A Taoist wouldn’t advise a ruler
to use force of arms for conquest;
that tactic backfires.
Where the army marched
grow thorns and thistles.
After the war
comes the bad harvests.
Good leaders prosper, that’s all,
not presuming on victory.
They prosper without boasting,
or domineering, or arrogance,
prosper because they can’t help it,
prosper without violence.
Things flourish then perish.
Not the Way.
What’s not the Way
Imagine a time in American history when we had a president who wasn’t devoted to violence.
I think we’d be a very different nation had such a president ever been elected.
Instead we’re a culture of violence and death.
But that’s beside the point. It’s perhaps easy to see my attachment to Taoism most clearly in this poem, as it is a strong and definitive stance against violence and for pacifism. I don’t know exactly when I became a pacifist, but it’s been a very long time. I want to say it’s when I was in sixth grade, but it might be more useful to think of it as being when I was fourteen, which is a bit later and when I had time to think more about it. Though I do remember arguing very strongly against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan when I was just a kid.
But it’s hard for me to not think of my own identity as an american. I’ve always felt disconnected from this country, and not just on an ideological level, and yet I am forever bound to it by accident of geography. No matter where I go or how far I wander, I will always belong to america because nationalism is still such a powerful (toxic) idea in the hearts and minds of so many people.
Lao Tzu talks about the price of war here, which is something I often describe as a disease. In the wake of war, only thistles and thorns will grow. I take that as a metaphor for the cost of war. It’s more than simply a body count. There’s a price we pay as a society for violence, and it’s steep. It debases all of us. Strips us of humanity.
Last night, it was confirmed that Trump’s first dronestrike as president killed an 8 year old american citizen named Nawar al-Awlwaki. Her 16 year old american brother, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was killed in 2013 by dronestrike under Barack Obama.
There was little pushback against the Obama Administration for murdering a child, an american citizen, and there’s still little pushback now that Trump is president for murdering another child, another american citizen.
Our government has now murdered nearly an entire family for the alleged crimes of their father (we used to have courts that judged who was innocent and guilty, but now we have drones). We also murdered him, as you can see from the link there.
We have poisoned ourselves for so long with violence that we no longer even understand the price we paid, the loss of our own humanity.
What Trump did was despicable, yet few people are discussing it. And I think it’s because it draws an uncomfortable reality about the Obama Administration, who liberals love. Obama’s Administration committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. Dronestrikes are terrorism, and we use them as tools to secretly murder anyone that the presiding administration sees as a threat. Or even just a potential threat. I don’t have anything to say in defense of Anwar al-Awlaki. By all accounts, he was a miserable excuse for a human. Just as I have no words to defend Osama bin-Laden.
But I watched my country cheer over the illegal murder of him. We cheered like savages. We are the barbarians of the world, toppling civilisations, and I am reminded of it daily by our neverending war for supremacy against poor Arabs in decimated nations.
Osama bin-Laden and Anwar al-Awlwaki were terrible people if even half the crimes they were accused of are true. If even one of them is. But the way civilised humans deal with monsters is by making them account for their crimes.
We don’t murder them in secret and then dance on their graves.
Even Osama bin-Laden deserved his day in court. Partly because his crimes were not solely against the US. Entire nations wanted him held accountable. They didn’t want him murdered like an animal.
The same is true of Anwar al-Awlwaki.
And his children–children–did not deserve to die because of the accident of genetics and geography.
The Tao asks for balance. For kindness and empathy. For understanding. And it’s hard to find that in america. There are bright spots, of course, and entire sources of light, but I see so much darkness and death and destruction in the will of my people that it’s hard to hold my head up sometimes.
This is a fitting poem today.
It’s fitting as a rebuke to our government of blood and chaos and ash and smoke.
I see no balance today. I see no future for this benighted nation of cowards, savages, and thieves.
Sorry to be such a downer, but it’s becoming more difficult to make a daily consideration of the Tao when I’m inundated with such violence.
But I keep trying. I’ll keep trying.
I hope you’ll try too.
And I hope this new appetite for activism in the US will extend justice to the countless people we’ve destroyed from the Middle East.