Sloterdijk, in a surprisingly direct passage, admits that philosophy has not lived up to its traditional role, as a source of inspiration for people in need of guidance. Does anyone read philosophy for guidance anymore?
I experience almost daily a crisis-what am I supposed to pay attention to? It seems there is so much going on in a big city, like a large ant hill in constant need of repair, the city is being torn down and rebuilt every day, roads are re-routed due to construction, sewers fixed, fires put out swiftly, police with riot gear and weapons on every corner, surveillance cameras, under cover agents, stores that you don’t remember are going out of business, new stores appear, looking just like the ones that went out of business, etc.
The city has always been a labyrinth with a vague sense of some Gnostic drama being re-enacted, full of nefarious characters, hipsters, heroes and victims, but now the city is as convenient and easy to use as a smart phone ( yes I know there is no such thing as a smart phone) and though there are lots of busy people running around, there seems to be a lot of vacant stares and confused glances, as people sedate themselves with their devices, holding on tight to that tattered security blanket.
Recently, I had a scary experience. I met an older man in a gay bar at happy hour, $12 for a beer, and we had a pleasant chat and I agreed to meet him for coffee a few days later. It was a charming café, $6 for a cup of coffee, ( I don’t get a refill) and he and I find out we have nothing in common, except that we have a lot of old memories about the way things used to be. I notice, poignantly, that he has a slight tremor in his left hand. We are getting older but not much wiser it appears.
I recall the great intellectual, Hannah Arendt, speak of her friendship, with the great poet W H Auden. She says they met in New York and in their late fifties and became good buddies. What touched me was she said that it is hard to become best friend when you meet in your late fifties. The category of Best Friends usually gets filled up when a person is in their twenties. You age with a group of people and find a place in a group. But then with wars and famines and illness the group starts to shrivel up. And as you meet new people, as you age, there are new intimacies that can occur, but both persons who reach a certain age know how the show is going to end, and so there is a different kind of atmosphere. Hannah and Auden became good friends and she wrote a lovely tribute to him when he went the way of all flesh. She said something that shocked me. I don’t love humanity, she says, I love just a few people.
But I am not Hannah Arendt! My greatest fear is that as a bookish person, with an inexhaustible love of books, and very good eye sight and lots of energy, that during my golden years, I will end up in the back room of a library and with a good internet connection, I will escape the irritations, the ups and downs, of the social completely. Culture, by the way, is so expensive and the return on one’s investment is not that great. A $100 for a night at the Opera? I don’t think so. What’s on Netflix?
And what is your greatest fear? My experience has taught me that what I most fear is what usually happens. I am unfortunately well tuned to disaster. It may be a blessing-who knows? Is this a good philosophical posture to take?
What I find most absent in this Brave New World co-sponsored by Microsoft and Monsanto is there seems to be lots happening at the Global Level but there are no small scale events happening, there are fewer and fewer situations arising. Yesterday, I met, by chance, a neighbor at the laundry mat, and we talked about how many of our neighbors had disappeared…
How is a story teller supposed to make anything happen in such a shallow pond? ,Are there any interesting situations anymore? I just see a lot of chatter on the smart phone, no one is cruising anyone anymore. The heat from the street as an prostitute once said is gone. What are we supposed to be paying attention to?
I don’t want to “pay” attention. I want to give it freely but for what purpose?