06 October 2011

Always Looking Backwards, vol2

This man's Grandpa raised to the 77th power was Confucius.  That's a lot of powers.

When I was a kid ,the only thing I knew about Confucius was that he could be used in any variety of bad jokes, usually puns, usually dirty.  One kid ends up finding some old book of his uncle's, and proceeds to dispense the wisdom of the sages to those around him:

Confucius say, "Baseball all wrong, man with four balls cannot walk."  
Confucius say, "Man who scratches ass should not bite fingernails."

No one said they're funny, but they represent a real link to the past.  Here are kids on the near east side of Indianapolis who won't see a Chinese kid anywhere within ten miles, but who have this tenuous connection to the man above's seventy-seven times grandfather.  A weird connection to the past.  This kind of connection probably isn't the kind of link to the past that Confucius imagined being so helpful, but we take what we can get sometimes.

Confucius believed that the world had reached a perfect state long before he came along, and that all that he lived in, and all that came after, would be a long slow degeneration from that perfect state, when people treated each other fairly and decently, and when governments governed justly and benevolently.  Of course there was no perfect state, there was only a seriously thick pair of rosy-tinted glasses.  But the diagnosis doesn't always have to be correct for the remedy to work.

While Confucius would have us look to the past because he believed it was perfect, I believe that the imperfection of people striving through very difficult times and achieving greatness is the real reason that the past holds value, especially the past as expressed through biography. We have at our beck and call the great people of the past, and it might even be good that the information we have about them is incomplete and not always historically accurate.

We can hold them up as examples in ways that we can never hold up the people who are too near and dear to us.  The people who are near and dear, our mothers and fathers, friends and neighbors are too real, too easily skewered, and, for most of us, they are people whose experiences and skills are too close to our own.  Fate might give us relatives and neighbors who aren't worthy of looking up to, but who serve as negative examples, examples of what not to be.  The lessons that they have to teach us are too easily learned, and we are left wondering where to go next.  There is no way that we will ever be able to gather enough experiences and friendships and mistakes in our own lives if our only inputs are the people around us and the current world, both are too bound.

Moving forward is, to me, one of the only viable options for life, so much so that it almost seems cliche. There are not many people out there who will argue that they would prefer to stay the same throughout their life, and if you meet one they're probably not one of the most interesting people you'll run across.  Unfortunately, moving forward is all to easily folded into moving onwards and upwards as a consumer.  Moving forward is getting a degree, moving forward is getting a new car, moving forward is having an even fancier vacation to compare against the vacations of the people you're sitting at the dinner party with.  The moving forward that I'm interested in has nothing to do with any of those things; rather, it is the moving forward of our minds and our moral sensibilities.  

But, again, to whom should we look...

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