Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Speculations on Chinese forms of humanism

One of mankind's greatest humanists is nowadays associated with authoritarianism by virtue of the string of failed idealistic philsophies based on his ideas. Today he is known as Confucius, and the group he led failed to produce anything beside resentment from the leaders of his time. It was only three hundred years later, during the time of gentleman now known as Mencius that the ethical principles were reformed into practice against the brutal tyranny of the time. Now that Confucian humanism and tyranny are both parts of the controlled economy of China, the experiment has borne fruit finally in a prosperous if rather unstable nation. The wisdom of Confucius lies in his assertion of our alienness and strangeness as conscious beings, and his wise acceptance that mass training was required for humans to live together. He advocated domestication of our species based on five key relationships that carried moral obligations. But on top of this domestication of the human animal, he asserted the human in the most dynamic and brilliant imaginable way: through an examination of skills in poetry, calligraphy, and many others arts and sports, those humans most capable of moral and aesthetic consciousness were uplifted to an elite corpus. Over many thousands of years the Analects, the sayings of Confucius, were memorised by the Chinese people in early childhood as part of their domestication. The result was a stable system of governance that continues to this day, rooted in the realities the animal nature of the human species, yet asserting the human triumphantly within that system.

Contact with the West, which lacked any kind of mass domestication process until the Roman Empire assimilated Christianity and Judaism, showed the Chinese that en mass expressions of humanism were possible if individualism was enhanced. But individuals - or in the West these days the commercial trappings that denote individuality - are expensive commodities to train, and useless for a whole range of useful forms of governance. So the retreat to Confucian-style central control of society was a useful defense against the West while the Chinese discovered if any genuine good prospects existed in the West. Overall it would seem that Chinese society has discovered the West is a useful way to ensure prosperity for China. The sense of impeding tragedy is strong in the Chinese, and instead of the tragic being interpreted as a individual pride and egotism failing against a brutal nature as it has been in the West, the Chinese sense of the tragic embodies the failure to be the best possible beast of burden. In a race to be the most domesticated, Chinese culture idealises expressions of individualism that are ardently sentimental and mawkish, and cherish stereotypification as the embodiment of collective ideology. The Confucian experiment has finally failed, by producing only stale prosperity. We await from the Chinese a new formulation of the assertion of what it signifies to be human.


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