Oh, dear readers, you should never believe me when I put a timeline on my next piece. Writer’s block is a cruel, cruel mistress who I am always fighting against.
Anyways, this post is about school.
As most of you know, I am a philosophy major, which I am studying at DePaul University in Chicago, in addition to majoring in history of art and architecture. However, much as I enjoy studying here, in this environment, and the fact that I have instructors here who have well and truly changed my life and how I think for the better, I really, truly, honestly worry for my fellow students. Not in art history, but in philosophy.
Allow me to explain.
The most common thing I hear from people when I tell them that I am a philosophy major is that my major is irrelevant, that no one studies that old shit anymore, that it has no meaning for a modern world. Now, anyone with an ounce of sense knows this is ridiculous; despite that fact, the sad thing is that I can understand really well where the people who say such things are coming from, and it’s because I know other philosophy majors, or at least have interacted with them.
Invariably, when I get to talking with another philosophy major, or overhear a conversation involving one, the wannabe philosopher will drop a reference to whoever their biggest philosophical beau is. They’ll say something like, “well, have you read Heidegger on that?” knowing damn well said non-major has never read, much less heard about, Being and Time. And this is what they want. Because inevitably, this philosophy major, who is almost always a white male, gets to word-vomit about ontology or teleology and reveal to the other conversant how good at reading they are, how bloody intelligent they are.
What this results in is not more people who know more about or are interested in doing philosophy. What this results in is more people who want to avoid it at all costs, because they see it as a bastion of privilege and arrogance and not a place where outsiders would be welcome, especially those interested only in casual readings of philosophers.
This is not how philosophy is supposed to be done. The field should not be a playground for only a privileged few who can pay university tuition or make it to the tenure track get to hold forth on what matters. This, coupled with the rise of corporatized universities and the decline of educational standards, means that the teaching of philosophy hasn’t moved forwards in any meaningful way in decades. Rather than try to expand student’s understandings on a truly global scale, departments insist on rehashing the Heideggers, Kants, Hegels, Ayers, Derridas, et al, all white academics of privilege, instead of teaching lesser-known but just as important thinkers who are women or people of color; at my university, a professor got fired for not being Western enough in her pedagogy.
Philosophy needs to be for everyone, accessible to everyone, in order to hold any sway in the world. This is not a call to decrease rigor; indeed, far from it. What I want is for philosophy to become culturally relevant in a way so that it can affect people’s lives for the better on a massive scale. The first step is to drop the pretension, take our theory, and make it applicable for the greater good.