We’re too good to be this political ~ Be the change you want to see in the world

The Second Book of the Tao ~ Stephen Mitchell

The Second Book of the Tao
Stephen Mitchell

My first mistake today was climbing into the bathtub and picking up the May 31st, 2010 edition of Canada’s weekly news magazine, Macleans, rather than the copy of Stephen Mitchell’s The Second Book of the Tao, in which I’d thought to have a nice, long spiritual soak along with the hot water, and possibly bubbles. My second mistake was not putting the magazine down after reading On why Christians should try to convert Muslims, instead continuing on to Mark Steyn’s editorial, We’re too broke to be this stupid. My third mistake was rousing myself from the bathtub with said periodical and making my way to the computer where I found the latter article on the Macleans website and posted a thought-provoking, sublimely malicious comment.

I learned how to write in political forums. I learned to be precise and ruthless with language to escape the mockery of others. I learned to heap artful malice upon the ideas of the fools who debated with me. Politics engenders a distinct and unsubtle flavour of anger, hatred, derision and spiritual malfeasance.  Political minds spin lies, bend statistics, toss in red herrings and strawmen, and omit the truth in order to sustain or obtain their agendas. Often these are agendas to which they no longer have a personal, moral, objective or subjective allegiance. Most importantly, people who immerse themselves in politics lose themselves to the false spiritual belief in doing wrong for the greater good. That wrong can be as simple as intellectually beating someone up in front of an audience to make themselves (most likely) or their own ideas (least important, generally) look smarter.

I can’t tell you a specific moment when I began turning away from political thinking, away from the belief that we can create the world we wish to live in through political endeavour.

We can’t. Certainly not within the state of politics today, steeped in bitter, ruthless malice as it is. Perhaps there are better people out there than me, people who can engage politically and withstand the urge to sink to the loathesomely low quality of political discussion dominating the media, cafes, classrooms and living rooms. I can’t. “Never argue with a fool,” a wise friend once advised, “the audience can’t tell the difference.” Eventually I realised that nearly all political arguments between opposing sides devolve into foolishness, and most everyone who engages in them comes across as a fool. Chief among those fools was me.

Perhaps the most important spiritual transformation of my life was the turn away from politics. I can’t tell you a specific moment, but I realised the tide had already turned as I was writing Courage during a bicycle tour of China in 1998. The transformation has been long, drawn out. Certain events like 9/11 could still draw me out and I’d write something like Reciprocal Madness. Over the years, though, I’ve all but withdrawn from politics, and infrequently allow myself to discuss it, or even read about it. When I do, I usually right myself before posting a nasty rebuke on some mainstream news media website.

You might ask, “have you given up on the idea that we can change society, Peter?” No, I haven’t. Far from it. “Then,” you might continue, “how can you do that without engaging politically?”

Be the change you want to see in the world.
     ~ Mahatma Gandhi

I want to see a more spiritual, loving world. So I will be more spiritual, more loving. This is the only real path for positive change in the world.

You can’t roll up your sleeves and make people more spiritual and more loving. You cannot make someone love your way of being by deriding theirs. However, people can see the benefits of a more spiritual loving path in the examples shown by others. Politics and war will not bring spiritual peace, nor can we force hatred from the will of a people at the point of a gun, or with the force of legislation. All such attempts amplify our own hatred, our own malice, our own fear, and theirs as well. Disarm hatred, fear and violence in the way that all great spiritual teachers tell us to: disarm with love, loving kindness.

You might respond, “Nothing will ever change without force of action or political resolve.”

The Indian revolution was a peaceful one, driven primarily by the politically spiritual practice of peaceful non-violence and non-action. The end of The Irish Troubles came when enough people set the politics of hatred aside long enough to clasp hands in unison, and made peace the only ‘winning’ option socially and politically. The Soviet Union collapsed when the will of the people for change welled up into the people who held power, and the oppressive political and military structures that had oppressed millions for decades simply evaporated as police, soldiers and politicians stood by, even joined, the people as they dismantled the walls of division, both physical and metaphorical, with hardly a shot fired.

Throughout human history these seemingly political changes are unprecedented. I believe they represent the leading edge of a wave of spiritually motivated changes shaping human destiny, human evolution. So, I will continue to avoid making witty, derisive remarks in response to malicious political editorials, and forgive myself the occasional mistaken foray into political ‘debate’. I’m still learning this new, better way. As are we all.

Now… out for a bike ride…some time with family…and I think tonight I’ll crack open The Second Book of the Dao as I’d intended to earlier, and leave the weekly newsmagazines for those who still care to think that way.

15 Responses to “We’re too good to be this political ~ Be the change you want to see in the world”

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  1. Chess says:

    Only bigots keep out of each other’s way. The only good listener is the true believer.

  2. Warren Z says:

    Congratulations you made Steyns reader of the day. http://www.steynonline.com/

    • Peter says:

      [smile] Thanks for the heads up, Warren.

      Yah… I’d noticed earlier today, along with a big spike in traffic. Not that any of Mark’s fans are sticking around very long, though 😉

      Nonetheless, I’m charmed.

  3. C H Ingoldby says:

    I think one of the reasons that not many are sticking around is because your post gives the impression that you are pretentious,smug and self regarding.

    • Peter says:

      [smile] Perhaps you’re right, C H. I definitely had my dander up while writing it…and I let the emotional response get the best of me.

      But I also think one of the reasons people might not stick around is fans of a politically active and outspoken site like Mark Steyn’s probably disagree with the message.

    • Peter says:

      I’ve been thinking about your observation, C H.

      Along with the political pugnacity of his editorialism, I’d list pretentious, smug and self-regarding as qualities shared by pretty much every Mark Steyn post. In fact, he’s selling a variation of the age-old Che Guevara t-shirt, featuring his visage and a Canadian maple leaf on the beret instead of a star. Viva Stein!

      I see this happen on both left and right sides of the political fence. And the further you go into the extreme of either spectrum, the more likely it is to be the case. My lefty friends decry the truth-stretching, lies and personal attacks utilised by, say, Rush Limbaugh. They despise the self-aggrandising posturing of the lout. Then they turn around and defend the truth-stretching, lies and personal attacks utilises by, say, Michael Moore. They even applaud the self-aggrandising posturing of the lout.

      What appears to one side of the spectrum as righteous indignation appears to the other as self-righteous posturing.

      Personally, I see them both for their loutishness, and usually stay out of the pissing matches. In what I write, I try to do better than that, but don’t always succeed.

  4. Peter the Australian says:

    I, as right wing as they come, thouroghly agree with you in relation to politics. A little Tory anarchism would be a good thing.

    The problem is that the Statists keep making so much trouble in the world with their faux compasssion and teenage dreams of bigger anf bifgger government. We Tories have to reluctantly come out and kill the leftist beast every so often before we retire back to being more enlightened, sexier and richer than our silly Statist friends.

    • Peter says:

      Hi Peter,

      [smile] I’m about as left wing as they come, and probably equally anarchistic (Libertarian).

      Left and Right Libertarianism represent pretty fundamental shifts in the way societies structure their interactions. However, I believe the bigger shift — if anarchism is to work — must come in human beings themselves, in our nature. I really don’t think we’re quite ready for such a loose structure, seeing as we remain so eager to pick up a gun in order to get our way. Change that, then we can talk about which form of minimalist governement works best. 😉

  5. Chess says:

    I just noticed that you are congratulating yourself on your courage. I believe that you modified your post since yesterday: you mentioned that you posted a comment on Macleans article which you characterized as malicious or intelligent, or something to this effect. I do not seem to find this piece so I assume that you removed it. I also assumed that there could be other voices that are congratulating you on your courage, and I rememberd a certain chapter in “Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton. My thoughts then led me to remember a very piercing quote of his, where he notices that a person who takes his philosohpy seriously will want to examine all other philosophies and listen to its beating pulse. Only the bigoted soul, the soul that has not grounded itself through self examination and contemplation (the politically incorrect term is “prayer”) in philosophy will assert that all philosohies are either fake or a dream.

    Anyway, I truly admire your approach to solving the problems of the world. This is exactly my approach too. It has been discovred before and it is called the “Original Sin”. It affirms that nothing in the world will be good if the heart of the “Son of Man” is not good. And it affirms that, as in all beatuiful mathematical theorems, that there is a unique way to solve it. Wish you the best.

    • Peter says:

      Hey Chess,

      Just so you know: I haven’t modified this post in any way since publishing it.

      Also, at the end of the first paragraph I refer to the comment I posted on Steyn’s editorial as a thought-provoking, sublimely malicious comment. Intelligent? Not so much. Unwise? Certainly.

      The comment is still there, on Page 4 of the comments, about 2/3rds the way down. Search the page for “Patrick” (Peter is a nom de plum).

      When I re-read Courage, which I wrote a dozen years ago, I still see a man trying to find that quality in himself, trying to act in a manner that stands side-by-side with his being, and not always succeeding. I wish I could congratulate myself on my courage. That man is this man, a dozen years older. Still seeking his courage. [smile]

      Mmmm… I wasn’t familiar with the Chesterton quote. A good one.

      And thanks… It’s always good to hear from like-minded people.



  6. Greem Dragon says:

    Hi Peter,
    A very interesting article and thanks for your thoughts. I can’t say I entirely agree with you. That said you’ve invited commentary so I just couldn’t resist.
    I personally don’t believe that either the Indian revolution or Ghandi offer any sort of realistic expectation of how to achieve meaningful change in the world. No disrespect to Mr Ghandi, however what was his fate? He was murdered by a Hindu ‘extremist’. Who wants to die like that?
    As for the Indian revolution, who were they in revolt against? The British Colonial government. Well we all know what a tyrannical, oppressive lot the English are, ask an Irishman. Taking on a government that a) had already promised the USA to give up it’s colonial empire, b) cares about its public image and reputation and c) does from time to time actually listens to the governed and act on the feedback is not really all that big a deal compared to say the collapse of European Communism.
    The fall of Euro-Communism did involve fighting, maybe not a lot in relative terms, blood still flowed and heroes made the supreme sacrifice.
    I share your vision of a more spiritual world, I welcome the idea, that said, not everyone does and when push comes to shove those not interested in the vision need to be dealt with. With deadly force if necessary. We can make a bid for Utopia, it will however take all sorts to get us over the line and that includes armed, rough men.

    • Peter says:

      Hey GM,

      [smile] Please, no need to resist at all. I welcome commentary, and thank you for yours.

      RE: Gandhi… Well, there are even worse ways to die. War offers a terrifying array. Don’t you think, though, that if Gandhi had been given the option of a peaceful death after leading a murderous revolt (or playing no role whatsoever in history) he’d have still chosen the path he walked to that fateful day? Personally, I hope I would choose that too.

      Indian Revolution: No argument by me on the auspicious conditions for peaceful revolution in colonial India. Still, it could easily have gone either way, and the achievement set a precedent by which other peaceful resolutions under less auspicious conditions have been and will be undertaken.

      European Communism: Yep. almost bloodless. Being born in 1961, I grew up with the spectre of the Communist Soviet Union. The iron curtain had always been defined to be a permanent structure that would only fall in an armageddon of one sort or another. Given the scale of the revolution, the violence barely registers a blip.

      Yesterday I wrote up a post that will be published tomorrow morning. It responds somewhat tangentially to the final points you make. I do make allowances for ‘the direst necessity’. I count very few of the conflicts the West has entered in the last several years in that category. And, in fact, we’ve avoided several regions of the world where that phrase probably warranted armed intervention (the multiple genocides in Africa, for example).

      I don’t think we need to concern ourselves with Utopias so much as just being better to one another, and trying to make our own lives more loving and spiritual. I’ll leave Utopia to politicians and philosophers.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts…cheers!

  7. Dave Reesor says:

    “Now… out for a bike ride…some time with family…and I think tonight I’ll crack open The Second Book of the Dao as I’d intended to earlier, and leave the weekly newsmagazines for those who still care to think that way.”

    Isn’t this the liberal way of indicating how much superior you are to conservatives, especially when you can’t refute their arguments?

    • Peter says:

      Hi Dave,


      I’m neither a conservative nor a liberal — there are other options outside that duality.

      What I’m saying in the article is that joining the argument is an exercise in futility. Neither of the politically delineated sides of the debate ever ‘wins’.

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