Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 102, Part I

from Verse One Hundred Two
When the people know writing, their virtue deteriorates. When they know calculation, their benevolence deteriorates. When they know contracts, their trust deteriorates. When they know machines, their substantiality deteriorates.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
At first blush, this passage makes Lao Tzu sound like a Luddite! The Luddites were members
of organized groups of early 19th-century English craftsmen who surreptitiously destroyed the textile machinery that was replacing them. The movement began in Nottingham in 1811 and spread to other areas in 1812. The Luddites, or “Ludds,” were named after a probably mythical leader, Ned Ludd. They operated at night and often enjoyed local support. Harsh repressive measures by the government included a mass trial at York in 1813 that resulted in many hangings and banishments. The term Luddite was later used to describe anyone opposed to technological change.
However, if we look at the passage more closely, the mythic Taoist sage isn't arguing against technology at all. His argument goes far deeper.

What I think he's trying to address is the concept of morality. When external rules are established, people naturally try to find ways to skirt them. So the rules themselves encourage disharmonious thought and behavior -- the exact opposite objective of their aim!

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.


  1. Square peg, round hole.

    Humans were never designed to exist in a highly complex, technological society.
    Strangle nature and intuition and you get a crippled being who may function, but at a fraction of his design capability.

    A crippled man dreams of walking.
    It's all he can think of.

  2. Personally, I don't think humans were "designed" in any particular way, so who is to say that techno society is good or bad for the species?

  3. A monkey can be trained to drive a fork-lift, nine to five.
    But doing so might not be the apex of monkey destiny.

  4. "When they know contracts, their trust deteriorates."

    This makes me think of something I heard or read somewhere, in a Taoist context, I think:

    "True trust is trusting the untrustworthy."

  5. 'I am too small to comment'... 'cause you're so full of knowledge and 'I' don't exist.



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