These days there are as many schools of thought as there are people on the planet.  And while it might be politically correct to talk about how wonderful that is, one might see how it simply isn't.  The proliferation of modified belief systems is the pathway, for many, to originality.  When in truth it is simply static in which the truly valid viewpoints are lost.  If all of these viewpoints were grounded in a degree of objectivity there might be validity to them.  But if most of us were being truly objective we might actually refrain from espousing a certain belief or view until it was fully formulated, or at least more mature.  In other words, for many of us, never.  Which is not to say that people should remain silent, or they should keep their mouthes shut.  But I've noticed that when opinions or viewpoints are not properly nurtured they collapse under scrutiny.  And when that happens, people have the tendency to default to sticking, egoistically, to that viewpoint no matter how invalid or irrational.  I started thinking about this while having some tea and discussing it with a friend.  At first I was thinking that there should be objective rules by which to govern or mediate debates.  Then I realized there were rules.  Those rules are based on Aristotelian logic, which almost no one adheres to.

       After mulling it over for a few minutes I started thinking about Aristotle.  Aristotle was the third in a generation of ancient Greek philosphers, having been taught by Plato who was, in turn, taught by Socrates.  If you were to look at the works of each of those philosphers you would see that they each had a distinct way of looking at things.  Yet you would also see something of the teacher in the student.  Each one of those philosphers had a framework that was provided by his instructor through which he learned to think and write.  They belonged to a school of thought.  More importantly, by being able to trace the lineage of that school of thought, we effectively have a geneaology of sorts.  We can see, by looking at Socrates and Plato, how Aristotle arrived at his philosophical conclusions.  We can dissect the work that he has created on its own, by using his predecessors as a point of reference.  Some might say that this is a preamble to an elitist way of thinking.  It could even be argued that having a philosophical geneaology is the very antithesis of original thinking.  We are no longer talking about philosophy in the classical sense.  Now I am using the word "philosophy" to describe an approach or method.
         Some I know would argue that there is no such thing as original thinking.  I don't subscribe to this and would counter by saying that is the assertion of people with very little imagination.  Going back to the last point, there is nothing wrong with being part of or subscribing to a particular school of thought.  It provides a framework and guidance for those that lack the maturity and skill to properly express their own ideas.  We can follow this way of thinking until the onset of such maturity.  The most significant aspect to this is that it helps us to eventually know and understand what we believe and what we don't.  Too often people cling to a specific set of beliefs and yet have no idea why.  They rail against established norms, governments, philosophies etc., but if you asked them why they will immediately transfer the onus of that belief to the offending institution.  This is effectively nihilism.  The fact is, the only people who are qualified to dismantle a system or oppose it are those that truly have an understanding of it.  Those people would be either, former acolytes of that school of thought, or those who have studied that system or school for purposes of dismantling it.
      While it's true we do have a lot of things in modern times that are the evolutionary result of some great frameworks, everyone is in a hurry to discard them in favor of their own "original" thinking.  They still draw, ecclectically, from those sources of knowledge but rework them just enough to claim them.  What we have is a lot of really lost people with no frame of reference and nothing really substantial to back up their method.  Some of these processes work.  Most don't.  So what we have are millions of people who substitute practical or academic bonafides with shouting at the top of their lungs.  No one gets heard.  And no one advances the philosophies that have merit.  And even where a philosophical geneaology firmly in place, we often don't bother to take this into consideration.  We blindly leap into debate, or artistic endeavors without giving much thought to those who toiled before us.
         I leave you with the example of the Japanese swordsman.  Kenjutsu or "the art of the sword" has had many masters over its centuries long tradition.  Often times, in single combat, swordsman knew one another by their respective instructors.  Really it was all that had to be known.  Frequently this knowledge might save a persons' life if they knew how to account for it.  The styles and the moves could be easily traced back to an instructor, and to an instructor's instructor.  Later, after Sekigahara (a famous battle that determined who would finally rule all of Japan), Samurai had very little cause to draw their weapons, so they took up the courtly arts.  Many gravitated toward calligraphy because it was the most like swordsmanship of any of the arts.  It was rumored that the masters could determine who had written a character simply by observing the stroke of the calligraphy.  There were other rumors like that as well.  Some even say that some masters could look upon the body of a dead enemy and know who it was that had killed him.  One such master was Yagyu Jubei.  He was instrumental in deciding the victory at Sekigahara.  But he was also known for being a philosophical descendant of Takuan Soho, a famous monk who would later write the "Unfettered Mind", a book about Zennism and single combat.  Yagyu Jubei was also known to be the primary instructor of the Emperors troops, so effective was his hand in swordsmanship.
         Yagyu Jubei did not start out as a master.  And considering he was only 47 when he died, he achieved this status very early in life.  He studied under his master (likely his father), and his master's master.  Why was Yagyu Jubei so much more effective that he was summoned by the Emperor to ride under his banner, and not his father?  Clearly he was doing something different, and something effective.  What are the odds that he would have arrived at this level of mastery without the teachings of his masters?  He built upon those teachings and evolved them into a style that is still being taught some 400 years later.  If you look upon kenjutsu as a sort of debate, where each of the participants lodge their arguments and objections with swords, you would see that at no point are these masters swinging wildly.  They are not lost in their combat.  They know precisely what to do.  They know how to counter each argument, and how to mount one of their own.  The geneaology is evident in each swing, and both parties can see this.  The practice and the methodology is no different than any other discipline except that the stakes are quite a bit higher.  Why then, can we not apply the same in our beliefs?  Are we so afraid that dissecting and evaluating, not only our beliefs but our art, will lead to a default dismantling of those beliefs?  Why couldn't such an evaluation lead to a strengthening of those beliefs and practices?  Likely it would.  Simply because our understanding of it would have deepened by virtue of internally challenging them everyday.

 

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J. Austin Yoshino
Author: J. Austin Yoshino
Editor-In-Chief
That's what I do; I read and I know things.
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