We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day


I’m reminded of something the writer Pico Iyer told me about the Dalai Lama. Whenever the head of Tibetan Buddhism visits Japan he is asked how the country can improve. His devotees expect an answer along the lines of deeper spiritual contemplation or a stronger commitment to peace. According to Iyer, the Dalai Lama consistently deflates his audience with the practical admonition: “Learn English.”

- David Pilling, interviewing Hiroshi Mikitani in the Financial Times. (I would recommend reading Pico Iyer, too, who is one of the more interesting and entertaining travel writers out there).

11 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Who knew enlightenment was so easy?!! I already know some English! gosh, Tibetan Buddhism is FUN!!!

  • Jay Thomas

    I understand why the Dalai lama is so serene. Years of high thread count bedsheets five star accommodation have a way of calming a mans soul. Why the hell should anybody assume the Dalai Lama has anything useful to say on any topic? People fall over themselves to praise his inane hallmark card platitudes

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Another good thing about Buddhism is, you get to call everyone ‘bud’!

  • Jay Thomas,

    Years of high thread count bedsheets five star accommodation have a way of calming a mans soul

    I don’t particularly envy him his gilded cage. As I understand it he was taken away from his family at the age of two and enthroned at the age of 15. Most of his life has been spent as an exile watching China dig in and make the takeover of his country irrevocable.

    Neither his strange and surely lonely childhood nor his five star hotels and high thread count bedsheets as a celebrity exile make him wrong or right. But the general record of harm done by those treated as a living god (and believing themselves to be one) is so dreadful that his Hallmark platitudes, and even his naive belief that Marx was a nice guy, look benign by comparison.

    “Learn English” is quite good advice, and suggests some capacity to depart from the rigid expectations that have circumscribed his life far more tightly than most lives.

  • It is very simple, straightforward advice, too, from someone who is supposed to come up with pseudo-profundity, so I think it indicates a certain amount of self-awareness.

    I went to hear him speak once. One thing I got was that he felt great and very genuine sadness about what had happened to his country, and also that he realised that the story was not going to have a happy ending. And he did have a self-deprecating quality about him that was quite charming, all considered. He probably does believe a lot of foolish things as well, and many of the celebrity activists who have chosen his cause as theirs are deeply foolish people, but I don’t see much reason to dislike him personally. And although fairly hopeless, his cause is a good one. The Chinese invasion of Tibet and subsequent atrocities were and are completely barbaric.

  • The thing is the Japanese do learn English. They spend years learning it at secondary school in much the same was as we (as in the British) learn French. And with similar results.

  • mdc

    Putting the boot into the Dalai Lama – if he “wins” and re-establishes his theocratic feudal tyranny it probably won’t be better than the PRC, Tibetan nationalism aside.

    and fwiw on French lessons – I personally would have put in a lot more effort if I thought there are any possibility I would actually want to live in France. My impression (or at least my anecdotal experience) is that foreign ‘achievers’ are much more successful at learning English than comparable English people are at learning foreign languages, because they stand to practically benefit from it.

    Maybe the Japanese don’t want to leave, though. Their country is quite prosperous, and big, and racist in a quaint 1950s British seaside town sort of way.

  • Russ

    @mdc: but he probably wouldn’t instill mass forced-sterlization of Han women. So there ARE some differences (notwithstanding that his chances of success are “empty-set.”)

  • mdc

    Presumably the Han would be deported en masse, like the Sudeten or East Prussian Germans after WWII?

    The downside is other, worse abuses. If I may quote wikipedia, not the best of most complete source, but illustrative:

    “According to Heinrich Harrer, who lived in Tibet from 1944 to 1951, there was no organized system of law courts in Tibet. The investigation of offences was entrusted to two or three persons of noble ranks, but corruption was very prevalent. If a defendant considered that he had been unjustly condemned, he was allowed to appeal to the Dalai Lama. If thus proved innocent, he would receive a free pardon, otherwise his penalty was doubled.[28]

    This contrasts the statements of the 14th [current] Dalai Lama,[29] who noted that “For many Tibetans material life was hard, but they were not the victims of desire; and in simplicity and poverty among our mountains, perhaps there was more peace of mind than there is in most of the cities of the world.””

    Independent Tibet was literally an 11th century timewarp. Actually that’s unfair to the 11th century, because despite being serfs English people did at that time have enforceable legal rights. The Dalai Llama’s words could with minimal modification echo the sort of apologia for the USSR and Maoism that was common in the left-wing Western press before 1991.

  • Another good thing about Buddhism is, you get to call everyone ‘bud’!

    A privelige otherwise only afforded to South Walians.

  • English proficiency is definitely valuable to those in the Japanese film and manga industries.

    But if Obama is reelected, I may start learning Estonian.