Sunday, May 22, 2011


In the post on engine design, commentator R Brockman made the following comment;

The interesting question is whether there are multiple stable equilibrium points. What happens when a society goes outside the set of parameters that it was "designed" for? Advanced technology has radically changed our life -- do the Old Design Rules still work?

I think that this warrants some further elaboration. It's my belief, and a cursory examination of history will confirm, that it is possible to have different type of societies (i.e equilibrium points) but only only within certain limits. The whole point about the "Tao of Life" is that there is more commonality amongst enduring societies than than there are differences.

I suppose the reason why there is limited range of equilibrium points within a human societal "system" is because the material from which human society is built, human nature, puts constraints on types of societal structures that can be maintained.  Human capabilities with regard to jealousy, trust, fear, love, friendship, etc. are the limiting factors with regard to human interaction.  In the same way that the parameters of car performance are derived from the properties of materials, so is human society limited by human nature.

A classic example of this is with regard to sexuality.  Most men naturally desire variety, and it would be expected that given this nature, societies would develop which would cater to this fact. Yet it's pretty obvious that any advanced polyamorous societies have failed to develop, since sexual activity occurs in the context of other parameters such as reproduction, love and investment. Any society that attempted to institute such a practice would be torn apart by feuds, lusts, jealosy etc.  Likewise, Communism, a great idea in theory, fails because it ignores the fact the human nature responds to incentives.

What we do tend to see however, is that amongst primitive peoples there does seem to be more latitude with respect to human nature and stable "society", but as a society becomes bigger and culturally advances, the potential for alternative normative behaviors lessens.

Indeed a theoretical plot could be made with regard to a societies proximity to the Tao Ideal and its advancement.

What we see here is the closer a society approximates the Tao point the greater its advancement and stability. Ancient Rome at its apogee possessed a different culture to Ancient Rome in its decline. It appears that in order for a society to survive and flourish it has to overcome a certain degree of barbarism or primitiveness. But once it establishes itself, it has to protect itself against decadence which destroys societal stability. Note, that a bit of primitiveness or decadence may not be too bad, but once the line is crossed, so to speak, the rot sets in. The trick in keeping a society stable, is in keeping it within a proscribed deviation from the "Tao point".

However, another point needs to be considered. Getting a society to within the desired range of the Tao point will get it only so far.  What I mean by this is, with the exclusion of Western Civilisation, the level of societal and technological advancements of all the other advanced civilisations of the world were roughly the same. The Chinese may have eaten and dressed differently to the Romans, but their societies were more alike than different. No, the one society that really stands out of the pack with regard to its "performance curve" is Western Society, compared to the others, it's supercharged.

Several books have been written about this phenomenon. What's so special about the West that made it the predominant power, not just militarily but intellectually, economically and artistically as well over the past five hundred years?

Well the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences was asked by their government to look into this very thing. An anonymous scholar provided their conclusions:

He said: “One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world.

“We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had.

“Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system.

“But in the past twenty years, we have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful.

“The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.”


Country Lawyer said...

And now that foundation is gone in the west.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Country Lawyer.

Nothing like sawing at the branch you're sitting on.

andon said...

So, is society a bit likened to a game of jenga?

On an unrelated topic, what made you choose family practice?

The Social Pathologist said...

So, is society a bit likened to a game of jenga?

Not really. It's more like running a nuclear reactor. Takes a while to get going and as long as things run within limits your O.K. Excursions from the design parameters may not affect the system for a while but then the shit really hits the fan.

On an unrelated topic, what made you choose family practice?

I sort of drifted into it. I tried quite a few other specialties and found them intellectually boring. In addition specialty training in Australia is horrible on the family life. Most specialists are miserable gits. I did not want to be a miserable git.

Robert said...


I stumbled upon your website recently (I think from googling divorce statistics), and I think you do an excellent job at expressing many of the issues that affect the west in an objective manner.

It is difficult to grasp some of your concepts, especially as I am reading the posts in reverse-chronological order. This post was particularly confusing to me.

It seems as though you are quantifying Tao as the ability of a civilization to provide happiness in a stable environment, but to what extent? What I am confused on, is how you define the upper y axis of your graph. Is it the lifetime for that civilization, how closely it came towards the perfect system for human prosperity/stability at any point in time, or something else entirely? Thanks

The Social Pathologist said...


Thanks for your kind words.

t seems as though you are quantifying Tao as the ability of a civilization to provide happiness in a stable environment,

You've got to think of society as a product of numerous interactions of people, and that those interactions are governed by people's and institution's respective moral codes. Society can be considered a "mechanism" which operates according to its individual components. These individual components interact according to their respective moral codes. i.e their moral properties.

So at a fundamental level, societies are based on the moral code of individuals.

It appears that any large and successful human society can only operate if the majority of members possess moral properties which were universally recognised. The Christians would have called it Natural Law whilst C.S. Lewis would have called it the TAO of life.

My apologies, but the y-axis should really be labelled societal flourishing. What's apparent is that humans were only able to make complex societies function if the majority of their members lived by broad rules which appear to be universally common: The TAO of life.

Living by this "TAO" seemed to produce a culture that was stable and moderately prosperous. The thing is, the Christian TAO, produced a hypersociety that dominated not only the world, but produced a fabulous flourishing within.

I hope this explains the concept. Please let me know if you have any further questions.

Robert said...

Thanks for your reply. Back when I first asked this question, I think your answer would have most closely matched up with Tao being the "closeness" of a society to an arbitrary perfect society in terms of stability and prosperity.

After reading more of this site, I now understand what you mean by Tao and its relation to a prosperous society in the effect that it is the recognition of universal forms of nature and humanity, and the aim to construct society in the best reflection of it.

I want to thank you for your writing, specifically in attempting to relate concepts of god and faith in a rational manner. When I first came to this site, I could be considered a conservative reductionist or empirical agnostic. To a large extent I still am and it fluctuates often, but many of the articles have provided me with an open mind to classical religion, and its attempts to discern reality.

The Social Pathologist said...


Thank you.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm getting any traction.