lying low

The polity of greatness
runs downhill like a river to the sea,
joining with everything,
woman to everything.

By stillness the woman
may always dominate the man,
lying quiet beneath him.

So a great country
submitting to small ones, dominates them;
so small countries,
submitting to a great one, dominate it.

Lie low to be on top,
be on top by lying low.

Lao Tzu
Ursula K Le Guin’s version

An interesting thought. Unfortunately, we don’t often see such things in the world so it’s hard to judge the validity of such an idea. As is often the case, even cultural imperialism is done by way of violence.

But it reminds me of an older definition of cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation did not originally mean the same thing as what it does now. The appropriation of culture was done by the minority culture. They took images and symbols of the majority, of the imperialist and appropriated them for their own use.

You see this all over the place. Literally all over the world. During the Soviet era, many Eastern Bloc architects and artists subverted the strict Soviet guidelines by appropriating them and coding in new meanings by subtly throwing in their own cultural heritage.

An interesting example of something like this is Irish Dance, which has been done with straight arms and a stiff upper body. This is not how it was originally done, but something that developed to duck the censors and policemen who had outlawed their culture. When the policemen walked past the pub and peeked inside, it looked like everyone was just standing around.

Or the way the Irish sneaked swans into their verses and iconography.

And so it happened that the populations seemed to give into the force of their oppressor while fighting subtly and continuously for freedom.

Most of them gained freedom.

And so this poem takes on an interesting light when you look at it this way. How submission is not the same as losing. How domineering over another state or culture only blossoms resistance and creativity.

For every tyrant, there is art. For every oppressed people, there is hope. As long as they have art, they can have hope. As long as they seem to bow their heads when the tyrants walk past, they can survive. All the while weaving dissent and their own cultural history into the fabric of the imperialists.

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