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The prime directive

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

[cut and pasted by Lynn C. Rees]


It has been the uniform policy of this Government, from its foundation to the present day, to abstain from all interference in the domestic affairs of other nations. The consequence has been that while the nations of Europe have been engaged in desolating wars our country has pursued its peaceful course to unexampled prosperity and happiness. The wars in which we have been compelled to engage in defense of the rights and honor of the country have been, fortunately, of short duration. During the terrific contest of nation against nation which succeeded the French Revolution we were enabled by the wisdom and firmness of President Washington to maintain our neutrality. While other nations were drawn into this wide-sweeping whirlpool, we sat quiet and unmoved upon our own shores. While the flower of their numerous armies was wasted by disease or perished by hundreds of thousands upon the battlefield, the youth of this favored land were permitted to enjoy the blessings of peace beneath the paternal roof. While the States of Europe incurred enormous debts, under the burden of which their subjects still groan, and which must absorb no small part of the product of the honest industry of those countries for generations to come, the United States have once been enabled to exhibit the proud spectacle of a nation free from public debt, and if permitted to pursue our prosperous way for a few years longer in peace we may do the same again.

But it is now said by some that this policy must be changed. Europe is no longer separated from us by a voyage of months, but steam navigation has brought her within a few days’ sail of our shores. We see more of her movements and take a deeper interest in her controversies. Although no one proposes that we should join the fraternity of potentates who have for ages lavished the blood and treasure of their subjects in maintaining “the balance of power,” yet it is said that we ought to interfere between contending sovereigns and their subjects for the purpose of overthrowing the monarchies of Europe and establishing in their place republican institutions. It is alleged that we have heretofore pursued a different course from a sense of our weakness, but that now our conscious strength dictates a change of policy, and that it is consequently our duty to mingle in these contests and aid those who are struggling for liberty.

(more…)

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& a new post — Time & Space, exact and vast, in few words

Saturday, June 28th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- matching aphorisms for a glimpse of contrasting worldviews -- Western, Taliban, South Asian, African, ISIS ]

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Francesca Borri, writing for Al-Monitor under the title Behind the black flag: current, former ISIS fighters speak, is my source for the aphorism in the upper panel, which, if I might move up a level or two of abstraction, translates to the “ratio”:

you : bounded :: we : boundless

in spatial terms — really not a far cry from its temporal equivalent in the lower panel:

you : time-bound :: we : time free

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Here’s a touch of context for the ISIS fighter’s remark:

M. is still a fighter. When ISIS withdrew eastward, he withdrew, too, speaking to Al-Monitor via Skype from Al Bab. Aleppo’s countryside is scattered with ISIS gunmen.

I asked M. if his movement was bent on redrawing the map of the Middle East, to which he replied, “There is no map. … Where you see borders, we see only your interests.”

And here’s Joel Hafvenstein at Registan, supported by the redoubtable Joshua Foust, describing the alleged Taliban aphorism as “oddly condescending and inapt” in a 2010 post titled Oh, And We Have The Watches Too:

I’m curious: has anyone out there ever personally heard an insurgent (or any Afghan, for that matter) use the proverb, “You have the watches, but we have the time”?

I’ve heard it quoted grimly by a lot of NATO military personnel, and of course it’s been repeated ad nauseam by the media.  But it sounded strange and inauthentic to me from the first time I heard it in 2003.   I never saw it attributed to an actual Afghan; many early reports openly called it apocryphal, before it took on a life of its own.  In my admittedly limited experience, I’ve never heard it used by an Afghan.  But it’s a familiar phrase in other parts of South Asia and Africa, where it’s used very differently: to contrast the soulless Western rat race with the local good life.

So the DoubleQuote may be a QuoteMisquote, at least as far as Afghanistan is concerned – but whether its talking insurgency warfare or the good life, it suggests — as does the upper quote — that an overly-calibrated life may lose in its rigidity what a more free-form and responsive life may gain in fluidity.

Shades of Lao Tsu, and the way that can be quantified is not the way of quality!

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Of maps and territories

Monday, April 28th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- Lao Tzu with a quick boost from CS Lewis -- Tao, Logos and a line of water can be traced across the face of North America ]
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The Tao of Korzybski


The Tao of Korzybski


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I have long been an admirer of Lao Tzu, and in particular of the opening phrases of the Tao Te Ching, which Stephen Mitchell renders thus:

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

Lao Tzu, of course, is working within a language that’s impressionistic enough to allow each word multiple resonant connotatations, and English translations of his work are correspondingly very many and varied, as we shall see.

Ursula le Guin translates those same lines:

The way you can go
isn’t the real way.
The name you can say
isn’t the real name.

We can phrase Lao Tzu’s opening lines simply thus:

The way that can be described isn’t the Way:
The name that can be pronounced isn’t the Name.

As an aside, Le Guin lets the cat out of the bag a bout “true names” in her marvelous book, Wizard of Earthsea, in which she writes:

Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name.

But it’s the Way rather than the Name — not that the two can be anything other than two ways to name the One — which concerns me here, because one of the first DoubleQuotes I’m consciously aware of formulating matched Lao Tzu’s:

The way that can be described isn’t the Way

with Alfred Korzybski‘s central insight in Science and Sanity:

The map is not the territory.

That’s what I was suggesting in the illustration I’ve put at the head of this post, which dates back to the early seventies, several decades before I began developing the HipBone Games, let alone the DoubleQuotes format I now use…

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All of which would be one of those treasures I keep stashed in my heart (“where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal”) — except that the other day I stumbled on a CS Lewis quote that sheds considerable new light on Lao Tzu’s dictum:

A CS Lewis quote, illustrated

That CS Lewis quote comes from New Learning and New Ignorance, an essay Scott Shipman generously introduced me to the other day. It’s the Introduction to one of his works of literary-histporical criticism, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama! And in his simple, elegant formulation –

roads and small rivers could not be made visible in maps unless their width were exaggerated

— we have an explanation of one way in which the map must indeed distort the territory if it is to be of any use, one way in which the Way cannot be shoehorned into words.

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Which brings us to the river whose width is exaggerated, just as Lewis said it would be, in the aerial photo of the continental US that I’ve placed in the DoubleQuote panel directly above the Lewis quote.

It seems [t]his creek divides the US connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, to quote the title of Jesus Diaz’ fascinating article from which that image comes:

The Panama Canal is not the only water line connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. There’s a place in Wyoming—deep in the Teton Wilderness Area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest—in which a creek splits in two. Like the canal, this creek connects the two oceans dividing North America in two parts. [ ... ]

The creek divides into two similar flows at a place called the Parting of the Waters … To the East, the creek flows “3,488 miles (5,613 km) to the Atlantic Ocean via Atlantic Creek and the Yellowstone, Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.” To the West, it flows “1,353 miles (2,177 km) to the Pacific Ocean via Pacific Creek and the Snake and Columbia Rivers.”

I’m not often impressed by matters of scale, but that hits my sweet spot. And it seems that fish don’t need to worry about the Panama canal and the political complexities attendant on it –

it is thought that this was the pass that provided the immigration route for Cutthroat Trout to migrate from the Snake River (Pacific) to Yellowstone River (Atlantic) drainages.

All of which fits nicely with the title of one of Alan Watts‘ books: Tao: the Watercourse Way

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In that book, incidentally, Watts — himself an Anglican priest as well as a long time Zen practitioner — has an interesting observation about the Tao:

Weiger gives Tao the basic meaning “to go ahead.” One could also think of it as intelligent rhythm. Various translators have called it the Way, Reason, Providence, the Logos, and even God…

Thomas Merton, in Zen and the Birds of Appetite, picks up the thread, telling us:

Dr. Wu is not afraid to admit theat he brought Zen, Taoism and Confucianism with him into Christianity. In fact in his well-known Chinese translation of the New Testament he opens the Gospel of St. John with the words, “In the beginning was the Tao.”

And here we’re back to CS Lewis, who wrote in a letter to Clyde Kirby, editor of A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C. S. Lewis and author of The Christian World of C. S. Lewis:

is not the Tao the Word Himself, considered from a particular point of view?

There are times when a network of ideas is so close-woven as to form an intricate virtual conversationa, a bead game, even.

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Appendix: further readings

You have been very kind to follow me thus far, but while I’m at it I’d like to drop in some readings for those who might like to engage in further exploration of Lao Tzu.

175+ Translations of Chapter 1

These include Wade-Giles & Pinyin Romanizations, plus translations and interpretations by, among others, John Chalmers (1868), James Legge (1891), D.T. Suzuki and Paul Carus (1913), Aleister Crowley (1918), Dwight Goddard (1919), Arthur Waley (1934), John C.H. Wu (1939), Lin Yutang (1942), Witter Bynner (1944), D.C. Lau (1963, 1989), Wing-Tsit Chan (1963), Timothy Leary (1966), Peter A. Boodberg (1968), Gia-fu Feng and Jane English (1972), Stephen Mitchell (1988), Thomas Cleary (1991), Ursula K. Le Guin (1998), and Jonathan Star (2001)…

Peter Boodberg’s Philological Notes on Chapter One of The Lao Tzu

These are remarkable, if for no other reason than for giving us the phrase “Myriad Mottlings’ mother”. His versiom of the opening — in what he descibes as having “little literary merit” while reflecting “to the best of my ability, every significant etymological and grammatical feature, including every double entendre, that I have been able to discover in the original”. Boodberg’s whole paper is somewhat stunning — here are the two opening lines:

Lodehead lodehead-brooking : no forewonted lodehead;
Namecall namecall-brooking : no forewonted namecall.

Comments on the Tao Te Ching using the D.C. Lau translation (Penguin Books, 1963):

Tao chapter 1

Verse 1 [see Chinese text and literal translation]: “The Way that can be spoken of/ Is not the constant way.” The Tao Te Ching begins with a pun: “Way” and “spoken of” (“said”) are the same character (Dào). So the first line says: “The Tao that can be tao-ed is not the constant Tao.” “The name that can be named…” Here the pun can be maintained in English, where “name” can be both noun and verb. The quality of a translation of the Tao Te Ching can usually be determined from the rendering of these lines. Those determined to unpack the meaning of Taoism in the translation, according to their own interpretation of Taoist doctrine, will often render these terse sentences into a paragraph, sometimes with irrecognizable renderings of the key words. The affection of a translator for Taoism cannot excuse a method that only obscures the nature of the text itself.

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Hey, I think of those first two verses of the Lao Tzu as a “pattern” in the Christopher Alexander sense, with Korzybski’s version and CS Lewis additional insight featuring as examplars of the more general principle. I thought I’d do a quick search and wind up with some of my own playful uses of those two phrases in different situations and for different audiences / readerships:

  • The pronounceable name isn’t the unpronounceable name.
  • The flow that can be capped isn’t the overflowing flow.
  • The quantity that can be counted is not the unaccountable quality.
  • The verbal formulation of x is not the x itself.
  • No way the way can be put into words.
  • The problem that can be described isn’t our actual situation.
  • The describable aint it.
  • More I grasp you, baby, more you disappear…
  • and not to put too fine a point on it…

  • the way that can be mapped is not the way to go, the meaning that can be put into words is not the final word
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    Taoism with Intelligence, yeah!

    Monday, December 30th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- this post is useless and a delight, if you catch the same drift I do ]
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    Well you know me, I love juxtapositions and variations on a theme, and I have a keen interest in applying them with intelligence to Intelligence — especially where it meets Religion — so this one’s a natural!

    I mean, you might think the upper panel was an IC logo since it uses the word “intel”, but it’s not — it’s the long-time logo for a brand of computer chips from Intel Corp — now found in both PCs and Macs.

    But the IC was not to be outdone, and — mirabile dictu — has responded with its own “inside” logo. Intel is fine, you see, but frankly Tao is better.

    My own preferred Taoist text is that of Chuang Tzu‘s Inner Chapters — “chapters inside” one might almost say — which you can find translated by the excellent Burton Watson in Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings.

    Open it up, go inside…

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    NSA’s Tao source:

  • Der Spiegel
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    Arresting Citizens, part II: Religion

    Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- on the religious and irreligious attributes of the sovereign citizen movement, with a glance at syncretism and the Grateful Dead ]
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    There’s something of a question as to whether the US sovereign citizens movement is religious and perhaps apocalyptic, or basically secular in nature. As I said in part I of this double post, its main manifestations haven’t seemed particularly religious, and I have accordingly not been paying them a whole lot of attention.

    This sense — that the movement is primarily legal rather than religious in emphasis, is nicely captured in this personal communication from JM Berger:

    Very few of the beliefs that we use to define the sovereign citizen movement are by definition religious. The things that most often define a sovereign have to do with interpretations of secular law. Athough those interpretations are sometimes supported by religious concepts, the beliefs themselves are centered on what adherents think is a pragmatic reading of law. So to explain that, most sovereigns wouldn’t refuse to answer a policeman’s questions by citing a religious principle. They would instead cite some secular legal principle they believe is valid. But some sovereigns do mix religion in more aggressively, such as those who follow outgrowths of the old Moorish Science Temple religion. But even they rely on legal arguments.

    The most common sovereign how-to materials and recruitment websites tend to be pretty secular and based on a reading of history that, while fanciful, is predicated on a misreading of history rather than on ideas we would normally consider religious. In fact, I think the big challenge in understanding this movement is figuring out how these ideas take such powerful hold having neither a consistent religious dimension nor any evidence — even subjective or anecdotal — that they work on a practical level.

    JM is the author of Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam and of the New America Foundation report, PATCON: The FBI’s Secret War Against the ‘Patriot’ Movement… His views as expressed in the quote above are based on recent research.

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    Jean Rosenfeld is also a researcher with an interest in both foreign and home-grown violent movements. She authored what may have been the first detailed inquiry into Al-Qaida from a religious studies perspective, The `Religion’ of Usamah bin Ladin: Terror As the Hand of God, back in 2001, edited the anthology Terrorism, Identity, and Legitimacy, and was one of the FBI’s advisory scholars during the ["sovereign"] Justus Freemen standoff, see her article The Justus Freemen Standoff: The importance of the analysis of religion in avoiding violent outcomes in Cathy Wessinger, ed., Millennialism, Persecution & Violence.

    Also in a private communication, Jean writes:

    Sovereign citizen ideology is basically a religious ideology. It is deviant, of course, and is often mixed with Christian Identity religion. It comes out of the same “cultic milieu” as the Posse Comitatus of the 1970s and CSA of the 1980s.

    Setting these two opinions regarding the religiosity or otherwise of the sovereign citizens side by side, what strikes me most is the juxtaposition of the Moorish Science Temple in JM’s quote with the Covenant, Sword and Arm of the Lord in Jean’s. Both are “new religious movement” of considerable interest to scholars of such things.

    For more on the Moorish Science Temple, see Peter Lamborn Wilson‘s Lost/Found Moorish Time Lines in the Wilderness of North America [part 1 and part 2]. For more on the CSA, see Kerry Noble‘s book, Tabernacle of Hate, with an Introduction by Jean Rosenfeld.

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    Given my interest in the religious imagination — which is manifesting itself these days in a wild profusion perhaps unmatched since the times of Qumran , Nag Hammadi and the Corpus Hermeticum — I was intrigued, in looking a little deeper into the US Sovereign Citizens movement, to find at least one individual with an approach to religion that’s suitably sui generis.

    The deliciously named (and I quote) ©H.I.R.M. J.M. Sovereign: Godsent™ is the author of TITLE 4 FLAG SAYS YOU’RE SCHWAG! The Sovereign Citizen’s Handbook (version 3.1), in which we read:

    The source of all Sovereignty is God. God holds Absolute Sovereignty, meaning He rules over all He surveys and answers to no-one above Himself, every force in nature including human conduct is His subject and under the control of “The Laws of Nature”. For example, “gravity”.

    The author then quotes 1 Chronicles 29:11-12

    Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.

    and follows this directly with the seal of the “Church of Sovereigns” depicted at the top of this post, right. On the left of the same image is a graphic taken from a video titled Calling the Sheriff 2.1.2012, which, if you recognize it, will give you an immediate and visceral sense of the Deadhead spirit of this particular writer.

    Here, by way of confirmation, is his bio:

    ©H.I.R.M. J.M. Sovereign: Godsent™, a veteran of the 2nd American Civil war, A.K.A the “War on Drugs” was born sovereign and free out of the the love generation but, was cast into slavery at age 5 in the police state of New Mexico, when his parents divorced. Struggling with the contradictions between society and the laws of nature, Godsent spent the next 33 years casting off the shackles of institutional conditioning, with the ultimate triumph of regaining the throne of his very own sovereign nation and setting new standards in the way Sovereign Americans and government employees interface.

    Shown the path of ahimsa (non-violence) at an early age, he is a lover of music and art, who has traveled the world to dance with friends at over 400 Grateful Dead shows in 5 countries. Surviving repeated attacks at shows and on the streets, by public employees, and noting the patterns and the damage done, he concluded that the World needed a treatise on Sovereignty and Reservation of Sovereign Rights. With the Investment of 23 years of field research, networking and litigation, and 7 years of writing, he has recently authored the definitive treatise on Reservation of Sovereign Rights. Along with the first automated sovereignty e-course, accompanied by an inspirational soundtrack, network services, a private, third-party document tracking system and educational videos.

    A monk of the 9 Sacred paths of Catholic, Buddha Rasta, Tao, Maya, Jain, Shvaite, Vaishnava, and Eckankar, he has traveled the world in search of priceless wisdom, humor, melody and artifacts. He has learned the most confidential knowledge and has been given the keys the Kingdom of God, by the enlightened masters, which he gives entrance to you here, in this book. He has never owned a weapon in his life.

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    I am not totally immune to the charms of the Grateful Dead, and take an interest in Catholicism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Shaiva tantra myself.

    But but but… please!! Even Christ recommends we should “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”. And When the Taoist Chuang Tze expresses his lack of interest in governance, he does so not by way of refusing to pay parking tickets or taxes, but by politely refusing an offer of high office [Basic Writings, p 109]:

    Once, when Chuang Tzu was fishing in the P’u river, the king of Ch’u sent two officials to go and announce to him: “I would like to trouble you with the administration of my realm.”

    Chuang Tzu held onto the fishing pole and, without turning his head, said, “I have heard that there is a sacred tortoise in Ch’u that has been dead for three thousand years. The king keeps it wrapped in cloth and boxed, and stores it in the ancestral temple. Now would this tortoise rather be dead and have its bones left behind and honored? Or would it rather be alive and dragging its tail in the mud?”

    “It would rather be alive dragging its tail in the mud,” said the two officials.

    Chuang Tzu said, “Go away! I’ll drag my tail in the mud!”

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