December 28th, 2008

Anarchism and Mysticism: A preface

" can only be kind or cruel if you have, and cherish, a self.  You can't even be indifferent if you aren't different.  Altruism is the other side of egoism.  Followers of the Way, like the forces of nature, act selflessly."

Above is the conclusion of Ursula K. Le Guin's commentary on chapter 5 of the Tao te Ching.  Both Lao Tse and Ursula Le Guin have been called anarchists, so her interpretation of the TTC could be called an anarchist translation of an anarchist text.  This text also is one of the great works of mysticism,

Chapter 5 has always troubled me because the sage seems to be portrayed as a monster.  But nature does not produce monsters; it only produces things, viruses, plants, and animals.  Things, viruses, plants, and almost all animals act according to nature.  Humans alone give themselves the option of questioning what their nature is and whether they can and should improve on it,  Chapter 5 is not the TTC's "satanic verses" because the sage was trying to follow the Way that is beyond good and evil, not so much to ignore "evil" as to do "good" more spontaneously and selflessly. 

I want to create a journal entry raising questions about the possible relationship between mysticism and anarchism which I think exists and which I think runs both ways.  Any suggestions, particularly from Catholic Worker Movement admirers, would be welcomed.

          Useful Emptiness

  Heaven and earth are not humane,
  To them the ten thousand things
  are straw dogs.

  Wise souls aren't humane.
 To them the hundred families *
  are straw dogs.

  Heaven and earth
  act as bellows:

 Empty, yet structured,
  it moves, inexhaustively giving.

                         Tao te Ching, Chapter 5, Le Guin's version

*this line often reads "They treat people ruthlessly" or "indifferently," or "like dummies" (which is what straw dogs are)