How to Become a Disturber of the Peace
by Gary Z. McGee
“I do not know how to teach philosophy without becoming a disturber of the peace.” ~Spinoza
The job of the philosopher has always been to upset the settled mind, to upend the apple cart of our appetites, to plant questions marks like landmines in the mind field. From Plato to Aristotle, Epicurus to Epictetus, Spinoza to Nietzsche, Kierkegaard to Camus, philosophers of all manner have been disturbers of the peace. And rightly so. For a peace which is not disturbed soon becomes a disturbing dystopia.
Lest we inadvertently find ourselves on the slippery slope into hell, we must be vigilant and circumspect with our culturally conditioned heaven. As William Blake said, “We should go to heaven for form and to hell for energy and marry the two.” Indeed. We must be able to reach into hell for the pluck and aplomb it will take to check and balance the culturally conditioned comfort zone of the zeitgeist.
The spirit of the times can all too easily become a mass delusion. It is the job of the philosopher to flip the scripts, turn the tables, push the envelopes, and stretch the comfort zone over the edge of the abyss. Comfort be damned!
As Lev Shestov said, “The business of philosophy is to teach man to live in uncertainty. Not to reassure him, but to upset him.” Here are three ways to become a disturber of the peace.
1.) Inflict yourself with philosophy:
“Let no young man delay the study of philosophy, and let no old man become weary of it; for it is never too early nor too late to care for the well-being of the soul.” ~Epicurus
Philosophy should serve as a chisel for the hardened beliefs within us.
What does it mean to inflict yourself with philosophy? It means being ruthless with your self-improvement. No excuses. No mercy. No self-pity. It means forcing your head over the edge of the abyss. No rose-colored glasses. No pie-in-the-sky delusions. No safety nets. Just you and the eternal darkness. Just you and the rawness of nihilism. Just you and the existential angst. Full-frontal shadow work.
Philosophy is the love of wisdom. As Lao Tzu said, “To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” Practicing self-inflicted philosophy is removing things every day. It’s removing what you’ve been culturally conditioned to believe. It’s removing what you’ve been religiously indoctrinated to believe. It’s removing what you’ve been politically brainwashed to believe.
Self-inflicted philosophy forces you to perceive reality with a clean slate. It gets down to brass tacks. It digs down into the roots of the human condition. It cuts deep into the pulsing blister of the mortal wound. It reveals the lodestone. It demolishes all crutches and gets down to the nitty gritty of the handicap—be it physical, psychological, or spiritual.
It takes philosophizing to the next level. It deconstructs and then reconstructs meaning. It devalues and then reevaluates values. It self-actualizes. It self-interrogates. It incentivizes self-overcoming. It transforms you into a force of nature first, a person second.
2.) Inflict others with philosophy:
“Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence.” ~Wittgenstein
The only thing more important than questioning others is questioning yourself. Now that you’ve tackled that problem, it’s time to turn the tables on others. Now that you realize you are a force of nature first a person second, it’s time to interrogate the “tribe.”
The business of the philosopher is to act as a checks and balancing system on society. A philosopher is the ultimate cultural leveling mechanism, the thorn in the side of anyone or anything taking itself too seriously. Picture a barbed question mark lodged into the raw meat of cultural pretense. That’s the philosopher.
Philosophers realize that the only good Ivory Tower is a demolished one. The only ideal golden idol is one melted down to its essential metals. The only efficient high horse is the one reduced to kindling. Thus, philosophers strategically plant question marks like thought-bombs in all Ivory Towers. They force the golden idol into the crucible. They roast marshmallows over the fire of kindled high horses.
Inflicting others with philosophy is paramount because power tends to corrupt. It will always be necessary to upset the current system lest its power become absolute. Thus, a good philosopher is a question mark sword cutting through all power constructs.
3.) Inflict the universe with philosophy:
“Philosophical thinking that doesn’t do violence to one’s settled mind is no philosophical thinking at all.” ~Rebecca Goldstein
What you think you know about reality is far from what’s really happening. Your idea of truth is probably more of an ideal. Ideals are dangerous because they tend to become idols. They tend to become revered, unquestionable, and sacrosanct. The ideal must be discarded lest it become a blindfold. It must be shed lest it become a straitjacket. The Truth Quest must never be sacrificed for the “truth.”
As Nietzsche said, “There are no facts, only interpretations.” Indeed. Truth is fluid. It’s an elephant in a room full of blind people. It’s there. It’s big. It’s very real. But it’s up to interpretation. You must be capable of entertaining a thought without accepting it. You must be capable of admitting that your interpretation is not the be all end all. It is merely a passing notion, a fickle fancy, a limited conception mired in fallibility, imperfection, and the tendency to be wrong about a great many things.
Inflicting the universe with philosophy is realizing that you are the pivot point. You are the point of view on whom the universe hinges. You are the existential crossroads. You are the universe perceiving itself. It’s all on your shoulders. Thus, it’s your responsibility to align your interpretation with reality. And since you can never be sure if you’re interpretations are aligned properly, it is your responsibility to be vigilant, circumspect, skeptical, and open to new interpretations.
Inflicting the universe with philosophy is a perpetual hard reset. It’s authentic detachment. Self-as-world and world-as-self becomes the supreme perspective. Egocentrism is trumped by eco-centrism. One-dimensional independence is subsumed by multidimensional interdependence.
The world opens, the fountainhead overflows, the Philosopher’s Stone reveals itself, as the detached individual cuts through rigidness and dogmatism like a hot knife through cold butter. If wholeness is your goal, then sacred alignment is the only way.
Sacred alignment is a process not a result. It’s a journey not a destination. You know you’re on the right track when the disease of certainty is cured by the medicine of curiosity, when self-deception is transformed into détournement, and when humility gives birth to high humor.
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (How to Become a Disturber of the Peace) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.