Saturday, October 12, 2013

distinctions, not dualism

I forget how it came up but we were talking about humans and animals. I said "you know humans are animals, right?" She said "yes." They almost always admit it.

"But I mean they're 100% animals. There's nothing non-animal about them at all."

"Hmmm." She wasn't quite buying it. She drew a Venn diagram with "animals" on one side and "humans" on the other, with the overlap of circles indicating commonality.

"So humans are part animal, part...what?," I pressed. "Do you eat, shit, piss? That came out wrong. But these things are not only what you have in common with animals. You are an animal. No offense."

"Some taken. Ummm, but humans use language, animals don't."

"But you said humans are animals and we're humans and we're talking right now. So some animals can talk."
Dualisms work by drawing a line around "this" by narrating "what this is not." "What this is not" is equivalent to "that" and "that" is what is outside. But it's also possible to see this and that alongside each other, incorporated in a greater THIS. THIS makes this and that, first and foremost, the same, and only secondarily, different. THIS is the frame, and without it there can only be incoherent dualism. A problem is that the new THIS (and yes, getting somewhat Hegelian here though I haven't read him) is itself sensible only if defined against another that. And so non-Being becomes the ultimate that but without a bigger THIS and we're left with dualism. I'd like to think this is a merely philosophical problem. Referring to Being as world, as opposed to "the world," is my attempt to bring us back inside as much as that's possible in this fantastical narrative world. Non-world? Absurd of course. Moving on.

My friend above was trying to extract humans from animalhood, to place humans outside that category. Humans as transcendent. Transcendent, shitting world, perhaps. She's working with an all-too convenient, self-flattering dualism. There is no THIS in her picture. It fades away as the transcendent inside makes its case for eternal repetition. This, right here, will repeat forever. Is it bad that the humans will some day die off? Only if you're a human, only if you're inside. Bad is non-repetition forever. It is the foundation of ethics. Good is me repeating, bad is the opposite. (God, how I hate my Prussian philosopher God tones. Reader, apologies. Philosophy is an ego/superego disease and I'm particularly bad at masking that.)
Japanese kids are racist by age 4 or 5. The operative dualism is nihonjin (Japan person; pronounced knee-hone-gene) versus gaijin (outside person; pronounced guy-gene). Any distinction between gaijin types (American versus Chinese) or particular gaijins (the tall skinny shy gaijin versus the short stocky gregarious one) are secondary to the nihonjin/gaijin distinction -- they take place within the category gaijin. There is an obvious bigger category, a THIS, but it's inoperative here. The category "human" does not frame the gaijin/nihonjin distinction at all. Its absence is required for the distinction to persist. A nihonjin may accept that Americans are humans, as my nihonjin friend above accepted that humans are animals, but they will not account for it, hold it up against older beliefs and let them go extinct. It's a concession on a par with an Obamaphile allowing for Obaman imperfection. It's apologetics. It's concession for the sake of repetition, concession as a defense. Nothing to see here. Moving along.
Above friend, who is also a student, client, and boss (insofaras she pays me directly), got in the last word. "You think you're right and everyone else is wrong." To have an opinion is to make oneself a this, i.e., the good side of the dualism. Yes, I too am human, among them I criticize so harshly, using the third person as if they're out there. 負けた! I lose! (You win.)      

No comments: