Wednesday, August 05, 2009

'Twould be remiss of the Philosophy Kat, I think, not to philosophize on Bill Clinton's recent triumph. But first, a note on the philosophizing itself.

Today I spoke with an...administrative person, shall we say, at a well-known NGO, about establishing a relationship with the NGO and a certain university. She inquired what department I was most associated with, and I told her, "Philosophy."

Her voice nearly dripped with disdain (though not, I must admit, real ill-will) as she said, "You do understand that we undertake to promote sustainable and practical skills?"

I laughed and assured her that the department most likely to establish a program was the illustrious and semi-ubiquitous department of education. She was much relieved.

However, this is, to an extent, the problem. A grounding in philosophy prepares one to grasp the essence of a situation, and to adapt quickly to various circumstances. Skills are the clothes in which theory is dressed. The entirely fair question, I must admit, is: "How? How, Philosophy Kat, does a grounding in philosophy prepare its young lisping learners to grasp the essence of a situation and adapt quickly to various circumstances?"

Let's apply it to the question of Mr. Clinton's little trot over to North Korea, which the New York Times called a "riveting tableau." Frankly, I can't disagree. But what makes it so riveting?

The man was a popular president for eight years; yeah, he was disgraced and impeached and all, but he was followed by such a spectacular flameout that, let's face it, many of us secretly wished for a prez with a loose zipper rather than a loose budget. Nostalgia knows few bounds even without an unpopular war based on specious evidence and followed by an economic meltdown. Anyway, most of us out there, nowadays, like Clinton. We know Clinton. We trust Clinton. Like some real-life superhero (Hey, uh, has anyone ever seen Clinton and Batman in the same room?) he orchestrated a crucial negotiation, and while in general the populace is relieved, it's hard to call us surprised.

The level on which this little play is fascinating, aside from its hero-in-shining-suit aspect, is political. Clinton once wore the crown; his wife battled for it like a...well, no simile that would be, er, politically correct is coming to mind. Which may sum up the point. Anyway, post-battle, Mrs. Clinton is now Secretary of State - NOT her husband - and, by the by, she just headed off for a bit of a P.R. tour in Africa. Which has now been completely eclipsed. There are delicate issues of state at stake! Of pride and visibility! And, more to the point...power.

Ah, here we come to it. Who has the power to represent and speak for the American government, and by implication its people, and in what capacity?

How to make decisions about the appropriate exercise of power, lesson 6 in your textbook for...what class, again? Teaching? I see a review of linguistics, a few courses on writing lesson plans, but nothing about POWER. How about Agriculture, or Health, or Biology? No?

Oh, there it is. A few courses on other cultures in some social disciplines (also widely regarded as an impractical degree), some in political science departments (mostly reviewing history) and a whole slew of studies of human rights, ethics, moral history and theory, theory and use of power, and the developments in how that power has been applied, from Plato to Locke (and beyond, of course). And...for the grand finale...examination, from Philosophy 101 onward, of the relationship of one school of thought to another.

In other words, exactly what one would need to perform such a negotiation. Or, as is more likely in the role of the citizen, to make a decision about whether or not it was handled properly and what to say about it and to whom and how it will affect one's voting in the future.

This consideration is only strengthened when applied to the media. A journalist has the responsibility of portraying the information accurately, to convey the concerns of those in power and how they may or may not align with the desire of those to whom the power ultimately belongs - in other words, citizens. And citizens must interpret the event and the media's coverage of it.

I'm not necessarily saying that without training in philosophical thought - that is, investigative critical thought and prior examination of the deeper issues, freeing one to attend the issues at hand with a firm grounding - people are unable to create good journalism or vote well (although, I sort of want to say that. Anyone who does these things is applying philosophical skills, even if they didn't pick it up in a philosophy class).

I believe philosophy is fundamental. If you think this is a weak argument, please, give me the opportunity to develop it. Because that's something else philosophy has taught to combat stagnation and its eventual result, groupthink.

No comments: