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Unfixing resentment

Unfixing damaging reactive emotions is a concern that overlaps between Chinese (Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist) and Western (ancient as well as modern thinkers such as Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Scheler) philosophy as a therapeutics of the self. It is not only a psychological endeavor, it is an ethical and social-political undertaking in these different discourses. It likewise indicates a social-political task in the Analects and the Mencius that reveals the social-critical dimension of Confucian ethics, notably in the work and tradition that—as seen in Chapter 2—Zhang Junmai attributed to Mengzi. The exemplary orienting model of selfcultivation suggested in the Analects encompasses undoing reactive feelings in the self even as it calls for asymmetrically recognizing the difficulty of not having such reactive feelings under challenging life-conditions. An example of the early Confucian attention to the social conditions of negative emotions is the remark: “To be poor without resentment (yuan Ш) is difficult. To be rich without arrogance is easy.”43 Both the impoverished and the wealthy require the moral psychological work of self-cultivation. Nonetheless, despite the easiness and difficulty involved, the wealthy are likelier to be arrogant than the poor resentful in the Confucian understanding.44 The powerful fail to recognize and show reverence for the weak and destitute, which reveals a pettiness and lack of appropriate ethical self-cultivation and intersubjective relational appropriateness.

Revealing its potential as a critical model, early Confucian sources note that the “petty person” can be a person of power and wealth who fails to act with the appropriate measure that such power or wealth bring, such as the inauthentic kings and nobles criticized in the Analects and the Mencius. While the ignoble person is ethically problematic in shifting fault and blame on others, and evading recognizing others and self-reflection, the ethically noble person (junzi) self-reflectively turns blame into an opportunity for self-examination. This selfcritical spirit is expressed in Analects 4:17:

When you encounter good persons, think of becoming their equal. When you

encounter inferior persons, examine yourself.

“Pettiness” reveals itself to be a moral rather than a class designation in the Analects to the degree that it signifies the person who should know and do better and yet does not. In a claim further developed in the Mencius, the asymmetry of benevolence entails that the ordinary person’s resentment should not be judged and criticized in the same way as the person who acts out of resentment and pettiness despite enjoying more of the advantages of life. In contrast to the prevailing Western discourses of recognition and resentment, early Confucian ethics is asymmetrically concerned with those whose reactive and limited emotional lives negatively impact others: hence, there is a greater concern with the resentment of the rich and the powerful rather than the poor and the weak who deserve benevolence and equity rather than the blame, condemnation, and suffering too often interpersonally and social-structurally inflicted upon them.

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