This week I read Mark Rowlands’ The Philosopher And The Wolf, a paperback my father gave me on his most recent visit to Singapore. I was surprised to see when I finished it that it’s 10 years old, but then I never read any philosophy before that was exactly contemporary.
It’s a lot of different things; an exploration of happiness and purpose ("studies concur [that people are] happiest when they’re having sex and unhappiest when talking to their boss. And if they’re having sex with their boss while talking to him or her, it is not clear what they are") where Rowlands argues happiness is not about a feeling, but in the satisfaction of overcoming a challenge. For him, a boxing match is a moment of self-realisation and calm that can only be pleasant because it it simultaneously unpleasant. (I’m not sure what he’d make of Conor McGregor going loony and smashing up a bus this weekend to prove he’s better than some other UFC fighters, but I digress.)
Rowlands had already written extensively on animal rights, and a lot of what he said about animals and humans not being so very different was very much in line with my own views on what does and doesn’t make us unique. But it wasn’t just that.
I was once a teenager and therefore filled with existential ennui and rage, but I wish I’d had Rowlands around to explain Nietschze’s existential interpretation of the eternal return: that if you were told you would have to relive your life again and again, the same every single time, would this be heaven or hell for you? This is key to the book – understanding a conception of life where moments of existence, not striving towards end points, is the right way to live.
There’s also a lot about living with a wolf (the most bonkers bit being that Rowlands managed to raise a wolf from cub to full grown animal without being eaten by it), various arguments for why humans develop society (because we’re mendacious – why are we mendacious? Because we’re driven by sex. Why aren’t bonobos more socially sophisticated than us? Well, maybe they are…) and about seeing that wolf grow old and eventually die. It’s at times very saddening, at others very funny, and sometimes both (eg talk of an "arse reconstruction").
I don’t think I’d go as far as wanting to have a wolf of my own, but perhaps I should subtly insert this book into La Serpiente’s and Destroyer’s bedtime reading…