Have you ever been wondering why you feel ashamed when you go lean your backside on the bathroom’s throne to poo? Why we like Beyonce but we still feel uncomfortable if we see a girl wearing similar clothes than hers in the street? Why some people are victims of a burnout? And by the way, what does it exactly mean, to be fat? Do mosquitoes have rights?
Yes, you probably already have asked funny questions like these. But have you ever told yourself that they could actually be interesting and meaningful? That we could deal with dirty, strange, embarrassing matters in a philosophical way? It’s now less probable. After all, philosophy, isn’t it this elite subject which only asks great questions – how to live without God? Do we need the truth? Can the matter think?
It’s not wrong and I personally love to explore this kind of questions. But why should we distinguish the “great” questions from the “little” one? Philosophy is not supposed to establish a hierarchy like this, it’s on the contrary a way to ask questions – any kind of questions – and I bet that it can think and discover the meaning which is to be found in the ordinary, the everyday life, the common, the disgusting, well, the vulgar.
Let’s have an example, randomly: “what is vulgarity”? Here is a question which doesn’t seem nor interesting, nor great, nor urgent. However, you’ll meet a problem if you try to answer to it. Come, take a break, sit down comfortably, I’m going to show you.
So, we were saying, what is vulgarity? It’s what is rude, with low moral quality, the contrary of the exceptional. It’s a priori described with really negative values, like an immoral pattern of what not to be. It works as a benchmark from which we can judge, then reject.
Well, ‘til here, it’s okay. But now we can ask, how do we define what is vulgar and what is not? It is not easy to find objective criteria to say it, and it appears that everyone has its own idea of the vulgar – grandma thinks that it is vulgar to swear like a warmonger, your bashful neighbor finds that maybe, your skirt is a little bit too short, and your bookish friend is ashamed of your bad schoolboy jokes.
In fact, we’re going to say that something is vulgar in response to two feelings: despise, or shock. Despise is the feeling that wants to reassure you “no, you’re not part of this world, you worth much better. By being despiteful, you convince yourself that your own value is somehow superior from the vulgar, which enables you to reject it. Here, “vulgar” matches to its Latin etymology, “vulgaris”: popular, common. To reject the vulgar is to reject the common and the average people, it’s to refuse the identification with this stinking mud – because we worth so much better, isn’t it…? When the vulgar does not provoke despise, it shocks. It is its second meaning: morally, it’s not correct, it’s bad and doesn’t have any dignity. But, don’t you think that it’s strange? The vulgar is the common, the average that we reject, but at the same time we are worried enough about it to be jeopardized by it. The vulgar is too normal, but still arouses many outraged “oh my god” from your old grandma or your bookish mate.
You see, here is the surprising paradox! Why is the ordinary shocking? It seems a bit contradictory, don’t you think? Why Beyonce moving her ass and boobs almost naked or the guy screaming his worst curses out of loud are embarrassing us, if they are vulgar in the end? I think it’s because there is a shade of a subversive thing in vulgarity which is hard to conceive. Vulgarity bothers our well established moral categories, to offer new ones. It shows such a freedom and such an indifference, detachment to the judgment condemning it, that we would almost regret to be on the nice clean side of life. So we despise, reaction that closes the matter by convincing us that the vulgar is an inferior normality, this way we eliminate the problem right from its roots. Shock reject as well, even though it betrays that there is indeed something to think about this incomprehensible ordinary.
You might have already heard about this idea which tells that philosophy is born from astonishment, from evidence breaking itself. In fact, philosophy is really is really vulgar in this way! It starts from the common, and can sometimes shock by raising problems. By creating this blog “I am vulgar”, my aim is to offer a philosophical vulgarization, in every meanings of the word: to make these questions accessible because no way, philosophy is not an elite subject, but also to start from all the little vulgar, average, dirty things of life that we experience, to realize that we can meet the “great” question from the “little” one – and that you would be so right if you wanted to explore them.
You’ve understood, I don’t really intend to vulgarize knowledge like “free-will in Descartes philosophy” or “Kant’s categorical imperative” to help you in your next exam – and you would admit that there is a few chances that you’d be asked why we’re ashamed of our poo (even though some philosophers have something to say about it, and that I wouldn’t not prevent myself from calling for their help sometime, it’s just not the main goal here). It also means that you won’t see big scary complex concepts either, so no overheating of the brain with transcendentalism, being for oneself, substance and substance’s modes, meta-stuff and meta-shit, or other error 404 and failed request.
It is philosophy itself that I wish to make vulgar by inviting you to ask questions and to believe in their legitimacy – because questions are more important than answers.