It's been a while since I last consulted the oracle. With all the turmoil in stock and credit markets the time is now right. I asked: how bad will the economic crisis be? And the I Ching answered that it could be bad, very bad. But it said more than that, too. In a sense, it redefined my question - or answered a somewhat different question than the one I had asked. The response had more to do with what was happening at the moment, rather than how bad things might get.
The primary hexagram the came forth was, "Youthful Folly," which may be an apt description of how we have come to find ourselves in the mess we are in. When we consider the moving lines, the I Ching suggests that circumstances are trending toward "Opposition," another clear element of the current political situation. Below the jump I will analyze all this, but let me just say here that the I Ching has again come up with an analysis striking in its applicability.
For those interested in the exact hexagrams, the first was number four, Youthful Folly:
With moving lines in the first and fourth positions, we get a tendency toward hexagram number 38, Opposition:
Over the many years that I have been consulting the I Ching I have only very rarely encountered Youthful Folly. Indeed, when I was younger I lived in fear of it, worried that it would point to my own immaturity and inexperience. It is striking that it emerges here because it captures a fair amount of the commentary that has been put forth in recent weeks regarding the on-going economic crisis.
Youthful Folly describes a dangerous moment: "stopping in perplexity on the brink of a dangerous abyss..." The picture painted here is of a young person facing uncertainty and peril - indeed the peril, in some part, is a product of the young fool himself - and he is in need of an experienced teacher to show him the way out. The young fool in trouble must understand that he needs help and must seek it out in all modesty and humility. And the teacher must respond clearly:
A teacher's answer to the question of a pupil ought to be clear and definite like that expected from an oracle; thereupon it ought to be accepted as a key for resolution of doubts and a basis for decision. If mistrustful or unintelligent questioning is kept up, it serves only to annoy the teacher. He does well to ignore it in silence, just as the oracle gives one answer only and refuses to be tempted by questions implying doubt.
The key to interpreting this passage is the determination of who, or what, is the teacher and who is the pupil. It it quite tempting to say that the "teacher" is that sector of the national political leadership that is urging quick action to respond to the immediate crisis. They must be heeded and action must be taken. The House Republicans, who are most responsible for voting down the most recent "bailout" bill, could be cast here as offering nothing but "mistrustful and unintelligent questioning". The pupil is the markets, or those in the markets asking for help.
There are alternative possibilities. Is the market the teacher, giving up its "lesson" of discipline? Perhaps. All I will say is that the notion of foolish and rash behavior creating a problem which now demands some sort of teacher's wisdom says something about where we find ourselves.
The moving lines I drew were rather ominous. The six in the first place wasn't too bad, suggesting that a recession might be necessary:
To make a fool develop it furthers one to apply discipline. The fetters should be removed. To go on in this way brings humiliation.
And perhaps that humiliation is required to straighten out the fool. But before we accept this as an acceptance of necessary unfettered market discipline that gives the selfish Wall Streeters what they deserve, take a look at what six in the fourth place portends:
Entangled folly brings humiliation.
That's it. One line. The associated commentary draws a rather bleak interpretation of the condition of "entangled folly:"
For youthful folly it is the most hopeless thing to entangle itself in empty imaginings. The more obstinately it clings to such unreal fantasies, the more certainly will humiliation overtake it.
Often the teacher, when confronted with such entangled folly, has no other course but to leave the fool to himself for a time, not sparing him the humiliation that results. This is frequently the only means of rescue.
To me this suggests a more drawn out and difficult situation, a struggle with competing ideas and interpretations and plans for action, all of which fail to address the underlying problem, prolonging the humiliation. That, the oracle is suggesting, is where we are now.
And when we look forward to where things are going, it doesn't look much better: Opposition.
When people live in opposition and estrangement they cannot carry out a great undertaking in common; their points of view diverge too widely. In such circumstances one should above all not proceed brusquely, for that would only increase the existing opposition; instead, one should limit oneself to producing gradual effects in small matters. Here success can still be expected, because the situation is such that the opposition does not preclude all agreement.
Things will get worse. The economy will sour, politics will sharpen and grow even more contentious. Yet for all of that the I Ching tells us where we can find the good:
In small matters, good fortune.
Solutions and improvements will not come from the top down, from the national leadership to the local level. Rather, thins will get better bit by bit as small, local conditions change. I just hope it doesn't take too long or hurt too much.