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Sunday, April 6, 2008

street intelligence

4/5/2008

toward a new ecological awareness


At some point a certain sort of presence and attitude, knowledge of the relationship between plants and animals (we are also animals) to one another and their environment, was necessary to exist and be successful in the world. We need to adopt a similar sort of awareness within our contemporary context. That's not to say we need to live how we once lived but that we need to become aware again of what's going on around us with the old sentiment of necessity and urgency.

Perhaps what Thoreau was looking for when he decided to go into the woods was a method towards gaining this new ability through experiencing the more ancient one.

When I walked out of the theater after watching Into the Wild, I overheard a number of people saying "what a waste of a life". They may be masking quality of life with quantity of life. Chris McCandless died young but not before learning to live at least once. His life serves as a warning, he wasn't adequately prepared. More importantly though, his life and his responses can show us things about ourselves and our societies that need to be reformed. We all take risks every day. The waste is when we lose our lives in car accidents and early heart attacks -- deaths that are merely a product of the ordinary overindulgences. He chose a different form of expression, the wisdom of youth.

Many find neither the wisdom of youth nor the wisdom of age.

---

on the uses and abuses of the word "philosopher"


The contemporary usage of the word "philosopher" has pulled it into disrepute.

On the one side we have philosophy as a profession which is really only practiced in universities so implies the forms of scholar, teacher and perhaps schoolmaster. The analytic tradition especially focuses on clarity (which usually also implies complexity) of thought. Philosophy as a discipline may or may not be making progress but it is as valuable a profession as any other. Some of these philosophers focus on contemporary translations, elucidating complex thought and bringing past thoughts to bear on the present. Others are focused on the limitations of language and science. Philosophers like Will Durant attempt to survey the sciences and bring the most important results to the attention of the public in as clear a form as possible. In the best cases, the philosopher-scholar gives us a full serving of intellectual honesty and the associated honesty to oneself -- this is no small task.

On the other side we have everyday people who, when confronted with the phrase "I'm a philosopher" express bafflement or worse, conjure an image of a high brow sedentary lifestyle. The main thing to note here is not what people see in the term but what they don't see. Namely, the life form of the sage. No one goes to the "philosopher" for wisdom.

Why is this the case?

I doubt Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi could be considered good philosophers in the narrow academic sense. They were still the ones best willing and able to do what was necessary for their time.

At first I considered resuscitation of the term but how could that make me a better person? It's like Sarah says, "people go back to other people for advice when the advice works."

6 comments:

Charlie H said...

Interesting post. On the one hand, I think you are right that, by and large, philosophers have painted themselves into a corner of irrelevance. (Maybe not a new phenomenon; that's just what Callicles says in Plato's "Gorgias.") A very telling anecdote: a couple of years ago, the American Philosophical Association met in NYC and a NYT reporter showed up and asked around, "What talks can I go to that address topical issues?" She got mostly "ers," "ums," and "ahs" in reply. (That's not totally true, since there are always a few sessions on things like abortion, right-to-die, and global poverty -- but still, it's mainly true.)Talks on "mereological sums," defeating the skeptic, and points of detail in airy theories of ethics are the standard fare.

On the other hand: I've been encountering in several places recently reflections on current affairs that make me think the human situation now is truly radically different -- politically, technologically, ecologically, and epistemically (and with all that, probably morally too). It seems to me that somebody should be thinking through these changes and trying to counsel people in handling them in their lives, since clearly evolution cannot keep pace with these changes: we're monkeys playing with the internet and cruise missiles. I don't care what these latter-day counselors are called ("Philosophers"?), but I think there is a crying need for someone to get to work!

Mike said...

I do think philosophers, at least some of them, are some of the people best equipped to handle this new situation. That's really the goal. You see what I see. I agree entirely.

I see Nietzsche's revaluing project differently now. Going through those particular sorts of mental exercises makes us better prepared to understand our new situation. So of course I see great value in philosophy.

Unfortunately we can't assume people will head to philosophy for answers so philosophers (self proclaimed or not) have to head back to the people as quickly as possible.

Your writing is more accessible than mine and your thoughts are usually more clear, you're further along than I am.

Anuj D said...

"Too much analysis leads to paralysis" - J. Krishnamurti.

Anuj D said...

I personally prefer to read biographies of the philosopher along with the philosophical texts that I am reading, that way I can always check how much of her/his thoughts were lived ones. But ofcourse its best to know someone personally and be in a dialogue than to read a book on/by him, for then the whole qs. of Proximity comes in!

Mike said...

The philosophical biography definitely has a more prominent place these days. Charlie's preference (and Nietzsche's) is similar.

I like to read my phils in conjunction with bios but when I'm into phil I'm just pulling books off the shelves trying to find exactly what i'm looking for and meet my strange philosophical needs. But then after I find what I need or have a shift in life, my philosophical drive goes dormant and waits for another event to awaken it.

Anuj D said...

@Charlie: So is the need for philosophy Episodic in your life?

But even before that, one has to come to terms with the question: Why Philsophosize? Or from what springs this temperament of philosophy? Consequently, What is philosophy to you?