“The philosopher’s treatment of a question is like the treatment of an illness.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein
Last weekend I proposed that three well-known modern philosophers hold a key to great discoveries that can help cure a horrific disease that currently plagues our planet. The three philosophers are Ludwig Wittgenstein, William James and Carl Jung, and the illness they can help address is the one whimsically illustrated in the image above: our deeply ingrained militarism.
Of course I know this illustration is kitschy and ridiculous, which is exactly why I’m using it. I’m hoping it will bring a smile, because arguments about militarism and pacifism tend to be dreadfully serious and often angry, which then discourages and dissuades us from discussing the problem at all. This blocks us from directly addressing a surreal malady, a curable condition that rages freely around us, spreading misery, destroying lives and resources, stoking the fires of racism and ethnic hatred, empowering genocidal maniacs, preventing friendly open commerce and discourse around the world.
If we intend to fight the plague of militarism, we must do it with a loving smile, and without hatred or judgement. World peace is both possible and probable, but we’ll never achieve it by treating deeply committed militarists and guerrophiles as our enemy. Instead, we must cure militarism and guerrophilia as if it were a disease. Ludwig Wittgenstein, William James and Carl Jung are the three doctors (mad scientists, perhaps, but it’s a madness we need to embrace) whose fresh and wonderful philosophical writings can guide us towards this goal.
Some people were confused by my blog post about Wittgenstein, James and Jung, last weekend, since I was declaring that these three thinkers can help us embrace pacifism, and yet none of the quotes I provided to explain the three were related to pacifism at all. This was not a mistake. As we proceed with this project, I must make clear that our focus is not to study Wittgenstein’s, James’s and Jung’s writings about pacifism, since those writings range from sparse to nonexistent. Instead, our focus is to understand and synthesize a comprehensive world view that arises from a general understanding of the complete careers of these great thinkers. Once we do, a clear, consistent and powerful set of arguments for pacifism will fall into place.
I plan to continue to buttress this point in the next few Philosophy Weekend posts, and I expect to spend next weekend specifically focusing on the mysterious career of Ludwig Wittgenstein, who is probably the most puzzling or mystifying of the three.
I am gratified that many Litkicks readers seem to be following my crooked and occasionally obscure path in this new endeavor, and I promise to keep working as hard as I can to make this series of Philosophy Weekend posts as comprehensible as I can. Towards this goal, here are a few points I’d like to clear up about the overall project we are now beginning, a project that is now in its second week and will go on for several more. If further clarification is needed on any aspect of the ideas I’m presenting, please post a comment and (as always) I will do my best to respond.
So, here are the points I’d like to clarify — and then we’ll dive into Wittgenstein next weekend.
1. These ideas are for everybody. Expertise in philosophy is not required.
It’s a shame that so many people think of philosophy as a difficult academic discipline, and are thus discouraged from attempting to discuss the ideas of great philosophers for fear that they’ll be “corrected” by somebody with greater knowledge, or that they’ll be shamed for not reading enough of the complete original source texts to earn the right to speak. Dear friends: philosophy is the study of truth, and truth belongs to us all. A person with a doctorate in philosophy is no more qualified to think deeply than a person without. We all need philosophy, and the idea that correct understanding of mankind’s greatest ideas is out of the grasp of most normal people is cruelly misguided. You don’t need a biology degree to understand Charles Darwin, nor do you need to read the original texts of The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. Likewise, you don’t actually need to read Tractacus Logico-Philosophicus to speak about Wittgenstein (I suspect this will come as a relief to many). You may be able to gain an understanding of his basic ideas by spending 20 minutes reading about his work. Please don’t ever be afraid to speak about your own philosophical opinions, and please don’t ever be intimidated by others who claim greater expertise.
2. Pacifism is a goal-oriented activity.
Nothing makes me more frustrated than the misconception that pacifists like me speak because we enjoy the sounds of our voices. And I am continually amazed to discover how many smart people — including most of my closest friends, relatives and co-workers — truly believe that pacifism is a doomed failure, and that it is the fate of mankind to cower under the foolish and destructive leadership of militarized clowns and profiteers and rapists forever. This scourge of humanity sure has great staying power, but its time now must end, and will end.
It must end because of the fast pace of technological change in the art of warfare, which advances with each generation and makes every future war infinitely more frightening than even the massive holocausts of the 20th Century. Many people understand that we need to discover peace in order to bestow a livable world upon our children and children’s children. Does peace seem impossible? Well, sudden positive changes have occurred just in the past couple of years in the country where I live. Four years ago, few people would have guessed how quickly Americans would embrace both gay marriage and marijuana legalization. Somehow, almost miraculously, a sudden public epiphany occurred, and change came about more quickly than anyone could have reasonably expected. Of course, gay marriage and marijuana legalization are minor issues compared to the horror of global war — however, the process of sudden epiphany is the same. Just as these waves of understanding suddenly swept our society, we can hope and reasonably expect that an even greater wave of understanding will soon sweep our entire planet regarding the true nature of militarism and war. Stop being a pessimist and get on the bandwagon!
3. Change will not be easy.
Change will come, but it will not be easy. As mentioned here above, militarism and guerrophilia are deeply ingrained into our brains. We have lived through a century of vivid, terrifying war, and this has left grave impressions within our imaginations. Traumatic fears and hateful associations block our neural pathways, and sometimes make advanced philosophical thinking itself impossible. We many need to take strong doses of Wittgenstein, James and Jung for a while before we start to see any improvement at all! We will need a lot of patience, and the road ahead will be very tough.
I hope these points help to clarify where we are going with this endeavor. Next weekend: we dive into Wittgenstein.