Knowing reality — what was, is, and will be — is nearly impossible because much of our own biases shape what we think we know. Chapter 38 helps avoid the trap of personal biases when pondering ‘the whys and wherefores’ of life.
Hence, virtue follows loss of the way.
Benevolence follows loss of virtue.
Justice follow loss of benevolence.
Ritual follows loss of justice.
Ways of chaos follow loss of loyalty and a thinning faith in ritual.
The evolution of cultures and beliefs over time offers an example of this dynamic. I’ll adapt chapter 38’s model above to the loosely historical context of ancient Egypt as a makeshift example…
Hence, the pharaoh follows loss of primal tribal security.
Gods follow loss of the pharaoh.
One God follows loss of gods.
Favorite politicians follow loss of One God.
Rock idols and movie stars follow loss of favorite politicians.
From a symptoms point of view I’d say the popularity of the Internet’s social media follows loss of primal tribal security as well. Social media offers at least the promise of some aspects of primal tribal security. The important thing about Chapter 38 is how it paints a picture of how nature always moves in ways to rebalance conditions. It shows how each loss is followed by a gain that returns conditions to balance, albeit not necessarily the type of balance we want. Alas, each gain comes with its own set of unintended consequences. (See Exquisite Balance)
As humanity moved from hunting and gathering to settled agriculture, losses through those changing circumstance led us to where we are ‘today’. The losses we accrue will lead us to where we will end up ‘tomorrow’. The most challenging part of all this is how it shows how we are not in control of life, and that every benefit comes with a cost.
Chapter 2 lays out a more peaceful way to view life that helps return us to a more primal state of balance… if we are ready to relinquish control, that is.
Considering this, the wise person manages without doing anything,
Carries out the indescribable teaching.
Don’t all things on earth work and not shirk.
Give birth to and yet not have,
Do and yet not depend on,
Achieves success and yet not dwell.
The simple man alone does not dwell,
Because of this he never leaves.
This path won’t resonate with anyone who is desperate to control outcomes. At some point, when the futility of battling nature hits home, this will register, although not usually in a Taoist format. In other words, isn’t chapter 2 just another way of saying, “by the grace of God” or “Insha’Allah” (“if God wills”). Truth is singular… as chapter 56 puts it, This is called profound sameness.