Book review of The Analects of Confucius.
Confucius lived at around the same time as the great Greek philosophers, when thinking and learning were becoming more possible with the rise of cities and non-farming opportunities. Dusted off and misused by modern ChiCom tyrants and incompetent Korean bosses, his philosophy is not quite the ‘rote learn piles of useless rubbish and do as you’re bloody well told, dirty peasant’ line pushed by those who assume their material-obsessed populace will not actually read his work.
The Analects are collected sayings of the old teacher as reported by his students, similar to the Islamic Hadith literature. So let’s have a look.
The Master said, ‘Learning without thought is labour lost; thought without learning is perilous.’
Every tiger mum should have this tattooed backwards on her Botoxed forehead. The Asian obsession with ridiculous hours of ‘study’ (memorization and repetition) is hopelessly inefficient. Even though we are far lazier, the west continues to lead in many areas of technological innovation. This must at least partly be a consequence of Asian anti-education, that is, the practice of training children to merely listen, obey and to turn off their brains altogether. Thinking and curiousity are essential.
The Master said, ‘The study of strange doctrines is injurious indeed!’
I disagree. One should study everything. The brilliance of western Enlightenment is our realization that we are able to consider and entertain a concept in our minds without actually being convinced by it. This is something that Medieval Europe and many contemporary, more primitive cultures cannot get their heads around.
Read the Koran. Read Mao’s Little Red Book. Read Mein Kamph. Don’t forget the Nirvana Sutra and maybe some femo dross to round it out. Only a fool need fear that he will become a Muslim, Communist, Nazi, Buddhist or Feminist merely according to whichever of these he had read last.
Mind you, this is a genuine fear for fools. The unintelligent should be discouraged from reading significant texts and their education should focus on practical skills. This group consists of the greater part of the global population.
In high school I knew this dickhead called Jim. He would consistently be swayed by whatever ne’er-do-wells happened to be letting him hang around at the time. Years later I ran into him and he started going on about how he’d become involved in one of those wog separatists movements. I immediately thought, of course! How could he not get recruited into one of those eternally dissatisfied organizations? Though he was not one, I suppose this is where suicide bombers come from. The tenuous point here is, simple people should indeed be kept away from strange doctrines.
The Master said, ‘Yu, shall I teach you what knowledge is? When you know a thing, to hold that you know it; and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it; – this is knowledge.’
This is very similar to what Socrates said, although he claimed to know nothing at all. Certainly there is great foolishness in arrogantly believing things we could not possibly know for sure, such as the existence of the Gods, fairy tales about the creation of the universe, or anything much in the realm of morals.
The Master said, ‘They who know the truth are not equal to those who love it, and they who love it are not equal to those who delight in it.’
It is remarkable how few individuals and cultures in history have delighted in truth. Most hate at least some aspects of it and try to keep it hidden, most especially regarding religion, morality and politics. And more recently, race and sex. The average person abhors the truth and gets offended if it is spoken aloud, though the particular truths that will have them brandishing pitchforks vary according to time and place.
Like the Greeks, Confucius sensibly avoids discussion of spiritual matters. You can only do what you can do. I like to fancy that, had he been born in freer times, he would have said exactly what I say, but who knows.
The Master said, ‘What the superior man seeks, is in himself. What the mean man seeks, is in others.’
Want of forbearance in small matters confounds great plans.
How true. The world’s lesser people are unable to endure the difficulty and delayed reward of study, the tediousness of contraception or the frugality to save and invest. In fact, lack of forbearance is probably the primary cause of poverty in the developed world, and in lots of the rest of it, too.
Confucian thought has influenced the West in various ways since his teaching was translated by the Jesuits in the 1600s. The idea of the consent of the governed had an impact on the Enlightenment and the American Revolution, though few Patriots would have known this. The concept of education for all led to mass schooling first in Prussia then in many other places. The idea that the educated should govern led to the Chinese public service exams, a concept now embraced by most parts of the world and excluding a few that have gone backwards for reasons of political correctness. It seems that the people getting the top scores did not adequately resemble those clip art photos for the search term ‘office team’.
Those ‘Confucius say’ jokes were always dull. There was only one that was ever funny. This is it:
Confucius say: “Man who go to bed with itchy bottom wake up with smelly fingers.”