Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dishonesty VI

Scott Bradley

I have purposely entitled this series the negative "Dishonesty" rather than "Honesty" (which I have most likely previously used in any case) for three reasons. The first is because I believe some degree of dishonesty is always present in our self- and other-relationships and wished to emphasize this fact. At best, though we can certainly grow in our degree of positive honesty, our greatest honesty is in admitting our dishonesty. This parallels the understanding that "true knowledge" (wisdom) consists in admitting that we do not know. Admitting to our dishonesty and lack of definitive "knowing" we are opened up to ourselves, others, and the process of growth itself; when nothing is fixed or 'pure', nothing can be grasped as complete and final.

This is, of course, the thrust of philosophical Daoism generally; it always includes the concomitant negations in its affirmations. The "Dao" that this word now attempts to indicate cannot be indicated. Has anything then been indicated? If so, it is a something that is also a nothing; yet this suffices to open us up to the life experience and its mystery. Daoism is all about openness; knowing something definitively, believing that things have been explained, is closedness; believing one has 'arrived', or even can 'arrive', is likewise closedness.

The second reason I have favored the negative "dishonesty" is because I see philosophical Daoism as primarily phenomenological in its approach to the human experience. (This big word is one that I do not pretend to fully understand, and only use because I know no better.) It attempts to engage life as it is experienced, not as it believes it should be experienced. It does not tell us how to live based on a template written in Heaven, but suggests a way to respond to the way things actually seem to be. For this reason, I tend to give it an existentialist spin. If doubt is our experience, then it does not tell us how to dispel doubt, but rather, how to make the most of our doubt. If we suffer from existential despair, then we are encouraged to make profitable use of just that thing. (Zhuangzi, I think, provides a powerful portrait of just this experience in his lament over the futility of life: "Worn away as if by autumn and winter: such is our daily dwindling, drowning us in our activities, unable to turn back. Held fast as if bound by cords, we continue along the same ruts. The mind is left on the verge of death, and nothing can restore its vitality" (2:7; Ziporyn).) Dishonesty, though a negative, is present in us and as such provides an opportunity to make positive use of it.

The third reason I have chosen to focus on the negative reality of dishonesty is because it largely leaves unsaid that about which one needs to be honest. My dishonesty is my business; your dishonesty is your business. Only as individuals can we discover wherein lies our dishonesty and thereby grow in our approximation of honesty.

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

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