The Dildofication of Philosophy
I frequented the philosophy section of a big box bookstore when I was a philosophy student at university. It was the first section I always went to, and as soon as I entered the store, I would bee-line it there.
The big box had a more exciting selection than the universities bookstore. Whoever was responsible for the philosophy section knew what they were doing. They did not insist on having books only written by philosophers approved by academia. They had books by deep thinkers that were hard to place in any category in a bookstore.
Just by browsing that section, I was introduced to many exciting thinkers that transformed how I see the world. I discovered Derrick Jensen through A Language Older Than Words and Ken Wilber through A Brief History of Everything. The section remained solid for years, allowing me to find new thinkers, such as my favorite living philosopher, Byung-Chul Han, through The Agony of Eros.
All these philosophers are confronting, not comforting. They turn your world upside down with words. They engender what economist Robin Hanson calls “viewquakes,” views that change how you see the world forever. The experience of reading them was an adventure, not pleasurable. Reading philosophy should not be a pleasurable experience.
I recently returned to this bookstore's philosophy section, which had quite a different character. It was gutted, with half the section gone. On closely examining the books there, most were not even philosophy. They were wellness-sounding or 101 books on Stoicism. What happened? Where did all the exciting thinkers go?
They did not even have books from the big names of philosophy: Plato, Hegel, and Nietzsche. I thought this absence was surely a mistake. I looked at the bookshelf beside the philosophy section to see if the books were misplaced. There were no philosophy books there. There were a few interesting things, though: dildos.
By investigating further, I discovered the colorful “smile makers” were apparently vibrators, with some classified as “internal vibrators.” They all had exciting names: The Firefighter, The French Lover, and The Billionaire. I read the sales pitch: “Your very first vibe, another clit sucker for your collection, or sex toy bundles you can both get buzzed about.”
I started thinking about the changes in societal norms; “clit suckers” would not be openly hanging out like this back when I was in university. I guess this is normal now. I did not check but could only assume Fleshlights were beside the poetry section. Writing about changing societal norms does not interest me; I’ll leave that to the culture warriors to debate. Besides, sex toys have utility, namely, pleasure.
I looked back at the barren philosophy section, then again at the smile makers, then back to the philosophy section. I honed in on a Ryan Holiday book, then at The Poet, a "clitoral suction toy." It dawned on me: philosophy has become dildofied. The books passed off as philosophy were for pleasure. They were not dangerous or beautiful. They were safe and effective.
I missed the old philosophy section. I missed the days when philosophy felt like an adventure. I found myself staring at The Poet, with no outrage, only Stoic dissatisfaction. Its tagline reads: “The Poet sucks. Like, really sucks.” I am sure it does.
On the other side of the paywall, there will be Zoom links to the Collective Journalling session every weekday at 8 AM ET and to the Collective Inquiry session on Monday at 6 PM ET about the “alivelihood question.”
Collective Journalling is a communal practice that started in May 2021 during Rebel Wisdom’s Becoming a Live Player course, continued to live on at The Stoa, and will now live with Less Foolish. The sessions happen via Zoom and are 90 mins, with check-ins in chat at the beginning and an opportunity to connect with fellow journalers in breakout rooms at the end. The session concludes with sharing a passage in the chat. Most of the time is spent in silence together, individually inquiring about what matters most. A beautiful group of people has formed around this practice.
Collective Inquiry is a communal practice that emerged out of my philosophy practice. The inquiries in my practice were often beautiful and surprise-filled, leading to insights for my inquiry partner and me. I want to make these inquiries have a collective essence so many can enjoy them. I have tried different group inquiry practices, with therapeutic or spiritual framings, but I am left dissatisfied with what I have experienced. I want us to create something new and experiment with different ways to “live the questions” together.
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