On Buddhism and Liberty

I was raised Jewish. Well, sort of. More accurately, I was raised Jappy, a “JAP” being a Jewish American Princess. But as long as I can remember, I’ve identified as a Buddhist.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m also an atheist. At least on days when I’m not an agnostic. Some moments I do believe in God. These are fleeting, prompted by the smell of a coconut, the sound of thunder, the sight of the Caribbean sea. Particularly vexing is the destructive beauty of a volcano.

And then there’s the perfect symmetry of a feline face — don’t get me started on the perfect symmetry of a feline face.

I’m not spiritual. I believe in science. Until I’m touched by something too beautiful for my mind to comprehend, then, as I later rationalize, my mind plays a trick. Doubt creeps in. Love, lust, desire . . . could it be that these are just dancing electrons? The people who mean so much to me, the people I love. These are bags of meat? Mere incarnations of the universe? Remnants of the big bang?!

Inevitably I wonder how I could have so little humility as to believe in science. “Do I really think I’m so smart that I have it all figured out?” Disgusted with myself, I reach for the nearest pizza.

I was also raised to be Conservative. Well, sort of. More accurately, I was raised as a Libertarian. Or Constitutionalist. And a Pragmatist. I consider myself a Progressive. Is that a contradiction?

Here’s the thing: we are all contradictions. Not a single one among us fits into a single sphere of the two party mold. And not a single one of us should. Buddhism helps me remember that I am a rotting piece of meat. By the way, you are, too.

More important, though, are the things that Buddhism helps me forget. Among them my ego, my pride, my sense of self. The desire to label myself, the desire to win an argument. Buddhism doesn’t teach me — it reminds me.

Buddhism also reminds me that your truth will most certainly be different from my truth. I don’t know what your truth is, but here is mine: My entire political outlook can be summed up as a cost-benefit analysis. When I see an idea I ask, “Who does this help? Who does this hurt?”

Sometimes short-term benefits are worth long-term costs. Sometimes they are not. My beliefs are fluid, and my religion is kindness. Yes, I am Conservative. But I won’t pretend to be against gay marriage. I won’t pretend that the government can do nothing to help the poor.

I won’t get caught up in what economists and libertarian thinkers tell me. I will analyze everything I take in light of everything I know. I will always consider how much I don’t know.

Back to the cost-benefit concept. This is the lense through which I try to view all things. But how does it end in Libertarianism? For me, it’s simple. It’s because the Libertarian Party is the only major party that I see respecting the Constitution.

Here is a cost-benefit analysis for the ages. Respecting the Constitution is hard, but it’s worth it. The Constitution changed the world and made it infinitely better. It wasn’t the first document to declare rights against the government, but it was the first of its kind.

The Constitution is so brilliant that I sometimes wonder whether our Founding Fathers were prophets. Its ambiguity is its very strength. It is difficult to change, but it is not unyielding. It is a vehicle for our society to progress, but slowly. So cleverly penned, it serves as a prophylactic against violent revolution in this geographically and economically diverse country of ours. Between the words, I can see our founding fathers knew exactly how much they didn’t know. It is a highly specific document, and yet flexible for posterity.

But following the Constitution can be so hard! It can be uncomfortable, it can sometimes seem to defy logic. In the short term, it may cause suffering.

Take, for example, the issue of free speech. And let’s make it as uncomfortable as possible. Gay Conversion Therapy for minors is being outlawed across the country. I don’t know why anyone would want Gay Conversion Therapy. I don’t know why anyone would offer Gay Conversion Therapy. But I do know that the 1st Amendment was designed to prevent the government from telling us how to think, what to believe, or with whom to associate. Regardless of how outrageous those thoughts, beliefs or associations are. Regardless of how harmful they may seem.

Of course there are limits to the 1st Amendment. I don’t argue that there shouldn’t be. But to ban an entire practice strikes at the heart of the 1st Amendment. After all, the 1st Amendment is there to protect the unpopular kids. The popular ones can protect themselves.

As another example, take the 2nd Amendment. I do believe in reasonable restrictions on firearms. I understand why people are scared of guns on the streets. But I also understand the impermanence of government. What is friendly today might not be friendly tomorrow. This is not a paranoid world view. No country has ever lasted forever. When the revolution comes, I’d like to be the one with the gun.

Okay, cost-benefit time. Might the USA be a better place without Gay Conversion Therapy? Probably. Might people be harmed by it? Definitely. But would the USA be a better place without a diversity of thought? What if you don’t WANT to be gay?

And as for guns, the jury is still out. The news tends to dramatize instances of gun violence, and we fear them irrationally. Still — tell that to a parent of a lost child.

I would argue that we focus on the wrong things when we look at gun control. What is gun control, after all? Enhanced sentences that lead to absurd results? Perhaps stricter background checks are in order. Different simpler laws, not more laws might be the answer. In any event, the answer is not to subvert the Constitution. Change it, perhaps, in accordance with its provisions, but never subvert it.

Buddhism teaches us patience with all things, including ourselves as a nation. We are still so young. We have so much growing left to do. It is too soon for us to bend the Constitution for our convenience.

Why should you consider liberty? Because it is our most natural state, the state where you can best live out your truth.

Don’t yield to popular notions and forget your truth. You truth is that little feeling inside you that doesn’t comport with political correctness. Maybe your truth is different from my truth, but I won’t ignore my truth as far as I can surmise it. I hope you won’t ignore yours.

  • Dorit Goikhman
  • Dorit (pronounced door-eat) is a New York/New Jersey based attorney and writer. A graduate of Brooklyn Law School, she serves as the current vice chair of the New Jersey Libertarian Party, where she aspires to transform Libertarianism into a viable and competitive third choice in politics. In her spare time, you can find her spoiling her dog, Herman Cainine.

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1 comment

  1. Nice,keep up the good works!

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