“Wise Words of Confucius on Shifts in Institutions”

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Asia Institute Essay:

 

“Wise Words of Confucius on Shifts in Institutions”

 

Emanuel Pastreich

October 22, 2012

 

 

Confucius argued that the most critical issue for a healthy society is the relationship of the terms we employ to the institutions and objects that they describe. Now, in an age of increasing incoherence and confusion about the most basic terms used to describe our society and economy, Confucius’s insight offer us an invaluable perspective. His suggestion that it is the discontinuity between terms we use and the practice they describe, rather than simple unethical behavior and greed, that produces these contradictions presents us with a means of going beyond the unproductive argument all problems stem from the fact that a small group of the powerful are too greedy. Knowing that a small group of powerful people has immense control does not does not help us understand how we got in this situation, or how we can get beyond it.

Confucius suggested that the problems we encounter in the political realm are the result of a slippage in the meaning of the terms that we use to describe. For example, there has been tremendous slippage in the significance of the term “bank” and that slippage has introduced chaos into our society. Although we use the word “bank” without even thinking about its meaning, the term’s significance is far from clear. Whereas the word “bank” referred to an organization with a rather limited mandate to lend money under strict regulations, it has evolved into a complex financial instrument whose roles are multifarious and changing rapidly as money itself has shifted in its significance as a result of the IT revolution. We need perhaps to redefine “money” at the same time.

Although there is obviously greed among some who work for banks, our inability to regulate banks is most directly related to the immense shifts in the meaning of the very term “bank.” If we want to solve the problem, we are more likely to be successful if we first address the meaning of the term than trying to artificially go back to a previous golden age. The meaning these institutions have most likely changed permanently and we should make sure that their new meanings are clear. In the extreme case, if a “bank” has become a casino, perhaps it should be called that. If “money” has become bits of “information” maybe the term needs to be modified.

Let us look at what Confucius wrote in the Analects.

If the terms that we employ to describe the institutions in society cease to be accurate paige davis pokies representations of what those institutions have become, then, although we can discuss the problems of our age, the discussion will not correspond with the actual reality in a political or economic sense.

In that case, if our discussions on the issues of our time no longer correspond with reality, no matter how much we say, we really will not be able to accomplish anything. The result will be that since our discussions about policy do not go anywhere, then all political discourse will lack the vitality and relevance.

Under those conditions, if the political discourse lacks vitality and significance, then we cannot expect that the processes of government can properly function.

The ultimate consequence of such a breakdown in governance will be confusion among the people as to what they are supposed to do.

It is for this reason that the terms employed by the intellectual be such that they can be explained readily. And that speech must be formulated so that it can be readily implemented. In a word, the intellectual must not be sloppy in the terms that he employs.

Confucius postulates that the failure in public debate and policy response stem primarily from gap between the terms used and the institutions described. This problem is easy to identify in our society. If we look at our newspapers, whether progressive or conservative, we can find a universal failure to engage in a thoroughgoing consideration of the meaning of the terms employed. We read about the International Monetary Fund, but we provide no detail, or make no investigation into how that institution has evolved and changed in is mission and its structure over the last 10 to 20 years, let alone its primary mission. A more extreme case is Google, which people praise or condemn, but they rarely stop to think how that term “Google” refers to something quite different today than what it referred to two years ago, or five years ago. Tracing the evolution of these institutions and terms is perhaps a more pressing issue than reporting on the latest predictable development, but it is never done.

Before we start to attack individuals for greed and immorality, we should think carefully about how the terms like “Pentagon,” “Republican Party,” “Central Intelligence Agency,” and “university” have fundamentally shifted in significance over the last few decades. In a sense, it is unfair to attack people in these institutions for doing things that are “immoral” if what we really mean is that they are doing things that are improper only according to our accepted definitions of those institutions

 

 

 


大学教育中的危机

 

最近越来越多的学生因为教育的压力而自杀,使得一个问题愈发明显,我们在教育孩子的形式上犯了本质的错误。这关乎的不是考试系统的优劣,也并不意味着大量学生都会效仿。尽管、、学生的成绩如何,代价却是学生正被作为祭品献上新模式大学教育的祭台,即大学里人文经历和精神成长都不再重要的新模式。学生像电脑内存或碳纳米管一样被生产出来,他们被制造得各方面都拥有超高品质,耐高压,且高效率。

但对学生来说,除了拿高分和找好工作,生活的目的已所剩无几。 他们仿佛在和一股永远无法超越的力量竞争,一股势必会导致绝望和自杀的力量。也许学生会认为他们的竞争对手是彼此,但事实上却是摩尔定律。它注定会驱赶孩子们前进,也注定了无法被超越。不断提高的电脑性能让年轻人不堪重负,他们的思维与电脑越一致,他们离人类创造新文明与新思想的能力也就越远。

逐渐地,我们发现许多大学都在建造昂贵的研究设施和行政办公楼,且不惜巨资打造广告宣传,但从学生角度出发,除了工作必备的资格证书以外,对寻求其他事物的他们来说,这类大学只是毫无人性光辉的荒漠而已。我们需要为学生把剩余的钱投在实用的课程、指导,和能让学生广义理解人性原则、哲学、文学、艺术、意识形态的项目上。不管技术革新造成何种变化,这样的教育都会为他们指引正确的方向。

坦白说,以背诵而后在测试时复述知识的能力来评判学生无异于把人类驯化成机器。但人类终究无法胜过机器,我们的大脑是由碳水化合物组成,而非硅元素。

如此错误的攀比无疑将导致难以言喻的悲剧。此外,也许我们会发现那些正被我们培养成电脑工程师或者律师的学生将会消失不见,那些职业将会在他们的有生之年里失去踪影。为什么?因为在今后十年里,科技会以史无前例的发展速度推动全面自动化,从而威胁到这些职业的存在。已经有许多法律机构由于自动化操作而减少人为分析的必要。

在这种情形下我们能做什么呢?首先,我们需要建立一所人性化的学校,在那里从艺术作品到多样性的文化,从杂志上的广告再到政客间的论战都是所要学习的科目。随着社会科技的进步,批判任务将由那些能够评价科技对于社会和环境的含义并且能对此含义负责的人所承担。这种责任要求对玄学和心理学的理解深度丝毫不亚于对电子工程和电脑编程的掌握程度。

有些问题我们不得不考虑:当现实和虚假的影像不再能被分辨,我们该怎么办?怎样运用科技手段来挽救而不是毁坏环境?我们怎样确保未来机器人和电脑有助于人类?随着机器人、电脑与生物技术开始融合,我们该怎样定义“人类”这一概念?

这些有关我们怎样运用科技的问题将会是对人性的直接拷问。这才是我们的学生在课堂上应当学习的问题。问题的答案则存在于美学、哲学、文学以及艺术领域里,而不是化学或者电气工程里。我们必须彻彻底底地重新考虑教育的意义,使其更为人性化,同时也符合我们孩子的未来需求。这并不意味着存在一种最为恰当的职业,也不意味着我们的孩子必须能够自己决定如何在一个变幻无常的世界中生存。在孩子所必须接受的教育中,以上问题应该被优先考虑纳入其中。

假如我的儿子终其一生都在学习电脑设计,结果却发现自己在35岁时就被所电脑取代怎么办?这种可能性有多高?比我们绝大多数人的预想都要高。我们也许会问如果他是一位创造新文化展示新思想的诗人或画家,结果是否会好一点。

倘若没有这类人,没有能够想象新的世界和可能的人,我们将会冒着科技失去控制的巨大风险,制造出自己无法解决的难题,如果我们完全依赖机械,情况尤其如此。也或许科技会向着意外的方向演变,违背人类的需求,以自己的意志发展。

接下来的议题是领导能力。我们教授给年轻人的这一概念很是模糊。领导能力被概念CEO做了最终概括。但就我所知,CEO们——正如他们呈现在年轻人面前的那样——是一群衣着体面, 会议上慷慨陈词,事业上顽强拼搏,生活中奢侈无度的男人或女人。以上个体是存在的,但他们并不是领导者。大多数情况下,他们只是典范的追随者和被他人粉饰出的榜样。

教育当然应该培养出领导者。但真正的领导者指的是这样一类人,他们拥有想象力,道德感和勇气去做别人想象不到的事,道德约束失职的事,和不敢做的事。我们需要扪心自问,究竟有多少领导者正被大学培养出来?然后我们才能回过头来创造真正关乎教育的学校。

另一个中国大城市里教育面临的,大多数学生不能充分理解,却值得我们全面关注的危机是老龄化社会。未来20年里,随着60岁以上的人口比率迅速攀升,政府和社会把关注重心移向对老人的照顾,年轻人和孩子将会作出越来越大的牺牲。虽然中国没有日本与韩国严重不过还是很值得注意。

老龄化的结果将是促成一个对年轻人的教育极少关注,而极度聚焦于延长老年人生命的昂贵方法的社会。

这将意味着绝大多数资源将不被用在学校里,而被用在医院和对老年人的看护上。甚至在教育领域,不难想象老年群体利用原本用来培养年轻人的资金打造针对老年人的教育计划。在经历了所有民主政治之后,那将会成为现实。

我们需要创造一个教育年轻人的空间,从而使他们免受老年人利益需求的侵害,并让他们感受到尊敬和被需要。早于中国大城市被卷入老龄化社会大潮的日本,已经出现了一代感觉不受社会及政府重视的年轻人。

在这个电脑式教育的时代,还有一个相当隐晦的问题摆在我们学生面前。我们正冒着相当单调且过分简单地“再现真实”的风险,这是对现实的低级模仿。我们的世界是一个无限复杂、充满矛盾和无法预期的世界。大部分科学对现实的再现形式是数字和图像,这样的形式掩盖了我们对自然的知之甚少。学生被灌输了以下这种错误印象,如果一个人类基因组能被表示为一定的数字,那么生命和遗传学就被表现完整了。虽然遗传编码与数据的对话是对理解的有力阐释,但用途却极为有限。因此我们冒着给孩子们制造盲区的风险让他们以为“看见即理解”。弄清现实是极为困难的。即使电子或DNA的性质继续挑战着人类分析,这也仅仅是对人类掌握这些学科的有限的感官认识。

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