There be dragons!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The philosopher king in the modern world

From: CR
Sent: Mon 20-Jun-11 11:16 PM
To: AbecedariusRex

Subject: Recommendation letter.

Mr. L, I couldn't find you at the end of the day to personally give you the drawing and say goodbye. I want to thank you for the knowledge I gained from your class, it is a great task you have set yourself to do & I really admire it. I learned a lot of things in your class, but mostly that there is a field of study that addresses the questions that build up the human experience. I was able to see the roots and building blocks of our modern western ethical, legal, and religious structure. I got really engaged in the debates about there being a true good, and about justice, challenging my own answers and beliefs.

The human experience has been and will always be the same, no matter the "evolution" of civilizations. From Homer's writings to modern writers they all deal with the same issues about humanity. I learned that nothing regarding being human is new, even though we are all beginners at certain points. It is a pattern that we are bound to be enslaved by if we don't leave out intellectual comfort zone, in which indoctrination is welcomed and unquestioned.

I was talking the other day with some colleagues, and I was explaining to a friend an idea I had, when suddenly others around started engaging in the conversation to bring my point down. We debated for a while and eventually they did appear to bring my point down in the ears of the audience and it all ended with laughter from them. I was frustrated because I couldn't make them see what I wanted them to see. Their arguments were well structured and had logical wording & sense. I guess the problem was not their reasoning but my inability to express clearly my point.

As the discussion ended and I was left to myself, in my mind I felt impotent, for the fact that my words could not incarnate my thoughts as I wanted. Words seemed insufficient, for by mere words my argument was weak as I just realized.
I reflected on what just happened; It is easier to negate a new idea than to propose it. This reminded me of Socrates' discussion which took an entire book to make the point and a series of deep and elaborate myths to convey clearly his thoughts. This made me feel better, for Plato had to write a whole text to prove something. Proving my point would require a similar way to stand against their negations. What I needed was a metaphor or a myth, that on the spot I couldn't create.

The point I wanted to make is that we are not owners of anything, but the discussion focused and ended on the ownership of material things; we do not own material things, for ownership requires a control and power over the thing. But how much control and power do we really have over things? Things were created, and will disappear without our control, no matter our will.
Their argument was that of course you are owner of something; a chair for example for you can do whatever you want to it in your lifetime; while you are alive, and while the chair exists you can do whatever you want with it, therefore you have power over it. I agreed to that but then questioned the existence of things. I then said you are no owner of things because they don't really exist for it's just a matter of time for them to disappear.

I now realize my claims were too broad and general, for me they made sense and worked for myself, but for others there's much to question. As I read through this, I see there is a lot to question and take down these claims; I see that my claims are too personal they work for me and take me to realizations that maybe are to be personal and not shared for it is something people must realize on their own, through their own broad claims and understanding. I should be more careful when proposing a new idea, by making sure the argumentation is more solid, not going too general and focusing on a single claim until it is proven. Or simply shut my mouth in public places, and leave this type of conversation for those who are willing to see something new or different. The person I was initially talking to agreed with my idea, and afterwards these others began to question the idea proposed. For the others it was not about learning something new, they had no interest in it, only an interest to bring it down .

In your class you propose new ideas, that students try to refute and you still manage to make your point stand, backed up with sources, logical examples and thoughtful insights. I guess that is something I will eventually develop with experience and knowledge. It takes more than the idea itself to persuade others. People refuse to relinquish their present convictions or truths. This might be for good, or not, for the new proposed idea could be a dark one .
In the end, if its by mere language or logical thought, dark philosophy which aims to depict beauty, human goodness and love as false and b.s. has the same weight or power as the opposite branch of vision, light philosophy. Or not? If we all are wired to pursue happiness, why do some deal their whole life with a dark vision of existence and humanity. Does that make them happy? Maybe they don't believe in happiness at all.

I think It all boils down to what we as beings feel. Our experience and attention to life, when we can set aside our thoughts and be open to our natural longing for something above all physical and mortal goods. This is questionable for people, who's life experience has been far from good. Their experience will not lead them to see any light or goodness. I remember the author you told us about whose father shot his brother, and then tried to kill him as a child and then killed him self as the author escaped (Walker Percy). What happens to such people? Are they doomed to to live with that?

What do you think?


Thanks for your very fine email, CR. You're a fine student and I'll be very ready to write a recommendation letter for you this week.

As to the conversation, I think the experience of not making oneself clear is one of the unfortunate drawbacks of having a brain that works. I, as a teacher, have a captive audience with my students but still find it very hard to make myself clear to others. Only after 30 years of practice have I begun to be able to so do and still find that some things cannot be said and other things when said are easily misconstrued.

In one sense I think that you are right in that we don't technically own anything. See this post here on the famous poem by Petrarch:

Indeed, "the soul comes to the end of its long journey & stands naked and alone before the throne of god". We are in this world of passing matter temporarily possessing things, losing them, possessing other things all the while those same things are disintegrating before us. Even the body we enjoy is a temporary thing. Tempus fugit nocte venit and all things are passing. So in the large sense we have nothing we hold onto but the self we have worked to craft in the smithy of our souls. That's on the macrocosmic level.

On the microcosmic level, however, the area where most people inevitably dwell, we do possess things - we have to. Lock says that the basis of all freedom is in private property, the ownership of things, and perhaps what you were stating, or the way in which you were stating it, might have struck some people as bordering on communist sentiment (i.e. the negation of personal property). This is a long standing irony wherein the asceticism of Christian mystics has been likened to Communist propaganda; it isn't - it's quite the opposite, in fact. Christian mysticism proclaims that, on the macrocosmic vision nothing we have will remain and have to, therefore, prepare all our lives for that inevitable loss in death that comes to us all. This same ascetic vision runs throughout the Hindu mystics and the Buddhist (even the Muslim Suffis proclaim this sort of attitude). But such a vision is an attitude rather than a doctrine; I mean, it is a constant reflection that we are dust and to dust we will return which then prevents a person from becoming to overly excited or wrapped up in transitory things like possessions or political office, personal slights or the praise of the world. A good read on this is the Book of Job (also Ecclesiastes and the book of Wisdom); vanity of vanity, all is vanity.

I think perhaps your audience might have mistook what you were trying to say on the macrocosmic level, that is that we all have to assume an attitude that nothing is permanent, for the microcosmic level, that is that there are some things which we have to claim as our own. This, BTW is the very problem of the philosopher king. The philosopher sees that everything is passing, nothing is permanent, all is dust - and he lives his life detached from the personal strife and worry that infects so many people. The king sees that there are somethings, church, family, possessions, the rights of others, that are worth fighting for and so must involve himself in the world at large. The philosopher is Alyosha who wants to think only of god. The king is Ivan who wants to end the suffering of mankind. Philosopher wants to live a life alone thinking great thoughts. King must deal with children, taxes, wife, coworkers and neighbors. How can one, then, be both? At any one time we are either thinking great thoughts to the neglect of our family and friends and job or we are deeply embroiled in family, kids, bills, work to the neglect of the ennobling things that make us remember the other world. How can we be both at the same time?

This, it seems, is what your conversation was touching upon and though I sympathize with your inability to express yourself know that they gave hemlock to the last fellow that tried to express it so consider yourself lucky.

Please keep in touch in the future. I look forward to hearing from you again.

No comments:

Post a Comment