Jim Jarmusch Via Germany, Part 2

by Arthur B

Continuing the journey through Jarmusch's back catalogue, featuring a Ghost Dog, a Crazy Horse, and a lot of caffeine and nicotine.
In the previous article in this miniseries, I covered (through the medium of a Germany-exclusive blu-ray boxed set) Jarmusch’s early career up to Dead Man. That movie benefitted in part from an excellent country-industrial soundtrack by Neil Young, so it’s only fitting that Jarmusch would return the favour with a project focused on Young himself...

Year of the Horse

This is a documentary about Neil Young and Crazy Horse which isn’t entirely of Jarmusch’s own making; specifically, it mixes footage shot by Jarmusch on Crazy Horse’s 1996 tour with backstage footage from Neil Young’s archives from 1986 and 1976, to offer a glimpse of the musicians in three different decades. In principle, this should be an exciting prospect, because that happens to catch three very important but distinct periods in the group’s career. (It’s important to remember that Crazy Horse isn’t so much Neil Young’s backing band as it is an independent entity that Neil Young happens to play with regularly - they have made Neil-less releases, and on the documentary Neil introduces himself as the “guitarist with Crazy Horse” rather than the band leader or a solo artist or anything like that.)

To be specific, 1976 saw Neil at the height of his creative powers (and his closest physical resemblance to Neil from The Young Ones); the previous year had seen him release the epochal albums Zuma and Tonight’s the Night, the latter of which was recorded in 1973 as a response to the death by heroin overdose of Crazy Horse lead guitarist Danny Whitten and and Bruce Berry, one of Neil’s roadies. The two albums couldn’t be more different - Tonight’s the Night is the saddest entry in Neil’s sorrowful “Ditch Trilogy” along with Time Fades Away and On the Beach - whilst Zuma found him moving beyond the trilogy with a more tonally varied release and a new lease of energy.

Crazy Horse provided essential contributions to both albums, acting as Neil’s backing group for most of the songs on Zuma, being central to the events inspiring Tonight’s the Night, backing Neil on the studio numbers from that album, and appearing in Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown, a live performance of a Danny Whitten number included to ensure that Danny would have a presence on the album. (There’s a segment here where Neil and the band share reminiscences of Danny, along with another segment later on commemorating David Briggs, their longstanding studio producer who died in 1995.)

On top of that, it would be during the 1976 tour that Like a Hurricane (originally premiered in 1975, eventually released on the American Stars ‘n’ Bars album in 1977) would become a centerpiece of Crazy Horse’s live set, a position it would retain ever after. Indeed, Like a Hurricane provides the climax to the movie, with Jarmusch skilfully mashing up footage from a 1996 performance with material from a 1976 performance.

1986 found Neil in a period of creative flux, putting out a string of albums with troubled commercial and critical receptions. This was when Neil was signed to the Geffen label, and saw him put out oddities like the synthpop pastiche Trans and the 1950s-flavoured rock ‘n’ roll album Everybody’s Rockin’. The latter of which was delivered effectively as a joke - Neil had wanted to do a country album, which given the country influences on his sound over the course of his career would have made perfect sense, but David Geffen asked for rock ‘n’ roll and didn’t like the result. Geffen would infamously sue Neil for producing uncommercial albums not characteristic of his sound.

More specifically, 1986 saw the tour for Landing On Water, an album which included some 1984 attempts by Neil and Crazy Horse to turn out some New Wave-influenced material. It was released after David Geffen and Neil Young had patched things up and settled out of court (for his part, David Geffen says he regrets the lawsuit and wishes he’d just left Neil to do his own thing), but in the eyes of many critics and fans (including me) Neil wouldn’t get his creative train back on track until 1989’s Freedom, a withering attack on the uncaring and violent America that the Reagan and Bush I administrations presided over.

After Freedom, the creative, critical, and commercial stars would align again for Neil for much of the 1990s. Crazy Horse would again be a very prominent feature of his music, in part because he was turning out material aligned with their skills and in part because the work he did with them in the 1960s and 1970s was extremely influential on the grunge movement, which Neil and Crazy Horse ended up in an interesting symbiotic relationship with - Neil would collaborate with Pearl Jam to make the Mirror Ball album, for instance. In a darker parallel, Kurt Cobain’s suicide note would quote lyrics from Rust Never Sleeps - the one album Neil and Crazy Horse put out in the 1970s which came closest to inventing grunge a decade early - and Neil was sufficiently rattled by this that it inspired the title track from Sleeps With Angels.

What is notable is the consistency of the Crazy Horse lineup - bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina have been with the band since its inception in 1968 as The Rockets, whilst guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro has been a member since 1975, save for a brief break from 1988 to 1990. The upshot of that is that in each of the eras documented here, we’re dealing with the same core lineup, which helps the viewer to compare and contrast how they are in each decade.

The documentary isn’t some sort of dishonest hagiography - an uglier side of the parties involved is shown too. Home movie footage from 1986 captures Neil Young viciously berating the group over a live performance he considered subpar and getting into a shouting match with Billy Talbot. In fact, so far as I can tell all the archival material consists of home movies, and much of the 1996 material either consists of further home movies or is deliberately shot in a way which evokes that style (even the sit-down interview segments look like they’ve been recorded by an amateur on a cheap camcorder).

On the one hand, catching the band in such an unguarded way gives the better stretches of the documentary a very intimate, close feel that makes you feel like you are really seeing something private. On the other hand, it does make the movie feel rather cheap, with the only components that are really nicely shot being the 1996 concert footage the film is interspersed with, along with the occasional bit of landscape footage, animation, and other odd bits and pieces slipped in there to add some visual variety. Even then, much of the concert footage looks visibly clumsy, the exceptionally clear sound quality saving it from seeming like an outright bootleg - and of course, the sound quality on the home movies varies a little, with some conversations being hard to follow as a result.

The movie got panned when it came out precisely because of how cheap a lot of it looks, but this kind of makes sense; the grunge is intrinsically being kind of sloppy, and even back in his early career Neil has always applied this “Shakey” aesthetic to his material which fits in with that. In addition, I think Jarmusch was concerned that if he used top-notch visuals for the new footage he shot for the release, the archival footage would look even worse next to it, whilst filming the new footage this way means that there is less of an aesthetic and stylistic break between eras, and that in turn helps create the impression of a group whose sound and personal relationships are continuously evolving rather than happening in discrete chunks.

This, incidentally, may explain why the movie has not been updated to blu-ray for this release, but has simply been put out on a standard DVD (with non-anamorphic widescreen - so you end up with black bars on all four sides of the screen and the picture in a little letterbox): making it look nice would defeat the purpose. On the other hand, perhaps this comes down to the film not being especially well-liked. Though Jarmusch himself pops up a few times chatting to Neil and the gang, it doesn’t really feel like a Jarmusch movie because he isn’t really exercising much overt creative vision here so much he is putting together a jigsaw puzzle by taking pieces provided to him by someone else and filming extra bits to form the connecting pieces. On top of that, it doesn’t quite tell a coherent enough story to be satisfying for someone who wants a definitive documentary about the band, but has too many talky bits for someone who’d rather watch a concert video. I like it, but I think it’s only possible to like if you just sit back and just accept what you’re being presented with as a scrapbook of interesting curios rather than as a cohesive work.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Forest Whitaker is Ghost Dog, an eccentric hit man working for Mafia boss Louie (John Tormey). Years ago, Louie saved a young Ghost Dog from a vicious street assault; later, all grown up and passionately dedicated to the code of bushido as recorded in the Hagakure, Ghost Dog seeks out Louie and offers his services as a sort of modern-day samurai. (For those not familiar with it, quotes from the Hagakure pop up narrated by Whitaker over the course of the movie.)

Living on a rooftop shed where he tends to his carrier pigeons - his primary means of communication with Louie - Ghost Dog lives a simple life which seems satisfying to him. But this is all disrupted on one bad hit, when he’s sent to take out a gangster who’s made the mistake of sleeping with Louise (Tricia Vessey), the daughter of Louie’s boss Ray Vargo (Henry Silva). The assassination itself goes smoothly; the problem is that Louise wasn’t supposed to be there when the killing happened and she was. Whilst she is physically unharmed, Ray is furious that Louise saw the killing happen, and insists that Ghost Dog must be killed. The rest of the film consists of Ghost Dog’s efforts to balance adherence to his code with the fact that his own master is no longer loyal to him.

Whitaker is obviously the heart of the film, and gives a fantastic performance, to the point where it’s almost impossible to reconcile the actor we see here with the guy we see chewing scenery with John Travolta just a year later in Battlefield Earth unless we assume that Whitaker was phoning it in for the lols and a fat cheque from Scientology.

Then again, he has more interesting interactions with other characters this time around than being Travolta’s right-hand Psychlo. For instance, much weight is given to the friendship Ghost Dog strikes up with Pearline (Camille Winbush), a precocious young girl he bonds with over shared literary tastes. Another distinctive friendship is the one he has with Raymond (Isaach de Bankolé), a French ice cream vendor, with whom he plays chess regularly; Ghost speaks little French, and Raymond barely speaks English, but they have this rapport anyway. (A joke that subtitle-reliant viewers will miss - but I can follow on my copy due to residual secondary school French - is that quite often the two will express exactly the same sentiment in their respective languages, each not realising that the other has just made exactly the same point.)

(In terms of other Jarmusch regulars, Gary Farmer shows up playing essentially a modern-day riff on his “Nobody” character from Dead Man, right down to his “stupid fucking white man!” catchphrase.)

The other half of the picture, of course, comes own to Ghost Dog’s masters in organised crime. The actual Mafiosi are typically at the least at the older end of middle age, if not actually elderly, their faded glory and shabby surroundings very reminiscent of the sort of take on the declining Mafia that The Sopranos would follow. Even the most well-preserved of them gets undermined, having to dig out some reading glasses to read a message from Ghost Dog at one point; Ghost Dog kills one of his enemies simply by storming into the room suddenly, prompting a heart attack.

The parallels between the depiction of an aging, greying subculture of organised crime that’s failed to cultivate new blood here and the midlife Mafia crisis of The Sopranos seems to be a case of parallel inspiration as opposed to active borrowing of ideas, since both premiered in 1999; another connection is that the film was primarily shot in New Jersey - sorry, I mean Noo Joisey (though the locale is rendered unclear by the use of generic number plates using fictional State nicknames, so it could be anywhere in the urban Northeast), which is where The Sopranos is set, though this linkage may simply come down to the fact that Joisey was notorious at the time for Mafia activity.

Jarmusch takes the humiliation of the Mafia further, though; there’s all sorts of background details suggesting that their coffers are increasingly bare and their days of lording it over all they come into contact with are over. Perhaps the most striking example of this is when the landlord of their clubhouse stops by to yell at them for being months late on the rent and they just take it, evidently in no position to put him in his place or intimidate him into submission.

There’s also a certain immaturity to many of the gangsters which feels especially remniscent of the Sopranos, like when they’re discussing the necessity of killing Ghost Dog and suddenly one of them starts doing a Flava Flav impression and another one makes animal noises, or the fact that they spend a lot of time watching old-timey cartoons on TV. The greying of the Mafia and their decline into petty squabbles rather than doing any serious money-making business seems to be a sign of a changing of the guard - an old order, on the verge of total irrelevance, playing the same silly games it always has for lack of anything better to do. At one point one of the Mafiosi mutters, even as he’s bleeding out from a gunshot wound inflicted by Ghost Dog, that he’s glad that Ghost is taking them out the old-fashioned way - the unspoken alternative being that they’d fade into such irrelevance that nobody would even bother to kill them.

The decline of the Mafia here also seems to be tied in with a more general sense of a decline of entrenched masculinity and the attainment of places of authority by women. Louise seems like she’s going to be the new director of organised crime in the city with the elder mafiosi exterminated; Pearline may have the opportunity to take up Ghost Dog’s path if she wishes; even a policewoman on traffic duty ends up having more impact on the plot than the entire rest of the NYPD put together.

Out of all of Jarmusch’s material, this is far and away the most violent piece; for an arthouse director, Jarmusch reveals a real knack for action at points, with Ghost Dog’s frontal assault on Vargo’s sumptuous mansion being a particular highlight. The movie benefits from an excellent soundtrack overseen by the RZA, whose involvement of course means that a decent cross-section of the Wu-Tang Clan and other quality East Coast artists are represented.

Coffee and Cigarettes

This is a collection of 11 short films in which characters have conversations over coffee and cigarettes - it’s that simple. Jarmusch had started filming these little snippets in 1986 with a short film also entitled Coffee and Cigarettes, which appears here as the introductory segment Strange to Meet You and is followed by the subsequent short films in the sequence - 1989’s Coffee and Cigarettes, Memphis Version (appearing here as Twins) and 1993’s Coffee and Cigarettes - Somewhere In California (appearing here as just Somewhere In California). The remaining 8 vignettes were lashed together with the original shorts to bring the concept out to feature length in 2003.

The chronological presentation in rough order of production is a slight burden on the film, since Strange to Meet You, the earliest, is also one of the less successful ones - it’s Steven Wright and Roberto Benigni being twitchy and weird at each other. Things perk up with Twins, in which Steve Buscemi appears as a waiter who Steve Buscemis at Cinqué Lee and Joie Lee to their general irritation, and Somewhere In California is where the compilation really hits its stride, with Tom Waits and Iggy Pop both playing into and playing against their legendary personas in certain respects.

From there on in, however, the collection remains highly variable and at points the sequence lapses into self-parody. There’s a segment with Meg and Jack White from the White Stripes who seem to have been cast on the strength of Jarmusch’s fondness for their work (they also get namedropped in Only Lovers Let Alive), but they don’t really have the acting chops of Iggy or Tom. (Or, for that matter, the GZA and RZA, who appear in a segment in which their waiter is an undercover Bill Murray - that episode is a pretty good one, largely on the strength of the chemistry between the three, which is presumably the inspiration for that apocryphal Once Upon a Time In Shaolin contract clause.)

The obsession with coffee and cigarettes and tendency to have the performers play either themselves or imaginative variations on themselves continues throughout the collection, but expecting a cohesive overall arc to these things is a mistake. (A few phrases from earlier segments are woven into later segments, but it feels rather forced.) The movie essentially runs into a problem of format: it is genuinely an anthology of short films, like the cinematic equivalent of an anthology of short stories, but presenting it as a continuous movie rather than a pick-and-mix you can select individual stories from feels like a mistake. In fact, it feels like a piece which would have been better off not aiming for a traditional theatrical release - it came out in 2003 and really, DVD technology at that point made this sort of collection of independent, unconnected little stories much more viable to digest as a set of short films piece by piece rather than digesting them in a single sitting.

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Comments (go to latest)
Raymond H at 11:40 on 2018-04-26
I still remember, back when the whole "Akira Yoshida" hullabaloo was going down, joking with my friends that if I ever got a job at Marvel Comics I would operate under the pseudonym "Jinyaro Bakahaku". Take a wild guess what that translates (poorly) to when you read it in the proper Japanese name order.

From your description of it, Ghost Dog sounds like a Seijun Suzuki film, only with less jokes. In all seriousness though, I really can't stand Hagakure. Maybe it's because I'm a child of the Deep South, but blind nostalgia has never really sat well with me, especially when it's the kind that sings the praises of old greats whilst simultaneously demonstrating that you obviously weren't paying attention when you read those greats (think Dan Simmons' Dying Earth story). From your description of Ghost Dog though, Hagakure actually sounds like a perfect fit. I have to ask, just to be sure, are there any mafia fellows who talk wistfully about the 20's and Al Capone? If so, then Hagakure was made for this movie.
Arthur B at 13:00 on 2018-04-26
I have to ask, just to be sure, are there any mafia fellows who talk wistfully about the 20's and Al Capone?

Not specifically, but again the fact that they are all aging and seem to spend a lot of time watching old cartoons suggests an air of nostalgia and faded glory about them.
Raymond H at 23:04 on 2018-04-26
Yeah, okay. That does fit with Hagakure and its whole "Argh, back in the days of war men were real men, women were real women, and the lower classes knew their place!" ideology then. Which of course ignores the fact that most of these famous texts like "The Unfettered Mind" and "The Life-Giving Sword" are about how war isn't a glorious and beautiful thing, but when it's unavoidable, you have to be able to deal with it, with a minimal amount of collateral possible. LGS even explicitly says in its introduction that it's trying to reconcile the philosophy of the Tao Te Ching with the fact that Japan (at that time) is completely consumed by warfare. Sorry if I'm over-explaining. I don't know how much you already know about this stuff.
Robinson L at 15:30 on 2018-06-18
Not much to add to this series: I'm only familiar with Jarmusch's filmography through Brows Held High, which covered both Dead Man and Ghost Dog. (Incidentally, the same guy also did both a vlog and a review of Anonymous. He didn't like it.) The impression I get is that Jarmusch's stuff is often good, but not my kind of thing. Still worth reading about and watching people talk about.

Raymond: Sorry if I'm over-explaining. I don't know how much you already know about this stuff.

Well, even if Arthur knows, other readers don't necessarily, so no worries.
Ichneumon at 04:03 on 2018-06-19
@Robinson L: Oh, neat, someone else who watches Kyle Kallgren's stuff! :3
Raymond H at 12:12 on 2018-06-19
Well, even if Arthur knows, other readers don't necessarily, so no worries.

UGGGH, I'm so embarrassed though, because, like, a day after I wrote that comment I said the Tao Te Ching was a pacifist text to my sihing, and he went "Um, no it isn't!". With, like, that "Excuse me?" sort of glare?
Robinson L at 20:30 on 2018-06-20
Huh. I've only ever read it once, in the le Guin translation, and I was under the impression that she, also, regarded it as a pacifist text. That's about the extent of my knowledge, though.
Raymond H at 12:01 on 2018-06-25
And I'm back! Sorry, I spent the weekend conferring with my sihing to make sure I didn't say anything foolish like last time.

So, Robinson, to answer your question, let's take a look at perhaps the most famous aspect of Taoism, the Taijitu. You've seen it everywhere, the black and white yin and yang circling each other, neither one pure and unadulterated, and neither one greater or lesser than the other. Life and death, peace and war, good and evil. We tend to think of these things as simple, opposing forces, but they're not. No human being is completely, %100 good or evil, after all. We all have equal parts of them inside us, we have to choose, yadda yadda, you've heard this all before.

The reason my sihing says the Tao Te Ching is not a pacifist text is that it's not so much about finding peace as it is about finding balance. Again, think back to the cycle. People always use that term when referring to war and violence, because despite our best efforts, war continues to appear in the world. Violence is inevitable, it's a part of human nature, it's a part of the cycle of human history. The key then is not to avoid or destroy violence, but to find balance within it. The path, the force that binds the universe and makes it run, at some point its current will run red with blood, and violence will sweep the world of man and drown whatever poor fools lie within its path. To ignore the violence leads to death of the body, to allow the violence to consume you leads to death of the spirit. One must then find balance. One must be able to pass through the path's current, and emerge with their sense of self intact and their heart still beating. Not by adding to the cycle's energy (where you become just another drop in the river), not by trying to block the energy's path (where you break just as any dam does inevitably), but by letting the energy flow (like a ball riding a stream).

Pacifism indicates the choosing of a side, of saying that one thing is inherently better and nobler than the other. And while you certainly can interpret the Tao Te Ching that way, remember what violence can do. If a loved one is held at gunpoint, and the only way to save them is by harming the gunner, what do you do? Probably the first thing that pops into your head is to knock the gunner out, or to harm them non-lethally, and that's the key. You would still be committing violence, but just enough violence to halt any further violence. No more, and no less. It isn't always as simple as that, of course. Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes our emotions get the better of us, and sometimes our actions have unintended consequences. But pure and unadulterated peace, despite seeming like a good thing on the surface, can lead to its own problems and pitfalls.

Think about a sword. By itself, it can do nothing. By itself, it is harmless. It is only through human action, human intent, that it can be used to bring death or give life. The sword is an extension of the swordsman. They alone decide when to draw the blade and when to keep it sheathed. And they alone must find their own balance, as they walk along the path of the world.

Sorry, I know that sounded yoda-esque. Heheh. Just, tldr; The key isn't peace, but balance.
Robinson L at 15:30 on 2018-06-28
Since I know so little about the Tao te Ching, I'll take you're sihing's word for it. However, since some of these arguments sound like your own, reasoning, rather just reports of what the Tao says, I have some feedback on those.

In order to have a coherent discussion of pacifism, you first need to establish a definition of the word, and of related words, like "violence." So when you say, "Violence is inevitable, it's a part of human nature, it's a part of the cycle of human history," a pacifist might entirely agree with you, depending on what definition of "violence" you're operating under.

A large part of pacifism is a rejection of organized warfare - lots of people have argued that warfare is inevitable, part of human nature, and of the cycle of human history, but plenty of scholars have shown compelling evidence that this may, in fact, not be true. And heaven knows, all manner of societies have upheld some odious practice of their own culture or another as inevitable and eternal, and cited plenty of historical evidence - but it turns out to be contingent and context-specific.

Pacifists also generally reject interpersonal violence that has a high likelihood of resulting in death or serious injury (sometimes psychological, emotional, and spiritual as well as physical). They wouldn't necessarily rule out causing someone minor temporary hurt to prevent greater violence, as in the case you cite of someone holding a loved one at gunpoint.

On which point, I really, really dislike thought experiments of that sort, because as you say, it isn't always as simple as that. I would amend "always" to "never." And really, that example - as most of its type - is already begging the question. I presupposes a really bad situation where a) a resolution that doesn't employ violence is impossible and b) a resolution that does employ violence is possible.

At first blush, it may seem obvious to us that such situations do in fact exist, often, even - but I suspect most of the actual examples we can cite are from movies and TV. Maybe someone has a personal anecdote or two, but people's analyses of their own experiences tend to be highly subjective. I'm not aware of any empirical studies which have seriously looked at this topic, and such studies would be difficult anyway, given the problem of proving or disproving counter-factuals.

I can be pretty confident, though, that if you stuck someone like me in this hypothetical scenario, and I tried to disarm the gunner by force, I'd be more likely to get my loved one shot by accident, and it would take a truly miraculous occurrence for me to succeed. Hell, if I had a gun and the attacker was unarmed, the highest probability by a factor of several hundred is that they take the gun away and use it on me or my loved one, rather than me being able to disable or kill them. Whereas if I try talking them down, or distracting them, or literally anything other than brute force, my chances are probably still lousy, but still better than if I tried to disable them physically.

(It's also true that I've encountered a significant number of pacifists - most of them highly privileged - who seem either willfully oblivious to questions of self-defense, or to have a Pollyannaish faith in the power of nonviolence to sort out potential such situations without giving serious thought to what real defense actually means in practice. These are not thinkers I cite in my argument.)

As for swords, yeah, a sword is just a tool - but a tool designed for a specific purpose. It doesn't have much functionality other than maiming or killing something. So I think it would be a stretch to claim a sword as an entirely neutral object, if that was your argument.
Raymond H at 12:06 on 2018-06-30
By violence I mean conflict, which can come in a variety of shapes and on a variety of scales, ranging from a full-blown war to simply a shitty boss or co-worker giving you grief. Either way, the important thing is to find balance, to understand the flow of energy and to ride it without adding or attempting to block it. I have never been in a war, and I would presume you to have never been in one either, but at the time of the Tao Te Ching's writing, and the writing of other famous, similar works, such as Meditations or The Life-Giving Sword, war, total, all-consuming war, literally was a daily part of many people's lives. So you have to take into account that difference in time period as well. I don't think anyone working an office job these days has to worry about their house being plundered by bandits or their crops destroyed by soldiers, but we do have co-workers that irritate us, or rude and mean service workers, or countless other sources of stress and worry in our lives. All of this is comprised of energy, the energy of the Tao. And to find a balance requires us to pick and choose our "battles" and how we fight them. Ultimately, these things are beyond our control. However, we should not attempt to fully surrender (complete pacifism) or fully fight (complete violence) them.

Your mention of Pollyanaish figures is what I mean by pure pacifism. Again, going back in time, this difference was much more pronounced. Even as we sit behind our computer screens in our comfy apartments or houses, we have a constant news feed letting us know that war and violence is out there, even if we are not in the thick of it. Back in the day, as it were, if a rich, sheltered noble wished to ignore the troubles of the world, they could do it much more easily, even if it might end like the Masque of Red Death for them. And indeed, as the story goes, it was his frustration with these people and this willfully ignorant mindset that drove Laozi to write the TTC.

Let me put it to you this way. Remember that episode of Star Trek, when Kirk got split in two? At first it seemed like one was good Kirk and the other was bad Kirk, but actually it was more complicated than that. One was peaceful, passive Kirk, while the other was violent, aggressive Kirk. Both showcase the flaws and the strengths of passiveness and aggression, and both are ultimately needed to make a whole Kirk, a whole person.

I must apologize for bringing up the cliche thought experiment. My intent was not, as it usually is with these things, to demonstrate how you're weak and I'm, like, so cool because I know how to make the tough decisions maaan, but rather to show that your seemingly idealistic answer is actually the right mindset. And you're right, most people wouldn't know how to be the "good guy with a gun" in that situation. But that is precisely why we study martial arts, so that we may possess complete awareness and control of our bodies and minds, and be able to retain that control and calmness during instances of violence. As I already mentioned, I myself have never known war. But I have known fear over my body, and of accidentally hurting someone, due to my always being much larger and stronger than my peers. And the ranks of most of these monks and philosophers were comprised of former soldiers. Ancient China didn't exactly have a Bureau for Veteran Affairs, so the only way you could really deal with your PTSD in those days was to become a monk, and spend your time in meditation and counseling with other, similarly-scarred people. Through these practices though, we may obtain control, and let go of our fear and the ghosts that haunt our minds.

As for swords, of course you can use them for other things. Chopping wood, cleaving meat, with the little blades you can also cut hair, pick teeth, carve wood, etc. Also, even if its main purpose is to kill, what can it do if it sits idly on a table? It's not going to kill you then, unless
a) You happen to fall on it by accident
b) Someone picks it up to kill you
So yes, I stand by my assertion of swords being ultimately neutral.
https://arilou-skiff.livejournal.com/ at 13:54 on 2018-07-04
Should be noted that the tradition closer to pacifism in chinese thinking is probably Mohism rather than taoism. (though the Mohists weren't exactly absolute pacifists either, and somewhat ironically they were famed as siege engineers)
Raymond H at 06:52 on 2018-07-08
Ooh, thank you. I hadn't heard of Mohism before, but I've looked it up and it seems quite interesting. Thank you for pointing it out to me. :)
Robinson L at 22:36 on 2018-07-10
Raymond: By violence I mean conflict, which can come in a variety of shapes and on a variety of scales, ranging from a full-blown war to simply a shitty boss or co-worker giving you grief.

Ah, okay, I can go along with that. I was confused by the usage in the context of pacifism, specifically, because I know of many pacifists who have a different relationship to conflict than they do to violence. Indeed, I know of some who are explicitly pro-conflict as part of their pacifist philosophy, not in contradiction to it.

I have never been in a war, and I would presume you to have never been in one either

You presume correctly.

I must apologize for bringing up the cliche thought experiment. My intent was not, as it usually is with these things, to demonstrate how you're weak and I'm, like, so cool because I know how to make the tough decisions maaan, but rather to show that your seemingly idealistic answer is actually the right mindset.

Oh. Perhaps we're coming at it from slightly different contexts, then. The people I most often encounter deploying that thought experiment are doing so sincerely. Sure, they tend to have a bit more machismo than I do (not hard), but they come at the issue from a place of genuine solidarity, believing pretty much anyone could be capable of fighting off our hypothetical attacker, and should have the resources to do so.

As for swords, of course you can use them for other things. Chopping wood, cleaving meat, with the little blades you can also cut hair, pick teeth, carve wood, etc. Also, even if its main purpose is to kill, what can it do if it sits idly on a table?

In answer to your last question, "Not much," in which case, it's junk, and not worth having in the house to begin with, except maybe for decoration.

As for the rest: Yes, swords can be put to other uses, but unless I'm mistaken, they almost always do an inferior job to tools which are specifically made for the purpose in question. If you want to cut wood, get an axe; cut meat, a cleaver. I suppose you could shape scissors/tweezers, tooth-pickers, wood carvers, and similar tools like swords, but then I'm guessing they wouldn't have utility as swords.

Axes, spears, knives, even spears have numerous applications outside of combat and warfare where they're still excellent tools for the job. Apart from recreational combat or decoration, I can't think of any other use for a sword other than physically hurting another person that a different tool wouldn't accomplish a lot better. That's where I'm coming from when I say I'm not convinced that a sword is a neutral tool. Again, no one says you have to use it for physical violence ... but if you're not going to, then what's the point of having it at all?
Raymond H at 06:46 on 2018-07-15
Yes, but just because something was made to do one thing, you shouldn't automatically assign an idea of its ultimate purpose. Why did your parents make you? Were you made to be a doctor? Ultimately your fate is determined by your own human action, not by what has been made for you or what others intended for you. That's what I mean by swords being neutral. They have no will of their own, but simply channel the will of human beings, who ultimately decide what they will be used for. And while no-one would fault you for assigning finite purposes to inanimate objects, you should be careful not to extrapolate that mindset further to living beings.
Robinson L at 22:36 on 2018-08-02
Okay, been a little while, but I'm finally ready to follow up on some comments, starting with this one.

And while no-one would fault you for assigning finite purposes to inanimate objects, you should be careful not to extrapolate that mindset further to living beings.

Oh, sure. I wasn't disputing your larger point. More along the lines of taking issue with your choice of metaphor, because, again, my understanding is that apart from its primary purpose, a sword is way less useful for any other task than tools made for that task. I probably could have gotten behind a metaphor revolving around a battleaxe or a bow and arrow a lot more easily.
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