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Announcing the “Diogenes Club,” first meeting will be in Alfred on April 20

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“Pursuing unfettered and rigorous discourse”

Meet at the Terra Cotta Coffee House at 7pm

It’s possible that Diogenes could be typified as the most entertaining of the ancient Greek philosophers. This would be a great oversimplification of the man but also one with perhaps more than a fair measure of truth. In a famous (and perhaps anecdotal) meeting between the philosopher and Alexander the Great, the great conqueror, anxious to meet the great philosopher, approached Diogenes as he lounged in the morning sunlight. Alexander, asking if there was anything that he could do for the philosopher, was rebuffed by Diogenes’s response; “Yes, stand out of my sunlight.” Alexander then declared, “If I were not Alexander, then I should wish to be Diogenes.” To which Diogenes replied, “If I were not Diogenes, I would still wish to be Diogenes.”  Diogenes was also given to walking through the city with a lamp during the daytime. When asked what in the world he was doing he would reply, “Looking for a man.”, implying that he found many of those he was surrounded by false and cowardly rascals, not true men at all.

Diogenes was nothing if not an idiosyncratic and fearless critic towards the comfortable status quo of his day. He spurned what he saw as false and pretentious in society, often offending those around him by asking probing and uncomfortable questions. But that critique, however harsh, serves its function in society. Without it a society becomes ossified and trapped in destructive patterns, afraid to ask difficult questions or seek difficult answers. This may certainly apply to our own age where public discourse has become so shallow and polarized that it is more like a sad parody. I think it likely Diogenes would not approve.

Without further ado, allow me to introduce what may hopefully be a small antidote to the constrained and antagonistic discourse we are subjected to today by the media and our institutions –  the Diogenes Club. The brainchild of Chris Beck, it is envisioned as a respectful, orderly, and free-ranging venue for discussing absolutely everything and anything. The discussion may be rigorous and controversial ideas will be expected to be both strenuously defended and criticized, but any viewpoints will be welcome for discussion and will be treated respectfully.

   The first meeting is slated for April 20th  at 7PM, located in the upstairs of the Terra Cotta Coffee House in Alfred. Chris Beck will be presenting the opening topic, “Causal Theory”, an apropos starting point as could be possible.  A panel discussion will follow and the following meeting’s topic will also be announced. The public is welcome to attend the Club meetings and anyone is welcome to apply for membership to the Club,  but for order’s sake only  members will present topics and take part in discussion.

In an era that seems to be inexorably sliding to intractable polarization in our (un)civil discourse, it seems increasingly urgent to break that cycle. The stakes couldn’t be higher, for if our ability to discuss contentious issues goes by the wayside then so does our ability to run any sort of representative body politic or functional citizenry. Instead, we will have nothing but a dualistic knock-down fight to the bottom. So, in that light, fostering the ability to talk about the deepest contentious issues, or even just coming together over the most fascinating questions and discussions, takes on a note of urgency.

But perhaps Diogenes  wouldn’t have thought much of such dreary utilitarian motivations, so I have another one which perhaps he would have appreciated: it’s also a darn tootin’ good time! Pursuing unfettered and rigorous discourse, the intellectual lifeblood of the mind, is in my opinion one of the most enjoyable ways that one could spend one’s time. And in an age seemingly obsessed by outrage, offense, and tiptoeing on ideological eggshells, opportunities to find venues for such free discourse are increasingly hard to come by.  

Fortunately, living in a clay pot in the marketplace like Diogenes is not a prerequisite to either membership or to just enjoying the discussion, but in the spirit of Diogenes, an open mind, a keen sense of humor, and a fearlessness in interrogating life’s questions will perhaps be found to be indispensable tools. If you find yourself intrigued by the idea of a forum like the Diogenes Club then we sincerely hope to see you in attendance April 20th. Perhaps Diogenes’s lantern will find a few true men and women to shine upon!

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