Taoist Writings & Primitivist Ideals Pt. 2: Writings Attributed to Chuang Tzu

Chuang Tzu was a Daoist madman, and he loved madmen.  He loved hermits and cripples, those deformed and unruly characters who defy the straightening “carpenter’s square.”  It’s a recurring theme in his writings (or, more accurately, the writings attributed to him) that those things which are flawed are blessed, for humanity can find no excuse to plunder them.  A gnarled tree won’t provide a worthy plank to hew; a deformed man was considered unlucky to sacrifice to the Yellow River.  Thus, being different, they escaped the deluded contrivances of the more civilized, and were allowed, “their years allotted by Heaven.”  Defying the tendency of advancing civilization to homogenize and hegemonize, Chuang Tzu saw in these misfits a relief from the increasingly strict and standardized social order.  Borrowing from the Tao te Ching,

When the court is arrayed in splendor,
The fields are full of weeds,
And the granaries are bare.
Some wear gorgeous clothes,
Carry sharp swords,
And indulge themselves with food and drink;
They have more possessions than they can use.
They are robber barons.
This is certainly not the way of Tao.

(Verse 53)
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Language is a Clever Trap by Carey Smith

Language is a clever trap. Although it is unavoidable and can be used for liberation, we must develop skills to avoid the trappiness of the trap.

Language abstracts our physical surroundings into words. These words can be set within the flow of time, providing us with the concepts of past, present, and future. Words make possible such cognitive activities as plans and goals, memories, critical analysis, etc. With our vivid imaginations and the abstractions words provide us, we have built civilizations!

Gregory Bateson makes a distinction between the physical landscape our bodies inhabit, and the mental landscape in which language originates. The physical landscape is a world of things and is governed by forces and impacts. It is how it is, no matter the words we use to describe it. The mental landscape is a world of relationships and patterns, and is governed by differences and distinctions. The mental landscape is a world of explanation, of metaphor (and what is language if not metaphor?). The mental landscape maps the territory of the physical landscape (and in doing so, there is always something left out.) It is the information that is different that makes the map. But it is merely a map. In the mental landscape, there are no things.
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