Simon Duffy

Thoughts, Bemusements & Arguments

Date: 7th January 2012

Tools Don’t Work

Give a man a tool and he’ll go and build himself a tool-shed.

Collecting tools is far easier than finding out how to use them well.

Tools do no work – only human beings do the work. Tools, if well used, just make that work easier.

This simple truth is so easy to forget. Just as men go and buy power tools and gadgets that they will never use – and certainly will never master – so do governments buy into concepts and social innovations that (at best) are only useful tools. But when the state enforces the application of those tools then you can be assured that tool will rarely be used well, and certainly will never be mastered.

Varun tells a story of how he designed a wonderful solar oven to help poor villagers in India. But, when he came back to the villages, where these ovens were to be used, he found that people were simply using the ovens as cupboards. This was not from stupidity – cupboards was what they really needed.

Ultimately the value of a tool does not lie in its use but in the outcomes it achieves. It is only by looking at things from the perspective of our real needs and aspirations that the true value of a tool will be discovered.

Sadly, concepts like Personalisation, Individual Budgets, Self-Directed Support, Person-Centred Planning, and so many other attractive and often useful concepts, are all now tainted by the mindless enthusiasm of government. By making someone use a tool (especially a tool that you do not understand yourself) you guarantee that it will be either obsolete or put to an entirely different use.

Different People, Equal Joy

We are born into a human body and we find great joy in it. Yet there are other lives within the transformation of the ten thousand beings that are just as good and equally full of joy. 

Chuang Tze from the Tao Te Ching

Taoism recognises the value of human diversity – there is no one joy, there is no one right way of being, there is no one type of person who is the best.

Cultivate Yourself First

The sage of old cultivated himself before he attempted to help others. If you yourself are not cultivated, what help could you possibly be for others? Do you know how virtue is lost and how mere knowledge arises? True virtue can be destroyed by fame, and mere knowledge is often reached by conflict. Fame is something that can be used to beat down others and knowledge is used to attack others. Both are instruments of evil and the sage has no need of either.

Confucius quoted in the Tao Te Ching

Confucius is talking to an enthusiastic do-gooder who wishes to tutor a tyrannical prince. The whole discussion is very interesting. Each time the young man suggests that he has found the right way to influence power then Confucius explains how the strategy will fail.

To seek to do good, through the agency of another person, is an exciting dream and it is hard not to indulge it. We may think we know exactly who the football manager should pick for his team or we may think we know exactly what the Prime Minister should do for the best. But it is a kind of cheating – instead of trying take on that role – with all of its responsibilities we wish simply to act as puppeteer: do this, do it my way.

However I am not sure how Confucius would respond to the logic of democratic politics and the need for debate and policy. Equality and citizenship allows, in fact should encourage, debate and mutual tutoring because these things are proper to the function of the citizen. This kind of influence is not a dream it is a responsibility – but there can be no short-cut through the agency of the powerful.

If Our Minds are Limited…

Our lives as well as our minds are limited. To try and understand that which is unlimited is foolish and dangerous. To do this and consider it knowledge is even more foolish and dangerous. 

Chuang Tzu from the Tao Te Ching

Paradoxically materialists, the dominant philosophers of our time, should be particularly conscious of this problem because they are confident that thought, mind and the understanding are all just physical events, elements of a reality that is much greater than them.

Our thoughts about the whole can only be elements within the whole – they cannot comprehend that whole.

But if that is so then what is the status of materialism itself? “Thought is just some event in the universe, reference and truth are illusions…” but what is the status of this thought?

Of course, those of us who believe in rationality cannot escape our limitations; but at least our awareness of those limitations is not itself self-contradictory. Humility brings with it some truth (if only partial).

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