Monday, December 31, 2012

It Is Always High Noon

Trey Smith

Historically what is life on a frontier like? It is usually unsettled, without the secure rule of law. In the case of the United State, the frontier was a semi-militarized place with an enemy just over the horizon, violence common, and guns for just about every settler. Out of this environment grew the perverse ideal of power and freedom embodied in the “rugged individual” who uses force (coming literally out of the barrel of a gun) to tame an “uncivilized” world and thereby obtain what he needs and protect what he has. That heritage might partly explain why, out of a population (as of 2011) of 311,591,91, there are an estimated 270,000,000 firearms in the hands of the civilian population.

Gun culture was an integral part of the frontier culture and is still, for many Americans, symbolic of their personal liberty. But in the end the gun is only a device through which to wield power and it is power that Americans aspire to above all. It is their “manifest destiny.” Too many Americans see themselves as exceptional: blessed by God, expert practitioners of free enterprise, and the people who really know what freedom and rights are all about. And, in the process of using power to demonstrate this exceptional status, both as individuals and as a nation, they consistently make a bloody mess.
~ from On Killing Children (and Others) by Lawrence Davidson ~
I have continued to ponder why America is such a violent nation and I think Davidson provides the key in the snippet shown above. By and large, Americans feel impotent and, when a person or group feels impotent, what is a likely response? You try to exert a degree of power. A gun gives you that sense of power.

If I have a gun, a lot of people think, then no one will mess with me. I can do what I want -- individual liberty -- and no one can stop me. This sentiment has been further ensconced by passage of "Stand Your Ground" laws. Now, if someone ticks you off, you legally can shoot them provided you remember to say you somehow felt "threatened."

While gun control legislation would be helpful in lessening the number of assault rifles and high volume magazine clips that find their way into private hands, neither strategy by itself or together will lessen the amount of violence that grips this nation. If we seriously want to tackle this spreading disease, then we must address the root cause of the problem by asking ourselves: Why do average Americans feel so powerless?

The sad part is that we already know the answers. We live in a nation with high unemployment, growing poverty, lack of adequate health care, people losing their homes, basic services being cut or eliminated, and a political system bought and paid for by the egregiously wealthy. These are among the variety of reasons that most American are overwhelmed by a feeling of utter and complete impotence.

Until we address these issues in a meaningful and productive way, Americans will cling to their guns as a symbolic vestige of the personal freedom a person felt in our frontier days.

Afternoon Matinee: Protest - Eve of Destruction

Performed by Barry McGuire

The eastern world, it is exploding
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’

But you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
Of destruction.

Don’t you understand what I’m tryin’ to say
Can’t you feel the fears I’m feelin’ today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away
There’ll be no one to save, with the world in a grave
[Take a look around ya boy, it's bound to scare ya boy]

And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
Of destruction.

Yeah, my blood’s so mad feels like coagulatin’
I’m sitting here just contemplatin’
I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation.
Handful of senators don’t pass legislation
And marches alone can’t bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin’
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin’

And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
Of destruction.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
You may leave here for 4 days in space
But when you return, it’s the same old place
The poundin’ of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace
Hate your next-door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace
And… tell me over and over and over and over again, my friend
You don’t believe
We’re on the eve
Of destruction
Mm, no no, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
Of destruction.
© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group
~ from LyricsMode ~

Huainanzi - Entry 93

Trey Smith
In a degenerate society, those who possess the wealth of the land and are in positions of authority over others exhaust the energy of the common people to serve their own sensual desires.
~ a passage from
The Book of Leadership and Strategy by Thomas Cleary ~
For me, this snippet goes straight to the heart of the current debate in Congress. The arch conservatives don't want to see the Bush tax cuts expire because that would mean that the wealthy would have to pay a bit more. The only way they seem willing to cut a deal is if services that the poor depend on are cut drastically.

Both of these stratagems "exhaust the energy of the common people" because both impact the poor substantially. If the rich don't pay their fair share, then services will be cut because the government will be bringing in far less revenue. If services are cut in order to cajole the rich to pay a wee bit more, we still end up in the same place. The common people get screwed!

To read the introduction to this ongoing series, go here.

Bit by Bit - Chapter 5, Part 13

Trey Smith

Hui Tzu said to Chuang Tzu, "Can a man really be without feelings?"

Chuang Tzu: "Yes."

Hui Tzu: "But a man who has no feelings -- how can you call him a man?"

Chuang Tzu: "The Way gave him a face; Heaven gave him a form - why can't you call him a man?"

Hui Tzu: "But if you've already called him a man, how can he be without feelings?"

Chuang Tzu: "That's not what I mean by feelings. When I talk about having no feelings, I mean that a man doesn't allow likes or dislikes to get in and do him harm. He just lets things be the way they are and doesn't try to help life along."

Hui Tzu: "If he doesn't try to help life along, then how can he keep himself alive?"

Chuang Tzu: "The Way gave him a face; Heaven gave him a form. He doesn't let likes or dislikes get in and do him harm. You, now - you treat your spirit like an outsider. You wear out your energy, leaning on a tree and moaning, slumping at your desk and dozing - Heaven picked out a body for you and you use it to gibber about `hard' and `white'!"

~ Burton Watson translation ~
For most of us, going with the flow of life is the most difficult assignment ever. We want what we want and we will do just about anything to make it so. But trying to make it so -- often against that very flow -- leads to tension, stress, suffering and, ultimately, an inner death. If only we could let go of the reins!

To view the Index page for this series, go here.

The Serialized I Ching

Trey Smith

For the last year or so, I have wanted to offer the I Ching -- Book of Changes -- in serialized form, but I was a bit uncertain as to how to do it. After toying with several ideas, I just decided the time had come to push forward and so, beginning on January 1, there will be two entries per day, one at 7:30 am and the second at 8:30 pm. The serialized version should be completed by the end of the year.

I am utilizing the 1950 translation by the German sinologist Richard Wilhelm that has been rendered into English by Cary F. Baynes. The full text can be found at numerous websites and I will be utilizing the text as found here. Each post will feature a graphic of the corresponding hexagram (from Wikipedia) and each hexagram will be broken down into various posts which explain the image, judgment and the lines per Wilhelm.

To learn more about the history and structure of the I Ching, check out the Wikipedia entry. Here is the introduction of Wilhelm's translation rendered into English by Baynes and into html by Dan Baruth (with footnotes removed).
The Book of Changes -- I Ching in Chinese -- is unquestionably one of the most important books in the world's literature. Its origin goes back to mythical antiquity, and it has occupied the attention of the most eminent scholars of China down to the present day. Nearly all that is greatest and most significant in the three thousand years of Chinese cultural history has either taken its inspiration from this book, or has exerted an influence on the interpretation of its text. Therefore it may safely be said that the seasoned wisdom of thousands of years has gone into the making of the I Ching. Small wonder then that both of the two branches of Chinese philosophy, Confucianism and Taoism, have their common roots here. The book sheds new light on many a secret hidden in the often puzzling modes of thought of that mysterious sage, Lao-tse, and of his pupils, as well as on many ideas that appear in the Confucian tradition as axioms, accepted without further examination.

Indeed, not only the philosophy of China but its science and statecraft as well have never ceased to draw from the spring of wisdom in the I Ching, and it is not surprising that this alone, among all the Confucian classics, escaped the great burning of the books under Ch'in Shih Huang Ti. Even the common-places of everyday life in China are saturated with its influence. In going through the streets of a Chinese city, one will find, here and there at a street corner, a fortune teller sitting behind a neatly covered table, brush and tablet at hand, ready to draw from the ancient book of wisdom pertinent counsel and information on life's minor perplexities. Not only that, but the very signboards adorning the houses --perpendicular wooden panels done in gold on black lacquer -- are covered with inscriptions whose flowery language again and again recalls thoughts and quotations from the I Ching. Even the policy makers of so modern a state as Japan, distinguished for their astuteness, do not scorn to refer to it for counsel in difficult situations.

In the course of time, owing to the great repute for wisdom attaching to the Book of Changes, a large body of occult doctrines extraneous to it -- some of them possibly not even Chinese in origin -- have come to be connected with its teachings. The Ch'in and Han dynasties saw the beginning of a formalistic natural philosophy that sought to embrace the entire world of thought in a system of number symbols. Combining a rigorously consistent, dualistic yin-yang doctrine with the doctrine of the "five stages of change" taken from the Book of History, it forced Chinese philosophical thinking more and more into a rigid formalization. Thus increasingly hairsplitting cabalistic speculations came to envelop the Book of Changes in a cloud of mystery, and by forcing everything of the past and of the future into this system of numbers, created for the I Ching the reputation of being a book of unfathomable profundity. These speculations are also to blame for the fact that the seeds of a free Chinese natural science, which undoubtedly existed at the time of Mo Ti and his pupils, were killed, and replaced by a sterile tradition of writing and reading books that was wholly removed from experience. This is the reason why China has for so long presented to Western eyes a picture of hopeless stagnation.

Yet we must not overlook the fact that apart from this mechanistic number mysticism, a living stream of deep human wisdom was constantly flowing through the channel of this book into everyday life, giving to China's great civilization that ripeness of wisdom, distilled through the ages, which we wistfully admire in the remnants of this last truly autochthonous culture.

What is the Book of Changes actually? In order to arrive at an understanding of the book and its teachings, we must first of all boldly strip away the dense overgrowth of interpretations that have read into it all sorts of extraneous ideas. This is equally necessary whether we are dealing with the superstitions and mysteries of old Chinese sorcerers or the no less superstitious theories of modern European scholars who try to interpret all historical cultures in terms of their experience of primitive savages. We must hold here to the fundamental principle that the Book of Changes is to be explained in the light of its own content and of the era to which it belongs. With this the darkness lightens perceptibly and we realize that this book, though a very profound work, does not offer greater difficulties to our understanding than any other book that has come down through a long history from antiquity to our time.

The Church of Zhuangzi

Scott Bradley

The second church of which I am a member is the Church of Zhuangzi. If the Church of Pernicious Oneness was pure irony (and thus almost entirely positive), this church might be described as ironic with a sardonic twist. It speaks to the ever-present danger of taking all this blabber about Zhuangzi and his (and my) philosophy too seriously. I say I am a member, but I am the sole member, and one who continually excommunicates himself.

It is true that Zhuangzi presents a dao, and that this dao can be studied, discussed and followed. But in the end, it is a dao without substance, without anything to believe in. If we begin to cling to some truth we believe ourselves to have discovered therein, we have left his dao and begun a church. What Zhuangzi truly offers is an invitation to explore the possibilities of human experience "beyond the boundaries" that we have imposed upon ourselves. And this can only be a very personal journey. Zhuangzi points to “the vast wilds of open nowhere”, and we leave him behind with our very first step.

I had a teacher who claimed to have been walking with Robert Zimmerman (Bob Dylan) in Greenwich Village and, seeing a club advertising an open-mike, nudged him to give it a try. Zhuangzi is that teacher; we are the potential Dylan. Clearly, it is not he who nudges, but he who responds to that nudge, that is the party responsible for whatever 'success' that follows.

And this brings us to The Church of Me.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mysterious Ways

Trey Smith

One of the phrases I have grown to detest is "God's mysterious ways." This phrase tends to be invoked when you stump a Christian. It's not uncommon for them to become flummoxed and in desperation they blurt out that time-honored phrase.

Though few will ever admit it, what they are really saying is Shit Happens. In a backhanded way, they are admitting that things occur randomly. Of course, the REASON they can't admit the obvious is that it undermines their belief in an almighty, all knowing AND loving deity. If their God makes decisions based on whims, why worship him?

It brings us back to the gnawing question: Why does God supposedly answer some prayers, but not others? Why does he direct you to wear a certain outfit, but not warn you that you will be in a train accident later in the day? Why does he save a drunk who caused a ten car pile up, but not the young mother in car 3? Why does he supposedly protect some people during a tornado or hurricane, but not others? These questions are particularly pertinent when each of the survivors and victims were praying to be saved from harm's way.

Whether a person explains these results as "God's mysterious ways," karma, shit happens or blind luck, it all amounts to the same thing. People live and die and we often don't have a clue as to why.

Afternoon Matinee: Protest - Train For Auschwitz

Performed by Tom Paxton

I see a long train comin'
across the Polish plains
The passengers it carries
aint comin' back again.

This train is bound for Auschwitz
Like many another one
The passengers condemned to die
But no crime have they done

They are jammed into the boxcars
So tight against the wall
And in those cars the dead men stand
There is not room to fall

Now the reason they are dying
I will explain to you
Adolf Hitler has decided
To exterminate the Jew

He ships them off to Auschwitz
The train unloads them there
And standing by the railroad track
They take their last breath of fresh air

The S.S. troopers herd them
Right down a well worn path
Into a hall where they are told
They are to take a bath

When they're undressed they're led inside
A giant shower room
The door is sealed behind them
And it also seals their doom

Inside the room there drops a bomb
Of Nazi poison gas
And not one soul is left alive
When fifteen minutes pass

Now the men who did these awful crimes
They wish they'd murdered more
The only thing they're sorry for
Is that they lost the war

And hundreds of these murderers
Still walk the earth today
Just hoping for a chance to kill
The ones that got away
~ from Lyric Wiki ~

Such a Trivial Guy!

Trey Smith

For the most part, I stay to myself. On occasion, however, I get drawn into discussions when out in public. I was drawn into one such discussion the other day.

It was late in the evening at the local grocery store. With almost no customers, the 4 employees were having a little confab at the front of the store. As I entered, one of them said to the rest of the group (obviously tongue-in-cheek), "We better stop talking about Christmas. We don't want to offend our local atheist!"

I smiled, but otherwise ignored the comment and went about my shopping as normal.

When I was ready to purchase my items, the clerk asked me, "Atheist. Does that mean you don't believe in God?" Yes, that's what it means, I replied.

She then insisted on telling me why she KNOWS that God exists. You see, back in the day, she was unsure if she should marry her husband. She prayed about it and here they are 25 years later. (I should note that this wasn't a convincing argument at all because I know she's stuck in a bad marriage with a lout!) She told me that God had guided her to various jobs over the course of her lifetime. She told of how her son prayed earnestly before a big football game and, not only did the team win, but her son was the hero. She even added that there were two occasions in which she feared she might die and, after praying to God to protect her, she came through both situations with nary a scratch.

When she finished her litany, she looked at me like a defense lawyer who had just delivered the best ever summation.

"God sounds like a really trivial guy," I remarked. He has guided you with marriage and job advice. He even helped your son's team win a stupid high school football game. So, why is it that your God doesn't tackle important issues? Why doesn't he end poverty or stop wars? Why doesn't he rid the world of cancer or put a stop to the human-caused aspects of global warming? Why doesn't he regenerate the limbs of amputees?

More importantly, where was your God when a disturbed young man mowed down 27 people in Newtown, Connecticut? I'm sure several of those who died appealed to God for protection. Why didn't God come through for them?

A bit flustered, all she could mumble was "God works in mysterious ways. As to the 27 who were slain in Newtown, I guess it was their time."

Their time? If we want to utilize that rationale, I told her, then it would seem that your prayers were for naught regarding the two incidents you referenced earlier. Why do you say that, she asked. Well, it obviously wasn't YOUR time. It had nothing to do with your prayers. You didn't die either time because it wasn't on the schedule.

These sorts of discussions truly bewilder me. So many people have convinced themselves that there is this divine bloke who is willing and able to help them with so many trivial decisions, yet he is entirely AWOL when it comes to the major issues that bedevil society and the planet. Yes, he can help a young man win a high school football game, but he can't seem to stop a tornado or a missile!

Bit by Bit - Chapter 5, Part 12

Trey Smith

So the sage has his wanderings. For him, knowledge is an offshoot, promises are glue, favors are a patching up, and skill is a peddler. The sage hatches no schemes, so what use has he for knowledge? He does no carving, so what use has he for glue? He suffers no loss, so what use has he for favors? He hawks no goods, so what use has he for peddling? These four are called Heavenly Gruel. Heavenly Gruel is the food of Heaven, and if he's already gotten food from Heaven, what use does he have for men? He has the form of a man but not the feelings of a man. Since he has the form of a man, he bands together with other men. Since he doesn't have the feelings of a man, right and wrong cannot get at him. Puny and small, he sticks with the rest of men. Massive and great, he perfects his Heaven alone.
~ Burton Watson translation ~
For me, this snippet goes back to the idea that deep within each of us is what we might call a moral core. Without having to factor in for our society's moral code, we innately know the difference between benefit and detriment, health and sickness, uncaring and compassion.

To view the Index page for this series, go here.

A Strange Bond

Trey Smith

A 21st century psychotherapist steps into a time machine and comes out in Atlanta in 1855. Having no other marketable skills, he hangs out a shingle and promises new remedies for mental illness. A well-dressed gentleman knocks on the door and inquires if the psychotherapist might come to his plantation to examine the slaves.

“Most of them are well satisfied with their position and work hard within their natural limitations,” says the gentleman. “But a few appear to suffer most severely with drapetomania, dipsomania and dyaesthesia aethiopica. Even after whippings, they continue to defy my rules, either by subterfuge or outright defiance. I do not understand their affliction, which is cause for much suffering among them and financial losses for myself.”

After looking up drapetomania (compulsive running away), dipsomania (compulsive drinking) and dyaesthesia aethiopica (compulsive avoidance of work) in the latest journals of negro behavior, the psychotherapist goes to the plantation and convinces the psychotic slaves to talk with him for 50 minutes each week.

“I think I know what the problem is,” says the psychotherapist after a few months of research. “Your slaves had unhappy childhoods because they come from dysfunctional families. Their parents were often absent and even when they were around, they didn’t appreciate their children for their true selves. In some sense, your slaves are living in the past, acting out childhood fear and anger that is deeply buried in the unconscious.”

“And what do you recommend as a remedy?” says the gentleman.

“The best psychology has to offer right now is continued brutalization, on the theory that their race is incapable of deeper insight,” says the psychotherapist. “I think the evidence indicates that re-traumatizing the already traumatized is ineffective for a small number of stubborn cases, as you have discovered. For the stubborn cases, I would suggest another form of therapy...”
~ from Capitalism and Mental Illness: Back to the Future? by Charles M. Young ~
Recently, I have been thinking about the strange marriage of Christianity to capitalism. They would seem to be a mismatched couple and yet they embrace each other like voluptuous lovers.

Christianity has been built upon the edifice of morality. It has strict standards of right and wrong. Through the auspices of Jesus, believers are urged to look out others and to turn the other cheek.

Capitalism, on the other hand, is a completely amoral system. Right and wrong are minor concepts. What really matters is profit, a godlike being. Its apologists care little for others and those capitalists who turn the other cheek disappear from the scene in short order.

So, what we have here is a very moralistic system embracing an amoral one and what tends to pop out of this weird mix are societal institutions that commit constant immoral actions. And yet, the marriage seems as strong as ever.

I don't get it.

The Church of Pernicious Oneness Revisited

Scott Bradley

I am a congregant in three different churches.

All of them are tongue-in-cheek. None has more members than one. All of them make me smile.

My first and favorite church is The Church of Pernicious Oneness. This one makes me laugh with joy. It's so true. It has a sense of irony (for me) that cuts through to the heart of the matter. Yes! Pernicious! Yes! There is no such thing as "qualified" oneness; there either is or there is not. (And that's a fact!)

I pounced upon these words "pernicious oneness" when I found them from the pen of a certain Zen Master, recently deceased. They were innocent words attempting only to answer the fear of antinomianism to which the idea of "oneness" seems to give rise. This does not mean you can do whatever you wish, a "pernicious oneness", said he. These may be true words, but they are not a "good word". (Yes, I presume to judge; and why not?) He answered the fear of lawlessness in terms of the law; he answered as might a lawyer, not a master. "He who concerns himself with right and wrong dwells in right and wrong." If it is an issue, it is only we who make it so. And we have not known oneness, where it is neither a philosophical problem nor a moral one. The master would have done better to simply smile; the problem is no-problem for one with the awareness he was presumed to have.

Somehow The Church of Pernicious Oneness, with the help of this master's true words, pushes me a bit closer to the edge. If we really take the plunge into the implications of oneness, then we can seize upon “perniciousness” with a broad and ironic smile, knowing it for the empty stumbling-block that it is. But, given our typical “human inclinations”, it seems we must first stumble so as to be able to pick ourselves up and move further into new perspectives. And this, it seems to me, makes of stumbling a “gate”.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Just Like the Bible

Trey Smith

If you really want to know why the US can't kick its gun habit, take a trip to the National Archives in Washington, DC. You don't even have to look at the exhibits. Just study the queue. What you'll see are ordinary Americans lining up, in hushed reverence, to gaze at an original copy of the United States constitution, guarded and under heavily armoured glass. It is no exaggeration to say that for many Americans this is a religious experience.

When outsiders hear that the right to bear arms is enshrined in the second amendment of the US constitution, I suspect many imagine this is like saying it's "protected by law", something that can easily be changed, as it would be in their own countries. But this is to underestimate what the constitution means to Americans.

It is indeed a sacred text. Despite, or perhaps because, the US is a country animated by faith, the "founding fathers" are treated as deities, their every word analysed as if it contained gospel truth. Any new idea or policy proposal, no matter how worthy on its own merits, must be proven compatible with what those long-dead politicians of the late 18th century set down – otherwise it's unconstitutional and can be thrown out by the supreme court, the high priesthood selected to interpret what the great prophets of Philadelphia intended.
~ from This Sacred Text Explains Why the US Can't Kick the Gun Habit by Jonathan Freedland ~
While the US has never officially been a "Christian nation," there is no question that the Christian belief system has had a major impact on our culture and laws. Some of these impacts have been good, but many of them have not. One of these negative impacts is that far too many Americans treat the US Constitution as if it was a religious bible.

Laws are human constructs. In most countries, they change with the times. As a society moves forward, its mores and laws follow suit. If not, outmoded ways of seeing the world can impinge on new visions.

Of course, this is the kind of problem we run into with the Christian Bible. It was written thousands of years ago by people who never imagined that germs cause disease or that famines are caused by climatic variables. Not only did these people not envision the internet, but none of them could fathom the steam engine or the printing press!

They lived in a different time and their understanding of the world is reflected in their literature. While I think few would disagree that there are some general principles that humans have understood since the beginning of our time, specific laws, standards and mores have evolved as we as a species have evolved.

But fundamentalist of all stripes want to freeze time. They oppose progress. And they try to force others -- people who want to evolve -- to abide by those beliefs from the chosen time period of antiquity.

On this blog, we spend a lot of time looking at ancient texts ourselves. But there is a big difference between looking at the Tao Te Ching or Zhuangzi versus the way fundamentalist Christians look at the Bible...or the US Constitution. We Taoists understand that these texts were written by people, not gods, and we look to see if the problems the human writers addressed then are still manifest in the world today. If they are, then we try to ascertain modern answers for modern problems.

The fundamentalist, on the other hand, treats their text as God-breathed and seeks to solve modern problems with ancient solutions. Often, the modern issues don't fit neatly into the ancient matrix, so the fundamentalists try to force round pegs into square holes!

In my mind's eye, the time has come to rewrite the 2nd Amendment. It served revolutionary America well, but it's time has passed.

Afternoon Matinee: Protest - Strange Fruit

Performed by Billie Holiday

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., EMI Music Publishing
~ from LyricsMode ~

Zhuangzi in Relief II

Scott Bradley

Here are further ways in which Zhuangzi's philosophy differs from Buddhism as articulated by Wu (The Butterfly as Companion):

3) Both understand ignorance as a cause of suffering. "The Buddhist awakening to knowledge dissolves our ignorance. Chuang Tzu's awakening to uncertainty (are we dreaming or awakened?) amounts to our knowledge of ignorance, affirmation of uncertainty." Buddhists believe they can come to know Truth and are thereby relieved of their ignorance. Zhuangzi teaches that no such Truth is within our grasp and that this essential not-knowing is where our liberation lies; we become free in our tenuousness by abandoning the futile search for solidity and by becoming that very tenuousness.

"Buddhists awaken out of dreaming; Chuang Tzu wakes up to dreaming." I have often attempted to make this point. Though Zhuangzi and Buddhism agree that we live in a world-made-up, Zhuangzi does not propose the possibility of ceasing to dream. Rather, we wake up to the fact that we are dreaming and recreate the world we dream. Perhaps this is why words like "wandering", "frolicking", "playfulness", and "laughing" so readily come to mind when considering the spirit of Zhuangzi.

4) Both understand clinging (attachment) to be a cause of suffering. "The Buddhist unclings himself to go beyond existence, even that of himself. Chuang Tzu unclutters and empties his self to tune in and partake in the pipings of all (men, things, heaven), to treasure and follow things . . ." Buddhism seeks detachment to escape things, Zhuangzi in order to more thoroughly embrace them. Attachment is manifest in preferences. Zhuangzi declares the equality of all things and consequentially the acceptability of all things. Unstuck from "benefit and harm", the belief that things (events) can rob us, one is free to mount and happily ride upon them all.

5) Buddhism seeks to dissolve identity altogether. Zhuangzi seeks only to unfix it; now a horse, now a cow; the point is to enjoy what one presently is while gladly accepting and enjoying changing into something else. The emptied self is a self nonetheless — while it is a self.
Wu sums up with a quote from Liu Xianxin (1896-1932) to which I have also made frequent reference: "The Buddhists stressed the emptiness of all, discarding all; Taoists stressed the greatness of all, wanting all." Here, we see these two philosophies at their most extreme divergence. Liu saw no possibility of reconciling the two. And yet, amazingly, they have so much in common — if only we can understand them outside the context of objective rightness and wrongness. But such a perspective is not so easily adopted by those who believe that Truth is to be had. Traditional Christianity, for example, is unable to accept other points of view solely on the basis of their effectiveness; and Buddhism, I believe, is ultimately also unable to do so.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

Bit by Bit - Chapter 5, Part 11

Trey Smith

Mr. Lame-Hunchback-No-Lips talked to Duke Ling of Wei, and Duke Ling was so pleased with him that when he looked at normal men he thought their necks looked too lean and skinny. Mr. Pitcher-Sized-Wen talked to Duke Huan of Ch'i, and Duke Huan was so pleased with him that when he looked at normal men he thought their necks looked too lean and skinny. Therefore, if virtue is preeminent, the body will be forgotten. But when men do not forget what can be forgotten, but forget what cannot be forgotten - that may be called true forgetting.
~ Burton Watson translation ~
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech that he waited for the day when people would be judged by their character, not by the color of their skin. Sounds very similar to what Zhuangzi wrote here.

To view the Index page for this series, go here.


Trey Smith

As a vegetarian, it should surprise no one that I like and eat a lot of vegetables. After reading an article at Scientific American (a snippet is below), I may be a bit wary of any vegetables from Nepal!
A two-day’s walk from the nearest road, over the hills and valleys below Mount Everest, farmer Budhiman Tamang loads a basket of cabbages to take to the weekly market. His cabbages are double the average local size, and since cabbages are sold by the kilo, they double his profit, too.

Two years ago, Tamang couldn’t even grow enough cabbages to sell. But since then, he’s learned the magic of human urine.

“This is not a cabbage! This is Budhiman!” he declares, lifting a heroically-sized round to the skies.

The Dzi Foundation, a Colorado-based non-profit, along with a local non-governmental organization, started a project last year to build over 1,000 toilets for the nearly 6,500 residents of Sotang, a village in Nepal’s northeastern district of Solukhumbu. Each family was offered the choice between a regular squatting pan and a dual-hole pan that collects urine in a separate basin, called an ‘ecological sanitation,’ or ecosan, toilet. Not given to shying away from new things, Tamang was one of the daring few to opt for the latter: collecting urine to use as fertilizer.
I suppose urine-fed vegetables aren't as bad as those fertilized with sewage sludge -- something the EPA allows in this country -- but it still doesn't exactly excite my taste buds.

Zhuangzi in Relief I

Scott Bradley

Kuang-Ming Wu (The Butterfly as Companion) contrasts Zhuangzi's philosophy with Buddhism in answer to some who have sought to equate them. Even when we do not go that far, there is a tendency, I think, to lump them together, yet they are widely divergent in many important respects. I will share Wu's points in this and the following post, but first want to clarify his and my purpose in making the contrast. Admittedly, it is difficult not to be partisan here since I (and Wu, I think) have chosen the way of Zhuangzi to launch our own paths to transcendent experience. Still, a contrast need not imply dismissal; Buddhism is clearly a viable spiritual option. What this contrast intends is to put Zhuangzi's thought into relief that we might better understand its uniqueness.

And, I believe, his philosophy was and is unique, not just with respect to other traditions, but also within the boundaries of Daoism itself. He was not, of course, a Daoist at all in the sense that the term was only retroactively applied to the tradition to which he came to be associated. In the end, to my admittedly limited scholarship, Zhuangzi' philosophy was essentially lost to Daoism early on. That he was later deified by Daoists only serves to demonstrate this point.

It also needs to be re-iterated in this context that this distinction making between two philosophies is not about a "wrong view" versus a "right view"; at best we could only speak of the most effective view, and I, at least, have no means of making that judgment. But this point, that is not about truth but about subjective experience without recourse to knowing 'how things really are', is also a point of divergence between Zhuangzi and Buddhism, which does, in fact, hold "right view" as one of its central pillars.

Here then are some of the ways in which Zhuangzi's (and Daoist) philosophy differs from Buddhism:
1) In Buddhism, "things are moving in many circles, co-causing and co-arising to annoy us, making us suffer." Things, together with existence itself, are the cause of our suffering. For Zhuangzi, things are "alive, co-arising, co-dying, and are equally important." In Buddhism, things are seen as part of the problem; for Zhuangzi, things are unfolding Dao and are affirmed as such. Ch'i Wu Lun, the title to the second chapter of the Zhuangzi, might be translated, Wu says, "as a description of how equally important things are." In a broad, though debated, sense Buddhism can be described as world-denying while Daoism is world-affirming.

2) Consequentially, Buddhism seeks to escape the world. Zhuangzi seeks to more thoroughly integrate with the world. "For Chuang Tzu, we are part of such live interdependence among things. We must let go of ourselves so as to overhear, accommodate, and truly participate in the delight of such life flip-floppings. We are awakened to an onerous participation in the vicissitudes of things-transforming." Buddhism seeks to escape the ever-changing; Zhuangzi seeks to unite with the ever-changing.

    You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

    Friday, December 28, 2012

    Only in America

    Trey Smith

    As the Sandy Hook shootings unfolded, I watched many of the journalists I follow on Twitter post links to the articles about gun violence that they had written after the previous mass shooting, or the one before that. I watched friends on Facebook like and link to the inevitable memorial pages, this time around noting the too-short lives of 20 smiling kids who were practically infants, ensuring readers and supporters that these little angels are now safely in Heaven.

    That's an impulse I understand, but it's not a solution.

    Only in America do political writers all seem to have a stable of articles about mass shootings that they can bring out and repost or revise when the next one occurs.

    Only in America do we collectively shrug our shoulders when yet another young white man goes on a shooting spree.

    Only in America do we remain convinced that people will kill no matter what, so we may as well give people virtually unlimited access to some of the deadliest hand-held weapons ever invented.

    Only here, in America, do we think that the best we can do is a Facebook page and a plea to God.
    ~ from The Conservative Philosophy of Tragedy: Guns Don't Kill People, People Kill People by Jill Filipovic ~
    One lesson that parents teach their children is to learn from mistakes. When things go awry, you should try to figure out why and then work not to replicate the error again.

    In the US, we are prone to make the same mistakes over and over and over and over again. Other nations have figured out that an easy access to guns leads to more violence and death. So, they have learned from this mistake and have made it so that guns are not so accessible. To no sane person's surprise, these moves have led to a sharp decrease in gun violence.

    Only in America do we try to fix mistakes by doubling down ON them. Gun violence a problem? Well, we can fix that by flooding the market with even more guns!

    As we fiddle away as Rome burns, the body count keeps growing higher.

    Afternoon Matinee: Protest - War Pigs

    Performed by Black Sabbath

    Generals gathered in their masses
    Just like witches at black masses
    Evil minds that plot destruction
    Sorcerers of death's construction
    In the fields the bodies burning
    As the war machine keeps turning
    Death and hatred to mankind
    Poisoning their brainwashed minds

    Oh lord yeah!

    Politicians hide themselves away
    They only started the war
    Why don't they go out to fight?
    They leave that role to the poor

    Time will tell on their power minds
    Making war just for fun
    Treating people just like pawns in chess
    Wait 'till their judgement day comes, yeah!

    Now in darkness, world stops turning
    Ashes where those bodies burning
    No more war pigs have the power
    Hand of god has struck the hour
    Day of judgement, god is calling
    Oh common hear those pigs calling
    Begging mercy for their sins
    Satan, laughing, spreads his wings

    Oh Satan!
    © T.R.O. INC.
    ~ from LyricsMode ~

    Prayer of the Gun

    Trey Smith

    Gun deaths, of course, are significantly more common in the most religious states of the nation. And gun deaths are very low in the relatively non-religiously-observant states of northern Europe. In the UK, the homicide by firearm rate is approximately one in a million. Ditto in France. That must be nice. More people are killed by guns in the US every day than in an entire year in Japan – by a factor of about 12.

    Every nation in the world has people who are sadistic and violent or sick and violent. And yet, the kinds of regular mass rampages that have now happened several times this year alone in the United States seem to be a specifically American phenomenon.
    ~ from The Conservative Philosophy of Tragedy: Guns Don't Kill People, People Kill People by Jill Filipovic ~
    I have written about this interesting observation before. Why is that a more secular Europe and a predominantly non-Christian Japan don't have this problem with guns and violence? If a lack of school prayer is a major cause of guns deaths in the US, then why are gun deaths not an epidemic in those regions?

    And let's be honest here. This is not solely a Christian problem. Violent death rates also are high in predominantly Jewish and Muslim nations too. Hindus aren't immune either. It just seems to me that, where religion is held in high esteem, violence more readily grips that society.

    That seems rather odd, doesn't it?

    Bit by Bit - Chapter 5, Part 10

    Trey Smith

    "What do you mean when you say his virtue takes no form?"

    "Among level things, water at rest is the most perfect, and therefore it can serve as a standard. It guards what is inside and shows no movement outside. Virtue is the establishment of perfect harmony. Though virtue takes no form, things cannot break away from it."

    Some days later, Duke Ai reported his conversation to Min Tzu." "At first, when I faced south and became ruler of the realm, I tried to look after the regulation of the people and worried that they might die. I really thought I understood things perfectly. But now that I've heard the words of a Perfect Man, I'm afraid there was nothing to my understanding - I was thinking too little of my own welfare and ruining the state. Confucius and I are not subject and ruler - we are friends in virtue, that's all."

    ~ Burton Watson translation ~
    It's interesting to me that the ancient Taoist sages look at still water and equate it to virtue, while western philosophy more readily compares still water to stagnation. I wonder what accounts for this difference in perspective?

    To view the Index page for this series, go here.

    Snake Oil and Tragedy

    Trey Smith

    That's why you hear people like Mike Huckabee saying that mass shootings are somehow related to prayer in school and contraception, or Charlotte Allen arguing that the decline of traditional gender roles led to these shootings and that husky 12-year-old boys should throw their bodies at armed men.

    Huckabee doesn't actually think that saying prayers prevents gun violence or that contraception makes killers go on shooting sprees, any more than Allen believes that 12-year-old boys are made of Kevlar. They think that the world is divided into sinners and repentant sinners, and the only way to be a "decent" person is to fall in line behind their very narrow, often very harmful, beliefs.
    ~ from The Conservative Philosophy of Tragedy: Guns Don't Kill People, People Kill People by Jill Filipovic ~
    What is the prime motivation for people like Huckabee and Allen to spew such nonsense? Money!! Snake oil salesmen -- like the mainstream media -- love tragedies. They are ready-made circumstances to be utilized to evoke emotional responses. Huckabee and Allen (among so many others) have a very negative view of humankind and so incidents of this nature provide perfect fodder for them to spread the venom of hate and distrust.

    Their base of followers eat this stuff up and so, the heavier these conservatives celebrities can lay it on, the more likely their fawning supporters will hand them money in bucket loads. It is pandering to fear, plain and simple. And it is pandering for a distinct purpose: to line their pockets.

    Mencius - Book 7, Part 2, Chapter 38

    Mencius said, 'From Yâo and Shun down to T'ang were 500 years and more. As to Yu and Kâo Yâo, they saw those earliest sages, and so knew their doctrines, while T'ang heard their doctrines as transmitted, and so knew them.

    'From T'ang to king Wan were 500 years and more. As to Î Yin, and Lâi Chû, they saw T'ang and knew his doctrines, while king Wan heard them as transmitted, and so knew them.

    'From king Wan to Confucius were 500 years and more. As to T'âi-kung Wang and San Î-shang, they saw Wan, and so knew his doctrines, while Confucius heard them as transmitted, and so knew them.

    'From Confucius downwards until now, there are only 100 years and somewhat more. The distance in time from the sage is so far from being remote, and so very near at hand was the sage's residence. In these circumstances, is there no one to transmit his doctrines? Yea, is there no one to do so?'
    ~ James Legge translation via ~
     Go here to read the introductory post to this serialized version of the Works of Mencius. This post marks the end of this series.  We hope you enjoyed it!!


    Scott Bradley

    I return to the story of the Penumbra and the Shadow, the second to last story (followed by Zhuangzi's dream of being a butterfly) in Chapter Two of the Zhuangzi. The Penumbra asks Shadow why he is so apparently indecisive, now standing, now sitting. Shadow replies with some questions of his own. How could he know why he is as he is? Is he dependent on something else that is itself dependent on something else ad infinitum? Does he depend on something like a snake does its skin?

    A penumbra is the diffused light which surrounds a shadow (umbra). It is not quite a shadow; it is literally (in Chinese) "neither-of-the-two"; it is neither shadow nor light. It is interpreted as the shadow of a shadow. There are penumbral eclipses of the moon in which it is not the earth's solid shadow that passes across it but the sun's light diffused by the close passage of that shadow. As the shadow of a shadow is there anything more dependent? And yet it deigns to ask Shadow why it appears so indecisive.

    Shadow's response is not easily understood principally because he in effect declares himself to likewise be "neither-of-the-two", which is to say he answers with paradox. Is he dependent on something else? Absolutely. And is that something else likewise dependent on something else? Of course. Everything is dependent on everything else. All things are mutually interdependent. But if everything is dependent on everything else, as Guo Xiang points out in his commentary (the first extant), then nothing is truly dependent on anything. Penumbra is dependent on Shadow, but is it not also the case that Shadow depends on Penumbra? Without a penumbra there would be no shadow; causation, like mutually generating opposites, goes both ways and thereby cancels itself out. Seen mechanistically, causation is linear and uni-directional; seen from the perspective of the Whole, it is circular and ambi-directional.

    Shadow is "neither-of-the-two" because he is neither dependent nor independent; he is "self-so". And this is "true" independence. Does Shadow depend on something like a snake does its skin? Absolutely. And yet the snake sheds that skin. If it truly depended on that skin, then the snake that was is not the snake that is. The snake is a dynamic, "self-so" phenomenon that is ultimately uncaused and non-dependent just as is the uncaused, world-arising where everything is accomplished though nothing is done.

    Zhuangzi asks us how it would be to “depend on nothing”, and answers that that would be to wander far and unfettered. Yet this dependence on nothing is predicated on an understanding that we depend on everything. “Hand it all over to the inevitable”, entrust yourself to Mystery — releasing ourselves into the Whole we participate in the true independence (non-dependence) that is the Whole.

    You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

    Eying the Prize

    Trey Smith

    The solutions, then, must be multifold: poverty alleviation; better mental health care with a focus on suicide prevention and depression treatment, not the stigmatization of the mentally ill, who are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators; and yes, gun control to make it more difficult for a firearm to be such an easily-accessed weapon.

    To most people who believe in evidence-based policy and sociological realities, those solutions make sense. But to people who have no interest in actually finding solutions or making the world a better, safer, happier place, it's like talking to a brick wall. Why improve life on earth if life on earth is temporary and all that matters is to secure a seat in the clouds?
    ~ from The Conservative Philosophy of Tragedy: Guns Don't Kill People, People Kill People by Jill Filipovic ~
    One of my major critiques with fundamental Christianity is that it encourages people to allow injustice within their midst by not fighting against it. The unwashed masses are taught to suffer peaceably (or to fight SOLELY amongst themselves) and, if they suffer enough in this life, they will be rewarded immensely in the afterlife. It seems to me like such an OBVIOUS and convenient ploy to insure that the entrenched "powers that be" will get to enjoy all the material perks of this life with as little interference as possible from the lowly caste.

    When your "prize" is off waiting for you in the heavens, why concern yourself with the suffering of others? Why try to prevent the rich from looting you and your neighbors? Why worry that global warming will doom most life on this planet? Why worry about anything other than your own stinking "salvation"?

    Thursday, December 27, 2012

    In Poverty's Despair

    Trey Smith

    Many other gun deaths occur in neighborhoods plagued by violence and poverty. What's clear is that while some gun homicides are surely meticulously plotted by an evil-doer who would find a different weapon if no guns were available, the vast majority is lethal specifically because a gun was readily available.
    ~ from The Conservative Philosophy of Tragedy: Guns Don't Kill People, People Kill People by Jill Filipovic ~
    While gun violence is spread across all socioeconomic categories, the majority of it takes place in those communities wracked with poverty. It is poor people killing poor people.

    Why are ghettos, slums and shantytowns more likely to be violent places? Because poverty breeds despair and a person who despairs their life is less likely to value it. When you don't value something that is intrinsically yours, you are far less likely to value the same for somebody else.

    Poverty instills in many the feeling of absolute and complete impotence. It seems no matter what you do, you can't escape the poverty that defines your existence. Since each of us wants to exert some power in some area of our lives, the ready access to guns provides you with a sense of power in your hands. As I wrote in a previous post today, a gun can provide you with the ability to play God, if only for a few scant moments or two.

    You can preserve life -- by not shooting someone -- or you can take it away. With a gun in your hand, you become the judge, jury and executioner. In most situations, there is no one else your potential victim[s] can appeal to. All the power rests with you and you alone. This can be really heady stuff for someone who doesn't hold power over much of anyone or anything.

    And so, in my estimation, while gun violence may be a virulent symptom, one of the root causes is poverty born of oppression and subjugation. When people are utterly disempowered, they will seek ways to exert power, often in malevolent forms.

    Mencius - Book 7, Part 2, Chapter 37C

    Wan Chang said, 'Their whole village styles those men good and careful. In all their conduct they are so. How was it that Confucius considered them the thieves of virtue?'

    Mencius replied, 'If you would blame them, you find nothing to allege. If you would criticize them, you have nothing to criticize. They agree with the current customs. They consent with an impure age. Their principles have a semblance of right-heartedness and truth. Their conduct has a semblance of disinterestedness and purity. All men are pleased with them, and they think themselves right, so that it is impossible to proceed with them to the principles of Yâo and Shun. On this account they are called "The thieves of virtue."

    'Confucius said, "I hate a semblance which is not the reality. I hate the darnel, lest it be confounded with the corn. I hate glib-tonguedness, lest it be confounded with righteousness. I hate sharpness of tongue, lest it be confounded with sincerity. I hate the music of Chang, lest it be confounded with the true music. I hate the reddish blue, lest it be confounded with vermilion. I hate your good careful men of the villages, lest they be confounded with the truly virtuous."

    'The superior man seeks simply to bring back the unchanging standard, and, that being correct, the masses are roused to virtue. When they are so aroused, forthwith perversities and glossed wickedness disappear.'
    ~ James Legge translation via ~
     Go here to read the introductory post to this serialized version of the Works of Mencius.

    If I Can't Have You, Nobody Can

    Trey Smith

    It is certainly true that "good" people don't walk into a classroom and shoot a group of six year-olds. It's also true that good people don't murder their wives and girlfriends – yet five times more women are killed by intimate partners every year than by strangers, and 95% of the women who are killed with a firearm are murdered by a man. If there's a gun involved, an incident of domestic violence is 12 times more likely to result in death. And while mass shootings understandably capture our national attention, the more than 30,000 American gun deaths every year (and their $37bn price tag) should spur us to action.

    It's easy to read those figures and conclude that conservatives are right: we are a world of awful, violent people who are going to keep on being awful and violent no matter what, so gun control serves no purpose and we'll all be better off in Heaven anyway. But as is true with almost anything that makes life on Earth brutish and miserable, we have the power to change that. Gun deaths are lower in the states with the strictest gun control laws. And the majority of US gun deaths actually comprises suicides – acts committed not generally by evil, murderous people, but by individuals who are sick and hurting and need help.
    ~ from The Conservative Philosophy of Tragedy: Guns Don't Kill People, People Kill People by Jill Filipovic ~
    Killing another person is bad, in most circumstances, but killing someone you SAY you love is downright despicable. And yet, as Filipovic underscores, this happens all too frequently in US society. In far too many cases, it involves the "If I can't have you, nobody can" mentality.

    A couple hits a rough spot -- often caused by the fact that the male doesn't seem to love anyone except himself -- and it looks like they will or have part[ed] ways. Just like a wealthy person who doesn't want to lose any of their built up possessions, many men view the wife or girlfriend as a material possession too. When this "possession" pulls free, the guy can't cope with this perceived theft and so he decides that if he can't possess it, he will destroy it.

    Death by domestic violence can occur with all sorts of weapons, but guns make it that much easier. In fact, in far too many of these cases, destroying the perceived theft wasn't the plan. The guy blows his cork and, in his fury -- with his trusty gun handy -- he impulsively kills. Filled with horror and remorse, it's not uncommon for him to then turn the gun on himself -- to destroy the destroyer.

    Afternoon Matinee: Protest - Ohio

    Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
    We're finally on our own.
    This summer I hear the drumming,
    Four dead in Ohio.

    Gotta get down to it
    Soldiers are cutting us down
    Should have been done long ago.
    What if you knew her
    And found her dead on the ground
    How can you run when you know?

    Gotta get down to it
    Soldiers are cutting us down
    Should have been done long ago.
    What if you knew her
    And found her dead on the ground
    How can you run when you know?

    Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
    We're finally on our own.
    This summer I hear the drumming,
    Four dead in Ohio.
    ~ from LyricsMode ~

    Around Every Corner

    Trey Smith

    As Dennis Prager argued in the National Review, no one fears being massacred by a "decent" person. We fear being massacred by someone bad.
    ~ from The Conservative Philosophy of Tragedy: Guns Don't Kill People, People Kill People by Jill Filipovic ~
    This brings me back to the point in the first post on this article early this morning. Conservatives believe that each of us is born evil and that the role of church and society is to whip us into shape. Understanding that church and state don't have a perfect record, there are bogeyman waiting around every corner to do us in.

    As Laozi cautions in the Tao Te Ching, amassing material wealth and then flaunting it in other people's faces is the cause of great amounts of stress and tension. Your life becomes centered around what you possess and you will be ever fearful that real and imaginary threats exist to wrest these material possessions from you.

    In such a world, EVERYONE is suspect, even family and close associates. In such a world, there truly is only one "decent" person you can count on: Yourself. When you look in the mirror, you somehow don't see that you have become anything but decent.

    One or more guns makes you feel powerful. Maybe you can't trust anyone, but you CAN kill them.

    Playing God

    Trey Smith

    Without strong social incentives and harsh social punishments for deviation from these structures, they collapse – and they collapse because they simply don't serve large swaths of the American population (women who want equal rights, people of color, immigrants, poor people, non-Christians, gay people). There isn't much of a reason for why these particular structures are the best, other than that the few people who benefit from them seem to like them. But the fundamental argument in their favor seems to be that without a social organization that puts white Christian men on top, the hordes of "bad" people will simply be out there – and there is nothing we can do other than arm ourselves against them.

    That's why "guns don't kill people, people kill people" is still considered an actual argument. It's why the debates on gun control go in circles. One side thinks we have serious but fixable cultural problems with violence, with a masculinity that is tied to aggression and with the glorification of gun culture, and that the wide availability of all sorts of deadly weaponry in such a culture enables an unconscionable amount of lethal violence. The other side thinks people are just sinners, our time on this planet is meant to be trying and ugly, guns represent freedom and man's dominion over the Earth, and gun deaths simply result from a lack of Christianity and the attendant breaks from a "traditional" model that necessitated the oppression of a great many Americans.
    ~ from The Conservative Philosophy of Tragedy: Guns Don't Kill People, People Kill People by Jill Filipovic ~
    A gun in a person's hand turns them into a god. You get to decide who lives and who dies, who is granted mercy and who revenge is exacted upon. Maybe this is why fundamentalist Christians, in particular, have a love affair with the free access to weaponry. They are tired of being the ones under the thumb of the almighty -- knowing that one wrong move punches their ticket for hell and damnation.

    Their narrow belief system doesn't allow them to feel free and unfettered. But a gun WILL do that.

    Bit by Bit - Chapter 5, Part 9

    Trey Smith

    "What do you mean when you say his powers are whole?" asked Duke Ai.

    Confucius said, "Life, death, preservation, loss, failure, success, poverty, riches, worthiness, unworthiness, slander, fame, hunger, thirst, cold, heat - these are the alternations of the world, the workings of fate. Day and night they change place before us and wisdom cannot spy out their source. Therefore, they should not be enough to destroy your harmony; they should not be allowed to enter the Spirit Storehouse. If you can harmonize and delight in them, master them and never be at a loss for joy, if you can do this day and night without break and make it be spring with everything, mingling with all and creating the moment within your own mind - this is what I call being whole in power."

    ~ Burton Watson translation ~
    For me, fate is nothing more than the result of complex calculations carried out within the intricacies of the web of life. If the human mind had the capacity to push back far enough beyond the confines of our own little self-defined worlds, we could see all the variables at work and how each impacted all the others. Instead of blaming things on luck or fate, we would simply say, "Hah! That result makes perfect sense."

    To view the Index page for this series, go here.

    Brownie Points

    Trey Smith

    The point of being "good" isn't because goodness is valuable unto itself or because goodness is widely beneficial. The point of being good is to earn heaven points. Goodness, then, is defined according to a very particular set of religious and cultural values, and is highly "in-group" focused. Goodness means going to church, marrying early, submitting to a husband-in-charge family structure, having children out of obligation and upholding the social pillars that organize society to keep a particular group on top.

    Goodness isn't necessarily helping other people or taking steps that are proven effective at decreasing violence or working to create a more accepting and happy world for our children. Goodness is upholding the power structures that have traditionally benefited the small group of men who think they have a monopoly on defining "goodness."
    ~ from The Conservative Philosophy of Tragedy: Guns Don't Kill People, People Kill People by Jill Filipovic ~
    Zhuangzi wrote a good deal of the problem with living one's life according to external rules. A society's rules, by and large, are meant to maintain a particular social structure and social structures almost always create winners and losers. The rules, of course, are formulated by those who are the winners and a great deal of these rules are so crafted to guarantee that those winners remain winners and concurrently that losers remain losers.

    The oligarchy in our society has developed a myriad of rules and mores to divert our attention from what they genuinely are up to. So, while we fight amongst ourselves, they rob us blind, but we don't notice.

    Their definition of "good" is so narrowly constructed that many of us peons no longer understand the concepts of compassion and community. If we would throw off these fetters, then we might be able to come together. But that is the last thing the oligarchs want because they fear that, if we came together, we might compare notes and come to the realization that it is the oligarchs themselves who are poisoning society. The oligarchs fear that this realization might spur us to come after them!