Tuesday, January 17, 2012

the baby steps of philosophy

Philosophy -- that realm defined as the love of knowledge or wisdom -- can be pretty informative for those inclined. And even those who couldn't spell the word "philosophy" still seem to have a philosophy -- a set of precepts and touchstones that point the way and offer comforting conclusions. Ku Klux Klan or well-versed existentialist ... no different.

But this morning philosophy rose up in my mind in the form of a baby's walker -- a really useful tool that provides mobility and fun and training for the legs on which a grown (wo)man will one day walk. It's hot-damn delightful, deeply informative, and yet, and yet ....

And yet philosophy remains at one remove, at a distance. And in your life and mine, the fact is that there is no distance. Our closeness to ourselves is so close it cannot even be called "close," much less a "philosophy." Philosophy points things out. It separates. And our own lives are not separate. This is more than philosophy on which any of us might learn to test our tender legs.

And I think all of this is important in the sense that the disconnect between our reality and our philosophies makes us edgy and no one likes to be edgy. Hell, the reason anyone adopted a philosophy in the first place was to overcome a sense of edginess and uncertainty, to rest easy and be at peace. Outgrowing our walkers may not be easy, but that doesn't mean it's not necessary ... or anyway I think so.

"Philosophy" is a grand word. Maybe it would be easier just to say "bias" or "belief" or "judgment." Not so intimidating. "Philosophy" might feel miffed to be lumped into such pedestrian company, but people and entities on high mountain tops always find a reason to be miffed about what does not accord with their lofty station. OK ... call it what you like, but notice the edginess and not-quite-completeness. Notice that and use the walker to good effect.

Philosophy separates. Whether lofty or base, I think that's a fair statement.

It is nice to visit a fine restaurant. People pay $10-$20-$50-$100-$200 to be served a delicious meal. Besides being delicious and luxurious, it is nourishing. What is nourishing keeps us alive. And the bottom line is that "alive" is good. So a meal is good. But is there anyone who pays $10-$20-$50-$100-$200 to take a shit? Probably there are a few who might, but it would be more the exception than the rule. To eat a fine meal is savory, delicious, fun, nutritious, and good. Taking a shit is ... well, it's stinky and does not win a five-star rating on the philosophical ladder. It may not be bad, exactly, but effete writers do not wax lyrical about it. Shit, after all, is sort of shitty.

But who, after examination, can find the line separating what is wonderful, tasty, nourishing and good from what we all may flush away without a backward glance? Seriously, where is the line of separation ... literally. Check it out. The filet mignon goes in (assuming anyone has the money) and we pay for it. The shit comes out and we pay for our septic systems to take it away. The aroma of the one is delightful. The aroma of the other is distasteful. Ditto the attitudes. But where is the line? Where is the separation? Literally ... never mind any philosophical crap.

In Walmart, along the greeting card shelves, there are hundreds of cards wishing people a "happy birthday." Joyful, silly, religious ... happy birthday! There don't seem to be any cards wishing anyone a "happy death day." Birth is OK. Death is shitty. They are different and separate, whether philosophically or in our hearts. Up with happy! Down with sad! In this walker of ours, we tool around with a smile on our faces: The walker provides stability, mobility, and faith.

In the summer time, there is the experiment anyone with a little patience might try. Take a lawn chair out into the backyard at 3 a.m. The sky is dark and twinkling with stars. This is "night." Now wait a while and there will be a glow that appears in the East. It is still "night," but there is a small shift. And you know the punch line -- eventually the sun comes up and "night" becomes "day." Intellectually and philosophically, there is night and there is day. But does this observation hold up to scrutiny? Does it allay edginess and foster peace? I mean personally ... is it true for you? Does it compute or does it simply contribute to the edginess anyone might seek to allay through intellect or emotion or philosophy or belief or bias or judgment or any of the other tools meant to soothe the separation beast?

At this point, someone is likely to drag out the walker of "oneness" and "God" and "enlightenment" and ... other bits of explanatory smugness. Never mind. It's still crap. And it still stinks. And the walker that was meant to insure anyone a firm footing becomes a ball and chain, imprisoning the one who would be free, starting wars where peace was the vision.

The lines of separation are not good and they are not bad. They are a walker. They are not yet grown up. It's OK. Shit has its very good uses, just like filet mignon. But somehow there needs to be a willingness to investigate what it is that creates edginess and uncertainty.

Is separation true? Is it false? Don't ask the teacher -- ask yourself. Where precisely are the lines that shape this walker? If you say they exist, well, that doesn't seem to pan out empirically. If you say they don't exist, well, that's a nitwit pastime. How long is anyone willing to rely on their walker -- this ornate and intricate walker?

Setting the walker aside guarantees one thing for sure -- falling flat on your ass. Of course we fall down. It's one of the things we do best. But another thing we do pretty well is to get up and try again. Over and over -- birth and death; filet mignon and shit; night and day -- we practice. Sure, whine and whimper, love god and curse the devil, strike a pose only to find out these clothes don't cover nakedness ... play the game and with time, like all games, it will take more energy than anyone's got.

Might as well enjoy yourself, don't you think?

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