Madam Toastmaster, fellow members, honoured guests..
Tonight I will introduce myself to you, and while I am many things and many interests, I have chosen the underlying condition that really defines my every action. This is my neverending quest for Truth and Understanding. It’s not that i am interested in knowing a lot of things, like historical dates or particularities in the law. No, I seek a deeper understanding of the whole, I want to really wrap my mind around things, understand the essence of everything. Obviously an ambitious goal. And this curiosity has always been a part of me, I have a particular memory that shows this.
I was sitting on the back of my mum’s bike. Here I was 6 years old, cycling through Amsterdam. I will just briefly paint the picture of me as a 6-year-old for you, I was wearing a fantastic white princess dress with glitter and ribbons, a hat, and my wellies. While I was holding my hat in the wind, I was questioning my mother about Life. I asked her: Mum, after I finish school will I know everything? She answered: No, after primary school, you go to high school. So I asked her: After high school, will I know everything? And again she said: No, after high school you can go to university to learn more. Ok I said, after university will I know everything? And then she dropped the bomb on me: No, you can never know everything.
And I remember feeling very sad and scared.
And this feeling of sadness would be something that would return whenever I would think about the greatness of the universe and my tiny role in that, I thought that was the most depressing thing in the world.
At the age of 10 I swore to myself I wouldnt let my mind wander off to those thoughts ever again.
Obviously my mum telling me I could never know everything really traumatized me, but it didnt stop me from studying philosophy. A true brain pain if there ever was one.
I remember one lecture where the teacher was being all cool and aloof and funny. He was the head of department, but his lectures were like a joke. He would stand in front of the students and adopt this tone of voice that was like ‘hey guys check out this old guy, thought happiness is the greatest good, what an idiot! He was obviously wrong because of this this and this.’
I was puzzled by this cynicism, isn’t happiness the greatest of goods? Or at least good?
In my final year I took the course truth, language and literature and as I was working my way through some material one afternoon I came across some theories that as per usual set out to disprove all the magic in the world. I can summarize these ideas by a quote from Murakami:
‘Philosophy is only semantic pleasantry anyway.’ Meaning that philosophy is relevant to language and to grammar, but not to life and the actual world.
This summarized the whole idea of the philosophy as I was taught at university.
I realised this path did not lead me where i wanted to go, it only confirmed our futility, our insignificance, as an individual. Every thing was doubted and deconstructed, which is not a bad thing, but the answers never came to fill the void.
Philosophy is academic masturbation for the mind. In fact it narrows down our thinking instead of widening it, rules are introduced about what to write how to write and our obligation to reference who started the whole confusion, like you want to be known for that? The answers never came because they weren’t there. The total of my degree had been a loud pretentious way of saying: we don’t know.
After three years of studying in england, I found myself back home. I was sitting on the couch with my mum and the news showed something about Geert Wilders. I said to my mum; Mum, why do people think they know everything?