Our world has a lot of knowledge. MIllions of articles are pushed out daily spouting new stats and empirical evidence of the latest social research survey that concluded the newest breakthrough in human behavior. Doctorates programs are inundated with applicants, so much so that a 3% acceptance rate is a generous chance to enroll. Bachelor degrees have become the new norm, and anybody who has an eye on the world can tell you the three latest political scandals of the week. Facts and buzzwords are memorized like punchlines to deliver the final blow in bar arguments. TV hosts can yell the employment rate or racial breakdown of blue collar and white collar jobs to any guest foolish enough to walk into the bear’s den that is political news. Knowledge is seemingly everywhere, and almost everyone has it.
But not wisdom. And the difference between the two has never been so vast, so overwhelming, and so irreconcilable. If knowledge is knowing the statistical breakdown of the differences between people of different groups, wisdom is the understanding that the greatest difference lies not between groups, but between individuals. If knowledge is the ability to know all of the -isms that plague our nation, wisdom is the understanding that while the system may have been built on a shaky foundation, people now are just products of the society that we have all created (and thus should be treated as so).
Wisdom is rare. Wisdom is thought. Not the how, or the when, but the why. Why argue with this human about the sociopolitical structure in place, or the moral tragedies of “the shaking of the foundation of marriage”? Why out desires onto things that we have no control over? Why work the majority of a life on jobs that we can’t stand? The thought behind the action is wisdom, the reason seeping through the cracks of our reactionary lifestyles. Wisdom is the breaking out of the cycle of knowledge that seems so impossible, and so important.
There is a need for thought in our world. When so many of us act before we think, if we even happen to think at all; we need those among us who think enough for the majority. We need to ask, or apparently have others ask for us, and then strive to answer the important questions, such as: Who are we? What do we stand for? What is important? Why should be behave as we do?
Philosophy has become an eye-rolling section of the back end of courses that seem outdated, filled with memorization of dates and titles. Instead of learning the foundations of principle by Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle, we learn the SPA acronym. Where students should be taught the dedication to morality the was practiced by Socrates (where, instead of breaking this morality, he choose to be put to death), they are taught either inconsequential things, or taught wisdom in a way that makes it seem outdated and not relevant to today’s world. Whole lives have been dedicated to the search of wisdom, to the answer of how to be a better person. In fact, the term “Philosopher” comes from ancient Greek, meaning, “lover of wisdom”. But how many modern philosophers do we have? How many people are willing to dedicate their lives to the search of a better world, without ego, malice, or ulterior intent? Doing so, for the pure sake of doing so.
Thus, we need philosophers, we need thinkers to save us from the cynical cycle of media reports and political dogma. We need people to help us align our lives with our morality, and our morality with a common good. We need people to force us to question why we value what we do, why we hold things so sacred, and we why we live how we do.
But, you see, the kicker is that this is no easy job. There is a reason most people hunt knowledge over wisdom: it is easier. It is easy to learn about an exterior event and get riled up over the grave injustices. But is it hard to dive into yourself, to go deep in self reflection and find where you fall short on the standards of a moral ruler. There are not many perks for being the thinker of a generation, and there are great requirements. Philosophers do not live in the spotlight, they are not the gleaming, care free individuals that poster smiles on their instagram feeds. They are forced to carry the burden of the disillusioned, all while facing severe pushback, criticism, restraint, and unwillingness from the masses.
In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, a setting is put into place where everyone is tied to the walls of the cave. Shadows appear in front of them; shadows of common things in daily life. These people believe that these shadows are real, that this is what life truly is. That is, until one breaks free from the shackles and sees the fire behind them and attempts to convince the others that is just a facade, that they have been disillusioned the whole time. The thing is though, the masses never believe them. They choose to stay in their shackles, staring at the falsities of life because they believe it is real. They choose to downplay the one who truly sees because this person is seen as crazy, because to break free from the cycle of normal life that we have accepted as truth is scary, challenging, and harder than just acceptance.
This is the world philosophers live in. Like Plato’s allegory of the cave, those who break free to see the truth have an obligation to share that with others. But, as happens in the real world, the disillusioned masses refuse to believe, and in most cases end up chastising the individual. There are no thanks, almost no appreciation until long after burial. This individual who challenges others to see the world in a different way is often seen as uneducated, and unrealistic. We love to throw words around such as “entitled”, “lazy” or “a dreamer” to those who refuse to stare at the same shadows that we accept as truth. We see this in modern day Philosophers, such as Jordan Peterson, who challenges the way that we think and accept the world. He is attacked daily, with words such as “White Supremacist” and “Cult Leader” drug around his name.
Those who choose not only to live with wisdom, but to accept the moral obligation to attempt to part the suffering of the masses face a long, uphill battle. There are long hours, an inability to switch between a work life and a personal life, with large side effects from the work, including mental unstableness, distant relationships, and poor social relationships. There is no appreciation for the long hours of introspection, and the many more of service. There are criticisms, and derogatory remarks, and a world of uncertainty were the only thing you can trust is a thread of faith in yourself, a thread of faith that what you see is not truth, and that you have the ability to withstand every obstacle on the path to find it.
Despite the fact that this is a necessary for humankind and that without thinkers, society would come to a moral halt, why would any individual willing accept this gauntlet? Why would any sane human being accept a life of eternal suffering, criticism, and shame from the masses? Why would anyone willingly submit themselves to a life of work that will most often receive harassment from people who are disillusioned? Philosophy is not a healthy activity, no, it is a solemn sport where few make it out kindly. While there are always exceptions, we only have to look back to examples of what Philosophy, and the attempt of sharing truth did to those who tried. Nietzsche grew disillusioned himself. Only 44 years of age, he suffered a psychotic breakdown and found himself transferred between mental asylums. Socrates was put to death by the very people he lived his life to teach, with his student and pupil, Plato, recounting the tale in a heartbreaking description. Seneca was forced many times to attempt kill himself, and finally succeeded, after punishment reigned down from a corrupt Nero. Epictetus lived his life alone, and openly talked about the reasonableness of suicide. So why would anyone willingly open themselves up to this life?
Because there is no choice. There is no wallowing, no acceptance of a life of sadness. Just work, just a hunt for the truth that lies at the bottom of every moment, every interaction. Just a recipe for internal peace, and external indifference. Most of these men knew the costs (Socrates refused to defend himself in court because he know that whatever happened, he was morally correct), and still followed through, because as Dr. Jordan Peterson tells us, there is no other option but to speak the truth. Therefore, this was not a choice for these men, and it is still not today. For philosophers, it is a destiny.
Because, once you happen by chance or by work to break free from your shackles and see the truth in the shadows that everyone is accepting as real, there is no going back. It is impossible for the individual who has seen the truth under the surface, and the sheer pointlessness in common behavior to ever live a life that fits within the constraints or normal. Whatever the costs of this may be, it must be paid by those who are willing to push our society forward, those who are willing to make the true sacrifice.