Sunday, 28 March 2010

Do You Know What's Worth Fighting For

If it's not worth dying for?


I caught Confucius on the big screen, and it has made me realize quite a few things (this is regardless of whether Confucius was an accurate account of the real life of Confucius himself).

It is quite a big thing to proclaim, but I think I'm close to being someone who'd die for ideas. Give up life for knowledge and truth (I'm using these terms generally and loosely). There are of course varying degrees of what this translates into and how this manifests itself. For instance, I think that I will readily lead a frugal and minimal life and give up a lot if I had to pursue knowledge and truth. I always get this spine-tingling sensation whenever I realize that I'm someone who can sacrifice quite a bit if it means that a truth will be uncovered, or even propagated. It's a spine-tingling sensation along the lines of excitement more than fear, such as the prospect of going to the Middle East or Africa to do stuff. What stuff exactly? I'm not sure yet, but if that day ever comes when I know going somewhere 'dangerous' will get me answers, I think I'd go. Will I endure a gunshot so that I can salvage a principle? Maybe, this is a tough call. But I certainly won't deny the possibility that I really might.

When Yan Hui dived into the water to try and save as many of Confucius' scriptures and writings as possible and then died doing it, I think that was where it really really got to me. As absurd as it might seem, I can totally identify with it, and think it to be the noblest of acts. It reminded me also of other similar shows I've watched with scenes where I totally cracked emotionally. In Bodyguards and Assassins, it was how the revolutionists sacrificed their lives to ensure that Sun Yat-Sen could travel safely out of Hong Kong. I really lost it when one of the characters went against the will of his conflicted father (but only because his father loved him dearly) and got killed while being a decoy for Sun Yat-Sen, and although he was gripped with fear as a young man, he smiled just before his demise because he knew that with Sun Yat-Sen alive for another day, the corrupt and tyrannical rule of the outdated Chinese dynasty could be eradicated for the betterment of society.

These are instances where people risked their lives fighting for the things they believed in, even in the face of imminent death.

A lot of it stems from a personal perspective of the world whereby ideas are what shape generations of people, and individuals are merely carriers of those ideas. While this doesn't mean that life is a cheap commodity since people appear to be dispensable, I think that the way people are so caught up with self-importance and being self-obsessed can be misguided. I believe myself to be pretty much nothing more than a flash in the darkness; before long I'll be gone and forgotten. But truth and knowledge - they live on for much longer, and ultimately they can liberate people.

Damn man, when Confucius was finally allowed back to the Kingdom of Lu after years of being exiled (for being too much of an ethical idealist, no less), his tears of joy from finally being let back into the motherland that kicked him out (rather unfairly) said so much. He still executed the 'outdated' practice of kneeling before the doors, demonstrating reverence and ultimately a profound respect for tradition, which is a pretty strong way of indicating that he knows his place in the bigger scheme of reality, regardless of how important a man he is. Regardless of how one sees oneself and how one believes one's needs to be important, we are all still mere drops of sand in a huge desert. A humility in this sense of knowing one's place, I believe, is desirable and strongly called for.

The danger of course resides in the potential for 'hyper-rationality' - Hitler, Lenin and Mussolini were all people who believed in some ideal utopia and, at the height of their passions, did some despicable things. But who could really fault them for believing that there really would be a better world constructed under the veil which renders seeing the future impossible? Terrible consequences came from their faith in extreme social engineering to construct what should have worked in theory.

But we can only learn from history and hold dear our idealism that provides hope that there is a better future for everyone ahead, and strive to make as much sense of truth and knowledge as possible, so that any proposition for a gameplan for life will be approached with due caution.

Insofar as I am 'afflicted' with these tendencies, I think I have a responsibility to uphold it; to act on my convictions as long as I believe my convictions to be virtuous where, as Plato asserted centuries ago, the physical body (along with all its material cravings of possessions and social affirmation and being a mere imperfect form for the soul) is subordinate to truth, knowledge and ultimately virtue.


dennis hodgson said...

While I agree with your general comments about knowledge, I'm afraid that I take a different view of Confucius. I think that he held China back for two millennia, as explained in more detail in

Jose said...

Hey, thanks for your feedback.

I don't disagree that Confucianism might have led to the developmental problems of China. I was discussing more about the kinds of principled passions that drive people to give up their lives for what they believe to be 'virtue' - ideas, knowledge, principles, morals, beliefs.

And perhaps to tie this in more closely, that's also where the danger lies - fighting a battle for principles may be a noble thing to do, but do we really know the consequences of these ideas in the end? It is difficult, as how Hitler wanted to create a superior race and how Confucian ethics led to the backwardness of Chinese society as you have mentioned.

I've bookmarked your blog on mine. :]