On Culture vs. Philosophy

When we were children, we used to revel in being free, in feeling wonders for the commonplace, in doing whatever our little hearts wanted. We used to run after butterflies, smell the flowers, or avoid stepping on various worms in the garden near our house. We used to place ladybugs on our hands and yell with excitement when they flew away. We used to enjoy and wonder about the enjoyable wonders of nature. Friendship meant friendship. Sleep was on time. And we were content so long as we were not too hungry, cold or ill. We used to tell the truth, and never rest easy unless our most simple-seeming complicated questions were answered (mommy, where do all human beings come from?)

We were close to nature because being children, we had not been twisted by culture yet.

But soon, culture robbed us from our childlike philosophical curiosities. We were made to feel the fears of getting a bad grade in school, which in turn gave rise to greedy ambitions. The standardization and testing processes removed our attention from seeking knowledge for knowledge’s sake, to a corrupted version of seeking knowledge in order to pass the next required test, all in order to financially make it in this fleeting, ephemeral world.

Preoccupied with finance and culture, we no longer paid attention to the praying trees, the flowing waters, the ever-changing sky, the shining moon, the sounds of birds and such other wonders, or the origins of these wonders. We simply shut out the meaning of life from our thought process and instead installed an ersatz version that vaguely resembles thinking, if even that.

In such state of affairs, now some or ever-increasing majority of people ridicule those who attempt poetry and fiction, imagine philosophers to be complicated people who do not offer any practical value to society, label knowledge-seekers as nerds and geeks, and the love of knowledge and search for answers has been replaced by graduation, scores, and short-cut hunting; Europe doesn’t produce new Leibnitzes and Goethes, China doesn’t produce new Zhuangzis and Hongyingmings, and my native Persia now seems unable to produce even one philosopher/poet like Saadi or Rumi. Instead, going to school is “what you do” when you are no longer a toddler, and going to find a job is “what you do” as the next logical step after school.

As knowledge is being abandoned, a higher value weight is being given to “happiness”. We have experts on happiness and books that teach you how to be happy in 34 simple steps, which offsets your pocket for 19.95$ (just a meal, get it?) so why are you still waiting? And when gimmicks fail, the utmost in happiness is seen as attaining as many goods and worldly accolades, which is glorified in movies, magazines and games. From the philosophical “virtue” we are now led to the cultural “happiness” and call it “progress”.

So we increasingly focus on what we should not, and unfortunately neglect what we must not. We talk more about people and things, but less about ideas, thoughts, and opinions. When we drink water, we no longer reflect how pure, clean, life saving and wonderful it is; instead, our stomachs and kidneys are brutalized by the varieties of soft drinks that pump caffeine and sugar into our already wretched veins, which doesn’t even alarm us. We no longer write essays, and most people never read beyond graduation. And when we do write, it is not for recording noble and intellectual discoveries and thoughts, but for “deconstruction”, mindless and apish parroting of the fallacy of evolution, Freudian fantasies and other pseudo-scientific dogma, Op-Eds, gossip columns, alarmist reviews, advertising jingles and so on.

Culturally prominent figures are upgraded to the status of scientific and philosophical prestige, others are moved aside and dismissed, and still others’ works are selectively used for their cultural elements only. For instance, Freud’s introduction and ubiquity in cultural spheres makes people think his psychology is valid, while in reality he himself was a neurotic who based his “theories” loosely on his own thoughts.

In schools too, culture casts its sinister shadow: philosophy is taught as a specific subject—open to choice—though it must not be so because philosophy is the mother of all knowledge and should be compulsory at the right age. And even when culture allows philosophy a breathing chance to be taught, the teaching is done in a way that is absolutely counter-philosophy: Plato and Aristotle are given more weight and importance than the rightly deserving Descartes and Leibnitz, while nobody is criticizing Eric Fromm and the Frankfurt school, who like bad swimmers made a few meaningless, nostalgic and splashy noises about theories that did not seem promising even at their original inception.

Translations of philosophical works from the East fare no better, either. For a Persian instance, readers are often mislead (by Fitzgerald and the like) into believing that Rumi’s referrals to “Love” concerns a romantic, interpersonal love that is supposed to break one’s heart and fail often—as glorified in culture—whilst in reality, Rumi’s Love is the philosophical, higher love and yearning for God, the kind that is a connotation of worship, obeisance and selflessness to the One God. Other Persian philosophical poets like Hafiz Sherazi, Attar Neshapuri, Ferdowsi Tusi, Nezami Ganjavi, Sanayee Ghaznavi, Sa’adi Sherazi have also been misinterpreted and mistranslated in a similar manner by Orientalist quacks.

“But philosophy is a proper subset of culture!” some may protest. Yet on the contrary philosophy is not an element within culture, but its nemesis. Where culture is born philosophy is left out. Culture is subjective, philosophy is objective—if rightly conducted. Culture is the easy path, philosophy the more difficult one. Culture can be imitated, out of date, or subversive; philosophy is to be learned, timeless, and remedial for our souls.

Philosophy is and has always been strong, but its powers are not utilized unless we, the users, repress culture and welcome philosophy more openly. Yet instead we are accepting status quo where we shouldn’t, and frantically want to change what we shouldn’t. We are no longer asking new questions but merely debate old answers to old questions. We are still stuck in the past and confused about the present, while the future is threatening us with its layers of uncertainty. We are producing more cultural icons than philosophers, and our unphilosophical ways of life are already beginning to threaten our mental health, social fabric, and virtue levels.

Isn’t this worrisome to say the least?

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