This post is not political, but philosophical, which immediately means many who see the word will treat this as toxic, if not boring. And we all must be thoroughly entertained constantly at all costs, right? Being incapable of playing “entertainer” 24 hours a day, I will proceed in any case. Read on at your own risk.
I am not writing about politics presently because of several reasons, the chiefest of which is: There is so little common cultural and intellectual background between me and most people in my country at this point that even the simplest of concepts do not mean the same thing by me and them when shared.
This seems a small matter. Perhaps I am a poor speaker or writer. Or perhaps I misunderstand what I am talking about. If you wish to take the risk that either of these is likely, ignore what I say and stop wasting your time.
Should you take the side of the bet that in this one area of expertise — the one in which I have read and studied intensely, with which I have painfully struggled, wrestling myself and the history of ideas and my circumstances since 1984, increasingly so since 1990 — I might have something to say, go further.
Why do I think there is little cultural ground shared between me and others? Is it that I am an elitist? Grandiose?
No. It’s neither of these things, not exactly. The grandiosity is unlikely as my medications suppress that psychosis while inclination and personal history tend to create in me a certain sense of inferiority. Inaccurate, but weighty.
Elitism — I do not think some are born “better” than others or “more human than human.” Yet, fortune and labor conspired over the course of 50 years to create an odd form of human life, the life of a specialist in general knowledge… a philosopher.
This vocation requires that I take in as many perspectives as is humanly possible, reconcile them in some rigorous fashion, and produce an ever-growing multiple perspective vision of existence explained with no more and no fewer theories than is absolutely necessary to attain truth. A human truth, not absolute, but not subjective either, one befitting “the height of our times.”
And that sets me apart, as I cannot live without bearing the burden of this task, not for my sake, but for the sake of truth… and then, in turn, for the sake of other humans who also must live from truth or else die stunted feeding off “myth” (in the worst sense) and rumor and outright lies passed to us as “truth.”
An antiquated but ever-necessary vocation, a very human vocation, out of fashion (besides, it does keep attempting suicide) but always required if humanity is to keep being human and civilized and not merely “survive.” Yes, we could choose to just survive as something less-than-human, something inhuman, and humanity also keeps making this attempt on occasion: This perennial attempt to throw off the creative burden of living-well and living-together to descend to the simple violence of running away and forgetting and selfishness.
But should we, or the majority of us, choose that path with the technology of the past age lying around the result will ultimately be widespread death, if not annihilation as those bent on survival will have no care whatsoever for questions, least of all whether to use the technology, when, or even why it is here, how does it benefit some form of beings we used to call “humanity”? How can there be any notion of the “common good” once I have given up on “others” and the future and serve only my own private passions and opinions and desires — in short, only the almighty “me”?
I live in a place that fantasizes it is the land where no one must care for any burdens whatsoever yet the future will turn out well for it. Questions are burdens; values are burdens; learning who to become and choosing to be the right person is a burden; helping and caring for others, even those we may be predisposed to dislike, is a burden. Learning is a burden. Human life, life lived fully as a human being is a burden.
The alternative is to give up on burdens, as we seem to have, and run amok — to be entertained cheaply, to spend lavishly, and to “get by” knowing as little as possible outside our specializations… if that much. The civilization and world we just emerged from and are now pretending we are immune to considering was built on books. Books, the reading of them, understanding them, and keeping those dead words of the past, good and bad, alive in a conversation built from our living thoughts. It was built on learning from and arguing with and attempting to surpass what was handed on to us through those books.
It is not so much that there are ready-made answers in those books, but the foundation for questioning — ourselves, one another, our world. In fact, in those books are the roots of the very beliefs most of us count-on but of which we are mostly unaware, beliefs good and poisonous both. In them are the schematics and maps of our souls and the world we find ourselves within and, if we go further individually or together, we must understand and consider these root theories and the historical needs that gave rise to their creation.
All so we can seriously consider and question and reform… and discard, if need be, in favor of creating theories more appropriate to where we stand in history, theories in and through which we can better believe. But that requires effort and, yes, effort is a burden… it is THE burden.
So, no, it will do no good for me to talk anymore about the more superficial layers of common existence — such as politics — because I and my audience do not even vaguely inhabit a similar world. To speak is already to be mis-understood in too many cases and being misunderstood now is a threat to the hyper-emotional egos punishable by.. death. Death by gun, unemployment, loss of insurance, homelessness, ostracism… the list is long and indefinite, but effective.
Not that I will remain silent even on the topic of politics, but when I decide to speak, as threatened days ago, I expect that this year, of all the years in which I decided I had things to say — this year will be the one in which words are either pointless, as those who need them worst are least capable of even desiring to decipher them, or they will result in something like violence. And I intend to be party to neither nor have I any great wish to be liquidated quickly or slowly over sharing ideas and standing by what is valuable.
Not that cowardice will keep me or any public intellectual silent in perpetuity. It’s my burden, gladly accepted and lived for a long while, to share my own witness to truth, inasmuch as I can grasp it. But only at what seems the right moment. At that moment, I imagine I will say what I have to say and hand on whatever I have learned and received. Whether anyone accepts what is said, much less bothers to listen… well, that’s the risk of talking with a purpose; Nothing new in that.
The new thing, the thing that has emerged finally, in a way that cannot be ignored, is that any potential “audience” cannot really hear what someone like me says. We sound as alien as if we came from some foreign planet no matter how plain the English in which we decide to speak. One of us is trying to make sense by appealing to trans-subjective standards — the crowd being addressed could care less about that as long as they get their way… by any means required to impose their desires.
And that is enough for now.
14 March 2016
Richard Van Ingram