Sun Tzu (of The Art of War fame) coined the term "shi," (pronounced "shee") which roughly translates into English as, "the art of understanding matters in flux."
There's two interesting aspects to this term; First, that the Chinese see this as an "art." Second that they see it as something to be studied and understood, long before flux produces change.
Over here in "wide-eyed" land we see only what's smack in front of us at any given moment. We become accustomed to things the way the y are. And when flux threatens change we fight like holy hell to keep things the way they've been. We see only the past and have no interest whatsoever in "studying" change, even as things begin "fluxing" like crazy around us.
To say that we are in a state of "flux" right now would be an understatement. Nevertheless, even as flux causes mounting structural , fiscal and social disarray, not just here in the US, but around the globe, all you hear from public officials, here and around the globe, is how important it is to get things "back to normal," or "back on track."
Of course history records nothing that even approximates anything like "normal." All history records is change, constant, unremitting change. Those able to prepare and adapt to change, survive. Those who resist change or fail to adapt, become history.
And just what about this "track" they want us to "get back on?" Sure, it's there alright. The only trouble is that old track only heads one direction, back. New tracks need to be laid, in new directions, if we want to go forward. But no one seems to want to work on that railroad. Instead they want to ride that old familiar train back to old familiar times and old familiar ways. If successful in this quest it would be the first time in history any society has succeeded returning to, and living in, the past.
Yes, things are in flux. Much shi is called for.
Those of us who fly small planes understand shi pretty well, at least those of us still around to tell about it. Even though we might want to land at th at particular airfield, weather changes constantly. Winds, clouds, storms develop en-route - weather is always "in flux." So sometimes a pilot has to divert, landing at a different, but safer and saner, destination. It's pain when that happens, a major inconvenience. But pilots who ignore atmospheric flux, insisting on staying the course, despite signs of deteriorating conditions, often end up being scraped off their instrument panel.
Studying matters in flux - shi. It is an art. It's also a skill - a survival skill.
Those leading the world these days remain in near-terminal denial - they could be described as "anti-shi."
Nevertheless the general herd out here has been getting whiffs of trouble on the wind. While not quite ready to stampede in total panic yet, they are shifting nervously in their pastures.
My friend, and Huffington Post columnist and long-in-the-tooth journalist, Andrew Reinbach , put it this way to me in an email this morning. With his permission I repeat:
" My own pet theory on why everybody has this sense of approaching apocalyptic doom is that the world is on a hinge of history. We all feel the ground shifting under our feet and fear the worst, and since we've been around the block enough to know how easily things can slide well beyond what's helpful, the fear is only magnified.
The US may well be on the lip of a change in the form of government. Republics on average last only 200 years or so. But any change that does occur will only codify what already exists--at bottom, we don't favor revolutionary change a la Europe. That is, the business community already owns the government and it has very little interest in governing, itself. So any modification therein will be more of a tweak toward greater influence, while the forms will remain--empty forms, to be sure, and the whole thing will be sold as the new, improved brand.
Will this make life better for the typical American? No. But people won't be running around in armbands, either. The bigger problems, however will remain---how to keep the lid on in a country wi th massive structural unemployment and little provision for the practical operation of a universal retirement program with adequate healthcare. To that extent, the future will be a totalitarian state, dressed up in a new, more colorful cereal box ."
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