Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Best Chocolate Cake Ever, Dammit!

Trey Smith

From 7/5 - 7/12, we will be featuring each afternoon videos which discuss the writings and thought of Chuang Tzu/Zhuangzi (whichever spelling you prefer). One of the many, many points discussed -- it happens to be one of the reasons that I was drawn to philosophical Taoism in the first place -- concerns the notion that the human perspective of life and the cosmos is but one perspective among many.

This idea flies in the face of most religions or philosophies. Throughout human history, our species has supposed that the human perspective is the only one there is (other than God's perspective -- but we're made in his image, right?). While some thinkers have allowed that there may be perspectives other than ours, it has been almost unanimous that the human version is the best of these.

How could it be otherwise? In our egocentric view, humans sit atop the evolutionary ladder and so it just stands to reason that the human perspective is closest to that of God's.

Zhuangzi is one of the few philosophers who didn't place much import on the human perspective. He certainly didn't invalidate it, but he didn't award it the blue ribbon either. He simply viewed the human perspective as one perspective out of many.

Of course, though we often think of it as such, there is no one unifying human perspective anyway. Each of us possesses our own personal version of it and, in many ways, these versions conflict with each other. Sometimes, we amalgamate our personal perspectives into institutional ones and out of this are born ideologies and religions.

The institutional forms of perspective have been/are one of the prime engines for subjugation, poverty and war. We fight tooth-and-nail to force others to acknowledge that the perspective of our nation or our religion is the cream of the crop. When others refuse to acquiesce, then we seek to destroy them.

To offer an example of what I'm referring to in this post, let's say you and your partner have been invited to another couple's home for dinner. After enjoying a wondrous meal, your hosts bring out the dessert: chocolate cake. They tell you that this is no ordinary chocolate cake -- it comes from the best chocolate cake recipe ever written!

As you dig into the piece of chocolate cake presented to you, you comment that it is very, very good. Instead of accepting the compliment, your hosts are offended by your opinion. It is not simply very good, they scream, it is beyond question the best chocolate cake you will ever eat. You may state that, as good as it tastes, you're not willing to say it is the best ever. Your Aunt Sally makes a darn good chocolate cake as does your good friend, Dan.

If you're going to adopt that kind of stance, your hosts declare, then you should leave...and never come back.

As you and your partner travel back home, you are both amazed at the vociferous nature of your host's demeanor. It was darn good cake, your partner says, but it was bit too dense for my tastes. You mention that you thought it was a tad bit too sweet. You both marvel at the end of a long friendship over something as trivial as cake!

We humans view the human perspective as the best chocolate cake ever made and become incredulous if someone -- like Zhuangzi -- suggests that while the human recipe of chocolate cake is a good one, there are scores of other chocolate cake recipes out there. We are prideful of our recipe simply because it is the one we wrote and we dismiss all others because we are not the authors.

1 comment:

  1. I just finished icing some chocolate cake before I read this. Best ever, of course! :-)

    Where I came from it was necessary that all chocolate cake be of exactly the same recipe, else there was no possibility of "fellowship". Only a deluded heathen would accept another recipe, and God would surely reject us if we ate with a heathen.


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