Podcast review: Waxing philosophical

My nightly ritual: Stephen West’s ‘Philosophize This!’

Stephen West, you are an enigma wrapped in a scroll writ all over with ancient wisdom.

You get right into my head, as I listen to you every night, trying to catch up with the current episode of the Philosophize This! podcast, still three years away in my Spotify future — and yet I don’t want to run out of episodes too quickly.

Somehow, you are able to synthesize all those philosophers I muddled through in college, as I took course after course across all my semesters, trying to comprehend the ideas and wondering how one could make a career of it without becoming a professor.

So thrilled was I with what I learned in those classes, that I once tried to convince a suited up boss at an office where I was working my way through school, that everybody should be required to take philosophiy in college, and that it was way more important than getting a business degree. He laughed. “Most people wouldn’t think so.”

Not long after that, I went out into the world outside of college, and found that what he said was true. Most people don’t think.

Philosophize This!
Philosophize This!

And so it is genius that you are so thoroughly able, in this troubled 21st century, to translate these vintage ideas to those of us wanting to go deeper, but who don’t have the time to read all the thick tomes and multi-volumes required, and to do so with that quirky sense of humor that always makes me laugh out loud. On lists of the best podcasts ever, I wonder if you are aware Philosophize this has appeared several times in the top 20?

It doesn’t seem like you’re on social media all that much, which I believe is wise. I fear too much of it would intrude upon your relationship with the ideas and inhibit your ability to unfurl them back into the world as a clean white ribbon of thought.

So I wish we could know you better. There have been only tidbits so far, mentioned occasionally during the podcast — how both your parents were addicts, and how you were homeless for awhile. You have come far, and the story intrigues me.

Where I exist now, way back in 2016 of your podcasts, you mentioned you wrote a book, but when I looked for it on your website, I must have arrived too late.

I imagined it might be an autobiography like the one written by Alan Watts, whose philosophical lectures I used to listen to on KPFK Pacifico Radio when I lived in LA. The recordings played late at night, back in the 1980s. He, too, would offer up the occasional fact about his life, posthumously, because he was gone by the time I was listening. At last, I tracked down his authobiography at City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. Perhaps Philosophize This! fills a void once occupied by Alan Watts.

Please know how important the podcast has become to me since discovering it a few months ago. I am now just entering my 60s and longing for the depth of soul I had when I was younger, back when I was just outside of the timeframe of the counterculture movement. As the years wore on, I somehow lost the feeling.

It is too hard in these trumpian times to have faith in anything that had once seemed impervious, like the rule of law inherent in the U.S. Constitution built upon philosophical ideas. Or even just the unblinking nerve of politicians in suits to carry the mantle of the free world with some semblance of decency while appearing in public, even if, in private, they’re as flawed as anybody.

When learning and re-learning philosophy, as applied to the world today through your interpretation, it somehow makes me hope that someday, somehow, I might permanently regain my belief in the shine of ideas conveyed purely for the beauty of the light. For now I am content with 30 minutes a night.

On aesthetics

A rare experience on the drive to work

This morning I had an aesthetic moment. It doesn’t happen often. Driving to work, “What’s Up” — that girl band song from the ’90s that starts out “25 years and my life is still trying to get up that great big hill” — came up on my playlist.

Cheesy, but I love that song. I play it on guitar and sing it. I used to play it with my girl band Neko. This time, there was no guitar. It was my 7 a.m. drive to work, an unusually clear freeway ahead, my foot heavy on the gas, and me, singing at the top of my lungs.

It happens rarely. You hit the notes (or think you do). You remember all the words. Your timing is down pat.

It was transformative. It was exhilarating.

It was a perfect storm. For a change, I’d had enough sleep. I got to my boring day job charged up and happy

I’m not a morning person, so this was rare.

I learned about aesthetics in the first philosophy class I ever took in college, called by the same name. My professor, Dr. Dyal at Kent State University, fit the image of a philosopher. Bearded, stocky, a slight Texas drawl, sort of like Hemingway.

I remember he used to say the word “paradigm” a lot, and that’s when I learned what it meant. This served me well in the ’90s when everyone in corporate was dropping the buzzphrase, “paradigm shift.”