A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF RELEVANT SOURCES AND THEMES OF PHILOSOPHICAL DAOISM XIV

CHANGES IN LIFESTYLE
Deep Ecology prescribes significant changes in individual lifestyles as a means to contributing to the preservation of the biosphere. This is often described as “simplicity”. The Daoist experience reaches to and eradicates the root cause of greed, consumerism, and the equation of worth with possessions. Where self-identity becomes world-identity the accumulation of things has little appeal.

2 thoughts on “A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF RELEVANT SOURCES AND THEMES OF PHILOSOPHICAL DAOISM XIV”

  1. Hi Scott, I’ve just stumbled on your interesting site and have a question for you. Deep Ecology espouses an ecocentric worldview that might, at first sight, appear to chime with the Daoist experience. Elsewhere, I note that you say the Zhuangzi considers human happiness and flourishing as his highest value, which would suggest a more anthropocentric attitude. One of the key criticisms made of Deep Ecology is that it destroys any kind of moral hierarchy and thereby removes the basis for discriminating between the competing interests of different classes of beings. Of course, as humans we are inescapably bound to a human perspective, even as we advocate for a different one. In today’s messy world, in which ecological devastation far exceeds anything that the ancients could have foreseen, what lessons might we learn from the Daoist masters about how to deal psychologically with the very real problems that we seem destined to continue inflicting on the biosphere and its other inhabitants? Is all really well in the Anthropocene? The title of your book appeals to our fervent wish not to despair over our great mess but it also risks sounding like denial and irresponsibility. How do you think Zhuangzi would have felt about these matters and what advice might he have offered to those who, in the words of Aldo Leopold, find themselves living ‘in a world of wounds’ and grieve daily over it?

    1. Hi David. Thanks for your comments and questions. I will have to take some time to answer properly, though I’m not sure I can really do so except by writing this book As the Cookie Crumbles; your questions address the sweep of its thesis. I will, however, make a few quick replies here.
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      1) “Walking two roads at once” covers a lot of your concerns. Yes, humanity is unavoidably anthropocentric and its own flourishing is its highest value. This is affirmable not only for humanity, but also for all things. All things look after their own; this is their nature. However, the “higher” cosmic view understands that since this is equally true of all things and that there is equality of worth among all things then we do best to respect all things and to allow them to flourish as well. The broader perspective informs the more narrow. They seem contradictory; indeed, if they were not contradictory we would have to wonder if they truly represent the view of philosophical Daoism since it concerns itself with what must necessarily lie beyond logic–just like life itself. Still, we can make the logical argument that human flourishing does not happen outside the context of the flourishing of all things. We do best when we respect the flourishing of the biosphere, and that in turn requires honoring the right to flourishing of all its elements. Our present situation testifies to the consequences of our not having done so.
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      2) Philosophical Daoism similarly “destroys any kind of moral hierarchy . . .” and yet simultaneously affirms the centrism of every being. (Two roads.) The oneness of things is their not-oneness. They are all the same in being different. This “omnicentrism” is, I think, the Zhuangzian perspective. A step further is to say that every single thing is Everything–a kind of logical moebius strip. This is Ziporyn’s take and a bit too much for me to try and explain (Being and Ambiguity). Similarly, philosophical Daoism understands that our moral distinctions have no reality outside our human context and suggests the value of realizing this. Having done so, having transcended right and wrong, we are then able to engage in the necessary human activity of exercising the discrimination of right and wrong now informed of their relative nature. We are no longer bound by them, and to be bound by them is, in the end, to misuse them–to destroy a village to save it, to impose ourselves on other humans and on other things, to disallow their own unique flourishing.
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      3) The subtitle to Cookie is an answer to the problem that things are inherently messy (we are required to make use of things to the diminishment of their own flourishing) and our theoretically avoidable incredible contribution to the messiness of the world. Things are inherently messy from a human point of view and humans make it more so. “The hope of no-hope in a hopeless world” is Daoism’s answer to the psychological distress caused by both. It understands that All is Well in the Great Mess. It has a hope that is entirely non-contingent on the inherent messiness of things or our contributions to that messiness. It is an affirmation of the Totality just as it is, however it is–which, in the end, we really don’t know. I suggest that this is simply agreeing with what life itself is–affirmation and trust. It is not conjured up by the mind and applied, but discovered in our spontaneous arising.
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      4) There is inherent messiness in our actual living and this is unavoidable. Like many indigenous cultures, or like we see in Rumi’s Sufism, we honor the chicken even as we chop off its head, the tree even as we chop it down. Life is messy and living can only be similarly so. There are no pat, logical answers.
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      5) All is well in the Anthropocene, just as it was in the Jurassic. That says it all with respect to the “higher” view. Experiencing understanding of this is philosophical Daoism in this instance.
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      6) The realization of the relative nature of our moral discriminations does not lead to irresponsibility but rather to a more “moral” exercise of that faculty.

      That’s about all I can manage for now. As I said, your questions are what I hope to address in this “book”. In saying so, however, I have to reiterate that I’m not really up to the task of doing it the justice it deserves, but since someone more capable does not seem to be doing so, I’ll give it a shot. Thanks again for engaging in the process and for caring–I trust you also have the freedom and peace that arises from the caring that is also a not-caring. Scott

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