Note: I originally posted this in November last year, but received such holy hell, threats, and coercive demands that I did in fact take this post down. That’s never sat right with me, so after taking a break to concentrate on a book and life in general, I am reposting it. The soul makes it own demands.
Earlier this year, I resigned as a Soto Zen priest essentially because the religion has been totally hijacked by hypocritical social justice warriors, patronizing race-baiters, and Marxist ideologues. One of the named authors of the “Repentance Statement” issued by the Soto Zen Buddhist Association that constituted my final straw, and one of that organizations most prominent leaders, is Zen teacher Norman Fischer: former Abbott of San Francisco Zen Center, founder of Everyday Zen, and a kind, charismatic person. Norman was previously one of the guiding teachers of the Zen group I co-founded and now direct essentially by myself (supported merely by our regular attendees), though I have met him personally only a handful of times.
Norman is a very nice fellow, and an accomplished poet and author. He even bought one of my paintings. He is beloved as a Zen teacher by thousands of people around the world. I personally have found him to have some blind spots, specifically around communication and accountability, which I have come to think may be endemic to Soto Zen leadership, generally. I have some ideas about why this might be, but I won’t get into that specifically here. These reasons likely also relate to this group’s wholesale adoption of radical postmodern leftist ideology, again the reasons for which are somewhat complex. I understand that Norman even addressed this in a recent podcasted talk or something, possibly even referring to my taking him to task a little bit on Facebook; I don’t want to presume. I hope other people are talking to him, too, about these same concerns.
Norman kindly reached out this week to put me in contact with his son, Noah, who I’d guess is probably a decade younger than me, and likewise an artist — if undeniably more successful. Noah is due to come soon to Albuquerque, where I live and work in the arts. He will be “performing” (?) his project Debtfair at 516 Arts. I’ve been dimly aware of this project for some time. But reading their literal “manifesto” (really? In 2018?) I found an unexpurgated call for a PoMo communist revolution. Needless to say, I am not down. Debt sucks, but I’ll take a defaulted student loan over chaos, economic stagnation, inevitable authoritarianism, and mass murder any day, thanks. At the risk of seeming rude, but trying to separate the personal from the political, I responded to them both with some reflections. I share this publicly, because I think these issues are serious and it’s time to confront them. And I don’t want to go through some re-dissection of these ideas, the hairball of which I think was sufficiently coughed up in this email.
Like I say, Norman is a nice guy, and I bet his son is, too. So are the folks at 516. Nothing personal.
Thanks for reaching out, Norman, and hello Noah,
This is very interesting, because Norman, as you know, I feel you have centrally participated in disseminating and mainstreaming bigoted radical leftist ideology disguised as American Buddha Dharma, which contributed greatly in my decision to turn in my robes. Noah is making his bones perpetuating globalist radical leftism in the arts (“join together in our global struggle against the evil capitalist overlords and usher in a collective utopia!” is essentially the language of the group’s manifesto, which I just reviewed) in ways that I am standing up to and resisting in my vocations as artist, Zen practitioner, and low level curator/arts functionary.
I am really not sure Noah would care much for what I have to say. I had planned to simply steer a wide birth around the presence of debtfair at 516 Arts, who in hosting debtfair sort of put the final nails in the proverbial coffin for me in my estimation their mostly just implementing contemporary art a mechanism of neo-Marxist cultural revolution. Their programming is mainly devoted to “social justice warriorship” that Noah’s work is a kind of epitome of, and which I have very little patience for. I think this kind of thing is the enemy of true creativity and merely constitutes propaganda of the most banal sort.
I am a terrible capitalist, perpetually broke and uninterested in making money (though very interested in having more of it) and I find the effects of greed often quite pernicious. That said, Marxism is 100 times worse, much more deadly and demoralizing, and the entire thrust of debtfair is, to me, frankly abhorrent, and a little bit embarrassing. Apologies for being so frank. You have caught me at a moment of where I am feeling moved to speak up. I work for the city. They just co-hosted a conference called “Culture SHIFT” which was likewise a PoMo neo-Marxist cultural revolutionary re-education camp, with seminars in overthrowing the patriarchy, undoing whiteness, resisting gentrification, detoxifying art of all masculinity, decolonizing creativity, eliminating borders to usher in the globalist utopia, capped with a workshop on drag performance. This rhetoric should be all too familiar to you both.
Meanwhile, I am up for a promotion I am told I am unlikely to receive because I am white, straight, and male, and diversity is the highest priority of our new progressive mayor. Never mind “whites” have always been a minority in New Mexico, and such discrimination is in any case against the law.
I have not only (more and less cheerfully) faced the struggles of just being a broke artist/on-again-off-again-pseudo-monk for 30 years; at virtually every turn I’ve faced discrimination for being white, male, straight, not to mention resistant to leftist polemics and obtuse to whimsical fashionistas. It’s not that I don’t recognize many of the same problems Noah’s work underscores. I too have long carried debt from an education completed 25 years ago now. I loathe the influence the market often exerts on creativity. Maybe the only thing worse than it is communism. Debtfair is just communism, with explicitly racist roots. It infects people not only with hatred and resentment against certain groups, but with the idea they are victims deserving “reparations” (!), posting totally dysfunctional solutions to misdiagnosed problems. This is not something I can simply abide, my dude-ness not withstanding. This aggression will not stand, man.
Again, sorry to be so blunt. I may be inelegant in my diagnosis, but I’m honest. What Albuquerque desperately needs is more art commerce, not less, and models of market success – there is hardly any oppressive structure here yet to overthrow. Evil capitalist marketeer collectors are very few and far between, if any live here at all. Debtfair is also likely to attract a lot of my wife’s UNM students, and she’s fighting everyday to beat back these trendy ideas; not because she has any real comprehension of or stance against the underlying ideology, but simply because it invariably and obviously produces TERRIBLE ART.
Travel safe Noah, enjoy Albuquerque, and be well. There are some very nice people at 516. If you get to the museum where I work, I’d be happy to show you around, and possibly demonstrate through the art on its walls why we don’t need communism here. I will keep on strenuously fighting against it.