Whooshup Reorganization

To reflect what this blog has become, the format has changed to emphasize the enormous number of useful links to resources we provide. To go to the whooshup blog and conversations about these resources, just scroll to the bottom of the lists of resources!

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Broken Circle

I have had an interesting experience the last couple of months. I abandoned my own discussion group. I suppose any attempt to compare such an action to real life begs bemused contempt. A boy running away from home; a husband from his wife; a captain jumping his sinking ship. Leaving a virtual reality is extraordinarily easy by comparison - virtual feelings and virtual loyalties run shallow, a truism Dreyfus, as usual, sniffed out early and loudly outed (see his book On the Internet).

So now I'll do the obvious Tysonian thing and discuss, in public, on my discussion's blog, what it feels like to reject my discussion's "on the basis of which" and like so many others, just break the wrist, and walk away.

First, the technical points to review. The Whooshup discussion was meant to draw in a crowd of Dreyfus' podcast lecture devotees as a sort of adjunct classroom. In Fall 2007, I sent polite email invitations to hundreds of contactees and got polite responses from many dozens, some enthusiastic. We held an inaugural meeting in Second Life, which drew a dozen or more curious participants, who got to converse, after a fashion, with Bert Dreyfus in the budding metaverse, the "basis of which" he has so presciently criticized most of his life. Our group, following a stumbling statistical tail curve, soon diminished to five, then four, then three. The three of us got to know each other too well, until we could describe each other's philosophical undergarments, and then I dropped out myself. I'm not sure if the other two virtual souls I left behind still virtually meet at the Garden Spot at EdTech to talk about Martin Heidegger (arguably the greatest philosopher of the last century), Bert Dreyfus (arguably Heidegger's strongest living proponent), and the constellation of worthies that surrounds them. Well, do you?

So that's the scenario. But why did I leave? Well, the easy answer is that I just got too busy. Things came up. Absorbing things, that turned out to be more compelling than virtual discussion groups. But that is only one aspect of the answer. Another aspect of the explanation, brighter but even more contrived, is that I left in order to find out why everybody else left. What did it feel like to the other critical members, who could have kept something afloat if they had really tried to, after they just stopped showing up every weekend? Because now I could feel that way. A little remorse, a twinge of regret at not getting in to a good philosophy discussion every week, perhaps even guilt (virtual guilt?). Now I can feel it too.

But there's a darker aspect too, and I'll dive right into it. Religion and politics, they say, are two things strangers cannot discuss safely. Philosophy is a sinewy matrix that encompasses and entwines religion and politics. One thinks to escape them in pure speculation but gets tripped up nevertheless, and I believe our discussion group mirrors, in our palpably bumbling and amateur way, the wider picture in contemporary philosophy, even in its academic stratosphere. Dreyfus, like Heidegger, is tangibly conservative. Rorty, like Derrida, is bona fide liberal. These labels are almost meaningless in terms of pure thought, but can we ever really escape them?

So if you want to follow my justification for leaving farther than it may justifiably go, and franker than it ever needed to get, here it is: Those Dreyfus fans who got as far as the "real" but "virtual" discussion group ended up peeling away by ideological idiosyncrasies. The buddhist Deleuzian left first. Then the Rortian liberal secularist. The existential christian Heideggerian (me) left (experimentally?) the ground occupied by the neo-pagan Heideggerian. The best of us, just a good man looking for a good world view, stayed to the end.

But is this the end? If we all faced our own deep religious and political insecurities, picked them up and laid them on the table along with all the "safe" but equally bizarre and ultimately ridiculous concepts such as Heideggerian authenticity, Neitszchean free will, Kierkegaardian commitment, could we still come together for continued discussions? Could we put humpty dumpty together again? I'm open to it.

I am grasping for a meta-narrative of this entire whooshup episode, acting inside and outside of it, myself as object and subject simultaneously. Some may find it embarrassing or distasteful, but it is clearly the only thing to be done beyond brushing our hands and walking away. It is a form of group analysis. A learning experience inside a failed learning experience: What is the "basis upon which" a freely organized high-level philosophy discussion group remains susceptible to such an apparently weak contingency as cultural alignment, and is it possible for the group disbanded by such contingencies to seek its explanation? Or better: Can the patient who has died on the operating table evaluate the cause of the mishap? Or better still: Can the society, the civilization, that tears itself apart in violent strife over political (who gets what) and religious (who believes right) issues, successfully analyze the "basis upon which" that urge to fight, or any other social tendency can be caught, diverted, subsumed, survived?