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Telling Apart True Wisdom From Armchair Philosophy

Val is a life-long student of unexplored human potential and many challenges that self-honesty throws at us on that path.


Too Smart to Learn

If your literary appetites insist on some more precise definition of both, armchair philosophy and wisdom, feel free to look them up in any good dictionary, because there will be nothing of academic glamour in the paragraphs that follow.

As usual, my views about man and life stay anchored to simplicity, since I never believed that the human truth could only be expressed by fancy academic cosmetics.

Which immediately brings to mind the familiar anecdote involving a learned philosopher who visited a wise man to hear about the tenets of his teaching about life.

As story goes, the wise dude offered him some tea; and after having placed a cup in front of him, he kept pouring the tea into it until it overflowed. Astonished, the philosopher asked why he was doing that, when the wise man said:

"This cup is like your mind, it's already full, so anything new trying to be added there is bound to be an excess and a waste of my words."

Such is usually the case with most of the philosophers, notably those of an armchair variety. They form for themselves a "theory about everything", which they guard with a closed mind and intellectual arrogance. -- oftentimes leaning toward dogmatic and inflexible stubbornness.

They also tend to categorize; so they may ask you about the source of your views, meaning some already existing authorities, or a "school of thought" popular on the culture market.

Next, such armchair philosophers usually display views that carry a strong emotional charge, always ready for an exhaustive debate in which it is never important what is right, but rather who is right.

We have some endless bitter debates these days that are flooding the public attention over issues of an incapable President -- just replacing a similar one targeting the previous... and previous...and previous one.

More often than not, such debates are not after any satisfying solutions , but exist as their own purpose. Believe it or not, but there are some of these experts actually being paid some incredible salaries for nothing else but arguing over different issues.

Among them could you recognize government politicians? In styles of armchair philosophers they are exchanging batteries of phrases and cliches, capable of talking for hours back and forth without saying anything of some substance.

In any case -- nothing that they haven't said already countless times before.


Wisdom Is About Quality of Being and Relating

We may say that wisdom is insisting upon making us more spiritual, happy, loving, peaceful humans, whereas philosophy is trying to make objective our sense of reality -- whatever "reality" may mean to the gamut of different intellectual tastes.

Wisdom is about life as an experience, about consciousness and its potentiality to evolve, whereas philosophy is trying to stay married to ever changing parameters of scientific principles where the subjective has not much of a value.

Thus, if you are familiar with a long line of philosophers through history, you could be reminded that the most of those brilliant minds belonged to some truly unhappy, some cynical, but all downright miserable and unloving human specimens.

Just for one example, take that genius Jean Paul Sartre, the French philosopher and the father of Existentialism, who wrote how life has basically no value, because we came out of a hole close to another one used for excreting waste (not word for word, but something to that effect anyway).

Arthur Schopenhouer passionately hated women; and while we are at women, famous Socrates didn't know better but marry Xantipa, a bitchy and hysterical woman who certainly didn't contribute to his creative thinking with her constant nagging.

I could go on and on with examples of those brilliant philosophers who were not really wise individuals.

With their often sterile views -- which almost looked at man and life as at something cooked up in petri dishes of one God or another -- contained nothing of wisdom which would be life-promoting in any conceivable way.

Actually, the classical themes of philosophy were grouped into categories like logic, mathematics. metaphysics, politics, religion, ethics, and aesthetics -- any of those hardly hinting at warmth of humanness and our spiritual drive to grow beyond some socially imposed limitations.

Indeed, philosophy looks to me like a sort of intellectual self-gratification as it is merely reshuffling philosophical concepts and principles according to one's own intellectual preferences.


Futility of Philosophical Generalization

However, herein we are merely talking about those armchair philosophers, that growing number of smart asses raising some senseless questions, like:

"What is happening with the mankind? Or:

"What is the role of black man in predominantly white society?

Or, in another example, they are trying to be smart about our health by contending that "we are what we eat".

As for the first question -- we can't generalize about what is happening with the mankind, if we don't specify which part of it. Clearly, this world 's populace is composed of people who are to a different degree happy, healthy, professionally and socially fulfilled, -- with all those others at the different side of the scale.

Thus, the closest that we could generalize about it would be to say how it gives a pretty mixed impression of a paradise on earth and a hell's inferno -- and everything in between.

Likewise, we can't generalize about black folks and their role in the predominantly white society, because we should be specific about who we have in mind. Would it be individuals like Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington, Neil de Grasse Tyson, Mohamed Ali, Nat King Cole, and many, many alike -- or we mean those of Harlem and ghetto variety.

And, as for us "being what we eat", it's but a slogan of the multi-billion dollar dietary supplements industry, and has no practical value whatsoever. In those, so called blue zones on earth with a prominent number of centenarians, people are not eating anything but ordinary, and mostly repetitive meals.

In many cases our "experts" wouldn't call it a "balanced diet"; beside the point that many of those centenarian man and women are heavy smokers and wine drinkers.

The secrets of their longevity and happiness must be found in their strong social and family ties, which, according to science of epigenetics maintains a good set of upregulated genes in their bodies.

We might add to it an enviable absence of stress in their life, while we keep in mind the truism that most of the stress is self-inflicted, while they seem to be naturally too wise as to do it to themselves.

Generalizing about ethnic mentality would be like saying, since Einstein was a Jew, that "all" Jews are geniuses; and "all" Italians are romantic, and "all" French are culinary experts -- and yes, "all" black people are unjustly treated by "all" whites.


Pragmatic Nature of Wisdom

Unlike philosophy, which is theoretic, wisdom is pragmatic.

Many years ago, as one book was following another in my almost marathon fashion, at one point my intuition kicked in with a warning that collecting all that information could not replace a sound plan for applying whatever was applicable in all that material.

Somewhere around that time I must have read about that confessing story of a prominent scholar in field of human nature, who was telling about an eye opening experience during his vacation in one of those third world countries.

As the story went, he took a leisurely stroll one morning, when he noticed a young woman coming his way carrying what appeared to be a laundry basket on her head. What caused him to stay breathless for a moment was her happy glowing face as she was humming a tune. A picture that stayed with him long after.

For, to that learned man it was a mocking reminder how, with all his accumulated knowledge about "higher states", he could not produce that level of happiness as he had seen it emanating from that ordinary woman.

Well, that story must have touched a sensitive spot in me, because, intuitively, I never wanted to be just another smart ass showing off at parties by reciting another smart ass.

So, if philosophy means anything to me at all, it would only be so if it was hyphened into psycho-philosophy.

In search of anything usable within that acquired fund of information, I junked so much of it. Funny, but among that junk are theories that are making many an armchair philosopher quite a "proud thinker".

Here I have tried to make a simple distinction between philosophy -- classical and of armchair variety on one side -- and wisdom, which simply shines with its practical purposefulness.

© 2021 Val Karas

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