The Dao of Who?

Been a little while since my last post–unfortunately I was knocked out of the game momentarily by a pretty nasty case of H1N1 “swine” flu.  Caught it just before they released the vaccine in my state.  (Thanks, slow and inefficient federal government!)  Anyway, thankfully now that’s over, and it’s back to the wonderful world of early Chinese philosophy!

Thinking about dao in general this week (although all I was thinking about was sleep and not dying earlier in the week!), and definitely plan to pick up a copy of the new book by founding member of rap group the Wu Tang Clan, the RZA, called “The Tao of Wu”.  I’ve long been interested in the way Wu-Tang understands and uses bits of Chinese religious and philosophical culture.  This influence, in their case, clearly came originally through the influence of 70s kung-fu films (one of the ways I was first introduced to Chinese culture as well), but interestingly took on some elements from other sources in chinese philosophy and religion, mainly (I’ve heard–haven’t read the book yet) through the RZA and his interest in “Eastern philosophy”.  Of course, the elements of Chinese religion and philosophy to be heard in the lyrics of their music and seen in the stylistic elements of their videos, interviews, etc., are mainly stylistic, and there is hardly any substantive discussion of concepts, etc.  I can’t say whether RZA and his group adequately understand the important concepts of Chinese philosophy and religion, because they often just say terms without explaining them, but from what I have heard from interviews, there does seem to be a lot they misunderstand.

This is one of my main problems with “pop culture” use of Chinese philosophical and religious elements in general.  Just as in the case of Wu Tang, one might hear a pop culture source drop the terms ‘yin‘ and ‘yang‘, or ‘dao‘, but then either not explain them (hoping they sound sufficiently “mystical” to get across the main point that their utterer has serious “mysterious and wise eastern sage” credibility), or explains them in ridiculously simplistic and/or simply incorrect ways.  Of course, this is more a gripe about American culture itself, I guess–the tendency toward pure stylistics, pure image, apparently without concern for anything else, is distressing.

Anyway–of course I’m going to read RZA’s book- it ought to be fun.  Plus, I can’t knock it for being shallow without having read it–who knows, maybe RZA proves to be the second coming of Zhuangzi!  (I’ll let you know with a review here on UPJ after I read it.) One thing that occurs to me with all of this pop culture influence in Daoism, though:  everyone wants to be Daoist.  I see lots of use of yin-yang and dao in popular culture, but never see any Confucianism. Where’s the 仁?  The 忠恕?  We can certainly do with a dose or two of these!

I guess we Americans don’t really find things like duty, understanding of others, benevolence, and general uprightness very important.  These things are for boring people and crotchety scholars of Chinese philosophy to worry about, I guess.  Better to concentrate on being cool than being morally good…

2 responses to “The Dao of Who?

  1. re: ” One thing that occurs to me with all of this pop culture influence in Daoism, though: everyone wants to be Daoist. … I guess we Americans don’t really find things like duty, understanding of others, benevolence, and general uprightness very important … I guess. Better to concentrate on being cool than being morally good…”

    — So, Daoism is about being cool?

  2. haha–no, Daoism isn’t ACTUALLY about being cool, people are just trying to be cool using the imagery of daoism, which I think lends itself more to looking cool (because it seems “mystical”) than Confucian imagery. They misunderstand Daoism to be sure, but I think yin-yang assimilate better into a “mystical and otherworldly eastern aesthetic” than, for example, zhong-shu. Of course, I don’t think yin and yang for the daoists (the early daoists at least) are mystical and otherworldly at all, and to this extent elements of pop-culture which use them in this way just get daoism wrong.

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