Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Taoist Apocolypse

As I said in a recent blog, I'm in the middle of reading The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff. I'm slightly further on from where I was last time, about half way through The Te of Piglet. Whereas The Tao of Pooh was an introspective look at how a person can strive to live by Taoist principals, The Te of Piglet seems to be more like a list of who's Getting It All Wrong. Personally, I'm finding it a tad on the self righteous side. But then who am I to talk. Me, with all my 'I-think-people-should's...
Anyway, we're now looking at the arrival of the Puritans on Native American territory, and how the spread of Westernised society changed the world that was there before. Benjamin Hoff indicates that the drive that people such as the Puritans had (and still have) for exploration, technology and growth is having a devastating effect on the natural world and on our own peace of mind. Since Taoism centres on balance, the Native American way of life is much more in line with it's principals than Western society. A quote from chief Luther Standing Bear sums it up nicely:
"We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rollings hills, and winding streams with tangled growth as 'wild.' Only to the white man was nature a 'wilderness' and only to him was the land 'infested' with 'wild' animals and 'savage' people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery. Not until the hairy men from the east came and with brutal frenzy heaped injustived upon us and the families we loved was it 'wild' for us. When the very animals of the forest began fleeing from his appreach then it was that for us 'Wild West' began."
Poiniant words.
But, ever the sceptic, I never trust a bias unless I have explored at least two sides; and The Te of Piglet is coming from a bias (as everything does): on this occasion the bias of Taoist thinking. I think it's important not to just jump in and say 'yes I totally agree that the Native American and Taoist principals are better than the Western ones' based on one book, without thinking it through. I mean, without the Western hunger for understanding and knowledge, without its industrial and technological revolutions, I wouldn't be sitting here in a centrally heated room, typing on a laptop!
But look at evolution. For millions of years species have grown from one thing to another. They have learned how to keep on living through a process of elimination: it gets colder, the ones that can cope with the cold live, the ones that can't die. They have fought with other species: grow defences or get eaten. They have learned how to keep their own blood-line going on a personal level: alpha males fight each other over alpha female and only the winner gets to have the babies. The other backs off or dies trying.
I don't believe humans are really that far off from any other social mammal on the planet. We live in large packs. We have our alphas, our pack leaders: the ones with power and money and the ability to make decisions that affect everyone else in their pack. Every pack has it's territory. If two packs get too close they fight for their territory and their blood line. One wins and their way lives on. The other backs off or dies trying.
So couldn't this whole thing just be another example of evolution? Couldn't it just be that the Western world just discovered technology and developed weaponry quicker and this allowed them to be the alpha males and alpha females; the dominant species? Couldn't this be what was hapenning in America? Maybe. It's ugly and violent enough to be evolution.
But take a step back from that, even, and look at the results of evolution. Look at the fast-growth species compared to the ones that have barely changed in thousands of years. From what I have learned so far, it seems that sometimes a species will quickly become prevalent and dominant. But these will inevitably mostly, or completely, die out soon enough. Because the earth is a complicated self-balancing system. If there's too much of one thing this will lead to a lessening of other things.
For example if there are too many trees then they will use up all the carbon dioxide in the air and fill it with too much oxygen, and since trees need carbon dioxide to live, they won't have enough and they will die back. In fact this is exactly what hapenned. The process is described beautifully in the BBC program How To Grow A Planet (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01bywvr).
It's not just plants. It happens to everything. It's hapenned many times with many different species, and looking back on humanity it really appears that the same thing keeps happening: societies that advance quickly also fall quickly.
It just seems to make too much sense to me not to agree with it: you either grow and change quickly, become out of balance with the system, and die back; or you make small moves, don't strive for change, and get to understand the natural world around you so you can find a balance with it. I've got to say, I think personally I do tend to agree with the Taoists on this one.

1 comment:

  1. totally got the bit about trees wrong didn't I... they use carbon dioxide and give out oxygen :o)