Wednesday 5th July: “Amour de Soi” versus “Amour Propre”

At the Doc’s today we compared the merits of the French and German models of the Enlightenment, or perhaps I should say, we read part of a chapter of Steven Ozment’s A Mighty Fortress which showed us how the German model of enlightened despotism was superior to the French model of revolution in the name of liberty, equality and fraternity. Frederick the Great, that enlightened Prussian despot, strengthened the state by safeguarding the freedom of the individual and promoting his development within an ordered society based upon law; the French revolutionaries, however, in seeking to destroy the corrupt aristocracy merely replaced it with a new elite, which proved even more illiberal, and which led to the righteous tyranny of Robespierre and utimately to the brilliant but abominable dictatorship of Napoleon. It was Napoleon who stood before Frederick’s tomb and said

Gentlemen, if this man were still alive I would not be here.

Perhaps it was all Rousseau’s doing; all that business about having been born free and yet being everywhere in chains, and all that balderdash about the virtue of men in their “natural” state (whatever and wherever that might have been), and all that absurdity of believing that if only the slate were wiped clean and a rational social contract were set up, all would be well, nay, better, than now…

Yet for all Rousseau’s trumpery there is much to admire in his writings. Take the concepts of amour de soi – which represents an instinctive desire for self-preservation and a sort of pristine rationalism – and of amour-propre – which represents pride, wherein man, corrupted by society, begins to compare himself to others and to feel threatened by their successes and satisfied by their failures.

The Japanese are said to believe that objects, over time, develop a soul and become tsukumogami or “artifact spirits.” If that be so why should not concepts no less than artifacts, achieve some sort of apotheosis so that it may be said of Rousseau’s two concepts, simulacra factus sunt?

Those two spirits, if spirits they be, might well find the mahjong parlour a suitable shrine in which to abide for successful play often seems to flow from “a sort of pristine rationalism” in which self preservation is “instinctive” and has nothing to do with pride or fear, whereas, when everything goes amiss, it is often the case that the player is “beside himself” and feeling threatened by the other players’ successes on the one hand and enjoying a sense of Schadenfreude at their setbacks on the other.

It has been the case throughout the second quarter of this year that I have been suffering from too much attention of the false god Amour Propre in the mahjong parlour where we play 3-player mahjong.

However, at the Doc’s this Wednesday, I was blessed (if it is permissable to be blessed by a false god) by the presence of Amour de Soi while Dr Mogami Junior suffered an attack of the summer collywobbles. At one stage he was propping up his head and looking with glazed eyes at the table. Play came to a halt…. The Doc was clearly suffering from the slings and arrows of an outrageous fortune and all that sort of thing.

“Er, Doc, it’s your turn.”

“Is it? I thought it was yours.”

“Er, no. I discarded. [sotto voce:] Three minutes ago.”

“Did you?”

Actually, the senior Doc made the running in the first game. I finished down a little with only two batsu (XX) against my name since the losses were shared. The Senior Doc did well in the second game too, but I also ended up in the black.

During this period of the afternoon the Senior Doc was very cheerful while Mrs M was heard to complain about her hands and that it was “omoshirokunai” when the Senior Doc went out yet again. Indeed, at one stage, our hostess was heard to utter an unselfconscious “Chikuso!

We then shuffled tiles to allocate seats for the second two games but it turned out that we all stayed in our original seats. The Senior Doc was quite chuffed about that, forgetting that Fortune may be fickle. It turned out that she had moved her caravan off his patch and over to mine.

The third game went entirely my way. I ended the game up 56 with six maru (OOOOOO) to my name.

But mahjong is not of works, lest any man boast. It is probably all self-hypnosis, either in the direction of amour de soi (if we be blessed) or amour-propre (if we be cursed):

We flatter ourselves that it is we who are thinking; whereas the thinking is within us and goes on all the time.

Bernard Hollander: Hypnosis and Self Hypnosis

David Hurley