Saturday, March 9, 2013
How philosophy can save the world
Plato said “the unexamined life is not worth living.” While I agree with this statement, it's still up for debate. A dog or cat, for instance, probably doesn't examine their life to the same degree, or with the same skill set within a human's capability, yet there is a very fair argument that said dog or cat can live a full and happy life. The same argument could be made for a bush, or tree.
However we, (and Plato,) are not talking about dogs or trees, these things, while being alive, are simply not able to live the examined life, as it is the examination itself that is beyond them. This points to a simple concept and fair question, by way of our ability to do so, are we not obligated to philosophize? This is a topic that has been discussed since Aristotle, (who believed in “the purpose” of things, such that a knife with no edge is not a knife at all.) Rene Descartes who said, “I think, therefore I am,” also speaks to this ability to reason as a depiction of purpose. In short, flipping the statement on its head, to not think is to not be.
Modern humans in the year 2013 have a decided advantage of Descartes and especially Aristotle, in that we can all be Philosophers. We are capable of doing philosophy by way of our common education and our desires to express our Self. Philosophy is just the study of thought and most of us study our own thoughts at various times throughout our lives. We do philosophy without realizing we are doing so. The bulk of the population in Aristotle's time was lucky if they weren't slaves. The bulk of the population in Descarte's time was lucky if they knew how to read. We have the internet. We are at least capable of being connected and communicating with everyone else in the world, in real time. We are an amalgam intellect. We can learn anything we want, for free, instantly.
So why don't we? Why is it that our lives are not already perfect? There has never been a time of more affluence, more intelligence, more capability than the time we currently find ourselves inhabiting. Why are there still problems in the world? Why do people suffer? The answer, reduced to its lowest common denominator is simple: We are trapped in a faulty social contract. We punch a clock.
A social contract is a decided effort to work towards specific goals, accepted by a group of people. Usually these goals are defined by governments and work toward the bulk of the population living comfortable lives. Obviously, various systems are currently and historically being exercised. Such is it that we can refer to these ongoing exercises as experiments, for instance: the American experiment versus the Chinese experiment. Ultimately, these rather dichotomous sounding experiments are strikingly similar: A ruling elite manages the working class. The most important thing to take note of is that, despite our modern cleverness and technological advancement, life really hasn't changed for most humans in three hundred years. We go to work, we pay our way, we live, we die. We cash our cheques.
The real problems in the social contract are revealed wholly by the lack of foresight expressed by the contract, (it seems, by whatever contract you subscribe to.) We all march down the sidewalk together, robots on their way to work. We all pay the toll the contract requires, while merely supplying to our own demands. Modernity is a palindrome, the snake head eating the head on the opposite side. The system provides the labour, the labour provides the reward, the reward entitles me to the requirements of living. Given that all three links in the chain remain unbroken, life can be comfortable, but it certainly says nothing about my (or your) ability to live up to our purposes.
Social contracts come and go. They change in revolution, yet history suggests they don't really change at all. If we tire of some particular despotic government, we oust them and replace it with some other ruling elite, a (hopefully) better elite that will govern us the way we prefer. If this is a people's revolution, it is often for the better. However a people's revolution is a very rare thing. Like all things in life, revolution is a business decision and business never changes. Business decisions are always in favour of more business. People who revolt are usually being oppressed, businesses who revolt, (via government, which is the business of ruling,) are usually just trying to do more business. Such is it that we may safely conclude that the revolutions of the people are the type that end in what we would consider an advancement of human rights, (whatever that means.) Every other revolution, which represents the great majority of them, serve only the preservation of the status quo, however disguised.
Revolution from a personal standpoint begins and ends with the self. You are, after all, all you have to work with. I'd like to suggest that a revolution of the self is a major proponent of the 21st Century Enlightenment. If we each take it upon ourselves to be the fair, prudent and courageous humans we are meant to be, rather than cogs in a clockwork that merely serves to mark our time between life and death, the world can only become a better place. However, revolution is painful and often ugly. The powers that enjoy the status quo are vast and deep. To work against the status quo is difficult, yet if the social contracts established are failing us, this challenge must be accepted, even by the purveyors of the contract. For it is not the case that simply replacing one elite for another will begin to solve our problems. The elite are not the problem, the system is the problem. We have all signed on to an agreement to plunder our planet and ourselves for the sake of a comfortable life now, be damned the future. I'm not even speaking of the ecological problems caused by our actions, although these concerns are fair and relevant. I'm talking about re-establishing what it is we think life is supposed to mean, what we accept as our purpose, what we consider our role in a global social contract, species wide as inhabitant caretakers of the Earth and the only known intelligence in the Universe.
This is a very large and very real problem.
None of these concerns can ever be remedied without first philosophizing upon them.
None of those philosophies can ever be enacted without taking action.
None of those actions can be realized without taking responsibility for them.
You have been given the opportunity to be the change you want in the world.
You cannot unread these words. You can disagree only by remaining silent.
Undertake the contemplative life for the sake of future generations, if not for your own.
Philosophy is the first step to a better world.
The revolution begins with you.
at 12:02 PM