The Game of the Philosopher: Culture War to Wisdom Commons
Collective Journaling. Daily @ 8:00 AM ET. Patreon event. 90 mins.
January 17th, 2022
The culture war. The hyperobject that keeps barging its way into my salience landscape.
I guess it keeps getting my attention because doing philosophy is important to me. And what is happening in the culture writ large - Frankfurtian bullshit, memetic tribalism, collective narcissism, and accusations that people are under some form of mass psychosis - is not conducive to doing philosophy.
I’m recalling when Covid-19 entered the collective consciousness. There was no culture war nonsense (or anti-sense) for a moment, just a collective teasing of the people buying toilet paper. I actually had to do some serious game theoretical analysis with the toilet paper situation, ending up buying a bidet instead.
As somebody who is always keeping his eye on the culture war, it was nice having that moment of relief - a pandemic was announced, and for a moment, we collectively scapegoated the toilet paper buyers. There was a shared sense that we were in this together. That was nice to feel. That did not last long though - the virus, along with every response measure, got sucked into the culture war. The stakes are higher now, which is being felt by both sides of the polarity spell.
There are times when I get seduced into the spell, being called to become a culture war combatant. When the culture war starts directly influencing your life and the lives of everyone you love, all these intense emotions start filling the body, evoking the desire to fight. It does not feel wise for me to fight at the moment though.
When tempted to leverage my voice, and the small influence I have, to argue aggressively on one side of an issue, I stop myself. I stop myself because something feels off. I journal about what feels off, uncovering what is behind my desire to fight: an emotional cocktail of fear, shame, anger, and even hate - arguably the most “demonic” emotion collectively being repressed.
I am not making some emotional fallacy here - claiming that operating from an unexamined emotion makes whatever you say inaccurate. That is not the case at all, as intense emotions can tease out the truth, but my working heuristic is this: operating from an unexamined emotion is unwise. I attempt to embody my heuristics, so I pause, process - often in these journals - when something feels off.
Many gifts of insight emerge when I do this. The virus, the culture war, the technocratic creep - I am seeing all of this as a gift. A gift for me to become wise. I am feeling wiser these days, in an embodied way, thanks to Covid-19, and everything rippling out from it. Instead of operating from intensely unpleasant emotions, I am getting better at noticing these emotions, processing them, and operating with them.
It may be wise for me to fight one day. I do not want to fight foolishly today though. I am not going to be shamed into the fight, signaling “I am not a bad person” or “I am not a coward.” Philosophers do not play with shame-ameliorating signals. They play the long game instead, and one long game I am playing is to make more philosophers. It is probably wise to use a different term, or different terms, than “philosophers.”
The trick today is not to get attached to one term, and the word “philosopher” might seem too fussy for most. Whatever terms we use should orientate towards embodied wisdom. I am starting to think it is unwise to define wisdom. I tried to define it before, as something that points us to beauty, probably because beauty is the most inspiring transcendental for me.
Those who philosophically inspire me, like Andrew Taggart and Bonnitta Roy, are often into Daoism for some reason, and I sense it is probably best to relate with the word wisdom as the Daoists relate with the word Dao - the unknowable, the unnamable, the undefinable. Once you force a definition into a superordinate aim like wisdom, an “arborescent” schema emerges, dualizing the world.
The word wisdom itself can be seen as a placeholder that points to a certain sense: a wisdom sense. I sense we in The Liminal Web have a good enough wisdom sense. I am not attached to being in “The Liminal Web” though - “liminal” means intermediate after all, used in anthropology to refer to the middle state of a rite of passage. Being in the liminal is disorientating, something temporary and transformational, where you lose your pre-ritual status but have not yet arrived at your post-ritual status.
I sense this hyperobject of the culture war is a part of our collective ritual, and those in The Liminal Web have been unwittingly recruited as shamanic guides to help us (all of us? Most of us? Some of us?) to get to the other side, so we can play the new game. The key skill with this shamanic guidance is to operate from a sense of wisdom, along with everything that is alive in our bodies. It is important not to throw out our ability to reason though. We still need to develop a strong reasoning capacity, one that is wild, embodied, and modest. Our maps of reality need a protean quality as well, because we’ll need to constantly be updating them.
All of this is to say we need wisdom. Wisdom research from the likes of Igor Grossmann shows a “perspectival meta-cognition” is needed for wisdom: taking multiple perspectives, balancing viewpoints, adapting to context, and maintaining epistemic humility. All traits those in The Liminal Web are advocating for or practicing. In these journals I keep returning to wisdom myself, or virtue, aka embodied wisdom, or Stoicism, aka the philosophy of virtue.
I was mentioned in the New York Times the other day, the “newspaper of record," as a “devotee of Stoicism,” so I guess it is on record now that I am a Stoic. A devotee sounds a little extreme, as a part of me is just larping Stoicism in the spectacle. Another part of me feels like the new “fake it until you make it” is “larp it until you become it.” So perhaps the wise thing for me to do in the liminal is to larp a philosophy that explicitly is orientated towards wisdom. I do think the Stoic philosophy has the best, or perhaps most clever, virtue ethics.
The Stoics have many heuristics, such as amor fati (“love thy fate”), which means they strive to love everything we are fated to address. How can we embody this Stoic heuristic? This is the main thing I am attempting to figure out these days. And I sense the big three hyperobjects that The Liminal Web is addressing - the culture war, the meaning crisis, the meta-crisis - are best not to be seen as a burden, but as forcing functions for this heuristic to be embodied.
This may be the best reframe: view the big three hyperobjects, especially the culture war, as an opportunity for us to practice wisdom. There is no school for wisdom though. I am starting to think it is foolish to start one. Perhaps we not only see life as our teacher, but see life as our wisdom school. I found school boring, so perhaps seeing life as our wisdom game, one many of us are already playing, is the wiser reframe.
If I am a “liminal figure” in The Liminal Web, whose map of reality is daemonically protean, being written in front of you here, then perhaps my role is to offer new perspectives, to help us arrive at the new game. And the perspective that feels like the one to play with now is this: the culture war is the collective ritual needed for us to arrive at a “wisdom commons” - the place where we play the wisdom game together. If this is true enough, here is a question for us to consider:
Given this perspective, how do we get into the right relationship, or perhaps a beautiful relationship, with the hyperobject that is the culture war?
I sense this boils down to choosing what relationship games we play with the people we dislike and disagree with. Is it the war game or the wisdom game? The former is where we attempt to dominate others by imposing our map of reality on them via superior arguments, shaming, cancelling, “brainwashing,” etc. The latter is where we attempt to court others into the mystery, discovering together what all of this really is. To play the wisdom game, we need to set the conditions where the experience of real community (aka communitas), along with real philosophy (aka dialogos), can emerge.
I have described two personal journeys of mine last week: my journey to practical philosophy, as described in Wednesday’s entry, and my journey towards becoming socially skilled, as described in Friday’s Social Alchemy session. These journeys never really intersected before, but with The Stoa, they do. I am beginning to realize both these journeys, along with the talent stack they afforded me, are perfect to help co-steward a wisdom commons into existence.
The “obstacle is the way” is the famous Stoic line that is coming to mind now. I am going to stop seeing the culture war as some burdensome obstacle that keeps getting in the way of doing philosophy. Instead, I am going to see it as the way towards the return of philosophy as a way of life. Besides, this is the game of the philosopher today: transmute the culture war into a wisdom commons.
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