Tao. “The Way”. A concept of Confucian thought which has something in common with the principles of Lean Logic. Tao refers to the ideal way of life, whose key features include the following:Tao | SPEAKZEASY

Te is the virtue—generosity, ritual, humility—which enables a person (originally, the ruler) to tread The Way.

Jen—kindness—is a concern and engagement with all living things (related to caritas and encounter).

Li refers to rituals, behaviour and tradition as integral to a person’s participation in the community.

Yi is the sense of rightness, truthfulness and courage which underpins judgment.

Confucian thinkers have disagreed about why the ideal should have any moral standing, with much debate centring on the significance of hsing (the intrinsic nature of something or someone), which came to mean the way a thing will develop its potential if unobstructed. One interpretation is that there is an intrinsic ethical quality to what it means to be human in the natural world: human nature and Nature converge. The other is that hsing is a self-regarding cultivation of one’s own potential.T3

These debates do not do justice to the concept of Tao or—more generally—The Way, which appears to have been almost universal among traditional societies. It brings together in one principle the idea that there is an enchantment and rightness in common to the cosmos and to human affairs alike, whose absence is the leading symptom of a society or a community in trouble. Tao represents all that is right in the universe, including the human sphere itself and the spirit world which underpins it, which is the source of its order and of the possibility of happiness.T4

In Local Wisdom we see just this principle in the villages of Tsarist Russia. And in the Lean Economy, the only way human society can survive at all is by developing an ethic in the spirit of Tao.


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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was an economist, historian and writer, based in London. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, Lean Logic and Surviving the Future. A film about his perspective and legacy - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - was released in 2019, directed by BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong. For more information, including on Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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