Near the end of our conversation yesterday, John Thackara, co-founder of Doors of Perception, used the word “stuck.” So had a man in Switzerland, students at Kaos Pilots, a woman in Berkeley… For nearly two years, “being stuck” or “feeling stuck” may be the phrase I hear most often to describe an individual’s or an organization’s predicament. Arguably, the noun form “stuckness,” rather than “lostness” or “disorientation,” is the right word for capturing our general malaise. Indeed, once a neologism (around the late 1960s and early 70s), “stuckness” is now a readily accepted noun, a noun the man on the street would recognize and use himself.
We might inquire why stuckness (a word, interestingly, that my Mac still flags as being unacceptable by drawing a dotted red line beneath it) has become the modern condition. To be stuck, by my lights, involves
1. being unable to go forward toward a future state of being;
2. being unable to go backward, to return to a prior state of being;
3. having the desire to move one way or another;
4. wanting to will something to happen but recognizing, if only dimly, that one’s will is inconsequential;
5. hence, repeating the same gestures or remaining paralyzed while becoming half or fully aware of this repetition or this state of paralysis.
It is said–and John said as much yesterday–that we know that our current way of life is unworkable, but it is also said that we have no idea how to live otherwise. My thesis will be that our “being stuck” is a consequence of our failure of imagination and of understanding, not that of a failure of volition. Now more than ever, to understand (in a speculative sense) is paramount; to will is mere obfuscation. Tomorrow, I wish to show that the aim of philosophical inquiry is–to coin a word–to “unstuck” us.