This is not to say that there are no disadvantaged people, people who have been dealt a bad hand or that there are not people who have many advantages from birth. There are. This is not to say that many people are in situations that are just plain unjust. Because they are.
But no matter how disadvantaged, how oppressed and how limited, an individual’s choices and that individual’s responsibility for those choices cannot and should not be diminished. Focusing on the reasons for an individuals situation is helpful only to the extent that that examination creates more choices and more options for that individual, only to the extent that practical solutions are presented.
Going on and on about the causes, no matter how immoral or unjust, or about the difficulties and complexities of the obstacles, to the exclusion of solutions, is nothing more than an exercise in moral self-righteousness.
Nothing gets me more irritated than having to listen to endless recitations of the sins of capitalism, white male sexism, American neo-imperialism, Australian racism, etc etc. Nothing frustrates me more than the constant referral to a mysterious “they” who enforces injustices to all and sundry. I’d rather listen to creationists expound on neo-fascist fundamentalist utopias. At least they’re trying to come up with a better way.
Edit: I also find solutions that focus on changing others almost as annoying. Educating “them” to see the light (which bears a surprising resemblance to one’s own point of view) makes me want to jump up and down in frustration. Education as a long-term solution, while a worthy goal, is often left at that with all complexities and difficulties left unexplored. Ah, the solution is education. Everyone nods sagely, left-liberal instincts soothed.
Reading through today’s AFR review section, i happened on an article about india. Embedded within that article was the Gandhian concept of swaraj or self-rule. Reading through it and the few definitions I’ve found on the web, swaraj is more complex than the one in the article and encapsulates both the idea of political self-government (as in independence from the british) and also individual internal self-rule of emotions, thoughts and desires (which Gandhi emphasized as more important).
Reading through his writings in Hind Swaraj (an online version of which can be found here: http://www.mkgandhi.org/swarajya/coverpage.htm), I discovered much that resonated with my own neo-buddhist beliefs and my politics. Looking through both spiritual and political lenses at Gandhi’s principles of passive resistance and non-violence, I began to understand just how radical, important, difficult and ultimately necessary his teachings are.
One passage, especially wrt to my recent post about angri-culture and thoughts about the new victim-hood mentality (which I am yet to post about), jumped out at me:
“We measure the universe by our own miserable foot-rule. When we are slaves, we think that the whole universe is enslaved. Because we are in an abject condition, we think that the whole of India is in that condition. As a matter of fact, it is not so, yet it is as well to impute our slavery to the whole of India. But if we bear in mind the above fact, we can see that if we become free, India is free. And in this thought you have a definition of Swaraj. It is Swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves. It is, therefore, in the palm of our hands. Do not consider this Swaraj to be like a dream. There is no idea of sitting still. The Swaraj that I wish to picture is such that, after we have once realized it, we shall endeavor to the end of our life-time to persuade others to do likewise. But such Swaraj has to be experienced, by each one for himself. One drowning man will never save another. Slaves ourselves, it would be a mere pretension to think of freeing others.”
I cannot think of any other passage that so closely entwines spiritual and political liberation and that is so valid to both.