A Few Monday Fragments
Mostly on the depressing phenomenon that is academic philosophy today
[Mont Blanc massif captured with cheap camera after night of no sleep and much coffee, circa 1996]
A contemporary philosopher, a young hotshot at the University of Chicago, writes an essay that endeavors to explain how humans should approach death, art, evil. In it, in the midst of expert-sounding pronouncements on the phenomena, with lots of proper citations of texts, we get this sentence: “I have never seen a corpse in real life, and if I did I suppose that I would feel compelled to turn away, but I see them often in movies.”
Fair or not, this is enough to cause me to lose interest in anything she might say in the rest of the essay. How can she know anything useful about death if she has never even been in the presence of a lifeless human body, other than as it is depicted on a screen? And how can she not know that this disqualifies her as someone who can hope to have her opinion taken seriously on the matter?
More evidence of the ongoing collapse into empty foolishness of contemporary academic philosophy: the existence of people in philosophy departments arguing that monogamy is morally impermissible because it supposedly restricts the freedom of one’s partner and because it advantages men.
Here too one wonders if the philosophers who are discussing monogamy have troubled themselves to look for a few concentrated minutes at the phenomenon in order to adequately understand it. Of course monogamy restricts freedom, and no one who has thought carefully about the matter believes that a society in which freedom was not restricted in many ways, especially in the charged realm of activity related to human sexuality, would be a practically feasible or morally defensible enterprise.
And as to its advantaging of men, have none of these philosophers bothered to look at historical human societies to notice that in virtually every case in which polygyny (men having more than one wife) is permitted, men with material resources sufficient to pull it off do so? If monogamy so obviously privileges the interests of men over those of women, why would men so frequently flee it when they can?
The truth is that monogamy is probably the best compromise available for furthering the interests of men and women (and their offspring) in natural selection terms. And then there’s the estimable spiritual value of dedicated, unwavering commitment to a life project, even in the face of the inevitability of imperfection and failings.
This latter of course is of no interest whatever to the contemporary irreligious academic philosopher. All the more reason to pay no attention to those people when they talk about things about which they transparently know less than the average person on the street.
It takes a lot of reading and time in educational institutions to not know things this basic.
Philosophy emerged as an activity, a mode of life, that had nothing to do with academic pedigrees and status-seeking professional groups and highly institutionally educated elites with zero practical life experience running around telling other people the answers to important questions. Academic philosophy has almost nothing to do with that activity these days.
As recently as mid-20th century, philosophers wrote their books while facing death in World Wars. George Canguilhem, one of the most important 20th century philosophers of science, was working on his central ideas at the same time that he was actively involved at risk of his life in the French Resistance to the Nazi occupation. The first book I worked on was an edited collection of letters written from the WWI front by Robert Hertz, who completed his final book project while in service in trenches. He was killed in combat in 1915 at the age of 34, cut down while charging a German line.
These days, many academic philosophers have never even held a non-academic job.
I find few people in the universities more risible than young professors of philosophy, who are in my experience at least often as distant as imaginable from the traditional category “philosopher.” I met guys in the homeless shelter where I worked for a few years back in the 1980s who fit the category much better, frankly.
I found a bunch of musicians online who call themselves Band Geeks. Among other things, they have done a bunch of startlingly loving and accurate covers of some of the music of the progressive rock band Yes’s most adventurous period.
This music meant so much to me at various periods of my life that I can scarcely express the joy it gives me to hear other players who have been so dedicated to it that they’ve worked out renditions this faithful to its spirit.
Here’s them doing Heart of the Sunrise (a song that did much work to get me through my lonely first semester away from home in college), Starship Trooper (the first Yes song I heard that made me go “I think maybe I need to find out more about these guys”), And You and I (another one I listened to a hundred thousand times while I was feeling alone at night on the banks of Lake Michigan back in the 1980s), and Close to the Edge (the absolute pinnacle of progressive rock outside of King Crimson’s Lark’s Tongues period, as far as I’m concerned).
The one non-negotiable thing for me as a voter: if you’ve raised no children, I’m not voting for you for any important public office. You have not given me sufficient evidence to trust your leadership capabilities. You didn’t tackle the most important responsibility a human being can tackle, the one that most shows your character, your moral tenacity, your selflessness, your ability to get difficult things accomplished under very trying circumstances.
Maybe it’s not your fault, and you didn’t do this because of reasons beyond your control. Practically speaking, doesn’t matter. You’re still unqualified. How are you going to claim that you can make important decisions about my life if you never proved yourself in this field?
On Mexican freeways, at toll booths, one frequently sees catastrophically demolished autos mounted on pedestals, their wheels ripped off, front ends crushed by incredibly powerful high-speed impacts all the way to the dashboard, tops collapsed in such a way that you know with certainty that no one inside could conceivably have survived. In large letters, they bear the warning: “Monumento al imprudente.”
Thanks for reading All Things Rhapsodical! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.