Friday, April 30, 2010

Spotlight on Christian Taoism

If you ever take a look in my left sidebar at "Blog posts that I recommend!", the link takes you to my Tumblr blog. The sole purpose of said blog is to showcase what other people are writing. While there are a wide variety of posts from numerous blogs, there are two that come from a direct RSS feed. One of those two is Christian Taoism by H. K. Stewart from my old stomping grounds in Arkansas.

Here's how HK describes his blog:
This blog looks at what happens when you rub "Love thy neighbor" and Taoism together -- and other spiritual traditions. Weaving different spiritual threads into a new religious cloth isn't my goal, though. I'm more interested in exploring ways to make a world where Christianity and Taoism [and Judaism and Hinduism and Islam and Buddhism and Atheism and, and, and] can live next to each other in relative peace -- even inside the same skull. We can put humans on the moon and bring them safely home again, so why shouldn't we be able to get along with each other -- at least across a picnic table? After all, we're all connected. We arose from [the Tao, God, Yahweh, Allah, Higher Power, the Great Because -- pick a label], and we'll return to it. In it, through it, we are all one. My trip to the moon and back.
One of the reasons Christian Taoism is in my regular rotation of blogs that I check daily is HK's exquisite talent for fusing interesting and intriguing photographs with his poetic insights in each blog post. And let me tell you, these aren't your everyday run-of-the-mill photos either! While many of the pictures may be of things you or I routinely see, the camera angles and aperture settings offer a view we may not tend to notice.

Here's a sampling of some of his written posts from the past week or so. You'll have to visit his blog to see the photo married to each post. I sincerely hope you make the trip!!
The Horizon as a Reminder
The horizon is
always with us,
even when it
cannot be seen.

Flat, jagged,
or barely arched,
it is a constant reminder
of what is forever
beyond our reach.

Seven Rivers
Seven rivers flow through our lives.

First is the river of family.
Second is the river of discovery.
Third is the river of equals.
Fourth is the river of desire.
Fifth is the river of adversity.
Sixth is the river of grief.
Seventh is the river of wisdom.

Keeping Secrets
Secrets separate us from one another.
Sometimes that is good. Sometimes not.
Depends on the secret and why we're keeping it.
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Sounds on the Way

Some people learn best through a visual medium -- I certainly fall into this category -- while others prefer to learn from an audio basis. If you fall into the latter category, I recently discovered an interesting resource on, Taoism: Essential Teachings of the Way and Its Power by Ken Cohen. It's an MP3 download that you can listen to any time your heart desires!

Of course, I haven't purchased this product, so I can't vouch for its quality. Still, I have added it to my wish list and, one of these days, I may try it out for myself.

Here's a bit of info from the publisher:
Over 2,000 years ago, the great sage Lao-Tzu was disillusioned that others were unwilling to learn his path to natural goodness and harmony with nature. Today, his Tao Te Ching is one of China's most enduring sacred texts. This introduction to the Tao reveals Lao-Tzu's vast spiritual legacy, including Taoism's mystical roots in China's ancient shamanistic tradition; keys to ethical living, inner silence, and simplicity; Taoist meditation for awareness and healing; Taoist prayers, rituals, and iconography; and teachings on diet, poetry, feng shui, dream yoga, and much more. Ken Cohen is a renowned Taoist initiate, China scholar, and qigong master.

New Voices Along the Path XIV

Earlier today I featured some the new Taoist links in the right sidebar. In this episode, we'll take a look at the new links added recently to the Fellow Wanderers section plus one from Sites of Interest.

Both Eyes Shut! In a Real World, This Would Be Happening
(Because of space parameters on the right sidebar, I don't list the full title.) I’m going to make this short, because I’ve never read the “Mission Statement” post of anybody else’s blog before, and I’m not real sure I care if anyone reads mine. It isn’t going to be anything like the actual posts. It’s not going to shed any light on what I’ll write later, and what I’ll write later won’t follow any scripted guidelines. It won’t tell you what to expect, what reasons to visit, or why I have to write. It’s not going to inspire any immediate bookmarks or passionate replies, and when you get right down to it, its purpose will seem vague. In the end I will reflect on it the way a plastic surgeon probably regards his having facially reconstructed a professional boxer.

It’s a fine non-representation, though. It isn’t what it is, does what it’s intended to do without doing anything, and somehow manages to show some character through an embarrassing failure to provide substantial content. Like a good pop album. Or Rice Crispies treats. You know — like life. Anyhow, before this actually goes somewhere, I’d better run. I hope you have a good time! And if not, well, I’m sure there’s a more objective blog somewhere very, very close at hand. Something on nude celebrities, perhaps.

The ideas of a novelist, philosopher and artist.
Your last stop before eternal enlightenment!

Peace Is Possible!
Another world is possible: a world of peace, social and environmental justice, and ecological and economic sustainability. A nonviolent world where people don't hurt each other. A world based on mutual respect and prosperity, and partnership (rather than economic domination, subjugation and cruelty.) A world of joy, light and love...such a world IS possible. And in a world that is full of violence, including war, it is important to remember that peace is possible!

Short Sleeves Insights
Howard (Hal) Thomas Manogue was born in Philadelphia, and is a forerunner to the Indigo children, a new age term for misfit with an intuitive nature, a desire to know his truth with a gift of giving and sharing. Hal retired from the shoe industry after 35 years of sole searching, and discovered his real soul. He enjoys art, music, philosophy, psychology, nature and people. I am a spirit having a human experience. I create my reality through my thoughts and beliefs. I am a fragment of consciousness connected to different qualities of consciousness. I take responsibility for the choices I make and the dreams I dream. I am energy filled with the source of all energy and I live simultaneous lives. I am here to experience emotions and to feel the wealth of value fulfillment. I express myself multidimensional and appreciate the opportunity to be human.

Swimming the Sacred River
The Sacred River Project is dedicated to promoting a naturalistic approach to spirituality that is grounded in (a) progressive, humanistic principles, (b) a rational understanding of the universe informed by scientific inquiry, and (c) a reverent orientation towards the natural world.

The Broken Bokken
Your Source for Karate Training Tips...Healing Arts...Chaotic Wisdom...Zen Stuff. My Dharma name is Shinzen. I began studying Goshindo Karate under the watchful eye of Shihan Paul Dean in 1969. Yes, I now have gray hair. I am also Lay-ordained in Soto Zen under the tutelage of Rev. Nonin Chowaney of the Nebraska Zen Center.

The Laughing Coyote
Expanding Your Imagination ~ Expanding Your Life.

If you will let her, she will guide you to the outskirts of town, to the borders of your own thinking, but she will take you no further because it is for you and you alone to travel down that profound path which begins on the other side of WHAT YOU THINK YOU KNOW.

If you will let her, she will teach you to get over yourself so you can realize that EVERYTHING IS SACRED and, at the same time, NOTHING IS SACRED. Go figure.

Thurman's Notebook
For more than two decades I dealt with my dysfunction the wrong way, by hiding inside a thick cloud of cannabis smoke and occasional psychedelic drugs. I was one of a very fortunate few who travel that road and don’t end up addicted, jailed, dead, or insane (the insane part is open to debate). I don’t know how I managed to do the things I did and not destroy my life and I don’t recommend anyone else follow in my footsteps, it usually ends very badly. Like I tell my kids, don’t follow my example – learn from my mistakes.

When I gave up trying to destroy every brain cell I’ve got and decided to rejoin the world, I began to dream, and paint, and write again – things I’d enjoyed long ago, before this evil world did its best to break my spirit. As I climbed slowly out of the grave I tried to dig for myself over the years I began to finally put many things into context and have hopefully gained a small amount of wisdom in the process. (RT: One of my favorite blogs!)

Philosophical Taoism

I think I know what the regular readers of this blog are thinking: "What kind of title is THAT?" Yes, it does seem strange on a blog all about philosophical Taoism to have a specific post entitled Philosophical Taoism as if it needs to be repeated and underscored.

However, each day new folks happen by as the result of utilizing one of the popular search engines. So, I thought it might be nice to point out some of the sundry sources on this interesting and engaging topic.

For starters, there are over 200 links in the right sidebar to Taoist blogs, websites, schools, and books. If you don't know much about Taoism, you could become an expert on the history, ideas and principles by exploring the links provided. Of course, really to understand the Taoist philosophy, you need to look inside yourself. :-)

Since this IS a blog about the subject of Taoism, much of what I've written over the past 5+ years specifically addresses this topic. While I only offer one man's opinion -- I speak for no one else -- you are always welcome to take a gander at some of the series I've presented. (Note: These links are listed as well in the left sidebar.)
Of course, if YOU know of a philosophical Taoist-related resource that I don't have listed here, please contact me and I will add it.

New Voices Along the Path XIII

It's been a while since I last introduced you to some of the new links added to the Taoist Wanderers section in the right sidebar. So, without further ado:

Advice by Lao Fzu
I offer free Taoist counseling services to anyone who is experiencing challenges in their life, or are just looking to gain a better understanding of the world in which we live. The essence of Taoism is acceptance, balance, harmony and understanding. My counseling services can be a very valuable tool in achieving these goals. (This also is the source of a Daily Quote mailing list.)

Drake Keenan's Journal
This Texan discusses Taoism as it relates to his life as a technical writer and fiction author.

I Ching You Ching
This blog offers articles on philosophy, wellness and transformation. No new posts since late February, though.

Live the Tao
Quietness and effortlessness. Taoist insight that you can apply to your life right now.

Livingiching's Blog
Using Ancient Chinese Wisdom To Shape Your Life.

Mak Ching Yuen's Cool Taoism Blog
This is a very cool blog that I will write about my coolest Taoism journey and it is not about getting old fashion or strict about anything, it’s just pure COOL TAOISM. The old way of Taoism is TOO outdated and yes, this is said by the deities too. So I will be introducing you to the cool Taoism world here, enjoy your visit! (RT: To be quite frank, this is probably the oddest Taoist blog I've run into yet!)

Misha's House
Taoism is considered a religion or philosophy, but really Taoism is a way of living. Tao means Way or Path, Te means virtue or nature and ching means text. The main Taoist text is the Tao Te Ching, written approximately 2500 years ago. I became a Taoist when I read the first chapter of the Tao Te Ching as translated by Ellen Chen.

Practice the Tao
When East meets West… when Lao Tzu wrote down the 81 verses of the Tao Te Ching 2,500 years ago in ancient China, he may not have realised the impact its philosophy would have millenniums later in the West and the newly-emerging profession of life-coaching.

When Julia from Taiwan met Nick from England on a coaching course, they didn’t realise at first that they had a common interest in the work of Lao Tzu. This joint interest soon became a course project. As we explored a few verses of the Tao, we began to see how Lao Tzu’s teachings could be related to personal development and coaching principles.

On this blog we intend to continue this work by exploring one verse of the Tao Te Ching each week. We invite you to join us on our journey and add your own thoughts to deepen our learning. How do you interpret Lao Tzu’s message? And how does it speak to you as a coach?

Tao te Tweet
The Tao Te Tweet is now complete, featuring Twitter-length (140 characters, including spaces) transcreations of verses from the Tao Te Ching. It begins at the beginning, and will work itself in numerical order to the end, hopefully. Since I don't know a lick of Chinese, I have primarily been using the translations and commentaries of Ellen M. Chen (amazing research and depth), as well as the translations by David Hinton (an impeccable translator of Chinese poetry) and Jonathan Star (who has created a grid containing each Chinese character of each verse and its possible translations). I have also used translations by Stephen Mitchell and Red Pine, as well as others included in the links below. But in almost every case, the verse has worked itself into its twitter length through that muse of intuition and rhythm.

The Gaiam Blog
The link features a series of pages which offers quotes predominantly from books about Taoism.

The Tao of Chaos
Thoughts on Taoism, alcoholism, recovery, and life in general.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Matter of Perspective

Philosophers are just like writers. While a good majority of the latter long for the day they shall write the grand novel -- the story to end all stories -- the former long for the day they will succeed in explaining the theory of all, the quintessential philosophy that shall put an end to the philosophic exploration altogether. Like every other person, however, philosophers are constrained by their own history, experiences, sensations, perceptions and circumstances.

For example, much of thinking of the mythic Lao Tzu is borne of the time and place in history he occupied -- the Warring States period of Chinese history. His treatise was written as a revulsion to all he saw wrong with his world.

This, of course, is not to suggest that his insights do not have a universal appeal or that they do not apply in our time and place. But understanding a bit of the history that spawned this school of thought is significant and important.

The political philosophy of Karl Marx cannot be understood fully without the realization of his repudiation of the alienation of the working classes during the Industrial Revolution in Europe, in general, and Britain, in particular. Had Marx lived in a different era and had he occupied a different strata of society, his philosophy would have been a far cry from what it was.

I don't know much about Blaise Pascal, but one of his famous quotes tells us a bit about his mindset.
Let us imagine a number of mean in chains and all condemned to death, where some men are killed each day in the sight of others, and those who remain see their own fate in that of their fellows and wait their turn, looking at others sorrowfully and without hope. It is an image of the human condition.
~ from Pensees ~
Sounds to me like this bloke woke up on the wrong side of the bed!!

Each of us possesses our own philosophy of life. This philosophy, while it may share traits with the philosophy of others, is unique unto itself. This uniqueness is borne of our own perceived uniqueness.

No two philosophies are the same.

Tao Books - Wen Tzu

I wanted to step back from my 6 month series before offering a brief review of Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries by Thomas Cleary. I thought about describing the difference between it and the Tao Te Ching in poetic terms. It could be said that the latter is the melody, while the former is the back beat or, possibly, the harmony.

I decided, however, not to go there.

In many ways, it's difficult to compare the works that feature the so-called words and thoughts of Lao Tzu. For one thing, as I've mentioned many times before, it is VERY unclear whether or not Lao Tzu existed at all and, even if he did walk this earth, if any of the philosophy ascribed to him actually came from him. In actuality, anytime someone refers to the perspective of Lao Tzu what we're really referring to is a general philosophy that was developed by countless individuals and groups over a long period of time.

In this same vein, I think it's rather obvious that the TTC and the Wen Tzu were not written by the same set of authors! While they share many themes, imagery and concepts, there is also a bit of divergence. It appears to me that the authors of the Wen Tzu set out to put the "meat on the bones", so to speak, of the poetic and, sometimes, mysterious renderings of the Tao Te Ching.

As those of you who followed my series on the book surely noted, the one chief drawback to the Wen Tzu is its repetitious nature. Many phrases were used again and again and again. In all frankness, there were a few times I found myself talking to the book, "Okay, we've covered this point before. No sense grinding it into the ground."

Overall, however, this book was an interesting, thought provoking and enjoyable read; it will have a permanent place on my nightstand. It well illustrates the evolution of philosophical Taoist thought and I think it should be added to the library of any serious Taoist reader.

Well Armed

The chief foundations of all states, new as well as old or composite, are good laws and good arms; and as there cannot be good laws where the state is not well armed, it follows that where they are well armed they have good laws.
~ Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince ~
As we have explored through the Tao Te Ching, Hua Hu Ching and Wen Tzu, Lao Tzu would not agree with this supposition at all. In fact, he would most likely present the opposite view!

From the Taoist perspective, the leaders of the ideal government will model the type of behavior they wish to see of the people and -- because these behaviors will be just, fair and humble -- the people will follow suit. To suggest that a government needs a strong police presence to enforce laws only suggests that the laws of the land are lacking in fairness, justice and humility.

35 - Let's Go Fly a Kite

A person with a kite can make it dip, turn, and flutter at will...It's fun flying a kite, feeling the gigantic tug on the end of your line. Sometimes the wind is so strong that it will nearly lift you off the ground. When you harness the forces of nature, you harness something quite powerful. This is an example of the proper utilization of Tao.
~ from 365 Tao: Daily Meditations, Entry 35 ~
By and large, I love the phraseology used by Deng Ming-Dao. I think he consistently paints a most descriptive picture. In this case, however, I have a bit of an issue with the choice of the word, harness.

I'm not suggesting its application here is altogether incorrect. To harness something means to bring it under control and direct the force of. When speaking of kites, we direct the force of nature to help us control the movements of the kite itself.

So, if the word harness indeed describes the mechanism involved, what's my beef?

Too often, humankind's efforts to "harness" the natural world go terribly awry. We've dammed rivers for flood control as well as to generate electrical energy and, in the process, we've injured or nearly destroyed many an ecosystem. We spend millions of dollars each year fighting forest fires when fire is one of nature's chief tools for reinvigorating an area. We've harnessed oil and coal; one of the byproducts of these two fuels is untold pollution.

In example after example, we trade narrow purposes and short-term gains for long-term headaches of our own making! Consequently, the use of the word harness represents a slippery slope, one that we tend to slide down to land on our collective keesters.

Secondly, to be in the position to harness something means that one needs to be in a position of power. A slave doesn't harness his master; it's the other way around!! We humans are NOT the masters of the universe. In fact, compared to nature, we're insignificant peons. If anything, the universe (Tao) harnesses us!

I would have much preferred if the passage had stuck with the word utilized. Any being -- slave OR master -- can utilize (i.e., make use of) something for a purpose.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Too Big for Your Britches

Not a day (maybe an hour) goes by when some fellow is not ordering one of those dubious products that promises a certain degree of male enhancement. While a lot of people decry that this longing (ooh, a pun!) is borne from our oversexed society, it seems that many civilizations have valued larger packages. I guess most people believe that the larger the organ, the more beautiful the music!

So, the following news story from Reuters should shock no one's sensibilities.
Police barred from penis enlargement
Forget about getting a job as a police officer in Indonesia's Papua if you have had your penis enlarged. You won't get it, according to local media reports citing the Papua police chief.

An applicant "will be asked whether or not his vital organ has been enlarged," said Papua police chief Bekto Suprapto, quoted on local website

"If he has, he will be considered unfit to join the police or the military."

The ban was applied since the unnatural size causes "hindrance during training," said police spokesman Zainuri Lubis in Jakarta, quoted by news portal
Hindering training? What are they doing? Add your own joke here!!!

All About Philosophy

Like too many college graduates I know, I never took an undergraduate course in philosophy. It never seemed all that interesting. Most of my electives came from the fields of sociology, psychology, history and journalism. By the time I started my Master's program, I rectified this sad situation somewhat, but my focus became political philosophy, not philosophy, in general.

Of course, since the inception of this blog, it should be readily apparent even to the casual reader that I've been exploring the world of philosophy in my later years. (I'm trying to fill in the gaps from what was omitted long ago.) Besides aiming my focus on philosophical Taoism, I've been branching out to look at other philosophical schools of thought.

To this end, I've discovered an excellent internet resource: The Radical Academy.
The Radical Academy is an analysis of the human condition as seen through the eyes of classical and contemporary thinkers in the areas of philosophy, politics, religion, science, and education. We define philosophy as the science of all things knowable to man's unaided powers, in so far as these things are studied in their deepest causes and reasons. We define politics in its widest sense to include the study of government, economics, and social theory and policy.

We discuss traditional and contemporary philosophical, moral, and religious questions; contemporary political, social, and cultural problems and policies; current scientific and technological issues and speculations; challenges to the "conventional" wisdom, "popular" ideologies, and "accepted" paradigms of our culture.

We also provide access to a wide variety of resources about philosophy, politics, and the human condition, some of which may not be in conformity with our own views. We think, however, that knowledge about competing philosophies and interpretations of the human condition is necessary in order that an individual is able to make judgments about and evaluations of other ideas which may, in fact, be in conflict with ours. This is not, to us, simply a matter of "fairness," but of intellectual integrity and scholarly diversity.
If you have an interest in exploring the ideas and concepts of western philosophy throughout the ages, this might be a good place to start!!

Derviations on a Theme - Large and Small

In a post today by Mr. Methodic over at A New Shade of Black, he writes,
It was at this moment I truly realized that Earth is just another planet swinging silently in space. Yes, I knew that already and so do most people, it is just that the true reality hit. The planet is very insignificant in the face of the universe, although this is the only place that we are aware of sentient life. Our solar system is nothing in the vastness that our best technology is capable of viewing. Earth is just a planet and I now see it as just a planet.
For me, his observation represents the difference between our intellectual and intuitive selves. One side fully comprehends how each of us is mathematically insignificant, yet in the other, we appear larger than life itself.

One of the magnificent aspects of nature is that it can effortlessly illustrate to any of us that we are not the center of the universe. Try standing alone on a windswept beach; the vastness of the waves pounding the surf would make even a ten foot giant feel small. Walk through a green forest; the wide variety of flora and fauna makes the human species appear microscopic. Look up at the sky on a clear summer's night; the earth becomes lost in the light show. Heck, study the blades of grass in your front yard; there are thousands of them compared to you.

So, on a rational level, it's not difficult at all to understand that each being -- including ourselves -- represents one grain of sand on the beach of life or one raindrop in the deluge of existence.

But in our world -- the one we see and experience through our minds and senses -- we dwarf the picture. Every thought and every sensation begins and ends with this concept called me. We are front and center. We are, in essence, the gods of our own unique universe.

So, we lead lives that are dualistic. We are insignificantly tiny, on the one hand, and the size of great mountains, on the other. It is only in meditation, prayer or deep contemplation that the veil between these two worlds can be lifted...but only for a scant few moments.

Book Review: Dead Philosophers

Mention the subject of philosophy and the average person will move away from you quickly! Philosophy and philosophers often are viewed as drab individuals (or metaphysical misfits) who spend far too much time asking ontological questions which lead to ambiguous or incomprehensible answers.

Tell your parents you want to pursue a degree in philosophy and a good deal of them will think you're on drugs, trying to avoid getting a job or you've gone insane. Yes, for the general public, philosophy is a non-starter, at best.

If you're one of the millions of people who would rather visit your friendly proctologist than spend a few scant seconds thinking about the meaning of life, then have I got a book for you!! The Book of Dead Philosophers by Simon Critchley is not your typical volume.

In fact, I dare say it is one of the oddest books I've read in quite some time and I don't mean that in a negative light either. The premise of the book is to introduce the average person to the subject of philosophy in a most unique way. Critchley provides brief information on over 200 dead philosophers -- if one is still alive, he/she didn't make the cut.

In discussing these dead souls, Critchley focuses on the concept of death and what each one of them thought about it...well, prior actually to dying. He then tells us, when known, HOW they died and if their deaths were congruent with their beliefs on the topic.

One normally doesn't associate the word whimsy with philosophy, but this informative book indeed is whimsical. In fact, in places, you will have a great deal of difficulty suppressing guffaws of laughter. It's one of the best educational vehicles I've read that goes to great lengths to appear non-educational. In other words, you will learn in spite of yourself!

Wetter Than

Needless to say, it's been raining a lot in South Bend. At the rate it's going, we're should end up the month with 11 or 12 inches; that's about twice as much as normal.

While most of the rest of you are enjoying a fine spring -- with the exception of those storms that keep dropping down all over the country -- we're still trying to move beyond late winter. We've only broken 60 degrees once or twice and have had several days that never make it out of the upper 40s.

What can I say? It's a typical spring in southwest Washington!

Sweet Smell of Success

In my household, I'm known as the soup maestro. Sometimes frequently and at other times not so frequently, I spend my time in the kitchen peeling, cutting, slicing, spicing and cooking vegetarian soup. While I really enjoy the process of soup making, what I enjoy even more is how the aroma of a pot of homemade soup permeates the house -- It smells so good!

A few years back I was also into baking my own bread. I think most everyone will agree that the smell of fresh made bread is alluring. It sort of puts a kick in my step and, even on those awful days of pain, it lessens the load a tad simply because I feel so upbeat emotionally.

One of the many points the Taoist sages write about is learning and perfecting a discipline. It doesn't matter what it is, though I would hope it proves beneficial for humanity. When we are able to create something with our own two hands or our brains or our voices or whatever else, it uplifts our spirit and provides a measure of self-confidence.

When you or I feel good about ourselves, we are far more able to tackle the complexities and hardships in life.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bee Good

Ever since moving to South Bend nearly three years ago, Della and I have been slowly and methodically ridding our front yard of yard. To the utter astonishment of our neighbors, we refuse to use any chemical compounds to hasten the speed of this process. Rather than employing noxious "weed killers," this work is being done with things like shovels, hand trowels and hoes. The work has slowed somewhat as I'm not able physically to put as much of my energy into it...but the work continues, nonetheless.

The reason we're working to remove our lawn is that, like most lawns, the vast majority of the grass is non-native. Each time we clear a sector, we begin to replant the area with native species. Thus far we've added salal, various ferns, kinnikinnick, blue-eyed grass, camas, columbine and a variety of native mints and strawberries. The reintroduction of native plants hasn't been accomplished as speedily as we would like because we're poor and new plants cost money that we have too little of!

This year we hope to add several varieties of native perennial flowers. The introduction of such flora will make our animal-friendly "yard" more bee-friendly. This is important because, as reported by many sources, there is a significant decrease in the number of native bees across the globe and bees are very important to the furtherance of HUMAN life since they pollinate many of our agricultural crops.

In Wales,
Earlier the meeting heard John Dudman explain how although bee colonies traditionally declined by around 5% to 10% a year, they had fallen by 34% in Wales 2008 and by 39% last year. Populations in England had declined by similar amounts.
Similar decreases have been reported in the US:
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, the number of beehives decreased for the third consecutive year in 2009. The beehive numbers fell by 29-percent last year, following declines of 36-percent in 2008 and 32-percent in 2007. Scientists in other countries have noticed similar results and have taken to calling the results "colony collapse disorder."
Several scientists has claimed:
There are a number of threats facing bumble bees, any of which may be leading to the decline of these species. The major threats to bumble bees include: spread of pests and diseases through commercial bumble bee rearing or other methods, habitat destruction or alteration, pesticides, invasive species, and climate change.
A "yard" planted with native species is beneficial, not only to bees, but to other species as well. When you add the important benefit of being less expensive to maintain in the long run -- needs less water, no fertilizer or other chemicals and you don't need to mow it -- it becomes a win-win situation for everyone involved.

If you'd like to learn more about how to make your yard or garden more bee-friendly, there's an organization called the Pollinator Partnership. Their website features a section in which you can download a guide for your neck of the woods which details which native plants will help transform your local habitat.

The bees will thank you!

Overlooking the Simplest Things

One of the common problems with learning a new operating system is trying to ascertain what to do when something doesn't appear to be working. Under the old system, you may have been quite proficient at uncovering issues and figuring out how to resolve them. With the new system, however, you're not clear what protocols to follow or where to check under the hood!

Last night I was downloading a rather large file. In the middle of the process, my internet connection went dead. So, I paused the download. A few minutes later, the connection went live again and I resumed the download. Of course, you know what this is leading up to: The connection went offline again. Arghhh!!

As it was late, I canceled the download and headed off to bed.

Upon rising this morning, I came into my "home office" to check my email. The internet connection was still dead. So, I spent the next 3 or 4 hours trying to determine if a) my ISP's server was down (we had a bit of storm last night) or b) this was a problem pertaining solely to my computer and/or modem.

I tried as best I could to run down the problem. It appeared that my dsl was running a-ok, I simply could not connect to the server. I tried to reconfigure the modem, but my system kept informing that it was working properly. I ran several wizards and utility programs, but nothing would change the situation.

Finally, I called technical support. The tech suggested that I unplug my external modem for 15 seconds and then replug it in. Magically, the problem was solved! The modem simply needed to be reset.

Too often, we try to make our lives more complicated and complex than they need be. We overlook simple solutions because we're certain a more difficult one will do the trick. If we find that we are straying from our path, we take drastic measures when, in fact, merely walking around a pothole would suffice.

Note to self: Next time the internet connection goes dead, try unplugging/replugging in the modem first!

Deep, Deep Pockets

According to Reuters,
A landmark sex-discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc may proceed as a class-action case, a federal appeals court said, dealing the retailer a major blow and exposing it to billions of dollars of potential damages.

More than 1 million women could be included in the class, after the 6-5 ruling by the Ninth Circuit court on Monday.

Wal-Mart said it would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The original lawsuit, hailed by lawyers as the largest sex discrimination class-action in U.S. history when it was filed in 2001, claimed that Wal-Mart paid female workers less than male colleagues and gave them fewer promotions.

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer and largest private U.S. employer, had asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to undo class-action certification in the case that alleged discrimination in its more than 3,000 stores.
The focus of this post is not on the specific issue pertaining to the case itself. What I wish to draw your attention to is the part I featured in bold. Here we are in the Spring of 2010 dealing with a lawsuit filed 9 YEARS AGO. Since the case most assuredly will wind up on a US Supreme Court docket, it may well be 10 years or more before the plaintiffs and defendant f-i-n-a-l-l-y have their day in court.

For me, this is one of the gross injustices of our vaunted system. Major corporations with deep, deep pockets can delay trials almost indefinitely. In cases involving people allegedly made sick by company products or procedures, these delaying tactics often work so well because the plaintiff dies off before the case ever makes its way back to the trial court!

In the case cited above, let's entertain the thought that Wal-Mart is guiltier than sin. If this class action suit is not thrown out or the plaintiffs don't settle beforehand, it could be well over a decade or more before the injured parties get justice. All the while Wal-Mart is reaping in billions upon billions of dollars in revenue.

I'm fairly certain none of the plaintiffs can say that!!

Mill on Stupidity

Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives.
~ John Stuart Mill, 19th century British Philosopher ~
Needless to say, this tends to be viewed as a controversial statement. Some would even call it crass!!

At the risk of appearing a bit impolite and politically incorrect, I am here to defend the sentiment.

If we take a quick gander at the word, stupid, we find the following:
adj. stu·pid·er, stu·pid·est
1. Slow to learn or understand; obtuse.
2. Tending to make poor decisions or careless mistakes.
3. Marked by a lack of intelligence or care; foolish or careless: a stupid mistake.
4. Dazed, stunned, or stupefied.
5. Pointless; worthless: a stupid job.
A stupid or foolish person.
The ability to imagine what is not takes a degree of insight, foresight and wisdom. If a person is lacking in these three qualities plus they have difficulty comprehending the present situation (e.g., teabaggers), the individual will most likely contain their thinking to the past -- that time when procedures, customs and explanations already have been established.

We can see this dynamic at work in the US. Conservatives, by and large, want to return to the "good 'ol days" when women didn't work, there was no minimum wage and fundamentalist Christianity held a much tighter grip on this nation.

How many mystics do you know who you would label conservative? Mysticism, by its very nature, is about expanding boundaries and creating new ways of understanding age old questions. It is about looking forward -- sometimes so far forward that it's off the charts -- not in looking backward to the past.

So, I tend to agree with Mill in a non-pejorative manner.

Mill on Freedom

The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good, in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.
~ John Stuart Mill, 19th century British Philosopher ~
If I were a betting man, I would bet that JS Mill was not familiar in the least with Lao Tzu or Chuang Tzu. Yet, the quote above would fit nicely within Taoist philosophy!

In his own way, Mill is stating that each person must find their own path and that each path is unique. Even further, this sentiment echoes many of the latter verses in the Wen Tzu.

I think it's important to understand that, while philosophical Taoism has a unique orientation, a great deal of the insights are shared by many other belief systems or philosophic perspectives.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fearing It

Death: There's nothing bad about it at all except the thing that comes before it -- the fear of it.
~ Seneca, Letters from a Stoic ~
Why do most people fear death?

The answer is apparent. We don't know what it entails. We don't know if it's pleasurable, painful or a complete void. We don't if we will be conscious of it. We don't know if our essence (soul, spirit) goes some place or if it ceases to exist altogether. We don't know if we will see past friends and loved ones. We simply don't know what we don't know.

Most people who are fully alive don't want the party to end. The people who are on top of the heap don't want to fall to the bottom. The people who are on the bottom don't want to wind up there again.

Few people like the idea of turning a corner to end up in a blind alley. Few people like the idea of crossing a bridge that may buckle at any moment.

It's natural to be fearful, anxious or bewildered when coming face to face with the ultimate unknown.

But regardless of how we each feel about it, one day all of us will stand on the precipice. We will take the fateful step and then.............

Sheen in the News Again

I know what you're thinking -- What has Charlie Sheen done now? But that's not the sheen I'm referring to! No, I'm referencing the sheen caused by the oil rig that blew up in the Gulf of Mexico last week. Recent reports indicate that nearly 42,000 gallons of oil are leaking per day and worry is growing as to the potential for ecological damage.

When this story first broke, what amazed me was that the initial reports indicated that there would be no oil leak. Reporters on two or three different networks stated that company and government officials were confident that the danger had been contained. It is now readily apparent that these pronouncements were baldfaced lies or spoken by doofus heads. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that, if an oil rig blows up in the middle of a body of water, an oil spill will be the result!!

I mean, really, it's just plain commonsense.

Life as Indefinable

As I've continue to wend my way through Simon Critchley's The Book of Dead Philosophers, one of the points that has been raised by different philosophers throughout history is that the chief reason we humans can't truly define life is that we don't understand death.

At first blush, many people might find the above supposition ludicrous. Death, they would say, is the cessation of life; it's when the organism ceases all functioning. In humans, it means the heart stops beating and the last breath has been taken.

However, such a description only describes death from a limited viewpoint -- it doesn't define it. Of course, the reason it doesn't define it is because we can only view death from the perspective of life. Once we've died and, possibly, understand what death itself entails, we can't share such information with the living.

Since life and death go hand-in-hand (i.e., two sides of the same coin), if we don't understand one of the facets, then we can't fully understand the other.

Far worse, it is a dilemma we can never solve. We can conjure up all sorts of myths, stories and beliefs, but the whole lot is nothing more than speculative thinking. We can't test the hypotheses. We can't replicate the experiences. We can't develop a control group nor substitute a realistic placebo.

The true meaning of life or death will remain hidden and there is no way possible to lift the veil.


When a person decides to begin a blog or website, one of the first things they do is write an About This Blog or Website post. This article usually describes the motivations behind the effort, a bit about the person behind the words and sometimes a resume even is included.

I never did that. My first post was about politics and I took off running after that. Within the last year, I backdated a post about who I am, but I didn't bother to explain about the blog itself. So, I'm going to rectify this situation right now...well, sort of.

For starters, I'm not exactly sure WHY I started this blog. That was over five years ago and I have enough trouble remembering what I did yesterday. Obviously though, I did start this blog and it's been going ever since.

If I can't provide you with my reason for starting the blog, I suppose I could tell you why I keep it going. I could give a whole bunch of philosophical hooey, but I guess the real reason is that I like to write. I think better in front of a keyboard -- this despite the fact that I'm an admitted one-finger typist (I type faster than you might think!).

In many ways, my writings are nothing more than thinking out loud. I don't know all the answers. Hell, I don't even know most of the questions half of the time! Writing has always been THE mechanism I use to organize my thoughts and I often surprise myself just how well organized my jumbled thoughts appear on paper or the computer screen.

And let's face it. Like many of you, the reason I think out loud in public is that I value feedback. I'm not ashamed in the least to admit that I like it when one or more of you writes, "Great post!" or "You nailed it" or "You gave me something really to think about." We all need positive strokes (from time to time) and, since I'm not a particularly social person, this provides me with a virtual social network.

Another thing I love about blogging is that I can do it in my underwear!! While many of us have gotten to know each other somewhat, this medium isn't like sitting down face-to-face for a beer or a cup of coffee. I can attempt to engage you when I feel like it and I can walk away from the computer when I'm not feeling very communicative.

And, of course, no post entitled About could be complete without stating the obvious: The Taoist philosophy has had a huge impact on my life and I want to share that impact with others. Unlike a lot of people I know, I don't go running around the world proclaiming the "good news" to everyone I run into; I'm not out recruiting Taoists all the hours of the day and night.

The way I see it is that, if you have an interest in philosophical Taoism from one person's point of view, then you'll drop by from time to time to read my ramblings. If this particular topic is of no interest to you, then there are millions of other blogs for you to read.

The choice is entirely yours.

The God Question

There was a really thought provoking article posted on AlterNet on Saturday. Here's a portion of it.

Why 'I Feel It In My Heart' Is a Terrible Justification for God's Existence

By Greta Christina, AlterNet

"I just feel God in my heart. I sense his presence. Why should I doubt that any more than I doubt my senses?"

As I've written before: Most of the arguments I encounter for religion are dreadful. They're not even arguments. They're attempts to make arguments go away: attempts to deflect legitimate questions; bigoted attacks on atheists' characters; fuzzy confusions between evidence and wishful thinking; the moral equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling, "I can't hear you, I can't hear you!" Or worse.

But some arguments for religion and God are real arguments. They're not good arguments -- but they are arguments, sincere attempts to offer evidence supporting the God hypothesis. So I want to do these arguments the honor of engaging with them... and point out why, exactly, they don't hold water.

Today's argument: "I feel it in my heart."

"I just sense God intuitively. (Or the soul, or the metaphysical world, or whatever.) I feel it. His existence seems obvious to me, in the same way that the existence of the Earth under my feet seems obvious. Why should I doubt that perception -- any more than I doubt my perception of the Earth?"

This is a tricky one to argue against. Not because it's a good argument -- it's not -- but because it's a singularly stubborn one. Religious experiences can be very vivid, very powerful. I had them myself, back when I had religious beliefs. (I still have them, in fact: I just don't interpret them as religious anymore.) And they can feel real -- almost as real as physical perception, in some ways even more so. What's more, this argument is singularly resistant to reason... since, almost by definition, it's not very interested in reason.

But here's the problem. Well, one of many problems.

Our hearts and our minds can't automatically be trusted.

As vivid as the experience of our hearts and minds can feel, if we're going to treat it as evidence in support of a hypothesis, we can't give it any more weight than we would anyone else's experience. Intuition is important, but it's notoriously unreliable and subject to bias. We have to step back from it, and view it like we'd view anyone else's experience. And when we look at human experience in general, we see that our hearts and minds can't automatically be trusted.

For starters: Lots of people have personal experiences of God. And those experiences are wildly different. Even completely contradictory. Some people experience a loving God who only wants us to be happy and take care of one another -- others experience a vengeful God who rigidly judges every petty detail of our lives. Some people experience a nebulous World-Soul God, a fluid spirit animating all life -- others experience a personal God, with a distinct personality and strong opinions and feelings. (Opinions etc. that, again, vary wildly from believer to believer.) Etc. The feelings people have in their hearts about God are almost as varied as the people having them. And these feelings change significantly throughout history.

If all these people were perceiving the same God... why would that be true?

That's not true with our perception of the physical world. When we look at a tree, we can all pretty much agree about its basic features: how tall it is, what color it is, whether it still has leaves on it, etc. We might disagree about its taxonomy, or who it belongs to, or whether it's prettier than another tree. But for the most part, our perceptions of the basic properties of the physical world are remarkably consistent. Especially when compared to our "perceptions" of the spiritual world. Our perceptions of the physical world are pretty consistent. Our "perceptions" of the spiritual world are all over the map.

All of which strongly suggests that, whatever people are experiencing when they experience God, it's not something they're perceiving in the external world. It's something their brains are making up...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

182 - Setting Course

Except for occasional flooding, the mightiest river keeps to its beds. It flows where it finds openings between cliffs and rocks. If the river is dammed, if the cliff walls are moved, if the boulders are shifted, it will flow a different course. It could even be made to flow backwards if the earth moved far enough.
~ from 365 Tao: Daily Meditations, Entry 182 ~
Too often, far too many of us lament when life doesn't flow they way we desire. We feel thwarted by coworkers, friends or the institutions of society. We feel stymied by circumstances and situations. When things really go badly, we chalk it up to an angry god or that fate is against us.

But hurdles are thrown down in the path of every life. It is what we decide to do when faced with such hurdles that is the measure of each of us. If we continually choose to allow the hurdles to impede our progress, then what is the true impediment...the hurdle or ourselves?

The Next Phase

The series on the Wen Tzu isn't over and done with. While I won't be adding any more posts to the series itself, I'm not quite through with it either. Over a course of time -- it could be a few scant days OR it may be much longer than that -- I plan to convert the series into a number of Google docs that anyone may access, read and/or print.

The reason for this is simple: it will be a lot easier for those interested in reading the series as opposed to clicking on 340 individual posts!! My plan is to cover ten verses per document. Since there are 180 verses, that means 18 documents of varying lengths -- it depends on how many multi-part verses are included in each set.

If you'd like to take a gander at "Verses 1 -10," here's the link. When I get the whole thing finished, I will write a brief post and add a link to the Intro page to the left sidebar.

Wen Tzu - Finito!

When I wrote my first post in this series on October 29 of last year, I had no clue what a labor of love it would become! It took me nearly 6 months, a computer crash and 340 posts to go from beginning to end. Now, with the last verse in the can, I have mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I'm sad to see my friend go. We've become very close during this period. Rarely a day has gone by when I wasn't reading or writing something related to the Wen Tzu. It has forced me to reexamine many of my long held beliefs and opinions. It has encouraged me to expand on my philosophic horizons. And it has taught me many valuable lessons, ones that I have begun to incorporate into my life.

Another important thing that the Wen Tzu has provided is a connection. This has not been a solitary journey as many of you have walked arm-and-arm with me every step of the way. Your insights, comments and contributions have enriched the experience more than I ever would have imagined possible.

On the other hand, however, it feels kind of nice to remove this yoke I've had around my neck. Of course, the yoke is borne of internal expectations and that's not very Taoist, is it? As the sort of person who values completing what I start, I have doggedly pursued the task of writing this series come hell or high water. I've written posts on days that I didn't feel like it. I've pondered deep thoughts on days I would have preferred to wolf down potato chips while watching mindless television. Even when my computer crashed, I fretted because I felt as if I was behind my appointed schedule.

But all that has been left in the dust because this represents the final post in this series.

I do want to note that the method I utilized in going through the Wen Tzu will most definitely be used again when I launch the series on the Chuang Tzu. As I'm certain many of you noticed, I didn't quote entire verses like I did with the Tao Te Ching; what I featured were only snippets.

Th reason for this tack is threefold. Reason number one should be readily obvious -- the text itself is so darn long. I might have needed another 300 or so entries to do the whole thing justice. Besides, as a one-fingered typist, the amount of text I copied was long enough!! :-)

Reason number two is less obvious. Thomas Cleary, the translator of Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries wants people like you to buy his book. If I featured the entirety of the text, you would get to read the whole enchilada for free. I'm not sure if Mr. Cleary would appreciate that!

And reason number three may be even less obvious. I simply don't wish to blemish the entire text for those of you who do buy the book to read it for yourselves. I want to leave a lot of unexplored territory for you to discover on your own.

I hope you enjoyed reading, contemplating and commenting on the Wen Tzu as much as I have. Starting today, I will focus more of my writings using 365 Tao: Daily Meditations as my springboard.

At some point later in the year, I will launch my grandest project to date: a series on the Chuang Tzu. But don't expect it to commence for AT LEAST one month or more. I need some time to read it again and take notes. I also need some time to digest the lessons learned from the Wen Tzu.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Best Time of Each Day

I don't know about each of you, but there is a very special time for me each day. For a lot of people -- adults and children alike -- the best time is when the work shift is over or the school bell rings. Since I neither work nor attend school (and it's been so long since I did either one), those times hold no meaning for me.

My special time is not a fixed time. It doesn't happen at the same time each day, but it DOES happen, at least, one time every day. Yes, my special time is in the few seconds (I'd say no more than 30) when I shake the sugar plums out of head upon rising from a night's sleep or a long nap.

It is in that briefest of moments that I feel no pain! I think to myself, "Hey. I don't feel half bad. Maybe I'll have a pain-free day!" These fleeting seconds abruptly come to an end when I start to stir and my aching bones and connective tissue once again remind me that pain is my constant companion!

Not only do I feel no pain during this short respite, but I also have no worries. My mind has yet to fixate on the responsibilities or realities of the coming day. It's as if I reside in a peaceful void in which time, place and identity hold no meaning. It is in this few short seconds that I feel an intimacy with Tao.

How about you? Do you have a favorite time of the day?

Wen Tzu - Verse 180

from Verse One Hundred Eighty
So something different is used for surprise tactics. Calm is a surprise for the frantic, order is a surprise for the confused, sufficiency is a surprise for the hungry, rest is a surprise for the weary. If you can respond to them correctly, like super-cession of a series of events, you can go anywhere successfully.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
As this is a passage from the last verse of the Wen Tzu, I will let it stand on its own. Before I put this series to bed, though, I will offer my reflections in a later post about our 6 month odyssey through this large volume of thought attributed to Lao Tzu.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 179

from Verse One Hundred Seventy-Nine
When the government is noninvasive, the people are pure; when the government is invasive, the people are lacking.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
Passages such as the one above are what cause many people to see Lao Tzu as an early advocate of libertarian and anarchist ideals. It is also why, I believe, the vast majority of conservative Christians view Taoism as a subversive system of thought.

If Christian fundamentalists had their way, the main thrust of government would be to regulate people's behavior in the bedroom. If you listen to them talk -- I wouldn't advise it -- their main shtick centers around homosexuality, abortion, premarital sex, promiscuity and pornography; all things connected, in some degree, to people's sexual preferences and behaviors.

If such stuff is not the quintessential definition of invasive, I don't know what is!

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

343 - Citizen of the Universe

Those who follow Tao recognize the importance of place, people, and nation. But these factors cannot be allowed to hold ultimate sway. Tao affirms the responsibility of the individual over the people. We cannot allow ourselves to be hobbled by the woes and alienation of our race or nation. It is our responsibility to overcome these, even if we can only succeed in our hearts.
~ from 365 Tao: Daily Meditations, Entry 343 ~
I was born in the city of Columbia in the state of Missouri in the United States of America. This makes me a US citizen. It means I'm different -- culturally and geographically -- from someone born in Kenya, Jordan or Indonesia.

Big deal!

I don't spend much time pondering my national citizenship. It's not that I'm unhappy with where I live nor that I don't recognize that Americans enjoy certain freedoms that others are not afforded (like writing all the various things I write on this blog). It's more that I understand that countries, states, cities and the like merely are demarcated by a bunch of arbitrary lines people have drawn and redrawn on maps.

When the subject of citizenship comes up -- which is quite infrequent -- I tend to tell people that I am a citizen of the world or universe. I feel kinship with all things. I am part of the world and the world is part of me.

Wen Tzu - Verse 178, Part II

from Verse One Hundred Seventy-Eight
Against a formidable enemy, of a hundred that go, one returns; those who happen to make a big name for themselves may get to have some of the annexed territory, but it costs a hundred thousand slain in combat, plus countless numbers of old people and children who die of hunger and cold.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
Whenever two or more nations decide to do battle, it is important to try to ascertain which individuals will profit most from the bloodshed. While the leaders of each country will try to rally public support by throwing around religious and/or nationalist rhetoric, there are always certain sectors of the elite who will benefit financially.

In the past decade, it's been rather easy to understand who has benefited most from the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan: industries tied to the military-industrial complex and the petroleum industry. While this nation has been in the throes of a devastating economic slump, many of these industries have seen record profits. Those profits have been borne through the blood of the soldiers on both sides plus tens or hundreds of thousands of innocents who live in the battleground regions.

But this principle doesn't apply solely to the US; it's universal. Look at any war in any locale and you will find economic and/or status-based fingerprints all over the war plans.

Far worse, most of the people that draw up the battle strategies will never go to war themselves!!

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

Friday, April 23, 2010

Wen Tzu - Verse 178, Part I

from Verse One Hundred Seventy-Eight
When society is about to lose its essential life, it is like the arising of negative energy: the leadership is ignorant, the Way is neglected, virtue dies out.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
While Taoism posits that the essence of life contains both positive (yang) and negative (yin), we become out of balance when one rises at the expense of the other.

In many ways, this can seem counterintuitive. While most people would agree that solely negative energy is harmful, purely positive energy is seen in altogether different light. If given the false choice of one over the other, most people would choose the yang.

But just as rest is needed and not sustained action, negative and positive energy go hand in hand. Focus too much on one while neglecting the other and you end up with a distorted view of yourself and the world around you.

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

Simple as a Tree

For all the talk in Taoism of nature, it still chaps my hide when someone happens on this blog with a "survival of the fittest" attitude. Such individuals always seem quick to point out that, in the wild, the weak links tend not to make it through the first year and, if they manage that, they tend to be the first to die of starvation or are the victims of predators. So, according to them, if a person subscribes to the Taoist philosophy, this should mean said individual should not seek to coddle any human and that each person will make it or not solely based on their own efforts.

That all sounds well and good -- though it's a perspective I strongly disagree with -- if such people were consistent in their belief. However, more often than not, I've found that they aren't consistent at all. Their "survival of the fittest" mantra gets applied haphazardly.

For example, I once knew a young fellow who purchased a home. His intention was that he would live in this house forevermore. It wasn't in the best shape, so he spent a good deal of time and money fixing the roof, foundation, plumbing and updating the wiring. I mean, one can't expect to make one's home their long-term castle if it's not up to snuff.

He next turned his attention to the yard. While it had many features he liked, the one thing it was missing was a tree. He wanted to have a big oak tree in the front yard to provide shade in the hot summer and colorful leaves in autumn.

He went to a local nursery one spring day and purchased an oak sapling. He went home and found the perfect spot for it and planted it.

He didn't pay much attention to it for a while. One day he noticed it was sort of leaning to one side. "This won't do," he thought. "I want my tree to grow up straight." He went into his shed and selected a wooden stake. He pounded the stake into the ground next to the tree and, using some twine, tied the sapling to the stake.

As spring turned into the dog days of summer, he noticed that his little tree wasn't looking very good. "This won't do," he thought. "I want my tree to be strong and healthy." So, he got out some fertilizer and mixed it in with the soil around the tree. He also established a watering schedule by making notations on a calendar.

As time passed, his little oak sapling began to grow to become a small tree. The trunk was relatively straight and the tree was healthy. However, more leaves seemed to be growing on one side of the tree than the other. "This won't do," he thought. "I want my tree to be full of leaves so that I can lounge under it in the summer." So, he grabbed his loppers and pruned back one side in order that both sides would grow at near the same rate.

In time, that tiny oak sapling become a magnificent tree. Whenever neighbors would happen by, he was quick to point it out and would tell them of all the nurture and care he had provided it. He was proud of his mighty oak and it was the centerpiece of his front yard.

What's wrong with this picture?

This man was one of those who harped incessantly on the "survival of the fittest." When his niece told him that her unborn child would be disabled, the man brusquely suggested that she abort it because animals leave the sickly runts of the litter to die.

When a neighbor complained that his unemployment benefits were running out, the man told him to quit whining. "You got to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps," he told him. "If you can't do that, then you deserve to starve."

When a friend lamented that a new big box store might well put his family-run company out of business, the man was less than sympathetic. "Competition is what makes this country great," he declared. "If you can't compete, then you're in the wrong line of work!"

On issue after issue, the drumbeat was the same: only the strongest survive.

Yet, if the man had applied this belief to his now mighty oak, it likely would not have survived. He coddled it. He nurtured it. He gave it undue care and devotion. And it was through all his time, energy and commitment to the survival of this sickly tree that it was able to enjoy a long and fruitful life.

If you're willing to give the benefit of the doubt to a tree, why not humanity?

Everyone Is Born Equal

In my last post, I stated that the anarchist opposition to hierarchy resonated with me, but I discussed this concept in terms of Lao Tzu's words and writings. In this post, I'm going to explain WHY I feel a kinship to this perspective.

At the outset of life, each human is born equal. It is only after we are jettisoned from the womb that inequality kicks in. At that juncture, it often depends on who our parents are and their standing in society. It may also depend on when and where we're born and the overall climate of our society or civilization.

But in those few brief moments when we take our first breath, there are no real distinctions among the lot of us.

To underscore this point, what if at the moment the umbilical cord is cut, everyone cleared away from us? You know what would happen? Regardless of a host of criteria, each and every one of us would die. With no one to feed, clothe or protect us, we wouldn't survive for very long at all.

So, since we share equality at birth (and a strong argument could be made that we share this same equality at death), why must there be inequality between these two poles?

Top to Bottom

I am slowly working my way through Section A of An Anarchist FAQ (it's over 190 pages). One of the points that I've found that resonates with me strongly is an opposition to hierarchy. This concept represents one of my central critiques of religion -- the pervasive top-down structure. As the text from the anarchy link above indicates, all forms of government and the vast majority of socioeconomic institutions in our society are hierarchic.

Much can be found in the thought of Lao Tzu that matches up with this viewpoint. He emphasizes that we each lose a large measure of our essential nature when we allow external forces to dictate our thought and behavior. (When we start exploring the Chuang Tzu, this point will be driven home tenfold.) So, I can certainly understand why some people will point to Lao Tzu as an early exponent of anarchy.

However, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, there is another undercurrent which flows through most of Lao Tzu's perspective. While he does extol some aspects of anarchy, he concurrently views some form of government as necessary since a great deal of his political focus centers around kings and sages.

In the works we have reviewed thus far, I can remember no verse or passage which even hints at doing away we countries or governmental entities. Like many contemporary sociopolitical reformers, it appears to me that Lao Tzu is more interested in perfecting governmental models through adherence to the Way as opposed to abolishing them outright.

So, at this early juncture in my exploration, I would not submit that Lao Tzu is an example of an early anarchist. While some elements of this sociopolitical theory are prevalent in the writings and/or words ascribed to him, I would not say this is the predominant feature.

What do you think?

Wen Tzu - Verse 177

from Verse One Hundred Seventy-Seven
Mountains, river, valleys, and canyons were divided and made to have boundaries; the sizes of groups of people were calculated and made to have specific numbers. Machinery and blockades were built for defense, the colors of clothing were regulated to differentiate socioeconomic classes, rewards and penalties were meted out to the good and the unworthy. Thus armaments developed and struggle arose; from this there began slaughter of the innocent.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
I think this passage underlines the key problem with distinctions (i.e., property): when we start placing values on different people, objects and ideas, some become more coveted than others and covetousness is the engine of greed.

Modern society is typified by covetousness. Not only do powerful people and businesses own land, buildings, products and services, but we now find these same entities seeking claims to things such as water, seeds, plants and DNA!!

I think that many of the Indian cultures that we white Europeans supplanted on this continent had it right all along. No one person or group can own that which we share in common. To do so is blasphemous. This is why the Great White Father found it difficult to get the tribes to sell them specific parcels of land; in the Indian view, it wasn't theirs to sell!!

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

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Down the Line

Here's the scenario: You've gone to a great deal of trouble arranging for a splendid vacation for several family members and friends. You've picked a location that offers the best of all worlds -- spectacular natural scenery; access to the best nightspots, museums, bookstores, galleries and eateries; scheduled saunas, massages and pedicures; and romantic settings to warm even the coldest heart.

Your guests arrive with you at the appropriate time. While they partake of all the goodies this vacation has to offer, their mood is anything but joyous. Whenever you try to gauge their liking of the various amenities before them, all they want to talk about is where they plan to go AFTER this glorious vacation comes to its end. You've spared no expense to provide your loved ones with the ultimate experience, yet their supreme focus is NOT on the here and now, but some distant tomorrow.

Honestly, wouldn't this kind of attitude tick you off, even a tad?

For many Christians -- as well as adherents of the other two Abrahamic religions -- this is how this life on earth is viewed. It's as if this form of existence merely is a way station on the road to a supposed paradise. Such individuals seem unable to grasp that this life is to be lived to its fullest and that, as far as anyone REALLY knows, this may be it. While many believe in the concept of an afterlife, no one KNOWS if it actually exists.

So, if you believe in some sort of divine entity and this being created this world for YOU to live in, shouldn't you take advantage of the bounty provided at your disposal? Don't you think he or she would be a little miffed if you waste this tangible gift, while waiting for a better gift -- one that may or may not exist -- to come down the pike?

Just asking.


It's true of most of us that, as we age, we can get really set in our ways. This is particularly true when it comes to the realm of ideas and concepts. We're used to looking at the world through one narrow lens and, in time, it's not uncommon to develop tunnel vision.

Consequently, I think it's a good thing to stretch one's legs from time to time, to walk around the block with eyes wide open. In going through the Wen Tzu (which, by the way, I should f-i-n-a-l-l-y complete in the next two days or so) and pondering the ideas laid out, it has frequently challenged me to move beyond my current perspective. Like a lot of people I know, I sometimes have resented the nudge and have tried valiantly to cling to my comfortable worldview.

But the philosophies of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu are beginning to get under my skin (in a most positive way) and, try as I might, I think it's time I dig myself out of my self-imposed ideological rut. So, in the coming weeks, I plan to broaden the scope of my explorations into the realm of philosophic ideas and I will share my journey and analyses of such in this space.

It has been suggested by many that the early Taoist writings present a view of humankind that tilts toward and advocates for anarchism. To be quite frank, I've never given this idea much serious thought. Further, due to my peace activism of the past 15 years, I haven't held a very positive view of contemporary anarchists because they tended to turn peaceful marches and rallies into tense confrontations between protesters and the police.

Still, despite my obvious reticence toward the concept of anarchy, even I can't deny that this theme raises its head again and again in the thoughts of Lao Tzu and, especially, Chuang Tzu. So rather than simply sweep it under the rug and pretend that this ideation is not present, I've decided I need to explore the concept of anarchy as well as other concepts that lie outside of my accepted framework.

To this end, here is something for you to chew on. It comes from An Anarchist FAQ*:
Anarchism is a socio-economic and political theory, but not an ideology. The difference is very important. Basically, theory means you have ideas; an ideology means ideas have you. Anarchism is a body of ideas, but they are flexible, in a constant state of evolution and flux, and open to modification in light of new data. As society changes and develops, so does anarchism. An ideology, in contrast, is a set of "fixed" ideas which people believe dogmatically, usually ignoring reality or "changing" it so as to fit with the ideology, which is (by definition) correct. All such "fixed" ideas are the source of tyranny and contradiction, leading to attempts to make everyone fit onto a Procrustean Bed. This will be true regardless of the ideology in question -- Leninism, Objectivism, "Libertarianism," or whatever -- all will all have the same effect: the destruction of real individuals in the name of a doctrine, a doctrine that usually serves the interest of some ruling elite.

...Dogmas are static and deathlike in their rigidity, often the work of some dead "prophet," religious or secular, whose followers erect his or her ideas into an idol, immutable as stone. Anarchists want the living to bury the dead so that the living can get on with their lives. The living should rule the dead, not vice versa. Ideologies are the nemesis of critical thinking and consequently of freedom, providing a book of rules and "answers" which relieve us of the "burden" of thinking for ourselves.
*Note: Interestingly enough, I found this site because the information contained within is part of a package I downloaded for my Debian GNU/Linux operating system. I can't imagine Microsoft making this kind of information available to Windows users.