Posts Tagged: Taoism

Stuck in Debt

I was reading the “i” daily briefing from the Independent the other day.  The headline story agreed with something I’ve been saying for a few years and I know that I’m not the only one. Our economy here in the UK is dependent on huge amounts of borrowing. Consumer debt, secure and unsecured, is used to prop up the high street and thus the Governments tax take to a huge degree. A massive house price boom was engineered (not just in the UK) to support an economic boom. The events of 2008 were the wheels coming off and we’ve not really recovered from that. I don’t believe it is recoverable, or is it healthy to try.

What we have now is that the UK Chancellor is relying even more on the public borrowing and spending large sums to order to make the books balance. This includes a desperate attempt to reignite the property boom. This is in spite of what happened last time. Back in the mid 2000s, when I first starting looking at Taoism, I learned that everything was cyclic. No situation lasts forever, every situation contains the seeds of its opposite. Eventually, the opposite will wax and the current will wane.

I applied this to the housing market and to the whole use of debt and it became a little clearer. Looking at what’s happening now, it’s clear that nothing has been learned from 2008. We’re still desperately using debt fuelled spending to power a notional economy. A wise man called Mike Folkerth once wrote “Exponential growth is the plan, it ain’t possible is the problem”. With apologies to Mike: “Running the economy on consumer debt is the plan. You can’t keep it up forever is the problem.”

Thinking Too Much

After last weeks entry, I started to make a few notes on something else. It’s related to seeing what isn’t there, and can very often be a cause of it; Over thinking. Let’s face it, we’re in a society where we’re drowned in thoughts and opinions. The tools we have can make it easy to research and pick apart any idea or concept till you’re sick of it. The question I ask is, is this really everything it’s cracked up it be? While reflecting, I remembered a verse in the Tao Te Ching which seems relevant.

End sagacity; abandon knowledge
The people benefit a hundred times

End benevolence; abandon righteousness
The people return to piety and charity

End cunning; discard profit
Bandits and thieves no longer exist

These three things are superficial and insufficient
Thus this teaching has its place:
Show plainness; hold simplicity
Reduce selfishness; decrease desires

( and Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained, published by SkyLight Paths in 2006)

In my own direct experience, over thinking is a dangerous thing. I’ve over-thought my own motives and reactions and had it turn into dangerous territory; if you’re not careful, your thoughts can turn on you that way. I’ve also thought things through till I’m sick of it and almost burned out. So often, the best thing you can do is go for a walk and stop thinking so much.

Over thinking will always take something that should be simple and make it complex. I remember looking at endless discussion of Buddhist precepts or Taoist principles and becoming tired of it very quickly; how much talking about it do you need to do? I also suspect that one reason for over complicating the things is to create get out clauses where there are none.

Seeing what isn’t there

Recently, I was watching the progress of the Rosetta mission when the whole thing had a shadow cast over it by a certain shirt. Dr Matt Taylors shirt’s been pictured pretty much everywhere else, so I can’t see the point of linking to it; the commentary it’s generated has been huge, there’s no benefit in my writing paragraphs about it.

So, many people took aim at the gent in question and at his shirt. It was making a particular statement or it was saying this or that. The woman who designed the shirt, a friend of his, has defended him; personally, I doubt he intended any offence or to impart a message. My first thought was that that people were making an issue out of this to the detriment of the science coverage. Which led to me being accused of making a binary point that you can focus on one or the other. I never said that and, of course you can easily read coverage of both. But the shirt affects perception of the rest of the coverage, the two are not separate. The reaction to my thinking, got me to thinking about the reaction to said shirt. This brought to mind a Taoist story, from Benjamin Hoff’s wonderful book “The Te of Piglet”.

“A man dug a well by the side of a road. For years afterwards, grateful travellers talked of the Wonderful Well. But one night, a man fell into it and drowned. After that, people avoided the Dreadful Well. Later it was discovered that the victim was a drunken thief who had left the road to avoid being captured by the night patrol-only to fall into the Justice-Dispensing Well.”

It’s the same well, a hole in the ground. But the meaning changes depending on how you see it. Things what they are, until Human consciousness comes along and assigns a pile of meanings to things. I’ve noticed that we do this a lot, often people will jump in and argue before a person has even finished speaking; replacing whatever the person meant to say, with what they’ve decided that person was going to say! I find that to be a caution, it means we often react to meanings that aren’t there in the physical world. We cast the light of our own impermanent views and values on the world and jump at the shadows, seeing things that say more about us than about the world itself.