Small country, few people.
Enable the existence of various tools,
. . . yet never need them.
Enable the people attach importance to death,
. . . yet not travel around.
Although there exists boats and carriages,
. . . there is no place to ride them.
Although there exists weapons,
. . . there is no place to deploy them.
Enable the people to again use the knotted rope.
Find their food sweet, their clothes beautiful.
Peaceful in their lives, happy in their customs.
Neighboring countries mutually seen in the distance,
Of chicken and dog sounds mutually heard.
People until death not mutually come and go.
Limits: Translations, even the nearly literal one above, lose some of the original meaning due to the cultural context of contemporary words. Studying the numerous synonym-like meanings of the Chinese characters in the Word-for-Word translation mitigates this. (Click graphic at right for on-line Word-for-Word.)
All seems well this time around (:>)
This chapter harkens back to humanity’s old way (1), before the Agricultural Revolution brought about civilization. I’ve found that very few people appear to appreciate the extensive period of humanity’s prehistory. This goes back some hundred’s of thousands of years for our particular hominid branch, but some millions of years for bipedal tool making hominids overall.
We are generally quite ignorant of this era, even though it is the overwhelming reality of humanity’s existence. A solid familiarity with our prehistory offers invaluable insight. After all, prehistory is where our genetic makeup evolved and took shape, and shapes our reaction to this day. Knowing our prehistoric reality gives context to the issues of today.
The instinctive base that shapes our reactions today evolved under the very different circumstances of the old ways. Therefore, it is not surprising that we have such trouble managing current human affairs. Yet, people always seem somewhat baffled when ‘evil’ strikes. Any bewilderment I’ve experienced over this largely dissipated once I began to realize the systemic causes.
It is no coincidence that the Tao Te Ching also recognizes these systemic causes: thought (words and names) and civilization, to which this chapter speaks. These causes are nearly self-evident, based on common sense reasoning and observation, and yet so unrecognized and unappreciated. Why? Probably because they don’t lend themselves to being use as scapegoats or as a route to quick fix illusions.
Remember, the Agricultural Revolution of merely ten thousand years ago kicked off civilized existence… and all the problems that come with our struggle to manage its unintended consequences. The fact that all the sophisticated religions of civilization arise out of civilization is no coincidence either, but rather a symptom of our struggle to cope with the consequences. In other words, humans didn’t all of a sudden become a more brilliant animal and progress to civilization. Civilization is an adaptive process put together over time to deal with the difficulties of organizing large populations needed to manage agriculture. Seen within that context, the imperfections of modern life make total sense.
It is not that we are actually going to ever Enable the people to again use the knotted rope, or the rest. That train has left the station. Evolution, both genetic and cultural continues onward. The value of looking back to our stable and extensive prehistory lies in how well this answers questions about modern issues (2). Of course, this works best if surveyed from a symptom’s point of view (See Symptoms Point Of View). That means, (1) identify an issue, and (2) see how the loss of the old way makes the current issue inevitable.
Now, this doesn’t mean we need throw up our hand and sigh in despair! The benefit lies in knowing a truer cause of the problem. Knowing the truer cause means that whatever remedial measures we take will less likely to be ‘blind shots in the dark’. Much of what we do now is respond emotionally, swinging from one extreme ‘cure’ to another. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to managing serious problems that plague our lives!
(1) See my series of posts Who are you? for background. Also, see The !Kung of Nyae Nyae, The Harmless People and The old way: a story of the first people for more specific research on the hunter-gatherer way of life.
(2) Why for example did the nightclub shooter Omar Mateen kill those people in Orlando? That is what I hear people are having a lot of trouble understanding, in depth anyway. The answer is obvious once you consider the shooter from a symptom’s point of view and seen in an ancestral context. This also provides insight into the raison d’être that drives young disconnected males (mostly) to eagerly join ‘tribal’ groups — terrorist or otherwise. Any solution, as muddled as it may be, hinges upon knowing these deeper causes… period!