While pulling myself into an odd yoga shape this morning, I thought, this is nuts! No normal animal on the planet would do this. In fact, no other animal does most of the things our species does. Working, resting, and engaging in the basic biological functions is all that we have in common with other species. Yet, we even go out of our way embellishing those aspects! Just consider those high end fancy bathrooms out there.
The common view is to see all this as being what makes us special, superior, and advanced… ‘Higher beings’ no less. Looking at this from a symptoms point of view helps me avoid such ‘pat myself on the back’ biases.
For example, my yoga contortions are simply a convenient, efficient way for me to compensate for the lack of nature’s pushback. Nature is always pushing back on living creatures in the wild, preventing them from willfully innovating to the point of imbalance. When doing yoga in India, I noticed how it was only the wealthy Indians, by in large, who had the time, inclination, and need to do yoga. The lower classes had their hands full with basic survival.
All cultural taboos and ethical proscriptions are symptomatic of our effort to find balance. Namely, we follow taboos and proscriptions as a means to counterbalance the instability and disconnection wrought by civilization. Not civilization as such, but more by the consequences of its overwhelming use of tools and language. The resulting disconnection from the natural forces other animals experience creates sociological and psychological imbalance. Oddly, all this goes on without us ever having any underlying sense of why, or even that it’s a problem. Perhaps this is one reason why a tipping point eventually comes, and a new set of taboos and proscriptions replaces the old ones.
A natural predisposition to take the easy way influences all our life’s activities. In the wild, this seldom leads to difficulties. As chapter 5 puts it, Heaven and earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs. Nature’s ruthlessness is always pushing back on the natural urge to avoid difficulty. Civilized life strips away as many nature-induced difficulties as possible. However, the original instinct to take the easy way remains part of our DNA. As a result, we swing dreadfully out of balance.
To compensate, we often pursue challenging activities in an attempt to appease a natural inclination to feel life meaningful and balanced. Like a pendulum willfully riding the waves of fear and need, we swing one way and the other, constantly seeking the happier Middle Way. There is nothing really unique, special, superior, or advanced about us. All we are doing is struggling to maintain enough balance on the one hand, to compensate for our supreme success at avoiding Mother Nature’s wild side.
This is not a flattering view of our species, I know. We prefer the positive story we’ve created for ourselves, like God created us in His image and the like. Does our self-aggrandizeing view serve us? Only if living a lie trumps self-honesty. Self-honesty leads to impartiality, and as chapter 16 observes, Impartiality to kingliness, Kingliness to heaven, Heaven to the way, The way to perpetuity. I find that taking the effort to consider life from a symptoms point of view, drawing on self-honesty as it does, is a big step in that direction.