My comment did indeed steer the evening’s discussion into a new and unexpected direction. It was notable that very little time was actually spent discussing the question that I had posed, for with a kind of painful inevitability the group seemed drawn to a far more pertinent question concerning anarchy and the philosophy society: what do we do about Joey ‘The Bunny’ Castellano? Joey was, after all, nothing if not anarchic. Not in a political sense, but in a kind of ‘anything goes’ sense. In a recent group, he had made some outlandish statement about human nature that had incensed Pietro sufficiently for him to ask that most un-philosophical of questions: ‘What evidence do you have for saying that?’ Without missing a beat, Joey responded with ‘The fact that I just said it’. Still smarting from this encounter, Pietro was stirring up the sectarian currents that were slowly building up within the society:
‘I mean he has no respect for philosophy. All he says is that philosophers have got it wrong – that they’ve been sending us all on a wild goose chase. I mean how can he say things like that? But all of his disciples just lap it up. You should have seen them the other week – it was like the cult of Joey Castellano. The man can do no wrong in their eyes. But he’s not even doing philosophy. It’s ridiculous. I mean…’
Noticing a proliferation of nods around the room, I interjected at this point:
‘Pietro, I take your point and agree that Joey is pretty unconventional, but you have to accept that he is a Socratic philosopher. For him there is Socrates and very little else besides. So he sees it as his duty to keep questioning everything and stripping everything that we take for granted away until we realise that what we thought was the true and self-evident is in fact anything but. And of course it upsets people, but surely that’s their problem, not his. Of course, the Athenians ended up killing Socrates because he pissed them off so much’.
Pietro is of course a classic example of the kind of ‘criminal’ or ‘killer’ that Paulie and company were discussing earlier. He would definitely have sold out Socrates or Jesus or any other free thinker who challenged his ideas too much. In fact, most of the people there would have joined him. It’s strange how seriously people take their ideas. He seemed to get my point, but the resentment was still simmering in the room. Surprisingly it was Paola who re-ignited it:
‘I find Joey’s groups hostile – it’s like you can’t criticise what he says or the rest of the room turns on you. I’m not going back again on Saturdays. It’s just no fun anymore’.
‘And I’m worried about the level of debate on Saturdays – it’s dangerously low’, chipped in Placedo, a strong supporter of Pietro and a long-term antagonist of Joey, who he felt represented ‘the worst excesses of the continental tradition’. This rather racist sounding comment in fact refers to the Anglo-American vs. Continental divide in philosophy, with the former generally being about logic, reason, and polite cups of tea, and the latter characterised by emotion, subversion, and destruction (or deconstruction as they like to call it) (it should be noted that this divide is not quite as clear-cut as I just made out, but will suffice for now).
Pietro had now found his voice again: ‘Absolutely, I couldn’t believe it the other week when Mickey, you know, Mickey Ballerini, the hippie guy, well he told me that I should open my mind a bit more. I mean the bloody cheek of it. As if criticising Joey is de facto a sign of a closed mind. And then just to add insult to injury when I emailed him the other day to demand an apology cos he’d insulted me and hurt my feelings, you won’t believe what that cheeky fucker wrote back. Here we go’. He had pulled out his phone and had now triumphantly located the offending email response. ‘He wrote ‘is your mind open to the possibility that I did not hurt your feelings, I just said some words, and you let them hurt your feelings’. The bloody cheek of it’.
I found myself laughing as this was just the kind of pseudo-spiritual consciousness-expanding nonsense that Mickey comes out with the whole time. Pietro and Mickey have a strained relationship that goes back to a talk Mickey gave on happiness that Pietro, pushed to the limits by what he felt were Mickey’s non-philosophical statements, dismissed as ‘a load of utter new-age wank’.
‘I mean this isn’t philosophy’, continued Pietro, ‘this is mysticism or religion or something, but it’s not philosophy’.
I tried to counter with a reminder of the extreme elasticity of the concept of philosophy, but by this point my attempts to bridge the divide was falling on deaf ears. And anyway I largely agreed with Pietro’s verdict on Mickey’s tenuous kinship to the philosophical undertaking – we had to draw the line somewhere and Mickey seemed as good a place as any. So I just sat back, drank some of Dario’s wine, and reminded myself that the secret to getting the most out of the society was not to take anything or anyone in it remotely seriously.