To reflect on our times, I chose the allegory of The Sacrificial Swine shared in The Way Of Chuang Tzu, interpreted by Thomas Merton. The story is here: https://tinyurl.com/sacrificialswine
It is this line that caught my attention, after the Grand Augur has decided that, though the pigs would prefer a long life of coarse feed in simple pens, rather than being sacrificed, it is a nobler existence - and it mirrors his own - to have finery and honors, even at the cost of untimely death. “So he decided against the pigs’ point of view, and adopted his own point of view, both for himself and for the pigs also.”
In the past year I have been on a journey prompted by the recent spate of police shootings of Black folks, as well as the 2016 presidential election and its outcome. I have taken stock of my enormous privilege as a white, middle-class, heterosexual, able-bodied, English-speaking citizen of the U.S. I am also cisgender (I identify with the gender I was assigned at birth), and I have materially benefited from settler colonialism and theft against the indigenous peoples of the land where I live: more privilege.
I have committed to learning more and engaging more in grassroots anti-oppression work, much of it in supporting communities of color as they face over-policing, incarceration, detention, and deportation.
In the past year, I have been thinking a lot about the points of view that those of us with privilege in the U.S. empire choose to adopt, “both for ourselves and for [others] also.”
I think particularly of our continued engagement in communities of the Global South (often known as “Third World Nations”). How noble, we could say along with the Grand Augur, to have their borders drawn by the West, and their oil and other resources extracted for the West’s finery … all while their land, culture, and self-determination are destroyed in the process.
I think of communities like Apple Farm, committed to symbolic, inner life. As members of American society, we are complicit, even if unknowingly, in the tradition of empire the last 500 years. To echo Chuang Tzu’s critique, how noble, for indigenous people to have their mythologies and symbols extracted for our essential soul work - while their families and communities have been systematically oppressed and killed.
Should we be concerned about this? If so, how should we proceed?
It is difficult to write about this, and perhaps difficult to read. In part I am angry at myself that it wasn’t until the election of our current president that I saw him as the culmination of years of empire. His administration is not an anomaly. (The Obama administration oversaw 3 million deportations - the highest number ever in the U.S.) Because the 45th president is so much more blatant about aligning with white patriarchy, we see the belief more clearly - that the colonizing white settlers of the U.S. now own the world. The 45th president doesn’t hide this fact behind Euro-centric diplomacy.
I hold this anger in tension with what underlies all Taoist writing. Chuang Tzu is, of course, mocking the self-importance of all civilized state and religion: “How fortunate those swine, whose existence was thus ennobled by one who was at once an officer of state and a minister of religion.”
Chuang Tzu, within the context of his other writings, is mocking the institutions that require finery. The Tao, the Way, is in part an experience of Nothing. No built-up systems, no elaborate and showy rituals, no fancy dress, no important positions. It is small and not “useful.”
It is uncut wood, not the table.
It is pigs eating ordinary coarse feed and being left alone.
It is not rapacious development or economic growth and it is certainly not war nor quasi-legal ongoing “military interventions.” Yet it accepts all these things.
It is doing by not-doing, being by not-being.
In this case, it is respect for what is.
The Tao is always present, and always available, even in our highly developed and neo-colonized world. As Helen Luke might say, the Tao holds my anger and many other attitudes in a wholeness that is beyond the tension of the opposites.
As I fight the power, as I rage against a machine that actively hurts families with whom I work and live in solidarity, there are times … times when I’m able to do so from this way of doing by not-doing. I can move in a way that doesn’t seem to be movement. I can act in a way that doesn’t seem to be action.
It is the most powerful resistance I know how to live in our times.