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The Fool at the Root of All Evil
I have an eclectic bookshelf. There are many thematic sections within it, and these are broad ones I can see: philosophy, sociology, cultural anthropology, spirituality, politics (left and right), interpersonal skills, graphic novels, self-help, and my personal favorite, fringe self-published books. I enjoy intellectual variety. A part of me wishes there was greater consistency in my readings, as I would have gained expertise in a topic by now if there had been. This wish gets disabused when a quote from Heraclitus comes to mind:
"Those who love wisdom must investigate many things."
However, when reflecting on this quote, Zizek's counter follows:
"Wisdom is the most disgusting thing you can imagine. Wisdom is the most conformist thing you can imagine. Whatever you do, a wise man will come and justify it."
I sense that taking multiple perspectives without collapsing on any of them is needed for wisdom to emerge. My sense corresponds to the model proposed by "The Toronto Wisdom Task Force," a group of psychologists studying wisdom. They cohered on "perspectival meta-cognition" as their model for wisdom. This model includes taking multiple perspectives and balancing viewpoints.
You can get so good at this that you can become untriggerable. On the surface, you can seem wishy-washy, agreeing with anything and everything. In culture war skirmishes, you’ll be accused of engaging in “bothsidesism,” presenting both sides of a debate as equal when both sides of the argument equally do not think that is the case. To be more accurate, lovers of wisdom are engaging in “allsidesism,” as issues of cultural significance rarely have two sides.
My experience of being intimately considerate of all sides, and experiencing an extreme amount of philosophical diversity, especially when the axiomatic premises are so different, has made me feel like I was going insane. This insanity can be seen as a rite of passage, as post-insanity awaited me, or what psychiatrist Neel Burton calls "hypersane":
Many ‘normal’ people suffer from not being hypersane: they have a restricted worldview, confused priorities, and are wracked by stress, anxiety and self-deception. As a result, they sometimes do dangerous things, and become fanatics or fascists or otherwise destructive (or not constructive) people. In contrast, hypersane people are calm, contained and constructive. It is not just that the ‘sane’ are irrational but that they lack scope and range, as though they’ve grown into the prisoners of their arbitrary lives, locked up in their own dark and narrow subjectivity. Unable to take leave of their selves, they hardly look around them, barely see beauty and possibility, rarely contemplate the bigger picture – and all, ultimately, for fear of losing their selves, of breaking down, of going mad, using one form of extreme subjectivity to defend against another, as life – mysterious, magical life – slips through their fingers.
If I adopt this self-congratulatory term to describe myself, I would like to disabuse any sense of it being glamorous, as being hypersane feels like being a fool. As the Zizek quote conveyed, you can settle into many worldviews, not take any sides, keep your options radically open, and passively do nothing while the world burns.
In tarot, The Fool card is numbered 0, the first card in the deck, or sometimes it is numbered as the last card. The Fool is pictured walking toward the edge of a cliff, looking upwards as if guided by something beyond his five senses. He carries a light knapsack, as he has let go of most things. With an understanding of unlimited potential, he is about to leap into the unknown without knowing the reason for his journey.
The opposite of wisdom, foolishness, is what gives wisdom a chance. To be a fool is like a reset button for one's life path; knowing that the cliff of unlimited potential is never far away frees you from whatever perspective is imprisoning you. It is wise to be a fool sometimes but not to stay one.
Having the air of freedom brush against your face, with no responsibilities, and being guided by a sixth sense is intoxicating. It does get tiresome and carries a unique sense of stuckness. I do miss the certainty of normalcy. Despite all my wisdom signalling, my dirty secret is that I long to be a normie. I do glamorize philosophy in these journals. However, at this point, I only philosophize to escape my need to philosophize.
Each thematic section of my bookshelf has its own personality and wants, and they demand something from me. I am in a relationship with each one, and they are like "subpersonalities" in my psyche. I get along with them all well enough. It's an odd relationship because I am also friends with their sworn enemies, who just so happen to be sitting on a different row on the same bookshelf.
I'll describe two subpersonalities that do not get along. I'll call one the "Anticapitalist" and the other the "Shameless Hustler." I read a lot of anti-capitalist literature in university, from Crimethinc to Tiqqun. When I first entered the workforce, I went through a phase where I only read books on financial independence and cultivating a wealth mindset.
I picked out representative books for each subpersonality, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? by Mark Fischer and How to Get Rich: One of the World's Greatest Entrepreneurs Shares His Secrets by Felix Dennis.
Here are passages from each:
...[Kurt] Cobain found himself in ‘a world in which stylish innovation is no longer possible, [where] all that is left is to imitate dead styles, to speak through the masks and with the voices of the styles in the imaginary museum’. Here, even success meant failure since to succeed would only mean that you were the new meat on which the system could feed.
In another passage, Fisher referred to capitalism as “an abstract parasite, an insatiable vampire and zombie maker.” Kurt Cobain, someone I admired when I was younger, existentially rebelled against the system that brought him success. My favorite TV show of all time, Six Feet Under, expressed my feelings about Cobain killing himself: “he was just too pure for this world.”
Mark Fisher also killed himself. Believing one lives in an inescapable vampiric and zombifying system is dispiriting, surely amplifying any depressive tendencies one has. The Anticapitalist ethos is quite the contrast from the Shameless Hustler disposition, expressed poetically by Felix Dennis:
You are a wild pig rooting for truffles. You are a weasel about to rip the throat out of a rabbit. You are an entrepreneur. You are going to be rich, and you don’t much care, within the law, how you are going to do it.
There is no guilt in his words. I get no sense that he feels morally compromised. Like Cobain and Fischer, his philosophy led to his actions. Both books by Fischer and Dennis are great, and they influenced me greatly, imprinting themselves on my psyche. Like my many other subpersonalities at odds with one another, I still need to reconcile these two.
I like the Anticapitalist because he has a rebellious righteousness. There is a "fuck you" quality, giving the middle finger to the system corrupting him. I also like the Shameless Hustler, as his shamelessness feels freeing, and while his goal is complex to achieve, his target is simple. Getting "fuck you money" is a more straightforward objective than saying "fuck you" to capitalism while trying to replace capitalism with an imagined alternative, which, as Fischer argues, is impossible to imagine.
I only partially embodied these subpersonalities. When I was younger, I hung out with anarchist friends and considered protesting at Occupy Toronto, but I never went. I experienced the whole scene as impotent, with unexamined resentment. I never fully embraced the entrepreneurial life either - the kind where you explicitly chase after money - as consciously pursuing money always felt evil. The following cliche still feels true: the love of money is the root of all evil. I inherited this belief from my middle-class Christian upbringing, and my youthful anticapitalist leanings gave argumentation to it.
It might be foolish to do this, but I do not want to pick a side between these two subpersonalities. I want to present them side-by-side and honor how much I like them. I also want to acknowledge that something feels off about them. They see me writing this now, and I can feel them wanting to shame me, pressure me to agree with them, and come to their side.
I cannot, though, and they know this. Instead, I will feel the bidirectional attraction, revulsion, and pressure. I will stay with the unpleasant tension in my body right now, foolishly in front of you. It feels alchemic doing this.
I was an employee for most of my adult life, a salaryman, working for others. For the last three years, I have been operating in the "gift economy," or "the spirit of the gift economy," because I do not really know how to work in a gift economy. My gift was The Stoa. I started The Stoa at the start of a pandemic. It did not feel right to charge money then. My philosophical practice was also in the spirit of the gift economy because I was striving to be a friend of virtue, and virtuous friends do not charge money to spend time with one another. I did dabble with some paid courses, but never full-heartedly.
I have concluded that I reached the limit of my gift economy approach, and something new is needed. I will support the beautiful life Camille and I are called to have and eventually open a philosophical coffee shop. To do these things, I must engage in the market economy, become an entrepreneur, and go to the root of all evil, directly contending with Mammon. I want to do this without becoming corrupt.
Being a "philosopher-entrepreneur" might help avoid corruption. Hopefully, loving wisdom before pursuing money will give me spiritual protection. I have been meaning to turn on paid subscribers on this Substack for a while. I intend to use this newsletter to philosophize about getting into the right relationship with Mammon while engaging in entrepreneurial ventures, starting with this one.
As I wrote in my first entry over three years ago, "I created this ta eis heauton account so that I could write to myself regularly. To keep myself as close to the truth as I can." I feel like it's time to return to the truthful rawness and put myself back at the "knife's edge."
I have been reading "best practices" from Substack on how to announce paid subscribers. Here are some they recommend:
Be very clear on your value proposition.
Hype the shit out of your announcement.
Get into a publication rhythm, e.g., post once a week.
Following best practices usually feel untruthful, hence creatively stifling. In truth, I want to write and experiment, be paid for it, and not feel like I have to fundamentally change who I am to make money. I want to be me: a fool bored of being foolish and called to be less so, one word at a time.
So, here is my promise to myself: I will aggressively imagine a world where best practices can fuck off, practical philosophers can shamelessly get paid, and the Kurt Cobains of the world can bloom in purity.
I’ll announce the full perks of being a paid subscriber gradually, as I do not want to operate with the best practice of false certainty. I do not know what exactly is going to emerge here. That being said, these are the type of entries that paid subscribers can expect to read:
Philosophical reports like “Meme to Vibe.”
Philosophical practices like “Based Definitions.”
“Ta eis heauton” ("things to one's self") entries like this one, where at my knife's edge, I philosophize to escape philosophizing, hopefully becoming less foolish in the process.
There will also be guest entries, doing "flash philosophy" (aka entries with word constraints), with follow-up presentations at The Stoa. The idea here is to weave the communal newsletter of Less Foolish with the communal podcast of The Stoa, creating a culture of inquiry. Maybe this culture will birth a "wisdom commons," a place that makes wisdom more common. Or this will simply be a place where fools can risk speaking foolishly and making friends with other fools.
Thank you for reading, and if you are a paid subscriber, thank you so much for your support. It means a lot to me. ❤️
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