Saturday, 19 January 2013

Nasrudin, the Wise Fool: I think you are right!

The Wise Fool
There was a magical exchange across at the Facebook page of the Web Organization for Research into Knowledge (W.O.R.K.) the other day, and I feel that it is well worth reproducing here, for posterity, before it is lost in the labyrinthine archives. But first, a little more context.

Humour in the Sufi Way

At the Facebook Page for the writer, thinker and Sufi mystical teacher, Idries Shah, the page owner had been posting one quote from the works of Idries Shah each day and folk were commenting on those quotes. There were a couple of relevant quotes on the page, taken from the book Special Illumination, which also help explain the use of humour by the Sufi mystics:

"Jokes are structures, and in their Sufic usage they may fulfil many different functions. Just as we may get the humour nutrient out of a joke, we can also get several dimensions out of it on various occasions: there is no standard meaning of a joke."

"One of the characteristics of many truly metaphysical jokes (that is, tales and quips intended to jolt the consciousness) is that they are viable in several different ranges of meaning."

One of the commentators, B.D., thoughtfully explained that: "The Nasrudin tales are perhaps the best example of the 'metaphysical joke' genre. In any one tale it is difficult to tell, solely by looking at his external behavior whether the Mulla [Nasrudin] is 1) a wise man 2) a fool 3) a wise man who is acting the part of a fool as a mirror for his audience, or 4) a fool who is rationalizing his foolish behavior in order to make himself appear wise. All of these possibilities are present in the best Nasrudin jokes, and while we are on the topic, all of these possibilities (in so far as Nasrudin is a mirror) are present in our own behavior." [Nasrudin holds up a mirror to our faces, so that we can see our wayward self reflected in the jokes].

Not only that, but if you've studied the many Nasrudin jokes, you'll find examples of their working popping up in your everyday life, and shedding light on situations, in all sorts of everyday and professional fields. This is one of the reasons that Idries Shah favoured operating with groups of people who came from different walks of life and professions and had different outlooks on, and insights into, life. The Institute for Cultural Research (I.C.R.), for example, is multi-disciplinary and often works in the interstices between disciplines (hence its logo of interlocking squares in a star formation).

That, then, was the theme floating around in our quadrant of cyberspace at that time.

I think you are right!

Meanwhile, across at the W.O.R.K. page, following yet another mass shooting in an American school, there were some posts about gun control, with some arguing that the possession of personal firearms should be more tightly controlled, and others that this was a violation of their inalienable right to bear arms according to the Second Amendment to the Unites States Constitution.

I must say that both sides presented cogent answers and my opinion was being swayed this way and that. Then one of the Nasrudin jokes popped into my head and I thought: "Yes, that is where I am right now", and the joke is this:

When the Mulla was a magistrate, he heard a compelling case made by the plaintiff.

"Why," he exclaimed, "I believe you are right!"

The Clerk of the Court begged him to wait until the defendant had spoken.

The defendant’s case was equally compelling and Nasrudin commented "I believe you are right!"

The Clerk lost all patience. "Mulla, they can’t both be right."

"I believe you are right!" said Nasrudin.

Now, you might think, reading that this, that Nasrudin is a fool. But then another friend at the W.O.R.K page, G.D., replied, quick as a flash: "I believe you are right", and he posted a link to an essay on "The Myth of the Rule of Law" by John Hasnas, Associate Professor, McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University. Not only does this fit in with the general debate over things like gun control (indeed, widening the scope considerably), it was also spot on about Nasrudin's specific dilemma. The Sufi technical term for this kind of happening is "economy of action". Anyhow, you can find the full essay here.

The explanation

Lo! and behold!, that essay really fitted in neatly with the Nasrudin joke, so maybe Nasrusin was not being as daft as first appears? Nasrudin had intuitively grasped the situation and given voice to an unsuspected truth, and here, in John Hasnas's essay about the legal system, was a rigorous, rational explanation. You really need to read the whole of the essay to put the following explanation in context, but here is one explanation.

A lecturer had set his law students the task of defending a doctor who was being sued by a patient for not attending to the patient, since it was his day off and he was out playing golf. A conservatively minded student produced a case that the doctor was liable; a liberally minded student that he was not. Both produced compelling arguments and would have left Nasrudin (and the reader) nodding, "I believe you are right!" as each outlined their case. But which of the two competing cases was correct?

In the essay, John Hasnas goes on to explain. Quote:

"In the case of empirical reasoning, one naturally concludes that one's legal hypothesis has been shown to be correct, and further, that all competing hypotheses are therefore incorrect." ....

"[However] This is the fallacy of legal reasoning. Because the legal world is comprised of contradictory rules, there will be sound legal arguments available not only for the hypothesis one is investigating, but for other, competing hypotheses as well. The assumption that there is a unique, correct resolution, which serves so well in empirical investigations, leads one astray when dealing with legal matters."

This, then, is the rigorous truth that the apparently foolish, but actually wise, Nasrudin expressed intuitively and with insight. However, as Doris Lessing once wrote to me, talking about how a particular story had lit up for her like a Christmas tree: "This doesn't mean that the story will mean the same things to you." This is one of many, many possible meanings.

• By Etienne de L'Amour ~ Google+

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