The Chinese in their ancestral wisdom, have proverbs for every single situation. In fact one of the hardest parts of learning the language is their reliance on idioms, which tend to be verbatim quotes of classical works. 3000 years of writing in the same language means there's a vast pool of wise insight and sharp wit to choose from, but the old language isn't intelligible as such, so you have to memorise the idioms by rote. Once you do though, you literally have a comeback for everything.
It's so much part of the culture, that the tradition doesn't only rely on classical texts. Chinese are prone to make up idioms in the vernacular just as often. There is one I particularly like, which describes people who do pointless stuff. Some time ago Xi Jinping, the recently declared big boss in China, had these words to say:
This was translated by the South China Morning Post as: "Some foreigners with full bellies and nothing better to do engage in finger-pointing at us". The translation is quite literal, and pretty good as it is. The point on this sentence is "full bellies and nothing better to do". This is the standard way of describing people who do something pointless out of what it's assumed is too much leisure. As any beginner learner of Chinese knows, full bellies in China used to be a very uncommon sight, to the point that people used to greet each other by saying: "Have you eaten yet?".
There's a variant to the saying which I like better, 吃饱了撑的, which means eating to the point of feeling stuffed. The Chinese consider it the root cause of all nonsense. Americans today would say you're full of shit. Kinda gross if you picture it, but the association with fullness is there. As far as folk wisdom goes, Catholic countries also have this (quite accurate) stereotype about priests being always fat gluttons. They are also not known for making much sense either.
Personally when I think of food and priests, I don't picture a fat Italian in a black gown eating too much spaghetti. No, I picture something more modern, yet consubstantial (to use catholic jargon). I think of...
Moldbug called our ruling class the Cathedral. And if you think about it, the economics profession has the most in common with the old medieval priesthood. They are generally smart, well educated people who are trained for up to a decade in what amounts to pure nonsense. They memorise the nonsense, and then use advanced logic to write down complex arguments and debate it with their peers. But only with their peers, their non-peers are commanded to shut up and obey.
Another proof that economics and priests are the same thing is that they end up talking about the same things. See this post at Chalupas Central. They are talking about the poor, and conclude that it's about Ego Deprivation. Well I don't know what Ego Deprivation is. My gut tells me it's as pointless as Homoiousia. Now fortunately many commentators are refuting the pointless drivel that gets economics researchers paid, but then some comments make you lose faith in the powers of reason.
Trailsplitter November 27, 2012 at 7:56 am
It is because of posts like this that I love this blog. Thanks Alex!
Oh well. I do get that Economics was founded by Adam Smith, who was pretty close to becoming a priest, and his real job was moral philosopher. So yes there's some overlap between morality and macroeconomics, and economists are entitled to be concerned about "the poor". But Adam Smith, who was the real deal, a priest candidate, and did moral philosophy, surely didn't conclude that poverty was about Ego Deprivation. In Chinese folk terms, it follows that he didn't have a full belly. Which is quite likely. As ghastly as British food is today, in the 18th century it must have been really terrible. No cheap ethnic food indeed.
The Chinese saying was of course born in China, a society famously always lying in the Malthusian edge. It wasn't easy to have a full belly in China, and those who did it were of a particular class. Mostly government bureaucrats, who were of course chosen in a famously competitive civil service exam. My feeling is that Chinese masses developed the impression that smart people tend to spout quite a lot of nonsense, and they having passed the examination, hence being smart, the only reasonable cause must be that they had too much food. Which is a quite reasonable conclusion. But what if it's not about food?
See probably one of the highest IQ blogs out there, Robin Hanson's Overcoming Bias. I use to like much of what's written there, but they also post a considerable amount of crap. See this post of a while ago:
Invent yourself and think through your impact
One of the things I do when I find something hard to understand is trying to translate it into another language. Say, Chinese. I usually find it quite hard to do, if not outright impossible. This is one of the beefs I have against Chomsky and his theory that all languages are superficial representations of an underlying 'mentalese' which is hardwired into human brains and thus universal. Well it's not that impossible to word by word translate "Invent yourself and think through your impact". I can do it. But it wouldn't make any sense in the target language, because they just don't think that way. They don't have the concept. Concepts being culturally specific. Chinese don't go to college to "invent themselves". They go there to get a piece of paper that will enable them to make more money than otherwise. And when they graduate they certainly are not thinking about spending $700 in saving lives in Mozambique. 2 months salary! I imagine what a Tiger Mom would tell her daughter if she talked about the categorical imperative of sending $700 to some QUANGO in Mozambique.
"Have you eaten too much?"
Now it's funny that the Chinese would be attribute saying stupid things to eating too much, when China is the most food-conscious culture on earth. Chinese cuisine is famously good, and everything here is celebrated with food. Part of the disdain that Uyghurs have towards the Han is how the Han are always eating eating and don't know how to have fun. Fun meaning music and dancing.
But as much as the Chinese like to eat, in reality they aren't that fat (for now). Everyone knows that the fattest people on earth are the Anglos, and by a long shot. Which must mean they get full at higher rates than any other peoples on earth. And it shows. The first example was American, the second was Australian. Now let's see how full the Brits are. This also I got from a link at Chalupa's:
What do Animals Want?
Now I'm used to read macroeconomic non-sequitur crap, and other moralising status-whoring by economists. But this piece on animal rights blew me away. This is not your run-of-the-mill unfalsifiable crap. This is way beyond that. This is the left singularity showing its teeth.
First of all, whose idea was it to put a close-up pic of the old lady on top? It's gross. You don't take close-up pics of old women. It's like asking the age of a 40 year old. You just don't do it. Nothing against this woman in particular, but old women are ugly by definition. A detailed close-up of an unrelated old human is bad taste.
Now what is this woman about? She studies animal behaviour. Which is a pretty interesting thing to study. We all like to watch funny animal videos at YouTube, and she gets to do that for a living. All she has to do is a write a paper once in a while. She could have stopped there, but of course she didn't. She had too much food, nothing better to do, so she decided to apply her findings to study Animal Welfare.
I blogged on Animal ethics before, and I do find it a quite interesting subject. It's a big bleeding point in the European philosophical tradition, and as such it's the source of much hilarity. And corruption. So which is this old woman about?
Probably both, though I don't know. This woman is trying to make a case for animal welfare, and she does that by trying to link it with human self-interest. Of course that's not a moral argument at all. It's pure marketing. Fooling people into supporting something is not an argument for supporting it, it's just marketing. It's Sandra Fluke. But of course she doesn't care about the logic behind her case. She just wants to convince others. Anglo philosophy has long morphed from a system of logic and proof into a mere branch of public relations. How to manipulate people's psychology into supporting a thesis. Not that they will beat the Jews on that.
The second part of her case is defining what Animal Welfare is, which is no easy task. She rambles a lot about anthropomorphism, the idea that animals deserve welfare inasmuch as they are similar to humans. But she correctly points out that animals consciousness doesn't really exist in any provable way, so linking human psychology to animal psychology is quite impossible. So what's her solution? She defines animal welfare as giving animals what they want. Easy! Well, yeah. But in focusing on What Animals Want, what she's doing is applying standard liberal ethics (as per Jim Kalb's peerless analysis) to the animal world. So in the end what she's doing is pure anthropomorphism but without justifying it.
She contrasts this approach with the naturalistic one, which says that animals should live as they would in the natural habitats. To what the old woman says:
A lot of people think that good welfare is when animals are allowed to perform natural behavior, and you can judge welfare by how natural it is. That's always seemed to me a little problematical because animals in the wild are regularly chased by predators, and that would be natural. I don't think one could actually argue that that was necessary for good welfare.
Well being eaten by a predator is certainly not What Animals Want, I'll grant her that. She also points out the practical consequences of that in farms:
this horrible thing that happens with free-range chickens, that they feather-peck each other. It's very distressing. People think doing away with batting cages will improve welfare. But in fact, you've got a whole new set of welfare problems associated with taking birds out of cages.
I think there's a very useful and profound (HBD-wise) metaphor in that. Not that she realises that of course. In the end, if you treat animals like humans, and give them welfare, you will get the same results as human welfare. Logic isn't that hard. Unless you have eaten too much, of course.
You can imagine what the Chinese think about animal welfare.