Is it possible for non-professional thinkers to contribute to philosophical debate .Are the new digital technologies capable of facilitating open contributions and democratic exchange in the world of philosophical thought, or do the new media propose only a playground for the philosopher, while their real thought is reserved for more prestigious venues. A disconcerting sign I have encountered several times on the blogosphere is an interlocutor who suddenly reveals that he is discussing with me because he is “writing a paper” on the subject. The implication being that the discussion which really counts lies elsewhere, in academia, and that he is using me, and others, only as a sounding board for his own intellectual narcissism.
Many philosophers have talked about the opposition between vocation and career, or between calling and profession. Deleuze talked of the nomad image of thought and the private thinker as opposed to the state image of thought and the bureaucrat. He distinguishes between the vitality of a philosophical becoming that can traverse us and lead us on a process of individuation containing many other becomings and the sterility of “reflection” in both its private and public forms. Feyerabend declared that his profession was not so much “thinker” or “philosopher” as “thought-bureaucrat”, but asserted that what he actually did was to write texts that upset people. In both cases it’s a question of destabilising the transcendences and going with the argumentative and conceptual flows.
Philosophy is a way of life which includes amongst other things a passion for concepts and arguments. It is a becoming and not a possession. A professional philosophy teacher can be a philosopher in this sense, but needn’t be. Philosophy is not about opinions, but is one of the ways of individuating ourselves in a world vaster and more creative than the world of opinion. If someone individuates by means of philosophy without being a card-carrying philosophy professor this all the more to their credit, as life is short and material and affective means are scarce.
Conversely, if a philosophy professor shows he is more interested in the academic Game of Thrones than in pursuing the argument wherever it can lead us, that is his shame. Money is no argument. Nor is “superior” scholarship. I have known many philosophy professors with superior scholarship that was dry as dust, and they themselves dead as zombies, little pawns put in place while better people were discouraged into fleeing into other fields.
The sad thing is that on the internet you do not find a utopia, but the same old castes and classes and cliques, the same remorseless competition, the same social stratifications as in the rest of the world. Many academics are glad to read and cite Bourdieu or Rancière, or some other radical intellectual, without applying it to themselves and to their milieu. The personal has lots of social in it, and “social” means power relations.
So iff you wish to comment on, or contribute to, a discussion on a philosophical blog you should trust in advance that you are not intellectually mediocre and insignificant if you are a professor of philosophy. Do not be discouraged if you do not meet the welcome that you hoped for. Do not stop contributing when confronted with pusillanimous positioning (even if it disguises itself as “democracy”), because individuation and dialogue trump credentials and cronyism any day.