Friday, August 4, 2017

Irresistible Icarus

Philosophy is not a popular topic at brunches and nor should it be. Learning how to die is not a merry subject. A truly enlightening conversation is often an uncomfortable one and thus an impolite one. In fact, the best time to talk philosophy is after your audience has consumed a bongs-worth of weed. In that case, everyone is too stoned to remember how rude you were.

For the introspective few, philosophy and truth feel like an inescapable pursuer. The muse sticks with you like an earworm. It's a form of possession which drives its host deeper and deeper into the woods. In Christianity, this possession is called the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Non-Christians don't agree on a word for it but are affected by it just the same.

Philosophers see that the world is bathed in light. Rather than simply enjoy it, they search for it’s source. As they get closer and closer to the source, the intensity grows and grows. Visions of a big reveal dance in their heads. They navigate a difficult section. Then another. Then another. The end must be near! Yes, the end is near. Like Icarus and his wings of wax, they perish. The source, the capital T truth, is a blinding light, a scorching sun, sadly unobtainable while here on earth.

Philosophy is passed around via the written word. Probably because those who are preoccupied with it tend to be poor public speakers. Written documents allow the speaker to speak uninterrupted and gives to reader the chance to throw the book out the window. Both are helpful when the subject matter is so esoteric.

It’s tempting to romanticize the life of a philosopher just as it's tempting to romanticize the life of a rock star. Both seem to be chasing a wildly dancing flame, discovering excitement and authenticity along the way. Never mind that most rock stars are strung out on painkillers. And most philosophers experience wild mood swings to the point of clinical insanity. To take one rock star as an example, no one should be jealous of Anthony Kiedis’ heroin addled past. But we can be jealous of his authenticity. Philosophers are authentic in the sense that they take a hard look at themselves and are honest about what they find. But they often hate what they find and go crazy trying to deal with it.

In that vein, philosophers often make terrible fathers. Jean-Jacques Rousseau fathered five children and abandoned them all. A preoccupation with the eternal renders human relationships mostly meaningless. The pursuit of Nirvana is a selfish one. That's why the Hindu religion built in the four stages of life. The four stages of life require you to actually be a productive member of society and do a proper hand off of your responsibilities before you run off to become a full time space cadet in the woods.

I don’t consider myself a philosopher, although I do tend to have wild mood swings. Not much of what I say is profound and most is fairly obvious. The small number of pageviews on my creative writing clearly show I don't have a Midas touch. A predictable and humbling development and one that matters very little. The fact is, I can't help but be preoccupied with the pursuit of eternal truth. It's too great a draw to resist even though it might very well be fruitless. I respect a man like Eric Hoffer, who simply wrote down his thoughts with no discernible thirst for fame or recognition. He ended up receiving recognition for the truth contained in his sentences, although not nearly enough in my opinion. But that’s OK. Kierkegaard famously said “the crowd is untruth” meaning a popular thing is probably a shallow thing.

Philosophy is a waste of time. Philosophy is the most important riddle of your life. Both are true unfortunately.

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