I’ve written before about my beef with western philosophy.
I’m not a fan, for one simple reason:
I’ve yet to find one that offers a path to, or decent explanation of, the process of finding and holding more joy in your life.
I’ve read thousands of pages of philosophy, in college and in later years, trying to cobble together a solid worldview.
Almost all of it has left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Every time I read philosophy, I come away thinking:
But what about those of us who, you know, like being alive, and don’t want to live out our lives as overly argumentative pricks?
The Western philosophy that I’ve encountered is a long-running rant on the theme that life is pain, which then offers an egocentric series of strategies for dealing with that pain.
It doesn’t seem to work. We can’t reason our way to happiness, because the world we’ve built is unreasonable. If we were logical beings, we’d have built a logical world!
Let’s face it, western life drives people nuts. Western life has given us The Spanish Inquisition, The Salem Witch Trials, communist witchhunts under Joseph McCarthy, a “golden age of hijacking”, and most recently, an epidemic of mass shootings.
People have been going crazy and committing acts of violence since we started this big societal experiment, and the people we trust to critique this nightmare are a bunch of dudes who just sat around thinking?
“The philosophers, though, are the real culprits- the brooding white guys from Europe. They tended to wear all black, smoke too much, and had trouble getting dates. So they hung out, alone, in cafes, pondered the universe, and- surprise!- concluded that it is an unhappy place… The happy people of, say, eighteenth-century Heidelburg were busy being happy, not writing long, rambling diatribes intended to torture some not-yet-born college student in Bloomington who needs to pass Philosophy 101 in order to graduate.”
-Eric Weiner, The Geography of Bliss
That’s the crux of it, isn’t it? The happy people of history weren’t thinking and writing down how to be happy, they were busy being happy! They were doing things (something very much out of style in today’s world).
So rather than solid advice on happiness, Western Philosophy gave us miserable misers ranting about misery, and we batched it together and called it “philosophy.”
And now we refer to this collection of ranty misery written by pale, sedentary nutcases for advice on how to live. WHAT?!
Who in your life would you tolerate that behavior from? If you asked your therapist what their qualifications were and they said “well, I think a lot,” would you continue going to them? If you saw a guy sitting outside Starbucks every day for a month, furiously scribbling things in a notebook, would you go up to him and say “tell me about life, please?”
No matter what brilliant, logical argument these pasty dudes continue to cook up, it will never be enough to create a happy life.
We need to read the doers. The people of action. They’re the ones with things worth hearing.
Here is a list, in no particular order, of the people that I believe should be read/listened to before even starting on western philosophy:
Your local museum curator
The above people have carved out an understanding of the world through action, not through logic and reason. I can recommend a book written by any of these people other than your Grandparents, and I guarantee that you’ll get more from it than you’ll get from reading Thus Spake Zarathustra.
Let me tell you, as someone who overthought everything for almost twenty years of life, logic and reason are tremendously overrated.
I have a radical proposal:
Don’t read any more philosophy. Go do stuff. Challenging stuff. Play chess. Learn to do a handstand. Learn to fly a plane and then use said plane to steal money from a casino.
Once you come back from the edge of awareness, see if the writing of a black-clad chain-smoking Russian still makes any sense to you.
I’m willing to bet you won’t need it anymore.
Listen to the doers. Then go do. The rest? It’s all talk.