Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Philosophy for You and Me

As I have said before, although maybe not here, I think that I would be most satisfied if I left the world believing that I had made people think a bit harder about things. And by things, I mean the important things, like "what should we do," "what makes us happy," even "what does it all mean," although that isn't a favorite of mine. In short, I want people to think about what we call philosophy.

Why do I consider this to be important? Firstly, if you go through life not paying attention to it, then you have missed a great deal of your own life. I also think that in the consideration of such things, we become better people. Finally, when we look deep into ourselves, we are also learning things about all the people around us, on whom we depend daily, which further enriches our lived experience and our moral code.

However, as important as philosophy is to every person, so is every person important to philosophy. To me, philosophy isn't like math, where one needs reach some academic pinnacle in order to have some genuinely new and worthwhile insight. Philosophy is more personal, and since each of us is uniquely privileged with knowledge and insight about ourselves and our experiences, each of us has something of genuine value to contribute to the questions of humanity. Granted, I would like to believe that a formal study of philosophy provides both useful tools for our examinations, as well as valuable exercise, or practice, flexing our analytical muscles, but these are mere means, rather than the goal of philosophy.

Let me provide a quick example. I have long wondered at the unfair nature of birth in our world. So much of who we are is determined by the person or persons who raise us, including many of our socioeconomic advantages or disadvantages. To me, it seems heartbreaking that we can be so attuned to our parochial needs that we could remorselessly let the public education system to topple as long as OUR child received a good education, we could harden our hearts to the children of our workers and accumulate and accumulate until OUR child could never want for any material good. Let me also mention, on the other side of the coin, the children who are not pushed to achieve, either because their parents are apathetic or absent, and end up falling through the cracks. Granted, personal contribution does play a part in the course of a child's life, but SO much is dependent on the nature of their caregiver(s).

Since the concept of a meritocracy, or success of the competent, is so critical to our society, and seems like a rather good idea, I set out to imagine how such a thing might unfold. Since so much of our fortune, for good or for ill, is determined by our upbringing, it seemed almost laughably obvious that the most fair system would involve raising children in some communal manner, with no biological parents knowing who their progeny were so that they could not play favorites. Furthermore, since we usually desire the very best for our offspring, an ignorance to the actual identity of our child seems likely to encourage biological parents to make decisions with the general welfare in mind. For example, wealthy leaders of industry might be more inclined to see the value of social minimum standards of living if they didn't know whether their child was homeless or unemployed.

Fortunately, I shared this idea with some good friends of mine, well educated and intelligent thinkers, but not philosophers by trade. While I still feel a general goodwill towards our fellow humans should inform our actions and encourage us to seek the best for those we encounter, rather than just ourselves, I now acknowledge that this may very likely not be the right way to go about it. What one of my friends pointed out is, quite simply, mothers probably wouldn't like this. In fact, they theorized that mothers might react to this system violently, quite literally.

By contributing this viewpoint, which I had overlooked, probably due to my own general antipathy towards children, my own thought became deeper, more in line with reality. This illustrates two important points. First, we should never become so enamored of our model representing a system that we forget the original system we set out to consider. And second, we all have blind spots, and we all have contributions that can help each other out when something gets stuck in our blind spots. So come, let us do philosophy together!


elfarmy17 said...

I don't trust society to do a good job of raising me, unfortunately, nor do I trust them to raise any future kids of mine in a manner to my liking. That's the problem with your idea: once it's solidly implemented, I think it would work well. But precious few people will advocate it at the moment, for precisely the reasons why it's a good idea (there are serious problems with both society and many people).

Kenny said...

Well... yes... It sounds like you have quite admirable parents and a stable developing environment. But would you be so callous as to deny others a chance at the same in order to ensure that your particular progeny have your guidance? No, I agree with you, implementing this suddenly would probably be a failure, if not a violent failure. But, one might move toward this situation if we emphasized rebuilding the community/neighborhood as a pillar of daily life. I also would be happy to see communities show a bit more internal diversity, which relates back to the last post. It is all well and good to bus the poor kids to the rich 'hood and vice versa, but it would be better if both rich and poor lived in the same 'hood.

elfarmy17 said...

Yes, I know it's selfish of me.
As for community integration, yes, it would be better. Unfortunately, the rich people tend not to want to live near the poor. My grandma's cousin actually moved to a different neighborhood because it was "becoming less-respectable" (by which he meant that a lot of African American families were moving in).
Living near each other, or at least visiting each other often, would definitely help to span the gap between classes. I know just visiting some of my friends who actually aren't that different from me has expanded my viewpoint on some things.

Kenny said...

Sorry for the delay in responding, I wanted to get a better account of where a fact I am going to use comes from. A friend, whom I rather trust, heard in a psychology class that a bigger indicator of happiness than one's wealth is one's wealth relative to one's neighbors. Which provides some explanation of the desire to "keep up with the Jones'." So, moving to a neighborhood populated with less affluent people would actually be a method to increase one's happiness, the rich should want to live near the poor.