“When the great Tao is forgotten,
goodness and piety appear.
When the body’s intelligence declines,
cleverness and knowledge step forth.
When there is no peace in the family,
filial piety begins.
When the country falls into chaos,
patriotism is born.”
~ Stephen Mitchell (trans.), Tao Te Ching: A New English Version (New York: Harper Perennial), 2006.
This is the first chapter we encounter that is a direct attack against the rival tradition in Chinese culture at the time: Confucianism. We’ll come back to the quarrel between Lao-tzu and Confucius later.
But apart from that, what is confusing about the chapter is that it presents six good things—things we generally aspire to cultivate—as signs of regression.
Think of the self-styled “patriots” on the right storming the capitol, or Woke virtue-signaling on the left. When the country falls into chaos, what is good becomes contested, and people compete to be—and be seen as—better than others.
If we are truly living out and secure in our beliefs and values, we don’t feel the need to talk about them so much.
New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”