Last night, I started reading Herbert Fingarette's Confucius: the Secular as Sacred. A mystery man without even a wikipedia page, I have been unable so far to find out much about his background in philosophy-- other than that he appears to be really well known for his work in the philosophy of psychology (addiction, etc.)
I was also-- I may as well confess-- not in the best mood when I started the book since the rain had prevented me from buying more plum wine. Thus, still in a bad mood from before, and way too sober for my own good, I picked up the book, which opens like this:
The remarks which follow are aimed at revealing the magic power which Confucius saw, quite correctly, as the very essence of human virtue.
It was not what I was expecting and if we had all been in a Japanese movie, I am sure at that precise moment a bell would have been rung at a temple down the road: gooooong... Beautifully written, I found myself drawn in almost immediately. I am also reading, by the way, the Ames and Hall book, and Fingarette in comparison, I think you could argue, really takes the road less traveled. And that is, he is basing a lot of his arguments not on what the texts says, but rather was the text does not say. And, by looking at the obvious metaphors or conclusions that a Western thinker would make, and seeing these things absent from early Confucian thought, he goes on to make extrapolations from there.
For example, we have the great Chinese metaphor of a path 道 However, says Fingarette: no "crossroads." Fingarette uses this "absence" to explore issues of path as "A Way without a Crossroads;" that is morality without conflicting obligations or inner crisis and guilt. My first response was: nonsense. One just has to go to literature or drama to seek out these cases of tragedy or conflicting obligations as giri-ninjo (義理人情）-- since that is the usual place where such expressions of pre-modern crisis and drama are more often found, right?
However, the more I thought about this notion of the "absence of the choice-responsibility-guilt conplex of concepts" that Fingarette posits, the more an experience I've had here in Japan felt somehow very clearly illuminated in this light. In fact, this is something I was trying to describe to Beijing when he was here as we were talking about Japanese-style moral education, which starts in first grade in Japan. Beijing is interested in such matters and I was trying to describe to him what is a real noticeable absence of what Fingarette calls litigious punishment. To an American, it comes a surprise that when a child does something wrong, instead of a kind of one-for-one punishment (to teach "consequences") --other more indirect methods are used to try and improve behavior.
Trying to describe it to him, I said, in the short term it seems so ineffective. I mean, to keep a child in at recess after they disrupted class seems like the easiest way to get the child to understand the consequences of their actions. And, yet these methods are stunningly absent. But then I said, "concerning long term goals, I don't know; I mean look at this place, isn't it beautiful?" And, he looked around, no doubt notiving the tidy recycling cans and the safe, beautiful streets. As we were talking a big beautiful egret descended and seemed to be walking on the surface of the water in the perfectly kept pond.
When I think of it, I realize that this idea of 道 ("Way") versus 法 ("Law") is not unique to education but is something Adonis' violin teacher also speaks so much about as underlying the difference between Western classical music and Japanese traditional music. (Or think of the memorized "patterns" of the more ritualized forms of gamelan).
When Adonis was younger, we spent much more time in the Western part of his empire. When he was 3, in fact, he spent about six months at a ritzy preschool in LA. During the first parent-teacher meeting, the teacher mentioned that Adonis had a very developed "moral sense." That is, he was always concerned about being good. I rememeber he was always talking about who were the good boys and who were the bad boys and continually asking me if I thought he was a good boy.
Returning to Japan, however, his father immediatly noticed how he kept using the Japanese expression .."fault" (to have responsibility); as in "that was his fault." People just don't talk that way here, and Adonis' father was very worried that Adonis would never cut it in school if he was always casting blame on people. "Even adults hesitate to use that expression." Over the years, I have tried to get him-- when he speaks Japanese-- to just indirectly express dislike for the action without casting blame on the person who commits the action, but sure enough this came up this year at his first parent-teacher meeting for 1st grade.... his teacher said that he gets very upset when someone breaks a rule and will blame the person. And in her words, "to blame a person will then cast blame back on Adonis and ruin the harmony of the group."
Of course, Adonis probably gets this all from me since I have such legalist tendancies, and I stupidly said, "Well, maybe if you inacted swifter punishments....?" To which she said, "When a child misbehaves, it is just because we have not educated them enough. I promise, give it time and as a group they will all improve together."
"It just may take some of the boys longer," she added giggling.
Do you all remember that scene at the end of the Last Emperor when Puyi was made to write unending, hansei-bun 反省文 (essays repenting past misdeeds)... I don't know about in China, but here those essays start the moment the kids learn how to write. And, no self-recrminations are involved. Hansei 反省 is always about the action-- not the person. It is interesting but basically, the children are to write what the misdeed was, and why it was unacceptable. No where is any fault cast on the person, but rather it is always in the hope of improving behavior by talking about the misdeed in terms of the context in which it was performed.
We mothers, by the way, have 反省会 (meetings to discuss our mis-deeds) after each and every event. It is a disaster for me since I never see the tiny mistakes and usually smile, "Didn't we do a great job??" To which no one responds and other people step up to point all the mistakes that I never even ever would have noticed.... Everything is mentioned and discussed in the passive tense so there is no actor just action), and then we vow to do better next time.
So, I suppose what I am trying to say is that I do think Fingarette is on to something interesting. There is perhaps something inherent to the Confucian concept of education and ethical Way that really does not have an end-goal in mind but rather provides "a socially oriented, action oriented view which provides for personal dignity." Or to use another quote from the 2nd chapter: "It is a moral sentiment focused upon one's status and conduct in relation to the world rather than an inward charge against one's stained corrupt self."
My little legalist though, he just gets so mad. Last night, we were snuggled up in our futon-- both of our heads on the same pillow as always and he said, "Seiya-kun has to write hansei-bun every single day-- why is he such a bad boy mommy?"
This was before I had read Fingarette's book, so I could only sympathize: "Oh, you mean that stupid kid with the humungous head? That kid is a damn fool."
To which Adonis said, "Teacher wouldn't like to hear you talking like that Mommy...."
Oh well. I guess I remain all about personal responsibility and grief.
Speaking of which, I think I mentioned the Philosophers Zone program (you all know how I love the host) with Genevieve Lloyd last week? Well, Lloyd has a new book out called Providence Lost. I definitely am going to read it-- anyone care to join me? (I'm lookin' at you A Ku!)
The first thing that really struck me about the program was this idea of the centrality of the concept of Providence to our Western Heritage, and I could not help but wonder if the under-emphasis of personal responsibility and choice that Fingarette sees as characterizing the Analects was not all that dissimilar to our own tradition until Augustine?
Contrasting this to the modern secular age, Lloyd says that we are left now with what can only be described as an unending sense of responsibility-- it never ends (this human cause of fault in everything) because we no longer have Providence (God or Luck or Spinoza's nature or even Fingarette's Holy Rites to fall back on as blame) so that now it's always up to Us. And that this never ending sense of responsibility is too much for some people. You know, I actually felt very close to tears as I listened to this and have been thinking of it a lot. My new friend in Hawaii keeps suggesting that sometimes people just need to let go ("to release")... and I think we can find this same sense of Providence in Fingarette's idea of "human community as holy rite" and that this is in fact, just as he suggests a situation whereby the secular is sacred.
OK, to be continued....
All paintings, by Bui Huu Hung, are lacquer on wood.
Finally, I had recommended this book to Beijing, but am now recommending it to Professor A Ku as well (Have not read it but have wanted to read it): Preschool in Three Cultures: Japan, China and the United States