Taoism on Knowledge—“Who rules the realm with knowledge, is the terror of the realm”

The modern West apparently believes the public’s knowledge can be increased, and that this will be a positive thing. But 2,500 year old Taoist wisdom sees our relationship with knowledge quite differently…

The ancient masters of the Way

tried not to enlighten but to keep people in the dark

what makes people hard to rule

is their knowledge

who rules the realm with knowledge

is the terror of the realm

Tao Te Ching, ch 65

What evidence is there for the West’s belief? What evidence is there for the East’s belief? What does reality show? Let’s look at the current situation in the United States, thru the lens of taoist thought…

It was claimed the information age would be an enlightenment, yet it has turned out more like a disinformation age (described by many as “post-truth,” “post-reason” and “the death of expertise”). But really, how else could it have been? The public are not specialists; therefore they can not understand specialized information. They can only believe they understand something, which they do not (e.g “believe science” and “trustworthy news”). But knowledge, as Lao Tzu and Confucius pointed out thousands of years ago, is often more about knowing that you do not know things.

“Recognizing that you know what you know, and recognizing that you do not know what you do not know, this is knowledge.” —Confucius Analects 2:17


Furthermore, what is the source of this knowledge? The information is largely sourced and controlled by 1) industry-driven science, media and tech corporations, and 2) the state. Inevitably, the more people discover true information which is dangerous to establishment interests, the more the establishment must obfuscate with a larger assault of false information. Just as it has always been, but amplified today with new technology. And this escalating cycle leaves the public confused and bickering. And thus—those who rule with knowledge, as in the case of a (GOOG, TWTR, FB, CNN, FOX, NYT, WSJ), are “the terror of the realm.”

The reality is that people don’t necessarily know more now, than they did back then. Industrial-technological society may know more than it did, empirically speaking, but even in this narrowed category of knowing it has “un-knowed” many things both by empirical sophistry and by the nature of its narrow focus. Meanwhile, the people themselves are biologically the same as they’ve been for thousands of years; with the same finite lifespans, limited hours in the day, and limited minds. They can only know what they know, which isn’t very much. Really, most everything people need to know in life they know from instinct and intuition; and passed-down wisdoms from family, tradition, and religion. Just as it has always been. Actually, it may be that people know less now, not more, as a result of all this “knowledge.”

As one scholar put it…

When you rouse the people with sophistry, treacherous thoughts arise. When you counter their deceptions with more sophistry, the people see through your tricks and avoid them. Thus, they become secretive and devious.—Wang Pi, scholar ~200AD

And so…

Once you know that knowledge spreads evil and lack of knowledge spreads virtue, you understand the key to cultivating the self and governing the realm.—Ho-Shang Kung, Taoist master ~150BC

“Who rules without knowledge, is the paragon of the realm”

In the second half of the verse, the Tao Te Ching points us to a better answer; which accepts the hard realities of knowledge. As usual these ancient heuristics advise us to retrace our steps, go the other way, try the opposite of what failed…

who rules without knowledge

is the paragon of the realm

who understands the difference

is one who finds the key

knowing how to find the key

is what we call Dark Virtue

Dark Virtue goes deep

goes far

goes the other way

until it reaches perfect harmony

Tao Te Ching, ch 65

To rule without knowledge is to leave the people alone, to let them be as they naturally are; merely simple people. Not having their minds inundated with “knowledge,” people don’t falsely believe they know things. When they don’t falsely believe they know things, their pedantic bickering never begins. And when their pedantic bickering never begins, harmony is maintained.

A “paragon” is a perfect example, in this case, of leadership. “Dark Virtue” is unknowable with knowledge; only knowable thru a deep instinctual knowing. “Going the other way,” is going backwards, the opposite way of others, back to our natural base state.



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Sol 太阳 쏠

Sino-philosophy: Confucianism, Dao De Jing, and Legalism. Comparative philosophy: Anglo vs Sino thought-lineages—we can use both!