Age of innocence

子曰:「古者民有三疾,今也或是之亡也。古之狂也肆,今之狂也蕩;古之矜也廉,今之矜也忿戾;古之愚也直,今之愚也詐而已矣。」
Confucius said: “The ancients had three failings, but people today are not even capable of having these. Whereas the wildness of the ancients was innocent, the wildness of people today is depraved; whereas the pride of the ancients was noble, the pride of people today is brutish; whereas the foolishness of the ancients was genuine, the foolishness of people today is sinister.”

The phrase “noble savages” came to mind when I was tackling this passage. Confucius is lamenting the loss of an age of innocence when even people’s failings were pure because, presumably, they didn’t know any better. By Confucius’s time, however, these failings had mutated into depraved, brutish, and sinister viruses that menaced the very foundations of civilization.

This is total and utter nonsense of course, but the passage provides an interesting example of how Confucius liked to compare the grim realities of the present to a golden mythical past that never existed.

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