|3 Mar 2008 @ 12:50, by John Grieve|
Problem 3: How to bring fresh water from a nearby river to a small Chinese town.
This example is given by Joseph Needham in his book Science and Civilization in China as illustrating the main differences between Confucianist and Taoist approaches to doing things. The problem is how to provide fresh water to a small town from a nearby river. The Confucianist approach would be to divert water from the river at a convenient point well below the town and then use much man-power, mechanical devices and expense to lift it up again to the level of the town and so distribute it. This will solve the problem while generating employment, circulating money, aiding the invention and perfection of mechanical devices and generally keeping everybody busy. The Taoist approach would be to divert the water at a convenient point above the level of the town and using the natural tendency of water to find its own level, that is to run downwards, create an aqueduct to lead the water to the village or town and so distribute it. This method uses nature’s properties to move the water rather than human effort, creates much less employment (a one-off aqueduct rather than constant lifting of water), circulates less money and does not need inventions or mechanical devices.
This example clearly reveals that Confucianism is a social philosophy, and its solutions to problems are designed to benefit society in creating wealth, employment and invention. The Taoist method is one which is based on the individual, addresses the essence of the problem rather than appearances, and is in tune with nature. Instead of expending effort in lifting water upwards after we have allowed it to run downwards, we just divert it at the right point to run by its own momentum (with gravity’s help) into the town.
Clearly, there are simple, easy ways to solve problems and there are difficult, tedious ways. It seems very much the case that civilized society, with its obsession with externals, appearances and irrelevant details prefers the difficult way to do things. This is in keeping with its greatly over-yang nature. Over-Yang means giant, mechanical, crude, external, superficial and so on but most importantly, over-masculine. There is a clear link between the problems in our society and problems in our psyches concerning sexuality and gender. The solution must be to redress the balance and level-off with an equal emphasis on Yang and Yin values. Yin, after all, represents the small, the inner, the subtle, the essence and naturally, the feminine. If we are in harmony then society is in harmony.
It is my belief that every problem, whether it is Fermat’s Last Theorem, or CERN’s accelerator, or getting cheap energy through FUSION, has a simple solution as well as a difficult, complicated one. But our society’s obsession with doing things the Confucianist way, in order to create wealth and employment and inventions, means that people have forgotten, to a large extent, the ancient Taoist (and universal) approach that seeks simple, easy and cost-effective solutions to difficult problems. People just don’t believe that there are simple solutions to many of these problems. If the experts can’t solve them then they must be impossible, they think. But maybe the experts are looking in the wrong place, and the wrong way, and from the wrong perspective.
I am not asking people to abandon completely the Confucianist approach, which is so engrained in all of us, particularly men, by our upbringing and education. All I ask is for the imbalance to be less completely one-sided and total.
Ideally we should use both techniques to solve difficult problems, both the Yin and the Yang, both the ‘left brain’ and the ‘right brain’, both Taoist and Confucianist.