Thursday, December 19, 2013

Dishonesty IV

Scott Bradley


Ta-Wan, our fellow contributor, and I are in complete disagreement. When he points 'up', this is my 'down'. When he points 'down', this is my 'up'. And vice versa. This is because we live in opposite hemispheres. He lives in "the land down-under" while I live in one "up-over". But as I have said in a previous post, these terms are entirely reversible. A photograph of the Earth might just as easily and truthfully be 'up-side-down' as 'right-side-up', but we are not likely to see it so presented given our prejudice for a North ('up')/South ('down') orientation. Similarly, we project this orientation onto illustrations of our solar system, our galaxy, and whatever else we can imagine. An alien arriving from deep space would probably find this parochial perspective quite amusing.

However amusing and prejudicial it might be, however, this orientation is a very handy and necessary convention, even if somewhat dishonest. This 'dishonesty', if understood by all parties as merely conventional, need not lead to argumentation and conflict. We have a degree of honesty that acknowledges our necessary dishonesty and this allows us to accept the conditions of each other's perspective even when apparently at polar opposites.

Imagine Ta-Wan pointing ‘down’. His finger points through the Earth, comes out in my backyard and continues on 'up' into infinity. We need not argue whether he is right to call it 'down' since we acknowledge that we are both involved in a bit of self-deception in making such a distinction in any case. Thus, honesty is first and foremost an acknowledgement of our necessary participation in self-deception, not the cancellation of that deception.

This is something like what Zhuangzi is trying to get us to see when he tells us that our perspectivally derived rights and wrongs are a form of dishonesty from which we are not entirely able to escape. Understanding how this is true of us all, however, we are enabled to hold to our own opinions without the need to denigrate those of others. We realize how we are all similarly bound. In this we are the same, whatever our opinions. True dishonesty manifests when we cling to our own opinions as if to the Truth. True honesty is in owning up to our inherent dishonesty.

The up/down illustration, being morally neutral, is less complicated than most of our differences of opinion, however. Ethnic cleansing is, to our thinking, a morally reprehensible act, yet, to the minds of those who advocate it, it is entirely necessary as a means to perceived ethnic self-preservation and thus goes by another name. Are we able to 'accept' the moral legitimacy of such a view? Hopefully not; nor should we think we should. What we can do, however, is understand how our point of view and that with which we take extreme exception are essentially rooted in the same self-affirming, perspectivally derived dynamic. And this understanding might possibly free us from the dogmatic polarization that only produces more of the same. Openness invites more openness.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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