Philosophy and poetry are games were small mistakes have big consequences. It is dangerous enough that these consequences can lead our own lives into utter chaos, madness, and falsehood but far more dangerous is the ability that both have to lead others into chaos, madness, and falsehood. Philosophy has the ability to shake the very foundations of people’s thoughts with ease, yet neither have the ability to build those foundations with the same ease – this is the blessing and curse of philosophy. Poetry, has the ability to erect foundations out of playing cards of emotion enough to reach the heaven, but with one misplaced wind can loose its base and fall into shambles.
Let us not forget that Holderlin, Nietzsche, and Wagner were found responsible for Hitler’s genocide of the Jews. Nietzsche’s shattering of conventional ethic left a vacuum behind to be filled with playing cards of German nationalism – a combination that like a low pressure system meeting a high one – created a storm. Yet is it not music, poetry, and philosophy that give meaning, keep us sane, and promote the wellbeing of the soul? Are we to believe that the once lofty panacea has fallen to poison?
This is not the case – it is however the case that bad people wear good clothing. It is also the case that the greatest vices share a name with the greatest virtues and that because of man’s wretched nature he cannot always differentiate between the two without great foresight and knowledge. Yet, in a discipline where it is the point to discover the names of the greatest virtues and be able to discern their nature it is very difficult not to fall into the pitfalls of human nature.
It is like driving. Driving is also a game where small mistakes make for huge consequences. Now imagine driving a car 16 hours a day (or for all waking hours) for 7 days a week for your entire adult life. That is the life of the philosopher. Only the philosopher must drive at night with no headlights, and its always raining. Take your eye of the road, mistake a turn, go to fast, or misjudge your placement and suddenly you and everyone around you is effected.
People like to think that their thoughts only effect them – this is never true. Our beliefs effect the way we think, the way we speak, the way we act, it effects our humor, our taste in music, our sense of style. It effects how we treat the law, how we view religion, our ideas of right and wrong, good and evil, just and unjust – and all these things are constantly being watched by someone. Wagner certainly had no idea Hitler would view his music in the way he did, or that Nietzsche would see what he saw in it, but they did, and the rest, as they say, is history.
To bring this problem to the modern age – via the already present metaphor – we live in an age were five years old drive cars on the highway of philosophy. People with no education, or training, or thought process, have been granted the privilege of driving along side all others. Even worse – they are complete anonymous – they can crash there car and just walk away. How, you ask? The internet.
The problems of an anonymous idea will be addressed in future articles (but I am still not sure I understand the problem fully, as one can imagine, since I still write anonymously). For now let us stick on the densely populated highway of philosophy. This is clearly a problem. As a society we are immediately offended if a common man tries to tell an architect how to build a building, or tell a physicist how the world works, but when it comes to this, everyone is a philosopher. Everyone is a poet. Everyone is an artist. That idea, my friends, is asinine.
You know why? Because 99\100 of philosophers out there are completely nuts – madness is their closest ally. If you spend enough time studying the fabric of the universe you will go insane – because truth does not match with perceivable reality – hence insanity. This is almost always the case with poets – whose job it is to bridge the gap between perceivable reality and truth using metaphor (imagery, simile, symbolism, etc). Yet 99\100 of all people are not this insane – they just arn’t – and they never will be.
It takes a lot, even if it is out of sheer intellectual exercise, to question the ability of logic to understand the universe – and if you try to strike up a conversation about it with someone you will find even more difficult to discuss it. Yet, if we are not willing to understand the foundations of foundational philosophy – then how can we be philosophers?
If you ask people if they are philosophers they will say yes – because to them the questions means something like “do you have opinions about stuff”. Yet try discussing those opinions, questioning those opinions, showing them other opinions and you will quickly realize they have no interest in learning someone else’s opinion, no interest in the truth, no desire to change positions, no desire to learn the truth, they are complete content with having their opinions – the end. That is NOT philosophy.
Which brings me to my final point – the rejection of philosophy is not a philosophy – which means that philosophy must be more than a set of ideas. Unless, we were to say, that logical consistency is impossible – which it might be, but then why talk at all? Something cannot reject itself if it is to have any sort of ontological status – which ideas do. Hence a set of ideas cannot include the rejection of a set of ideas – hence the rejection of any set of ideas is not an idea itself, it is a negation of an idea. A claim that something does not exist – is not an idea – its a negation of an already existing idea – it is a disagreement – it is an opening for conversation rather than a true thing. All ideas must begin in truth then diverge because all things present themselves to us as real – that can be overturned or defined, or redefined but as soon as something pops into our heads it has a cause and that cause must exist in some way – for if it didn’t it could never cause the idea to occur in your head. The exact nature of that cause can be questionable but it is there, and exists outside of you in a reality that has no will only being – and as such is truth, the very fabric which makes up reality outside the mind.
If there is truth, then that must be the goal. That goal might be impossible (that is up for debate) it might be misleading (I’d certainly believe to be so) but it is there and it is the job of the philosopher to make his ideas match with that truth as much as possible – even if he can never match it in totality – you show me the person who does that as his primary mode of being and there you will find a philosopher. And that, my friends, is a very small group of people.
Likewise, it is the job of the poet to tease this ‘truth’ (still using the stringent definition above) out of the everyday object. It is not necessary that a poet understand physics, and what an object is or isn’t, it is his job to understand what it represents. A poet can be very subjective – using an object to show a truth to one person about that person. But the key is that they all manifest something true, whether it is an emotion, an idea, or the human experience (which itself can be paradoxical) or he can be very objective (his intent, whether or not he succeeds, can be to uncover a universal truth to all).
It is this attachment to truth that validates the poet and the philosopher – this is why we look to them, or used to look to them, in times of trouble. This is why everyone wants to be a philosopher, and why everyone claims to be one, because they want their beliefs to be validated by this long standing attachment to truth – but little do they know that by doing this they belittle that very tradition which validates the philosopher in the first place. Thus we arrive at the danger.
The philosopher and the poet are validated by a long tradition of change for the better and intellectual discovery. However, this validation can cause dogmatic attachments, fanaticism, and lack of intellectual curiosity. Look at the American form of government, which was born from a great intellectual movement during the enlightenment. The inhabitants of America no longer understand this foundation nor think about its affects – which were noted with great foresight by the writers of the constitution. Americans are now philosophic dogmatists, and this is against the very nature of philosophy.
However dangerous, America’s lack of philosophic curiosity about its roots is rather benign. At its fiercest philosophic dogmatism can cause a holocaust, a gulag, and a great leap forward claiming over 80 million lives this century.
Small mistakes, small miscalculations, tiny lacks of foresight on the half of thousands of years of philosophers can somehow plant the seeds of mass genocide. The snowball affect of centuries of tiny mistakes effect the world, effect history, and end lives. So what is the point? Philosophy and poetry cause great problems by making small mistakes? Why is this important? It isn’t possible to stop it. It isn’t possible to change it.
Things should not be avoided merely because they are impossible to achieve. Accidents happen – sometimes big ones. However, this does not mean we should be careless in our decision relying on our humanity to justify out lackadaisicalness. Instead we must become even more vigilant about our ideas and the ideas of others. We must discuss ramifications, express dissatisfaction, and question responsibly (because there is nothing worse the deconstruction with not attempt to reconstruct). Let us not forget that the greatest enemy to fascism and fanaticism is indeed philosophy and poetry. It was Hanna Arrendt who stood against Nazism and Czeslaw Milosz who stood against communism (among others). Our hope and our demise lies in the same paradoxical box.