Paul Krugman and Karen Allendoerfer got me thinking today. Paul is, of course, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist. Karen is my blogging buddy and honorary niece — a neuroscientist, musician and fellow Unitarian Universalist. This may be the first time their two names have been published in the same sentence, and a lead sentence at that.
This morning I read Paul’s op-ed Is Vast Inequality Necessary? in the Times. In my idealistic college-age days in the 1960s I was a socialist who believed that everyone should be paid equally. Of course, I understand now that’s not feasible, although I’m still not sure whether it’s undesirable. So, at least for the foreseeable future, some degree of economic inequality is inevitable. But the degree of inequality in the United States and throughout most of the world in intolerable and far beyond any rational explanation.
Karen and I have had an ongoing dialogue in the blogosphere and on Facebook about a higher power and about evil. It’s always risky to represent anyone else’s beliefs, but I think I’m safe in saying that Karen has a hard time in believing that a benevolent higher power could exist in a world with so much evil — genocide, forced starvation, human trafficking.
I believe in karma, but not the way many Buddhists do. In my Buddhism, no child would ever suffer because he or she was reincarnated from a being who had done something terrible in a previous life. In my Buddhism, though, there are causes and effects globally that necessitate some degree of evil. There can be no this without a that. How would we know what good is if we never saw bad? So I see karma as a sort of moral balance and wrote about that two days ago in Perfection and Evil.
Here’s most of Karen’s comment on that post:
I can get on board with a definition of perfect that means something like “in balance” or “complete,” like the laws of physics. Every action begets an equal and opposite reaction. I can see it as descriptive rather than proscriptive. This is how it is, not how it should be, but how it is, and it can’t be any other way, so the best path forward for me is acceptance….
Still, though, perhaps I lack imagination, but I can’t envision anything good enough to balance out the Holocaust. I can’t envision something good enough to make it worth the suffering of abused, innocent children, or chattel slavery. Nothing seems good enough to provide the appropriate karmic balance for those things.
Karen has a point there, and I’ve been mulling it. The light bulb (neuroscientific term) went off when I saw Paul’s column. Just as economic inequality can get way out of balance, so too can global karma. And we can carry the analogy a step further.
Economic inequality can’t be fixed by rich people throwing hundred-dollar bills onto the streets where poor people live, or even going door-to-door with the cash. It requires what Buddhists call upaya (skillful means). Similarly, good people praying in churches, meditating in temples and dancing in ashrams won’t be enough to bring evil and good into a closer balance.
May we find the upaya to reduce the world’s evils.
— Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)
Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine