Wednesday, September 17, 2008


The Master said: "Guide them by edicts, keep them in line with punishments, and the common people will stay out of trouble but will have no sense of shame. Guide them by virtue, keep them in line with the rites, and they will, besides having a sense of shame, reform themselves.
-Confucius, Analects 2:3

(I'm just about done with Confucius, but wanted to highlight this passage, which sadly sounds naive in today's world. Can you imagine our leaders guiding us by the example of their virtue, instead of relying on laws and punishments?)


Brian Dunbar said...

Sounds like every effective leader I've served under.

I suppose it depends on what level the leader is at. At the national level the sheer krep hurled by the no-so-loyal opposition (left and right) seems to obscure whatever virtue the President has.

Example - the President Bush and his wife visited a D.C. homeless shelter. They did the photo-op . . and then stayed for a few hours, serving food, chit-chatting and generally doing what Christians do in those places - low-grade ministry i.e. helping people.

But this contradicts the theme that Bush is evil so .. you'll never hear about it on the news.

I'm sure that Clinton had his moments like this as well - but the fargin' Republicans were so determined to punish him for lying about a blow job that you never heard about them, either.

Rufus said...

Ah, I dunno...

I mean, I agree that both Bush and Clinton have been unfairly maligned at times. But there are also a boatload of legitimate criticisms to be made of both of them. I would say that people who have a serious problem with the job that either man has done- and I was unhappy with both of them- can simply base that opinion on actual things that they have done without being swayed by the narrative on the news.

Besides, with the newswires residing on the net, I don't see much point in watching the evening news any more.

That said, I have said here before that I don't think Bush is a bad human being; I just think he's a good man who is also incompetent. With Clinton, I thought he was a lying sack of shit; but I guess he also has virtues that have started to balance out his very human flaws. With Bush, the arrogance and mendacity that have made him a flawed leader likely helped him to rise to power, and with Clinton, the dishonesty and self-interest that made him a flawed leader were tied to his rise. So, each of them is a combination of flaws and virtues, like most of us.

But, I would definitely be skeptical of the idea that either man was genuinely virtuous and that their apparent flaws were just the product of the news media. However, I'm guessing that you're not saying that...

Maybe a larger question that you're getting at is whether the culture isn't just opposed to role models in general out of some sort of jealousy or resentment. Is it possible that we've become a "take-down" culture, that tears down anyone who could possible serve as a role model.

I mean, it's occurred to me that my job will require me to model the behavior of the "scholar-citizen" for my students, and that this means behaving in a certain way in public. But, it's also occurred to me that the culture at large really isn't interested in that image of an academic, so much as the image of us as bitter, frustrated, failed radicals- at least, in the last ten or so movies I've seen about academics! Similarly, priests in television shows and movies tend to be corrupt, and fathers tend to be idiots. Perhaps cops are still portrayed as decent men, but what does that say?

So, I guess the question is whether we've become opposed to all authority, whether legitimate or illegitimate. Because there really is a difference between power and authority, which I see Confucius as getting at here. If we strip leaders of all cultural authority, then they will, indeed, rely on power.

Hope I'm not getting off track here!