Think Broadly – Philosophy Magazine
Put me in a little tent and I tend to smash around wildly. Please let me breathe. I want freedom, and space around me!
Mentally too, I quickly show somewhat claustrophobic reactions. Faced with a rounded opinion or a hermetic conception, I look for a loophole in such a system of thought, or I create one so that air can circulate again. So that there is again an “elsewhere”. Because there are always other ways to express how life is lived. And I believe passionately that people should have the space to do that. I want to explore and defend this free space during the two years of my reflection.
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Under the motto “think broadly”, I like to explore with others – thinkers, dreamers, artists, decision-makers, meditators, bon vivants – what it means to share our life on earth with each other.
I choose roughly three perspectives.
The first is political. Here, it’s about making – or keeping – space for polyphony. For me, it doesn’t just mean “being able to say what you want”. If polyphony is to make sense, then the pressing question is rather how do you actually listen to all these different voices. What all these voices mean together.
Listening well is difficult, especially if someone is speaking from a position of experience that you don’t have access to, for example because you have a different body or a different story. Knowledge is always rooted in a specific life and in a specific culture, which means that knowledge can never be completely generalized. In this sense, the universal man of Western philosophy is a fable. I see contemporary identity politics and awakened consciousness as attempts to think about how society could – should? – change when we say goodbye to this fable. It is an important political battle.
In the inner space of every human being there are different, sometimes contradictory feelings and thoughts
At the same time, I believe that people are quite capable of empathizing with others. As social animals, we have a natural tendency to move around with each other. And we can also use this ability to become proficient at expanding our understanding, so that we also make room for the values and experiences of others. This open-mindedness is what philosophy represents for me.
This openness also extends to yourself. In the inner space of every human being there are different, sometimes contradictory feelings and thoughts. I think it’s important to want to hear all of these different voices from yourself. To think is to be able to tolerate and explore the ambivalence of this inner polyphony, says psychoanalyst Jacqueline Rose. And I like to tell him. Such a thought, I believe, can soften the whole society. This thought is quite different from knowledge.
A second way to flesh out my spatial theme is physically. Many of today’s politically sensitive issues are actually a battle for physical space. Pig farmers and nature lovers clash. New houses require space, but should not be built in floodplains or deep polders, as we cannot keep them dry. We want forest wherever we want heather, and wolves wherever we want sheep. In short, wishes and ambitions get in the way, because we literally can’t make enough room for everything and everyone. What to think and do then? So how do we shape our country? How then are we united?
We want forest wherever we want heather, and wolves wherever we want sheep
For the past few years, I’ve been working behind the scenes on these types of issues. Spatial planning interests me, because philosophical questions about values become very concrete here. We can’t just do our own thing and be left alone, because there’s just no room for it. Politicians will have to show courage and put certain values above others. Exciting for a thinker!
Those who want to think broadly about spatial planning also come across the traditional side of it. I have great admiration for professionals – urban planners, (landscape) architects, water managers, nature managers – who strive to design beautiful, practical and democratic solutions to spatial problems. I like to ask when they are successful, and why.
Finally, for me there is also a spiritual dimension to space. I think people are a miracle: we think of matter, matter that thinks itself, matter with imagination. This imagination allows us to mentally enter many non-existent spaces – spaces we dream of, spaces we are afraid of, spaces where we once were, spaces we want to create. This ability, in my opinion, makes us exceptional animals. But if we detach ourselves too much from the concrete, from the earth, we become dangerous.
It is precisely this imagination of ours that can make it difficult to realize where you live. A pressing question is how we can “land on Earth” from our vast mental space, to quote Bruno Latour. How to take care of the earth. How to love the ground under your feet.
We think matter, matter thinks itself
I also believe that the love of the place where your existence unfolds requires that you do not run away from the misery that you see then, as well as your own fears and problems. This ultimately brings you to face your mortality. It is difficult, and sometimes painful. But everything else is anesthesia. Look away. And this is not the way of the philosopher.
Another of my favorite writers, John Berger, once said:Reality is all we have to love’.
I was given two years to discover in the public space how one can love reality.
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