May 09, 2007


The guiding thread through this week's Goat Rope is a series of reflections on the ancient Chinese classic the Tao Te Ching. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier entries.

A major theme of the Tao Te Ching is the critique of force and its unskillful use. For example, if you push people, they usually push back--harder. If you try to pull people towards you, literally or otherwise, they tend to pull away. If you hit a nail, it usually goes in deeper.

Heated arguments with people seldom convince. When muscles are treated with resistance, they grow stronger. Strident and self-righteous groups often alienate others.

When new antibiotics are developed, micro-organisms tend to evolve defenses. Some insects develop immunities to poisons. And, uhhh, arrogant and aggressive foreign policies and unnecessary wards don't usually work out very well either.

The common tendency to apply force against that which we dislike often has the unintended consequence of strengthening it. As Holmes Welch put it in his book Taoism: The Parting of the Way,

Interfere with existence and it resists, as a stone resists crushing. If it is a living creature it resists actively, as a wasp being crushed will sting. But the kind of resistance offered by living creatures is unique: it grows stronger as interference grows stronger up to the point where the creature’s capacity for resistance is destroyed. Evolution might be thought of as a march towards ever more highly articulated and effective capacity for resistance. Humans and human societies are thus highly responsive to challenge. So when anyone, ruler or subject, tries to act upon humans individually or collectively, the ultimate result is the opposite of what he is aiming at. He has invoked what we might call “the Law of Aggression."

While the Tao Te Ching recognizes that some coercion may be necessary for defensive purposes, it advises that the wise person or leader should use force of any kind only when absolutely necessary and use it to the least degree possible and then stop. Excess and aggression lead to disaster:

Whenever you advise a ruler in the way of Tao,
Counsel him not to use force to conquer the universe.
For this would only cause resistance.
Thorn bushes spring up wherever the army has passed.
Lean years follow in the wake of a great war.
Just do what needs to be done.
Never take advantage of power.

Achieve results,
But never glory in them.
Achieve results,
But never boast.
Achieve results,
But never be proud.
Achieve results,
Because this is the natural way.
Achieve results,
But not through violence.

Force is followed by loss of strength.
This is not the way of Tao.
That which goes against the Tao
comes to an early end. 30

MINIMUM WAGE CALL IN DAYS MAY 9-11. The Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign is urging people to call Congress between now and May 11th and urge that they get moving on the minimum wage. Two different bills have passed the House and Senate and await reconciliation. Click here for more info, complete with a toll free number provided by the American Friends Service Committee.

THE LATEST ON SAGO. This is from Ken Ward in today's Charleston Gazette.

GUARDING KANSAS. The war in Iraq has limited the ability of the Kansas Guard to respond to disasters like that in Greensburg.

NOTE TO EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS. It has come to my attention that some people who get Goat Rope via email haven't been receiving it. It should be working now. Sorry for any inconvenience.


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