Bye Bye Coercion, Hello Mr. Dao: Pt II of the Tick Tock Series
[This is Part 2 of the Tick Tock series, click HERE for part 1]
The Truth is…
I tend to coerce things into being, or try to anyway.
That’s probably why I’ve failed at many things. And I suspect it’s at the root of most failures, not just mine. It’s also at the root, I’ve discovered, I think, of my tick tocking head. You remember the ‘tick tock,’ right?
As you may know, I’m writing a book about being a hobbit, and thereby saving the Earth. Most of the time, thanks to my tick tocking head, I wish the book was done, written, published, and already saving the world! I just wish the Seeds of Shire-ness would just f’n GROW already! Why can’t we all just get along damn it? Like NOW!
In many ways, I set out to write Be a Hobbit, Save the Earth, with the expressed, personal intention of ‘saving the Earth,’ as if somehow, I could write words compelling enough to coerce others to just DO IT or something. Of course, that’s ridiculous, on the face of it, now that I look at it more objectively. That doesn’t mean the Earth doesn’t NEED saving; it just means I can’t, or at least shouldn’t, coerce people into doing it. A little nudge won’t kill’em though.
Why not? Because ancient Chinese sages say so. That’s why damn it!
So, lately I’ve been studying Daoism, you know, the ancient Chinese philosophy. Yeah, I pretty much gave up on being Zen, since I sucked at it so badly. (see Tick Tock). Well, I’m not going to explain the entire Dao to you for a couple of reasons. One, I’m not a fucking expert — I’ve read exactly one book — and two, it would take a book to explain it, even if I was qualified. It might take more than one book to do it justice.
However, the fact that I’m not an expert doesn’t mean I can’t explain the very basic concepts. I’m pretty ballsy so I’ll just do it anyway. Sorry James (a friend of mine who is an expert on China, if not the Dao itself). He’s probably gonna kick my ass when he reads this. I’ll bring him some of my BBQ sauce as a peace offering. He loves that shit.
At the heart of the Dao, or ‘way-making’, or ‘making one’s way in life,’ is the idea that ‘things,’ as discrete, or determinate entities don’t really exist. In other words, the chair you’re sitting on right now, does not exist as a static ‘thing.’ In fact, it is really an ‘event,’ or part of an event, that is ever changing, moment to moment. The chair, as a static ‘thing,’ is a momentary, mental snap-shot, a photograph if you will, taken by YOU and only you, for the briefest of moments, then it’s gone, because the chair is continuously changing, aging, and if you were to observe it at the molecular or elemental level — using modern science and a microscope, you would see this transformation at work.
Ancient Daoist sages, of course, didn’t have such tools, but they could see transformation over the long run and deduce that it was always happening, slowly, to everything around them. So ‘things’ aren’t really things, they are just brief pictures of a ‘process,’ of ‘thing-ing.’ How’s that for deep shit? Yeah, I know. Damned Chinese philosophers…
Those same sages — if you were to sit down with them — would tell you, at some point in your learning process, that since things are really processes, that you cannot force them to do what you want them too. In other words, coercion is out. You can try, but you will get results that are less than what you had hoped for. For example, you can divert the flow of a river, but what will be the results? The sage will tell you that you can’t possibly foresee the results, and that most likely they will be radically different than you intended.
[Tweet “you can divert the flow of a river, but what will be the results? The sage will tell you”]
Coercion of the Natural World
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will tell you, these days anyway, that the Sage is right.
They’ve been trying to coerce American rivers to stay in their ‘natural’ banks for about a century, and failed miserably. In fact, many of the floods that happen today, are actually the result of their attempts to coerce water to go where THEY wanted it to flow. The levy on Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana, might be the most dramatic failure of this modern, coercive philosophy, if indeed anything the U.S. Military does can be properly called “the love of wisdom.”
The oil companies are trying to coerce the last drops of oil and natural gas to the surface, by fracking the shit out of the Earth’s crust, while poisoning the last remaining natural aquifiers, the air we breathe, and the soil we plant our food in. It’s not working either. It’s time to stop, and rethink our philosophies. Maybe it’s just time to stop coercing ‘things?’
Personal Coercion: Just let it go man
I’ve noticed similar tendencies in my own life, as I was starting to talk about before following the Dao off on a necessary tangent.
I can be just as bone-headed as the military sometimes. Just ask anyone who knows me, especially my mom, who’ll tell ya the whole Bivans clan are walkin’ around with skulls full of concrete. No one is as bone-headed as the oil companies however. Ok, maybe Monsanto is. Anyway…
I used to be in a band, years ago: The Bivans Brothers, which later morphed, briefly, into the Bivans Brothers Bilbo Baggins Boogie Bonanza…Band.
Yeah, I know, I have a problem with alliteration, and Bs (that’s too much of the letter ‘B’, not B.S., which are not the same thing, and I only employ the latter occasionally). Sue me. Well, we used to play at this large private party out in the woods every year, and that required quite a few practices leading up to it, you know, so we wouldn’t completely suck ass. (see, Evening at the Prancing Pony: a Hobbit’s Dream of Universal Shire-ness).
I use to be a real whip cracker, a coercer of things. So much so that my little brother, Tim, told me once that I was Genghis Khan, a name I latched onto and rode into fame and fortune. Ok, I found neither, but not for lack of trying to ‘make it happen.’ I also tried to ‘make’ the band happen. I would set rigid times for practice, constantly push, pull and coerce members into staying on track, so to speak. But the second year, I had been working on relaxing and just trying to let things ‘happen.’
What I noticed was amazing.
Instead of cracking the whip all the time, and kicking everyone’s ass, I just kind of sat back and watched it all unfold. Instead of being the first person into the practice studio — standing there with my guitar strapped on my back, waiting for all the ‘slackers’ to hurry the hell up, stop longdickin’, burnin’ daylight, and get to work — I stood outside near the car, drank beer and talked and chatted, and intentionally waited till everyone else was inside before I finally joined them.
The result? A very relaxed, fun, productive practice. We screwed around, jammed on tunes that were not on the set list, laughed, joked around, goofed off, and made some pretty good music in the ‘process.’
I reckon I was being more Dao-y then than I am most of the time now. Or I was DOING Dao, more back then, even though I hadn’t the slightest idea what Dao was. I’d heard of it, of course, but I knew jack shit about it, though I seemed to be closer to achieving it than I have lately. I need to find that again. I tend to push things towards some goal. I feel the need to be ‘right.’ Maybe that’s because I’m wrong so often? Don’t tell anyone…sshhhh. It’s a real character flaw, or worldview flaw that I have.
Is anything really ‘right’? I suppose that with the Dao, there are things that are more ‘right’ than others, but does that depend on the moment, since all things are really ‘events’ or ‘processes’? Sometimes that must be true. Even violence can be ‘right’ depending on the situation. Can it also be good and beautiful and true? I’m not sure, but I guess if it is necessary, then it could also be those things as well, in a given situation.
For example, if someone breaks into your house, or garage (see Of Broadswords and Breakins), and is threatening you, or your family’s safety, then, I’m sure, violence can be ‘good’ in so far as it is used to end the threat, and return things to their normal equilibrium. How ‘beautiful’ it was, might depend on your style points with a broadsword. “The Russian judge gives it a 5 of 10!” Oh well…a little rough on the disembowelment, I reckon.
This appears to be drifting, or floating, into the Dao of Just War Theory, I think, which is not where I was going with this article, but since I ended up here anyway, maybe that’s the direction the stream was headed. Now THAT’s Dao-y. Come to think of it, coercion and war, are the same thing really, so I reckon it all worked out in the end.
I would like to DO peaceful more often than doing war/coercion, however. I don’t really want to coerce people to think or act the way I want them to, though I’ve spent much of my life attempting it. I would rather just figure out how to act more Dao-y myself, and then lead by example or by story. “Here’s how I do it; how might you do it in your own special way?” I know, it sounds kind of hippy dippy, like Spinal Tap, singing about the “Flower People,” but that’s probably the only way to really accomplish Saving the Earth; one person, or hobbit, does something, and another thinks, “Hey, that was kind of cool; I could do something like that, but I have a different idea on how to do it.” And before you know it you have Shire-ness popping up everywhere!
[Tweet “before you know it you have Shire-ness popping up everywhere!”]
So, in conclusion, I’m pretty sure that you can’t coerce a Shire into being. It’s more like a garden.
You plant some seeds, and water them, let the sun shine on them, pull a few weeds here and there, and return those to a pile of compost that you use on the garden, and one day, you have Kale, or carrots, or ‘maters, or ‘taters. Now that I mention it, I need to plant my fuckin’ ‘taters. Yes, I just need to plant my taters and forget about Saving the Earth. That will grow, be harvested, consumed, like the ’taters, and replanted again next Spring, in the Trees.
Steve Bivans is host of the hit YouTube show, Second Breakfast with Steve Bivans, the author of the best-selling Be a Hobbit, Save the Earth: the Guide to Sustainable Shire Living, and is working on his second book, The End of Fear Itself. If you love what he does, support him on PATREON!