As a philosopher trying to keep up with the many strains and schools that diverge and often fight with each other, I’ve had to spend much time sitting for long periods of time and reading. The foreign, heady, and counter-intuitive ideas and discourses from the distant past need a good deal of personal reflection and distancing from the everyday, common speak with friends and family, so a lot of this philosophical practice requires isolation. Breaks from reading are generally spent spacing out by staring off into the ceiling of a cafe or library to more thoroughly reorient myself to the strange ideas of epochs gone past. But these writings left behind as great monuments by those who took conceptual problems seriously are extremely powerful, so powerful that they have reorganized our societies, our beliefs, matter itself…
There is a disconnect between the solitary or purely discursive intellectual-philosophical activity and the great potential for change which these ideas (not immediately tangible things) can produce. Making this connection has been very hard in my experience, as many people have settled on the simple prioritization of practice over theory. Be it the result of the acceleration of physical activity and the effective mobilization of the labor-work force to produce or the inability to perceive ideas that have organized this increased activity, so many people (even among those who theorize for a living!) just don’t think of theory or critique as valuable activity. It is not a worthwhile endeavor, for the fruits of this labor do not appear soon enough, one desires instant gratification (and perhaps too many need that reward to continue surviving) and there just isn’t time to wait for ideas to run their course and take the grand effect of global change they invoke. There has actually been a wealth of new and wonderful theory in these past decades, but the disconnect between the ideas that change along with the times and the critical mass they are trying to reach has accompanied the disconnect between the removed theoretical activity and the wide subjects which they deal with. Must this be the case? Must great ideas be doomed to take their effect on the field of play too late?
I’m told that when at dinner parties of times gone by, or whatever social gathering substitutes for one, philosophers who makes themselves known would be asked: “Oh! Well tell me the meaning of life then Mr. Philosopher!” This would be slightly uncomfortable for the philosopher and they would reply in turn that it’s not that simple or pull out some similarly disarming wise-crack. To this day nobody has asked me about the meaning of life when I express my chief interest and area of study. Instead, the almost universal response is: “What do you do with that?” Both are meant to put some pressure on the person claiming a devout love of wisdom, as they will inevitably feel belittled by the one working with things that perplex them, but the ’meaning of life’ challenge is infinitely more desirable than ’what can you do with that?’. I yearn to be asked the life question, but it just never comes. I could actually give some of my ideas on where life is going, how it was formed, the disparity in definitions given by different scientific disciplines, how earth’s ecosystem adjusts itself like a living organism itself, how life might not require any meaning to be valuable and self-generate its own meaning… But instead I get someone asking a vastly dumbed-down gut-reaction question about what *I* can *Do* with this knowledge. As if it was not already an action itself or needed the justification of applicability in the job market to be worthwhile.
This contrast between the two dinner party questions to the philosopher is telling of our age. And to demonstrate how worthy of an activity philosophy is, I’m going to learn from this development and ponder: why do people now think of bare activity (vs. theory) when confronted by a philosopher instead of life and meaning?