Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Beyond the Human Inclinations III: Beyond Dysfunction

Scott Bradley

Chapter Five of the Zhuangzi closes with a dialogue between Zhuangzi and his favorite foil, the 'logician' Huizi, and it is from this that I have lifted the title for this series on that chapter.
Huizi asks, "Can a human being really be without the characteristic human characteristics?"
(5:23; Ziporyn)
I have suggested that a core purpose of Zhuangzi's use of the marginalized of society as exemplars of sagacity is to provide us an opportunity to confront our 'characteristic' tendency to judge between things as acceptable and unacceptable. In fact, his entire project can be seen as an attempt to do just that. The view from Dao is one of freedom from prejudice in which "the mind is released to play" in all things. It is all-inclusive, all-affirming, all-embracing. My words cannot give you this vision, much less make it true for you, any more than they can make it true for me; your participation is required. We need not believe that this is 'true' or even 'right' to at least get an inkling of what this vision is about. Once seen, however, I suspect you will find that the "characteristic human inclinations" that have hindered that vision will at least momentarily fall away.

Huizi refuses to open himself to Zhuangzi's vision, if only as an experimental exercise; it frightens him. He dwells in and derives his sense of self from his rationalizing mind. Or perhaps he feels that to concede a point to his friend will entail a loss to his sacrosanct self. Thus, he questions how a person can still be called human and not possess those behaviors characteristic to human beings.

This question is not without merit, and its implications are profound. It brings us to that fault line between the affirmation of how we are and how we might be different. If prejudices are native to the human expression, and our affirmation of that expression is absolute, how can we speak of the need for transformation? How, in other words, can we both affirm what is and seek its change? Zhuangzi's non-rationalistic answer is that we "walk two roads". There is some point in trying to explain what this means, but in the end it takes seeing the vision to get the sense of it.

It is possible to recognize as dysfunctional many aspects of what is characteristic of human beings without positing a fall from some edenic past. The Great Clump evolves and transforms apparently without moral compass or idyllic end. Dumb shit happens. Yet as human beings we find ourselves in the unique position of being able to improve our condition. We can become less dysfunctional and still be fully human, though we need not say more so.

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

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