Cigarettes have a “cool” factor that medical professionals struggles to defeat according to Rick Becker at his blog God-Haunted Lunatic. The entry, entitled “Of Cigarettes, Christianity, and Cool,” examines the continued coolness of smoking (despite efforts otherwise) and makes the thesis that Christianity will never have this kind of allure--and that this is a good thing. I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to philosophy, will philosophy ever be considered 'cool'? Or is philosophical inquiry doomed to remain restricted to the academic elite, silently changing the intellectual undertones of our culture?
“Cool often trumps truth,” says Becker, “and no amount of public health marketing and browbeating will change that.” The word cool itself is an interesting piece of slang. It is often possible to use it as an alternate to the word “fashionable” or “hip.” Fashion is constantly changes, and perhaps it is for this reason that some see fashion as necessarily shallow. Why should it matter, they argue, if your shirt cost $10 from a thrift store or $1,000 because a celebrity wore it on a magazine cover?
These people declare fashion irrelevant in order to elevate other aspects of the human person, such as the intellect or the emotions. An entirely separate blog could be written to discuss fashion, but I made the connection because I think it’s interesting that what things count as “cool” often fluctuates. It was once cool to play music on giant boomboxes; now it is cool to listen to music on slim smartphones that hold thousands of songs.
However, some cultural practices do have an enduring appeal, and this is the argument that Becker makes about smoking. “Smoking is still cool. It never stopped being cool. It didn’t matter how many pictures of diseased lungs you showed kids, smoking’s allure never diminished.” Becker concludes that smoking will simply always be cool and there’s nothing to be done about that. But how important is it that something be cool? Should we lead our lives acting and behaving based solely on what is cool? Would our lives not be so much richer if we ground them in meaning or truth instead?
Becker claims that Christianity is “totally uncool. It’s about sacrifice and martyrdom.” The symbol for Christians is the crucifix, which is impossible to make cool. Though efforts have been made to popularize the cross image alone--notice that the guy being tortured to death is missing from these images. Pain and suffering makes sacrifice difficult for our modern culture to accept.
What about philosophy? Sure, there is an element of coolness to being a philosophy student and “thinking deep thoughts” while going into debt on a college campus, but what about living out the challenges that Dietrich von Hildebrand issues in a book like The Art of Living? It is simply not “fashionable” or “hip.” When faced with this reality, many give up trying to explain or introduce others to the truths encountered through philosophic thought. Yet, this is not the right approach either.
Again, an entire blog could be devoted to asking the question: what is the best way to introduce philosophy to people? In fact, this blog, Truth from the Heart, tries to answer this question by creating a resource that people can encounter. Philosophy and truth are worthwhile pursuits even if they lack the “coolness” factor.