Chapter 26

Yin and Yang

In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang  (陰陽 yīnyáng, literally "dark-bright", "negative-positive")  describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. Many tangible dualities (such as light and dark, fire and water, expanding and contracting, left and right, black and white) are thought of as physical manifestations of the duality symbolized by yin and yang.

Duality is found in many belief systems, but yin and yang are parts of a Oneness that is also equated with the Tao. The term 'dualistic-monism' or dialectical monism has been coined in an attempt to express this fruitful paradox of simultaneous unity/duality. Yin and yang can be thought of as complementary (rather than opposing) forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts (Gestalt). Everything has both yin and yang aspects (for instance, shadow cannot exist without light). Either of the two major aspects may manifest more strongly in a particular object, depending on the criterion of the observation. The yin yang (i.e. taijitu symbol) shows a balance between two opposites with a portion of the opposite element in middle of each.

Let’s consider masculinity and femininity in terms of Yin and Yang.

Masculinity (manhood or manliness) is a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles associated with boys and men. Traits traditionally viewed as masculine in Western society include courage, independence, assertiveness and aggression. Masculine norms, as described in Ronald F. Levant's Masculinity Reconstructed, are "avoidance of femininity; restricted emotions; pursuit of achievement and status; self-reliance; strength and aggression; homophobia.

Femininity (womanliness or womanhood) is a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles generally associated with girls and women. Traits traditionally cited as feminine include gentleness, empathy, and sensitivity. While the defining characteristics of femininity are not universally identical, some patterns exist: gentleness, empathy, sensitivity, caring, sweetness, compassion, tolerance, nurturance, deference, and succorance are traits that have traditionally been cited as feminine.

Source: Wikipedia

Let’s read a pertinent quote from Junger (mentioned in Chapter 14) in Tribe, On Homecoming and Belonging, page 126:

The most alarming rhetoric comes out of the dispute between liberals and conservatives, it’s a dangerous waste of time because they’re both right. The perennial conservative concern about high taxes supporting a nonworking “underclass” has entirely legitimate roots in our evolutionary past and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Early hominids lived a precarious existence where freeloaders were a direct threat to survival, and so they developed an exceedingly acute sense of whether they were being taken advantage of by members of their own group. But by the same token, one of the hallmarks of early human society was the emergence of a culture of compassion that cared for the ill, the elderly, the wounded, and the unlucky. In today’s terms, that is a common liberal concern that also has to be taken into account. Those two driving forces have coexisted for hundreds of thousands of years in human society and have been duly codified in this country as a two-party political system. The eternal argument over so-called entitlement programs—and, more broadly, over liberal and conservative thought—will never be resolved because each side represents an ancient and absolutely essential component of our evolutionary past.


As Junger so succinctly implies, conservatives and particularly the alt-Right are the masculine Yin and the liberals particularly alt-Left are the feminine Yang. In the past 4 million years of Paleolithic human evolution, these two traits were working together in harmony and were invaluable to the survival of the species, otherwise our species could very well have gone extinct. Yin and Yang were evolutionarily selected and a product of human evolution. But now Yin and Yang seem to be separated and working against each other, as seen in the upside-down curve:


Recall the conclusion in Chapter 20: We are now very far from our genetic roots.

Let's look at the degrees of change in society over the 4 million years from Australopithecus to the advent of civilization, – which is the baseline described in Tribe, the cognitive, confirmation and argumentative biases and the tribal/warrior ethos - which is the ancient evolutionarily selected and genetically selected mindset of the hunter/gatherer era that resulted in the success of the Tribe and Homosapiens to the extinction of others.   Revolutions resulting in degrees of change from the Paleolithic tribal baseline are: Agriculture - 10,000 years ago; which led to the advent of Civilization – 6500 years ago; Science, a revolution in thinking – 1620; Industrial Revolution – 1760; Exponential growth of the human world population since 1900, from 500 million to 7 billion, see the graph below; then the Digital Revolution – 1980 and the information age - now.

So let’s look at degrees of change through each revolution. Our tribal hunter gatherer paleolithic past to agriculture: going from a small (50-100) mobile and physically demanding tribal community to a larger (100s perhaps 1000s) more stationary small city or town-like community.  Let’s say this is 30 degrees of change from the tribal baseline.  Agriculture to civilization: going from a small city or town-like environment to a huge state or nation-like environment complete with laws for expected behaviors – Mesopotamia and Hamarabi’s code.  Let’s call this 30 degrees of change. Scientific way of thinking to analyze and understand the world – 30 degrees of change. Industrial revolution – 30 degrees of change.  The exponential growth of the human world population since 1800, from 500 million to 7 billion – 30 degrees of change; Digital revolution and the information age and sedentary lifestyle – 30 degrees of change. These make up 180 degrees of change in 10,000 years from the evolutionarily and genetically selected, and now neurologically hardwired tribal instinct that was necessary for survival and resulted in Homo sapiens in the time from 4 million to 10,000 years ago.  10,000/4 million = ¼ of 1 percent.  In the last ¼ of 1 percent of its time in existence, humanity has created a society that is 180 degrees different from the one it evolutionarily created in the earlier 99.75 percent of its human history.  As a visual, picture this above World Population Graph, with the baseline extending to the left 399 times it’s present length, which is about the length of a football field.


So as we can see, starting 10,000 years ago those Paleolithic evolutionary traits of humanity were subject to huge societal change, and have moved 180 degrees into uncharted societal waters. How will our Paleolithic brains adapt to this new environment? Is our present societal polarization the result of our evolutionary cognitive, confirmation and argumentative neurological biases in the context of Yin and Yang? The answer could very well be yes. So what can we do?  Perhaps follow Thesis 1:


Maybe if we understand that we live in an extraordinarily complex world, and become aware of our evolutionarily selected cognitive biases that result in our confirmation biases that led to the tribe and argumentative state of mind which was then stoked by the warrior ethos, that has created this political polarization, we can reign in these human traits that have evolved over millions of years. Perhaps we could take a step back, try and detach ourselves from this genetic predisposition, and try and be a bit more rational rather than emotional in our political positions and discussions, seek truth rather than argument, listen, and reduce the amount of polarization and vitriol present in our society.


So let’s try and get away from illiberal-Left and alt-Right polarization, move towards the more rational Center, integrating aspects of both Yin and Yang (Left and Right) so our society resembles more the functional tribe from whence we genetically and evolutionarily came.


Note that with much of the historic perspective in this book being of Western origins, perhaps there are some things that the West could learn from the longest lasting civilization on the planet, China and the Far East, which is 5000 years old and is the only ancient civilization that still contines this day.