Saturday, June 25, 2011

Higher and Lower

Higher and Lower
by Scott Bradley


"Never use the words higher and lower."
~ Charles Darwin ~
These words are purported to have been scribbled by Darwin in the margin of some manuscript or other. He was, of course, speaking about the various forms of life — the very ones that we almost universally describe as higher and lower. But for what reason he was reminding himself not to so designate them, I have no idea.

I share them here not to make a case for value equality, but simply because I suspect they might rub you the wrong way as they do me. And it's that kind of rubbing that I find the most stimulating — the kind that would threaten to break my long-held and perfectly reasonable prejudices.

Human beings are not a higher life form than trees. They are of equal worth. I believe this at some level, but rather than thinking about the problems that that belief raises, I simply try to stretch my mind to the kind of world view that accepts it as so. If you can do that, you might feel some barrier within you shatter, and experience a momentary sense of transcendence. How does it feel? For me, it feels like unfettered vastness. There is something liberating about losing my dearest value judgments, even if for a moment.

Zhuangzi invites us to do this same thing in many ways. This is precisely what he is doing when he says, "Nothing in the world is larger than the tip of a hair in autumn, and Mt. Tai is small. No one lives longer than a dead child, and old Pengzu died young." He would have us shatter the logical bars that cage us through the experience of 'seeing' the world through the perspective of his perspectival relativism. These are not statements of fact, but a way to be free of 'facts'.

We want to debate these issues, show how they are impractical or unreasonable, but that is to miss their point entirely, like explaining the impossibility of the sound of one hand clapping. They are not intended to invite debate, but the discovery of 'the understanding that needs no debate.'

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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