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Philosophy is Dead!
It is the dawn of the third millennium. Philosophy has become the study of the history of arrogance and the vanity of obtuse thought. Philosophy no longer deals with the issue of seeking of new truths, but rather has degenerated into the practice of dissecting dogmas of bygone ages.
But is that necessarily a bad thing? As always the first philosophical question still remains - what is the point of philosophy? Does it even matter, and what possible difference can it make to the billions of temporary creatures crawling across the face of this improbable planet?
As far as I can tell philosophy exists for only two reasons. The first is simply a futile exercise in intellectual superiority played by men of significant advantage, desperately trying to leave scratching marks for posterity for the supposed benefit of the feeble lives that they rarely actually believed.
The second use of philosophy is to try and impose a system of thinking on humanity that will somehow miraculously lead people to living better and more fulfilling lives. In that regard philosophy is as dangerous as religion, and has always been liable to do more harm than good. Fortunately the study and practice of philosophy is so generally obscure and ridiculous that it remains an insignificant influence on the world as we know it.
The problem with virtually all philosophical methods are that they are supposed to presuppose nothing, but in fact they all, by necessity, presuppose something. In effect usually being the particular moral inclination of each respective philosopher. The philosopher, whether by accident or design, deliberate or inadvertent, subsequently attempts to build flawless rhetorical arguments to support a long held religious, moral or political belief system. This is at the expense of deriving those beliefs as the natural end point of their supposed untainted pristine philosophical musings.
Can it really be any other way? Is not every man, of great or humble thought, a product of their environment to some greater or lesser degree? Even those that were so radical and unique in their age with the harsh objective lens of time and clarity of hindsight can be easily categorized as some particular generation or school of thought. Even radical notions become fused as simply diverse elements of the generation of thought that they probably spent their lives arguing in opposition against.
And so, dear reader, what is the aim of this humble addition to the ever increasing pile of diatribe that passes for wisdom in our sophisticated society? There is no point, except perhaps, to encourage the reader to think and reason for themselves. Accepting my philosophy is just as stupid as accepting anybody else’s for the following reasons;
- Like those that have gone before me I will argue stupid and illogical ideas if it makes my basic argument appear stronger. I make no apology for this, my job is to convince, yours is simply to think or, sadly, and more commonly, to accept or reject based on pre-existing prejudices.
- Likewise I am already the slave of my own personal values that (as I have already asserted) destroys any attempt at pure philosophy. Even if this work appears to be an exercise of clean and logical thought to my contemporaries I am certain that with hindsight this work will inevitably come to represent a particular style of philosophical thought prevalent for this time. Maybe the school of humanistic cynicism? (But I digress!)
- I have no compunction against lying. This is in the sense that what I believe is true today may no longer be true tomorrow, and that no belief exists in my mind for longer than the instant that it is first espoused. I completely reserve the right to contradict and obfuscate. I have often felt that both sides of any argument are usually equally worthwhile arguing. “Belief” is a transitory and somewhat ephemeral concept that I don’t really believe in. Belief is necessary of course, it is the window through which we view the world. However to fallaciously adopt or maintain a belief system that has outlived any pretence of validity is simply a despicable act of lazy thinking.
- I have never really studied philosophy, per se, but rather I am a frenetic and inconsistent reader. I cannot claim to have an expansive knowledge of the field, and frankly there are many popular philosophical concepts that I readily dismiss as incoherent nonsense. I am only broadly aware of the particular schools and classifications of philosophy, or the standard arguments that are the basis of the study of historical philosophy. I suffer from having favorites who are broadly entertaining, if not convincing, and I rarely read the criticisms and rebuttals. Therefore do not expect me to be remotely accurate or consistent or knowledgeable on the subject.
If all of these admissions seem overwhelmingly insufficient to dissuade you then the good news is that in all of these caveats I am sure that I suffer no greater an impediment than the vast majority of philosophers that have gone before. If there is a defining trait for a philosopher it must be vanity, which usually precludes an extensive interest in anybody else at all (particularly other philosophers!) unless it is for the purpose of rebuttal.
However whilst Newton had the advantage of standing on the shoulders of giants I have the advantage of standing on the shoulders of the men who stood on the shoulders of the men who stood on the shoulders of the men who stood on the shoulders of giants. In fact the entire edifice is looking decidedly shaky, and I think, in retrospect, I will be far better served by standing on my own two feet. Now that I think about it the best way to get to where you want to go is to look at where you are, think about where you want to go, and devise a plan to get there. Where you have been in the past is really not important.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not an attempt, like Descartes, to scornfully dismiss all that has gone before as wrong or irrelevant. Let us use history for context, as a marker for our present position, if you like. We are where we are due to history, but let us not get caught in the trajectory, let us not apply the laws of inertia to the process of thought. All directions from here on in are possible.
On a more personal level I must admit that I do object to myself for writing this. Apart from some pretty obvious hypocrisy in adding to the body of work that I consider to be basically destructive I have more deep seated apprehension about the thinking arts. I have come to the conclusion that there is enough literature, art, music and yes, even philosophy, to last humanity to the ends of eternity. Even the most voracious reader on the planet could not hope to digest even a reasonable fraction of worthwhile thought that has so far been committed to paper thus far.
What purpose can adding to this massive body of work have except to further diminish and diffuse the importance of the truly seminal works that have been produced over the course of humanities lifetime?
This statement holds true for of all the arts. Many lifetimes can be devoted to particular schools of painting and music. Personally I could live a long and contented existence with the company of a few selected favorites. The point is that we all have limited facilities and a limited lifespan, and although our tastes are subject to change over time the basic premise is true. We really don't need anything more!
That is not to say that nothing of value can ever be added, or that the boundless future will not produce works that exceed all that has gone before. All that I am saying is that it is not necessary. Why bother?
There are so many human beings alive on the planet at this very moment that are better educated and have infinitely better access to knowledge than any age that has gone before. The relative ease of sustaining the physical requirements for survival and the relative freedom from oppression of half the planet is truly the best of all possible worlds! Statistically speaking there should be a genius of Mozart's level in every high school band, a Leonardo at every regional gallery.
So why is this not so? Is a state of genius a statistical anomaly that is perversely inversely proportional to the number of people on this planet? Or do you subscribe to the notion that a particular environment in conducive to genius, an environment that simply does not exist in the world today? Or is it simply that the sheer number of immensely talented people on this planet in this age denies the possibility of exceptional individuals to truly shine and differentiate themselves?
Or maybe we can subscribe to the theory that Nietzsche espoused that great cultural advances are only possible in times of degenerating social and economic conditions. With the United States acting as the Athens of our age the total subjugation of thought to that relatively cultureless species in almost inevitable. Add to that the domination of media and the cultural landscape of America is truly omnipotent. And is not Thomas Jefferson the most influential philosopher of all time when he proposed the theory that all men were create equal and that the inalienable rights of humanity were life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? But I digress.
I subscribe to the theory of “market saturation”. This is terminology from the modern marketing fraternity, referring to the trick of how to convince people to want more when they have no real need and have not adequately "consumed" their existing “possessions”.
Like spoilt children we keep demanding new toys that lose their luster and are discarded almost as soon as they are opened. It does not matter if they are bigger, better and brighter than the generation of toys that went before. This just adds fuel to the initial excitement and deepens the subsequent disappointment. Pretty soon the spoilt child becomes disillusioned with all toys in general and has nothing to play with. You really just cannot improve on the classics, the ball, the bat, the blocks. Toy makers should have stopped at the Bs. At least children would be happy to play with their meager distractions rather than sitting around bored all day, totally ignorant of the fact that they have missed out on the latest fad gizmo device.
So it is with the arts. Shiny new toys, avante garde, new wave, next great school, etc, etc, etc.... Sure, I understand that the artists have to make a living, but why insist on pretending that it is always such a leap forward and that it really makes any difference? I say to the artists to be at ease. After all, consumers will consume, patrons will patronize. What else can they do with their lives? It is their nature, and they will never fail to disappoint.
Let's face it. There is nothing new under the sun. Every thing that can be said has been said, every thought that can be thought has been thought, every possible method of expression has been exhausted, every significant combination of words and every conceivable visual image has been depicted countless time by innumerable exponents of their individual obsessions that we call talent. We have run out of ways to make old things look like new. And even if the average attention span and memory of humanity has diminished to the point of insignificance this is more than compensated for by incredible fact of instant access to the sum knowledge of humanity at the simple click of a mouse button.
And if, by some miracle, an obliging artist can manage to extract from this mass of omnipotent precedent something novel and unique is this really such an admirable feat? Is novelty for novelty's sake of any real value if it does not say something important, and does not contribute to what has gone before?
And so it is with philosophy. In its youth it was a golden haired child, full of promise and hope. It was a shining light for humanity, a force of good for all time. But the dream waned. The message was tainted by ill thinking acolytes and corrupted by self-serving cultists. Philosophy itself was marginalized; it got old, fat and bloated, hardly recognizable from its former incandescent self. Then it moved into an ugly phase where it would simply lie around in bed regurgitating on itself. People of culture politely pretended not to notice.
Who knows exactly for sure when the light finally flickered out? Nobody really cared enough at the time to mark the event for posterity. Every now and then somebody would show up and prod the corpse, not quite sure if there was any life left in it. Occasionally, ever so rarely, we all thought that some horrible mistake had been made, that philosophy had miraculously been resurrected and was shining once again as brilliantly as in its youth. However we were mistaken, deluded by clever charlatans who had managed to rekindle the nostalgia of former days.
The sad fact is that it is over and there is no longer any doubt. The corpse has started to stink and it deserves a respectable burial.
Consider this the eulogy. Or maybe an obituary. After all, I come to bury and not praise.
If we must continue to talk about philosophy let us do it with the proper respect that it deserves. It is poor manners to speak ill of the dead. Consider the study of philosophy as an exercise in archeology. There may still be some value in explaining how people in long forgotten ages once lived, but it certainly it has no bearing on human thought from now on.
So where does humanity go in a world free from philosophy?
The fact is that humanity is at an awkward stage of development. It has reached a level of maturity where many schools of though have been developed but the mass of humanity still clings to the superstitious ramblings of inane self-serving religious dogmas. At some point in time humanity must grow up and accept responsibility for its own fate. If history is any guide to the nature of humanity it is proven beyond doubt that religious dogma fails to satisfy the inexplicable need for humanity to constantly justify its own existence.
But perhaps that is far too harsh. I am often accused of being harsh. It may not be fair to use the human development analogy. After all, every human born essentially starts from scratch, don’t they? Is it unfair to class humanity as simply a mass of human parts? In a human body every cell does not add to the consciousness of the being it inhabits. But for humanity individuals can and do make a huge difference for either good or ill to the whole.
Perhaps then it is the nature of humanity to perpetually fail to achieve any lasting measure of true maturity. Ages and civilizations wax and wane in infinite perpetual cycles. Perhaps we will never escape our prehistoric caveman urge to worship the sun, albeit in ever expanding levels of sophisticated mysticism. Perhaps our apparent maturity is simply an elaborate shell for the primal superstitions that stitch together an otherwise pointless existence.
Perhaps in time we will know. Or perhaps not.
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