Saturday, December 7, 2013

Another Look at the Laozi X

Scott Bradley

The five colors blind the eye . . . Thus the sage in ruling is for the stomach and not for the eye. He eliminates that and adopts this.
(Laozi 12)
In another passage Laozi tells us that the sage dulls the minds of the people and fills their stomachs. This sounds very much like the present-day dumbing-down of the American people through the simplistic and biased presentation of the "world" by the power elite through the corporate media (an admittedly easy task given it is the "five colors" with which we are mostly enamored in any case — as long as we are getting "ours", we could care less for little else — "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" "We have kept you safe from terror [shutter — is it the "home of the brave" or of the fearful slaves?] — so our unconstitutional spying is good; you should thank us, not question us."). However, Laozi had something entirely different in mind.

Ziporyn discusses this in drawing a contrast between "eye desires" and "stomach desires". Eye desires are those which have things as their objects; they are acquisitive and linear in that they know no satiation. Stomach desires, on the other hand, "are not sparked by any intelligible object, and follow an autonomous course of arising and decaying, with a built-in limit of satiation." ("When hungry eat; when tired sleep.") Eye desires want ever more — more stuff, more knowledge, more life. Stomach desires are those which naturally, spontaneously, arise and pass; they participate in the cyclic character of all things. Eye desires fear death, spin myths of immortality; stomach desires understand life and death as a single thread and affirm death in affirming life.

Ziporyn refers us to the 55th chapter in which we are invited to marvel at the erection of a (male) infant — he knows nothing of sex, is drawn to no object of sexual desire, yet the natural in him arises spontaneously. "The ultimate potency!" He screams all day but is never hoarse. "The ultimate harmony!" Laozi sums up: "Helping life along is called inauspicious. Controlling your energy [stomach desire] with the directives of your mind [eye desire] is called forcing it." This is similarly reflected in Zhuangzi's admonition that we "add nothing to the process of life."

Thus, Laozi's sage-ruler wishes to direct his subjects toward the enjoyment of life in its givens, rather than in inspiring "consumer confidence" and the pursuit of ever more stuff. His concern is more about "the gross domestic happiness" (as in Bhutan) than "the gross domestic product". As Laozi says, "Knowing harmony is called the Sustainable." [!!!]

Ziporyn suggests that by a sustainable harmony Laozi means a coherence that rests in the ultimate incoherence of life. We have "cut out", hewn, our coherence from the incoherent unhewn, and rather than discarding and forgetting our origin from chaos, we allow it to reclaim us. We learn to focus more on the enjoyment of life itself, cyclic stomach desires, than on linear "growth", that is the unsustainable and insatiable.

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