Unintended Consequences, The Taoist Take

Unintended Consequences, The Taoist Take

Every piece of new technology, every ideology, every tenet we hold and every single intervention has unintended consequences - and most have unanticipated negative consequences. You set out to solve a problem, and more often than not, end up creating one or more unforeseen problems, often more substantial than the original.

For example, we constantly talk about - and mostly pretend to strive for - virtue, benevolence, righteousness and ritual. In the process, we end up losing our spontaneity, become intolerant of others who don't share our exact definitions of these, and end up in frantic situations we can't get ourselves out of. In the 4th century BC, Taoist sage Chuang-tzu went further and claimed that virtue, benevolence, righteousness and ritual were themselves the "unintended consequences" of not living in accordance with the Tao (the true nature of all things). He wrote:
  • It is said, "When the Tao was lost, Virtue appeared; When virtue was lost benevolence appeared; When benevolence was lost, righteousness appeared; When righteousness was lost, ritual appeared. Rituals are just the frills on the hem of the Tao, and are signs of impending disorder."
  • -- "The Book of Chuang Tzu", Penguin Classics, 2017.
What's most interesting about this is the order of the degeneration: From the Tao to virtue to benevolence to righteousness to ritual to disorder. We are regularly taught to proceed backwards. Rather than "experience" and "flow" with "The Tao", they teach us to start with ritual, attain righteousness, promote benevolence and reach virtue. We rarely, if ever, consider that our peculiar understanding of these could be delusions.
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