Remember Lauren Caitlin
Upton of the 2007 Miss Teen USA fame? Ms. Upton was asked why she
thought so many “Americans can't locate the U.S. on a world map.” This
is what she said, in those detestable staccato tart tones:
I personally believe
that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some, people out
there in our nation don't have maps and, uh, I believe that our, uh,
education like such as, uh, South Africa and, uh, the Iraq, everywhere
like such as, and, I believe that they should, our education over here
in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, or, uh, should help South Africa
and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to
build up our future, for our [children].
The brains behind the pageant ought to have spared
America’s prototypical dumb ditz, and asked an easier question: “Who is
your most favorite person in the whole wide world?” Even Ms. Upton, who
happens to also be a typical American honors student, would have nailed
it. Baring the mandatory overbite, Upton would have undoubtedly
squeaked: “Like, the Dalai Lama.”
Regular mention of the Dalai Lama is essential in the
celebrity airhead’s “intellectual” arsenal. “Dalai Lama” and “that’s
hot” (Paris Hilton’s coinage) are interchangeable. The cherished idol
has only to say well-worn stuff like “peace good; war bad,” and his
adulators are enraptured. Western liberals have always been ecstatic
about warmed-over wisdom when uttered by exotic strangers.
The Beatles flocked to India to fork over millions for
His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s popular TM (Transcendental
Meditation) program. It was not uncommon to hear, back then, of the rich
and famous (and of lesser beings) making the pilgrimage, only to be
herded into iffy ashrams, where oodles of cash were exchanged for
Lama-like, fortune-cookie profundities.
I’m not here saying the Dalai Lama falls into that
category, unless there’s something wrong with being funded by George
Soros and the CIA, a dubious distinction the Tibetan exile community and
the lazy Lama share. What I will venture is that, while the Dalai Lama
seems a sweet enough fellow down to his conventional, simplistic,
unoriginal quips, he is, nevertheless, a caricature, the creation of
pseudo-spiritual, faux-intellectual liberal elites.
As 60,000 besotted Seattleites flooded Qwest Field
stadium to bask in the Tibetan leader’s beatific aura and imbibe his
trite truisms, it was worth remembering that the man is a Hollywood
Tibetan Buddhism and its leader were popularized in the West by the
likes of actor Richard Gere.
Members of the fashionable left lining up for the
Lama should also know that it was “during the half century of living in
the western world” that “he had embraced concepts such as human rights
and religious freedom, ideas largely unknown in old Tibet.” Much of the
Dalai Lama’s wisdom is Western. What may also surprise a generation as
uneducated as our Lauren Caitlin is that the history of the region is
far more nuanced than pro-Tibet protesters allow.
Tibet was a slave, serf-based, old feudal theocracy
under the Lama, and before the Chinese. “In reality,” writes Michael
Parenti, Ph.D, in “Friendly
Feudalism: The Tibet Myth,” “old Tibet was not a Paradise Lost. It
was a retrograde repressive theocracy of extreme privilege and poverty,
a long way from Shangri-La. To denounce the Chinese occupation does not
mean we have to romanticize the former feudal régime.”
Or deify the Dalai Lama.
In his latest volume, “A History of Modern Tibet, The
Calm Before the Storm: 1951-1955,” reviewed in the Times Literary
Supplement, anthropologist Melvyn C. Goldstein offers “a compelling, if
controversial, picture of the traditional Tibetan polity of the Dalai
Lamas as an incorrigibly conservative and corrupt medieval theocracy
presiding over a feudal society, in the narrow self-interest of a landed
I’ll take life under the indigenous, Tibetan,
aristocratic religious elites any time over being forcibly integrated
into Mao's communist China. A cast-based community organized around
homegrown patron networks is superior to a society centrally planned by
invaders. But back in 1954, the Dalai Lama himself was not completely
During “what Goldstein describes as the high-water mark
of Tibeto-Chinese relations,” “the nineteen-year-old Dalai Lama,
encouraged by what he saw on a six-month visit to China, even asked to
be admitted as a member of the Communist Party.” Equally complex were
the dynastic dynamics at the time, with “the Dalai and Panchen Lamas
both eager in their support of socialist modernization.”
The story of Tibet is a story with more twists than a
serpent’s tail. Unfortunately, most Americans are as unequipped as Ms.
Upton to locate Tibet on a map, much less preach about its politics.
More poignantly: Why are Americans spoiling for a fight
with China? Are we not wallowing in our own bloody mess in Mesopotamia?
Cheered initially and overwhelmingly by most Americans, that mess has
created upwards of four million refugees and killed Iraqis in the
thousands. The war’s material destruction is horrifying; its moral
What’s Chinese for pot, kettle, black?
©2008 By Ilana Mercer