An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of December 13, 2015
Issued from Hacienda Chichen beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, Yucatán, MÉXICO

THE MIDDLE PATH & PLATO

The other day a friend sent an article by Andrew Sullivan, appearing in New York Magazine, entitled "America Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyranny." It's freely available at http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/04/america-tyranny-donald-trump.html

The article often drew from Plato's Republic, as when it recalled that Plato believed that when a democracy is so successful that everyone does pretty much what he or she wants, and nobody raises a fuss about it, people get disoriented. In such societies, people lose respect for authority and many get frustrated when other people's different ways of thinking and doing things messes up their lives. Exactly then is when a "tyrant" can arise, offering relief from pure democracy’s endless choices and insecurities. "And as the people thrill to him as a kind of solution, a democracy willingly, even impetuously, repeals itself," Sullivan writes.

Something interesting is that Plato and Sullivan seem to visualize pure democracy as an extreme state, with absolute dictatorship as its opposite. The implication is that a certain in-between form of democracy works best. That's why the framers of the US Constitution set up barriers against pure democracy, it's suggested, such as the Electoral Collage and the Senate's structure granting disproportional power to less populated states. As Sullivan writes, "...the Founding Fathers had read their Plato."

So, maybe it's like this: Democracy has its Middle Path, as well as two states of extreme deviance, and when extremely deviating paths are taken, disaster normally results.

In fact, sometimes it seems to me that all conditions and behaviors have their Middle Paths and extreme states. If that turns out to be true, and it's true that extreme deviations from the Middle Path normally lead to disaster, then we have another thinking tool like the Six Miracles of Nature (http://www.backyardnature.net/j/6/ ).

Moreover, if all things have a Middle Path, and extreme deviance from the Middle Path leads to disaster, then we humans need to spend more time meditating on Middle Paths.

Nature is the best teacher about Middle Paths.

For example, in Nature if a species is narrowly adapted to a specific environment, when global warming changes its limited living space, it may go extinct. However, if a species is too much of a generalist, it must compete with many other generalist species, and experience shows that when many species compete for the same resources, eventually most species disappear from that environment because they're not the most efficient exploiters of that environment. This situation teaches a Middle Path in which a certain degree of specialization is good, but not such specialization that you're too dependent on any one thing.

Here's another example: Any ecosystem composed of many species is much more stable and resilient than any monoculture. Here Nature's teaching at first glance might appear a little self-contradictory. It's OK for a Sugar Maple to share similarities with other Sugar Maples, but the forest itself should have maples, oaks, ash and more. Is the teaching here that for human urban planning the Middle Path is to encourage a mosaic of ethnic and/or racial communities? If so, how many mosaic types are best in a given area, how big should the mosaics be, and should their locations be planned or random?

Human communities have been bumping up against one another for thousands of years, but still we haven't reached consensuses on these elemental and absolutely important-to-answer questions, and many other questions just as crucial. There's not even a named discipline for the process of teasing from Nature's time-proven paradigms the insights humans need for wisely and sustainably living on Earth.