Posted by Jerry on September 5, 2007
Last night, I dug up my old philosophy journal, which I used to keep for my philosophy classes in college. Reading my journal entries, I felt a wave of embarrassment and disgust! Looking back now, I realize that I was so uncritical in accepting the popular bromides of our culture, such as everyone’s opinion is equally valid, we should be tolerant of all views, skepticism is the hallmark of intelligence, humans are frail and human knowledge is unreliable, etc.
At the time, I was studying the philosophy of Alan Watts; he was entirely into eastern metaphysical mysticism, which I apparently found amicable to my own intellectual predilections at the time. Watts loved the simple (i.e., almost ascetic) life, emphasized the notion of nothingness as that which defines and demarcates existence, believed that all humans were connected with each other in some ethereal universal fabric of consciousness, was an atheist or pantheist in the sense that he regarded each man as his own god, and worked up some loose notion of ethics based on prevalent social and psychological movements.
It is interesting to note that while Alan Watts was at his career’s peak–around the late 1950s–Ayn Rand was beginning to gain her own share of popular recognition. The Fountainhead was already in the market and climbing the bestsellers list; America was introduced to a woman fiction-writer who presented a thick novel full of radical–even dangerous–ideas. Then, Atlas Shrugged was unleashed upon the world of ideas around that time–and we now know that American culture decidedly underwent a significant change: for one, Atlas Shrugged ranked as the second most influential book in the lives of Americans, the first was the Bible.
Even though Alan Watts enjoyed no such peak of recognition and influence, I wonder if he and Ayn Rand were aware of the presence of each other in the intellectual scene. Obviously, in terms of their ideological positions, the two were worlds apart. To my knowledge, Rand never acknowledged–at least not explicitly–an awareness of Alan Watts and his particular brand of eastern mysticism.
Anyway, I think in the next few days or weeks, I might create a new category and post some of my journal entries from my younger years in philosophy. I think it will be good to have a record of my thoughts from those years, however embarrassing they may now seem.