“Your goodness must have some edge to it—else it is none.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
This is the sixth post in my series on Vital Philosophy, although as noted, the label is unimportant. The first five posts in the series are: Vital Philosophy and Global Philosophy; Vital Philosophy—a timely series; Life-Aims and Aimlessness; Alien Observations; and What Good Am I? Interested readers will find it helpful to read, and hopefully consider, the series in this order.
Also, for those interested, I’ve left an important part of the series to the end, for a reason. I’ll call that post ‘The ground we stand on’. I’ll explain why I’m leaving it to the end in the post itself.
For now, however, allow me to proceed in the context of the previous posts.
Doctors—let’s think of them as people who love health and who are committed to making people healthy—have a mission that includes, centrally, cleansing and correcting human bodies of the things that diminish health. Their mission is to do away with “errors and flaws in human health” and to do no harm in the process. They want to rid bodies of ills. They like it when a person’s vital signs are good, and when she is in a state of well-being. They also understand the wisdom and efficiency of exercise, healthy nourishment, and preventative care, rather than waiting until disease takes control or until the patient is on the verge of death before playing any positive role. Among other things, they also want to prevent viruses and other unhealthy things from spreading through entire populations and taking societal tolls.
If Philosophy involves the love of wisdom, philosophers should aim to help rid people and societies of damaging errors and flaws in thinking, and rid minds of ills of thought, especially those errors and flaws and ills that are most harmful, self-defeating, or self-destructive. Philosophers should actively aim to help people and societies become wise, not remain foolish. And, given that this is no easy task—and that the clock is ticking—at least many philosophers will need to practice their love of wisdom with some real edge, directly engaging and cutting away at those errors and flaws and ills that do the most harm, and that spread foolishness and not wisdom.
Philosophy and philosophers should not rest easily, figuratively speaking, or at least should not be satisfied, until the most damaging, unhealthy, and self-defeating errors and flaws in thinking—the harmful-thought viruses, the false-paradigm viruses, the bad-assumption viruses—are shown for what they are and are voluntarily and happily rejected by increasingly wise people and increasingly wise societies. Out with the bad, in with the good, so to speak.
(I hope my point is interpreted charitably and isn’t misunderstood here. It’s not that there is one right way or a narrow scope of ways that should be found and followed, of course. Instead, it’s that there are some deeply flawed assumptions and related paradigms in our so-called modern society—indeed driving it—that are harmful, dangerous, and ultimately destructive and that should be corrected if we humans are going to “get through alive”, so to speak, and without wiping out nearly every other thing in our paths.)
The academy—universities and colleges, ideally and appropriately beginning with their philosophy departments (“Where might wisdom be found?”)—will have to directly engage and actively cut away at those false, harmful, damaging assumptions and paradigms if we humans are to avoid creating Hell on Earth, and if we’re to get ourselves out of the situation illustrated in my earlier post, ‘Alien Observations’.
(Granted, this might seem like a bold statement and a tall task. But anyone who has been paying attention to the foolish escapades of the present U.S. government, to the melting Arctic, to the scientists telling us about species loss, to ever-widening income disparities, and to other global human-caused problems will find it hard to disagree, I should think.)
I began this series with two quotes, repeated here for convenience:
“Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem, in my opinion, to characterize our age.”
- Albert Einstein
“They were like the ant, which can see small objects but not large ones.”
- George Orwell, 1984
These are statements of philosophical problems in the fullest sense—not in the “merely philosophical” or “primarily theoretical” senses, but in the whole theoretical-and-practical-and-real-and-concrete-and-consequential sense; real problems that any species that claims to have any wisdom should recognize, face, and try very hard to address. And, addressing them will require some edge. Is there any doubt about that?
Granted, academic philosophers often practice their craft with edge among themselves, that is, in debates with each other in a quest for Truth or at least truth. Like football players in a football game, opposing sides are often strategic and clever, frequently crisp and brutal. Hits are hard. Often, intellectually speaking, no prisoners are taken. The aim—or at least a chief one—is to win. But also as in the case of football, the concussions and repercussions of the game don’t reach beyond the football field, beyond the field of philosophy. Or at least, they very rarely do. (We’ll examine this, very concretely, in my next post.) While all of the debates, some of them practiced with edge, are had on the football field of academic philosophy, the real world outside seems largely untouched, unimpressed, unmoved. Perhaps academic philosophy and philosophers should turn more of their “edges” away from where they seem to be presently aimed, and more (as a matter of emphasis and priority) towards addressing, and cutting away at, the major false assumptions and self-destructive paradigms upon which much of our modern society is based.
Some crucial parts of the problem and challenge can be appreciated, without the need for abstractions or debates over abstractions, by considering these three recent pieces together:
‘The Sustainability Dance’, a blog post by Graham H. Pyke of the University of Technology Sydney, on the Millennium Alliance for Humanity & the Biosphere (MAHB) blog, here: http://mahb.stanford.edu/whats-happening/the-sustainability-dance/
An earlier post in this series, ‘Alien Observations’
The book review ‘Sold Out’, by Stefan Collini, London Review of Books, 24 October 2013, here: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n20/stefan-collini/sold-out (Thanks to David Morey for suggesting this article in a recent Global Circle post.)
Clearly, it will require some real edge to address these issues.
As always, thanks for your consideration.