Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.
Weapons are the tools of fear.
A decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity;
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?
He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 31, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
We have been talking for days, now, about how our relationship with the Tao is determined by our relationship with the world around us. You need to see the world as your self. This is essential. How you view the world, whether you can accept it as it is, and, going along with that, accepting your self, just as you are, is essential. You can’t actually practice the one without practicing the other. And that is dependent on relying on the Tao. That is what we were talking about, yesterday. If you rely on the Tao you will believe in your self, you will be content with your self, and you will accept your self. And the result will be, the whole world will accept you.
But Lao Tzu said something else about relying on the Tao, yesterday. He was talking about how we relate to the world around us, of course. Because that is what it is all about. But he was specifically talking about relying on the Tao in governing people. He said “Whoever relies on the Tao…doesn’t try to force issues or defeat enemies by force of arms.” Using force goes against the current of the Tao. If you were relying on the Tao, you wouldn’t resort to the use of force. That is when he brought up an elementary physics lesson. It is a law of the Tao. “For every force there is a counter force. Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon one’s self.”
I promised, yesterday, that we were going to talk more about violence, today. And we shall. But before I do, I just want to say, one more time, every time you choose force, violence, you are going against the flow of the Tao. Whether or not you see the world as your self, what you do to others you do to your self. It always rebounds in that way.
Today, Lao Tzu talks about weapons. He identifies them as tools of violence and fear. Because of what Lao Tzu has said in the past about fear (it is a phantom that arises because we are thinking of the self as self) and violence (it goes against the current of the Tao, and always rebounds on the one that commits the violence), it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Lao Tzu has very strict rules to live by in their use.
Because they are tools of violence, all decent people detest them. Talk about a litmus test for decency. That is pretty strong. Not some, but all decent people detest weapons. Why do they detest them? Because they are tools of violence.
Violence is never the right solution to any problem. Like we keep saying, it goes against the current of the Tao. It is a choice made out of not relying on the Tao. And weapons, to the extent they are used as tools of violence, should be detested.
But detesting them doesn’t preclude using them. Lao Tzu has more to say about weapons and their use.
Because weapons are also the tools of fear, a decent person will avoid them except in direst necessity. We’re still talking about a litmus test for decency, here. A decent person will avoid them except… All decent people detest them always. A decent person avoids them except… They aren’t the first resort of decent people. And they probably aren’t the second or third or fourth resort, either.
They are a last resort. The direst necessity must compel them. And even then, only with the utmost restraint. That is the level of loathing and avoidance that guides the decent person in their use of weapons. I detest weapons. They are tools of violence. I avoid them, unless absolutely necessary. They are tools of fear. That is Lao Tzu’s litmus test of human decency.
He is still talking about human decency when he says, “Peace is his highest value.” Is Lao Tzu a pacifist? I always employ the term pacifist to refer to someone who would never resort to violence. So, Lao Tzu wouldn’t qualify. He sees reasons to resort to the use of weapons, for instance. But only as a last resort. Peace is his highest value doesn’t mean peace at whatever cost. But peace being his highest value does mean a whole lot. A decent person, certainly, couldn’t be content with the peace being shattered. But he understands that sometimes it is. And you can be sure it wasn’t shattered by someone for whom peace was their highest value. Decent people don’t shatter the peace. But decent people do come along to pick up the broken pieces, and work to put it back together again.
I am anti-war. Does that mean I am opposed to all war? Actually, it just about does. While I wouldn’t be opposed to a war based on direst necessity, and one waged with the utmost restraint, I don’t know of a war that has been waged, that fits into that category. If anyone can come up with a war which wasn’t a war of aggression, a war where both sides weren’t aggressors, please inform me of it. I am all for self-defense. But every attack on the sovereignty of my own country, was provoked by my own country. I am simply not buying the self-defense argument for any war we have ever engaged in.
Decent people don’t treat their enemies as demons, but fellow human beings. You can be sure, every time we have ever gone to war with anyone, it was either preceded by, or accompanied by dehumanizing of the enemy.
A decent person would never wish a fellow human being personal harm. That is why war propaganda exists. To deceive otherwise decent people into getting on board with the war.
That is why I don’t support our war efforts. And never will. I neither rejoice in our victories, nor celebrate our losses. I am torn here. To a certain extent, I wish that our losses would serve as a deterrent to the expansion of empire and war. That people would wake up and say, “No more!” But it shouldn’t just be our “brave” men and women going down in defeat that should move us. Our enemies are our fellow human beings. They are just like us. No matter the lies of the military industrial complex.
War is slaughter! Make no mistake about it. Both sides’ armies are merely pawns to be slaughtered. How could I rejoice in this game of chess? How could I delight in it? It is a slaughter. Decent people enter a battle gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if they were attending a funeral. Wars aren’t fought like that anymore, if they ever were. Maybe that is because decent people don’t go to the wars we wage. Hey troops, did you just read that? There is your litmus test for decency. Walk away now!