Alive and With A New Project

Well, more than a year since my last post and now I’m back.  Clearly, I’m not to be relied upon for blogable entertainment.  The thing is that I simply ran out of steam in the worst possible way – there was just nothing that seemed like it needed to be said.  Also, I got a new position at work.  Also, maybe some other things I don’t think I’ll tell the whole world about.  In any case, so it was, so it is.

But I have of late decided that there is something that would be interesting to do.  Interesting to me at least, hopefully interesting to others as well.  Indeed, I think it would be even more interesting if I were able to get some participation from others for this little project.  So if anyone out there is reading this and thinking that it sounds like it might be a fun thing to do, please give me a shout.

The short version of the project is this: methodically undertake a particular course of meditative practise and philosophical/psychological investigation and make a daily record of my own progress/outcomes (including my failures, of course) in order to try and effectively design a course of study to efficiently get people to a condition of ‘xxx’[1].  Enlist other interested parties (*cough* ‘guinea pigs *cough*) willing to engage in the program in order to properly evaluate its effectiveness and make tweaks… so if anyone out there is reading this and thinking that it sounds like it might be a fun thing to do, please give me a shout!

What is the background on this?  Well, I had just returned (this was two weeks ago) from a very fruitful retreat and I was giving a friend of mine (who I consider to have been very successful in this ‘xxx’ business[2]) the run-down on the retreat.  This led into a conversation about just why it is that there are so many Buddhists and yet so few Buddhas, so many advaita vedantins and so few… whatever you might call them.  There were a few reasons we batted about, but poor instruction struck us both as an important one.  Indeed, I think that this is particularly important because there is both a ‘stupid’ way to go about practise and a ‘smart’ way – and I have been very stupid.  I no longer want to be stupid and I would like to see others be less stupid as well.

Also, there are so many other practices that I think could be of value but which I’ve never investigated or investigated in any methodical way.  Hopefully, putting up a record and comparing my own experience with those of others will make a difference!

So, the logs begin tomorrow (though I’ve already sort-of chosen the plan of action and started yesterday) and the supplementary posts will follow.

Endnotes:

[1] This is to be defined later on.  Needless to say, I have a particular idea of what this means and this is based upon thought and practise that took place over the course of my internet absence for which I will have to fill in the details.

[2] Again, don’t panic!  I’m definitely not saying anything too outlandish about him, as you’ll all see when I get around to finally putting forward something that I consider to be a workable and realistic notion of what fills in the space marked ‘xxx’.

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Was David Hume Enlightened?!

Hume needed all that fat to fuel his ginormous brain.

So, I’ve been sitting meditation for a long while.  It’s an interesting pursuit – the more one tries to just stay with whatever is here now, the more strange things seem to pop up.  Anyway, I was thinking about Hume today because of something that made itself so blindingly obvious during my meditation practice that I couldn’t help but make the connection.  Basically, whenever you have a sensory input (say, a fly passes through your field of vision), that input will be followed extremely shortly thereafter by an involuntary mental reproduction of that sight-event.  This comes almost immediately after the original sensory input and is noticeably different in ‘feel’ than a memory of the same event after the fact.

Now, you can’t force yourself to notice this – indeed, trying to force it will either entirely prevent it from occurring or will cause too much mental noise to allow you to notice it (I’m not sure which it is) – but it definitely happens.  And now I think I understand where Hume got his notion about ideas.  Or at least I think I do – my suspicion is that he was up to some sort of what today would be recognized to be meditation (granted, he probably didn’t sit full-lotus).  Which makes me wonder – where in God’s name did he get the idea to do that from?  For goodness sake, he even appears to have figured out anatta!

And so I’m seriously freaked – was David Hume… enlightened?

Implications, As Promised

In my post from last week I suggested that there would be some implications that flow from the unethical foundations of all ethics.  So, even though they are not completely thought-through, here are the ones which strike me as fairly obvious:

  • All reasoning about ethics/morality is wrong – though not, I should say, in the sense in which orderlies stealing from old ladies in nursing homes is wrong, but in the sense of factual error.  At best, one could say that all ethical reasoning is partial.  This is, of course, because any conception of the Good will necessarily have one or more holes or blind-spots in its analysis which it cannot acknowledge since to do so would be to undermine itself.  As I pointed out before, any conception of the Good requires the suppression of certain beliefs, behaviours, or desires that are inimical to its successful realization.  However, if these beliefs (etc.) are not ‘bad’ apart from their utility/disutility to one or another conception of the Good and, more importantly, comprise the conception of and striving after the Good of the one who has them, then the suppression of same by some other ‘Good’ and its agents constitutes a harm for that person.  The suppressing ‘Good’, however, cannot acknowledge that it is doing actual harm, else it wouldn’t be Good (or even good) – and thus we arrive at notions of ‘restorative punishments’ and ‘merely perceived harms’ which, to my mind, are pretty obvious attempts at bootstrapping coherency and universality. [1]
  • Another consequence is that to a significant degree, might makes right.  For society to be possible among numerous individuals it is necessary that there be some commonality of expectations, understandings, etc.  In order to achieve this, some conception of the Good – it will probably be easiest with one already broadly agreed to, but that is a matter of practicality – will need to be privileged over all others, even if this means doing harm to those who may not share in this conception.  Once a conception of the Good is being enforced, however, it becomes extremely difficult to resist seeing as ‘Good’ for many reasons: practicality, it grounds one’s way of life, simple lack of imagination, fear of social disapproval, etc.  By way of illustration, consider the case of hereditary monarchies.  It is difficult to imagine how any large number of people (thousands, millions) would have originally assented to absolute power being wielded over their lives by a single person and all his descendants thereafter except through coercion, but we do know that it was eventually taken for granted by most that this was simply the natural state-of-affairs and was a Good thing.  Moreover, it isn’t clear that this should strike us as overly troubling either.  Beijing is trying to enforce the use of a single language and a dominant culture throughout China, which is no doubt harmful to cultural and linguistic conservatives throughout that country [2], but which is no different in kind from any number of similar programs enacted throughout Europe which gave us all those countries we know today. [3]  Of course, this is meant to deny neither the reality of moral disagreement nor that the exercise of might (whether social or physical) can and often does do harm [4], but is rather to say that we should acknowledge that enforcement and the regularity it provides does, over time, tend towards legitimacy.
  • We should probably drop any worries about ‘doing the right thing’ or ‘being in the right’ because these are only possible from within the framework of some conception of the Good.  There are several problems with this.  First, as mentioned above (1), it will actually make us blind to certain situations that require moral consideration but which our favoured idea of the Good won’t admit of.  Second, since any conception of the Good necessarily and categorically does harm to some number of people based on the ‘appropriateness’ of their beliefs, behaviours, desires, etc., then actions flowing from any such conception will be prone to causing harm in the ways characteristic to that idea, making it entirely likely that if we do harm when acting on our idea of the Good we shall ignore or rationalize away said harm.  Third, even if we can acknowledge an area of ethical concern, trying to stay too closely within the boundaries delineated by our theory will constrain our scope of action in ways that may not be useful and may even prevent us from ever getting around to being useful because we cannot make our ethical algorithm compute.

Endnotes:

[1] I am assuming here that we are considering universalist-type conceptions of the Good (e.g. Christianity, Buddhism, Socialism/Marxism).  An obvious objection is that such criticism wouldn’t apply to conceptions of the Good that are more local in scope like, for example, Jewish rules regarding diet or ethnic-chauvinist moralities.  It is an interesting question but one which I must set aside for now although, as a pre-reflective sort of comment, I will note that most ‘local’ conceptions of the Good tend to be those held by less-powerful groups.

[2] Who, in an attempt to find allies to apply external political pressure against such policies, have formed a partnership of convenience with Western Progressives who have little patience for such linguistic and cultural conservatives within their own countries.  The irony is both palpable and delicious.

[3] Similar programs were successfully undertaken in places such as France, Germany, Italy, and Great Britain (among others) and unsuccessfully in Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia,  greater Spain (Spain, Portugal, the Basques), and the Soviet Union (among others).  Presently, the European project is attempting to forge a supra-nationality among the European nations – time will tell whether that will take (and perhaps, looking at the current European situation, not much time at that).

[4] Nor is it meant to imply that I am untroubled by the implementation of such policies in the Chinese case (or generally, for that matter).

The Thing About Ethics…

… is that it is foundationally unethical.  Gone off my rocker, have I?  Not entirely, I should think.

Think of it this way.  Ethics/morality/’whatever you want to call it’ comes down to articulating some vision of the Good and then influencing or regulating the behaviours of some set of people – typically members of a social or cultural group – in order to facilitate or make possible the realization of that conception of the Good.  This, it should be noted, requires both encouragement and discouragement.  What this means is that whatever the Good is thought to be, its pursuit will necessitate harming some other people’s legitimate interests (that is, making them act contrary to their conception of the Good).

Some examples:

Say that the Good in Puritanistan is thought to be a near-monkish celibacy.  Now, it is pretty easy to imagine that most people would find this onerous, even if they agreed that such restraint is Good.  There would undoubtedly be, however, some individuals, perhaps those who are constitutionally hornier than average, who would still be required to stick to the conception of the Good – on pain of punishment, whether corporal or social (shaming, etc.) – even though they, by dint of their individual natures, would likely not choose to live the Puritanistanian lifestyle (and for the sake of argument let’s suspend judgements and suggest that there is nothing wrong with sexual longings in themselves).  They might be happier in Swingerovia, where free love is the Good.  Of course, even an as ‘do-as-you-please’ lifestyle as the Swingerovian will, in order to work effectively, necessitate the suppression of certain normal, wired-in human emotions. [1]  Specifically in this case, sexual jealousy: it is hard to freely love someone when his/her other lovers are conspiring to kill you.  Therefore, jealousy and its expression will need be heavily stigmatized in order for such a society to continue functioning as it does.  The very jealous might do better in a society with the expectation of greater sexual restraint (again, let’s suspend judgements and assume that there is nothing wrong with jealousy in itself).

Now, in neither case are the wired-in emotional dispositions of people problematic except insofar as they are disruptive of the conditions necessary for the realization of each society’s conception of the Good.  But to ensure that those conditions obtain some people [2] must act or be made to act (or punished for failing to act) in ways that are contrary to their individual natures, which is counted as a harm by those whose natures are inimical to the ‘Good’. [3]  Furthermore, this is true of all moral/ethical systems, to one extent or another.  Again, stepping back from our own valuations a bit, what is ‘bad’ about accurate or earned, outspoken self-regard – i.e. arrogance – except that it irritates us and our conception of the Good seems to involve never having anyone point out they are better than us (and Jesus was pretty much against it)?  Our morality/code of ethics demands that those who have accomplished great things nevertheless pretend that they did not or that it was somehow accidental or that their role in this accomplishment is of merely secondary importance.  Surely this does some amount of harm to the interests of those who have accomplished some great feat? [4]

We can now put our own ethical caps back on now.  It should now be obvious, though, why I believe that ethics are foundationally unethical.  There are some implications that fall out of this but I will look into them later.

Endnotes:

[1] I should say that I am not a fan of the Standard Social Science Model (SSSM), I find the ‘Integrated Model’ described on the same linked page far more plausible.

[2] Actually, all of the people, some of the time.

[3] For a little background on how I think about morality, see here.

[4] This is on my mind because of the London Olympics.

A FURTHER NOTE!!!:

This is a much condensed version of my original post because WordPress is evil and – even though I definitely hit ‘save’ – I apparently saved only the first line of this post, even though I had written much more.  I get a lot of guff from WordPress and, I swear, were it not free I’d be on a different platform.

No Moral Properties: Morally Relevant Properties

I do not think it overly incautious to say that most people view morality as something that exists apart from themselves.  I take no position between the various ways in which this is explained (whether as the Will of God, or of the law of karma, etc.) but I would be willing to go far enough out on a limb to say (without providing any strong evidence in support of the claim, mind you) that the perception of moral valuations as existing ‘out there’ as properties adhering to acts and objects, just as ‘red’ adheres to a fire-engine, is probably innate, the default setting of the human mind.  While it could be the case that this is so (who am I to say?),  it strikes me as unlikely that this should be the case.  After all, despite many years – our entire species-history since we attained sapience, in point of fact – of believing in morality, of arguing morality, and enacting (however poorly) morality, we have failed to achieve any robust species-wide agreement upon the content of morality.  Granted, there are such platitudinous agreements that, for example, we ought not to kill, but when we dig deeper into how different cultures and different individuals within those same cultures understand and operationalize such principles, we find that there exists hardly any common ground at all, even relating to such arguably fundamental positions.  Given our extraordinary successes in expanding human knowledge in other domains (e.g. astronomy, physics, medicine), it seems improbably that we might nevertheless have failed to achieve some degree of success in the moral sphere if, in fact, moral properties are obvious and actually existing features of the external world. [1]

Still, we feel very keenly (at least, most of us do) the strength and pull of morality and moral reasoning and we strive with mixed success to act within the boundaries these define.  Quite obviously, morality is a real phenomenon and we experience it as such.  Equally obviously, if morality is not an aspect of the external world, it will necessarily be a feature of the human mind.  The goodness that we observe in kindness and the evil from which we recoil in cruelty are not properties of the acts themselves, but are valuations that we have made and projected (instantaneously) onto the happenings themselves.  Thought the universe may be amoral, we most certainly are not.

Now, perhaps this doesn’t strike some of those reading this as plausible, which is fine – it is not really my intention here to change anyone’s opinion on this count.  Indeed, a good many will be sure to remain unconvinced because they know (or claim to) that it is perfectly obvious that there is a moral order independent of ourselves.  There will be others, however, perhaps fewer, who resist the view because they are unsure that they want to accept what they believe to be its consequences.  After all, if we lose the objective moral order, don’t we thereby fling to doors wide open to relativisms of all sorts, not to mention losing the basis of justification for our own actions? [2]  Such concerns, however, lively as they may be, have much less substance than they appear to, for two reasons.  First, and most importantly, there is no danger whatsoever that we are at risk of collapsing into barbarism and immorality/amorality on an account of morality as non-independently existing – what we take to constitute acting morally might change, but we do and shall retain our moral compass (whichever way it points) until evolution has stripped it from us.  Second, although there may be no such things as moral properties,  out there and ready-made to guide our actions, it nevertheless remains the case that there are morally relevant properties of objects and states-of-affairs to which we may turn for grounding our moral reasoning.

In order to determine what properties might count as morally relevant, we will necessarily need to first determine what exactly morality concerns itself with.  This, as any who has tried can attest, is a maddeningly difficult thing to do, at least to everyone’s satisfaction, but one or two tentative and broad definitions are available.  A minimally acceptable definition of morality obviously has something to do with guiding/constraining our actions, but this is too vague to serve as a definition since it says nothing about the reasons why we may declare certain acts impermissible in the absence of objective moral properties.  There is one family of accounts – one which I find compelling – that claims that morality exists as a way of constraining the acts of members of groups of particular species of social animals in order to bring about and maintain a modus vivendi necessary for their flourishing.  Some will find this to be too restrictive however, arguing that it misses out on the universality of the moral imperative – we generally, they would claim, extend the sphere of moral concern beyond the (sometimes very) narrow confines of our social groups.  Instead, morality is about acting appropriately toward everything.  There is something to this objection/definition, but I don’t think that it disproves the evolutionary account – I think, rather, that it serves as an interesting expression of the particular moral make-up of the human animal. [3]  I don’t see these two as incompatible as it is surely possible that our in-group moral sense is, like our intellect, far more powerful than strictly required for our survival and reproductive success and, like our intellect, has been applied to problems beyond those it arose to cope with.  But if this account does replace the other which I have given above, then morality will simply be concerned with the prescription of those actions which are of benefit to others and the proscription of those that are detrimental.  For the time being, then, I shall use this benefit/harm criterion as it arguably is a more broadly applicable standard (e.g. how we deal with a biting mosquito has little if anything to do with social cohesion) and is, in any case, widely assented to, even among those who don’t believe it to be the whole of morality. [4]

In order for some property of an object or situation to be morally relevant, therefore, it must be some property whereby an object (whether this object is the one which possesses the property or is some other thing) of moral concern may be brought to harm or benefit.  Unfortunately, this introduces a further complication into the matter – how do we judge whether an object has been harmed or benefitted?  I propose simply that for any action to count as a harm or benefit, it must have been done to an object which possesses some property whereby it can come to harm or benefit and would (had it the ability) judge itself to have been so affected.  This last bit is critical, since this is what allows moral action to be meaningful and coherent.  For example, we are not harming chimpanzees by refusing to educate them in mathematics since chimps’ natures are such that they do not consider themselves to be harmed by such withholding – indeed, they cannot even understand what it is that we are withholding.  If, however, we were to confine them to cages and refuse to feed them, then we are clearly doing them harm (they have a nature such that they require food and experience its absence as harmful).  Moreover, it is this own-judgement of benefit/harm that allows us to make moral arguments and appeals against the powerful and the opinions of our peers – but for this own-judgement there could not have been any case against slavery, patriarchy, etc.

From this it follows that the greater the number of properties by which an object can be affected, the greater moral consideration is due that thing.  A rock, for instance, cannot judge itself to have been harmed by anything, so is owed no moral consideration, except perhaps derivatively by being of interest to something to which we do owe moral consideration (by being someone’s property, say).  Conscious entities that feel pain and pleasure will deserve some minimal moral concern, while self-aware entities will deserve yet more.  Social animals will merit much, much more, since they can be affected not only by what  happens to themselves but also by what happens to members of their social groups.  Humans, finally, will bear the greatest degree of moral consideration since we can be affected in the greatest number of ways (indeed, by having our rights violated or our plans interfered with).

In any case, it should not be difficult, on inspecting an object, to ascertain which of its properties may be morally relevant.  The fundamental morally relevant property must be consciousness, since without consciousness there can be neither perception nor judgement of harm or benefit.  Emotional attachment, plan-making, and others are potential candidates.  But to compile a list would take much more effort than I would be willing to do on a blog!

Endnotes:

[1] Unless, of course, our moral science (please pardon the term) is still in its infancy.  Morality may, on this eventuality, actually be a part of the external world as much as is the sphericity of the Earth.  As was the case with the Earth in days of old, ‘natural’ moral properties may not yet be obvious minus some conceptual equivalent of manned space-flight.

[2] As to why the prospect of relativism should be so troublesome to any but the most rigid of religious fundamentalists, I have to admit that I find myself at a loss.  Surely we can all agree that moral relativism is, quite apart from normative concerns, a descriptive fact of human morality as it manifests in practice?  What further harm can result from acknowledging relativism that doesn’t already obtain from the mere fact of it?

[3] I would be interested to know whether some evolutionary psychologist has addressed the question of why it should be that humans are so readily able to extend our sphere of moral  concern so far beyond our most intimate acquaintances – as far as other living species and even, on some occasions, to inanimate objects!

[4] And because, furthermore, one could make the case that many of our apparently non-harm/beneficence matters of moral concern (social cohesion, say) could be derived from harm/benefit considerations, it would just take a lot of work.  How this can be should become apparent later.

Small Thoughts on Anti-Natalism and Potential Persons

Well, I haven’t been a very good blogger in the recent past.  It would seem that recently, when not at work, I have been in a reading and not a writing phase.  I have been working at a longer essay but I have to admit that my enthusiasm for it is low, so that will be done whenever it is done.  Meanwhile, I imagine that I will be keeping to shorter bits (and I suppose that I could get some book reviews in, since I’ve read a few in recent weeks).

Anyway, I was at our local megabookstore yesterday (though I prefer to spend my money at smaller booksellers, I had some gift cards to spend, so no option).  There, I happened to discover a book titled Why Have Children?: The Ethical Debate by one Christine Overall (MIT Press 2012).  I didn’t buy it, though it seems interesting enough to eventually make its way into my tower of books that I have yet to read (besides, I’m on a bit of a fiction kick and Heinlein is calling to me…).  It caught my eye, both because I find the natalist/anti-natalist debate to be a rather interesting one and, further, personally relevant [1].  The author takes the question from a feminist perspective and, somewhat surprisingly for feminists who cover the question of the ethics of procreation, finds in favour of it.  I look forward to reading it.

There was a time when one of my primary ethical interests just was the question of anti-natalism.  Now, it seems that there are two general approaches that have brought most anti-natalists to their position [2].  The first focuses on the ethical impact of child-bearing upon those already living, whether those impacts are related to environment, parents’ hedonistic calculus, etc.  There’s much to be discussed in this vein, but it is the second that I am (and usually have been) more interested in, which concerns itself with the ethical impact of procreation upon the yet-to-be born.

The arguments are various, but usually go something like the following:

  1. Even on the sunniest (credible) review of life’s ups and downs, it’s clearly a mixed bag – though there is much that is good and enjoyable in life, there is also much that is bad and harmful [3].  No one who is born, after all, can escape sickness, ageing, or death (as to whatever compensations come with these, it is telling that we think of them as compensations).
  2. It is uncontroversially granted that causing unnecessary harm is bad and best avoided.
  3. The harms listed in (1) obviously cannot be suffered by someone who hasn’t been born.
  4. Whether or not someone is born is obviously a consequence of his parents’ decisions on the matter (due to modern contraceptives, etc.).
  5. Given (3) and (4), the harms that come from being born are obviously evitable.
  6. Therefore, by (2) and (5), it must be concluded that potential parents should not become actual parents.

Now, there are a couple of ways of countering this argument, should one be so inclined, but I personally think it fails because it seems implicitly to suppose the existence of potential persons.  Harms must be done to someone in order to be harms at all, but how could harms be done to someone who doesn’t exist?  Surely (most) anti-natalists do not believe that there are ethereal little people hovering around women which are then unwillingly trapped in wombs by the procreative act.  If such was the case then, yes, it would be a harm – I highly doubt that it is, though.  More seriously, I cannot see how to make a precondition of one’s own existence into a harm against oneself.  It strikes me as about as plausible an argument as saying that because we must breathe in order to survive, and some of us will at some point have difficulty with that, we therefore would be better off not having to breathe at all.  There’s nothing obviously fallacious about such an argument, but it still strikes me as wrong.

Endnotes:

[1]  My wife and I have just passed our first anniversary and as it would seem we haven’t come to loathe each other any more than we already did (joke!), so starting to think about whether and how we might fit kids into the plan seems pertinent.  And since I’m a philosophy nerd, this also means thinking about children and the having-of-them philosophically.

[2]  When that position in fact does have some justifications grounding it, rather than simply being an expression of personal distaste for children or the raising of them (not that there is anything wrong with such an attitude – surely not everyone is of a sort to have children – and not that there is anything necessarily wrong witha posteriori justifications for one’s preferences).

[3]  And this of the best lives available to anyone.  There surely are, have been, and shall be lives in which that which is bad and best avoided overwhelm that which could potentially have been enjoyed (the famine children of late-night television donation drives come to mind).  A related and interesting question: are there lives that are not worth living?

The “Variety” of Buddhist Meditation Techniques

Perfect posture

Just as happens in any large group of people who have been classed together for whatever reason, there is actually a rather widespread tendency among Buddhist sects to denigrate each of the others.  Mahayana Buddhists fairly reliably look down their noses at the practices of the Theravada, an attitude put on display by their choosing to stick to the term that their scriptural commentaries have for Theravada: ‘Hinayana’ (a derogatory term that is usually translated as ‘The Narrow Path’ but which apparently has linguistic connotations in Sanskrit that would be as negative as our calling it the ‘Nigger’s Path’).  Theravada practitioners (or the most traditionalist among them) reject any and all innovations or additions to Buddhist practice made since the historical moment at which they were the predominant school.  And Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhists tend to look down upon everyone else and their practices, claiming that their Buddhism is the best.  As can be expected, then, there is much heated debate over whose meditation techniques are best.  This group says that its techniques are best and that the intelligent student of meditation will not waste any time working with those other guys’ methods.  That group says the first is wildly off-base – don’t practice samatha, that’s just the slow and selfish way to enlightenment, do shi-ne instead.  And then there’s Zen, which informs us that if you’re ‘meditating’ at all, then you’re doing it wrong – just sit there.  (Sometimes, I think the Zennies do this just to be confusing.)

What strikes me as absurd and funny (or very sad, depending on my mood) is that at the preliminary levels of practice, at least, there really isn’t all that much difference between the meditation techniques and aims advocated by the different schools.  Granted, preliminary instructions differ – some are to focus on a physical sensation (like the breath), some to ‘note’ or label thoughts and sensations, others are to recite a mantra, while yet others are not to ‘do’ anything in particular and just sit there – but these really do strike me as being rather unimportant differences since they all wind up doing much the same thing, in the end.  It’s like different techniques for opening a jar – some people will insist that one ought to run water on the lid to loosen it up, others will say that we should just use our bare hands, and others will say “find a man to do it for you” – but in the final analysis each one of these methods results in unscrewing the lid.  Just so for meditation.  Whether using a mantra or the breath as an anchor, or doing without an anchor at all, we are teaching ourselves the same skills – patience, perseverance, and sensitivity to the particularities of and non-involvement with the ever-shifting contents of conscious awareness.

So if you are interested in Buddhist meditation, my suggestion is not to worry about the supposed vast and grave ‘differences’ between the preliminary techniques offered by the various schools.  Instead, you should try out different techniques and see which of them is a ‘best-fit’ for your personal temperament and then devote yourself to that practice wholeheartedly.  Which bit of advice is, I believe, one teaching that is held in common among all the Buddhist schools.