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On Vices of Wisdom and Wise Men

Majid Mumtaz Hussain
5 min readSep 6, 2020


So much has been written in honor of wisdom, as a virtue, on its importance, and its indispensable place in our lives that thinking of its antagonisms immediately meets resistance. Nonetheless, given this central position, which, on one hand, conditions the mind with predetermined schemes, while, on the other hand, it is the appearance mediated by itself; its mechanism does not immediately reveal itself in its simplicity.

4 August 2020, an explosion marks Lebanon, for some, just another incident leaving heads protesting in silence, some chose to be vocal, in shame and condemnation protesting murder. Some wise news anchors breathlessly blabbered details of deaths, and financial loss, and future while silently accepting that it’s the middle east, the region is unstable, this is common, what’s new… their wisdom shamelessly normalizing tragedy. I recalled Stalin, who said a single death is a tragedy, many a statistic. It is an absurd insight, I could not dismiss its force to view many deaths as a number, while awestruck by a single dead body of a poor Syrian boy washed onshore of Kos.

Like everyone else, I grew up cherishing wisdom, valuing it, learning to be wise from every possible source, including Hollywood, books, wise people, family, teachers, friends, news, etc. Wearing it as a badge of honor, showing off prowess in conversation, writing, and reasoning, but its evil, manipulative, and regressive tendencies never emerged clearly, possibly, from its self-preserving mechanism.

Wisdom shines in language, traditions, and culture. It echos in poetic rhymes, romantic prose, heated debates, loaded narratives, commercial jargon, and blandness of common sense, as such, wisdom is everywhere despite our contrary belief. Appeals are made to others to be wise, frustrated from failure to convincing others to see things from our eyes, only if they could speak, we appeal through words, customs, and society. Wisdom reaffirms our understanding, it is the force in inanimate, hollow words which raises eyebrows, makes us frown on others, in disgust sometimes, while smile at others, laugh with some, and love someone.

This force contains moments of soliciting and solicited operating simultaneously, this duality which is its own medium and in-itself, reinforces flux which is immediate and perception. Wisdom is obvious in its latent truth, the mechanism which normalizes genocide, rape, terror, pedophilia, and so on.

Wisdom also functions to conceal its negation behind its universal appearance, to undermine ruptures leading to a radical change. It is the preserving force in tradition, emancipatory in its essence, repetitive, choosing the way of ancestors, emanating from the belief that ancient wisdom is more valuable, those born before us are more intelligent, or the celebrated decoration of dead, away from rationality. It tells the miseries of life in this world, and speak highly of a better world beyond the abyss that is death.

Wisdom is an idea of its time, but it is also a contradiction of preceding wisdom, and as such, this self-negating cycle is preserved in it’s developing forms. It is then foolish of wisdom to conceal its contradictions, but wisdom lives in the culture, and it is the spirit of consciousness which leaves behind certain cultures for domination by others, for others to assume the role of the master. The problem of wisdom is therefore not it’s own force, which is speculative, but that which is from domination by others, those wise men.

These wise men use wisdom to abstract values from meaning, claiming to analyze things clearly, then, to promote such abstractions as justice, law, nature of the human mind, God, concealing its relation with the other, to that which is an object, reality that stands in the truth of their intersubjectivity.

Such ideas are only abstractions appearing logical only within the abstract, which is the abyss. Its truth on the other hand is that an idea is intrinsically connected with many other ideas, and as such, the idea holds its place only when other ideas too must hold their place. While naively we may collapse many ideas as one, such deconstruction is only an abstraction itself, precariously holding its truth in an unchanging, unconnected world.

As mentioned above, wisdom negates itself, it’s real negation emerges from within it, as a change, a rupture in the wisdom which transcends thinking beyond its frame, collapsing under the weight of contradictions. Only then a new frame can be developed from its debris, a new form of wisdom, free from existing contradictions, or in other words, developing the concept further. Negation which is excluded returns again to this new form, but is not clear to the mind, and will emerge again in the new form with the development of consciousness.

This movement is an important part of the development and progress of wisdom, on the other hand, getting married to self-referencing wisdom conditions rational reasoning by positing an outcome as its ultimate goal, then reason is only ancillary, means to its own justification. This simplicity gives itself away when reason takes primary place, replacing the molding force of wisdom with logic. A popular example of this is the pascal's wager, where the belief teases the possibility of a complete lack, but, the wisdom reconnects the possibility with the outcome without justifying it, whereas this lack takes the form of its justification. The contradiction which emerges from within wisdom is reason, which in its essence does not have a fixed reality or an outcome, but, a movement of reality between its moments, to be clear, these moments are not its reality, its truth is the movement, or this development.

We can analyze the role of philosophers in this development, which despite the common belief that these were wise men of their time, were actually deniers of wisdom. Philosophers analyze the world they live in, they point to contradictions in the collective consciousness, they shun traditions and culture. They are the heretics, bringers of chaos, and mystics, they are ruptured, and this rupture opens the possibility to transcend beyond the wisdom of their age, and the ignorance which teaches normalization as a virtue. In contrast, the role of philosophy is not prescriptive, it does not offer solutions, and it should not do this, it’s role in it’s simplest form is to redefine the problem.