Whenever I dropped one of my kids off at Pomona Middle School I’d point at the Zoroastrian temple across the street and say, echoing the style of those political ads, “I’m Daniel Kolak, and I approved that temple,” and it would always get a laugh.
I’m not a politician, I’m a philosophy professor. But I’m also Chair of the Pomona Planning Board which I have served nearly twenty years, having been appointed three mayors ago. A couple of weeks ago I decided to run for mayor.
Why does a philosophy professor want to run for mayor?
I am not a man of belief nor of feeling. I have beliefs and feelings like everyone else but I am not steered by them. I am a man of knowledge, a professional thinker. If you think that disqualifies me right off the bat, think again.
Feelings are fickle. We can hate each other one minute and love each other the next. We can believe the earth is flat when it is oblong, that God exists if God does not and that he doesn’t when he does. Knowledge is different. You can’t know something that isn’t so, only believe it. As a philosopher I know what I know and know what I don’t know, and how to think about both in relation to each other and the thoughts of others.
That I should have your toothache is not possible. That I should have your thought is. To do that I would have to think it. I could pretend to think it, or be persuaded to believe that I think it when I really don’t; to live in bad faith. Or I could really think it. The only legitimate way to do that is by conviction, through reason, argument, evidence, debate. And then?
If we agree, good; resolution is wonderful and we have resolved something and resolve is strength.
What if we disagree? Good! We are now stronger. We have diversity. Understanding. Toleration. Three strengths! Think about it: if we all think the same thing toleration is not possible. God gave us each two eyes and two brains so that we could perceive depth to the depth that humans can. And different cultures to deepen that depth and build bridges across our diversities. Individual freedom in strength through togetherness is a powerful force in the universe. It should have a place in Pomona.
My life is literally an open book. Every thought I’ve ever had has been spelled out in black and white, from Quantum Mechanics to In Search of God to I Am You: the Metaphysical Foundations for Global Ethics. More down to earth, too, perhaps, from such lofty topics, is the fact that every word I have spoken as a village official is on the record across the years of the Pomona Planning Board, the minutes of every meeting. I hope to meet many of my neighbors new and old in the coming day so that we can think out loud together.
Village resident for twenty-eight years with his wife and four children, Dr. Daniel Kolak is Chair of the Pomona Planning Board. He is professor of philosophy at the William Paterson University in New Jersey and the author of many books.