A new leaf

WHAT is it
That philosophers do?
You are old
But I am new
You are smarter
I am wiser
I shall be
I may be ‘new’, but I come from a tradition that is very, very old, older than philosophy as you know it.

     I know about your heroes. I studied them, read their books. I was sold the dream of philosophy: the ‘pursuit of truth’. But whose truth? And to what end? Philosophers of the Academy serve a cause that is greater than themselves. How noble! Each scholar conceives of this in his or her own way: the pursuit of knowledge, the progress of human society, dialogue between cultures, peace on Earth! — I see through you all. Philosophers of the Academy serve. Oh yes! You are servants, slaves, in fact. The coin that keeps you fed and clothed also ensures your unquestioning compliance.
     Dare to step out of line and one or more of three things will happen: your students will boycott you, your colleagues will ostracize you, the Academy will terminate your contract.
     What about me? I considered myself a philosopher of the Academy once. A fellow traveller. Now I pursue my own ends — alone.
     My heroes are Gorgias of Leontini and Diogenes of Sinope: Gorgias, prince of Sophists whose wealthy clients and patrons made him so rich he was able to afford to donate a gold statue of himself to the Temple of Apollo — and who earned the Academician Plato’s envy for his success as well as for his unparalleled gifts; and Diogenes the Cynic, who performed his philosophy in the street for coins tossed by passers by, who told Alexander the Great, ‘get out of my sunshine’ (and didn’t even blink), the ‘dog philosopher’ who pissed and shat and wanked in the street, defying the Athenians’ paper-thin conventions — the ‘political correctness’ of the day — refusing to be shamed or silenced.
     Evangelists have a word which, despite my implacable (though good natured, even jocular) hostility to the Christian religion — and, to be fair, all other religions too — I have no reason to be shy of: Born Again.
     Yes, I am born again. I am a new man. You would hardly recognize me, next to the man I was ‘back then’. The shame of it! — No, not really. ‘Everything that has happened in my life is for a reason: that I should become the person that I am’ (Philosophizer ‘Sphinx of black quartz’).
     I am perfect in every way...’ I know that now.
     First published in 2016, Philosophizer is the book that set me free. A book that was written over the space of just one month, in a surge of energy, it is mostly a happy and optimistic work — my ‘Gay Science’ if you will — which first broached the question, or rather Question with a capital ‘Q’: What is ‘what is’?
     It’s a question Gorgias asked — as he, in his own unique and inimitable style, interrogated the tradition that slavishly revered the great Parmenides, the philosopher of Being (brilliantly, in his piece, ‘On What Is Not’). Diogenes, in his practical determination to see through every facade, every web of pretence constructed by society, was, I believe, on to the same thing. What is really real? Where can we find the Core? Is there anything solid down there or is all this just a tissue of lies and make-believe?
     To this day, I am still not exactly sure what happened to me. Something must have snapped, something broke inside of me. I broke my chain, my leash. For years I’d thought I was with you, you ‘philosophers’. I thought we were in this together. Then, at last — at the last possible moment, almost too late to do anything about it — the realization hit home: You don’t even know what I’m talking about, do you?!
     Another philosopher you revere, Wittgenstein, had a term for it: ‘the Mystical’. So sure was he that there was nothing to say, nothing could be stated about the Mystical that he spent his whole life — in his later philosophy as well as his earlier — trying to demonstrate that the supposed ‘limits of language’ (which can’t be drawn in language, blah blah, the invisible bars of our human cage) simply don’t allow, won’t allow a single word of meaningful discourse about what ‘what is’ is. Wherever you start, whatever words you utter or write, you end up going round in a circle. Words and more words. — Pathetic!
     The watchword of the Academy is ‘follow my leader’. The leader is any philosopher of the day who succeeds in making a big enough impact. Like myopic sheep, you can hardly see past the dag-encrusted tail of the sheep in front of you.
     The mistaken notion that philosophy is somehow focused on language and its ‘rules’ and ‘limits’ is what the majority of you now hold to be an indubitable truth, discovered by patient philosophical inquiry: the academic journals are full of this... Scheisse. (And not just ‘analytic’ philosophy, but continental, postmodern, you name it.)
     (On a superficial reading, Gorgias is making a similar point. But I believe that he realized that you can’t draw a conclusion here, you can only issue a challenge, pose the Question. As a rhetorician, Gorgias isn’t looking for indubitable proof. That’s something only philosophers seek to do. His words are intended to move you, shake you out of your complacency.)
     — So, as I was saying, I broke my leash, and unleashed myself onto a waiting world...
Yeah, right. No matter. Clearly the time for us philosophizers has not yet arrived. Or maybe it passed, aeons ago, beyond history, beyond memory. It was burned to ash in the fires at the Library of Alexandria, the remnants of text scrubbed out from the history books or distorted almost out of all recognition by jealous scholars of the Academy.

     Hardly surprising, then, that my optimistic message fell on deaf ears. ‘Rise up philosophers. Join me. You have nothing to lose but your chains!’
     Ha ha. As if you would want to do that! In any possible world. Of course my message didn’t get through. How foolish of me. — No, seriously, this is funny. Why aren’t you laughing? Maybe you are. Good! — ‘A laughing jury is not a hanging jury,’ they say.
     I know how the world of commerce works and the academic world is just one of its many domains. Whoring after grant money or publishing contracts, or chasing those elusive big-money prizes, academics of all disciplines have been well trained in the discipline of the market place. And regardless of the money, one is always going to have a hard time trying to promote — or, in my case, even give away! — something that people don’t even know they want. (Unless it’s an iPhone, of course.)
     However, I am not one to give up so easily.
     And I believe I am not alone. In time, you may be surprised. My advice is, you’d better start taking a very close look at your woodwork...
Forbidden knowledge. The academically transgressive. You know, or suspect what I’m talking about. You’ve tried to keep a lid on the turmoil bubbling just below the surface — for the sake of your jobs, your hot meals, your precious pensions! — but you won’t succeed.

     A Second Coming is upon you...


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