Friday, February 11, 2011

In Defense of Philosophy

By James Curcio

Aside from being a decent way to pass the time as we chug coffee, the value of philosophy is in the questions we learn to ask. We learn to dissassemble any and every idea that comes our way, we learn to build castles of thought that can withstand just about any seige, and at the same time realize how arbitrary it all is. You can hang Foucault's Pendulum anywhere. Our ideas and beliefs arise through an ongoing relation with our environment, which includes each other. (Emotions are another monster entirely, although there are some interesting links between emotions and beliefs. Subject for another post.)

So, it's easy to conclude that all philosophy is just 'armchair pontification.' After all, many of us can and do spend a vast majority of our lives fighting over mental and linguistic territory that has little actual bearing on anyone's life.

It's easy to say "get real." Drop the "semantics."

Okay, I'll bite. But what's real here? What action are we taking right now? Who is doing anything at all?

I've been through this process myself and I think it's a little comical. You haven't sidestepped philosophy-- questioning-- by proposing that We Act Now. (Supplies are limited.)

This guy got laid. A lot.
And you want to question the
value of philosophy? 
Just by saying "get real" as a reaction, you've proved the contrary point. You just made a bunch of presuppositions. You can't escape myths if you use representation, and you can't avoid philosophy if your nature demands that you question everything.

For instance -- Is this idea that the real is what we taste, touch, and feel just a form of new Empiricism? If so what makes it any different than the empiricism that lived and died under 18th and 19th century British Imperialism? Is it something we can "get," how do we validate the things we think or believe? What framework do employ when we-- And we're off to the races. Get your pall malls and weird looking French men ready.

When we say we must "take action," and "live now," what action should we take? Obviously this demands a specific context, but we can look at it generally without reducing anything. All the same, as Admiral Ackbar warned once it was already pretty damned obvious, "IT's A TRAP!" If you try to answer this question, you are pursuing knowledge through the method of questioning. Brass tacks, that's philosophy. If you don't reflect upon your motives, thoughts, emotions, or the reality of your experience in any way, you're the behaviorist machine that corporations (and especially advertising execs) have dreamed of. Just shovel in those myths, boys. These freaks will eat anything!

All actions have positive and negative outcomes, different in type and scale from individual to individual. Handing out pamphlets, blowing up a building, or masturbating for the next twenty years all may be "right actions." What's our yard stick? Who is to say unless we bring it into a context and hash it out? ...Does it change when contexts change, as they often do, from minute to minute? Does it change when our emotions shift, or when our orientation towards a belief changes?

This is the value of debate, a truly lost art, which has been reduced in the political sphere to sound bites and emotional triggers. We can see the same thinly closeted territorial pissing war going on in the YouTube thread off of any metal video. Debate is not ad hominem attack (that's not broad enough a term - in common parlance: being a douchebag) or empty intellectualism. It is an ongoing relation that requires equal parts defense and reflection, changing frames from specific contexts to the general and back again, considering outcomes, and the ways that groups of unique individuals with totally different ideologies can come together for a common goal, and accomplish it without ultimately caving in, giving in to one fascist will, and thereby either losing those unique qualities of the individuals involved, or splintering into warring factions before something valuable has been produced. (Splintering, dissolution, or what is known as negrido in alchemy are all important parts of the process. Nothing lasts forever.) Endlessly questioning everything is what keeps us fresh, even if we change our mind tomorrow when a better argument is provided, or when the scotch isn't readily available.

I've yet to meet a friend I completely agree with on just about anything important if we are willing to drill down deeply enough into our beliefs and ideas. This is because the collection of elements that formed us are all different. The debates we have, without ever presupposing that any one of us can ever be right, is one of the most crucial ways that we learn from one another.

We don't run from reality when we question it. We enliven it, engage with it, so long as our hearts and minds are in the right place.

And what's the "right place"?

You see how this process never ends...

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

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