We are on the cusp of the end of the nomination process for the Democratic Party candidate for President. It looks all but certain that Obama will have a majority of all delegatestoday or tomorrow (depending upon when certain "super-delegates" announce their positions) and he will be the presumptive nominee of the the party (as he has been, for all intents and purposes, since February), awaiting full and formal authorization at the convention in August.
It is easy to forget that this is an extraordinary upset. Last fall, everyone assumed Hillary was a shoo-in. She had the name recognition, the money, the organization, the prospects of a very weak incumbent party. It was hers to lose. And, in the end, she lost it. I do not buy into the "she lost because of sexism" argument. Yes, of course, there is sexism in American politics. But there is also racism, with which Obama has had to contend. It would be too crude to suggest that the one perfectly counteracts the others; but it is true that each has been an issue. I think what really made the difference was two things: 1) Obama's organization, or his "ground game" as the political analysts refer to it. He had more committed people on the ground in more states ready to contest every primary and, most importantly, caucus. Clinton's people assumed she was going to win on super-Tuesday, and when she didn't they were caught out without an effective organization or and effective strategy. That was killer for them.
But 2) I think Obama's freshness and energy and appeal also helped carry the day. He breaks the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton repetition. His poise and his ability to find the words to capture a moment, to draw in large numbers of people around him and connect to them, makes for effective campaigning. Of course, he will not change politics as much as he and his most ardent supporters may want. But no one every really changes politics all that much. What he might be able to accomplish, however, is to bring a new sense of possibility to American. And, most importantly, present a new face of the United States to the world, something that is desperately needed after the disastrous foreign policy failures of the past eight years.
The further commentary on the "service of a king" portion of this line points to a subordinate political position:
If one enters the
service of a superior, one can avoid conflict only by not seeking works for the
sake of prestige. It is enough if the work is done: let the honor go to the
This sounds like the deference of a vice-president, something Hillary would probably chafe at.
I think a vice-presidential offer is unlikely. But the larger point is that she must now acknowledge him as the candidate, whether that happens tonight or tomorrow or next week. And, then, she has to work for him and with him, not just for the good of the party, but for her own political good as well.
Remember: the I Ching called it over two years ago!
Last year, just about his time, I asked the I Ching how Hillary Clinton should handle her political future. The prophecy that came back suggested that she should not run for president. I have been thinking about that reading as I have watched the remarkable Obama phenomenon (full disclosure: I voted for Obama in the MA primary and am pulling for him to win the nomination). As I re-read the earlier I Ching post today, I was especially struck by this part:
A cautious halt halfway brings good fortune.
Going through to the end brings misfortune.
At the time, I read this as sign that she should run for re-election to the Senate but not run for president. In light of current circumstances, however, it may now suggest that she should not press the nomination contest all the way to the end. If she pulls out now, about halfway through the nomination battle, she can avoid misfortune There are other elements of that earlier prophecy that move in the same direction...
You've gotta love that I Ching - not only can you learn from it when you initially ask it questions, but you can continue to learn from it when you look back, over a period of time, and think about those earlier answers. The Yi works in mysterious ways.
Unfortunately, I do not think she will pull out. She will stick it out to the bitter end. And if she tries to pull some desperate stunts with Michigan and Florida, or with superdelegates, she may well come to no good. Listen to the Yi!
UPDATE: A perceptive reader noticed that my original post was from 2006, two years ago, not last year. Indeed, that is the one post I was referring to; there is none from February 2007. Thanks!
I had to do it. After my Sun Tzu analysis of what the New York Giants need to do to win the Super Bowl, I just had to ask the I Ching who will actually win. I am, obviously, a Giants fan. So, as I read the oracle's response, I wanted to interpret it as pointing toward a certain New York win. I really did. But that is not the way the I Ching works. It came back with a very apt reading (I love this book!) but did not state unequivocally who would win. Instead, it suggested how a win might be secured. That I will thus interpret as a playbook for a Giants victory.
Today we went to the National Defense University here in Taiwan to learn from the military men there. It was a brand new campus, quite impressive. We walked through a large and bright building and into a large conference room, with tall windows on three sides. And there on the wall in the most prominent point in the room was the seal of the university. It was a bit of a surpirse:
Yes, that's right, it includes the taiji, the symbol of the yin and yang forces that I associate with the I Ching. It seemed rather incongruous: a symbol that is related to broad metaphysical ideas front and center on the seal of a military organization.
After the preliminary niceties, the first question raised by my colleagues was precisely about this seal. Why did they chose to use the taiji? Our host said that it was meant to remind the military students there of the broad context that surrounds questions of war and peace. In war is the next peace, and in peace is the next war, he said. Also, in a more focused manner it was also a reminder that in offense is defense and in defense is offense. Not quite the notions I usually associate with taiji, but obviously ones that are in the minds of Taiwan's military.
The holiday season has been busy here - that's why blogging has faded a bit. And it's the time of year for looking back over the past twelve months. So, let me reminisce-blog a bit.
Exactly one year ago today I consulted the I Ching on what might lay ahead of me for 2007. In particular, I was wondering about the book project I had planned. The question was: "will I make some good headway on my book in the coming year?" And the answer, as I wrote at the time: "...was quite positive: 'it furthers one to undertake something,' among other good omens. Perhaps it will be a happy new year."
I then waited what I thought was a respectful six months (you do not want to ask the oracle the same kind question too often) and posed a related question: how do I get started on my writing (my one-semester sabbatical had just started and I could really focus on my work.) To my pleasant surprise, the the original prognostication was confirmed - different hexagrams but a very similar positive sentiment.
So here I now am, finishing up my sabbatical, looking back over a period of concentrated attention to my book. How did it go? I can say the I Ching was right, again. It has gone quite well.
Here's what I have: a short draft introduction (which will certainly change) and four draft chapters. I have developed a prospectus for the book as a whole and I foresee seven chapters. Half way done!
Just as importantly, it looks like I have secured an agent to help me get the book published with a commercial press (one of my goals is to continue to write and publish outside of academia as I did with Aidan's Way). Getting an agent is not easy, but it went better this time than last. I was rejected by a couple of people (par for the course). A few took it quite seriously. And two offered to represent me. The agency I chose (the contract sits on my office desk ready to be signed and sealed) is Creative Work, based in Hong Kong. What intrigues me about this company is their expertise in moving between the Chinese and American publishing markets. A year ago I was thinking how great it would be to write a book that connected with people in both of those places - and now it may be possible, or, at least, a little more possible than last December.
Oh, and I have renamed the project. Titles, at this stage, are always tentative, but right now the book is called: The Useless Tree: Ancient Chinese Thought in Modern American Life. Maybe that familiar name brought me some luck!
Last week The Western Confucian posted a picture of the South Korean flag. He linked to an article he wrote which explicated the Taoist implications of that flag, and which called upon Koreans to "turn back to Tao." Now, I am all for turning to Tao, but I want to take some exception to his interpretation of the flag.
He had a picture of an older Korean flag, though with all of the elements of the contemporary South Korean flag. Here is the modern standard:
It has a white background with a rendition of the Chinese symbol of the taiji ("supreme ultimate") in red and blue, surrounded by four trigrams. In terms of ancient Chinese philosophy, there is a lot going on there.
First, let's talk about that central blue and red symbol. The Western Confucian suggests that this is Taoist and can be traced back to "an idea first formulated by the Taoist sage Chuang Tzu (莊子)." While it is true that the symbol was integrated into religious Taoism as it took shape in the Han dynasty, the original idea almost certainly predates Chuang Tzu (fourth century BCE). Indeed, to the extent that taiji is associated with the notions of yin and yang, it likely goes back to the yin-yang "school," or line of thought, which was identified as distinct from Taoism by Han dynasty scholars. I have always associated the symbol more with the I Ching, which predates Chuang Tzu and which is very engaged in the working out of the dynamic interaction of complementary cosmic forces, as suggested by the symbol.
I would not, then, ascribe this symbol only to Taoism. Its early history is independent of religious Taoism, and it suggests a sensibility that runs through other variants of ancient Chinese thought, Confucianism included.
The use of the four trigrams in the flag links it directly to the I Ching. On the top left is the trigram that symbolizes "Heaven" or summer; on the top right is "Water" or autumn; the bottom right is "Earth" or winter; and in the lower left is "Fire" or spring. Heaven opposes and complements Earth, and Water opposes and complements Fire. And the seasons go round and round in continually repeated cyclical time, just as the I Ching tells us.
It is interesting that a modern state would take as its national flag a set of symbols that run back to ancient ideas and philosophies from another place. Modern nationalism is usually more narrow-minded than that, searching for indigenous symbols and origins.
There was happy and sad news last week. The happy news was that the New York Yankees qualified for the Major League Baseball playoffs, for the thirteenth consecutive year. The sad news was that they did not win the American League East division, which they had won for the prior nine consecutive years. I will focus on the good news here and look forward to the first playoff game against the Cleveland Indians on Thursday. But I must address a lingering issue. As some of you may remember (all of those I Ching-reading Taoist Yankee fans out there) that the I Ching predicted, when I consulted it back on August 3, that the Yankees would win the AL East. Was the I Ching wrong?
We have to be careful when we consider prophecies that seem not to turn out the way we expected them. There are at least two key points to keep in mind.
1) What the I Ching gives us is a picture of where Way is tending, the direction in which fate is unfolding. There is always an element of human agency, however. If we listen to the oracle and figure out the best action to take - action that either conforms to the tendency revealed, if it is something we want, or pushes against that tendency, if it is something we would rather avoid - we can influence, through out behavior, how the prophecy turns out. This can also happen unintentionally. We might take some action or make some choice that brings unforeseen consequences. There is always that element of chance. Our fallible humanity adds an unpredictable ingredient to any oracular statements - and that is what makes life and prophesying so interesting.
In this case, the fact that the Yankees narrowed the gap with that other AL East team right down to the third to last game of the season was remarkable. The good ch'i was clearly flowing toward York York. The I Ching clearly predicted that. But the Yanks fell just short. That failure could have resulted from any of dozens of small actions or tactical decisions that turned a game or two against them. Fate was with them, but they could not quite take full advantage of that opportunity. It is that fallible humanity was all possess.
2) When considering prophecies that appear to come up short, we must also be sensitive to our own interpretive shortcomings. The oracle provided a certain message, but did I, as the reader, understand it in the proper manner?
In going back, I can see at least one other way to read the hexagrams (and there are probably other alternatives), one that suggests continued success for the Yankees, perhaps.
In the original reading, the first hexagram was, "Biting Through," and it had this to say:
This hexagram represents an open
mouth...with an obstruction (in the fourth place) between the teeth.
As a result the lips cannot meet. To bring them together one must bite
energetically through the obstacle. Since the hexagram is made up of
the trigrams for thunder and lightening, it indicates how obstacles are
forcibly removed in nature. Energetic biting through overcomes the
obstacle that prevents joining of the lips; the storm with its thunder
and lightening overcomes the disturbing tension in nature...
When I saw this back in August, I interpreted the "obstacle" to be overcome as the Boston Red Sox, the team against which the Yankees were competing for the AL East title. That might have been incorrect. The I Ching might have been pointing to a different obstacle, one internal to the Yankees themselves. A more Mencian reading - since Mencius tells us to look inside ourselves when things are going wrong - would suggest that the Yankees needed to overcome their own self-doubt and fear; they needed to simply do what they were capable of doing, fulfill their obligations to themselves and their teammates. And they did. The ultimate success, therefore, may still lie ahead.
When I asked the oracle two months ago, if New York would win the AL East, it replied that the Yankees will have success. At that time, I thought this meant we would win the division; now, I can see that it could point to bigger things: an AL pennant or a World Series championship.
I have been holding off on this question for some time, waiting for the right moment to consult the oracle. Today, I went ahead and asked: will the New York Yankees win the American League East? And the I Ching came back with a positive answer! Hang on, nervous Yankee fans. When the dust settles at the end of the season, the boys from the Bronx will be sitting atop the division! That is what the oracle says. Details below the fold: