Digesting Contradictions

Food for Thought

My new, native New Yorker friend said there is still a cultural affinity between Germans and Japanese. True. Both still produce reliable automobiles efficiently. In my younger days, I identified with that aspect of those cultures. The idea of being efficient, precise, and productive was conceptually appealing. I wanted the whole world to be that way, free of antagonisms and contradictions, smoothly sailing towards some sort of ideal.

But something within us also draws us towards vices, conflicts, and struggles; not just cigarettes, alcohol, and the grime of New York City streets, but also the challenges of survival in the most competitive city in the world.

It was a typical New York summer evening; hot and humid. We ate dinner inside, in the cool, dry air, and afterward moved to the table outside because she wanted to smoke. We watched a constant stream of people walk by as she critiqued everyone’s fashion.

Restaurants like Charrúa are rare today in Manhattan where we can sit around for hours sipping on drinks talking. While in the city, everyone’s volume is turned up to 11 at all times. Only for a few weeks in a year, they turn it down elsewhere on vacation. The antagonisms are sorted out as neatly as they can because they feel like indigestion.

This is where the French comes in. As I became older, I found myself being seduced by French philosophy. The aspect that the Japanese and French share in common is their ability to digest contradictions. They don’t sort them out; antagonisms become an integral part of who they are and how they live every day. Ultimately, peace cannot be achieved by sorting out and avoiding contradictions because existence is a contradiction in and of itself. You can achieve it by watching people from a sidewalk cafe like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir did.

I told my friend I read philosophy in order to better articulate the philosophy I already have. I don’t think it’s possible to acquire a new philosophy by reading. Finding the right way to live for yourself isn’t a matter of knowledge or intelligence; it’s about muddling through the contradictions until they become two sides of the same coin.