November 26th, 2009

Chapter seventy-four: The Lord of Slaughter

When normal, decent people don't fear death,
how can you use death to frighten them?
Even when they have a normal fear of death,
who of us dare take and kill the one who doesn't?
When people are normal and decent and death-fearing
there's always an executioner.
To take the place of the exrecutioner
is to take the place of the great carpenter.
People who cut the great carpenter's wood
seldom get off with their hands unhurt.

Lao Tzu, Tao te Ching.
Interpreted by Ursula K. Le Guin

This chapter troubles me on so many levels. What is Lao Tzu saying and why? Le Guin has Lao Tzu say that fear of killing and fear of dying are equally unnatural. But why? Death is inevitable; killing is a choice. To fear killing, but not fear death seems right. That you can't scare people who don't fear death just seems like one more good reason not to fear death. In many aboringinal societies, death is not feared, and what can be more natural than that?Collapse )
  • trevoke


If men are not afraid to die,
It is no avail to threaten them with death.

If men live in constant fear of dying,
And if breaking the law means that a man will be killed,
Who will dare to break the law?

There is always an official executioner.
If you try to take his place,
It is like trying to be a master carpenter and cutting wood.
If you try to cut wood like a master carpenter, you will only hurt your hand.
If people's lives suck,
and they look forward to death,
what good does it do
to threaten to kill them?

If people are afraid to die,
and the wicked are condemned to death,
then who would dare to commit evil?

But that doesn't mean you or I
can just take life and death
into our own hands.
That'd be like walking up
to an industrial buzzsaw
and trying to use it
without any training.
We'd only end up hurting ourselves.

The first version is from the Fortune files. The second version is the Beatrice Tao.