Why Are Avant-Garde Philosophers So Difficult To Be Understood By Their Contemporaries?

„Most philosophers are so politically incorrect—challenging the status quo, even challenging God. Nietzsche’s my favorite. He’s just insane. You have to have an IQ of at least 300 to truly understand him.“

 „Iron“ Mike Tyson

I have read somewhere that „Iron“ Mike Tyson has a below-average IQ, however what he says here is more accurate and pays more tribute to how things are in reality than that what many more sophisticated people (or analytic philosophers) say when they judge Nietzsche as a „weak“ thinker. It is amazing how today bachelor theses at the universities are written about Wittgenstein (or even at school: I once met a girl who told me her project for the great final exam at school was to write about the Tractatus) and everything seems to be full of Wittgenstein, of Nietzsche, of Goethe, of Schiller in this world, while during his lifetime Wittgenstein was not even understood by most of the finest minds in Cambridge or the Wiener Kreis. Reading Wittgenstein or Nietzsche is challenging for the first time, yes; but it is not actually that confusing. (Even more obscure it is in the case of artists: beautiful pieces of art are usually immediately recognised, nevertheless it may take a long time until the artist and his art become respected and established.) The question seems to refer to some kind of mystery: Why are avant-garde philosophers so difficult to be understood by their contemporaries?

I have read in a book about Whitehead (an underappreciated philospher) that someone said that „nothing is so difficult to understand as is a new philosophy“. I do not quite understand that, since I find philosophy relatively easy to understand. However, I do not understand other things, I am not good at maths for instance, so it is all a game and life passes out individual cards, I suppose. Apart from that, philosophy, like everything else, is not even for the master understander something that is immediately to be grasped: it needs to be learned, and its quasi-fractallike depth something forever to be explored. To try to make sense out of that, let us start with the rumination that: Like poets, but at a higher level of intellectual reflection (which adds to the confusion in others), avant-garde philosophers have thoughts and inner experiences no one else had before – and you actually can understand stuff only when you have experienced it yourself. Without experience, you may have intellectual knowledge of stuff (if the stuff even interests you, which is, unless there are personal experiences, not so frequent), but you do not actually, and deeply, grasp it. Without being member of a minority, or a woman, you do not really know what discrimination or phallocratic sexism is – if you are sympathetic, you will try to understand it, if you are not sympathetic, you will call them hysterical feminists or impertinent immigrants – likewise, the experience of discrimination can produce some hysterical feminists or blackies that are racist against whities – just like as the experience of a mankind indifferent to his teachings may produce an overly grouchy and pessimistic avant-garde philosopher: Let the avant-garde philosopher behold to fall into the trap of ressentiment (which is what Nietzsche said despite falling into that trap himself to some degree): And, truly: Who could ever understand Nietzsche´s overman when not being an extremely intelligent outsider (with a splendid psychology), who understands Kierkegaard´s theological stadium, Wittgenstein´s radical quest for truth via radical scepsis (that, in its inner dynamic and outer form, is without predecessor) or Otto Weininger´s quest for the ethical self (das sittliche Ich), when one is not some kind of very extreme person himself that effectively lives on the margins not only of society but of humanity and the human experience all alike? They are, more or less effectively, beyond the margins of current human thought. The avant-garde philosopher explores the margins and the outer limits of human tought and inner experience and effectively pushes them a bit further into the exosphere. Therein, the avant-garde philosopher is, most effectively, likely to be alone in his contemporary world (instead, has to try to establish connection to other avant-garde philosophers via the Continuum – the sphere where the great ideas dwell). People do not understand very well things that appear in a framework that is alien to them, or for which a true framework does not yet exist: And the avant-garde philosopher usually comes up with entire new frameworks people cannot really relate to. Within that, avant-garde philosophers are kind of confused themselves. They are so singular and work at such a high level of abstraction and insight that insight becomes confusing and they do not immediately have an instrument to adequately reflect themselves and their situation in the world. They see through other philosophy but in a kind of space that is largely uninhabitated. Their philosophy often is the instrument with which they try to understand themselves. Since avant-garde philosophers (and artists) are usually the ones most eccentric and working at the margins and exurbia, but also the most normal and working most at the center of humanity, the paradox may appear to them that they´re living in two worlds (and not actually living in any of them neither – respectively, the „paradox“ is that not only exurbia but also the center of the human experience are both sparsely populated places). Since the problems of the avant-garde philosopher (and artist) are too far away from people, people are not interested in them, although they are the most interesting of all, and the avant-garde philosopher has to deal with the paradox that, in the end, respectively also among his contemporaries, folks like Iron Mike will dig and – somehow – understand him, whereas, on the other hand, hardly anyone finally does. He has to deal with the paradox that his mind is the most powerful while also being quite powerless all alike (nevertheless, also big business tycoons or politicians have to confront themselves with the same kind of thing). If the avant-garde philosopher is desperate that people aren´t interested in his most interesting philosophy, he may find consolation that most people aren´t particularly interested in most other things neither. (And concerning Whitehead and his unpopularity someone else said that the reason for Whitehead´s underappreciatedness lies, particularly, in the greatness of his metaphysics.)

The intellect of the avant-garde philosopher operates at the highest level of abstraction and it works very quickly, hence stuff other people discuss will not deem him stupid but irrelevant and slow food. The inner life of the avant-garde philosopher will try to mirror the great whole (in his own idiosyncratic form and understanding), so what other people discuss will deem him fragments and he will prefer to be a silent listener and witness (although, due to his intense perception, a considerable amount of stuff he seems to be indifferent to will hit him with considerable impact – which is usually not the case among normal people). However, there are people that do not especially like that, they´re afraid that the avant-garde philosopher will look upon them as if they´re stupid, especially as the avant-garde philosopher´s behaviour will usually be a strange mix between fineness, empathy and sympathetic concern, and bluntness and harshness and apparent sarcasm towards others, as his inner drummer is different from his surroundings and it is quite difficult, sometimes impossible, for the avant-garde philosopher to synchronize himself to his surroundings. The avant-garde philosopher will, in turn, only be understood and perceived in fragments – and it occasionally turns up that people do not particularly like what they do not understand, even if they understand at least (important) fragments of it! For some biological reason, humans (and obviously also animals) like it when they master something: and it depresses them to find out that they do not, or cannot master a thing. So-called ego isn´t something that is necessarily there in the first place, but it may come into being when someone is deprived of his illusion that he masters something. Therefore, he may react with hostility and envy to that thing (i.e. to the avant-garde philosopher and his avant-garde philosophy). As the avant-garde philosopher is, in the words of Iron Mike, challenging, he may well be a nuisance, even a fucking nuisance to others. „Challenging God“ or „challenging the status quo“ might deem others (correctly) as a challenge to the established order and to those who profit from the established order, therefore those who profit from the established order aren´t likely to welcome the avant-garde philosopher so warmly…. In our times God may be dead and everything seems to be allowed, so the avant-garde philosopher or artist may appear to be accepted, however, mediocrity may also be an established order and the status quo, and someone who challenges mediocrity considered an enemy. Füssli/Fuseli says (in his Aphorisms about Art), that in a world where everyone strives for perfection, a genius need not expect to actually be welcomed or celebrated, but for him it may be true that he will be born posthumously. What is more, there are people that appreciate stuff, including the intellect of others, only when they can make a toy for themselves and for their ego out of it; due to his independence the avant-garde philosopher is not likely to become a toy of anyone, and so to some people only a dead avant-garde philosopher will be a good avant-garde philosopher.

Philosophers are appreciated, at least, by sapiosexual people. Sapiosexuality however in the usual case refers to what people can more or less truly understand, and that is stuff operating at maximal two intelligence levels ( = about 30 IQ points) above or below their own intelligence level. Maximum of persuasiveness of a leader (of any kind) can be expected to come into being when the leader´s intelligence is between 15 and 30 IQ points higher than that of the lead. Of course, people of much higher intelligence may be recognised and respected as such, but they are not likely to be accepted as leaders, buddies or lovers. They are foreigners and, maybe, outsiders. In the more depressing case, people´s sapiosexuality may beam when they see that they can mirror (or aggrandize) themselves in someone else´s intelligence, but implode when they find out that they cannot. In general, people like and accept people and stuff in which they can mirror themselves and may become hostile when they see they can´t, and when someone is vastly dissimilar from them. People also constantly and seemingly endlessly need something to talk about, as they are obsessed with talking and trying to make themselves important in relation to others. That seems to be a general human feature; the avant-garde philosopher may be in the splendid position that, with his stuff, he is elevated above the rat race and the sometimes brutal competition between those of roughly similar intelligence, but also excluded and ignored, as he does not deliver stuff people can talk about and make themselves important (therefore the avant-garde philosopher may mistake himself as a kind of egoless saint and „not affected by the trivialities of human struggle“ where in reality he is just a lucky bastard who is not challenged himself by it). – I am a very intelligent individual (and an avant-garde philosopher) and I could not say that I have met many sapiosexual people in my life. Actually I should attract sapiosexual people and people interested in intelligence like a magnet, but it rather seems I repel them like a magnet. At least, they´re not very interested in what I have to say, and they do not appreciate it so much. For instance, I can post very intelligent and beautiful (and funny!) stuff on social media and get, on average, 2 „Likes“ for it. I do not take that personally as I guess that Leonardo could come today and post his „Last Supper“ or Raffael could come today and post the Sistinian Madonna, to then get 2 „Likes“ as well – but that is even more depressing to see for the avant-garde philosopher: to see that there is something not exactly right with humanity. One would think that writers like Joyce, Beckett or Jandl, who had to suffer: that, with their art and effort, they opened up new spaces alongside new coordinate systems – but when the next Joyce appears, it may be revealed that they have opened nothing and that the new Joyce gets rejected like the old one had become for many years: So what is the purpose of art or the avant-garde and the suffering of avant-gardists, the avant-gardist may ask himself, as you frequently see that it is all for nothing and there is just eternal recurrence of the same? Of course, that isn´t the whole story, but a substantial amount of the story, and that is, for the avant-gardist, often quite difficult to bear.

In order to be an avant-gardist you have to stand at a higher level than the lead. – There may be narcissistic avant-gardists who find it funny to stand higher than the lead and to provoke envy in others, the true avant-garde philosopher will usually be above that level, and at least I could not say that I find it very pleasing to potentially subdue others – as I want everyone to be happy. Nevertheless, in order to be an avant-gardist you have to stand at a higher level than the lead. Avant-garde philosophers are usually so different from men that Nietzsche legitimately comes up with the question whether they´re human (all too human) at all. And actually: David Wechsler, a pioneer in the research of human intelligence, proposed that at an IQ level of 150+ actually a new species comes into being, different and distinguished from common man, the Homo sapiens sapiens. Let us say, they´re Homo sapiens sapiens sapiens. Their cognitive, mental (and psychological/interpersonal) processes are qualitatively different; tbere has been some stuff written about it; I say that with a highly gifted/IQ150+ person it is possible to develop thoughts in conversation at the level of theoretical abstractions, that can be scientifically and intellectually relevant. The great genius is a different species even from them (a Homo sapiens sapiens sapiens sapiens) as he can develop the most sophisticated theoretical thoughts that no one else can, also his psychology is likely to be different and distinguished and more refined than that of others. – Of course, making such distinctions and segregations is not likely to make you very popular, and I, as a good socialist and adherent of the notion of communion of creature, do not like it myself; however, it somehow resemblant to truth and I cannot help that either. People usually think they´re very smart, so when they see someone distinctly smarter coming around, they often are not very pleased, especially when they´re high IQ guys themselves who usually like to think they´re on top of the food chain. People appreciate the genius when they´re under the impression that the geniuses´ intelligence is one or two levels above theirs, which seems tolerable and reasonable to them; but when they see that the geniuses´ intelligence is ten levels above theirs and the genius, in general, is a quite different personality from them, they sometimes aren´t likely find that so funny anymore. – I think it was Enrico Fermi who once tried to measure the abilities of physicists, and he found out that while great geniuses of physics like Einstein and Newton would range at a maximum position of 100, most emiment physicists, like Fermi himself, would cluster at around 70 (note that I have to recall that from memory, it is likely not to be exact, nevertheless somehow similar to that Fermi (?) originally came up with). Maybe it can be said that the cognitive abilities of the great genius (i.e. in the case of the genius: cognitive as well as creative intelligence amplifying each other), his ability of intellectual penetration, resembles an IQ level of 200+, and is therefore out of ordinary human reach (therefore, Iron Mike was somehow correct with his estimate).

Again, I do not recall it at the moment whether it was Duchamp, Picabia, or a brother of Duchamp (or maybe still someone else) who said that expecting (immediate) success as an artist comes close to playing roulette. Apparently no laws can be extracted why something becomes a success and other stuff does not, or takes a long time to do so. Likewise, there are popular and unpopular geniuses, and for every Einstein or Picasso, who became successful and established relatively early in their lives, there is a Nietzsche or van Gogh who were born posthumously (or, in the more depressing case, an Ignaz Semmelweis or Giordiano Bruno, who were actively and purposefully punished for their contributions to mankind). Nietzsche said that nothing about Schopenhauer was more offensive to professors of philosophy as that he did not look similar to them. Amanshauser ruminated that fellows like Goethe or Thomas Mann would always be accepted without too much trouble during their lifetime, while freak geniuses like Nietzsche, Baudelaire or Edgar Allan Poe would always be met with resentment during their lifetime because they are too challenging for the bourgeois (an uncanny perspective for those who are, even they do not want it, trapped in such a life: that the only way to become accepted is actually death). Of course one could say that geniuses like Einstein and Picasso are, while fascinating, easy to understand, while Nietzsche or van Gogh are not; but actually, for the moment, I feel the trajectory of thought about the subject „why are avant-garde philosophers so difficult to be understood by their contemporaries?“ somehow becoming useless; consider that most people do not even come to the idea to evaluate things under the consideration „is it right or wrong?“ but „is it left or right/Christian or Islam/etc?“, it is alien to them that truth could be found outside such frameworks at all. Alpha and Omega about the question „why are avant-garde philosophers so difficult to be understood by their contemporaries?“ is that one does a good thing to write a couple of pages about it, since some things can be said about the subject, but finally it cannot be explained thoroughly; that, in many cases, avant-garde philosophers are not understood well by their contemporaries simply is a recurrent phenomenon in the world, and an expression of this world. My propositions serve as eludications that anyone who understands them finally, understands them as nonsensical when he has used them as steps to climb up beyond them (he must, so to say, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up on it). He must transcent these propositions in order to see the world rightly. So we may conclude that to the question „why are avant-garde philosophers so difficult to be understood by their contemporaries?“ there might be no rational and sensible answer at all. Genius is mysterious. Life is a mystery as well.

„Do you know what this summer has been to me? An endless ecstasy over Schopenhauer and of mental experiences such as I had never experienced before … I don´t know if I shall ever change my opinion, but at present I am convinced that Schopenhauer is the greatest genius among men … Indeed, I cannot understand how his name can be unknown. The only explanation is the one that he so often repeats, that is, there is scarcely anyone but idiots in the world.“

 Leo Tolstoi