Equilibrium (movie): The Libertarian Answer to Buddhism (revised)

Movie poster.

Movie poster.

When Buddhism is refereed to in movies or literary fiction, it is usually done stealthily, as in 19th century Fyodor Dostoyevsky’ short story Dream of a Ridiculous man (my favorite piece of literature ever), Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Equilibrium (2002) and more recently in 2014 Oscar’s Best Movie Birdman.

Buddhism for Dummies

I start this blog with a comment on this movie because, while it is old (2002), it is the only one (that I know of) that not only contributes to covertly pass on one of the most persistent misconceptions about Buddhism, i.e., that its goal is to destroy the natural human capacity to feel emotions.

But it also politicized Buddhism and equated it with tyranny and with  socialism, no less. Boy, talking about bad reputation. It is as if the director based his view on Buddhism on a superficial reading of the book Buddhism for Dummies.

Content:
Preserving the status-quo: Libertarians offer no solutions
Make a movie if you don’t like it
The path to ‘suffering as a lifestyle’
Is it really about Buddhism? “the human ability to feel”
No gossiping, please: What The Buddha said about feelings?
Buddhism and politics
Buddhism: A Psychology/Philosophy of HOPE
The Solution
The SUPERman

Equilibrium [or Viva el greed!]

[from wiki] Equilibrium is a 2002 American dystopian science fiction film written and directed by Kurt Wimmer and starring Christian Bale, Emily Watson, and Taye Diggs.

Equilibrium is set in 2072 in Libria, a city state established by the survivors of World War III that devastated the world, where a government requires all citizens to take daily injections of “Prozium” to suppress emotion and encourage obedience. All emotionally stimulating material has been banned, and “Sense Offenders” – those who fail to take their Prozium – are put to death, as the government claims that the cause of all wars and violence is emotion.


Preserving the status quo: Libertarians offer no solutions

Although promoted as about ‘human liberation’, this movie stirs hopelessness. At the end, it not only ‘buys’ that

“the origin of man’s inhumanity to man – jealousy, rage and wars is the human ability to feel”.

It also proposes accepting the horrible social consequences of that “inhumanity” it so well described, perpetually destroying the planet,  as the inevitable price to be paid…(“A heavy price to pay. I pay it gladly”) for what? To feel in your hand the touch of a $5 antique perfume bottle?

perfume

Would you kill for this ?

Greed, the root of the human suffering and social turmoil depicted in the movie,  is not even insinuated in it; notice how it is not mentioned in that quote above. Probably because for libertarians and globalists alike greed is a positive human quality. And because the movie will be about defending “greed, in all its forms”, like Gordon Gecko would have it in Wall Street.

The truth is, there is no ‘equilibrium’ when the interests of either the individual or the social group prevail over the other.

To those who advocate the ideology of unrestrained greed and wanting, particularly the global corporate elite who benefits from it (‘socialists’ too, see China and Russia), any philosophy or ideology which questions that greed will be offensive. Thus, libertarians offer no hope for peace to humanity, because they defend greed.

Make a movie if you don’t like it

Mr. Wimmer, the director of the movie, prefers the easy path out to personal suffering: inequality as a lifestyle. Of course, he has no reason to want change; he is wealthy and wealthy people (millionaires and billionaires), for some obscure reason, tend to have a negative emotional reaction to the phrase ‘social equality’. So, they make movies to denigrate the idea of any kind of moderation and of those who may advocate it.

The path to ‘suffering as a lifestyle’

In defending unrestrained greed and wanting, Equilibrium turns the natural outcomes of capitalism – personal and social suffering – into a life style. Just as defecation is the last part of digestion, social inequality and poverty are the last byproducts of the process of profit-making. Sorry, I had to use that image.

The hidden message in Equilibrium is libertarian in nature: the answer to human suffering is individualism a la Ayn Rand. Greed is not only good, it is so freaking good that the director is willing to die (well, send others to die) for it.

The libertarian philosophical advantage over the Buddhist path to end personal and social suffering consists on this: when Armageddon finally arrives, it will find you texting in your spiffy new Apple iPhone. Yeah! Take that, Buddha! Happiness is buying many things!

Is it really about Buddhism? “the human ability to feel”

Of course it is. First, the director said in an interview that his intention was to warn us about:

“that dangerous idea that’s growing. I see growing daily around me, that some people’s feelings are dangerous and need to be censored.

Now consider this: no religious group or institution since the Christian era has ever developed any profound investigation of the mind, the link between feelings and perceptions – not the Christian Church, not Islam. For those religions, God is the source of all good and the devil of all evil, period; there is nothing else to investigate about feelings, they come from either of those two. So, the movie is not about them.

It is about Buddhism, the only ‘religion’ with a theory of the mind that advocates and teaches how to be mindful of and control our sensual desires in order to reduce the personal and social suffering that comes from trying to satisfy them at all cost, as in the movie. Modern neuropsychiatry studies the mind too, but the movie is not about them either.

And yet, I have never read about The Buddha saying that the human capacity to feel is the source of all the evil on earth. That would be an egregious misunderstanding of the Buddhist teachings.

Preston's vs. The Buddha's Path to end suffering.

Preston’s vs. The Buddha’s Path to ending suffering.


No gossiping, please: What did The Buddha said about feelings?

He said that the source of human suffering is:

“ignorance of the Four Noble Truths”

Ignorance. But those truths are about our process of cognition. The problem is not “feelings”: Buddhists accept them as natural. The problem is in our lack of understanding of the origin of our feelings, how we mindlessly react to them; how the mind, in the cognitive process, ascribes value and qualities to the objects of perception which they don’t have in themselves, but to which we blindly attach ourselves and invest our ego on them. From there follows the greed and cruelty we experience trying to acquire or avoid those external objects of perceptions that can affect a state of pleasure or pain.

Buddhism in politics

Mr. Wimmer also complained in that interview about how politicians are trying (with various degrees of success, I say) to control our emotions at the height of the 9/11 attacks. I join Mr. Wimmer in his stated preoccupation. But, one thing is politicians and another is the ethical psychology/philosophy of Buddhism. These politicians he’s talking about are not trying to stop us from mindless consumerism, which is what the movie complains about – the trying to stop consumerism. See all the objects and trinkets those revolutionaries have piled up and give their lives for.

To equate Buddhist teachings with tyranny and with socialism/fascism is, in my view, beyond ‘misunderstanding’: it is libertarian propaganda to attack this philosophy that questions our social fascination with ‘wanting’ and unrestrained consumerism.  The movie is enjoyable as long as you overlook all of its propaganda.


Buddhism: A Psychology/Philosophy of HOPE

Buddhism is a philosophy of hope. It offers you, individually, a path out of this condition of self-inflicted suffering which you can follow on your own. The consequences of your progress will benefit society too: less hatred and ill will. No need for tyrants nor for preservation of profit as the mindless stimulant of our senses.

Change and impermanence are two of the most important principles in Buddhism. The Buddha taught that EVERYTHING in this existence is subject to change, including our feelings/emotions, behaviors and beliefs. He also demonstrated how evil and goodness are states of mind. Well, there you have it! Just put the two together. I just gave you the secret to build a more humane society: change yourself, your state of mind.  C’mon, you can do it.

How can Buddhism be oppressive when the Buddha was looking for human liberation from the oppression we inflict on each other due to our tendency for greed, when he was against the caste system of his time, and against oppression of women and children and the poor?

The Solution

Yes, there is a solution to human evil and callousness. You do not have to accept that humanity is doomed to be controlled and enslaved by the most alpha male in the planet just because historically that’s what we have done.

And the solution doesn’t involve getting pumped up with psychiatric drugs that enrich not your mind but pharma’s CEOs and their stockholders. Nor do we have to torture humans and animals, poke holes in their brains to find out ‘feelings’ and how the mind works.

The Buddha found the answer without torturing anyone. He just went INSIDE his own mind with his kick-ass meditation techniques.

The TRUTH is within you. Go find it. Now. Go!

The SUPERman

This is the message I think the Buddha was trying to tell us: Humans are in the adolescence phase of development, they haven’t learned to control their physical and mental powers, and they use them irresponsibly. But humans will ‘grow up’ and get to the point where they learn that all that aggression is a sign of  immaturity. That we can put mind over our body’s demands for satisfaction of sensual cravings, and that it will lead to a more humane and fair society living at peace with everything on this planet.

It’s a loooong way to that moment. That’s why we must unmask those adolescent forces that don’t want to mature, like those libertarian ideologies praising social inequality as the ‘natural’ state of ‘mankind’ in their new tool: Hollywood dystopian films.

Finally, I love this Buddhist saying:

“Love all so you may not wish to kill any.”

========
Footnote:
“And also not only that but sort of a sister theme…of a dangerous…what I think to be a dangerous idea that’s growing. I see growing daily around me, that some people’s feelings are dangerous and need to be censored…and…so these are the things that sort of thematically drove me.” http://www.equilibriumfans.com/commentarya2.htm

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This entry was posted in Buddhism in the Movies, History of Buddhism, Politics, Social Violence. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Equilibrium (movie): The Libertarian Answer to Buddhism (revised)

  1. Pingback: The Root of Existence – Applying the Buddha’s Teaching (II) | the Buddha Was Out of his MIND

  2. Pingback: The Root of Existence – Applying the Buddha’s Teaching (II) | the Buddha Was Out of his MIND

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