This semester I read Immanuel Kant for the first time, and boy was that fun. It wasn’t Critique of Pure Reason or anything, I’ve heard many people groan and complain trying to untangle the information from that happy little book. No, I read a small essay called “Was ist Auflaklarung?” (What is Enlightenment?) and it has pervaded every thought in my mind since early January. One of the most famous quotes said from this essay is “sapere aude!” which is “dare to know!” If you’re able to weed through his convoluted sentences, you actually discover he’s quite the optimist saying that every man has the ability to reason and to make this world great if only he could learn the proper use of his abilities. To him, the individual is capable of great things through the proper use of his own reasoning. Notice I said his OWN reasoning and not somebody else’s. To able to form one’s own opinion over a certain subject was Kant’s hope for people. It can still be said that a large majority of the people in this day and age are lazy and do not like to think for themselves. I always wonder what would make a person behave in such a way, but then I realized: people are afraid of responsibility. Kant remarks that these people are reduced to “domestic cattle” by the “guardians” of society, who could include politicians, church leaders, corporations, authoritative members in general. Think about it, how many times have you seen a commercial telling you to buy a certain kind of phone over another? How many people have heard say “believe in this and not that faith!” Chances are, unless you’re a hermit that lives in Antarctica, that number is a lot.
That’s why people are stunned to see such independent thinking. Let’s do an example:
- I actually do not think the Mona Lisa is that great of a painting. It’s pretty and all, but quite honestly it just can’t compare to Caravaggio’s “The Cardsharps (I Bari)”. I mean, the dramatic lighting, the beautiful expressions of the players, and the arrangement is stunning!
- Now you might be outraged by that, thinking,” Good Lord, who does this writer think she is anyway? How can anyone NOT like the Mona Lisa? It’s preposterous and absurd! EVERYONE likes the Mona Lisa. You must be an absolute madwoman!
You see? By the outburst itself, I am taunted, made to feel embarrassed, and am subtly influenced to rejoin the herd of the masses that are told that the Mona Lisa is the best piece of art on the face of the earth. To a large majority of people, I’m wrong in my opinion which to them is a failure of my intellect. Kant says though,” Actually, however, this danger is not so great, for by falling a few times they would finally learn to walk alone.” Christopher Nolan’s Batman Series comes to mind an equivalent quote: “Why do we fall down, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.” And let’s face it, being wrong is nobody’s favorite pastime. It kinda sucks to be honest. But if we can learn to rise above it, and still think for ourselves, we can achieve greatness.
In this little essay of his is what can be identified as the Kantian being, which is a person that is able to function as both a citizen and a scholar within his society. To clarify: a scholar in this instance is someone who exercises his opinion about life, politics, religion, etc. in a formal way typically through writing that does not conflict with his duty as a citizen of a place, which is to obey the law.
At the core of this Kantian being is a duality between the citizen and the scholar. As a scholar, you may question the laws and customs of those in charge, but as a citizen, you must keep up the established order so that chaos does not ensue. So basically a citizen cannot go against the laws the city has set up because it would disrupt the natural order of things, so what’s a guy to do? Write about it! If a citizen wrote up in a formal proposal something he did not agree with in society, then he could share it with others, who, weighing their opinion on the proposal, could help potentially change public policies to make the city a better place to live in. It’s really not all that different than some of the things Socrates said actually about the citizen having the power to improve the polis. Through civility can the individual have the freedom to think for oneself while serving his duty to keep his surroundings relatively in order.
So what does this have to do with blogging? Well, plenty I think. Kant would probably be thrilled with the concept of blogging because blogs are practically opinion pieces on just about anything. Kant would see the world of WordPress, as a world of scholars that put aside their citizenship to write in his idea of scholars. The multitude of opinions in this ideascape of the blogosphere might make his head spin, but he’d be proud nevertheless because the exchanging of viewpoints are not just between countrymen, but between all people around the world. People on opposite ends of the world could argue about ethics, if poetry is a valid art form, whether or not the Mona Lisa should be considered the greatest painting in the world, or even if Ben Affleck will make a decent Batman. We as a people have come of an age where communication is infinite and we’ve decided to no longer keep our opinions to ourselves.
But remember, as Kant would warn, we must think for ourselves. We must be careful about becoming too carried away from the pretty words of others as the Harlequin did in Heart of Darkness. If we read the words of others, we cannot simply let them become our voice if we agree with them. That, I believe, is a quintessential problem with most people, namely, that they are so hasty to agree with the words of another person because they are too scared to come fore ward themselves. This needs to stop. So my fellow bloggers and readers alike, let us express our opinions. Let us become scholars. Let us unleash our opinions upon the world and “finally learn to walk alone”.