Interests and addictions
June 29, 2007
My interests have become far far too broad over the last two years. Two years ago I was particularly interested in, what I now consider to be, the novelty of where art and mathematics converge. From here my interests expanded into processing.org, MacKenzie Wark’s books, and ludology. This also spilled into a attraction towards minimalism and simplicity. Then these interests spilled into simple (intentional) living movements, environmentalism (in a minor sense), necessity, and Sober and Foster’s likelihood theory of curve-fitting in the philosophy of science. As a result of being interested in simple living movements I questioned the effectiveness of social movements as a whole. What makes them effective or worthy of success? What role do think tanks and intellectuals play? Would one have a better chance of effecting social change – of fulfilling the goals of numerous social movements – as an intellectual, think tank researcher, or your run of the mill voter? None of them seemed effective.
Intellectuals have marginalized themselves as merely those who create ideas rather than utilize ideas to provoke action. Think tanks for the most part apparently do not significantly effect policy change. And the run of the mill voter? Well less than 50% of those who can, don’t. And those who do? Too young. Too fundamentalist. The rest are smart, yet apathetic. Even though I live in California – with the greatest number of electoral (you know, the ones that count) – the power of my vote is still a fraction with the population. It becomes more and more insignificant. Now I’ve become interested in participatory democracy. A movement started in the 60s arguably by C. Wright Mills and continues to exist today even though the movement has essentially failed. Movements typically only get one chance.
So, then, my interests are stretched too thin. For suppose that I wanted to study one of these avenues: simplicity, minimalism, social movements/change, intellectualism, think tanks, participatory democracy, art+mathematics, necessity, the evolution of abstract concepts, and so forth. And, philosophy, well is all those things combined and more. But there should – and I suppose by “should” I mean “I want there to be” – either one thing which is interesting enough and able enough to encompass all those interests in such a way that I may be able to devote my time and energy into fulfilling.
This massive and infinite and exponential expansion of interest seems indicative of an addictive personality trait. There are overtones of impulsiveness, experimentation, instant gratification, and so forth. But this addiction would be towards mere ideas, thus leaving out the possibility of withdrawal – for the most part. I suppose there are times where I think I “need” a new book in order to perpetuate this psychological addiction to socio-philosophical ideas. Thinking can get an amateur mind only so far.
So what then? Should I devote time to epistemology? The social sciences? Or to reasoning my way out of this seeming psychological addiction? I suppose I would first have to resolve internal psychological issues before I attempt to resolve external social ones. I feel I’ve already resolved the internal rational aspect of being committed. Motivation seems to be the next step. I’ve already reasoned that the “end” is a necessity (I am referring to commitment) and my means needn’t be rational – it merely needs to be effective (motivation).
I have recently read a book on “philosophical counseling” by Peter Raabe. It was illuminating but not in an entirely good way. The prospect and intentions of philosophical counseling are good. People need to be able to think for themselves and need to be able to handle (if not answer) questions about identity and morality. But ultimately the problems of academic philosophy are the problems of philosophical counseling. How could a counselor give advice one how and what an individual is truly entitled to “know” and “believe” if the philosophical jury is still out on what even counts as knowledge and belief to begin with? If anything, philosophical counseling is psychological counseling in a pseudo-philosophical framework. It is not truly philosophical. If it’s effective it’s a coincidental bonus.
I had thought that maybe my predicament of an addiction towards ideas would be suitable to philosophical counseling. But it isn’t goal-oriented (says Achenbach), end-oriented or problem-oriented (says Raabe). And what Raabe says it is oriented towards doesn’t seem conducive to my needs. I already know how to think objectively, rationally, and transcendently. That is another great problem of philosophical counseling and another great advantage of psychological counseling. Philosophical counseling likely cannot help other philosophers. There is a very subtle condescending tone throughout the literature. The clients are always dimwitted non-philosophers. But psychological counseling can help other psychologists. And philosophers. But doesn’t the very idea that someone could be “addicted to ideas” sound like something only a philosophical counselor would be able to help resolve? They’d at least be able to handle the ideas aspect. Maybe there is some manifest contradiction in my worldview or among my plethora of interests. The psychologist, then, would be able to handle the irrational aspect of addiction.
Well, that prospect seems worthy in its own right. However, supposing that it is effective I am still left with a cornucopia of interests. How to combine them? Or how to eliminate the less relevant or important ones. The problem is more you eliminate the less important ones the broader your interests become. For instance, suppose I eliminate minimalism and simplicity as not as important as studying, say, social movements. But I could spend my whole life studying a specific tactic one social movement made in one part of history and make the most minor dent into the literature. Whereas simplicity seems less important but I may have a better chance of denting the literature with insight.