A Confucian-Daoist Millennium? - Reginald Little

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A Confucian-Daoist Millennium?


Reginald Little English speaking: Founding Director, International Confucian Association, Beijing; Co-author, The Confucian Renaissance (1989): Author, A Confucian-Daoist Millennium? (2006): Participant, Many Conferences in China and elsewhere on Confucian Studies and related matters (1987 – 2007):

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Reasons for Asking the Question

There are numerous reasons to ask seriously whether we have not already entered a Millennium that will be characterized globally by pervasive respect for and emulation of Confucian-Daoist values.  Many of these reasons are self evident, but for a variety of complex reasons few have wanted to address directly the decline in Anglo-American power and the emergence of Confucian-Daoist influence.  Various factors are of importance in understanding this contemporary situation..

First, the proponents of a new American Century appear to have succeeded only in precipitating a hastened decline in American power. From at least the late 1980s, American power – whether political, military, economic, financial or other – has been under challenge from the pace of developments in East Asia.  The collapse of the Soviet Union and the subtlety of Japanese strategies, however, distracted most commentators from this fact.  Today’s realities, however, make it difficult to deny that we are already well advanced in leaving behind the past American century.  Of course, there are few who are comfortable in addressing this issue directly. There are too many reasons to recall memories of the past century, one that was devastated by destruction unprecedented in history.  It is often remarked that major transitions of power are rarely conducted peacefully and it is only appropriate that the present situation should be approached with great care and gravity.  Many powerful interests are not yet prepared to forego the certainties that characterized the 20th Century.

Second, it is undeniable that the unique and spectacular growth of the economies of East Asia over the past half century provides much enlightening, if neglected, evidence of the potential of a new and potentially wiser order.  The Confucian-Daoist communities of the region have demonstrated a remarkable capacity to use large-scale organization in a global marketplace to advance their own and others’ development and prosperity without the conflict and devastation of battlefield conquest.  This achievement has been made more remarkable by the fact that the global marketplace was conceived and designed to serve other masters.  In many ways, it was designed to constrain the rise of new contenders for global authority and success has, to a significant degree, been dependent on discipline and discretion.

Third, the imposition of a type of ‘intellectual apartheid’ has obscured the fact that China and other East Asian Confucian-Daoist economies led the world in production, technology, trading capacity and political stability for much of the past two millennia, until Anglo-Americans took control of the global economy over the past two centuries.  The rise of East Asia is in an important sense a restoration of this more traditional order in global relationships.

Fourth, reluctantly, the distinctive and superior organizational culture of East Asia is only now being acknowledged.  Again, this has long been marginalised and disparaged by the Anglo-American imperial tool of ‘intellectual apartheid’.  Despite this, it has much to teach other communities and holds out perhaps the best prospect of bringing to the 21st Century global community forms of ordering human society that are not so vulnerable to the predatory instincts that have shaped much recent human history.

Fifth, the spirituality of the Confucian-Daoist world is fundamentally different to Western religion.  This is little, if at all, understood outside the region.  Yet it has remarkable vitality and practicality and enjoys the disciplined cultivation of broad intuitive consciousness.  In many ways, this spirituality seems to be a key element in the region’s economic success.  Other advanced communities often appear to lack anything comparable.  They become mired in the orthodoxies of passionate religious doctrine or the urgent, narrow, short-term imperatives of rational thought and secular ambition.

Addressing the first two points above, it is already commonplace to make economic projections that show China emerging in a short period of time as the world’s largest economy.  These projections usually anticipate a continuing pace of growth that leaves others, including the United States, further and further behind.

Some commentators identify problems that may obstruct China’s growth, but it is apparent that the Chinese leadership and community now have a broad and balanced approach to development.  The focus is not only on economic growth but also on educational and environmental quality as well as on constructive international partnerships.  It seems likely that in time China will emerge as a global leader in both educational and environmental aspiration and standard setting, as well as moving more and more to the centre of a number of comprehensive strategic international alliances.

Unfortunately, few choose to explore whether this will be good or bad for other peoples.  English language commentators too often resort to little more than dark but unspecified hints of unknown forces being unleashed on peaceful and unprepared people.  There is a strong case to be made for a more active effort to explore and explain the qualities of civilization that have provided the foundation for both past and future East Asian achievements.

Historical and Cultural Environment

China’s long history of continuous civilization, with comparatively minor disruptions for dynastic change, has over recent centuries been either ridiculed or obscured by the Anglo-American ‘imperial’ tactic of ‘intellectual apartheid’.  This does not change the reality that Chinese civilization has proven itself over several millennia to be remarkably stable politically, innovative technologically, competitive economically, powerful commercially, harmonious socially and creative culturally.

A transition to a Confucian-Daoist Millennium, is not necessarily a matter of heading off into an unknown world.  Rather, it may be more like moving beyond an exceptional and unprecedented period of Anglo-American entrepreneurial assertiveness and transformation and returning to routines more regulated and measured according to well proven traditional norms and wisdom.

The institutional and spiritual cultures that distinguish the Confucian-Daoist world provide a number of readily recognized, if contrasting and dynamic, qualities that inform both its historical and contemporary achievement.  Most simply, they might be described as the highly yang Confucian qualities of competitive education and formalized ritual community behavior and the deeply yin Daoist qualities of profound consciousness and disciplined intuitive personal behavior.  Both of these areas are not only little perceived or understood in the West but are generally the object of politically motivated disparagement and derision.  This disposition is becoming extremely counterproductive as the leader of the West, the United States, thrashes around in self-destructive attempts to retain an already lost position of superior power and influence.

Moreover, it is poorly understood that the past two hundred years of Anglo-American global authority has largely been the product of one remarkable organizational innovation, which substantially derives from the British East India Company — the corporation.  The deployment of resources by Anglo-American corporate interests has facilitated the motivation, mobilization and movement of human energies in ways that are unprecedented in human history.  The corporation has permitted political authorities to benefit from the returns on substantial commercial ventures, often in distant parts of the world, without being exposed to any of the inherent responsibilities, risks and costs.  Both British and American leadership groups have raised this type of entrepreneurship to a most sophisticated art form.  Writers like William Engdahl, Thom Hartmann, and John Perkins, however, have recently highlighted weaknesses innate in an organizational culture that is essentially predatory.  Indeed, trends in Western chemical agriculture, processed food and synthetic pharmaceuticals suggest that the imperatives of corporate organization, if not disciplined by something like a Confucian bureaucracy, can dictate behavior that cannibalizes even a corporation’s home community.

Differences between the Anglo-American and Confucian-Daoist worlds go back much further.  The English religious writer, Karen Armstrong, has recently reviewed the Axial Age and the events that shaped four major spiritual civilizations in The Great Transformation: The World in the Time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius and Jeremiah.  Although this may not have been not her intent, this highlights the unique organizational qualities that derive from Confucius, at the same time as it makes transparent the fragmented and scattered character of Judaic history and the peculiar warlike and egotistic legacy of the Greeks.  It also suggests that both Indian and Chinese traditions pursued in a more focused manner solutions to the problems inherent in the human disposition to engage in destructive conflict.

Another articulation of long standing and deep rooted differences is offered by Geoffrey Lloyd and Nathan Sivin in The Way and The Word: Science and Medicine in Early China and Greece. They conclude that both China and Greece displayed unique qualities.  The Greek way sought predominantly foundations, demonstration, and incontrovertibility.  Its central authority was found in the principles of ‘clarity and deductive rigor’.  Lloyd and Sivin see consequential weaknesses as an appetite for disputation that obstructed consensus agreement and a practice of relentless questioning.  The Chinese approach was most strongly characterized by the search for ‘correspondences, resonances and interconnections’, which encouraged the exploration of holistic and organic relationships that integrate highly divergent areas of activity and order.  Lloyd and Sivin see its weakness in a disinclination to pose serious challenges to time-honoured orthodoxies.

This paper will seek to explore the diversity of the powerful qualities of civilization that seem to have informed past Chinese achievement and to be responsible for bringing about a restored Confucian-Daoist millennium.  Some may still dismiss the importance of these qualities but the evidence is mounting that they are less and less open to serious dispute amongst informed observers.   Of course, this does not overcome the obstacles created by the fact that many dearly held certainties derived from two hundred years of Anglo-American global order must now be fundamentally questioned and reviewed.  In order to outline the extent of the challenge that faces people of all traditions it may help to break down the nature of the challenge into ten areas, all however, founded on a coherent social order and wisdom that might best be identified as Confucian.

These ten can be categorized under five headings — Confucian, Daoist, Yi Jing, Strategic and Health.  Disciplines of administration and education can be identified as Confucian, practices of spirituality and consciousness as Daoist, habits of wisdom related to change management and holistic science as derived from the Yi Jing, calculated use of service and knowledge as products of a unique strategic tradition and therapies related to food and energy as legacies of the world’s most mature health tradition

The Confucian Tradition - Community

China alone amongst the world’s major civilizations has a dominant spiritual tradition that has focused on giving priority to community organization, harmony, coherence, discipline and achievement.  It is focused essentially on achievement in this world and not the hereafter.  Yet its sense of community is founded both in space and time, binding people not only according to physical geography but also according to links with ancestors and descendents.

These qualities make it highly misleading to talk of Chinese religion.  Buddhism has some of the focus on the hereafter that may legitimize such a term but it is much less seminal in shaping the quintessential Chinese character than Confucianism and Daoism.

The consequent Chinese administrative culture has a history and mythology of unrivalled achievement and continuity over several millennia — a continuity of civilization unknown elsewhere in the world.  Moreover, it characterizes in various forms today’s most successful economies — Japan, China, Korea and related regional communities — and produces modern bureaucracies with a capacity for strategic management again unrivalled elsewhere in the world.

Confucius is of course the Sage who has given the tradition its name and whose teachings (or those variously attributed to him) are perceived to have shaped the tradition.  Yet many of the qualities central to Confucian teachings and practices preceded his birth by up to 1500 years.  Moreover, there are other teachers such as Mengzi, Xunzi and even the legalists who have played critical roles in shaping the cultural values and customs that can be loosely identified today as Confucian.

In seeking to understand today’s Confucian civilization it is in many ways most instructive to examine first the qualities that distinguish present communities that have long legacies of Confucian practice.  While these legacies are often seemingly neglected or denied today they clearly continue to have a strong influence.  This can be recognized both in distinctive forms of community, institutional and political behavior and in remarkable qualities of social, economic and strategic achievement.

The task of explaining these qualities and achievements is made more difficult, however, by the fact that there is no common identifiable ideology or theory that links these communities, only a common capacity to outperform others.  Moreover, the Chinese classics do not readily reveal their wisdom on a first or second reading by someone from a different cultural background.  Consequently, it is easy for others to dismiss regional behavior as idiosyncratic and without broader present day relevance.

When China’s and the region’s historical achievements are taken into account, however, it is difficult to deny that the Confucian emphasis on encouraging each generation to aspire to play (ideally) a selfless, dedicated role in the administration of the community has produced a unique quality of government.  This has been evident both in peace and war and is not matched in other parts of the world.

The Confucian Tradition - Education

The Confucian tradition in education is also unique and remarkable.  It has long been associated in myth, practice and the minds of mothers with community achievement and prestige.  It has also been the primary means of reinforcing a profound sense of community values and of choosing an elite administrative class, which through a mastery of history, ritual and virtue has been much more powerful than the imperial household in governing and shaping the community.

The seventeenth chapter of The Analects captures the manner in which learning has been seen as central in restraining forms of behavior that cause disruption and disharmony in society:

There is the love of being benevolent without the love of learning; - the beclouding here leads to a foolish simplicity.

There is the love of knowing without the love of learning; - the beclouding here leads to dissipation of mind.

There is the love of being sincere without the love of learning; - the beclouding here leads to an injurious disregard of consequences.

There is the love of straightforwardness without the love of learning; - the beclouding here leads to rudeness.

There is the love of boldness without the love of learning; the beclouding here leads to insubordination.

There is the love of firmness without the love of learning; the beclouding here leads to extravagant conduct.

A few moments reflection highlights the contemporary authority of these words and the costs incurred by powerful leadership groups that are insensitive to their inherent wisdom.  It is hard to envisage in this cultural milieu a leader who is reputed not to read books

While the priority given to functional education in the modern world has transformed the traditional character of education in East Asia it does not seem to have destroyed the fundamentals of the value system that it instilled, at least when compared with other parts of the world.  Indeed, Confucian administrative and educational values appear to observant outsiders to be an integral part of Chinese and regional identity.  While they may not be easily pinned down and can readily manifest themselves in different ways in different communities, little can be understood without taking them into account.

In applying ‘intellectual apartheid’ it has become customary in the West to mock the rigorous standards of rote learning and social ritual that characterize much East Asian education.  This ignores the role that educational discipline plays in imparting forms of social ritual that account for much of the region’s achievement, in instilling habits of purposeful social activity from an early age, in utilizing youthful energy in a manner that is productive and not wasteful, and in equipping youth early with tools needed to inform a productive lifetime, even if some of the imparted wisdom is only fully understood after obtaining substantially more life experience.

Given the much remarked success of East Asian students in Western educational systems, the disposition of Western commentators to neglect a comprehensive and probing exploration of the wisdom of the East Asian educational tradition is hard to understand.  It is indicative, however, of a complacency that often condemns communication between Anglo-American and East Asian communities to operating at cross-purposes.

The Daoist Tradition - Spirituality

Daoist spirituality appears to provide the essential personal yin balance to the highly social yang character of Confucian discipline and ritual.  Although presently enjoying fashionable popularity in Western communities, Daoism has probably been the subject of even less serious exploration by Western scholars and leaders than Confucianism.  It is seemingly paradoxical, fits the model of no Western religion and does not conspicuously recommend itself as a major force in mobilizing East Asian political and economic energies.

Nevertheless, it is beginning to dawn on some observers in the West, generally those who are perceived to be alternative and outside the mainstream, that the neglect of the role of Daoism in East Asian success may be seriously mistaken.  In essence, Daoism provides a sense of spiritual energy that is much more practical, realistic and hard headed than any Western religion and that equips its followers to master hardship in highly productive ways.

The major Daoist classics offer none of the hypocritical promises that are readily associated with prophets speaking on behalf of a transcendent God, who rarely finds ways to contradict them.  In fact, Daoism projects a harsh sense of reality and alerts followers to the all too common deceptions that characterize human society.

Even so, Daoism’s frequent return to the image and idea of the pervasive, fluid, nutritional power of water heartens with a sense of the bounty of a demanding nature.  In this way, followers are freed from false constraints but are led to focus on the need to wisely marshal their resources, preserve their material assets and drink deep of the benefits offered by the natural environment

Summing up, this Chinese spiritual tradition contrasts with the Abrahamaic religions in being essentially unencumbered by faith in a transcendent God and the often capriciously defined demands of an afterlife.  In addition, it has not been institutionalized and politicized in a manner comparable with Christianity, does not comfortably fit the description of a religion as this is understood in the West and has prospered free of the dogma that has been used to institutionalize and mobilize people in the Christian tradition through the centuries.  Moreover, it emphasizes a holistic and naturalistic exploration of the paradoxes and contradictions to be found in all aspects of human experience and organic life.  It has a profound commitment to mastering the realities of daily life in a way that is highly sensitive to physical and human nature and that enhances spiritual robustness and fulfillment.  This produces spiritual qualities that are resilient and creative and can flourish independent of faith.

The Daoist Tradition -Consciousness

Daoism not only nurtures a robust and productive spirituality but it also cultivates a disciplined, intuitive consciousness.  This is not a prisoner of the many pretentious ideals and abstractions that have become so powerful in Western tradition.  The first lines of the primary Daoist classic, the Daode Jing, effectively warn the reader along these lines — anything expressed in words, concepts, principles, ideals or other such constructs may be very useful for the human mind and for human social communication but needs to be treated with caution and suspicion and not confused with the true character of the ever changing natural world.

Lin Yutang remarked that the Daode Jing is simply ‘one of the profoundest books in the world’s philosophy’, one which provides ‘a therapeutic alternative to Western thought’.  In a world increasingly cluttered with errors of education, information, knowledge and other misjudgments it is important that humans retain the ability to use their intuition to discern between value and waste.  Post-Enlightenment Western educational fashion often distorts this end — the disciplined consciousness required to question familiar but questionable assumptions has been eroded by the illusions of scientific ‘progress’.

In contrast, Chinese spirituality draws on a prolific tradition of practical and liberating disciplines, including Chan Buddhism, which are free of the faith and dogma synonymous with most Western spiritual life.  These have been the source of an intuitive consciousness that is acutely attuned to nature and the challenges of this world.

This Daoist intuitive consciousness is extremely deceptive because the ritual character of Chinese social behavior gives a contrary impression.  Chinese leaders have used ritual and the authority and tact of learned men to instill conformity of behavior into the community but have left the people largely free to explore their own spiritual and scientific truths through the cultivation of consciousness and intuitive knowledge.

This contrasts with the dogmas and orthodoxies of the institutionalized Christian church and, more recently, the Enlightenment’s mechanistic science.  Indeed, dogma has put the rationalism of the Ancient Greeks to good work as a tool to dictate conformity not only of behavior but also of thought.  This tendency is directly challenged by many of the disciplines of Daoism and Chan Buddhism.  These East Asian spiritual traditions have worked to develop profound forms of individual intuitive understanding and knowledge, which are invisible to Western observers, particularly those accustomed to more assertive and undisciplined, if less meaningful, forms of individualism.

Moreover, East Asian personal, disciplined cultivation of self-understanding and conscious insight nurtures reflection, intuition, calm and judgment within a broad sense of nature and a demanding cosmos.  In does not seek to define the Truth but rather to explore and follow the Way or the Dao.  With the emphasis on practical action, community accord and natural harmonies, there is an ability to nurture qualities that are mostly neglected in the West.

In one sense, the consciousness tradition is the essence of the spiritual tradition.  In another sense, it is a separate and robust virtue in itself, complementing the spiritual tradition in the same way the learning tradition complements the community tradition.

It also ensures that rote learning, whether physical or cerebral, comes alive in the most vital and mature ways possible.  Indeed, the endless, disciplined repetition that is necessary to advance in the art of qigong provides a profound insight into a fundamental reality.  This is that much understanding, insight and consciousness will be denied those who refuse to accept the guidance and discipline of a trusted master, teacher or mentor and then allow their own intuitive wisdom to explore over time the full substance of what has been leant. This is necessary to undertake routine processes of learning that pass on the wisdom of earlier generations, but only after long, disciplined and painstaking effort.

The Yi Jing Tradition - Change

The use of the Yi Jing or Book of Changes over three thousand years as a book of divination has disguised perhaps the world’s oldest and most sophisticated handbook of self-organization, designed to manage the imperatives of change.

Anything with related aspirations in the West – perhaps astrology or the Tarot – was marginalized either by the Christian Church or by the tradition of Greek rational thought.  Consequently, despite its growing popularity in alternative circles, it is difficult for mainstream Western thought to accommodate or relate to the correlative disciplines of the Yi Jing.  Yet, the Yi Jing has made the mature management of inevitable and irresistible change one of the great art forms of the East Asian ruler, or administrator.

The use of the Yi Jing as a book of divination has worked to spread its influence through all levels of society.  Effectively, no one escaped its influence and its unique quality of correlative wisdom.

At the same time, true mastery of it is rightly perceived to be the preserve of those who are learned, experienced and wise in the ways of the world.  The authority of the Yi Jing increases with the age and knowledge of the reader or interpreter.  The complexity, subtlety and holistic character of the Yi Jing effectively ensures that its mastery demands the concentrated attention of a learned, experienced and mature mind.

The sophistication of the reflections encouraged by the Yi Jing is captured by the surprising relationship between the recently deciphered mathematical structure of the DNA molecule and the quasi-mathematical structures of this text of ancient Chinese wisdom.  From the earliest times Chinese attempts to make sense of life in the world around them had a profound and holistic subtlety that foreshadows and overshadows the most recent Western attempts to master some of life’s and nature’s most profound mysteries.

It is hard not to address it as the seminal Confucian classic as its initial composition predates the birth of Confucius by half a millennia.  Moreover, its capacity to unify the spirit of both Confucianism and Daoism, often wrongly perceived to be rivals for influence, strengthens its role as the major seminal foundation of Chinese culture.

The Yi Jing Tradition - Science

The early Yi Jing commentaries frequently remind a user of the need for humility and caution in addressing life’s responsibilities.

They ensure users are frequently exhorted to reflect on a variety of ever changing perspectives provided by readings and on matters that escape attention in more rational frameworks of thought that are predetermined by specific and narrow desired outcomes.  With the use of sophisticated mathematical formulations that mirror patterns in DNA and other natural processes, the classic inspired a holistic and organic scientific culture that built the world’s most advanced science and productive economy until the early 19th Century.

It should be noted that the nature of the Yi Jing is so unfamiliar and alien to the Western mind that perhaps the greatest 20th Century Western authority on Chinese science and civilization, Joseph Needham, could write in the 1970s in The Shorter Science and Civilization in China:1 about it in disparaging terms.  He remarked that, despite the recognition of the Chinese belief that things resonate with one another and of the usefulness of the Chinese Five Element and Yin-Yang theories in the development of scientific ideas in Chinese civilization, a third component of Chinese natural philosophy — the system of the Yi Jing — could not be regarded so favorably.

Needham outlined the character of the Yi Jing in some detail but his inability to marshal the enthusiasm for this classic shown by other commentators sounds a warning.  There remain many aspects of Chinese spiritual and scientific wisdom that continue to escape comprehension by minds nurtured and educated in the certainties of Western rationality and universality.  This can be true even after a lifetime of working to comprehend and catalogue the richness of Chinese science and civilization, as was the case with Needham.

It was the psychoanalytical work of C G Jung and the associated Swiss based Eranos Foundation that began to make the Yi Jing accessible to the West.  Jung offered an illuminating insight in a preface to the classic Richard Wilhelm translation when he noted the curious fact that people as gifted and intelligent as the Chinese had been unable to develop what the West called science.

He went on to remark that the principle of causality, on which Western science is based, is being questioned by modern physics.  The axioms of causality have been shaken to their foundations by the discovery that natural laws are merely statistical truths, for which there are invariably exceptions.  Western belief in the invariable validity of natural law had not allowed for the severe restrictions and controls of the laboratory.  When left to nature everything is partially or totally subject to chance, so that a process conforming to a precise natural law becomes an exception.

Jung went on to suggest that the Chinese mind was focused on chance, or coincidence, in natural events, with little interest in the West’s causality.  He noted that theoretical considerations of cause and effect often pale when measured against the practical results of chance.  The Chinese sage was more interested in the jumble of natural laws constituting empirical reality than some causal explanation of isolated events that does not address the realities of a situation.

Jung touches here on a quality of Western thought which needs to be the subject of substantial criticism and re-evaluation – the exclusive focus on causality, the neglect of related circumstances, the disregard of side-effects and the consequent determination to force many natural beings and situations into a procrustean box of clarity and deductive rigor.  This conviction lies at the heart of the West’s relentless enforcement, regardless of the damage done, of reductionist and mechanistic notions of scientific order.

Only now are the consequences of bad Western science beginning to be recognized in many areas of modern life — including in the depletion of nutrition in food, in the addiction inflicted on patients by pharmaceuticals and the increasingly experimental character of a growing range of popular conveniences.  There are fundamental failings in the scientific paradigms that have guided so much recent ‘progress’ and turned modern life into a big scientific experiment.

Against this background, the Yi Jing, its intellectual influences and its scientific legacies take on a unique importance for the global community.  It is difficult to identify any other credible source of a profound and structured alternative wisdom that offers hope of positively reshaping human scientific endeavor.  As awareness grows of the environmental, ecological and health problems produced by Western scientific paradigms, the attraction of an holistic and organic alternative will increase rapidly.  Much Western ‘progress’ will be discredited as wiser practices are identified that are less destructive of and more in harmony with the living organisms that maintain human and other forms of life.

The Strategic Tradition – Service

Jiang Tai Gong, the leading military and strategic figure in the founding of the Zhou Dynasty three thousand years ago is credited with one of China’s greatest, if not the most widely known, strategic legacies.  The work attributed to him and titled Six Secret Teachings contains Twelve Civil Offensives that outline a distinctive Chinese path to conquest through service.

The essence of this strategy seems little more than common sense when clearly stated.  This succinct account of ways to overcome a stronger adversary without violence also serves to emphasize the fundamental importance of human virtue and moral strength, and the vulnerability of those who lack these qualities.  Yet much of this remains neglected in the West, particularly in the corporate world.  The Twelve Civil Offensives make it clear that any moral weakness in a leader is an invitation to exploitation by a thoughtful and resourceful rival.  Ultimately the only true strength is virtue.

It is not hard to identify instances of East Asian use of such civil offensives over the past fifty years.  Led by Japan, successive East Asian communities have used American political and corporate short-term bottom-line thinking, cultural ignorance, moral weakness and material greed to win one strategic advantage after another and to move much of the hi-tech manufacturing capacity of America to East Asia.  This has been achieved largely through coordinating political, commercial and financial policies closely with American interests, in a manner that yields to America short term corporate and consumer satisfaction at the cost of longer term industrial and technological decline.

The teachings reveal both a benign Confucian approach to government and a harsh, Daoist sense of reality in the midst of conflicting interests.  The evolving early 21st Century global economy has largely been shaped, not by Anglo-American authority, but by people who understand instinctively that through accommodating wishes, encouraging arrogance, fostering deep relationships, assisting indulgence, magnifying honor, being submissive and supporting dissolute officials a weak position can be transformed into one of strength.  In contemporary terms, producing quality goods at low cost, facilitating foreign partner profits, continually escalating quality, fostering consumption, providing low cost finance and reducing the value of outstanding loans have all worked to strengthen East Asia at America’s expense.

Outstanding American debts may only be repaid in depreciated dollars, if at all, but East Asia has already become the engine room of global hi-tech manufacturing and is increasingly the master of all the modern services associated with trade and finance.  East Asians benefit because they have captured the capacity for production, the skills and knowledge for 21st Century economic growth, the most competitive networks, the mastery of negotiating skills, the best returns on investment and the dependency of the world’s major consumer economies in the early 21st Century.

In other words, the soft, conquest through service strategies of Jiang Taigong have yielded substantial success and have left America and the West locked into a situation that allows little room for maneuver.  Just as American military analysts seem to have made little allowance for trends in the American and global economies, American economic analysts seem to have developed little capacity to consider cultures that do not accept the common Anglo-American assumptions about an economically rational global system.  This type of stereotyped thinking, often subservient to the demands of dominant political, financial and corporate cultures, is an invitation to the mature East Asian strategist to resort to the deployment of civil offensives.

It should be emphasized that the Japanese first deployed the strategy at work here some time after 1945 when seeking to gain advantage over their American conqueror after the Second World War.  While the strategy has clearly identifiable Chinese origins its modern transformation and application was the work of a defeated, occupied and humbled Japan.

The Strategic Tradition – Knowledge

One of the best known passages of the Chinese strategist, Sunzi, declares that victory and success comes with a complete knowledge of oneself and of one’s rival. This strategic understanding seems to widely inform the behavior of East Asian communities, but to be equally neglected by Anglo-American peoples.  In the early 21st Century, the latter are invariably misled by their Enlightenment assumptions about universal values and rational behavior and by the narrow priorities of corporate lobbies that have control of their political systems.

Simple strategic principles highlighted by Jiang Taigong and Sunzi are increasingly available in excellent English language translations but they have been given little thought in the Western rush to structure a universal and rational global order, which will above all serve its own interests.  In contrast, the Chinese experience of imperial decline and rebirth has ingrained a practical, strategic wisdom that indulges little in the way of false ideals or false knowledge open to a rival’s exploitation.

The last decades of the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st Century are likely to be viewed by future historians as a time when American government failed to develop any meaningful understanding of emerging rivals and failed equally to develop any effective international economic or political strategy.  Moreover, it is likely to be seen as a period when American ideas of the world frequently distorted realities and allowed rivals to gain easy advantage.  Most importantly, however, it will be viewed as the time when decades of patient strategic effort by Confucian-Daoist communities in East Asia were rewarded by their emergence in a position of economic, technological and political authority and influence.  In the longer run, historians may come to question how the quality of knowledge in the Anglo-American world had become so debased.

Thomas Cleary, a leading American translator of Asian classical texts, has captured in his The Japanese Art of War this Western failing early in its encounter with Japan.  He remarks that aggressive Christian missions sought to supplant Buddhism through criticism and rebuke.  The Japanese desire for technical knowledge opened the door for this missionary method.  In fact, much early Western Buddhist scholarship began in this way and was shaped and distorted by this purpose.

Cleary also notes that reason and ethics are the two aspects of Japanese culture that have traditionally attracted the criticism of Westerners.  Much emotion has been inspired by the fact that the Japanese have their own form of reason, apart from what they have borrowed from other cultures.  Cleary goes on to remark that many Japanese readily agree with Westerners that they are neither reasonable nor ethical and find that this not only placates Western irritation but also facilitates the ‘art of the advantage’, or the obtaining of strategic gain.  In a sense, it is the institutionalization of this ‘art of the advantage; that lies behind the type of exasperation expressed in one book with the title of Bamboozled: How America Loses the Intellectual Game with Japan and Its Implications for Our Future in Asia.  Ultimately, the problem reduces itself to the failure of one side to make a serious and humble effort to respect, study and understand the other.

The West continues to seek its own forms of clarity and deductive rigor in Confucian-Daoist behavior when in reality this is best understood by searching for correspondences, resonances and interconnections, as facilitated by the Yi Jing.  The deep-rooted intellectual apartheid in the West’s imperial approach to East Asia has offered Confucian-Daoist strategists a bonus, once they familiarized themselves with the forms of clarity and deductive dictated by the Enlightenment world’s faith and rationality.

The Health Tradition – Medicinal Food

The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine is both one of the most important texts of Daoism and perhaps the highest authority on traditional Chinese medicine.  At the same time, it reflects a sense of cosmic order that could be described as Confucian.  These observations of the ancients impress as being as relevant for life in the 21st Century as they were millennia earlier.  The contrast with the agricultural, food and pharmaceutical innovations of the 20th Century could not be greater.

The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine represents a tradition of science and medicine that is holistic and organic and that is inseparable from Chinese identity, having matured and flourished over the full length of Chinese written history.  It exists as a timeless protector against the contemporary follies of the West.

One translator into English of the classic, Maoshing Ni, has noted in his preface that the technological breakthroughs of the last two hundred years propelled science to its zenith.  This was achieved through an increase in communications that raised standards of living, increased productivity and saved lives but also was responsible for genocide on a massive scale, destruction of the planet and a steady diminishing of quality in people’s lives.  He then observes that the so-called scientific and industrial revolutions did not occur in China, despite many advances prior to those of the West, because Chinese science and technology functioned within a philosophy that recognized the importance of balance and harmony between human beings and the environment.

Maoshing Ni quotes Joseph Needham to the effect that the Scientific Revolution chased ethics out of Western science, making it much more menacing.  He then observes that modern science and technology will continue to produce disturbance and even destruction to life on earth, unless it restores its sensitivity towards the wider scheme of universal order.

As in administration, China has the longest and most comprehensive and continuous recorded history of what works and what does not work in health practices.  This history is not lacking in cautionary tales, including that of an all-powerful emperor poisoned by an elixir of life promising immortality.  Importantly, it contains extensive records of the medicinal values of foods and the spiritual elements of the tradition are integrated with health disciplines.  Moreover, it teaches the importance of self-empowerment in maintaining personal well-being, essentially through cultivated calm, relaxation, reflection and consciousness.

There is a growing body of evidence that powerful corporate interests are actively corrupting the character of Western food, medicine and science and the quality of health and well-being.  This is accompanied by evidence of a dumbed down educational system and the loss of integrity in the use of knowledge.  This emerges as part of successful strategies to lock in large profits for industries such as synthetic pharmaceuticals, industrial agriculture, processed food and packaged groceries.  Corporate power and influence over the past century has both disguised this reality and ensured that comparable practices have developed in all advanced economies.  As a result, there are growing plagues of degenerative disease, mounting problems with unsustainable health budgets and a variety of related ecological and environmental problems.

The problem, however, is not simple.  The vast increase in human population and the steady increase in the life expectations of many peoples over the past half-century provide contrary evidence of many improvements in human health and well-being.  It also is difficult to deny that people living today in advanced economies have access to a greater and more abundant range of genuine health and well-being information, products and facilities than ever before in human history.

Perhaps a parallel with ecological and environmental problems helps illuminate something of the dilemma.  In the early 21st Century, people have access to manmade ecologies and environments that are probably also unrivalled in past history, but that does not ease growing concerns about the overall state of the world’s ecological and environmental condition.

It seems clear that health, like science, is a critical area where the lack of holistic integrity in Western knowledge disciplines is a growing source of vulnerability.  How else can one explain the growing number of refugees from mainstream Western health culture to Chinese and Indian traditional practices?   Of course,

for the present, it remains to be seen whether China, India and others can take advantage from Western mistakes and modernize without falling into related errors.

The Health Tradition – Energy

The Chinese emphasis on correspondences, resonances and inter-relationships in nature has accompanied an extensive exploration of qi, or energy, in relation to human internal and external environments.  Principles, which are deeply rooted in Confucian, Daoist and Buddhist traditions, have guided this exploration.  Other traditions, most notably the Indian with its concepts of prana and charkas and its utilization of homeopathy, have identified and utilized related qualities.

Energy, as identified by qi or prana, has been fundamental to Chinese and Indian medical therapy for at least several millennia. It has also been recognized in many spiritual traditions all over the world.  Energy medicine, however, only began to be marginally recognized in the modern West in the latter part of the 20th Century.  As ancient Chinese and Indian medical wisdom has gained greater authority as the source of popular alternative therapies and as the insights of quantum physics have been recognized as relevant in health therapies the dogmas of Western medicine have lost their credibility with some intrepid thinkers.

The mastery of qi, or the body’s energies, either in martial arts or in health therapies, requires a focused and disciplined education.  Increasingly, however, Westerners are discovering that even a general introduction to relevant practices can deliver of sense of self-empowerment, awareness of many of the problems associated with modern medicines and lifestyles and influence over personal well-being and longevity.

Authorities in both East and West have suggested that there is potential for a major new science inspired by the power of qi and related traditional wisdom.  This could also mark a major shift in the character and integrity of scientific endeavor and the return of overt technological leadership from the West to the East.

The role of the theory of quantum physics in the rise of what is variously called energy medicine, vibrational medicine, bio-energy therapy, subtle energy therapy or spiritual transformation is revealing.  It highlights, of course, a pedestrian quality in Western science and medicine that derives from the paradigms of Newtonian mechanistic, reductionist science.  Often, the absence of a familiar legitimizing theory is used to obstruct the direct or intuitive identification of natural phenomena.  The appearance of a relevant and liberating theory – like quantum physics – remains dependent on a few bold, risk taking pioneers for its full potential to be explored.  Even then, overcoming tyrannical orthodoxies seems to remain as difficult as it was in the European Middle Ages.  Perhaps this is not surprising, as Newtonian and Enlightenment science tended to replace a religious dogma of spiritual control with a secular dogma of thought control.

Contrary to standard doctrinal rhetoric, highly corporatized, so-called free market economies do not necessarily welcome many kinds of innovation.  Confucian-Daoist economies have grown strong on capitalizing on opportunities that derived from the reluctance of Western corporations to develop people-friendly products from theoretical breakthroughs – whether transistors, consumer electronics, fuzzy logic appliances or contemporary telecommunications.

The work of Dr Mae-Wan Ho of the London based Institute of Science in Society can be used to sketch the essence of the struggle between mechanistic and organic approaches to society, politics, economics and science.  While she articulates this struggle as one between contesting forces within the Western scientific world, it is possible to discern in her account an outline of a struggle between two competing world views, one mainstream Western and another far more in tune with traditional thinking, whether Chinese, Indian or that of some other shamanic spirituality.

The latter has gained credibility from recent Western scientific work ranging from ‘nonlocal phenomena in quantum physics and nonlinear dynamics in mathematics to complexity in ecosystems, the fluid genome in the new genetics and consciousness in brain science’.  Ho draws on this Western progress to give respectability to ideas that might otherwise have seemed unacceptable.  In a paper titled The Organic Revolution in Science and Implications for Science and Spirituality to the ‘Future Visions’ State of the World Forum in New York, September 4-10 2000, she outlined the contemporary situation.

She stated initially that the official toppling of the machine metaphor, which had dominated the West for at least two thousand years, by relativity theory and quantum physics at the turn of the 20th century. gave rise to new scientific visions and possibilities much more in tune with other traditions and intuitive insights.  In particular, it held out the hope of participating in science fully, with intellect, feeling, body and spirit – the real meaning of the mutual entanglement of `observer' and the `observed' in quantum theory. .

Ho emphasizes that there is a two-way connection between science and society, with each shaping the other.  Moreover, she interprets science, in the most general terms, to be any active knowledge system shared by a society of human beings that gives both meaning to their way of life and the means to live sustainably with nature.  It follows that science is inseparable from the culture of society and its moral values.

Ho then explains that organisms are possessed of an irrepressible tendency towards being whole; towards being part of a larger whole.  She states that quantum coherence describes the perfect coordination of living activities in our body, and that there is growing empirical evidence that it may indeed underlie living organization.  She sees the totality of molecular, cellular and physiological reality of the ideal, healthy organism involving endless improvisations, where each and every element, however small, enjoys maximum freedom of expression, while remaining perfectly in step and in tune with the whole.

This notion of mutual entanglement of part and whole is readily extended to societies, ecosystems and ultimately to all of nature, as was done by Alfred North Whitehead.  This recovers the profoundly holistic ecological traditions of indigenous cultures worldwide.  It is of particular interest that Mae-Wan Ho has used advanced Western scientific language to legitimize many practices of East Asian and other non-Western traditions that are still widely dismissed as mystical fantasies.  In the process she has used the West’s most modern scientific paradigms highlighted the wisdom of both traditional Confucian community order and ancient Daoist bodily qi.

Conclusion

The character of American policy in the first years of the 21st Century has led to questions about not only the continuing capacity of the United States to project power to many parts of the world but also the continuing efficacy of an appeal to familiar Anglo-American ideals related to democracy, individual freedom, human rights and the rule of law.  It is difficult to avoid the impression that the global community will have increasing difficulty organizing itself around the principles detailed in the United Nations Charter by the victorious Anglo-American powers after the end of the Second World War in 1945.  There is a sense that political, military, technological, economic and resource developments are bringing about a major transformation in global relationships.

Hopefully, the foregoing reflections on the Confucian-Daoist tradition have illustrated in a constructive way the broad character of the ongoing peaceful emergence of an ascending Confucian-Daoist civilization that is discreetly using the global marketplace to shape the early years of the 21st Century.  The fact that Capitalist Japan and Communist China can both be identified as forces within this Confucian-Daoist civilization highlights the manner in which the language of Western conceptual frameworks has distorted and obscured many of today’s most important realities.

The fact that this distortion and obscurity works to assist both Capitalist Japan and Communist China and to disadvantage the Anglo-American world also highlights important factors, which are at the root of Anglo-American decline.  Central to these is that of intellectual apartheid, which seriously inhibits the explicit exploration and understanding of critical spiritual, organizational and political forces that do not conform with Western assumptions and stereotypes.

An Anglo-American desire to maintain the appearance of continuing global authority and a Confucian-Daoist desire to discreetly continue strategies that have been extremely successful over several decades both argue in favor of maintaining the status quo.  Simply put, no one seems to have an interest in exploring too publicly the issues outlined by this paper.  Yet the shaping of a 21st Century global community, made inevitable by the communication innovations of the 20th Century Anglo-American order, requires the articulation of more credible forms of spirituality, organization and politics than are offered today by discredited secular and functional ideals derived from the European Enlightenment.

With Chinese government sponsored Confucian Institutes appearing in various parts of the world this situation is slowly changing but the focus at present is on language training, not cultural communication.  It will not be possible, however, to continue to ignore for long the lessons offered by China’s unique recorded history, which is unrivalled in longevity and continuity and in the achievements it details in all areas of human activity.

Despite the continuation of familiar propaganda wars, people in diverse parts of the world will inevitably turn to this resource, seeking guidance to reverse recent errors and to identify ways forward.  The technological and productive might of the East Asian Confucian-Daoist communities is rapidly and continuingly assuming new forms of influence and authority.  Through the provision of quality and affordable goods and services that transform lives it already exercises an irresistible persuasive power.

References

(The following list of references includes most of the material used in originally developing the ideas contained in the book of the same title as this paper.  These references inform this paper but are not necessarily directly referred to in it.)

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