Thursday, July 14, 2016

Black Lives Matter, Policing, and, Street Level Politics

I'm like an old war horse. When I hear the trumpet calling "charge", I want to rush off into action. This means that with all the demonstrations organized by Black Lives Matter a big part of me wants to help out. But I'm old, I have responsibilities, and, I no longer have the time to do that sort of thing. What I can do, however, is write and I have a gift for explaining complex issues in a way that most people can understand. So what follows is my little attempt to explain what is happening between black folks and the police in the USA. I know, I'm not black and don't live in the USA, so if anyone thinks that I am getting things totally wrong, feel free to comment to that affect. I actually do read and think about any constructive criticism I receive. If you just want to call me names, don't bother. I just delete that sort of thing. If you believe that what follows has merit, please send links out on social media to others. I'm trying to cut through the fog that dominates this issue and it doesn't do any good if no one knows about it.


One of the memes that comes out in discussions is that people have to be "compliant" when they are stopped by police. Actually, there is a lot to be said for this point of view.

But having said that, there are also important caveats that need to be pointed out.

First, it is sometimes said that statistics point out that black citizens stopped by police are not killed in any larger percentages than white people. But it needs to be remembered that blacks are stopped in much, much, much greater numbers---in many communities, but not all---than whites. Moreover, studies indicate that when blacks are stopped by police in those areas the odds are much higher that the whites being stopped will have some sort of major criminal problem. This clearly indicates that different criteria---based on race---are being used by officers when they decide to stop cars. (Take a look at this Vox article, it deals with some of these statistical issues.)

Now it would be easy to stop at this point and say that this is evidence that most police officers have an unconscious or conscious bias against black people and stop there. But it's important not to jump to conclusions. It is well known that lots of small jurisdictions in the US run their police departments as revenue generation machines. Travelers from Canada often have stories about "speed traps" in small towns that are obviously designed to fleece people traveling through. As well, it is also well known that if you have a large amount of cash money on hand police will often just take it because of civil forfeiture "laws".

But fewer people know about the way some communities use municipal bylaws to fund their police departments. Just think about this for a moment. My home town spends about half of its total tax revenue on policing. For a police department to actually break even---let alone make a profit---it must be running its department in a radically different way.

They do this by taking something that is supposed to be about changing people's behaviours---fines---and making it into a "gotcha" that allows them to shake down people for doing things that almost everyone does. Recently people have been riveted by the horrific video that Philando Castile's partner took of him being shot and bleeding out in his car. (I'm not going to post that video, as I don't want to watch a woman document her partner bleeding out again.) What many people don't know is that Mr. Castile had been stopped 52 times over the past few years for various minor infractions.  A full 50% of those tickets had been tossed by judges, but still the remainder of fines probably represented a significant fraction of his disposable income. This problem has been very well documented by researchers in St. Louis Missouri.

Now, consider the fact that Castile had been able to "beat" 50% of those tickets. Everything I've read about this man seems to indicate that he was very intelligent, had a pretty good job, and, excellent interpersonal skills. These are very important assets if you are wanting to fight against an unfair ticket. America is far from a meritocracy, but as a general rule, people who are born poor, become poor, and, remain poor, tend to not have these qualities. Obviously, they don't have a good job. Intelligence is basically innate, but it can be damaged by lack of opportunity---such as an education. And in the US, there are HUGE differences in quality of public schools depending on what neighbourhood you live in. Mr. Castile had big advantages over lots of other people, which is why he was able to "beat" so many tickets. What would have the impact of those tickets have been if he lacked the skills necessary to get out of paying half of them? Wouldn't this have been the equivalent of the police putting boot on his neck and forcing his face into the dirt?

It's also very important to understand that interpersonal skills can be very different depending on what milieu you are used to. I read a book titled Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America  about murder in the rough parts of LA. The author made the startling disclosure that in the LA police department being a homicide detective is considered a low-prestige job. Police officers believe that the real job is in "crime prevention", which involves driving around, identifying "bad guys", and, keeping them from doing anything wrong. There are no "beat cops" in South LA, just macho guys riding around in cars who "hassle" people who seem to be "up to no good". As a result, you have this awful situation where most young men have been pushed around for just being "young men" and the rest of the population that have almost no interaction with police officers and know that if something bad happens, the police are not going to put any real resources into finding out who caused the problem.

This means that even though South LA feels like it is under the thumb of an "occupying army" of police, it is actually under-policed. This means that people feel that they have no recourse but to "take matters into their own hands" if they are going to not end up being considered "easy pickings". This is a prescription to teach people to massively retaliate to perceived slights.  This maximizes the number of violent interactions between people. People who have never lived in "under policed" areas have a hard time understanding this, as we know that all you have to do to deal with a problem is dial "911" and within 15 minutes or so, help will be on the way. If you know that that isn't going to happen, you are left to your own devices.

A lot of people won't understand how this operates, so I'm going to spell out with an example that was related from a Justice of the Peace to a friend of mine. People who sell drugs are totally "under policed" because they have no recourse at all to the courts system. A fellow had fronted some drugs to another guy, who failed to bring in money for the drugs at an agreed upon time. Since the first fellow couldn't sue the second one for breach of contract, he had no recourse other than violence to force compliance. Even worse, if word got out that he was an "easy mark", he would probably have other people trying to rip him off. As a result, he felt obligated to do something to harm the fellow who hadn't brought in the money. So he stabbed the guy in the leg in order to "get the message across". He clearly thought that this would just hurt a lot without being life threatening. But instead, he severed a main artery and the guy bled out. So as a result of being in a business that is "under policed" he ended up being charged with murder with the result of losing the next 20 or so odd years of his life to prison.

I'm sure that lots of people will think "so just don't sell drugs", but in many communities this is simply the only way a person can make any money at all. (This is part of the reason why the war on drugs is such a terrible idea.) But even if you totally choose to avoid criminality, in a lot of "sketchy places" it is pretty darn hard to go through life without learning how to push back pretty hard. If you don't, the word gets out that you are weak and that makes you "easy pickings". In those places, you learn that aggression is the only way to protect yourself.

The above is an example of what you have to learn to do if you are going to survive in some areas of the world---including many parts of the USA. Teaching people to "always be compliant" isn't really a smart life strategy in many cases. Unfortunately, "you play the way you train", and if your experience is that you have to protect yourself your instincts are going to react the same way when you are being menaced by a thug with a uniform and a badge. Just by way of a bookend, take a look at what sort of thing happens if people are too passive and refuse to get aggressive.

I kept hoping that someone who wasn't "compliant" would get involved and kick that man's ass. But if you teach everyone to be compliant and non-aggressive all the time, this is what happens. Again, you can't just turn your response to injustice on and off. If you live your life caring about right and wrong, you simply cannot turn it off when the person doing wrong is wearing a badge and a gun.

The above, very funny Chris Rock video recommends that people "shut the fuck up" and "be polite" if they want to avoid a police beating. But people's anger has to be put into a context. If you have repeatedly been "shaken down" by the police, have no ability to defend yourself in a court setting, and, have learned through life experience that "compliance" in most settings makes things escalate, you are going be at risk of "losing it" and mouthing off to the police.

A second point that needs to be considered is that all those municipal fines have consequence. If you cannot pay them because you are very poor, you can end up in jail. And, if you are in jail, you usually lose your job. And, to a large extend---in many places---having a criminal record will ruin your life. Many jurisdictions will not allow people who have served time to vote or access benefits like subsidized housing or even welfare. It is a lot harder to get work too. As a result, many people try to avoid the whole legal process---which means that they get served with a warrant. Remember Chris Rock suggesting you ask all your friends if they have a warrant issued against them? In some neighbourhoods this can be a very large percentage of the population---mostly for very minor municipal offenses. A police stop can totally trash your life---is it really surprising that some people "explode" at a "routine police stop"?

Now let's add a little cherry to the top of this "shit sundae". Do you think that the police are encouraged to go after wealthy, white people for petty revenue generating reasons? Not likely. It can be a "career limiting move" to ticket an "important person". Even if you did, these people hire lawyers and they take issues to court instead of just meekly paying the fine. Court time costs money, and even if you win the case, the revenue from the fine is not going to pay for the cost of bringing in a police officer, paying for the judge, bailiff, prosecutor, etc. What this means is that the police are going to be encouraged to only go after poor people. And for various reasons that usually means black people. So blacks are pretty darn sure that there is a racial component to the way policing is done in large parts of the USA.


Having written all of the above, let's look at things from the point of view of police.

You don't even have to be working for one of those services that are systematically jerking around the citizenry to routinely come across people who have been primed to absolutely loathe police officers. This is because policing in the US is decentralized in a way that no other country in the world would allow. Each tiny little town or municipality has its own police force. This happened, bye and large, because of slavery and Jim Crow. Because of slavery, the racist slave states were absolutely adamant about decentralizing as much power as possible to the lowest level possible. This is generally described as "state's rights". They wanted this to prevent the more powerful North from forcing them to treat black people like human beings. Moreover, after the Second World war large cities began to desegregate, which meant that huge numbers of whites moved from large cities to small municipalities where they would still dominate local government and be able to preserve their "right" to treat black people like shit. Of course, you can't really treat blacks like crap unless you control the police force---which is why policing was never amalgamated, like it has been in Canada. This means that you can drive a couple miles from one area with a fairly progressive police force to one that is little more than an occupying army keeping the "coloureds" under control.

Now let's add some gasoline to this slowly smoldering fire. The gun lobby in the USA has been progressively stripping-away every last vestige of gun control legislation. This means that in many parts of the country it is tremendously easy to legally purchase and carry fire arms. "Conceal carry" permits are literally easier to get in many states than a driver's license. As well, many states have laws that allow anyone to carry around a long gun or pistol as long as it isn't hidden.

So a police officer may or may not be in the process of shaking down a marginalized "under class", but he wears a uniform and people who are oppressed rarely make such fine distinctions. So that means that no matter what, a significant fraction of the public that they have to deal with ABSOLUTELY HATE POLICE. Add to that the fact that there is a very good chance that those people may have a military grade weapon at their disposal.

Now, let's look at the internal dynamics of the police. Most police are just "regular folks" who are trying to get by in one of the few working class jobs that actually pays something like a good wage. That means that they try to keep their heads down and avoid "making waves". As one ex-officer puts it,
On any given day, in any police department in the nation, 15 percent of officers will do the right thing no matter what is happening. Fifteen percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70 percent could go either way depending on whom they are working with.
This shouldn't be all that surprising. Only a small percentage of people in the general population make any effort to think for themselves or show any initiative. Mostly, they just follow other people's lead. This is what causes the phenomenon known as the "unresponsive bystander".

In most occupations, this is no big deal. But the problem with police is that they hold a monopoly of force in society. Moreover, the legal system is set up to give preferential weight to the testimony of police officers. This means that when that 15 percent of bad officers get into trouble---and the other 70 percent back them up---the police can literally get away with murder. This has been going on for a very long time, as various investigations of police have shown over the years. But what has changed now is the proliferation of video evidence in the form of security and cell phone recordings, and, Social Media on the Internet to disseminate it all over the world. This is important because while in the past there were eye witnesses to various crimes, the courts automatically discounted any testimony that contradicted the police. Moreover, the "Lame-Stream Media" routinely refused to publish anything that contradicted the police narrative because crime reporters require access to the police to do their job. Anything that jeopardized that access would be avoided. But now there is an alternative to the crappy newspaper, radio or television news that fed people pablum. Now we have websites like "Democracy Now" and "The Young Turks" that will show you exactly what happened---because their reporters don't get any access to the police anyway and as a result have nothing to lose. As a result, a lot of people are really pissed off with the police now---even people who have never been shaken down by the cops. This is creating a lot of confrontation in society.


This isn't the first time that increased visibility has led to social unrest. I grew up in the 1960s and can remember a time when city after city would routinely explode into race riots all across the USA. I am of the opinion that a lot of this came from television coverage of the civil rights movement.

Society back then was facing an impasse over whether or not black people were going to get the real right to vote. The political parties originally refused to pass legislation that would give them this right for a very good reason---whichever party did so would suffer huge electoral consequences. Eventually, the Democratic Party did so, and its support totally collapsed in the Southern USA. This destroyed the old "New Deal" machine. The Republicans instituted a "Southern Strategy" which allowed them to vacuum-up all the racist voters and elect people like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, the Bushes, and so on. Democrats became terrified of pushing too hard for helping out the poor and blacks because they don't want to see support for their party collapse like it did when LBJ brought in the Civil Rights Act.

Bill Clinton only brought the Democrats back to power through pushing left wing politics into what was called the "neo-liberal consensus". This is an idea that the role of government is quite limited and instead the free market---through things like deregulation and free trade agreements---should be allowed to govern most of human interactions. This is what led to NAFTA and the repeal of Glass-Steagal, which in turn led to America losing huge numbers of good-paying manufacturing jobs and the 2008 crash. Clinton was not alone in shifting to the right, as the New Democratic Party in Canada also did so, as did Labour---under Tony Blair---in the United Kingdom. Because of this consensus, "taxes" became a dirty word and everywhere government was starved of funds, and, social and physical infrastructure was left to fall apart. (This is why so many of those municipalities have turned their police departments into revenue generation machines---their rich citizens refuse to pay more taxes, and, their poorer ones simply cannot.)

Clinton didn't sell this shift to the Democratic party as "capitulation" to Republican ideology (even though that's exactly what it was), but rather as "triangulation". That is to say, he was arguing that what he was doing was finding some common ground that would allow him to peel away part of the Republican base in order to get enough votes to win an election. This was based on the unspoken assumption that the Democratic base (blacks, progressives, etc) couldn't possible go towards the Republican party, so they could be totally ignored when it came to developing policy.

The problem with triangulation is that eventually progressive voters realised that they were being played for fools. There was no viable third party in the USA, so the only way they could show their anger with the Democrats adoption of the neo-liberal consensus and triangulation was to simply not bother to vote. This is why so many people argued that "there's no difference between the two, so I'm not bothering to vote". Of course, the problem with not voting is that it plays into the hands of the Republicans and allows them to win election after election. As a result, Republicans have been able to win both Congress and far too many state governments, which has resulted in regressive policies that have accelerated the stratification of wealth in society. Vote in the Republicans and you will get worse poverty than if you vote Democrat---although the difference can sometimes seem slight.

This association of Democrats with neo-liberalism and triangulation hasn't been helped by the rise of Hillary Clinton. While it is very important to remember that she isn't her husband, she still is associated in many people's minds with neo-liberalism. This is why progressives are so often grudging in her support. One hopeful sign seems to be that she is actually much more willing to listen to other people and change her policies as a result. More importantly, the surprisingly strong campaign of Bernie Sanders seems to be an object lesson to the Democratic party that if they stop trying to triangulate towards elements of the Republican voter base, they will be able to get huge numbers of progressive voters to come out to the polls. If the Democrats can increase the voter turnout, they can not only win but probably annihilate the Republican party.


I have focused on the politics of triangulation because the underlying causes that created the battle between blacks and police all come from economic policy. And that means you simply cannot fix the problem without getting progressive politicians elected into office. If you still have wild wealth stratification and penny-ante police forces in tiny little municipalities, you are going to have police forces that are out to extort poor people.  As a result, you are going to have a lot of people who hate the police. If you don't have decent gun laws, you are going to have police officers who are terrified of getting shot. As a result, they are going to continue to be trigger happy. This means that if people really want to stop this mayhem, they are going to have to vote the Republicans out of office and ensure that the Democrats they elect are really progressive, instead of Bill Clinton-style "New Democrats".

I think the Dallas police chief was getting at the need to get beyond the neo-liberal consensus and start instituting a new "New Deal" in American society when he said that America asks too much of the police. One of the saddest things about the sniper attacks on the Dallas police seems to be that it is probably one of the most progressive police departments in the country---probably one that has made the greatest strides towards dealing with the issues that Black Lives Matter has been bringing to people's attention. But, as many people over the years have said, "life ain't fair".

Sunday, July 3, 2016

A Request for Some Feed Back: Daoism As A Practical Philosophy

It's been a while since I posted something on this blog. Instead, I've been working on a new book, which I've tentatively titled "Daoism as a Practical Philosophy". It's not a diary about my life, like this blog, but more of an introduction to the key elements of Daoism.

I'm not just writing for my own edification, as I will soon be retiring and I think it would be nice if I could augment my pension through a little extra income. To that end, I won't just be offering it for free like my other writing projects. I'm new to publishing, however, so I thought it might be a good idea to ask my readers what they think. I'm going to give a sample of the book plus a couple questions. I'd like responses, either in the comments on the blog or through direct email to "". 

My first question is "Do you think it would be a better idea to self-publish an ebook through SmashWords and an on-demand publisher like Lulu, or, should I try to find a press that would print and sell it for me?  If anyone reading this is associated with publishing and would like to talk to me about this, I would be open to any inquiries. 

My second question is "If you do think that I should self-publish as an  e-book, what do you think would be an fair price?" I'm not interested in giving it away for free, as I think that the subject is a lot more popular than my earlier book about environmental issues. But I really don't have a clue about what people think is a fair price anymore. 

So here's some of the work I've been doing already. It should give people an idea about what the book is about. 


Practical Philosophy

In modern times “philosophy” has become a purely academic pursuit. Professors at universities write papers for each other where they discuss very abstract concepts. I'm not going to say that this is a totally worthless pursuit, as some of the ideas that they develop end up becoming extremely important for science, literature, politics, and so on. Human society cannot evolve without creating new ways of thinking about the world, and to do this someone has to create new ways of looking at the world.

But philosophy used to also be about how ordinary people learned how to live a life of meaning and purpose. In the late Roman Empire there were schools of philosophy that helped people learn how to live better lives. The most famous were Stoicism, Cynicism, and Skepticism. Each of these were systemic ways of looking at and living in the world. They allowed followers to find meaning and coherence in turbulent times. Unfortunately, they were suppressed by the Christian church once it became the official---and exclusive---religion of the Roman Empire. Philosophy continued in academic settings, but it was never again allowed to escape into the lives of ordinary citizens.

At roughly the same time, philosophy also arose in India and China. India's most famous examples are Yoga and Buddhism. In China, some examples were Confucianism, Moism, Daoism, and Legalism. In India its practical philosophies became overlaid by religious thinking to the point where for most people their original teachings pretty much disappeared. In China this also happened to Daoism. Confucianism did the same as Western philosophy and disappeared into something of an Ivory Tower---but because China lacked universities, this tended to instead be the Imperial bureaucracy. Moism (a socialist/utilitarian/scientific worldview) was effectively exterminated after its followers lost a literal war with Legalism (at totalitarian worldview based on rigid rule of law.) Legalism's success at founding the first Chinese Empire proved a Pyrrhic victory, because it's extremely harsh treatment of ordinary people resulted in rebellions that quickly destroyed that dynasty and it's governing philosophy.

(Of course, this is all a grotesque over-simplification, but people have to start somewhere and this book is not an academic, historical treatise.)

OK. There was this thing in the past. Why should anyone care today?

When I was a child one of my teachers used to write sayings on the blackboard every morning. One that stuck out in my mind was “Be a live wire and you won't get stepped on!”. At the time, I thought that it meant that people shouldn't be afraid of standing up for their rights, asserting their interests, or, showing off their abilities. It struck me as an advertisement in favour of the value of being “pushy”. As a child, I thought that this was a bit odd, as my family had always taught me that that was being rude.

Why did that teacher write it on the black board?

Totally unconsciously, she was promoting a “practical philosophy”. In particular, she was promoting a sort of optimistic, liberal, 20th century view of “individual progress”. Contrast that with this similar piece of folk wisdom:  “The nail that sticks out shall be hammered down.” That is a Japanese proverb that seems to suggest that it is dangerous to be a “live wire”. Not only will being “live” not keep you from being “stepped on”---it will positively ensure that you will be.

Which one is right?

Well, that's an important question. One that requires the right answer because depending on how you choose, you will live your life in a particular way and suffer the consequences. The practical philosophies that I mentioned above---Greek, Indian, and, Chinese---are all coherent collections of ideas about how you should live your life. They all suggest that it is better to follow a internally consistent series of maxims instead of simply bouncing through life following whatever random ideas your culture (eg my elementary school teacher) chooses to insert into your consciousness. This book is an attempt to expose the reader to one of those schools of practical philosophy:  Daoism. My hope is that some of you will see the great wisdom that I have found that it brought to my life, and how it helps me navigate the day-to-day problems that I face.

And in the case of that woman in the classroom, a Daoist would probably have written “Be like water”. That is, find effective “work arounds” for problems instead of either fighting against them or just doing what everyone else does.


The Different Frames Used to Study Daoism

One of the problems I often see when looking at Daoism is the “frame” that people use to look at it. That is to say, people approach it from a specific viewpoint based on their particular interest or area of expertise. Unfortunately, these folks often have zero appreciatioin of people who come to the subject from a different point of view. The result is often like the parable of the blind men and the elephant:  everyone touches a very different part and comes up with very different ideas about the beast.

For example, people with personal experience as with an individual sect sometimes make very definitive statements about Daoism in general. This is because they don't know anything about other sects (and there are a great many), or, the consensus amongst the scholarly community about its history and literature.

Also, some academics who focus on the culture of Daoism believe that only someone who is fluent in Chinese and who has spent a long time assimilating into traditional Chinese culture can have any affinity to Daoism. Moreover, long study in Daoist Temples under Chinese Daoist masters is essential. Anyone who studies books in translation and follows specific disciplines is merely fooling themselves if they believe that they are really “Daoists”. The problem with this point of view is that it would seem to suggest that there is no objective “trans-cultural” core of Daoist philosophy or value in things like Daoist meditation techniques. It has mere aesthetic interest, but no more ultimate value than an ethnic cuisine or style of dress.

Other folks seem to see Daoism as primarily a mechanism for personal expression. One example of this are the folks who take it upon themselves to write “versions” of the Dao De Jing without educating themselves about the meaning of the original text. Another example are the guys who teach taijiquan as a “artistic dance” without trying to understand it as a martial art and holistic exercise system.

I don't really have much of a problem with any of these approaches as long as they aren't assumed to be the only one that has any legitimacy. Unfortunately, too many folks tend to assume that whoever isn't with them is---by definition---against them. I can see some merit in each of those frames. But in my own case I am approaching Daoism through the frame of philosophy. That is to say, I am looking for the ideas in the entire tradition that have merit and how I can apply them to my everyday life.


Hard Versus Soft, or, Keeping Your Spirit “Whole”

At one point in my taijiquan training I was taught how to take a punch. What I had to do was stand in a particular stance and another student hit me as hard as he could on the chest. If I flinched or tightened up the result was a horrible bruise that would last for weeks. But I learned that if I kept totally relaxed the force of the punch would flow through my rib cage, into my spine, and through my legs and feet into the floor. This isn't a metaphor. I could feel the force flow like an electric current through my body---leaving me totally unharmed.

The soft overcame the hard.

This wasn't the result of some occult power. It was just that the inherent resilience of my bodily structure is enough to avoid injury as long as I don't “freeze” it by tensing my muscles. It's exactly the same principle that a high school chemistry teacher shows when he dips a rubber ball in liquid nitrogen and the shatters it like glass by trying to bounce it off the floor.

Zhuangzi relates that Confucius was once watching a huge cataract:  “No tortoise, alligator, fish or turtle could swim there.” Yet he was surprised to see an old man swimming in the middle of the rapids. Thinking that he had fallen in, Confucius sent his disciples out along the river to try to save him. After a while, this fellow came out of the water on his own, which amazed the sage.
Confucious followed after the man and inquired of him, saying, 

“I thought you were a ghost, but when I looked more closely I saw that you are a man. May I ask if you have a special way for treading the water?
“No, I have no special way. I began with what was innate, grew up with my nature, and completed my destiny. I enter the very centre of the whirlpools and emerge as a companion of the torrent. I follow along with the way of the water and do not impose myself on it. That's how I do my treading.”
“What do you mean by 'began with what was innate, grew up with your nature, and completed your destiny'?” asked Confucious.
“I was born among these hills and feel secure among them---that's what's innate. I grew up in the water and feel secure in it---that's my nature. I do not know why I am like this, yet that's how I am---that's my destiny.”
(Zhuangzi, “Outer Chapters”, “Understanding Life”, Section Eight, Victor Mair trans.)
Instead of fighting against the current, the old man flowed with it. When the current pushed him away from his destination, he let himself go with it. When it pushed him towards it, he added a few strokes. Before long, he arrived where he wanted to go.

Being soft is not the same thing as being weak. Instead, it about being “non-resisting”.

And non-resisting is not about just deciding to be non-resistant. Tensing up before the fist hits you is not a voluntary response---it is instinctive. So being “soft” requires more than just a conscious decision, it requires a revolution in your being. Zhuangzi talks about this at length. He has Liezi (a master of the Dao) ask another sage (Director Yin) about what is required.
“The ultimate man can walk under water without drowning, can tread upon fire without feeling hot, and can soar above the myriad things without fear. May I ask how he achieves this?”
“It's because he guards the purity of his vital breath,” said Director Yin, “it's not a demonstration of his expertise or daring.
He goes on to give a revealing example.
“If a drunk falls from a carriage, even if it is going very fast, he will not die. His bones and joints are the same as those of other people, but the injuries he receives are different. It's because his spirit is whole. He was not aware of getting into the carriage, nor was he aware of falling out of it. Life and death, alarm and fear do not enter his breast. Therefore, he confronts things without apprehension. If someone who has gotten his wholeness from wine is like this, how much more so would one be who gets his wholeness from heaven! The sage hides within his heavenly qualities, thus nothing can harm him...”
(Zhuangzi, “Understanding Life”, Part Two, Mair trans)

Yet another example comes from a boatman.

Yen YƱan inquired of Confucius,saying,
”When I was crossing the gulf of Goblet Deep, the ferryman handled the boat like a spirit. I asked him about it, saying, 'Can handling a boat be learned?' 'Yes', said he, 'good swimmers can learn quickly. As for divers, they can handle a boat right away without ever having seen one.' I asked him why this was so, but he didn't tell me. I venture to ask what you think he meant.”
“A good swimmer can learn quickly because he forgets about the water,” said Confucius. “As for a diver being able to handle a boat right away without ever having seen one, it's because he regards the watery depths as if they were a mound and the capsizing of a boat as if it were the rolling back of a carriage. Capsizing and rolling back could unfold a myriad times before him without affecting his heart, so he is relaxed wherever he goes.”
Confucius then goes on and gives another example that stresses the importance of keeping your “spirit whole”

“He who competes for a piece of tile displays all of his skill;  he competes for a belt buckle gets nervous;  he who competes for gold gets flustered. His skill is still the same, but there is something that distracts him and causes him to focus on externals. Whoever focuses on externals will be clumsy inside.”
(Zhuangzi, “Understanding Life”, Part Three, Mair trans)
The archer who is competing for a prize is not afraid of drowning or getting nasty bruises. But his mind is distracted from the act of shooting his bow by considering what he would do with his prize. This is the point of the following apocryphal story:
A martial arts student went to his teacher and said earnestly, “I am devoted to studying your martial system. How long will it take me to master it.”
The teacher’s reply was casual, “Ten years.” Impatiently, the student answered, “But I want to master it faster than that. I will work very hard. I will practice everyday, ten or more hours a day if I have to. How long will it take then?”
The teacher thought for a moment, “20 years.”

Being “soft” instead of “hard” is a relatively easy concept to understand. But how one becomes truly “soft” is not. “Hardness” involves separating yourself from the universe (or Dao) around you. That punching exercise that I introduced this section was not called “taking a punch” in my school, but rather “exchanging energy”. It was not considered a skill that was to be developed to protect you in a fight, but a way of helping one another to develop a deeper understanding of the Dao.


So I'd like some help here on my book.  Should I try to sell it to a publisher? Or should I self-publish? And if I do self-publish, what do you think would be a fair price for an e-book?  Make a comment on the blog or email me at .