I am a philosopher and a methodologist

Philosophy is what I do.

After I withdrew from all official duties, stopped managing and running the structures I had once set up and that were still operating by the time I turned 60, philosophy became my daily occupation.

Before that, I had also given a lot of attention to philosophy, but among all other things I was engaged in. There were many different things to do: I worked in education, politics, business consulting, the media, and the church. So I was often confused with a political scientist, journalist, I was called anything from a writer to a religious obscurantist. I have always said that I am a methodologist and a philosopher. Methodologist and philosopher.

Now I am a philosopher and a methodologist. Exactly in that order. A methodologist is defined first and foremost by practice, philosophy accompanies methodological work. It’s different now. I am primarily a philosopher, I have moved away from immediate individual practice, and methodology is a kind of philosophy for me. Methodology is philosophy. One that is different from other philosophies of the past and present.

Why am I saying this? Because whatever I am talking about, I am talking about as a philosopher. As a philosopher working in the System-Thinking-Activity Approach, that is, as a methodologist.

For example, when I talk about “elections”, about the threat to the country’s independence, anything really – I always talk as a methodological philosopher. What does this mean?

Those who are remotely familiar with my philosophy (such people are really few, and those who are familiar, usually know little about it) know that this philosophy is focused on two objects: thinking and Belarus.

It is clearer with thinking, it is a traditional object of philosophy, and for methodology, it is the main and basic one. Clearer, but not simpler. But this is a separate topic.

It is more complicated with Belarus. Can Belarus be an object and focus of philosophical work, a focus and object of thinking? For me, it is a serious question, worthy of devoting my life to it. But I know the attitude of many people I have talked to about it. The attitude is not one of enthusiasm, understanding, or approval. Most of my colleagues in the methodological movement have reacted with complete incomprehension, some even with contempt. From their point of view, Russia is a worthy object for thinking, while Belarus is not at all like that. This is why I left Moscow for Minsk and gradually broke off almost all ties and relations with the Moscow methodological community. Not only with the Moscow one, though. I have some contacts with the Ukrainian community, but they are not impactful. I have friendly rather than work relations with the remnants of the Riga community. But I got a very high opinion of my programme Think Belarus from Oleg Genisaretsky at the very beginning, and that is quite enough for me.

Chapter “Belarus: A Philosophical and Methodological Problem” opens my manifesto. It outlines and, to some extent, formulates the programme of unfolding my philosophy. It is a defiant and hard-hitting programme for philosophers who are accustomed to being guided by what the great philosophers think about. As none of the great world-known philosophers has ever said anything about Belarus, never thought about it, and many of them have not even suspected of its existence, Belarusian philosophers have not been interested in this topic (with some exceptions, but this is also a separate topic). Quite in vain. For a philosophy not to be abstract and speculative, a philosopher should have a concrete problem and their own task. For a Belarusian philosopher, the concrete and practical problem can be Belarus – unique and unlike anything else. I do not insist that everyone has to deal with this problem. But my programme of philosophy development in the country proceeds from this.

“Thinking Belarus” is about specific and practical thinking.

The specificity of thinking is set by the unique, unparalleled Belarus – the object and focus of thinking. Hence, there is an optional theme, problem and task for philosophizing – individuality. How to figure out ways individuality – something that is unlike anything else, has no analogues and prototypes – should and can be thought.

The practicality of thinking is set by participation in the processes of development, formation, transformation of the object. This is why I participate in all the processes of development in Belarus that are available to me.

Well, let me speak about elections, electoral processes, and politics.

Political and electoral processes encapsulate the collective thought of a large community that understands itself as a nation.

So I cannot help thinking about it. I was advising the presidential campaign of candidate Shushkevich in 1994. I had the opportunity to study and analyse electoral and political processes. I began to understand something about the unique and unparalleled case of Belarus.

To understand it better, I decided to participate in the 1995 parliamentary campaign. Not because I really wanted to become a deputy – I would have been bored sitting in the Oval Hall, I would have continued to study methodology and philosophy even if I had become a deputy. I ran in those elections to get first-hand experience and get an idea of all the processes from the inside. I did it. And I wrote a book about it.

Later I took part in founding the United Civic Party, then initiated the Charter’97 together with Andrei Sannikov. I collaborated with independent trade unions, continued to analyse all the election campaigns, worked with many presidential candidates. I accumulated a lot of material, I have quite some knowledge. Systematic and multi-faceted.

But in disputes, I have to deal with opinions that are based on some narrow aspect, on abstract attitudes and clichés from political science textbooks, on linear simplified inferences.

Sometimes they argue with me in a very funny way:

  1. The vast majority of those responding to what I write perceive me as an equal. Not even equal, but the same. They think that I am as ignorant and unaware as they are and argue with me like a dummy to a dummy, a philistine to a philistine. I am tolerant and very patient. To initial questions and objections of this type, I answer politely. More often than not, I answer a question with a question. Well, you never know! I could have been mistaken in interpreting the first lines of my interlocutor and opponent. And what if they know and understand more than I do? However, it all depends on the politeness and reflexivity of the opponent. Often they just get offended and turn from offence to boorishness. But on rare occasions, I have been able to have a calm and serious conversation with a philistine. Both in real life and on the Internet. I wish it happened more often.
  2. I often talk about special and specific subjects, and there are subjects I never discuss, although I can joke about them. I don’t talk about sports, sex, feminism, fashion, food. I love dogs and cats, I can talk about that, but there’s no subject there. Sometimes I talk about science, religion, ethics, politics. There are different sciences. Religions too. Ethics, however that may be, is also very diverse. Well, everyone understands everything about politics.

I never argue about physics with physicists, about mathematics with mathematicians, about ecology with ecologists. Where I am not competent enough, I prefer to listen to experts. Economics, linguistics, ethnocultural studies, history, sociology, psychology and some other disciplines are other matters. Here I have some – not absolute – competence. First of all, methodological and philosophical. I am interested not in the special subject knowledge of linguists or semioticians, but in the way they think. There are disputes with geneticists about genetics or ecology with ecologists, for example, but it is the philosophical and methodological aspects of these disciplines that become the subject of debate – something in which I am competent – rather than the subject knowledge itself.

I am very interested in philosophical and methodological problems of artificial intelligence, the way of thinking about global problems, both geopolitical and economic, technological and humanitarian.

What is sought in these debates is the truth. And the way of approaching the truth is logic, ontology and methodology. That is what I do. And it is most often possible to come to a satisfactory result of disputes. It rarely happens, but it does.

  1. Religious disputes are a separate topic. Many things here rest on the hardheadedness of the participants and the obscurantism of both the religious and the atheist. Well, that’s fine. Religious disputes are eternal.
  2. In politics, my interest is focused on political thinking. And this is where the stupidest situation arises. Once I start talking about politics, they start treating me like a politician. And I have always been a philosopher, a methodologist, a researcher and an analyst.

I am not a politician, I know many times more about politics than politicians themselves. And that’s fine, as I research politics and do analytics. But it infuriates the politicians. Politics is their business, the meaning of their life, some even confuse it with their vocation. And then some philosopher comes along and declares that he knows their cause, the meaning of their life, their vocation better than they do.

How can that be tolerated? But that’s just the way it is. And it should have been tolerated.

No way. They start accusing me

– of monopolizing the truth;

– of politicizing something (like NGOs or philosophy);

– of having a foot in both worlds, being both an analyst and a politician at the same time;

– of authoritarianism and dictate, grantsmanship, KGBism, well, that sort of thing.

While I’m just a philosopher and a methodologist. I deal with all modes of thinking.

With the thinking of philistines and politicians.

With the thinking of scientists in the various fields.

With the thinking of managers, executives and leaders, including religious ones.

And with the thinking of philosophers themselves. But that is another conversation. The only ones I will never tire of arguing are Belarusian philosophers. I will do it for the rest of my life. With age, with the decrease of powers, energy and activity, I may lose interest in politics, religion, some sciences, even in scientific and technological revolution and progress, but not in philosophy.

Uladzimir Matskevich