August 26, 2008

In Case You Missed It: Bush Versus Confucius

Others are clear and bright,
But I alone am dim and weak.
Others are sharp and clever,
But I alone am dull and stupid.
When I was young and merry in my ways, I read (as intellectually curious young Westerners are wont to do) a bit of Chinese philosophy, including the simple but enlightening Tao Te Ching by Lao Tse and the rather more obscure Analects of Confucius.

As a young man seeking wisdom for my personal growth, I was frequently frustrated by how often these Chinese philosophers started talking about Big Picture issues, like Kings and Empires, politics and good government. How is that going to help me in life, I wondered, unless I become the bloody Prime Minister?

Now that I am older and wiser in my ways, of course, and particularly over the past five years, I can appreciate such guidance more readily. For example:
If you governed your province well and treat your people kindly, you kingdom shall not lose any war. If you govern selfishly to your people, you kingdom will not only lose a war, but your people will break away from your kingdom.
There are inevitable parallels between self-governance and "government" as we normally understand the word. If a man cannot control his own desires, how is he going to control a nation? If a man does not understand his own self, how can he understand others?
"If you govern the people legalistically and control them by punishment, they will avoid crime, but have no personal sense of shame. If you govern them by means of virtue and control them with propriety, they will gain their own sense of shame, and thus correct themselves."
Another example (touching on the death penalty, which George W. Bush so readily endorses):
Chi K'ang asked Confucius about government, saying, "What do you say to killing the unprincipled for the good of the principled?" Confucius replied, "Sir, in carrying on your government, why should you use killing at all? Let your evinced desires be for what is good, and the people will be good. The relation between superiors and inferiors is like that between the wind and the grass. The grass must bend, when the wind blows across it."
Oh, for a breath of such fresh air!

These Big Picture issues inevitably have an impact, for better or worse, on one's spiritual development. How is a person to find inner peace when surrounded by social chaos, immorality and violence? Consider for example this little parable:
One day, his students and he passed a grave where they saw a women weeping at a gravestone. She told Confucius that her husband, her husband's father, and her son were killed by a tiger. When Confucius asked her why she didn't leave such a fated spot, she answered that in this place there was no oppressive government.
Confucius said, "Remember this my child. An oppressive government is fiercer and more feared than a tiger."
If George W. Bush is still trying to understand why Iraqis still show such tolerance for violent "insurgents" and religious fundamentalists in their midst, he could do worse than contemplate that story. If that's a little too obtuse for him, how about this (switching back to Lao Tse):
Whenever you advise a ruler in the way of Tao,
Counsel him not to use force to conquer the universe.
For this would only cause resistance.
Thorn bushes spring up wherever the army has passed.
Lean years follow in the wake of a great war.
Just do what needs to be done.
Never take advantage of power.

Achieve results,
But never glory in them.
Achieve results,
But never boast.
Achieve results,
But never be proud.
Achieve results,
Because this is the natural way.
Achieve results,
But not through violence.

Force is followed by loss of strength.
This is not the way of Tao.
That which goes against the Tao comes to an early end.
This is the wisdom of the ancients. But Bush is a modern-day fool, a serial liar and a bragging buffoon who evinces no visible sign of intellectual curiosity other than fretting (lately) about how history will judge his illegitimate rule.

Egged on by the neoconservative ideologues who brought him to power, Bush has sought to impose a global US Empire using "awesome" military might. The results have been exactly the opposite of what the fools in the White House expected. We now have a superpower loathed across the globe, an army at breaking point, an economic bubble waiting to explode. It's not as if these things could not have been foreseen:
The universe is sacred.
You cannot improve it.
If you try to change it, you will ruin it.
If you try to hold it, you will lose it.
I have often said "we get the governments we deserve". As caring citizens of the world, we should all try to improve ourselves, every day. And hopefully one day we will be able to select leaders who are a bit closer to what Lao Tse once called "the men of old".
Good weapons are instruments of fear; all creatures hate them.
Therefore followers of Tao never use them.
The wise man prefers the left.
The man of war prefers the right.

Weapons are instruments of fear; they are not a wise man's tools.
He uses them only when he has no choice.
Peace and quiet are dear to his heart,
And victory no cause for rejoicing.
If you rejoice in victory, then you delight in killing;
If you delight in killing, you cannot fulfill yourself.

On happy occasions precedence is given to the left,
On sad occasions to the right.
In the army the general stands on the left,
The commander-in-chief on the right.
This means that war is conducted like a funeral.
When many people are being killed,
They should be mourned in heartfelt sorrow.
That is why a victory must be observed like a funeral.
UPDATE: The Prophet Isiaiah was also pretty on the ball:
Yes, with stammering lips and in a strange language he will speak to this people...


Bukko_in_Australia said...

This was one of your early posts on BushOut, wasn't it? You had a link to it in some past effort, and I think I went back and skimmed it. The Chinese philosophers had all this emotionally cool-temperatured intellectual analysis, but it's hard to square with the utter violence of the place from the time when emperors were burying slaves beneath the Great Wall, and Genghis Khan's hordes were riding roughshod, and masses were starving under warlords, or being slaughtered by Mao's communists. They might have the thoughts, but they haven't put them into action.

gandhi said...

Heh. You are very well informed across a whole multitude of subjects, Bukko, and your comments are always very welcome (e.g. no I did not know about Biden and Delaware, tks). But I suspect Asian history is not on your list of subject expertise (nor mine, for that matter).

These quotes are from Lao Tse, an old man who walked off into the mountains in 500 BC because modern life was just too noisy and hectic for him, and Confucius, a man whose name is well known in the West but whose life story is largely unknown.

Over the course of many centuries and countless square kilometres of countryside, there were of course many less enlightened Asian leaders whose mental faculties were a lot less sharp. We modern Westerners can still learn a lot from the East: not from their arrogant and increasingly greedy leaders, but from the billions of humble peasants who still hold such teachings close to their hearts.

I think this is one of my best posts. A lot of what's wrong with Bush's USA goes way beyond politics. People need to stop and think about what kind of world we are creating, where we are going, and what the true role of "leaders" should be in an enlightened society.

Bukko_in_Australia said...

Indeed, I have not studied Chinese philosophy deeply, just read shallowly about the Confucian system of belief, and almost nothing about the Taoist ideals. I cast a jaded eye ("jaded" is an expression based in Oriental terms, no?) at many things.

After I wrote that first comment, I got to thinking "You could say the same thing about cool, remote Christian principles and how they've been betrayed by vicious Western leaders since the time of the Romans." The problem is not with Chinese, or Europeans. It's with HUMANS!

When I was in uni, I listened to a lot of Devo. I was a big proponent of the idea that we are descended from brain-eating apes. Our far-distant, tree-dwelling ancestors survived because they were the best at bashing other animals with rocks and sticks and gobbling up the bloody remnants. So THAT is programmed into our source code. The masses may not be hard-core that way, but we follow the lead of the alpha apes who are appropriately bloodthirsty enough to desire leadership.

One of the good things about being a hospital nurse is that I get to meet all sorts of ethnicities. (Mostly Italians here, not that there's anything wrong...) When I lived in Florida, I had the highest respect for Asians, thinking they were more intellectually focused than us round-eyes, that they'd be a half-step ahead of us except The Man kept 'em down with the Opium Wars, etc.

Then when I moved to San Francisco and worked in a hospital that had all sorts of Cantonese-heritage patients, I realised that they were no better than us Occidentals. They have their own cultural flaws (more disregard for the individual, less touchy-feely "Oprah" mindset) and the masses are a nation of peasants. Just as the masses of Anglo-Saxons are, at heart, descendants of auslander-slaughtering Viking berserkers.

The fact is, we're all fucked. Our brain-programming is flawed. You, and me, and the daughter of the 83-year-old patient born in Guangdong who's apologetic that her mom spits her heart medicine on my jacket when I crush it and mix it with custard because she can't swallow whole tablets due to the stroke. WE are kind and apologetic and just want to get along with everyone (a sentiment I hear frequently from Italians, bless their hearts) but the avaricious people who sneak and squirm their way to be our leaders, they're stone-cold killers. And that's who's steering this ship.

I had a point when I started this, but that was before the Jack Daniels and Diet Coke kicked in. As it is, I'm happy because I've got the next two days off and on the third, I'm going to ring in a sickie because my favourite group is playing at a venue close enough to ride my push-bike to on Thursday. All is right with the world, because it hasn't crashed yet! I am happy every time the lights come on when I flick the switch and the water flows when I turn the faucet handle. We who have that are blessed beyond what 99% of all humanity has ever enjoyed.

gandhi said...

Like WOW, Bukko - WIPEOUT! Human nature - it's always BITTERSWEET, isn't it?

I was looking back at some old Bush Out posts from mid-2004 and realised that I might as well have just stopped blogging then - nothing has really changed, and my perceptions back then have only been proved correct (time and again). So in the long run this whole blogging thing has been educational, as much about human nature as it has been about politics.

Personally, I often consider the fact that the human brain is about the same size as a clenched fist. In fact, if you put your two clenched fists together, with the thumbs towards your nose and touching, it makes a shape like a brain too.

Some people, you would swear, have nothing more than that inside their thick skulls.

But we seem to be approaching one of those "evolve or die" moments. Will we peasants have the wisdom to stop following the barbaric lead of these alpha male gorillas? It would help if the media did not amplify their howling screams...

gandhi said...

BTW Bukko, if you hav enever read any Lao Tse, I strongly encourage you to click on the link.

Beats the crap out of my whining nonsense any day! LOL


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