Thoughts from a Forest of Fallen Trees : The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Side of Existence

(If a philosopher falls in the forest who really cares?) Critical Theory, Deconstruction, Ethics, Religion and other such Things.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Ant Warfare

Vain is the word of a philosopher which does not heal and suffering…For just as there is no profit in medicine if it does not expel the diseases of the body, so there is no profit in philosophy either if it does not expel the suffering of the mind.

Physicians and philosophers excel at writing scripts. These scrawls, scribbles and often illegible marks can often only be interpreted by specialists. In medicine it is the pharmacist who deciphers the marks of the physician and then prepares the remedy. This pharmaceutical mixture produces the practical effect of reducing suffering. In the case of philosophy, it is the scholar who professes mastery of obscure passages and difficult texts saying clearly what the philosopher had difficulty expressing. While the physicians’ script tends to alleviate suffering, the script of the philosophers and the sub-script of scholars does not seem to have any practical-existential value. Immersed in the intellect philosophers and scholars fail to grapple with human-animal misery.
Living exclusively in a world of ideas may shut one off from the reality of everyday living. This reality includes such normal activities as earning a wage, paying bills, mowing the lawn, planting flowers, cooking dinner, changing diapers, raising a family, paying off loans etc. This is not to say that such questions as Who am I? What is the nature of the universe, and where does it come from? How ought I to live my life? What are the fundamental principles of knowledge, truth, beauty, morality and religion? are irrelevant. Such questions require direct and exact answers but these answers have either been understood by a select few or have been impractical and nebulous.
Impracticality and conflict have been shouldered with philosophy from the time of its origin. The history of philosophy can be read as a series of conflicts without any final resolution. The history of philosophy can be read not as the birth of wisdom but as the birth of conflict. By wanting to know the truth about the becoming of all things, or in other words why is there something rather than nothing, the pre-Socratics conflicted with the mythologists. Each of the pre-Socratics conflicted with each other over the arche or source and telos or end. Struggle, contest, strife, mourning and grief seem to be unavoidable to the point that one has to agree with the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus when he declares that war is the father of all things.
Our time has witnessed a renewal of hatred, the re-building of walls and barriers, the destruction of houses of worship, warfare and genocide. More persons have been killed or continue to die of disease and hunger in this most scientifically acquainted and ‘civilized’ era than ever before. In the midst of this discontent there continues to be a great resistance in learning how to live in a state of compassion without fear, anger and anxiety. Can philosophy be a way of life that actually revitalizes the way one lives, acts and reacts?
This question came to mind last year while I was in Toronto helping my brother renovate his newly purchased home. There on the ground covered with bits of grass, broken brick and plaster, two army ants were fighting to the death. I was a solitary witness to this event. From my perspective it appeared that this conflict was insignificant. Of course, from the point of view of the ants, the crumbs they were fighting over represented their entire world. The ants were risking their lives for a fragment. What struck me about this event was the thought that humans are really no different. We fight over control of land, resources, air space and outer space while allowing 40,000 children to die of hunger each day. Our skyscrapers and our theories are as high as the dead are deep but our compassion remains run over on the criss-crossed and crossed-over roads that our philosophy, science and spirituality have invented. The sight of the ants struggling for supremacy forced me to consider whether or not philosophy had any practical value. Could philosophy provide a way out of discontent? Can philosophy have more than a negligible role in solving real life grievances and problems?