At Least It’s A Good Time For Philosophy

When there’s blood on the streets, do philosophy

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The lotus grows from the muck (image)

When the world is going to shit, it’s a great time for philosophy. As Brian Van Norden said, “philosophy is dialogue about important unsolved problems,” and gods know we’ve got plenty of those. Today’s dung heap of history is, to philosophers, a treasure trove.

Forget the answers, we don’t even know the questions anymore. And that’s precisely what philosophy is for. To expand Van Norden:

Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto, by Brian Van Norden

Today we can all feel the need for philosophy because—unlike unsolved problems in astronomy or chemistry—unsolved problems in philosophy fuck up your life. What do we owe each other during a pandemic? What is democracy? Where does life begin? These are not abstract problems to us. They are very immediate and real, and painfully unresolved.

Today I think we all get the sense that our global society is messed up on a very deep, philosophical level. Beneath the wallpaper of economics and politics, the very plumbing of philosophy is bursting through the walls and literally flooding the world. None of us thinks about plumbing much until the toilet explodes, and that’s precisely where we are now, as a globe.

People of course take very different approaches to reality breaking down. Some people take refuge in QAnon and conspiracy theories. They’re right about conspiracies, but just have the wrong ones. Some people try to go back to western liberalism, taking refuge in platitudes about ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ that have become, as Hannah Arendt said, ‘pious banalities’. Some people go back to god, or gardening, or whatever gets them through. Some numb the pain with drugs, dying slow deaths of despair.

The truth is that in front of every WhatsApp forward and TV demagogue is someone yearning for meaning. Someone desperate to know why everything is going to shit and how to get out of here. It is this great desperation that is the most fertile ground for philosophy. Sadly, however, it’s a bitter harvest. The fruits of philosophy can only be harvested by history, sometimes only centuries later. A historical age…

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Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at www.indi.ca, or just email me at indi@indi.ca.