Xunzi’s Flawed Philosophy of Controlling Nature & Ourselves
Xunzi (荀子), a rouge Confucianist, was born in 310 BC, 240 years after Confucius. Herein a critique of his anti wu wei philosophy of effort and control.
On Controlling Nature
As with most philosophers, occasional gleams of insight are surrounded by dark blobs of muddled thought. Here it’s how Xunzi (pronounced like “Shin-za”) went off the path, and why he was wisely sidelined by proper Taoist/Confucianist thinkers for a couple thousand years, that is important…
How can humans control nature, when we can’t control our own nature? And remember, our own innovative nature is a biological manifestation of nature itself. This is the flaw in Xunzi’s thought — circularity.
We are products of nature — today we find our species programmed by time with our current “bang two rocks together and make stuff” primate innovation drive. By acting out our drive we are not controlling nature; we are being controlled. We can’t control this drive, thus how can we control nature? It’s quite silly, and arrogant.
To answer his (slippy slope to primate egomania) “but why not” question a different way, with thousands of years hindsight; nature plays a longer game. The West went on to develop this short-sighted “we control nature” philosophy more thoroughly than Xunzi could have ever imagined, and we now see the limitations and repercussions of that only beginning to manifest.
Anyhow, today we have Western philosophy and science for this pursuit. We really don’t need Chinese philosophy to retrace these same steps. Instead, the Chinese thought lineage serves a wider/longer view — revealing the shortcomings of these Western scientism style thinkings, and perhaps suggesting a modified path later this century after this system collapses. As scholar Wing-Tsit Chan noted above, the Taoist/Confucian doctrine is the harmony of man and nature.
That’s what’s missing today.
On Blank Slate
Consider, here in the 21st century with our modern scientific knowledge of humans, the following quote from Xunzi (born 310 BC, China)…
No Xunzi, they actually cannot become each other.
Why? Because people differ. It is in their nature to be what they are; this thing, not that thing. Blank slate theory was falsified, biology determines potentiality. My problem with him is his taking of concepts to extremes.
Here he takes the now proven concept of Confucianism that *populations* can be “bettered” slightly, within their biologic potentiality, to mean that deficient *individuals* can become gifted (by their willpower). No, a thing can not exceed its nature.
This appears to be another example of Xunxi’s belief in willpower over nature? The Dao De Jing understood that pushing for something that is contrary to reality is the way of suffering. The deficient man can be a slightly more educated non-criminal deficient man. That is all.
I’m surprised Xunzi is categorized as “naturalistic” Confucianism, and Mengzi “idealistic.” He seems quite idealistic, more so even than Mengzi, going directly against nature. I follow naturalistic Confucianism, which must conform to science: the study of nature.