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Daoism: A Beginner's Guide (Beginner's…
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Daoism: A Beginner's Guide (Beginner's Guides)

by James Miller

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Four whole days I wasted on this stupid book. I got it because I saw it in the bookstore, and thought it would be interesting to see what the current state of Western understanding of the Dao is; and because the academic apparatus is not bad: the bibliography is extensive and totally up to date, and there is a useful glossary of key terms in Pinyin, Wade- Giles and complex characters (even if all the major concepts of Daoism are not included in it, but hey, can't have everything, I guess).

The book is marred by a number of faults.
1. the author doesn't understand Daoism at all. Reading this book is rather like reading a cookery book consisting of recipes for meat dishes only, written by a life-long vegetarian.

2. The author displays a crashing lack of discrimination, seemingly unable to distinguish between real Daoist practices and the New Age bullshit sold by enterprising Asians to gullible Americans, proving the old adage that there's one born every minute.

3. The text is marred by the really annoying habit academics have of putting bizarre citations in brackets. I mean, I can see the importance of attributing original ideas to those who originated them -credit given where credit due and all that- but when the idea being credited to someone else is of such asinine banality, of such generality as to be completely unremarkable, what's the point? Books are often made of paper (Blockhead 2001, p. 23).

4. By these methods the author fakes an objectivity which is entirely spurious. It gradually becomes clear that Miller is working under a religious outlook, rather than a secular one. For example, we have this sentence in which Miller slips in one of the favourite arguments used by proponents of Intelligent Design (an oxymoron if ever there was one): This principle of communication is perhaps an article of faith for Daoists in the same way that science is based on the faith that the world is fundamentally explainable. Sneaky huh? And then later we get this astounding comment:This view is largely a cultural by-product of modern individualism and the myth of the separation of church and state ..... wait a minute, the myth? The MYTH? Since when did it become a myth and not a principle, a reality?

Whether this religiosity is Miller's own distorted view, or whether this is just indicative of the general way discourse about Other thought systems has been corrupted by the dastardly rhetorical tricks of the American religious right, it's pretty damn stupid.

So, James Miller, big bitchslap from me on this one, yeah? Oh, and I want my four days back. ( )
19 vote tomcatMurr | Oct 13, 2011 |
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Placing a clear emphasis on Daoism as a living, changing culture, Miller focuses on the principal themes in Daoist thought in order to explain how Daoism is reinvented by each new generation. Complete with a timeline of key events and a helpful glossary, this sympathetic introduction will prove invaluable to both students and general readers who wish to learn more not only about the origins and nature of a profound tradition, buy also about its role and relevance in our modern world.… (more)

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