31 May 2004

The philosophy of steak rare

In schools and in society as a whole, philosophy is treated as something extra, something to be left to those in academia with a bit too much time on their hands. In short, philosophy has been relegated to tired, unswept corners of the university and told not to mix with the more hard-headed disciplines such as economics or the sciences. So why should we care if Socrates and Confucius are told to sit on the back of the bus? There are many empty seats back there, after all? Has philosophy ever built a bridge or balanced an account?

No. But if we read between the lines of any economic text or newspaper editorial, we see philosophy reasserting itself. Often it comes out in adultered form, but it is always there, just the same. The problem with its current status as a mere undercurrent is that it is generally implicit and therefore escapes the light of rational debate. Looking at economics, for example, our current society pursues the goals of production and consumption, global competition for resources, along with the monopolization of both resources and information. Yet no one questions the philosophical underpinnings of our current system.

At some point, we really need to ask ourselves--Is this what life is all about? Is the goal to accumulate the greatest amount of plastic trinkets before our final lap around the Monopoly board? Personally, I think such goals are empty. Our "work," at least to the extent that it is tied to the production of necessities, should go to creating a healthy and more equitable world. Production, after all, creates more overall joy in the world if articles of production end up in the hands of those most in need. An extra pound of steak on the table of the US elite is little more that a high-cholesterol table ornament, most of which is destined for the trash bin. The same steak (or better yet, the grains fed to the cow), when given to the destitute, on the other hand, can make a huge difference in their lives.

Stock markets, banks, bridges, and fancy cars may have special meaning to us as consumers, but we only have a limited span of time on this planet, and in the end, we need to inquire into our purpose. I hope to hell this purpose amounts to more than shopping at Walmart.