1 In his new book Tranquillity & Ruin Danyl McLauchlan tries to make sense of life using both Buddhism & 'Western' academic philosophy. Many Westerners still believe that Buddhism is an exotic ideology, with few historical links to European thought. They're wrong. (thread)
2 Like me, Danyl went to university in the '90s. Like me, he learned that the first Western thinker to dig Buddhism was the gloomy romantic Schopenhauer, in the 19th century. But Christopher Beckwith's startling 2017 book suggests Buddhism went West many centuries earlier.
3 Beckwith shows that, when Alexander the Great invaded India in the 4th century BC, the odd Greek intellectual tagged along. The philosopher Pyrrho of Elis spent time in one of the new kingdoms Alexander established, observed the practices of early Buddhists, & came home.
4 Back in Europe, Pyrrho founded the Skeptical school of philosophy. Pyrrho left no writings, but his students and later followers wrote about the need to achieve ataraxia, a state of freedom from worry. They hoped to do this by suspending judgement about the world.
5 Pyrrho doubted the ability of either logic or empirical evidence to give humans definitive evidence for any general theory about life. He suggested that we should try to be akrandantoi, or unwavering in our refusal to choose one theory over another.
6 Beckwith & other scholars have argued for parallels between Pyrrho's sceptical view of knowledge & the Buddha's teaching that reality is illusory & ungraspable. They link the search for ataraxia to the Buddhist search for nirvana.
7 Pyrrho's influence on Western thought has been immense. His ideas were adopted by the Stoics as well as the Skeptics, & after the end of the Middle Ages he was a goad to thinkers like Descartes, who struggled with the problem of scepticism, & David Hume.
8 If we see Pyrrho as a Buddhist thinker, then the history of 'Western' philosophy suddenly looks much less insular. Beckwith's argument reminds me of a statue at Auckland's museum. Made in Gandhara, a kingdom founded by Alexander, it shows a Buddha with 'Greek' features.
9 Beckwith's research, the statue at Auckland, & McLauchlan's wide-ranging book all appeal to me, because they fly in the face of a tendency, widespread today on both the left & right, to treat Western culture as something insular, something sui generis, something monolithic.
10 The late great Tongan educator Futa Helu, who attempted to fuse Greek and Polynesian thought at his school 'Atenisi, would have enjoyed reading Beckwith & Mclauchlan's tomes. 'The ocean of humanity', said Helu, 'is fed by the rivers of many cultures'.

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More from @SikotiHamiltonR

25 Feb
NZ has many intellectuals who appear before the public. But since the death of Peter Munz in 2006 we haven't had an old-fashioned 'public intellectual'. Danyl McLauchlan's new book Tranquillity & Ruin seems to me to take up Munz's unfashionable but vital mission. (thread)
2 In NZ, intellectuals of both the left - think of, say, Jane Kelsey, @gtiso, @MorganGodfery - & the right - @PronouncedHare, Michael Reddell - regularly publish articles & speak on radio & TV. They take positions on issues, advocate changes to society. Their work is important.
3 We need intellectuals who advocate for certain ideas & take clear positions on issues. But we also need the sort of 'public intellectual' exemplified in the US by Edmund Wilson, & in NZ by Peter Munz. The public intellectual is not an advocate.
Read 10 tweets
23 Feb
1 For most people, the America's Cup is a rather esoteric series of races between very expensive yachts. For far right activist Derrick Storey, though, the Cup is an opportunity to demonstrate the superiority of whites over Maori. (thread)
2 Derrick Storey lives in Palmerston North, where he runs an accountancy business. He's a prolific social media poster and writer of letters to newspapers, whose work has often been republished by Don Brash's outfit Hobson's Pledge. This photo shows Storey with Brash in 2018.
3 On June the 27th 2017 Storey posted on Hobson's Pledge's facebook feed to share his delight at the victory of Team NZ in the America's Cup. In Storey's opinion, a policy of segregation had been key to NZ's success.
Read 7 tweets
23 Feb
1 With the America's Cup fleet based next door, Auckland's waterfront Maritime Museum is getting a wave of visitors. But why is the museum selling a piece of white supremacist pseudo-history in its small bookshop? (thread)
2 To the Ends of the Earth was published in 2012. It was written by Noel Hilliam, Gary Cook, & Maxwell Hill, & claims that white people reached NZ long before Maori. Hilliam, who died in 2017, was notorious for his raids on Maori burial caves & his far right political activism.
3 Hilliam worked with the One NZ Foundation, which claims Maori are not indigenous to NZ & have no rights under the Treaty. At the time of his death he was under investigation from Heritage NZ for stealing a skull from a Kaipara cave.
Read 8 tweets
9 Dec 20
1/7 Sam Linden has a letter in the Dominion Post condemning the Maori Party's co-leader for claiming that Maori suffered a Holocaust at the hands of colonising Pakeha in the 19th century. Linden thinks that such language is insulting to Jewish victims of Hitler. I disagree.
2/7 The term the Shoah refers specifically to the extermination of six million Jews in Europe between 1933 and '45. It should not be used in other contexts. But the term Holocaust has a longer & much more complex history. It has been used to describe many catastrophes.
3/7 The great English poet Geoffrey Hill, for example, called the devastation caused by the War of the Roses a 'Holocaust'. Holocaust seems a reasonable description for the devastation - invasion, land theft, steep demographic decline - Maori suffered in the 19th C.
Read 25 tweets
8 Dec 20
1/4I hate the antiseptic orderliness of supermarkets, but I love Auckland's Indian grocery stores, with their surreal juxtapositions of unlikely goods from several continents, their vials of holy water & cow piss, & their dancing Hindu gods. A strange new item's arrived in stores ImageImage
2 Werewolves Blood Incense is made in Bangalore, for export only. It joins the more traditional incense sticks, which are dedicated to deities like Shiva & Vishnu, in Auckland's grocery stores. The new brand seems to involve a Hindu reimagining of Western occult imagery. Image
3 The text on the product invokes Hindu notions of symmetry & order, claiming that werewolves bring balance to the universe. But it also describes the creatures as 'blood suckers' who need to be kept at bay. ImageImage
Read 5 tweets
17 Jun 20
1 For a dead guy, Captain Hamilton has caused a lot of trouble. Lately protests have forced the removal of his statue from the city named after him. Back in 1864 a report on Hamilton's death prompted 80 angry sailors to attack central Auckland. (short thread)
2 Captain Hamilton perished during the rout of British forces at Gate Pa, just south of Tauranga. The British charged straight at Maori defences; 31 of them died & 80 were injured. An anti-war Auckland newspaper added insult to defeat.
3 The New Zealander was a paper established in 1845 by John Williamson. Williamson became an MP in 1853. He supported the Maori King movement & in 1863 opposed the invasion of the Waikato. His newspaper's anti-war stance caused its co-owner to split & establish the NZ Herald.
Read 7 tweets

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