Taoism and Contemporary Ethical Problems

Taoism has its own naturalistic and "innocent" way of approaching ethical problems. Here are some thoughts from a Rational Taoist perspective on various topics of contemporary ethical controversy. No one is required to agree with the viewpoints expressed here in order to be a Taoist.

Capitalism, Globalisation, and the Inequality of Wealth

    Today Capitalism in the victorious economic system of the world, and a system which is ever taking on new forms due to globalisation. Many things about Capitalism might seem attractive to Taoists: it is free enterprise, after all (and "laissez-faire" is sometimes used as a translation for wu-wei), and the "Invisible Hand" of Adam Smith, which transforms individual selfish desires into public prosperity, seems much like the functioning of the Way. Globalisation too represents a blurring of distinctions and a finding of human unity.
    Unfortunately, pure Capitalism is based on competition, which is not the Taoist ideal for human society. Lao-tzu millenia ago already attacked the exploitation of the poor by the rich and the public harm caused thereby. Not everyone can compete economically: some are sick or weak or simply constitutionally incapable. Some are just unlucky. And worst of all, some of the most noble and brilliant persons in society have no interest in wasting their lives and energy in a frenetic and ferocious struggle for existence, but still deserve a decent life, whether they be artists, mystics or scientists. Capitalism rewards the clever and hardworking, which might seem just, but it also often rewards the tricky, exploitative and ruthless types far more.
    According to Taoism, human productive and distributive activity must function not for "winners" only, but for everyone in society, including the weak, stupid, sick, lazy, unproductive, and unworthy. Those who are truly productive for everyone do in all fairness deserve a little more rhan the unproductive, but those who gain their money through financial manipulations and the like deserve far less than they are now getting. Such reforms will make us in absolute terms less rich, efficient and productive. However, that is not what life is about for a Taoist. A tranquil and secure society rich in human solidarity and the leisure time to attend to the important things in life is the Taoist vision of a sane economic order.

Environmental Ethics

    Taoism recognises that Nature in the sense of the natural ecosystem of Earth is not only an object of devotion, but a necessity for the further existence of the human race and other living creatures which must live together or die together. At the same time, Taoism recognises that vast quantities of people in the Third World (and impoverished parts of the Second World) must be lifted from intolerable socioeconomic conditions by the application of modern technology. Mankind cannot go backward to solve its problems, but most move forward to technology more powerful, subtle and environmentally friendly.
    Contrary to the demographic trend of the times, Taoism aims to deurbanise the world. For this purpose the flexibility and freedom offered by the automobile are indispensible. Rather than demonise this extremely valuable invention (which is indeed an antisocial nuisance in congested cities, but a virtual necessity in a civilised countryside), it is important to design cars which meet the needs of dispersed individual households and enterprises in a way not unreasonably damaging to the ecosystems in which they function. Only thus can we keep the masses of humanity in intimate daily contact with Nature without destroying our economy or the Nature we love.
    The most important single measure to improve the environmental situation on Earth is for humanity to cease its cancer-like growth in numbers. It is already overpopulated and that is increasing. Overpopulation obliges us to use technology in undesirable ways to feed and otherwise support our numbers, and to do so so intensively that the Earth's ecosystem is seriously threatened. With a tenth of the current population there would be space and resources for all to live in contact with Nature and to pollute a little without overwhelming Nature's capacity to comfortably cope.
    The development of space habitats and the colonisation of the Moon and Mars, not just for ourselves but for a range of flora and fauna from Earth, can be an important part of easing the human impact on the Terran environment. Much heavy industry would be much better off in space. This activity cannot, however, be expected to solve the population problem. That can only be solved by vigorous individual and social self-restraint.


   Humanity is a matter of having human conceptural self-awareness and personality, not a matter of having human DNA or a humanoid bodily form. A brain-dead person is not human, and neither is a embryo.
   Many who might admit this are confused by the (true) notion that a embryo is a "potential human being". They forget that "potential" is the opposite of "real". A pile of bricks, mortar and lumber might be a "potential house", but it is not a real house until after it is built, and that might never happen if no one decides to undertake the labour. Similarly an embryo might be a "potential human being", but will become a real human being only if a woman has decided to give it womb space and undergo the rigours of pregnancy and childbirth. If she chooses not to do so, it will never become a human being, and she is thus not violating the right to live of any human being, present or future, if she choses not to give an embryo the resources to bring it to a human state.
   Not to recognise this right of a woman is an act of cruelty; human beings have the primary right to determine both what is to be done or not done to their bodies, and to determine if they wish to reproduce or not (at least within limits determined by the population crisis).


  Voluntary euthanasia is simply to determine that one wishes to die and to bring that about or have that brought about. In Taoism we are not the property of a god, but autonomous beings who live because we want to, not from any duty. Therefore, voluntary euthanasia or suicide is a natural right. Forcing a person to live against his will is the ultimate perversity and cruelty.
   Involuntary euthanasia is essentially murder if undertaken on a human being. In the case of the brain dead or confirmed "human vegetables" which are not capable of human conceptual self-awareness or personality and never will be, it is not a matter of human beings, of course. In borderline cases it might be better to assume human status.

Capital Punishment

    Lao-tzu attacked capital punishment well over two thousand years ago. Modern Taoists can do no less than follow his enlightened lead. The modern state is perfectly capable of keeping dangerous persons locked up under humane but secure conditions until the end of their natural lives. State murder of prisoners completely under its control is no better than freelance murder in society at large. The State is just, after all, a group of  human beings, not a mystic entity with special rights. It may defend itself with necessary force, but not gratuitously kill when no realistic danger exists, just to save money or enjoy vengence under the guise of "Law". As far as deterence goes, real statistics show that the death penalty does not have much effect. Improved law enforcement and a substantially higher probability of arrest and conviction are much more effective in the deterence of crime. And best of all is a pervasive social consciousness that harming others is wrong and to be discouraged by all before it finds violent expression.


    It is nowadays considered a touchstone of liberalness to treat homosexuals as almost constituting a minority ethnic group which has a need for equal rights and and a reduction of prejudice against it. Taoism, however, cannot view matters in this politicised fashion, but must look to nature in an honest manner. Homosexuality is a condition in which a person (if completely so) cannot pass on his or her genes in a normal way to offspring, cannot enjoy the natural "genital embrace" (as Reich called it) which human sexual organs are evolved for, and a specially Taoist concern cannot in the normal manner enjoy the benefits of Taoist sexual yoga, which depends on a certain circulation of yang and yin energies between members of  the two sexes. This is all dysfunctional and a disadvantage for the individual who suffers from it. To deny these facts is intellectual dishonesty engendered by "political correctness" and cannot be condoned.
    We must remember, however, that homosexuality is not in any sense a moral matter. If one experiences sexual desire abnormally directed and acts on that desire with similarly inclined fellow adults, one is not thereby doing anything in any sense immoral, for no one is demonstrably harmed. Furthermore, it is not appropriate for Taoists to feel homophobia in its true sense, i.e. to feel that homosexuals are in some sense impure and abominable. Although it is "abnormal" and in one way "unnatural", it is in another "normal" "and natural": many vertebrate species have individuals among them who exhibit homosexual behaviour.
    Taoists have a long tradition of positive and affectionate regard for both physically deformed individuals and eccentrics (see Chuang Tzu or any painting of the Eight Immortals), and of not rejecting anyone. Although this was in the past not usually extended to homosexuals, it is time now to do so. "Gay bashing" is not a Taoism-compatible activity. On the other hand, we cannot say that "gay pride" is a completely appropriate reaction to homosexuality. There is no certain cure or preventive for homosexuality at present, but when there is as there will surely be as bio-medical science progresses it would be good sense to avail ourselves of it, and not suppose that doing so would be any kind of "genocide" or loss for society. In the meantime, moderation, tolerance and reciprocal goodwill are called for.
    One special problem is that of the marriage of homosexuals. Although it might seem more reasonable to simply provide some form of "civil union" for them, as some jurisdictions have done, thus facilitating their legal lives, a denial of the right to marry is distressing to them and seems discriminatory. Surely true love and the moral commitment to remain together for life are more a spiritual matter than a biological one, after all. Although some complain that marriage exists for the sake primarily of children, in fact there is no public campaign to make marriage illegal for the infertile or those too old to have children. When there is doubt, it seems best to Taoist sensibility to choose generosity of spirit. Taoists should therefore show solidarity with homosexuals in working for their right to marry.
    The adoption of children by homosexual couples is perhaps more complicated. One naturally wishes to see children protected from formative interpersonal situations which might prove harmful to their normal development and integration into adult society. On the other hand, it seems highly likely that a loving homosexual couple would provide a far better environment than many understaffed and overcrowded orphanages. And virtually no one would object to two aunts or uncles taking care of an orphaned child, even though they would (hopefully) have a loving relationship (if they chose to live together) and would be of the same sex. The fact is, we do not know for certain whether homosexual adoption would be likely to cause unreasonable problems for children or not. Since it would sometimes seem better than an orphanage in the present state of our knowledge, it might seem prudent to allow such adoptions provisionally in relatively clear cases, and study the results before making any final decisions.


    Paedophilia is probably no more common now than it ever was, but attracts more attention as the power of the family to enforce silence diminishes, and as the internet makes possible freer and more public exchange of information. Paedophilia differs from homosexuality in that, by definition, informed adult consent is not possible. The misplaced desire, however, as with homosexuality, is not in itself morally evil, although in this case it is in the best interests of society to make sure that it is not allowed free expression. Children have the right to be secure from unwanted sexual advances by others.
    On the other hand, hypersensitivity to the issue is causing many men to feel inhibited about even perfectly innocent physical comforting of children, especially when not their own. Male elementary school teachers for example, and sometimes even fathers. That is not desirable. Neither are notions about curtailing the freedom and privacy of the internet just to control the tiny minority of paedophiles active there. The issue must be seen in due proportion.


    Marriage is the social institutionalisation of a biological proclivity for pair-group formation between the sexes in Homo sapiens, as can be seen from the fact that all human cultures have it in one form or another. It provides a stable home life to children and it meets the needs of adults to have a long-term intimate relationship, which enhances psychological security and sometimes even lifespan.
    Scientific research shows that at about two years after marriage there is a change in its character from something exciting to something principally comforting and reassuring. For those who are only interested in excitement (a vice in Taoism) it is difficult to adjust to this and get on with the work of building a stable and rewarding long-term relationship. Marriage and the expectations it engenders in the couple and in those around them helps to make this transition and to keep the relationship together past the disappointments that are inevitable when real imperfect humans try to live together.
    Divorce was long properly seen as a social evil, but later began to be seen as a means of liberation for the unhappy. Now it is seen as a right, while at the same time we bemoan broken homes and lonely children and deserted partners. In some regions divorce rates may now be fifty percent, and the negative effect of that on expectations has probably already seriously undermined many other and future marriages.
    The time therefore seems to be coming in which more attention will and must be focused on the evils of divorce and on society's interest in preventing it. People have to come to accept a bit more "unhappiness" in marriage in exchange for more security and stability for themselves and their children and for all of society. This "unhappiness" is nowadays all too often simply the common human lot, blame for which is projected upon the spouse or the marriage. It is egotistic, unrealistic, and greedy, the opposite of all the most basic values of Taoism.


    Taoism has always shown an interest in vigorous and healthy sexuality for pleasure, health and spiritual growth. If by "pornography" we mean pictures of sexually attractive human beings presented in an erotically stimulating way, it is difficult to see why any sane person should oppose it. It strengthens marriages by providing sexual variety without adultery, and it provides harmless stimulation to the unmarried and even the partnerless. If it is well done, it will also be aesthetically and artistically valuable. Some regulation might be desirable to ensure that all models are engaged in that work of their own free will, that acts contrary to human dignity are not depicted, and that minors are not involved. That aside, pornography is an extremely good thing for society and the individual.


    Prostitution is not a desirable and natural institution. On the other hand, a Taoist cannot deny that sometimes the social cost of suppressing it in terms of criminal activity and loss of control of health conditions and opportunities for the protection of prostitutes from exploitation is so high that toleration might be called for. It should, however, in such cases not be regarded as positively desirable.
    On the other hand, one might envisage a new profession "sexual paramedic" male/female, whose members would receive professional training in sexual disorders, psychology and social work, and assist in therapy of sexual dysfunction and other psychological conditions.  This would be a socially desirable form of quasi-prostitution, if properly managed. Taoism has always been concerned with optimum sexual functioning in  scientific and clinical senses.

Human Cloning

    We shall soon have the power to clone human beings fairly reliably and not too expensively. It is difficult to say why we should not do so. We do, after all, routinely allow virtually anyone to reproduce in the normal way without much regulation or control. If someone wants to clone himself or his dying mother, why not allow it, supposing that the person can pay for it and the cell donation is made with informed consent? The cloner could be required to adopt and take care of the resulting infant, just as though it were a conventionally-produced child. Perhaps the presence of a spouse might be required to provide a normal home life. The new child would share a genotype with another person, living or dead, but the inevitable differences of upbringing from that of the the cell donor would lead to a new individual, even more different than identical twins who are essentially natural clones, after all , as twins are usually raised together. This is all a matter for individual choice, and Taoism normally favours such claims.

Genetic Engineering

    Genetic engineering can be used for purposes both good and evil. Some crop plants might be altered to make it possible for them to tolerate more pesticides, which is undesirable for the environment, while other crop plants might be modified to resist insect pests themselves, thus reducing need for pesticides. Or this technology might be used to create biological warfare agents tailored to harm certain ethnic groups, or can be used to cure otherwise intractible diseases.
    It is important that irrational fear not be allowed to prevent the good uses of genetic engineering simply because bad uses exist. As with any technology, Mankind must control the undesirable applications and make good use of the positive opportunities that our growing knowledge makes possible.
    Genetic engineering will also permit us to change the human gene pool. It is a natural assumption that, given the chance, authorities, scientists, parents, and individuals will elect genetic improvement to eliminate disease and physical defects, and increase health, intelligence, perceptual acuity, life-span, sanity, beauty, and physical prowess. As with anything, there are dangers in this, but the advantages are even greater.
    It is natural for an intelligent species to take control over its own genetic make-up and development at some point in its history. Our time has come for this. Our challenge is to do it well and wisely, not to try to halt it through ignorance or fear.


    Lao-tzu condemned offensive war in his time on humanitarian, social and economic grounds. However, he approved of defensive warfare, carried on with genuine regret for the human costs, and advised tactics for it. Taoism is therefore pacific, but not pacifistic. Self-defence and the defence of others is not a sin.
    This has relevance today. Two recent major conflicts, the Gulf War and the Kosovo Intervention, were carried out by the coalitions of the most powerful countries in the world to defend the weak a tiny Kuwait invaded by its dictatorially-governed and imperialistic neighbout Iraq, and the Albanian majority in Kosovo, being tortured, raped and expelled from their homes by a minority of Serbs.
    That at least sometimes great powers now understand that it is in their enlightened interest to come to the aid of the weak and helpless is from a Taoist viewpoint extremely felicitous. If they had not, it is seriously arguable, that the Iraqi Empire would have by now long since built much more dangerous weapons and with a strong economy, strong army, and the self-confidence gained in swallowing Kuwait, would have long since oppressed its own Kurdish, Kuwaiti and other minorities and launched more aggressions against its neighbours. And that in Kosovo, the Serbs would have pushed out any Albanians from any parts of Kosovo they wanted, and by making most of them either corpses or international refugees, would have reduced them to a small and powerless minority in their home region. [The Second Iraqi War occurred after this was written. It presents a model of intelligence errors, poor military planning and headstrong obstinacy by the United States. However, if Sadam Hussein had in fact secretly developed atomic weapons and a delivery system capable of getting them to Europe, the situation would indeed have been nightmarish and no longer easily remediable, and everything would have been clearly justifiable as self defence. It is easy to criticise in hindsight. But many lovers of freedom would consider freeing a country from the likes of a Sadam Hussein and establishing a working democracy a blessing worth a considerable price.]
    Yet there is a segment of opinion, and one no doubt attractive to some Taoists, that urged non-intervention, and showed outright hostility towards the powers that sought to defend the defenceless. That is something highly dishonest and irresponsible, which is not a truely Taoist viewpoint.
    In these cases it is clear to see that the aggressors were the Iraqis and Serbs. They acted against peoples weaker than themselves, who simply wished to live in their own birth-lands in freedom and peace. For the strong to take the side of the weak and unagressive was a thing highly Taoist. Certainly if no morality existed in the powerful lands, they could have sided with Sadam Hussein in return for his guarantee of oil flow, and with the Serbs, who without outside intervention would have easily extirpated or expelled the Albanian Kosovars. But the strong in these cases were democratic nations with  morally sensitive populations, and therefore they acted in a way at once necessarily militant but essentially humanitarian. They were not aggressors simply because they were strong enough to do some some good and effectively counter the aggression.
    We might expect that in future similar chances will arise perhaps over the defence of Taiwan from the hegemonistic Chinese, who would like to silence this strong voice for etnically-Chinese democracy. If that occurs, we must be willing and ready to intervene unitedly and decisively against the aggressor. Ultimately we human beings all have a chance of living under democracy in open societies. Until that is brought about, however, it is important for all decent peoples of the world to act as one whenever the power-hungry and authoritarian try to use force against the helpless. And sometimes only counter-force can be realistically expected to work.
    True Taoism recognises the necessity of force along with the regrettability of force, and it upholds the individual freedom of all persons.


    Nationalism is one of the greatest moral and social problems of the world today. Nationalism tends to serve the interests of ethnic majority groups existing in any one state, and to conduce to an "us-them" relationship between the peoples of the world. For many purposes the modern nation state is too big, while for many more it is too small. A rational world order for the future of Mankind must determine what things should best be decided on the level of the individual, the family, the neighbourhood, the town(ship), the area, the region, the country, the macro-region, the continent, the world, and the (soon multi-planet- inhabiting) human race. (Some things, of course, must be determined at more than one level, in different degrees of detail or with different aspects of the decision making process taking place on different levels.)
    In this whole structure the nation state is an obstacle due to the excessive emotionality and exaggerated sense of exclusive group identity that it carries with it. It sucks power to it from below and refuses to yield power upwards.
    Sometimes, of course, one must support nationalist liberation movements when they represent a genuine popular will for liberation from other nations (Somaililand, Chechnya, Kosovo, Kurdistan, Palestine, Taiwan, Tibet...). However, this is in the final analysis only an unqualifiably good thing if there will later be a normal degree of voluntary integration between national neighbours.
    Nationalism made possible extreme militarism, Fascism and Communism. The totalitarian state came into being because so much power and group identity was concentrated on one level. By taking over that level dictators have been enabled to seize all significant power. A better distribuition of de-emotionalised power and decision making in the hierarchy would make that much more difficult, especially as one of the most important functions of the higher levels would be to guarantee democracy and inter-group equality in lower-level groups.
    Ultimately our emotional political identification must be with the great unity of the whole human community, and all below that must be more moderate affinities that will not provoke to evil against others.


    Modern life is blessed with more labour-saving devices than any other age is history. We nonetheless feel ourselves to be under increasing pressure. One important reason for this might very well be the telephone, an instrument which obviously facilitates some things, but at the expense of leaving us open to interruption by anyone who knows our number at any hour of the day or night. This has become a social problem of considerable and growing magnitude.
    Unlike the more impersonal information in the mass media, the contents of telephone messages intruded upon us relate directly to our own lives, and often require immediate adjustment of our activities and plans without advance notice, again and again.
    Further, many things in life, such as thought, love-making, writing, sleeping, bathing, meditation, and studying, are best done without any interruption. Constant interruptions are not conducive to the best use of our time, but they are a typical concommitent of telephones.
    The situation is aggravated by the abuse of telephones for last-minute calls to change appointments and the like. This is often felt to meet the moral obligation to inform someone of a broken date, but in fact it often forces the victim to call others and rearrange matters further, and thus a wave of social disruption and inconvenience spreads out due to the original irresponsibility of one individual. In a world limited to personal meetings, letters and telegraph, reliability and faithfulness are more highly valued.
    The rapid spread of the cellular telephone has made the situation an order of magnitude worse. One is at the disposal of one's boss and others anywhere and anytime. Privacy and autonomy are seriously threatened and encroached upon.
    A telephone answering machine can reduce the problem, combined with a flat refusal to use cellular phones. The best modern solution, however, is reliance on e-mail. If one checks one's e-mail once per day, either in the morning or evening, the rhythm of communication will be reasonable, while the advantage of a relatively high speed will be maintained. E-mail waits until it is demanded, unlike the telephone as normally used.
    It is important to preserve large periods of personal and family time free from the risk of interruption if one wishes to maintain the quality of life. Similarly it is important to limit the power of others to make demands on one's time, so that one can attend to one's own priorities systematically. As a matter of social policy these rights must be generally recognised, and the ever-more predatory expectations of electronic intruders must be discouraged.


    Sports are a moral problem of considerable magnitude to the Taoist. Sport is an ever-growing industry and activity, and one built upon the most un-Taoist principle of competition. Human groups are excited over the results of games of no intrinsic importance. Sportspersons are encouraged by the most disproportionate and extreme financial remuneration and fame to devote their lives to the exercise of valueless skills, often at the expense of their future health. [Very many ex-footballers (soccer players), for instance, develop serious and debilitating joint problems as a result of the punishment they gave their bodies by pushing them repeated beyond their natural limits and football (soccer) is one of the gentler and milder games around today.]
    Other sports such as American football and most obviously boxing are far more violent.
    Taoism has nothing against an informal game played for one's own health and amusement, but the sports industry is not conducive to human health, tranquility or culture. Taoists must try to wake up the world on this issue.

Vegetarianism, Hunting and Animal Rights

    Human beings, unlike members of many other species, have the ability to survive easily and well on either an omnivorous diet or a vegetarian one and we have the consciousness and conscience to make a moral decision about this. More and more people are choosing vegetarianism, as we come to see animals not so often in our barnyards, but as pets or in wildlife programmes on television. We are coming to understand that they (or at least mammals and birds) are truly persons just as we are, even if less intelligent. Killing persons, even stupid ones, even painlessly (if we can really guarantee that), even after a delightful life (almost never the case!), is not a truly pleasant activity for human beings to engage in.
    And what is the real difference between carnivorism and cannibalism? Would one really wish to eat the flesh of a "human being" born with no higher brain, one essentially less bright than a fish? (Such "humans" are in fact from time to time born.) Or the body of someone killed in an accident with no family or close friends to care about the disposal of the mortal remains? It is in fact difficult to find any ethical problem for these cases; we simply feel a strong moral repugnance and prefer to "waste" the "meat". But should we not feel a similar repugnance about any meat? Especially if it is from an aware and vigorous animal in the prime of its life which actively wanted to live? If we discard our prejudices based on speciesism, and refine our moral sensitivity, we will naturally wish to reject meat.
    This is not to condemn carnivororism or even cannibalism (without murder) in crisis survival situations. However, we normally have an abundance of vegetarian foods in our supermarkets, and our health and longevity living on such products alone are usually enhanced. We have little excuse not to become sensitive to our conscience in this matter, and to consign carnivorism to the pit whither we have already consigned cannibalism and slavery for such would be the moral step upward for Mankind of leaving behind our constant aggression against our animal cousins.
    Those who hunt, at their very best, are more moral than those who buy in the meat department of the supermarket. At their best they will give an animal a chance to live a natural existence until its death, they will make sure that they have made a clean kill, they will in their way love the animal (although how many of us would care to be so loved?), they will use all parts of it without waste, they will eat it with reverence and gratitude, and they will fight vigorously for the preservation of its habitat. Hunters are rarely at their best, however, and some forms of hunting, such as fox hunting on horseback, are unspeakably and needlessly cruel.
    If we believe in human rights as something naturally following from our conscious nature, it is difficult to say why animals should not have comparable duely-proportioned rights. They are sentient, they know joy and pain, they and have their own ways of life and love of it. They may individually count for less than a human being, but they are not negligible.


    Taoism traditionally emphasises the wisdom and virtues of women. Tao is the "Mother of the Myriad Things". The Yellow Emperor is advised on sexual matters by three wise women counsellors who obviously know far more than he does. Lao-tzu advises men to follow a feminine path of gentleness and nurturing. All of this did not do much for the status of women in Chinese society, unfortunately, where Confucian notions based on ageism and sexism predominated. Today, however, they can be seen as a powerful mandate to Taoists to eliminate sexism thoroughly from life.
    This means that Taoists should do their best to disregard the sex of individuals in determining their worth and competence, so that all persons might enjoy equal opportunity in society with respect to education, employment, public services, and personal and civic rights.
    The basis of this in Taoism is a friendship and comradeship between the sexes as fellow human beings, augmented by the evident rewards of sexual attraction and harmony. There is no room in the Taoist view of sexual equality for an essentially adversarial relationship between the sexes. The two sexes should be united like the two colours in the T'ai-chi T'u ("Yin-Yang symbol") to make one rounded and fully human whole in an individual marriage and in society. In this the pettiness of "political correctness" in language and expression is to be avoided. Words will take on different meanings of themselves when social realities are altered.
    The continuing active oppression of women in some parts of the world through genital mutilation, denial of the right of abortion, restrictive dress codes, involuntary arranged marriages, and diverse other humiliations in Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia are affronts to human dignity which both men and women of good will must fight together in solidarity. Our Taoist tolerance towards other faiths and cultures must not be used as an excuse for laxness in dealing with these matters. Our Way, our Age and our Earth have no place for the continued existence of such oppression.


    All religions have some danger of succumbing to fundamentalism. The characteristics of this are a belief in the literal truth of some sacred book and a willingness to impose the supposed rules and doctrines of the book on everyone possible, often with force and violence, and the power of the state if it can be captured by them. Sometimes the particular interpretations of a certain "Master" are an integral part of such movements.
    Taoism as a whole does not believe that any book whatsoever, be it even the Tao-te Ching or the whole Taoist Canon (Tao Tsang), is infallible or to be applied literalistically. "The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life" is a very Taoist sentiment. Although Taoism recognises that there are masters of various Taoist disciplines, including Taoist meditation and philosophy, it does not generally encourage following them blindly. (When Taoism became, briefly, a revolutionary movement and created a theocratic state in the Han Dynasty, it broke this rule with undesirable consequences to itself. But this was a rare exception, and Taoists learned from it.)
    Taoism is pragmatic about religions and cultures. They exist to serve Man, not Man to serve them. If ancient books and traditions inspire us to find our own virtue, wisdom and happiness in the present, well and good. If they do not, they can be reinterpreted or discarded. Scholarship, scientific and objective, might tell us what some ancient scripture really meant to the writer and original readers, but from the standpoint of a living religion it is more important that we find interpretations that inspire us. Religions and the general moral and spiritual culture of Mankind should always be improving, growing and maturing. And in fact this occurs. Fundamentalism, however, seeks to return to the past, seeking the original beauty and simplicity of a given faith. This often leads to a serious neglect of the moral advances made subsequently, especially if they have been influemced by a different cultural tradition or by scientific progress.
    Most fundamentalism tends to be anti-scientific, anti-rationalistic, xenophobic, sexist, sexually repressive, and intolerant. The supposed divine inspiration attributed to the scripture in question is used to justify the imposition of its teachings on others who do not share the beliefs of the fundamentalists.
    Taoism would counsel that all books from the past be interpreted in the light of modern science and of modern ethical consciousness. We are now in a position to know how different religious cultures believed and functioned in world history, for example, we know more of the psychology of religion, and we understand cosmology, cosmogeny and biological evolution much better than when most religions were born. In this context it should be possible to see that whatever the quality of inspiration was behind a given religious text, it was written by fallible human beings in a specific historical context.
    Only by openness to healthy change can a religion remain wholesome. Islam, for example, began by improving the status of women and discouraging female infanticide, but due to inflexibility fell far behind the normal secular ethic of sexual equality in the West, which is surely more humane and in accord with natural justice.
    Taoism will divinise nothing that serves human repression, whether book, master, tradition or ecclesiastical organisation. And it will uphold all individuals of whatever culture or religious tradition who likewise struggle for the right to make their own religious and moral decisions according to their consciences.

Racism and Xenophobia

    A Nobel laureate once made a scientific study showing that those of the nigroid race were on average ten I.Q. points below Caucasions, while the Caucasions were three I.Q. points on average lower than those of the Mongoloid race. That someone with no racist bent should try to do serious research into this is laudable. It should not be supposed, however, that such a result (for whatever it is worth) could ever justify racism.
    Racism is the supposition that we can reliably assign someone a lower worth or level of competence based simply on race. Obviously averages of any quality say nothing definitive about any concrete individual, and justice requires that we always consider the true character of an individual whom we must deal with.
    Taoist monks and masters in traditional China regulary accepted Western guests and students most kindly and with no show of prejudice, even when they were in a given place extremely rare and persons with Caucasion racial characteristics never seen before. Indeed Taoists believing in other orders of intelligent existence such as nature spirits also have always believed in treating them too with kindness and respect. Even demons are not to be destroyed by those supposed capable of doing so, except if actually necessary in defence.
    Racism is thus not Taoist. (It is true that there once were partly Taoist secret societies interested in expelling the Manchu dynasty and returning the indigenous Ming to power, but that would seem to be more nationalist than racist, seeing as the Manchus are racially virtually indistinguishable from Han Chinese.)
    Taoists recognise that all human beings (and all other sentient and sapient beings) are children of Mother Tao.
    Sometimes problems arise because of xenophobia, even if the "outsiders" are of the same race. This is, however, a more delicate question. For members of a community to resent a large influx of outsiders who are changing the character of the community is perhaps natural. Although the immigrants have no evil intent, the practical effect of such an influx is similar to that of an invasion. Can we suppose that the Tibetans must welcome the Han Chinese encouraged by the Peking regime to settle there with the intent of overwhelming the original nationality and culture of Tibet? And what of unhappy Kosovo, once Serbian heartland, where their Albanian friends and allies outbred them and began to make them feel strangers in their own home?
    That some despised right-wing politicians in Europe wish to keep out "excessive" numbers of immigrants is not so unnatural. One might suspect whether their intentions are basically good or humane, but they win support from many good people who simply do not wish to see the character of their home changed by a massive and rapid inflow of culturally different outsiders. Unfortunately the rich countries of the world are attractive, and efforts to keep matters under control might be perceived as xenophobic due the the requisite level of severity necessary to be effective.
    Solving this problem must involve compromises. Certainly true asylum seekers (a tiny minority of immigrants) should be guaranteed asylum. Beyond that, some limitations on immigration should not be considered xenophobic. On the other hand, once "guest workers" for example are allowed to live for decades in some country and perhaps have children born there, simple humanity dictates that they be permitted to remain, and at least the children have citizenship. Dispersing immigrants might help to reduce resentment towards them.
    In no case, however, should a basic dislike for outsider qua outsider be permitted to take hold. It is not any individual outsider who causes the problem of unwanted community change, but an aggregate, and indeed an aggregate which normally likes the community. Hospitality is a Taoist virtue, hatred or prejudice against innocent individuals is not.