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See that guy in blue robes sitting by himself on the stairs? That is Diogenes. No one dares be near him because he smells like shit. The other day I retold an apocryphal dialogue that took place between him and Alexander the Great. His great contribution to Western philosophy is the idea that if something isn’t shameful in private, then there is no reason to feel shame for it in public. He lived his philosophy every day by masturbating out in the marketplace.
Diogenes renounced social life for its posturing and social climbing mentality. He believed that people were oversocialised. He prescribed a life of voluntary poverty as a treatment for their oversocialisation. Years later in a country far away, a Jewish man would attempt Diogenes’ treatment and choose to live a life of poverty and hardship. He renounced social life for 40 days. He starved himself and lived in the wilderness. Unfortunately, this exercise made him lose his mind and he came back to society telling everybody that he was the omniscient, omnipotent creator of the universe.
Let’s back up a little. What does shame have to do with this? Shame is what gets you locked into the daily bustle of the crowd. We are pushed and pulled by the forces of Status and Shame to behave in ways we would otherwise not if no one was around to see us. Diogenes, on the other hand, would still masturbate even if there was no one around to see him do it. We get snared by society into seeking satisfaction through professional success, good salaries, respectability, and—above all—to not being perceived as failures in the game of life.
Speaking of shame, here’s a picture of another man who has no shame:
Kanye West dropped out of college and over the course of three studio albums—The College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation—presents his thematic journey of walking away from a life that was prescribed for him to thinking and acting independently. These albums were huge successes, but recently he appears to be losing his mind. It all started in 2013 when he released Yeezus, explicitly comparing himself to Christ. Interesting fact about the name Diogenes: it is composed of the Greek words Dio (God) and Genes (to be born of; “genetic”), literally translating to “Son of God”.