Can the West find the Middle Path?

As I reported to you a few days ago, last week, I spoke at the 2019 annual meeting of the Fondazione Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice at the Vatican. My assignment was to consider “The West” and “The East” in relation to the call of Pope Francis in his Laudato Si’ encyclical for an “integrated” ecology of time and space in our world today, inclusive of the environment and humanity’s various strivings forward.

To attempt this consideration, I superficially postulated one essence for “The West” and another for “The East” and sought to contrast them. For “The West,” I highlighted “rationality” as the axial principle of its endeavors and for “The East,” I took the flexibility of the Doctrine of the Mean, the Tao Te Jing and the Yi Jing texts from China, along with the middle way of Buddhism and the naturalism of Shinto in Japan. “The East,” I postulated, rested its understandings on following a mean, a middle way among more extreme and rigid alternatives, while “The West” found comfort in absolutes discovered by rationality, as in mathematics, geometry, calculus, science and syllogistic logic. Descartes told us that “cogito ergo sum” – “I am because I think.” For “The West,” reality was forced into compartmentalized concepts devised by the human mind, while for “The East,” the human mind adjusted itself more flexibly to reality.

My point was to suggest that the left-brain formalism of “The West” should be counter-balanced by the intuitive, right-brain perceptions of “The East.”

I added that the time to do this was now, as “The West” has become post-modern after Nietzsche, who intuited that rationality did not lead to truth but to many truths, all socially-constructed, a permanent condition of nihilism in which the peoples of the U.S., U.K. and E.U. now twist and turn looking for meaning and solace.

A friend, Adrian Pabst, from the U.K. and Reader in Politics at the University of Kent, a leading thinker in the “blue labour” movement and co-author of The Politics of Virtue: Post-Liberalism and the Human Future, came up to me and said I had got Nietzsche wrong. It was better, he suggested, to understand Nietzsche as calling for mediation between rationality and intuition, rather than choosing one exclusively over the other.

“A good point,” I replied.

Then, I caught myself thinking: “What is the Western basis for mediation among big ideas, equivalent to Yin/Yang analysis in China or the Noble Eightfold Way in Buddhism? I sensed we in “The West” don’t have a particularly strong philosophical and cultural tradition of mediation. Aristotle proposed one in his Nichomean Ethics but we seem over the centuries to have preferred winners and losers, rather than compromisers.

So, I looked up on the internet the root words for “mediate.” What I found I want to report to you.

First, “mediate” goes back to the Latin for middle – “medi.” It also comes from a root “medere” – “to cut in half.”

Then, I found a commentary from the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard University which linked the root “med” to “govern,” ” think,” “care for,” “measure.”

These words imply arrangement of disparate pieces into some relationship or order, of accepting reality and responding to it.

“Med” is also linked to moderation and to the Greek “medeor” (Latin “medeo”) – to care for, or medical, medicine.

Imagine: to “mediate” might be analogized to providing care for something ill and unhealthy, making it better and more sustainable.

Well-being would be associated with moderation, not extremes and absolutes. The Greek poet Hesiod had advised us: ”Observe due measure; moderation is best in all things.”

In ancient Greek, Zeus was called the “Medeon” – the “moderator.” A “medeon,” one who knows the middle, could restore order and well-being. Such a mediator was chief by virtue of a skill, not by virtue of position or the law.

And the root “med” supports the word “meditate” – to reflect on what is.

Thus, perhaps, if we in “The West” would do more “mediation,” we could more quickly come to nourishing and sustaining balance and equilibrium in our approach to civilization.

I have suggested here and there that the function of CSR in capitalism is to mediate for a firm with all its stakeholders. Corporate social responsibility is, therefore, a process of continual mediation and business leaders should study mediation skills.

Mediation should start with discernment – approach what is with open-mindedness and humility. A company should always be aware of the situations of its stakeholders.

We have a short paper for enhancing our facility for reflection, which might be of interest to you. You can read it here.