The reason I’m thinking through issues of family, academia, Chinese history is that I’m trying to figure out what I should be doing now. I want X. Why do I want X? Well, my parents wanted X. My parents are gone now and I have the freedom not to want X, so I need to figure out why my parents wanted X. Maybe their parents wanted X. What gave their parents the idea that they wanted X? And before you know it I end up in the lower Yangtze valley in 1750 talking to a philosopher named Dai Zhen who came up with all of these ideas that guide my life. I don’t think my parents mentioned Dai Zhen explicitly and I have no reason to think that they knew explicitly who he was, but when ask the question, what do I believe and why do I believe what I believe, I tend up in the same room as him.
(And you thought it was weird when I start talking about things that happened at MIT fifteen years ago. In turns out that what happened at MIT fifteen years ago and all of the personal jealousies I’m feeling now are part of a longer story that goes back to 1680, and the consolidation of the Qing dynasty power over southern China and runs forward until about 2080. The reason I ended up at MIT as an undergraduate in 1987 was that it was then in the middle of an “educational reform” movement to create scholars which were versed in both the sciences and the humanities. The reason that is important is that the distinction between science and the humanities (or for that matter between “school,” “family,” and “work” is a “Western” one that makes no sense in Dai Zhen’s world, nor in my world.) (Something else just clicked….. So *that’s* why I’m so fascinated by Opus Dei.)
One problem in thinking though these issues is this. Family is sacred, so thinking about family is easy. Job is not sacred. In my world, I have very strong moral obligations to my wife and kids, so I don’t have to think about that at all. I’m trying to figure out what moral obligations I have and don’t have to my employer and my coworkers.