Much in the Taoist worldview marches to the beat of a different drummer. So much so that if one has to ask “How so?”, one may not be truly ready to know ‘how so’. Observing life from a symptoms point of view always pulls me to look deeper, so here goes…
Marching to the beat of a different drummer often boils down to feeling, acting and/or thinking ‘outside the box’. Outside the box can at times appear amoral, apolitical, asexual, aesthetic, areligious, acultural… (Pardon those last couple of made-up ‘a’ words).
As with all things fundamental, I suspect that ‘taoists’ are born, not made. That’s because one needs to be sufficiently impartial by nature to see the universality of life (see Small ‘t’ Taoist). We all lie somewhere along the spectrum, from the conventional group-oriented to the idiosyncratic and trans-tribal.
My experience tells me that most of us are predominantly normal group oriented tribal animals. Chapter 20 portrays the contrast well… The multitude are joyous as if partaking of the ‘Tai Lao’ offering or going up to a terrace in spring. I alone am inactive and reveal no signs, and ends with… I alone am foolish and uncouth. I alone am different from others and value being fed by the mother. I don’t doubt everyone can relate to both ends of this spectrum; it is just a matter of degree. Even so, there are more people at the normal end — and naturally so. We’re a very social species after all!
The vast appeal of mainstream religion is a perfect ‘tell’ on our tribal nature, as is the lack of appeal for the Taoist point of view. However, I see that changing over time. The only reason I dare say that stems from the historical origins of Islam. I suppose that sounds farfetched considering how group oriented and tribal Islam seems, although in that regard, Islam is not different from any other mainstream religion. Indeed, I think of Islam as actually just another side of Judeo Christianity — the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religion of the West. Nevertheless, consider these two overviews on the origins of Islam. Afterward I’ll link this up with the “Trans Tribal Tao”.
#1 The basic teachings of Muhammad emphasized Islam as a trans-tribal fellowship, a harmonious community whose inner peace was safeguarded through regulated legal relations that closely mirrored the contractual outlook of the merchant class. Muhammad also mandated and expanded earlier techniques of wealth redistribution through elevating almsgiving to a religious duty. While presenting Islam as the last chapter in the history of monotheism, Muhammad also operated in a territory that was far removed from imperial or great power centers. Central western Arabia in Muhammad’s time was becoming increasingly connected to world trade routes, but being situated deep in the desert, remained independent of the great powers of the time. The context in which Muhammad operated, therefore, provided for the emergence of a new type of political community, one that was not based on imperial politics but rather on overcoming and reworking Arab tribal traditions and integrating various classes and social groups under the banner of a new religion that gave them a sense of common and universal identity, binding contractual relations, and solidaristic practices and attitudes.
#2 In the first real Islamic community—Medina under Muhammad—we could already see this dynamic of a trans-tribal umma being formed by an outsider. Muhammad succeeded brilliantly in Medina, where the conflictual tribes, needing common adjudication, all expressed faith in Islam before even seeing the prophet, who at that point had absolutely no more prospects in his hometown of Mecca. In other words, a trans-tribal society could be built only by someone with an ideology transcending the particularities of any specific tribes.
The success of early Islam consisted to a great extent in its ability to graft a common spiritual language on all trans-tribal, voluntary public spaces of the pre-Islamic era in Arabia. All pre-Islamic institutions of peace, trade, and civic life that had been organized above the level of the tribe, such as the haram of Mecca, the pilgrimage, and the sacred months, were simply absorbed into Islam. Even more remarkably, Islam incorporated such common spaces with-out elaborating a clear doctrine of a common state.
What strikes me here is how the intense small-tribe nature of nomadic Arab people became problematic at some point. The times were ripe for a more inclusive trans-tribal point of view (1). Mohammed was in the right place at the right time with the right framework. Similar paradigm shifts have occurred for tribal Europeans, Indians, Africans, Asians — everyone really. Such shifts, like from pagan to Christian, seem to work well — until they don’t and war breaks out!
People adopt new paradigms when necessary; “necessity is the mother of invention” is no empty saying! The people of the world are fast approaching a point where the current cultural structures (group / tribe) of politics, religion, and all the rest are becoming more problematic, just as the Arabian social norm did at the time of Mohammed.
Perhaps I am off base, but I see a time ahead when paradigms more ‘taoist’ in nature will take hold. Perhaps this has started already and will play out over the coming centuries. In any case, one thing is certain, as circumstances change, the cultural paradigm must adapt accordingly. This revolutionary new age we’re in, the Electric Revolution (2) has opened a Pandora’s Box of change, of which we’ve only seen a peek. (See Why Man is King, Just How Big Is The Gap?; Tao As Emergent Property; “… Strive On Diligently”)
While a more ‘taoist’ paradigm may supplant the tribal ones of today, people will still lie somewhere along the spectrum, from the conventional group-oriented to the idiosyncratic and trans-tribal. Alas, that means peace on earth is no more likely to occur under a ‘taoist’ paradigm than it has under current and previous ones. There may be more peace on earth going forward, but it won’t be due to a new and improved paradigm or genetic evolution (3). What will bring about peace on earth? Ah, that’s a story for another time.
(1) I mentioned to my family a while ago that I reckoned I was ‘trans-tribal’ by nature. Right off, they said that was not a real word, so I Googled it and found very interesting references to Islam. I suppose if Islam could actually pull off its trans-tribal intention I would join up. Of course, that goes for the other religions as well — if reality matched their ideal, I would join. Of course, such a trans-tribal group would be ironic and totally oxymoronic.
From as far back as I can recall, I was never able to seriously join any ‘group’, whether school sports, clubs and clicks, or later, religion, politics, clothing styles, you name it. Happily, there was Taoist thought for my mind to join. Chapter 21 says, As a thing the way is shadowy, indistinct, indistinct and shadowy. That’s enough to avoid becoming tribal and so it really was a faith of last resort for me, so to speak.
(2) I took the liberty of capitalizing Electric Revolution as I regard it perhaps the most significant change in hominids since the harnessing of fire some 500,000 + years ago. The changes that lie ahead over the coming millennia are nearly unfathomable. Heads up… when the people lack a proper sense of awe, then some awful visitation will descend upon them, as chapter 72 cautions.
(3) Becoming genetically different, as in more orangutan-like is probably impossible because the necessary evolutionary bottleneck is very unlikely now. I’m just referring to a cultural evolution.