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A Chinese Insight

Money and Sustainability: Appendix E


This appendix uses philosophical language to shows that, for the first time, Western science is demonstrating the validity of the insights of ancient Chinese philosophy. Specifically, it shows that Taoism provides a better insight into the behaviour of living systems than the Aristotelian linear cause and effect model.

When Yin and Yang combine appropriately, all things achieve harmony. Lao Tzu

Rudyard Kipling observed: East is East; and West is West. And never the twain shall meet. Yet today, met they have and interact they do, with vital trade and financial exchange. However, we are not only referring to the geopolitical and economic realities of the awakening of China, that Napoleon predicted would astonish the world.1 What we are referring to is the epistemological lack of understanding between two forms of common sense about the way nature operates: the Aristotelian approach that is underlying the

1 Napoleon is purported to have made two comments about China. The first dates to 1803, before he was emperor, when he pointed to China on a map: Here sleeps a dragon [or a lion in another version]. When it awakens it will astonish the world. The second dates to 1812 during his exile in Saint Helena: Quand la Chine sveillera, le monde tremblera [when China wakes up, the world will tremble]. The French politician Alain Peyrefitte, after his visit to China in 1971, took that second quote as the title for his best-known book, first published in 1973. In it, he forecasts that because of the sheer size of its population, when China decides to equip itself with 20th century technologies, it will return to a central economic and political role in the world, which it had held for several millennia, before the Industrial Revolution.

Wests common sense and most Western science; and the Taoist viewpoint which is part of the Eastern common sense and tradition.2 The Aristotelian approach that has long predominated in the West is based on a linear mental chain of cause and effects; it would have us move from point A to point B in linear fashion. That is why Western philosophy tends to look at the origin of everything for a primordial cause which can take the form of the creative God, a Logos, the Monad of Leibniz, or a primordial Big Bang hypothesised in Modern cosmology. In contrast, Eastern philosophy sees at the origin Nothingness, the Void. According to Taoism, what emerges out of this Void is a dynamic interaction between the two polarities of Yin-Yang. These concepts, always combined as Yin-Yang, as necessary complements to each other, have a history of thousands years, with its origins traced back to prehistoric shamanism, and in written form to the Yi Jing (the Book of Changes, often spelled also I Ching), attributed to King Wen of Zhou (1099-1050 BC). The explicit Weltanschauung in Chinese philosophy is the necessity of an appropriate balance between Yang and Yin energies, in all aspects of nature and life. New insights from the study of complex flow networks provide clear evidence that Taoism contributes a more fertile approach than Aristotle, at least to explain the conditions of sustainability for living systems. We will be using here the Yin-Yang vocabulary, at the risk of appearing exotic, simply because we dont have precise equivalent words in our Western languages. C.G. Jung was one of the first to express regret that our Western culture is not more familiar with this concept: Unfortunately, our Western mind, lacking all culture in this respect, has never yet devised a concept, nor even a name, for the union of opposites through the middle path, that most fundamental item of inward experience, which could respectably be set against the Chinese concept of Tao. In the Chinese philosophical tradition, respectively yang and yin characteristics were assigned to all natural systems. Oriental philosophers have developed an infinite number of ways to describe the Yin-Yang relationship and polarity. The following figure offers those selected as most relevant for our purpose.
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A view close to the oriental one was developed in the West by the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (ca. 535 - 475 BCE) about whose work we have unfortunately have today only fragments quoted by others. The most relevant fragment has been preserved via Diogenes (3th century ACE), who claims that Heraclitus stated All things come into being by conflict of opposites, and the whole flows like a stream (Diogenes Lartius: Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. Book ix. 8). However, the Eleatic school of Greek philosophy (including Socrates, Plato and Aristotle) completely overshadowed Heraclituss contributions, to the point that the earlier approach was practically lost in the West, until Hegel recovered part of it with his epistemology in three steps: thesis, antithesis, synthesis.
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This view of a primordial Void is shared by Hinduism among others. What Hinduism calls Purusha, pure consciousness without any manifestation, The Absolute Truth is that from which everything else emanates, according to the Bhagavata Purana [Sutra.1.1.1]
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Yin-Yang Characteristics
Yang Coherence
Competition Hoarding, accumulating, concentrating Goal Setting, Performance-Growth Having, Doing Peak Experience Rational, Analytical Logic, Mental, Linear Pursuit of Certainty Technology dominates Bigger is better, Expansion Independence Hierarchy works best Central Authority Planning , Control of future Cause and Effect Parts explain Whole(Reductionism)

Yin Coherence
Cooperation Circulating, giving, connecting Caring, Quality of life (not quantity) Being Endurance-sustainabililty Intuition, Empathy-Synthesis Paradox, Physical-Emotional, Non-linear Ability to hold ambivalence Interpersonal Skills Dominate Small is Beautiful, Conservation Interdependence Egalitarian Works Best Mutual Trust Self-Organizing Chaos, Faith in Future Synchronicity Whole explains Parts (Holism)

Figure 1: Yin-Yang Coherences and Polarities This figure can be read vertically, emphasising the internal coherences. Or it can be read horizontally, emphasizing the polarity between them. One advantage in using the Yin-Yang vocabulary is that Taoists never separate such polarities. They emphasise the connection between them their Yin-Yang complementarity. In clear: both are indispensable! These ways of looking at reality are not competing ways to relate and interpret reality, any more than your right eye competes with the left one. Instead, because of their differences, together they provide you with range and depth of vision, something which neither one can do by itself. For the past millennia, all patriarchal societies have tended to impart legitimacy to the vision contributed by only the Yang half of its eyes. We have thereby projected a hierarchical duality on concepts such as activity/passivity, creative/receptive, state/flux, culture/nature, mind/senses, spirit/matter; invariably claiming the former to be somehow better than the latter. What matters here is not to deny the qualities inherent in the Yang viewpoint, but to empower the Yin to an equal level. A shift in consciousness towards giving equal emphasis on both views is about more than fairness; it may be the key to provide a synergistic impulse towards the sustainability of our species. A paper that obtained the Vickers Award from the International Society for the Systems Sciences expressed the Yin-Yang approach in gender terms: The feminine and the masculine are not objects, not things, not simply biological bodies we are attempting to unite, but rather complex,

archetypal organisations of consciousnessWhat is needed is a recognition of the synergy between these polar opposites. Synergy is evident everywhere in nature, and is an important source of causation in the ongoing evolutionary process. Since the relationship between male and female is fundamentally synergistic, it is essential that we rethink and recreate our cultural and symbolic understanding of the feminine and its relationship to the masculine to increase the possibility that the human species will co-create an evolutionary change that is advantageous to the entire biosphere. If we do not, we are in danger of bringing about our own extinction4 It is only recently that Western science has reached this conclusion. However, some Westerners understood this much earlier. For instance, the poet John Keats coined the term negative capability for the often overlooked Yin trait of human personality and experience: the capacity to hold uncertainty without angst the capacity to live with the unknown as an ally rather than something to be eliminated. Such undecideness is not hesitant fence-sitting, indifference or laziness; nor is it a skill in the usual sense of the word, although it can be cultivated. It is more like a connection to an undifferentiated ground that resists form, which continually invokes questions and reflection and is potentially multi-dimensional, a space of both-and and neti-neti, the Hindu concept literally meaning neither this, nor that. Such a new approach would give a chance to Taoist master Ho-Shang Kung's two-thousand year old claim to take care of the spirit without effort, and bring peace to the world without struggle5. Returning to the claims made about the conditions under which any complex flow network can be sustainable, we have seen that natural ecosystems are sustainable because they have both sufficient self-directed order and identity (Yang) and absence of the same attributes (Yin) to provide flexibility to change. The polarities necessitate each other in an appropriate balance in harmonious complementarity. Let us remember that nature must have solved many of the structural problems in ecosystems. Otherwise, these ecosystems simply wouldnt exist today. They are our best living examples of large scale sustainability in action. When will be willing to learn from these myriad natural examples to apply their lessons for our human-made complex flow networks? This is Appendix E to Money and Sustainability: The Missing Link. To read more about the book or to order a copy, visit: www.triarchypress.net/money-and-sustainability

Dwyer, Molly Complexity and the Emergent Feminine: A Cosmological Inquiry into the Role of the Feminine in the Evolution of the Universe (Winning Paper of the 1999 Vickers Award International Society for the Systems Sciences, Asimolar, CA) Ho-Shang Kung: Heshang Gong (ca 159 BCE). English translation : Eduard Erkes: Lao-tzu-chu (Switzerland: Artibus Asiae, 1950). Red Pine: Lao-Tzu's Taoteching with selected commentaries (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2009) p. 2.
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