Quickie Post — Buddhists and Vaccines in Bhutan

Buddhist Temple, Guangzhou

Successful prevention campaigns in any public health emergency use the memetic structures of their society to communicate with their publics. By placing information in an appropriately couched format that matches the population’s level of empathetic development, news literally travels like memetic wildfire. I wrote about this here early on during the pandemic. There’s been a lot of water under that particular bridge — that post was written in March 2020. But it still holds up, because it harnesses that deeper understanding/guiding principle of how people know in a given society. Quick update — the U.S. is still in chaos, and fighting it out in the lower v-Memes (which is actually devolving our society) because we just don’t know ourselves — and we actually refuse to acknowledge the updated science, which shows our initially order Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions just DID NOT work. And no surprise — those biases remain, casting aspersion through the lens of moral purity on pick-your-outgroup. Those filthy Republicans/Democrats. We always knew they wanted to kill us.

Bhutan is an interesting example to the contrary. They are ruled by a king, and the majority of the population rests somewhat comfortably in the Tribal/Magical – Authoritarian v-Meme. I think most Western descriptions of life in Bhutan come through rose-colored glasses, but it’s still a place I would like to visit, even if I didn’t want to live there. The country is kinda racially homogeneous, and religiously homogeneous, in part because they deported a bunch of Nepali-leaning (like over 100K) Lhotsampas, that involved all the usual rape and killing of any Tribally based/Authoritarian populations. If you read just the short Bhutanese history on the Wikipedia page, you’ll never believe any bullshit from the vast majority of Western journalists ever again about Bhutan being a historically peaceful kingdom.

Still, Bhutan is Buddhist, and Buddhism is a very interesting religion (and I owe a lot of my own reflective practice to meditating over Zen Buddhist koans while riding my bike.) The short version is a good hunk of Buddhist leadership realized that they’d never be able to evolve the value meme set of their larger population, because of poverty. So they went “all in” on the lowest level of the Empathy Pyramid — mirroring. I’ve posted the pyramid below in case you’ve forgotten it.

The good old Empathy Pyramid — those words on the right are pure gold

That’s the whole idea behind the Dalai Lama gig. Pick one child, have him raised by other enlightened beings to be an exemplar (kinda like the Buddha himself) and then everyone will copy him. It’s a good idea, and likely has made predominantly Buddhist countries suffer far less sectarian violence than comparable places. But they’re not the paradises that the West projects — Myanmar is over 80% Buddhist, and they seem to have had no problem massacring the Rohingya Muslim minority. Social structure dynamics and empathy development uber alles, folks. Hate to pop your chanting bubble, but Tribal/Authoritarian societies gonna Tribal/Authoritarian. And that usually means hell for the out-group.

Nonetheless, it’s not a bad strategy. And you can use it for the good of your people. This story (that totally makes sense) popped up on Twitter this morning, about how Bhutan launched its vaccination campaign.

Bhutan‘s vaccination kick-off channels the Year of the Monkey energy!

I’m not going to mess with the lamas that made this call — do remember that the policy of this blog is to explain things in the here-and-now, and NOT!!! call BS on higher intuitive insight, unless it’s obvious falsifiable. Which, in this case, it’s not. There are understandings beyond my understanding. At the same time, well, gotta admit that giving a 30-year-old woman was a great choice. In the middle of a demographic category, extremely unlikely to get any side effects, breaking down any male/female preference (the Buddha ordained it, after all) — good on ’em.

Because I am no expert on Bhutan, let alone Buddhism, I also can’t comment on whether all this was emergent system behavior, or choice-by-design. But regardless, it does show that governments, if they have the best interest of their people at heart, can do right by their populace. Because of their level of Empathetic Development, Bhutan could never in 1000 years come up with an mRNA vaccine. But they did know the time to step outside their level of empathetic development and grab that tiger by the tail. Not all borrowing from higher v-Memes has to be iniquitous (as I’ve discussed here regarding nuclear terrorism.)

“If you see things the way they are, things are the way they are. If you do not see things the way they are, things are the way they are.”

Love it!

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