Daoism and Development

I just started reading the Dao De Jing again after beginning a class on integrating the wisdom of Chinese medicine and Daoism into your daily life. The last time I read was in university at least 7 years ago.

While reading it last night, the first stanza of Section 3 really caught my attention and got me thinking:

“Do not glorify the achievers
So the people will not squabble
Do not treasure goods that are hard to obtain
So the people will not become thieves
Do not show the desired things
So their hearts will not be confused”

This really feels like advice to rulers and those in power. It’s an exhortation to prevent ambition, greed, and desire, (potentially) negative outcomes for any society or group of people. And yet, when I look around at developed and developing countries, the system of capitalism and the myth of infinite growth are designed exactly to reinforce these negative qualities.

In China, it’s pretty easy to see that ambition, greed, and desire are at the root of the country’s deepest problems: extreme and pervasive corruption, poor quality and unsafe consumer products, the growing wealth gap, increasing disparities and inequalities, and confusion as people come to grips with what development has done to their culture and society.

What’s so disappointing (and this not only true for China) is that not only our economic systems are built to reinforce all those values that make us miserable, but also how much our political systems have become part of this delusion, too. Those who are powerful became so as result of ambition, greed, and desire and thus have every reason to make sure these values propagate for as long as possible, if not indefinitely.

Disclaimer: I’m know that I’m not the first to think of this or point it out and make no claim as to its originality.

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