What is the Tao?

if you don’t presume to lead
you can lead the high and mighty.

For me, the Tao is flowing like water, or action without effort: doing something according to instinct without consciously analysing, calculating or criticising it, without pride or fear or even intent, allowing action rather than taking it. One does this better after learning to do it, which makes me wonder how learning might “flow”- I do not know the Tao. Or my heart does.

For CS Lewis, the Tao is Natural Law, the moral code inscribed by God in every conscience, which every man knows unless he is corrupted. Values are objective, and must be recognised. It is illegitimate to challenge them: The direct frontal attack- “Why?” – “What good does it do?” – “Who said so?” is never permissible; not because it is harsh or offensive but because no values at all can justify themselves on that level. You cannot think properly without valuing truth, cannot ask a justification without seeing that morals can justify: If you persist in that kind of trial you will destroy all values, and so destroy the bases of your own criticism as well as the thing criticised.

Whereas for me, values may be debated, and consequentialism requires evidence of likely consequences. What “peace” means, between individuals or states, may be addressed by philosophers. We can come to greater understanding. Dulce et decorum est is really an “old lie”. Lewis admits there may be criticism of Natural Law from people who accept it generally, but not from without, in the interests of commercial convenience or scientific accuracy.

Everything outside my skin is sublime- simply and only of itself, not subject to my laws or understanding, holy and magical. The dust beneath my feet is made of atoms created in supernovae and blasted across space, churned as magma and blasted from the Earth as lava. I imagine I might agree, still, with a great deal of Lewis’ concepts of natural law; but not with his understanding of how it might come about, or how it could be improved. We know so much more psychology than he did in 1942.

Lewis imagines a group of “Conditioners”, perhaps in the hundredth century AD., who had the ability to throw off the influence of previous generations, and to conclusively influence all generations after until the end of the human race. Therefore there is no “Man’s conquest of nature”, only a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by. He spends several pages elucidating this nightmare, which fits Professor Weston, possessed by the Devil, in Perelandra. It has links to Presuppositionalism and the Christian idea that atheists cannot be moral. I feel that people will always be free who value nothing else, not even life, more than freedom, and that some people like that will always exist, and others will listen to them. Perfect totalitarianism cannot exist, and even though human beings can create monstrous hells which are difficult to escape it will always be possible eventually.

Lewis ends with illustrations of natural law from different civilisations. A lot comes from the Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics. Whoso makes intercession for the weak, well pleasing is this to Shamash, said some Babylonian source. However his list makes no pretence of completeness, and you might find better sources for the content or evolution of ethics.

A memory of my father

I am so embarrassed about this memory that I do not want to tell you it. Therefore, it will be worthwhile telling you. Empowering or something.

I don’t know myself innately, I work things out from clues. I know I would not hit anyone, because I have been in particular situations. I am not sure I could say why- perhaps “Cowardice” (bad) or “Restraint” (good). Perhaps confusion: the rules aren’t working, and I don’t know what’s going on.

-Exactly so, she says, and I wonder whether she helps me find insight or influences, even manipulates, me into seeing things a certain way. Are our words random, or some kind of joint inspiration?

So much of me is unconscious. That memory of my father, I was sitting on his knee, crying- it is always there, and it pops into consciousness every once in a while, every now and then. I started telling her of it as an illustration of how the unconscious is always there, and the conscious seems random, not a particular “I” I could know; but she asks of the memory. It embarrasses me. The child I was was so ridiculously stupid!

It should not be embarrassing. The child knew no better, and might not be expected to, at that age. I remember a fragment of conversation. I wanted to listen to a record, and he asked what.

-Can you remember what it was?
-I am not sure, but I think it was that actress in Mary Poppins [Julie Andrews] singing
a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down
in the most delightful way

and he said, but we don’t have that record.

And I took from this that I was stupid, and should have known this (which is why the memory embarrasses me. Wanting something impossible! Ridiculous and divorced from reality!)

and that he was kind.

Now, I think, well- impossible? There are shops, and there are libraries, quite close by. There is also the vague idea that Julie Andrews represented the left-liberal camp which was wrong, as we were Conservatives: that is adult language for it, that such entertainment would be Improper in some way, not our thing.

Is the memory important? I still feel confused. What can I do that is Good?

 ♥♥♥

I was a big fan of CS Lewis, and have read a lot of his work, since I sat on my father’s knee to hear The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. My nephew sat on my knee to hear it. The foundation of my theodicy is his The Problem of Pain, and I read his space trilogy several times. I have been reading The Abolition of Man again, and find it appallingly bad. Either he has no conception of phenomenology, and attacks what he does not understand, or he has, and produces the crudest possible straw man, which he could not possibly see as in good faith unless he was convinced he could do no wrong.

He says any man, unless corrupted, would agree with him about morals, because the Natural Law is inscribed in every healthy boy. (He would not have valued inclusive language.) Education should enable the boy to recognise it in himself.

I read the book to see what in it I might agree with, but I reject it entire. I do not care if I am wrong, I believe THIS. All I could take from his morality is the value of the individual human- the value of Me.

I drift off into thinking of how I might be useful in the General Election.

 ♥♥♥

I am frightened by
the bigness and inexplicability of the World

and of myself

but that’s OK

The Abolition of Man

As spending too much time on social media, or worse, clicking back and forth between sites for an elusive dopamine hit- has anyone liked my comment in The Guardian?- makes presence, stillness or spiritual awareness less likely, yesterday I decided to put my computer away all afternoon, and almost succeeded. Hanging out my washing, I got chatting with the lad from upstairs. He has been at the Outdoor Centre for over six years. In the winter, they concentrate on personal development, and he went whitewater rafting in Scotland, but now the centre is getting busy, and the teenagers have a bit of fun on our river, which meanders through a broad valley of lakes and ponds. He has always analysed his options for pros and cons, he tells me. We talked of Heaven and Hell. He believes in both, and is strongly Evangelical: he has a literal belief in the Day of Judgment after Death. “We will all face judgment,” he said, earnestly. I find him quite non-judgmental of my trans status: though I was wigless, just to do housework, I did not feel judged, and so felt reassured and comfortable. We looked up at the red kites circling overhead.

I suggested he read “The Great Divorce”, CS Lewis’s account of people from Hell taking a day-trip to Heaven. Most of them prefer their illusions, and go back down. He thinks Divorce a strange word for Lewis to use, and I explain it is a reference to The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. I lend him my large single volume of several of Lewis’s works, which has sat unread on my bookshelves for years. He is not a great reader, he says, but his parents liked The Screwtape Letters. My spirituality has changed since I read a lot of Lewis. I decided to read The Abolition of Man, which I have in paperback, to re-evaluate him. I would read it to try and find something I valued in it.

It comes with strong recommendation. A quote on the back says if he were to suggest a book which everyone should read apart from the Bible, Walter Hooper would say The Abolition of Man. He writes, If any book is able to save us from future excesses of folly or evil, it is this book. I would read it to seek value in it.

I disagree with the first of three lectures, Men without Chests, in which Lewis criticises an English textbook. Coleridge heard two tourists at a waterfall, and endorsed the first’s judgment of it as “sublime” but rejected the second’s, “pretty”. The textbook says both are not a judgment about the waterfall, only the speaker’s feelings. I would agree. Everything is sublime, separate from me and the human world, simply and only of itself- a waterfall, a star, a pebble, Blake’s clod of clay. It is valuable to cultivate a sense of the sublime, though, and the most impressive things- such as the waterfall- are a good start. If something has the grandeur to remind me of sublimity, this concerns internal mental states, from cultural associations, my past experiences, my understanding and my emotional responses. And the waterfall is pretty: spray may create rainbows, or the water may glisten in the sun. It seems to me Lewis is attacking phenomenology, mocking what he does not understand; at least, he makes no attempt to explain it, merely attacking an attempt to explain some part of its insights to children.

Lewis quotes Aristotle: the aim of education is to make the youth like and dislike what he ought. Lewis’ example is Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, which in my own English class I learned to call that old lie. Lewis was writing 25 years after Owen’s poem. Sending men to die or kill is monstrous, especially in the first world war. He takes a conservative position that there might be some agreement on what men should value; I say that if we allow people to love what we love, society benefits. At least I agree that it is a good thing to see the waterfall as sublime, but Lewis and I praise and disparage different things, and I am tempted to say I know better than he, or at least that my concept of diverse systems of value better describes real life, and has more value, than his single, allegedly objective, system. Rather than a common understanding of what is good and valuable, I advocate a continuous ferment of discussion, learning better what to value. Lewis’ common understanding would justify colonialism, the White Man’s Burden of civilising lesser races.

So I was surprised that the book is still in print, and there is a book of essays about it, Contemporary Perspectives. I must not simply dismiss the book, but find value in it if I may- for then Lewis and I can communicate from our different positions, conservative or progressive. I claim to be the one who values understanding of other perspectives.

 

Misgendering

When people want to complain about “Political Correctness gone mad” they name Misgendering. It frightens me when they say Democrats or other relatively Left parties should drop PC, and pick on trans folk, as if we had lost the Left the elections, and throwing us under the bus was the route back to being in contention. Constantly complaining about dopey things, from pronouns that “misgender” to whether Ann Coulter should be allowed to speak at Berkeley … has become a hallmark of Team Blue over the last decade. It’s no small part of the reason Red America threw up their hands, looking for any alternative to push back against the inanity wrote Matt Labash in the NYT. Labash is a Republican, but Democrats say this sort of thing too.

This gets wearing. The archetypal PC idiocy is treating trans folk with courtesy. Possibly the complainers felt even gay marriage was off limits; too many people support it, no-one is particularly attacking it. They may in the future, but not now. But some people take pride in misgendering- calling me “he” and feeling self-righteous about it. I slip up myself, so don’t object to people making mistakes, only to people who do it intentionally, or do not see why it is offensive, like Labash here- I think he finds the complaints dopey, not the “mistakes”.

It matters to us. We transition whether or not the circumstances are propitious. We fail to thrive, or get murdered, where they are not. The callous answer is something like “Well, truth matters to me, you’re really [or not] a man”- but it is an excuse to be callous, a preference for being nasty to us, a way of finding someone to look down on. Some prefer the liberating chance to be cruel over the chafing requirement to be courteous.

They have such an elegant way of expressing it! We named the microaggression “misgendering”, one simple word for when someone uses pronouns as if I were a man. That means when the Right wants to allude to trans folk, they merely need quote “misgendering”, in scare quotes because they deny it is a real word, though it usefully names a phenomenon and has wide currency: it is in the Oxford dictionaries. And some Left-wing writers say the Left should abandon the more extreme political correctness, and the example they choose is Misgendering.

They might choose abortion in the US, and write of “reaching out to pro-life Democrats”. This article in NYT points out abortion is an economic issue. Poorer women have more unwanted pregnancies, where they cannot afford a child, then where they could not continue in work or education fall further into poverty. On that basis, misgendering is economic too: we will transition even though in an atmosphere of hostility will lose our jobs.

Inequality matters. The inequality of badly paid workers with insecure jobs matters, and I want them to vote Left; and the Right makes them angry, then diverts the anger against out-groups, such as immigrants or LGBT folk. The Right-wing siren song is that nothing can be done about the inequality, but at least you can feel better if you can express anger against an out-group. They want to blame immigrants, then call third generation British Asians “immigrants”, then foment hatred for us. First they come for the immigrants, then the queers. Who’s next? Might it be you?

I know

I know I am a person of integrity.

This came to me this morning. With a minute or two before I want to leave for the Quaker meeting, I felt moved to go into the living room, then to affirm myself before the mirror. I like myself. Then, I know myself.

Then

I – know
I know

I know
I know.
I know.
I know.
I am a person of integrity.

This is lovely. I can tell the truth. I can know things in two ways, it seems, in words, for I have a great gift in the precise use of words, and by feeling- by knowledge of the heart in silence. This unites the two: what I know in my heart, I put into words; and that is Ministry.

I have a lovely ride there, with light following winds and occasional hazy sunshine, and I am a person of integrity running in my mind. I get to meeting early, chat for a bit, then settle into worship. This is a good place, and I am nervous, and self-protecting, and that is alright; and it is in my mind there, too- I am a person of integrity.

We are still discussing Quaker Faith and Practice, chapter 22 this week. What difference do we make in the world? Did you have a dream of doing some great healing work? My healing work is simply and entirely on myself, right now, I say.

(Oh, shall I say it? Saying it is frightening. I close my eyes so I cannot see them, and unprompted my voice goes softer and very high-

I am a person of integrity.

Someone I don’t think I met before looks at me- appreciatively? Evaluatingly?- and says, “How wonderful, to know that and be able to say it!” I hold her gaze for a moment, then say, laughing, “How cool is that?” And I am in self-protection mode, again, not realising others will accept what I say, trying to find a way to chivvy them along- and it does not work on her, I feel, and she still finds my statement wonderful. I note that others, who may have accomplished more than I, express uncertainty or even perhaps dissatisfaction with the good they have accomplished, it is only a little, and I am glad to be proud of my own achievement here. It is a real achievement.

I am a person of integrity.

Knowing yourself

I would never hit anyone.

You may not be very impressed. When someone says I would never hit a woman I am perturbed, as such people might not include me in that. It’s a claim to a minimal moral stance which most people in society would make. Some would make it when it is not true, and more quietly many might imagine a situation where they might hit someone, or think that desirable.

People do not know themselves, and make such statements with an air of complete confidence though they are belied by later circumstance. I read that this may be an evolutionary advantage: we say what will make ourselves look good, even though it is not true, and because we believe it completely we show no visible sign of lying, so are more convincing to others. As so often, evolution shows it is not there to make you feel good. This is just one kind of blind spot which makes my question Who am I really? so fascinating, and frustrating. The point of a blind spot is I don’t know it’s there. I would say “I would never hit someone” with perfect confidence, with no inkling that there was another reality behind it, or anything to go looking for. So I can’t give current examples of such untrue moral claims I make now, because when I realise I stop claiming them.

However, I know I would never hit anyone because I have been in situations where I have been hit or attacked, and not hit back. I know myself because I have observed how I react. Aware how one might make such a statement with unjustified confidence, I make it from experience.

I find it hard to claim virtue for this: pacifism, restraint, civilisation perhaps. I find it easier to acknowledge if I see it as a bad thing- cowardice, or perhaps confusion as the Rules I rely on don’t seem to be working, the framework for my world has broken down and I am bereft. I can see situations where self-defence or defence of another is the virtuous thing to do, and other situations where the ability to defend myself might reduce a threat, and took karate for over a year because of that.

Seeing where I lack self-knowledge, and caring about that, I might have greater self-knowledge than a person who simply makes the moral claim with self-confidence and does not dig any deeper. Then he hits someone, and says “I was provoked!” No, he was not a hypocrite or fibber, that is not what he meant, there was always a qualification in the phrase. I would never hit anyone first; or, unless I obviously ought to. With my conservative background I would feel (rather than rationally calculate) that there would be times where you ought to.

My uncertainty makes me give energy to it, so that I have greater self-knowledge. The qualities you most doubt in yourself may be the ones which you have devoted most time to developing, because you care about them.

Egos and souls

Lovely phrase I got from Jamie Catto– “Egos trying to act like souls”. We imagine we know what “Enlightenment” looks like, we judge how far along the path we are, and we try to behave as if we are more enlightened than we are, or even have Attained Enlightenment. This can be a good thing. It is good to walk your talk, and acting in a particular way strengthens the brain connections leading to acting like that. We wear down the path. It is a bad thing if it gets you to suppress contrary information out of consciousness. You reach cognitive dissonance, and deny reality.

I thought, oh brilliant. Another thing to judge myself on. I shall immediately start to judge and analyse whether I do that.

It’s not conscious and unconscious self. The unconscious self is looking out of my eyes, hearing what I do not hear consciously, fully aware of all my sensory input. Something in me notices my friend, and I become conscious of her. There is a constant interplay. When I write, words bubble up from unconsciousness, I am consciously aware of something, it fades away. Always there is that memory within me of sitting on my father’s knee, crying and being comforted, and it surfaces for a moment now and then. Sometimes consciousness ruminates, like chewing on gristle, ideas I have chewed over many times, and sometimes it goes to work analysing a problem new to me. Analysis is good. And a temporary solution to a problem popped into my head just now, it had been stewing unconsciously, and I emailed it to a friend.

Insofar as there is a “self” or different “selves”, they are both conscious and unconscious.

So what is the Ego, as opposed to the soul? Is it Ego when I am judging and analysing, soul when I am simply perceiving? So INTP is always more enlightened than INTJ? What about Thinking/Feeling, is Feeling always more enlightened, or is that another false dichotomy?

The concepts of ego and soul, considered as different from each other, might not mean this, but ego is divided against itself, with superego telling it to be sensible and id trying to overwhelm it with impulse. Soul is one, thinking out routes to feeling-driven goals, thinking and feeling working together to prioritise, getting to know people and learning new information, seeing what is, and what is possible, going with the flow to build a structured life- EISNTFJP. Not that I’m there yet, I can talk without walking, the best “The Healthy Relationship” articles are written by divorcees. If the Tao is flowing like water, does that include learning how to perform a task, or just performing it?

I hold myself back, because I am afraid, because I am hurt, self-conscious, untrusting. BAD THINGS MIGHT HAPPEN and however not-bad they turn out they still seem bad in advance.

Threats and benefits

Fran: large groups of people seem to feel strangely insecure, as if they have to conform with each other in order to exist, and the only way to do that is to require everyone to be superficially the same. Very odd, for where is the threat?

Good question, which trans folk are uniquely well placed to answer, often conforming until we stop, and become our real selves.

The threat is to my identity. When I put on an identity I invested a great deal in it. It has overcome many impulses and feelings which I suppressed out of consciousness, because they terrified me. I still have that fear- “The monster will get me”- it is an existential threat, because I feared the withdrawal of my mother’s love at the moment I could not survive without it. That fear is hard to grow out of, even though I am now adult. So the identity, as a “man”, was me, safe and protected, and losing it would be becoming naked and vulnerable. This is terrifying.

For others, the threat might come from their age group, growing up. If you like X you are no longer one of the in crowd.

Then there is the difficulty of admitting you were wrong. So much of your life has been wasted. This is terribly difficult. When we assert something our self-respect and self-belief become involved.

You might be rescued by others who do not conform. You realise that there is no point in conformity after all, and you have tortured yourself into conformity for nothing. It is painful to realise you have wasted so much of your life and potential, so you may just snap back into denial. Yet if you can accept that lesson you can become free.

This is a slow process. I looked at myself in the mirror as I cleansed and moisturised, and thought, I like myself. I frustrate myself a bit. No, I frustrate myself a lot, but I grow to like myself. This is taking me years. I am frustrated with my slow progress, and pleased with my progress.

For trans folk, the difference between the conforming, adopted false self and the underlying real self is so great that we cannot continue with the process of denial.

The benefit is becoming integrated, becoming one. Rather than the competing demands of real self and false identity pulling me in opposite directions, I pull in just one. My feelings can overwhelm me, but I am not so much spending energy on suppressing them, and they do not so much nag at the corner of my consciousness until they can be acknowledged. I feel the feeling.

I know what I need. I work to get it. Increasingly, I flow towards it, the integrated self doing what is needed without all this analysis.

Knowing other people

Could you know any other person? Yes, but perhaps not deeply. We are social creatures, in social situations, and we respond habitually and with learned behaviour; we fit roles, from “class clown” or “nerd” onwards. We might understand ourselves under those roles, like the trans woman who tries to be manly. Every time you conform, you imagine that is the real you, and are pleased, like a poor tennis player having a good day and imagining that is their usual form. The true self, the woman, is a nagging doubt at the back of your mind that you cannot quite put into words. For we are a people of words, and we understand things by words, and do not understand what we cannot put in words. Already, much thoughtcrime is impossible because we have not the words for it.

You can know another only as deeply as you know yourself. If you gain words for feelings, and are taught to accept your feelings, you can find how you feel. Otherwise your feelings rage under consciousness, not breaking through. So I raged, and feared and suppressed my rage.

And now I wonder if I understand others. Proust delves deeply into his narrator’s feelings, responses, ridiculous miscalculations, fears, desires, and other characters are mostly façades. We hear what they say, he observes how they look, and that is it. If I too much value the conventional, how one is supposed to behave in particular situations, how one is supposed to find pleasure, then I might judge another on how conventional they are. This is a good person. He behaves as I have been taught to expect people to behave.

And then I grow to know myself. I am still often amazed that other people have similar experiences, or feel entirely differently, but grow to accept the possibility.

It has always been a delight to spend a weekend with people like me, and I first noticed this with Mensa, the club for those who score in the top 2% on an IQ test. (I’m in the top 1%). We used our intelligence like a Birmingham screwdriver. I have not been to a Mensa weekend for twenty years, and might not feel that now. My sense is that Quakers are different sorts, though mostly very intelligent, and I warmly anticipate Yearly Meeting in August. A Quaker writes, Authentic connection involves sharing self-knowledge and recognising, not only what we have in common, but what is genuinely different. I am unsure of that. I might be more comfortable resting in what the group values and does together.

Do I as a Queer person seek to pass as “normal” or find liberal, tolerant circles where I can find others doing the work of accepting me? Do we keep to the things we can agree on? I feel it is a blessing, being so uncomfortable presenting male that I was forced to find the real me, the woman, underneath, but if she makes others too uncomfortable I might pretend to me more like them, so they would not cast me out.

And the similarities are real. I value what I share with Quakers when we are most conformist to our own group. It is closer to “Real me” than other groups might be. How delightful, to let out a part of me with this group, or the trans women’s support group, which I cannot let out with those who would not recognise it. Do not cast your pearls before swine.

So, can I know another? Only so far as they show themselves in the situations where we meet. H said I knew her better than anyone apart from close family. We can know ourselves best when we can open up to another.

teople.

Ghost in the Shell

The city is beautiful, as the camera moves through it at night. Moving hologram faces advertise, lights flash, and people lead desperate or dismal lives of poverty amid the buzz and clatter. Street people and street dogs search for sustenance amid danger including law enforcement. I never expected to count the number killed, as mooks appear to be shot, elegantly, one bullet for each chest, or in a hail of bullets, but the irresistible force of each attack, by law enforcement, criminal gang, or billionaire’s private army shocked and repelled me. And the hero falling backwards slowly off a building, her cyborg body capable of such visual brilliance, is beautiful.

The Bad Billionaire, suborning the state for his own purposes, first by corruption then by violence, is introduced early. Will he get his comeuppance in the end? That would be a spoiler: so let us consider The Night Manager, by John Le Carré. In the book, the bad billionaire escapes, his fortune intact, but in the TV serial his tentacles of corruption cannot rescue him from law enforcement. In real life, I scarcely know. Billionaires trade in drugs where society has lost the power to reach them, and billionaires buy governments by paying for campaigns, or by manipulating the news people read. Much of this activity, suborning democracy, is legal, and when there are competition authorities policing monopolies, they fail to prevent the public being gulled. So a “happy ending” where the Billionaire gets his, either by death or prosecution, might simply seem unrealistic, reinforcing our powerlessness in real life as much as a more realistic ending, where he gets away with it, would.

The great corporation saved her life. It is a technological miracle, manipulated for the Billionaire’s own ends. Her understanding of herself, of right and wrong and duty, is broken and reformed, and she finds her old love. I can believe in the world not being as it seems, but less in the Good characters finding out the Bad, and by opposing ending them. I am too jaded for this optimism among the relentless death and destruction and the grinding misery.

The Spider Tank was prefigured in dialogue. “Is the Spider Tank in position?” I wondered what it could be. I hoped for, well, a tank filled with spidery things, either living or technological, like a swarm or sea to consume the victim. That would fit the fighting in virtual reality or a sort of digital consciousness where vision confuses and distracts, and threat lies behind everything familiar or hopeful-seeming. It made a change from going into a darkened bar at night, shooting the bad guys who shoot the pole-dancers by accident but not the good guys. As in a real fire fight you would not know what is going on and the camera shows discrete bits of information continually changing as you would look around; but it makes clear that I would be lying bloody on the ground, before I had a chance to imagine what was going on.