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)
Yesterday, Lao Tzu began by offering us an elementary physics lesson to explain the violence inherent in trying to force issues. Our present leaders, and those in line to come after them, don’t rely on the Tao in governing us. Instead they rely on force, violence, to accomplish their ends. The end always justifies whatever means they wish to employ. It takes a wise and virtuous person to realize, it doesn’t matter how good your end is, if you don’t rely on the Tao for your means.
After our physics lesson, Lao Tzu then delved into the psychology behind those who always resort to the use of force. It comes down to over compensation. If they believed in themselves, if they were content with themselves, if they accepted themselves, they wouldn’t try to control things. They wouldn’t need to.
In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu begins by talking about the tools of violence and fear, the tools our rulers employ. And, then, he gives us a litmus test for decency.
All decent people detest weapons. They are used as tools of violence. All decent people avoid weapons, except in the direst necessity. They are the tools of fear.
Decency requires of us, the utmost restraint when we are compelled to use weapons. Peace should be our highest value. It is not possible for the decent to be content, when the peace has been shattered.
Is Lao Tzu some kind of pacifist? I wouldn’t characterize him in this way. I would call him a realist. He sees things as they are. Peace is his highest value. Make no mistake about that. But, when the peace has been shattered, he may be compelled to use weapons. Yet, only with the utmost restraint.
A realist understands their enemies are not demons, but fellow human beings. This flies in the face of the propaganda we are constantly being fed by the ruling elite. They want us to dehumanize the enemy. They want us to believe this manufactured “evil” wishes us “personal” harm. And, it is only right, we should wish them personal harm, as well. But, a realist, a decent person, sees things as they actually are, and not the way those, who wish to mislead us, would have us see things.
Decency requires of us that we not rejoice in victory. This is why I won’t be waving any flags to commemorate our shallow victories in war. How could I rejoice in victory, and delight in the slaughter of men, women, and children?
Lao Tzu is a decent person, a realist, who, compelled to take up arms, enters a battle gravely. With sorrow. With great compassion. A realist understands what that battle is, what all battles are. Once you start seeing the world as your self, that all your “enemies” are your brothers and sisters, you understand you are attending your own funeral. We drape flags over caskets which return from battles. But, as Howard Zinn put so eloquently, there is no flag large enough to cover our shame.
I said there was going to be a litmus test for decency in today’s chapter; and, there it is. A decent person feels shame, because of the innocents, who have been massacred in our name. It takes someone who is truly indecent to make jokes about it. Which is why, when people start talking about standards of indecency, I don’t much care to talk about all the superficial ways people try to use to measure it. Lao Tzu was a realist; and, so am I. It is time we all got real.