Smile Politely

The versus verses

Third times charm. I am using my new voice recognition software to dictate this column. Five minutes ago I deleted my entire effort up to that point. For the second time. I’m afraid to say the word limits ballot than spell DEL ET E. That was not supposed to read limits ballot ban, it was supposed to say    well    forget it new paragraph.

This is just great. You’re just going to have to suffer with me.

Okay, really, typing is easier, but I insist on getting my money’s worth. I’m not giving up. Richard Powers writes his novels using dictation, but he’s a Jeanie is, isn’t he?

As I was about to say, last Thursday I was trapped in a middle school classroom, room 1643, with two students pretending to work on a science project. I had brought work of my own to do. Substitutes can get away with that.

I was reading the Tao date change. (Well at least it got the word out right. In parenthesis I mean) doubt TAO

I give up. The poetry of voice recognition is one thing. A good thing, I suppose. But this week I have something to say, more or less, and I’d like to get it out in some manner of reasonable, non-Dada comprehensibility.

So, as I was saying, there I was, sitting in the middle school science class, and I was reading the Tao Te Ching, verses 30 and 31, in my Shambhala Pocket Classic edition (as you may have surmised, I am letting my fingers do the talking at this point), and these were the familiar lines.

“It is the nature of a military weapon to turn against its wielder.

Wherever armies are stationed, thorny bushes grow.
After a great war, bad years invariably follow.
Fine weapons of war augur evil.”

When I got home, I compared the lines to the Stephen Mitchell translation, a beautifully poetic interpretation, and found the following:

“Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men
doesn’t try to defeat enemies by force of arms.

For every force there is a counterforce.
Violence, even well intentioned,
always rebounds upon oneself.
Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.”

Stop the presses. Somebody tell the NRA.

I turned one more time to verses 30 and 31, to my well-worn, hardbound Modern Library edition by Lin Yutang, its pages stained by wax from hippy candle-making days. For these particular verses, I think this edition says it best:

He who by Tao purposes to help the ruler of men
Will oppose all conquest by force of arms.
For such things are wont to rebound.

Of all things, soldiers are instruments of evil,
Hated by men.
Therefore the religious man (possessed of Tao) avoids them.
Even in victory, there is no beauty.”

OK, not exactly “Support the Troops,” is it?

To me, though, these words attributed to Lao-tse in whatever translation seem a lot less like religion and a lot more like the actual science those rabbity little 7th graders, bless their hearts, were studying. The words seem as obvious as gravity. And repeated experimentation has confirmed verifiable results.

Jesus said basically the same thing, but society and established religions tend to twist those words, find excuses, loopholes, and exceptions. I have my theories why this is the case, but I’m not ascribing intents and purposes, at least until I get my voice recognition software up and running.

The other day, though, it was a different story. One of the people I regularly wrangle with online is Robert, a person I’ve never met who I believe lives somewhere in Florida, and with whom I always argue. On someone else’s blog, in the comments, he wrote to me:

“I have no clue where you get this idea that I hate or fear Muslims. My heart goes out to them, and I love them dearly, both as a group, and many individually. Why you had no compassion for thousands upon thousands of Iraqi Muslims dying at the hands of Saddam I have no idea. You argue with me as if I like war. Be serious. I love freedom, and I understand that sometimes you need to defend it. Jesus came to the aid of those who were in need. Why would you not want our country to do the same?”

OK, Robert, I thought, envisioning Jesus dressed up in camouflage and sporting a Avtomat Kalashnikova Model 1947 (AK-47). I replied:

“I do think we should have gone to the aid of the Iraqis under Saddam. That’s the whole point. We should have been utterly sacrificial and generous to a fault. We should have sacrificed thousands of American lives and billions of American dollars to improve their lives, with humanitarian aid and programs, with genuine outpouring of love and goodness. The result would have been inestimably greater than the fiasco of the war and torture we committed, which — perhaps coincidentally and perhaps not — also APPEARED to serve our material interests, with potential control over oil, over the region, and profits, profits, profits for the oil companies, the mercenary contractors, and the former company of the serving vice president of the United States. Oh, yes. It really looked like we cared “deeply” about the Iraqi people. Sure, we did.”

I succumb to sarcasm as well as to idealism, I admit. But it isn’t really idealism. If we are to believe Lao-tse and Jesus, it’s realism. More importantly, if we are to believe what Mark sings in Rent, “The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.” And that must be true, because you can get it as a ringtone.

Two more things before I stop opining and go back to voice recognition frustration.
I learned last week that 95% of the guns used in the drug wars in Mexico are produced in, and imported from, the United States. People talk about the violence in Mexico, but we’re backing it with the guns.

Last thing:

Tao Te Ching, verse 46, Stephen Mitchell translation, emphasis mine:

When a country is in harmony with the Tao,
the factories make trucks and tractors.
When a country goes counter to the Tao,
warheads are stockpiled outside the cities.

There is no greater illusion than fear,
no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself,
no greater misfortune than having an enemy.

Whoever can see through all fear
will always be safe.

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