Friday, July 23, 2010

The Dialectic of Progress, Striving and Value



Here is a brief article on the mechanics of Duality or the Dialectic or the Tao. From India to Iran to China to ancient Israel to Greece, the Duality has arisen in many philosophies and religions. Various types of Dialectics have influenced Zoroaster, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, early Vedic thought in India, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Heraclitus of Greece, Sufism, the Kabala, Hegel, Bergson and others.

Most thought systems use several types of dualities. Two types of duality have consistently appeared in history—the Value duality and the Practical duality. Understanding how each works will free us of needless error and stress.

The Value Duality

The first duality (or dialectic or Tao) to examine is the Value duality.

The value duality includes things such as good/bad; right/wrong; true/false, beautiful/ugly; creative/mis-creative; understanding/ignorance, compassion/lack of compassion, progress/regress, higher/lower, skillful/unskillful and many more pairs of opposites.

This duality drives us forward to higher states of existence. It is the motor of progressive development, the force of Meliorism. In the value duality we do not want more bad, more ugliness, more ignorance, less compassion and etc. We are fixated on one side of the dialectic, there is NO balance in a value dialectic. (Later below is a discussion of the duality of balance)

We see ourselves as mixed but wanting to evolve. True, we are a combination of good and bad but we reject the bad and strive for the better. We take rests but it is not a compromise but a pause in the battle.

We choose one side over the other, we are driven to be one sided, there is no balance here. This point of view rejects relativist ethics that mix bad and good together.

The person who wants bad, ugly or hate is aberrant or immoral. The value duality indicates a basic dividing line amongst humans about mental and ethical health. Others masquerade as practical idealists but in fact are aberrant and opportunistic.

Religions often are built on value dualities such as good Vs. evil. These theologies see an unending personal struggle to get to higher levels of ethics, love, truth and understanding. Here is the implicit idea of imperfection, we are constantly shedding. imperfection in a process of meliorism for the unachievable Perfect.

Many Cultures too are guided by the Value Dialectic in issues such as science and technology, democracy, Human Rights and so on.

Personal development is by definition driven by the value duality.

So while we always choose one side of the value duality, we are in fact imperfect and tainted, thus we strive endlessly. Implicit here is an evolutionary concept, people who are oriented toward self improvement are committed to progressive development, to Progress.

The Practical Duality

The second duality or dialectic or Tao to look at is the Practical duality.

The practical duality includes things like outer/inner, theory/practice, physical/ethereal, rest/work, center/periphery, self/others, structure/motion, order/disorder, serious/non-serious, male/female, conscious/unconscious and so on. These are the basic dualities of life that we have to manage, and there are hundreds of them. In this dialectic or duality we need to find the bias in a particular situation.

The practical duality manages the practical issues of our life. It seeks balance. If the value duality is about opposites arranged vertically, where the lower is the opposite we are escaping from, then the practical duality is horizontal, it is dealing with issues that are not related to issues of progressive development necessarily.

A practical duality has a bias, that is, one side of the duality, one of the poles or opposites is primary in particular situation. This bias is conditional and based on real circumstances. When the conditions change so does the bias, it switches to the other pole. This is the dynamic of this kind of dialectic, it moves from a bias to ne-bias (secondary aspect) and back to bias again.

Problems in this kind of duality might occur if someone is not flexible enough to grasp that conditions have changed and a bias must shift. Usually in these dialectics there is a generally primary aspect, where most of the time this pole is the bias. With experience you will discover this.

 In some odd cases, for example, there are time periods where a generation has been raised where the ne-bias is dominant, and they may think that this is the general state of affairs. For example, in the 50s in the USA, a generation raised in the depression, WW2 and the Cold War became group thinkers, while the general situation with American culture was and is individualism. They did not know better, and it took a 60s revolution to reestablish the primary bias in US history.

Another exception: Some people and perhaps some cultures will break the general rule of bias. This can only be explained by individual peculiarities but nonetheless this is a real phenomenon. For example, monks, soldiers and social activists give up their individuality for the group, the whole. So there are individual exceptions to every general rule about bias.

Another complication is that of “equal bias” where one says that both poles are in equal sway or influence. This however is a transitional stage where temporarily the two opposites have equal powers, eventually, one side transcends. Equal power could not last long because when influence is equal there is no general organizing principle and chaos would break out. If you try to hold to a situation of equality in dialectics then war and disorder will occur.

So if someone says they believe in a “middle way” or “golden mean”, they are not saying a place halfway between opposites really, they probably mean a dynamic mean or dynamic balance.

Generally, the practical duality is straight forward, its behavior is different from that of the value duality and it engenders a different kind of attitude. But the fact is that both types of dualities are part of life, we cannot function without knowledge of each.


Problems occur though when we confuse the two, and this happens often:

1] We can misapply the value duality. We can apply it to a practical duality and create a mess. A value duality applied to practical duality will result in one side of the Tao attacking the other side. The result might be subjugation, for example, in the duality of men and women, a value duality psychology would demand that one side of the opposite should oppress the other side as if the relationship was a battle of good over evil or truth over fallacy. This destroys the practical duality. So a person who thinks excessively in a value mode can be very negative when dealing with everyday issues, they can create conflict when there is none, and create a hierarchy of castes when there was none before.

These people are antagonistic, absolute and destructive, they see enemies and threats everywhere. Things and people and ideas are identified as evil, false, lower, weak, ugly etc.

2] The second error comes from someone experienced in the practical duality trying to handle a value duality. There might be a tendency to accept evil, fallacy, lack of understanding and so on. The practical dualist might have the problem of looking for “balance” in a value duality, thus compromising the struggle and stalling progressive development. This person falls into relativist ethics and makes pragmatic compromises that are beyond the pale of even a more practical idealist.

3] The solution is to know both dualities and know the situations where each is utilized. There are conditions where both may apply together. For example, in a practical duality where we are striving to get to a higher level we are , for example, developing our theory and our practice, developing our knowledge and our skills at the same time. In this sense the practical duality is rising to higher levels and is like a value duality.

In a value duality, for example, the “practical” perspective arises when we grasp that we do not have the time or energy to make an advance beyond a certain point, then we stop and rest. This can give us limits, mark of stages, and define periods of respite and re-planning.

The value dialectic wants us to improve in many ways, the practical dialectic wants us to manage things properly. The value duality wants to escape a situation through hard work, the practical duality wants to deal with a situation through hard work. The value duality wants to ascend, the practical duality wants to go in circles. The value duality wants no balance while the practical duality craves balance. The value duality envisions a better world, the practical duality wants to improve this world. The value duality wants struggle, the practical duality wants harmony. The value duality wants no compromise, the practical duality wants compromise.

So in Human history something interesting happened: A duality split into a duality of two types of duality! Each set of opposites is opposite to each other. And the two types of dialectics must be managed as new kind of duality itself. Confusing? Not really, if you understand each type in itself, you will eventually get to know how they work together. They have opposite uses, yet work together, we cannot exist with only one of them, each helps the other.

Religions and philosophies have focused on one or the other, and many have used both.

In the 21st century we can appreciate both dialectics and learn from the accumulated history of the duality the world over. We can draw from various philosophies and religions some ideas and methods, and put together something that works for ourselves, in our everyday lives.


See new free Ebook by Cage Innoye, Social Creativity and Revolution.




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