Some minor disagreement with Mr. Gatto

Mr. Gatto’s books are indeed very profound. I learned tremendously from his books. Here is just some minor disagreement I have with him. Some of them, if not corrected, can be very misleading. Since I recommend everyone to read Mr. Gatto’s books, I certainly also need to point out these flaws.

Below are just some notes I made along my reading. I probably should work on my writing a little bit. (TODO)

1. About western spirituality and religion, also his misunderstanding of Dalai Lama. (

After rereading these paragraphs, it seems that Gatto endorses christianity a little more than Buddhism in a very subtle way based on Dalai Lama’s talk about happiness. Gatto misunderstood a little what Dalai Lama was trying to address. Dalai Lama certainly didn’t mean that Buddhism is a utility to gain happiness. I would guess Dalai Lama will also say that happiness and suffering are the same thing under another condition. Furthermore, spirituality doesn’t have to come from religion. Religion is still an outside object imposed externally.

Another page:

Certainly Mr. Gatto misunderstands Buddhism. Thus he endorses the western spirituality.

Although hardship is needed, it is stupid to seek for hardship in life. A person with free will is of course seeking happiness. In that process, s/he is willing to endure any pain because s/he can only grow after that. As Roshi said, plus always starts first, and the minus will follow immediately.

As Gatto talked about the need of suffering in order to achieve good, full life, inner peace, isn’t that to seek happiness? So first of all, self arises. Plus arise. The free will is to seek happiness. But in the process of seeking happiness, you have to go through endurance of suffering. To endure the suffering is the minus. Plus and Minus cancel out each other. Thus emptiness.

This is another paragraph on the same page of Mr. Gatto’s book: “I heard second hand, recently, about a woman who said to her mother about an affair she was conducting openly, despite the protest of her husband and in full knowledge of her six-year-old daughter, “It’s no big deal.” That’s what she said to her mother. But if infidelity, divorce, and the shattering of innocence in a child isn’t a big deal, then what could ever be? By intensifying our moral sense, we constantly feel the exhilaration of being alive in a universe where everything is a big deal.”

Mr. Gatto doesn’t have to fall back on moral (e.g. the concept of good and evil). Just be fully aware of your existence, and be fully aware of other individuals’ existence. That is the essence of individualism.

Also Mr. Gatto doesn’t have to fall back on religion just because the current science is not complete.

Again, Gatto doesn’t have to think everything in the western spirituality is right, although western spirituality should be the place he starts.

Furthermore, western spirituality is very different before and after Christianity. Gatto shouldn’t mix the Greek traditions with the Christianity religious tradition.

“I have the greatest respect for every other religious tradition in the world, but not one of them has ever done this or attempted to do this. Western religion correctly identified problems no one can escape, problems for which there are no material solutions, problems you can’t elude with money, intellect, charm, politics, or powerful connections.”

Well, that is why Buddha left his palace and all the money, women, power, politics… and went through very tough training (the traditional meditation in ancient India is very hard. Practitioners ate only two or three grains of rice for days.) He finally put down everything, including all the intellect means, sat down under a tree for 7 days until his enlightenment. In his sutra, he said you should not be attached to any form of thoughts or material means. Buddha started his practice because he saw problems that no one could escape, for example death. Thus he was determined to put everything down, to go through any kind of suffering to look for the answer. So this is certainly not just a western religion thing.

“But none of those things has any particular meaning until you see what they lead up to, finally being in full command of the spectacular gift of free will: a force completely beyond the power of science to understand.”

Well, not the current science.

The above, if not corrected, can be very misleading. For a great book like this, this flaw should be pointed out.

2. About Chinese part: the case of Dewy’s influence on Mao; the case of Chinese simplified characters.

About John Dewey, his student Hu Shi, and Mao, it is a complicated story. I am not sure John Dewey has direct influence on Mao. Probably they were just influenced by the same popular thinking around that time.

“Turkish experimentation is echoed today in mainland China where a fifth of the population of the planet is cut off from the long past of Chinese literature and philosophy, one of the very few significant bodies of thought on the human record. The method being used is a radical simplification of the characters of the language which will have, in the fullness of time, the same effect as burning books, putting them effectively out of reach. Lord Lindsay of Birker, a professor at Yenching University outside Beijing where I recently went to see for myself the effects of Westernization on the young Chinese elite, says the generation educated entirely in simplified characters will have difficulty reading anything published in China before the late 1950s.”

From what I know, the simplified Chinese was adopted by the CP for the purpose of improving people’s literacy (sure, I might be wrong. But I feel this is probably true.). Before that, simplified Chinese had been used widely as a convenient way in communication and efforts to start using simplified Chinese was started by the other party before CP took power. I am not sure if the other purpose claimed by Gatto existed. I am not sure I can read all ancient classical Chinese literature. But I have no problem in reading the traditional Chinese from Hongkong and Taiwan. And I know many of my friends in mainland China have no problem in reading traditional Chinese. It is very easy to guess the traditional Chinese characters since they are like pictures of the meaning. The opposite is not true. It is more difficult for people growing up with traditional Chinese to guess simplified Chinese. But many of my friends are able to do that after some efforts.

This, if a mistake, is a quite minor one. Westerners often make very basic mistakes about China. I watched a program on the History channel about Chinese Great Wall. It talked about the first emperor of China building the Great Wall. Then the program showed some pictures of the first Chinese emperor, Qin. And it also showed pictures of Chinese during that time. The pictures shocked me! The emperor Qin and those Chinese shown all have the pig tails. That is not what Chinese 2000 years ago look like. That is only what Chinese in the last dynasty (the Dynasty Qing, which sounds like Qin but is totally a different Chinese character. Dynasty Qing started 1640. So history experts in the history channel made a laughable mistake.) looks like. The pig tail was forced upon Chinese Han people by the invading Manchurian. I was surprised that a channel like the History channel will make such a mistake. Why didn’t they just ask any Chinese to review the program before they air it? Any Chinese can spot this mistake immediately. I don’t know how much I can trust the History channel on history of the east anymore.

This is just a minor mistake. Although dumbing its people down has been carried out by every dynasty in Chinese history through various means, simplifying Chinese is probably not one of them. However, I don’t know if most Chinese in mainland won’t have problem reading traditional Chinese (I do feel that most of Chinese, capable of reading simplified Chinese, shouldn’t have any problem reading traditional Chinese). Ancient Chinese too many years (such as 2000 years ago, before China was united, each small country have many different ways of writing the same character. It is emperor Qin (the one who united China) that united Chinese characters. That makes a big difference between Qin and Alexander, and thus the future geopolitics in China and in Europe. But that is another story.) I might be wrong on this.



Filed under Essay, John Taylor Gatto

2 responses to “Some minor disagreement with Mr. Gatto

  1. Pingback: A mistake about China in the book: A People’s History of the United States « A hacker of the Internet for the purpose of growth, fun, and creation

  2. Quite a minor disagreement my friend 🙂 I’d recommend reading “The Chinese Language – Facts and Fantasy” to know more about how Chinese characters actually work, hint they’re not all ideograms 😉

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