A Ku Indeed!

Bell III: Fear and Trembling at Tsinghua

Posted in Bell Reading Group, China, Politics by Chris on December 19, 2008

kierkegaard1Daniel Bell makes me think of Kierkegaard. Well, actually, I should be honest — everything, including salad croutons, makes me think of Kierkegaard. I’m the Existential version of that kid from the Sixth Sense — I see Kierkegaard (and Existential analogues) everywhere. It’s a strange phenomenological experience to be inside my head.  This time I think it’s true, though. Bell’s discussion of “local knowledge” — and I owe this insight to Peony — sounds to me to have a real existential dimension. Well, maybe. I wonder if Bell has visited Copenhagen? Ah — I’ll explain below.

In my first post on Bell, I commented on what I take to be the central message of the first hundred pages of East Meets West, namely that the particular trumps the universal. In other words, values come into existence from local contexts. They are like specific and unique flowers that grow into the plants they are as a way of expressing the  unique local soil and particular local climate conditions they exist in. Values that claim to have a trans-local origin or justification are rejected by Bell as far as I can tell (and so most typical American universalist-oriented liberalism would be in trouble to some degree, especially given the way in which such people wield human rights claims that do not claim to have their origin and justification in local contexts).

What interests me here is the fact that Existentialists often make a similar claim about what it means to live an authentic life. Authentic lives, they often argue, are inherently local ones. They emerge from and grow — and flourish — inside very intentionally embodied local commitments, knowledge, and practices. The more a lifestyle drifts from the local and into “general” talk that is disconnected from one’s lived local world, the more inauthentic it becomes.

Kierkegaard and Heidegger perhaps had the most to say directly about this phenomenon, although Nietzsche says a bit as well. Although the portraits given of inauthenticity by these three are not the same, they share some similarities. After all, Heidegger’s “Das Man” (the “one”) and Kierkegaard’s “public” and Nietzsche’s “herd” seem to be three names for the same cancer. As I mentioned, inauthentic people tend to be disconnected from the specific worlds in which they live. Usually, Existentialists read this failure as a refusal to choose a direction in life from the ones that one’s particular situation make available. It’s a refusal to take life seriously (and passionately!) by embracing commitment.

Instead, the inauthentic drift — mostly in self- deception about their own condition. The inauthentic can express their disconnection in interesting ways, though — usually it is expressed in actions that make one feel connected, but without actually being so. As Kierkegaard might put it, the inauthentic are good at “play acting” at being serious. Instead of participating in revolutions, they plan them, and then put off execution so that they can plan them all over again the next day.

The reason for inauthenticity is sometimes explained through fear or anxiety. Typically, the Existentialists say, real “choice” is a scary and anxiety-driven affair. To make a real commitment requires risk. A real commitment is one that a person must do alone, without the approval of others. Given that values (and lives) are local, for the Existentialist only the individual can truly make the decisions about what is or isn’t the right path. There is no way for another person to know that my path is the right one for me. Any kind of “general” knowledge about what is right (and thus removed from local context!) is immediately suspect.  As a result, the risk comes from the fact that one could always be wrong — one could waste one’s life in delusion and bad choices.

As a result, the fear that comes with authentic choices can drive us into the arms of a variety of different kinds of soothing medications (but medicine, that Nietzsche would say, that is far worse than the disease!). The medicine: “crowds”. In the crowd, we can find approval, we can find life-choices that are embraced and authorized by many, we find “general knowledge” that allows us to huddle together and assure each other that we’re doing things the right way.

The crowd, unfortunately, is “untruth” as Kierkegaard puts it. Crowds are not individuals; the “group think” of a crowd is an abstraction that connects up with no particular context or local situation. The crowd is no one, and yet it speaks for all. The crowd is the “average” of all of the individuals that compose it, trying it’s best to abstract from the real local differences that ground the reality of its constituent individuals. When we listen to the voice of the crowd, we are robbed of our “connection” in this way. We engage with life in a way that has little to do with the local realities of the world we actually live in, on an individual and particular level.

For Kierkegaard, when we live in the will of the unreal “public” we begin to live our lives in accord with what Heidegger calls “idle talk” or gossip. The crowd allows us to remain distracted — it offers us its opinion on the affairs of people and places we have no real connection to, and it entices us with superficial engagements with those people’s lives. It keeps us far away from our own particular lives. We become entranced with the life of Britney Spears. We read the Enquirer. We (in the connection to the Internet) become engaged with the lives of others through Facebook, but always in non-commital superficial and risk-free ways. Anything that gets us away from our own lives. Commenting on Spears costs me nothing, it requires little engagement or embodiment in her actual world. No investment. But it allows me the illusion of participation. One is reminded of a great passage from Nietzsche (I won’t quote the whole thing, it’s rather long):

Not to be dead, but no longer living — a spirit-like intermediate being, quietly observing, floating, gliding. Like the boat with white sails gliding like an immense butterfly over the dark sea. Yes! To move over existence! That’s it! That would be something!

Nietzsche’s description of a superficial engagement with life, and the enticement of such a life, is the main cautionary tale in Existentialism. We are called upon to reject the “risk free” and superficial engagements with issues we know nothing about (and do not want to invest the time to know about) and to reconnect in a passionate way with the very particular worolds that we live in. We are called upon to no longer “dabble” in a detached way, but rather to embody ourselves in passionate local (and risky!) commitments.

And now to the Tsinghua Existentialist, Daniel Bell.  I wonder whether Bell’s maxim,

The particular trumps the universal

is meant to remind us of the importance (and authenticity) of local commitment. When reading through Bell’s work, one can get the impression that he thinks the liberal Western human rights advocate is, in a way, a dabbler of sorts. The Western rights theorist comes to the local scene, armed with “the consensus of the crowd” (this or that a priori claim about rights) and applies it in a judgmental fashion to the problem at hand. The Western liberal is an unreal abstraction — a representation of the ‘average’ man or herd-member –armed with a priori abstraction (gossip, idle talk) that allows for the play acting of seriousness.

Such an approach, one might argue, requires little risk. It requires little investment in the sense that the Existentialists suggest. One floats “superficially” over the local worlds one likes to observe, casting one’s opinion in the same way that one might remark on the life of Britney Spears. No need to dive into the actual particular world — that would require embodiment and investment. One can interact with these particular worlds without ever really having to “join them” (making a ‘choice’ about who one is, or will be).  One always remains, in the sense that Nietzsche might suggest, “at a distance” and “floating over existence”. Not to be dead, but no longer living?

If Bell would agree to this Existential way of reading his criticism of the Western rights theorist, we might suggest that such a person is inauthentic. Their very way of approaching the world is not particularly serious. It is born of a desire for distraction, to amuse oneself with the glitter of cultures (the East, in this situation) that one doesn’t want to remain in for long, nor to really take seriously. Instead, Bell wants us to be authentic, to engage cultures by commiting to them — by embracing local knowledge. His way of understanding the right way to engage in rights discourse would require the person to deeply invest themselves in one culture. It would require risk. It would require a specific commitment to understanding life as it is in one local world. It would require becoming part of that world. It would require a kind of self-transformation that I would suspect Bell thinks the Western liberal theorist has no interest in. Or: that the Western liberal theorist fears.

Well, or so it seems after a few beers.

Note: Click here to download Bell’s 1994 piece, a book review of The Limits of Liberal Justice, by Brian Barry.

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27 Responses

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  1. Phil Hand said, on December 19, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    Ooh, I’ve been wanting to have a go at this idea since you raised it on Peony’s blog. I should really wait until I’ve got the book, (and until I’ve read a lot more existentialist philosophy – I’m working entirely off what you say and link to here), but I think there’s a huge point that needs to be raised:

    As far as I understand it, none of the thinkers you cite, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, would support the notion of human rights at all; so using them to criticize this specific application of human rights thought is missing the point.

    To put it in more specific terms, here’s a quote from the Dreyfus paper on Kierkegaard and the internet which Peony linked to:
    “Kierkegaard brilliantly sees that there is no way to salvage the Public Sphere since, unlike concrete groups and crowds, it was from the start the source of nihilistic leveling. This leveling was produced in several ways. First, the new massive distribution of desituated information was making every sort of information immediately available to anyone, thereby producing a desituated, detached spectator.”

    But human rights exist in precisely that public sphere. They are a part of law (in their application – whether they exist outside of law is a philosophical point that I don’t see as very relevant to most HR practice), and law is exactly what Kierkegaard hates: uniform, disinterested, non-local, enforced by individuals who do not commit to the situations in which they are enforcing them. Judges who sentence criminals don’t act as their jailers; juries who award damages never see the plaintiff or defendant again.

    So, unless you’re going to argue against rights generally, I think this argument needs modification. You could try to make it one of degree: western HR workers are more detached when they go to Asia; it would remain to be shown why this particular level of detachment was significant. Or you could try to say that “the west” has succeeded in becoming one large “locality”, though that would be tough…

  2. Alan said, on December 20, 2008 at 8:27 am

    Chris, (and also Peony)

    Sorry to have sort of dropped out, but I have been busy with less important things. Also, I think this post sort of crystallizes a lot of what I dislike about Bell. I agree that he seems to think that Westerners talking about rights are dilettantes floating over societies they don’t understand. (There are not many stage directions in this dialogue, but the most common one is a ‘sigh’ from Lo.) Given that he has written Demo as exactly that sort of dilettante rather than any sort of Asian human rights activist I don’t put much weight on that characterization, however. Bell has rigged the dialogue format to make this point easy for him. Of course any outsider is less committed to local society than a local. Demo can always go home. Although Bell does not realize it, the Lo he has written is also not very local, and looks like he would be just as at home in London or Vancouver as he is in Singapore. (I bet he has two passports) At my site I link to the teachings of Yang Shiqun, whose appeals to Socrates Bell would probably dismiss as inauthentic compared to the authentically Asian Lo.

    The opposite of this abstract irresponsibility is to be authentic. From Chris

    “Instead, Bell wants us to be authentic, to engage cultures by committing to them — by embracing local knowledge. His way of understanding the right way to engage in rights discourse would require the person to deeply invest themselves in one culture. It would require risk. It would require a specific commitment to understanding life as it is in one local world. It would require becoming part of that world. It would require a kind of self-transformation that I would suspect Bell thinks the Western liberal theorist has no interest in. Or: that the Western liberal theorist fears.”

    This sort of ties in with another problem I have with Bell. I liked James’s Scott’s book on local knowledge, and agree with much of it, but I don’t agree with Bell’s apparent point that there is an Asian way of doing things that seeps out of the soil rather than being constructed like in the West. You said before that he favors “values and norms that spring from historical and cultural narratives inherent in that local world.” But nothing “springs” from historical and cultural narratives, people consciously choose things and emphasize them. No such narrative is ‘inherent’ in the local world. If “real” Koreans believe certain things today it is because states and “elites” (mostly Korean elites, but I assume for Bell not real Koreans, because elite) have been teaching it to them and they have agreed with it. Bell’s Asian masses are rather passive and mindless. Lo has no problem making wild generalizations about what Chinese want and what Thais want that make him sound a lot like a 19th Century China Hand. He seems to have a view of the West as active and the East as traditional buried in here.

    There is actually a long history of Asian elites trying to impose universal (usually Confucian or Buddhist, sometimes Maoist) norms on the masses, with varying degrees of success. Bell seems to be privileging past attempts at imposing norms by elites over present ones but I’m not sure why. Again, he is cheating by making Demo his spokesman for Democracy. Why not the Charter 08 people?

    Chris again
    “One way to understand liberal values would be to see them as emerging from local contexts and histories and empirical situations. So one could see where the origin of liberal values is local. But insofar as Bell portrays it, liberals do not see the justification of liberal values as local at all. They are justified through reason, or through some other procedure that does not utilize local knowledge.”

    So Confucius was a western liberal dilettante for Bell? Actually, I think you can come up with a pretty universalist view of Confucianism at least. (Here I am using the term Confucianism to mean ‘things Confucian philosophers believed’ rather than the more common meaning “stuff you find in East Asia.”) Yes, Confucius did claim that he based himself on the ways of the ancient kings, but he certainly did not claim that anything that came from them was particular in any way. I don’t know how aware Confucius himself was of this, but a lot of Warring States thinkers made up their Ancient Kings and they certainly all though their ideas had universal applicability. Certainly Zhu Xi was universalist, as was Kang Youwei, unless you define universalist so abstractly that nobody, Chinese or Greek, could meet it. None of them had even the slightest respect for local cultures either. There was a right way to run the family and if local types did something different they needed to be reformed, even if it took 2000 years.

    Well, I don’t seem to be getting any more coherent here, so I guess I will stop.

  3. Peony said, on December 20, 2008 at 8:32 am

    Hi Phil,

    First, I wanted to tell you how much I loved the comments you and Chris left at my place yesterday on happiness. I am going to respond there– so please check back later, ok? (I am really glad we are now in different time zones too so I have a chance to think before responding).

    Regarding your comment here, I think the important thing to say is that Kierkegaard’s public sphere is not in any way equivalent to “local knowledge” in the form of skillful coping– which is the preferred method of knowing for an existentialist.

    First, there are two things– the way we know things in groups (as cultures or localities) and the way we know things as individuals. Cultural knowledge is something that exists within the minds and bodies of those raised in that culture almost in the same way fish are in water. Hubert Dreyfus used to describe it like this: one just does what anyone would do in that culture in a given situation– since most people have internalized the basic patterns of cultural behaviors which are based on that culture’s understanding of being (like Penelope Waiting for Odysseus). So, in that sense, if a certain group of people lived in a culture where they collectively believed (based on that culture’s unique philosophical tradition) that a jury of their peers was the correct method for criminal recourse, then that would be both their local style as well as most individual’s understanding within the culture. And perhaps another culture might prefer (based on their culture) criminal law based on religious scripture which would inform the practices and understanding of people in that culture. Human Rights would be analogous to this as it too is a theory based firmly in the semi-recent Western philosophical tradition (Kant → Locke, etc.)

    Both Kierkegaard and Heidegger believed this to the natural and appropriate way for human beings to live (in Heidegger talk– and really how can I resist??– we are “thrown” into a particular “clearing” and our understanding of being; how to be human, how to love, how to act etc. is based firmly in this local, historically-based understanding)

    What Kierkegaard and Heidegger rejected was what could be called the scientific or objective voice. In a sense this really is– as Chris pointed out– a rejection of universalism. So, for Kierkegaard that meant people, who rather live with a committed passion coming out of their local understanding of what it means to be, you have people who– aiming at a kind of objective or scientific understanding– are detached and care (like Ivan Karamazov) more about what is happening around the world while people are suffering right under their noses at home. It is the detached spectator knowing the world as one huge “leveled” locality that Kierkegaard rejected.

    And Heidegger took it one step further perhaps as he was particularly worried about aspects of modern Western culture that tended to do just these things Kierkegaard was worried about– this is what he calls leveling. If you wanted examples of this that I see when I fly east email me.

    I really couldn’t speak for Heidegger at this point, but Kierkegaard I feel would very likely feel even more strongly than Daniel Bell that human rights need to be as grounded in the local know-how understanding as possible. That we would do very well to first start looking at the suffering that exists right under our own noses. And then as we turn our attention outward to try and work within the target language and culture for that will produce more effective results. He has a point and I say this not as a utilitarian.

    (Chris, I don’t have anything but Japanese language and Chinese history in my brain anymore– feel free to edit or fix any mistakes I made here! This could very well be more Peony than Kierkegaard!!)

  4. Peony said, on December 20, 2008 at 8:58 am

    Hi Alan,

    I have to confess I still am finding your points less than coherent– but I wanted to ask again if you could lay out your arguments.

    My problems:
    1) I think you are setting up a real straw man with the elite versus the masses. Americans tend not to be comfortable with a society ostensibly run by elites, but what if that is the culture and tradition? China, Korea and Japan both have long histories of rule by educated elites and Japan, at least, remains a highly literate and egalitarian society (as you are of course aware) It works for them and really who is anyone to complain?

    Yes, Lo is an elite. And like many Asian elites, he has a multi-cultural education (Princeton) but I am just struggling to understand why eating cucumber sandwiches would make him somehow less Asian than a man working in agriculture. Presumably they both speak Chinese fluently and have internalized much cultural know-how– that would *not* be available to Demo (considering he is being portrayed as not being able to speak Chinese nor being all that comfortable within the cultural context). I guess what I am saying is that you are focusing on his social status and university education you are not explaining **why** that would in any way make him less Chinese than another Chinese of a lesser social status. I have studied in a Japanese university and eat sushi– does that mean I am less American than your steel worker? And would I be an inappropriate voice to talk about what is in fact political philosophy? (an elite topic if ever I heard one!!)

    2) Bell presumably does not take the Charter 08 people as examples because he presumably doesn’t have a problem with them… and maybe he would think Demo would be more effective working alongside them?

    Finally regarding what you said about Lo and his China Hand pronouncements– you very well might be further ahead in your reading than I am — so I may change my mind later on what I said above #1 (though it is always helpful I think when you make an argument to give an example– where or how does Lo make the “masses” seem lifeless…)

  5. Peony said, on December 20, 2008 at 9:24 am

    Hi Chris,

    Did you look at the essay Bill sent? Well, I am thinking that it could be useful to look at this issue in terms of Barry’s Impartiality theory. In actual practice– not just in human rights, but I think in most ethical issues, one really could not function very effectively on pure first-order or second-order impartiality. That is to say, that rather than seeking to put forward second-order impartaility as the sole basis for human rights, I think maybe Bell is only making the point that first-order impartiality alone might not be the best way of thinking about the issue (and I agree with him on this restricted point).

    This was also my issue with your post on the Dhammapada, remember? (Doesn’t that seem like it was so long ago??)

    The Buddhists (like most religious traditions really) are putting forth the first-order impartiality while Bell or Kierkegaard are trying to make sure local know-how or “moral particularity” are not lost. Would you agree? And, then my question would be, where does Confucius stand? I would have thought he stands closer to Kierkegaard (this was my last question in the Dhammapada post). Alan seems to be saying something else. But, this is what I was trying to get at when we were talking on that other issue.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/impartiality/

  6. Chris said, on December 20, 2008 at 9:33 am

    All (Phil, Alan and Peony);

    Thanks for these great comments! It’ll take until tomorrow for a response from me — my wife and I are playing Cupid for some friends today.

    Peony – I’m halfway through the piece (the review by Bell, you mean, yes)? It’s pretty good. I think it might help here with the issues we are all having too. (it’s a longish book review Bell wrote years ago).

    If anyone is interested, I could post it here to read. I’ll put it at the bottom of the main post above (right under my claim about having too many beers), in PDF form.

  7. Phil Hand said, on December 20, 2008 at 10:31 am

    Ahh, something becomes a little clearer. One thing I’ve failed to make clear is that while human rights clearly come from the west in the situation set up in Bell’s book, I don’t view them as being an intrinsic part of western culture.

    It was Peony saying this: “Cultural knowledge is something that exists within the minds and bodies of those raised in that culture almost in the same way fish are in water.”

    That sentence made me realise that I certainly don’t regard human rights as something we in the west swim in like fish in water. Rather, I see human rights as something we attempt to uphold through enlightened institutions, while our darker natures wage a constant war of attrition against them. The last eight years in the US provide plenty of evidence for this war. I definitely think it’s absurd optimism to say that we’ve reached the stage where human rights are “what anyone would do in that culture in a given situation”.

    So I now see that I look at the “imposition” of human rights on Asia in a completely different way to, say, the “imposition” of western eating habits. HR aren’t a cultural practice at all, I don’t think (though they did grow out of western cultural history); they’re an ideal to which western civilizations aspire (and fail). When they’re presented to Asia, I imagine them being presented as a super-cultural ideal. To my mind that’s different to imposing culture in an imperialist way. But perhaps Bell and others in this debate don’t see it that way. Perhaps Bell doesn’t distinguish between the two: anything external to local culture is problematic, regardless of its origin. Or perhaps he would say that ideals are just as cultural as practices. But I think I would disagree with both of those.

    One implication of what I’m saying here is that I don’t fully accept the culture=water analogy that Peony gave on behalf of Kierkegaard. Fish are stuck in their water, but I think we can at least aim at things which are external to our culture.

  8. Alan said, on December 20, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Peony,

    I have no problem with Lo being an elite, but I don’t see where his being an Asian elite makes him all that different from Demo. Bell does not care for Demo coming in and imposing his outside, ignorant views on Asians. Lo seems to claim that Asian values are spontaneously generated by “the culture” and are thus more authentic than the stuff Demo is pushing. I think you agree with this. You say “what if that is the culture and tradition?” and I guess as a historian I am uncomfortable with the idea that there is such a thing as a culture and tradition that exist outside of what people think and do and that they swim in “like a fish in water.”

    You can see an example of this on p. 93

    He is talking about the role of “Confucianism” in creating current Korean ideas about gender.

    Lo: ..Korean culture has been shaped by Confucian values,

    [I would say that Korean culture has been shaped by Koreans (among others), some of them claiming to be preserving Confucian tradition, some of them not. This seems a better way to put it than calling on an abstract ‘Confucian values’ because my way brings up the question of which group of Koreans will or should win the debate about what sort of Korea to have.]

    And the large majority of Koreans –men and women-seem to want to keep it that way. One recent survey found that 88 percent of Koreans agreed with the statement that

    [Yea! democracy]

    “It is necessary to maintain our ancestor worship tradition even in the waves of modernization.”

    [Ugh. What a crummy question. Is somebody proposing banning ancestor worship? (Although Asian states have done that) There are lots of aspects of Korean culture where men and women might disagree strongly about how valuable it is to keep ‘tradition.’ Who wins that debate? Who should win? Bell is not interested in that question, since he is not interested in Asian disputes about rights, but disputes between Asian elites and Western elites.]

    Demo: You seem to believe that family values have been frozen in time since the days of Confucius.

    Lo: Don’t be silly. Of course some family values –especially attitudes concerning women-have been undergoing massive change in East Asia. But other family values have been relatively stable.

    [True enough. Why is that? I would say (simplifying a bit) that in the argument between traditionalists and modernizers in Korea sometimes one side wins and sometimes the other.]

    People in cultures shaped by Confucianism –from state leaders to dissident activists- may well endorse some restrictions on rights that wouldn’t be acceptable in Western liberal democracies.

    [What is this Confucianism that is shaping Korea? It is apparently not anything that can be found in the words of state leaders or dissident activists or, I would guess, any other Korean. Lo is willing to posit that of course (partly) Western ideas about rights have been imported by Asians into Asia in the past. (don’t be silly). He also claims that certain other ideas can not or should not be imported, but I’m at a loss to see how he draws the distinction, other than hand-waving about culture.]

  9. Peony said, on December 20, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    Hi Alan, I’m afraid that Lo and Demo– despite both being elite– are in fact significantly different– they have different native languages and grew up under very different cultural practices which indeed would have doubtlessly shaped their world-views.

    And that Confucianism can be said to have shaped Korea is not a controversial statement really, if you think about it. It would be like saying Enlightenment philosophy shaped the United States, or Protestant values. That doesn’t mean other things didn’t also have an affect, right? These values even continue to inform modern Americans too, I would argue– even atheists or those with little interest in philosophy.

    And Bell makes it clear that he is not advocating Mahatir-style Asian Values but rather asian values (with a lower-case “a”)??

    The thing is Bell’s book is not arguing against democracy. I mean, I am reading it like Chris, that this is just a common-sense reminder that Kant is not the only game in town. I can only speak from my own experience but over on my blog I did write in one of the comments about my experiences in japan (and indeed many of the things Bell says about China could be appropriate for Japan as well)

    That people are shaped significantly by their culture– that language affects how they think about things is to my mind un-debatable. I think and act completely different depending on the language I am thinking in.

    And this is where I differ from Dreyfus– while I think these culturally generated background practices are like the air we breath, I think the self can step back from this (you see this in bi-linguals or multi-cultural individuals)

    How far along are you? I think we should keep going…

  10. Chris said, on December 21, 2008 at 7:06 am

    Alan,

    To start, I should note that my own Existential characterizations (about authenticity and such) here are my own only — I’m not sure that Bell would agree to them. That said,

    Alan said: “Of course any outsider is less committed to local society than a local. Demo can always go home.”

    I think that’s right, but of course there is still a matter of degree to be discussed, as one can always be “more or less” an outsider due to the level of one’s local investments while still, on some level, remaining an “outsider.” But still, I think Bell has a point here about the way in which _some_ types engage in these dialogues, no?

    Alan said:

    “You said before that he favors “values and norms that spring from historical and cultural narratives inherent in that local world.” But nothing “springs” from historical and cultural narratives, people consciously choose things and emphasize them. No such narrative is ‘inherent’ in the local world.”

    I’m certain I don’t agree with this at all. Now of course, there’s always the (false, I think) question of where the “first values” came from (before there was culture). I’m not sure I like these “where did the first mammal come from?” questions (not that you asked one, just saying). But in any case, why not say that values, even at an early stage, spring from and are responses to (a) local empirical situated conditions on the ground and perhaps (b) linguistic commitments shared with others in my local community, which themselves contain normative structures, ritual presuppositions, and so on?

    After all, any “conscious choice” as an event has to be performed somewhere. And there has to be a way of expressing choice, and this again seems to require at least some rudimentary linguistic and ritual mechanisms, and a local empirical world in which that choice serves as a response.

    Even the way in which the various choice alternatives can be represented “in the mind” must (it seems to me) be given these sorts of expressive forms first. In fact, I’m not even sure that conscious choice can be defended as a viable mechanism without these structures existing first, as an a priori condition (I think this may well be a Heidegerrian point on which I would agree with him; I wonder what Peony thinks of this, given Peony’s attraction to Heidegger’s thinking). But if so, then choices are inherently local, all the way down.

    Alan said:

    “If “real” Koreans believe certain things today it is because states and “elites” (mostly Korean elites, but I assume for Bell not real Koreans, because elite) have been teaching it to them and they have agreed with it. Bell’s Asian masses are rather passive and mindless.”

    Does that make them mindless in the sense of implying that their choices are not authentic ones? The older Confucian tradition (not Zhu Xi, but Confucius himself) seems to me to have strong elitist leanings. If a democracy could be squeezed out of the ancient texts (Confucius/Mencius, say), surely it would not resemble our democracy due to these differences in “cultural language”. My guess is that a Confucian democracy would have an elitist component.

    On this level, perhaps even our aversion to Lo and Demo’s elitism should be rethought?

    Alan, your last point about how the early Confucians had little respect for local cultures is a good one, though I think it is controversial I would suspect how true this is of the “theory” of the texts (IMO). I just mean here that the practices of the ancient Confucians (earliest again, the Analects particularly) may well have been “universalist” in tone. But I suspect that the actual thinking of the works is not, in fact not at all, and here we are perhaps faced with an inconsistency between what is said and what is done by the thinkers themselves and their followers.

    A quick example: the Analects’ insistence on the importance of “shu”, and how it represents (at least with respect to conversations between the Master and Zigong) an ability to be “flexible” when dealing with others, is due I would argue to a suggestion that “what is yi” (appropriate) is highly situation specific, due to the fact that the empirical situation “on the ground” is always shifting, this including facts about the world, the people themselves, and so on. To insist that “this ritual must be performed this way in all situations”, which sounds more universalist to me, is always portrayed as a lack of “shu”.

    I could go on more on this point, but I think that will do it for now, I’ve no doubt gone on too long already!

    Hopefully that helps to clarify/explain a bit more, and perhaps to defend our friend Bell a bit in what he seems to be proposing?

  11. Chris said, on December 21, 2008 at 7:21 am

    I’m also interested here in Alan’s question about cultural shifts (in his last response). Alan said:

    “I would say (simplifying a bit) that in the argument between traditionalists and modernizers in Korea sometimes one side wins and sometimes the other.”

    and then

    “Lo is willing to posit that of course (partly) Western ideas about rights have been imported by Asians into Asia in the past. (don’t be silly). He also claims that certain other ideas can not or should not be imported, but I’m at a loss to see how he draws the distinction, other than hand-waving about culture.”

    These relate to the same question to me, and one that I think is fundamental to the project Bell is building here. Namely, in an inter-cultural debate about modernization and traditional values, which side should win? Similarly, Alan asks later about the way in which Bell is going to draw the distinction between some ideas that can and can’t be imported. In both situations, it seems to me to be the same as the question that comes up in the Analects; “when can Li be altered and changed?” Although Confucius is surely more conservative about change, he seems (to me anyway) to endorse alteration of Li. Some are good, some are not. My suspicion is that “good” or “yi” alterations (a) are truly representative of empirical shifts in local facts on the ground and (b) maintain a historical/cultural narrative with the past. Alterations that break with (b) sever the significance of Li, and failures to meet (a) are or should be seen with suspicion as self-serving (remembering that the cultivation of virtue is the presupposition of the conversation).

    In many ways, Confucius’ requirements sound like Bell’s way of talking about local knowledge. And his way of talking about which HR norms can and can’t be imported into a local conversation seems to me to be a function of how well they can be made consistent with (a) and (b). Especially (b).

    Thoughts?

  12. Chris said, on December 21, 2008 at 7:31 am

    Hi Phil –

    Some quick thoughts on my part here.

    Phil said:

    “One thing I’ve failed to make clear is that while human rights clearly come from the west in the situation set up in Bell’s book, I don’t view them as being an intrinsic part of western culture.”

    Here I suspect that your thinking about HR is to see them as trans-cultural universal posits that any culture can arrive at, a priori. You suggest as much here:

    “That sentence made me realize that I certainly don’t regard human rights as something we in the west swim in like fish in water. Rather, I see human rights as something we attempt to uphold through enlightened institutions, while our darker natures wage a constant war of attrition against them.”

    I think there’s a Confucian analogue here, no? Certain duties and obligations (generated by very specifically local roles and relationships) can be upheld through enlightened institutions, which our darker natures wage a war of attrition against them. Of course, we can quibble on how “dark” our darker natures are (just how xiao ren are we, at the core?)

    But I think Confucius could get on board with the above, but with no need to adopt the further step about talking about “rights”, don’t you think? Is the use of this kind of language necessary? Does it carry a presupposition about the individual that is not reflected in (at least) early Confucian thinking?

    On some level, I wonder whether what “duties to my parents” means for an early Confucian is degraded and, to some degree, destroyed, when we start talking about “rights my parents have against me.” This doesn’t mean that the practices that both ways of talking cannot converge, because they can (which I think is a central point Bell frequently makes). But the imposition (yes, imposition) of a certain way of talking is not without its own set of presuppositions, and thus seem to aim at something more than simply conformity of practices. And perhaps that is what Bell finds disturbing?

  13. Peony said, on December 21, 2008 at 10:31 am

    Chris, why do you think Confucius came to these ideas a priori? rather than inductively arrived at via his experience?? Could you explain? Does Confucius base his claims on their logical-derived truth… or are they based on possible expedient methods for chaiving harmonious ends? I really do not know and am asking an honest (well for me!) question

  14. Chris said, on December 21, 2008 at 10:59 am

    Peony,

    Oh no — I definitely don’t think that (that he arrived at his views a priori)! Did I say that above somewhere or imply it? If so, point it out to me, so I can fix it.

  15. Peony said, on December 21, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    I just wanted to make sure– then you agree that while perhaps Phil finds HR to be a trans-cultural, a priori derived concept and that this very different from the Confucian epsitemological framework (if I can even use that esxpression– even that seems a strectch). I guess I didn’t understand what you meant by analogue– what does that mean, I wonder?

  16. Chris said, on December 21, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Peony –

    I think I just meant this: Bell talks about the fact that, say, the practices that follow from a commitment to human right X might have a corollary in an Eastern cultural tradition. So, perhaps some Eastern cultural tradition Y might have a very similar (if not almost identical) set of practices that follow from it as the practices that stem from human right X. In such a situation, you could use the commitment to Y to get the culture to be more intentional about those practices, even if they don’t ever embrace the language of human right X.

    I read an article by David Wong a while ago (I think it was Wong) on a similar subject. He argued that free speech practices could be derived from a set of early Confucian traditions that had little to do with human rights. So his claim was that we could get the practices “we want” by turning to cultural analogues of human rights.

    Perhaps I am using the word incorrectly, but in any case, that’s what I meant. Bell stresses this point pretty regularly, don’t you think?

  17. Peony said, on December 21, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    Got it! And I agree.

  18. Phil Hand said, on December 22, 2008 at 6:41 am

    Aargh, Peony, what a nasty thing to say.

    “Phil finds HR to be a trans-cultural, a priori derived concept ”

    I never!

    First, you’ve made a logical leap that I find really really odd. I never said human rights are a priori, I said they’re not a cultural practice. You then immediately jumped to a priori. Is that how you see the world? Everything is either (a) cultural or (b) logical truth?

    I think that all the interesting stuff happens in between those two extremes. Science, for example; progressive politics; the best art.

    Human rights as a concept clearly grew out of the ideas and traditions of enlightenment Europe. I have no problem with recognising the local, cultural origins of the concept.

    However, I’ve written on your blog about judgment, and judgment can and must be applied to cultural ideas and cultural practices as much as anything. Human rights are a *better* cultural product than – well, take your pick. FGM, arbitrary rule, suppression of opposition, institutionalized corruption, etc. etc. etc. We are here debating why it’s difficult to transmit human rights, but ignoring the fact that, unlike many many cultural practices, human rights are *worthy of transmission*.

    This judgment (and the fact that human rights are far from being fully instituted in the west) means that HR are a radically different kind of thing to, say American football. The transmission of HR should be talked about in a different kind of a way, and it seems to me that this debate (and Bell’s book) are failing to make that distinction.

    Chris, your statement above that “free speech practices could be derived from a set of early Confucian traditions that had little to do with human rights” is fine, maybe true. But what problem are we trying to solve? You raise the possibility that an Asian state might not “ever embrace the language of human right X.” But the elephant in the room, China, embraced this language ages ago. It’s in the flipping constitution. Most Asian states have constitutions based directly or indirectly on western models, and I’m guessing most of them do mention rights.

    On a practical level, the idea that if we could just repackage human rights practices in Confucian language, then the Chinese government would do an abrupt volte-face and become a strong defender of the Chinese people is laughable.

    Whether or not rights-like ideas can be derived from other traditions is angels on the head of a pin stuff.

    It’s also actually the worst kind of political argument. In order to “get the practices we want” by this Confucian means, we’d have to:

    a) develop a form of Confucianism that includes rights like practices
    b) convince Asian government that we are creditable interpreters of Confucianism/Buddhism/whatever local tradition we’re trying to hook onto
    c) convince Asian government that it should be using our interpretation of this ancient tradition for policy ideas, as opposed to say, communist traditions, China’s new socialist market economy model, populism, defensive nationalism…
    d) police Asian government’s implementation of our ideas

    Steps (a), (b) and (c) here seem very hard.

    The other approach, the current, human rights approach, is considerably similar

    a) police Asian government’s implementation of their own existing constitution, providing advice based on experience of human rights practice in dozens of western countries with strong rights traditions and resources.

    Many fewer steps, and many more resources to back up this one.

    I mean, apart from anything, isn’t this whole “rights via Confucianism” idea just a big grab for power by American sinologists? Bell wants the US to listen to him on how to deal with China, and he wants China to listen to him on how to be a better Confucian. And then he has the freaking cheek to suggest that human rights organizations are imperialists! Get a grip on reality, for goodness sake.

    Worked myself up into quite a state writing that. Hope you like it!

  19. Alan said, on December 22, 2008 at 7:29 am

    Alan said:

    “You said before that he favors “values and norms that spring from historical and cultural narratives inherent in that local world.” But nothing “springs” from historical and cultural narratives, people consciously choose things and emphasize them. No such narrative is ‘inherent’ in the local world.”

    (Chris) I’m certain I don’t agree with this at all.

    Chris.

    I probably should have phrased this better. I think that people make their own history, but (obviously) they do not make it as they please, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. (to coin a phrase). Yes, people in East Asia are influence by the past and culture sometimes in ways they understand consciously and often in ways they don’t. And of course all of this happens in language. Nobody, however, is influenced by an abstract, free floating ‘tradition’ that exists entirely outside of what people think, say and do. People argue about tradition, and one side wins and the other loses, but not just by someone pulling out the trump card of ‘tradition.’ As you may have guessed, I tend to see human societies and constructed more that I think some of the other people here do.
    One thing Bell is saying is that to find indigenous sources for whatever is it you want to suggest, i.e you have to link it to the past. Asians from Liang Qichao to Fang Lizhi have been doing this for a long time, either because they thought it was normatively correct or because they thought it was tactically useful. Sometimes they even call on tradition without knowing it. Fang Lizhi said that society should be led by intellectuals, “people who have internalized the elements of civilization and possess knowledge, have hearts which are relatively noble, their mode of thought is invariably scientific, and they therefore have a high sense of social responsibility or even self-sacrifice.” but probably would have denied that this made him a Confucian. Lo (or Bell) claims that some ideas cannot be localized, but gives no clear guidelines what fits into which category or how you would go about sorting things In fact, by making Demo a foreigner (and a pretty ignorant one) and Lo an Asian elite who of course accepts that torture and mistreatment of women are wrong (though he never explains why he agrees with those things) he deliberately sidesteps a lot of this.

  20. Peony said, on December 22, 2008 at 9:19 am

    Hi Phil,

    I am going to let Chris address the point since it was actually Chris who made the statement and then I just agreed. The reason why I agreed is that it seems to me that there are 2 real ways to dervive knowledge, you can deduce or extrapolate it from your experiences or you can inductively arrive at it based on rational concepts which then are applied to your experiences. Both are logical and valid. So, it really was no insult on my part!!

    Regarding Bell’s grab for ultimate power….I couldn’t say as I am no shrink. I just want to tackle his ideas not his psyche. As one point, I am not sure he asserts that HR organizations are imperialist. His discussion (so far) is all about discourse and ways of achieving productive ends and so in that sense, I tend to really agreewith Eric’s comment over at my place that it just makes sense to present your ideas in ways that do not cause offense.

    I know you are not American but to me it is almost ironic when I see Americans getting up in arms about Chinese HR abuses. I am not only talking about offshore prisons right now or our own recent history.

    If you include economic and social welfare as a fundamental human right (which I do), then well, it’s laughable really. I am here (in US) right now by the way listening to people around me going on about the environmental damage being done by China as well… and that too from the world’s Great Polluter– yes, I know China has caught up to the US on the mark, but the point is the US is still right up there in that department. Compared to the amazing results achieved by Japan in just the last few years, really there is no excuse…(I am sorry to switch to the environment but what I wanted to say about something I just saw in downtown LA concerning social welfare I decided not to say in a public place)

    This is afterall one of Bell’s (the grand power grabber) points. The hypocricy charge… which is real and is a charge we hear again and again– not just from China, but really from so many places. And don’t forget issues of sovreignty. No matter if all of Europe and Japan was begging us to keep on board with Kyoto, the US (like China) would not be dictated to. That is why I remain dubious of your a, by, c above. Who is the subject of the sentences??

    Has your book arrived yet? Because I am getting ready to move on to the 2nd part– I hope you are with us!! I wonder what kind of translation you do? If you are interested in human rights work, I wanted to introduce you to someone so get in touch with me somehow, ok? I work mainly in corporate (social contributions and IR stuff concerning the environment) and some academic (philosophy) but more government stuff. No patents no medical… etc.

  21. Peony said, on December 22, 2008 at 10:52 am

    Alan: “I think that people make their own history, but (obviously) they do not make it as they please, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. (to coin a phrase). Yes, people in East Asia are influence by the past and culture sometimes in ways they understand consciously and often in ways they don’t. And of course all of this happens in language. Nobody, however, is influenced by an abstract, free floating ‘tradition’ that exists entirely outside of what people think, say and do. People argue about tradition, and one side wins and the other loses, but not just by someone pulling out the trump card of ‘tradition.’ As you may have guessed, I tend to see human societies and constructed more that I think some of the other people here do.”

    I can only assume by “some people here” you are referring to me. To clarify, I don’t think there are many people (if any!) who believe there exists some “free-floating abstract tradition” and indeed, I wonder where you came up with that one.

    I think it just has to be ackowledged that “tradition” (culture) is more than just a trump card. It exists as perhaps the main foundation informing the background practices which make up the way people live their lives and indeed the way they approach many issues. We think in terms of language; we make descions and judgements in part (not all– but in great part) informed by our background culture. I am not the first person to bring up the point that the same person will think and act in profoundly different ways depending on the language they are speaking.

    And this is something that affects all people speaking that language (I would argue). I mean I still am not really with you on this elite versus “the people” divide– or the winners versus losers either. I am not clear what you mean nor am I sure how far you really would be willing to take this. (especially considering in many cases it is “the masses” which retain cultural notions and concepts in their most conservative incarnations.) Again, though, I don’t think that eating a cucumber sandwich makes someone more or less Chinese– as I am talking about the affect that language has on the way we think things and the normative values we internalize as children.

    I mean, it would be the same thing if Japan was to start coming down very hard on the US for its environmental practices by framing their arguments in terms of Shintoist or Confucian terminology. It just would not be the most productive way to present their arguments and in fact, the US has already made it quite clear that it will not be dictated to. If Japan wishes to make its point, it will do so by serving as exemplery model (by 1st cleaning up its act so to speak) and next would frame their complaints in English most probably in terms of economic efficiency– as that is the best bet if they want to be heard. And this to my mind is Bell’s main point in part 1.

    That leaders would use tradition as a kind of trump card– is without a doubt a politically motivated “play”. No one is denying this. Not Bell and not “some people here.”

    Finally, Alan, I would love it if you would consider writing a post at your place because even after all this discussion to be totally honest I am still not clear what your philosophical or common-sense problems are with bell. I know you have problems with the dialogue style of discourse. I don’t disagree really. Although, this is not literature, he is attempting philosophical dialogue which traditionally doesn’t aim at realism (ie the meno). That his ideas were less effective in this format is to me neither here nor there (that is, I don’t disagree with you)… but I am left wondering what is your position to Bell’s main ideas– beyond just that you clearly _don’t like_ them. I would love to know your reasons why?

  22. […] at A Ku Indeed people, including myself, have been discussing Daniel Bell’s East Meets West which looks at […]

  23. Alan said, on December 22, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    Peony,

    I have not finished the book, but I think my main criticism so far is that it is wildly a-historical. Bell is defending “Asian tradition” on the apparent assumption that all Asian societies are essentially the same (he leaps from China to Japan to Singapore and everywhere else), and that ‘tradition’ is always straightforward and univocal, except when it’s not. As I pointed out above, there have been lots of examples of Asians trying to change their societies, and in the last couple of centuries many of these proposed changes were inspired by the West and have been adopted. Bell seems to be suggesting that some things are “just not part of Asian culture” in a magic pixie dust sort of way. For example, on p.213 he has Lee Kuan Yew claim that it is impossible to get Malays, Indians and Chinese to pay for social welfare measures for the other groups. He (i.e. Bell) says “Singaporeans care little about the fate of the “worst off” in different ethnic groups.” This is not an innate quality of the universe. (Although Lee claims on p.262 that it is a “biological instinct”) Different ethnic (and sub-ethnic) groups in Singapore used to ‘naturally’ engage in inter-communal violence, but now they don’t because individuals and the state have worked to make Singapore different. Ethnic Chinese in Singapore used to think that if there was a Chinese Revolution going on they should be in on it, because they were at least as much Chinese as Singaporean. Now they mostly don’t think like that, and Lee and his policies have lot to do with this change. I’m willing to accept that there might be some changes that are impossible or wrong for specifically (East) Asian reasons but what are those changes and what are those reasons? This is why I find the dialogue format so frustrating. Not so much the format itself but that Bell has made his spokesman for change an ineffectual foreign idiot who Lee Kuan Yew (or Lo, or really Bell) can tell to ‘mind his own business’ with perfect justice. Lots of Asians debate these issues as well. Why not make up a dialogue between Lee Kuan Yew and Yang Shiqun, or Fukuzawa Yukichi or even a bloodstain on Tiananmen Square? To the extent that calls for change in Asia are coming entirely from pathetic do-nothings like Demo they are not very interesting. If Bell is not willing to engage with Asians who favor change in Asian societies why should I waste my time reading his book?

    Might I turn things around and ask what you like about the book? I had high hopes for it, but so far it seems to be warmed over Lee Kuan Yew.

    I’m actually enjoying this conversation, and hope to participate in it more later, although I am now off to visit family for Christmas, which will involve (among other things) being informed by my wife about how we are violating our family traditions.

  24. Peony said, on December 22, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    Hi Alan,

    I am enjoying the conversation too!! I responded to you at my place in a new Post. The comments directly to you appear at the very end.

    http://www.tangdynastytimes.com/2008/12/bell-part-2.html

    I am not clear what you mean when you say that Bell is not willing to engage with Asians who seek change in their own societies. But, I guess I will keep reading his book to see where I stand. Also about bearclaws– I don’t understand that either….

    Try and check in with us if you can during the holiday– though for goodness sake don’t violate any family traditions!!

    All the best! 🙂

  25. Chris said, on December 23, 2008 at 7:36 am

    Alan 7.29

    (I’m time indexing people here because I’m going through comments from earliest to latest, so I’m not sure at this point what will be said later down in the thread!)”

    (On culture) That clears things up a bit. Thanks. I would agree, too, that no one is influenced by a free-floating culture. But who has said this above? I’m not sure what free-floating culture would look like. I could see some arguing that a priori transcendent Platonic (say) truths could function in this manner, but they wouldn’t be “cultural” I don’t think.

    Alan:

    “People argue about tradition, and one side wins and the other loses, but not just by someone pulling out the trump card of ‘tradition.’”

    I would agree that in fights about tradition, sometimes a side can win where the overt reasoning has less to do with the continuation of a culture. Though the ways in which the reasoning progresses, of course, is culturally saturated, so to speak.

    Perhaps one way to put this is to argue that some changes can be argued to maintain more of a continuation of a longer cultural-historical narrative than others, even if both suggestions are rooted in “the way people do things.” The former would simply be more conservative.

    Alan:

    “One thing Bell is saying is that to find indigenous sources for whatever is it you want to suggest, i.e you have to link it to the past. Asians from Liang Qichao to Fang Lizhi have been doing this for a long time, either because they thought it was normatively correct or because they thought it was tactically useful. Sometimes they even call on tradition without knowing it.”

    I think this is right — I agree. With Bell, as I’ve suggested here (in the main post) and in other places, I suspect that his suggestion that this is the way to go can be seen as tactical (as he himself argues), but I also think he argues that proceeding in other ways is (with respect to the status of such values) inauthentic.

    Alan:

    “Lo (or Bell) claims that some ideas cannot be localized, but gives no clear guidelines what fits into which category or how you would go about sorting things.”

    I agree this is an important question. In fact, if it is the ground floor of Bell’s argument, he must give some prima facie response to it. It’s probably best to start with what should be (for him) uncontroversial.

    1. If a value X cannot find a cultural analogue, it can’t be localized (at least at that time). Let’s assume (for simplicity only) that the Analects is the whole of the cultural-historical canon. If so, when value X is “individual rights”, he would be right. I don’t see anything in the Analects that even remotely resembles this way of talking. However, as you know, even in the above case, the door is still open to securing the practices of value X, so long as there is a cultural analogue that entails the same practices (though for different reasons).

    2. It’s important to point out that Bell does give a list of criteria to discern when an argument for incorporating a value or practice X is prima facie authentic or not. It is on page 52. There he gives three criteria. The interpretation, he argues,

    a) must not rest on any obvious misconceptions or falsities (he gives a descriptive truth here as an example, such as “the Earth is flat.”)

    b) must not be distorted by the interests of power. So it must not be an expression of a structure that is trying to maintain its own power, as opposed to legitimately trying to maintain a cultural narrative (so within [b] is the claim that the value must maintain a cultural narrative].

    c) must be internally consistent

    d) must serve as a guide for practice in the contemporary world (I assume that [d] here contains within it some appeal to local empirical facts “on the ground” since the change must allow for some kind of localized practices to take place).

    So Bell does have some kind of procedural mechanism in mind. It’s a little thin (as I suspect it has to be), but it does give a rough guide to telling which, of value X and Y, have a better claim to being “local” and which does not.

    I suspect that if we assume that two competing values X and Y both truly manage at avoiding (b) and (c), there are lots of possible candidates for “ways to go”. I suspect that Bell would argue that at this point it’s just a matter of mutual dialogue, one that instantiates respect, that determines the final direction. In fact, I suspect that he might argue that if a true respectful dialogue actually occurred, values X and Y would begin to “intersect” in some way, and that in the process of dialogue some new value, Z, would emerge as the actual value which will be used. And I think he would endorse it in this case.

    In fact, this has been something that I think he hints at throughout — that authentic values emerge from local knowledge and respectful dialogue. In fact, I think this is what he thinks can happen between the East and West interlocutors; each comes to understand the other, respects the other, and brings local concerns to a common conversation with shared goals — and that from that conversation, authentic values can emerge that can be said to apply to both equally.

    Hopefully some of that made sense, it’s early and I’ve only had one coffee.

  26. alan said, on December 23, 2008 at 8:09 am

    Chris,

    Yes, I saw the stuff on p.52, but I was not that impressed by it, in part because as you point out it is pretty thin, but also because none of the changes that have taken place in the past can pass these tests. So he’s not really helping us to tell what can’t or shouldn’t be done.

    a.) must not rest on any obvious misconceptions or falsities- Might work, although most of the shared myths of nationalism would fail this.
    b.) must not be distorted by the interests of power. Everything fails this. I can’t think of any social change that has happened in Asia in the last 200 years (or anywhere ever) that is entirely divorced from relations of power. The example I talked about above was women’s rights, which have advanced greatly all over Asia in the last century or so, always in part through the action of the state. (It also seems really bizarre to be defending Confucian tradition by discounting anything said by a government official)
    c.) must be internally consistent. Not sure why (lots of social arrangements are not) I suspect their might be something here, but this is pretty vague.
    d.) must serve as a guide for practice in the contemporary world. I assume this means that it must have some connection to existing social reality, which is sound tactical advice, but does not really rule much out. In 1800 it was unthinkable that Japan could have a democratically elected Prime Minister, and in 1900 it was unthinkable that it could have a female prime minister, but they got the one and the other is certainly not unthinkable. This one seems the most promising, but again, it is pretty vague

  27. […] at A Ku Indeed people, including myself, have been discussing Daniel Bell’s East Meets West which looks at […]


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