14 February 2024

The dragon and the bear

First of all, (sort of) belated blessings for Spring Festival this year, and a Happy Year of the Dragon! It’s the middle of Golden Week, so I’m still in the window!


According to the Yijing, the relevant hexagram seal for this year is qian 谦, or ‘modesty’, composed of an upper trigram kun 坤 (the receptive, field) and a lower trigram gen 艮 (keeping still, mountain).

The judgement associated with this seal is as follows:
MODESTY creates success.
The superior man carries things through.
And the associated image for his seal is that of a subterranean mountain.
Within the earth, a mountain:
The image of MODESTY.
Thus the superior man reduces that which is too much,
And augments that which is too little.
He weighs things and makes them equal.
This image in fact reminds me of something that Fr Thomas Hopko of blessed memory once wrote on the subject. Modesty (that is to say, humility) is not a matter of self-abasement in his view:
Humility does not mean degradation or remorse. It does not mean effecting some sort of demeaning external behaviour. It does not mean considering oneself the most vile and loathsome of creatures. Christ Himself was humble and He did not do this… Genuine humility means to see reality as it actually is in God. It means to know oneself and others as known by God… The humble lay aside all vanity and conceit in the service of the least of God’s creatures, and to consider no good act as beneath one’s dignity and honour.
In order to ‘reduce that which is too much’, we have to have a certain standard as to what ‘too much’ is; and we can’t do that without looking outside of ourselves for the standard. The same goes with ‘augmenting that which is too little’, ‘weighing things’ and ‘making them equal’. The standards are not to be found in us, but to realise that requires that we understand reality by a different measure than our own fallible perspective. Faith may move mountains, even if it is as small as a mustard seed which is buried in the earth. But to understand this parable, we can’t be reading it with the eyes of worldly pride.


And, by the way, in the interest of rectification of names, it is properly called Spring Festival (春节). That is even though this festival does mark the New Year on the agrarian calendar, and even though it technically falls during winter. Traditionally, farmers used Spring Festival as a yearly marker to prepare for the necessary work that needed to be done by the vernal equinox—hence the name.

Despite the woke usage nowadays, Spring Festival is not, properly speaking, a ‘Lunar’ New Year, because the traditional agrarian calendar is in fact a lunisolar calendar, with intercalations to make up for discrepancies with the solar year, and not a true lunar calendar. And thank goodness for that, because if it were a true lunar calendar, Spring Festival would jump around as much as Ramadan does. But I don’t see anyone lining up to call Spring Festival the ‘Lunisolar New Year’.

And… wait, where and when was the traditional agrarian calendar developed again? It wasn’t developed in Seoul. It wasn’t developed in Tôkyô. And it sure wasn’t developed in Manila (where agricultural work is based on the tropical ‘dry’ and ‘rainy’ seasons with no need for a lunisolar marker for the coming of spring). It was developed along the Yellow River in the Central Plains of China. The agrarian calendar is traditionally accredited to the Yellow Emperor in about 2700 BC, with reforms to it being made during the Shang (1600 BC – 1046 BC) and Zhou (1046 BC – 256 BC) Dynasties. The New Year on this calendar was first celebrated in the Central States: what is now China.

So, for English-speaking people to call it ‘Chinese New Year’ is, even if not exactingly correct as a translation, still completely understandable. Further: it’s asinine for the perpetually-aggrieved wokesters, Redditors and bourgeois Korean and Japanese nationalists to try to ‘correct’ them prescriptively, to the even more incorrect ‘Lunar New Year’.


Two days before Spring Festival, also, media personality and former Fox News host Tucker Carlson held an interview with the President of Russia, released on the Social Media Platform Formerly Known as Twitter. It’s a two-hour-long interview, but I highly encourage watching it.
What somewhat surprised me about it, actually, was how unsurprising Putin’s historiographical position was. There was nothing at all idiosyncratic, revisionist or even overtly nationalist in Putin’s reading of medieval and early modern Russian history. If anything, it was a standard textbook treatment of the subject which held to consensus positions on the creation of the Rus’ polity under Ryurik, the baptism of Kievan Rus’, the Tatar yoke, the geopolitical struggle between Muscovy and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Treaty of Pereyaslavl and so on. But the fact that he dwelt upon the history of medieval and early modern Rus’ far longer than Carlson was clearly comfortable with, shows that Putin not only takes that history seriously but thinks it is worthwhile for Americans to be exposed, even to an abridged textbook version of it.

It somewhat restored my respect for Putin, as well, that he refused to be baited or led, as Carlson was clearly attempting to do, into acceding to or supporting American conservative culture-war aims or narratives. Most notably: when Carlson attempted to push forward his idea that China would attempt to exert its hegemony over Russia in a more intolerable way than America would, Putin at once dismissed this as a ‘bogeyman story’. He further emphasised that China was Russia’s neighbour with a long land border; that it was a valuable partner in trade; and that its leadership is much more interested in compromise than in confrontation or domination. Putin is not about to sell out his good relationship with such a neighbour for a fistful of empty promises from the West.

To give another example, Putin steadfastly declined to delve into the details of any of his dealings with former (or current) American leadership. At first I found this rhetorical tactic a little frustrating. I was wondering why he was protecting these people, or lending them a cover of plausible deniability. But after a while I came to realise that Putin was simply being a diplomat. Even though he clearly has grievances with the way Russia has been treated by America and by the West more broadly, even under Yeltsin’s tenure, he isn’t in the business of singling out particular American political figures for particular instances of blame. For similar reasons, he also didn’t give in to Tucker’s questions about the current state of the American social fabric and its relations with the government… though there it might really be a weak point in his knowledge rather than a gentlemanly attempt not to take sides.

But Putin also, to his credit, refused to offer support even implicitly, for the idea that a change in administration alone could bring about a thaw in relations with Russia. Carlson was clearly leading him with his questions toward an admission that Trump would be preferable to Biden for Russia. But for Putin, it clearly isn’t a question of a Republican or a Democrat in the White House. (I made exactly this point eight years ago also; I’m glad it still holds up!) Putin observes that the American élite mentality which prevails in both parties, and which attempts to destroy anything that it can’t control, needs to shift first.

So, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but a major tip of the hat to Tucker Carlson for holding this interview. It needs to be seen; Carlson has provided a valuable service to the American people to be able to hear the arguments of the other side for themselves. As for Carlson himself, though, as an interviewer… he seemed to be rather out of his depth, and one could get the impression at a couple of points that Putin was playing with him, even trolling him a bit (as when he hinted at Carlson’s unsuccessful attempt to join the CIA).

I hope that (in the spirit of the Yijing for this New Year), we can approach this interview with the Russian President in a spirit of humility, in the interest of correcting our deficiencies or exaggerations in vision, and making things equal.

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