Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Musings in Hedonism - The Philosophy Store

So after my last blog post a friend remarked that she’d love to hear my musing on what a philosophy store would look like. We’ll that’s too good of a challenge to pass up – so here it is:

When I first conjure up the idea of a philosophy store my mind immediately thinks of an old bookstore. You know the one’s, full of hard copy books with bindings that speak of another era, that musty scent of paper. Indeed there must be bookshelves to house the classic works that so often rest hidden away in books.

But that’s an anachronistic image. The access to those thoughts and pages can be done with a simple web search now. Wikipedia provides succinct summaries of most philosophers' great works, so perhaps among the bookshelves, you’ll see a cubby stocked with a computer terminal, or perhaps today you just needs a charging station for your phone and a link to the right app.

But both those visions seem a bit passive for what a philosophy store could really be. Philosophy requires dialogue. Flat presentations of unchallenged ideas speak more of dogma than philosophy. For that reason there must be a forum. Perhaps this is a nod to the Socratic method – but there needs to be an open space for people to both present ideas, and have them challenged.

Some might think a church might be a good model for a philosophy store. After all a church is designed to present its philosophy to its followers. But this misses a very important point about what philosophy really is. As counterintuitive as it may seem, Philosophy is not really about providing answers, rather it is about asking the right questions. The one-to-many design of churches stifles the dialogue of questions, doubts, and skepticism (essential parts of any philosophic exploration).

Perhaps a trading floor is a better model? Instead of an exchange of stocks or commodities, it’s the exchange of ideas that serves as commerce in a philosophy store. Then again, perhaps philosophy cannot be monetized in such as fashion – but there’s a whole theory of value to recon with when philosophy is the product.

Another approach might be a bit more personal. Allowing for subjectivity, it may be that philosophy is a distinct matter for each individual. Philosophy might be a form of therapy one undertakes with a licensed professional philosopher. This would require private rooms like a medical suite (perhaps located across the forum and behind the bookcases and charging stations?) An approach akin to the Existential Detectives of I Heart Huckabees.

Here individuals could craft their philosophies, positing their own questions about life, the universe, or right and wrong. They might make statements of belief, while their philosopher therapist probes them with challenging questions, alternate interpretations, or a random non sequitur to shake things up. Therapy would continue until one reached a point where the answers to the questions no longer mattered.

As I jot all this down, I have to confess I think such as place could exist – perhaps even a virtually. Whether one could make a living off of it though is an entirely different question. And that, of course is the challenging question to all my thought experiments these days. But I’m still asking questions – so I’m not done quite yet.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Embracing Chaos

I've mentioned before that I have a tendency of playing things safe. I suppose we all are predisposed to keep doing the things we’re comfortable with, to be complacent with our routines and expectations. But the truth is, as good as we get at managing our outcomes, there’s always a margin of error, an element of risk. That bit of information overlooked, misunderstood, or simply unknowable that suddenly reveals to us that order is an illusion. We are often steps away from unexpected chaos.

For a play it safe kind of guy, you’d think my response to chaos might be to try to prepare for it, to have that emergency fund, that earthquake preparedness kit, a solid plan B – like most rational people, especially a rational hedonist, would. And, I do – to some extent; though perhaps not as completely as I might like...

After almost 30 years in the same business I’m now unemployed. I’m anxious about what I’ll do next, where I might live, how I might have to adjust. To be sure I’ll be doing what's traditional and expected. I'll update my Linked-In profile, network with peers, keep up with industry trends, etc.. But in this moment of chaos, I’ll also cast a glance to other far off options. What else can I do? Could I start my own business? Is that philosophy store even possible? What would it look like? What other imaginary lives can I entertain and make real?

I’ll fantasize about pursuing these options, turn them into thought experiments, always weighing the risk.

Rational as that might seem, I can’t help but look at my risk aversion as one of my flaws.  A flaw that might actually be preventing me from living as fulfilling of a life as I might otherwise. As a rational hedonist I ought to be willing to take a few more risks.  So, as much as I like to play it safe, I secretly welcome this sort of anarchy and chaos. It destroys my excuses, makes me vulnerable, but also opens me to possibilities I might never allow myself. “That which does not destroy me, makes me stronger, “ remains a favorite Nietzsche quote.

Is it any wonder that the worlds of myth and folklore often have some god or hero associated with Chaos and destruction? Loki, The Trickster, Shiva – they all play a role of disrupting order. They humble us reminding us that we are not always in control of our destinies. Truth is, these are the characters whose stories I most enjoy. They shakes things up and challenge the status quo. Their disruptions often make the unimaginable possible.

When faced with the frustration of choosing the right “key words” to get past the robo-gatekeepers of corporate HR, a friend suggested I use the terms, “Hedonist, Mixologist, Existential Detective, Philosopher, and Aesthete.” I quickly made business cards with those titles. They have become my affirmations. I look at them and am reminded who I really am. What I value. Who I really want to be. Something to look at while I create and market my “brand” – that distilled “safe-for-work” version of myself carefully crafted to fit into the resumes and cover letters designed to secure gainful employment.

Chaos to me is a gift. When I am unwilling to take that leap, I'll invite chaos comes along and gives me a good shove. I’m still afraid during my free-fall, worried about my potential crash, but I’m given a chance to land on some different ground and explore the new territory I had only dreamed about before. Sometimes a world must be destroyed to make way for a new world to be created. 

I look forward to exploring this new world.