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On Progress East and West and Why and What

On October 30, 2014 DC wrote and posted in Saunters:


Talking with Wai Leng, our hostess in KL of Chinese ancestry, she agreed with my layman's take on the progress in SE Asia coming mainly from the Chinese due to their Confusion culture and that's why Japan excels as well. The emphasis on education, merit, progress, manners. There were other conservative forces holding them back until the West ignited the spark in the 2nd half of he 1800s. I suppose in the West it was some chemistry of the Abrahamic tradition (Judism/Christian/Islam) and the Greco-Roman getting things going till we had all these labor saving devices and so forth leading to the massive transfer of carbon in the ground to carbon in the air and our possible demise after untold millennium of stability. It's sure been fun though feeling so superior and getting to drive and fly around. Bet I can get some more educated comments from some of our buds. I'll try.

That's John Calvin. I think he's partly responsible for climate change. - dc

Two days later Jeff Broadbent responded (Jeff's Broadbent's cuke page):

Good ideas here.   As one product of that western tradition you describe, the Protestant Reformation led by Luther and Calvin broke with the Catholic Church and persuaded people to seek for their own personal grace in Gods eyes (not through a priest).  To attain this grace, the path was to rationally discipline their life toward that goal by dedicating their lives to hard work, simplicity, critical individual thinking, criticism of corruption and deceit, and also savings and reinvestment to make business grow.   I just visited Calvin's museum in Geneva.  They taught this way as a constant daily personal practice with no relief except for a joyful feeling of being in synch with God's will.  Starting in the 1500's, the resulting effort contributed a lot to the growth of business, science and invention in Northern Europe and its immigrant colonies such as the U.S.  I just spent two weeks in southern Germany, Swabia, and even today there the people really dedicate their lives to work.  It comes from within, but they have also set up institutions to facilitate it, like excellent education including commercial training programs.   It's why Germany is such an amazing economic success, compared to the southern European countries, where people like to laze around. 


You are right.  Post-Confucian societies have their own types of values and standards that also promote economic growth.  These Confucian values differ a lot from the Protestant ones in that they value socially-conforming rather than individual truth-seeking behavior.   But as a result the Confucian values do promote the capacity for a rationally organized large scale division of labor where people respect education, seek to acquire skills, earnestly perform their roles and faithfully fulfill their contracts with others, making possible huge efficient mass production systems.   However, because of their stress on fitting in to the larger social organization, the Confucian societies do not give much opportunity for the lonely curiosity-driven entrepreneur who goes their own way but sometimes ends up producing a whole new technology.  So they have adopted most of their basic technology from the West, though then by diligent work often improved upon it.


But as you note, the incredible technology has made life a lot more fun, healthy, and free for increasing numbers of people around the world,  but at the same time its use of fossil fuels for power is polluting our atmosphere and destroying our climate.  We can't/ won't go backward, but to go forward, we need carbon free energy and nuclear has such deep dangers of its own.  So we need wind and sun energy, and hard-working Germany is one of the few countries serious about this, with 30% now!. 

Where does this put mindfulness Buddhist practice as a set of values for living life and saving society?   After Tassajara, I thought that if America became Zen, it would protect nature.   So for my studies in 1978, I went to Japan to see if it had had that effect there, somehow at least moderating the destruction in spite of their rapid industrial growth.    What do you think?


DC answer was brief saying I doubt America will be Zen but maybe influenced by some of this Zen, Buddhist, Advaita, etc stuff. Added I'd rather hear what our friend ST has to say, Am emailing him now.

Steve Tipton responds:

Dear David and Jeff,

Both of are you are right on target and entirely right, of course, especially if we draw a big bold line from The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism through The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Consumerism, along with their Asian analogues (eg, Bellah’s Tokugawa Religion) to the ecotopian soteriologies of more or less monistic “spirituality” now spreading among younger better-educated Americans, as evidenced by Pew’s “Faith in Flux” 2009 and 2012 surveys of the unchurched, for all their conceptual cloudiness.

What must we do to be saved?  Take care of the earth, air, and water as well as lighten our footprint by changing an All-American way of life it turns out cannot be generalized safely via global industrialization--at least not without the equivalents of cold fusion, full-on carbon sequestration, and truly Zero Population Growth—as per Ian Morris, The Measure of Civilization for all its Malthusian science and Peter Sloterdijk, You Must Change Your Life, for all its oracular urgency.

At least part of the still-shifting and culturally contested US eco-story turns on the interplay of instrumental and expressive forms of individualism in the usage of Habits of the Heart, which Bellah flagged earlier in The New Religious Consciousness and I saluted in Getting Saved from the Sixties, with a bow to SFZC and Callenbach’s Ecotopia.  At least a little of the contrast between the US and Western Europe no less than Asia, as you note, turns on the distinct moral architecture of their polities (see Ron Jepperson and John Meyer, “The Public Order and the Construction of Formal Organizations,” pp. 214-230 in The New Institutionalism), esp the contrasts between the individualist polity of the US and UK, French statism, and German corporatism, most evident in the eco-sensibility of German reconstruction in what was East Germany, at the cost of trillions.

All for now, since I’ve got 30 more papers to grade today, but keep me posted on your thoughts and travels, and let our conversation continue,

With appreciation and thanks,


Steve's cuke page

DC responded: Well said oh noble one, especially the first clause.