Asking the right questions

Bernat Dedéu Every Monday evening after 7pm, El Punt Avui TV's English Hour airs the interview series Going Native. This month, Neil talks to writer, philosopher, teacher and musician, Bernat Dedéu.
How would you describe yourself?
I'm a philosopher and I also play music. I play classical guitar. I'm a writer, too. Basically I write a blog every day and also teach International Relations at the Blanquerna University in Barcelona. So, writer sounds good to me. Whenever you introduce yourself as a philosopher, people tend to undervalue it.
Where did you learn your English?
I'm basically a New Yorker, so I don't speak English; I speak New Yorker. I began learning English at school, and it's a language that I love. Since I was really young I've been reading American novels; I especially love 20th century American novels. I also started reading philosophy in English at a very young age. Then I went to America on a typical student programme, in Nebraska. As some friends told me there, Nebraska is the only boring album Bruce Springsteen ever made. It was a fantastic time; Americans are super welcoming people. After this, I applied for a scholarship in the US and studied there from 2004 to 2009. Grammatically it's an easy language but for speaking, it's really complex. You know when you are really starting to learn English, when you are in the US and you can understand the voice on the subway, telling you not to stay too close to the doors. Nowadays, I'm happy to teach in English.
Are your students in Blanquerna from different countries?
Yes, but although we've got students from Japan, China, Colombia, and so on, some of the students are still Catalan. The International Degree is a very young degree. In fact, we're cele-
ebrating the first graduation this year. I think it's a very nice degree because it touches on as related to humanism, diplomacy and communication. That's also why it's fascinating teaching it, as well. Moreover, it broadens your interests and job possibilities.
What's the role of a philosopher in the 21st century?
What happens is that when you study philosophy or when you think of philosophy, you just think of old questions, of what the great philosophers such as Plato were talking about, which has nothing to do with our worries nowadays. They were big philosophers and all great people of course, I kneel in front of them; they are the masters, but they wrote about specific things that have nothing to do with our real worries today. That's why I think that nowadays a philosopher is just someone who asks the right questions. And usually it's not someone who provides specific answers. It's about the spontaneous questions we have regarding what's going on. For instance, the new media and how social media changes the way we communicate. That's a very hot philosophical topic. The way Twitter and Facebook are affecting the way we talk to each other. These are contemporary issues, and we have a bunch of philosophers teaching us how these things are changing. And we also have to study how, for example, Facebook has changed the concept of friendship in a such radical manner.
Is that why some people feel uncomfortable getting their head around these ideas? Because they don't have answers and what we want are solutions.
I's like cooking for your friends. You don't just want to put the meal on the table, but you also want to explain what you've cooked for them. Regarding life, solutions and existential problems, we will have to force ourselves to be more patient. Because we have complex problems but we want easy solutions, but that's not possible. When people talk to philosophers, they say that they want, for example, four rules on how to be happy. If there were just for rules to be happy, you would already be happy, and a lot of people would be happy just having money, but it's not that simple. We have to start by asking the right questions. And that is what a philosopher does, they contextualize the problem and ask the right questions.
One of the things I like about the internet is that nowadays people can say exactly what they think.
The dynamism of journalism, especially Catalan journalism, is that we have really intelligent people writing in the papers and speaking on the radio, but everything is so biased that they have to be really correct because there's that sponsor that prevents you from saying certain things. I think there's a lot of talent out there but they're absolutely terrified. For me, the first thing you have to do to write freely is to open your mind, to make it your business. You have to say: “maybe I'm not going to write for a newspaper but I'm going to do what I want. It's going to be MY space.” And the reader really appreciates that.
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