Email to a friend

A friend of mine wrote to me to protest some provocative points from yesterday’s post. The email arrived just as I finished removing precisely those sentences he found objectionable. This is a slightly edited version of my reply:

What’s funny is that I’d just pulled down those parts of my post just as your email arrived because I didn’t want you to read them and to construe them as disrespectful.

What I did here is an unfortunate tendency of mine (which I need to do a better job of tempering if I want to be taken seriously) is to overstate my positions to (over)compensate against unexamined cultural prejudices.

I do believe there is a deep prejudice in our culture to prize whatever originates out of individual genius, and to denigrate what is acquired through conscious learning or unconscious absorption. People are proud of being born with a particular vision of life that has remained with them continuously over the course of their life. More significantly they seem to know that if they voice their pride the culture will affirm it.

Conversely, if a person speaks of constant, deep change, of being influenced again and again, of attempting to reconcile himself with traditions that he admits had a lot to do with his intellectual character (what Gadamer called the appropriation of one’s tradition), that’s not admired. Further, if someone is able to show that an idea you’ve presented is derivative or identical to the thought of another that is not viewed as support for the truth of your insight, but rather almost as a rebuke. At the very least originality points are docked and no other kind of point is awarded.

This kind of value criteria makes listening and learning from those we regard our equals a threat to our individuality, or the purity of our own philosophical accomplishment, or a humiliation. The humiliation of learning deeply from someone with a transcendent view (as opposed to being outfitted with new facts that fit squarely in our existing view) is what is being referred to in the colloquial saying “getting schooled.”

What is shitty about this view and why I am constantly attacking it is that this attitude precludes friendship as I know it and desire it. Dialogue is conversation between friends that leads to common understanding – Gadamer’s “fusion of horizons”, Aristotle’s synesis – and if that common understanding is a philosophical one that common understanding will transcend the earlier vision, and change the participants in the dialogue so deeply that the world itself is transfigured.

My personal pain in a nutshell: Most of the self-consciously spiritual or philosophical people I’ve known appear to me to be too proud to be deeply transformed by a friend, which means they are too proud to be friends at all.

I’ve taken the opposite view and demonstrate and articulate my ideal of non-originality at every opportunity. I am proud to allow an Other to change me and my world. In fact, I rank friendships by how different my world has become as a consequence of the relationship. I am proud of my ability to incorporate other people’s insights, both in my own philosophy but also in my work, to involve and include them. I want all people I love to see themselves in who I’ve become, the thoughts I think, the things I make. I am covered in signature’s signatures. I want to be derivative, unoriginal, common property. I’ve told people at work that I and all my thoughts are public domain: to take whatever they want from me and to not feel obligated to credit me, because anything I have has been stolen.

I have it in for individual originality, individual genius, all that. It is destructive. It has had inflicted real damage to my life. It is what I hate.

Here’s a crucial point: I have yet to see a single soul who subscribes to this common view of things demonstrate the slightest awareness that their whole ideal of individual genius is open to question. They’ve apparently never considered an alternative to it. They seem to be thoroughly blind to any alternative. Or they’ll do that old trick of acknowledging it, in order to keep the concept away from them. It might be real, but it is not involvingly real – not existentially real – and for something whose reality is intrinsically one of involvement mere acknowledgment is tantamount to nullification.

And I hope you also understand that I used to buy into that ideal of individual originality. I don’t do badly under it at all. I generate a lot of what appears to be original concepts. However, the less I buy into the ideal and allow myself to be influenced the more original I appear. I’ve also seen friends grow sterile out of fear of sharing parentage of an insight. (“It has to be ‘mine’ or I don’t want it.” at least in regard to their peers.) They end up just flitting about ostentatiously, trying to appear original while producing nothing original, doing whatever it takes to convince those around them to affirm their autonomy and independence, never noticing that their practice belies their ideal.

I am completely open to the possibility that I am wrong about these matters of philosophical progress (toward the social). If I am wrong, it follows from my own view on these matters that I have to consider – actually more than consider – I have to expect that it’s a wrongness coming from an angle I can’t even anticipate, and would be incredibly unlikely to pursue without some kind of circumstantial pressure. In other words if I am wrong about you it is because I will have to practically transcend my current vision to even see the inadequacy of my vision and know how your vision resolves that inadequacy.

Of course, my kind of pressure does tend to be intersubjective. Intersubjective pain tends to be what turns my attention to questions I once preferred to set aside as “not clean” and to exclude from concern as self-evidently separate and irrelevant. However, if you are sensitive to other kinds of being/realities that go deeper than the intersubjective ones I have been pursuing, that makes them intersubjectively relevant to me anyway since you are my friend.

What we need to do next is discuss how we can discuss this. I am not open to starting with any theory of temperament that encourages “myth of the framework” thinking. If we try to base the discussion on personal inward experiences without any external reference we won’t get anywhere. I’m not denying the reality of temperament or deeply personal experience – only their usefulness in resolving our differences in a synthesis that does justice to both our views but transcends them. (This is very similar to the better objections to creationism. The point is  not that creationism is false, it is simply that creationism is not scientifically discussable.)

One thought on “Email to a friend

  1. Hi Your blog is very inspirative for me.
    Can You please give me access to Yor protected blog?
    English is not my natural language. Some of your article I read with Google translator and nevertheless are very interesant.
    Yours faithfully

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