Blogs > Cliopatria > Good Ideas, and Bad

Jul 22, 2004 8:08 pm

Good Ideas, and Bad

A brief roundup of some of the best and worst (history related) ideas I've heard in a while.

Good: Applying Ancient Wisdom in Contemporary Society
Michael Watson, proprietor of the Pre-Modern Japanese Studies e-list and websites recently cited this on the list. It's H. Bruce Brooks' compendium of really good advice for people at every stage of academia, based largely on the writings and ideas of the thinkers of China's Warring States era (453-221 bce) including Confucians (Confucius, Mencius, Xunzi), Daoists (Laozi, Zhuangzi) and Legalists (Hanfeizi, Shang Yang). Others from the Western tradition are also represented, but the bulk of the references are early Chinese. Regarding our recent discussions of advising, for example, Brooks writes:

75. If you hear yourself making suggestions based on knowledge of persons five years ago, or of institutions ten years ago, or of disciplines twenty years ago, you need to get out more often. Advising needs preparation. Ill-prepared advising, however well-meant, is an injury to the advisee.
It's worth noting, I think, that these thinkers varied widely from each other, but not as widely as their intellectual descendants made them out to be. And they swapped material back and forth, and their students, before they got organized into competing schools and wrote stuff down, didn't always distinguish between them. Recent finds and translations have seriously blurred the lines between them, justifying this approach. So it's not as odd to put them together as you might think.

Moreover, they were some of the first serious thinkers to address the concept of hierarchical institutional life (into which category the family fell, as well), and the relational and personal development ideas developed for the world's first scholarly bureaucracies still ring true. We can debate his ideas about grade values (see #72) later.

Bad: Legal Marriage Without Legal Divorce
It seems that Canada, well, goofed, when it made same-sex marriage legal. Not by making it legal, which is a great idea. But they neglected to amend the Divorce Law, which still only applies to marriages between sexes. It has been described as"totally a technicality" (is Canada importing divorce lawyers from southern California? Not that they don't have a surplus in SoCal and a shortage up north, but still...) and a"housekeeping matter." The traditionalists were worried about the sanctity of marriage, and here Canada's homosexuals have gone way beyond even the"covenant marriage" they keep trying to implement in this country. I don't want to blow my own horn too loudly, but I did predict that gay divorce would be one of the first problems created by the patchwork approach in this country.

Good: Art and Government Supporting Each Other
Via NPR, the only news source scientifically proven to impart actual knowledge consistently, a story about a Mexican government program, about a half-century old, by which certain recognized artists (there's a committee, of course, and the numbers of artists are in the dozens, not hundreds) can pay their taxes with artworks. About one work in six belongs to the TaxMan, and the government is obligated to keep the work, though it can display it. The Mexican government now has about 8000 works, including masterpieces by some of it's best known native artists, which it displays and tours, a cultural heritage for the ages. And artists who are recognized by the program no longer have an annual cash-flow crisis. Maybe we could adapt it for scholars: any year in which you produce an academic imprint book, you get your taxes back?

Bad: Paleolithic Hobbies
Also via NPR, which routinely uncovers the oddest things, there is a revival of"knapping", the practice of producing sharp tools from stones. Apparently this is so popular that there is at least one person making his living running classes and individual tutoring sessions. Apparently it's relaxing, and it's fun working with different varieties of pretty stone. But since they are producing sharp shards, there's frequently bleeding involved. And though there is a market for successfully chipped tools, I imagine it'll be saturated shortly. The rock dealers must be having a blast, though. My favorite detail: One gentleman is so serious about his knapping that he bought a kiln which makes the stones easier to work with; that's authentic, right? We've already turned neolithic life into a leisure activity, via camping and sweat lodges. What's next, Great Ape Weekends?

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More Comments:

Jonathan Dresner - 7/23/2004

Yes, it's a current practice. But it is a practice which predates contact, and neolithic seems like the appropriate term for the technological level of pre-contact Native American societies.

David Lion Salmanson - 7/23/2004

Seeing as sweat lodges are still routinely practiced across Native America, you didn't mean to call it neolithic did you? And flint knapping is a heck of a lot better than the potential atlatl craze.

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