“Living in Interesting Times”

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Today is October 14, three days before the US government runs out of money — that is, the power to borrow more money to cover our out-of-balance budget. The partisan conflict in Washington is intensifying: on one side are those who see financial default as the end of life as we know it; on the other are those who see Big Government, exemplified by Obamacare, as evil. Viewed with a little detachment, the situation brings to mind what I wrote in chapter 86 of The Accidental Peacemaker:

At the ‘usual time and place,’ Walter got into Mac’s pickup, fastened his seat belt, and accepted the customary cup of coffee from Mac, but he couldn’t contain his enthusiasm very long. “The world sure looks different from what it did the last time we went fishing. It’s been an interesting couple of weeks.”
Mac laughed. “There’s said to be an ancient Chinese curse, ‘May you live in interesting times,’ although its authenticity is questionable, because those who quote it are unable to supply the original Chinese. Supposedly it was the first of three curses of increasing severity, the second being ‘May you come to the attention of powerful people’ and the third ‘May your wishes be granted.’ So just because you’ve made it this far doesn’t mean you can relax.”

The invocation, ‘May you live in interesting times,’ here suggested to be a curse, can also be regarded as a blessing. That fact, in itself, is enough to create suspicion of Chinese origin — that is, in Taoism, where thinking is non-dualist. In dualist thought, exemplified by Aristotelian logic, things are either true or false, right or wrong, good or bad, black or white — they must be one or the other, and they cannot be both. In Taoism, things can not only be both at the same time, but that is how they always are, always have been, and always will be. There is no ‘absolute’ good, because the very existence of ‘good’ implies the simultaneous existence of its opposite, ‘evil.’

This notion seems strange — even erroneous — to us here in the United States, in the Western world, but it is how life is viewed in Eastern cultures. Moreover, I suggest that we would do well to adopt that point of view. Instead of seeing the Affordable Care Act as the epitome of evil, we might admit that our health care system is under-performing and overly expensive (as compared with other nations) and therefore in need of radical overhaul. And instead of seeing financial default as the end of the world — that is, the death knell of American exceptionalism — we might recognize that it could open the way to a more balanced and equitable world financial system, with less difference between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ nations.

I don’t know how to get this idea into the heads of extremist politicians in Washington, or provocative talk-show hosts, or even my fundamentalist neighbors (who are nevertheless my friends), much less religious fanatics intent on jihad or political wing-nuts committed to revolution. It’s why I wrote my book in the first place, but that was the easy part, compared with getting people to buy it and read it. If you are reading this now, please give some thought to how you can help.
— George Lindamood
14 October 2013