Dear Phaedrus

Dear Phaedrus,
If you have an overwhelming passion for the possibility of something higher in life, be it love, God, or philosophy, I pity you. Like a child on a roller coaster, Eros leads you up and down tumultuous tides of joy and agony, and despite the pain, you persist, and you don’t even know why. When you fall in love you attempt to fall from yourself into another, and this fall grants you that wonderful feeling in your stomach—the butterflies—the joy. You leave yourself so far behind that you forget to eat healthy and exercise. You don’t go outside. You forget about your hobbies, they don’t really matter. The greater the passion, the greater the destabilization of all the daily habits and rituals required to keep a person healthy and happy.
If this applies to a romantic relation, you find yourself unable to think of anyone or anything but your beloved, and risk becoming obsessive and jealous. However, this is fun for you, because obsession is like falling away from the self, leaving everything behind. You are really a child at heart. You like it because it is like becoming someone or something completely new—reborn. So, you do it anyway, knowing full well, but never actually being able to admit full well, that you are heading towards rock bottom. Tragic lovers are always tragic because of the strength of their passion for each other. All the chemistry in the world won’t make a cake bake if the oven isn’t at the right temperature. Tragic lovers: Do we admire them? Kind of. Do we want to be them? Unlikely.
If this applies to religion, you might find yourself turning to drugs to stimulate religious experiences, fasting to become closer to god, or leaving friends and family to join a religious community. One need only look at the Syrian stylites for a classic example of religious asceticism. These men lived their entire lives on top of a pillar. Of course, they still had to eat, so townsfolk would bring them meals. Still, an ascetic monk living alone atop a pillar is the embodiment of what the passion for higher ideals can lead one to do. Do we admire them? Maybe. Do we want to be them? Unlikely.
 The passion for philosophy manifests in many ways. The most common to our times is the love for political change that leads to utopian aspirations. Philosophers are punks and renegades. The love to say no, to critique, to oppose. It is fun for them to refute and debate, to stand outside the status que. It makes them feel special. It makes them feel like they matter. Much rarer is the philosopher who actually does something, changes something. Writing is their lord and savior. With writing they can continue to stand outside of society and convince themselves that they are making a change from within it. They know they are no Marx, but real political change requires real work. Writing and reflecting is much easier. Other forms of philosophical obsession lead to warped visions of reality, an excessive amount of time spent reading things you don’t understand, and sometimes to developing a dour and fearsome character. You might even find yourself becoming an academic professor, publishing articles that are only read by other academic professors and giving Descartes lectures to classrooms full of students who don’t give a shit about whether or not the outside world exists. Do we admire them? Maybe. Do we want to be them? Unlikely.
Overall, young Phaedrus, it is best to read your Nietzsche, kill your Gods, eat a balanced and nutritious diet, and make sure you don’t lose sight of who you really are, because healthy love and living requires an appeal to existential limits. I am sure Socrates will give you a hard time about this speech I am giving you, but I warn: be very careful when listening to him talk! He is like a snake in the grass. His life is full of poverty and misery and yet he rationalizes it away with his denials and deflections. He thinks he is headed towards the grandest of heavens, but he is headed into the dirt, like everyone else. Such is the life of the over-passioned. Live well, young one. Temper and care for your passions like one tending a garden.

Love,
Lysias

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