The Wisdom of Confucius (I)

As I mentioned, I’m working through a book on Confucius. Although overall I’m not really impressed (which I’ll get to in the book report), there are some nuggets that align with my experience.

Such as:

He who requires much from himself and little from others, will keep himself from being the object of resentment.

You know, that sounds pretty good on the first read, especially as it’s a prescription for self-reliance and forgiveness, but the second half of it is not necessarily correct. The reason to require much of yourself and to recognize that others won’t live up to your standards is good as a way of looking at life, for achieving much yourself and for accepting others as themselves and not how you would have them be, is that it will give you peace of mind. Others might well resent you, but, hey, you don’t expect understanding and grace from others, do you?

The Wisdom of Logan

From Alpha Flight #17:

In a lot of ways the death of the dream can be worse than the death of the dreamer.

So, Brian J., how’s that project of reading the remainder of all the comic books you own coming along? you ask, gentle reader.

Well, I am almost through the box of comics I bought at a sale at Edgar Road Elementary School almost ten years ago. I’ve got one Alpha Flight to go and a bunch of New Mutants from the early middle 1980s and a couple of scattered other bits, and then I can get onto consequential goals for 2017, such as Do something meaningful, you layabout.

Something of this bit spoken by Logan/Wolverine reminded me of something from a poem I read 25 or more years ago by Langston Hughes:

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

I remember memorizing that poem after reading a collection of Langston Hughes after reading Black Like Me for the first time (and, gentle reader, I was going to recount a story of my knowledge of Langston Hughes poetry in a class on The Church and Racial Justice, but I see I already did when I revisited the John Griffith book).

Ah, well, where was I?

I dunno. Recognizing the importance of dreams, even when you’re growing older, perhaps. Also, thinking perhaps I should not have given such short shrift to the mutant books in the old days. At least, I hope not: Alpha Flight is not actually a mutant title, although I thought it was back in the day when I was watching the Mr. T cartoon on Saturday mornings.

The Wisdom of William Hazlitt

From his essay “What Is The People” (1817):

That Government is instituted for the benefit of the governed, there can be little doubt; but the interests of the Government (when once it becomes absolute and independent of the people) must be directly at variance with those of the governed. The interests of the one are common and equal rights: of the other, exclusive and invidious privileges. The essence of the first is to be shared alike by all, and to benefit the community in proportion as they are spread: the essence of the last is to be destroyed by communication, and to subsist only–in the wrong of the people. Rights and privileges are a contradiction in terms: for if one has more than his right, others must have less. The latter are the deadly nightshade of the commonwwealth, near which no wholesome plant can thrive,–the ivy clinging round the trunk of the British oak, blighting its verdure, drying up its sap, and oppressing its stately growth. The insufficient checks and balances opposed to the overbearing influence of hereditary rank and power in our own Constitution, and in every Government which retains the least trace of freedom, are so many illustrations of this principle, if it need any. The tendency in arbitrary power to encroach upon the liberties and comforts of the people, and to convert the public good into a stalking horse to its own pride and avarice, has never (that we know) been denied by any one but ‘the professional gentleman’, who writes in The Day and New Times. The great and powerful, in order to be what they aspire to be, and what this gentleman would have them, perfectly independent of the will of the people, ought also to be perfectly independent of the assistance of the people. To be formally invested with the attributes of Gods upon earth, they ought first to be raised above its petty wants and appetites: they ought to give proofs of the beneficence and wisdom of Gods, before they can be trusted with the power. When we find them seated above the world, sympathizing with the welfare, but not feeling the passions of men, receiving neither good nor hurt, neither tilth nor tithe from them, but bestowing their benefits as free gifts on all, they may then be expected, but not till then, to rule over use like another Providence.

He’s a little hoppy with the revolutionary spirit of his times, but he seems to have a solid grasp on how an aristocracy sees its relative position, a lesson which is sadly too familiar to twenty-first century readers.

Horatio Hornblower and Me

I could have titled this “The Wisdom of C.S. Forester”, but it’s not so much wisdom as recognition of a personality trait:

[Horatio Hornblower] had just performed a most notable feat of navigation, of which anyone might be justifiably proud, in bringing the ship straight here after eleven weeks without sighting land. But he felt no elation about it. It was Hornblower’s nature to find no pleasure in achieving things he could do; his ambition was always yearning after the impossible, to appear a strong silent capable man, unmoved by emotion.

(From Beat to Quarters.)

I know the feeling.

However, as this blog and my incessant humble-bragging would indicate, I am more of a horn-blower than Horatio Hornblower.

The Wisdom of Shunryu Suzuki (I)

From Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:

After you have practiced for a while, you will realize that it is not possible to make rapid, extraordinary progress. Even though you try very hard, the progress you make is always little by little. It is not like going out in a shower in which you know when you get wet. In a fog, you do not know you are getting wet, but as you keep walking you get wet little by little. If your mind has ideas of progress, you may say, “Oh, this pace is terrible!” But actually it is not. When you get wet in a fog it is very difficult to dry yourself. So there is no need to worry about progress. It is like studying a foreign language; you cannot do it all of a sudden, but by repeating it over and over until you master it.

Also known as the Groundhog Day theory of self-improvement.

The Wisdom of Leo Tolstoy (II)

Also from “The Law of Love and the Law of Violence” in A Confession and Other Religious Writings:

Today the States of the Christian world have not only reached but have surpassed the limit which the States of the ancient world attained before their downfall. This can bee seen particularly clearly because in our times every step forward in technical progress not only fails to advance the common weal but, on the contrary, shows with increasing clarity that all this progress can only increase people’s misery and can in no way diminish it. Yet other new contrivances might be invented for transporting people from one place to another, submarine, subterranean, aerial and spatial, as well as new methods of disseminating speech and thought; but, since the people travelling from one place to another are neither willing nor able to commit anything but evil, the thoughts and words being spread will incite men to nothing but evil.

Old men have been yelling at that cloud forever and have been predicting the downfall of the state forever (although, in Tolstoy’s case, it would actually come about a decade later). But you can read this and completely equate it with things you might read on the Internet today about the United States.

I agree with the last bit, though: Human nature being what it is, people will do evil if they want.

The Wisdom of Leo Tolstoy (I)

From “The Law of Love and the Law of Violence” (included in A Confession and Other Religious Writings):

Understand then, especially you young ones, that to dedicate your lives, or even to occupy yourselves with forcible reconstruction of other people’s lives, according to your wishes, is not a just a primitive superstition, but a vile, criminal affair, destructive to the soul. Realize that the desires of an enlightened soul for the welfare of others is in no way satisfied by vainly organizing their lives through violence, but that it is only achieved through one’s own inner work–the only thing where man has complete freedom and control. Only this task, increasing the love within oneself, can enhance the satisfaction of this desire. You must understand that no activity aimed at the organization of other people’s lives through coercion can enhance people’s welfare, but it is always a more or less consciously hypocritical deceit used to cover up man’s basest desires: vanity, pride, and self-interest, under the guise of personal dedication to mankind.

Understand this, especially you young ones, the generation of the future, and cease, as the majority of us are doing at the moment, to search for illusory happiness in creating people’s welfare by participating in the administration of the State, or judiciary, or by instructing others and, in order to do so, by entering institutions (namely schools and universities) where you are involved in vanity, self-importance and pride, and thus perverted. Cease participating in the various organizations whose aim is supposedly to further the welfare of the masses, and seek only that one thing that is always necessary and within the reach of us all, and which gives the greatest well-being to ourselves, and is the most likely thing to enhance the welfare of our neighbours. Seek this one thing within yourselves: an increase of love through eradicating all the mistakes, sins and passions which hinder its manifestation and you will further the well-being of people in the most effective way.

If only those young ones studied Tolstoy.

The Wisdom of Victor Frankenstein (I)

As a child, I had not been content with the results promised by the modern professors of natural science. With a confusion of ideas only to be accounted for by my extreme youth, and my want of a guide on such matters, I had retrod the steps of knowledge along the paths of time, and exchanged the discoveries of recent enquirers for the dreams of forgotten alchemists. Besides, I had a contempt for the uses of modern natural philosophy. It was very different when the masters of the science sought immortality and power; such views, although futile, were grand: but now the scene was changed. The ambition of the enquirer seemed to limit itself to the annihilation of those visions on which my interest in science was chiefly founded. I was required to exchange chimeras of boundless grandeur for realities of little worth.

From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Related music:

The Wisdom of Carl Jung (II)

As I read The Undiscovered Self, I’m posting seemingly relevant quotations as I go along because some of them shed some light on the world today.

The first paragraphs of “Religion as the Counterbalance to Mass-Mindedness” states:

In order to free the fiction of the Sovereign State–in other words, the whims of those who manipulate it–from every wholesome restriction, all socio-political movements tending in this direction invariably try to cut the ground from under religions. For, in order to turn the individual into a function of the State, his dependence upon anything beside the State must be taken from him. But religion means dependence on and submission to irrational facts of experience. These do not refer directly to social and physical conditions; they concern far more the individual’s psychic attitude.

But it is possible to have an attitude to the external conditions of life only when there is a point of reference outside them. The religions give, or claim to give, such a standpoint, thereby enabling the individual to exercise his judgment and his power of decision. They build up a reserve, as it were, against the obvious and inevitable force of circumstances to which everyone is exposed who lives only in the outer world and has no other ground under his feet except the pavement. If statistical reality is the only reality, then it is the sole authority. There is then only one condition, and since no contrary condition exists, judgment and decision are not only superfluous but impossible. Then the individual is bound to be a function of statistics and hence a function of the State or whatever the abstract principle of order may be called. [Emphasis in original.]

Unfortunately, I’m only intermittently reading this book. I should switch a primary focus to it presently.

The Wisdom of Carl Jung (I)

Whether or not you buy into the Jungian psychology and collective unconscious (and I don’t, but I do delve into individual unconscious sometimes when reading Jung), the fellow had some interesting ideas and thoughts that remain relevant in the modern world.

From “The Plight of the Individual in Modern Society“:

What will become of our civilization, and of man himself, if the hydrogen bombs begin to go off, or if the spiritual and moral darkness of the State absolutism should spread over Europe?

We have no reason to take this threat lightly. Everywhere in the West there are subversive minorities who, sheltered by our humanitarianism and our sense of justice, hold the incendiary torches ready, with nothing to stop the spread of their ideas except the critical reason of a single, fairly inelligent, mentally stable stratum of the population. One should not, however, overestimate the thickness of this stratum. It varies from country to country in accordance with national temperament. Also, it is regionally dependent on public education and is subject to the influence of acutely disturbing factors of a political and economic nature. Taking plebiscites as a criterion, one could on an optimistic estimate put its upper limit at about 40 per cent of the electorate. A rather more pessimistic view would not be unjustified either, since the gift of reason and critical reflection is not one of man’s outstanding peculiarities, and even where it exists it proves to be wavering and inconstant, the more so, as a rule, the bigger the political groups are. The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinarie and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional State should succumb to a fit of weakness.

He wrote this circa 1957; in the 21st century, one is forgiven if one were to think the much thinner stratum of reasonable people exists in spite of public education and not because of it.