Friday, December 9, 2011

Layer 498 . . . No Fixed Identities, The Unity of Opposites, Heraclitus, Taoism, Education and Exams . . . . . . . . And Comedy

"In Our Time" on Radio 4 this week considered Heraclitus and his philosophy.

"It's wise to agree that all things are one", said Heraclitus.

He also believed in 'The Unity of Opposites', and said that the road up is also the road down.

There are many different perspectives, but there is a greater unity to everything.

"It's difficult for humans to have a full grasp of underlying unity."

We learned from the programme that we need an open, fresh, childlike attitude in order to get closer to 'God'.
The problem is that even children these days, in our society, aren't allowed to be open, fresh and childlike.

"This is like training rats to run through a maze!"
So said Jim Naughtie on the Radio 4 'Today'  programme, describing the preparation of teachers and pupils alike for teaching to tests and exams. The Telegraph has suddenly discovered that exam boards coach teachers in how to coach children in how to do better in exams - even letting slip which subjects are likely to appear on exam papers. Wow! Fancy telling teachers how to help their children to do better in tests and exams!

Heraclitus rejected learning by rote. He advocated looking within in order to know yourself properly.

2000 plus years later, and what have we done to implement the insights of Heraclitus? Absolutely nothing.


The bizarre thing about the In Our Time programme is that there wasn't a single mention by either the blessed Melvyn Bragg or the three academics that Heraclitus's philosophy has much in common with both Buddhist and Taoist thinking. Heraclitus spoke of life being like a river or a stream - constantly changing and moving. Taoism is often called The Watercourse Way.

Lao-tzu likens Tao to water:
 The great Tao flows everywhere, to the left and to the right,
 It loves and nourishes all things, but does not lord it over them. 
For as he comments elsewhere, water always seeks the lowest level, which men abhor, because we are always trying to play games of one-upmanship, and be on top of each other. But Lao-tzu explains that the top position is the most insecure. Everybody wants to get to the top of the tree, but then if they do the tree will collapse. That is the fallacy of American society. 
The watercourse way is the way of Tao. Now, that seems to white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, lazy, spineless, and altogether passive. I am always being asked when I talk about things, "If people did what you suggest wouldn't they become terribly passive?" Well, from a superficial point of view I would suggest that a certain amount of passivity would be an excellent corrective for our kind of culture because we are always creating trouble by doing good to other people. We wage wars for other peoples benefit, and attempt to help those living in "underdeveloped" countries, not realizing that in the process we may destroy their way of life. Economies and cultures that have coexisted in ecological balance for thousands of years have been disrupted all around the world, with often disastrous results. 
- Alan Watts
Excerpt from: "Tao: The Watercourse Way" (1975)
Critic Erik Davis notes the freshness, longevity, and continuing relevance of Watts's work today, observing that his "writings and recorded talks still shimmer with a profound and galvanizing lucidity."
Lots of good stuff by Alan Watts on YouTube, including Fear of Enlightenment -


On a lighter note, I'm posting this whilst listening to this week's Have I Got News For You. Sheer brilliance. Haven't laughed so much in a very long time. 42 series and still going strong.

Totally love Reginald D Hunter, especially when he's on HIGNFY - my favourite American. Apart from Rich Hall, who's the host tonight on Live At The Apollo. Rich is a real genius. Listen to his stuff on Sarah Palin -


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