I wonder if Plato wanted every person to be a philosopher in his republic? Could he imagine that every living being could be a philosopher? Jesus’s sophia perennis, for the transformation of every being through wisdom may be closer to it, and perhaps closer to us achieving this republic that we dream of. Christ? Sadly enough, we live in a thoroughly Aristotelian republic, dedicated to the pursuit of desire and satisfaction, a republic that we’ve made of a Christian turned capitalist culture. Despite Martin Luther’s new christianity, nothing is more St. Augustinian (for example the happy face as a symbol of our culture) than this republic that is ours, elitist like no other. This land is that of Aristotle clapping for this bonfire of vanities. In other words: what “the pursuit of happiness” means in real time.
Is a struggle against the American pursuit of any happiness the solution. If only.. Dr. Cornel West has made a proposition that few people take seriously: that inherent to what we deem to be struggle in America is not only the struggle for “justice” but also against despair. He calls this blues philosophy, finding a philosophical voice in Soren Kierkegaard, who tells us that we despair without even knowing it. We even despair about the selves we have created. Despair, felt deeply by the rural blues musicians, and transposed to cities, becomes the central pain in American life, as theorized by the non-academic, the non-elite. The fight against despair leads to rock and roll, funk, etc, all as forms of civility that become dangerously corrupt when co-opted by capital. It also leads to book clubs, knitting, or what we can say is a massive swath of the American dynamic.
How did we get here? Why don’t we have large campaigns against despair, that for example fuels an opioid epidemic like no other, like we have against the lack of justice? We got here perhaps because, given the path that we took by imposing the 1787 constitution on the natural dynamic of American life, which had produced forms of democratic socialism after 1776, it was inevitable. We got here because of the genocide of indigenous folks, because of the American color line that persists, because of our lack of feminism and regard for gender jusice. We got here because we did not intend not to get here, in other words, and so the solution would be to intend not to be here.
It’s gotten a bit more complicated, however. With climate change, with the fact that folks in Denver are locked inside of their homes because of forest fires in California (may they and their loved ones all find solace) there seems to be no solution other than drastic action, which for many Americans means no solution. In other words, despite the bit of pleasure and normalcy that one finds in love, or satisfaction, there will be pain. This means that despair will continue as long as we literally may go instinctively.
Those who practice philosophy are those who are free and live a meaningful life, said Plato. This freedom is freedom from the appearance of things, and instead toward the ability to be with the impermanence and the idea of things. To our American tradition, the solution to despair is art, community, social text, disobedience (both in organizing and especially in art), and many other practices. It is being in practice, and whether it means dancing to rock and roll or marching, it takes a firm position against the ideas that lead to this despair, and for ideas that will end this despair.
Despite this, the materialism, the quantum materialism especially, of this world obliges us to feel this despair, becoming contradictions, unhappy, depressed. The materialism of the dialectic, that is the fight between despair and unrealized freedom, is the basis of popular leftism in America, and not Marx’s alienation. Cornel West picks up on this in a way that I hope one day comes to be popular in American thought, one day. We are not seeking a renaissance of first humanity, which is what alienation implies, in this country, but a new humanity divorced of despair, our historical and traditional battle. Despair because of the workplace, because of etc..
This new form of life, what we like to achieve, will require a democracy, as the fight against despair cannot be planned without the input of those who despair. This, along with justice, should become a concern of city councillors, activists, etc across this country, who I invite to read Dr. West. This country, indigenous, black, etc, has its own way of life, and our American crisis comes from the inability to look, and perhaps love this country enough to institutionally question, debate about, and fight against despair.