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Internet, from the perspective of Eastern philosophy

The idea of disruption is inherent to eastern philosophy. To understand the concept of Internet as a disruptive medium, we need to on the same page on many levels. The first step is understanding the meaning of a social institution.  

What is a social institution?

Social institutions are established or standardized patterns of rule-governed behavior. They include the family, education, religion, and economic and political institutions. Broadly, social institutions are things we tacitly agree to. They help the population function smoothly by drawing lines, of acts, thoughts and ideas that are appropriate and acceptable. Yes, that also includes are ideas of right, wrong, good and bad. It is precisely why these adjectives are a function of time and place, or subjective.

Now, how does it concern with the Internet?

The Internet is called a disruptive medium because it breaks down every social institution. Being a relatively new medium, institutions like, rules and laws, are still being formulated. But it’s difficult. Because Internet is fluid and not a function of place. It is universal. The social institutions of our ‘real-world’ have very little place in the Internet.

This can be explained by how governments, world over, are proving to be ill-equipped to tackle unacceptable behaviors (trolling, online harassment, etc.). It’s obvious that we’ve been caught napping. But it might not be bad thing after all. I’m no way justifying the horrible acts people do. This is only an exercise aimed at finding the positives and how Internet provides a golden opportunity for humans to introspect.  It gives us another chance to reconsider how adjectives are subjective.

Zen and Internet

Lao Tzu, widely considered the father of Zen Buddhism, in his work Tao Te Ching, said,

Throw away holiness and wisdom,

and people will be a hundred times happier.

Throw away morality and justice,

and people will do the right thing.

Throw away industry and profit,

and there won’t be any thieves.

If these three aren’t enough,

just stay at the center of the circle

and let all things take their course.

If there’s one common theme in all of the eastern ways of thought, it is the fact that there is very little regard for attaching value to an object. It is dangerous to tread this path without understanding the implications. Because our lives are structured around social institutions. They help us live peacefully, with very little friction among ourselves, by telling us there are consequences to our actions — both good and bad. Now, what happens when these things disappear. There’s bound to be chaos. Like, what’s happening in the Internet. The platform has given a window to that part of the human mind that is desperately waiting it unshackle itself from the ‘constraints’ of the real-life social institutions.

So where are the positives?

Absolute freedom

The human mind is designed to be creative. It doesn’t like to be bogged by external influences. But over the course of our civilization, it has become smart or adapted itself to understand the concept cause and effect. So from the standpoint of psychology, any institution (read rules, order, discrimination or anything draws the line between what’s acceptable and not) is an obstacle to the mind. The Internet breaks all that.

The concept of absolute freedom is central to the ideology of the Internet.

Zen master , in his book Essays in Zen Buddhism, began the introduction chapter saying,

Zen in its essence is the art of seeing into the nature of one’s own being, and it points the way from bondage to freedom. By making us drink right from the fountain of life, it liberates us from all the yokes under which we finite beings are usually suffering in this world.

The profound saying has much to offer, especially in the context of the Internet age.  Can it interpreted like this: the Internet is means to liberate us from all the yokes under which we finite beings are usually suffering in this world? The Yokes being the social institutions of the ‘real-world’. And, suffering shouldn’t be taken literally. Here, it means the chaining of mind to set notions or beliefs.

In the same line of thought, here’s another verse from the Tao Te Ching,

Colors blind the eye.

Sounds deafen the ear.

Flavors numb the taste.

Thoughts weaken the mind.

Desires wither the heart.

The Master observes the world

but trusts his inner vision.

He allows things to come and go.

His heart is open as the sky.

Disruption breaks down notions that are incompatible with our biological make up. It cleans our filters. It makes us open to the world again. And, the Internet has managed to start the process — that of giving birth to a new set of social institutions that are more inclusive and less discriminatory.

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