We are innately attracted to any promised solution to our problem rather than examining our problem’s underlying causes. That is the optimal approach in the wild because problems there share wilderness simplicity, which makes solutions straightforward. Thus, it was natural for us to evolve the inclination to opt for the simplest view of a problem, and then go all out for the solution. Google [CBS Atheists: In godlessness we trust] for a short video that captures the essence of this approach.
“Man… is a tame or civilized animal…” — Plato
The problems civilization causes are multifaceted, which makes their solutions neither straightforward nor obvious. Many of these problems arise out of the social dysfunction that civilization aggravates. Being a tribal animal, we take sides and quickly jump to an ‘us vs. them’ or a ‘right vs. wrong’, view of such matters.
While I don’t wish to abolish civilization, I do find it useful to know how discordant civilization is with our evolutionary origins. Frankly, we have not evolved the innate means of coping with civilization effectively… and naturally so! Civilization is actually a very recent culturally learned innovation without a stable grounding in instinct.
History: the story we continually repeat
Historically, religion and civilization arose in parallel. And this is definitely not a coincidence. From a symptoms point of view, it is evident that the world’s religions arose as an attempt to deal with the ills civilization engenders.
We are approaching problems no different from how we would have if we were still living in the wild. We see a problem at face value and pursue what feels like an obvious solution. The point here is, until we know the underlying causes, we can’t really find an effective long-term solution. No wonder history repeats itself!
Believers vs. Atheists
Biologically speaking, we abhor impartiality. Our instinctive fear of uncertainty drives us to choose sides and act, often to either fight or flee. This fear also drives our certainty of thought. This is why both a believer and an atheist are fundamentally the same. Chapter 56 alludes to this…
The story blinds
Google [CBS 2013 sarin gas attack in Syria]. I woke up in the middle of the night pondering this report. Like Nazi Germany, none of this would be possible if not for those involved being under the delusion of their story (1). Granted, these are extreme examples, but no different in nature from what happens to each of us since humanity evolved the ability to create stories. The disease—thinking that we truly know—referenced in chapter 71, permits our stories to go untested and unchallenged.
Naturally, the problem is not actually the story, per se, but rather believing the story true! Believing our story to be “reality” blinds us from actuality. Buddha’s 2nd Noble Truth reveals why we hold onto our story so tightly: “The illusion of self originates and manifests itself in a cleaving to things.” Here, fear causes the original “cleaving”. Our story gives us something tangible to know and hold. We are desperate to know that we know. Uncertainty drives our worry. (See Fear & Need Born in Nothing, p.486)
Evidently, the mind must have a story around which to center its thoughts. Otherwise, it goes nuts. That being the case, why not strive diligently to pursue a story that ends up as impartial and balanced as possible? That can only deepen self-honesty and help circumvent the stress that sanctimonious judgment and partisan bias stirs up.
Chapter 1 and Correlations can combat the real culprit
Upon deep examination, it should become clear that our belief in word reality is the real culprit. The stories we compose depend on our unquestioning false faith in the words we use to think about and interpret our life’s experiences. Chapter 1 of the Tao Te Ching begins by addressing this head on.
Words are not reliable indicators of reality. For instance, as soon as a word triggers emotion, we unwittingly (neurologically) skew meaning to reflect our own needs and fears. The reality we see in words is simply a reflection of ourselves. This mirroring can help self-understanding when we realize this is what is actually happening.
The tricky part here becomes truly realizing—at an intuitive gut level—that this mirage exists. Essentially, it takes work to wean ourselves from our faith in our word-framed reality. After all, we grow up indoctrinated from birth into believing — trusting — word meaning. Isaiah 40:8 exemplifies this faith in word reality: “The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever”. Throughout life, we just debate the stories that ensue, and rarely question the building blocks of word meaning used to make the stories in the first place. In addition, social instinct impels us to have our story confirmed and reinforced by other people. This also invites us to judge anyone not of like-mind as being misguided, ignorant, or heretical.
The Correlations process (see Using Yin and Yang to Pop Preconceptions, p.572) is a tool that can help reduce the blind faith we hold in word meaning. The only hitch is that the correlation process, like chapter 1, when sincerely applied, does nothing to reinforce our stories — just the opposite. This threatens any fondly held worldviews. Furthermore, if you succeed in challenging all your cherished biases that underwrite your story, you’ll eventually begin to feel utterly on your own. You will feel banished from the cultural realm of virtue that you once confidently knew. Chapter 38, among others, helps show this predicament in a more favorable light…
Superior virtue is not virtuous, and so has virtue.
Inferior virtue never deviates from virtue and so is without virtue.
Superior virtue never acts and never believes.
Inferior virtue never acts yet believes.…
The advantage here lies in how this frees up your mind to embrace an ever-expanding universal story, even to the point of gaining a deepening sense of immortality. Naturally, this sense of immortality won’t be personal. It won’t be an immortal ego “I”, but more like an immortal cosmic “we”. (See You are Immortal!, p.391) Chapter 6 alludes to this immortality of spirit…
The valley’s spirit never dies; this is called the profound female.
Of the profound female entrance; this is called the origin of the universe.
Continuous, like it exists; in usefulness, not diligent…
How can you know you know?
A visceral comprehension of the Tao Te Ching, or of Correlations, only comes about through scrupulous self-honesty. Feelings of personal loss will certainly play a role in gauging the depth of your self-honesty. You will be challenging your ego’s narratives. As it happens, blind faith in word meaning and the narratives that ensued helps create the “illusion of self” (ego) in the first place. Thus, the ego will naturally put up a formidable fight, as the ego will be holding on for its dear life. Exactly what feels threatened depends upon which double standards steer your thoughts. In other words, thought and the narrow and arbitrary nature of word meaning provides the foundation for hypocrisy’s double standards.
The correlation process truly helped liberate me from the imprisoning aspect of word meaning. Despite that, I don’t really know for whom this correlation process will work. Certainly, a driving need to be self-honest is a most essential element! As there are many who feel this need, I assume the method should work for a few. In any case, I feel obliged to put it out there.
In hindsight, I believe the correlating process began upon hearing of my brother’s death in the early sixty’s. This was the first time I’d experienced death personally. I just couldn’t fathom death and its relationship to life. It really puzzled me. I knew the word death, but it didn’t feel “true”. After a few months of intense pondering and wrestling with word meaning, I realized that life and death were two sides of the same coin (2). That essentially dilutes the meaning of both words. In effect, that experience pulled me towards viscerally knowing, as chapter 1 put it, The way possible to think, runs counter to the constant way. The name possible to express runs counter to the constant name. My experience may indicate how one needs an overwhelming visceral incentive to maintain enough follow-through to overcome the ‘language barrier’, so to speak.
“Knower not speak; speaker not know”
Chapter 56’s, Knowing doesn’t speak; speaking doesn’t know challenges and contradicts anything I say here. Clearly, I rely on standard word meaning all the time for speaking and thinking. Otherwise, writing this would be impossible. It is just that I know the words are ultimately fictitious. I deem words and names as like the tricks in a magic show. I can enjoy the show without believing that the tricks are reality. Viscerally making that small step is all that’s needed to pierce much of the illusion.
This is like being the child who kind of believes in Santa Claus, but also begins to suspect that there is no Santa Claus. Indeed, kids make believe all the time, but they know deep down that it is only make-believe.
When we reach adulthood, we seldom approach life that way, especially in how we regard word meaning. We blindly accept those symbols of actuality, often more ardently than any actuality they represent. We desperately need them to feel tangibly real in order to help relieve the uncertainly and soften the mystery of life and death. After all, once we reach adulthood, we have no Mama or Papa to shore us up psychologically.
The following is my reply to the CBS’s video, Atheists in godlessness we trust
I see religion as a symptom of the human condition, not the cure it promises to be. The exponential rise in social fragmentation following the agricultural revolution (10,000 BCE) left people feeling more and more disconnected.
Religion offers an idealized story that connects people to the degree that they share a belief in the story. The inherent fragile nature of this connection drives people to push strongly to have others agree… and burn any non-believers at the stake. Fear is the driving force, along with the loneliness that comes with civilization.
It is interesting to note that as technology advances, religion changes. The monotheistic religions arose after the iron revolution around 1000 BCE. I expect that the electricity revolution of the 2000 CE will instigate significant changes in the evolution of religion going forward. Perhaps, a thousand years from now, we’ll end up with something more along the lines of the worldview outlined in the Tao Te Ching. How ironic would that be? Note: The Tao Te Ching begins with the profound disclaimer statement: “The name possible to express runs counter to the constant name.”
(1) How can an educated civilized nation of people murder 6 million people? Our attachment to the story makes it the controller of our actions, our will acts in service of the story. We are prisoners of our own story.
(2) The idea of life and death being connected can be understandably difficult to sense. The larger life appears, the more death hovers in the deep shadow, is the simplest way I can put it. These excerpts help show this from a slightly different angle: