Artie died today. Or, maybe yesterday, I don’t know. The email from the secretary wasn’t clear. And I didn’t know Artie well enough to consider the details worth chasing up. A lot of our members seem to die. I hope they die well. Otherwise we may stand accused of having let them down. After all, it was Plato who wrote that ‘Those who apply themselves to philosophy in the proper way are doing no more or less than preparing themselves for the moment of dying and the state of death’. People come to the philosophy society for lots of reasons, but learning to die well is rarely one of the stated objectives. Maybe the search for Truth is a search for a peaceful death? But who cares about Truth (capital T) in philosophy nowadays? So passé…
Artie was quite misanthropic, and my suspicion is that one cannot go gently into that good night while still considering one’s fellow humans to be little more than particularly cunning, selfish, and violent apes. It seems to lack wisdom, at least according to my definition of the term. Artie would enjoy spending time with his curmudgeonly friend Gianfranco. They would slag humans off for hours on end. I’m not sure it was very philosophical, but it seemed to keep them happy.
As for what it even means to be philosophical, now that’s a tricky question. I often feel that some members have definitions so radically different from each other that they may as well be talking about different things. Often enough they literally can’t sit in the same room without laying into each other. Take Luciano and his badgering of Jonnie for juicy emotional titbits. He would call that philosophy: ‘Listen, man, philosophy is life, not hiding behind cups of tea talking about books written by dead people’. How does one square that kind of view with the ‘standard’ position that one does philosophy by reading philosophy and discussing philosophy in a respectful, boundaried manner? The unsettling fact is that one doesn’t. And hence the acrimonious fall-outs that seem to bedevil the society on a regular basis.
So that’s where things stand – a regional philosophy society at war. It was not until I attended a one-off group convened in memory of Artie that I realised how deep the fissures had grown. We met at Dario Rossi’s flat, one of my favourite venues in the city as it overlooks the rather impressive Chester Burn viaduct, one of the few notable features of the local area. Dario is also one of my favourite members of the society, a charming yet largely unsuccessful lecher. Or to be more specific, unsuccessful as a lecher; in most other respects Dario would be considered rather successful, even esteemed. And to be fair, I suspect that for most of his life Dario was considered a successful and even esteemed lecher, but back then I guess that one would use a less judgemental term like lothario or womanizer. For Dario is now seriously old – hence the judgemental position I took in using the term lecher. One has to be truly cursed to take on this title before one reaches deep into old age. At this point it becomes almost unavoidable, more a factual than a value-laden position.
Dario is another one of these fanatical types, but in his case it is the plight of the ecosystems and by extension the world to which he devotes his energies (of which there is an abundance given his lack of sexual conquests). Dario occupies a revered position within the society as he used to be friends with some prominent eco-inspired philosopher prior to moving to the UK from Canada. It is fascinating that the members tend to care so much about what these strangers write or say, while caring little for the (often more interesting) opinions of each other. But that’s another matter.
Dario takes great pleasure in flooding the mailing list with apocalyptic articles that he has sourced detailing the evermore gruesome plight of the ecosystem and all those creatures that make use of it for food and energy and so on. Or maybe he doesn’t take much pleasure himself, but his doom-laden contributions are lapped up by most of the members, especially the older male ones. Perhaps there is something comforting in endorsing a nihilistic position that positions humans as clever parasites hell-bent on destroying its host. I guess that one of the most painful things about death is the sense that the world goes on without you and doesn’t care that much when you’re gone. But if the world is unlikely to go on much beyond your own departure, then perhaps there is some consolation there. Artie was certainly one of Dario’s most enthusiastic supporters, never short of an indulgently apocalyptic response to Dario’s emails. Ironically perhaps, Artie was reading Kropotkin’s anarchist masterpiece Mutual Aid shortly before his death, a book that pre-supposes the possibility of humans living in harmonious and non-destructive ways as the basis for its possibility. I had always placed him on the side of the nihilists, but maybe he still had hope, even faith, until the end.