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Koan.

Kyogen Osho said, it is like a man up in a tree hanging from a branch by his mouth. His hands grasp no bough. His feet rest on no limb. Someone appears under the tree and asks him, what is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the west? If he does not answer, he fails to respond to the question. If he does answer he will lose his life. What would you do in such a situation?

It’s not that an oleaginously pompous third-rater has from a wrought-iron throne on a cedar deck proclaimed me and mine and half the country about him as traitors. That shit—that particular shit—that’s fuckin’ hilarious. What it is is that a couple of oriflammes of our perniciously liberal media have nevertheless in spite of or rather because have chosen this overcompensating twerp and his cohorts as the best our nascent medium had to offer, this past year.

Go crawl back into your hole, you stupid left-wing shithead. And don’t bother us anymore. You have to have an IQ over 50 to correspond with us. You don’t qualify, you stupid shit.

With TIME, I suppose, they could be telling themselves it’s “Blogger of the Year,” you know, like “Person of the Year,” it’s not a mark of respect or who was the best or anything like that, just who had the most impact, like how we picked Hitler and Khomeini. Yeah. That’s the ticket. —But what the fuck is The Week’s excuse?

(Hey, did you read that nutty stuff over at Powerline today? And every day? Here’s my advice. When you find yourself reading something by Hindrocket, some rant about how irrational and traitorous the left is, or the MSM; just sort of pretend you are reading a Spider-Man comic, and Hindrocket is J. Jonah Jameson yelling at Betty Brant, or Robbie. Or Peter. About Spider-Man. Because why does he hate on Spidey so? Spidey is so obviously not a menace. He’s good. It’s too bad we all know who Atrios is now. Otherwise we could imagine: what if Atrios is really, like, Hindrocket’s secretary? I realize it is really a quite serious matter than the right-wingers have gone around the bend and apparently aren’t coming back. Still, you’ve got to find a way to read their stuff with a sunny heart.)

“Am I saying we can all just get along if we all just cut the nonsense and admit we are a nation of pragmatic liberals and Hartz was right?” says John Holbo. “No, but I pretty much agree with what Timothy Burke says in this post. Count me in as a liberal sack of garbage.” —Which confuses me: John’s style, after all—while sometimes perhaps a tad too comfortable for the afflicted—is nonetheless an arrow fit for the quiver the Happy Tutor seeks to fill. I would not call it faux naïveté, but there’s a wicked glee hiding under his sunny heart, one that takes no small delight in walking you through the follies of others. Far too generous and charitable to ever be called Fisking, but it’s precisely that charity and generosity that enable it to do what it does.

But that’s actually why the Happy Tutor wouldn’t tell Holbo to ankle it off the ramparts, and what’s actually puzzling me is why Holbo—whose reaction to David Horowitz’ “Frozen Limit of Silly” is to head out on the ice and land a very creditable hit—why he would align himself nominally with Burke’s earnest liberal tribunes; nominally against the Tutor’s wetworking hockey hitters. —Then again, I’m puzzled by the fact that I, too, agree with Burke: I also want to grab the Tutor’s essay by the lapels and yell, “What’s your great idea, motherfucker?” (“Creating a dialectical set of traps for the unwary reader,” yes, I know. But who’s the unwary reader, dammit? Who?) —Of course, Burke says “I write [as a liberal sack of garbage] because the only way to win a rigged game is to play fair and hope that the onlookers will eventually notice who cheats and who does not,” and I want to grab him by the lapels and yell, “Onlookers? For the love of God, man, what onlookers?” and the whole mess dissolves into another kabuki war of cod-liberal and cod-leftist, which I don’t think was ever anyone’s intent.

I think sometimes the reason we’re so good at circular firing squads is that the only readers we’ve got are ourselves, and you always end up playing to your audience. (Is it pomo cul-de-saccery to note that Gomer Pyle’s as much a rôle as Happy Tutor? Probably, but it’s no less true.) —Meanwhile, the oleaginous pontificies yell at nothing but the voices in their own heads, taking potshots at their puppetuses of the left that somehow still get scored against us. But how? By whom? Who’s onlooking? Who’s reading? —How do we knock the scales from someone else’s eyes?

Even if your eloquence flows like a river, it is of no avail. Though you can expound the whole of Buddhist literature, it is of no use. If you solve this problem, you will give life to the way that has been dead until this moment and destroy the way that has been alive up to now. Otherwise you must wait for Maitreya Buddha and ask him.

It’s just a war of Whig on Whig, says John. A family squabble. Not so fast, says Bob McManus, spitting out some numbers from the latest naked attempt to shift the tax burden off the rich onto the rest of us. Yes, yes, I know, says John. (“I realize it is really a quite serious matter than the right-wingers have gone around the bend and apparently aren’t coming back,” he says. “Am I saying we can all just get along if we all just cut the nonsense and admit we are a nation of pragmatic liberals and Hartz was right?”) But without a sense of historical perspective, of moral perspective, you can’t leap into battle with a sunny heart. —But how can you laugh at a secret note in your permanent record? asks Roz, and maybe she’s grinning as she asks, but it’s a grim little grin (and the Happy Tutor, after all, is looking over a cold chain of law already forged that could easily lead from Horowitz’ frozen limit of silly to a long, long stint in jail). And maybe we can all laugh grimly at the fact that Roz actually is dealing with Tory against Socialist, not Whig against Whig, ha ha! But why, asks Lance Mannion, why did Ring Lardner have to spend a year in jail for a wisecrack?

First, they win. Then we attack them. Then we laugh at them. Then we ignore them…

Kyogen is truly a fool
Spreading that ego-killing poison
That closes his pupils’ mouths
And lets their tears stream from their dead eyes.

And there I go myself. See? We can’t go forward if we’re always fighting the war of us and them—but we can’t fight at all if there is no them. And we are in a fight, by God. They’re curtailing basic personal liberties, they’re destroying opportunities, they’re wrecking the commonwealth, they’re deliberately making life worse for the rest of us and we’ve got to stop them, goddammit, before they drive us all to a crisis point and betray everything America stands for

( And Adam Kotsko says, “There has to be some way to react to people wanting the wrong thing other than to just say, ‘Well, I guess we’d better give them what they want.’” And I say, Jesus Christ that’s a dangerous fucking statement. And I say, hell yes. There must. Bring it on.)

I don’t want to yell at the voices in my head. I don’t want to fill a barrel with puppetuses of the right and take potshots. What I want—what we all want, with our earnest tribunals and dialectical traps and sunny hearts—is to knock some scales from eyes. And it’s not that they have to agree with us—if we did not see things differently, we would not be different people, after all. And anyway sometimes it’s our own eyes we’re trying to clear. But on this one point here, or that one, there, if they could just see that they are wrong—

How do we knock the scales from someone else’s eyes?

The upper part [of the kanji for koan] means “to place” or “to be peaceful.” The lower part means wood or tree. The original meaning of this kanji is a desk. A desk is a place where we think, read, and write. This “an” also means a paper or document on the desk.
There is another kanji used in koan. In the case of this kanji, the left side part means “hand.” The literal meaning of this kanji is to press, or to push with a hand or a finger. For example, in Japanese, massage is “an-ma.” So this “an” is to press to give massage for healing. This kanji also means “to make investigation” to put things in order when things are out of order.

And the student was enlightened.” —But you have to have a student first, see? It’s rare, it’s vanishingly rare for a koan to reach out and strike some random bystander or passerby, someone who isn’t already looking for enlightenment. Sen no Rikyu foils an assassination with a point of etiquette, and while enlightenment doesn’t really pierce a veil in this one, there’s still maybe a lesson we could learn. Gudo, the emperor’s teacher, enlightened a gambler and a drunkard by being decent to him, and speaking plainly, and there’s definitely a lesson there, too, though I wonder about what happened to the drunkard’s wife and mother-in-law and kids. —But still: for the most part it’s students and monks, monks and students, people already engaged in the dialectic, shall we say, who realize there are eyes, and scales to be knocked from them, who are actively seeking the best way to do just that.

—To get back for a moment to those numbers Bob McManus cited, and what they mean, for us, and them: I know why we end up with aggressively regressive tax policies like this, and the politicians who push them; I know what we have to do to stop it from ever happening again. I’ve known for a couple of years, now. All it takes is a piece of paper and a pen. You ready? Write this down:

And it doesn’t matter if you do it earnestly, or with a sunny heart in the face of obstinate opposition. It doesn’t matter if you lard your dialectical koans with honeypots for the unwary puppetuses of the left or the right. What matters is that you go out and you find one of that majority, one of that 47%, and you sit down with them, and any way you have to, you show them that they have crucially misapprehended the situation. You show them the facts of the matter. Use whatever frame you can find. Whatever works. And then up and on to the next.

That’s it. That’s all there is to it. And if their ignorance is less blind than willful? If they have different remedies in mind than maybe what I think is best, or you? That doesn’t so much matter. (There are always more scales to fall from eyes. Even yours; especially mine.) We can’t begin to hash out those differences until we’ve reached some basic agreement as to where we all are and what we’re all facing, but once we do—

I have every reason to believe that all our other battles can just as easily be won.

Pupil: Why did the Bodhidharma come from India to China?
Master: I have no idea. Why do people always ask me that?
  1. Roxanne    Mar 13, 01:15 PM    #
    the nail that sticks up, you are. cool. me, too.

  2. Long story; short pier. » Blog Archive » If I had a hammer, I’d do something about all these goddamn nails.    Jan 7, 10:35 PM    #
    [...] I was on a bus. Late March? Early April? I was on a bus, on the way home from work, earbuds in, nose down, book open. Early April, I think. I hadn’t posted anything in a bit. My “long explore” of the Unheimlichsenke had sputtered out in a thicket of Victors and Victorias, and I was instead becoming obsessed with unriddling the koan: what I’d thought was passing for enlightenment wasn’t. (That’s it? That’s all there is to it?) —The book in my hands was The Shining Sea Pacific Edge; I was trying to find a passage I’d remembered, where Tom Barnard lays out just how simple it turned out to have been, getting to Utopia: we just told them to stop, he said, or I’d thought he’d said, or words to that effect. I wasn’t finding it. I was, instead, sticking bus transfers between these two pages, or those, obsessively marking passages I wanted to come back to, bones in the ground of the answer I knew I had to find, bits mostly from the italicized interpolations, Barnard’s notes from back in the always-already, Robinson’s commentary track, the becoming the book itself was trying to help us all sidestep— Sometimes I read what I’ve written sick with anger, for them it’s all so easy. Oh to really be that narrator, to sit back and write with cool ironic detachment about individual characters and their little lives because those lives really mattered! Utopia is when our lives matter. I see him writing on a hilltop in an Orange County covered with trees, at a table under an olive tree, looking over a garden plain and the distant Pacific shining with sunlight, or on Mars, why not, chronicling how his new world was born out of the healthy fertility of the old earth mother, while I’m stuck here in 2012 with my wife an ocean to the east and my daughter a continent to the west, “enjoined not to leave the county” (the sheriff) and none of our lives matter a damn. [...]

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