David Brooks is often resented and criticized by my peers for dipping into philosophical waters he’s not been trained for. But I’m always happy to see philosophy on the pages of the Times (or hear it again on the radio), especially when it barks up one of my favorite alleys.
The topic of Brooks’s latest sally into my field is nothing less than naturalized transcendence: the quest for meaning and purpose in life which does not invoke or rely on supernatural powers and universal explanations.
We should have the courage not to look for some unitary, totalistic explanation for the universe. Instead, we should live perceptively at the surface, receptive to the moments of transcendent whooshes that we can feel in, say, a concert crowd, or while engaging in a meaningful activity, like making a perfect cup of coffee with a well-crafted pot and cup.
Making? How about enjoying? One “cup of strong coffee at the proper moment” really can overturn your world. Make mine a grande-sized mug.
Brooks’s inspiration for this rare and welcome neglect of the political news-cycle, published on New Years’ Eve, is a new book by a pair of philosophers: All Things Shining by Hubert Dreyfus of Berkeley and Sean Kelly of Harvard.
Michael Roth likes it too, but wonders if the authors haven’t gone overboard in extolling the transcendent possibilities inherent in the madness of crowds so often displayed in our sports arenas and stadia. Is triumph between the white lines really akin to capturing Ahab’s whale? Old Heidegger even comes into play here, but Roth– evidently not that kind of sports fan– questions the gravitas of bats and rackets and balls.
Can privileged, happy spectators really stand as an antidote for the general affliction of modernity? Is “whooshing” along with a crowd the philosophers’ cure for nihilism or just its expression?
Well, he’s right: it’s important to “whoosh” for the right things and for the right reasons. I’ve been known to wax poetic and metaphysical about baseball, and will soon be doing it again: Sidd Finch and Sadaharu Oh are on deck.
But I wouldn’t contest the claim that our culture is insanely, obsessively, divertedly fixated on games. They’re only games, after all, and crowds can and too often do become unthinking violent mobs.
But… let’s not confuse the sullied product of professional athletics and consumerist gluttony with the purity of the experience to be had at (for instance) Younger Daughter’s junior varsity basketball game. The Tigers suffered their first defeat last night, but they’ll roar back. With a whoosh.