Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Dao of Poltical Power III: Political Wuwei

Scott Bradley


The preservation of one's life is, for Zhuangzi, a core value, not because we "should" endeavor to do so, but because this is what the life we are does. Obviously, this does not necessarily mean we cannot be politically involved. However, when doing so is likely to get us killed, then we would do better to wait for a better time. This is "crazy" Jieyu's instruction to Confucius: "When the Course [Dao] is in the world, the sage perfects himself with it. When the Course is lacking in the world, he lives his own life with it. But in the present age, avoiding execution is the best he can do with it." (4:20; Ziporyn) Zhuangzi's supposed "quietism" is thus circumstantial, not absolute.

'Confucius's discussion with Yan in the fourth chapter makes it abundantly clear that Zhuangzi saw no problem with trying to improve the world; his difficulty was in how one goes about it. Fighting fire with fire, violence with violence, ego with ego will simply perpetuate more of the same. Fighting for peace is still just war.

(Don't get me wrong; given the chance, I would have put a cruise-missile up Assad's ass a long time ago, and done many other misguided things as well, but then I am just damaged goods trying to learn from the master.)

Thus, the nature of our political involvement is contingent on our times; there is a time to act and a time to chill. But when we act, our action is most effective when a kind of non-action (wuwei), something of which I will assume the reader already has a grasp. (Hopefully, more than I.) This effectiveness is twofold: It effectively keeps us in a place of peace and internal harmony, and it effectively brings change into the world that would otherwise not happen. Here is a political paradigm for those who would improve the world; for those in touch with their humanity as a spontaneous arising.

But let us not forget to add a resounding, So what! Get yourself killed, if that’s what you want to do, though it is unlikely that he next generation will either remember or miss you, though they might wave a flag in a vague remembrance of your sacrifice that they might have more stuff. Or die of a heart attack because you have burdened your mind and body with stress. Or flee to the hills and live out your years oblivious to the suffering of others. There is always the larger view; there is always a universe that cares nothing for the antics of the anthill of humanity. There is always the emptiness that equalizes and affirms all that is, just as it is. There is always this view from Dao.

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

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