December 18, 2014

Past Blog

I had a blog from April to November of 2002. It was my first blog. In it I was trying to make sense of my leaving academia, and in particular, to figure out what kind of a positive philosophy project I can have outside academia. Not that different from this blog.
Though at a certain point while writing that blog I came upon a familiar feeling: the sense that what I was doing was somehow problematic, that it is better if I didn't write this way, that maybe it is a form of self-indulgence. That I need to let go of it if I am to move forward. So I closed the blog. Made it private. Then deleted it. Nonetheless, luckily, I kept copies of the posts in my email.
Seeing again my old prospectus from a dozen years ago, I was reminded of my blog from two years ago. It made me wonder: why in my life have I had this inclination to keep deleting or throwing things away? Why do I at those moments have the feeling that if I am to grow I need to destroy any semblance of that past? Is this pathological? Or is there some other explanation?
One kind of explanation is that I am a perfectionist. But this doesn't ring true to me. I never had a problem letting others see what I was writing, even when they were in draft form. Nor did I have any worries that others would steal my ideas. It always seemed to me that ideas are communal property, and it doesn't matter who publishes what, or who gets where first. Sharing the ideas, acting on them, collaborating is what matters.
Another explanation, which seems more true to me, is that I have lived my life so far with a slew of schisms. American/Indian. Religious/Secular. Professional/non-professional. Eastern/Western. Schisms which have often felt so sharp and so deep that it seemed impossible to reconcile the divisions or to bring them together into a unified whole. Most of my intellectual life has been an attempt at trying to bridge these gaps, heal the schisms. Not primarily to help the world or to do good. But mainly, and firstly, to help myself. To heal myself from these schisms. To find a voice I can claim as my own, which can sound with the unity of my being, rather than just as an expression of this or that side of the divide.

For the most part, for most of my life, the fact of these schisms, and how much they have affected my life, was itself hidden from my consciousness. I presumed that I already was whole. People around me - family, friends, teachers, colleagues, politicians, entertainers and so on - were telling me that I am already whole, that there is nothing to worry about. All is well. I believed them. I wanted to believe them. I wanted to be whole. Thought that not feeling whole was a weakness on my part, a failing, a sin, a sign of my intemperate stubbornness.
And yet unconsciously most of what I was doing was trying to find this unity, and not just affirm it in a surface way. This is why I was attracted to philosophy. For finding the unity within myself meant confronting the divisions in society, and asking how they could be overcome. If they could be overcome. How is religion related to science? East to the West? Past to the present? These are the questions I was asking myself all the time. Even when I was writing on Quine or functionalism or Wittgenstein. But often the topics and the questions felt much bigger than what I could answer. I felt alone addressing them. I felt lost. I felt that I was being perhaps too contrarian. Too interested in myself. I was too self-involved, too focused on the complexity within myself than the simplicity of a shared communal life.
So much so that at a certain point the thought would start to form within me that perhaps I am the problem. The way I am doing things. The way I keep focusing on the same issues over and over again. The way I remain unsatisfied with how things are. Slowly, but surely, this voice would start to gain momentum within me, over weeks, months. I would look at what I was writing, and start to conclude that this here is the problem. This writing is not neutral or good. It is the mode in which I am being abnormal, it is the root cause of my sense of distance from others, it is the bane of my existence. It is what is keeping me from others and from a more normal, happy life. That is how the Wittgenstein prospectus started to seem to me. It is how I started to see my old blog. And in a desperate surge of wanting to be happier, more normal, more social, more content, the idea would grip me that what is necessary to gain that happiness and normalcy is to forgo what I am doing now. I need to cleanse myself of it, root it out of my system, remove all traces of it from myself. Become clean. Be a new person. A better person. Try again. Try harder. Try better.
In the midst of this process I never realized how hard I was being on myself. How unnecessarily hard. Putting all the blame on myself. As if my sense of unhappiness is a personal delusion without any real external causes. How in the process I was distancing myself from ideas and writings which were dear to me, and which could be part of a happier life. That it was the very dichotomy I was drawing between this or that which was making me unhappy, and that by throwing away what was so dear to me, I was doing it yet again, marking another contrast of this vs. that.
I am grateful to read my prospectus and my old blog. They are like old friends from whom I became estranged, and now am able to talk to again. A reunion which suggests that it doesn't have to be a matter of choosing this or that. Sometimes, when I am kind to myself and the sun is shining, it can be this and that.

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