My First Philosophical Experience

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This is my second official entry of a new series of posts that I will be doing on this blog. In case you missed it, my first post in this series was a critique on Descartes’ Cogito, because I wanted to start with something that many philosophers are familiar with. From here on out, these philosophical editorials will be free write exercises, with varying formats as I go along.

If you have read several of my anime reviews, you would know that philosophy plays a huge role in how I critique some of the shows I watch. And if you’re wondering why I haven’t posted anything about my first anime experience which makes up a majority of the content on this site, let’s just say that those origins are more cliché. That is, my friends got me into that hobby, and I’ve loved it ever since.

So where did I begin on this crazy journey? Well it was nothing like a Cartesian experience, that’s for sure. But it was one that I think a lot of philosophers start with: by questioning what is often thought to be undeniably true.

I was 11 years old. I just entered the 6th grade. At that time, my best friend was Aaron (for the sake of anonymity, that was not his actual name). Aaron and I did a lot of stuff together in school. We were among the few Asians at our school, we liked to play video games, and we took part in the same extracurricular programs, whether it was the Saturday Science Academy, or the Skills Enrichment Program in the summer. We also watched Pokemon every morning just before heading out to school (which, yes, that was my first anime), and we talked religiously about it. There were others that came and went in these activities that we did, but Aaron and I stuck together, seeing how we shared a lot in common.

Aaron joined a Boy Scout troop about this time, along with his older brother. Seeing how Aaron and I were already close friends, and his father volunteered to carpool me, I figured, why not? We were part of the same Cub Scout troop, after all. This is just an upgrade to that program. And we’d get to do all the stuff that the teenagers do! I was happy to sign up for it.

The Boy Scouts seemed to embody the true spirit of leadership: where boys become men, do stuff with honor, bravery, and whatever other good things you can say about the American way. I may have been somewhat shy about it, but I was excited to get my uniform, and dress to impress my seniors. By my first meeting, I got excited that there were other guys from other schools that I could hang out with. It was always hard for me to fit in with the right friends, even then, but maybe this time, it would be different. In the years ahead, I would be working alongside these guys, learning skills that they would never teach me in school, and learn practical skills that would help me become a good citizen. Physical training, knife using, first aid training, camping and hiking, these would make us boys into men, right?

Except that I hated it. Or more specifically, I hated the boys that I was with, and how they treated me.

Sure, I was used to being around boys all the time. The vast majority of playground interactions were with the boys. Sure, I hated the fact that they picked on me for being smart even though I thought reading was boring, and not very good at sports like everyone else, but I hate to admit it, I still thought I was better than them. Up until that year, I had always acted on good behavior. These bullies couldn’t hurt me. And now that I was part of the Boy Scouts, I would find camaraderie in others that behave like model citizens, too. Oh, how wrong I ever was to think in such a naive fashion.

Maybe the den leader and other adult volunteers had the best intentions, but my peers in the Boy Scouts? My feeble 11-year-old self had never known such high levels of testosterone in one place before! Picking on anyone who couldn’t do any of the activities properly, penalizing us by doing extra push-ups, putting pressure on us never to act even remotely “girly,” teasing us if we were never even part of the norm. It was around this time that I developed my first crush on a girl, and I remember feeling absolutely embarrassed when the boys found out, because they wouldn’t stop teasing me for even thinking about a girl!

On our first camp outing, Aaron and I were tent buddies, so I figured I would be doing most of my activities with him. I really wanted to get as far away from the other boys as possible. But the problem is, Aaron liked being around these other boys. He wanted to join in on their activities. Impress them by being more like them. To reach the next Boy Scout rank as fast as he could before the year was over. And as you could have probably guessed, this is where my own, internal conflict would arise.

I was crying. When all the boys had free time to do whatever they wanted, I veered off into a corner of our campground, by myself. I overheard another group of hikers point at me, saying, “aw, that poor boy scout over there must be pooped out by now.” I wasn’t exhausted, I was mad! Terrified even! And when even the troop leader would tell me to cool it, this was the only way I knew how!

Some of the boys and others wrote off my behavior as separation anxiety, as this was my first trip away from home without anyone from my family with me. But at some point that night, from the rowdiness of the other boys around the campfire, to that sleepless night of anxiety under the stars, I asked myself:

What makes a boy a man?

At the time, I thought I knew. How simple the answer should have been. At some point, probably around the age of 18, a boy matures to an adult to become a man. Simple. So in order for men to become good men, they had to learn how to be responsible and take the lead, with honor and bravery and whatever else the Boy Scouts were to promise. I was only 11 years old, but I was already being branded as the runt of this troop. I didn’t want to do things with the other guys. I was called out for acting too hysterical. I had zero enjoyment for camping and hiking, which I would ironically start to enjoy again in my adulthood. But I hated being the one that was different. The one who couldn’t be “mature.” The one who tried to take these activities seriously, yet everyone else could do flawlessly, and not seem to feel even a single pierce at their heart when other boys would make fun of them. If being like these boy scouts was the way to become a man, then I never wanted to be a man. And the sad thing is, this wouldn’t be the last time I would have to put up with them.

I resented that one year of being a boy scout. I couldn’t make the physical requirements. I couldn’t get anything right to earn a merit badge or the certifications that gave me the responsibility of holding a knife or building a fire. I tried to find excuses not to go on any more outings, because I knew I would only get laughed at more. But worst of all, this was the experience that would pull my best friend and I apart. Aaron fit right in with those boys, and had no problem moving up in the ranks so quickly, while I never got past tenderfoot.

The funny thing is, Aaron always wanted to compare himself to me and surpass me in everything that we did, whether it was grades, Pokemon battles, or general knowledge of anything. I noticed that he always seemed under pressure to be the best, and seemed to only get mad at himself because I was always in his way to make it to the top, among other things. Well, Aaron, you are better than me when it comes to being a boy scout, that’s for sure.

We would attend the same middle school, and we would still hang out and whatnot. But since he was always doing his boy scout thing or some other extracurricular activity that would give him an edge, we weren’t all that close. By the time we entered high school, we had grown entirely apart, as I entered what would soon become a magnet school, instead of the school that we were assigned. He would eventually go on to become an eagle scout, graduate from whatever university he went to in 4 years, with a degree in Mathematics or Economics or something super intellectual. And if that’s what makes him a mature, outstanding man, then good for him. As for me, I stopped caring.

I would eventually get my first taste of academic Philosophy in high school, as part of the pilot group for what would eventually become the Theory of Knowledge class. My high school was in the baby stages of being accredited for the IB Diploma Programme, hence why it became a magnet. But if I had to be honest with myself and how I view Philosophy today, it was that boy scout experience that ignited by critical outlook on the world. If you ever wondered why I talk so much about feminism in my reviews, it is because gender theory, and oddly enough queer theory, wedded so well with my philosophy ever since.

What does it mean to be a man? I honestly don’t know. All I know is that by my gender performance and expression, I do come across as male, and to that extent, I will accept that. What I do with that maleness has been — at least in my mind — entirely up to me. I will certainly take responsibility for acting like a man descriptively, but I would never assume that I must act a certain way because I’m a man prescriptively. That’s something those all-American Boy Scouts could never teach me.

What was my first philosophical experience like? I suppose in some aspects, it is about curiosity. The desire to know more. To think beyond what everyone else would take at face value. But what really set me apart is something that I think most philosophers realize in their first philosophical experience: there was something that I thought couldn’t be right about the world, and I wasn’t going to accept it. And to be honest, that’s what most of philosophy is: to think about the world in a different perspective, and not be bound by something as trivial as authority, or in my case, the status quo.

My dear readers, I don’t think your experience is even remotely like my own, nor do I think our experiences ever will. But if you are so inclined, I hope that you understand that all the experiences I mentioned here were true, and that I have grown from them.

If you would like for me to talk about a specific philosophical conundrum, suggest it in the comments on this post, or any of my editorials. I may have gotten my degree in Philosophy as the fastest way for me to get a Bachelor’s recently, but I do find talking about these ideas to be fascinating. To my anime review readers, know that these philosophical things are an integral part of all my writings, and I’m sorry that you think these posts are irrelevant to what I normally talk about.

Hope you all enjoyed this reflection. I promise that they won’t all be as gloomy as this one.

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