culture, Personal story

The freedom of internal exile: 2020 in review

The freedom of internal exile

So much of this year I have struggled with the moral crisis of how to endure and to live well through a corrupt, decaying, failing and abusive regime. I do not mean just the errant minor provincial government that I serve as lowly under-castellan. I mean the wider institutional regime of our now post-democratic society, riven with political and cultural decay.

In recent days, I have been returning to the concept of the Chinese recluse, yinshi, and my own thoughts from May 2019, eighteen months ago, On the Renunciation of the Political World. Temperamentally, I do not have the attributes of a fighter, negotiator or general. I incline to the vita contemplativa, not the vita activa. I look out on the strife of the world as a scholar viewing a lake, not a strategist plotting a battlefield.

Image source: Scholar Viewing a Lake, Kanō Tan’yū (Japanese, 1602-1674), Indianapolis Museum of Art

And yet, I do not choose a quiet life easily – not when I see the tectonic grinding of collapsing empires; not when I see republics in distress and democracies in the throes of death; not when I see lies and soft totalitarianism entrenched amongst our new Red Guard elites. Throughout this year I have struggled with how to live in truth and to lead a moral life amidst the crises of 2020: the pandemic and the poor response of our elites to governing the virus; the social unrest of the American colour revolution; the constitutional crises of the dominant imperial power; the appalling lockdown and craven succumbing to abusive power in Victoria; the catastrophic failures in the Department of Hell and Human Suffering that I witnessed. Outraged by the injustice, the incompetence, the derangement, I wish I could be like Vaclav Havel and convene a new Civic Forum and bring signatures to a new Charter 77.

Yet, I know I do not have that fate. I do not have those attributes. I do not have those strengths for that battle. I accept my fate as an internal exile in this distressed republic. I stand solitary by the great lake of the infinite conversation, and look out to the great trees on the shore, and hope to plant one seed.

This tree was growing before the forest was born.
If you guess its age, it’s twice as old.
Its roots met the changes of hills and ravines,
its leaves were altered by wind and frost.
Everyone laughs at its outer decay,
failing to appreciate the colorful patterns within.
Its bark may have peeled away,
but there is only truth inside.


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