toxic thought waste site

Theological whimsy, metaphysical larks, and other spiritually radioactive waste products.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Great Transformation: Chap 06 - Empathy

(c. 530 to 450 BCE)

Confucius is a more interesting character than I expected. I guess in the west he sounds like some sort of pez dispenser of wisdom ("Confucius say ..."). Instead, like many of the Axial Age sages, he was dedicated toward the cultvation of empathy. In general he eschewed metaphysics and recommended absolute sacred respect towards everyone. If you followed this path you'd have all the enlightenment you'd ever need. Enlightenment is more of a by product of living a good life rather than a thing to seek in itself.

Our friends the Jews continue to be everyone's bee-hatches (or byatches). Cyrus of Persia conqueors the Babylonians and allows the Jews to go back to their home land. Of course after 50 odd years of abandonment Jerusalem is just a big weed patch. "Second" Isaiah is now Yahweh's spokesman and he is all about a return to the old time religion of a warrior Yahweh fighting sea dragons and what have you. Second Isaiah declares that anyone who gets in the Jews way will be obliterated. How did that turn out in reality, Mr Second Isaiah? I can't wait to find out! P (priestly) authors rewrite history somewhat so that North/South kingdom rivalries are deemphasized in order to facilitate the reuniting of all the Jews as one people. People are a little bummed at how crappy their little temple rebuild is, but at least they are home again.

Meanwhile the Greeks become more rational. Yet even at this early date philosophers like Parmenides are becoming aware that even this powerful tool of reason has some limits. Also during this period drama becomes this powerful tool for helping the audience empathsize with others and strengthen social bonds. In one fascinating episode a play showed the Persians (who had recently exacted terrible losses on the Greeks) in a sympathetic light. This was a fairly sophisticated example of empathy and this from an increasingly rationalistic and skeptical society. Take that cult of Yahweh!

The Indians continue to fast and meditate. I'm having trouble chapter to chapter keeping track of what their latest Axial Age development is since it always seems to come down to fasting and mediatating. Of course having said that in this chapter the Jains are introduced. In a sense they seem like the perfect and logical final progression of the Axial Age: pure, total and unflinching empathy for all things. Of course when this leads to the point of only eating fruit that has fallen off of a tree of it's own accord it's not hard to see why this has not been a runaway success. But if you believe that the Golden Rule is the greatest insight into ethics ever then these guys win the award for application of this philosophy.

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