Bob Schwartz

Chuang Tzu for these times (any times)

The central theme of the Chuang Tzu may be summed up in a single word: freedom.
Burton Watson

But to wear out your brain trying to make things into one without realizing that they are all the same–this is called “three in the morning.” What do I mean by “three in the morning”? When the monkey trainer was handing out acorns, he said, “You get three in the morning and four at night.” This made all the monkeys furious. “Well, then,” he said, “you get four in the morning and three at night.” The monkeys were all delighted. There was no change in the reality behind the words, and yet the monkeys responded with joy and anger. Let them, if they want to. So the sage harmonizes with both right and wrong and rests in Heaven the Equalizer. This is called walking two roads.
-Chuang Tzu

We don’t know much about the life of Chuang Tzu (aka Zhuangzi). He may have been born around 369 BCE and have died around 286 BCE. We have the texts attributed to him, which are simply known by his name, but we aren’t sure which parts are actually his and which were written and compiled by others. Seven sections of the Chuang Tzu, the Inner Chapters, are considered the most likely to be fully his.

We do know that he is one of the most creative thinkers in the thousands of years of Chinese history, on a par with the much better known Confucius. Chuang Tzu is consistently grouped with Lao Tzu (who was almost certainly not a real person), known for the Tao Te Ching, as foundational figures in the religion and philosophy of Taoism.  

Even those who know nothing else about Chuang Tzu or Taoism know this story:

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt that I was a butterfly, flitting around and enjoying myself. I had no idea I was Chuang Tzu. Then suddenly I woke up and was Chuang Tzu again. But I could not tell, had I been Chuang Tzu dreaming I was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I was now Chuang Tzu?

If you live in era of seeming chaos, personal or public, there is no one more fitting than Chuang Tzu. Burton Watson, one of his translators into English, explains in the Preface to Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings:

The central theme of the Chuang Tzu may be summed up in a single word: freedom.

Essentially, all the philosophers of ancient China addressed themselves to the same problem: how is man to live in a world dominated by chaos, suffering, and absurdity? Nearly all of them answered with some concrete plan of action designed to reform the individual, to reform society, and eventually to free the world from its ills. The proposals put forward by the Confucians, the Mo-ists, and the Legalists, to name some of the principal schools of philosophy, are all different, but all are based upon the same kind of common-sense approach to the problem, and all seek for concrete social, political, and ethical reforms to solve it.

Chuang Tzu’s answer, however, the answer of one branch of the Taoist school, is radically different from these, and is grounded upon a wholly different type of thinking. It is the answer of a mystic, and in attempting to describe it here in clear and concrete language, I shall undoubtedly be doing violence to its essentially mystic and indescribable nature. Chuang Tzu’s answer to the question is: free yourself from the world.


From Burton Watson’s translation:

Discussion on Making All Things Equal

Once a man receives this fixed bodily form, he holds on to it, waiting for the end. Sometimes clashing with things, sometimes bending before them, he runs his course like a galloping steed, and nothing can stop him. Is he not pathetic? Sweating and laboring to the end of his days and never seeing his accomplishment, utterly exhausting himself and never knowing where to look for rest–can you help pitying him? I’m not dead yet! he says, but what good is that? His body decays, his mind follows it–can you deny that this is a great sorrow? Man’s life has always been a muddle like this. How could I be the only muddled one, and other men not muddled?

If a man follows the mind given him and makes it his teacher, then who can be without a teacher? Why must you comprehend the process of change and form your mind on that basis before you can have a teacher? Even an idiot has his teacher. But to fail to abide by this mind and still insist upon your rights and wrongs-this is like saying that you set off for Yiieh today and got there yesterday. This is to claim that what doesn’t exist exists. If you claim that what doesn’t exist exists, then even the holy sage Yu couldn’t understand you, much less a person like me!

Words are not just wind. Words have something to say. But if what they have to say is not fixed, then do they really say something? Or do they say nothing? People suppose that words are different from the peeps of baby birds, but is there any difference, or isn’t there? What does the Way rely upon,’ that we have true and false? What do words rely upon, that we have right and wrong? How can the Way go away and not exist? How can words exist and not be acceptable? When the Way relies on little accomplishments and words rely on vain show, then we have the rights and wrongs of the Confucians and the Moists. What one calls right the other calls wrong; what one calls wrong the other calls right. But if we want to right their wrongs and wrong their rights, then the best thing to use is clarity.

Everything has its “that,” everything has its “this.” From the point of view of “that” you cannot see it, but through understanding you can know it. So I say, “that” comes out of “this” and “this” depends on “that”-which is to say that “this” and “that” give birth to each other. But where there is birth there must be death; where there is death there must be birth. Where there is acceptability there must be unacceptability; where there is unacceptability there must be acceptability. Where there is recognition of right there must be recognition of wrong; where there is recognition of wrong there must be recognition of right. Therefore the sage does not proceed in such a way, but illuminates all in the light of Heaven.’ He too recognizes a “this,” but a “this” which is also “that,” a “that” which is also “this.” His “that” has both a right and a wrong in it; his “this” too has both a right and a wrong in it. So, in fact, does he still have a “this” and “that”? Or does he in fact no longer have a “this” and “that”? A state in which “this” and “that” no longer find their opposites is called the hinge of the Way. When the hinge is fitted into the socket, it can respond endlessly. Its right then is a single endlessness and its wrong too is a single endlessness. So I say, the best thing to use is clarity.

To use an attribute to show that attributes are not attributes is not as good as using a nonattribute to show that attributes are not attributes. To use a horse to show that a horse is not a horse is not as good as using a non-horse to show that a horse is not a horse,’ Heaven and earth are one attribute; the ten thousand things are one horse.

What is acceptable we call acceptable; what is unacceptable we call unacceptable. A road is made by people walking on it; things are so because they are called so. What makes them so? Making them so makes them so. What makes them not so? Making them not so makes them not so. Things all must have that which is so; things all must have that which is acceptable. There is nothing that is not so, nothing that is not acceptable.

For this reason, whether you point to a little stalk or a great pillar, a leper or the beautiful Hsi-shih, things ribald and shady or things grotesque and strange, the Way makes them all into one. Their dividedness is their completeness; their completeness is their impairment. Nothing is either complete or impaired, but all are made into one again. Only the man of far-reaching vision knows how to make them into one. So he has no use [for categories], but relegates all to the constant. The constant is the useful; the useful is the passable; the passable is the successful; and with success, all is accomplished. He relies upon this alone, relies upon it and does not know he is doing so. This is called the Way.

But to wear out your brain trying to make things into one without realizing that they are all the same–this is called “three in the morning.” What do I mean by “three in the morning”? When the monkey trainer was handing out acorns, he said, “You get three in the morning and four at night.” This made all the monkeys furious. “Well, then,” he said, “you get four in the morning and three at night.” The monkeys were all delighted. There was no change in the reality behind the words, and yet the monkeys responded with joy and anger. Let them, if they want to. So the sage harmonizes with both right and wrong and rests in Heaven the Equalizer. This is called walking two roads….

The torch of chaos and doubt–this is what the sage steers by. So he does not use things but relegates all to the constant. This is what it means to use clarity.

Now I am going to make a statement here. I don’t know whether it fits into the category of other people’s statements or not. But whether it fits into their category or whether it doesn’t, it obviously fits into some category. So in that respect it is no different from their statements. However, let me try making my statement.

There is a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is being. There is nonbeing. There is a not yet beginning to be nonbeing. There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be nonbeing. Suddenly there is being and nonbeing. But between this being and nonbeing, I don’t really know which is being and which is nonbeing. Now I have just said something. But I don’t know whether what I have said has really said something or whether it hasn’t said something.

Criminals thank Trump for de-legitimizing all law enforcement

Trump will be getting more and more messages of appreciation from criminals who, like him, are being persecuted by law enforcement. Here is one of those possible messages.


Dear President Trump,

Thank you sir. Police, prosecutors, judges and juries say that I am a criminal and have been for many years.

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Finally, someone important like you has the courage to say that the system is rigged, that law enforcement is corrupt, that all they do is plant evidence and frame innocent people like us, when we have done nothing wrong. Nothing!

You are my hero. You are a hero to all of us wrongly accused, tried and convicted.

The fake “justice” system is never going to convict you, sir. Because people like me are on your side.

Keep up the fight against all law enforcement. FBI never! Trump forever!

I know it probably won’t happen, but I sure do look forward to meeting you and thanking you in person when I get out of prison.

Not A Criminal

We know Trump is a terror and are tired of hearing the worst. But it is the price we pay for “never again!”

“You fucking generals, why can’t you be like the German generals?”
“Which generals?” [Chief of Staff] Kelly asked.
“The German generals in World War II,” Trump responded.

We are tired of hearing more and more about how terrible a president and person Trump was. We know. But today’s New Yorker excerpt from the forthcoming book The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021 tells us why we still have to keep learning.

It is a high-def picture of a man not only traitorously unsuited to lead the American republic, but a man unsuited for decent American society:


At first, Trump, who had dodged the draft by claiming to have bone spurs, seemed enamored with being Commander-in-Chief and with the national-security officials he’d either appointed or inherited. But Trump’s love affair with “my generals” was brief, and in a statement for this article the former President confirmed how much he had soured on them over time. “These were very untalented people and once I realized it, I did not rely on them, I relied on the real generals and admirals within the system,” he said.

It turned out that the generals had rules, standards, and expertise, not blind loyalty. The President’s loud complaint to John Kelly one day was typical: “You fucking generals, why can’t you be like the German generals?”

“Which generals?” Kelly asked.

“The German generals in World War II,” Trump responded.

“You do know that they tried to kill Hitler three times and almost pulled it off?” Kelly said.

But, of course, Trump did not know that. “No, no, no, they were totally loyal to him,” the President replied. In his version of history, the generals of the Third Reich had been completely subservient to Hitler; this was the model he wanted for his military. Kelly told Trump that there were no such American generals, but the President was determined to test the proposition.

From The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021 by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser

Small Is Beautiful

Everywhere people ask: ‘What can I actually do?’ The answer is as simple as it is disconcerting: we can, each of us, work to put our own inner house in order. The guidance we need for this work cannot be found in science or technology, the value of which utterly depends on the ends they serve; but it can still be found in the traditional wisdom of mankind.
E. F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered

The trail began with an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Higher Ed’s Cult of Growth: An expansionist mind-set could lead to a disastrous future.

Which mentioned a new book, The Future is Degrowth: A Guide to a World Beyond Capitalism.

Which led back fifty years to a seminal work, Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E. F. Schumacher (1973).

The article and the new book are not what I am talking about here. I will comfort those who want to learn and teach that, in the odd event that colleges stop growing, there will still be plenty of places to learn and teach. As for post-capitalism, should it ever arise, don’t be put off. You will still have things—nice things—and you will still be able to make money—lots of money.

What I am talking about here is Small Is Beautiful, which was hugely popular and influential fifty years ago. The thought was going around in some circles that through the development and application of wisdom and discernment, we might temper our natural inclinations towards bigger, better and more, benefiting ourselves and humanity.

Following are excerpts from the Epilogue to Small Is Beautiful:


In the excitement over the unfolding of his scientific and technical powers, modern man has built a system of production that ravishes nature and a type of society that mutilates man. If only there were more and more wealth, everything else, it is thought, would fall into place. Money is considered to be all-powerful; if it could not actually buy non-material values, such as justice, harmony, beauty or even health, it could circumvent the need for them or compensate for their loss. The development of production and the acquisition of wealth have thus become the highest goals of the modem world in relation to which all other goals, no matter how much lip-service may still be paid to them, have come to take second place. The highest goals require no justification all secondary goals have finally to justify themselves in terms of the service their attainment renders to the attainment of the highest.

This is the philosophy of materialism, and it is this philosophy – or metaphysic – which is now being challenged by events. There has never been a time, in any society in any part of the world, without its sages and teachers to challenge materialism and plead for a different order of priorities. The languages have differed, the symbols have varied, yet the message has always been the same: “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and these things (the material things which you also need) shall be added unto you.’ They shall be added, we are told, here on earth where we need them, not simply in an after-life beyond our imagination. Today, however, this message reaches us not solely from the sages and saints but from the actual course of physical events. It speaks to us in the language of terrorism, genocide, breakdown, pollution, exhaustion. We live, it seems in a unique period of convergence. It is becoming apparent that there is not only a promise but also a threat in those astonishing words about the kingdom of God – the threat that ‘unless you seek first the kingdom, these other things, which you also need, will cease to be available to you’….

We shrink back from the truth if we believe that the destructive forces of the modern world can be ‘brought under control’ simply by mobilizing more resources – of wealth, education, and research – to fight pollution, to preserve wildlife, to discover new sources of energy, and to arrive at more effective agreements on peaceful coexistence. Needless to say, wealth, education, research, and many other things are needed for any civilization, but what is most needed today is a revision of the ends which these means are meant to serve. And this implies, above all else, the development of a life-style which accords to material things their proper, legitimate place, which is secondary and not primary.

The ‘logic of production’ is neither the logic of life nor that of society. It is a small and subservient part of both. The destructive forces unleashed by it cannot be brought under control, unless the ‘logic of production’ itself is brought under control – so that destructive forces cease to be unleashed. It is of little use trying to suppress terrorism if the production of deadly devices continues to be deemed a legitimate employment of man’s creative powers.

Nor can the fight against pollution be successful if the patterns of production and consumption continue to be of a scale, a complexity, and a degree of violence which, as is becoming more and more apparent, do not fit into the laws of the universe, to which man is just as much subject as the rest of creation. Equally, the chance of mitigating the rate of resource depletion or of bringing harmony into the relationships between those in possession of wealth and power and those without is non-existent as long as there is no idea anywhere of enough being good and more than enough being of evil….

It is hardly likely that twentieth-century man is called upon to discover truth that had never been discovered before. In the Christian tradition, as in all genuine traditions of mankind, the truth has been stated in religious terms, a language which has become well-nigh incomprehensible to the majority of modern men…

The type of realism which behaves as if the good, the true, and the beautiful were too vague and subjective to be adopted as the highest aims of social or individual life, or were the automatic spin-off of the successful pursuit of wealth and power, has been aptly called ‘crackpot-realism’. Everywhere people ask: ‘What can I actually do?’ The answer is as simple as it is disconcerting: we can, each of us, work to put our own inner house in order. The guidance we need for this work cannot be found in science or technology, the value of which utterly depends on the ends they serve; but it can still be found in the traditional wisdom of mankind.

Dreams

Dreams

Last night the room was uncluttered and clean
Wake to find dirt and debris scattered
The dread softened still not past
Spirit rises to remind
That the beautiful ugly trash of dreams
Seems the ugly beautiful trash of waking
Separated by sleep
Separated by nothing
The room was never uncluttered
Never trashed
Morning

© 2022 Bob Schwartz

Whatever the metaverse is, we are dangerously unready

We are not ready for the metaverse, whatever it is.

There isn’t yet a settled definition for the buzzword “metaverse”. Those who speak “knowledgeably” about it are like Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking-Glass, who said, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

Instead of defining, here are a couple of pertinent observers from the wayback: Marshall McLuhan in 1964 and Neil Postman in 1985. Both observed trends in media and society, both concluded that unexamined and unguided powerful progress could lead us unwittingly to dangerous territory.

They weren’t the first or last of such observers. But they were early—early enough to have possibly had some impact on just how careful we are in embracing this latest generation of the next new thing. To show how little impact they have had, it is likely that fewer than ever—very few now—know them or their work.

In the Introduction to Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Marshall McLuhan wrote:

After three thousand years of explosion, by means of fragmentary and mechanical technologies, the Western world is imploding. During the mechanical ages we had extended our bodies in space. Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned. Rapidly, we approach the final phase of the extensions of man — the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society, much as we have already extended our senses and our nerves by the various media.

The final phase of the extensions of man — the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society.

The media extensions of man McLuhan wrote about included Spoken Word, Written Word, Comics, Photograph, Press, Ads, Telegraph, Typewriter, Telephone, Phonograph, Movies, Radio, Television. While digital media and digital life were not an essential element in 1964, his description pertains more than ever: “[T]he technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society.”

In the Introduction to Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Neil Postman wrote:

[I]n Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”

Calling All Angels

Then it’s one foot, then the other as you step out on the road
Step out on the road, how much weight, how much?
Then it’s how long and how far and how many times
Oh, before it’s too late?


Santa Maria, Santa Teresa, Santa Anna, Santa Susannah
Santa Cecilia, Santa Copelia, Santa Domenica, Mary Angelica
Frater Achad, Frater Pietro, Julianus, Petronilla
Santa, Santos, Miroslaw, Vladimir and all the rest

A man is placed upon the steps and a baby cries
High above you can hear the church bells start to ring
And as the heaviness, oh, the heaviness, the body settles in
Somewhere you can hear a mother sing

Then it’s one foot, then the other as you step out on the road
Step out on the road, how much weight, how much?
Then it’s how long and how far and how many times
Oh, before it’s too late?

Oh, and every day you gaze upon the sunset with such love and intensity
Why?
It’s ah, it’s almost as if you could only crack the code then you’d finally understand
What this all means

Oh, but if you could, do you think you would trade in all
All the pain and suffering?
Oh, but then you’d miss the beauty of the light upon this earth
And the sweetness of the leaving

Calling all angels, calling all angels
Walk me through this one, don’t leave me alone
Calling all angels, calling all angels
We’re tryin’, we’re hopin’, we’re hurtin’, we’re lovin’
We’re cryin’, we’re callin’ ’cause we’re not sure how this goes

Written by Jane Siberry
Performed by k.d. lang and Jane Siberry

Nuclear koan

One nucleus splits to two.
Two nuclei fuse to one.
Fission.
Fusion.
Energy to destroy.
Energy to power.
Is it two?
Is it one?

© 2022 Bob Schwartz

Declaration and Constitution in Distress

It is a distress signal to display the American flag upside down.

But what kind of distress?

To make that clearer, above you will see a picture of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th upside down.

If that is not clear enough, here is a picture of the Constitutional Convention upside down.

Help. Happy Fourth of July.

The January 6 committee has figured out how to hit Trump pitching. Now what?

When a talented pitcher arrives in baseball with new and unseen stuff, hitters have to “figure him out.” For a while, sometimes for a long while, hitters are baffled. The better hitters are patient, watching, waiting, calculating. The lesser hitters just keep swinging and striking out.

For four years, Democrats on average couldn’t hit Trump pitching. Taking mighty swings like the Mueller Report and two impeachment trials, they whiffed.

Now comes the January 6 committee, which combining Democrats and a few willing Republicans, has figured out Trump pitching. Public hearing after hearing, inning after inning, they hit some singles, maybe a few for extra bases. With the testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, they hit one out of the park.

Have they broken the game wide open? We read today that the Washington Examiner, the capital’s conservative newspaper, has now said that “Trump is unfit to be anywhere near power ever again.”

The best hope is that Democrats will study and analyze the hearings and try to learn some lessons from them. Even if Trump recedes from the scene as the main player, there are going to be many years and elections featuring some of the same game. Those pitches are coming high and hard as soon as this November. Let us not strike out again.

© 2022 Bob Schwartz