Friday, November 21, 2014

Biased towards action

Chinese are pragmatic and they are biased towards action rather than enjoy arguing and philosophizing, for good and for bad. So much so, some people said there is no such thing as philosophy in the Western sense in classic Chinese philosophical texts as they are taught in local Universities. Although this saying might be going a bit extreme, take Tao Te Ching as an example, this text does look more like a narrative to guide action rather than a meticulously argued analytical text. Moreover, Tao Te Ching is an open text. The openness of the text lies on its usefulness as a text that can guide actions in different domains, as differently read by different readers. It has been regarded as a text to guide the Emperor to run his country (a political text), as secret text with hidden alchemical instructions (a sacred text), a day-to-day guidebook of Tao for...the modern man (!) (a self-help text), a book on chi kung (a mind-body text), an important text for religious Taoism (a religious text) etc. The same for the Book of Change I-Ching, a seemingly oracle book with different "hidden" meaning or agenda.

Recently I read Chomsky's Occupy (Occupy Central is still running in full steam in Hong Kong with more campers added daily and escalating grievances from the public). Not surprisingly, Chomsky is a man of action when his persona is an activist. He avoided unnecessary argument (or avoid being dragged into fruitless arguments). Not by evasion, but through reasoned argument. Here is a good example from a Q&A session. Good food for learning:

Q: The late British philosopher, Martin Hollis, worked extensively on questions of human action, the philosophy of social science and rationality. One of the claims he made was that any anarchist vision of a society rests upon an idea of human nature that is too optimistic. In short, he argued that anarchism is only viable if humans by nature are good. He says that history shows us that humans cannot be trusted to this degree; thus, anarchism is too idealistic. Would you mind responding to this objection very quickly, given your commitment to some of the ideals of anarchism?

A: It's possible to respond to arguments. It is not possible to respond to opinions. If someone makes an assertion saying, "Here's what I believe," that's fine -- he can say what he believes, but you can't respond to it. You can ask, what is the basis for your belief? Or, can you provide me with some evidence? What do you know about human nature? Actually, we don't know very much about human nature. So yes, that's an expression of his belief, and he's entitled to make it. We have no idea, nor does he have any idea, if it's true or false. But it doesn't really matter; whatever the truth turns out to be, we will follow the same policies, namely, trying to optimize and maximize freedom, justice, participation, democracy. Those are goals that we'll attempt to realize. Maybe human beings are such that there's a limit to how far they can be realized; okay, we'll still follow the same policies. So whatever one's un-argued assertions may be, it has very little effect on the policy and choices [66-7].

Paul's comment: the questioner does seem to have presented an argument:

If anarchism is to work, human nature must be good.
Since human nature is bad.
Therefore anarchism does not seem to work
And therefore one should give up the route of anarchism

In actual fact, it is an opinion that one (Chomsky) should give up the route of anarchism because it is not guaranteed to work. The Chomsky's answer is that anarchism is one's best available action-option and one should therefore try one's best to achieve the maximum results that anarchism can deliver, and let human nature, if counter-productive/reactionary to a certain degree, serve as a limiting constraint (like limited capital is always a constraint for any entrepreneur).  Chomsky is definitely biased towards action.

1 comment:

  1. Taoists are very practical, and want to help people, no matter where they are in life. Whether you are looking for improved health, longevity, serenity, or immortality, Taoism has tools to help you reach your goals. And very often, the same tools can be used for multiple purposes.
    Meditation in India


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