Reason Is Love in Ancient China, Research Time, 07/04/2015

Confucianism does seem to be quite an authoritarian philosophy. But Barry’s book goes farther than most of the introductions, whether formal or informal, to ancient Chinese thought in discussing some of the contemporary rivals to Kongzi’s ideas. They all seemed focussed on challenging Kongzi over what was the best way to build a virtuous person and world.

A young Steven Moffat holds one
of his multiple Hugo Awards in a
curious illustration of the
philosophy of Mozi.
Mozi is the most interesting opponent of Confucian thinking. Mohist schools taught benevolence over all else, the impartial care of everyone for everyone. The world could be perfectly harmonious if we stopped ranking our love for our intimate family, companions, and friends with an intensity above our love for everyone else in the world.

But this was a peculiar benevolence for us Westerners, not just because of its utopian flavour that makes it sound like the perfect communism of universal brotherhood. We're accustomed to treating benevolent actions as primarily sentimental. People's feelings motivate them to be kind.

For Mozi, benevolence is written into the fabric of existence itself. As you come to know the fundamental character of the world and yourself, you will understand that you will only avoid violence and pain in your own life if you rid the universe of violence and pain. It's a benevolence rooted in self-interest. We may have no emotions or feelings drawing us to benevolent attitudes, but when we understand that the world where we will live best is a world of perfect benevolence, we will work to transform our emotions to act with kindness toward all.

And he put his money where his manuscript was. Mozi apparently organized a band of vigilante warriors who defended villagers from foreign sieges during the military instability of the Warring States Period. He quite literally organized peacekeeping forces.

Our reason leads us to love. I see this idea in so many contemporary peace movements. I’m not just talking about a bunch of hippies blissing out in a park, though that's part of it. I also saw it in the philosophy of the environmentalist thinking Arne Næss, an idea I explore in Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity. But I discovered something today that made me think of a more profound way that knowledge of ourselves and the world can make us better ethically.

I’m a sci-fi fan. Hell, I'm a sci-fi author. So when I found out that a racist and sexist right-wing author had organized a group of several hundred Gamergaters to join the Hugo Awards’ voting membership to push out books they perceived to have progressive political messages, I was pretty appalled.

Diversity in art lets that art tell more kinds of stories,
which makes art better.
Yesterday afternoon, I listened to the podcast where Phil Sandifer, Jack Graham, and Andrew Hickey discussed all this. It’s about 100 minutes long, so I hope you have enough time. But one point the trio discussed struck a chord with me after reading about Mozi. 

Theodore Beale, the man who hijacked the Hugos, is a terrifying bigot who enlisted people who feel threatened by marginalized people making themselves heard within their earshot. They lash out at these “social justice warriors” because they are filled with hate for what is different from them, but it’s a hate born of ignorance.

One of the aesthetic motives that inspires the fans of the socially conservative, simple-minded sci-fi stories that dominated the Beale-backed slate of Hugo nominees is a desire for simplicity. Graham, Sandifer, and Hickey describe Beale as advocating a form of sci-fi literature that exists so a reader can turn his brain off, writing as mere entertainment.

Beale and his crew don't want to think as part of their entertainment. They don’t want to be exposed to stories that would call their beliefs into question and make them reconsider who they are and how they live. They don’t want to expand their own existence with the experience of difference.

Please don't think I'm articulating the tired old liberal talking point that any conservative beliefs at all are motivated by ignorance of stupidity. Such a platitude is frankly stupid. I’m not talking about well-reasoned conservatism about particular values held by people with whom I can have friendly conversations where we disagree about political issues.* I refer to the people whose first reaction to a contrary political belief is rage and cyber-harassment.

* Believe it or not, but this actually happened to me on Twitter a while ago with a libertarian proponent of Indiana's religious freedom law. We vehemently disagreed, but explained the reasons for our beliefs and wished each other a good weekend.

The knowledge of difference empowers your reason because you are learning about others. Learning more about people and knowing them and their narratives literally makes you a better person because empathy emerges from understanding someone's life as they live it. A point that seems in a companion spirit with Mozi.

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