Angry Monkeys: Transdisciplinarity as Walking on Two Paths at Once

A monkey trainer, handing out acorns, said, “Each of you will get three in the morning and four in the afternoon.”  The monkeys were outraged.

So he said, “All right, then: you’ll get four in the morning and three in the afternoon.” The monkeys were delighted.

Nothing essential had changed, yet one statement produced anger, and the other joy.  The trainer simply knew how to adapt to reality, and he lost nothing by it…

This is called “walking on two paths at once.”

This parable is from the Chuang Tzu, a collection of Chinese philosophy originating in the 4th century B.C.E. in what is called the “Warring States Period.”

Now consider:

An academic, handing out advice, said, “the economic growth of poorly regulated capitalism and its attendant consumer culture are unsustainable.” The policymakers were outraged because even listening to, let alone repeating, such words could make them a target of demagogues and their fearsome Twitter feeds.

So he said, “All right, then: a myopic reliance on econometrics to shape policies deregulating markets with an inadequate consideration of “externalities” threatens national security.  It constitutes an existential risk.”  The policymakers, while not particularly delighted, were at least engaged by this rhetoric: they liked to repeat “national security” as a talisman to ward off electoral defeat.

A space might thereby be opened for a transdisciplinary debate regarding various policies and their efficacy regarding to particular security risks (analyzed interdisciplinarily).

Long-term security and sustainability are the same concept.  Nothing essential had changed.


This entry was posted in Accountability, Climate Change, Future of the University, Interdisciplinarity, Public Philosophizing. Bookmark the permalink.

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