Philosophy has been around pretty much as long as thinking has. It is at the core of any liberal arts education and has been for centuries. From its birth in Ancient Greece and its heyday in the Renaissance, to more modern manifestations, philosophy - the study of knowledge, reality and existence - has a direct impact on how we live and grow as a society.
Now, as we pass the midway point of the second decade of the twenty first century, things once considered immovable are changing. Stronger emphasis on the political and the democratization of the field of philosophy are making way for some unexpected changes. One wonders just what the framework of philosophy taught in liberal arts college courses a century from now will look like!
The Political Mix: Žižek and Chomsky
Politics and philosophy have always gone hand in hand. The writing of political philosophers has been required reading on the road to a liberal arts bachelor degree for quite some time. The concept of someone who dabbles in politics, philosophy and other fields is not new, either - in fact, such a person would be called a “Renaissance” Man or Woman.
These days, there is a stronger than normal societal emphasis on the political aspects of a multifaceted philosopher’s work. Noam Chomsky, for example, is a linguist. However, aside from biographical info sometimes given as part of news reports, you wouldn’t know it. He is most generally associated with his political views which are largely influenced by anarcho-syndicalism as well as his anti-war activism.
Admittedly, Chomsky himself has been focusing more on his political speaking for a couple of decades and is retired from teaching. That doesn’t change the fact that his body of work in linguistics is disproportionately overshadowed by politics.
Slavoj Žižek, on the other hand, is primarily a political and cultural philosopher and critic, with an emphasis on the criticism. He has two main things in common with Chomsky: they are both considered to be on the radical left of the political spectrum and have also both achieved a rock star-like status.
Treating philosophers as celebrities is something that hasn’t really happened at this level of frequency since the days of Socrates and Aristotle. Yes, people like Martin Luther and Newton did have disciples and made huge waves that are still felt today, but people like them were few and far between. Now they seem to enter our collective consciousness in bunches.
YouTube and the Philosophy of the Internet
The world of philosophy, once reserved for the elite few, is now experiencing unprecedented democratization thanks to the internet. Celebrities like Russell Brand have YouTube channels dedicated to their political views and cultural observations. In Brand’s case, he’s inching towards the 900,000 subscriber mark and some of his videos have over two million views.
Anita Sarkeesian didn’t have a name already developed through Hollywood marketing, but she also has videos with over a million views. Most of the videos on her Feminist Frequency channel, dealing mainly with the representation of women in video games, are around 20 minutes long. While that may be short for a philosophy lecture, keep in mind that the average successful YouTube vid is in the 2-5 minute range.
YouTube is also home to Ted Talks, which feature a wide range of current trends of thought as well as plenty of videos of philosophical lectures. As with the rest of the 21st century philosophical world, it’s still the political stuff that works best.
Twitter is full of 140 character philosophical nuggets. You can also photoshop your own pop philosophy onto popular meme characters like philosiraptor (featured at the beginning of this post). Pretty much anyone can be a philosopher online these days, and many of them can find an audience greater than some of the greats had in their day.
What do you think about the growing influence of ever-day philosophers and superstar pundits?