Mansfield Fox

Law student. Yankees fan. Massive fraggle. Just living the American dream.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Mandate of Heaven

One of the most charming and enduring human characteristics is man's never-ceasing ability to (incorrectly) believe himself wiser and better than his ancestors. We may scoff at the ignorance and paranoia of our witch-hunting ancestors, but the same passions animate us (even if our witches our different). The same lurking fear that there are enemies among us, the same desire to attribute all bad events to human agency (see, eg, the global warming debate).

I was reminded of this while watching a news report on rising gas prices and the political fallout they will doubtless cause. When I was young, and learned about imperial China, I remember thinking the idea of the "Mandate of Heaven" a very silly one. Didn't the Chinese understand (as we wise moderns do) that some things just happen, that floods and famines aren't the gods' way of expressing their disfavor with the Emperor, that there's no use blaming the political authorities for such things.

Silly me.

Of course, human nature has no history, and so the Mandate of Heaven is still with us. We've just discovered more sophisticated ways for the gods to inform us of their will, things like the misery index or the price of a gallon of gas.