A Truly Modest Proposition
I’ve heard many ‘a colleague in various philosophy departments claim that America has a serious issue with intellectualism. That is to say, this country, as a whole, demonstrates, in fact, anti-intellectual behavior, which in turn is leading directly to the downfall of this once great civilization; to the descension of the masses into a bestial state of dabauchery, misconduct, and overall imprudence; to the destruction of the sacred halls which we, ourselves, are too good polish. Maybe this is the case. Or maybe not. The validity of causality is a hotly debated issue in philosophy, anyways. Either way, what’s more pressing, I believe, is the imminent threat to our life-style within said sacred halls of academia; not so much the sheep and herds, or even the ancient architecture- after all, those things may be refurbished. The real ailments are fiscal ulcers, plaguing the less-than-unified body of thought from on high: decreased funding runs rampant; departmental depreciation in tenured faculty exponentially trends toward the negative; catered luncheons have all but disappeared from budgets, nationwide.
Who needs the humanities? Who needs high culture? Who has time to think? These questions are answered by the brutish among us in their blatant disregard for those questions in the first place. At least this is how I’ve heard it described. I wonder, though, if responsibilities of theoretical maintenance completely rest upon the shoulders of those who we write off as “massive.” Maybe there are internal issues at play. Maybe it’s not the case that, as philosophers merely observing from outside of all experience, we see everything, yet have no means of disturbing the scene at play. Maybe, just maybe, academia can change its approach in order to gain what it wants. I say maybe, because, again, what is causality anyways?
So we want America to be more intellectual? We want America to take an interest in philosophy? We pine for its short span of attention, while at the same time questioning its worth as an investment? I think I know its worth, at least in terms of saving this philosophical craft; at least in terms of allowing its confusion to live yet another day; at least in terms of delivering catered luncheons to our meetings. This attention means everything to us, yet we demonstrate no aptitude in captivating it.
But we’ve tried everything! We’ve exhausted all arguments! All syllogism!! We’ve told them that philosophy teaches critical thinking skills, with which one may come to better decisions! Who doesn’t want to make better decisions? My question: why would anyone want to think before they leap when there’s a chance for settlement money in acting reckless? There’s no easy cash in reason. But we’ve told them that philosophy leads to enlightenment, which is greater than any earthly good imaginable! My question: what good is enlightenment when what you come to realize through it is your own miserable existence? There’s no escape in enlightenment. But we’ve even told them that through philosophy, one gains true freedom; that one loses the shackles of an oppressive society by means of discovering the very individuality which grounds the whole of humanity! My question: what in the world is society, anyways? And my goodness! This is the land of the free! People already do enough of whatever it is that they want- do we really want to encourage it further?
I believe these approaches to be terribly flawed. I believe that such approaches show a disconnect with the minds to which such approaches are directed. How is it, y’all ask, I propose to entice a people with whom we’ve argued over everything, to the gain of nothing? Who have no interest whatsoever in what we claim to offer? Who don’t need anyone else telling them what to do? Syllogism? No, no. We’ve gotta sweeten the tea. What I propose is magic. Yes, magic, I say. That’s the one thing we have left catering to self interest. It’s the one thing we have hidden up our sleeves. And I think now is the time, as a last ditch effort to win over the hearts and minds of those who could possibly fund us, to pull out all the stops.
Magic? Fie! There is no such thing as magic! We’ve proven with the precision of science that such a frivolous notion holds no meaningful place in conversations over existence! Oh ye of little faith, and little lunch… We have the power to resurrect that which we’ve razored away! We have the power, within our own frivolous beginnings, to regain our birthright; our authority over the minds we ought to govern. Magic, people, magic! That’s how we did it before. That- if we’re going to speak causally- is what first spurned our inquiries! I say, we don’t offer up what one can do with philosophy, for that would imply having to work. No. We sell it to them first before entrapping the poor souls with a debt of reason. We offer up what philosophy, itself, can do! And to do that, we gotta put on a show…
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls- and those otherwise-ly categorized! Does your life insurmountably and without question suck? Does the burden of waking weigh so heavily upon your soul that every morning you fall straight through your mattress- straight through the ceiling- land your broke ass in your bowl of cereal on the table below, and cry, “Oh Lord! This again?! Lighting strike me dead!”… ? Do you secretly plot with distinct detail a plan to completely destroy your place of employment, or place of institutional imprisonment, and all of the content hitherto within? Good. Here’s your chance to do so. Follow me into the tent of mysteries, where you will dematerialize from this Hellish plane, and re-materialize into your wildest dreams, right before your very eyes! Follow me into wonderment beyond measure! Follow me into sublimity, where ends find their own ends, with no means, in and of themselves; so that you don’t have to! Follow me into a realm of infinite possibilities, where the mind runs free and amuck; into a whirlwind of confusion by which all is turned topsy-turvy, hurly-burly, downside-up, and outside-in: where nothing exists as you think it does presently, where nothing exists at all. Yes! Come one, come many, come all that freely choose! There’s no price to admission, and what’s to gain could be your everlasting soul, so be it! It’s real. It’s now. It’s however it reveals itself to you. Follow me to your web browser, click search, and fly fast to the highest depths, and the deepest heights on the fluid wings of aether. There you will emerge a brand new being; emerge as an equal to destiny, itself. Where is there? What is there? Why, the epic land of philosophy, my dears. Follow me… Follow me…
This is how we should be advertising to the “masses.” This is how we should approach the philosophy 101 course descriptions. We want attention? We want attendance? We want those catered luncheons? Well then we need to rev up those systemically given imaginations and race for it! There’s no room for restrictor plates, any longer! Boogity boogity boogity, boys!
But then again, maybe this approach is destined to fail, like everything else; so why even lift a finger? Why lift our faces out of this never-ending glass of micro-brewed delight- the only delight that this dismal outlook affords? Why look beyond the utter disdain we have for everyone around us? Why share with all who may want it the revelations we’ve been spoon fed upon the tippy top of the big rock candy mountain? Is it because there is no mountain? Is it because there is no spoon? Possibly. But then again, anything’s possible. Perhaps, even a lack of causation. And maybe this is why we’re failing. Maybe there’s no love predicated of wisdom, at all.
Copyright Keli Birchfield 2015