The Great Transformation: Chap 07 - Concern For Everybody
(450 to 398 BCE)
An interesting aspect of the Jewish return from Babylonian exile: the Jews who were left behind were given second class citizenship by the sophisticated and literate returnees. Otherwise not much information on the Jews in this chapter. Their axial age is done. I can't help but wonder if we'd know of the Jews today if the Christians and Muslims hadn't exapted their faith.
The Greeks are starting to develop a distrust of reason. Zeno and his paradoxes make it seem that you can "prove" things that just aren't so (e.g. nothing ever changes, an arrow in flight only "appears" to move). Still this is the golden age of philosophers. Many of them are treated like rock stars; crowds come to see them and they live lavishly. The group of teachers called the Sophists begin to arise. Their primary aim is to educate citizens in the art of persuasion. Amid the growing uncertainty of the efficacy of reason as a guide to wisdom and the teaching of persuasion independent of a fixed ethos comes Socrates who seems basically to want to make everyone realize that we know nothing. Apparently his idea was that after you realize that you know nothing you can start trying to build a solid foundation of true knowledge. Unfortunately he never seemed to get to this second part of the plan but nevertheless he was really good at undermining everyone's sense of certainty. As with many of these axial age sages it's interesting to see the parallels to Christ. In Socrates' case there was his turn the other cheek philosophy, the fact that he heard divine voices that guided his behavior and that he willingly faced death for a crime he didn't commit.
Initially the Chinese thread of this book was my least favorite, but I'm finding as things go on that it has really captured my interest. The latest sage to come along is Mozi or "Master Mo" (really). I could totally see my self committing to a religion founded by a guy named "Mo". "Hi my names Mo, welcome to my club house of worship. There are chips and drinks in the back, but otherwise just mingle and try to stay in tune with the Tao." Mozi was inspired to proselytize empathy since the region was being torn apart by escalating violence. In a sense I'm happy to see that the warring was becoming more modern. There is something really creepy about "gentleman's" warfare that proceeds by strange rules of chivalry. Now they were moving to the idea of just going out and kicking each others butt in the most direct way possible.
Another interesting aspect of Mozi was that he had created the first Chinese books on logic and argumentation. These were developed to help with spreading his ideas on empathy and peace in the most logical way possible. Also interesting is that Mozi was a monotheist who referred to the "High God".
Next we return to our friends in India. I'll start by pointing out that Buddha was a dick. He may have reached enlightenment and all that but as far as I'm concerned he was a grade A jerk. I guess I hadn't considered an important part of his origin story before. He left his wife and child one night when they were sleeping to go seek the spiritual path. And as far as I can tell never went back to them or even felt remorse for this. Likely his whole story is apochryphal, but the fact that this is what the story makers came up with and that this point is never emphasized is really disappointing to me. Any way besides being a dick, I do like his basic 4 fold path principles and rules for escaping the cycle of pain and all that.