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January 26th, 2010

Useless usefulness and useful uselessness.

Chapter four of the Chuang-tzu is called "The Human World."    It might have been called "About political advising, two trees, a hunchback. and a madman."  Cautions about political advice take up about two-thirds of the chapter.  When it comes to offering political advice to powerful rulers, the prime directive seems to be: don't.  Don't give advice unless you are asked, ordered to give it.  And don't go off half cocked.   Full awareness and adherence to the Tao is essential; and even then you may suffer the consequences of unwelcome advice or bad advice.

Here Confucius seems to be cast in the role of a Taoist sage; frequently put down and sometimes slandered in the Chuang-tzu, here he seems to be giving wise instruction to those who would instruct others on policy matters and to possess a good grasp of the psychology of power.  You don;t want to cross powerful people.  If you have less than the full power of the Tao in you, you will fail and you may die.

     "The Way does not like adulteration;  if there is adulteration, there is complication;  and if there is complication there is unease;
     If there is unease there is worry, worry that cannot help."

Unspoken, but implied, is the idea that corrupt power (and all political and economic  power is corrupt) will not tolerate unease and worry and will strike out at the imagined source of that unease and worry.

However, if you are asked to serve, it is your duty to serve (now, this sounds like Confucius being Confucius).  You must get along with the powerful people and the possibility of being corrupted by them is great.  You must engage in mental fasting.

     " you unify your will.  Hear with the mind instead of the ears; hear with the energy instead of the mind.  Hearing stops at the ears; the mind stops at contact; but energy is that which is empty and responsive to others.  The Way gathers in emptiness, emtiness is mental fasting.

While these stories deal with the futility of trying to be useful; the final stories speak of the utility of trying to be useless..  Ugliness and apparent disability and dis-utility leave people freer to follow the Way rather than the lesser paths offered by societies and cultures.  At the same time, unexpected utilities may emerge out of  apparent uselessness.  The tree that the woodsmen and carpenters reject, grows to enormous size and provides shelter for numerous people and animals in need of shade and rest from hot, dusty travel.  The hunchback provides well for his family because he is free from the threat of conscript labor.

Thomas Cleary quotes contemporary Taoist sage Fu-kuei-tzu:  "The whole book of Chuang-tzu is centered on transcending the world, but people who have transcended the world since ancient times have seen (to?) the affairs of the world first,  for only then could they cut through to rise above the world.  Therefore this chapter goes back to use the task of involvement with the world as a vehicle for teachings on transcending the world."

When General Colin Powell accepted the job of Secretary of State in the Cabinet of George W. Bush, he was a man of integrity, but not a man of Tao,  When he made his UN  speech on WMDs in Iraq, he disgraced himself and his country and his words led to the loss of thousands of American and Iraqi lives,  General Powell had a duty to serve as Secretary of State when asked to do so by the President; but he also had a duty to understand the psychology of power and to become aware how easy it is for persons of great integrity and great intelligence and great accomplishment to become snared by the trappings of Presidential power.  Chuang Chou might have been able to teach him.

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bobby1933
bobby1933

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