The Dao of Civilization: a Letter to China



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An escalating ecological catastrophe is befalling the biosphere in the twenty-first century.The philosophical roots of this catastrophe lie in the deep structural dualism that has characterized the Western tradition. Dualism conceptually divides mind from matter, culture from nature and the human from the animal, thereby giving rise to an exclusively instrumentalist attitude to the natural environment. Science as the engine of modernity is now the chief global vector of dualism and by its means the instrumentalist attitude has spread around the world.

According to the author, this foundational flaw in Western thinking may be traced ultimately to the Greek discovery of philosophia; that is to say, it may be traced to philosophy itself and to the theoretic orientation to which philosophy led. Any escape from dualism thus requires training in an altogether alternative mode of cognition, a strategic and synergistic mode cultivated not via abstract theorizing but by visceral, sensory, agentically engaged practices of responsive attunement to one's immediate environment. Such practices were the province of pre-agrarian societies that relied on foraging, and hence on intimate attunement to local ecologies, for their livelihood. Vestiges of this earlier pattern of practice were also preserved in the indigenous Chinese tradition of Daoism via a repertory of psychophysical exercises designed to induce attuned responsiveness to environmental cues.

First-hand opportunities for responsive engagement with local ecologies must rather be routinely available to people today just as they were to earlier peoples. Societies must reconfigure economic praxis so that human agency, in its most routine daily forms of expression, interacts synergistically with the biosphere rather than imposing its own abstractly preconceived designs upon it. This is required not only because such reconfigured praxis will serve and sustain life on earth at a biological level but also because it is what is needed to induct people themselves into ecological awareness. The book includes instances of such alternative, synergistic modes of praxis - in agriculture, manufacture and architecture.

As an emerging super-power whose thought-roots are in strategic as opposed to theoretic modes of cognition, China is in a position to assume world leadership in this connection. The author appeals directly to China to reclaim its Daoist heritage, apply this heritage to the problem of praxis today, and thereby light the way towards forms of civilization more appropriate to our times.

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