Chapter 2

Civilizations in equilibrium

First, then, let us look fleetingly at the civilizations (except for the Muslim, which will come in its course) which are in equilibrium: the Chinese and Indian civilizations. Of course, I now speak of what I guess we would call "ancient" or "traditional" Chinese and Indian civilizations, rather than the modern Marxist civilization in China and the Westernized civilization in India. There are variants of these two, of course; the Japanese had their own version of the Chinese civilization, for instance.

Chinese civilization and its offshoots seem to be characterized by respect for elders, and respect for authority; Confucius perhaps articulated the spirit of the Oriental civilization most clearly. The gods here are ancestral spirits, not surprisingly; and the individual's individual life is regarded as the animal part of his existence, subordinate to his human life, which is thought to be his position in the family and the various organizations he belongs to, including the larger society. He must not at all costs bring disgrace on the groups he belongs to; and he can remedy the wrong he has done by a ritual act of destroying his animal life. The rules of conduct are rules of politeness and fitting in properly to one's position in society. The structure of government is, not surprisingly, autocratic, with the ruler having the status of a god. Thus, Oriental civilization, it might be said, is the condition I described at the end of the preceding section institutionalized; and it has worked very well for thousands of years, leading to various advances in technology and so forth. Only recently (within my lifetime, in fact) has it run into difficulty with the inroads of the individualist-collectivist philosophy of Marx, which (as Mao modified it) fit in many ways very well into the Chinese spirit of cooperativeness, and seemed to satisfy the individual's desire to have the importance the West gave him. But it seems at present to be failing, due to the inherent contradiction in Communism's "totalitarianism for the sake of the individual." Because China never really had a notion of the individual as an end in himself, Communism seems to be lasting longer there than in the West.

Note that, in terms of the hypothesis I offered about evolution, this particular equilibrium defines love as respect and politeness; but it seems to be primarily external, and to become internal by means of the external practices. The society is not for the individual, the individual is for the society; and it is not that the society makes the individual good, but that good individuals are necessary for society to be good.

The reason this civilization is in equilibrium and can last so long is that for this mentality, since the individual does not matter, then technology makes really little difference, and it is possible for great technological sophistication to exist in some places, and the most primitive methods of doing things in others. Insofar as technology makes the whole society powerful, of course, then it could be adopted, as in Japan, and developed much more thoroughly than in the West, which does not have such a cooperative spirit. But this type of civilization is undermined by the notion of the dignity and importance of the individual as such; and there are signs that it is changing as this idea becomes accepted as the truth about human beings.

The other civilization which was in equilibrium for millennia was that of India. Here, it seems, the underlying source of authority is thought to be what Hegel called abstract Being: that is, what everything has in common. It is this that is the only real reality (the Brahm), including the reality of ourselves; and everything else, all of the various forms of realities we see, is a dream. There is some truth in this, in the sense that every finite reality is inherently contradictory, and only unqualified reality makes sense by itself, as I said in the first part of this book.

But obviously, I think that the Indian interpretation does not fit the facts; but it is not my purpose here to critique the view, but show how it colors the whole civilization. The god, or rather, what is behind and beyond even the gods, is self-identical, serene, and unchanging, while everything else is unreal, apart from itself, and in turmoil. Hence, the real purpose of life is to get in touch with this reality (which is within each of us as well as everywhere else, since nothing individual is real), and to avoid getting caught up in the world of dreams and striving. It simply does not matter what position one is in in this world, because that is unreal; and anyone can achieve serenity and union with reality (and so everything) by turning away from the world of activity and resting within himself in that core of his being which is his only truth.

India, then, had a caste system, where a person was born into a condition of life and lived it out without hope of moving into another caste, except by death and reincarnation upward or downward; except that escape from this wheel was possible by repudiating this world and contemplation. There were various methods of doing this; but the goal was always the same: find the truth as not in the world, and reject the world and its illusions. This civilization, of course, did not go beyond itself precisely because its view of the truth lay in rejecting process as meaningful.

As to how people relate in love in this civilization, as the Buddha said, this is by way of compassion. The highest form of love is a kind of pity for those people caught up in the wheel of activity and suffering by it, since they do not realize that the life they are living and consequently the suffering they experience is not real. The task of the enlightened is not to change the conditions for the suffering people so much as it is to inform them of how they can escape the suffering by contemplation, no matter what their external situation. The Indian respects everyone equally, in that everyone externally is an illusion, and everyone internally is absolutely identical with everyone and everything else. This looks, from the point of view of the hypothesis of this book, very much like a negative moment in equilibrium; "love" in this sense could as easily be called indifference as love, and "respect" contempt.

The Indian civilization can also absorb technology and even new social structures without really changing, because for the Indian, nothing in this world really matters. Preserving the old ways is of no more real importance than taking on new ways; everything is a chase after wind. Hence, if those who are unenlightened want to live in a democracy without castes, let there be one; if they want to import technology or even study it for themselves, so be it; this is no more foolish than anything else, and those who are truly wise will still seek serenity in contemplation, no matter what is going on around them. There is very little that can shake this way of thinking, and so I suspect that the Indian Weltanschauung will last a very long time still.