Say what you want about their chicken balls, their Olympic athletics team, or even their human rights policies. Guys, you have to admit, “the Chinese are a great bunch of lads…”. I suppose it’s quite easy to understand how people and societies can become so egocentric. We only have one chance to grow up in this life, and as children we consciously, subconsciously and unquestionably learn and absorb so much about this world through school and general day to day life without having even developed an innate sense of critical or rational thinking yet. You could argue some people never develop this sense. But you can see through learning about history, watching news reports, reading books, listening to music, watching Tv shows and movies that we really develop this one world narrative in our lives, where we understand things so well that aren’t too derived from ourselves that we can’t help but feel that our society is the be all and end all, and feel superior to that which we don’t understand as well. This narrative is fed only by one real point of view, and is probably a determinant of why Christopher Columbus is considered as the man who discovered America, and not the man who discovered America for the Europeans. Europe has had some great achievements to boast about. From the Bronze Age developments, to the cultural might of the Romans and Greeks right up the colonisation conquests of the last 200 years, there has been a lot of success and dominance to suggest to ourselves that the west is the best. But as the world grows smaller, we can’t really hold ourselves to this infallible one way narrative.
But just as great as these achievements and civilisations were, were they the best at the time? Growing up I used to think that the Romans were the most powerful civilisation around during their time. I’m sure everyone else does also. I did until I learned what the Chinese were up to at the exact same time, when I learned about Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China and probably the richest and most powerful man that ever lived. He conquered the whole of China with an army that would have ruined and had the Romans running, then built the Great Wall of China, and is immortalised in his tomb by the Terracotta Army. He also was bit of a dick, but he wasn’t something we learned of in school. This wasn’t a world that we were exposed to. The Chinese have always been quite advanced, and maybe this isn’t recognised as much as they didn’t come to this part of the world to set up shop like some countries from here did to them. (In 1421 the Ming Dynasty set out to explore the world, came to Europe, thought it was shit, and then went home again never to return. A bit like a medieval Magaluf). But even though they can’t do it at football, the two things I think they have the west beaten at are their medicine and their development of morality. Over here, our idea of good medicine is being pumped full of drugs to numb how you feel to a problem. Over there, they’ll find out what the cause of the problem is. Eg, your leg is sore. Over here you’ll take some painkillers so you can’t feel the pain. Over there, they’ll see that your leg is sore because your hips are out of line because you sit awkwardly while watching TV in bed. But I suppose the best and most interesting thing that auld Orientals have going over us has been their attitude to religion and morality.
Confucius was a man who lived 2500 ago. He was a politician, a philosopher, and generally an all-round decent guy. His teachings preached doing right for the sake of right and developed into an ethical code adopted by the Chinese which still exists to this day. It would be the largest religion in China, except for it to be a religion it would need to constitute the existence of a god, which it does not. Confucius was the ultimate humanist, and the Chinese have been learning about right and wrong the humanist way for the last 2500 years. That’s a bit different to us, who for the same time have been learning about right and wrong through fear and reward. Fear of going to hell, and rewarded with going to heaven. The rest of the world for some reason needed some higher power to make us treat each other decently. We went to mass, we said our prayers, and we did what we were told so as not to piss off the big guy upstairs. I always felt this has been a real hallow sense of ethics, as you’re not being good for the sake of being good, you being good to get something out of it. As if you can’t control yourself and that you are fundamentally a prick. But as religion is in decline, some people may find themselves on some uncomfortable ground. The whole thing could unravel, just as the bold child who calls their mom’s bluff when she points to you and says “if you don’t behave the man there will take you away”, and yet keeps pissing in the fruit section in the supermarket anyway. (I’ve always hated people who say shit like that, discipline your own child for fuck sake, and certainly don’t have the nerve to call the Gards when I actually make a grab for it either). As a society we are rejecting the old enforcers of morality after we gradually came to our senses and found out that there was something sinister lurking and protruding under those black robes, only to be unsure with what we replaced them with. There is no longer one institution or rule book to tell us how to behave anymore, as a group we no longer have to take orders from one warped person.
In this age of communication we are all being brought closer and closer together. We are becoming more educated, enlightened and I would like to hopefully think becoming more sensitive than generations past. The concept of the one world village is becoming more and more a reality with the growth of the internet, and just as with any village, people fall into line thanks to the iniquities of public opinion. We haven’t moved away entirely from being motivated by fear and reward as the ways of old, they have just taken on new forms. Thanks to social media we all now have a say in what goes on and what we think about things. For good or for bad, informed or ignorant, people have a say and they will say it. Thanks to all our individual contributions, the internet has emerged as the most powerful force in our society today, and just as the gods described in the old testament of the bible, it’s not something that you want to fuck with.
Today, nearly every single person out of the 6 billion or so people stuck on this planet are no more than a couple of clicks away on their computer from finding out who you are and what you’re about. Mix this with every one of those having the potential to become their own media production company and there is little in this world that goes unnoticed anymore. Everyone has a say nowadays, and if you do something in public that they don’t like, they’re going to know about it, and they’re going to tell you their opinion whether you like it or not. There have been numerous examples of public opinion on the internet attacking and destroying things it opposes or finds unacceptable. Such as the Arab Spring risings of the last couple of years. But unfortunately, people are cruel, and the internet gives people the space to exercise this cruelty, be it to attack someone or revel in someone’s demise, all from a safe distance. This is why cyberbulling has been so prevalent, and which is why we have incidents like the KPMG girl from a while back, to the more recent Slanegirl pictures.
We are living in generation entertain me. We want instant gratification from information that is simple, concise and fun. But we are also sadistic. Growing up I was warned of the dangers of the World Wide Web, and that people on the internet are not who they say there are. I disagree. It has become more apparent now that people tell the truth on the internet, revealing who they really are, and that they are lying in real life. All you have to do is go onto the comments section of a YouTube video to see how nasty people can be, a nastiness that you won’t see anywhere out in public. The internet has given us all a say, but unfortunately not every should have a say. We can spread whatever opinion we like without the responsibility of legitimacy, and the disastrous thing about that is once it’s out there someone will believe it. I think it was Abraham Lincoln who said “The problems with quotes on the internet, is that you can’t always depend on their accuracy”.
We are living in a village nowadays where public opinion will increasingly tell us how to behave. If we are caught doing something wrong and outrageous, we won’t be relying on an old man to refer to it in a book to tell us, some random 16 year old on twitter will. We will learn from the mistakes of others as how not to get burned at the stake of real-time scrutiny. Fear and reward have not gone away as ethical motivators. Public opinion is becoming a determinant of right and wrong, and it has never been as powerful. The internet has become the great equaliser of communication and opinion and thus, is becoming the great democratiser of morality, where everyone has a say in it. This has consequences for everyone, from individuals to brands to governments, and therefore means that everyone has a personal responsibility to conduct themselves in a proper and humane manner. I’m sure there will be a few diehards who will grasp on tightly to the last old bastions of morality. They’ll be the ones sending Bruce Willis up in space ship with a nuclear bomb when we receive the news that a giant asteroid is going to hit earth. But this isn’t the movies, there will be no rousing Aerosmith version of the angelus to see us out, all we can do is accept what is coming and brace for impact. This new age of morality won’t be a perfect method, but neither has any code of the past. We are still in the same stage of the development of the internet as the light bulb was to electricity, and until we understand how to handle it and ourselves, we are going to see more KPMG and Slane girls sacrificed for public enjoyment like lions in the coliseum.
Can we complain about it? Sure. Will it change anything? Nope. But one thing is for sure, and that’s that we are in an exciting time with a fascinating new medium that has given the individual enormous power. It’s something that is ours, and it’s something that we all play a role in. But we need to stop being so egocentric and ignorant to the rest of the world like history has tended to be, and understand that those are other people out there in cyberland, and that we all have a responsibility in how we conduct ourselves.
Yes that old Chinese fella was a wise man, who preached understanding and humility on a level that needed no other enforcement. And in true internet style I have found one of his quotes that I feel accurately reflects my point.
“Don’t be a dick on twitter, or else”
– Confucius, “Welcome to the internet”, P4.