How philosophy became the casualty of modern economics, politics, and science — and what we can do about it
As a small child, I sang loudly to the birds on the back deck, asked my parents existential questions, spent time lucid dreaming, and followed an intelligence that defied everything I was later taught. Many of us did.
Somewhere along the way, I became domesticated. I was told what to think and how to act. I believed this was for my own good.
By my mid-twenties, I was living in a black and white world and the only way out was to go beyond my rational programming.
We fall into this trap with our systems too.
We’re linear blinded.
We look to dollars, GDP, hours, the number of jobs created, and consumption patterns to dictate success. This impacts us in many ways we can’t see and nor do we feel because we’ve become the products of ‘production.’
We incentivize profit, efficiency, and growth — essentially numbers over humans, community, and our planet.
The whole is not considered. Not the earth. Not the body. Not the human. Not the ocean. Not wellness. Not life.
The agency of thought.
We seem to have forgotten that philosophical questioning is a necessary to discuss thought, reason, and beliefs as a whole, not as separate and divisive vectors.
As a result, the answers are somewhere out there. We’ve neglected to tap into our innate wisdom and to organize around collective thought.
Instead, we’ve built political and economic empires, educational institutions that reinforce our patterns of work, and the ‘American Dream’ as a means of organizing carrot and stick labor. How can you question the meaning of life, for example, when your livelihood depends on an unwavering sense of duty?
Not surprising then — political philosophers have all but disappeared.
Who would feed or house the Aristotle or Plato of our current age? Who would listen to them? How would they survive?
The rise of rationality.
While science has had a decidedly positive effect on society at large — we’ve thrown the philosophical baby out with the bathwater.
“Only when they must choose between competing theories do scientists behave like philosophers.”
Science seems to have replaced open questioning. Answers — and more pointedly, numbers have become valued than the raw process of thinking through, feeling, and intuiting the question.
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
— Albert Einstein
Humans are not machines.
Humans have a consciousness which exceeds our greatest capacity to understand.
And in the age of modern technology, we need to ask better questions.
Now, instead of asking what it means to be human — we’re asking how we can best attach ourselves to the machine of capital.
And the machine of capital is on the verge of replacing humans. We’re essentially calculating ourselves out of the equation.
How does the machine age reflect our greatest potential?
As Henry David Thoreau said, “Let your life be the counter-friction to stop the machine.”
And in Civil Disobedience, he talked about three ways of serving the state — through the body, mind, and conscience.
How many of us can honestly say that we spend time using our body as a political activation tool, our minds further than social media commentary, or our conscience beyond our spending choices?
How can we reawaken meaningful dialogue?
We’ve lost meaningful dialogue, which includes not just what we think and can physically prove, but also what we feel is right.
Our heart intelligence is a casualty of profit-at-any-cost, linear focused frameworks.
This linear dogma represents the separation of the material and the ethereal, of church and state, and of philosophy and politics.
Philosophy naturally questions ones role in the universe — leading to spiritual curiosity and often, answers that don’t adhere to present law or status quo politics.
Searching for the truth from within oneself is very different than looking to the state to provide answers.
Perhaps, we have understandable fear around sharing our beliefs.
Questioning reality can be deadly.
We can look back to the time of Socrates in Athens. He questioned everything from political process to religion — leading to his imprisonment and eventual death. And while there is a common notion that religious beliefs are the number one cause of war, less than 2% of all wartime death is due to religious disagreement.
And yet, there seems to be palpable angst when the subject of meaning arises.
If we could discuss our collective values — we could map not just an economic plan for prosperity, but also one of a shared conscience.
Would decision making based on ethics be detrimental to our growth centric economy?
If popular thought were to include our knowingness as much as what is known, what would government and political process look like?
What would your life look like?
Meaningful discussion is central to freedom.
Without meaningful discussion, our values are focused on output and monetary units, which are not necessarily reflective of what generates wellness or creates sustained wealth. Numbers often hide spillover costs, human causality and exploitation — they don’t take into account the whole.
Efficiency isn’t evil on its own, but if we don’t program efficiency with a conscience, we’ll create economies based on faster, scaled operations without considering people or our planet.
“Nothing threatens a corrupt system more than a free mind.”
― Suzy Kassem
What can we do?
Find other people who are willing to ask these questions and ask them together — no amount of reading can replace meaningful dialogue.
This can start with meaningful acts of civil disobedience.
- Read and learn from philosophers of times past.
- Hang out in a neighborhood that makes you feel uncomfortable. Talk to people. Confront your assumptions.
- Go beyond what’s logical, rational, or otherwise socially accepted — find a way to integrate the the many ways of knowing.
- Immerse yourself in novelty. Test, experiment, and play with life in a way that questions your beliefs.
- Start a philosophical discussion group or community meeting center. Or join an existing one. For example, there’s a Socrates Cafe, which happens nationally. You can also listen to Philosophy Talk podcast as a starting point.
- Tap into your heart. Listen for the voice that can scarcely be heard. Channel that voice into action.