When Gandhi was asked what he thought about Western Civilization, he said that he thought it was a great idea. In the marketplace of ideas about Western Civilization the foundational debate in Antiquity was between the Stoics and the Christians. The Stoic idea was to conquer sorrow, desire, fear, and pleasure. This was called the four part doctrine of Apathia, where we get the word apathy from. The Christians crashed the party with a passionate form of love in action throwing all caution to the wind. The Stoic endgame was duty to the Roman Empire. The Christian endgame was duty to one who was condemned by the same Empire. Dispassion verses Passion.
Now, let us travel to the Far East, shall we? The great schism in Chinese thought came with two Confucianists: Mencius vs Hsun Tzu. Mencius around 400 B.C. contended that human nature was good. His example was that if a child was sitting on the edge of a well about to fall in, most people would try and prevent this from taking place. He called this “Instinctive Sympathy.” Hsun Tzu around 300 B.C. disagreed and believed that human beings were born evil, but could be trained to do good by a teacher, namely by studying Confucius’ Analects. Mencius was dealing in what Aristotle called the Actual. Hsun Tzu was dealing with the Actual and the Potential.
This begs the question as to Mencius’ universal Instinctive Sympathy theory, and that is this: If everyone is born good, then what about the people who don’t help the child out and the child falls into the well? This great omission does not prove Hsun Tzu right per se, but it does sort of make Mencius the Eastern version of Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide, does it not? Or at least it gives some credence to Hsun Tzu’s theory of the lack of ethical potential as seen in the man who just walked by in Camus’ The Fall. There are two types of people in the world, those who stop to help, and those who just walk on by. The latter I call: The Towering Enemy… APATHY.
What Pope Francis calls, “The Globalization of Indifference” must and can be confronted by radical action. Civilization is a veneer, a disguise, is it not? But for what? Maintaining its own status quo. I have stated before that Civilization is always in a state of emergency but is in denial that it is not. Emergency situations do bring out help for mutual aid and some of the best in our higher Angels. To this I concur. But in the main this is not enough. The parade continues. This parade is what Simon and Garfunkel sing about in their great song “The Sounds of Silence.” There are two different types of silence: The kind that brings life and the kind that brings death. The silence of the monk is a protest against the silence of apathy. The silence in the deepest self is the fuel needed to combat what S and G’s great song describes when we hear that famous line, “Silence like a cancer grows.”
At the end of the day there is only action, not talk, but action. You and I have heard the drill and we know it well: That which does not advance goes into retrograde, you can’t stand still on a moving train, all it takes for evil men to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Yes, it drones on like a cancer growing growing growing tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, with the silence being shattered only by the sound of the thud of a falling child at the bottom of a well.
Simon And Garfunkel – The Sound Of Silence (with lyrics)
Jack Lim on Jul 20, 2013
(Live in Central Park)
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