As though there weren’t enough concern for our rotting corpse of a culture, there is yet another sign that the flies are swarming.
My work for The Man brings me in contact with people all over the country, and sometimes, all over the world. And there has been a growing concern with many of the conversations I have with people across social strata and walks of life, a concern which has then spilled over into my personal life, where I’m seeing it on an everyday basis.
People don’t listen.
Of course, boiling it down to its purest essence is oversimplifying the situation, but I’m routinely stunned when I speak with a person and, in explaining a circumstance, nothing registers with the other. It’s not that I’m not explaining this noun well, both in my personal and professional life I’ve been commended for being able to take complicated subject matter and make it accessible. And it’s not that the people I talk to are hopelessly idiotic or dense, many of the people I speak with have done well for themselves and aren’t naifs. What happens, though, is that I can explain something two or three times with nothing registering in response, but the other will eventually put it all together while I’m there and then end the conversation.
Why ask for help when you can make the connections and get the answer on your own?
It’s ultimately dehumanizing to me, in the same way that I could reduce something complex and explain it in a way which would be both cruel and condescending. What is happening, though, is that the art of conversation–two people from two different positions coming to an understanding of one another–is gone, because we don’t see anything more important than ourselves, or anything at all. We’ve become practical solipsists.
Solipsism is a philosophical term for the idea that nothing exists outside of the mind. In focusing on what my mind projects as a computer, the coffee urns my mind intuits as being to my right about 30 feet do not exist. The idea of my home where my wife and dog are is merely that, a wrinkle in my mind. Indeed, there is nothing out there. I’m not even really writing, and you’re not even reading. None of this exists.
Of course, most of us–that is, those of us outside of collegiate philosophy departments, with apologies to many of my dear friends still in them, if there is such a thing as you…or philosophy departments…–view this as being silly out of hand, though we function as though we have nothing to learn from one another, or that there is nothing else other than us at all. Conversation is only for awkward conversations with old relatives or trying to get someone into bed with us after a night of running up a bar tab. Education is enduring classes long enough to get a piece of parchment which allows certain people to get into certain jobs. Religion becomes a pick-and-choose smorgasbord of complete theological dissonance which only enables people to confirm whatever it is they already believe.
If there is no other, we are able to do whatever we want. The United Sociopaths of America; from one, many. Ex Unus Plures, or perhaps Ex Unus Plures qua Nihilum. From one, many, which is to say, none.
If we converse to get nothing from the other, or at best, confirm whatever it is we already are predisposed to believing, we may as well not believe there is anyone else at all and keep our mouths shut. If we believe there is more to existence than whatever drama is unfolding within our brains, then we might have the humility to ask for help, to be open with one another or be generous with what it is we do know and understand, and gracious enough to accept that kind of investment into us. The fact that the more I speak with people, the exact opposite is happening indicates that we as a society are not even being selfish, but solipsists: willing to dominate anyone and anything in order to quell the anxieties within ourselves that say that we are not okay as we are, that other people are not just fresh meat but just might have as much value as we do.
It is at this point of philosophical enquiry that it ended up being, as Bertrand Russell put it, a dead school of thought. After Kant, philosophy largely became less interested in what it means to live the examined life or the pursuit of wisdom in favor of linguistic nonsense and conversations which barely sound coherent within the confines of a graduate classroom or an academic conference, much less in routine life. (And let’s just leave some of the others like Spinoza, Berkeley and Leibniz alone.) Those few of us who reject Kant and everything his brilliance–no one argues his intellect, but there are Kant scholars who don’t have a clue as to what he was talking about–have polluted are given an ultimately pejorative label: naive realists.
In fact, this naive realist accepts as fact there are things yet to learn about the world and its inhabitants; that true philosophy means continually investing into others and, moreover, that I myself need continual investment. In short, real conversations are still worth having.