Reflections of a Philosophy Major ~ Ben Kharakh

I’m a philosophy major, which means that I like having things spelled out for me. Case in point: my first day of philosophy class, wherein it was explained to me why thinking is important. “Thinkin’? Important?” Whodathunkit?! Simon Blackburn thunks so because how you think about something affects how you do it or if you do it at all. Could I have provided you with a list of reasons why thinking was important prior to that moment? Maybe, but I’m not a fan of arguing over guesses. “Was Mona a character on Who’s The Boss? Or Charles in Charge?” So, instead, I quote Blackburn a lot because I find his comment to be profound.

“You mean obvious!” If it’s so obvious, why aren’t you teaching a philosophy class? “I don’t want to!” Really? All you’d have to do is say a bunch of obvious shit for eighty minutes to a bunch of idiots. “Why idiots?” Who if not idiots is gonna pay to listen to some stranger spew obvious shit for an hour plus? “Good point!” It’s obvious though, isn’t it?

That a knife in the face might kill you may be obvious, but if you didn’t know that you’d be dead by now or have half a face.  ”I wouldn’t pay someone to tell me obvious stuff!” Obvious stuff isn’t necessarily worthless though. If philosophy’s worthless, then my degree isn’t worth squat. And by that logic, raising kids is worth less than squat because that’s what we pay our mothers. “But mothers are priceless!” And that’s what I’d call my degree: priceless. Well, two-fifths of it. One fifth I’d call timeless since I minored in history, and the other two-fifths I wouldn’t know what to call if you wanted to debate the merits of English.

For the sake of argument, though, I’ll grant that philosophy is obvious. In fact, I’d say that the philosophy that resonates with me most is the most obvious, indisputable (yet controversial!), and blandest stuff anyone could tell me about myself or the world. “I coulda told you that!” Huh? “I coulda told you that you learn about yourself from others.” Holy crap; keep going! “You often see ourselves as others do!”  This guy’s a genius! PUT THIS IN A BOOK! There’s not going to be anything to put in a book if you keep spoiling it like this. That took me six pages to say! (I had to put that in italics so that you’d know I was doing a third voice. And I had to put all this between parentheses so that you’d know it was me, Ben. Hope you can keep up!)

One of my issues with philosophy is how long it takes many philosophers to say what they say.  Example: Thomas Nagel’s What is it Like to be a Bat? In this essay, Nagel talks about how we can study a bat and imagine ourselves as a bat, but we still wouldn’t know what it’s like for a bat to be a bat because the objective study of a thing does not reveal the subjective experience of being that thing. A very accurate description! Unfortunately, in the amount of time it takes Nagel to say all this I could have actually dressed up as a bat, flapped my arms around, eaten some bugs, and then thought, “Something’s gotta be missing because these bugs are gross, my arms are tired, and I haven’t flown an inch!”

I think there’s a good reason for writing philosophy the way that it’s often written, though. This is because I often think of philosophy as horribly, unfunny satire. See, a lot of philosophers try to give as accurate a description of everyday stuff as possible, but they do it in such a way that the everyday appears alien. That’s why so many philosophers write circuitously, use unfamiliar language, make up their own words, or just use traditional words and phrases in untraditional ways. They’re trying to wake you up to the world around you! Luke Wilson wakes up in the future in Idiocracy, but he really wakes up IN THE PRESENT! Philosophy’s a trip! So, if you love rollin’ dubbs, you’ll love Wittgenstein! Just don’t smoke Schopenhauer; he’s a bit of a downer!

“Long words? Telling me stuff I probably already know? These people sound elitist!” I’d say there’s more to elitism than using long words. You’d have to, for example, think you were better than other people because you used long words, sorta like how you think you’re better than elitists for thinking they’re better than you. “OH SHIT!”

Not all philosophers are elitists, of course, but a number of people I’ve come across seem to think that they’re engaged in privileged thinkin’. “I’m wonderin’ bout stuff common folks couldn’t even imagine!” I think of philosophy as just another type of thinkin’, which means that I think philosophers and non-philosophers think about the same stuff. “Like what it would be like if Arnold Schwartzegger was shrunk down to teeny-tiny size and injected into someone’s body like in Inner Space?”  The 1987 action-comedy-adventure, staring Martin Short, Dennis Quaid, and Meg Ryan?! “The Joe Dante picture?” Who? “ME! Directing’s been slow, so I’m taking on roles in third rate puppet shows to supplement my income.” Third rate?!” “Listen: I get paid by the hour, so unless this is going somewhere you better wrap it up!” Right, so, yes, I think about Arnold Schwartzegger being shrunk down to teeny-tiny size. I also think that a philosopher’s no more likely to find the truth or think rigorously than a non-philosopher.

I’m also of the opinion that there’s no necessarily inaccessible knowledge, although some disagree. I’ve had people (more than one!) tell me that there might be biological reasons why I couldn’t know or understand something. “I think they called you retarded,” my friend said. (I had to cite my friend on that one not so you’d know I have friends but because I’m writing a joke research paper. Thanks B.C.!) So if anyone knows something, I think they can explain it to you. And claiming otherwise is just a lie the man made up to keep you down!

When philosophers do explain things they often use analogies, which is fine if you recognize that thought experiments only highlight what’s similar between things rather than what’s the same about them. And when people fail to recognize this, they end up taking seriously something that’s absurd, like wondering if we’re always dreaming. Don’t worry, we’re not, because that’s not what it means to dream! Unfortunately, too often philosophers forget or aren’t aware of obvious stuff like what it means to dream or how we use words. Plenty of people make the same mistakes, but they don’t know they’re making them. As a result, people find ludicrous things to be genius. And that’s why hundreds of years later I end up having to write essays explaining how we use words and why we can’t always be dreaming; or why I find myself in a classroom being told that it’s a strike against a theory if it disallows time travel.

That’s right: in philosophy class, it’s minus points if your plans mean you can’t Quantum Leap into Genghis Khan. I’m pretty sure “no time travel” isn’t a problem anywhere else. “Hey, you wanna hang out?” With dinosaurs and Richelieu?! “No, with me.” Nah, I’m good. “Hey, I’m gonna order a pizza. Want some?” Is it one of those time traveling pizzas? “Is that like a pizza that’s already eaten by the time you get it? Because I’m not paying for an empty box.” Then, no, I don’t want any.

And that brings me to my final (for now) gripe with philosophers: they spend too much time mulling over stuff that cannot be practically applied to everyday living, like whether the world is made out of stuff or ideas. Can you imagine how frustrating it would be to be told you didn’t understand someone’s long, convoluted, and circuitous paper—or book!— on why ideas are more real than stuff could ever be? Euch! And then, to cap it off, the author says that she’s figured out philosophy forevers. So we can rest our heads because the debate over whether stuff or ideas are the real deal is over. We can finally go on living our lives because she’s done all the important thinkin’ for us! No dice says this guy!

That’s right, lady I made up. I saw through your purported shangri-la of heuristics for what it really is–a dreamed up world of rules and regulations that shields you from an indisputable matter of fact:  that you, like me, are the same– just a couple of animals. And, like all animals, you and I will one day die. The real tragedy is not that your behavior alienates the people most likely to help you, but that you’ve been living in a dream for so long that you’ve come to mistake it for waking life. But, you know what? You can put up all the walls you want and stick porcelain or tile wherever you please, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re all squatting when we shit, that we all shit outside, and that everybody dies. Yeah, where’d you think the houses were? They’re outside! And maybe if Gargamel knew this stuff, he’d stop trying to kill the Smurfs (they’re just fun-sized humans!).

That’s what I think of when I think of philosophy: trying to understand the world and what about it makes me laugh. Along the way, I hope to break down walls, bring us all closer together, and be a good person.

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