DECONSTRUCTING THE WORLD
DECONSTRUCTING THE SELF
The Human Mind
The Human Being
OUR POSTMODERN PREDICAMENT
Master of Liberal Studies Thesis, University of Minnesota, 1996 (Revised 2012)
There is a discourse taking place beyond the disciplinary boundaries of academia. It goes by the title of ‘postmodernism,’ but definitions of this term vary from source to source, which is one of the reasons few understand its significance. The language and vocabulary has not yet been set into a coherent jargon to facilitate easy understanding amongst its participants, let alone outsiders, which makes dialogue difficult. Another reason for the confusion about postmodernism is that the discourse resists categorization into any of the academic disciplines because it is taking place from a metadisciplinary perspective. The language and vocabulary of this report are intended to be an introduction for the reader, which will allow for further investigation into the various nuances of postmodernism.
The object of this report is to not only attempt to summarize the metadisciplinary discourse and some of the groups within postmodernism, but also to show how this discourse is relevant to the whole of humanity and the future of our species. First, the reader will be immersed in the contemporary discourse of postmodernism: its roots, its history and its current predicament. Next, the reader will be immersed in the misunderstood “religion” of Confucianism so that it can be seen as not simply a religion, but as something much more. Finally, the reader will be shown how the two correspond to solve our postmodern predicament.
It would be difficult to explain postmodernism without first explaining modernism, but it is difficult to illustrate modernism to the modern world due to the fact that it is almost impossible to see a paradigm from within. As postmodernism becomes more clear, it will become easier for the reader to see modernity as you begin to think as a postmodernist. Put simply, modernity is the socially constructed reality of the Western world. It has not always been the reality of the West, and it will not be the last.
The modern reality began with the reintroduction of Greek philosophy into Europe from Moslem Spain around the 15th Century, which sparked a noticeable break from the earlier medieval era. Albert Borgmann, in Crossing the Postmodern Divide, sees the divide between the medieval and modern realities was begun by Copernicus, Columbus and Luther:
All three of these men lived at the turn from the fifteenth to the sixteenth century. As we can see in retrospect, in discovering new worlds they jointly shattered the edifice of the old and opened up vast new areas of exploration and invention. The medieval world was, like all premodern cultures, a locally bounded, cosmically centered, and divinely constituted world. The Columbian discovery of the New World ruptured the familiar and surveyable geography of the Middle Ages. The Copernican solar system decentered the Earth from its privileged position in the universe. The Lutheran reformation, in making the Bible and the believer the final authorities of Christianity, fatally weakened the communal power of divinity (Borgmann p.22).
As these three men mark the end of the medieval era, Borgmann contends that the modern era was founded not a generation later by another triumvirate:
For heuristic purposes, we can think of Bacon, Descartes and Locke as the founders of a new era, the designers of the modern project whose elements are the domination of nature, the primacy of method, and the sovereignty of the individual. Technology and economy were the disciplines whereby the modern project was worked into a social order characterized by aggressive realism, methodical universalism, and an ambiguous individualism (Borgmann p.5).
Modernity began as the Enlightenment. It was a call to arms against the “medieval disorder, the duress of daily life, the deadwood of tradition, and the oppression of hierarchy and community” (Borgmann p.22). The Enlightenment was to bring the world under the control of human reason. The modern project was to bring the Enlightenment to everyone to free them from their ignorance. Modernity would eventually replace the traditional Western European culture which had evolved during the medieval era as feudal monarchies became the more recognizable democratic republics, agrarian economics was replaced by imperialist capitalism, the Catholic Church lost its domination to Protestant denominations, and traditional communities were replaced by rampant individualism.
‘Modernity’ is the name of the humanistic, anti-traditionalist reality which emerged around 1500 CE in Western Europe and spread throughout the world. It is difficult to comprehend all of the significant changes Western society has gone through since the introduction of the modern worldview. David Lyon, in Postmodernity, sees modernity as a world of progress, clocks, bureaucracy, economically controlled technology and a “society of strangers” (Lyon p.32). This is in addition to the racism, sexism, imperialism, militarism and nationalism which we inherited from the medieval era. Lyon tries to summarize the shift from the traditional to the modern when he wrote:
Modernity is all about the massive changes that took place at many levels from the mid-sixteenth century onwards, changes signaled by shifts that uprooted agricultural workers and transformed them into mobile industrial urbanites. Modernity questions all conventional ways of doing things, substituting authorities of its own, based in science, economic growth, democracy or law. And it unsettles the self; if identity is given in traditional society, in modernity, it is constructed. Modernity started out to conquer the world in the name of Reason; certainty and social order would be founded on new bases. For about two centuries it seemed that this vision would be vindicated (Lyon p.21).
Recently, there has been a movement away from the modern worldview. There have been antimodern movements before as naturalists, romantics and New Agers wish to return to the premodern era. The postmodern movement is not antimodern per se, but views modernity as a part of the natural evolution of human cultures and that its reign is over. In Founders of Constructive Postmodern Philosophy, David Ray Griffin sees the demise of modernity as:
The rapid spread of the term ‘postmodern’ in recent years witnesses to a growing dissatisfaction with modernity and an increasing sense that the modern age not only had a beginning but can end as well….Likewise, ‘modernism’ as a worldview is less and less seen as The Final Truth, in comparison with which all divergent worldviews are automatically regarded as “superstitious.” The modern worldview is increasingly relativized to the status of one among many, useful for some purposes, inadequate for others (Griffin p.vi).Modernism fell from its lofty position as a result of one of its core institutions - science (social science to be exact). Work which was begun by two philosophers, Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche, and a host of sociologists, especially Max Scheler, culminated in The Social Construction of Reality by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann in 1966. No synopsis would do justice to their prodigious treatise on the nature of human realities. Their thesis speaks for its self:
Society is a human product. Society is an objective reality. Man is a social product (Berger p.61).
The first and last lines of the thesis statement are interrelated. All societies are ‘institutionalized’ by passing habits of thought and deed unto the next generation, thus each generation is a product of the culture they were born into, and the culture is recreated by each succeeding generation in return. Berger and Luckmann discovered constructivism, which is the postmodern understanding that cultural realities are constructed by those who inhabit them, and that individual realities are in turn constructed from their culture. Constructivism dethroned modernism, as well as all traditional cultural realities, through its implications of cultural relativism and dereification (which we will discuss later).
More important for us here is the middle line of their thesis statement, where Berger and Luckmann boldly state that they have successfully objectified realities as to be able to study the phenomenon of human reality construction. In other words, they have separated themselves from naturally occurring human realities. Consciously or unconsciously, Berger and Luckmann created a new social construction of reality from which it is now possible to examine socially constructed realities as objects.
In Reality Isn’t What It Used To Be, Walter Truett Anderson sees an analogy for this new reality as that of standing on a hilltop to get a better perspective of the surrounding landscape, or “stepping out” as he calls it. The observer is then able to witness the workings of the complex system of human reality construction. As a neutral observer, the sociologist merely studies the objects and formulates theories. This new perspective creates the need for a new vocabulary to be used amongst the observers. In other words, there is a need for institutionalized jargon. Berger and Luckmann’s treatise succeeded in initiating this as well, but it is not by any means complete. The prefix that comes up the most in postmodern discourse is ‘meta‘ (above or beyond). The semiotics of this prefix would be enough for many dissertations, but it does not concern us here. Words like ‘meta-narrative’ and ‘meta-conflict’ imply above or beyond the norm. This new perspective has become a metaplane of observation and discourse.
Whether they know it or not, anyone who has the ability to use the metaplane perspective to see realities as objects is living in the postmodern era. Those who have experienced it can never be the same when they return to their ‘old’ reality, and they must eventually return to their cultural reality, because the metaplane is not inhabitable (as it was constructed for observation purposes only). This uneasiness with reality is the postmodern horror hinted at by writers like H.P. Lovecraft, television series like The Twilight Zone, and films like Blade Runner and The Matrix.
At its core, postmodernism is constructivism, or “the admission that all explanations of reality are themselves constructions - human, useful, but not perfect - and the ability to ‘step out’ of reality constructs and see them as such” (Anderson p.255). But postmodernity is an era (after the modern), as well as a new reality. It also incorporates many other aspects besides constructivism, such as post-industrialization, high technology, human rights, environmentalism, systems thinking, evolution, quantum physics, and (most important for us here) globalization.
Globalization is the logical conclusion of the modern conquest of the planet. The European nation-states had conquered the entire world by the end of the 19th Century. No existing border is without European influence. They imposed a biased economic system on the world, but left the surviving cultures relatively free. In the past, the conquering culture imposed itself on the conquered. In Imperial Eyes, Mary Louise Pratt labels this new type of domination an “anti-conquest.” Now, all of these regional realities of the various surviving human cultures are a part of the public consciousness due to a global economy, the media’s instantaneous coverage of global affairs, and numerous academic disciplines (such as anthropology, sociology, religion and cultural studies).
An emergent global culture is a direct and inevitable outcome of this anti-conquest. The entire world was brought together into a global economy by the European colonial powers. As a result of the economic ties, there have been political, religious, cultural and knowledge contact as well as intercultural immigration. Anderson believes that the separate world cultures are melding into a new entity:
We all share the good fortune - or the misfortune, depending on how you look at it - of being present at a great historical/evolutionary event: we are now seeing the emergence of a social reality that is different in important ways from anything we have known before, the first global civilization (Anderson p.251).
For Anderson, the emerging global civilization and the postmodern era are one in the same. They are intertwined:
We all know that some kind of a global civilization is coming into being; this is one of the truisms of our time. And we dimly sense also that this must be an event of great significance, a turning point in human evolution. For hundreds of thousands of years, human beings dispersed around the world, developing different languages and religions and customs and political systems. Then, within an instant of evolutionary time, the process began to reverse itself, and that which had been flowing apart for millennia suddenly began to flow together. Today, all those cultures stand shoulder to shoulder on a single planet that now seems quite small, and another level of cultural evolution begins: it demands language about languages, religion about religions, custom about customs, and a civilization to encompass civilizations (Anderson p.20).
Anderson sees a growing conflict between the objectivists and the constructivists. Those who he dubs ‘objectivists’ cling to their socially constructed realities as if nothing has changed. They believe that there is an objective reality, and “see the human mind as capable of more or less accurately, more or less impersonally, mirroring external nonhuman reality” (Anderson p.x). The modernists are included as objectivists, but so are fundamentalist Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus and scientists, as well as anyone else who denies relative reality.
Those who Anderson dubs ‘constructivists’ understand the social construction of reality’s implication of cultural relativism. The constructivists, or postmodernists, “hold that what we call the ‘real world’ is an ever-changing social construct…and they also tell us the earth is not a single symbolic world, but rather a vast universe of ‘multiple realities,’ because different groups of people construct different stories, and because different languages embody different ways of experiencing life” (Anderson p.x-xi).
Anderson’s dichotomy between the objectivists and the constructivists is unprecedented in human history. One side holds that there is a definite reality, even though they disagree about its very nature. While the other side says that there is a physical reality that we all share, but it is interpreted through our culture, which is an ever-changing system of human socialization. There have been many conflicts about beliefs in the past, but never belief about beliefs:
The new spectrum has at one extreme those who hold firmly to a set of truths that they declare to be THE cosmic reality. These enviably sure-minded citizens may be religious fundamentalists or hard-nosed scientists, Marxist ideologues or true believers in Gaia - epistemology makes its own strange bedfellows…Near the other extreme are the relativists and constructivists who hold all truth to be human invention. Whatever is out there, they say, remains for all time out there, and all our systems of thought are stories we tell ourselves about something that remains essentially unknowable (Anderson p.13).The conflict between the objectivists and the constructivists is at the core of Anderson’s interpretation of the postmodern era. For Griffin, that conflict is moot. Anderson’s constructivists are the future. Griffin contends that postmodernism will eventually replace the modern era, because we have to:
First, the previous antimodern movements were primarily calls to return to a premodern form of life and thought rather than calls to advance, and the human spirit does not rally to calls to turn back. Second, the previous antimodern movements either rejected modern science, reduced it to a description of mere appearances, or assumed its adequacy in principle; therefore, they could base their calls only on the negative social and spiritual effects of modernity. The current movement draws on natural science itself as a witness against the adequacy of the modern worldview. In the third place, the present movement has even more evidence than did previous movements of the ways in which modernity and its worldview ARE socially and spiritually destructive. The fourth and probably the most decisive difference is that the present movement is based on the awareness that the CONTINUATION OF MODERNITY THREATENS THE VERY SURVIVAL OF LIFE ON OUR PLANET (Griffin p.xi).
Griffin, instead, sees the struggle within postmodernism itself. He contends that the constructivist movement has split into two camps, which he dubs the deconstructivists and the reconstructivists. Both sides are legitimate forms of postmodernism in that they both use the metaplane perspective described earlier, but that does not keep them from name calling. Both sides accuse the other of being “most-modern” or “ultra-modern,” and their side, of course, is the actual postmodernism. The difference between the two sides is in what they do with the metaplane perspective.
The deconstructivists are the branch of postmodernism with which people are the most familiar. They are trying to overcome “the modern worldview through an anti-worldview: it deconstructs or eliminates the ingredients for a worldview, such as God, self, purpose, meaning, a real world, and truth as correspondence” (Griffin p.viii). Deconstructivists see any form of a socially constructed reality to be totalitarian, which they see as the terror of mind-control. Jean-Francois Lyotard sums up deconstructivists postmodernism at the end of The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge as a call to arms:
Under the general demand for slackening and for appeasement, we can hear the mutterings of the desire for the return of terror, for the realization of the fantasy to seize reality. The answer is: Let us wage a war on totality; let us be witness to the unpresentable; let us activate the differences and save the honor of the name (Lyotard p.82).
For them, reality is a social construct, not truth; therefore they have sentenced it to death in the name of freedom. The means of execution is deconstruction. Instead of using the metaplane for observation, the deconstructivists use their vantage point to attack the defenseless paradigms of the myriad of human societies. Their attacks are aimed at exposing any reality as relative and reified (which is easy since they are). Dadaism is an example of this deconstruction in art; twelve tone and atonality are examples in music.
The logical outcome of deconstructivism is the madness of nihilism. No one epitomizes this madness as well as the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Through great genius, Nietzsche deconstructed his own reality until he had a breakdown and died alone and insane. What Nietzsche may have experienced is described by Berger and Luckmann as “anomic terror,” in which one is exposed to the nightmare of extreme relativism:
While the horror of aloneness is probably already given in the constitutional sociality of man, it manifests itself on the level of meaning in man’s incapacity to sustain a meaningful existence in isolation from the anomic constructions of society (Berger p.102).
A deconstructivist postmodern world would be one of madness. There would be no society, only delusional schizophrenics alone in their isolated universes. Besides, by “waging war” on totality, you are in effect being totalitarian. Extreme freedom is just as totalitarian as extreme order.
In opposition to the deconstructivists, there are the reconstructivists. Reconstructivism probably evolved from deconstructivism, since deconstruction is presupposed in ‘reconstruction.’ Griffin, who supports the reconstructivist side, writes, “in any case, the two types of postmodern philosophy differ not on the need to deconstruct various notions that were central to modern and in some cases premodern worldviews, but on the necessity and possibility of constructing a new cosmology that might become the worldview of future generations” (Griffin p.1). The reconstructivists use the metaplane to examine reality systems in order to rebuild a deconstructed world:
The constructive activity of this type of postmodern thought is not limited to a revised worldview; it is equally concerned with a postmodern world that will support and be supported by the new worldview. A postmodern world will involve postmodern persons, with postmodern spirituality, on the one hand, and a postmodern society, ultimately a postmodern global order, on the other. Going beyond the modern world will involve transcending its individualism, anthropocentrism, patriarchy, mechanization, economism, consumerism, nationalism, and militarism. Constructive postmodern thought provides support for ecology, peace, feminist, and other emancipatory movements of our time, while stressing that the inclusive emancipation must be from modernity itself. The term ‘postmodern,’ however, by contrast with ‘premodern,’ emphasizes that the modern world has produced unparalleled advances that must not be lost in a general revulsion against its negative effects (Griffin p. ix).
If we now combine Anderson’s emergent global civilization and Griffin’s call for a reconstruction of reality, then you get an idea of the enormity of the task ahead. In short, the reconstructivist postmodern movement is calling for a socially constructed reality for a new global culture. The postmodern predicament is to actually construct that new reality, but no one has risen to the challenge and given an alternative to modernism. Until that happens, postmodernism will be irrelevant to the bulk of humanity.
Now that you are hopefully able to think as a postmodernist, let us look down from our metaplane perspective at a curious socially constructed reality - Confucian China. To be able to truly experience the reality in its fullness, one must become immersed in that reality. The following section is intended to introduce reconstructivist philosophers, who will be responsible for reconstructing a robust global reality, to Confucius and Confucianism. If we are to be truly global, then we must look at the existing alternatives to Western thinking. Some of them are extremely relevant.
Confucianism is one of the most influential “religions” in the world. Confucius has had as great an influence on humanity as Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, Socrates and Darwin. Confucianism is also one of the most misunderstood philosophies outside of its land of origin. In the East, Confucianism is so ingrained into Chinese culture that even the Cultural Revolution of Mao could do little to suppress it. In the West, there is much confusion about Confucianism. When Confucianism is studied in the West, it is looked at as a religion, but is Confucianism a religion, a philosophy or is it something else? If Confucianism is not a religion, then what is it? For constructivists, the only way to truly understand Confucianism is as a reconstruction of reality, which I will attempt to elaborate. The best way for those of us in the West to understand Confucianism is to go back to China of the 6th Century BCE, to Confucius and trace the evolution of the tradition that bears his name.
The China that Confucius was born into was on the verge of collapse. The Chou dynasty (1027-255 BCE) was losing control of the feudal lords. Although the Chous ruled officially, their reach barely extended beyond their capital. Petty wars, bandits, outrageous taxation and violence were tearing apart the fabric of Chinese society. An era of social chaos, the Period of Warring States, came soon after Confucius’ death.
Confucius (K’ung fu-tzu, or Master K’ung, which when Latinized becomes Confucius) was born in the feudal state of Lu (which is now the Province of Shan-Tung). There are many myths surrounding his birth, his family and his life. As with other ancient sages, it is hard to separate fact from fiction. Lu was supposedly given to the Shang family (which ruled China from c.1700-1027 BCE) by the Chous. Confucius’ father was a member of the Shang family (K’ung branch) and a great warrior. Whether this is true or whether historians have tried to give Confucius royal blood is unknown. In another story, his father had fled the feudal wars in Sung. In this instance, Confucius’ father may have been from an aristocratic family, but he was not portrayed as wealthy. He is said to have had many daughters and one crippled son, so at age 70 he contracted a third wife in order to have a proper heir. She was supposedly from a good family and only 15 at the time of the marriage, but went through with the marriage to please her father. Confucius was born K’ung Chiu (or K’ung Chung-ni) around 551 BCE. Legends say that unicorns announced his conception and dragons attended his birth.
Confucius’ father died when Confucius was only three. Some accounts claim that young Confucius would hunt and fish to help support his poor, widowed mother. Others claim that he did these activities (which also included charioting and archery) as a great sportsman, not out of need. Some sources claim that his mother went without to get her son a proper tutor. Others claim that Confucius had no formal teacher and that he learned from the elders in his community and through prolific reading. Still others claim that he taught himself and that even at an early age he attracted students.
Whatever the truth about Confucius’ childhood, he eventually became a petty official with the government of Lu. There are different accounts as to what his job really was. The first account tells that Confucius was a clerk, who kept track of the ritual sacrifices. This vocation is said to have “aroused his interest in religious sacrifices and ceremonies” (Chan p.16). A second account says that he was a tax collector and “supervised the collection of farmers’ rice and grain, making him keenly aware of how much the people suffered under the existing system” (Hoobler p.27).
During this time, he also contracted a marriage, but it eventually ended in a divorce. There are still descendants of this marriage today, who maintain the temple on his family home site. These descendants claim ancestry through a son from this marriage (or in one account, both a son and a daughter). Later, we will see that Confucius’ grandson became a renowned Confucian scholar.
Confucius’ mother died, supposedly, when he was in his twenties. Confucius performed the mandatory three years of mourning, although some accounts do not mention this trauma. After the period of mourning, he resigned his post to devote his time to teaching. This was his true profession. Some accounts claim that he had up to 3,000 students.
What, exactly, Confucius taught is also debatable. Good government, history and divination seem to be the basics, but others add poetry, moral conduct and music. One account stated that Confucius taught rituals, writing, music, archery, charioting and mathematics as well. Regardless of the subjects taught, Confucius would teach anyone who was willing to learn: “Instruction recognizes no castes” (Analects XV #39), and he was strict: “I do not instruct the uninterested; I do not help those who fail to try. If I mention one corner of a subject and the pupil does not deduce there-from the other three, I drop him” (VII #8), and he loved teaching: “I shall always teach, even if but a pittance be offered me” (VII #7).
All of the accounts tend to agree that at the age of around 50, Confucius was supposedly appointed Magistrate (something in the realm of a Prime Minister and Minister of Justice) of Lu. As magistrate, Confucius supposedly transformed Lu into a paradise. There was no crime and the prisons were empty. Confucius taught that the people will emulate their leaders. He reasoned that if their leaders were virtuous, then the whole nation would be virtuous, and the opposite would also be true. When asked how he had made this paradise, he said tax less and educate more. Confucius remained in office for around five years until he resigned.
Why he resigned his post is again another mystery. One account claims that the Tong (organized crime in China) conspired against him to regain their influence over the Lord of Lu, which they lost under Confucius’ reign as magistrate. Another account claims that the other aristocratic families of Lu were conspiring against their Lord, so Confucius had their homes burned down. The families called for help from a rival Lord in Ch’i (who also wanted Confucius to fail). This Lord sent the Lord of Lu some dancing girls, causing Confucius to lose his influence in the court and, subsequently, resigning his post.
Regardless, Confucius began to wander around China to find a lord worthy of his obedience and his abilities. Legend has it that Confucius also went to the capital of the Chou Empire and met Lao-tzu, the author of the Tao Te Ching, who was then in charge of the Imperial Archives. Confucius said he could never pass up a chance to learn and is reported to have compared Lao-tzu to a dragon. Confucius and some of his students wandered around China for 13 years. He was ridiculed, imprisoned and even threatened with death. Some lords invited him to occupy various positions, but Confucius saw through their schemes to use his prestige to improve their own, and he would be off again.
In 484 BCE, Confucius was called back to Lu for a high government post because some of his former students had achieved high enough position to influence the court. Confucius returned but did not take the office. He, instead, retired to finish his works and to teach. Over the next six or seven years, he would finish what became known as the Six Classics.
The Six Classics had been compiled throughout his life and reflected his interests. The Book of History (Shu Ching) contains documents from China’s past including the mythical Hsia Dynasty that Confucius romanticized about. The Book of Poetry (Shih Ching) contains 300 poems that were to be sung. Confucius said that this book could be summed up with one phrase: ”Let our thoughts be correct” (II #2). The Book of Rites (Li Chi) is a three part book describing the bureaucratic Chou system, describing proper etiquette and appropriate behavior. The Book of Changes (I Ching) is about divination, fortune telling and omens. Confucius believed that “through it I may become free of large faults” (VII #17). The Annals of Spring and Autumn (Ch’un Ch’iu) chronicles the events in Lu from 722 to 781 BCE. Lastly, there is the lost Book of Music (Yueh Ching), some bits of which remain and were later added to the Book of Poetry. His authorship of these books is also doubtful. One must remember that Confucius considered himself a lover of the Ancients, a recorder and compiler of knowledge more than a philosopher. His disciples edited and admonished the works also until they were in their final canonized forms much later.
Confucius died in 479 BCE with his disciples around him. He was convinced that his life had been a failure, since he never did get the chance to implement his ideas for a perfect society. Little did he know how successful his ideas would become in China. All that we really know for certain about Confucius is that he lived around 500 BCE, he was a renowned teacher and desperately sought high office. Through his teachings, though, passed down from his followers, we can get an idea of what Confucius, the man, was really like:
At fifteen I thought only of study;
Confucius was born into a decadent time, in which the fabric of society was unraveling. The old, time worn, unconsciously emerging “spontaneous traditions,” as Huston Smith calls them in The Religions of Man, which naturally occur in human societies were failing to hold China together. Another traditional reality would have eventually emerged after a period of sustained chaos, but that was not good enough for Confucius, who wanted to allay the suffering in his time. Thomas and Dorothy Hoobler, in Confucianism, see Confucius as a man “who looked around and saw disorder and misery. He wanted to do something to bring order - which he called harmony - to society” (Hoobler p.20), and that “his deepest wish was to do something to alleviate the suffering and disorder in the world of his time. Confucius found the answers to his quest in his study of the past” (Hoobler p.26).
What was needed at this critical time was what Smith calls “deliberate traditions.” Confucius, aware or unaware of his genius, provided this by recalling the Great Harmony of the mythical Hsia dynasty (c.2800-1700 BCE). Confucius actually fashioned the old traditions so that they could take into account new problems. In other words, he reconstructed a new reality out of an old reality. The new traditions had to be introduced at all levels of society simultaneously:
The ancients, who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the world, first ordered well their own States. Wishing to order well their States, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts. Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.
The wholeness of Confucius’ system was based on the Five Constant Virtues: Jen, Yi, Li, Chih and Hsin. He believed these virtues to be within everyone, but had to be brought out by a good education and by good examples. Confucius likened these virtues to a tree: Jen is the root upon which everything rests; Yi, the trunk; Li, the branches; Hsin, the flower; and Chih, the fruit. All of them are interrelated, so that if one is diseased the others are affected. Also, if one starts to dominate, then the others will suffer. These virtues were a hedge against the growing individualism and barbarism which was sweeping China (much like it is today).
Jen is translated as ‘benevolence.’ In fact, the Chinese characters used to make the ‘Jen’ character are a combination of ‘two’ and ‘man’ (or ‘society’ and ‘self’); although Confucius was never clear about the true meaning of Jen. He did understand that the individual cannot stand without society and vice versa. Through Jen, there is a balance or harmony between the rights of the individual and the needs of the community. “One who embodies Jen loves Man. He is a man of earnestness, liberality, truthfulness, diligence and generosity. He is respectful in his private life, serious in handling affairs, and loyal in dealing with others. He studies extensively, is steady in his purpose, inquires earnestly, and reflects on things at hand. In short, he is a man of all virtues” (Chan p.17). Jen is also characterized as love, goodwill, man-to-manness, magnanimity, empathy, faith, charity, goodness, humanity, common good, sympathy, self-respect and human dignity. In summary, Jen is the realization of our common existence.
When asked about his teachings, Confucius said that the common threads were loyalty (chung) and reciprocity (shu). These qualities are the essence of Jen. Reciprocity goes beyond its usual definition. For Confucius it meant the Silver Rule: “What you do not wish yourself, do not unto others” (XV #24). But when asked about repaying evil with kindness, he replied, “Then what are you going to repay kindness with? Repay kindness with kindness and repay evil with justice” (XIV #34).
Yi is best translated as ‘righteousness.’ Confucius believed humans to be naturally good. Although, just knowing what is right is not enough, one must act accordingly, for “it is cowardice to fail to do what is right” (II #24). Yi is also characterized as justice, faith and honesty.
Li is best translated as ‘propriety.’ This word best sums up the idea of deliberate tradition. Li is the right behavior expected of a Confucian. Confucius believed in harmony even to the point of romanticizing about the Great Harmony of the mythical Hsia dynasty and how its great sage-kings did everything properly. Other words used to translate Li are courtesy, reverence, rites and ceremonies, etiquette, morality and correct behavior.
One of the branches of Li is known as the Doctrine of the Mean. It is similar to Aristotle’s Golden Mean and Buddha’s Middle Way. Smith points out that “the two characters for Mean are ‘chung yung’ literally ‘middle’ and ’constant’” (Smith p.247). For Confucius, doing what is proper means staying away from extremes. This will eliminate pride, fanaticism, indulgence and indifference. Harmony plays a large part in Chinese culture as evidenced by the symbol of Yin-Yang, which is a symbol of the interwoven balance of nature.
The second branch of Li is the Rectification of Names. In any society, it is important for individuals to know how to properly fulfill their various roles within the community. It was important to Confucius to have the roles in society well defined. A ruler must be a proper ruler; a father must be a proper father; a friend must be a proper friend; and so on. These proper roles are the ideal that everyone should aspire to emulate. Without these role definitions, society would fall into chaos (similar to what we are experiencing today).
The most important roles in any society are what Confucius called the Five Relationships: a Father should be loving and his Son must be reverential; The Elder Brother must be gentle and the Younger Brothers respectful; a Husband must be good and a Wife must be attentive; an Elder Friend must be considerate and the Younger Friend deferential; and a Ruler must be benevolent and the Subjects loyal. Confucius also mentioned the relationship of Man to Spirits, Rulers to their Ministers and between Diplomats, but the first five relationships are central to the social order.
The roles of the family are the most important to the community. Of the Five Relationships, three deal directly with the family. Confucius stressed filial piety above all. Li Fu Chen, in The Confucian Way, states:
In short, filial piety towards one’s parents while they are living should include (1) not only love, but also reverence; (2) not only material support, but spiritual consolation; (3) the elimination of all bad habits, so as not to affect one’s parents as a result of one’s humiliation or injury; (4) care of one’s own health, so as not to cause one’s parents any anxiety; and (5) remonstrates to parents gentleness if there is disagreement with them (Chen p.396).
Confucius summed up filial piety best in the Analects: “Let the sole worry of your parents be that you might become ill” (II #6). Filial piety is essential to Confucianism; therefore failure in this area means failure in all.
Lastly, propriety refers to the value of age. This concept may be difficult for us in our youth oriented culture to accept. Old age should be valued and elders not discarded like they are today. The elderly should be respected as bearers of wisdom which only their experience can give. This type of veneration is even extended to the dead in Chinese culture. Some may call this Ancestor Worship, but this is a misnomer. So strong is filial piety, that it is carried on after death by the living and, supposedly, by the deceased as well.
Hsin is best translated as ‘sincerity.’ Like begets like, and if one is sincere with others, then they will be sincere in return. According to Chen, one who embodies Hsin will be recognizable as “true and warmhearted. His words are those of faithfulness, sincerity, straightforwardness, and his acts are earnest, respectful, determined. Hence it is said, ‘What is truly within will be manifested without’” (Chen p.193-194).
Chih is best translated as ‘wisdom.’ One cannot acquire Chih unless one first embodies Jen, understands Yi, practices Li, and does so with Hsin. One who puts these virtues together is a ‘Superior Man,’ but integrating them is not at all easy. In The World’s Living Religions, Archie Bahm states that “Chih is an idea to be approached by degrees. One’s assurance grows as he learns more. One’s confidence increases as he frees himself from fears and inadequacy. One’s trust in nature’s ways (nature-at-large, one’s own inner nature and one’s own social nature) develops as he desires less and less to deviate from their inherit norms” (Bahm p.189).
A Superior Man (or Chun-tzu) was originally translated as a ‘prince’ or a ‘lord’s son.’ Confucius used this term to describe his ideal man. Today, it may be more politically correct to use the term ‘Ideal Human,’ but I am restricted here to use the sexist language of the times. Attainment of Chun-tzu status was not reserved only for the social elite. Any man can become a Superior Man through a complete education. In this respect, Confucius may be called the first Humanist (since he died before Socrates was born). Wing-tsit Chan gives one of the best descriptions of the Superior Man in the Encyclopedia of Religion:
The Chun-tzu is mentioned in the Analects 107 times. Confucius said the Superior Man is one who is wise, loving, and courageous; who studies the Way and loves people; who stands in awe of Heaven; who concentrates his efforts on the fundamentals; who does not seek to gratify his appetite or seek comfort in his dwelling place but is earnest in deeds and careful in speech; who is not a ‘utensil’ that is useful for only a specific function; who does not set his mind for or against anything but follows only what is right; who practices respect, reverence, generosity, and righteousness; who studies extensively but restrains himself with ceremony; who meets with friends on the basis of culture and helps himself with their friendship. To sharpen his point, he contrasted the Superior Man with the Inferior Man. The Superior Man understands righteousness, whereas the Inferior Man understands profit. The progress of the Superior Man is upward while that of the Inferior Man is downward. The Superior Man seeks to perfect the good qualities of others; the Inferior Man does the opposite (Chan p.17).
Superior Men are obligated to use their knowledge and virtue for the good of the community. For Confucius, the best way to do this was by becoming a government official, thus the government would then be led by the best. Confucius believed that people wanted virtuous leaders and would follow their good example. He also believed that a good society is a reflection of good government, and, conversely, a bad society is a reflection of bad government.
Good government was one of Confucius’ chief concerns. Confucius was quite specific about how a good government should be run. His ideal government was a hierarchical bureaucracy based on education, thus, ideally, promoting the best of the Superior Men. Since the emperor and the nobles would also be erudite, the rule from the top-down would also be, ideally, virtuous. As a lover of the ancients and born into a hierarchical society, Confucius, of course, could think of no other form of government than a monarchy. This limitation was to be used against Confucianism later, when Confucianism confronted the anti-traditional modernism.
The one thing which seems to be missing from this religion is religion. Some may question whether or not Confucianism is a religion. Some have claimed it to be more of a Humanism or Social Contract. Confucius taught about every facet in the human life and religion was no exception, but he wanted his followers to be this-world-oriented and not next-world-dominated. Confucius was more concerned about this world than the next, which is obvious: “When asked about spirits and divinities Confucius said, ‘You cannot treat spirits and divinities properly before you are able to treat your fellow-men properly.’ When asked about death, he said, ‘you cannot know about death before you know about life’” (XI #21).
Confucius was not an expert in metaphysics and did not create a cosmology, but he merely carried on the traditional Chinese polytheistic religion. Mostly, he just incorporated the religion he grew up with into his Great Way. He believed that what he taught for this world was also the Way of Heaven. The spirits and divinities make up a great celestial hierarchy, which is governed by the god Shang-ti (major deity of the Shang dynasty). Shang-ti rules Heaven (T’ien) as the Emperor (or Son of Heaven) rules the Chinese hierarchy. The head of state is also the head of the church. He is responsible for the annual sacrifice which keeps the harmony between the two worlds. The head of the family is also responsible for the proper rituals and ceremonies, and everyone is responsible to act in accordance with the Five Virtues, thus all are priests unto themselves.
Although reluctant to talk about the supernatural, Confucius did believe he was on some sort of divine mission. When in peril in K’uang, Confucius spoke with confidence to his disciples: “If Heaven had wished that this high culture come to naught, it would not have permitted a single subsequent person to have become attracted to it. Since Heaven has not let it come to naught, what can the people of K’uang do to me?” (IX #5). Religion is only a part of life, thus it is only a part of Confucianism.
After his death, his work was carried on by his pupils. Confucius may have died thinking of himself as a “Hidden Orchid,” but his disciples would not let his ideas remain hidden. They gathered together every quote, parable and incident that they could remember about their teacher and created the Analects (or Sayings of Confucius), in Chinese ‘Lun Yi.’ The Analects are our best look into the wisdom they saw in Confucius:
Worry not that no one knows of you; seek to be worth knowing (IV #41).
The Analects cover many topics, but they mostly deal with Jen, the Superior Man, good government, Li and filial piety. The Analects are the first of the Post-Confucius books which are known collectively as the Four Books. They would eventually be placed along with the Five Classics of Confucius in the Confucian canon.
The second book, the Great Learning (or ‘Ta Hsueh’), was originally a chapter out of the Book of Rites (Chapter 39). It seems to have been elaborated on by one of Confucius’ pupils, Tseng-tzu, and finally removed from the Book of Rites officially in the 12th Century. The Great Learning became the first text that school children would be exposed to. It is concerned with the Eight Steps of Learning: Investigation of All Things, Extension of Knowledge, Sincerity of Thoughts, Rectification of the Heart, Cultivating the Person, Regulating the Family, Ordering the State, and Pacification of the World. Each of these steps is dependent on the other. The first five steps are concerned with the Superior Man, the next two are concerned with individuals and their society, and peace is the outcome.
The third book, the Doctrine of the Mean (or ‘Chung Yung’), was also part of the Book of Rites (Chapter 28), and was also officially removed in the 12th Century. One of Tseng-tzu’s pupils, Tzu-Ssu, who was Confucius’ grandson, was the initial elaborator. It expands on Confucius’ own Doctrine of the Mean, but also talks at length about Heaven, sincerity, filial piety, and the trinity between Heaven, Earth and Humanity. Chan states that “with this text, Confucianism at once becomes religion, metaphysics and moral social philosophy” (Chan p.19).
The fourth book is named after its author, Mencius (the Latinized “Meng-tzu”). Mencius (c.372-289 BCE) is second only to Confucius in importance to Confucianism. His life was similar to Confucius’. He was born Meng K’o in T’sou, which is near Lu. Legend says that his widowed mother lived next to a cemetery and the young Mencius started to imitate the cemetery workers. She got worried about this behavior and moved next to a market place. Young Mencius started to imitate the merchants, so again his mother started to worry. This time she cleverly moved next to a college and from then on Mencius’ life was that of scholarship. Mencius was supposedly taught by Tsu-Ssu, although he deeply regretted not being able to study with Confucius, himself.
Mencius expanded on many of Confucius’ ideas, known as Mencius’ Six Principles: humans are basically good, humans are free-willed, virtue is its own reward (doing good for fear of punishment is not truly good), the Silver Rule, the Five Relationships, the Five Constant Virtues, and the Superior Man. He taught that with a bad government the strong will triumph over the weak and there will be corruption and war. Mencius taught that it is the obligation of the righteous to overthrow a bad government.
Mencius also taught about Chi, a vast flow of energy which is cultivated by righteous living. This righteous living will bring us to what Mencius called our “Lost Child’s Mind,” which is forgotten due to negligence. Mencius seems to have been influenced by Taoism, in this respect, but in China this mixing of religious beliefs is not unusual.
Mencius also wandered the land preaching the virtues of Confucianism and seeking high office. He returned to T’sou rejected on the latter account and began to teach and write. Like Confucius, he thought his life a failure, and like Confucius, he would soon be influencing millions of people.
A contemporary of Mencius, who was to have immediate influence on China (and later none), was Hsun-tzu (c.298-238). Hsun-tzu was born in Chao but spent most of his life in Lu’s rival state of Ch’i. He was a scholar, teacher and a minister of some importance. His school became known as the Legalists. Hsun-tzu knew about Mencius and ridiculed his teachings (Mencius was either unaware of him or ignored him). If Mencius is the proclaimer of Confucian Orthodoxy, then Hsun-tzu is the proclaimer of Confucian Heterodoxy. Hsun-tzu agreed with Confucius on Deliberate Tradition and the virtuous Superior Man, but he differed with Confucius and Mencius in the belief that humans were innately good. Hsun-tzu believed humans were innately evil and that education, laws and punishment were needed to make them good citizens. The government is not for the people; the people must serve the government to maintain order. Hsun-tzu also taught that Heaven (T’ien) was more like the Tao (uncaring, impersonal and non-anthropomorphic), therefore divination was useless, and the rituals and ceremonies are only good for pacification.
After the Period of Warring States (403-221 BCE), China was united under a totalitarian dictator, Duke Cheng Ch’in. Cheng took the name of “Shih Huang Ti” (or the First Emperor) and turned China upside-down. The name ‘China” comes from Ch’in. He eliminated the feudal states and replaced them with the provinces which still exist today, the Great Wall was completed, and Chinese script was made easier. The orthodox Confucianists fought this latter change and were persecuted for it, mostly because they wanted everyone to be able to read Confucius in its native script, but also because Shih’s new bureaucracy was run by the Legalists. In 213 BCE, the Great Burning started. Shih Huang Ti ordered all copies of the 6 Classics and the 4 Books burned. Around 400 Confucian scholars were put to death. The Book of Music was lost during this time, but the Imperial Archives were not totally purged, and the Ch’in dynasty did not survive Shih Huang Ti, so Confucianism carried on amongst the surviving scholars.
In 206 BCE, a commoner named Liu Pang seized China and started the successful Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE). He called himself Kao-tzu. Being a warrior, he had no use for scholars. Nevertheless, he was convinced by his advisors to use Confucian scholars to tame his newly-won empire and his restless warriors. Also, the Legalists were now in disfavor and being pushed out of the bureaucracy. The Han dynasty might have given Confucianism some breathing room, but it came second to the Taoism of the emperor and empress. Although, Kao-Tzu did make the traditional sacrifice at the grave of Confucius.
The simple government of the Taoist Hans was having problems by 136 BCE, when Wu Ti was emperor. The Confucian sage Tung Chung-Shu (104 BCE) extolled the value of a Confucian-run government and was put in charge of the state run education of officials. Later in 125 BCE, Tung founded the first Confucian national university, which lasted until the 20th Century.
During the later Han dynasty, Confucius was posthumously granted the title of Duke. Confucius was venerated in all schools as their patron. Over time, the State Cult of Confucius grew, even though it was fought by some scholars, like Wang Ch’ing (d.100 CE). Also, around this time, the blend of Confucianism and Taoism which was maturing met its greatest challenge.
Mahayana Buddhism made its way to China from India. Whereas Taoism and Buddhism would later meld into Ch’an Buddhism (known as Zen in Japan), Confucianism and Buddhism seem somewhat opposed to each other. Confucianism is concerned with this world and partaking of this life; Buddhism is concerned with the eventual leaving of this world, monastic life and reincarnation. Buddhism became very popular with the peasants (due to the help offered for all by the Bodhisattvas). Buddhism spread throughout China after the fall of the Han dynasty, an era which became known as the Three Kingdoms. It was also a return to a time of chaos which lasted 350 years. During this time, the three religions of China (Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism) became synthesized. The Three Religions (or “San Chiao”) became so intermingled that it is hard to tell where one ends and another begins. Orthodox Confucianism maintained its independence through its schools. Also during this Dark Age, the above myths and legends surrounding Confucius became widespread.
Under the T’ang dynasty (618-907 CE), Buddhism was persecuted as a foreign influence by the Confucian scholars, who had just attained new heights under a new dynasty. At first, the T’ang dynasty was open-minded, even claiming direct ancestry to Lao-Tzu. As time went on, Confucianists tried to push Buddhism out of China, thus began the Buddhist Purge:
In the years 841 to 845, the government launched an anti-Buddhist campaign, seizing monasteries’ land and secularizing, or restoring to the lay status, the monks and nuns. According to one account, 4600 monasteries were seized, 40,000 Buddhist shrines destroyed, and more than 260,000 monks and nuns were driven from their religious refuges. Buddhism in China was never to recover from the persecution, though it remained popular with the lower classes well into the 20th Century (Hoobler p.48).
Confucianism bloomed during the Sung dynasty (960-1279). This period is known in the West as the Neo-Confucian Period, but it is known as the School of Li in China. The Li of Neo-Confucianism means something different than the ‘propriety’ of earlier Confucianism. Although spelled the same, it has a different character, which means ‘principle.’ It is more like the Chi of Mencius. The main thrust of this Confucian revival was to rid Confucianism of Taoist and Buddhist tendencies (or so they thought), by forming a cosmology.
Since Confucius’ teachings dominated the culture, it seems appropriate for the scholars at this time to concentrate their efforts on what Confucius was the most vague - spirituality. They developed a cosmology based on the little that Confucius did say about the next world and on the I Ching. They also reestablished Mencius as a great Confucian scholar and ridiculed Hsun-tzu. Many different schools sprang from this revival, all accusing the others of being too Taoist or too Buddhist, but all were Confucianist.
The great Chu Hsi (1130-1200) seemed best able to harmonize the Neo-Confucianist teachings with Confucius and Mencius (even declaring Hsun-tzu a heretic). He studied all three religions and chose Confucianism as the best. He passed the Examination at the surprising age of 19. He put the Four Books together for the first time with the Five Classics. Chu Hsi may even be the chief elaborator of the Doctrine of the Mean and the Great Learning, but this is unclear. His commentaries on the Five Classics and the Four Books were made part of the education system after his death. In 1313, they became part of the examination for government officials. He also wrote an easy to understand, and therefore very popular, book of rites and ceremonies for peasants, which is still found throughout China. Confucianism has been interpreted through Chu Hsi hence forth.
Chu Hsi used the teachings of Confucius and Mencius to defend Confucianism against Taoism and Buddhism. He brought back agnosticism, attacked ancestor (and spirit) worship, and used a form of meditation (though not for the mystical experience, but to achieve harmony in the mind to get back to Mencius’ Lost Child’s Mind). He also elaborated on Li, which later became synonymous with the Tao, Harmony, the Great Ultimate and T’ien. According to Chu Hsi, all things are made up of Chi (the material) and Li (the spiritual). In the human mind, our Li is dominated by our Chi. When this happens, desires overwhelm us and we act in our own self-interest. To become a Superior Man, one must rid one’s mind of Chi and this is done through the Investigation of All Things.
The Mongols conquered China in 1279 and within 20 years the Chinese culture had conquered them. After Kublai Khan established his empire, he and the rest of the Mongols wanted nothing more than to become part of Chinese high culture. Within a generation, the Mongol conquerors were learning Chinese and aspiring to become Chun-tzus. Confucius would not have been surprised. He called this the Art of Peace (or ‘Wen’), in which dynasties will come and go, but if there is a flourishing high culture that exalts life, the conquerors will eventually be absorbed into it and life changes little.
Confucianism was not restricted to China. All of China’s satellite states were affected in one way or another. Vietnam was a “Little Brother” to China for centuries. It had its own Son of Heaven (emperor) and an examination for officials. Korea was another Little Brother, but had no Son of Heaven (leaving that task to China’s emperor). Confucianism was strong enough to convert the strong matrilineal-matrilocal society of Korea into a patriarchy.
Japan has an ocean separating them from China, so they were never a Little Brother state. Confucianism in Japan took the form of Bushido. The Shogun Tokugawa Iyeyasu (1542-1616), first to unite Japan, used Bushido the same way Kao-tzu and the Han dynasty used Confucianism to order his new empire and to pacify his samurai. Bushido lasted in Japan until the end of World War II.
Confucianism was used against democracy efforts and during the Taiping Rebellion under the occupation of the Manchurian Ch’ing dynasty (1644-1912). Under the Manchus propriety had become a prison in China. This made the Empire easy prey for the European Imperialists. The Opium Wars, Russian expansion into Siberia, the 1905 war with Japan, and the Boxer rebellion brought about the fall of the monarchy in 1912 and a Republic was proclaimed. Confucianism was attacked as ancient, feudal and repressive, but the new leaders of the Republic had grown up with Confucianism and did not want to abandon it. Confucianism had to be adapted to fit with democracy. The synthesis between democracy and Confucianism was put on hold with the onset of World War II and, later, the Civil War. The Republic survived the Civil War only after fleeing to Taiwan under Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975), were Confucianism and democracy flourish today. Confucianism also remains alive in the Chinese encampments of Hong Kong and Singapore.
The Communists took over China in 1949 under Mao Tse-tung (1893-1976), who wanted to purge China of its repressive past. From 1960 to 1962, there were 13 conferences held to decide the fate of Confucianism. They came to no conclusion other than that Confucius was a great man and his teachings were worth preserving. Even with these conferences, Confucian temples had to survive the Cultural Revolution (1966-1969), in which anything that reminded the young radicals of China’s traditionalist past was destroyed. Today, the future of Confucianism in China is as uncertain as China’s own future.
Confucian China has been labeled as a stagnant culture by the West. It is seen as a symbol of a conservative, living-in-the-past mentality. This arrogant belief stems from the Chinese rejection of the European scientific and industrial revolutions. The Chinese had a good working system and they had no intension of changing it because the European imperialists were forcing the modern project on the rest of the world. One has to remember that the Chinese also arrogantly viewed the Europeans as ‘Gajin’ (or Barbarians), more concerned with Chi (the material world) and then with Li (the spiritual). Confucian China rejected modernity, thus rejecting the Enlightenment, and that was its crime. So now Confucianism is portrayed as an inhibitor of progress, even though modernity was accepted into other Confucian-based societies, such as Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. All of which thrive today.
Reconstructivism is the branch of postmodern philosophy which advocates the possibility of reconstructing a new culture for an emerging global civilization. Berger and Luckmann’s treatise brought the social construction of reality to a conscious level. At once, cultural reconstruction was made possible and necessary due to relativism and dereification. Both of these ideas are central to understanding the postmodern era, and how to get beyond it.
Relativism is the idea that all realities, cultural and individual, are relative to time and place. What we consider to be the ‘real world’ is only an interpretation of the real world through the lens of the socially constructed reality in our minds, which changes from region to region and through time. In other words, reality and truth are no longer synonyms. Reality has been reduced to a relative opinion, while truth becomes unknowable. Reality is not what it used to be, as Anderson’s book title suggests. ”Few of us realize that even to hold the CONCEPT of relative truth makes us entirely different from people who lived only a few decades ago…” (Anderson p.xii).
When relativism is applied from the metaplane perspective as Berger and Luckmann intended, one’s own point-of-view becomes diminished (but not vanished), and the various cultures are then observed, compared and contrasted in a relative relationship with one another by sociologists. In this way, the various cultures are not judged, just studied. They become phenomena.
Deconstructivism takes over when the discourse changes from the social sciences to the physical sciences and the various cultural realities are subjected to how well they stand in relation to scientific evidence (not to be confused with scientific interpretations of the evidence, or scientism). In relation to each other, the various realities are truly relative because none of them predicted the discoveries made by the sciences a priori. In relation to science, the various realities are seen as contradictory, mutable, contrary to scientific evidence and are most probably improvisations to the existing conditions of their evolution:
Humanness is socio-culturally variable. In other words, there is no human nature in the same sense of a biological fixed stratum determining the variability of socio-cultural formations. There is only human nature in the sense of anthropological constants (for example world-openness and plasticity of instinctual structure) that delimit and permit man’s socio-cultural formations. But the specific shape into which this humanness is molded is determined by those socio-cultural formations and is relative to their numerous variations (Berger p.49).
Relativism implies that all of the existent cultural realities seem to be equivocally wrong; the problem is that we cannot live without one. Reconstructivism understands this predicament and wants to get beyond it by initiating the dialogue which will lead to a solution - we create one. Thus reconstructivism can be understood as a constructive means for the human species to proceed into the future.
According to Griffin, reconstructivists seem to fall into two camps: the foundationalists and, for simplicity sake, the anti-foundationalists. Both see the possibility of reconstruction in the tacit understanding of relativism, or the idea that an amalgam reality can be constructed from parts of the existent ones. Foundationalism maintains that there are “some ‘basic beliefs’ whose truth is certain” (Griffin p.23). They say that there are certain truths which are prevalent throughout all cultures, a proiri. Usually these “truths” turn out to be paradigms and institutions which they personally cannot live without, such as God and freedom. It appears that the foundationalists are trying to set up preconditions before the reconstructivist discourse has even begun.
Griffin maintains that reconstructivism should be more moderate or “anti-foundationalism without extreme relativism” (Griffin p.23). Anti-foundationalism maintains that there are certain universal themes which are discernible, a posteriori, from the metaplane perspective. These mutualities (or presuppositions) can be agreed on pragmatically by the whole of humanity, and can be used as a base from which to reconstruct the new global reality. These presuppositions are not presented as truth, nor are they relative. They are ubiquitous generalities at the core of human sociality. In other words, there are some common problems faced by all cultures (such as wealth distribution, sexual practices, defense, etc.) which have resulted in diverse adaptations, some admirable and some abhorrent. In reference to the philosopher Charles Hartshorne, Griffin writes that:
The notion that there is a set of presuppositions that, as Hartshorne says, constitute a bottom layer of experience that is common to all humanity does not, by any means imply, that any extant belief-system adequately reflects all of these universal presuppositions, or to the contrary, is that one tradition has done some justice to a limited set of these presuppositions, another tradition to another set, and so on. As Hartshorne suggests, the assumption that such a set of common presuppositions exists sets a COOPERATIVE task, for people from various traditions, to try to discern just what this bottom layer of human thought and experience is. People from other traditions will be approached, accordingly, with the assumption that they know some things that we do not know. This assumption, accordingly, far from creating a sense of superiority and closedness to others, promotes a sense of humility, openness, and active interest (Griffin p.29).
Reconstructivists will need to investigate all of the various human cultures, not just the Western traditions. Each culture, when viewed from the metaplane, will have to be deconstructed in order to discern its meritorious and demeritorious adaptations. The reconstructivist’s venture will be to decide which is which, and then to put them together into a compatible whole. In other words, the reconstructivists will have to decide which cultural institutions (past, present and imagined) should be actuated in an alternative reality; then all of the alternative realities will have to be deconstructed.
Deconstructivism needs to be encouraged for the appreciation of the motives and nuances of the reconstructivists. There seem to be only two memes required for a reconstructed reality to survive deconstruction: constructivism and scientism, since they both made reconstruction possible and necessary. The rest of the institutions and paradigms needed to fill the various presuppositions are what is in question, and arranging them into a robust complex system will be difficult, as well as delicate. The reconstructivists could therefore be regarded as artists and the deconstructivists as critics. In this way, deconstructivism would be useful as a form of critique, and a whole new dialogue for humanity will commence. This metaplane discourse will consider the alternatives offered to be implemented as the new global reality.
Reification is the human ability to create our own realities and then forget that we have done so, relinquishing them to “facts of nature, results of cosmic laws, or manifestations of divine will. Reification implies that man is capable of forgetting his own authorship of the human world, and further, that the dialectic between man, the producer, and his product is lost to consciousness” (Berger p.89). Once reification was understood, it could never again be a factor in reality creation, due to the fact that we are no longer oblivious of our own reality construction. Dereification is the full conscious awareness of our constructivism, or the understanding that we are no longer innocent in reality construction.
One of the implications of dereification is that none of the existing socially constructed cultural realities contain the social-construction-of-reality a priori (with the exception of Confucianism, which will be dealt with later). In other words, during the evolution of our socially constructed realities, we were ignorant of it. Once aware of the knowledge of our social construction of reality, it becomes incorporated into our reality. It is extremely difficult for anyone conscious of our reality construction to fit back into their primary reality because some realities cannot readily absorb constructivism, since they claim to be the Truth. As outsiders, the constructivists must live in a state of suspended reality (which is acceptance of one’s primary reality due to lack of alternatives) or they must create their own reality (which is reconstructivism). But reality construction is a social enterprise which cannot be accomplished alone, that is madness. A conscious social reconstruction of reality then becomes necessary because there are no sanctuaries for the growing number of constructivists.
A second implication of dereification is the retardation of an emergent culture. Some seem to be waiting for the new reconstructed global culture to emerge from the existing postmodern conditions. In the past, a new culture would have emerged form a synthesis of competing realities, as all the existent realities have. Because of dereification (or the awareness of the social construction of reality), this synthesis will no longer occur naturally. Deconstructivism would reduce it to just another relative reality constructed out of chance and ignorance. Our consciousness of the act which negates the natural process then requires a conscious effort on our part to reconstruct one, because we seem to have no other option.
A third implication of dereification is that humans are now fully responsible for the realities we have in existence. Since we are no longer naïve, all of the problems of the world become our problems. I do not need to belabor the shameful conditions of the planet: over-population, abject poverty, environmental mismanagement, starvation, genocide, consumption, greed, pollution, mass extinctions and social chaos, just to name the most important. We have inherited a mess. Our postmodern state of suspended reality perpetuates these atrocities and will continue until we either become extinct or consciously replace it with an alternative. This will mark the end of the postmodern era and the beginning of the next.
The question then becomes - how does one reconstruct and implement a new culture? This is where Confucianism becomes important to the reconstructivists, because Confucius succeeded in doing what they are only, as yet, hinting at. He reconstructed a new culture out of the old and implemented it 2,500 years ago. We have seen that it has been successful, even into the postmodern era, as well as ennobling to its adherents. In other words, Confucianism offers a paradigm for the deliberate reconstruction for a new global culture. Reconstructivists need to study what he did, how he did it, and the times he lived in.
Herbert Fingarette, in Confucius - The Secular As Sacred, observes that Confucius looked around the world he lived in, Lu, and “talked in terms of restoring an ancient harmony; but the practical import of his teaching was to lead men to look for new ways of interpreting and refashioning a local tradition in order to bring into being a new, universal order to replace the contemporary disorder” (Fingarette p.60). Fingarette finds it interesting that Confucius accomplished what he did from the confines of Lu, with none of the knowledge we have from modern science. Berger and Luckmann remind us that society creates the individual as the individuals create the society; and Fingarette reminds us that Confucianism is a product of Ancient Lu:
We must suppose, in short, that Confucius looked around him and found among the powerful states much conflict but also some signs of acceptance of a culture derivative from the culture of the region of Lu. Next we must suppose that he saw - an IDEAL - the possibility that all the known people might be unified and pacific if all adopted a single, humane set of practices and ideas. Finally, as a man of Lu, he saw that the latter ideal might be achieved by rigorous proselytizing to stimulate and to maximize the tendency, already manifest, to accept the culture of Lu as the framework for the new society.
Confucianism may be a product of Ancient Lu, but Confucius can be seen applying the principles of reality-as-a-social-construction in the creation an implementation of his own reality, which would become known as Confucianism. Whereas most scholars study it as a religion, both Fingarette and Smith recognized the constructivist tendencies within Confucianism, but failed to note its significance. For that, Confucianism must first be deconstructed.
Understanding the dialectic between the individual’s subjective reality and the social objective reality is at the core of both Berger and Luckmann’s treatise and Confucianism. With Berger and Luckmann, society can only be understood as a dialectic and “the same is true of the individual member of society, who simultaneously externalizes his own being into the social world and internalizes it as an objective reality. In other words, to be in society is to participate in its dialectic” (Berger p.129). The society produces the individual and the individuals produce the society. This complex understanding of the social dialectic appears quite often in Confucian canon. From the Great Learning, we have seen that “to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the world, one must cultivate the person; once the person is cultivated, the whole world is pacified” (Chen p.6-7). In accordance with the social dialectic, Confucius tried to bring about a world where the best individuals he could imagine, the Chun-tzus (Superior Men), would inhabit the best society he could imagine (his Great Way).
At the individual level, there is the internalization of the reality. Berger and Luckmann call this socialization, of which there are two types: primary socialization (within the family) and secondary socialization (within the community). Confucianism institutionalized both within the virtue of Li, or Propriety. Confucianism uses the idea of filial piety as the vector of primary socialization, which ideally, is accomplished by well-educated family members. They must be authentically virtuous to get the child’s respect. The children, in turn, are expected to venerate them by modeling their behavior, thus a virtuous reality is well on its way to being passed on to the next generation. Confucianism’s institutionalized respect for the aged is also part of primary socialization, since the elderly are the most socialized and their acquired wisdom is valuable for the young ones.
Secondary socialization cements the socialization process into the existent reality, which the family initiated. Confucianism uses the idea of a well-rounded education as the vector of secondary socialization. It is easy to forget in the postmodern era what a radical idea formal education was for his time. The Confucian schools do not educate good citizens, good consumers, good taxpayers or good workers, as the modern education system claims to do. They have the noble goal of investigation of all things, which will, ideally, turn the students into Ideal Humans (Chun- tzus). In any Confucian-based culture, education for education sake is a profitable endeavor.
This generation, once properly socialized, becomes the role-model for the next one, and so on. The combination of primary and secondary socialization embodies the proper roles one is to emulate, as Berger and Luckmann point out:
Institutions are embodied in individual experience by means of roles. The roles, objectified linguistically, are an essential ingredient of the objectively available world of any society. By playing roles, the individual participates in a social world. By internalizing these roles, the same world becomes subjectively real to him (Berger p.74).
Roles, or the Rectification of Names, are an essential ingredient in the virtue of Li. Confucius institutionalized the proper roles to play, from sibling to government official, in his reconstruction of reality. The greatest role, the Chun-tzu, is to be played by all. As we have seen, Confucius went into great detail about the role of the Ideal Human, because “when Great Man has given something a name it may with all certainty be expressed in language; when he expresses it, it may with certainty be set in operation. In regard to his language Great Man is never careless in any respect” (XIII #3).
At the social level, there is the externalization of the reality. Berger and Luckmann make it quite clear that “human existence is, ab initio, an ongoing externalization. As man externalizes himself, he constructs the world INTO which he externalizes himself. In the process of externalization, he projects his own meaning into reality” (Berger p.104). In other words, we create the world we inhabit. Whereas Confucianism uses the virtue of Li for internalization, the virtue of Jen is used for externalization. It has been mentioned that Confucius believed humans to be innately good, rather it may be more accurate to say that he believed humans to be innately social, and that the society determines what is good, not just superficially, but in its essence. He seems to have understood the idea that all humans are “born with a predisposition towards sociality” (Berger p.129), and become members of the society. But as Herrlee G. Creel observes in his classic Confucius and the Chinese Way, Confucius took it one step further by recognizing the cooperation needed amongst all of the members of the society:
Confucius once said, “My way is pervaded [literally, ’is strung upon’] by a single principle.” What that principle was we are never told. But if we study the Analects closely, in its historical setting, we can see it plainly enough. It was a vision of a cooperative world. It was the conviction that antagonism and suspicion, strife and suffering, were largely unnecessary. It was a profound faith that men’s true interests did not conflict but complimented each other, that war and injustice and exploitation injured those who profited by them as well as those they caused to suffer (Creel p.123).
Although Jen seems to be ineffable, the above quote does more justice to the concept than the modern translation of Jen as simply ‘benevolence.’ Confucius’ alternative reality has Jen, or the realization that we must share the world with others, as its essence. This conviction does not sound like one of Lyotard’s terrors. It reflects a mature attitude about human sociality that is desperately needed today.
The thread which keeps any reality together is its history. It links together individual biographies with predecessors and successors into a “meaningful totality” (Berger p.103). In other words, the process of externalization needs the stability of past knowledge and the vision of an equivalent future. History is also extremely valuable in Confucianism. Confucius taught and wrote about it. He made it one of the central themes of a well-rounded education. His histories linked his contemporaries not only to the mythical Hsia dynasty, which he used to embody his ideal society, but also to the traditional Chinese gods, which he used to link them to the cosmos. This linkage was to initiate the misunderstanding that Confucianism was a religion. Confucius merely adjoined the meaningful narrative of the people of China with his alternative reality, thus legitimizing both. He was not a radical, he was a reformer. He was trying to piece together an unraveling society, by reconstructing it.
There are more similarities and dissimilarities between constructivism and Confucianism, but that is for another time. The point of this brief critique is to show some of the more vociferous similitudes between the two. Any other socially constructed reality would have shown the same institutionalizations after being deconstructed, but what makes Confucianism so remarkable is that this was done deliberately. The above quote form Fingarette agrees with this observation, as does Huston Smith:
Deliberate tradition differs from spontaneous tradition in requiring attention. It requires attention first to maintain its force in the face of increased individualism confronting it. This Confucius regarded as the main responsibility of education in its broadest terms. But, second, it requires that attention be given to the ends it is to serve (Smith p.242).
Confucianism, itself, is a marvel of reality reconstruction, but even that pales in comparison to the idea that 2,500 years ago Confucius deduced the social construction of reality, reconstructed his own alternative reality, and successfully implemented it.
Confucianism, like any other evolving social system, has had its share of problems and, even, atrocities. While Confucius and some of his disciples may have understood the idea of a deliberate reality reconstruction, reification soon appeared, so that by the time Neo-Confucianism was beginning, the deliberate intentions of the founders had been forgotten. Other problems within Confucianism that should be mentioned are: its divinely sanctioned, hierarchical monarchy, which was probably initiated to placate the soldiery, could easily be replaced with the idea of democracy; its sexism, which kept women as uneducated concubines, is easily swept away by feminism, so that the Superior Man becomes the Ideal Human; its dealings with Buddhism was repressive, which is contradictory to its own Art of Peace; its use of polytheism in religious ceremonies will not transfer to other cultures, especially the scientific, postmodern West; the pressure of the Exam, which can still be seen in contemporary Japan, needs to be re-examined; and, most importantly, there was the abuse of reconstructivism by the Legalists, who turned a worthy concept into the terror of mind-control by purging the deliberate intentions of Confucius to keep the people ignorant and easy to control.
There may also be the same reservations about contemporary reconstructivism. Reconstructivists cannot forget Lyotard’s caveat about constructed realities becoming terrors. The potential for abuse is always present in any conscious act; one such as reality reconstruction fills awaiting despots with malicious glee. As with the Legalists, the modern Nazi and Soviet movements are excellent examples of reality construction gone wrong. In the West, modernity has been hijacked by imperialists capitalism, which has become a terror itself. We will need a viable alternative reality soon before our insatiable consumption consumes the planet. But even if an alternative reality can be reconstructed, the existent institutions which we have inherited are still robust, albeit obsolete, and they are not likely to embrace a new reality in which they may be absent, as Anderson reminds us:
The collapse of a belief system can be like the end of the world. It can bring down not only the powerful, but whole systems of social roles and the concepts of personal identity that go with them. Even those who are the most oppressed by a belief system often fear the loss of it. People can literally cease to know who they are (Anderson p.6).
Unfortunately, it seems the only way to bring about a new reality is to wait until the current institutions have collapsed, and the society slips into chaos. Confucius did not want to see this happen in his own time. He believed he could dissuade his contemporaries from their destructive course. He was wrong. Confucianism was not installed until a dictator had reestablished order after centuries of suffering. In the postmodern era, that could mean the death of billions, as Anderson again reminds us of the dangers ahead:
The collapse of old ways of belief and the coming into being of a new world-view threaten all existing constructions of reality and all the power structures attached to them and a lot of people aren’t going to like it. We must understand - and the kindly hordes of liberals, New Agers, and one-worlders who think globalism is the end to all our troubles need to understand - that this is one of the most psychologically and politically threatening events in all of human history (Anderson p.27).
The objective of postmodern reconstructivism may seem as incredible as it does insurmountable, but the reconstruction of the social reality of the world seems to be both necessary (due to relativism and dereification) and possible (due to our metaplane perspective). Confucianism offers reconstructivists a working paradigm which: (1) was accomplished deliberately; (2) understands the interconnectedness of the complex social dialectic; (3) was used to unite the nation-states of feudal China and Japan; (4) ennobles its adherents by creating a society of Ideal Humans; (5) uses a well-rounded education as its premier vector; and (6) has been successful in East Asia for the past two millennia.
Although Confucianism may be utilized as a paradigm from which to reconstruct the new global reality, it cannot be seen as the only solution. As with modernity, it cannot possibly cover every presupposition in human reality construction, no reality can do that. We need an all-inclusive, global dialogue. And it must be global, because of the inclusion of scientific evidence shows us that we are but one species inhabiting a small living planet in a vast universe. Besides, the great variety of human societies gives us a plethora of possibilities from which to choose our own sublime reality.
Berger and Luckmann conclude their treatise with a summary of human reality and its construction:
Man is biologically predestined to construct and to inhabit a world with others. This world becomes for him the dominant and definitive reality. Its limits are set by nature, but once constructed, this world acts back upon nature. In the dialectic between nature and the socially constructed world the human organism itself is transformed. In this same dialectic man produces reality and thereby produces himself (Berger p.183).
To this David Ray Griffin, professor and founder of the Center for a Postmodern World in Santa Barbara, California, would add:
We can therefore envision, without being naively utopian, a far better world order, with a far less dangerous trajectory, than the one we have now (Griffin p.x).
We are only limited by our imagination.
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Berger, Peter l. and Thomas Luckmann. The Social Construction of Reality.
Borgmann, Albert. Crossing The Postmodern Divide.
Chan, Wing-Tsit. “Confucian Thought.” The Encyclopedia of Religion.
Chen, Li Fu. The Confucian Way.
Creel, H. G. Confucius and the Chinese Way.
Fingarette, Herbert. Confucius - The Secular As Sacred.
Griffin, David Ray. Founders of Constructive Postmodern Philosophy.
Hoobler, Thomas and Dorothy. Confucianism.
Lyon, David. Postmodernity.
Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.
Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes.
The Sayings of Confucius. Translated by James R. Ware.
Smith, Huston. The Religions of Man.
Next Chapter: Memetic Engineering