Dao Du Jour, Day 65: The Known Unknown

Chapter 65

“The ancient masters didn’t try to educate people,

but kindly taught them to not-know.

When they think that they know the answers,

People are difficult to guide.

When they know that they don’t know,

People can find their own way.”

~ Stephen Mitchell (trans.), Tao Te Ching: A New English Version (New York: Harper Perennial), 2006.

One of the most common complaints from the Professional Managerial Class is that they are too busy. They are overscheduled, overcommitted, stretched too thin. They have difficulty saying no to things. That’s what they’ve been trained to do by our education system. They got the first half of Lao-Tzu’s adage—“to gain knowledge, add something everyday”—but not the second half—“to gain wisdom, subtract something everyday.” In the age of Twitter, even the Daodejing becomes TLDR.

The ideology of the meritocracy and the animating spirit of the knowledge economy is governed by the logic of addition: more data, more information, more connections, more growth, more degrees, more certifications—more more. To paraphrase E.F. Schumacher, perhaps a Daoist economics—a wisdom economy—would follow a logic of subtraction. It would be based on a basic faith in the innate wisdom of each person. The education in such a society would be wisdom-centric, not fact- or even skill-centric: toward helping young people cultivate the intellectual and moral virtues needed to know what they don’t know. To have an economy as if people mattered, we need an education system designed as if wisdom matters.

With that foundation, the acquisition of knowledge and the gathering of information would take care of themselves. The process would be focused, selective, and efficient. As it stands, our economic and educational systems generally hold an inverted view of the hierarchy of knowledge. The natural hierarchy is wisdom/knowledge/information. But in the information age, ruled by what Yuval Noah Harari calls the “religion of Dataism”, the Fact has been uprooted from its natural environment, decoupled from its original context, and served up to the gods of the algorithm for reassignment and the individual for consumption. Meaning is thus deregulated, and action in a meaningless world is hard. Without a coherent understanding of the world (knowledge) and the ability to act and live well (wisdom), information is pointless.

New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”

What Do You Think?