Thursday, 4 July 2013


Conventional anthropological orientalism establishes modern liberal Western superiority in its preference of "guilt-culture" over the superficial shame-culture of all these other traditionally collectivist, conformist, repressed, and all-round silly non-white nations. The West were the only ones to take justice seriously - to ensure that morality was not just a masquerade but an authentic moral commitment.

I'm not even trying to completely refute this claim, but it's interesting to note that Confucius, for one, spoke of cultivating a sense of inner shame, as it were, by meticulous performance of rituals, that was meant to help internalise one's place in the social order, so that deviation from it feels "unnatural", and be abstained from in itself, rather than just held in check when the wrong people were looking.

Alas, it appears that China was not quite up for it. A very messy history followed, even while the elite ostensibly espoused his views. Social mobility was far more extensive than in the West - two peasants, for an extreme example, a thousand years apart, rose to found their own long-lasting dynasties - religious and ideological movements came and went, reforms and criticism of those in power were significant enough to turn China into a source of inspiration for Enlightenment philosophers, civil unrest and war were frequent, and presumably Chinese people were already as loud then as they are now. The meek bunch of pussies Confucius envisioned never really took form, even in China's mid-20th-century semi-totalitarian phase. My thoroughly researched and bloodcurdlingly erudite analysis attributes this to the fact that Chinese culture was essentially and fundamentally anthropocentric. A god never made sense to them as possibly that important, and neither did fucking self-hating guilt.

Enter bourgeois Europe. Destructive as the new order it created was of previous, feudal and docile values - and probably in response to the shockingly naked avarice and brutal exploitation it embraced - there must have risen the new, and in principle quite paradoxical and almost absurd need, for bourgeois respectability. Table manners were instituted, sexual repression intensified, the hoarding of resources became a mark of prestige, smug anti-spiritualism arrived on the scene, the poor began to be condemned for their poverty, the socially deviant newly hospitalised instead of just being kept apart, and gradually, society finally became fertile enough ground for guilt to take firm root, along with the conspicuous consumption invoked to assuage it, and Confucius' vision was finally realised, albeit by primitive Occidentals.

Yes yes, I know, the modern era wasn't all bad. It did bring the industrial revolution which finally allowed people to live longer than 40 years, and democracy which gave people a chance to escape enslavement even if they weren't born rich, but I do want to insist that there was something fundamentally wrong with the idea of programming people into desired behaviour rather than persuading or even intimidating them into it, and that it constitutes an incredibly dangerous process, or ongoing, seemingly inexorable attempt, that was always  going, in some form or another, to aim at turning us into this:

Or, I suppose, into this:

What I am trying to say, in what is probably the most roundabout way I have ever tried to say anything, is that expecting people to be, as opposed to just act the way you want them to, is to expect them to have the properties of a malleable physical object, to mold them by guilt the same way you smelt metal into a more refined version. But human smelting doesn't work - it just burns. It's an insane situation that is a corollary of the insane value system that sees human labour as a resource like coal, to be harvested to the maximum extent and exploited for all that it's worth.

Rules should be something the violation of which scares us, not something we subordinate our very existence and minds to. It is religious repression at its worst. It is Taliban Afghanistan only without burqas and with women behind the steering wheel. But what's the point of being able to drive a car if all you are is a can of baked beans?

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