The sense of "real" that interests us is the one captured by this quote, spoken by a local singer who reached the big time after ten years of rejection by labels: "I'm from Oakland--not Berkeley. I'm from East Oakland--the REAL Oakland." I fear that the comparison to Berkeley may put us on the defensive, but there it is. It's come up many times that we live in a privileged part of a rich state in a powerful nation, so our "good" life may not be representative of "real" life. Is that why we are so ready to hedge our assertions, to shrink from proclaiming any universality, to focus on our own, private "truth"?
People who claim to live "real" lives DO claim to know about other people's lives, both those with whom they have much in common, and those who live on the opposite side of the tracks, so to speak. And who can argue that sex, births, and deaths don't affect individual lives in much the same way? If a huge portion of one's experience is traceable to the human life cycle, then one (feels that one) has access to others' emotions and experiences. "Reality" is "common". What we have in common is what's real. And what you have that I don't is obviously a luxury, inessential.
So life (by) itself is stripped down to our lowest common denominator, to human ways of being. If we say "animal ways," we risk seeming to accuse others of being incompletely human, and surely we don't intend that! Then again, many want to bring nonhuman animals (some of them, at least) into the "moral circle." This, however, would present an insuperable difficulty to our makeshift tribe of philosophers, whose main way of being (together) is to talk.
Rather than concerning ourselves with differences, we could attend only to similarities. Our repeated run-ins with slippery slopes assure us we can find life (to be like) itself. But this would be giving up before we started: we are trying to find our way TO what is (most) real in life. We start from the (somewhat) unreal place we already inhabit--and then we must travel, leaving something (someplace) behind.
To travel light, we sacrifice luxuries. Asceticism is prerequisite to the journey: the rope passes through the eye of the needle more easily than the rich man through the gates of heaven. Rather than an example of life in spite of itself--negating the strength of the rope in favor of the weakness of the thread--the reduction of the rope to a thread is how life pares itself down to essentials in order to pass through a gauntlet. Rather than extolling conservation or humility, life (through) itself is about passage, about "making the cut," about survival. When everything depends on passing that test, getting that interview, winning that girl, making that basket, dodging that bullet--does life get any more REAL than that? We jettison all that is unnecessary, focus becomes automatic, because it's time to do or die.
But a funny thing happens on the way to the forum. As in any road trip film, change is the result, not of arrival, but of travel--especially, of traveling together. During passage through the gauntlet, differences tend to be made irrelevant, and we stumble upon shared realities. Learning about the world is something apes can do--only humans create worlds. The life outside ourselves is not us and yet is all of us, belongs to all of us, is what we hold in common, what makes "us" real. In the crucible, a group is forged. ("The PLACE where we meet is the constant in the change which ensues.")
Let's prove the Stoics right. The thinking life IS the good life. Philosophers' relentless quest for essences is an opportunity, or a pretext, to eliminate baggage that separates us. It can be the Berkeley way of aligning the Good and the Real (a.k.a. the True). We have only to exercise our recognized faculty of invention FOR REAL--not "in private." There is uncomfortable truth in the observation that the good life of reflection requires material goods, but this can be taken as a responsibility to share with others whatever of value comes of that reflection. But we have to believe that what we think (up) CAN be made public. Rather than "get out of our heads," let's turn our heads inside out, exposing the interesting parts to others, with the idea that shame resides not in difference, but in INdifference to the reality we create with others. Imagine how real Berkeley would be--how real philosophers would be--if we only acted as if thinking was real!
Speaking of crucibles, the eye of the needle, and road trips in crowded VW buses (hey, it's Burning Man season, isn't it?), the cafe gets crowded now that UCB is in session, so I anticipate difficulty hosting the larger groups that have been coming of late. Expect a smaller group, still with a variety of viewpoints and experience levels. The waiting list is a waiting area, not a queue; alternatively, you can message (using the new Meetup feature) or email me to indicate interest. And your succinct answer to the RSVP question not only makes your interest real, but it helps in planning the discussion. This week the question is, "What do you expect might prove difficult about discussing Real Life?"
Also, there was a suggestion that we have a social gathering at a different location on a weekend. Let's brainstorm at the break: what an uncanny fit to "Real Life"!