Sunday, August 13, 2017

Backing [Yourself] Into A Corner

A lot of people -- from both sides of the aisle -- are livid with the President because he has thus far refused to condemn Nazis and far right hate groups. In his remarks to date, his response has been tepid, at best. The question is...why?

It seems like a no-brainer. It seems like the type of thing that almost ANY president could do without much effort. Sadly, the man currently occupying the White House isn't just any president!

You see, Donald J. Trump finds himself in a bit of a bind because he has backed himself into a corner.

I think it is grossly unfair to say that all individuals who voted for and/or support Mr. Trump are bigots and racists. However, most individuals who ARE bigots and racists back Mr. Trump to the hilt. And herein lies his dilemma.

With possible impeachment looming, Mr. Trump is counting on those bigots and racists to have his back -- to be his stormtroopers. Consequently, from his perspective, he can't bow to political pressure to call them out. If he did, they might turn on him and call him a sell-out. There's a good chance his poll numbers would tank into the teens!!

And so, he is stuck. I'm sure he understands he needs to make a stronger statement about the violence and deaths that occurred in Charlottesville, but he must do so in a manner that doesn't piss off the hate groups that form the backbone of his support.

Of course, he has no one to blame except himself. He put himself into this straitjacket. It will be interesting to see how he tries to wiggle out of it.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Cat's Me...Ow...Ow...OW!

I am NOT an early morning person! Never have been. These days 8 am is when I tend to roll out of bed.

This morning, however, I was up at five stinking twenty in the morning. Why? Because our new cat, Lou, needed to be taken 35 miles away to Montesano on the first leg of his trip to be neutered in Tacoma.

I was expecting a loud but otherwise peaceful trip. Boy, was I in for a big surprise!!!

You see, the carrier we had borrowed proved to be no match for our little kitty. He escaped from it in less than 5 miles into our trip. I got him back into the carrier and damn if he didn't get out again in short order. So, there I am hurtling down the highway with a frantic cat doing everything possible to insure we would wreck.

It took all of my sage wisdom to develop a strategy that got us safely from Point A to Point B. And I have the scratches and puncture wounds to show for it!!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Never (?) Say Never (?)

For years, I swore I would never open a Twitter account.  For the most part, I think the Twitter world is insipid.  Why waste one's time on an avenue one isn't interested in?

Then a funny thing happened.  We decided that the radio station should be on Twitter and I kinda head up the production/internet side of the station, so I became the de facto Twitter person!!

In some ways, Twitter has made it easier to connect with certain individuals.  On the other hand, I have enough trouble trying to communicate with people in-person and via email.  Being limited to 140 characters almost guarantees that I am misunderstood regularly or that I don't express my points adequately.

Still, it is what it is.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Deafening Silence

As I near my 60th birthday, I am still amazed at the impoliteness of some people.  A recent situation illustrates this frustration to the max.

I serve as the [unpaid volunteer] Production Manager for KOSW 91.3 FM in Ocean Shores, Washington.  We're always working to develop new ways to interact with our listeners and the overall community.  We held an event yesterday that accomplished these ends.

I hatched an idea to host a Chubby Bunny Challenge live on the radio.  I got the idea from Cassidy Quinn's vlog that I used to subscribe to.  She posted a video of her own Chubby Bunny Challenge versus her dad and it was funnier than hell!

Ms. Quinn is an Entertainment Reporter for KGW-TV (NBC affiliate) in Portland, Oregon.  As it so happens, Portland is 3 hours or less from Ocean Shores.  We got to thinking, "Why not invite Cassidy Quinn to take part in our event?"  It would represent a win-win situation: She would be put in the spotlight and, maybe, garner new YouTube subscribers and our radio station would get a little press from it ourselves.

We realized at the outset that getting Cassidy was a long shot.   KOSW is a small rural station and Ms. Quinn is a very busy young woman.  But heck, it was worth a shot.

And so, we started a very public campaign on our station's Facebook page.  We received a very enthusiastic response from our own deejays and the listening public at large.  Untold numbers of people emailed or texted her.  Invitations to come to Ocean Shores were left in the comments section of her YouTube vlog and on her Facebook page.

She did not respond to a single one of them!!  Not one.

This amazes me because she constantly invites people to contact or interact with her.  While many public figures hide their contact information, she provides a multitude of ways to get in touch with her.  And though we utilized most, if not all, of these avenues, all we received for our efforts was silence!

Near the end of the week, my wife sent her one more private email.  Della wrote that all we really wanted at this point was SOME acknowledgement.  Even telling us to go F... O.. would let us know that she had noticed the invites.

But no response was forthcoming.  Our opinions of her have changed due to this non-interaction.

It in no way dampened our Chubby Bunny Challenge.  We already had a contingency plan.  We blew up a picture of her face and affixed a stick to the back of it.  One of our DJs role-played Cassidy Quinn to the delight of those attending.  After watching hours upon hours of her videos and "borrowing" audio snippets from them, we conducted a live "interview" with Ms. Quinn that was absolutely hilarious.

We had great attendance and, because of the numbers, we ended holding one contest for adults and another for children.  The adult winner somehow stuffed 12 marshmallow peeps in her mouth and the kid's winner managed 7.  I got a stomachache simply calling the action!!

All in all, it was a great event and a great day.  

Still, I'm very peeved with one Cassidy Quinn!!  All she had to do was send one note stating something like, "Hey folks, I'm really flattered by all your positive attention, but I have plans for that weekend" and no one would have held it against her.

But she chose not to do that.  No, she chose to do nothing.  And that silence proved deafening.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Sneaking Up From...

I had to go back to the radio station -- KOSW -- this early morning because of an internet streaming problem.  In trying to run down the problem, I came across the answer to a different streaming issue that has vexed us for months!

Mind you, the problem I am trying to solve now is elusive.  It doesn't make a lick of sense.  In fact, this problem contradicts the way we and/or I understood how this whole thing works.

But it goes to show that if one is open to possibilities, answers can be found.

I suppose I should wait for the next issue to arise, so my eyes will be open enough to solve the present one!

Sunday, January 29, 2017


The bad person is the resource of the good person.
~ from Verse 27 of the Tao Te Ching (Derek Lin translation) ~

We have a friend here in Ocean Shores who just cannot get out of his own way.  He is, as they say, his own worst enemy.  Anytime success is within his grasp, he finds a way to turn it into a catastrophe! Needless to say, his life is in constant upheaval and turmoil.

The man is a role model.  Not the kind one usually thinks of.  He models the ways NOT to live one's life.  And though I'm certain it is not his intent, he is a valuable teacher.

In many ways, he's a sweetheart of a guy.  He has a slew of positive attributes, but his negative ones often negate them.  He incessantly seeks the counsel of others, but rarely takes the advice proffered.  He is a lovable (albeit pathetic) fellow.

He is my resource!  I believe I am a better person because of his example.  It's not that I feel morally superior to him.  No, it is more that I see some of myself in him and this has motivated me to make some inner changes.

Hopefully, good changes, not bad ones.

Saturday, January 28, 2017


I didn't want to move to Ocean Shores -- my wife wasn't too thrilled with it either.  But this was how the cards fell.  

We have now lived in our 690 sq. ft. apartment for going on 3 1/2 years.  We've made some friends.  There are organizations we are involved with.  We have sort of adopted our 15 year old neighbor as our pseudo-granddaughter.

I'm still not overly thrilled with living in this town that caters to tourists, but I've learned to accept it.  This is where we've landed, so we are trying to make the best of it.

And that's a big life lesson.  You don't always get what you want.  It is not uncommon for circumstances to dictate the situation.  While there are times and variables that are in one's control, much of our lives are dictated by external forces.

The old Taoist adage is certainly true.  Learning to go with the flow -- acceptance -- is far easier (and less stressful) than constantly trying to swim upstream.  

Why fight the current when the vast majority of the time all it means is that you wear yourself out and yet find yourself in more or less the same spot?

I'm Still Bopping Along

Gosh, it's been a long time since I've posted anything.  In fact, I posted nary a thing throughout the entirety of 2016!!

One of the reasons for my lack of writing on this blog is that a lot of the political stuff I used to write about I now broadcast on the radio.  I have a show on KOSW 91.3 FM -- The Left [Left] Coast -- that I do Monday - Friday from 10 - 11:20 pm Pacific Time. 

I'm a bit bushed right now.  With a sidekick, I broadcast tonight a doubleheader at North Beach High School (both the girls and boys teams lost) and then I had to high-tail it to the station to get ready for my show.

Anyhow, I am going to make an effort this year to post, at least, once per month.  We will see if I keep to this schedule.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Learning Again To Walk the Middle Path

I have been wanting to get back to offering a few posts from time to time, but I never seem to get around to it.  One of the issues has been the fact that my home computer went kaput and I'm typically too busy with radio duties to use the production computer down here at the station.  More than anything else, I suppose, it's just lazy inertia.

So, I'm not promising anything.  You may start seeing some infrequent posts...or you may not.  It all depends on where the flow of life takes me.


Recently, I was diagnosed with diabetes.  It's one of the best things to happen to me in a long time!  I know that sounds like an odd statement, but it reminded of the importance of walking the middle path.

Control of diabetes is about moderation: Eating the right things in appropriate quantities and limiting the amount of items with little nutritive value.  

In a manner of a week or two, I got my blood glucose levels well under control.  In fact, I've done such a good job of it -- one of the few times when being OCD has proven beneficial -- that I was taken off of my initial diabetic medication in less than 2 months after diagnosis.

On top of that, I've lost nearly 35 pounds over the past 5 months.  I now sit at around 170 on a 6'1" frame.  I haven't been this light since my 20s.  My BMI looks very good!

All in all, what many would view as a bad turn of events has, for me, been the exact opposite.  I'm feeling much better than I have for years.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Scott Bradley Follows in Zhuangzi's Footsteps

Our dear friend Scott Bradley -- the modern day alter ego of Zhuangzi -- has done two momentous things lately.  First, he's published a book: All Is Well in the Great Mess: An Adaptation of the Inner Chapters of the Zhuangzi with Reflections!    Secondly, because I have become a derelict blogger, he has launched his own blog on -- yes, you guessed it -- Zhuangzi.

I always knew he had, at least, a book or two in 'em.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Big Business: Capitalism & Religion

Here's a great article posted on AlterNet.

By Kevin Kruse / AlterNet
June 1, 2015

During the Great Depression, big business needed rebranding. Blamed for the crash, belittled in the press, and beset by the New Deal’s regulatory state, corporate leaders decided they had to improve their image, and soon. “The public does not understand industry,” an executive complained, “because industry itself has made no effort to tell its story; to show the people of this country that our high living standards have risen almost altogether from the civilization which industrial activity has set up.”

Accordingly, corporate leaders launched a public relations campaign for capitalism itself. In 1934, the National Association of Manufacturers hired its first public relations director in its four decades of existence, expanding its annual budget in that field from just $36,000 to nearly $800,000 three years later, a sum that represented half of its total budget. NAM marketed the miracles of “free enterprise” with a wide array of advertisements, direct mail, films, radio programs, a speakers’ bureau, and a press service that provided prefabricated editorials and news stories for 7500 newspapers. Ultimately, though, the organization’s efforts at self-promotion were generally dismissed as precisely that.

While old business lobbies like NAM couldn’t sell capitalism effectively, neither could new ones created especially for the cause. The American Liberty League, founded in 1934, originally seemed business’s best bet. It received lavish financial support from corporate leaders, notably at Du Pont and General Motors, but ultimately their prominence in the group crippled its effectiveness. Jim Farley, then head of the Democratic Party, famously joked that it ought to be called the “American Cellophane League” because “first, it’s a Du Pont product and second, you can see right through it.”

As the 1930s came to a close, corporate leaders looked over the returns on their investment and realized the millions spent had not swayed public opinion in the slightest. The image of big business still needed repackaging. In a 1939 address to the US Chamber of Commerce, H.W. Prentis of the Armstrong Cork Company proposed the way forward. “Economic facts are important, but they will never check the virus of collectivism,” he warned; “the only antidote is a revival of American patriotism and religious faith.” Prentis’ speech thrilled the Chamber and boardrooms across America. Soon propelled to NAM’s presidency, he continued to tell corporate leaders to get religion. His 1940 presidential address, promoted heavily in the Wall Street Journal and broadcast live on both ABC and CBS radio, promised that business’s salvation lay in “a strengthening of the spiritual concept that underlies our American way of life.”

Accordingly, corporate America began marketing a new fusion of faith, freedom and free enterprise. These values had been conflated before, of course, but in the early 1940s they manifested in a decidedly new form. Previously, when Americans thought about the relationship between religion, politics and business, they gave little thought to the role of the national state, largely because it was so small it gave little thought to any of them. But now that the federal government had grown so significantly, corporate leaders sought to convince Americans that the New Deal threatened not only the economic freedoms of business leaders, but the religious and political freedoms of ordinary citizens as well. They worked tirelessly throughout the 1940s and 1950s to advance a new ideology that one observer aptly anointed “Christian libertarianism.”

Initially, businessmen outsourced this campaign to an unlikely set of champions: ministers. Though this decision seemed unorthodox, the logic was laid out clearly in private. “Recent polls indicate that America’s clergymen are a powerful influence in determining the thinking and acting of the people in the economic realm,” noted one organizer, and so business leaders should “enlist large numbers of clergymen” to “act as minutemen, carrying the message upon all proper occasions throughout their several communities.”

Over the second half of the 1940s, corporate leaders lavishly funded new organizations of ministers who would make their case for them. Some of these groups secured donations from a broad array of businessmen. Reverend James W. Fifield’s Spiritual Mobilization, for instance, amassed millions in corporate and personal checks from leaders at companies such as General Motors, Chrysler, US Steel, Republic Steel, International Harvester, Firestone Tire and Rubber, Sun Oil, Gulf Oil, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Colgate-Palmolive-Peet and countless more. Others leaned heavily on the generosity of a single patron. The Christian Freedom Foundation, created by Reverend Norman Vincent Peale and then led by layman Howard Kershner, was sustained almost single-handedly by Sun Oil President J. Howard Pew. The Pew family’s contributions to the organization averaged more than $300,000 a year for twenty-five years.

With this generous funding, ministers in these organizations spread the arguments of Christian libertarianism. “I hold,” Reverend Fifield asserted, “that the blessings of capitalism come from God. A system that provides so much for the common good and happiness must flourish under the favor of the Almighty.” But concern for the “common good” was uncommon in their arguments, which tended instead to emphasize the values of individualism. In their telling, Christianity and capitalism were indistinguishable on this issue: both systems rested on the fundamental belief that an individual would rise or fall on his or her own merit alone. Just as the saintly ascended to Heaven and sinners fell to Hell, the worthy rose to riches while the wretched were resigned to the poorhouse...

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

This Bird Has Flown

Monday, January 12, typically would have been a good day for my dad. That night the Oregon Ducks played The Ohio State Buckeyes for the NCAA Football National Championship. But my dad didn't see the game and we didn't get a chance to discuss it the next day.

At about 9:30 am -- after a brief illness -- my dad died. He was 81. He had been battling several health issues, but his death was still a bit of a shock.

To date, I haven't had a good cry. Sure, I've gotten a bit misty-eyed a time or two, but I haven't broken down. The main reason why is that it was a good death. He didn't suffer long and he died in his sleep. For my money, that's the best way to go.

I haven't gone as far as banging a drum like Zhuangzi (at the death of his wife), but I have taken some solace from that story.

Life and death. 

It's the ebb and flow of the existence we know.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Cock-A-Doodle Doo

The main reason I haven't posted to this blog in quite a while is illustrated below. Here is a clip of the morning radio show on KOSW-LP 91.3 FM.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Graham on Confucius VI: Doing-One's-Best-For-Others

Scott Bradley

The Master said, 'Tseng-tzu, I have one thread running through my Way.' When the Master went out the disciples asked, 'What did he mean?' 'The Master's Way', said Tseng-tzu, 'is nothing but doing-one's-best-for-others (chung) and likening-to-oneself (shu)'.
(Analects 4/15)
In the previous post we considered some of the implications of "likening-to-oneself". This passage introduces the complementary idea of "doing-one's-best-for-others". Chung, Graham tells us, is formed by the graphs for "center" and "heart". It implies, then, a wholehearted concern for the welfare of others at the center of one's being.

If we were to take Confucianism to the laundry-mat and wash away its fixation with the restoration of an idealized past and its obsession with ritual and an immutable hierarchical social arrangement, all that would remain would be an amazing goodness and humanity. What is there here not to like?

Daoism found something; but its objection was not with the content of Confucian benevolence, but with its imposition as an ideal, and with the means to its realization. Daoism essentially replies, If benevolence is natural to and a fulfillment of humanity, then it will arise in being natural. We need not pursue it, and especially need not impose it on ourselves or others, for to do so would be to kill it in the womb. Only when benevolence is 'forgotten' does it have space to grow and to flourish; for this, and every other virtue, is only a virtue when spontaneously expressed. This is the essential Daoist formula: the sage does this, not because it is the right thing to do, but because it is her nature to do so. The mediation of mind kills true virtue.

Graham distinguishes between these two, explaining that chung is a Confucian virtue, while shu is "a form of analogical thinking". I think we can understand this difference in saying that "doing-one's-best-for-others" is the actual behavioral outcome, the goal, while "likening-to-oneself" is the method for understanding how to do so. The Zhuangzi says the sage has no use for methods, however, and this brings us back to the idea of spontaneity.

We might ask ourselves, however, if the ideal Daoist sage and his spontaneity are not similarly ideals which, though desirable, are not our present reality and are thus an imposition. Does one then purposely try to be spontaneous? That would be other than spontaneous. Alas, I feel compelled to abandon my self-imposed orthodoxy and admit that, while ideal formulas may be helpful, the road we actually walk is a rutted and sometimes overgrown one.

Accommodation, living life in its inherent messiness, always seems to emerge for me as the most authentic way to proceed. There is ample room in my heart, therefore, for the Confucian vision as well as the Zhuangzian.

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

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Smile (For Crying Out Loud)

Trey Smith

Yesterday, our apartment complex was assaulted -- yes, assaulted! -- by something far worse than locusts or the plague. We were assaulted by people carrying bibles!

I don't think they saw me as I was in my car getting ready to drive to the grocery store. I heard them talking strategy before marching themselves into the courtyard. One woman said to another woman and a fellow, "Remember, we are here to spread the Good News." All three nodded and, I think, said little prayers under their breaths.

What I find hysterically ironic is that not one of them wore a smile on their face. Each one looked as if she/he was off to get a proctological exam. How in the heck did any one of these three believe they could convince anyone of the so-called "Good News" when each one of them looked so dour?

Graham on Confucius V: Likening-To-Oneself

Scott Bradley

There are several instances in the Analects when Confucius or one of his disciples tells us what is "the single thread" that runs throughout his teaching. It is not often that we are given such a clear summary of a philosophy and thus it behooves us to consider the implications of this one: "Tzu-Kung asked, 'Is there a single word which one could act on all one's life?' The Master said, 'Wouldn't it be likening-to-oneself (shu)? What you do not yourself desire do not do to others.'" (15/24)

This so-called negative statement of the Golden Rule (Jesus's "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.") is as equally powerful as the 'positive' rendering and, from the point of view of Daoism, perhaps even more so. Rather than "doing" anything to anyone, which for Daoism is likely to be an imposition whatever the motivation, how much better to just leave them alone. Both, in any case, are easily manipulated by the justifying mind — we might just as easily tell ourselves that we would want the criticism that we so anxiously wish to dump on someone else. For this to be truly effective it would seem to require, therefore, that we first have a deep and honest understanding of ourselves.

The difference between the rule of Confucius and Jesus is that for the former it essential and for the latter incidental. Jesus might have wanted to be a moral teacher, but having been declared a savior, his moral teachings were rendered secondary. (Which is probably why most his followers seem immune to the implications of that moral teaching.) For Confucius, on the other hand, living in social harmony was the greatest value that humanity could pursue — Heaven could take care of itself. When asked about life after death, he replied that since his interlocutor had yet to learn how best to live, what business had he worrying about death? This presupposes that death and its consequences are universally and inevitably the same. I know I harp on the issue, but the absence of a belief in the need for 'salvation' (whether of the Christian-Islamic variety or of the Buddhist/Hindu variety) completely transforms our perspective on how to go about making the most of this life. At the very least, 'spiritual' pursuit becomes optional, and no "Truth" need be imposed upon others (for their own good, of course).

This "likening-to-oneself" implies an understanding that everyone else is to his- or herself as each one of us is to our own selves. I am the center of the Universe; but then there are approximately seven billion similar centers, as well. We might be One, but we are also necessarily many. This is the working-paradigm and 'larger view' of Zhuangzi — since each is a self-contained microcosm of right/wrong, and there being no known absolute Truth of the matter, then we can enjoy ours (walking one road) while allowing others to have theirs (walking a second road). The larger view, then, is an acknowledgement of the diversity of human expression, rather than an attempt to unify all expressions under the single banner of Truth.

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

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Here, Gone, Back

Trey Smith

For 3 months, KOSW-LP was my second home. Then I was gone for about 2 1/2 weeks. I thought this experiment was over and finished. But then a funny thing happened. The two managers (volunteers just like everyone else up there) -- who had seemed to make it their sole purpose in life to hassle me and one other volunteer -- suddenly quit. Together they had precipitated a financial crisis and, rather than deal with the fallout they had created, both walked away to leave the mess for others to have to resolve.

With these two blokes out of the way, I was welcomed back into the fold. I picked up right where I left off. In fact, I am somewhat producing the new morning show. The only drawback is that I have to arrive at the station around 6 am each morning. It is not as bad as it sounds since I no longer seem to be a night owl anymore -- having two dogs that need to be walked early will do that to a fellow!

Graham on Confucius IV: Humanism

Scott Bradley

Man is able to enlarge the Way, it is not that the Way enlarges man.
(Analects 15/29)
This celebrated quote from Confucius, taken as a starting point, has profound implications. Understanding Confucius as the 'father' of classical Chinese philosophy, as the one who got the ball rolling as it were, we begin to see many threads of his thought are perpetuated in the weave of even those philosophies which were conscious attempts to break from him. What we see here, despite his arch-conservatism and appeals to a feudal, hierarchical past, is Confucius' profound humanism. The point is the betterment of humanity, and there is no better way to achieve that end than to look to what humanity as manifest requires.

Graham offers this quote as an example of Confucius' apparent disinterest in Heaven as a meddling power. This is clearly implied, but it needs to be said that "Way" (Dao), for Confucius, had little, if any, metaphysical significance; the Way is simply the means by which humanity is able to achieve its natural fulfillment.

What is significant is that 'Heaven' does not give us commandments to obey — tell us how we ought to behave; rather, we discover what works best for humanity through a study of humanity. This is essential humanism, and the antithesis of religion. Such an orientation is hard to sustain, however, given our hunger for absolutes. Neo-Confucianism was (I think) an attempt to provide those absolute guiding principles (li) and thus a departure from the empirical and existential.

My recent critique of Jed McKenna's emphatic declaration of the Truth was largely inspired by his similar departure from the "Drift and Doubt" of an existential Dao. The central question is whether we are to engage with life as it is manifest, a process that will yield a rather messy assortment of 'truths', or are we to impose Truth upon humanity from above. (McKenna, admittedly, arrived at the Truth through existential struggle, but so too might we say of every other religious prophet; except for 'true believers', his is but another "contending voice" which has no more weight than any other.) Philosophical Daoism, for all its criticism of Confucian moralism, perhaps remains the most faithful to his most fundamental humanist point of departure.

On the personal front, this quote exhorts us to "enlarge" our own ways. Finding what works best for us individually, and honestly engaging in the process it suggests, will ultimately "enlarge" us. This is the life "examined", which, though it need not be done, makes for the exciting adventure that life can be — for those so inclined.

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

Monday, March 3, 2014

Graham on Confucius III: Wu Wei

Scott Bradley

In his discussion of de in Confucius, Graham points out that he "even" uses the term wu wei, "not-doing": "One who put in order by doing nothing, would that not be Shun? What is there that he did? Just assumed a respectful posture and faced south." (Analects 15:5)

Here we begin to see how these two terms complement each other. De, according to Graham, meant for Confucius "the power . . . to move others without exerting physical force." "Doing through not-doing" is thus the exercise of de.

Here, as elsewhere generally, we see that these things are thought to be important because of their political effectiveness. The point was made earlier, but it bears repeating: Classical Chinese philosophy always had the central political aim of the improvement of society. This is because humanity is always understood as social and communal. Even with the 'corrective' introduction of the individualism of Zhuangzi, this orientation is never lost. Indeed, if, as Confucius believed, de and wu wei are necessary requirements for good governance, then their further development by 'Laozi' and Zhuangzi are a re-iteration and deepening of that understanding.

Only for Zhuangzi, it is taken to a new level; if it is true of our communal experience that things change for the better when given the space to do so, so also in our own personal pilgrimages. Once again, we are reminded of his exhortation to "just be empty". Emptiness is never understood outside the context of fullness, however, but as the pre-condition of fullness. The point of wu wei, not-doing, is to get things done. Space is given for things to happen.

Put in the context of current political thought, de/wu wei equate to: "Be change." What is assumed in such an exhortation is that being different makes a difference. This making a difference implies much more than just 'doing one's part', but also implies bringing change to others. How? Through de.

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

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Graham on Confucius II: De

Scott Bradley

The little word de (te), best known as part of the title of the Daodejing (Tao Te Ching), has presented translators with many a headache. The main problem is not so much with finding the right equivalent word, though that poses one, but with understanding what it means in the first place. Graham offers a definition for its use by Confucius which might profitably be taken as the foundation for every other subsequent usage: "the power . . . to move others without exerting physical force." Here is a concept, an orientation, through which the entirety of the classical Chinese philosophic enterprise can be brought into focus.

A curious thing about classical Chinese philosophy is that it is always political. Yes, even philosophical Daoism, the supposedly "quietist" philosophy of hermits and drop-outs, is profoundly political. The most celebrated 'Daoist' work, the Daodejing, is a manual for rulers on how best to rule. And even Zhuangzi, who is said to have refused political office so he could, like a free turtle, drag his tail in the mud, does so, in part, that he might more effectively "move others without exerting physical force."

On the face of it, it seems so obvious that philosophy would always be a political enterprise. That it has often attempted to be otherwise in the West (though, in the end, nothing is not political) is in itself telling. We are, after all, communal beings. Confucius understood everything in this context. Personal ethics could not be abstracted from the network of human relationships. The point was to be a better human being so as to make for a better society. Were he to run for office today, it would be under the banner of "family values".

Zhuangzi is noteworthy for his individualism; he introduced the value of one's own self-realization outside the context of societal conventions, a personal freedom from dependence upon esteem and merit. But never is this forgetful (even when forgotten) of the benefits that accrue to society generally. The freak of "discombobulated de" is identified as praiseworthy precisely because that de extends to the material benefit of many others.

A species of fish spit on each other when the pond goes dry, Zhuangzi tells us, but how much better when there is enough water for them to forget each other in the rivers and the lakes. The best thing one person can do for another, except in situations of distress, is to leave them to find their own unique expression. De tells us, however, that this apparent gap of disinterest and forgetting is in fact spanned by what Graham calls a "charisma" that assists without assisting. It is, in part, respect for personal context, the affirming gift of allowing others to be themselves.

For Zhuangzi, as for Laozi, it is the empty space that gives value to the whole, as a window makes for the usefulness of a room, or as the realization of inner emptiness (qi) allows for light to enter the heart-mind. De is a quality that, like emptiness, gives things space to be and grow.

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