unlearning

Studying and learning daily you grow larger.
Following the Way daily you shrink.
You get smaller and smaller.
So you arrive at not doing.
You do nothing and nothing’s not done.

To run things,
don’t fuss with them.
Nobody who fusses
is fit to run things.

Lao Tzu
Ursula K Le Guin’s version

It seems as if Lao Tzu is advocating for ignorance here, but I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s a difficulty of the simplicity of the language.

We grow larger as we learn because the world broadens for us. Once you begin learning, there are so many things to learn!

The distinction, I think–or at least this is how I read it–is that much of what we learn is fruitless for us. Or rather, much of what we learn is ideology. We learn patriotism, capitalism, and how to fit into the gears of the machine that is the capitalist world.

And so much of what we learn can be seen as a learning how to dehumanize us.

It’s something I’ve always struggled with when it comes to most philosophy. For thousands of years, philosophers and theologians have argued for the necessity of war and slavery and abuse. They’ve made arguments that brush off the extreme human cost of civilization’s policies. And yet, any child understands what cruelty is, and why it’s better to be kind than to be cruel.

And so we teach ourselves to be cruel.

The Tao offers a different way.

And though I don’t know if this is what Lao Tzu means in this poem, it makes sense to me in this manner.

The goal is not to become ignorant. It’s to understand what teachings matter, which ones are valuable.

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