Two tribes

HERE is a story, which you may treat as a parable:
     There are two tribes who live on opposite sides of a river. The tribes are the Philosophers and the Philosophizers. The river is called ‘Philosophy’. The Philosophers and Philosophizers refuse to talk to one another, or have any dealings with one another. Yet they fish from the same river. To avoid disputes, members of each tribe keep to their own side, never once crossing the imaginary line that divides the river in half. Their mutual suspicion and hatred is such that they refuse to look one another in the eye, even when they are feet away, knee deep in water, plying their nets...
     I will put my point as succinctly and unambiguously as possible: Philosophizers don’t ratiocinate. We don’t interpret. We express. We may be after the same ‘fish’ as you, but what we do with our fish when we’ve caught it — how we prepare and cook our fish, and eat it — is very different. Frankly, the thought of what you do with your fish makes us want to throw up. No doubt, you feel the same way about us.
     Tant pis!
     In case you haven’t already realized, this is intended as a work of rhetoric, which expresses my views about philosophy, and which also shows things that may be of interest to students of philosophy, and their teachers also. It is not a ‘philosophy book’. It belongs at a different place on the bookshelf. (Booksellers and librarians take note.)
     If you find anything in here that looks like ratiocination of a logical or analytic kind, or interpretation along the lines of the tradition running from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind, through Husserlian phenomenology, existentialism, Freudian-inspired postmodern thought or whatever — you should ask for your money back.
     I argue my points the way any writer argues, but not the way philosophers argue. As a writer, I try to avoid holes in the narrative, respect the rules of logic (most of the time, except when a contradiction has a useful rhetorical purpose). Naturally, of course. It’s part of ‘writing well’. (I may not always succeed, but at least I try.) But as far as you philosophers are concerned, I’m not interested in following your made-up ‘rules’. Contradict me all you like. I am not arguing with you.
     Sometimes I will make assertions that I do not back up with any evidence at all. The horror of it! For example, in the first chapter, I stated that when Diogenes told Alexander to ‘get out of my sunshine’, ‘he didn’t even blink’. How can I possibly have known that? To the best of my knowledge, there is no historical report of Diogenes not blinking during that fateful exchange — supposing it really did occur — and even if a sharp-eyed witness had kept a close eye on the famed Dog Philosopher the whole time, a blink would have gone unnoticed and unrecorded if the observer had blinked at exactly the same moment.
     The legendary British movie actor Michael Caine, in an interview once, stated that the first rule of being a cinema ‘tough guy’ is not blinking. When the camera has you up close and you blink, you ‘look like Bambi’, he said. So that’s ‘how I know’. I know, or believe I know, the character of Diogenes. If anyone had blinked, I like to think it would have been Alexander, in sheer astonishment. — I’m not making a ‘truth claim’ (to use the philosophers’ stilted vernacular). I am being rhetorical. Geddit?
     But how can this book not be philosophy if it is about philosophy? History of ideas, when it looks at philosophers and their thought, does not thereby become ‘philosophy’ — although, of course, it can be, if the writer so chooses. Neither is a work of psychology that looks at the peculiar mindset of philosophers (with the same proviso — I’m remembering now the fascinating book by Ben-Ami Scharfstein, The Philosophers: Their Lives and the Nature of Their Thought, 1980). Then again, I’m not really interested in questions of demarcation. I am just explaining to you, the reader, what to expect as well as what not to expect!
     — Am I new? Or very, very old? Where are the other members of my tribe? Why do I seem to be alone out here? That’s a tough one to answer.
     Only a few years ago, I wrote in my Filofax notebook, ‘I’ve been doing this so long I’ve almost forgotten how to write something that isn’t a sales pitch.’ Back then, as I explained, I called myself a ‘sophist’. And I believed that to be true. It was not an altogether happy time for me. Call it my ‘identity crisis’, if you like. But I was also beginning to wake up to the ‘truth’ about my situation:
     Maybe that’s just my idealistic illusion — as if there could be a way to write and not be selling something: if only yourself. Truth, what is that? Pilate asked before he hurried away. I was sold the idea of truth, I knew that the truth was far away but could be reached — with persistent effort, being ‘true to oneself’...
I am true to myself and always will be. A case could be made that I am still a sophist, in the Protagorean mould. Yes, I believe in the ‘reality of values’. But not in the way you mean. I hold that a thing has value, objective value, because I value it and only insofar as I value it. Man is the measure and I am that man. To my mind, there is no other conceivable standard. — Max Stirner would have approved.

     With equal justice, you could put me in the Pyrrhonian school of sceptics: for every argument there is an equally compelling counter-argument. I truly believe that. I have taken Pyrrho’s advice to heart. That’s why I no longer put my trust in ‘arguments’.
     Rhetoric, the skills of the sophist, is my only useful tool, my only reliable weapon, in the face of questions and problems that are simply too great for reason or logic. All that remains is to express, to move others so that they can see what you see. Help them, push them gently, or twist their arms if necessary, or even beat them senseless with words and more words and more words...
     Don’t despise me. I could be the future. You may have less time than you think. Your time might have already run out. Or not. Or, just maybe, we can join forces. (I don’t deny the value of what you do, in your eyes. I value the fact that we ‘value’ things differently — and that’s not ‘sophistry’.)
     At the end of the day, there surely is something we can agree on. We will have to pull together if we want to stand up against the ever-increasing trivialization of human life, the destruction of everything that we once believed in... the coming idiocracy...


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