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The Difference Between 'What is Right' and 'What Sells'



“The superior man understands what is
right; the inferior man understands what will sell."

Confucius 1



Today is a world imbedded in the advertisement; the “propaganda” of the company created to sell its product. Even our politics have become basically advertisements to sell candidates and their ideas to a populace preconditioned to what sells. So what Confucius said (above) about this is very relevant today, just as it was two and a half millennia ago in ancient China. The difference between what is right and what, on the face of it, appeals to the desires of the masses is the subject of this essay.

Confucius divided humanity into two groups, the Superior men and the Inferior men; the term men here is genderless, merely conforming to the prejudices of the society of his day that understood women to be subservient to men. The word right is significant. By right he meant what is “intrinsically right”; the intuitive feeling that allows one person to know and understand the private world of another. We might call the right something that is shared by all humans that allows them to understand and accept each other; a shared duty that allows harmony to grow between us because we all understand the outlook all of us hold, and realize that it is the essence of humanity, instead of the shuttered concerns of the individual self. It is, of course, the GOOD I have spoken of in other essays. What is right is not often easy, or even appealing at times; it is often a hard pill that we must swallow because we realize that the outcome of not swallowing it will, in the end only come back to bite us. It is the realization that “duty” comes before personal interest; that sacrifice is a part of what all humans must undergo to continue to be human, instead of only living for the present as the animals do.

This is exactly what the huckster does not do; the huckster lives only for the moment, and the sale that will bring him his next profit, immaterial of the consequences it will bring to anyone else. He lives off of the desires of the masses, the flash in the pan that “tempts” the unwary into buying his product regardless of the consequence the sale may bring.

What Confucius says is the difference between honesty and deception; what sells is a deception that beguiles us to forget the long-term benefit for the short-term gain. It is a self-deception that makes us think that only our own desires are what count; that alienate us into a world that exists only for us and no one else. And that is exactly the world that modern society lives within. It is the same state that Confucius found his world in almost 3000 years ago. We have changed outwardly by leaps and bounds, through technology and science, into the same state the world was in almost three thousand years ago. As our knowledge increases, our wisdom remains unchanged. Humanity has if anything actually regressed into a state where “what sells” has replaced “what is right”; where knowledge has replaced wisdom, and the benefit of All has been equated with the benefit of the few.

Today, religion and economics keep us locked into the futile state the world existed in two and a half millennia previously. Both institutions have kept us at odds with one another; and deceived us either through false doctrines that replace love with judgment and division into exclusive clubs, or through a broken distribution system that divides us into winners and losers. Neither ever even approaches the conditions for understanding what is right; the right that Confucius, Christ and even the ancient warriors understood so well.

Sacrifice is not something the “true believers” will ever understand, because they reside in a world where there is a “chosen” instead of just “people”. Until they stop seeing the world through the eyes of this “chosen” they will always see the world as one divided. Until they stop judging they will continue to live in a world that will be different from everyone else’s world. Christ died to end division, and reinstate the unity which real love holds out to the human race, not to create a dogma to continue to divide us.

On the other hand, economics has brought us division through a system that has destroyed all trust in this world, and allowed the self to equate what is right with what sells. The Almighty Dollar has become the measure of what is right, instead of what it really is, the false deception that allows us to ignore the right for a momentary pleasure.

Both have been institutionalized as “inevitable”, to make us continue to be the blind, deaf and dumb slaves the majority have always been; to be the mindless masses that the huckster can sell to; to be the putty the rich Masters can mold into whatever they choose.

What sells, is usually what is superficial, the package instead of the substance. This is the stuff of politics and parties, that try to sell a personality instead of merit. It appeals to the “true believers” who look to following and being led, instead of taking on the responsibility of their own actions. This is why Democracy is so susceptible to perversion into the worst of governments. Why corruption is so prevalent where freedom reigns. Why a freedom based on money that excludes instead of includes, can become the demise of a Democracy and the advent of a tyranny. Freedom can only be manageable if it is bounded and always linked to all. Once it loses this All it loses its “rightness” and becomes the superficial freedom of the follower that is really a slavery.

The right always belongs to all. For the right is made up of one outlook, one viewpoint that always includes all. It will not always be palatable to all, but it is the best for all nonetheless; for within it everyone can find themselves somewhere; within it all division and separation disappears. It is what allows us to be “human”, and to look on all others as the same. It does not divide as the “Almighty Dollar” divides; it does not alienate as the religious club does; it unites just as the belief in a Supreme Being does. It created society and all that went with it, because just like the Dirty Harry character in the films, it knew its limitations, and applied them indiscriminately to all alike. We can know it when we see ourselves in others, when we feel another's pain and know another’s joy; we can know it when we cut through the red tape of the self, and find the humanness it covers up.

Knowledge is not where education lies; true education is knowing how and when to apply knowledge to bring forth the unity the right heralds. That is where our civilization has failed, just as Confucius’ civilization failed. We have let what sells replace what is right, and as a consequence we have lost our unity with, and trust in each other. We have let the Inferior man rule us, and have in turn lost all dignity and compassion for each other in our quest for the superficial. We are no longer human beings, but a myriad of groups all incapable of relating to any of the others; we have regressed right back to where Confucius was in his day, but with one difference: we can still learn from our mistakes, and we have his words to guide us.

Let us defy the inevitable, for it is only a word that we ourselves have defined; as long as we firmly believe in each other, nothing is inevitable. Let us progress by making this world a place of harmony and unity by working together instead of competing; let us accept the responsibility the right entails, and the boundaries it creates so that our freedom is a freedom which includes all others.




FOOTNOTES

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1 Confucius was an ancient Chinese philosopher, moralist and sage, who wrote during the period of 500-600 BC. His age was one of confusion, unrest and war, similar to our own.







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Originally Published:

May 10, 2011

Revised:

June 26, 2014