I doubt devout Christians are here to take offense, so I’ll propose an 11th Commandment… Thou shalt not take the path of least resistance. It has a nice ring to it, yet I’ll admit it sounds unnatural. Indeed, we evolved to take the path of least resistance. Then again, we didn’t evolve to eat grains, drive cars, or the countless other things we do to make life more convenient, comfortable and secure. In the wild, taking the path of least resistance is naturally healthful. In civilized settings, results often turn out otherwise.
The inherent drive to take the path of least resistance is a key incentive behind the invention of tools and by extension civilization itself. If you doubt that, just imagine life without any tools, not even a stone axe. Tool use is a keystone of civilization. By making the path of least resistance increasingly easier to trod, civilization unwittingly produces a path of inherent imbalance.
This imbalance increases with every technological advancement we make. The shift from hunter-gatherer to agriculture was a major milestone. Archeological evidence shows that the following 10,000 years marked a decline in human physical health. Fortunately, human physical health has recovered greatly through improved sanitation and science over the last few centuries.
Human mental health is another matter. The more recent advent of the Iron Age (1200 BCE) certainly instigated a major decline in human mental health… a decline that shows little sign of recovery. Indeed, the Electric Age may cause it to decline even more rapidly now (see The Good Old Days, p.459). The symptom’s point of view vis-à-vis religion reveals its underlying basis.
Religion, above all else, is about making us feel emotionally and psychologically secure. It so happens that all the current major religions took root following the aftermath of the Iron Age. Iron technology was very economically, culturally, and socially unsettling at the time. Iron forced people to find new ways to comfort and unite their cultures. Society needed an updated spiritual paradigm to alleviate the disruption and increased disconnection arising from the widespread use of iron. (Note: Iron is a much more efficient material than stone or bronze. Alas, human wisdom didn’t increase proportionally to deal prudently with this quantum leap in technological efficiency… Does that sound familiar?)
My proposed 11th commandment parallels Buddha’s Second Noble Truth, which in part says, “… the desire to live for the enjoyment of self entangles us in a net of sorrow, pleasures are the bait and the result is pain.” One of the problems I have with the Ten Commandments, or even my 11th one, is that without lucid evidence based on experience, commandments easily become lifeless platitudes. Merely because everyone says something is important doesn’t hit home for me. I need proof! Sure, my less social and contrarian nature accounts for some of this. However, I bet I’m not alone! Everyone is less or more social, and less or more contrarian. Having a coherent reason for approaching life the way one considers best can only help. Knowing a deeper ‘why’ really improves the chances of actualizing chapter 21’s, In his every movement a man of great virtue follows the way and the way only. Contemplating what is in my best interest and why makes it nearly impossible to do otherwise.
This is about increasing living-balance, and the heightened sense of well-being this brings. Merely being told that I’ll be happier following the Way, the Ten Commandments, or whatever, is a banality incapable of coaxing me to resist taking the path of least resistance. I need to see the full depth of the predicament we humans have created for ourselves. Ironically, probing this deep helps me take the situation less seriously because I realize that it all comes about naturally … there are no devils to blame. Conversely, keeping to the shallow end, one can easily take ‘it’ too seriously and flip over to the other extreme in a kind of ‘thou shalt take the path of most resistance’. Then renunciation and self-flagellation rule the day. Isn’t this just how the pendulum of human behavior plays out? (See The Pendulum Swings, p.394)
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