They Will Welcome Us With Flowers

And on Day 1, they did, indeed, welcome the invaders with flowers, but the invaders came not as liberators but drunk with hubris, so on Day 2, the people revolted.

今 燕 虐 其 民, 王 往 而 征 之, 民 以为 将 拯 己 于 水火 之中 也, 箪食壶浆 以 迎 王 师。 若 杀 其 父兄, 系 累 其 子弟, 毁 其 宗庙, 迁 其 重 器, 如之 何其 可 也! 天下 固 畏 齐 之 强 也, 今 又 倍 地 而 不行 仁政, 是 动 天下 之兵 也。[司马光 (2012-11-23). 资治通鉴(1) (Kindle Locations 446-448). Kindle Edition.]

Just now the ruler of Yen was repressing his people. Your Majesty went and punished him. Assuming you were about to deliver them from disaster, the people welcomed your army with food. But you killed their fathers and elder brothers, imprisoned their sons and younger brothers, pulled down the state ancestral temple, and took the ceremonial vessels back to Ch’i. How can this be! The whole world fears Ch’i’s power. Ch’i’s having doubled its territory and still not instituted good governance is what sets in motion the world’s troops. [My rephrasing of Legge’s more literal translation in Ch. 12, 172.]

In Denial

孟子謂齊宣王曰:「王之臣有託其妻子於其友,而之楚遊者。比其反也,則凍餒其妻子,則如之何?」

王曰:「棄之。」

曰:「士師不能治士,則如之何?」

王曰:「已之。」

曰:「四境之內不治,則如之何?」

王顧左右而言他。[Liang Hui Wang Ch 13 in CText.]

  1. Mencius said to the king Hsuan of Ch’i, “Suppose that one of your Majesty’s ministers were to entrust his wife and children to the care of his friend, while he himself went into Ch’u to travel, and that, on his return, he should find that the friend had let his wife and children suffer from cold and hunger;–how ought he to deal with him?” The king said, “He should cast him off.”

  2. Mencius proceeded, “Suppose that the chief criminal judge could not regulate the officers under him, how would you deal with him? ” The king said, “Dismiss him.”

  3. Mencius again said, “If within the four borders of your kingdom there is not good government, what is to be done?” The king looked to the right and left, and spoke of other matters. [The Works of Mencius, Bk. 1, Ch. 6 in James Legge, The Chinese Classics pp. 164-5.]

Masters and Slaves

During the Roman Empire there lived a slave who was freed from slavery to a self-styled “master” and became a philosopher. He was later kicked out of Rome by a higher “master,” one of the lesser Roman emperors, for being an academic (something all self-styled masters–be it of household slaves, employees, or the common man—greatly fear…and justly so for none so threaten a master as a thinker). Epictetus, the name by which we know this thinker, went on to free himself from the ties that bound him and left behind some very dangerous thoughts.

Zeus said to Epictetus: “I have given you…this faculty of desire and aversion…and if you will take care of this faculty and consider it your only possession, you will never be hindered, never meet with impediments; you will not lament, you will not blame, you will not flatter any person….”

when it is in our power to look after one thing, and to attach ourselves to it, we prefer to look after many things….Since, then, we are bound to many things, we are depressed by them and dragged down.

“[the goal is] “to have studied what a man ought to study; to have made desire…free from all that a man would avoid….Like a man who gives up what belongs to another. [The Discourses of Epictetus Book One, Ch. 1 in Britannica Great Books 12: 105-6.]

Evidently, the Roman Empire discovered the ills of the consumer society two millenia before us! Too bad that the modern rulers of the universe have not yet acquired the maturity to avoid grabbing “what belongs to another.”

The Islamic State’s Victory in Vienna

Judging from the official document released by the participants in the Vienna talks on Syria, the Islamic State won a smashing victory simply by sitting on the sidelines watching the international cockfight.

The first two conclusions of the “mutual understanding” resulting from the October 30 Vienna peace talks on Syria expose the fundamental flaw: both points say the same thing – that the “state” is more important to these officials than the “people.” Point 1 calls for preservation of Syria, even though it is precisely the existence of that post-colonial institution that lies at the root of the endless mistreatment of the minorities shoved into it. Point 1 serves the convenience of global leaders eager for stability and influence rather than helping the people who live there. Point 2 calls for the preservation of “state institutions;” in so far as I am aware, the only state institution that currently functions in Syria is Assad’s barrel-bomb war machine. Only with Point 3 is any attention granted those poor people in what used to be called “Syria” who have not yet succeeded in emigrating. And who in this world ever remembers “point 3” of any list?

Whatever may have been accomplished with a wink during lunch, the document these diplomats released gives no hint of anything more than a tragic lowest common denominator sellout of the Syrian people by governments trying to maximize short-term benefits and apparently incapable of imagining creative, positive-sum solutions. The participants in this little meeting should contemplate this: the failure of the Vienna meeting to demonstrate progress constitutes a huge victory for the Islamic State.

This is a curious outcome. If the Islamic State threat does not suffice to focus the minds of global leaders, then exactly what will it take? Certainly, Putin is riding high for the moment, but he could have been happy with consolidating his links to the Allawites, keeping his naval base, and taking home his new position as one of the arbiters of the Mideast. Iran could have been satisfied with its new acceptance by everyone as a member of that arbitration committee, a huge step forward for Iran’s prestige and national security, plus a clear message from Washington that its military presence in some portion of post-Syrian space would be acceptable; from that the U.S. and Iran and Russia could have proceeded to elimiinate their common Islamic State enemy, with the now non-existent Syrian state replaced by Russian, Iranian, Saudi, Kurdish, etc. spheres of influence.

Indeed, this outcome is so obvious given the fear inspired in everyone (except of course the odd couple Erdogan and Assad) by the increasingly well entrenched Islamic State that perhaps, with a wink and a nod, the participants indeed did agree to exactly that but are all just too embarrassed to admit it in public. Well and good, except that agreements kept secret when they should be trumpeted as historic successes just set up the good guys for becoming the road kill of extremists. So, tragically, at the moment, the Islamic State appears to have won a very dangerous victory that can only fill its propaganda machine with new energy.

Whatever the real story of the Vienna meeting, it was handled badly and for that the world will pay.

Helping a Desperate Flea

Should a state help a weak neighbor? In one of the first lessons in his history of China up to his day (Song dynasty), Sima Guang counsels, by implication : Certainly not for the neighbor’s sake, but still…perhaps it could be advantageous to one’s own agenda.

魏 庞 涓 伐 韩。 韩 请 救 于 齐。 齐 威 王 召 大臣 而 谋 曰:“ 蚤 救 孰 与 晚 救?” 成 侯 曰:“ 不如 勿 救。” 田 忌 曰:“ 弗 救 则 韩 且 折 而 入于 魏, 不如 蚤 救 之。” 孙膑 曰:“ 夫 韩、 魏 之兵未 弊 而 救 之, 是 吾 代 韩 受 魏 之兵, 顾 反 听命 于 韩 也。 且 魏 有 破 国 之志, 韩 见 亡, 必 东面 而 诉 于 齐 矣。 吾 因 深 结 韩 之 亲 而 晚 承 魏 之 弊, 则 可受 重利 而得 尊 名 也。” 王 曰:“ 善。” 乃 阴 许 韩 使而 遣 之。 韩 因 恃 齐, 五 战 不胜, 而 东 委 国 于 齐。

[司马光 (2012-11-23). 资治通鉴(1) (Kindle Locations 277-279). . Kindle Edition.]

When the Chinese Warring States period state of Wei threatened tiny Han, Han asked Qi for help. Strategist Sun Bin counseled the Qi king to wait until Han was attacked and turned in desperation to Qi, then to rescue it for the double purpose of enabling him to take revenge against Qi for personal reasons and to achieve fame (presumably for the state, though this is ambiguous). Exactly what kind of “fame” Sun Bin wanted to achieve by this duplicitious behavior may be questioned. By the same token, the purpose that Sima Guang had in selecting this historical vignette from among many for inclusion in his history is equally ambiguous. The sneering nature of the Qi counselors is indicated by their use of the word “flea” [蚤] to describe their Han neighbor.

Multiple lessons can be derived from the broader story, among which is a lesson taught by the personal story of Sun Bin. As a successful strategist in his later years for the state of Qi, he both helped his new state and took revenge for his personal mistreatment in earlier years as an official in Wei, revenge that destroyed the power of Wei. Let the powerful think twice before mistreating subordinates.

Note: This strategic analysis led to the Battle of Maling. For Sima Qian’s account, see the Sun Zi’s Biography in the Shiji.

君臣 之 礼 [Chaos Between Rulers and Officials]

君臣 之 礼 [Chaos between rulers and officials]…the endless lament about those who presume to govern us:

乌呼! 君臣 之 礼 既 坏 矣, 则 天下 以 智力 相 雄 长, 遂 使 圣贤 之后 为 诸侯 者, 社稷 无不 泯 绝, 生民 之类 糜 灭 几 尽, 岂不 哀哉![Sima Kuang 司马光 (2012-11-23). Comprehensive Mirror 资治通鉴(1) (Kindle Locations 42-43).  . Kindle Edition.]

More subtle than the commonly criticized tendency of the powerful to believe that the people exist for their pleasure, rather than that they serve for the people’s benefit, is the cancerous corruption of competition between the leader and the elite—the high officials, local barons, major CEO’s, and generally the super-rich. The elite always strive to select, manipulate, and bribe the leader. Any leader with a spine will naturally struggle for independence, which may serendipitously lead to some benefit for the oppressed if not forgotten masses…albeit perhaps only after centuries (e.g., the Magna Carta contest opening the door to democracy) or to the people becoming grass under the feet of political elephants. This corrupt and self-serving contest of elephants seems independent of time and culture.

“Chaos between rulers and officials!”The endless lament about those who presume to govern us:

乌呼! 君臣 之 礼 既 坏 矣, 则 天下 以 智力 相 雄 长, 遂 使 圣贤 之后 为 诸侯 者, 社稷 无不 泯 绝, 生民 之类 糜 灭 几 尽, 岂不 哀哉![Sima Kuang 司马光 (2012-11-23). Comprehensive Mirror 资治通鉴(1) (Kindle Locations 42-43).  . Kindle Edition.]

More subtle than the commonly criticized tendency of the powerful to believe that the people exist for their pleasure, rather than that they serve for the people’s benefit, is the cancerous corruption of competition between the leader and the elite—the high officials, local barons, major CEO’s, and generally the super-rich. The elite always strive to select, manipulate, and bribe the leader. Any leader with a spine will naturally struggle for independence, which may serendipitously lead to some benefit for the oppressed if not forgotten masses…albeit perhaps only after centuries (e.g., the Magna Carta contest opening the door to democracy) or to the people becoming grass under the feet of political elephants. This corrupt and self-serving contest of elephants seems independent of time and culture.

Austerity for the Poor, Then and Now

The “grandmother of the Russian Revolution,” Yekaterina Breshko-Breshkovskaya, who spent half a century fighting for justice for Russia’s poor or in jail, came of age as Russian nobles were manipulating the landmark 1861 decision to free the serfs by transforming them from starving slaves into starving “free men,” a process that any “free black” in the U.S. South in the 1870’s would have found very familiar, not to mention the people of Detroit, Greece, Puerto Rico in the current era. After liberation in 1917 (her personal liberation from the Tsarist gulag, that is), Breshko described in her oral memoirs the shock of the newly freed serfs at the betrayal of the rich:

The peasant was free. No longer bound to the land, his landlord ordered him off. He was shown a little strip of the poorest soil, there to be free and starve. He was bewildered; he could not imagine himself without his old plot of land. For centuries past, an estate had always been described as containing so many ‘souls.’ It was sold for so much per ‘soul.’ The ‘soul’ and the plot had always gone together. So the peasant had thought that his soul and his plot would be freed together. In dull but growing rage, he refused to leave his plot of land for the wretched strip. ‘Masters,’ he cried, ‘how can I nourish my little ones through a Russian winter.’^ Such land means death.’ This cry rose all over Russia.

The government appointed in every district an ‘arbiter’ to persuade the peasants. The arbiter failed. Then troops were quartered in their huts, families were starved, old people were beaten by drunkards, daughters were raped. The peasants grew more wild, and then began the flogging. In a village near ours, where they refused to leave their plots, they were driven into line on the village street; every tenth man was called out and flogged with the knout; some died. Two weeks later, as they still held out, every fifth man was flogged. The poor ignorant creatures still held desperately to what they thought their rights; again the line, and now every man was dragged forward to the flogging. This process went on for five years all over Russia, until at last, bleeding and exhausted, the peasants gave in. [Breshko-Breshkovskaia, Ekaterina Konstantinovna Verigo, 1844-1934. [from old catalog]; Blackwell, Alice Stone, 1857-1950; Catt, Carrie Chapman, 1859-1947, former owner. DLC [from old catalog]; National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection (Library of Congress) DLC [from old catalog]. The little grandmother of the Russian revolution; reminiscences and letters of Catherine Breshkovsky (Kindle Locations 254-259). Boston, Little, Brown, and company.]

Of course, there is a difference between austerity for the poor in the 1860s and in the second decade of our highly civilized 21st century. In that time long past, the poor and the sympathetic intellectual had an answer for oppression by the rich: revolution.