I’ve never really waxed philosophical on anything – including automobiles. But I have been called a philosopher by my secondary school English teacher as he caught me gazing out at the squirrels climbing the tree outside our classroom instead of listening to him describe the emotions behind ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’. The sobriquet stuck through school and I tried to live it down as much as I could. Adult life, thankfully brought with it a fresh set of adjectives, some of them quite unrepeatable.
But try as I might, I can’t forget the philosopher label since almost everything I read in media, the people and events I encounter and the way in which our society is evolving brings with it a share of ‘thinker’s’ moments. Rodin hit the spot with his sculpture of the man caught in deep reflection – it is as good a portrait of oneself as one could desire. Take away the muscled body, lack of clothes and stony countenance and it could be me. But I digress – thinking is something that defines the human species and keeps us ahead of animals, that is until some monkey learns to talk and tells us just what they think of us.
My first thought for this month is for the 22 children who perished in a Swiss tunnel. Three countries grieved for them, thousands of flowers were laid and hundreds of hours were devoted on mainstream media channels to ponder over the tragedy. I share the feeling of it being a tragedy – after all my son is almost the same age and I know how I would feel to lose him. But how many of you heard of the bus tragedy the next week in central India that took the lives of 14 children? Or the school bus tragedy in China a few months ago that took almost 20 lives? Or indeed how many spare a thought for the college girls who lost their lives here in Oman last year? Weren’t they all tragedies of similar scale? How come the whole globe mourns for kids who die in Europe and America, yet doesn’t spare a thought for the rest of the world’s kids?
My second thought is that somewhere down the line, we as members of society, as parents and as individuals live with double standards. It is usually based around the importance of some factors as they apply to us. How is it fair that they apply to everyone equally? One caveat that applies here is that oddly enough in the realm of personal safety we seem to think that good fortune will save us and our kids, while the rest of the world needs airbags, seatbelts and child seats.
Another thought that warrants the crooked arm under our collective chin is the value that we attach to a human life. Agreed, in different parts of the world it is different. All that separates you from another unfortunate halfway around the globe is the number of zeroes at the end of the insurance amount. Now that is surely something that you need to philosophise on.
But then, that is the beauty of being a professional philosopher – you can think a thought threadbare, yet don’t have to act as a result of all the thinking. Accidents are called that because they happen ‘accidently’. Lives are saved in such situations by passive safety systems like airbags and seat restraints. Designers and engineers are responsible for saving more lives than all the world’s philosophers since the times of Socrates. You could also argue, like any of Rodin’s thinkers should, that it is the very same designer and engineer who is responsible for the tunnel, the road and the bus in the first place and hence the reason that people lose lives.
Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, “When I study philosophical works I feel I am swallowing something which I don’t have in my mouth.” The world’s leading name in theoretical physics and the father of Relativity seems to have missed the point. A philosopher would have been able to assign a taste to that emptiness.