Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Half staff

I continue to be fascinated by trying to practice ancient Chinese medicine in 21st century America. As I gain experience and confidence I become more able to make judgments in one direction or another, and especially have developed the confidence to say, "Well, maybe that's the way Chinese scholars saw it two thousand years ago, but that's not the way we see it today, and I think our way is better." For example, after many years of searching I finally found an English translation of the Chinese classic of sexology, Su Nu Jing (available from the State University of New York Press, by Doug Wile). Sexual problems are some of the things people come to see an acupuncturist for, and I have been eager to expand my education.

So far I am very much enjoying my reading, and have been given a lot to think about. However, right off the bat it was apparent that 21st century Americans have a fundamentally different point of view about sexual relations than did the authors of the Chinese classics. In the first century CE the only people with the means and education to read these classics were aristocrats, and aristocratic Chinese men of the time typically had several wives and many concubines. Therefore, the best sex according to the Chinese classics satisfied all the women and preserved the man's energy. At an extreme, men were even taught sexual and meditative techniques to siphon off their partners' energy. Without making any judgment about the social and sexual practices of ancient China, I can say with confidence that I am satisfied with monogamy and with treating my wife as a partner, and see sex as a sacred and rewarding intimacy that we both share. I should say that personal experience reinforces my academic conclusion -- my conviction is practical AND theoretical.

This is one of the very few instances in my experience as an acupuncturist where I can make this judgment: "Things have changed -- we have progressed beyond that point of view and things are better now." The ancient Chinese also made free use of slaves, and I think we've progressed beyond that point, too -- we no longer think keeping slaves is okay, and we no longer see sex as purely a means to procreate or to control other people. HOWEVER, I am making these statements as a 21st century white American male, one of the most privileged classes of human being to ever exist. As such, I am writing the "classics" of tomorrow, whose inhabitants may say, "Yeah, well, but he could AFFORD to have only one wife, and could afford to spoil her with his undivided attention and all his wealth. And the soil was rich enough that they didn't need slaves." Still, I think human "progress" is possible, in small increments, and I think the current wisdom that sees men and women as equal qualifies as true progress for the species. To be sure, both slavery and sexual manipulation (frequently combined as sexual slavery) continue, but neither is socially acceptable, at least not in America. Insofar as people still talk about American ideals, look to America as the way of the future, and come to America to find a better life, these are known as (modern) American ideals -- no slavery; no rape. However things pan out, I'm good with being on the no slavery/no rape side

On another hand, much of my judgment consists of looking on the ancient Chinese with admiration, even awe, while cringing and shaking my head at current "best practices" in the West. For instance, personal freedom, which is so much more important to modern Americans than it was to ancient Chinese people, has led us into as many dreadful dead ends as glorious achievements. One of these (literal) dead ends has to do with the American obsession with guns. Yes, the Second Amendment, yes, personal freedom, rights and responsibilities, but honestly? We can't have those things without also having daily mass shootings by deranged, angry or depressed people? 

Politicians are taught to say, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." However, this amounts to nothing more than a marketing slogan for gun sellers. People ARE going to be deranged, angry and depressed, so why make instruments of mass destruction so freely available? This is a problem with living in a "rational" society -- the assumption is that if you can say it, it's true. This un-examined assumption allows us to believe all kinds of evil lies. Sometimes you need a simple dose of common sense, especially delivered by a very old or very young person, to cut through the crap of the literal and rational. I'm not old enough or young enough to qualify, but try this out.

I saw Old Glory flying at half staff over the weekend and thought, "What's that for? Oh, yeah, the shootings in Dallas..." Then I realized how many times I've had the same series of thoughts in the last few years: "What's that for? Oh, yeah, Orlando; Oh, yeah, Sandy Hook; Oh, yeah, Aurora; Oh, yeah, Columbine..." This made me think: we seem to have become the half-staff States of America. What does that say about a country, that it is constantly in distress or mourning? What do you think an emperor would do if his country displayed his banner in this way more often than not? How can we keep our technological advantages and modern progress while retaining the emperor's disgust and horror on behalf of his beloved nation?

On every side of the political divide(s), Americans feel deeply uneasy about where we are and where we're heading. I will always champion personal freedom, but in a thoughtful way because it seems to allow for the easiest pursuit of individual progress. Once "individual freedom" becomes about the right to do any damn thing you want to, just because, then you lose me. I will never vote for a strongman or hope for the re-ascent of the church to keep us in our places, but I will also always demand, insofar as I'm able to, that individuals practice individual responsibility as well as individual freedom. The ones who don't practice responsibility ruin it for everyone else, and make the less-thoughtful among us much more likely to vote for the strongman or to hope for their church's ascent over others. That would be a step back, and steps backward lead toward slavery and sexual exploitation, among other things. Then where would I be as an American acupuncturist? Longing for the days of the emperor, and learning techniques to keep my slaves and women in line.