Sadly, in some ways, I think the answer is Yes. Re-reading my entry, I found evidence of compromises I would have been unwilling to make back then. And I have sympathy--no, admiration--for those who reject such compromise. I think of another friend, whose work and dedication I much admire, who has also given up on "democracy" as we know it here, and on the promise for change. He is one of those stand-out independent thinkers who strives, constantly, for the fulfillment of a vision of a way of life that is free from the toxic influence of politics and greed; and who distrusts all politicians equally.
I wonder to what extent age has tainted my ideals. People do tend to become more conservative as they age, and it saddens me to contemplate the possibility that the socialist ideals I embraced in my young years may have been sacrificed along the way. But then I remind myself that my ideals have always been tempered by a measure of that British pragmatism I learned from an early age.
Having started this entry and put it on hold to allow for a walk down to the Saturday market, I ran in to a friend down in the village and struck up a conversation about the state of the world. I knew him to be an old lefty peacenik type, and before long we found ourselves talking about the conflicts taking place in the Middle East. I was not surprised to hear him insist that we should be out of there immediately, out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and that we should keep our noses out of the events in Pakistan. And of course this followed naturally on what I'd been thinking earlier, about ideals and pragmatism. I felt once again that inner struggle between the heart and its revulsion against every form of violence and warfare, and the head that reminds me of the Taliban's encroachments in Pakistan, the militant Islamic vision of international conquest by a medieval, fundamentalist world view and the barbaric means by which they seek to impose it, their ruthless dedication to terror and suppression to achieve their ends...
My friend reminded me of the catastrophe in Iraq. I'm sorry, I don't see all this to be anything like Iraq. To begin with, there's not just the suspicion of nuclear weapons, there's the fact of Pakistan's possession of them. If there's anything approaching the appeasement of the 1930s, it's the current situation in that country, where a weak government seems unable to control the advance of the growing ranks of an angry minority and could all too easily succumb to their fanatical power. What then? Is the world to stand by and wring its hands, hoping for the best? When, if ever, will enough be enough to satisfy the appetite for power and control, when the militants have made it clear that they intend to extend their vision of the Caliphate to the entire human race? It's abundantly clear that these are not people you can talk to. At what point, then, will it become a matter of resorting to violence?
The idealist in me rebels against war. The Buddhist in me reminds me that violence breeds only violence. The pragmatist insists that we can't simply abandon the Middle East to those who have made unambiguous their intent to rid the world of any vision other than their own. I would not want to place my trust in the hope that they do not have the power to do so. At the very least, it seems not improbable that they could seize power enough to create a catastrophic global conflict--starting with with India and Israel.
Perhaps the best I can do, as Voltaire suggested at the end of his satirical rant in the story of Candide, is to tend my own garden, peacefully. I can, after all, achieve nothing particularly useful by compromising my ideals. Than Geoff (Thanissaro Bhikkhu) has offered much the same advice: Is there anything you can do? he asks. Of course not. Then quit worrying about events over which you have no control and attend to your own integrity.
I get that. And yet... I agonize.