On 2 metaphysical comportments: nay-saying and yea-saying


If a way of life begins with a “no” to life, then it seeks to ask first, “How do we protect those around us from being harmed?” Out of this “no” to life springs forth law, rights, the minimal abstentionist state, and the idea of national security. If the point of the primordial “no” is to fortify us against that which would do us harm, it nevertheless leaves us defenseless in the face of nihilism. For while our repudiation secures us in our inner citadels, our “no” to the enemy cannot provide us with any reason for protecting, maintaining, and cultivating what we have. In the face of this horror and beholden to a cosmic shudder in the night, we seek to extend life for no other reason than that we can and perhaps must. Our life, which is dumbstruck by the folly of having no reason for persisting in its beings, nonetheless insists on persisting in its being. The “no” stupefies, liquidating and numbing.


If a way of life begins with a “yes” to life, then it seeks to ask first, “How do we promote growth, directing it toward its opening up into the liquid sky?” Under the “yes,” hands and hearts direct; words guide; groups urge; communities flourish. In the hands of the “yes,” the question concerning how should one live would never be posed in the first place. Yet should it be posed, as if by accident, then the answer would already be evident in the form of life itself: the end of life is to sustain the way of life in which the “yes” radiates.

For “yea-saying” people, vulnerabilities would not be eradicated but would also not so readily be turned into harms, threats, and alarms. The latter, one imagines, would be “passed through” the form of life much in the way that heavy rain passes through a well-designed rain garden; or akin to the way that air courses through the lungs, around the body, and out again on into the world; or not unlike the way strangers are invited in, thereby becoming guests and, in time and with friendliness, good neighbors. Hostilities would not be met head-on nor would they be fleed from but would be allowed to enter and to be invited to become more “like us,” or they would pass through en route to someplace else.

The “no” would not disappear but would be put in service of the “yes.” Indeed, the “no,” emerging later than the “yes,” would be a via for “yea-saying.” Uttering “no” would, on this picture, be an admonition whose purpose was to redirect, to circuitously lift the other up onto higher ground.

Observe the guide. The guide says, “Can you see that this path leads on to a dead end? Let’s look on ahead, see where it would take us, and then avoid it by heading in a more promising direction. When I say that we needn’t go that way, I mean: ‘let’s redirect our pursuit this way.’ Do you see now?”

Observe the child who wants the wrong thing. If we do not want him to want the wrong thing, then we want also to show him that learning not to want the wrong thing can be the via for wanting something higher. When we say “no,” we imply that we want him to embody the virtues of temperance, patience, and love. Admonition, accordingly, is an invitation to walk the path that rises slowly toward the liquid sky.

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