One Among Many

The self in social context

I Don't Care About the Dalai Lama

I care about YOU

In one post, I offered some reflections on my readings of material written by and about the Dalai Lama (DL). In another post, I responded to commentaries and reflected some more. I made it clear that [i] my material is limited, [ii] I am not a Tibetologist, [ii] I am not an axe-grinding Anti-Tibeticist or PRC mercenary, [ii] readers should do their own homework if they want to learn more (duh!), and that [iv] His Holiness himself would (presumably) be delighted if we all lightened up. As for the commentaries, I note that I did not see much that directly challenged or refuted my contents. The negative comments are rather emotional, which is consistent with my view that the DL is a largely content-free figure on whom people project whatever goodness they want to project.

As a social psychologist, I am interested in power and status. The DL is interesting because he, while wielding limited power, has attained sublime status in today’s world (officials in the PRC and Colin Goldner dissenting). To understand how this happened is a task for psychology, and hence these posts. At the personal level, I observed that I, like many others, introjected an uncritical positive attitude so thoroughly that I overrode my critical appraisal of the evidence before me: his shallow book on ethics and his even shallower speech in Providence, RI (which appears to be highly similar, if not the same, to all other speeches he has given over the last few years). To begin to address the riddle, I entertained hypotheses about contagious group behavior (behavioral and emotional cascades) and the basic need to revere someone, to which I have now added the projection hypothesis.

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The summary of some points from Goldner’s book, one might say, was gratuitous because it does not contribute to the effort to understand the high level of public adoration. Perhaps, but to me this is part of the puzzle. Given that here is a man who settled down 3 standard deviations above the mean on the adulation scale, must we not take a closer look at what evidence we can find that bears on who he is and what he does? (This is another rhetorical question, but they do serve a purpose, don’t they? Oops, did it again.).

DL again
My impression that the DL has attained in the West what the lama selection committee ascribed to him when he was a boy, namely sacredness, leads to the hypothesis that he will not be the subject of critical analysis (or when he is, as in Goldner’s case, it does not go over well). Looking at the sacred through the eyes of enlightenment science is regarded as offensive by those whose perceptions are within the sacred frame. Many of those who would like to take a critical look know this, fear the reaction, and go to work elsewhere.

I searched Amazon and google scholar for independent scholarship on the DL, but came up empty. Of course, my search was hardly exhaustive, and so I ask readers to help out. At any rate, I found three autobiographies by the DL, several hybrid biographies written with or by sympathetic others, but nothing that looked like a disinterested assessment. I find this is astonishing.

One reader suggested I leave the DL alone because my writing is offensive and defensive (cool how I pulled that off and the same time). Just let him be a simple good man and do his simple good deeds. Actually, I am doing that. I am not interfering with his schedule. If I find some hypocrisy in his behavior, it is not really an earth-shaking discovery because most of us often act hypocritically (Kurzban, 2010). The social psychological interest is to understand how someone so ordinary comes to be perceived as so extraordinary.

forget
The most enlightened thing the DL said in the talk I attended were his parting words. I paraphrase: “If you like the messages I have brought to you today, please think about them and share them with your friends (I did that in my first post). If, however, you don’t like my messages, then forget.” It was a big lecture hall with several large screens, which showed his holiness and his words in typescript. The typist rendered the last utterance as “fuck it” to the muted amusement of the audience. Since his holiness’s enunciation of English is accented, one may presume that he really said “forget” and that the typist erred. Yet, he did not say “forget it,” thereby adding a grammatical error. Being the clever devil that he is, one wonders if he actually played with profanity. It would befit his uncontested sense of humor, while offending those whose take on the sacred is of the puritanical school.

Kurzban, R. (2010). Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the modular mind. Princeton University Press.

Joachim Krueger, Ph.D., is a social psychologist at Brown University who believes that rational thinking and socially responsible behavior are attainable goals.

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