Reflections On Being In the World

The irrelevance of relevance, the relevance of irrelevance.– Being relevant is largely a function of being of this moment, whereas what is most needed at any given moment is precisely what is not of this moment. Hence, it may be possible to achieve fame or admiration in one’s lifetime while also being what is most needed, but only if, or to the extent that, one’s age is inclined to leave a window open to the irrelevant, i.e., the untimely. The greater the age and its people, the greater the anomalies that it may raise to prominence. Conversely, in the smallest age, and among the smallest people, only relevance — that is, only self-congratulatory emanations of the age itself — will be given a meaningful hearing. Thus, classical Athens made room for the “useless and vicious” anomalies Socrates, Plato, and even the metic Aristotle; by contrast, twentieth century Germany elevated Heidegger and Habermas, and France Sartre and Derrida, very much “sign of the times” men, social emanations of the most self-congratulatory sort, though in the distorted sense of self-congratulation possible in shattered societies.

Mind and Money.— What you do for money is your business. But ideas are none of your business, and ne’er the twain shall meet. Or at least if they should chance to meet, they must agree never to marry, and preferably reduce the matter to a transitory relationship of convenience or a one-night stand. No last names, no phone numbers, no next times. A flat-out rebuff would perhaps be best of all. (A billionaire once asked me to work on a short-term educational project for him on a free-lance basis. I accepted the project and its very tight deadline out of genuine interest, and with a view to enjoying the challenge, without any discussion of money. I devoted all my spare hours to this work for several weeks, at a time when I was also teaching an overload of university classes. At one point, the billionaire broached the subject of how I might be compensated for my work. I answered in all sincerity that I had no idea how to establish proper payment for such things, as I had never done this sort of work before, thereby effectively putting the ball back in his court, where it remained, silently and permanently. I completed my portion of the project on schedule, and that was that. We had no further substantial communication, until I was sent complimentary copies of the finished project. I liked this outcome, all things considered; no ties, no complications, no expectations — especially no expectations.)

Form and Matter.— Money is necessary for material survival in the civilized world, and what is necessary is good. Thus, as we are all inclined to mistake our bodies for ourselves, and hence to confuse what is good for the former with what is good for the latter, it is natural that money should become everyone’s most bountiful source of rationalizations, the vested interest to end all vested interests, the subtext behind every subtle compromise of principle or purpose, every gradual slide into choosing comfort and immediate advantage over struggling haltingly against the social grain in the name of ultimate (if always incomplete) private advance.

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