Are Our Politics Poisonous?

This article was written for Seminary of the Street, for their January 2011 newsletter.

The conversations and conflict in the wake of the shooting in Arizona provides a good object lesson about something Buddhists call “The Three Poisons.” These are concepts familiar to all of us – greed (or craving), hatred (or aversion) and delusion (or self-deception).

We can easily see the greed, hatred and delusion that we feel fuels the actions of others, those who we might consider our enemies, or those on the other side of the political spectrum. The greed of Wall Street bankers, doing their best to reap huge benefits while allowing others to assume the risk – or the greed of the super-rich, who have just recently been handed the continuation of huge tax cuts.

We can call easily to mind the delusion of watchers of Fox News, being fed a constant stream of lies that they seem to swallow easily and whole. And we can find hatred of our President, hatred of immigrants, and hatred of the poor rampant in conservative politics.

What is much harder for us to see is our own greed, hatred and delusion, and our unwillingness to admit that we share the same characteristics of people that we so easily deride. I can recall nights in previous years watching news about Vice President Cheney, and feeling nothing but hatred for who he was and what he stood for. I know I have, at times, swallowed left-wing conspiracy theories whole, just because of the people who were delivering them. And my greed might be small “g” greed – attachment to certain kinds of food, attachment to a particular way I want things to go – but it is attachment, nonetheless, and poisonous.

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