Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Art of Being Ruled

(Credit for the title of course goes to Wyndham Lewis.)

We seek knowledge in order to foster understanding. We seek power in order to foster obedience. One might in both cases say that our aim is to improve our understanding and our obedience. By this I don't mean the understanding and obedience of others alone, though that may certainly figure into it. I mean that we hope to better understand our world and that we hope better to obey our history.

This is the real lesson of Confucius's "don't disobey" in re filial piety, i.e., the respect for parents and ancestors that lies at the foundation of social order. We are willy-nilly obedient to somebody (you gotta serve somebody) and there is always something that we understand. Our knowledge and our power supports our efforts to improve that understanding and obedience, which then in turn better guides our quest for more knowledge, more power.

Maybe my aesthetic bias is to blame, but I believe that the ultimate goal here is to have more precise experiences. Nabokov called it "aesthetic bliss"; Aristotle called it "happiness". The point of today's reflections is not to underestimate the importance of precision in our obedience if our aim is to be happy.

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