When a country is in harmony with the Tao,
the factories make trucks and tractors.
When a country goes counter to the Tao,
warheads are stockpiled outside the cities.
There is no greater illusion than fear,
no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself,
no greater misfortune than having an enemy.
Whoever can see through all fear
will always be safe.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 46, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
As I was thinking about today’s chapter in the Tao Te Ching, I was in the car coming home from tutoring. I was listening to NPR news on the radio, and the top story was President Obama’s press conference where he revealed that one of our many deadly drone strikes had inconveniently taken out two civilian hostages. One an American, and one an Italian. President Obama offered his condolences to the families, insisting that in the fogs of war, especially our endless (he said present) War on Terror, mistakes happen. He didn’t use the word inconvenient. But I think it is an appropriate word for our immoral actions all over the world. It was inconvenient that those hostages were there.
Of course, there also was some convenient news to report about this particular drone strike. It was also reported that two Americans, alleged al-Qa’ida operatives, were also assassinated in this drone strike. Now, why was that convenient? Well, because we are supposed to jump through special hoops before targeting Americans. But, just like we didn’t know the hostages were there, we, apparently, didn’t know the American alleged al-Qa’ida operatives were there either. And, since we weren’t actually targeting them specifically, their deaths were merely convenient. After all, we didn’t have to offer them any so-called “American” rights, some semblance of due process. How convenient!
Drone strikes always seem to have a way of being both inconvenient and convenient. We never seem to know until months after the bloody aftermath who we have killed. That is inconvenient for the families of the innocent victims. But it certainly is convenient for those who are motivated by fear to manufacture enemies out of thin air. We have stockpiles of weapons that we can’t allow to get dusty, after all. The health of the State depends on this endless war.
I think that would be how Randolph Bourne would see it. Lao Tzu just shakes his head, how counter to the Tao the health of the State is. For my part, I want a country in harmony with the Tao. There is a clear line that differentiates the State from a country. The State has no regards for any country. Including its own. All that matters is how many warheads it has stockpiled. And how best can we put those to use. Sure, there are going to be those inconveniences, that is just the tragedy of war. But, it is never the State that suffers those inconveniences. Only the country suffers those inconveniences. How convenient!
Yes, it is the country, with all its inhabitants, that suffers when the State is healthy, when the country goes counter to the Tao. It is individuals, like you, like me, like the hostages that weren’t supposed to be there, like the Americans that didn’t get anything near due process. Oh, to live in a country in harmony with the Tao. Factories making trucks and tractors? That is bliss!
And it is all because of something that Lao Tzu has earlier called nothing but a phantom. Fear. The greatest illusion of them all. Fear. It isn’t real, but succumbing to it has deadly consequences. Our rulers actually have people believing that what these drone strikes are actually accomplishing is defending us. Defending us? From who? An imaginary enemy, like those two hostages? Like the countless civilians that we have killed in all the years we have been using drone strikes? This is a defensive posture? No, you’re wrong. You couldn’t be more wrong. Why do we have all these enemies? Our rulers keep telling us that they hate us for our freedoms. What a crock! Our freedoms? What freedoms would those be? The ones pre-9/11? That would be just about all of them. We don’t have those anymore. But they still, supposedly, hate us. It couldn’t be that it isn’t little ol’ you and me that they hate. That it is the State, waging war on them, that induces them to hate.
This didn’t begin on 9/11. We have been running counter to the Tao for generations now. Meddling in affairs in which we had absolutely no business. No, I can’t say we didn’t have any business. Because it was always about business. Our meddling, and our wars, have always been about making a few people rich at the expense of all the rest of us. But when the health of the State is on the line, you can’t be in harmony with the Tao. It isn’t the State’s misfortune that we have an enemy. That is the State’s lifeblood. But it is our greatest misfortune.
Somehow, someway, we are going to have to figure out how to see through all the fear. That is the only way to always be safe. For my part, I have never been afraid of anyone that wasn’t an agent of the State. The State has manufactured for itself plenty of enemies for us to be scared of. But they aren’t my enemies. And I don’t fear them. But I do fear the State. Leviathan is pretty scary to me. And somehow, someway I have to be able to see through this fear, too. Then, I will be safe.