Monday 27 March 2017

Poetry: On Thinking

Posted by Chengde Chen*

It is said that man is the animal that thinks
I don’t know whether animals think or not
but the crowd often doesn’t

From the unifying roar of the Third Reich saluting the Führer
to the wave of the ‘red ocean’ rolling towards the Red Sun
from rock stars’ pretended madness surging into real madness
to Manchester United’s football directing the eyes of the world
the crowd is so simple and so easy to manipulate
Whether it is past or present, east or west
whether it is about religion, war, rock stars or football stars
different fanaticisms are not different!

Why don’t people who can think think? Because
trends are greater than thought
traditions are heavier than thought
faiths are stronger than thought
power is more powerful than thought
A madman’s hysteria can become a nation’s reason
a dead dogma can become a social movement, because
a head without thinking can be filled with anything!

What is thinking? Thinking is not memory
nor reciting hundreds of classical poems
Thinking is not longing, nor lingering under the moonlight
Thinking is not calculation, nor differentiation or integration
Thinking is not fantasy, nor a dream in the daylight
Thinking is the deity’s atheistic advancement –
with reason cutting through the magnetic field of concepts
generating the omnipresent electricity of criticism

For a trend, it is a cold reef
For tradition, it is a rude drunkard
For religion, it is a self-appointed God
For power, it is the blind who see nothing
It is the will of water, and the breath of fire
Logic is its iron hooves, galloping through the universe
It may not be difficult to subdue a thinker
but a thought cannot be conquered
much as no force can make one equal two!

To think is not man’s instinct or necessary function
Without Copernicus, the Earth would still rotate
Without Darwin, apes would still have evolved into man
Yet thoughts make the difference between men
greater than that between man and a deity

Kant, who never travelled beyond his Königsberg
invited God into his heart to discuss ‘Practical Reason’
Einstein, being a junior clerk of a patent office
caught up with light to gain eternal life in four dimensional space
Some people have never thought throughout their lives
so life owes them a world
While some who have, have created new worlds!

Today we are proud of our digital capability
But machines carrying out man’s instructions
is man executing machines’ orders
Hence the Matthew Effect:
those who think, think more; those who don’t, even less
The net may have caught everybody
the high-performance screen can be more desolate

It is said that “when man thinks, God laughs”
But if man doesn’t, God would be bored
He likes the fun of thinking but not the hard work
so He created man to do the job for Him
How should the creature deserve the creation?
This oldest of Greek issues about thinking
is still the first thing that needs to be thought

* Chengde Chen is the author of Five Themes of Today, Open Gate Press, London.


Keith said...

There’s much to unspool in this incisive poem. This is just one line, among many, that caused me to pause in interest: “no force can make one equal two”. But is that always right? What if you step out of the strictures of mathematics? Is the statement still self-evident? Certainly, some people have tried, in some loosely cobbled logic, to prove “1 does indeed equal 2” — or, at least, some variation on that. Historically, ideology has provided a fitting platform for precisely that kind of other-worldly exercise. That is, through ideology delivering the very ‘force’ the poem refers to in order to make ‘one equal two’.

The Soviet propagandist Yakov Guminer famously designed a poster touting Stalin’s then-five-year ambitious plan supposedly being ahead of schedule in building heavy industry, with this little bit of ideologically excused arithmetic splashed all over the image: 2 + 2 = 5. Who would have the gumption to walk into Stalin’s office and inform him that the poster was deceitful, representing mutant arithmetic?

George Orwell, in his book ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, poked a stick in the eye of despotic ideologues with these words: “In the end the Party would announce that 2 and 2 made 5, and you would have to believe it. . . . [T]he logic of their position demanded it. . . . And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that 2 and 2 make 4?” Orwell’s petrifying world of double-think and thought-criminals.

Then there’s Nazi Reich Marshal Hermann Göring, who famously stated, “If the Fuhrer wants it, two plus two make five.” More as metaphor, perhaps, but point taken. And again, who’s going to take Göring or Hitler to task for appropriating and deploying images and ideas for their own conceited, sinister purposes?

It’s difficult to grasp exactly when paradox converts to theatrically absurd, doctrinaire subjectivism. Or when the fearsomeness of totalitarianism is able to coerce people’s beliefs to the extreme of altering ordinary people’s perceptions of reality. History, going well back, is replete with instances; these were just a few. Today, disquieting new coinages like ‘post-fact world’ and ‘post-truth world’ simply serve as rhetorically polite alternatives for good-ol’-fashion ‘propaganda’. And brainwashing. When the poem says, seemingly commonsensically, that “no force can make one equal two”, I wonder if it underestimates the force of usurped, weaponised rhetoric at the calling of extreme ideology. And the “terror”, as Orwell’s protagonist said, “that they might be right”.

Tessa den Uyl said...

Ciao Chengde,

Thank you for one of your sharp poems 'that cuts through water'. How should the creature deserve the creation? No words can probably describe what we are, or who we are. A person always lacks something, though life never lack us.

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