Clinging to a shrub?

This is from Tolstoy, according to Colin Wilson in the book The Outsider, citing an Eastern fable:

“… a man clings to a shrub on the side of a pit to escape an enraged beast at the top and a dragon at the bottom. Two mice gnaw at the roots of the shrub. Yet while hanging, waiting for death he notices some drops of honey on the leaves of the shrub, and reaches out and licks them.”

Good lord! I realize that by comparison to many I have had an easy life. At the same time, I have had my share of tragedy, as we all must experience to wake up and grow. Through it all I have come out an optimist. There is meaning in life, and death is either the end of consciousness or a continuation of life in some other form … I cannot know but in either case, it does not scare me.

There is one precious commodity that exists that gives meaning to life: unconditional love. I see it every day, most openly expressed in the parent-child relationship. Add to that our abilities to think in abstract, write, paint and perform, build and invent, even to make wine and beer … these seem like gifts to humanity. Is it all just an accident?

Such manifestations of our essential talent and goodness could not have come about by this thing we call  “evolution.” That’s a crock.

The man hanging on the side of a pit will be rescued by a perfect stranger who gains no benefit by doing so. He will have new appreciation of life and loving, and will feel in his bosom the warmth of human connections and of intellectual and artistic achievements. He will again see purpose in life. He just won’t know for sure what that purpose might be.

But it exists. How can it not?

About Mark Tokarski

Just a man who likes to read, argue, and occasionally be surprised.
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17 Responses to Clinging to a shrub?

  1. B. Müller says:

    to explain an act you have to demonstrate that it helps the actor. An act may help others too, but that is irrelevant to the explanation. That is the basis of the subjective value theory. Unconditional love may be a part of the so called deontic or deontological ethics. An act will be performed without consideration of the consequences. No social organisation is possible without deontoligical ethics.
    Anthony de Jasay may give you interesting inputs:
    http://www.dejasay.org/bib_journals_detail.asp?id=55

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    • I stumbled to answer this comment, basically misunderstanding your words. So I deleted it.

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      • B. Müller says:

        subjective value theory is a part of sociology. It’s very philosophical. Anthony de Jasay is IMO one of the most intelligent political writers. He was friend to Gerard Radnitzky whom I met once and admire since then.

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      • B. Müller says:

        or using your example: “perfect stranger who gains no benefit”. There always is a benefit for every action. Otherwise there would be no reason for acting. The simplest explanation could be: empathy. And if you help others you can expect help if you fall into a pit yourself once. Even if your rescuer is not the same person you once helped. It’s self-enforcing that way. Or you could say Pareto-superior.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. steve kelly says:

    Love, charity, service. Truth is self-evident. Too many words or numbers generally signal some agenda opposite the simple truth.

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    • B. Müller says:

      epistemologically it is the other way round. What is self evident is in general considered to be the truth. Social sciences ask often for things who to laymen appear self evident but they are not. Why did humans develop language for instance? The morale rules you have in mind come from the morale of the horde (face-to-face community). The basic principles are caring and sharing. Sharing functions as insurance. The one who made the prey today can be less successful tomorrow and dependent from some others prey. Etc. It’s by no means self evident.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Moodydeb says:

    Greetings: Perhaps my recent hurricane experience fits this. Our neighbors stayed as we did. Prior to the hurricane, we exchanged cell phone numbers. We have solar panels, so when the main power went, as long as there was daylight and not too many clouds, we had limited power. We were able to run our fridge, microwave and coffee maker and charge cell phones and computers; we made this power available to our neighbors. They, in turn, had other resources they were willing to share. We pulled together and became a community. (We all survived with minimal damage – extremely fortunate). The primary benefit was a sense of security; the secondary benefit was a sense of belonging and “being part of”, and the tertiary benefit was the endorphin rush from doing something nice for someone else just because.

    Liked by 3 people

    • S.G. says:

      @Moodydeb: an illustrious example of humanity at its best. =)

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    • Moodydeb, thanks for the update, and I want to emphasize that you and your neighbors all acted of your own free will to create your favorable circumstances, and that no mathematical calculation of possible reward was involved in producing that endorphin rush.

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    • Carri says:

      And I would add to Moodydeb’s list of benefits: empowerment that comes by being self-reliant, instead of relying on the government and other authorities to “save” your ass; by finding the courage within oneself that does not fear all the bogeymen the government and lapdog media throws at us. I watched the Hurricane Irma coverage and was laughing at the hysteria from the media that was essentially saying “You must go to a shelter or you’ll die! Don’t worry, we’ll keep you and your family together and safe, and help you with whatever you may need! Trust us!!” It’s all bullsh*t–the programming of everyone to “be afraid” and to never trust their own strengths and instincts. That, essentially, is the programming that runs through everything and keeps the majority of the masses beholden to their masters.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. JC says:

    “…could not have come about by this thing we call “evolution.” That’s a crock.”

    So, now you’re a creationist? That “our essential talent and goodness” can only be conveyed by something other than self? I see you’ve never really overcome your catholicism. Explains much.

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    • JC, evolution explains some, but not all of our being. Before, in a passage you might have not seen, I explained that, as I view it, evolution can explain perhaps apes … they survive, reproduce. But they do not have cognition to a high degree, do not advance beyond being mere apes who eat and screw and fight one another for dominance. Nothing in the theory can explain our highly developed skills and intellects and grasp of abstract ideas. For that something more is needed, and I do not
      know what that something is, but as Tyrone notes, it is left to our wonderment as we grasp it with imagination and intuition.

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      • JC says:

        I was never one for magical thinking. To have to resort to such to explain beauty or the mysteries of music and art does a disgrace to the human experience in my book.

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      • Nothing “magical” about it. That which is not explained in our current realm of knowledge simply remains unexplained. I am OK with that. Darwin went a ways towards understanding that species do adapt and change. He never found evidence of a species becoming another species, and he does not explain the advancement of the human species far beyond the requirements for survival on this planet, which apes have achieved. To say that Darwin unlocked the mystery gives him far too much credit.

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    • calgacus says:

      Mathis wrote a paper about evolution that I find reasonable http://mileswmathis.com/evol.pdf .
      Also I want to share this quote by Luca Pacioli “The quest for our origin is the sweet fruit’s juice which maintains satisfaction in the minds of the philosophers.” I would like to know at least the origins of our present civilization. So many questionable things when we only consider the last 100 years. When you go back much further I take in consideration the possibility of chronological revisionism on top of other questionable things.
      Even before I read Mathis I didn’t had a problem with evolution as an idea. The general idea can be correct but the mechanism as explained by Darwin and current scientists can be incorrect. Actually the current theory has probably little mechanical/physical explanations and it is more about statistics. Maybe something related is the idea of dualism between spirit and mater. I am more of the opinion that spirit and matter are the same thing or different phases of the same thing. Maybe I am influenced by Mathis’ theory of photons and charge (I still only have a general idea of Mathis’ theories). So matter is a more complex arrangement of photons. Light is similar to spirit.
      Overall I am a “not very collectivist pantheist”. I believe the universe wants individuals to be more free to explore themselves and the universe. A universe that wants to manifest itself in a diverse manner, not like Borgs that want to assimilate and centralize everything. If there is a supreme being I believe it wants individuals (of more advanced species) that ask questions in order to understand themselves and the universe (in the end the individual is connected to the universe). Lower species are in tune with the universe and many Human philosophies try to achieve the same thing for humans. If a human becomes in tune with the universe, it will probably be at a more complex level than so called lower species. To be in harmony with the universe doesn’t have to be something fancy, it can be a man who understands many of his limitations but tries to use his potential to improve himself (and by default he improves his surrounding).
      In the end the greatest miracle to me is the existence itself. The rest seem to be details (nonetheless interesting details). For people that like alchemical texts :”The Sea is the Body, the two Fishes are the Spirit and the Soul” (The Book of Lambspring”.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. tyronemccloskey says:

    Darwin was part of a political agenda promoting British hegemony in the 19th century, rationalizing crimes committed against other peoples in the name of the crown. The biggest threat to that hegemony was still Rome. Kill God and Rome weakens.
    Man adapts his environment, he does not adapt that much himself, building some immunity here and there, but life spans are short where man is edge to edge with nature.
    The truth is we have no intuitive pathway to travel towards understanding our existence. We can only react and, if possible, take the time to analyze and detect patterns to insure our survival. If there is a great beyond only the dead know about, we can only wonder (Even so, hat tip to my gods, Imagination and its ubiquitous sister, Intuition)
    Anthropomorphic Gods and myths flatter and favor those claiming to be in charge. There is no reason for genuine human beings to put a face on possible transcendent powers. All attempts will eventually lead back to those presumptuous creeps and their inequitable rules.
    PS: I,I,I… let me add Instinct to my pantheon-

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