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Why are intellectuals so Grecophilic?

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Robert J. Kolker
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Read the context. It was in response to David saying that Chinese culture is essentially irrelevant to "our" lives. Unless by "our", he meant only "white people", it is obviously an ignorant statement.
Read the context: "our" refers to this intellectual community, though more generally my statement is true for western civilization. Please don't be so obviously ignorant of the context of the thread. China has made a minor contribution to western civilization (note that Australian aborigines, Bushmen, Aztecs and Georgians -- the Caucasians, not the guys north of Florida -- have made a negligible contribution). The fact that a third of the world's population is totally irrelevant to the question. Go back and read the question. Why do we focus on Greek intellectual contributions? Because Greek intellectual contributions are still superb. They are the foundation, and indeed essential to day-to-day application of the mind in the struggle to survive as man. Why do we ignore the bureaucratic contributions of classical Chinese civilization? Because that are irrelevant. They have very little bearing on our lives. I've listed the substantive contributions of China, not please tell me, what important aspects of Chinese science and philosophy have I left out?

You are mindlessly chanting the war-dance of the multi-culturalists. All societies are completely the same. There is no difference at all between the savage nomadic hordes in the north and the refined city-dwellers in the south. The Bushman hunter-gather is just as sophisticated as the particle physicist, in his own way. If you can see that there is actually a difference between the primitive tribalist and the citizen of a real advanced society, then you ought to be able to grasp the concept that some societies are actually better than others. I've already made it abundantly clear that I recognise that China has long been superior to Greece in the maintainence of the central state and in the elevation of the state over the individual. Why then can't you recognise that Greece was superior in the development of the stuff that really counts.

Namely, reason.

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The very reason your "massive, right-trampling slave state" is moving up in the pecking order is because they have adopted capitalism and, to some extent, began to embrace individual rights. To me it is very clear that if they ever overtook the United States, it would be because they have adopted similar values to the United States.

The fact is they are Westernizing China, in the sense that they are clearly moving toward a capitalistic society and hence inevitably becoming a freer society.

I agree with these statements.

So no, it's not a very scary concept at all, rationally speaking.

I agree. In fact, I welcome any and all advancement by Asian societies or any other societies, insofar as it represents the triumph of rational principles. Everyone on earth benefits through peaceful intercourse when societies advance.

Everything else though remains very much Chinese -- and that's as it should be.

Whatever its fault, China remains by far the oldest and one of the most dominant civilization on Earth.

I am not sure of the relevance of these statements. Should China be Chinese? China is Chinese, by definition. What is relevant is that all Chinese should be completely free to peacefully pursue their values, whether those values are Chinese calligraphy and Chinese food, or eating at McDonald's and listening to American jazz. If a Chinese pursues "American" values, is he not still Chinese?

Conversely, if an American becomes a "Chinophile", learning the language and immersing himself in the culture, is he any less an American?

As for China being old and dominant for much of its history, that may be true, but what does it matter? Ancient Rome was a dominant society. Today Italy is much less dominant. What really matters is why societies rise and fall. For example, why did China lose its dominance? What will make China dominant again? (You have provided the answer to that one. Of course, the jury is still out whether China truly adopts the principles of individualism and limited government, especially when the leading exponent of such values, the United States, is gradually losing them.)

I am also equivocating on the meaning of dominant. The dominance that matters is the dominance of freedom, not military dominance. In that sense, human history is generally poor, until the emergence of freedom in Europe and America beginning several hundred years ago. That was a Western achievement, made possible by the re-introduction of the ideas of Greece during the Renaissance. Could that be why Objectivist intellectuals are so Grecophilic?

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...To me it is very clear that if [Communist China] ever overtook the United States, it would be because they have adopted similar values to the United States.

So no, it's not a very scary concept at all, rationally speaking.

The fact is they are Westernizing China, in the sense that they are clearly moving toward a capitalistic society and hence inevitably becoming a freer society. Everything else though remains very much Chinese -- and that's as it should be. Whatever its fault, China remains by far the oldest and one of the most dominant civilization on Earth.

(bold mine)

So did Imperial Germany. It still led to the Nazis, because they insisted upon remaining culturally German. Ditto for Imperial Japan. You need to study western history more!

Like David says, you are making some pretty big mistakes here. So no, that is very much NOT how it "should be."

Ancient Egypt was very old and very dominant, as well. Dominant at being a miserable, rights-trampling pest-hole. It resembled China that way.

Edited by Inspector
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I am not sure of the relevance of these statements. Should China be Chinese? China is Chinese, by definition. What is relevant is that all Chinese should be completely free to peacefully pursue their values, whether those values are Chinese calligraphy and Chinese food, or eating at McDonald's and listening to American jazz. If a Chinese pursues "American" values, is he not still Chinese?

I wasn't very clear on my meaning. What I am trying to say is that while there are essential values that are rationally, universally true, in a culture there are many optional values that are promoted or de-emphasized by its society. What I am saying is that China shouldn't sacrifice its traditional values, history, and culture just to "Westernize".

In fact, I think the only values that China really need to absorb are capitalism and individual rights -- which it is already doing. If that's "Westernization" --and I would actually consider it more as "Humanization" since I think those values are universal-- then I am all about it.

Like David says, you are making some pretty big mistakes here. So no, that is very much NOT how it "should be."

Clarify.

Ancient Egypt was very old and very dominant, as well. Dominant at being a miserable, rights-trampling pest-hole. It resembled China that way.

If you are judging them by modern standards, then "a miserable, rights-trampling pest-hole" would in fact resemble to every single civilization prior to the United States. What's your point?

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The idea that you need individual rights to have prosperity is correct, but it's a long term principle. You can have prosperity in the short term without it (for example by introducing new technologies), but it will all come crashing down.

This is what worries me about China. Everything's great today because we're still in the short term. But *in principle* a bad time will come. And when the strict state no longer has economic progress to legitimize it, what do they do? Do they start being all nationalistic to keep the citizens happy?

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You are mindlessly chanting the war-dance of the multi-culturalists. All societies are completely the same. There is no difference at all between the savage nomadic hordes in the north and the refined city-dwellers in the south. The Bushman hunter-gather is just as sophisticated as the particle physicist, in his own way.

Where did I say that? Do not make things up in your mind then put it in my mouth.

Why then can't you recognise that Greece was superior in the development of the stuff that really counts.

Namely, reason.

I did recognize that the Greeks developed a sounder philosophical foundation, and has said so in this thread. Why you've failed to read it that is beyond me.

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As for China, why did it sink in stagnation while the West rose from the Renaissance era onward? For that matter, why was China unable to resist the Western pressure to trade in opium and other goods, and for Western enclaves to be established on its soil? Why did the Industrial Revolution happen in the West and not in China, despite China's impressive technological advances such as gunpowder and steelmaking?

I would suggest that the presence or absence of certain *ideas* explain these differences. Specific ideas lead to specific institutions (or lack of them), with specific political and economic consequences.

After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, European civilization stagnated and rotted. We have the Dark Ages. Well named. Europe recovered the gifts of Greek Civilization mostly by way of Muslim and Jewish scholars who saved some of the material that would otherwise have been lost forever.

A good part of the material at the Library of Alexandria was first destroyed by the Romans (during the time of Caesar) and later by the Christians. The same sort who killed Hypatia. It was only good fortune that saved what we did recover.

Civilizations rise and then they fall. That is the way of it.

Bob Kolker

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This is what worries me about China. Everything's great today because we're still in the short term. But *in principle* a bad time will come. And when the strict state no longer has economic progress to legitimize it, what do they do? Do they start being all nationalistic to keep the citizens happy?

That's why hopefully they will continue in the direction that they are heading towards right now -- toward greater freedom, in both thought and trade.

Although you're absolutely right about the long term effects vs the short term. That's also why I think it would be an extremely stupid idea for China to just suddenly decided to transform a largely under-educated nation into a free, capitalistic country over night. Look at what happened to Russia.

Personally I think China is doing absolutely the right thing -- first you gradually open the market and build the economy, then you funnel that money into infrastructure, followed by greater education of its citizens. They'd probably need at least three to four generations to make this transformation. If they follow this path, I think a free, capitalistic society will inevitably follow.

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I wasn't very clear on my meaning. What I am trying to say is that while there are essential values that are rationally, universally true, in a culture there are many optional values that are promoted or de-emphasized by its society. What I am saying is that China shouldn't sacrifice its traditional values, history, and culture just to "Westernize".

Well, I'm interested what optional values you think Chinese culture has that are unique to it, or what truths you think are not universal. I would put it differently. There are many cultural conventions that are completely arbitrary. That is, it doesn't matter what their value is. To the extent that they are arbitrary, then whether they stay or go is of no consequence. To the extent that they are essential, as you say, then whether they are Chinese or not is of little relevance. But the society must have them in order to succeed. But then to the extent that you keep arbitrary cultural elements, it is to say that those elements where of no material impact to the society.

In fact, I think the only values that China really need to absorb are capitalism and individual rights -- which it is already doing. If that's "Westernization" --and I would actually consider it more as "Humanization" since I think those values are universal-- then I am all about it.

Only those, really? Is that all? Nothing regarding a rational metaphysics and epistemology? The Chinese had ethics all down pat did they? Politics (of which your two concepts are from) flows from the others. If Chinese political concepts are so misguided I woudl suggest looking a little deeper to see what else caused that.

Why so scared of the terminology "western"? Do you have an issue with "Humanization" based upon values that were first developed "in the West"?

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Well, I'm interested what optional values you think Chinese culture has that are unique to it, or what truths you think are not universal.

I don't know if these values are unique to the Chinese (well actually I know for a fact it isn't -- it's just how the society as a whole prioritize it), but I was thinking about things like emphasis on family, academics, and trade, among others.

Only those, really? Is that all? Nothing regarding a rational metaphysics and epistemology? The Chinese had ethics all down pat did they? Politics (of which your two concepts are from) flows from the others. If Chinese political concepts are so misguided I woudl suggest looking a little deeper to see what else caused that.

Well, the two values I named are what I deemed the most important and the most easily applied. As far as a rational metaphysics and epistemology, or ethics, it isn't that they are unimportant -- it's that obviously not a single country has a perfect system (or even one that is universally accepted by all/most of its citizens), and I think the Chinese have a passable one at this point of their development. If you're talking specifically about Objectivist metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, then it should be obvious that no country on Earth actually operate up to that standard.

Why so scared of the terminology "western"? Do you have an issue with "Humanization" based upon values that were first developed "in the West"?

It's not that I have a problem with the term "western". I was born and grew up in the west, I embrace many elements of its culture, and frankly I do think it is at this stage in time a superior culture (albeit with its own share of problems). The problem is that "westernization" is such a loaded word in daily vernacular that carries a slew of cultural baggage. It doesn't generally just mean "reason and individual rights", and it doesn't just mean "a rational philosophical foundation". The reason I consider it "humanization" is merely because I think a rational, free society is the inevitable conclusion for any reasoning human being if given time.

Either way though it is unimportant what we call it. What matters is that I am glad that Asia as a whole is moving towards that

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That's why hopefully they will continue in the direction that they are heading towards right now -- toward greater freedom, in both thought and trade.

That is my hope also. I don't want anything bad to happen to China. I'm just worried that they will try to have the technology without the freedom of expression. And Objectivist principles tell us that it will not work in the long run.

I know the Chinese probably think we are being hypocritical, or have some evil plan in mind, when we lecture about human rights. But we're really just trying to stop a collapse which will in principle happen and will hurt us all, including the U.S.

Edited by ian
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I know the Chinese probably think we are being hypocritical, or have some evil plan in mind, when we lecture about human rights. But we're really just trying to stop a collapse which will in principle happen and will hurt us all, including the U.S.

That's another issue entirely. The people that run the United States are not Objectivists, and they do -rightly or wrongly- use the issue of human rights as a political leverage, and only when it is convenient for them.

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I wasn't very clear on my meaning. What I am trying to say is that while there are essential values that are rationally, universally true, in a culture there are many optional values that are promoted or de-emphasized by its society. What I am saying is that China shouldn't sacrifice its traditional values, history, and culture just to "Westernize".

I don't care in the least how you spice your food.

In fact, I think the only values that China really need to absorb are capitalism and individual rights -- which it is already doing. If that's "Westernization" --and I would actually consider it more as "Humanization" since I think those values are universal-- then I am all about it.

So even though it is Western Civilization that developed the idea of reality based metaphysics and reason based epistemology, you refuse to credit the West with this?

Clarify.

I meant precisely what I said. Japan and Germany played a game of "pick and choose" with Western values, while seeking to remain "essentially German/Japanese." The result was collapse into totalitarianism. The same will happen to China if it seeks to "pick and choose" Western values.

If you are judging them by modern standards, then "a miserable, rights-trampling pest-hole" would in fact resemble to every single civilization prior to the United States. What's your point?

My point is that longevity and dominance are not values to be proud of, since the most miserable pestholes in history can be said to have had those traits.

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I don't care in the least how you spice your food.

And I should care because...?

So even though it is Western Civilization that developed the idea of reality based metaphysics and reason based epistemology, you refuse to credit the West with this?

I did credit the West in this thread. Multiple times at that. Are you having trouble reading?

I meant precisely what I said. Japan and Germany played a game of "pick and choose" with Western values, while seeking to remain "essentially German/Japanese." The result was collapse into totalitarianism. The same will happen to China if it seeks to "pick and choose" Western values.

Wrong. Germany and Japan failed not because they pick and chose the Western values, but simply because they chose the wrong values.

In case you've been living in a hole since World War II, Japan and Germany today remain very much "essentially Japanese/German" and are among the most prosperous and powerful countries in the world. Not only that, but you can also clearly see the penetration of Japanese culture into the West today. All they needed was the two things I've mentioned -- being a capitalistic society, and respecting individual rights. China will do the same given time.

My point is that longevity and dominance are not values to be proud of, since the most miserable pestholes in history can be said to have had those traits.

Actually there are only two civilizations that lasted continuously into modern day -- China and India. They succeeded in doing something that the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Aztecs failed at. And frankly, they're not doing half bad today. Somehow, their culture had enough strength to resist the negative effects of running a virtual slave state while everyone else failed. To me that means something.

And now that they are slowly beginning to adopt the correct, I can only feel even more optimistic about these civilizations and the world at large, and that the world will be an even better place when greater Asia catches up to the first world countries.

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Personally I think China is doing absolutely the right thing -- first you gradually open the market and build the economy, then you funnel that money into infrastructure, followed by greater education of its citizens. They'd probably need at least three to four generations to make this transformation. If they follow this path, I think a free, capitalistic society will inevitably follow.

Or at least a less collectivist society. Under Mao, China was an ant-heap. Now it is a human society, albeit one that is not democratic or founded on liberty. In China, now people can buy and sell pretty much as they wish, even if their political choices are rather foreshortened.

A liberty based society is not necessary to survive a long time. Egypt was never liberty based either in ancient or modern times. Its dynasties lasted thousands of years. Neither was Babylon. Neither was Greece (the Spartans were Greeks too, and Athens was overrated as a democracy). Athens (the Periclean Athens) was short-lived. Neither was Rome and Rome lasted five times longer than we have. China was never liberty based, even after the Komandang revolution of 1912. For a survival standpoint, liberty is greatly overrated. What is necessary and probably sufficient is some kind of functioning market economy (trade and production go back 50,000 years; liberty was invented 300 years ago and surely does not go back before Magna Carta). As long as people can make stuff, grow stuff, perform services, buy and sell their societies will function and survive. Political liberty is not necessary for this.

Also keep this in mind: most folks do not care that much about flourishing. Survival is the main thing. Mankind has survived for 100,000 to 250,000 years in conditions far from liberty. Liberty and $1.39 will get you a small cup of coffee at the local Dunkin' Donuts ™.

Bob Kolker

P.S. Personally, I -prefer- liberty, but I have shown that is a personal preference and not a requirement for long-term survival.

Edited by Robert J. Kolker
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Personally, I -prefer- liberty, but I have shown that is a personal preference and not a requirement for long-term survival.

Whose survival, the state's?! That is the wrong standard. The only proper standard is the individual. As an individual, I want to be able to pursue my life, liberty and happiness.

A statist standard is not an Objectivist standard, nor is it a proper human standard.

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And I should care because...?

You are asking why you should care that I'm not talking about inessential nonsense like food spicing preferences but rather philosophical essentials?

I did credit the West in this thread. Multiple times at that. Are you having trouble reading?

You refuse to call reason "western." Apparently, it's just a natural human thing, even though your oh-so-great Chinese culture had nothing to do with it until it was conquered by the West.

Wrong. Germany and Japan failed not because they pick and chose the Western values, but simply because they chose the wrong values.

No, you are wrong. By "western values" I do not mean food spicing. I mean those values which philosophically distinguish the West - reason, freedom, rights, reality. You may most certainly not "pick and choose" from that list - i.e. Western values.

In case you've been living in a hole since World War II, Japan and Germany today remain very much "essentially Japanese/German" and are among the most prosperous and powerful countries in the world.

No, you have no idea what "essentially German/Japanese" means. The essence they sought to keep was collectivism. It is only to the extent that they have excised their Germanness/Japaneseness that they are prosperous today.

Somehow, their culture had enough strength to resist the negative effects of running a virtual slave state while everyone else failed. To me that means something.

Running a slave state is an essential and inseparable part of their identity - an identity you insist on embracing. China is a lousy, backwards, rights-trampling hole. Always was, and remains so until it utterly rejects its completely stupid and awful essence. The fact that western nations sometimes became awful - precisely when they rejected Western culture - only proves you more wrong.

If China adopts Western culture only superficially and tries to remain essentially Chinese as Germany and Japan tried to remain German and Japanese - the result will be the same: world war, mass death, economic collapse, and misery. Chinese culture is a cancer on China and a cancer on this earth which must be eradicated. If China wants to enjoy peace, happiness, and progress, it must Westernize.

After that, I don't care how you spice your freaking food.

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Also keep this in mind: most folks do not care that much about flourishing. Survival is the main thing. Mankind has survived for 100,000 to 250,000 years in conditions far from liberty. Liberty and $1.39 will get you a small cup of coffee at the local Dunkin' Donuts ™.

Huh? What is your basis for this sort of nonsense? The fact that mankind has survived without liberty is your evidence that poeple don't care about flourishing? This is empiricist nonsense. Survival is a bare minimum, since it is the only thing that lets you be able to try for something more tomorrow. But to say that because someone tries only to survive today, that they don't care for flourishing is really crazy.

Your last statement is more profound in a way that you did not intend it I'm sure. The fact that you can walk down to your local Dunkin' Donuts ™ free from threat and buy a meal for what amounts to the equivalent of man-minutes worth of work is exactly what Liberty "gets you". That is the point. Thanks for making it for me.

Edited by KendallJ
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P.S. Personally, I -prefer- liberty, but I have shown that is a personal preference and not a requirement for long-term survival.

Individual rights are merely a *personal preference,* not a requirement for man's survival? Is this guy one of the pragmatist trolls under a different user name?

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Here is a stolen concept:

For a survival standpoint, liberty is greatly overrated. What is necessary and probably sufficient is some kind of functioning market economy

And here is a contradiction:

most folks do not care that much about flourishing.

[...]

Personally, I -prefer- liberty

The rest of your completely vacuous post follows from these glaring errors.

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With all due respect, Inspector, I agree with an aspect of Moebius' argument. There are cultural characteristics that are non-philosophical and can be enjoyed by a person, such as food, music, clothing, many customs, etc. People in a country can also celebrate true heroes from their history. Such heroes exist in Asian cultures. An example I am modestly familiar with is Korea's King Sejong. Under his direction, scholars in Korea created a simple, phonetic, alphabet-style writing system that helped spread literacy widely in Korea, essentially doing away with the much more difficult to learn Chinese character-based writing system. I believe it is was the first alphabet of its kind in Asia. (I am not sure when Japan began adopting a similar alphabet.) The achievement he sponsored is a monumental one that I would compare to Gutenberg's printing press that spread literacy in the West. (Incidentally, Koreans had a form of moveable type before Gutenberg.)

Also, I object to your incorrect pejorative language. China is not a "rights-trampling hole." Yes, they are still heavily statist, but rights are beginning to be protected there. Hopefully the trend continues.

One does not have to be a cultural relativist to appreciate the tremendous contributions from Asian countries. In particular, I would cite the emphasis on education and learning, and the value placed on what I would call "working with devotion." That is not just hard work, but working well. I would also cite the tremendous benefit of trade with Asian countries. (May I tee up a pejorative response for you, Inspector. You can come back with mentioning Chinese poisoned cat food, lead-painted toys, etc. By all means offer that response, so I can reply.)

The rise of Asian countries beginning in the last century is an astounding accomplishment. Yes, it is definitely the result of the adoption of Western values of individualism and capitalism, and to the degree those values have been adopted, the Asian countries are successful. Fact is, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan are far wealthier today than China and will remain so until China more rigorously adopts (proper) Western values and institutions.

As an Objectivist, I applaud the rise of Asia. I also personally enjoy many aspects of Asia, in their goods I buy, in my travels there, in their food, and in my association with Asian friends and acquaintances.

Let's be objective in evaluating Asia.

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Individual rights are merely a *personal preference,* not a requirement for man's survival? Is this guy one of the pragmatist trolls under a different user name?

Not a troll. I gave a half dozen instances showing that liberty is not a requirement for social survival. You don't like my view? Then dislike it, but do me the courtesy off recognizing that I am serious and I gave evidence for my statements.

Mankind has survived over 100,000 years most of which were spent in tyranny and slavery. Liberty was invented somewhere between the time of Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence. That is no more than 778 years.

Bob Kolker

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Mankind has survived over 100,000 years most of which were spent in tyranny and slavery. Liberty was invented somewhere between the time of Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence. That is no more than 778 years.

Your confusion continues.

Mark K. and I already pointed out your error. Your aggregate notion of what is preferred (Mankind vs. Man). Mankind may have "survived" during that time, but countless men, all who valued their own survival did not. Any man who "prefers" his own long-term survival, demands (rather than prefers) liberty. I'm not here to contribute to the survival of "Mankind".

Edited by KendallJ
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Regarding Moebius's statement in essence that all China needs to do is add Capitalism and Individual rights to get on track, I think this is incorrect in exactly the way that Libertarianism is wrong. It assumes that these can be attained as goals floating without a philsophical foundation. They can get better for a while with little foundation, but would be always in peril. I believe that countries ultimately get the political system and economy that their culture (philosophy) wants. Mao was not an inexplicable historical accident - it was a low point which emphasized all of the weaknesses of Chinese culture and Civilization. To progress as far as possible, China's civilization/culture needs to continue absorbing the philosophical foundations for individual rights and capitalism (Aristotle and Ayn Rand).

Based on my experiences with and readings about Chinese culture, there are some positive and negative characteristics. Most positive is a general focus on life on earth and worldly pleasures/enjoyments as opposed to a focus on an afterlife. I think the dominant religion of China is probably, in a sense, eating. (My particular favorite is Sichuan cuisine from my wife's hometown). Also there is a positive attitude to hard work and education (though unfortunately this tends to be sold as a duty to family or country). This non-religious attitude probably helps explain why China was the world's leading civilization during the dark ages - there's a limit to how low you can go if you keep your eyes on earth (vs. in heaven). I think the biggest negatives in Chinese culture is the Confucian teaching of duty and focus on relationships which leads to concepts like "face" which suggests an over-emphasis on the perceptions of others. It also led to a willingness, if not outright desire to follow authority, rather than thinking for oneself. This reduces the advantage of China's respect for education, because it isn't fully geared to supporting rational individual thought. China thus, in my view, has an unually high % of "second handers". Taoism is bad because it offers a psuedo-individualist alternative to Confucianism, connecting it to nature/non-rational elements, rather than a healthy rational egoism within society. There is also too great a belief in fate in Chinese culture.

Right now, I think Chinese culture is adrift. Mao uprooted a lot of old Chinese philosophy, and tried to replace it with a new (thought not entirely dissimilar) one. Chinese people still occasionally mouth some communist platitudes when required (in school, on TV) but very few of the middle aged or young really believe it. However, this forced hypocricy leaves most people adrift, complaining that there are no solid values in the society, not knowing even if there are any such things as objective ethical standards. A culture that preaches one thing and then proceeds to do something else in practice (China today) is constantly facing an inner turmoil. Thus China cannot forever continue moving towards greater capitalism and individual freedom which continuing to claim that self-sacrifice to the people is a noble goal, that the individual is worth less than the collective, etc. So, for the most part, people have abandoned all explicit philosophy as worthless, possibly even dangerous, and instead follow what is most like philosophical pragmitism, which is ultimately a dead-end. In this current vacuum, I hope, and think that Ayn Rand could become popular with young and ambitious students.

Andrew West

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