Zhuangzi Philosophy of Life or How to Think About the US Election of 2018
As another disillusioning US election comes and goes leaving my state and national governments in the hands of philistenes and Pharisees, I have to step back and consider my place in the world, my view of the world, and the importance of any one event on the world. It brings to mind an at first challenging, yet ultimately liberating, concept from Zhuangzi.
The Dao is the ceaseless generation of new perspectives
“Imagine that you find yourself in a card game, where cards are continually being dealt to you from a nonobvious source. You do not know how you got there, where the cards come from, or what the object of the game is—for example, whether you should be trying to collect high cards or low cards. You have no guidelines whatsoever.
“Every so often, in addition to the ordinary numbered cards, you get what might be called an ‘instruction card.’ This is a card on which is printed some assertion about the goal of the game. One such card might say, ‘Collect high cards, discard low cards: whoever has the most high cards wins.’ But then another instruction card might show up in your hand saying, ‘Collect low cards, discard high cards; whoever has the most low cards wins.’ Perhaps a card will say, ‘There is no object to the game.’ Another might say, ‘All goals are relative, so all cards are of equal value.’
“You might act in accordance with one of these cards, but it is still just another card, and can be contradicted by another. If you are committed to the ‘collect high cards’ card, you might discard, ignore, or reject the ‘collect low cards’ card when it arrives, since you already ‘know’ the object of the game. But these two instruction cards are invested with equal validity; they are both just cards that appeared in your hand from an unknown source. Your commitment to follow the instructions of the first one is based on nothing more than its accidental temporal priority.
“This is a metaphor for human life as Zhuangzi sees it. The cards are perspectives. They appear from an unknown source, and sometimes carry a value and an imperative. But they are constantly being contradicted. This contradiction and transformation of perspectives is what Zhuangzi calls ‘the Illumination of the Obvious’. It is simply the observation of the obvious—that there are different perspectives and evaluations—which is what functions as Zhuangzi’s own perspective, the Course-Axis.” (From Zhuangzi: As a Philosopher at Hackett Publishing Brook Ziporyn)
Does it matter who wins?
If you walk with Dao, you understand that becoming is reality. Life is not consistent. But neither is it a balance of opposites (a common misunderstanding of yin-yang). It isn’t a repeating circle or evolving spiral or swinging pendulum. Or maybe it is. Life is a process. It can be anything. It may or may not repeat, it may evolve, it may regress, and it is what it is regardless of the value judgments we apply, the principles we hold, or whether we change our own opinions.
You may hold that we had years of liberal government and currently are “making up for it.” You may be full of shit. So while many of my friends and family are pleased to give power to those who reward wealth and privilege rather than those who help poverty and marginalization, and at the same time, think they are doing their god’s work, their hypocrisy isn’t something I need to ruminate on. And I don’t.
I won’t say that it doesn’t matter who’s in power. I hear this, especially from young people, because they call the whole system corrupt or see older people as all the same or believe officials are just gears in a machine and none can make a difference. They’re wrong. It does matter who wins…
- to a young woman in poverty who may not be able to get birth control or an abortion
- to a person of color who may not achieve their “American” dream of leadership
- to a lesbian who may not be able to marry the person she loves
- to a family who can’t can’t afford to send their children to college
- to a trans person who can’t serve their country for the same unconstitutional reasons they once kept women and people of color out of the military
So if you’re one who doesn’t vote because “it doesn’t matter” to your life, you’re ignorant of your privilege or you’re naive. If you don’t care, or are even gleeful, that the civil rights and opportunities of the poor and marginalized get thrown under the bus for the advancement of the privileged, you suck as a human being.
You may wonder how this sort of post comes from a Daoist perspective. Well, the instruction card I’ve been dealt most recently involves caring about the friends and family I have whose lives will be affected by people who value their own material wealth more than my family’s safety.
For my peace of mind I can only hope that one day, like so many of my conservative friends, I’ll get that card that says to “Collect high cards, discard low cards: whoever has the most high cards wins.” But for now, I’m keeping all the cards with the hope that everyone will win.