2004/02/05

Levels of development.

I was in China, Beijing, for the whole of last month./ The country is figuratively sprinting towards market economic build-up. In reality it is more like it is jumping over 5-6 centuries of economic development within the very short time span of half a century.

Reading what the pundits have to say about what's going on in China today, I can't but disagree with their conclusions. They would like us to believe that this economic build-up is the most extraordinary achievement of the Chinese Nation. This is far from the reality. What happens today in China is only the walking of one step further on the road of its civilization. What happens today in China is but a cultural snaphot added on top of the past build-up of this civilization. In other words I do not believe for a second that the present Chinese economic feat is advancing their level of civilizational development by as much as what is written and told. It seems to me that such assertions reflect Western centrist views that are kind of spinning the predominance of economics above everything else but this is very short sighted and does not reflect upon what founds the long term march of a civilization.

We can say today that it makes no doubt that the Chinese civilization is the most advanced among all that survived to this very day. They left their gods sometime 1000-500 Bc for building a most refined philosophic system that is generally unknown in the West. As a result, their arts were freed from serving the religious authorities as far back as 2500-3000 years earlier while in Europe the same happened only those last 250-300 years ago!

In China, philosophy, arts, medicine, politics, economics, warfare and everything else you can imagine is being driven by the fundamental understanding that is inscribed into the very first building blocs that their forefathers have laid as the foundation of their civilization. One willing to understand China has to start trying to understand those foundational fundamental understandings and values.

All Chinese are sharing that knowledge through family oral transmission and as Ralph D. Sawyer writes in "The art of the Warrior": "The influence originates not merely in the subtle, unconscious assimilation of their subject matter on a daily basis, but also as the consequence of assiduous study, imaginative contemplation, and deliberate application to many spheres of life and activity. Such contemporary vigor no doubt stems from the remarkable scope of the texts, a corpus of writings whose authors pondered and incorporated defining beliefs from Confucianism, Legalism and Taoism to proffer strategic measures and tactical remedies for a wide variety of problems and situations. ... Rather than being idle theory, they are founded and continuously focus upon human nature, for it is peope who create civilization and culture, man who fight and die." Sawyer helps us better understanding the present vigor of the "foundational fundamental understanding" shared by all Chinese but this does not give us a better understanding of what this "foundational fundamental understanding" is all about.

It is not as if the great Chinese philosophies were poles apart. The hundred schools of thought during the "Warring States" period (600-250 Bc) all were focusing on some sort of tactical debates upon a common root of understanding. Confucianism, Taoism and the military strategists were the three only schools that survived untill today and again it is not as if they are so far apart, common ground values and understandings closely knit the corpus of those schools close together. Even Boudhism that entered China in the 3rd century Ad underwent profound changes through integration of those "foundational fundamental understandings". It's as if the Chinese civilization was imposing on the successive cultural snapshots along all of its long history a common logic, a common understanding that is contained in the classics but that is well older than the classics themselves. The 64 short texts of the "YI CHING" or "Book of Transformations" and the commentaries accompanying them contain what seems to best approach this "foundational understanding":
- Reality is change or a kind of natural process of transformations that is called TAO or the WAY.
- The internal coherence of reality is given by the contact between opposites that generates bursts of energy fueling changes and transformations that are as the seconds on the ticking clock of evolution. This is theorized in an abstract contruct based on the idea of a "power" dance between the YIN and YANG acting as extreme poles. When one dominates, for the sake of clarity let's suppose the YIN pole of a situation is dominating presently, the TAO gives that what is dominating presently will age and weaken (OLD YIN) and eventually die out to be replaced by a YOUNG YANG that in turn will gain force and then age (OLD YANG) to be replaced by a YOUNG YIN... and so on ad infinitum.
- From situations, or people, or objects entering in relation results a certain report which is objectively determined and thus appears a tendency directing the process of these relations. Thus reality is given by a certain propensity which derives systematically from the objective relationship between situations, things, people or societies and from this report that is measurable ensues a tendency that is given as absolutely inviolable. This measureable report is based on the objective understanding of the YIN and YANG power dance and what is measured is the report between the forces of those poles, in other words what is the situation, is it YIN, YOUNG YIN, OLD YIN or YANG, YOUNG YANG or OLD YANG. The "BOOK OF CHANGES", the "YI CHING" gives 64 combinations that describe tendancies.
- If the report resulting from relationships is measurable than think the Chinese, it is possible to adapt oneself in such a way that the tendancy of changes to come becomes friendlier. This, I believe, is the central most important idea that the Chinese civilization is transmitting to all Chinese individuals. The Chinese classics about traditional medicine, the Chinese classics about military strategies, the Chinese classics about politics, the Chinese classics about art, all are centered on the maximization of the benefits to be derived by the application of the idea that the tendancy of changes to come can be influenced.
- From my personal and intimate relationship with Chinese dating back not far from 20 years already, I feel that they all to some degree have learned how to adapt themselves in order to weigh on the orientation of the tendancy of changes to come in order that they affect them in an as friendly way as possible. It is not that they develop some sort of surnatural powers, as I feel it, they learn from early childhood how to surf on the waves of reality, they learn how to adapt themselves to the situation. We Westerners are doing the opposite, always trying to change realities, sprinting head on towards the obstacles and repeatedly finding out that it hurts.

Let's now come back to the start of the argument. I was saying "I do not believe for a second that the present Chinese economic feat is advancing their level of civilizational development by as much as what is written and told". It seems to me that what is going on is that the Chinese, after centuries of what they feel have been enduring humiliations upon humiliations at the hands of the Western barbarians, discovered what made the West run faster economically than themselves during that time of humiliation. Through Marxism, they grasped the theoretical power of the "logic of capital" and its economic efficiency and they started to implement this logic based on their own understanding of the princip of reality. After 20 years of implementation they now somehow have reached a level of proficiency that allows them to surf unimpeded.

The Chinese understood that it was a matter of life or death for their civilization to adopt the logic of capital. That has been the crucial turning point in their recent history. The rest was only a question of firmly pursuing in the footsteps of their ancestors in order to gain the maximum effectiveness in their application of the logic of capital. Once they understood the workings of the logic they adapted themselves in such a way as to weigh with a maximum force on the orientation of the tendancy of changes to come in order that they affect them in an as friendly way as possible. At this game they are the masters, they have for thousands of years learned to play far into the future while our Western vision, totally dominated by greed is focused solely on short term gains. Rationality has given us the way to understand history, to understand the present situation but the process towards the future is totally blanked out.

On the surface,what is going on in China nowadays is an economic boom without precedent in the history of humanity but this, in itself ,does not advance in any way their level of civilizational development. In my view, it is exactly the opposite that occurs, it is their very advanced level of civilizational development that helps them to advance their economy so rapidly. It makes also no doubt in my mind that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. The more powerfull the Chinese economy will be, the more it's civilization and it's culture will start to weigh on humanity's future. I'am firmly convinced that this is a blessing for our world. What started out in Europe some 600-800 years ago with such an extreme brutality towards the rest of the world led to a badly hurt village earth. A mechanic application of the logic of capital has also led to the most serious destruction of species that our earth has ever witnessed, more serious according to scientists than the period that saw the extinction of the dinosaurs! We are presently in the most urgent need of wisdom in order to preserve for our children a chance to inherit a world that remains hospitable. What is the sense of economic development if the end game turns out to be a world becoming inhospitable for humans?

What drives humanity over the long haul is not its economy, it is unmistakenly it's culture, it's ways of behaving, it's ways of interacting with the other species, the environment and it is evident that we are doing very poorly on that level. We have more goods than at any time in our history but the more our economies enrich, the more our cultures enpoor and in the process humanity's chances of survival are thinning fast. The coming cultural input of China could not be better timed.

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