1 • The Turning of the Tide

At the beginning of the last two decades of our century, we find ourselves in a state of profound, world-wide crisis. It is a complex, multi-dimensional crisis whose facets touch every aspect of our lives - our health and livelihood, the quality of our environment and our social relationships, our economy, technology, and politics. It is a crisis of intellectual, moral, and spiritual dimensions; a crisis of a scale and urgency unprecedented in recorded human history. For the first time we have to face the very real threat of extinction of the human race and of all life on this planet.

We have stockpiled tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, enough to destroy the entire world several times over, and the arms race continues at undiminished speed. In November 1978, while the United States and the Soviet Union were completing their second round of talks on the Strategic Anns Limitation Treaties, the Pentagon launched its most ambitious nuclear weapons production program in two decades; two years later this culminated in the biggest military boom in history: a five-year defense budget of 1,000 billion dollars.' Since then, American bomb factories have been running at full capacity. At Pantex, the Texas factory where every nuclear weapon owned by the United States is assembled, additional workers were hired and second and third shifts were added to increase the production of weapons of unprecedented destructive power.2

The costs of this collective nuclear madness are staggering. In 1978, before the latest escalation of costs, world military spending was about 425 billion dollars - over one billion dollars a day. More than a hundred countries, most of them in the Third World, are in the business of buying arms, and sales of military equipment for both nuclear and conventional wars are larger than the national incomes of all but ten nations in the world.3

In the meantime more than fifteen million people - most of them children - die of starvation each year; another 500 million are seriously undernourished. Almost 40 percent of the world's population has no access to professional health services; yet developing countries spend more than three times as much on armaments as on health care. Thirty-live percent of humanity lacks safe drinking water, while half of its scientists and engineers are engaged in the technology of making weapons.

In the United States, where the military-industrial complex has become an integral part of government, the Pentagon tries to persuade us that building more and better weapons will make the country safer. In fact, the opposite is true - more nuclear weapons mean more danger. Over the past few years an alarming change in American defense policy has been noticeable, a trend toward a nuclear arsenal aimed not at retaliation but at a first strike. There is increasing evidence that first-strike strategies are no longer a military option but have become central to American defense policy.4 In such a situation each new missile makes nuclear war more likely. Nuclear weapons do not increase our security, as the military establishment would have us believe; they merely increase the likelihood of global destruction.

The threat of nuclear war is the greatest danger humanity is facing today, but it is by no means the only one. While the military powers increase their lethal arsenal of nuclear weapons, the industrial world is busy building equally dangerous nuclear power plants that threaten to extinguish life on our planet. Twenty-five years ago world leaders decided to use 'atoms for peace' and presented nuclear power as the reliable, clean, and cheap energy source of the future. Today we are becoming painfully aware that nuclear power is neither safe, nor clean, nor cheap. The 360 nuclear reactors now operating world-wide, and the hundreds more planned, have become a major threat to our well-being.5 The radioactive elements released by nuclear reactors are the same as those making up the fallout of atomic bombs. Thousands of tons of these toxic materials have already been discharged into the environment by nuclear explosions and reactor spills. As they continue to accumulate in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink, our risk of developing cancer and genetic diseases continues to increase. The most toxic of these radioactive poisons, plutonium, is itself fissionable, which means that it can be used to build atomic bombs. Thus nuclear power and nuclear weapons are inextricably linked, being but different aspects of the same threat to humankind. With their continuing proliferation, the likelihood of global extinction becomes greater every day.

Even discounting the threat of a nuclear catastrophe, the global ecosystem and the further evolution of life on earth are seriously endangered and may well end in a large-scale ecological disaster. Over-population and industrial technology have contributed in various ways to a severe degradation of the natural environment upon which we are completely dependent for life. As a result, our health and well-being are seriously endangered. Our major cities are covered by blankets of choking, mustard-colored smog. Those of us who live in cities can see it every day; we feel it when it bums our eyes and irritates our lungs. In Los Angeles, according to a statement by sixty faculty members of the University of California Medical School,6 'air pollution has now become a major health hazard to most of this community during much of the year.' But smog is not confined to the big metropolitan areas of the United States. It is equally irritating, if not worse, in Mexico City, Athens, and Istanbul. This continual pollution of the air not only affects humans but also upsets ecological systems. It injures and kills plants, and these changes in plant life can induce drastic changes in animal populations that depend on the plants. In today's world, smog is not only found in the vicinity of large cities but disperses throughout the earth's atmosphere and may severely affect the global climate. Meteorologists speak of a nebulous veil of air pollution encircling the entire planet.

In addition to air pollution, our health is also threatened by the water we drink and the food we eat, both contaminated by a wide variety of toxic chemicals. In the United Slates synthetic food additives, pesticides, plastics, and other chemicals are marketed at a rate currently estimated at a thousand new chemical compounds a year. As a result, chemical poisoning has become an increasing part of our affluent life. Moreover, the threats to our health through the pollution of air, water, and food are merely the most obvious, direct effects of human technology on the natural environment. Less obvious but possibly far more dangerous effects have been recognized only recently and are still not fully understood.7 However, it has become clear that our technology is severely disturbing, and may even be destroying, the ecological systems upon which our very existence depends.

The deterioration of our natural environment has been accompanied by a corresponding increase in health problems of individuals. Whereas nutritional and infectious diseases are the greatest killers in the Third World, the industrialized countries are plagued by the chronic and degenerative diseases appropriately called 'diseases of civilization,' the principal killers being heart disease, cancer, and strokes. On the psychological side, severe depression; schizophrenia, and other psychiatric disorders appear to spring from a parallel deterioration of our social environment. There are numerous signs of social disintegration, including a rise in violent crimes, accidents, and suicides; increased alcoholism and drug abuse; and growing numbers of children with learning disabilities and behavioral disorders. The rise in violent crimes and suicides by young people is so dramatic that it has been called an epidemic of violent deaths. At the same time, the loss of young lives from accidents, especially motor accidents, is twenty times higher than the death rate from polio when it was at its worst. According to health economist Victor Fuchs, ' "epidemic" is almost too weak a word to describe this situation.'8 Along with these social pathologies we have been witnessing economic anomalies that seem to confound all our leading economists and politicians. Rampant inflation, massive unemployment, and a gross maldistribution of income and wealth have become structural features of most national economies. The resulting dismay among the general public and its appointed leaders is aggravated by the perception that energy and natural resources - the basic ingredients of all industrial activity - are rapidly being depleted.

Faced with the triple threat of energy depletion, inflation, and unemployment, our politicians no longer know where to turn first to minimize the damage. They, and the media, argue about priorities - should we deal with the energy crisis first or should we first fight inflation? - without realizing that both these problems, as well as all the others mentioned here, are but different facets of a single crisis. Whether we talk about cancer, crime, pollution, nuclear power, inflation, or energy shortage, the dynamics underlying these problems are the same. The central purpose of this book is to clarify these dynamics and to point to directions for change.

It is a striking sign of our time that the people who are supposed to be experts in various fields can no longer deal with the urgent problems that have arisen in their areas of expertise. Economists are unable to understand inflation, oncologists are totally confused about the causes of cancer, psychiatrists are mystified by schizophrenia, police are helpless in the face of rising crime, and the list goes on. In the United States it has been traditional for presidents to turn to academic people for counsel, either directly or through 'brain trusts' and 'think tanks' set up explicitly to advise government on various policy matters. This intellectual elite has formulated the 'mainstream academic view' and generally agreed on the basic conceptual framework underlying its advice. Today this consensus no longer exists. In 1979 the Washington Post ran a story under the heading The Cupboard of Ideas is Bare,' in which prominent thinkers admitted they were unable to solve the nation's most urgent policy problems.9 According to the Post^ 'Talks with noted intellectuals in Cambridge, Mass., and New York, in fact, not only confirm that the mainstream of ideas has split into dozens of rivulets, but that in some areas it has dried up altogether.' One of the academics interviewed was Irving Kristol, Henry R. Luce professor of urban values at New York University, who said that he was resigning his chair because^ don't have anything to say anymore. I don't think anybody does. When a problem becomes too difficult, you lose interest.'

As sources of their confusion or retreat the intellectuals cited *new circumstances' or 'the course of events' - Vietnam, Watergate, and the persistence of slums, poverty, and crime. None of them, however, identified the real problem that underlies our crisis of ideas: the fact that most academics subscribe to narrow perceptions of reality which are inadequate for dealing with the major problems of our time. These problems, as we shall see in detail, are systemic problems, which means that they are closely interconnected and interdependent. They cannot be understood within the fragmented methodology characteristic of our academic disciplines and government agencies. Such an approach will never resolve any of our difficulties but will merely shift them around in the complex web of social and ecological relations. A resolution can be found only if the structure of the web itself is changed, and this will involve profound transformations of our social institutions, values, and ideas. As we examine the sources of our cultural crisis it will become apparent that most of our leading thinkers use outdated conceptual models and irrelevant variables. It will also become evident that a significant aspect of our conceptual impasse is that all of the prominent intellectuals interviewed by the Washington Post were men.

To understand our multifaceted cultural crisis we need to adopt an extremely broad view and see our situation in the context of human cultural evolution. We have to shift our perspective from the end of the twentieth century to a time span encompassing thousands of years; from the notion of static social structures to the perception of dynamic patterns of change. Seen from this perspective, crisis appears as an aspect of transformation. The Chinese, who have always had a thoroughly dynamic world view and a keen sense of history, seem to have been well aware of this profound connection between crisis and change. The term they use for 'crisis' - wei-ji - is composed of the characters for 'danger' and 'opportunity.'

Western sociologists have confirmed this ancient intuition. Studies of periods of cultural transformation in various societies have shown that these transformations are typically preceded by a variety of social indicators, many of them identical to the symptoms of our current crisis. They include a sense of alienation and an increase in mental illness, violent crime, and social disruption, as well as an increased interest in religious cultism - all of which have been observed in our society during the past decade. In times of historic cultural change these indicators have tended to appear one to three decades before the central transformation, rising in frequency and intensity as the transformation is approaching, and falling again after it has occurred.10

Cultural transformations of this kind are essential steps in the development of civilizations. The forces underlying this development are complex, and historians are far from having a comprehensive theory of cultural dynamics, but it seems that all civilizations go through similar cyclical processes of genesis, growth, breakdown, and disintegration. The following graph shows this striking pattern for the major civilizations around the Mediterranean.11

Among the foremost if more conjectural studies of these patterns in the rise and fall of civilizations is Arnold Toynbee's A Study of History,12 According to Toynbee, the genesis of a civilization consists of a transition from a static condition to dynamic activity. This transition may occur spontaneously, through the influence of some civilization that is already in existence or through the disintegration of one or more civilizations of an older generation. Toynbee sees the basic pattern in the genesis of civilizations as a pattern of interaction which he calls 'challenge-and-response.' A challenge from the natural or social environment provokes a creative response in a society, or a social group, which induces that society to enter the process of civilization.

The civilization continues to grow when its successful response to the initial challenge generates cultural momentum that carries the society beyond a state of equilibrium into an overbalance that presents itself as a fresh challenge. In this way the initial pattern of challenge-and-response is repeated in successive phases of growth, each successful response producing a disequilibrium that requires new creative adjustments,

Rise-and-fall patterns of the major civilizations around the Mediterranean.

The recurrent rhythm in cultural growth seems to be related to processes of fluctuation that have been observed throughout the ages and were always regarded as part of the fundamental dynamics of the universe. Ancient Chinese philosophers believed that ail manifestations of reality are generated by the dynamic interplay between two polar forces which they called the yin and the yang. Heraclitus, in ancient Greece, compared the world order to an ever living fire, kindling in measures and going out in measures.' Empedocles attributed the changes in the universe to the ebb and flow of two complementary forces, which he called 'love' and 'hate.'

The idea of a fundamental universal rhythm has also been expressed by numerous philosophers of modern times.13 Saint-Simon saw the histories of civilizations as a series of alternating 'organic' and 'critical' periods; Herbert Spencer viewed the universe as moving through a series of 'integrations' and "differentiations'; and Hegel saw human history as a spiral development from one form of unity through a phase of disunity, and on to reintegration on a higher plane. Indeed, the ideal of fluctuating patterns seems to be very useful for the study of cultural evolution.

After civilizations have reached a peak of vitality, they tend to lose their cultural steam and decline. An essential element in this cultural breakdown, according to Toynbee, is a loss of flexibility. When social structures and behavior patterns have become so rigid that the society can no longer adapt to changing situations, it will be unable to carry on the creative process of cultural evolution. It will break down and, eventually, disintegrate. Whereas growing civilizations display endless variety and versatility, those in the process of disintegration show uniformity and lack of inventiveness. The loss of flexibility in a disintegrating society is accompanied by a general loss of harmony among its elements, which inevitably leads to the outbreak of social discord and disruption.

However, during the painful process of disintegration the society's creativity - its ability to respond to challenges - is not completely lost. Although the cultural mainstream has become petrified by clinging to fixed ideas and rigid patterns of behavior, creative minorities will appear on the scene and carry on the process of challenge-and-response. The dominant social institutions will refuse to hand over their leading roles to these new cultural forces, but they will inevitably go on to decline and disintegrate, and the creative minorities may be able to transform some of the old elements into a new configuration. The process of cultural evolution will then continue, but in new circumstances and with new protagonists.

The cultural patterns Toynbee described seem to fit our current situation very well. Looking at the nature of our challenges - not at the various symptoms of crisis but at the underlying changes in our natural and social environments - we can recognize the confluence of several transitions.14 Some of them are connected with natural resources, others with cultural values and ideas, some are parts of periodic fluctuations, others occur within patterns of rise-and-fall. Each of these processes has a distinct time span, or periodicity, but all of them involve periods of transition that happen to coincide at the present moment. Among these transitions are three that will shake the very foundations of our lives and will deeply affect our social, economic, and political system.

The first and perhaps most profound transition is due to the slow and reluctant but inevitable decline of patriarchy. '^ The time span associated with patriarchy is at least three thousand years, a period so long that we cannot say whether we are dealing with a cyclical process because the information we have about prepatriarchal eras is far too tenuous. What we do know is that for the past three thousand years Western civilization and its precursors, as well as most other cultures, have been based on philosophical, social, and political systems 'in which men - by force, direct pressure, or through ritual, tradition, law and language, customs, etiauette, education, and the division of labor - determine what part women shall or shall not play, and in which the female is everywhere subsumed under the male.'16

The power of patriarchy has been extremely difficult to understand because it is all-pervasive. It has influenced our most basic ideas about human nature and about our relation to the universe - ^man's' nature and 'his' relation to the universe, in patriarchal language. It is the one system which, until recently, had never in recorded history been openly challenged, and whose doctrines were so universally accepted that they seemed to be laws of nature; indeed, they were usually presented as such. Today, however, the disintegration of patriarchy is in sight. The feminist movement is one of the strongest cultural currents of our time and will have a profound effect on our further evolution.

The second transition that will have a profound impact on our lives is forced upon us by the decline of the fossil-fuel age. Fossil fuels* - coal, oil, and natural gas - have been the principal sources of energy for the modern industrial era, and as we run out of them this era will come to an end. (*Fossil fuels are residues of fossilized plants, plants that were buried in the earth's crust and transformed into their present stale by chemical reactions over long periods of time.) From the broad historical perspective of cultural evolution, the fossil-fuel age and the industrial era are but a brief episode, a thin peak around the year 2000 on our graph. Fossil fuels will be exhausted by the year 2300, but the economic and political effects of this decline are already being felt. This decade will be marked by the transition from the fossil-fuel age to a solar age, powered by renewable energy from the sun; a shift that will involve radical changes in our economic and political systems.

The third transition is again connected with cultural values. It involves what is now often called a 'paradigmf shift' (*From the Greek paradeigma ("pattern").) - a profound change in the thoughts, perceptions, and values that form a particular vision of reality.17 The paradigm that is now shifting has dominated our culture for several hundred years, during which it has shaped our modern Western society and has significantly influenced the rest of the world. This paradigm comprisesa number of ideas and values that differ sharply from those of the Middle Ages; values that have been associated with various streams of Western culture, among them the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution. They include the belief in the scientific method as the only valid approach to knowledge; the view of the universe as a mechanical system composed of elementary material building blocks; the view of life in society as a competitive struggle for existence; and the belief in unlimited material progress to be achieved through economic and technological growth. During the past decades all these ideas and values have been found severely limited and in need of radical revision.

From our broad perspective of cultural evolution, the current paradigm shift is part of a larger process, a strikingly regular fluctuation of value systems that can be traced throughout Western civilization and most other cultures. These fluctuating changes of values and their effects on all aspects of society, at least in the West, have been mapped out by the sociologist Pitirim Sorokin in a monumental four-volume work written between 1937 and 1941.\s Sorokin's grand scheme for the synthesis of Western history is based on the cyclical waxing and waning of three basic value systems that underlie all manifestations of a culture.

Fossil-fuel age in the context of cultural evolution.

Sorokin calls these three value systems the sensate, the ideational, and the idealistic. The sensate value system holds that matter alone is the ultimate reality, and that spiritual phenomena are but a manifestation of matter. It professes that all ethical values are relative and that sensory perception is the only source of knowledge and truth. The ideational value system is profoundly different. It holds that true reality lies beyond the material world, in the spiritual realm, and that knowledge can be obtained through inner experience. It subscribes to absolute ethical values and superhuman standards of justice, truth, and beauty. Western representations of the ideational concept of spiritual reality include Platonic ideas, the soul, and Judeo-Christian images of God, but Sorokin points out that similar ideas are expressed in the East, in different form, in Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist cultures.

Sorokin contends that the cyclical rhythms of interplay between sensate and ideational expressions of human culture also produce an intermediate, synthesizing stage - the idealistic - which represents their harmonious blending. According to idealistic beliefs, true reality has both sensory and supersensory aspects which coexist within an all-embracing unity. Idealistic cultural periods thus tend to attain the highest and noblest expressions of both ideational and sensate styles, producing balance, integration, and esthetic fulfillment in art, philosophy, science, and technology. Examples of such idealistic periods are the Greek flowering of the fifth and fourth centuries, b.c , and the European Renaissance.

These three basic patterns of human cultural expression have, according to Sorokin, produced identifiable cycles in Western civilization, which he has plotted on dozens of charts for belief systems, wars and internal conflicts, scientific and technological development, and law and various other social institutions. He has also charted fluctuations of style in architecture, painting, sculpture, and literature. In Sorokin's model the current paradigm shift and the decline of the Industrial Age are another period of maturation and decline of sensate culture. The rise of our current sensate era was preceded by the ascendancy of ideational culture during the rise of Christianity and the Middle Ages, and by the subsequent flowering of an idealistic stage during the Eruopean Renaissance. It was the slow decline of these ideational and idealistic epochs in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that gave way to the rise of a new sensate period in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, an era marked by the value system of the Enlightenment, the scientific views of Descartes and Newton, and the technology of the Industrial Revolution. In the twentieth century these sensate values and ideas are on the decline again, and thus in 1937, with great foresight, Sorokin predicted as the twilight of sensate culture the paradigm shift and social upheavals we are witnessing today19

Sorokin's analysis suggests very forcefully that the crisis we are facing today is no ordinary crisis but one of the great transition phases that have occurred in previous cycles of human history. These profound cultural transformations do not take place very often. According to Lewis Mumford, there may have been fewer than half a dozen in the entire history of Western civilization, among them the rise of civilization with the invention of agriculture at the beginning of the neolithic period, the rise of Christianity at the fall of the Roman Empire, and the transition from the Middle Ages to the Scientific Age.20

The transformation we are experiencing now may well be more dramatic than any of the preceding ones, because the rate of change in our age is faster than ever before, because the changes are more extensive, involving the entire globe, and because several major transitions are coinciding. The rhythmic recurrences and patterns of rise and decline lhat seem to dominate human cultural evolution have somehow conspired to reach their points of reversal at the same time. The decline of patriarchy, the end of the fossil-fuel age, and the paradigm shift occurring in the twilight of the sensate culture are all contributing to the same global process. The current crisis, therefore, is not just a crisis of individuals, governments, or social institutions; it is a transition of planetary dimensions. As individuals, as a society, as a civilization, and as a planetary ecosystem, we are reaching the turning point.


Cultural transformations of this magnitude and depth cannot be prevented. They should not be opposed but, on the contrary, should be welcomed as the only escape from agony, collapse, or mummification. What we need, to prepare ourselves for the great transition we are about to enter, is a deep reexamination of the main premises and values of our culture, a rejection of those conceptual models that have outlived their usefulness, and a new recognition of some of the values discarded in previous periods of our cultural history. Such a thorough change in the mentality of Western culture must naturally be accompanied by a profound modification of most social relationships and forms of social organization - by changes that will go far beyond the superficial measures of economic and political readjustment being considered by today's political leaders.

During this phase of revaluation and cultural rebirth it will be important to minimize the hardship, discord, and disruption that are inevitably involved in periods of great social change, and to make the transition as painless as possible. It will therefore be crucial to go beyond attacking particular social groups or institutions, and to show how their attitudes and behavior reflect a value system that underlies our whole culture and that has now become outdated. It will be necessary to recognize and widely communicate the fact that our current social changes are manifestations of a much broader, and inevitable, cultural transformation. Only then will we be able to approach the kind of harmonious, peaceful cultural transition described in one of humanity's oldest books of wisdom, the Chinese I Ching, or Book of Changes:

'The movement is natural, arising spontaneously. For this reason the transformation of the old becomes easy. The old is discarded and the new is introduced. Both measures accord with the time; therefore no harm results.'21

The model of cultural dynamics that will be used in our discussion of the current social transformation is based in part on Toynbee's ideas about the rise and fall of civilizations; on the age-old notion of a fundamental universal rhythm resulting in fluctuating cultural patterns; on Sorokin's analysis of the fluctuation of value systems; and on the ideal of harmonious cultural transitions portrayed in the / Ching.

The major alternative to this model, which is related to it but different in several aspects, is the Marxist view of history known as dialectic or historical materialism. According to Marx, the roots of social evolution lie not in a change of ideas or values but in economic and technological developments. The dynamics of change is that of a 'dialectic^ interplay of opposites arising from contradictions that are intrinsic to all things. Marx took this idea from the philosophy of Hegel and adapted it to his analysis of social change, asserting that all changes in society arise from the development of its internal contradictions. He saw the contradictory principles of social organization as being embodied in society's classes, and class struggle as a consequence of their dialectic interaction.

The Marxist view of cultural dynamics, being based on the Hegelian notion of recurrent rhythmic change, is not unlike the models of Toynbee, Sorokin, and the I Ching in that respect.22 However, it differs significantly from those models in its emphasis on conflict and struggle. Class struggle was the driving force of history for Marx, who held that all important historical progress was born in conflict, struggle, and violent revolution. Human suffering and sacrifice was a necessary price that had to be paid for social change.

The emphasis on struggle in Marx's theory of historical evolution paralleled Darwin's emphasis on struggle in biological evolution. In fact Marx's favorite image of himself is said to have been that of 'the Darwin of sociology.' The idea of life as an ongoing struggle for existence, which both Darwin and Marx owed to the economist Thomas Malthus, was vigorously promoted in the nineteenth century by the Social Darwinists, who influenced, if not Marx, certainly many of his followers.23 I believe their view of social evolution overemphasizes the role of struggle and conflict, overlooking the fact that all struggle in nature takes place within a wider context of cooperation. Although conflict and struggle have brought about important social progress in our past and will often be an essential part of the dynamics of change, this does not mean that they are the source of this dynamics. Therefore, following the philosophy of the / Ching rather than the Marxist view, I believe that conflict should be minimized in times of social transition.


In our discussion of cultural values and attitudes throughout this book we will make extensive use of a framework that is developed in great detail in the I Ching, and that lies at the very basis of Chinese thought. Like Sorokin's framework, it is based on the idea of continuous cyclical fluctuation, but it involves the much broader notion of two archetypal poles - yin and yang - underlying the fundamental rhythm of the universe.

The Chinese philosophers saw reality, whose ultimate essence they called Tao, as a process of continual flow and change. In their view all phenomena we observe participate in this cosmic process and are thus intrinsically dynamic. The principal characteristic of the Tao is the cyclical nature of its ceaseless motion; all developments in nature - those in the physical world as well as those in the psychological and social realms - show cyclical patterns. The Chinese gave this idea of cyclical patterns a definite structure by introducing the polar opposites yin and yang, the two poles that set the limits for the cycles of change: 'The yang having reached its climax retreats in favor of the yin; the yin having reached its climax retreats in favor of the yang.124

In the Chinese view, all manifestations of the Tao are generated by the dynamic interplay of these two archetypal poles, which are associated with many images of opposites taken from nature and from social life. It is important, and very difficult for us Westerners, to understand that these opposites do not belong to different categories but are extreme poles of a single whole. Nothing is only yin or only yang. All natural phenomena are manifestations of a continuous oscillation between the two poles, all transitions taking place gradually and in unbroken progression. The natural order is one of dynamic balance between yin and yang.

The terms yin and yang have recently become quite popular in the West, but they are rarely used in our culture in the Chinese sense. Most Western usage reflects cultural preconceptions that severely distort the original meanings. One of the best interpretations is given by Manfred Porkert in his comprehensive study of Chinese medicine.25 According to Porkert, yin corresponds to all that is contractive, responsive, and conservative, whereas yang implies all that is expansive, aggressive, and demanding. Further associations include, among many others:

















In Chinese culture yin and yang have never been associated with moral values. What is good is not yin or yang but the dynamic balance between the two; what is bad or harmful is imbalance.

From the earliest times of Chinese culture, yin was associated with the feminine and yang with the masculine. This ancient association is extremely difficult to assess today because of its reinierpretation and distortion in subsequent patriarchal eras. In human biology masculine and feminine characterstics are not neatly separated but occur, in varying proportions, in both sexes.26 Similarly, the Chinese ancients believed that all people, whether men or women, go through yin and yang phases. The personality of each man and each woman is not a static entity but a dynamic phenomenon resulting from the interplay between feminine and masculine elements. This view of human nature is in sharp contrast to that of our patriarchal culture, which has established a rigid order in which all men are supposed to be masculine and all women feminine, and has distorted the meaning of those terms by giving men the leading roles and most of society's privileges.

In view of this patriarchal bias, the frequent association of yin with passivity and yang with activity is particularly dangerous. In our culture women have traditionally been portrayed as passive and receptive, men as active and creative. This imagery goes back to Aristotle's theory of sexuality and has been used throughout the centuries as a "scientific^ rationale for keeping women in a subordinate role, subservient to men2 The association of yin with passivity and yang with activity seems to be yet another expression of patriarchal stereotypes, a modern Western interpretation that is very unlikely to reflect the original meaning of the Chinese terms.

One of the most important insights of ancient Chinese culture was the recognition that activity - *the constant flow of transformation and change,' as Chuang Tzu called it28 - is an essential aspect of the universe. Change, in this view, does not occur as a consequence of some force but is a natural tendency, innate in all things and situations. The universe is Wgaged in ceaseless motion and activity, in a continual cosmic process that the Chinese called Tao - the Way. The notion of absolute rest, or inactivity, was almost entirely absent from Chinese philosophy. According to Helhniit Wilhelm, one of the leading Western interpreters of the I Ching, 'The state of absolute immobility is such an abstraction that the Chinese . . . could not conceive it.'29

The term vm wei is frequently used in Taoist philosophy and means literally 'nonaction.' This is quite wrong. What the Chinese mean by zw wei is not abstaining from activity but abstaining from a certain kind of activity, activity that is out of harmony with the ongoing cosmic process. The distinguished sinologist Joseph Needham defines zuu wei as 'refraining from action contrary to nature' and justifies his translation with a quotation from Chuang Tzu: 'Nonaction does not mean doing nothing and keeping silent. Let everything be allowed to do what it naturally does, so that its nature will be satisfied.'30 If one refrains from acting contrary to nature or, as Needham says, from 'going against the grain of things,' one is in harmony with the Tao and thus one's actions will be successful. This is the meaning of Lao Tzu's seemingly puzzling statement: 'By nonaction everything can be done.'31

In the Chinese view, then, there seem to be two kinds of activity - activity in harmony with nature and activity against the natural flow of things. The idea of passivity, the complete absence of any action, is not entertained. Therefore the frequent Western association of yin and yang with passive and active behavior, respectively, does not seem to be consistent with Chinese thought. In view of the original imagery associated with the two archetypal poles, it would seem that yin can be interpreted as corresponding to responsive, consolidating, cooperative activity; yang as referring to aggressive, expanding, competitive activity. Yin action is conscious of the environment, yang action is conscious of the self. In modern terminology one could call the former 'eco-action' and the tatter 'ego-action.'

These two kinds of activity are closely related to two kinds of knowledge, or two modes of consciousness, which have been recognized as characteristic properties of the human maid throughout the ages. They are usually called the intuitive and the rational and have traditionally been associated with religion or mysticism and with science. Although the association of yin and yang with these two modes of consciousness is not part of the original Chinese terminology, it seems to be a natural extension of the ancient imagery and will be so regarded in our discussion.

The rational and the intuitive are complementary modes of functioning of the human mind. Rational thinking is linear, focused, and analytic. It belongs to the realm of the intellect, whose function it is to discriminate, measure, and categorize. Thus rational knowledge tends to be fragmented. Intuitive knowledge, on the other hand, is based on a direct, nonintel-lectual experience of reality arising in an expanded state of awareness. It tends to be synthesizing, holistic,* and nonlinear. From this it is apparent that rational knowledge is likely to generate self-centered, or yang, activity, whereas intuitive wisdom is the basis of ecological, or yin, activity. (*The term 'holistic/ from the Greek holes ('whole'), refers to an Wdersranding of reality in terms of integrated wholes whose properties <-ionot be reduced la chose of smaller unit-..)

This, then, is the framework for our exploration of cultural values and attitudes. For our purposes these associations of yin and yang will be most useful:
















Looking at this list of opposites, it is easy to see that our society has consistently favored the yang over the yin -rational knowledge over intuitive wisdom, science over religion, competition over cooperation, exploitation of natural resources over conservation, and so on. This emphasis, supported by the patriarchal system and farther encouraged by the dominance of sensate culture during the past three centuries, has led to a profound cultural imbalance which lies at the very root of our current crisis - an imbalance in our thoughts and feelings, our values and attitudes, and our social and political structures. In describing the various manifestations of this cultural imbalance, I shall pay particular attention to their effects on health, and want to use the concept of health in a very broad sense, including in it not only individual health but also social and ecological health. These three levels of health are closely interrelated and our current crisis constitutes a serious threat to all three of them. It threatens the health of individuals, of the society, and of the ecosystems of which we are a part.

Throughout this book I will attempt to show how the strikingly consistent preference for yang values, attitudes, and behavior patterns has resulted in a system of academic, political, and economic institutions that are mutually supportive and have become all but blind to the dangerous imbalance of the value system that motivates their activities. According to Chinese wisdom, none of the values pursued by our culture is intrinsically bad, but by isolating them from their polar opposites, by focusing on the yang and investing it with moral virtue and political power, we have brought about the current sad state of affairs. Our culture takes pride in being scientific; our time is referred to as the Scientific Age. It is dominated by rational thought, and scientific knowledge is often considered the only acceptable kind of knowledge. That there can be intuitive knowledge, or awareness, which is just as valid and reliable, is generally not recognized. This attitude, known as scientism, is widespread, pervading our educational system and all other social and political institutions. When President Lyndon Johnson needed dvice about warfare in Vietnam, his administration turned a theoretical physicists - not because they were specialists in the methods of electronic warfare, but because they were considered the high priests of science, guardians of supreme knowledge. We can now say, with hindsight, that Johnson might have been much better served had he sought his advice from some of the poets. But that, of course, was - and stili is - unthinkable.

The emphasis on rational thought in our culture is epitomized in Descartes^ celebrated statement 'Cogito, ergo sum' - 'I think, therefore I exist' - which forcefully encouraged Western individuals to equate their identity with their rational mind rather than with their whole organism. We shall see that the effects of this division between mind and body are felt throughout our culture. Retreating into our minds, we have forgotten how to 'think' with our bodies, how to use them as agents of knowing. In. doing so we have also cut ourselves off from our natural environment and have forgotten how to commune and cooperate with its rich variety of living organisms.

The division between mind and matter led to a view of the universe as a mechanical system consisting of separate objects, which in turn were reduced to fundamental material building blocks whose properties and interactions were thought to completely determine all natural phenomena. This Cartesian view of nature was further extended to living organisms, which were regarded as machines constructed from separate parts. We shall see that such a mechanistic conception of the world is still at the basis of most of our sciences and continues to have a tremendous influence on many aspects of our lives. It has led to the welt-known fragmentation in our academic disciplines and government agencies and has served as a rationale for treating the natural environment as if it consisted of separate parts, to be exploited by different interest groups.

Exploitation of nature has gone hand in hand with that of women, who have been identified with nature throughout the ages. From the earliest times nature - and especially the earth - was seen as a kind and nurturing mother, but also as a wild and uncontrollable female. In prepatriarchal eras her many aspects were identified with the numerous manifestations of the Goddess. Under patriarchy the benign image of nature changed into one of passivity, whereas the view of nature as wild and dangerous gave rise to the idea that she was to be dominated by man. At the same time women were portrayed as passive and subservient to men. With the rise of Newtonian science, finally, nature became a mechanical system that could be manipulated and exploited, together with the manipulation and exploitation of women. The ancient association of woman and nature thus interlinks women's history and the history of the environment, and is the source of a natural kinship between feminism and ecology which is manifesting itself increasingly. In the words of Carolyn Merchant, historian of science at the University of California, Berkeley:

In investigating the roots of our current environmental dilemma and its connections to science, technology and the economy, we must re-examine the formation of a world-view and a science which, by re-conceptualizing reality as a machine rather than a living organism, sanctioned the domination of both nature and women. The contributions of such founding "fathers' of modern science as Francis Bacon, William Harvey, Rene Descartes, Thomas Hobbes and Isaac Newion must be re-evaluated.32

The view of man as dominating nature and woman, and the belief in the superior role of the rational mind, have been supported and encouraged by the Judeo-Christian tradition, which adheres to the image of a male god, personification of supreme reason and source of ultimate power, who rules the world from above by imposing his divine law on it. The laws of nature searched for by the scientists were seen as reflections of this divine law, originating in the mind of God.

It is now becoming apparent that overemphasis on the scientific method and on rational, analytic thinking has led to attitudes that are profoundly antiecological. [a truth, the understanding of ecosystems is hindered by the very nature of the rational mind. Rational thinking is linear, whereas ecological awareness arises from an intuition of nonlinear systems. One of the most difficult things for people in our culture to understand is the fact that if you do something that is good, then more of the same will not necessarily be better. This, to me,is the essence of ecological thinking. Ecosystems sustain themselves in a dynamic balance based on cycles and fluctuations, which are nonlinear processes. Linear enterprises, such as indefinite economic and technological growth - or, to give a more specific example, the storage of radioactive waste over enormous time spans - will necessarily interfere with the natural balance and, sooner or later, wilt cause severe damage.

Ecological awareness, then, will arise only when we combine our rational knowledge with an intuition for the nonlinear nature of our environment. Such intuitive wisdom is characteristic of traditional, nonliterate cultures, especially of American Indian cultures, in which life was organized around a highly refined awareness of the environment. In the mainstream of our culture, on the other hand, the cultivation of intuitive wisdom has been neglected. This may be related to the fact that, in our evolution, there has been an increasing separation between the biological and cultural aspects of human nature. Biological evolution of the human species stopped some fifty thousand years ago. From then on, evolution proceeded no longer genetically but socially and culturally, while the human body and brain remained essentially the same in structure and size." In our civilization we have modified our environment to such an extent during this cultural evolution that we have lost touch with our biological and ecological base more than any other culture and any other civilization in the past. This separation manifests itself in a striking disparity between the development of intellectual power, scientific knowledge, and technological skills, on the one hand, and of wisdom, spirituality, and ethics on the other. Scientific and technological knowledge has grown enormously since the Greeks embarked on the scientific venture in the sixth century B c. But during these twenty-five centuries there has been hardly any progress in the conduct of social affairs. The spirituality and moral standards of Lao Tzu and Buddha, who also lived in the sixth century b.c., were clearly not inferior to ours.

Our progress, then, has been largely a rational and intellectual affair, and this one-sided evolution has now reached a highly alarming stage, a situation so paradoxical that it borders insanity. We can control the soft landings of space craft on distant planets, but we are unable to control the polluting fumes emanating from our cars and factories. We propose Utopian communities in gigantic space colonies, but cannot manage our cities. The business world makes us believe that huge industries producing pet foods and cosmetics are a sign of our high standards of living, while economists try to tell us we cannot 'afford' adequate health care, education, or public transport. Medical science and pharmacology are endangering our health, and the Defense Department has become the greatest threat to our national security. Those are the results of overemphasizing our yang, or masculine side - rational knowledge, analysis, expansion - and neglecting our yin, or feminine side - intuitive wisdom, synthesis, and ecological awareness.

The yin/yang terminology is especially useful in an analysis of cultural imbalance that adopts a broad ecological view, a view that could also be called a systems view, in the sense of general systems theory.34 Systems theory looks at the world in terms of the interrelaiedness and interdependence of all phenomena, and in this framework an integrated whole whose properties cannot be reduced to those of its parts is called a system. Living organisms, societies, and ecosystems are all systems. It is fascinating to see that the ancient Chinese idea ofyin and yang is related to an essential property of natural systems that has only recently been studied in Western science.

Living systems are organized in such a way that they form multi-leveled structures, each level consisting of subsystems which are wholes in regard to their parts, and parts with respect to the larger wholes. Thus molecules combine to form organelles, which in turn combine to form cells. The cells form tissues and organs, which themselves form larger systems, like the digestive system or the nervous system. These, finally, combine to form the living woman or man; and the 'stratified order'* does not end there. People form families, tribes, societies, nations. All these entities - from molecules to human beings, and on to social systems - can be regarded as wholes in the sense of being integrated structures, and also as parts of larger wholes at higher levels of complexity. In fact, we shall see that parts and wholes in an absolute sense do not exist at all.

Arthur Koestler has coined the word 'holons' for these subsystems which are both wholes and parts, and he has emphasized that each holon has two opposite tendencies: an btegrative tendency to function as part of the larger whole, and a self-assertive tendency to preserve its individual autonomy.3^ In a biological or social system each holon must assert its individuality in order to maintain the system's stratified order, but it must also submit to the demands of the whole in order to make the system viable. These two tendencies are opposite but complementary. In a healthy system - an individual, a society, or an ecosystem - there is a balance between integration and self-assertion. This balance is not static but consists of a dynamic interplay between the two complementary tendencies, which makes the whole system flexible and open to change.

The relation between modem systems theory and ancient Chinese thought now becomes apparent. The Chinese sages seem to have recognized the basic polarity that is characteristic of living systems. Self-assertion is achieved by displaying yang behavior; by being demanding, aggressive, competitive, expanding, and - as far as human behavior is conceraed-by using linear, analytic thinking. Integration is furthered by yin behavior; by being responsive, cooperative, intuitive, and aware of one's environment. Both yin and yang, integrative and self-assertive tendencies, are necessary for harmonious social and ecological relationships.

Excessive self-assertion manifests itself as power, control, and domination of others by force; and these are, indeed, the patterns prevalent in our society. Political and economic power is exerted by a dominant corporate class; social hierarchies are maintained along racist and sexist lines, and rape has become a central metaphor of our culture - rape of women, of minority groups, and of the earth herself. Our science and technology are based on the seventeenth-century belief that an understanding of nature implies domination of nature by 'man.' Combined with the mechanistic model of the universe, which also originated in the seventeenth century, and with excessive emphasis on linear thinking, this attitude has produced a technology that is unhealthy and inhuman; a technology in which the natural, organic habitat of complex human beings is replaced by a simplified, synthetic, and prefabricated environment.i6

This technology is aimed at control, mass production, and standardization, and is subjected, most of the time, to centralized management that pursues the illusion of indefinite growth. Thus the self-assertive tendency keeps increasing, and with it the requirement of submission, which is not the complement to self-assertion but the reverse side of the same phenomenon. While self-assertive behavior is presented as the ideal for men, submissive behavior is expected from women, but also from employees and executives who are required to deny their personal identities and to adopt the corporate identity and behavior patterns^ A similar situation exists in our educational system, in which self-assertiveness is rewarded as far as competitive behavior is concerned, but is discouraged when expressed in terms of original ideas and questioning of authority.

Promotion of competitive behavior over cooperation is one of the principal manifestations of the self-assertive tendency our society. It is rooted in the erroneous view of nature S^ld by the Social Darwinists of the nineteenth century, who believed that all life in society had to be a struggle for existence ruled by 'survival of the fittest.' Accordingly, competition has been seen as the driving force of the economy, the 'aggressive approach' has become the ideal of the business world, and this behavior has been combined with the exploitation of natural resources to create patterns of competitive consumption.

Aggressive, competitive behavior alone, of course, would make life impossible. Even the most ambitious, goal-oriented individuals need sympathetic support, human contact, and times of carefree spontaneity and relaxation. In our culture women are expected, and often forced, to fulfill these needs. They are the secretaries, receptionists, hostesses, nurses, and homemakers who perform the services that make life more comfortable and create the atmosphere in which the competitors can succeed. They cheer up their bosses and make coffee for them; they help smooth out conflicts in the office; they are the first to receive visitors and entertain them with small talk. In doctors' offices and hospitals women provide most of the human contact with patients that initiates the healing process. In physics departments women make the tea and serve the cookies over which the men discuss their theories. All these services involve yin, or integrative, activities, and since they rank lower in our value system than the yang, or self-assertive, activities, those who perform them get paid less. Indeed, many of them, such as mothers and housewives, are not paid at all.

From this short survey of cultural attitudes and values we can see that our culture has consistently promoted and rewarded the yang, the masculine or self-assertive elements of human nature, and has disregarded its yin, the feminine or "^tuitive aspects. Today, however, we are witnessing the oePnni^g of a tremendous evolutionary movement. The "^nung point we are about to reach marks, among many other things, a reversal in the fluctuation between yin and yang. As the Chinese text says. The yang, having reached its climax, retreats in favor of the yin." Our 1960s and 1970s have generated a whole series of philosophical, spiritual, and political movements that seem to go in the same direction. They all counteract the overemphasis on yang attitudes and values, and try to reestablish a balance between the masculine and feminine sides of human nature,

There is a rising concern with ecology, expressed by citizen movements that are forming around social and environmental issues, pointing out the limits to growth, advocating a new ecological ethic, and developing appropriate 'soft' technologies. In the political arena the antinuclear movement is fighting the most extreme outgrowth of our self-assertive 'macho' technology and, in doing so, is likely to become one of the most powerful political forces of this decade. At the same time there is the beginning of a significant shift in values - from the admiration of large-scale enterprises and institutions to the notion of 'small is beautiful,' from material consumption to voluntary simplicity, from economic and technological growth to inner growth and development. These new values are being promoted by the 'human potential' movement, the ^holistic health' movement, and various spiritual movements. Perhaps most important, the old value system is being challenged and profoundly changed by the rise of feminist awareness originating in the women's movement. These various movements form what cultural historian Theodore Roszak has called the counter culture.37 So far, many of them still operate separately and have not yet seen how much their purposes interrelate. Thus the human potential movement and the holistic health movement often lack a social perspective, while spiritual movements tend to lack ecological awareness, with Eastern gurus displaying "Western capitalist status symbols and spending considerable time building their economic empires. However, some movements have recently begun to form coalitions. As would be expected, the ecology movement and the feminist movement are joining forces on several issues, notably nuclear power, and environmental groups, consumer groups, and ethnic liberation movements are beginning to make contacts. We can anticipate that, once they have recognized the commonality of their aims, all these movements will flow together and form a powerful force of social transformation. I shall call this force the rising culture, following Toynbee's persuasive model of cultural dynamics:

During the disintegration of a civilization, two separate plays with different plots are being performed simultaneously side by side. While an unchanging dominant minority is perpetually rehearsing its own defeat, fresh challenges are perpetually evoking fresh creative responses from newly recruited minorities, which proclaim their own creative power by rising, each time, to the occasion. The drama of challenge-and-response continues to be performed, but in new circumstances and with new actors.

From this broad historical perspective cultures are seen to come and go in rhythms, and preserving cultural traditions may not always be the most desirable aim. What we have to do to minimize the hardship of inevitable change is recognize the changing conditions as clearly as possible and transform our lives and our social institutions accordingly. I shall argue that physicists can play an important role in this process. Since the seventeenth century physics has been the shining example of an 'exact' science, and has served as the model for all the other sciences. For two and a half centuries physicists have used a mechanistic view of the world to develop and refine the conceptual framework known as classical physics. They have based their ideas on the mathematical theory of Isaac Newton, the philosophy of Rene Descartes, and the scientific methodology advocated by Francis Bacon, and developed them in accordance with the general conception of reality prevalent during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Matter was thought to be the basis of all existence, and the material world was seen as a multitude of separate objects assembled into a huge machine. Like human-made machines, the cosmic machine was thought to consist of elementary parts. Consequently it was believed that complex phenomena could always be understood by reducing them to their basic building blocks and by looking for the mechanisms through which these interacted. This attitude, known as reduclionism, has become so deeply ingrained in our culture that it has often been identified with the scientific method. The other sciences accepted the mechanistic and reductionistic views of classical physics as the correct description of reality and modeled their own theories accordingly. Whenever psychologists, sociologists, or economists wanted to be scientific, they naturally turned toward the basic concepts of Newtonian physics.

In the twentieth century, however, physics has gone through several conceptual revolutions that clearly reveal the limitations of the mechanistic world view and lead to an organic, ecological view of the world which shows great similarities to the views of mystics of all ages and traditions. The universe is no longer seen as a machine, made up of a multitude of separate objects, but appears as a harmonious indivisible whole; a network of dynamic relationships that include the human observer and his or her consciousness in an essential way. The fact that modern physics, the manifestation of an extreme specialization of the rational mind; is now making contact with mysticism, the essence of religion and manifestation of an extreme specialization of the intuitive mind, shows very beautifully the unity and complementary nature of the rational and intuitive modes of consciousness; of the yang and the yin. Physicists, therefore, can provide the scientific background to the changes in attitudes and values that our society so urgently needs. In a culture dominated by science, it will be much easier to convince our social institutions that fundamental changes are necessary if we can give our arguments a scientific basis. That is what physicists can now provide. Modern physics can show the other sciences that scientific thinking does not necessarily have to be reductionist and mechanistic, that holistic and ecological views are also sciendfically sound.

One of the main lessons that physicists have had to learn in this century has been the fact that all the concepts and theories we use to describe nature are limited. Because of the essential limitations of the rational mind, we have to accept the fact that, as Werner Heisenberg phrases it, "every word or concept, clear as it may seem to be, has only a limited range of applicability.'39 Scientific theories can never provide a complete and definitive description of reality. They will always be approximations to the true nature of things. To put it bluntly, scientists do not deal with truth; they deal with limited and approximate descriptions of reality.

At the beginning of the century, when physicists extended the range of their investigations into the realms of atomic and subatomic phenomena, they suddenly became aware of the limitations of their classical ideas and had to radically revise many of their basic concepts about reality. The experience of questioning the very basis of their conceptual framework and of being forced to accept profound modifications of their most cherished ideas was dramatic and often painful for those scientists, especially during the first three decades of the century, but it was rewarded by deep insights into the nature of matter and the human mind.

I believe this experience can serve as a useful lesson for other scientists, many of whom have now reached the limits of the Cartesian world view in their fields. Like the physicists, they will have to accept the fact that we must modify or even abandon some of our concepts when we expand the realm of our experience or field of study. The following chapters will show how the natural sciences, as well as the humanities and social sciences, have modeled themselves after classical Newtonian physics. Now that physicists have gone far beyond this model, it is time for the other sciences to expand their underlying philosophies.

Among the sciences that have been influenced by the Cartesian world view and by Newtonian physics, and will have to change to be consistent with the views of modern physics, I shall concentrate on those dealing with health in the broadest ecological sense: from biology and medical science to psychology and psychotherapy, sociology, economics, and political science. In all these fields the limitations of the classical. Cartesian world view are now becoming apparent. To transcend the classical models scientists will have to go beyond the mechanistic and reductionist approach as we have done in physics, and develop holistic and ecological views. Although their theories will need to be consistent with those of modern physics, the concepts of physics will generally not be appropriate as a model for the other sciences. However, they may still be very helpful. Scientists will not need to be reluctant to adopt a holistic framework, as they often are today, for fear of being unscientific. Modern physics can show them that such a framework is not only scientific but is in agreement with the most advanced scientific theories of physical reality.


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