How Buddhist 'No-Self' Can Solve Social Problems

The different levels of self

What if the self was a sliding scale? What if YOU solved some problems, the FAMILY solved others, and the COMMUNITY and NATION did their part? Different 'selves' for different solutions. Today (white) people treat everything as a personal problem and this obviously doesn't work.

Take these three examples:

  1. The pandemic, in the West, has been defined as a personal responsibility (just wear a mask and get vaccinated!). This obviously doesn't work. Meanwhile countries that followed public health measures (like China) have stopped it dead. The countries that made it a matter of private responsibility (and profit) are just dying.
  2. Weight (gain) is treated as a personal failing which you must willpower yourself out of, but this again obviously doesn't work. People can only eat what's culturally available and are only able to move as much as their cities allow. Individual guilt is again good for private profit, but it doesn't do shit about this problem. Also please note, your body isn't even a problem like that, you look great!
  3. Mental health is obviously in your individual brain... but is it? Humans are social animals and sometimes our situations are just fucked up and unhealthy. A lot of 'mental health' issues and addictions are actually rational reactions to that. Why do homeless people talk to themselves and do drugs? Well, if everyone ignores you, why not talk to yourself*? If you're denied other pleasures, why not take drugs?

To take the homelessness example, many (possibly 50% of) homeless people were foster children. They had it rough from the start. These hurt children are supposed to suddenly shoulder all this responsibility because they have adult bodies? They're supposed to self-medicate their way out of medical issues that wouldn't have gotten so bad with some early help? We fucked up, and then we blame it on them. The self is simply the wrong level of analysis for homelessness and so many other existential problems.

So what is the right level of analysis? Well, first I want to introduce the ideas of 'levels' at all. The Western Enlightment was all about the individual and the self, whereas the OG Enlightenment was actually about the concent of no-self at all. Anattā. That's what I'll discuss here.