On Not Being Like Them

They will not understand you. Can you live with being misunderstood? 

They will find you disappointing, frustrating, and an unnecessary burden. Can you live with being a disappointment?

They will hate much of what you do, typically the very things you regard as most definitive of you. Can you accept being hated, and hated not for your accidents, but for your essence?

Do not answer with the bravado and arrogance of one hiding behind the convenient delusion that “they” are not important to you. “They” are not an abstraction. Nor are “they” your enemies. “They” are the good people in your life, perhaps people you consider your friends, perhaps your family, perhaps those upon whom you are, or have been, somewhat or entirely dependent for your emotional stability, or for your sense of temporal continuity, or for your livelihood, or for your future security, or for your hopes of not living in complete isolation.

“O my friends, there is no friend,” said someone — someone whom history has, perhaps apocryphally, identified as Aristotle. But whether or not it was Aristotle, what matters now is that it could well have been so, as the remark is so true to the spirit of The Philosopher, regardless of whether it is literally true to his lips.

“The spirit of The Philosopher.” This is exactly what is misunderstood and hated, misunderstood because hated, hated because misunderstood. Everything about The Philosopher, as far as it can be seen from the outside, is figurative, whereas Normal Life prefers the literal. Everything about The Philosopher is an elusive question, whereas Normal Life needs clear answers. Everything about The Philosopher is antithetical to political identity, whereas Normal Life is (at its best, when it is awake) Political Life. Everything about The Philosopher is a challenge in a world of predictability; a dangerous threat to the very foundations of things in a world in which all perceived (i.e., self-aggrandizing) “risks” must be tethered securely to safe and reassuring ends; an annoyingly persistent focus (a “gadfly”) in a world that craves absorption in distraction; an awkward silence in the midst of the world’s easy and incessant chatter.

The Philosopher is to Normal Life what fire is to water (so teaches Heraclitus), what longing is to gratification (so teaches Plato), what teaching is to indoctrinating (so teaches Socrates), what the acceptance of eternal suffering is to the promise of a pleasant life and painless death (so teaches Nietzsche).

Is it any wonder that Normal Life and its occupants misunderstand and hate the spirit of The Philosopher? — misunderstand because hate, hate because misunderstand.

If you can live with all of that, and reconcile yourself to living with it without respite or relief, without even the release of the “painless death,” then you may be worthy of isolation, deserving of a lifetime of being misunderstood, good enough to be spat upon.

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