Scott:  So, when we understand human nature as morally neutral, neither good nor evil, but just like Nature itself, affirmable just as it is without moral discrimination, then we don’t have to come up with some ethical principle by which to justify a move toward pan-inclusiveness. It’s only a practical consideration—it’s harmonious with our natural élan, our desire for self-flourishing.

Zhuangzi:  Correct. And that, quite simply, is the view from Dao—taking human nature as Nature.

Scott:  Taking human nature as Nature moves us beyond our addiction to right and wrong, beyond our propensity to see ourselves as transcendent of Nature, and that enables a sense of release into oneness with all things.

Zz:  We are able to see ourselves as both somehow transcendent of Nature and as one with Nature. The view from Dao is really just acknowledging what it is to be human. We typically only see ourselves as transcendent of Nature because we fear to participate in an apparently ceaseless transformation that has no respect for the preservation of identity. Truly realizing one’s unity with Nature requires releasing one’s grip on an imagined fixed-identity taken as transcendent of Nature.

Scott:  And that propensity to take ourselves as “fixed, full and real” is part of our warpedness.

Zz:  True. Human self-consciousness and its consequences would seem to be an anomaly. But then that’s also the warpedness of Nature. If humanity is by Nature warped, then Nature is also warped. But Nature is only warped from the human point of view. From the point of view of Dao, there is no warpedness.

Scott:  I call it the Great Mess because from the human point of view Nature seems warped—it’s not as we would like it to be. To say that All is Well, on the other hand, is to thankfully release into Nature just as it seems to be.

Zz:  And that’s the pan-inclusiveness, the cosmo-centrism, that we have been suggesting is a natural possibility for human consciousness. It doesn’t have to happen, but it can happen; and we discover that—even in its merely incremental happening—it makes life more fun.

Scott:  What could be better than that!? And that’s a great place to stop—my mind needs a rest.

Zz:  Ah, yes; sometimes I forget that you still apparently exist. Bye!


Xunzi:  There seems to be little reason to continue this discussion; we must simply agree to disagree, as Scott has said. So I think I’ll excuse myself and leave you two to your mutual agreement. Thank you, Scott, for your hospitality. I will now bid you both goodbye.

Scott:  Goodbye! Now I feel bad; I didn’t even offer him something to drink. At least that might have made the roast a bit more jovial.

Zhuangzi:  No need to feel bad; he’s a teetotaler in any case. But it always ends this way with Xun and those like him who know the truth. I, on the other hand, am no teetotaler!

Scott:  Coming right up! But I’m also feeling bad because it feels a bit like we also acted as though we knew the truth.

Zz:  I understand what you mean—we know the truth that there is no truth. And there’s no way around that except by way of the self-effacement of that truth. We don’t know. That’s how we can affirm Xun in his opinions even while holding to own contrary opinions—we must hold them lightly, open-handedly.

Scott:  That’s not easy to do.

Zz:  It’s not something we can do—it’s something we can only be.

Scott:  And how do we become that? But I don’t want to go there now! What a can of worms all this thinking creates! What I do want to address is what this conversation with Xunzi was intended to accomplish—a better understanding of how we get from self-centrism to collective-centrism without appealing to some heavenly principle. We haven’t made much progress in that direction, have we?

Zz:  No. But we have laid some groundwork. First, having taken human nature as morally neutral, we understand that moving from self-centrism to collective-centrism is not a moral issue. It’s not the “right” thing to do. That robs it of it’s being a moral imperative—something that has to be justified—and then imposed on humanity. Secondly, we observe that this is something than humans naturally do—part of the tangle of good and evil. We coalesce into ever more inclusive groupings. Why?

Scott:  Because it’s our nature to do so. And we also discover that that collective-centrism nourishes our self-centrism. They are not in opposition but are mutually supporting. But since this is the case, why are we discussing this movement as if it needed to be made into a project?

Zz:  Because they are also taken as in opposition. Self-centrism expands into a collective-centrism, but it also always stops at some exclusionary level. The I-other simply becomes a we-them. We unite as a family, clan, tribe, nation, race, species, animate beings—but there always remains some other. Something to exclude, something that threatens, something to disvalue and exploit.

Scott:  And the Daoist vision is to not stop, but to become pan-inclusive. And that ultimately opens into an openness where there is no longer any other at all.

Zz:  And that brings a great panoply of positive benefits, psychological and practical.

Scott:  Less fear. More pleasure and awe—“participating everywhere in the springtime of each being”. What fun! More tolerance. And a care and respect for all things, including the environment, which, in our species-centrism, we have threatened to the extent that our own flourishing is now at risk.


Zhuangzi: I’m glad I mentioned Mencius; he might help us out of this argument—or at least shift it to a less contentious level. Xun says that human nature is evil; Mencius says it’s inherently good; and Scott, I think, is going to disagree with you both, even though you have said he agrees with Mencius. Scott?

Scott:  I am. Human nature is neither good nor evil, but simply what Nature has wrought. As such, it is Nature; and Nature is beyond good and evil. Once again, we do not call the lion evil because it kills and eats the gazelle. We might be tempted to do so, because we empathize with the gazelle, but we suspend our normal moral discrimination in this regard.

Zz:  There is good and evil in humanity—lots of both, but that judgment is a purely human judgment, and all “Daoism” wishes to do is to let that be informed by the view from Dao—or Nature, if you prefer. It’s simply letting everything “bask in the broad daylight of Heaven”.

Xunzi:  As I have said, you know a great deal about Heaven, but very little about humanity. What good is all this “basking in Heaven” when it comes to actually governing humanity in its waywardness?

Zz:  Well, for one thing, it might make you less eager to apply the five punishments and to . . .

Scott:  Remind me what the five punishments are?

Zz:  Tattooing, cutting off noses, feet and balls, and death. If we understand that our opinions on what is good and what is evil are not cast in stone, and that good and evil are always all tangled up with each other, so that every act, whether good or evil, has a myriad of causes and reasons that we cannot fathom, then we will be less inclined to punish others as if we had some kind of divine wisdom. And, as I was about to say, we would be less inclined to punish and suppress those who disagree with our dao, but rather, would see value in a diversity of daos.

Xunzi:  A diversity of daos just leads to chaos. There is only one road, one true Dao of the ancients, and only a fool tries to walk two roads at once.

Scott: We have once again reached an impasse—but Zhuangzi and I are obliged to “foolishly” walk both the road of allowing the “rightness” of your opinion and the road of our own opinions. But I would like to also make the point that all that Daoism “knows” of Heaven is that it knows nothing of Heaven. And it is that that informs our dealings with others. You, on the other hand, know the one true Dao, and that, being an absolute, is equivalent to saying you know Heaven.

Zz: Knowing beyond all doubt what is good and what is evil is one of the greatest sources of evil to be found in the world.


Zhuangzi:  We’re ganging up on Xun, which hardly seems fair. Why don’t we rather consider how we are the same and leave our differences behind us?

Xunzi:  Given the radical differences between our positions, that may not be easy, but I’m willing to give it a try.

Zz:  Apart from the practical education of Scott—opening him up into “greater openness and unfixedness”—I invited you along because your take on human nature might help us to answer the problem we encountered in trying to move naturally from our self-centrism to collective- and cosmo-centrism.

Xunzi:  It is because I take our self-centeredness as an intrinsic part of human nature that I say it is evil. Humans are by nature self-seeking and avaricious.

Scott:  If we assume that human nature is natural, then there is no disjunction between that nature and Nature. Do you agree?

Xunzi:  No, I do not. Human beings are evil precisely because they have turned against Nature. Only by the guidance of the enlightened gentleman are they able to once again be brought into harmony with Nature.

Scott:  By what power are humans able to act outside of Nature? And by what power is the gentleman able to transcend the evil of his own nature?

Xunzi:  By the power of choice.

Scott:  And did not Nature endow us with that power?

Zz:  From the human point of view, the power of moral choice is humanity as transcendent of Nature. But from the point of view of Dao—let’s call it Nature to avoid debate on what is Dao—from the point of view of Nature, absolutely nothing escapes its power. When we say Nature, we mean absolutely everything conceivable. We are required, then, to hold these two apparently contradictory points of view simultaneously.

Scott:  Agreed. Xunzi?

Xunzi:  Disagreed. Nature is good; humanity has taken the straight and true and warped it, and is thus evil and outside of Nature.

Scott:  Okay. I think we need to agree to disagree on this point. But can you tell me more about the enlightened gentleman—presumably an intrinsically warped human being like you and I—by what power then does he transcend his evil?

Xunzi:  By the power of his instruction in the Dao of the Sage-Kings.

Scott:  But why did he pursue it if naturally warped? And how did the sage-kings acquire their goodness if that Dao had yet to be formulated? Were they not mere mortals like you and I?

Xunzi:  We cannot understand every mystery until we too are enlightened gentlemen.

Scott: You are not an enlightened gentleman? Then you too are presumably warped. How can a warped individual know what is good and what is evil and know which Dao can rectify our evil condition?

Zz:  To think I also considered bringing Mencius along! If words are like wind on water, we’d be swamped and sinking by now!

Xunzi:  What need for Mencius!?  Scott has thoroughly adopted his position! “Human nature is good.”


Xunzi:  By “our pitiful moral addiction” I assume you mean my own desire to see human society well-ordered and harmonious?

Zhuangzi:  Not at all. As I said, the desire for self- and collective-flourishing is entirely natural. It’s not your desire for that, but your equation of chaos and disharmony with evil that’s problematical. That leads you to extremes of exclusion and excessively coercive solutions to human failings.

Scott:  And what is the “good” that opposes your designated evil, and where does it come from?

Xunzi:  The perfected sage-kings of old created the paths of ritual, music and righteousness, and the empire was in complete harmony. That’s the good that we must teach the people if we want that harmony to rule once again. And those who do not follow it, but bring disharmony and chaos to the empire, must be dealt with severely and without mercy.

Zz:  I rest my case.

Scott:  Forgive me, but as someone completely foreign to your culture and time, this appeal to mythological sage-kings and their golden age strikes me as pure fantasy. You have no historical proof of their existence or of the nature of their rule. It’s a castle built of sand—below the tideline. It’s really no different than the various fundamentalist moralities that seek to dominate us all in my own times.

Xunzi:  It is not fantasy; it has been faithfully recorded in the Odes, Documents and the Spring and Autumn Annuls. By them we can learn the ways of the sage-kings.

Scott:  Just as in my own times the Torah, New Testament, and Quran are each one taken as the embodiments of unquestionable truth, though each one contradicts the others, and are themselves interpreted in numerous mutually contradictory ways.

Xunzi:  I cannot speak for your culture and times, but only for my own; and this Dao of the Sage-Kings was the right and proper one for the Chinese people of my time.

Zz:  Then your good and evil are not universal, but culturally relative. That’s a great improvement! But unless we understand that, even as we apply it, it still leads to narrow-mindedness and totalitarianism.

Xunzi:  It is harmony and order that is the good, and disharmony and chaos that is evil—that is the universal good. Different times and cultures call for different means for the realization of the good.

Scott:  There is both harmony and disharmony and order and chaos in absolutely everything. Without the one there cannot be the other. Understanding this breaks the fetters of our addiction to a fixed morality and enables us to open into openness and unfixedness. We can then embrace and affirm all things as they are even as we work to further the self-flourishing of them all.


Xunzi:  So you agree with me that human nature is naturally warped. But you think our moral sense is part of that warpedness!? I’d say that our failure to follow our moral sense is our warpedness. Isn’t or moral sense what sets us apart from the beasts?

Scott:  It is—in part. But I’d say our greatest warpedness is our self-awareness.

Xunzi:  Zhuang! Look what you’ve created! Here’s a man who thinks the essence of what it is to be human—to be a self!—is to be warped!

Zhuangzi:  Yes! I have had some success with Scott—at least in the theoretical realm. But how could you disagree that the source of all our problems is that we are self-aware beings? We are a complete anomaly in the world. Only we find life problematical. Only we struggle with good and evil. Only we fear death. Only we hunger for a truth and meaning that we cannot find. Only we speak of life as a “veil of tears”. Only we suffer the compounded suffering of suffering our suffering. Only we kill and inflict pain for pleasure. Only we have the power to destroy or own necessary environmental context. Warped indeed!

Scott:  But warped doesn’t mean evil. It’s simply the way things have evolved. If we affirm Nature, we are obliged to affirm everything it has wrought, including warpedness. If we affirm life, we must also affirm death. If we affirm health then we must also affirm disease.

Zz:  But affirming doesn’t mean acquiescence. Life wants to live, so we work to stay alive. Life wants to enjoy itself, so we work to realize the greatest enjoyment. The self wants to self-flourish, so we work toward its flourishing.

Xunzi:  But by your reasoning, if Nature has created just one thing warped, then Nature is itself warped.

Zz:  To the human mind Nature is warped. Absent that mind, and Nature is no such thing.

Scott:  To the human mind it is a Great Mess. It might have started with a Bang. It’s wall-to-wall Chaos. Ever-expanding—dissipating. Stars collide with stars. Galaxies collide with galaxies. Worlds are born and die. Our world will die. Before humanity was the age of dinosaurs—all gone. But before they were, they naturally evolved to greater size, bigger teeth, claws and horns with which to rip the flesh from one another. What a mess! How are humans any different? We evolved a self-conscious mind so now we can build bigger and better devices with which to destroy each other. What a mess!

Xunzi:  And they call me a pessimist!

Zz:  If you affirm the lot there’s no pessimism in it. Pessimism arises only when we pit our pitiful moral addiction against reality.


Scott:  Hello Zhuangzi! And a new friend!

Zhuangzi:  I’d like to introduce my friend Xunzi.

Scott:  Eh, glad to meet you.

Zz:  I told you he’d be at a loss at meeting you!

Xunzi:  You did. Glad to meet you too, Scott. And glad to be of service.

Scott:  Service?

Xunzi:  Of course, service! Your distaste for my dao is your opportunity to discover what it is to wander among all daos—something you clearly aren’t doing! Ha, ha.

Scott:  True. And coincidentally I just finished reading selections from your work, and so I’ve been refreshed in my distaste.

Zz:  Coincidentally, indeed! Another coincidence is how Xunzi’s take on human nature so clearly meshes with the problem we discussed at our last meeting—how we can move from self-centeredness to cosmo-centeredness without appeal to some positive transcendent value.

Scott:  Yes, I see that. Xunzi answered that; starting with: “Human nature is evil” and “Human nature is by Nature warped.” I love this last one especially! Love to hate it!

Xunzi:  Well, if you love to hate it, maybe you’re doing some wandering after all. But I seem to recall having read that you agree with my assessment of human nature.

Scott:  You’ve read my blabber!?

Xunzi:  Only the few lines Zhuang has shown me—sorry to disappoint. So, do you agree with me?

Scott:  Yes and no. I agree with you that human nature is naturally warped. But I don’t agree that being warped and being “evil” are the same thing. I don’t believe that Nature is evil or that anything it has created is evil. It might be an incredibly messy business from the human point of view—a morally informed point of view—disturbingly “red in tooth and claw” and all that—but that doesn’t make it evil. I prefer to let Nature help me transcend my so-called “morality” rather than to judge Nature on the basis of it.

Xunzi:  So you would have humanity behaving like the beasts?

Scott:  Not at all. Transcending right and wrong is not abolishing it. It’s simply putting it in perspective—the view from Dao which both affirms it and relativizes it. Our moral sense is, to my thinking, part of our natural warpedness. It’s out of sync with everything else in the universe. And we won’t find it anywhere in the universe except in humanity. Nevertheless, it has been one of the keys to the incredible success of the human species. It enabled us to stop killing each other off enough that we could cooperate and become the lords of the earth.

Zz:  But from the point of view of the earth, it would have been better if we had behaved like the beasts!

Scott:  Exactly. That’s part of the warpedness.