Throw away holiness and wisdom,
and people will be a hundred times happier.
Throw away morality and justice,
and people will do the right thing.
Throw away industry and profit,
and there won’t be any thieves.
If these three aren’t enough,
just stay in the center of the circle
and let all things take their course.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 19, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Throw Them All Away, and What Then?
Yesterday, I said I was done with pretense. And, I am. I think you should be, too. All the things we have contrived to fill the void of the forgotten Tao, holiness and wisdom, morality and justice, and yes, even, industry and profit. They all need to be thrown away. But, what are we going to replace them with?
Many of my readers will get a huge kick out of that question. For, I know a lot of my readers have libertarian (even anarchistic) predilections. And, that is the one question we hear the most whenever we are arguing for less outward force being imposed on people. “What are you going to replace it with? Who will build muh roads?”
Of course, some, maybe even most, of my readers may still have some serious doubts about all of this throwing things away we have invested so much of ourselves in. The question of, what then, remains a valid one.
Lao Tzu is here to help us work through our struggle.
First, let us state one more time, the reason for throwing them all away. Then, we can get to the what then.
We said, yesterday, these outward constraints don’t work. They don’t achieve their intended consequences. And, they result in a whole host of horrible unintended consequences.
We need to understand the root of our problem. Then, we can strike at the root. The root is we have forgotten the great Tao. The Law is written in our hearts, we have just forgotten our Way. And, none of these things, holiness and wisdom, morality and justice, industry and profit, are “bad” in and of themselves. If they were flowing (happening), spontaneously, intuitively, naturally, effortlessly, from the core of our being – it would be all good. But, these things aren’t natural. They are artificial. The problem is we have forgotten the Tao. And, these are something being imposed on us from the outside. As long as we are relying on outward things, we will never remember the forgotten Tao.
Because they don’t work, no matter how good the intentions, and because the unintended result is horribly bad, we need to throw them away.
Take holiness and wisdom. Go ahead, be holy, be wise. Nothing wrong about that, at all. But, seek to impose your own view of what is holiness, what is wisdom, even if the majority agree with you, and that is just wrong. It doesn’t achieve the desired results. It is supposed to make people happy. Instead, it makes them miserable. But, if you would throw this artificial holiness and wisdom away, people would be a hundred times happier.
And, morality and justice. Once again, hard to say these are bad things. And they wouldn’t be, if they happened naturally. But the artificial morality and justice, imposed on people from outside themselves, and intended to make people do the right thing, yet not in agreement with their own hearts, not good at all. Throw them away, trust the people, they will do the right thing.
Industry and profit. For many of my readers, these will be the toughest ones to throw away. For others, you may not be able to wait to get the opportunity to do just that. But, whether you are one of those who are saying “Muh capitalism!” or “Blech, capitalism!”. There is very good reason to throw them away. And, we don’t even have to agree on a precise definition of capitalism to do so. Still, just as with holiness and wisdom, and morality and justice, they aren’t bad in themselves. It all has to do with whether we are talking about something which is occurring naturally, or being forced artificially. Put more succinctly, is the State involved? Lao Tzu actually foretold the problem back in chapter three: “If you overvalue possessions, people begin to steal.” It is the overvaluing that is the problem. And, that isn’t natural. Throw away the artificial, and there won’t be any thieves.
What then? Stephen Mitchell’s translation says, “If these three aren’t enough,” but other translators leave no doubt that just throwing these things away won’t be enough. And, the reason it won’t be enough, is because we still haven’t struck at the root of our problem. We have thrown away the artificial means contrived to deal with the problem, and that is good. But, the problem still remains. So, what then?
Once again, Stephen Mitchell translates it, “Just stay in the center of the circle and let all things take their course.” And, this does truly strike at the root of the problem. Begin practicing, and keep on practicing, trusting the Tao in your heart. Robert Brookes translates it, “Manifest simplicity, like an undyed silk. Hold to your natural state, like an uncarved wood. Cast off your ego, and curtail your desires.” Return to simply being yourself. Let go of everything artificial. Be the master of your desires. As you practice, you will remember.