Thursday, December 5, 2019

Shantung Compound

A must read recounting of a well educated liberal mugged by the reality of life in a fairly humane prison camp in WW2 China, that gives factual insight into the reality of human nature. He starts with a lot of faith in human nature being "good" and due to the reality he observes in the camp,  comes to the conclusion that to the extent our society continues to believe in the basic goodness of human nature, we are certainly bound for hell on Earth.

The story of Block 49 ... one room having 11 men and another having 9, and the appeals to reason, justice, etc having zero effect is one of the realities that blew a hole in the Harvard Philosophy graduates worldview.

But in Block 49 men understood—they understood fully. They understood that a “reform” meant their own loss, and so they fought that reform, whatever its rationality and justice, as if it were a plague, a poisonous thing. Self-interest seemed almost omnipotent next to the weak claims of logic and fair play. Ironically, in this first and most logically clear of all our many cases, our committee, if justice were to be done, finally had to appeal to the least rational of all principles: the authority of force. We asked Mr. Izu to tell this recalcitrant dorm to take one more man, which they did readily enough—and we heard no more from Block 49.
Gilkey had a firm faith in human nature, reason, proper organizational structure, etc ... what he found out is that it is character that is the bedrock on which life and civilization are built. Unless you go to gulag type measures (and you will mostly fail even if you do), you must find something to believe in beyond human nature!

This point was increasingly apparent to me during the last year whenever we would look for a new stoker, cook, or kitchen helper. The question uppermost in the minds of the Labor Committee and the managers was no longer, “Has he the skill to do his job?” but rather, “Has he the honesty to be trusted with these supplies?” For the skill, while important, could be learned, but the integrity could not. Yet it was indispensable to our common life. However highly developed our technology might have been, a technique was of no real service in the hands of a dishonest man.

...better philosophy, a clearer and more coherent way of thinking about things will not be enough. Only a change in the mode and character of man’s existence will resolve this sort of problem. If the self were to find a new center from which both its own health and security as well as its creative relation with the neighbor might flow, such a possibility alone could provide the answer to this dilemma.
So what is a culture to do? Essentially exactly what we have thrown away.

Only in God is there an ultimate loyalty that does not breed injustice and cruelty, and a meaning from which nothing in heaven or on earth can separate us.

He doesn't claim a specific faith, but he does confirm that both moralism and mysticism will not socially save us. I recommend you read the book, and if you want to understand what he sees as working, LCMS Lutheran would be very close

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