Thursday, December 11, 2014

Hong Kong's short-term memory

Last year on July 1st I made my way to the yearly protest in Victoria Park. It was a rainy and windswept day, with umbrellas as far as the eye could see. My shoes became so soaked that my feet pickled afterwards. I made my way through more crowds than one typically sees in that area, unable to see much because of all of the umbrellas. What made a big impression was the loud voices coming out of portable amplifiers, people speaking (shouting) in Cantonese. I won't pretend I understood what they were saying or what most of the banners said. I tried to get up as I high as I could but I couldn't see much of anything. After a while I left, it was too crowded and too wet for me. I'd gotten the gist, that people were still upset that Hong Kong was now reunited with China.

What I remember most clearly was seeing that many Hong Kong people were holding the British colonial flag. At the time, I perhaps felt sympathetic to them, as they looked back with fondness on British rule, as compared to rule by the PRC. No doubt many of these people have done well economically, relatively speaking of course.

But times have changed and I now realize the inanity and naivety of this viewpoint. It occurs to me that many Hong Kong people either do not know their own history, or they are selectively forgetting it.

The bottom line is this: the British, and the West in general, never had China's interests at heart, and they do not today. China was to be used and exploited as a limitless resource to make businesses and crowns rich. There is no ambiguity about this at this point, history is very clear. 1

From the opium trade, to reparation payments, to appropriation of industry, China was deliberately and systematically picked apart while she was in the midst of civil war. Anyone care to imagine what the United States would be like today if during its own civil war it were attacked and occupied (economically and militarily) by France, Britain, Japan, and Germany? This is precisely what happened to China.

So my message to Hong Kong people is this: Take your heads out of the sand. The British, the U.S., the French, Germans, pretty much everyone outside of China who you imagine has your interests at heart, doesn't. Their intent is to exploit you and China economically and otherwise. Nothing much has changed in the last century. The PRC isn't perfect, by any means. (Neither is Taiwan's government, and anyone who thinks that Taiwan's government is largely better than the PRC doesn't know history.) However, both of these governments are Chinese, and so are you. At least for the time being.

So wake up.

We are the Mongol Horde

The upsurge of the West, which was only to emerge from its relative isolation thanks to its maritime expansion, occurred at a time when the two great civilizations of Asia were threatened. China, much weakened in the fourteenth century by the Mongol exploitation and by a long period of rebellion and wars, had to make a tremendous effort to restore its agrarian economy and to find its equilibrium again. 1

What we touch, we destroy.

Appropriate, mangle, exploit: these are the pillars of rule and of consequent destruction.

The conquered must pay heavy fines. Their burden must never be lifted.

Until, of course, the yoke of their oppression is severed and blood spills.

We are the Mongol Horde.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hong Kong, economic and political rights, and the banking class

The following quote from A History of Chinese Civilization1 details the perspective Han Dynasty China held towards merchants, a perspective we should pay attention to. As we read about their hostility, as well as their reasoning for having such hostility, we may reflect on our own situation.

"The hostility towards merchants which had such profound effects on the fate of the Chinese world, and which has given Chinese civilization its own particular character, is explained by a number of different and complex factors. [... ] An indication of dissipation, arrogance, and lack of virtue according to the literati [i.e. Confucian tradition], the taste for luxury appears already in Mencius as one of the indirect causes of peasant poverty. [...]
But the deepest reasons for this hostility seem to have been those adduced by the rulers and the state: mercantile activities were, they felt, a factor leading to a maladjusted society, since merchants' wealth enabled them to secure domination over the poor, to buy up peasant lands and to employ as slaves in their mining, iron and steel, or manufacturing enterprises the cultivators of whom they had reduced to destitution. Mercantile activities, by inciting people to useless expenditure, distracted them from the activities fundamental and indispensable to the survival of the state"
In our day, it would seem out of place to think of merchants as being the source of what is clearly happening in our time. For us, financial services and merchant banking, which are part of all modern day corporations, are the locus of our ire whether we are aware of it or not. We may not be slaves, per se, but it must be accepted as a difficult truth that the bulk of us lack any economic rights, whatever political rights we may still have. As David Graeber2 points out excellently, political rights without economic rights are almost useless. And those who have secured domination over us, whether middle class or poor, we may call the banking class.

This is one thing that concerns me about the protests going on in Hong Kong currently. While I understand and sympathize with their desire to be able to choose those they vote for, rather than having the PRC give them a handful of puppets to choose from, the truth is that, even if they were to succeed, without changing the fundamentals of the way the financial system works, they would ultimately end up with something much like what exists in the United States. That is to say, a system where the only true political rights belong to those who already have economic rights, power, and influence. It is especially ironic to me that the Hong Kong protests are taking place in the financial sector, yet the focus of the protests are political in focus, rather than economic.

In other words, we cannot disentangle our financial systems from our political systems, they have to be considered and altered together. One will not be meaningfully changed without the other. A starting point for some meaningful change would be skepticism of our institutions, if not outright hostility. Hostility is, of course, totally warranted when there are so many unemployed and homeless. What do we have if not a maladjusted society?

It would be mean and cruel to suggest that we live completely sparse lives, and it is a pernicious assumption that people become indebted in order to buy frivolities. While there is a certain truth to that in some cases, the fact is that by and large people have little alternative but to succumb to debt in order to buy birthday presents and other items which become meaningful when viewed in the context of human relationships. Student debt taken on to get an education, for example, could hardly be seen as a luxury. 

Ultimately, the protests in Hong Kong will probably yield little fruit, in the larger context of society. I'm not even sure that their goals being met would be a good thing. It's not that having puppets in place, as handed by the PRC, is a perfect scenario, it is just that one would ultimately end up with puppets, and these would be in the control of the banking class as in the United States. Not everyone is willing to take the risks that the young student population is willing to make and I admire their courage under pressure, I just wish their focus was on the financial system, or on both systems, or included protest about housing prices in HK, etc. which might ultimately lead to something positive.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The disaster of money becoming its own moral imperative

From David Graeber's Debt: The First 5000 Years1:
All of this helps explain why the Church had been so uncompromising in its attitudes toward usury. It was not just a philosophical question; it was a matter of moral rivalry. Money always has the potential to become a moral imperative unto itself. Allow it to expand and it can quickly become a morality so imperative that all others seem frivolous in comparison.
This is it folks, this is where we are in the West and increasingly (though to a lesser degree) in the East as well. Graeber goes on to discuss that the structure of corporations are "designed to eliminate all moral imperatives but profit."

This is where we lose our humanity, when we are nothing but bean counters scrambling to have more beans than we had before, more than the next guy, more than the next corporation. This may seem like an ueber-obvious observation, but it's important to stand back a bit from society and see how this plays out in reality.

With profit being the primary imperative, it becomes acceptable to let people go a week before retirement after having worked at a company for a lifetime. This isn't "the market", nor is it anything desirable in any human sense. It's the apex of the evil nature of man so eloquently discussed by Xunzi2. It's this imperative which also has paved the way for a U.S. government which gives large sums to profit-seeking banks as a bail-out, the selfsame banks which were a major part of economic collapse and resulting house foreclosures, rather than using the same large sums to essentially pay down the mortgages. This would have had the same functional effect to the economy and the balance sheet's of the lenders, but it would have also had the human effect of keeping people in their homes.

What kind of a world do we want to live in? We have inherited this one and largely haven't made it better. The first step for us is to recognize where we are standing.


[1] From David Graeber's Debt: The First 5000 Years
[2] Xunzi

I've recently moved my blog to the blogger platform. If you link to my blog in your blogroll, please do me a solid and update the link to: I'd greatly appreciate it.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Xunzi speaks

"Unless you pile up tiny streams, you can never make a river or a sea."

"The gentleman does not stop acting because petty men carp and clamor."

"The gentleman follows what is constant; the petty man reckons up his achievements."

"Good or bad government depends upon the dictates of the mind, not upon the desires of the emotional nature."

"If the gentleman studies widely and each day examines himself, his wisdom will become clear and his conduct without fault."

"There is no greater godliness than to transform yourself with the Way, no greater blessing than to escape misfortune."

"The gentleman is by birth no different from any other man; it is just that he is good at making use of things."

"A gentleman must be careful where he takes his stand."

"The glory or shame that come to a man are no more than the image of his virtue."

"If there is no dark and dogged will, there will be no shining accomplishment."

"If there is no dull and determined effort, there will be no brilliant achievement."

"To cling to profit and cast aside righteousness is called the height of depravity."

"Though there may be little profit in it, if there is much righteousness, do it."

"Any man who follows his nature and indulges his emotions will inevitably become involved in wrangling and strife, will violate the forms and rules of society, and will end as a criminal. Therefore, man must first be transformed by the instructions of a teacher and guided by ritual principles, and only then will he be able to observe the dictates of courtesy and humility, obey the forms and rules of society, and achieve order. It is obvious from this, then, that man's nature is evil, and that his goodness is the result of conscious activity."

"The thing that all men should fear is that they will become obsessed by a small corner of truth and fail to comprehend its over-all principles. If they can correct this fault, they may return to correct standards, but if they continue to hesitate and be of two minds, then they will fall into delusion. There are not two Ways in the world; the sage is never of two minds."

"The sage has the understanding that comes from listening to many things, but does not let pride show in his face; he has the kind of generosity that embraces many men, but does not let it appear that he boasts of his virtue. When his doctrines are practiced, the world is upright; when they are not, he strives to make clear the Way but hides his person. These are the characteristics of the sage's discourse."

Portrait of Xunzi

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Debt: The First 5,000 Years (A most important book you may not haveheard of.)

Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Click to buy on Amazon)

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber

What is debt? And what is the true origin of money?

Forget everything you thought you knew about economics: it turns out it was all wrong. In this fascinating book, David Graeber takes us down the rabbit hole of human economies, where debts are earned and repaid in lives—and flesh. And where the lion's share of our lives are spent in what we might call communistic relations, despite that term's derogatory implications. And where we learn that debt and credit are our primary currencies, and always have been.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Letters to a young man 35

Hello my friend. I share with you the following:

And when you see her for the vile creature she is, rather than a beauty to be conquered, then you shall be free.

This is but the tip of the iceberg, of course, but I want to get your attention. What does this passage refer to? A woman? Or something else? You see, there is a parallel between the above and most everything which you encounter in life. You are offered inferior things and you quibble with others over which is better while your pocket is picked by your enemies.

Consider the arguments you have with others about this movement versus that movement. About this philosophy versus that philosophy. About the finer points of this philosophy versus other points of the very same philosophy. Consider how much energy you waste in this senseless distraction. Our enemy grows stronger and more powerful daily, while we quibble over the unimportant details. The most important detail is the fact that, on one side lives the enemy, and everyone else is on the other side.

So who is this enemy?

The enemy is silent, yet lives everywhere. He touches everything you touch, everything you buy. He lives on your back, a heavy weight, though you do not feel it as such. He instigates trouble and draws you into conflict, then runs and claims that you started it all. He is a weasel and a devil. If you are not careful, he will be master of all you are and do. He has many resources and craftily plays all sides of the game. He only cares that he profits in the end--the sort who bets on both sides of the chess match and always "wins".

To fight him we must begin by cultivating ourselves. We must remove the poison from our wounds, though the taste is bitter, though the process is painful: it must be done. Removing the poison first, we then remove our blinders. Until we correct ourselves, what business do we have correcting anything else? We awake to see a world much different than we had supposed. In this next period we will have to fight our depression and sense of powerlessness. We will need to overcome our urge for bloodthirsty revenge, for our enemy is powerful and will capitalize on our hasty actions. We must calm ourselves and take things step by step. We must keep our eye on the future and the long-term goal.

As an example, look upon how several nations, including China and Russia are working together to fight the evil we all face. The Chinese in particular are masterful at their patient struggle forward. The enemy underestimates them, and because of this, the Chinese will prevail. As will the Russians. Are they our enemies? I tell you that they are not. If you believe that they are, ask yourself why. You must examine what you know and what you believe, for you have been told lies and have been led astray by our enemy. We need not fear the Chinese, nor the Russians, nor others, for we have the same enemy. We may not be entirely the same, but we have more in common than you may think.

As you move forward, focus on the fact that you are planting seeds of not only the enemy's destruction, but of your own liberation and betterment, as well as the liberation and betterment of your people. Focus on this when you must make difficult decisions, for when you remember all that is at stake you will see things clearly.

Xunzi said, "Unless you pile up tiny streams, you can never make a river or a sea."

Once you have cultivated yourself, begin to work with your family, especially the young. Teach them and show them that there is a different way to live and exist. A different way to treat others and a different way to treat themselves. Begin to discuss such things with your friends. In both cases, be moderate. Do not try to accomplish too much too fast. Let them taste the medicine little by little. They will soon come to welcome it, as we have, you and I.

Xuzi said, "If the gentleman studies widely and each day examines himself, his wisdom will become clear and his conduct without fault."

We may not conquer our oppressors in this lifetime. Yet, our job remains: to train the next few generations of men to conquer them and to rectify names. Elementary schools, high schools, and universities: these are the places to fight the psychological poison of society. In their halls we must establish a beachhead from which we can push back against the tide. Above all of these is the home, for that is where our revolution truly begins. We must be patient. The enemy is counting on us to give up, to return to our old ways of comfort and enslavement.

Xunzi said, "If there is no dull and determined effort, there will be no brilliant achievement."

We will begin to gain ground. We will see change. We will face new challenges. The enemy will try to adapt. He will fight back. Did you think he was going away without a fight?

You are probably thinking that there is no hope. The game is rigged. The enemy has deep pockets, far reach, and vast influence and control. These are all true. Yet, the enemy has something else which will lead to his downfall: overconfidence and lust for profit above all else.

How many emperors came and went throughout ancient China, how many dynasties? Did they not also believe their own myths, did they not believe in their own invincibility? They all failed to understand that there is no substitute for being in accordance with the Way. If you are against the Way, it will eventually lead to your destruction. No matter what the enemy does, he will never understand this. His only advantage is his wealth. Yet he has no morals, and has no love for the people. How will they stand with him when he needs their help? Of course, they will not. They will turn on him, as we are, and he will be rooted out like the greatest evil which man has ever known.

Xunzi said, "Against the soldiers of a benevolent man, deceptions are of no use; they are effective only against a ruler who is rash and arrogant"

And, "If he cares only for profit and engages in much deceit, he will be in danger. And if he engrosses himself in plots and schemes, subversion and secret evil, he will be destroyed."

And what a rash, arrogant foe we have before us. Given his cunning, his willingness to lie, to rig the game, to play all sides, we must finally heed Xunzi's teachings on how to punish our great enemy. For if we are too lenient, he will rebound and bite us once again.

Regarding the regulations of a king, Xunzi said, "The violent shall be repressed, the evil restrained, and punishments shall be meted out without error. [...] if they do evil in secret, they will suffer punishment in public."

Clearly, those who have done so much to wrong others must be held accountable. A message must be sent so that all understand that there can once again be known a thing called Justice. No more hypocrisy. No more confusion of right and wrong; no more blending of the two. We must rectify names. Men will be men; women will be women; good and evil will no longer be confused and hard to tell apart. When our people have accomplished this, then they may look back to us and the sacrifices we have made, to the efforts we have put forth, and they will admire us as their ancestors, as men of wisdom, strength, and virtue. Without our hard work now, they may stand no chance to prevail. The harder we work now, the sooner our families, and our people, may be free.

Maintain your uprightness. Remember that Xunzi's words are not just hollow talk, but are based on observations of the fall of tyranny throughout a long human history. We can only but prevail if we continue forward.

You may not hear from me for a while. I will keep you in my thoughts. Above all else, remember these words from Xunzi,

The thing that all men should fear is that they will become obsessed by a small corner of truth and fail to comprehend its over-all principles. If they can correct this fault, they may return to correct standards, but if they continue to hesitate and be of two minds, then they will fall into delusion. There are not two Ways in the world; the sage is never of two minds.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding

This perspective, and the book, present an interesting take on the American Revolution. Will add it to my reading list.

From the book description:
Generations of students have been taught that the American Revolution was a revolt against royal tyranny. In this revisionist account, Eric Nelson argues that a great many of our “founding fathers” saw themselves as rebels against the British Parliament, not the Crown. The Royalist Revolution interprets the patriot campaign of the 1770s as an insurrection in favor of royal power—driven by the conviction that the Lords and Commons had usurped the just prerogatives of the monarch.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fifty or Sixty Despots

Growing up in the United States, we were taught that the founders of our nation were moral, upright men, and that they heralded a new age of liberty.

Were they? Did they?

We were taught that the nation which they built embodies all of the so-called enlightened principles which foster a better world for all.

Does it?

We often forget that there were people living at the time who were opposed to independence of the several colonies. Their voices have receded into the dustbin of history, and our schools don't allow for their contrary perspectives.

One such perspective is that of Thomas Hutchinson, former Governor of Massachusetts. Writing from London in 1776, Hutchinson says,

Governors and other servants of the Crown, and Officers of Government, with such as adhered to them, have been removed and banished under pretence of their being the instruments of promoting ministerial tyranny and arbitrary power; and finally the people have subjected themselves to the most cruel oppressions of fifty or sixty Despots.

He goes on to say,
I should therefore be impertinent, if I attempted to shew in what case a whole people may be justified in rising up in oppugnation to the powers of government, altering or abolishing them, and substituting, in whole or in part, new powers in their stead; or in what sense all men are created equal; or how far life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness may be said to be unalienable; only I could wish to ask the Delegates of Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas, how their Constituents justify the depriving more than an hundred thousand Africans of their rights to liberty, and [10] the pursuit of happiness, and in some degree to their lives, if these rights are so absolutely unalienable; nor shall I attempt to confute the absurd notions of government, or to expose the equivocal or inconclusive expressions contained in this Declaration

I will let you read the rest.



Monday, June 30, 2014

Xunzi presages our world

Xunzi, in the second century B.C., looked at the chaos and disorder of China and observed,

Now, let someone try doing away with the authority of the ruler, ignoring the transforming power of ritual principles, rejecting the order that comes from laws and standards, and dispensing with the restrictive power of punishments, and then watch and see how the people of the world treat each other. He will find that the powerful impose upon the weak and rob them, the many terrorize the few and extort from them, and in no time the whole world will be given up to chaos and mutual destruction.

Does this reality sound familiar?

Two things become obvious upon reflection: 1) The troubles of our time are nothing new in the course of human history, and 2) Confucian philosophy should be investigated more fully by those wishing to make positive changes in the world.

While the second point may not seem obvious, consider that Confucian philosophy was born out of a desire to return to order and away from chaos. In short: to bring about conservative reforms which would return stability and harmony to society.

Xunzi goes on to say,

It is obvious from this, then, that man's nature is evil, and that his goodness is the result of conscious activity.

A thorough overview of Xunzi's philosophy is beyond the scope of this piece, but suffice it to say that Xunzi believed that men needed to constantly work to better themselves lest they fall into the bad habits that come from following one's emotional nature. Looking around the world, I know of no better or more relevant philosophy for us to study and use as a tool for self-improvement and improvement of society.

Obviously, Stoicism is also relevant, and I wouldn't dissuade anyone from studying its thinking. After all, I've been studying stoic philosophy for years and have written my own book on it. However, one thing which stoicism doesn't full address is how man fits into his family and society. In truth, my stoic views and writings are eclectic and impart a lot of Confucian thinking, though perhaps unconsciously. It is all well and good to learn to go forward through the struggle of life, as Stoicism teaches us, yet how do we go about changing not only ourselves, but our world?
Confucianism addresses these issues more fully, and I suspect because changing the world for the better was one of its primary aims. While Stoicism, of the strictest sense, seems to be primarily inward looking, Confucianism looks outward to society as much as it looks inward.
This isn't to say anything negative about Stoicism, mind you. There is great overlap between the two philosophies, and stoic practice is worthwhile for a multitude of reasons. I bring up this contrast because I have recognized that my own brand of Stoicism is largely imbued with Confucianism and that the latter's focus on family and building a better society are of chief importance. It's not that stoic writers have entirely neglected issues of family and society, it's just that they mostly have.
Certainly, there are many other philosophies which one might contrast with Confucianism, yet I find no other philosophy which has as much overlap. And since Stoicism is the philosophy du jour, it is important to point towards a philosophical discipline which has much in common with it, predates it and overlaps it.
In the West, we can certainly learn from Confucian philosophy, and we have no better example to follow if we truly want to change our circumstances.
The quotes above come from: Watson, Burton (1963). Hsün Tzu: Basic Writings. New York: Columbia University Press.
For more on Xunzi, here are three pieces:
1) Wisdom of Wunzi Part One
2) Wisdom of Xunzi Part Two
3) Wisdom of Xunzi Part Three

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The failed logic of liberal legalism

Anglo-Saxon liberal legalism is founded on the idea that all are equal under the rule of law and that the law must be applied in a rational way so as to protect the rights of everyone equally. In theory, this approach protects against the inequities of traditional approaches to disputes, such as Confucian-style mediation. One exemplar of such mediation comes from the Qing Dynasty:

A window brought a suit against her deceased husband's cousin, alleging that the defendant had illegally occupied her land. To prevent the litigation from developing and damaging the clan's reputation, six relatives intervened to mediate the dispute. They invited the parties to meet together [..] and looked at the land title documents. It was discovered that although the widow's deceased husband had once owned the land, he had mortgaged it to his cousin and had not been able to redeem the property before his death. The widow then understood that she had no lawful claim. But the relatives had sympathy for her and her children, and they persuaded the defendant's son to help her. he then agreed to convey the land to the widow free of charge. The conveyance deed was signed in front of the relatives, and the parties became reconciled. The relatives then jointly applied to the magistrate to terminate the litigation, and the magistrate gave his approval.¹

One can scarcely imagine such a dispute being resolved in this way in modern times, though it may happen on occasion. To be fair, mediation is becoming more of a trend, but likely for cost savings rather than any concerns about moral or ethical issues. In fact, such concerns about morals and ethics are considered inappropriate in the domain of law in the liberal and legalist state.

Another reason why Confucian ideas of social harmony (and its consequent favor of mediation) are considered inappropriate is the belief that mediation might be used to prop up social inequities and power imbalances. This is certainly a possibility, but it's no more salient than the concern that modern legalism can be perverted—after all, it often is. Today, liberalism has perverted the Confucian concepts of desiring social harmony and ethics to the degree that it has all but banished them from the conversation.

In fact, it is precisely a desire to get away from moral and ethical issues which are at the foundation of liberal legalism, and this is one of the major failures of its thinking. For example, the liberal perspective claims that officials should have no moral standing which is higher than ordinary citizens, and that this should (in theory) allow for social wrongs to be corrected by an impartial (and rational) judiciary. This judiciary is supposed to look at each case in terms of the law and not in terms of morals.

Yet, here lies a fundamental problem. In order for these judges to make anything "right", do they not already engage in a moral and ethical balancing act? In theory, the judges are just rendering judgment based on legal facts and law without regard to any grand concepts such as "correcting social wrongs and imbalances". In fact, just the opposite happens. In a legalistic society, the law is King, and it is also perverted and used to do the very thing it was supposed to protect against.

Furthermore, if judges are to truly be able to apply the law fairly and without bias, do they not need to be (...wait for it...) moral and ethical individuals? If they are not, what is to stop them from accepting bribes or engaging in favoritism? And would anyone be accepting of the idea that a judge presiding over their own case would not be more ethical or moral than the average person on the street? If not, what is the point of having them go through the process of becoming judges?

Sadly, there is no guarantee that judges are any more moral or ethical than the regular person on the street. In fact, many judges may (not surprisingly) be using their positions of power to grind their philosophical and political axes. This is the unsettling reality we face today. Our culture fetishizes rule of law and individual rights, yet fails to secure either. Theoretical conversations replace enactments. There is nothing guiding the direction of Western society but an anarchy of personal desires. It's obvious that this cannot endure and that we are living in a dark age. With all of our technological achievements we dwell in a world bereft of humaneness and benevolence.

In essence, liberal and legalist societies of the West want to do without morals and ethics, yet presume that they will somehow magically appear in all the doings of its legal system due to "enlightened rationality". Yet, what could be more "rational" than a judge accepting a bribe to further her own situation? Without an embrace by society of ideals of morals and ethics, we are lost and the judiciary cannot save us. Liberal legalism cannot save us. These are all yet more tools to be used in our destruction. Confucian reformers throughout the ages understood this, we neglect these understandings at our peril.

1: Chen, A.H. (2003).Mediation, litigation, and justice: Confucian reflections in a modern liberal society. In Bell, D. & Chaibong, H. (Eds.) , Confucianism for the modern world (pp. 257-287). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Love for learning

Give yourself a love for learning and apply yourself to becoming a gentleman, rather than seeking pleasures which only dull your pain and confusion a short while.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Road to Paradise: Confucian lessons for the West

[Author's update 2014-12-15: In the final analysis, this is over-simplified. Closer to the full truth is the fact that Western-style liberal democracy will never work in China, and neither should it. The assumption in the West that all roads lead to liberalism in the end, is flawed. And what exists in China now may not ultimately be far worse, at least not at this stage. Only history will know.]

Empty promises

Anglo-Saxon liberalism has failed to deliver much that it has promised. Western societies, particularly the United States, are hollowed out husks of what they once were. As modern thinkers look for a way to solve the problems which have taken decades to unravel what once was, they look to history for inspiration. No longer are liberal ideals able to be held up without scrutiny, but are instead being subjected to more criticism and inspection. Perhaps there is so much at stake that letting individualism rule the day will not do. Perhaps social cohesion and harmony are more important than certain individual rights which, if we’re honest, are rarely exercised but are more often only discussed in theoretical terms.

While some turn to more recent philosophical ideas which borrow from certain traditionalists, I will advocate for reaching farther back to Confucian philosophy which may offer more in the way of bringing societies back from the brink. Specifically, the works of Confucius, Mencius, and Xunzi are all relevant. It is probably wishful thinking to expect Western cultures to be able to understand, let alone to implement, systems which are based on concepts such as: social and family harmony, decentralization, self-discipline and education, benevolence, and checking of power. To the untrained mind it will be all too easy to dismiss discussions which center on these topics as being socialist in nature—this is a Western error. There are wide areas between the Anglo-Saxon liberalism of the West and Soviet-style socialism which can be explored. East Asian societies, generally, fall between those extremes. However, as China is evidence, it is possible for a nation to fall into the extremes and we may focus on their mistakes so as to learn what to avoid as cultural and political changes foment.

The road to paradise

China’s transition from the Qing Dynasty to the People’s Republic of China occurred over what is the blink of an eye in terms of long history and the path of this transformation was as complicated as it was swift. The process took China on the path towards constitutional monarchy, yet that process was interrupted prematurely. The failure of such reform still extends a long shadow of uncertainty over the nation, “What might have been?” While it may be useless to speculate, it is nevertheless true that lessons from this brief and bloody period should be considered when evaluating potential changes in government. For every would-be revolutionary, social planner, or hopeful politician with an eye towards putting things right, looking back at history should be a starting point—not a second thought.

In 1898 there was a 103 day period of reform in China known as the Wuxu Reform. This reform was brought about by Kang Youwei, who convinced the Tongzhi Emperor of the need to move towards a more democratic polity by way of constitutional monarchy. Kang developed the so-called Three Generations Theory which held that societies had to go through three periods in succession: Chaos, Peace, and Paradise. In Kang’s view, people had chaos for Chaos, dictatorship for Peace, and republic for Paradise. It is important to keep in mind that the Chinese people had lived in relative peace for two thousand years from the Han Dynasty forward. Whatever may be said about the periods which came before the revolution in China, they were more stable and peaceful, relatively speaking. To Kang’s credit, he realized that a well thought out system was needed to transition from the effective dictatorship of the Qing Dynasty towards constitutional monarchy so as to lessen the ultimate costs.

Unfortunately, before the reforms had time to develop and grow towards a constitutional monarchy, the empress dowager cixi (孝钦显皇后) led a coup and stopped the reforms. Yet, after the Japanese defeated the Russians in 1905, she and others became convinced that the strength of the Japanese must have come from their constitutional monarchy, which the Russians and Chinese did not have. Ironically, they therefore tried to implement the same types of reforms which they had interrupted years earlier. After her death the remaining family resisted petitions to speed up the timeline for such reforms and as a result, those who had advocated for constitutional monarchy went over to the side of the revolutionaries calling for a direct leap to a republic. Thus the brief chance that rational reform had was snuffed out by the impatience of those who pushed their ideals above all else. It is easy to understand their intentions. It is equally easy to see how disastrous the consequences.


Without going into minute detail about the revolution, the founding of the republic, the warlord era, the KMT, bloody civil war, and ultimately the founding of the People’s Republic of China, we can draw a few general conclusions from those events. Firstly, when looked upon through the lens of long history, it becomes apparent that whatever the good intentions of revolutionary reformers, they were ill-equipped (as were the people generally) for the challenges which they faced. Ultimately, what was created out of the ashes of their revolution would be far worse than what was there before. This is not to be overlooked by those who think of Western-style liberal democracy as the answer to all problems in the modern world, as Liang Qichao, a democratic reformer who defended the republic, would later realize. He understood from his experience that Confucianism could give moderation and modesty to Western-style liberal democracy, helping to minimize competition and aiding unity in society. As I’ve said, this may not be possible in the West where ideals of individualism are so ingrained.

Given the state of things in Iraq/Afghanistan after American democrazy, or current events in Ukraine (as of this writing, also current events in Spain), we can conclude that these lessons regarding gradual transition into different government have not been learned. Or, perhaps more likely, the prime movers behind such actions have other motives which don’t include the general welfare of the society or a move towards democratic polity.

In addition, we may learn how the liberal ideals of the West can be viewed more as pathology than anything a society should aspire to. The Confucian tradition’s focus of social harmony, the decentralization inherent in its philosophy, and the focus on family and man’s relation to other beings all offer a sharp contrast to Anglo-Saxon influenced Western societies which have no social harmony, are anything but peaceful, and which turn a blind eye to the least fortunate in society.

The disruption of social harmony is a feature of Anglo-Saxon liberalism, not a bug.

Regarding transitions of government: one major problem with a people trying to “leap forward” into a democratic polity is that the mass of people are rarely prepared to take on the burden which such forms of government require. This sometimes includes the leadership, which may be comprised of immoral men and women who will seek to consolidate their own power at the first available opportunity (such as when Yuan Shikai tried to become dictator soon after the Republic was established in China). Even if the instigators of revolution are moral and have the best of intentions, like Sun Yat-sen, they may be unable to stem the tide they are up against. The vast majority of people, if they are not imbued with strong moral fiber and dedication to checking power, may all too easily become part of a mob who is either violent (China's revolution and civil war) or complacent and lazy (current United States). Because of this, republican (democratic) forms of government are dysfunctional when people are not engaged and actively checking power. Furthermore, there generally are not proper checks of power built-in to such systems, despite protestations to the contrary. Unlike the Censorate, a built-in feature of the Confucian-influenced Chosŏn dynasty in Korea, there’s usually no truly impartial system to criticize the government without fear of retribution. A look at the so-called checks and balances of American government illustrates this quite well.

Confucian guidance

Improvements which Confucianism might make when applied to democratic styled governments (or constitutional monarchies for that matter) are: a return to ethics which focus on moral education, respect for others, and taking care of the least fortunate in society. Since the West has found itself in the grips of libertarian capitalism run amok, there is ample room for improvement on a number of metrics (homeless, jobless, etc.). The United States, as one example, has the means to deal with social problems, it just lacks the philosophical grounding upon which to do so. Even Christianity, which favors some of the same tenets of social responsibility, has failed to produce anything which reaches all corners of the society. The perversion of welfare programs in the United States is that they are not backed by real ethics on the part of society. If they were, abusers would be punished fully, more than lip-service would be paid to the truly desperate, and there would be more help available via family and social networks—all things which are important from a Confucian point of view.

Confucian ethics entail that human beings should look out for one another, that the government should not meddle unduly, yet that it should enable people to help themselves and their families. In contrast, the U.S. has designed and implemented a farcical system which only serves to ingrain the idea that everyone should fend for themselves. Because these programs are so poorly designed and implemented, and because there’s no real belief in government having the responsibility to make sure that people are able to work and are educated, they are nothing but boondoggles on which vast fortunes are spent for those who are gaming the system. This is all the more sad as that kind of waste prevents the truly needy from getting help. And so everyone turns away and concludes that the government shouldn’t be involved in the first place. This is not the Confucian view, which holds that there are multiple layers of support systems including: family, social networks, and government. The classical Confucian ideal is not that of a nanny state, but one with low taxes which allows people to save and care for themselves and others. In the Confucian view, government should foster people to be able to take care of themselves and it should also take care of those who are truly unable to. Whereas liberal democracy has defined an all-or-nothing system, there are clearly alternatives.

Another improvement would be a return to moral education, beyond any which may or may not be taught at home. Clearly this is a failing point (not just in the West) and the effects of this failure are huge. Ethics should be taught and not left up to chance. However, moral education in schools should not turn into a perversion and opportunity to push political or religious messages. If kept to the basic ethical idea of, "treat others fairly, as you’d like to be treated yourself", that would be a good start. Clearly leaving this up to parents (who failed to learn it themselves) isn’t working, and neither is leaving it up to television and films. TV and films are designed to be salable. If they are trusted to teach values and social norms (or we simply let that happen, trust notwithstanding), there will be a gradual decline in values and a perversion of social norms. We see this today.

Concluding thoughts

We can conclude that it’s neither possible nor advisable to quickly rush from one form of government to the next and it has rarely gone well. Even in the United States, a country whose revolution is thought to have gone well, we see that the system is so perverted that it scarcely resembles anything that its founders might have envisioned or intended. This should give us pause when considering any leaps towards democracy as it will be no guarantee of any of the things it promises. The great tragedy to revolutions and social change which are predicated upon ideals of individual rights and freedom is that they are usually reaching for paradise but too often deliver hell.

Furthermore, the West should give serious consideration to the Confucian traditions which have spared (to some degree) East Asian countries based on its models from some of the societal and moral decay which spreads continually. In general, it can be said that the West would do well to open its collective mind to points of view and philosophies which it has typically ignored or assumed irrelevant, while embracing its own arrogance and stupidity. If Anglo-Saxon liberalism is left unchecked, it may lead to the undoing of many societies. This is what we see now. Confucian thought has much to offer and should be considered duly.

References / Inspiration for this work came from the following essays in the book Confucianism for the modern world:

Bell, Daniel A. (2003).Confucian constraints on property rights. In Bell, D. & Chaibong, H. (Eds.) , Confucianism for the modern world (pp. 161-180). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Chan, Joseph. (2003).Giving priority to the worst off: a Confucian perspective on social welfare. In Bell, D. & Chaibong, H. (Eds.) , Confucianism for the modern world (pp. 236-256). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Helgesen, Geil. (2003).The case for moral education. In Bell, D. & Chaibong, H. (Eds.) , Confucianism for the modern world (pp. 161-180). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jongryn, Mo. (2003). The challenge of accountability: implications of the Censorate. In Bell, D. & Chaibong, H. (Eds.) , Confucianism for the modern world (pp. 54-68). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wang, Juntao. (2003). Confucian democrats in Chinese history. In Bell, D. & Chaibong, H. (Eds.) , Confucianism for the modern world (pp. 69-89). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A heuristic from Xunzi

Xunzi replied, "In knowledge, nothing is more important than discarding what is doubtful in action, nothing is more important than avoiding mistakes; in undertakings, nothing is more important than to be without regret. Only make sure that you will not regret the undertaking, and then you need not worry about whether it will be successful or not.

From: Watson, Burton (1963). Hsün Tzu: Basic Writings. New York: Columbia University Press.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Letters to a young man 34

Hello my friend.

Having just completed one of my most busy periods, my thoughts turn to you. I wonder how you are getting along and what you are focused on. Do you read over our last correspondence and wonder whether I have abandoned you? I have not, yet let me make up the difference for what it is with.

Do you still suffer from the yoke you have placed on yourself, the burdens of youth? Scrambling to and fro seeking your next refuge? The next soft place to rest your weary head. The next trend to follow in excitement. The next diet which keeps you busy in measuring and withholding. The next routine meant to hold you upright. The newest philosophy. The next aphorism.

The refuge you seek lies within you, inside your heart and mind. Nothing upright can be built without self-cultivation. You apply yourself diligently for a time, then fall away. You may need me there to encourage you to stand up again and carry on. Yet I am always there with you if you listen to that part of you that expects better. We are one and the same. In fact, that voice inside of you is better than me.

It exceeds me because it knows all of your hiding places. I can only guess at where they are but you know full well. Deep down you have an inventory of every place you go to escape that voice. But the voice which urges you forward toward improvement is always present, even when I am not.

Listen to this voice. He is not a voice without reason. He understands you and knows when you need rest and novelty. Yet he also understands when you need to resume your efforts. He allows no slack when no slack is truly needed.

Study history, including your own. Learn new languages including the one which he speaks to you. Cultivate his voice and your ability to understand it. Better yet, cultivate your ability to listen for him. He calls for you at every waking hour, pushing you to be a better man. And what is better? He understands from day to day what you need better than I do, though I know you well enough to guess. Still, a thousand of my guesses is outweighed by the slighted hint from him.

He is your salvation when you fall. The strong trunk of your tree which has deep roots. Come, let us together water those roots and admire the heights to which he has grown. You sit on his branches, rising high with the fruit-and I am there with you.

Farewell for now.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A plague of extras, a stoic reflection

I look around me and see what's eating at everyone: Everyone wants extras.

Extra money. Extra clothes. An extra house. And extra free time.

Extra girlfriends and wives. Extra sex. Extra food. Extra people to do thy bidding.

Extra status. Extra everything.

What is it about us that makes us so dissatisfied with what we have? How could we calm the storm brewing inside of us?

Certainly we have the opportunity to find peace within. A beginning point is to properly see what we have before us. When we view our wife, is she enough? Our money, is it enough? Our food, is it enough?

A second step is to properly assess what it is that is driving us to want more. Usually, this is some self deficiency. We crave more because we are trying to fill some void, some lack we feel within. It is because we feel disconnected from what makes us whole that we are constantly seeking more.

So what makes us whole?

Part of what makes us whole is when we cease to constantly look outside ourselves for validation. The feeling that everything is right and that we don't need more is available to us at any moment. Yet, we must quiet the voice in us that tells us that we need to look here or there for more. That we need to get extra this or that.

An irony is how little we can enjoy what we have when constantly seeking more. Dog with two bones.

So, do you allow the need for more to plague you and distract you from what is at hand? Or do you take a deep breath and look at what you have and properly appreciate it?

In a similar way, when we confront something which has happened to us, a disappointment for example, the amount of time that the feeling of disappointment lasts can usually be prolonged by us. Certainly in life we face disappointments, they are unavoidable. Perhaps we don't get a job we want. It is perfectly natural to have some feeling of disappointment, of being let down. Yet, sometimes we seem to crave more out of the experience. We prolong the agony by going over and over again what led up to it, what occurred during it, what we might have done differently, and so forth. To some degree we can learn from such mental gymnastics, but past a certain threshold we are only increasing our misery- and likely the misery of those around us as well.

We have an ability to let things go before they tip us over. How often we cling to the extras and observe ourselves being capsized by our own hand.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Stoic Thought Experiment

I recently added a pittance to the digital canon by issuing:

I ask you to ponder this question. Think about the ramifications of your time with those who hold power and consider what might come of it.

For some, this is an opportunity to network, to learn and to gain perspective from the champions of politics and industry. For others, it is an opportunity to influence the powerful. Hopefully for some greater purpose.

Think on Seneca as he spent countless hours of his life in service to Nero. Do you serve such a tyrant in your work? We doubtless run into those types in life, hopefully we are not chained to them as Seneca was. Yet, do we try to influence them for the better, to impart some stoic thinking to them?

It could be fairly said that a great good might be done for the world in trying to influence those at the top to consider their actions, and themselves, in the context of humankind, generally. Having access to such people is rare. Ten minutes isn't very long to talk with someone, so you would need to have your thoughts organized.

Which direction do you take this opportunity?

The shy may ponder this query privately. The less shy are encouraged to leave a comment.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Stoic Living for the Modern Soul

Below are excerpts from my book Stoic Living for the Modern Soul. The book is available in print and for Kindle.

From Book One: Introduction

(pg. 2) This work aims to show you what/when/how stoic approaches to life may be useful. I will endeavor to correct what I think are some misunderstandings and caricatures of stoicism which one often encounters. In brief, I write this work as a modern stoic, who lives and breathes. In order to answer the question “What is stoicism?” I can only report from what my eyes, spirit, and experience have told me.

(pg. 2) Stoicism can be a mental exercise or it can be a way of life to be embraced. Those who choose to embrace it live close to their virtue and reason. As Seneca has put it, virtue itself is right reason. A stoic life may offer a beacon of hope in a dark world largely ruled by fears and desires. Yet stoicism is misunderstood and might be any number of other things.

(pg. 6) There are many attributes of a stoic that could be discussed, but the primary point is that stoicism may not be what we may have supposed. It is not an ivory tower into which one disappears to turn away from life. On the contrary, it is embracing life in a manner more fully than one had before. To face the anxieties, pain, and suffering in such a way as to no longer be controlled by them is truly liberating. To engage in eating, sex, exercise, and work in more meaningful and straightforward ways is empowering and removes extraneous psychological clutter from one’s existence. I put it to you that to live a stoic life is to embrace a clear ray of sunshine in what was once a dark pit. This pit was one we created ourselves, fueled by our endless yearnings to appease a fragile ego.

(pg. 8) There is no one correct way to follow such advice, just as there is no one correct way to live a stoic life. The philosophy is flexible and adaptable to any situation because it is not concerned with specifics. In every situation we have the opportunity to, ‘be good’, as Marcus Aurelius suggest. What this means from day to day, from hour to hour, is not measured by one set of rules. There are no commandments to adhere to. What one must learn to adhere to is one’s inner nature, the voice that we are imbued with if we will listen to it. An equally important and powerful part of what he says is that we not play the hypocrite. In this way, Marcus Aurelius reminds us that, while we are to listen to our inner voice, we must not take advantage of it so that we may do ill, claiming all the while that we are following our inner nature. For while we may commit an ill blindly and out of ignorance, to do so willingly and with knowledge would make us hypocrites.

From Book Two: Regarding the body

(pg. 12) Your body is a vessel, yet your intellect and reason must be the guide. To let one’s body rule and guide itself without oversight can lead to its destruction. The body is as a child that needs its parents to establish its habits, rules, and goals before it is able to do so itself. Look around you and it will be easy to see those whose bodies run amok, unguided by reason and sound judgment. You may even see this in yourself if you look closely and without bias.

From Book Three: Regarding the mind

(pg. 19) Like the body, the mind must be exercised and kept fit. You must look at yourself each day and hold yourself to a high standard. As you develop habits in this you will be better able to stay true and keep yourself honest. And yet, again, we all change throughout time. We may not know today what tools we will need tomorrow in order to keep ourselves humble and true. This is why we embrace principles. To develop particular routines only would be a failure. Our principles adapt and can be extrapolated to our changing life circumstances. Through our principles we are able to remain true to ourselves and thus true to the universal in us as well as our fellow man.

(pg. 21) Freedom is available to you at any moment. Your mind is capable of providing a release from what torments you. But be careful that you not use your mind to escape, for there is no freedom in that. Only when we confront our torments and embrace them may we be free of them. It is in the running and avoidance of those things that they catch us and hold us fast. However we squirm, we are caught and going nowhere.

(pg. 24) I submit to you that as your perspective grows, so will your anguish diminish. As you understand others more thoroughly it becomes less easy to hate them and dismiss them as evil. They may do evil deeds, but they are still human. What good will it do you to add to the evil of their deeds by carrying anger and hatred within you? It is your choice. Your mind will be perturbed by such thoughts. Your emotions will remain anxious and fearful.

(pg. 28) The mind is the most flexible and useful tool we have. Adaptable to any situation, any problem, any grief. The greatest quality our mind may have is honesty. To see ourselves clearly, to see others clearly, and to see our reality clearly, these are our goals. It is in seeing ourselves clearly that we become aware of what we are able to achieve, what our faults are, and what our strengths are. To see others clearly is to see them as human beings, including their faults and weaknesses. In doing so we no longer consider them evil, nor do we consider them objects. In this way we may deal with other men fairly. And finally, in seeing our reality clearly we may understand what we may change and what we may not. This awareness is chief in our goals. The clarity of mind which makes this possible is our goal. By daily asking ourselves honest questions and not settling until we find honest answers is the way in which we achieve it. Learning from and then moving past our many failures is our duty.

From Book Four: Regarding the spirit

(pg. 29) Some say that there is little joy in a stoic life. To those I would reply: you may not know what a stoic life is made of. For is not contentment a primary fixture of such a life? The act of appreciating each moment for what it is; the actions of a stoic man undertaken to remain ethical and upright, these are things of joy indeed.

From Book Five: Regarding the living of life

(pg. 31) Today there are many distractions pushing us and pulling us. We focus on tiny screens more than we do our fellow humans. We check our tiny accounts and leave the larger accounts in front of us untended. This is foolish. Our lives are around us and in front of us. They do not, on the whole, exist on these screens yet we often behave as if it were so. Though these devices may serve some purpose to us we should be careful how much energy we put to them. Make effort to rid yourself of the distractions which you do not truly need. Some may benefit you more than others and it is your task to understand which are beneficial and which are not. You may be surprised when you see how hollow a thing is, after truly looking at it.

(pg. 52) Consider that it behooves some to convince you to behave one way rather than another. Yet, is that way in your own best interest? Is it in the best interest of your family, or your country? You must prepare your mind daily to be aware of what is being thrown at you. Like a shield your mind must remain vigilant to guard against unwelcome messages. If you wish to remain chaste, understand that there are many images put in front of you encouraging you to end your chastity. And so on. Hold onto your center and your ideal of what you most value and consider at all moments if you are behaving according to your virtue or according to some conditioning.

These excerpts © 2014 Dmitri Mandaliev. All rights reserved.
's book on stoicism is title Stoic Living for the Modern Soul. Stoic Living for the Modern Soul is a guidebook of philosophy and inspiration for living a better life in the modern age. For more information at:

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Brian and Peter, a new book by Michael Byc

Below is an excerpt from Michael Byc's new book, "Brian and Peter the tale of a transcendent friendship". The talented Mr. Byc is looking for an illustrator for this work, so if you're interested please contact him by way of his twitter here.

This is a moment that can ruin or build a boy’s reputation. How one responds to the gyrations of a girl at a party is a do or die moment. Brian was oblivious to Kimberly’s test of his prowess with girls.

However, Peter understood. He knew action must be taken. So, he poked Kimberly in the back.

Kimberly immediately turned around and looked at Brian. He was pale with embarrassment and fright. “I didn’t know that you liked me, I’m glad! I really like you too.” Then on tippy toes she gave Brian a peck on the lips.

With his first kiss, Brian was no longer afraid of spending time with a girl in a closet. As luck would have it, he was able to spend most of his time with Kimberly in the dark. She also offered him many boobertunities, which he was more than happy to pamper.

From that moment on Peter and Brian were best friends. The world would become their oyster and Peter would always push Brian to shuck it.

Brian, my friend it’s time to rise
The sun is up and its gorgeous outside
Birds are chirping and deer graze
Before the day begins, an urge must subside

I must say you had some vivid dreams
That last night gave me a good pump
I’m about to blow to smithereens
All this buildup I need to dump

Times-a-wasting so load up the computer
Maybe a vid of a student that fucks her tutor?
Or would you prefer to multitask while you shower?
Imagining a fantasy where an ass you deflower?

It’s high time you made up your mind
I’m throbbing and veiny, with balls blue
Damn it, hurry and lower the window blind
Before I go ahead and make some homemade roux.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Letters to a young man 33

As a man gets older, his parents' health starts to deteriorate. A knee or hip needs to be replaced, a shoulder is sprained by lifting something. Something which is heavy now, which wasn't yesterday. Bones grow fragile. Confident strides change to hesitant foot falls. Care wears heavier on their faces, despite the joy they have for life. Age is getting the better of them, making them feeble as death looms on the horizon. You see their end coming and know that yours is not far behind.

Fathers become weak and there is a point in every man's life when he realizes that his father can no longer take him. What was once a boyhood dream, of being able to take on the father and win, is now a reality—not a joyous one. The son becomes the protector, the caretaker, the steward, and shepherd, replacing his father. No longer able to rest easy on the assumption that 'dad will take care of it', a son soon realizes that he must take the reigns of the family. It's not that the father is decrepit, no, he is still a force. The family still defers to him. He is still the king alongside the mother, the queen. Yet, the unspoken truth is that the son has now assumed the throne and must take care of things. This is the mantle of responsibility and you soon learn how it feels. You understand how men seem care-worn under their family responsibilities.

This is what you've been practicing for and training for your whole life. At least for the last ten years or so. So now it is time for you to step into the role you were meant to play. Once the son, now the father, and now the steward of the family. Plans and decisions must be made. Difficult ones, those regarding health and death. As each day goes by you replace one individual care and aspiration for a family one. For every plan you have there may arise a family matter which needs attending. You resist at first, these changes will take time. Yet, you know eventually what waits as death looms.

So I advise you to take a look at what you are and what you're doing. Life rushes by. The cares you have today will be gone tomorrow. Even the aspirations of today may fade in time. Do not follow the herd off a cliff into an abyss. Your own voice tells you where to go. You see a snippet of your future in your parents' future, or at least a possible future. The regrets they have, for things done and not done, surround them at times. With any luck they will let go of them and live in the moment, the last moments they have being ticked off one by one each day.

Farewell for now.

My book on stoicism.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Letters to a young man 32

Hello my friend. It's good to get your letter and hear your kind words. That I am of some help to you is my reward, that is to say, it is above and beyond the reward of writing you itself. For your kindness and that you would share that with me, I am thankful.

Now, to the points you've raised and asked about. You ask further about regrets and failures from your past, the kind that shake your very confidence in being a man, the kind that shake your very confidence in being you. You even feel that your dreams have fallen away because of decisions you've made as a young man.

I have been faced with letting go of certain dreams from my youth. It has been quite difficult, but I had to accept certain realities. Some might say it is settling for less, for me it has been a matter of accepting realities and moving forward. The good news is that I've survived and flourished, found new dreams and aspirations. And ultimately, if I'm honest, I've changed: the younger dreams seem more like mirages to me now than anything I would want to attain. So perhaps the answer is: time and change; with a healthy dose of acceptance. Acceptance for your own limitations and failures. Accept those and yourself fully, for no man is perfect. Many men have famously counted the number of failures they had before their "big success", so do not worry too much over it.

Having said these things if you feel the drive and spirit to take on a thing and see it to completion, then do so. If the thoughts of that early dream still haunt you because you feel compelled to do take on the dream, inquire of yourself why this is. If you find nothing lacking in your answer then gather yourself together and set about achieving it. However, if you find that there is something lacking, that you only want a thing because you don't have it (for example), then set that dream aside. Realize that it may be taking up energy and focus that could be used on other things. Therefore, take care to know yourself and why you want a thing.

You've also asked me how a man who has many failed relationships, and who has embraced stoicism, is to connect with women when he can't feel a connection to them. I don't think stoicism and relationships are incompatible. I've been through more than one failed relationship. In a trite way, to quote a TV series: It's not about love, it's about what you're willing to do for it. I think there is much truth in that. If you meet a woman who is different than many you have met, and perhaps if you go through certain changes of perspective, you will be able to love a woman again, and to commit to her. I don't think it's 'blue pill foolishness' as long as you have your eyes open and she is worthy of your love. If she respects you and loves you and cares for you, then she is worthy. As to monogamy, it's possible and a worthwhile goal if it has meaning for you. If a man strays with his flesh he need not tell his woman or beat himself up about it endlessly. Instead, he should learn from the experience as much as possible. Then he can decide if it's truly a mistake and contrary to his nature or part of his nature. This struggle is part of being human and being a man. We are all different. We all struggle in this way until we find our nature.

Keep your chin up and hold your head high. You have accomplished much and have many things to be proud of. That you may have failed in the past or set down earlier dreams is of no real consequence given that you think on such things and have a quest for self-improvement. Carry your spirit with you at all times and remember that it is there for you as a font of inspiration.

Farewell for now.

My book on stoicism.