December 3, 2014

Stepping into the Future

I left academic philosophy three and a half years ago in order to pursue philosophy from outside academia. I started this blog two months ago in order to think through in a public way what philosophy from outside academia can look like.

But much of my thinking of the last three years, like much of my writing on this blog so far, has been focused on academic philosophy and its current limitations. Though I want to think about the possibilities outside academia, I keep coming back over and over again to what currently feels impossible within academia. Why is this?

It is because even though I am out of academia, I can feel how much of a grip academia has on my mind. On my habits of thought. On my sense of myself and who I see as my interlocutors. I crossed the line. Stepped over the abyss. I am here now outside academia. It's been three years, but the shock of finding myself on this side of the line is still vivid for me. A part of me asks myself, "What I am doing here? Shouldn't I be over there, with them, the professors? Wasn't I one of them? Shouldn't I still be one of them?" In the last year I have regularly read the philosophy blogs - DailyNous, Feminist Philosophers, NewApps, Leiter Reports, Digressions and Impressions, Up@Night, Philosophymetablog - and I imagine I am still talking to them, that perhaps I haven't really crossed the line, that maybe the line doesn't matter.

But, of course, it does matter. It is one thing to blog about improving academic philosophy from within. Even the harshest such critic is committed to improving it form within. This means what that person is helping build is something they are already a part of, and so even their criticism is a part of something constructive. But if one is outside of academia, in a day to day sense one is not a part of something constructive in the same way. For me, academia is in the rear view mirror, and no matter how much my blogging might contribute to improving academia, it doesn't have the feeling of improving structures within which I currently exist.

It is intrinsic to training to be an academic philosopher that one feels that it is within academic philosophy that the future of philosophy lies. I want to start accepting a basic fact: I left academic philosophy because I don't believe this anymore. I believe rather that the future of philosophy is outside academia. 

When I imagine the future, I see a strong, diverse institution of academic philosophy. But I see that future is only made possible by there being even stronger structures of non-academic philosophy. I sense within myself that academic philosophy, left to itself, will collapse into itself. It is trapped within academic structures which, more and more, will become part of the day to day hub of life, not set apart from everyday society, but at the very center of it. And this will happen not because academia is selling its soul, but because in an information and technological society, academia cannot stand part from society, but must be at its heart. But this comes at a cost. And that is that the contrarian, gadfly vocation of philosophy will become harder and harder to flourish within academia. The specialization of academic philosophy is just the beginning of this. Over time more and more people will leave academic philosophy, not only because the jobs will diminish, but because people's desire to think for themselves will find an outlet only outside academia.

I don't bemoan this future, or the difficulties academic philosophy is going to have in the future. It will get worse before it gets better. But it is necessary. As it is now, academic philosophy in America is insular, Eurocentric and disconnected from most of society. The idea that changes will happen in due course from within itself is an illusion, a fantasy. Why should I still be beholden to that fantasy when academic philosophy makes clear over and over again that it cares so little for my experiences in academia? Should I fight to get recognized in academic philosophy, to be taken seriously, only to meet the same blinkered look of indifference time and time again? No. Not me. I prefer venturing out of academia, and helping to create new communities, new structures, ones which are not so beholden to the past, not so weighed down by history and momentum. Academic philosophy is the past. The future lies out there, beyond all current institutions.

To open myself to that future, I need to leave academic philosophy behind. I left it physically more than three years ago. But then I still wasn't ready to leave it mentally. And so I became more attached to the philosophy blogosphere. If I am to ever figure out my destiny, to confront it, to face up to it, to achieve it, I need to leave academic philosophy mentally as well. There is no denying it: I have been afraid to do this. Scared. When I imagine life without academic philosophy, I sense an emptiness in front of  me. There is all this knowledge with me that I gained over fifteen years. About the mind-body problem, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, the history of Western philosophy, contemporary philosophy of mind and action. So many debates, so many distinctions, so many arguments floating in my head. Will they go to waste? Will I not do anything with them? If I leave academic philosophy who will I talk to about all those things I learnt? 

And yet. And yet. If I hold on to all that knowledge I learnt, how will change happen? Where will the new horizons open up if I don't give myself to the unknown and let myself be transformed? It's been more than five years since I read a philosophy of mind journal article. So why am I still holding on to that as my expertise? Why am I scared to simply be myself and to embrace what I don't know instead of defining myself in terms of my education? Yes, the future is out there. Beyond what I can see now. The only way I will ever see what is out there is to walk in that direction, into the seeming darkness. If I don't read any academic philosophy, and if I stop reading even the philosophy blogosphere, is there any philosophical knowledge that I can find? Is there something which I can discover just by going through the process of change, and writing about it without worrying about who my readers are or will be or can be? Yes. That is possible. 

But what if I fail? What if I have nothing to show for my going on this path? What if I seem a failure to others, and even to myself? Well, that is better than the no man's land I am in now, neither in academia nor outside of it, stuck in between, floating in an abyss. Who knows what life has in store, what difficulties and what joys? All I know is this: I am neither here nor there now, stuck in between. I need to move on. I made my move three year ago, and I have only reaffirmed that decision every day since then. The past is behind me. The future is open. I am walking on.

As a first step in this new commitment, I am not going to go anymore to academic philosophy blogs. There are so many good people associated with those blogs, and I will miss their ideas, their good cheer, and their insights. But for now this is something I have to do. I look forward to anyone reading this blog and engaging with me here. But for some time I need to stop running after academic philosophy. That mode of running after, of trying to make myself understood, of proving myself as sensible and well intentioned and a team player in the hopes that academic colleagues will engage with me - I have wasted so much of my life that way. Not anymore. Never again. I am done waiting to be understood, to be listened to. I will make my own destiny, wherever it carries me.

This is easy to say now, in this moment, when I am feeling positive and strong. What will happen tomorrow when I feel the pull of academic philosophy, and when I become curious about what is happening on the blogs? What will I do then? And next day, and the next day after that? The pull of the philosophy blogs on me is strongest in those passing moments when I wonder about my life or the future, or those silent moments when I am not thinking of anything in particular. If I am going to move beyond academic philosophy, if I am going to retrain my habits and instincts, I will need an outlet for those moments.

To this end I am going to have another blog - Boundless Harmony - one for brief, short posts where I can channel my stream of consciousness philosophical thoughts. Writing makes me feel alive, open into the future, looking forward rather than looking to the past. So the more I write, however briefly, however often, the more I can be attuned to the future.

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