Philosophy for apes

WHO are you?
     I wonder about who might be reading this, and also, to some extent, Why? What do you think you’re going to learn from these pages? Why the interest? — Actually, on reflection, the question ‘why’ isn’t really so critical. It doesn’t matter. Or it shouldn’t. People pick up books for all sorts of random reasons. So let’s not pursue that now.
     Are you male, or female? I am a man. In case you didn’t realize. — The words sound strange to me, in my ears, in my head: to be a maaan, to be huuu-man, a hu-man who is also a man. Gender is a well-researched (some would say, over-researched) topic in philosophy. I am not going to indulge in the pretence, as some writers do, that it doesn’t matter what sex you are — as a writer, or reader — because the meaning, the message is ‘the same’. ‘The truth is the truth.’ No it ain’t. Not by a long chalk!
     Here’s something funny: pick up any new book of philosophy from the book shop or library shelf, and you will notice a curious phenomenon: ‘she’ has now become the default third person pronoun. They are all doing it, I mean everyone. That shows something — about the power of consensus, and the sanctions, too, for those who foolishly try to swim against the tide.
     You won’t catch me using ‘she’ in a hundred years, but, no complaints, I don’t have a horse in this race. This is not a campaign. And I am not arguing with you, or anyone. I am not writing for you, whomsoever you may be. I am writing for myself. This is all for me. And, as it happens, my being male means something to me. This is how I was cast into the world by the genetic lottery. My blessing, my burden.
     (As I’ve already indicated, if you want to come along with me on my fairground ride, you are most welcome. Whoever you are, male or female, I can use the company. — It’s a long time since I’ve been sick all over someone, ha ha.)
     But is it necessary that you are human? Now, that’s a question! Nietzsche, for one, thought so. What it means to be ‘human-all-too-human’ was a major focus of his inquiry. Other philosophical writers seem to pretend that it doesn’t matter at all. I suppose a book on systems of formal logic could be understood as well by an AI as by a human being. Fair enough. But then there are all those works in the middle where it is not clear at all whom the words are for, or how the writer imagines the words will be taken. Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits (Bertrand Russell) — why so limited?!
     I don’t know who you are, and that’s a fact. If this book should by some miracle survive the destruction of Earth, you could even be an alien from Proxima Centauri. Wouldn’t that be something!
     Right now, however, in my present mood, I don’t picture a human, or an alien — or an AI. I picture an ape. A six and a half foot tall, six hundred pound great ape.
     An admirable species. If it wasn’t for us humans, apes would be the pinnacle of evolution. (No small task, to keep an animal like that. The food bill must be enormous.)
     You could be male or you could be female, with hairy breasts or a little pink penis. Staring hard at the black squiggles on this page, with furrowed brow, eyes darting along each line. (Amazing! you can read!) I see nervous anticipation in your face. You’ve never met a human. Yet you suspect, or feel imperceptibly that something is coming, but you don’t know, cannot imagine, what it is. Only that when that something comes, it will be your doom.
     (For the great apes on Earth, that something did come, and as a result many of you are now close to extinction. But that’s a discussion for another occasion.)
     We are all apes. Nietzsche said that. He didn’t mean simply in a biological sense. Look at them — and then realize that you are looking at yourselves. The only meaningful, objective value that can be conceived, the only value we have, as a species, belongs to that which has not yet come, the one who will supersede us — who is as distant from us as we are from apes in the jungle or on the plain — that for the sake of whose existence we are merely a route, a bridge, a means to a greater end. The Overman.
     Who is the Overman? My take? The Overman will not rule over man, or wo-man. For we will be long gone. The Overman will have no need of penis or breasts. After the coming of the Overman, the natural cycle of creation will be broken.
     When apes get together and copy one another we call it ‘imitation’. When humans do it, we call it ‘culture’. All you do, all you have ever done is imitate. Ape and Essence. Planet of the Apes. You so-called ‘humans’ know full well what you are. Your novelists have written about it. Naturalists know it as an axiomatic truth: The Naked Ape. We do not know exactly why or how we came to be, only that our sole purpose is to produce more copies of ourselves, so that our genes may survive.
     How absurd!
     And if we were designed? (by super-intelligent aliens from Proxima Centauri, say, or a ‘god’) how much more absurd would that be! To be someone’s chemistry experiment, or entertainment, or worse!
     You human apes have invented a game you call ‘philosophy’. A game of imitation, a pseudo-contest, a way to give your whoops and yells an impression of ‘meaning’. No more useless an activity has ever been conceived. Of course, your ‘philosophy’ was never intended to have a use. It is something you do to amuse yourselves, and how easily you are amused!
     I am an ape. You are an ape. I accept that fact as my fate, my doom. Regardless of all I may strive for, now or in the future, I will never be anything but an ape. I will die an ape.
     What to do? What to do?
     — Keep myself amused. What else is there?!
     After four decades of thinking, and writing, frankly I am finding it harder and harder to find ways to amuse myself. Surrounded by apes, with nothing else to admire or take inspiration from. I have had to create my own amusements...

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