Teachers all around

(If you haven’t already, you should read << The belligerent fool first)

The Great Books of the Western World

The Great Books of the Western World.
(“The Great Books of the Western World“, by Rdsmith4 / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Desaturated from original)

It is hard to pinpoint exactly how I got to Philosophy, even though it all began just a few months ago. Things weren’t good in the company (again) and I was consumed by all the aforementioned feelings (as always), so I finally took the courage and quit my job. I couldn’t keep living a life of lies, pretending I was internally what I appeared to be externally. But after doing so, I was faced with the reality of just being a policeman and that was unchartered territory. My income was now around one fifth of what it used to be, but I now had four times more leisure. What next? Look for new ways of capitalizing or once and for all do something that really matters? I reluctantly chose the latter, but I had no idea how to proceed.

I then did what I always do when facing a difficult decision: I went to my Oracle of Delphi – Amazon. There I knew I would not find any real answers, but I could at least lie to myself.  Buying books has always provided the comforting feeling that I am doing something about my problems. This time though, I had a pleasant surprise. I found a recursive book, a book about reading books. And, like Robert Frost in his crossroads, “that has made all the difference”.

I have always heard about Aristotle, Plato, Dante, Spinoza or Kant, but I had never thought that “normal” people should read them. They lay in History and whatever they had contributed to society was already embedded in our everyday lives, having already influenced whoever did whatever had to be done to create the technological era we live in and the chaotic pseudo-civilised society we live in. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t have to study Pythagoras — all I needed to know was how to calculate the hypotenuse. In fact, all we need now is to press the correct button in a calculator or to use the right command in any commonplace programming language. I have always been a practical man. I do stuff. I don’t sit at home engrossed in armchair thinking. Why should I read such complex arcane books? Moreover, I knew I wouldn’t understand much even if I tried.

But this book, the recursive one, taught me more than reading techniques. It told me an almost fantastic story about books that you can’t exhaust even by the best reading you can manage, books that you can’t forget, books that grow with you— the Great Books. More than that, it made a clear case as to why I should read them. And by acquainting myself with the importance of those books, with their everlasting contemporaneity, with their almost infinite hidden teachings, I capitulated — I knew I would have to become a student again. I realised with a stabbing certainty that I had never read anything great in my life and that was why I have learned so little all these years. I then hastily devoured what I could for a few days — a little bit of Homer, Plato and Aristotle. At times, I applied the reading techniques I had learned, but, in general, I hasted through the pages half-understanding, half-marvelling, just to grasp the gist of it, just to convince myself I had lost too much time. I had indeed. And only God will ever know what have been the consequences of my ignorance.

It was as if a door to the center of the Earth had been briefly opened to me. As I peaked inside, I could see deep down there all these great men in profuse conversation and all around them, like ghostly images emanating from their auras, I could see everything that mankind had produced, from the wheel to the airplane to the computers to the glass of whisky I had in my hand. And I could hardly hold my tears. I recognised the feeling. Decades ago, when I was a little child in my grandmother’s house in the mountains, I learned for the first time that men could produce matter by watching a documentary on the particle accelerator below Geneva. The same kind of tears tried to escape me then — the tears of an ignorant child in profound awe by the genius of men. Now, while I admired that great conversation taking place, I could see waves of knowledge propagating through Earth’s metal nucleus, as if gathering enough static energy to navigate past the solid, then the plastic mantle, up towards the brittle crust and then out to the surface of the planet where they inspired and taught and exhorted men throughout the ages. Wherever I looked now, even in these crooked times, I saw teachers all around.

(Continues on Remember it all >>)

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