-a very belated Watson conclusion-
I didn’t come on this journey to confirm that a particular species of emptiness was characteristic of children without any viable kind of familial support structure, though I may have suspected as much. Despite my sometimes fanatic attempts to stay focused on abstract political or social questions, that is, philosophical problems posed by children in a society that now looks more to me like the fanged state of nature than the grotesquely painted democracy it parades itself as, wherever I went, I found myself concerned about this child, these children. I couldn’t remove myself from them far enough to make the emotional impulse negligible as I thought of ways they could be helped. That’s alright, I think, though I revolted against the idea almost subconsciously for a long time – partly because I didn’t want to generalize or project my own loneliness on other children; I didn’t want to assume that family, regardless of cultures and how such a concept varies between them, is essential; I didn’t want to be a philosopher that allowed rigor to suffer by the irrational pull of emotional instinct. It bothers me now, how long I allowed myself to think I was searching for some truth that transcended the children themselves. As much as I want to claim I have broken free of the dogmatic shackles that claim pure logic as god, imposed by the institutionalized study of philosophy, my skin still crawls slightly every time I say these children do have their own species of emptiness, and I can’t define it anymore rigorously than I can define the group of children to which I am applying it.
Dearth of rigor aside, the one obvious constant along my journey was a painful emptiness. It emanated from the eyes of orphans and children of abuse, children in prison and children cast away, children on the streets and child laborers. It was not a gaze of wisdom, the sage eyes of a child grown beyond his years alive. They were eyes that knew a shared pain, but each tragic ocular window was placed on a unique canvas: canvasses of anger, of hate, of joy, of sadness, of surrender, of rebellion, of mischief – each its own evolving amalgam of personality.
At times my application of philosophy to guardianless children seemed notably ironic – a discipline accused of being too abstract and esoteric to solve anything and a problem too ubiquitous, to violently actual, to ever be solved. And I have become convinced of this: so long as there are children, there will be children abused, abandoned, and falling through the cracks. The question then arises, in what system is the risk of a child being without a network of support least likely? From a philosophical point of view, this question has its most interesting answers when we think in “ought” and ideals, but this does little in the real world, where even as a model, any solution will be so far removed from reality as to make it effectively useless. The point of philosophy, as far as I can tell, in providing practical solutions, is framing the problem from a particular, thoroughly critical perspective. It means being able to transcend or reprioritize bureaucracy and politics and psychology and anthropology when such an exercise is necessary to see past the many obstacles to efficiently dealing with social problems.
Philosophy was a crucial aspect of this project in several ways. First, it provided me an escape when the suffering and sadness of the situations I was studying became overwhelming, when my existential sorrow was compounded by the awareness of how little I could do to really help any of the children I met. Philosophy provided a distant realm of ideals and perfections that helped me pull my head and my heart, however briefly, away from the pain that is watching a powerless child suffer.
Philosophy has always provided a means of escape for me, in the times of my life when I felt trapped or horrified by existence. It was not just that philosophy provided an abstract space where I could remove myself from the practical and menial – philosophy introduced me to new ways of thinking, new ways of using and understanding my rational capacities, and that introduced me, yes, to worlds of abstraction, but also to different lenses with which to view the world I lived in. I learned how to think, which provided me the tools to define, shape, and change my existence, my being-in-the-world.
And that was one of my main efforts, when I met children along this journey. It was not to teach them Aristotle or Nietzsche, nor to introduce them to epistemology and metaphysics: it was to provide them new ways of thinking. There is a moment of waking up that one experiences when one begins to think and question and exist in new ways; for some of these children it could provide a useful tool of coping and recovery, and for some it will bring enlightenment, restlessness, and a desire to change the system that allowed their situation to be possible in the first place. And that is the power of philosophy. It awakens the mind that the mind might bring more power to this finite, physically-bound creature, this human being magical in its humanness, in its potential.