Google openly praises leftist terrorist supporters, Obama forces schools across the US to allow transexuals to choose the toilets they use. The West is fucked up. Yes, I know. The mission of this blog has been to explain in plain language why the Left exists, why it’s so crazy, and why it gets even crazier over time.
Part of that mission is to find similar instances of crazy political ideas in non-Western cultures. Sir John Glubb spent some time in the Arab world, and he seemed to have the same interests, so he produced a very interesting account on political madness in the Abassid empire, which looked fairly similar to contemporary leftism. I live in East Asia, and so I write a lot about East Asian history. I may end up making some money by selling my readers a fancy book with some stories. In the meanwhile, let me share another interesting anecdote.
The most fertile era of Chinese intellectual culture coincided with what came to be called the Axial Age. In China is the era between 550 BC and 200 BC, more or less. That’s the era of the Hundred Schools of thought. China was divided in many kingdoms, who each wanted a piece of each other. It was if anything more violent and chaotic that Classical Greece, which had similar dynamics; division, constant warfare, and amazing intellectual life.
This is of course the era of Confucius, Laozi, Sunzi and all that. Some of you may have some general idea about classical Chinese thinkers, but it’s also important to understand what was going on there. What kind of intellectual climate existed in that time. What happens when everyone is coming up with new ideas all the time? Think about it in contemporary terms. What happens when everybody and his grandma has his own ideas is… a whole lot of signaling spirals. See a small example. There was an old story about a king of Chu (Written wrongly as Qu in the above map, it’s the big brown blob in the south).
A King of Chu was out in the country on a hunting trip. He had a world famous bow, and the best arrows in the realm. So he was out there hunting dragons and rhinos (real story), when he dropped his bow. Lost it. The precious bow! His retinue was looking for it like crazy, but then the King told them to stop. “Stop looking for it. A Man of Chu lost his bow. A Man of Chu will find it. No need to search for it.”
To European ears this sounds like a pretty awesome king. A great loving king who cares about his subjects. He lost his precious, world famous bow. But it doesn’t matter, because he lost it in his territory. One of his subjects will find it, and use it for the good of his country. King or subject, we are all men of Chu, so who cares? What a great King. The stuff of legend.
The story soon became a cause of commentary across the other kingdoms in China. Every single one of the Hundred Schools had to publish their official stand on this story. What do you think of the King of Chu and his lost bow? It’s kinda like modern journalism, where everybody has to rush to publish their stance on every item of the news. Psychologists call this “common knowledge”, the social phenomenon where everybody is compelled to comment on something precisely because everybody else is doing so. This creates evolutionary pressures to reduce the total amount of information in society so that everything can be common knowledge and thus become efficient gossip, the fuel of human sociability. But I digress.
A modern nationalist would say that the King of Chu was an awesome king. But what did Confucius say about it?
‘The King of Chu is a humane king, but he’s still half-way. He could have said “a man lost his bow, a man will find it”. Why specify “A man of Chu”?’
The King of Chu wasn’t good enough in Confucius eyes because he dared put priority on his subjects, and not be equally nice to all humanity. Because Confucius, of course, was a humanitarian. A universalist. The King of Chu was a petty man who cared about his subjects, not about the entire humanity.
So basically, Confucius today would approve of Angela Merkel and Bryan Caplan. Thanks dude. No wonder he was never taken seriously by any of the dozens of kings of his time, and died a low-class civil servant. His universalism however was catnip for the nascent class of non-aristocratic bureaucrats, who developed it for centuries after his death. They loved this “we are above armies, borders, and that gruesome stuff. We care about righteousness and love, about what is right for all humanity”. This in 300 BC. Do you see now why the First Emperor burnt their books and buried the scholars alive after he unified the Empire?
As a bonus, guess what the Daoists had to say about the King’s bow.
“Why mention people at all?” That’s right. A bow was lost. A bow was found. It doesn’t need to be a man of Chu. It doesn’t need to be a man at all. It can be a snake, or a frog. Or a tree. We are all part of nature, maaan. Want some more weed?
This is explicitly recorded as the Confucians being more 公, more public minded than the King, and the Daoists being more public minded than the Confucians. If this is not a virtue signaling spiral, I don’t know what is. And again, this was going on 2200 years ago.