Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Real Life Tao - Psst! Do You Want To Know a Secret?

Trey Smith

The Terrorists already knew, and have long known, that the US government is doing everything possible to surveil their telephonic and internet communications. The Chinese have long known, and have repeatedly said, that the US is hacking into both their governmental and civilian systems (just as the Chinese are doing to the US). The Russians have long known that the US and UK try to intercept the conversations of their leaders just as the Russians do to the US and the UK.

They haven't learned anything from these disclosures that they didn't already well know. The people who have learned things they didn't already know are American citizens who have no connection to terrorism or foreign intelligence, as well as hundreds of millions of citizens around the world about whom the same is true. What they have learned is that the vast bulk of this surveillance apparatus is directed not at the Chinese or Russian governments or the Terrorists, but at them.

And that is precisely why the US government is so furious and will bring its full weight to bear against these disclosures. What has been "harmed" is not the national security of the US but the ability of its political leaders to work against their own citizens and citizens around the world in the dark, with zero transparency or real accountability. If anything is a crime, it's that secret, unaccountable and deceitful behavior: not the shining of light on it.
~ from On the Espionage Act Charges Against Edward Snowden by Glenn Greenwald ~
Aah yes. Another post on this general topic. I continue to write on this subject because it underscores a glaring difference between the manner the US government conducts itself and Taoist philosophy -- this is a Taoist blog, ya know!

As we slowly wend our way through the Zhuangzi, many of the snippets point toward a completely different way of governance. For the purposes of this post, however, allow me to direct your attention back to the Tao Te Ching. Like his philosophic counterpart, Laozi recommends an entirely different course of action.
If the sage would guide the people, he must serve with humility.
If he would lead them, he must follow behind.
In this way when the sage rules, the people will not feel oppressed;
When he stands before them, they will not be harmed.
The whole world will support him and will not tire of him.
from Verse 66

I have three treasures which I hold and keep.
The first is mercy; the second is economy;
The third is daring not to be ahead of others.
From mercy comes courage; from economy comes generosity;
From humility comes leadership.

Nowadays men shun mercy, but try to be brave;
They abandon economy, but try to be generous;
They do not believe in humility, but always try to be first.
from Verse 67
For the most part -- there ARE a few exceptions to the general rule -- governing through secrecy is the antithesis of humility. The humble leader does not try to hide behind an impenetrable wall of secrets. If you feel you cannot share basic information with your own citizens, then you are behaving in an arrogant manner. You are putting yourself and your interests first. You are doing so in such a way that underscores that you think you are better than everyone else.

Just look at our everyday lives. In most instances, we keep secrets from others because we are ashamed of the truth and we don't want others to know what we really are thinking or up to. For example, the cheating spouse doesn't want his/her partner to know that he/she is having sexual relations with another person. The cheating spouse wants to enjoy their jollies without confrontation from their committed partner.

When a government secretly spies on its own citizens -- people not suspected of any wrongdoing -- it behaves like a cheating spouse. It wants to reap information (and control) without a confrontation from the people being spied upon.

Throughout the writing of the Taoist sages, it is strongly suggested that leaders should model the thought and behavior they want their citizens to emulate. Does this mean that the US government wants its citizens to be cunning, secretive and deceitful?

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

1 comment:

  1. Hello!

    First time commenting. I'm thinking of starting a Daoist blog as well, and from what I see in this posting I disagree with the conclusion you draw. Not that I think that the government keeping secrets is OK, but Daoist principles are ambiguous about the issue of keeping secrets. I cite specifically Chapter 17 from the DaoDeJing:

    "Of the best rulers
    The people do not know that they exist
    When they do not command he people's faith,
    Some will lose faith in them,
    and then they resort to oaths!
    But when their task is accomplished,
    their work done,
    The people all remark, "We have done it ourselves."

    This passage suggests that the good ruler should act without the peoples' knowledge, so that their people take credit for the outcomes themselves. When the ruler does not command the people's faith, then they lose confidence in him, but the discretionary ruler does not advertise his actions. So I guess a good ruler would be secretive and still keep the peoples' faith by not having the secrets revealed (so that the people can take credit themselves).

    I know this is somewhat of a Legalist interpretation, but my point is that Daoism does not necessarily seem to discredit discretionary rule.

    Furthermore, Zhuangzi makes arguments about our ability to know anything (I do not want to look them up right now). I personally take this further to think that we can never know the ultimate truth, so more information won't necessarily help. Just because you know more than somebody else does not mean that you are going to be correct. The more information a person gathers also does not seem to have any effect on their fundamental biases (unless one is particularly level-headed). So even if we did know the information that was kept secret, the information itself would not change our fundamental views, but rather the fact that it was kept secret is what annoys us. It may as well have been kept secret, because the results would be the same!


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