You find your way through life; you use the tools you recognise you have, and retrospectively kick yourself for not using the rest. You stumble-run through your defining moments. Sometimes you’ll be prepared, other times you won’t. In both cases you could end up failing or succeeding fantastically. You define your goals and their metrics, even if you unwittingly take them from someone else. It’s a dreary and mundane tragedy when someone spends their whole life never realising they get to decide these goals for themselves.
You come to the places you’ve worked towards, or you don’t – both scenarios are scary; but I’ve learned that the mountains that terrify you today will become everyday and ordinary as you learn to walk their passes. When they do, you’ve reached the end of that line and you need to move on. You might realise the line is a circle and every end is a beginning. You will contextualise your new beginning with the experiences of every cycle that came before. If you leave the obstacles unattended, you’ll keep struggling over them, until either you address them, or you die. Humanity perpetually hobbles over unattended grief and trauma.
Some versions of reincarnation follow similar principles, where each life is a learning experience, and one circle in an ever-expanding set of concentric ones.
Jumping from dealing with trauma to reincarnation is something humanity’s extremely good at – taking one idea and appropriating its pattern to something seemingly unrelated. We’re fantastic at seeing patterns and possibility in our environment, identifying gaps and then turning trees into hunting tools, boats and books. We take practical problems and organise their logistics by asking ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘where’, and ‘when’. And on occasion, rarely, we ask ‘why’. Science gives detailed answers to the first four questions; but its answer to ‘why’, is usually implicit, or less than a sentence. Innovation wants results over rhetoric, and its results are unarguably fantastic.
The people who look closer at the ‘why, and find it at least as interesting as the other questions are our philosophers, and they are awful at PR. Everyone should recognise the importance of philosophy and critical thinking, but it’s often dismissed as unnecessary rather than as the threads interlocking with history to put us where we are.
Not everyone has a natural curiosity, and not many who don’t have the discipline to delve further. Existence challenges us with massive, and pragmatically relevant philosophical questions, and society answers with shallow, lazy, uninterested philosophy or with a once-fantastic philosophy which has stagnated and become rank milk while the world changed.
We apply philosophy in everything we do, and we do it poorly. Politics, religion, war, morality, and family units, among a near infinite list, are philosophy in action. But every day, we listen to demagogues and ideological echo chambers, and we don’t question them. We hear the dissenting voices and might be swayed, but we’re not taught the skill of considering what we hear objectively.
So society asks ‘what will you do with philosophy?’, and the two answers ought to be ‘what will philosophy do with me?’ and ‘change the fucking world.’ History cycles, the Cold War is heating up again, and we have more nuclear bombs than common sense. Somewhere between the Greeks and the dark ages we stopped expecting everyone to think before having an opinion, and our memories are too short to remember that Polio used to kill or cripple people and that we were a button press away from Armageddon, only thirty years ago. We need to ask why. More than any point in history we need to ask why? If we don’t, we relinquish our destiny in the stars and bathe in fire. We turn a bright future into a species-wide murder-suicide.