Chapter 3: Consequentialism
Revolutionaries knew they couldn’t count on the Qing dynasty to keep foreigners out, so they plotted and planned to overthrow it. And they debated among themselves what to do with China if they succeeded at revolution.
The prevailing argument was to keep China whole, combining all its many ethnicities into a united Chinese nation. This argument was known as Chinese nationalism. And as Mao became aware of Chinese nationalism, he decided to support this view. He thought it was a good cause.
That good cause would soon see battle. In 1911, the Xinhai Revolution broke out against the Qing dynasty, and Mao took up arms to fight for it. But he never saw any action. The last emperor of China was overthrown on February 12, 1912, and the Republic of China was created. And so, after six months of quiet revolutionary service, it was back to civilian life for young Mao, without ever having fired a shot.
Now what the hell could he do? He was out of good causes. So at eighteen years old, he decided to pursue his education. But this didn’t work out so well. Turns out, Mao wasn’t so good in school. He dropped out of a police academy, a soap production school, a law school, an economics school, and a middle school.
Apparently, Mao was too damned independent for classroom learning. He discovered that he’d have to go it alone, and pursue a self-education.
So he spent a lot of time in libraries, studying books on classical liberalism. This is how he discovered the philosophy of Consequentialism. Consequentialism is the ethical theory that the consequence’s of one’s conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of the conduct. In other words, the end justifies the means.
This was right up his alley, and with no teacher to dissuade him by pointing out the drawbacks, Mao embraced Consequentialism whole-heartedly. Consequentialism gave him the excuse to do whatever he wanted, just as long as he could justify that it was for the greater good.
He liked the idea of doing whatever he wanted. He had a cruel streak, which he acquired from his father. He was a young man in a lot of pain, as many young men are. In fact we all suffer, whether young or old, male or female. But how we deal with our pain and suffering differs from person to person.
Had Mao stuck with his mother’s Buddhism, he might have learned how to deal with his pain without being cruel to others. Buddhism teaches that suffering is caused by craving, and that by letting go of craving, one frees oneself from suffering. Buddhism prescribes an Eight-fold path for letting go of craving, that involves following precepts and disciplining the mind through meditation.
Apparently, Mao didn’t care much for the Eight-fold path, and so he chose a different path. And it seems it was the path of his father. And this path was the path of causing pain to relieve pain.
Mao’s father relieved his pain by beating him. In this manner, he let off pent-up steam that had been building up inside, and found relief. This is not an uncommon way to handle pain. Many people have learned that letting off steam by being abusive to others, helps them to feel better.
But letting off steam can lead to more problems. People who are abused sometimes rebel and retaliate. At the very least, they become distant, leading to a sense of loneliness in the abuser’s relationships. And property can be destroyed when one flies into a rage, so it can be expensive.
Another problem is that letting off steam can become addictive. It feels pleasurable, which can lead to letting off steam more and more often. Also, causing small amounts of pain can get old, with a loss in the pleasurable effect. And so one must progress to crueler and more sadistic methods to achieve the same enjoyment.
But letting off steam seems to have been the path for dealing with pain that Mao chose. It was the path laid out by his father, and when Mao killed millions, he was merely following in his father’s footsteps. His father would likely have done the same if he’d had the opportunity. But Mao did find the opportunity. And he found it through pursuing a good cause, and by using Consequentialism to justify the means with the end.
Come on back in a few days for the next installment, entitled Chapter 4: A Good Cause.