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Lions Roar : September 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2006 44 teachers trading money and food for sex with Afri- can girls as young as eight years old.) And here in America, a plutocracy with a bro- ken moral compass, a cook’s tour of our dilemmas reveals that our ship of state has run aground on the problems of immigration; poverty; the lack of universal health care; the complex issue of a plan- et-altering global warming; political corruption such as influence peddling by lobbyists like Jack Abramoff; the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; rac- ism; the startling decline of literacy (only 31 percent of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it); the loss of not only civility and courtesy but also safety in so many of our public spaces; the failure of 1,750 schools to meet the No Child Left Behind standards for math and reading (all fifty states received an F from the federal gov- ernment on demonstrating their teachers had a bachelor’s degree, a state license, and proven com- petency in every subject they teach); a burgeoning prison industry; the failure to address the plight of young black males who are increasingly alien- ated from society in violent, drug-ridden neighbor- hoods; the outsourcing of jobs; growing electronic surveillance and accumulation of private informa- tion on citizens; a president (and congress) with the lowest approval ratings since Richard Nixon; and the saddling of future generations with a staggering national debt. The list of dysteleological character- istics—all signs of internal social decay and decline in what historian Oswald Spengler described in The Decline of the West as a culture’s period of senility— goes on and on. LOOKING AT SUCH a pain-wracked world of samsara where many people in non-Western nations live on a dol- lar a day (or less) while materialistic Americans recklessly consume the lion’s share of the earth’s resources for their entertainment and ease, one justifiably feels despair and a powerlessness to alleviate one’s own pain, let alone that of others. Some cultural commentators recommend that we simply withdraw from those dimensions of the world that have become unworkable. I’m thinking of a beautiful Mod- ern Library edition of Voltaire’s Candide that bears a blurb by the esteemed philosopher A. J. Ayer, who says, “When we observe such things as the recrudescence of fundamentalism in the United States, the horrors of religious fanaticism in the Middle East, the appalling danger which the stubborn- ness of political intolerance presents to the whole world, we must surely conclude that we can still profit by the example of lucidity, the intellectual honesty, and the moral courage of Voltaire.” And what wisdom does Voltaire’s 1759 classic offer us? The story’s final eight lines reveal a psychological strat- egy popular among many in our troubled time (as well as a surprisingly Buddhist understanding of cause and effect): Pangloss sometimes said to Candide: “All events are linked up in this best of all possible worlds; for, if you had not been ex- pelled from the noble castle, by hard kicks in your backside for love of Mademoiselle Cunegonde, if you had not been clapped into the Inquisition, if you had not wandered about America on foot, if you had not stuck your sword in the Baron, if you had not lost all your sheep from the land of Eldorado, you would not be eating candied citrons and pistachios here.” “Tis well said,” replied Candide, “but we must cultivate our gardens.” Poking the Universe