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Being 90, there isn't much time left; maybe three years if an upcoming operation will work out; maybe a year if it doesn't. Either way, I have had my statistically fair share of human life. But I better use wisely what time is left.  170831-1


During nearly four years now, I have been working on an essay about our Senate in which I considered the direction by which that 150-year-old institution could serve us better in these times of accelerating global change. But something is still missing, in a word: "ethics." The ethical behaviour of those in government takes us back some 2500 years, to Kong Qui (Confucius, 551–479 BCE), the Chinese sage who, as far as we know, was the first to bring up that subject. He is also said to be the first to enunciate the Golden Rule: "Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself."  
170831-2

Confucius along with The Buddha (ca 450 BCE–370 BCE*) and Socrates (470/469–399 BCE) figured prominently in attempts to shift human spirituality from an emphasis on religion to an emphasis on ethical behavior. As for religion, religious institutions, and religious ceremonies, they were more or less lukewarm about it. Behaviour before professed belief—a view they found to be a hard sell, and a, following has been slow in the coming. Still is.  170831-3

Confucius was born into the upperclass and educated at schools for commoners, where he studied and learned the Six Arts so as to be a perfect gentleman: rites i.e. values, behaviour), music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy, and mathematics.  170901-1

Central to Confucius' ethical thinking are Jen (humaneness, goodness) and li (rites). The former refers to the ethical ideal, and the latter to certain traditional norms governing human conduct. It is generally agreed that Confucius regards the observance of li as closely related to the ideal if jen.*  170903-2

Confucius emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. His principles have a basis in common Chinese tradition and belief, such as upholding strong family loyalty, ancestor veneration, and respect by children for their elders and for husbands by their wives. He perceived family as a basis for ideal governance.*  170901-3

Confucian philosophy has come to us from a collection of sayings known as the Analects ("edited conversations") that are believed to have been compiled and written by Confucius' followers. They concern social and political philosophy and emphasize the importance of education and learning from the past. Quoting: "Confucius did not talk about prodigies, force, disorders, and gods" (Lun Yu 7-18); Confucius never alowed four things: he allowed no speculation, no absolute definitude, no inflexibility, and no selfishness" (Lun Yu 9-4). The Analects have been among the most widely read and studied books in China for the last 2,000 years, and continues to strongly impact Chinese thinking. Banned under the brutal regime of Mao Tse-tung, they are again finding their pride of place. For a translation of the Analects, see e.g. here. There are 20 books of which summaries are found here.  170901-2  (ed.:170903)

A famous concept in Confucius' teaching is shu, reciprocity (Lun Yu 12-2):
      "What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others."
      Zi Gong [a disciple] asked: "Is there any one word that could guide a person throughout life?"
      The Master replied: "How about 'reciprocity'! Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself."

Another analect (Lun Yu 10-12) expresses the value human life over worldly goods:
      "When the stables caught fire, Confucius retired from court and said
,       'Is anyone hurt?'
      He did not ask about the horses"
.  170901-4  (ed.:170905)

Cultivating or practicing such concern for others involved deprecating oneself, to be simple in manner and slow of speech. This meant avoiding artful speech or an ingratiating manner that would create a false impression and lead to self-aggrandizement. I am reminded of a talk by an executive of Northern Electric, whose name I can't recall. He had good words for employees who strumbled over their words because that was evidence that they were thinking!  #170901-5

Confucius's political philosophy is in step with his personal ethical philosophy:
      "If the people be led by laws, and uniformity sought to be given them by punishments, they will try to avoid the punishment, but have no sense of shame. If they be led by virtue, and uniformity sought to be given them by the rules of propriety, they will have the sense of the shame, and moreover will become good." (Translation by James Legge).
Shame is an internalisation of duty, where the punishment precedes the evil action. Under the rule of law, punishment is meeted out after the wrong doer is found out and judged in court.  
#170901-6

Confucius believed that people live their lives within parameters established by Heaven—which, often, meant for him a purposeful Supreme Being as well as nature and its fixed cycles and patterns. He argued that men are responsible for their actions, especially for their treatment of others. We can do little or nothing to alter our fated span of existence but we can determine what we wish to accomplish and what we are remembered for.*  #170901-7

Am I suggesting that the rule of law be abandoned? Of couse not. Confucius was a man of his time as we are of ours. But it is well to reflect on people—people without shame and sense of duty—seeking to get around the law; and, if they can afford it, hire lawyers without shame to help them do it. Furthermore, it is well to know that Confucius was not a revolutionary; quite the contrary; he tried to convince those who ruled the roost of his way of thinking with patient consistency.  #170901-8

Confucian thinking became stronly opposed to the point of the killing of those who advocated his views and the burning of books. However the long-lived Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) applied his philosophy and is remembered as an age of economic prosperity along with a significant growth of the money economy.* The proof, it turned out, was in the pudding. I am inclined to see parallels between that period and the political and economic climate in modern, post-Maoist, China. (Ref.)  170901-9

Confucius opposed the notion of people electing their own political leaders because he feared that the masses lacked the necessary intellect to do so. On the other hand, he put limits on rulers' powers—as our Supreme Court and our Senate limit the power of our elected representatives.  170901-10

"Good government consists in the ruler being a ruler, the minister being a minister, the father being a father, and the son being a son" (Lun Yu 12.11). "I should claim for myself only a title that is legitimately mine and when I possess such a title and participate in the various hierarchical relationships signified by that title, then I should live up to the meaning of the title that I claim for myself." (?), "The virtues of the ruler are as the wind, the virtues of the people are as the grass. The grass bends with the wind" (Lun Yu 12.19). 170901-11

Turning to education, Confucius' position appears to be a middle course between learning and reflecting on what one has learned. "He who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger" (Lunyu 2.15). He taught by posing questions, citing passages from the classics, or using apt analogies, and waiting for his students to arrive at the right answers.  170901-13

An overwhelming deficiency in understanding government as expressed in Chapters 2 and 3 of my Senate essay makes for sick democracies for, as Confucius said, "It is not possible to speak of lofty subjects with men below average" (Lun Yu 6-19). Surely, the issues that come up during an election campaign ought to be treated as lofty subject whereas, in fact, they are downgraded to soundbites, promises by people who often, if not usually, do not know what they are talking about, and charisma. Confucius laments the superficial values of his day, as many of us do today: "Either the artfulness in speech of Chu T'o or the beauty of Sung Ch'ao ... in this day and age, it is difficult to be spared" (Lun Yu 6-14).  170903-02

From what I have found when combing through some debates, both in the Senate and, more understandably, in the Commons, the excessive partiality of the debaters. Apt is the Master's saying that "The gentleman encompasses all and is not partial. The petty man is partial and does not encompass all" (Lun Yu 2-14).  170903-03

Here, in praise of our finest senators: "When substance overshadows refinement, there is the coarse man. When refinement overshadows substance, there is the court historian. When substance equates with refinement, there is the gentleman" (Lun Yu 6-16).  170903-04

And for government as a whole, the Analects offer this little discourse:
      Tzü Kung said,:
      "If the people are provided for extensively, and helped, what would you say? Can it be considered benevolence?"
      Confusius said,

      "What has it to do with benevolence? Surely it is sagacious! Even Yao and Shun fund it difficult. As to the benevolent man, he establishes for others stands he wishes for himself. He brings others to reach where he wishes to reach himself. The ability to extend from self to others can be considered the direction toward benevolence." (
Lun Yu 6-28).  170903-05

Confucius' philosophy, preserved in the Analects, form the foundation of much of subsequent Chinese speculation on the education and comportment of the ideal man, how such an individual should live his life and interact with others, and the forms of society and government in which he should participate. Fung Yu-lan, one of the great 20th century authorities on the history of Chinese thought, compares Confucius' influence in Chinese history with that of Socrates in the West.*  170901-12

Guilt arises from overstepping the boundaries of internalized duty and not, or not necessarily, from overstepping some rule of law or other code of conduct. As for myself, caught going over the speed limit on some highway with no other cars in sight other than a policecar sneaking up on me did not make me feel guilty. As for internalized duty, do not expect to find much uniformity in a society where there is not much uniformity in how children are raised and further subjected by various environmental norms—employers' expectations, for example. Commonly unavoidable is the conflict arising from such expectations and the duty to provide for one's dependents.  170904-1

Found on Mapleleafweb an article about "Ethics in Government: Concepts, Issues & Debates." Unethical conduct by public officials include, among other issues of conduct, theft and fraud, bribery and influence peddling, conflict of interest and self-dealing. All of these are overstepped by a prime minister seeking the appointment of a senator to serve as his political party's bagman as well as by the person who accepted to the prime minister's bidding. And yet, donkey's ages of tradition made being a good bagman a fount of pride. Quoting one former senator:
      "Every one of you knows why you are here. I would ask if you might indulge me and let me tell you why I am here ....
      Well, I want to tell you that I do not admit to being a bagman; I proclaim it."  170904-2

This, and far more so still the trials and tribulation of Senator Duffy, take us back to Confucian thought, cf (Lun Yu 5-1):
      "When the state is with the way [i.e. not corrupt, and forgiving], he is not abandoned."
      "When the state is without the way, he is free of punishment and persecution."
(Reference: attack by Duffy's lawyer on people who bent like grass battered by the winds of politics and a conduct that is quietly expected from "men of the world.")  170904-3

For those professing to be Christians, refer to John 8:7ff—"He who is without sin ....  170904-4

Errol Mendes, a professor of constitutional and international law, who appeared as a witness called by the Special Senate Committee on Senate Modernization, wrote in May 2016 that "a country's most important institutions often need a real, or perceived scandal, to cleanse themselves" and followed this through with an assessment of how that process is advancing. In conclusion, he wrote:
      "The Supreme Court, along with the revealing acquittal of Mr. Duffy, has given the Senate leadership their marching orders if they wish to complete the task of political and ethical redemption. What we are witnessing is a cleansing of a critical part of our constitutional democracy, which was part of the original compact of Canadian Confederation." But as my Senate essay attempts to make clear, there is still a long way to go and remnants of the former prevailing attitude are still brewing. (
The article.)  170904-5

And as a reminder: People whose conduct is exclusively subject to the rule of law and codes of conduct, along with proscribed punishment, will seek ways to get around those rules. But they would not had they been properly raised and educated and with due respect for the Golden and Silver Rules; they then will support a just society.  170904-6

At this point, a note of caution is in order! My quotes from the Confucian analects should not be taken as representative of Confucian thinking as a whole anymore than a few words spoken by anyone are truly representative of a the speaker. They are more of the choose-and-pick variety—in part by my sources, in part by myself. And, as mentioned above, Confucius was a man of his time as we are of ours. He was one itinerant thinker among many others collectively named "Hundred Schools of Thought." Quoting from Francis Fukuyama's The Origins of Political Order, 2011:  170905-1

"The political instability of the period seems to have created a kind of intellectual rootlessness, which was reflected in the physicaal mobility of individuals who moved from one jurisdiction to another offering their services to whatever political authority shoed an interest in their teaching.  170905-2

"The political influence of their intellectual ferment was twofold. First, it created something like an ideology .... Confucians engaged in bitter intellectual debates with other schools of thought, such as Legalism—a conflict that mirrored the political struggles taking place. Scholers and literati were enshrined as the highest human type, higher than even the warrior or the priest. There was in fact a melding of the roles of intellectual and bureaucrat in a way that does not have a clear counterpart in other civilizations.  170905-3

"Second, the mobility of intellectuals across China encourages the growth of something that looked increasingly like a national culture."  170905-4

In pursuing these explorations, I currently regard Fukuyama's work about political order and Karen Armstrong's writings, notably her The Great Transformation (2000), as my most valued guides.  170905-5

To be continued

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Footnotes

Copied from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confucius. Much of what follows comes from the same source and references therein.  *   fn1


From plato.stanford.edu, a highly respectable source.  *   fn2


Paragraph abstracted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Han_dynasty  *   fn3


From plato.stanford.edu.  *   fn4


The dating of Buddha's life is fraught with uncertainties. What appears certain is that he died at age 80. An entry in the Wikipedia cuts itself a lot of slack: year of birth ca. 563/480 BCE; year of death ca. 483/400 BCE.  *   fn5


From, and further elaborated in "Jen and Lin in the Analects".  *   fn6

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