By Mike Meyer ~ Honolulu ~ December 3. 2020
Maybe we should retire the word philosophy. People keep mistaking it for something dead. For sure, the people who made philosophy are dead, right?
Philosophy spent the last half of the 20th century in a near-comatose condition. While this was not true for those pursuing Continental, i.e., French migrations through structuralist anthropology, poststructuralism, postmodernism, and the loss of objective meaning, the majority of Americans wandered off into Capitalist Realism without knowing they had done so.
That is the kind of thing that happens at the end of an era after all things have been defined, and the fights over meanings have become purely academic. The arguments descend into the minutia with winners declared based on who builds the most excruciating arguments. Michel Foucault is an acquired taste.
There are growing problems at the end of an era, but there are not many new solutions until the old paradigm has been exhausted. That never happens for some people producing the great chasms in world view usually delineated by age and generation.
What is thought of as philosophy is whatever we learned in high school or college, which was usually a required course. Like history, also a required course, you did it and moved on.
Perhaps we should distinguish Academic Philosophy from Working Ontology. That requires credit to Graham Harmon (definitely part of the new species of philosophy) with his Object Oriented Ontology.
Once information overflows the old containers that organized knowledge for a specific paradigm, things begin to confuse. Things obviously don’t mean what they once did, and there is so much more information that doesn't have a named container or even a working name that people start fighting over different meanings for the same word.
Suddenly people start talking like philosophers. Philosophy is about figuring out what things mean and how they connect and those who think they know what is happening. That happens at a popular level when ontological questions become everyday issues.
That means that questions about reality become pressing because reality has gone funny. Assumptions that once made public conversations safe are no longer reliable. Some people keep using old words but in new ways without realizing that the meanings have changed.
This is the kind of trouble that shows up if you read a book from the 19th century with a story about a gay party. Any 21st century English speaker will pause and mentally remind themselves that, at that time, the word gay did not refer to sexual orientation but to a pleasant activity.
I would expect that if the above-referenced 21st century English speaker was going to mention the book, she was reading a different word than ‘gay’ would be used in describing the story’s topic. If not, the conversation would need to veer off into etymology. And etymology starts with e that rhymes with p that stands for philosophy.
But in major paradigm shifts, these changes build geometrically. Words begin to change rapidly and in different directions as people adapt to new concepts that recognize different identities. This happens to be due to the massive, planetary paradigm shift that we are fifty years into already.
When a broad mass of a population in a culture or set of related cultures is presented with information changes and drastically changed images of reality, they need to redefine themselves. The roots of our big, and perhaps biggest paradigm shift historically, goes directly back to new scientific realities from the 19th century, electromagnetism, revolution, x-rays, and relativity that opened the 20th century.
Those new ways of seeing reality slowly filtered down to highschool education and were amplified by information technology, broadcast, and the planetary internet. The wars that are erupting in cities and societies are between the growing majority who have grown up knowing only the new realities, whether they think about it that way or not, and a hardened old guard desperate to keep the old reality, functional or not.
This is the war against the future. It is not really about politics, race, ethnicity, gender, or identity politics, but about ontology. It's about how we see reality.
That is, by definition (check the meaning of ontology) metaphysics, and for most people in Western civilization, that was almost always religion. As everyone has come to realize, very clearly in America, the group of people on the wrong side of history are fighting a religious war without rationality.
This group, a clear minority despite representative distortions produced by the failing US political system, is tied to a version of reality that disappeared some fifty years ago. They are demanding that not only they but all of us must live in their world. Paradigmatic change doesn't work that way, and going back home again is not possible.
All of the fussing and fussing about why those people are irrational and cannot be reasoned with, or even talked to in many situations, has nothing to do with what we think they are talking about. And they aren’t talking about the past but a decaying model of a past reality as if it still existed and is fixed.
We need to be very consciously discussing philosophy, not that it will change the problem group, but so the rest of us know we are not going nuts. Ontological change is a process that is us, as sentient beings in a quantum universe, observing and defining our evolving reality.
We don’t see people talking about philosophy, but we are now swamped and deeply involved in ontological analysis and discussion.
Philosophy not only came back to life but is so large a part of our reality, excuse the circular reference, is no longer draped in its academic robes but an everyday topic of discussion.