Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ziporyn on Xunzi III

Scott Bradley

In my view, the satisfaction of human desires is the only justification of any position developed by any early Chinese thinker.
(Ziporyn; Ironies of Oneness and Difference, p. 200)
If this is the case, then early Chinese philosophy was profoundly humanistic. Human happiness is the overwhelming concern of the human enterprise. Taken in the context of the understanding that this happiness is predicated on its harmonious interface with Nature and society generally, as well as with one's own self, we see how the pursuit of happiness meets all the requirements for universal benefit.

Humanism, at least as it arose in the West, is curiously in contrast to theism. The Creator creates for 'his' own purposes, and it is 'his' purposes that matter; the created are of secondary and derivative significance. Chief among the Creator's purposes are that 'he' be worshiped, "glorified", and obeyed. (Let's call it The Great Ego — “I AM that I AM".) Things exist for God, not for themselves. Human desires are thus subordinate to those of God; they can be rightfully realized only when they conform to 'his' purposes, and quite often even innocent desires do not meet this criterion.

The satisfaction of human desires is necessarily an enterprise; it does not just happen. As individuals we are required to create the conditions necessary to our own happiness. This requires that we exercise self-restraint, lest the satisfaction of our desires negatively impact the conditions necessary to our happiness. As social beings who live collectively, we are also required to create institutions which facilitate the realization of happiness for the greatest number of its participants, and this requires societal-restraints lest a few deprive the many. As members of a vast ecological community (Earth), animate and inanimate, we are required to restrain our individual and collective desires when they negatively impact the harmony of the whole. A collapsed ecosystem is not conducive to happiness.

All of this "restraint" is a non-restraint when taken in the context of the understanding of happiness as living in harmony. Harmony is not only a condition of happiness; it is happiness.

Thus, we have various philosophies and political theories that suggest the best way to deliver the goods, some more effectively than others. Seeing them all from this perspective, perhaps we are better able to choose between them. What need not apply are the concepts of good and bad.

As an American, I feel compelled to question how harmonious the core value of the pursuit of happiness as an individualistic, capitalistic endeavor really is. Given the present disparities of wealth and, more importantly, the impact of the consequent poverty, one must ask if this ideology is in fact the most conducive to happiness for any of us, including the wealthy. One must also wonder if this ideology most cherished by the dedicated theists among us is not a consequence of worshiping The Great Ego.

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

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