Friday, September 30, 2016

The war criminals

When history is written a few years from now, you and I will be found guilty as well--for having merely stood by and watched as Syria collapsed into a brutal civil war; for having done nothing when civilians were slaughtered; for having turned away those who were fleeing from the chaos and destruction.

I never imagined that something like Syria would unfold in real time, and that we would do nothing other than talk tough about imposing sanctions!

Throughout all these, while ill-informed pundits and politicians have said and written a lot, how many commentaries have you read that were authored by philosophers?  If ever we needed somebody to tell us what is right and wrong, and what the moral imperative is, I can't think of a better and more urgent example than Syria and--yet--practically nothing from philosophers in the public space.

The lack of public engagement by philosophers is atrocious.  But, easy to understand; After all, philosophers decided that they, too, needed to have their own academic discipline and talk only amongst themselves and by using arcane words that only they would understand.  Unlike Socrates, these modern philosophers have essentially told the public to go f*k themselves!
This institutionalization of philosophy made it into a discipline that could be seriously pursued only in an academic setting. This fact represents one of the enduring failures of contemporary philosophy.
So, how was philosophy before the philosophers were institutionalized?
Before its migration to the university, philosophy had never had a central home. Philosophers could be found anywhere — serving as diplomats, living off pensions, grinding lenses, as well as within a university.
And what happened after the philosophers were institutionalized?
Against the inclinations of Socrates, philosophers became experts like other disciplinary specialists. This occurred even as they taught their students the virtues of Socratic wisdom, which highlights the role of the philosopher as the non-expert, the questioner, the gadfly.
Philosophy, then, as the French thinker Bruno Latour would have it, was “purified” — separated from society in the process of modernization.
What a tragic irony, right, that thanks to such "purification" philosophers have pretty much nothing to contribute to the discussions on one of the most urgent humanitarian crisis of our times!

I am not sure if I am supposed to laugh or cry that we are not discussing such matters.

Meanwhile, even as Rome burns, the Republican Party's Nero esteemed candidate has a three a.m. wake up moment and tweets about the sex tape of a former beauty contest winner.  To which a GOP Congresswoman responds with "That's the kind of president we need."  I have no idea how there could be even two people to vote for this candidate!

Shame on all of us!


Anne in Salem said...

Depends on your definition of philosopher. I've discussed Syria with coworkers. Does a farmer with a college degree in nuclear engineering who would kayak for a living if he could make it work count as a philosopher?

Syria is discussed, but I think the general feeling of most Americans is hopelessness. There is nothing Joe the plumber can do, and every governmental option seems worse than the last. Go to war? Too many people die. Increase drone strikes? Too much potential for mistakes and too much criticism from bloggers who think Obama likes to bomb brown people. Withdraw? Can't let the bad guys win. More sanctions? They only hurt the regular citizens, not the powerful, and the powerful don't care. What other options are there? I'm not creative enough to imagine another.

Sriram Khé said...

To me, any seriously thinking person is a philosopher. I want more people to think. Unfortunately, very few want to think.

"the general feeling of most Americans is hopelessness" ... ahem, apparently most of the Americans didn't feel helpless when they cheered the decision to invade Iraq, right, spending gazillions of our resources including human lives? We choose to be helpless or optimistic about our actions abroad. In the case of Syria, our sense of hopelessness stems from the disastrous leaders we have elected to Congress. The "debates" at the "greatest debating body" have become a farce,as even a thirty minute C-Span watching will show. But Ben Franklin warned us that we will only have a republic that we deserve--maybe this is the kind of government we deserve!

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