As we have explored in previous thinking lessons, Western thought has been dominated by the Platonic ethic: the importance of The Truth. Eastern thought has been dominated by the Confucian ethic: the importance of The Relationship.
In the context of what we have been exploring about information viruses (or memes), about how ideas spread by word-of-mouth and about how cultures become infected by ideaviruses and memes we can identify the following Platonic and Confucian memes:
PTV – the Plato Truth Virus, and
RMC – the Relationship Meme of Confucius.
It is interesting to understand and appreciate the different thinking strategies that have evolved out of the Plato Truth Virus and the Relationship Meme of Confucius. In my experience with teaching thinking across cultures, when one better understands the thinking style of a different culture it makes it easier to appreciate the unique elements of one’s own.
PTV and RMC
PTV places the emphasis on having the truth, on being right. To demonstrate that one is right, in this tradition, it has turned out that the best way to do this is by showing others to be wrong. As a result of PTV we have seen the rise of dogmatism, intolerance, arrogance and persecution. This is not what Plato intended, of course, but is a consequence of PTV. Our own parliamentary behaviour, based on the Westminster system, is a regularly televised example of “I-am-right-and-you-are-wrong” in action.
RMC places the emphasis on the interaction, the interchange, the connection. This fits in with contemporary media-driven trends in psychology, sociology and philosophy where the accent is on understanding the relationships and defining the roles. Behaviour is governed less from external laws and more from internalised concepts of “the gentleman, the yuppie, the genXer, Mars/Venus, netiquette, greenies” and identification with brands and lifestyles.
In summary, the main difference between the Confucian ethic and the Platonic one is this:
– the Confucian ethic is more concerned with manners and appropriate behaviour. It doesn’t matter so much whether you are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ as long as you behave well.
– the Platonic ethic is concerned with ‘truth’ and whether you are in the ‘right’ or not. If you are ‘right’ then that can excuse your behaviour because ‘truth’ is on your side.
In today’s shrinking world there is an overlap of PTV and RMC as the cultural boundaries are becoming more fuzzy with globalisation. Yet the differences are still there and the recent US/China incident regarding the spy plane is a clear example of how the two cultures have different views of the situation.
It seemed that China felt the Americans did not behave well regarding their lost pilot and protocol required an apology. While, on the other hand, America felt they were in the ‘right’ so they did not need to apologise.
No doubt these things are more complicated than that but it does help to get an overview if you can.
Can you think of an example from your own experience of life that may highlight the difference between PTV and RMC?
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