There are many people in the World who feel compelled to choose sides in any conflict. “Us vs Them” is deeply ingrained in our collective Nature. It is also deeply satisfying to vent pent up negative emotion on a safe, officially designated target. Much more so when that target justifies such feelings with their consummate otherness & embodiment of both “wrong” & “alien” values. The rush of being in such a conflict often blinds people to the overwhelming number of similarities that exist between all groups & individuals. Often, these similarities, & the futility of the conflict, are obvious to outside observers. This could be a description of many conflicts in our World. But it is also description of the ground for the first great clash of philosophical schools in China: the Ru-Mo Debate.
The Ruists, better known in the West as “Confucians”, were the first formal School of Thought in China. They were specialists in the interpretation of Zhou Dynasty ritual texts, originally. Their focused shifted to education with the rise of Confucius & has stayed there since, for the most part. Granted, no one asked them to do this. No one commanded them to bear this burden. They simply took it upon themselves to assume primary responsibility for the moral education of the Chinese people. And they were as petty, as quibbling, & as self-involved in this pursuit as they had been analyzing the correct degrees of emotion shown during choreographed public displays of familial sentiment. But their commitment to education remained as robust, & deaf to criticism, as it had always been.
The Mohists, known mainly to the West for the various amateurish interpretations of their doctrine of “Universal Love”, were the first serious, sustained challenge to the intellectual foundations & assumptions of Ruist thought. The founder of the movement, Mo Di, seems to have originally been a craftsman, though an incredibly brilliant & well educated one. He believed in objective, measurable standards that anyone could understand. In terms of social & moral ideas, there is no real difference between his position & that of the Ruists. The primacy of concern for others, as opposed to the Ru “family first” preference, & the desire for an objective-yet-simple standard as the basis for society, are the most distinguishing features of the Mohists.
On the one hand, is the belief that the behavior of the common people must be controlled for their own good. On the other hand, is the belief that the behavior of the common people must be regimented for their own good.
But little else distinguishes the two groups. They want the same things, for the same reasons. The ferocity of their conflict seems strange, unless you take Human Nature into account. Behind all the moralizing & compassion is a desire to remake society in their own image. That seems like little more than an attempt at passive dominance: the masses of common people obey without question, because it is impossible for them to even conceive of an alternative. How could such a situation exist? By what Method are common people made intelligent enough to function in a complex society, yet dull enough to never question the arbitrary proclamations of self-serving bureaucratic elitists?
Both Schools arrived at the same conclusion: Control the structure & content of Language in order to control the Minds of the common people. They intended to introduce & enforce their ideal social structure via control of Language. While it is true that the Language an individual is raised speaking will have an effect on that individual’s sense or experience of reality; that effect is not capable of instantaneously rewriting either the individual or consensus experiences of reality.
At this point, we begin to see the relevance of this conflict, as waged by these two particular opponents, to our Modern Global Situation©. Total Control is the desired end. Thought Control is the Method of choice, due to the tendency of totalitarians to default to Magical Thinking born of over-simplification. Total Disconnection From Reality (on the part of the Beautiful Elites) is the preferred delivery method.
And this time, its racially ambigous, Demi-sexual, Gender Queered, Persons of Colour-centic.
While jokes are all well & good, these comments are made for a reason. Historically, the Ru-Mo Debate began before the Warring States period, that period in the later Zhou Dynasty where the feudal rulers barely paid lip service to the reigning monarch. In an era of increasing militarization, factionalism, avarice, & cruelty, the heads of the two most important intellectual movements of the time were completely preoccupied with explaining the barely-extant differences between their respective “Make Zhou Moral Again” political platforms. They couldn’t see the feudal Lords increasing the sizes of their private armies. Ultimately, both the Ruists & the Mohists were so preoccupied with convincing themselves of their worthiness to rule, that they couldn’t see how their society had shifted toward open militarism.
The Ru-Mo Debate, at its core, can be seen as a conflict between two nearly-indistinguishable factions over who will sit at the top of the social hierarchy. And, to be clear, both factions considered the Emperor to be simultaneously above common people yet well below their own leaders. It was a “do as I say, not as I do”, situation if ever there was one. But it was also a “True Power Behind the Throne” scenario: these petty bureaucrats & self-important ideologues actually believed themselves to be more morally pure than the sitting rulers.
- Are you starting to see some parallels between their situation & our own?
- Autocratic elites pontificating from self-appointed positions of authority
- Excessive displays of public moralizing, virtue signaling, & hand wringing
- Public disagreement disguising Private collusion
- Active sedition against the legitimate authorities
- Common people forced into endless Double-binds, Catch 22’s, & No-Win situations
One of the biggest differences between our modern situation & the historical incidents playing out in the background of the Ru-Mo Debate is the state of our standing Armed Forces. As of the time of this writing, all branches of the United States Armed Forces are still in service to the government. We do not have any formerly official Units suddenly becoming the elite troops of some random Governor in the 48 Contiguous States. We do, however, have the out-of-touch, wannabe elitist weirdos acting as if they were in complete control of said Armed Forces.
This has been said many times before, but we stand at a crossroads. Will we, as individuals & countries, allow petty bureaucrats to push us around? Will we collectively cede our freedom, & our dignity?
Once again, fools debate what is to be done with “the people”. They speak of us as if we were all children, or worse, livestock. They sit in full view, knowing that we can hear them, talking at great length of our “limitations”, our “pettiness”, our inability to delay gratification. Thousands of years ago, the people of China watched two groups of self-involved narcissists engage in bloodless conflict, empty rhetoric, & outright lies, as they contended for the right to shape the larger society in their own image. The rulers & common people alike watched these debates, heard the unrestrained arrogance used by these “scholars”, yet took no action to defend their right of free-choice. In my opinion, Chinese Culture has suffered for it, ever since.
Will we do the same?