Excerpt from my book Sardonically Speaking. A book about philosophy in the marketplace, and the importance of taking oneself less seriously.
This is a short book that will get you to think about the importance of not taking things all too seriously, the need to be laid-back in your quest for the “good” life, and why it is essential that we occasionally challenge and laugh at ourselves. The chapters are organized in several interrelated but stand-alone essays, making it easier for you to jump back and forth between them at your convenience.
The main premise of my project is that real philosophers are ones who question the status quo of any system, in addition to collective and social norms and traditions that are passed on through generations without being properly contested.
What differentiates genuine philosophers from what I will call herein “abstractive hippies,” is that the former are genuinely interested in seeking a better quality of life, both individually and collectively, while the latter are simply interested in winning arguments. I kind of understand them though, I mean, who wouldn’t want to have an ego boost by trashing someone else’s argument? The thrill alone is sufficient for anyone to become addicted to perceiving life as a fencing game.
Meet Abstractive Jade, a 21-year-old senior philosophy major at a high-end college. Ever since he got into college, he has been smitten by the mother of all sciences. He found refuge in philosophy because he thrived on proving his friends and family wrong. Not because he was interested in comprehending the world, or learning about right and wrong, but simply because he wanted to prove that he is intellectually superior, sophisticated, and deep-sounding.
Jade loves the sound of his own voice. He aspires to become a television personality when he graduates because his dream is to one day become a hero of the people.
What keeps Jade going is the adrenaline rush he gets when he spews jargon and unintelligible references just to feel superior to his interlocutors. You often see him protesting everywhere, giving speeches about noble causes which he always succeeds at twisting and making them about himself instead of those he claims to defend.
For an illustration of the likes of Abstractive Jade, you can watch Anthony Jeselnik’s Thoughts and Prayers.
“Don’t forget about me today, don’t forget about me! Lots of crazy distractions in the news right now, but don’t forget how sad I am!”
Some social media platforms have augmented an inimical dynamic by transforming the forum from a place where we are exposed to a mosaic of worldviews, to a place ripe for the emergence of an evolved kind of witch-hunting. Now people jump on the bandwagon of persecution to ensure that anyone who so much as dares to think differently is cancelled, de-platformed, and even fired from their job.
We are living in times of collective paranoia and narcissism. Mass anger is spilling over from digital media to real life. People across the globe are being categorized by their identity, race, political affiliations, and so on.
The antidote to this is to change our mindset, to adopt a sardonic approach towards ourselves and others. No one cares about what we think.
So, after this quick detour that served as a build-up for what is to come, I will now explain the core idea of this book. But first, allow me to ask you a question: do you know what Socrates, stand-up comedians, and rappers have in common?
Take a minute to think about this.
Come on, give it some thought!
There might be more than one answer. But I’m interested in one in particular: they all question/ed the state of affairs of their respective societies with a laid-back attitude, an acidic humor, and some powerful punchlines. (It is no surprise then, that Socrates is well known for his irony, but we’ll get to that later.)
They also didn’t/don’t have a problem criticizing themselves. Of course, many have ego issues, but who doesn’t? Either way, the difference between them and “abstractive hippies” is that the latter are STUPID, meaning they tend to harm themselves and others, both directly and indirectly.
If you’re interested in knowing more about what I mean by stupid, you can check out Cipolla’s The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity.
I think by now you’ve developed an idea of where I’m going with this.
DecafQuest is an attempt to embark on a laid-back journey of discovery. Why so serious? is a befitting question. There’s only one thing I learned in this life: it is so short, too short even, and before you know it, you’re gone.
One of the most recent wake-up calls I had was the huge explosion that rocked Beirut on August 4th, 2020. And while the damages I suffered from were just material, as opposed to the hundreds who lost their lives and the thousands who were injured or lost their homes, the experience itself was terrifying. The experience of this explosion was completely different for me, and I’m someone who has lived through a war. Seconds after you recover from the explosion you genuinely understand that life is short, and death concretizes in front of your eyes, and you become aware that nothing actually matters.
So why waste your time trying to prove that you’re right when you can spend your valuable time creating meaningful connections with others, developing new projects, and keeping yourself entertained by doing the things you like?
Since many arguments and discussions are prone to be easily misinterpreted or viewed from an array of perspectives, allow me clarify one more thing: The laid-back endeavor that is coupled with an ironic undertone should be distinguished from bullying or trolling in the negative sense. What I have in mind is a healthy dose of self-reminders that the stakes are often too low to be too self-absorbed.
Bullying is an attempt to cause harm. Adopting a playful approach in our life, with a jester-like undertone, is different. Think of life as a playground space where it is ok to explore new things, venture into new places, fail at some projects, and succeed at others.
Part of this playground spirit includes bouts of rivalry rather similar to those we find in sports. No matter the extent of competitiveness and “trash-talk,” both teams end up confronting each other and shaking hands at the end of the game, irrespective of the result.
Add to this one more dimension though: Life is not a sports game, but a journey, with many possibilities.
This is where philosophy comes into play. To live a good life, we need to know what “good” is, a rather tricky task.
We can easily fall into the trap of dogmatism: being prone to think that whatever answers we have are the correct ones. Instances of dogmatism have had horrific consequences, especially when people thought they were compelled to enlighten others and instead wound up imposing their views on everyone else who thought differently.
Try to think of examples from your life where you or someone else you know were dogmatists. How did things pan out?
The other side of the coin is just as knotty. Instead of dogmatism, we can fall prey to absolute relativism: arguing for an anything-can-work view. While more appealing, this philosophy has a lot of what-ifs to deal with.
For now, I’d like to introduce you to Georgina Relativina. She’s a self-proclaimed Sophist, carrying a long line of family tradition that goes back to her distant relative, a philosopher called Gorgias, whom Plato hated.
Now I must warn you, many studies have argued that poor Gorgias was trying to stir the system, but his followers bastardized his philosophy and made a profession out of teaching others the art of rhetoric. In other words, they made a fortune training people how to get away with bullshitting. For the sake of drama, the sophists I have in mind are the ones who came later and did not care about Gorgias’ instructions.
We can also fall into the trap of indecisiveness and idleness if we spend our entire time examining different perspectives without actually living.
Maybe the answer is always somewhere in the middle, maybe not. I’ll leave that for you to decide. The point I’m trying to make here is that approaching life with a sense of levity, and scrutinizing the ideas of oneself and others playfully is the project many philosophers pursue.
In light of that, I think that stand-up comedians and rappers are more contemporary philosophers than academic philosophy professors.
I found a similar approach in the lives of mythical figures, philosophers, stand-up comedians, and rappers. This is by no means an exhaustive list, of course. But I’m more familiar with people who fall under these categories. Feel free to make more connections with people you are more acquainted with.
Brace yourselves for a maze of stories, personal anecdotes, some philosophy, and an occasional task here and there. The idea of the latter is inspired by Mark Baker’s Gang Fit.
I’ll try to make this book as engaging as possible. Let’s get to it!
To break the ice, here’s a small task for you.
Think of a time when you laughed at yourself. Have you ever been in a situation where you embarrassed yourself? Not necessarily on purpose, of course. Take a second to recall such an event, or maybe ten, or even a hundred.
How did you feel? How did you react to what happened? Did you handle it like a boss?
Oh, screw that. Next time remember that unless you’re losing a lot of money, it’s not worth getting frustrated over something similar. Just laugh and move on. Tyrion Lannister would have owned the moment and even paid his debts. If you didn’t understand this reference, go watch Game of Thrones now!
You can also follow me on Twitter @decafquest. Thank you.