I spend most of my time with children, animals, or dying/dead people. These neglected philosophers don’t say much about the ‘important stuff’, which tells you what’s really important in life.
By ‘important’ stuff I mean news, politics, money. And all the power, class, and economics behind it. The impertinent importances that roil our lives. Children, animals, and those near the exits; these persecuted philosophers suffer the most from the above, but don’t engage with them. It’s their perspective I think about a lot. Cause they’re the cool ones.
Children, for example, don’t know what is going on, unless it directly impinges on them. They only know the consequences of important doings, not the reasons. You can’t tell a child they’re going hungry cause some foreign banker needs to get their interest payment. None of this makes sense to a child because it actually doesn’t make sense. Adults are perversely able to rationalize away consequences, and we try to educate children out of their obvious common sense. As I learn more, I increasingly bow to the natural wisdom of children. Children are natural communists, having no particular concept of private property beyond their immediate needs. They of course fight over toys, but they at least know that they’re supposed to share. Adults don’t even feel bad about doing bad anymore. Adults have elevated not sharing to a virtue and built a whole imaginary world around greed. We should honestly empty out economics and MBA classes and send those world-destroyers back to preschool.
Animals know even less than children, and are even wiser for it. Whenever people talk about how impressive human civilization I try to think of it from an animal perspective. I ask my cat, for example. My cat is far more interested in its own ass than whatever I’m doing on this laptop, and makes a point of showing me. If humans were genuinely special, don’t you think the other animals would notice and appreciate what we’re doing? I mean besides dying from it, which is not the same thing as appreciation.
If you build all this stuff that only your species is interested in, how is that different from a peacock’s feathers or a whale’s song? All of our poems, philosophy, planes, and palaces, these are at best annoying to animals and at worst terrifying and toxic. Who are we to judge our behaviors to be qualitatively better than theirs? Especially since they seem to make things worse for everyone. We should honestly look at ourselves through animal eyes, because that’s what we are. This vaunted civilization is just a jumped-up mating dance. Our living relatives literally do not give a fuck.
Now onto the dying, where we are all bound. The dying either cannot talk or cannot understand. At least the ones I hang out with. My aunt has late-stage Parkinson's and cannot talk. My grandmother has late-stage grandmother and cannot understand. Put them together and everyone is annoyed. Achchi goes on and on without understanding anything, and Nanda can’t tell her to be quiet. My main contribution is teasing Achchi in front of Nanda, which elicits a laugh now and then. I love them both and to me Achchi can do no wrong. I digress a bit into the personal, but that’s all that’s left at the end, isn’t it? The only thing I talk to my aunt about is family. My grandmother doesn’t even know my name anymore, but she knows that I’m family and treats me with love. Neither says much, but that says a lot.
What else is there, except the family and animal family we come from, and the children in front of us? Everything else — the work and worry we spend most of our adult lives on — is just fighting for time and resources to spend with our families. And who are we fighting? Each other. Everybody’s fighting for the same thing, except against each other, like ships strafing each other in the night.
A few people (usual single or serially unmarriageable men) get completely caught up in this individualistic, competitive culture and we call them leaders. Meanwhile their own families usually can’t stand them and they leave a trail of dead people and animals behind them. Where are they leading us? I mean, just look around.
The ‘responsible adults’ in the building have elevated individualism and greed, making them the worst children in preschool. I often think about how my kids' preschool didn’t have male teachers because they’re just too dodgy, but how the government is all men. How are people we don’t trust around children entrusted with everything? We’re obviously doing this wrong.
One big structural reason is what I call Democracy™. Democracy (liberal, representative, 🤮) is another value we’ve elevated without thinking that much about it. Democracy™ — even in its ideal, non-existent form — pointedly excludes children, animals, and beings past and present. Not to mention any adult deemed ‘illegal’. With a decision-making system like Democracy™ and a food allocating system like capitalism, is it any wonder that children, animals, and elders are completely left out? They are literally left out. They simply don’t count.
These are not broken systems. They are working as intended. What liberals call freedom is really the tyranny of the adult. We’re ruled by a bunch of assholes and collections of assholes (corporations), and not even the sort my dog would find interesting. It’s just the worst children in preschool, given the run of the world.
Then there is the wisdom of the neglected, persecuted philosophers, who I spend most of my day with. Children, animals, those on the way out. None of them are long for this world, unfortunately. Children are educated out of childhood, the dying just die off (and are not worshiped anymore), and the animals are actively killed off. These are the people we should listen to precisely because they do not have a voice, because that’s where the true wisdom is. We are obsessed with words, and numbers, and all these adult things which are just the flowers of illusion, soon to rot. I thus think about what the Buddha said, who went beyond all such coming and going. The Tathāgata said,
There are, bhikkus, other dhammas, deep, difficult to see, difficult to understand, peaceful and sublime, beyond the sphere of reasoning, subtle, comprehensible only to the wise, which the Tathāgata, having realized for himself with direct knowledge propounds to others; and it is concerning these that those who would rightly praise the Tathāgata in accordance with reality would speak.
(The Brahmajāla Sutra, via The All Embracing Net Of Views)
The Buddha then goes onto list all the stuff which is not important, which is basically everything. Everything we consider so important — even within Buddhist religious practice — is still something we can communicate, and the important things simply cannot be put into words, numbers, or represented at all. I’m not saying that children, animals, and the dying are arahats, I’m just saying that in their general not talking about this stuff, they are sages of sorts. And, in action, they are at least not awful. Given the state of the world, that’s saying a lot.
These neglected philosophers of the crib, cage, and coffin, they are not mired in illusion and live closer to the moment, and thus it’s a blessing to be close to them, to feed and care for them, as one gives alms to a monk. This is what I think about all the time, surrounded by children, animals, and old people. That I think too much.