Written by: Rayyan Dabbous
Though it is much more interesting to wonder whether some of our greatest philosophers would have dedicated their lonely, thoughtful times of solitude to surfing and skipping online profiles, the chronological nature of knowledge bounds us to look back at them and check whether we have abused their proud deeming us as social animals.
Imagine you could hear their voices whenever you’re about to give in to the temptation of Tindering. The first clashing sounds would probably originate from Plato and Spinoza, two thinkers from completely different times that were both interested in conceptualizing love. Though Plato’s skepticism toward our perception of reality, which he deems to be illusionary, discourages you from logging in, the Dutchman’s defense of love, which he deems to be a natural power that inevitably results in happiness, pushes you to click on the application. You probably also hear Nietzsche’s diabolical laughter, who high-fives Spinoza and hushes the Greek philosopher, whose emphasis upon man’s weakness to temptation is heavily criticized by the atheist German.
Now imagine the first profile appearing before you. Your unimpressed eyes freeze with your finger, which stops cold on the left side of the screen. You halt your swiping following Kant’s call for discipline: your brain now, as the philosopher believed, reconfigures each pixel of the profile picture. You hear him shouting: “Beauty is subjective!” You almost give the profile a chance, but we could also imagine another voice clashing in your head: Hume’s, the Scottish thinker who believed in the primacy of our senses, a theory that encourages you to reject the unimpressive profile in front of you, which, subjectively or not, does not appeal to your main sense in this endeavor, your eyes.
You fall in a swiping left spree. Profiles stack up. Now all the ancient Latin scholars start blowing in your ears, attacking your intelligence. Indeed, while finding the term ‘Ivy League’ on people’s profiles is the only compelling indicator in your hunt for smart people like you, these Latin scholars remind you that the word intelligence, in its etymological Latin root intelligentia, simply means “the act of choosing” – and your refusal to choose any profile for the past minute does not count as a choice.
Another of the few keywords that seem to catch your eyes are somehow “fluent in French” – and you’re almost excited to find one when you realize it is Frenchman Henri Bergson’s accent that has caught your senses. The latter is silent while you skip profiles, but his voice shrieks when you finally find one profile that pleases your senses. You dwell on that person’s picture for a long time, captivated by the symmetry of that beautiful face and its soft, almost-drawn features. “Intelligence triumphs in geometry,” Bergson warns you, first reminding you of the ancient Latin scholars’ definition of intelligence as the act of choosing and then criticizing your first choice as one merely the victim of geometry – you become no different than an algorithm, whose choices of perfect shapes and lines are programmed in advance.
So you swipe and you skip and you now wonder whether you’ve just swiped left to the right person. But “no worries,” says Leibniz, for you’re heading toward the “best of all possible worlds” – a phrase by the German philosopher that is similar to the common saying today that “everything happens for the best” … even, apparently, the worst.
You now turn on the filters and make people’s interests interesting and you end up with the picture of a Red Cross volunteer. La Roche Foucauld is now coughing hysterically – the French thinker is known for his maxims about the ironies of altruism and the prevalence of narcissism and he is not buying the profile’s quote of the day. “Your cynicism is warranted,” Descartes backs him, the philosopher credited with the popular phrase “I think, therefore I am”, which you instinctively interpret as “I swipe, therefore I am” – even though you admit that there aren’t much thoughts that come through from one profile to another.
You nevertheless do end up swiping right to a few profiles when you hear Rousseau winning the sing-off battle with Voltaire in your head. The pair are known for their quarrel about human reason versus human feelings – while Voltaire prioritizes the former, Rousseau’s defense of human feelings and the true good behind people pushes you to give profiles the benefit of the doubt.
You end up wondering whether you should turn off the filters. Aristotle is now shouting about some golden mean, his theory that a good quality is not the opposite of a bad quality but rather stands in between two bad qualities, as is courage between cowardice and recklessness. The system’s algorithm, unfortunately, doesn’t have this matching option and you end up with matches based on your interests. The results come to the horror of Pierre Bourdieu, who has been trying to warn you for the past half hour about the social determinants of your tastes and choices on Tinder, which are dictated, according to him, by your upbringing, among other things. Both the Frenchman and Aristotle now sigh as you flip around profiles of folks on the same extreme as you, people that look and act like you.
At some point, the mechanisms finally revolt you and rekindle a different kind of passion. Marquis de Sade, whose name inspired the word ‘sadism,’ has now a smile as wide as your desire, which he elevates as the true master of humans, who are merely slaves to their desires. Freud’s voice also rings in your head – he’s all for your use of the app for hookups, and his hysterical voice overshadows the voice of your superego, which, according to him, tries to tame such temptations. You pause, with Plato, who inspired the term ‘platonic’, now urging you to remove the benefits from the friendships you have in mind. Sartre has the last word though, since he is famous for rewriting ancient Greek works in an existentialist fashion – and his latest now, in your head, rewrites Plato’s Symposium, a work discussing platonic loves, and transforms it into a four-lettered play: YOLO.
Unfortunately, before you could indulge in delight, you see that you have exhausted Tinder’s daily amount of swipes. You drop your phone, hoping to keep it away from your fingers the whole night. But it now vibrates. You shiver, because Epictetus, a Greek stoic, is calling. You pick it up, hoping to listen to some much-needed stoic advice. He leaves you with silence, hoping you realize that your inability to see the sweetness of solitude is, unlike what Plato first warned you, the real vice. Indeed, the Greek thinker is known for his call to become indifferent of what is out of our control, especially if the one control button we have is a swipe.
Author: Rayyan Dabbous is the author of Bad Men (Arab Scientific Publishers) and writer-director of Up For Grabs America (Medicine Show Theatre). He is the founder of Boumerang Foundation.