Month: April 2013

The Feminine and the Tao: An Interview with Le Guin

I would like to cap off the recent series of posts on Taoism with an interview with Ursula Le Guin, conducted by Brenda Peterson. In it, the lifelong student of Taoism talks about how the Tao Te Ching has influenced her personal life and the construction of her worldview. As usual, I find her comments accessible, refreshing, thought-provoking, and hilarious. Here are some of my favourite passages: 

Tao Today Part 1

Tao Today: A Sage’s Take on Modern Society, Part 2

In response to the predicament of his times, Lao Tzu ruminated on the essence of human nature and asked: What can be done to stop the injustice, violence, and greed that inevitably corrupts the core of civilization? According to Welch, the old sage came to the conclusion that a radical operation must be performed on human nature before these systemic issues could be resolved: “First he cuts out desire for superfluous material goods (they only keep their owner awake at night), then desire for praise and fear of blame (both drive men mad), then desire for power (the only successful ruler is one who suffers as his kingdom suffers). But this is not enough. Morality is frequently used to justify violence. Morality must go. Violence frequently starts with a fixed difference of opinion. Fixed opinion must go. But without desire, morality, and opinion, what is left for a man to occupy his time? The best things of all: physical enjoyment and cultivation of the inner life. Once a man knows these, success in competition will …

Playing to Tie: An Orange County Almanac

Relating back to the notion of winning at all cost in last week’s post, I thought of an essay I submitted to a contest a year or so ago. Titled Playing to Tie: Adopting a Sustainable Mindset, the piece was shortlisted by the Web of Life Foundation, an organization focused bringing fresh thinking and new perspectives to socio-environmental issues. It has subsequently been published as part of an essay collection titled An Orange County Almanac and other essays. We are our own harshest critic. I read the piece now and wonder why it was ever selected. I see it as overly long and disjointed, suffering from my strange phase of rampant semicolonization. Rereading it evokes a strong urge to cleave it apart for major editing and revision. Yet, there are bits and pieces that I am still proud of, and I would like to share the ideas in several of the passages:

Tao Today Part 1

Tao Today: A Sage’s Take on Modern Society, Part 1

If you follow Ekostories on a regular basis, you would know that one of my chief influences is author Ursula K. Le Guin. It was through her work that I first became intrigued by Taoism as a philosophy. Growing up in Hong Kong, my first encounters with Daoism came from ancient tales of whiskery old hermits who sought immortality and strangely robed priests who conducted rituals for the dead. In my adult life, I see bits and pieces of it incorporated haphazardly in the New Age movement. Neither experience was grounded in any context, and as such were bereft of personal meaning and value. For me, Taoism existed as a series of bizarre and disconnected ideas, frequently esoteric and utterly incomprehensible. Le Guin’s stories changed that. A lifelong student of the Tao Te Ching, she wove its ideas into her writing in a way that made the philosophy tangible, relevant, and meaningful. Her own interpretation of the ancient text is by no means the most accurate, complete, or definitive, but what it lacks in faithfulness it …

Overview Effect Wordle

A Cognitive Shift: The Overview Effect

Released on the 40th anniversary of Apollo 17’s iconic Blue Marble photograph, Overview is a short film that examines the peculiar cognitive shift experienced by many who have been to space. The 15-minute piece draws upon insights from astronauts, philosophers, and authors to explore how perspective can drastically change the way people think about their relationship with the world. Tightly paced and expertly scored by the Human Suits, I found Overview to be an accessible and thought-provoking documentary that conveys the necessity of considering the big picture if we are to forge a sustainable future.

Wall-E and Eve

Finding the Middle Ground: Pixar’s Wall-E

More than a year of Ekostories and not a single mention of Wall-E? You must think I hold some sort of vindictive grudge against cute robots. The truth is that I love Wall-E. It is a lovingly crafted tale that hits all the right notes, a rare gem that effortlessly exudes charm to audiences young and old, and represents Pixar at the height of their craft as storytellers. But Wall-E’s broad appeal makes an analysis tricky. It’s easy to see the film as simply “a kid’s movie” and to dismiss any merits its narrative may contain. It’s also easy to view it as just an “issues movie”, a pointed critique of the obesity epidemic or of consumerist culture. Such a superficial examination reduces the movie to bite-size messages: Don’t trash the world. Technology is bad. People are lazy. If that was a fair assessment of Wall-E, there would be no point in exploring it. I am not interested in narratives with such shallow roots that they can be summarized into tidy little statements; these types of parables …