Monday, October 22, 2012

Custom and other social glues

Most days, we read a little of Huston Smith's The World's Religions.  We have read through the wonderful Hindu and Buddhist sections and are now reading about Confucianism.  Sometimes, Confucius is said to be the greatest of all teachers, since his influence has touched so many people for so long a time.  Smith explains that during his lifetime, Confucius (551–479 BCE) wanted to be a government official since he felt that he understood how people should behave and how government should be constructed and used.  He had a little success but not much.  He did have students and followers who listened to him and read his writings.

Smith explains that Confucius lived in the Period of Warring States, a very chaotic and murderous time of strife and social disintegration.  Smith is a marvelous writer and an astute observer of people and life.  He walks through animal instinct, to tribal custom and tradition, to modern life, built on individual education and responsibility, law, a legal system of courts and jails in a system more and more dedicated to innovation and change, much of it propelled by aspects of the system that can enrich individuals and groups for successful inventions, new fashions and ideas.  For the last 300 years, various Westerners have observed calm tribal life somewhere and noted that those people managed without sheriffs , patents, and lawyers, and seemed happy.  Such tributes to that simple and relaxed-seeming life never seem to mention the grip tradition and custom have on such people.  The grip seems to have both benefits and costs, as most things do.

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