I had a thought while driving back to the office today after lunch. (My wife and I share one car, so we trade on our lunches.) Philosophers were people, just like you and I. Why are they such a fucking big deal?
“20% of what Philosophers say is true, the other 80% is bullshit,” is what my friend Desmond says, and it’s not a bad maxim to live by, considering the branding that certain philosophers (or authors) exude over the course of their tenure—Grant Morrison is convinced that he was abducted by aliens from the 4th dimension in Kathmandu, an experience which has begotten the best cosmology and world building to date within the DC Universe.
And this really isn’t about philosophers specifically. It’s more of a credibility kind of thing. The words we speak, how they impact people, whether they endure beyond our close circle of friends or disseminate into the ether of pop-culture and beyond. I imagine that, throughout life, the layman and learned alike are told that philosophers and other influencers of culture are these larger than life figures. I’m often guilty of this. See below:
I admit I was angry at first. I mean take the fucking compliment, guy. But on further reflection, this appears to be the case, regardless of the critical distance that is maintained to allow some appreciation of accomplishment. Behind the storyboards, folios, and canvases are just normal, flesh-and-blood people. We know those we love (artistically) aren’t gods because Jack Kirby and Ronnie James Dio are dead. (Though their influences are legion in their respective industries.)
Many work to make a living. Very few get to make art, without feeling like they are “working.” Dante for example was one of the few authors in human history to experience the joy and legacy of his work within his own lifetime. For everyone else that enjoys, possible, posthumous fame, I think this is the case because of nostalgia.
Consider, for a moment, that in Hellenist Greece ideas were weighed with greater contemporary influence than they are in the modern era. There were forums back then specifically for debate and intellectual pursuits, because it was what their culture valued. Today (the "modern" world, which could span from the Renaissance to now) this isn’t the case, and philosophy has been relegated to a niche occupied by idealists, shutins, and professors. Philosophy is valued because of the nostalgia for the era in which those ideas were conceived. This can be the only explanation for why many philosophers never enjoyed their due in life.
After all, death amplifies of appreciation. The sense of loss and catharsis brought on by death naturally magnifies the value of someone’s life work as we, the bereaved, try to come to terms with what has happened. So the issue of critical distance makes sense in this case. We can’t, personally speaking, appreciate what we are offering because of the limit imposed by our own vantage point. When we try to do this, the only foreseeable outcome is looking like a giant piece of shit (a la Kanye West).
So, at least for now, fame shouldn’t get to our heads. Not until there are worms in them, at least.>
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