When the Great Dao is abandoned,
There is “humanity” and “rightness”.
When “knowledge” and “wisdom” appear,
There is great hypocrisy.
When family relationships are not harmonious,
There is “filial piety” and “parental love”.
When a country falls into chaos and disorder,
There are “loyal” ministers.
Chapter 18 of the Daodejing positively drips with vitriol against the hypocrisy and fakeness caused by what Laozi saw as the artificial values of Confucius and his followers. Just as he did in Chapter 5, he even goes as far to take a pop at the cardinal Confucian value of “humanity” (仁)!
To Laozi, the fundamental reason for the chaos and disorder that reigned over China during his lifetime stemmed from the abandonment of the great way. Without restoring this as the central guiding principle of society, there was absolutely no chance of bringing back peace, stability, and prosperity.
Far from helping to resolve the ills of society, the highly complex web of values such as “rightness”, “filial piety”, and “parental love” taught by Confucius served at best only to address their symptoms rather than their cause. To make matters worse, the ambiguous manner in which they were couched meant that they provided rich fodder for virtue signaling among people eager to display their moral and intellectual superiority over others – not to mention damaging factional disputes and conflicts over how to interpret them.
Laozi and Confucius were contemporaries who shared the same ultimate goal of restoring peace and stability to China – even if their approaches to achieving it were very different. Despite the legends to the contrary, it is highly unlikely that they ever met. Quite a pity really. A clash between the two titans would have made for some great TV.