The One Thing To Know About Confucius and Houellebecq

People love to sprinkle discussions of Asia and Asian peoples with a touch of Confucius. In reality, even among old Asian hands and scholars, few can tell you much of interest about the old guy: he revered ancestors, he liked order; he got some of the best lines in Suma Qian’s magnus opus about the early Chinese dynasties.

Then there’s Harry Lee. In a recent entry at his very interesting blog, Lee gives you the full Confucius, very concisely.

Nobody can read Lee’s explanation without understanding what makes Confucius relevant. Using a simple, everyday example, one can paraphrase: abolishing all equality is pointless; some people will always be better looking: “If you suppress all sources of inequality that you can, often you end up just increasing the importance of things you can’t touch.” Meritocracy often ends up being the same competition with different rules: let’s not see who has the better ancestors, but who has more money / who has the bluer eyes / who can dance better. Also, meritocracy has a terrible caveat: the winners feel they got what they have fairly, so they have no compulsion to feel sorry for the ugly loser.

Continuing with the above example, Confucius assumed that, given that inequality will always be with us in one shape or another, the whole struggle for love and sex must be organized. He’s all for arranged relationships, courtship rituals, ways to ensure everyone will get his or her due, and there will be no disco full of hot chicks and studs getting all the action while everyone is left behind. If you happen to be good looking, it’s your moral responsibility to ensure that you don’t starve everyone else of chances to hook up, and to respect those who have less luck than you do. As Lee writes:

“Modern individualism really is a case of Nietzschean slave morality run amok. Individualism isn’t about freedom so much as it is envy of the powerful and dominant. We therefore have a strong instinct to pull down anyone who’s in a position of personal authority, but this instinct doesn’t care about domination that doesn’t appear to be done by a human-shaped agent.”

Enter Michel Houellebecq, who is channeling Confucius for modern, easily-distracted audiences. In his first novel, which title should properly be translated in English as “Extension of the Field of Struggle,” he writes:

Tout comme le libéralisme économique sans frein, et pour des raisons analogues, le libéralisme sexuel produit des phénomènes de paupérisation absolue. Certains font l’amour tous les jours ; d’autres cinq ou six fois dans leur vie, ou jamais. Certains font l’amour avec des dizaines de femmes ; d’autres avec aucune. C’est ce qu’on appelle la « loi du marché» Dans un systeme economique out le licenciement est prohibé, chacun réussit plus ou moins a trouver sa place. Dans un systeme sexuel ou l’adultere est prohibé, chacun réussit plus ou moins a trouver son compagnon de lit… Le libéralisme economique, c’est l’extension du domaine de la lutte, son extension a tous les ages de la vie et a toutes les classes de la societé. De meme, le libéralisme sexuel, c’est l’extension du domaine de la lutte, son extension a toutes les ages de la vie et a toutes les clases de la societé (…) Sous couvert de reconstruction du moi, les psychanalistes procedént en realité a un scandaleuse destruction de l’etre humain. Innocence, generosité, pureté… tout cela est rapidement broyé entre leur mains grossieres.”


About David Roman

Communicator. I tweet @dromanber.
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2 Responses to The One Thing To Know About Confucius and Houellebecq

  1. Hui Ho says:

    On the egalitarian side of things, inequality in uncontrolled factors seems to be unjust to the extent that the responsibility of the government to deal with such inequalities overrides that of the individual. It’s understandable why uncontrolled factors should not affect your life and why moral luck is an important concept, but such a view seems to rid people of their rational agency – make lemonade from lemons – so this Confucian view at least has the merit closely related justice, which actually doesn’t make it so hard to believe.


  2. Pingback: Houellebecq Extended: the Cartelization of the Field of Struggle | Neotenianos

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