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

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.

Not transgender: a tomboy.

A mother writes in the New York Times of her daughter, who wears track pants and t-shirts, who aged seven affects a Luke Skywalker hair cut, and who, having been told she is a “tomboy” identifies as that, though she asks why it is a tomboy. She is quite sure she is a girl and not trans. Wanting freedom and respect for children who identify as trans, we surely want the same for children, however they identify.

The mother has read up on puberty blockers, and is quite willing to accept if her child decides she is a trans boy; but the child does not say that. The mother accepts her child’s decisions, as when aged three she wanted clothes like her father’s. By her own words she is the model parent for a trans child, accepting and backing up her child, though the child does not identify as trans; I believe her.

Why would a child identify as trans? Would a child who is reassured that they can behave as they like, as far as gender roles go, never consider that they were really trans? If a boy wants a princess dress from the Disney store, does that make him a girl? Would a boy imagine he was a girl, because he picks up from the culture that those things are for girls?

That is, is there a gender identity or just motivation towards certain behaviour?

Parental support needs to be self-sacrificial, like Billy Elliot’s father scabbing during the miner’s strike to support his son’s ballet ambitions. Even then, the family need some support and recognition from outside, or the child may go along with their peers’ ways. They have, after all, to know they can survive in the world.

The mother criticises the teacher in the after-school club, who asked, Your child wants to be called a boy, right? Or is she a boy that wants to be called a girl? Which is it again? The implication of the article is that if the child is non-conforming, there is pressure on the family to transition. People understand transition now, and the mother implies some think it appropriate for non-conforming children. I hope a teacher or doctor would want to ensure that the parent was not moulding a child to prevent transition, and such moulding could be done subtly- of course the child can climb trees, or wear what s/he likes, but must never talk of being a boy. Children can read their parents, what is approved or disapproved.

The mother writes of her objection to the child being asked- but it is the child’s decision, and a question is not a demand. Properly used, questions can help a child understand the range of her/his options. They had not known it was possible until they heard of it.

More generally, if gender roles are not enforced on anyone, will anyone transition? Commenters talk of when they were girls, or children they know, in the 1950s or 1970s playing with a pedal car marked “Police” or feeding ants to spiders. Others talk of now. I am a woman; I love fashion and am considered attractive. And yet I am a scientist, an atheist, and a science-fiction nerd. I despise romances and chic lit. I am not warm, supportive or nurturing. Another says Speaking as a short-haired, slacks-wearing adult woman working in a male field who nevertheless feels feminine, I think it’s important to keep looks/roles separate from deeper identities. She feels the feminine makeup skirts heels look is expensive and uncomfortable.

Trans folk need freedom for everyone. In a society where gender roles are rigid, trans people will be excluded. It seems to me that adults are freer to express themselves as they wish; and yet the numbers transitioning increase. This is because trans is real for people, not just adjusting to circumstances.

New York Times article.

Judgment

I sense she regularly judges me, as too stupid (it’s relative), blinkered or ill-read to understand her explanation, or be worth engaging with to educate or persuade. Of course she judges me. We meet, and we react to each other out of our knowledge of each other, which must involve judgment. It remains worthwhile for both of us. Why would you fear judgment? Relationship is impossible without it. It is nuanced, almost never merely that someone is “bad”.

How could I know others? Well they are human, therefore like me- to an extent. Possibly my judgment of others is unusually forebearing, making allowances, gentle, but not off the scale. And as Samuel Johnson said, If any man would consider how little he dwells upon the condition of others, he would learn how little the attention of others is attracted by himself. Certainly the virulent, emphatic, black and white condemnatory judgment I have for myself is shared by few or none. I am not a murderer.

I started my counselling session pleased by my weekend away and social encounters, yet dissatisfied. There must be more to life than this. I work hard, on getting those photos, that one in particular, right, and especially on my writing. And thinking- when I am not writing, I am thinking things through. Ideas percolate within me.

I am hard on myself. Making this statement- I worked hard on that– I don’t know if I am learning to be less hard on myself generally, or in specific instances. Possibly both. “There must be more to life than this!” Well, I don’t see what, and don’t know if that is because my blind spots obscure it, or there is nothing there.

-Is there anything you would like to do again, or have a go at? she asks.
-No. Should there be?

-Why are you bored?
-From lack of stimulus, and loneliness.
-Where might you find it?
-in Love. But I fear the outside world, everything outside my living room.
-Why?
-Because of experience.
-Any particular experiences?
-All of it, from childhood and adulthood.

This great amorphous mass of greyness frightens me in itself. Everything? Are there any shards of light in the gloom? As she points out, sometimes I overcome my fear because I want to do something. I engage with the outside world, and sometimes the experience is positive for me. It might be worth analysing and categorising my experience a little more.

-Have you seen the Jungle book vultures?

I have just been to look. Oops.

-Would you join a club?

I thought of joining a writers’ group. There is one in Swanston, and I have the email address of the man who runs it, but have not done anything about that.

-Of course not, because a writing group would open you to rejection and criticism. Reciting your poetry was a lesser risk. Do you critique others?

Yes, but in a spirit of offering possibilities, rather than dogmatism. I am gentle. My experience of the judgment of others does not fit my fear of it- I fear the Granite Statues, unbending, remorseless, utterly condemning. Others are not like that in my experience yet I still fear it.

She tells me that those who are afraid of the World are usually afraid of themselves. Once you accept yourself you can engage better. But, what are other people actually like? How could I ever know?

Blossom II

I cycled to worship ten miles on country roads, in brilliant sunshine, and stopped a couple of times to photograph wild flowers. A tiny splash of colour seen for an instant delights me, but they repay greater attention.

At the parish church, families leave their cars to worship. “Good morning!” said a woman as I pedalled past. “Happy Easter!” I replied. “Oh, well done,” she said, the slight hint of sarcasm not displeasing me. I had thought of saying “Christ is risen!” but forebore.

Housman was wrong. Pink blossom is definitely prettier.

Ministry included a quote- if you see everything as if you saw it for the first time or the last, you will live surrounded by glory.