American Politics: Beasts, Ghosts, and Demons

Awhile ago I posted on how the famous six realms of Tibetian Buddhism could also indicate psychological states, and how that made me rethink my late dog’s life. I’d like to focus more on those six realms, and what they mean for American politics.

To review, the six realms one can be incarnated in (or that one can experience, if your take the psychological viewpoint) are:

  • Gods (Devas) – A realm of pleasure, but the pleasure distances one, and even gods die.  Think of this as pleasurable and peak experiences.
  • Asuras – A realm of ambition and striving godlike beings, who suffer paranoia and envy.  Think of this as a state of “drive.”
  • Humans – Our realm, a real of desire, doubt, and some confusion but also balance so we may achieve Enlightenment, and where we may develop important compassion that lets us do so.
  • Animals – The realm of instinct, ignorance carnality – and fear and opposition to change.  Think of this as functioning in basic fear-response.
  • Hungry Ghosts – The realm of mournful, craving spirits.  Think of this as being in a state of addiction and sheer need.
  • Hell Realm – The realm of anger, hate, and fear.  Think of this as being in a state of terror and rage.

You can see how these realms can easily represent different human sates from peak experiences to unbridled rage, with honest humanity in the middle. Now let’s turn to American politics using this psychological model.

Certainly after the horrible events of last week, and the strange scramble to make sense of it all (well, to see people shoehorn it into their narratives), politics is something to consider.

When we look at the sheer dysfunction of American politics, it does become overwhelming. It is a tribute to our country that we manage to keep moving along, but when one looks at the challenges facing us, it becomes a bit disheartening. From an honest perspective, the infighting, gridlock, conspiracy theories, irrationalism, decaying infrastructure, etc. seem to be, well, beneath us – yet we have them anyway.

You kind of wonder “hey, why don’t people realize that things are kind of bad and band together with their fellow people and fix stuff?”

That of course, assumes our politics are functioning at a Human level, a level of cooperation and fellow-feeling and understanding the balance of thing. I’d say we’re functioning way too often on the lower level – in short, people are acting like beasts, ghosts, and demons.

We see people fall into the Animal realm of consciousness. Fearful, hateful of change, trying to constantly identify predators, humorless and static, yet driven by basic drives. Some of your paranoid politics fall into this realm, along with simplistic us-versus them mindsets. Also whenever you see someone whose politics lacks a human sense of humor, you know they’re gone . . .

We see people fall into the Hungry Ghost realm. They are vastly needy for attention, reinforcement, praise, money, etc. I think some people who are craving validation fall into this realm as their politics is about making them feel good like a junkie needs a hit – and many a manipulative pundit, politician, or preacher is in this realm, who need that injection of money, power, fame, and praise.

We see people fall into the Hell realm. They’re filled with hatred and rage and fear, lashing out, threatening, screaming in words or in text. They’re ready to tear anyone and anything apart, and latch onto anyone to take it out on. This can be observed in many a politicall comment board, or those embarrassing Facebook posts that one relative or friend makes.

(I could say we’ve got some manipulative Asura-types, but I’m not sure how far that goes . . .)

Fear, addiction, and mindless rage. Sounds awful familiar at times.

If our politics doesn’t seem to make sense, stop thinking of it as human politics. Think of our politics instead of having too many cases where our sheer humanity is waning or is gone. Think of our politics as suffering from people who act like beasts, ghosts, and demons.

Our human problems won’t get solved with inhuman fear, craving, or rage.

Looking at it this way also makes our political problems seem . . . well, stupid. They’re born of our own problems, our own mistakes, our own pathologies. Much as Buddhist practitioners treat, say, the Hungry Ghosts as creatures to feel sad for, we can take a moment to feel sad for those drawn into the Animal, Ghost, and Hell realms in politics. It reminds us that what we need is to find our humanity – and we need to retain it and not get drawn into their worlds.

It’s also good for humility, because I can guarantee almost all of us slip into these realms too.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, nerd and geek culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at