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.”