Friday, May 29, 2009

Good and Wild




Good and Wild
A Letter from Hinhan about Dualism, Freedom, and Wholeness

"In wildness is the preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plough and sail for it. From the forest and wilderness come the tonics and barks which brace mankind. Our ancestors were savages. The story of Romulus and Remus being suckled by a she-wolf is not a meaningless fable. The founders of every state which has risen to eminence have drawn their nourishment and vigor from a similar wild source."

-Henry David Thoreau, Walking

* * *
The Dualistic Conflict

All my life, I've been battered by the dominant paradigmatic metaphysical perceptions of my society. I say "battered" because in a world divided harshly between extremes of "good and evil" or "right and wrong", the sheer speed and motion of the simple binary mental machine, the back-and-forth dualism, can do nothing other than bruise and smash the skulls and brains of those who are sensitive enough to grasp moral subtlety.

I've said this for years- a world divided between "good and evil" will necessarily generate evil alongside its good- and in my experience of it, it seems to generate more evils than goods. The binary moral system is self-perpetuating, and, in the end, self-defeating, because it creates conflict only to continue conflict. The "good guys" of my society are only good insofar as they have fresh evils to face and defeat, or at least to sermonize against. Would a policeman ever want all crime to be done and gone? Of course not; the venerable Lao-Tzu was right to quip "a bad man is a good man's job."

In a strange sense, the whole root of the problem with neverending philosophical/dualistic conflict is found in the same tainted perception that gives rise to capitalism- the notion that people should be taught to prefer competition to cooperation. We are taught that good and evil have to compete, and taught to look forward to the day that good "wins"- just as we are taught that businesses have to compete, and taught to look forward to the day that the business you've invested in wins and absorbs the competition or drives them out of the market.

But what happens when a business finally out-competes all the others? A monopoly is created- the one thing that capitalism cannot allow, and cannot abide by. This paradox lives at the heart of the capitalist system, and a metaphysical equivalent exists at the heart of the "good versus evil" spiritual paradigm. A Buddhist prayer to wisdom states "If you abide in dualism, you live in the right and wrong country." What humor!

Defining Organic Evil

When people such as myself begin to rack on "moral dualism" or religions that teach absolute value-differences between what they call (and define as) "good" and "evil", there is a typical reaction from the "other side"- they love to toss pictures of raped women or dead, murdered children in your face and say "so you think this isn't evil?"

In no manner do I believe that naked, inexcusable violence against other beings to whom we are bound in a social contract of restraint, cooperation, and benevolence is "good"; I might even say it is "evil", so long as you allow me to define "evil" as "a situation, occurrence, condition, or rationale which threatens and/or destroys the healthy continuity of the mind or body of a person or persons, or the good, healthy continuity of a family or community."

If you give me that definition, I'm on board for the use of the word "evil". If you want "evil" to include talk about biblical devils, demons, or some failure to abide by the Christian God's rules that were supposedly given to the ancient Hebrews, or some other "godly law" that was passed down to some people somewhere, then I'm not on board. I'm not on board even if those laws seem pretty decent. They are still culturally encapsulated, and carry with them the prejudices and limitations of that particular culture, and cannot suffice to speak meaningfully to all of mankind.

I once tried to belong wholly to a culture, and later, other "cultures". I realized my folly when the sacred powers to whom I am kin made me realize that the world was different now- cultures and nations had made their transition into rivers of power, no longer mountain peaks and stones and pools. The powers of mankind, vital, living, flowing, had always been interacting in the past, changing one another, learning from one another, fighting, loving, and exploring with one another- but they had more distance then, both physical and mental distances.

Now, that was over. We are citizens of a planet now. The forms of ancient cultures that stand behind us are not useless; they contain beauty, wisdom, and usefulness, in most cases- and they certainly help us to understand our ancestors better, and this is important, because the ancestral powers also still exist. They can help us if we understand who they were and who they still are.

But "culture" is no longer a battle-standard, despite the fear that drives others to think so. Cultures have become shared songs of power, songs of memory, and songs of inspiration to help us as we go about in our new world. Our loyalty to them must necessarily take new forms. So many of our ideas of "good" and "evil" in the past were absolutely culturally defined- but what do we do when we encounter the massive variations of culture, and all their differing ideas of evil and good?

My answer is: "return to a simpler, more organic way of seeing." In the past, the most basic organic and spiritual realities, is found the future- when past and future meet, a circle is formed, and this world, this nature, this sublime spiritual field, is a circle, including all.

I seek an organic definition of evil, one that includes natural process for humans and communities, and the land itself. We need reason and wisdom to see precisely what each individual, family, or community requires with respect to "health" or "goodness"- we must have reason to see that there is no possibility of health or goodness without access to the basic necessities of life; but we have to have wisdom to see that there is no health or goodness without leaving people and communities their own private, sovereign space, a space in which to explore themselves without undue interference from others, or undue pressure to assimilate into a larger "meta-society" that may be far out of step with the natural rhythms established by nature herself in the lives of those individuals, families, or communities.

We have to be willing to "give room", to give respect, and not just give "necessities". Of course, in my way of thinking, room- or private, sovereign space of mind- and respect are necessities. Without them, we cease to live, and begin to just survive. These precious things should only be interfered with when there is a clear and present danger to the health of others, once again pursuant to the typical idea of a social contract.

We can have a social contract that includes many societies. But it will take respect- it will take a final admission on the parts of many that other people, different people, are not (as Wade Davis said) "failed attempts at being them"- that other people with all their differences are unique manifestations of the human spirit, deserving of the same care in preservation that we'd accord to an endangered animal species or a rare piece of artwork.

Good and Wild

What I have been talking about- our ability to recognize the uniqueness in other people, individuals, families, and cultures- and to restrain ourselves in a social contract which allows us to become self-sacrificing and sharing to aid in supporting a common welfare- this is my definition of "good". This is something that the true "wild" beast cannot and will not do- they do not see the "others" of the forest (beyond their mates or offspring, and even then, only conditionally) as beings that they must sacrifice to care for. They may look upon their own kind and see, in whatever instinctive social arrangement nature guides them to band into, some hope for survival, but this is not the same as human benevolence. It is a deeper, wilder law.

This is not to say that the wild is flawed somehow. It is marvelous and sacred, every bit as marvelous and sacred as the human style of socializing. What we humans must do is a monumental feat of spirit- to restrain the wild and embrace the good. By saying this, introducing this new dichotomy, I am not trying to start a new dualism. Wild is not in opposition to good. Wild is wild, and wild is good in its own way, serving its own valuable, sacred function for those beings who are immersed in it without choice, and (human) good is good in its own way, serving a valuable, sacred function for those beings whose destiny was to enter into it. Those beings are us.

And there is no need for competition between the "wild" and the "good". In fact, as ancient human societies all knew, their own good and the well-being of the wild, were tied together. They went hand-in-hand. Those societies- like ours- that have allowed "wild" to become associated with "evil" and "civilization" to become associated with "good"- have strayed into a deadly, fast-moving propeller of dualistic confusion. They have become blinded to the goodness in wildness, and the need to have a acceptance of, and even a measure of, the wildness in goodness.

"Good and evil" has now given way in my thinking to "good and wild". There is the good of social grace, whether it be the brutal social instinctiveness of the pride of lions, or the contrived social restraint and self-sacrifice of human beings for other beings, and there is the wild which is its own sacred, higher law- a law of non-restraint, of vital energy flowing defiant, of instinctive celebration of life, of no boundaries. In the wild, no being apologizes for being powerful, magnificent, faster than others, or vicious, and no Godly judge stands over them to punish them for pride. All wild power flows as far as it can, before it is checked by another, and the sun sets and rises as it always has.

In the human world, the wild must be restrained, true. But it cannot, like some evil demon, be hated or lined up for "final defeat" one day. The good and the wild must be seen as cooperating sacred forces, dwelling in their own specific metaphysical locations, thriving as they must alongside one another, but never as mortal foes.


It is certainly true that the most brutal crimes seen within human groups have everything to do with the "breaking loose" of the wild in us. I have no doubts of it; but this alone does not vilify the wild, or take away its sacredness or appropriateness. It merely highlights the point that the sacred powers require their own sacred manner of acceptance and handling, or they will, (like fire that is mishandled) burn all those around them, and, in the case of our wars, will burn down the forest.

We cannot wall ourselves off emotionally from the wild, as though it were some bogey-evil. It is the vital source of our lives, the wellspring of our passions and our creativity, even. Its raw power must be channeled with wisdom into a context of human good. Like fire it is sacred but neutral- capable of great benevolence and great destruction. The wild and the good must be loved, both; this is wholeness.

The great naturalist Henry David Thoreau has the single most powerful and beautiful thing to say about the good and the wild. He wrote, in his great work "Walden":

"As I came home through the woods with my string of fish, trailing my pole, it being now quite dark, I caught a glimpse of a woodchuck stealing across my path, and felt a strange thrill of savage delight, and was strongly tempted to seize and devour him raw; not that I was hungry then, except for that wildness which he represented. Once or twice, however, while I lived at the pond, I found myself ranging the woods, like a half-starved hound, with a strange abandonment, seeking some kind of venison which I might devour, and no morsel could have been too savage for me. The wildest scenes had become unaccountably familiar. I found in myself, and still find, an instinct toward a higher, or as it is named, spiritual life, as do most men, and another toward a primitive rank and savage one, and I reverence them both. I love the wild not less than the good."

Thoreau was blessed to live in tranquility and so close to the wild- and he was visited by the powers of the wild- true spirits- who appeared to him in the forms of these impulses and ideas that arose in him. He communed with the powers of the wild, and learned so much. May we all do the same, and find our way.

1 comment:

puny human said...

"the sacred powers to whom I am kin . . ." Well said. It is difficult to find a name for them. I enjoyed your discussion, and agree in particular with your point that the reality has changed and we need a new vision to guide us, "the world is different now." We are all bruised and battered as they cram us into our Dominator cultural cages, but there are still sources of strength: the wild beings, one another, and for me, my green friends.
Best wishes,
Puny