Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ishmael and Tao

My translation of the "Tao Te Ching" plays with an interesting historical theory in the introduction, that is to say the notion of traditional tribal societies vs. modern coercive societies. Much of the text ran parallel to ideas expressed in Daniel Quinn's "Ishmael," a book I first read in the late 90's

Much of Quinn's thesis centers around man settling in the Mesopotamian valley 10,000 or so years ago, establishing for the first time effective sedentary agriculture and the rise of "complex" societal structures, transitioning away from communialism and towards organized economies based on production and division of labor. The seeds of all modern modes of being.

Within the Taoist context lies a perspective which addresses these two main epochs of human history, breaking them into Yin and Yang epochs. Yin epoch dominated from two million to five million years of hominid, horde, and clan life that could be defined as communal living in Taoist balance, or what is known as the "Great Integrity." This was a period of "right-brained," intuitive activity (emotional, aesthetic, kinesthetic, holistic, integrated).

The requisite Yang epoch of the past few thousand years is defined largely by coercive civilizations, and a left-brained dominance of analytical reasoning (re: logic, structure, intellectuality, aggression.)

Both Quinn and Taoist thought may place us presently in an era when social pathology and technology are leading very rapidly toward an end to "civilization," a non-sustainable pattern of human existence entrenched as the paradigm on which human life is constructed.

It isn't hard to tease out these historical realities. To my way of thinking, tribalism and modernism are at war, both philosophically and in some cases literally, in our times. But where from here.

Taoist philosophy may encourage the possibility of a new phase or "integrated planetary community." It sounds hokey, yet achieving sustainability may be imperative, indeed, perhaps the only way we'll regain balance. All indications show that we've become collectively removed from the Great Integrity and done tremendous harm by shifting from balance to selfishness. Incorporating right-brain centered consciousness integrated with the positive aspects of the left-brain.

Most importantly, at the risk of sounding cheesy, is the notion of re-harmonizing with the natural world that we are an interconnected part of, whether we acknowledge that fact or not, it is inescapable, and additionally transcending the habits of the second epoch and discovering new forms of living that facilitate centeredness rather than division and conflict.

Can it work? It can. Will it. I'm a cynic and generally not inclined to see postmodern societies as open to possibilities, but systems do change, they changed in anceint Mesopotamia, they can change into a better way for humanity. It may take 100, 1000, or 10,000 more years, but the way of Yin, of the integrity is ultimately sustainable while we inhabit this mortal coil. As Ishmael shows us, the way of Yang most probably is not.

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