At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”
Acts 26:24, NIV
Theodore Zeldin is a philosopher. As far as I can work out, this means he gets paid to say things that nobody in their right mind would even think. I say this because a week ago I read in that epitome of news reportage, the Evening Standard (now free from all good Tube stations), that Zeldin threw a dinner party on Saturday where there was no food, but rather a list of supposedly conversation-provoking questions.
The plan was to get up to 200 people, paired with random strangers, to talk:
People in this world of superficial communication find themselves isolated and lonely and have difficulty in talking about personal things that really matter to them.
Well, all right. But this is actually a thinly-veiled attack on two mainstays of conversation and human interaction today: Twitter and Facebook: an antidote to the superficial conversations of Facebook and Twitter, to encourage people to open up to each other in more meaningful ways.
He seems amazed or surprised that at one event he organized, “they started at 7pm and some people were still going at two the following morning.” Yeah. Whatever. I used to talk through the night when I was at college, too.
Zeldin apparently has never been on Twitter or Facebook. The ability to have a non-superficial conversation does not depend on the medium, as any letter writer will tell you. More to the point, Twitter and Facebook facilitate human interaction: I have met far more interesting people through these media than I would have otherwise (the last time being a couple of Tuesdays ago at a #UKScitweetup event I organized). Some of my best friends, the very people I would open up to and discuss the secrets of the universe, I have met on Twitter or other parts of the internet. The failure to have ‘meaningful’ conversations is the fault of the people involved; indeed, a failure of vision in realizing what is possible.
If this is the state of philosophy in the 21st century, then philosophers are in great danger of becoming irrelevant. It may already be too late.