Posts Tagged ‘convergence of catastrophes’

This is the fifteenth in a series of 21 essays on the 21 precepts of the DOKKODO, the final writing of Miyamoto Musashi, completed about a week before his death in 1645. He wrote these precepts as a dying gift to the most talented of his pupils. More than a treatise on swordsmanship, it was intended as a final statement on his life and his philosophy of living as a man, a warrior, and a ronin. In these essays, I approach the DOKKODO as a man, a warrior, and, yes, a ronin, in these early years of the 21st century.

While we see Musashi’s way of life as extreme, it was not unknown in medieval Japan. It was common enough to have a name: Musha Shugyo, the warrior’s pilgrimage. His society has room for that warrior who spent his life wandering the land, challenging other warriors, seeking to perfect his skill and risking his life to do so.

While it might not have been the most common path that a samurai spent his life on, it was not a rejection of his society’s customary beliefs like it would be for us today.

This precept was one of the lessons learned while on that pilgrimage. Musashi must have seen the failure of those relying on custom and the successes of those acting outside of customary belief. One belief he rejected on this pilgrimage was that the katana was most properly used in two hands. He developed instead a style of fighting with his long sword in one hand and his smaller sword in the other.

It’s hard for those of us in the modern west to understand the significance of this rejection of style.

He developed this two sword style. He named it. He wrote a book about it. He taught it to students.

There is no evidence he ever used it in a duel. Every story we have about his duels have him wielding one sword (sometimes a wooden sword) with two hands.

Perhaps the lesson here is the key to understanding this precept. A certain degree of unpredictability is of great use to the warrior, especially the ronin fighting alone. By demonstrating that he had developed this new revolutionary style, but still adhering to the old style, Musashi created this uncertainty in his opponent. He is capable of acting according to customary beliefs, and he is capable of acting without consideration of those beliefs.

This precept isn’t designed to create mindless adolescent rebels who reject customary beliefs with no intent beyond that rejection. To reject a belief rooted in the experience of warriors who came before you is no easy thing. Much of what we learn from our teachers and our society is perfectly accurate, it can be the foundation around which the rest of the Way is constructed.

That seems especially difficult to grasp fully in these days of rampant commercialism and materialism. Our society has no room for the warrior walking alone.

The mere fact that we recognize ourselves as warriors and devote ourselves to this path that does not pursue monetary wealth, physical comfort and moral numbness makes us out to be extremists. Many of us reject the teachings of the dying empire, its meaningless churches and its hollow institutions that serve no purpose beyond the empire and the accumulation of power for its masters.

Rejecting churches that serve the empire instead of the gods and universities that serve any doctrine other than truth and wisdom requires you to reject the beliefs customary in this age in favor of the higher purposes such institutions were created to fulfill.

We then seek older paths, traditional martial arts, a morality more in tune with the ancient world than the modern, and skills that haven’t been practical since the Wild West was tamed. But even then, we cannot accept at face value the beliefs held by Ueshiba, Kano, Fairbain, or even Musashi. We must question and explore everything. We may not ever base our actions on the customary beliefs or traditional teachings of our forbears.

We do not act based solely on customary beliefs.

Seeing the emptiness in our modern society, we keep what we find useful. We reject the rest. Studying history and philosophy, we keep what is useful. We reject the rest. Never do we rest and allow habit to take root or any beliefs left unexamined to become the basis for our actions.

This must also include our own beliefs.

We must not allow our beliefs to become so unquestioned that we find ourselves acting based on nothing more significant than “this is what has worked for me in the past.” We must be constantly training, studying, learning, growing so that new understandings come to replace old beliefs. And each new understanding must be accepted as vulnerable to even newer understandings.

Perhaps we could say that we do not act following customary beliefs because we do not hold any customary beliefs. Nowhere does our mind rest on an idea but moves constantly instead, deeper and deeper so that every action is based on an understanding more refined than yesterday’s mere belief.

Start where you stand. Of course we analyze our beliefs and our societies. Push further. Read something you know you disagree with and seek out a single new truth. Train for a week or a month in a martial art different from the one you study now. Honestly examine your actions and your habits and determine where you do, in fact, act without thought based on nothing more than customary belief.

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This is the thirteenth in a series of 21 essays on the 21 precepts of the DOKKODO, the final writing of Miyamoto Musashi, completed about a week before his death in 1645. He wrote these precepts as a dying gift to the most talented of his pupils. More than a treatise on swordsmanship, it was intended as a final statement on his life and his philosophy of living as a man, a warrior, and a ronin. In these essays, I approach the DOKKODO as a man, a warrior, and, yes, a ronin, in these early years of the 21st century.

The Human Situation has changed a lot in the last 300,000 years. In most ways, it has just gotten easier and easier.

You’re still stuck in the body that nature designed for the world as it existed way back then though.

The human sense of taste developed as a way to keep our hunter gatherer ancestors alive. We learned to crave things that were packed in nutrients we needed to function but, most of all, the calories needed to pursue more calories. Calorie dense foods are actually rather rare in nature. Sugar is the most fundamental energy source and we crave it.

Fast forward just over a quarter million years and that instinctive craving for sugar has created an entire industry devoted to supplying us that sugar even though our sedentary lifestyles no longer require it. Another industry arose to tell people how to manage their diets. Millions of dollars pass through the hands of the merchant caste as the mad priests of Madison Avenue exhort the faithful to feed on garbage and then chide them for their obesity and offer to sell them a remedy to that also.

It is commonly said that your body knows what is best for it. That is no longer so when discussing nutrition because the circumstances have changed so much.

Simple feeding your body properly is now an act requiring discipline more than it ever has been. And a full third of Americans are failing that with fatal consequences for themselves. The current obesity epidemic is either a symptom of the empire’s desire for self extinction or a planned culling of the slave population.

The warrior must, in this area of his life, set aside his instincts and study. The purpose of food is to fuel the body on the warrior’s path. Just as we choose our residence and our clothing and our tactics and strategy based on our identity as warriors, so, too, must we study diet and exercise and choose that part of our path based less on what we enjoy and more on what will serve the mission.

All of that said, remember: sometimes the path is served by stepping off of it for a moment.

Start where you stand. Read about nutrition and study your own habits and set aside what doesn’t make you stronger. I recommend Arthur De Vany’s THE NEW EVOLUTION DIET, Loren Ciordain’s THE PALEO DIET, Mark Sisson’s THE NEW PRIMAL BLUEPRINT, and Ori Hofmekler’s THE WARRIOR DIET and THE ANTI-ESTROGENIC DIET. Then do what you think is best.

This is the twelfth in a series of 21 essays on the 21 precepts of the DOKKODO, the final writing of Miyamoto Musashi, completed about a week before his death in 1645. He wrote these precepts as a dying gift to the most talented of his pupils. More than a treatise on swordsmanship, it was intended as a final statement on his life and his philosophy of living as a man, a warrior, and a ronin. In these essays, I approach the DOKKODO as a man, a warrior, and, yes, a ronin, in these early years of the 21st century.

To hear Musashi recommend indifference to where one lives isn’t surprising when we remember that he spent his life on the road and died in a cave. Musashi never really had a single residence; he never “lived” anywhere.

Having just advised his pupil to have no preferences in anything at all, why does he now see the need to include this precept?

When I first read this precept, I thought about the holes I lived in during my tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. I had a small corner of a tent, a makeshift desk, a footlocker for a seat. In Afghanistan I had even less. But when I came home, I set up a corner of my apartment very much the same way for the first year or so.

After six years in that apartment, I made a decision to shelve most of my possessions and live under the sky. I, once again, pared my life to the barest necessities of training and fighting. The Musha Shugyo (the Warrior’s Pilgrimage) doesn’t allow for the accumulation of comforts and niceties and Musashi’s entire life was such a journey.

I am also reminded of another traveler who wandered his homeland with a group of thugs, teaching virtue and getting into the occasional scrap with the Roman Legions. A man stated his desire to become one of this traveler’s followers and was warned: “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son Of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58)

Again, Musashi was an extreme individual among extreme individuals. When one studies the arts of war and professes to be a warrior, it doesn’t mean he must then take up the path of the mendicant or the vagabond as well. That Musashi never lived in a house with indoor plumbing and electricity and internet (I have all three at the moment as I write this) is not an indictment of those luxuries. But it is, I think, vital that we think of them as luxuries and refuse to become dependent on them.

It is vital that our relationship with any luxury include awareness of that luxury’s tendency to weaken us and we must cultivate an attitude that allows us to forfeit anything that distracts us from our purpose. It is too easy in the west in this modern age to surround ourselves “at home” with impediments to our path.

I think, too, that Musashi refers to more than our domicile.

His caution to us to be indifferent to where we live might also include the cities and countries we find ourselves in. I have said before that my own military service was more a devotion to the Way than to my homeland. I now live in the deserts of the American Southwest and I cannot begin to express my love for the land itself. The hot days and the cold nights, the blue sky and the red mountains.

It is difficult, but, as warriors, we must always cultivate a willingness to pick up our weapons and leave all comforts behind to pursue this Way. In the end, we must be indifferent to where we live; indifferent to which rooms, which buildings, which cities, which countries we live in. We must be always ready to move on.

As warriors, as men, as human beings, we will and should cling to our relationships with people even when we cannot cling to the people themselves. We have no caution to be indifferent to our families and our tribes. Carry then, in your breast, the only home and the only homeland you will ever need or serve.

Start where you stand. Look around your life and see where your ability to pick up your weapons and move on is hampered by your own craving for comforts and your attachments to places and things that do not serve you on the Way. It isn’t yet necessary to leave behind the place we occupy in this dying empire, but when the time comes, know how well you will be able to do so.

Then again, maybe it is time to lift your weapons and walk the way alone for a while.

This is the eleventh in a series of 21 essays on the 21 precepts of the DOKKODO, the final writing of Miyamoto Musashi, completed about a week before his death in 1645. He wrote these precepts as a dying gift to the most talented of his pupils. More than a treatise on swordsmanship, it was intended as a final statement on his life and his philosophy of living as a man, a warrior, and a ronin. In these essays, I approach the DOKKODO as a man, a warrior, and, yes, a ronin, in these early years of the 21st century.

Musashi was an extreme individual living on the fringes of an extreme society. At first glance you might see how you, too are an extreme individual living on the fringes of an extreme society, but by taking seriously the idea that a man has an obligation to cultivate prowess and strength, you set yourself at the edge of a dying empire instead of near its soft, vulnerable center.

Notice I did not say that you chose this path. I do not think we choose to be warriors. I think it is coded in our psyches by virtue of being the descendants of those men who fed their families by thrusting sharp sticks at the mammoth. I do not think being a warrior is a path you can choose; I think it is a reality you are simply born into.

If you could choose, that is, if you had to state your preference, would you choose this path?

When we look into the DOKKODO, we see that many of the precepts seem to restate common points or support each other so solidly we wonder why Musashi bothered saying the same things so many ways. In this precept Musashi says to have no preferences at all. In the next, he will say to have no preference in where you live. Everything comes back again and again to “Accept everything just the way it is.”

I think, too, we are again confronted by the Kensei’s search for enlightenment and the Do of Walking Alone. This precept is very much in line with Buddhist morals and teachings, moreso than anyone who is not a saint or Buddha is likely to readily grasp. Musashi is urging us toward the most arduous path as being the most sincere expression of who we are as warriors because that is what saints and madmen do.

As a zen Buddhist and a swordsman, he was seeking satori, enlightenment, and zanshin, awareness, and mushin, that mystical state of having “no-mind.” Operating from those places, pushing conscious thought and decision making aside, allows the swordsman to act more quickly, more decisively and still without error. In the state of mushin, you do not choose to block, you simply block. You do not execute a preference, but simply do what the situation demands you must.

Musashi has urged us again and again to simply live in accordance with the way things are not wishing they were different, not preferring one situation over another.

Musashi is sincere in this urging but I think we will see in later precepts he is not confident we can follow the path as he lays it out. Musashi must recognize that we are not saints or Buddhas and we will have preferences. But he wants us to examine our lives and dispense with as much extraneous nonsense as we can. Hoping, perhaps, we will find ourselves at the point of acceptance of the Mandate of Heaven.

Until then, we can seek ways to limit the need for preference and decision making by simplifying our lives.

One source of stress to modern man is the sheer number of decisions he must make in a day resulting in an inability to make good decisions quickly, a condition known as “decision fatigue.” Modern man is encouraged by his surroundings to have preferences by advertising and the array of options presented by the modern marketplace. For lunch do you want a hamburger or a pizza? Macdonalds or Burger King? The Quarter Pounder or the Big Mac? With cheese or without? Advertisers will insist each of these decisions is as vital as any that can be made.

In truth, most of the decisions we have to make are inconsequential and meaningless. In order to keep them from piling up, we can simplify our lives and make those decisions now and never have to confront preferences again. In my wardrobe, I have black shirts and white shorts, one pair of shoes, one pair of boots, my tan kilt.

The simpler you can make your life, the more inconsequential decisions you can avoid and the closer you come to the state of having no preferences of that sort.

Perhaps as we travel this way alone, we will come closer and closer to Musashi’s teachings. We will have no preference which black t-shirt we wear, then no preference what color shirt we wear, then no preference whether we wear a shirt at all, then no preference whether we win or lose but only the deeds of a man living in accord with his warrior nature without thought.

We will have no preference whether we live or die, win or lose. We will accept things exactly as they are.

Start where you stand. Examining your day, meditate on what decisions could be made once and put away so that you are not encumbered by that decision tomorrow. Simplify your life further and further until the limits of your comfort zone encompass any situation. Accept that perhaps your preferences mean nothing anyway and that you will follow the path you were born to follow until death finds you.

“They (the common people) are totally incapable of real freedom, and if it were granted to them, they would straightaway vote themselves a master, or a thousand masters within twenty-four hours.”
-Ragnar Redbeard   MIGHT IS RIGHT

The greatest problem for the anarchist is not the state.

The problem for the anarchist is not that system of institutions and traditions that insist they have a right to seize the wealth of the capitalist under the guise of taxation or oppress the hungry masses seeking a true communism only to be met with border walls.

These could be swept away. Every state eventually finds its end and passes away. It isn’t likely, but it is conceivable that there could be an uprising that destroys the state, destroys the very idea of the state, and when asked what it intends to set in its place, replies “Nothing.”

The subsequent, inevitable failure of that “nothing” is not the fault of those men who rise up and say, “Be my slaves! Serve me!” The end of that nothing would not be in the hands of that man who says, “I am a leader, let me organize your lives and offer you security for your liberty.”

The problem for the anarchist is that the vast majority of people do not want to be free.

Freedom is scary and difficult. It requires being painfully aware of one’s own inadequacies (as most men are) and then deciding to trust one’s own ability regardless. How much easier is it to place one’s children in the hands of an authority that assures you it is strong and benevolent? How much easier is it to trust in that faceless, soulless authority and accept what it teaches than it is to face the unknown and risk extinction by thinking for yourself?

Anarchy, whether hyphenated as capitalist or communist or primitivist or pacifist, is doomed not because there will be those few men who want to lead, but because there will be legions who want to be led. Modern anarchy fails to make a place for that man who aspires only to be a valued serf.

Now, there are few men who openly admit that serfdom is their chief desire. There are, perhaps, few men who recognize that is the place they seek. But what else shall we say of that man who says, “I just want a good job (working for another) and the distractions of professional sportball and a case of that beer which promises to deliver sex and respect”?

That man does not want to be free. He merely wants a benevolent Master.

Modern anarchy is doomed because it refuses to make a place for that man and refuses to acknowledge him and refuses to accept his right to enter into a voluntary association where he is a slave, or at least, unequal. Being denied, that man then destroys the nothing that replaces the state. Why should he support a nothing which fails to recognize and support him?

All free men must accept then that some free men will accept the burden of being Master.

The only chance to preserve freedom for those men who want to be free is to make a place for those men who cannot be free and refuse to be free. Even more important than protecting our “non-state, voluntary associations” from the slaver, is the necessity of protecting them from the slave.

Its important to mention now that the world is inevitably a hostile place. We haven’t found a way to get along with each other in the last 300,000 years, why would even the most utopian among us imagine we will do so in the future? With this in mind, the primary duty of a free man is prowess and strength, enough to protect his own liberty and secure his own existence at least. Secondly, and perhaps in conjunction with the first, is the duty to preserve his group.

Let’s dismiss any notions now that anarchy must be without hierarchy. In the ideal vision of anarcho-capitalism, every corporation will have a CEO and a board who have greater significance from the honest man turning wrenches on the factory floor. Even in anarcho-communism, that honest man turning wrenches will answer to some functionary whose task it is to identify problems and implement solutions.

In truth, I do not see anarchy being swept in with the sudden enlightenment of all people everywhere or the revolution that the rock throwing fascists in Berkeley imagine they are the fore-runners of. Instead, I imagine Guillaume Fay is correct in his anticipation of a “convergence of catastrophes” that will level the current systems.

It is impossible to suggest that every voluntary association that rises in the wake of this collapse with be “ancom” or “ancap” or take on any specific model theorized about now. Different peoples always have and always will find different solutions to life’s pressures. I also do not imagine that they technology necessary for the popular visions of ancap and ancom prosperity will survice the collapse, especially if one of those catastrophes is the depletion of oil.

The immediate response to the collapse will be tribal. A group of hungry, desperate, frightened survivors will watch their world pass away and then begin finding their way into the future. Philosophy and labels will not be among their immediate concerns in the initial years.

Even now, there are tribalists, men bound together by oaths and friendship and loyalties that rely on models that pre-date the state and will, I imagine, outlast it as well. These associations have a feudal nature in that they are held together by oaths between men. Unlike the current model where a soldier or statesman takes an oath to support a constitution or a vague assemblage of “the people”, these oaths are between individuals who look each other in the eye and say, “I swear…”

In this sense, these tribalist groups ARE anarchist. Instead of being born into a condition of expected servitude to a state’s laws and regulations, these are free men, anarchs, choosing to subordinate some of their self-rule in the interest of the group. They are also feudalist, in that each assumes a set of duties toward the other and accepts a place within a hierarchy determined by the group’s vision and its responses to the pressures it needs to overcome in order to survive.

There will be some groups that form in the final stages of the collapse or even after the collapse. But those groups formed now and already possessed of a sense of tribal identity and solid, genuine relationships will have an obvious advantage. Many of them already possess arms, defensible arable land,  and, most importantly, some training as a “unit.”

These groups will not only have a better chance of surviving during the closing acts of the collapse, but they will be the groups most likely to have the stability to offer a place to “refugees” from outside the tribe that agree to labor or supply meaningful skills to the group.  In the anarchy following the collapse, these will not be men demanding a living wage or human rights. They will instead be those frightened masses needing a new master since the old one has passed.

That these groups exist now provides another advantage: they have time to develop traditions and ideas about those refugees. They could be, even now, debating whether the refugees lot will be a cruel slavery in the mines or a pleasant second class citizen role with the possibility of joining the free men as circumstances and individual virtue allow.

Avoiding the crushing pressure of solving this problem only in the instance creates a circumstance where the tribe can reason a method to make that serfdom as livable and dignified as possible. This assumes, of course, that any tribe whose leaders cannot reason out that such serfdom serves everyone, including future generations, better than a harsh slavery will not last long anyway. The refugee can be offered a place if his presence benefits the tribe. He can enter into the voluntary association and make his own oaths to the men who will defend him and provide for him in return for his loyalty and labor.

But even if a transfer to anarchy somehow occurs without the annihilation of the present empire, only the feudal model provides a place for that man who is not interested in real freedom. In the ancap model, he is an employee and one unprotected by the state. The modern serf could never abide being genuinely at the mercy of market forces without a regulatory agency to see he is paid and has safe conditions. The ancom model simply offers such a man a spot next to a bullet riddled wall if he dare voice his reservations (though the ancoms will deny this and fall back to their old assertion that “real communism has never been tried”, the historic model indicates any man not eager to voice the party position will be executed.)

In the anarcho-feudal model, such a man could enter into an oathbound relationship that obligates both parties to sincerely seek the other’s best interest. The serf could rest assured that the system did not consider him a mere employee who might be sacrificed to the bottom line, but a part of the tribe, even if only on the periphery. He is not merely a valued member of the team at some corporate seminar, but a man who has given his word and received another’s that their destinies are bound together.