Monthly Archives: August 2008

Grassroots Web

For the first time in human history, human consciousness is connected on the web, whose flow on the open web brings the life on the planet earth to a level that is never imagined before. The flow first manifested itself in the building of its very own infrastructure–the open source movement. Then after accumulating enough experiences, it spreads to the ways of human organizations and other sectors of human society. The unhindered flow of human consciousness brings about the peaceful forces of life to break the barriers that were set up by close-mindedness and ignorance. We are going to witness the flow manifested in many areas.

(To be continued)

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Collective vs. Individual

See the article Harmony and the Dream by David Brook.

He did touch on a deep distinction although I don’t quite agree with the way he phrased it. A short response is that I want BOTH ( Collective and Individual), and you should too. But I need offer more specifics.

First of all, collective values have been traditionally very hard to evaluate. Thus practically it is better to put more emphasis on Individuals. In my post Why IT Software Makes Our World More Human, I wrote “No matter what we do, we have to come back to “human”. All concept should be evaluated under “human”. Individualism just realizes that it is easy to tell whether a thing is beneficial or harmful for an individual, but it is difficult whether it is beneficial or harmful for the group or the country because we don’t know who will benefit in the name of the group or the country. The history tells us that collectivism or nationalism often benefit just very few people and become tools used by those few people to exploit the majority. Thus individualism says let’s evaluate things mainly based on whether it will harm or benefit an individual. When we are not sure whether if a thing is beneficial for a country, let’s first make sure it won’t harm any individual. This is the spirit of individualism. Of course in the situation when the group will certainly be harmed, the individualism’s answer is very clear. Let’s look at the example of Qiu Shaoyun. If he rolled over, he could have pulled off the fire on his body. But that would expose all his ambushing army under the fires of the enemy. Thus he chose to stay still and let the fire burned him to death. In individualism, every individual is equal. It is better to sacrifice an individual for the lives of a group of individuals. I hope this can answer the attacks on individualism. IT of course gives us new ways of evaluating the group interests and more ways to deal with the group and individual relations.”

To be clear, collective is certainly larger than individuals since collective is a collection of many individuals. So when the situation is very clear that lives of a collection of individuals are going to be harmed, it is the rationale of an single individual to sacrifice his own individual safety for the collective. That is individual consciousness. But whether that value should be imposed as social morale or enforced by law is totally another issue.

We are limited. To work with our limitation, it is better to let individuals working for their own interests as the starting point. I believe in our historical time, it is still practical to do so, especially when it comes to expectation of the mass. But as a whole society, we need to have better ways to gauge collective values and have more ways for individuals to participate in collective goods.

There is actually no collective, since collective is just a collection of individuals. So we have to be careful when we come to collective values, such as national pride. What is national pride/patriotism? Aren’t they too superficial? Do they translate to many people’s dignity and life? Why do we harm an individual dignity or life just for the superficial national pride? For individualism, the answer is that it is more practical and executable to protect that individual if we know for sure that individual’s rights are going to be harmed.

Since there is actually no collective and collective is just a collection of individuals, individual rights and dignity should never be ignored. People talking about individuals sacrificing for collective are often people who are in power and don’t have to sacrifice themselves.

Although Chinese tradition has a strong emphasis on collective (we actually had a tradition of individualism as well, for example, the Spring and Autumn Period and Waring Sates Period more than 2000 years ago, and the great novel of Monkey King ), we had many great individuals. And Chinese history is a history of these great individuals fighting the system and the collective system suppressing these individuals. So the growth of China at our present time is not to continue this oppression, but to finally overcome it. I don’t know Mr. Brook gets this or not.

One world One Dream. To me , this dream is how individuals can live with dignity in a society and how individuals can cooperate/play with each other. We have come a long way. Finally as the world becomes one we can learn from each other to achieve our common dream.

It is not collective vs. individual. It should be individuals’ choice. Thinking collective vs. individual is still thinking in the mind frame of collective. It is still trying to to impose collective values on individuals. True individualism makes this an individual choice. Let individuals choose the best for themselves given all these choices. The benefit of cultural communication is that it offers more choices. When an individual develop himself/herself and pursue his/her happiness, s/he will be able to go beyond the boundary of culture and be with the truth itself. More different elements within a culture, more choice, more diversity, richer culture, more beautiful society.

Collective or individual, the bottom line is that individuals’ dignity should be respected. Individuals should be treated as human being, not as things. Their basic rights should be defined and protected. People shouting the slogan of collective are usually individuals who are on the top of the power hierarchy and try to take advantage of the mass by asking them for sacrifice.  I don’t see any collective in that. I only see bloated individual greed. There is no real collective value in it.   Collective might be a good ideal, but without practical mechanism it only leads to a minority group of individuals suppressing a much larger group of individuals.

But from the general westerners’ perspective, Mr. Brook’s article has some value because western culture is too obsessed with individual self. So to remind them the good values of collective is helpful. (Don’t you think it quite a stupid thing that the westerners need to be reminded that collective has its values? These values are taken for granted in the east. Similarly, what the west has taken for granted of the values of individuals, has to be advocated in the east.)  But for people in the east to read Mr. Brook’s article and mistakenly think that it is just a cultural choice between the two is a dangerous simplification. Thus there is a need to look closely into it. For the westerners, it is also beneficial to know the whole story instead of just blindly following the other way.

So collective or individual, it is not to choose one over the other. It is about how to balance the two together. This balancing is a high art.

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Two ways to help China

So for people in the west who do care about people in China, here are two ways to help.

One is as mentioned in Chinese Renaissance, the bottom level cultural communication and engagement.

The other way is to stop the empire (quoting Blessed Unrest) right here in America. See the post On American Foreign Policy. Also see this one.

With the presence of a strong external pressure, the inner peaceful force cannot be fully functioning. The sole purpose of the entity becomes just fighting the external force and forget finding its own inner voices. This is why America is the biggest thread to democracy around the world. The same principle applies to the feminism movement. At the beginning, the feminism movement is just about fighting the external pressure (imposed by male values), so its sole purpose is to get out of the grip of the male values and prove them wrong. Only after that stage (gaining equal access to opportunities a society offered to individuals), can women really calm down and find there inner voices and be whoever they choose to be individually.

I hate to say this. But the American imperialism does give repressive countries around the world a legitimate reason to strengthen their repressive regimes. I always hated the government using threats from outside as their excuse of state power. But however, from another standpoint, it is justified.

So if you want to help China, the other way is to stop the empire right here.

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The Chinese Renaissance

This article is written for people in America who really care about situations in China. With this article, I hope it can give a basic stretch of the cultural thread that China is coming from, e.g. China’s growth path, and thus might help Americans understand the real needs of China.

Every culture has its own growth path, and its own thread of stories. The one of China is very different from the one of the west. For a lot of things that the west takes for granted, China has to take a long time to cultivate them in the deep consciousness of the nation.

Individual consciousness is a strong tradition of the Greek culture from which the west inherited from. In China, however, individual consciousness is always an undercurrent, never became the explicit culture. As China was torn apart by the west, the pains caused Chinese intellect to reflect on our culture. When put our culture in the contrast with the western culture, it is much easier to find out our limitation and how to make it better. Gradually the efforts merged into a movement of Chinese Renaissance in the early part of the 20 century.

People at that time (including many early leaders of CP) were involved in some educational movement that they hope can have similar effect of European Renaissance. To be specific, they wanted to invoke the awareness of the people of their own individuality, pursuing their own happiness instead of always sacrificing for the country. For example, there were literature about the suppression of individuals by the family (typical big Chinese traditional family hierarchy), young men and women pursuing free love instead of marriage set up by their parents, women pursuing their independence (influenced by the same movement in the west. The work of Ibsen like The Doll’s House was very popular and widely discussed). There were writers experimenting writing novels like the western ones, such as deeply self-confessional. They deeply analyzed human nature, explored humanities under various circumstances. They advocated the potential of individuals. They practiced themselves developing their diverse personalities. They emphasized the potential of individuals to free themselves through learning, and the responsibilities to do so. They wrote essays to tell their countrymen to develop their body and mind so there can be a new young China.

They felt Chinese traditional written language is too obscure and difficult for the mass to learn. So they advocated writing the same way as the oral language and they explored how to write in that kind of language. This is a long time of practice. It took almost a century for some great Chinese writers to figure out how to write beautifully in the plain spoken Chinese.

They translated the Wealth of Nation and many such great works into Chinese to introduce western ideas. They criticized deeply the traditional Chinese culture, especially the Confucianism. Some even advocated young people not reading any traditional Chinese text, saying it is full of words that eat people.

They tried to adopt the three branch government structure of the west, even willingly to be killed for that cause.

Deeply, they wanted to wake people up of their individual consciousness, and develop their individual consciousness. They felt that was the future of China. That was the only way to fight the old deeply drenched habits of culture. This is indeed a trust in common individuals to find their own happiness instead of being bound by many traditional artificial values.

Above is just a glimpse of that movement of Chinese Renaissance. The task wasn’t accomplished. And we don’t know when it can be finally accomplished. But it did transform China in a great degree. I highly recommend the speech below by Hu Shih on Chinese Renaissance.

The speech was about the language movement. (I think it was originally in English. If so, he put me totally in shame. The intellects of that generation were well-trained in the traditional classic Chinese text. And their command of English is also so splendid, –I had always wondered how good their English were and how much they understood the western culture–, but I think I am better in science and engineering training, and about 80 years younger than Hu, I know many things that he didn’t know. 🙂 )

You can notice in this speech Hu mentioned Ch’en Tu-shiu, the founder of CP, and his early role in Chinese Renaissance. This is just an example of many of the early members of CP actually came from the same people who advocated westernization and democracy.

Another great speech is by Li Ao in Beijing University.

In that speech, Li Ao tried very hard to convey to Chinese people the way to obtain their freedom. I highly recommend this speech.

I think if you read these two speeches, you will feel they follow the same tradition. Actually Li Ao is Hu Shih’s little friend across generation. I don’t think they formally claimed a teacher-student relation. But the outsiders always treat Li Ao as Hu Shih’s student. Personally I feel that Li Ao has gone way beyond Hu Shih in knowledge and practice.

I think these two great speeches should give you an idea what kind of change that China needs. In the spirit of these two speeches, more peaceful bottom level cultural communication and engagement are the most effective way to bring about the fundamental changes.

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See with your whole body

We tend to take a wrong body as our true body. We think our eyes, ears, nose and so on are our body. But Buddhism tells us they are not our true body. Taking them as our true body is like (in a Chinese saying) taking a thief as your father. Or we say it is like adding an extra head to the head.

When I do the sitting meditation, sometimes I close my eyes and try to imagine if I lose sight (which is kind of a real threat to me. I used to have nightmares that my eyes become very dry and I lost my sight.). When I am blind, a lot of things and values I have regarded as important are not important to me anymore. I then ask, am I different or am I the same. Then I try to imagine what if I lose my hearing. Am I the same? Am I different? How about losing my touch? Am I the same? Am I different?

In Buddhism, we say see with your whole body. Use your ears to look. Use your eyes to hear. Then you can see with your whole body.

Our brain tends to interpret our sensation. When we see the apple, our brain will interpret my eyes see the apple. But when your brain interprets, you are already too slow. Before the concept of eyes and apple arise, you already see. So see with your whole body. See with your whole being. When your whole body sees a leaf falling, your whole being knows that the Fall is coming. When your whole body sees grass growing, your whole being knows that Spring is coming. Such knowing (or not knowing) is before the world of language.

In sutra, Buddha gave an example. He said when there is light, you see. When it is totally dark, you also see. You see darkness. Such seeing is using your whole body to see.

When you are lost in your thoughts, you are not seeing. When you notice you are thinking, you are seeing.

This true body is the body we will never lose, and it never changes. It is the universal substance that we share with the universe. Or we call it emptiness. Buddhism practice is to be familiar with your true body. It is the source of our origin. Being with your source brings you the true peace.

For techniques to help you see with your whole body, many know of breathing technique. Try to feel the flow of air through your nose to your abdomen. Try to breath naturally, which is very easy to do if you can sit straight and still. Get your attention off your brain.

Another technique is to focus on listening to the sounds. Try to listen to all the sounds together, close and very far away. Try to see how much you can hear maximally. In Chinese, we say that ears are clear and quiet. They are not like eyes, which often distract us. When we hear things, we often hear sounds rising and falling. It happens fast. So it is easy to see the impermanence of it. But when we see things, we tend to think those things will stay there. Also it seems that optical nerves are directly connected to concept/image in the brain, and thus easy to be distractive.

Once you are awake, please always keep your eyes open and always seeing.

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It is all about space

This is a simple answer to all questions, including multitasking in the previous post.

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Multitasking

One important function of the brain is memory. For the purpose of learning, we have to use memory to relate the experience of past, present, and future. However, to have a true authentic experience, we have to be fully present. Buddhism says there is no past, because the past is already gone. There is no future, because the future hasn’t arrived yet. There is only present. When you are too immersed in memory function of the brain (either for “legitimate” reasons such as learning or for other reasons such as indulgence in the past), you become dis-associative with the present, it is hard for you to respond, and it causes anxiety. You got stuck. You don’t see a big truck coming at you when crossing the street. By focusing on the present, doing whatever you are doing, or not doing anything when you are not doing anything, your mind gets out of the grip of memory association, and becomes like fluid again so you can function like a mirror. When you do that, you can then have peace again. And that exact experience is what really connects you to the past and the future.

Legitimate as it is in learning, there are ways to reduce thinking. One way is to separate memory and reasoning. To be specific, you can go through photos or diary, or walk through place of your childhood, just refresh your memory. After you are able to see a clear picture of your past experience, you can then focus on reasoning, and you reason very fast. Don’t be excessive with your thinking. Just enough is ok.

When you feel you need to think about something (for example, when you just gained some significant experience), stop what you are doing and take your time to think about it (probably note it down as well). After it, forget it and do whatever you need to do.

When you cannot let go of past, it might give you an illusion of multitasking. It does somehow allow you to do something else since you keep associating your past and future. At that point, it might be useful to ask yourself, are you doing learning, playing and creating activities? Then ask how to do it better. From my experience, I feel a lot more efficient just doing the thing I am doing. But once in a while (usually at weekends) I do try just let my mind roaming around and running free. I do so trying to give the brain some inspirational input once in a while.

We are space, and in our everyday life, we are interacting with different spaces. When we are doing things, our mind should follow our body. When you do so, you are experiencing the space. When you are in the realm of associating past, present and future, let your mind be with that space. When you are with the space, it is easier for you to be aware that your mind is not following the space. You just cannot put it down. If you still have memory trace in your mind, you cannot be fully present. You have past and future because you want to have a better now. So please have the now.

I do some kind of multitasking. For example, I watch movies, at the same time, I am learning English and American culture, and taking a break from my engineering work. Sometimes I like doing manual labor, so at the same time I am taking a break from my mental world, having some exercise of my body, getting more in touch with society, helping others and practice letting go. There are many things that are orthogonal, and they don’t interfere with each other. So I always try to put orthogonal activities together so I can do them at the same time with my current capacity. I called it maximizing cooperation. There are things that interfere with each other. For example, my engineering work competes with my English and culture learning. At present, I haven’t grown big enough to be able to combine them together nicely. When I was in China, however, they work with each other very well and was very inspirational for each other.

Just thought to share some of my experiences regarding multitasking. Nothing serious here. It is not well thought out. Hope it can be a little help.

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