THE TAO OF POLITICS
Most people think that Taoists should place themselves outside the everyday affairs of wo/men. They believe that a GOOD TAOIST should only reiterate Lao Tzu sayings on Pinterest and other social media, preferably accompanied by a nice graphic. This is the good path, the safe path, the middle ground that assures no-ones moral or political toes will be stepped upon.
But this interpretation of Taoism, seems more rooted in the Confucianist ideal of maintaining order, maintaining a strict hierarchy and ultimately maintaining power exactly where it is RIGHT NOW (cue toe tapping taoist tune)
COSTUMES AND BADGES
One of the key themes in my work is to present Tai Chi as a practice that challenges the constraints of hierarchy and ritual. Consequently, YES, I admit it! I do mock those that sell the art on its uniforms and certificates. Some say, that this is just the mOnk being controversial for controversy sake, but I'd argue that these dusty approaches to learning are inaccurate and unhelpful, and at worse, ingenious devices to maintain control in what Alan Watts has termed, a wiggly world.
Such myopia is evident too in the unspoken politics of each school - where for one school to be right, another must be wrong. For one style to be better, another must be worse. For one school to advertise itself as the “real thing”, implies all others are false. And this goes to the heart of the issue with the wearers of costumes, badges and belts, for in paving the rigid steps of progress through the reenactment of ritual, we undermine the tremendous plurality that students can bring to the arts, with their potential for evolution, their ripe tendency for tolerance and the coexistence of opposing ideas. Instead there is a best toleration, at worse condemnation for those that do not walk the same path.
Taoism gives us the tools for doing better. And we can do better.
The Tao Te Ching shows us that everything is in change and flux. There is, and there never has been a uniformity of perspective. Those that advertise most extensively, that shout loudest, that claim they possess the one truth, the correct lineage, the one true transmission - display an inflexibility at exactly the moment we need diversity and plurality.
In the writings of Chuang Tzu (Inner Chapters) we see a clear political affinity with the lowlands rather than the high peaks for it is there, we are told, that the Tao dwells, in the bottom of the valleys and in the streets rather than the embellished and righteous courts of the Confucians. And so to politics - without plurality, diversity and multiple forms of representation - we foster the unhealthy belief in the one single path, the single political body, the one religion, the one form of democracy, the one tai chi authentic form (ha ha), the single cake recipe, the one unique sandwich filling, that leads - as always - to competition, violence and war. Okay, maybe not over sandwiches but you get my point.
So what organisations can reflect ideals of flexibility, simplicity and plurality? Are there any organisational forms that foster the dust-free path, where not only is the exploitation of man by man opposed, but the dominion of man over man too?
Well, certainly there are seeds to be found in the collective ideals within the voluntary simplicity movement, there are interesting ideas in the downsizing movement, the occupation movement and of course - now hold on to your incense sticks here - the Anarchist movement. And before you call out the counter-terrorist police and issue them with my phone number, first look up something of anarchist history and the writers that have expressed parallel ideals, such as Henry David Thoreau who wrote that government is best which governs not at all.
Anarchism has a rather fascinating and extremely rich, creative history with pragmatic well organised proposals for a possible future. This would be just an academic discussion were it not for the Spanish experiment in 1936, recorded by George Orwell and later espoused eloquently by Noam Chomsky in which a new society came about that offered free non-politicised education, free health care, transport, homes, work for all etc etc. An example, unfortunately crushed by an international opposition. (See links below for references to these books, as well as novels and a version of the Tao Te Ching by Ursula Le Guin.)
So, to my point. Well, society has always been changed by new challenges to old ways. History has been forged by people who learnt from it, but were not chained to it. This is the history of the martial arts. We just forget it in our rush to revere the past masters, methods and rituals. Don't get me wrong, Taoism is great for bite-sized quotes, cloud watching commentaries and observations on nature, but lets not forget it also has an organisational side that leans - in my humble opinion - towards a libertarian localised form of representative politics.
So what do you think? Are these writers wildly wrong? Have they misunderstood the Tao Te Ching and the role of past masters? Are we liberated or chained to past ideals? Whatever you conclude, take a look at the links below. Leave a comment here, on twitter or FB and I'll try to answer as best I can.
This post is also available as a podcast.
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Contrary to popular belief, the teapotmOnk (paul read) is neither a mOnk nor a teapOt. He is, however, a writer on Tai Chi, speaker, course-creator & teacher with more than 25 years of experience. He can be found wandering between Andalucia (Spain) & Devon (Uk). More here.
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