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Confuncio en los tiempos modernos

In his writings, Confucius considers that a Perfect Gentleman (y por cierto, adoro que esto se traduzca como “hidalgo” en castellano), is someone who has mastered the six chinese classical arts: archery, rituals, music, horse-riding, calligraphy and mathematics. Actually confucian thought set those arts more than the other way round, but let’s avoid (fascinating) derails.

Why those six in particular? What made them special? let’s take a look

Rituals: This one is kinda tricky, since I should give an explanation of the different interpretations of the confucian rites and so and so, but let’s try an incomplete explanation. You know how, as a little kid, you have to learn how to greet people propely, ask for things politely and be respectful of your elders? Well, those are the Confucian rituals. Essentially the Confucian rituals mean exercising that invisible “muscle” which is our capacity to be part of society.

Music: The only art that goes straight to the senses. But it also requires discipline and practice, sensitivity, and some abstract thought (scales are haaaaaaaaaard maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan).

Calligraphy: I guess writing properly meant you were educated and could communicate in writing effectively, back in the day. Just like today!

Horse riding: It’s tough physical exercise and requires skill, bravery and being phisically fit, ‘aight?

Archery: although Confucius didn’t want his followers to practice martial arts (or war) he adviced to practice archery. Archery is a mind sport, in case you didn’t know. It requires a lot of concentration, more than any physical skills.

Maths: Well, maths, man. Whatever you might think of your math teacher at school, maths are useful and if you don’t know maths, you are more easily scammed. Back in the day, I assume, it was important to measure fields and stuff like that.

Do you see what I am seeing? I see a very diverse set of skills, some of them have to do with physical fitness and dexterity, other are abstract intellectual pursuits. Some are solitary pursuits, some  are social, or inherently social. The rites for one.

[TANGENT] By the way, did you know there is a movie about Confucius? Fuck me, the Chinese are more advanced. Like, have you ever seen a movie about a philosopher? I think there’s merit to the idea. Like for instance we could take Candide and make a satyric rom-com out of it. We could take Thomas Aquinas and make religious movies about the dude. Kant would be a 4h long Finnish experimental film. Russell would be a war movie with lots of emotional moments where the enemy soldiers fraternize. Oh, and any Ayn Rand book would make for good sequels to “Dumb and dumber”. But anyway what do I know about philosophy?[/TANGENT]

Anyway, what I meant to point out is that what Confucius wants is for you to learn many different skills, to be as much a widely cultivated person as you can.

Let’s quote another great man, one who looked like a mobster, wrote like a genius, fucked like a mofo and respected his wife like a real man:

Robert A. Heinlein

Whom you might now as the author of one of my favorite books, the author, too, of the biggest translation problem I found in my life (and the only one I still haven’t managed to solve), and, in his early years, a spouter of anarcho-capitalist ideas. But hey.

What does he have to add to this series of reflections?

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

That’s what kinda of in the same direction that Confucius was trying to lead us. Methinks.

But maybe the six classical Chinese arts are a bit obsolete, aren’t day ? Ok, so what could we include, if we were advising the young today? Of course, the western young, because a skill is useful or not depending on circumstances. The best programmer in the world wouldn’t be able to turn, overnight, into a subsistance farmer. ‘Aight? But surely more knowledge would make him or her more capable of adapting, right? On that respect, there are some studies suggesting that college educated people are more productive at their jobs even if they are not working at a position they studied for….. just saying…

Ok so:

Math: This one’s still important, but I’d advice, say, knowing about compound interest as more relevant than knowing about geometry. You know, banks loand and stuff.

Any martial art or sport: Man, you need to be fit. And thrown a punch if need be. You can’t tell me it isn’t useful.

Music: Yeah this one hasn’t changed either.

Driving: As an analogy for cart riding, yeah, but not just that. Driving is a very complete exercise. First you need to develop control of the car, simple dexterity with it. Then learn rules. Then learn how to cooperate, adapt to traffic, by observing the behaviour of others. Yeah, I know it’s pretty useful.

Coding: Ok, I’m losing you now, am I not? “Dude we don’t want to program a computer that’s fucking boring and nerdy”. Still, I think it’s an amazing intellectual exercise. The computer can’t deduce, can’t “get” what you mean, can’t guess. It can only do what you tell it to. So you must learn the language, yes, but you must also clarify your own ideas to be able to get them through (just like interpreting!). It requires logical thinking and stuff. It’s awesome. Do it. Also, Steve Jobs in his lost interview (that you can watch here…. honesty, if you plan on seeing the movie, ditch the fucking Steve Jobs movie and watch the interview) adviced everyone to learn coding. And I think he was right.

Rituals: As important as ever…. but I’d go a step further and have everyone learn in a lot of details the different types of government and how do they work, and read “Man and People” By Ortega y Gasset, and Russels and….  simply because I think the world would be a better place if everyone took a strategic, wide look at why society is organized the way it is and not another. (Obviously I also want a pony).

And probably more things. Could I get your ideas? If I do I’ll attribute them.

Anyway I hope you enjoyed my little reflections here.


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