Wednesday 29 June 2011

Doing without doing

nationcrafting: doing without doing

For centuries, people in the Far East who are in the business of making things have understood a concept which Taoists call "Wu Wei". This is defined as "working with the way life itself already works", "getting your own self out of the way", "effortless doing" or "doing without doing".

Great musical performers "do without doing": they just play and the music comes out just perfect. Get their thoughts, their self, in the way and the music goes wrong.

There are many things that you, too, "do without doing": you don't think about making your heart beat, for example, or about which enzymes you should produce to digest the small fish you just ate for lunch. You do not need to learn and remember these actions, your body learns and remembers them for you, so you just "get out of the way". The system is too complex to be dealt with at a conscious level.

There are also some actions which you have consciously learned to do, like walking, driving a car or interacting with a properly designed computer interface, which you now "do without doing". The upshot of this is that you can now walk and talk about complex subjects like nationcrafting at the same time. In the words of Nike, you "just do it".

Taoists also have a word for a pattern of design that is so complex as to appear, to the untrained eye, like chaos. They call this "Li".

Li is the organic flow-pattern of water and fire, Li is the process that shapes the texture of your muscles and the grain in a piece of wood. It's the way things in nature "just do it": how they are born, change, grow and die.

You could think of Li as nature's method of "doing without doing".

In a nation, there is Li, too. When Frédéric Bastiat and Gustave de Molinari expressed their wonder at the beauty of the free market, the underlying intelligence through which humans arrive at a natural balance of production and cooperation without any authority telling them to produce or cooperate, they were expressing their wonder at the nation's Li, which leads to economic growth and prosperity for humans just as surely as the free flow of tree sap leads to the shape and structure of the woodgrain that best ensures the growth of our magnificent trees and forests.

The interesting thing about Li is that, while its patterns may appear extremely complex, they're actually the result of emergent properties brought about through the interaction of large groups of cells, each cell following extremely simple rules of interaction with a small amount of neighbouring cells.

The rule governing the behaviour of each individual cell within the organism is really simple, but the product of all the individual cells interacting with each other is of an entirely different category. That product's beauty emerges out of the multiplicity itself.

Not one cell within the organism possesses any kind of power or intellligence to control the organism itself, and yet the outcome appears so surprisingly controlled and balanced that we feel it must hint at some kind of higher intelligence planning the whole thing. That feeling of higher intelligence is the foundation of leadership and government we have had in Europe for the past 2,000 years.

In European culture, there is a cell in the organism to whom we have given the power to control the organism itself, and this leader has traditionally been imbued with properties reserved for some kind of god-like being: the Greek word for church is "basilica", which is the house of the "basilis", the king. In the Christian religion, the image of Christ as a king is very common, and many kings have claimed their powers were given to them from a god above, from a perceived supra-intelligence.

But the higher intelligence is unnecessary, just as the idea of a leader is unnecessary. The real "leader" is simply the set of properties that exists within each of the individual cells, the higher intelligence is simply the product that emerges from the complexity. It is perhaps better defined as a meta-intelligence, rather than a supra-intelligence.

True insight into nationcrafting requires an understanding of this emergent intelligence - call it our Li - to work with the human grain and let the nation grow. Once we get good at that, once we understand it the way a piano player understands the performance so well that his hands remember without his mind having to remind them, then we too can start effortless government, a nation just 'doing without doing'.


  1. It's a lovely notion, and one which alludes to an ultimate aspiration, the expression of which could manifest in an Utopian self-governing society, no less. No need for 'leaders', our innate intelligence and communal guiding instincts make us operate as an intelligent and benign collective entity, ensuring prosperity, work, abundance and fulfillment for all. Catch is , we are still in the stone age, spiritually speaking. Greed, self interest and suspicion rule the day. But yes, this is the goal...but not quite yet...perhaps post 2012!

  2. AY LAV IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!