Marx famously said that: ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.’ So, can philosophy ever be retrieved from the ivory towers that hold it prisoner? Will philosophy ever be taken seriously as a possible voice in helping change the world? It seems that this not the case.
Sure, we have intellectuals who critique the world, but not many of them change it. Of course, even in those words hide the sinister epidemic hiding in plain sight: namely, western messianism. The desire for either one person to come and redeem us all from a world that is collapsing around us, or for each of us to stand up and become a savior of our own making. But, as the philosopher Slavoj Zizek once made clear: “…once you have more than one fantasy in the room…someone will have to sacrifice their own dreams of reality…” Is this where we are today? The height of individualism has ushered in new forms of racism, new forms of global xenophobia. From Ferguson to Bosnia, from ISIS to Ebola, from Climate Change to the pornographic act of human slavery. (LINK)
We have to be honest, the world is in crisis. But, let this not be another article in defense of philosophy for the sake of some sort of idealistic treatise, but rather an opening up of a space that society has never really considered before. Historically, the greatest form of xenophobia is toward that of philosophy. We have had periods of history where religion was the very mechanism by which how culture and society were developed and identified. Then came the enlightenment, which some might argue was the emergence or centering of philosophy and the decentering of religion into humanism. However, we have to be honest about what humanism is and is not. It is not a philosophy, it is in its most concentrated form, an underdeveloped religion of man, which is not a philosophy in any right. Philosophy is meant to give us new language and new coordinates to situate ourselves within a new kind of world. It is meant to be liberating, and therefore it should be liberated into the social sphere.
Here are a few steps for philosophy to be taken seriously as a possibly interlocutor:
One of the major attacks on philosophy is that its language is abstract and for the few. It’s esoteric and demanding. Simple words are sometimes the most powerful. It was Einstein who said: “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” I know this might seem a bit reductionist, but there are better ways to get a message across then feeling compelled to use: ontology, metaphysics, interrelations, or a priori. This is not to say that there is never a time or a place for this, but to realize that, as philosophers, we must not assume that everyone speaks our language. It’s like entering a country where our native tongue is not spoken. Let’s listen to the critiques that claim we need to be accessible.
Speak About the Issue:
In logic, there is this notion of setting up a “straw man” which is to say someone sets up an issue or an opponent to never actually deal with the issue at hand. So, why are so many people reticent to include philosophy as a contending voice in developing a better world? Because we tend to waste our time dancing around the issue. Rather than focusing on nuances of an issue, or creating ones that don’t really have anything to do with the issue at hand, we need to spend time knowing the content we are talking and presenting the issue as the issue. This isn’t to say that other related issues aren’t important or that we shouldn’t deal with residual topics, but rather it means we don’t create an argument out of distraction just to sound smart.
Get Out on the Streets:
There are way too many street-preachers today, preaching the wrong kind of gospel. We need to philosophers to be accessible, real and part of everyday life. We need people who care about the world. Afterall, a philosopher has to get out of bed like anyone else, don’t they? We need philosophy to re-emerge as it once was, the kind that emulates the life and times of Aristotle and Plato, but translated to fit within the here and now. We do need philosophy, but we need it to speak to the current dimensions of our existence, we don’t need it to wonder about what we don’t know. We need it to be grounded.
Although this list isn’t exhaustive, I think its a good starting point. If we look closely and look around us, philosophy is embedded in every fabric of our being. From the way we eat our food to the way we buy commodities, from the way we worship to the way we vote, we are surrounded by philosophical ideas. From the way we interpret the role of technology to the way we define international politics, we are people who are encircled by ideas. We thrive on them. They drive us. We can’t escape philosophy, and it can’t escape us. We need it more than ever today. Don’t you agree?