An ethical order which cannot be enforced is nugatory and hortatory. If the Mongols appear on the horizon demanding submission, proving that they are wrong is, in itself, pointless. It is necessary to defeat them.

  • John Emerson

Weaker and weaker, the sunlight falls
In the afternoon. The proud and the strong
Have departed.

Those that are left are the unaccomplished,
The finally human,
Natives of a dwindled sphere.

  • Wallace Stevens, Lebenweisheitspielerei

1. THE GAME

What is the game that never ends? What is a game that has rules but no end-state? What is a game whose rules are precisely to have no end-state?

John Conway’s famous Game of Life can be described as such an experiment. Given a set of abstract rules, with a certain set of starting conditions, the game continues on its own way, sometimes having stranger and stranger properties that could never have been predicted from its initial state. Yet for being described as a ‘Game’, it has no end. For that matter, Conway himself in fact set a challenge, which was to prove whether there was a pattern within the Game of Life could subsist indefinitely, given finite starting conditions. The conjecture was proven possible.

Other than that, within the game there was, developed, a few ‘self-organized’ structures that would eventually arise no matter what starting conditions were had. These patterns were given endearing names like ‘Spaceship’, ‘Blinker’ and ‘Glider’, to indicate the type of movements (or lack of) that the pattern indulged in.

Either way, the great Metaphor was developed. You can use the Game to signify a structure’s propensity to dissolve into a massive chaos of unknown side-effects, or you can use the Game to signify the fact that a massive chaos, within stable conditions and rules, will eventually cede into certain circular and repeated set-patterns. And, most importantly, as per the challenge Conway set, the Game signifies the chance of Eternity.

Besides its application to the fundamentals of Life, though, the idea of Politics, and Psychology in general, can also be seen to cede the Game. Politics plays out in the individual rules of human relationships, which, generally, do not vary. You can believe that though the actions within, for example, Love, may change, generally the ebb and flow intrinsic in it still feels similar, and thus metaphors still ring true. Aristophanes’ allegory of Zeus splitting the original human with lightning still speaks to that internal principle that love feels like the reuniting of a soul once cut in twain.

Yet what we call Politics is the beastial flurry of human chaos that arises from these initial conditions, leading to negotiations, betrayals, and wars, due to the conflict implicit in differing human psychological states. Politics is the mid-stage of the Game of Life, and yet, furthermore, and even worse for us, the rules aren’t as mathematically transparent as Conway’s version. The result is that we have no idea when an ending stability will arrive, or, whether the end result isn’t just a termination of the whole system. Being in the midst of the flurry, with opaque rules, we find ourselves having to grasp for our own ideas of stability, and thus, the birth of Political Philosophy, and later, its development into Political Science and Game Theory, the latter variant seeking to find those mathematical principles that can be applied to all human activity.

In the early stages of Political Philosophy, things sounded more like guidelines and codes of conduct. Especially important, for people like Plato, for example, was to define the ideas of Moral Good, or Virtue. The belief was that, once found, the people, with knowledge of what is definitely Moral, would immediately organize themselves into categorically following these precepts. Of course that was all stopped with the realization that Political Realism did not buy into such things. Everyone knows the famous cynical guidelines of Machiavelli, immortalized into the adjective ‘Machiavellian’.

In the Eastern side of things, you had equally differing strains of thought. Confucius espoused a Doctrine of Virtue. You had some more hermetic types of thinkers whose thought could be applied to both Politics, and the contemplation of Life itself, like Laozi’s Tao Te Ching, as well as the writings of Zhuangzi. In terms of pure strategy, you had Sun Tzu’s Art of War, which splits itself between directly actionable war strategies, and metaphorically profound precepts concerning where to apply energy. And, you had the Legalists.

2. THE BOOK

Net philosopher and thinker John Emerson paints himself as a wayward generalist thinker-skeptic in the vein of Montaigne, and writes about a ridiculously eclectic array of subjects. He has mounted several attacks on Analytic Philosophy, written about the history and strategies of the Mongols, ruminated on the history of the Octopus as a metaphor, and come up with a theory of Genius (in those such as Rimbaud and Nietzsche) linked to the Sexual Repression of Classical Education.

Yet he also has cohesive studies on Chinese Philosophy, and has translated the various teachings and fragments of Daoist-Legalist Shen Dao.

The translation, as well as his own study of the text, can be found:

https://haquelebac.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/translation-of-shen-dao-large.pdf

https://haquelebac.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/study-of-shen-dao.pdf

But this ‘review’ will serve to showcase own thoughts and ruminations on the matter.

Firstly, a look into the core distinction of ‘Orthodoxy’ and ‘Orthopraxy’.

W David Marx, who writes about Japanese Society on his website Neo-Japonisme, adapted the term ‘orthopraxial’ for his description of how Japanese Society, and, for that matter, Societies with a Confucian tinge, tend to function. He expresses this as the split between ‘correct belief’ and ‘correct practice’. This distinction places a premium, within a society, on ritual, over belief or ideology. Simplified: It doesn’t really matter what one believes in, as long as one acts upon the rituals within society without deviation.

An illustration of this can be seen in the comparison of Christianity and Shintoism in Japan. Whilst Christianity professes a core system of beliefs, you have multiple denominations based on the interpretations of these beliefs, and some, like Catholics, believe more in ritualized action, versus those, like Charismatics, believing more in the individual propensity towards the Divine through miracles and signs. On the other hand, you wouldn’t have many people within Japan claiming to have a full-blown fundamental belief in the ideologies underlining Shintoism, and yet, regardless of what they actually believe in, they still partake in rituals during the appointed festivals like Tanabata.

Then again, this also occurs in many outside instances, like, during Christmas, but David Marx (and others in the comments section) goes on to analyze a few other instances of how deep rooted the Orthopraxy is within society itself.

Rakugo, for example, is described as an orthopraxial comedy, as opposed to stand-up routines. Rakugo performers cycle through the same jokes, as told throughout history by a long line of other performers, but the difference lies purely in the execution of the joke itself.

As another example, Japanese bands tend to start off as cover bands for more famous songs, before transitioning, eventually, into their own style. There was even an instance of a Jazz band being able to play Ornette Coleman numbers (Coleman being a player of, of all things, free jazz) note-for-note, despite the underlying idea of it being Coleman’s ridiculously experimental improvisations.

Orthopraxy expresses historical ritual as an organism separate from individuals, and, even, as a representative of a force, of Society, or even Nature, greater than individuals themselves. These are the enforced rules of the Eternal Game, forced to stick in order to maintain the indefinite subsistence of a Society, as dictated by Conway’s challenge.

棄道術,舍度量,以求一人之識識天下,誰子之識能足焉?

“To reject the Tao and rules, and ignore the standards and measures, and seek through a single man’s knowledge to understand the world – what man would be capable of doing this?” (Shen Dao)

But placing a credence of Socialized Ritual is only a small part of ensuring stability. Order seeks to be maintained on the higher level of the Government, or on the relevant Authorities. Yet the Game expresses itself in varied nefarious patterns, and not all leaders are benevolent, or seek the adequate measure of virtue. For that matter, as long as there are those who strive for power, even a virtuous King may be overthrown. That was one of the many problems that the Legalists were facing, and why they criticized Confucianism:

“As it happened, however, this system of personalized government by men of excellence proved highly susceptible to graft, nepotism, and ultimately — if an excellent minister was able to convince a large enough group of supporters that he was more excellent than the actual king — usurpation. Confucius’ men of excellence were really just idealized versions of the proud, greedy, ambitious, contentious, brawling nobles (or later, ambitious parvenus) characteristic of court life in every society, and in order to find his model society Confucius had to look to the very scanty records of the early Zhou, more than five centuries before his own birth.” (John Emerson’s Notes)

As Emerson also notes, Mencius was the first thinker to rectify Confucius, who believed that Rulers should be chosen based on their own individual traits of Virtue, to the more pragmatic approach that Rulers should be chosen based on their own abilities, and he also believed that reward and punishment was necessary.

Legalists took this idea to the extreme, by theorizing a clearly defined set of laws and regulations that formed into an intricately structured hierarchy, which existed separate from the individual dispositions of the people within the hierarchy itself. It didn’t matter whether a person was evil as long as he committed the responsibility he was given. If he completed it, he was expected to be rewarded. If he didn’t complete it, he was punished. If he completed more than the objective that was set for him, he was also punished. The Legalists theorized that a person who did not follow the strict duties imposed by the system, even if they sought to do more work for the system, were trying to acquire private benefits, and such people were detrimental to the structure, perhaps even being a sign of dangerously overambitious careerism.

故明主之使其臣也,忠不得過職,而職不得過官; 是以過修於身而下不敢以善驕矜。

“When an enlightened prince employs his officials, their diligence is not allowed to go beyond their assigned tasks, and their assigned tasks do not go beyond those of their office. In this way their errors can be individually remedied, and subordinates do not dare to aggrandize themselves by their benevolence.” (Shen Dao)

The reason for the strict hierarchy was based on the belief that crisis and instability was caused by a conflict of interest. The problem with Confucius, who believed that the King had to be aided by numerous men of excellence who displayed Virtue, was that when that many people were involved in the process, you had a split idea of how the state was to be run, and when there was a split idea, without any rules and strict dictations to go by, you had a possibility for civil war.

“In the beginning of human life, when there was no law and no government, the custom was “everyone according to his own justice”. Accordingly each man had his own idea of justice. Two men had two different ideas, and ten men had ten different ideas – the more people, the more different ideas.” (Mencius, not a Legalist, but he had some similar ideas)

兩貴不相事; 兩賤不相使。

“If two are equally honored, neither will serve the other; if two are equally lowly, neither will work for the other.” (Shen Dao)

Ideally, in a Legalist society, there always had to be a definite higher rank in any scenario, and a definite lower one. This carried itself all the way up to the highest, who was the King, and yet, the King himself was no Great Man. He was merely the person who assigned responsibilities. In Shen Dao’s words, the King had ‘nothing to do’.

故立天子以為天下也,非立天下以為天子也.立國君以為國也,非立國以為君也.立官長以為官, 非立官以為長也。

“So the emperor is enthroned for sake of the empire; the empire is not established for the sake of the emperor. A prince is enthroned for the sake of a state; a state is not established for the sake   of the prince. Officials are established for the sake of their offices; offices are not established for the sake of the officials.” (Shen Dao)

君臣之道,臣事事而君無事 ; 君逸樂而臣任勞 ; 臣盡智力以善其 事而君無與焉 , 仰成而巳 ; 故事無不治 . 治之正道然也。

“The Dao of the prince and the minister: the minister performs his task and the prince has no task; the prince is relaxed and happy and the minister takes on the labor; the minister uses all his knowledge and strength to perform his job satisfactorily, and the prince does not share in the labor, but merely waits for the job to be finished. As a result, every task is taken care of. The correct way of government is thus.” (Shen Dao)

The Legalist King was entirely conceptually different from a Charismatic type like Napoleon or Hitler. Who he was, and what his beliefs were, were totally irrelevant. This was, as Emerson notes, a new focus on a ‘Theory of Society’ as opposed to a ‘Great-Man Theory’. In a way, Shen Dao had also adapted the idea of the King from the Mystic Thinker Laozi. He adopts the Daoist idea of the Sage (聖人) here:

聖人雖不憂人之危也,百姓 順 上而比於其下,必取己安焉 ; 則聖人無事矣。

“Although the Sage does not care that men are imperiled, if the people conform to the superior and accept their lower status, they will assuredly get peace for themselves; but the Sage does nothing.” (Shen Dao)

“Shen Dao’s depersonalization of government amounts to the rejection of the great man theory of politics and history and the beginning of a theory of society.” (John Emerson’s Notes)

Throughout the whole series of fragments, Shen Dao uses a wide knowledge of Classical references from Literature and History, and yet he uses these references solely to destabilize the idea of the importance of individual traits. He brings up examples of entities with superlative skills, virtue, or abilities, and critiques how these entities, placed under certain conditions, would be completely ineffectual despite their prowess.

Examples (from Shen Dao):

“Mao Qiang and Xi Shi were the loveliest women in the world. If they had been dressed in demon garb, passerbys would have fled from them; if they had changed into fine black linen, passerbys would have gathered to look at them… (similarly)… When the sage Yao was a peasant, he could not govern even his neighborhood; but when the villain Jie was Emperor, he could disorder the whole world.”

“The reason why the virtue of the Three Emperors and the Five Hegemons matched that of Heaven and Earth, reached the ghosts and the spirits, and embraced all living creatures was that their helpers were many”

“Li Zhu’s eyesight was so sharp that he could distinguish the tip of a hair at more than a hundred paces; but beyond one foot he couldn’t tell if the water was shallow or deep. This was not because his eyes were not sharp, but because the situation made it hard to see.”

“Gongshu Zi was a skilled woodworker, but even he could not make a lute out of spindlewood.”

“Even princes with ministers as courageously loyal as Pi Kan or Wu Tzu-hsu could go to their deaths amid darkness, infamy, and evil.”

All of these examples profess a great cynicism towards human aptitude in the face of randomized and uncertain scenarios: The multifarious and constantly evolving conditions of the game. Indeed, the whole history of Politics, analyzed, creates a great distrust in the idea that there could ever be a right system as a whole, and various dives or gains will result in completely different structures altogether. Statistician and Psychologist Scott Alexander makes the claim (taking the idea from Robin Hanson) that our current democratic society can only exist because technology has pushed us into ‘Dream Time’, or the moment when we can enjoy an abundance of resources, at least until the Malthusian Trap eventually comes into the fray and pushes us back into dire measures for survival, like re-applying the political structure of the Legalists.

Furthermore, Shen Dao realized the fact that a Dictator arises not purely from a figurehead, but also from a stable support base. Although a charismatic front at the right time is an ingredient, there is no certain way to claim that, if the Hitlers or the Stalins were not there, that history could have played out any differently. I’m not a believer of hard social determinism, but I personally believe that, even if those individual elements were not involved, the accumulation of individual sentiments at the time would have still precipitated the conflict, although of a completely different, and possibly less extremist strain.

The Legalists, who understood this, achieved highly pragmatic reforms, and effectively modernized and rationalized the system of Government in China. Their efficiency, though, was brutal. By the time the Warring States had ended, and the Qin Dynasty was formed, the burning of books caused the destruction of much of China’s intellectual history, especially the death of the ‘One-Hundred Schools of Thought’ that had existed beforehand. By the end of it, Legalism was the main victor on the intellectual field.

Emerson, though, states the claim that much of what the Legalists achieved in their time, was a prototype of the similar organizational and institutional structures that we’ve come to recognize as existing in today’s society:

“However, while there was a murderous dark side to this modernization, the previous state of affairs had been far from idyllic, and agriculture was greatly improved, and some of the administrative and economic improvements were positive. Many of the innovations made in China during that era (regarding the selection and supervision of subordinates, for example, or the direct, non-feudal legal and tax obligation of commoners, or the alienability of land) are now standard policy almost everywhere in the world. For better or worse, both public administration and business management today usually operate on what could be called Legalist principles.” (John Emerson’s Notes)

“An impartial minister also will not allow his own social goals or his own feelings of right and wrong divert him from the fulfillment of his assigned tasks… There are certainly problems with this principle, but it is no different than the ethics of the contemporary business world (“I’ve got a job to do; a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do”) or the ethic of contemporary professionalism, according to which lawyers and civil servants must do their jobs regardless of their personal feelings about their clients or about desired social outcomes. This is what it means to be an agent rather than a principal. To disagree with Shen Dao here is to make a fundamental criticism of contemporary institutional organization.” (John Emerson’s Notes)

Similarly, W David Marx makes an observation about the Orthopraxial Society:

“Subsequently this natural inclination to following rules creates a well-ordered society. Orthodoxy, on the other hand, leads to factional arguments between true believers and the subsequent justification of one’s own actions through a specific belief system. With morality living and breathing within the public domain, Japan becomes a pleasant place — as long as the authoritarians who ultimately control the rules work for the benefit of the populace. The West may not have order, but Weber saw the East lacking the very concept of “liberty.” In other words, Confucian orthopraxy reliance on stability means that the benevolent top is responsible for positive social change. In an orthodoxical world, the people can easily overthrow the everday praxis and systems in order to attain a better society.

Both societies have their pluses and minuses, and clearly each civilization has a lot to learn from the other. Within this new age of globalization, however, nations’ outputs are increasingly measured on the same universal scale. Japan’s detail-orientation worked perfectly for its burgeoning quality-controlled manufacturing sector and other Fordist enterprises.

The criteria for many new industrial fields, however, are so marked by the dogma of Western orthodoxical tradition that Japan has great difficulty in competing. The idea of the artist as self-centered creator may be completely foreign to Japan, and while the Japanese have adopted the praxis of 20th century artistic or intellectual endeavor, the fundamental assumptions are not well-understood. Japanese firms tend to run in hierarchical arrangements where leaders micromanage the behavior of their charges. In recent years, this kind of management style — once prevalent around the globe — has fallen out of favor in other countries.” (Orthodoxy vs Orthopraxy, W David Marx)

And, as one more note, the scientist Piero Scaruffi notes that (paraphrased), the management and automation of human labor was more key to our industrial growth than the invention of machines. We’re just reaping the fruits of the game we’ve been playing all this while.

3. THE END-GAME

What is the End-Game of Legalism? Shen Dao points repeatedly to the idea of stability, and the avoidance of ‘chaos’.

In the current era of Scientific development, we’re starting to get a sense of the rules governing this ‘chaos’. One of the reasons why establishing praxis is more important in ensuring societal stability than establishing ideology, may be explained in how we adopt psychological conditioning into our system through natural selection. As pointed out in Daniel Dennett’s Kinds of Minds, after an animal selects biological traits and mutations that optimize its survival, it seeks to optimize actions and responses in an external environment. Even if we believe different things, we hold the same habitual rituals and are placed in the same milieu of rules that governs society, and this state, of what we call societal rituals has been reached through an extensive history of choosing what ensures our survival.

Yet can we believe in such a thing as an end-goal? Isn’t it quite a heinous concept? Shen Dao’s conditions expunges the Human State of all Art and Poetry. It expunges Individual worth. This is a scary thing. It’s a scary thing because, as we can see from the above observations, it works, and has been working for a long time. Under the Legalistic control, all the focus was placed into agriculture, and warfare, and Emerson summarizes it as: “Squeeze as much tax money as you can from the miserable peasantry so that you can afford to live high while sending large numbers of them off on endless bloody wars and conquests”. And yet it was this very policy, as a foundation, that later ensured some stability:

“It should be mentioned that, while the Chinese commitment to hierarchy and unity did make empire possible and did give China considerable periods of peaceful unity, it also stood in the way of the Chinese acceptance of multinationalism and individual rights.” (John Emerson’s Notes)

Ah. The Endless Game has so many fluctuations and shifts in the playing field. Knowing this, don’t we find it strange as to how electoral camps are split between dualistic all-or-nothing party struggles? Even though it’s better than having to rely on the bloody struggle for a single spot in a Monarchy, though. The philosopher David Stove has a comment that was applied to the analytic philosophers, but may also be relevant here (paraphrased to fit): “A doctor deals with diseases by increasing the amount of tools, possible cures and medicines within his arsenal, rather than decreasing them, and yet (Ideologies) reduces all of that down into a single tool.”

An argument used by Albert Camus to call out the absurdity of any philosophical doctrine, was to bring out the fact that the world is able to accommodate both a thesis, as well as its counterthesis. Indeed this shifting around of opposites was, at its core, the essential message of the Tao Te Ching. Action equates to Non-Action. Knowledge, to Non-Knowledge. Sometimes, in the Legalist sense, the world becomes stable if you become a King, as a placard. An empty set that merely ensures the continuation of the structure bereft of any internal personality of one’s own. The desireless and personality-devoid, formally perfect system, or the starting conditions to solve Conway’s indefinite challenge, is the goal of any Political Philosophy.

And yet is it really a definite system that solves the challenge? When the rules of the game are so opaque, we, within the system, do not have to luxury to build stable houses, for fear that the next storm will come about to shatter it all into the dust. At the normal end of any other scenario in Conway’s Game, after all the population boom and hallucinogenic explosions have cleared, what is usually left is a scatter of solitary rooted nomads, or wayward gliders, and the dust of the axioms and spaces that blows in-between.

4. THE WIN-STATE

“Because I can only recognize a sin when I am no longer committing it. Therefore I cannot comprehend life so long as I am living it, and time is the mystery because I have not yet overcome it. Only death can teach me the meaning of life. I stand in time and not above it, I still posit time, still long for non-being, still desire material life; and because I remain in this sin, I am not capable of comprehending it. What I know, I already stand outside of. I cannot comprehend my sinfulness, because I am still sinful.” (Otto Weininger)

“We are preparing for a real ethical relation to our fellow men when we make them conscious that each of them possesses a higher self, a soul, and that they must realize the souls in others. This relation is, however, manifested in the most curious manner in the man of genius. No one suffers so much as he with the people, and, therefore, for the people, with whom he lives. For, in a certain sense, it is certainly only “by suffering” that a man knows. If compassion is not itself clear, abstractly conceivable or visibly symbolic knowledge, it is, at any rate, the strongest impulse for the acquisition of knowledge. It is only by suffering that the genius understands men. And the genius suffers most because he suffers with and in each and all; but he suffers most through his understanding.” (Otto Weininger)

When we play Conway’s Game of Life without the knowledge of the rules underneath, we don’t know what we’ll get. We pick a random scatter of spaces. Watch colorful smoke, and then have no clue what’s happening. Shen Dao picked up the game, our game, and he, along with the other Legalists, and other Political Realists came up with the first sketchings of some sinister rule that was rooted deeper and deeper within all of us. He exposed our startling potential for squabbles, our willingness to be controlled by fear, and our oozing, primordial, desire for stability.

Today, we laud Individuality and Progression as ideal elements. In Anime, especially, you have the Shounen Hero who starts small, struggles large, and becomes the savior of the day. A startling irony given what David Marx points out about the Japanese Orthopraxial Society. Then again, we most cherish and desire for the things that we don’t have, and Entertainment is all about using those desires to feed into Escapism. (For that matter, it’s also quite interesting to note how these works show growth in the form of definite hierarchical power-levels, as opposed to the circular slow push and pull, intermingled, if lucky, with sudden jolts, that characterizes actual personality growth in society)

How do we win the Endless Game? Shen Dao may not have the most correct answer, but he has an inkling of something:

天有明,不憂人之闇也;地有財,不憂人之貧也

“Heaven has light and does not care that men are in darkness; Earth is fruitful, and does not care that men are impoverished.” (Shen Dao)

天雖不憂人之闇也,闢戶開牖必取己明焉,則天無事矣

“Although Heaven does not care that men are in darkness, if the open their doors and windows, they will assuredly get light for themselves; but Heaven does nothing” (Shen Dao)

地雖不憂人之貧也,伐木刈草,必取己富焉;則地無事矣

Although Earth does not care that men are impoverished, if they fell the trees and harvest the plants, they will assuredly get wealth for themselves; but Earth does nothing.” (Shen Dao)

人莫不自為也;化而使之為我,則莫可得而用矣。

“All men act for their own interests. If you try to reform them to instead act for your interest, there will be no one you can successfully employ.”

故聖人處上,能無害人,不能使人無己害也; 則百姓除其害矣

“So the Sage in high position does not harm men, though he cannot keep men from harming each other. It is the people themselves who eliminate the harm.” (Shen Dao)

At the very start of all things, the Legalists were heeding a call for action, within the hustle and bustle of the Warring States. And they based their principle of State, like Hobbes, on the human propensity for selfishness. But Shen Dao also saw that the first step underlining something higher, was, beyond the self, an engagement with the world.

There are millions of souls in the world, and if we want to deal with all of them, we need an arsenal. This arsenal is formed, not by limiting our tools of understanding, but by growing them. The Light is there, but the doors are windows are closed. The Earth is fruitful, but your hands must pluck the fruits from the trees. There are a thousand different types of psychologies in the world. These are all the conditions set into our game. The only way, even to play, is, first, to know the rules of the game. When we don’t know the rules, and never engage with the World to try, then what little else do we expect but to find ourselves, even against our will, to follows the rules of some other vaster and murkier thing?

A Manga about life in a post-Legalist corporation, Moyoco Anno’s Hataraki Man, tells of the different personalities working within Journalism, traversing the whole scope from the smallest to the largest rank. Every chapter tends to revolve around a different personality within the company, around the main heroine. A poem is quoted within the work:

“The road through the grove of larch,
Gives pause to mine and thine march.
It’s a narrow winding trail.
It’s a lonely hastening trail.
The world is filled with wonders,
Each with their capricious moods.
The mountains have the mountain’s sound.
The larches have the larches wind.”

Thanks for listening.

POST NOTES

1. Otto Weininger, as many people know him now, is famous for his misogynistic and racist book – Sex & Character. The book is extremely flawed, but the philosopher Wittgenstein was inspired by it, and he advises that the book be read as a ‘negative-book’ by which if you placed a minus-sign in front of the whole book, you’d discover a great truth. And, indeed, some of the premises that Weininger begins with are startlingly progressive, despite the eventual conclusions he reaches. He begins by stating that every human being is a mixture of genders, rather than being a definite gender, but then somehow the rest of the book opens up into an extreme debasement of the ‘feminine principle’. Some people have chosen to read this as less of gender critique, and more of a description of two Platonic ideas, the Male Principle, and the Female Principle, that exists within a single personality. One method of reading the book is to replace every instance of the term ‘Female’ with the term ‘Stupid Person’, but even then some judgments that he makes really seems to be derived from Weininger shooting the shit about bitches & hoes with his other misogynistic and anti-semitic dudebros.

The sections that are really worth it, though, are Weininger ruminations on the idea of Genius, where he comes up with a thesis of Genius that states how the Genius is a person that integrates the entire scope of humanity, rather than existing beyond them. Furthermore, his notion of Genius is universal. This faculty exists in every human being, although it manifests itself in rare circumstances, and its hardly ever harnessed. If you apply a Philosophy of the Mind approach to it, this notion mirrors how some philosophers, like Douglas Hofstadter and Thomas Metzinger, conceive of the idea that we develop in knowledge by modeling other people within ourselves, as well as the environment, and thus we derive empathy from that fact. In fact one of the greatest weapons against the Political Realists or Legalists thesis of selfish desire, is precisely that we only build the self through modeling against other people. This can also be used to interpret what Shen Dao means when he sketches out how stability can only be formed by people acting selfishly-together, although, rather than using this as a base to build off a theory of empathy, he uses it to come up with how to manipulate people’s desires.

2. Although the Game of Life is what Conway is most famous for, he himself has ambivalent thoughts about it, precisely due to it being what he’s most famous for. Herman Hesse has used some equivalently monstrous game metaphors in his books, with his famous Glass-Bead Game, as well as a section near the end of Steppenwolf involving a game of Chess. I apologize to Conway for continuing to abuse his game for literary and philosophical purposes.

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