27 August 2008

John Rodman on Dolphinic Wisdom

I. Original Sin. Religious man separated himself from God and was driven from the garden for his pretension. Philosophic man, also in quest of short-cut wisdom, separated himself from the rest of nature, which is its own punishment. Thus Socrates turned his back on the great speculations about the nature of the universe and focused his whole attention on "the good for man". Twenty centuries later men lament that they pursue loneliness, and that their morals and politics lag dangerously behind their natural science. Perhaps the good for man cannot be comprehended out of the context of a universal good in which man shares.

2. True Irrationality. Man, said the ancient philosophers, is a rational animal. Animal: genus; common denominator of man and beast. Rational: species; the principle distinguishing man from beast. Assume the distinction to be valid, and ask the following question. If you and I have certain qualities in common and certain qualities in difference, is it obvious that I (or you) ought to live so as to maximize the qualities that distinguish us? Classical philosophy, from Socrates on, is based on a choice, and that choice is arbitrary: it is not made in accordance with any general principle that is self-evident, nor is it deducible from another principle that is in turn self-evident. The reductio ad absurdum of the classical choice is modern "individualism" in its "Romantic" form—the cult of individual eccentricity. Classical thought stopped short of that, of course. But why? The preference for differentiation at the species level is an unjustified presupposition of the philosophic tradition.

3. Waiting. Once before, around the time of Plato and Aristotle, the dolphins began tentatively to approach man. But first philosophers, then religious men, turned their backs on us in disinterest or hostility, and we retreated into the depths of the sea to await a better time. Now men in desperation voyage into outer space, searching far-off planets for signs of intelligent, non-human life. We wait and wonder whether man is ready.

4. Transcendence. In the lore of the dolphins it is recorded that at some moment in time a few individual human beings will break through to a new, transhuman level of consciousness, will become true philosophers comprehending the whole in all its parts, and will quietly leave the city of man and make contact with the dolphins. There are several versions of this legend. In one, the philosophers join the dolphins and never return. In another, they return out of a sense of duty to bring the good news to their fellow men and are imprisoned in lunatic asylums. In a third, they join forces with the dolphins, execute a bloodless coup d'├ętat, and establish their benign and pacific rule over the rest of the animals (both human and other). In a fourth, the philosophers and the dolphins lead a bloody insurrection of all the beasts, smash all machines, and eliminate the human race as irredeemably depraved and dangerous to the planet.

(John Rodman, "The Dolphin Papers," The North American Review 259 [spring 1974]: 13-26, at 26)

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