Tag Archives: Lao Tzu

Watergate and Lao Tzu

I remember being 8 years old and watching every minute of the Watergate hearings on television. Watching the PBS special on the 30th Anniversary of the Destruction of the Innocence of the Republic, or rather, the Watergate scandal (which Kurt Vonnegut so eloquently pointed out was the first time we as a nation were made aware that a President so hated the American people that he in essence used the Constitution as toilet paper and demonstrated his contempt for law as being for other people), I am reminded of something Lao Tzu wrote:

The value of a government lies in its honesty;
The value of management lies in its ability;
The value of action lies its timing.

To which I might also add: the value of justice lies in its impartiality.

As many of the senators who participated in the hearings commented in this retrospective, it would nice if we as a nation had learned some kind of lasting lesson from Watergate. Something about the nature of the Executive branch to stretch its tentacles seeking power and usurping the nature of balance between itself and the other branches of government. Something about our Chief Executive believing themselves above the law, beyond the realm of culpability, outside the judgment of history, able to justify its own actions in the name of national security.

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Declaring Independence

Now, don’t get me wrong – declaring your independence, staking a visible claim for your emancipation, raising your individual voice to separate yourself from the faceless crowd, seeking to differentiate yourself from the chains of slavery of any kind by stating your status as a free and noble creature, all these things are wonderful, necessary and absolutely empowering epiphany moments. But let us not forget that declaring one’s independence is not the same as achieiving it, proving it or sustaining it. Just like getting a job is usually the easiest part, compared to keeping it or doing it (or getting to and from it).

What makes us independent is that we as individuals demand the opportunity to make up our own minds – based not on some preconceived notions, the hackneyed rituals of the past, endless successions of “it’s always been done that way” and in general, second-hand evidence of experience. What makes us independent is that each of us, as individuals, is responsible for finding truth, for seeking the Truth (as we individually define it), for not accepting anyone else’s interpretation as valid for ourselves without independent, personal and direct empirical proof. And of course, that proof is tempered by a sobering thing, when we come face to face with the facts. Complete and utter independence, that is, complete break with and non-reliance upon other so-called “independent” variables is absolute fantasy. The reality is that in order for the United States to become independent from Great Britain, something extraordinary had to happen – the colonists of the Older World had to recognize and appreciate their dependence upon each other. For a great society or nation is not built upon the self-interested, personal-gain, private accumulation of power, wealth, property or other means of influence. A great society is built upon the fact that each individual, regardless of their origin, race, sex, creed, orientation, proclivity or occupation is valuable to that society. In fact, without each individual, a society could NOT exist. It would cease to be necessary or useful.

Lao Tzu said:

The value of government lies in its honesty;
The value of management lies in its ability;
The value of actions lies in their timing.

So, on this Independence Day (which of course, was the day that we as a nation declared ourselves independent, in 1776 – it wasn’t until 1783 that our independence became a reality; we are, in my opinion, struggling at present to retain our independence, in the face of special interests, war-mongerers, ideas of national grandeur, and so on), I suggest that congratulating ourselves for the first part, for saying we are independent, is not a bad thing. But think about this: how often do we work at sustaining, reviving, and bolstering that independence? How long, if we do not do this second step, this important work, will that independence continue to survive?

Exchange one set of chains for another,
cast aside those worn, past preconceptions
for new ones, that as yet do not smother
under blankets of self-satisfaction

the ideals that you preach but cannot keep:
notions of freedom and free will and peace,
the brotherhood of man; while your neighbors weep,
your prisons and graveyards fill without cease.

Has might proven your way right, or time?
Does history prove it self-evident?
And on whose stiff backs will the next wave climb
with no gracious thanks to their precedent?

Claim your independence and make your stand;
Then live by your principles, if you can.

04 JUL 2003

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On the Tao

The Tao that can be seen is not the Tao,
the obvious is never what it seems;
and often, what connects the who to how
is understood only by fools in dreams.

Still, once in a great while, a glimpse is seen
of balance, as it plays behind a cloud;
the light and dark and all points in between,
the word that vanishes if said aloud.

For only in the frame of the observed
Can our defining map much of the way;
And our illusions do naught but preserve
masks between it has been and come what may.

Both in our grasp and there beyond our reach,
The Tao embraces all, and defines each.

26 NOV 2002

for Pietro

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