Market Philosophy and Nebuchadnezzar
WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? Who ought to philosophize? What does philosophizing entail? Why has philosophy decayed? So I wondered, as I sipped a double-macchiato, and gazed into the distance, fatigue from hours of fixation on meaningless prose, displayed virtually.
Philosophy, so it seems, has been reserved for those who can afford leisure, and choose to utilize the time at their disposal to enable their imagination to wander. Thereby, these select individuals, are able to recognize the chasm between aspiration and reality, likely to turn sufficiently despaired in consequence, swift to denounce what is, and eager to cultivate impetus for the transition toward what ought to be. Philosophers, perhaps without intent, seek to imprint their vision onto vulnerable minds.
Philosophy, then, appears to be an act other than the mere contemplation of forms, which Plato suggests it to be. Contemplation, as a disinterested act, merely is the space in between rage and prescription. Philosophy is lobbying deprived of exclusive access, but substantially more potent, being veiled in translucent attire, suitable anywhere, and yet distinct everywhere. Philosophy is will-to-power, not clothed as a sheep, but a sheep, capable of being seized by anyone; hence, it is unpredictable and every-mighty.
Philosophy entails, or rather is, assumption, informed by tradition, and sold as commandment. The philosopher claims to be humble, and yet narrates in divine grandeur, portraying himself as king among the blind, a one-eyed king at best. He may, undoubtedly, see further than his fellow men; but just how far is far, when what he sees is nothing but what is, from a vantage point so low positioned that the philosopher can merely raise his sight. Philosophy, as will-to-power, and the philosopher, struggling to swim amid the drowning, are but testaments to the petty circumstances amid which humankind dwells; it is, thus, no more revealing, really, than the ole bakers daily chatter.
And yet, philosophy is virtually extinct. Engulfed by the unprecedented here and now, the baker has turned silent; he prefers to be entertained by the shrieks of an enthusiastic host, voiced through the radio at his kitchen counter, or visualized through the saturated screen positioned just opposite the inherited set of rustic coffee tables and tainted armchairs. Meanwhile, at the farmers’ market, just down the road from the bakery, strangers rush along the few remaining stands, focused on the various devices that draw man from the dullness of the here and now, to the ever-vibrant then and there of a virtual reality. As a farmer, just three feet away, drops a jar of raspberry jam, his distracted customer briefly raises his sight, only to return to the latest news of disorder and demise in distant Iraq–really no more spectacular than the weekly farmers’ market.
Not the decay of grand philosophy–composed by a select few men from their solitary cabins–is what worries me, but the demise of what I would like to term market philosophy. Let me be clear, the great minds of past and present, however really hungry for power, and however noble their will to it, illuminate the shadowy cosmos amid which we dwell, a cosmos whose conception we evermore shrink. The thoughts of great men are, however, hardly perceived as anything more than an array of peripheral riddles among dire necessities, scarcely discovered, and even more rarely approached.
Though peripheral and an enigma to most, the thoughts of great men are, nonetheless, pivotal. It is not the particular that renders the observations of philosophers–or, rather, the visions of philosophers dubbed science–significant, but whatever little of them enters into the minds and chatter of the baker, handing his bread to the neighbor who has purchased it for years, and the farmer, smiling in relief, as the local merchant pockets his device, helps him collect the scattered jar from an otherwise crisp market square, and–after chatting about the weather–enters into a conversation about communal matters and their meaning for the nation, unknowingly referencing Plato.
Philosophy and philosophers alike derive their might from flourishing communities; not the prescriptions of philosophers are what enriches the cultures of societies–as fabric woven together from instinct and habit–but the wonder that ever-wondering philosophers, through their prophetic revelations unleash in the minds of man, even though these revelations may be mere sophistry, as man is the judge of his own affairs.
Amid an age of ceaseless flows, when man is on his own and yet never solitary, philosophy and its shallow but pivotal market counterpart no longer exert appeal. Whereas past centuries were soaked in wonder, as the mind of man was not numbed both by the perceived certainty of affairs and a seemingly infinite range of pleasantries, the present appears deprived of the mystery that once empowered prophets, brought forth epics and cultivated communal ties. Bakers, farmers, merchants and the like have gradually come to understand themselves as fixed variables in the rendered-neat formula of life. Deeming themselves diseased, they turn to the mighty Nebuchadnezzar–a Janus-headed shape-shifter, at times the politician, at times the manager, at times the philanthropist, who really is but a projection of the prevalent societal spirit–who prescribes the medicine, channeled through the all-encompassing canals of Babylon, which at times are termed law, termed capital, or termed media, but always are canals.
A mind–or rather a soul, taking form through the interplay of reason and sentiment–deprived of wonder, translates into a world deprived of progress, in the sense of improvement. An era subsumed by the ideal of equity–an ideal that is typically further reduced to equality–and forgetfulness of liberties, is prone to accommodate a citizenry afflicted by fatigue, despair, rage and solitude, who ever-laments unfulfilled hopes, but never realizes the vitality of reciprocity–as self-interest informed by intimacy–for the gradual but fractional realization of these hopes. Such petty citizenry witnesses the ascent of false prophets, and is lured into the abyss through promises of reincarnation.
Though not foreseeable, the future may attain dystopian traits, in light of an ominous present, but is unlikely to become an organized dystopia, as Orwell imagined. On the contrary, confined to the particulars and peculiarities of everyday, man is likely to gradually and unconsciously disfigure himself, and deform the cosmos of which he is a mere component. The dark days will, thus, not be orchestrated by an elaborate super-structure, but by the retrieval of being as it really is, and always-already has been. Once this realism renders the progressivism that Enlightenment-thinking brought forth, and sustains, laughable, those who can, will shield themselves of daunting dynamism, while those who cannot, will rediscover community, and return to where Locke already was.
And, as the day draws to its close, the bakery closes, the market shuts down, and the merchandise pauses, while their owners retire for the night, aided by a gulp of liquor. Meanwhile the stock market murmurs, the last Sumatran Tiger is purchased by a hedge fund manager from Sao Paolo, whose son overdoses on Colombian heroin, a package of which drops onto an abandoned air strip in Guinea Bissau, while a US official in Geneva drafts the latest report on another successful strike against criminal syndicates.
With ever less centralized seats of authority and canons of legitimation, discourse may be believed against all evidence if it’s just repeated enough. –Dora Zhang, “Small Talk,” in The Point Magazine