Namedropping is bullshit – especially if philosophers do it

I went to a panel discussion with Peter Weibel, Bazon Brock (a philosopher apparently of some importance) and a sad guy, who’s name I do not remember and who seemed somewhat lost in mind. Supposedly Peter Weibel – head of the ZKM in Karlsruhe – was to talk about a series of exhibitions he is organizing. Maybe he did, but who really knows. At least he tried to talk about it – that is something I guess. Somewhere in between I realized, that it would be of little difference if the three of them would be talking simultaneously. In a way the content of the conversation would have been the same and there seemed to be little interaction between them, the audience and the topic anyway.

Once again I realized how damaging namedropping can be to a debate. Namedropping is avoiding to say what you think – because attempting that is hard -, by saying the name of the person you think said the thing you would like to say, at one point in their live. But that is complete and utter bullshit. Even in a perfect world, where everyone read the same book and everyone still remembers the stuff from the book, it would still be the problem that everyone understands things differently. Especially when dealing with philosophy and its hard to decipher language. Namedropping ruins the whole conversation. But you should never out yourself as someone who hasn’t read this particular book, or just can’t remember what the point of it all was supposed to be, that would instantly disqualify you from participating in the conversation. So you are supposed to sit there and listen to all these names being mentioned, and hope that a clue is given of what the actual point of the speaker could be. That is a waste of time and quite sad. Maybe if you want to make a point then try to make it and do not refer to the person you think made that point a long time ago.

It is funny, that this resembles a lot how very religious people tend to communicated. “As it is written in the Gospel of Mark two bla bla” or “As the Quran says (and then comes something in Arabic)”. When mentioning iconic texts, it is hard to point the conversation into a new direction. The difference between religion and philosophy is that philosophy has far more iconic texts.

I get it, when scholars don’t want to always start a conversation at the very beginning and therefore refer to other scholars or certain texts. But that makes sense only in a very tightly knit environment. Where you are certain, that, since you discussed the basics earlier, everyone shares a common idea, of what the thought actually is, namedropping can speed up the conversation. That would be an academic setting, where for instance a group of students works together for the second semester in a row. But the event yesterday did certainly not qualify in that respect. The audience and the panel was much to diverse.

Maybe every panel should include a kindergarten teacher or a butcher to set the framework for the conversation somewhat differently. Or people should just try to avoid namedropping. I guess I am guilty myself. And sometimes avoiding it is hard.

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