Monday, February 4, 2019

To Love the Appearance of Dragons

My readings into classical Chinese theory are going well. I haven’t posted about the project yet, but it takes advantage of dozens of translated and relatively easily available sources about warfare and statecraft from the Warring States period, but hasn’t been studied yet. For example, Xunzi is often called the Chinese Aristotle and has significant writings on warfare, but there are no extant studies of his work. (I did find a few lines about him in my latest book, but it’s from an author that obviously doesn’t know military history.) As you can tell from my last few posts, I’m finding a good deal of relevant materials beyond military theory that isn’t from Sun-Tzu (Sunzi.)

The subject of intellectuals relates to every Latter Day Saint. At church we often like to cite the Doctrine and Covenants verse about how the glory of God is intelligence and the School of the Prophets. But many members are just as likely to quote general authorities or Jacob about the dangers of intellectuals.

I’ve written about how many people like to have an appearance of scholarship but deny the power thereof. There are many in the church that like to look like a scholar with footnotes and discussion of thesis statements, but then when a real scholar comes along they attack the person as arrogant and somehow distrusting or undermining God for using their scholarship to discuss and understand issues.

The Chinese philosopher Shen Buhai has some information on this particular trend. This man is little known even by Chinese scholars because his work was largely lost, though some fragments have been reconstructed. He was an effective minister during the Warring States Period and his words were influential enough that he was the first scholar banned when Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty made Confucianism the official state religion. 

He discussed the story of a man that likes dragon and his fear when actually meeting a dragon:

The manner in which His Highness likes scholars has some resemblance to the way Duke of She, Zi Gao [a discipline of Confucius], liked dragons. Being fond of dragons, he lived in a house carved in patterns representing dragons. A heavenly dragon heard of this house and came down to perch on it. It looked in at a window, and its tail trailed into the hall. The Duke of She, catching sight of it, fled from his house and continued running scared out of his wits.[1] Thus it is clear that the Duke of She did not like dragons; he liked that which resembled a dragon but was not a dragon. Now when I heard that His Highness liked scholars, I did not consider a thousand li too far to come in order to have an audience with him. And yet, although I have waited seven days, he still has not treated me with the proper courtesy. He does not like scholars…[Confucius was told this story and] said, ‘Yes he likes scholars who are not scholars.’[2] 

I don’t know anybody that says they willingly want to remain an ignorant, fundamentalist jerk. And yet I have met plenty of people who seem even more scared of intellectual arguments than Zi Gao was of that dragon. Many amateur psychologists quote material about porn addiction that sounds really sciencey, but they do so without understanding or even basic awareness of a wide body of research that paints a far more nuanced picture. People like Jeremy Runnels use Wikipedia and crowd sourcing on Reddit to attack the church, but again, they show little awareness with how to conduct thorough academic research and construct sound arguments. I’ve met others that throw what essentially are hissy fits and attack a person’s faithfulness because their interpretations of the scriptures differ, or the other person offers cogent analysis and counter arguments.

For example, in response to my FAIR presentation where I suggest that the Gadianton Robbers may have had some legitimate complaints, I was called a Marxist Schmuck. This ignores the instance in the same presentation where I made a joke at the expense of hipsters wearing Che Guevara t shirts. The irony is especially thick when I consider the notes I took during my copious non research into primary sources and insurgency on my way to being a fake scholar. In one noticeable case I laughed at biased accounts from left wing reporters that said Communist insurgent Zhu De read biographies of George Washington and essays on liberty by Montesquieu.[3] Even though I literally laughed at leftist bias in my sources, I’m the hack according to anybody that stumbles across my writings and is frightened by my arguments.

To cite another example, most members of the church claim the Book of Mormon is history, but then they read the stories uncritically and essentially accept the propagandist portraits inside the book. When I research the Book of Mormon as if the text describes people that actually lived and acted, the same individuals who claim a love of dragons become more scared than Zi Gao.

There are many people who claim to love scholars and knowledge, but then they don’t act like it. Scholarship can be scary, especially when it combines with faith and sees strange or foreign. But like the dragon that visited Zi Gao, there is nothing to be afraid of if you truly love dragons.

Thanks for reading. I work as a free lance author so if you found value in this work please consider donating using the pay pal button at the bottom of the page. 

[1] Literally: losing his soul.
[2] Shen Pu Hai, A Chinese Political Philosopher of the Fourth Century BC, (Herlee Creel trans., University of Chicago Press, 1974,) 363-364.
[3] Agnes Smedly, The Great Road: The Life and Times of Chu Teh,(Valor Press, 2014,) 86.


Clark said...

That's funny someone called you a marxist just because you figured the Gadianton Robbers had some good points. How on earth would they get followers if they weren't offering at least something persuasive. I don't quite understand this valorizing of Nephite government given how often it's criticized in the Book of Mormon.

Morgan Deane said...

I agree Clark! The only explanation I can come up with is some people get really scared when the stories they've grown up with are challenged and then they use pejoratives they are familiar with. I did use a the idea of a social bandit which is rather Marxist, though I specifically pointed out its weaknesses as well.

Unknown said...

To really get the Gadiantons to make sense, add one more piece to the puzzle: where are the drugs?