Born in 1947, Peter Sloterdijk was a post-war child. Today, he’s one of the most contentious, controversial, and creative German thinkers. His ideas are difficult to classify, but he tries to immerse himself in contemporary problems and rethink the role of new technologies. Moreover, he criticizes the inability of academics to give satisfactory answers to the most current issues.
Sloterdijk has had an atypical intellectual journey. After graduating, he put university aside and embarked on a journey to India. There, he met Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (better known as Osho). In fact, this controversial guru influenced the thinker in his early youth. However, Sloterdijk later philosophically distanced himself from him.
Back in Europe, reluctant to follow the path of other intellectuals, Sloterdijk stayed out of academia. For many years, he hosted a tv show entitled The Philosophical Quartet. Currently, Sloterdijk is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Art and Design in Karlsruhe, his hometown.
His contribution to the field of literature has been prolific. His first book was entitled Critique of Cynical Reason. However, his magnum opus is the three-volume work, entitled Spheres. Sloterdijk expresses his ideas through prose loaded with images and literary references. Strongly influenced by Nietzsche and Heidegger, his philosophy provocatively converses with thinkers of the past. Indeed, he seeks a break from the European philosophical tradition.
The search for immunized thought
To exemplify how philosophy should deal with current problems, Sloterdijk uses an old idea from the world of medicine: the doctor must get sick from what they want to cure. When we get sick and the balance in our bodies is upset, they seek to eliminate the pathogens by creating antibodies. Therefore, in the same way, thinkers must inoculate themselves with the diseases of our time. For Sloterdijk, these are represented by the media.
Sloterdijk doesn’t assume a pessimistic viewpoint with regard to new technologies. On the contrary, he sees in them the fundamental mode of the human condition. Since time immemorial, as human beings, we’ve used tools, language, writing, and a long series of technical implementations to improve our lives and adapt to the world. Consequently, technology is an inherent part of our environment.
The philosophers of the present can’t be oblivious to today’s prevailing technologies. In fact, just as old technologies, such as writing and printing, were integrated and used in favor of the advancement of knowledge, today’s philosophers must embrace new technologies.
The media, social media, and other technical innovations of our time should serve as a way of building a fortress and providing new perspectives on the world around us. The years that Sloterdijk has spent hosting a television show exemplify this thinking.
Sloterdijk and the world of spheres
Although Sloterdijk claims to be a systematic thinker, the bulk of his philosophical ideas are to be found in his work, Spheres. Through the metaphor of spheres, he tries to account for the way in which human beings develop perspectives. He claims it’s via the construction of spheres that we learn to live together. In effect, we create intimate relationships that generate tremendously interconnected communities.
The image of the sphere refers to the way in which cultures are generated. Everything that falls within the cultural sphere we consider to be our own. Even what lies outside our sense of belonging adopts the spherical topology. The rest of the belief systems appear to us as closed units, impenetrable to our thoughts.
There are three classes of spherical structures for Sloterdijk:
The individual is a bubble
As individuals. we’re like bubbles, soap bubbles. We’re separated from our environment by thin boundaries. Our intimacy is configured in such a way that we admit the integration of certain elements within ourselves but omit what’s strange to us.
Family, culture, beliefs… Everything is part of a safe space in which we protect ourselves from anything that could alter our established order.
“The bubble as a lived spatial form refers to the cultural eras of imitation, in which to educate oneself is to learn to repeat the prestigious models of one’s predecessors.”
For Sloterdijk, the configuration that humanity has been adopting since the beginning of its history is marked by a fact as fundamental as biological development.
We grow and develop in bubbles from the time we’re fetuses inside our mothers’ wombs. We’re born into closed family environments, which are usually stable for years, generating a sense of belonging to certain social groups, series of institutions, and specific nations. This interconnection between bubbles leads us to the second level of the spheres: the balloon.
The balloon as a unit between individuals
The image of the ballon arises from the understanding that we don’t really belong to specific families or provinces. Rather, we belong to a planet that unifies us around its circumference. The original ways of thinking about humanity changed radically due to navigation and the discovery of maritime routes that connected the terrestrial globe. This new awareness led us to think about the place we occupied in the world and knowledge based on universal goals.
Globalization started to eliminate the old traditions and regional ways of life. In effect, it dissolved the limits of our culture. In fact, it started a revolution that’s still ongoing. The attempt to globalize is almost always linked to a form of power. It tries to set or clarify the limits of what it’s attempting to dominate.
However, the global unity we understand is far from homogenizing our existence. On the contrary, the connection between individuals is perceived by Sloterdijk as a plurality of interconnected bubbles that form foams.
Foams and communication networks
Sloterdijk refers to foams in the plural since the concept attempts to designate what keeps an internally diverse, but related multitude unified. These pluralities of more or less closed spheres make up the social fabric or the polyspherical foams.
Each unit, each singular cell, forms a context that’s complete in itself, but that engenders diverse relationships, forming an interactive union.
The author sees this morphological configuration in our societies. The bubbles turned into foam have almost nothing in common most of the time. But, they occasionally come together in axes that unify them. Social media is a perfect example of this phenomenon. On these platforms, individuals of different ethnicities, nations, and families are linked through common interests.
Understanding the history of culture
The thoughts of Peter Sloterdijk help us, via mental images, to understand the history of culture. As you can see, the author isn’t pessimistic about technological innovations. That said, he remains critical of attempts at domination by those who try to globalize existence.
Sloterdijk’s philosophy invites us to think of ourselves as foam. In much the same way that neurons create synapses, we have the capacity to weave new relationships. This gives rise to the possibility of constant decentralized and organic change. These networks of connection, amplified by communication systems, can either collide with each other or work in favor of humanity as a whole. The results depend on us.
Main image editorial credit: 360b / Shutterstock.com
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