January 1974, I began publishing the monthly Living in the Ozarks Newsletter (LION) using a hand-crank mimeograph machine at my mountain home in the Arkansas Ozarks. I wrote the newsletter for 36 months to share homesteading information and thoughts with other back-to-the-landers. In 1976, the Arkansas History Commission put the 36 newsletters (367 frames) in the state archives. Unfortunately, the only internet references I found were after 1976 when the LION name was used by someone else. This story was in the first issue of Living in the Ozarks Newsletter.
As Tzu-Gung was traveling through the regions north of the river Han, he saw an old man working in his vegetable garden. He had dug an irrigation ditch. The man would descend into a well, fetch up a vessel of water in his arms and pour it out into the ditch. While his efforts were tremendous, the results appeared to be very meager. Tzu-Gung said, “There is a way whereby you can irrigate a hundred ditches in one day, and whereby you can do much with little effort. Would you not like to hear of it?” Then the gardener stood up, looked at him and said, "And what would that be?” Tzu-Gung replied, “You take a wooden lever, weighted at the back and light in the front. In this way you can bring up water so quickly that it just gushes out. This is called a draw-well.” Then anger rose up in the old man’s face and he said, “I have heard my teacher say that whoever uses machines does all his work like a machine. He who does his work like a machine grows a heart like a machine, and he who carries the heart of a machine in his breast loses his simplicity. He who has lost his simplicity becomes unsure in the strivings of his soul. Uncertainty in the strivings of the soul is something which does not agree with honest sense. It is not that I do not know of such things; I am ashamed to use them.”
This story has been retold countless times. In his book, “The Physicist's Conception of Nature,” Werner Heisenberg used the story and wrote “it has often been said that the far-reaching changes in our environment and in our way of life wrought by this technical age have also changed dangerously our ways of thinking” and that “this objection is much older than modern technology and science, the use of implements going back to man’s earliest beginnings. Thus, two and a half thousand years ago, the Chinese sage Chuang-Tzu spoke of the danger of the machine.”
Today, people are enamored by movies, television, computers, the internet, video games and so-called smart phones. People are so mesmerized by their hand-held devices that they walk into walls. How smart is that?
I’m not one to glorify primitive people. They live short, painful, frightened, and brutish lives. Instead, I’m inclined to agree with Ishi that modern men and women are “sophisticated children...smart but not wise” from “Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America” by Theodora Kroeber. Yet striving to find a balance between appreciation for technology and nature brings to mind a line from the prologue of Goethe’s Faust: “Es irrt der Mensch so lang er strebt.” Man will err as long as he strives.