An Exercise in Contrast


Lao Tze versus Brian Williams

MSNBC talking head and war porn lover Brian Williams re-surfaced to fetishize the beauty of seeing pictures of tomahawk cruise missiles heading out to kill people and destroy things.

We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean. I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: “I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons.” And they are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments making what is for them a brief flight over to this airfield. What did they hit?

They hit people.

Even the best weapon
is an unhappy tool,
hateful to living things.
So the follower of the Way,
stays away from it.

Weapons are unhappy tools,
not chosen by thoughtful people,
to be used only where there is no choice,
and with a calm, still mind,
without enjoyment.
To enjoy using weapons
is to enjoy killing people
and to enjoy killing people
is to lose your share in the common good.

It is right that the murder of many people
be mourned and lamented.
It is right that a victor in war
be received with funeral ceremonies.

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The translation of Chapter 31 of La Tze is from Ursula Le Guin’s version, which has become my favorite. [amazon]  I like the simplicity and clarity of her translation. An older translation of the same chapter reads:

Where everyone is well armed, is a state in vain,
Matters alike are resented,
Therefore the master dwells not.
Hence the master finds residence on leftovers,
Mobilizes on righteousness.
Armaments, are instruments in vain,
Are unmasterly instruments.
Wielded only when inevitable,
Reconciliation is paramount,
Victorious without glorification.
Those who glorify, takes pleasure in massacres.
Those who takes pleasure in massacres,
Cannot win the hearts of the people.
Therefore, upon prosperity, be left-out,
In adversity, be righteous.
Hence the general is to the left,
The admiral is to the right,
Positioned in solemn remembrance.
Casualties, are mourned in consolation.
Victories, are remembered in solemness.
That’s still a lot closer to Leonard Cohen than Brian Williams.

Comments

  1. Brian English says

    To enjoy using weapons
    is to enjoy killing people

    You like your guns don’t you Marcus? ;)

  2. polishsalami says

    A search of “brian williams lies” delivers a whole heap of content. The fact that this bloke is still on TV is an embarrassment to journalism.

  3. says

    Brian English@#1:
    You like your guns don’t you Marcus?

    Not as much as I used to, but I still have them.
    I interpret Lao Tze as meaning “using weapons” as “using them on people” – perhaps that’s just convenient self-justification, though.

  4. says

    polishsalami@#2:
    The fact that this bloke is still on TV is an embarrassment to journalism.

    Yipe! He’s creepy. Seems eager to portray himself as the man of action.

  5. says

    I’ve long been attached to the translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English. Still have the copy I had in my college days. Ages ago though, more years than I’d like to count, I came across a translation by Jesse Garon (nym), which I liked for its no-nonsense approach.

    31.

    Weapons are terrible things.
    If you want to get right with Tao, reject weapons.

    The Master, knowing that all things came from Tao,
    recognizes what he has in common with his enemies.
    But when there is no other choice, he uses force reluctantly.
    He does so with great restraint,
    and never celebrates a victory;
    to do so would be to rejoice in killing.
    A person who would rejoice in killing
    has lost touch completely with Tao.

    When you win a war, you preside over a funeral.
    Pay your respects to the dead.

    Source.

  6. says

    Caine@#6:
    The Master, knowing that all things came from Tao,
    recognizes what he has in common with his enemies.

    That’s great. So’s the last two lines.

    It’s pretty neat how much of themselves the translators have to put into the translation.
    I have a friend whose wife is a Japanese calligraphy master and I’ve recently commissioned a wall scroll of this chapter. Can’t wait to see how it comes out. It gets really interesting because the ancient Chinese characters are also ancient Japanese characters, but they are not used in exactly the same way. Making a scroll involves not just training to execute the characters, but consulting with academics and translators to get it right. Several years ago she did one of my favorite David Attenborough asides, and it took a tremendous amount of effort to render Attenborough into court Japanese, then into Chinese characters as used by a Japanese, and finally onto rice paper. I should post a picture of it. (Support the arts!)

  7. says

    I also can’t figure out what Leonard Cohen’s song, “First We Take Manhattan”, really has to do with the supposed “beauty” of those launches.

  8. says

    ahcuah@#8:
    I have no idea either. I think he was lost in some warpoet that’s been hit in the head fantasy riff. I wish he hadn’t shared it.

  9. Brian English says

    Not as much as I used to, but I still have them.
    I interpret Lao Tze as meaning “using weapons” as “using them on people” – perhaps that’s just convenient self-justification, though.

    Just taking the piss. We could get into the metaphysics of guns, that their ‘teleos’ is to kill, and that to like something that when functioning correctly, is to like something that’s good at killing.

    But that’d be a dishonest wank and I couldn’t sustain if for long without getting bored.

    I don’t have an issue with owning guns per se. I grew up in a farming area where every cocky* would have a rifle or two, plus a shotty, for keeping the bunnies and foxes (introduced species) in check and putting stock down. Seems reasonable to own devices that will quickly kill vermin and sick stock, rather than waiting hours for a vet to come and inject it or using painful methods like trapping and baiting. As long as they’re a decent shot I suppose and these days, rifles and the like are required to be stored in a safe spot, not just left about for the kids to play with.

    Hanguns seem less justifiable to me, as statistically they increase likelihood of you are yours getting shot, and you don’t use them for hunting (I hope) or vermin control.

    Enough meandering, I’d better pretend to work again. :)

    *farmer (not a bird, but rather a farmer whose fields have so many cockatoos, you’d think s/he was farming them, hence cocky farmer, shortened to just cocky).

  10. jrkrideau says

    That B***d had the nerve to quote Leonard Cohen? I doubt Cohen would have wiped his feet on such a creature.

  11. jrkrideau says

    @10 Brian English
    I also grew up on a farm (in Canada) and a rifle or two and a shotgun were just standard tools. I think every farmer would have at least one gun as we had to worry about rabid foxes and raccoons.

    I have never understood people and handguns though a couple of friends are avid sports shooters.

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