The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Tag: Confucius

The Role of Character and Ideology in Prosperity

(First of two collections of important articles published 2014 or earlier. Read the second.)

I want to take readers through some of my previous writing on ideology and character, and how they help form the societies in which we live. Taking the time to read these articles (a short book’s worth), should vastly improve your understanding of the world and the articles to come. It should be worth your time, even if you read the articles when they were previously published, as, at the time, they lacked both context and commentary, and were not collated to be read together so that the connections were obvious.

(I have a lot of new readers, so I’m going to kick this back to the top. These are some of the most important articles I have written–Ian)

Baseline Predictions for the Next 60 Years

While not an article about ideology, the above is an article about where our current ideology and character are going to take us: To the brink of disaster and possibly beyond, while continuing to impoverish and disempower larger and larger segments of the human race. This might be a slightly optimistic piece; there’s some reason to believe our actions in the world’s oceans could destroy the oxygen cycle, and if this is so, events will be much, much worse.

What Is an Ideology and Why Do We Need a New One?

Too many people think ideologies are some airy-fairy nonsense, while they themselves are “pragmatic” men and women operating on common sense and facts. Such people are amongst the greatest of all fools: Our entire society is based on interlocking ideologies; the primary of which are neoliberalism, capitalism, human rights, and socialism. It is not obvious, nor was it obvious to most societies that have ever existed, for example, that food should be distributed based on money, nor that ideas could be property. How we organize things, our particular ideas about markets and their role, and our ideas about who should lead us, are ideological. If we want to change society, we need to be able to control markets so they aren’t producing a world that makes us sick, unhappy, and, in increasing numbers, dead.

How to Create a Viable Ideology

(I am fundraising to determine how much I’ll write this year. If you value my writing, and want more of it, please consider donating.)

We may look at current trends and realize that if we don’t reverse them–and reverse them fast–billions will suffer or die; but creating an ideology which can reverse these trends requires us to understand what makes an ideology viable and powerful. An ideology which does not create believers willing to die, and to kill, on its behalf, will lose to those that do. An ideology which cannot prevent people from selling out, from betraying, will definitely lose in the current world, where there is so much money available at the top to simply buy out (for billions) those who create something new, so that anything new can be neutralized into nothing but a monetization scheme.

Our Theory of Human Nature Predicts Our Policies

The ideas of an ideology determine how our society is run, and, of those ideas, none is more important than what we make of human nature.

A Theory of Human Nature Suited to Prosperity and Freedom

If we are trying to create a prosperous, free world, our policies must be based in a theory of human nature that is both true (enough) and which leads to policies that create widespread affluence and human freedom.

Character Is Destiny

Ideology and character are intertwined. Character determines what we do, what we don’t do, and how we do it. The character of large numbers of people determines the destinies of nations and of the world itself. If we want to make the world better (or worse), we must change our own characters. Those who fail to understand how character is created (and changed) will never change the world–except accidentally.

How Everyday Life Creates Our Character

Along with, as noted, our destiny. I always laugh at radicals who want more schooling, because schooling is where people learn to sit down, shut up, give the approved answers, and do what they’re told. Working life, as an adult, continues this process of learned powerlessness and acquiescence, and even in our consumptive and political lives we continue the trend; choosing from the choices offered, rather than producing what we actually need for ourselves.

How Everyday Life Creates Sociopathic Corporate Leaders

Those who lead our corporations control most of our lives, even more so than the government, because they set the terms by which we live, die, and can afford the good things in life. Our daily lives are prescribed by these people, from how we work to what we eat, to what we entertain ourselves with. We need, therefore, to understand the character traits for which our leaders are chosen, and how the process of choosing works. If we can’t learn to create and choose better leaders, we will never have a better world.

The Difference Between Ethics and Morals

If we want an ideology that tells us how to create both a better world and the people with the character to create that world, we must understand what sort of people they should be. To accomplish this, we must first understand how they treat other people–the people they know, and more importantly, the people they don’t.

The Fundamental Feedback Loop for a Better World

The shortest article on this list, this is also one of the most important and speaks directly to how money directs behaviour and how that directs our choice in leaders.

Living in a Rich Society

It’s been so long since parts of the West were truly prosperous that people have forgotten what it’s like, and they’ve forgotten that it creates a different type of person than a scarcity society.

Late 19th and Early 20th Century Intellectual Roots

Lived experience creates character and character feeds into ideology. It’s worth looking at how various themes of the Victorian era were created by those who lived through that time and the time that came before it.

What Confucius Teaches Those Who Want a Better World

Amongst those who have created powerful ideologies, Confucius is in the first rank; Confucianism has been the most important ideology of the most populous and advanced region of the world for most of the last two thousand years–or more. Confucius was very aware of what he was trying to do, had a theory of human nature, and a theory of character. We would be fools not to learn from him.

Concluding Remarks

I hope that those who are interested in creating a better world will read the articles linked above. What I’ve written amounts to a short book, and the ideas are interrelated. If you have read a few of my posts, or even read all of them, but not thought of or read them with each other in mind, you cannot have the full picture of how these ideas work together, and why the different parts are necessary.

Ideas are often destroyed in practice by those who do not understand the reasons for the various pieces of the puzzle and prescriptions. These people feel they can pick and choose without that understanding. Character and ideology and ethics and every day life are all intertwined; you cannot pick one and say,”This is supreme.” They create each other.

Of course, the above is not a complete intellectual package. Large chunks are missing. My next piece will be a review of some key economic articles, specifically concerning why the world is as it is today: Why we lost post-war liberalism, why we have austerity and neoliberalism and so-called free trade. That piece comes after this one because without understanding our own characters, the characters of our leaders, and how ideology works, we cannot understand our current circumstances.

I will then be moving on to new articles that focus on technology, geography, the environment, and their effect on societies though the ages, with an emphasis on those technologies and environments which create prosperity, freedom, and egalitarian cultures and explore why they do so. There is an important trend today, an argument, about changing our technology to improve society, but it will only work if we understand how technology changes society.

Originally published Oct 2, 2014.  Republished July 28, 2015, March 6, 2016 & October 2, 2017.

If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Book Review: Confucius and the Chinese Way, by H. G. Creel

Statue of Confucius from Rizal Park in ManilaAmong ideologies and religions, one of the longest lasting and most influential was Confucianism. Confucianism was the most important ideology of the Chinese for about two thousand years, and China was either the first or second most advanced region of the world for most of that time (India being the other contender.)

The review is of an older book, published in 1949, before Confucian influence was so heavily hit by the rise of Communism.

Confucianism, by that time, was seen as an essentially reactionary philosophy: Everyone should know their place and stay in it, worship their ancestors, obey their parents, and so on, but Creel argues, convincingly, I believe, that Confucianism was a radical project at the start.

Confucius lived in a period of warring states. Huge armies were raised, battles were frequent, taxation and levies were harsh, and maiming and torture were common. Ordinary people were much afflicted, as noble families fought it out to see who would unify China.

Confucius believed that the welfare of the common people should be the goal of ruling, and he set out to do something about it. That something was to create a philosophy, and a teaching, which produced officers for the lords, officers who had been trained to believe the common weal was the goal of rulership.

Confucius astutely noticed that there was no formalized training for officials and created it. He wasn’t the only one to so notice: The legalists and the Mohists did as well, but in the end, it was his system that worked.

Confucius decided to build off human nature as he observed it: He noted that parents tend to love their children and care for them, and that children love their parents. He tried to take that love and transfer it to officials and rulers. Rulers were to treat those below them as beloved children, and those below were to obey their rulers as parents.

Confucius wasn’t a fool, of course. He understand that this could be abused, so he noted that if a ruler didn’t act like a loving parent, with beneficience to those he ruled, then he wasn’t actually a ruler, but a tyrant, and duty was to oppose him.

A ruler should pick the best officials, and leave the governing to them, with an eye to flourishing of all.

Confucians should act out of benevolence no matter the circumstances, or even the results. Confucius recognized that one could try to do good, and though “Heaven” could frustrate one, the merit lay in trying. Thus, a man who tried could feel secure that he had done his duty, whether he succeeded, or even was ever appointed at all. Willingness and ability to serve was enough.

Interestingly, Confucianism was most successful in two periods: before the unification of China and for something over a hundred years afterwards. The Confucians were quite popular with the people, and princes wanted their support. When the first Emperor of China won, he did it primarily through Legalist doctrines (individuals exist only to serve the state, and the Emperor is the absolute ruler), but his dynasty was soon overthrown with the aid of Confucians, and the first few Emperors were good Confucians, until an ambitious and smart one came along who decided to gain control over the Confucians.

How he did so is a lesson which should resonate though history: He formalized teaching of Confucianism with appointed masters and teachers with stipends and so on. He chose them, he controlled their finances. Confucianism seemed to benefit from this, but, of course, it put Confucians and Confucianism largely under Imperial control. From that point on, Confucianism (very generally speaking, we’re talking about two millenia of history) was never again so beneficial for the people, and much more of a prop for the ruling class.

The Confucian sages and scholars had been, to use the modern word, co-opted.

A few summers ago, I read a large number of books on Confucianism, and for my purposes this was the best, because what interested me most was the life cycle of the ideology: How it rose, how it gained power, and how it fell.

Confucius, famously, died thinking he was a failure (as Jesus may have, and many other reformers). Only after his death did his teachings become influential, and the day they truly took power, it seems to me, is when the days of their full benefit became numbered.

This is normal for ideologies, and Confucianism got a far, far longer run, than most at being beneficial.

Seeing this cycle play out millennia ago is a nice antidote to studying more recent rises and falls; such as the relating to the end of New Deal liberalism with Reagan/Thatcher, or the end of the world system put in place after Napoleon.

It is also, in some ways, a master class in the details of ideology creation: Confucius created a system which had innate rewards for those individuals who followed it, which was beneficial to the governments which adopted it, and which was able to create a large group of people who wanted it to continue, while ensuring a wide support base in the population.

All of this makes for fascinating reading, and I recommend this book highly, though it’s old and may be hard to find a copy.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén