When I started this blog a year ago, I didn’t really have a clear idea on what direction it would go or how it would evolve.
I was inspired by thinkers and organizations who were applying philosophical ideas to the many issues we face in our modern societies. This led me down the rabbit hole to discover channels such as Alain De Botton’s School of Life, Rebel Wisdom as well as John Vervaeke’s Awakening from the Meaning Crisis series.
It is exciting to see communities emerging like The Stoa who facilitate dialogues with a wide range of unique thinkers and practitioners trying to make sense of an increasingly complex world.
A World in Peril
We live in strange times.
Very strange times.
There is a general skepticism, made particularly salient during the COVID-19 pandemic, that our social, economic and political institutions are not well suited to deal with many of the issues that we face in the 21st century.
Some have questioned if the current path we are on as a society is desirable or even sustainable.
Do we have the right ‘tool kit’ and systems in place to deal with the many global problems and existential threats we face?
To name a few:
- Climate change;
- Biodiversity loss;
- The mental health crisis;
- Rising geopolitical instability; and
- Our grim economic prospects we face in the future
As a society it seems like we are running faster and faster into the future without a clear direction of where we are going.
In a highly competitive globalized environment that prioritizes status and consumption, short-term thinking takes precedence. We lose sight of the consequences of our actions that extend past our limited horizon.
These issues are compounded by our broken information ecosystem in which it is getting more and more difficult to have consensus on basic facts. Reality thus becomes filtered down to us through politicized news media or our personalized social media feeds.
We are forced to ask, who is truly looking out for our best interests?
The Need for Philosophy in the Modern Age
In times of deep uncertainty, philosophical inquiry can be used to help us understand some of the problems we face as a society more deeply.
It may not provide concrete solutions or answers, but it does force us to slow down and think.
Ideas matter. They are like the glasses we wear to interpret the world around us.
This is why critical thinking is so important. In an age of information overload and false information, we can turn to the ancient wisdom of Socrates.
Socrates famously said “I know one thing – that I know nothing.” This idea, coined as Socratic ignorance, helps us resist the temptation to jump to conclusions or conform to the popular beliefs of the time. Socrates asks us to rigorously question and examine our beliefs, compare and contrast different viewpoints and engage in honest good faith dialogue with others.
This is how we find truth and cultivate wisdom.
The American sociologist and education scholar Peter W. Cookson Jr. argues that this type of multidimensional and critical thinking is needed to address many of the interconnected crises we face in the 21st century. He notes that our education systems should be transformed to promote interdisciplinary learning rather than teaching subjects in rigid silos or compartments. The industrial education model of memorization, conformity and standardized testing in no longer sufficient for the modern era.
Rather flexibility, creativity and the ability to look at problems from multiple different angles should be prioritized. In sum, we need to learn how to navigate through complexity.
As the challenges facing the globe become increasingly complex, our frames of reference must be flexible, expansive, and adaptive …
By looking at a challenge from multiple points of view, we are more likely to arrive at a realistic, effective solution.What Would Socrates Say?
Peter W. Cookson Jr. , Educational Leadership
The Role of the Individual and the Need to Look Inward
The future ahead may seem daunting.
We may be inclined to cling our existing beliefs, support a certain political ideology or be attached to our personal grand narrative of how society must change.
Technical or political solutions may be necessary, but we should first do our own homework. Look inwards and take ownership and responsibility of our lives first. Examine your own beliefs and biases, and prioritize the truth rather than the desire to be ‘right’.
As the Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire noted, we must first “cultivate one’s own garden.”
Only then can we learn to be a proactive rather than reactive.
Robert Pirsig eloquently reflects on this idea in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Programs of a political nature are important end products of social quality that can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values is right. The social values are right only if the individual values are right. The place to improve the world is first in one’s heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Going forward in this next year in the blog, I hope to continue to explore how philosophy can be a useful tool in fostering critical self-reflection and helping us make sense of a seemingly chaotic world.
I aspire to work towards the virtue of humility, to be open to new ideas and perspectives. To be able to examine my own belief systems and change my mind on an issue if the evidence requires me to do so.
Thank all for following the blog, and I hope you’ve been enjoying the content.
Here’s to another year of writing and philosophical inquiry.