Thursday, November 21, 2013

When Government is Evil


This blog brings up many economic and political issues that are easy to construe as evil. And, figuring out what we can do in the face of seemingly insurmountable oppression and power that negatively affects our lives is why many of us continue to wrestle with understanding what is going on in the government and economy.

What if the answer to these problems was already answered hundreds of years ago? How could anyone know what we would be dealing with now? The Chinese civilization is possibly the oldest surviving civilization on earth. They have been dealing with the issues of oppression by a ruling elite for a long time. So, while the specifics may be different now, the issue is the same.

In an article posted on IMOS, a modern-day recluse summarizes the philosophical differences of Confucianism and Taoism. I like his analogy of viewing the two as the yin and yang of historical China.
The genius of historical China rests in the oscillation between Confucian and Taoism, between yang and yin. Confucianism is concerned with politics, ritual, education, hierarchy -- all yang elements. Taoism is concerned with art, poetry, nature, seasons -- all yin elements. Within ancient China, these elements function like forces of energy, sometimes predominating, sometimes not. To find unique conceptions and insights is to identify ideas within both schools of thought. One such idea and practice is reclusion. Reclusion is the conscious disengagement from relations with authority figures and structures. In ancient China, reclusion was considered an expression of deep philosophy based on an ethical premise as much as a practical action based on empirical observation about survival and well-being. An ancient Chinese saying ascribed to Confucius is aptly summarized: “When the emperor is good, serve; when the emperor is evil, recluse.
The article talks about the dilemma people face on how to respond and what evolved in China hundreds and even a thousand plus years ago. The question is are these responses valid today? The Confucians believed that in certain circumstances it was acceptable to serve the government.
Two premises of the saying are clear. First, the saying assumes the inevitability of emperorship, and second, takes into account the vagaries of personality as the cause of stability or chaos. So-called good times legitimize not so much the emperor as the structure of empire. The saying promotes service in the state bureaucracy by the literate and intelligent of the day, often called scholars, usually scions of noble and mercantile families. Because the ancient Chinese state controlled all major enterprises, no other employment was deemed worthy of the educated man. On the other hand, if the emperor was tyrannical and authoritarian, as in the violence-ridden Warring States era (471-221 BCE), resignation from government service and avoidance of summons to service was considered ethical and necessary, regardless of hardship. But Confucian theory could not reconcile imperial wars and military conscription in its advice, however, because scholars were easily exempted.
 The Taoists, on the other hand believed it was never ethical to engage with authority. Sounds like some people I know today. Ha ha!
Taoists of the Former Han period (post-200s BCE) went further than Confucians. Taoists of this era maintained that the emperor and the empire were intrinsically evil. No service could be ethically justified, regardless of the personality of the emperor. To Taoists, Confucian recluses were mere retirees, not true recluses. The real issue was only the form of life that reclusion should take. The recluse must craft a life promoting the pursuits of virtue, which did not intersect with the goals of empire.
When thinking this through about my own personal response, I realized that my disengagement from emotionally involving myself in the political divisions is in a way a Taoist approach. The Taoists had three different ways of disengaging.
1)Reclusion in the city, or, becoming a “hermit of the marketplace,” a hermit in the crowd.” This life-style aimed at inconspicuousness, a low profile in the heart of the busy imperial capital or other cities, and in the midst of the thriving neighborhoods.
2)Reclusion to a farm or village affirmed the Taoist principles of simplicity and naturalness while providing greater anonymity than in a city and a more favorable setting for reflection and solitude. The recluse venturing to the land often worked side by side with simple folk of modest interests. Thus the intellectual Song Sheng-zhai quit the city to become a shepherd, take up the zither, become adept at calligraphy, and live in obscurity while practicing his virtue.
3)Reclusion to obscure natural places by those called by tradition “scholars of mountains and forests” and “men of cliffs and caves.” These were the classic hermits of ancient China who disengaged not only from the empire but from society itself, including to some degree rural society, living in virtual isolation.
I opted for #2 not knowing consciously at the time what some other part of me needed. The decision has turned out to be a good one for many reasons.

The IMOS article is not that long and I urge everyone to read the whole thing. Check it out at this link.

The Hermitary blog is also very interesting. There is a section with many links to films about hermits that you can watch on Youtube or Vimeo. Decide for yourself if any of these strategies work for you.

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