Fritjof Capra The Turning Point
Wildwood House, London.
CRISIS AND TRANSFORMATION Turning the Tide
These three basic patterns of human cultural expression (typified by the early civilizations such as Egypt, Hellenistic civilization and the fossil-fuel age) have according to Sorokin produced identifiable cycles in Western civilization.
In Sorokin's model the current paradigm shift and the decline of the Industrial Age are another period of maturation and decline of sensate culture. The rise of our current sensate era was preceded by the ascendancy of ideational culture during the rise of Christianity and the Middle Ages, and by the subsequent flowering of an idealistic stage during the Eruopean Renaissance. It was the slow decline of these ideational and idealistic epochs in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that gave way to the rise of a new sensate period in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, an era marked by the value system of the Enlightenment, the scientific views of Descartes and Newton, and the technology of the Industrial Revolution. In the twentieth century these sensate values and ideas are on the decline again, and thus in 1937, with great foresight, Sorokin predicted as the twilight of sensate culture the paradigm shift and social upheavals we are witnessing today. 19 Sorokin's analysis suggests very forcefully that the crisis we are facing today is no ordinary crisis but one of the great transition phases that have occurred in previous cycles of human history. These profound cultural transformations do not take place very often. According to Lewis Mumford, there may have been fewer than half a dozen in the entire history of Western civilization, among them the rise of civilization with the invention of agriculture at the beginning of the neolithic period, the rise of Christianity at the fall of the Roman Empire, and the transition from the Middle Ages to 20
the Scientific Age. The transformation we are experiencing now may well be more dramatic than any of the preceding ones, because the rate of change in our age is faster than ever before, because the changes are more extensive, involving the entire globe, and because several major transitions are coinciding. The rhythmic recurrences and patterns of rise and decline that seem to dominate human cultural evolution have somehow conspired to reach their points of reversal at the same time. The decline of patriarchy, the end of the fossil-fuel age, and the paradigm shift occurring in the twilight of the sensate culture are all contributing to the same global process. The current crisis, therefore, is not just a crisis of individuals, governments, or social institutions; it is a transition of planetary dimensions. As individuals, as a society, as a civilization, and as a planetary ecosystem, we are reaching the turning point.
Cultural transformations of this magnitude and depth cannot be prevented. They should not be opposed but, on the contrary, should be welcomed as the only escape from agony, collapse, or mummification. What we need, to prepare ourselves for the great transition we are about to enter, is a deep reexamination of the main premises and values of our culture, a rejection of those conceptual models that have outlived their usefulness, and a new recognition of some of the values discarded in previous periods of our cultural history. Such a thorough change in the mentality of Western culture must naturally be accompanied by a profound modification of most social relationships and forms of social organization by changes that will go far beyond the superficial measures of economic and political readjustment being considered by today's political leaders. During this phase of revaluation and cultural rebirth it will be important to minimize the hardship, discord, and disruption that are inevitably involved in periods of great social change, and to make the transition as painless as possible. It will therefore be crucial to go beyond attacking particular social groups or institutions, and to show how their attitudes and behavior reflect a value system that underlies our whole culture and that has now become outdated. It will be necessary to recognize and widely communicate the fact that our current social changes are manifestations of a much broader, and inevitable, cultural transformation. Only then will we be able to approach the kind of harmonious, peaceful cultural transition described in one of humanity's oldest books of wisdom, the Chinese I Ching, or Book of Changes: 'The movement is natural, arising spontaneously. For this reason the transformation of the old becomes easy. The old is discarded and the new is introduced. Both measures accord with the time; therefore no harm results. The model of cultural dynamics that will be used in our discussion of the current social transformation is based in part on Toynbee's ideas about the rise and fall of civilizations; on the age-old notion of a fundamental universal rhythm resulting in fluctuating cultural patterns; on Sorokin's analysis of the fluctuation of value systems; and on the ideal of harmonious cultural transitions portrayed in the I Ching. The major alternative to this model, which is related to it but different in several aspects, is the Marxist view of history known as dialectic or historical materialism. According to Marx, the roots of social evolution lie not in a change of ideas or values but in economic and technological developments. The dynamics of change is that of a 'dialectic' interplay of opposites arising from contradictions that are intrinsic to all things. Marx took this idea from the philosophy of Hegel and adapted it to his analysis of social change, asserting that all changes in society arise from the development of its internal contradictions. He saw the contradictory principles of social organization as being embodied in society's classes, and class struggle as a consequence of their dialectic interaction. The Marxist view of cultural dynamics, being based on the Hegelian notion of recurrent rhythmic change, is not unlike the models of Toynbee, Sorokin, and the I Ching in that respect. However, it differs significantly from those models in its emphasis on conflict and struggle. Class struggle was the driving force of history for Marx, who held that all important historical progress was born in conflict, struggle, and violent revolution. Human suffering and sacrifice was a necessary price that had to be paid for social change.
The emphasis on struggle in Marx's theory of historical evolution paralleled Darwin's emphasis on struggle in biological evolution. In fact Marx's favorite image of himself is said to have been that of 'the Darwin of sociology.' The idea of life as an ongoing struggle for existence, which both Darwin and Marx owed to the economist Thomas Malthus, was vigorously promoted in the nineteenth century by the Social Darwinists, who influenced, if not Marx, certainly many of his followers. I believe their view of social evolution overemphasizes the role of struggle and conflict, overlooking the fact that all struggle in nature takes place within a wider context of cooperation. Although conflict and struggle have brought about important social progress in our past and will often be an essential part of the dynamics of change, this does not mean that they are the source of this dynamics. Therefore, following the philosophy of the I Ching rather than the Marxist view, I believe that conflict should be minimized in times of social transition.
In our discussion of cultural values and attitudes throughout this book we will make extensive use of a framework that is developed in great detail in the I Ching, and that lies at the very basis of Chinese thought. Like Sorokin's framework, it is based on the idea of continuous cyclical fluctuation, but it involves the much broader notion of two archetypal poles yin and yang underlying the fundamental rhythm of the universe. The Chinese philosophers saw reality, whose ultimate essence they called Tao, as a process of continual flow and change. In their view all phenomena we observe participate in this cosmic process and are thus intrinsically dynamic. The principal characteristic of the Tao is the cyclical nature of its ceaseless motion; all developments in nature those in the physical world as well as those in the psychological and social realms show cyclical patterns. The Chinese gave this idea of cyclical patterns a definite structure by introducing the polar opposites yin and yang, the two poles that set the limits for the cycles of change: 'The yang having reached its climax retreats in favor of the yin; the yin having reached its climax retreats in favor of the yang.'24 In the Chinese view, all manifestations of the Tao are generated by the dynamic interplay of these two archetypal poles, which are associated with many images of opposites taken from nature and from social life. It is important, and very difficult for us Westerners, to understand that these opposites do not belong to different categories but are extreme poles of a single whole. Nothing is only yin or only yang. All natural phenomena are manifestations of a continuous oscillation between the two poles, all transitions taking place gradually and in unbroken progression. The natural order is one of dynamic balance between yin and yang. The terms yin and yang have recently become quite popular in the West, but they are rarely used in our culture in the Chinese sense. Most Western usage reflects cultural preconceptions that severely distort the original meanings. One of the best interpretations is given by Manfred Porkert in his comprehensive study of Chinese medicine. 25 According to Porkert, yin corresponds to all that is contractive, responsive, and conservative, whereas yang implies all that is expansive, aggressive, and demanding. Further associations include, among many others:
In Chinese culture yin and yang have never been associated with moral values. What is good is not yin or yang but the dynamic balance between the two; what is bad or harmful is imbalance. From the earliest times of Chinese culture, yin was associated with the feminine and yang with the masculine. This ancient association is extremely difficult to assess today because of its reinterpretation and distortion in subsequent patriarchal eras. In human biology masculine and feminine characterstics are not neatly separated but occur, in varying proportions, in both sexes. 26 Similarly, the Chinese ancients believed that all people, whether men or women, go through yin and yang phases. The personality of each man and each woman is not a static entity but a dynamic phenomenon resulting from the interplay between feminine and masculine elements. This view of human nature is in sharp contrast to that of our patriarchal culture, which has established a rigid order in which all men are supposed to be masculine and all women feminine, and has distorted the meaning of those terms by giving men the leading roles and most of society's privileges. In view of this patriarchal bias, the frequent association of yin with passivity and yang with activity is particularly dangerous. In our culture women have traditionally been portrayed as passive and receptive, men as active and creative. This imagery goes back to Aristotle's theory of sexuality and has been used throughout the centuries as a Cscientific' rationale for keeping women in a subordinate role, subservient to men. 27 The association of yin with passivity and yang with activity seems to be yet another expression of patriarchal stereotypes, a modern Western interpretation that is very unlikely to reflect the original meaning of the Chinese terms. One of the most important insights of ancient Chinese culture was the recognition that activity 'the constant flow of transformation and change,'as Chuang Tzu called it2l _ iS an essential aspect of the universe. Change, in this view, does not occur as a consequence of some force but is a natural tendency, innate in all things and situations. The universe is engaged in ceaseless motion and activity, in a continual cosmic process that the Chinese called Tao the Way. The notion of absolute rest, or inactivity, was almost entirely absent from Chinese philosophy. According to Hellmut Wilhelm, one of the leading Western interpreters of the I Ching, 'The state of absolute immobility is such an abstraction that the Chinese ... could not conceive The term wu wet is frequently used in Taoist philosophy and means literally 'nonaction.' This is quite wrong. What the Chinese mean by wu wel is not abstaining from activity but abstaining from a certain kind of activity, activity that is out of harmony with the ongoing cosmic process. The distinguished sinologist Joseph Needham defines wu wei as 'refraining from action contrary to nature' and justifies his translation with a quotation from Chuang Tzu: 'Nonaction does not mean doing nothing and keeping silent. Let everything be allowed to do what it naturally does, so that its nature will be satisfied. If one refrains from acting contrary to nature or, as Needham says, from 'going against the grain of things,' one is in harmony with the Tao and thus one's actions will be successful. This is the meaning of Lao Tzu's seemingly puzzling statement: 'By nonaction everything can be done. 31 In the Chinese view, then, there seem to be two kinds of activity activity in harmony with nature and activity against the natural flow of things. The idea of passivity, the complete absence of any action, is not entertained. Therefore the frequent Western association of yin and yang with passive and active behavior, respectively, does not seem to be consistent with Chinese thought. In view of the original imagery associated with the two archetypal poles, it would seem that yin can be interpreted as corresponding to responsive, consolidating, cooperative activity; yang as referring to aggressive, expanding, competitive activity. Yin action is conscious of the environment, yang action is conscious of the self. In modern terminology one could call the former 'eco-action' and the latter 'ego-action.' These two kinds of activity are closely related to two kinds of knowledge, or two modes of consciousness, which have been recognized as characteristic properties of the human mind throughout the ages. They are usually called the intuitive and the rational and have traditionally been associated with religion or mysticism and with science. Although the association of yin and yang with these two modes of consciousness is not part of the original Chinese terminology, it seems to be a natural extension of the ancient imagery and will be so regarded in our discussion. The rational and the intuitive are complementary modes of functioning of the human mind. Rational thinking is linear, focused, and analytic. It belongs to the realm of the intellect, whose function it is to discriminate, measure, and categorize. Thus rational knowledge tends to be fragmented. Intuitive knowledge, on the other hand, is based on a direct, nonintellectual experience of reality arising in an expanded state of awareness. It tends to be synthesizing, holistic,* and nonlinear. From this it is apparent that rational knowledge is likely to generate self-centered, or yang, activity, whereas intuitive wisdom is the basis of ecological, or yin, activity. This, then, is the framework for our exploration of cultural values and attitudes. For our purposes these associations of yin and yang will be most useful:
*The term 'holistic,' from the Greek holos ('whole'), refers to an understanding of reality in terms of integrated wholes whose properties cannot be reduced to those of smaller units.
Looking at this list of opposites, it is easy to see that our society has consistently favored the yang over the yin rational knowledge over intuitive wisdom, science over religion, competition over cooperation, exploitation of natural resources over conservation, and so on. This emphasis, supported by the patriarchal system and further encouraged by the dominance of sensate culture during the past three centuries, has led to a profound cultural imbalance which lies at the very root of our current crisis an imbalance in our thoughts and feelings, our values and attitudes, and our social and political structures. In describing the various manifestations of this cultural imbalance, I shall pay particular attention to their effects on health, and want to use the concept of health in a very broad sense, including in it not only individual health but also social and ecological health. These three levels of health are closely interrelated and our current crisis constitutes a serious threat to all three of them. It threatens the health of individuals, of the society, and of the ecosystems of which we are a part. Throughout this book I will attempt to show how the strikingly consistent preference for yang values, attitudes, and behavior patterns has resulted in a system of academic, political, and economic institutions that are mutually supportive and have become all but blind to the dangerous imbalance of the value system that motivates their activities. According to Chinese wisdom, none of the values pursued by our culture is intrinsically bad, but by isolating them from their polar opposites, by focusing on the yang and investing it with moral virtue and political power, we have brought about the current sad state of affairs. Our culture takes pride in being scientific; our time is referred to as the Scientific Age. It is dominated by rational thought, and scientific knowledge is often considered the only acceptable kind of knowledge. That there can be intuitive knowledge, or awareness, which is just as valid and reliable, is generally not recognized. This attitude, known as scientism, is widespread, pervading our educational system and all other social and political institutions. When President Lyndon Johnson needed advice about warfare in Vietnam, his administration turned to theoretical physicists not because they were specialists in the methods of electronic warfare, but because they were considered the high priests of science, guardians of supreme knowledge. We can now say, with hindsight, that Johnson might have been much better served had he sought his advice from some of the poets. But that, of course, was and still is unthinkable. The emphasis on rational thought in our culture is epitomized in Descartes' celebrated statement 'Cogito, ergo sum' 'I think, therefore I exist' which forcefully encouraged Western individuals to equate their identity with their rational mind rather than with their whole organism. We shall see that the effects of this division between mind and body are felt throughout our culture. Retreating into our minds, we have forgotten how to 'think' with our bodies, how to use them as agents of knowing. In doing so we have also cut ourselves off from our natural environment and have forgotten how to commune and cooperate with its rich variety of living organisms. The division between mind and matter led to a view of the universe as a mechanical system consisting of separate objects, which in turn were reduced to fundamental material building blocks whose properties and interactions were thought to completely determine all natural phenomena. This Cartesian view of nature was further extended to living organisms, which were regarded as machines constructed from separate parts. We shall see that such a mechanistic conception of the world is still at the basis of most of our sciences and continues to have a tremendous influence on many aspects of our lives. It has led to the well-known fragmentation in our academic disciplines and government agencies and has served as a rationale for treating the natural environment as if it consisted of separate parts, to be exploited by different interest groups. Exploitation of nature has gone hand in hand with that of women, who have been identified with nature throughout the ages. From the earliest times nature and especially the earth was seen as a kind and nurturing mother, but also as a wild and uncontrollable female. In prepatriarchal eras her many aspects were identified with the numerous manifestations of the Goddess. Under patriarchy the benign image of nature changed into one of passivity, whereas the view of nature as wild and dangerous gave rise to the idea that she was to be dominated by man. At the same time women were portrayed as passive and subservient to men. With the rise of Newtonian science, finally, nature became a mechanical system that could be manipulated and exploited, together with the manipulation and exploitation of women. The ancient association of woman and nature thus interlinks women's history and the history of the environment, and is the source of a natural kinship between feminism and ecology which is manifesting itself increasingly. In the words of Carolyn Merchant, historian of science at the University of California, Berkeley:
In investigating the roots of our current environmental dilemma and its connections to science, technology and the economy, we must re-examine the formation of a world-view and a science which, by re-conceptualizing reality as a machine rather than a living organism, sanctioned the domination of both nature and women. The contributions of such founding 'fathers' of modern science as Francis Bacon, William Harvey, Rene Descartes, Thomas Hobbes and Isaac Newton must be re-evaluated.
The view of man as dominating nature and woman, and the belief in the superior role of the rational mind, have been supported and encouraged by the judeo-Christian tradition, which adheres to the image of a male god, personification of supreme reason and source of ultimate power, who rules the world from above by imposing his divine law on it. The laws of nature searched for by the scientists were seen as reflections of this divine law, originating in the mind of God. It is now becoming apparent that overemphasis on the scientific method and on rational, analytic thinking has led to attitudes that are profoundly antiecological. In truth, the understanding of ecosystems is hindered by the very nature of the rational mind. Rational thinking is linear, whereas ecological awareness arises from an intuition of nonlinear systems. One of the most difficult things for people in our culture to understand is the fact that if you do something that is good, then more of the same will not necessarily be better. This, to me, is the essence of ecological thinking. Ecosystems sustain themselves in a dynamic balance based on cycles and fluctuations, which are nonlinear processes. Linear enterprises, such as indefinite economic and technological growth or, to give a more specific example, the storage of radioactive waste over enormous time spans will necessarily interfere with the natural balance and, sooner or later, will cause severe damage. Ecological awareness, then, will arise only when we combine our rational knowledge with an intuition for the nonlinear nature of our environment. Such intuitive wisdom is characteristic of traditional, nonliterate cultures, especially of American Indian cultures, in which life was organized around a highly refined awareness of the environment. In the mainstream of our culture, on the other hand, the cultivation of intuitive wisdom has been neglected. This may be related to the fact that, in our evolution, there has been an increasing separation between the biological and cultural aspects of human nature. Biological evolution of the human species stopped some fifty thousand years ago. From then on, evolution proceeded no longer genetically but socially and culturally, while the human body and brain 33 remained essentially the same in structure and size. In our civilization we have modified our environment to such an extent during this cultural evolution that we have lost touch with our biological and ecological base more than any other culture and any other civilization in the past. This separation manifests itself in a striking disparity between the development of intellectual power, scientific knowledge, and technological skills, on the one hand, and of wisdom, spirituality, and ethics on the other. Scientific and technological knowledge has grown enormously since the Greeks embarked on the scientific venture in the sixth century B.c. But during these twenty-five centuries there has been hardly any progress in the conduct of social affairs. The spirituality and moral standards of Lao Tzu and Buddha, who also lived in the sixth century B.C., were clearly not inferior to ours. Our progress, then, has been largely a rational and intellectual affair, and this one-sided evolution has now reached a highly alarming stage, a situation so paradoxical that it borders insanity. We can control the soft landings of space craft on distant planets, but we are unable to control the polluting fumes emanating from our cars and factories. We propose Utopian communities in gigantic space colonies, but cannot manage our cities. The business world makes us believe that huge industries producing pet foods and cosmetics are a sign of our high standards of living, while economists try to tell us we cannot 'afford' adequate health care, education, or public transport. Medical science and pharmacology are endangering our health, and the Defense Department has become the greatest threat to our national security. Those are the results of overemphasizing our yang, or masculine side rational knowledge, analysis, expansion and neglecting our yin, or feminine side intuitive wisdom, synthesis, and ecological awareness. The yin/yang terminology is especially useful in an analysis of cultural imbalance that adopts a broad ecological view, a view that could also be called a systems view, in the sense of general systems theory. Systems theory looks at the world in terms of the interrelatedness and interdependence of all phenomena, and in this framework an integrated whole whose properties cannot be reduced to those of its parts is called a system. Living organisms, societies, and ecosystems are all systems. It is fascinating to see that the ancient Chinese idea of yin and yang is related to an essential property of natural systems that has only recently been studied in Western science.