I’ve been reading Mozi this week (prepping a course I’ll be teaching), and when I started taking notes to the section “Rejection of Destiny” Mozi’s discussion of how to justify or confirm the truth of a belief (or practice) made me think of Daniel Bell’s way of talking about justifying the normative standards within cultures (how many people have reminded me of Bell lately?). I’ll explain below.
I’ve been a bad boy. I jumped ahead and read the last chapter of Bell’s book, where he lays out his own recipe for “Chinese Democracy.” I don’t feel qualified to suggest whether his proposal would work in the contemporary Chinese context, but the idea itself is an interesting one. I am at least certain of one thing: it would have just about every good, down-home, corn-fed anti-intellectualist American (the majority of them) running screaming for the exits.
A week or so ago I was talking to a friend of mine about Bell’s book and some of its arguments. At some point I suggested that some of the claims made, or the way in which the arguments were put, reminded me of a disagreement that John Stuart Mill and A.J. Ayer had over the status of mathematics. Surprisingly, when I got to pg. 128 in the book, Mill’s epistemology is given a positive mention. No surprise there!
I must admit, Barack Obama has me intrigued. He’s making me pay attention to him. His selection of cabinet members – and now his selection of Rick Warren to serve on Inauguration Day – is very interesting. It makes me wonder: is Obama reflecting a bit of what might be required of the Confucian Junzi?
Daniel 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.
Something caught my eye when I was reading East Meets West. “Lo” — who presumably is the stand in for Daniel Bell’s views — makes a claim that if America wants to shore up its moral authority in the international arena, especially when it comes to the attempt to export its own political and moral values, she will have to learn to say “I’m sorry.” This struck me on a number of levels, not the least of which was my sheer inability to conceive of the American government ever apologizing for anything whatsoever. As Elton John put it, “sorry seems to be the hardest word.” But why is it so important in the East/West context? And why is it so hard to say “I’m sorry”?
So far, one hundred pages into East Meets West, it strikes me that the one “drive home” point Bell wants to make is this one: the particular trumps the universal. Many of Bell’s other points about appropriate East-West discourse and human rights advocacy seem to rely on this fundamental principle. If this is indeed the “engine” that drives the car, it makes sense to start here and pop open the hood so we can take a look around (as Ross Perot might say).
If you are not aware, we’re trying to start up a virtual “reading group” on Daniel Bell’s 2000 work, East Meets West. Virtual reading groups are a new thing to me (Peony too) so we’ll see how it goes (well, we hope!). In any case, I’m through the first hundred pages and enjoying the book so far. Hopefully there are some of you out there reading along as well. So let’s get this conversation started! Peony has put up the first post, “East Meets West in Constantinople” at her place, Tang Dynasty Times. See you over there (look for the next post to be put up here in a few days)!
Sam Crane has an interesting post up at Useless Tree on the subject of Confucianism and abortion. Sam raises a number of thoughtful questions, and his post has led me to think a bit more about this issue. I haven’t reached any conclusions at all, but it has led me to ask a few questions myself about how to frame a discussion of this issue.
The release of Charter 08 yesterday, an internally produced document calling for the installation of a political regime in China founded on democracy and respect for human rights, has been catching the notice of a number of Asian-oriented blogs, here and here. An English translation of Charter 08 can be found here. The release of Charter 08 is especially timely if you are reading Bell’s East and West, which covers the same overall issues, specifically dealing with the issue of how to think of human rights in an Asian context.
Alan from Frog in a Well brought this recent review of Daniel Bell’s latest work, China’s New Confucianism, to my attention. Anyone planning on reading along on East Meets West might find it to be an interesting window into Bell’s thinking. At the very least, the reviewer notes Bell’s interesting take on karaoke (and marriage)!
Readers, lurkers and comment makers, lend me your ears: Peony, Bill Haines and I will be organizing a virtual “reading group” (which will take place both here and at Peony’s place, Tang Dynasty Times) focusing on Daniel Bell’s 2000 work East Meets West. The book deals with a very timely topic and is written in dialogue form, making the work accessible to both academics and non-academics alike. See below the fold for more information on the book and the reading group schedule. Hopefully many of the lurkers here will take up the opportunity to buy the book and read along, hopefully joining in on the online conversation. The more the merrier!