Wednesday, July 30, 2008


The Analects of Confucius can be considered to be anachronistic at times, but there are two teachings in it that I consider to be of immeasurable value.

The first is the Ethic of Reciprocity, translated as:

The importance of this in matters of ethics goes without say, and is well worth studying, especially if you're religious and are under the woefully misguided impression that any scripture has any content of worth outside the Ethic of Reciprocity. I might have something to say about this in a later post, but not right now.

The second is that one should learn to love learning.

It's odd to think of myself at the age of 17. It's a lousy age for a guy to be. Too young to know, too old to listen. At 17, a boy's cognition is completely messed up by hormones, leading quickly to egotism and hubris. From what I observe, certain individuals never quite recover. At 17, a boy thinks he knows everything, that he can change the world with naught but a head full of ideals and his own two hands. On very, very rare occasions, such a remarkable individual may arise. But a wise man once said, "The common man believes he isn't." Hence, most will be bitterly disappointed.

I wouldn't say I'm old, but it feels like a long, long time since I was 17. Common sense tells me I know far more now than I did then. The swelling of my library and the contents of my hard disk are ample evidence of that. So why do I feel like I don't know anything?

Somebody famous once likened our lives to being in a huge cavern, pitch dark, the walls covered by an immense and beautiful tapestry. The search for knowledge is akin to shining a torch upon that tapestry, illuminating only a small part of it at any one time. Some of us will move the torch around, seeing more of the tapestry. Others will hold still, satisfied with the little they have, afraid of what they might see beyond. Others still won't even turn on the torch.

I believe that part of being human, if not the whole point, is to get that torch moving and see everything you can see. We have the capacity for it, why not use it? What's there to fear? I'm Malaysian Chinese! I've seen scarier things on the ends of my chopsticks*!

Perhaps that's why I feel such utter disappointment, bordering on revulsion, when I'm in KL, watching people living the rat race, untold thousands of minds who will never understand the epic story of evolution, the beautiful complexity of the mind or the sheer grandeur of the life of the Universe, from the Big Bang to the life and death of stars, to the formation of this scruffy ball of dirt and water we call home. So, so much to know, so very little time, yet so many choose to waste their lives chasing scraps of leather and metal. So caught up in their own meaningless desires that they forget who's drowning in the ripples they leave behind. So enamoured of the lives of the beautiful people, they forget to look for meaning in their own lives. Worst of all are the wilfully ignorant, who laugh off their inadequacy and treat it like a badge of honour.

Knowledge is power, simple as that. We live in an age where information and misinformation are more freely available than ever before, and as such, establishing a measure of intellectual rigour within oneself is a matter of utmost importance to the modern urbanite. To distill the information you find and extract genuine knowledge is satisfaction in its own right.

Well, it probably is, because I can only speak from my own insatiable thirst to know more, more, MOAR! I believe that one must lust for knowledge. One must desire it, pursue it, cherish it, like the sight of the perfect whale-tail. Some would dismiss this as intellectual high-mindedness, far removed from the realities of paying the mortgage. Some would ask, "What good is knowing these things? What good is knowing time and space beyond the immediate senses?" I think Benjamin Franklin replied best to a similar question when he retorted, "What good is a new-born baby?"

*More on this later, if I remember.

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