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I'm currently reading an edition of the Analects with an introduction that talks about Lu Xun. It quotes him as saying

Whenever a truly original genius appears in this world, people immediately endeavor to get rid of him. Two methods - suppression - isolation, starve him, surround him with silence, kill him. The second, more radical and dreadful, is exaltation - they put him on a pedestal and turn him into a god.

And I know that this happened to Lu Xun, as well - during his life, he was subject to isolation, bullying, etc., and when he died, he was worshipped. As a student of history, I noticed that it is by no means unique to Xun, other examples would include people like Helen Keller and Martin Luther King Jr.

My question is, is the method of exaltation effective, and why is it used? It appears counterproductive. I'm guessing it's a method to suppress questioning of their ideas, but this is pure speculation.

  • A prophet is never welcome in his own hometown. This is why Jesus got out of Nazareth. Now in Nazareth they have a parade, Jesus day (Christmas) , and all the celebrations. I guess exaltation could be used to suppress questioning. But it could be this too: guilt. We feel guilty that we didn't appreciate them, and we may tend to exaltation to make up for it. – Gordon Apr 5 '18 at 19:28
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    I'm not really sure if we can answer this question other speculating or at least we can't answer it just on the basis of the quote. Instead, it seems to be a rather involved question (at least on my read) about human psychology. – virmaior Apr 5 '18 at 20:57
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Confucius, being a Chinese philosopher, would most likely be focused on interactions. These are back and forth endeavors which occur over a protracted period. Approaches like starvation and isolation are effective in preventing the individual from being able to act upon society, thus disrupting the interaction.

If that fails, exalting them, putting them on the pedestal yields the opposite effect: it prevents the society from acting up that individual. This also breaks the cycle of interaction. If your status prevents you from observing the day to day issues that arise within the community, it is hard for you to stay in touch with them. Over time, the community drifts away from this deity on the pedestal, and they are disarmed.

For a more practical example, we can look to fiction. The Netflix series "The Iron Fist" portrays a character from a Marvel Comic named Danny Rand. Skipping a whole lot of setup and introduction, Danny finds himself in a position where he seeks to reinvent a company bearing his name, Rand Corp. Those in power obviously were not fans of this. Their first approach was to silence and isolate him, but his position was too strong. So they took the opposite approach: they offered him a position of power commensurate to his stock holdings. However, this vaunted position offered little room to interact with the day to day affairs of the company. He had near god-like power within the company, and exercised it, but he was kept sufficiently out of the loop to make sure he couldn't exercise that power in a way that was meaningful.

This mindset is typically only held by those who are interested in the long-term solution. In the short term, a "god on a pedestal" can be disruptive, but they have less power in the long term.

  • Unfortunately, despite the tags, this question isn't about Confucius or the Analects. Lu Xun is either a later classical figure or more likely a 19th century (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lu_Xun) so the question is really more about why he was villified and then deified rather than any question about Confucian content per se. – virmaior Apr 5 '18 at 20:54
  • @virmaior Ahh. Thank you. I thought it was just a different spelling of a legendary sage. I do think the analysis holds regardless. – Cort Ammon Apr 5 '18 at 21:15
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By skipping to the end of this thought, we interpret "getting rid of" as being possible by either annihilation or exaltation. How annihilation works is pretty obvious. So in what sense are we rid of someone whom we have exalted?

We are rid of him because prior to being exalted, he was one of us, only better. That sucks, because now we can clearly see how messed up we are by comparison.

But if we say he was a god, then of course he is better than us: he is supernatural! Our feeling of inferiority can be assuaged; it's not our fault that we aren't as good: it's because of our different nature that there is such a difference between us!

Also, we aren't obligated to take his advice or heed his warning because he doesn't really know what we know about what it's like to be one of us. This is why effective leaders take pains to avoid that separation.

  • +1. Particularly for the idea that both deification and vilification are defense mechanisms. Both let people say "this isn't a person we measure up against." – virmaior Apr 5 '18 at 20:56
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Nietzsche discusses this in his theory of Creators. The extreme form, for Westerners is Christ. But the most obvious example might be Nietzsche himself.

From this perspective, the method of exaltation produces experts on the figure, who inject perspectives that normalize the figure but betray his message.

There is an interpretation within Christianity that the purpose of certain events was to dissolve the effects of written law on religion. According to those people, Paul (who wrote much of the New Testament) often reiterates this position in accordance with Christ's intent.

But the trouble starts because Paul is providing much of the text of the New Testament. So for many, his writings come to be taken as a form of written law, contrary with Christ's intent.

Paul weighs in on important cultural influences, and his interpretations have influenced decisions made throughout church history. For instance, it is not obvious at all that Paul's referencing gay men as a negative influence (1 Corinthians 6:9, [μαλακοὶ][1]) or his opinions about when women should speak (1 Corinthians 14:34) really matter at all. But people have used them as Law.

Christ, the originator of Christianity, may well have intended every nation to have its own cultural standards, with only observant Jews being subject to Scripture. And the religion that has spread the notion of a Book as the basis of a religion throughout the world -- a book full of writings by Paul which can be taken to state that God never intend Gentiles to be bound to a Book.

So the expert who took over the movement after the death of the exalted figure may incidentally be to some degree really a more powerful influence on history than some things actually intended by the exalted figure himself.

Just because that is such a contentious subject, I will give another example. Nietzsche's own sister mutilated his legacy near the end of his life and after his death, and made him available to proto-Nazi interpreters. She looked at her brother's writings through glasses colored by her husband and his family and terribly misrepresented him to an entire generation, ultimately allowing the Nazis to present their ideas as proceeding from his own. But it is clear from his correspondence that he outright hated the notion of anti-Semitism and deeply questioned whether nationalism was a good thing.

One entire introduction to his thought initially published in his name, "Beyond Good and Evil", is in fact collected and edited by her, and creates a lot of contradictions with his insights published elsewhere.

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Whenever a truly original genius appears in this world, people immediately try to to get rid of him because of multiple reasons:

  • Fear of change - a genius will bring change almost anywhere because it would have the ability to see, determine and optimize. People used to routine do not like or want change.

  • Fear of losing power - this specially applies in today's over-corrupt over-controller world, where the top people make many rules only to prevent anyone else from getting too high, too near them.

  • Fear of them becoming inferior and even useless - this is related to the other 2 above. Change and loss of power and control can utterly make them useless.

And for the second part: why it is venerated after death - well, it's because it no longer represents a danger and they can let the true value of the dead one be revealed.

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