There is no greater demonstration of our passivity as a culture than the honorifics we attach to unworthy people. The Pope is always 'His Holiness', regardless of whether or not he knew about - and subsequently covered up - child abuse amongst the priesthood. The limp, insipid Archbishop of Canterbury is always 'His Grace', regardless of his cowardly abuse of power to block the legalisation same sex marriage for Anglicans and that most wonderful of things - equality. Every terror-happy Islamist commander is 'Sheikh', and every gay-bashing evangelical 'Reverend'.
The Dalai Lama (who is always referred to by his title) is the prime example of the way in which the media and political figures bend over backwards to accommodate those who have certain reputations. These popular perceptions often supersede substance, but what else could we expect from the team of twenty-four hour news channel obsessed media studies graduates who 'advise' our political leaders? The Dalai Lama is a comfortable face, like a dozy kitten, which means that politicians can drop in for a quick meet and great, and appear well meaning by doing so. The reputation in question is also useful for attracting the slight superficial whiff of rebellion in going against the supposed wishes of the Chinese government (anti-Chinese feeling is certainly useful - see Mitt Romney's liberal use of trade-war hysteria in the 2012 US Presidential Election campaign if an example is needed). And nothing gets your average idealistic idiot on the street more interested than China, man.
I am under no illusions here: I know that the Chinese government is not nice, as both Peter Oborne and Hugo Rifkind have eloquently demonstrated, in a blog and a column respectively, in recent days. The Dalai Lama, you see, used to run Tibet, before being overthrown by the Chinese - lending him instant, unquestionable kudos in the minds of some. But Chinese nastiness does not mean that every twopenny 'dissenter' should be given an endless reserve of screen-time and a bottomless wellspring of respect. This is even more pertinent when considering the sort of Tibetan system to which the Chinese government have put an end. It has been convincingly argued; in a number of places, that the Chinese invaders (while cruel and dogmatic - of that there is little doubt) were on parity with the Tibetan lama priestly classes before the annexation. There are plenty of tales of cruel and unusual punishments enacted in the domain of the Lama: his theocratic fiefdom was well stocked with serfs - under the control of their oppressive feudal masters on the one hand, and shaped by their eternal karmic struggles on the other.
The Dalai Lama has become a televisual fixture because he is willing to grace the most mundane topics with his pseudo-divine presence. We've seen him on lovingly depicted on The Simpsons, and we've seen him on Masterchef Australia. It's all just a bit cheap, isn't it? Would he rather be debating the issues? Hell no! He is far more at home basking in the creation of animated schlock or wandering aimlessly around the set of a food cooking thingy.
Oh, and he's a Marxist as well. Just thought I'd mention it: not that I support clichéd rapid-fire anti-commie sentiment at the very mention at the term, but it is worth pointing out that as a political actor, the Dalai Lama is hardly neutral.
The Dalai Lama also came to the defence of India when it developed its thermonuclear weapons stockpile in 1998, in an area of immense cultural and political tension, giving the government a moral defence of its newfound ability to slaughter and self-immolate simultaneously. This intervention of course, was in no way related to the fact that he operates his 'government in exile' in India, and at the behest, and tacit support, of its government. No sir, nothing morally questionable about that.
What we see here is the truth: that this whiter-than-white demigod is a human being, with all of the inherent flaws and complications that humanity brings. My issue is that this imperfect primate sees it as his right to travel the world with lapdog celebrities and a fundraising bandwagon in tow, and to preach about how he deserves to have an entire nation state - which used to be his personal possession - restored to private control.
It is a great insult to the collective intelligence and goodwill of humanity that a man who claims to be the fourteenth reincarnation of a virtually prehistoric Nepalese princeling is granted the attention that he is. Maybe the Dalai Lama should stick to his platitudinous advice-spewing (for him, Buddhism is no more than a collection of vaguely mystical aphorisms anyway), and the rest of us should get on with our lives. Perhaps he could restrict his sphere of activity to writing forwards to potboilers about meditation and self-help and the political and cultural establishment could stop deferring to an outstandingly successful fantasist and conman on such an elaborately bended knee.
James Snell is Contributing Editor for The Libertarian.