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Dragging my tail in the mud

[ by Charles Cameron — i’m afraid this will be a very Thoreau-Taoist post for this electoral season ]

Two browsings recently set me thinking about politics in general — and dragging my tail in the mud in particular:

Shadi Hamid in What is Policy Research For? Reflections on theUnited States’ Failures in Syria

When the basic thrust of policy seems immovable irrespective of events on the ground, how should researchers respond? Should influencing policy be the animating objective of policy research?

and at the pointy end, Matt Cavanaugh at War on the Rocks, The Way Home from ‘a War’:

What is it like to make uncertain judgments with severe moral consequences? For military professionals, being the state’s lethal instrument necessarily entails ethically perilous, life-or-death choices.


Here’s the cntext, as I see it..

Wallace Black Elk:

The whole earth is an altar. In church, they have a little slab of marble which they call an altar. But our altar is Grandpa’s altar… Our carpet is the grass, the sacred altar; our ceiling is the stars; our night lamp is the moon; Grandpa the sun is our mystery power.

Thomas Traherne:

You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and Kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world.

Till your spirit filleth the whole world, and the stars are your jewels; till you are as familiar with the ways of God in all Ages as with your walk and table: till you are intimately acquainted with that shady nothing out of which the world was made: till you love men so as to desire their happiness, with a thirst equal to the zeal of your own: till you delight in God for being good to all: you never
enjoy the world.”

Chuang Tzu:

I will have Heaven and Earth for my sarcophagus, the Sun and Moon shall be my burial insignia, the stars my coffin-jewels, and all Creation shall be mourners at my obsequies. Are not my funeral paraphernalia all in readiness?

Thoreau-Taoism, which she would spell Thurrodowism, is Ursula Le Guin‘s superlative confection.


Chuang Tzu:

From Chuang Tzu: Mystic, Moralist, and Social Reformer, tr. Herbert Giles, p. viii:

Prince Wei (B.C. 338-327) of the Ch’u State, hearing of Chuang Tzu’s good report, sent messengers to him, bearing gifts, and inviting him to become Prime Minister. At this Chuang Tzu smiled and said to the messengers, “You offer me great wealth and a proud position indeed; but have you never seen a sacrificial ox:-When after being fattened up for several years, it is decked with embroidered trappings and led to the altar, would it not willingly then change places with some uncared for pigling?

Or from Chuang Tzu, Basic Writings, tr. Burton Watson, p.108:

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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