Sep 232013

From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

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Confucius, Emerson, and Ginsberg

The classic tenants of Confucianism and Taoism take disparate, but not mutually-exclusive, views of existence. While only Confucians would seek to give advice for improving society, elements of both views are important to a balanced and healthful existence within a society.

Confucianism is all about improving society. Individuals are expected to yield to established laws and the greater good of the community. The fundamental concept for maintaining society is the competence and fairness of public servants, which earns respectful honor and loyalty (for others, family, ancestors, public servants, and tradition). Law and tradition are looked to for guidance. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophyexplains:

Confucius’ social philosophy largely revolves around the concept of ren, “compassion” or “loving others.” Cultivating or practicing such concern for others involved deprecating oneself. … Learning self-restraint involves studying and mastering li, the ritual forms and rules of propriety through which one expresses respect for superiors and enacts his role in society in such a way that he himself is worthy of respect and admiration. A concern for propriety should inform everything that one says and does (Stanford).

Taoism is all about withdrawing from society. Individuals are expected to yield to the law of nature and the harmonious dynamics of the universe. Rather than seeking to improve society, Taoists focus on individual balance and a harmonious relationship with “the way of Heaven.” An immediate sense of rightness is looked to for guidance.

Taoism rejects “established” knowledge and wisdom as obstacles in the path of Tao. An enlightened mind effortlessly reflects universal principles, not rejecting the actual world so much as it’s society and societal conventions. A Taoists’ inner world must be purged of scripted external sensation and interpretation. In Section 47 of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu explains:

Without going out of your door,
You can know the way of the world.
Without peeping through your window,
You can see the Way of Heaven.
The farther you go, the less you know.
Thus, the Sage knows without traveling,
Sees without looking,
And achieves without Ado (Tzu 97).

I feel that both Confucianism and Taoism contribute important ideas for the personal choices and the accommodations that are needed to live within a community. Personal compromises are needed to exist without undue conflict with others.

As per the Confucianists, meaning can come from seeking the greater good and embracing orderliness. However, personal liberties are also needed to allow creative expression and developmental growth. As per the Taoists, meaning can also come from creating (or following) a personal path and embracing chance and change.

A fundamental structure underlying our lives is a continuous cycle of being and becoming. One may take the yearly seasons as an example. In the fall, there is a time that peaks at harvest, with processes of gathering in, sorting, organizing, consolidation, and withdrawing. In the winter, there is a time that peaks at storage, with processes of being and resting. In the spring, there is a time of germination, with processes of sowing, cultivating, nurturing, and growth. In the summer, there is a time of change, with processes of chaotic growth, reproduction, and metamorphosis.

It seems like Confucianists are more oriented toward sustaining a stable “winter” perspective while Taoists are more oriented toward flowing with the chaos of a “summer” perspective. Neither or these perspectives can be inherently better as they co-exist in the same system of being and becoming.

American culture already embraces a wide range of competing cultural ideals including those found in Confucianism and Taoism. In fact, the two major political parties in the United States have paradoxical cross-polarizations along philosophical lines.

Republicans are considered conservatives, holding to family values and traditions, yet they are fiercely defensive of their liberty to make personal choices, sometimes to the neglect of the welfare of others. On the other hand, Democrats are considered liberals, holding to values like diversity and adapting to the changing situation, yet are open to giving up personal choice for the benefit of the community.

John Locke and Thomas Jefferson insisted that we have the right to keep and defend individual property, but within the context of compliance to group consensus. Like Confucius, they felt that those in authority served at the will of the people and would decline and be replaced if they failed in their responsibilities.

Americans are also known for their fierce individualism. Like Ralph Waldo Emmerson and Allen Ginsberg, we tend to define our valued and privileged way of life by individual freedom to follow one’s own path.

The adoption and adaptation of our complex mix of philosophical roots encourages both sustainable stability and creative progress in our selves and in our society.

Works Cited

Tzu, Lao. Tao Teh Ching, Translated by John C. H. Wu. Shambhala, Boston & London, 1989
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Confucius. Sept. 5, 2006, July 10, 2009
Jan 112011

The concept of exercising “Second Amendment Options” is alarming and disturbing. It’s way past wrong; it’s sick. With that thoroughly in mind, I offer the following tongue-in-cheek assessment to shine a bit of light on a not-so-modern evil.

I just heard that some people have been saying that we should use guns to get “Second Amendment remedies.” I’m not exactly clear on which people they think should be shot. Is it just Liberals in general, Liberal politicians, or anybody who’s ideas run counter to those of the one toting a piece? I don’t know about you, but I thought shooting people for political purposes was frowned on. Maybe it’s even illegal at the local, state, or federal level.

My daddy always told me to leave my guns at home when I went voting. He said, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” He also used to say, “You go shooting all the foxes and you’ll put ol’ Roy out of a job with nothing to bark at.” I especially remember the time he explained to me that if I still had my eye on that Johnson girl, that I had best make nice to her daddy, even if I did hate his guts. And I couldn’t just up and shoot Donnie Joe when I found out that he was fixin’ to ask her out. Of course, cousin Bobby used to say that “The only good politician is a dead politician” but that was only down at the bar when he was all liquored up and everybody knew he was a damn fool anyway.

Maybe shooting people because you’re not happy is something you can outgrow. Bubba and I quit hitting each other all the time when got big enough to do some real damage. And, it was a long, long time ago that people used to challenge each other to a duel with pistols; I thought that people outgrew that too. On the other hand, city gangs always seem to be shooting each other for crossing the street, and religious people in the Middle East still seem to spend a lot of time blowing up each other’s churches. I guess they used to lynch people around here too, but I’m glad that was a long, long time ago as well.

There was a farm in the next county that got kind of scary for a while. They put up all kinds of “Keep Out” signs with pictures of smoking guns. We knew what they meant, so we wouldn’t go squirrel hunting there or even take a shortcut across their field to Uncle Jack’s place. You could sometimes here sounds like they were having a little war with some mighty big guns, and it seemed like they just might have in mind overthrowing these here United States. If you ask me, I figure they all thought they were too big for their britches and, if they were right, they shouldn’t have any trouble getting most people to vote with ballots instead of guns.

That reminds me of a thing. If somebody wanted to do something about the NRA’s attitude that “the guys with the guns make the rules,” why not just get three or four million of your friends to send in their $35, form a majority of the membership, and “be the change they want to see.” I’m just sayin.

Copyright 2011, David Satterlee

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License, which essentially says that you are free to share the work under the conditions that you attribute it fully, do not use it for commercial purposes, and do not alter it.


For a clear exposition on the history and context of this kind of violent political posturing, I recommend Nick Wing’s article in The Huffington Post:

Also, read the law – The United States Code:

TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 115 > § 2385

§ 2385. Advocating overthrow of Government

Whoever knowingly or willfully advocates, abets, advises, or teaches the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States or the government of any State, Territory, District or Possession thereof, or the government of any political subdivision therein, by force or violence, or by the assassination of any officer of any such government; or

Whoever, with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of any such government, prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence, or attempts to do so; or

Whoever organizes or helps or attempts to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any such government by force or violence; or becomes or is a member of, or affiliates with, any such society, group, or assembly of persons, knowing the purposes thereof—

Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction.

If two or more persons conspire to commit any offense named in this section, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction.

As used in this section, the terms “organizes” and “organize”, with respect to any society, group, or assembly of persons, include the recruiting of new members, the forming of new units, and the regrouping or expansion of existing clubs, classes, and other units of such society, group, or assembly of persons.

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