The ultimate question
Pompous title? Read to the end and that may change 😉
Yesterday I watched an avalanche on Twitter, for lack of better analogy. Within minutes, a very casual pondering of a couple of good, open ended questions (OK, let’s call them philosophical) between Bianca Hewes and myself turned into a frenzy of criss-crossing replies by almost a dozen people. In a typical Twitter fashion it was messy, bit restricted (no essays is not an inherently bad thing either), we all kinda threw bits of philosophers we have read and like(d) into the mix, made some new connections, challenged, asked each other a bit, wondered together … in short, it felt like a shot of thinking espresso (at least to me).
And it was the second such little avalanche in two days … We were onto something!
I have never formally studied philosophy, apart from a few units at uni. I taught Philosophy & Ethics at a high school (and loved it!) for a year. I am no ‘philosopher’ but I have always liked and enjoyed to think, read, poke, question, wonder, stir and sleep with clear conscience.
Everyone is a philosopher, even the young kids. In fact, they ask the best questions! To illustrate, just a few recent questions from my 5 year old: Why can’t we have a day off today at school today? Why do adults drink things kids can’t? Why people don’t share money? Why do people have different languages?
And it is sad that it is only the young kids and the very top scientists and scholars that ‘get away’ with ‘dumb’ questions like that. Anyone else would be dismissed along the lines of ‘what’s wrong with you to ask that sort of thing?’ or, worse, be threatened by it because they immediately think YOU have the answer and they don’t. We are addicted to answers, particularly if they are quick and delivered with certainty, no matter how bluffy, unsound and downright crappy, wrong, even hurtful they may be. Want an example? Read this passionate post by Leesa Watego on her views of our Prime Minister’s rhetoric).
Philosophy is at the heart of everything we do, every choice we (don’t) make in our lives. Don’t believe it? OK, let’s ask, top of the head scenario: Were you at work on time this morning? Why (not)? Why is that important? What things should always run on time and which ones not so? Who decides? What gives you/them the right to decide for many? Can somebody then tell you what to do with your body? Why (not)? When is it OK to ignore them? … I am sure you can see the infinity of possibilities. I am also sure you can see how conversations like that can be steered in a particular direction. And I hope you can see the value of pausing sometimes and thinking about these things. Are you a teacher? Parent? Reckon kids would like to have a crack at some of these questions in their own way? You bet !
And do we need a PhD in philosophy to ask such questions? Do we need to learn the entire history of Western philosophy or know in depth some French guy who wrote 5 books on the topic 300 years ago to wrestle with answers? Sure, it may help a bit (oh, and dropping a name or two on Twitter looks so cool 😉 ) … but answers, no matter how partial, incomplete, must ultimately come from within, no matter how ‘educated’ we are.
Now, I am NOT dismissing professional philosophers neither am I suggesting we navel gaze all day long and doubt with every single breath we take. But sometimes it is just nice and useful to (in the parlance of road campaigns for kids) Stop, Look, Listen, Think (thanks Leesa 😉 ) and, importantly, Act.
Deleuze, one of my favourite philosophers (showing off here? 😉 wrote this about art: “Art is not a notion but a motion, It us not about what art is but what it does that is important.” You can easily replace ‘art’ with ‘philosophy’ (or anything else for that matter …’education’, ‘love’, ‘snow’, ‘cooking’, ‘kiss’) and you can see the ultimate point of philosophy is a pragmatic one – it is to be done, not merely known and learned about.
And to break the shackles of perception of philosophy as something you ‘take’ at uni and something only those who have read great philosophers in depth can do and similar nonsense, we (Bianca Hewes, Malyn Mawby, Mitch Squires, Nathan Hutchings, Janie Kibble, and myself) started a special hashtag on Twitter: #42c
Sure, we can have some very sophisticated discussions and links in there BUT (at least in the humble, naive view of yours truly)… the tag is NOT about showing off how much you know about [insert name of a philosopher]. It is NOT about big words to impress (some may be needed though, just is…). It is NOT about feeling guilty for not having read more or thought more. It’s NOT about talking, it’s more about listening. It’s NOT about providing definite answers, it’s about asking good questions (a skill not practiced enough in classrooms and broader society). It’s NOT a win-lose debate, it’s a dialogue (distinction here ). It’s NOT a bogey to shame, it’s a chance to learn.
So when you feel like asking a curly question and/or wrestle with one- just type and hash #42c on Twitter and away you go. To keep the hashtag brief and relevant, we had settled for the genially funny ’42’ and added the ‘c’ for cents so Twitter search picks it up. Why 42? Good question! Watch below, it’s a must 😉
Spread the word, we only have 7.5 million years left!