"What is a philosopher? Literally, a lover of wisdom - sometimes also called a seeker of truth. Not just any truth, but truth about important basic, elusive issues such as what is right & wrong, what is sure, what is human? These are the questions we confront when everyday thinking is inadequate to our situation.
Philosophy is a discipline. Philosophers train themselves to weed out both prejudice and wishful thinking from their perception of reality. Philosophers pursue truth regardless of popularity, fashion or legislation. Philosophy is a dedicated lifestyle. What a philosopher believes and asserts is not controlled by a need to belong to a school of thought, nor by the requirements of one’s employer."
So remarked the Australian philosopher Philip O’Carroll in an introduction to his subject. If there is one thing that is agreed upon, it is that, the task of the philosopher is the pursuit of truth at all costs. Now this does not mean that all philosophers spoke or believed in the truth (otherwise there would not be thousands of schools of philosophy); many of them are guilty of "a kind of treachery", as the great Bertrand Russell would have it.
Thanks mainly to the ugliness of politicians and those with political goals, truth and falsehood have become so intertwined, that it is, arguably the most difficult of times for the philosopher, he who has nothing but a disinterested search for the truth.
Most politicians desire to spread falsehood, with the aim of attaining power and fortune. There are too many recent instances of blatant lies and deceptions (some call them ‘Bushisms’) for us to go into that, all cases that verify one of the should-be-axioms of human life, that there is almost no such thing as an honest politician. One can almost believe that it is an oxymoron.
It is reported that George Washington once looked at his father and said, "Dad, how can I get to be president if I never tell a lie?" Although most likely a legend, the message is informative all the same. When Winston Churchill passed by a grave whose plaque read, "Here lived and died the honest statesman", he remarked that it was the first time he heard of two people buried in the same grave! Politicians thrive on lies, for, as Russell reminds us, "politics is largely governed by sententious platitudes which are devoid of truth". The great Albert Einstein wisely told us that, "All of us who are concerned for peace and triumph of reason and justice must be keenly aware how small an influence reason and honest good will exert upon events in the political field."
It is the discipline of "Politics, n: [Poly "many" tics "blood-sucking parasites"]", the "systematic organization of hatreds", the practice of "ignoring facts", "a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles, the conduct of public affairs for private advantage" as the great Gore Vidal, Henry Adams and Ambroise Bearce respectively told us. But its probably the awesome Albert Camus who perhaps put it best:
"La politique et le sort des hommes sont formès par des hommes sans idèal et sans grandeur. Ceux qui ont une grandeur en eux ne font pas de politique".
It is not in the interests of politicians that the people think, or that truth spread. If it were up to the politicians, they would rather see everyone ignorant, or at most embrace technical specialties, relating to things like technology, engineering and science – whereby the wealth of their nation can be increased, or empty arts – which have no intrinsic value save amusement, rather than areas where they are required to think and reflect on their world. They fear thought. And thus why many governments embrace religion (and I include communism in this category as well as traditional religions) in the most twisted of fashions, deploying it for the sake of paralysing the thoughts of their people, when in actual fact, it is the light to all that is humane and worthwhile. This, of course, is most powerfully exhibited by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, ruled over by one of the most totalitarian regimes on the planet.
In an age dominated by satellite dishes, and hundreds of news channels, all purporting to report the truth, we have come to live in a world, in which, as Martin L. Gross, writing in his ‘A Call for Revolution’ tells us, "politics has replaced philosophy". The common man watches and listens to what is being said by those channels, and consciously or subconsciously, assimilates it all.
We live in a very difficult time, and the demands required of the common man for his everyday sustenance leave him, in most instances, too drained to deliberate over matters of not-so-immediate concern to him. The majority of thinking is done for him, by the ‘analysts’ that the various channels offer to him, so to speak.
This is very dangerous, and the outcome is that, side-by-side, we, the students of philosophy and its fans, who have become ever so uncertain about the future, including the future of our beloved discipline, are living with people of the most outrageous degree of stupidity, who would rather die than think, who are prepared to believe the most outrageous myths, all in order to spare their brain the torture of ‘thought’. In no other age have the words of the ever Russell been more apt, "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."
Thanks to all this, philosophy, the art of thinking, and the desire for truth, is slowly dying. It is, to quote Professor Julie Von Camp of the University of California, a discipline that was, "once at the heart of a liberal arts education", that now rarely even has "the status of a department", and is "not taught at all at many schools".
"My worst fear is that philosophy will go the way of classics, Latin, and Greek….The responsibility for avoiding the fate of classics lies with those of us in philosophy. We must ensure that the rest of the academy understands the importance of what we do as much as we do. This is our responsibility. How do we meet that responsibility? Philosophy can enrich all the disciplines at the university, but it is our responsibility to show them this eternal truth."
And this is a sad and most undesirable state of affairs. I have, in the course of many essays and discussions over the past few years, attempted to highlight the importance of philosophy, particularly with regards to the medical professional.
But now, after the recent events in Gaza, I could not be more convinced that, only philosophy can rescue us from the cunning demands of politics and politicians. Fortunately, I do not find myself alone in believing this. In fact, the usefulness of philosophy for solving of political crises was expressed by none other than Noam Chomsky, writing in a forgotten article, ‘Philosophers and Public Philosophy’, in the journal ‘Ethics’, in October 1968:
"Philosophers, however, may be in asomewhat more fortunate position.There is no profession that can claimwith greater authenticity that its con-cern is the intellectual culture of thesociety or that it possesses the tools forthe analysis of ideology and the critiqueof social knowledge and its use. If it iscorrect to regard the American andworld crisis as in part a cultural one,then philosophical analysis may have adefinite contribution to make".
How can it accomplish this? I believe it can do so in the following ways.
One of the most fundamental problems that we have in our modern culture is that people are so certain of their knowledge. They talk of ‘historical events’ with the authority of first line witnesses to the events they cite, and with utmost conviction.
One of the most important things we ought to acknowledge is that, there is no room for historical argument in the defence of Zionism or Palestine. We have to acknowledge that both sides, Palestinians and Zionist have equal, and in their eyes, valid resort to historical arguments validating their case.
The first lesson in philosophy is doubt. Doubt applied to everything, including history. If those people interested in the Palestinian-Israeli problem read the works of those historians with this type of thinking, both sides would be spared much madness – for 50% of the conflict is based on history (the remainder on religion).
One can read history for leisure, for entertainment, for amusement purposes. But it cannot be relied upon to dictate other people’s lives. It cannot be used to harm others, as we have been doing in Palestine for the past 60 years. This is a central point that I wish more people realised; it is perhaps owing to a decline in philosophical thinking, in doubt and scepticism, and a rise of an only to ready acceptance of other people’s reports and lazy thinking that makes this point rather unappealing to the modern mind.
But it is true. We cannot prove history.
This is something that I emphasised very strongly in 11 long pages on in my unpublished work, ‘Palestinianism‘, where I delved in some detail on problems such as ‘who was there first’, Palestine demographics pre-1948, the relationship of the Arabs to the Jews pre-1948, Palestinian exit (voluntary, forceful, or gentle expulsion) and others. Historians have developed contradictory arguments for both. As a result, the truth seeker cannot resort to them in his pursuit. All too often, one depends on the prevalent opinion of his or her own community to make the choice – in support of Israel or in support of Palestine. And this is no standard for truth.
No great, or even average thinker would depend on history to substantiate his or her argument for something so important as the problem of Palestine, a problem so important that, it has led to the deaths of over 1300 people and over 5000 injuries in the space of two weeks. I am left bemused by all those Zionist fools substantiating their case with resort to history, and am always disappointed when defendants of our case do the same with the greatest of intentions, for I only wish they knew better.
A few quotes from a few great thinkers will substantiate our case. The great Samuel Johnson was reported by his biographer James Boswell to have remarked, "We must consider how very little history there is; I mean real authentick history. That certain Kings reigned, and certain battles were fought, we can depend on as true; but all the colouring, all the philosophy of history is conjecture."
The great Samuel Taylor Coleridge put it poetically:
"If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us! But passion and party blind our eyes, and the light which experience gives is a lantern on the stern, which shines only on the waves behind us!"
Another great poet, Thomas Carlyle put it wittingly, "History is a distillation of rumour".
While I think it is a slight exaggeration, there is some truth in Voltaire’s remark, "All of the history of the past, as one of our wits [Fontanelle] used to say, is only an accepted fable". His compatriot, the novelist Honoré de Balzac probably put it more sensibly, "BalIl y a deux histoires: l’histoire officielle, menteuse, et l’histoire secrète où sont les véritables causes des événements".
This is further substantiated by a comment that Leo Tolstoy, arguably the greatest novelist of all time made to his firend Nazare’ev in 1852. He informed him, "History is nothing but a collection of fables and useless trifles, cluttered up with a mass of unnecessary figures and proper names. The death of Igor, the snake which bit Oleg – what is all this but old wives’ tales".
Augustine Birrell, a famed professor of law, called history "that great dust-heap", and Guy de Maupassant, "that excitable and lying old lady". Elbert Hubbard referred to it as "gossip well told", and Mark Twain called "the very ink in which all history is written…mere fluid prejudice".
Samuel Butler brilliantly remarked, "It has been said that though God cannot alter the past, historians can". And indeed, they do, blinded by political affiliation and religious prejudice.
Charles Peguy, the noted French poet and essayist of the 20th century also made a wise comment, "It is impossible to write ancient history because we do not have enough sources, and impossible to write modern history because we have far too many".
The great Bertrand Russell, while in love with history throughout his life, was not afraid to tell his disciples:
"It is not always realized that selection involves a standard of value among facts, and therefore implies that truth is not the sole aim in recording the past…Very few teachers of history, I believe, would be able to produce any good argument to show that Napoleon was not a myth….Clearly if you are going to believe anything outside your own experience, you should have some reason for believing it. Usually the reason is authority…but we all know how often authority has been proved mistaken….To revert to history, as we proceed into the past there is a gradually increasing doubt. Did Pythagoras exist. Probably. Did Romulus exist. Probably not. Did Remus exist. Almost certainly not. But the difference between the evidence for Napoleon and the evidence for Romulus in only one of degree. Strictly speaking, neither the one nor the other can be accepted as mere matter of fact, since neither comes within our direct experience."
Among them, of course, was the great Ludwig Wittgenstein, who in 1915, made the following remark:
"What has history to do with me? Mine is the first and only world! I want to report how I find the world. What others have told me about the world is a very small and incidental part of my experience. I have to judge the world, to measure things."
In an interview in the Chicago Tribune on the 25th of May 1916, Henry Ford told us that, "History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s dam is the history we made today". Perhaps, like Voltaire’s remark, on a slightly hyperbolic side, but not without an element of truth.
T.S. Eliot put it more poetically in ‘Gerontoin’:
"History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities."
Walter Benjamin remark on history, in his ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, in ‘Illuminations’ (1950) is extremely informative:
"To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it "the way it really was" (Ranke). It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to retain that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to man singled out by history at a moment of danger."
And equally so, Paul Valery’s comment, "History is the most dangerous product evolved from the chemistry of the intellect. …History will justify anything. It teaches precisely nothing, for it contains everything and furnishes examples of everything."
Finally, Dean Inge states, "The things that we know about the past may be divided into those which probably never happened, or those which do not much matter." Joseph Freeman cynically remarked, "Everyone falsifies history even if it is only his own personal history. Sometimes the falsification is deliberate, sometimes unconscious; put always the past is altered to suit the needs of the present. The best we can say of any account is not that it is the real truth at last, but that this is how the story appears now." Roy P. Basler commented, "To know the truth of history is to realize its ultimate myth and its inevitable ambiguity." Finally, to conclude our quotes, one from the contemporary British historian Simon Schama:
"Historians are left forever chasing shadows, painfully aware of their inability ever to reconstruct a dead world in its completeness however thorough or revealing their documentation. We are doomed to be forever hailing someone who has just gone around the corner and out of earshot."
The bottom line is that, when the Israeli soldier is setting alight a Palestinian home, he is relying on reports of history. When the Zionists and their best friends, the Evangelical Christians, are defending their case, they are forever dependent on history, including Biblical fables.
Philosophy, through fostering a habit of doubt, will only reinforce this doubt over history, and in this it derives possibly its greatest importance for the defendant of the case for Palestine, and the truth seeker.
How wonderful would it be if one were to suggest to them that their history can never be proved, and that "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent", as the great Ludwig Wittgenstein taught us?
The Zionists have nothing to back them up save those fables of history. It is time to discard them into the dustbin of ‘history’.
PHILOSOPHY, RELIGION AND THE PALESTINIANS
Listening to people talk about the current Gaza crisis, people express different points – some defending Hamas, others defending Israel.
With the exception of very few, I have heard no one talk about the central issue in all this conflict. The fundamental points that people seem to have forgotten is – does Israel have a right to exist?
And the answer is – unless you are blinded by religious fundamentalism or your preferred version of history – clearly not.
Why does no one bring up this question anymore? Why is everyone taking the existence of Israel now as a necessary, unchallengeable issue? Because the PLO have accepted the right of Israel to exist, it does not mean that it is an unchallengeable issue – for there is not one iota of intelligence in the minds of any of its members. This is perhaps the one thing that Hamas have got spot on – they do not recognise the right of Israel to exist. We believe Israelis have every right to lexist, but not Israel, for Israelis are the creatures of God, while Israel is an illegitimate creation of a community of moral degenerates.
Israel is an illegitimate child borne out of the thought of religious (Christian and Jewish) fundamentalists and atheists of Jewish origin. One will be hard pressed to see an atheist of non-Jewish origins defend Israel (but having said that, I have known quite a few atheists of Jewish origins who defend Palestinians and attack Israel better than anyone else. Names like Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein and Israel Shahak, among others, come to mind) – unless of course they have other motives, other than truth, to support a defence of the Zionist state.
The central point is that Israel is a nation driven by the use and abuse of religion and history; stripped of dogmatic devotion to both, Israel would collapse. There is no question about that.
Hence why I argue, in an unpublished work, that "the solution to the problem of Zionism lies not in the books of Chomsky, Edward Said or Finkelstein, but in those of the sceptics" – people like Russell (who wrote ‘Why I am Not a Christian’), Hume, Voltaire, and Nietzche, and David Dvorkin (who wrote ‘Why I Am Not a Jew’)", Karl Marx, Baruch Spinoza, Israel Shahak and others. By casting doubt on those institutes, those great men, without knowing it, have done the Palestinians the greatest favour, and the most outstanding defence.
Thus, the fostering of religious doubt and scepticism is another way in which philosophy can help support the case for Palestine. Only the truth will remain then, the self-evident truth which needs no argument or substantiation from a historian or a religious figure, who may be blinded with political or religious affiliation, but the truth that is as clear as daylight, that there is only one God and that submission to Him is the only way forward. In the eyes of a rational Palestinian, an atheist (who, in his heart of hearts, has no reason to support the case for Israel) is far more humane than a pro-Zionist who believes that it is alright to kill an innocent child, because the books of the Ancients said so.
The final way in which philosophy can help the Palestinian case is that, by learning about the ideas of the different philosophers, we learn much that could benefit us in our critique of Zionism, among other things. For more on this, I refer the kind reader to the section, ‘What the Great Philosophers Can Teach’, an 18 page synopsis in my unpublished work, relating to this issue.
Perhaps, after all, philosophy, the so called mother of all knowledge can help give birth to the Palestine we envisage – a nation of wisdom, thought and peace. She had already given birth to those who present the case for Palestine in their arguments, in the most logical and appealing manner – men like Edward Said, possibly our greatest thinker; Azmi Bishara – a most outstanding philosopher and one of our best defendants, Ismail Raji Al-Faruqi, our most outstanding Islamic thinker and philosopher, and Sari Nusseibeh, a professor of philosophy and president of Al-Quds University.
It is a dream, and I hope that it is not a Cartesian one.
 "Politics and the fate of mankind are formed by men without ideals and without greatness. Those who have greatness within them do not go in for politics".
 "In fact, they do", the great Bertrand Russell observed.
 Indeed, the encouraging of the learning of history – both its medical and non-medical variants, is one of the central points in a recent unpublished essay I wrote, ‘On the Value of History to the Medical Professional‘.
 "There are two Histories: the official and lying History, and the secret History in which are the real reasons of events".
 The critique of traditional Islam, while in my view essential for life to progress, is not essential for the Palestinian case, for Muslims appear, as a whole, to express a uniform viewpoint regarding the question of Palestine. This contrasts with Judaism and Christianity, some factions of which support, and others oppose the state of Israel.